Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How Will the Authors of Tomorrow Make Money?

Yesterday I suggested that authors probably won't be charging admission to readings and selling t-shirts, to which people (correctly) wrote back: "Why not??" I should have said "most" authors won't be charging admission, but I definitely take their point.

So this got me to thinking. We've been talking about how e-books are going to affect the economics of publishing and the bottom line for authors, but let's take that one step further.

How are authors in the near future going to be making their money? Do you think books are still going to be the main thing? Or is the "other" category, such as subrights, appearances, and yes, t-shirts going to be more important? How should authors utilize the new technology to earn more money?


Margaret Yang said...

Sometimes I sell my short stories to websites that have ads on the sites. It seems to be the dominant model for making money on the web. You give away the content in exchange for the reader's attention to your ads.

Maybe in the future, that will be the only model for making money on fiction, period.

I notice that author JA Konranth is already experimenting with selling ads in his free ebooks.

It is a scary new thing, but change is always scary. I am determined not to be freaked out by this.

Sam Hranac said...

Cafe Press tie-ins?

Product placement?

Seriously, I think it will have to be a meeting of the minds between the reading public and authors. Ideas will be floated by agents and authors. Groups out there might take them up on some of them. Retreats and speaking engagements come to mind. Round table discussions with the author might be a more lucrative format than simply a dinner or conference speaker.

But please, don't take this as a softening of my own stance on paper versus electronic books.

Fake Name said...

Hopefully authors will start reading live much more often. I imagine something like the Comedy Club boom of the 80s with authors bringing people out clubs, coffee houses and theaters.

Adaora A. said...

I think it's going to be subrights, apperances (as you said) and film/TV. Hollywood seems to be relying more and more on literature to tell stories. Non fiction, fiction, True Crime, the list goes on. It's like they're running out of stories to tell so they just borrow ours.

Margosita said...

Fake name, I like the sound of that!

I think it'll be a combination of things. I think books (both paper and electronic) will still be how an author makes money. But depending on the genre I think the other stuff (readings, t-shirts, accompanying web pages) will start to come into play more and more. But for more literary types (without characters that make inspiring action figures!) I think things will have to get more social. Sam Hranac mentioned groups and retreats and workshops, all of which I think will become more important over time.

cc said...

Can't I just be on the NYT best seller list? Is that too much to ask? Please.

Robert Walker said...

Another good topic for conversation. (There's a reason I have your blog in my Writerly Resources section.)

As for making money in the digital future, I think it's too early to know. In the music biz, the new talk is of subscriptions. Josh Rouse (if you don't know who he is, you're missing out) just started a sort of subscription service on his site.

Will this work for novelists? Not sure about that.

But, I do think that most people, especially those who read, will always be willing to pay an author for their work (meaning, their books/novels). Maybe in the new system, creative works will cost less, but the creator will get more of a percentage. That model is already beginning.

How much of a cover price currently goes to corporate overhead?

I don't think that authors will need to worry about making a living, by selling books, in the future, nor of having to become t-shirt hucksters. And perhaps there will be a place for agents, too. But the ones who should worry at this point are the non-essential middle-men. Again, just look at what's happening in the music biz. (No, it's not exactly the same, but it's similar enough.)

Travis Erwin said...

Call me a traditionalist, but I think the majority of authors will still make their living from the sell of bound books.

Dennis Cass said...


wonderer said...

I loved some of the comments on the previous threads about "extras" that could be offered with e-books, such as interactive content and multimedia. Some authors already have extensive content on their websites, and I could see paying a nominal amount for some of that, whether as downloads or otherwise. Maps, appendices and other background material (especially for sf/f authors), deleted scenes, short stories or novellas featuring characters from already released novels, teaser chapters for the next novel, computer wallpaper featuring characters or settings... On the other hand, having to pay might reduce the market to rabid fans, rather than acting as a marketing tool. I'm not sure.

A few current examples that I can think of:

Romance author Jennifer Crusie has done at least one tie-in: her novel AGNES AND THE HITMAN (a collab with Bob Mayer) involved a newspaper columnist who had a logo for her column, which Crusie then put on mugs and aprons and such (the column was about food). That could work well for certain types of novels.

SF/F author Holly Lisle runs a website that's chock-full of writing advice. She started a writing forum (though she later had to drop out due to time constraints). She sells e-books with yet more writing advice. I have yet to read or pay for any of her novels or e-books, but based on my experience with her free stuff, I will eventually buy something, if only to say thank you. (Side note: There are several writers whose blogs I read and enjoy, and sooner or later I'll get around to buying something of theirs or donating via PayPal, for the same reason.)

Anonymous said...

If we remove the highly celebrated big-money contracts, how do the authors of today make money? I mean, real money? Like, enough to live on?

V L Smith said...

Perhaps my logic is flawed, but if some day books are almost exclusively distributed as e-books, maybe authors could finally be compensated as artists rather than manufacturers hocking their wares. Maybe they could up the ante on what they are paid.

My reasoning: Production, warehousing and shipping costs will all plummet dramatically. A cover will still need to be designed, but there won't be any printing costs involved with it. There are probably other costs that will decrease as a result of the change to e-books.

On the other hand, e-books only sell for $10-15, but in some cases, regular books don't sell for much more than that now. So maybe the publishing house won't generate as much revenue. I don't know.

All I'm saying is that if the publishing house will be reducing their expenses and not their revenue, yet the author won't get a bigger cut, then something is wrong with this picture.

Does that make sense?

nancorbett said...

I don't think that making tee shirts and setting up ticket booths is where it's going. When I think about the internet and the possibilities it will open up, a lot of things come to mind.

The internet is an easy place to cultivate an audience. Look at this blog, for example. Why do I check in here several times a week? Because Nathan consistently offers stimulating topics that are relevant to my interests, I've encountered some great people here and, heck, it's fun.

As for writers, I think I said a couple of days ago that serialization is a bright possibility. Then I came across an interview with CJ Lyons, whose debut novel, Lifelines, was recently published. In the interview, she says that Berkeley has signed her up to help them create a new kind of genre, women's lit|medical thriller|romance, using the same characters in a (drum roll) SERIES. The full article is here.

The internet will allow writers to hone and cultivate a following. The nature of our work will have to reflect that.

There is also a great chance that writers will become more interactive with their audience. What if an audience could sway how a story will end? Or what if a writer created a novel with more than one plot line? Or more than one ending?

The way that writers will continue to make money will be in direct relation to how well the writer can shift the focus from the book being the product to the WRITER being the product. Makes me feel kind of queasy, but I really think that's where it's going to go.

Enough from me. Gee, I'm opinionated, aren't I?

Natalie said...

Sometimes I picture something like iTunes called iWord, but instead of paying a measly buck for a song, people pay that buck for a chapter of a book. If they like that chapter, then they buy the next...and the next.

Some people may just buy the first chapter, but you'd get more money out of them than when that same person perused your book at the bookstore. But then you'd have people who bought the whole thing, loved it, and spread the word. More people start buying it--you become #1 on iWord, and then publishers make it into a book and all your fans go get it so they can have the whole thing on pretty paper. Then you'd be making money both online and in print.

Other Lisa said...

This is more on-topic for yesterday's post, but still, according to a just-released Scholastic study, 2/3rds of kids prefer reading physical books over electronic media.

Other interesting stuff there too, including the factoid that "Tweens and Teens who Participate in Online Activities Are More Likely to Read Books for Fun Daily ."

Elissa M said...

"Blogger V L Smith said...

Perhaps my logic is flawed, but if some day books are almost exclusively distributed as e-books, maybe authors could finally be compensated as artists rather than manufacturers hocking their wares."

Um, artists ARE manufacturers hocking their wares. I know because that's my day job. Original art brings much higher prices than reproductions. Books in any form are reproductions.

I think most writers in the future will not make enough money to live on, and a select few will make obscene amounts (sort of like artists). In other words, changes in technology will do nothing to change author compensation. Pessimistic of me, I know.

Just_Me said...

The simplest way to make money from the e-book reader would be to write an erodable program. Everytime you access the book it "wears" the pages down. Afte ra predetermined number of "reads" the file corrupts and self-destructs. No more book, so the reader or library buys a new one, just like they would for damaged books.

Theoretically it's possible to write something similar into sharing programs or music files. With a share-ware program you want something that degrades a bit each time you share. Maybe snip the last three pages everytime the file is transferred. The person who buys the book could share it, but the next person would be missing the last three pages, the second person would be missing the last 6, and so on.

Other than that, I don't know. Not every writer is rich and famous. Not everyone has the ability or time to market their name as a brand. So maybe some of us will just write because we (gasp) like to and not because of the millions of dollars eager editors are pouring into our bank accounts.

pjd said...

Once again, nancorbett has some very good insights, well described.

Now, my comment: In the near term, the vast majority of authors will make money by... selling their books, both print and electronic.

Here's the trick, though: as we heard every three minutes at SFWC, it's now up to the author to do their own publicity and generate sales. In other words, create their own brands. Publishers aren't doing it for them any more.

The authors that do this successfully will then have many additional options: ad revenue, referral revenue, speaker fees, subscription fees. But I think fundamentally, novelists will make their money selling their novels (or serialized stories). Today it's print, in the future it's electronic.

The irony is that as publishers and bookstores push the publicity and sales onus onto the authors, they make themselves less relevant at the same time that electronic products are putting pressure on their businesses. Why should an author, out doing publicity for themselves all day and night, drive people to a bookstore when they can sell their electronic novels right on their own web sites?

And, when you consider how much work that is for the poor author, there's huge room for new businesses aimed at aggregating the back end and administrative aspects while leveraging the combined force of multiple authors' publicity efforts. That is the role that I think forward-thinking agents and publishers should see for themselves in the future.

Anonymous said...

Authors will have to write books that people fall in love with.

And, some will have to make books that are absolutely also movies.

Hello Hollywood.

Mark Terry said...

What?!!! You mean there are authors who actually MAKE MONEY???

How come I've never heard of this?

Seriously, sort of--the latest happy thought to come my way on this subject was that there are more Fortune 500 CEOs (ie., 500) in the U.S. than there are authors who making a living just writing fiction.

Emphasis, please, on JUST writing fiction.

But prove me wrong, I'd love to see a list.

spyscribbler said...

Well, look at what networks are doing on there websites to show you full episodes for free: they have a 30 second commercial 4 times an hour.

We could become like commercial TV. Free to the public, but sponsored by ads.

Also, about the subscription idea, that's been done for years in the erotica biz (and not porn, even light erotica, lighter than "romantica"), before Ellora's Cave went huge. You pay $9-12 a month, and you get new chapters every week of serialized novel/las.

Since they've been holding steady for 7-10 years, I'll assume it's going well for them. :-)

AstonWest said...

From their day jobs?

Paula said...

While I think this is an important question and the answers so far are terrific, an even more important issue is that of getting readers' attention.

In an environment of ever-increasing noise, how in the world will authors do *that*?

Kristin Laughtin said...

While I think (and hope) that print books will remain dominant for a long time, I think it will come down to subrights and appearances a lot of the time. I also think there will be a lot of experimentation with promotional ideas. My main concern is competition--a lot of times I discover new books by browsing the physical store, but if that goes away, I worry it will be a lot harder to find the gems that aren't promoted as heavily.

And of course, if e-books are cheaper because they eliminate the production costs, people may buy more. At the same time, authors may have to sell significantly more copies to earn the same amount as before.

emeraldcite said...

How will the authors of tomorrow make money?

In the dystopian future, all sanctioned authors will have corporate sponsorship, like the drivers in NASCAR.

Writers will arrive at conferences and readings decked out in the latest swag from Viagra, Marlboro (tobacco-less cigarette substitutes),, etc.

They will also sell T-Shirts. :)

emeraldcite said...

Oh, I forgot: They will sell character appearances in their novels to the highest bidder?

Want to get your father something unique for father's day? Bid on a chance to have your father appear as a deranged serial killer in the next James Patterson, inc. release.


Steve Axelrod said...

I don't really see the problem. People pay for music downloads. Why not fiction?

dernjg said...

My perspective is that the merchandising will be crucial for the survival of eAuthors. This is coming from experience in the comic book industry, which is quickly evolving into the webcomic industry.
So how do webcomickers make money? First up, the notion of advertising being the way to pay isn’t a good one. Ads will probably cover your bandwith, unless bandwith becomes drastically cheaper and the demand for advertising starts to cut into the supply.
But by giving away good content for free, you can build up loyal fans. Said loyal fans will be your bread and butter, they will be the ones that support you through purchasing tangible items that they can treasure, and intangible donations.
On donations, we’re returning to a patron society similar to that of the Renaissance. Only now, it’s the populous offering up lots of small donations instead of a small elite group offering up large donations. It is under this method that Radiohead is operating.
On merchandise, the best potential source of income for writers will probably be deluxe versions of their books – fancy bindings, personalized notes, really good paper. Maybe even the occasional hand-written book.
The one area that I feel might be most peculiar is the idea of more readings for writers. This will probably happen, but it will not be an absolute for every writer in the industry. Instead, with a large number of shy writers, there will be a select group of super-stars doing it like Dickens, but an equal number going the Salinger way.
And yes, don’t scoff the movie money. We’ve had stage-based entertainment for ages, and we’ve always willingly paid for that. Movies will stick around for that reason.

Joe Novella said...

Hi Nathan,

Hmmmm...I've been pondering this question for a while as well. So much of my activity happens online these days, and I think this pattern is reflected in projects by other industry professionals be they authors, agents, publishers...

I can see authors adopting the "Internet business model" of attract and advertise. A variation on ebooks, where the author develops the novel online, 1 chapter at a time, gathering an audience and offering advertising space. It also opens incredible interaction opportunities with readers.

Traditional hardcover books will always be around, but more than anything, the internet has closed the "interaction gap" between authors and the market. I believe this will sporn a new breed of internet savy authors that build their revenue by interaction.

For example, mystery writers of the future may use the Internet to place clues to plot lines in the form of maps or video trailers which tie in with the hardcover book. This may sound far-fetched to the traditionalist but to the younger demographic of readers who are visually motivated, this makes strong appeal. We are seeing it already with World of Warcraft game and book productions.

The successful and wealthy writers of the future will be adept at fostering relationships with their readers via online portals, allowing their audience to interact and be involved in content production, driving their revenue through their online presence.

Sorry for the longwinded post but I am passionate about this topic.

Joe Novella
Facebook Group - Writer's Almanac

Bethanne said...

I think Axelrod said it right.

why aren't authors expected to make money selling ebooks?

although my goal is NY... I've perused the merchandise online and it's not, there's no paper! Seems like there should be more money available to go around online than in NY. I like paper.

What needs to change [bottom-lining it, of course], is the status quo. If i buy a book for 20 bucks offline and 15 bucks online...seems pretty even to me. no shipping. no paper costs. who knows about this stuff anyway? i wanna see an itemized report on all product costs!

:D you know.

A Paperback Writer said...

I like Natalie's idea.
But isn't there something like that on Amazon already where you pay for short stories?

Haven't the last several decades seen that authors who really make money are the ones whose ideas get put on film or TV? (Had any of us ever heard of A Christmas Story before the movie 20 years or so ago, for example?) I can't see that changing any time soon.

Alex Fayle said...

I'm turning my writing skills to non-fiction, and will be soon selling ebooks/courses (in the Holly Lisle tradition) as a way to provide me with enough income to keep my fiction going.

As I'm one of those who thinks books will be around for a long time (until you can take an ebook into the bath, or read it without eye strain, at least), I think writers will still be earning money from print, but with the change in the model to fewer bigger name authors, writers will have to find other ways to support themselves outside their fiction.

Lisa said...

How many people out there are like me and only read curled up in bed? I also find reading off a screen hurts my eyes after a while and sitting at a computer hurts my back. I wouldn't buy an e-book and if they stopped selling real books I would be buying old ones from garage sales instead.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm guessing you haven't laid eyes on an e-reader yet. They're as easy to read as paper (some might say easier since you can adjust the type size), and the size of a paperback. They certainly have their drawbacks, but curling up in bed with one without straining eyes is not a weakness.

Gabrielle said...

J.A. Konrath weighed in on this topic a while back ("As the Publishing World Turns") and had some interesting ideas. He suggested giving away ebooks for free, but with ads in books and possibly considering product placement. It makes sense to me, but then again I think it will take another ten years or so for ebooks to become a major player in the publishing business.

The transition from CDs to iTunes was quick because the transition from records to CDs was quick (relatively speaking.) We've been reading books the old-fashioned way for centuries. It will take some time.

ilyakogan said...

I wanted to point out to what Caitlín R. Kiernan has been doing for a few years now.

She has this subscribers only digest of short stories (urban fantasy erotica) that she is not publishing anywhere else:

Sirenia Digest

So how about this: big novel - promotional tool. Short stories released to subscribers only every couple of months to keep the hungry fan going - the money maker.

Kathleen said...

Well... I HOPE that we're not going to have to make money through live readings or promotional material. And not because I don't want to do either. I'm looking at this from a reader's perspective. I'd ten times rather spend my money on a book or two than a shirt. And I'm not the SLIGHTEST bit interested in listening to my favorite author read her books. I'd ten times rather she be busy writing another one for me to read!

As for the whole ebook thing... it seems that some people aren't aware that there's already a strong ebook publishing sector, and the royalties are MUCH higher than NY, percentage-wise. There are some authors earning in the six figures writing only ebooks. NY publishers will have to take notice, if they want to start publishing more ebooks. Otherwise authors will abandon them.

I still think authors will make most of their money writing books, be it through a changing publishing model, or a combination of that and a chapter-by-chapter basis.

Will Entrekin said...

Stories. That's it.

Don't take me wrong; I'm one of those new-ish authors still making my way through the world, reaching out to readers however I possibly can, and I'm far enough ahead of the curve that I'm still mainly waiting for the publishing industry to catch up, but still it comes down to the simple ability to tell stories and make readers care about them.

Because look: ads on blogs/webpages? C'mon, Google AdSense and etc. amount to pennies per month no matter how much traffic you get. Someone mentioned "erodable" technologies, because, you know, every time I read a novel, boll weevils come along and devour the last three words of each paragraph. Others wonder about authors making a living from writing, but the fact of the matter is that very few authors ever make enough to live on by selling their fiction. John Scalzi is a major blogger/skiffy writer/business guru type guy, and he makes decent income from the novels he's sold through Tor and Subterranean press, but read his blog and you'll occasionally see him mention he makes real, live-off-able income from non-fiction-ish/technical stuff that most of his novel readers will never see.

When I started a CafePress shop, it wasn't on my own initiative; it was literally that one of my readers had made her own "Got Entrekin?" shirt, and someone else decided they wanted one. I could let people make their own, certainly, or I could think to myself, "Self, there's a demand for these. Why not supply it?"

But it wasn't about shirts; it's about the writing, and the stories. If you can't make readers care, you can't get them to read. Someone mentioned just becoming a New York Times Best-seller, but come on; how many copies of books actually sell? Consider what it actually means--not that you've sold a go-jillion copies, but rather solely that you've maybe sold ten more than the next dude or dudette on the list.

There's an old Internet chart/joke, something about the progress one can make implementing incremental changes, after which comes a giant divide splitting you from where you actually need to be. Which is true, because you can't get where you need to be making incremental changes; you need to push hard, and try different things, and yes, occasionally, and perhaps often, fail.

The future isn't there for the taking. It's already been taken, and it's just going to take ten or so years before it's apparent whom it's been taken by.

Speak Coffee said...

Published writers setting up class and teaching the writing hobbyists.

whatever trevor. said...

If I've learned anything from growing up in this country, it's that mass production makes mass money. We see celebrities now branching out into cell phones, face creams, clothing, and various other venues, spreading their name like butter on crispy toast. They know they need to get more money, keep their name afloat, and they're almost shameless in their efforts. And personally, I don't think I'll have any problem putting myself out there and grabbing onto as many things as I can. After all, you only live once. You might as well skip over being called a sell-out and go straight to ducats. Look at Shakespeare.

And the thing about ebooks is that they don't scare me due to the fact that I don't know one person who would sit there and read a book from their computer, a task that is usually accompanied by straining of the eye. People like to have that feeling of a book in their hand. Yes, this is the digital age and I've had my finger on the internet since sixth grade but my prediction is that ebooks will most likely become more of a norm years from now when the green movement has wiped out paper.

Another concept for the writer trying to make money: skip the Fitzgerald approach of a million short stories and try to shell out at least 2 or 3 books a year. More books equals more exposure equals more sales. I'm not talking about ghostwriting either. I'm talking about your actual work. It always surprises me when writers will come out with a book every five years as if their creative process went on a cruise.

But really, I think it comes down to your writing and your skills and if you're good at what you do, then people are going to buy your books and are going to pay attention. Of course good looks and perhaps public appearance would be a bonus, but of course not a requirement.

And although I'm not a fan of Harry Potter, JK Rowling has totally revitalized what it means to be a writer-as-celebrity and I think that there is always room for more knowledge and relation toward the literary world with the general public and no, I don't mean some ill-conceived CBS reality show about bitchy writers-in-the making. I just mean that the elitist wall should slowly come down ala Berlin.

But I suppose for now we'll only have our favorite brand darlings Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or Nora Roberts, whose gaudy ad campaigns spread as much of their butter as possible.

JDuncan said...

Such a fun topic. Lots of interesting ideas presented here. I for one will never even consider an ereader until they are 100 bucks or less. I don't read books at the computer. Never will either. Computers are convenient for a lot of things, but reading a novel is not one of them. I can see serialization becoming more popular, but I think this will only work with certain genres that are more suitable to being taken in small chunks. Authors will likely have to become more involved in the internet readership, providing 'extras' to go along with the published story. I would probably be more prone to buying the actual book if I saw interesting side content, i.e. deleted scenes, alternate endings, author interview, artwork, etc. I could see this becoming the way ebook authors market themselves. Even just with interesting blogs, like this one for instance, they build a fan base. You get a site where there is a large, interactive following discussing aspects of a particular book, be it clues to a mystery, or the interesting characters/creatures/places in a sf/f story, and you will have folks buying the book. Subscriptions might become more prevelant. I can see paying a flat fee for access to a certain number of ebooks per month, like downloading from a library. Authors might could make money wallpapers/screensavers/clipart/etc related to their books. Point is there are a lot of avenues available or will be I think in the future of ebooks that will tempt people away from buying paper based versions. That said though, even these folks will likely still buy paper versions, because they will always have a quality to them that paperless books don't have.


A cat trapped in a human's body... said...

Self-publishing, local distribution, regional publishers, etc. People will buy locally produced books for the sake of it, and those that are actually good will obtain some notoriety.

I think we're going to see a great deal more of that, and wide-scale publishers will rely almost exclusively on local markets for their own content.

The days of world-wide bestsellers in physical media will come to an end, but will likely still exist in eBooks.

It would seem that getting your book into local booksellers at your own expense would be the logical first step.

JES said...

I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics.

Kidding. Kind of.

Let's assume that readers will continue to pay for the privilege of reading entire works, regardless of medium (bound or e-whatever), length, genre, style. Let's assume that some of them -- and the authors -- will glom onto new or reborn readership models like "first chapter free!" loss leaders, subscriptions, and paid serialization. Hollywood will continue to latch onto solid (and not-so-solid) stories.

(And once H'wood itself is reborn -- with entire movies created digitally, no location work needed, cast added in like so many super-sophisticated avatars and so on -- H'wood will be buying even MORE stories, for distribution in even MORE forms.)

I think the big money to writers will come through partnerships of some kind, with the currently oft-maligned gatekeepers: editors and agents.

Forget that I might (hope) to be a writer. I'm first a reader. I'd LOVE to have good dependable yardsticks which tell me that Book A or Short Story B or Poem C is worth even a glance.

Enter the brand-name gatekeeper: somebody who earns his/her living by pulling diamonds (or diamonds-to-be) from the dirt. If I knew a dozen such "brands," I'd never need to read another Amazon review.

And the authors whom they'd offer to the public? Oh yeah. They'd do all right.

Jackson Perlow said...

The reality of our free market economy is that profit from our endeavors is controlled by supply and demand. As evidenced by the flood of manuscripts that threatens to overwhelm Nathan and his ilk, there is a massive oversupply of fiction out there. The reading public is not screaming for more great fiction, and they rely on the gatekeepers, agents and publishers, to help them find the gems hidden in the river of mediocrity. This is frustrating to those of us who think we've written one of those gems (all of us), and many search for alternative markets to bypass the gatekeepers. What is likely to result is a two-market system. One market will continue to serve up products that have the seal of approval of the traditional publishing industry's gatekeepers--a limited supply that will assure sufficient profit for elite writers and publishers alike. The second market, already developing, will use the Internet to distribute an unvetted, unlimited supply of e-fiction. This market will suffer from greater supply (because of the absence of gatekeepers) and lesser demand (because of the difficulty of separating quality fiction from crap), resulting in dramatically lower prices than could be obtained in the traditional market. Nobody will make money.
So I think authors who are part of the traditional market will continue to make their money in the same way they always have--writing and selling great fiction. Authors who can't crack the traditional market--whether because of a lesser quality product or an inability to convince the gatekeepers of the value of their product--will continue to toil in poverty. I doubt the oversupply will diminish the pricing power of traditional publishers because they control access to the one orderly market the public trusts.

Kat Harris said...

How will authors make money in the future? Um, the same way many do now...with their day job.

The problem you've presented here isn't just affecting book publishing, it's affecting media (newsprint) as well. As soon as someone figures out the answer, let me know so I can tell my boss and get a raise.


Pamela Davies said...

I agree with Jackson Perlow's take. I would like to post Jackson's response on my blog.

Jackson, if you are there, can I have your permission to cut and past your comment into my blog--with attribution, of course? Would you like me to link to you?

Thanks and thanks Nathan for keeping us real.

Carly said...

FYI to everybody re: the recent e-book discussion, here's an article from Publishers Weekly that discusses a recent survey that asked kids about e-reading devices.

The key sentence is that the study "found that although children can readily envision a future in which reading and technology are increasingly intertwined, nearly two thirds prefer to read physical books, rather than on a computer screen or digital device."

Haste yee back ;-) said...

I think what'll happen is the "creators of content" will have to fend for themselves and the old 80/20 rule will do its' thing. (That is 20% of the "creators of content" will make 80% of the money).
Ebooks and such will fracture the market into niches and folks who prefer a certain genre will become acquainted with their product, and where to find it, via the internet/electronic word of mouth or whatever www. they can think of. What's deemed, by collective concensus of consumers of that genre, to be worthy/good/spicy/salacious you'll get by going directly to the "creator of content" and down/up load from that source using a sophisticated form of Pay Pal. Or, once the "creator" has branded him/herself by attracting sufficient numbers of eyeballs, they may choose to give creative product away and sell T-shirts, Movie type poster, illustrations to the story, games center on story content... etc, etc... (my mind boggles at the possibilities in this ancillary market).
The "gatekeepers" that Jackson mentions will still be around but diminished in number. (You're still going to need legal advice. Will this spawn a new breed of lawyer/agent or law/agent speciality? Probably).
I liken the situation to a farmers market that sells directly to the public. The "creators of content" with the best produce and maketing skills will make it. The rest will fall by the wayside. There will be an underbelly of truly rude material that sells underground because there are truly rude people who delight in that sort of entertainment and will pay for it.
Big Media conglams will still exist, but again, in fewer numbers. And once a conglam spies a prospect emerging from the "content creators" a la J.K. Rowling, they'll be swept up and given top floor billing.
Your job, as a "creator of content," is two fold... 1) Develop a way to BRAND yourself. 2)Be as creative a pick-pocket as you can as regards T-shirt and such.

Haste yee back ;-)

150 said...

I expect most money will be made from royalties. You give out the e-books for free and people buy your next book in hard copy. Easy-peasy. If you knew how much money I'd shelled out in the past three or four years for things I'd already heard or seen for free, or their sequels, you'd do backflips.

Ryan Field said...

I graduated from college in 1988 and went to work for Conde Nast as an editor. There were all kinds of predictions then; few came true. So I don't have a clue.

I just hope we aren't standing in front of WalMart in flimsy kiosks, hocking our self-published books for a buck. Or, writing scathing pieces for Vanity Fair with a long list of unnamed sources.

pjd said...

Regarding the Publishers Weekly article (thanks for the link, Carly!): that sentence taken out of context does not show the full picture. Also quote this paragraph:

In terms of technology, the study found that more children ages eight and up spend time online than read for pleasure on a daily basis. However, the finding has a silver lining. “High frequency Internet users are more likely to read books for fun every day,” said Heather Carter, director of corporate research at Scholastic in a statement. “That suggests that parents and teachers can tap into kids’ interest in going online to spark a greater interest in reading books.” Nearly two-thirds of children ages nine to 17 “extended” the reading experience online, including activities such as visiting an author’s Web site, using the Internet to find books by a particular author or visiting a fan site.

I am not surprised at all by the preference to read physical books. Well, actually... I am surprised that one-third did not state that preference. I don't remember anyone saying in these three days that reading online is more pleasurable than reading a regular book.

What many of us are saying is illustrated in the paragraph I pulled from the article above: That electronic and print are commingling. Children who go online are more likely to read books. But children who read books often go online to supplement the book experience.

The authors and publishers who see this and leverage it will be the more successful (note to self: take your own advice).

It is also instructive to note that top-box scores for reading drop precipitously in the teen years. The primary reason kids love books is that their parents read to them. It's parent time, not necessarily the books. Online time is primarily individual play and does not involve parent interaction, so kids understandably like it less.

This may very well signify that the market for printed children's picture books will always be strong. It is difficult to imagine an e-reader ever being able to replicate the experience of Mom reading a pop-up board book to Junior in the soapy tub. But books for older people (including teens), where the story is 99% of the experience, are simply easier and more efficient to deliver electronically.

Carolyn said...

Anyone who thinks authors can make money from readings or signings should go to a reading or signing. And not one for an author who's already famous, because he or she is already making money from selling books.

I agree with Steve Axelrod. Why shouldn't author be paid for ebooks? They're already paid for them in forums that have this right. (Amazon *not* being one of them).

T-shirts? Only for books that are massively popular. Last time I looked, I'm pretty sure my contracts said I can use my cover art to promote my books but not for selling stuff.

The comparison to the music industry is only a little bit apt. Concert tickets are expensive relative to a book and it's understandable that someone would want to buy a CD or t-shirt to remember the concert experience. For the most part, book reading is not akin to concert going. Readers aren't going to read a book AND buy the T-shirt. They'd run out of money and probably end up buying fewer books, too.

wonderer said...

Regarding serialization: Fanfiction often operates this way, where a writer will post a chapter at a time, in intervals of a week or a month or even longer. It doesn't seem to stop fan readers from devouring the chapters as they appear. I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer who needs to do a lot of revision, so I think I would have a hard time writing that way. But I can see it being very successful for others.

Regarding gatekeepers: They are absolutely useful, but gatekeepers don't necessarily need to be (print) publishers. E-publishers have the same function. Bloggers who do reviews are another source, as well as word of mouth in general. I rely on industry bloggers, friends with similar taste, and genre awards to help me sift through the mass of books available - and that's after the books have already made it through the slush pile and into print. As more authors bypass traditional print publishing, gatekeepers will only become more important.

Cam said...

Reprints in journals, anthologies; both elec. and print.

@wonderer (1:59 Wed) -- good point.


Will Entrekin said...

"And the thing about ebooks is that they don't scare me due to the fact that I don't know one person who would sit there and read a book from their computer, a task that is usually accompanied by straining of the eye. People like to have that feeling of a book in their hand. Yes, this is the digital age and I've had my finger on the internet since sixth grade but my prediction is that ebooks will most likely become more of a norm years from now when the green movement has wiped out paper."

I just read the first of the Dresden Files novels on my laptop the other day. Ditto Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother." Tor is now giving away free e-books, too, and Cherie Priest's is next on my list. The formatting is pretty rad.

And the thing about it is this; why not? I spend most of my time writing on a computer, so why not read on it? Plus, the whole thing about people's online time; what do people think Internet users are doing? Children may spend more time online than reading a book, but aren't they reading while they're online? Speaking of: we're all reading Nathan's blog, aren't we?

For everyone who says they don't want to give up their paper and books--you'll never have to. For all those who say they don't want to read on a screen--you already are.

Anonymous said...

It's all about the movie rights. I don't care if it ever gets made, just let me sell the option for a different book every year.

Sheila said...

I recently came across a site called where you can browse entire picture books. With my child on my lap we read the book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein. The pages flip on the screen just like a book and the pictures are vibrant. I had the same experience reading this as I did when I read the physical book to my other child on the couch, namely, I teared up at the end and had trouble reading the last page.

It was a great experience for me, the reader. But it made me wonder why someone would give this away for free?

What does Mr. Gerstein get out of having his wonderful book given away for free?

Eric said...

Oh, you want the REAL ending?

Penelope Gray said...

I don't know about the rest of you, but I run a drug cartel on the side.


I think authors of tomorrow won't make money. Optimist, me. We'll all work two jobs and write between midnight and 3am.

But that's not going to stop me from writing.

Anonymous said...

i think that authors of tomorrow will make money by trying to improve their craft, just like authors of yesterday did, i think as an author selfdoubt is defeating, books are there 2 be written, new ways of expressing oneslf are there 2 be explored and, yeah, that is just how i see it, words are there for the taking 2 be arrranged and rearranged, whether on paper or in cyberspace and, by the way, it helps if an authors background is something completely different, music, biology, a differing slant, a thoroughly different exploration of what words can do and where they can take us- well maybe this is nothing but bullshit, but it sounds good

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