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.

Readers bring their perspective

One of the questions in this year’s reader survey invited participants to be interviewed about their reading and give additional feedback. Today, Andrea is the first participant to explain her views.

I was struck by her email signature, which gives us an insight into how Andrea views the world.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~~ Joseph Campbell

Please tell us a little about yourself:  Andrea: 62 year old, disabled retired ordained minister. Married 17 years. Pastor at lBorn in Rhode Island USA. Have lived in New York State for 20+ years USA. Read 150-200+ books across genres every year (links at bottom of email) and review every one.

In your opinion, what is the power of fiction? The power of fiction is to expand your mind…to broaden your horizons… to challenge and teach… and to entertain 

What kind of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of? It’s easier to say what I steer clear of: Horror, (s)exploitation, zombies, some shifters, most reverse harem and all sports jock stories, most billionaire stories- except Belle Andre. I love intelligence, which is why I love paranormal and scifi.

What aspects of an author’s writing make you feel like you’re ‘immersed in the novel’s world’ and/or ‘transported in time and place’. The author needs to talk to the reader as an equal, or tries to teach me so at least I’m not clueless. Descriptions help.

Which books read in the past year or so stand out for you and why? Drawing Lessons  by Patricia Sands was my standout women’s fiction last year. I loved it because I was just along for the ride…I was there…it was understandable and believable.

A Piece of the World  by Christina Baker Kline is Historical Fiction about Andrew Wyeth and his paintings. It was absolutely fascinating and since I am a huge fan of Wyeth and have read everything I have been able to find, I found the story understandable and wonderfully written (and I did not like her first book at all.)

Ritter Ames, Marie Grazia Swan, Jennifer L. Harte, Anna Celeste Burke and Carolyn Haines all write amazing mysteries that bring you in like you’re in on the secret.

How do you decide what books to buy? What influences your book purchases? I’m an Avocational Reader- “I read for books”. I have so many eBooks my iPad and kindle groan at the thought and I doubt I’ll ever run out. As a former professional chef, I know we “eat with our eyes”, so covers are important first looks. I read across genres so suggestions from other authors, websites and the like. On a fixed income, free is always a good thing – but can’t guarantee a good read.

Is there anything about where you live or your particular background that influences your fiction choices? As I get older, I find less tolerance for erotica and bad language. I also will address punctuation issues directly with an author.

If there is anything else about reading fiction, the kind of books available today, or the way reading is changing that you’d like to comment on, please do so. Indie publishing has put some real c**p out there. Please authors, find good editors.

Many thanks for your thoughtful comments, Andrea. I’m astonished at how many books you read!

You can find Andrea at GoodReads.com/AndreaStoeckel , at Avocational Reader/Reviewer  https://rokinrevreview.godaddysites.com/  or on Instagram @rokinrev .


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.

Readers on reading

I’ve dug into responses from readers on the topic of why they are reading more or less than in the past. A little over 1000 people chose to comment on the topic. So here’s the original chart and a new chart showing reasons.

Are you reading more or fewer books than in the past:

Reasons for a change in reading habits:

By way of explanation (start at the top of chart and work clockwise):

  • Book Club – a number of readers said they are reading more because they’ve joined a book club.
  • E-books are easier – many readers are reading more because of e-readers AND audio books.  A number of readers say they love audio books because they can read while doing something else.
  • Fewer good books – some read less because they find fewer good books to choose from
  • Life changes – sadly, some of these are readers are experiencing health problems that prevent them from reading as much as they did in the past.
  • More social media – these are readers who are spending time on social media instead of reading books.
  • More time/Retirement – relatively self explanatory except to say that many readers have more time because their children are getting older 🙂
  • Other options – these are readers who mentioned doing other activities that have displaced reading in the way they spend their time.
  • Review books – a number of readers are reviewing books and/or have started their own book blog and hence are reading more.
  • SM gives ideas – some readers mentioned social media facilitates reading as a source of book related information and recommendations
  • Too busy – many readers cite jobs and young children as a reason their reading is less than in the past

I don’t think there are too many surprises here although it’s interesting to see them categorized.


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.