Traditional publishing strikes out again
If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know I am an advocate of finding your own path when it comes to publishing. Some writers have no qualms going the indie route. They don’t shy away from having to make sure they find good editors and proofreaders, good cover designers, etc. Others would rather focus just on writing and choose to go the traditional route, whether it is with one of the larger traditional publishers or with a small press. What path you take is one only you can choose. However, it is imperative for you to keep track of what is happening in the industry so you can make an informed decision about what is best for you.
Part of that is keeping track of sales. Not just your sales but overall industry trends. For the last several years, we’ve been hearing traditional publishers declare that they are rebounding from the loss of sales when e-books first became popular. We’ve heard about the way print sales are coming back. We’ve been treated to stories about how more readers are turning away from e-books. We’ve even seen stories that try to warn us away from e-books because of the evils of screen time.
Except, a close study of the hard facts prove this so-called rebound isn’t nearly as impressive as the trads would have us believe. Author Earnings has been stripping away the rhetoric for several years now. A quick look at the latest report shows that while the trads are still making more money, their sales are shrinking. There will come a point, sooner rather than later, when that decrease in sales will start to seriously impact their bottom line.
Oh, wait, that has already started happening. Not that we will see the trads admitting it. When a company or industry loses 10% of its sales one year to the next, that is usually an indication something is wrong. That is exactly what happened last year in traditional publishing. It lost 10% of its e-book sales. In 2016, trad publishing sold 180 million e-book units. That number dropped to 162 million in 2017. That is a pretty substantial drop. Yet, traditional publishing denies there is a problem. Instead, it spouts the old mantra that it simply means readers are turning back to print.
Nope. At least not according to Jonathan Stolper, former SVP for Neilsen Book. According to Stolper that drop in number of units sold comes down to one simple factor: the price of e-books. Whether traditional publishers want to admit it or not, their readers — their customers — aren’t idiots. They understand the economics involved in an e-book vs. print books. They don’t buy that it takes almost as much money to produce and e-book as it does a print book, especially not when the print book is being produced at the same time as the e-book. An e-books doesn’t have to be re-edited. It doesn’t have to have a new cover designed. There are no storage and transportation costs. Yet traditional publishers continue to try to tell us an e-book costs them as much as a “real” book.
Except we know better. We understand what they are doing. They are trying to save their failing print divisions by sacrificing their e-book divisions. In other words, traditional publishers are still trying to bring back the buggy whip while the rest of us are looking for our aircars. Does this mean traditional publishing will disappear? Not in the short term. But it does mean we will continue to see imprints disappear, orphaning who knows how many authors and their books in the process. It may mean seeing one, or more, of the Big 5 being absorbed by a competitor. After all, it hasn’t been that long since the Big 5 were the Big 6.
So what are readers buying if they aren’t buying the expensive traditionally publishing e-books? They are buying indie produced e-books. According to Jeff Bezos, Amazon had at least 1,000 indie authors earning $100,000 or more in 2017. How many traditionally publishing authors making that amount were there that year? The more important question is this: if e-books are a fading fad, why and how did so many indie authors manage to make that much money in a single year?
The answer is simple. Unlike what the trads are telling us, indie authors are professionals who take pride in their work. They make sure to put out the best product they can. Unlike trads, they price their work for the market. When you look at the number of units sold, indie produced e-books far outweigh the traditionally produced ones. The pendulum is swinging and not in traditional publishing’s favor.
There is another factor to consider, both as an author and as a reader, when it comes to books. That fact is time. How long does it take from the moment an author finishes the final version of a book and it manages to go on sale? For an indie, it depends on whether they have a set publishing schedule, what sort of promo they do, etc. I know very few indies who have to wait much more than a month from the time they figuratively, if not literally, type -90- at the end of their manuscript to when they pull the plug on publishing their book. Depending on the speed an author has in writing a book and how quickly they get back editorial comments, an author can easily put out several books — or more — a year. They aren’t limited to waiting for a publication slot to open like they do with traditional publishing.
We’ve heard stories about how a book might be a year or more in the publisher’s hands before it sees the light of day. The Passive Voice pointed out a situation where Macmillan, a major publisher, has had a book since 2016 and it has yet to hit the shelves. In fact, it won’t until January 2019. While this wouldn’t normally stand out to me, this particular book does because it has a built in audience, a very large built in audience. The author has used Wattpad to fine tune the manuscript. It currently has more than 900,000 reads. And yet Macmillan has not pushed to have the book come out sooner than 2019.
When you have something you can see tangible proof it has a good chance of succeeding, why are you dragging your feet and not bringing it out just as soon as you can?
That, to me, indicates there is something broken in the industry. Something they should be able to see but they don’t.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying “do your research and decide which route works best for you.” But, if you want to see your book for sale in less than a year, don’t look at going with any of the large publishers. It is a rare book indeed that comes out quickly from them. There are alternatives if you don’t want to go indie but do your research. Find out what their turnaround time is. Look at other books they’ve put out and see if they are well edited, have good looking covers that signal genre. Look at what sort of promo, if any, they do. Then weigh that, along with their royalty rates, against giving up full control (and taking on full responsibility) for your work.
But don’t fall for the propaganda coming out of the mouths of the Big 5 publishers. Look at the facts and figures yourselves and make an informed decision. For me, indie and small press is the way to go and that means I need to get back to work.