The Business Rusch: Odds, Ends, and More Slush Pile Truths

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The Business Rusch: Odds, Ends, and More Slush Pile Truths

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

It’s amazing how much can change in a week. Since I wrote “Common Sense & The Writer” in an Idaho hotel room last Monday, this (and more!) has happened in the field: Indie e-book bestseller John Locke made a “distribution” deal with Simon & Schuster for the paper rights to his books; the Passive Guy hung out his shingle as an attorney for writers and in doing so, revealed his secret identity; and settlements have started in the case of the agent who died and left his estate to family members who had no idea how to run the business.  In my personal life, I went to the World Science Fiction convention where I saw many old friends and did more business than I expected. And then a close friend died.

And everything stopped.

Dean’s handling the estate.  Even though my friend’s life and assets were relatively straightforward (unlike ours), it’s still a complicated and somewhat chaotic process.  Having gone through the death of both parents and several friends, I’m come to believe that such chaos is normal after the death of someone important. Unless that someone was incredibly anal, very organized, focused on the future, and willing to fight all the cultural denial, the death duties—from financial to practical—take time and understanding.

Understandably, I’ve been preoccupied. In addition to the added pressure of solving estate issues now, I have two do-not-miss deadlines, and several others that need attending to. Of course, I explained this to my various editors and one of them said, bless her, that “sometimes life and deadlines are not compatible.” Amen.

I have a list of things I was going to write in the next few weeks, but not enough brain power to concentrate on them. One of those things was—believe it or not—estates. Since we’re getting some hands-on experience (yet again), I’ll save that post for November, when (theoretically) all of this will be over.

In the meantime, I’m going to address something that came up at Worldcon, something that I don’t have to research too heavily, since I’m pressed for time.

In Reno, a lot of folks came up to me and thanked me for writing this blog. I know some of the people I spoke to, and others I met for the first time. Most had a thought or two to share about the ways the blog has helped them. A few made observations about it and a couple more had suggestions for future blogs which, believe it or not, I managed to write down in the middle of a hectic convention.

First, let me say thank you to everyone who mentioned the blog. As I often say at the very end, I keep going at this because I hear from y’all about how much this is helping. Or what a difference it has made to you. Such comments are as important to me as the donations I get to keep the blog going. One feeds my cranky critical brain—letting it know that the blog is doing some good—and the other feeds my family. Both are equally important.

I had a long talk over a rather hectic impromptu lunch with a reader who mentioned that I’m the only one who is talking about the paradigm shift that’s occurring in publishing. He then clarified: Everyone is talking about the changes; I’m the only one (he says) who has identified the change as a paradigm shift.

I doubt that I’m the only one—Mike Stackpole, for example, has been discussing the paradigm shift for much longer than I have (and is doing it well)—but I try to keep a more balanced approach than some bloggers do. Some are still stuck in traditional-think, including an influential blogger whom everyone says is brilliant and who simply pisses me off because he can’t seem to look beyond his traditional publishing training. And no, I won’t include a link here, because he’s not alone. I simply can’t mine his column for the gold that everyone—including my husband—says is there. (I only include links I find useful.)

On the other side of the equation are the all-indie-all-the-time folks who ignore (or perhaps don’t understand) that traditional publishing will never leave us. Traditional publishing will remain the gold standard, partly because they have so much gold.

Let’s look at network television for a moment. Network television has significantly fewer viewers than it had thirty years ago.  As Rob Lowe said in his autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, “Today any network would kill to have our numbers [for his first TV show A New Kind of Family]. In 1979, if fourteen million people watched you, you were at death’s door. Today, a huge smash like Two and a Half Men averages about that.” [P. 80-81]

Yet recently, when a well-known Hollywood producer optioned a novel series of mine, he told me that he had interest from a cable channel, but he was also talking to some network executives because “network still has more money and viewers than most cable channels combined.”

The same change has happened in the music industry. In fact, the music industry might be even more striking because so many big-name artists have gone indie over the past twenty years. (Some, like Jimmy Buffett, have been indie for more than thirty years, but back when he first went indie, he was seen as a maverick. Now he looks like a visionary.)

The studios still have the money to launch an artist big. They also have clout and can, with some finagling, get air time on the national syndicated music programs. Such things have less influence than they had decades ago, but they still matter. As a professional musician said to me over the weekend, if  you really want to get launched big (and he meant worldwide big), then you have to go to the studios.

Or the networks.

Or the traditional publishers.

Again, what really matters is the kind of career an artist wants. Gone are the days of three television channels, the influential disk jockey with a syndicated show, and literary taste makers who could make or break a career.

Now we find ourselves in a world with more television channels than we could watch in one month of sick leave, more satellite radio channels than Dean & I could listen to on our drive all over the Northwest last week, and more books published this year than anyone could read in a lifetime.

And folks see this as a problem.  Me, I see it as an opportunity.

I have blogged about this before, most recently in a piece called “Slush Pile Truths.” But as I was talking in that lunch this weekend, I used an analogy that the others at the table told me I should share with you.

Throughout the weekend, writers mentioned their fear:  if they self- or indie-publish their novel, how will readers find it among the crap? This fear has been with us from the dawn of publishing. In the past, new writers worried that their novel would get lost in the pile of novels published each month. Midlist writers feared that the tie-in novels were crowding “real” novels off the shelves. Romance writers worried that everyone was reading “category” (50K novels, nowadays published by Harlequin, but in the past published by places like Avon as well), and  not reading “real” romances.

Writers worry. That’s what we do.

The writer I spoke to at lunch mentioned this fear, but he did so in a different way. He asked a specific question: “How can readers find my novel in the midst of all the other novels?” He wasn’t worried about the crap. He wasn’t worried about the virtual slush pile, like that silly blogger from the Wall Street Journal. This writer was worried about finding his audience.

I thought about it for a moment, and then I spoke to him reader to reader.

Every time we walk into a bookstore, we’re immediately eliminating books from consideration. We do it so automatically, we’re not even aware that we do so.

Let’s use Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, for a moment. If you’ve never been there, imagine a bookstore that takes up an entire city block. The store is a maze. It has several levels, and they go on forever. In each section of the store, maps are prominently displayed, and each section is color-coded, each aisle has a number. So if you want to find, say, a French history book in French, you look at the map and realize you have two choices: the history section (which is an entire wing) and the French language section (which takes up about four extremely long aisles).

The map gets you to the section. The aisle numbers get you to the right row.

The moment you walk into Powell’s, you immediately eliminate all the languages you can’t read, and all of the books on topics that don’t interest you. If you’re looking for a specific book, you can use a computer to help you find it.

But let’s assume you want to browse. No one ever browses through the entire store at Powell’s. Not even me, and I browse large Barnes & Nobles. (Even before they dropped the number of books they carry.) There simply isn’t time to browse every aisle. To do it effectively would probably take two days, and so far—in my 25-year history with that store, I haven’t had the two days in a row to look.

So you pick the topics you want to browse. For the sake of argument, let’s say you only read fiction. That cuts you down to two full wings of Powell’s (if we’re talking fiction in English—you get another wing if you read foreign languages).  Mystery, thriller, science fiction, horror, and some urban fantasy are in the same area.

You might pick one of those categories or all of them. You could see those in a few hours.

By doing so, however, you have eliminated from consideration from the moment you walked in the door, more than 85% of the bookstore.  So 85%  of the stuff available for sale doesn’t even concern you.

On my most recent visit to Powell’s, one week ago Saturday, I had exactly a half an hour. A half an hour to visit and browse more than a million books.  I had a specific series in mind—John Lawton’s Inspector Troy series which I prefer to read in paper—and I made a beeline for the mystery section to find his novels. There, I found a new William Lashner I hadn’t known existed and two other writers whose work looked interesting.

Once I scooped up all the Lawtons and Lashners (and those new folks), I had fifteen minutes left. So I backtracked to the entry area—a former car dealer showroom where Powell’s displays the newest of new books. I browsed carefully, found two histories I had meant to buy and forgotten about, found a non-fiction book of essays on Paris, and another brand new writer. And then I had to leave.

I doubt I saw 2% of the store, yet I left satisfied.

Does this work with e-books? Of course it does. All e-bookstores have filter functions. You can browse titles by genre, by subgenre, by author, and by publication date. Your fingers can do the walking into the new releases section and then take a side trip to the fiction section. It doesn’t quite feel the same, but the result is clear.

And what about print-on-demand books or books published through a small or specialty press? The same filter system exists on Amazon or Barnes &  Alibris has one, and so do all the other larger bookstores on the web.

Readers will find you, just like they’ve always found their favorite writers.  Readers will browse. They’ll just browse at their computers rather than in the store.

The other way readers will find you is word of mouth.  Word of mouth isn’t just one reader recommending a book to another reader, although that counts. Word of mouth also works when a reader hears the author speak at a convention and thinks, “I wonder if her books are worth reading?” Only a lot of readers don’t go to conventions. But they listen to podcasts or read blogs.  They find old interviews (some of mine from the 1990s are on YouTube on a Canadian show called Prisoners of Gravity) or they read something short that the author did.

That’s the other new word of mouth: short stories. Either in magazines or anthologies or in stand-alone e-books. A short story doesn’t take a lot of time commitment to read and it doesn’t take much of a financial commitment either. So short stories provide a  new way to find readers as well.  In fact, I said in a previous blog that I believe short story markets are the brightest spot in traditional publishing right now.  They’re also bright for indie publishers as well.

I think the best part of the new world of publishing—for indie writers, that is—is the fact that a book can remain in print as long as the writer wants it to. If you control the rights to that book (and indie writers do), then you can keep it in print for decades if you want.  (This is double-edged sword for traditionally published writers, and is something I’ve dealt with at length in various blog posts.)

In the past, traditional publishers have looked at books as produce. Because shelf space was (and still is) limited in a brick-and-mortar store, traditional publishers believed a book’s shelf life was anywhere from two weeks (in the early 1990s) to a few months (by 2000). The idea that a book would last forever was only reserved to the bestsellers.

It’s taking a complete shift in thinking on the part of all of us who have been involved in traditional publishing—a paradigm shift, as one writer said—to understand that books are no longer produce. There is no sell-by date after which a book rots. As I mentioned above, I am reading John Lawton. I read a short story of his in an anthology and was so impressed that I decided to try the first book in his Inspector Troy series. That book was published in the early 1990s.  Other readers have been reading John Lawton for years; to me, he’s a brand new writer.

That’s a long way of saying that, yeah, in the first two weeks of its release, your book might not find any readers at all. And if you’re stuck in old-time thinking, traditional-publishing think from before the e-book revolution, then the fact that your book sells zero copies in its first two weeks of publication is an unmitigated disaster.

But in today’s market, your book can start slow and build.  So many of us are ahead of the current trend. Marcia Muller wrote one of the first female detective series in the U.S., but Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky made that genre popular. Had Muller’s early Sharon McCone books still been in print, she would have vaulted to the top of the bestseller list. Unfortunately, her books were soundly midlist and hard to find at the time so she couldn’t take advantage of the sudden interest in female detectives.

I have had this happen several times in my career where a book or a series of books is about four years ahead of its time. By the time the subgenre becomes popular, my books are long out of print. The books sell well in used bookstores, but no traditional publisher would ever reissue with that as a basis. The traditional publishers were always looking for the New! Exciting! Fascinating! bit of produce to catch the reader’s attention.

That whole mindset should be gone now, but it isn’t. Traditional publishing still isn’t sure how to market for the long term. For one thing, its entire business is built on the produce model, so shifting to a different model is difficult. Shifting thinking is even harder—as writers are discovering.

If readers don’t find your book this week, what’s to say they won’t find it next week? Or next month? Or next year?

Patience is a hard skill to learn, but it’s necessary in this new world of publishing. Everything now happens over time. A long time. And it might happen decades after you wrote the book.

Which brings us back to estate planning and why it’s important. If you don’t understand how copyright works—and most writers don’t—pick up a copy of The Copyright Handbook. You’ll understand why I mention copyright and estate planning in the same breath as patience and keeping a book in print. It isn’t just because I lost a friend this week, and I’m thinking about mortality (although I am). It’s also because understanding copyright law, and protecting your rights as a creator is more important than it ever was before.

Which is why I’m happy to see more and more lawyers start to jump into the business, like the Passive Guy, with an eye toward protecting the rights of writers. Another new business model is starting up—one that isn’t an expensive lawyer model nor is it an agenting model. Check out his site and then read Laura Resnick’s blog on hiring an attorney when you negotiate a publishing contract, rather than hiring an agent. She lists other attorneys there.

We are going through a paradigm shift, and it’s touching all aspects of the industry.  It’s not just the ease with which a writer can now get her work to the international marketplace, although that’s part of it. Nor is it the change in business models in traditional publishing. Nor is it the searching that agents are doing to find relevance in the new marketplace. And it’s not the rise of e-stributers and other new businesses.

Everything is changing except the readers themselves. Readers want good stories. In the past, readers were willing to search used bookstores for copies of their favorite writers’ out of print work. Now those readers press a few keys on their computer or tap their screen on their iPad and see if that writer’s work is available right now.

The impulse is the same: I enjoyed her last book. I want her next right now. And now, we’re all in a place to provide that book to the reader whenever the reader is looking for it—whether that’s at 3 a.m tonight or some bright afternoon five years from now.

I often tell you in these blogs to trust the readers. Do so now. They will find you. If you have patience and faith in the process—the new process. It really does benefit writers, if you can wrap your mind around all the changes.

Like I’m trying to do, each and every day.

As I mentioned above, I appreciate hearing from all of you. I like knowing that my efforts are worthwhile, especially since they take valuable time away from my fiction writing. As always, if you got something out of this blog today, leave a few dollars in the tip jar. And thanks.

“The Business Rusch: Odds, Ends, and More Slush Pile Truths” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




33 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Odds, Ends, and More Slush Pile Truths

  1. The “eternal life”, “slow to build” argument is directly contra the typical Internet attitude that anything more than five minutes old is worthless junk that should be given away free.

  2. Kris, your business blogs just get “gooder and gooder.” 🙂

    I really identify with the “ahead of your time” syndrome. Part of it comes from us being reporters in an earlier incarnation, where “scoops” were important. (Supposedly. One reason I left newspapering was I couldn’t convince my editors to do a story and it’d turn up on 60 Minutes six months later. An example on a small scale: I had to scream and stomp to do an interview with Ben Bova when he was editor of Omni magazine and came through town. Omni was big new glossy stuff then.)

    I soon found publishing was as mired in “safe”-think as newspapering. I was “Marcia Mullered” early on myself, and with intent to kill. I came up with the notion for a limited miniseries within a romance line, but was new to the genre. After the acquiring editor saw how well it worked, she held my books–and pay–for four years and gave the concept to her three top house authors to run into the ground for three years. My four books were unilaterally cut and butchered, never given the bestselling line exposure, but stuffed into two volumes buried at the bottom of the publishers’ long main list, against the druthers of a major chain romance buyer. I finally got the rights back and put the restored books out with a small press a decade ago…got those rights back…and they’ll be coming to e-book on a screen or device near you soon. Plus in trade paperback.

    That’s the beauty of eternal life for books nowadays, as you point out. We authors are not at the mercy of anyone, going forward, except any outdated thinking we’ve been brainwashed into by the way the publishing industry operated for so long.

    1. Carole, I never thought of that “ahead of your time” thing coming from reporting, but you’re exactly right. That’s our training. I always look at things and wonder why other folks don’t see the stories in them.

      You know, some day, I think we long-term writers should do a book/panel/blog on the stupid things we’ve had to put up with in traditional publishing. I think folks who say traditional publishing is best would be shocked.

      And I’m so thrilled about the eternal life thing. It just makes me smile. Thanks for the post.

  3. Kris, I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. Friends are the family we get to choose and losing them is hard.

    Thanks for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to post this blog. I needed a thoughtful pick-me-up today.

    Regarding writers and their estates…this is huge. As a whole, I don’t think writers are thinking about what happens to their work after their death–or after something like a divorce. It sounds like your friend was smart enough to have set things up via will or trust in the event of his death.

    My dad is an estate attorney who specializes in wills and trusts, so I learned about the importance of legal paperwork at a young age. My mom’s side of the family includes a semi-famous playwright; when my maternal grandfather remarried after my grandmother’s death, my dad helped him set up a premarital agreement that kept all the copyrights/royalties in the family. If that had not been done, at his death in 1997 half of that interest would have been given to his second wife (and then passed to her three grown children) instead of going to blood heirs. That may not be a problem for some people, but it was a big deal to my mom’s family.

    People sometimes scream and fuss about premarital agreements and argue that they exhibit a lack of ‘trust’ in one’s future partner, but if you’re coming into a marriage with assets, I really believe you ought to be thinking about what happens to them in the event of some tragic occurrence.

    Same thing with wills/trusts. Among other things, they’re designed to protect and transfer assets. (An example would be, if you died childless, determining whether the proceeds from your work flow to your spouse or back to your siblings/parents/cousins/ect.) Paying an upfront flat fee for a trust might seem costly, but in the long run it’s usually a lot less expensive than the percentage of your estate your family will lose going through probate.

    Note: I’m not an attorney, so this does not constitute legal advice. It’s just my two cents for the day. You’ve enabled me to think more about the long-term implications of being a writer in for the long haul, and this is one that came to mind.

    1. Thanks, David. Good to know.

      E.R., great post on what folks should do with an estate. I’ll go into more detail in a few months, but folks, if you haven’t done estate planning, now is the time. It benefits everyone who survives you–friends, family, etc. And also, that goes for medical care as well. It’s better to make your wishes known in writing before things get too bad so that you can’t communicate those wishes. I know this is tough stuff to think about, but it’s important. Believe me. (Since I just spent half my afternoon today in an attorney’s office–on something well planned. I can’t imagine how much work this would be if it hadn’t been well organized.)

  4. a new scanning service that just popped up (I haven’t used them so I don’t know how good they are) they scan books for $1 per 100 pages (max $6 per book)

    right now they produce .pdf output (with the OCR text behind the image) but are planning to have other formats available soon.

  5. What a great, great post. Thanks for all that you do. You, and Dean, and Joe Konrath are gread educators,very helpful to a new indie writer.

    I admit it: I was crushed that I didn’t sell any books the first day my first day on Smashwords. Now I’m over it, more or less; I can see some of the reasons why a book of short stories may not be the best way for a brand new writer to debut.

    But I intend to keep at it. And I like that first book; I intend to keep it in print–and someday, maybe, somebody who’s read and liked something else of mine will decide to give it a try.

    My condolences on your loss.

  6. Hi Kristine,
    I’ve been a fan since you were at F & SF, and I’ve been enjoying your blog since I started following you on google+ a few weeks ago.
    I think this is a very perceptive post. Everything is in flux but I think it’s far healthier to seek the advantages of the new paradigm rather than bemoaned whatever is lost.

    One tiny correction: The clout in the music world is in the major labels, not the studios. The labels sign artists, promote them, and advance the money for artists to go into the recording studio While working in certain studios is itself prestigious, in the end the studio is just where you record.

    Other than that, I completely agree. I’ve released three albums on three different indie labels. A label of any size is still valuable in helping an artist get distribution, but the big ones have the money to get you noticed in a way that most smaller labels just can’t. The major labels used to put a lot of money into new artist development that they now funnel toward the tried-and-true. I think that same aversion to risk is probably echoed in the publishing world as well.

    It’s easy enough to toss up your hands and despair of ever being able to get a foot in the door. I think your approach is refreshing. There may be fewer opportunities to access traditional networks or publishing houses or labels, but there are also a lot of new ways for a creative person to self-promote and gain attention.

    1. Sarah, missed commenting on your post. (I probably missed a bunch of folks. Sorry. Am swamped right now.) Thanks for the correction on the music industry. Always better to have someone who knows the industry talk about it. Much appreciated!

  7. “There is no sell-by date after which a book rots.”

    “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus”. Published in 1818, and has never been out of print. If any book should rot, it should be one about a reanimated cadaver, yet it’s still going strong, still selling every year. Ditto Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle and …

    What astonishes me is that traditional publishers, the guys who PUBLISHED these writers, are blind to the long term. I know most American corporations focus on next quarter, not the ten-year plan, I’d hope this one industry could break the mold. Guess not.

    Thanks for a great post. Sorry I didn’t meet you in Reno, though I was glad to meet Dean. And my condolences on the loss of your friend.

  8. Thanks for the posts. I wanted to make special note of your continued advice to be patient. It’s easy to get caught up in the “how are my sales today” noise. Especially when I’ve had all of one Kindle sale this month. But that one sale? The collection that doesn’t have a Facebook page, that I hardly mention on my FB page, or that I’ve sent out for review. Somebody bought it, and I hope they enjoy it. Reason enough to keep at it. Again, thank you!

  9. I was one of the writers who stopped to thank you this weekend, although I didn’t have any suggestions.

    I’m curious about one of the things you mentioned: you said it’s still possible to browse by author. Maybe I’m missing the obvious, but I haven’t been able to find any way to do that with the Kindle store. It drives me nuts because that’s one of the ways I’ve always found new authors in bookstores and libraries. It’s also frustrating if I can only remember that the author I wanted to try starts with Br . . . and was the third letter an a or an e? (I’m worried about this more as a reader than a writer, frankly.)

    Thank you again!

  10. Let me add my thanks to all the others. Your blog and Dean’s have made a tremendous difference in my life. You’ve educated me about the industry, in plain talk which is hard to find, and given me hope for the future. So, thank you.

    1. Thanks, Chris & Tori.

      And I remember talking with you, Erin. You can search by author name by typing in the name on your Kindle. You can also search by alphabet, etc, but you have to do it on Amazon’s search engine on your computer. You can access that on the Kindle, but it’s easier doing it with a real computer.

  11. Hi Kristine,

    Big fan of your website, please keep up the great work.

    I’m looking to sign up with an independent publisher that offers flat rate fees for their services. They have editorial services that I would like to use, and I also like the fact I retain the rights to my work.

    My only concern is if I shop the book to traditional publishers, would my realtionship with the indie shop affect their interest in me? In other words, I decide to sell my book as an e-book through the indie shop, yet can I still try to get a contract to sell paper books with a big publisher? Does the fact the book has been edited by and indie shop cast a negative light on it?

    This is my first book, and I realize I’m entering the industry that is going through a major paradigm shift. Not sure what is the best path.

  12. “…what really matters is the kind of career an artist wants.”

    I tell you Kris, it’s that sentiment that changed everything for me . . . and not just in terms of business, but in terms of creativity.

    For the longest time, I wanted a one-book-a-year career with some short stories thrown into the mix. When I looked down the road 10 years, I would’ve said I wanted ten novels under my belt and maybe 30 short stories. The problem was, that’s not how I work (but I didn’t know it at the time), and thus I struggled with writing for a long time. Last May, when I finally decided to try writing a short story a week — which was a HUGE departure for me — I realized a few things: a.) how much fun writing quickly really was, b.) how much more one could learn by writing quickly, and c.) I wasn’t sure I wanted that book-a-year-with-some-short-stories kind of career.

    Now, after a year of writing quickly and following your blog, and Dean’s, and Mike Stackpole’s, I realize what I want is to be one of those old pulp writers. I’m working my way through Lawrence Block’s AFTERTHOUGHTS, and I’m seeing my ideal. I learned via a Twitter exchange with Mr. Block that in those early days he wrote 20 or so pages a day, sometimes more. When I saw that, I thought — Yes, that’s the goal. I love to write; I really don’t care about being an “author” any more.

    But all of that was a big shift for me. It wasn’t just a shift in terms of business, but a shift in terms of creativity. Before I started that short-a-week challenge, I thought writing quickly would just produce dreck. And yet, those first stories I wrote quickly got personal rejections, and I even got an HM in the WOTF contest with one of those stories.

    At any rate, making that paradigm shift is a hard thing to do, and for writer — at least in my experience — it begins not with a business paradigm shift, but, rather, with a creative paradigm shift. You have to believe you have the chops to take advantage of the new world of publishing.

    1. Jeff, I love this post. You’re so right. It is a creative paradigm shift first and foremost. Thanks for showing us how it’s done. (And Afterthoughts is great, isn’t it?)

  13. I set a few of my short stories free-to-download on Amazon and that has been very good for exposure and sales. It’s not a magic wand–a lot of people download all the free things they can find but never get around to reading them–but it’s definitely a helpful marketing tool, particularly if the story itself is a good one (I used the award- and near-award-winning ones I published first at Strange Horizons).

    Honestly, it’s been one of my best marketing decisions, figuring out how to get that free price on Amazon.

  14. Hi Kris,

    I liked the analogy with Powells, but I would like to take it a step further.

    I’ve heard that only 20% of Amazon visits involve customers starting on the home-page and browsing from there, and that the rest arrive by direct link.

    In other words, they come to the store with a purchase in mind.

    In your analogy, that would be like being teleported into Powells right in front of John Lawton’s book.

    Then, as you made your way to the cashier, instead of being sidetracked by the racks along the way, or the table displays everyone sees, you would pass by racks of books and table displays that were tailored to your previous buying habits in Powells.

    I don’t have a source for that stat quoted above, but it tallies with how I shop on Amazon, and how other readers shop that I question.

    They go there with a purchase in mind, and will often (but not always) then pick up a few more titles before the check-out, with the personalized recommendations that Amazon shows playing a large role.

    Sometimes they will be books you have been meaning to buy, but just haven’t got around to it yet. Sometimes they will be books you have never heard of but look interesting. And sometimes they will be books you have no interest in, or already own (from a store other than Amazon).

    Not so different to shopping in a store, except you see far less of the books you would never be interested in.

    Those who fear that they will be crowded out of the virtual bookshelves are laboring under a fundamental misunderstanding of how online book buying actually operates.

    There really is nothing to fear.


    1. Ooo, getting teleported into Powell’s. Dave, I love that idea. If I could have that day, I would have. And sometimes you sprint through the store, trying not to see anything else.

      Amazon counters this with two functions: people who bought this book also bought these books (hoping you’ll look) and suggestions on the way to checkout. It’s the same thing, only a digital version, imho.

  15. Brilliant post. I’ve always wondered how people can make an issue of huge amounts of slush online when print books are available in the millions as well, with readers always being the ultimate filter system.

    I only question the bit about traditional publishing lasting in power to the same extent that the networks etc have done, given that avenues of distribution underpinning the success of traditional publishing are becoming truly democratised across all channels (no pun intended:D). But that trad publishing will survive – yeah, I think it will. Might be though that it will have to become a bit more like an Amazon imprint (in terms of contractual terms and facilities offered) than it is now.

    1. Thanks, Ferran.

      Isabella, we’ll see what happens with the distribution. But the same sort of “democratization” happened with cable as well. TV channels became relatively cheap to start. I can remember when E! was clips from talk shows (Talk Soup) and movie trailers, and SyFy was SciFi and had old 1950s science fiction programming. That’s where publishers are now. We upstart cable networks don’t look like much, but just wait.

  16. Kris,

    fist, my condolences. I have pretty recent similar experiences.

    Second: would it make sense to think that writers are so caught up by the fear wave that they forget that, gee, readers have a will of their own? That years of “people don’t read [as much] as they used to” has turned them blind to the fact that readers read because we *want* to? Which means that we might make an effort to get what we want. As with drinks, you’ll have people who’ll settle for Bud and people who’ll search for a microbrewery’s special. And people who will _only_ drink Coors, and pester they local business if it doesn’t carry it.

    Take care.

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