Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thoughts on Publishing Models

In business, there is a relationship between cost, schedule and quality that always exists. I don't know who originally thought of this. I certainly can't take credit for it, because I learned it from a mentor. The relationship is such that if we reduce the time to complete a project we must either throw more money at it to obtain more resources to do the same work or we must reduce the quality/scope of the project. If we want better quality, cost and schedule will take a hit and if we want to reduce cost then schedule and quality will take a hit. This relationship works fairly universally, so we can expect to see this same relationship at work within the publishing industry. One place we see it very clearly is in the differences between some of the publishing models used in the industry. Let's assume that the typical traditional publishing model in which the publisher pays the author a small advance, hopes to sell a few thousand books and has a budget of about $40,000 is like the first image on this page. Now let's consider how other publishing models differ.

The successful self-published author and the small publisher follow a model that is very similar. Cut the process to the bone and hope for the best. It is clear that by reducing or eliminating the editing of the book, the quality of the book will suffer. The first reduction comes at book selection. The self-published author doesn't spend any money on finding good talent. The small publisher may spend very little. The result is that more low quality books make it into the system. In this model, the publisher is doing less work, so it is easier to turn out a book in a shorter amount of time. It takes time for a book to make it through the various phases of the traditional publishing process, but when one or two people are making all of the decisions it requires less time. This model does have a few advantages in that it can turn out a book while the market is still hot and when book are actually selling the publisher can pull in more profits, but sales are never guaranteed.

The Bestseller model takes a very different approach. The publisher has a good idea that people will buy the book if they know about it, so the publisher throws more money at it. Thomas Nelson recently did this by giving books to bloggers who would agree to write a review. As I recall, they gave away two hundred copies of each title and I would guess that they also sent additional copies through the traditional review channels as well. I don't know what they did with schedule, but they probably reduced it from the typical timeframe and they probably tried even harder to produce a quality product. That gives us a model similar to the one shown here. You can throw more money at a bestseller because you are sure to get your money back. What you shouldn't do, however, is assume that you can somehow force a book into bestseller status by throwing money at it. Some books will never be bestsellers, no matter how much you spend on it, but very few books make it to bestseller status unless someone does throw money at it. There are a few self-published books that that could be bestsellers and yet they don't become bestsellers. It is very hard for a self-published book to make it into bestseller status because no one knows about them. Similar books produced by traditional publishers become bestsellers because the publisher is willing to spend the money required to make people aware of the book.