A business in transition

As ebooks, self-publishing, and social media connect writers directly with readers, romance publishers must adapt. Agent Steven Axelrod describes the changes facing the industry, including the new opportunities and challenges for everyone, from writers to agents to retailers.


How is the publishing industry changing?

It used to be, you know, a classic food chain where the author had a relationship to the editor, the editor with the publisher, you know, the other people in the publishers had a relationship to the wholesaler who had a relationship with the retailer who had a relationship with the customer and all of a sudden, it’s been leapfrogged. The author now has the dominant direct relationship with the customer and it is an enormous opportunity and it’s an enormous time sink. It requires a totally different skill set. It requires, you know, a willingness to put yourself out there in a way that some people are not at all comfortable with, to engage with the public in a broad way. It’s an opportunity, and it’s an obligation, and it’s a very mixed bag.

Some of them are phenomenal on Twitter, you know, so they love it. You know, they just get tweeted all day, and sell books, and it’s great. Others find it not really the role that they’re happy playing and, you know, it’s frustrating because it’s very hard to say that someone who’s good at Twitter is also a good novelist or someone who is bad at Twitter is still a good novelist. I mean you sort of end up judging people by some standards that never used to really apply and now they do, and it’s confusing and upsetting in some cases; exciting in other cases.

It’s a business in transition, that’s for sure, but I think it’s—the publishers might be hurt by disruptions in their way of doing business. Agents certainly will be hurt by disruptions in their way of doing business. I think writers are going to be affected and maybe negatively, but writing is going on.

How are ebooks changing reading?

The greatest thing about ebooks is people are reading more. You know, it was feared that, you know, kids were not going to pay attention to ebooks, would read less. They’re reading more. Adults are reading more, you know. Everyone’s reading more. You know, so it’s a great time for writers in that respect, but if the music business is sort of any, you know, fair indication of what we’re heading toward, it’s a world where, you know, the music is abounding, but the musicians are making a worse living than they made. They’re working harder and earning less than they made under the big label system. And I think that if there will be an effect, you know, a sort of major effect, it’ll be on the authors and, you know, the rest of us who provide services to authors, that it’s going to be harder and it’s going to be less lucrative, but, you know, for writers, for new writers, for, you know, discovery of new writers, it’s going to be just the best of times.

How is the role of the agent changing?

It makes me question what my response needs to be to this kind of disruptive change. You know, I don’t want to be the last standing buggy whip manufacturer, but, you know, what I become and, you know, where my skills really can, you know, add value in this new landscape is not clear. It’s just not at all clear. So, it’s certainly an interesting—you know, “May you live in interesting times” the Chinese say. This is an interesting time.

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