Blog Post

What media companies can learn from the book industry

We’ve written a lot at GigaOM about the evolution of — and disruption of — the book-publishing industry, from the rise of self-publishing phenomenons like Amanda Hocking to the launch of new e-book ventures like Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s new Pottermore site. But the forces that are driving the disruption in traditional book publishing are the same as those affecting virtually every other publishing-based business.

The most obvious force causing the disruption in book publishing is the fact that anything that can be turned into ones and zeroes is being digitized, whether the traditional owners or distributors of that content want it to be or not. As we’ve noted, some authors are taking advantage of this revolution, such as Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, who actually started “pirating” his own books by uploading them to file-sharing sites and found that his market share in new areas exploded as a result.

But the changes that the web has been wreaking on publishing are also about what Om has called “the democratization of distribution,” which turns virtually everyone into a potential publisher of content. That has been accelerated by tools such as Amazon’s (s azmn) Kindle Singles publishing platform, which allows anyone to become an author by simply uploading an HTML file.

Many authors have taken advantage of this phenomenon. For example, Hocking, who started writing and self-publishing her young-adult fiction novels last year through the Amazon Kindle platform, has racked up about $2 million in revenue. Another notable is Terrill Lee Lankford, who recently turned down a $500,000 advance in order to self-publish his books.

So what are some of the lessons that media companies need to learn from the book industry? I describe some of them in a report for GigaOM Pro that you can find here (subscription required). For example, there are more ways to publish than there have ever been — including using new formats such as Byliner’s, which publishes long-form nonfiction that is somewhere between book-length and magazine-length. Also, more and more authors are seizing the opportunity to “go direct” by self-publishing their own work.

In order to compete with both of those trends, media companies will have to become more efficient and more resourceful. They will have to prove to authors that they serve a purpose in this new digital world. Inevitably, some will succeed and many others will not. For more on the evolution of media, please see my full GigaOM Pro report.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Marcus Hansson

2 Responses to “What media companies can learn from the book industry”

  1. I’m on track to earn a million dollars if sales just remain flat in the next year– yet I have eight more titles from my backlist to upload, including the last four in my 1.2 million copy selling Area 51 series in addition to five new titles to release. The choke point in publishing was distribution and shelf space and that doesn’t exist in the digital world.
    Actually you need to back up and consider what publishing DIDN’T learn from the music industry as they scramble to react, rather than act.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. As an author who tackled the self-publishing genre (focusing on reviving the dime novel format in digital form at; I still stand that Amazon copied us as we were selling our “short fiction works” on Kindle way before their Kindle Singles came out), worked in traditional publishing, and went to school to be a writer (UCI), you have hit the nail on the head. But there is a dark underbelly to this publishing evolution (Amazon does not allow free titles on Kindle because of this): it allows a relatively unheard of subset of society (the people who can’t otherwise get their opinions heard; I call them the “black journal folks” because without the Internet they’d have shelves of black journals touting their manifesto) to finally present their voice to the world. That will undermine all of the otherwise positive, disruptive value that these changes bring.