Memoir Book Business: The World of Publishing Continues to Change

by Matilda Butler on May 4, 2012

Book Business PaperclipPost #92 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Business – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Thoughts for Memoir Writers to Ponder, About Publishing That is

This is an unusual week–two articles about the publishing industry. In Tuesday’s article about author Kate Wilhelm’s decision to start her own publishing company, after 50 years of being published by all the big name publishers, intrigued me. The energy of the 83 year old is awesome.

Kendra and I didn’t intend to return to the topic of publishing so quickly, but I picked up my copy of the April 30-May 6 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. [As an aside, the name Bloomberg Businessweek, instead of BusinessWeek as it was called for the 80 years that McGraw-Hill Publishing owned it, is part of the theme of this article. There will always be changes and there is no point in talking about the "good ol' days." As Kendra will share in a future blog article, it wasn't the good ol' days even back then.] The article that caught my attention is called “The Match Isn’t Over Yet.”

You have probably been following at least some of the news about ebooks. When Amazon introduced the Kindle about five years ago, it required publishers to agree to a price, even for new releases, of no more than $9.99. Quickly, we all became used to the idea that we could own almost any book we wanted for $9.99 and have it immediately. No getting in the car, no waiting for the UPS delivery truck in a couple of days. Just ask and there it was. Well, okay. You had to also pay for it, but still the $9.99 was a lot less than a hardback and even less that many paperbacks.

I’m not sure that publishers were really against the idea of ebooks or even the price. But they definitely didn’t like the price being determined by another company. Since Amazon represented the path to many customers, the publishers went along. Eventually some publishers agreed to raise their ebook prices and that has resulted in a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department. That’s another story and not part of my point. The point is that publishers didn’t have a business model that was prepared for ebooks. In many ways, they weren’t in the information/entertainment business. They were in the printed book business. And there’s a big difference.

Now their business model is about to be upset again and they are fighting hard against this change. Amazon wants publishers to let them use print on demand with the slower selling books. Publishers think this is just the camel’s nose under the tent. Eventually, Amazon knows it can save money by using print-on-demand technology for all its book orders. Some of the machines take less than five minutes to download the book file, print, and bind with a high quality, gloss, paperback cover. Stop for a minute and think about that. A beautiful book to hold in your hand in less than five minutes.

Expect publishing to continue to change at a dizzying speed in the coming years. The exciting news is that small publishers are more likely to change quickly because they have less invested in the old business model in which publishers kept such a high percentage of the revenue because they managed the printing, storage and distribution of books as well as offering editing.

What’s Great for Memoir Authors In All of This?

1. Amazon makes it fairly easy for you have sell your book as a Kindle ebook. The royalty rate you get is 70% minus a small electronic delivery charge. Working directly with Amazon gives you a larger share of the profit than you would ever get from a large publisher. And if you remember our article from early this week, Kate Wilhelm specifically started her own publishing company because a major publisher wanted complete control over her intellectual property for any new technology that might come along. She would only get a small royalty.

You could even test the waters with your ebook and then decide if you want to have print copies.

2. Print on demand is here to stay. The machines have improved and the quality is excellent. Large publishers will eventually embrace the technology because if frees them from high warehousing costs. But right now, they have an investment in their infrastructure of buildings and staff and never anticipated a business model where you could print just as many books as you need. You, however, don’t have an investment in bricks and mortar. You can use print on demand and park your car in the garage instead of the 2000 copies of your memoir. If you already have orders for a large number, then you can still get the book printed in bulk. It is just that you don’t need to use up your capital on printing.

Think of yourself in the information business, not the paper business. Be willing to use all available technologies and embrace change. And don’t ever reject a small publisher who is interested in publishing your book when you find out they use print on demand. It is simply an efficient model that also is environment-friendly. No more thousands of unsold books that are later dumped.

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