Bracing for Impact–The Future of Big Publishing in the New Paradigm
Have you ever witnessed a car accident? Have you ever seen the accident coming before it even happened? I have. I recall being on a road trip to Florida and we hit a terrible rainstorm. The flooding was so bad that all the cars were slowing down to maybe ten miles an hour so as not to hydroplane. I recall a bright red pickup went flying past doing at least 70. I remember screaming at this driver that he was crazy and he was going to get someone…
…and then I saw it.
The world suddenly sharpened and time seemed to slow down. Far up ahead, I saw a small compact car change lanes into the truck’s path, but I was powerless to stop what I knew would happen next.
Two people died.
Yet, despite hundreds of thousands of collisions, we see this time and time and time again. People on cell phones while driving, texting while driving, drinking and driving and doing all the things WE ALL KNOW are gambling with life. Why do they do it? Because they think that they will be the exception even though others have tried and died.
History repeats itself because we fail to listen.
So why am I talking about this? I am frustrated. Publishing has had at least seven years to make a better game plan. It has seen the music industry AND the film industry get turned upside down, gutted, then parted out. Why, then have they failed to innovate?
You can’t do this! You are going to CRASH!
Quick History Lesson
The music industry, in my POV, has a little bit of an excuse only because it was one of the first industries to be hit by the digital tsunami. They saw it coming, too, but instead of anticipating change? Their plan was to pretend nothing would change and prop up the idea that, “People will always want to go to music stores and buy CDs.”
And it was this thinking that allowed iTunes to kick their tails.
Was change all bad?
For some change sucked…a LOT. But, the music industry was grossly wasteful. It failed to understand that the consumer–the music lover–was really who they needed to be pleasing all along. The industry made a bad business call; they supported the record store over the music lover and it HURT, and you know what? It should have hurt them. We should not reward waste.
Digital didn’t implode music; it liberated artists from waste, neglect, and stagnation.
We won’t even start on the film industry. Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy last month, so I think that sums things up.
So now we get to publishing.
I love New York. I love traditional publishing and always dreamed that one day I’d see a Big Six Publisher on the spine of my book. Still do sometimes. But when we love someone we are honest and we understand that excellence begins with honesty.
The truth will set us free. We cannot change and make a plan if we fail to accept reality. Whining is not a plan and complaining is not a strategy.
The Problem in Publishing
What has me on such a tear? Blame Porter Anderson and his AWESOME Writing on the Ether where I found THIS little nugget:
The Author’s Guild post, Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory. Some key lines stood out to me.
For book publishers, the relevant market isn’t readers (direct sales are few), but booksellers, and Amazon has firm control of bookselling’s online future as it works to undermine bookselling’s remaining brick-and-mortar infrastructure.
Whaaaaaahhhhh. Amazon is being a big meanie and isn’t playing fair.
Am I the only one who sees something wrong with their statement? Readers aren’t relevant? Um, maybe why Amazon is kicking so much @$$ is simply because it understands that the only thing that is relevant and ever has been relevant is the reader.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of monopolies at all. In fact, I am screaming and yelling and trying to get NY to make a plan because I want them to become competitive in the new paradigm. In fact, I have been yelling for FOUR YEARS and trying to get NY to listen, while agents continued to tell writers that social media wasn’t all that important and that readers would always want printed books.
A YEAR ago, I laid out a plan on this blog for NY to harness its strengths and recover. I even e-mailed the blog to Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers and to some agents in NY…and no response, unless one counts the form letter from Michael Hyatt’s personal assistant blowing me off.
Hey, can’t say I didn’t try.
I have wanted NY to pull its head out of the sand, and you know what? I still do. Competition is good. It keeps a market healthy. I want NY to avoid the fate of the music industry and the film industry, but I have been shouting for four years and now time is running out.
We are watching an entire industry capsize because we are…trying to save Barnes & Noble? The indie bookstore?
And the band played on…
People will always love
CDs paper books and want to browse in music stores bookstores.
News Flash–Um, the music industry was in the music business and their job was to get music to people who liked to listen to music. They were in the music business, not the record business or the CD business.
Publishing, you guys are in the story and information business, not the book business. Your job is to get information (NF) and stories (Fiction) to readers who dig information and stories….regardless of format. Kinko’s is in the printing business. YOU are in the information/story business.
Hanging onto the print paradigm is like ordering another drink as the Titanic sinks.
It gets better…
Established authors, for the most part, do fine selling through online bookstores. It’s new authors who lose out if browsing in bookstores becomes a thing of the past.
Browsing Roulette is the marketing plan for new writers.
I have been teaching how to build an on-line author platform capable of driving sales for YEARS. WANA has helped create some tremendously successful indie authors. Heck, how do you think Bob Mayer started out on social media? Remember him? The guy who’s selling thousands of books a day? Why not look to see who taught him social media and maybe see if she could help your writers, too? Bob thought it was a good idea.
In fact, WDW Publishing even offered an discount so agents and editors could order WANA in bulk at a discounted price to help ramp up their authors on social media. Guess how many orders we’ve filled?
To my knowledge? Zero. To quote Jerry Maguire, “Help ME, help YOU.”
WANA methods have continued to produce success after success. WANA methods are responsible for selling hundreds of thousands of books for ALL kinds of authors. WANA isn’t just a concept, it’s a movement. We are The Love Revolution, baby. Yet, instead of NY embracing social media or even WANA, browsing is NY’s marketing plan to help new talent get discovered.
The Trouble with the Browsing Plan
Last I checked, a book’s position in a bookstore was real estate negotiated by an agent, so here’s the hard truth. New writers? Forget about your books being in airports, first of all. Oh, and we can also forget about being at the front of the store. That’s for VIPs only. And the tables? Yeah, don’t count on being there either.
Most likely, new writers, you will be spine out on a shelf. Sure hope your last name begins with a letter the puts you at eye level or you are
screwed in trouble. And we wonder why the failure rate for first-time novelists is so staggering.
But the Browsing Plan looked so promising.
Time for Tough Love
I know some might feel I am being mean, but nothing can be further from the truth. I LOVE bookstores. I grew up in them. But when we prop up inefficiency, we stymie creativity.
Artists have had to innovate and get creative. NY hasn’t propped up failing authors out of misguided sentimentality. Why do bookstores get a pass? But, since I do not believe in criticizing without offering solutions, here are some ideas.
Solutions for Big Publishing
The Big Six are hurting because of Amazon. Fine. But instead of whining and adopting strategies like “agency pricing” why not learn? After all that has happened in the past ten years, I have to ask the hard question. Why doesn’t the Big Six have their own e-publishing divisions? WHY, WHY, WHY?
Let’s Get Creative, Folks!
An e-publishing division could get books to market far faster. This way, when a regime crumbles, a candidate is elected or a natural disaster strikes, you can sell LOTS of books while people still care. You can take advantage of trends (like, um vampires) while they are still hot instead of gambling that you can predict the next craze or waste time chasing your losses.
In a world addicted to instant gratification, one and two-year lead-times are DEATH.
The New Kids on the Block
New York, if you guys had an e-division, you could take on new untested writers that agents deliver with very little risk. If a new writer sells so many e-books, she earns a print deal and can earn a spot in a…bookstore. Publishers don’t waste paper printing books that don’t sell and bookstores don’t waste shelf space on…books that don’t sell.
Now you have a system that rewards talent and hard work and you can afford higher royalty rates. Agents and writers are happy. Yay! More authors get a shot at proving their book is what readers want, and readers can feel secure buying your books because they trust traditional publishing for quality. Now you guys are doing your real business which isn’t printing, but, rather, finding talented teachers, inspirers and storytellers and connecting them to eager audiences.
In my opinion, there is no reason that the Big Six publishers can’t use e-publishing for vetting out new authors. How many books can a B&N shelve anyway? Let B&N keep carrying the bigger name authors and a handful of other hot authors/books in printed form. They need room for all their Nook displays anyway.
But what do the bookstores do?
There is no reason that a B&N clerk can’t be there to help guide a new Nook owner through a touch-screen to check out the latest e-published titles, too. Come on! Use some imagination! Just need to step up and embrace the service industry. Ten years ago y’all were whining that people didn’t read and now that they do? No whining.
You’ve already invested in the Nook, so why not partner with NY and invest in better POD technology? Customers can browse digital touch-screens and, if customers want a paper copy? They can have one. Swipe a credit card and hit “print.” Offer them a free cup of coffee and then they can pick up their POD book when they’re ready to check out.
Indie Bookstores! Want to Thrive in the New Paradigm? There’s an App for That…
Independent bookstores can find new life in the digital age. Why? Because we still dig nostalgia. In a world where everything changes, it is comforting that some things remain. But passive selling is no longer enough. You guys need could use a little imagination, too.
Indie bookstores could still carry titles of big authors that we all know will sell loads of hard copies. None of us worried that the last Harry Potter books would go to waste. But indie stores could embrace technology for greater advantage.
Technology is getting cheap enough that you guys could also have a touch screen where customers could order digital titles straight from your store. NY Publishing could give you an app to help customers order directly from their digital imprint (and you get sales credit).
Another benefit is that the program could be designed to capture customer information so that you (the store) and publishers can glean a clearer idea of who is buying and why. Oh, and you can probably also talk customers into parting with an e-mail address so you can keep them posted on the latest and greatest releases in both print and digital.
There are half a dozen computer geeks that could even design you your own app. How many readers would looooove a Book and Candle Indie Bookstore app on their iPhone? From that app, they get customized recommendations on what books to buy and can order straight from their phone, only you get sales credit from NY.
If you can’t compete with B&N on price, compete with service.
Sure, customers might pay a little more for an e-book using their indie app, but they get to feel all warm and fuzzy knowing that their purchases are supporting their local indie bookstore AND they are getting recommendations from a bookstore they TRUST. Your opinions and knowledge of books become a service people are willing to pay extra to use.
Be innovative! I know you can do it!
Booksellers still provide a valuable service in a world of 99 cent bargains.
Most booksellers are avid readers and can help drive sales. Just offer customers an incentive to order from YOUR kiosk or YOUR app, so you make money. Maybe we get free cups of coffee or free e-books if we order from inside your store from your POS system.
Oh and NY? You can help booksellers out by offering incentives for pushing sales of new authors and digital titles. Since waste will be minimized, you can afford to offer financial reward for helping move titles in the digital lines.
Now the authors win. Because waste is minimized, we can earn higher royalties. Booksellers win because they can keep selling the same books they have always sold while minimizing waste and overhead and they can tap into the digital sales, too.
Publishers? You get to streamline and authors who write good books will sell lots of books and those who don’t? They still won’t sell books, only the losses will be a heck of a lot less. And, because the risk is diminished, you can afford to take risks on new authors and more authors.
Also, since you will no longer be bound by physical shelf space, you can now represent authors who have great stories that might not fit cleanly in a single genre. You can also now make money off types of writing that were, before in the print paradigm, a suicide investment. Poetry, novellas, short-stories and screenplays can now earn money.
Everyone wins. Heck if you want more ideas, check out this post from last year or better yet? E-mail me. Kristen at kristen lamb dot org.
At the end of the day, I love writers. I love publishers and bookstores. I love NY! But propping up inefficient systems, denying inevitable change and complaining only keep us from working on creative solutions.
We have watched the music industry crash, the photo industry and even the film industry. They failed to properly anticipate the markets of the future and they paid for their poor foresight. They had to reinvent from the ashes.
Traditional publishing is an institution and it does bring a unique value to the industry, but that alone is no longer enough. Amazon is looming and the future is now, so this is the multi-billion dollar question. Is big publishing going to race down that same road and crash, thinking it is the special exception? Or will they choose to learn from the past and work on creating a brighter future?
Oh, and NY? I am offering help. Seriously, e-mail me and we can work on creating some solutions. I believe you have a wonderful place in the future paradigm, but we need to stop strategizing from fear and begin using your imagination :D.
So readers! What are your opinions, thoughts, suggestions? The paradigm is changing so quickly most of us can’t keep up. Is this thrilling for you or terrifying? How have you dealt with the changes? Where do you struggle? How do you think NY can become more responsive in an age of instant gratification?
I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.
Mash-Up of Awesomeness
Trolls, Sockpuppets and Cyberbullies by the amazing Anne R. Allen
Amazon Will Destroy You by Joe Konrath
Love the Life Givers by Ingrid Schaffenburg
Write Heart-Pounding Visceral Responses by Margie Lawson over at Jenny Hansen’s More Cowbell Blog
Why Romances are a Valid & Important Piece of Literature by my FAVE Jody Hedlund
Learn to Love the Pitch by Sarah Pinneo over at one of my favorite places Writer Unboxed
10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to Any E-Publishing Service over at Jane Friedman’s blog.
Really sweet blog over at Richard Monroe’s Blog A Little Girl’s Love
Oh and I just LOVE Gene Lempp’s blog. He has a neat post Designing from Bones–Demons, Daemons and Dramatic Struggle
A new fave? Came from #MyWANA of course! Jen J. Danna has a killer forensics blog. The post that caught my interest is about how to use bones to determine a victim’s age.