Sunday, December 22, 2013

Writers Are Publishers - Let's Start Thinking Like We Are

We writers need to change our thinking - and our terminology - when it comes our jobs. Especially if we're planning on making a long term career out of our craft. The most basic re-envisioning of our job title is that we are publishers, not merely writers. We own our own publishing empires.

This leads to a whole bunch of verbiage changes that should take place. I've already mentioned a few recently. First, Kris Rusch points out that we aren't really writers, we're storytellers. This led me to reaffirm that I'm not in the book or ebook business - I'm in the storytelling business. This simple adjustment in perspective helps me when I think about the future and all the changes that can and will occur so very rapidly.

For instance, I read a comment at Konrath's about "Sears shutting down their catalog operation the same year the first graphical web browser was released." The insight was: "Sears basically had, and threw it away." That's because Sears lost their vision of what they were about (distribution of goods). They instead focused on one delivery venue (the brick and mortar) and probably spread themselves too thin with other kinds of services (though Discover Card did take off!).

Another example is Sports Illustrated. They had their vision pegged to a magazine and in the 80s dismissed cable TV as something foreign. They were thinking 'magazine biz' when they should have been thinking 'sports information biz.' ESPN came along and blew them out of the water. Technology can disrupt a business overnight making losers out of winners.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos knows this and admitted that's the nature of technological disruption. In a recent "60 Minutes" interview, Bezos admitted that Amazon will likely one day be replaced by something else - he's just playing hard to make sure it's after he's dead. (Watch the whole segment for insight into the mind of a business genius.)

Application: Writers are in the story telling business, not the book or even ebook business. If we don't realize that, then those who do - and those who embrace future technological changes that enhance the storytelling experience - will pass us by. Because people yearn for good stories well told - no matter what the venue.

So now. Since we're not writers, we're storytellers, and since we're not in the book/ebook business but in the publishing business (which is more than books), we need to think like publishers. One area this affects is our understanding of how we get paid distributing our stories. Simply put, we do not receive royalties. We are paid to provide content. Get that? We are paid to provide content. We are story content providers.

This excerpt from a recent post by Hugh Howey (emphases his):
When I worked at a small bookstore, we typically received 40% discounts on the books we ordered. That means we were happy to keep 40% of the profit and send 60% back to publishers (which they split with the printer, author, etc.) 40/60 isn’t far off from 30/70, which is what Amazon and B&N pay. Nearly the same split, but the difference in overhead is enormous!

So the fear mongers want us to be terrified of a profit split that is nearly identical to the profit split that bookstores have used for decades. The reason is that they confuse a wholesale price for a retail good offered for a royalty. My 70% pay isn’t a royalty. When I hand Amazon a book to sell, I’m telling them they can have it for 30% off my retail price. A price that I get to set.

Just like a publisher, I do all the work of producing and delivering a product. They get 30% in exchange for distributing it. That’s not a crazy deal. What blinds people to the fairness of this rate is the comically smaller royalties from major publishers. We have come to think of 12.5% as fair. But again, this is a bad comparison. Royalties to authors aren’t the same as profits to publishers. We are the publisher when we self-publish. So start comparing our 70% take to a publishers’ 60% take when they deliver a book to a bookstore — keeping in mind that we don’t have a physical location to lease, shipping costs, or employee wages — and you’ll see that this is a very fair, sustainable, and permanent rate. If anything, there’s room for it to be more generous.
Howey is writing a sane response to the scare mongers that decry everything Amazon, specifically those who believe Amazon's 70% royalty rate will suddenly disappear when they "own us." (Remember "royalty" is their term, not ours. We're changing that verbiage and are now getting wholesale prices for our goods - ie, profits to us who publish our own content.)

I'm not smart enough to know if that's a permanent rate or not, but I do agree with Hugh that it could get even better for us content providers. But what if it doesn't? What if Amazon changes their distribution terms? Well, I say so what? We have options now like never before. We have hundreds of distribution platforms we can tap. We have a new era of electronic distribution to enter into.

Or we do if we change our thinking and realize that we are publishers of stories.

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