Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Change is a Giant Steamroller

This is the way it was: if you were self-published or even small press, you had trouble (sometimes insurmountable trouble) getting your book in chain bookstores. That’s reality. You had to be creative. You had to do independent guerrilla marketing. You had to hand-sell at book fairs and other small outlets. You went to small stores, organizations, groups and asked to sell your books. If your book was about wine or had a wine-related theme, you went to wine and liquor stores, you turned to wine enthusiasts and wine magazines or organizations. You hustled and sold the book yourself, one or two or ten at a time.

You usually got a bigger piece of the profit when you did that, but it was a rough road and took over your life. But you had those smaller, customized, unique outlets to target. If the big bookstores and book chains wouldn’t take you, you had the other unpaved road to travel.

This is the way it’s changing: the big houses are muscling in on your territory. And if you couldn’t compete with them to get into the major book stores, how you gonna compete in the niche market?

This past weekend, Guardian Unlimited came out with an article about how the US publishing industry is competing in the custom outlets. If you’re a self-published or small press author, the article will give you a chill.

The major houses have the means, the pull, and the money. They not only are getting into the niche markets for their authors, “cheese shops, cattle markets, hardware stores, butchers and office supply chains,” they’re doing things like color coding book covers to complement stock in those places. They’re reprinting books to match shop d├ęcor. They’re creating books to suit new outlets. They’re getting their authors on QVC.

Take the publisher Penguin and author Todd Wilbur. Penguin published a one-off volume of Wilbur’s recipes to get him on QVC. “They billed it as a unique product that could only be bought there and then. In one day, with just five slots of airtime of six minutes each, they sold 100,000 copies of the volume.”

Now, I’m not saying the big publishing houses are demons out to kill off the small authors. They have bottom lines to worry about. They have authors they are committed to support and want to succeed. This isn’t a big conspiracy.

But this kind of a trend can’t be good for the independent authors. And it’s not like the self-pubbed and small press authors can depend on the Internet for sales. The big houses have already found that source, too.

Fewer books are being published. More authors are turning to small press or self-publishing. But if they can’t sell, what does this mean for the industry? Will the landscape totally change? Will authors find new ways and places to market their books? Will they thrive? Merely survive? Disappear?

Doesn’t matter whether you’re published with a big house, a small house or by yourself. You want to be a success. The question now is how do you do that?

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