You Don’t Look So Good
You may have not noticed, but I’m not Jason Cordova. I know this comes as a shock. I mean, we’re both writers, both devastatingly handsome, and he’s almost as brilliant as I am, and while – much like Batman – he and I have rarely been witnessed in the same place at the same time, allow me to confirm that we are indeed separate entities. Also, this is not a plot – nefarious or otherwise – on my part to take over the Friday slot at MGC. I want that stated up front, in no uncertain terms. It’s not like I want more advertising. More articles under my byline. More books sold … bestsellerdom … film options … a burgeoning media empire …
Sorry: I kinda spaced out there, for a moment. The bare facts are Jason has a thing he’s going to do later this month that he wants to write on, so we’re trading slots. Simple as that. Seriously, nothing ulterior or underhanded about it. *cough* That said, he’s going to get into some nuts and bolts about writer-as-business stuff toward which I, for one, am eagerly looking forward.
Get to the point, Dave, I hear you say. That’s right, I heard you mumbling, you in the back. Well, let me fill you in on a little of the back alley RumInt (that’s Rumor Intelligence, for those not in the know: the gouge) that’s floating around my darkened corridors of the Interwebz. Word on the street is that attendance at Book Expo America this week is pretty thin on the ground. One notable attendee with an accounting background suggested an estimate of no more than ten thousand. I’d honestly be surprised if that included vendors, but still. That’s …
Look, nearly two decades ago, BEA had right at 30k attendees, all told, including industry professionals. By 2015, that had slipped to just a bit over 17k. I don’t care who you are, you can’t claim that your industry is healthy when the pre-eminent business gathering – the one where publishers make announcements about upcoming books, and where vendors make purchasing decisions for the year ahead, and where your special events include people of international profile (this year would be an Evening With Hillary Rodham Clinton. I’m crushed that my schedule wouldn’t allow) – has slipped in attendance by that much over not-quite a decade.
If these numbers are legitimate – and I’m taking them right off the pdf of the official BEA fliers they circulate – then tradpub is looking more than a little green around the gills. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the attendance at the major convention is a fair barometer for the general health of an industry. Sit down, tradpub. You aren’t looking so good.
The other half of this is the aggressive – I’d say extortionate – pricing of tradpub ebooks. There’s no reasonable excuse for pricing electrons at the same price as a mass market paperback. No inventory, no printing fees, no additional salaries paid. Everybody works with digital files, and it’s almost push-button simple to format for ebook. (And the too-aggressive pricing of the mmpb, for that matter. Why buy an inferior paper copy of a book when Amazon will sell you the hardcover for not much more? And if you need something for a flight, odds are you’re more interested in an e-copy, anyway.)
Indie is eating tradpub’s lunch, and that’s only going to become more apparent as time goes on. The concern is that while traditional publishers work overtime to prop up shrinking markets (and really, work to ensure those markets shrink even further. I’m looking at you litSF) their tumble into financial insolvency and eventual obscurity is going to make for a rather volatile time for those of us laboring in the word mines.
I don’t really have an answer. I suspect there will be opportunities aplenty for those with the drive to exploit them. Keep writing. Keep publishing. Keep a weather eye out.