Friday, October 07, 2011

For Whom the Bell Tolls and Why

For the past 3 or 4 days, I've been having a back and forth email conversation with a well-known publisher of photography books. They were interested in my next book for possible publication, that is, as a hard-bound, paper book. They also wanted electronic rights, of course.

While that's all dandy for my ego, I had questions I politely asked them. I didn't expect them to tell me exactly what I'd earn, I understand there are many variables. I did ask simple questions like what is the average retail price of their books and how is that determined? What is their standard author's share versus publisher's share and re-seller's share of revenues? How long after I did my job would it take to publish the book? Those were the sorts of questions I asked. I hardly think those are state secrets. Apparently, to them they are.

They steadfastly, although politely, refused to divulge any information whatsoever regarding the business side of publishing my next book. Not a single thing! Zero transparency! All they remained focused on was whether I could produce 25,000 words, 250 photographs, and would I give them an in-depth outline ASAP. They kept harping on these things even after I told them my first e-book is over 28,000 words, my 2nd is more than 35,000 words, and my latest, "Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography," exceeds 37,000 words. I also reminded them I've produced hundreds of thousands of photos in my career and snapping 250 useable images didn't seem to represent a daunting or Herculean task.

They did, in the end, tell me their authors earn anywhere from a few thousand to one-hundred thousand dollars. (Wow! That certainly narrows it down.) With a $100K carrot dangled, they returned to harping on their 25,000 word, 250 pic, give us an outline dialog.

When I then asked if their high-earning authors were well-known photographers or if those books were part of a popular series or what they represented -- 1-in-5? 1-in-10? 1-in-20 of their catalog of photography books? -- they wouldn't divulge that either. I reminded them, again politely, I could easily produce and sell e-books generating a few thousand or more in revenue. Actually, a fair amount more than a few thousand. I also mentioned the money would be instantly in my account. I told them I can produce and release my own e-books in a fraction of the time it might take them to print and release a book. I also advised them that, if I were interested in seeing my books in actual print for vanity reasons and, if that was my primary motivation, I'd simply self-publish hard-bound versions of my books and sell them myself.

They then politely blew me off.

That's right. As a result of my polite requests for some simple, non-binding, answers to some generic, business-related questions, they blew me off.

Did I mention they also told me sales of my book would have a lot to do with how successfully *I* market the book? No? Well, that's also something they said.

If, in addition to writing the book and shooting all the pictures, I'm responsible for a big hunk of the marketing, WTF do I need them for? Their sales people are going to get me better placement on bookstore shelves? I seriously doubt it.

In my opinion, it's more than competition from electronic media that's tolling the death bell for a big chunk of traditional book publishing. It might also have something to do with their reluctance to be up-front and honest with prospective authors. The word, "arrogance," comes to mind.

The pretty girl at the top is Aneesha, a mainstream actress and model. (Click the pic to enlarge.) She was in my studio for some headshot and portfolio pics. Aneesha was unsure of whether she should go with a party-girl look, wearing that sexy, black, cocktail dress, or should she don the leather and beret and go for a tougher, street-wise look. I suggested we try to incorporate both into the same picture for some of the shots.


Paps said...

Basically you get to do what you already do, for an unknown ROI, so "they" can hang on to their o-so-profitable business model of throwing droplets of color onto dead trees. For a fair share o/c.

Sounds like a plan! Not a particularly good one tho ;)

Ed Verosky said...

Seth Godin talks about this outmoded business model all the time, it seems. The new ways of selling books, distributing as a recording artist, and organizing protests is changing everything -- leaving out the increasingly useless middle man. When they can start providing services to earn their share of the sales, maybe we'll start listening again.

jimmyd said...

you guys are 100% right!

Mike MacLeod said...

Record companies are finally starting to change their business models in response to electronic publishing. Book publishers are still WAY behind the times. The closing of Borders stores is prime evidence. They need to find new ways to add value. Otherwise, who needs them?

Unknown said...

That's why I hated selling to photo agents, I'd bust my butt and cover all the costs, they'd take them and make 50% from a desk.
Have you looked into selling the ebooks on Amazon? You can sell photo packs too, if you have a bunch of pics and model releases laying around.