How Will Publishing Look After Covid-19?
Let’s start with a singular truth many of us don’t think about when considering the publishing industry. It consists of much more than the publishing houses. There are distributors, like Simon & Schuster which is now on the auction block. There are the various contractors who work for publishers, including editors, proofreaders and even those who design the interior and exterior of a book. There are the bookstores and online merchants. Each of these have been impacted over the last decade plus by changes in technology, changes in reading habits and by Amazon and other online retailers. But nothing will impact them like Covid-19, thanks to actions taken by local, state and national governments.
I’m going to do my best not to make this a political post. That’s not what MGC is here for. But it does play a part in what is happening to the industry right now. No business is going to come out of this withing being negatively impacted by the shutdown we’re facing right now. People are out of work or working from home. They aren’t going to malls. They aren’t visiting stores like they used to. In short, they aren’t making impulse buys like they used to. Unless it is for toilet paper, masks and hand sanitizer.
Despite all the stories we’ve seen coming out of publishing’s ivory towers over the last few years, publishing has been in trouble. We know that. They know that. They just don’t want to admit it. But there isn’t much they can do to hide the fact this damned virus is going to decimate them. Yet, we aren’t hearing much from the publishers. The closest I’ve seen (and I’ll admit, I haven’t looked very hard) is this from Beth Meacham who is an editor, iirc, at Tor.
She lays out a number of concerns, all of which are legitimate. Paper supplies are curtailed right now. Bookstores are not seen as “essential” businesses and have been ordered closed across most of the country. Oh, they can operate for curbside pickup or delivery, but that doesn’t make up for the loss of business. However, her very first paragraph show the disconnect and shows how publishers have failed to take into account the reality that supply chains can be disrupted at the drop of a hat.
First, you need to know that the vast majority of our business remains in hardcover and paperback books. Hard copies, physical objects. The second strongest sector has been audio books. Ebooks are a distant third.
That failure has prevented them from expanding on digital markets, mainly because publishers don’t want to admit things have changed.
Yet, at the same time we see things like this, we get stories like this. Yes, it is from the Guardian, so it is suspect. But it is also something I have found myself doing and something I have seen with my sales numbers the last month. Readers want to read. Now they have more time for it. Reading is an escape. And they so want to escape right now.
Yet, the traditional publishers, especially the Big 5, aren’t working to take advantage of the situation. At a time when they should be trying to incentivize (hey, that is so a word) readers to buy digitally, they aren’t. Oh, I have seen a couple of backlist books put into KU for a very limited time, but nothing that has been for a current series or for a recent release. Why? Because publishers don’t want to let readers know this is possible. They want to continue pushing print books because that is where they see their money being made–which is foolish if you know economics.
What will happen to these publishers when we seen bookstores closing? Let’s face it. Not every store will reopen after this crisis passes. B&N is at least trying to use this downtime for remodeling, etc. But, in the meantime, a large percentage of its workforce, both on the store side and at corporate, have been furloughed. Employees that have been with the stores less than six months, iirc, have been let go. I’m sure the company is working to try to get rent breaks but there is no guarantee they will. For a company already in financial trouble, one that has lost the confidence of the reading public, what guarantee is there that it will survive the shutdown? Or, if it does, that it will be anything but a pale shadow of its previous self.
So what are we, as authors, supposed to do?
Keep writing. We are in a unique position as indies because we aren’t reliant on the traditional publishing to get our books out. We can choose which online outlets to use. We can control our prices and we can publish when and how often we want.
And that means we can lower our prices right now if we want. Yes, it is mercenary in a way because we are trying to make sales. But we are also helping by lowering prices so those folks who are worried about finances right now can afford our work. We can also put our work into programs like Kindle Unlimited that allows readers to “borrow” or books for a flat monthly rate. We still get paid and they get value for their money.
It works for both sides of the equation.
So, along that line, all of my novels except Risen from Ashes are on sale right now. I’d planned on taking them back to regular price yesterday but have decided to leave the lower prices in place at least until next week. You can find a list of all my titles on my Amazon author page.
(And authors, if you want to lower your prices and have already used up your KU sales days, you can manually lower your prices and note that it is for a limited time in your product description. You just have to remember to go back in and change the prices back and remove the sales verbiage from the description.)
For now, stay safe and don’t go stir crazy while staying at home.