Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Rise of the Part-Time Publisher

Wall Street Journal: A Hot Job for Hard Times: The Life-Insurance Agent

When I went into the insurance and financial service/product sales five years ago I never expected that it would ever again regain the stature it had when my father was in it (along with Robert Young in Father Knows Best) in the 50s and 60s. But if you believe the WSJ article linked above it looks like guys and gals like me are one rung higher on the food chain than lawyers... and that people are again seeing financial sales in a new (and better) light!

The book biz and the biz are great... and fun... but it is very difficult to make a full-time sustainable income in a one-earner household.... especially if one's first, current, and very expensive wife believes that Nordstroms is her closet!

Publishing was so, so, so much easier in the 80s and 90s before the internet killed off so much of non-fiction publishing. Back then if you wanted to fix your bicycle or plant a garden you bought a book on bike repair or gardening. Not anymore. Today you go to a website where you will find a video on how to take apart your exact bike or a website with an interactive fill-in-the-form program on how to design and plant a garden in the exact amount of space you have.

Everyone is sitting on the edge of their chair hoping and praying that ebooks will be their salvation. I too am hopeful, but not as optimistic as others.

Bottom line, ebooks is the great disintermediation "agent" of the publishing biz. It started with micro computers and page layout software and then graphic software such that almost anyone with a few thousand dollars could get an ISBN and enter the industry. It's been a good 20 years for many independent publishers, but the past three or four have not been so good. There is too much inventory chasing too few readers. And given the competition from video games and online movies, reading has not fared well in the market place.

Everyone is writing on the economics of the ebook business model and I don't want to get into that bag of worms. However, as disintermediation takes place and everyone and their dog becomes an ebook publisher it will be those publishers who can sell and market who will do the best in a crowded field. Many will have to take classes in sales and marketing using so-called "social media."

In the old days you could publish your book on fixing bikes and get it in the bookstores with little difficulty and most often enough people would browse the shelf and buy your book... assuming it was any good. The foot-traffic was there. There wasn't a whole lot of marketing one had to do besides writing some press pieces and getting them out to the bicycle media.

That train has left the station and another is not going to come again anytime soon.

So how are you going to differentiate YOUR bike repair book... from the others? One way will be to make it multimedia.... incorporating music and videos... but that is going to be expensive... and when you consider we're talking price points of $9.95, the publisher will have to watch their start-up costs very carefully so as not to end up with the old paradigm of losing money on each sale but making it up on volume!

In the future I see fewer and fewer full-time non-fiction publishers but many, many, more part-time publishers... people who publish for a sideline income... because that is about the best they can do given market conditions.

My only hope is that all of these part-time publishers don't go into financial service sales!

Alan N. Canton
InsuranceSolutions123 Agency
Fair Oaks, CA
CA Lic # 0F31110