Legendary Controversial Books

Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, issued in 1859, revolutionized how we understand our world.

Upton Sinclair’s Jungle, 1906, gave rise to a role for government regulation for the sake of public safety.

Prospects for Books Among legacy media, the book industry seems well posed to survive in something akin to its traditional form. The Internet has not produced competitors to book publishers, and the book industry has shifted relatively seamlessly to Internet delivery. Growth in online delivery has outpaced overall book industry growth. In adult fiction, for example, revenue has been averaging 3.2% a year. Prior to 2013, adult fiction ebooks more than tripled in the same period to 13% of total revenue for the genre but e-book growth slowed down, beginning in 2013.

The Internet, however, has shaken book retailing. Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.com dented

bricks-and-mortar bookstores beginning in 1994 with online sales and mail delivery. Steve Jobs’ Apple went a step further with iTunes and not only online sales, but also online delivery. While book retailing has changed drastically, it is still brand name publishing houses like Random House, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster that produce the product. Of course, many of these renowned publishing houses have been bought by media conglomerates. Random House, for instance, is owned by the German global media giant Bertelsmann.

Estimates peg the future growth of the 10% publishers of mass-market books at 3.5%. This is especially noteworthy considering the ongoing negative impact of the 2008 recession on the economy. In 2010, sales were growing 11.3% at HarperCollins and 10.7% at Penguin. Wiley, whose offerings include the For Dummies series, racked up a 6.7% advance. Combined revenues at the 10 largest publishers topped $7.9 billion.

Media Tomorrow New Page in Book Publishing?

Mark Coker has seen the future of book publishing. He founded Smashwords in 2008. Even with a top agent, he and his wife couldn’t get a publisher to take on their manuscript for a satirical novel about actresses in the soaps business. After the manuscript for the Cokers’ Boob Tube was rejected by a dozen publishers, he decided he would look for a better way for authors to publish and market their work.

Smashwords is self-publishing software that authors can use to convert manuscripts from Word documents into e-files. The company has deals with Apple iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and other digital bookstores to place Smashwords books on their online shelves. The company had published 360,000 titles by 2015.

Although Smashbooks operates in some respects like ebook publishing upstarts, the business model is unique. For one thing, authors set their price, on average a bargain at $3 a copy. The authors’ take, however, is high—60% of the cover price, compared to the typical 10% to 15% from traditional publishers. Also, authors don’t need an agent to hawk their manuscripts to a publisher. Smashwords books go on sale online almost immediately. without an agent and publisher as middlemen, authors save a commission that runs typically 5% of their royalties. The company takes a 10% commission on the cover price—much less than the 35% of old-line publishing houses. The retailer, like Apple’s iTunes, takes 30%, compared to the 50% of a bricks- and-mortar bookstore.

Coker has no objection to a Smashwords book becoming a blockbuster best-seller, but the attraction of his model is that, unlike a printed-and-bound book, ebooks have an unending shelf life. At least theoretically, they remain available online in perpetuity. Traditional books through traditional channels get squeezed off store shelves by new titles, usually within months, and are remaindered—which usually means being shredded.

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