Publishing Ch-Ch-Changes

For today's special of "What are they smoking?" we are serving a hearty helping of Borders holding payments to their distributors for two months with a request to keep sending more books for shelving. Excuse me, what?

Borders has been having heavy financial issues lately so it's pretty loco that a) they're making this request and b) expecting pub companies to just go "oh okay, here!" and everybody's happy.

Couple this with the recent address from Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy calling for "CEOs to step up and lead during the deep economic slump and warned that possibly worse scenarios may be on the way".


"Reidy reminded publishers that industry-changing practices, such as the concept of returns, came out of the Great Depression, and asked, “Are there similar industry-changing practices which will evolve out of the times we are facing?” What might evolve, in her opinion is publishers “taking a good hard look at returns causes, effects and practices, and coming up with ways to diminish or eliminate them,” as well as looking for opportunities to apply a consortium model for the distribution part of the supply chain."


While declining readership is certainly an issue, Reidy told PW that “now we have the chance to actually find the reader where they are spending their time—in front of a screen—and cement a relationship with them through e-mail newsletters, viral marketing, mobile delivery and other tools.” Publishing survives, she noted, because readers have a fundamental need for information, inspiration, and entertainment, “and they get that in a book, directly from an author, in an unfiltered way that they cannot get from any other medium.”

Reidy mentioned several challenges, including powerful retailers who have ambitions to be publishers. Reidy also wondered out loud that with self-publishing so easy, “is it only a matter of time before one of (the major authors) actually strikes out on his or her own?” However she affirmed that “editorial expertise, the desire to reach readers with great writings, skill and imagination, and the ability to figure out how to get writers’ words in front of readers,” will always be in demand.

Reidy goes on to urge "publishers to do the hard work of making entire [sic] catalogues available as e-books for electronic reading devices, to create possibilities for print-on-demand when a title becomes slow selling, to design new work flow and supply chain practice systems, and to delineate new policies to address complicated issues such as international territories, pricing, the security of copyrights and royalty rates for those formats.

And for goodness sakes, get rid of the bloody DRM! These are fabulous goals for big publishers to go for but it's interesting to note that small press pubs have already been there and are still working the system this way. I was recently shopping at S&S for a Kresley Cole book in e-format and I was jazzed at the prices they have for their ebooks. The only problem was the formats available, only three (Adobe Digital, Microsoft eReader & Palm OS) none of which are compatible with my phone. Hmph! The places that do have my phone format are at places like Fictionwise or direct from Mobipocket. The problem? They were higher than what S&S was offering on their site.

While there is a widespread scramble across the industry to take a look at itself then go forth and reinvent, I wonder if it's a situation of too little too late.

At the same time, I think we're seeing the slow collapse of the hierarchy that says ebooks and PODs aren't "real books" and the one's that write them aren't "real authors". Many authors with big pubs who aren't selling in big numbers may find themselves without contracsts, if what Bransford said is true about the coming days; but that doesn't mean the end of their career. Like I said before, writers will write no matter what because they have stories to tell. Readers will follow their favorite authors no matter what medium they move to and will be eager to escape in a read, especially in the face of these hard times ahead.

Like EditorialA says, "Hopefully this scare will help them revise The System."


Zoe Winters said...

I've wondered forever why Stephen King even has a publisher. Or Nora Roberts. Or Janet Evanovich. I mean seriously dude, start your own company and branch out on your own. It was trendy for Trent Reznor and Radiohead to go indie after becoming famous. Drew Barrymore has her own production company. As does Oprah.

Why don't writers have the same initiative? What kind of inbred masochism do we have that says: "Oh, I can't do THAT, that's too hard?"

Zoe Winters said...

And also, I agree, I see a lot of people talking about POD and ebooks to "save publishing."

Um, I'm sorry, wasn't that what was completely illegitimate yesterday?

Personally I'm not bothered by the crashes of big chain bookstores. I think it's good. The less power and control they have, the more publishing becomes democratized.

And the more people start thinking of ebooks and POD tech as ways to "save publishing," the less stigma those formats carry.

And the more small publishers can play.

And the less anyone cares WHO published a book.

And the more ultimate freedom writers have, to work at their own pace, put their work out, build and audience, and then MAYBE sell out later.

Savannah Chase said...

i think it is just crazy what is going on and how bad it is affecting authors.....i truly hope that things start to change and soon

Rae Lori said...

From what I understand from some of my author boards, some authors just are content on being writers and letting everyone else (agent, editor, big publishing house) handle the business end. This has been perfectly content and swell for them but I can't imagine not knowing where my book is heading through each stage and not being keen on their business practices. I think that's one reason why a big publisher scares me. It's like a talent agent taking a child actor and telling the parents to leave the room while you have no control over your kid when they "work" (this literally happened when a talent scout asked my mom to put me in tv. Once she heard that she was like 'no way'!) I have to have all bases covered because this is my investment in my career. That's one reason I love smaller publishing companies because it's like a partnership between the author and publisher through each stage. And they actually listen to you, too!

If you aren't in the know, not keen on publishing practices and just sitting by waiting for a check, you can easily get swindled. People will definitely take advantage of what you don't know.

Another thing, being an author is considered a business and, unfortunately, the times are going away where we can just sit and write then send out work to let someone else handle. Now we're going to have to work extra hard to not only help get our own works out there, but (and each day this is looking more and more like a possibility) keep the art of reading and sharing stories alive. The many, many book campaigns urging people to buy books is happening right now as we speak.

Author Michael Stackpole is talking a lot about this on Dragon Page Cover to Cover for a while now. He notes the shift in "selling dead hunk of wood with ink" to "selling stories". I think we're coming down to his ideas on connecting directly with readers. That's what it's going to come down to.

Zoe, isn't ironic how the very thing that was talked down to in publishing (ebooks, POD, etc) is the very thing that most are looking toward to save it?

I agree. We can turn this doom and gloom to a wonderful benefit to get down to the nitty-gritty of storytelling in awesome creative ways. I have a feeling authors will start to have more control over their own product. At the same time, a lot of people are scared of that possibility and don't know what to do with it which may be the reason that's holding some authors back from going completely underground whether at first or as a backup plan. Stackpole was dropped from a major label but he didn't let it stop him. He used this as an opportunity to continue doing what he loves most and my hats off to him for that.

Sav, it is a shame and a lot of it is from the old publishing model that the publishers had in contract with the bookstores. Bookstores have the ability to stock more than they already do (especially when the chains open up more chains replicating everything they have in each store). It's the high priced real estate they get to stock certain books from the big publishers that has lead to this. Many readers are complaining now about how they go to stores and are not finding what they want because new already paid for stuff is being pushed on the shelves. Online retailing is where it's at to get backlists and hard to find goodies.

Everyone's talking about getting rid of the returns system (see Nathan Branford's current post and comments as well as Moonrat's) but strangely enough no one has the power to do anything about it.The one's that do, where are they?

Now's the time for us authors to band together and help each other through our love of writing and spreading the word about our works or else we'll end up like conglomerate publishing. Adapt or...

Rae Lori said...

^^^ That's a ginormous post within itself methinks lol.

Zoe Winters said...

hehe Rae, no it's cool. I'm with you.

Ya Ya!

A lot of writers are wringing their hands over the changes and the economy, but I smell opportunity. And ironically all the extra doom and gloom has made me feel more confident about going indie.

During the economic downturn I'm laying groundwork with free content. If we have any upswing at all by next fall, I'm ready for that if I've been working my tail off building an audience for KEPT and the SAVE MY SOUL podcast.

And I find the whole thing exciting! The challenge alone, is exhilarating. I'm excited to find out what may be possible and I don't need permission to do it. I'm just going to do it. And if I can manage to create something that readers like, and I can connect with those readers, then I have what most writers want at heart.

And that's good enough for me.

This is big big stuff, and I want to be a part of the change. I want to be a part of the indie movement for writing. It's totally here.

Rae Lori said...

Yes! There's lots of opportunity for some awesome creativity to share our works. It's just a matter of navigating the big ole internet waters of potential.

You're going to do some awesome things, Zoe! You're Indie site is coming along fabulously and I think you have some awesome info there to help out a lot of writers wondering about going indie. If you make any buttons and/or banners please let me know so I can place them on my sites!

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Rae, thanks for the idea of a button or banner! I'll get to work on that as soon as I can.

Zoe Winters said...

right now i'm building content, so I'm not really in the "marketing phase" of the site yet.

Rae Lori said...

Oh! Hehe makes sense. Best wishes to your creation. I'm definitely loving seeing the site grow! :-)