Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Zombie Publishing Memes #3 - Without Legacy Gatekeepers, No One Will Be Able to Find Good Books

This is the third in an ongoing series that Barry Eisler and I are writing. When we talk about zombie memes, we’re referring to arguments that just won’t die no matter how many times they’re massacred by logic and evidence. Because we’ve been shooting down so many of these memes for so long, and because they just keep reanimating (often repeatedly from the same people), we thought it would be useful to create an online source for easy (and time-saving) reference.

We’ll be tackling these memes one at a time over the course of the next few weeks and then publishing a free downloadable compendium, so if you’ve encountered a zombie meme yourself and don’t see it listed here, please mention it in the comments. And if you’re aware of articles on these or related topics, please refer us to them so we can include links. The complete list of zombie memes we’ve addressed so far appears at the end of this post.

Without Legacy Gatekeepers, No One Will Be Able to Find Good Books.


We’ve been talking about this one since at least 2010, and Joe debunked it in a post called The Tsunami of Crap in July 2011. Yet it staggers on even today.


The thrust of the argument is this: without legacy gatekeepers carefully curating the slush pile and winnowing choice for consumers, the unwashed hordes of self-published authors will unleash a deluge of worthless books that will engulf the good ones, preventing readers from finding anything worthwhile.


Of course it’s true that when there’s too much choice for consumers to sample individually, we need third-party systems to help us winnow the choice down to manageable levels. But it in no way follows from this that legacy publishing is the only or even the best such third-party system.


Here are few things to consider. First, when was the last time you sampled every single book in a bookstore before making a selection? Even in legacy’s heyday, the industry was publishing something like a quarter million new titles every year. Whatever winnowing function legacy provides, it therefore seems not a particularly stringent one.


Second, are there existing third party systems you primarily rely on to help you select the books you want to try? Recommendations from family and friends? Newspaper, magazine, and blog reviews? Search terms? The bestseller racks in bookstores? Amazon customer reviews? Do these means of winnowing choice seem more or less important than the traditional gatekeeping function that results in hundreds of thousands of new titles every year?


Third, can you think of any area in which consumers face more choice than they can reasonably manage themselves and in which there are no third-party systems to help them? Television (which, by the way, has grown from a handful of channels a generation ago to hundreds today -- and yet somehow, people can still find the good stuff)? Movies? Music? Restaurants? Travel? Too much choice creates a need for new systems to help consumers winnow that choice, and we’re unaware of any industry that has collapsed because people couldn’t find the good stuff for all the bad.


Fourth, if consumers really needed gatekeepers to help them manage their choices, the Internet itself would be useless. After all, for any given person, it’s a safe bet the Internet is 99.99999999% crap. And yet somehow, every day, each of us manages to find the good stuff amidst all that crap, all without any gatekeepers keeping the unwashed masses from putting their stuff on the Internet. If “tsunami of crap” proponents really believe the Internet would be better with gatekeepers screening out 99.99999999% of it, they should have the intellectual clarity and honesty to say so, or at least to explain why the immeasurably vast Internet works without gatekeepers while the more finite world of books would collapse in the gatekeepers’ absence.


Fifth, everyone has read books by legacy publishers which they didn't enjoy. Maybe they can point to bad writing, or editing, or formatting, or cover art. Maybe they just didn't like it. If a publisher failed you, they cannot be the sole arbiters of what constitutes a good book. Snooki, anyone?


Finally, the notion that we need legacy gatekeepers to build dykes lest we drown in a tsunami of crap is an instance of a logical fallacy whereby people conflate an important function (here, winnowing choice) with the entity that has traditionally provided this function (here, legacy gatekeepers). In fact, the entity that has provided a function is a demonstration of one way of providing that function. It doesn’t follow that the entity is the only or even the best way of providing that function.


The notion that “the old way is the best or only way” is such a common fallacy in publishing (and in life--see Theodicy and the Best of All Possible Worlds) that we’ve decided to give its own heading. We’ll return to it in a future entry and will cross reference individual instances like the Tsunami of Crap.


Previously addressed zombie memes:

39 comments:

BRYAN HIGBY said...

I'm an adult, despite what my wife thinks, and I can choose what I want damn it! Gatekeepers be damned. It's simply a power play of BS. Freewill? Yes we have it. Damn straight we have it. I make my own choices everyday, whether writing a novel, watching a movie or eating a meal. I'm old enough to know what I like, (which is not the same as what's good for everyone) and what I don't. That said if most of the filmmakers I love or fringe writers I read were censored I'd be a tool like so many others. Be free and find what works for you! Great post guys.

Ayzad said...

Very interesting post as always, Joe. However, in the legacy market a published author could count on a reasonably levelled marketplace where most works were decent at the least - so he "only" had to offer solid, interesting works to be picked by a reader. In an indiscriminate market, the same works have also to compete for attention with countless and utter crap instead.

I agree on the absurdity of gatekeepers, but I'd really like to hear your suggestions for Generic Good Writer Guy about how not to be perceived by the public as just another Mary Sue.

Anonymous said...

One thing the gatekeepers seem to be good at is picking books that sell. You only have to check the best seller lists on Kindle to see that the majority come from the traditional publishers. Whether it is marketing or good writing that gets authors to the top of that list makes for an interesting debate.

Ebooks have made it possible for more authors to make a living which, it might be argued, is not the same as writing a good book. Few have reached the lofty heights of best seller (E L James being a notable exception). Perhaps it is a matter of time.

Or of Amazon (and other ebook publishers) doing some curating of its own as with in house publishing and their new Kindle Scout scheme.

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/

The meme might not have died but I don't suppose it really matters. People believe all kinds of crazy things. No one has the time or energy to refute them all. Especially when it's better spent writing your next book.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Okay, I'm obvious having a bad computer day. One more try, then I give up:

One thing the gatekeepers seem to be good at is picking books that sell.

Except that the majority of books published by traditional publishing houses never earn out. And those bestseller lists only include a minute fraction of the number of books published, not to mention that the lists themselves don't always reflect the truth about actual sales.

As for Kindle Scout, it's my understanding that READERS do the curating. Amazon allows authors a chance to offer up books and get voted on by the public, just as they do with their television pilots. The books (and TV pilots) the public most respond to are he ones that are chosen for publication.

Werner said...

Reading through these Zombie memes makes one wonder if the perpetrators of the lies are following certain playbooks from history

"...tell a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously."

From Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler


"...follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous."

-Joseph Goebbels

Joe Konrath said...

In an indiscriminate market, the same works have also to compete for attention with countless and utter crap instead.

Sort of. A lot of that utter crap is intermingled with good books that never were pubbed under the legacy system. About half of my oeuvre was never vetted by gatekeepers, yet readers seem to enjoy those titles.

The meme is that we'll never be able to find anything decent with all the crap. Maybe the methods of finding good books have changed, but good books still exist and can be found.

Joe Konrath said...

You only have to check the best seller lists on Kindle to see that the majority come from the traditional publishers

Wrong. Check www.authorearnings.com. Indies outsell legacy titles.

Anonymous said...

One persons crap is another's not crap. I like reading indie author books that most would deem as crap. To each their own. So there are no crap books really, because every author has at least a few readers.

Alan Spade said...

Another meme that is closely linked to that one is that the authors are not able to outsource by themselves the editing of their books, or if they do, that the end result wouldn't be on par with traditional publishing.

@Joe: congrats for the translation of your Jack Daniel series in French. At the moment I write this, Whiskey Sour is ranked #245 in the French store. I was a little surprised there were only ebook editions, though.

Barry Eisler said...

Ayzd said:

"However, in the legacy market a published author could count on a reasonably levelled marketplace where most works were decent at the least - so he ‘only' had to offer solid, interesting works to be picked by a reader.”

The legacy industry pumps out hundreds of thousands of new titles every year on top of the millions already published before. How could any one title get picked by meaningful numbers of readers merely by being solid and interesting before, but not now? How could the addition of even more hundreds of thousands of new titles meaningfully affect this dynamic? At best, you’d have to argue that in the old days, finding readers was a million-to-one shot, while today is two-million-to-one. But even if that’s so, solid and interesting was adequate in the million-to-one universe, but inadequate in the two-million-to-one version? I don’t find that argument persuasive, especially because it ignores the most fundamental point Joe and I make in our post, which is that the more choice grows, the more concomitant growth we will see in third-party-systems designed to help consumers winnow that choice. In other words, the winnowing function scales. This is true in all the other industries Joe and I mention in the post; why wouldn’t it be true in publishing?

“In an indiscriminate market, the same works have also to compete for attention with countless and utter crap instead.”

This is just a restatement of the very meme Joe and I debunk in our post. I confess it’s a little dispiriting to hear it repeated right here in the comments of the post that debunks it. Maybe we didn’t articulate our rebuttal as well as I thought.

"I agree on the absurdity of gatekeepers, but I'd really like to hear your suggestions for Generic Good Writer Guy about how not to be perceived by the public as just another Mary Sue.”

Write the best book you can. Market it cleverly with all the mechanisms at your disposal. What was the general approach in the old days, when your book had to vie for attention alongside millions of other titles (actually, that's not the old days, that's the perennial days)? The tools have changed somewhat, but the challenge and the general approach are fundamentally the same. More here:

http://www.barryeisler.com/writers_marketing.php

Barry Eisler said...

Anonymous said:

"One thing the gatekeepers seem to be good at is picking books that sell.”

Others have already responded to this claim. I would argue the opposite. The legacy industry is built on the one-in-a-hundred fluke paying for the 80 also-rans and the 19 did-okays. It’s not a bad business model, necessarily—you could compare it to a venture capital approach—but to suggest this model proves the Big Five is good at picking books that sell is like arguing that a baseball player who gets one hit for every 99 strikeouts is a good batter.

"You only have to check the best seller lists on Kindle to see that the majority come from the traditional publishers.”

I’ll echo the other suggestions that you check out www.authorearnings.com to see this isn’t true. I’m thinking Joe and I might have to address this one as its own meme.

I'm not even sure bestseller lists are an accurate measure. I suspect high-priced books are artificially shrinking the size of the overall market for books by encouraging potential readers to spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere. If so, whatever skills the Big Five brings to marketing, the group is taking a big-fish-in-small-pond approach. Yeah, it looks big, but only because the market it has built is so small. I expect lower-priced indie books will grow that market.

"Whether it is marketing or good writing that gets authors to the top of that list makes for an interesting debate.”

I think most times it’s a combination. But don’t leave out luck.

"Ebooks have made it possible for more authors to make a living which, it might be argued, is not the same as writing a good book.”

In general I think the “It sells but it’s bad, it doesn’t sell but it’s good” debate isn’t a particularly useful one because the metrics of quality are too subjective and there are too many examples of books that various people think were great but sold poorly and of books that various people think were terrible but sold well (you yourself mentioned E.L. James, which is often noted as an example of the latter phenomenon).

Regardless of whatever a “good book” might be, what would the advent of ebooks have to do with enabling authors to write good books, any more than paper was ever a factor in that? Talent and hard work would seem to the primary factors in authors writing good books, whether on parchment, paper, digital, or whatever. Ebooks are for the most part just a new way of reaching readers regardless of the quality of the underlying work (though the advent of digital is affecting the market for short stories, the length of business books, and the overall variety of books offered, all in ways I’d argue are positive regardless of what anyone might subjectively argue about underlying quality).

Werner, I think zombie memes are propagated by a variety of factors, including ignorance, situational stupidity, self-interest, fear, and even propaganda. But I don’t know that we need to go full Godwin to explain the phenomenon! :)

Jacqueline Diamond said...

As the author of 100 conventionally published books who is self-publishing my backlist and about to start self-publishing a mystery series (whew...take a breath...), I think this is an evolving industry. No brilliant insight in that, but it's going to keep on evolving for a long time.

Writers are helping each other via loops with practical and promotional info. Even so, many books will earn hardly anything; some of them will be good books, most won't. But under the old system, even many of the good ones wouldn't have made it into print.

It also should be noted that at 65-70 percent, an author needs to sell many, many fewer books than at 6-10 percent to earn a decent return. And at $3.99 (where I price most of my books, except for sales), the books are more affordable.

Thanks for a thought-provoking blog!

Anonymous said...

"You only have to check the best seller lists on Kindle to see that the majority come from the traditional publishers.”

Let's see if that's true, shall we?

This is the top 20 as I saw it just now:

1. The Good Neighbor, A J Banner; Lake Union Publishing (Amazon)
2. The Girl in the Spider's Web, David Lagercrantz; Random House
3. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins; Penguin
4. The Prettiest One, James Hankins; Thomas & Mercer (Amazon)
5. The Martian, Andy Weir; Random House
6. Small Wars, Lee Child; Random House
7. I Can See Clearly Now, Dr Wayne W Dyer; Hay House
8. Hawk, Abigail Graham; KDP
9. Trail of Broken Wings, Sejal Badani; Lake Union Publishing (Amazon)
10. Make Me, Lee Child; Random House

ok, so in the top 10, PRH holds 5 spots, Amazon imprints and KDP hold 4, and an independent (?) publisher holds 1 spot.

If you add in the next ten, you see 7 from Amazon imprints, 1 from KDP, 1 from Penguin and 1 from Hachette. The next twenty adds only 6 from traditional publishers, 2 from KDP and 12 from Amazon imprints! For those keeping track at home, Amazon imprints account for just over half (55%) of the top 40 best-sellers on Kindle.

By your own logic, it looks like Amazon does the best job of picking best sellers, not the traditional publishers.

Alan Spade said...

The growth of Amazon imprints should be spectacular in the next author earnings report. Looking forward to that...

By the way, I think it would be fascinating if author earnings, along with tracking 200,000 bestselling ebooks, was also tracking just the top 100. Just a suggestion...

Anonymous said...

I think there is some confusion over book sales and good books.

If we accept that the best selling books are good (by whatever definition you care to apply) then most of the best selling books come via the traditional publishing route.

As Rob points out there is a lot of crap (ie books that don't earn out) from traditional publishers. But it's the same for indies. Although it'd be a bad day if a traditionally published book didn't sell a single copy which is what happens with indie books.

As Joe points out Indies outsell traditional publishing, according to the author earnins site, which is even stranger than they are not making the best seller lists. That might mean they are turning out even more bad books. And few of them ever meet the sales targets of the best of the traditionally published books.

I think indies are good for mid list. Self publishing enables people to make a living a writing that otherwise wouldn't have. Once successful, the traditional publishers or Amazon will make their approaches. The best seller list beckons.

Kindle Scout gives readers the chance to join in the publishing process. It'll be interesting to see what kind of books readers demand. And whether those books will make the best seller lists.

Anonymous said...

We might get an idea of who published what by looking at Amazon's list of best sellers for 2014.

This is the ebook list

http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/2014/digital-text/154606011/ref=zg_bsar_nav_b_0_b/184-0552134-0318950

Naturally it skews to Amazon sales but might be worth analysing to see how many were self-published ebooks. First page seems to indicate not many fall into that category.

Anonymous said...



You mean decent well-written books like 50 SHADES OF GREY? Legacy publishers don't actually care about well-written, they care about saleable. Like, give me a f**king break!

Yes, I'm with a legacy publisher -- or at least I was. Just turned in the last book on the contract. My next books are going to be self-published. Then if they tank, it's at least my own fault and not because my publisher let them die like a lost turtle at the side of the road.

Alan Spade said...

http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/2014/digital-text/154606011/ref=zg_bsar_nav_b_0_b/184-0552134-0318950

Amazing! I scrolled down that list and it appears the first book priced at $0.99 is ranked #41! And it's an ebook with 4,674 reviews!

You can scroll down the list to the hundreth rank, and there is very few low priced and indie books.

This list seems so contradictory with the results in author earnings that I wish Data Guy could step in and cast some light here.

Alan Spade said...

I've looked at the 2015 bestseller list, and this trend seems to continue: the first ebook priced at $0.99 is ranked #14, but it's not even an indie ebook! It's published by a small press, Bookouture.

There are just a few more indies than in 2014 on the whole list.

Of course, I realize that the revolution in indie publishing is all about making a living with writing, and not necessarily making the top 100, but for the deluded writers who think it's easy to get on the top 100, this is a good reminder of the reality.

Anonymous said...

Re the comment about 'well written' books and E L James, the answer is no.

And Fifty Shades was originally self-published and later picked up by a traditional publisher. Good on them for spotting its potential.

A best selling book by nature is one that sells the best. Whether you like the writing or not is irrelevant.

I'm wondering if the books that sell the best are the ones published by traditional publishers or by self published authors.

If the former, does it mean that traditional publishers have some talent for picking winners or are they able to make winners?

The answer might add something to the debate about traditional vs self publishing.

Alan Spade said...

"If the former, does it mean that traditional publishers have some talent for picking winners or are they able to make winners?"

There's not much talent required when you just have to look at the bestsellers lists of the subgenres and choose an author to whom you might offer a contract.

A contract with a nice sum of money attached to it, money that you grabbed by exploiting directly the other authors you publish, or indirectly, via ventures like Author Solutions...

BRYAN HIGBY said...

There is no simple answer to who has the best books. Traditionally published novels or self published. What you should focus on as a reader is what stimulates you. As a writer its liberating to be able to write what I want in my name and any other name I like and just experiment. You play the field, see what works for you. That's what makes KDP and Createspace so cool.

Data Guy said...


"http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/2014/digital-text/154606011/ref=zg_bsar_nav_b_0_b/184-0552134-0318950

This list seems so contradictory with the results in author earnings that I wish Data Guy could step in and cast some light here.


Hi, Alan. :)

Contrast that list with the daily/hourly snapshot bestseller list here:

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Kindle-Store/zgbs/digital-text/

And you'll see what's going on. If you periodically check the above daily/hourly list over a period of several days/weeks, you'll see a lot more indies on it at any given time ... often 20%+ of the bestsellers at any given moment are indie.

But it isn't the same indie names day in and day out, week in and week out, the way it is for the traditionally published books on those bestseller lists.

Generally, among indies, the "bestseller wealth" gets shared between a far larger number of authors than on the traditional side. We see many different indie names -- even midlisters -- constantly churning onto and off of and back onto the daily/hourly best seller lists in a never-ending dance.

By contrast, on the traditional publishing side, it's generally the same authors and books dominating their share of the bestseller slots for week after week -- megabestsellers starving out the traditionally published midlisters, who almost never appear on the daily/hourly list the way indie midlisters frequently do.

So when you look at a yearly cumulative-total-based list, it's not surprising that you're seeing mostly a handful of dominant traditionally-published megabestsellers and far fewer indies.

Alan Spade said...

Thank you for your response, Data Guy! :) It totally makes sense, there is a much higher turnover on the indie side.

It indicates that when you enter into a publishing house, if you are not a big name, the chance of making it to the bestseller list is very, very slim.

In fact, the chance is much much lower than if you chose to go by yourself.

Still, it would be interesting (to me at least) to track the top 100 over a few months to see if they may be an evolution between the Amazon imprint titles, the small press and the indie (even if these are not the same indies). It would also give an idea of the proportion for each group.

Data Guy said...

If you're interestd in the breakdown of the Top-100, Alan, that data's available in the spreadsheets linked at thebottom of every quarterly AE report. You can look at just the irst 100 lines of each one.

I tend to be more interested in the whole picture of all sales. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Data Guy.

Lots of successful self published mid-listers churning out lots of titles vs successful traditionally published authors with a book a year topping the best seller lists.

Probably easier to be a successful mid list self published author than a traditionally published best seller. Just got to keep turning the books out.

It is probably changing the book market in so far as series are more common because for the self published author it is series that sell. In the past, many authors, like Stephen King, had a genre but not a series. Fascinating.

Alan Spade said...

Thanks Data Guy, I'll take a look.

Broken Yogi said...

"One thing the gatekeepers seem to be good at is picking books that sell.”

This argument defeats itself. If true, then self-published books won't sell, and thus represent no threat to traditional publishing, or to readers, who won't buy them.

If false, the evidence would show that self-published books do in fact sell, and this would disprove the notion that the gatekeepers are good at picking books that sell well.

Either way, the conclusion is that this is an argument that there is no problem with self-publishing. Either it's irrelevant, or it taps into a whole market in books that the gatekeepers have ignored.

Anonymous said...

Yogi said:

"This argument defeats itself. If true, then self-published books won't sell, and thus represent no threat to traditional publishing, or to readers, who won't buy them. "

All books sell. It's just that for the moment the traditional publishers are prominent in the best seller lists.

That might tell us something about the way publishing works.

Let's try to be less tribal and more pragmatic.



Joe Konrath said...

This argument defeats itself.

Also, if legacy publishers knew how to pick books, every one they pick would be a hit. Far from it.

Broken Yogi said...

All books sell. It's just that for the moment the traditional publishers are prominent in the best seller lists.

Books do not sell equally. That's why we have bestseller lists. If trad publishers knew how to find the books that sell, all best-selling books would be published by them. The self-pubbers would only pick up the scraps left over. That many self-pubbed books are on best-seller lists, selling far and above much of the trad-published authors tells us that the gatekeepers are not doing a very good job of finding those books. That many authors are not even bothering to try to go through trad publishing anymore tells us that the myth of the gatekeepers is falling apart. Readers are not paying attention to how a book is published, but to the quality and price of the book itself. And they seem able to find the books they like without reference to the traditional gatekeepers, but instead to word of mouth. Which, it turns out, was always the strongest marketing path. In the age of the Internet, it's become much stronger so that now it's dominant.

It's also important to note that many non-Amazon best-seller lists don't include self-published books, because they don't count them (and because Amazon doesn't release its numbers). And Bookscan and other industry surveys doesn't track them. When it is said that ebooks have declined in sales recently, one has to take into account the fact that those numbers don't include self-published books, only trad numbers. If one included self-pubbed books, the industry is still growing. But the gatekeepers aren't seeing any of that money, so they pretend it doesn't exist, because they think they are the only ones who matter. The money says otherwise.

Broken Yogi said...

As far as "how the industry functions", the industry has, until recently, been completely controlled by trad publishers, not because "they know how to find books that sell", but because no one could sell books without going through them. So it's a tautological argument. Ebooks and Amazon have changed that entirely. No other category of publishing allowed self-published authors anything close to an equal footing with trads on distribution and sales. So self-pubbing hardly existed. Now that actual competition with trad publishers is possible, self-pubbers are doing very well, and increasing their numbers yearly, and landing on best-seller lists too. It turns out the real gatekeeping was simply a matter of who controls the gates. And not just the "choosing which books to publish" gate, but the more important gate of the distribution channels. Now that the ebook distribution gate is wide open, we are seeing a better picture of how gatekeeping works.

It's a distribution cartel, not a taste cartel. It turns out the gatekeepers never had a monopoly on picking the books people wanted to buy, they only controlled the distribution channels so tightly that no one could sell books without going through them. They still control distribution when it comes to print, but even that is beginning to change with the introduction of POD. So self-pubbers are still being dominated by trads in print sales, but that's changing too. Where the distribution game is opened up, they don't have that problem. And more authors are choosing that route because it pays more, even with the limitations on print distribution. Which should really tell us a lot about how the industry actually works. The myth of the curators is really an artifact of controlling distribution channels.

Broken Yogi said...

Also, if legacy publishers knew how to pick books, every one they pick would be a hit. Far from it.

Not necessarily all hits, but they would necessarily outsell all self-published books, which should not be able to sell in anything remotely like the numbers they do if it was the taste-gatekeeping that mattered above and beyond the distribution-gatekeeping.

Anonymous said...

Broken Yogi says:

"If trad publishers knew how to find the books that sell, all best-selling books would be published by them."

As has been pointed out, that's apparently what the data shows when you look at the top of the best seller list for ebooks on Amazon (a place that sells a lot of self published ebooks).

Broken Yogi said...

What data are you looking at? The author's earnings reports, which analyzes all books on Amazon's bestseller lists, show otherwise. Even a quick glance at the top 100 in every genre will reveal lots of self-pubbed books.

Anonymous said...

As has been pointed out, that's apparently what the data shows when you look at the top of the best seller list for ebooks on Amazon (a place that sells a lot of self published ebooks).

And as I responded with actual book titles, the data (you know, the titles) shows that trad publishers hold 50% of the top 10, and a shrinking percentage as you go further down the list. I have no idea why you think the data (even "apparently") shows anything like what you are saying it does.

Broken Yogi said...

I don't see where you did supply titles to answer my question. Earlier in the thread? In a different thread?

In any case, I'll take your word for it that trad publishers hold 50% of the top ten bestsellers. That's really a terrible percentage if the claim is that they know how to pick the books that sell. As I've said, if they were really able to do that it ought to be rather uncommon that any of their books are outsold by self-published authors, much less even many/most of their bestsellers being outsold. They should be skimming off almost all of the books that sell well, and self-pubbers shouldn't be able to move their crappy books beyond the very bottom of the trad published gate-keeper books, where you get the "sales above replacement level" borderline books. Replacement-level books shouldn't become bestsellers at all. But that's clearly not the case in reality.

So this is strong evidence that trad publishing's "gatekeeping" skills are concentrated in their ability to control the distribution end of the business of publishing books, not the "finding books that can sell" end. They don't seem to be any better at that than non-gatekeepers. Many of their books are not superior in quality, they are only superior by dint of the business model that allows publishers to promote them and limit the competition so that they sell well. But as even your own data show, in that segment of the industry where trads don't control distribution, non-trad published books are approaching equality with them in sales, which shouldn't be the case if the books were really just the crappy bottom of the barrel leftovers.

Broken Yogi said...

Okay, I looked further up the thread and saw the list. Lots of Amazon titles. Which brings to mind the question of what category Amazon imprints really falls under. Barry might elaborate based on his experience, but it seems to me that their inventory is mostly filled with self-published writers who Amazon essentially makes a marketing deal with: we'll take half the royalties in exchange for giving your self-pubbed book a big marketing push on Amazon. Probably a good deal all around. Hardly any of them get serious distribution outside of Amazon. I think their ebooks sales are strictly Amazon, and bookstores seem to boycott their print version. So basically it's a variant of self-publishing. Even a variant of KDP Select when it comes down to it.

So those books should probably fairly be considered "self-pubbed" even if they have the Amazon imprint. Maybe call them "KDP Select Plus".

Anonymous said...

@Broken Yogi,

Ahh... I was the Anonymous who posted the titles, but it was to dispute the Anonymous who claims that claims that trad pub publishes the best-sellers.

FWIW, I agree with you that the Amazon imprints absolutely do not count as traditional publishers in the evaluation of "traditional publishers", even if they operate in a similar fashion. For the point of the discussion, I wouldn't even count Hay House as a traditional publisher, since it's more of a niche publisher.

Just trying to clear any confusion.