Thursday, July 14, 2011

Boarding Call

If we ignore history, we are doomed to repeat it. Or, something like that. What can we learn by looking back at history? Well, I can see an interesting parallel between the Digital and Indie Revolutions in the publishing world and the deregulation of the airline industry in the 1970s.

Seriously. Stick with me and I'll explain.

First, a little history to get you up to take off speed. Federal regulation of the U.S. airline industry can be traced back as far as the 1920s, and became serious with the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938. The government basically said who had the authority to fly which routes, and how much passengers could be charged.

For example, from New York to Chicago, you might have had both United Airlines and American Airlines authorized to fly the route for a ticket price of $40 round trip. From Chicago, American could fly passengers to Los Angeles, and United to San Francisco, but not American Chicago-San Francisco or United Chicago-Los Angeles

To stand apart from the competition on a route, airlines competed on services, like inflight meals (yes they did consist of more than a sandwich and yogurt/fruit snack), and passenger comforts (hot towel any one?). Anything to make your trip a pleasant and memorable trip, in the hopes of securing your future business.

Most airlines at this time started out as small operations and grew into regional carriers. Some of these regional carriers grew into national carriers, with networks across the country, all connected by a backbone of a few connecting routes. Any Joe Millionaire could start his own airline, as long as he was willing to fly where the government said he could.

Then 1978 and the Airline Deregulation Act happened. These long time controls were removed,and airlines now had the freedom to fly any route they cared to, for any price they thought passengers were willing to pay.

New start-up airlines exploded all over the map. Expansion and market penetration was on the minds of every airline executive. Every major airline now had to compete under a vastly different set of rules.

Some start ups clawed their way into markets, others flopped because of bad business plans. Many disappeared into the major airlines of the time through buy-outs, mergers, and consolidation over the last thirty years.

Hey, wake up! History lesson is over. Still with me? Good.

Now, you're asking yourself "What is this idiot talking about? What has this got to do with the publishing world?"

Big publishing has long acted like the government, "regulating" who would be published and what they could be paid. This went on for decades, over a century.

Then came the three-headed monster of The Digital Revolution, Social Media, and the Indie Publisher Explosion.

The Digital Revolution gave birth to a new form of publishing for authors, the ebook. Social Media allowed authors to create networks of followers (potential customers). And Indie Publishing allowed authors the freedom to write whichever book they wished, regardless of 'market trends' and demand- if it is written, it will find an audience. Authors could now write, publish, promote and sell their own books for their own prices, without an agent or a publishing contract.

In short, authors can now be their own airlines in the deregulated era.

It's a chaotic, turbulent time for the publishing industry. Times are changing, technology is changing by leaps and bounds, and publishing is changing.

Is it now still necessary to have Big Publishing involved to be a successful author? Not always. Authors have long had print and then ebooks available from their websites, basically a parallel to the versions offered by their publishers. Now some authors are taking the leap and going without Big Publishing.

J.K. Rowling is going it alone. She has started Pottermore, the portal for all things Harry Potter, including the soon to be released ebook versions. How will her sales numbers turn out? It's entirely too early to tell, but any author with the smarts to grab on to the situation can have their own success without Big Pub behind them. Heck, 99.995% of authors with Big Pub backing don't turn out her numbers.

Are agents and editors now lining up at the unemployment office because of the revolution? Not hardly. New publishing houses, literary agencies, and editing services are growing in this new age. The opportunities are out there. Authors can literally pick and chose the best fit for themselves. Big publishing, specialized small publishing, or inde, each is a viable path to success.

What does this mean for authors now? Big Publishing hasn't gone anywhere, but it is in a state of change. The competition has increased no matter which route to publication today's author chooses. The author now has to work harder, be smarter about their business, and promote themselves more than ever to build brand recognition.

The workload has gone up, but the skies are now literally the limit.

Where would you like to fly to?
Comments welcome.


  1. Pretty good analogy.

    Despite the unregulated nature of indie publishing, I still like the fact that the market has opened up.

    Sure, you have to wade through a lot of low quality stuff (and even some spam, apparently), but I'd prefer that to most authors being inhibited by "Big Publishing."

    Like you said, the industry is kind of chaotic at the moment, but I think, as always, the writers who work hard to make a quality product (and promote it) will inevitably be rewarded.

    The only problem I see right now is with pricing, with many authors listing their books for only 99 cents. Some feel that other authors are shortchanging themselves by also pricing at 99 cents simply to compete.

  2. Thanks for stopping in Rob.

    I agree with you about the 99 cent pricing. I think some are doing it as a limited time offer, especially for first or second books, to build a quick fan base. An Indie author's best advertising weapon is word of mouth and positive reviews. Sometimes you have to give the first taste for free.

    It could be a knee-jerk reaction to the rising prices of some ebooks. "Don't buy that $15 ebook. Buy me! Buy me! My book's only 99 cents."

  3. Well written and researched article! You are dead on and this is a subject that comes up on Bob Mayer's blog quite often.

    Regardless of how things appear at times, nothing is ever in stasis. Things must move with time or be left behind by time.

    BTW, I found you this time from your own advice to view this. Thanks, it was well worth the trip :)

  4. Thanks, Gene, and for the kind RT!

    I am only running that experiment with the Sunday check in. This thread doesn't count in the results. :D

  5. Great post Derek and good analogy. The big boys are still essential to the industry and in books actually help the indies-- I hope. They keep there prices up in ebooks driving readers to us. They kill us in paperbacks because even if we take no profit we still must charge above the norm.

    Indies are our own worst ememies. The people putting out unedited crap far outnumber the ones taking the time to do the best they can for the readers. There is so much quality out there but it strains the readers to find them.

  6. Thanks for the reply Donnie!

    I kept a copy of a book that was self/small published in hardback. rife with editing errors - or just no editing at all. In two successive paragraphs, the dog's name is different in each paragraph. I kept it as an example of what NOT to put my name on and have in print.