Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Credit Where It’s Due ~ #TraditionalPublishing and #SelfPublishing


Regular visitors here know I’ve been covering the Traditional Publishing beat (this post will be in the collection at that last link…).

But, I’ve given space-preference to Self-Publishing.

You probably know that there’s been a Digital Book Revolution; but, if you haven’t been involved in deep study of the Book World, you may not have noticed how it can appear that traditional publishers are in the position of a critical need to adapt or die

And, it can certainly seem that those publishers are in as much denial as the folks who think there’s no climate change

Still, it was the old guard publishers who gave most of us the books we’ve treasured (unless you happen to be under the age of 20 and got into e-books very early).

So, I’ll work backwards into what got me writing today:

There was a man named Leonard Shatzkin who passed away in 2002.

He was one of those legendary figures who is said to have been “…responsible for innovations that became industry practice…”.

He seems to have been best known for a particular book he wrote, In Cold Type: Overcoming the Book Crisis.

Here’s one significant excerpt:

“For every copy of a hardcover book sold at its normal retail price, one book is sold as a remainder— a book that goes from the publisher to the remainder dealer for less than the cost of producing it and with zero income to the author. No other industry can make this claim.”

Continuing to back into what got me writing this post today, Leonard had a son, Mike, who’s referred to as, “…a widely-acknowledged thought leader about digital change in the book publishing industry.”

In an article about his father, Mike said:

“…the percentage of titles that don’t even recover their direct costs is rising. It is actually getting harder and harder to publish new titles successfully, even if the standard of success is lowered…”

O.K., now I’ve backed all the way up to what got me here today—Mike’s recent article, The Reality of Publishing Economics Has Changed for the Big Players.

I’ll share just a few excerpts:

“In the 1970s….With five thousand individuals making the decision about which books to take, even a small minority of the buyers could put a book into 500 or 1000 stores.”

“Now there are substantially fewer than 1000 decision-makers that matter. Amazon is half the sales.”

“The agent who was confirming my sense of these things agreed that the big houses used to be able to count on a sale of 1500 or 2000 copies for just about any title they published. Now it is not uncommon for books to sell in the very low triple digits, even on a big publisher’s list.”

And, for me, the most telling statement in that article:

“This is a fundamental change in big publisher economics from what it was two decades ago. While the potential wins have become exponentially bigger than they were in bygone days, the losses have become increasingly common. And while it is still an open question how well anybody can predict sales for a book that isn’t even written yet (which is the case for most books publishers acquire), there is a real cost to getting it wrong, even when the advance being paid is minimal.”

I find it interesting that Leonard, the father, was edging toward digital publishing when he died; and, it’s said about his son, Mike: “His insights about how the industry functions and how it accommodates digital change form the basis of all of the company’s consulting efforts.”

I, personally, feel that Traditional Publishing’s struggles with the Digital Revolution will tell the tale of whether they’re somehow reconciled with Self Publishing; or, they pass completely away

For those whose work demands a close and deep look into these territories, Mike Shatzkin’s Space on the ‘Net would be worth close inspection
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For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

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