The Four Pathways of Modern Book Publishing

In The Future of Ebooks, I laid out a vision for what books could become in a world free of technological constraints. But the modern reality of publishing is decidedly less idealistic.

I’ve spent the past couple months immersed in the world of nonfiction book publishing, trying to deeply understand the state of the industry. I’ve read dozens of articles and books, spoken to experienced agents and editors, and authors ranging from New York Times bestsellers to self-published writers.

I’ve found that the choice between “traditional publishing” and “self-publishing” is not quite so simple. We are witnessing not just the fall of the former and rise of the latter, but a cornucopia explosion of different publishing options. These pathways intersect and overlap in many places, but I believe that four of them have emerged as the main options, serving distinct purposes and goals:

  1. Self-publishing: Make money short-term directly from books 
  2. Experts for hire: Build credibility and thought leadership
  3. Crowdfunding: Build a community and develop a product
  4. Traditional publishing: Long-term profitability and growth
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