The Problem with the Book Model...
Among the ebb and flow of media forms, the Book is the fundamental unit of knowledge. Not only does it preserve a person’s identity for future generations, it expands our perspectives to infinite proportions. But it isn’t any secret that the book industry has seen better days. And if you’re flirting with the idea of capturing your own experiences on the page, you should make sure you know what kind of business you’re getting into…
To gain an understanding of the modern publishing landscape, let’s take a quick glance at the history of the book business. Before the rise of the Internet, books lived and died by a slew of powerful New York publishing companies formerly known as “The Sister Six”: Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, MacMillan U.S., Hachette, Penguin, and Random House (the last two of which merged in 2012). Every important manuscript was filtered through these book outlets – they were the gatekeepers that controlled which titles entered the marketplace. To that extent, the “Sister Six” comprised the bulk of the American book market. Because they raked in heaps of money, they published heaps of books.
But the rise of new media decimated this model. The internet provided consumers with limitless free content that could be accessed from anywhere in the world. More, the booming television industry resulted in more shows and more channels, which weakened the public’s appetite for books. The prevalence of social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and Snapchat dealt another blow. Audiences simply don’t consume books the way that they used to.
Naturally, the Sister Six had to adjust to the modern climate. Unable to absorb financial losses on their titles, they became far more selective in the books that they could publish. Rather than taking chances on groundbreaking books or new authors, the New York publishing houses clambered to secure deals for celebrities and public figures with loyal fan bases. In addition to cutting down on the number of books published each year, they also minimized their services. Namely, they stopped offering marketing and publicity for their titles.
It’s no secret that the book business has seen better days…but it isn’t dead, right? Let’s look at the scenarios through which authors could potentially score a book deal in the modern age:
1. Leverage a sale from a book proposal.
In rare instances, publishing companies buy titles off of a book proposal. Think of this as a business model for your book – it includes a synopsis, a table of contents, an outline, and a marketing plan as well as a sample chapter. Because publishers do not accept unsolicited submissions, authors need to secure an agent who can officially send their materials for consideration.
Willing publishers will pay the author an advance in order to complete the book. The publishing company is entitled to the book’s profits, providing authors with a meager 2% of the royalties.
2. Sell a completed manuscript.
Publishers purchase manuscripts that have been fully written and polished by authors. This path also requires agency representation, as publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts from private authors. This option requires the author to undertake the risk of producing the manuscript without knowing whether it will generate a sale.
The compensation model works similarly to selling a title off of a book proposal: publishers will pay an upfront fee in exchange for the vast majority of book sales. Authors typically retain 2% of all royalties.
Here’s the bottom line: while it’s possible for a debut author to publish his/her book through the traditional model, it’s far from probable in this climate. You need to secure an agent, generate an outstanding product with market appeal, and demonstrate a marketing plan that promises book sales. Even if you check all those boxes, the financial upside is less-than-rosy, with the publisher taking virtually all of the profits.
In other words, unless you’re a celebrity, it doesn’t make much sense go through the traditional publishing model.
Luckily, traditional publishing isn’t the only way to bring a book into the world. The plummeting model of the past paved the way for self-publishing. These avenues, largely made possible by Amazon, empower authors to distribute their books on the Internet and in select stores. The principle behind self-publishing makes sense for both accessibility and financial reasons. Not only are people consuming text in digital rather than print forms, it’s much cheaper to distribute a book online. Digital books aren’t burdened by the massive costs of printing, binding, and shipping that hamper traditional publishers. And above all else, self-publishing isn’t exclusive. Authors don’t have to deal with the aggravation of submitting query letters pr seeking agency representation. While self-published books aren’t stamped with one of the Sister Six’s insignias, they’re a much more sensible way of publishing a book in the modern era. There’s only one problem with this model…
They get lost in an algorithm.
In 2016, the number of ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) for self-published books ballooned to just under 787,000. That’s an 11.2% jump in printed books from the previous year. And the year before that? Between 2014 and 2015, the number of self-published books increased a staggering 34%. All in all, between 2011 and 2016, the number of self-published books has skyrocketed 218%.
When you throw out the funnel of the Sister Six, you get a ton of books. And while having a surplus of content is great in theory, it probably means that your title won’t get read. Not only that, the general public won’t be able to find your book unless you bankroll an effective marketing campaign.
So there you have it. If you want to publish a book in today’s age, you can either buy into an antiquated system; or you can drop your passion project into a bottomless pit of content.
There must be a better way.
That’s why we created Storyflect. Since our model isn’t held hostage to the economics of book sales like the traditional publishers, we can craft products for every type of person. On the other hand, we don’t believe in dropping your stories into a bucket where they’ll be lost forever. Storyflect carves out a new way to publish your stories – one that creates an intermediate space between the prestige of the traditional book model and the accessibility of self-publishing.
You don’t need to be a celebrity or a top executive to write a book, and you shouldn’t be grouped in with the masses. You possess unique, valid, and valuable stories. You deserve the right avenue for them to enter the world.