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.
DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION. FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY
I began this series by looking at the data around social readers then developed 2 Models for Selling Historical Fiction followed by Selling Historical Fiction Parts II and III. In the process, I offered several diagrams illustrating the changing ways readers and writers are connecting.
After drawing all these pretty diagrams, do I have any conclusions?
Below are ten insights for your consideration:
Embrace social readers and those who influence them.
Seek out blogs and reading sites for your genre. In my case this is historical fiction and what my former agent called ‘up-market women’s fiction’.
Seek out blogs and influencers in geographic markets and specialty markets where you think your books will appeal. For example, one of my novels is set in WWI France, which suggests looking for bloggers and websites with an interest in WWI or a focus on France.
Since social readers are more likely to purchase online, make sure you provide links to purchase your books every time you appear online.
Talk to your readers. Determine where they hang out and join the conversation. Interact with them whenever they offer a comment. Invite them to make their opinions known through mini-surverys, questions on social media and other mechanisms.
Make sure your e-books are available in as many formats as possible.
Look for opportunities to interact with book clubs.
Maintain an active social media presence that is two-way not one-way.
Include your email address with your books and on your blog so readers can contact you.
Get active on Goodreads – by far the #1 favourite site mentioned by readers.
Oh, and two more:
collect emails as you go so you can reach out to readers from time to time, and
don’t forget to explore other sites – those I’ve categorized as ‘reading websites’ and ‘reading forums’. For example, IndieBound, IndieBrag and IndiesUnlimited are a mix of book sites and retailers. Pixel of Ink offers free and bargain books. Mumsnet and the Yummy Mummy Club are parent sites with books sections. Wattpad allows you to present chapters for reader comment, you can even serialize your book and test it out. Book Daily offers free book samples so that readers can do the equivalent of reading the first few pages of a book. Some of these sites may be suitable for guest posts, to engage with readers or as a marketplace for your books.
Whether you’re a reader or author, your opinion is important. Please let me know what you think of how social readers are changing the reading landscape.
I promised another diagram to explore the topic of connecting writers with readers in the self-publishing realm. Having spent twenty years in consulting, I find diagrams illuminating although I am aware that some see them as simplistic and that it is difficult to show all the subtleties of a situation in one single diagram. Consider this one a work in progress.
One of the outcomes of my 2013 historical fiction survey was a very long list of online sources readers use to find book recommendations. Almost 700 of them, in fact. Investigating the list – a laborious process – has allowed me to categorize them according to broad purpose or functionality as shown in the ‘bubbles’ that facilitate connections between writers and readers. (I’ve excluded some sources such as publisher sites, newspaper sites and librarian services from the diagram because they are not typically available to indie authors.) Self-published authors who cannot exploit the agent-editor-publisher-retailer chain, must decide the best combination of influencers to approach to get news of their books out to the market.
Bombarded as we are with messages and imagery, individuals pause only briefly to assess interest, which means the book’s cover and title must arrest the reader and convey something about its subject. Rachel Bodner offers her personal experience in a very interesting blog post.
It’s also worth reflecting on the answers readers gave when asked to comment on the importance of several factors in choosing a book. Here’s the breakdown:
Adding ‘very important’ and ‘extremely important’, subject matter comes out on top, followed by author, trusted recommendation and price.
A few reflections:
choose online sources to feature your book that suit its subject matter
a trusted author might be willing to lend their brand to your novel but you have to earn that privilege
as noted above, cover art must convey subject matter
book blurb and tag line also have to grab attention
you need a combination of online influencers to reach an audience of any size at all
I think I’ll look for correlations between factors that go into choosing a book and other responses such as preference for e-book or print, age, gender, and number of annual book consumption.
That’s it for now. Your thoughts, critique and suggestions are very welcome.