Was March 2012 the month Traditional Publishing died?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

I have come to the conclusion that March 2012 was the month traditional publishing died.  They just don’t know it yet.

I tweeted this the other day.  All day I’d been reading blog posts, news articles, and discussing it with my wife, who is the smartest person I know (and always has the remote).  She reads everything.  Every day she reads the NY Times.  The entire NY Times, including the classifieds.  She reads books, magazines, watches shows.  Basically she is a walking source of useless information unless you need information.  She remembers everything she absorbs.  I have never won an argument with her.  It is a man’s normal state to lose every argument with his wife.

I’ve been keeping her up to date on what I’ve been doing with Who Dares Wins Publishing and our great successes and she’s very happy about it.  She saw me struggle in traditional publishing for 20 years.  We used to get in a lot of arguments because what the publishers were doing made absolutely no sense to her.  And she was right.  It was very frustrating for me to try to explain the unexplainable. The traditional publishing model is a deeply flawed system.  Focused on distributing books to consignment outlets.  Accepting 50% returns.  Basing future print runs on the past, not the future.  Going for celebrity book deals that don’t earn out.  Having no formal training or nurturing program for authors.  (I still am waiting for any agent or editor to show me a copy of their Standing Operating Procedure for new authors they contract.  We have several:  called Write It Forward: From Writer To Successful Author; The ShelfLess Book: The Complete Digital Author; The Novel Writers Toolkit; and last but not least, Kristen Lamb’s: We Are Not Alone: The Writers’ Guide to Social Media

Digital books changed everything.  The distance and time between the author and the reader is no more than the WiFi connection.  Yet they still don’t get it.  I read Publishers Lunch and see the deals for 2013, even 2014.  Hell, the world’s coming to anend at the latter stages of 2012—what’s the point?

At Who Dares Wins Publishing our motto has been Lead, Follow, or Get The Hell Out of The Way.  I’m accepting that’s truer than I ever thought.  Amazon pulled the buy buttons on the Independent Publishing Group over a contract dispute.The DOJ is going after the Agency Pricing model.  Zombies are rushing the ramparts.

I used to think agents could survive by selling subrights.  But I have 18 titles on ACX in audio with more in the pipeline.  No need for someone to do it for me.  A very simple and well-run system.  I’m hiring translators and have Spanish, German and Italian books in production to send to the various Amazon, Apple and Kobo outlets around the world.  What subrights?  I own them and I have distribution.  Called the Internet.

Yes.  I need editing.  Outsourced.  Just like translations, audio production, etc.  So far I’ve invested $32,000 into Audible ACX. For the long tail.  Kristine Rusch has a very nice blog post about the differences in business models regarding scarcity and abundance.

Yes, traditional publishers have their best-selling authors keeping them propped up in their chairs.  But how long will that last?  The new “mid-list” are author-entrepreneurs who not only know how to write a book but also how to run a business.  I EARN a Publishers Lunch “very nice deal” every month in checks direct deposited.  By the end of 2012 I plan to make that a “good deal” every month.  Who Dares Wins Publishing is a seven-figure business in just 18 months.

Here is the fracture line that will stick a fork in publishing as we knew it:  when even for the top 5% of authors all those print books in Sams/WalMart/Costco don’t outsell what they have on Amazon/PubIt/iBooks.  That’s a couple of years, maybe just months off.  When I say die, I mean the ‘traditional’ part of traditional publishing.  It will evolved into something new.  A Big Four as some speculate.  A Borg entity.  Skynet.

What’s staggering is how few publishers/agents/editors/bookstores prepared for the future.  Richard Curtis did at e-Reads.  But overall, most ignored the future. The music industry got gutted by downloads, but publishing ignored it.

At Digital Book World in January of this year, I was a bit stunned at the lack of knowledge displayed by many industry gurus about how the eBook market really works.  At a very simple thing:  how do you sell eBooks to readers?  It reminded me of historians theorizing about how a battle really happened.  If they hadn’t “seen the elephant” they had no clue.  It’s the difference between watching Saving Private Ryan and actually being on Omaha Beach.

I love books.  Every day when I go down to my office to work, the walls of the stairwell are full of mass market paperbacks.  We have an entire room in the front of the house full of bookcases and hardcovers.  I have a hardcover on my night-table:  Defending Jacob by William Landay.  Brilliant writing. Was written up in the NY Times Book Review (yes, my wife read the review and the book.  She not only controls the remote, I read whatever she shoves in my hands—she completes me to steal another movie line).

The reality is the way content flows from the author to the reader has changed so fundamentally that—well, that’s the reality.

11 thoughts on “Was March 2012 the month Traditional Publishing died?

  1. Jason Myers

    And Helen stated the very same thing I was thinking: what about the writer who has no business skills? What’re they to do? What about the new author who wants to go on his own, but doesn’t have the 20 book back titles? Or the writer who never really even made it to midlist and certainly never made it to NY Times Bestseller list. How should they go forth?

  2. Bob MayerBob Mayer Post author

    When I say traditional publishing I mean as we’ve known it. A new business model will develop that will offer opportunities.

    Also, I didn’t venture off on my own, I formed a team with Jen Talty and my own small, lean, publishing company. We are able to change quickly and adapt to all that’s happening. We split the workload and each focus on our areas of expertise.

  3. TraceyLyons

    Hey Bob,
    you know you attend so many RWA conferences and I’ve never sat in on one of your talks. Well, now I’m going to have to seriously make an effort to do so! I hope there will be room for books you can actually hold in your hands turning pages and those that are digital. and I agree with all the comment here. having a big back list makes a huge difference in how well you do in the digital age. I sold foreign rights on my own for one of my books, if I had the rights back to the rest of my back list I’d sell those as well. I’m still feeling a little drunk with all the twists and turns of this new age of published, but as always, Bob you do provide an interesting POV!

  4. C. T. Blaise

    So, so right! I’m not a math whiz, but when I see Amazon offering up to 70% royalties it’s tempting. I’m encouraged that some mainstream publishers are offering to publish more books in e-format. Still, I want to see them publish more unknowns. I’ve read many a book by a bankable author and been disappointed. Today’s writer must be a marketing maven while still overseeing the creation of new work. Your comment about publishers failure to nurture new writers was particularly poignant. Twenty years ago I submitted my first manuscript. Though denied, I received a wonderfully educational rejection letter from the publisher. Today’s writer gets a computer-generated rejection letter, if any at all. Meanwhile, as a writer I wonder sometimes if my slushpiled manuscript is being dusted off and used by someone else. I’m looking forward to meeting you in Indianapolis on the 21st of April!

  5. Tom Abbott

    Hi, Bob!

    Most of the women from my writers group are in RWA (Utah chapter). They talk about you non-stop. 🙂

    I couldn’t agree with this post more. I think we’ll always have books in some form or other, but eBooks are a game-changer. The ones I really worry about are the agents. My big worry was that publishers wouldn’t want to touch a book that was previously ePublished (something about First Rights). However, I’ve spoken with several editors who’ve told me they have no reservations picking up a book or two from an indie author.

    Read more on my blog: Understanding the New Publishing Market

  6. Douglas Brown

    Very good article. I also think traditional publishing will evolve and in a couple years will be completely different than what we see now. I think publishers are a necessary thing. After all, without someone weeding out the poor writers from the good ones, readers will eventually get tired of trial and error. I wager if you were to go to Amazon and pick 10 random books from authors not with publishers backing them, you would be disappointed more often than not. I’m not saying it takes a publisher to make a book good, just that the sheer number of books being put out every day will become even greater than they already are and finding the gems will become impossible. If I as a reader put the time into ten books and let’s say I hated all ten of them because of bad choices, it wouldn’t take long for me to slowly stop reading. Maybe small press will elevate and become more important since their risk is smaller than the big 6. Small presses, if they are run correctly, don’t rely on a blockbuster to survive. Granted, they cannot get their message (book) out to as large of an audience, but with viral media now running the show, a small publisher may only need one book to take off for them to be set and they avoid the large losses of printing thousands of books that may never sell. Anyway, the way big publishers operate will have to change. As fast as ebook sales are increasing, I still think there are a lot of readers who will always prefer printed books.

  7. Tom Evans

    I tend to agree. I’ve self published most of my books to date but have had one published by a traditional publisher. Their behaviour is so reminscent of a dinosaur who doesn’t know a big rock is heading their way.

    Intransigent, blinkered, slow and spectacular in their average-ness.

    Everyone who sees my books thinks theirs is the self published one and the ones I did myself must have been done by a professional. Well they were and that’s me and it can be you too !!

  8. Whitney Moore

    The irony of traditional publishing being called traditional never ceases to amaze me anyway. The original publishing model was what we now call self-publishing. When Oscar Wilde and others did it it was just called publishing.
    Everything old is new again and it’s about time! Great post. <3



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