Money Talks

12 February 2016

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.)

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.”

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

Amazon, Big Publishing, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Business of Writing

42 Comments to “Money Talks”

  1. As Kris points out, it is not just the wide range of new shows on TV, it is also the easy access to almost every show from the last couple of decades. My wife and I recently discovered “The Mentalist”, a show that ran for seven seasons and ended last year. We were busy for a while watching all 151 episodes. So a show that is no longer being broadcast is competing with this year’s new series.

    The equivalent in books is encapsulated in the phrase I first heard from Joe Konrath: “Ebooks are forever.” This is almost as radical a change as the ease with which self-publishing is now accomplished. An older book no longer disappears into the dustbin of abandoned titles, and so continues to compete with the newest title released yesterday.

    • That gives me hope my books will sell some day, by the virtual truck load! But then I think nah, I don’t read books older than a decade. Do people generally read older books? In the majority, I think not. But I hope I’m wrong about that.

      • If someone comes across your book for the first time, it is a “new” book to them. My wife and I have books that are many years old that still sell several copies a month, and also occasionally have a much bigger surge in sales (especially when we land a spot on Bookbub.)

        • Oh that’s good. I’ve heard about Bookbub. Might be worth looking into more, thanks!

          • It can be very hard to get a spot on one of their newsletters. Supposedly, they only accept 20% of the books that are submitted to them. But it does not cost anything to try. If you do get accepted, the prices are pretty high, but almost everyone reports that they more than break even.

  2. Fun fact:

    The main broadcast networks of CBS, NBC and ABC continued to maintain their market share at 90% all through the 1970s and into the 1980s.

    By the early-1980s, however, their share began to fall as more people chose cable. By 1997 the networks had just 50% of the market.

    • Yeah, but a lot of the cable networks are owned by the same giant multinationals as the broadcast networks. They simply saw a switch in which pocket the money flowed through. Didn’t really hurt them, though the local affiliates took hits. Which led them to expand their (cheaper) local news and talk shows.

      Even the early days of streaming were no big threat: Hulu is co-owned by Disney, Fox, and Universal if I remember correctly. At one point there was talk of offloading Hulu to Microsoft because, while the added revenue was good, they didn’t think it would be more than another secondary revenue source, like syndication. No need to retain control. Mostly they dithered arguing over the sale price.

      Then came HOUSE OF CARDS.
      These days even HULU is doing original content.

      More ominous, Netflix and Amazon aren’t just doing original exclusives, they are buying them outright. NETFLIX’s deal on House of Cards was a timed exclusives, but today they are doing permanent exclusives. And when they license other properties they want them exclusive during the life of the contract.

      All that drives subscribers and eyeballs to the streamers and since eyeball-hours is the only truly finite resource in entertainment this time the eyeball money really is flowing away from the media giants.

      And now Google/Youtube is doing original content and rumor has Apple doing it. Microsoft did it twenty years ago before the tech was ready but they do have some exclusive content on the Halo side so they have the contacts to jump in fast.

      Just like cloud computing, the tech companies are well positioned to jump in and take money from old media.

      This time it is really hurting them.
      Hence the FX whine.

      • During the Sundance Film Festival last month, the networks and traditional movie people were complaining that Netflix and Amazon were buying all the good movies for more money than the traditionals could pay.

        Of course, more money was flowing to the creators of independent films in the process.

        • Details, details… 🙂

        • …for more money than the traditionals were willing to pay.

          There. Fixed that for you.

        • @ PG

          “the networks and traditional movie people were complaining that Netflix and Amazon were buying all the good movies for more money than the traditionals could pay.”

          LOL. Looks like money REALLY does talk! And walk, too, with the goodies in hand. 🙂

      • All that drives subscribers and eyeballs to the streamers and since eyeball-hours is the only truly finite resource in entertainment this time the eyeball money really is flowing away from the media giants.

        Market share of eyeballs is what makes a media giant. We’re just seeing a new crop of giants. The old ones shrink, and the new ones grow.

  3. We used to watch broadcast TV. But, when it went digital, two of our four channels decided not to bother. Then one of the remaining two shut down, leaving us with one.

    So now we watch Netflix. Few, if any, of the shows from those channels are on there, but there are plenty of others to keep us entertained.

    • I don’t watch broadcast TV at all anymore. I’m missing out on only a few shows. But they’ll end up on Netflix or Amazon Instant eventually anyway, and in the mean time there’s plenty to watch digitally.

  4. My family is currently bingeing “Lewis” and “Perry Mason”. Meanwhile, our local cable provider may drop the local ABC stations because of a contract dispute. I can’t remember the last time we watched anything on ABC, so we won’t miss them.

    In other words, ABC is losing to the BBC and to CBS-of-60-years-ago in our household.

    Which brings to mind another indie press segment that hasnt been discussed: the Dead Authors population. Every year a year’s worth of books goes into public domain available to anybody who wants to scan, run OCR, clean up the text, and release it as an e-book. Some genres hold up better than others (the old science fiction can date out, but fantasy is timeless.).

  5. Heh, no offense to Kris, but the proper second half to her title is: “And Bullsh** Walks”

    Which, funny enough is what we’re seeing, the qig5 and their cheering squads are finding it harder and harder to point out any ‘facts’ that make trad-pub a better deal for mid-listers and below (and newcomers) than going indie/self-pub.

    As Kris said, it’s all about the eyeballs and what people are willing to pay to rest their eyeballs on something. Loud screaming ads drove a lot of us away from regular TV, a few bucks a month to skip those ads is worth it to many.

    Cheaper and a better selection of ebooks makes the indie/self published offerings look even better to readers and is adding to the dent agency has put in trad-pubs’ sales.

    Keep walking qig5, the money isn’t talking to you as much as it did — even though there is more money ‘talking’ to ebooks than ever before!

    • Why do you call it “qig5” and not the “big5”? What does qig5 mean?

      • Some people say “pig5” instead of “big5,” to reflect the extreme greed displayed by tradpub in their poor treatment of writers. Allen F once said that “pig5” was insulting to pigs, who didn’t deserve such slander (tongue in cheek). So he changed the “p” to a backwards “p” – or a “q.” Thus, “qig5.” 😀

      • Last year (or maybe the year before) someone here at TPV ‘accidentally’ called the big5 the pig5, which many of us agreed with. I liked it because the only difference between the ‘b’ and the ‘p’ is lowering the ‘bar’, which is what has happened in their little world.

        Sadly it was pointed out that I was insulting pigs everywhere with my ‘pig5’ usage. They were right, I was, so I looked around the keyboard for a cure …

        ‘B’ drop bar ‘p’, add that they’re doing everything a**backwards gives us a ‘q’. So I now try to call them the ‘qig5’.

        It does have an added benefit. At the rate things are going, you’ll be getting the same question to my ‘qig5’ as you get for the question ‘who’s your publisher?’

        What? 😉

  6. …complaining last summer to the Television Critics Association that “There is too much competition … It is hard to find good shows … and I believe it’s impossible to maintain quality control.”

    So, TV had its own “tsunami of crap” moment. 😉 I-n-t-e-r-e-s-t-i-n-g!

    “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.”

    I’ve seen indies predicting this will happen in the publishing industry, that tradpub will eventually get the dregs, so learning that the dominant players in television (the broadcast networks) found themselves in exactly that position really made me sit up and take notice. If it happened in TV (and it did), then it seems that much more likely that it will happen in publishing. Interesting times, indeed!

    • …and it happened fast.
      Streaming originals is newer than ebooks: HOUSE OF CARDS launched in Feb 2013.

      Tipping points are like that: you blink and suddenly it’s a whole new world.

      Main difference between TV and publishing (in this context) is showrunners know math. 😉

    • @ J.M.

      “We’re left with what’s left over.”

      I’ve seen indies predicting this will happen in the publishing industry”

      One big diff between TV (bcast or cable) is that it takes some significant cash to be a player.

      With e-book and POD publishing, and Amazon, and other book purveyors, it’s dirt cheap to get a profitable online presence and sell your writing.

      It’s already happening. 🙂

  7. YouTube is where you can find the “vanity press” and “tsunami of crap” of television. And YouTube channels are also drawing viewers away from professionally produced television because, surprise surprise, there’s some really good stuff on YouTube.

    • You can also find crap that speaks to you. My tween daughter can spend hours watching vlogs made by girls her age, (eg, the “seven super girls”) and my younger son can spend all day watching StampyCat and Dan from the Diamond Minecart. It would never appear on TV. It’s not mass-market entertainment. They’re not to my taste, but they’re to *someone’s* taste, and with Youtube, that connection can be made now. Aren’t these wonderful times?

      • OMG, my kids love StampyCat and DanTDM too. I don’t get it, but they do. They also love videos of talking hands showing off blind box toys and regular toys. My 4 year-old loves this one channel where the guy does little sketches with the TMNT toys before showing them off. Not to mention all the crappy kids animated songs channels that my little ones love. There’s a lot of stuff on youtube for kids.

    • Ohh, yeah.
      CAPER. I loved CAPER.
      (Obviously the actors did, too, considering the names they got to guest on the mini-episodes.)

      Don’t need Youtube, though.
      Joss Whedon did fine going D2C with Dr Horrible’s Singalong Blog all on his own.

      There’s also some pretty good genre show reviewers with followings in the 7 figures.

    • I don’t watch Youtube on TV because… ads.

      Same with my iPad. I mostly watch on the browser, that blocks the ads, because I don’t want to have to sit through them in the Youtube app.

  8. Money talks? And, uh, what walks? 🙂

  9. We quit watching TV in 2006 (regular and cable).

    Now, it’s Netflix, Amazon, and the occasional Redbox rental or trip to the movie theater. I have to wait for seasons of my favorite shows, but that’s fine because I binge watch stuff as a reward for finishing a book.

    It’s much better than having to figure out recording, fast forwarding through commercials, catching glimpses of reality shows [shudders], or needing to be in front of the TV at a certain time.

    Probably spend less per year than cable/satellite would cost us, too.

    • What is really telling is trying to explain to your children WHY you need to be in front of the TV at a certain time. Young kids don’t understand it.

      • Yep. We were staying at a hotel recently and the kids were requesting what they wanted to watch. I told them it didn’t work that way – they had to watch something that was on right now. They just stared at me in incomprehension. They don’t understand a tv without ‘on demand’ or netflix.

    • Same. I haven’t had/watched TV since…before 2000? A couple college appartments came with it, but other than that it’s been a steady stream of videos, DVDs, Netflix, Amazon and Crunchyroll. Vudu, for when I just CAN’T wait for a new season of this show or that. In all honesty, if the cable companies would let me pick and choose channels, I might get it (SciFi, Travel, Foodnetwork), but since all the online services do that for me, what’s the point?

  10. I hear all the time about an indie author trying out a big publisher to “get eyeballs”. They say they know they’re going to lose the book, they know they’ll get less money, but for the exposure, for hopefully an increase in sales on their indie books, for name recognition, they’ll go for it. And I hear All The Time that it wasn’t worth it. A few more years of that and no author is going to be swayed by eyeballs. Brilliant comparison and article.

    • You’re describing me right now, Megan…except I have a different reason for wanting a trad deal which, ironically, I’m seeking as my self-pubbed work starts gaining serious traction. But I have some naysayers to silence, and the only way to do that is to get a book traditionally published so I can throw it at them. A self-pubbed book won’t have the same…err…impact. By the way, my book is called BLUNT INSTRUMENT. Muhahahahahaha!

      I think therapy might be more productive. I’ll report back to say, “You were right,” very soon.

      • I’m tempted to try an experiment throwing tradpud and POD indie books at people and measuring the impact, but I can’t afford bail at the moment.

      • I wish you good luck with it, Brian. And actually I think that “knowing” what a trad pub deal will get you and what it won’t is a great improvement to a few years ago when indies were getting deals and thinking it was going to change everything.

        • Indeed. I wrote this ms. specifically to sell traditionally, so it’s not interrupting my indie schedule. One editor has it and an agent just asked to see it, so we’re moving forward, and, worse case, it gets self-pubbed with the rest of my stuff.

  11. Trying to stay on top of the new world of publishing is like trying to roll logs at a lumberjack convention. Speed and balance are key.

    I still watch regular TV, not having Netflix or Hulu or anything like that. With an old desktop and sub-par internet, watching anything on a computer is tiring and frustrating. If I ever get a good tablet and decent internet I can see myself opting for a new way of viewing, though.

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