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Old 03-27-2010, 11:02 AM   #1
Steven Lyle Jordan
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The new publishing business model

A recent TeleRead thread has been discussing the new publishing model of the new world. It uses the "buggy whip industry" metaphor to demonstrate how businesses dedicated to one product didn't go out of business, but retooled to sell new products for the rising auto industry... from buggy whips to leather seats and steering wheel covers.

The resulting discussion has suggested ways in which the publishing industry could retool themselves to satisfy the new era. My own suggestion takes advantage of the idea that the pub industry should be giving up on the idea that they are making money off of consumers, and embracing the idea that they would make their money in the future off of the authors themselves... their new market.

Think of the missed opportunity publishers are losing in the present system... and it's in those slush piles. Instead of "cherry-picking" the pieces worth their time to sell through their current process, they could be taking on all of the material in the slush piles... providing service to the authors to improve and package all of those books, and make money directly from the author... then let the author worry about selling the book on the market.

Imagine making money off of those thousands of slush pile books, instead of just a handful of accepted books. And it would be guaranteed income, up front, from the authors. Much of the risk involved with current publishing (printing, inventory, pricing, remainders) would be gone... the only trick would be promoting their services to authors to keep steady business coming in.

Taking the present risk of the market, handing that risk to authors, and getting direct up-front payments for their work from a vastly larger number of clients, instead of the fickle public. What publisher wouldn't want to do something so sensible? What author wouldn't jump at the chance of having their work improved for them, so they have a fighting chance of getting it out to the public? What would happen to the present print-based book, so wasteful and expensive compared to digital products?

Comments are invited.
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Old 03-27-2010, 11:44 AM   #2
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Certainly I can see a big market for someone to work with authors to edit and polish their material. On the flip side, I think that many author's other big problem is going to be getting noticed by their potential audience with all the drek out there. Sometimes when I go to the Amazon kindle bookstore and look at SF sorted by publish date (trying to find out what has been added in the past week), I have to page through four or five screens to find a book that isn't either PD or self published. That's the other job that the publishers had historically filled. Someone is going to make a good living creating web sites that helps people find books they want to read.
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Old 03-27-2010, 11:51 AM   #3
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You're suggesting, Steve, that the entire slushpile be passed to the hapless consumer? Don't you think folks who've followed your proposed model in recent years (PublishAmerica comes to mind) are not doing enough to swamp the reader with unreadable nonsense so that finding the needle is becoming increasingly frustrating as the haystack grows and grows and grows? I'm in the business of filtering slush piles and I wouldn't wish the job on my worst enemy far less ask him to actually pay for some of the rubbish I throw out. N
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Old 03-27-2010, 11:52 AM   #4
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I don't think it would work. Many people think that they can write. Few can. By publishing everything, they would be expecting the reading public to not only wade through rivers of crap looking a carp, but also to pay for it. Maybe if the slush piles were made free, some might be willing to wade, but they still are spending their time.
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Old 03-27-2010, 12:51 PM   #5
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Well, it's a viable business model, since they exist today. I detect a note of tounge-in-cheek, I think.

It's called "vanity press" nowadays, but there'd be almost no printing presses involved anymore in your new model. Its widespread adoption would spawn another business model, that of gatekeeper, or as it was once called, "publisher" or "reviewer". I'd pay for a service that sorted the resulting mass of dreck into two major categores "sucks"/"doesn't suck", subdivided the relatively tiny "doesn't suck" pile into rough genres and then coarsely ranked or graded them.

Regards,
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Old 03-27-2010, 01:57 PM   #6
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The problem I see with Steve's model is that authors would be expected to front the costs that publishers currently front. Essentially a self-publishing model. Today few authors are willing to front those costs, many because they simply do not have the financial wherewithal to do so.

And to buy those services from a publisher as opposed to buying them from a freelancer is likely to be significantly more costly. Rather than paying for these services, authors will do it themselves, to everyone's detriment. For some examples of current problems that I think would expand exponentially, see Give Me a Brake!.
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Old 03-27-2010, 03:56 PM   #7
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Good comments, all. Let me address a few points:

Obviously, there is a lot of stuff in the slush piles that probably should never be seen in the wild (no tongue in cheek needed there). However, I'm suggesting that it should not be the publisher's job to decide, because the current publishing model is too dependent on profiting heavily on the smallest number of books, which means there are too many potentially good books in those slush piles that the publishers are passing up on due to lack of expected high-profit margins.

The publishers are better off applying their core talents--editing, proofing, packaging--to as many books as possible, including lower-profit books that otherwise get overlooked and lost in the slush piles. Some of those not-so-good books may only need a little work to be made sellable, real polished gems. Then pass that cleaned-up product to the author for them to sell and make whatever profit they can.

When I say the authors should be paying the publishers, I am not assuming the cost will be the same as what publishers pay to produce a book, including the entire print-based process, support of transportation, warehousing, etc, etc. The publishers basically would charge for editing and packaging services, period. We're talking about a few hundred dollars to a thousand, not much more. And it would be completely optional... if you don't think your work needs their services, don't use 'em. Or maybe just pay for proofing services, or just packaging. It's the author's choice, and it won't impact their ability to release their books... it will just make them better books. The idea would be for the author to make enough in sales to pay for the editing costs, or to accept them as operating losses.

Authors would be responsible for distribution, which does not have to be expensive... a purely digital distribution model can cost as little as a hundred dollars a year (website and software costs, primarily). Sure, it might be substantial in other cases, such as for those who insist on print, or spend more on website services, software, etc... but if you think about it, that's one way to cut down on the number of books that get pushed at the publisher, reducing the amount in the "slush pile."

And finally, although the publishers will no longer filter consumers from the slush, they don't need to: There are other services that can do that, most notably P2P services and portals that can review books and make recommendations. Those will be more impartial than recommendations and reviews from within publishers, who frankly have a vested interest in making their own drek sound good, and actually obligate authors (in some cases) to provide reviews in order to bring in customers.

So the slush will be reviewed, much will be revealed by more impartial sources to be slush, and left unpurchased... bad authors will still be filtered out, and consumers will still know what to buy and not to buy.
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Old 03-27-2010, 04:04 PM   #8
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Quote:
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Some of those not-so-good books may only need a little work to be made sellable, real polished gems.
No-- the relation between "goodness" and "editing needed" is probably inversely proportional.
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Old 03-27-2010, 04:11 PM   #9
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***Some of those not-so-good books may only need a little work to be made sellable***

Those are the toughest books to get anything worthwhile out of, Steve. You're basically talking re-write with those. They would take months, years. The fact that they're not-so-good means the author isn't ready to work with an editor yet. Your proposed scheme is utterly unworkable.

Even at a small house like my own -- where we read every submission sent in as per form (synopsis and two chapters), I must go through up to thirty subs a week. Over the course of a month, I might ask to see four or five full manuscripts. Of those, we may publish one. The other two pro, full time editors on the team would report similar results.

How about you just read those that showed promise enough to merit a second glance, Steve? They're turned down for good reason. Even a book we eventually publish might be over a year in heavy edit before it's good enough to put out there for its final judgement -- by the reader.

You can's just land readers with nonsense or expect serious professional editors to virtually re-write the not-so-good work of sub-standard authors. Life is literally too short for an editor to take the also-rans to publication. You would need editorial teams the size of armies.

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Old 03-27-2010, 04:14 PM   #10
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Quote:
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It's called "vanity press" nowadays, but there'd be almost no printing presses involved anymore in your new model. Its widespread adoption would spawn another business model, that of gatekeeper, or as it was once called, "publisher" or "reviewer". I'd pay for a service that sorted the resulting mass of dreck into two major categores "sucks"/"doesn't suck", subdivided the relatively tiny "doesn't suck" pile into rough genres and then coarsely ranked or graded them.
That's exactly what I expect to get out of P2P and portals, except more impartially than from publishers themselves.

If pubs want to tell authors, "We can only clean your book up so much, it needs serious work"--then offer to do that work, for a fee--that should be within their purview to do so. But let the public, and P2P/portals run by impartial others, tell the consumer what is and is not good.
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Old 03-27-2010, 04:19 PM   #11
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You would need editorial teams the size of armies.
That is not a non-starter. Clearly, we're talking about a major reorganization of what is considered the publishing house (into more of a publishing factory). But it is still do-able, and given the evolving publishing climate, still potentially workable.
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Old 03-27-2010, 09:08 PM   #12
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This thread reminds me of a review of a vanity press book that deserved to remain in a slushpile:

http://www.blaghag.com/2009/04/book-...ominatrix.html
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Old 03-28-2010, 01:53 AM   #13
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The problem I see with Steve's model is that authors would be expected to front the costs that publishers currently front. Essentially a self-publishing model. Today few authors are willing to front those costs, many because they simply do not have the financial wherewithal to do so.
I was going to post exactly this.

Also... Would there not be concern about the reputation of the publisher. Many people buy books from certain publishers because they can expect a certain quality from each book that is published.

Of course, this is more true in the technical publications I guess. I know what to expect from a Wrox book verses an O'Riely book.

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Old 03-28-2010, 01:57 AM   #14
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Obviously, there is a lot of stuff in the slush piles that probably should never be seen in the wild (no tongue in cheek needed there). However, I'm suggesting that it should not be the publisher's job to decide, because the current publishing model is too dependent on profiting heavily on the smallest number of books, which means there are too many potentially good books in those slush piles that the publishers are passing up on due to lack of expected high-profit margins.
So, while currently the retailers are able to take advantage of the long tail, you are suggesting that authors take care of the long tail.

I guess you could extend this so that the publishers could perhaps have two brands that they publish under. One would be for first books and/or new authors. The author would need to pay for all the editing and typesetting up front and the publisher would do no marketing. But, after they are established the publisher could offer advances etc as they do now.

This actually might be interesting because it would allow for authors who might be rejected get discovered. I'm sure there are books that have been rejected by several publishers only to go on later to be big hits.

So, Steve... I'm wondering, if this is such a good idea and business plan... why don't you become the "new century" publishing company?

BOb
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Old 03-28-2010, 02:41 AM   #15
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This model assumes that most readers find their reading material online. I would suggest this is not the case. Many people go to bookstores and browse until they find something that catches their interest. Bookstores don't carry all the books that are published. The publishers and/or distributors send salespeople to the bookstore buyers, and these salespeople have to "sell" the buyer. The buyer then decides which books they will carry in their bookstore.

No bookstore can carry every book. How will the bookstores decide which books to carry? Who will pay the salespeople? Is that something else the author is expected to pay for upfront?

"Let the author worry about selling the books?" Who's going to write the books while the authors are busy selling them?

There is more to the editorial process than simple copy editing and proofreading. It is a collaborative process between the author and the editor and meant to polish and improve the work. And there is more to selling a book than tossing it up on the Internet and hoping people find it. Publishers have the cash flow to allow the authors to be paid, the salespeople to be paid, the editors to be paid, and production costs to be paid, all while the process of bringing a book to the paying customer, the reader, is going on. To expect authors pay it all upfront is just nuts.

If people really want to publish their stuff and don't want to take the time to polish their own work until it is acceptable to a commercial publisher, there are plenty of ways to do it now. Lulu, the Kindle store--whatever it's called, and Smashwords are the most author-friendly; AuthorHouse and its various "imprints," and oh yeah, PublishAmerica, for those too naive to know what they are doing. Caveat emptor; or when the author becomes the customer rather than the reader, caveat scrivener.

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