Sunday, May 22, 2011

Publishers Trying Stuff


We've been all over the e-book revolution here at TKZ. Last month I asked what the publishing industry would look like in six months. We're starting to see some things taking shape.

First, the news. The publishing industry's first quarter stats are in, and here's the headline:

E-book sales are up 159.8%. Adult hardcover and mass market paperback sales are down 23.4%.

If you were an American car manufacturer and you saw that sales of Japanese made cars were up 158.8% and sales of American cars were down 23.4% in the first quarter, what would you do? I'll tell you what you would do. You would run to the federal government and ask it to bail you out.

Traditional book publishers can't do that. (Well, I guess they could try, but it would be a tougher sell than a Charlie Sheen self-help book.)

So what should they do? Try stuff. Innovate. Move fast.

There's a problem, though. It's not easy for major industries to change. Publishers have been operating under a model that is a hundred years old. But the market does not care. It is merciless. So adapt or be left in the dust.

This week one of the major Christian book publishers, Tyndale, announced a "digital first" imprint. They are going to bring out four fiction titles in July that are e-book only, by new authors. Then they'll add non-fiction titles. If a title performs well, they will consider giving the author a print run.

Tyndale issued a press release that read, in part:

Lisa Jackson, Associate Publisher explains, “The world of publishing is shifting rapidly, and it’s important that we as publishers deliver content in as many ways as possible. The Digital First project allows us to get fresh, new voices into the marketplace more quickly and efficiently than ever before.”

“I am very excited about this new initiative,” says Ron Beers, Senior Vice President and Publisher. “Tyndale has always been known for its innovation. Now we are working hard to be at the leading edge of the digital publishing revolution and to use that creativity and expertise to most effectively launch new voices into the marketplace. We are one of the few houses that has invested heavily in in-house digital expertise and this has allowed us to be more nimble yet strategic in bringing digital content to market.”

***

Looking at this from a business angle, this seems like a solid move. Whether this will be a net positive for the bottom line cannot be predicted. There are too many variables and the landscape changes almost daily. But it's proactive and "outside the box," and that's what it's going to take to survive. Plus, it lowers the risk of finding new authors the old way, via advance and print runs and hoping to sell through. It's like a farm system.

Now, what about the writers? How is this deal for them? I have not seen an actual contract, but I have heard informally that we're talking very low advances with a higher percentage on the back end, between 30 – 50% royalty.  IOW, shared risk and reward.

Seems like a win-win.


Yet the stats above indicate that print is in a downward trajectory. So will being "in print" mean the same thing a year from now? Will there be enough shelves for the new writers to occupy?

What do you think? 

20 comments:

  1. And what will they be charging for these digital books? If Tyndale e-book prices continue to be inflated same as other publisher offerings I've seen, I don't see how it's going to work. - BK

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  2. That is indeed a key question, BK. It extends beyond this initiative. The market has quickly established low price points. I don't know what Tyndale's plan is here. We'll see in July.

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  3. I'm reminded of the classic line in the movie, Airplane, when Lloyd Bridges, as Steve McCrosky, looks at the chaos around him and says, "Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop smoking."

    I'm looking at all the changes in the publishing industry and thinking, "Looks like I picked the wrong decade to try my hand at writing." As you say, we'll see.

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  4. Anytime Airplane is quoted it's a good day.

    Doc, I think it's a good time to be a writer because there are more options now. The Tyndale initiative is one more, a new one, and publishers will be coming up with others like it. Of course, self-publishing is now an option as well.

    Delivery systems change, but the need for good stories does not.

    Shirley you agree.

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  5. Not seeing how the "plan" would work. Assuming the author puts together a quality work - including editing, cover design & proper E book formatting, at a cost of about $1200 (cheaper minus the edit - not recommended): The book goes online within 3 days, print version - using a POD, about 3 weeks after sign off on a galley copy (Lightning Source). Author sells the e-book version at 2.99, makes 70%, earns enough in X weeks to get to "even" & sales beyond that are profit - paid monthly via EFT (after the 1st 90 days) & the author gives up zero rights. I probably wouldn't bother with the print version if it weren't for the local bookstores & gift shops that carry my books (YA). Downside being that POD versions are expensive, but selling just above cost doesn't bother me. Of course I don't depend on book sales to make a living.

    BTW = I'm not one of those cheering against the publishers or preaching in favor of self publishing. But SP is working very well for me.

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  6. In a related note; I was in CVS Drugs a few days ago waiting on an Rx to be filled. I wandered over to the book rack only to find 4 novels published by AmazonEncore. They were right up front displayed beside James Patterson, Nora Roberts, et al. Amazon now has 5 imprints that cover romance, mystery & thriller, and others. Writers have never had this many choices and challenges.

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  7. ^^^
    Yeah I agree with moore and bell.

    Also, I get sick of the argument that goes: so many people are writing and the market is full of dreck now and there is too much garbage out there to even pick through


    I feel like there has always been tons of writers and it has always been hard to break out.

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  8. Now instead of getting a paperback release only, there will be Ebook release only, which was the obvious route for traditional houses. Will the royalty statements still lag for six months or whatever it is allowing the houses to sit on the money for long periods of time? Amazon pays monthly, I think. I for one think this is the way it will shake out, with the powerful houses figuring a way to be desirous for authors.

    There is and will always be more suds than powder, and I think the market needs a filter to hold back the deluge ofl litdrek.

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  9. Great post, as always, James. I think we're going to see a number of different variations from publishers in the coming months and years. Some will work for some publishers, and not for others. One size will not fit all equally well. Not that it ever has...

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  10. Jim, I think the New York publishers will eventually be confined to the big, big names, and will continue to charge outlandish prices for their eBooks. This will justify, however temporarily, their continued emphasis on print. The bonds between these authors and the publishers will, IMHO, die hard, but most of the authors will one day separate from their NY cocoon.

    Sooner or later, I believe the print book industry will shrink to a specialty business: coffee table books, reference books, atlases--things that don't play well in digital formats.

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  11. What's so fascinating in all this is the utter unpredictability of it. Thus, the need to try things, and try them fast. It's like the old adage that to succeed, you have to "fail more." This is a hard thing for big industry to do, but it is being forced upon them.

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  12. For the big boys, it's all about hiring the right web-savy people to build the eBook structure and then to price their books to compete. Editorial is still their ace in the hole, but the sales department will look like a geek festival. I think it would be easier to design a publishing business now on the evolving model from the ground up.

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  13. My first book in the Area 51 series is selling like crazy on PubIt (Barnes & Noble), in the top 150. Atlantis is in top 100 on UK Kindle.
    What amazes me is that part of the reason Area 51 is selling so well is that Jon Stewart hosted a non-fiction author on the Daily Show on Monday last week who wrote a book called Area 51. Except her book from a traditional publisher costs $14.99, while my novel costs $2.99
    Doing the math, $14.99 for an ebook makes absolutely no sense, give that over 10 dollars drops you to 35% royalty.

    $14.99 at 35%= $5.24
    $9.99 at 70%= $6.99

    The only reason for this pricing could be the publisher desperately trying to cling on to print sales.
    Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

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  14. I don't think this is really that innovative seeing as smaller presses have been doing this kind of thing for a couple of years now.

    I'm surprised that more publishers aren't doing it, because it makes sense.

    There's less cost and risk with e-only publishing, and if an author breaks out, they can spin off a print version (and I'm sure that have that tied down in the contract).

    I wouldn't go for it myself, the big USP of a large trade publisher - for me - is their ability to print lots and lots of cheap print books and sell them in bookstores nationwide.

    However, I could see it being attractive to some, especially writers that have been on submission for a while without any nibbles, and who are wary of self-publishing.

    Dave

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  15. If they price their ebook right this could work. This is the model I use for my publishing and I am all profit. I barter for my covers with professional services (cover design, professional editor) and am not ashamed to use POD technology. It keeps me on or under budget and helps me build a readership. Price point is what will make or break this model for Tyndale house. I don't consider the mainstream ebook prices overinflated because they have overhead they have employee benefits, advances, salaries and marketing/advertising to pay. Auh

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  16. Harlequin has Carina Press. Cheap romance from a well-known and respected line.

    Win, win!

    IMO.

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  17. Great and informed comments everyone. Thanks.

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  18. James . . . a Charlie Sheen self-help book, . Hysterical!!

    Hmm. Sounds like one day, print books will become like gourmet meals. Who knows? Maybe the e-pub world will become so popular (Say, like MacDonalds.) that one day, people will be willing to pay more to hold a book in hand. That would bring the industry full-circle and everyone would be happy.
    (Putting on my Burger-King crown now,and hoping for the best.)

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  19. E-pub already allows new authors to publish their own books at steeply discounted prices, often at the cost of quality. This is wildly popular these days, and has given rise to the $0.99 novel!

    I wonder how much copy-edit capital Tyndale will invest in the e-books, though. Will these new and high-risk authors receive professional editing, or will these e-books be self-pubs through a larger house, with minimal editing?

    As with many of the e-books now ~flooding~ and clogging the e-book market, I suspect many of them will be low-quality pulp, same as with the dime novel when print revolutionized the first time.

    At the same time, fewer books will make it beyond the e-book gauntlet and hit print. I suspect also that the print books will become more collectible, possibly even more expensive (and rare), with a subsequent increase in quality.

    Sort of the difference between a low-budget made-for-tv movie (e-book), v. a Hollywood blockbuster (printed book).

    I predict bookstores will revolutionize paperbacks the way Starbucks revolutionized coffee.


    - Eric

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  20. Great post, Jim.

    The times they sure are a-changing. I think it's a good thing that authors now have more choices/chances to publish. Any means to get more people reading more books is a good thing, whether it's via paleotechnology or Buzz-Lightyear style.

    Then again, I'm about to launch an ebook and still relying on old-fashioned hope.

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