We Are in the Flux Vortex
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.
Barnes & Noble Turns ePublisher
The problem with community bases reviews is that they can be just as much dross as a glut of poorly self-published books. There is still a lot of slogging that will need to be done.
I mean, people who are mad at certain publishers can give negative reviews to books not even written yet if the book is listed on Amazon already. And false kudos and bloated reviews from friends of the author murk the waters even more.
As an author, I like the freedom of putting some of my shorter works up myself. As a reader, I only gravitate towards those kinds of works after I have enjoyed an author’s mass market book–when I’m checking out their website to see what else I might like of theirs.
It’s a very interesting flux, to be sure.
Major post. Brain candy to suck on for a long time. Essentially, authors will have the ability, for good or for bad, of removing the middleman…or middlemen – the literary agent and the publisher. This implies a huge shift in power which is not necessarily a negative. How many times have you heard really amazing authors say – It took me years to get someone to look at my stuff? How many agents ignore excellent writers for any number of specious reasons?
The good – direct marketing to the reader. The bad – direct marketing to the reader. Not only must an author be a good writer, this model would require that he or she be a good editor and whoever does the publishing must hire some decent cover artists.
The good – with a Kindle, you can upload a free sample of a book and if it’s not to your taste, or if it’s a POS, you are out nothing. The bad – traditionally, many self-pubbed books have been POS for a variety of reasons, usually having to do with either a poor story concept or lousy editing.
Big paradigm shift here.
An author I know is thinking of going this route because Amazon is user-friendly and efficient. I’ve spoken with them myself regarding self-publishing. Let me say the following – unlike busy publishers, they call you back immediately and follow up on queries. They answer all questions promptly. You, the author, have control over your cover art.
Temptation, thy name is Amazon!
Books are subjective beasts but most readers can spot the difference between a “good” book or a “bad” one. Well-written books with a compelling story, regardless of how it’s published, will still rule the day. I think that giving readers more choices will force authors to step up their game even more. As both a reader and an author, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
This sort of connects to http://karenknowsbest.com/ 5/13/2010 post where she highlighted a post from Laura Resnick. Laura Resnick (aka Laura Leone) wrote an amazing book Fallen from Grace— ignore that cover. The book ended up being published by Five Star because no major publisher would buy it. It won a RITA, which I totally agree with.
I can also think of at least two authors I used to autobuy who had series canceled with the next book never released although it was already written. I would buy in a heartbeat. I keep hoping that Amazon/Google/Whoever else shakes loose some of these books in a drawer, under the bed, where ever they are.
Konrath makes me smile. That much optimism and energy is just unnatural. I enjoy his blog. I keep meaning to read the rest of his Jack Daniels novels. I read the first three in paperback ages ago.
As an author, I find this all interesting and a little scary. If publishers are passing on someone like Konrath, what hope is there for the rest of us?
On the other hand, I have books that I’ve written that I’d like to get out there someday, and these new methods may help me do it. I think authors/readers/publishers simply finding the time and having the money to explore all these options will be two more factors that play into how successful stuff like this is.
I think all of this will have an affect similar to that of digital cameras — suddenly, everyone has access to a certain kind of technlogy and can manipulate it however they want.
As a journalist, though, it makes me sigh. I get tons of spam for self-pubbed books already, and all the new technology/imprints/etc. are only going to increase that. Like someone else said, there will be a lot of bad or poor-quality books out there. I wonder if readers will get tired of that after a while and rebel against the e-pubs? Or perceive some of them as putting out lesser quality books? Just some random thoughts …
The thing is, publishers could *still* be gatekeepers if they would just get over the “do it the old way” mentality. I know that many of my voracious reader friends are like me in that we know the various publishers and their imprints and which ones we trust to publish the books we like.
I know it sounds snobbish, but I won’t read self-pubbed books and there’s a list of small publishers whose books I won’t read, either. I’ve just been burned too many times by badly written books, many of which got glowing reviews on Amazon, etc. And I’m not talking about books I don’t like, I’m talking about books with poor grammar, poor spelling, etc. Just drek.
So I hope there are still publishers, or that some other type of group takes over the gatekeeping function. I don’t like the idea of all that overwhelming choice with no way to sort it out.
I don’t know where things will end up exactly but I find the changes exciting and I definitely admire Konrath’s daring.
All too often, we complain about stories that are just the “same old thing”. This could increase the variety of what we see offered…
I simply can’t imagine wading through all the self-published stuff to try and find the gems. I can’t even bring myself to wade through all the ePublsihed stuff . . . there are only so many hours in a day.
Certainly known authors with existing readerships like Konrath may well find success in this arena. Several of my favorite authors are out of contract and I'd certainly buy Amazon Encore books (or the like) from them. What I don't really see is a new author achieving any real success the same way.
So, instead of publishers bypassing bookstores to make direct connections with readers, we’ve got bookstores bypassing publishers to make direct connections with authors. Interesting.
As a writer, I think this is a great time for authors to diversify, as it were, their “writers” portfolio. I certainly do not fear for publishing–I see my options opening up, I see places for publication where I can have more control and yes, more money. Traditionally publishing is and will remain the backbone of book publication, but e-publishing and self-publishing are supplementary, and some cases (such as my good friend Zoe Winters), going the so-called non-traditional route is their tradition. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am excited about these new developments, mostly because it is opening up conversation amongst writers about the taboos and boogeymen that have been passed down to maintain the status quo.
If readers are faced with too many unknowns there will arise a market for selection services. This is an opportunity that entrepreneurs should be investigating now and probably are.
Selection services?? Do you mean essentially reviewers or more of a personal shopper for books?
By “selection service” I mean a software-based service that would separate the wheat from the chaff. Somewhat like a recommendation engine but oriented more toward quality and bona fides than personal preference. If I am looking for a book about Army of Northern Virginia logistics, and am faced with several thousand titles, mostly self-published ebooks, cutting this list down to a managemeable size requires sophisticated decision-making according to criteria, which is someth;ing that expert systems can do. Right now I think we tend to look for publisher and disregard ebooks to a large extent. This might not be the most productive approach in the future.
This goes beyond “if you like this you will probably like that.” It goes to predicting the probability that a certain manageable list of titles will suit your current needs. Of course I am blue-skying, but I think there is a niche here. In fact, various web enterprises are building the databases that will be needed, as we speak.