Though few experts predict the demise of the big publishing houses, their future role in providing the majority of content for today's reading public is now hotly debated by industry insiders. In the same way that cable TV has eaten into the monopoly once held by the big networks, smaller publishers aim to take a bigger piece of the publishing pie.
And the main reason why is the change in technology and the emergence and extraordinary rise of the digital-publishing phenomenon. "E-books sales have exploded more than 500 percent in only a few years," says Larry Leichman, founder of Arbor Books New Jersey, an independent book-services and ghostwriting company. "And as e-books continue to become more and more popular, the low cost of producing and distributing books gives independent writers a tremendous boost. Just look at the sales figures for Amanda Hocking, a self-published author who produces YA fantasy books. She's routinely at the top of Amazon's bestseller list."
In fact, Amazon.com is a major force in this independent-publishing revolution. Perhaps no other entity has done so much to level the publishing playing field. Amazon provides the marketplace and lets consumers decide what's popular. More and more people are turning to reader reviews instead of big-name critics at newspapers and magazines when it comes to helping them decide their next e-book purchase.
And, according to Amazon.com, e-book sales have already surpassed hardcover sales and will surpass paperback sales in 2011. "Everything is going digital," says Joel Hochman, president of Arbor Books' ghostwriting division. "This trend is helping independent publishing earn the same respect as independent films and music."
Traditional publishers are surely feeling the heat from this growing revolution. Some houses, such as Simon & Schuster, are dumping their paperback divisions in favor of a push toward digital, but fierce competition with self-publishers could further erode their bottom lines.
With e-book sales growing exponentially, the barrier to entry into the market is now lower than ever. Small presses and individual authors no longer have to worry about the cost of manufacturing. This in turn leads to higher royalty payments to writers.
Today's improved, light-weight electronic readers are also making more choices available. Since many authors are now releasing their "older" out-of-print titles as e-books and offering them at huge discounts, it can cost just a few bucks to try out a new author. Ultimately, this means more people reading more titles by more authors than ever before. This is sweet music to the independent movement.