I was reading this Konrath post by Barry Eisler on the “Attack of the self-publishing memes” in which he argues that there isn’t an inherent conflict of interest for agents to also help authors epub their books. This got me thinking about the steps (tasks) in the current supply chain, who was going to provide them, and where the biggest value lay.
Here’s the process right now as I understand it from manuscript to reader. The numbers are only task identifiers and don’t represent sequential order in every case, although I did try to sort them that way.
PAPER CHANNEL TASKS THROUGH BRICK & MORTAR OUTLETS
SELL MANUSCRIPT TO PUBLISHER
1. Promote manuscript to editor at publisher
2. Negotiate contract with publisher
3. Story edit manuscript
4. Revise for story edits
5. Copy edit manuscript
6. Revise for copy edits
7. Create cover design and art (a marketing/advertising function)
8. Obtain ISBN
9. Typeset book
10. Print book
MARKET BOOK TO WHOLESALERS, RETAILERS, AND LIBRARIES
11. Establish book selling hierarchy (lead book, second lead, etc.)
12. Obtain reviews from trade publications, newspapers, websites, authors, etc.
13. Create sales catalog and other sales documents
14. Contact book buyers and promote books (calls, visits, conferences, etc.)
15. Take orders
16. Ship to retail outlets and wholesalers
17. Warehouse book
18. Process reader purchases & returns
PROMOTE BOOK TO TARGET AUDIENCE
19. Publicity, including free copies
21. Co-op display purchases
SELF-PUB EBOOK AND POD PAPER CHANNEL TASKS
1. Story edit manuscript
2. Revise for story edits
3. Copy edit manuscript
4. Revise for copy edits
5. Create cover design and art (which you could lump under marketing)
6. Obtain ISBN
7. Format book for ereaders and POD services (CreateSpace etc.)
8. Upload book to retail and library outlets
9. Warehouse the bytes
10. Process reader purchases & returns
MARKET BOOK TO LIBRARIES AND TARGET AUDIENCE
11. Obtaining reviews from trade publications, newspapers, websites, authors, etc.
12. Publicity, including free copies
13. Advertising, including website display etc.
AUDIO BOOK CHANNEL TASKS
There are actually two channels here–physical audio books (CDs) and downloads (Audible, etc.).
I would assume the physical audio would follow the marketing, distributing, and promoting aspects of the paper channel tasks and add in the audio production tasks. Downloadable audio would follow the marketing of the ebooks and add in the audio production tasks.
I’m sure I’m missing some key steps somewhere. Somebody please supply them if you see gaps.
As for the future, here’s what I see. The paper channel tasks aren’t going to change much. Nor do I think the people performing the various tasks will either. For example, I just don’t think POD machines are going to catch on in stores and wipe out distributors. They may take out printers (#10) of trade and mass market paperbacks. But I haven’t seen a POD machine that can do hardbacks. Maybe the PODs will move to the retail outlets. But I don’t think so. Somebody disabuse me of the notion.
However, I do think there will be some interesting developments in the ebook/POD channel.
Right now a lot of authors are spending time performing tasks 6, 7, and 8. Some literary agencies are wanting to charge 15% forever for those steps with maybe a little cover design. But tasks 6-8 are the tasks that require the least amount of skill and will soon be automated.
Formatting for ebooks now is like coding html was for webpages 10 years ago–people in the code spending hours tweaking crap. Right now it takes you about a day to learn how to format a novel for the various ebook readers. Once you know how to do it, you’ll spend a day, maybe two, formatting your novel and uploading it. Or you can pay someone else to do it–any responsible teenager will do.
But within the next year I predict an application coming (if it’s not already here) that will hook into Word and other programs that will make the labor obsolete. Creating a Kindle document will be like creating a PDF document in Word today—you just click Save.
Uploading could be automated as well across various sites with some application. But it’s fairly easy now.
So for which tasks are these ebook distributors wanting to charge 15% forever? Obtaining an ISBN?
I don’t even think they even do that.
Amazon and the other ebook retailers have a lock on 9 & 10. It would be incredibly hard to dislodge those gorillas. So I think the place where literary agencies and others who want to play in the indie ebook/POD supply chain are going to flourish is in the other tasks that require the most skills–editing, cover art, and marketing, which I’ve marked in blue.
Authors interested in the indie ebook/POD channel are going to want service providers who can deliver great editing, cover art, and marketing. They’re going to want folks who can help them sell into traditional domestic and foreign paper distribution channels. They’re going to want folks who can help them sell rights to other buyers–audio, film, etc. And they’re going to want help with their contracts.
If I were an agency, graphic artist, editor, intellectual rights lawyer, or some other entrepreneur trying to serve indie ebook/POD authors, that’s where I’d spend my time.
Dystel & Goodrich literary agency recently announced they would do something like this . . . almost.
Over the past months and years we’ve come to the realization that e-publishing is yet another area in which we can be of service to our clients as literary agents. From authors who want to have their work available once the physical edition has gone out of print and the rights have reverted, to those whose books we believe in and feel passionately about but couldn’t sell—oftentimes, after approaching 20 or more houses—we realized that part of our job as agents in this new publishing milieu is to facilitate these works being made available as e-books and through POD and other editions.
Right now, you’re thinking, oh, DGLM is going to be another of those agencies that has decided to become an e-publisher and charge clients whose books they can’t sell 50% of their income for the privilege of uploading their work. Some of you may be mumbling, “Uh…that’s a conflict of interest.” We get it and we understand how that can be the perception. However, we have no intention of becoming e-publishers. As we said above, we have too much respect for the work that publishers do and too much respect for the work we ourselves do to muddy the waters in such a way.
Again, what we are going to do is to facilitate e-publishing for those of our clients who decide that they want to go this route, after consultation and strategizing about whether they should try traditional publishing first or perhaps simply set aside the current book and move on to the next. We will charge a 15% commission for our services in helping them project manage everything from choosing a cover artist to working with a copyeditor to uploading their work. We will continue to negotiate all agreements that may ensue as a result of e-publishing, try to place subsidiary rights where applicable, collect monies and review statements to make sure the author is being paid. In short, we will continue to be agents and do the myriad things that agents do.
Our intention is to keep on trying to find books we think we can sell to traditional publishing houses, to negotiate the best deal (always), and to give our authors as many options as we can. Because we will continue to be commission-based, we will not be automatically pushing authors into e-publishing. Again, we want to give our authors options and empower them to do what they set out to do all along: have their work read by the largest possible audience
However, from what I understand they’re not offering to perform the necessary tasks for 15% forever, only the project management of the tasks. Which means the author will still be paying for the editing and cover art and marketing.
15% forever for project management (a list of to-do’s in this case) and a service provider contact list? Where the author still pays for the editing, cover design and art, and marketing?
Others like D&G will pop up. But the ones that indie authors will eventually go to will be those that deliver on the high-skill tasks for reasonable rates. Those will be the ones playing in the ebook supply chain of the future.
Many authors will contract the tasks separately themselves. But a lot of authors won’t want to do that. They’ll want a one-stop-shop. Or one that does most of it. Some of those one-stop-shops will charge an upfront fee and will probably accept anyone who can pay. Others will make most of their money on a % of the sales to readers and libraries, footing the initial costs of the tasks, and will only work with clients they think will pay out, which if you think about it isn’t really an idie (self-pub) model at all. That’s the space traditional publishers play in right now.
But in the ebook/POD world distribution is no longer a key barrier to entry for new competitors. And so I expect to see a whole bunch of new publishers coming to play in that space. Those that select, edit, and market well will flourish.
Meanwhile, I don’t think most of us authors care which road we take and who we play with. Well, as long as they play nice and don’t poop in the sandbox. We just want to get our stories in to the hands of massive numbers of delighted readers.