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Publishers struggle with an ebook bind

25 November 2012

From Business Spectator:

When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, he said it would give wings to truth so that it may fly with the word.

The latest volume of the industry’s revolution has come to printing houses relatively late. Book makers are scrambling to embrace ebooks and the rise of internet while fending off self-published ebook authors and online sellers.

. . . .

In recent years, the sale of physical books in Australia suggests the publishing industry is in decline. According to Nielsen Bookscan figures, national sales of print books fell 12.6 per cent to $1.078 billion in 2011. This followed a four per cent decline to $1.213 billion in the previous year.

The trend is expected to continue as online book sales rise and self-published ebooks become more common. According to Amazon’s unaudited sales figures in the United Kingdom, for every 100 physical books sold, readers downloaded 114 ebooks.

. . . .

Publishers believe their competitive advantage rests in producing well-written, best-selling material. According to an industry insider, publishers see the value of their skills in editing, promoting and filtering material as adding value when compared to the haphazard approach employed by many self-published authors.

These authors often find their material lacks the credibility that comes with being attached to a publishing house. By choosing to submit their work through a publisher, authors see their works marketed directly to their intended audience.

Link to the rest at Business Spectator

Amazon, Ebooks, Self-Publishing

30 Comments to “Publishers struggle with an ebook bind”

  1. Hmmm. So this:

    “According to an industry insider, publishers see the value of their skills in editing, promoting and filtering material as adding value when compared to the haphazard approach employed by many self-published authors”.

    You know, you learn something every day. I had no idea that Publishers edited, promoted and added value. I also didn’t realize their approach wasn’t haphazard.

    I thought they picked authors that “knew people”, gave them no promotion or editing support, and then just slapped their book into book stores for a couple of weeks.

    When did their focused approach full of editing and promotion start? Why wasn’t I informed?

    • I thought they had at least some semblance of copy-editors, even now…

      • Some publishers still do a lot of editing. And I think every publisher still has copy-editors. They’re not *that* far gone yet. 🙂

        • Well, I could be wrong, but I’ve been reading on agents blogs that the houses are significantly cutting back on editing.

          They are recommending an author get professional editing before even submitting a query.

          If an agent addresses it, you have to think it’s pretty bad.

          • I want to add – it’s weird that they are cutting back on one of their few selling points, but my impression is – they are!

          • Wow! I knew houses were cutting back–especially with the mergers going on–but had no idea some are advising authors to have their manuscript edited *before* they query. It doesn’t make sense to cut back on one of the biggest perks of trade publishing. (Paying for a good edit isn’t cheap, and there’s no guarantee the publisher will pick it up.)

            As for marketing, the feel I get from listening to or reading about from industry professionals is that they *cough* really don’t know what they’re doing or why some books take off while others don’t. My impression is they’re taking a throw-the-spaghetti-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach.

          • Editing or copy-editing? Different things!

    • It would be nice if people who wrote articles took the trouble to find out what they were talking about. Yet another article that is largely bosh.

  2. I can’t argue with what publishers think they’re doing on the front end. The back end is a bit of a problem and it’s going to get worse. I spent years trying to get folks to take my work seriously. Once e-publishing came along, it took me a few months to get my first novel out there. This next generation of writers (in their teens right now) is not going to wait years.

    That said, I agree that marketing in the indie world is haphazard, almost random, and frustrating as hell. The main role of publishers, it seems to me, will be to create buzz and push some writers viral. Right now, they still have a lock on the mainstream review machine (“No Indies Need Apply”). As long as that stays a lock for them, the buzz will be done best by them.

    … and yet, they all lost to EL James this year, didn’t they?

  3. “-According to Amazon’s unaudited sales figures in the United Kingdom, for every 100 physical books sold, readers downloaded 114 ebooks.-”

    114 downloaded ebooks does not necessarily mean 114 paid-for ebooks.

    If the downloads figure includes the hundreds of thousands of free ebooks distributed through Amazon then the comparison is meaningless in determining the real balance of e. vs. p. sales.

    • IF you knew anything about Amazon, which it seems that you don’t, you would know that they do not consider free downloads to be sales. Some of us get sales reports from Amazon and are aware of that fact. But stick your head further in the sand if you like.

      • Unfortunately, the author of the article made the same mistake and said ‘downloaded 114 ebooks’ instead of ‘bought 114 ebooks’, which might well, from what I know of Amazon’s numbers, have been correct.

        • I know plenty about Amazon, JR, thank you very much, and am well aware of what KDP provides its authors.

          But if you look closely you’ll find the article quoted by PG is not about author sales reports.

          It’s about unaudited figures made public by Amazon and a statement that compared sales to downloads.

          I really don’t see how seeking to clarify a point that has not been clearly made is sticking one’s head in the sand.

          But as you;re the expert, JR, why not show us where we can find the official audited figures that show print sales, e-sales and free downloads side by side.

          • Show us where you can find audited sales figures broken down by units sold for any product line from any publisher or bookseller. I’ve never heard that such figures were audited by anyone.

  4. Sigh. Hardly worth commenting on this really. It’s like every ‘business’ commentator in the world is jumping on the bandwagon without actually thinking through the implications of a disrupted business model.

  5. “By choosing to submit their work through a publisher, authors see their works marketed directly to their intended audience.”

    Well, no. Big publishers have always seen the chain book buyers (you know, the ones who choose how many copies of each title B&N, Walmart, Target etc. will carry) as their customers. Not the readers.

    I think it’s true that some self-publishers approach this business in a haphazard manner. As do some publishers.

    Mira, with fiction, it’s not ‘knowing somebody’ so much as having a book that an agent/editor thinks will do well commercially. Which often means a book that has elements that other commercially successful books have. (Vampires, anyone? How about a duke?)

    Although a lot of indie authors do bother with things like editing and good covers and formatting, there are still a LOT of self-publishers who don’t, for whatever reason. Until the balance evens out a bit more, I *do* think that being published with a NY publishers signals a certain level of quality (true or not – we all know how haphazard big publishing’s ebook formatting can be, especially with backlist.)

    However, I also think it’s true that the top-selling indie authors these days have covers, editing, and formatting every bit as good (if not better) than what’s coming out of NY – and that most readers don’t even know they’re not buying a ‘publishing approved’ book. 😉

    • Mira, with fiction, it’s not ‘knowing somebody’ so much as having a book that an agent/editor thinks will do well commercially.

      ‘Knowing somebody’ is very often a prerequisite to getting that agent or editor to even look at your work. It’s rather hard even for publishing people to think a book will do well commercially if they have never heard of it; and their offices are crammed with thousands of manuscripts that they have never heard of, and in many cases, never will.

      • I agree with Tom, Anthea. Like you, I used to think it was the quality of the manuscript, but when 1 in 7,000 queries is accepted, and some agents come right out and say it’s who you know – even for fiction – I have to think that nepotism is alive and well in the Publishing world.

        I suspect they just pretend it isn’t – mostly to keep writers quiet and hoping.

        I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I’ve gotten…maybe I’m reading the wrong agent blogs. 🙂

        • No. I got picked up, and I have no connections whatsoever. One of my critique partners got picked up too. She had no connections either.

          I don’t doubt that many excellent manuscripts are overlooked, though. There’s another writer in my critique group with an outstanding series that I’m sure would sell well if a publisher picked it up, but he’s had only rejections. I keep trying to talk him into self-publishing it because I’m certain it would do well (and might get picked up by a publisher that way), but he won’t do it.

  6. This article fails to answer the question how these consolidations in the Big Six will actually help find & promote the next best seller. If anything, corporate consolidation will only make it harder for a new & distinctive work to get published by a New York firm: corporations push towards the safe, & predictable since risk-tasking might harm profit margins & threaten stock prices. Just how many rejections did, for example, J.K. Rowling receive before her first Harry Potter book was accepted for publication?

  7. “…publishing houses are becoming increasingly involved in the sale aspects of their books.

    American publisher Macmillian led this shift in power by dictating the retail price sellers charge for their books. In exchange, vendors receive a 30 per cent commission for every sale.

    While Amazon books first balked at the idea, their protests only lasted a couple days. Since then, every major US publishing house has adopted the practice….”

    And there was a pretty big problem with the Justice Dept. over it too. A little behind on the news, they are.

  8. It’s so amusing how, when a country gets ready to adopt ebooks, all of the trad pub supporters think they’ve invented a new argument.

    Dunno, maybe Australian publishing is so far behind that they actually do promotions. (Aussies, please note that being “behind” in this context is actually a good thing.)

  9. Here’s what I find interesting about this article:

    Sure it’s the same-old same-old with the attitude from publishing…. but the tone of the quote here implies that self-publishing is now the norm.

    It’s as if this industry insider is expressing something that people haven’t heard and accepted before. Like it’s a new sales pitch.

    It might make us all roll our eyes… but it’s actually progress. A kind of backhanded respect that self-publishing is no longer marginalized in their minds.

  10. When I read this article I kept checking the date to see if it was from November 2011 or even 2010. The lack of recognition of the DoJ suit, the outdated Amazon stats, and the whole “wow what does this ebook thing mean” tone are so last year. It is almost like the guy who wrote it has been in a coma for 18 months and just woke to submit the article he finished before the coma.

    • Well, there is no DoJ suit Down Under, the Amazon stats cited are for amazon.co.uk not amazon.com, and ‘wow what does this ebook thing mean’ is something people are still saying in many of the smaller book markets that haven’t been targeted by the big ebook retailers.

      In other words, the guy hasn’t been in a coma, just in Australia.

  11. In other words, the guy hasn’t been in a coma, just in Australia. LOL!

    I am Australian, living overseas – and I think sometimes my fellow countrymen are in a time warp.

    Mind you, they have plenty of company – early last year I went to a writers conference in UK – they were almost 100% in denial vis a vis ebooks and self-publishing. Surprising.

    [That should stir a wasps’ nest].

  12. Seems I have read the same article several times before.

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