State of the Industry: Technology Double-Edged for Writers

By Maria Giordano
Killer Nashville Staff

For better or worse, the last ten years has been tough on the media industry.

Newspapers and magazines have withered under the weight of new digital platforms with the publishing industry facing its own similar battles with technology.

It’s been only in the last year that print sales numbers have appeared to veer from their downward spiral when eBooks exploded onto the market in 2010-2011, said Jim Milliot, editorial director of Publishers Weekly. For the first time in a while, digital sales enjoyed only a slight rise in 2014 based on preliminary numbers, giving print a chance to stabilize.

In the balance, though, seems to be the writers. It’s no secret that droves of journalists have been released into the wild, and – now more than ever – big businesses such as Amazon and Google have stepped into the publishing game, creating a new, uncharted publishing world for writers.

Authors Guild President Roxanna Robinson perhaps said it best in a letter to the Guild membership of about 9,000 that these are interesting times for writers. Indeed, today there are more choices for writers than ever before, but there is a caveat, she says. Writers need to be more aware than ever before particularly because of the rise of companies like Amazon and Google.

AmazonPublishing has never been easy whether a writer goes the traditional route or self-publishes, Robinson told me in a phone conversation. Nevertheless, authors continue to reap fewer benefits from their hard work. They are losing control. Particularly with self-publishing “you have to understand the percentages and be willing to engage in heavy promotion. You must expect to be aware. It better suits those with the entrepreneurial spirit.”

In addition, Amazon has exerted a lot of power over independent bookstores, Robinson said. Mostly this is because Amazon is an easier source and can offer lower prices. This has changed the market in a dramatic way, she added. This power has driven bookstores out of business and damaged book sales, including those sales made by libraries.

“Here’s the problem: people like books,” Robinson said. “They like to look at books and feel them. They go look at the books and sometimes walk right outside and buy the books online. Writers should be conscious of this. Amazon is in the business of shipping. Your local independent bookseller is there for you.”

The Authors Guild has a history of being a vocal advocate for writers. Most recently, the Guild is taking steps to appeal their ongoing case against Google for what they view is the theft of copyrighted materials, basically using the intellectual property without paying for it, Robinson said. The case was dismissed in 2013, which was viewed as support of Google’s agreement with five large libraries to digitize materials for its Google Book Search database and taking possession of these texts through the process, Robinson said.