At the same time I was getting a bunch of odd reactions to another question I asked, I mentioned something about disliking the general way that traditional publishers operate in the modern publishing world. The second I did that, I got a bunch of people attacking me, saying that I just didn’t understand the traditional publishing world and they were doing everything right.
No, no they’re not.
This is a story that can be told regarding a lot of different industries, genres that have already gone through this gauntlet and learned what the traditional publishing world hasn’t figured out yet. It’s a secret that none of them wanted to learn and all of them had to face in the light of modern reality.
The Internet changed everything and you can’t rely on the way you’ve always done something to continue working in the Internet age.
The music industry had to face that reality. The movie industry had to face that reality. The television industry had to face that reality. Having the Internet inherently changes how business, all business, is being done and there’s no stopping progress, no matter how much you wish you could. Businesses can no longer sit back and expect the world to beat a path to their door, they have to go out and engage their customers and convince them, directly, to buy their products.
See, I had people tell me that the customers of the traditional publishing houses are retailers, and as far as that goes, that’s absolutely correct. However, just thinking that way is terribly shortsighted because of the way publishing is typically set up. A publisher sends books that are ordered to retailers, be it Amazon or Barnes & Noble or whoever, and those retailers try to sell the books to their customers. If the books don’t sell, the retailers strip the books, they tear the front and back covers off the books and return them to the publishers for a refund for the book. Therefore, the end customer, the person who buys the books and reads the books, has a direct and demonstrable impact on the bottom line of the publisher. To say that the end-buyer isn’t the customer, directly or indirectly, of the publisher is insanity. A book is only successful if people actually pick it up off a bookstore shelf, or download it from an online retailer, and read it. Otherwise, it’s just going to get returned, at a net loss, to the publisher.
From a writer perspective, you get a really raw deal with most traditional publishers, especially if you’re a new writer. First off, you make virtually nothing for your work, the publisher takes the lion’s share of any money you make, above and beyond the costs to publish and distribute the books. Secondly though, they do very little to actually publicize the book. They don’t let anyone know about it. That’s your job, as the writer, to go out and market your book, interact with your audience, advertise, do appearances, signings, readings, etc. all on your own dime. Writing books, especially books that don’t take off like gangbusters, is usually a money-losing proposition once you consider all the time and effort you put into things for which you don’t get paid. No other industry works like that. It’s like saying that the agriculture industry might buy vegetable from a farmer, then expect the farmer to go around to all of the grocery stores and convince people to buy his vegetables. No one in their right mind would do that. More and more people are realizing that, since the traditional publishers aren’t doing a damn thing for you to begin with, why give them all the money? Self-publishing has taken off and according to some estimates I’ve seen, 50% of all e-books sold by 2020 will be by self-published authors. That’s something that traditional publishers ought to be concerned by.
Unfortunately, you get a lot of traditional publishing apologists who think that just because it’s always been done that way, it always should be done that way. That’s the same thing that most of the music companies said when Apple first approached them about iTunes. It would never work! Downloading music? One song at a time? Unheard of! All of them dug in their heels and refused to even consider the idea and fought against it tooth and nail. Today, online digital downloading is the most lucrative part of the entire music industry business plan. Traditional publishers have done the same thing. E-books? Not a chance! Yet today, 14% of all books sold are digital and major publishers report that 20-30% of their revenue comes from e-books, yet many still hate the idea and price their e-books out of a reasonable range as new books. For major releases, traditional publishers still tend to price their e-books at the same price as a physical hard-cover version.
For me, at least, it just makes more sense to go with self-publishing. I get to decide how and when I market my books, and considering how much I detest self-promotion, probably very little, but at least I’m in control of what gets done and I set my own expectations for my own work, unlike traditional publishing that does essentially nothing to push my work and takes most of the money for it.