March 26, 2013
The Silver Lining on Doom and Gloom
Here's a doom-and-gloom article about the publishing industry with a twist: it might not all be doom and gloom.
Despite the continual stream of stories about authors making $10,000 a month or more on self-published ebooks and in the process crushing traditional publishing out of existence, Evan Hughes in Wired magazine (April 2013) says there's another side of the story.
- "In one week, people . . . bought half a million copies of a really long book called Steve Jobs," a book about the man who famously said in 2008 that people don't read anymore.
- Nearly 3 billion books are sold every year.
- "Amazon likes to point out that new Kindle buyers go on to purchase almost five times as many books from Amazon, print and digital, in the ensuing year as they did in the prior one."
- Self-publishing mega-successes are the exception. "In general, new writers gain much more than they lose by signing with a major house. Most self-published authors have trouble selling a copy outside of their immediate family."
- Fifty Shades of Gray, rather than defining self-publishing success, is evidence of the opposite. "The book became a massive commercial success only after Random House got involved."
- "Few writers relish the work of being their own publisher."
Of course, landmines still abound for publishers.
- "The industry is plagued by what indie-publishing entrepreneur Richard Nash has called the 'pathology of unearned advances.' "
- Ironically, in its attempt to suppress collusion between various publishers and
Apple at the launch of its iBooks, the Department of Justice has put Amazon.com in an even stronger position to monopolize the industry.
- Big-ticket authors with established audiences are well positioned to abandon traditional publishers and go solo.
So those who believe publishing is full of doom and gloom still have something to cheer them!
Posted by Andy Le Peau
at March 26, 2013 9:16 AM
Fifty Shades of Gray is a great success because on Kindle no one knows you're reading it.
Well, Dan, that's helped. But the paperback edition is also #23 on Amazon and #2 on the NY Times Best Seller list for paperback trade fiction.
50 Shades was more helped by ereaders because it was independent, gained a following as an ereader only and then a major publishing house picked it up and understood advertising and distribution.
I think that is really where independents and regular publishing are going to be making a difference. I know several people that released a book independently and then re-released it later through a regular house.
That makes sense to me. It is one way that publishers are going to minimize risk. It is also another form of the book inquiry.
Amazon is the big player in the ebook world. Even though I am a huge fan of Amazon Kindle and I want Amazon to be successful and I think that many people have been able to release independently because of kindle, I am concerned about a virtual monopoly in the ebook world.
I do think it is minimized because entry is relatively low. Someone can theoretically still get into the market. But Amazon is going one up on Apple's integrated system. Not only the hardware and books, but the shopping system. Once a person is a prime member, they stop looking around at other stores and prices. So it is hard to get their attention.
It is not that they are a monopoly as much as Amazon is distracting them from realizing that there is another market outside of Amazon.
Adam, I agree that one of the advantages for publishers of the easy self-publishing world we live in is that self-publishing can prove whether a book has greater potential or not, and so lower the risk for publishers when they pick it up. But Amazon has such a search-and-destroy, predatory culture that once the world only consists of Amazon and readers, they will put the squeeze on authors.
Andy, in what ways do you foresee a "squeeze on authors"? I can imagine financial squeezes (e.g., lower royalties, higher production/publishing fees). Any others? I wonder if they could ever "keep" (i.e., annex) author book rights -- what do you think, could they?
Yes, certainly financial, like lowering royalty rates. Perhaps more likely (at first) is that they would start charging "promotion fees" to authors and publishers just to have the book listed. They might offer, for example, three levels--Basic, Plus and Executive Promotion Packages, each one costing more than the other. And maybe to have any chance of being seen, you have to go to the highest level. (Am I in danger of giving them ideas? No, I don't think so. They've no doubt already thought of these.) And yes, you are right, they could start requiring authors to in some sense sign over certain publishing rights. And if there are no serious alternatives to Amazon, no viable publishers or other distribution channels, authors are basically forced to go along.