Sunday, August 24, 2014


Watched a documentary called Download, about Napster.

Even though the parallels are obvious to everyone, I've always been a little resistant to the automatically equating music and books.

I still am, to some extent, in the sense that I believe that more people are more likely to stick to physical books longer.  Partly, unlike music, it is because readers tend to be older.

But the way the two industries reacted is very similar.

The publishing industry, despite what they saw in the music industry, did all the wrong things.  They tightened up.  They fought it.  Instead of making it easier for new writers to get on board, and keeping old writers (mid-list) on their rolls, they made it near impossible.  So obviously, writers looked for alternatives.

Once that alternative proved workable, it was only a matter of time before some writers chose to go that route on purpose.  And the more success they have, the more word will get out, and the more writers will chose to skip the whole ungainly, unfair process that traditional publishers put you through.

Like the music industry, the book industry has become completely corporatized.  The focus is on big sellers, franchises.

Anyway, I think it is inevitable that one of the big writers will figure out he can make a lot more money self-publishing rather than giving the bulk of the revenue to a middle-man.  All it will take is several big writers following and the whole thing falls apart.

That's my prediction.  Stephen King or someone like him, will just go out and hire his own editor and cover-artist, etc. and produce his own books.  Bookstores will have the choice of buying his independently published book or going without.

If enough of the big writers do this, the wholesalers and chain-stores will be forced to accept books from self-published authors.

The publishers are vulnerable because they didn't support the small bookstores, and instead encouraged Barnes & Noble and Borders, which when Amazon came along, left them with few options.

They also raised prices on books, and have refused to be more fair in their ebook sharing.  All of which is going to come back and bite them, big time.

My only concern is whether Amazon will prove enduring.  But the technology to do what they did is out there, and even if it turns out Amazon can't turn a profit and the whole thing collapses, others will pop up to take its place.

Unlike musical acts, writers can't earn money by performing.  So it may be that writing will become even harder to make a living at than before -- not because it is so hard to find an agent and a publisher, as it was in the past -- but because it will be harder and harder to get noticed among the millions of books being published each year.

But as the self-published authors point out -- that is already true.  The average book published by the traditional publisher sells 1000 copies.  They aren't promoted, they aren't cultivated.  It is hit or miss and then you're out.

So the possibility of being discovered isn't all that much greater with the traditional route -- meanwhile, you're giving away most of price of the book, you're getting tied into onerous contracts, you're forced to rewrite to the dictates of editors, you have to wait for very long period for the whole process to proceed.

So in the end, the only thing a traditional publisher offers the average writer is an advance, which most often isn't large enough for most writer's to live on.

Here's the thing.  The advance is basically a loan.  Either you earn back the loan (in which case you would have made the money without the advance.)  Or you don't earn back the loan, in which case you're likely to be dropped by the publisher.

So the more you look at the situation, the more it becomes clear that self-publishing is the future.  

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