As you may be aware, over the past few days a merge between Penguin and Random House has been confirmed. At first, it seems that the Big Six publishers (Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster – who own the vast majority of the publishing market) cannibalising into the Big Five can only be a bad thing. Of course, publishing houses have been gobbling up imprints for a long time. Random House currently owns 56 imprints, and Penguin owns 39. Together, they now own a 27% share of the UK book market.
The Bad News…
Merging could mean job cuts for editors. It could mean a reduction in advances for authors. And, since it seems the bigger companies become, the more eager they are to make bigger and bigger profits, we could see a reduction in quality, diversity, and general fairness as mid-list authors are pushed to the sidelines in favour of best-sellers. However… could there be an up-side to the development of the publishing superpowers?
Monopoly vs Monopoly
With Amazon now accounting for 40% of book sales and being able to sell mass amounts at heavily discounted prices, the clout that Penguin Random House will now have as such a substantial publisher means that the power balance between publisher and bookseller can shift. As consumers, we have become accustomed to cheap books (and ebooks) and heavy discounts on cover prices. Yet in reality, this is starving publishers, and starving authors. If Penguin Random House has the power to drive up book prices on Amazon (since a bookseller can’t afford to piss off their biggest publisher), hopefully it will result in more money finding its way to the most deserving areas of the writing and publishing industry… Hopefully.
Power to the Indies…?
As for the mid-list authors that might find themselves shunned by the power-hungry big fish, they will be driven into the arms of smaller independent publishing houses. In term, the Big Five will start to miss out on up-and-coming talent since they will be taking fewer risks on new authors, and this talent might help the independent publishers to thrive. Paradoxically, by strengthening the independent publishers, the publishing industry may well become more diverse instead of less.
What do you think? Is this unfounded optimism?
(And yes, I think they should have called the merged group Random Penguin instead…)
Well, I can’t believe it, but it has been almost a year since I mentioned my plans to start a new magazine for writers. The project somehow got put on the back burner. But I’m picking up on it again and have started to flesh out my business plan.
Contemporary Writer will focus on the craft and business of writing, targeting a readership of intelligent writers of all caliber who take their writing seriously.
It will provide in-depth industry analysis, industry interviews, creative writing theory and discussion, intelligent how-to articles, reviews, UK event listings, and call for submissions listings. Every issue will publish three creative pieces, winning a monetary prize. It will have a UK-centric focus, but available internationally.
It will be a quarterly publication, A5 and full colour, available at an extremely low cost. It would also be available on the iPad Newsstand. Initially, I’m thinking £10 for a UK subscription, including P&P.
I need to know if this magazine would interest people. I would be hoping for at least 1000 print subscribers. Would you be willing to buy such a magazine? What format (print/digital) would you prefer? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments.
Well, it’s been around five months since I decided to self-publish a collection of my dark speculative short stories, The Hours of Creeping Night.
I haven’t been actively promoting it, so I didn’t expect much to happen. My agent actually bought a copy before he decided to offer me representation (though the offer was more about my novel). Interestingly, both he and one of the reviewers picked out my story ‘Dead Cell’ (zombie outbreak in a prison, told from the inmates’ perspective) as the best of the selection, despite a few of my beta readers not particularlly liking the story. Just goes to show how different people enjoy different stories.
At one point, I decided to make the price on Smashwords free just to get some exposure, so Amazon matched that for two months. I checked in with the figures today – and wow! Two thousand copies were downloaded in two months, ranking the ebook #41 in the Amazon.com short story Kindle chart.
Only 74 copies were downloaded from Smashwords, and less than ten from Amazon.co.uk… So I guess the US Amazon site is the one to focus on.
Out of those two thousand copies, only two people left a review, but they were great reviews!
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Decent book
May 29, 2012, By DareT0Dream
This book is one of many short story books ive read this year. I am actually taking the time to review this book, which means I liked it enough to spend some of my time. The only reason I am giving it a 4 rather than a 5, is because i feel it should of been longer, maybe 30 pages longer. I was so close on getting my fix, that when it ended it left me “unsatisfied”. But other than that great job, i dont want to spoil it for other readers but, one story in the book Dead Cell should be made as a stand alone book.
The Hours of Creeping Night is a collection of short stories that encompass the surrealism of the late hours of the night, when the coming dawn feels like an impossible dream. This 11,000 word ebook is filled with weird and morbid tales of mechanical creatures, living forests, zombies, wedigo and other monsters, while exploring the darkness of human nature in various strange fictional worlds. Read more about the stories inside…
You can buy from the following places… The pricing is a little mixed at the moment, depending on the vendor(!) Pricing correct at time of posting (18th June 12).
It is a very interesting time for publishing. A while ago, I wrote a post called Self-Publishing 101 in which I discussed why my thoughts on self-publishing were changing, and my observations on how to self-publish well, and self-publish badly.
The Catalyst of Technology
Technology is the biggest catalyst in the publishing world. The internet has never been more powerful. Bookshops are crumbling beneath the power of Amazon. In a global economical crisis, people are more likely to buy discounted books online than spend time travelling to and then searching bookshops for the same book at a higher price. The rise of social media has created an immense jump in word-of-mouth marketing, with thousands of review blogs, websites such as GoodReads and people chatting on Twitter and Facebook. It means as soon as we hear about a good book online, we’re only a few clicks away from buying it for ourselves.
As for ebooks, who knows how they will eventually change the face of publishing. In May 2011, Amazon announced that ebooks outsold paper books. The future of ebooks is uncertain. Will they continue to rise in popularity because of their (usually marginally) lower price, instant deliverability, and easy portability? Or will they fade away once they hype has gone and people miss the smell of good ol’ fashioned paper?
The Development of the Publishing House
The last time publishing had such a shake-up was probably with the invention of the printing press. Before publishing houses existed, books were printed and sold by the vendor. Before the 1960s, the book publishing industry was predominantly owned by mostly independent companies whose only business was books. Growing profits made them attractive to larger corporations, and eventually these big corporations also started buying out independent book shops. With the immense growth of a few major companies, the smaller companies vanished, and the big companies gained control over the publishing industry.
While corporate profits have increased (which is good news for the shareholders) the type and scope of books have decreased. Instead of risking the publication of new titles by unknown authors, these corporations tend to stick with known authors and past success formulas. This, of course, makes it difficult for new authors with new ideas to enter the marketplace. (Source)
Self-Publishing Over the Centuries
Self-publishing has been around a lot longer than recent years, and held a lot less stigma. At first, before large corporations rose up to take control of the publishing process, those who owned or had access to printing presses because their own publishers. Then, self-publishing became a means for self-expression without censorship.
In 1644, John Milton published Areopagitica, in which he notes that writers can sidestep the censorship of the church and government by publishing their own books. In 1843, Charles Dickens feuded with his publisher over low royalties and goes on to publish A Christmas Carol by his own means. In 1917, Virginia Woolf and her husband set up their own publishing house in their home. The famous writers’ bible, The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White was originally self-published in 1918. (Source.) There is a very long list of famous and successful writers who are self-published.
Power and Control in Publishing
But as the publishing world changes, the power shifts. Publishing houses churn out millions of professionally developed books, and bookshops liaise exclusively with publishers. Both the publishing houses and the bookshops develop the book market as a precise science, giving readers quality products in a highly accessible way, therefore making the biggest profit. This model remained unchanged for a long time, and has become ingrained in society’s mind as the normal and correct way the publishing industry should be set up. Publishers become the trusted experts of the industry, and readers are happy to put their faith in them without a second thought.
However, when you are a passive consumer and are not immersed in the industry, it is easy to forget that the publisher’s main goal is not to bring you wonderful books, it is to make money. Publishing is always first and foremost a business. When the publishers hold all the power of the book industry, and independent book shops are swallowed by superpowers, we get a network of superpowers that hold all the control. And we still accept this as the norm, as how it should be.
Diversity is a Strength
Diversity in the arts is always a strength. Freedom of self-expression is a human right. In theory, the rise of self-publishing in recent years, made possible by the development of technology and the social media boom, is a good thing. However, inevitably a large proportion of self-published work is of a much lower quality than the traditionally published work we are used to. It had not been through the same channels of quality assurance, it has not been produced in-line with market trends, it has not had money spent on promotion. This, understandably, is how self-publishing gets a bad name.
Self-publishing, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Many of the products are poor, and this taints the better products before they can be judged on their own merits. It is a shame that self-publishing has such a stigma surrounding it. However, with a good product and tactful marketing, a self-published novel can be a success. Again, it comes down to technology. Print-on-demand is often expensive, but the production of an ebook is minimal. As ebooks continue to rise in popularity, and social media and the internet continues to be the most effective way of spreading word-of-mouth recommendations (the most effective marketing tool, in my opinion), self-publishing has hope.
For the author, self-publishing brings a level of control that would otherwise be stunted by a publisher, and the freedom of expression. For the reader, it expands the market. Some may say that filling the market with sub-par material is more damaging to the reader’s experience, but I have never found myself drowning in a sea of crappy self-published material, unable to surface to the good stuff, have you? Because of the way the market is set up online, we search for things that we want to find, or are automatically recommended items via clever coding. If a product is bad, it will sink and will not be visible. But if a product is good, it had a chance to rise to the top. Expanding the product range means only that there is a wider range of material that may rise to the top, and as I’ve said before, diversity is a strength. Self-publishing expands the consumer choice that superpowers have the ability to suppress.
The publishing industry has a diverse history. Its future is incredibly unpredictable. Technology today is the catalyst for its change, but the power for that change is in the hands of the reader. To me, that’s pretty exciting stuff.
Further reading: The History and Development of Book Publishing by Dr Ron Whittaker - The Early History of Books, Puritans to Pirating, Censorship and Consolidation, The Future of Books (Part 1), The Future of Books (Part 2).
This is a scary post to write, because I’m putting my plans ‘out there’, which makes them feel more real. My gentleman friend and I have made a decision about our future. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about The Next Step in my life. I have been faced with decisions now that my Creative Writing MA has come to an end.
Part of me wanted to go back to the publishing industry, but the highly competitive environment – especially in this economical climate – and the nine-to-five lifestyle, plus the fact that I would almost certainly have to move to London, put me off when it came to the crunch. I have been toying with some ideas of my own, and have decided to put those ideas into action.
So, the plan is: Move to Norwich where the living expenses are lower. I will get some part time work (doing pretty much whatever) while the other half works in a career job. The rest of the time I will work on my writing, try to get some work with the university, and… start my own magazine business.
I will keep running Inkspill Magazine, though I will be looking for some volunteer staff to help me, and I will be reducing the frequency from quarterly (which I failed at maintaining) to bi-annually. It will no longer be available in print, because print-on-demand is not cost effective and I can’t afford to print any other way. So it will become completely digital, but will remain free. I’m hoping to sell advertising space in order to pay contributors and staff, though the amount will be fairly token.
But I want to start a magazine that will contribute to my income. I have done a lot of research, but there is so much that is out of my control – and that’s the scary part.
I want to create a magazine about the craft and business of writing (as opposed to just publishing stories and poems). It will be similar to Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum but it will be aimed more towards intermediate writers of all ages – more like Mslexia – as opposed to (mostly middle-aged) hobbyists, which I believe these two writing magazines are more suitable for. It will contain articles, columns, reviews, interviews, event listings, competitions, competition listings, and places to submit. Suggestions welcome – what do you want to read?
It will be available in print, A5, quarterly (at first), full colour – and free! I hope to get certain local (and possibly London) buildings (libraries, theatres, arts centres, universities) to ‘stock’ it. It will be aimed at UK readers and include listings to UK writing and publishing events.
It will also be available on subscription in the UK, for just £10 for four issues, which covers the postage and makes sure subscribers won’t miss an issue. I’m also going to collect email subscriptions so that I can email free PDFs to people, and I will also put a plain text version without adverts into the Kindle store for a small price. I will try to get it into the Apple iBook store, but I need to do more research on this. I don’t think I can use PDFs for that, so again it will be the plain text ad-free version. However, I will look into creating an app that allows for a PDF subscription to iPads.
The magazine will be funded through advertising. I will be looking for 4-5 volunteers to help me start up the magazine, which I would like to be able to pay once the magazine starts turning a profit. Content contributors will be paid.
Ideal volunteer staff would include:
- 1-2 Submission Readers (with token payment)
- Advertising Manager (helping to secure advertisers, working on 5% commission)
- Social Media Director (helping to maintain Facebook and Twitter accounts, with token payment)
- Graphic Designer (to help with layouts and graphics, with token payment)
At first, it will be very much a ‘for the love’ project. I hope there will be some interest in volunteer staff. I think it would be great experience for anyone just starting out, or hoping to break into, a magazine/editorial/publishing career.
I haven’t got a name for this publication yet… Possibly ‘On Writing’ – it needs to be professional sounding and self explanatory, so any suggestions welcome!
Leave a comment or email me if you want to talk about this project. I would love your input!