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May 08, 2012


Lance C.

Perhaps you're going to address this in a future post, but: what would you have traditional publishing do to fight back? What are you, as a publisher, doing right now or planning to do to address the problems you've outlined?

I can think of a few of things Trad Pub can consider:

1) If you're going to be the standard of writing talent, start with your author selection: Trad Pub could walk away from the insta-celebrities, talentless ideologues and manufactured personalities on whom it now showers huge advances and big chunks of marketing budget. The rule should be, if you can't write your own book, don't bother us (unless your co-author won a Pulitzer somewhere along the way). It's silly to complain about the talentless hacks who self-pub while promoting the talentless hacks in your author lineup.

2) If you're going to talk quality, be quality: Actually edit and proofread the books that you put out. I'm amazed at the typos and misused words I find in recently published Big 6 products (and newspapers, but that's another rant).

3) Speed up the production cycle: The insta-celebrity books come out in two months, so why does it take 1.5-2 years for a fiction title to land on the shelves? Clearly Trad Pub can move the product quickly when it wants to. This isn't a contradiction of #2 above; the process that exists now has lots of room for more efficiency.

4) Embrace POD: The print-and-remainder business model is something everyone -- including publishers -- complain about constantly. Just as the movie studios helped finance the transition to video projection in theaters, perhaps the Big 6 need to get together to settle on a POD standard and help finance the installation of the appropriate equipment in bookstores. People like Amazon and Apple because they can get pretty much any book they want pretty much instantly. Help the bookstores compete by enabling them to print pretty much any book pretty much instantly -- and the customer can get coffee while she's waiting.

These are some of my naive outsider's ideas -- I'm sure you have more and better ones of your own.

I like bookstores, and I'm still trying to get a Trad Pub deal for my work, so I'd like to see you (and them) succeed. But Trad Pub can't adopt the record industry's strategy (hide and complain) and hope it turns out okay.


I agree with your points. I find the concept of "indie authors" particularly irksome - they are not "inde" they are self (or as you write vanity) published. An "independent" author in my view is one who has been chosen to be published by an independent publisher!

As a keen reader - yes there are too many books and yes the self-pub revolution has made it far too hard to find anything good so I just don't bother, I rely on reviews/recommendations from the few people whose opinion I trust.

The value issue - we in scientific publishing have been facing this for years as people incorrectly assume that publishing a paper online is somehow free because it does not have print distribution costs. over time, the web costs are much higher given the archiving, added web services, continual updates when a technology goes obsolete to maintain your website, etc etc etc. But people confuse ease of looking at something with ease of producing it. The two are very different - to take but one example, rendering of complex equations and special symbols on the web, not to mention scientific figures. (I'm not talking about PDFs here, of course).


Well said, Agatho. I started writing mainly to see if I could write a good book, meaning have it be considered good enough by an "expert" to publish. That means a traditional publisher, because I don't consider self-publishing a valid means of evaluating my talent. So I'll stick with the query-agent-editor-publishing house route for now.

If, after years of trying, I've decided that traditional publishers have destroyed themselves, or if a way to self-publish becomes available that also validates a certain level of professional talent, I'll consider that.

The pride of authorship only comes from a legitimate money making business investing enough money in oneself to say,"this author has written a quality book that the general public deserves to read." Making an appreciable amount of money after that is icing on the cake.

Alan Orloff

I so agree.

Pepper Smith

I do agree.

I do, however, cringe a bit when I see the thought of ebook publishers being equated with vanity publishing--some of them were around years before the KDP craze, and actually work on pretty much the same model as traditional publishers. Query, submit manuscript, wait while it goes through editorial readings to see if it's worth the publisher's time and money, and only afterwards a contract if they decide it is. Rounds of editing and proofreading before the book is ready for publication. Most don't offer an advance, but many small print publishers don't, either.

Many authors point at the lack of an advance and claim the advance is proof that the publisher thinks your book is worth publishing, but miss entirely that the publisher spends a lot of money out of their own pocket for editing, proofreading, cover art, all the things authors never know about that publishers pay for, and getting the work into the sales channels. My publisher has been in business going on 10 years. Epubs that don't choose quality work and make good business decisions are usually out of business within a year or two.

I chose e-publishing for a very specific reason--my stories were long novellas, something that works well in e-publishing, but won't get you anywhere through the traditional route. (They're book length now, at the urging of my first editor.) If you want to make the argument that I'm not good enough for traditional publishing because I had to e-publish, please read something of mine first--I have two shorter pieces available free on the "Shorts" page on my website. Then there will be room for discussion.

We've had to work hard over the years to distinguish ourselves from the vanity-published. Out of 500 manuscripts, my publisher might select one or two for publication. They don't charge for publication and take maybe one percent of what they're offered. We're e-published, not self-published. Please be careful about lumping us all in together.

David Afsharirad

While I agree with lots of what you've said (especially on a philosophical level), I also think that publishers need to find a way to adapt to the new environment (as Lance C. suggested). I am not of the mind that the ebook revolution is going to make publishers obsolete, however, it WILL make certain publishers obsolete, those that can't adapt.

I own a Kindle but rarely use it. I just don't care for it. But I am going to be in the minority soon. Ereaders (or tablets or smartphones) are undoubtedly the way that most books will be read in the future (sorry to say). Publishers can either lament this fact or they can deal with it. All right, I guess they can both lament and deal with, that's understandable.

I completely agree that the 99 cent model is lousy, and that it has led to a devaluing in the public's mind of books. But continuing to charge $15 plus (even if this is a fair price) for an ebook is just not going to work in the future. No one will pay that. Publishers are going to have to find a way to lower that price. Again, Lance C. made some suggestions on how this might be accomplished, and I've heard others from various blogs, articles, etc.

P.S. Been a long-time reader of your blog and always found it interesting and insightful.

Ziv Wities

3,4, and even 5 confuse me to a certain extent.

I'm only a hobbyist, but I share your frustration with the largely-baseless excitement and self-righteousness of the self-e-publishing trend. But even so, I'd think that the entire point is that self-pubbed ebooks don't actually attract *real* attention. Each author is plenty excited about his own self-published work, but not that many people are excited about anybody else's (if they were, the worth of self-publishing would be justified).

So I'm not seeing quite how (crappy) authors feeling entitled hurts publishers, or how a glut of (crappy) ebooks confined to uncharted Amazonian backwaters hurts publishers. The question is, are *readers* really buying into the crap? Or are the crappy authors just unloading their crap harmlessly, and then making a lot of noise about it?


The point here which I do agree with you on is that ebooks devalue books. But it's important to recognize that reader expectations for ebook prices take into account the MANY ways that ebooks are far inferior to physical books. I don't think it's unreasonable for a reader to value an ebook as being less valuable than a paperback, but that's not how they're being priced.

If the industry isn't capable of supporting the ebook format at a price that buyers will find reasonable, then IMHO that's a MUCH bigger issue (and challenge, while we're at it!) than the precise strategy some particular companies are pursing at this specific point in time.

Kathleen M.

Hope all is well with you, Agatho. Perhaps you have decided to post less frequently, maybe monthly?

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