Sunday, January 3, 2010

Two pointers to the future?

Today I thank the Lord I’m not a traditional publisher. For years I’ve suffered sniffy sniggers and downright haughty ‘attitude’ from the traditionalists of the publishing industry because I commit their cardinal sin.

I publish POD and produce e-books.

Suddenly, they are crowding onto the gangplank of the good ship E-BOOK as if it’s the last ferry from Saigon and the Viet Cong are at the gate. All the while arguing amongst themselves about how to control this strange, detested new e-world.

This week two interesting sets of figures were released.

Firstly, Amazon announced that electronic book sales outsold physical books for the first time ever on Christmas Day.

Secondly, the Publishers Association published some damning figures revealing just how badly ‘trad’ publishing is fairing. They pulp, shred or quietly entomb 77 million books a year.

Why is that? Because of the ludicrous practice of bookshops ‘returning’ unsold items. This is surely not selling, it’s lending.

Dan Franklin, publisher of Jonathan Cape, says of the system; “it’s raving mad. The retailer takes no risk.”

So the bookshops simply over order, knowing that they can send back all they don’t sell, leaving the publisher with piles of stock returns to pulp or use as ballast in bulk carriers off to the South China Seas.

Add the crazy advance system and the shallow craving by publishers for celebrity names on their titles and you have a recipe for financial disaster. A £1m advance for Cherie Blair’s autobiography, which sold 23,412 hardbacks and 10,240 paperbacks. That cost £29.70 per book just to cover the advance.

Martin Amis’s The Second Plane sold just 4,493. How much did he get on advance for that?

I’m an author who publishes his own work independently so I see both sides of the argument. As an author I want big advances, who wouldn’t? But as a publisher I know it’s unsustainable.

Nielsen Bookscan finds that, of 86,000 new physical titles published in the UK in 2009, 59,000 sold an average of just 18 copies. EIGHTEEN!

That makes me feel much better about my POD paperback sales. I’m not getting rich – but I’m not plunging into unsustainable debt either. Offering my paperback thrillers also as e-books for Kindles, Sony e-Readers and the many other electronic hand-held devices is my investment for the future – and at better discount percentages, too.

So, do I feel sorry for the blighted traditional publishing houses desperately hunting for one best seller to pay for all the bad decisions they make? Decisions like paying millions to literary lions like ‘authoress’ Jordan – Katie Price’s alter ego, even though Rebecca Farnworth actually writes her books? If they want to toss good cash off a cliff good luck to them.

It doesn’t have to be at the expense of good writers. Print on Demand, done professionally, as well as properly produced e-books are, I believe, the salvation for the rest of us.

ps. I thought I'd use the Katie Price picture at the top in a salacious attempt to get more blog readers. She didn't actually write this post. I ghost wrote it.

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