May 19 2010
In the movie Avatar (which I’ve watched, unfortunately, about 7 times now because my daughter is addicted to it), there is a phenomenon called the Flux Vortex. The Flux Vortex affects the navigation systems of airborne equipment. Once a mechanical flying object is within the Flux Vortex, the pilot must rely on their eyes, ears, and instincts. I kind of feel that publishing: readers, authors, agents, publishers, are in a publishing flux vortex. What we may have been able to use in the past to predict the future, whether it be the business model or the type of book that will be a success, isn’t useable anymore. Everything is changing and that is both exciting and scary.
JA Konrath announced that his seventh Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels story, "Shaken”, will be published through Amazon Encore. Konrath says that traditional publishers passed on his book (I suspect it was because Konrath wanted in excess of six figures for his book as an advance given that he talked before about making $100,000 off selling ebooks and not wanting to sign a print deal unless it was for lots of money.)
Shaken will sell for $2.99 on Kindle and be released 4 months ahead of the print version. Konrath doesn’t know if it will be in physical stores and he doesn’t care. We talked about this occurrence last May when AmazonEncore was first announced.
Others viewed Amazon's debut on the publishing stage inevitable as well. Eoin Purcell'swryly titled article "All Your Base Are Belong to Amazon" notes that the competitive advantage Amazon has through vertical integration effectively wrests control of the entire value chain. (Authors, if you don't know what disintermediation is as it relates to publishing, you should and yes, we will talk about the very last paragraph in that blog article soon). Like personanodata, I don't see Amazon sticking with just small, heretofore unheralded authors.
A major author such as Janet Evanovich or Steven King signing with Amazon Encore (or whatever other publishing imprint that Amazon would think up) would give the Amazon publishing house instant credibility. Further, it makes sense for these authors to come on board now while the publishing is in its infancy and thereby wrest better terms for him or herself.
This event that Konrath calls “historic” (he doesn’t lack hubris) has led to a number of internet posts about what kind of ripple effect this might have in publishing. It is an example of what Mike Shatzkin and others call disintermediation, meaning the shake of the business channel, particularly the intermediaries between the author and the end user, the reader.
One of the more interesting pieces was by Jason Pinter who suggested that the Kindle route (aka self publishing) ameliorates the benefits of failure and rejection. It’s interesting and provocative. I want to think on that for a while.
Another article we published in April 2009 was about Amazon’s intention to be a publisher (Why a Lack of Jeff Bezos Dooms the Publishing Industry). This belief is further cemented by the announcment of Amazon’s latest publishing line, AmazonCrossing. AmazonCrossing aims to bring English translation of foreign language books to all of its Amazon readers in both print and digital. Amazon getting into the foreign rights market has to send shivers down the spines of publishers all over the world. At RT this past April, agents talked about the value of foreign rights so I don’t know if Amazon’s move increases or decreases the value of foreign rights. I have my doubts about whether Amazon is paying for any of this content up front. I suspect it is more of a profit sharing deal.
Barnes and Noble announced its own self publishing platform called Pubit! There are no real details on the business model yet, but it is not BN’s first foray into self publishing, but it’s definitely a competitor to the Kindle platform, smashwords and other self publishing platforms out there.
Hay House announced last week its partnership with Author Solutions. Like Harlequin and Thomas Nelson, Hay House uses AuthorSolutions to power a self publishing/author services platform. Hay House promises tomonitor the titles put out by Balboa Press:
As a division of Hay House, Balboa Press titles are monitored regularly by the parent company. Hay House is one of the fastest-growing self-help and transformational publishers in the world and hopes to find through Balboa Press new inspiring authors that display their potential to add to their catalog.
In any event, the net effect is that readers will be having more choice in terms of literature but is that choice going to decrease reading. Mobileread’s Bob Russell wrote an essay on how too much choice is creating stress in his leisure activity:
So now I definitely feel a bit more stress about which books to read. The world’s collective library is at my fingertips, so covering the most important books has become a lot more important to me. Life is short, and my interests are wide, so I know I can only sample what’s out there.
That’s the downside of choice, too many options and too few of them any good, and readers will scuttle back to reading just a few authors. Publishers have long served as the gatekeepers and now there is going to be new gatekeepers. It might be a community based gatekeeping function like the Amazon reviews or communities at Authonomy or the GetGlue rating features or the Facebook “Like” votes or right here in the comments of Dear Author. It might be editor based (because self published should not mean unedited) where freelance editor names become just as important as the author’s name on a book. It might be retailer based as retailers pick out books that they’ve read, liked and want to promote.
The game is changing and we are in the middle of a grand flux. It’s a great time to be a reader. That’s the upside. The downside is that so much more choice means we’ll have to slog through a lot more dross to get to the gold.