How will publishers survive in the 21st…

How will publishers survive in the 21st century? Publishers have few strengths upon which to sustain their business and numerous threats. Readers, for the most part, still want books that are published because publishers have a reputation for choosing authors carefully and using expert editing to ensure a consistent quality. They also have the advantage of having a marketing team that is dedicated to selling as many books as possible in as many places as possible. But today, this is where their advantage ends, and if they wish to be sustainable they will need to reinvent themselves in ways beyond the printed text.

The current threat to publishing companies are self publishing, especially in the ebook market where self published authors can easily publish and sell their books at a lower price, the diminishing span of attention of the reader and the increasing desire for multimedia. The quality of self published books may be questionable, but when those books are cheap, people will buy them (Ribbonfish, 2016). Even in the absence of a quality assurance team, self published authors hire their own editor to boost the quality and they can rely on reviews on sites like Amazon to convince new readers to buy their books. Increasingly, talented writers are turning to self publishing because they can forgo the painful publisher rejections and can make more money per sale and ultimately make a sustainable living if their books are well written. There are a growing number of self published authors for example on Amazon who are being paid more than $100,000 per year (McGregor, 2015).

From personal experience, my first published book with Elsevier, The Canadian Paramedic, sold over 20,000 copies, but I received a flat fee of $5,000 as a first time author. In 2015 I self published a couple of workbooks (no publisher will touch a workbook without an accompanying textbook) and sold almost 1,000 books in the first year and will likely sell over 2,000 this year. One of the selling points of these workbooks is that every page has a QR code that links the reader to a video that speaks to the content of the book. The making of a blended analogue-digital book may be a solution for publishers to give consumers the multimedia they crave. These sales of self published books are increased with advertising that’s free. Self publishers can easily cross promote their products but creating blogs, Facebook pages and YouTube Channels that all feed into their products.

For publishers to remain competitive I believe they need to look more closely at the self publishing industry to see how they might be able to reduce their costs, streamline their processes and put more money into the pockets of the authors. In the ebook side of the industry, sales are not declining as publishers might have us think (Ingram, 2015). In fact, as more and more consumers experience the benefit of cheaper books and the ability to carry hundreds of books on a portable device, the popularity and sales of ebooks will continue to rise. Publishers need to recognize that you can no longer print a book and not have a corresponding ebook and audiobook. They will also need to include multimedia – for example, interviews with the author, images of scenes related to the book and short video clips relevant to the story. On the elearning side of the publishing industry, multimedia and interactivity, despite the publishing industry’s scepticism will ultimately determine the fate of the traditional publishing establishment (Costanzo, 2014). In summary, in order to survive, the publishing industry will need to do it better than ever before and better than anyone else.


Costanzo, (2014). The Real Reason Enhanced Ebooks Haven’t Taken Off (Or, Evan … Retrieved June 12, 2016, from

Ingram, M., (2015). No, E-book Sales Aren’t Falling Despite What Publishers are Saying – Fortune. Retrieved from

McGregor, J., (2015). Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year To This Self-Published Writer – Forbes. Retrieved from

Ribbonfish (2016). Has Self Publishing Given The Industry Something To Think About? Ribbonfish. Retrieved from

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