where music leaves us
In addition to wondering about the future of the printed book, there’s at least one more pressing question that those interested in the book-world have been and should be asking: what about the future of print publishing?
While there are some similarities here with the music business, they’re not nearly as close as they were in my previous post on the subject. The main reason is that making good music is still rarely a one-man-show. Even for a guy like me who’s been around and mastered [pun intended] almost all facets of the industry, music-making–from initial creative inertia to final product–involves and even requires many talented people to pull off well. Sure, there’s the occasional one-hit-wonder, or guy-with-a-laptop-who-only-uses-samples-to-create-a-project; but to make a meaningful collection of songs up to industry standards, it takes a team.
It also takes a lot of equipment.
Acoustically perfect rooms are still needed, as well as gold-sputtered large-diaphragm microphones, expensive hard disk space, CPU processing, quality monitors, mixing surfaces, mastering programs, not to mention hiring all the musical talent, engineers, producers, and mixing ears. Then you front the money for design, duplication, and distribution. And unlike book signings, which yes, often do include performances of a sort, music must be performed. And that’s a whole other industry.
I think it’s for this reason alone that we haven’t seen the complete demise of record companies. Because someone still needs to coordinate the talent and front the monies and manage the time lines.
True, musical artists can do much on their own. But those that do are still the exception, and usually have a big wallet or are using inventive methods of grass-roots investment to finance projects (like Eric Peter’s last project which proudly displays “The Hopper Tribe” in his liner notes). Larger record companies also have a lot of pull with what gets played and how many shelves a project sees space on. But even that is beginning to change.
I don’t know anyone that buys music based on “record company,” but on what they like. And in our information-accessible generation, connecting the artist with their listeners–both existing and potential–doesn’t really need the record company. They need an internet connection and a list of tour dates.
the lone art
So how, exactly, are music publishing and book publishing different?
Well, writing novels is incredibly simple: an author sits down…and writes.
Granted, most writers I know are a bit strange.
Some, downright weird.
But then again, you’d have to be.
To spend hundreds and hundreds of hours sitting in front of a computer screen staring at lines of information is pretty tedious. More like a computer programmer. And no matter how cool the Matrix made looking at code seem, computer programmers are even weirder than authors.
In a nut shell, it’s this simplicity that makes the publisher obsolete. Technology just helped push the inevitable along.
but the publisher does so much!
So if a record company does all of the stuff I listed above, a publishing company surely does just as much to merit an equal place of prestige.
I said, right?
What hundreds and now thousands of writers are realizing is no, they don’t.
As I said, writing books is much simpler than making music.
Yes, there are editors. But a good writer truly only needs one good one; often a skilled writer can edit their own work successfully. A handful of “Proofies”–as I call them–help, but they’re usually willing to proof the book for free seeing as how they had the intangible privileged of reading it before anyone else.
Editors often get in the way, too. Traditional publishers always have a way of using their editors to make you fashion the art they think will sell, not what you think is right. Sure, there’s something to be said for market awareness; but critical thinking and a serious eye can tell you just as much as any market analyst would, and having an editor that “gets” you and your art is almost priceless.
Interior design? Exterior design? Why, but of course! After all, no matter how often the quote is used, we actually do judge books by the their covers. And how they’re laid out. But those services, along with editorial services, are quite easy to secure, especially when producing for the growing e-market.
That leaves distribution. Distribution of thick, heavy paper books that are constantly vying for shelf space–the majority of which you’ll never ever see as an author–and cost anywhere from $12-$15 for a consumer to buy.
Which you, the author, gets all of.
Umm. Actually, no. You get about 8% of it. And 14.5% if it’s a digital sale.
So where, exactly, is that other 92% going?
That, my friends, is the million-dollar question, and what authors like me are trying to figure out. And the only logical answer is into a bloated publishing system with high production overhead, over-staffing, heavy distribution costs…
…and does very little marketing for the author.
I can almost justify the first few items, but that last one is the clincher. Where the benefits of big-publisher name recognition, shelf-placement pull, and high-profile advertising prowess should really kick in is in the marketing. The crazy part is I did more self-promotion for the largest Christian publisher (Thomas Nelson) than I did for one of the smallest (Tsaba House). And none of it changed my personal bottom line…except in countless man hours, personal travel expenses, and creative ideas.
More fans, but less money for my baby’s mouths.
ok, but they’ll still be the filter
Ah yes. Traditional publishing’s last resort.
Now that anyone can publish themselves, who will help you know what’s good and what’s not? Surely the publisher will.
Any publisher that is still thinking this is already dead, they just don’t know it yet. It’s the same mistake “big government” makes. You’re not smart enough to manage your life, so we’ll do it for you, just give us all your money for the greater good.
In the not too distant future, the reader becomes the filter.
If social media has taught us anything, it’s that if one person likes something, they’ll tell all their friends. And if it’s a truly worthy concept, nothing can stop its success. Which means that if success is that apprehendable by the content creator, they have even more incentive to create their best work for their public. Which means you get better books for less money: the author knows their success rises and falls on whether or not you like it, not whether a publisher says it’s good or not, and can drop their prices for you (because the author is still making more on a less expensive self-published book than they are on a far more expensive traditionally published book).
guilds: the future publishers
I believe that in place of publishers will come alliances. Guilds, if you will. Gatherings of like-minded creators and inventors who’s allegiances are bound by willfully aligning themselves with one another. Sharing resources, combining platforms, and blending fans.
The truth is, more came out of the two Fantasy Fiction Tours that Wayne Thomas Batson and I dreamed up in 2007 and 2008 than almost any other book-related venture we’ve done. Pam Schwagerl, CEO of Tsaba House Inc. was also indispensable in her assistance (proof that sometimes smaller is better). The 9 authors that partook in that have benefited to this very day. And it wasn’t publishers doing the heavy lifting: it was the fans of a single author taking a risk on the work of another by mere association.
I believe that the new face of publishing will be self-published authors who combine efforts and resources, link arms through shared branding and emblems, co-occupy websites, and venture out on tour together. Not because they have strong backing, but because their audience is strong enough to trust them and those they create alongside of. ch:
What authors have you learned about and fallen in love with because of their affiliation with a pre-existing reading allegiance you had?
Are you more likely to buy a book because of the publisher or because of a recommendation?