The Shatzkin Files


New publishing companies are starting that are much leaner than their established competitors


“It’s become very, very clear to me that digital trumps print, and that pure digital, without any legacy costs, massively trumps print.” — David G. Bradley, owner of Atlantic Media, quoted in The New York Times on September 24, 2012.

The magazine business isn’t the book business, but…

For the better part of two decades, many people have seen the potential quandary the digital transition posed to big successful full-service publishing organizations. If distribution no longer requires scale, what does that mean to the companies that not only succeeded by creating distribution at scale, but which also are largely locked in to their high-cost, high-maintenence infrastructures?

This was one of my concerns when I delivered my “End of General Trade Publishing Houses” speech at BookExpo in 2007. When bookstores go away, I figured, it would become absolutely necessary but would be very hard for publishers working across audiences to adjust to being multi-niche. And it seemed to me that the big organizations built to deal with thousands of dispersed retail outlets at scale would be far too expensive to maintain when the outlets weren’t there. And stepping down the overhead level wouldn’t be easy.

There’s no shortage of understanding of this challenge. All big publishers are looking for new ways to apply scale to gathering names, analyzing data, improving discovery, social marketing, and creating partnerships with others that can provide audience reach.

Several companies have built business strategies around the expectation that traditional publishing organizations are going to have to get smaller and change the way they staff their print value chain. Among the biggest players, Donnelley, Ingram, Perseus, and even Random House fit that description: offering a variety of ways for publishers to offload everything except the functions that are absolutely core to publishing: editorial selection and development, rights management, and marketing.

The companies that offer the print value chain solutions also have digital services, of course, but they have competitors in that space that specialize in providing what demands scale for digital publishing. The competitors tend to start their service offerings further up the workflow than those that started by focusing on scalable distribution. Two new partnerships announced last week suggest the emergence of new commercial models for publishing.

The big eye-catching announcement was that Barry Diller and Scott Rudin, both with Hollywood roots, are putting substantial investment — announced as $10 million, but they could certainly add more when and if they want to — behind a new commercial trade house called Brightline to be led by publishing veteran Frances Coady. Brightline will partner and build its books with The Atavist.

Perhaps less noticed, but pointing in a similar direction, is that agent and entrepreneur Jason Allen Ashlock has set up a new niche publishing imprint to do crime and suspense books, working on the PressBooks platform created by Hugh McGuire.

The publishing ambitions here are quite different, but the point they make about the direction of publishing’s future are very much the same.

Diller and Rudin backing Coady would appear to be poised to compete with major publishers for major books. You don’t put $10 million into play as your initial investment to sign up a bunch of previously self-published or genre fiction authors. And The Atavist’s bookbuilding capability was built with a Hollywood consciousness in mind. They have not only designed what they do so that it rather elegantly accommodates links (allowing them to be made either very obvious or very unobtrusive), The Atavist always envisioned that its own publishing of serious topical non-fiction would have a potential cinematic or TV iteration. Their standard contractual agreement cuts them in on those rights which it was very much in their vision to reserve for themselves and develop.

This is not to imply that Brightline will need in any way to depend on The Atavist’s original commercial vision or contracts; they will certainly have their ideas about both.

Ashlock’s ambitions, at least initially, appear to be more modest. As the proprietor of a young and developing literary agency, he would need to acquire titles that don’t have the kind of advance-against-royalties requirement that Brightline would feel comfortable with. So he’s announced his publishing enterprise, called Rogue Reader, which will do “crime fiction”, apparently only one title per month and also apparently previously little-known or unknown writers.

The message here is that we see a similar answer coming from the opposite ends of the continuum of investment and power of what the genesis of a successful future publisher might look like. Both an ambitious well-funded highly-commercial list headed by a publishing veteran and fledgling authors publishing in a niche under the direction of a young entrepreneur with much less seasoning are being launched on new publishing platforms which have copious capabilities to do digital publishing efficiently. These new publishers can treat the diminishing print-in-store marketplace as a bit of an afterthought because there are more and more sources from which to purchase those capabilities for as long as they are needed.

And since the need for those capabilities is diminishing, and since there are so many companies that own them and can’t suddenly not own them, the chances are that the cost of obtaining those capabilities from somebody else is likely to just keep going down.

We are getting closer to the day when all a publisher really will need to “own” is the ability to acquire and develop good books and ways to reach the core audience for them persuasively and inexpensively. Diller and Rudin, with their Hollywood roots, certainly have access to many of the great story-creators and storytellers. Through connections to lots of people with marketing platforms plus the extensive network of connections through Diller’s IAC collection of web properties, they also have the capabilities to promote them.

Could any publisher build scaled web marketing capabilities more effectively than IAC? Diller’s team seems to be figuring they can rent everything else besides the core capabilities and be competitive. I think that’s right.

Ashlock doesn’t have their reach, but by sticking to “crime fiction” he thinks he can build a community around what he’ll do that will enable effective and efficient marketing. And as an agent, he’s in a good position to recruit good projects, although he will deal with the conflicts involved in turning somebody who comes to him as a literary agent seeking a publishing deal with another house into his own author. The ethics of this question have been hotly debated. One prior experimenter of this type — agent Scott Waxman who started ebook publisher Diversion Books — seems to have given up agenting in favor of being a fulltime ebook publisher. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Ashlock.

Both Brightline and Rogue Reader will undoubtedly be building out their development. We can expect them both to announce soon how they’ll handle putting books in stores. One would imagine that the business development teams at all the companies with big distribution capabilities are knocking on Brightline’s door. One book a month isn’t necessarily as attractive and publishers won’t want to encourage agents to become competing publishers, but I would imagine Rogue Reader will be able to find more than one company with these capabilities willing to answer their phone calls as well.

Rebecca Smart, the CEO of Osprey, was at our office last week let our friend Hannah Johnson of Publishing Perspectives capture a couple of minutes of video about what she’ll be discussing at Publishers Launch Frankfurt on October 8. It’s a quick example of the out-of-the-box thinking which will be coming from 18 different presentations at our 10:30-6:30 event. 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.riback Eric Riback

    If marketing is one of the core functions of a publisher, how is it that the majors pay essentially no marketing attention to most of their new titles. I’ve never heard of an industry that puts out 100 new products and markets only 1 or 2, except the book publishing industry.

    • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

      Eric, I think your statement is an exaggeration of the reality. All titles are being catalogued, search engine optimized, and introduced to buyers and reviewers with personal contact. The mere fact of being published by a major house includes marketing outreach. And when something comparable to Hachette’s development of their Facebook posting tool is done by a house, it is made available for use by all their books.

      That said, there is certainly a vast difference in the amount of effort put behind the top of the list and the rest. I think it will always be that way. But the minor efforts of a big house can have more impact than what is done by a smaller place trying harder.

      And, of course, the most important “marketing” publishers have done — for all their books — is to put them on store shelves. The decline in importance of that tool is, as the post says, one of the leading drivers of change.

      Mike

      • http://www.facebook.com/eric.riback Eric Riback

        As I understand that tool it is something authors can use to share chapters through their Facebook pages. Nice tool, but still up to the author to market themselves through a robust social media platform they develop and manage (or pay someone to do that for them). While I agree that just the act of publishing a book and placing it in a catalog is to some extent a marketing activity, I’ve spoken to enough authors to know that the attention specifically paid to an individual title is typically little to none. That said, in the emerging world of e-everything, authors have no choice but to be marketers, whether they are top names or not, and the primary marketing vehicles will all be online.

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        I agree with what you write, Eric. In fact, we’re planning an Authors Launch show for Friday, January 18 which will be all about training published authors to be effective marketers. One major publisher we spoke to acknowledged that publishers would increasingly be depending on authors to do these things as bookstore shelf space disappears.

        Mike

      • http://jjfoxe.com/ JJ Foxe

        Mike

        Here’s my question (interesting post btw): If authors need to train to be effective marketers – which presumably means building their own platform and engaging with their own audience – why then would they need to give 80% of the revenue from their content away to publishers?

        This is what I don’t understand about traditional publishing….let’s say I as a self publishing author (which I’m not – but will be in the next two months or so) build my own platform and fanbase, what’s in it for me to be published traditionally?

        And if I’m asking that question, other authors will be asking that question too. And the bottom line is that the ‘book industry’ needs books. If the content provider – the author – is savvy enough to build a platform for their work, why cut the major publishers in at all? What do they provide?

        James

        PS – I’m not a ‘Big Publishing Chicken Little’ running round screaming that the sky is falling on Big Publishing. I’ve asked this question of a few people ranging from trad publishing advocates to agents to people with wayyyyyy more knowledge of the publishing industry than me. No-one has yet given me an answer that’s anything close to satisfactory. Maybe you can???

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        It’s not all one thing or the other, JJ. There is going to be plenty of room for both publishers and authors to contribute to book marketing. I fully agree that if the author’s efforts aren’t enhanced by the publishers, then the authors have good reasons to question the alliance. But I don’t think the author alone will be able to maximize the opportunity. The operative term here is that an author’s marketing is “necessary but not sufficient.”

        But the publisher also won’t be able to do it alone. That’s what is different from the world five or fifty years ago.

        Mike

  • http://twitter.com/PeterTurner Peter Turner

    Interesting piece, Mike. The sentence that caught my eye especially was:

    “We are getting closer to the day when all a publisher really will need to ‘own’ is the ability to acquire and develop good books and ways to reach the core audience for them persuasively and inexpensively.”

    A couple of comments. Whether they ‘”need to ‘own'” it or not is one thing; whether they’ll be able to is another. Also, I strongly suspect that the only the first part of these sentence will be true soon. It will be up to other entities to connect publishers to customers.

    • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

      Peter, I believe that, ultimately, if somebody actually owns the way to reach the customers, they inevitably just become publishers themselves. That doesn’t mean they no longer serve a marketing function for anybody else, but it does mean that those depending on them are also obliged to compete with them for content.

      Exhibit A: Amazon.

      Mike

      • http://twitter.com/PeterTurner Peter Turner

        Right, but moving from being a publisher and then finding a way to “reach the core audience for persuasively and inexpensively” is vastly more difficult than the the other way around. A la Amazon.

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        I think it depends a lot on what kind of publisher you are. If you’re “general”, there’s no argument. But if you’re niche, it could be you have advantages.

        Mike

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  • William Ockham

    Hmm… Mike says:
    “There’s no shortage of understanding of this challenge. All big publishers are looking for new ways to apply scale to gathering names, analyzing data, improving discovery, social marketing, and creating partnerships with others that can provide audience reach.”
    That first sentence would more accurately read “misunderstanding” if the second one really reflects a response to the challenge. Scale isn’t a thing. It is an attribute. Whether having scale in one business function helps, hurts, or is irrelevant to having scale in another is entirely dependent on the relationship between those functions. The things that you say publishers are looking to apply scale to are functions that their current scale will prevent them from achieve scale in. It is far harder to “unlearn” old techniques than it is to learn new ones.
    A company that achieved success by learning the names of a few key middlemen and ignoring its end users will never be able to compete in “gathering names” with a company that has to know everything about its customers to survive. A company that assured its products were seen by the most people by distributing them widely knows less than nothing about improving discovery because they “know” a lot of things that just aren’t true. Companies who thought social marketing meant having a three martini lunch at a posh Manhattan eatery don’t get social marketing. Companies who have succeeded largely by alienating their smaller suppliers who could have given them audience reach will have a hard time finding partners.
    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that any of those strategies were wrong when they were developed. I’m saying that having learned to be successful using those strategies, the big publishers are poorly positioned to succeed by doing the opposite. Even if I am completely wrong about how the big publishers got to be big publishers, I’d still like to know what qualities they have besides biggness that makes them think they can do any of those things better than “random startup in Topeka”.

    • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

      I don’t disagree that the publishers who lived in a different ecosystem with a different set of requirements have an uphill battle to remain relevant. But they have enormous resources, including contracts for books that will be of commercial value for years to come. Predicting doom is a reasonable default position, but it elides a lot of important truths, including that it would have been a reasonable default position 10 years ago and it hasn’t happened yet.

      From the big publishers’ position, what they have that the startup in Topeka doesn’t is 5 or 10 books a day on which they’re experimenting and building feedback loops. Let’s remember that, so far, the ebook bestsellers are the high-priced books distributed by the established houses, not the low-priced books delivered by fledglings and startups, whether they’re in Topeka or someplace else.

      Mike

      • William Ockham

        I agree with you that the key asset for publishers is content. But the things you described in the post don’t take advantage of those strengths. It’s dumb to squander your most valuable resources (backlists of books where you clearly own the digital rights) while you chase after stuff that other people will always do better than you. A publisher who tries “apply its scale” is being stupid. There’s just no other word for it.
        There are already companies that have data analytics in their DNA. Big publishers simply can’t compete with them. The right strategy for a market leader is never the same strategy as the right strategy for a start up. It would be nuts for Brightline to compete with the big advances of the Big 6. Strategy is about using your strengths effectively and avoiding fighting the battle where the other guy has the advantage.

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        If successful publishing does not take advantage of scale, then the big players better start making plans to be in some other business.

        I don’t think they’re stupid to understand that fact. It is, admittedly, an open question whether scale can be particularly useful for the requirements of 21st century publishing. But organizations seek to perpetuate themselves, and if the answer is that 21st century publishing can’t employ scale and requires skill sets that people other than publishers have and they can’t develop, then they really only have two choices. They can acquire those “people other than pubilshers” (and some of that has gone on) or they can roll over and die.

        Mike

  • Bob Mayer

    We formed Cool Gus in 2010. The learning curve has been steep. The first key was we had content– my backlist of 42 titles. So that was gold and our start up capital. Since then we’ve produced my frontlist and acquired 12 other authors, their backlist and some of their frontlist.

    Our overhead is two people working out of their homes. Our largest expense is time. Our second largest is attending conferences such as what I”m sitting in right now: DBW’s Discoverability Conference.

    99% of our sales are digital. We earned roughly $5,000 our first 18 months. Then things exploded and we are now a seven figure business.

    We suggested Nook First to Barnes & Noble and had a frontlist title become the #2 bestseller there. Worked with the old “hybrid” author model (traditional and indie at same time) and are now also working with the new “hybrid” model (indie and Amazon imprint). Invested considerable money into Audible ACX.

    I believe a key to our success is the ability to adjust quickly. To view the eBook as an organic product that is never static. In fact, the concept of “book” is something we have changed our attitude toward: our product is story, not book.

    We also have something that I think larger organizations struggle with: we understand the entire arc from idea, to content, through the entire publishing creation process to the reader.

    This subject is so complex, that it takes us at least 45 minutes in a conference call with a potential author to get them to understand the value we add to publishing their book as opposed to the concept of feeding your book into a meatgrinder and shooting it out the barrel on a fire and forget.

    We’re sitting here at Discoverability listening to Jon Fine of Amazon speak and making our “to do” list ever longer.

    After 20 years in traditional publishing, I’ve found the last three years to be extraordinarily exciting

    • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

      Thanks for this, Bob. What I’m taking away from your experience is that a publisher adds value. Otherwise, I’m missing the detail.

      But I’m a bit mystified by your new indie-plus model. What the traditional publisher added was (and is), primarily, store distribution. Amazon doesn’t deliver that. I understand the value of an advance, and Amazon can provide that. But, beyond the risk transfer, what can Amazon publishing add that KDP doesn’t do for you?

      Right now, the way it looks to me is that the self-published or Amazon-published author is trading off store exposure and sales for higher digital royalties. That *might* be a reasonable swap. Or not. But even for fiction, that can be half or more the sales and lots of discoverability. For non-fiction, it is losing a lot more sales than that.

      Mike

      • Bob Mayer

        But the print is where the overhead comes in. And the future is digital. Store distribution is nice right now, but we’re doing quite well without it and will do ever better. For Cool Gus it would almost be a step backward to try to develop a print infrastructure beyond POD availability. We do sell approximately 50-50 eBook/print on our nonfiction. In fact, we’re actively recruiting for authors who are members of the National Speakers Association in order to support their platforms with POD. Sam Horn’s seminal book Tongue-Fu will be released next month by Cool Gus.

        We’re focused on the future, not the present. Acting, instead of reacting, which is a tenet of my Who Dares Wins program based on what Special Operations Forces does. It’s worked well in that world, and it’s working well for us in publishing.

        There are many roads to Oz and Oz means different things for every person.

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        OK, if you have made the decision to forgo store sales, that’s your business.

        But it doesn’t have to involve overhead to do it; there’s a lineup of distributors who will do it for a piece of the revenue. Yes, you have to take a capital risk printing books, but that’s one thing that the traditional publishers provide as an apparently underappreciated benefit.
        I suspect the erosion of print-in-store is going to slow down. You could be giving up more than half the sales on a lot of books for a very long time. And a discovery component that probably shouldn’t be ignored.

        I know Amazon would love seeing more authors employ this strategy but I think the combination of foregone sales, revenue, and exposure combined with the ego gratification that comes from seeing one’s book on sale in public will keep those who choose this path in the minority for some time to come.

        I’m still looking for the answer to what Amazon provides *besides* money here. (Not that money isn’t of value…)

        Mike

      • Bob Mayer

        Well, I’m running a business so the ego satisfaction point isn’t a factor– and I’ve already hit all the bestseller lists so ticked that box off, so it is easier for me to say than most. And I really like the checks coming in every month from all the platforms over the four checks over two years I used to get in an advance.

        Amazon provides what the title of this conference is: Discoverability.

        Also, to be honest, after having worked with four of the Big 6 over 20 years, at levels from lower midlist to bestseller lead, I have to say the response, positive attitude and willingness to work with the author that I’ve experienced with Amazon, Audible, PubIt, Kobo and Createspace puts legacy publishing to shame. The constant refrain is: How can we help you sell more books? No one in legacy ever asked that.

        I know you feel the erosion of print will slow down and perhaps it will. But I’ve chosen my path with a different belief system based on my experiences and my examination of where I believe the future will be. If I remember rightly, there were numerous people at DBW10 who laughed away eBooks as only 3% of revenue.

        I’m not suggesting anyone else go on my path. I’ve just shared our experience. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind; I’ve only changed my own.

        The title of this is New Publishing Companies that are tarting much leaner, etc. and I gave some information on one that’s been established for three years and done quite well. Certainly there is more we could and will do. We’re very open to changing our mind and adjusting our business model as needed or desired.

        Once more: many roads to Oz and Oz means different things to different people. I hope I’ve answered your question, but to recap: Discoverability.

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        Amazon is providing discoverability to its signed authors that it is not providing to KDP authors or to authors from publishing houses? That sounds like news.

        And the Big Six houses have changed a lot in the last few years in how they relate to authors. I’m not saying the experience at a major house has changed as much as it has at Amazon, where five years ago there was no author service component at all, but these experiences can rapidly become dated. Perhaps more rapidly than bookstores will disappear.

        Congratulations on being without the vanity function. Most authors aren’t. But I can’t see hardheaded economics at play when you’re writing off a significant chunk of the market that still exists today.

        Mike

      • Bob Mayer

        : ) You’re absolutely right.

      • William Ockham

        “You could be giving up more than half of your sales” is your fundamental misunderstanding of the book market. Bookstore sales are not evenly distributed across all books that are sold in bookstores. Think about that for a minute. You know that is a fact, but you haven’t considered what the implications are.

        The vast majority of titles get very little benefit from bookstore distribution. A few books get an enormous benefit from it. Bob Mayer is losing a small number of sales by not being in physical stores. If he can get B&N.com or Amazon to promote his books, he gains far more in sales. Why? Because they are better at marketing his books. Why are they better at marketing? Because they have data they can use to target their marketing. By now, Mayer probably has better data than the big traditional publishers.

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        William, for new titles, sales are 50% digital or more.

        For backlist, they’re not. For non-fiction, they’re not. The Codex Group, which has tracked these things longer and better than most, say that *still* more
        than 20% of discovery takes place in bookstores, which promotes awareness. It may be that Mayer isn’t losing 50% of his sales; maybe he’s losing 35%. But sales beget sales and 35% ain’t hay.

        As for the data and better at marketing bits, I go back to the question I raised before. What do they do for Amazon-published books that they don’t do for KDP (self-published) or other publishers’ books. If they do something different, and that is made explicit, I believe it would be news. I am not aware that it has been previously reported.

        And if there’s no difference, what besides the cash flow (or the overpaid advance) would be the benefit of publishing with Amazon. (Hastening again to say that I think an advance is a perfectly legitimate incentive.)

        Mike

      • William Ockham

        I guess I need to explain this in detail. You are committing a very common statistical fallacy. You are assuming that the characteristics of an individual title will be determined by what is typical of the group it belongs to.

        Let’s use Barry Eisler’s latest book as an example. It has outsold his previous best by 3 to 1, but it wasn’t available anywhere but Amazon. How do you explain that? I think the explanation is easy. 40% of U.S. households have an Amazon account. That is a potential audience bigger than all but Patterson, King, Rowling, and their ilk need to be able to expand their readership. For the vast majority of writers, they “give up” nothing by eschewing bookstores because they gain so much more from one promotional push by Amazon who knows exactly who to email about their book.

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        Well, I wouldn’t want to be guilty of an *un*common statistical fallacy.
        I understand the math. Your premise is that Amazon is applying masterful techniques on behalf of Barry Eisler because they publish him that produce pretty miraculous results. There are two logical problems with this proposition:

        1. They don’t need to publish somebody to apply those magical capabilities. And they win if they do. What you’re contending is another way of saying that they “don’t really try” on the other books. I am not as relaxed at accusing people of less-than-clever suggestions as you are, but I find that proposition unlikely.

        2. If Amazon is capable of these miracles, they also would have been much more successful than they have been so far persuading other authors to join their ranks. Bob Mayer is not the *only* author who cares mostly about money, not about the vanity of bookstore exposure. With all due respect to the current Amazon roster, it isn’t exactly what you’d call “star-studded.” That suggests that they aren’t making the case you’ve bought very successfully to agents. Now I don’t believe they’d be ineffective making the case: Larry Kirshbaum is a smart guy who knows how to woo authors and agents.

        The reason Amazon still has a weak publishing roster is that they *can’t* sell as many copies as a major publisher can. In fact, I think it is likely that they can’t sell as many as half as many copies as a major publisher can any reliable percentage of the time. I think that when they can — and that day will come — we’ll see a lot more authors switching over to be published by them.

        But it ain’t there yet.

        Barry Eisler’s a nice guy, but I require the same evidence to believe comparisons of his sales figures that I do to believe Mitt Romney on how much he pays in taxes. I have heard some vague descriptions of relative sales levels, but I haven’t seen any numbers. Have you? We don’t often break news stories in the comment section of this blog, but I’d love to break that one.

        Mike

      • William Ockham

        Look, you are entitled to your opinion, but not your own facts. Amazon made the following claim in a letter from Jeff Belle to literary agents (as reported by Paid Content and various other places):
        The Detachment, by Barry Eisler, published last September by Thomas & Mercer, has sold over three times the copies of any of Barry’s previous New York Times bestselling books.
        Either you accept that as a fact or you are accusing the man of lying. Which is it?

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        Maybe it sold three times the number of digital copies. That’s not spelled out. But it’s irrelevant to my point.

        If Amazon has magical ways to sell more copies of books than were sold before, they don’t have to restrict applying those capabilities to the books they publish. And I might not be the only skeptical one because if lots of agents believed that Amazon could sell three times as many copies as the publishers are, we would be hearing about a lot more agented authors signing up with Amazon. Or maybe the agents are dumb? Is that what *you* think?

        I don’t *know* tthe facts. I’ve said my piece. Don’t you have even a wee bit of curiosity about how Amazon executed this coup on behalf of Eisler? And why they wouldn’t be doing it on many other books whether they publish them or not since they’d be making more sales and making more customers happy?

        Do the holes in this story make any impression on you at all?

        You’re making the case that a bookseller working online only — and not even the whole online market — can outsell publishers who are selling to everybody, including them, and through all channels. For me, at least, some logical explanation would be a useful accompaniment to a claim. When something defies gravity, I like an explanation. But when it fits a confirmation bias, perhaps that’s not necessary.

        Mike

      • William Ockham

        I suppose you are walking proof that Arthur C. Clarke is correct and any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic. You keeping saying magic and miracle as if there is something mysterious about all this. There is no magic here. For folks who understand data-driven marketing the idea that Amazon could do the same thing for all the KDP books is simply ludicrous. It just doesn’t work that way.
        Do you really think that all books are the same? In the past, you have made much of the fact that every book is unique. I’m assuming that you still believe that. If you do, then why can’t you see that what works for one book might not work for all books? You keep making the claim that if Amazon can reach some threshold for one book, then they can do it for all books and that seems like utter nonsense to me.
        I’m not claiming that because Eisler’s book did well (due to specific promotions that Amazon can’t do for every book on KDP) that every book can do well. That would be a ridiculous claim and you have no right to put that claim in my mouth.
        I will explain in excruciating detail the claim I am making: How can an online bookseller sell more copies of so

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        Yes, all books are different. And it ispossible that Barry Eisler’s Amazon book (which I read and enjoyed) is much better than his previous books (which I never read). Or more commercial. That would be an explanation.
        But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about Amazon applying marketing techniques, using their robust database of customers and purchases, to drive sales. That’s the “magic” trick. I am sure it is effective.

        But if it were *sooo *effective that it would, on any reliable basis, sell more copies through Amazon than publishers sell through all accounts * including* Amazon, I think that challenges logic and requires more of an explanation than “they’re good at it.”

        Mike

      • Steve Fischer

        I’d ask Penny Marshall how she feels about selling only 2,000 print copies of her Amazon published memoir.

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        It isn’t impressive, that’s for sure.

        Mike

  • http://twitter.com/jasonashlock Jason Allen Ashlock

    Mike,

    I
    can’t say Adam Chromy, my partner at MTM and The Rogue Reader, mind being placed alongside the Brightline crew in a piece about
    the emergence of new commercial models for publishing! That’s some good company
    we’re keeping.

    Apologies in advance for the length of this reply…

    First,
    you’re absolutely right that the future we’re engineering at The Rogue Reader
    is lean and nimble. With Pressbooks, we’ve got a lightweight cloud-based
    software that allows us to build once for all ebook formats + webbooks + print.
    And turns the text of the book into metadata, opening up every line on
    every page to be shared widely and chunked creatively. Our workflow is simple,
    our outputs are clean, our marketing is built out of the work itself, not
    appended awkwardly after-the-fact. (Why big publishers aren’t knocking down
    Hugh McGuire’s door to use this platform mystifies me. I hope they soon will
    be.)

    Second,
    because of those efficiencies, we’re able to spend our time and money doing
    other tasks at a higher level. Our manuscripts are copy-edited by industry
    pros. Our cover art’s designed by the talented fellow who knocked out the movie
    posters for The Descendants and Tree of Life, among others. Our blurbs are strong: Pelecanos, Lippman,
    Chercover, etc. Our first author is a Barnes and Noble Nook Pick for October. Our
    content strategy includes videos from Emmy-nominated documentary filmmakers,
    artwork from top-flight designers, cocktails recipes from New Orleans
    mixologists, author events both actual and virtual, etc–all of which are meant
    to be both a way for curious readers to test our style before they buy, as well
    as a way for readers of our authors’ books to dive deeper into their
    story-worlds.

    My point is: that’s the hard stuff. The small M and big M Marketing, and if we can do it at all, it’s because the production and distribution and content marketing infrastructure is so light and efficient. So much of what’s coming out of the discoverability conference continuing today is made possible by this.

    One big clarification: We
    are indeed taking on “those functions that are absolutely core to publishing editorial selection and development, rights management,
    and marketing”—and I would add to that list “brand development”—but The Rogue
    Reader is technically not the
    Publisher. That’s one of our most important distinctions from Diversion or
    Bedford Square: we are not licensing
    rights from our clients. That conflict is something we avoid, as I’ve written
    about publicly elsewhere. We are literary managers, and we take a percentage
    just like any agent would. That percentage is fixed—it doesn’t fluctuate based
    on what we spend on a given title. We liaise and negotiate with possible partners
    just as we normally would for an author—except at The Rogue Reader those
    partners include retailers, reviewers, advertising venues and content partners from whom we’re
    seeking support and exposure rather than Big Six editors from whom we’re
    seeking an advance.

    What we’re proposing is a model that preserves the essential
    value of traditional publishing—the tradecraft, the curation, the brand and
    design—and marrying it with the best of indie publishing. Namely, that the
    authors keep their rights and their destinies in hand, and take home most of
    the book’s earnings. As subsidiary rights opportunities develop (and print
    might actually be considered a subsidiary right in this model!), we’re there,
    as we always are, to manage and monetize.

    Compared to Brightline’s bright lights, our aims may be modest
    indeed. But for our authors and their work, they’re getting, we propose, the
    best of all possible worlds.

    Anyway, thanks. Happy to hear comments, questions, criticism…

    • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

      Jason, thanks very much for the clarification, particularly concerning your business model which I got wrong!

      Mike

    • Scott Waxman

      I’m a bit behind on this one due to our busy life in publishing. I
      wanted to clarify, Jason, that you repeatedly misrepresent Diversion
      Books. It is an entirely separate company from Waxman Leavell and
      publishes 99% of its authors from other agencies or directly with
      authors with no representation.

      • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

        Scott, I’m afraid *I’m* guilty of some misrepresentation myself.

        I stand corrected by you (offfline) that you have maintained your involvement in both the publishing and agenting businesses. And that they have different staffs and leaderships.

        As a separate point, we acknowledge that Diversion’s author base overlaps very little with the agency’s..

        Thanks for clarifying.

        Mike

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  • Scott Waxman

    Just reading through this. Very interesting Mike. Just wanted you to
    know that I am still a full time agent and selling a lot of books regularly,
    and just this season Waxman Leavell Literary had four NYTimes bestsellers. I
    have a separate staff for Diversion. Mary Cummings is running it now and we are
    publishing five to ten books per month now have over 100 books in the catalog. We are not an “experimenter” but an
    ongoing publishing business with very strong and growing sales results and
    signing up a lot of high quality front and backlist.

    We feel we get the best of both traditional as well as digital
    publishing by having these two separate companies.

    • http://idealog.com/blog Mike Shatzkin

      Thanks again.

      Mike

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