From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
I’ve owned a lot of businesses. I have some ethical issues that do not benefit me as a business owner. There are business practices that I do not like that, if I did them, would make me a lot more money than I am making right now.
Those practices are stupidly easy to do. They rely on the gullible side of human nature. People want to believe that the other people they’re doing business with are good-hearted and have their best interests in mind. Many business people do not have other people’s interest in mind. They only consider their interest.
So let’s look at exclusivity through that prism.
As a business model for a publishing or related industry, exclusivity makes complete sense. The more a business can bind an author to that business, the better off that business will be, particularly if the author is famous.
The problem with publishing businesses is that they don’t create anything. They buy other people’s creations and then put those creations in a form that can be distributed. Generally speaking, a writer or an artist who licenses their work to a publishing company is relying on that publishing company’s expertise in design, marketing, and distribution to get that book/project/writer out to as many readers as possible.
This is the deal writers make with traditional publishers. With the Big Five, and others that operate just like them, the writers have been brainwashed into believing those companies are the only route to distribution. And they were once, but ironically, they licensed fewer parts of the copyright in those days…when a writer, by necessity, had to be exclusive.
Now, though, there’s indie publishing and a million other ways for a writer to maintain their rights and distribute their work, if the writer is willing to run their own business. Which means that distribution companies, publishing companies, streaming companies, and others must up their game if they want bestselling writers in their fold.
. . . .
As long-time readers of this blog know, the writing business is not linear. Fortunes rise and fall. They never really go down to their lowest level. The rise always results in a much higher floor than the writer had before, but the rise itself is never permanent.
So, at some point the most popular writer in Company A will be superseded by some other writer who will sell more or whose product is fresher or more attuned to the moment. The original popular writer will still be popular, just not the Flavor of the Month. And slowly, ever so slowly, the original popular writer will be neglected.
Company A will still benefit from original popular writer’s latest releases, but original popular writer will run into new problems.
And that’s charitable. Sometimes original popular writer will fall off a cliff.
First, let me give you an example from my own business. And then, I’m going to show you some other ways that permanent or superstar or long-term exclusive can go horribly wrong.
My example has to do with Audible. Fifteen years ago, Audible was not just new(ish), but it was the only real digital audio player in the game. Unless a writer had access to a recording studio—and had the chops to read a book—the writer couldn’t even record their own work, let alone distribute it.
I’d had some audio books—on tape—from some of the best companies in the business…whose business soon got subsumed or at least offered through Audible.
Audible came to me with a great deal. I got up-front money on all of my books including backlist (under Rusch only at first, and then Nelscott, but never Grayson). In addition, I got paid a hefty bounty for each book sold, a bounty that did not get counted against that advance money. I got royalties and a bounty, and all of that translated into tens of thousands, and in one case hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I had my eye on it, though, and I had voice training. I knew that Audible would eventually get real competitors. One of my main priorities in setting up WMG was setting up our own recording studio, and we did it just as ACX got started. I was going to run the recording studio, but I got sick. We hired an audio director who turned out to be horribly unsuited for the work. (My fault: I thought she could grow into it. I was wrong.)
Had we followed my lead at that time, we would have had a lot of WMG-produced high quality audio that we could still market now.
But I was sick, the audio program fell apart, and so I relied on the money that Audible provided through the equivalent of its superstar program.
Which no longer exists. They use other incentives now.
My editor at Audible moved, a new editor got hired and then fired. He was replaced by one of those corporate employees who comes in as some kind of hatchet man—someone who wipes out all trace of the previous employees. I can’t even get my new editor on the phone or contact him by email.
Needless to say, Audible and I have parted company on new work. The old work has pretty good contracts—I can get out of them at any time—but that would make my backlist unavailable in audio, something I’m not currently willing to do.
It’s a mess, and it’s one I need to clean up.
Audible asked for exclusive, I granted it, and now, fifteen years later, I have a major mess to clean up. Part of that mess are my audio fans. There are a lot of listeners who don’t have time to actually read a book, so they listen on their commutes or whatever. And all that reaching, growing, and developing will fall by the wayside if I don’t do something in the next few years.
Yes, it’s on my ever-growing to-do list.
Here’s the thing: I benefited from Audible’s superstar program back in the day, but I’m paying the price now.
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.