When Big Book Publishers Win

POSTED ON Jun 15, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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The number of authors I get to meet is truly amazing, and every one of you are fascinating.

Today I talked to an author who had published several books quite successfully with one of the biggest business book publishers in the country.

The author wasn’t entirely happy about this. He wasn’t getting very good response from some of the people assigned to his books, and after splitting royalties with his co-authors after signing a standard contract for 15% of the net, he was making about a dollar a book on a $46.95 hardcover.

But the books had done well, and the author was wondering about self-publishing. He kept hearing about the author keeping 75 or 80%, and he was interested.

It’s no wonder. Self-publishing, indie publishing and e-books are the topics almost everyone wants to talk about. I met this author at the local publishing group I belong to, and where the indie spirit runs deep.

But on the Other Hand . . .

I looked at the books. They were with a perfect publisher for their market in management books, and had sold well. The publisher had:

  • A sales force to sell the new book
  • Willingness to invest perhaps $100,000 or more getting the book to market
  • An established distribution network to the retailers who could best sell the book
  • Long-term relationships with all the actors in the distribution chain
  • Access to specialized media for promotion

Even if this publisher only sent out a press release and nothing more, leaving all the marketing to the author, he would still be ahead. As a self-publisher, he wouldn’t have a chance of equalling the kind of sales his publisher can achieve.

My conclusion was that the book was a poor choice for self-publishing. I told the author he should concentrate instead on:

  • Writing a more popular treatment of his subject, which he could easily self-publish, and
  • Use the books from the large publisher as leverage in finding other ways to monetize his high-quality content.

So self-publishing isn’t the answer for everyone. The book distribution network, with its many layers and long-time players, its bizzare practices and consignment mentality, is still the preeminent way to sell many books.

Those of us who can self-publish, and who can profit from the 80% “royalty” we pay ourselves, should count ourselves as quite fortunate.

Photo by Bosc d’Anjou

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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