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Reflections on the State of Publishing

I am not a big New York publisher but I think I have a pretty good idea what is going on in the publishing industry.  I have been publishing books and ebooks for going on five years, and it is because of my experiences in those projects that Bard and Book was born.  Clearly, the closure of Borders bookstore says something important.  The rise of Kindle... well, I don't need to dwell on it;  most people already know the industry is being shaken to the core.

Personally, I believe that print books will always be with us.  However, the models for selling those books will have to change radically.  Right now, there is a lot of prestige associated with being available in a place like Barnes and Noble but I doubt even they will be able to hold on.  Most people don't realize that retailers expect a 55% discount off the list price and even then don't actually buy the books on their shelves.  It's one giant consignment shop operation, which means that an author stands to only make a tiny amount on each sale but will have to eat a much bigger loss if the book gets returned.  Of course, on the face of it, its the publishers that eat that cost, but I would argue in fact it is the author, since it means the publisher cannot be as generous with its royalties as it could be under a different paradigm.

Barnes and Noble might be the last man standing, but with the glut of options for authors to go out and bypass both publisher and retailer, if they don't make serious changes, I'll doubt they'll be standing long.

Amazon's marketplace, both in terms of their Kindle book and printed book offerings, will also need to change.  I don't think anyone is talking about this, but authors are going to start figuring it out:  the cost to Amazon to deliver a $3.99 ebook versus a $2.99 ebook is virtually the same.  The cost--to Amazon--to process and ship a printed book listed at $9.95 is exactly the same as their cost to ship one listed at $19.95.  Yet in any case, they will take the same percentage, giving them more money for the higher priced item than the lower (obviously).

Amazon did wisely increase their revenue sharing program to allow authors to list their titles for 70% commission for the author, but that still keeps things on a percentage basis, which doesn't sit right with a lot of authors.  Right now, the Kindle marketplace is where people are, so authors are forced into the paradigm, but things can change on the net, and change quickly.

It is in part due to these 'irregularities' that Bard and Book was formed.  By moving the revenue generator away from the particular work (or at least reducing that emphasis) and placing it more squarely on the author himself, we hope to change the nature of the relationship between the author and the reader;  that is, we change the thing being valued as reflected in the exchange of dollars.     In cases where an author produces a solitary work, the previous pattern is good and fine.  Where an author wishes to write full time and illustrates this by producing works on a regular basis, he is providing an on-going service.    We seek to compensate our writers on that basis.

The result, we hope, is that the reader does not end up paying much more than he normally would for this 'entertainment service' but the author is spared the 'feast of famine' cycle associated with the release of new works--which is another thing about publishing that's going to have to change.  More on that some other time.

The point is that the industry is changing because it has to change.  Authors simply will not abide by the status quo.  Likewise, the readers.  That's why focusing on author-reading communities are, to my mind, the model of the future.

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