Tuesday, May 25, 2010

So This is How the Dinosaurs Died, Part 2

Big doings at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, where the annual Book Expo America is taking place this week, featuring "the PREMIER North American publishing event." That is how it's being touted at the BEA website, and I have no doubt they're telling the truth.

What I find interesting, though, is the subject of this year's very first BEA conference panel. It featured executives from across the publishing spectrum - publishers, literary agents, booksellers, and author and Author's Guild President Scott Turow - and dealt with the possibilities and opportunities available in the brave new world of e-publishing.

As I picture this panel discussion, I can't help imagining a similar meeting taking place 65 million years ago, as the World Dinosaurs Council met to consider the possibilities and opportunities available in the brave new world of post-asteroid strike:

"Thanks for coming, everyone (cough cough). You may have noticed things are changing rapidly here on planet Earth after that big bang we all saw and heard (cough). Nothing to worry about, though, it was just an asteroid impacting our planet with a force similar to 100 million megatons of TNT, according to CNN.

"Phew, is it just me or does it seem to be getting really, REALLY hot in here? Anyway, it's come to my attention that some of you naysayers are worried this changing reality might have a negative affect on our survival. Let me just say this (cough cough): Pshaw!

"We dinosaurs have ruled this rock for millions of years (cough) and we aren't going anywhere. Yes? Is there a question? You, in the back, Rex, is it? Oh yes, I'm sorry, T. Rex. My bad. Go ahead with your question, Mr. T.

"The layer of soot covering the atmosphere, choking out the sun and eliminating our oxygen supply? It's nothing. We'll be fine. Trust me. Phew, it's getting so hot I wish I could climb out of my scales. Anyway, let me restate the point of this conference: There's nothing to worry about.

"Now, are we agreed to meet same time next year to discuss our eternal dominance? Excellent. Now, let's repair to the bar before we all burn alive."

Interestingly, according to the report I read in Publishers Lunch, what was intended as an upbeat discussion of opportunities quickly degenerated into a gloom-and-doom meeting focusing on two subjects: Author e-book royalties and the decline of the physical, print-on-paper book.

The major powers in book publishing have yet to reach any kind of agreement on what constitutes reasonable royalties in the e-book publishing world. According to Esther Newburg of ICM (International Creative Management), "We're getting different terms [from different publishers]. At some point we're going to have to go public about who is giving us what. And some of you are going to look bad."

Twenty-five percent of net revenues seems to have been batted around as the figure of contention, with Big Publishing justifying that number as the best they can offer in order to maintain the massive overhead required to deal in physical books and "legacy" publishing. (If you're not sure what legacy publishing is, see my previous post, "So This is How the Dinosaurs Died")

I mention this royaly issue because smaller, Indie publishers seem to be settling on e-book royalty rates between forty and fifty percent, and seventy percent has been floated as the royalty J.A. Konrath will be receiving from AmazonEncore for the e-book rights to SHAKEN, his new offering in the Jack Daniels series. It's worth mentioning that seventy percent figure is strictly conjecture, as Konrath has not divulged details due to his non-disclosure agreement with Amazon, but it seems safe to say the royalty will be well above twenty-five percent and probably well above fifty.

There was more than a little concern about the future of the mass-market paperback format in a digital world, as well. David Shanks, of Penguin USA, said, "The paperback market is not over. There are still hundreds of thousands of places you can buy paper-format books," and he alluded to the fact that over ninety percent of books sales still take place in the form of physical books.

A persuasive figure, until you consider that a couple of months ago, that figure was 92%, and only a little over a year ago, the figure was 98%! The ink-on-paper share of the book market is falling so fast you hope it's wearing a parachute.

You can almost see the dinosaurs looking up in wonder at a gray and soot-filled sky, can't you?

These were the "highlights" as presented by Publishers Lunch of the very first conference panel at BEA 2010. In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I wasn't in attendance. I have a full-time job and a family to support and my first book doesn't even come out until next February. In e-book format, thank goodness. By February, the ink-on-paper share of the market will be down to 85%; just wait and see.

Anyway, after reading these highlights, I'm kind of glad I wasn't there. It sounds awfully depressing. Those dinosaurs can get mighty cranky.

No comments: