November 12   The state of publishing

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Not only for the current obvious reason, am I very interested in following what’s been going on lately in publishing.

As we hit the ground in Canada, the merger between Penguin and Random House was being announced and it was certainly a topic of conversation for the week long we were there. For small press publishing, I could sit down and look at how this is probably a good thing, in the short term. But in general, I feel quite depressed about the state of publishing – things are grim right now, there’s no pretending they aren’t.

Why the merger and what does it mean? Here is the final wrap up from Seattle Pi in their article A Merger in Publishing – and then there were five:

In the end, what does this merger mean for writers (and readers)? Will the Bertelsmann Foundation’s sink-or-swim economic stance bleed over into the realm of literature? Will Random House/Penguin, now in control of more than a quarter of the entire book market, stick to a bottom line that reduces the supply of ideas while increasing its intellectual price? Will Random House/Penguin, increasingly free from serious competition, no longer feel a need to invest in writers with new ideas, new concepts, new ways of interpreting the world?

The Metro says:
Like all things involving dead trees, the new chapter has been prompted in large part by the march of the digital giants, including Amazon, Apple and Google. The print publishers hope their merging of resources will leave them better placed to cope with the onset of the ebook era.
And this:
β€˜In the short term, I don’t see much changing for readers. The battle between retailers and publishers is always about price – the former want lower and the latter want higher. Choice might be affected adversely as there will be fewer publishers to fight over new writers and subsequently fewer risks might be taken by the publisher.
β€˜However, the book industry is fundamentally healthy in that people want to read and for the right handful of books they will read in big numbers.



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  • By TansyRR on 12 November 2012 at 7:28 am

    Many similar discussions at Genrecon that weekend too! The big thing that looks like it will mostly affect authors is that advances are sinking at a rate of knots. Though as one digital publisher pointed out, advances have always been stupidly inflated (a weird business quirk that authors have largely benefited from before now) and tend to be used to sweeten the pot so authors think they’re getting a good deal, while the actual royalty rate has not shifted.

    It’s an interesting perspective.

    Since I started writing professionally, the standard agent commission has changed from 10% through 12 to 15%, while author royalties in traditional publishing are still pretty much frozen at 10%. E-books are changing that in a big way, as authors now expect and demand much higher royalty rates for e-books.

    But it’s certainly worth educating authors that a big advance is not necessarily in their interests if a larger cut of the book proceeds itself is a viable alternative. I can certainly see why e-publishers are going this way, as they need to work harder to convince authors that going with them is better than simply self publishing.

    After my first disastrous author experience with ridiculously inflated advance back in the 90′s, I have been far more comfortable with the more modest advances that are now professional standard, even if they don’t go very far towards paying off my mortgage.

    Sure, you never have to pay the advance back, but it’s still a debt of sorts, and it’s very hard to sell another book with that ‘debt’ on your record. Which makes the massive advances feel more like those credit card companies that offer you stupidly high amounts of credit.

    Of course it also helps if the book SELLS, whatever happens.

  • By AlisaK on 12 November 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Authors will get lower advances but i also think less authors will get picked up by big publishers. Less + less, double decrease, in other words.

  • By Sean the Bookonaut on 13 November 2012 at 10:13 am

    Sigh :/

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