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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sherer

Changing Legacy Publishing

Josh Stallings wrote a great blog post on Criminal Minds suggesting authors shouldn’t write for free. Here’s my response:

Josh, great post, but let’s get back to the question at hand: “how could the model [of legacy publishing] be changed?”

As someone who’s been published by almost every type of publisher going—legacy, mass market, POD, library edition, self-publishing—I’ve seen the good and the bad.

Legacy publishers do provide valuable services, but given the fact that POD and e-books do exist, why haven’t publishers taken advantage of those advances? Why do legacy publishers continue to insist on printing, distributing and warehousing huge quantities of heavy objects that will end up at a recycling facility, or worse, in landfills? And why do they insist that to pay for those valuable services they must charge readers $15.99 for e-copies of a published book? Especially when they’re taking 75 percent of the proceeds?

As much as some of us may love to hate the monster known as Amazon, legacy publishers should instead look to Amazon as a model. Thomas & Mercer, for example, an Amazon imprint, offers all the same valuable services of a legacy publisher—editors, designers, cover artists, marketing and promotion staff—but don’t charge their authors 70 percent for those services. Instead, they give authors as much as 70 percent of the cut. They don’t charge readers exorbitant prices for e-books, but price them more along the lines of mass market paperbacks.

Why aren’t legacy publishers using huge e-mail blasts to build awareness of mid-list or marginally known authors to a wide readership? Why aren’t they offering e-copies of books on promotion for $0.99, or for free even, to get copies into the hands of readers and begin to build word-of-mouth and online reviews? Why aren’t they printing smaller numbers of books using POD technology closer to local markets to save on warehousing and distribution costs?

These are all SOP for Amazon imprints because Amazon also treats publishing like a business, but it also recognizes the value of content and content-creators, which is why so many big-name authors are abandoning their legacy houses and signing with imprints like T&M. Talk to any Amazon-published author and you’ll likely hear raves. I’m one of the few who will rant but on the whole still had a very positive experience there. In fact, the biggest gripe I have with Amazon is that it’s becoming too much like a legacy publisher, paying such exorbitant advances to lure in the big fish that mid-list and marginally known authors are getting left behind.

However, of all the publishers I’ve had, T&M/Amazon has done the most and been the most successful at selling any of my books. And the book T&M published was nominated for a Thriller Award. Even that, however, wasn’t enough to break me out as an author, and T&M dropped me after one book. That’s the hard reality—publishing is a business. No one but authors can do it just for the love of it. And we can’t either without day jobs.

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