Oh noes it’s the end of World (again)….
Ok, Hat tip to Walter Daniels, without whom I’d be boring you with more on distribution. He pointed out this article from the HuffPo – which is my normal sort of reading-of-choice the way the Guardian or Mein Kamph is. (We’ve had a few drive-by posters who seem really thick. That means I don’t read them. Got it?)
While leaving you to your own conclusions about most of it (I’ve never heard of the guy, to be honest. Maybe he’s just brilliant.) I thought I’d go through his 15 point s– with what they brought to my Simian pate. Seriously, I don’t know him, have nothing personal against him, and this certainly not a personal attack. It’s just my thoughts on these points. His points in italics, my comments betwixt.
- The print industry as we have known it, is a dead man walking. Printed books, including retail shelving space, are disappearing at an alarming rate, as are big chain bookstores. On the other hand, boutique stores offering personal service with discriminating taste will emerge in their place. Perhaps some small print publishers will also survive. We all knew this would happen. Some of us saw it years ago.
Just what is ‘the print industry?’ Print on paper? Traditional publishing? Let’s assume he means both. Kicking and squalling – and cheerfully indulging in ‘piracy’ (selling books to which they have no rights) Traditional publishing has moved into e-books. The death of chain bookstores is really the result of a) Not catering to their market – there is competition from online bookstores, which carry more and offer more. b) Online sales mean you can go shopping at the click of mouse. All knew it would happen –hell’s teeth, we know very different trad pub authors, and very very different trad publishers. Baen were the only ones without blinkers on.
- Advances are drying up. Fewer and fewer authors will be able to make a living from their books, even those authors published by the large traditional publishers. The book review industry has been Balkanized. Authors use thousands of online text and video reviewers to gain visibility, but with the sheer volume of titles being published, many remain undiscovered, lost in the swamp of new and reissued books.
Advances were a feature required by a glacially slow process. For indies that is a thing of the past. Trad pub still needs to change that, and it could kill them. The issue is royalties (which for the important people never matched advances anyway. So the rest of us got screwed so they could have extra. And your promotion budget was based on that advance. Which means, well, folk like me had to sink or swim on our own, despite eventually beating some heavily promoted authors. Do I miss it? No. But do I like 70% royalties as opposed to 6% I have got for paperbacks? YES YES YES. I like getting a reasonable share of the sale price and I like readers getting a good price. And as a reader I just love that most of what I pay goes straight to the author, with minimal delays, and not to some middlemen who opaque the records, and are incredibly slow, as well as keeping most of it. As for the swamp… it’s deep and boggy in some places. The sort of books trad pub has put out for the last 25 years. Not so much elsewhere.
- Amazon, at this point, controls the book market. It might, perhaps, get competition from the alliance with the Galaxy 4 tab nook by Samsung and Barnes and Noble. Others might also make a run at Amazon. If and when Amazon gets serious competition, expect a price war, which will be a further financial disaster for authors. At times, I get the feeling that retail sites that sell both books and other consumer goods, act as an online bookstore to harvest consumers for their other retail products. Readers are good fodder. But then, I am a cynic.
Expect competition for readers to… impact suppliers of retail? Well that can and does happen. But do remember a) the suppliers can trade off sellers against each other – which they can’t with traditional publishing. b) Really a retail co-op of authors (such as book view café) is not impossible, or unlikely. And you can’t have it both ways. Either a lack of competition is bad (the pre-Amazon pre indy era) or more competition is bad. Not both. And the competitive environment is paying better.
- The Netflix subscriber model of content for a monthly fee, like Amazon Unlimited, Oyster, and Scribd, will flame out. To read a book, a really good book, takes time, concentration and focus. It’s not like movies or TV. It might work for certain genres like Romance, which readers buy by the bucketful. But even Romance fiction has taken it on the chin. Like in everything, there are too many books in that genre being published. The market is saturated.
Uh. No. The market is saturated in the swamp (AKA a very small section of potential readers). Yes, I know this fellow despises genre. And one man’s good book is another man’s Hugo winner. Firstly, writing a book is hard work for most authors. Even the fastest struggle with a book every couple of months for long – yes, some folk can for a while, but in the fullness of time I’ll bet the average of around a book every 4 months is good going. A few readers only manage a book every 4 months. They’re not the lost buyers, who have given up reading to other escapism. They’re not the hardcore readers – I can read a Louis L’Amour or Ellis Peters in an hour, emerge feeling good about the world. There are faster readers, and a lot of 3 hours to a book folk there… the bottom line is that there are many less writers than readers, and readers can read faster than most writers. Secondly, there is a finite size to the market, but it’s anything but fully served. That’s the literate, potentially. That’s mostly not buying right now. We need to recapture the lost, and catch the youth.
- The quality of content is diminishing, or so it seems. I know I sound like a book snob, but it is hard as hell to find what was once called, “a really great book.” I am well aware that such a statement is deeply personal. People who read to be emotionally transported will know what I mean. For those of us who love literature, I find my tastes drifting back to the classics, especially to those writers I worshipped in my youth.
Oh drivel. The quality published by traditional publishing in sf (outside Baen) has dropped like a stone. That’s an editorial selection issue, not a quality issue. But while the sorting in Indy is still in its infancy real quality will come out of that.
- Even so called commercial fiction, the kind of books one found on best-seller lists in the middle to the latter part of the last century, is being replaced by genre fiction, which would not have made the cut in those bygone days. Lots of people enjoy genre fiction, and its power to offer escape into a predictable world. Good for them. My own preference for both reading and writing is for the original and the unpredictable.
Parallel universe. Yes, a little sneer at genre again ‘it’s formula’ Drivel. Firstly there is no such animal as ‘general fiction’ – all fiction is a genre of some kind, or borrows from it. His fiction will have a little suspense, a little thriller, a little romance… and suspense novels will have a little romance etc… Yes sf-fantasy from most traditional publishers has become very constrained by PC requirements. The middle aged white conservative American heterosexual man will be the villain. Yawn. You think it is any different in any other traditional published work? Even in ‘original and unpredictable’ general fiction?
- There are simply too many books being published, especially in fiction. Among them are probably some really wonderful ones, but they are hard to find. The filters have become clogged. Book bloggers try their best to become taste filters. Some succeed in attracting a following, but one wonders if they affect sales.
Oh nonsense. Writing is hard. We’re in the shakedown period now. Many people are trying it out. Many of those – and many trad authors will drop out in the next 5 years, when the reward/effort gets too low. As for taste filters – ‘also bought’ ‘also viewed’ – I get my own books –and books I read commended to me. The retail filtering is getting better and better.
- In an effort to find an audience, many authors are forced to give away their books for free or at heavily discounted prices. Such pricing denigrates the value of their writing, and makes a book seem not worthy of being bought. These books appear like soiled goods, overstocked giveaways.
Which is why ‘cheap and free’ were short term gimmicks. Specials do work. But people seem to rate too cheap as too likely to be rubbish.
- Because we are now a global society, books by writers from other countries and cultures have reached flood stage as well. Many authors from emerging countries emphasize struggles and conflict specific to their environment, and deal with topics that are not always relevant to people in more developed societies. Many are translated and celebrated, but do not necessarily cross cultures.
Oh I am terrified of competition. Nonsense. Books that appeal to a culture like say Iran’s are relatively unlikely to ‘steal’ many Western, English first language readers from me.
- There is no end to people who want to write novels. There are over a thousand creative writing college courses and many MFA degrees offered in this discipline. There is undoubtedly a lot of astonishing talent around, but the chances of these people making a living at creative writing are diminishing from paltry to nil. Of course, that won’t stop the dedicated. True artists live their life totally committed to their art. Many writers will choose self-publishing, and a very tiny percentage of them will find paying customers who will sustain their career. Someone always wins the lottery, despite the humongous odds.
There are a lot of people who want to write novels, and always have been. But the filtering system was actually really bad. Very few people have the ability to write a good novel. And even less have the ability to stick to it, book, after book, after book. We’re in shakedown. The drop-out rate will be high. Lots of them will be the pampered darlings of tradpub. Lots more will be MFA grads. Writing is something you can hone, but not make.
- There is still great personal satisfaction in self-publishing. Most of those books will actually sell fewer than fifty copies. Many will be given away for free, but the accomplishment itself is worthy of personal satisfaction, and offers some element of prestige, regardless of the quality of writing. Such a sense of personal achievement will continue to attract many to self-publishing.
Yes. Once. How many will keep going? And really, maybe he sells 50 copies. Not everyone does.
- Many are convinced that their books would make terrific movies, and spend time and money trying to bring their stories to the silver screen. A minuscule fraction make it, but if the adaptation is not a bona fide hit, the movie has little impact, except among the author’s immediate family and circle of friends. Of course, that might be satisfaction enough.
Huh? Anyone who who writes thinking it’ll be a movie, needs their head read.
- While books are being digitally published like popcorn, I do not believe that readers are keeping apace. Brevity and speed seem to be the order of the day for our young readers, who will sustain the publishing future.
Yes. We need to appeal to them. Good fast moving stories would be a start. But no kids read the Hunger Games or Harry Potter so we’re stuffed…
- A cottage industry has emerged big-time to distribute, market, publicize and merchandise books, by mostly self-published authors or backlist titles of published authors. These companies offer numerous services for a fee, or a piece of the royalty. I have no doubt that they try their damnedest to deliver sales and author visibility or re-discovery. From their point of view, their financial success is based on how many authors they sign up. It’s a numbers game. For example, if every author represents at least ten sales, more or less, and they sign up thousands of authors, they will come out ahead financially. By no means do I suggest they are fraudulent, but their modus operandi is based on how many books and authors they sign up.
And for once I agree. Don’t waste your money.
- Expect countless marketing ploys as publishers and authors try new gimmicks to sell their works of fiction online. Creative merchandising will proliferate. Everything from subscription models to crowdsourced publishing will be tried, along with other inventions yet to be conceived. Social networks will be stuffed with promotional efforts, subtle, blatant, hash tagged, analyzed, targeted, whatever. Vast amounts of money will be spent on advertising, PR, consultants, all hawking their magic wares.
New things will be tried. And that’s bad? Some may work too. Good stories and lots of them will still win. Vast amounts of money on PR? Stop thinking like tradpub…
Your turn, folks.