Wednesday, January 4, 2012

News Flash: Traditional Publishing Model is Broken!

For those that purvey sites and blogs regarding independent e-publishing this news may be more of an epiphanic admission than a dazzling headline. The ranks of authors who have either forgone or abandoned traditional publishers for the numerous independent channels in recent year has swelled and, perhaps, hit a landmark plateaus this past Christmas shopping season (in conjunction with record e-reader and tablet device sales) as evident by some very high profile success stories.

In a Digital Book World interview released today Hyperion CEO, Ellen Archer makes a statement about the traditional publishing business model: This business model, while it’s never been great, is broken; 2012 is going to be about finding new business models.

Read the full Digital Book World article here

Some key points from the discussion and other admissions are below. My cynical thoughts in red:

- Royalties will likely continue to go down if not disappear for authors. Big payouts are still happening for select books but Archer admits that they "don't generate revenue". In short, they're not seeing returns on their investments. Expect those investments to diminish or disappear altogether.

Then the list of reasons to pursue traditional publishing just got smaller by one! 

- Big 6 publishers, as part of larger media conglomerates, will look to find and develop multi-media properties, IE; novelizations of films and TV shows and vice versa. Archer cites the success of Tie-in Novels on the ABC "Castle" TV show.

Not every book will get this treatment. Will they survive by only publishing tie-in or "movie" books?

- Managing both print and digital production will require restructuring of staff and personnel. Right now they're figuring a lot of things out.

Work fast. Your NY rent and overhead costs aren't going to shrink.

-  The successful "book" publisher of the future needs to move away from the concept of producing "books" and in producing a "reading experience."

Which is what independent authors are delivering to readers by themselves now...without giving away 50-70% royalties for editing and cover design. Just saying.

What we can take away from this as aspiring authors? My take:

- As a "Newb" with zero track record, zero readership and zero marketability (IE: ZERO contractual negotiating leverage) Stay the hell away from traditional publishers and their contracts.

- Publish independently and start earning now!

- When I say "Earn" I'm not talking only about dollars: start earning your readership...start earning your branding as an author and start earning your marketability.

- I'm not against signing with any Legacy publisher (I think Amazon is quickly becoming the top choice for Newbs) but I consider it only prudent when one has the leverage to omit punitive terms such as no-compete clauses and to possible secure higher digital pay out rates.

- The Big 6 need to figure out (and stake out) what their place is going to be in the new digital market. Right now my opinion is that they're grasping at straws with still-born attempts at royalty grabs like "Book Country Fair" in the face of disintegrating paper sales and are getting lucky in the short term with back lists of titles that are abhorrently overpriced on digital but are still selling.

If anything I give Mrs. Archer credit for having the insight (and the guts) to come out publicly and say: "We're failing at this new digital thing. We're broken and we need to get fixed."

For writers and publishers 2011 was historic but 2012 will be the year of change.

This is the year to watch. Very closely.

Good times.


  1. Yes, this trend will be interesting to watch over the year.

  2. Very much so. Lots of different (dysmal) news stories about B&N out there, I'm putting a big post together about that.

    What few people seem to be talking about is that with paper continuing to decline (much, much faster than many predictions) what's the real future of Big 6?

    They're making bank of off digital now in their own regard with substantial backlists they have under contract, which is good on them, but WHY will writers continue to take shitty paperback royalty rates for simply letting them upload (which is what apens with a traditional pubbed e-book) when digital becomes the majority and not a niche?

    Kris Rusch (Mrs. Dean Wesley Smith) had a great post on writers habitually "working for cheap."

    Hell, maybe traditional publishers will continue to make out...writers have always been bending over for publishers and so many newbs are (seemingly) so hooked on both the validation and also terrified of doing certain things on their own.

    Awfully cynical things to say about fellow writers but when so many of them are openly admitting those are their priorities and motivators...can't blame the Big for cashing in on it.

  3. I sure hope that writers catch on that they are really getting duped by publishing companies in a lot of cases.

    I have heard some stories of writers having to pay back some of their advance because of low print sales. Not good at all!

    The Big 6 will have to change a lot of things in order to thrive - and hopefully that does not include taking advantage of writers.

  4. Oh yeah, writers paying back advances is nothing new, in essence an advance is only a loan against future sales. Like taking "draw" when you're at a straight commission sales job.

    Experiencing poor sales and having your finances detrimented, that's one thing, but the story we're hearing over and over again is that unless you're an instant're dropped and might as well be an unpublished newb come time to submit your next book.

    That's business...and life...fine, but like Barry Eisler observed; traditional publishers have NEVER had any real competition, either on the distribution end or on the the "securing talent" end. Lack of said cometition has made them slow, fat slobs in virtually all areas of their business.

    More pertinent; the door to an ultimate fighting cage just got slammed behind them and they're now staring across the ring at a giant fucking gorilla that has zero reverance for them.

    We don't have to chase them around anymore.

    Live by the business axe...die by the business axe.