Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ms Kitty's Theory of Publishing Industry Economics

An overview of the Publishing industry by a complete novice:

"The Big Six" publishing companies – like all large conglomerates – owe their existence to their very size. This size (big, bigger, biggest) requires large sales from "Best Sellers" in order to survive. Therefore the 'Traditional' publishing market has evolved in response to their size and requirements. This requires a certain type of author – a "Dan Brown," "J.K. Rowling" or "Stephanie Meyers" for example. The role of agents is to slog through the slush-pile to provide the authors of this caliber. This also laid the foundation for big bookstores – go big or get out being the mantra of the last century in all type of business.

The supply (of book and authors) has exceeded the demands of the Big Six, by multiple powers of 10.

The "Reasons" for this are many and varied, everything from word processors to too many schools offering degrees in Liberal Arts has be put up as a 'cause.' Blaming computers is like blaming typewriters for the novelists of the 1920's. Hemmingway never would have written "The Old Man and the Sea" if not for his trusty Royal Typewriter.

The good news is the internet is screaming for content, and more people are putting it out there. The output is probably the same; the media has changed. Fewer trees are dying to feed our reading requirements. But nobody is getting paid for posting musings like mine on a private blog.

The Mid-list Author is an Endangered Speices:

"There are more "mid-list" writers than there are slots in the 'Big Six' publishing agenda." So says nearly ever agent website on the internet. The Rock Star agents (you know who they are) to a wo/man lament that they can only take on books that will sell to the big publishing houses. Small Press, Independent Press, Literary Press and University Press markets don't pay enough to warrant an agent's cut.

Yet, here too, supply has out-stripped demand.

The Survival of the Fittest – or Lemmings off a Cliff?

What to call these people who are beating down the doors of the agents, trying to get a shot at the Big Six? Aspiring Authors, Poor Deluded Fools, the great Vampire conspiracy, the Zombie Hordes?

Some call them the Next Generation of Self-Publishing Pioneers – usually a (vanity) printing company that needs suckers to pay to have a bunch of book printed. How you label them doesn't make them any less real. There is a sea of manuscripts out there, looking for a publisher of some kind.

The Egg Theory

Let me digress a moment here – to the farming industry. Let's focus on a niche market that I'm most familiar with: Pasture produced eggs. Not that long ago, I would pay $.50 a dozen for eggs at the grocery store. I could get my choice of small, medium or large white eggs. The paradigm at the time was 'an egg is an egg.'

Then somebody said "Brown Eggs Taste Better."

Which was true, as far as brown eggs were 'farm' eggs; all factory-produced eggs were white. So the demand for brown eggs was born, from the collective memory of farm eggs. The proof that the chemical composition of an egg follows the GIGO* theory came much later. My point is that now there are small producers, like myself feeding the demand for farm fresh brown eggs – which do taste better than factory eggs of any color, because they are chemically different, therefore of higher quality. The 'egg factories' capitalized on this so the point where you can buy 'designer' eggs for $4 a dozen at any Kroger store. I, however, sell my eggs to friends for less than Kroger prices, yet a heck of a lot more than $ .50 a dozen. This is a win-win: for me, my chickens, my customers, and the folks from whom I purchase my scratch grain.

(*The GIGO theory = Garbage in, Garbage out.)

Yes, Kitty, cute analogy but WTF does this have to do with the Publishing Industry?

Authonomy.com is my window into the British publishing industry. What I see is the mushrooming of the publishing industry as little stables of three and four writers open up micro-publishing houses, and the media giant wannabes likes of Create Space and LuLu open the floodgates to those braving self-publishing on their own.

Like the production of farm eggs in our area, there are signs for 'fresh eggs' all over the place

You can call it fragmenting – or embracing the 'digital' age or the 'advent of Print on Demand' or a bunch of whiny losers who can't get a contract. (I don't recommend the last one, some of this writing rocks.) Anyway you look at it a surge in the small publishing industry has been spawned and the companies who print the books will profit as will the software companies that write the software for the websites. Everybody else (writers and publishers) is on their own. The little fish will feed the slightly hungrier fish that will grow into big fish. The big fish will snap up a few here and there. The readers will read what they can and pay for what they like the best.

The good thing about writers is that they are readers, for the most part they demand better quality.

Like brown eggs, there is a collective memory of something better, in every genre.


If you'll pardon the cliche – it's a 'chicken or egg' dilemma of which comes first, the supply or the demand? The demand for 'a tastier egg' is there, and the authors are determined to supply that demand. Writers are getting organized into little co-ops to get these 'eggs' to market.

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