Thoughts on royalties, distribution, credibility and other author issuesIn one of the many discussion groups I'm involved with, a neophyte author posted the following scenario: "Which publisher would you choose given the folowing scenario? Publisher A (Say the AWLs and Sam's of the world) may sell 5,000 copies of your book at a retail rate of $39.99 and will typically be discounted on Amazon by 30% .. Publisher B (Say the CRCs and Springer's of the world) with the same book may sell 2,000 copies at a retail rate of $59.99 and the book will not be discounted at all on Amazon..."
It's a very interesting question because it brings up many of the more subtle facets of publishing, issues that aren't immediately apparent to many authors, whether they're working with magazines or the book publishing industry, and even if you've been contemplating your own ebooks, the same key topics can illuminate your decision-making processes. My response to the question posed is that it's certainly an interesting scenario, but I have to say that the greatest obstacle to evaluating the situation is that I don't agree with the phrase "the same book" because I think that books published by an Addison-Wesley/Macmillan press are going to be inherently different from one published by CRC/Springer-Verlag. Indeed, I view all four of these publishers as quite different and believe that AW is quite a few sigma's removed from a popular press like Sams. :-)
Further, I think that there are some important factors for choosing a publisher that go beyond what was presented in this hypothetical scenario, including "credibility" within a market segment, "reach" of their marketing and distribution, ease of publishing and speed of publishing. I think that Sams can run circles around CRC, for example, in terms of speed of publishing (I've done books with Sams where I turned in my last chapter and had a bound book on the shelf within 4-5 weeks, whereas the more traditional textbook publisher (esp. Springer) might take six months to a year - or more - to print, bind, ship and distribute a new book once the editing is completed).
I also believe that the most important factor for many authors is publisher credibility, though. And that's where O'Reilly Media comes into play, for example, along with Wrox and similar "boutique" presses. If you want to publish a software engineering book for the Unix / Open Source market, for example, I would suggest that O'Reilly is your #1 choice. I know lots of people who own major subsets of the O'Reilly Media output, and I know that my bookshelf has at least a foot or more of ORA titles.
And as my academic colleagues would be quick to point out, credibility is contextual: there are some types of publish (e.g., "publish or perish") where having the book read and evaluated by a group of peers prior to publication is more important than speed to press or even sales and distribution. Many CompSci professors, for example, get little credit within their department for publishing a Dummies book or a Teach Yourself book because of the lack of peer review. Are they inherently better or worse books? No, not in my eyes. It's just a different process of publishing, aimed at a different target market, with different strengths and weaknesses.
So I am afraid that in the great tradition of opinion leaders everywhere, the original poster asked for a straight answer and I'm instead dancing all around the topic, but I think it's considerably more nuanced than it seems.
What do you think? Whether you're a published author or not, I'd be quite interested in what others have to say about this topic!
Posted by Dave Taylor at September 14, 2004 11:14 AM
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