From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
Want to know the future of publishing? You’ll find it in TV.
I know, I know, a bunch of you just went, “Huh?” But seriously, the entertainment industry is the entertainment industry is the entertainment industry, and those of us who write and publish have a small corner of it.
I often use examples from the music industry on this blog, especially as I look a decade or more out, but the shorter term model for the future can be found in television.
Like the traditional publishing industry, network television had a lock on the content that consumers received. Sure, there was the occasional small publication and the occasional vanity press (note the derogatory term) published book. But if you wanted to be relevant, if you wanted to be important, if you wanted to be the center of the culture, you had to be published through traditional publishing companies.
In television, it was the same thing. If you wanted anyone to watch what you did on a national level, then you had to sell your content to the Big 3 Networks and PBS. (Yes, I’ll be dealing with U.S. TV since it’s what I know.)
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The gatekeeper system in TV was harsher than the gatekeeper system in publishing back in the day. Before the massive consolidation started in publishing in the late 1970s, there were hundreds of national publishing companies. By the late 1990s, the consolidation had brought the national companies down to a maybe a hundred. And now, as we know, there are the Big 5 companies—and a whole bunch of medium-sized companies that managed to get their books into the national bookstore chains or the national distributors.
In the 1980s, the rise of cable TV was a shock to the network TV execs, but they coped. Cable boomed in the 1990s, along with cable access stations, and a lot of national original scripted programming started on a regional or local level. The networks weren’t worried, though. They could hire the talent away from those shows—and often did—because at that time, nothing paid as well as the networks.
One TV producer that I worked with a lot during that period of time kept repeating to me that we’d take cable on this deal we were working, but if we really wanted eyeballs, we needed a network.
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And it stayed that way, until Netflix decided to stream an entire season of its original programming on one day so that consumers could binge if they wanted or parse out the episodes if that worked better for them.
We all know what happened with House of Cards, and how it changed the way consumers watch their original content. Or rather, the way that Netflix figured out (from its algorithms) that consumers prefer to binge on original content.
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In December, the folks at FX complained publically that there was too much TV, too much competition. The network calculated that there were 409 dramas, comedies and limited series, not counting unscripted shows and TV movies.
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While all of the consumers are happily consuming their own personal segment of those 5,000 hours of television—and sharing information about those shows via word of mouth—Landgraf was talking about a different problem altogether.
He was trying to deal with something that made his brain hurt. Remember the eyeballs comment? The number of eyeballs per scripted series has gone down, and what that used to mean in the past was that the shows with the fewest eyeballs paid the least.
Now, the limited shows pay as well as or better than the networks—and—bonus!—give the show runners creative freedom.
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In the January 8, 2016 paper edition of the magazine, an article by Lynette Rice titled “Is Network Television Stuck in a Talent Drought?” had these revealing (if unattributed) quotes:
“All the broadcast nets struggle with being the low man on the totem pole,” laments an exec at one of the Big Four. “Scripts go to Showtime, then to AMC, then they show up at the networks. We’re left with what’s left over.” Adds a high-powered TV agent: “It’s thin out there. It’s hard to motivate someone to write an NCIS.”
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So if, after the umpteenth discussion of The Walking Dead, I finally decide to see what all the fuss is about, I don’t have to start with this week’s or this month’s or this year’s episodes. I can start at the very beginning at the moment I decide to watch it. I don’t even have to wait for a DVD to arrive in my mailbox.
I don’t think anyone in the executive suites at the major TV networks ever expected this. The goal was always eyeballs. Eyeballs equaled advertising revenue. Advertising revenue was the way that everyone got paid.
Now, streaming services get paid monthly, whether the consumer watches anything or not. Some consumers pay per episode, which is yet another revenue stream. And older content often gets consumed as often as new content.
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Data Guy and Hugh have shown definitively that the book sales for traditional publishers are on a steep decline. Book sales for small and medium publishers as well as indie writers are climbing quickly.
Some of what Data Guy and Hugh have discovered this go-around is not a surprise. The fact that ebook sales have declined for traditional publishers once they returned the ebook prices to astronomical levels isn’t a surprise.
The surprise in the data is something else: the high ebook prices have sent buyers back to print books, just like the traditional publishers planned. They wanted to shore up the brick-and-mortar stores by making sure consumers bought print books.
However, according to this report, consumers simply made a second click on their screen and ordered the print book from Amazon.
I’d been talking about this for a while now. I had noticed that hardcovers on Amazon were often deeply discounted, so that a consumer could get the latest release by their favorite traditionally published author for several dollars cheaper than the ebook edition.
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As far as consumers are concerned, books are books are books. They can get great paper books or great ebooks, and consumers really don’t care who published them. Just like consumers don’t care who produced the TV show they’re watching. If the show is good, the consumer will enjoy it and recommend it. If the book is good, the consumer will enjoy it and recommend it. Word of mouth will build. Readers will come to the book over time.
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It took time, but eventually, the creators of television shows realized that they were better off with fewer eyeballs (at the beginning), more money, and creative control. Now, it’s really hard for network executives to find someone willing to lose money and control just for the “honor” of working with the long-established TV networks.
That’s what will happen with traditional publishing. It’s already happening. Blog after blog after blog appears at nearly the rate of one per week by writers who started indie and who went to traditional and who are now returning to indie for the control. Even more blogs appear from traditional writers who have become fed up with their treatment from their traditional publishing “partners” and are moving to indie.
Within the next five years, or maybe ten, as the word gets out (writers are slow on the uptake), traditional publishing will find itself in the same position as the Big 4 TV networks. The Big 5 traditional publishers will get the clueless and the one-shot wonders.
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Jessica and others for the tip.
Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.