Monday, September 15, 2008

The End of Publishing (as we know it)

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?


Anonymous said...

Whether HarperStudio's model takes hold or not, the publishing industry is already facing some of the same evolutionary/revolutionary pressures that the music and film industries have been dealing with in recent years. (See "The Future of Publishing?")

I suspect we'll see not one but a variety of models in the years to come as the industry tries to adapt to new and emerging technologies.

One thing I believe to be certain: the trend toward self-publishing (where there are already several different models) is only going to increase as the benefits to writers of traditional publishing continue to diminish.

Dani said...

Are you kidding? In ten years, the model will be totally turned upside-down by environmental issues alone. The industry is completely unsustainable as it operates now. I'm rooting for ePublishers and Kindle-competition to take a firm hold, with print books being the exception...more like works of art we treasure in our homes, and not disposables. I'd also like to see the industry more author and quality driven. I hate the way young cozy mystery writers are cranking out whatever the publishers demand... they're treated like whores in a stable! No respect, just tricks and money. That alone is a good reason for us all to welcome major industry change. Let's put respect and quality back at the top of the list.


Anonymous said...

Speaking as someone who isn't currently looking to write books, yet, and is definitely on the consumer end, I think this makes a lot more sense than what publishers have been doing. The writer gets money for what they sell, period. If it isn't good/advertising isn't there it doesn't make money. If I were guaranteed a fair share I'd sign the contract.

Anonymous said...

The sad part is, that's how it's always been in authoring manga. You don't get a dime until the script and drawn artwork is in the publishers hands as complete-- and then, you get your advance.

A graphic novel can take up to a year to draw [140 pages] and since many companies pick up 'team' creators [writer/artist] neither is paid until the work is complete. Some companies vary with advances, but they're always 'against royalties', so honestly--I'm used to not getting paid until the work is done. :/

When I considered fiction I was shocked to discover that some authors got their advance up front in order to 'write' the material. It amazed me. I think has more and more consumers aren't buying hardcovers, shopping for second-hand books, and downloading material-- publishers will look to cut costs, and sadly it's the talent that gets the shaft first.

Mike Cane said...

I haven't yet read the article, so I'm going by your summary.

HarperStudio is a shuck & jive operation of a dying paradigm hoping to grab the rights from naif writers who don't know better. Don't do it!

I've been following eBook developments for years. With all of the eReading opportunities presented by the iPhone/iPod Touch and the resurgence of the Sony Reader, direct publishing by authors to their readers offers a far more lucrative and better opportunity than any current dying dinosaur of print. The dying dinaosaurs of print will kill the infant eBook market with gouging prices as well as too few titles in eBook format. And then there's the horror of DRM.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I only got an advance for one book. The last few years all my books have been published by e-publishers who also do trade paperback using print-on-demand technology which means no book shredding.

I get royalties on what is sold whether an e-book or trade paperback and I'm quite happy with that arrangement.

Anonymous said...

This is nothing more than a stop-gap measure.

Give it ten years and there will be a new version of the Kindle out... it will be called... The Kindle Paperback.

It will look like a book, it will feel like a book... but when you open the cover you'll have a whole digital library of ebooks to choose from.

But seriously, 25% of these books are shredded? That's just stupid waste.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the attention given to us on your blog and in the comments. I'd like to confirm that we are not cheating authors in our profit-share terms; we are paying 50% of the net profits, with no deductions for overhead (no "fatal subtraction," as Art Buchwald once called it). This means that we will make the same amount of money as the author.
We are paying advances, but the maximum we'll pay is $100,000. Finally, I'm perplexed by the comment that we are a "shuck and jive operation." How does paying an author half of the profits--which is more than authors usually make from traditional royalties--translate to shucking and jiving?

L.J. Sellers said...

Thanks, Mr. Miller, for reading and commenting. I don't understand the "shuck and jive" reference either. This business model intrigues me, which is why I blogged about it. The one comment I have heard from writers is the concern about how profits are defined. Thanks for your reassurance, and good luck with your endeavor.