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Meanland extract – New publishing models: a shifting of power

Guest post – Sam Cooney

This article appeared in the May issue of WQ, the Queensland Writers Centre’s monthly publication. Past issues are online, as is a wealth of other info for Queensland and Australian writers.

WQPublishing isn’t dying. Don’t believe anyone who says it is, because they are reckless and hunting for headlines. Yes, publishing is changing, and fast. Author Philip Pullman, having just launched an enhanced iPhone app along with his latest book, says that all the changes make him feel ‘as if I’m tied to the front of a runaway train with a driver who has just had a heart attack’. An industry that not long ago was stalwart and reasonably predictable is now hurriedly embracing (or being forced to embrace) ebooks, free content, and similar new-fangled developments. But dying? Not a chance.

See, we live in a consumer-driven world, and people want to read. Sure, they are no longer browsing in the traditional places, and they definitely aren’t as willing to simply hand over money for a set amount of printed text. That straightforward customer–supplier link is now somewhat outdated. However, as long as some of us write stuff and others read it, there will be a publishing industry.

Novelist and blogger Levi Montgomery bemoans the naysayers in a recent article, using the oft-cited buggy-whip analogy. The buggy-whip industry was effectively overtaken by the car industry. People no longer rode in animal-pulled buggies, cars didn’t need to be whipped, and thus many companies and workers were suddenly out of business. Or so the theory goes.

But of course this isn’t how business works. Manufacturers and suppliers and sellers don’t simply pack up shop when circumstances change. They change with them. As Montgomery says, ‘The buggy-whip makers who survived the automobile revolution were the ones who took their leather-working skills and put them to work making car seats, and the publishers who will survive this revolution are the ones who will take their production and marketing skills and use them to create services that bring together readers who demand merit in what they read and authors who demand it in what they create’.

Read the rest of the essay at Meanland.

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