2009 – A Summary of the Year For the Publishing Business

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2009 may go down in history as the most tumultuous year ever for publishing since 1440, the year the the Gutenberg Press was invented. Subsequent years will seem to be more dramatic to this business–and no doubt the media will make that case–but this was the year that everything changed.

Two forces came to fruition this year: desktop publishing online and the collapse of traditional publishing models, thanks mainly to the recession and the fact that advertisers are moving online. It seemed like every business related to print publishing took a hit. Major magazines died. Newspapers–long-struggling financially–saw many closures, such as the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News. The New York Times and the Washington Post issued severe jobs cuts of 40-60% of their staffs. And large book publishers watched at their mega-books fell far short of their sales projections.

It’s remarkable that in the midst of this chaos there was so little innovation by these dying companies. It’s as if these traditional print organizations pretended nothing was wrong, or that the problem would soon go away if they were patient enough. This ostrich in the sand mentality was comical to observe. But the real innovation was happening online in the form of new businesses. And perhaps these large print companies could have held on for considerably longer; but for the recession. Yet still these companies resist and try to hold steady by making cuts and increasing prices. The New York Times is now $2 for a copy and $5 on Sunday. That is clearly too much to pay for a newspaper–especially when every single letter of information (and much more) can be found online.

Parts of the business models that distribute newspapers and paperback books were hatched in the 1930s Depression. These models called for mass distribution and low cost, and they were way for the struggling economy to work itself out of the Depression. Thus, high prices for newspapers are counter-intuitive and don’t work. Traditional book publishers went in the opposite direction in 2009, slashing prices and creating deals for deep discounts of their books. Which is downright ironic, because this too is going in the wrong directions. Books should be priced high and seen as a quality product by consumers.

Despite all this change, the big companies still have a lot of cash and control most of the market share. Content is king on the Web these days. Writers and what I call New Publishing businesses can make a living writing for Web sites. And that means that online publishing can compete with traditional models through quality. In the old days, there were certain outlets that determined the quote-unquote quality of a book–such as the New York Times Book Review. But those outlets are struggling mightily too and some, like the Los Angeles Times book review are dead and gone. These outlets were linked into the distribution system of traditional publishing–they were integral in terms of sales. Now, they have become irrelevant. (I never thought I would live to experience the pure joy of writing that last sentence.)

2010 will be the year that New Publishing comes into its own. 2009 saw the maturity of all the technologies involved in online publishing, from print-on-demand technology to ebooks to YouTube marketing. The last piece of the puzzle is the money. New Publishers are already competing with traditional publishers in terms of quality, excellence and recognition. And therefore New Publishers are growing fast. But there is a big difference between the fast-growing company and the established, mega-company. And that difference is cash on hand. But if the mega-companies can’t pay their staffs or their bills then their decline must surely be precipitous. And if the market share of the New Publishers continues to increase rapidly, they too must surely see even faster growth.

For its part, World Audience has published major books recently. Our luck is probably attributed to the declining market share of the larger print companies. Big-time authors are still looking to get published and a growing company like World Audience is able to serve them. Big names like Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his two books from World Audience, glimmerIQs (ISBNs 9781935444886 and 978-1-935444-86-2) and When the People Bubble POPs (ISBN 978-1-935444-91-6). Furthermore, World Audience is able to branch out into multiple genres with ease, with everything from the humor book WORD! THE BARE NAKED TEACHINGS OF SWAMI ANACONDA BANANARAMA by Swami Anaconda Bananarama (ISBN: 978-0-9820540-3-1) to the travelogue In the Footsteps of Dracula: A Personal Journey and Travel Guide by Steven P. Unger (ISBN: 978-1-935444-20-6). This kind of intense upheavals are probably not healthy and potentially dangerous. But they sure are fun.

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