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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Can Traditional Publishing be Saved?

One of the blogs I follow is by Rachelle Gardner, and her latest blog I wanted to comment upon.
To make it easier I copied some pieces from her post of February 12th.
Do you know what business you are in?
What the Publishing Industry Can Learn From Kodak
1. We need to correctly identify the business we’re in.
Publishers, agents and authors need to start from this very important truth: We are not in the “book” business. We are in the business of storytelling. This encompasses entertainment, information, ideas, creativity, inspiration, and intellectual exploration. It also comprises a social element—the relationship between reader and writer. We are in the business of fostering this relationship.
2. We can’t be afraid of cannibalizing our own businesses in the short run to make progress in the long run.
Publishers are steeped in the “printed book business” and may be reluctant to step out and aggressively market digital products that will detract from their print business. But they must, if they are to innovate and stay ahead of the curve (or at least on it) rather than fall so far behind that they can’t recover.
3. We should find new ways to generate revenue while serving consumers’ wants and needs.
We’re in a tug-of-war as consumers become less willing to plunk down fifteen bucks for a reading experience when so much is available free or very cheap.

We need to be asking ourselves, “What’s valuable to a reader? What are they willing to pay for? What are they NOT willing to pay for? What do they want that they’re not getting, and how can we figure out a way to provide it (for a price)?”

Please go and read her wonderful Blog Post for yourself.  
So the following are my thoughts and comments after reading her brilliant post!
First off, she is dead on target with her analysis of the situation and her comparison with the Kodak company is inspired.  We are in the business of fostering the relationship between the reader and the writer.
But from the perspective of the writer . . .
I have written two books, did the art work, self-published them, and I am haphazardly self-promoting them.  I have a day job!  I am making a living!  My success as a writer is basically for my own vanity at this point.  If my books sell, that's awesome.  If I get to the point where I make enough money from selling books to stay home and write full time, all the better.  If I have to keep my day job until I naturally retire and am writing books the entire time – it doesn't matter.  Publishing companies don't have this same luxury! 
You see this question asked all the time in forums and discussions about writing.  Is Self-Publishing the best way to go?  The reason there is so much discussion on this is because there are so many facets to the correct answer that it's a hard question to answer.  Every case is different.
1.  Do you have talent?  Translated into business terms – Is anybody going to buy your work?
2.  Do you have an audience, a following of readers who enjoy your work and are biting at the bit for the next sequel in your series?
3.  Can you do your own art work?
4.  Can you do your own editing?  Proofing?
5.  Do you have an advertising budget?  Can you promote the work?  Can you promote it enough until you get discovered by enough people to make a difference?
If your answer to these questions is, Yes, then self publishing may be your best bet.
Even if your answers are No, you can still self-publish!
Art work can be bought, so can editing, and proofing.  There are many home based businesses popping up to fill these niches for the aspiring authors at very competitive prices.  So your books can become better and more professional as you have more money to invest in the areas you cannot do all by yourself.
My books are not great!  The English needs help!  The artwork can definitely be better and more attractive!  In time I will be able to use the profits from the books I am selling to pay for more professional help.  I also am undertaking becoming as knowledgeable about the English language as I can make myself.  I have purchased a bamboo drawing tablet and learning to transfer my drawing and painting skills to the digital age.  If my books do not sell enough to purchase more professional help I am taking the steps now to make my future books better.
All the while I will hopefully be fostering the relationships with my readers and fellow authors.
One Truth that must be expressed is that Writers and Readers will always exist!  The same cannot be accurately stated for the literary agent and the publisher.  I pray to God that real bound paper books remain a part of the human experience for thousands of years, but that may not be the case.  Because of the decline of this aspect of our culture and the changes being made in schools where cursive handwriting will not be taught to future generations.  I wonder what will happen when the some catastrophic event interrupts society and the lights go out.  If we lose the means of charging our phones, pads, no power for the computers, then what?   No books, and nobody knows how to write without a keyboard!  How long until we are back in the dark ages?
As to her second point about publishers cannibalizing their own business.  What if they took it a step further than just promoting and producing e-books in competition with the printed books?  They have the professional skills in house to help the aspiring authors move from the mediocre to being great! 
If I was a mid- to upper level manager at a large publishing house I would be hiring artists, proofers, editors, and people who know how to expertly format the different variations of e-books!  I would be taking on as many new clients as I could sign up and redesign the publishing industry from the inside out.
I would hire home based book reviewers who are currently reviewing books on their own blogs to send me the contact info on anything they feel is promising, new, and great!  When a reviewer finds a book they feel is great I would arrange to send it to three or four more reviewers of the same genre and see what the overall feeling is after it has been checked out by the reviewers I had learned to trust and value.  The extra exposure wouldn't hurt the authors.
Then reap the harvest!  I would contact every writer I could through agents and see where they need help, figure the lowest cost means of providing what they need and get their books polished and re-released as e-books with some cheap but effective marketing, new distribution channels on-line (even if I had to invent the new distribution channels).  The author would not get an upfront royalty payment as in traditional publishing as this would not be traditional publishing.  They would get a more professional looking book, associated with the name of a publisher, get an agent, and pay for the services rendered out of a percentage of the book sales. 
If the book doesn't sell a lot, it would be no different than if the writer had done it on their own except the publisher and agent are still in the game.  If the book has medium sales the publisher will hopefully get to work with the writer on upcoming books and they would grow together.  If the book has enough sales to break a preset margin then the publisher would have the agent offer a more traditional book deal for a re-release as a paperback or hard cover book.  WIN – WIN.  It would help the writers, the integrity of the English language and publishing industry as a whole.
As to Rachelle's third point, the different revenue streams could be the new direct on-line book stores which publishing companies erect or partnerships with traditional bookstores for the distribution of the e-books and traditional books.  If somebody doesn't cut Amazon off at the knees they will be the only bookstore available in ten to twenty years.  To do that you would have to have control of the distribution of the e-books.  Writers need to sign with a publisher to be exclusive in return for the cut rate services provided to make their books more professional.  Control the distribution and the readers will follow the authors!  A move has to be taken in the e-book community to eliminate free e-books and raise the prices to a respectable level that can sustain publishers, agents and authors.  I can't think of any market system where giving the product away helps sustain the market.
When readers can get more stuff than they can possibly read in a year in moments for free why would they buy books?  Until this mess gets straightened out the level of professional books will go down, the prices will fall and the readers win all the way around.  Never before in history has reading material been so easy to get, as readily and cheaply as we can today.  I would like to think that reading as a whole would be on the rise as a result this explosion of literary material but I seriously doubt that reading is on the rise. 
There was a boom in knowledge and technology not long after printing presses were invented and books became somewhat affordable and readily available.  I would like to believe that in the next thirty years we should see astounding new developments from shared knowledge, understanding, and technology from the result of the increase of information available to inquiring minds who want to learn.


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