The Benefits of Competition

It’s amazing what a little competition can do.

I’ve never had a traditional publishing deal, but in the last ten months since I’ve started educating myself on how publishing works I’ve learned a thing or two about them.

For decades, publishers have done things the way they do things.  Even as information technology has evolved, they’ve kept the same processes in place that they have forever.  Heck, I’m told some of them still won’t accept submissions via email.  They could get away with not evolving very rapidly because they more or less acting as a cartel.  They sort of competed against each other, but there came to be industry-standard ways of doing things that none of them deviated from.

The semi-annual royalty statement is one of those standard things.  From the way I’ve come to understand it (and Lord knows I’m still new, so I could be way off base), the book gets released and the publisher collects sales data.  Every six months they collate the data and generate a report which gets sent out to the writer, or the writer’s agent.  The report tells how many sales were made, how many of those sales the publisher counts as real (because they hold a reserve against book returns), and how much $ in royalties the writer earned.  Not that the writer would see a check, of course.  That wouldn’t happen until they’d earned out the advance.

So the writer had to wait months and months to know how his book is really doing.  Oh I’m sure there are ways to get a feel for it, but there’s nothing like actual numbers to tell the tale.  This is all well and good, but wow talk about an arcane, antiquated system.  With modern tools, it can (and should) happen a lot faster than that.

But it didn’t have to.  Since the publishers all did things the same way, no one had incentive to change it.

And then along came Amazon.  Their new imprints are, from what I hear, a lot better to work with, and they have awesome information systems at their disposal.  I don’t know how their imprints do it, but I know KDP lets the writer/publisher see sales data that’s updated every hour.  I would be shocked if their imprints didn’t do similar.

Well lookie what’s happened now.  Courtesy of the New York Times: Authors to Get Sales Data Online From 3 Big Publishers.

Amazing.  Something that could have been going on for the last decade and a half or so is finally starting to happen.

All it took was a push from a little actual competition.

I could point out how this could be a case study for why it’s ludicrously stupid to eliminate competition from a marketplace; hence the utter folly of things like, oh I dunno, Single Payer Government-run Healthcare.  But I won’t do that.  You guys are smart enough to already know what a bad idea that is.

Here endeth the lesson.