#DBW15: Digital Book World surveys authors – 'Risks, Rewards, Commitment'

Image - iStockphoto: Hoatzinexp
Image – iStockphoto: Hoatzinexp

Have you ever actually seen an olive branch?

Self-publishing has dramatically changed the freedom and control authors exercise over their writing careers. The self-publishing successes of top-selling and midlist authors have made it possible for many of them to earn more income from their writing and have raised questions about why authors need publishers.

Those are the first two sentences of the executive summary for The Author-Publisher Relationship in a Changing Market: Risks, Rewards, and Commitment.

Elements of the new survey, conducted by Digital Book World in association with Writer’s Digest, will be referred to in a Digital Book World Conference + Expo panel Thursday (15th January) at 3 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. GMT. That session — lengthily titled “Authors Facing the Industry: Data and Insights from Authors on the Publishing Business, Author-Publisher Relations, and Marketing” — will feature David Vinjamuri, Rick Chapman, Bianca D’Arc, moderator Jane Friedman, and the new survey’s author, Dana Beth Weinberg.

Dana Beth Weinberg
Dana Beth Weinberg

Weinberg, a sociologist on the faculty at Queens College and the City University of New York Graduate Center, found herself at the center of controversy last year, when the survey’s presentation triggered objections from many in the self-publishing sector.Articulated with special concern by the self- and traditionally publishing author Hugh Howey, the 2014 survey’s interpretation had made incorrect comparisons of the potential and reality of the two main modes of publication. Amid the debate, Howey went on to inaugurate his quarterly AuthorEarnings.com studies in association with an unnamed technical associate. The acrimony surrounding the controversy, as it turned out, was a prelude to a deepening rift not only between many authors and the publishing establishment but also between many self- and traditionally publishing authors. This would become most apparent in a sharp division of opinions during the Amazon-Hachette negotiations.

Not unlike late-year calls from the author corps for cooler rhetoric and a step-back from hostilities, the new year’s annual DBW survey — in which Howey actually urged his fellow authors to participate — is positioned in a carefully devised pivot:

This year, we take the primary question raised by [the 2014] debate, coupled with the results of last year’s survey, as a starting point and ask: What is the nature of the various publishing business models? Who takes on risk and how much? What are the rewards, and how are they split? And finally, given these arrangements, what do authors really get in the end?

Lessons learned, perhaps, there are significant changes in the tone and emphasis of this year’s presentation, as developed by Weinberg — herself, a hybrid author.

Weinberg’s analysis envisions “the various publishing options open to authors as existing along” a spectrum of “risk-sharing, reward-sharing, and investment.”

On one side of the risk continuum is the self-publishing model where the author takes on the entire burden of risk for a project, making all of the necessary investments. At the other extreme, the traditional publisher shoulders all of the risk (and pays the author up front). Across the risk continuum, investments in projects can range from low to high, as measured, for example, by decisions about production cost and quality, print and digital distribution and marketing and promotion.

Rewards as well as risk, Weinberg writes, can be expected to be divided “along a continuum, as well, “with all profits to the author on one side and all to the publisher on the other (as in a work-for-hire model).”

Rather than effectively asking “is traditional publishing better than self-publishing?” in other words, the survey report this year looks to use its information to determine what sort of risks and rewards can be anticipated in various approaches for authors to publication. There is no attempt to proclaim one way (or the highway) to be better than another. Writes Weinberg:

Having delineated the differences between types of publisher in terms of risks and rewards, we then turn our attention to the difference in sales and earnings for authors engaged in these different modes of publishing.

And any input the survey has to work with in terms of those sales and earnings has been provided, the summary makes it very clear, in the voluntary responses offered by writers.

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By Porter Ander­son

The FutureBook: #DBW15: Digital Book World surveys authors – ‘Risks, Rewards, Commitment’

Read the full post at: TheBookseller.com/futurebook




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