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I recently attended a fiction writers’ conference, attended predominantly by new and seasoned authors, agents and editors.  As a digital copyright professor, it was interesting to hear what was on the mind of professionals in the publishing field, particularly in comparison to digital music and movies.  Some of the discussion topics that really stood out for me included:

1. Authors and editors don’t talk much about copyright, licensing etc.  That’s something they pretty much leave to the agents to negotiate.  Little to no discussion focused on authors protecting rights in their work.

2. Traditional brick and mortar publishing houses admit they’re scared by the move to digital content, but they seem to be looking back at what happened to the movie and music industries and trying to learn lessons about working and experimenting with digital formats in a way that is responsive to authors’ and readers’ preferences.  There were some innovative ideas coming out of traditional publishing houses relating to digital technology and an acknowledgment that the technology makes it very cheap and easy for them to experiment with new content and distribution formats.  Representatives of several publishing houses noted that ‘digital piracy’ can be your friend because ‘after all we want people to read’ and sometimes releasing material cheaply or free can be a great market strategy to build a readership.

3. is getting into the publishing game and setting up its own publishing services.  Their methods for finding authors to publish include buying existing backlist catalogues from traditional publishers, soliciting new authors online, and surveying the top reviewed self-published books on Amazon.

4. A number of traditional publishers seem to be taking more interest in working with authors who originally self-published and would now like to have someone else take care of cover designs, marketing etc.  Self-publishing used to be the black horse of the industry, but it’s becoming much more openly accepted now from what I heard.

5. Publishing houses also made the point that they have to work with digital technologies in a way that maybe the music industry was not able to, because the music industry could move its revenue streams to concerts and associated merchandising while there is no equivalent side market for books.

It was a fascinating experience to watch an industry up close that is going through similar dynamics to those that hit the music and movie industries a little earlier and is responding and reacting in perhaps slightly different ways to the digital challenges.