This post is part of the Roadmap To The Future Series. Roadmap To The Future explores innovative industry trends and breakthroughs in science, entertainment, and technology. This series is sponsored by Verizon.
You likely know Tucker Max as the blogger and author of three bestselling books about his former debaucherous lifestyle.
But you might not know that he went on to start his own publishing company called Lioncrest to support his and other authors' books. He later sold the company and now acts as partner.
He's a guy who has been in the trenches in a big way, learning the ins and outs of the book business from both angles – that of the author and that of the publisher.
It's a strategy he outlined in this article on Huffington Post a few months ago. Max describes how he went from making fairly small royalties from a major publisher to, instead, being the publisher himself.
We conducted an email interview with him to get his thoughts on the future of books and publishing. Some highlights:
- E-books pose a major threat to brand-name publishers because their industry simply isn't set up to handle digital very well.
- We're going to see books improve in quality as well as the depth in which they engage readers.
- Self-publishing and distributing through Amazon isn't a magic bullet – it still offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Our full (lightly edited) interview appears below.
BUSINESS INSIDER: What are big brand-name publishers doing wrong? What are they doing well?
TUCKER MAX: The short answer is that they are doing everything wrong. They failed to anticipate or respond to technical and marketplace changes, and it's now too late for them to change, so they are all essentially dead companies walking, milking their backlist cash cows for as long as they can until they disarticulate and die. Easy examples: they completely missed the boat on e-books, only moving into that space once Amazon and Apple set up distribution channels, and thus put themselves at the mercy.
But here's the thing: Your question assumes that they had a choice to do the right thing or wrong thing. I guess they did in theory, but not really; they are simply caught in the Innovator's Dilemma, and responded exactly how almost every company responds, by doubling down on what they already knew how to do. Big publishing companies only know how to operate in analog world with very few media outlets, high capital costs, and high transaction costs of information. That world is gone, and has been replaced by a digital information economy, with low transaction capital costs and low informational transaction costs. Those changes require entirely new business models, and virtually no industry has companies that can change business models; they just go out of business and new companies take their place. This is going on right now. The Big Five publishing companies are dinosaurs trying to survive in a post-meteor world. They won't.
BI: Are e-books ultimately good or bad for the publishing industry? Somewhere in between?
TM: E-books are terrible for the Big Five publishers and the industry as it exists today because that industry is not structured to deal with the digital universe. But e-books are a massive boon for the people who matter – writers and readers. Furthermore, e-books are great for the future of the publishing industry – it's just that that future won't really include any of the major players that are around today. Everyone will be better off, except the suits at the Madison Avenue publishing companies, and really, that's perfectly fine.
BI: What are the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing with a company like Amazon's Createspace?
The advantages are few, simply that you can get your book out to readers without permission from a publishing company. The disadvantages are many; Createspace – like all the currently constructed self-publishing companies – does a terrible job at the actual act of creating books, and this lack of professionalism is what creates much of the the stigma around self-publishing.
It's a different question to ask what it's like to publish on Amazons Kindle platform. The answer to that is the opposite – the Kindle platform has turned self-publishing from the outcast ghetto it used to be into what it is now, which is something that is bordering on respectable, and with new companies coming in and doing a great job, getting better rapidly.
To sum up – Amazon as a "publisher" is not that great. Amazon as a distribution platform is world-changing and awesome.
BI: In your personal experience, how big or real of a problem is e-book piracy? Is there a way to curb or stop it?
TM: In my experience, piracy is just not a problem that shows up on the radar. Books are so cheap and easy to get that people don't bother stealing them, which is the essential rule of piracy that the music business learned much too late. Are people doing it? Of course. Are they even 1% of readers? I doubt it. The problem that authors have is "how can I get anyone to read my books," not "how many people are stealing my books." I'm popular because I gave my writing away for free on my website at the beginning of my career. I love pirates. I pirated myself to get readers.
BI: What's the future of books, physical and otherwise?
TM: We stand on the precipice of an explosion, not just in number of books, but in their quality and breath of genre and depth of engagement by readers. I think we are entering a golden age of publishing and readership, and it's very exciting.
There were two things holding us back: publishing companies throttling supply, and technological limitations that arise from an analog world. Both are gone. The combination of entrepreneurial insights that some authors are discovering, plus the massive demand for content, plus new discovery and delivery platforms (like Wattpad), and the upcoming second generation of publishing companies that provide top-notch services to authors and let them keep all rights, revenue, and creative control (e.g. Lioncrest Publishing) will usher in a golden age of books that looks nothing like age we just came out of, but is amazing for all readers.
BI: Any other thoughts you want to share?
TM: People who are obsessed with defining publishing labels (e.g. legacy publishing vs. self-publishing vs hybrid) are missing the entire point. The ultimate debate is over who controls money and who has the creative control. It used to be entirely publishers. The first generation of self publishing companies did very little to change this; they essentially preyed on the hope of unpublished authors. But the next generation of publishing companies (I call it "smart publishing") will be companies that are entirely different. They will charge a simple fee to do all the work that an author needs from a publishing company, but the author retains all revenue, all rights and all creative control. When that becomes dominant model – when we get companies that mix the professionalism of publishing services with the full breadth of creativity and complete artistic control by authors – that's when the golden age will really begin.
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