Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 29, 2014

A Call to Pens: Create a For-Authors-By-Authors Publishing Option

As the Amazon-Hachette dispute drags on and continues to pummel the authors caught in the middle, some people are wondering what the alternatives might be. Even as authors seem to be dividing into increasingly strident pro-Amazon and pro-Hachette camps, Nathan Bransford reminds all of us of something that is getting lost in the heated debate: neither Amazon nor Hachette has the best interests of authors at heart.

Amazon is looking out for Amazon. Hachette is looking out for Hachette. When author needs match up with their needs, it’s all good. But when they don’t, whose interests will they save first? Businesses look out for themselves. Always.

Nathan Bransford asks: “So where is the for-authors-by-authors publishing option? How about a partnership with the indie bookselling community to create the literary culture we really want instead of hoping that huge corporations are going to come to our rescue? How about instead of picking which intermediary we like better we disintermediate and build a J.K. Rowling-esque option that truly goes directly from author to readers?”

Aside from the Pottermore structure, authors have other options: author collectives, selling directly through indie bookstores, and even selling directly to readers from their websites.

What would a for-author-by-author publishing house look like? I imagine it would be flexible. It would offer services from straight-up self-publishing to in-house services such as editing, cover art, and book design. It would have print-on-demand and ebook. The cost of the venture would be spread out over the entire customer base, so whatever cut the publishing company takes might vary depending on how many people are selling. Or it might work on a one-time set-up fee per book basis. One thing is for certain, the authors would retain as much of the price of their book as possible, as well as retaining the full rights to their work.

Issues facing the for-authors publishing house would include discovery, distribution, and fulfillment. Discovery is difficult now, and not having the reach of a multi-national platform like Amazon could be a problem. Any distribution deals made with existing distribution platforms would take another chunk out of the returns authors see. Distribution could be flexible, however. For example, Ingram Spark allows you to use their distribution channels (for a small fee) or pay no fee and distribute yourself. Fulfillment is the monster part of this, at least with print books. Either the for-author house would have to take orders and fulfill them (which would be more money out of the author’s pocket) or the author would have to take his own time to take orders and ship them. Ebook fulfillment would be easier, of course.

There will never be a scenario where an author will pocket 100% of the price of his or her book sale as clear profit. Even if the author does everything from editing to shipping himself, he will have to plow some of every sale back into keeping up his business. But a for-author-by-author publishing house may be the best way for authors to look out for themselves—just like any other business.

What do you think is the best model for authors going forward? What ideas do you have to make an author-centric publisher viable?

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