Sep 9 2005

Why Publishing Will Never Be the Same, Part II

Why Publishing Will Never Be the Same, Part II

In Part I of this series, I talked about our experience at Return Path publishing a book back in January through a new type of print-on-demand, or self-publishing house called iUniverse and why I thought the publishing industry was in for a long, slow decline unless it changes its ways.

We had another interesting experience with iUniverse more recently that reinforces this point.  It turns out, although iUniverse is mainly a “self publisher,” they also have a traditional publishing model called their Star Program, which includes an editorial review process.  The good news for us is that they contacted us and said they liked our book so much, and sales are strong enough, that they’ve given it an Editors’ Choice and Readers’ Choice notation and they want to put it in the Star Program.  That was very exciting!  I mean, who doesn’t want to be a star?  The bad news is that the traditional model isn’t particularly compelling.  This is the deal they’ve offered:

– A 3-year exclusive for them (our current contract is non-exclusive)

– Diminished control over the IP

– Diminished royalties

– iUniverse would re-publish the book, which means (a) it would become unavailable for 6 months before the re-launch, (b) they would give it a new cover and re-edit the book, (c) we could revise the content if we want, and (d) they’d have control over all final decisions around the editorial and cover

– iUniverse would do more active marketing of the book

Ok, so this could be a compelling deal, if the “more active marketing” was really going to move the needle for us.  So we asked more about what that gets us.  The answer:

– Sending the book out for reviews (we did this within our industry but certainly not by broader business press, although we probably could do so on our own)

– Setting up book signing events (hard to imagine this is interesting for a business how-to book like this)

– Setting up interview or radio appearances (again, we did this in-industry but not broader)

– Introducing us to the buyer from Barnes & Noble retail stores (success rate unknown – too early to tell in the program’s life)

The folks at iUniverse had no idea what we could even project in terms of increased sales from these activities.  When we pushed on this a little bit more on the tangible benefits of marketing, their end comment was “the most successful books are the ones where the authors are out actively promoting them.”

We haven’t made a decision on this one yet.  Their support is probably valuable on balance, the change in royalty structure isn’t material, and assuming we could carve out the IP issues to our satisfaction, it could be a good way to issue a second edition with less cost.  The in-store presence is really the wild card that could really tip the scales.

But the lure of legitimacy (e.g., someone else published it with an editorial review process, we didn’t just pay to play) is the biggest thing in iUniverse’s favor on this one, and that’s what I have to imagine will decrease over time for the publishing industry as it becomes easier and easier for individuals to publish content, market it, and establish credibility by having other individuals rate and review it.

Thanks to my colleague Tami Forman for her assistance on these postings (and for managing the book project!).  Tami is too modest to tell anyone, but she is a wonderful writer and has a blog that she updates not nearly often enough on food — she used to be the food editor for iVillage.