By Rosemary Harris
The Role of Publishers
Get books on shelves, paying up front (advances) royalties, publicize and market books, but they have to prove they're worth it. Some panelists said new and midlist authors will eventually question the necessity of traditional publishers as the intermediary between themselves and readers. (Bestselling authors will probably not, since they are the ones getting big advances which will most likely never earn out.)
Publishers doubt whether most authors will want to do all the work necessary to be self-pubbed. A Random House spokesperson (and others) believe publishers are the curators of content and will continue to be essential.
Print publishers are not going away for the foreseeable future.
The publishers who spoke pointed to marketing success stories, but the examples were either already bestselling authors (James Patterson, Lee Child), juvenile titles or non-fiction.
With the exception of Harlequin romance, there were no genre fiction examples. In that instance, the brand was bigger than any individual author and had been for so many years that it was virtually impossible to point to any specific activity on the part of the publisher that helped generate sales.
The Dover Publications spokesperson cited examples of frequent outbound marketing to young parents, but cautioned that it was a "privilege" to be allowed to communicate with consumers (I heard this word from a few different panelists), so outbound marketing should be handled carefully to avoid inundating the consumer.
A Harlequin executive and a consultant to National Geographic mentioned cover surveys, premiums and contests as ways to engage readers online. All recommended free content as a way to build and maintain relationships.
Everyone talked about how authors were now required to participate in the marketing of their books through the use of social marketing, Facebook, websites, Twitter and mailing lists -- although all agreed that not everything was right for everyone and it was preferable to do a few things well than to spread oneself too thin.
The S&S and Harlequin reps said their houses gave tutorials and webinars to their authors to guide them in learning how to do these.
All of the panelists referenced direct marketing practices from the 80s and 90s. Not that much has changed, except the way we find the consumer. A 2% response to a mail campaign is still the gold standard.
An Amazon VP came, rattled his Kindle and left without taking any questions. Basically, it's the company's goal to have every book in every language available to anyone within 60 seconds. He repeated anecdata on who wants e-readers -- specifically the Kindle, of course -- and why they are the way of the future.
He cited increased backlist sales when a new release was digitized and available on Kindle (this is also true in print.) He suggested out-of-print titles could have a new life on Kindle.
Most interesting, he talked about Kindle Singles, works from 5,000-30,000 words which Amazon is marketing/planning to market from $.99-$4.99. There is/will be a dedicated store for these on Amazon and Kindle.
He talked about Print-on-Demand, which he thought made sense for titles that were either out of print, temporarily out of stock or for those titles that were smaller (i.e., niche) and not likely to sell more than 2,000 copies.
He reiterated that price is key and again mentioned (it's been cited elsewhere by Amazon execs) the stat that a $2 increase in price can result in a 40% drop in sales.
Some speculated that by 2015 e-books would represent 50% of all books sales. The recent firings of buyers at B&N were used to illustrate this point. Others qualified that by saying yes, but only for certain subjects, genres, etc.
Rosemary Harris is the Anthony and Agatha Award-nominated author of the Dirty Business mystery series. The most recent title in the series, Slug Fest (available April 2011), is set at a Northeast flower show where more than just the plants are dying.