Monday, January 3, 2011

Meet the Publisher...

I know I promised some raytracing, but so far I haven't had time to write anything on it so ...

However, as quickly mentionned in a previous post, I follow the blog of J.A. Konrath and am quite interested in the "Self-Publishing movement". Of course, having no writing talent or time and living in the "ebookwise retarded" France, I am not in the least directly involved, but (as with ray-tracing) I'm an avid external observer.
After a few months of observations, I got some partial knowledge about a publisher's role, as well as the publishing industry's. Here is more or less my limited understanding.

The publisher's historical role is to choose writers or books, and bet a high amount of money on it. That money is distributed between a writer's advance (and later royalties), editing, formatting, cover art, production and distribution, marketing... Due to his experience and knowledge, as well as it's high volume of sale, he should be able to sell enough of these books to retailers to at least recoup his bets, some books compensating for others, finally making a profit.

Historically, the risk taken by the traditionnal publisher was high due to the "materiality" of physical books (pbooks) : high cost of production, high costs of distribution, high marketing constraint, short average lifespan of books ... That latter point is important in itself : In physical bookshops, the amount of shelf space is limited, which combined with new books arrival means that a rotation is needed (new books replacing old ones). I also heard of some states where "storage" taxes enticed publishers to make more limited runs, which also limits the book's availability after it's first runs.
So for publishers, High risks lead to big piece of the cake. The author not taking as much (monetary) risk got a small part of the pie

However that business model has gained some competition with the arrival of "self-publishing".
The premise on which the traditional publishing is based is that of material high starting costs. Some new ways to provide/read books have become more widespread :
  • POD machines,even though highly geographically constrained ;
  • ereaders (Kindle, Nook, Sony etc...) allow affordable, comfortable, and portable reading of ebooks ; 
  • tablets allow affordable and portable reading of color ebooks, comics, "enhanced" books ; 
  • smartphones and PCs are also there (almost free for ereading since bought mostly for other applications);
All these devices allow a reader to get the reading experience they want, and combined with high availability of ebooks through digital library (which provides unlimited shelf space) they get rid of a big part of the "publisher's risk" : production and distribution. This opened the way for "self publishers"...

If one suppresses the production and distribution services from the ones listed above (publishers please comment and add any that I may have missed), it leaves : Writer's advance, editing, cover arts, marketing.
Supposing a writer were to forego an advance, and provide his own editing, formatting and cover (either by doing the work himself or sub-contracting it), and did his own marketing, he would not need the services of a publisher... that's exactly what self-publishing is.

J.A. Konrath did change from traditional to self-publishing and has a tremenduous success and provides his calculations, as well as other writers success stories.

Derek J Canyon did also and keeps track on his blog of the exact costs for his two books ("Dead Dwarves Don't Dance" and "Dead Dwarves Dirty Deeds")... While not a success yet, (far from it, he has yet to recoup his initial costs), it seems clear that the monetary amount is far from justifying a high royalty rate if it were done by a publisher...

However, I wrote of a publisher's role here, but there is an other aspect that I didn't write on : the "Publishing Industrie's role". I'll explore that in a next post...


  1. That sounds like a pretty accurate assessment, as far as I understand it as well.

    What is the deal with France? Is there a reason -- French law? French corporations-- that has stopped from offering self-published authors 70% royalties?

    Tara Maya
    The Unfinished Song: Initiate

  2. Tara, Thank you for the comment... I replied in a new Post !