Are Authors As Much To Blame For Publishing's Current Malaise As Publishers?

This piece originally appeared on the Caffeine Nights Publishing blog on 2/14/09.

This may be difficult to read especially if you are an aspiring author, but are authors as much to blame for falling profits, closing bookstores and the current failure of the publishing world to embrace new digital media platforms?

Reading many forums, blogs and articles on various sites it becomes clear than many, many authors (aspiring or otherwise) wish to continue living in a cloud cuckoo land where the age old business model of paying advances and expecting a living wage on the basis of absolutely no sales exists.

The global economic crisis has led to a massive downturn in profits across the board which is striking the very foundations of companies that have been established for decades and in some cases hundreds of years.

The publishing industry has the reactive qualities of a dinosaur on diazepam and sadly it has instilled a culture of acceptance in generation after generation of authors that the only business model is one that was adopted by publishers in the 1900’s. Namely, large upfront advances based on nothing more than a hunch and a publisher’s marketing machine. Well, the world has moved on buddy and it is no longer the case that publishers can afford to continue going down this rocky road.

The Internet now exposes how authors expect this model to continue no matter what the economic climate says. I have read countless threads where authors appear to be viewing the world of publishing through rose coloured glasses. For example comments such as, “Well if they are not going to pay an advance they are just crooks, or they’re POD with no established route to bookstores.”

Yes, what a great idea, let’s just fill every bookstore across the country with hundreds of copies of books regardless of the demand and then see those books return in six months to be shipped off once more to a remainder shop or back to the printers for pulping. How environmentally sound and what a great business plan…not.

Let’s examine how well the world of publishing is coping with the current situation. Bookstores are closing, profits are shrinking, publishers refuse to look at new delivery platforms, and sales are in decline. Yet still I see unpublished authors bleating on about how a publisher is not a real publisher if he is not putting his hand into his own pocket and paying the author hundreds or thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds before a solitary sale has been made. Cuckoo!

Business cannot run this way any longer. In fact I don’t know of many other businesses which allow such a model to operate. Do you think Tesco or Wal-Mart would let you walk away with all their stock on the basis that one day you may be able to pay the bill?

Until we see a paradigm shift in thinking in both authors and publishers it may be that we have to face the fact that many established companies are going to collapse, never to rise. Authors, I appreciate you think your work is the best thing since sliced bread, that’s what I think with every novel I complete, but the truth is you are only as good as your sales and that is all the reward you deserve. It is the only sustainable business model, like it or not. Yes, there will always be exceptions and bidding wars. Good luck to the companies which want to get involved in that particular strand of madness.