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Stickin’ It to the Man, 50,000 Words at a Time

1 September 2011

Stephen Green AKA Vodkapundit usually blogs about matters political, but he does well as indie ranter too:

Bill Quick isn’t just an entertaining storyteller, he’s a sharp businessman who understands the publishing industry better than most publishing companies. Looking at how ebooks are changing the industry, he concludes:

“Good” writers generally craft stories that many, many people like. That word “craft” entails a lifetime of hard work, trial and error, self-education, and, yes, native talent. Not everybody can do it. In fact, not very many people at all can do it relatively well or successfully. And therein lies the issue over which the dying world of book-object-story is currently dashing itself to pieces. The commercial structure undergirding our previous method of story delivery – the mass-marketing of book-objects that present individual stories — acted as a gatekeeper that prevented all but those regarded by hard-eyed editors using a definition of quality that included notions of profit — Will this story sell enough books to make a profit in our current commercial structure? — from reaching a significant number of readers.

That structure is dead — and the gatekeeper function it performed is equally dead [Emphasis added].

It’s an unnerving time for publishers, as their “structure is dead.” But it’s an equally-unnerving time for writers, who must find new ways to reach an audience, and to do so profitably.

Rather, I think it’s unnerving for established writers.

. . . .

But one class of writers who currently benefit under the current system will suffer, and another class which has suffered will find new benefits in the exciting world of e-publishing. Let’s cover the bad news first.
I hate to break it to “prestige” authors, but I’m not sure how they’re going to make it in the digital marketplace. The “prestige” folks write tiny little books about tiny little subjects dear to the tiny little hearts of great big publishers. They don’t sell many copies, but the publishers get the prestige of having said-author’s name and work (usually excruciatingly liberal) on their imprint. You see these books in small numbers in prominent locations near the front of the bookstore. You don’t see many people picking them up.

As the big publishers go the way of the dinosaurs, what does it profit them to spend scarce resources on money-losing prestige works? Already, publishers are trying to justify their very existence, in a world where authors can go directly to their audiences, without the need for gatekeepers.

. . . .

But epublishing empowers the midlist writer to go crash the gates and at least be seen on the Kindle Store — which is a lot more than Random House is going to give them. And if one of Amazon’s editors takes a keen interest in something, they can publicize the book at very little risk to the bottom line. A few thousand (or even a few million) banner ads cost nothing compared to a whole bunch of remaindered dead-tree books.

There are thousands upon thousands of good storytellers who can’t get anyone at Knopf or anywhere else to give them the time of day. But for Amazon and Apple, more content is always better, because publishing is practically free.

Link to the rest at Vodkapundit

Via the particularly helpful Julia Rachel Barrett.


Disruptive Innovation, Self-Publishing

9 Comments to “Stickin’ It to the Man, 50,000 Words at a Time”

  1. Thanks for the link! Good article.

  2. In this blast from the past, John Dvorak goes back 25 years and discovers how resistant to change really smart people can be. As Harvard was then, the publishing industry is now.

  3. Quote from Vodkapundit: “As the big publishers go the way of the dinosaurs, what does it profit them to spend scarce resources on money-losing prestige works?”

    Quite frankly, a lot of those “scarce resources” was money that rightfully should have been paid out to midlist writers, but which was embezzled from them through the notorious reserve against returns and other standard publishing industry practices. As more and more midlisters go indie, the trad publishers won’t have that money to hand over to their preferred “prestige” authors. Those people are going to be SOL.

  4. I have no idea why, but since I met you…virtually…these articles are coming out of the woodwork!

  5. I hope there’s a general movement away from the accepted notion of:

    storyteller = publishing house accepted person who write something called literature (agreed to by someone called ‘notable critics’

    written story = an object (also called book – or ebook for that matter) with definite physical, or virtual limits, mostly in text only

    I think it’s just a matter of maybe a decade or so before all these digital ways of just Getting Your Story Out There merge, more and more:

    Fan fiction

    Blogfiction (fictive bloggers)

    Webfiction (just fiction published on a website in html – often short stories or flash fiction)

    Ebook fiction

    Experiments with additions of audio, art, photo
    +interactivity and community on websites, multimedia, wikis (Cory Doctorow’s Makers for example)- etc.

    Role-playing communities online – text based, but sometimes with more or less attention to graphics (combining to tell a story by e-mail, forum, blog, membership website etc.)
    Konrath once blogged about the ebook as a ‘community’ and Amazon recently added an ‘ask the author function’ the Kindle. But in reality these modes of interactive or semi-interactive storytelling have been prolific amongst roleplayers online for almost 2 decades. Note: I’m not talking about computer games as such, although I can’t think of why a game element could not be combined with what we now think of as ‘ebooks’.

    … and so on …

    … and so on …

    – Well, okay … ahem, to finish my Long Sentence from a few paragraphs before:

    I think all of these seemingly disparate trends of digitally based storytelling will merge more and more into a seamless, borderless whole – where, as usual, the ‘jungle’ of creative people, doing it just for the hell of it, will come first in finding new combinations of storytelling.

    I think that’s the future. A very near future. And it will probably just continue. Perhaps a banal observation but …

    Right now it is as if there are a LOT of people who has to get used to JUST the ebook and the opportunities and pitfalls of indie publishing.

    But that’s just one example of focusing overly much on articifial borders, methinks, between ways of getting your story ‘out there’.

    There’s been a move lately – in the world of ‘real authors’ (and those who want to be) from print books to ebooks from bricks-and-mortar retailers to digital/online retailers. But since the birth of the Internet there’s also been an undergrowth of other indie storytelling experiments

    These people, who may never have thought about themselves as ‘real author prospects’, will now have more oppportunities to innovate, combine commercialize and ultimately offer new vehicles for their stories to readers – because of the emergence of the whole ebook market, online retailing etcetera.

    On the other hand more ‘serious’ authors (or prospective authors) who are currently diving deep into the brave new world of the ebook market, will in not too many years dive deeper – I believe – and want to take a look at all the different experiments that has already been going on out there in the ‘jungle’.

    Well, I may just be thinking WAY too much about this … but in any case, it’s gonna be damned interesting to see what happens next.

    • Thanks for your detailed thoughts, Christopher. The changes will happen faster, slower, as predicted and totally surprising for some time into the future.

  6. The big publishers had a cartel. By acting as the gatekeepers they controlled the supply of books to meet the demand as they deemed fit in their view, and only the writers with the right allegiances were allowed into bookstores. The gate is still up, but the fence to the bookstore disappeared; not the physical bookstore but the virtual one. Who needs gatekeepers if there are no fences? After all what is a book, but information, and information can be disseminated virtually, in a virtual store.

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