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.

Image by Natalia Lavrinenko from Pixabay

24 thoughts on “How Will Publishing Look After Covid-19?

    1. *Comments a bunch of random youtube videos on unrelated posts.* Muppet Treasure Island, Cabin Fever. The World Has Gone Insane, Hope of Morning, I Wanna Get Well, etc.

  1. Yeah, major uncertainty here were tradpub is concerned. Industry post incident may well be different enough that it never becomes worth checking back on the Courtney Milan/RWA thing, Hugo, and all the author specific wokestorms in tradpub.

    We need more virus data to in order to adjust to some new normal. And we need to adjust to a new normal before we can really get the data to figure out if there is a future for tradpub, and other such. Amazon is such a big distributor for books, and Amazon is not immune to impact from this, because part of its business is physical distribution. Lots of uncertainty generally.

    I think y’all have the right idea where your indy businesses are concerned.

    Sadly, I cannot help more. I’ve done some, even with a tight budget. More pressing issue is my schedule, not being able to afford much reading time, and only having so much temptation I can let myself have at one time. I’ll probably be buying more from y’all before this ends.

  2. “Most of that paper is manufactured in China. Guess what isn’t coming from China?”

    Crappy Chinese paper is part of why I don’t even bother looking at new paper books anymore. It’s ugly to read from, and lacks all durability.

    1. It is incredible to me that the Chinese buy Canadian timber and ship it, make shitty paper out of it and then ship it back, still at a lower price than Canadian paper mills.

      It would be tempting to blame unions [because I hate unions], but realistically labor cost couldn’t possibly account for that. This is all down to government regulation. The difference between Canadian paper and Chinese is the cost of regulation, tax, and general interference.

      And for all the Greenies screaming “PAPER COMPANIES!!!! POLLUTION!!!!!!!11!!!” at their screens right now, guess what? Your efforts at destroying the Canadian paper industry did not reduce pollution. Not even one tiny bit.

      All you did was move it to China. Way to go.

      Oh, and make it -so- much worse than it ever was in Canada. Plus destroying the Canadian economy and making us rely on the enemies of our nation. That would be the Chicoms. They don’t really like us.

      1. Same thing they do with scrap iron… buy it cheap from us, turn it into ‘product’ that bends and rusts and falls apart, and sell it back to us. Rinse and repeat until we give up on metal products and turn to plastic. (Based on a true story.)

  3. When I put two books on “free” last month, the first Shikari novel flew out the door. So that entire series is now on sale until things start to improve with the economy.

    I’ve pushed forward the release of several books, and started a new series [OK, it grabbed me by the throat, and then readers started demanding “MOOAARRRR!!!” Yipes!] My sales have gone up. I write escapist, happy-ending stories. That’s what readers seem to want right now.

    Book Trivia: In 2018 or 2019, the Wall Street Journal had an article about how the coming-of-age novel _A Tree Grows in Brooklyn_ became a surprise best seller among GIs during WWII. It is sweet, happy, domestic, and just what the guys wanted both as a brain break [modern term] and as a reminder of what they were fighting for and what they wanted to come home to.

    1. “I write escapist, happy-ending stories. That’s what readers seem to want right now.”

      Yes, no kidding. ~:D Difference this month is that they’re stuck at home and NEED some happy ending stories, which are in very short supply. Congrats on the increased sales!

  4. I think the fear of e-publishing is that they can’t lie to themselves. They can fudge the number of sales to bookstores and ignore that quite a few books go from there to secondary locations or are tossed. E-pub means that a sale is a direct sale from the publisher to the customer, and they would have to see what the customers are wanting.

    You know, those dirty deplorable Trump voters that don’t live in Manhattan (or, at worse, New York proper)? Who don’t know what they actually want, and should be getting all the Woke books that are out there?

    To bring e-pub even as a near-parity equal would require them to face that old joke about the dog food company. The customers don’t like what they’re being sold. And, the publishers can’t sell what the customers want…because they don’t believe in it.

    1. I think your first sentence is right, but not quite for the right reasons.

      The thing is, the reason why book publishers were able to pose as the guardians of culture against sub-literary dreck was because they had access to the means of production and distribution of books, and ordinary people really didn’t–and as long as hardcopy/deadtree was the only way that people could access books, that situation would maintain.

      Even once ebooks came along, as long as most people stayed with hardcopy, the publishers could maintain their illusions. If, however, that situation changed, the publishers’ access to printing facilities and bookstore distribution networks was suddenly going to become much less of an advantage than it used to be. This would mean that, in order to remain profitable, they would need to start actually not treating authors like Kleenex and readers like mushrooms, and that would require them to start actually working. It’s little wonder that they’ve been reluctant to embrace the ebook revolution.

  5. > Yet, the traditional publishers, especially the Big 5, aren’t working to take advantage of the situation.

    That’s because the traditional publishers aren’t about reading. They’re just going through the overt motions of how the business was run before it was gutted and put on like a skin suit by the pod people who are running it now.

    As far as I can tell tradpub’s real business is money laundering.

  6. If someone here owns a book store, a riddle: Gun stores are claimed to enjoy Second Amendment protection and are essential. Why do book stores not enjoy First Amendment protection?

    1. Strictly speaking, I have a protected right to make a book. I do not have a protected right to purchase a certain title. Consider the accessibility of scientific publications to the layman, without access to a university library, and without knowledge of how to contact the authors to request a PDF for personal study.

      Whereas, the 2nd is pretty clearly including purchasers under the protection, and there is less explicit protection of manufacture.

      Under this interpretation, it should be possible for booksellers to collude to refuse to sell certain titles to certain individuals.

      Fun thought: it should be possible to, as an essential business, ban media companies from accepting advertising monies for the duration of the emergency. Also, banning journalists from receiving payment for their ‘work’. Without violating the first amendment.

    2. I can buy a new book at any time, without any qualifications (other than Amazon making sure my debit card is valid). Shipped right to my door, or sent to my Kindle.

      I cannot buy a new firearm without going to a licensed dealer’s shop – where I will be required to prove that I am not a felon, a domestic abuser, half a dozen other qualifications. They also do not deliver. (At least not the ones that I give my business to.)

  7. In my one (1) published book experience, Kindle Unlimited is giving me a steady drip of readers. Single-purchase ebooks are much lower. This is the reverse of what I expected going in.

    I’ve decided due to the lockdown to get Book Two out there. Cover is the hangup again, so I may go with the same cover and a different girl. Maybe give her an axe this time.

  8. While I much prefer my Nook, I’m also a sucker for a bargain on books. Fortunately I bought the Nook tablet, a Samsung tablet that’s been optimized with Nook apps, but still a tablet, so I get the best of both worlds, I can read my Nook books and Kindle books without carrying an extra reader. So I guess I’m off to Amazon to buy more e-books.

  9. This reader had to shift to digital out of necessity. Baen, of all the publishers, will weather this storm the most. Since they started digital before it was really getting out there via their CD-Roms.

    I’m thinking more places are going to go POD (print on demand.)

    1. Yeah, I started buying off the Baen website back in the late 90s early auts when I bought my first e-reader, a REB1000, then my Franklin e-reader, more books in the mobi format.

  10. Vaguely related, I got the Goodreads monthly email today and scrolled down the offered “comfort” reads. Its the usual thing. It mildly irritated me, momentarily, before I clicked the next email and forgot it.

    But it occurred to me to wonder what it would take to get my crazy book on that Goodreads list. Its a comfort read. Nobody dies, nothing really bad happens to anyone, there’s romance, its nice. Why can’t that be on their list?

    Well, I think there’s a club. (Duh, right? But it struck me this morning.) A not-well-defined club that decides who’s on the list. I’m not in the club. That’s pretty much why, IMHO. It’s not about the content of the book, or the “Quality!!!” of the book, its about the club.

    Could I get into the club? No. I don’t schmooze. Not because I don’t want to, but because my schmoozing efforts are hilariously bad. I am old and horrible with the bad temper and the snarly attitude. [rawr!] No schmoozing. No club membership. Woe is me. ~:(

    However, as we see from Amanda’s post, the club is about to fall on some hard times. Major shake-up times. The entire club and their methods, likes, dislikes, politics etc. may very well fall into widespread societal disrepute. (eg: I think May will be a difficult month for trans-activists to gin up any interest in the 57 Genders thing. Tempers are short.)

    February 2020 may indeed be the last month of business-as-usual for the Cognoscenti Club. Pandemic has a way of focusing the mind on what’s important in life.

    So, maybe my crazy book could have a future after all. Yay! ~:D

  11. “The second strongest sector has been audio books. ”

    Amanda, this is not what I’m seeing from authors on Twitter. They are saying their audiobook sales are crashing, and almost all the replies are some variation on “I listened to audiobooks while driving to the office. I’m not driving to the office, so I’m not buying audiobooks right now.”

    Now my wife listens to audiobooks by preference, but I don’t think she’s typical.

    1. Steve, you are applying what is happening right now. Read the woman’s comment again. It is “has been audio books”. But yeah, it doesn’t surprise me at all that audio books are crashing right now because most folks do listen to them in the car or on mass transit.

      1. Worse, EVERYBODY is home.

        My mom loves audio books, I love podcasts… we have BOTH nearly killed those we live with because the concept of “audiobook/high paced podcast is NOT THE TIME TO CHIT CHAT” simply doesn’t apply, especially when they’re stressed.

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