Friday, October 2, 2015

When Trad Publishers Start Thinking Like Indies

Today's post is a little later than usual because I needed to really think about the situation I want to address. The main difference between trad and indie publishers is their marketing concept: the produce model versus the longtail.

The produce model consists of leaving a book on the brick-and-mortar book shelf for a limited period of time. It makes sense because the physical constraints of the bookstore can hold only so many paperback and hardback items. Trad publishers have view e-books the same way.

The longtail means leaving books (both e-book and POD books which makes sense for indie publishers because of the high cost of a print run and the waste of the return system) available on the virtual shelf forever because computing space is incredibly cheap these days.

Because of the produce model, the trad publishers have licensed rights to thousands of books that they aren't bothering to sell. And they finally noticed this.

Two weeks ago, Publishers Weekly had an article about Simon & Schuster's CEO Carolyn Reidy and her address at the BISG annual meeting. This is the quote that has me concerned as a rival publisher: "S&S makes its backlist title available to subscription services, she said, emphasizing that these services do not cannibalize print sales and that they also drive discovery."

It's not the subscription service part that worries me. It's the fact that she's noticed that S&S has thousands of books they can dump back into the market and not ruin their front list. In other words, a trad pub CEO has noticed the long tail and plans to use it.

Can S&S pump all these e-books into the market at once? No, not when they've cut personnel to the bone. In theory, they would also need to review contracts to see if they have the rights, which would also take time. Big corporations are more likely to put out the e-books anyway and tell the little, powerless authors to go ahead and sue them.

Even when/if a trad published author manages to get their rights back, it takes time to get their books into e-book shape. Kris Rusch has a good breakdown on how hard it is for indies to keep up with only five to ten books. She also points out that trad publishers are now competing with indies for ad space in places like BookBub., which a couple of years ago carried only advertised deals on indie books. They even emphasized in a recent blog how they preferred older books for their adequate reviews. (And I can't for the life of me find the page that I had thought I bookmarked. When I do, I'll add the link.)

And make no mistake, older books being reissued is happening. In today's Amazon Kindle Daily Deal, a book I've been searching used bookstores for ages popped up: Michael Moorcock's The Eternal Champion. $1.99 for the e-book of a novel that was originally published in 1970. The reader is me *SQUEED*. The indie publisher in me said, "Holy shit."

Granted, Titan Books, which has the reprint rights to The Eternal Champion, is a smaller publisher than S&S, but S&S and the rest of the Big 5 could do this eventually. If writers think the indie tsunami ruins their discoverability now, wait until the large publishers get their reissue machine chugging.

If they do. Just because a CEO has noticed a potential revenue stream, it doesn't mean that they'll take full advantage of it. But I really do think this is the last nail in the indie gold rush.

Does that mean we can't compete? Hell, no! But as I've repeatedly said, we have to be better than the trad pubs to get attention. To that end, I'm working on new covers for my books as we speak.

Indie publishing is a business; we have to treat it as such if we want to compete.

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