The news this week that ebooks are currently ranking as the top format in all trade categories (http://bit.ly/ezode6) is giving fresh life to a recurring question: How will the big publishing houses survive the digital revolution? Obviously it’s a critical question coming at a critical time. With much of their money still being invested in printing and distribution, costs that ebooks are making increasingly irrelevant, publishers are really giving off that dinosaur smell.
Just floating an idea here, but I think there’s a strategy for getting them through the next few decades. Please let me know what you think. Despite all the upheaval in the industry, the big publishers still have one advantage: They’re well-known brand names trusted by readers to put out (relatively) good books. I’m thinking that’s the key to their futures. They’ll survive not through great distribution, but through great branding and marketing.
These days, thanks to digital self-publishing, anyone can put a book out in the world. But selling and marketing the damn thing? That’s hard. Between Kindles and iPads and Nooks and mobile, between Amazon and Sony and Kobo and Diesel and hundreds of other franchises and devices, negotiating the morass of digital networks takes constantly changing expertise. That’s where the publishers of the future come in. They’ll not only find and produce good books like they do today, they’ll know how to sell books in the universe of ever-shifting digital strings. Their marketers will be book-loving geeks who’ll stay aware of new sites, blogs and outlets, they’ll know which ones are delivering results and which ones are fading, they’ll start a web of blogs themselves.
If publishers can switch to ebooks and put their money and creative energy into marketing, they'll have real chance at succeeding. Writers need a change like this. Readers need a change like this. Everyone needs a change like this. So my thesis, simply put, is this: The best publishers of the future will be the best marketers.
What are your thoughts?
Not sure the publishing houses have branded themselves in the minds of the general public. I can see your hard core reader who downs a book a week or more knowing who Knopf is, for example, but beyond that, not so sure, Richard. You live in NYC so things could be different there.
I think you're right that there will be some interesting opportunities in the future. Right now I'd love to give somebody a cut of my indie ebooks income to market them for me.
Yes, Christopher, I think we may see some companies emerge to market e-books. In a way that's what we're seeing with Untreed Reads and a few other e-book publishers.
As for branding, the publishing houses used to have strong identities. So did movie studios and TV networks, but they don't anymore. It seems for books, especially e-books with the authors handling everything, the only brand we're likely to see is the author's name.
This is a link to a list of internet publishers on Piers Anthony's website. He keeps it current, with both positive and negative reports on publishers. Some on the list are commercial e-presses, and some are self-publishers, so you have to read the listings to see which is which. The listing for Untreed Reads doesn't have any negatives yet, but they haven't been around for a long time. Links are generally provided to the publishers in the listings.
A commercial e-press is going to usually have a wait time, involving submissions, acquisition, publishing, but they're usually shorter than with print publication. If you want something to go straight to ebook with no wait, you're better off with Kindle.
Ah, a 50/50 split. I assume they are print publishers. I see in the list at least one e-publisher who offers only 40 %. Why would anyone do that when Kindle offers 70 %?
Thanks for the link.
Many of these publishers were established before Kindle offered the 70% split. Plus, Amazon doesn't spend anything bringing the books to market, whereas a commercial e-press has to pay editors, cover artists, fees for the ISBN (if they provide them, which a lot of them do), and fees to the distributors and sellers.
A commercial epress charges in the range of $5 per download, the distributor often gets half or more of that (if there's a distributor and a seller involved, it's more than half), the author gets 40-50% of what's remaining from that (depending on publisher/contract), the staff gets paid, other costs are taken out, and then the publisher gets what's left, which isn't much. Amazon doesn't have those costs, which is why they can offer the 70% split.
I believe Untreed Reads is an epress.
You're probably right about my New Yorktricity and publisher awareness. Still, if you're choosing between two books, and one's published by Knopf and one by Richard Sanders' Junkyard Press, you'd probably trust the Knopf title to give you more quality assurance.
The new buzzwords in the small press seem to be "community marketing," and authors are expected to be part of some online community that can be marketed to. That's what it seems like Cursor is doing with Red Lemonade:
The idea is that the community can work as a kind of peer-review and the best writing will be launched to a wider audience. Who knows, it may work, but it's tough to compete with the guys who have all the money.