The Death of Traditional Publishers? Part 2: How to Save Themselves

Author, editor, and writing coach Richard Krawiec claims that the publishing industry has ceased to serve the needs of the writer by no longer looking to buy books, but by looking to reject them. (Kris says: I would venture to say many of those reading this blog can attest to that!) He says that decisions to publish a manuscript are no longer made by senior editors but by the sales department.

Apparently senior editors are skittish about championing a manuscript. If the book bombs, the sales department will blame the editor. And publishing houses are downsizing as book sales drop.

In light of that, can the traditional publishing house be saved? Michael Stackpole offers this advice:

1. Realize that all websites are retail sites.

Publishers should begin an affiliates program: for fans who host a link through which someone buys a book, the fan gets 5% of the price. If an author hosts the link, they get 10% (which is equal to their paperback percentage).

If these sales commissions were paid every month, authors would immediately post links to all their titles in every social medium there is! Publishers would foster an entire army of sales-people who have serious buy-in.

2. Provide specialty publications.

For example: combine a trilogy of books into a single edition, and price it less than if you purchased all three books separately. Readers who want to buy this edition could only get it directly from the publisher. (Kris says: And if it was an e-book, length wouldn’t matter in the production or delivery costs!)

Another specialty item would be collections of previously-published short stories. While publishers maintain that such collections do not sell, what they mean is that they don’t sell enough to justify the cost of printing, warehousing, shipping and calculating returns.

A digital edition, on the other hand, wouldn’t require anything more than cursory editing (since the stories have previously been published) and a cover graphic. Cost is so minimal that profit is guaranteed, even if it’s priced as a loss-leader introduction to that author.

3. Begin bundling eBooks with audio books.

If such deals are only available at the publisher website, that’s where traffic will head. Both files can be delivered electronically at minimal cost to the house.

4. Realize that readers balk at (and pirate) what is priced unreasonably high.

Customer who aren’t buying a physical product bristle at the idea of paying more to buy electrons. Gouging them to protect a profit margin isn’t the way to go. Lower prices actually do spur more sales. (Kris says: insert a “Duh!” here.)

Michael Stackpole dropped the price of one of his Kindle books to $1. Not only did sales on that book increase, but sales on the sequel increased, AND sales increased on another novel that was in no way related to the first two.

5. Realize where brand loyalty truly lies.

Publishers believe that Random House and Hatchette and Penguin are “brands”. They’re not. No one goes to a store to buy a “Random House” book.

Readers purchase books based on genre and author—and pretty soon they’ll be buying directly from authors at their websites. Authors are already selling snippets to retail customers. And they are taking part in projects that support and promote each other—a prime service the publishers used to perform.

Why? Because authors are brands.


One final note: as I edited this blog I couldn’t help but think, “If I publish independently, I can do all 5 of these things myself.”

Why not?


19 Responses to “The Death of Traditional Publishers? Part 2: How to Save Themselves”

  1. 1 Paisley Kirkpatrick 05/17/2010 at 12:09 PM

    This is so interesting, Kris. I cannot imagine the state of this business in five years. Sounds like the world of publishing and buying is changing very rapidly and it makes me, an unpubbed, confused at which way to jump.

  2. 2 kristualla 05/17/2010 at 12:51 PM

    As PRE-pubbed authors 🙂 – I believe we need to head in both directions right now. That means 1.) writing a dang good book, and 2.) getting it out to the world any way(s) we can!

    Kris <–who has an agent for 2 manuscripts AND is independently publishing 3 others.

  3. 3 Pauline Baird Jones 05/17/2010 at 1:54 PM

    A big huge AMEN! For aspiring authors who want a good assessment of the industry, I highly recommend THE NAKED TRUTH ABOUT BOOK PUBLISHING. It covers all avenues to publishing in a choice neutral way.

  4. 4 amberscottproject 05/17/2010 at 3:34 PM

    Authors are the product as much as their books are. Awesome. I get it.

  5. 6 Kelly S. Bishop 05/17/2010 at 4:26 PM

    I’m in the pre-pubbed category too. I don’t know which way I’ll jump but my muse is so off beat I don’t see the mainstream pubs wanting to take a chance on me.

    It will be either epubs or independent. Heck, maybe both. I’m flexible.

    • 7 kristualla 05/17/2010 at 10:12 PM

      Both paths can feed on each other – my indie books will point to my traditional books… if they sell. And if they don’t, they’ll point to more indie books! 🙂

    • 8 kristualla 05/17/2010 at 10:27 PM

      If you go independent, you can do POD through Createspace (for free or $39 for “pro”) and e-pub all over for free. I’ll be posting about Smashwords and the way they operate. There are so many options that are NEW.

  6. 9 Carol A. Strickland 05/18/2010 at 4:51 AM

    I’m looking forward to hearing about Smashwords, as I’m 98% unfamiliar with them.

    I’m tired of buying print books that are just awful, and yet not having my perfectly wonderful manuscripts accepted by a major publisher. I’ve tried an e-publisher… which didn’t bring in more than a half a handful of sales… and Lulu, which ditto, but I regard those as building a backlist for when I do get officially published somewhere where people can actually find me.

    We’re on the cusp of the publishing version of the Industrial Revolution. My money’s on ebooks emerging the big winner, so I won’t cry too hard if that’s the only way I ever publish. That is, if I can get some publicity working so people can actually BUY my books. (And it would be nice if POD didn’t (1) cost so much per book and (2) took less time to get to the customers.)

    Now if I could only find an easy-to-understand .doc to .epub conversion program…

    • 10 kristualla 05/18/2010 at 10:03 AM

      My POD trade novels – at 330+ pages and 5.25″x8″ trim size – cost me less than $5 each including shipping from CreateSpace. I’ll sell them in person for $9 or $10, list them online at $12.95 so Amazon gets their cut, but will e-pub them at $2.95. Both Kindle & Smashwords (and, I’m assuming Nook, when they FINALLY allow authors to upload their own books!) convert the doc for you – you don’t need to worry about that.

      All this info is coming on this blog! *so much information… so little time*
      Kris 🙂

      • 11 Carol A. Strickland 05/19/2010 at 8:53 AM

        Y’see, I’m looking for the actual .epub language. For example, Kindle doesn’t publish using .epub, or I’d just use that when selling e-versions. Thought I’d researched CreateSpace; wasn’t it one of the selfpub places that didn’t get great reviews as to quality of product? Guess I’ll have to look into them again! Thanks for the info.

      • 12 Frankie Robertson 05/19/2010 at 3:19 PM

        Thanks, Kris for sharing all this info. Create Space is still advertising their packages to me at a range of prices from $299 to over $4K. It’s good to know they have other options (even if they don’t say much about them).

  7. 13 Pauline Baird Jones 05/18/2010 at 5:51 PM

    Kris, have you tried getting your ebooks on fictionwise? Those books feed onto B&N. Also, I’ve heard that, at some point, smashwords will as well, though a lot of authors I know aren’t holding their breath!

    • 14 kristualla 05/18/2010 at 9:52 PM

      I will NOW! The Nook sales rep at Romantic Times is supposed to be getting it on Nook… but I think they are having glitches with their product.

      • 15 Pauline Baird Jones 05/19/2010 at 6:35 AM

        I’ve been working on getting B&N to delist my back list and have learned that it is as hard to get books OFF the Nook as it is to get them ON. According to previous publisher, they don’t have a function that allows publishers direct access to their books. So basically B&N has been violating my copyright since last fall. They are finally moving on it, but its taken huge amount of effort to get movement.

        My latest book just loaded into fictionwise, so we’ll see how long it takes to filter into B&N/Nook. And I’m not sure how friendly fictionwise is to indie authors, now that B&N bought them, but they are (according to what I’ve heard) the most direct conduit to the Nook.

    • 17 kristualla 05/19/2010 at 9:58 PM

      What a nightmare you’re going through! I hope it all works out and SOON!

      • 18 Pauline Baird Jones 05/20/2010 at 6:25 AM

        Thanks! Supposedly the last three books were to go down by today. So we’ll see if that happens. All but three of my titles has stopped selling. It’s not just me. I’m hearing from other authors this has happened to. They def need to work on the way books go up AND down. Someone did call me yesterday and they are working on it. Crazy.

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