Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

A Response to Loyalty in Publishing

I love the books Dawn Cook writes under the pen name Kim Harrison.  I really, really do in that bone-deep way that defies my meager attempts at description, so let’s leave it at that.  But when I read her post today about Loyalty, Trust, and Pixy Dust, I just couldn’t sit on my hands.

Dawn is brushing over many of the recent horror stories authors have experienced as well saying that the industry is in it for the love of books. She says that we should show loyalty to a system that brought us so many wonderful books in the past.  She “bristles at the notion that the traditional publishing industry is in it only for the money.”  Why does a company go into business except to make money?

Let’s take the warm fuzzies out of this and look at the industry in a more critical light:

Book Stores

The book store industry is built on bottom-line numbers, not a love of books, and those numbers tell a grim tale. While the US economy is expected to grow over the next five years, the book store industry will not follow suit. Revenue is expected to decline at 1.6% per year on average to $16.5 billion by 2017 (IbisWorld 2012). The recent failure of Boarders and Barnes & Noble’s announcement they will close a third of their stores is a clear sign that this is an industry in decline. Competition with mass merchandisers, such as Wal-Mart will also continue to be a challenge for them.

Book Publishers

The book publishing industry is also greatly distressed, but recent restructurings by publishing houses, operational savings in digital printing technology, and expansion of internet and digital media outlets have created some savings for the industry. However, these savings are not repeatable every year and only stem the hemorrhaging. The industry is still desperately seeking solutions.

46.7% of the book publishing industry is composed of textbooks and academic books. Adult trade fiction compose only 18.6% of the industry (IbisWorld 2012). Additionally, textbook profits are higher than trade fiction profits due to lower advertising costs.

If I was going to make changes that I would hope would save my company, which part of the market would I focus on? The biggest piece of the pie, of course. I think traditional publishers are happy to let Amazon wrangle independent authors, especially after Amazon announced it was acquiring GoodReads yesterday.

Industry Employees

However, I sense that Dawn is talking about the people who have found employment in these industries, not the companies themselves. Book publishing is a labor-intensive business, and we should value the expertise of the employees. I’m sure most of them are decent and caring, and they really love books and hope to share the best ones with the world. That is admirable, and I respect it.

The good old days really were good, shoot, they were great. But those days are also gone, like so many of our favorite bookstores.  Those stories have come to an end.

Key Factors of Success

But we need to wake up and see what is happening. If a company is going to be successful in this market, they need to focus on their key factors of success (IbisWorld):

  • Management of a high quality assets portfolio – Maintain a selection of books that are in demand by seeking out new writers.
  • Control of distribution arrangements – Understand and gain control of publishing channels.
  • Production of premium goods – Books must meet expectations or publishers will experience significant losses.
  • Establishment of brand names – Strong branding can attract writers and readers, affecting both upstream and downstream demand.
  • Ensuring pricing policy is appropriate – Appropriate pricing can maximize revenue as well as move inventory.

Looking Forward

As bookstores continue to close and publishers continue to consolidate, the attractive convenience of e-books will only increase.  IbisWorld estimates that e-book sales will generate 26.2% of industry revenue in 2013, and is projected to expand rapidly to 32.8% of revenue by 2018.  The ease of self-publishing and self-marketing will provide additional competition in the marketplace and take away profits from book publishers.  In response to this, publishers will continue to control as much of the distribution channels as possible.

Independent authors are in direct competition with traditional publishers.  There is only so much disposable income from consumers to make purchases each month.  If they buy my book, they may not buy yours.  It is in publishers best interests to limit independent authors as much as possible and buy up any that are “proven winners.”

I’m sorry Dawn, I respect your viewpoint, but I can’t see it from where I’m sitting.  The employees of the publishers may love books, but companies love money, and publishers are out to eat my lunch.

16 comments on “A Response to Loyalty in Publishing

  1. beautifulorange
    March 29, 2013

    Tough love there. But absolutely true and there’s no point sugar-coating it or pretending it’s not happening.

    • tracycembor
      April 2, 2013

      I did get a reply back from Dawn about my post: “Tracy. I never said they were not there to make money. The entire post is about having a little respect for what everything is built on.”

      I spent the weekend thinking about this. I respect the people in the publishing industry greatly. Their skills and experience are invaluable, and I’m sure they love books.

      However, I cannot respect an industry where a select few people are choosing what books are in our schools and in our homes. It gets too close to a slippery slope for me to be comfortable with it, let alone have respect for it. When that same industry starts playing games with release dates to prop up print media before releasing e-books (last Wheel of Time book, for example), I feel manipulated. When I read the horror stories that established authors are enduring with traditional publishers and with Amazon, I feel skittish.

      Plenty of people are writing articles about the trade-offs between traditional channels and self-publishing. The time sink alone makes the traditional route unappealing for me.

      I’m not going to laud a system that so desperately needs to change.

      • beautifulorange
        April 2, 2013

        It’s tricky. I think your article is spot on – but I don’t know exactly what the industry will look like in 10 or 20 years time… what will he agent’s role be? I am a writer – and at the moment, I can say that I would love to one day be published rather than self-publish. I have a huge respect for what that means and the foundations of what it is built on – but on the other hand, I don’t want to support a system that is so manipulative and calculating. In truth (and sadly) that’s just business – and to succeed, most people will need to oil it’s wheels. I hope that if I do one day ‘make it’ then I find the right people to guide me.

  2. katemsparkes
    March 29, 2013

    I believe that people who work in publishing may be in it because they love books, but that will always take a back seat to money if you’re talking about a large company. Always. An innovative and risky new story that a few people in the company love will be passed over for a 50 Shades or Twilight ripoff that’s guaranteed to bring in money. It’s just the way business works.

    Obviously new things do break through and become trends, but I can see publishers playing it safe by letting indie books duke it out and then scooping up whatever is proven to work. Good deal for them, right?

    • tracycembor
      April 2, 2013

      Like purchasers in any industry, you buy things that are like other things you know to be successful. If Book B is similar to successful Book A, you are going to choose the sure thing over new and unproven Book C.

  3. Charles Yallowitz
    March 29, 2013

    I like your point about the employees. I’m one of those people who thinks most corporate bigwigs are in it solely for the money, but as you move down the ladder, you reach people who care about the product. If the publishing industry changes completely then they’re the ones who are going to have to make the biggest adaption to the new landscape. Those that look at money more than the love of books aren’t going to be affected for too long.

    I’d like to agree with katemsparkes too about the risky new story being tossed aside for a flavor of the month title. A lot of people suggested I write something like Twilight or Harry Potter when those were popular. One person even said to write for Warhammer and World of Warcaft books because they ‘require less work and creation’. It’s a shame that’s a dominant mentality.

    • tracycembor
      April 2, 2013

      That’s a good point. Changes in the publishing industry will impact the traditional publishers more than anyone else. It makes sense that they will do everything they can to slow down the rate of change. Otherwise, changeover costs to new technology will be astronomical, and downsizing outdated departments will be rapid.

      I’m glad you aren’t writing Twilight or Harry Potter spin-offs. There is still so much room in genre fiction to write amazing stories. I don’t think we should keep traveling down the same paths again and again.

  4. ericjbaker
    March 29, 2013

    Film companies and record companies are blatantly in it for the money, so I’m not sure why anyone would think the publishing companies would be different. It’s entertainment product, for the most part.

    • tracycembor
      April 2, 2013

      Gasp! They aren’t in it for the love of the music? Eric, say it isn’t so!!

      Okay, that’s overdramatic, but you bring up a great point. Other entertainment industries don’t apologize for making money and saying no to a project with the numbers don’t add up.

      Technology revolutionized the music industry. Yes, it was a terrible, ugly process, and most companies are still feeling the impact of it today. But the artists have more power now, and that might be the scariest thing of all.

      • ericjbaker
        April 2, 2013

        As a long-time musician and former long-haired cliche who worked in record shops, I shall not shed any tears for record companies that lose money. What goes around…

  5. Przemek Kucia
    March 29, 2013

    In my eyes it looks like the big publishers are to big to adapt to changing environment. They are working exactly the same for last (put whatever you think is appropriate), when in last, I don’t know, 6 years (?), market conditions just have changed. Sure, they’re still turning big billions but eventually this, as you stated, intense labor will be liquidated into smaller, nimbler companies. Self-publishing is IMO a transition step between. What those dedicated workers should do now is to resign, start such new, swift companies that understand and help writers with technical, networking and business stuff.

    Self-publishing is really resignation from comparative advantage, but I understand that conditions of those few big publishers are just unacceptable. It is almost classical bubble situation. Bubble will burst eventually, not wasted work and assets will be liquidated by market and everything will go back to normal – writers will write, book-loving publishers will publish without mind-cracking responsibility for multi-million company. It isn’t really that great so everyone have to be a renaissance man today.

    • tracycembor
      April 2, 2013

      There are a handful of experienced employees who have started niche companies and seem to be successful. Freelance editors, in particular, seem to be doing well, and brand new companies are offering services in assisting independent authors self-publish their work, usually related to formating e-books, creating digital book covers, and producing audio books. Paying for a printer to produce paper copies of books is also not seen with the negative stigma that it had previously.

      I don’t think the new status quo for the industry will look much like the previous status quo. There will be many more small- and medium-sized companies (if Amazon doesn’t buy them all) operating to assist the content creators in bringing their books to market. Writers won’t have to be renaissance men unless they want to reduce production costs. They will have cost-effective alternatives for the services primarily offered today by traditional publishers – editing, cover art, formatting, book distribution, and marketing.

      Or maybe it won’t look anything like that. That’s okay, I’m open to change.

  6. Paula Cappa
    March 29, 2013

    EricJBaker makes a good point. I do not believe Dawn Cook when she says “everyone” is in this industry of book business (the publishers) are in it because “they love books.” Readers love books, writers love books, editors love books, the bookshop clerk loves books. Publishers love high sales numbers and money and know how to capitalize on what entertains the reading public. When we look at some of the dreadful and poorly written books on the best seller list, it’s not because the publishers loved those books, it’s because they saw dollar signs.

    Here’s something I came across that says it all:

    “I think it’s a shame that something as creative and vital to the nature of the human species as story-telling is largely controlled by the soulless cretins known as publishers.”
    ― Piers Anthony

    • tracycembor
      April 2, 2013

      Ooo, that is an awesome quote from Piers Anthony. It is tough when something that is “art” or “creative” or “part of the human essence” is treated as a commodity, but that is what books, music, and film have become. It is about what sells the most units, not about which product is the highest quality. That is the essence of business.

      In the big scheme of things, I don’t worry about product quality with books. On average better quality books will be more successful than poorer quality books. If you think a book is crappy, leave reviews about it, or if you can dodge the bullet, don’t buy it. Readers still have a lot of the power in the author – publisher – consumer relationship.

  7. MishaBurnett
    March 29, 2013

    I am sure that the calligraphers who were made obsolete by the invention of movable type also loved books. Nonetheless, the printing press put books in the hands of the common people and allowed reading to spread through the general population.

    The changes in technology today will end a lot of jobs in the publishing industry, no doubt about it, and that’s sad for those people. However, it is also letting more authors connect with more readers, and I honestly feel that it is better for both authors and readers.

    • tracycembor
      April 2, 2013

      Thank you, that was very well said. I don’t wish ill on anyone, and change is painful, but I agree it will be better for content creators and consumers. As for the traditional publishers, 100+ years was a pretty good run. Grats.

      As for the calligraphers, I can imagine the amount of griping in the unemployment lines in 1455. It wouldn’t have been pretty if they had seen Guttenberg strolling down the street.

Comments are closed.

Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

Weekends are reserved for my Music Playlist.

Writers of the Future Honorable Mention

About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
%d bloggers like this: