From author Harry Bingham via Jane Friedman:
I’ve been an author for more than fifteen years. My first book came out with HarperCollins in February 2000 and I’ve been going ever since. (I’m British and the book came out in the UK and elsewhere, though I’m a relative newbie in the US.)
Fifteen years might not sound such a long time, but I’ve already had two literary agents, four publishers, seven editors, and thirteen books—even more if you include things I’ve worked on as editor or ghost. More to the point, I’ve witnessed the publishing industry evolve through at least four different eras.
The first era—I just caught its tail end—was back when price discounting was still modest. Back then, publishers still had marketing cash to spend on actual marketing. HarperCollins spent about £50,000 ($75,000) on launching my very first book, with posters up at rail stations and airports, on the London Underground and elsewhere. I was lucky: those times were already ending.
Before long, retailers started to become more assertive. They slashed prices to lure consumers and sold space in their retail promotions to replace that lost income. The cash that had once been used to attract consumers was now going straight to bookshops to compensate them for the pain of all that discounting. No more posters, no more direct appeals to the consumer.
That was the second era, but it was still pre-Amazon, pre-ebook.
. . . .
Publishers were finding it increasingly hard to sell in print and to sell right across their front lists—but it soon turned out that they didn’t have to either, or not the way they used to. The huge margins they made on ebooks more than made up for the loss of print revenues. The equally huge margins they made on their backlist ebook titles made up for the struggles of the frontliners.
In a weird, paradoxical way, Amazon provided both the threat (the rise of the ebook) and the solution (those giant margins).
The net result? It turns out that now, at the end of that third era, publishers are making more money than they ever have done before.
. . . .
But what about the author in all this? What does it mean for you? What has it meant for me?
Well, I don’t know. Anyone who claims to have answers is a fraud: the wheel is still in spin, the ball has yet to settle. But I do have a story that contains the seeds of an answer.
I said I’ve been through a number of different books, different editors. Well, I should really have added that I’ve been through a number of careers too. I started out writing financial thrillers. Those things morphed into historical fiction. Then I jumped over to nonfiction, both specialist and non-specialist. But I could never stay with nonfiction for ever. I just liked telling stories too much. So I started writing a series of mystery novels, featuring a young Welsh detective, Fiona Griffiths.
Those books did really nicely, and still are.
. . . .
In the US, my books were bought by Delacorte/Bantam Dell, part of Random House. I enjoyed a superb editor and the firm’s quite excellent production standards. I got some incredible reviews—that first book, Talking to the Dead, had starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus and was a crime book of the year for the Boston Globe and theSeattle Times. What’s more, my ebook sales were strong enough that I’d earned out my author advance before the book had even come out in paperback. That’s good going.
. . . .
Because the two books I did with Random sold well as ebooks, they pretty much failed in print. The $27 hardback isn’t an obviously desirable product for today’s crime/mystery reader—certainly not when debuts are concerned—and the book basically flunked. Because retailers couldn’t shift the hardback, they didn’t want to be burned twice, so they ordered the paperback only in very limited numbers. That too sold horribly.
. . . .
To me, it was obvious that we needed to establish the series in stages. We’d start with ebooks, priced so as to attract the risk-averse buyer. Then, once we’d built a base, we’d start to issue affordably priced paperbacks. Then, once all that was strong enough, we’d offer the premium priced hardback too. Simple.
Only not. For one thing, Random House wasn’t set up to work like that. There were e-only imprints (Alibi) and there were hardback imprints (Delacorte). There wasn’t, and isn’t, an imprint able simply to publish a title in whatever was most natural to that author and that book.
And then too, if I was going to be published e-only by Random House, I would receive just 25% of net ebook receipts. That’s about 17% of the ebook’s cover price as opposed to more like 70% by simply publishing direct with Amazon.
. . . .
I very happily chose to self-publish the third book in the series.
. . . .
And this, I think, will be the theme of this fourth era that’s now just possibly emerging. It’s a world where authors with plenty of Big 5 sales experience choose to say, “You know what, I’m not playing this game any more.” Where authors make a positive choice to walk away from the terms offered by good, regular publishers.
Link to the rest at Jane Friedman and thanks to SFR for the tip.
Here’s a link to Harry Bingham’s books