Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Industry Part I: The Divorce of Big Publishers and Big Name Author


The Internet has consistently upended existing business models. The Internet is a disruptive technology in the truest sense. In most cases the Internet by itself is not sufficient to disrupt an existing business model, but often the pairing of the Internet with another technology. The Internet is a great tool for creating connections, but by itself generates nothing. The Internet is most disruptive when new tools are made and connected to the it. It is at this point that business begin to sweat.

Currently, it is book publishers that are sweating. For so long, the dead tree, paper, book has been safe. Publishers, the great gatekeepers of content, have long ignored the Internet as little more than a tool for marketing. Now, the book industry is in a state of flux. In a period of less than two years, e-books have become the dominant format for books.

This rapid change was enabled by four things: the Internet, social networking, unified online E-book marketplaces and online self-publishing. These four things are critical because they in effect replace the need for a publisher. Social networking replaces the marketing department. A unified online e-book marketplace replaces not only brick and mortar stores, but multiple smaller marketplaces from the competing publishers. Lastly and critically, the ability to publish online independently. With these three tools, enabled and linked together via the Internet, every author can publish themselves. They can tap into a massive existing market, e.g. the Kindle Eco-system and market themselves via Twitter, Face-book, blogs, etc.

So, what does this have to do with Big Name Authors and Big Name Publishers getting a divorce? Well, the book industry has long modeled itself on the movie industry model, e.g. it depends on blockbuster movies to drive revenue and profits. The Stephen Kings, Tom Clancys and J.K. Rowlings of the book world drive its profits. Mid-list writers, the bulks of all authors, are lucky to pay back their advances...luckier still to earn enough writing to write full time.

The difference between the movie industry and the book industry, is that it takes lots of money to make a movie. It just takes some free time to write a book. This means an author with all these new Internet tools can bypass book publishers. This is very advantageous in the most important way...money. Self publishing directly means an author keeps 100% of the sale. Publishing via the Nook or Kindle eco-system means the author keeps 70%. Publishing the traditional way? Try less than 10%.

This sets up a very volatile relationship between Big Name Publishers and Big Name Authors. The publisher’s lifeblood are the sales of these authors. These authors are instantly recognizable and have rabid fan-bases that buy any book that hits the shelf. Conversely, these authors are loosing almost all of their money to a publisher who at this point provides very little added value.

At this point, I find it shocking that any Big Name Author would let a publisher control the rights to their e-book sales. I also think these authors are starting to figure this out. You honestly have to look no further than J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore creation. The fact that J.K. Rowling is going to self publish her books is a staggering idea. You are talking about one of the most successful authors ever and one of the most popular properties ever. She took her content, gave the middle finger to the publishers and did her own thing. She is going directly to her fans and keeping all of the money.

This is why I believe Big Name Authors and Big Name Publishers are headed for a divorce, or at least a separation. Big Name Authors have a built in audience. They barely even need to market themselves beyond announcing a new book. They have millions of fans who follow them online via Twitter, Fan Blogs, etc. These authors can easily distribute their books via the Kindle or Nook services. If they feel up to it, they can set up web portal to sell direct as J.K. Rowling did via Pottermore. More so, these authors have enough capital reserve to cover the relatively minor cost of editing and cover creation to ensure they still provide a high quality product.

Ultimately, this is a direct threat to Big Name Publishers. Their business model is unravelling on them at an alarming rate. I seriously doubt publishers will go away as they have weathered many storms already and come out the stronger for it. But, they will need to adapt as it is becoming an inescapable fact that their most valuable asset no longer needs their services.

In my next post I will give my ideas on where I think the industry is headed and what I believe will be the rebirth of the mid-list author.

Video Source: Official J.K. Rowling YouTube Channel

Monday, July 11, 2011

Defining Speculative Fiction and its Sub-Genres

Critical to any debate is mutual understanding of terms. One thing I have found very confusing in the Speculative Fiction world is defining sub-genres. Granted, this is sort of pointless considering very few, if any, novels neatly fit into a specific sub-genre. But, it does provide a starting point to my readers to understand why I use these specific terms and assist in avoiding confusion.

So, in this post I will define all of the Speculative sub-genres I use both in novel descriptions and blog post tags. This will be a living document that I will update as needed. It is also to be understood that these definitions are intended to describe written media and not other forms of creative media even though it is possible to do so. Since this blog is focused on books, I will narrow my term definitions correspondingly.

Speculative Fiction - literature based on conjecture and not fact. An umbrella term for many fiction genres such as alternative history, science fiction, horror and fantasy. I do not include literary fiction under this umbrella. While literary fiction is not based solely on fact, its central focus is a literary portrayal of fact-based or fact-derived events. Literary fiction is not based on conjecture or re-imagining of events.

Fantasy - literature including elements not explainable via science or religion. Often this can be described supernatural but I think that is a sloppy definition due to conflicts with religious understanding. Science and religion are the two primary means of knowledge. Both are considered “truth.”

High Fantasy - Fantasy set in a unique world(s) separated from the current world as we understand it. These worlds often have unique natural laws and origins. Parallel worlds and pocket dimensions constitute high fantasy. Also included are stories set on our current world but in the far past or far future with unique natural laws and radically altered geography.

Low Fantasy - Fantasy set in our current world with fantasic elements. The current world can be in the near future or past. The critical element is that it is recognizable to the reader.

Contemporary Fantasy - A sub-genre of Low Fantasy. Fantasy set in the modern world.

Dark Fantasy - Fantasy incorporating horror elements.

Epic Fantasy - Fantasy focused on world altering events, e.g. the end of known existence. Story scope covers multiple locations and character points of view. The narrative is often polarized into an ‘us versus them’ structure. Traditionally a series of books, e.g. a trilogy.

Heroic Fantasy - Fantasy focused on a single character with events and scope tied to a specific region. Primary chraracter(s) are often reluctant with binding ties to a specific region and motivated by something other than self interest.

Historical Fantasy - Fantasy based on the re-imagining of the past with fantastic elements.

Paranormal Fantasy - Fantasy with ghosts, cryptids and extraterrestrials. Cryptids are beings not explainable via science, e.g. vampires, werewolves, etc. Typically in a low/contemporary fantasy setting.

Paranormal Romance - a sub-genre of paranormal fantasy but with romantic narrative focus.

Sci-Fantasy - Fantasy with both science fiction and fantasy elements. Typically set in the future. Since fantasy tends to be mutually exclusive with science fiction, this is a fantasy sub-genre.

Sword & Sorcery - A sub-genre to heroic fantasy. Key distinction is that the primary characters are outsiders generally motivated by self interest.

Urban Fantasy - A sub-genre of contemporary fantasy. Fantasy set in the city.

Young Adult - Fantasy in which the subject matter and composition is structured to be suitable for a young adult target market.

Science Fiction - literature with speculative but scientifically plausible elements.

UPDATE: 28 Feb 2012 - I no longer link this document on my Goals page as honestly, I am giving up trying to tag things.  Its a major hassle and I am splitting hairs causing things to be inconsistent.  I would rather rely on the "search blog" feature at this point.

Image Source: Scanned Cover