Friday, July 13, 2012

Is the publishing model broken?

Writer Abroad has been pondering something ever since the Zurich Writers Workshop in May, when an author discussed how, until he made back his advance, his royalties were 5%.

Because as an Associate, just by posting a link to a book on a blog, you can also make 5% if someone buys it.

But if an author, who works for at least a year (or sometimes many years) on a book, makes the same amount as someone does from posting a link to the same book in about five minutes, obviously, the publishing model is broken.
Is traditional publishing a dying business?

But if the traditional publishing model sucks, why are authors still going there?

Is it for the prestige? Is a writer who is published by a big publishing house still somehow more of a writer than one who self-publishes?

Writer Abroad thinks it comes down to another classic art versus science debate. Those who see writing as an art go traditional (or at least try to). Those who see it as a science–as a business–are more likely to go directly to self-publishing.

One of her main points is that publishers aren’t adding much value beyond the prestige. And if your blog is the way you are going to market your book, what value is the publisher adding? After all, it’s not like publishers offer marketing budgets anymore, except maybe for books by celebrities, who don’t need marketing budgets anyway since they are rich.

Others, like Digital Book World, question Penelope Trunk's story. But ultimately, the lesson is that publishers must be able to satisfy their authors. Otherwise, they will be in danger. Or more likely, endangered.

What do you think? Is the publishing model broken? Is self-publishing something you would consider? If you’ve been published, how did you decide which route to go?


  1. INteresting debate. I agree that you go "traditional" if you want the kudos of "being published" these days. Even when I was published, unless you were a big time author, the traditional publishing houses did very little after the book was out. Having said that, they do everything beforehand and you don't shell out a penny - editing, top quality book cover etc., but you don't get much of a say in that so if you're a bit of a control freak, you'd hate that. Apart from not really earning much in the way of royalties, the only other benefit I can think of is that you get some reviews just because your publishing house puts out a press release that actually gets read by a few people. With self-publishing you're not guaranteed of that.
    Self-publishing is definitely getting more and more popular but it is a lot of work and there are a lot of mistakes to be made, like poor editing, and amateur looking book jackets. Some publishing companies are now offering a sort of hybrid deal whereby they will take care of the production, for a fee, and then you get a much bigger cut of the profits at the other end. I see this becoming more popular for people who have the start-up money.

    1. The traditional scholarly publication model is a cycle involving researchers, publishers, peer reviewers, editors, and libraries. First, the researchers conduct research writing and dissertation writing then report this research by submitting manuscripts to publishers

  2. Hi Expat Mum,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree that many self-published books catch my eye–because their covers are so bad! I think to do the self-publishing the right way does require a lot of up-front cash. So in that sense, traditional publishing perhaps saves you money, at least at the start.

  3. I've been thinking quite a bit lately about whether traditional publishing is broken. I'm a huge fan of indie publishing/self-publishing, in principle at least. I think it's an absolutely necessary counterweight to the the Big Six.

    But I think most authors underestimate how hard it's going to be to produce a really good book, and don't realize that there is going to be an element of financial risk. It really comes down to whether an author has an entrepreneurial spirit and can tackle publishing, which is not the same as writing. You will be coordinating the project of producing the book *and* the project of selling it. That's after spending your life's blood just writing the damn thing.

    I was thrilled to read Jessica Park's post on Indie Reader about her move from traditional to self-publishing. ( Then I downloaded a sample. Yikes! Bad, bad, bad writing. Really bad.

    This is one of the biggest problems I see with self-publishing: Far too many authors are simply not willing (or perhaps not able) to pay for the services they desperately need. Please believe me when I say that no matter how good you think your manuscript is, it still needs to be edited. And I don't just mean copy edited and proofread. I mean edited, as in having a professional editor work with you on structure and story and all of the elements of craft. Being edited is not some kind of admission of weakness. It's part of the process of producing a book.

    But all this editing is expensive. And so are the esoteric skills of cover and book design. Some indie authors seem unaware that DYI design generally makes for amateur results.

    Some recent surveys on traditional and self-publishing:

    And a book I recommend to those new to publishing to get a handle on how and why publishing moves in mysterious and frustrating ways: "Merchants of Culture."

  4. Wow. I should apologize. That was an obnoxiously long, rant-y comment.

    Maybe more interesting to discuss are the new kinds of publishing that take advantage of new technologies and a different economic model to trad publishing. Examples:

    Shortfire Press publishes single short stories as e-books.

    She Writes Press was just launched as a "hybrid" publisher with elements of indie and trad publishing.

    HyperInk publishes short-form nonfiction and has a program called "Blog to Book."

  5. Very interesting and something I've been thinking about a lot. After a digital conference a few months ago I have decided that self publishing might be the way forward for me. I have a platform and don't feel the need to have the traditional kudos - especially now in the states self publishing is becoming far more widely accepted. For me it's about timing as much as everything - trad publishers take SO long. Lx

  6. AnonymousJuly 31, 2012

    I know writers who have self-published; they are doing a lot of work to promote their books. I'd rather be writing. That said, publishers used to be able to carry the expense of low-selling literary books by selling top sellers, such as airport books and cookbooks. If the mass market books go online, then publishers really won't be able to afford to publish fiction. All of which is to say that in the next few years, we may not even be able to make this decision.

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