Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hachette Job!

Another heated discussion topic in the ongoing Indie vs. Traditional publishing debate recently was, if you didn't already know, the now infamous "inside memo" leaked from Big 6 house Hachette Book Group.

As is often the case of late, a topic regarding Traditional vs. E-pub was first addressed over on Mr. Konrath's site and was commented on (dissected and thoroughly Fisk'd) by JA Konrath and Barry Eisler, here. The analysis and criticism was done so flawlessly by two top indie authors with substantial traditional publishing backgrounds (which I lack) and knowledge that I won't regurgitate or attempt to imitate it. I will however provide my own commentary here.

The main criticisms of the "memo" are that it serves to remind Hachette employees and customers of their "relevance" in the face of the exploding e-publishing market, a significant portion of which represent independently published authors.

Sounds OK, normal practice for big business, but the problem is the extremely vague, unspecific, unsupported and unsubstantive buzz-word laden bullet points of the statement. It draws (and justly deserves) scrutiny and questioning of what value traditional publishing still offers to aspiring authors seeking publication as paper distribution models continue to diminish and the merit of taking disproportionately large royalty shares, particularly in the digital format.  

Not having been traditionally published I can, however, offer these observations from practical work experience: whenever you need to remind someone what you do; you're probably not doing it.

Highlights of the memo included these competencies, which we can argue are wholly unremarkable attributes for any service based business:

- They curate and nurture talent, foster rich relationships and collaborate on content.

- Venture capitalist's, investing in ideas.

- Offering expertise in sales and distribution, ensuring broadest distribution possible.

- Brand builder and "excitement generator" (this one drew some particularly harsh and humorous criticism's)

- Copyright and IP protector.

As was discussed, virtually none of the attributes cited in the memo are unique to any publisher, or for that matter, most customer service or product generation business's. The primary questions and criticism's generated were how this memo was completely devoid of recognition for the e-publishing growth and the emerging issues traditional publishers will face against this growing market.

Barry Eisler went as far as to mockingly refer to it as Bullshit Bingo for the repeated use of unsubstantive, vague and general slogans and business buzz words while not addressing any of the significant issues facing traditional and why authors should still pursue them.

As a newb looking at the fork in the road I'll just throw out some random issues that concern me (and many others) when choosing an appropriate publishing path to pursue.

- Agency model and gatekeepers; It's understandable that a certain level of quality is required for any publisher, hence gatekeepers and submission guidelines, but what we're finding out time and time again from successful independents is that it's more or less a contest of appeasing individual preferences within this system. Editor loved it, marketing department hated it, sorry.

- The timeline: 18 months or longer to see publication.

- The value of publication itself: retail bookshelves are going away. Quickly! Where is the remaining value in pursuing a spot on one.

- The true value of the "creative collaboration". Cover design, formatting and editing can be gotten, easily and professionally, for a flat charge leaving the majority of royalties intact.

-  The Marketing Push! This time in their statement was met with criticism at best and outright mockery at worst by many writers with traditional experience that I have seen posts from.

- Windowing, part of the 18 month (avg) time frame that manuscript see during their publishing. This is a cornerstone argument by indie pundits like Konrath that the digital release is intentionally held until the paper release. The complaint is that this is done to maximize the sale of a paper release by restricting the digital distribution, thereby benefiting the publisher (and not the author) who still controls said paper distribution process.

What is also clear is that the profitability of digital distribution vs paper is very evident as publishers are now moving, aggressively, to produce more digital titles, either through back list titles still under contract or through new "services" such as Penguin;s Book Country Fair, which was widely discussed with much negative criticism.

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