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Reflections on Publishers and the Digital Trend


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#1 AQCrew

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 01:02 AM

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Writers -- watch as this trend will continue... formerly print publishers switching to "digital only."

First with the indie presses, and then with the under-performing imprints at the major publishers. And then we will see "digital only" imprints created at the major pubs to capitalize on the growing e-reader market share.

We're already seeing agents selling to Harlequin's "digital only" imprints. And we're seeing WANTED: "Director of Digital Publishing' jobs show up on Publishers Lunch classified section at the major pubs.

So, writers -- we ask you: what's your take on all this?

Are you willing to take a "digital only" deal over a print deal, if that's what your agent recommends?

And if so, why bother with getting an agent at all?

And how will the major publishers stay "major" without being the sole means of mass-producing and mass-distributing a book?

And how with the major publishers get their e-books into the hands of readers buying "digital only"? Will the entire branding game change? After all, when was the last time you bought a book because it was a Riverhead/Penguin Group book? Are you really going to go to Penguin's website to download your e-books?

Currently, the major pubs buy space on the tables at Borders and Barnes & Noble? (Boy, doesn't that marketing model seem sooooooo old-school, nowadays?) So will the major pubs simply shift their marketing dollars to buying cyber-"space" on Amazon? And GoodReads.com? And where else?

Do you really believe that a "digital only" deal with a major publisher is better than.... the unknown?

#2 Liyah-B.

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 01:40 AM

Personally, I'm on the fence with this. I want to be a published author with a book one could take off the shelf, not a book a person would log-in to read. I mean, it's great because I do have online works, but what truly beats a traditional sit-down-page-flipping-no-straining-eyes-from-the-computer-screen? Really, what beats that?

For me, I would publish my shorter works digitally. If I'm going to have a 300,000 word novel, I want to sit down and flip pages and feel the texture of it. If I'm writing a 30,000 words short story, it can be online. I would go either way with the short stories because they could fair well on the shelf and on the screen.

#3 RC Lewis

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 09:30 AM

Nope, I wouldn't take a digital-only deal, and I doubt any agent would recommend it for me ... until more teenagers start carting around e-readers. That might happen within a year or five years or more--who knows? Even then, I would be hesitant. How many kids from poorer families would that leave out? But that's all specific to my audience (YA).

Interesting, Liyah--If I had a 300k-word novel, that's what? About 1200 pages? Me and my wrists would rather read that on an e-reader. :wink: Also, you'll find there are some who swear reading on their Kindle or Sony absolutely beats reading a dead-tree book.
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#4 Robin Breyer

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 10:20 AM

With POD available, I think digital only is a bad idea. If I have a book out there, I don't mind if it is primarily digital, but for those who still want a paper copy, that needs to be an option. With the POD technology as it is, there really is no need to mandate digital only.

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#5 r louis scott

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 10:24 AM

I still have my heart set on a book I can put up on my shelf alongside some of my favorites.

I guess I'm just old fashioned.

#6 Rick Spilman

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 10:52 AM

I doubt this trend will continue. The technology that makes e-books practical also makes short run publishing economical.

A friend, Jenny Gardiner, had her book, Slim to None, published initially as ebook only. After encouraging sales, the book was also published in paperback.

Ebooks are definitely gaining in popularity. I have been following a friend's books, as well as a recent book by Bernard Cornwell on novelrank.com. My friend, Alaric Bond, is a relative newcomer, having written three excellent novels, while Cornwell has published over 50 books and has an established fan base. In both cases, their ebook sales are over twice as large as their trade paperback or hardcover sales.

I wouldn't be surprised if ebooks become a dominant format but print books are unlikely to go away.

#7 AQCrew

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 11:23 AM

A friend, Jenny Gardiner, had her book, Slim to None, published initially as ebook only. After encouraging sales, the book was also published in paperback.


Great point, Rick...and definitely in-line with what we're expecting.

Writers, you're going to have to realize that sooner than later, major pubs are going to use "digital only" as their feeder programs for print runs. Dismissing digital only as less than desirable might actually leave you out in the cold.

#8 AQCrew

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 11:29 AM

Nope, I wouldn't take a digital-only deal, and I doubt any agent would recommend it for me ... until more teenagers start carting around e-readers. That might happen within a year or five years or more--who knows? Even then, I would be hesitant. How many kids from poorer families would that leave out? But that's all specific to my audience (YA).


Another great point, RC. We're watching small, successful YA presses like Flux to see how they'll be handling the ebook trend.

But books-as-we-know-them are going to also change as ebooks grow in popularity and eReaders become more sophisticated, and hybrid-books with video, hyperlinks, photos, etc. are coming.

And these hyperbooks will likely be adapted first by the younger crowd -- on their smart phones (which almost every teen (even the "poorer" ones) somehow find a way to afford...)

#9 RSMellette

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 11:42 AM

Eventually, down the line, sure. Never say never.

But keep in mind, digital sales still only represent ... what? 3%? 7%? of total sales. Sure, it's growing like crazy but no one knows where it will top out. If it gets all the way up to 49% then it's still a supplemental market.

The same thing happened in the film industry with digital distribution to movie theatres. When the percentage of screens in the country DOUBLED everyone said, "The Digital Theatrical Revolution is here!" Yes, it doubled. From 1% of screens to 2%. That was around 1999 - 2002-ish. Today, a majority of movie theatres in the world are still old-fashioned film. If you're making a major motion picture you must consider your largest theatrical distribution to be a 35mm print.

And there are advantages to the old ways. Think about it. Say you're a movie theatre owner - or an avid reader - and you invest in the latest, greatest technology in digital distribution. Two years later, the studios/publishers decide they won't deliver on that format anymore. Suddenly, you can't read the latest books - or if you're in the business of showing movies, you can't make a living.

You don't have to have a computer to show a 35mm print or electricity read a book on paper. There's a lot of comfort in that for individuals and businesses.

Will digital win? Absolutely. Will we be withered old writers by the time the revolution is over? My bet is yes.

#10 mwsinclair

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 11:47 AM

To be honest, I'd take the deal that makes the most sense for me and my family professionally. If I'd make more money and get broader distribution via digital formats, I say Whoo hoo! Hate to sound crass about it, but as much as I love reading "real" books (and I don't even own an e-reader), I'm in this because it's what I do. I can't imagine not writing. So if the marketplace is moving there, then I'll take the deal that means the most over time.

#11 RC Lewis

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 12:07 PM

Another great point, RC. We're watching small, successful YA presses like Flux to see how they'll be handling the ebook trend.

But books-as-we-know-them are going to also change as ebooks grow in popularity and eReaders become more sophisticated, and hybrid-books with video, hyperlinks, photos, etc. are coming.

And these hyperbooks will likely be adapted first by the younger crowd -- on their smart phones (which almost every teen (even the "poorer" ones) somehow find a way to afford...)


"Poorer" maybe. But I'm in one of the poorest states in the country. A lot of my students make other people's ideas of "poor" look like middle class. Still, that's just an excuse for schools to apply for grants to get e-readers into poor homes, or something along those lines, once it catches on more.

As for hyperbooks ... yeah, I'm definitely thinking along those lines. Not sure if many others are, though, judging by the few responses to this thread.
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#12 Cat Woods

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 12:36 PM

I'm with Matt. Since I've been writing, things have changed tremendously. It would be foolish to rule out anything that is a sensible publishing route. However, I also hear RC, because I live in a highly economically depressed area and most people in the general populuation have no clue what poverty and poor really means.

I won't get on my soap box for this, but knowing how vital literacy is--especially to the economically supressed--it hurts to think about my words only being available to those who can afford the luxury of an ereader. The whole reason I write for kids is to hopefully bridge this gap and give kids a chance to reach their potential.

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#13 AQCrew

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 12:49 PM

Say you're a movie theatre owner - or an avid reader - and you invest in the latest, greatest technology in digital distribution. Two years later, the studios/publishers decide they won't deliver on that format anymore. Suddenly, you can't read the latest books - or if you're in the business of showing movies, you can't make a living.


You mean the way that Netflix put Blockbuster out of business? Loved watching that, especially since we own Netflix stock.

When we think of digital film distribution, we think of the invention of the DVD. Which, of course, has simply been a lead-in to getting the younger crowd to prefer watching movies in their home -- on-demand. Now, Netflix is up from $33 to $175 in that last year because everyone sees the future of movie and TV distribution -- and it's streaming.

Netflix is the leader. Who saw that coming? Clearly, not very many people in the film industry, especially not behemoths like Time Warner who are now scrambling to compete.

What's the Netflix for the digital book market? Will someone please tell us if you know, so we can go invest in it?

Because we're damn certain about one thing -- it's not going to be Random House.

#14 mwsinclair

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 01:50 PM

All due respect to RS, I think the movie industry might not be the best analogy because of outlay of cash that theaters need to shell out in order to show digitial formated films (at least, that's what I've read, I'm by no means an expert).

Perhaps the Netflix vs. Blockbuster example can be augmented by the oft-used digital music vs. CDs example. One way or the other, I think digital publishing of manuscripts is inevitable and seeing how and how fast things shake out will be interesting.

#15 RSMellette

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 02:57 PM

What's the Netflix for the digital book market? Will someone please tell us if you know, so we can go invest in it?

Because we're damn certain about one thing -- it's not going to be Random House.


Actually, it might be Random House. Here's what makes me think that.

The film industry is quickly moving to the same model as what the publishers are trying to do with Amazon. They control the digital content, and companies like Netflix and Amazon are paid by the customers they bring to the Studios. One discussion I had with an IT exec at Warner Bros. said the model will be that, when you buy a movie from a Studio, they "keep it" for you. What you've really bought is the right to watch it anytime you want via streaming.

Companies like Netflix will become a way for you to organize your library - though, Microsoft will most likely make this easier as a Windows ap. When you "buy" a movie, it's put into your library - or your could rent a movie, but that's going to come directly from the Studios, passing through a company like Netflix (Maybe).

The same will happen with the big publishing houses. They have the big authors. As long as they keep them happy, with good reporting, marketing, ego stroking, they'll have the power.

At least, that's my guess. :)

#16 Robin Breyer

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 10:45 PM

RS, I'm sure that the movie studios would love that model, but it does not take into account companies going out of business or selling their titles. Then where is the consumer? They are now out the content they legally paid for. I see many holes in this idea that are not good for the end consumer.

With netflix, you pay for the dvd and streaming service and not for having a given title. You watch what they offer or you find a different service.

Those of us fixated on a given title, want the assurance that in 20 years we can still watch it. Relying on the whims of business is not a reliable way to assure that. Technology is bad enough. My tastes are such that I have quite a number of UK, Japanese, and Australian movies and TV shows (as in imported non-region 1 DVD's) in my collection simply because the US market doesn't carry them. In your studio model I don't think that would be possible.

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#17 RSMellette

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 12:10 AM

RS, I'm sure that the movie studios would love that model, but it does not take into account companies going out of business or selling their titles. Then where is the consumer? They are now out the content they legally paid for. I see many holes in this idea that are not good for the end consumer.

With netflix, you pay for the dvd and streaming service and not for having a given title. You watch what they offer or you find a different service.

Those of us fixated on a given title, want the assurance that in 20 years we can still watch it. Relying on the whims of business is not a reliable way to assure that. Technology is bad enough. My tastes are such that I have quite a number of UK, Japanese, and Australian movies and TV shows (as in imported non-region 1 DVD's) in my collection simply because the US market doesn't carry them. In your studio model I don't think that would be possible.


Here we go again.

First, this isn't MY Studio model, it's the model the Studios are going forward with - according to the IT Vice President I was talking to.

We all rely on the whims of business. Don't believe me? Try finding replacement parts for your Beta Max or Laser Disc players so you can watch your collection of movies you paid so much money for in those formats - or HDV while you're at it. I have DVD and CD players in the garage that are pretty much useless. I've moved all of my music onto my laptop, which is backed up by Mozy - so I don't need the discs anymore either. We'll have to explain what BluRay discs were to our grandkids, as streaming replaces them completely.

As for your non-region DVD collection - there will always be people who want to get something unavailable to the casual shopper - that's what collections are. If I were you, I'd be more worried that DVD players will go the way of the 3 1/2 in floppy drives - and you'll be stuck with a lot of useless plastic.

Companies going out of business? MGM's library has been broken up and sold a thousand times - but you still get to watch James Bond Movies. Same for United Artists, etc. A studio's library is their most valuable asset. In the digital world, the library will include the list of people with library cards.

#18 Robin Breyer

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 01:22 AM

Um... my DVD collection is not non-region, they are from region 2 and 4 mostly. Thank goodness for unlockable DVD players. See, there is an idea that the studios came up with that hasn't been so well received. For those who know how to find it, there are ways around it (often a simple keystroke on the remote).

The studios, and all corporations, need to remember that the customer rules. They get away with a lot because the general consumer doesn't mind. But take some of the copy-protection schemes that have been implemented only to be withdrawn (at expense to the company) because they went to far and affected the general consumer. The only way the idea you presented for a giant online library would work is if there was ONE central location and the ownership of the title never affected how the title was linked to a personal library. It won't work of MGM, Fox, Universal, etc., each have their own. Transfer of ownership will mean transfer of internet address and break the link and no matter how good the system is, links will break and customers will get angry and it will cost, both money and good will. This model doesn't show much knowledge about the deep structure of the internet.

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#19 Robin Breyer

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 02:56 AM

RS, I owe you a great big thank you. Regardless of how you and I feel about certain issues, bantering with you is very good for my writing. I just plowed out 2000 words. Inspiration comes from many sources. :biggrin:

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#20 Brendacarre

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 03:18 AM

Inspiration comes from many sources. :biggrin:


And so now does published work. :biggrin: I am late to this post but its my belief that we have never been in a time that was so favorable to a new writer wanting to get published. Never before have there been so many markets out there. The danger here IMHO is lack of experience. It takes a lot of study and practice to know the craft and equally as much to understand what is and isn't available to us as marketers of our own work. If we are willing to take hold of our own career then I say yes, go for the many streams of digital pub, POD, put already pubbed short fiction online once rights have reverted back to you, do the same with novels and self-publish if you know you're writing publishable work. But ah, there's the rub. Not everyone is ready and not everyone wants to handle their own marketing...they hire an agent or sell e-rights to a small or large publisher. I think we need to take ourselves in hand and make sure we know what we want. For me its a combination of both. I still submit to publishers but I'm at work on a website and planning to put up some of my work electronically. I don't agree that this is a fad. I think the big companies are doing a fast change now and hoping to cash in on what is now one of the new faces of publishing. I don't believe hard copy will ever go away, any more than film for movies will ever go away. I think that there are going to be choices, that's all.




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