This is the first of two blog posts about two recent articles in the Los Angeles Times. The first, “Book publishers see their role as gatekeepers shrink” by Alex Pham, describes the growing trend that we’ve discussed here on Trade Secrets before: more and more authors are bypassing traditional publishing houses for self-publishing options like those found at Amazon.com and elsewhere. Why? The percentage of the sale price of the book that goes to the author who self-publishes is typically much higher (70 percent from Amazon.com, as opposed to as little as 6-18 percent from traditional publishers). In addition, there are no editors, agents, or rejection letters. Authors simply publish their own books.
There are obviously pros and cons to the DIY route. True, authors retain complete control of their content, design and marketing, but that may not be a good thing. After all, the employee who designs the cars for Ford probably ought not to be the person scripting the TV commercials or making the sale on the lot. There are different skill sets required for each task necessary to write, publish, market and sell a successful book. That’s not to say some writers can’t do it well. But self-publishing that can compete with traditional publishing may only be realistic for some of the authors the Times article cites, including Seth Godin, Greg Bear, Stephen King and Stephen Covey. These authors have a built-in fan base, instant name recognition, and immediate access to millions of fans that Pete from Omaha doesn’t.
This is just the kind of arrogance that let Netflix, Hulu and others put Blockbuster Video all but out of business.
Still, publishers should take note. The Internet and the digital age have proven time and time again that traditional media players, whether they are television networks, newspapers, magazines, or book publishers, tend to underestimate the power of the ‘net until it’s too late. In the meantime, entrepreneurs and visionaries who don’t have Manhattan rent to pay create affordable business models and leave the old guard in the dust. Neil De Young, executive director of Hachette Book Group’s digital division in New York, is quoted in the Times piece as saying the demise of traditional publishers is “cocktail party sensationalism.” This is just the kind of arrogance that, for example, let Netflix, Hulu and others put Blockbuster Video all but out of business.
Trade Press Services believes that self-publishing and electronic publishing can be successful ways to publish a book, if combined with a healthy, multi-faceted marketing campaign, and if (and this is a big if ) the book is good. With the ability of readers to instantly review a book at the online retailer, post their thoughts on it on Facebook, e-mail their friends, and discuss it on their blog, word gets around quickly which books are worth the price of admission and which aren’t. More than ever, content is king on the Internet, and no amount of flashy PR or marketing is going to persuade the digital public to buy a book that’s only getting two stars from 133 readers on Amazon.com.
In the future, readers, not publishing houses, will determine what sells and what doesn’t.