Are Books Dead and Can Authors Survive?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Ian Whates, Aug 24, 2011.

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    Ian Whates

    Ian Whates Author and Editor

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  2.  
    Stephen Palmer

    Stephen Palmer author of novels

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    As worrying as I expected it to be...

    I have to say, Ewan Morrison's first paragraph summarises it perfectly.

    10 years ago, the internet destroyed the "midlist" of music, and I think it will do the same to all creative processes in the end. I'm lucky I already have a reputation; for any new author, the scale of the problem facing them - how to be heard when everybody is shouting - must make life pretty desolate. :rolleyes:
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    Templar

    Templar New Member

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    I couldn't agree less with what he is saying. What will die is not writers, but the big, unwieldy publishing companies. As Teresa has said here before, more and more writers are expected to proof and edit their own work, and take more and more time to do the PR for their work, but the publishing houses take the same cut as before. The huge corporations that are trying to profit, to pay their shareholders and their execs huge sums of money will struggle, and the era of the indie publisher will arrive. Trad publishers have to bet on what they *hope* will make it big, and they throw resources at these books in the hope they can *force* them to become big. Indy publishers will throw fewer resources at their projects, but that only means they will risk less, and yes, make smaller profits. But they won't have to support HR departments, marketing teams, shareholders and execs, so those profits are still proportional.

    Paper books won't die - just like Vinyl hasn't "died" - it will instead become the preserve of the collector, the enthusiast. Writers will still write, and those that are successful will remain so (Amanda Hocking anyone?). What will happen is that without all hype and advertising authors will become popular because of the standard of their work (and their fanbase), rather than the size of their advertising budget. Yes, there will be thousands of writers that make very little money, but right now there are thousands of writers that make NO MONEY AT ALL! because they are shut out of the publishing loop. Often (but not always) this is nothing to do with the quality of their work, or their saleability, but because the trad publishers simply aren't looking for new writers.

    The stuff he says about piracy is hogwash. There is very little proof that piracy harms sales, and a lot of proof that it can help. Neil Gaiman discovered he was being widely pirated, and upon giving out a copy of his book "American Gods" for free found his sales in Russia - a market he had never been able to break before - boomed. VHS didn't kill cinema with piracy, nor did DVD, and video did not kill the radio star (though it did kick her when she was down).

    I firmly believe that in the digital era there will be fewer big publishers, and a multitude of smaller, indie publishers (even if that means authors setting up their own "publishing" companies, as I have). There will be more and more choice, and yes, some of those will fail to make a profit, but many more will profit, and some will even do so handsomely. It's the start of the competitive writing era, something that hasn't really existed yet, as publishing is such an expensive process that anyone other than the biggest players are shut out. With e-books the costs of publishing drop to virtually zero, so the opportunity for profits increases greatly. Authors will control their own rights, covers, edits (both things they can outsource cheaply), and no-one but the taxman (and Amazon) will take their cut. The one thing that DOES worry me is that when this happens (And I'm certain it WILL happen) there will be no-one left to take on the might of Amazon. Indie publishers need to start thinking about a union, a co-operative, in order to best protect their interests.


    </rant>
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    Templar

    Templar New Member

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    The best argument I've ever heard about why millions of eBooks won't kill writers is this:

    The internet.

    You and I manage to find the videos we like on youtube, the pages we want to read, the forums that interest us. And while it will be difficult to get noticed at first, like a good webpage/video/picture a good book will be recommended by word of mouth and forums until that author starts to pick up. it will be difficult at first, but once the trad publishers cut back spending (and they'll have to soon) the advertising playing field becomes much more equal, and first timers can compete better against old hands.

    And as I've said, at least those first timers can make a little money while they try to make it big: something that up until 5 years was not possible at all. Now they get to fine tune their work (with a pen name if they wish) before pushing hard for the big time.
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    RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet Never Sure

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    Desolate indeed. And the idea of trying to punt and PR my own book in e format -- I may as well sell fire extinguishers door-to-door ... :(
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Oddly, I find myself on the side of those arguing that the internet is actually a golden opportunity for writers, both old and new. With the model we've had before, it became increasingly difficult for a "different" writer not only to get published, but to find their market. From what I've seen, this medium makes it much easier to find a "niche" market... and one that can pay rather well. This also means that, while there will be a fair amount of junk produced (writers who are lazy, slipshod, etc.)... we have that in abundance already. However, it also means that those who are careful craftsmen but who fall outside the current spectrum (more or less) are able to get to an appreciative audience, because they not only have a much wider possibility of distribution, but there are places such as this, which discuss not only the well-known writers and the best-sellers in a field, but also the more obscure names, newcomers, and give their opinions. Whether those opinions are simply enthusiastic to the point of being purely fannish, or well-reasoned out critical responses, it does mean that the name and type of story begins to show up on searches, and the potential audience is worldwide, rather than restricted to one or two regions.

    This also means, I think, that specialty and small-press publishers have a much better chance of having a viable, perhaps even decently profitable, business. In the sff field, Arkham House was one of the tiny handful of specialty publishers to survive. Now, the number of specialty publishers which have been around for a decent period, and of those putting out extremely well-made, elegant, artistic books, and making a go of it, is burgeoning.

    No, I don't see it as likely to adversely affect writers or books in general. The playing field will be completely different, but I think the opportunities are staggering....
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    JDP

    JDP Never told a lie. Ever.

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    THE SKY IS FALLING!

    Are books dead? No.*

    Can Authors survive? Yes.**

    What a ridiculous article.


    * But I suspect paper books will become a niche, rather than the norm within the next decade.

    ** The pertinent question, perhaps, is whether 'legacy' publishers can survive if (like parts of the music industry) they try to fight a losing rearguard against progress instead of embracing it; corporations that assumed they would always benefit from 'gatekeeper' status find themselves little more than middlemen unless they innovate to add value.
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    RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet Never Sure

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    I haven't found many UK e publishers? There are quite a few USA based ones. But I don't suppose location matters much anymore?

    The most successful, or popular, e market at this stage, at least from what I've seen, seems to be for vampires and soft-porn bodice rippers?
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    Templar

    Templar New Member

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    Why would you need epublishers? Why would you want to give away a percentage to someone who is only going to go and hire a cover artist and an editor that you can hire yourself? A distributor is another thing, but you can organise much for that yourself. The only reason to have your own publishing company is the tax benefits. I had a company from before, when I was a TV Producer, and I simply changed the name of it and it became a publishing company. I honestly think there is little need for an unestablished author to go to an epublishing company, when they can instead do it all themselves. Established authors might not have the option, being already locked in to contracts and all.

    I think you're right about the vampire thing, but I haven't had a chance to check out the soft-porn bodice-ripping genre, so I'll take your word for that on! ;)
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    RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet Never Sure

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    In a way that becomes the whole issue, that a writer may not have the business savvy or inclination for marketing. Musicians all have an agent, even the guys who play pubs. They just lack the drive and personality to engage in the whose who in the zoo that agents thrive on. The agents set up all the appointments and engagements and photo shoots, etc. All the musician has to do is be there and play. Each to his his own, you know ...? :)
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    Templar

    Templar New Member

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    Very good point, but I would suggest that organising gigs for a band - and trying to get talks with record labels as well - is more of a constant drain than releasing a book. With a ebook (in my very limited experience, I will admit) it is a question of starting off the marketing before leaving word of mouth to take over. Certainly after the initial push the majority of the work is done. E-authors (to coin a phrase?) are unlikely to do real-world book signings, book tours etc, so there is less organisation needed there. Certainly fewer appointments, engagements and photo shoots.

    What the less business savvy could do is farm out the initial push to a small e-marketing company (I forsee a few of these springing up) to get the groundswell started, and on occasion using them in future for a push at Christmas etc.

    In fact, a bike passed me the other day (I look at bikes, I'm a biker) that has something printed on the box about "Search engine optimization for £99", and guaranteeing a lift in your business as a result. Can't remember the name of the company (I remember it was a rubbish bike), but that is the kind of thing I see happening. Pay £200 (Not much to risk in reality) for a marketing push to get you started, and maybe once more after 6 months when you have some reviews.

    It would be much more fiscally viable to do this than pay someone 10% for the life of the book(s) to do a few days work when they are released. But as you said, some may not have business savvy...
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2011
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    RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet Never Sure

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    Thanks Templar. I disagree that you don't have much experience. Working as a TV producer has obviously gained you a lot, so you're not talking out your hat at all.

    What you riding at the moment?
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    Templar

    Templar New Member

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    I'm only on a CBF500 for now (It's the one in the picture, taken by my rather brave girlfriend). I commute every day in London, and don't really need anything bigger. Once the book finally takes off (!) I'll upgrade. I assume you ride?

    The odd thing is that I saw all this happen in reverse in TV. When Channel 4 started (long before I was in TV) there sprang a myriad of small bloke-in-shed production companies. Some were crap, and they failed to get more than a handful of commissions, but the best ones grew, and were swallowed up, one by one, by the bigger TV companies. Now there are fewer production companies, and the smallest can't survive against the power of Endemol and All3media, who take all the commissions. but those companies have huge overheads now, and shareholders and as a consequence the budgets at the big companies are "trimmed" to make sure the profits stay healthy and the shareholders fat. It's true, I've seen it (and worked on shows with a mysterious 25% drop in budget), and it has started to affect quality, and the safety of the crews. It's why I got out - I could no longer make the BEST show possible, instead I had to make the CHEAPEST show possible good.

    I really long for the days of bloke-in-shed. The UK is so good at those.



    EDIT: It's also worth noting that this stuff fascinates me, as I have a degree in Economics, and I am really looking forward to seeing how this industry changes and evolves. I don't mean to shout anyone down, I promise. I know I hold strong views, and I welcome people challenging me on them.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2011
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    RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet Never Sure

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    Oh no. Long ago. I came off a Honda Hawk 400 twin quite badly. Broke wrist + leg in three places, bone sticking through the skin, 6 weeks in hospital. Never really got back on.

    Anyway, e publishing is here, and to stay, and there will be blokes in sheds who become billionaires from it, like the facebook guy. Of that there is no doubt ... :)
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    JDP

    JDP Never told a lie. Ever.

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  16.  
    RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet Never Sure

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    There's another factor at work here.

    It's the pleasure and sense of achievement of getting published -- along with the advance payment, or payment on publication in the case of a magazine article.

    I know that for many would be first time SFF authors, such as populate the chrons, the primary object of writing is not to make money (though we wouldn't say no to it).

    If everyone is writing books and self publishing them ...?

    The agent/publisher filtering process ensures that what ends up in print is at least half decent, etc. If everyone is writing a book, and writing their own jacket blurb, then the achievement of having written a book and seeing it up there on the shelf (whether real or virtual) is going to mean nothing.

    Sure, the cream rises to the top, etc.

    But it's making the writer responsible for publicising and marketing his/her own work. And that is a skill many excellent writers may not have.
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    The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    Which frankly depresses the hell out of me. You know what I foresee with the rise of e-books? More and more &%$£*& people who join the Chrons simply to promote their wares. We have enough to do slapping down the spammers now, once they are all using SEOs, who think that publicity = dropping illiterate press releases into GWD and GBD, we shall be working non-stop. :mad:
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    Vargev

    Vargev he who never sleeps.

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    I had this all yesterday, talking with a few other writers.

    The whole problem with all of the big 6, and many others, is this elitist attitude. I self published, and I am glad I did.

    The big 6 are dropping their mid-listers, hardly taking on any new talent at all. The problem is, this is playing right into the hands of their competitors, all those Johnny come lately's who think they have a good book (regardless of whether it actually is), over time get sick and tired of this attitude, they begin to get fed up of banging their head against a brick wall.

    I've known people, who are actually good writers themselves, submit to 50 or 60 publishing houses in the U.K. and the U.S. Just to get rejected every single time. People say go through a literary agent, do you know how many people literary agents are actually taking on these days, very very few. You know why? Its not a filtering process as many ascribe it to be, its simply fat profits.

    The agent may have a few big names on his list, and so he sticks with his bread an butter earners and drops everyone else, he simply puts his feet up and lets the money keep rolling in.

    Thats exactly what the publishing houses are doing, they are sticking with their 'big earners' and simply refusing to take on new talent. The problem is, when these 'big earners' die out, who will replace them? who will take on the mantle? Its short term gain, long term destruction.

    Until the big 6 wake up and smell the coffee, they will continue to struggle while the likes of Amazon get stronger. I believe there will only be one big publisher in the years to come, and that will be Amazon. And you know what, it will be the publishers own faults. Because they knew what was coming and they did nothing to prevent it.

    Amazon are marketing like crazy, adverts on the TV advertising their Kindle, where are the publishers marketing? where are their advertisements? they are cutting back on marketing at a time when Amazon are out competing them everywhere, to me this is ludicrous.
    The publishers need to band together and fight back, start their own marketing campaign, bring sales back to their books again. Because otherwise, they might as well give up and go home.

    So I went and published my book through amazon, simply because of this elitist attitude, and yes I have made some money, maybe not as much as a bestselling author, but it sure beats submitting your MS for years on end in a fruitless search to be published.

    Rant over.
  19.  
    Ian Whates

    Ian Whates Author and Editor

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    Sorry, but you're simply wrong. The agents are very much the first filter that the publishing houses rely on. Can you imagine how much extra time and money the publishers would otherwise have to invest in reading through the thousands of manuscripts that the agents reject?

    Of course it's also about money. The agents aren't charities any more than the publishers are. They don't work their backsides off for the warm glow of satisfaction alone. They do so to pay the bills. For that, they have to take on only the authors and books they believe will sell. It's a judgement call each and every time.

    I too know many people who have submitted to agent after agent and not been accepted, some of them very good writers. I also know several who have submitted and submitted and then been taken on by an agent, myself included.

    Not everyone succeeds, and my opinion regarding the quality of a given writer might not match that of the agent rejecting them, but that doesn't mean that the agent isn't acting as a filter, quite the opposite.
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    Vargev

    Vargev he who never sleeps.

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    Thank you for making my point about the current shortsightedness of the industry, the agent will only take on what will sell, although the authors first novel may not sell many copies, as the vast majority don't, but it might be a series of novels, and, let's just say in 5 years time, he could be selling a lot of copies. The agent will still drop the author, and wave good bye to that future profit. This is exactly what I meant.

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