The Future of Publishing: Small Presses?

Many people are predicting massive changes to publishing as we know it, and making the case for e-readers, e-books, and a future in which the physical book is only a part of how we view reading sustained, long texts. Here are a few things you should know about the future of publishing, including the fact that small presses may be on the forefront of the wave…

—Within 50 to 70 years most power grids will be overloaded and have gone dark, in coordination with the collapse of a unified world civilization and the balkanization of cultures and societies. Any remaining pockets of electricity will be used for basic human needs or for military purposes. Therefore, e-books and e-texts will be absent from any discussion of the future of publishing.

—Although the potential reading population will have decreased from over 7 billion to about 500 million, one could hope that this would still be a large enough pool to sustain a book culture. Unfortunately, 85 percent of all survivors will be probably not have been serious readers pre-Collapse.

—In all likelihood, making a living as a full-time writer will be impossible unless you are already the leader of a junta, gang, or militia and have the resources to put out your own Mein Kampf. If you are in this position, you will have a built-in captive audience for your writings.

—Less than 0.0000001 percent of all writers in this scenario will make their living from writing, and only 3 of those writers will be novelists. Most writers will make their living selling metal scraps, human meat, and edible weeds.

—Income for poets will remain pretty much comparable to their income now.

—Large publishers will disappear, along with most cities. Small presses, especially publishers with in-house printing methods pre-dating the invention of electricity will stand to gain the most from the new publishing paradigm. Printers with emergency generators may find ways to become publishing houses for at least a short time.

—Any writer who decided to take advantage of the Google cloud and e-publishing to the exclusion of print will be forgotten.

—Writers whose books were published in durable physical editions or on paper built to last will flourish in reputation in the future, even if they themselves are buried under girders, roasting as human barbecue, or working as grimy court jesters to petty despots until the inevitable bullet to the head and their own sojourn on the spit.

—In this environment, you may be your own best audience. As ever, don’t follow trends. Write for yourself, and from your heart. While you can.

31 comments on “The Future of Publishing: Small Presses?

  1. Grant Stone says:

    If I’ve read it correctly, your message here is: Become a poet.

    1: You’ll have an advantage in the coming chaos as you will have already acquired a taste for expired cat food.
    2: Your knowledge of how to kill a man with your bare hands will help you survive the Thunderdome fights against all the scifi and romance writers. (Robert Frost Tiger Punch!)

  2. Blue Tyson says:

    In this scenario, I do believe all the unimportant paper stuff like fiction will be burned as fuel…

  3. Lucas Martin says:

    This dooms day scenario makes a good case for eBook readers with solar panels – unless we’ve some how managed to black out the sun by then. In which case, building a slimline ebook reader with a built in flux capacitor would probably be our only option (and it would double up quite nicely as a time machine too).

    Once again, the writing industry is driving innovation!

  4. Yesss….solar panels will solve all problems of distribution of e-books and creation of them after the collapse of civilization. Great thinking! You’ll be first up against the wall when the collapse comes–the wall of “I Have a Solar Panel Idea” thinkers who will be receiving innovation “medals”.

  5. Larry says:

    I was/am a historian. I’m DOOMED!

  6. But are you tender, Larry?

  7. Larry says:

    I turn 36 in less than two weeks. I would imagine that some might find me to be a bit tough to chew. Then again, I guess I could be fattened up first. Grain-fed historians and grass-fed poets?

  8. D Grace says:

    I love me some long pork!!!

  9. Carl Watkins says:

    You seemed to have left out how the United Kingdom will be relatively untouched by this and divided among the three Lords Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman. *SPOILER* One of the territories will worship a snake god; Strangely, it’s not Alan Moore’s.

  10. You’re strangely optimistic for someone who will be a human popsicle by then.

  11. Dylan Fox says:

    This is the most incisive and forward-thinking look at the future of the publishing industry I’ve read for a long time. I don’t mind being killed and eaten, but what’s going to happen to my intellectual property rights? If people perform my works publicly, does that fall under audiobook distribution or performance rights? How am I going to stop people pirating my work? These are important questions, Jeff. Maintaining copyright, after all, is more important than people enjoying your work.

  12. Kat Clay says:

    Post-apocalypse poetry sounds like a great title for an anthology… if I manage to make it. Does it help I’ve seen most of the major John Carpenter movies?

  13. Paul Smith says:

    Aha, but you see Jeff, all poets are part of a secret hermatic order called The Order of the Transient Word. Centuries again, their shadowy council predictated all of this and for the last hundred years poets have been larning to subsist purely on a steady diet of opiates and lose men and women, of which will no doubt be in great supply in this dark dystopian future. Through the sheer force of the Word itself they will rule as ageless godheads able to kill men with a single sharp syllable.

    I for one welcome our new lyrical overlords.

  14. Paul Smith says:

    (that should read – last few hundreds of years)

  15. jeff vandermeer says:

    I love how you all want to save some portion of the world even on a joke post. Get with the program, people! It’s destruction, not resurrection.

  16. Larry says:

    Oh, I’ve accepted that the world shall be destroyed. But there are those…umm….”unmentionables” that will pick the bones of humanity clean, but I don’t want my head smacked, so I’ll leave them to your imaginations….chittering.

  17. Nadine says:

    I intend to have my own junta of highly-trained guerilla knitters and family farmers, and my manifesto will include explicit instructions regarding the disposition of illiterate interlopers. Anyone wishing to join the commune will first be required to pass a basic reading test.

    There will be essay questions.

  18. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    GUERILLA KNITTERS?!?!?!?!?!! Are you INSANE? Knitting is for the civilized.

  19. Larry says:

    And don’t forget about the Borgesian labyrinth creators. They shall confuse the juntas.

  20. Bill Ectric says:

    Silverfish will be pleased!
    http://www.billectric.com/SilverfishCity.html

  21. Nadine says:

    I have seen some very uncivilized knitters, Jeff. Those needles are /sharp/. :(

  22. I love small presses. Especially the ones you can fit in the palm of your hand. You can print single letters on the tiny pages, and run them in a series, bound with thread, to spell out important ideas, like, “C-T-H-U-L-H-U” and “F-A-R-T” and “B-U-T-T-O-N”.

    Being a writer in the future will be all about securing a monopoly on individual, popular words. I expect Copyright law to become even more draconian than it is now, regarding individual words.

  23. As visions of future realities go, your prognostications are pretty cool.
    However, I envision a different reality.
    Our electrosilica masters will not want us to read, (the few of us they keep around for amusement, that is).
    The end result is the same of course. No electronic books (thank goodness).
    (Pssss, trying to pass human underground resistance messages on a Kindle might not be a good idea….)

  24. Anyone coming onto my property will be boiled down for glue. Books will continue!

  25. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    heh. glue is good. nice photos of your house, btw. looks lovely.

  26. What a rosy future you paint, haha. :P

  27. As a D&D tie-in writer I am among the few who will flourish in the Vandermeer Age. 32 years as a gamer and almost 15 in the inner circle and I’ve learned amazing survival skills. What I could do with a 10-foot pole you people couldn’t imagine. All I need is a tinder box and a battle-axe and my house will become the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, or maybe Tegel Manor.

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