Monday, August 02, 2010

Is There an Uprising?

Yesterday, I read an article in The Bookseller called, “Makinson: direct to consumer model does not work.” The focus of the piece was on Penguin chief executive John Makinson who says authors still need publishers and trying to bypass them in this digital age will fail. He, in fact, says, “I am not aware of any successful direct to consumer publishing model that exists.”

He contends authors need publishers to edit and publicize.

What I found most interesting was not what he said, but what was said in the comments section. Those are more worth reading than the article itself. Here are just three snippets from different commenters:
The music independents by-passed the industry, so why not the same for books, and anything else for that matter? Mankinson knows this deep down but of course he's not going to admit it, he's been making a pile of loot out of those who do the hard graft for a long time and would like to continue to do so.

The only really essential service publishers provide at the moment is distribution; the future may eradicate that need as online retailers increase in popularity. I wish publishers were essential and really were the protectors of literature that they pretend to be, but they are becoming less critical every day.

In five years, the big publishers may well be wiped out. If you want to know why, just ask your local newspaper man what's happened to him.
A lot of you are published authors, either through the traditional method or through ebooks (or both). What do you think?
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39 comments:

  1. Penguin doesn't want any successful direct to customer publishing model, of course. When I was a student, many years ago, I used to order tons of books from the printed Penguin catalog, via the bookstore on campus. Times have changed, but maybe Penguin hasn't?

    Cold As Heaven

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  3. It's a pity people don't see changes as good. I think POD and ebook is the next big trend.

    Steamy Darcy

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  4. I'm with Heaven on this. I suggest Makinson may be in denial. The times they are a-changing, and faster than anyone could have guessed. There's never been a better time for authors to reach out directly to readers. The only real obstacle left is the perception of self-published and/or e-books as somehow being "less than" print books. E-books are rapidly coming into their own and I suggest self-published books will follow soon. The main shift will be that authors will have to be more and more responsible in their writing - responsible for more copy editing, more marketing - and, at the end of the day whether a novel is print-, e- or self-published, if it's good enough it will find its readers.
    Judy

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  5. I agree with everything Judy just said. The big publishers no longer do a good job with editing and rely more and more on the authors to promote.

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  6. Ooohhhh...well, considering I write for Penguin, I think I won't say too much about this. :) Except that I do think times are changing.

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  7. LOL! Now there's a man in denial. I can think of lots of successful direct to consumer books. And there were many million copies sold eBooks long before Amazon claimed Patterson the champ. Publishers with distribution can get books into bookstores, but as there's fewer and fewer bookstores, that's no longer a selling point. Authors who do their research, hire a professional editor and book designer, can achieve success online.

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  8. Elizabeth, one thing you do that a lot of new authors don't is you realize that even though you're with a big house publisher, it's still up to you to build your online platform. You are one of the hardest working authors, published with a big house or self-published.

    With more and more writers considering self-publishing, the stigma lessens. But are there enough people out there buying self-pubbed books?

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  9. Publishers don't want direct sales unless they control it. Isn't the promotional patterns they set for authors direct sales? Publishers don't want left out of their cut.
    People I know don't care about who published the book they want. They read story or author.

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  10. I know a woman from my hometown who wrote an expose on her step-mother in law (the richest, and said to be the most coniving woman in the town. Her late husband Lutcher Stark was on the UT board of regents for 30 years, said an earlier wife came up with the Longhorn logo, etc. Amazon published her book (If The Devil Had A Wife,) and it is selling great guns on Amazon and the rankings stay between 1,000 and 20,000 for months now. So I suppose it depends on the topic. her grandfather had a far reach into the world of power, both political and business. The intrigue winds through the book the whole way. Guess it depends on the topic.

    Best,

    Sylvia Dickey Smith

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  11. Several of my blogger friends are experiencing great success with their eBooks, so I'd have to say times are changing.

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  12. I agree with the Penguin guy, there's a need for publishers AND editors. There is so much self-published crap out there, and everyone seems to be pushing an ebook about how to sell an ebook!My memoir was published by a very very small press, but the editorial oversight, the book design, the PR, all "for free" (to me)are fantastic. Yes, I have to promote a lot anyway, but the support of a "real" publisher is well worth the time it took me to find one. I wanted to be able to say someone in the business thought my writing was good enough to invest in.

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  13. I've been reading writng and publishing blogs for about five years now, and I can see that change is happening now, and it will continue. I've done all the work to build a platform. I'm still undecided about how I want to be published. I want to see what I've written in hardcover, but will that pay the bills? I already have an online audience and that's growing. If I go the traditonal publishing route: agent to publisher, it may well be 2 years before I'm published. 2 more years of building a platform at my expense, to be paid 6-8%. Doesn't make sense. Even though I don't have one I still feel an agent is important. I think you need someone with publishing knowledge to be in your corner. Go straight to ebook supported by a good agent. Maybe a good editor/publicist would do the same thing. I love it here Helen, thanks.

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  14. That's true Sylvia. People tend to love dirt when it's thrown at someone else.

    Off Kilter, small and regional publishers are making their mark. They're small and selective, but usually are very good partners with writers.

    Simon, it still makes sense to query agents, despite the odds. That takes time, though.

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  15. I don't think this is a question of traditional or eBook forms, but a question of traditional or (essentially) self-publishing.

    I must say, I am still MUCH more likely to read a book published by a larger house, or at least a known press, than a self-published book. Even though I know it's not ALWAYS true, it is often the case that there is a reason some books get rejected. Once again-this is NOT always true.

    Personally, I would rather wait to get published than publish on my own. I need that approval on my writing to be happy with the output. But I also agree with Helen that Elizabeth is doing it the right way--distribution is one thing, but PR and sales are something a writer has to take on themself these days.

    Michele
    Gothic Lit today at SouthernCityMysteries

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  16. If I were a traditionally published author I would be worried. I think the publishing companies are making huge stinks right now because they now they're on their way out. I pretty much read all my books on Kindle, I too lazy to get off my butt and go into a bookstore. I want my books in less than a minute. When more and more books become available on Kindle, bye-bye bookstore. That's my prediction. We live in a get-it-now world.

    CD

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  17. I've been writing professionally since 1968, and there's not enough space here to comment on all the changes since then. The biggest change, I think, is that self publishing is now acceptable and ebooks are outselling the printed editions in many instances (mine, among many others). I know a Western writer/artist who does his own book covers, self publishes his novels and has been on the bestseller lists... And POD publishers are cutting costs and producing some darn good books!

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  18. Anyone who thinks they can halt change by making puffy pronouncements is mistaken. I don't think my generation (evil boomer) even remotely understands the vastness of technological change even if we have been the architects of it. One cannot hold any reasonable view on the forest we live in! I hope that bookstores, publishers and agents take a role as the stewards of the word - helping citizens and communities navigate the byzantine and vast catacombs of literature.
    Jan Morrison

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  19. John Makinson is taking the stance many US leaders have taken, similar to Ford, GM, and others. He needs to realize the masses are moving in another direction. There is a revolution and its not going to stop because John Makinson decides to stick his head in the sane.

    Stephen Tremp

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  20. Things are definitely changing, but until we can sell individual parts of books the way we can sell individual songs from albums, I don't buy the music industry comparison.

    I do think the industry is going to change a lot and I don't know what that will look like. Me, I just work on becoming a better writer because only the exceptional are going to survive if we go to a direct-to-consumer model.

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  21. ...I think it'll always come down to distribution for printed publications. Once the POD industry figures out how to efficiently distribute their books like the big dogs, that'll be the day when the peeps at Penguin start to sweat.

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  22. This is a really interesting conversation.

    I don't have much to contribute - I haven't looked into it at all yet. Publishing is definitely changing though - nothing is a static industry in these times.

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  23. I do feel there will continue to be a need for quality control...whether it's traditional publishers or via another format. If everyone in the world who wants to can be published, how will the reader weed through it all to get to what is good?

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  24. The business of publishers is to get books onto shelves or onto reading devices. Most authors don't have the resources or skills to do that. They are better off sticking to writing.

    The question writers should be asking is, "Who is my competition?" If my competition is published by a big publisher, then that's who I need to go with. If my competition is self-published, then I should self-publish.

    My competition is Janet Evanovich who just made a big change of publisher. It's no accident that she went from one large publishing house to another. It's all about money. If anybody could make a killing in ebooks or self-publishing, it's Evanovich. She has the name recognition, the market share and the platform. Why not self-publish? Because she can make more money with a new publisher.

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  25. Helen, if the activity and questions I see on a list devoted to Kindle readers, there are a LOT of people buying e-books and buying self-pubbed e-books. A few authors are making some decent money with their books, and I think that will only improve in the years to come.

    The major publishers need to embrace e-books and price them much lower than the paper editions. Doing that will keep them viable for the writers who don't want the hassle of producing their own books for the various formats. Oh, and the royalty rates should change, too.

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  26. I feel I lack the skills and resources to really publicize a book (though I'm trying. My first eBook just came out with Gypsy Shadow). I'd like to believe there's someone who would choose to do that job, but it does seem like big publishers do it less and less (or at least for fewer writers). With more self-publishing and more small publishers, there's a much bigger haystack for anyone's writing to hide in.

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  27. Seems to me part of the problem is how publishing is coping. The keep cutting the 'services' to save cost (the editing/marketing) when in fact, that is a large part of what they have to offer. If they would embrace some of this new stuff, they'd be in a lot better position to stay relevant. I don't WANT them to go, but they DO need to wake up. Invest in technology--not the devices, but in LITERATURE THAT TAKES ADVANTAGE of the devices--print less, but use POD as back up to eliminate waste, stop huge advances to teen idols who think they can write YA--there is a lot they could do to stay relevant.

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  28. I think we couldn't expect a publishing executive to say anything else. However, I think he's in denial. Hopefully, however, those who go the direct-to-consumer route will be wise enough to hire good editors before they publish.

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  29. More and more people agree with you Clarissa. My husband is one. When he's close to finishing his last download on his iPad, he just goes and downloads a couple more then he's set to stick it in his briefcase and head to the airport.

    Jean, they are getting better, I agree. If your goal is to sell and make money, your product has to be good.

    Miriam, it's not likely they'll sell many books by selling them as individual chapters, but they do sell individual books within a series.

    Liza, in a way I worry that folks will do what they've done with print books - buy their favorite authors and not try new writers.

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  30. Mark, you're in the high sky with Evanovich. To me, self-publishing seems so complicated, I don't know that I have the brain cells left to figure it out.

    You're right on that, Maryann. I keep thinking someone will come out with the one format that works on every eReader - and won't charge an outrageous fee to use it.

    Sheila, there are companies out there that will help with publicity, but you'll still have to do the majority yourself.

    Excellent points, Hart. I so agree on POD and stopping stupid advances for writers who won't earn it back. How about celebrity books that fail miserably!

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  31. Distribution/marketing and editing are important factors for publishers. And sure, anyone with any drive can put up an ebook. However, the element that will stand the test of time is good writing. Write a well written book and I do believe it doesn't matter what format it comes out in.
    You never know..in another 10years we may have a whole other format entirely.

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  32. It does feel like we're on the brink of something, doesn't it? Jane Friedman at Writer's Digest (her blog is "The Are No Rules") thinks the publishing industry is dragging its feet. And if you look at her credentials, you can't help but think she knows what she's talking about. She's posts about alternatives on a regular basis.

    I'm still trying the traditional way, but I'm considering nontraditional avenues for one particular manuscript.

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  33. I’m not sure what I think. I published through a small traditional publisher, but I know people who have bypassed this step and seem to do quite well.

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  34. I used to remind myself that since some independently published books have become enormously popular classics, surely I can publish independently successfully one day too! That is, if no publisher will have me. Haha.

    I agree with the author to a point. If independent music can reach people, why can't books do the same? Surely the advent of digital books, Kindles and the iPad will lead to publishing online -- which any author can do for little money.

    I think the difference there is that books generally sell much fewer copies than music and also get less publicity. More people listen to music than read books. It's going to be interesting to see how the internet will affect publishing and reading.

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  35. I know this author in India who published her first book with Penguin, and was hugely disappointed with the (non)effort 'the flightless bird' chose to put into marketing.
    She's self published her second book, and is much happier because the marketing is officially in her hands.

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  36. Times are changing. I self published my poetry books and sold them. I want the thrill of submitting to an agent with my novel though. Having said that, I will self publish in a few years if I receive too many rejections, just to see it in print. :)

    I think an author has to be prepared to enter the eBook world, it is so popular. I know someone who uses Kindle to read, and if the book strikes home, she buys a hard copy for a collection. Buyers have their own quirks so they will keep the industry ticking along.

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  37. A lot of writers feel the same way. They want to try first with a traditional publisher, but also feel they'll reach a point where they'll try going it on their own. But, for now, having a big publisher or a regional press is still the goal.

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  38. No doubt the changes are happening and working. In some ways I find it sad, but I guess I'm just being sentimental. Like all businesses, the publishing houses need to adapt to the electronic age.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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