BEA Panel: The Arc of Publishing
Posted by Caitie F on June 3, 2011
I wanted to share some of what I learned at the great panels I went to during BEA with all of my readers. This was probably the most interesting panel, and the panel I got the most out of, so I won’t be able to cover it all. I will be able to talk about some of the highlights. This was a panel of good news though!
This panel was run by Skott Klebe.
Whether is is book publishing, technology firms, or any other business, there is a usual curve (at least for the successful ones). They start out low, have a sharp increase, then level off toward to the top, slowly declining over time. It is called an S curve and looks something like this
Publishing is the same way. Most companies have a series of these curves to keep going up and up and up, by one of two ways. They either get new customers OR get customers reading things in different ways. For the second, it is ebooks. The big scary E word that many think will ruin publishing.
But it won’t and there is one key reason. ebooks have changed HOW people read, but it isn’t gaining new readers. It is still true that about 10% of people buy 90% of books. That 10% is the group buying ereaders. Maybe you are getting 5% more just because they are the kind of people who want the latest gadget, but a lot of them are getting the books that are free. There is a big chunk of the population that only buys one or two best sellers a year. They aren’t getting ereads or reading ebooks. The ebooks may even be at the top of the s-curve already.
The real goal of publishers should be to get that 10/90 split to be a little better. Maybe get 15 or 20% of readers buy 90% of books. Diversify and excite people not just about the Harry Potters and the Twilights, but about more so they buy more books.
The other big thing that was discussed is the self-publishing for ebooks. Skott talked about the people who have made it really really big in self publishing, But he also talked about how for each of those, there are hundreds or thousands of people going nowhere with their self published ebooks. Yes, they are cheap so people will try them out, but here is teh big question.
How many bad $3 ebooks must someone read before they stop buying them? Yes, it is only $3…but pay for five bad ones and you are out one or two publisher published ebooks. Or you are out lunch. Or what you pay to have your kid added to your cell phone plan. People will not tolerate too many bad self-published books. The other thing that people will get more wary of is good reviews on self published books. We all have friends and family that would give us a good review no matter what if we asked them to. And Amazon.com is a pretty anonymous place. It is not like a blog or facebook where you have a name and identity attached to it. There are plenty of people who have reviewed one thing and one thing only. Maybe for their family and friends. I think people will get more wary of the reviews and try to find more out on who is saying a book is great before they try it.
As I said before, there are self published authors on Amazon barely scraping by. Skott talked about how these authors will do what has been done since publishing started. A couple that are barely getting by will come together and hire a designer, since covers do sell books. Then they will hire an editor to help make their book a little better now that more people will notice it. Then a publicist so they can get it out there more.
Suddenly, and independent publisher is born. Then they were consolidate with others who have done the same thing to a larger indie. Suddenly, they are bringing out more and more books and a year and authors are contacting them to publish their books. So they become larger. Then they have a couple of books that go huge and writers that get agents and book deals from the big six. The big six see what they do and like it, and suddenly they are bought out and become an imprint.
Publishing is all about the large publishers consolidating and letting things go. It is a cycle that has gone on forever, and it will continue in this digital age.
I hope you could make sense of this panel and I was able to share some great information with you. I am excited about the direction publishing is going.
Thanks to Skott Klebe for running such a wonderful session!