Is Big Publishing on the Borders of Collapse?

Okay, it’s a bit of a hyperbolic headline, but still, if you’re in Big Six publishing, you have to be a bit concerned about your business model.

When you look at the numbers, it seems pretty clear that Big Six publishing seems to be headed to a place it does not necessarily want to be. Publisher’s Lunch has a fascinating piece on Amazon’s effort (subscription required) to come up with a subscription service. In describing the plan, which would give Amazon exclusive rights to “to offer free access to wide swaths of backlist ebooks to Amazon Prime members,” Michael Cader writes that, for most publishers, it’s a nonstarter:

Publishers who have already declined told us the exclusive was one of the easy reasons to not even consider the plan, with one person suggesting that the scheme is directly targeted at taking customers and share away from Barnes & Noble.

The thing that really struck me was, however, this:

…most traditional publishers are trying to uphold the value of selling authors’ work at a price that supports a professional process and allows for broad investment in the funding of new work.

And then this:

For standard trade publishers who license individual works from authors (and through agents), the structural, rights and relationship obstacles are manifold.

Later, there’s a quote (unattributed) about how disruptive the scheme is “to the economics that we know are working.” Which seems to me the real problem facing Big Six publishing these days. The economics may be working at this moment, but how long this moment will last is anybody’s guess. Especially when you consider how fast sales of ebooks are overtaking trade books. In March, Hachette Livre reported that nearly a quarter of US sales were from ebooks. According to Publishers Weekly, ebook sales jumped “167% in June” and:

The major trade segments took big hits in June due in part to the closing of more Borders stores. Trade paperback sales had the largest decline, down 64%, while children’s hardcover sales were off 31%. Adult hardcover sales fell 25%, mass market sales were down 22% and children’s paperback was off 13%. Sales in all the trade segments were also off by more than 10% for the first half of the year.

This concerns me for obvious reasons — I’m a writer and my novel is about to be published by Shelf Media Group only as an ebook. How this came to be so has as much to do with serendipity as it does with any actual design. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this works out. We know that publishing is going through a major, major shift and, like global warming, that shift would seem to be happening at a faster pace than anyone anticipated.

I used to work in publishing many, many years ago. I keep saying, “I used to know how publishing worked, but I don’t anymore.” I’m guessing that’s true of a lot of people these days. Even those who do.

More to come.

E-Books present the author new dilemmas

I’ve been talking with some savvy online folks about bringing my out of print books back into “print” electronically. And bringing out TFAOAFGND as an ebook or app. Which got me to thinking about why any author would want to have an old dead-tree type publisher (ODTTP) (not naming names here) buy the e-rights to a book and publish what would essentially be a pdf of said book.

First thing is what appears to me that most ODTTPs have their heads so far up the back end function of their digestive systems that they can’t see past their teeth. I’d like to be wrong on that.

Continue reading

Flavorwire: 10 Must-Read Online Lit Mags

Flavorwire has a great piece on the 10 onlne lit mags you — the thinking reader — ought to be reading.

Although plenty of established print journals have now fostered an online presence, this new generation of internet-centric periodicals has taken hold of the malleable platform (and the absence of print and distribution costs) to further the creative community.

This is where the future lies, folks. Take a look.

What's Wrong with Jay McInerny is what's wrong with the rest of America — but it's not what you think

I’m in the midst of reading Richard Powers’s new novel, GENEROSITY: AN ENHANCEMENT. I’m a big fan of Powers’s work, and despite some not so great (and in my mind kind of ill-conceived) reviews, I’m liking it a lot so far. Jay McInerny reviewed the book in the Times Book Review this week, and I was surprised by his statement in the “upfront” section. Continue reading

EBooks Mean the Ascendency of Whom or What?

Quo Vadis the Book?

If the eBook is ascendent, who or what else is also ascendent?
The excessively simple narrative of the history of book publishing goes sort of like this: writers hired printing presses to bring their work into the world in book or other form. To protect writers from unscrupulous printers, there arose publishers who would pay the writers a fair rate and also make money. But the scruple-less roamed the land and so came literary agents to protect writers from unscrupulous publishers, and also make a buck.
And this model worked reasonably well for a while until hypertext came along and screwed up everything.

But it’s a way slo-mo earth quake, this screwing up of things that hypertext hath wrought. Continue reading

Eaten by Narrative

There is something weird and utterly fascinating about the newest case of ‘literary fraud.’ Which is to say that I come at this as a consumer of narrative. Not (at least I hope to think) as a tut-tutting moralist with any sort of moralistic judgment to make.

A young woman (Margaret B. Jones/Margaret Seltzer) creates a narrative that she sells as a memoir of a not-so-privileged life. Dupes willing agent and willing publisher. She gets major review in the New York Times. She gets a big puff piece in the New York Times. Then her sister, for whatever reason, exposes her as a fraud upon seeing the latter piece.  

One can only wonder at the level of self-deception necessary to think that she’d actually pull this off. Continue reading

Edit Me

John Gardner, in an interview, said an editor once told him about his novel The Sunlight Dialogues, that it needed to be cut by a third. He retorted, he said, Which third?

When it was finally published, it went on to be a bestseller. I remember reading in in paperback when Gardner was recommended to me by a teacher, the novelist and short story writer Richard Bausch. It’s been a long time since I read it, but one of the things I remember about it was “the Sunlight Man” delivering long, hectoring lectures to the main character, Fred Clumly. And I remember feeling a little hectored myself, and skipping a lot of that. Continue reading