Backlists, Hydra and the Future of Indie Publishing

indie publishingI’m a bit behind on reading Rusch’s blog on the business of being a writer, but one of her recent articles on binge reading (which also touched on Hydra) was excellent food for thought.

Note that her article didn’t cover Hydra’s recent changes in its royalty and payment structure, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading, both as readers and as writers.

Rusch discusses reader habits, and how there’s no such things as “too many books” for a popular author. She also talks about why traditional publishers limit the number of books an author can release in a year. (Hint, it’s all about costs.)

This ties in beautifully with Joe Konrath’s recent post on his backlist and sales. Take a few minutes to read both articles and draw your own conclusions.

What’s the secret to success in publishing? They both agree: It’s having lots of books continually available. An author or publisher never knows when a reader is going to discover an author or a series. When we find one we like, what do we do? Try to find the rest of the books by that author, or in that series. What do we do if we can’t find them? Well, some readers move on to a new author. Others seek out used copies or less than legal means, neither of which puts money in authors’ (or publishers’) hands.

Which wraps back around to (a) why publishers try to grab all rights for the length of copyright, and (b) why indie authors who keep their backlist continually in print often see significant sales and success, and (c) the utter foolishness of limiting authors’ productivity.

It’s obvious, I think, that indie authors are here to stay. The better ones will learn to be good business people, and the not-so-good ones will get frustrated and leave (no real loss to readers). Indie authors have the flexibility to respond to readers’ needs, as discussed by both Rusch and Konrath.

What remains to be seen is whether the traditional publishers will learn the lessons of indie authors. Publishers are becoming less relevant, and silly decisions like those of Hydra (even under new terms) show that they see indie potential, but are still so stuck in their old business models that they can’t be flexible.

My theory of their future is … you know what? Right now I honestly can’t finish that sentence. I do read a lot of traditionally published books, and part of me wants the big publishers to succeed. On the other hand, they continue to behave so badly (and stupidly) that the business-owner part of me doesn’t see a future for them.

What do you think?

4 Comments on Backlists, Hydra and the Future of Indie Publishing

  1. The problem for big publishers is the number of books they put out per quarter or per month. They can’t afford the cost, up to $250,000 per book not counting author advances, to create more than a certain number of books, and the bookstores limit their shelf space, as well. Publishers like Harlequin who have huge monthly lists of new books are often forced to only sell one title per book line at certain stores. Not the optimum way to make money.

    WIth only a limited number of books to put out, the publishers would be devoting half their list to authors like Nora Roberts and Heather Graham who can produce close to a dozen books including reprints per year.

    That would not only limit the number of authors out there, it would concentrate the kinds of books, as well.

  2. Interesting article. I work for a reasonably large independent publisher and one of the lessons we’ve learned (but many majors haven’t) is how much ebooks have changed what you can do with an author who has a long list. Of course, the author themselves can sell an ebook fairly effectively so as a publisher you only really add value if you can invest in print editions. These do take a while to earn their money back for anything other than a title that gets a lot of immediate press and shelf space. However, if you look at a combined strategy you can make things work – use special sales and ebook sales to cover the early costs and to get some print copies into the warehouse, even if you don’t get a traditional trade take-up, and then you effectively have a ‘new’ backlist title. All publishers know how important backlist is, the trick is how to get from the upfront costs (and losses!) to a point where a book is simply part of the backlist and selling reasonably steadily.

    Anyway, that’s a bit of a ramble, but the point is that some publishers are learning this lesson. Those who can’t will increasingly look like dinosaurs to those who know anything about the self-pub world.

  3. My series of crime thrillers is published once a year. The series is proving so successful (in terms of reviews and sales) that I now write a spin off series which is being published once a year, making a new book every six months.

  4. @Thalia, glad to hear some are learning the lessons. I’ve gone both indie press and self-pub, and there’s advantages and disadvantages to both, so I’m all for both being options.

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