Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Financial Future of Publication with Guest Blogger Sam Hilliard

Today, the Book Boost welcomes author Sam Hilliard who is here to discuss the financial future of the publishing industry.

Here's what he had to say...

For those pioneers who are breaking the publishing mold, the ecosystem of entertainment based print material is in serious, big time trouble. By and large, the primary collective vision the publishers share about their predicament of falling sales ostensibly is that . . . well, sales are falling. In a New York Times meets the Titanic kind of sinking.

Pair that with some of the huge advances publishers have paid out recently even as the bottom line continues to ebb. Recouping a 1.5 million advance to a celebrity whose second title sold 65,000 copies verges on mathematically improbable.

And who paid that celebrity 1.5 million for book number two? The same industry that thought a fictional memoir was a good idea to market as non-fiction. Though now known as the man who duped Oprah, James Frey’s actual origins were more auspicious. He tried for quite a while to sell his breakout work as pure fiction. But then some bright spark uttered something like, "Memoirs are easy sells in this market. Couldn't this all be true?"

My point is less about Frey’s duplicity or that celebrity who failed to catch lightning a second time around. That is a rite of passage for most literary mega-phenomena. No, my contention is that major publishers bet the farm on a formula that worked a lot better years ago--at the expense of finding and growing new authors. And they keep betting even though their success rate diminishes every year.

A million and half dollars could have brought fifteen mid-list or new writers to market and even paid them a modest advance. Odds are good that at least one of them might have minted at least copper, if not silver. Instead a lot of ducats were spent digging for gold and only netting a cupful of rusty tin. Multiply that case by twenty-five--a rough estimate of how many big bets the industry made in one recent year and that's almost four hundred voices idling on the sidelines. Even being extremely pessimistic, I find it hard to believe there were not at least eight to twelve home-runs in the slushpile.

So why do publishers reject the math?

For starters, it's easier. One project takes less focus and oversight than fifteen. Second, big bets like these worked in the past. So far, so good. But there's another motive: door number three, aka Hollywood math, and my own personal theory. That celebrity got the huge check because someone got off on the idea they could pay a writer that kind of money for a book that had at best a modest chance among the sharks. It really was never about profits, but about the perception that it might actually make money. Call it a below the belt decision.

The problem with resting decisions on operations that exist below the belt, is that well, the flow of blood can only last so long. Eventually the brain has got to drive the body, rather than the reverse arrangement. Getting there in one piece is just more important.

So where might publishing be headed? I have long pondered the economics of the adult fiction model and their prospects for survival. It's my contention that traditional adult fiction publishers are staring into an abyss.

My money is on the marriage of publishing on demand and an 800 pound gorilla poised to become the biggest publisher the world has ever seen, who can operate without filling the distribution channel with millions of books destined for the shredder before the author typed the last sentence.

They have no need for remainders, literary agents, advances, or book tours. They can take a chance on publishing a lot of titles a year because they do not need to pay to place them in superstores. They already have a line of customers that stretches across the Internet. In their possession is a mailing list that includes more than one out of every three current book buyers in the United States.

And as for their track record selling online, can this new kid in town be trusted to follow through?

I don’t think anyone has gotten fired for betting on to deliver the goods thus far.

A Note from the Book Boost: Thanks for joining us today, Sam. Won't you tell us more about your book?

Imagine if being late meant a child disappeared forever. That is the fear that drives Mike Brody—the man you want when the one you love is missing.

In The Last Track, a police detective recruits Mike to help find an asthmatic boy lost in the dense woods surrounding a dude ranch in Montana. An unwitting murder witness, the boy burrows ever deeper into the rugged terrain, fearful of being found. As Mike and a local officer search for the boy, the killer follows them.

While the investigation expands, Mike’s ex-wife, a well-connected journalist, uses her contacts to unravel the truth behind the murder.

Her discoveries threaten to snare them all in a treacherous conspiracy . . .


Lisbeth stopped. “I want to show you something.” They stood at the threshold of a break in the woods. An empty clearing. The inner perimeter of the Douglas firs formed a broad semicircle.

“What are we looking at?” he asked with his right eyebrow raised.

“And here I was hoping you could tell me.” She grinned.

His face flushed, the color more disappointment than anger. Maybe we’re not peers, but a trace of respect would be nice, he thought. “Why does this all feel like a test?”

“Perhaps it is,” Lisbeth said.

Mike Brody was in no mood for such things, especially not after that road trip and the heat from Jessica waiting for him. He turned away from the clearing for a second.

“I should get back. This has been an extremely tiring day and my patience is shot. It was nice to meet you. Whatever it is you’re searching for, hope you find it.” He turned his back on her.

“Mr. Brody,” Lisbeth said bluntly.

He had almost decided that Jessica had been right, and he should stay out of this one. Not every situation was the right fit. Besides, it had been a long day and a half in the car. Maybe his judgment had declined along with his energy levels. Then, turning back, he noticed an unusual depression in the soil toward the center of the clearing. The track bothered him.

“Mr. Brody, don’t pretend you don’t want to know what this is about. Or think for a second that I can’t see that.”

Looking up from the depression, he faced her again, finding her expression considerably less reserved.

“Let me walk you through some background and you can decide,” Lisbeth said. “I got a call today about a possible missing child from the ranch. A fourteen-year-old boy with asthma, from Brooklyn. Only child.”

“You want my help with the search?” Mike asked, talking to Lisbeth, his eyes on the clearing.

“I’d like you to take a look at what we have, and give me some scenarios,” Lisbeth said.

“Abduction, runaway . . . or something else. I want to cover every angle. We’ll start here because an officer recovered some personal effects that the parents identified as Sean’s. Part of a watchband.”

“If I pick up a promising trail, do you want me to track it?”

“Just the scenarios for now.” Lisbeth tilted her head to the left, put her hand on the nape of her neck, then smoothed back a few loose strands of hair. “Can I count on you?”

He looked past her, again focusing on the depression. Something about the clearing looks wrong, Mike thought. Definitely need lights for this. After their short discussion, he doubted what the tracks suggested. Still, there was little choice but to believe them. People lied. Tracks did not.

“Something the matter?” Lisbeth prompted him.

Answering after a long silence, Mike said what he suspected Lisbeth wanted to hear. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with my equipment.” Then he added, every single word clear and distinct, “We can discuss the murder then.”

Want more Sam?

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