Monday, June 29, 2009

Carpe Diem

It’s the aspiration of the vast majority of the population to write a book. So has digitisation made it easier or even harder to get published today and what are the dependencies, relationships and rewards in this dynamically changing environment?

The publishing trade is shifting from one where publishers looked to cultivate long-term relationships with authors and develop their stable, to one where the greater emphasis is now to sell books. Some would suggest that it’s not a bad thing to focus on moving books rather than merely printing them. However, does that change the relationship and with it the contract between creator and producer?

Some see digitisation as just a change in output format whilst others recognise it challenges the traditional relationships. In a world where print on demand can effectively remove the term ‘out of print’ , we now have to understand rights reversals, term contracts, the line between promotional material and content itself and much more.

The changing marketplace is being driven by global economics, network connectivity and technology. Territorial boundaries that existed in the physical world are now questioned in the virtual world. Roles that controlled the physical world are being challenged by networks and what once was a unique, or highly skilled operation is becoming commodity available to all. Define an; agent, publisher, distributor, wholesaler, reseller, library and digital aggregator, then ask what the following are; Amazon, Google, Ingram, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Sony, FPD, Lulu, Scribd? Are we seeing the divergence of the market into more highly focused vertical segments or richer flatter horizontal ones? Which is better, volume through a supermarket, book club and internet sales or the traditional trade channel? Is publishing becoming more a ‘department store’, or niche and boutique? Are ‘special sales’ becoming a little less ‘special’ and what is the impact of all the above on the author?

So where does the aspiring author pitch their manuscript? Do they go the traditional route and hunt the agent? Do they put their manuscript up on the many social slush piles and hope to get spotted? Do they self publish and pay to achieve their ambitions? Digitisation certainly helps in both the availability of options and the lowering of the economics, but is it enough? The fact is that the number of titles ‘published’ by whatever means and in whatever format is going to continue to grow. The number of ‘best sellers’ are going to reduce and the traditional bookshelves will get smaller. The digital world enables consumers to be more discerning, eclectic and virtual and it also increases the potential for more consumers to read what they would never find today.

The biggest challenge is not digitisation, but its impact. We may focus on the consumer, the latest devices, even the price of books, but unless we pay equal attention to the authors of yesterday, today and tomorrow, we may find as with other media sectors, it is they that hold the keys to many digital doors. What is the appropriate royalty expectation on digital sales? In a world where pricing is ill-defined, should royalties be based on list price or net sales? When digital removes ‘out of print’ should contracts be term based? Musicians, sportsmen, entertainers have all started to take control; is this now possible in the world of the book?

The one thing that is certain about tomorrow is that the aspiration to write will not go away and irrespective of how it is achieved, neither will the reward sought for doing it.


Cathy said...

From Cathy at Booktaste: Digital format is good for authors, publishers, and agents because it cancels or slashes the big costs of mailing manuscripts, printing the book and doing the physical distribution. Agents and publishers who don't adapt to this will go bust. Meanwhile authors who can't find a publisher are already self-publishing. The world has entered a Golden Age for books! Let's all get with it.

Hugh said...

The issue for authors who self-publish will be how to promote the book and find readers. This is why we set up which creates a standardised format micro-site for each author. This makes it easier for authors to start a viral message to their contacts plus move higher up the search engines - and for readers to discover new books and authors that they might not otherwise find.

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand (as a writer) - is the burden shift for promotion from the publisher to the author. It's as if the publishers are saying okay the marketplace is demanding we get involved in e-publishing - we don't want to. We don't want to spend any more time than we have to spend - so the author now needs to promote their own work - not us. If this is the attitude from the publishers - they will find more and more writers going it alone. None of this makes any sense.

Hugh said...

I can't say 'Hi Nutt'! But I can say that I know that publsihers are publishing fewer and fewer books - especially if you don't happen to be a Celebrity Chef or aging TV 'Star'. These are the books that get distributed in the supermarkets, which is why they sell in such volume. It also makes it harder and harder for authors, particularly new authors, to break through. I don't think Amazon's effective monopoly online is helping either. It is these market dynamics we are attempting to balance out on and

Unknown said...

Interesting take on this. I think the over all question here is in the age we are in how do you define "being published"? The goal of "being published" use to be me being able to share my ideas and creativity with anyone that was willing to listen (read) to them. If that is still the goal of "being published" then the ability to achieve this dream/goal is more within our reach today then at any time in history. I don't have to wait for someone to agree with my ideas, my creative vision or my opinion. I know have all of the tools at my disposal that will allow me to reach the WORLD. What more could any aspiring author ask for than to finally hold the future of their dream in their own hands?