Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The End is Nigh

If you follow publishing, you know the first self-pubbed author to sell 1 million ebooks, John Locke, just signed a print deal with Simon & Schuster. But it's a unique one. Locke keeps all of his erights. His agent, Jane Dystel (who is also my agent) brokered the deal.

And make no mistake. This is an important, landmark deal. One that no one could have predicted.

Well, no one except me sixteen months ago.

This is an important deal, because up until now publishers steadfastly refused to give up erights.

But now they have. And there is no turning back.

Here are some things we'll see happening soon.

Big authors will fight to keep their erights. They can make 70% on their own vs 17.5% through a publisher. They have the leverage, and will use it. If Locke, whose print sales numbers are unproven and open to speculation, can demand to keep his erights, Stephen King and James Patterson will make the same demands. They're watching Locke, and Pottermore. If enough Big Authors follow suit, the Big 6 won't be able to recover.

Publishers will start offering better royalties for erights. They have to. But they'll never be able to offer better than 70%. As I've stated for years, the value of a publisher is their lock on print distribution. When print distribution doesn't matter because print sales are so tiny, there will be no reason for any author to sign with the Big 6.

Print sales will dwindle even more. Ebooks already outsell print. After this holiday season, watch for more bookstore closings.

Publishers will start folding. It's inevitable.

What S&S did with Locke was a ballsy move, but also a desperate one. It's desperate, because they are hastening their own demise, and are just trying to make a few more bucks before it all falls apart. Not to get all Godwin's Law here, but there is a Vichy French analogy to be had. S&S is going to try to make a few bucks from Locke, whose business model is ultimately going to put them out of business.

There is going to be a window where publishers cherry-pick self-pubbed authors and sign them for various rights. This is happening right now. I believe it is a mistake to sign with a Big 6 publisher, because the money an author can earn on print through the Big 6 is tiny compared to the money they'll lose on ebooks through the Big 6. Now, if you're offered a huge amount from the Big 6, take it and run--just try to get that money upfront.

Another window will have established authors abandoning publishers. This is also happening right now. More and more midlist authors are wading into the self-pub pool and finding the waters to their liking.

The first window will eventually close. The second will only open wider.

Publishing can't survive. It just can't. It is no longer necessary.

Now some may say, "But the Big 6 are professionals! We need professionals! We need gatekeepers! We need vetters! We'll all suffer without them!"

I say: Wikipedia.

Encyclopedias used to be big business. Professionals were hired to write about topics, and many a family (including my parents) were coerced into buying large, bound volumes of information.

But Wikipedia showed that regular people are happy to share their expertise, and constantly update it, for free. The professionals weren't needed anymore, and Wikipedia has become the goto place to learn about stuff.

Writers don't need the Big 6 to release good books. We can do it without them, and make more money.

As I'd anticipated, print has become a subsidiary right. A niche market. Publishers will try to milk a few last drops of profit from it, and then they'll go bye-bye.

At least, the old school publishers will.

New school publishers, like Amazon, are primed to exploit this brave new world. They now control the distribution network. Watch as Amazon becomes the biggest publisher in the world.

But even the mighty Amazon has something to fear.

This week, Blake Crouch and I will post a dialog about the future of publishing. About who really has the power.

It might surprise you.