From publishing consultant Chris McVeigh:
On my last visit to London I caught up with some old friends and as I’ve worked in publishing for over 23 years I guess it’s not too surprising that many of my friends are fellow travelers in the publishing industry – lots of them authors, lots of them publishers.
What struck me most on this visit was that nowmore than ever both the authors and the publishers I spent time with seemed tobe sharing a feeling of deep unease about where the publishing industry washeaded and what their part in it might end up being.
The thing that was so surprising was that the same sentiments seemed to be being shared by almost everyone I spoke to during my visit, like some stuff that has been bubbling up for a while was beginning to break the surface all at once.
. . . .
My thoughts about all this coalesced on the day I had lunch with a marketing director friend of mine and then drinks later the same day with a mate who’s an author – nothing unusual in that particularly but the surprising thing was both of them were almost in tears with frustration as they talked about the way things were going in the industry they both loved.
The marketing director was frustrated because she felt like she was consistently letting down the authors under her care. The sheer relentless weight of books coming through the pipeline had all but overwhelmed her and her staff some time ago – and from where she was standing things were only getting worse.
“We just don’t have the time to do anything properly, we’re just ticking boxes”
The author was frustrated because despite being consistently in print for the last 20 odd years and always being able to earn a (modest) living, she now felt increasingly powerless in the face of her dwindling royalty statements. (This despite the fact that her publishers have clearly not lost faith in her as they’ve just offered her another two book contract).
“No-one seems to take ownership of anything any more, they’re just ticking boxes”
I promise you that wasn’t just a rhetorical flourish of mine – that same phrase ‘just ticking boxes’ was used by both marketing director and author in separate conversations, only a few hours apart and both were equally upset by it.
. . . .
I think we’ve reached a point where (on the whole) the needs of authors and the needs of the corporate publishing industry are no longer aligned and therefore the relationship between publisher and author has to be re-drafted.
The larger publishers have developed a fairly robust business model that relies on turnover, economies of scale and margin efficiency. As long as they have enough product coming through the doors and that product generates enough turnover across the board, they can apply their ‘margin based’ business model to deliver relatively predictable profits to their parent corporations. Perhaps not the double-digit growth that was normal when I first came into the industry in the 1990’s but robust enough that no-one needs to get fired.
In practice this means that as the size of each publishers’ list increases, each individual book has less importance in the general scheme of things and as a result each author has ‘less importance’ on an individual level.
These larger publishers feed their business models’ insatiable hunger for content by a mixture of consolidation, acquisition and increasingly the acquiescence of an almost inexhaustible supply of authors (most of who have dreamed of getting a publishing deal their whole lives).
In addition publishers increasingly play it safe, they don’t risk massive amounts of money per title on marketing or promotion and they keep their cost base low by employing well-educated, highly motivated staff – who love books & love publishing – on frankly embarrassingly low salaries.
And there’s the rub – ‘love’ and ‘dreams’.
The truth is that at its’ heart publishing is an industry that runs on love and dreams, the love of words, the love of books, the dream of writing or publishing a book that touches someone’s heart.
. . . .
We were blinded by our love of books at an early age and the dreams that made us want to get involved in this business in the first place have endured whether we want to admit it or not.
And that love that blinds us is the same love that holds us together. It’s that love that keeps us both – publishers and authors – bound into a business model that increasingly doesn’t meet our competing needs – the needs of the publishing corporations to feed their content machines, the needs of the publishing staff to feel like they’re doing their honorable best at a job they love, and the needs of authors to make a decent living.
The biggest lie The Beatles ever told was ‘Love is all you need’ – I wish it were true but we’re all adults here and we all know that you need much more than just love to make a relationship work.
. . . .
Publishers are trying to win authors’ confidence with promises of marketing and promotion that often simply do not materialize.
Authors in good standing, often with many years more experience than the publishing staff they’re dealing with, know that the service they’re receiving isn’t anything like the service they received in years gone by.
And at the same time these authors are looking around at the self-publishing success stories that fly around and think ‘well, if they can do it, I can do it too’.
Link to the rest at @4fifty1 and thanks to SFR for the tip.