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Publishers Are Now Shedding Best-Selling Authors

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

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Paul September 11, 2017 um 4:09 pm

part of it is that there are way fewer book stores than there used to be, so the chance I’ll pop into a store and find something is a lot less remote.

That and everyone is too busy checking facebook to read.

Henry September 12, 2017 um 7:11 am

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest there is a correlation between the number of print books bought each year and the decreasing number of bookstores.

Rick September 12, 2017 um 3:14 pm

People are reading because they are too busy talking selfies and attention whoring on Instagram, or checking facebook, window shopping on Amazon, fighting twitter wars, gossiping on Reddit or checking their online Fantasy stats.

Rick September 12, 2017 um 3:15 pm


Robert September 12, 2017 um 1:44 am

Print books are to expensive.

My wife loves them, but she’s been forced to either wait for them to go on sale or get the ebook if it’s significantly cheaper.

A few years back we would never leave a bookstore without buying something. Now if we do go into one, we don’t come out with any books. She just shakes her head and mutters about the prices, and I add the books she’s interested in to my online wishlist for later reference.

Allen F September 12, 2017 um 11:31 am

The qig5 know that they’re on a sinking ship and are just making what money they can before it goes under.

Writers had best get their backlists back before they’re sold overseas and no longer recoverable.

Lisa Cooke September 13, 2017 um 8:28 am

I think the "Print books are selling more" thing comes from the fact the data they collect is from the big publishing houses. They price their ebooks higher than their print books, so yes, readers are buying more print from them. That does not mean ebooks overall are selling less.

Jon September 13, 2017 um 1:09 pm

Wish I could afford more new print books. Instead, we buy mostly used, from library book sales and such. It isn’t that a paperback isn’t worth $8 or $9 or whatever it is nowadays — clearly if I’m getting hours of enjoyment out of something, it’s worth $10 to me. Hardcovers, not so much. $25 for something that I’m going to read once or maybe twice…just not happening. But $10 for 8-20 hours? Sure, that’s fair.

The only problem is, there are so many competing interests for those $10 – just in entertainment and communications, there’s cable/internet and the cell phone/portable internet, and that’s before movies and music and such. Every news website wants to get paid (again, don’t blame them); artists need support on Patreon; etc. And that’s all fighting for the little money we have left after paying mortgage and electric and food and kids' school expenses and such. There are just too many things out there to spend money on, and a finite pool of money to spend.

If paperbacks were $5 I’d probably buy 2-3 a month. $8-10 is just too much, even though it’s "worth it" in absolute terms.

Jen Greenlees September 14, 2017 um 1:23 pm

Speaking for/about myself, I am a "print-lover," and I have not gone anywhere. In the past two months alone (August to now) I’ve purchased at least 42 books (it’s possible I missed a couple here or there when I was counting) for myself and my mother (eight for her and at least 34 [!!!] for me!). And then there are the print books I bought for my nieces (twin, newly-five) in Oregon!

So I figure I bought at least 50 print books (and one e-book for my Kindle).

I know that my spending of this few hundred dollars ($300?) is just a drop in the bucket, but for me, print books are my life. My buying of them has never gone anywhere, though some years were harder than others from a budget standpoint. If I could afford to, I’d buy ALL the books I want to read. But sadly, I cannot afford to. So instead I ask my library to buy them. 🙂

Sami September 14, 2017 um 4:02 pm

I only have so much room to store physical books, and i have limited funds to go towards books. So I generally choose ebooks over physical books to save space and get value for my money. I’m not reading less, just differently. I’m stilling reading my favorite 'legacy' authors, but constantly finding new, indie ones to enjoy as well

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