In traditional book publishing, authors get the short end of the stick. You already knew that. We are talking about income in the form of book royalty.
So if an author does all the hard work of writing the book and the reader does the (harder?) work of patiently reading it, where does the rest of the money go?
This is where the supply chain comes into picture and it might help understanding the behind the scenes dynamics, so you are better positioned to write that bestseller.
If you thought you were writing your novel for the reader, you are only partially right. It’s true that a happy reader will buy your book and recommend it to other readers.
But before your readers can go gaga over your novel, your book also needs to make many other people happy. People for whom the commercial aspects matter more than the content of your book.
Between the writer and the reader there is a full-fledged business model competing for resources – primarily shelf space. And this massive machinery needs fuel to keep its wheels turning. The money from each book sale goes into incentivising each player in the publishing game.
Here’s the chain.
–> You sell the book to a publisher (or your literary agent does it on your behalf).
–> Your publisher doesn’t want to be stuck with several thousand copies of your book in their backyard. So they need to sell the book to distributors.
–> The distributors also have hundreds of thousands of copies of other books in their warehouses. So they need to push it down to retailers.
–> Now the retailers have smaller storage space for the thousands of other books. So they need to get rid of your book in one of two ways:
- A fan (or an unsuspecting reader) comes along and buys your book.
- If your book has been lying for too long, the book starts a reverse supply chain i.e. it goes back to the publisher, adding to the woes of your publisher.
Compared to the wonderful, imaginary worlds that lie inside the book, the real world has tough expectations from the book. There’s a risk at each stage of the supply chain. And the guys taking that risk demand their pound of flesh (replace with appropriate phrase, if you are a vegan).
Here’s how the revenue gets broken up:
Retailers: 40% (the shop-keeper has enough buffer to give the buyer a discount. The smaller ones do, the bigger chains don’t)
Author: 10% (could range from 5%-15%, lower for new writers)
And that’s how the cookie crumbles.
In some cases, the publisher may involve a few big distributors in the decision making process before agreeing to sign you up.
The digital medium disrupts the traditional model by taking out a few key players in the story. More about that later.
If you are placing your bets on the traditional publishing industry, what do you think the distributors or retailers are looking for to give the thumbs up to the book?