I Tried And Mostly Failed…
To get the importance of publishing history across to the young fiction writers at Writers of the Future. Here is a tiny part of what I said in a rushed fashion, I am sure I was skipping parts.
Note: I am only talking about commercial FICTION!!
Note: I am only talking about distribution and business structure of commercial FICTION!!
In general, fiction publishing distribution patterns and delivery systems tend to run in 50 year cycles.
Post Civil War (in this country) was the Penny Dreadfuls, Dime Novels, and Journals. They were slowly being replaced with pulp magazines around 1900 and were mostly gone (with few exceptions) by 1920.
Pulp Era lasted from the 1910 or so to the last breath in 1958. The remains of the Pulp Era today are Analog, Ellery Queen, and F&SF and a few titles that take old pulp names and continue on at times like Amazing and Weird Tales. They are modern magazine formats, though, not pulp magazines.
The rise of the paperback era sort of sputter-started in 1939 but exploded in the late 1950s and lasted solidly until 2007. This was also the rise of the mega corporations controlling the upper levels of distribution of which 5 corporations remain now of the thousands and thousands in the 1960s.
In 2007 (actually the Kindle Christmas of 2008) the electronic era started. And traditional publishers ignored it for the most part and thus the rise of the indie movement to fill the gap.
Every transition in fiction publishing took about 25 years to go from the start of the new era to the major finish of the previous distribution and delivery to readers systems.
For example, paperback companies (and what became known as the trade channel) sort of started in 1939, grew through the war years, and then dominated by the early 1960s after the distribution collapse of 1958.
Even though electronic distribution was sputtering for years through the 1990s, the real start wasn’t until November 2007 and the real, real start wasn’t until Christmas season 2008.
SO WHERE ARE WE?
In 2009, electronic distribution and indie publishing were maybe less than a fraction of 1% of how fiction readers got their books. But over the last 14 years it has grown by leaps and bounds as traditional publishing pushes more and more writers away and makes entry for new writers almost impossible.
And even worse, the traditional publishers far, far overprice electronic books in an effort to defend their big hardback books, thus pushing readers more and more into the indie writer’s hands.
Mass market paperbacks, once the dominate size for fiction, have become almost a laugh. Trade paper racks have replaced most of the mass market racks now. And the pandemic killed most indie stores.
In a recent study, Indie Writers are over 60% of all writers, publishing their own work, going direct in one way or another to readers, while a small fraction of fiction writers still go to traditional and another fraction have other smaller publishers publish them.
An estimate is that 75% of all fiction books published are now indie and indie writers are making almost double the amount of traditional writers.
We are about half way through the 25 year transition.
The writers sitting in that room at Writers of the Future are smack in the middle. And the war between old traditional methods and new indie methods of publishing fiction are fairly balanced. In other words, the future is at war in their heads.
The myths of those 50 years of traditional publishing are strong. The lure of indie publishing and control of your own work is strong.
Bu my prediction comes from studying history of publishing. 10 more years and the indie writers will dominate completely, the remnants of the traditional publishers will have pulled in on themselves or eaten each other. And the new world will be set for another 50 years or so, until the next disruption.
I really love history. Makes things so much clearer.