Communion Of Dreams

September 22, 2008, 9:15 am
Filed under: Amazon, BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow, Jeff Bezos, Kindle, Marketing, Publishing, Science Fiction, Society

Via Cory Doctorow, a lengthy look at the End of Book Publishing as We Know It in New York Magazine.  It’s a very long piece, but worth going through for anyone interested in the current state of the publishing industry and some possible directions it may go in the future.

As I have said in the past, I think that the industry is essentially “broken.”  Increasingly, the traditional publishing system relies on gimmicks and celebrities (most such artifically created).  From the article:

But overspending isn’t going away, even with a rotten economy. Last month, Harvard economist Anita Elberse wrote a piece debunking the hypothesis of Chris Anderson’s anti-blockbuster blockbuster, The Long Tail (which Bob Miller acquired at Hyperion for a mere $550,000). Elberse led off with a tidbit from a study of Hachette’s Grand Central Publishing. Of 61 books on its 2006 list, each title averaged a profit of almost $100,000. But without the top seller, which earned $5 million, that average drops to $18,000. “A blockbuster strategy still makes the most sense,” she concludes.

It’s inherently risky, though. You have to wonder about the prospects for one new book that Elberse had her students case-study—Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. Grand Central, inspired by the best seller Marley & Me, is betting on the new mini-genre of cat-related nonfiction. Grand Central initially offered $300,000, then went up to $1.25 million. Gobs more will be spent on marketing. You’ll likely be hearing about Dewey when it comes out this month, and if half a million of you still feel that you can’t get enough heartwarming pet stories, it just might earn back its advance.

So, what happens?  Well, I think that we’re seeing it: the “publish it yourself” strategy, for authors on their own or teamed up with Amazon.  Yeah, I don’t like the Kindle, but it does look like otherwise Amazon is moving in the direction of becoming vertically-integrated, and Bezos’s baby may be a major component in that process:

Publishers have been burned by e-book hype before. A few years back, analysts were predicting we’d all be reading novels on our Palm Pilots. Barnes & Noble even began selling e-books. Though it doesn’t quite look the part, Bezos’s chunky retro Kindle is the closest so far to being the iPod of books. In mid-August, a Citigroup analyst doubled his estimate for this year’s sales of the readers—to almost 400,000.

Why weren’t publishers elated? What’s wrong with a company that returns only 10 percent of the books it buys and might eventually eliminate the cost of print production? Well, it doesn’t help that Amazon, which has been on an intense buying spree (print-on-demanders BookSurge; book networking site Shelfari), lists publishers as its competitors in SEC filings. Editors and retailers alike fear that it’s bent on building a vertical publishing business—from acquisition to your doorstep—with not a single middleman in sight. No HarperCollins, no Borders, no printing press. Amazon has begun to do end runs around bookstores with small presses. Two new bios from Lyons Press, about Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain, are going straight-to-Kindle long before publication.

So, what does this mean for the average non-celeb writer?  In other words, what does it mean for me?

I’m not sure.  As I have said repeatedly, I would like to have a conventional publishing gig – “sell” Communion of Dreams to one of the imprints who handle Science Fiction (or even better, “speculative fiction”) and have copies of the thing sold in bookstores all across the country.  That’s what I grew up with.  But it may well make more sense to get go through one of the self-publishing services, and just sell the thing off my websites and through Amazon.  With almost 12,000 copies downloaded, there may well be a market for a hardcopy version.


Jim Downey

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I would love to buy it in the traditional paper form. I have a love for books and prefer the old school realm of something that I can feel, touch, close, and open, or better yet, can’t put down. My daughter is almost 12 and devours books at an astonishing rate. She too prefers a book that she can take with her to her hammock or on her many journeys in the car. I know that it is unrealistic and even old fashioned, however, I often like a world not so wired. I want to see COD in print and on paper.

Comment by Celeste

Hmm . . . a love for real books. No idea what you’re talking about, there. 😉

Jim D.

Comment by Communion of Dreams

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: