Books written by Ray Sullivan

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Role of Publishing Houses in the New Publishing Economy - Part 3

So, the future then. Obviously the mainstream can continue to work the way they have historically, however I suspect that will result in a declining share of the market. Some are starting to take ebooks seriously now, but often it appears as a side order to the hard print approach and little if no attempt is taken to pass on the economies of electronic books. To be fair, while the majority of their business is in physical books they probably don’t want to dilute the price by offering ebooks at a realistic price, however it’s my contention that in the next ten years, probably sooner, most books, magazines and newspapers will be read electronically, physical books will be the exception and the market forces will increase to demand that the lower costs are passed on to the consumer.
Pushing this pace is the Indie market. There’s a lot that isn’t right with the market right now, including pricing in some cases, but there’s enough that is right to demonstrate that it is a viable alternative if no other suitable model is available. But anarchy rarely lasts. As with Punk Rock in the late Seventies and early Eighties, there will be market pressure for the Indie publishers to migrate towards the mainstream. There has to be some compelling reason to do so and the current mainstream model pretty much excludes many of the Indie authors, which of course is in part what has fuelled the Indie market.
Which begs the question: what is so wrong with the Indie market that would make Indie authors want to migrate to the mainstream, especially as that would imply surrendering some creative freedom and a chunk of royalties?

Well, the Indie market is crowded and getting more so by the day. Smashwords reports adding 6000 plus books month on month and that figure is getting larger. Finding books is difficult, as I reported in an earlier blog where I described how difficult it is to stumble across a book you know to exist without using the author name or book title. Most ebook stores allow ebooks to be partitioned by genre and use keywords to help find books the reader might like but it’s pretty random as processes go. And the Indie book world, by definition, doesn’t have a QA process: there’s a lot of material out there but some of it would appear to be speculative. Obviously the erotica market has found a new outlet and I suspect that will remain but there’s also a lot of ‘books’ being launched that are reported by Smashwords as being in the 5000 word length arena – or an essay as we used to call them. As a rule these ‘books’ are selling for $0.99, however I have seen them selling for up to $5 apiece. Incredibly, some of these offerings hit the top ten on Smashwords from time to time. They must be fantastic essays.
I’ve already mused on the multiple roles the Indie author has to undertake today as well as actually writing their novels – cover design, blurb writing, formatting, promoting and generally holding down a full time job at the same time. One thing that the Indie market should have shown is that cash advances against future royalties is a luxury that should be challenged.  I'm sure every serious author, and I include myself in that description, would love to work full time as a writer however I feel that the cash associated with advances is better spread as pump-priming funds.

The mainstream has to accept that within a relatively short period of time printed books are going to become a minimal aspect of the industry - like LP records I suspect they will persist and might even cut a cult following, but the economies possible with ebooks will compel the market to prefer them.  That translates as smaller profits if they don't adapt.  In fact, I suspect smaller profits are the way forward, however with a larger author base.  It's my belief that there will soon be a slow move, followed by a undignified scramble, to sign up the better Indie authors. 

The role of the publishing houses will be to nurture the Indie authors, not throw money at them nor rip them off, but to provide access to the elements that Indie authors find distracting and even difficult.  They can offer real value adding skills, such as access to professional editors, and can work with the authors on marketing books.  In return they get access to a slice of the royalties, and realistically these may be minimal compared to traditional amounts, but in the long term they could amount to meaningful sums.  In many ways this sounds like the Smashwords model, but with at least one major difference - Smashwords applies no QA on content, only on formatting.  Which means, outside of the crude genre choices consumers have a massive amount of books to cruise.

Consider if you read a book by your favourite author, Indie or mainstream, and had an appetite for something similar.  The natural instinct is to look for something else the author has written, then second best is something similar.  If you follow the Author's publisher's recommendations and those recommendations aren't outrageously priced and reflect the type of book you've just read then you'd be inclined to try it.  Smart publishers will snap up the better authors and develop them, build them up in terms of book quality and provide a professional front end for them.  Sure, the Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords markets will continue and these authors wil be active participants but will also have publishing front end market places too.

And now that Indie authors have shown that they can participate in cover design, blurb writing and general promotional work then I believe there will be an expectation for them to continue to be hands-on.

But none of this may happen - the mainstream may try to continue as they are whole the Indie market continues to stregthen.  If they leave it too long then some other catalyst will prevail to pull together the better Indie books, and their opportunity will have been lost. 

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