The Death of Publishing

1 March 2013

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Not that there were actual news reports of the death of traditional publishing. But if you read the blogosphere in 2010 and 2011, a wide number of reputable publishing industry insiders predicted that traditional publishing would be dead or unrecognizable by the end of the Mayan Calendar on 12/21/12.

. . . .

Those of us who understand how the large industry that is publishing works, and how business works in general knew that those predictions were misguided to say the least. A number of the folks who predicted such things stopped when it became clear that the e-publishing revolution wasn’t storming the barricades of traditional publishing. Like most revolutionaries, e-publishing grew older and got subsumed into the traditional system. And those who felt the revolution’s initial passion and fire have either given up proselytizing, settled into the daily grind that a real work brings, or have given up the cause altogether.

Where is traditional publishing four-plus years into the revolution? Bigger, stronger, and richer than ever. Who ended up getting harmed by the revolution itself? Writers who never really learned how the business worked and/or writers who believed their traditional publishing careers were bulletproof, that these crazy changes in the delivery method wouldn’t touch them.

. . . .

The writing was on the wall as much as four years ago, when the recession hit. Book advances worldwide went down significantly, as much as three-quarters, according to an article in the London Times. Writers continued to accept those advances and bemoan them, so as the e-publishing revolution hit and publishers started to realize they could make more money than they ever had, they kept the advances low. Why put out a ton of money up front if authors will accept less?

It’s excellent business. Minimize your up-front costs. Think about it. Would you pay in advance for something if you could get the same (or better) product for less money, money paid out made six months after you’ve already profited from that product? You’d do the latter, of course. And many traditional publishers are doing the same. Pay less, pay lower royalties, get the same product for one-quarter the cost. Makes tremendous business sense to me.

. . . .

I have received four letters this past week from friends with many New York Times bestsellers under their belts who are now complaining that the new advances either aren’t forthcoming at all or are significantly lower than they were before. Significantly, meaning money that would have caused these writers to walk ten years ago. Now there’s nowhere to walk to that will pay a higher advance.

Back in the day, you know, ten years ago, traditional publishing advances were designed to encompass the entire future earnings of a novel. That way, the publisher wouldn’t have to pay royalties, even though royalties were listed in the contract, and the advance was essentially an interest-free loan against those royalties.

When the recession hit, traditional publishers lowered advances, thinking book sales would go down. And book sales did go down for a while—in print books only. Book sales went up in the more lucrative e-book area. And then they went up more and they went up even more. Publishers were paying only 25% of net on those e-book sales so the pay-outs to writers were significantly less on e-books than they were on print books.

Even if the publisher was selling fewer e-copies, it was making double the money it would make from print copies. In other words, folks, publishers are making much more money from the e-book revolution and they’ve designed publishing contracts so that they can keep more of that money.

Writers have signed those contracts, and continue to do so. So traditional publishers are making more money per sale and keeping more money per sale, while traditionally published book writers are taking smaller advances and making less money per sale, if they can even get accurate royalty payments from their publishers.

So…whose death should we be predicting? Maybe the career death of the full-time traditionally published midlist or lower level bestselling writer.

Not that there won’t be midlist or lower-level bestselling writers working for traditional publishers. But those writers will also have day jobs. They certainly won’t have big houses and assistants and the freedom to write whatever they want any more.

They didn’t just miss the handwriting on the wall. They missed the gigantic neon signs littering the town. They missed air raid sirens, the warnings, everything—mostly because they trusted their advisers (read: agents) to warn them that the world was going to hell.

. . . .

Now the business-savvy writer has a significantly bigger chance of becoming rich than the business-ignorant writer, even if the business-ignorant writer sells more books and has more readers. Got that? The business-ignorant writer has been squeezed by the publishers and the agents so that making a big six-figure income, year in and year out, is becoming nearly impossible—without a worldwide blockbuster.

The business-savvy writer is either a hybrid writer—traditional and indie—or goes indie only. Those writers can and are making six-figure incomes without having a single bestselling novel. They don’t need a blockbuster to save their financial future.

They control their financial future.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and, as usual with Kris, you’d better read it.

Big Publishing, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Royalties, The Business of Writing

41 Comments to “The Death of Publishing”

  1. Kris is a treasure.

    What I wonder is, what took tradpub so long to stop paying huge advances? Why did they do it in the first place? I have seen several first novels that were published to huge fanfare and given mid-six and higher advances (this was more than six years ago) that were pretty lousy, and tanked. There no way they could have earned that money back. I’ve seen the same thing in film: studio bidding wars, executives offering seven figures for a script they’ve never read.

    • What I wonder is, what took tradpub so long to stop paying huge advances?

      I’m not clear where you are going with this. Those mid-six figure advances were the exception, not the rule — As Kris points out. 20-30 years ago an advance for a first novel would be $25-30K, which was a decent year’s income then, & allowed a writer the opportunity to enjoy the time to write a second book.

      Currently advances for first novels are closer to $10,000, which is not enough to live on for more than a few months. And one reason they’ve gone down — besides the perennial goal to improve this year’s earnings over last — is that fewer books are being sold in bookstores. However, the ebook market is another thing, & according to Kris (& others) that market is more than making up for falling print book sales. So the corporate publishers are simply fattening their profit margin by tying what the author makes to a shrinking part of the market: & uninformed authors are letting them get away with it.

      So if you think it’s a good thing for advances to shrink across the board, you are saying that the corporations are in the right for screwing over writers in a new way. That’s what I’m hearing.

      • Is that what you’re hearing, really? I’m a writer. Why would I be in favor of screwing writers, and on the side of a big corporation? Think about it for a sec.

        My point, maybe too subtle, was, there were huge paydays for a FEW unproven writers back in the day based on… nothing. No track record, no fan base, nada. An publisher rolled the dice or was caught up in a bidding frenzy. I watched it happen in film studios. Not a good business decision. As Kris pointed out. Almost in those exact words.

        • If you want to rant about certain people getting paid more than they deserve, fine. But what you wrote was a sweeping generality: “What I wonder is, what took tradpub so long to stop paying huge advances? Why did they do it in the first place?” Not “huge advances for first novels”. Not “huge advances for crappy books”. You said “huge advances” as if no writer deserved lots of money.

          And I don’t know why if you’re “a writer” then why you would “be in favor of screwing writers, and on the side of a big corporation?” You’re supposed to communicate to us, not expect us to read your mind. You aren’t impressing me with your communication skills here, friend.

      • I actually would take a lesser advance, or no advance, if I got a bigger cut and was paid more frequently (rather than twice a year). The only time the author is paid “decently as compared to the publisher” is when there is a good advance and the book doesn’t sell well. And that’s because they were overpaid.

        A system that rewards well selling books with a god piece of the pie is far more attractive to me than an “up front loan.”

    • What I wonder is, what took tradpub so long to stop paying huge advances? Why did they do it in the first place?

      They did it in the first place because royalties were pretty standard industry-wide (for each given format of book); if publishers wanted to compete for a particular writer on financial terms, the only thing they could easily change was the size of the advance. Then, too, a big advance was (rightly) felt to represent a tangible expression of faith in the book. Having put a lot of advance money into it, the publisher had to work hard at recovering that money and at least try to make it sell — not just let it fail and forget about it, as they could do with a cheaply acquired midlist book.

      It took them so long to stop, basically, because they never had a sufficient excuse. It was only beginning with the financial crisis of 2008 that advances were really slashed (as I believe Ms. Rusch points out). Everyone was so busy running around playing Chicken Little, announcing the imminent breakdown of the whole economy, that writers (who are, by and large, the least businesslike occupation on earth, and the most credulous in matters of economics) felt grateful to receive even the pittances they were still allowed.

      (I have, when I think of this, a mental image of a man dressed like a merchant out of Dickens, beating his servant frantically with a thick stick, and saying: ‘It’s not my fault, you know. It’s just business. I have to get my money’s worth. If I don’t beat you as hard as I can, they’ll repossess the stick.’)

      The dirty secret in all of this is something I learnt from Norman Spinrad many years ago: you can find it in his book Staying Alive. Most books never earned out their advance; but that did not mean they were unprofitable for the publishers, except by the craziest of Hollywood-style accounting. As Spinrad said, you would have to be a fool to think that the earn-out point for the advance was the same as the break-even point for the publisher; but then, most writers are fools about business.

      Publishers offered the higher advances as bait — money they were prepared to risk, in order to secure lower royalty rates on those books that did earn out. If they had competed for writers by paying higher royalties to the proven bestsellers, it would have cost them money on every copy sold, for ever. By competing chiefly on advances, they could persuade most big-name writers (not all) to accept the standard royalty rate even on books that sold millions of copies, and pocket the surplus themselves. Since most of a publisher’s profit comes from those few hit books, they gained much more by paying lower royalties on bestsellers than they lost on advances that didn’t earn out. The advances were built into the cost accounting for each book anyway.

      For a time after 2008, publishers were still able to offer large advances had they chosen; but they had the writers so thoroughly cowed that they didn’t choose. In the last year or two, ebooks have become such a large part of the market, and retail distribution even of printed books has become so constricted, that publishers are no longer getting the economies of scale they used to expect; the lower sales of each title make it imperative for them to keep advances at a lower level than they used to.

      On the other hand, ebooks do away with the two biggest operating costs for a publisher — printing and distribution, which used to take up about 20 percent of the retail price of a hardcover book, or 40 to 50 percent of the price actually received by the publisher. It is that reduction in costs — ONLY — that has made some of the Big Countdown firms more profitable in the past year or two. Their relentless squeezing of writers with worse and worse contract terms barely compensates for their decline in sales — if even that.

      Since the cost reduction from switching to ebooks can only be done one time — you can’t reduce printing and shipping costs below zero — and the squeeze on writers is beginning to make good and commercial writers leave their publishers, I cannot accept Ms. Rusch’s view of the industry as being in robust good health. Rather, it is eating its seed corn. It reminds me of the American auto industry in the 1970s, which temporarily made huge profits by slashing its R&D. The Japanese car-makers spent more on R&D than ever, overtook the Big Three in quality and performance, and permanently took away a huge chunk of their business before the Big Three realized their mistake and ramped up their R&D again. Acquiring new writers is the publisher’s way of developing new products; and it isn’t going to happen if they don’t have the editorial staff to handle submissions, nor if they keep offering contracts that amount to indentured servitude.

      • Good points, but my point is publishers never needed an excuse to give small advances. As long as they held the purse strings and dangled the carrots and writers had nowhere else to go, they could have screwed writers more, earlier. From a purely business point of view, the big publishers should have LESS leverage now and should be offering MORE money, because they’re not the only game in town. They should want to lure writers away from indie publishing. They should need to use that bait now more than ever. That enough writers are still salivating at those carrots – now smaller and smaller – from big pubs – who do not groom writers’ or help build their careers or do much of anything besides printing the book – underscores Kris’s point that there are still a lot of writers who don’t get it.

        • There is also the behavior of very large business organizations to consider.

          They tend to keep doing what they’ve done in the past unless something pretty big comes along to make them change. It’s a very unusual executive that rocks the boat when revenue and profits are looking good even if they might be better with some boat rocking. There are always a million reasons not to shake things up.

          Technology disruption doesn’t happen smoothly or on a predictable timeline. It’s definitely a fits and starts phenomenon. Everything changes but not all at once and not everywhere at the same time.

          • There’s also feedback loops that aren’t immediately apparent.
            Often, a change doesn’t play out in the long-term as it appears initially. So the kneejerk reaction to the initial disruption makes the long-term impact worse when the combined effect of the disruption and the reaction plays out.
            Reduced advances fall in that category because they make self-pubbing more competitive; self-pub economics are about gathering income slowly over time whereas trad-pub is about a big upfront spike and a trickle (if any) thereafter. Lower advances move forward the crossover point where self-pub cummulative income matches the advance and starts generating a bigger return on the investment than trad-pubbing. Get the advance low enough and even the most traditional of traditionalists will get the urge to jump.
            Which is where the non-compete clauses come in.
            And the Author Solutions scams and whatever kneejerk reaction comes up next.
            Kinda like a beast in a pool of quicksand, the more they thrash about, the worse it gets.

          • Very nicely said, PG.

        • The intriguing question is, what happens when a LOT of writers DO get it? We’re still in transition here, somewhere on the rolling high seas, between the Old World and the New. But I have to believe that in time most writers will understand just how terrible traditional publishing is for their careers. There is no expiration date on ignorance and stupidity, to be sure, but the word on traditional publishers–thanks to the likes of Rusch and others, is getting out. Maybe, just maybe,from that ‘purely business viewpoint’ that Larry mentions, writers may find themselves with more leverage as traditional publishers (those remaining, anyway)will be forced to compete for authors, with much better advances and royalty structures. Then again, I also write fantasy (indie now,thank the Fates)of a world that never existed and never will. Anyway,writers have toiled long enough under constellations not of our own creation. Time to make our own.

          • The reaction to that is what we’re already seeing: Author Solutions scams for the unwary. And competing for established self-pubbers. Which means a return to big advances (but for “proven commodities”) and even fewer new title releases.

            The endgame for the BPHs might very well be a backlist holding company milking existing copyrights and very few if any new releases. Think: MGM in the 80’s and 90’s.

          • I just thought of another thing. Many people like the supposed security of being an employee. Take fields other than writing; a lot of people could earn more and have more freedom, by freelancing in their field or opening their own businesses but they’re either tied to the insurance a company provides and/or like being “owned.” Same psychological dynamics could be occurring with those who could leave tradpub but won’t.

    • Why did publishers sometimes pay huge advances? Competition probably played a role. If a really hot book comes along and three publishers want it, the author is likely to choose the publisher who offers her the most money for it. And some deals are preempts. A publisher offers a reasonably generous advance with the knowledge that if it is declined, the author and agent will shop the book to competitors–a gamble that might result in no offers at all for the author, but has the potential to yield a better deal.

  2. Great post! Writing IS a business. If you don’t understand that part of it, then you’re going to flounder. Adapt or die.

    • Oh, what you said. So many writers, all they want to do is write and for someone else to take care of the business while they do. That is no longer an option, if it ever was.

  3. I’m pretty sure advances contributed to my losing 2 publishers. The third one, I fired myself. It was becoming obvious that I could not make it being traditionally published, and I was becoming wise to the fact that they did next to nothing and took most of the money.
    That is not to say that I make big bucks self-publishing. I do a bit better than I did traditionally published, but I have peace of mind. All that anger was bad for my blood pressure.

    • “All that anger was bad for my blood pressure”

      Wow! By Self-Publishing I was able to lower my Blood Pressure and Cholesterol. 9 out of 10 Doctors reommend it!

  4. Another great post by Kris! Thanks for sharing, PG!

  5. Why pay any advance?

    • Hysterical raisins. By this I mean this:

      Way back in the Upper Silurian Period, when I were a lad, publishers didn’t offer advances — just straight royalties. They could have stuck with that, but they began offering advances, for various reasons I don’t pretend to fully understand. Now they’re on that train, the train is still moving, and it’s not so easy to jump off.

      You see, if a major publisher wanted to publish one of my books, and didn’t offer an advance, I’d tell them: ‘Go on, pull the other one! You want me to commit my book to you for the life of copyright — since we know the out-of-print clause will never be triggered and I’ll never be able to revert the rights without a court fight I can’t afford. What are you putting up in exchange? You promise to print the book and get it into stores, but I know what your promises are worth; you have a track record. Many times in the past, you have bitten the bullet and simply let a book die on the publication date — never put a dime into distribution or marketing — sometimes just ‘skipped’ it and not even sent it to press — after paying thousands of dollars up front. You had something to lose, and you were still willing to lose it. With the deal you’re offering me, you have NOTHING to lose if you break it. So I expect you to break it. Why would I think anything else?’

      Short form: ‘I’m not a sucker. Show me the money.’

  6. As Kris regularly points out, there is no guarantee of ever seeing royalties, and no way to ever get accurate accounting. You have to assume the advance is all you will ever see (also assuming the publisher doesn’t dump you somewhere along the way before the book is even published, or the subsequent books of a series.)

    The best tactic is both the will and the ability to go into a contract negotiation starting at “No.”

  7. The stuff Kris says is so true. Like this:

    “If you’re unwilling to change, that’s your problem. If you don’t want to learn the new ways of doing business in this new century, that’s your problem. It’s not mine. I can’t tell you that traditional publishing will return to the gravy train for writers that it once was, because it won’t.

    Traditional publishing has used the recession and the e-publishing revolution to improve its business model so that the companies make more money. The companies are leaner and richer. And they don’t care about you writers. Contrary to what you’ve always believed, traditional publishing companies have never cared about writers. Traditional publishers know that when one writer goes away, another will step into her place. You’re a rotating group of widgets that might make the publisher some money. If you don’t make the publisher money, then they’ll find someone who will.”

  8. I think Kris is brilliant, but there are a few things I don’t agree with here.

    What I do agree with: People who publish traditionally and sign these ridiculous contracts are shooting themselves in the foot. I’m very glad she names a spade a spade here. People need to wake up!

    What I don’t agree with: Trad. Publishing is doing better than ever.

    Yes, it’s making more money, but that is a temporary bump, one that is simply a by-product of the fact that e-books make money, and more people are buying books than ever.

    But there are massive problems facing them:

    a. They are bleeding authors like crazy.
    b. Their contracts have been revealed to be exploitive; all of their invisibility is lost.
    c. They were sued by the DOJ and lost; all of their untouchability is lost.
    d. They are about to lose their primary retailer for print.
    e. Amazon continues to be a formidable opponenet, one that they can not beat.

    They are scared, and rightfully so. The mergers, which will continue, are a sign of that.

    I know that, in many way, this was a minor part of Kris’s post. The reason she brought it up, I think, was to suggest that authors need to take care of themselves rather than wait for the landscape to shift in their favor.

    But I think it’s something that can’t be skipped over. The bottom line is that if authors tie themselves to Publishers, they are also tying themselves to a sinking ship.

    Unless publishers make some major changes, especially in relation to how they treat the author, they will sink.

    As to why Publishers are offering smaller advances – I think it’s for a couple of reasons:

    a. They are scared, and spending less money
    b. It is dawning on them that buying an unitested manuscript, even if all seven people in the editing team like it, is risky.
    c. They are pissed off at authors, whom they perceive as disloyal.

    But what I predict will happen – fairly soon – is authors are going to start getting pissed off back. There’s a temporary lull of adjustment, but it won’t last.

    • I think she mentioned that if an author steps aside, another will take their place. You still don’t see the horror stories on writers’ forums. I only realised self-publishing was an option in 2011. Writers’ forums like AbsoluteWrong have self-pub areas to bash it.

      Why?

      Lets address your comments…

      *Puts on Dim Author Hat*

      “They are bleeding authors like crazy.”

      Maybe the other author was to blame. I’ll be a good girl and a better writer. Everything will work out for me because I’m special. My best pal-my agent-will protect me from all evil. Anyway, some survey somewhere said most self-pubbed “authors” make pennies a year. The trade pub’s scraps must be better than that, right?

      “Their contracts have been revealed to be exploitive; all of their invisibility is lost.”

      Like I just said, my lover-my agent-will protect me. Oh, and don’t forget the blog post that explained how pushy authors are to blame for bad contracts. Yes, I mean pushy authors like you who want silly things like respect and money to support that family of yours. Think of your editor’s family, not yours! So selfish…

      “They were sued by the DOJ and lost; all of their untouchability is lost.”

      The DOJ is evil too. How dare they sue multi-billion dollar companies owned by multi-billionaires? The media and writing groups said the DOJ was wrong, so they were wrong. The end. Don’t argue or you’re wrong too.

      “They are about to lose their primary retailer for print.”

      Which is terrible! Why can’t the disabled, old, etc just travel an hour or three to poor Barnes and Noble? We must do whatever it takes to save books (printed) from “books” (that electronic thing that shall not be named).

      “Amazon continues to be a formidable opponenet, one that they can not beat.”

      Amazon might have Satan (Jezz Bezos) on their side, but we’ve got God (publishers-only the Big 6, 5 or whatever it is now. The rest don’t count) and lots of angels (editors, editorial assistants, agents, agent’s unpaid interns). Forget terrorism, AlDs, world hunger, cancer, wars and all those minor distractions. Since Bin Laden’s death, Amazon moved to the top of the deck. Reporters said Amazon is evil. We must believe them, our fellow writers, especially the ones who can’t be bothered to review our books without a $500 fee.

      *Takes off Dim Author’s hat, thinks of the 5 years we spent together, and then tosses it into the furnace…We don’t actually have a furnace, so the bin will do.*

      Yeah, I exaggerated but that’s along the lines of what writers would say. Those vocal, uninformed few will keep spreading the Word for many years to come…

      A year ago, I agreed with your view (pubs will fall)until I thought of the music industry. There are so many artists releasing their own songs…but many, many more “selling their souls” to record labels who will milk them dry and toss them out, or auditioning for American Idol to get 15 seconds of fame. Despite the countless warnings by legends like Micheal Jackson and Prince, singers still jump right in and drown.

      • A year ago, I agreed with your view (pubs will fall)until I thought of the music industry. There are so many artists releasing their own songs…but many, many more “selling their souls” to record labels who will milk them dry and toss them out, or auditioning for American Idol to get 15 seconds of fame.

        True enough: there’s still no shortage of musical acts that will sell their souls. But as Mirabeau said about Talleyrand, they are quite right to do so, for they are selling muck for gold. The labels have largely lost the ability to corner all the talented musicians and compel them to be exploited.

        Consequently, the music put out by the big labels is much less interesting than it was twenty years ago, and the revenues of the industry are much smaller. It’s a business in a death spiral — and it is propped up, nowadays, largely by the one thing it does right that publishers don’t: it realizes that music is not produce, and is still milking huge profits from records released 40 or 50 years ago. If the major labels were as bad at reissuing backlist as the Big Countdown publishers are, they’d be out of business.

      • I agree with you. There won’t be a shortage of aspiring writers lining before Big 5’s door.

        I have a friend with desire to have an agent and to be published traditionally. With the help of her ex-English professor she has been working on that for the past three years, no results. Not long ago she told me that her acquaintance introduced her to her agent and asked me if I would like to show the agent some of my writing. I said, ‘no, thank you.’ Don’t know what happened with that relationship, nothing probably since she never mentioned it again. I regularly send her links to Kristine’s, Dean’s, Writers Beware’s and PG’s posts, so that she would be aware of all the traps awaiting for her, but I doubt that she even reads them. And not only that, it seems that she feels I must have the same wish as her, even though I never expressed any desire to step on carousel of trade publishing, and that I only self-publish from desperation or something. She would probably take no advance and sign the non-compete clause and give the life of the copyright just to be published by one of the Big 5, and I believe she not the only one despite all the available information about pitfalls and whatnot.

        Many trade publishers are already creating digital-only imprints with no advances. Random House’s imprint Hydra found its way on Writer Beware.
        http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2013/02/second-class-contracts-deal-terms-at.html
        I will be interesting to see how many takers all of these imprints get. Quite a few, I assume. It’s unfortunately, but that’s how it is.

        • Well, I think what we are seeing is temporary – although I could be wrong.

          Most of the information for debut writers is still pushing the old ways of doing things. If you google on-line, or buy a book, or go to an MFA program, they all say the same thing: Write a query, get an agent, etc.

          So, that’s what alot of the debut authors still think. It takes awhile for education to trickle down into the collective consciousness.

          But there is also something that is really crucial here: Writers are not easily replaceable.

          I have no idea how hard it is to write a song, but it is extremely hard to write a good book. You can not just replace one author with a thousand waiting to take their place. It just doesn’t work like that.

          1 in 2000 queries is accepted, and significantly less than that make it to publication. Not that I think that system is a competent way to choose books, but it does show how difficult it is for even a small group of people to collectively ‘like’ a book. And of those books, how many of them actually sell? 5%. Yep. 5% of books selected by traditional publishing actually make a decent profit.

          Some of that is the ridiculous support that Publishers give, but it is also just really, really hard to write a good book.

          The authors that will really have the clout here, are the ones who can really sell. What will control the relationship between the Publisher and the writer is not mis-information held by tons of debut writers who want to ‘break in’ and think this is the way, it’s the ones who have already proven that they can sell, and start refusing to sign terrible contracts. Who realize they got royally screwed by signing a contract to ‘break in’ when there is no ‘breaking in’. There’s just more contracts that will screw them over.

          That word will spread, and trickle down.

          I always say this in these discussions, but indie publishing is what – well, the Kindle came on the scene 5 years ago, but Amazon didn’t start to offer 70% until…..maybe 3 years ago?

          That is a very short time.

          Give it some time.

    • I’d suggest they are offering smaller advances because authors are signing those contracts with smaller advances. If authors will sign contracts with even smaller advances, then advances will fall even more. If authors will sign contracts with no advances, then advances will disappear.

      Thought experiment : How many authors would pay to be published by Random House?

      Perhaps there is an increasing supply of authors and books with no corresponding increase in consumer spending?

    • No offense, Mira, but I would suggest that Kris has a lot more knowledge of the publishing industry than you and that she’s receiving a lot more insider information from friends and acquaintances within the industry than you. Therefore if she makes an assessment of the state of the industry based on that knowledge, she’s far more likely to be right than you. You’re looking at it from the outside. She’s looking at it from a totally different, and almost certainly more accurate, perspective.

      From my limited perspective, I see no shortage of aspiring writers falling over themselves to be published by the Big 5 any time in the near future. The blogosphere is full of them. They worship agents and believe all the silly myths and offer themselves to the altar of validation. As long as they exist, trad publishing will have a perpetual source of offerings to give to the Great God Profit. By the time that resource stream runs out, if it ever does, I imagine the industry will have figured out how to survive very nicely in this new world.

      It’s a nice thought to believe that writers aren’t stupid and will all eventually en masse abandon Big Pub, but it’s wishful thinking. Writers are human just like everyone else. They do things for reasons that you and I would call stupid. Nothing is going to change that. Life could throw up a big neon sign in front of the publishing industry saying “If you sign with a big pub you will be screwing your career forever” and it wouldn’t change a thing for a huge number of writers.

      • @ Sarah –

        Well, how could I possibly be offended by this: Kris knows what she is talking about, and you do not, plus, you’re deluded by wishful thinking.

        That’s a hard one to argue with, but I will say two things:

        a. I don’t think Kris has ever claimed to be an expert, so this isn’t about her. But it should be said: there is no expert in the landscape of publishing right now. No one knows anything more than anyone else, it’s all speculation. It may be comforting – or scary – to think there are experts, but, as I said before, the Kindle is 5 years old. This is completely new, it’s a technological revolution, and there are no experts. Whatever happened before, and whatever is happening today, does not neccessarily predict the future. There are no experts on this.

        And even if there were, if they said something I didn’t agree with, I’d still debate them. I evaluate the idea; I don’t just give over my mind to an ‘expert’ and believe whatever I am told because of ‘who’ said it.

        b. It’s sort of silly to argue about this. Like I said, it’s all speculation. The future will unfold the way that it will unfold, and then we’ll see.

        So, I will add, in my own defense, I’m really not just making up predictions because I like the idea of them. I’ve been watching this ‘revolution’ since it started. Last year at this time, indie publishing was still heavily stigmatized. Writer contracts were still hush-hush. The Publishers were still arguing that they were above the law in colluding to fix prices. One short year. It’s changing fast.

        These things tend to swing in pendulums. First one way, and then another. Right now, there’s a bit of a lull, and a slight swing toward Trad. Pub. But I think the pendulum will swing again.

        And I have some ideas about the ‘workforce’. I think the workforce naturally moves to the best working conditions. Given some time, I think we will see the writer workforce moving to the best working conditions.

        However, I could be wrong. Time will tell.

  9. “I see no shortage of aspiring writers falling over themselves to be published by the Big 5 any time in the near future. The blogosphere is full of them. They worship agents and believe all the silly myths and offer themselves to the altar of validation.”

    Despite the mad rush to self-pub, evident in part by the jump in e-book titles available (sci-fi has gone from about 19k to over 44k in the last 18 months) there are still LOTS of writers like this out there.

    Go back though PG, just to name one, and look at the source sites for any one of hundreds of anti-indie articles. Whenever an entrenched, elitist pinhead like Ewan Morrison bashes indies with a flaccid argument and innaurate facts and credits traditional publishers for every single cultural advance in the 20’th century, people have come out of the wordwork and commented: “Thanks! Such a great and refreshing article!”

    I know several who refuse to even consider self-pubbing. No matter how long the list of sucessful indies grows, no matter how many of them are able to use their marketability to negotiate hybrid print only, taditional print and even movie deals. I still get a smirk and a head shake like I’m some lost little puppy when I mention self-pubbing.

    True success is still rare but more writers continue to prove it’s more rewarding than endlessly querying for nothing in return. Some writers refuse to let the paper dream die though. They want their name spin-out at B&N with a Big 5 logo and they want nothing else.

    Contracts, rights and royalties be damned.

    • People can order the tide to stop all they want, D.L., but it’s still coming in.

      • PG

        Oh, I completely believe that publishers are still in the process of destroying themselves or are, in the best case, being forced to evolve into something unrecognizable. The ultimate bottom line is that without writers they’re nothing and yes, while there will always be writers who”ll blindly sign contracts for a “validated” stamp on their foreheads, I also think they’re losing name brand writers and quantities of future talent faster than a few paper fetish fledglings can replace them.

        Time and again they demonstrate their inability to look ahead and innovate, right now they’re merely reactionary and they’re getting lucky due to the huge margin on e-books fed by war chests of current and past titles they have locked under contracts.

        But, as K.K.R herself has detailed in a number of former posts, a lot of this content has been supplied with some very contencious and forceful e-rights grabbing and “musical clause” contracting. Not all of which may be legal. Now that sucessfull self-pubbing is no longer characterized merely by our two famous trailblazers, but by dozens of writers setting new precedents every time you look, the propensity for new and old writers to bend over for some Big-5 lovin’ will decline. I think these practices enforce the notion that they’re eating away at their own foundations for short term revenues.

        Indies like Galglish, who sign up for full traditional deals, will be implicitly cared for, paid on time, honestly promoted and treated professionally (a massive shift in paradigm for a “less than mega” seller) or they’ll write out their contracts and never return. Trust and believe they’ll tell the world about how big publishig hasn’t changed a bit. In his case that may be unlikely as you’d have a hard time finding any writer badmouthing Orbit, so we’ll all think happy thoughts for Dave.

        The gist of Kris’s post, as I read it, is that legacy publishers are doing just fine having embraced e-book sales of their own titles, and she’s right. 70% of $9.99 repeated several million times a month in exchange for transmitting some electrons (after uploading a title you already own, of course) is a pretty sweet-a** markup. Question is; for how much longer?

        • Moving forward the question is going to be: What percentage of revenue comes from backlist and what percentage from new releases?

          The short-term thinkers at the BPHs are going to be mightily tempted to keep on cutting back on new releases and keep expanding backlist releases, maybe even buying back ebook rights they allowed to revert. And a good chunk of the new releases will be coming from “proven” self-pub releases.

          I don’t think those folks are sweating the loss of newcomers to indie publishing and it will be years and years before they really start hurting. But when they do start hurting… :)

          • “What percentage of revenue comes from backlist and what percentage from new releases?”

            And that’s one of a few billion dollar questions. Look at the top 10-20 for Sci-fi. Howey and Martin, locked in their epic battle while a few other breakouts rub up against the top spots here and there. What else do you see: Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers and the Forever War. Always and forever in that top bracket, month after month, year after year. Multiply that performance by classic’s across dozens of other genres and niches and it adds up to a ton for BPH’s.

            The Konrathian proverb; “e-books are forever and it’s a long time to be discovered by new readers” works both ways.

            • The risks on new releases are going up for the BPHs while the risk-free revenue from the ever-growing backlist has plenty of room to grow.
              The percentage is going to grow pretty fast.

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