As I approached the end of my college education last year in May, I began to wonder what I would do after I’d left the safety of my school’s brick buildings.
Like all graduates in my generation, I had seen the financial collapse of 2008 and had been hearing the dismal job numbers for years. Reporters continually said that this was the worst time to be entering the job market as a new graduate. Needless to say, optimism was not easy to come by. But I set forth with my English degree, hoping to prove wrong all those people who stereotype English majors as “saddled with a useless diploma.” After speaking with a friend of mine, I’d decided that the best route to take was to enter the world of publishing. I had long since abandoned the dream of writing a best-seller of my own, but working in publishing would keep me close to books and the world of writers that I loved.
After some searching and some time in an internship, I was able to secure a job at a very small publishing house here in Chicago. From my vantage point within this publishing company, I began to see how the industry is changing and how traditional publishing is being put at risk.
Though there are internal factors specific to each publishing house that may threaten its existence, outside forces are the main cause for doubt and worry in book publishing. All you need in order to understand this is to pick up a copy of Publishers Weekly or take a stroll through your major bookstore. If you can find a major bookstore, that is. You may remember that Borders recently went out of business and independent bookstores are struggling in an economy where $.99 e-books are appealing. The emerging markets of self-published authors and e-books are hurdles that the traditional publishing house must learn to jump.
You may have recently seen someone reading (or you, yourself may be reading) the sudden blockbuster hit, 50 Shades of Grey. This book, while a testament to how sex-starved our population seems to be, is also an indicator of the self-publishing market’s power. When it first began, the self-publishing market was seen as rife with bad writing and wannabe authors. But thanks to the commercial success of E.L. James and Amanda Hocking, self-publishing is gaining some credibility. Though it gives more people a chance to fulfill their dreams of being writers, self-publishing threatens the traditional methods of book publishing. However, I think it says something that James needed to be picked up by a larger, more established publishing house (Vintage) before her book’s popularity erupted.
E-books are the second major development that is changing the publishing landscape, for good and for bad. On the side of good, e-books cost no money to store and can be sold more hassle-free than print books. However, if you’re a small, independent publisher, it can be extremely difficult to get your e-books noticed among the bestsellers of the big 6 publishers. This may seem like the same monumental task independent publishers faced in a print market, it seems like a larger mountain to climb when there are so many e-books out there.
So, is the traditional publishing house dead? Not so long as there are people who believe in the printed word and want to work for it. I believe that if they continue to be adaptable to the market, while remaining a credible name in books, traditional publishing houses will survive.