Friday, June 10, 2011

Scarcity vs Abundance in Book Publishing

About four of five years ago, I remember being on a forum about publishing and the poster was making the statement that what we need is less not more books. The person's basic premise was that the quality of books were continuing to decrease because the publishers were not being selective enough. This person had once been a published author, who had subsequently gone out of print, and now spent his time reading the slush pile at some publishing house.

I personally found that opinion rather counterproductive to someone who was making their living off of the business of selling books. I held the opposite opinion and felt what we needed was MORE books and that many good ones were being passed over because there were only so many open slots that were available through a relatively small number of publisher's finite capacity. Of course that was all before the ebook revolution.

With the advances in technology (Print on Demand and ebooks) the ability to put out more books has exploded. During the Gaithersburg Book Festival a panel of publishing professionals was discussing the Future of the book. Jed Lyons noted that a trend of selling less copies of more titles was changing the nature of publishing. He cited the following statistics: (04:25 in the video found here).
  • Ten years ago 50,000 books were published per year
  • Five years ago 180,000 books were published per year
  • Last year there were 1,000,000 books published
  • There are now more than 17,000 publishers
I see this as a great thing as the more opportunities to get your books out there is ultimately good for writers.

As progressive as I have been in my own publishing company, I found that even myself, fell into a trapping that many publishers do, which is limiting the output of authors. When I first started putting out Michael's books, I planned for them to be released one every six-months. My thought process was to have an event that would trigger a "shot in the arm" for sales that would help reverse a decline that was started to appear at this time as the initial bubble of sales started to slow down.

I've now changed my opinion on that front and believe that books should be released as quickly as possible. I think it was John Locke (ebook best seller) who mentioned that each book was like a sales agent who went out into the world on an evangelic mission to bring readers to the author's body of work and that makes a lot of sense to me.

But the shift from scarcity to abundance will have major repercussions to the publishing industry and authors ability to make a living writing. In an article entitled Scarcity to Abundance: E-books and the pain of the Digital Revolution, Steven Lyle Jordon says:

The state of our world, after the full adoption of the Digital Revolution, will likely be as unrecognizable to those of us alive today as the Industrial Revolution would have been to the farmers of the fifteenth century.
And I think he's correct. One of the last posts I was commenting on before being banned from Absolute Write was with a poster who actually made the following statements:

I also think your "new model" and "old model" is pretty indicative of exactly the type of thinking I find a little faulty in the first place. I'm sure you'll disagree with me on this, but the model is changing and it's a lot more amorphous than that. We saw tape players turn to cds turn to mp3s and there was no major collapse of the record industry.

Truth be told, my own thought is that I expect there to continue to be paradigm shifts in self-publishing, with commercial remaining largely the same.
Seriously? How deep is the hole that those clinging to traditional publishing models live in? We are not talking about a mere "change in format". Nor a trend that only effects self-published authors. What we are seeing is a whole new publishing paradigmn. Here are some comments from my rebutal that I think bears repeating:

If you believe this is about a new format than you are missing the importance of the monumental shifts.

a) Authors selling in the tens and hundreds of thousands without publishers

b) The collapse of bookstore chains

c) A required shift of marketing from chain store buyers to individual readers

d) infinite shelf space of online buying

e) the re-introduction of hundreds of thousands of out of print titles that can now be reintroduced into the market place

f) A huge proliferation of titles (ten years ago 50,000 titles a year were released last year there were 1,000,000 (Source)

g) long tail economics as books can remain "in print" forever through POD and ebooks

h) an end to publisher monopolies as a sole gatekeeper to getting a book to market.

i) a new publishing model (Thomas and Mercer) where a major publisher has access not only to consumer emails but also their buying habits.
The toothpaste is out of the tube and there is no going back. From this point on the number of books will continue to proliferate at an unprecedented speed. I think this will offer both opportunity and challenges, but putting your head in the sand and ignoring that it has occurred is definitely not the correct approach.


Robert Burton Robinson said...

Robin, I love this new world of book publishing/self-publishing. Every writer gets a shot at selling their books. The challenge, of course, is to get your book noticed in a pile of millions.

Amazon does a great job of selling books and tracking their customers' purchases. They maintain a relationship with the customer. But I've got to have a relationship with my customer too. Or at least with my biggest fans.

A blog or website can help. But what I've found is that if you really want people to traffic your website or sign up for your mailing list or newsletter, you've got to give them what they want the most:

1. More of your writing---free, of course. Your blog posts may be enough, if they are entertaining or informative.
2. A connection with the author.

I have been giving away free books and stories on my website since 2006. And subscribers to my free monthly newsletter get a new flash fiction short story every month that is not available anywhere else.

But does it really make that much difference to have a few hundred or thousand fans on a mailing list? Aren't those subscribers only interested in free stuff? Does this help sell many books?


Not enough to make a living (unless you have a very large mailing list), but enough to kick start a new book. Because the hardest thing about getting sales on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., is to get those early sales that will give the book some rank and some "also boughts."

Besides, I enjoy staying in touch with my fans. Sometimes it's just nice to know you actually have some. ;)

P.S. When you're building your mailing list, be careful to only add people who have specifically requested it. (There are a number of mail marketing services that will do most of the work for you.) Otherwise you're a spammer. And nobody likes a spammer.

Steve DeWinter said...

I am just starting out with my books who have languished on my hard drive as I spent the last four years trying to catch my lucky break and land an agent.

Never happened.

so I went indie and self-published. And while the eBook phenom has been only happening really in the past year, I almost feel like I am late to the party.

But I made it to the party anyway. Better late than never. And with being able to actually get my book into the hands of readers, writing has become fun again (I must be honest, getting the stacks of rejection letters from agents who took the time to respond just wasn't any fun) and I am charging full speed ahead to add my own contributions to an abundant supply of reading.

Readers are hungry for more. They can read so quickly, I don't think we can ever produce too many books in any time-span that the readers can't keep up with.

Stephen T. Harper said...

"The state of our world, after the full adoption of the Digital Revolution, will likely be as unrecognizable to those of us alive today as the Industrial Revolution would have been to the farmers of the fifteenth century."

How many think that the long novels will begin to have less and less appeal in a world where your entire library fits into the palm of your hand like the remote control of your TV?

It feels like that makes sense, but we'll just have to wait and see what happens. Also seems like authors will naturally gravitate toward a new model to produce new works faster and keep their pipeline full of inexpensive stories.

India Drummond said...

When my small-press book came out in April (after the 18 month publication process), I had readers *complain* that it was going to be JUNE before my indie book came out (indie publication being a 5 month process for me and I worked on the indie book while the other was in the endless wait-edit-wait process).

I've noticed something funny. Well, it makes *me* giggle anyway. Authors and people "in the know" in publishing care about a whole lot of things readers don't care about. Readers don't care what the publisher's name is. Most of them won't even know. Readers don't care how long ago an author's last book came out.

With my indie book, I've had people look at my anticipated publication dates for future books in the series and say, "But you're indie. Can't you put them out faster than that?" (Which is ALWAYS a nice thing to hear, particularly because I know they mean it.)

Believe me, if I possibly *could* put out 6 books a year, I'd do it in a heartbeat. If only I could write a flawless first draft, had a personal assistant, no family, no friends, and didn't have to eat or sleep....

Robin Sullivan said...

@Robert Burton Robinson said...
I agree 100% and I'll be doing some blog posts directly to some of the points you raised here as well.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Steve - welcome to the party - it's not too late!!

Thanks for sharing your experience - and you are not alone. I had lunch yesterday with a talented writer who I'm trying to get to sign on with Ridan Publishing. He had a top-tier agent that died, and when searching for his next agent had three very prominent agents fighting over him. His first book has now been around to all the big players and while many were complimentary - they all passed.

I saw the same thing in him - all the joy of writing has been beaten out. I think he left feeling "energized" - I think the constant bombardment of rejections is one of the toughest things about this business.

Mike Dennis said...

Good post, Robin. Did you point out to the person on Absolute Write who said, "We saw tape players turn to cds turn to mp3s and there was no major collapse of the record industry."

Wow! Where has he been hiding? The record industry has been collapsing for several years now precisely BECAUSE they failed to adapt to the digital revolution. There are no more record stores, the Billboard charts have become irrelevant, and musicians are making their own albums on easily-acquired software, selling them digitally in a straight line between themselves and the consumer.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Mike - I know pretty hard to believe huh? I was in the middle of that post when the banning hit - so no unfortunately not. Some people are truly "not getting" what is going on.

Kate said...

It's funny, because that argument that someone used on you, "There are too many books..." for the trad pub branch of writing has been used as well on Kindleboards. It led to some fiery conversations, for sure.

I've always thought it was a weird argument to say there has to be less of something for it to be properly valued. I guess in some cases, like how much money you have, that could be true, on the other hand, as a reader, I get EXCITED by the idea of having more authors in the world.

Do the people who say such things think about that? I bet I'm not the only one who enjoys discovering a new author.

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