You Are a Billion Dollar Multi-National Publishing Conglomerate

Unlike in paper, where an author needs a distribution partner to cost-effectively reach a mass market of readers, in digital a lone author has exactly the same ability to distribute as any New York-based, billion-dollar multinational conglomerate.

In that single, succinct paragraph, my buddy Barry Eisler makes it clear why publishers are becoming increasingly irrelevant for authors…and why guys like me are turning down book contracts, even on successful series, from big six publishers in favor of self-publishing and/or publishing through one of the Amazon imprints

That paragraph is an excerpt from Barry's terrific guest post at Writer Unboxed — an essay that should be required reading for authors, editors, publishers, and aspiring writers. Here some more of his sharp observations about the digital landscape.

In digital distribution, legacy publishers offer zero value. An author can distribute one-hundred-percent as effectively alone as she can with a legacy publisher. In other words, in digital distribution, an author has no use for New York. For more, see this guest post I did at J.A. Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing (a blog you should absolutely be reading regularly).

Note that I’m only talking about distribution and I’m only talking about digital. I didn’t say that New York publishers have no value to offer in paper, in, editing, or in other areas. To me this is obvious, but I’ve learned to include this sort of disclaimer to make it marginally more difficult for dodgers, denialists, and dudgeon demons to avoid actual thought in favor of straw man arguments and other mischaracterizations of what I’ve actually said.

Third, and flowing from the first two: in a digital world, the primary value a publisher can offer an author is direct-to-consumer marketing. This is why Amazon is so strongly positioned to succeed in digital publishing: its book business is built on its ability to reach tens or even hundreds of millions of readers directly by email. Amazon marketing is both exceptionally focused (book buyers) and exceptionally broad (tens or even hundreds of millions of customers). Entities that can offer authors compelling direct-to-consumer marketing value will be in a good position to take a cut of the profits. One recent example is the L.A. Times. Think of entities that fit the bill, and you’ll be able to predict tomorrow’s publishers.

Interestingly, there’s one particular group of companies that lacks any meaningful direct-to-consumer marketing ability. That group is New York publishing. Draw your own conclusions.

But he's got more to say than just that…go read his post. You won't be sorry. 

8 thoughts on “You Are a Billion Dollar Multi-National Publishing Conglomerate”

  1. I agree with some of what Barry says, but certainly not all. He acknowledges editing, but then deals with it rather dismissively. Story editing is a big, big deal and, judging from two recently published Thomas & Mercer ebooks I’ve read, editing is something that traditional publishers still do far better than Amazon.
    I am one who believes in digital publishing, and I’m delighted to see the opportunity it brings to authors buried in the midlist, but disparaging traditional publishers in such a dismissive tone reveals an emotional bias that weakens Barry’s argument.

  2. There are grave weaknesses in these arguments, but if the mantra is repeated often enough, people will believe it. I suspect that in time these enthusiasms will be much more subdued, and the major New York houses will be around, and strong. Ephemeral purchases lead to ephemeral profits and ephemeral durability.

  3. Speaking of Barry Eisler, The Detachment sounds great. My Monk-like brain requires me to go in order though, so I just ordered Rain Fall from Amazon. Better late than never.

  4. Lee,
    Spot on as always…and I agree with Barry…who needs New York…As much success as I’ve had even working with an indie publisher, it only dawned on me recently that I’ve been literally giving up tens of thousands of dollars by publishing traditionally. Now fueled by a new 7 book deal with Thomas & Mercer I feel I’ll be in a great position to begin self-publishing my titles…Thanks for inspiring my friend…:)


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