Saturday, August 01, 2009

People is Publishing

I realize that I’ve sort of dropped out of this discussion, but running the agency and selling books demands much of my time, as it does Robert’s. Saturdays can be lighter for us, so I thought I’d try to get some thoughts out there while I can. We are continuing to explore this topic because we think this is an important discussion, which is why we’ve made time for it. So far, it appears to have gotten some ideas out there, and we are glad of that, especially if at any point it somehow makes a difference.

There are so many points to cover that I’m sure I’ll miss some of them. This is a complex issue and only parts of it can really be addressed adequately in the short amount of space we can allot at any given time. I suggest that anyone interested in the subject continue to read a variety of sources online and in print to keep up with the changes in publishing that will affect not only readers, but writers and other members of society as well. As we go through this, please keep in mind that “people is publishing and publishing is people.” It all comes down to that, to the human aspect, and this is the fundamental reason why there is no one perfect publishing model that suits everyone.

If this discussion has shown one thing, it’s that there are different perspectives on the future of publishing that are somewhat filtered through each poster’s wants, needs, and background. I know my experiences as an agent/writer color how I perceive Scott’s concept. I’ve published in both print and electronic formats in about 3-4 different areas, and basically feel writing for publication is very much about convincing someone or some entity to invest in a product—your story—which is why you target what you write to publishers who handle that type of project. What most writers, especially new ones, object to is that “getting in” seems like a random and completely arbitrary process controlled by inaccessible people making decisions about your work based on who knows what. Even with Scott’s plan, though, there’s still that element there, although they would be ad execs and marketing people. You might be trading one perceived set of bozos for another perceived set of bozos, but in all of it, some set of perceived bozos has a hand in the writer’s destiny. That is not going to change. If a writer doesn’t like that, there actually ways to get around it that are available now. Scott’s idea will open another venue for writers who have a certain skillset and predilection for a certain type of writing, but that person’s work will still have to be approved by someone. I see it as another venue, but not the only one. Society is too diverse for only one model to meet all its needs.

For any change to work, as Robert mentioned, you have to get current popular writers to buy into it, and so you’re asking people who’ve been successful in one type of system to give it up to perpetuate a new paradigm that might not work in their favor, and, until proven, may not be good for the reader. That’s asking A LOT in any industry. One of the basic drives in humans is self-preservation, which is why even someone who does nothing but complain about his job will fight like a cornered Chihuahua if there’s a chance that job will be taken away. Self-preservation says that swapping the known and successful for the unknown and possibly disastrous is not a good idea unless someone has a really, really good reason. Unfortunately, for most humans, the greater noble cause, as history has proven, is not good reason enough. And even for those writers who care about readers, why would they switch if the new plan isn’t proven to help their audience yet? No one takes a pill without it having been through years of study, so why would publishing, which does reflect our culture, be any different?

That being said, as I mentioned before, I think Scott’s idea can work, but I don’t think it will take over publishing completely. E-books, at some point, will have a larger share of the market and perhaps reach 75% of it over a course of years. I agree with Robert in that respect, but I am more apt to encourage those who want to try new things to do so more quickly. The sooner we get started trying different ideas, the more quickly we get to the ideas that have the best chance of actually being sustainable. You have to be prepared for a lot of failures, though. History doesn't remember them, but for every incredible, mind-blowing success, there were dozens of failed ideas that made the way for its rise to greatness.

I believe the rise of e-books will take this long because of simple numbers. Different types of readers will migrate toward what is comfortable for them, and this is generational. As long as there’s a demographic out there made up of readers who want print books, there’s going to be some publisher who wants to make a buck exploiting that market. That’s just good business, ala P.T. Barnum. Unless there’s a strain of flu that wipes out my generation and a couple or so before it, those readers are going to be around for a long time. I think my generation is a bridge in that some will demand print, others will demand electronic, and others, like me, function well with both. These generations also have very definite feelings about advertising. Older generations tend to hate and not trust it; newer generations are so used to it that it’s more white noise than anything, and others, again like me, have a love/hate relationship with it. For example, I just bought a pair of shoes I saw advertised in a magazine, the kind I really had been looking for. However, if a commercial comes on during my TV program, I start flipping channels until the barrage of ads is over and I can return to my show.

This is why I think there will continue to be different publishing models flourishing in the future, much like now but each with a larger share of the market except traditional publishing, which will have much less of a share than it has now unless it responds adequately to the changes in reader needs.

Technology, as it has done, continues to move us forward and the industry is slowly changing (NOTHING happens quickly in publishing). We have been and are on the path forward, and what Scott is doing is what many people are currently trying to do—innovate. Many publishing innovators will fail. Some will succeed. At least they’re trying to do something. Scott is putting his time and energy where his mouth is; he’s not just offering a suggestion, he’s putting it out there and DOING it. It might fail miserably, but he’s taking that risk. If it fails, then that’s one publishing innovation to mark off the list, so that in itself is a success. I respect that, as does Robert, because, believe me, starting a literary agency in Kokomo, Indiana, has been nothing but a risk. We are an anomaly, and one that statistically shouldn't exist. I don't think there are any other agencies out there like us, at least not still in business. We constantly strive to innovate by the books we take on. Yes, there is the commercial aspect of it that sustains the business. However, we can sneak in books that challenge current norms, whether mainstream publishing is quite ready for them or not, and nurture those careers because we have that luxury, due to our location. This is how we can work within the current paradigm but also be open to other ideas. Do all these efforts result in publication? No, but some do, and we are upfront with the authors about their chances. It's a risk we take together, and every time this happens, every time the magic works, we're all the better for it.

I think I should mention something here: Robert is the “nice” one in the family. Writers get waaaaay more sympathy from him than from me. He’s the one who really got me firmly entrenched in technology with his love for computers and music-related gadgets (he got his IPod first), he comes from an entertainment family, and he worked in advertising as a young man. He loves to innovate and try new adventures, and I love him for it. Needless to say, it’s been strange to see others perceive him as an inflexible technophobe reluctant to change. He’s playing devil’s advocate and voicing his opinion as someone who’s worked in the field for over a decade. He's simply reserving judgment until the method can prove itself viable. If anything, he represents exactly what anyone with a new idea in any business is going to face and should face. Just because an old way is flawed doesn’t mean you jump on the bandwagon to crush it and see what arises from its destruction without first giving some thought to all the possible outcomes, at least not unless you really don’t care if the new system is successful or not. Do I look forward to the changes? Yes, whole-heartedly, mainly because I don’t think the current model works for all readers. Do I think Scott’s is going to be the only change if it works? I doubt it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value and can’t make a difference.

I think e-books with ads could definitely have their own place in the market, just like manga and graphic novels, but I think they would appeal to a certain demographic. I could see some writers really getting into the challenge of producing a book with parameters set by advertisers just for the fun and challenge of it. As an agent, though, I have to be aware of my clients’ goals, as is Robert. If they don’t include experimenting with different types of writing, then we focus on the goals at hand. I can advise my clients as to the latest advances in publishing, but Scott’s idea isn’t a latest advance yet. It’s still in prototype mode and not quite viable yet. He’s not the only one trying something new. There are exciting changes going on all around us. This is, oddly, a great time in publishing, even though it’s also a tough time for many writers, agents, editors, and publishers. As opportunities arise, we advise our clients of their viability and our ability to assist them in the development of such endeavors.

I can see some writer who loves extreme sports creating stories about extreme sports for those readers into that lifestyle, and those e-books with ads being offered by some sport shops. The readers would welcome the ads and the new reading material because it would serve two purposes: offering them exposure to new products of interest and offering them a reading experience geared toward their interests. The YA market would be especially open to this, given many kids download music and read online. It’s natural to them, but I don’t think that this would be the only way they’d get their reading material. Scott’s example of a cruise ship partnership hit home because we love to cruise, and many people who do are returning cruisers, and if you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, you know there’s lots of young and old readers (most cruise ships have print libraries). Could this be modified into Scott’s model? Probably.

So what happens next? Let’s go back to the extreme sports example. Who do you think advertisers are going to want to write these books? You or Shaun White? Who will get more downloads? You or Shaun White? You might get hired to write the book, but whose name will appear on it in an effort to get the ads out to more consumers? So what has changed?

Something else to consider: Consumers know they can download a good book in their area of interest with ads that might be of use to them, probably written by Shaun White, so maybe now they want the sports shop to have a reading area, just like a bookstore or library, where a bunch of people can hang out, read free e-books, and drink over-priced beverages filled with legal stimulants. Now you have to convince brick and mortar shops, places where people converge, to change the way they do business by dedicating space and personnel to the reading area. I can hear it now…

“What? Dude? No, wait. Dude! Duuuuuude. Ah, dude.”

So this goes back to my original point that changes in publishing will have far reaching effects. It’s up to people to decide why and how they want to participate in the coming changes. Responding to change isn't easy, but one thing is certain...it's worth it.--Sharene

Caution: No Mud,

This will be a very short post (pause while waiting for the cheering to subside). Sharene will be posting here in a bit, but we wanted to post this to address some of the comments we’ve been receiving that are off topic and very unpleasant. This is more of a cautionary post than informational and is addressed to those whose comments are beyond the realm of the discussion at hand—that between Scott and me. It’s fine if you disagree. In fact, we welcome disagreement. Because this is a discussion from two opposing views, we expect that and we also expect some of the comments to be heated; that’s what makes a good forum. However, what we don’t like is personal mud-slinging and name-calling. Most of those who comment here are highly engaged in the discussion at hand; however, there are some who come here for other purposes. We believe that all sides of every issue should be explored, and this is why it’s always been our policy to post almost every comment we receive. If those who wish to comment here want to see us continue that policy, then please limit your remarks to the discussion. If we receive any more of the viciousness that we have been receiving, we will cease to have these discussions and will begin deleting those who choose to use our blog to throw out insults.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ad-Based Publishing--The Debate Goes On

Below is Scott’s reply to Robert, with Robert’s reply to Scott’s reply to his reply just after each point of contention or agreement. We apologize for the length, but everyone seems to prefer it posted this way. Sharene was going to contribute her input as well, but that will have to wait because she’s doing agency business as we speak. Plus, it would have enlarged this post even more and it’s already very, very long. Plus, she’s a girl.

Here we go…

Scott: There will still be printed books in the future. After all, you can still buy LPs and even have current hits put onto LPs. You can also buy buggy whips. However, once ebooks come into their own, having a printed version of an ebook will be viewed as a luxury and an oddity. It is all about economics. If there isn't enough demand, there won't be a supply. Additionally, some books will only come out in ebook format and the author and their agent won't even bother considering coming out with a printed version.

Robert: Scott and I agree on many things and we agree about e-books possibly coming into their own. In fact, I wrote a blog post about print publishing possibly being replaced by internet content of which e-books are a part, although I didn’t specifically mention them . Pundits have been predicting that e-publishing was going to replace conventional print publishing ever since there’s been an internet but so far it hasn’t happened. As an agent, I have to think about today and what’s happening right now. My clients expect that of me. They won’t sit around waiting for e-books to start paying enough in advances against royalties to make them worth considering. They like to being paid an advance against royalties and not many e-publishers do that, so until they do, most of my clients would rather stick with conventional print publishers.

Scott: As for Amazon stubbing their toe with ebooks, I've covered this before in Part Two.

Robert: I was referring to Jeff Bezos stubbing his toe when he chose to remove books that readers had paid for, then taking from their Kindle readers without notifying them he was going to do so. See: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/07/23/bezos-apologizes-for.html

Scott: As for major publishers surviving by somehow buying the electronic rights to ebooks, what? Ebook writers will be giving their ebooks away for free to get larger download numbers.

Robert: I agree that free sounds good. But disagree that free will always win the day. Many people have been burned by freebies, so they are liable to distrust things that are given away free. Behind FREE they perceive a gimmick. For example, nine out of ten computer users bitch about Microsoft’s operating system and have been complaining to high heaven since MS DOS (most of you probably don’t remember that). But there is a solution. It’s a completely free operating system called Ubuntu produced by Linux, see: http://www.linux.org/. The Linux operating system has been around for some time and because it’s FREE you’d think one would be on everyone’s machine. But not even 1% have changed over. Where Microsoft is a buggy, expensive and closed proprietary software system, meaning it’s copyrighted and users are blocked from decompiling the software and revising it, Ubuntu is open, meaning it’s not copyrighted and open to anyone who wants to improve it. However, Microsoft is still king. Why is that? I believe it's because free stuff makes people nervous. It’s perceived there’s something wrong with it, there’s some hidden charge or, in the case of free software, it's going to harm their machine. Isn't it human nature for folks to think that expensive is good and free is cheap crap. "If it's so good, then why are they be giving it away?" So the first thing that has to happen, in my opinion, for the free e-book system to work consistently is to somehow change the perception of FREE. There’s even a saying that you get what you pay for. By the way, giving away ebooks free isn’t a new idea, but there’s always been some gimmick tied to them. See: http://publishingtransformed.blogspot.com/2009/06/giving-it-away-when-free-e-book.

Scott: As for people being sick of advertising, like it or not, it is just part of life. It has been part of life of magazines for centuries. Been part of life on radio and TV for decades. Now if you want to talk about what people are really sick of, let us talk about the ever-increasing retail sticker prices of printed books.

Robert: I agree that books are expensive and the most expensive are hardcover books. We are by far the richest country in the world. Avid readers with money still buy hardcover books because they don't want ads in their reading material. I say this because of what's happened in television quite a while ago and more recently in radio. People who don't mind advertising view commercial television, which because must of it is hooked to cables is no longer free. The same with radio--commercials for some, but a vast number of listeners have switched to satellite radio, especially in their cars. I also envision packagers taking care the labor intensive parts of publishing in the near future and I see these packagers being based in India and China. If this vision is true, then packagers will hire writers and pay them on a work for hire basis. So we reach the first point of contention—will writers be willing to give up fat advances for work for hire contracts?

Scott: As for why ad agencies haven't done this already, you have to understand about the world of advertising. In the world of publishing, an average book sells 12,000 copies. That's just too small peanuts for most advertisers to consider. And unlike magazines, there's no certainty that average will be reached by a book. On top of this, inserting a full-color print ad into a printed book is expensive. However...

Robert: I disagree. I understand quite a bit about marketing books as I have to help my clients do that. I also understand that marketing departments run large publishing houses, from the CEOs, on down. So when you speak about the world of publishing, you've stepped into my world. In this world, you have to include Random House, Penguin Putnam, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins and Hachette (formally Warner). This is big publishing. When we speak of publishing in general, we are talking about 300,000 PRINTED titles produced a year—no small potatoes here when looking at some single titles that sell over a million copies their first print run. Most mega bookstores stock 80,000 titles on their shelves. As a side note, part of the economic problems encountered by most publishers these days is because mega-bookstores strip shelves every three months of books that didn’t sell and return them to publishers for a 100% refund. Bookstores increase their bottom line at publisher’s expense—not a good system. Just thought I’d throw that tidbit in. The problem as I see it that most publishers don’t see e-books as a threat. They don't see them producing the kinds of numbers mentioned above, that of millions of downloads--not in the near future at least. Maybe in twenty years or so. Ad agencies are well aware of these numbers. These numbers and the huge profits generated by publishing came to the notice of those European corporations who acquired publishers in the 1980s so you have to know that ad agencies have been aware of these huge profits for years. Wouldn’t this be an advertiser’s dream come true? How come they haven’t been taken advantage of it ? If this hasn’t been done in the past, then there must be a reason. Point of contention two--why haven't ad agencies seen the profit potential of ad based books?

Scott: With ebooks, things change and become more attractive for advertisers. Giving away the ebook for free will greatly increase its download numbers. In fact, charging people for ebooks will reduce how many see an advertiser's ad. That happens and advertisers will pay you less for the ads in your book. It is then to your profit advantage to give away your book so your download numbers are as large as possible so advertisers will pay you as much as possible. This is not possible with printed books but totally possibly with ebooks.

Robert: Before this can happen, you’ve got to convince some superstar writers like Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Danielle Steele, etc., to start writing e-books that are going to be given away. When authors of this caliber are talked into doing this, publishers will see the threat and I’ll be convinced this will work. Until then, I don’t see enough of a draw to get the volume that will convince large advertisers this is going threaten their existance. Nothing said so far convinces me this will work—nothing yet. If I can’t be convinced, how can big companies be talked into puting advertising dollars into free ad-based books?

Scott: Secondly, putting in a full-color ad in a printed book is expensive. It isn't in an ebook. There is no printing cost with an ebook.

Robert: I agree that full color e-books might be something to consider. This was thought to be a great idea for children’s picture books because it would cut out the huge printing costs. However, the idea didn’t fly because parents, if they wanted a hard copy, still had to print them and the expense was just trickled down to them. So this idea never took off. As far as color ads, the same problem exists as to how to get readers to want free e-books in the first place. As stated in the paragraph above, the problem of getting quality authors to buy into this is where this whole theory falls apart. Solve that and this might have merit. Writers, writers who are good enough to demand good advances from standard print publishing houses, don’t have to resort to ad-based, free e-books to make a buck. They do okay the old fashioned way. Convince good authors first to give up their print publishing contracts in lieu of a possible work for hire one and you’ve made some headway. Or convince them that they aren’t going to get paid until you sell some advertising and then they might not get paid until you get enough of their books out there somewhere down the road so that advertisers will pay for content advertising. In the meantime, when you put content ads in books, the author has to be very careful as to how trademarked and brand names are used. Using them wrong can land the author in court. There are some very good hints online as to how to do this, but I have to say that use of brand names and trademarks are highly restrictive. Also, small publishers can get away with no advances because they aren’t getting top-notch authors. See what the RWA has to say about publishers who don’t pay at least a $1000 advance. Also check with the Author’s Guild on that too.

Scott: And why this hasn't been done yet is simply this is all still new. The internet is new. Less than twenty years old. We are still getting used to it. We are still experimenting with it. We have yet to tap its full potential. Ebooks is the newest wrinkle of the internet. Ebooks haven't even take its baby steps yet. Read up on the history of print and you'll see it took a VERY long time for print to become a success. Cut ebooks some slack.

Robert: As I’ve said before, e-books supposedly were going to put print publishers out of business ten years ago. It hasn’t happened and I don’t see it happening in the near future. Yes, the book replaced the scroll…eventually. But it didn’t happen overnight. Actually, when you get right down to it, books, because they're advertisement free are cheap. Yes the price would come down if ads where placed in them, but would readers rebel? By the way, books used to be much more expensive than they are now. I fact less than a hundred years ago, you couldn't afford a book unless you were rich. So things have improved, not gotten worse. There’s a great story as to how New American Library (NAL) came into existence and put books into the hands of average people.

Scott: As for editorial review, advertisers will not put their ads into just anything that comes along. They'll be selective. None ... not even Microsoft ... has an unlimited advertising budget. They have to pick and choose where they spend their ad dollars. If you're a writer (or an agent representing a writer), your sales pitch to advertisers or the ad firms representing them will be partly about how great of a writer you are (or represent). And advertising executives won't just take your word for it. They'll read the book (or have one of their underlings do so), they'll want to see what critics say about the writer, what other successful writers say about the writer (and/or the book in question), and so forth. It will be just as hard ... if not harder ... for a new writer to get sponsorship as it is today to be published. On the bright side, writers can seek smaller sponsors initially and build up to the Coca-Colas, Exxon, and such of the world.

Robert: My question is what exactly is in this for the new writer, whose biggest complaint is that he or she can’t get in because the system is stacked against new writers? Isn’t this proposed system supposed to let everyone in? What’s being advocated above seems to me to just be a swap of one set of gate-keepers for another. I don’t see the big switch here. Also, I see large overhead in hiring acquisition editors, copy editors and a publisher to get the publishing part accomplished. Someone has to filter stuff that's going to turn those readers off who might tolerate ads in their books, even if they are free. I see the cost of this being a barrier to free e-books, so this is another problem area, as I see it anyway.

Just because you go to an e-book format doesn’t mean that you do away with publishers. The only difference between a print and e-book one is paper and binding. There’s still a cover artist involved. The books are set up so e-readers can read them and very expensive software is involved in the whole process. One big savings is that you do cut out distribution costs if books are given away, but there has to be some sort of storage and downloading capability no matter which way the author goes—another cost. So publishing wouldn’t be dead, it would just be transformed, so to speak. Whether you put ads in books and give them away, books still have to be published.

Scott: As for the "large" area that you (Robert) disagree with me being about the future role of agents, I don't have a clue what you're disagreeing with. I've read that paragraph over a few times and still don't see it.

Robert: You’re right, Scott. I did kind of go off on a wild tangent after I said that there was a large area of disagreement as to the future role of agents. What I was trying to express is that the role we now have is actually new and not the role literary agents originally played, which was being contract experts and going head to head with lawyers that publishers hired to write very complex contracts. I love contracts and I love negotiating them, but I also love books. I’m in awe of authors—the real ones—the ones who write books that are marketable. They are my heroes. So if books aren’t in the mix in the new agent’s role, I will no longer be a literary agent. I’m not interested in anything that doesn’t involve books and authors. I don’t want to interest ad companies to invest in putting their ads in books. I don’t like advertising and have no desire to be retrained to do this. I doubt that any agents would be interested in this new world. One big drawback that I see is that large literary agencies make large amounts of money. For instance, Stephenie Meyer’s agent made tons of money in the last few years. Could she, Stephenie’s agent, be convinced that your idea would pay her as much?

I also wouldn’t want to be part of trying to convince good authors that they should morph into ad-generated or work for hire instead of royalty-based paychecks. I’m a pretty good salesman, but I’m not that good. For another, I have to believe in the product that I’m selling before I can convince others to buy it, and, as you can see, I don’t believe strongly enough in this theory to buy into it, but I’m still open to being convinced. 

Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Perspective on Ad-based Publishing

Well, well, well…I leave for a second and what happens? Chaos! And I didn’t even get to start it. Hmmph. Someone owes me a banana split or butterscotch sundae (raises eyebrow at spouse).

Seriously, for those readers twisting and turning about the whole ad-based, print-is/isn’t-dying, why-did-you-post-it-this-way-instead-of-that-way discussion, please do keep in mind the key word “discussion.” That’s what we do at the agency, at conferences, with family, and pretty much everywhere. It’s the heart of why people are attracted to the Internet. Discourse, discovery, the sharing of thoughts and ideas, and also an easy way to get pictures of Russell Crowe. But I digress.

Even between agents at the same agency, you will find matters in which they agree and disagree. We here at WMLA often have lively conversations, some heated, about all things publishing-related. I believe I have mentioned the ongoing mainstream versus genre argument that we regularly engage in, the irony of it being that we fundamentally agree but somehow Robert is always wrong and I am always right. At the end of the day, though—and I mean this literally—everything ends up with snuggles (between me and Robert, not Scott). Yes, literary agents snuggle, at least we do. I know. Take a moment. Try to wipe the image from your mind and we’ll move forward.

Okay. This post is about where I agree and disagree with Robert and Scott, or my take on the whole ad-based publishing endeavor and the future of publishing in general. I should warn you that I’m a change junkie. Born that way and I don’t know why. Change is good. Change is normal. Change is the way of all things. For some reason, I never go into a situation without thinking about how it could be changed to be better in some way. Do I welcome the changes in publishing and in my profession in general? Oh, yes. I can't wait. I can't wait to see what the literary Phoenix looks like as it rises from the ashes. I think current publishing is irrevocably flawed and needs, at the least, freshened up a bit. How that plays out has yet to be seen, but promises to be very, very entertaining.

As you can guess, this hasn’t always worked in my favor in the publishing industry, but sometimes it’s put me ahead of everyone else. Such is the nature of things and how I operate. To that end, my views on the industry extend across the spectrum, because with change comes many unknown factors and change junkies are always aware of those tiny unknowns that can throw the whole course of your prediction(s) off.

My response includes not only my thoughts on Scott’s post, but some of the commenters as well. First, do I believe all books will become e-books? No, not all of them. I think there will always be a niche population who desire or need them, so I don’t think that we can say e-books will be the only type of reading material in the future. Earth’s population is too diverse for that, and we have to take into consideration human limits and human physiology. There will be some people who simply can’t use e-books, just as there are those who function better with them.

I think Scott’s idea of ad placement has potential, but I believe that it would only evolve as its own branch of publishing rather than being the only publishing paradigm. I think that is key. I don’t think there is going to be one publishing model, because that doesn’t work for everyone, and in reality, there isn’t just one publishing model now. Some are just more familiar than others. I agree with Robert that some people will just turn off completely if ads are introduced, but I also think there will be generations of readers who are so used to ads, due to Google and Facebook and such, that they won’t care. This actually works against Scott’s idea in a way, but in a way it doesn’t. I still pay attention to ads I see in magazines and on Facebook, if they aren’t ridiculous come-ons, so I think it will be a generational thing. I think different demographics will be attracted to reading material presented in a variety of ways. Again, this is actually true now, but no one is really doing anything about it because the old model is so absolute. That, I think, is going to change in the next decade. And that’s a GOOD thing.

Robert is absolutely right about corporations, which is what book publishers are. Some are greedy. Some feel they are bastions of culture. None are going to go down without a fight. No new technology is going to be accepted until it proves profitable or inevitable, and anyone who’s been making money in an industry is going to have to choose whether to cut losses or grab a stake in the future mula-making. The current war between open source versus proprietary is only going to heat up. For every entity that believes individuals should be able to create their own fun, there’s an entity that believes they can provide a better experience based on their expertise.

I have more to say, but this has rambled on too long. I invite any questions or comments and will, as time permits, add more of my thoughts on the demise of publishing. Happy reading!--Sharene

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.

Here's Part Three.

Now if I'm correct with all the above. What I believe will result is the death of ALL publishers. Every single one of them. There's no need for them. You can convert your e-book manuscript into an e-book-reader-ready/cellphone-ready format with little trouble and possibly with a mere click of a button. No printing needed. No forest need die for you to read your romance novel.

But I do NOT think this evolution of the written word will spell the death of agents. Agents will "simply" operate differently in the future. Today, agents pitch novels and non-fiction books to publishers. In the future, agents will pitch novels and non-fiction books to advertising firms and possibly directly to major advertisers. In the future, the most sought-after agents will be those with established relationships with major ad agencies, major advertisers, and countless minor ones.

So as publishers die off and leave the scene, they will be replaced with advertisers coming onto the book scene. Writers and agents will remain. The change is only in who pays them and the final introduction of ad pages in books ... as has been done for centuries with magazines.

This will not mean that if you get accepted by an agent that you're assured a fat check every month. Not at all. Just as they do today with publishers, your agent will still have to pitch your novel to ad firms. Convince them that your novel is the right one for their clients' products and/or services. And just like today, the hardest novelists to pitch will be the first-time novelists. Agents will have an easier time pitching established novelists since they can point to download numbers of their previous books.

Anyway, the above is what I think will be the future of writing. Publishing will be dead but writing will continue on and I believe be an even greater success than it has ever been in history.

Unfortunately, no agent is doing the above. Due to this, I think I'll have to be the one to do the pitching of my e-novel to advertisers. Someone has to blaze the first trail. Being a marketer myself, I'm probably the right one to do it. On the bright side, not having an agent will enable me to do barter deals with advertisers that agents might not be so interested in procuring since many barter deals don’t lend themselves easily to an agent’s cut.

Now I'm sure that if I succeed, all but the most resistant-to-change agents will follow suit and eventually I will be able to turn over the pitching of my novels to ad firms to one of them. :-) I’ll then do what I hope I do best and that’s work on my next novel, do mindless banter with talk show hosts about my current novel, and feed my ego by meeting fans at conventions. ;-)

Wish me luck!

Humbly yours,

Scott Jensen