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2011: The Year Publishing Lost its Fucking Mind

4

January 23, 2012 by Renee

2011 was a big year for publishing. Whether events were negative or positive depends on your perspective I suppose. Some headlines made me smile, eager to see how it panned out. Most made me cringe. I’ve got a tiny optimist inside of me. She’s elusive and doesn’t come out very often. 2011 had her locking the door and refusing to reply to even the gentlest queries. Let’s examine some of the top headlines for last year. Why? Because it seems as though 2011 might be marked down as the year that publishing went batshit.
Self-publishing becomes the magic ticket to bestselling authordom:
Before last year, the ideal way to establish yourself as an author, and have any shot at a successful career, was to find an agent and sign with a traditional publisher. Hard work, determination, skill and a dash of luck were the primary focus. It was a long road, but a respected one where authors were rewarded…eventually. In 2011 this all changed. At the top of many digital bestseller lists (including Amazon) are self-published titles. In 2010, there were just over 133,000 self-published books released. Care to guess what 2011’s numbers will tally? I suspect it doubles, at least. Seems the old saying “Everyone has a book in them” is true. The question is: Is that book worth buying?
Bookstore Deaths:
Consider that in 2001 there were about 2,000 Borders stores across the U.S. making billions of dollars annually. Seems impossible that such a moneymaker could ever fail, doesn’t it? In the middle part of 2011, Borders filed for bankruptcy and put thousands of people out of work. Borders’ demise also left many booklovers in the cold. Although Borders was the store that made headlines, several independent stores collapsed as well, and that is even more saddening to me. Small, independently owned bookstores are one of my favorite parts of the whole book experience. I love the smell, the atmosphere; everything about them. A tiny piece of my heart shatters every time I hear one has closed. It’s more troubling to watch libraries fight to stay alive in this new digital landscape. They’re adapting, but will it be enough if publishers won’t bend enough to help them rise to the challenge?
Amazon is 2011’s Villain of the Year:
What hasn’t Amazon done to increase sales? I’m sure the list is short. In 2011 Amazon takes the prize for most cutthroat seller in the business, often referred to as “Bully” among booksellers worldwide. Amazon controls the largest percentage of e-book sales and a significant portion of print sales as well. Not satisfied with being a middle man, Amazon has now become publisher. In 2011 Amazon said screw these small potatoes, and started competing with Big Six, offering authors top dollar to publish with them. It’s reported it paid six figures to acquire Penny Marshall’s memoir. Amazon isn’t playing around it seems. Recently Amazon has sent book sites like Goodreads yet another blow. I’m not sure what that blow entails, but it prompted Goodreads to send a message to its librarians that is…disturbing. If you’ve got books listed using Amazon’s data on Goodreads, I suggest you investigate this a little before your book data “disappears” from the site.
Here’s what you find if you’re lucky enough to know about the “rescue me” program (which now you are):
At Goodreads, we make it a priority to use book information from the most reliable and open data sources, because it helps us build the best experience for our members. To that end, we’re making a major change.
On January 30, Goodreads will no longer display book information that comes from Amazon.
This includes data such as titles, author names, page counts, and publication dates. For the vast majority of book editions, we have imported this data from other sources. Those few remaining editions for which we haven’t found an alternative source of information will be removed from Goodreads.
Your data is safe.
Your ratings, reviews, and bookshelves are safe, but your data may be moved to a different edition of the book. If we can’t find a matching edition, then your review will be attached to a book with no title or author
Luckily, you can help us find alternate sources for book editions and rescue those editions.
Rescuing a book is easy.
Just click the “Rescue Me!” button next to each book edition that needs help, and fill in the information on the following page. A few keystrokes can help preserve these book editions for millions of future readers.
Thanks for helping Goodreads remain the special place it is!
I’m not sure of the reason for the lack of notice on this one. It irritates me and my gut reaction is “Listen, Goodreads, you chose to opt out of your deal with Amazon. The authors who’ve been loyal to your site deserve better than this. You say that there are a few remaining editions that need saving, but your few and my few are very different. A note to each author on the site, a mass email for fucksakes, which means one letter, one click, would ensure that these books and their info doesn’t get dumped. How hard is that?” Another part of me curses Amazon for making it impossible for anyone to use anything but their site for purchasing, marketing, etc. But, it’s a business I suppose. The details are hazy, and this is the only information I have, so I won’t try to speculate what happened, but it seems that these “small fries” aren’t playing Amazon’s game. While I think Goodreads might have handled it a bit better, I am behind their decision not to use Amazon’s data 100%.
I believe in healthy competition. Amazon is a business and sentimentality should play no role in that. However, there’s a fine line between good business and villainy. Booksellers might consider the Goodreads shenanigans another cause for crying foul. Amazon is demanding exclusivity, I suspect, and that’s not playing fair, is it? Fair? It’s business, you remind us. Booksellers need to get some balls and compete instead of crying. But as we chastise booksellers for their whining inaction, let’s not forget that Amazon has played a pretty dirty game. Anyone recall the whole price check app? Devious, Amazon. Not cool. Competition is good, but shouldn’t there be a line in the sand between healthy competition and downright guerrilla? Yet again, it looks like it’s on the authors and readers to draw that line. Will it happen? I’m doubtful.
Self-Published Authors Get “Discovered”:
Possibly one of the most troubling trends in 2011 is the contracting of self-published authors by traditional publishers. It’s not troubling because these authors are terrible or don’t deserve the recognition. In most cases, they deserve to be where they are, and I say congrats and I can’t wait to see what you do next. What’s troubling is that every self-published author out there who is too lazy or impatient to at least give the traditional route a shot is now using authors like Amanda Hocking and John Locke as their poster kids. They got contracts, so can we. Self-publishing rocks! I imagine we’ll wait a very long time before enough authors realize this type of success is rare, and often fleeting if the author hasn’t put in the work to maintain it. Hell, I felt myself swaying to the tempting call of self-publishing. I’m still on the fence actually. Not because I think I’ll be “discovered”. I have no illusions there. I know it’s highly unlikely…okay, I know it won’t happen. But I’m tired of running the wheel and getting nowhere. I’ve done all that they tell us to do. Now what?
You know, perspective is difficult when in addition to those select self-published authors making it big, you’ve also got the Meyers and the Crosses out there making the big bucks for what can only be called subpar writing. They come out of nowhere, with no platform, no previous “presence” in the industry. It seems that they just fell off the nobody truck right at the publishers’ feet. There’s more at play here, and I won’t go into it now, but what’s happening in this industry is outrageous to those of us who do what we’re told to do in order to succeed and then see these hacks do none of that and get rewarded.  I dream of an industry where hard work and skill are rewarded, not contrived marketability and fluff. Yeah, pipe dreams. I know.
No time to write? Just use someone else’s work.
Ah, plagiarism. Theft. Near the end of 2011 it seemed every week brought another dirty lying plagiarist out of the woodwork. Is this a new trend? Nah. It’s always been a black spot in this industry. I suspect that now, with plagiarism checkers at the fingertips of every reader on the planet, it’s just easier to catch…which makes anyone who thinks they won’t get caught the stupidest person on Earth. What troubles me is that publishers don’t have a system in place to catch it before they have a lawsuit on their hands.
Agents and Publishers: No Longer a Difference?
I think of all of the changes in publishing last year, the one that bothered me the most, was the agents as self-publishers trend. All the big guys are doing it; Bookends, Dystel, and I suspect many more this year. Actually, publishers have even started offering a self-publishing arm. What does this mean to those of us who held onto that distant dream of acquiring an agent and getting into the golden gates of publishing? Reality hit, and it hit hard. Ethics and talent play a very small role in today’s publishing industry.
What will 2012 bring? More of the same? I am hoping that something positive comes out of 2011’s shakeup. Growing pains always accompany change and this industry is long overdue for it. Those of us who can roll with the punches will leap at whatever opportunity bubbles to the top and we’ll survive. But how many more punches will we have to take before we see something positive happen?
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4 thoughts on “2011: The Year Publishing Lost its Fucking Mind

  1. Wendy Swore says:

    It's quite a ride right now out there. It will be interesting to see what 2012 brings.

  2. 2011 was insane for publishing. I could go for a little stability.PS Thanks for the Rescue Me link. It looks like I'm safe. I thought I used Amazon links. Did Goodreads update them automatically?

  3. Really good post, Renee–thanks for the tip about Goodreads–not sure how this will affect my book when I list it on the Goodreads site–thought it would link to Amazon but I guess not–didn't know about Amazon's shenanigans…it does seem to be the only game in town for self-pubbed authors (aside from smashwords and a few small others) At least it posts reviews and if you're buying a book it will link to small bookstores across the country. I think 2012 is the year of major change in many arenas…

  4. Renee Miller says:

    Wow, I didn't get notified of new comments. Weird. Sorry guys. I figured it's best to get that link out because it would really suck to lose that info if you're using Goodreads for promotion. And yes, I think 2012 will be very interesting too.

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Renee

Renee

I like to write stuff. Sometimes it's funny. I've published some novels and short fiction. I also battle an addiction to cake and potato chips, and I sometimes have inappropriate fantasies involving Kevin Spacey.

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