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Will Traditional Publishing Ever Become Author-Focused?

Advice to Publishers. Well, it is that time of the year when the consultants trot out their predictions for the year. What will be the hot trends for 2014? Every consultant in the publishing industry hopes that he or she will be that trend-setter, reaping bushels of cash as a result.  Having just read another such a prediction by consultant George Lossius at Publishing Perspectives (5 Trends for Trade Publishing in 2014), I was disheartened that the biggest game-changer was simply ignored: authors are now able to build a decent writing career without ever entering any agreements with a traditional publisher. This is true for genre writers and will become more so for non-fiction writers too. Authors can now prosper without publishers.

Currently, I have no desire to enter into a contractual relationship with any traditional publisher. Who would? It would be like entering a marriage and your spouse demanding that you be forever faithful to them (non-compete clause) and financially supportive until well after your death (life-of-copyright) while they can fool around with whoever they want as often as they want. All the while, as they are spending all the money your hard work brought in, they are telling you how lucky you are to have been chosen by them.  Actually, I think the better analogy would be entering a harem instead of an “open” marriage, and I have no desire to be anyone’s concubine. I mean, really, have you seen my photo? I wouldn’t be the cutest one the empress’ harem- so how often would I get her attention? No marketing budget for you, buddy. We gave your book a homely cover to match your looks. No thanks. I am happy with the micro publisher I founded, Reader Hill.  At least I can earn a decent percentage on every sale and I can control the quality and content.

Nonetheless, I am disheartened by traditional publishing’s refusal to face this huge shift in their own industry, for it means that so many hopeful authors will never be able to make a living off of their craft. I am saddened for the thousands of writer-brides still being conned into such a one-sided relationship, where the publisher gets almost all the benefits off of the writer’s months or years of labor. I just hope more of those once-naive writers realize their awful state and escape from the empress’ palace.

So what did that consultant focus on, if not the paradigm shift that is giving authors real career choices for the first time in decades?  Mr. Lossius had five of them (see the article link above for the full list), but I will just touch on a couple of those points: big data and developing new apps.

Starving for Data. Retailers do NOT release the details of their customers’ shopping habits. To do so would risk their competitive edge. Publisher, you will not get your hands on any worthwhile data like search terms, purchasing history, or where that customer came from.  Amazon will not release it, but neither will Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, Walmart, or even sickly Kmart-Sears. It ain’t happening, so why talk about it? Even Google is starting to mask the search terms people use to find your website. If you want this kind of data, you will need to own the retailer. If you really want it, go buy BN or Kmart, then invest a few million more creating the infrastructure to utilize the data. Don’t worry, thousands of wholesalers survive without ever getting such granular info, but they’ve learned to woo their top customers. Go visit Rogers, Arkansas and see how its done.

Creating Apps. Mr. Lossius starts off good, talking about making e-books available in all formats for all reading environments. He also mentions the ability to speed up traditional publishing’s very looooooooooooooong turn around time from manuscript to finished product, though he talks more in terms of responding to trends. His pet term? Agile publishing. However, then this consultant turns into a comedian, talking about publishers creating their own apps.  He suggests they create apps so that people can discover their company easier. Its just like all those consultants who talked manufacturers into putting a QR code on their chips, shampoo, and cereal box because everyone is rapt to read some boring corporate website in hopes of finding a coupon or becoming a Facebook fan of their brand of toilet paper. Does he want the publisher to create a retail website behind those apps? If so, do publishers really think they can do better than Amazon, Apple, Kobo, or even BN.com? What would entice customers to enter your little secluded garden, no matter how pretty it is? Scholastic can do this stuff, but they have spent 50 years building their own school-oriented customer base. Randy Penguin? Not so much.

On one point, I think Mr. Lossius makes a decent point. He expresses doubt about one of the big trends right now: subscription services. I think the same argument also applies to creating exclusive company apps.  He states, “There has been a lot of talk about a ‘Netflix’ or ‘Spotify’ for publishing. The hunt has been on for a subscription model that will reorder the publishing universe …  But my feeling is that this won’t stop the world from turning in 2014 – if it was going to work, really, why would Amazon, who already offer subscription based surfaces in the form of LoveFilm and Audible, not have created it already? The entrepreneurs will have to go back to the drawing board.”

Will Traditional Publishing Ever Become Author-Focused? Frankly, I doubt it will happen any time soon. They may be forced to offer better terms, but that will come grudgingly. They might be willing to pay out royalties more regularly, but I cannot see them updating their systems unless forced to be legal action. As for admitting (at least to themselves) that they are no longer a requirement for success but are only one of many avenues, that will be a truth much harder to face.  Maybe it is because of fragile egos, but traditional publishing companies seem committed to the fallacy that they should be allowed to do whatever they want and the authors should be thankful for it.  Serious counseling is needed to heal this unhealthy relationship.

The Hugh Howey Solution. Maybe Best-Selling Author Hugh Howey can start his own counseling service or weekend seminar to help publishers deal with their abusive ways and name it Escaping your Publishing Silo: the Howey Method to Healthy Publishing Relationships. Too long? Then he might want to call it Writer-Abusers Anonymous.

He made a good start with two recent posts:

http://www.hughhowey.com/dont-anyone-put-me-in-charge/

http://www.hughhowey.com/my-second-month-on-the-hypothetical-job/

 

Thanks for visiting,
Eric

EL icon3

 

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6 thoughts on “Will Traditional Publishing Ever Become Author-Focused?

  1. A thoughtful analysis – and more reasons not to even try approaching traditional publishers unless 1) you think you have something they will offer a LOT of money for (Konrath recommends 6 or 7 figures, minimum), and 2) the time-value of the money is worth it: you are offered – and need – your money now (assuming they would even give you part of it soon).

    • I agree, Alicia. I want authors to have MORE options available for their business, including publishing through a traditional publisher (who can still offer some great added value when it comes to physical book distribution). If only they would reform their abusive ways, then they would be a viable avenue.

    • I can already see the conversation in NYC: “But Bob over at marketing wants ya to rename it Graytooth so that we can jump onto that 50 Shades trend. I think Bob earned his salary with that one! The guy’s brilliant. So add Graytooth to our top selling hardcovers, but not those mid-listers.”

  2. Very nice writeup, but I have to disagree with one thing you said.

    It’s already possible for certain non-fiction authors to make a nice income. My three self-published nonfiction titles are more profitable than my nine (if I recall correctly) traditionally published titles. Like, catastrophically more profitable. Stupidly more. Sit-in-the-corner-and-giggle-madly more.

    While I like my trad publisher as people, using them doesn’t make business sense at this time. I’m staying on good terms with them — things always change — but today, it seems that indie has won.

    • Thanks for sharing, Michael. You got me on that one. Writing non-fiction is already very profitable, although it requires more to jump into that arena than just being a creative writer. It looks like you have the expertise to do so and I’m glad you are seeing the results. Happy writing, sir. May you madly giggle far more in the years ahead. 🙂

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