Jane Friedman

Is Publishing in Trouble or Not—Decide! [Smart Set]

Welcome to The Smart Set, a weekly series where I curate a selection of articles from the past week related to the publishing/media industry that merit your attention. I also point to what I see as the most interesting underlying questions, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.

“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams


Tom Weldon: “Some Say Publishing Is in Trouble. They Are Completely Wrong.” by Jennifer Rankin (The Guardian)

This one was tweeted and shared a lot; it’s a catchy headline. Whenever such a strong statement is made and publicized like that, it sets off a couple alarms: (1) It’s probably in reaction to someone or something, and (2) it’s not leaving much room for nuance.

Completely wrong? Let’s take a closer look at the supporting evidence, provided by UK chief executive Tom Weldon of Penguin Random House:

Questions raised:

London Book Fair 2014: PW Talks With Kobo President Michael Tamblyn by Andrew Albanese (Publishers Weekly)

Kobo is one of the ebook devices and retailers that continues to compete against Amazon. It’s known for having a solid share of the Canadian market (it’s based in Toronto) and a strong international footprint (it is owned by Rakuten in Japan).

This interview with Tamblyn has a few gems in it, including the following, where he’s asked about the impact of self-publishing to Kobo’s bottom line:

It’s become a very significant piece of the business for us. It is now quite easily 10% or 11% of unit sales on any given day. That means self-publishing in any given country is a big five publisher, if you look at it weight for weight. In the aggregate, it has become a significant force, I’d say a transformative force when we look at authors and their relationship to publishers. Authors now know this other means is available to them and that in turn has made publishers step up their game. To me, this is kind of the Golden Age of the author, and we’re happy to help move that along.

Questions raised:

Publishers Are Warming to Fan Fiction, But Can It Go Mainstream? by Rachel Edidin (Wired)

For the past couple years, I’ve worked in the literary publishing world, which is largely ignorant of the enormity of writing and reading that happens on fan-fiction community sites. This article at Wired discusses some new initiatives to harness the writers and community around fan-fiction, and turn it into something monetizable; it argues that the lines between fan-fiction and other types of writing are beginning to blur.

Questions raised:

What questions (or answers) do you have? Share in the comments.

By the way: Don’t miss my interview with the Late Night Library, where I discuss the economics of being a writer in the digital age, along with by Scratch co-founder, Manjula Martin.