Publishing is in love with the idea of being saved by some external factor or new fad. If it's not Pottermore (direct sales), it's Apple. If it's not Bookish, it's Zola Books. (Even Amazon was viewed at one time as a savior rescuing publishing from the bookstore chains.)
The latest saviors of the publishing industry, as I sit here writing this post in the middle of 2015, are Youtube stars. Carolyn Kellogg covered PewPewDie's new book contract with Randy Penguin on Thursday in the LA Times, and she goes on to add that:
PewDiePie isn't the first with a book deal. JennXPenn is coming. Grace Helbig, Shane Dawson, Mamrie Hart and Zoella already have published books of their own.
What these YouTube stars share is an ability to connect with fans, usually teens but also older readers, who often can prove elusive to traditional publishers. The robust YA market has shown that young readers can be extraordinarily devoted, once they connect to an author. Or, publishing hopes, to a YouTube star.
So will Youtube stars save publishing?
To answer that, we'll need to reframe the question for greater context.
Will the latest iteration of the celebrity memoir, books which are almost always ghost-written and have a famous name slapped on the cover, save publishing?
When we put it that way, the answer is obvious: No (which is good because an industry that went down this path is not worth saving).
When I first read about this book deal on Dear Author, I was reminded of the many previous saviors. No industry has been rescued so thoroughly by so many different saviors as publishing, and that thought lead me to coin what we are calling The Oblivion Principle. The principle is my own creation (unless someone beat me to it), but credit for the name goes to Lynn S.
To put it simply, The Oblivion Principle states: "Anytime someone says something can save publishing, they're wrong."
It works from the pessimistic assumption that anything anointed as a savior will inevitably prove to just be wishful thinking on the part of the publishing industry. The latest fad will prove (at best) to be a moderately useful tool, and any external savior will ultimately be shown to be acting in their own best interest and have no real interest in saving publishing (why should they?).
So far, the Oblivion Principle can be applied to every new innovation or trend I've seen in the past five years. Would you care to bet whether the Oblivion Principle will be valid over the next 5 years?
P.S. Before anyone can say it, I already know of one possible exception to the Oblivion Principle: Agency eBook Pricing. Agency is not a savior but a stalling maneuver which was invented to keep the major publishers from having to switch from a business model they think they understand - print - to one they don't - ebooks.
If you think Agency is a savior, congratulations. You've entered the second stage of an industry being disrupted; you're celebrating that you have managed to hold back the hemorrhaging caused by the disruption while the disruption continues. But you haven't actually stopped it.
image by paweesit