Writers, authors, and publishers have been influencing technology and culture since the written word was invented. I am constantly reminded of this every day on my commute to work when my train crosses over the river and passes through Mainz, Germany, which is the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg, the father of the movable type printing press.
This invention was one of the key catalysts for starting the Renaissance and the scientific revolution. Its creation occurred over 500 years ago, and yet I am shocked and amazed when I think of all of the revolutionary events that have occurred because of it, just in the span of my lifetime.
In the past few years, we have experienced a new renaissance of sorts, in the growth of ebooks, ebook sales, e-reader devices, and the self-publishing industry.
It is now possible for an author to write, self publish, and sell their own books online, literally from a mobile device, and are able to make a decent living from it. Some are making millions from it.
The Good News
The good news is, that no longer are we restricted to having to rely entirely on a publishing company as a gatekeeper to successfully promote and sell our books.
We have reached a point where the same promotional, printing, sales, and distribution capabilities, once only available to major publishing companies are becoming available to everyone. These tools are free and easily accessible online, which is also, I might add, where the readers are browsing and doing a majority of their shopping.
The Bad News
The bad news is just that. The old ways of browsing for new books in the book stores are rapidly disappearing as major brick and mortar stores are losing out to digital and going out of business. Ebooks are now outselling print books (according to Amazon) and as a result, the majority of the promotional focus is now done online.
The new primetime is no longer sitting around the TV at night with the family or reading the newspaper. It is now online, on mobile devices, on your Facebook wall, in the blogs, and in the apps. If you want to market a product successfully, these new mediums are where you now have to target.
To add to this growing pressure to adapt to all of these changes, consider this:
According to a recent article on Smashing Magazine:
“…if you recorded all human communication from the dawn of time to 2003, it’d take up about 5 billion gigabytes of storage space. Now we’re creating that much data every two days.”
What this means is we are in the middle of an exponential growth curve of garbage content production. People are writing and publishing in droves and without publishers and editors to filter it, “most” of it is pretty bad. Without the help of contextual platforms such as Google, Apple’s Siri, Facebook, and other upcoming services that help to push you relevant information based on your interests, it will soon become impossible to separate the cream from the crap.
As a result, people will continue to rely on these filters to ensure that they are receiving relevant content and the ability of authors and writers to stay on the good side of these filters, will require considerable focus on tech and networking.
Welcome To The World of The New Digital Author
Because of all of these changes and challenges, authors are now facing the paradox of both the incredible freedom to control their financial destinies, but also the pressure to adapt, learn and add a whole new mandatory layer of tech, marketing, and promotional skills to their toolbox.
It is no longer just a matter of being a good writer these days. In order to stay competitive and earn a decent living as a writer, artist, musician, or any other type of creative profession for that matter, you have to start thinking strategically and you have to think digitally.
Unless you polish your online marketing skills and learn how to compete strategically by making your quality writing, books and products stand out from the masses and index in these new contextual search engines, you will be buried.
Selling digital content is a whole new ballgame. (Just ask the musicians!) It requires a digital marketing strategy, an author platform, a mechanism for traffic, discovery, research, lead capture, sales, communication, and networking, and as a result, an overarching understanding of all the complexities involved. Now, more so than ever, because of the highly competitive ebook prices, it also requires a major focus on the backend strategy and the upsell.
The reality is, if you want to make a living as a writer, you now need a hybrid of BOTH mad writing skills AND ninja digital marketing skills. It is not just a luxury anymore. It is a necessity.
Should you be blogging, using social media, building a platform, and digitizing your work? The answer is YES to all of it. It has been for some time now. It is a moot point.
Sure this is a lot to learn, and I definitely suggest moderation, but just get started. Learn something. Take action and do it NOW!
To summarize, there are a ton of new opportunities for authors for selling and promoting their work, however, the downside is that people are jumping on the bandwagon in droves. If you want to stay competitive you need digital marketing skills and you need to start developing them now.
Let me say before I close that I can’t predict the future. In many ways, I feel we are reaching a critical mass. I have fears for authors, both published and self-published in regards to their means of rising above the noise and growing and maintaining a large enough fan base to be able to make a decent living selling their work.
On one hand, I am full of doom and gloom for the industry. On another hand, part of me is screaming RELAX! Just write good stuff and people will follow.
I think it is a little of both. We need to put continued focus on writing great stuff, however, we also need to have the skills to stay in the game, or else things will be getting very difficult for authors very quickly.
What are your thoughts on the future of publishing? Do you have a digital strategy?
If so, I would love to hear about it.
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Sean Earley is an American digital consultant, podcast host, speaker, publisher & music producer. He advises Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs and organizations on innovation, new technology, strategy, communications, marketing & design. He is the host of several podcasts and makes regular appearances on international media platforms where he discusses the latest trends in technology, culture, business and politics.