Self Publishing

Go Read This | NSFW: A Modest Proposal For Authors Who Abandon Their Publishers — Give Me A Break

Paul Carr is wrong-headed in some places here,  just plain wrong in others and generally snide and snarky for little reason (nothing new there I suppose). For all that he makes some valid points.

For all of the reasons above, there are really only two types of person for whom it makes a jot of sense to tear up their book deal and abandon the professionalism, billion-dollar print market, and immeasurable cachet of traditional publishing. The first is highly skilled self-promoter likes Godin who have successfully identified their entire (niche) audience and who know they will only ever sell a certain number of copies of their books to that same audience. Marketers like Godin tend to make the bulk of their money with speaking gigs anyway – books are just a throwaway promotional tool, full of ideas that even they admit will be out of date by this time next week.  Might as well take the money and keep running.

The second type of person is more tragic: authors who, for whatever reason, fear they’re about to be dumped by their publisher (or at best paid a tiny advance for their next book) and who want to save face by using innovation as an excuse.

via NSFW: A Modest Proposal For Authors Who Abandon Their Publishers — Give Me A Break.

Go Tell Declan To SELF-PUB His Book

Declan Burke has asked for reader feedback on whether he should self-publish his book:

The basic idea is that I set up a project with a total amount that needs to be raised (€2,570). I let people know where and how they can pledge their €7, and hopefully 367 people buy into the idea. If the amount is raised within a specific time period (three months, say), then your pledge is accepted and transferred to my bank account, and shortly afterwards you receive your copy of A GONZO NOIR; if the total amount isn’t reached in a specified period, all pledges are cancelled and it costs nobody anything, except possibly yours truly’s pride. For more information on the Kickstarter project, clickety-click here.
So there you have it. Any takers?

I’ve read Declan for some time now and love his style and think he has been unfortunate not to a much bigger star. Please go tell him to try this out and when he does, please pledge him some cash!

Eoin

Self-publishing Attracts Star Authors Too

Eoin Purcell

UPDATE: Covey has signed a deal with Rosetta & Amazon making Amazon the exclusive distributor of Covey’s ebooks backlist! Pretty big news: Here’s more in the New York Times:

Amazon, maker of the popular Kindle e-reader and one of the biggest book retailers in the country, will have the exclusive rights to sell electronic editions of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” and a later work, “Principle-Centered Leadership.” Mr. Covey also plans to gradually make other e-books available exclusively to Amazon, which will promote them on its Web site.

The move promises to raise the already high anxiety level among publishers about the economics of digital publishing and could offer authors a way to earn more profits from their works than they do under the traditional system.

Mike Cane has a post on it too

Self-Publishing Talk
This morning I had a very engaging chat with a student writing a thesis on self-publishing in Ireland and comparing it to self-publishing internationally. The discussion was wide ranging (though perhaps a bit too much of me). At one point I mentioned thatin some ways traditional publishing was getting caught in the middle with the lower tiers of publishing falling into Print on Demand and self-publishing territory (as I discuss here) and the upper tiers ripe for big stars to defect to self-publishing options. I couldn’t think off hand of an example (except for an author I worked with recently who only recently revealed a plan to self publish whose name I couldn’t reveal).

Then I came home and logged into twtetr and read this twitter comment (yes I use it compulsively: http://www.twitter.com/eoinpurcell) pushed me to this Wall Street Journal article about the plans of Stephen Covey:

Stephen R. Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” will launch a new self-published line of short books tomorrow called the Insight Series.

You don’t get much bigger than Stephen Covey, frankly he is massive.

Authors are brands
Really they may well be the only brands publishers have unless they manage to create a sensible strategy around their own names like Tor.com, Mills & Boon and Osprey have. If they don’t act to create better partnerships with these top level authors, I believe they will loose a lot of them to self-publishing enterprises like Stephen’s effort. It is simply too lucrative a proposition for many of them.

If you ask me (and you haven’t) game is heating up. It is becoming clearer by the day that the existing models of publishing are unsustainable. Change is unavoidable. I wonder will we, as an industry, respond?
Eoin

PS: If you’d like to think some more about that Author as Brand concept, here is a nice audio piece from New Hamphsire public radio featuring Sarah Weinman on the topic. It is well worth listening to.

Guest Post: An Author’s View of Electronic Publishing

Peadar Ó Guilín agreed to write a post for me on, well it does what it says on the tin. I was inspired to ask him by the contribution he made to the forum on the future of publishing that CBI ran.

Paper Chase
There is a goose that lays golden eggs. Yet, its flesh is so tasty that sooner or later, people who aren’t getting their share of the gold, will say to one another — “why don’t we take that bird to the chopping block and have ourselves a feast?” It’s not their goose and they didn’t spend money feeding it. They have nothing at all to lose.

Good morning, or maybe, good afternoon. Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but newspapers all around the world are going out of business right about now. The Rocky Mountain News has bitten the dust, The Boston Globe is slashing wages and even the world-famous New York Times, the “grey lady” herself, is predicted to phase out its print edition a few short years down the line. Journalists by the score are losing their jobs because they can’t compete with the lower quality, but free information that lives less than a click away. Nor, as Rupert Murdoch is learning, can online revenues make up for eyeballs lost in the real world.

“But books are different,” I hear you say.* “It’s all very well for gentlefolk to read a few headlines off the screen, but War and Peace would burn the eyes right out of their sockets…

A few years ago, you’d have been right about that, but these days the arrival of e-ink devices, such as the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle, mean that electronic reading causes no more eye-strain than paper. Indeed, if your peepers are beginning to age a little, the fact that you can increase the print size at will, might allow you to leave your glasses in their case all the way to Napoleon’s defeat at Moscow.

There are other advantages that make a compelling argument for the imminent rise of ebooks. Here are just a few:

    1) some of these devices can hold thousands of books at once. This is handy if you want to carry around a whole law library, or take 17 novels away with you on holiday
    2) some of them access the internet directly so that the user can buy a book while on the train, or sitting up in bed, or out for a walk
    3) the title you want is never out of print or out of stock
    4) some devices allow you to take notes
    5) all of them will let you upload your own documents from work
    6) school books weigh nothing and never go out of date

If none of the points above represent a compelling reason as to why you would want an ebook reader, then rest assured, there are thousands willing to take your place in the queue. Once they become the majority,** the publishing game will have changed forever and woe betide the writers, publishers, editors and book-sellers who don’t find an online berth for themselves before that day comes.

A Rising Tide of Tosh
We’ve all had the experience of spending our own sweet, sweet money on awful books. Books that we’ve flung at the wall, or abandoned in train stations, or given as gifts to our enemies. But even terrible books have to meet certain standards before they can be published. Somebody loved them enough to purchase the rights. And that same person only did so after a process that weeded out a thousand books that were even worse. Imagine that! Just close your eyes and think about how bad some of those rejected books must be. Try to picture them in a pile next to the one book that was chosen. This is important, because, that column of purest tosh,*** is the future of fiction.

You see, when electronic books take over, printed novels will become a bit of a rarity. I don’t believe they will ever die out completely. There are still specialist shops, for example, where you can buy the tiny number of vinyl records that the music corporations still produce. However, in the same way that most people these days listen to songs on CDs or mp3s, most readers will find their thrills on e-ink devices and a large amount of fiction will only ever appear in that format. After all, cut out the book shops and the printers, distributors, buyers, returns, warehouses etc. etc. and it will be cheaper to produce an ebook than a pbook by orders of magnitude.

Indeed, in many cases, the production of an ebook will cost precisely nothing. After all, anything you write on a word processor is already a document capable of being read on an electronic reader.

Rejectee’s Revenge
Once upon a time, the public would never have come across a writer’s work without the intercession of a publisher. A rejected author might shake his fist at the gods or smash a bit of furniture, but in the end, the manuscript would be retired to the sock drawer for the nourishment of mice and beetles.***

These days, however, the rejectees have another outlet for their frustrations. They can sell the book through their own website or even on Amazon, where it will compete with, and distract from, more professionally produced work. The authors can also give their novels away for free, and a great many do.**** That is, of course, their right and none of my business. But I can’t help thinking about what is happening to journalism right now as it tries, and fails, to compete with free sources of news

The Death of Reading?
This is dangerous territory for everybody involved in publishing, from the authors right on down the line to the person who stacks our books at Easons. It’s not just that we might all lose our jobs. There’s a very real possibility that the hobby known as “reading for pleasure” could become a thing of the past. A reader’s investment of effort in a book, is far greater than the three minutes it takes to sample a pop song. In a world chock-full of free, but pitiful fiction, the average novel will be a waste of time, an insult to the intelligence and an advert for every other form of entertainment out there.

Except…

Except, of course, there’s rarely such a thing as a completely random read. Most of our books come recommended from friends or reviewers we’ve grown to trust, or they’ve been written by a favoured author. We’ll still have such voices to listen to in future: the modern internet is already well-populated with heroic bloggers who sacrifice their own sanity wading through dung so that we don’t have to.

Instead of agents and publishers, we authors might end up submitting our work directly to the famous taste-makers of the day. Indeed, many of our current industry professionals, in particular, editors, might well find that their opinions are still be in high demand.

But what I can’t yet see, is where the money is to come from in this scenario. And I do believe, that the very best fiction, like great journalism, needs to be funded. Professional writers have more time to dedicate to their art; editors add enormous value by taming a manuscript and so on. Yet, in the end, none of us will keep our jobs unless we can find a way to succeed where the newspapers have failed: we must convince the public that our services are worth paying for.

For now, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed. Hope to see you on the other side 🙂

*I have remarkably large ears.
**Which they will when schools start to make use of eReaders.
***This is not to say that all rejected books deserve such a fate, and we are all familiar with stories of spurned genius, but please understand that I’m speaking in generalities here. Also, some novels fail to find a publisher, not because of low quality, but because the potential audience might not be large enough to justify production costs. However, it is also true that the vast majority of what lands on a slush pile is pretty much unreadable.
****But since the ebook market is still so small, the effect is negligible for the moment.

All your base are belong to AMAZON

Eoin Purcell

Sometimes you get tired of being outmaneuvered
In some senses, what Amazon launched yesterday with Amazon Encore is neither that amazing a project, after all there have been several small-press or self-published titles taken on board by large publishers as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, nor is it even that innovative, Authonomy is at its core a way to tap the self published and slush-piled manuscripts out there in the wild.

But the key point is that this moves Amazon directly into the role of publisher as James Bridle makes clear on his post on the topic:

It’s been a while coming, but some of us have been predicting this move for some time: Amazon have finally made it to the penultimate step on the publishing chain. I say penultimate, because although they are now, by any definition, a publisher, they still appear to be cherry-picking from existing books rather than seeking out their own authors.

I think this move suggests a couple of key questions:

    1) Who benefits most from this (and conversely who hurts the most because of it)?
    2) Can it be extended?
    3) Will there be a reaction?

First, Cui bono
On the face of it, this seems like an amazing opportunity for the author, reading her Amazon blog she certainly seems happy. Amazon’s platform (and as Personanondata point out platform is pretty key) allows for so many things that the average (or small press) publisher cannot. View for instance the neat homemade (and windy) video that amazon have on the main product page. The extra push that Amazon can give a product is really impressive. It will certainly be interesting to see how this works. I think it is fair to say then that the author gets a fair shake of this tail, though it would be interesting to see how the royalties split out.

As for the publisher who backed the book in the first place (always assuming that this encore element remains true) the deal is a win-win. So long, that is as rights for the project were acquired to begin with. A smart author would try and retain the rights for any potential Amazon Encore deal if that was even remotely possible. but allowing for the rights being with the publisher, they will surely gain something from the deal, though if the split of revenue is as one sided as in the case of the new amazon blogs-on-kindle deal (70-30 in favour of amazon) it’ll not be a huge amount. So there is a sense that the publishers who are “chosen” will benefit. But a note of caution from two sources Personanondata & James:

Amazon as producer is a subtle but important change in the operations of the largest retailer. I often mull what would happen to some of the largest publishers if they lost their top two or three authors to Google or Amazon. It may be that the Amazon Encore program sets the stage for a much larger program by Amazon to establish their own publishing and media production operation – their content supply – that feeds their retail presence. There may be further ramifications from this seemingly innocuous press release.

Those who suggest they’ll just keep picking stuff up from the little guys hasn’t been paying attention. In the last five years Amazon have, in addition to dominating online bookselling, bought a book social network, a major print-on-demand supplier, a complete end-to-end self-publishing system, pretty much the entire used books marketplace, the biggest audiobook distributor, the best iPhone ereader, and designed, built and delivered the only truly mass-market dedicated ereading device, with a proprietary format that sets them up to be the iTunes of eBooks.*
It’s big, it’s scary, it’s Amazon. But the publishing industry is under so many different pressures at the moment, this is unlikely to be as big as it could be: Amazon don’t want to annoy their major suppliers, not too much, and not yet. They will though, and by that point, they’ll be past caring. Like Google with their ebooks programme, they’ve been given so much leeway for so long, they think they can do whatever they like, and chances are, they’re right.

So, there is a benefit but they might just eat publishers lunch next week, next month, next year or next decade!

Second, Extension
Sure this can be extended and it is clearly being set up to do so. Amazon is in a great place to carry out their program to almost any conceivable scale. That in itself should indicate that they intend to extend. If you don’t believe it look at what Barnes & Noble have done in Classics and Rediscovered titles and you will get the idea.

But add to it the previously mentioned POD set up, they wouldn’t even need to expend extra capital on print runs, they’d be able to deliver books on demand so even if a huge proportion of the titles failed, their costs would be lower than the major publishers and the bookstore publishers too. That competitive advantage would be added to the fact that they wouldn’t have to pay a retailers discount unless they were selling to the retailers themselves. In effect, aside from what the author and their agents can grab from the chain, Amazon with Encore has successfully placed itself in control of the entire value chain of which I wrote some more about last week but didn’t quite count this in.

And third, reaction
In many ways, there is nothing publishers can do. Amazon is a major customer and now (or for some time quietly) a competitor. No action that publisher can take in the short term will change that. In order to really reaction, publishers will need to change the came with a much longer term and strategic move. So far most of the discussion seems to centre on the idea of community building and niche curating. I think this is certainly a useful suggestion though as I have mentioned before, the other arm of Amazon’s tool shed (self-publishing & POD( suggest that even that niche strategy may not be a feasible bolt hole.

Conclusion
The long and the short of it is the best reaction is to wait-and-see, to plan and to strategize and quietly (or nosily if you wish) put in place the blocks that will move your position away from an over dependence on Amazon. To that end I am pleased that Ireland is as yet somewhat immune to the Amazon leviathan. Despite our proximity to the UK market, sales through Amazon remain somewhat restrained, firstly by postage and secondly I think, by the more conservative nature of the Irish consumer who seem to be a bit slower in embracing internet retailers (not that some people aren’t taking advantage of the bargains available online).

Still tired of being outmaneuvered but thinking through how best to react in the long term.
Eoin

PS: For those who don’t get the title reference see here

The Publisher in the Value Chain 2009 Edition

Eoin Purcell

This is what I said before
Back in 2006 I wrote a piece called The Publisher in the Value Chain. It was a response to a post by Rob Jones over at Snowbooks. The bones of the case I put forward was in the conclusion:

In publishing the price of writing a book was always low, but now the price of making a book is to all intents and purposes free too. Publishing it costs nothing now if you use a trick like lulu.com and very little if you use self-publishing services like Xlibris, Trafford.com or even Blurb.com. The Publisher will still be needed to absorb the risk because the risk has not going away, it is just changing, shifting and moving along the value chain from printing and design to marketing and distribution.

A few pieces recently have offered alternative interpretations and, times have also changed so I thought it was an apt time for thinking this through some more.

What has changed: Distribution
Well to begin on the digital and ebook side with we now have the models of distribution that we lacked in 2006. I’m not saying that this didn’t exist in 2006, because they did, rather than the last 2 and half years have seen the arrival of mass market type offerings in these areas.

Apple’s iPhone Apps (available from their App Store which is part of their iTunes service) have proved to be excellent platforms for throwing books at people and developers have mind the public domain for free (and paid for) content to supply to interested parties.

This market has only truly been made possible by the enormous success of the iPhone itself. In some senses too the ebook/iPhone Apps publishing market is an accidental creation unlike the music downloads and iTunes which was a deliberate strategy.

Amazon has launched the Kindle and just this past week bought Lexcycle makers of the Stanza App. They have previously launched their own iPhone app to try and capture some of the market that Apple sneakily and rather unexpectedly took from them (well I’m sure that is how they see it!)

There is also the very often overlooked Sony Reader that nonetheless seems to be doing alright and recently entered a partnership with Google to present 500,000 public books on the Reader.

And that brings us to Google itself whose Books Search project has reached an almost incredible position compared to its 2006 incarnation. With some 7 million books scanned and an agreement close to being locked in (though there are some problems with this deal from many viewpoints, lots of which elicit my sympathy) GBS is a beast that cannot be ignored, even if the two most successful distribution models to date are Apple’s and Amazon’s.

But leaving aside the questions it is pretty clear from this brief survey that a whole ecosystem for distribution is being created ebooks and digital content.

What has changed: Marketing
The change here is not as convincing I would suggest as it has been in distribution. Several very excellent sites have started to aggregate both information and readers. LibraryThing is my favourite bit other such as Goodreads, Shelfari and newer entrants like Book Army and FiledBy. Michael Cairns has a good post on this type of Curation as he calls it.

What hasn’t changed?
But the truth remains and is perhaps even more true that as I noted in 2006 by way of Mark Cuban:

Because in an ala carte world, the cost of reaching an audience is outrageous. And consumers arent ready to pay the freight to receive that programming.

As I have said before, the movie market is ala carte. Look at which content rises to the top in terms of revenues from consumers and visibility. The content from the biggest companies who have spent the most money to market .

In the book world, our products cost less than movies, but one movie visit (no including the extras) costs about the same as a decent book (though most paperback fiction is slightly cheaper). The revenue per title is considerably lower than most studio’s revenue per movie so our marketing budgets are commensurately lower, but our strategies are pretty much the same. Reach large audiences and spend money to get them to buy your books.

Visibility and discoverability are still the essential parts to the jigsaw. No-one, except perhaps Google who are indexing the content of all the books they scan, is in a position to change the game on this point. Certainly not the single author whose only hope is that a good blog and outreach will result in attention. For one in ten thousand of fewer it may well achieve that as Seth Godin eloquently points out, the 9,999 who miss out never even get heard of!

To market a book you still need money, you still need a distribution system that shuffles deadwood from warehouse to store (and back when necessary) yes in certain limited cases Print-on-Demand will float but for books that are selling by the thousands that is hardly a viable way forward. You need a sales force and you need know how. You need post release press attention that dedicated pr associates have drummed up and high profile editors have garnered by way of long term contacts.

In short you need someone who spreads risk across multiple authors so that taking a bath on three and losing a little on four can be offset by winning on one and breaking even on two.

Google might yet change the game, but that change will only be as random as internet popularity always is. What is more as Pete Waterman might explain in depth, Internet Stardom does not equal big paychecks!

And even if they do, authors will still need a partner to exploit the opportunities created by attention. They’ll need the ability and contacts I’ve just described or else the attention will go to waste. It may be that Amazon, Google and apple will step up to the plate but right now, that link is Traditional Trade Publishing.

Conclusions for 2009
And so, two and a half years on, where is the publisher in the publishing value chain? I think that Mark Coker has it partly right when he compares Publishers to VCs in his blog post over at Smashwords. We are the financiers of all the risk. That much has not changed.

Where he gets it wrong is in his follow up post about how the risk and the reward has shifted towards the author. The author cannot afford to absorb this risk and so he/she will fail to reap the reward.

The mantra of Cuban, remains accurate and doesn’t look like changing any time soon.

Clinging to the end of the value chain!
Eoin

Self publishing as a threat to niche

And not so niche
I wrote a post some time ago now on how Blurb was a real threat to publishers of small to medium size. I wrote then:

Using the template it is a very simple task to construct and edit a book. The ease with which this can be done is unsettling for me. I work with a publisher of limited run titles. Few rate over 2000 on an initial print run. To date, the key benefits we could offer to authors of books published through our company were quality of design, access to distribution, access to retail and other sales channels and of course we take on the risk of publishing costs and pay royalties to the author removing the dangers that self published authors have of not receiving payment for the books other sell on their behalf.

Lulu.com took away the fear authors might have that they would be left holding the baby as it were with lots of stock and no buyers, it also resolved the payment problem (As have many other online selling and payments solutions). That left the problem of design, many self published titles suffer from poor design and lack of quality. Blurb resolves that quite easily.

I’ve since moved to Mercier where although we operate mostly in a solid niche (Irish history & Biography being our core market), I’ve not forgotten Blurb.com or Lulu.com> Blurb has expanded its offering and is even hosting a directory of professional designers to help authors layout and design their books; Blurbnation and is running a photography book competition. Lulu.com is offering publishing packages and community functions on its site.

I mention this today because I was guided to a CNN story about Lisa Genova who self published [with iUniverse] her way to a deal with Simon & Schuster and whose now traditionally published novel Still Alice is in The New York Times Bestsellers list for the twelfth week. A rather nice BookVideos clip beneath this graph, it’s worth watching.

Genova is hardly a trend on her own I hear yo say and you are correct, she is not. But she does show that the fracturing of the market is such that even self-publishers have huge potential wins coming their way By dint of the large numbers now engaged in self-publishing books, some of the books will be decent at least. Some will be far, far better than decent and those books may well evade the traditional publishing route, just as the hard-working software coders of 37Signals, yet another of my favourite, self publishing, examples have with their smash hit Getting Real.

Is this really a route to market?
For non-fiction I think there will be an increasing tendency for the market to fracture by niche enabling authors at the micro and more modest level to prosper. I don’t think this will necessarily mean that no project will warrant a publisher’s investment rather that the viable ground for traditional publishing will move increasingly up the chain towards a realm where print runs are of a minimum of 4000-5000 units. Small beer for some of the larger houses but a big deal for most publishers in Ireland and I suspect worldwide.

Perhaps like Mike Shatzkin preaches we can prevent this by aggregating a niche and serving its needs (that would in essence provide other services to compensate the author for the lost revenue from self publishing. Publishers would be spending time and money on audience creation and cultivation alongside their current role of content gathering and curation. In many respects that is what Osprey are doing with Military History.

The top down problem
Of course if bottom is moving upwards, I believe very soon the top rank will move down. Traditional publishers will lose authors to outfits that are prepared to service their careers in every fashion, from events to books, to online exploitation. Andrew Keen made a point at a conference in London that I attended last year. He said that the bulk of his money came from speaking, not writing. When that is the case, why does it make sense for a top-level author to stay with a house that is primarily focused on creating and selling books?

Surely it will be in a top ranked author, the kind who can pull a crowd in any city in the world to move to a talent agency that manages everything like Livenation have started to do with musicians.

Leaving publishers either dead, the middle or adapted
I’m not a big fan of dead, so I think for now we can swim towards the middle and try and move a little bit more into the 4-10,000 unit range of publishing*. There are problems in this area and the main problem is that retailers are pushing the front list much more aggressively and the midlist is suffering. The bulk of those 4-10,000 unit books are smack bang in the midlist as far as retailers are concerned.

Adapted like Osprey then seems an attractive option but presents challenges for a diverse list without a single focus. Even if one can identify a niche where a publisher has a competitive advantage, is that niche a sustainable market likely to support the company for the future, or like newspapers will there be a period of re-adjustment which see staff loses, restructuring and deep unease within the industry?

I’m not sure anyone has the answers to this questions, and it may well be that the premise they are based on is a flawed one. Perhaps self-publishing will not successfully undermine the smaller publishers. One way or the other, any independent publisher needs to, at the very least, be thinking about what that would mean for them if it did happen! I shudder to think of what will happen to the larger trade publishers when top ranking authors start to move away from publishers in large numbers.

Let’s hope it never gets as bad as we fear it might, let’s hope the centre can hold because by my estimation that us where the market for publishers exists.
Eoin

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
William Butler Yates

*I remind you that all opinions expressed on this site are my own, see my disclaimers. Also bear in mind that in discussing numbers and trends I am focused on the Irish Market which is not, by any stretch if the imagination, a large one!