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« First Madonna and Radiohead; Next, James Patterson: Part 2 | Main | The Ad Man Answers #21 »

November 07, 2007




Very interesting series of posts, but I disagree with you on some of your conclusions.

POD printing will figure heavily in the future of publishing, I imagine, hitting colleges and universities first. I can see these Expresso instant machines in libraries and student bookstores, etc. Don't know how quickly or efficiently it will permeate places like chain bookstores and discount stores. For one thing, it's a machine, and as we can readily see at the post office or photocopy service bureau, machines break down. I imagine with an Expresso, there's even more complex moving parts than your average vending machine, so there needs to be some knowledgeable personnel on the premises who can fix these things quickly. Personnel means money. If there's only a few Expresso machines in a store, consumers won't want to wait--they will prefer the old model of books on shelves. (These instant Expresso machines might work best with obscure titles.)

I see e-books as more of "a threat" to traditional publishing. These e-readers are getting more attractive and affordable (I saw one at my local Costco recently). And with the current emphasis on "being green," more consumers might want to try this paperless alternative. It has a ways to go, but e-books are making headway among romance readers--consumers who enjoy their books in quantity. E-book manufacturers would be smart to target mystery readers next.

With e-books, the publishers could sell directly to the consumer, thereby becoming more involved in the retail market. Bookstores with highly developed websites like Powell's could play a larger role in selling e-books as well.

Authors will then face similiar challenges as musicians and moviemakers regarding illegal duplication, etc. That will be a problem for all of us.

I don't see retailers as getting that involved in becoming publishers. Publishing is a laborious process and I can't imagine them creating their own publishing arms. But I certainly can see retailers like Target and Costco partnering with existing publishers to create special book lines (in fact, that's already happening in the sense that certain books are published in a special format like trade paperback just for sale at Costco).

Looking at how technology is used in Tokyo is a harbinger of what is to come here. People reading novels on their cell phones? Yup, I can see it.


Thanks Barry. Interesting ending to this article. I think what you mentioned about the author's "brand" hit home for me, and is especially important to aspiring authors. You wouldn't believe the amount of writers I know who are still not on the bandwagon when it comes to selling and marketing themselves and creating the platform to sell their own work.

Thanks to MJ also.

Mark Terry

Interesting. On the other hand, today the news is that Radiohead's "experiment" is problematic (or possibly a failure, but that's up for debate, I suppose). Why? 62% of the people who downloaded the album paid $0 for it. Yes, 62%! The majority who did pay, paid less than $4, and less than 4% paid $12.

So the question becomes, If the general public is given the "option" of paying nothing, will they pay nothing. Apparently most will.

Here's a link:

One of the things I find most interesting about the James Patterson phenomenon is that readers don't seem to care whether he wrote the books or not. It's got his name on it, so it must be a James Patterson book. This has applied to Ludlum and VC Andrews as well, as well as others. Readers just don't seem to care.

So what's to stop publishers from creating AUTHOR IMPRINTS. Isn't that essentially what Patterson has done, along with Clancy? And making them LARGER!

Why not? 100 books a year with Patterson's name on them, as long as they're crime thrillers about serial killers. Let's put books by JA Konrath in there along with dozens of other writers in the sub-genre.

Will Barry Eisler's John Rain novels sell better if they become part of the "Tom Clancy: Asian Op Center" series?

Why not go that route? Will readers care? Will publishers as long as they make money?

What about the authors? Would you care?

Fran Toolan

well done.

'flattening distribution' as you see it has been happening for some years now, and the smart publishers recognize it already.

the transformation from 'publisher' to 'author services company' has already begun. take a look at Random House, HarperCollins and Macmillan. All have stated this very plainly, and are developing more and more tools for their authors to create better brands for themselves.

but not necessarily for everyone. one major publisher i work with found that 88% of their sales come from 11% of their authors, so who do you think they will invest in?

Joe Moore

Good stuff, Barry. It’s obvious that changes are taking place throughout the entertainment industry. Two recent examples are Paul McCartney’s new album exclusively at Starbucks and The Eagles new one only at WalMart. Here are some questions that crossed my mind while reading your post.

What is the cost of POD technology?
Can the chains save enough money as distribution flattens to want to go into the “printing” business?
Who will train store personnel how to operate the tech?
Who will service it when it crashes at a major event?
How will the stores handle the onsite storage of materials needed to print thousands of books?
What about the comparative quality of POD books to traditional printing? Will the consumer see and feel a difference?
How will a store handle blockbuster novels such as Harry Potter?
What happens during the transition period when some chains have a particular title while others, perhaps in other countries do not?
How about the independent store? Can it afford the same tech as the chain?
Maybe the publisher should go into the POD tech business and supply the teck it to the stores? Even give it away in exchange for printing only certain brands?
What will happen to book distributors like Ingram? Will they go into the POD biz?
How about the traditional book printers? How will they adapt?
Will we see chains setting up publishing arms and recruiting new authors?
Thanks again, Barry, for sharing your ideas.

Adam Hodgkin

What a great series -- lots of ideas and propositions to ponder. Can't agree with you about the prospects of POD. In fact lots to disagree about, but the biggest quibble is that I reckon that you seriously underestimate the strength of the publisher in the new situation
Publishers are well placed to grab a bigger share of the value chain. Especially if they learn to promote by giving shards, segments and snippets of content away. They need to loosen up and as you say start thinking like agents....


Mark, I think that's what Barry and I are saying - create author imprints and publish lots of titles under them written by other authors - a way to introduce new authors to the genre. Or am I missing what you're suggesting?


Publisher's found branding by accident with the advent of block buster authors but they don't seem to have learnt too much. You are right on the money here and one thing I think we will see is the progressive elimination of trade names (imprints)over the next five years.

I can't agree with you on retail brands however. The week posted a rant about The Eagles and their exclusive deal with WalMart and my comments argue strongly that retail branding can be very strong. Here is the link:

David J. Montgomery

I've been saying for a couple of years now that James Patterson should start an imprint and release a Patterson-like book every month. He's practically doing this now with his current releases, but the concept could certainly be expanded. There appears to be a huge potential market there.

Zack Weinberg

Regarding Radiohead, the question I'd like answered is, did the band make more money on "In Rainbows" than they would have made on the same album distributed via a normal record contract? This might be hard to answer - maybe they didn't make as much as they'd have made if they had sold at retail as many copies as were downloaded, but I bet more copies were downloaded than would have sold at retail, so.

Regarding book publishing, there's got to be some role for professional editors in whatever model shakes out. I've given up altogether on authors when it became evident that they weren't getting the editorial assistance they needed.

Frederick Glaysher

Why shouldn't the author cut out all of your 2 - 10 criteria, contracting when needed? THAT is the future.... It's here, now.

A POD "printer," i.e., Lightning Source, provides worldwide
distribution of an impeccable product, right now. What's lacking? I would argue mature and competent online book blog reviewing, free of the pressures of the traditional controlling relationships to the publishers themselves, though the reviewing dynamics are beginning to change, beyond the still too often unsophisticated snippets.

Given the high cost *charged* per copy by Lightning Source,
the traditional 55% discount needs readjusting, but mutually
agreeable figures ought to be feasible. At the moment, in my
view LSI is attempting to acquire the lion's portion: 88%, not
a workable formula that is in its own long term interest with authors, who are also too liable to the impluses of excessive greed.


See also my comments on the Grumpy Old Bookman (at the bottom):

And what's traditional in the new:

Frederick Glaysher

Walter Lewis

What an interesting article. One thing that occurred to me is that flat distribution would lessen the prestige of authors who are not yet a “brand”. For example, I have purchased books via Amazon which I later realized were self-published. Generally these books (at least the fiction titles) lacked the polish and general quality of a major-house offering. As an avid reader I am often short of titles, and will take a chance on a book that sounds interesting, only to find poor plotting, editing and overall lack of professional presence. This is not limited to self-published titles, I often find errors and inconsistencies in mainstream works. However it is far more prevalent in the self or independent publishers.

With the playing field leveled and distribution no longer the obstacle to entry, will we see more substandard titles? Does the publisher provide a service of weeding out those without sufficiently developed craft?

Writers are among the most respected professionals today, albeit most often less visible than other artists. By any standard the publication of a novel is quite an accomplishment, whereas writing online is considered less prestigious (regardless of the quality). What does that mean for writers? Will finding quality work become a greater challenge as the POD becomes a reality.

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