NINC: The New Publishing Landscape (the fray)

At the end of the first session, an important question came up that’s on the mind of every traditionally published author and those aspiring traditionally published authosr. Mark Coker really pushed to get to the bottom of the issue and the exchange was fabulous and just a bit tense.

The Major Players:

Mark Coker, Founder and CEO of Smashwords
Don Weisberg, President of Penguin Young Readers Group
Carolyn Pittis, Senior Vice President of Global Author Services, Harpercollins Publishers Worldwide
Linda Quinton, Associate Publisher and VP of Marketing for Tor-Forge, Starscape
Lou Aronica – Publisher at The Story Plant and Founder of The Fiction Studio

Q: As authors, we see a shift of power in publishing houses where marketing has more control over what is bought than editors. Please speak to that.

Don: Does not have an acquisition team and does make the decisions to acquire his own authors, but he cannot speak for the rest of the Penguin umbrella.

Linda: Thinks that marketing presents data on challenges for pushing a book, but does not limit an editor’s power to acquire.

Lou: Says it’s not the marketing department but the sales department (which is often referred to as Sales and Marketing) that is driving choice. It is a distribution-driven response, which will diminish as ebook sales increase. He thinks the old acquisition model is not relevant in the online market, and it will begin to shift away as ebooks sales increase.

Mark: States that publishers are not in the business of publishing books. They’re in the business of selling books. He hears from authors that books now have to make it through committees of editors, sales, marketing and finance. Thinks the fallacy in this is that you really can’t know what will sell well (especially on new authors) until it is published.

Don: States all publishers are in the business to make money. He defends publishers for not buying books that they don’t think can make money. He thinks all editors get into the business because they love books and want to work with authors. He accuses Mark of selling them short and points out that they still have a responsibility to make money for the parent company.

Mark: So should the value of books be judged solely on commercial potential?

Don: No. Are you saying they are?

Mark: He points out the overhead cost associated with large publishers. States that he understands the bottom line, but the legacy infrastructure makes it difficult for editors who are passionate about books to acquire all the books they’d like to.

Don: That’s not the way it works at my house.

Mark: There’s a room full of authors who have a different story to tell.

My Comments: Absolutely fantastic exchange! I hope traditional publishing is taking notes. Mark is 100% correct and it’s something I’ve been saying since the ebook boom.

Traditional publishing has got to change their methods of production to be more immediate. They have got to lower overhead costs in order to price competitively in the marketplace. IMHO, they can start by moving out of the multi-million dollar high rises in NY and send everyone home to work. There is absolutely no reason in the technology age, why authors should be subsidizing the cost of expensive office buildings, utilities and even the toilet paper. ESPECIALLY when we’re now being asked to pull the weight and cost of marketing our own books for around 10% of the profit.

The business is changing. Big publishers need to change with it or they will get left behind. Their legacy operation is not sustainable in the new or emerging marketplace.


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