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Is Publishing Still Broken? The Surprising Year In Books

5 October 2013

From David Vinjamuri on Forbes Blogs:

A flood of self-published books washes ashore. Bestseller prices are down significantly. Bad grammar speeds through the ether at a faster pace than ever before.  This should be a dreadful year for publishers.  Only it’s not.

Instead, Random House handed out $5,000 bonus checks from windfall profits.  Simon & Schuster signed a critically acclaimed author whose #1 bestselling book was self-published.  And despite Amazon reporting that more than a quarter of its bestsellers were self-published last year, revenue from traditionally published books held up.

Self-publishing is a huge and disruptive force in the publishing industry, but contrary to popular belief, it’s largely benefiting publishers.

. . . .

.L. James single-handedly changed the industry’s view of self-publishing.  Her astronomically successful books  (which have sold over 70 million copies worldwide) came from a place no publisher would ever look: online fan fiction.  After James, publishers could not afford to ignore self-publishing lest they miss the next commercial phenomenon.

James’ timing was fortuitous.  Publishers were unhappy with self-publishing because readers were drowning in cheap, unedited books:

BOOKS IN PRINT® 2007 2011 2012
Total USA Self-Pub* 74,997 246,912 391,768
*ISBN Data courtesy of Bowker

. . . .

Trend #2 – Indie Authors Settled On Bestseller Lists

The New York Times bestseller list last week included three books in its top ten which were currently or originally self-published: The Mill River Recluse by Darcy Chan, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James and Out Of Line by Jen McLaughlin.  Indie authors regularly capture 20-30% of bestseller lists and an ever-growing share of Amazon sales.

. . . .

Trend #4 – Big 5 Publishers Discover Pricing

The average price of eBook bestsellers plummeted – down to $6.33 in August. Amazon sold these titles for $9.99 before Apple introduced the agency pricing model that raised prices and resulted in a Justice Department Lawsuit and publisher settlements.

In the meantime, indie authors reaching Amazon bestseller lists frequently priced titles at $0.99 to maximize sales volume. Amazon Daily Deals also launched backlist titles onto bestseller lists with significant discounts, while publishers became more aggressive in price-promoting books.

The fear was a repeat of the 1980s, when superstores discounted bestsellers to the detriment of other titles. But publishers used pricing more cleverly this time: deep discounts are reserved for series where a single book can lead to multiple purchases. Backlist prices have been adjusted downward so that new books still command a premium overall.

There’s reason to believe that lower pricing has not hurt publisher profits, either.  Variable costs are low for books and authors are paid a percentage of book revenue.  The real costs for the industry are either sunk (the advance and marketing costs that are spent before the book publishes) or fixed (overhead costs and the advance and marketing cost for unprofitable books).   So increased volume at lower prices is a good play for publishers.

Link to the rest at Forbes Blogs

Big Publishing, Ebooks, Self-Publishing

9 Comments to “Is Publishing Still Broken? The Surprising Year In Books”

  1. Yes. Next question?

  2. They keep saying that E L James’s books were first self published but they weren’t. They were published by a small press in Australia. She did come from fan fiction though.
    The publishing world is changing with the times. If you want to call that broken I think you’re trapped in a traditional published mind.

    • Truth. Funny: that publisher (The Writers Coffee House) picked up two trilogies at the time. The first was EL James’. The other was by Miya Kressin–whom I signed to my nano-press last year, and whose Asylum saga I just finished republishing as an all-new, totally re-written and re-edited trilogy. I always say that Random House might’ve gotten 50 Shades, but I got the trilogy that was better written and more passionate. Miya is amazing to work with.

    • If you count Master of the Universe (pre-editing, hardly different fanfic), it was indeed self-pubbed first—just not for profit.

  3. “Bad grammar speeds through the ether at a faster pace than ever before.

    Before this author speaks in favor of self-pubbed he must first trash it.

    Long before ebooks, long before the internet I had a small bookstand on my desk.

    On one side was four novels to which I aspired. They were belles lettres in my mind. The books revolved occasionally, but I remember “The Sirens of Titan”, “War and Remembrance”, and “The Foundation Trilogy” sitting on the good side at one time or another. Those books represented the talent I ached to achieve.

    On the other side, well, I won’t highlight the titles, but the other side was books that screamed to me, “If they’ll publish this s*** they’re sure as hell publish my s***.”

    My home library is still full of s*** published by major New York publishing companies.

    So, if you’re going to trash indie books don’t forget to trash the trad pubbed stuff, too. Because the trad pubbed stuff is a bigger pile.


  4. BPHs: The sky is falling! Oh… no it’s not.

    Next week: The sky is falling!

  5. I’m with Dan, the reason I got into writing books was that after editing books for trad publishers, and seeing how they could take a decent book and often make it worse, I thought I’d give the writing side ago.

    There’s bad output from all-comers. Trad publishing owned that waaaay before indie. It’s a bit like a room full of alcoholics pointing at the first time drunk in the corner and saying, “Yeah, steer clear of that guy, he drinks too much!”

  6. “So increased volume at lower prices is a good play for publishers.”

    Um, it’s a good play for any seller. Sam Walton’s disciples been perfecting the science since the 40’s. Didn’t need a Forbes analyst for that. A mediocre MBA student like me could have told you that.

  7. There will probably always be a space for big corporate publishing, but that space will decline over time. It may become like restaurants – a lot of one person businesses, some small chains, many franchise operations and some large chains. A certain sector of both producers and consumers will like the familiarity of the big chains and franchises (i.e. writers and readers who like the assumed quality of big publishers), while many will prefer the novelty and idiosyncratic nature of small restaurants (i.e. self publishers and small publishers along with readers who find traditional publishing boring or unfulfilling).

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