Indypub: Bookish.com (Publishers acting as retailers)

Okay, let’s say you make cake for sale.

No problem!  You start your own shop and sell cake or you sell cake to other shops or both.  Depends on which direction you want to go.

Okay, let’s say you make stories for sale.

Well, crap.  You used to have to sell your stories through an agent to an editor to a publisher to a printer to a distributor to another distributor to a retail outlet.  But that’s what happens when you let the merchants take over the business.  The people making cake don’t make the money, and the cake gets stale.

Now, you can write stories and sell them at your own shop or to other shops or both.

The distributors are figuring out how to get their fingers in the pie, by making sure that story shops won’t buy stories from people who make stories.  Want to give an ebook away for free directly to a school or library?  Good luck with that.

But the publishers are in even more of a pickle than the writers; the distributors are going right around them to pick up writers.

Solution:  go right around the distributors and retailers, directly to to the consumer.

Everybody’s trying to cut out everybody else (except the writers, who need to be controlled rather than excised).

Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin are starting Bookish.com, a website to do…what?  Be a book review site?  Sell books directly to consumers?   Somehow exert more control over writers?

Passive Guy talks about the idiocy of Bookish.com:  big publishers know what, exactly, about selling directly to consumers (or about recommending books that aren’t theirs to sell?)

But The Idea Logical Company talks about how Bookish.com is set up to retaliate against retailers Amazon and B&N.

I don’t think Bookish.com will be much of a game changer unless they take indy authors, either directly or through a distributor.

If they don’t, they:

  1. Won’t have as much work available as retailers that take on indy work.
  2. May come to find, as retailers who publish indies (like Amazon) start acting as publishers and opening up their own lines of books, that they do not have pick of the best indies anymore.

Should they sell indies, directly or indirectly?  (Indirectly = handing off more money to the distributors/retailers, which is what they’re trying to avoid, right?)  What effects could it have for big publishers to support work that hasn’t gone through the official chain of editorial command?  Will they have enough to sell, if they don’t?  If they don’t, will they have to take on more work (possibly solely as ebooks) and publish it faster, more efficiently, to even remotely keep up with Amazon?

Okay, granted, there’s the smart thing (which is not necesarily the wise thing), and then there’s what actually happens.  Personally, I find myself mystified about the whole thing.  It seems like the only reason to do this is to either a) pull all their books away from other e-retailers (too little, too late, IMO) or b) stop doing the things that made them succeed as publishers, like exerting at least a modicrum of editorial/story standards on books before they’re published.

The opportunity is there for big publishing to change, and it probably needs to be done.  But is this it?  Dunno.  If inertia is killing you, then taking on more baggage (joining with two other companies) may cause additional problems, rather than solutions.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Kate Jenkins

    So my questions are these. Please forgive me if they’re a little uninformed as I’m at the beginning of this learning process.

    1. You say “good luck” to writers who want to give an e-book to a school or library. What are the barriers and who (distributors, retailers, etc.) is making that difficult?

    2. You say that distributors are going around retailers to “pick up writers”. Can you give an example? And if that is case (other than the not inconsequential benefit of editing) why is that bad (financially) for the writer? I ask because you then say writers and cake makers should cut out the distributors, retailers, etc.

    It seems to me, especially in light of changes in the UK (Ed Victor, etc.) that agents will be publishers will be retailers in the future. Thank God, only the writers will be writers. They just have to be smart in choosing which of the now many legitimate processes out there use to publish. Thoughts?

    • De

      Ah, good questions.

      1) From my understanding and experience, schools and libraries (libraries more so than schools) will not accept donated books, unless they’re on their approved list. Our library, for example, will not accept any self-published books or ebooks; they just sell them. You have to get your book reviewed in library journals, and THEN they have to decide, independently, to randomly buy your book. Schools seem to be the same, although I’ve heard the possibility that I might be able to get some print books to the school that my daughter goes to, as a parent.

      2) Maybe I said that wrong. The distributors aren’t necessarily going around retailers; they’re going around big publishers. Distributors who go around retailers become retailers–like Smashwords, which acts as a retailer (you can buy books directly through them), or as a distributor (you can sell books to iPad consumers via Smashwords).

      For example, Barry Eisler is going to ebook retailers and distributors, bypassing the publisher entirely (becoming his own publisher).

      These things aren’t necessarily bad for the writer; they become bad when the chain of people passing things from hand to hand gets to be so great that royalties of 12.5% sound FANTASTIC, which is where we are on big publishing. It’s already at the point where people are saying that 35% royalties are reasonable, for certain price points (that just happen to the the prices at which Lots of Novels Will Sell).

      Agents are just another distributor, when it comes to ebooks. There is no reason for an ebook author not to hire out people to do the individual tasks, or do them themselves–all the agent does is organize the same.

  2. See, it’s things like this that tip me on my head and make me afraid to pursue getting one of my novels published. Both self- and traditional publishing seem to have huge downfalls. How do you know whether you should self-publish, or find an agent? And how do you know whether you want a big publisher or a small publisher?

    Then we throw things like this into the mix and it really muddies things up for those of us who just want to make a living writing, dammit! Sheesh.

  3. De

    If you really do want to make a living writing, this really is something you can’t afford to hold at arm’s length – you are nobody’s employee, and you have to figure out how to run your own business. People can tell you exactly what you “should” do – and if you do it, you’ll get exactly what you deserve, which is doing what’s best for someone else. You’ve been there before, no fun 🙂

    However, NOT trying to get your novel published will not earn you a living on your writing. Guaranteed.

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