Gazing Into the Doom-Eye of the Mad Oracle

The advent of e-readers and the sudden ease of self-publishing was like a bomb going off inside the publishing world.  The dust from this explosion is so thick that nobody can predict how it’s all going to look when it settles.  All we can do, to steal a phrase from one of my favorite author-bloggers Chuck Wendig, is “gaze into the doom-eye of the mad oracle.”  You ask a hundred people what’s going to happen and you’ll get about a billion different guesses.  We’re terrified of the unknown.  I don’t think we need to panic, though.

I’ve been around the games industry for more than a decade and I’ve watched many revolutions come and go in the digital world.  Right now we’re deep in the heart of a social network gaming revolution.  The revolution was started, as most revolutions are, by a band of upstarts trying to upset the world order.  They had ideas, and they saw opportunities, so they started launching games on a little network called Facebook.  Maybe you’ve heard of it.

This company (Zynga for those keeping score) historically dominated the list of top ten social networking games.  The big, established players in video games (Electronic Arts, for example) were playing catchup.  They copied what other companies did, trying to find a foothold for themselves in this newly forged frontier.  Once the big guns figured out the new rules of that new frontier, however, they started to make some serious ground.

Sometimes the major players don’t learn the new rules and they collapse.  See: Borders.  Paradigm shifts are scary things, especially for the big businesses, but many of them will make the necessary changes and come out better for it.

It’s a story that’s been repeated throughout history.  People panic when someone upsets the balance and everyone gets their own ideas of what’s best.  I’ve seen it in the direct-to-consumer revolution with video games, I’ve seen it with music, movies, and now with print.  I’ve even seen this story with hybrid cars.  I bet you didn’t know how deep that rabbit hole went.  Upstarts have been trying to come up with hybrids for years, and in the end, who ended up with the current top technology?  Toyota and Honda.  The ones with the funds and expertise for really taking the trails blazed by the revolutionaries to that next level.

So the point?  The big guns are either going to adapt and take the lead, or they’re going to fail.  Some of them will learn the new rules, and when they do, they’re going to be safe places to be.

Can you make it in self publishing?  Sure.  Plenty have, and as I said before, I have nothing but the greatest of respect for their craft and all the work they put into that path.  I don’t think the agents and the big publishers are going away, though.  They’re going to adapt and take their clients with them into the future.

What are your thoughts?  Do you believe that this revolution will truly be the end of the traditional publishers, or do you think they’ll be made better by it?  What role do you think agents will play in this new world?

3 thoughts on “Gazing Into the Doom-Eye of the Mad Oracle

  1. I agree with you: things are changing, but we’re not all doomed. The sky is not falling. It’s just, you know, the sun setting on one day, and tomorrow it will rise on another. As per usual.

    That said, I have no idea exactly what role agents or publishers will play in this role. Something tells me agents will become even more valuable as career guides (NOT as publishers, as many are starting to do) and that ALL authors will learn to play in both sandboxes (traditional and self publishing). That’s just my guess at this time, though. {shrug} I’m willing to be wrong, and even more willing to keep my eyes and ears open so I can be a part of whatever’s coming.

  2. Great post, Ben. I couldn’t agree more and the analogy of Zynga and EA is perfect. It will all even out and after working with EA and not being laid off during difficult times, I’m placing my best on aligning with the big boys. There is comfort in hundreds, of not thousands, of years of combined experience. I can’t compete with this as an individual.

  3. Dustin – Well said. I can never expect to amass that amount of learning and expertise.

    Kristan – The Agent-as-Publisher model seems like a terrible conflict of interests to me and I’m leery of it. As for self-pub going forward, I do think that a great many traditional authors will dip into it, perhaps for short stories or tie-ins that the traditional publishers can’t justify the expense on.

    I agree with your assessment of agents, too. I think they’ll have a fantastic role as guidance counselors on where to go with all of our various stories, multimedia experiments, what to self-pub, what to go traditional on, etc.

    Who knows. It’s just one of the billion different outcomes. Either way, as Douglas Adams once said: Don’t Panic.

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