Big Six Shift to E-Originals Places Authors – And Editors – in Jeopardy Part 2

In the first part of this article I described a fundamental shift under way in the book industry from original paperbacks to original e-books – “e-originals” in Publisher Speak – and its depressing effect on author compensation. These deals point to sharp reductions in advances and royalties and acceleration of the flight of authors from traditional to self-publication.

Impact of E-Originals on Publishers

The impact of the shift on publishers themselves is less quantifiable. It is, however, potentially far more devastating.

You can define publishers in many ways but their unique claim and strong attraction for authors is that they distribute printed books in brick and mortar stores. By forsaking the very element that defines and distinguishes them, however, publishers are at risk of becoming unmoored from the comfortable physical terrain of the book business and floating up like a balloon into the unfamiliar and turbulent stratosphere of Cloud publishing.

I say “unfamiliar” terrain. Though legacy publishers have adapted admirably to the challenge of digital publishing, few who work in the industry them have truly grasped the stupendous upheavals that come with full commitment to all-digital publishing, and who can blame them for being in denial? The truth is that a purely digital book industry is nowhere near as dependent on people, places and things as the traditional one.

An Author, A Reader, A Server

Boiled down to its essence, publishing can be defined simply as an author, a reader and a server. The e-book publishers that have sprouted up in the last decade have shed many of the extra trappings that characterize traditional publishers. Pure e-book companies travel light and fast and can turn on a dime because they are not burdened by the complex support structure and personnel that characterize the old regime. In order to become a purely e-book operation, a conventional publisher would have to release most of its staff and move to far smaller quarters, for many tasks performed by ten in the old business, such as sales, distribution, art direction and royalty processing can be performed by one or two in the new one.

Though this eventuality is far off there are already signs that publishers are facing this relentless, disintermediated future and scaling down to meet the challenge. But the havoc wreaked on their brand and identities if they go 100% digital could be very, very dear. Today it’s easy to distinguish Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins or Macmillan from Rosetta, Open Road or E-Reads. Tomorrow it may not be.

For these reasons it would be wise for publishers to pause and reflect before setting foot on the slippery slope of e-originals.

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as The Slippery Slope of E-Originals Part 2


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