Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Publishing Business is a Business

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Sigh, another URL in my "Publisher" links list is no longer functional. It was a small epub who's been rumored for a year to be on the brink. So it looks like they finally fell over the edge and are gone. I'm sorry to see a publisher (of any format) fail. I hope they did the right thing by their authors before closing their doors. But mostly I dread another round of noise from people claiming how this shows epublishing is not a viable business, epublishers are all incompetent and/or evil, epublishing only produces bad books that didn't sell to New York, and a lot of other nonsense.

Come on, people, get a grip and deal with the reality of the business world. If that new bakery down the street goes out of business, would you be screaming that all cake-makers are stupid and no one should deal with them? If that gift shop where you were selling your handmade jewelry on consignment closes their doors, does that mean gift shops are not a viable retail business?

Businesses of all types fail. A lot. The newer and the smaller, the more of them don't make it to long-term success. One hears some riduculous numbers - "Oh, 90% of new businesses fail within two years." That's urban legend, reality blown way out of proportion. But even the real numbers are pretty sobering:

From the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), reported in Business Week magazine, September 1999: Over the lifetime of a business, 39% are profitable, 30% break even, 30% lose money. (We won't ask what happened to the missing 1%.)

A US Bureau of Labor Statistics study for 1998 - 2002 found that 34% of new businesses cease within 2 years, and 56% within 4 years.

Entrepreneur Weekly in March 1996 quoted a Dun & Bradstreet report that for businesses with fewer than 20 employees, 63% did not survive 4 years and 91% did not survive 10 years. (Per the NFIB report, two-thirds of new businesses start in the owner's home and 79% employ only the owner.)

Without getting into the many, many reasons that businesses close their doors, you can see the grim statistics. Almost all epubs I know of did indeed start out in the owner's home, run solely by the owner or with only a few other people involved. That includes the one for which I work, which passed its seven-year anniversary in November and now has quite a few more than twenty employees. We're very successful, we're beating the statistics and so are a number of other epublishers and small print presses. But yes, some epubs don't make it and fill in the "did not survive" side of the ledger.

I don't believe that epubs fail in any higher percentage than businesses overall. So please quit it with the nay-saying about epublishers. Focus on those of us who are doing it right, surviving and succeeding, rather than trying to make the world see only the ones that don't make it. Or I'm not going to let you have any more cakes or jewelry.


Anonymous said...

"Or I'm not going to let you have any more cakes or jewelry."

Oh noes! *hoards chocolate cake and dangly shinies*

LOL, but really, I agree. Businesses of any kind are going to fail, some of them. It's just the numbers. *shrug* I used to actually work for Dun and Bradstreet and believe me, I couldn't begin to count the number of businesses that, when trying to update databases, no longer existed since the last time we'd updated. Somehow I doubt that allll those industries were in danger of no longer being viable industries.

Marie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marie said...

I only discovered ebooks a year ago and have already downloaded them far more voraciously than I ever bought physical books due to the immediate, convenient availability and superior price (not to mention less bulky to drag around when you have to move). And if you wisely choose from where you purchase your ebook ;-) then you don't sacrifice quality reading one little bit.

Marie said...

...Of course I may be preaching to the whole choir here, lol.

Anonymous said...

I think ebooks are in a transitional period as a business: there are many readers out there who are not ready to give up print. That being said, there are many publishers who can no longer afford print and will offer all of their books in ebook and some in print. If you want more choice, you'll have to download.

J L said...

I suspect epublishing looks easy at first until the nitty-gritty sets in. Of course, that's true with any profession. It often looks easy to outsiders and it isn't until you get into the trenches that you see the how and why of it. Of course, if you're the owner, by then it may be too late....

I think more writers also need to realize that publishing is a business and a damn tough one at that. I think many writers want to focus on the 'creative' side of things and forget that they're in a partnership with their publisher to make sure their work succeeds. You can write the best book in the world but you won't make a splash unless somebody knows about the book.

ECPI Editors said...

Very true, JL. Many authors (but not all) tend to think of themselves as the "creative" type of person, not interested in the business end of things. But that just won't work! An author is creating a product, which s/he must then sell - first to a publisher, and then to readers.

So authors need to educate themselves on the industry they are in, understand the trends and the market, be knowledgeable about the publishers and how to select one that meets your needs. Each person has a different list of what they want from a publisher. New pubs/businesses are inherently riskier, but that may be a chance an author is willing to take based on other factors. So the important thing is to have the information to make your decision!


Anonymous said...

Raelene, that is so true. Both what you said on the blog and the most recent comment. All industries have companies that come and go. The ones that make it work hard to do it right. At the end of the day it is the individual's responsibility to do their own research and make sure that they commit to something that not only feels right for them but is professional and businesslike. After all, as you say, publishing is a business.