Passive Guy follows a few agents’ lists on Twitter and, via Twitter psychoanalysis, hereby diagnoses denial.
He suspects publishers are in slightly less denial and will do some heavy drinking this weekend. To anyone with access to liquor store sales information from the Hamptons, please share your data with PG next week.
Make no mistake about it, the J.K. Rowling Potterworld announcement is a big deal, a big disruptive change deal.
Let’s pull out the disruptive elements from what we know so far:
1. Rowling will sell ebooks direct.
Who gets disrupted? Physical bookstores, yes, but also Amazon and the Nook Store.
Amazon is usually the disruptor, not the disruptee, and is experiencing some unfamiliar emotions. The last time they felt this way in Seattle was when Apple announced its bookstore for the iPad and iPhone.
2. Rowling is not using her publishers.
In a million blog posts, traditionally-published authors have rained scorn on self-pubbers, claiming that anyone who has real talent will, of course, have a publisher handle their books. Rowling has superb contacts with her publishers and she chose not to use them in this venture. At all.
Rowling, who presciently retained her electronic rights will “share” a portion of her ebook revenues with her British publisher. Various analyses speculate that she will also share with her American publisher, but PG hasn’t heard anybody who knows confirm that.
What an amazing statement of relative power between an author and her publishers. Rowling is paying her publisher a share, not receiving a share from her publisher. PG would love to know how much will be shared and whether such sharing is pure benevolence on Rowling’s part or not.
But the main story is that an author who is #1 on her publishers’ speed dial could have done this ebook deal with her publishers and chose not to do so.
3. Rowling will be publishing new materials on Pottermore.
The author has lots of backstory, notes, material previously edited out, etc., that she’ll put up on Pottermore. She’ll be addressing an obsessive market segment who is not satisfied with the amount of detail on characters, etc., in the books. PG wonders if Pottermore will have a section for fanfic.
This isn’t the same as the author publishing a new novel. It’s probably easier and it will continue to keep her Potter franchise alive with fanatics who will, in turn, continue to bring new readers into the Potter fold.
4. Potter’s principal partner in Pottermore is Sony.
She did not user her book publishers, but did use her motion picture distributors in a move which disintermediated her publishers from their traditional role as a go-between with the movie people.
Sony has far more financial resources than Rowling’s British or American publishers and infinitely more creative resources. PG expects tie-ins and cross-merchandising between Pottermore and Sony products. Will a Pottermore trailer show up in theaters? Is there anything for the Sony ereader in this arrangement or has Sony concluded they missed the boat (again) with that product?
UPDATE: I’ve been corrected by a commenter. Warner Bros. (a subsidiary of Time Warner) is the Harry Potter movie distributor, not Sony.
When business histories are written about publishing and self-publishing in future years, the Pottermore announcement will be recognized as a significant milestone in the disruption of traditional book publishing and distribution.
Harry Potter is a major brand among serious young readers and their parents that that brand has firmly linked itself with ebooks. It has done so in a manner that removes publishers, book distributors and bookstores, both physical and online, from the value chain leading from the author to the reader.
How much money Rowling’s publishers would have made if the money had flowed in a traditional manner is something we won’t know for several years. Ditto for how much money Amazon and the Nook store would have made if she had sold ebooks through them.
The course of disruptive change is very difficult to predict. Once all the experts think they understand the future, something happens that calls their predictions into question. Is Rowling an outlier, a one-off, or will we see other mega-authors sidestepping Amazon to sell direct to their readers?
The timing of disruptive change is also very difficult to predict. It never runs in a smooth path. Last week, the timing for ebooks and the evolution of self-publishing looked slower than it does this week, after Rowling announced she is self-publishing her ebooks.
The Rowling announcement is far from the last of big events that we’ll see. Putting on his prediction hat, Passive Guy says we’ll see:
- Continuing reduction in the number of physical bookstores (easy to predict)
- Further consolidation of publishers (also easy)
- More big author names announcing some version of indie publishing (easy)
- More Wellesley English majors looking for work outside publishing/agenting (barista training booms)
- Continuing proliferation of ereaders and/or tablet devices conducive to reading and reductions in ereader and tablet prices (easy)
- A giant ebook/ereader Christmas season in 2012 (easy)
- Nastier publishing and agency contracts designed to lock up authors forever (easy)
- More John Lockes and Amanda Hockings appearing among indie authors
- Continuing rapid innovation in publicity strategies for indie authors
- More crowded online bookstores
- More aggressive talent searches by movie/TV types or new-style agents among indie authors as the publisher/agent pipeline of books begins to dry up
- On the lawsuit front (after authors work through their battered wife/husband/child codependency syndromes):
- One or more lawsuits by authors against their publishers and/or agents for underpayment of royalties
- One or more lawsuits by authors against their agents for misrepresentation of the benefits and consequences of agent-as-publisher agreements
- Multiple lawsuits by authors trying to break publisher/agent contracts
But what doesn’t change?
People will continue to want stories, new stories, interesting stories, stories that bend their minds and touch their hearts.
Storytellers are always necessary.
People are always willing to pay for good stories.