Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ten Ways Publishing Can Be Saved

I suppose last week NY Times article was supposed to be shocking eye opener; perhaps to some it was, but I found the piece to be yet another reason that the publishing industry is heading down a path it will find it hard to recover from.

The article ended with a representative of one of the file sharing websites concluding that the publishing industry should be like the band "Nine Inch Nails" and just give away most there stuff for free, and the author concludes that this is just absurd because authors can't pack arenas and make money with this kind of model.

The attitude that publishing can't give away things for free is yet another example of the arrogance in the industry. Instead of figuring out a way to make it work, many publishers are either trying to threaten file sharing websites with letters from their lawyers (which didn't work for the music industry and won't work for the publishing industry either) or tossing up their hands like it's a lost cause.

Instead having legal waste their time combing the Internet trying to find every single book illegally posted, they should be spending money on young marketers who might actually find a free-based model that would work.

Below are a ten relatively simple ways publishers can make money off electronic publishing:

1. Subscription Model - Most publishers have literally thousands of books that they own the rights too; why not start a subscription service--20 bucks a month let's you read any book in the Random House catalog. If they really want to do it right, they could partner with other publishers to offer even more books.

2. Create Phone Apps – more and more people are reading on their phones; experiment with a phone app that once again takes out the middleman—something that lets the reader buy and sample a book directly from the publisher and read it on their phone. Make the app and samples free—many readers would probably buy physical copies if they had a chance to read a sample on subway on their way home from the office. On that note, experiment with publishing serial books--$0.50 for a book that publishes a new chapter each week—or a subscription to have the book automatically downloaded each week to your phone.

3. Advertising - Quite simply this means put ads in books (which I've talked about here)

4. Product Placement - Those who have read early drafts of my YA book know that the PS3 plays a sizable role; there is absolutely no reason why the PS3 can't be Xbox 360 or Wii; a publisher could probably do pretty well by taking ideas like this to corporations.  Obviously, not every author is going to go for this, but I suspect many would if they were making percentages off the deal.

5. More Rights - I am not a fan of this, but I understand that it will likely come--new (and unproven authors) will likely have to give up more rights to their books (like translation and media). It's no secret that nearly half (sometimes more) of an authors income come from selling the rights of their book to other countries; if the rights are also sold to a film studio, a few more thousand are coming the authors way. As pirating becomes more popular, publishers are likely going to start taking some of these rights to make back money (some already do it). That's not all bad; they'll likely have more muscle to get the book translated into more language, which will make the author more in the long run.

6. Tours – The article mentions that authors can’t sell out arenas—why not? It’s true that even big authors wouldn’t be able to pull this off, but publishers have more than one author. Why not arrange a tour with several authors instead of one? Send two dozen authors off together on a college tour; don’t make it a tour—make it a festival. Have the authors perform lectures and readings as well as writing workshops and individualized writing coaching sessions. I guarantee that younger writers wouldn’t mind slumming it on buses (and even dorm room floors) if it meant getting their work out. To get even more exposure, they could partner up with Indie rock bands who are also doing campus tours. Authors could also do live videos from the festivals for people who can’t make it out—videos that show more than a boring reading; people are interested by voyeurism—the videos should be more of a diary of what it’s like to be on a tour. Having authors actually visit classrooms is going to make the students feel closer, and they’ll be more likely to buy their work and support them than download it free. To help get money, get a company like Target to sponsor it. If the tour gained enough exposure then companies would pay good money to have their logo slapped on a bus that was sitting in a college campus parking lot.

7. Build better websites – I’m not even talking about the websites of their authors; I’m talking about better websites for the publisher; I’ve never been to a publishers website that was more than just a catalog of the books they publish; it needs to be more interactive—there should be things that get visitors returning. How can publishers encourage authors to build good websites when they themselves aren’t doing this?

8. NO DRM – Demand that Amazon remove DRM; it will do you more good in the long run. Sharing can be a good thing if you do it right. Publishers could even sell DRM-Free books on their websites and make a killing because they wouldn’t have to pay the digital bookstore.

9. Lower Prices – If it’s a new writer, then don’t make people pay ten bucks for the book; likewise don’t sell experienced writers for fifteen bucks—ten is the most anyone should to pay for a digital book.

10. Preload eBooks readers – Sell eBook preloaded with eBooks. 400 bucks is a lot, but it’s not quite as bad if it has 100 bucks load on it for free.

Instead of waiting for people from places like Amazon to approach them with ideas for this, they need to be going to Amazon. Their role thus far has been relatively passive; it’s time for that to change. Last week a company said they would make reading more interactive by putting movies in the text, and all I could think was that’s really the best they can do? Hollywood started doing that 100 years ago! If people want to see what the characters look like, they’ll wait for the inevitable film adaptation. And if the reader is really having that hard of a time visualize what is going on, then perhaps it’s time to find a writer who can show scenes just a little bit better.

I don't think it's entirely unlikely for authors to start get patrons to pay them for their work; this is how authors used to make a living. If an author got a big enough following by giving away their books for free, they might eventually get a wealthy fan (or smaller press) that paid them to continue writing. Geoffrey Chaucer made a living as a writer in this way, so did Charles Bukowski, and so have hundreds of other writers.

Those are just a few ways to make publishing digitally successful, but if publisher stop wondering what to do when pirating comes, and start realizing that it's already here then hopefully they'll be able to think up a few more that might actually save them.


Sugar said...

Best ideas for the publishing industry that I have ever heard.

Norman said...

There are some good ideas here and some really bad ones. Authors deserve to be paid and publishers have a lot of overhead in printing, distribution and advertising costs. The publishing industry has one of the lowest profit margins out there. It would be really good if some of the twits who want things for free respected copyright - they're not giving their daily work away for free I'd wager!

Tom Bailey said...

I think they need to partnership better. If Publishers partner well they can not only survive but thrive they need to adapt to change fast or get illiminated.

Just my opinion.

kaitlin said...

Worthwhile looking into the work that Michael Geist is doing with regards to improving publishing in a digital age in Canada.

Some good ideas, and generally a great blog. I will be following more...(I found you via your wife's blog)