The (Book Publishing) Industry has 39 problems. And they are…

photo: wikipedia.org

There was a great article from Digital Music News’s Paul Resnikoff published September 2014 about the troubles the music industry is having. After reading it I realized some of their tips could substitute terms related to “music” for terms related to “books”. Thus I have chosen a few top points using this substitution. This is just a fun read and something to think about as you chug along in your day.

Read the original article here. It’s worth your time, especially if you’re a music fan. Bold letter means I changed the words from the original into my version. (Artist and author are used interchangeably here)

1. The book publishing industry is failing.  Across the board, artists are experiencing serious problems monetizing their audio/print releases.

2. Major Publishing house revenues have been declining for more than 10 years, and they continue to decline precipitously year-over-year.  This has dismantled the traditional publishing system, once the most reliable form of artist financing.

3. Digital formats continue to grow, but not enough to overcome broader declines in physical books.

4. Even worse, the evolution of formats keeps pushing the value of the book downward. Free-books and the subscription model pay less than downloads (or for free-books not at all); downloads paid less than print versions sold independently.  And the next thing after subscriptions will probably be even worse.

5. There is little evidence to suggest that this downfall is being made up by touring, merchandising, or other non-writing activities.

6. The subscription model is rapidly becoming the dominant form of book consumption.  It also pays artists the worst of any formats before it.

7. Post-book, authors and publishers have failed to establish a lucrative, reliable bundle to monetize their writing (for all but a very few select authors).

8. Most consumers now attribute very little value to the book itself (if they ever did), and most consumption (through YouTube book trailers, bundled subscriptions, and the advent of free-books) happens at little-to-zero cost to the reader.

9. A generally uncertain economic climate only adds to consumer resistance against paying for books (plus the sad reality that a high percentage of our population suffers from illiteracy, which makes them unable and uninterested in reading unless we do something about this tragic problem).

10. Payouts to authors are not only hard to figure out, they are almost universally low and cannibalistic towards other, more lucrative formats.  Which is why many authors choose to self-publish at least some of their books (mostly e-books), because they conclude that 70% from Amazon at $2.99 per e-book beats 25% at $6.99 per e-book.

11. E-book downloads remain more lucrative for artists (and publishers), despite rhetoric indicating otherwise.

12. It’s harder than ever for a newer artist to get noticed.

13. The artist has greater and more direct access to fans than ever before in history. Unfortunately,so do millions of other artists.

14. Indeed, the typical reader is flooded with books, not to mention videos, games, Netflix, and porn, all of which makes it extremely difficult to win and retain the attention of future fans.

15. This also puts pressure on the artist to shorten the release cycle, and pump out content at a quick pace.

16. Facebook is now charging artists to reach their own fans, a move it defends as necessary given massive increases in Facebook posts that are overwhelming users (original author’s opinion, not mine, but still noteworthy).

17. All of which sort of makes the Facebook ‘Like’ a necessary win, but a difficult victory to celebrate.

18. Approximately 90% of all authors cannot make a living wage off of their writing, based on stats gleaned from Digital Book World.

19. Most artists are overwhelmed with tasks that go far beyond making music.  That includes everything from Tweeting fans, updating Facebook pages, managing metadata, uploading content, interpreting data, managing Kickstarter campaigns, and figuring out online sales strategies.

20. Classical literature and overall reading efforts continue to struggle, thanks to a continuing problem invigorating younger audiences to read a book.

21. Authors are increasingly giving away free-books, in the hopes of getting paid work down the line.

22. Information overload and massive media fragmentation have made it very difficult for book fans to even notice releases exist — even if they are dedicated fans.

23. Traditional bookstores have largely imploded, with holdouts like Barnes and Nobles on the verge of becoming a relic of an earlier era.

24. Either way, the biggest releases always go to the biggest brick-n-mortar stores: Target, Best Buy, or Wal-Mart.

25. Yet these larger, ‘big box’ retailers are accelerating the downward spiral in book sales, both by dramatically reducing shelf space and by pushing pricing aggressively downwards. This is happening even though older demographics are often still receptive to the print format.

26. Major publishers, once the most reliable form of financing for new and established authors, are now a fraction of their former selves.

27. And thanks to heavy financial pressures, the creative process at major publishers has become increasingly formulaic (ever wonder why so many bestsellers look like a repackaging of a previous bestseller?), overly refined, and often unsatisfying to the artists involved.

28. Instead of enjoying some theoretical resurgence, indie publishers are mostly getting squeezed by devalued and declining books, piracy, and far greater leverage from authors themselves (who can skip small presses if they want).

29. Established publishing companies often overpay their executives by a wild margin, despite massive and ongoing losses.

30. Very little innovation now comes from inside the industry.  Instead, it is now dictated by alternative-industry players like Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, and the entire indie author industry.

31. A large percentage of book fans are frustrated with high prices for hardcover, softcover, and e-books from traditional publishers.

32. The average consumer reads less than five books a year. (kids books are, however, making a comeback)

33. Traditional bestsellers lists tend to have the same 14 authors in heavy rotation, with mind-numbing regularity and lots of Caucasian faces (despite the increasing global diversity in literature).

34. Even worse, a lot of readers don’t seem to mind (wait for your dystopian society novel about a boy vampire who goes to a school for people like him, all while trying to fight the evil Lord Waldemart, and only finding the Ring of Power and destroying it can save them from having our boy hero having to fight in an arena of sexy vampires who fight to the death. And of course, a romance angle is involved. Soon to be #1 in the world!).  Which means very few books actually get into rotation and discovery becomes harder.

35. Book fans have access to more books than ever, but are often completely overwhelmed.  This often results is less interest in authors that aren’t heavily promoted, already established, or somehow ‘viral’.

36. The Long Tail was mostly a fantasy, and so is the concept that great writing naturally finds its audience.  Buried gems remain buried in the digital era, while the most successful artists still seem to be those with the best backing and money.

37. Writing conferences are often expensive, both in terms of time and money.

38.Writing conferences are sometimes held in far away, difficult-to-reach places, and last for days.  Which also means that conferences can be giant distractions from work that needs to get done back at your office (since it’s unlikely you make enough money to be a full-time author or writer to go to a conference whenever you want).

39. Even worse, DRM has become an artist-unfriendly loophole for every author and publisher.

So what do you think should be added/deleted? Which point on this list do you think is most/least accurate?

The Problems with Children’s Lit in 2 Graphs (Super Bowl Edition)

First off, let me say American Sniper is a 5/5 movie. Bradley Cooper surprised me by playing the part of Chris Kyle well, naturally, as though it really was Kyle and not an actor playing a former Navy SEAL. I HIGHLY recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see war through the eyes of a person who actually went to Iraq and fought.

Second, Children’s lit. Publisher’s Launch is a project of Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and PublishersMarketplace.com and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company to provide better data analytics on the book pub world to publisher’s. Such as, who’s buying what and what the trends are for literature and literacy, two big issues I care about. Education is so important to me that I do a lot of grassroots work to improve education but that’s a post for another time.

Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book had a presentation at Publisher Launch’s Launch Kids session at the most recent Digital Book World conference called “A look at the US Children’s book Market”. He posted his slideshow to the ‘net, for those of us who couldn’t go.

As someone who read a fair amount of kid’s books, and who just finished manuscript #1 for a middle grade novel, here is what’s wrong with children’s lit in 2 graphs: 

The takeaways:

1. Notice the book is missing from graph #1 for kids 14-17. For most American children once they turn 11 books drop off and YouTube and TV take its place.

2. By 14 social media and mobile devices are more important. Reading drops out of the top 8 slots and even sports drop towards the bottom. I was surprised that gaming was less interesting than Facebook and YouTube among teens. This must explain the rise in watching strangers on YouTube play video games and “commentate” rather than actually picking up the controller yourself like I did when I was a teen. Let me note: They are watching random strangers just play games and talk. Whenever I wanted to watch someone play a game and talk, I would go to friend’s houses and do the same thing! But I digress.

This sadly means it’s tougher to get kids and teens to read, which is noticeable when 80% of Young Adult books are bought by adults, for adults. Unless..

3. Graph #2 shows the rise in getting YouTube (and presumably other) internet celebrities in “writing books”. Now to be fair I’ve never heard of any of the celebrities listed on graph 2, but I found this tidbit on “Girl Online” by Zoe Sugg, who goes by the name “Zoella” online. The article notes that Zoe’s debut novel outsold other major authors like J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and E.L. James. Apparently, though, her first week accounted for nearly all of her sales as she has since petered out near the 100,000 mark, surprising given that she has close to 7 million YouTube subscribers. She apparently did not actually write the novel; it was ghostwritten, a rather unusual thing for fiction novels, unless you’re bestselling author “Snooki” from the Jersey Shore.

No doubt the internet was a useful tool to help these YouTube stars, of which I am not one of them (I think I’m too old), sell books. However, in the long run, whose books sell better? The three authors Zoe beat, or Zoe? We all know the answer. Now in the short-term, getting celebrities of all stripes (internet, reality tv, etc.) is a better way of selling books than relying on little-known debut novelists with smaller platforms and fewer social media followers. You fans will go buy a book because it’s “you” and, like, you’re famous. BUT again, what are the odds of these books becoming the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Stephen King just because they have a celebrity’s name on it? Want to place a bet?

I can tell you why. At the end of the day it’s the product quality, not the person/people endorsing the product, which determines a product’s success. While I acknowledge I am a bit envious of my far-fewer social media follower status in promoting anything I have, I can say in the long run relying too heavily on poor-quality celebrity books, even to get kids to read, is not the answer. The kids who are not fans of these celebrities just won’t read or will go back to reading other things by established authors. I love Lord of the Rings, I consider it one of the all-time greatest fantasy series ever, but it’s a little sad to me when 2 of the top 5 best-selling Fantasy novels for January are by a man who’s been dead for 42 years, as though literally no one in the world can ever write a good fantasy book again.

Please share your thought about whether you think it’s a good idea for book publishers to rely heavily on celebrity-driven books, or take risks on little-known or unknown debut novelists. Remember. celebrity books are nothing new or bad. They can certainly boost sales at least in the short run over non-famous persons. My argument is that relying on internet & reality T.V. celebrities to “write” kid’s books is not a good long-term trend for brand development and literacy improvement.

The full report is here

SUPER BOWL PICK: I will be rooting for New England with my Pats shirt on at the bar tomorrow. Initially I had Seattle 27-16, but I’m more torn on it now. New England plays very well with the “us against the world mentality” and for that reason I leaned towards NE. But Seattle has shown the ability to do their best no matter what the other teams do, and can the Pats defense stop Lynch and Wilson?

The key players are Gronk vs. Wilson. I’ll go closer but I say Seattle 26 New England 23. Seattle’s defense has been very good at shutting down good offenses and even with the injuries in the back 7 I don’t know how good New England’s defense will be at slowing down the Seattle run game, even IF their WR’s are mediocre.

Can an Author be Successful Without a Huge Social Media Platform?

Could Steven King  land a book contract today for his debut novel without celebrity status or being know by the “in-crowd?”

photo credit: blogs.denverpost.com

As I have discovered since I decided to try to have my novel published, publishers care A LOT about an author’s social media platform in order to drive sales. Now I happen to be a public relations pro and so building a platform, however cost-effective at this time, is not a problem for me to want to do and do well. Many authors, however, are not very good at doing this, and thus is one reason I provide helpful tips on social media strategies (and coming soon, media appearance tips) to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter @sammydrf.

Having a social media strategy is a good thing. As an author you have to be able to sell yourself and it is unreasonable to think a publisher or agent will just book your tours, get you media appearances, or market your book while you kick back and do nothing but sign copies between working on your next novel. However, I agree to some extend with comments made by Seth Godin, founder of the website squidoo.com. At this week’s Digital Book World 2015 conference he said (emphasis mine):

“Not all of your authors want to be good at social media. Not all of them have something to say when they’re not writing their book,” he told publishers.

In Godin’s view, the emphasis on building author platforms has gone too far. If so many authors now approach social media as a part of their jobs in the digital era, it’s at least partly thanks to their publishers, who have assiduously told them it is. But the problem is that it often looks that way to readers.

For one thing, that can make it hard to build a following, Godin says, and for another, doing so isn’t just about driving engagement on social channels, anyway.

Establishing and maintaining a loyal audience is by its nature a long-term investment, and what loyalty looks like online can sometimes differ considerably from what it looks like offline, “where the real work” gets done.

Godin points to Bob Dylan, who isn’t particularly active on social media but still has a vibrant and profitable career. “The long-tail rewards people for whom there’s passion from a few,” he says. “The Monkees had a TV show, but Dylan’s still around.”

Is this not an accurate observation, or what? It’s the quality of the book and the personality of the author which sells, not just how many social media followers he/she has. For example, Steven King (pictured above) had exactly zero (0) Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Vine followers when his first book Carrie was published in 1973. Did he end up being a colossal failure because he couldn’t tweet or post to his 35,000+ fans to buy the book? Of course not. He built his reputation on being an excellent writer (my favorite King book is Firestarter) and by the time he joined Twitter he was able to secure fans based on a previously built reputation.,

Contrast this with the Jersey Shore castmember Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, who published A Shore Thing in January 2011 and sold a whopping 9,000 copies in its first month, and not much more after that (note: I actually read a full chapter of this book). The reason? It really was NOT well written. Believe me.

So assuming that because an individual has online popularity, whether via television or social media, will mean lots of sales forever is mistaken. The problem is, if the quality is sub-par, even a person’s fans will not buy future copies and thus harm his/her future sales and writing career.

Now having said this, I agree with publishers and agents that authors should have social media platforms and be regular users. The reality is, we live in the age of the internet and this is where people find you and me. Thinking you never have to market your book yourself is asking for too much from a publisher or agent. The difference is that I agree with Seth that publishing good quality literature will drive up a person’s popularity and as long as the author is willing to be a self-promoter, that has to matter more in the long-run than just expecting people to have a built-in platform based on popularity somewhere else, which is a short-term strategy.

Note: for non-fiction authors you must have credibility, whether via popularity a la Bill O’Reilly, or by being respected in your field of study a la Noam Chomsky. However, in the end it’s the content that sells and not just the platform. If O’Reilly was really that bad he would not have a list of bestsellers in his Killing series.

So going forward here’s to writing good quality literature and being a willing self-promoter, while recognizing that quality drives sales better in the long run than short-term fame.

Speaking of social media, please follow me on Twitter @sammydrf and my youtube channel Samuel Ramirez.

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