Keeping up with the times

Over the last few days, I’ve been part of a discussion with some other writers in my area about publishing. Specifically, about whether or not traditional publishers are keeping up with the times. One of our group still holds out hope that traditional publishing will return to its glory days, bookstores  will once again show up in major numbers and they will have their books prominently on display. Unfortunately, the latter isn’t going to happen, at least not the bookstore culture of the last several decades. Locally owned indie bookstores are popping up, but they are more speciality stores, catering to a very set customer base. Unless B&N manages to adapt, it isn’t long for the world. So what about traditional publishing?

It, too, is facing a continuing decline. Too many publishers are worried about “educating” their readers and making them into the “right sort” of people than they are in entertaining. Others have chosen to step away fro their core readers. They have tried to embrace the new trends in publishing and, in doing so, have alienated a number of those readers who once bought everything those houses bought.

But it goes beyond that. These publishers continue to grasp onto the hope that ebooks and Indies will slink off into the sunset. You see this when you look at the New York Times best seller lists. Even though ebooks make up a major portion of the market now, the Times doesn’t have a list for just ebooks. Instead, they have a combined list for print and digital. Why? Because publishers don’t want to acknowledge ebooks are a major portion of the market.

But why are these publishers taking this stance?

There are a variety of reasons why they might be. The first is that long lasting hope I mentioned earlier that ebooks will disappear. The second is that by acknowledging their importance in the market, publishers might be forced to re-evaluate their business plan and we know that ain’t gonna happen. The third is they don’t want authors realizing the market had changed and they could leave traditional publishers and make as much–or more–as an indie author.

If publishers would simply admit the market has changed, they could expand their income pool. It would be simple for them to have digital only releases. These would be less costly for the publishers because there would be no printing costs, no storage costs, no shipping costs, etc. But that would be to admit ebooks are here to stay and most publishers aren’t going to do that. Just like they won’t admit they could sell more ebooks if they dropped the price. They’d rather sell one book at $12.99 than five at $4.99.

It doesn’t make sense but little about this industry does, at least not from the traditional viewpoint.

Taking a look at the Amazon Kindle best sellers list this morning, 38 of the top 100 books were enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. That is a pretty good indicator that not only are those books indie or small press published, but they are available only on Amazon. Common sense says there are at least a handful of others that are indie or small press books that are on the list but aren’t enrolled in KU. So, somewhere north of 40% of the best sellers on Amazon as of 0630 this morning are not traditionally published.

If you look at the most read books on Amazon, six of the top 10 are Harry Potter books. Yes, they were initially traditionally published but they are now released through Rowling’s own company, Pottermore. And they are part of KU. Nine of the top 20 are part of KU. That is just shy of 50%.

But ebooks and indie/small presses aren’t here to stay, at least not if trads have their way.

The number of indie books sold and/or read would increase if we had the push (read promotional money) traditional publishers have. Yes, it’s a hard road but it is one we can navigate. We are navigating it and we don’t need traditional publishers to tell us if we are doing it right or not. That is what our readers are for.

So, if you want to go the traditional route, good luck. The indie route isn’t for everyone. All I ask is that you do your homework. That you realize the life of a writer isn’t what you see on TV and certainly isn’t like Castle.

And on that note, I have to get back to work. I have a book to finish editing.

36 thoughts on “Keeping up with the times

  1. Are you sure it’s not like Castle?

    Dang it.

    (Also, I ought to find out if the first seasons of Castle are streaming anywhere.)

  2. Some people value peer-group prestige more than money.
    (shrug) Which wouldn’t be nearly as big a deal if they were less successful gaining leadership positions in large corporations.
    But I’d hate to have to rely on one for my paycheck.
    Although I *do* appreciate the argument that the total price of printing, transporting, warehousing, transporting, stocking, and selling adds up to less than a dollar/ book, so e-books shouldn’t be cheaper.
    Absurdist low comedy backed by impenetrable condescension suits my dark sense of humor quite well.

    1. Traditional publishers are in the Paper Brick business. The cost differential of delivering story means they’re dead. They’re dead men walking.
      And yet, indies, conditioned to the idea only trad is right, will often (literally) sell their souls for traditional stamp of approval.
      I don’t get it.

      1. Oh, I get it. If somebody asks what I do and I say I write novels, the response is usually “Oh, have you had anything published yet?” And it’s not until I reel off a list of my trad publications that they begin to think I’m Real.

        1. This really burns me, not as an author but as one of your fans. I still remember walking into a Waldenbooks one day and telling one of the clerks there that I wanted to get back into SF but I was not a fan of what the genre was turning into in the 90s. The clerk asked a few questions and then took me straight to your books with Anne McCaffrey. I’ve been a fan since then. It wasn’t because you were published by a traditional publisher but because you write damned good books, entertaining books.

        2. Sure. I know that. But the answer for that is the brass face and the name of your owned publisher. “I’m currently published by Goldport Press. Very exclusive.”
          Of course it helps that I’m three people, about to be four or five.

  3. Not all trad pub is like that….trad pub fiction, YES.

    However, the “trad pub” presses for software developers (e.g. O’Reilly, Manning, Packt) are much more forward looking, with much better support of e-books, videos, unlimited access, and such. I think they get the fact that they’re competing with blogs, Q&A sites, youtube videos, Udemy classes, etc, and need to provide value. If trad pub fiction had even a smidgen of their approach, it would be in a much better position.

    1. Actually, I’ll disagree some with you on the textbook issue. There are more and more publishers limiting access to their digital textbooks, making them too expensive to buy. This is something I started seeing when my son was in college and continue to see.

      1. There’s a big difference between the “Python in a Nutshell”-type books that Tony was talking about and the “The Science of Life”-type books that are required for college classes. The former knows that their audience is adults who have other options; the latter is depending on teachers forcing their students to buy them.

        The textbooks will probably survive as long as the current college model does. Sure, as the prices get higher, students will be motivated to pirate something, and some professors will look for alternatives. However, I think there are enough professors who get royalties from those books and enough students who are already paying the equivalent of a house for the “college experience” who won’t care too much about the extra grand or so for the books.

  4. If they dropped the Agatha Christie series to bundles that worked out to less than four bucks a book, I’d buy ’em. For me. And for my mom. And my cousin. And my other cousin…..

    1. Foxfier, if they could do math and logic they probably wouldn’t have a Masters in English. No offense to anyone here who does, since they know it’s true.

    2. It’s SO MUCH Worse than that Fox. I bought an Agatha Christie bundle. I need to get someone to crack it and allow me to format it. THERE IS NO INTERNAL divisions in this. You can’t navigate the book. It sucks as to formatting.

      1. …..holy crud.

        So they just scanned the library books I just mentioned to Banshee, and dropped that in.


        They are in competition with Paramount to see who can be the most insanely stupid with valuable IP.

        1. Yep. SERIOUSLY, traditional publishing has NO CLUE. I want to bitch-slap indies who deliver themselves to this machine.
          Because the crash is going to come and their IP will go down with it.
          Look, I had no other choice. It was the only game in town. But now? Criminally stupid. Particularly if you have a career in indie and are making a living.

      2. Sarah, I ran into that same issue with Lawdog’s books; they apparently have no TOC. I went through and put bookmarks in Kindle at the first page of each story/chapter, saved them, and voila: I now have a TOC.

          1. Yeah, there is that. I wonder if I re-downloaded it as a .mobi file if it would still have the bookmarks, too.

    3. There’s a 99 cent “Agatha Christie Premium Collection,” which I think is all US public domain Christies.

      There’s a 69 dollar complete Miss Marple collection, which is over 5 bucks a pop for books older than most of their readers. But since Harper Collins is charging 10 bucks a pop for individual books, it’s actually pretty decent, for them.

      But since they’re raising the prices on library books and ebooks…. I don’t know what the heck they’re thinking.

      1. Yeah, I seriously considered the $5/each Miss Marple…but IIRC they’re also half short stories.

        And the book I got at the library– the Complete Miss Marple, all the short stories and the books– isn’t offered anymore.


      1. It ‘worked’ for Beanie Babies for a while. Now? A toy bought twenty years ago for $10 is usually worth … $10 – if there’s a buyer. As an investment, dry white rice would have been better.

  5. Tradpub thinks that if they wave the right things, make the right noises, and build the right buildings, the magical silver planes will return and bring the manna from heaven. But, the Gods of Copybook Heading have watched as things changed and they won’t change back to how it used to be-even if that how it used to be only existed in their imagination.

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