History is a cycle of recycles. Never-ending births and rebirths. Time and time again, the new phoenixes arise from the ashes of the old ways, born from a “death” that never dies.
The original subtitle for this piece was “Every Lesson The Publishing Industry Needs To Learn Was Taught 65 Million Years Ago.” And in that case, the master teacher was a giant rock from outer space. No artful soliloquies were waxed rhapsodic by this six-mile-wide asteriod when it visited our planet and “surfed” the Yucatan peninsula. Yet our astral guest and its master lesson have remained with our dear Earth ever since, teaching all those who can open their minds to see the inevitablity of the inevitable.
In the last decade, not one but two meteors have struck, this time at the heart of the publishing world. First, do-it-yourself publishing, upending a century of print-centric contracts and distribution methods. Second, the digital e-book reader, which bypasses print distribution entirely.
The key question: How have the “Big Five” publishers reacted to the entire publishing world changing around them? They signed Amanda Hocking and E.L. James, after these two women proved they did not need a major publisher to sell large numbers. The D.I.Y “tail” is now wagging their dog, to the point where the newest print deals with Hugh Howey and John Locke allowed them to keep their e-book rights. The New York publishing houses, by their own admission, are no longer dictating the terms for every authors’ success, and in the cases above they are simply hitching a ride on the authors’ own coat tails.
The Big Five’s contract language and terms have changed very little; even as the advances, promotions and shelf space allocations that “justified” such terms are now dying on the vine. Is it any wonder why many authors who could play the New York game now orbit around the “meteor” of do-it-yourself publishing?
One big question remains. Is do-it-yourself publishing a meteor, or an infant dinosaur?
Will do-it-yourself publishing burn bright in the sky, then come crashing to Earth from major online retailers suddenly pulling the plug on direct do-it-yourself publishing? The voices suggesting this “insane” possiblility; are they mad rants from the farthest fringes of the Internet, or are they the earliest harbingers of an inevitable outcome the great majority cannot even visualize as yet?
Do-it-yourself publishing may be the new dinosaur, disguised as a meteor. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. New strengths, and new weaknesses to match. The odds of a single author rising from the DIY jungle worsening daily, as potential readers have to sift through a mass of e-books growing at a geometric rate. Readers left sifting for tiny grains of diamonds in the near-infinite sand dunes. Already no end is in sight for this paradigm, and more importantly no fundamental change is in sight. And, as the events 65 million years ago taught us, we know what happens when an established “institution” cannot adapt to changin conditions.
As “impossible” as it may seem right now that a major online retailer could “pull the plug” on direct do-it-yourself publishing, the wise will take the time to consider what would happen if they did. Millions of authors’ dreams would “die” all at once, enough of a “disturbance in the Force” to turn us all into Obi-Wan Kenobis for a day. The new dinosaur, dying a meteor’s death.
The master lesson: Those who cannot adapt to a major paradigm shift will be buried by the winds of change, the bones of what they used to be fossilizing under layers of “ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.”
You are reading this because your mammal ancestors could adapt. They survived in a world full of dinosaurs, but what mattered is that they could also thrive in a harsh world that drove the dinosaurs to extinction. Adaptablility meant being able to work around the dinosaurs while they were still alive, and work around their carcasses after the meteor had its last laugh. And 65 million years later, adaptability means being able to recognize dinosaurs and meteors when you see them, and being able to work with every possible outcome.