Here’s where I think book publishing is going: thousands of authors will self-publish their own books. Maybe tens of thousands. Maybe hundreds of thousands. Self-publishing a book will be as common in ten years as blogging is today.
These books will sink or swim on their own merits, or the ability of their authors to self-promote, or both.
Let’s say that 1% of 1% will do well. Amazon, and the few traditional publishers who are left, will make offers to those elite self-publishing authors. Some will take the deals, some will not. Almost no author will be picked up by a big publisher who hasn’t already proven him/herself in the self-publishing trenches.
I’m basing this prediction on what happened to the comic book industry over the past 30 years. Self-publishing became viable in the mid-eighties, when comic book stores — who bought items for sale directly from the publisher, rather than on consignment — became the primary means of distribution for comic books. It was easier for a self-publisher to get his work listed in the catalog of the comic book store’s leading distributor (a company owned & staffed by comic book fans) than it had been to get carried by, say, Ingram or whoever the newsstand distributors were in those days.
This led to an explosion of self-published comic books, ranging from the unabashedly commercial (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) to the quirky and personal (American Splendor). Some of these successes (Bone, for example) got picked up by big publishers (Scholastic, in that case) under terms that were much more favorable than if the authors had sold the work early, before it (and they) had built up a fanbase. Others carried on as they were. The biggest success story of all, Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles,
is still owned by one of its creators (he bought his collaborator out some time ago) was owned by one of its creators up until 2009, when he sold it to Viacom/Nickelodeon (thanks to Anthony Furtado for the correction).
Not everything was TMNT or American Splendor or Bone, though. The vast, vast majority of self-published work was utter garbage. Nobody talks about those books because nobody bought them, and so nobody remembers them.
Sort of like the vast majority of traditionally-published books.
Comic books are not a perfect mirror of the book publishing industry. Most commercial comic books are “work for hire,” where a writer and an artist are paid money to tell stories about corporate characters like Spider-Man. Self-publishing was virtually the only outlet for somebody who didn’t want to write somebody else’s characters, or (maybe even worse) sell his/her own creations outright to a publisher, who would then have the power to fire the creator and hire others to take his or her place (Google “Steve Ditko” someday). That’s the main reason self-publishing took off thirty years earlier in the comics industry than it has anywhere else. It’s a dynamic that is not in play in the “standard” book publishing world.
There are similarities, too, though.
Electronic marketplaces like the Kindle Store, and POD services like Lulu and CreateSpace, represent the same opening for self-publishers and small presses that the comic book stores represented.
So. Me? I expect to see a similar story play out. Is all I’m saying. And I could be wrong.