SEASON 2 – The Business Book Podcast – Jane Friedman
Derek: Good Morning Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to another episode of the business book podcast. Our guest today is Jane Jane Friedman and Jane occupies a unique space in the publishing industry. So many of our guests has been subject matter experts in particular niches. Jane is, I guess she kind of sits at a confluence of so many different roles and so many different aspects of the industry. Because of that, I thought that she would be the perfect person to bring on to talk about what publishing looks like today from kind of a 30,000 foot view to someone to help us navigate the waters of what’s going on in the industry and what authors need to know today as they jumped into this are real waters headfirst. So Jane is, I mean she writes for publishers weekly, which is the trade journal really for the publishing industry. Her book, the business of being a writer is coming out, March of 2018. She is in. She’s all over the place. The book expo of America, the digital book world, the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is the largest book Fair, that side of the Atlantic Ocean. So she’s kind of everywhere and knows basically everything. Jane, thank you so much for coming on today.
Jane: My pleasure, Derek. Thank you.
Derek: Oh, I’m just going to give you the floor, Jane. Tell us what does publishing look like here at the right at the cusp of 2018.
Jane: I think it depends on what angle you are approaching it from. So in today’s market there are generally two predominant angles. There’s the traditional publishing angle and then independent author angle and I know typically people like to talk about the print digital divide and what we can talk about that too, but I think what is probably more important from an author’s perspective is whether or not you want to approach publishing in partnership with a traditional publisher or if it’s something that you’re going to approach from the more entrepreneurial perspective. Something that you’re prepared to take on as a business. And if you’re already in business then you’re well aware of everything that has to go into that in order to have a successful launch and product. So it can be intimidating to do that by yourself. And so I still think there’s a strong role for traditional publishers the play in reaching the market. I think the biggest thing that has changed in the last 15 to 20 years is how books get sold, which is what has created basically the two packs publication, the traditional and in the independent paths. Uh, so because so many books now gets sold online through Amazon that really levels the playing field in terms of the power and the leverage and the reach that you have to your readership or your potential readership. Basically, bottom line, anyone doesn’t matter who you are, how big your business is, how good the book is. Anyone can get on Amazon and start selling their books tomorrow. Of course, the big question is how will anyone know that book exists? So traditional publishers tackle that in a very different way. Getting people to know a book exists because they tackle that very differently than an independent author. Certainly there’s lots of overlap in terms of marketing and publicity from both a traditional publishers perspective and an independent author’s perspective, but each is working the system in very different ways because traditional publishers still are focused on pushing print and whether that’s a print copy sold through Amazon or a print copy sold through a bookstore while independent authors more typically are pushing digital eBooks and other forms of digital media that might compliment the book. And I also have actually be the profit center for that book. So I know business authors will often put a book out more than a business card rather than a profit center, uh, and then use that book to get speaking engagements or clients or consulting gigs. And that’s where the money comes from. So kind of summarize that really broad intro, I would say you have to know going in should look publication what it is you’re wanting to get out of it. What is the very specific goal that you’re trying to achieve? The kind of traditional publishing well often help you achieve something very different then an independently published book and you have to know what it is that you want out of the experience.
Derek: I think that’s a great point. That’s so many start with the idea of owning to have a book. I mean, that’s why they’re even looking at all of their options in the first place. The true point is that even before thinking about the, the product, if you will, the end result is that you have to think about the why in the first place. The what, what are you doing with this book? Why are you putting it together? And that is going to determine total maybe of the dominoes that fall after that, if you will. So, can you, for the authors who are somewhat unsure, are they, they’re just beginning to kind of a look at these two paths and weighing them. Can you give kind of the pros and cons are basically the, the advantages and the as well as the pitfalls to watch out for on these two paths of traditional versus self.
Jane: Traditional publishing I find most people I meet are more interested in that and they are in self-publishing for variety of reasons and there’s still a lot of prestige associated with working with traditional publishers. Both good reasons and bad reasons. And so what I often end up telling people is rather more than the pros and cons of traditional publishing here are more like the requirements. If you’re kind of go down that path, (laughing) if you want to get a deal.
Derek: That’s a great way to put it.
Jane: I would say the requirements are that if we’re talking about a New York publisher, they’re looking for you to have a platform and the platform is just, I know it can be really confusing term because people use it in different ways, but it’s basically your ability to sell books because of who you are or who you already reach without the publishers help or influence. Okay. So the publisher is looking for a very, well, publishers are very risk averse and so they’re looking for authors who will help mitigate that risk by virtue of their own marketing and publicity muscle. And so that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about platform. You may have a tremendous book idea, something that’s groundbreaking and might be a fabulous writer, but ultimately publishers aren’t going to be interested in your book unless they can see that you’re going to reach the audience for it. If you’re looking to the book publisher to reach the audience for you, you’ve got it turned around. You’re supposed to bring the audience to the publisher. So that then raises the question of what exactly is a publisher for since they’re not there to make of a (laughing) [inaudible 8:12] . And that’s where we get into the cons of traditional publishing, which is, you know, a lot of the marketing and promotion burdens on you. But that would be the same case with self-publishing anyway. It’s just that the traditional publishers much better able to amplify and spread the word and also get your book into channels that would be very difficult for you to reach yourself. So as an example, you wouldn’t be able to walk up to the Barnes and noble buyer the business shelf and pitch your book. It’s just not possible unless she knew people in high places. However, a traditional publisher that on a regular basis and they can ensure to some degree that your book’s going to be distributed nationwide. Otherwise they would not take on your book if they didn’t have that expectation. So that’s the huge value there. Like getting doors to open into distribution channels, particularly print and bricks and mortar distribution channels. And then there’s also the whole getting taken seriously by the media because you have a traditional publisher, although you can easily clear that hurdle on your own, uh, if you’re approaching more narrow with viewers and publications. But if we’re talking about like the New York Times or you know, really major publications in the business world, Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine, Forbes, Financial Times, you know, all of the heavy hitters, you know, they’re, they just don’t have the time or the bandwidth to look at self-published books unless your name is already known to them. You’re a known quantity somehow. So traditional publishers can help open those doors. And I think that’s the one of the biggest pros.
Derek: I’m not making this or do I recall that it’s just been here in the past six or seven months that couldn’t have been the New York Times. Maybe it was Nielsen Books can just started including Indie eBooks in there survey of, or including it in, in units sold here in the US basically actually acknowledging independent E-books, as part of the publishing industry versus the red headed stepchild that it’s been four over a decade.
Jane: don’t know which needs development you might be referring to. But I do know the New York Times has actually drawn back on the best seller lists that used to favor self-published authors, but that mainly had to do with the fiction realm, um, more so than nonfiction because they used to have a lot of dedicated e-book, bestseller lists that they stopped doing. And since self-published author’s primarily selling digital, that was a huge blow to that community. But it is, you know, I think traditional publishers see the value and they see, that there’s a lot of stuff, publishing activity that’s valid, but they’re not concerned with it for the most part in most categories. Now there are some exceptions to that and they mainly applied to fiction, but they just see themselves as focused on a different part of the market. They’re very concerned with the print market in the bookstore market. And then the self-publishers are seen to be chasing a very different type of reader in a very different space. So if, let’s say you are a self-published author or you’re considering self-publishing trying to decide between the two, you have to be extremely prepared to pull out all the stops when it comes to online and digital marketing. This is where traditional publishers don’t fixate on this because they’re fixated on prince. But if you’re going to be independent, you’re going to have to get really comfortable with the marketing and promotion tools available to you online, whether that’s through social media, advertising, different types of content marketing, being able to reach out to influencers who are online, people who run podcasts like yourself or well-known blogs or YouTube channels. You have to get on these people’s radar, in order to market your book. In addition to being able to run price promotions, do giveaways and discounts through retailers like Amazon to help improve your sales ranking and get more visibility through Amazon’s algorithms and other retailer algorithms to help gain some momentum behind your book there. we could easily spend six hours talking about all of the levers that are pushed, the buttons that blink when you’re trying to get that sales ranking to go up. But by far I think the biggest tool that gets used by self-publishers is the giveaway, making something free or extremely cheap. And this is where I think traditional publishers can tend to look down on the self-published end of the industry because what they see is just relentless discounting and that maybe indicates a less quality product. And of course they’ll publishers to or are wary of using that as a strategy to frequently because it does tend to create an expectation among some readers that they’re going to get something that doesn’t extend beyond a certain price point. And I’m probably everyone’s aware of what you go shopping online for E-books, there’s a huge price differential between what a traditional publisher will charge for the E-book and what an author will charge. You know, it’s often a 10 to $15 price differential. So that, we have this very weird segmenting of the market where we have to two different value plays and so if you’re going to self-publish, you have to be aware of that kind of that expectation that’s in that market.
Derek: I never quite follow in black and white artists because we’re talking the very beginning of the interview you talked about the, are you referenced digital then said that the real divide between traditional and indeed, but it never really struck me that the traditional publishers that they are really what they’re doing is, is focused on the physical books that focused on the, the product, um, which is how do we create these books and sell as many as we can. It’s a, it’s a commodity business, a volume business versus indie authors who usually don’t have the money to print books and to do it right, to have the coverage, to do the typesetting and to everything that you need to do in order to create. I’m reading a book and then actually print them. And then the distribution, which is one of the major as you said, one of the major advantages that traditional publishers bring that they can get your book into books-a-million and Barnes and nobles and an indie bookstores and airports across the country. Whereas if you’re an indie author, even if you, um, do a print on demand during you do a print run and have 5,000 books sitting in your garage, you’re still facing an uphill battle trying to get those books into retailers. And so it’s just, makes a lot more sense and it’s just a lot easier for the indie authors to go to go the digital route. I never, it’s just never struck me. Just how. Yeah, it’s not that they’re not even that they’re going after the same reader. They’re going after two different, product types. One is selling digital primarily, in one is selling print primarily.
Jane: Yeah. Yeah. And the other twist on this, which is who knows how this is going to play out. But um, you know, publishers have kept e-book price is high, which pushes more people to buy print because you know, why would you buy an E-book for $12 when you can get the print for 10 or 12, which that’s Amazon’s making that happen through their discounting on print. But this shit, I mean, let’s put aside the fact that this just puts more power in Amazon hands and in the long run that’s not going to be great for the publishers, but for now it preserves the print market for traditional publishing houses and that’s why you see all these news articles about printed back. Well, pricing as a has a role to play in that and it’s still playing out. So on. And then look at the flip side of that for the self-published authors were, they are largely, if there’s so much disagreement on this, but so many authors will go all exclusive with Amazon, which means they’ll be enrolling in the program called kindle unlimited. And kindle unlimited is been $10 a month subscription service. Like an all you can read buffet and no matter how many books you read, you pay the same amount as a reader, 10 bucks. And so for the authors who were enrolled in this program and exclusive to Amazon, they’re not getting paid on a sales basis. They’re getting paid on a per page basis. So if a reader reads a single page, they’ll get paid less than have to send for that page. But if the reader reads the entire book, they’ll probably end up somewhere along the lines of what would be the equivalent of a sale depending on how they priced that e-book outside of kindle unlimited. But the point here, the larger point here, is that so many authors are effectively giving our work away for free in a book form and then taking a payment from Amazon and no one’s quite sure in the long-term what that does to the pricing earnings. Because Amazon isn’t revealing as this is very classic Amazon behavior. Then they’re not really revealing the number of people in this program, readers in the program, they’re not revealing how many pages are read. And in fact, they’re paying retroactively for the pages read. So just the, the, one of the strangest things I think in publishing.
Derek: I’m sorry, go ahead. I didn’t mean to interrupt.
Jane: Oh No, I was just gonna add that traditional publishers will not play that game. They do not put their titles in kindle unlimited. So kindle unlimited is populated with a mix of self-published authors and then Amazon’s own titles. And so it’s a very, as I said, strange dynamic that’s playing out.
Derek: It sounds like it’s almost a Pandora for E-books, right? With Pandora, you can listen to as many songs as you want to. Pandora pays a few piece this and that for each song.
Jane: Now imagine if you were in a Pandora, there’s a set amount that they’re paying. So there’s some, I don’t necessarily a guarantee because certainly they can change their terms. I would imagine are the contracts can be renewed, renegotiated, but an Amazon, you have no guarantee what they’re going to pay. You’re just kind of going on faith that they’re going to calculate it in a way that isn’t disastrous for you.
Derek: The authors would rather have something over nothing and there’s a chance that they do the following. But my approach to business Jane has always been that I can do a better job of watching out for my own self-interest than anyone else can. So if I really wanted to build a business off of selling books, it’s not a really good business model to give up that control to someone else and hope that they’ll do what’s in your best interest.
Jane: Okay. Yeah. The publisher, it’s always going to act in their interests. No question. You say you’re absolutely right and you have to be prepared for that going in and although I have to say generally what’s good for the publisher is good for the author. I mean they both have.
Derek: No, I was thinking about Amazon for the publisher at least, or. Yeah, for the put with a publisher at least your interests are aligned, right? They make money off of all of your book. That’s one thing. But with Amazon, like you said, if you’re going in blind and you just have to have blind faith, that’s what I was speaking to.
Jane: Yes. Yes. You do. I guess to Amazon Credit, although we can’t be sure, I think they’re probably losing some money on kindle unlimited. I don’t have any evidence of that. It’s just that looking at how many others have tried this business model and closed up shop or had to put restrictions on it somehow. It just seems like, as is Amazon’s want their building for a future that’s yet to come. And so they’re willing to take a loss until that time.
Derek: To aggregate the market or to establish there to be kind of the big fish in a small pond knowing that they’re going to expand that bond or connect that bond to somewhere else later. Yeah, yeah. That’s Amazon. But let’s talk for a second, Jane. You said something that I wanted to get to you. You said you know that there’s these articles you read today about print is his back publisher’s weekly and a couple of dinners. Talk about how the publishing market is actually bigger now than it’s ever been. We’ve seen basically the plateau of eBooks and maybe we found kind of an equilibrium, the perfect mix between print and any books. Can you just talk about from a publisher’s point of view, but the market looks like today.
Jane: Well, for traditional publishers, they had seen print sales basically, I don’t want to say stabilized because in fact in some cases there are on the decline depending on what category you look at, but certainly print is more robust than the e-book sales have been over the last few years. So we’re seeing, I don’t know, I would say about a 75, 25 split between print and e-book. In many cases, publishers, digital sales have been kept afloat in part by the surge and audio book sales. Digital audio. Yeah. That’s it. That’s another dynamic that’s playing out alongside all of this. What’s, what’s so strange about the print is back phenomenon. Like what? Generally it’s a celebration, right? The publishers are happy to see those people who love independent bookstores like same new stories, but it’s again, the what. It largely speaks to you with Amazon taking more market share. They’re selling more print. We don’t. We don’t see print sales growing through Barnes and noble. We do not see print sales growing through mass merchandisers like Walmart and target. We see print sales growing through online retail, so that generally is not the greatest news for traditional publishers because again, it just puts more power into Amazon. So that’s I think and then there’s the other story that often does not get told. The so called dark publishing activity, which we’ve discussed. You know, the. All of the activity happening through kindle unlimited through Amazon’s own publishing imprint in the self-publishing market generally that is not getting counted when you see these articles about print is back. So there’s a lot of conjecture because there aren’t very good stats on publishing industry, but there’s a lot of conjecture that if you, if you put together the traditional numbers that we have some confidence about, and then you put together some of the speculation that comes out of this study called the author earnings, which just looks at what’s happening on Amazon, where most of the self-publishing activity is, and they try and meld those two data sets together. It shows that, you know, the e-book market share is, is migrating away from traditional over to self-publishing. And so it’s, if you book sales are declining on traditional, it’s been mainly because authors have taken it away from them, the independent authors and the Amazon itself. So again, that’s not a good story for traditional publishers even though it’s done that way by a, usually by mainstream media outlets.
Derek: The, that speaks to kind of a little soundbite that I usually, one of them I’m trying to give authors just kind of a, a, a handle on what publishing looks like today. I’m a little sound bites as medics. It’s a paradox that there is more money in publishing now than ever before and yet the margins are thinner than ever before.
Jane: And it certainly feels that way sometimes. Instead that publishing is, it gets in different industries that we talk about very collectively. So like, um, there’s trade publishing like the New York houses and then there’s k through 12 and in higher education and professional publishing at Children’s publishing, self-publishing and all of them have different margins. All of them have slightly different concerns. But, I would say if you look right now at higher education publishing like Pearson, which is, I believe the biggest publisher in the world by the last measurement, um, their profits and revenues have dropped precipitously because of the squeeze in that market. Like you just do not see the same rate of textbook sales that we, that, that we had say even 10 years ago. And in fact, I’ve had many colleagues who have worked for companies like Pearson who are now out of jobs and they don’t think that do sales are coming back. So yeah, there’s some really dramatic shifts that are happening in some segments of the publishing industry, something that’s happening in traditional publishing with New York publishing. We’re starting to see this strange phenomenon where there isn’t really a blockbuster fiction hit every year. So like the last big title that everyone was talking about, I think with gone girl, if I remember correctly there, right now, you don’t have a novel that has that sort of market penetration where everyone has heard of it. Even if they haven’t read it, it’s hard for people to name novel that’s been big in the last year. That’s not part of an established series or you know, like the latest John Grisham or something. So this also raises the question of, well, what’s, what’s happening here? Because those blockbusters are really important to publishers performance. They tend to prop up a lot of the titles that never, never reached the sales that they were supposed to know.
Derek: That actually brings to mind a book I read a few years ago, what would google do? And the author said we are leaving the time or less than the time where we had, we had mass markets. I think I’m mixing up an example or think this was him. He said so for example, um, you know, just a generation ago, we only had a handful of TV shows that everybody in the United States all shared in this TV show. So everybody knew I love Lucy. Everybody knew a leave it to beaver. Well, now I’m, you know, two people can live in the same household. I mean, this is an example of my wife and me. We watched completely different shows sometimes, well watch the same show, but I’ve got, you know, kind of my shows and the things that I like to keep up with. And she’s got hers. So even living under the same roof, we’re not even, I’m sharing some of those common experiences. And so he was pointing to the fact that we’re coming into an economy or an age. We’re instead of a mass market, we’re going to have mass niches, so there’s going to be that huge market is going to be come sliced up into these people over here, this market ever hear that segment over here and that’s what I hear you saying. The not only is that happening in the format where we’re talking about audio versus an e-book versus print, but that’s also happening in the categories as well. So instead of there being one huge blockbuster that everybody reads the blockbusters are much more modest and there are a few people, few people reading the same book, more people reading diverse books.
Jane: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I totally agree that there’s a splintering that’s happening and I think it applies to all media, so certainly aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of this. So yeah, it will be fascinating. It puts a lot of pressure on publishers to be better at direct to consumer marketing, which traditionally they have not been that good at.
Derek: No, that’s not been their model at all, that’s a complete reinvention. So change just in the last couple of minutes of your time, your precious time, that I’m going to take, if you could speak to authors or authors, people who are just kind of getting into a, into this whole new journey in addition to all the great advice and tips and insights that you provided, what would you like to lead them with?
Jane: I would look at each project as having to have its own business model. So every book that I’ve done, I had a different model associated with it, a different purpose as we talked about earlier in the board there I knew very specifically what I wanted to get out of it and how I was going to profit from it either from direct sales or some something ancillary. So every book that you approached think, think about it in terms of its own mini business with its own model. I think that it’s, it’s important to take responsibility for what that model is and then be in control and make very informed decisions about who you’re going to partner with, if anyone. And then what that model looks like. Once executed, because it affects everything down the line from how much you spend on the product design, the editing and the cover and so on, and how you price it, whether you make it available for free and how long you’re going to keep marketing it, if it’s just going to be a flash in the pan or if it’s something that’s going to be foundational to your, to other things that you’re going to be doing.
Derek: Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. For a word Smith. I, um, I often struggled, uh, to grab the right words and I think that’s because for people like us, we read similar to that. We have so many words floating around in our head that it’s difficult to grab onto the right words that that’s I think that that’s fundamental. That’s the word that I was looking for. That’s the fundamental approach at that authors have to take, is to step back and figure out even before you jump into, to creating something to figure out why you’re creating it. Then to figure out how you’re going to use it as a product or as a tool, and then to build the model around it and didn’t build and create the product or the, the, the piece that is going to align and fulfil with the things that you have. I think that that’s a great way to put it. Jane, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate your, your insights and your expertise on publishing today.
Jane: Seems a lot of fun. Thank you so much, Derek.
Derek: Right, and everybody. That’s Jane and March 2018. Her book, the business of being a writer comes out from the University of Chicago Press. I’m going to go see if I can place a preorder. Pour it right now. It makes a good Jane.
Jane: Thank you.