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February 22nd, 2010


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05:12 pm - Puzzlement At Differences in Publishing
I've recently seen a good bit of discussion about Amanda Palmer's Evelyn-Evelyn project (my beloved teaotter discussed this project and the issues involved here, with further commentary here. The issues of ableism are important, and it's clear that Palmer could have handled the controversy vastly better.

However, something unrelated to this controversy struck me about Palmer's effort. It's clear that one of the major reasons Amanda Palmer came up with this idea is to get around the restriction that her next album be with a particular recording company, and so her answer was making an album as someone else. So, like Prince, you have another musician finding a way to resist recording company control. That choice reminded me of a major difference that I've noticed between the book and music publishing industries. Both serve as intermediaries between creators and the audience. However, when I read and hear stories about book publishers, I encounter is a mixture of stories of authors' frustration with the stupidity & greed of publishers, stories of excellent working relationships between author and publisher, and many stories of publishers being neither excellent nor terrible, but simply adequate. In vivid contrast, whenever I encounter any story about any aspect of the recording industry and music publishing, what I find are stories of idiocy, vileness, or vile idiocy. Some of this difference may be the fact that I know more professional authors than professional musicians, but the difference seems to be more than that. It's also not new – I've been hearing mixtures of good and bad about publishers for several decades, and during this same time, the music industry has consistently come across as utterly wretched. Does anyone know why the differences between these two types of publisher seem to be quite so extreme.

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:krinndnz
Date:February 23rd, 2010 01:15 am (UTC)
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I found a recent Making Light post to be helpful to my understanding, as well as the article that it comments on.


Also, as a San Francisco denizen I'm conditioned to believe that businesspeople from LA are generally vile.
[User Picture]
From:alephnul
Date:February 23rd, 2010 04:35 am (UTC)
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My guess is that, partly for historical reasons and partly because music recording is much more expensive than book writing, music contracts are routinely multi-album exclusive contracts, while book contracts are almost never multi-book exclusive contracts. Authors generally take either a manuscript or a book idea to a publisher, the publisher likes it, and they contract to publish it. They may then want editorial changes, which may be an issue on a book idea, but at least both parties start from a position of reasonable agreement.

In a multi-album contract, the publisher liked your previous album, so they agree to publish your next three albums, sight unseen. Then, you produce an album and they like it or not and want changes or not, and then your album doesn't become the next big thing like the recording company hoped, and now the recording company has people whose job it is to decide what you did wrong and what you need to do differently for your next album, and you are stuck working with them. And when that album doesn't become the next big thing, now you aren't worth much to the recording company, but they still hold the rights to your next album, so your bargaining position has gone to nothing and they can treat you however they please.

Also, your book publisher advances you some money to live on, but the record company advances you money to live on and lots of money in the form of studio time, so you are on the hook much more than a writer and therefore less able to break your contract.

That is my guess anyway, not that I actually know anything about either industry.
[User Picture]
From:cericonversion
Date:February 23rd, 2010 06:02 am (UTC)
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Costs of production (and distribution and sales and all) certainly do shape it. There's also a class issue: publishers are more like authors than like musicians, in general.
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From:heron61
Date:February 23rd, 2010 06:24 am (UTC)
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I've heard of a couple of non-series multi-book contracts and series book contracts are now fairly common, but those are both relatively new (last two decades or so).
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From:autopope
Date:February 23rd, 2010 11:56 am (UTC)
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book contracts are almost never multi-book exclusive contracts. Authors generally take either a manuscript or a book idea to a publisher, the publisher likes it, and they contract to publish it. They may then want editorial changes, which may be an issue on a book idea, but at least both parties start from a position of reasonable agreement.

Actually, you're dead wrong.

The first novel follows the course you outline. But publishers aren't in the business of publishing one-off first novels, they're in the business of building an author brand identity with a loyal following. So they almost always take the first book in and offer a two book contract, with a rolling option of first refusal on the next book the author writes. The content of book #2 is subject to negotiation between author and editor -- the author may need to cough up as much as three chapters and a detailed outline, or as little as a single paragraph saying "it'll be a space opera about a boy who runs away from a circus to join a firm of accountants" -- but the publisher will have some idea of what to expect before the book shows up. And when you get to the end of that contract? You've got to pitch your next novel at your existing publisher and can't take it elsewhere until they reject it (although if your agent was awake when they vetted the contract there'll be a clause specifying a timeout period of something like 3 months -- the publisher can't sit on your proposal forever, blocking your career: they've got to say "yes" or "no", the latter thereby releasing you).

Such rolling contracts can be broken out of if necessary: but it tends to leave a bad taste behind -- much better not to break a working relationship unless things are truly in the tank.

Also note that the business of turning a manuscript into a book is moderately expensive -- I've heard figures of $7000 - $20,000, depending on the thoroughness to detail applied and attention required. This may be cheaper than renting a studio for a few weeks, but if the publisher decides to turn Marketing loose on the book it can drive the pre-publication price through the stratosphere.

The real reason publishers and authors seem to have better relations than the music biz with musicians is that there's less money in publishing, and money attracts sociopaths. I can count the number of sociopathic editors/publishing execs I've run across in a 25 year career of submitting and selling fiction on the thumbs of both hands (and one of them I've merely heard about, not interacted with). Most publishing folks go into the business because they love literature; they're there to make money, obviously, but they're not there because they thought the industry was a money tree where they could rip off everything they could reach.

Edited at 2010-02-23 11:59 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:February 23rd, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
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The real reason publishers and authors seem to have better relations than the music biz with musicians is that there's less money in publishing, and money attracts sociopaths.

I suspect that you're correct. The upper end like JK Rowling, Stephen King, Michael Jackson, & Madonna are all fairly similar in terms of total number of books or albums sold, but the next tier below the superstars in music makes a whole lot more money for the music publishers than the equivalent does for book publishers.
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From:rjgrady
Date:February 24th, 2010 03:20 am (UTC)
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The music industry has been largely consumed by a distribution business that squeezes not only artists, but producers, retailers, and everyone else. What's left is a mean little wedge of humanity. By eating up the wholesale price, the music distributors have managed to kill everything from the mainstream grunge audience to Wherehouse Music. In such wretched company, it's no surprise that evil thrives. There are many more musicians who press music independently than authors who self-publish.
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From:heron61
Date:February 24th, 2010 09:14 am (UTC)
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There are many more musicians who press music independently than authors who self-publish

In large part, this is due to the nature of the two media. What an author is selling is their book. Until you get to the upper tier of successful full-time musicians, what most musicians are primarily selling are their live performances - their recorded music is some mixture of advertising and a secondary money maker. Selling music CDs you create is mostly something you do to get the word out for your band and to raise a bit of extra money at your concerts, not as a primary income stream. Authors mostly don't have anything else to sell other than their books.
[User Picture]
From:rjgrady
Date:February 24th, 2010 05:56 pm (UTC)
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Beginning writers often work on selling articles and short stories. And you can print a small number of books and sell those. I feel comfortable saying one of the reasons we don't have swarms of aspiring writers going into self-publishing is because selling your work to existing publishers is likely to be easier and more profitable. Why worry about publishing, when you can focus on writing? But the options for musicians to find good publishing deals that give them access to the revenue they generate are not good.

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