We’re just over two months out from the Kindle’s tenth anniversary, and while the mainstream media is saying that print is making a resurgence and everything is just dandy, Kris Rusch has just given us a snapshot of just how much the book market has changed in the past decade.
Poking around through old last week, I found some predictions I had forgotten about. I wrote, in 2013, both in unfinished and finished blogs that it would take years for traditionally published writers to realize the world they’d been writing in was long gone. I could see that moment coming, as contracts ended, and new contracts started up.
What I didn’t foresee, and should have, was that traditional publishers would cut so many major bestsellers from their lists. Writers who made lots of money for the company had sales declines, just like everyone else.
Rather than negotiate a new contract, their publishers (particularly Penguin Random House) would stall and no longer answer queries about a new deal. Often these writers got new editors (several) along the way, and the new editors wouldn’t return phone calls to writers or their agents.
It was rejection by silence, the most nasty product of the new marketplace. Some editors would have the guts to tell their writers that any deal wouldn’t be to their liking. And some editors, off the record, would say that no deal was forthcoming.
Not until the writer or the agent pressed did the writer find out that their bestselling career had come to an end.
Now, most of these writers were not major bestsellers. These writers were making consistent six-figure incomes every year, not seven-figure incomes. Their books were selling well, until the entire industry upended itself, and rather than invest in a known product, their publishers threw these writers under the bus.
On this day in 2007, the only way to make a lot of money from writing books was to get an agent and sell to major publishers in a process that bore a striking resemblance to a lottery – one with very few winners.
Then Amazon launched the Kindle Store, giving authors a way to bypass the gatekeepers and reach the market. As a result the market fragmented as many more books were released each year. Existing authors have seen their sales fall due to the increased competition, with mega best-sellers like John Grisham seeing their sales cut in half.
Indie authors sold more books while legacy publishers sold fewer books, and as a result the publishers have dropped under-performing authors.
Legacy publishers have been shedding mid-list authors for many years now, but now Rusch says that best-selling authors are also getting cut.
Remember this the next time you read somewhere in the mainstream media that ebooks are dead, because most of those sales lost by trad-pub authors are being made up elsewhere in the form of ebooks.
And yes, those sales are going digital; indie authors simply cannot access the print market nearly as well as they can sell ebooks. The main way for indie authors to reach print readers is POD, a process that results in expensive books (they’re printed one at a time).
So those authors are going digital as a matter of necessity – it’s where they can make money – and readers are clearly following.
Doesn’t this almost make you question the surveys showing an alleged preference for print?
It makes me wonder, because this print-lovers clearly aren’t buying as many books as they used to.
Where have they gone?
image by Joelk75