What the (New) Book People Won’t Tell You: There Will Always be Publishers
A couple weeks back I got on a tear about things Book People won’t say, including that B&N has been doomed by its senior management and digital is killing print.
Today I would like to turn it around and share something that isn’t said enough in self-publishing circles.
There will always be book publishers.
It is axiomatic in certain circles that in 2017 that authors have all the power. Authors can hire they help they need and take their work direct to market, thus removing any need for a publisher.
While all of that is true, it does not automatically follow that book publishers are going the way of the dodo.
One detail that is often overlooked is that not all authors are equally imbued with the business skills – or the interest – required to publish their work and maximize revenues. There will always be some author who would rather focus on writing and hire someone else to do the packaging and selling.
I use the word "hire" in this situation because authors do have a lot of power, and they can easily walk away from the traditional publishing contracts that took all rights forever and ever, including rights for formats didn’t even exist yet (cough Julie of the Wolves cough).
Instead, indie authors are looking for publishers who have skills and abilities authors lack. For example, most indie authors can’t effectively access the print market, which is why some authors like Joe Konrath are signing print-only deals with publishers like Kensington.
So yes, ten years from now we’re going to be able to point to something and call it a publisher. We’re probably going to even have many of the same names then as now – after all, there is value in a publishing brand – but that’s no guarantee that the future publishers will be the corporate descendants of the present publishers.
In the same way that the major publishers have killed themselves by ignoring ebooks, other publishers are rendering themselves irrelevant by refusing to adapt to the times.
In 2017, publishers need to be nimble and responsive. The most successful publishers are going to be the ones that find out what readers want and try to provide it ASAP.
One way to do that is through reader analytics – understanding what readers are actually doing with their ebooks. Unfortunately, publishers just aren’t willing to change their processes in order to use the data.
Micah Bowers, founder of Bluefire Reader, pointed this out yesterday when he tweeted that Bluefire was shutting down its analytics platform:
Correction: Pubs knew what to do, just not how to change their culture/structure – which would have been necessary.
— Micah (@micahsb) September 27, 2017
Industry tends to fear impact on creative process, when pragmatically is about market segmentation, marketing strategy, talent acquisition.
— Micah (@micahsb) September 27, 2017
Analytics is not a magic wand; it is a tool that can be used to identify and respond to market demand.
The publishers who learn how to use this tool are going to run rings around the ones that do not.
The same is true for authors. If you’re not using analytics then you need to learn, because those who don’t learn this (or can’t, or won’t) will end up paying those who do.
If you’re lucky, you’re just going to be paying for their webinar. If you’re unlucky, you’re going to be paying them a percentage of your revenues.
Which would you choose?
gbm September 28, 2017 um 2:50 pm
The only "analytic" that a publisher or author needs to know is that I bought their book NOTHING MORE. They have no need to know when I read the book–if ever–what ereader app or device I used.
mdp September 28, 2017 um 4:19 pm
No, sorry. They are not entitled to know the identity of the buyer. I am naturally entitled to conceal it.
What the (New) Book People Won’t Tell You: There Will Always be Publishers | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing September 28, 2017 um 3:33 pm
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Marion Gropen September 28, 2017 um 3:47 pm
There is a hidden assumption in your analysis. It is that no one will need to invest tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in a book in order to maximize the profit to be gained from it.
That may become true in the future, but it’s not true yet. There are still plenty of situations where, to get the most out their books, authors need to get venture capital from publishers.
There are other things that publishers offer, of course: they see more books in a year than most authors put out in a lifetime, so they have a deep well of expertise. They can also see a book more objectively than most authors can. And so on. But those can be hired. Venture capital cannot.
Allen F September 30, 2017 um 10:59 am
True to a point, but there’s a small problem.
Unless you are already well known those publishers will actually do you more harm than good, the big5 even more than the others.
So you don’t take away from their 'best sellers', they won’t bother with any advertising for your book, and we know the pig5 are doing 'agency' on their ebooks which means those ebooks often are priced to not sell – they’d rather the reader buy paper.
All that ignores the very first hurdle, the odds of getting them to take any newcomer’s book is small and the contract they’ll offer will be crap. (and there are signs the qig5 are letting go of many mid-listers and below, which isn’t going to help that new guy/gal trying to get their first book out.)
Until things change, self publishing is a better bet.
J R Tomlin September 28, 2017 um 3:55 pm
“One detail that is often overlooked is that not all authors are equally imbued with the business skills – or the interest – required to publish their work and maximize revenues.”
The problem with this sentence, from an author’s point of view, is that publishers maximize revenues for themselves, not for authors. Of course there are possible advantages to trade publishing such as the ability to market print and not having to hire your own subcontractors, but all too often the cost is too high in egregious contract terms. such as life-of-copyright contracts.
DaveMich September 28, 2017 um 4:26 pm
first para, you appear to have shortened "senior management" to just "senior".
Nate Hoffelder September 28, 2017 um 6:10 pm
I think i was going for senior citizen, actually.
BDR September 28, 2017 um 10:58 pm
"There will always be book publishers"?? Perhaps in the same way that, even today, there are folks who still make buggy whips.