Publishers Trying Stuff

We’ve been all over the e-book revolution here at TKZ. Last month I asked what the publishing industry would look like in six months. We’re starting to see some things taking shape.
First, the news. The publishing industry’s first quarter stats are in, and here’s the headline:
E-book sales are up 159.8%. Adult hardcover and mass market paperback sales are down 23.4%.
If you were an American car manufacturer and you saw that sales of Japanese made cars were up 158.8% and sales of American cars were down 23.4% in the first quarter, what would you do? I’ll tell you what you would do. You would run to the federal government and ask it to bail you out.
Traditional book publishers can’t do that. (Well, I guess they could try, but it would be a tougher sell than a Charlie Sheen self-help book.)
So what should they do? Try stuff. Innovate. Move fast.
There’s a problem, though. It’s not easy for major industries to change. Publishers have been operating under a model that is a hundred years old. But the market does not care. It is merciless. So adapt or be left in the dust.
This week one of the major Christian book publishers, Tyndale, announced a “digital first” imprint. They are going to bring out four fiction titles in July that are e-book only, by new authors. Then they’ll add non-fiction titles. If a title performs well, they will consider giving the author a print run.
Tyndale issued a press release that read, in part:
Lisa Jackson, Associate Publisher explains, “The world of publishing is shifting rapidly, and it’s important that we as publishers deliver content in as many ways as possible. The Digital First project allows us to get fresh, new voices into the marketplace more quickly and efficiently than ever before.”
“I am very excited about this new initiative,” says Ron Beers, Senior Vice President and Publisher. “Tyndale has always been known for its innovation. Now we are working hard to be at the leading edge of the digital publishing revolution and to use that creativity and expertise to most effectively launch new voices into the marketplace. We are one of the few houses that has invested heavily in in-house digital expertise and this has allowed us to be more nimble yet strategic in bringing digital content to market.”
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Looking at this from a business angle, this seems like a solid move. Whether this will be a net positive for the bottom line cannot be predicted. There are too many variables and the landscape changes almost daily. But it’s proactive and “outside the box,” and that’s what it’s going to take to survive. Plus, it lowers the risk of finding new authors the old way, via advance and print runs and hoping to sell through. It’s like a farm system.
Now, what about the writers? How is this deal for them? I have not seen an actual contract, but I have heard informally that we’re talking very low advances with a higher percentage on the back end, between 30 – 50% royalty.  IOW, shared risk and reward.
Seems like a win-win.


Yet the stats above indicate that print is in a downward trajectory. So will being “in print” mean the same thing a year from now? Will there be enough shelves for the new writers to occupy?

What do you think? 
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