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Sep 27, 2010

Ingram and the Sea Change in Publishing

Ingram wants to lead the sea change in publishing:

While digital is growing rapidly, Ingram continues to invest in print technology to maintain its leadership position in a segment it all but invented: print-on-demand. Its Lightning Source division now has 4.4 million titles and has added more titles this year than at any time in its history. "We've seen an explosion of titles," Prichard said, attributing that to a number of factors: traditional publishers doing shorter first printings and reprinting using POD; the growth of aggregators that print public domain titles; more self-publishing; and greater use of POD by academic presses.


"We expect to take over more publishers' back-end operations as they move from print to digital, and business models change like never before," Prichard said. As digital publishing commands more resources, publishers will want to move the management of slow-moving titles to Ingram, freeing warehouse space and "turning fixed costs into variable costs," Prichard believes. Serving as the back end for publishers as well as Ingram's still rapidly growing direct-to-consumer business centered around fulfilling Internet book orders is why Prichard predicted that Ingram's print sales will increase in the years ahead.

...Blending Ingram's print and digital capabilities was one reason Prichard led the reorganization of the company 15 months ago, a process that combined three businesses—Ingram Book Company, Ingram Digital, and Lightning Source—into the Ingram Content Group. The move centralized all of the departments of the three separate businesses and has made it easier for customers to work with Ingram, whether for print, digital, or a mix of services.

Oh, and this is both funny and sobering.

Writer: Nine months.

Editor: What?

Writer: Nine months, working 60 hour weeks. That's how long it took me to write my novel. That seems a bit longer and more labor-intensive than your three weeks. Yet I'm only getting 17.5% of the price that you set. Do you know what your percentage is?

Editor: Off the top of my head, no.

Writer: You get 52.5%.

Editor: Really? Huh.

Writer: To me, that doesn't seem fair.

Editor: You don't seem to understand that you need us. Without editing or cover art...

Writer: (interrupting) Let's say the ebook sells ten thousand copies. Which, at your inflated price of $9.99, seems unlikely. But let's say it does. That means I earn $17,500...

Editor: A respectable figure...

Writer: ...and you earn $52,500. Even though you only worked on it for three weeks.

Editor: But you gotta admit, we made a terrific cover for it.

Writer: True. But for fifty thousand dollars, I bet I could buy some pretty nice cover art on my own. I bet I could pay a doctor to raise Pablo Picasso from the dead and have him do the cover.

Editor: Don't forget editing.

Writer: How long does it take to edit a manuscript?

Editor: Excuse me?

Writer: In hours. How many are we talking? Ten? Twenty?

Editor: It might go as high as fifty hours, with multiple read-throughs and the line edit.

Writer: How much do editors earn an hour?

Editor: Excuse me?

Writer: Let's say fifty bucks an hour. I think that's high, and I also think your fifty hour estimate is high, but even if we go with both, that's only $2500. And according to the Artist & Graphic Designer's Market, book cover art should cost around $2000.

Editor: Don't forget formatting and uploading.

Writer: I can pay a guy $200 to format and upload the book. In fact, I can also pay a guy $300 to create a cover, and an editor $500 to do both content and copy editing. But you're not charging me $1000, or even $4500. You're taking $52,500. And that number can get even bigger. If I hire my own editor and artist, those costs are fixed. You continue to take your 52.5% forever.

Editor: You don't seem to understand. Do you know how much it costs to rent this office? We're paying $25k a month, and that doesn't even include utilities. I've got three assistants. We all have health insurance and 401k. Expense accounts. Do you have any idea what it costs to take agents out to lunch?

Writer: My agent didn't broker this deal.

Editor: You're missing the point!

(Assistant enters, with coffee)

Assistant: Here's your cappuccino, Editor.

Editor: There's another cost! We paid five grand for this cappuccino machine! How are we supposed to stay in business unless we take 52.5%?

Writer: (standing up) I think we're done here.

Editor: Wait a second! You need us! Without us to validate your work, you'll never be considered legitimate! You'll just be some unknown, satisfied rich guy!

There's more. You should read the whole thing. Hilarious and yet quite... thought-provoking.


Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Very interesting, Tara. Thanks for posting! I would have liked to have seen more figures about how much a publishers spends to promote a paper book to bookstores. That's one thing indie authors still can't do for themselves, or at least do as effectively as publishers.

scott g.f.bailey said...

The other thing is that Kornrath began in print, as a traditionally-published author. He didn't build his platform on his own, and his story might be dramatically different if he didn't have that trad-pub beginning to his career. Just saying. But it's not like he one day started selling ebooks on his own and suddenly had a self-sustaining career from it. His publishers got his name in front of readers and got his books on bookstore shelves. He can shake his fist at them now, but it's a wee bit disingenuous.

Tara Maya said...

The marketing budget for a print book would be an interesting thing to know. I imagine it varies from book to book. But in the case of midlist genre books, I expect that amount is negligible. The author does benefit, however from the reputation and platform of the large publisher. A Harlequin book, frex, benefits from sharing Harlequin's reputation.

His figures are comparable, a little lower, perhaps, to what I guesstimated it costs to do a book with top-quality. Ok, I said $4000 for the cover art, and for the editing, because the artists I like best cost that much, and I was thinking of a 120,000 word book, whereas he is probably talking about 55,000 words.

It's true he started in print, but that was also several years ago. I'm not sure someone starting today would need to start that way. Of course, I am biased, not just because I'm thinking of self-publishing, but because even when I was "traditionally" published, it was as ebooks. ;) Plenty of the authors by that publisher started e- and went on to print, not the other way around.

C. N. Nevets said...

I think it's less the promotional budget than it simply is the existing structures. I can't get one the libraries around her to take Cinders into their collection, simply because they've not seen it in any of their little catalogs and publisher lists. Those structures have to re-created by every indie autho, but pre-exist for even mid-list books with no promotional budget to speak of.

I think they're different monsters altogether, I worry that by over-comparing paths in favor of alleviating worries or better understanding options, we end up creating false dilemmas.

E-books and print books aren't the same thing. Self-publish and major house publishing aren't the same thing. Comparing them too closely is only going to cause frustrations that need not be.

Tara Maya said...

Agreed, Nevets.

But I think the point of Kornath's comparison is fairly straight-forward. He's asking, crassly, if you like, "how can I make more money?" He believes he can make more by self-publishing, at least his ebooks. Even if that is because he's already established a platform in traditional publishing, the idea that an author would or could use print as a way to launch a career in ebooks is pretty incredible. This is already a reversal of the situation just a year or two ago.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Interesting. I laughed and groaned at the last piece you shared, mainly because it's comparing two things that are completely different in a lot of aspects.

I didn't know Nevets couldn't get Cinders into the library there, but it doesn't surprise me. Many places here won't touch it. That's just how self-publishing goes...for now. This is also why I'd like to get published by a small publisher at some point and perhaps move up from there, but in the end it really matters where I feel most comfortable and happy. I said no to a small publisher recently, as you know, who wanted Cinders, and it was a tough decision. That would have opened more doors for me, but I think it would have permanently closed some doors for me, as well.

This is a complicated business no matter how you go about it.

Tara Maya said...

Libraries have a specific policy designed to keep self-published books out. They will not take any book from a publisher that does not publish at least three books not by the same author. Or something like that. There's no reason for it from the library's point of view -- it has nothing to do with returns -- it is solely a vetting mechanism. And yeah, that's kinda sad.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Well, I've gotten a few libraries to take the book, so that's good. But none locally.

C. N. Nevets said...

If you're any good at altering birth certificates, there's a library here that has an Indiana authors collection without the self-publishing headaches.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I think I'll pass. :)

Tara Maya said...

I know the words to "Gary, Indiana" from The Music Man. Close enough?

C. N. Nevets said...

Depending on which librarian handles the request, it could be.

Tara Maya said...

Joe Konrath responded on his own blog to the suggestion he only had the success he did because he was launched first in print. Since there are 200+ comments, I'll just repost:


you were able to leverage traditional publishing to build your platform/audience.

I've heard that so many times I might just get it tattooed on my chest.

I've responded to it just as many times. Some of my ebooks outsell others 10 to 1. If my name sold my ebooks, wouldn't they all sell equally? If people were so enamored with the J.A. Konrath brand, where I built my platform, why are my two bestselling novels by Jack Kilborn?

Many who buy me don't know who I am when they first try me. I know this from emails and from reviews and comments.

My cheaper ebooks far outsell my "known" more expensive ebooks. If it was all about the brand name, the brand I've been associated with--the Jack Daniels series--should outsell everything else. The List has sold twice as many ebooks as all of the Jack Daniels ebooks combined.

In a previous blog post, I named 50 newbie authors who are selling in the thousands, some who are selling as many as I do. No platform for them. No name recognition.

I'm sure my name helps sales. So does this blog.

But I'd say that my low prices, plus the fact that I have 26 ebooks on Kindle that browsers can stumble across, account for many more sales than those folks actively seeking me out because they know me.


Derek J. Canyon said...

I've been following Konrath for a couple months and seen several posts from unknown newbie authors with no publishing experience who are selling at least a few thousand copies a year. One I remember sold around 3000 in the last 7 months. Not bad supplementary income.

I'm also a newbie author, with my first two titles almost ready to put up on Kindle. One is a short story anthology, the other a novel (both cyberpunk). For cover art and editing, I've spent around $600 on the anthology and probably will spend about $1500 for the novel.

Tara Maya said...

That's about the range of my budget as well.

scott g.f.bailey said...

I withdraw my comment, which is to say: it looks like I was wrong. I'd never heard of Kornrath until recently, and what I heard was all about his self-publishing. I read a post of his about a year ago where he said that his ebook adventure began when he decided to put out kindle versions of those novels he could not find a traditional publisher for, after he'd already had a couple novels published in print.

I will say that the fact that his new ebooks now outsell his print books is not evidence that his print history had nothing to do with his success. The arguments he gives don't support his claim, because he demonstrates no causal link. One assumes that newer titles will sell better than older titles, because the active sales window of the older titles has passed. Just saying.

In some ways that I think are important, Kornrath's story is mostly beside the point for any writers who are now entering the self-publishing arena.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I stopped reading Konrath's blog because his pursuits aren't really what I'm after and I realized if I kept aiming for that and listening to someone whom I feel thinks that's the only way to go was too frustrating for me. I didn't self-publish my book to make a lot of sales or make a lot of money. I did it for reasons I'm not sure Konrath or many other people truly understand.

Okay, that's just me babbling after I read Scott's most recent comment. :)

Tara Maya said...

There have always been people who have had success with self-publishing because they are just dynamos at self-promotion. And in non-fiction, it's always been an option.

My first thought was that Konrath was one of those.

What impressed me was not the success of one man, who could be an outlier, but the many self-published *fiction* writers who piped up in the comments. They gave some of the sales figures, which were much more modest than Konraths, but also much more achievable. That made me think that for fiction, including well-trod genres, which is what I write, I could sell as many copies through indie publishing as I could through the traditional route. Remember, most genre novels only sell in modest numbers even through traditional publishers.

I wanted to blog about this very thing today, but I have to rest my eye. So I will force myself off the internet again. Tomorrow...