Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Friday, May 13, 2005

I'm Refreshingly Bitter and Twisted

Over at Splinters, Chris Mitchell noted my comments on his post about the recent decision by UK publisher Macmillan to start publishing novels on a strict 20% royalty basis with no editing and no publicity and promotion by writing:

"Peter L. Winkler (who has a refreshingly bitter and twisted publishing blog ) says this in the comments:

'It's an increasingly false distinction - readers don't care who published a book, they care what's in it.'(from Mitchell's Macmillan story) True, except that readers won't ever find a POD book in their local bookstore, which is the be all and end all of the whole shebang. Bookstores and reviewers are the gateway through which any book must pass before the reader has a chance to see it. The gateway has a filter labelled POD that's 100% effective. sells only about 10% of the total number of books sold. So hoping to bootstrap your way to success solely through online sales is a dream. When are people going to realize this? 'A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence.' Richard Dawkins"

Chris Mitchell addressed my comment.

"It's a good point, but it's flawed in its logic. Because Amazon only accounts for 10 per cent of total book sales doesn't mean that each book published only gets 10 per cent of its sales from Amazon. A huge amount of books only get their sales from Amazon, and so online sales count for 70 per cent or higher of their total sales. (It's the Long Tail effect in action).

On top of that, the argument that a book needs to appear in a bookshop to get 90 per cent of its sales is simply wrong. Thousands of books appear in bookshops each year and sell virtually no copies. Getting a book into a bookshop is no guarantee of success. It's not a global panecea for sales and visibility. If anything, it's the final humiliation for a writer when they realise that even when their book finally arrives in the shop, it still doesn't sell.

Any writer is obviously going to be thrilled to get their book into a bookstore. But to assume that sales and readers will necessarily follow is crazy. Unless the writer has got a guarantee of full marketing behind their title, it's unlikely it will do anything. Hence why an author has to take responsibility for marketing their own title and finding ways to push it - and why, if a writer doesn't have that marketing backup, marketing and selling online could be the key to real sales and readership. cause no one else is going to do anything else for your book."

And here's my response.

Gee, I'm delighted that you referenced me and my blog. Now, to get to the points raised in your post.

"It's a good point, but it's flawed in its logic..."

Well, you're actually making my case for me. If a book's only sales come from online stores, it's maximum potential sales are - at best - miniscule. The reason it is essential to get one's book into so-called brick and mortar stores is that online stores aren't amenable to discovery while browsing. Let's say I'm most interested in books about film. I walk into a big bookstore periodically, go to the film section, and peruse new titles. That really doesn't work at Amazon. You can't go there and search for "new film books" or anything of the kind. You already have to know exactly what you want. The only way to make people aware of a book that is only sold online is offline marketing, and that takes resources of time, energy, money and marketing expertise that simply are beyond the reach of most writers. Over at the blog Buzz, Balls & Hype, author M.J. Rose recounts her lunch with a publisher friend who told her that there's only one way to hope to break out a book, and that's with at least $250,000 spent marketing it. How many self-published writers can muster even a fraction of that?

"On top of that, the argument that a book needs to appear in a bookshop to get 90 per cent of its sales is simply wrong."

You misstated my point. If I sell a book from a stand on the sidewalk and that's the only place you can buy it, 100% of its sales come from my stand. 0% come from from any other point of sale, including bookshops. But selling from my stand only gives me the ability to sell up to 100% of the total number of books sold from a stand at that section of sidewalk. That's 100% of a tiny potential market. If 90% of all books are purchased from bookstores, it means that getting a book into stores doesn't guarantee even one copy sold, but it gives the author the access to the venues where 90% of all books are sold. If you can't get your book on the shelf, you just lost 90% of the potential number of eyes that might see your book.

As for the long tail effect, I think it's a lot of huggermugger that's basically a bullcon and wishful thinking. Oh well, you can't disabuse people of their most deeply held fantasies.

I invite replies. In fact, I invite you to guest post on my blog if you'd like, if you will link my blog on your site.

"Refreshingly bitter and wisted." I love it. It makes me sound like some new citrus drink.

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