So there are big doin’s in publishing.
Yesterday Joe Konrath posted that The End is Nigh. Joe reports the news that “the first self-pubbed author to sell 1 million ebooks, John Locke, just signed a print deal with Simon & Schuster. But it’s a unique one. Locke keeps all of his erights.”
In a world where traditional publishers are still basically brokering to sell and warehouse paper rather than books (i.e. sticking to an antiquated business model in a market where ebooks are rapidly growing to be the majority of sales and shouldn’t be ignored), this is a landmark deal.
This is the thing that any smart writer should want.
Why? Because traditional publishers are often foolish in how they handle ebooks–insisting on seeing them as contenders for paper sales rather than a different market entirely and generally overpricing them, in addition to generally giving the authors a pittance of a royalty on them. Which all equates to, theoretically, fewer ebook sales. Which they want because they want people to buy paper. Even though we e-book fanatics aren’t going to buy paper. Why is this important? Because authors can make 70% royalty by epublishing their books themselves.
So you have a $9.99 traditionally published ebook, on which the author probably makes at most 25%, usually–so we’re talking a $2.50 cut of the pie (less the percentage to one’s agent, etc.). VS. 70% of, say a $4.99 self-published ebook (much more REASONABLY priced in the consumer’s eyes)–which is a $3.50 cut of the pie. Self published authors make more money on their ebooks, which they can price far more attractively to customers, which means more books sold. Which means more profits. None of these are new arguments. Indies have been batting around these numbers ever since Amazon announced the 70% royalty rate. And it’s why many authors are choosing to go indie and stay that way.
Now, a couple of weeks ago, I made a post about how traditional publishing is a lot like the stock market. And I got a truly marvelous comment from Trish McCallan that I’m going to shamelessly reproduce in full here because it’s that good and you need to read it.
There is another side to this length of time issue, that nobody ever address. I’m not sure anyone even thinks about it. You touched on it briefly here. You said that books being released today were bought 1-3 years ago. I think the average is 2 years years. So if an unpublished author were to sell right now, their book wouldn’t debut for two years give or take. So my question, when I started thinking seriously about this time lag was “What’s the climate going to be in 2 years?” If I were to sell right now, where would my book sell? But likely, I wouldn’t sell right now. It might be a year, or two– which pushes when my book would debut back even further. So where do you think a debut author is going to sell in 2-4 years?
The Tipping point will be here by then, or close. Right now 20% of books sold are e-book. As we get closer and closer to the tipping point and less books are bought through physical places where debut authors find the bulk of their readers is going to change. Those avenues that made traditional publishing so attractive are going to dry up. It’s already drying up with every bookstore that closes and every retail chain that goes to a “best selling authors only” policy. In 2-4 years, new authors will be debuting on the huge online books stores along with their self published counterparts. Once I realized that, I started wondering how a debut author will be able to stand out? 99% of debut authors don’t get any adverting from their publishers. They are expected to market their books, they are expected to find their readers. At this point self-published and traditional will have the same advantages, but the traditional author will be under a huge disadvantage. She/he won’t have any control over the things that can catch a reader’s eye.
This is when I seriously started looking into self-publishing, because the only things that I could see making a difference and helping an author find a reader base– are things a traditional author will have no control over. And if you look at our industry now, and then project where it will be in the future, all the sign point that we are headed into an online sales model. When that happens, I am very much afraid that traditionally published midlisters and debut authors are going to get screwed.
A scary and realistic prediction, indeed.
So here I am trying to straddle the fence. I’ve started pretty decent roots as an indie, roots I intend to keep deepening and growing even as I have some projects that I have my agent shop traditionally. Is this smart? Joe Konrath doesn’t think so. He thinks taking any kind of traditional deal is a mistake and a waste of your rights.
I disagree. I call it hedging my bets.
No one can really truly say where publishing will be in five years. Nobody can say where Amazon will be in 5 years. They could up and decide they’re going to drop the amount of royalties authors receive. If all the self publishing venues moved to a 25% royalty model, indie authors would be similarly screwed. I don’t think this WILL happen. Right now they’re making money off indie books hand over fist and why would you piss off your money base, but the possibility is there because they hold all the control over the distribution system.
I think it is still early enough in the game that it’s worth pursuing both avenues of publication. Right now I can get my work written and out there much faster on my own. That helps me continue to build a platform and a presence with fans. But ebooks are still only 20-25% of the market. There’s a whole 75% I’m not reaching this way. So for the moment, traditional publishers still have something to offer me in terms of access to that 75%. And though it’s not important to me per se, having something out there that’s traditionally published will give me legitimacy in the eyes of a certain segment of the reading public who still believes in having vetters and gatekeepers. At the moment, that’s something straight indies don’t have (we won’t argue whether or not it’s needed).
Now in five years, maybe everything will be different. Maybe we will be a market where ebooks rule the internet and publishers start to fold. Or maybe between now and then traditional publishers will wake up and realize they have to change their business model if they want to survive in the new climate. Either way, it’s the kind of possibility that makes me glad that right now I’m just shopping a stand-alone title instead of a series.
What about you, writers? Do all these changes have you quaking in your boots? Changing teams? Being a double agent?