Thursday, September 22, 2011

Joe Konrath On Pie

Joe Konrath posted a refutation of one of the great fears of many authors at the moment: that the flood of new books and authors will overpopulate the industry -- and that nobody will be able to make a living, because we'll have to divide "the pie" up into too many tiny slices.

I think Joe doesn't really understand the fear, because he chose the exact argument which is likely to freak such people out more. I.e. he chose the "there is no limit -- growth is forever" argument. Which is the standard argument of every disastrous effort in history. He is actually right, in this case, because this isn't an end game, it's a beginning. (Or actually, what we've been experiencing is the end game of a previous cycle, and this is the great growth that happens with the new.)

But those people still have no reason to worry. Here's why:

Let's just say these people are right. Let's assume that, while there's a lot of elbow room for change inside the limits, that there is a limited pool of money, and it's just shifting.

1.) The pool of writers has NOT increased.

Seriously, folks. If you want to compare this to an overpopulation/famine situation -- we were already IN such a situation for a century. There's a lot of people out there writing. Very few of them ever make a penny, and fewer yet make a living.

The changes in the industry has given all those writers access, but it has not made them better writers. And it has not given them more business savvy.

So the pie is not going to be divided up equally among all writers, even if it is going to be spread a little further.

2.) The portion of the existing pie which goes to the writers just got a LOT bigger.

Writers used to get 17-18 percent, tops, and often much lower -- and they had to pay their agent out of that. With indie publishing, 35-70 percent goes to the writers. That leaves room for all writers to make a little more, even with the pie being shared out further. Those who made nothing before will likely make a little something. Those who almost made a living will now be able to make a living, and those who made a decent living will make a very good living...

All without any growth in the industry at all.

And Konrath is right, ebook publishing has a phenomenal amount of growth in it. The publishing industry is in trouble. Book distribution and bookstores are in trouble. But reading is a growth industry.

By now I'm sure we've all heard the new Harris Poll info about how ebook readers are buying more and reading more. One thing may be buried in that data (may be included may not) is that I believe we're converting new readers as well as getting growth from existing readers. Used book people and library users are coming into the fold -- buying cheap ebooks. People who didn't read books are reading other things on their smartphones, because it's easy to slip from checking your email and the latest news to checking out a blog... to reading a story.

And in all the excitement that growth and "new stuff" creates, there may even be salvation for bookstores. Whether it's a social gathering place or a place to get out of the house and shop for gifts, it's still going to be possible for bookstores to sell ebooks, as well as nice paper editions or used boos. Check out Dean Wesley Smith's latest post about his "book card" effort. He partnered with Smashwords to create cards which can be bought and sold. (And even if bookstores go away, they are the kind of thing other retailers can carry.)

If the pie really does stay exactly the same size, the people who are getting hurt are the middlemen -- publishers, agents, distributors and booksellers. But if the pie is growing (which it is) that period of growth provides an opportunity everybody to find a new niche. I've been thinking about that one too, and it's on my list to blog about -- but not right now.

Tomorrow, I will talk about Agatha Christie. I have been reading a lot of her earlier books lately, and I notice that she does one thing that I try to avoid in my own work -- and I like it. She dwells on things.

See you in the funny papers.


jnfr said...

Hear, hear!

a said...

You're right about Joe Konrath. The difference between him and those fearful writers? He's a born entrepreneur. Most people are not. The same ratio applies for that subset of people known as writers.

Your point 2 is important. Even if a writer doesn't believe it's possible for the text-based message to grow its market share, compared to the high-gloss, breathtaking, adrenalin-boosting media with which it has to compete as entertainment, the writer must understand the arithmetic in that point. Sadly, too many people aren't much good at arithmetic, either.

It's right to say "we're converting new readers as well as getting growth from existing readers." There's a whole generation which grew up with the instant gratification of a screen, but may now be growing beyond the rush of the moving picture on that screen to the different kind of gratification which comes from interacting with and responding to text.

The Daring Novelist said...

The biggest thing I worry about with Konrath (and a few others) is that their methods come off as a formula.

People go through those motions, and mimic what he does (or what he SAYS he does) and are disappointed when they don't get the same results.

The thing they're missing is that Konrath doesn't entirely know what he does. No artist, or entrepreneur, entirely realizes what their success rests on. We tend to assume that what we did intentionally is what worked, when maybe it's all the things we did not do intentionally.

The other thing is that nobody is Joe Konrath except Joe Konrath. Which doesn't mean we should dismiss him as a fluke, but rather that you can't just mimic him to get his success. You have to use him as one (of many) models, and find what works for you -- which WILL be different.