Ebooks And The Independent Publisher
Many participants involved in independent-press publishing have by now built good careers and successful companies by keeping clearly in mind what they can do really well versus what the big corporate publishing conglomerates can do.
Successful independent publishing is about niche titles, moderate author advances, low initial print runs, modest publicity campaigns, nickel squeezing left, right, and center, and a marketing approach that starts conservatively and builds incrementally if the market signals are positive enough.
Take these methods and turn them on their heads, and you have a description of how the corporate giants work. The way good independent publishers (and independent-press distributors too) get in trouble is by heeding the siren song of big-time publishing: “If I could only afford the $50,000 advance, or the 12-city author tour, I could be a contender!”
This is not to say that independent publishers don’t sometimes sell a huge number of copies of some titles. I have either published or distributed hundreds of titles that have sold in the range of 100,000 to 500,000 copies—easily enough to make the bestseller lists if their sales had occurred in a short period of time. But only one did make the list. Most had good sales over many months, some had solid sales over many years, and one of them has kept the lights on here for over 20 years.
Still, independent presses should not aspire to the big-publisher model, which, in terms of trade books, is not, in fact, very profitable. If we publish a hot title, we can enjoy the ride, but our focus should be on mastering the niche publishing model, which can be low risk and quite profitable.
Should there be an independent-press model for handling e-books, just as there is for printed books? I think there will be, but first let’s get past some false hopes.
The advent of the e-book has put many independent publishers into a state of wild excitement because they imagine that they will now be able to compete directly with the big publishers without having to invest any money to speak of.
Two big ideas are driving this excitement.
First, e-books eliminate the expense of a large print run. Any number of electronic copies can be produced at negligible cost, and the cost of warehousing and shipping these copies is trivial.
Second, with e-books, publicity and expenses largely disappear because of the Internet. Just arrange for your title to go viral on the blogs and social networking sites, and huge results will be achieved without a large publicity budget or fancy connections. Who cares about a New York Times book review now that we have the Web?Both these ideas are false.