Why the publishing industry is afraid of the fall of the newspaper industry

Posted by Otis Chandler on June 8, 2009
*rant on*

I had the opportunity to read an interesting article about the status of the book industry titled The Long Goodbye? The Book Business and its Woes. It was full of interesting points, and I recommend reading it. Here are some excerpts I found particularly interesting:

"A key element in the dissemination of books, independent of publishers and booksellers but essential to both, is the press. The simultaneous collapse of the business model for newspapers and magazines is a gruesome fact of life, and we book people keenly feel the pain of a sister print-on-paper industry, to put it mildly. ... Book news and criticism were fundamental to the old model of book publishing and to the education of writers; Internet coverage of books, much of it witty and interesting, does not begin to compensate for their loss."

This is a theme I keep hearing over and over again at book conferences. And for good reason: the process of building up buzz about a book pre-launch is critical to it's success, and with the demise of newspaper book reviews and other media outlets, it's no longer easy.

But authors don't despair - there are still plenty of ways to get there - it will just take some more work on your part. You have to have market yourself. Here are some tips, based on talking to authors who are having success:

  • Join as a Goodreads Author and reach out to the community here (don't take my word for it: read this and this)
  • Create a Facebook page and a MySpace profile and reach out to communities there. Collect as many friends as you can that are interested in your work or your genre.
  • Create a Twitter account and start following anyone who talks about your novel or genre. Engage these people!
  • Create a blog and post interesting things about your work and genre.
  • And here is the key: anytime you post anything on any of those service, post a link to it on ALL the other services. Respond to any comments, tweets, etc that you get. Engage, engage, engage!

"Publishers used to presume that money earned on successful titles would help pay the bills incurred in producing and marketing books that sold less well... carrying the "frontlist" of new titles and goodly portions of the "backlist," books from years earlier."

This is the way any hits driven business works - the hits pay for the misses. If the hits no longer pay as much, then you can't afford to produce as many misses. Yet the number of books published each year is *growing* - how can that be? Going back to my points above - more authors are self-publishing and marketing themselves. Once a self-published author reaches a certain level of success, then the big publishing houses will publish them - and that's how it works now.

By the way: did you know that 50% of a publishers revenue is from the backlist?

"Of the roughly $10 a publisher took in on a $20 book, say, 10 to 15 percent of the cover price was allocated to the author, leaving only the remaining $7.50 or so to cover the fixed, make-ready costs"

This illustrates how the supply chain is broken - there are too many people and costs involved. Note that with an ebook there are no fixed costs and no distribution costs. So why do publishers insist on selling books at the same prices? Did you know that Amazon is taking a LOSS on Kindle ebooks by selling at their $9.99 price point?

"many bestsellers were now going in the opposite direction. More and more derivative pseudobooks were spun off from the Internet or TV, booklike objects created by the teams working for, say, famous generals in televised wars, cooks, telly dons, ballplayers, reality-show contestants, famous pets. These flashy items dominate shelf space, ad budgets and public attention... they are choking off the life-support systems for vital literature."

I have to agree with this one. It's a side-effect of a hits-driven business that is foundering. It's clear a better model is needed - we're taking suggestions here.

"the entire world of American retail business is veering toward obsolescence. Must books now find their way in cyberspace?"

(I'm now in love with the word obsolescence)

"But these Internet people don't care. For billionaires like Brin, accessing the giant river of infinite book "content" onto which they can glue paid advertising is simply a giant new way to make more money, and they are single-minded about that."

It is clear that somebody needs to care about literature beyond how to monetize it. After all, if nobody is fostering the creation of good content then we all lose. But it seems to me that Google cares quite a bit, and is the way *forward* - not backward. They offer publishers quite a lot: free traffic to their books in a DRM safe way, and now even revenue from ebook sales. Why would you say no to that?


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