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The Publishing Civil War

So, Amazon is to become the official publisher of its own books. It was, of course, bound to happen, too tempting to resist. After all, it does represent a large chunk of the retail book business and does operate its own production and distribution facilities both through its Kindle and print sites.

In effect, it now competes not only with its suppliers (meaning other publishers) large and small, but also with other authors, both traditionally published and a giant wave of self-published authors.

As a pioneer in the eBook juggernaut when it was a pipsqueak possible spinoff of publishing in the early days of Internet sales, I viewed this development as an inevitability. It is by no means a surprise.

The upcoming phase in what is clearly a civil war between the traditional publishers and a powerful arm of its distribution system is what will happen next. The fact is that Amazon has been skirting around the edges for years, and in some ways has been its own publisher, offering titles exclusive to its sites.

The bookselling landscape as it now exists is like a giant funnel into the bookselling pipeline, where traditional publishers are stuffing their products along with self-published authors by the gazillions, pushing books in every conceivable category.

Soon to come will be a global reach as all this product appears in translations in every language of the world being sold on the web. Amazon has a head start on this and will undoubtedly figure out ways to be globally dominant. Another issue for authors will be in the contractual terms Amazon will offer.

Will Amazon take worldwide rights of authors, all the translations in all languages and adaptations to movies and television? My crystal ball tells me that one day all visual entertainment will find its way to the web and crowd out auditorium theaters for films. It could be sooner than one thinks. And who will dominate the output of those products? Take a guess.
With all of the traditional filters obliterated by the slicing and dicing of all authoritative critiques on the Net and in print and non-cyber media, authors and publishers will be hard pressed to individualize or brand their future offerings. At some point, the rush of third party Internet publishers to scoop up out-of-print books of authors who still might be remembered will continue to join the product flood of reading materials all competing for the consumer's attention and bucks.

Then there are the classics being offered gratis or near gratis as eBook sets. One can get the entire works of Twain, Tolstoy, Shakespeare and many others in digital form for less than a Starbucks coffee. This does not mean that physical books will disappear, since many readers will want to display their books as old friends on their book shelves, although the chances are that future readers will get their content via the digital versions.

There will always be a hard core of readers who will opt for the physical version, unable to enjoy the content without the tactile feel of the printed page. Unfortunately, they will become a diminishing minority.

It was a pretty safe bet for Amazon to start its roll out with self-help and celebrity books. Self-help has its built-in possibilities and celebrity books have the advantage of prior promotional identity. Expect more of the same.

Presently known genre writers will, of course, benefit from their long tail recognition and fan base, and newer presently unknown genre writers will make their bones by charging readers a ninety-nine cents price point or give their books away free to lure them into the fold. Expect price wars to accelerate as individual authors try to amass a respectable readership.

The big and yet unanswered question is how will Amazon favor its own books. What marketing ploys within its jurisdiction will it employ to make certain that the sales of its own books earn back their advances and make a profit?

One thing is certain, and that is that the unattached author will have to market his own work in an increasingly crowded field. Matching the reader to the author will be extremely difficult and will require new and imaginative ways to project his or her work.

To a novelist writing stand-alone works of fiction, which is my principal interest, it presents an overwhelming challenge. He or she will be lost among the profusion, finding it hard to individualize and sustain his name and his work. Indeed, the whole concept of "best selling" may be out the window as books find their own niches and authors find ways to market within these niches.

Ever the optimist, I truly believe that the serious author, to whom writing works of the imagination is akin to breathing oxygen to stay alive, will eventually find his circle of dedicated readers. He might not get rich or famous in traditional terms, but the mysterious machinations of word of mouth might find its way to readers world-wide, who will be enriched with his or her insight, wisdom and wonder.

Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include The War of the Roses, Random Hearts and the PBS trilogy The Sunset Gang. He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information visit Warren's Website at

Warren Adler, Author

James A. Cox
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