Mark Terry

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Random Musings On Publishing

October 6, 2009
Thinking about the future of publishing, such as it is. Conde Nast is killing off four publications, one Gourmet, two bridal magazines, and a parent mag. I'm surprised that a bridal magazine could possibly go under given the ad base and saddened by the loss of Gourmet, which I would lay money will make a comeback under some other media or publisher, or perhaps as an online pub.

Publishing starting to implode. There has been talk about it since the Internet got going in the 1990s, but now it's starting to look like it's really happening. Some of it is just the amount of so-called "free" content out there. Some of it is ad rates are down.

[this is a big digression. I don't entirely understand this. I'd be glad to know if someone involved in marketing/advertising has thoughts on this, but, I don't understand why a paper publication with 100,000 subscribers can charge X amount of dollars for advertising, but an online publication with 100,000 daily hits can't charge the same amount of money. Does this go back to metrics? When a newspaper with a 100,000 subscription base charge $50,000 for a full-page ad, did the advertisers really think all 100,000 people looked at or even noticed their ad? Did this change when the advertisers could get actual metrics off a website, that might have 100,000 daily hits, but proved that only 10,000 of those people actually clicked on the ad?

And is it just me, or is it possible that as the print publications die out, advertisers are going to become increasingly desperate for exposure and the online sites with the best hit rates, etc., are going to really have leverage over those advertisers?]

As someone who tried unsuccessfully to run an online publication, I realized that although online and e-mail publication makes distribution simple, it turns the entire project into a question of marketing. And marketing requires time, money, and creativity. Content, in theory, is king, but today's web-users want their content for free. Had I more money and more time, I think I would have slowly, slowly built up an audience, although I don't know if subscribers would have bought in. The website traffic increased every month, but that was all free content, and in order to make money off it, I had to then start getting advertising, etc., which is time-consuming and, frankly, a headache I really didn't want to deal with.

I can go on and on, but I'm not going to. Any thoughts on where publishing's going?


Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

Obviously, this question has been debated ad naseum, especially recently, but I'm beginning to favor the idea of publishing as a "multiplatform" endeavor. It will no longer be enough to create a book and drop it into the market ... I think authors of the future will have to create compelling worlds around their stories. This means Internet (of course), print, video, etc., etc., etc. And it will likely be more collaborative. Money will be made from a mixture of ad revenue and actual unit sales. And the author himself or herself will be a compelling part of the sale ...

I got here because I think one of the things people are missing in today's society is community. So if an author can build a viable community of people who are involved in their world, it's a living.

I think, to some degree, movies and TV are way ahead of us on this--they seemed to understand the impact of the Internet from an audience point of view long before publishing, which pretty much viewed the Internet as a swamp of bad writing. Where were the viral online campaigns for books? I forget which, but one of the biggies just announced last week they're staring to introduce Vooks, or video-books.

As for Internet revenue, I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head. Building a subscription-based service is extremely hard and requires a HUGE well of content. It's easier to build traffic and sell ad space. But content really is king, because in either case, you've got to have loads of great content.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Well, it needs to be a fairly large community.

As far multiplatform, particularly since you're interested in children's lit, I think The 39 Clues, which was spearheaded by Rick Riordan, was sort of interesting, involving as it did playing cards, books, an online component, etc. Unfortunately, for me as a reader, the books didn't hold my attention (granted, I'm not the target audience) and I hung it up after only 3 books. Also, I didn't pay any attention to the other aspects of it, although I'd be curious to see if the kids do. And it's also obvious to me, from watching it, that the authors wrote the books, but the publisher dealt with the majority of the other stuff. So if things are going to be REALLY multi-platform, authors may very well be "content providers" which is how I think it should be, but they're going to have to bring in other people--video/film makers, composers, website designers, etc.--to add all those other components. I see a lot of novelists trying to wear a lot of different hats in this context and some do it reasonably successfully, but others don't, and it doesn't always have anything to do with the quality of their books.

9:18 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

Baen's just closed, as well.

I don't know the answers, but I'm starting research on it for an article for my magazine.

We're constantly asked at Electric Spec how we make our money. Short (and long) answer: We don't.

I think it gets down to art, though, and the perceived value of it. I write my blog to lead to my "real" art. For the first time I'm wondering if maybe people find that the blog is "enough." I think people are willing to settle and/or live without art.

That just blows me away, but really, most of my readership are also writers, and many of my clients when I was a painter were artists. Do you think it takes a creative to appreciate a creative?

It's one of the reasons I hate Facebook. I think it's not only taken over fiction reading, but now blog reading. And the content, while massive, is extremely boring.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Well, actually, I've thought Facebook might be replacing blogs. And blogs sort of replaced listservs, which sort of replaced chatrooms. And I suppose some people might feel that Twitter will replace Facebook (although I personally think Twitter's going to be unrecognizable, if it exists at all, in 5 years). There seems to be an evolution of so-called "social media" on the Internet. There's apparently a need for community of like-minded people out there and it's easier to do in the relative anonymity of the Internet. But in the context of this discussion of publishing, I'm not sure it results in sales of books. Most of my Facebook friends are other writers and although I know many of them in various contexts, I don't necessarily buy all their books or vice versa.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I have no idea. For me, right now, I'm focusing on story. I believe we need stories and I believe we crave stories. If I can create a good story, then whatever the form that story eventually takes, hopefully I will have enough money to eat. :-)

But who knows.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Christine said...

From a marketing perspective, print ads can get more money because they have a proven ability to sell product. On-line advertizing is, for the most part, ignored by the audience, and thus it doesn't sell much.

This became clear to me when our local paper closed down, saying they would go to an online version. The local companies were horror-struck, because they said the ads they had in the "News" were consistently mentioned as how new customers had heard about them, and less than one percent of their audience said they'd seen an internet ad.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

LurkerMonkey's observations might be correct but also irrelevant to folks like me. No matter what the "markets" want I find it hard to believe that there will not always be individuals who want to express themselves as individuals and other individuals interested in such expression as opposed to team efforts. (Admittedly, as a co-author maybe I'm not in the best position to be saying this...) The human race might become a hive mind but probably not in my llifetime.

Then too, it is arguable that our brains are designed for language, that language is not just a tool we use but part of what makes us human and if that is so then I would expect there will always be a place for purely language based communication -- like books. Stories told in words.

As for how writers and publishers will make money if the publishing industry collapses because readers want to get everything free off the Internet....well, that's a problem mostly for the publishing industry and a very few writers. Most writers don't make a living from selling books, and that's always been true. The publishing industry is of fairly recent origin. It really has very little to do with writing. People wrote endlessly for many centuries before the publishing industry existed and they will continue writing if every publisher ceases operations tomorrow.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

We are Borg. Prepare to be assimilated.

(Okay, if you don't get that, you never watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, which in your case is entirely possible).

1:09 PM  
Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

The 39 Clues is an interesting story, actually. In a veeerrrryyy tangential way, I was involved with Scholastic when they were launching that. My book was under consideration at the same time, and we were working with editors, etc.

I think the idea behind the series was good from a marketing standpoint: a series with multiple ancillary products. They hired Rick Riordan, a name author, to outline the books and write the first one, then hired lesser-known writers for the rest of the series.

The problem, however, as I saw it was the fairly cynical nature of the whole exercise. It was pretty obvious from the get-go that The 39 Clues was the product of a sales committee. It had been work-shopped too hard as a sales tool. So the end product wasn't very good ...

I actually agree with Eric that people will always be writing, but in a weird sort of way, that doesn't mean much for me. I'm primarily concerned with how people will continue making money from writing, and that's not because I'm a douchebag but because my family likes to eat and I'm a working writer.

And yeah, I agree it would have to be a largish community to support writing as a career. But I also believe that we're entering the age of the "microaudience," when people will be able to find exactly the kind of art they want and form tight little tribes around it. I don't know how profitable this will be, but you can already see it happening to some degree.

As for Facebook and the rest replacing books, I just don't see it. Yes, it's "content," but I think there's a pretty massive difference between personal expression and artistic expression. Facebook is an excellent interpersonal tool, but a lousy story-telling medium. And people like stories.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

An interesting thing--and for all you novelist and consumer-pub writers, go away, this doesn't apply to you--from my POV as a nonfiction writer, is that the bulk of my income comes from writing materials that go to a fairly small audience that is willing to pay a lot of money for what I'm writing. Market research reports of the type I write sell for thousands of dollars, but if you a hundred at $2000 or $3000 each, then everybody, writer, publisher, etc., goes away happy. (And a hundred is optimistic).

We're in the process of finalizing a deal for a nonfiction book aimed at physicians who run their own practices that I collaborated on and we--the 3 writers, our agent & the publisher--had a conference call yesterday & one of the things that cropped up was pricepoint for the book. And the publisher was saying how these types of books sold anywhere from about $50 to $150 and the price never seemed to affect the sale. (Which is the point at which I started to think a 10% royalty split three ways wasn't bad at all). How many copies will it sell? Probably in the low thousands. The docs I'm working w/aren't in the money, although I am, and so is our agent.

So maybe it comes down to this: what are you willing to pay for the good stuff? Or what are you willing to pay for the stuff DESIGNED WITH JUST YOU IN MIND?

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

What? There was a series after Star Trek?!!!

Good point about the "specialty" writing. Corpus Juris Secundum, the encyclopedia I write for, sells, as a set for over $7,000 but to keep it up to date you also need to subscribe to the regular supplement service ($1,600 per year) which is where the company really makes its profit. Individual volumes cost $273 each. I don't know how many sets they sell. But I guarantee the numbers aren't the sort that would keep a novelist with a big publisher very long.

4:53 PM  

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