Trad Publishing: Sinking Ship? Or Phoenix that will Rise from the Ashes?

Way back in 2011 (anyone remember that long ago?) one of the more imaginative assertions of the grandees of indie spokes-folk was the suggestion that print was on its deathbed thanks to digital, that the Big Six publishers were going to the wall, and self-publishers would inherit the Earth.
Well, no question self-publishers have gone from strength to strength, and we all know how well the tiny minority at the top are doing.
But most of these are formerly trad-pubbed authors with an established brand built up over many years, and a backlist of titles they’ve re-acquired rights to.
All credit to them for seizing the opportunity and taking control of their careers. But let’s not for one second pretend this is something your average new author, starting out from scratch as a self-publisher, can hope to emulate.
Sure, there are exceptions, but they are few and far between. And the same goes for the formerly trad-pubbed authors now going it alone to huge acclaim. It is precisely because they are exceptions that they are news worthy.
What I find increasingly bizarre is the advice they give out to new authors. Don’t even think about promotion until you have four or five titles out. Forget free and cheap strategies – “you indies have no business sense”. And best yet, aim to put out a new title every two weeks!
What planet are these people on?


I ran a post on MWi back in May of last year suggesting the doom-mongerers might be a bit premature with their predictions.

Back in 2009 there were two schools of thought. Either this “new” epublishing fad would die a death and paper would remain king (the experience of the newspaper industry being a classic example) or the Big 6 were finished.
As one leading pundit said in April 2009, the Big 6 were not even “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – they’re staying put and ordering more piña coladas and charging them to rooms that are already underwater.”
Two years on the Big 6 are most definitely still with us, and while there’s no question they are changing, there’s little sign that they are going under. Which will be a great disappointment to Konrath, but should be a big relief to the rest of us.
Paper sales are plummeting, giant bookselling chains like Borders are in liquidation, and Konrath and co. have already written the obituaries for the Big 6 and are there, spades in hand, digging their graves.
But I disagree. I simply cannot see the end for the Big 6 or for publishing.
Just the opposite in fact.

As I’ve said on MWi many times, big ships are hard to turn. But below deck there’s a frenzy of activity long before anything is seen on the surface. And once they do turn they soon pick up speed.
Almost another year on, and the ship has turned.


According to Calvin Reid at Publisher’s Weekly the Digital Book World conference has just wound up with some contrite statements by the trad publishers:

A panel featuring executives form S&S, Random House, Little Brown, HarperCollins and Perseus, spent the morning issuing mea culpas (and highlighting current and planned correctives) over past “paternalistic” practices in dealing with their authors. Indeed there was a fair amount of discussion about whether authors should be called “partners,” “customers,” or “clients,” in an era when veteran authors and even emerging writers have viable alternatives to the traditional publishing contract.

Some quotes to savour with your morning coffee.:

“Publishers must treat authors as equal partners,” said Little, Brown’s Michael Pietsch, “We are offering a service to authors,” as the panelists also emphasized that it’s not always clear to authors, just what publishers do for them. “If authors are confused about what we do, we need to make it clear,” said Random House’s Madeleine MacIntosh. Joe Mangan of Perseus agreed, “communication is the key.”

Okay, us indies can indulge a smile at this belated turn-around by the trad-publishers, in the certain knowledge the success of indie-publishing has forced this change of attitude.

But let’s also be clear what it means:

The Big Six aren’t going to the wall anytime soon. While they spent the first half of 2011 publicly denouncing ebooks, and the second easing up on the rhetoric, they were all the time busily investing in the new world of ebooks.

And as the quotes above show, they can and do learn, and can and do change. Too little, too late? I don’t think so.


In future posts I’ll be returning to just what this means for indie publishing, and why indie writers should welcome rather than rue the return of the Big Six.

But for today, a word from our sponsor.

In past posts elsewhere I discussed how ebooks would be transformed by sponsorship these coming years, and that advertising within ebooks could and would happen, and that it needn’t be a bad thing. The suggestion had a mixed response at the time, from horrified to gleeful, but most seemed curious as to how it might work.

In fact some writers are already making it pay for them. For example, Olivia Lennox writes across many subjects, and tendered a post on library-lending and piracy which she thought might interest MWi readers.

Like most bloggers, I’m always on the look-out for guests and new material, so when Olivia emailed offering me a guest post I was of course all ears. But unlike 99% of bloggers, Olivia is a professional freelance journalist. Having been down that road myself in a past life I know that freelance does not mean giving away articles for free. Far from it! Which got me asking why any professional writer would want to write an article for an unpaid blog like MWi. It turns out Olivia makes part of her living by writing sponsored articles.

And it transpires this is a fine example of what we might expect in the future with ebook sponsorship, so I’m presenting Olivia’s article in its entirety. Further discussion follows after you’ve read Olivia’s post.

Will Piracy Kill Public eBook Libraries?

With the announcement that Penguin has pulled all its new books from e-lending in libraries due to ambiguously labelled “security issues” with digital copies, it’s clear to see piracy has reared its ugly head and leads to the question of whether eBook lending is ever going to take off if publishers are so concerned with “security issues”.

According to the Library Journal publication, there has been a 185% increase of eBooks being offered in public libraries across the country and this is a clear step towards a new type of library lending. With Amazon signing up their Kindle to 11,000 public libraries, it’s clear that the eBook really is an alternative to the traditional paperback, even for library users. Digital editions in libraries are a fantastic development and have the added bonus of no worries about late fees as once the time period of loan is up, the book is simply removed from your device. There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t curl up on your recliner sofa with your eReader just as easily as you could with a trusty old paperback.

However, with the Penguin group suspending all new eBooks from being made available to libraries in digital form and a complete ban on lending out eBooks to Amazon Kindle users; it is clear there’s a big underlying issue. The Penguin group cited “security concerns” as their reason for this action and this can only mean piracy. There has been no time frame given for the action so it could be a permanent decision although Penguin haven’t pulled their back catalog from the shelves, just new releases and of course, that complete unavailability for Amazon Kindle users.

Penguin aren’t the first publishing company to exercise caution when lending our their eBooks, in fact both Macmillan and Simon & Schuster have kept their entire catalog unavailable and HarperCollins have some very strict guidelines in place, with very stringent limitations on the number of times eBooks can be lent. With these publishers all considered high flyers in the industry, it’s a worry for eBook readers that they may not have access to some of the best books around.

What’s the problem with Amazon?

It seems Penguin have a problem with Amazon in particular, as they don’t like that library eBook lending is directly linked to Amazon. Across US libraries, the service used to lend Kindle eBooks is offered through OverDrive. Overdrive is an Ohio-based book lending company who provide services to over 10,000 schools and libraries in the USA and another 15,000 worldwide. In October, OverDrive began a deal with Amazon for lending eBooks to Kindle uses, promoting Kindle compatibility. As well as working with Kindle, OverDrive provide eBook lending in many other formats including those compatible with Apple and Android devices. Using OverDrive, users are about to loan DRM-protected eBooks which then expire when the lending period is up.

The problem with OverDrive and Kindle, is that the titles borrowed from their library appear in their Kindle account area and it’s from here the content can be delivered to your Kindle or Kindle app. This has irritated many publishers and a whole host of readers too as Amazon are seemingly acting as a storefront for all eBooks, whether you’ve used their site to purchase them or not.

The issue of eBook piracy

Publishers have voiced concerns regarding piracy and the digitalisation of books since their first creation and in fact, it’s very easy to see through multiple sites across the web that there are people out there offering thousands and thousands of eBooks for free via Torrent and other download sites. These sites sometimes even include books which have just been released, which is obviously to the detriment of the publishers. That being said, this has been an issue for music producers and record labels for decades now and so this isn’t really anything new, it’s just that the publishing industry is just being stung by it.

The issue of piracy and eBook lending is a bit more complex. There are many reasons that publishers may think lending increases the volume of piracy out there. Firstly, the number of different sources through which the digital content passes is a concern. Rather than being transferred from company to reader, a library eBook will pass through the library itself, an intermediary company such as OverDrive and then onto the reader, increasing the number of points at which it could be intercepted and copied. The second major area that concerns is to do with DRM protection. Unfortunately, there are tools readily available to remove this protection from eBooks and then they can be easily shared. With eBook lending, there is no purchase required so it only takes one talented hacker with a library card to slowly work their way through hundreds of books, making them readily available to download and keep for free.

eBook lending is a brilliant opportunity to spread the digitalisation of literature and books in general and is something that should be cherished not damned. Hopefully, publishers like Penguin will soon find a way to protect their content in such a way that means they are happy to make it readily available to all the digital bookworms out there.

Thanks, Olivia.

Piracy is of course the age-old excuse for inaction, and a nice little earner for those offering so-called anti-piracy services. But the fact is there are two types of pirates: The international pirates against whom we love to rant, though they cost us nothing, and the domestic pirates we prefer not to acknowledge, who actually cost us far, far more.

A reminder for now that most ebook piracy occurs in the USA, and that some of America’s biggest corporations profit from it daily and therefore have abolutely no reason to try prevent it. More on this in the near future here on MWi.

But back to sponsorship. The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the link to a sofa company hidden away in the text. Now I have no idea what the arrangement is between them and Olivia (I would stress MWi has no connection with the company and uses this purely for ilustrative purposes) but what is clear is that this is a very unobtrusive way of advertising.

It’s a short step from a link like this in an article to a similar link in an ebook. For those not interested, just ignore it and read on. But if the link is to a product or brand the MC of the novel is constantly using, or to a location or event, then easy to see the potential here to attract an advertiser’s interest. And their money.

All the moreso if you think about how easy it would be to run paid adverts in the back of your ebook. I stress in the back, so they dont interfere with the reading experience.

Yes, I can hear the purists muttering about how this would never have happened in print. About how this is the thin end of the wedge.

Of course these same people wil happily read comics, magazines and newspapers, listen to radio and watch TV chock full of advertising. Many a print book in the past has carried paid ads.  And almost every print book carries ads from its own publisher. So get real. It’s gonna happen whether you like it or not.

I’ll return to the ways in which writers might benefit fr0m these developments in future posts. But for now, ponder Olivia’s article and answer this question honestly: Did the sponsored link in the post in any way detract from the quality of the artcle or the point it was making?



  1. Wow, that’s some food for thought from you and Olivia up there! Wonder if the Big Six and Co. are gonna jump on this and find some way of conjuring up an anti-piracy “guarantee” or “clause” that will encourage authors to come to them rather than going / staying indie? Though that might not be such a bad thing, in the long run.

    Intriguing … intriguing …

    • Thanks, Charley.

      I think the Big Six will simply face realities, divest the dead-weight of book-store print, and move to POD and ebooks, with a niche of speciality and celebrity hardbacks.

      And with the even bigger profits they’ll then make they’ll face the reality of a fairer share for the author to keep them on board.

  2. What sort of ads would you run in the back of a book on the Twelfth century?
    The local costume hire shop?
    Antique weapons dealers?
    Rare book shops?
    BBC and ITV dramas and docu dramas?
    Travel deals to locations within the book?
    Book shops who handle the books in one’s biblio?
    Ads of other writers of fiction in the same genre? (Get ahead of Amazon here).

    One comment for the indie purists who might think that advertising will never touch their work. Every time we insert a couple of chapters of ‘Other works by…’ we are advertising!

    • You’d be amazed at the potential opportunities, Prue.

      I shall explore some general ideas next month on MWi, and in private with you with ideas specific to your books.

  3. As far back as the record-player, music producers fought against any technology that could preserve and reproduce music. They fought audio-cassettes the way that Hollywood later fought VHS tapes. It is an interesting oddity of technology that it was commercially cheaper to digitally copy music and then video before the black-market for printed words ever opened up, but now we have to deal with it. However, electronic print-piracy is a small price to pay for the capabilities ebooks give to indie authors.

  4. Just counted the cultural references in my novel… I’d never, ever want to get paid for mentioning them – it’s a thank you to fellow artists for helping shape my world.

    A movie is different, it’s a whole team of people costs loads to produce, maybe. Then again I don’t like Hollywood movies because it is all so predictable and clichéd. Olivia’s article had one discreet placement in it but any more and I would have stopped reading. It does make me wonder about the integrity of the writer…

    Personally I think we need to move away from consumerism and art really is the opposite of consumerism – writing is art? – and writers in this time and age can live by their art through quality books not through cheesy placements.

    Art is meant to be an expression of the soul to nurture the soul. Then again, there is scope for consumerist art as well: art that makes the reader rush out and buy their heroines hand bag or their heroes hand gun, maybe? Where is the limit, after all?

    Oh, one shouldn’t generalise and I’m only speaking for myself, but I just wonder how it would have sounded if Hendrix had been advertising Coca Cola. The day pop music advertises products it’s truly dead. Is literature any different from music?

    • Art is great, Denise but if we want to write full-time we have to treat it as a business, not a charitable hobby.

      If it’s art for art’s sake then we can just give our books away.

      Pop music advertises all the time. Everytime an artist apppears on aTV show that is being paid for by adverts they are being financed by those ads. Commercial TV and radio stations that promote those records are paid for by ads.

      How many ads use pop music to advertise their goods? Almost all of them. The artists are getting paid for it.

      Go to a music stadium and what do you see. Huge adverts from the commercial sponsors. Hendrix may never have officialy endorsed a product, but did he ask for all advertising to be take down before playing a venue?

      Move away from consumerism? If only… That’s why I live where I do. But I still have bills to pay, and the money I can make from my books and any sponsorship can help change the lives of people here.

      • I do agree that we have to make a living with our art! And sure, there are ads all around the stadium, but they were not in the lyrics of the songs and that is the difference. Once authors are expected to make a living from sponsor ship by ‘unobtrusively’ working their sponsors into the text, commercial censorship is here! How can you possibly be edgy or anything out of the ordinairy if you’re sponsored by commercial company? Look how hard it was to get published by publishers only considering the market and not the readers! What makes you think that sponsorship would be any easier to obtain? xx

  5. Great post Mark and certainly food for thought (insert unobtrusive link to McDonalds here) for all writers!

    • LOL! I wish we’d have sought sponsorship with S&S given one of the MCs frequents a major UK coffee-shop chain. A missed oportunity there!

  6. Product placement can either be seen as an advertisement for said product or capitalizing on said product’s market visibility. I think it would only benefit any product to be included in an appropriate book or movie or music for the reason that they are subtly and unobtrusively worked into their potential consumer’s attention and the work of fiction in question benefits from the real world connection said product makes by its appearance.

    Some of the most ridiculous times my imagination has had to deal with are if I’m watching a show or movie and something is used in a scene that is obviously supposed to have been a specific Cola or a car company is referred to as Chavrolet, and a airline is Great Britain Ailrlines.

    As long as the above mentioned Cola isn’t laced with poison, the Chavrolet isn’t crashing into brick walls and Great Britain Airlines isn’t falling from the sky they should foster being included in a work of fiction as they are in real life. I wouldn’t mind, when describing a scene where a MC walks down a street, he or she sees a Coke and enjoys it, or admires a Chevrolet and finally is in the process of booking a flight on a British Airways when he gets a phone call calling him away.

    And the companies spotlighted should pay for it.
    This benefits both work of fiction and advertised companies.

    • Ian Fleming had product placement down to a fine art in the James Bond books, and the films took every opportunity to exploit the possibilities on offer.

      Using real products makes a scene real. And as you say, Athanasios, providing there’s no detrimental event linked to the product then no reason why the product producer should object. Quite the opposite.

    • gerrymccullough
    • January 29th, 2012

    Very interesting, Mark – ads in books? Well, it’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?
    Olivia, the subject of piracy is one all writers must worry about. I wish I knew the answer. But as for ebook lending through libraries, I still don’t see why someone should be able to read my books for nothing, when the ebook version is so ridiculously cheap to buy. I don’t think the amount paid by the libraries for it’s use is worth having – my opinion, others clearly differ.
    (Mark, did you get my email and attachment last Tuesday morning? And my second email later in the week asking if you’d got it?)

    • The library argument is an interesting one, Gerry. Writers of print books have no control over someone giving their book to a friend, or donating to a charity shop, where they will receive no income.

      A library user may like your book enough to spread the word to others who will buy it, or may themselves go and buy other of your books. Most library users are the young and elderly for whom money is not easily come by.

      For younger readers, they also face the issue of not being able to buy online without a credit card. The same goes for many adults who won’t have the wherewithal or computer access to get your books other than through libraries.

      I did get the email and did reply to one, at least, but obviously it didn’t get through. I shall redress that state of affairs asap!

    • gerrymccullough
    • January 29th, 2012

    Dud! I meant its, not it’s!

  7. In response to the question: No, especially as it was completely unrelated to the subject matter of the article. I say this because, if the link was to say, another book publisher, I would wonder about the, honesty of the article. Over here in the US there is so much political BS, TV stations aligning them selves to this side or that. I find it annoying, especially when it come to new. But, as I said her ad had nothing to do with the article. It did make me miles as I was curled up on the chair with my e-reader last night. :}

    As to Piracy… Well I have a thought that we’ve moved so far away from raising a family to raise a family that we’ve forgotten how to raise a family. We don’t know how to install the moral that get at the root cause of the issue – respecting other people’s property and the effort they put into it. I know it wouldn’t eliminate it, but I bet it would help. Unfortunately I’m as clueless as everyone else. I can barely get my kids to respect their own property, and it frustrates the heck out of me.

    Anyway, that’s just my personal opinion/gut feeling. I should also admit that computer security pays half our bills. My husband works in that industry. But I’ll take any advice I can get on how not to raise potential pirates.

    :} Cathryn (could probably use more sleep)

  8. I just had a hallucinatory vision of Apple paying me to change the e-pads in my books to Ipads! It was beautiful.

  9. Advertisements would be a nice thing to have, since many of us use actual products in our novels regardless of being paid for it or not. Bret Easton Ellis could make a killing on it, that’s for sure.

    As far as traditional publishers changing course, there’s no doubt that have something planned up their sleeves. Although I’m weary of what they’re saying now. I don’t care if they call an author a collaborator or a _____ _____ _____ of a ______. Words are cheap and I’m more interested in what they’ll have to offer to authors (e.g better royalties or more promotions).

    However, I don’t think traditional publishers will kill indies or vice-versa. The future might have both in a symbiotic relationship. Much like the music industry, where talent scouts search through venues and indie albums for a new band. But instead, it will be agents and publishers looking through indie Kindle and Nook novels for promising authors to strike a deal with.

  10. I love the product placement idea. It was very unobtrusive in Olivia’s post. What annoys me a lot more is people who ask to guest post and send what’s basically an ad for their editing service or a sales pitch for their book.

    If I could get Grey Goose to pay me for for some links when I mention Plantagenet’s favorite drink Sherwood Ltd, or get some product in return for the product placement of Camilla’s Chanel wardrobe–whoopee!

    And that way, piracy would hardly matter. Pirates would get the ads, too.

    I guess we can get our panties in a bunch over piracy, but right now, I’d just like to be popular enough to pirate.

    So many more dangerous things to worry about. Like non-compete clauses and in perpetuity contracts. Big 6 will only survive if they compete honestly in the marketplace, and don’t treat authors like slaves.

  11. Great point Anne. One of the reasons I don’t find going tradi inviting is the treadmill system. One book after another. I’ve heard that before from other’s who wish they were popular enough to be pirated!! My solo comes out this month. We’ll see if I get hit!! I mentioned a few local eateries in San Francisco. From me they’re getting free advertising. But that’s okay they are my favorites in the city.
    I do think Tradi is scrambling to catch up to indie. They never expected it to take off the way it did, or do the business it has done. But-the down side of this, it is rare for a indie author to make a living off their books. But-again-I do know a author who didn’t accept her next contract because of the treadmill system, and what they offered her was pennies on the dollar in a contract. She felt with her name, she could do better by going indie. The advances on contracts are pitiful at best these days, even for established authors. Tradi doesn’t even help with promtion anymore. So why not do it yourself, and keep the profits, rather then hand it over them, when you’re doing all the work anyways.

  12. It’s amazing what a little competition can do for the attitude of an industry that hasn’t had it (at least in a long time).

    As for the ad – I assumed it was a link to another free blog or site, and I only click on those if I think they might be interesting. I’m not sure how effective the product placement will be if the product isn’t immediately obvious (or related to the article). It’s an interesting thing to ponder, what the effect on the future might be… 🙂

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