From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
Every morning, I read two or three newspapers on my iPad. One of those papers,The Los Angeles Times, has continued to showcase an editorial about the “death” of the self-published author. (I refuse to link to this thing; look it up yourself if you’re curious.)
Okay, the article’s not really the death of the self-published author. But the stupid piece, which I have clicked on three days in a row because I was tired and I didn’t recognize the headline, claims that because e-book growth has slowed in the last few months, self-published authors will never reach the pinnacle of success that they all dreamed about a short year ago.
. . . .
Hugh Howey is not the only writer to make a print-only deal with traditional publishers in the past six months. But his deal is the most watched. Everyone is looking at his deal to see if it can be replicated, and the timing couldn’t be worse for other writers who want print-only deals. Publishers are going to claim that Howey’s print books aren’t selling to expectation and no one will admit the reason why.
The reason? Howey’s print book got released by S&S on March 14, just as S&S began a war with Barnes & Noble.
. . . .
In the middle of this dispute, Barnes & Noble has demonstrated its clout by cutting back on the number of titles it has ordered from S&S. The publishing industry is screaming about this, because at the moment, B&N accounts for 20% of “consumer book spending and is a main conduit for publicizing new releases.”
. . . .
When you have middlemen, and they have businesses to protect, they have their own conflicts that have nothing to do with the product that they theoretically represent.
The writers who will get hurt the most are those whose books are being released in the first part of 2013 by Simon & Schuster, and that includes Hugh Howey.
Whatever S&S’s projected sales figures for Wool are, those sales figures won’t get met. If S&S is smart, they’ll accept that those numbers will be lower—that all of their sales numbers—will be artificially low this quarter, and they won’t make business decisions with those authors based on the artificially low sales numbers.
And pigs will fly out of my butt.
. . . .
And you know who is really being hurt here? Readers.
Because traditional publishers treat books like produce. So the books being released this quarter by S&S have only a few weeks to make an impression on the publishing world. If 20% of consumer spending occurs at B&N and S&S’s books aren’t there, then S&S’s books in this quarter will sell quite poorly.
Sure, a reader can get that book from a different retailer, probably with no problem. (Note to B&N: Great way to drive your customers to your competition. Just sayin’.)
But the future is the problem here. It sounds like Jodi Picoult is on top of this thing, doing signings and such to make up for that damaging loss in sales. However, most writers want to be “a writer, not a manager” to quote Charles Stross from this past week. Those writers are willfully naïve about the business of writing.
. . . .
Here’s the impact: When a first-time author negotiates her second-book contract with S&S, S&S will claim that sales were not to expectation and either not buy the next book or will low-ball the offer. And then will ship the same number of copies that got sold in this crisis period, so sales will continue to decline.
The same decline in sales will happen to a long-time author, and even to the bestsellers for S&S for the same reason. S&S will look at the sales figures for the previous book’s release and claim they were “disappointing” and will make the offer on those numbers.
That’s how it’s done in traditional publishing.
Will S&S admit that the low sales are its fault? No, nope. Not at all. Never.
. . . .
And believe me, some writers who are being published by S&S in the first quarter of 2013 won’t be able to make another traditional publishing deal under the same byline when the current contract ends.
Why don’t publishers care more about this? Why doesn’t S&S?
Because they publish thousands of books per year. If some books get caught in a dispute with B&N, so be it. If S&S wins this dispute, and gets better terms from B&N, then S&S will count this negotiation as a win.
. . . .
Why would writers self-publish in this climate? Because that way, the writer won’t get caught by someone else’s business dispute.
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Ant and others for the tip. You should definitely read the whole thing.
Passive Guy will observe that when an industry is contracting (and traditional publishers and their bookstore distributor system are definitely contracting), a couple of things happen.
1. Nobody wants their part of the pie to get smaller. Somebody else should take the hit.
2. The power relationships between major players in the declining industry change. However, nobody is quite sure exactly how much those power relationships have changed, so a discovery process happens to determine who still has how much power.
That’s what the Barnes & Noble/S&S fight is about. Does Barnes & Noble have the power to increase its charges to publishers? Barnes & Noble thinks S&S still needs it to move enough printed books to stay profitable. S&S thinks visibility and distribution in Barnes & Noble is important, but not quite that important any more, certainly not important enough to pay Barnes & Noble a bunch of extra money.
When the change is based on disruptive technology, that change can happen very quickly, so last quarter’s power relationships may no longer apply today.
This is not the last battle over the shrinking publishing pie. We will see many more.
When the dinosaurs are fighting each other, smart mammals stay out of the way. In the future, the dinosaurs will be gone, but, as Kris explains, in the mean time, their battles can still harm a lot of innocent mammals.
PG has lost track of the number, but avoiding dinosaur battles is either reason number 88 or 89 for authors to self-publish.