Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wednesday Afternoon Rant: Publishing World 2007

Last week’s Publishers Weekly , (October 15), had numerous articles (and an 8 page ad) on how the book publishing world is changing.

The issue begins with an article called “Can Small Press Distributing Survive?”, citing the recent demise of Book World Companies and National Book Network’s recent statement that they were phasing out Biblio, their small press distributor. (Biblio distributes my book and it’s in the clear until at least next September.)

Barnes + Noble just gave their online store a makeover and Borders released a BETA version of their new site.

Barnes and Noble is a major shareholder of iUniverse and Amazon acquired Booksurge. Books printed by subsidy presses like Booksurge and iUniverse rarely make it into bookstores. Clearly, Barnes and Noble didn’t become a stockholder because it counted on stocking iUniverse books; it did so because iUniverse makes money off the authors and the books sold online.

On a different note, I’ve also noticed lately that Barnes + Noble and Borders have less books and more sidelines. Sidelines make good impulse buys. In my local B+N, books on tape have replaced several bookshelves of books.

Clearly, the chain brick and mortar booksellers have learned that they sell mostly blockbuster titles, impulse items and coffee. People seem to go into a store knowing what they want or are only willing to browse the new titles stacked on tables.

But online, buyers do shop differently. With search words and listmania lists and other tools, the buyer can and does find a wider variety of books. Specialized subjects can be searched for and found—titles that would never fit into a physical store.

Online B + N and Amazon know that there is a place for specialized books. So do the executives who have come from the traditional publishing world and other professions. These executives run the vanity presses that were renamed subsidy presses and are now called Self-Publishers.

Which leads me to an 8-page advertisement in this week’s Publishers Weekly called “Self-Publishing Comes of Age” that includes a 4 page advertorial. The subtitle of the article is “Leaving vanity behind, today’s top self-publishers achieve success and offer models for the future.”

The article coyly suggests that this is a profitable and smart place to be if you are the publisher. “The category [self-publishing] once so aggressively cordoned off by other participants in the industry, has over the past decade turned into a booming market, drawing entrepreneurial investment and top editorial talent.”

The article discusses how in the 1950’s, the term vanity press came to be and that an author would spend lots of money to have books printed only to have them collect dust in their garages.

The article says that now it’s all different. “Self-publishers” help authors market their book and they don’t have to sit on them because they can be produced one at a time with Print on Demand (POD). They also site the Internet as being a huge factor in getting these books to marketplace—something I do agree with. What really irks me here is that they’ve also dumped the word “Subsidy Publishers”, which is what they are and replaced it with Self-publishers—which they aren’t.

My company, Lingham Press, is a self-publisher. But, now that the subsidy press has taking over the word, to call my company that makes it sound bad.

All of us true self-publishers aside, the real danger of this article is to naïve wannabe authors. (Of course, subsidies' deception in advertisements and practices are legendary.) Aside from the phrase “striking out entirely on their own” nowhere in this article is there any information that talks about true self-publishing. Your choice as an author is to either make your book with a traditional publisher or a subsidy publisher.

Geared towards the industry, the wanna be author would benefit from a close reading of this article for a reality check. Some of my favorite examples:

· “While there’s no guarantee of success—and the top providers have become savvy about keeping reality in check for their author, since referrals and satisfaction are critical to their business models.”

· “That means that hopeful authors—who remain self-publishing companies’ primary revenue stream.”

· “Our sales of self-published authors are minimal overall, but some rare, self-published authors sell exceptionally well.”

· “Today’s top self-publishing companies are heavily invested in the idea that a happy customer is a valuable customer, which leads to the management of expectations, along with the provision of services that can genuinely help author achieve success.” [Gosh, how swell are they!”]

· “…in an industry almost categorically populated with demanding customers.”

Essentially, this article appears as a self-congratulatory orgy over this fast growing phenomenon called self-publishers to the traditional publishers. To say we are as good, if not better than you guys, because we embrace technology and the future. What’s more we charge our customers/authors and make money when we do manage to sell a book or two.

Check out Wheatmark, who describes themselves as both a traditional and subsidy publisher: when a book sells over 2000 copies through author’s efforts (1% of books) it is enrolled in the company’s Great Expectations program, offering all kinds of services. I would think if you sold 2000, you wouldn’t need them?

What ticks me off most about this article is the gleeful presentation that this “new model” of publishing is making oodles of money for these cutting-edge publishers, while admitting only a fraction of the authors will make anything more then a trophy book.

For more information, go to: Harmonious Environment:Beautify, Detoxify & Energize Your Life, Your Home & Your Planet.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , , , ,


Anonymous said...

I read "Rant II" first and commented, but I have a comment on this, too. The Publisher's Weekly section you are referring to is what is commonly known as an "Advertorial." Perhaps you noticed that the companies mentioned in the article are exactly the same ones advertised in the 8 pages of ads? Perhaps you also noticed that the amount of editorial content allocated for each company was directly proportional to the size of the ad? This was a clever attempt by Publisher's Weekly to cash in on what Writer's Digest and other consumer-oriented publications have realized: that self-publishing companies are profitable "new blood" (and profitable new blood means new advertising dollars for two business models (print media and traditional publishing) that both desperately need it. I wouldn't lend too much creditability to what the words said - they were crafted with the help of the advertisers paying for the ads, and therefore lack anything close to true journalism.

You're right about Wheatmark's "promotion service," too. It sets the bar so high that it won't have to actually deliver very often but still gets the benefit of marketing the service. But the way it markets the service is so slippery, that they could get away with offering a package of bookmarks to the author for free (about $34.95 at and be off the hook of their obligation. Wow.

PODdy Mouth
Daily Dirt on POD

Norma said...

I think you need to re-read the post. The subsidy publishers, not PW, wrote the 4 page advertorial.