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?

  1. I agree that it is only time before some big names step out on their own. After all, many authors are choosing self publication/self promotion vs royalty publishing right now. I will be keeping a close eye on it.

  2. I think she was referring to Amazon.com, called the bully now in the publishing industry because of its tactics with smaller publishers. A lot of them will be pushed out of business in the process. One of the most successful self publishers is Jonas Kirby, an artist-writer whose books are distributed by Ingram and have made the best seller lists.

  3. There is zero doubt in my mind that in the next 5-10 years, we will see big name authors starting to bypass large traditional publishers for major releases. Not say most of them will, but some will try it. And I agree that it largely will not be driven by money – although without knowing the royalties that a Stephen King or a James Patterson gets, I can speculate that doing so might make financial sense as well.

    The reason to do it will be flexibility and time to market. Having mostly complete power and control will be appealing to some. And while an established author who writes exactly one book a year may not have a problem with current lead times, plenty of authors can write more.

    We’ve already seen bands like the Eagles and AC/DC bypass the recording industry and go to Walmart. They can sell CD’s for less and make more, but they also were able to avoid dealing with an industry that is one of the few more mired in the past than the publishing industry. Music is an easier place to do this than actual published books. But I suspect it won’t be long before someone tries it.

  4. This is an issue that I’m deeply into right at this very moment. With a strong following myself and having seen the industry’s warts up close, I believe that a shift in the writer’s paradigm is upon us. Both fiction and non-fiction writers can use direct marketing techniques to reach their fans online and receive almost 100% of the profits directly to them.

    Print on Demand publishing is surging and so inexpensive to use. But more than that, digital delivery is immensely lucrative and provides the same instant gratification as a bookstore purchase.

    I’m not giving up on traditional publishing, but I’m also not shelving projects that don’t find a home. For example, my novel that never sold is now on a blog and with great success.

    Our only limits are our motivation to just do it and our willingness to put our work out into cyberspace. Paper and ink seems somehow safer, but that is just an illusion.

  5. I think you’re right, LJ, about more authors striking out on their own. It may not be specifically money issues that start the trend, but control/rights/speed to market/book title or cover. There are many advantages to taking a non-traditional route and as the big publishers do less, demand more, and pay less, authors are looking around for other options. They’re finding a world of opportunity.

    There are some risks, of course, but those risks are less likely to materialize into actual problems for authors who have a built-in following.

    There are also many benefits to going with a more flexible publisher. The newer/smaller organizations have been able to quickly, creatively, and successfully change to keep in step with a rapidly changing world. They’ve also responded to many of the early critizisms by using those criticisms to improve their products. Some of the big houses seem to be going in the opposite direction – actually diminishing quality. That only helps the new kids on the block.

    Our industry is experiencing rapid change on every front – everything from the buying habits of customers, growth of on-line purchasing, growth of e-book purchasing (which will probably lead to some hybrid, multi-media book/video involving animated drawings within the text – for a start), to technology changes that provide all sorts of options for both pubishing and marketing – there’s no telling where we’ll end up. Remember records?

  6. I think an established selling author can make lots more money self-publishing. If they’re “branded” and have a serious fan club, there’s nothing that would stop them from selling books. Crunch the numbers. How much is an established author getting per first-run title now? Then compare to a POD run of, say, 5,000 in which the author keeps 50%. Would the increase cover additional promo and other costs? It’s possible in many situations that an author could come out ahead. I think this concept really rattles the big publishers.


  7. It may be on the horizon inasmuch as costs are high for publishing houses,and self publishing is gaining in popularity.

  8. Amazon does seem to be taking over the publishing world. And mega stores like Costco can sell tons of books. They can and have taken relatively unknown authors and helped to make them huge (I recently did a post on the Costco book buyers). I agree, the world as authors know it is changing. Long before I had a blog, I was telling my newsletter subscribers that. It’s not going to be overnight, but the night is getting shorter.

  9. Walmart has taken over grocers and electronics, so why not take over the book stores and publishers. I would miss have a fancy coffee. It just doesn’t seem right to have a mocha at walmart. Nor could walmart capture the atmosphere of a book store. Sony’s electronic book device could be what makes the change as well. I can’t imagine reading a book on a screen. There’s nothing like curling up with a good book and blanket

  10. I see this jump happening as well. I certainly hope for myself that it will happen soon. The treatment of self-publishing is certainly changing for the better. I’ve always thought the hostility against it by certain classes of people was always telling of self-publishing being a threat. The argument that it was for a lesser class of writer is both irksome and contradictory to everything I saw within the market. The best or at least best-selling works always rise to surface no matter whether some big money suits are behind it or not. I’m probably preaching to choir here though.

    As to why a big name author will do it creative control tops my list. I too would point to music and for my money Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails. War stories of labels doing great disservice to their musicians are plentiful long before digital music. Same thing with movie directors and fighting the studios to release the movie they made, even when the last how many of that director’s movies made millions upon millions. We have our own example of the difference between what the publisher wanted released and what the author originally wrote in the old and complete editions of Stephen King’s The Stand.

    Included in the creative control argument is also the genre battle that L.J. mentioned. I have a cross-genre novel. It’s going out to a publisher who actual deals in the exact two genres I crossed. Such places are a boon but in the minority. Again L.J. mentioned books that are controversial. I have a self-published book of stories that fits that bill. Some of the stories I know the magazines would never touch. Sure it’s a niche, for which I wrote these stories, but that audience is still there, and they want content. Someone needs to look after audiences bereft of what they really want.

    E-books are taking off too. I could go on for hours I think so I’ll leave these final thoughts… Once some of the big name authors jump, what next? How does the business model work? It’s fine and dandy to say it will happen and it will change things, but like the first dot-com bubble when it burst and the fears of a second bubble burst coming, great ideas like this need the practical end behind them or no matter how great the dream is it won’t come to fruition. So what’s the plan? I don’t expect a complete workable answer from anyone, least of all on short notice, but it’s a good discussion point I think.

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