Sunday, September 06, 2009

The cost of a Paperback

The year is 2020. It costs £5 to buy a paperback novel. £3 if it is one of the few hundred titles being stocked on the shelves of your local supermarket. Most of that money is needed to cover the direct costs of producing the physical book. Ink, paper, printing and binding. Some is needed to cover transport. The shop takes a chunk to cover its overheads and to keep its shareholders happy. How much goes to the author? A few pence per copy.

Alternatively you can buy your novel as a download and read it on your shiny new book reader. How much for? There is no printing, no transport and no shelf stacking. Shall we say, fifty pence for the author and fifty pence to cover the website design and management?

What about a third possibility – read the book online courtesy of Google and see a few adverts along the way. The author gets a few fractions of a penny from the advertising revenue. You pay nothing.

What do publishers do in this crisp new digital world? They have already out-sourced the job of selecting the best novels. Literary agents do that. As for editing – literary agents increasingly take a hand in that too. Cover design is usually subcontracted. Publishers rarely spend money on advertising for authors who are not already famous. All that is left is the sales team who work so hard going bookshop to bookshop. But with digital distribution, the bookshops are not needed.
A world without publishers?

It is a world in which anyone and everyone can publish by themselves. Digital distribution – costing so little it is basically free – makes this easy. I am lucky enough to have seen many as yet unpublished but wonderful books in manuscript form. But I have seen a far larger number of badly written manuscripts. In 2020 are all of them being published?

1 comment:

Kiamo said...

"In 2020 are all of them being published?"

I would very much expect so. In fact, I expect it in 2012, or maybe as soon as even 2011.

Blogging set the stage for the suffering of journalism, newspapers, and magazines. But no one wants to read an entire book on a flickering LCD screen.

The upsurge of ebook readers seem to be setting the stage to deal an even heavier blow to all these physical writing industries, and now the book publishing industry too.

Most importantly, new screens use technologies that don't flicker, which makes them very pleasant to read on.

Plus, One device can store your entire library of books, a few bazillion more, become your RSS reader, and maybe play your whole music collection too.

And digital copies of media are cheaper and greener. Ok maybe not... they are often just about the same price, however the understanding that they SHOULD be, is so prominent that it inclines me anyway.

However we wont really see all those "badly written manuscripts" until its easy for any author to publish them, regardless of quality.

Currently digital distribution centers such as Apple, Amazon and the like, are very centralized. Which means they have complete control over what gets published.

I don't see this overly centralized model surviving for too long. On any media front, but least of all books. Just like blogging, I expect a superior, open, user-friendly service will crop up and steal all the cake.

And once anyone can do it, anyone WILL do it, and there will be no more control over what gets "published".

I don't think this is a bad thing however. Yes, The crap will come with the good, but that happens anyway. The amount of rubbish that gets published is ridiculous. Plus, the middle man gets chopped out, which means most (if not all) revenue goes to the writer/developer.

On the downside, thousands of people who make money of the hard work of others will have to find new ways to exploit people. Oh wait... I said downside... hmmmm

uuuh so summary?

"In 2020 are all of them being published?"

Yes, probably much earlier, but its conditional on a working model of distribution where the author can fully exploit the freedom of the Internet and publish easily for themselves.

If publishers want to stay in the book game, they should become good marketers, as in the phenomenal dilution of the book industry soon to come is going to require talented marketers to make sure the quality makes it to the surface.

Either that or they should just become writers, and learn to empathize with the woes of their new brothers and sisters.