If Paper Publishing is Dead, What Next?

Dave Freer at Mad Genius Club:

We have, thanks to the Internet, thanks to online retail, and thanks to our own websites, and blogs, a chance to do so. We’re actually BETTER off than I was in 1999, because that book still had the dead weight of the publishing industry to carry with every sale the author worked his butt off to add to the very small catchment you got ‘given’.  I look at my bookscan figures (which weren’t for the likes of us authors once upon a time) I know that my distribution as a reasonably established author… shall I put this politely? Stinks worse than two week dead basking shark’s gut contents — that being the worst thing I have ever smelled. As a new author now — unless you’re one of the darlings (and they still exist, publishers spend a million on a new author, send them on publicity tours, make sure there are adverts in every trade paper, get their distributors to push it, get book dumps and end displays, and trailers and laydowns of 100′s of thousands. It might be you. Or it might not be) put you at $3-4K advances and piteous distribution.

So: unless you’re a darling-bud-of-may then you’re going to have to promote hard yourself. You can count on a ‘given’ of maybe 2K of sales, which won’t earn your advance or get you a next contract, if you want it.

Or more likely, you will find yourself not finding an agent, or, if you find an agent, not finding a publisher. And in this you will be joined by thousands of authors whom you like and respect.

And now the struggle really begins. Because even if you have access to the Internet marketplace, so do tens of millions of other writers. Being visible is going to be hard. And if you can’t do that, making a living, impossible. But if you’re doing this yourself, remember that you will have to sell 1/10 -1/5 of the volume to make the same money. If you can sell the same volume, or more, those daiquiris are calling you.


The problem, as I was writing three years ago, is that there are still some useful things for publishing companies to do.  Now, that article was directed more to print-on-demand, so in this table the “pages printed” lines go away too.  On the other hand, I’d add in a line, needed by both, for “book and cover design”.

Old model New Model
Author writes content Author writes content
Content chosen by editors ?
Type set or cast by hand Manuscript translated to type by machine
Type installed in press No need
Thousands of pages printed One copy printed
Thousands of copies bound One copy bound
Thousands of copies shipped Bound copy mailed or delivered to buyer
Book tours, advertising, promotion, PR by editorial staff ?
Unsold copies returned No unsold copies
Remaining print run stored Printable form stored on computer
Unsold books disposed of No need

A Kindle book that’s being widely read among my friends is John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months. The short version is “I wrote several series, developed a ‘brand’, and then plugged the hell out of the books and the brand.”


What Dave seems to me to be saying is “where can I find someone else who can do the ‘plug the hell out of the brand’ part?”


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