Authors will drive change . . .
by Eoin Purcell
The big idea (or at least my idea)
The current publishing industry is stacked against authors. Not in any sense deliberately, all sides have had a role in reaching the current point, but equally not all sides have benefited as equally as the others. Indeed publishers who were once the primary winners are now behind retailers in the results.
Think of it this way
They are many, publishing slots are (despite the numbers of publications) relatively few in number and what is more really good slots are exceptionally rare. What I mean when I say really good slots are books that publishers take and go with in a big way, books that publishers push with large marketing campaigns and big ad spends. These kinds of slots are so fantastically rare as to be the dream of every author who ever took pen to paper, pencil to copybook or fingers to keyboard.
Publishers are pressed financially and so authors get pressed too, squeezed by the power of retailers, the challenge of competition and the sheer abundance of titles on the market. An author however does not have the fortunate position of a publisher who is a crude aggregator (of a pre-digital variety)*. That is to say that a publisher spreads their capital thin and soaks up large amounts of books from various types of authors.
From every one hundred, seventy may do poorly to okay and break even to show some small profit. Twenty-five may do okay to well and display a better return than average opening up the possibility of future blockbusters and the offer of second books. Three may do very well and become stable authors blessed with publishers vying for their books. Another may do exceptionally well and show the hallmarks of genius that suggest lifelong talent and commercial success but after a disappointing second and third book prove to be an overall fair bet and last may prove the hit that produces an absolute mountain of the revenue for the company in a given year/period (think JK Rowling and Bloomsbury).
It looks like the long tail and maybe it is but I think that term is so annoyingly applicable to everything as to be in many way meaningless. Of course these figures are wildly inaccurate and unscientific but they demonstrate the way publishing works. It’s the way it currently goes and that is what authors know or at least learn as they write and publish.
But technology is suggesting changes
Welcome to the web. Not so long ago you would have been hard pressed to read an article like this by a commenter as obscure as me. Indeed you would have had to hope some editor of a trade magazine liked my random thoughts and chose to publish them on their valuable print pages. They would have weighed thoughts like advertisement revenue, market, audience, readership and competition. Well today I think about nothing except what I write (on the odd occasion I think a little too little about that too). All it costs me is my free time and the odd lunch break without a sandwich. I can post my thoughts for free on a hosted, free website.
Some people take it further and host their own blogs and run adverts turning themselves into one man magazines. Jason Calacanis posted a really good exploration of this point here.
Oh there is a hierarchy here too just as Jason says:
You have three stages of media companies, and these two guys are now in the third phase, and that is where it gets very interesting. Phases one anyone can do. Phase two is also pretty easy–half the people can do it. Only 1% of people make it to phase three and only 10% of those scale to a $10M a year business. Rafat and Om are the one out of a hundred, and it’s gonna be amazing to see if they can be the 1 out of 1,000.
But the reason it is such an amazing change is because now most authors do not need the aggregator to publish. Even small time authors who might have made up the end of that seventy out of one hundred we discussed earlier can take some of the value that publishers traditional sucked up by aggregating.
Where is the value?
Well it’s in sales. As I said before, the aggregators of sales by hundreds of authors benefited where the single author did not. But we now operate in a world where sales do not have to be of the traditional type (bricks and mortar stores). Authors can sell books themselves on Amazon or EBay or Lulu.com or in fact their own website if they like. They can use POD and self publishing just like Skint Writer is and capture the best part of the value that traditionally went to a publisher. Or you can post it to a blog and build audience like Lee on Mortal Ghost is here.
What’s more you can package your content in any variety of ways. Make a podcast or your poetry and push it on iTunes. Act out your play and upload it to YouTube or your preferred location. It is easy to do it all now and to do it well. Maybe the cost of a decent designer or video editor will take a summer to save for or a winter of being cold avoiding buying new jumpers but the costs are so achievable it is exceptional.
The point is that publishing is no longer just about books and even more it is no longer about waiting for a publisher to decide your work is good enough for print. Options abound and as more and more writers realise that they will take advantage of it.
E-books will push this change even more. There is no reason why authors’ royalties should be the same on e-books as they are for paper books and in many ways there is no reason why the authors cannot sell e-books themselves rather than through a publisher. Why should you sell a paper publisher your digital rights when there is no need?
So where are we now?
Well for a start we are at the end of the second part in this impromptu series. I say impromptu because it largely came about by accident. A process of some loose thoughts banging into each other sometime over Monday. But more accurately we have looked at why authors have a key role in driving the changes that publishing is facing.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no digital evangelist or mindless zombie of the new web but the advantages that the internet offers are simply hard to resist for many and that is a good thing. There are downsides however and tomorrow I will look at how search and marketing will play a role too.
Contemplating the gym