More on the Shifting Economics of Publishing Books

My post last week on iPad Envy sparked a discussion about the viability of a writer going it alone versus trying to get an agent and working with a publisher.

The necessity of what transientreporter called “the Publishing Industrial Complex” (PIC) is being called into question for mid-list writers, according to Brian O’Leary. [Hat tip: MJ Rose]

If the average e-book sells for $10 with a royalty of 25% of net, the average author earns about $1,900 a year.  If that same author strikes an agency deal with Amazon … well, she or he need sell fewer than 300 units to break even.

Therein lies the rub for brand-less publishers. Mid-list and smaller authors, most of whom get little or no marketing support, can do the same math I just did and ask, “How much do I need my agent and my publisher?” As established publishers try to move away from giving larger or even any advances, the question only gains momentum.

In other words, some publishers are making themselves useless to mid-list writers.

Doing the math makes this obvious. For example, take the case of an anthology of erotica put out recently by Pretty Things Press, courtesy of Trollop With a Laptop.

Kiss My Ass has sold exactly 350 Kindle copies to date! (We’ve sold a slew of PDFs, too.) Based on the Kindles alone, each author in the collection has made $110. My goal at the start was to create a fair trade type of book, where writers would share all proceeds equally. When you pen a story for an anthology, generally, you get about $50 bucks.

So Pretty Things Press (a small indie publisher) puts out an anthology of five stories by five writers and sells only 350 copies of the Kindle edition, but ends up making more than twice the money than is usual for the writers.

As MJ Rose (who self-published her first novel) put it,

It’s a discussion that is only going to get more heated and complicated as we go forward.

But wait! It’s not just mid-list writers. John Edgar Wideman is self-publishing a book.

It’s quite a move. Although self-publishing has been around for as long as books have been made, it has generally remained on the fringes, in part because it inverts the classic business model: Instead of getting money for their work, authors pay to publish their books.

Because of this, self-publishing tends to be seen as the final recourse for those whose work isn’t good enough for a regular publisher. But with the industry in flux, self-publishing may be losing its stigma.

“May be losing its stigma”? Stigma to whom? To those who work inside the current publishing structure? When a writer with Wideman’s track record who is represented by one of publishing’s most powerful agents, Andrew Wylie, is going the self-publishing route, then self-publishing has officially lost its stigma.

Welcome to the New World of Story Publishing. I say “Story Publishing” because a book is a physical thing, a format. Whereas a story can be short, short-short (flash), a novella, a graphic novel, or a novel, or some other length and type. In this Digital Era stories are becoming less-tethered to their traditional form of delivery, with the implications only just starting to be understood.

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