Evolving world of publishing

I’ve followed Mike Shatzkin for years. Mike offers strategic consulting to the global book publishing business and posts every 4-6 weeks on happenings in that world. His latest post, which considers the end of the general trade publishing, got me thinking.

Mike’s premise is that “General trade publishing will be soon be recognized as an artifact of a trade that no longer exists. It doesn’t make sense any more for the organizing principle for title acquisition and marketing to be “if it works in bookstores, and we are confident we can convince them it will, we can do it”.”

Mike Shatzkin’s article compares the publishing world of the 1990s with today’s environment. I love making diagrams to reflect what’s going on and have attempted to highlight the differences Mike Shatzkin described in the following diagram.

  • It’s no surprise that Amazon is the elephant in the room. We’re all aware of its reach and influence. It operates as a home for writers who self-publish or are hybrid authors and as a publisher with at least 7 imprints. Through its electronic delivery and marketing machine, Amazon bypasses – and reduces the influence of – distributors, wholesalers, bookstore chains and small bookstores. In two earlier posts, I’ve also looked at how Amazon manipulates its best seller lists to feature its own authors. See here and here.
  • Self-publishing is an increasingly viable alternative for authors. In addition, for authors published by the ‘Big 5’, self-publishing offers an alternative source of revenue for books declined by their publishers, a more lucrative option in the face of declining advances, and/or a way to promote their backlists once they regain rights to those books. An increasing share of books are self-published.
  • Self-published authors along with Amazon reach readers directly. They bypass wholesalers and distributors, are infrequently sold through bookstores, and are less likely to be on library shelves.
  • Today, bookstores are roughly 25% of book sales. This means that it’s increasingly difficult for publishers to make the same margins they did in the past publishing a new book.
  • Audience-specific and topic-specific markets – particularly for non-fiction but also for fiction – are the way of the future. Publishers need data and marketing mechanisms to reach them.
  • General trade publishers who created profitable businesses based on selling 80% or more of their titles through bookstores must find, and are finding new mechanisms to reach readers. Unfortunately, Amazon has such a head start that this is a severe uphill climb.
  • E-books have upended the old world. With e-books more than 18 million titles are available at the click of the mouse. As a result older titles are taking a big share of revenue away from new titles.
  • Print on demand changes the need for large print runs. Print-on-demand also means that older titles that might have gone out of print under the 1990s model can in concept remain in print forever.
  • Today, a news event can trigger immediate marketing and sales from the backlist. The emphasis here is on backlist. Such sales undercut the sales of new releases.

Let me add a few of my own thoughts:

  • Bookclubs – remember the book of the month club? – are much less significant than in the past.
  • Between the 1990s and now, several book chains and many small bookstores have disappeared.
  • With the proliferation of cheap books, either through services like BookBub or self-published authors or tools like Amazon Prime, libraries do not have the prominence with readers that they did in the past.
  • Big Box stores sell books at discounted prices. They are one distribution channel Amazon uses to sell print copies of their authors.
  • Through its own pricing strategies, Amazon is training readers to expect cheap books.

According to Mike Shatzkin, all of this means that the notion of ‘general trade publishing’ is almost an anachronism.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

An Amazon Discovery – part 2

Last week, I wrote about Amazon’s best sellers list for women’s historical fiction. Let’s take a look at other fiction categories.


ROMANCE – 8 out of 15 are Amazon Imprints

CONTEMPORARY WOMEN’S FICTION – 6 out of 15 are Amazon Imprints


WOMEN’S LITERARY – 5 out of 15 (interesting to note that this is lower)

ALL BEST SELLERS IN LIT & FICTION – an incredible 10 out of 11 are Amazon Imprints!

Of course, these are point-in-time lists. If you checked the top sellers today they would be different from the ones I tabulated. According to Amazon, these lists are updated hourly.

When the Big Tech companies including Amazon met with the US House Judiciary Committee, Jeff Bezos was questioned on the companies’ use of data collected from third party vendors to sell its own products in competition with them. Does this extend to books?

We might also ask what other sales techniques Amazon is using to entice readers to their imprints. One technique is pricing – new releases for Lake Union novels is usually $4.99 (for the Kindle version), with gradually adjustments to $2.99 and lower. In contrast, traditional publishers offer Kindle versions in the $12.99 to $14.99 range when first released. Other techniques include: ‘Customers who bought this item also bought’,  and ‘Sponsored products related to this item’, which often list novels published by Amazon. And another technique is low author advances. I benefitted from these techniques when Lake Union published Time and Regret.

By the way, if you’re curious to know the names of Amazon’s imprints, here they are.

A reader from last week pointed out that programs like Amazon’s Prime First Reads is only available to books from Amazon imprints. This program gives Kindle copies away for free to Prime Members for an early read before publication date, while others can buy them at a much reduced rate. Perhaps another way to manipulate the top sellers lists? Hmmmmm.

In last week’s post on this topic, a reader provided a link to a letter that the Authors Guild, the AAP and the ABA sent to the House of Representative’s Antitrust committee. You may wish to check it out


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Meg from A Bookish Affair

Meg, book blogger at A Bookish Affair – a blog I’ve read for years – talks about her passion for books and what got her started in the book blogging world. I’m delighted to share her thoughts. Meg’s tagline is: “Sometimes reading a good book can be like a great love affair.”

Why did you start blogging about or featuring books?

I had been reading book blogs for awhile before I started my own book blog. I was amazed that there was this whole community out there in the ether of the internet that was as passionate about reading as I was. Finally, the temptation to share books that I really loved with the rest of the world became too much and I started A Bookish Affair in 2011.

What type of books appeal to you and why?

I read a lot of different kinds of books but there are definitely a few threads that tie what I like together. I love really vivid personalities and good world-building both in fiction and non-fiction.

Do you concentrate on a specific genre? If so, can you tell us a bit about your passion for that genre.

I cover all sorts of books but historical fiction is definitely my favorite genre! I’m a history lover and I always feel like I don’t know nearly enough about so many of the events and people that have shaped the world. While you can definitely find me picking up a lot of non-fiction, there is something magical about historical fiction where it can give you a view of what it might have actually been like to live through these events or know these people or even be these people!

Who are your readers and followers? How do you engage with them?

My readers seem to be eclectic readers like me! And you know, all readers are kindred spirits so we always seem to have a lot to talk about! I love “talking” through Facebook messages or Instagram messages or comments.

If you have a blog, what features does it offer? For example, ‘best of’ lists, author interviews, a book rating system.

I have a simple five star rating (1 – not that good to 5 – excellent).

What ways do you use to attract new readers and followers?

Instagram has been a great way for me to do this. I love to show what I’m reading and to see what others are reading. That is definitely where I’ve seen the most growth recently!

How do you interact with authors and publicists?

Email is definitely the best way to communicate, particularly about future reviews. I’ve been really tickled by getting comments from authors when I post about reading their books on Instagram! I go into full fan girl mode!

What trends or changes have you noticed in the book world?

Oh, there are so many! One of the happiest changes that I’ve noticed is thriving indie bookstores. I live in the Washington, D.C. area and we have a lot of really wonderful indie stories in the area that are absolutely THRIVING! It is so very exciting to see and this is definitely a trend that I hope to see continue!

If you could wave your magic wand, what would you change about the book industry?

I think Indie publishers do a better job of this but I wish mainstream publishers were more willing to take risks on different books, particularly those in the historical fiction genre. It still seems like once they find a book set in a particular time that does well, there will be a glut of very similar books. I love reading very diversely and once I read one sort of book, I’m usually ready to move on to a different sort of book.

There are so many times and places that have yet to be explored or so it would seem from what gets published. As a challenge for myself this year, I am trying to read a book set in every country. At first, I wanted to read historical fiction mostly but I realized that would be almost impossible as it is still hard to get books set in many different countries (regardless of the time they are set in) translated in English!

Many thanks, Meg! That’s quite an ambitious challenge you’ve set for yourself! If you want to read a book set in Afghanistan, try The Dressmaker of Khair Khana. It’s a fascinating and true story.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.