Why should we look at the entire industry?

This question came up recently in comments – why should we, on MGC, report on what The Big 5 (4?) are doing, or on B&N?

1. There’s scope and scale. What business are we in? We’re in the entertainment business. We’re competing with every other entertainer out there for Joe Sixpack’s beer money – and for Jane Doe’s attention span when she wants something to take her mind off the fact that she’s in a waiting room.

Therefore, it’s good to pay some attention to the entire industry, and recognize how people want to be entertained, and what they like. The rise of Netflix brought Binge-watching to our vocabulary as a standard behaviour, which reinforced that many people like to devour everything an entertainer puts out, and then move on to the next thing – whether entire seasons of Dirty Jobs or Grey’s Anatomy, or every book in the Mercy Thompson series. This reinforced what’s now common wisdom to have all of your backlist out there and easily linked, so readers can work their way through the series and find the rest of your books.

The Martian, meanwhile, proved that there’s a huge market for hard scifi – normally considered a niche of the SF niche, which in turn is dwarfed by fantasy in the SF/F section.

Publishing – not counting movies or music, just books – is a multi-billion dollar industry. Yes, billion with a b, and not just one. And as an indie publisher, you are not “just” an indie author, you are a one-person publishing business (two person, in our house, three in the Hoyt’s house). It’s wise to know what’s going on with the other businesses, even if it’s just knowing what the trend and direction is going. If you were, instead, a one-person shop customizing trucks for off-road use, it’s still useful to keep an eye on what the auto industry is doing in general. If the manufacturers are suddenly unable to move new trucks, you know that either trucks aren’t selling (so there aren’t going to be many new ones to modify, which is one problem – you may want to branch into modifying cars), or that people are hanging onto their old ones (so you may want to market your shop as “Worn out suspension? Replace it with a 2″ lift kit for only $XX!”)

2. Markets may open. When Amazon first broke open the floodgates with the indie epub revolution, resistance to one-person presses getting into bookstores or on library shelves was near-total. There were ways around it, but they required massive amounts of time and energy. Over 10 years later, you can get onto Overdrive, and Expanded Distribution is an option. Getting into small indie bookstores is a lot easier – if you’re willing to put in the work that makes it easy for the bookstores to carry you. B&N has, like Borders before it, been staunchly against putting indies on shelves or letting smaller presses bid for co-op… and as they’re going away, it’s good to track the rise of smaller indie bookstores and the new distribution models that do not rely on reserve against returns or the old consignment system with a 6-week shelf life. Print dollars still way outnumber ebook dollars spent, and there are still many people who like print books – so that’s a market you may want to learn about and enter.

3. Markets may close. On the other hand, B&N isn’t just a physical bookstore. If you’re wide, Nook may or may not be one of the outlets that’s selling your books. (It is, for some indies, and some are making a healthy income stream on it.) So keeping an eye on what’s happening to one of your income streams is a very good idea… as is preparing to be able to tell your readers what to do when they write you, distraught because they can’t access your books anymore (because bankruptcy).

Even as indie, there’s no guarantee a distribution channel won’t run out of money and fold without warning, leaving you out royalties owed and customers without their books – like All RomanceEbooks did. So it’s good to know the state of the industry and the health of the players, and to be wise and wary… and if you’re in Nook, I wouldn’t count the royalties they say are incoming until they’re actually in the bank. (And be aware that bankruptcy court can claw back payments made just prior to filing bankruptcy.)

All our income comes from readers who buy our books. Have a plan to be sympathetic and how you will deal with your readers when the crash happens, because not being plugged into publishing, they may have no idea this is coming, and may have no backups of the books they love. And it doean’t matter whose fault it is – the publisher is invisible to the reader (as many a trad pub author who’s gotten complaints about covers or copyediting can attest.)

4. Indie now doesn’t mean indie always and indie alone. Sarah Hoyt, Dave Freer, and Margaret Ball on this site alone, started Trad Pub. They have books with the Big 5, Books with a medium-sized publisher (Baen), and indie books. Peter Grant started indie, and now has books with one small publisher (Castalia) and is an anthology with a medium publisher (Baen). Being indie is a publication option, not a mandate. As such, it’s wise to keep tabs on the industry at large and at small – because no matter how good the contract is, if the company folds right after you get the signing bonus and before you get the turn-in bonus? Your work is tied up as part of the company’s IP, and you’ll have to wait like every other unsecured creditor to see if it’s going to be sold off (and to whom) in bankruptcy court.

If your small, medium, or large press is selling through B&N / Nook (as they do), and it goes under – then you can count on your publisher not getting paid, and having unsold inventory disappearing into that hot mess. Which means your publisher may have cash flow problems – and depending on how thin their margin or profit, and how shallow their reserves, that could take the publishers down, too. Which can turn into a much bigger pile of problems… and, for people who are trying to sell to a hungry market, a bigger pile of opportunities, too. So stay nimble, and stay aware!

20 thoughts on “Why should we look at the entire industry?

  1. if you write similar stuff as your tradpub work, in your indie stuff, then theoretically you should see people picking up indie stuff who discover you thru tradpub… thus, one foot in tradpub is not entirely bad, and also, keeping abreast of what is going on there is not entirely bad wither.

  2. “This question came up recently in comments – why should we, on MGC, report on what The Big 5 (4?) are doing, or on B&N?”
    [insert tilted labrador head here]
    Why should a blog about writing and publishing, concentrate so much on the writing and publishing industry and the issues that affect it?



    1. Reasoning was that trad pub is fast becoming obsolete. Given how possible it is to be a huge success indy, why are the Big 5 worth covering in much detail? My own phrasing, which may not accurately represent the original.

      1. okay, I think I get it now, but still, if one ignored the expiring gorilla in the room, the decay and any action the spiteful beast makes in its throws, might well affect the rest of the bailiwick.

    2. On the one hand, my initial reaction wasn’t far off yours – on the other, I’m glad that people felt free enough to ask it here. Because when one person asks a question, several others were usually thinking it… and this makes it a great opportunity to help them understand.

      Often it’s a problem of perspective – either the person is concentrating so hard on the specific niche that they really only want information on that niche, or that their worldview has indie set apart as a separate thing.

      In aviation, I’ve seen people get so focused on aviation itself that they forget they’re competing against all other forms of recreation – or all other forms of transportation. When you’re trying to market airplane camping in the Rockies as a really awesome way to have fun, you’re competing against RV’s, against hiking in, as well as renting a cabin or car-camping.

      So, I give the best answer I can!

      1. (~_^) when you said “airplane camping in the Rockies” I thought “What? Do you crash in the mountains and then camp for enjoyment? Camping at the airport is loud, and if jets are around, possibly very very windy . . . ”
        my mind is working in odd(er) ways today

          1. I really like the earbuds for the com. Those were not about when I last was in a C172.
            Though, it would seem you’d need to hike a lot unless some other transport was available (folding bikes or e-bikes sound good if you’ve the lift).

  3. ANd what happens to medium publisher Baen if the Big Four houses that handle them do not take well to B&N changing a great deal? You should definitely be covering the issue, though I confess that I gave up on trying to sell my occasional sf novel through a trad publisher. Besides. if the large trad publishers cease to advance, the market for indie books improves.

    1. Not necessarily. The case could be made that there is a certain amount of minimum supply volume needed to keep the casuals purchasing, and that indy could not replace that quickly enough. Hasn’t sci fi seen a volume decline due to a shortage of good sci fi in a grey-dark sea?

      The situation with Amazon and Author Earnings perhaps makes sense if Amazon wants someone unaffiliated doing what AE does as some way to influence Trad Pub into covering risks or Indy into being capable of replacing Trad Pub. Because thinking about it now, Amazon should have gamed out the possibility that Trad Pub goes under when BN does. What’s Amazon’s strategy to mitigate that risk?

  4. I’ll be sad to see Nook fold – I had a handful of fans through Nook, and I disliked limiting myself to only the Kindle platform for ebooks. Fortunately, Draft2Digital covers a good portion of the other formats out there, so all my ebook eggs are not in a single Amazon basket…

    1. I will have to look at draft2digital. I have been using smashwords,kdp, kdp paperback, and Third Millennium (3mpub.com).

      With respect to the vast gray sea of epubs, what is needed is a good review source to match RocketStackRank’s coverage of shorter works. The N3F n3f.org is trying to get one off the ground, but it is easier said than done.

    2. The Nook uses the epub e-book format. But that is also the file format used by the iBooks app that comes native on all Apple devices. Seems as though a great many readers are using their iPhones, iPads, and laptops instead of a dedicated reader.
      I actually prefer iBooks and the epub format on my Mac even though I also have the Kindle for the Mac app loaded and running.

      1. EPUB is also the best format to upload to Amazon for conversion to Kindle; in fact their Mobi and KF8 format are more-or-less EPUB files with different packaging. (The new KFX format supporting “enhanced typesetting” is a different beast, but even that is created by somewhat straightforward conversion from EPUB format.)

  5. I don’t look on MGC as a “writing and publishing” blog. It is a blog about the business of providing interesting and/or entertaining written material to consumers, for a price.

    Writing is only a part of that business. So is publishing. So is marketing. So is intellectual property law. So is business intelligence. There are plenty of sources for each of those parts – but, honestly, not all that many that try to cover all of it.

  6. I’ve learned more about the industry from MGC than from anywhere else, so I have no problem.

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