Not Dead Yet!
Always good to use a Python quote. I was wondering whether someone would respond. I titled the post a bit outrageously to get reactions and Jeremy Greenfield did in his post.
When I say traditional publishing the focus is on the traditional, not the publishing. I agree that there are many very smart people in publishing who are engaged in changing the industry to face the future. I do have to admit to being a bit dismayed eBooks caught the industry so much by surprise.
Tradition, by its nature, is backward looking. And let’s be honest: a lot of people are being pushed into the digital future kicking and screaming. Many people are simply out of luck—when was the last time you used a travel agent? The digital world has almost wiped out certain industries while presenting opportunities for others.
As far as publishers’ bottom lines improving, it is actually due a lot to digital books. Low cost, high return. So the financial future looks good, although the DOJ suit might cause a problem. From an author’s point of view, 25% of net receipts is still pretty low, and as digital grows to be a larger and larger slice on royalty statements, cracks are going to appear. After all, what does 25% of net receipts (and I’m not a fan of net) compare to 70% direct royalties?
Publishers as curators? Well, people point to Snooki and that’s a rather cheap shot. Most of the people who are taking that line have been curated, so, of course they believe in it. You’re not seeing many midlist authors shouting that. Or following Scott Turow’s line. What I find odd is that the Author’s Guild is so concerned with defending publishers. One of the realities of publishing is that I have never, not once, seen an article lamenting an author going out of business, but every bookstore that folds has oodles of tears spilled. A reality of the indie publishing movement is a lot of the successful ones are people coming out of the midlist of traditional publishing. Authors who were treated as replaceable parts by their publisher. There is no doubt that some resentment bubbles up at times.
Publishers as curators will be more interesting as they skim more and more successful indie authors off the top. The real curators are readers. Yeah, there’s a lot of dreck out there, but readers are speaking with their wallets and their choices.
As far as sales, marketing, distribution, logistics, accounting, investment, etc. isn’t that called running a business? One of the motivations for my post is the flurry of blogs and speeches defending publishing where they are basically saying “we run a book business.” Well, yeah. So do I. That a publishing company had an internal memo listing what they do, seems, well, odd.
Print distribution was the chokepoint of publishing and still is to an extent, but the burgeoning eBook market gives opportunities to authors that never existed. And here’s a really key thing: while I mentioned above that while readers are the curators, authors now have a chance to succeed they didn’t have before, where they rely on their own writing and their own business efforts. Because no matter how well written a book was, there were so many standing between the author and the reader whose work efforts factored into the success of the book. Coming out of the Special Forces, a huge mistake I made going into publishing was assuming everyone would be doing their job to the best of the abilities. Editors are overwhelmed with titles, agents are juggling numerous clients. The sales force has to pick and choose which titles to feature. Marketing money and efforts have to be focused. But with digital, there is no one between the author and the reader. Those authors who can produce a quality product and then work hard at promoting, building community and marketing, have a chance to excel. For example, the curators probably don’t think much of Kindle Select, but the Free option for five days leads to huge spikes in sales afterward. In fact, grab some free books, such as Area 51 Legend, which is free today and tomorrow (four more titles listed here). I’m also using Pinterest in a different way with building community and also linking to eBooks and audiobooks and just blogged about it (I am a fan of the Audible ACX program, which is another way authors can connect with readers). The fact that many of these authors do take conventional contracts is a reality based on how incredibly hard it is to do it on your own. Yes, big publishers will be around, for a long time. Probably until the 3rd Zombie War. But they will look different. And the hope is they will treat authors better.
Because here is a fundamental truism that has received little attention: no one cares more about a book than the author. I sell more eBooks in a day than St. Martins Press is able to do in six months with three books I collaborated on that were bestsellers in print. I’ve had an editor tell me: we can barely market our frontlist, never mind our backlist. But if someone hasn’t read your books, your backlist is frontlist for them. And to the author.