This YEAR in publishing….
But first, a brief programming note: Next week I will be posting as normal (or at least as normal as things ever get around here) through Wednesday December 23rd, and I will be working my little elf fingers to the bone tap tap tapping at the computer until then. Also making toys. Then I will take a break for SANTAAAAAAAAAA OH MY GODDDDD!!!! Then during the week of the 28th I shall run some posts from Christmases past (or Junes past, Augusts past, etc.).
And then, THEN, the first week in January we will have quite the fun and new and never-seen-before contest (contest! CONTEST!!!!), which may or may not coincide with the publication of Jennifer Hubbard’s heart-wrenching, gripping, unforgettable debut YA novel THE SECRET YEAR, which Booklist recently said is “a fine addition to the PANTHEON of YA literature,” (bolding, capitalizing, and italicizing mine, though I’m sure they meant it to read that way), and which happens to be available for pre-order.
Then, the second week of January there will be another contest, which will mainly be held in the Forums. But we’ll talk about that later because right now the thought of two contests in two weeks is blowing my elf brain.
And now we shall recap 2009.
When I was recapping 2008, I called it the year the future caught up with publishing. Well, if things began to change in 2008, they done really changed in 2009.
The impact of e-books on the book industry remains more theory than fact at this point as they comprise only 5-10% of sales, but they’re booming, and the massive earthquake that they represent is beginning to rumble. Publishers are attempting naked rights grabs (well, the rights grabs are naked, hopefully the publishers aren’t), they’re worried about the elephant in the Amazon, and after a century where they enjoyed near complete control over which books the world reads, publishers are suddenly confronting a future where they may or may not be necessary.
In part because there’s so much free content out there competing for attention, the entire pricing model of the industry is under tremendous pressure, even as publishers continue to pay huge advances for the hottest titles. Because the advertising and promotion tools at their disposal have not yet sufficiently changed with the times, publishers are often relying on authors to generate their own buzz precisely at a time when the alternative publishing options at authors’ disposal (particularly when they can generate their own buzz) are becoming and will become all the more enticing.
2009 is an apt year for all of these events because we’re embarking on a new decade just as publishers are staring in the face of a new era in which they will hopefully continue to ask themselves not what authors can do for them but what they can do for authors and bring their unmatched package of services to bear to remain relevant and vital in the e-book era. If e-books eventually comprise 50% or 75% or 90% of sales and e-book vendors take all comers, publishers are going to have to make themselves appealing to authors rather than the other way around, while still confronting the perennial challenge of how to stay profitable.
Will the polarization of publishing continue, with publishers focusing on a few huge blockbusters on top and a vast sea of small- or self-published books below? Will publishers be able to stay above the sea and help consumers navigate to the books they really want? Will publishers find a way to command eyeballs in the Internet era?
These are challenging times for publishers. And yet I think it’s a great time for authors. We’re in an era when anyone can be a star overnight. In the digital world, something can instantaneously catch on. All that’s standing in the way of an author and bestsellerdom is that magic word of mouth, which moves faster than ever. People who can command an audience are suddenly hugely valuable in a time when there’s an infinite array of content but a premium on those who have a following.
In the new publishing world: Everyone’s got a shot. For better or worse.
Now then! There was still a week in publishing, and lots of news to get to:
Still more reaction to last week’s news that some publishers are delaying e-book releases. Matt Stewart wonders why, in his words, publishers are screwing their best customers, John Gapper in the Financial Times argues that book publishers are right to stand up to Amazon, and an analysis by Rory Maher and Henry Blodget argues that over time wholesale prices will have to come down and it is likely authors who will feel the squeeze.
The new e-book news this week is that Random House CEO Markus Dohle sent a letter to agents suggesting that Random House has e-book rights for backlist titles even when the e-book rights are not actually stated in the contract. The irony here is that Random House tried this in 2001 and lost in court. The Author’s Guild is having none of it, and Pimp My Novel has some helpful perspective.
Meanwhile, a French Court found Google guilty of copyright infringement for scanning and listing books as part of Google Book Search. In the US, of course, we have the pending Google Book Search settlement, which is still being revised and will be subject to court approval.
Reader Sarah Pinneo passed along an interesting post by David Pogue in which he pondered whether DRM should be applied to e-books. Interestingly enough, while he supported the removal of DRM for music and used a free e-book to boost his print sales and is about as pro-new technology a person as you’ll ever find, he’s just a tad nervous as an author about non-DRM e-books in an e-reader era.
There were a couple of really fascinating articles on the global publishing scene by Publishing Perspectives this week. First, an informative look into the buzz generating, information swapping, always hustling world of book scouts (via John Ochwat in the Forums). And from France comes news that literary agents are quietly making inroads into what had previously been a relatively literary agency-free publishing landscape (via Book Bench).
You know how I coined the term “male ennui” to classify all those books I receive queries for about disaffected male protagonists who go on a crazy road trip/meet an irrepressible and slightly insane but loveable hot chick who is the only person in the world who sees The Real Him/engage in CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES style lunacy? (Which, by the way, can definitely work very well and I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t write it). Well, the Rejectionist just destroyed “male ennui” in a single stroke with a ten quadrillion times better term: mangst. You heard it there first. Also Le R. has query stats.
In writerly news, Kate Schafer Testerman asks an interesting question about how best to describe race in novels, Jeff Abbott examines 2010 planners in his Organized Writer series, and Jessica Faust writes about what to do when authors suggest writing advice that conflicts with agents/editors.
Almost finally, if you want to preview some books by some bestselling authors, JC Hutchins is spreading cheer by offering a free holiday sampler PDF.
And finally, finally… well, Elf again:
Have a great weekend!