one of Kris Rusch's reasons for cutting back on her business blogging was that the publishing business had entered a period of stabilization. But with the Gulf hurricane season officially starting a month from Thursday and preparation ads starting to spring up, I wondered: Are things really stabilizing or are we in the eye of the storm?
The trickle of writers who had contracts for novel length works leaving publishing companies has turned into a steady stream. Many new writers are refusing to even consider working with a major publishing house. We haven't gotten to the point where that steady stream turns into a gush, or where a MAJOR name like King, Roberts or Grisham walks away from their publisher.
2) Publishers Houses
Sure, you've got guys like Joe Konrath predicting the big publishers will collapse, but the bigger publishing houses made record-breaking profiits in 2013. There's also a lot of issues not being said.
Both Disney and Warner Brothers streamlined their print book operations so that they are focusing on materials and IP properties they fully control, e.g. Star Wars and Superman among others. Supposedly, Disney is keeping the contract Lucasfilm had with Random House to produce Star Wars novels, but I question how long that arrangement might last.
After news got out that Harlequin used contractually sleight-of-hand to rip-off writers, pitch slots to their editors were empty at the 2013 Romance Writers of America Conference. Other small publishers, such as Kensington and Ellora's Cave, are seeing a drop in submissions, and the submissions coming in are dropping in quality.
Overall, the publishing houses are reducing advances, reducing print runs, and issuing draconian contract terms to keep the writers they already have tied to them. They are also tying up reversion rights even though they seem to have no interest in reissuing the older books.
The question is at what point will the majority of writer grow tired of these shennanigans and walk way from the publishers, or writing, altogether.
3) Brick and Mortar Stores
It's been a little over two years since Borders collapsed here in the U.S. Barnes & Noble is scrambling to stay alive by cutting down on books and selling trinkets and toys. Book-a-Million and Half-Price Books only sell a fraction of what the ailing B&N sells. Walmart, Target and Costco will only sell book on the top twenty of the New York Times bestseller list. Groceries stores and pharmacies are whacking their mass market paperback displays in a quarter of what they used to carry, assuming they are still carrying books at all.
On the plus side, many independent bookstores have arisen from the ashes of the Borders collapse and the closing of several B&N's. They've learned their lessons that they can't compete on price alone and are focusing on service and the customer experience.
Can the bigger stores afford to carry books? And if not, at what point do they quit?
This is where I think the most pundits are short-sighted. I've read article after article about slow down in sales of dedicated e-readers. Barnes & Noble is floundering. Sony gave up on devices totally, then sold its e-book division to Kobo. Kobo turned around and laid off 63 people last week. Yet, I still see publishing CEOs claim the slow down in dedicated device sales means adaption to e-books is also slowing.
This is where I *facepalm*.
First of all, if e-book adaption is slowing, why are the same companies claiming record profits? Sales of paper books are down or steady according to the folks who keep track of such things like Bowker.
Second of all, consumers are buying more and more tablets and smartphones. These multi-purpose devices are driving technology sales right now. In fact, tablets sales are seriously impacting Dell's laptop business. Executives don't seem to understand that you can READ on these multi-purpose devices.
Do you want a prime example? Two weeks ago, an older woman and I were sanding in line at the post office to mail Easter packages to family. I was reading on my iPhone 4. She had a HC. She didn't understand how I could read on such a small screen. I showed how I could adjust the font on the Kindle app, which led to an explanation of how apps work on a phone.
And why am I reading so much on my iPhone? Because the toggle switch on my Kindle 2 broke. While I like reading on e-ink since I spend twice as much business time on my computer than I ever did when I was a programmer or systems engineer, I question why should I spend the extra money. If my eyes need a break, I have 1300+ paper books I can read.
Even Genius Kid, who just got a Galaxy S4, doesn't think he needs another device, even though he's been asking for a Kindle for the last year.
When are execs going to understand that the loss of dedicated devices doesn't mean the loss of e-books?
* * *
With all these issues still outstanding (and I'm sure there's more I missed), I can't see any supposed stability lasting for long. The real question to me is--are we on the clean side of the hurricane or the dirty side when the storm roars past us?
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