The Future of Book Publishing

where music leaves us

In addition to wondering about the future of the printed book, there’s at least one more pressing question that those interested in the book-world have been and should be asking: what about the future of print publishing?

While there are some similarities here with the music business, they’re not nearly as close as they were in my previous post on the subject. The main reason is that making good music is still rarely a one-man-show. Even for a guy like me who’s been around and mastered [pun intended] almost all facets of the industry, music-making–from initial creative inertia to final product–involves and even requires many talented people to pull off well. Sure, there’s the occasional one-hit-wonder, or guy-with-a-laptop-who-only-uses-samples-to-create-a-project; but to make a meaningful collection of songs up to industry standards, it takes a team.

It also takes a lot of equipment.

Acoustically perfect rooms are still needed, as well as gold-sputtered large-diaphragm microphones, expensive hard disk space, CPU processing, quality monitors, mixing surfaces, mastering programs, not to mention hiring all the musical talent, engineers, producers, and mixing ears. Then you front the money for design, duplication, and distribution. And unlike book signings, which yes, often do include performances of a sort, music must be performed. And that’s a whole other industry.

I think it’s for this reason alone that we haven’t seen the complete demise of record companies. Because someone still needs to coordinate the talent and front the monies and manage the time lines.

True, musical artists can do much on their own. But those that do are still the exception, and usually have a big wallet or are using inventive methods of grass-roots investment to finance projects (like Eric Peter’s last project which proudly displays “The Hopper Tribe” in his liner notes). Larger record companies also have a lot of pull with what gets played and how many shelves a project sees space on. But even that is beginning to change.

I don’t know anyone that buys music based on “record company,” but on what they like. And in our information-accessible generation, connecting the artist with their listeners–both existing and potential–doesn’t really need the record company. They need an internet connection and a list of tour dates.

the lone art

So how, exactly, are music publishing and book publishing different?

Well, writing novels is incredibly simple: an author sits down…and writes.

Granted, most writers I know are a bit strange.

Some, downright weird.

But then again, you’d have to be.

To spend hundreds and hundreds of hours sitting in front of a computer screen staring at lines of information is pretty tedious. More like a computer programmer. And no matter how cool the Matrix made looking at code seem, computer programmers are even weirder than authors.

In a nut shell, it’s this simplicity that makes the publisher obsolete. Technology just helped push the inevitable along.

but the publisher does so much!

So if a record company does all of the stuff I listed above, a publishing company surely does just as much to merit an equal place of prestige.


I said, right?

What hundreds and now thousands of writers are realizing is no, they don’t.

As I said, writing books is much simpler than making music.

Yes, there are editors. But a good writer truly only needs one good one; often a skilled writer can edit their own work successfully. A handful of “Proofies”–as I call them–help, but they’re usually willing to proof the book for free seeing as how they had the intangible privileged of reading it before anyone else.

Editors often get in the way, too. Traditional publishers always have a way of using their editors to make you fashion the art they think will sell, not what you think is right. Sure, there’s something to be said for market awareness; but critical thinking and a serious eye can tell you just as much as any market analyst would, and having an editor that “gets” you and your art is almost priceless.

Interior design? Exterior design? Why, but of course! After all, no matter how often the quote is used, we actually do judge books by the their covers. And how they’re laid out. But those services, along with editorial services, are quite easy to secure, especially when producing for the growing e-market.

That leaves distribution. Distribution of thick, heavy paper books that are constantly vying for shelf space–the majority of which you’ll never ever see as an author–and cost anywhere from $12-$15 for a consumer to buy.

Which you, the author, gets all of.

Umm. Actually, no. You get about 8% of it. And 14.5% if it’s a digital sale.

So where, exactly, is that other 92% going?

That, my friends, is the million-dollar question, and what authors like me are trying to figure out. And the only logical answer is into a bloated publishing system with high production overhead, over-staffing, heavy distribution costs…

…and does very little marketing for the author.

I can almost justify the first few items, but that last one is the clincher. Where the benefits of big-publisher name recognition, shelf-placement pull, and high-profile advertising prowess should really kick in is in the marketing. The crazy part is I did more self-promotion for the largest Christian publisher (Thomas Nelson) than I did for one of the smallest (Tsaba House). And none of it changed my personal bottom line…except in countless man hours, personal travel expenses, and creative ideas.

The result?

More fans, but less money for my baby’s mouths.

ok, but they’ll still be the filter

Ah yes. Traditional publishing’s last resort.

Now that anyone can publish themselves, who will help you know what’s good and what’s not? Surely the publisher will.

Any publisher that is still thinking this is already dead, they just don’t know it yet. It’s the same mistake “big government” makes. You’re not smart enough to manage your life, so we’ll do it for you, just give us all your money for the greater good.

In the not too distant future, the reader becomes the filter.

If social media has taught us anything, it’s that if one person likes something, they’ll tell all their friends. And if it’s a truly worthy concept, nothing can stop its success. Which means that if success is that apprehendable by the content creator, they have even more incentive to create their best work for their public. Which means you get better books for less money: the author knows their success rises and falls on whether or not you like it, not whether a publisher says it’s good or not, and can drop their prices for you (because the author is still making more on a less expensive self-published book than they are on a far more expensive traditionally published book).

guilds: the future publishers

I believe that in place of publishers will come alliances. Guilds, if you will. Gatherings of like-minded creators and inventors who’s allegiances are bound by willfully aligning themselves with one another. Sharing resources, combining platforms, and blending fans.

The truth is, more came out of the two Fantasy Fiction Tours that Wayne Thomas Batson and I dreamed up in 2007 and 2008 than almost any other book-related venture we’ve done. Pam Schwagerl, CEO of Tsaba House Inc. was also indispensable in her assistance (proof that sometimes smaller is better). The 9 authors that partook in that have benefited to this very day. And it wasn’t publishers doing the heavy lifting: it was the fans of a single author taking a risk on the work of another by mere association.

I believe that the new face of publishing will be self-published authors who combine efforts and resources, link arms through shared branding and emblems, co-occupy websites, and venture out on tour together. Not because they have strong backing, but because their audience is strong enough to trust them and those they create alongside of. ch:

What authors have you learned about and fallen in love with because of their affiliation with a pre-existing reading allegiance you had?

Are you more likely to buy a book because of the publisher or because of a recommendation?

A New Musical Paradigm

Among the many passions of my life, there is a growing desire to see the Bride of Christ reclaim her rightful place as dominant benefactor of the Arts, a title she once owned in the day of Rembrandt and Beethoven, but abdicated shortly thereafter. Much of the decline was in pursuit of “internal spending” rather than advancing the Gospel and the things that propel it, much of it was simply apathy. But I am convinced we live in a day where that can be and is being corrected; if we have cause to be excited as Christians, it is today. Never before have we had the ability to influence world culture like we do now.

The obese and lethargic models of business that were once a necessity over the past three decades have quickly become outdated; if they fail to advance with the times, they will be obsolete. I do not scold them for the power they carried. Hardly. Millions have heard and seen the Gospel because of them, even if the motive was worldly. I rejoice that Christ has been preached.

But what awaits us is a world redefined by artists that corporations formerly overlooked because they didn’t look right, sound right, or speak right. On the horizon, already dawning, is a prophetic voice of Divine Dreamers who have a means to create, a vehicle to distribute, and a means to market art that is not inhibited by the almighty dollar or pop-culture.

With the advent of technology, true artists are able to reach their audience in unimaginable ways, and thus affect culture unimaginably. Simply put, this is exciting.

A perfect example is Eric Peters. I just read about his new project today on The Rabbit Room and would advise you to check it out. For three reasons, besides the fact that he’s producing great art: The first is that Eric is free from having to record with a record label. He is doing it with the community of artists around him. Thus he has complete control of the art. Secondly, Eric is using technology to communicate his need to his benefactors, something that previously would have taken a phenomenal amount of energy and time to do. And thirdly, he is turning to the private sector for support. Now, that is not new. Surely. In fact, it is very old…

…something done back in Rembrandt and Beethoven’s day.

Benefactors would house an artist and pay for their needs while they created their next masterpiece. Or they would pay for their continuing education. Or they would use their status to endorse a great artist and promote them to a place of cultural prominence.

Sounds like a record company. Almost. Accept where a record company would own 100% of an artists publishing rights (yup, you heard me), Eric will keep 100% of his rights. He’ll make the art he feels that God is calling him to make, and communicate it unhindered to a diverse audience. But that’s not the strongest point; that’s where I come in.

I. Me. A member of the Church. A Kingdom representative of the Lord Jesus Christ here on earth. I am investing. Not some Christian Record Label who is actually owned and controlled by a secular giant. Me, Christopher Hopper. Husband, father, Jesus-follower. My money has gone into Eric creating his next album. And in doing so, I reflect on the beautiful Bride of Christ by rectifying the errors made in the past.

Talk is cheap. Tired of how things are done? Then change it. But be forewarned: It will cost you; but the way I see it, $50.00 is a small price to help the Church once again set precedent for what true Art should be.

Thanks for reading, and for advancing the Gospel with Eric. Now, go contribute…