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'The black hole of modern publishing practices'

20 February 2017

Coming from the tech arena is a fairly hostile view of traditional publishing, which assumes that it is dead and will shortly be totally replaced by indie publishing. But is this really what is happening at present? It doesn't seem so clear-cut.

John Biggs' recent article What's Next for books? runs a critical eye over publishing and book retailing:

‘B&N is, for want of a better word, dead. Their strategy of opening massive stores with large footprints and stocking everything from board games to stuffed animals (and some books) has failed, and there is no reason to visit a B&N unless you want to get a coffee and read magazines for free.'

He doesn't think ‘that indie authors will return to big-name publishers. They won't... the Pareto rule assumes that 80 percent of the revenue comes from 20 percent of the writers. Given the imperfect information upon which most publishers make their decisions, trusting them to spot that 20 percent is silly at best...

Things are tooling along quite nicely outside the traditional publishing industry, and, as long as you're willing to try new things, you can make it without having an under-marketed book plop down into the black hole of modern publishing practices.'

Although publishers have cut their lists and it is more difficult than ever to get your book taken on by one of them (you are not even able to submit directly any more, since unsolicited submissions ae not read), it looks as if many traditional publishers are doing well. The big publishing houses have adapted their model to absorb the threat of ebooks, and have gone on to make a lot of money out of them. The standard author royalty for ebooks is still 25%, which allows plenty of room for publishers to make a profit, providing that the publishers have written off the advance and set-up costs of the book against a print edition.

As well as the stories of successful self-publishing authors doing very nicely and not being at all interested in being taken on by a self-publisher, there are accounts of them deciding that it would better to be published by a publisher, rather than having to do all the hard work. Perhaps, as things continue to evolve in the book world, authors' view of this will depend on how much they want to get involved in publishing their own book, managing the whole process and handling the marketing? It is quite understandable that some authors would prefer to concentrate on writing, but others will thrill to the commercial side of publishing their own work and like the feeling of control.