May 10th, 2011

Publishing Models and Mayhem

There’s so much going on in the industry right now with authors going from electronic self-publishing to traditional publishers (i.e. Amanda Hocking and St. Martin’s), authors leaving traditional publishing to self-publish (i.e. Barry Eisler) and some going to new publishing ventures like Amazon.com’s Montlake imprint (i.e. Connie Brockway).  I’ve wanted to put my two cents in for some time, but, publishing death rumors to the contrary, I’ve just been too busy to commit my thoughts to writing. 

I’ve had a lot of conversations with the major houses lately because of their new e-publishing initiatives and because I feel very strongly that they’re going to have to change to continue to compete.  The editors I talk with always ask me what the other big publishers are doing, and I keep telling them that I don’t think that within the next few years the big six are going to be their competition.  Why?  Let me count the ways. 

One, right now the Macmillans, Hachettes and Simon & Schusters of the world are not offering electronic royalties that are competitive with what authors can get going direct-to-consumer or by going with digital-first houses.  Do the major houses supply a lot of value for their cut?  Of course they do.  I did an entire blog over at Magical Words about how it takes a village to publish a novel well…editors, copy-editors, cover artists, publicity, marketing, distributors, buyers, etc.  However, as publishers try to trim costs, more and more, like the publicity and promotional responsibilities, is falling to the authors.  Publishers are suggesting that authors hire independent publicists or brand marketers, placing the financial and time-consumpting burden back on the authors.  And while the publishers are looking at their finances, so is everyone else.  If it makes more economic sense for authors to jump to a model where they get a larger slice of profits, especially given their larger expenditures…well, traditional publishing is going to lose out. 

In addition, I feel like publishers are mostly behind the times on how to appeal to readers in the e-book market.  They’re not treating electronic books as something to promote, but simply as an addendum to their print programs.  Ask a publisher what they’re doing for their digital books and they’ll mention listings on their website, maybe having the author tweet or blog about the releases as well.  Now, this isn’t true for all publishing houses at all times.  Some will offer special pricing and special promotions at various times, maybe offer the first book in a series for free or for a very reduced price to hook readers.  However, most publisher still seem to feel overall that they can make more money selling to fewer people at a higher price point than they can bringing down a price and reaching more readers. 

I’m not suggesting we devalue books in any way.  A $.99 cent e-book makes very little sense when you consider all the work that went into writing it (months or years of an author’s life), the effort that went into editing, copyediting and all that other stuff I’ve already mentioned, and the costs that need to be recouped.  However, the reason that a lot of authors are having huge success in the e-book originals arena is that they can be more flexible on pricing than the majors.  They also, if they’re smart and savvy, can really promote the digital books in the digital arena. 

Did I say “smart and savvy”?  I should add tireless, creative and, hopefully, well-connected.  You can’t just throw a book out there at any price and expect it to sell gangbusters.  It takes a lot of hard work and a ton of commitment.  (I refer you here to Amanda Hocking’s blog on the exhaustion of her success.)  For every success touted far and wide, think of how many e-published authors you don’t hear about.  I know quite a few writers who’ve jumped into this arena, having fallen for the hype, and found out that it’s truly not the Shangri-la it’s made out to be.  In fact, the whole direct to Kindle, etc., system generally works best for writers who are already established and who already have big followings, often built up in traditional publishing. 

Now I’m going to play a little devil’s advocate here, because there are two sides to every story and there are pros and cons. 

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