I'd like to talk to you about making money now that traditional publishing is dead. First, here's John Scalzi on the subject:
Book publishing is a sinking ship. The former passengers on the ship have given in to their feral instincts and are dismantling the ship board by board. The remaining crew are being wedged further and further back into what little of the ship remains above the waterline. Eventually the whole ship will disappear beneath the waves and all the crew will drown. The thought of possibly jumping off the ship apparently doesn’t occur to the crew; rather, their ambition is simply to be the last person to drown.
Screw ‘em. Let them drown. . . . .
Listen to me now: Writers are not in the publishing industry. The publishing industry exists to handle the output of writers and distribute it in an effective and hopefully profitable way; however it does not necessarily follow that writer’s only option is the publishing industry, especially not now. Congruent to this: Books aren’t the only option. I write books, but you know what? I’m not a book writer, any more than a musician is an LP musician or an MP3 musician. The book is the container. It’s not destiny.
Wait a second. That's Scalzi writing five years ago about Writing in the Age of Piracy
And, okay, I'll confess, that first paragraph is out of context. The article only supposes the total annihilation of traditional publishing (via piracy, not e-books) as a way to talk about alternate revenue steams. Specifically, he talks about how Penny Arcade has built a media empire by creating things that they gave away totally for free. The big takeaway is:
Multiple revenue streams are a writer’s friend.
That's what's getting to me about the whole Amazon/MacMillan/e-book/print/online/
offline mishigoss. Print may not be dead, but there are a lot of other rings, and there's no reason to tie all your hopes onto just one.
Authors, let me tell you, when I buy a traditionally published book, I do not feel like I am supporting you as the author. I am supporting the publisher, and I am supporting the bookseller, but I am not supporting you. There's just too much in between. So when Scalzi calls for readers to support authors
, I'm constantly surprised when he suggests that we find a book published and distributed elsewhere. I mean, if you want to support Macmillan, then, yeah buy Macmillan's books. But, I want to support you
, not the corporation who licensed your work with a cash consideration and then rebranded it and distributed it nationally.
I think it's even worse when it's badness. When Bloomsbury whitewashed a cover again
, there were very appropriate calls for a boycott. Bloomsbury thinks that they can portray non-white characters in their novels as white characters on their covers as a way to increase sales. A boycott will divorce them of this belief.
But authors balked
because of the damage it would do to the author. To pull support from the publisher is to pull support from the author, and so we shouldn't boycott.
Authors, are you really that close to your publisher? Perhaps you are, or perhaps you aren't. But why can't I support you, the author, the one I'm a fan of, when I disagree with the company that paid to license your work?
What's more, I don't have a very large budget for buying stories anyway. My reading pace is slower, and I've got bookcases and second-hand shops and libraries all around me. So I've stopped myself from buying most books to keep my finances under control. So if I spring for a new book, it's probably only because I have a gift card. But I do still read. And I read stories online. I read author blogs online. And I listen to Escape Artists podcasts at work. I have a number of authors of whom I am fans.
Authors, I am your fan, but I am not buying books, print or otherwise. How do I give you money outside of using your Amazon link to buy the book that somebody else published?
The traditional publishing model is what it is, and it's clear from that it's still really, really
good at taking a novel and sending out to a wide audience. And really, that an end of itself. Those novels get you fans. But you might not have gotten money from the person who read the novel and became a fan. You may never get that money by publishing novels (on your own, or through a corporate publisher). But we're still here, and we still want to support you. Whether we have the money or not, we feel that tug, and how able we are to resist that pull varies with what you're using to tempt us.
Honestly, I think I spend more money on T-shirts than new books now, because the LA library does not allow me to borrow T-shirts. And a number of those shirts refer to movies, TV shows, and videogames. And I don't have a lot of wiggle room in my budget for Paypal tipjars, but I still contribute more to them than to my out-of-pocket print fiction budget.
Authors, why can't I buy a shirt, a shirt with a jaunty quote of your devising?
Publishing may be in trouble. It's not just that there are all those middlepeople, but those middlepeople may also be turn out to be idiots, and then your link to the Amazon page of your book isn't going to be a great option. You don't have to switch everything. You don't need too many Girl Who Navigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
s, because you'll always have that one there, waiting for fans.
Authors, listen to time-delay Scalzi. You are not in the publishing industry. You can escape the not really sinking ship and also still probably leave all your stuff on the ship, 'cause it's not really sinking, and then you've got like a resort vacation on the island without having to move all your stuff and still getting access to the nice galley (which may now have fresher fruit from the shore anyway). There's no reason to only stay on the ship. There are other places to meet your fans (and get our money into your pocket). Use all
of them.Edited to Add:
As often happens when I write a post from three different locations (go cloud computing), I deleted a chunk and forgot to compensate it. It's created some confusion
, so let me just put back in the chunk I forgot to deal with, which is a portion of text from the Scalzi quote:
Because here’s the thing about that “sinking ship:” Even if we grant it is sinking (which we should not), and that the passengers are scurvy pirates (which we ought not), this ship is sinking in about five feet of water and the shore is fifty yards away. And if you haven’t the wit to make it to shore, then by God, you deserve to die.
To see how much I thought I'd addressed that, look at how I referenced it in the last paragraph.
Anyway, what's "dying" about the publishing industry isn't the industry itself, it's the author's ability to make money from it, which has generally been decreasing as the money for buying books has been diverted elsewhere. Hypothetically and hyperbolically, it could get to the point where an author might be able to get a novel prepared for print and distributed, but not be able to make any money from it (which is the point at which we join Scalzi's hypotehtical and hyperbolic essay).
What then? Do you take out the middlepeople and publsh the novel by yourself so that you can get the money that results from selling directly to a smaller audience? Or do you have the publisher prepare, print, and sell the novel; draw a wider audience; and earn money by encouraging the audience to do things other than
buying the books?
Most likely, it'll be a combination. But you can still make money licensing novels to be printed traditionally, you can still make additional
money right now
So, again, sell me a T-shirt.