For publishers, the times are a-changin’
March 20, 2013 § 3 Comments
Unless you’ve been living at your desk, so completely immersed in your writing that you’ve not tuned into book news in several months, you’ve probably heard of Hugh Howey and his novel, Wool. You may have also heard that he self-published the book electronically as a serial, and made a great deal of money doing so before finally selling the print rights to Simon & Schuster—after turning down seven-figure deals from other publishers because he was already doing better on his own.
Howey’s story is one the one everybody points to when they talk about the new publishing paradigm that’s currently taking shape. Over at Wired, Evan Hughes published a fascinating look at how publishers are reacting to authors like Howey and the growing sales of e-books. SPOILER: They aren’t reacting well:
Still, it’s not clear that traditional publishers are well positioned to own the digital future. They are saddled with the costs of getting dead trees to customers—paper, printing, binding, warehousing, and shipping—and they cannot simply jettison those costs, because that system accounts for roughly 80 percent of their business. Ebooks continue to gain ground, but the healthiness of the profit margins is unclear.
My dream has always been to publish a paper book with a well-known house for a huge advance. But after seeing Howey’s numbers (as quoted by Hughes), perhaps my dream is outdated. I’m starting to wonder if the Dickensian serial model has found new life in the e-book world; Dickens and other writers of that time often published their novels piece by piece in the newspaper before they were published as bound books.
In the classic film Ghostbusters, Egon states categorically, “Print is dead.” And that was in 1984. Was he ahead of his time? Is print dying? I look at the success of Wool, and I have to wonder.