The term “out of print” is now practically extinct.

I recently returned from the Novelists, Inc.  annual conference in St. Pete Beach, Florida.  Though I, like most of the several hundred attendees at the conference, have long-established credentials in the publishing industry, the foundations of that industry are shifting as inevitably and swiftly as the sands beneath the weary conference-goers’ feet, and the organizers decided to theme this year’s discussions around the global opportunities available to authors plunging into the digital publishing landscape. We all had much to learn!

Journalist Porter Anderson, the moderator of the introductory all-day session, put the situation this way:  “The digital dynamic means–among many other things–that there’s no such thing as “out of print” anymore.  And while that sounds like happy news for a given book or its author, it also means that the marketplace is swamped.  Nothing cycles out of the way.  Ebooks are forever.  Print-on-Demand is becoming more viable.  Old titles don’t make way for new titles.  Some observers estimate (we have no hard numbers) that the U.S. alone is producing more than 600,000 self-published titles a year. Even digital shelves are groaning.  The logical direction to look is offshore:  to international markets.  Publishing, however, historically has been structured with territorial and distributional boundaries that aren’t easily understood in a new reality of electronic access.

Most of the attendees reported that their brains were on overload by the end of the very first day, so you can imagine how minds were churning (and creative juices were pumping!) by Sunday.

Some random gleanings from the conference speakers:

  • The English language is so powerful and fecund in its willingness to absorb words from other languages that over half of the words in English are derived from foreign words
  • English has become the lingua franca of the world (with over one million words in it); we are blessed with the desire of the rest of the world to participate in our language. One in five of the world’s population speaks English.
  • By 1990, there were more students of English in China than there were people in the United States of America (from Richard Nash)
  • Cellphones are igniting a reading revolution in other countries, according to UNESCO.  Particularly in China and Africa, cellphones are becoming the primary medium upon which people read books, or just about anything else
  • There are many opportunities for English-language books outside traditional English-speaking countries.
  • Germany, with a market size of approximately 5 billion Euros, is the second largest non-English market for books, and the third largest e-book market. (Mattias Matting)
  • China, with a population of 1.4 billion, is a mobile-driven culture, and mobile reading drives the entertainment industry, as the majority read on the larger style cell phones.  In China, schools begin teaching English to children at the age of five; the country adds twenty million new English speakers yearly.
  • Because of their high degree of English proficiency, Sweden and Finland are also very rich English-language markets
  • Spanish is the third highest used language of the Internet;  there are 470 million native Spanish speakers worldwide and 550 million use it as either a first or second language.
  • Though language may be acceptable in a foreign country, culture may prove a stumbling block with regard to subject matter.  ie Christian romance doesn’t play well in China
  • Trajectory is a Boston-based company featuring an ‘intelligent network.” They have developed over 300 algorithms that map a book, parsing plot, character, setting, key words, mood, language, time period, genre etc, so that they can make recommendations not on “customers who bought this book also bought…” but rather on what readers actually read and enjoyed. (Jim Bryant, Scott Beatty)
  • Eighty percent of Y.A. (young adult) fiction is read by adults, NOT young adults. (Jane Friedman)

To further boggle the mind, I was introduced to multiple platforms, services, and technologies that all assist  authors to self-publish, from networks of editors, designers and marketers, to print-on-demand publishers, and electronic distributors that take a book from draft to digital to global upload in a matter of days.  Heady times indeed for the publishing industry, and challenging, exciting…and scary times for established authors needing to learn a whole new lexicon of terminology and processes.

Bottom line: it was a joy to re-connect and become acquainted with such a concentrated number of intelligent, thoughtful and diverse women (mostly women, anyway)  and broaden my knowledge of the changing state of the publishing industry.  My heightened awareness of the global markets for digital books will assist in editing one product for multiple target audiences, and also opens the door to adapting a single book into different formats.

Oh, and that sunset shot with the swaying palms?  That’s about the only time we got to see and feel that gorgeous beach!