Archive for February 23rd, 2011

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 by Bob Mayer
Resistance is Futile: The Future of Publishing

The future of publishing is now.  I was recently speaking with a science fiction author.  He also does consulting in the corporate world, except he doesn’t call himself a science fiction writer when he does that; he’s a futurist.  And the #1 thing he preaches is that change is occurring exponentially, not linearly.

Publishers might well be ‘juking the stats’.  Publicly announcing 10% e-book sales, while every author I talk to who has actual numbers says it’s between 40-60% versus their hardcover.  PW announced John Grisham’s latest release has significantly fewer hardcover sales, but it was also released in e-book.  My latest royalty statement for my first Area 51 book showed e-book sales were double my mass market sales.

Here are some facts:

The Big 6 Publishers control 95% of print publishing.

Starting in 1995, the print business began contracting.

7 out of 10 books printed by the Big 6 lose money.

10% of their titles generate 90% of their revenue.

Those two facts indicate a reality:  the focus for the Big 6 is going to be more and more on the Brand Name authors and less on midlist.  The problem is:  where is the next generation of Brand Name Authors going to come from?

The decline of the book chains is biggest problem for traditional publishers.

Here’s the conundrum that NY doesn’t want to face:  The book business is the same, but the retail business has changed.  While NY basically operates the same, the way books are sold has changed dramatically.  How many music retailers are left in your town?

The focus is too much on celebrity books in NY and many are money-losers.  Much more so than all those midlist authors.  The bestseller lists are very deceptive.  For example, Kate Gosselin’s recent book sold only 11,000 copies yet hit #6 on the NY Times list.  Someone is playing with the numbers to make it look good, but many of those big deals are money-bleeders for trad publishers.

The overhead for the Big 6 operating out of the Big Apple is way too high.  Heck, even Who Dares Wins Publishing, which we started up in 2010 and operates out of my bunker in WA (lined with aluminum foil so the Borg can’t read my thoughts) and Jennifer Talty’s office in NY, has overhead.  We could never operate brick and mortar out of a NY office.  So that’s something that’s going to have to be addressed.  I see further major contractions occurring in NY and more out-sourcing of jobs to people digitally.  The acquiring editors will still be in NY with the agents, but a lot of the other parts are going to be out-sourced.

There are two major trends in publishing going on right now:

1.  Mid list authors going it on their own. Actually, this is creeping upward.  David Morrell (not a midlist author, can we say First Blood?) announced he is bringing nine books from his backlist into print AND his newest title on his own, skipping traditional publishing altogether.  This is biggest name fiction writer to do this.  So far.  The perception right now is that overall, the quality of self-published books is poor.  The reality is, most new authors who have self-published are indeed putting up poor quality.  However, there are a number of traditionally published authors who are bringing backlist into print and these are books that have hit bestseller lists.  Readers will separate the quality out.  Thank you.

2.  Digital publishing is exploding.  In January 2010, there were many yawns at the Digital Book World conference.  Those yawns have changed to expressions of shock.  I’ve been predicting that the change from print to digital would be many times faster than most were predicting and I’ve been proved right (slight pat on the back). I predict by the end of 2011 we will be close to 50-60% of all books being digital.   Especially with all the new e-readers that will be under Xmas trees last year.  We’ve seen a bump in Kindle sales most likely due to that.

The problem is this:  the makers of digital platforms like Kindle and iPad want content.  The Big 6 are loath to give digital content to them because they believe it cuts into their hardcover and other print sales and would hurt their own business.  So there is a huge divide between the platform makers, primarily Amazon and Apple, and the content providers.

This is the VOID that will destroy some of the Big 6 if they don’t exploit it.  And also the VOID which savvy writers can fill.

Adapt or die.  Write It Forward