Looking to surf the publishing industry tidal wave these days? The business is moving at the speed of a molecule in a particle accelerator, and getting faster and more complicated by the nanosecond. These changes cover everything from who you sell your book to (if you sell it at all or rather pub it yourself!) to how to market it, to how it is distributed, what the laws are and how you can be read.
As an example of the sound and fury, I pulled together a “highlight reel” of digital industry news from a single month’s worth of Publishers Weekly issues. Grab a life preserver and hold on tight. This is going to be quite a ride!
October 17, 2011
PW reported on sales results from the 2nd quarter of the year. Shifts in “Channel Market Share (in dollars)” showed trade bookstore chains dropped to 27.3% share from 30.6%; non-traditional and independent bookstores’ sales rose by 1.7%, and .5%, respectively. No surprise, “e-commerce” market share rose to 37.0% from 27.6%, overtaking by 10 percentage points sales at large chains (though as with everything else, nothing is what it seems – the closing of Borders’ stores may well have upped the digital numbers). And shifts in market share in various formats (by unit) showed paperback down 7.3%, hardcover down 4.7% and digital up 10.5% for the quarter.
Further fueling the digital bonfires, Amazon announced the launch of its latest imprint, 47North, for sci-fi/fantasy/horror titles. 47 joins Montlake Romance and other genre imprints that put Amazon into direct competition with their most powerful adversaries, traditional publishers and the remaining big trade chain/publisher, B&N. This is the latest of the major changes in publishing that began with digital publishers challenging the traditional houses as e-book sales began to take off. After the trad pubs got their digital ducks in a row as another format for print titles, we saw them next begin to set up their own digital imprints to capitalize on the trends – what started with Harlequin and Carina Press was just the tip of the iceberg. We saw Avon Impulse launched this summer and . . .
October 24, 2011
. . . PW reported the launch of InterMix, the digital arm of Penguin imprint, Berkley/NAL. Like Avon Impulse, and Amazon’s Montlake, InterMix will produce genre fiction, including romance. For romance authors, this continues to expand the arena of possibilities for publication – while at the same time it creates a quagmire. Digital publishers with one set of royalty rules, different publication schedules and distribution networks, traditional publishers with their own structure for print and evolving business model for ebook formats of print titles, and now traditional publishers with all-digital arms – in many cases of they are not competitive (royalty rate wise) with the digital publishers, but still bear the cachet of being a “real” publisher, in some minds. How do you educate yourself about the pros, cons, dangers, and differences? Beyond the choice in publishers, what are the differences for you, as a career author? Is it about the money, the prestige, the exposure?
Then, there’s an entirely different arena that every author needs to know about, the . . .
October 31, 2011
. . .public library system. This issue of PW focused on the libraries, their influence with publishers, and their importance to authors. In tough times, library offerings can be very meaningful to authors when people can’t buy books, but they can borrow them and discover new authors. Did you know libraries spend billions on books? Authors can still be very successful by creating a new reader fan base – provided their books are on the “shelves”. Digital publishing hasn’t caught the library system off guard. They jumped immediately onto the bandwagon and quickly began offering digital books (yes, Virginia, there is an app for that!). But this is yet another rocky road to travel. How libraries will acquire e-books outside the traditional catalogue, the logistics of licensing digital copies, and the jockeying by publishers to get as big a piece of this new pie as they can. Macmillan, for example, playing greedy and cutting the number of “loans” allowed per digital title, ended up having their titles boycotted by libraries in both formats (and the trickle down impact of these negotiations hits the author head on). We are witnessing the rule book being re-written and until the ink is dry, we authors are all in the tumult together. From Patron Profiles, a new Library Journal quarterly survey & report, a telling figure: Library patrons read 47 books per year, compared to an average of 27 of all responders. Of this ongoing survey, says Library Journal Executive Editor, Rebecca Miller: “If they’ve (publishers) ever doubted the role of libraries in launching an author, this will set them straight. In turn, librarians get new insight into what their patrons want and need. And they are getting many of their hunches confirmed: that library users are avid readers, listeners and talkers, and that the library is an important part of a rich ecosystem of cultural exchange that is seamlessly connected to the marketplace.”
November 7, 2011
And speaking of being in the thick of things - Amazon was in the thick of a heated debate after the debut of their virtual “lending library”. Seems the titles being offered for free, to members who’ve paid a subscription fee to Amazon – with murky arrangements still unclear as to how, and how much, royalty is paid to the requisite publishers of said titles – were all offered up unknown to most of the publishers whose books are represented. (Another situation destined to impact the original creator of the product: You, the author.) As with so much of the digital arena, here’s another area, too, where evolving legal and ethical concerns impact authors. On top of the ever-shifting royalty rates (and differences between publisher-offered digital titles and those sold through third-party vendors), the conundrum of “out-of-print” and free downloads and piracy, though the thorny issue of Google “orphan” scanning is apparently now dead, there’s the issue of how and where your books are being made available by “legitimate” operations. Is your publisher aware? Are you aware? Are you being served? Or screwed?
And keep in mind that digital just keeps getting bigger. Witness this issues’ report of August Sales – Adult hard down 18.2%, Adult paper down 18.4%, Mass market down 29.6%. Electronic: UP 144.4%.
Over the past few months just about every aspect of the publishing industry has begun to morph. Successful, traditionally publisher authors breaking with their publishers, taking back their backlist rights and self-pubbing them, along with new titles, to great success. We’ve seen: ebook millionaire author Amanda Hocking go traditional (for huge advances) and option her self-pubbed series to one of Hollywood’s premier fantasy filmmakers; the first million digital copies sold authors, and perhaps most telling and disruptive, the first “big book” titles to sell more in digital than they did in print (after the industry got over the concern of simultaneous release cannibalization of the latter format by the former). Need more to convince you digital’s the word? Writers’ Digest already had self-pubbed (or “indie pubbed, the hip new term for independent authors) awards, but now PW has added the PW “Select” quarterly edition that (for a price) lists self-pubbed titles and provides extensive review of same. And while PW had hard, mass, trade and audio book sale bestseller lists, not yet jumping on the bandwagon as the NY Times did with its convoluted new bestseller lists (paper, digital, combined and more), will it be long in coming?
With the major players in the technological end providing better, faster, and cheaper gadgetry to read upon, digital is destined to keep growing. Industry insiders can only guess at how long digital will soar, when it will begin to level off – or if it will. With Amazon’s Kindle e-readers and tablets giving Apple’s iPad a run for the money, with Barnes & Noble and their latest releases – cheap dedicated e-readers along with a B&N tablet to compete with the big 2 (and don’t forget all the other technology entities working on their own gadgets and apps and software for readers and digital books) it certainly seems that there is one guarantee: If you, as an author, are not keeping abreast of this revolution, you will be left behind, left out of the running behind authors who have educated themselves to ensure their best sales, best venue, and their equitable treatment as a vital member of the business community that is publishing.