I read an article about a speech Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy gave at a publishers’ convention. She mostly talked about the state of the industry and how publishers have to find ways to cut costs. Then she said a couple of interesting things. First she mentioned “powerful retailers who have ambitions to be publishers.” Does she mean Walmart and Costco? How would they make the transition? They would need big-name authors to sign directly with them, and they would have to allow distribution in bookstores as well. But this could happen, especially with nonfiction authors.
Then Reidy talked about self-publishing and wondered, “is it only a matter of time before one of the major authors actually strikes out on his or her own?”
That would be an interesting development. What would motivate a best-selling fiction author to step away from his/her publisher and self-publish? An opportunity to make more money? Probably not. If this ever happens, the dispute will likely be about content. Maybe the issue will be an entire story that the writer wants to bring to market, but the publisher won’t because it’s controversial or outside the writer’s genre. Or maybe it will be an environmental issue. An author who refuses to have his book published in hardback form because so many are returned and shredded. And his publisher won’t concede, so he self-publishes in trade paperback with smaller print runs that sell out each time.
What if such a venture proved successful, and the author was able to reach a wide audience and make money? Would more authors follow? What would it mean to the industry? Would publishers change their business model to keep authors onboard? Would it finally blur the distinction between traditionally published and self-published authors? And who will be first? Stephen King has already stepped out on his own with serial e-content (and made money), and I believe in time more authors will do the same.
It’s fun to speculate. What do think?
According to an article in the New York magazine, publishing in its current form is coming to an end. The article opens with a description of watching books being shredded, a fate that awaits 25% of the product produced by major publishers. This in itself is reason for change.
Then the article describes HarperStudio, an offshoot of HarperCollins, and how it will revolutionize the industry with its new model. In this new world, authors forgo large advances (or in some cases, any advance) in exchange for half of their books eventual profit. The idea is that by not over-investing in certain projects, there is more money to promote an entire line of books. Essentially, HarperStudio is forgoing the blockbuster model, in which most of a company’s profits are generated by one brand (J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Dan Brown). I also believe I read earlier that HarperStudio plans to NOT take any returns from bookstores, which would eliminate the massive book shredding.
The article discusses many other industry problems: consolidation, declining book sales, imprints from the same company bidding against each other and driving up prices (advances), the growth and influence of Amazon, the low moral of editorial staff, editors constantly changing houses leaving authors to fend for themselves, and more.
For those in the business, this article is worth reading or at least skimming through. As for HarperStudio’s new model, I think it’s a step in the right direction, as long as profit is clearly defined so that authors aren’t cheated. Moving away from the blockbuster model to a more vertical platform will benefit writers by:
- spreading the promotional dollars more evenly
- taking the pressure off each novel to perform to a certain standard
- allow smaller print runs and more novels to become available in paperback
- allow more novels to come to the market through traditional publishers
- inspire all authors to market their own work as much as possible
What do you think? Will publishing really change that much? As an author, are you willing to take a no-advance contract with long-term gain as the goal?