One of the sessions that I attended at the Isle of Wight Literary Festival was called ‘Is the printed word dying?’ but even asking this question proves that you’re years behind. It’s like asking whether MP3’s will catch on, making CDs disappear in the process.
The industry seems caught up in a loop at the moment while the actual market is changing around it. The figures speak for themselves, so it’s probably better to talk about how to serve the new market instead.
The point is that these speculative issues always get polarised into CDs or MP3s, Vinyl’s or CDs, newspapers or iPads, eBooks or printed books, but the reality is that they’ll all remain. It’s just another format that makes it more convenient for the reader. Convenience isn’t everything though.
Readers will buy some books as eBooks and some as proper books. Reference and non-fiction will always look good on a shelf and by the nature of it be readily available to refer to, where as throw away novels make sense to be more portable so that you can read them anywhere and they don’t have to clutter up your shelves as dust collectors.
That is how the market has settled. Amazon approximately have half and half sales and this is probably how it will remain. It’s not necessarily about readers pinning their colours to one mast, it’s just a matter of convenience in some situations. People will read both formats so let’s get over it. When paperbacks came in, the industry mourned the loss of the hardback. Hmmm?
A more interesting debate for me is how the writer is served by this change in the market. If sales are 50/50 now, and we all know that writers can sell eBooks very easily on their own, what’s the incentive to share your royalties with publishers and agents.
Publishers can sell your books in bookstores. That’s nice but they’re disappearing. I’m not making any preferential opinion but just stating facts, as a writer I would love to walk into a bookstore and see my book sitting on a shelf but more for vanity rather than any expectation of selling. It’s all about promotion, and publishers will be spending their money on the big boys, not little old me.
Agents are slightly different. I think that an agent would be a great support and I wouldn’t mind giving an agent 20% of whatever I get if it means distribution into translations, film rights etc. But would an agent expect to push you to publishers because if so, I don’t think I’d want it.
A self-published author can receive 70% royalties on a book priced £2.99 – so, £2 per book. An established, traditionally published author that was speaking at the festival receives 10% royalties on his printed books – so, he would have to sell each book at £20 to make the same money. No chance.
As a new writer there is no other option than to self-publish. Look at the comparison:
- Publish immediately
- Control pricing
- Control how it looks
- 70% royalties
- Sell to 50% of the global market
- Publish updates immediately
- Ability to publish further books quickly
- (Editing costs)
- (Illustration costs)
- Advance of about £5k
- (No promotion)
- Available to 50% of the market in bookstores
- (Available as an eBook priced at more than the paperback)
- (At least a years wait to be published for each book)
- (If you have books self-published already it would mean taking them off the virtual shelf for a couple of years before re-publishing them traditionally. Losing 2 years worth of income.)
- (10% royalties on printed books)
- (25% royalties on eBooks)
- (Small chance of 2nd book deal due to lack of promotion)
- (Publishing career over)
I’m sure I’m slightly biased but it’s not far off. The printed word/ eBook debate is a non-issue now, and the question shouldn’t even be, should I go traditional or DIY? Instead, as writers we should be asking, what will a publishing deal get me when I’m an established self-published author. That’s where the industry needs to wake up.