Maybe Joe Konrath Is Rrrrrr......
February 25, 2011
Before I start making fun of Joe Konrath, let me first say that Joe's a good guy, I've met him, I've talked to him, hell, I've even bought some of his books. Joe is, of course, one of the current loudest voices out there telling authors to abandon the traditional publishing route (which apparently Barry Eisler is calling "Legacy Publishing" a term I don't think will catch on) and start self-publishing e-books. Joe's making a lot of money doing it and so are a number of other authors who he regularly touts in support of his arguments.
I'm making some money from it, but it's not like I'm even paying many bills with the income. I am investing the income--I'm using it to put into my retirement fund and that's a worthwhile thing, trust me on this.
A couple things have made me wonder if Joe is right, at least for me.
I'm not going to break down all my financials for you--it's sort of none of your business, y'know? But with the way publishing is getting hammered by e-books and the overall economy, it's not clear to me if it's going to be possible for many midlist or lower or new authors to even break into traditional publishing. Hell, it's never been easy and publishing has always seemed to have an answer for why their industry is doing poorly (it's the economy, it's returns, it's the anthrax scare, it's e-books, it's video games, it's TV, it's...). But at least one number I read today suggested that book sales are down by 15%!!!
I will say that I recently spent a bunch of time and energy working on a proposal at my agent's suggestion only to have her tell me she didn't like it enough to try and sell it. (Lot of problems with this concept, actually, in terms of ... if the writer's job is to write and the agent's job is to sell and the agent won't bother trying to sell, then why does the writer keep her around?, among other things). Also, for reasons unknown and still not clarified, my publisher announced that my Kindle sales for THE FALLEN were slow... and with a little research I discovered that the probable cause of that was that THE FALLEN wasn't available on the Kindle in the US and didn't even show up in the database if you searched for it on a Kindle device and none of us knows how long this had been going on....!!!!! (And still isn't, I see, which does not make me happy).
Anyway, If a publisher is losing business by 15%, they're going to consolidate around their best sellers, kick out their slow sellers, and be awfully damned picky about what books they do decide to publish. That's not exactly new, but I think we're going to see even more of it over the next few years. An industry that doesn't like to take chances just get even more skittish.
Also, Borders is closing 200 stores and gone into Chapter 11, so basically they're not really going to pay their bills to publishers, and rumors seem to suggest that publishers just aren't going to play nice with Borders while Borders tries to solve its problems. (And not to be all doom & gloom about it, but I don't think the long-term future of Borders looks so hot. And you know, long-term means, like, a couple years. I hope I'm wrong). So ... more pressure on publishers.
Meanwhile, although I don't think there's a huge amount of discussion about it at the publisher level, an awful lot of midlist authors and self-pubbed authors and even some bestsellers, are embracing the e-book self-publishing market. What I haven't really heard discussed much, although I suppose Joe is talking about it somewhat peripherally, is how this is creating competition for publishers. Yeah. Publishers.
Let's say you're a reader. Let's say you're a big fan of say, JA Konrath or Lee Goldberg or Paul Levine or David Morrell or, even this guy almost no one's heard of, Mark Terry. Let's say you can read one book a week. Konrath, Goldberg, Levine, Morrell and Terry all have a book or two that just came out as an e-book. (As well as their backlist, some of those books you've missed out on). You say, "Yeah, cool, I've got the next five weeks or more of reading all lined up. And just by chance, all those books are selling for about $2.99 or $3.99."
Then we notice that there's a new author out that we've never heard of and the book sounds pretty good and it's getting reviews in a couple places and the reader says, "Hmmm, maybe I'll buy that book." And maybe they will. It's $26.95 in hardcover and although the nearest brick-and-mortar bookstore is 45 miles away and it's apparently not available at your local Wal-Mart, it is available as an e-book for $9.99. So you're about to buy it and you notice, hey, another of my favorite authors just published an e-book for $3.99 and I really like her books...
Will this drive publishers out of business? Don't know. Probably not. Does it create yet another reason for publishers to focus on their sure-thing books? You bet. So if Harlan Coben decides to write 2 books a year instead of one, and Stephen King wants to write 10 books a year and James Patterson wants to write 21 books a year and Janet Evanovich wants to write 3 or 4 and a comic book, and Robert Ludlum continues to publish well after his death, probably soon to be writing jointly with VC Andrews... well, sure, those people are reliable bestsellers for the publishing industry. After all, Snookie's book tanked and so did The Situation's book...
And for the midlist or newbie, discovering that there's an alternative to a battling the gatekeepers--agents that are finding it harder and harder to sell their client's projects, publisher's that are tightening their list and looking for sure-fire hits or chasing trends like a dog after a bacon-treat--can be a fairly liberating idea.
Really, really liberating.
Wait. I didn't make fun of Joe at all, did I?