Publishers swoop in

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A number of people on blogs and web forums have posted a strange idea that in the future trade publishers are going to wait for new authors to prove themselves through self-publishing, and then swoop down offering big advances to scoop up all the popular authors.

I don’t get it.

Suppose I was selling 100,000 novels a year at $2.99 with 70% royalties; I’d be banking $200k a year and pretty damn happy with the way my life was going. So Big Publisher swoops in and says they want my next and future books.

‘OK, what’s the deal?’

‘We’ll give you 25% royalties on the 70% royalties that Amazon pay.’

‘Uh-huh. So I’m making 70% royalties now and I should sign up with you because you’re offering 17%?’

Kind of a killer argument, don’t you think?

If self-publishers are going to sign with trade publishers then those trade publishers must offer something that the self-publishers can’t do themselves. Today that’s obvious: self-publishers can’t get print books into many bookstores so releasing a book through a trade publisher could reach many more readers. Right now I’d be more than happy to take a million dollar advance and get my books into bookstores, though I can’t see any publisher turning up to offer that deal to me any time soon.

But with more and more book-stores going out of business, that’s not going to be a convincing argument for long. If e-books take over most of the book market, then a trade publisher has to convince me that they’re going to make more than four times as much money selling my e-books as I can.

The only ways I can see to do that are to increase the price, push the book with marketing, or a combination of the two. Now, I can increase the price of my books myself without paying someone 75% of the royalties to do so, hence the only real attraction I could see in a post-print world is marketing. Economies of scale might make that cheaper for a dedicated publisher than a self-publisher, and the self-publisher wouldn’t have to pay for the marketing up front.

But is that really enough justification to pay them three times as much as I make for actually writing the book in the first place, and do so forever even when it’s no longer the hot new book that everyone wants to read?

I still don’t get it.

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