What media companies can learn from the book industry

We’ve written a lot at GigaOM about the evolution of — and disruption of — the book-publishing industry, from the rise of self-publishing phenomenons like Amanda Hocking to the launch of new e-book ventures like Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s new Pottermore site. But the forces that are driving the disruption in traditional book publishing are the same as those affecting virtually every other publishing-based business.

The most obvious force causing the disruption in book publishing is the fact that anything that can be turned into ones and zeroes is being digitized, whether the traditional owners or distributors of that content want it to be or not. As we’ve noted, some authors are taking advantage of this revolution, such as Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, who actually started “pirating” his own books by uploading them to file-sharing sites and found that his market share in new areas exploded as a result.

But the changes that the web has been wreaking on publishing are also about what Om has called “the democratization of distribution,” which turns virtually everyone into a potential publisher of content. That has been accelerated by tools such as Amazon’s (s azmn) Kindle Singles publishing platform, which allows anyone to become an author by simply uploading an HTML file.

Many authors have taken advantage of this phenomenon. For example, Hocking, who started writing and self-publishing her young-adult fiction novels last year through the Amazon Kindle platform, hasĀ racked up about $2 million in revenue. Another notable is Terrill Lee Lankford, who recently turned down a $500,000 advance in order to self-publish his books.

So what are some of the lessons that media companies need to learn from the book industry? I describe some of themĀ in a report for GigaOM Pro that you can find here (subscription required). For example, there are more ways to publish than there have ever been — including using new formats such as Byliner’s, which publishes long-form nonfiction that is somewhere between book-length and magazine-length. Also, more and more authors are seizing the opportunity to “go direct” by self-publishing their own work.

In order to compete with both of those trends, media companies will have to become more efficient and more resourceful. They will have to prove to authors that they serve a purpose in this new digital world. Inevitably, some will succeed and many others will not. For more on the evolution of media, please see my full GigaOM Pro report.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Marcus Hansson