Whether it is the best of times for the publishing industry, or the times that try publishers’ souls, depends on whom you ask, and of course, what you really want to know. But there’s little doubt that these are the best of times for anyone who wants his or her oeuvre to be published.
The dictionary defines “to be published” as “To prepare and issue (printed material) for public distribution or sale OR To bring to the public attention; announce.” While those definitions cover traditional publishing, they also work for AuthorHouse, iUniverse and Lulu.com. It’s a little more of a stretch for Blurb.com and MyPublisher.com, which are focused on getting books printed, rather than distributed. But given the turnkey simplicity with which users can create, the speed of production, and the quality of that creation, there’s no doubt that the digitizing of the book production process has resulted in stunning new opportunities for authors.
What does this mean for traditional publishers? At the moment it means little more than bumping up against the occasional competing (albeit self-published) book. In the future, it will mean more clutter, and more confusion about what the industry considers legitimate and the rest of the world calls, simply, books.
But the ramping up of digital publishing promises great advantages for publishers too. As Lightning Source – which now PODs over 1 million books a month – and Amazon, which just acquired a bunch of four color digital presses – can attest, the speed and price of getting books to market is declining. If and when ebooks finally ramp up, new sales opportunities for traditional and subsidized/vanity/self-publishers will follow.
Will the divide between the two continue as each side pumps out more and more product? Or are there ways in which a Random House (which already owns a piece of Xlibris) might more proactively work with aspiring authors, including the many who have no desire to be the great American novelist, but simply want help getting published? Even the NYT sees a place for self published books; a recent article about chef Martin Picard, opined that, for him, “self-publishing proved to be more liberating than limiting,” resulting in precisely the book he and his staff really wanted.
Touting its customers’ ‘Lifestyles of the Niche and Fameless,’ as they create pet magazines, a book about the Sistine Chapel in cross-stitch, or a monastic calendar, Lulu.com sells, according to Direct Marketing News, 90,000 self-published products a month, and adds 300,000 titles a year.
Given such numbers, and with “You” as the Time Person of the Year, the question is how “legit” publishers should take advantage of these burgeoning models and markets.
The Non-Traditionals: A Look Back At 2006
In a year when the long tail went from a buzzword to a business model, the notion of niche has trickled into every aspect of selling books. Targeting small audiences has become the focus – and not the afterthought it used to be – for a growing number of publishers, authors and agents who have realized that the better they can discover, prime and deliver to these audiences as small and numerous as they are, the better their books will be received. Authors are playing a more aggressive role than ever, doing anything they can – especially online – to leverage their platform and build their brand. And publishers, agents, distributors and third parties in turn, are bleeding into one another, expanding their range of services to accommodate them.
The new-model publishing companies covered in our article A More Perfect Union (PT 09/ 06) came to symbolize this year’s trend of dismantling the traditional in order to better target audiences. CDS, Beaufort and Greenleaf have all created no-advance, shared- profit publishing models around well-established distribution operations that involve the author as business partner from the start. No money? Get the author to share the risk. No audience? Build a distribution company first, know who you’re selling to, and then choose an author and a project that will fit your range.
“The biggest hole in the publishing process is distribution,” Meg La Borde EVP of Greenleaf said, explaining that authors are asked how many books they can move before they are even signed, and Greenleaf in turn evaluates what they know they can sell. “It’s all done up front,” La Borde says. “And then it’s a business decision for the author.”
At CDS (now Vanguard), VP Publisher Roger Cooper said that the authors who choose to be published by them feel that for one reason or another the audience they’ve built up over the years hasn’t been reached or targeted in an aggressive or creative way.
Publishers aren’t the only ones assessing the market before a book is published. In Size Matters (PT 02/06) we looked at the growing trend of literary agencies merging into superagencies in order to offer expanded services – from design guidance, to creating a long term marketing proposal, to brand building, to web design and management. Kathleen Spinelli of Brands to Books spoke extensively about the necessity of platform building. “For me, it’s more important to go to a licensing show than a writer’s conference,” she said. “I need my clients to be thinking about what they can do to sell their book from the second they walk through the door. When I shop books, I put an entire marketing plan into the proposal. Publishers love it.”
Our annual distribution round-up, Deliverance (PT 05/06), found that many distributors have been paying acute attention to their non-traditional channels. At last spring’s BISG Making Information Pay Conference, Mark Suchomel repeatedly emphasized IPG‘s commitment to expanded coverage and availability. “We judge reps on the number of accounts they sell to, rather than the number of units they sell,” he said. IPM’s Jane Graf said that the right market for their client’s books is no longer just bookstores, and Jim Fallone of Andrews McMeel talked about their “channel managers” pushing to get their books into as many smaller channels as possible.
Apart from finding channels for specific books, many major publishers are joining packagers (like Weldon Owen) and specialty houses (like Melcher Media) to locate, and increasingly create, books for specific channels – where custom opportunities are endless.
“In large corporations, you need to show growth, and that growth isn’t coming from traditional markets,” says Stephen Weitzen, SVP Publisher of Simon Scribbles who manages Simon & Schuster CDP (Customer Driven Publishing) on the children’s side. “For us, CDP is always a non-returnable business…a way to sell a million books non-returnable.”
In addition, other old models like syndication (Syndication Stagnation, PT 03/06) and subscription (Capture the Customer, PT 06/06) are being reexamined and reconfigured as ways to engage a loyal readership.
All Things Digital
Every year it seems we wait for technology’s actual influence in the industry to catch up to the hype that precedes it, and this year is no exception. When our daily life is already so infused with technology, it seems passé (embarrassing, really) to keep talking about technology as the next new thing. But the truth is for the most part the industry is still lagging.
In one of our most talked-about articles of the year, we parsed the difficult world of “eStats,” attempting to calculate the make-up of the emerging digital market. What we found was a corner of the industry in slight natal disarray, still struggling to define itself, and yet brimming with potential. Even with the reemergence of an ebook reader on the scene (and thanks to Sony, one that people might even use), ebooks have ceased to stand as a signifier for the digital publishing industry as a whole. “I avoid the word ebook like a plague,” Meg Fischer, Director of Domestic Rights at Oxford University Press said during an ebook panel at BookTech last spring. “I like to call it digital media.”
While eBooks and eAudio are the most obvious manifestations of print media in a digital age – whole “books” sold through the e-equivalent of traditional retail channels – other parts of the digital publishing market, like online reference, represent the growing trend of “chunking” information – breaking it apart and allowing consumers to become the architects, rather than leaving construction to publishers. Since consumers don’t buy chunks in the same way they buy whole content (although up-and-coming programs like Amazon Pages, and Random House’s initiative to monetize individual pages are testing this fact) other models such as subscription, rental, pay per view, and ad-supported content have cropped up.
As business models shift and settle, it’s still difficult to draw the line between monetization and marketing, according to Lightspeed’s Jim Lichtenberg. “Since the market is in its infancy and on a quest to convert print consumers into digital consumers, business models are still emerging,” he said. For now, marketing and merchandising spill into each other – free podcasts advertising pay audiobooks, Holtzbrinck‘s RSS-delivered Chapter Feeds enticing customers to buy both print and digital, the innumerable bundled digital incentives educational publishers are using to gain leverage.
In November, PT invited 400 agents to participate in a survey to find out how involved they are with their authors’ e-lives. While virtually all agents (98.1%) encourage their authors to market their books online, some are more optimistic than others about the influence that an online promotion has on sales and most don’t (and don’t know how) to quantify online efforts as they relate to hard revenue. 72% found author websites to be crucial, and 77.8 % said that their authors have had significant success with online marketing – leading to increased sales, a larger fan base, reviews in lit blogs, increased speaking events, and selection in online reading groups.
Increasingly, responsibility is falling on authors themselves to create and maintain their online world. John Burke, VP of FSB Associates said that more and more the company is working with authors directly, “For web publicity projects, the authors account for 20% of our business, but for web site development, it’s probably about 60%.” Carol Fitzgerald said that at The Book Reporter Network she is approached equally by publishers and authors.
In a wider media frame, online video received the most press of 2006 – crowned by Google’s $1.65 billion purchase of You Tube last fall. Video book trailers have continued to pop up this year, but some of the most interesting (and potentially promising) integration of online video for publishers is coming from online movie tie-in campaigns (The New Guard, PT 12/06).