There was a blog post over at Kung Fu Monkey about self-publishing that’s gotten me thinking about some stuff, and so I’m going to consider it “out loud” as it were, here, in front of all of you, so that my mistakes can be subject to your scrutiny and you can feel better about yourselves for my failures.
An idea I’ve been kicking around for a while is the idea that publishers — the big guys like Tor and Random House and whoever are eventually going to be replaced by smaller, more agile groups. The scene is going to start looking more and more like the music industry, with a book “producer”, who handles the marketing and editing for a few different books and then uses a major POD service to create the merchandise.
Here’s what I mean. If I sell my regular novel through Amazon’s createspace, I make between 4 and 6 dollars a copy. Let’s average that to 5 (for the argument, just I don’t have to run two sets of numbers).
How many books can a single editor handle in a year? I don’t know. I’m figuring five books, because that sounds reasonable?
Let’s say I was…I don’t know. Warren Ellis. Any time Warren Ellis tells someone about something, he crashes their website, because eighty gazillion people immediately go there. Not eighty gazillion. Figure ten thousand? That may be high, but let’s use it as a working figure.
In my opinion, the next step for Warren Ellis is, rather than casually endorse things he happens to find out about, to actually produce books that he sells. He, of course, doesn’t have to do anything except attach his name to it; actually, he takes, uh, say, $2.50 on each sale, leaving $2.50 per book for the author (actually, I think this is higher than regular royalties? Good.). He gives one dollar to an editor that he hires to go through the books. He gives one dollar to the editor’s assistant, whose job is to read through the submissions, and maybe also to help with a big marketing campaign (though, again, the point of Warren Ellis is that he doesn’t really need a big marketing campaign).
Assuming that he gets his requisite ten thousand people, that means 50 grand for editor and editor’s assistant, 25 grand for Warren Ellis. Per year. Is this a reasonable salary? I don’t know–though, as POD services multiply, the royalty schedule will improve (Amazon, for example, does NOT need to take a $10 share on my expanded distribution channel copies; they only do that because right now they can get away with it). Anyway, maybe the deal is that 50k a year, plus ten cents in perpetuity on all titles that you’ve worked on, so your salary keeps going up as you work on more books.
Now, you’d want to have the money up front to pay these guys, because what if it didn’t work out? Ellis probably doesn’t have the capital for that. You know who does, though? Stephen King. Dan Brown. James Patterson. Danielle Steel. Nora Roberts.
Any one of these people could just create an imprint — in a way similar to the way in which a rapper becomes a wealth megastar and then decides to create their own record label.
This is a serious point because, I mean, when was the last time you bought a book because you cared who the *publisher* was? Do you go through the bookstore, or through the Amazon Interweb Emporium or whatever, and take a look at something and say, “Hey, ACE books! Those guys always publish things that relate to my interests!” and then buy it?
I don’t, anyway; I evaluate new books according to the following criteria, in order: 1) Explanation on the back of the book. 2) Recommendation from person that I’ve heard of and like. 3) Cool cover. ”Publisher” isn’t even anywhere on there.
It is a logical next step, then, to supplant, “Recommendation from person that I like” with “Endorsed imprint.”
The tools to actually produce the books are now readily available, and the process is now trivially simple. Imprints as publishers are less important than imprints as the focal point the semantic network that actually moves the books.