Monday, April 30, 2012

Seven Aspects of the Novelist's Dilemma (2)

2. Who’s adding value when distribution shifts?
Established publishers will say, not incorrectly, that a big part of publishing isn't about making stuff. Rather it’s about getting that stuff in front of people: distribution. But with the rise of digital books, distribution also changes markedly. So far, distribution of ebooks has proven to be a natural monopoly — or at least an oligopoly.
No one wants to go all over the Internet searching for a book to buy. And — at least as long as ebook formats (locked with digital rights management) are mostly tied to a particular brand of reader — once you have the reader you’re stuck with a single vendor. (Technically that’s not necessarily true, but it is as a practical matter.)
As a result, Amazon currently owns more than sixty percent of the ebook market, while Barnes & Noble has thirty percent. As ebooks continue to displace print books — especially in the fiction category — the effort required to achieve near-one-hundred-percent market penetration diminishes. Instead of shipping thousands of books to thousands of stores, you're sending an electronic file to three or four, and inexpensive services have already arisen to facilitate this distribution.
Dilemma: When ninety percent of the market is available to authors at the click of a button, what value is a traditional publisher adding?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Seven Aspects of the Novelist's Dilemma (1)

I just completed another novel, my third in three years, and now I have to figure out how to publish it.
Not long ago, all a novelist had to worry about was pleasing his reader. Getting published was a part of reaching that reader, of course, but presumably those who occupied the middle — agents, editors, bookstore buyers — were only super readers, people who stood in for the eventual customer.
Pleasing the reader meant facing up to certain dilemmas inherent in storytelling, matters of characterization, pacing, voice, etc. None of these is easy to master, but they’re the kinds of issues that authors enjoy resolving. Having to reinvent the book publishing industry, on the other hand, is a chore we’d rather avoid.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Story of E?

For many years my father, who was the managing partner of a small accounting firm, had an impressive executive secretary. She was a refined old New York type who spoke in a cultured voice that came across with great assurance, especially over the telephone. She was also a large woman, built like an opera singer and with the refinements of one, a person whose physical qualities and classy manners led you to assume, without knowing for sure, that she was a serious consumer of art and literature. In support of that assumption, she was a voracious reader and spent her entire lunch hour immersed in mass market paperback books.
What was she reading? I couldn’t know, not exactly, because the covers remained hidden beneath a fabric sleeve with a fringe bookmark that she transferred from volume to volume like a talisman. When I inquired after what she was reading she invariably blushed and refused to tell me. They turned out — yes, I peeked — to be conventional romances.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Anatomy of a Writer's Rant

This morning I read a blog rant from an acquaintance named Aaron Patterson, an author and the publisher of StoneHouse Ink. I met Aaron last summer at the International Thriller Writers conference. His enthusiasm and his business savvy impressed me.
Last month Aaron sold nearly 20,000 copies of his ebooks. In some respects, he is running circles around much bigger publishers, and he’s only been in the business for three years. In his rant, he compares most authors to casino goers: “Authors from everywhere are all on the plane whooping it up, drinking and full of visions of the money filled pools of their future. But on the airplane ride back, sad faces and hung over looks cover the silent air like a wet dream crushing blanket.”
Now, this is a sentence that began with great promise and then devolved into an awkward mixed metaphor. If you’re turned off by the writing of his post (which clearly was just spit out, typos and all, in a fit of frustration bordering on rage), you might be inclined to dismiss Aaron. In that case, you’d be the poorer, because he’s right. Hope is not a strategy. The business point of being published (self or otherwise) is not to acquire a lottery ticket but to build a brand of some kind.