Such a deal! A representative of one of my publishers called today with a deal. It was so nice of them to remember me. We talked for about ten minutes and I had to turn down their offer. I could see what they’d get out of the deal, but my side of the bargain was a lot murkier. Stories have been told of the Rise of the Creative Class. The rise is real. So are the opportunities – and the cautions. Our new economy will need new rules.
A bit of background. I’ve written six books so far. I’ve also produced five more. The six were narratives, lots of words. The five were art books, lots of photos. All have been self-published. I’ve been busy. Because of changes in the book industry, I’ve used four publishers for my books (iUniverse, CreateSpace, Blurb, Kindle). I’ve also used a few others for clients (I help creative people with their projects), so I’ve seen at least a slice of the industry.
Print-on-demand and e-books are the literary enablers for writers and artists who want to create physical or electronic versions of their work. The technology was new when I started to write back in 2000. Now, the new technology is replacing the old, and quickly.
A decade ago, the publisher I was working with had a supportive approach. If I made money by selling books, they made money. They had the potential to make quite a bit because each sale meant 10%-20% to me and 90%-80% to them. We both had costs, but they had four to ten times the revenue. Okay. That’s a bit lopsided, but they had to buy and operate the equipment, and manage the sales and delivery. Granted, they existed because all of those costs were lowered by technology, but I was willing to work within those constraints.
I can’t recall exactly when, but there was a management change, a merger, and a relocation that coincided with a new business model. They didn’t emphasize the change, but with my publishing experience from before and after the shift, it was obvious. They’d still make money from book sales, but few books ever make a profit. The last data I heard suggested that 80% never covered their costs. In an industry like that, it made more sense to make money from selling services to the author rather than from selling books to readers. Readership was stagnant. The number of self-acknowledged creatives was increasing; they sold to the rising market. The phone calls came with dollar signs, buy this service to make your book sell better.
I got such a call today.
For the low price of $2,600, they would produce an ad that included seven other books. The ad would be placed in a prominent publication, prominent within the publishing and bookselling industry, not prominent with readers.
The first sign that something was amiss, or at least scripted, was that she offered me this deal for my book. I paused. Remembered which publisher was calling, counted how many books I’d published with them, then asked, “Which book?”. She paused. “Well, your most recent one – Dream. Invest. Live. Oh, that should do well because books about money do well.” She obviously had not been looking at the sales numbers. She also hadn’t been looking at any other numbers because my questions kept coming back to data and she didn’t have any answers.
How many books would I have to sell to cover my costs? She didn’t know. I suggested that, to make things easy, if I made $2.60 per book, I would have to sell 1,000 copies just to break even. That’s a lot of books. She pointed out that the royalties would probably be different. The more I asked, the worse the answer became. The royalties would be lower rather than higher; discounts happen, but she didn’t know how much, just lower.
Her appeals were all emotional or subjective. My responses were business-oriented and objective. Her appeals were based on the script she was given. I’m glad she has a job. I’m glad I don’t have her job. The episode highlighted the caution that artists should carry. We never got to the rest of the math because they didn’t expect her to have to go there and I wasn’t going to drag her through it. You, kind reader, get to read the rest of the story.
If I paid $2,600 and sold 1,000 books and made $2.60 on each book, I’d break even. The publisher’s revenues could have been as high was 90%, $23,400. Some of that would be costs; but I suspect the ad didn’t cost $23,400. Remember that they were putting together an ad what would include 7 other books. Without knowing the data for the other books, let’s just use mine and multiply by eight. The publisher would potentially make 8 x $23,4000 = $187,200 if all the authors just made back their initial investment. Even if no one sold anything, the publisher would receive $20,800 to make an ad. Maybe that’s what ads cost, but as a proprietor I’d shop around for other ad venues before I spent that much.
The Rise of the Creative Class is welcome. For some, it is an avenue that is open after other avenues are closed. For some, it is an avenue they’ve waited their lives for. The Rise has also inspired another Rise, that of the support industry, some of which is supportive of the artist, some of which is deriving support from the artist. I, and many others, strive to be supportive of the artist. But there are cautions and caveats for the new Creative Class. If you’re going to make a deal, make sure it’s a good deal for you. If it isn’t, ask yourself if it’s a good deal for them, and probably only them.
Irony #1 When she mentioned my most recent book I had to remember quickly that I switched to a new publisher, CreateSpace, that is working more from the old model. My royalties on Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland are more like 70%, and no sales calls.
Irony #2 When she introduced herself as a representative of iUniverse I was glad because I was thinking about ordering some more books. You see, my first book (Just Keep Pedaling) continues to sell so well that I sold out of all my copies. I need more. But, we didn’t get around to talking about that. Of course, if she’d started the conversation by asking me what they could do for me, well… They probably would’ve had at least one sale.
PS A friend has a blog dedicated to inventors and innovators. Creatives may find it useful because he goes into much greater depth. ideaworth.wordpress.com by Alan Beckley