The topic was how indie ebooks will transform the future of publishing.
The presentation is embedded at the bottom of this page for your Powerpointing pleasure.
I started the presentation by quoting lyrics from Rosetta Stoned, possibly one of the best Tool songs ever written. The song is about an ordinary guy who's abducted by space aliens. The aliens tell him:
"You are the Chosen One,The lyric basically summed up my presentation to these hundred or so students, all recent grads from around the country who hope to land careers in publishing.
the One who will deliver the message.
A message of hope for those who choose to hear it
and a warning for those who do not."
I told them I believe the opportunities for authors and publishers to reach readers are greater today than they've ever been in history. The challenge these future captains of the publishing industry face, I said, is to help publishers take advantage of the change, rather than become victimized by it.
As I explained, some publishers are taking a bunker mentality to this change. They're handing their business decisions over to risk-averse bean counters, and adopting policies and practices detrimental to their authors (fewer acquisitions, fewer risks on unknown or unproven authors, less marketing support) and readers (DRM, artificial ebook scarcity, high prices). Some of these practices that are causing them to act less like publishers, which then causes authors to ask the simple question, "why do I need a publisher?"
I talked about how publishers for the last century or so controlled the means of book production and book distribution. They determined what readers read. In the new world order, now starting to unfold with ebooks, their oligapolistic grip is waning.
The future belongs to the indie author, who can now gain access to the same digital shelves as their traditionally published brethren. With ebooks (and with a little help from Smashwords), access to the digital shelves of major ebook retailers is now becoming fully democratized.
Publishers have a bright future too, if they play their cards right. To survive and thrive in this new world order, they need to serve their authors better than their authors can serve themselves.
How Indie Ebooks Will Transform The Future of Publishing
Speaking of Bunkers...
Next month, I'm sitting on a panel for the GigaOm Bunker conference in San Francisco, speaking to a related topic, "Disintermediation in Publishing." Should be interesting. I know there's a knee-jerk tendency among some authors to believe that with this huge trend of democratization-of-everything, and the shift in power to indie authors, that authors are best served by cutting out all the traditional middlemen (agents, editors, publishers, distributors, bookstores, etc). Not so, IMHO.
If the middleman adds value to your publishing exploits, they're a catalyst and a partner, not a parasite. Retailers, for example, earn every penny of their margin by connecting book buyers to your books. I'm amazed this epiphany isn't universal. Seems like every week I see some clueless person on a message board comment, "don't sell through retailers, just sell the book on your own web site and keep all the margin for yourself". That short-sighted strategy is about as smart as opening a taco stand on a deserted island. Distributors, which connect your books to bookstores, add value as well (I'm biased, since Smashwords is an ebook distributor).