Authors, Writers, Publishers, and Book Readers

The recent news is that Samhain has sent out a letter informing their authors that they will be shutting its doors, but carrying on with the current production of books. The reasons seem to be financial. A decline in sales. This is not too far from the tail of Ellora's Cave, which is another tale of woe.

I've been wrestling with the poor sales topic on my blog for five years now. I do mean, primarily, small press and brand name independents. I've been in total denial and shock about this subject, even after suffering from a slump in sales during this time that was shocking and unexpected. It began to occur to me that nearly half a million self-published books (check my figures--I've heard different numbers) a year was going to have a devastating effect on the small and big presses.

Yes, absolutely, the $.99 books are much more financially attractive than the 2.99 to $5.99 small trade pub prices. That is a no brainer, and I'm talking about the general consumer view. They can load their reading devices up for next to nothing. And how ironic it is when I hear someone, like a dinosaur industry insider, say that people are buying more books than ever. They sure are--the $.99 books. All day long. Let's not even count the freebies or the celebrity authors who have jumped the trade-published ship. These are stunningly low book prices and incentives when compared to the climate over seven years ago.

Lets also face the fact that writers or published authors can't keep the editor out of our/their heads when reading books. C' mon now. We wonder how in the heck can thousands of self-published books be any good when we run across some or many that do not measure up to (our) professional standards. Caveat: I've read and critiqued some excellently written SP books that are clean, gripping and exceptionally entertaining. I wonder how in hell these books were passed up by the trade. I've also seen the stinkers--I mean everything is screwed up--format, cover design, blurbs, grammar, plot--they fail on all counts. And there's the thing--they fail on MY accounts.

IMO, non-writers (readers) are much more forgiving when they start that $.99 book. They care about story--a thrilling, new read in a genre that interests them. Hasn't that always been the mantra of even the most critical, published authors--story first? Those bargain-hunting readers are not overly concerned about POV shifts, placement of semi-colons and colons, type font and size, grammar blunders and other technical snafus. Many can see them, but it's easier to gloss over them.

Conclusion: trade publishing has and is suffering from a huge shift in readership and fan base. I'm talking a major shift involving tens, if not hundreds of thousands of readers and purchases over a relatively short time frame. These slots were once the "golden ticket" of small trade publishers. Look at how fast this vice is tightening.

Self-published authors have a fanatical support for each other (check out their largest group site). They buy their fellow's books. They are tight knit, and many of them are critical of the stanch gate-keeping practices of the industry--they were looked over, forgotten or ignored. Can't say that I blame them at all. The Big Five has shot me down for 14 straight years--those elitist pigs!

Conclusion: there goes another huge chunk of the readership and purchases.

Declining sales slumps due to other factors?

Conclusion: Kids and adults are reading fewer and fewer books every year, in spite of the digital ease by which to obtain them. Every year is a small downhill slide. All age spectrums are glued to their smart phones, I-pods and other reading devices, but primarily for social media, research, bargain shopping and games. Saving grace: writers and authors load up on books and shorts in this area, and this has helped to keep our noses above water.

Amazon and other online retailers have made it incredibly easy to self-publish. Although some assistance is necessary to prep these books for online retail. And that might cost some bucks.

Conclusion: It's been said that everyone has a book in them. Population Earth = seven billion. Hah! I'm not even going to touch that one. We don't have to mention how many self-published authors/readers and trade authors have spread the news about how anybody can get published today. Not to mention the terrific book prices found all over. It's true. How about those celebrity best-selling authors who have written articles and run blogs in favor of self-publishing. Those heavy weights have huge readerships and influence. 

Who is responsible for this deteriorating slide? Self-pubbed authors? Big Five greed? Amazon? Borders going under? Cut backs on major newspaper and magazine book reviews? Employee cuts? Too many books?

Conclusion: If technology had an ass, I'd kick it. There's where it started--everything else slid into it, catching the draft.

Who is going to be the first to go?

Small press, I believe, will get hit the hardest first. Those little guys could all disappear, given enough downward trending and time. You can't downsize an already small publisher. They have no wiggle room. Ellora's Cave and Samhain has proven this, and they really aren't that small. Self-publishing will survive and grow. The Big corps and their imprints better hold on to and increase their leverage of precise target-marketing and book store placement--that is the only card up their sleeve. They'll need to spend more money to snag market share away from the SP industry. Unless they keep ambulance chasing those best-selling SP authors so they can gain control. Oh, agents are going to suffer a bit. Who needs them if nearly everyone decides to self-publish? Publishing house employees will suffer cutbacks because of lost revenue.

I have a lot of doom and gloom prophesies. I know. I wish I had the answer in a bottle. I think the Big Five imprints could chop their book prices down as far as they dare without losing buckets of money. And they'll have to adapt much faster with each new opportunity and trend. For increased therapy and readership, we need a huge best-selling series akin to the Harry Potter books, and we need these blockbuster tomes about every seven to ten years or so. I think the small trade presses need to regulate their finances much better. Misappropriation of funds have been a small press killer; IMO, more than any other downfall.

Females account for roughly 65% of all book purchases. Men and boys are sorely lacking in this area. Guys, click some books into your shopping cart or patronize your nearest independent or chain bookstore.

Sorry for the rant. But I believe that many of these factors are relevant to what happened to Samhain.

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