Let’s talking about the industry. I’m seeing a huge shift and whilst it’s been happening for a long time, but we’re going to focus on some of the most recent signs and what it might mean.

So, to start… let’s talk about

The Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster Merger and the DoJ case

There’s a LOT of great discussion about this already out there (the Hot Sheet Pub had a great summary including some of the more laughable commentary involved including calling a $100k advance ‘small’) so I’m going to see if I can sum up some things I found particularly interesting.

1) PRH was NOT doing well. They actually went down in market share from 25% to 21%

2) PRH is already cutting its midlist numbers, dropping the number of releases. If this merger is blocked, midlist authors and book purchasing from the Big 5 is still going to shrink most likely.

3) Big trad pub just isn’t very profitable. For PRH 4% of the books drive 60% of profitability, and those books are often midlist books that become bestsellers because they weren’t acquired at high advances (that act as higher royalty rates / higher payouts because no one is allowed to have higher royalty rates than normal because of matching contract clauses).

Defining Traditional Publishing

At the same time, I was in a recent discussion (okay, I mostly read it afterwards) of what is ‘traditional publishing’. How do you define it? Is that any work that is signed off from an author to another company (hey, I’m trad pubbed because Starlit Publishing publishes me! Also, vanity presses fall in under that definition). Is it when an advance is paid? Can you be traditionally published if you don’t get an advance? Do you define it then by print publishing (which means something like Tor.com might not work?).

Then, how about companies like LMBPN, Shadow Alley, Aethon, etc. where the focus is entirely digital and whatever physical books there might be, it’s via print-on-demand only? Do we then need a term for them like ‘digital first publishers’. (If you didn’t guess, I actually kind of like that term).

If I’m signing my books off to one of them, where I’m not getting an advance, but am handing over royalty rates for editing, marketing and other promotional work; is this not ‘traditional publishing’?

Or do we need another term for it?

And where do we draw the line between self-publishers, indie publishers (and are these two the same? some would say so) and weirdos things like Starlit Publishing where I’m mostly publishing myself and my co-authors… and probably generating more revenue than a lot of smaller presses.

Why Do Terms Matter?

It might seem like a lot of semantics, but partly, it’s a quesiton of letting new authors know of the myriad options they have available. 

If you have the Big 5 on one end of the pie, and self-publishing on the other end; there’s going to be a bunch of middle options and those middle options are going to get more and more complex.

Some, like Mountaindale Publishing are going to be extremely narrow in scope (LitRPG genre only); while others might have a somewhat different look (Valorant and their military scifi publishing arm under a co-authored name).

Being able to explain all that without getting into a giant blog post is useful, but that only happens if there are terms that make sense.  

And Tying it Back

To the initial discussion about the Big 5. They’re shrinking. By their own admittance, they’re becoming a smaller part of the industry. They won’t disappear – indie publishers aren’t picking up things like autobiographies by the Obamas (though, who knows, maybe someone might create a marketing / publishing arm that could do it for them in the future, though that seems almost like recreating the wheel); but their dominance is shrinking each year.

Partly, that’s because independent publishers (self publishers, digital first publishers, small presses) are eating their breakfast by being more nimble, by shifting to tackle new platforms, new ways of exploiting their IP, etc.

But also, because they shackled themselves. There’s clauses in previous contracts with their biggest authors that are making it impossible for them to compete, so much so that bigger authors like Sanderson are choosing to do things like Kickstarter.

At the same time, new publishing methodologies (and I say new with full understanding that it’s likely not actually new since pulp publishing has happened before) like LMBPN where they’re putting out over 400+ books (or something like that, I tried to find the part where Michael talks about it and couldn’t find the link. It’s in one of his many talks) a year. Or places like Wolfpack Publishing that I hadn’t even known about, till I looked into it who are quietly doing their thing in Westerns and other niche genres.

All these digital first publishing companies who are literally embracing things like Amazon and subscriptions and audiobooks and translations and…

Even royalty contracts look different, where some of these digital first publishers are giving away up to 70% of royalties.

Well. The market’s changing, and the options are expanding every day as new publishers take over from the older trad pub options, and in-market options that used to matter are fading away (see next post).  

And trad pub (print first, old school big 5 or even some of the other smaller presses that follow that model) might find it harder and harder to compete.

Which isn’t great, especially for authors who don’t fit the current digital first models of high speed, high volume launches. And boy, do we have to discuss that.

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