Publishing in a digital age: Fergal Tobin

Fergal Tobin is publishing editor with Gill and Macmillan. This article is based on his presentation at Freelance Forum 2012 on 24 September 2012.

· Self-publishing is enabled by digital technology. It will represent a growing percentage of all published work in the future

· Self-published work going straight to e or POD offers opportunities for some authors that traditional publishers cannot satisfy, but as with traditional publishing the failure rate is high. A lot of content is simply going to disappear into cyberspace, there to jostle with the vast Niagara of stuff being uploaded all the time.

Image via Morguefile

· E publishing is driven overwhelmingly by fiction, especially popular fiction. Principal non-fiction categories are self-help, popular medicine and psychology

· E books account for about 20% of US publishing by value. The equivalent UK figure is about 10%, but in Germany it is barely 2%. These numbers will all grow but one guess is as good as another in terms of where it will all level out. Rest assured, however, that national and cultural differences will tell. It is not just a matter of Kindle penetration. One of the reasons that the US leads in all this is not just that Amazon and Apple are American, but that America adores and embraces the new. Old Europe may be a little more reticent. For example, the positive discrimination shown by French taxation law towards bookshops should help to sustain the p book more robustly there than in UK

· Traditional publishing will not die. We select – a crucial function that of itself adds value through third-party validation of the content. And remember, that validation take the form of an investment. The publisher puts his money where his mouth is. He then finances the entire operation, reporting to the author at agreed intervals, adds value through editing (which everyone agreed was an indispensable function), selling, marketing, promoting and securing the widest possible distribution

· The traffic is not all one way. Self-publishing can be exhausting because it throws all the tasks normally discharged by the publisher back on to the author. The most successful self-published author of recent years, Amanda Hocking, has had enough and has signed a deal with St Martin’s Press/Pan Macmillan

· As with traditional publishing, you always hear of the successes. Remember that they conceal a greater number of failures

· The two models can co-exist, just as print and digital are co-existing

One thing I did not say but might add here. Suppose some non-fiction genres (history, biography) go 20% digital. Unless that represents a growth of the overall market, it means that it cannibalises the print market. Result: shorter print runs and higher prices for print. You heard it here first!