A new production and financial ecosystem is emerging in book publishing, and it’s no longer centered around the publisher. The new ecosystem, more than ever, is author-centric.
Consider the people and institutions involved in a nonfiction author’s career. They include a literary agent, editor, publisher, publicist, speaking agent, and more. They work to help create and promote various products that derive from the author’s ideas and writing: books, speaking/consulting gigs, websites, and consulting, among other things. These produce different revenue streams, in distinct silos, and they oblige the author to make a variety of separate deals.
What realities? For one thing, most authors should regard their books as elements of a larger career. For me, books are at least as much about promoting ideas that have made me more interesting, hence more valuable, as a speaker, teacher and short-form writer. Speaking/consulting agents and managers regard books as excellent calling cards for their clients.
How can we align these interests more efficiently? Other creative businesses have tried, with varying success. The music industry’s “360” deals of recent years have been one of the more notable attempts. In this model, a company (usually a record label) provides all management — including booking and promoting tours, not just recording and selling music — in return for percentage of all revenues the artist generates in record sales, live shows and ancillary sales. As the New York Times reported in 2007:
Like many innovations, these deals were born of desperation; after experiencing the financial havoc unleashed by years of slipping CD sales, music companies started viewing the ancillary income from artists as a potential new source of cash. After all, the thinking went, labels invest the most in the risky and expensive process of developing talent, so why shouldn’t they get a bigger share of the talent’s success?
Critics of this approach called the advantages for musicians dubious at best. Why cede even more control to an industry that has demonstrated vastly more concern for its own bottom line than its artists?
What should the new ecosystem look like? It’s not this:
I’m proposing new kinds of business arrangements where everyone involved in this collaborates, and takes risks. Everyone needs an incentive to make overall project a success. Each party should get a cut of all revenues, but at a lower percentage than they do today for their single slice. Done right, if everyone’s helping promote the author’s career, there should be a bigger pie.
Authors may decide to take more control themselves. They may farm out the overall management to a single person or firm. (Agencies will have to rethink what they do, and how.)
We’ll see new kinds of business arrangements and contracts, where all participants see value in helping the other parts of the project. (If some of them say, “Aha, free money,” this won’t work.) We’ll need to see lots of experiments, many different kinds of deals. Some will fail despite the best efforts of all concerned, but that’s the nature of trying new things.
Above all, changing the ecosystem will require a willingness to experiment — and a decision by authors to take more control of their own lives.