The Publishing Industry vs the Music Industry – Whose linen is dirtier?

So I’m wondering what to write about (okay, pestering the other Mad Geniuses for something that would make a good rant) and Sarah pointed me here. Now, since this is someone who’s been through the mill talking about his experiences there, I think we can presume that – allowing for the usual level of dramatic exaggeration – what he’s talking about actually happened. So for those whose experience is different, yeah, there are going to be differences, but the overall point doesn’t change.

So, let’s look at the writing side of the the 7 things…

#7. Labels Hunt for Unique Voices

So do publishers. At least, that’s what they say they do, but when you read a little further, the dude had picked up a certain amount of success as an independent when he got signed – what this translates to is “Publishers hunt for authors who already have a fan base.”

#6. They Have Minions for You

Okay. This one definitely does not apply. I suspect that most editors think authors are their minions, when they’re not thinking the business would be so much easier without those pesky authors always wanting to know when the royalties get paid. They’re certainly not going to make arrangements for someone to go get their authors recreational pharmaceuticals. This may be because publishing doesn’t deal in the kind of booty (currency-based or otherwise) that the music business does.

#5. The Labels Convince Naive Kids They’re Rock Stars

The publishing equivalent here is convincing them they’re bestsellers, and the check is in the mail. Oh and they’re just SO much better than those thousands of others who didn’t get bought. Enough of the naive (and usually damaged) will believe the line to make it worth spreading. They also do the pressure thing and do their damndest to keep you from shopping around.

#4. They Are Casting a Role

Yes. Like music – where a good song is a good song no matter whether the singer looks like a beached whale or is so hawt you think they might catch fire – publishers are definitely doing this. Even though, yes, a good story is a good story no matter who wrote it. The problem is, these people think in terms of the package not what’s in it, and they’re all about the package being interesting/cool/neat/something they can mold into interesting/cool/neat/insert adjective of the month. The money quote here is:

Universal picked me out of the crowd because I had a unique style. Like a fool, I thought that meant they wanted me to keep making my style of music. But they just wanted to take my name, my sorta-notoriety from one hit, and plug “Spose” into a bunch of pop songs. Probably because it’s really easy to rhyme with “hos.” They’re playing the long game, those keen, strategy-minded record producers.

Yeah. That’s what publishers want too. They want you to write lots of books that are just like bestseller-of-the-month only a little bit different.

#3. You Write Songs by Committee

Authors might not write books by committee, but by the time editors have been through it (if you actually get one) and insisted that you put in more sex, give it the right “message” (ask Sarah about this – and prepare to have your ears pinned back) it can certainly look like it got written by a committee. It sure as hell isn’t yours any more – especially if they ignore your STET DAMMIT! stamp all over the thing.

#2. It’s a Ridiculous Numbers Game

Oh, hell yes. Not just that, it’s a ridiculous numbers game played by the innumerate who went into this career because someone told them there wouldn’t be any math involved. Enough said.

#1. There Is a Blessing for One-Hit Wonders in 2014

This, alas, does not apply. For an author, you can lop off a zero and cut it in half and you’re in the vicinity of a newbie advance (which unless you’re phenomenally lucky – or pushed to within an inch of your life – will not sell out, so you’ll never see a penny of royalties). Of course that also means the economics for independent authors are a crapload better.

So… some similarities. Some differences. A lot of stupid and a lot of abuse of poor innocent numbers. Give me indie any day.


  1. I remember being amazed when I heard that the members of TLC, back when they were at the top of the charts, were only making about $50K a year personally. In part because they had an entourage (all entourage members are leeches IMHO), but also, I have another similarity. The Record companies expect the artists to pay for their own promotion, which includes the expenses of making videos etc. The record companies basically pay for Production and distribution. Every other expense comes out of the artists’ half (half, if they’re lucky). Recording, editing, everything. The only way an artist actually makes money is touring.

    1. And then if someone finds out how badly they’ve been taken, and they sue, the reparations and details invariably involve gag orders… ie., the Dixie Chicks, IIRC… they found out how much of their money the suits were pocketing, and they *won* but on the condition they not tell anyone what had been done to them.

      WTF? If someone is stealing money from artists it’s near collusion if the big names don’t reveal to the little names what was done to them and how.

      Same with publishing and the hush-hush about contracts and royalty payments, etc., This is one thing I think Hines should be praised for, which is breaking the code of silence, at least over the money.

      1. This. I KNOW various authors have taken on their publishers about said publishers selling e-books without the rights (and sometimes without bothering to inform the author, or pass on any money at all). When the matter – in the 1% that have the money and determination – gets to court… suddenly suddenly there is an out of court settlement, which includes non-disclosure hush money, and it all goes silent. But you can trust these people. Really. I have zero time for Hines, but he has shown a way of dealing with the non-disclosure terms of contracts.

        1. Yes. Exactly. This is – I’d be almost willing to put money on it – why the publishers in the Department of Justice price-fixing case all settled. The thought of forensic accountants going through their books would have given them hives.

          1. It strikes me, should any Amazon exec ever happen to read our deathless prose, that as they have access to their sales data, next time the legacy pubs try to pull the ‘stute move – just a matter of time, Amazon could counter by making those actual sales numbers or amounts paid available to authors. Or hunting up a few older authors and asking ‘has your publisher paid you for the 703 copies you’ve sold through us?’ If not, we’ll support your case, provide the evidence, provided you agree not settle with a confidentiality clause. Look, IMO, it’s also all just a matter of time, before some publisher hit an author who doesn’t need the money, and is bitter and angry enough to prefer revenge to a pay-out. There have to be tax implications here, as the individual would pay a higher rate of tax and have fewer deductions than a company. Of course I am sure it was all completely by accident, and the IRS would be happy to accept that.

            1. Oh, absolutely – it would be rather entertaining to watch.

              I’m not the only one who figured Amazon making the bookscan numbers available to authors was their first revenge salvo after the agency pricing fiasco – and didn’t that bring on some interesting results?

              1. I figured it was more of a warning shot across the bows, as I know bookscan captures – according to several sources as low as 10% of what a publisher was reporting. And as high as 50%… and the whole thing no doubt, and um, historically more, how odd. But e-books have no such keep ’em vaguely honest, not even 10% figures. I’m waiting with keen interest to see my Baen figures, seeing as I now have my own book figures to compare them to. But then, I’ve never been told when I’ll get these, or what percentage I am getting or how often. I know a fellow author who sell less in paper than I do, and has 7 books out, got a nice 15K check, at 25% of net from his publisher. I should earn $1800-2000 off A Mankind Witch this year, and a surprising $500 + or so off The Forlorn – which was available for free from the Free library. So I do hope I am pleasantly surprised, but I very much doubt it.

                1. Zero sales this week. Hopefully Friday’s PJ Media book plug helps.

                  The numbers are amazing though. Clearly there’s a LOT of muck at the bottom that sells nothing, and one or two sales is enough to elevate you extremely. But you fall back pretty fast too. I’ve been everywhere from #57,008 to #457,440 in kindle sales rank. And that’s just January 28th to today.

      2. Yes, that is one thing good that Hines has done. The industry needs more daylight shone on its practices.

        It might shrivel up and die as a result, but this would be a good thing if it’s that much of a vampire.

    2. Yup. Publishing industry accounting is based on this, but done by the terminally innumerate.

  2. “Universal picked me out of the crowd because I had a unique style. Like a fool, I thought that meant they wanted me to keep making my style of music.”

    Oh, yes. I remember a local band with a big area following (“The Sharks”) from my college days back in the ’80s. They won an MTV Basement Tapes competition (back when MTV played music), which meant an EP with a name producer on a major label. By the time the EP came out, they were another band entirely, and not a better one by any means.

    1. Oh, yes. I’ve seen the difference between author final drafts and the published product. There are times when the published product isn’t nearly as good as the final draft because of what the editors have done to it.

  3. Ah yes. Selling the dream. Everyone does it. I work in sales. I’ve been sold the dream dozens of times. You get used to it after awhile.

    1. Selling the dream is one thing. Selling it then claiming the person you sold it to owes you money is another and is publishing industry standard practice, it seems.

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