Since 1986, Leonard Maltin has printed an annual movie guide filled with reviews of practically every movie available. Yet his 2015 edition of his movie guide will be his last. As Leonard Maltin explains, “With ready access to information on the Internet, our readership has diminished at an alarming rate… The book’s loyal followers know that we strive to offer something one can’t easily find online: curated information that is accurate and user-friendly, along with our own reviews and ratings… But when a growing number of people believe that everything should be free, it’s impossible to support a reference book that requires a staff of contributors and editors.”
While Leonard Maltin may believe that people want free information, another explanation is that people no longer need the reviews of an “authority” when they can read reviews from multiple people. Just because Leonard Maltin doesn’t like a movie doesn’t mean that it lacks value to someone else. Most likely the real reason Leonard Maltin’s movie guide will no longer be printed is because people don’t want to rely on a single authority any more for reviewing movies. Instead, they’d rather get multiple opinions of movies, especially for specific movie genres.
Despite trying to be objective, Leonard Maltin can’t accurately tell people what’s a great horror movie, comedy, or action flick. That’s because Leonard Maltin isn’t an authority on any particular genre. If you were a horror fanatic, would you rather trust the opinion of Leonard Maltin or the opinion of a horror buff? Most likely you’d prefer the opinion of a horror buff because their opinion will likely have better knowledge of what makes a good horror movie. In comparison, Leonard Maltin will likely look at a horror movie from the point of view of whether it’s a good movie in general, not whether it’s a good horror movie.
In the old days, Life magazine dominated the magazine racks by focusing on general topics. Nowadays Life magazine is gone, replaced by specific magazine genres from bodybuilding to guns to fashion to wood working. People don’t want general information from a single authority. People want specialized information from multiple authorities.
So Leonard Maltin’s movie guide books aren’t losing money because people want free information, but because Leonard Maltin no longer meets their needs just like a general magazine like Life no longer meets the needs of today’s magazine readers.
In the self-publishing world, this means that the authority model no longer works. People don’t want books curated through traditional publishers who decide what’s worth publishing. People want books that cater to their specific needs and desires. While the quality of self-published books can vary, so can the quality of books from traditional publishers. Self-publishing gives readers vastly more choices, so given so many choices, they’ll likely gravitate towards authors they can trust. One way to decide if an author can be trusted is if that author offers multiple books because that likely means the author knows what they’re doing.
Of course multiple books is just an indication that the author can write decent books, but it’s still a decent indicator. This means instead of waiting for a single authority to declare your book as worthy, you can just self-publish your work yourself and let others choose to decide if they like your work or not. The more choices out there, the harder it will be for so many authors to stand out, but the self-publishing model gives everyone a chance to try. What they do afterwards is up to their own initiative.
As Leonard Maltin discovered, the old model of a single authority is dead. Today’s business model is to cater to a niche audience and create your own audience. Leonard Maltin held a monopoly on movie reviews just like traditional book publishers held the monopoly on book publishing. As Leonard Maltin has discovered, a monopoly is no longer profitable. Printed books like his annual movie guide are simply unsustainable just like traditional book publishing will gradually become unsustainable.
The answer is to self-publish you work and let your audience find you no matter who you are. It’s not as easy as the traditional book publishing model where the publisher took care of all the marketing and sales, but int he long run, self-publishing is more sustainable. Given a choice between having a monopoly and slowly disappearing, or having a future but only if you’re willing to work on making yourself noticed, self-publishign is simply the future by eliminating the middleman of traditional publishers. Just ask Leonard Maltin how well going through a traditional publisher helped sales of his books near the end.