Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ad-based Publishing---Agents Respond

I want to thank Scott Jensen for allowing me to post his ideas here for our discussion about the future of publishing. After letting others comment for a while, I would like to add my thoughts and perspective as well. I feel that, although there is some merit in these ideas, I can also see some very big holes.

For one thing, although I agree with Scott that publishing will change, I don’t ever envision the complete death of print publishing. Yes, the cost of printing using current methods is growing prohibitive, but I believe that technology can and will solve most of these problems. As stated before in other posts, I see the e-reader as a great invention, but I don't see it as a replacement for the book, however, I do see books themselves changing. For instance, paper is expensive; therefore, the print industry, to stay alive, will look for alternatives such as chargeable plastic paper in which print in introduced to the page much in the same manner as laser and ink-jet printers do; however, with this type of page, when the charge is removed or changed, the ink washes out, making the book rechargeable. So far, the cost-to-profit ratios haven’t reached that point yet, obviously. There’s much that’s done in publishing that’s not obvious to the layperson and this is one of many hundreds of innovations that are being explored.

The e-book reader works very well for those who transport large numbers of raw manuscripts in digital format. However, Amazon and some of the others are rapidly stubbing their toes in this area, making uploading of books in manuscript form more and more cumbersome as they seek to force readers to download works only from their stores. Then you have Amazon’s recent major boo-boo, which made it quite obvious to readers who actually controls their e-book purchases and how easily they can be removed. Readers like the independence that print books give them. They can buy them, sell them, trade them or do whatever they want with them. Not so with digital materials, where extra restrictions in the form of profit above everything else has always been the case. So I don’t see much of a future for the e-book reader, especially since the mini-laptop is comparatively priced and can do so much more (if you ask Sharene about hers, she’ll tell you this in no uncertain terms lol).

Also, major publishers are not going to sit on their hands and watch their industry morph into nothingness. In case e-books actually make a mark in the next few years, major publishers have been buying electronic rights along with other profitable rights, and, as digital readers and the mini-laptop have become more popular, they have been reprinting and publishing e-books for them. Also, in the same way that majors have bought smaller print publishing houses in the past, as smaller electronic publishers become more profitable, they will continue to be purchased by the majors.

I disagree with Scott in that I don’t see a switch from publishing as we currently know it to an advertising based e-publishing nirvana. For one thing, people are sick of advertisements of all kinds. We have had ads poked at us through every tricky way imaginable over the years, so I don’t look for readers to take kindly to anyone who tries to put ads in their serious reading material. If that’s tried, there might actually be a real death of not only publishing, but reading in general. Another thing is that as resourceful as ad agencies are, if there were any merit in this it would have already happened. For some reason, books have been left alone and probably for good reason.

There’s a system in place in publishing called editorial review. Some people call it filtering or gate-keeping, but it does actually work as it tends to protects readers from being deluged with sludge. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to have to read some of what’s self-published, you begin to see what a reader would have to plow through to find something readable. The sad reality is that not everyone can write at a level that’s interesting or in many cases even readable. Of course, in a free country such as ours, everyone has the right to write whatever they wish. Not everyone, however, should be tricked into buying everything that’s written.

I'm sure Scott will agree that at the present time everyone does have the opportunity to write whatever they wish and have it instantly published. This wonderful invention is the blog post. Blogs have been around for a number of years and some are doing very well even though others languish. Some are brilliantly written while others are not so. Some even have advertisements in them, so I don’t see anything different in what Scott is proposing as opposed to what’s already here and readily available to anyone who has access to the Internet.

One large area that I find disagreement with is Scott's view of the future role for literary agents.
Our role expanded because print publishers ceased wanting to mine their slush piles and I don't see that role diminishing in a future world where half the population believes that the quickest way to fame and fortune is to write something and get it published. Every year the number of query letters have increased to a level that's become unmanageable without hiring a large staff. Agents work on commission and thus derive no compensation for reading query letters. So this task is relegated to an after work activity. Many agents have, in the past, handled this chore as a training ground for new agents. What better way to find out if a person can handle utter boredom than subjecting them to mining mind-numbing ramblings? These days, however, most agents have taken a clue from publishers and are limiting unsolicited queries or manuscripts, having found, as publishers before them, that there’s not much in slush piles that’s worth the effort (of course, there are exceptions to every rule so please no comments mentioning all the books that went on to glory after being pulled from the slush).

Suffice it to say, our role is changing as I type this and will continue to change. The only constant in publishing, and in life, is change, which is why it makes such a darn fine catalyst for novels. As we continue to watch publishing morph and evolve, please understand that these are actually exciting times. Instead of being fearful and holding on the old ways, those who try to adapt, at the very least, will learn a great deal and quite possibly may become part of a new and much improved reading paradigm.

We find this whole phenomenon fascinating, so if you have something to say on this subject, please share.


Lisa said...

I've linked this post in the WoF newsletter:

Please let me know if it's a problem, and I'll be happy to remove it.

-- Lisa

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Hi Lisa,

Not a problem. I've also linked back to you. Please let me know if that's okay?

Anonymous said...

Unbelieveable! What a horrible slap in the face to Scott. If you had any decency at all, you would delete this post and, if Scott has read it, privately apologize to him for it. From what you said before posting his posts, you asked him if you could make them posts instead of comments. Why?! So you could come back later and attack them?!

I'm sure you didn't pay him for his posts. Did you? No, I'm sure you didn't. So he let you break them up and then SLOWLY post them over WEEKS. But then when it came to your attack post against them, you posted it right after posting his third post. Unbelievable! More so as now Part I isn't even on your blog's front page so people will have a hard time finding what you're attacking.

And here Scott was nice enough to come back again and again to answer our questions. I wouldn't blame him if he doesn't answer mine that I just posted for Part III.

And not ONCE did you say anything you agreed with Scott about! You just set him up for your egotistical attacking! Oh, and he's is the one that a marketer! Not you! He should know what ad firms might be up for. Not you! Get off your high horse! Delete this post and apologize!


Anonymous said...

This is how you treat your guest bloggers?

If you so strongly disagreed with Scott Jensen's ideas, why did you let him do a guest blog? You obviously had read his guest blog before posting it so it isn't as if you were unaware of what it would be. By you allowing him to guest blog, it is commonly understood that you agree with what he says for the most part and are simply wanting your readership to benefit from his thoughts and hear them in his own words.

Due to your treatment of Scott Jensen, I caution anyone from doing a guest blog for you without see exactly how you're going to follow up their guest blog with your own. I cannot imagine Scott Jensen would have let you publish his thoughts if he knew you were going to object to all of them.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Dear Anonymous #1 and #2,

Where did you ever get the idea that this post was a slam? Scott is fully aware that I don't agree with him 100%. The reason he is a Guest Blogger IS because his theory is interesting and an issue that we thought might be interesting to those who read this blog and who are curious about the future of publishing. Differing opinion is what editorial commentary is all about and that's what this is--editorial commentary. We like to post different ideas, even ones that may conflict with our own experiences, because we feel they have value, as Scott's does. If he wants to write something back, he will, and we'll post it. That's called "discussion" and is how people develop and explore ideas. We're discussing here and enjoying the differing viewpoints, because we feel that's how ideas are given life--not just by posting one side of the issue. That's why we post dissenting comments and always have. Not too many agency blogs do that, do they? Just because I don't agree with all of Scott's theory doesn't mean it isn't fascinating; it is or I wouldn't have asked him for permission to post it.

As for how it got posted, that had nothing to do with anything except time constraints and allowing people to digest ideas in chunks. End of story. If you have other suggestions that are relevant to the post or issue at hand, feel free to throw them out there.

Anonymous said...

And here I thought you were going to announce that you're representing Mr. Jensen's novel to see just how viable his ideas are. Instead you come across as a defender of the old regime. Will wonders never cease?

And you allude to two anonymous posters here. I only see one above.

Anonymous said...

How about editing your post and first telling what you agree with Scott on and THEN what you disagree with him on. It comes across excessively argumentative. You do start off saying you see "merit" in his idea but don't elaborate on that. Start off with that. That elaboration might make you look less like an old guard objecting to the changing of the guard.

Anonymous said...

Robert and Sharene,

What does Scott say that you think is on the mark?

Anonymous said...

Where is the other Anonymous poster's post? You said at the top of your reply:

"Dear Anonymous #1 and #2"

There's just one post by an anonymous person.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I think there will always be a demand for books in print. Also it's still a while before ebooks take off. I really think once a ebook player comes out that is under $100 and easy to use, ebooks will soar. NY knows this too and has been doing like you mentioned, getting ebook rights for their books. One editor that visited at a SCBWI Editor's event mentioned this with her commerical publisher.

I like to read all POVs on this subject.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

As stated in the post ahead of this: First of all, if you're going to post anonymously, please identify yourself as someone beyond Anonymous because we can't tell the difference between posts attributed as such and referring to Anonymous #1 and #2 is apparently offensive to some.

Yes, we are defenders of the old regime and will be until the new-- if there is a new--regime emerges.

Anonymous something or other # whatever: Unfortunately, or fortunately depending, most debate is argumentative and therefore it's called debate. Otherwise, it wouldn't be mentioned because it would be in agreement or would be referred to as simply, "I agree."
The only thing I can suggest is that you also write something that might be counter to what we've written and then you would be involved in a fruitful discussion regarding the future of publishing as opposed to a discussion of blogger dynamics.

Another Anonymous that I've lost count of at this point but may be able to figure out by this answer that I'm addressing him or her:

I tried to go through Scott's last post and address that. We might later go through each point and address those, depending on what response we receive on what's been responded to thus far.

To the last anonymous poster: There were so many anonoymi that we tried to number them but apparently that didn't work. Our apologies to those who couldn't figure it out as we couldn't either.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

To kbaccellia,

There must have been some tough kids in the neighborhood were you grew up--just saying.

Bruce said...

After reading all of this I am stunned that someone would actually state that print will never go away and yet in the next sentence accepts the fact that print cost is getting prohibitive. What is a fact is that history has shown since the dawn of time that man will invent another way, a better way of doing it no matter what it may be.

I am a business consultant and new technology comes forward each and every day to resolve problems and make things much more cost effective over time. As we have seen cell phones use to be a suitcase and cost over $1000.00, now they fit in your pocket and most service providers give them away for free. Computers use to take up an entire room, now they slide right into your carry on bag. Yes, many different devices have come about to allow a person to read books by downloading them and currently we are speaking about the e-book.

The issue you speak about print never dieing is like telling me Vinyl albums will never die. Guess what, Vinyl is dead and now a collectors item, no longer in print. Soon to follow is the CD since music is downloadable now to your iPod. I guess the music industry never thought the invention of the iPod would completely change the music industry, right?

Seriously, let’s look at the music industry for a minute. Here is an industry that made Billions every year selling CDs, and before that is was cassettes, before that it was 8 tracks, and before that is was vinyl albums. So I guess proof is in the pudding, a little device called the iPod literally crushed the Music industry. So what did the Music Industry leaders do? They changed the way they do business, and adapted to the new technology and moved forward.

Another industry that has used technology to advance its profits, then lose it all to another new technology, The Porn Industry. Well its an industry that went from 8mm, to Beta, to VHS, to CDs, then DVDs, now Blue ray. Too bad the reign of bog porn companies is over and the little guy is taking over. Yes for once the small business is taking down major corporations all because of the internet. The internet is not so new but the use of a delivery system on the internet has changed the porn industry forever.

The porn industry as a major corporation has lost to mom and pop because they have learned the key point, give it away. Yes give it away and make it up somewhere else. Just like the cell phone companies give away the phone and make up on the service contract. So you can go to multiple porn websites and view porn for free, verses buying a DVD for $19.95 from a porn store. This simple little maneuver has literally brought billion dollar corporations to there knees all because of a simple change in technology.

As for print will never die, well look at all those magazine companies losing massive profits, along with newspaper companies asking for a bailout from the US Government. Come on man look around print is slowly slipping away.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I can't imagine a world w/out books. It makes complete sense to meet that publishing companies will fight back.

Perhaps there will be a day when everything is digital...but I don't see it happening for a long time.

Tracy said...

I think there is a lot of over-reacting on both sides.

WM, I can see where readers viewed your response to Scott Jensen's posts as overly oppositional. I don't think it would hurt your integrity to insert a little paragraph into your post telling where you found merit in his ideas. You said you did so be more explicit. It would help soften your response to his posts.

To all the anonymous posters, first, click on "Name/URL" and create a name. You do NOT have to great a Google Account to give yourself a name. I agree with WM that all you being anonymous is very confusing.

Second, if WM was violently opposed to what Scott Jensen wrote, why do you think they then allowed him to be a guest blogger? Think about that a second. It surely wasn't to set him up so they could rip him down. That's ridiculous.

Third, I have been reading this blog of a long time and have read many comments by Scott Jensen here. And this isn't even the first time he's been a guest blogger here. He wrote up a wonderful guest blog telling us authors how to get publicity on the radio. WM, I recommend you give people a link to that guest blog so they can see it. Thus having been a long reader of Scott's comments and guest blogs here, I do not think we need to rush to Scott's defense. I am absolutely positive that he can more than speak for himself and I look forward to him doing that.

Anonymous said...

Uh, yeah, I did grow up in a tough neighborhood. Inner city as a matter of fact. I also taught in an inner city outside of LA for eight years.

No, seriously, though, most teens I've spoken to don't like the whole idea of reading books on computers or ebook players. Nada. They all claim they love to hold a book in their hands. Must be the whole tacile thing. Who knows?

My husband is a computer programmar and says that right now some places are working on getting a more reasonable priced ebook player out there.

Me? I love the whole premise of the ebook player and how you can download hundreds of books on the player. Also the whole green factor is a plus.

I still think there will be a demand for books in print. But the future is coming and I know some people will be kicking and fighting against it. But to say the future will only have room for ebooks, is not true either.

Just my two cents worth.

Jim said...

I agree with Bruce. His was a well thought out opinion and should have ended the discussion...

Hatchet Man said...

People whine about ads in books?! Are you kidding me? Have you seen how much books cost today?! Anything that will reduce that will be welcomed. Anything that would make books free will be praised!

And where will Scott be making his reply to you? In a comment here or in a blog post?

Scott Jensen said...

To my defenders,

There's no need to come to my defense. I'm not under attack. Robert didn't set me up to back stab me. We have privately exchanged emails about these ideas before. And if you think he's being harsh on me, please re-read his post again. We merely disagree on a few points.

I'll reply to Robert separately as I think my reply might be a "bit" long. :-)

The Underground said...

You're an odd duck, Robert. At times you seem to embrace change and at other times you want to tie it to a stake and burn it. Have you seen a shrink about the likelihood of having a split personality?

And I'll go ahead and ask what I'm sure most people are thinking. Why isn't your agency representing Scott?

Then again, have you seen what he can write and found it to be horrible? Good as a guest blogger but that's about it?

As says the greatest publication ever ... Inquiring minds want to know.

Impressed said...

Scott, a friend of mine who is a fellow author rang me up and told me to check out your posts. I am happy she did. Marvelous posts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and good luck with your novel.

Impressed said...

Robert, I think you would do a lot better if you listen to Scott more than oppose him. No, I'm not one of those that think you are against him, but I do think you should try to more understand his points. To ask him questions more than to raise objections. I agree with another poster that said he had a brilliant mind. Treat his mind like a mine and mine it. If you were to do this, I sincerely believe we would all benefit from you doing so.

And thank you, Robert and Sharene, for presenting Scott's thoughts in your blog. I am printing them off and, in the fall, my writing classes are going to go over them with a fine tooth comb.

Tracy said...

UGH! Where's Scott's reply? Has he submitted it yet? If he hasn't, Robert, prod him a bit. He said he'd answer one of my questions that I asked in the comment section of Part 3 in it and I'd like to see his answer.

You would think he would be a bit more prompt with his replies given the hundreds of thousands of dollars you're paying him to be a guest blogger.