From Books & Such Literary Management:
In the October 2 issue of Publishers Weekly, the publication revealed the results of its annual salary and jobs survey. One of the questions the 442 respondents answered was, What is the #1 issue facing the industry in 2017?
. . . .
The #1 challenge publishing faces is the limited number of online retailers
Although only 5 percent of responders named this as the prime problem, PW reported,
“…A number of publishers who commented on industry issues named Amazon–in one way or another–as the greatest challenge to book publishers.”
The relationship with Amazon has been fraught from the beginning. Yes, we hate Amazon because it is monopolistic–and more so every day. But where do many (most?) readers buy their books? Uh, Amazon.
In terms of creatively finding ways to drive the price down on individual titles, no other entity can surpass Amazon. This year we had the challenge of which seller will get the sale when the buyer clicks on the buy button. Book sellers other than the publisher received a boon from Amazon when the buy button went to the lowest bidder–the seller with the lowest price. Publishers have been inventively working to hold (or regain) that prime real estate. But that’s just the most recent challenge to publishing’s well-being that Amazon has either benignly or calculatingly posed. 2018 will doubtless add to Amazon’s list of ways to create publishing mayhem. (Not that publishing is being targeted; Amazon functions in the same cutthroat manner with every industry.)
The #1 challenge to publishing is too many books being published
Publishing looks to the Bowker Report to collect these numbers, and it takes some time for Bowker to assemble them, but this is how the stats stood in September 2016: More than 700,000 books were self-published in the U.S. in 2015, which is an increase of 375% since 2010! The number of traditionally published books climbed to over 300,000. The net effect is that the number of new books published each year in the U.S. has exploded by more than 600,000 since 2007, to well over 1 million annually. At the same time, more than 13 million previously published books are still available.
In 2016, the U.S. population was reported at 323.1 million. Think about how many avid readers would be needed to sustain the present explosion of available books. Is it any wonder that a new title has a few weeks at a retail outlet to sell through to a customer? And how is the reader supposed to ferret through this vast selection to find the books that interest him or her? The problem is staggering.
. . . .
The greatest challenge seen by publishers is flat sales
Twenty-five percent of the respondents are concerned about a publishing variable that is easy for each publisher to track–how many books sold this year? The sobering fact publishers picked this as their primary concern is that it’s core to the industry. Publishing’s function boils down to selling books. If it doesn’t succeed at this, it won’t succeed at all. And it isn’t like 2017 is the exception. No growth has occurred for five years.
As the PW article reports, “According to the Association of American Publishers’ recent StatShot report, total industry sales fell to $26.24 billon in 2016, down 5.1% from 2015. Between 2012 and 2016, sales fell every year except 2014, and over the five-year period sales dropped 5.2%. Within the trade segment, sales rose 1.5% in 2016 over 2015 and were up 1.3% in 2016 over 2012.”
Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management and thanks to David for the tip.
If only Amazon would just go away, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.
If only Amazon would increase its prices a lot, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.
If only there weren’t so many books, mostly sold from Amazon, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.
If only publishers could sell more books, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.
If only we could return to the good old days.
The simple fact is that the best way to make money in the book business in 2017 is to sell ebooks. All an indie author or a publisher needs to do is create an electronic book file, upload it to Amazon, etc., (or maybe just Amazon) and wait for the monthly checks to arrive.
PG suspects the math is pretty much the same for small and large publishers.
You can run a very lean publishing organization selling ebooks. (PG suspects most indie authors are a one-person publishing organization.)
No printing costs, no inventory management, no Ingram fees, no shipping fees, no returns and nobody needed to manage the whole printed book mess.
If you must have printed books, PG suspects that a print-on-demand operation like CreateSpace is probably the most profitable way of doing that if you track down the fully-loaded costs of all the various people and operations in creating, maintaining and managing an inventory of printed books.
It’s no wonder that traditional publishing is such a low-wage/low-profit business.
The underlying problem for Books & Such and a lot of other agents and publishers is that the reason authors pay them so much is that they are gatekeepers – gatekeepers to publishers who don’t want to spend time reading submissions from authors, gatekeepers to printed book sales via Barnes & Noble and other traditional bookstores.
Gatekeepers make their money by charging people who want to go through their gate. And gatekeepers in the book business don’t just charge a toll one time. The book deal that is closed to day will pay the large majority of the money the book generates to the gatekeepers that permitted the book to enter the traditional stream of book commerce.
And, to add insult to injury, the gatekeepers will continue to receive the same toll for the rest of the author’s life. Plus 70 years. The author will be dead and the agent will be dead and everybody who worked for the publisher when the book was released will be dead. But the tolls will continue.
Some time, PG needs to calculate the total payments made to gatekeepers during the hundred-odd years before the copyright expires on a book.
If the current US copyright laws had been place when Ernest Hemingway wrote, given that Hemingway died in 1961, his agent and publishers would continue to receive their gatekeeper tolls until 2031. Gatekeeping tolls in the form of agents’ fees and publisher’s share of book sales would still be payable for The Sun Also Rises, first published in 1926.
PG says fewer and fewer authors are interested in walking through those particular gates.
The simple reason is that there is an alternative and that alternative pays better than traditional publishing does for most authors. More and more writers are realizing that if they want to be professional authors and earn their living by writing, they are much more likely to reach their goal by self-publishing ebooks and selling them online.
A few facts from Author Earnings (emphasis is PG’s):
- In 2016, two-thirds of traditionally-published fiction and non-fiction books were sold online.
- About 75% of adult fiction and non-fiction books (including both traditional and indie published) were sold online (77% of fiction, 72% of non-fiction) in 2016.
- In early 2017, Big Five publisher sales on Amazon were 20.8%–or barely one fifth–of all Amazon US consumer ebook purchases.
- As far as the earnings of individual authors who have debuted in the last three years:
- 250 Big Five authors are annually earning $25,000 or more from Amazon sales
- 200 recent small or medium publisher authors earn $25,000 or more from their Amazon sales annually
- Over 1,000 indie authors who debuted in the last 3 years are earning more than $25,000 per year from Amazon sales
- Looking at earnings of debut authors from the past five years, more indie authors are now earning a $50K-or-better living wage from Amazon than all of their Big Five and Small/Medium publisher peers put together.
- Fewer than 115 Big Five-published authors and 45 small- or medium-publisher authors who debuted in the past five years are currently earning $100K/year from Amazon sales. Among indie authors of the same tenure, more than 425 of them are now at a six-figure run rate.
PG suggests that traditional publishing’s greatest challenge is demonstrated by numbers like this.