There are over 500,000 books being published each year from traditional publishing houses such as Knopf to small Indie presses like Titan. A growing amount of books are being self-published from various platforms. This is a consumers and book lovers paradise with endless books but this same utopia can be an author’s downfall. Authors are becoming a dying breed. Yes more books are being published but not many books are selling. In 2013 authors in the United Kingdom were not even making enough money for the minimum standard of living according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (Flood, 2014). Authors may publish their books hoping to become the next James Patterson or J.K. Rowling but due to a saturated market cannot even afford rent. The digital market of eBooks and self-publication may have hindered author’s abilities to profit in their profession rather than help them. However the digital realm can also help authors. Authors have to now be more than storytellers they have to evolve and become a brand.
In a traditional publishing business model the story will carry the book and marketing teams and publishers will sell the book. The author’s platform can help but may not always be needed. Some authors prefer to not be in the spotlight. Now the author is a full brand and their book is the commodity. Self-publishing is the path most new authors will tread on due to the lack of editorial gatekeeping and the majority of the profit is given to the author not split between the publishing house and the agent. Amazon’s kindle has a direct publishing platform so authors can publish directly to the Amazonian marketplace (Collins, 2013). Within the Kindle direct publishing there are several tools for authors for them to get their books noticed among the myriad of books already available in the marketplace. One way authors can do this is by “selling” their books for free. Although this seems a completely backwards strategy, how can authors make money if they give their content away for free?
Books published through Kindle’s direct publishing can be a part of their free book promotions for a limited number of days. The program is “seeking to sell at high volumes rather than high margins” (Collins, 2013). This is all to encourage word of mouth marketing thus selling greater volumes of books after the promotion is over. The Kindle Direct is just one platform, Smashwords, Bookbub and Story Cartel are a few other websites that provide books for free or little cost. Story cartel gives readers free copies of books in exchange for honest reviews. Their goal is to create buzz and hype around a book through good reviews so other consumers will purchase the items. Story Cartel also helps authors create a community and relationship with its readers. They help create an author’s brand so readers will purchase future books from the author. Authors are now also sending free eBooks to ‘big mouths’ in their community to generate more recognition. Thompson (2012) refers to ‘big mouths’ as “anyone they can think of who has some position of influence, whether they are review editors or agents or opinion leaders” (pg. 248). In the age of the internet bloggers are key ‘big mouths’ and authors can target them to help promote their book and also themselves by being featured on blogs and podcast.
The business model of free is something Chris Anderson is a strong advocate for. He explains, “how most free books are based on freemium” (Anderson, 2009, pg. 158). In his Ted Talk he quotes how “free is abundance not a scarcity” (Anderson, 2004). It can be a free chapter or the whole book but it draws readers in and it helps spread the author’s brand. In this model authors have to give away some or all of their content to build a relationship and community with their audience. If books are free they are also less likely to become pirated and posted on the web by random users. Instead a free book directly from the author promotes the author’s name and his other products as well. Tim O’Reilly a publisher notes, “the enemy of the author is not piracy but obscurity” (in Anderson, 2009, pg. 161). Giving out the books for free helps authors to not become another nameless book in the sea of books being published.
There are limitations on the free business model and a major one is not having a brand or a platform. Once an author has an established brand then the price of the content will not matter to readers they will pay to read the next book written by their beloved brand named author. J.K. Rowling is a prime example of how a brand affects sales. She published her second adult novel The Cuckoo’s’ Calling under the name Robert Galbraith. Originally the book sold approximately 13,000 worldwide (Stewart, 2013). After Rowling was ‘unmasked’ the book sold up to 1.1 million copies and was at the top of best seller list (Stewart, 2013).
According to Forbes the strongest brand in publishing is Jack Reacher created by Lee Child (Vinjamuri, 2014). According to Codex Group data, people are willing to pay a significant premium for their brand authors (Vinjamuri, 2014).
It is not all about the platform but the brand, Vinjamuri (2013) argues, “before a book can possibly be a bestseller, it needs to reach critical mass.” New authors need to establish a brand to become noticeable amongst the plethora of books but this does have major implications for the publishing industry.
Writers who achieve a brand status will profit greatly even if they give away one of their books for free. The readers will most likely purchase other items from the author. This model works well if an author is writing a series versus stand-alone titles (Sargent, 2014). Authors must join the rest of the creative industries and face the reality of the digital world. The fashion industry has knock offs and cheap imitations but it does not stop fashion houses and brands from growing. Johanna Blakely(2010) discusses how copyright and piracy do not affect the fashion world because they have a culture of copying. She argues that even with no copyrights and knock offs, brands will still continue to profit because their customers are not going to purchase knock offs. They want to purchase the brand (2010).
The implication for authors as a profession is quite drastic. Authors will now have to write but may not get big advance checks especially if they take the self-publishing route. Most authors in the current market are already living the reality of not having any advance checks or having drastically smaller ones from publishing houses. Writing is now just one aspect of the profession. Previously an author could avoid the limelight and just sit at home and write books and if the story is captivating and publishing house is promoting it then will sell. Now there are hundreds of stories being published some have the power of the big publishing houses but most are just being typed up on computers then being published almost instantly. Authors must now have a relationship with their readers and start to build a community. Authors can gather email addresses of readers in exchange for a few free chapters or sometimes the whole book. This allows the authors to generate mailing list so they can target their audience directly (Collins, 2013).
There are some criticisms to this new direction that authors are going towards. Just how publishers though that Amazon will and has devalued the price of the book, when authors give their books away they are devaluing their profession (Anderson, 2015).This argument is valid it may decrease the worth but consumers ultimately have to purchase the goods. They are a key factor in the market and can change the market as well. There are some authors who do see the changes of the industry and are embracing the new direction. Lawrence Lessig gave away thousands of copies of two of his books one that was previously published and a new one and he states it “that the openness has extended the long tail of my book” (Hilton & Wiley, 2010). Being open helps authors gain other opportunities such as film production, writing in magazine and teaching and speaking fees (Hilton & Wiley, 2010).
Publishing houses are already going through changes with the new technologies such as Ebooks and self-publishing platforms. With authors putting up their content for free publishers can now look at the stories and authors with out doing any work. Editors no longer have to look through manuscripts they can look though the various free books and see which books are creating the most buzz and have a following. With this route publishers would be finding books that already have an audience and sell bestsellers. Hypothetically the guesswork for finding bestsellers would be erased. This does not mean that traditional publishing houses will cease to exist. Even with authors going self-publishing routes, Ewan Morrison states how authors will jump to a “proper publishing deal as soon as they are able” (Barber, 2012). A classic example of this is Fifty Shades of Grey that was once as on a fan website for Twilight for free then was ‘picked up’ by Vintage House to follow a more traditional publishing route.
The publishing industry as a whole is affected by the changes in the author’s profession. The traditional elite author is not sustainable anymore neither is elite publishing. The days of editors and publishers being gatekeepers are fading. Authors are now letting their works be seen by the masses for free and in exchange gaining recognition and developing a brand.
Anderson, C. (2009). Free: The future of a radical price. New York: Hyperion.
Anderson, P. (2015, January 28). ‘Who Decided Our Worth?’ Do Free Books Give Away Authors’ Value? Retrieved November 7, 2015, from http://thoughtcatalog.com/porter-anderson/2015/01/who-decided-our-worth-do-free-books-give-away-authors-value/
Barber, J. (2012, Jul 26). ‘There will be no more professional writers in the future’. The Globe and Mail Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1027833869?accountid=13800
Collins, S. (2013, October 17). Why Successful Authors Are Giving Their Books Away for Free. Retrieved November 9, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/simone-collins/why-successful-authors-ar_b_4115300.html
Flood, A. (2014, July 8). Authors’ income collapse to ‘abject levels’ Retrieved November 7, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/08/authors-incomes-collapse-alcs-survey
Hilton III, J., & Wiley, D. (2010). Free: Why Authors are Giving Books Away on the Internet. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 54(2), 43-48.
Sargent, B. (2014, May 27). Are Book Giveaways Still Worth It for Indie Authors? Retrieved November 5, 2015, from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/62424-are-book-giveaways-still-worth-it-for-indie-authors.html
Stewart, J. (2013, August 30). Long Odds for Authors Newly Published. Retrieved November 6, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/31/business/cuckoos-calling-reveals-long-odds-for-new-authors.html?_r=0
Thompson, J. (2012). Merchants of culture: The publishing business in the twenty-first century (Second ed.). New York, New York: Plume.
Vinjamuri, D. (n.d.). The Strongest Brand in Publishing is. Retrieved November 6, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2014/03/04/the-strongest-brand-in-publishing-is/