It’s said that when an industry is in disruption the rate of that disruption increases until the new norm is established. We’re seeing this in the publishing industry today. The foreseeable downsizing, merging and desperate attempts to maintain the status quo are already happening.
Under the old system the trade publishers had the upper hand. Now it seems to be the wholesalers and the author/publishers who have control over their pricing and discount. Authors who are contracted with the big publishers give up this control of their book, leaving its future to be decided by what the publisher feels is best for their bottom line. As more of them figure this out I think we’ll see a steadily increasing number of midlist authors leaving the Big 5 to go independent.
The big question might be which of the big name authors will leave first.
Imagine your name is John Grisham. You have a track record a mile long for moving millions of books every year. Yes, your publisher treats you very well and you most likely get a sales percentage well above what is considered standard.
One day you get curious as to what your numbers would be like if you went independent. You do some research, crunch some numbers, maybe even hire someone, very quietly, to explore the option. The numbers come back and you realize the marketing budget your current publisher spends is well within your means, your name is enough to ensure your next book will sell, and the cost of staying with your current publisher is more than the projected cost of hiring the people needed to help you go independent. The numbers also say you’ll increase your profits by a large percentage. The numbers speak for themselves. So you quietly build a team to execute this while counting the months until its time for contract renewal.
The meeting does not go well.
Numbers are increased and offers are made, but they can’t beat the projections you’re holding in your hand. They simply have nothing to offer you that you and your new team cannot do yourselves. You walk out of the building a free man, leaving behind some truly frightened people. Six months later your new book hits the market and the public can’t see anything different from your old ones. The price is a bit lower, the quality is the same and the availability is the same. It sells as expected and you promote just as you did before, only now you’re keeping a larger percentage in your pocket.
Then the promotion period is over and it’s time to go home. A spreadsheet finds its way to you. You sit back, look at the final number, and divide it by how many Little League baseball fields you can build with it through your charity.
Big smile. Life is good.
Some other A-list authors get word of this. They start crunching numbers as well. A few months later three more of them jump ship. Six more follow the next year. Soon, every big name author out there is counting the days until their contract runs out.
And the whole thing comes crashing down.
On the bright side, some nice offices are now available in New York City.