Legacy Publishers Need To Wake Up

Originally this was intended as a comment to this post by J.A. Konrath, but now that it’s a blog post… also written in response to this article by Steve Zacharius:

In my opinion Steve Zacharius, CEO of Kensington Publishing Corp., and frankly every CEO from every major legacy publisher, really need to read the book “Race Against The Machine” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, if he hasn’t already. It’s primary focus was aimed at lower-level jobs, but the trend is the same:

Technologies like the Internet, AI, robotics etc… are taking those functions that are able to be automated, and making them obsolete (in the book itself it’s lower level “jobs”). Not “dead” mind you, but obsolete, and there is a big difference between those ideas.

Traditional publishing’s primary value overall to the author is that of a “connector”… a connector to bookshelves, a connector to review lists and articles, a connector to editors and other service-based functions, etc… which put the book an author writes in front of readers (generally).

They are in the “middleman” business, creating resources that can be instantly connected to the author, in return for a percentage of the revenue a book generates (advances are part of that revenue).

Now that technology is automating an author’s ability to connect to these resources themselves (except perhaps bookshelves, maybe review services, from what I can tell)… a traditional publisher’s function is becoming obsolete.  Keep in mind, a publishing business is a higher-level function than a lower-level job that technology such as AI will be replacing, so the resulting trend of becoming obsolete will take longer for the bigger publishing businesses.

And naturally, traditional publishing businesses will fight until the end for their business model, but overall will continue to lose market share because their primary, bottom-line function of “connecting” is slowly being replaced piece by piece by various technologies and slowly being eroded away (unless that variable of technology replacing functions disappears or is weakened).

If you were being stabbed to death, you would fight until your last breath, too.

That’s not to say there are not still opportunities for traditional publishers (or as Joe calls them, legacy publishers) to adapt to the prevailing trends, and still preserve their business model until a major disruption finally makes their business model completely obsolete, as in, not necessary any longer.  From what I’ve read, they are still in “fight” mode.

Are there a small percentage (really small) of authors who are primarily published using the legacy model and who are extremely successful?  Yep.  Just as there are a small percentage of authors who are primarily published themselves and who are extremely successful.

Are the small percentage of extremely successful legacy authors out-earning the small percentage of extremely successful self-published ones?

Probably (we need accurate data), but so what?

1.  The legacy model has been around, and established, for WAY longer than the currently referred to “self” model with the currently available technologies (you could always self publish, even a century ago, but technology back then did not displace the connection value a legacy publisher had, until recently).

2.  The odds are against ANY author (self OR legacy) achieving the level of success that a Joe Konrath or a Stephen King has had… period.  Same could be said of almost any industry like sales, acting, academia, etc… it’s just the way it works out.

Last time I checked, this wasn’t a competition. 😉

As for the rather “elitist” idea of marking any self published book, traditionally published book, or other published material in hopes of separating the crap from the good stuff… there are three key problems with that elitist idea:

1.  I say elitist, because you, Steve (or any other person for that matter), DO NOT determine what I (or any other reader) think are “good books” and “bad books” to read.

Quite frankly, for the CEO who is the public face of a major publishing company, and who should know better, you should rethink the idea that YOU personally (or your publishing company) can even begin to determine what specific content the PEOPLE in your market want.

You might, and I use that term loosely, be able to determine general subject matter, but specific content in that subject matter (where “crap” and “good” are judged)… ummm, nope.

And… we (the readers) are the primary reason you’re in business and draw a salary, right?  If there were no readers, authors wouldn’t be necessary, and therefor a business like yours would also not be necessary.

That is an insulting idea (the idea of “marking” books) to say the least, from my perspective as a veracious reader.

I don’t need help finding what I want to read, and I certainly don’t need your help.  That’s what technology is for (we are talking about the 21st century after all).

2.  There is “crap” published both through the legacy model, and through those authors who publish themselves.

There are also “good” books published both ways.

3.  “Crap” and “good” are subjective terms, determined by the consumer (i.e. the market), not you or your publishing company.

There is a TON of material yet to cover here, but this post (thanks Joe) and the linked material should provide a good perspective for anyone who reads through it.

I have to say this was also an interesting perspective offered by Steve, and I appreciate the fact he was willing to provide it.  It’s quite obvious he is very passionate about his business model, but I hope he will balance that with at least some of Joe’s perspective from his line by line rebuttal of the legacy model.

Good stuff.