The last week or so has been anything but smooth sailing for traditional publishing. You could almost believe the success of Brandon Sanderson’s oh so successful Kickstarter campaign kicked off a time of bad press and potentially horrible decisions by trad publishing that will have a long-lasting impact on the industry for not only editors and writers but readers as well.
Let’s start with yet another attempt by publishing to limit access to e-books by public libraries and, therefore, their patrons. I’ve written about this in the past as have others Mad Ones here. Basically, many traditional publishers have historically charged libraries a much higher fee for e-books than they do the individual “purchaser”. Not only do they charge libraries much higher prices, but these same publishers limit the use of the license to a number of check-outs or put a time limit on the “lease”. In other words, once that best selling e-book the library licensed has been checked out x-number of times, they have to buy a new license.
Now, on the surface, that doesn’t seem so bad. However, consider print books. Libraries are allow to either buy the book or they lease them. They do so without–in the vast majority of cases–any limit on the number of times the book can be checked out. But ooooooh, e-books are different. According to the publishers, there’s some sort of copyright violation by allowing unlimited checkouts without huge fees being assessed to the library.
What they don’t ever explain in reasonable terms, imo, is why it is different for e-books than for print books. Of course, these are the same publishers who think readers are foolish enough to believe an e-book should cost close to, or even more, than a print version of the same book for “reasons”. So I guess this shouldn’t surprise me.
For more info, check out this article.
But what really lit up Twitter and other social media outlets this past week was the “great resignations”. What really happened were some mid-level to low-level editors resigned and, for once, weren’t silent about it. When this handful of editors spoke out, others who earlier left the industry joined the discussion. Basically, they complained of being over-worked, under-appreciated and prevented from promotion by their more experienced and technologically-challenged supervisors.
None of which I doubt.
Nor do I doubt the same culture exists in other segments of the trad publishing industry.
What I find hard to do is pull together a great deal of sympathy for many of these who are now crying “foul!” when it comes to publishing companies eating their own. We’ve seen it happen for years. We saw it when so many of the mid-listers, many of whom were solid sellers the houses could count on year after year to not only put out enjoyable books but books that sold to a solid fanbase, were let go without warning. Books were canceled, contracts not renewed. And why? Because trad houses wanted to chase the next big thing and kept making poor choices that cost the houses big money and the short-sighted bean counters or someone thought the best way to recover the money was to get rid of the guaranteed money-makers.
It wasn’t all that long ago when we saw other lower level editors and support staff leaving or being let go. Again, it was because of poor financial decisions made by the houses and their solution wasn’t to change business plans but to cut employees. Add to that the deluded idea that publishers have to remain locked in NYC and its environs because that is where it has always been. Instead of saving money, and offering employees the choice of living in less expensive areas, publishers want to stay where they have always been because of some cachet only they seem to value.
Will either of these be the death knoll of traditional publishing? No. But trad publishing continues to show the idiocy of its business models and its refusal to adapt to changing times. Add to that the terror that probably went through the industry as news of Sanderson’s success on Kickstarter and you have some very worried and upset folks in NYC right now. I have no doubt there have been discussions with editors everywhere warning what will happen if another major author pulls “a Sanderson”. All those dollars pledged on Kickstarter could have come into the publisher’s pocket. Why didn’t it happen?
I again applaud Sanderson for what he did. I wish publishers would learn to adapt and adopt like he–and other traditionally published authors–have.
For more on the editors walking, check out this article.