Since the Amazon / Hachette negotiations exploded, I’ve been reading increasingly frantic and impassioned arguments from both sides which seem to always devolve into traditional vs. self-publishing and the merits and drawbacks of either. This territory is so heavily covered already that I’m not going to even attempt to go through the myriad of arguments for both sides.
I see pro’s and con’s to both traditional and self-publishing. What interested me is that some of the arguments from the pro-traditional publishing crowd or even publishers themselves haven’t been as compelling as some of the arguments I’ve read from the self-publishing stalwarts.
A friend of mine who is very pro-traditional sent me an article this past week that had some interesting thoughts on some of the benefits of traditional. You can read the article here:
Save the Book Publisher by Guan Yang of Bloomberg.
I want to respond to a few points he made in the article that struck me as a bit weak and if anyone has some better arguments or an alternate take, I’m definitely interested in hearing your thoughts:
A lot of work goes into editing a manuscript – Guan’s point is that it takes a lot of time and money to get a manuscript edited but if you look at the real costs, you can get a typical 80,000 word novel professionally edited for under $2,500 dollars. Considering how much money the author stands to make if they published the novel themselves and properly marketed it, that’s seems very, very low an amount for the author to consider giving up most all of their rights to the book and property to a publisher as well as most profits.
Publisher advances make it possible for writers to survive – I totally agree that in the good old days of traditional publishing when advances were $25k, $50k, even over $100k, they made a huge difference for an author. But now that advances are being phased out by many publishers and others are only paying a measly $3,000, it makes this argument pretty weak. It seems like more and more, traditional publishers are trying to pass on as much risk as possible to the author and reduced advances are a big part of that.
Books are start-ups – this is a great point and totally true. Each new book is like creating a little mini-company, marketing the product, building a revenue stream, and milking it as long as possible. This takes tremendous risk and effort and traditional publishers have a lot of experience building this type of company.
Traditional publishers are doing a poor job competing with Amazon – this is so true. Why haven’t traditional publishers created an online source to purchase books that’s as good as Amazon? The whole reason Hachette is in such a bad negotiating position is because they have no alternative options for selling books to use as leverage.
Self-published authors are stuck doing all their own marketing – this is true and is described as a huge drawback for self-publishing. There are a lot of authors I know that don’t want anything to do with marketing. I totally get where they are coming from. I would love to “just write” too but from what I’m seeing in the changing landscape of publishing, even traditionals are forcing their authors to do marketing, having social media profiles, etc. So it may be unavailable regardless of how you publish.
Traditional publishers do a poor job of marketing books – Yep, this one’s true too. It seems they have very few ideas for how to market new books and new authors and it’s proven by how poorly 90% of new books do in the market.
There’s no benefit to eliminating publishers completely – Ya, agree on this. Just because self-publishing has become a viable option and attractive to many authors doesn’t mean traditional publishers can’t play a valuable role as another option. There will be more changes to come and traditionals may work much differently than they do today as they adapt to the changing marketplace but there are still several benefits to having traditional publishing as an option for many authors.
I totally agree with Guan that in self-publishing, the writer is stuck footing the bill for editing, cover design, and printing expenses. The traditional publisher instead asks that for taking that financial risk, they get a majority of profits and rights to the author’s book. The big question: Is what they are offering in return worth giving up everything to them? That’s the question each author needs to wrestle with and decide what makes most sense for themselves. I’d say if the contract value is worth giving up rights and profits, then go for it. If not, then self-publishing is an interesting alternative.
One thing seems for sure, with all of these options and choices for authors, now is such a cool time to be a writer!