Print: Not all it’s cracked up to be.

It hit me in the summer of 2012. That’s when I realized print was on the way out and digital was here to stay. And it was major publishers who taught me this.

At the time, I was doing very well with Wool. It had hit the NYT list a couple times, had sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and the Ridley Scott film deal was in place. I live a simple life, so I had more money than I needed. It put me in a generous mood. To my agent’s dismay, I told her that I would give my print rights to a publisher for a song. As long as they only got the print rights.

No dice. Nobody wanted the print rights. But they would give me $1,500,000 for the print PLUS the digital.

So, Print = $0

Print + Digital = $1,500,000

As has been soundly demonstrated by industry veterans in recent days, I’m a college dropout and a dumb hick, but I could see some sort of truth in these offers I was getting. Digital was worth something. Print wasn’t worth much.

Holly Ward, who is very likely the #1 indie author in the world right now, concurs. She says:

Someone asked about paper only deals – NO ONE IS INTERESTED. I thought that was insane, but it’s not. It lines up with Hugh’s report. Paper is not where the money is at- ebooks are… I’m thinking there is a reason why the trad pubs are backing off of paper sales. It’s not arbitrary, despite their other actions I think they’re right about paper.

If Indies stopped chasing paper, if they stopped thinking that paper would be the difference, well, that would be major.”

There’s a great thread here about Holly turning down major deals from publishers and why. Fantastic read.

Today on, we posted some charts and thoughts on self-published authors giving up print sales. Turns out that traditionally published authors are giving up even more.

13 responses to “Print: Not all it’s cracked up to be.”

  1. Can’t applaud Hugh enough for all the info he’s shared and for what he’s been able to show indies through the paths he’s taken, outlier or not. I know Hugh never means to be incendiary or “anti-pub” but with all the info and insight that the AR has bought up all I can hear is nails going into cheap pine coffins.

  2. Perfect timing, I just posted yesterday that I will be making my two books available through createspace. I know paper is not going to make me much money but there have been a few people who’ve asked for it so I feel it is a worthwhile effort as long as it doesn’t interfere with getting actual writing done. If any publisher offered to by the print only rights, I’d gladly accept, but now that you’ve put all that great data out there I’m expecting print offers to go the way of the dodo.

  3. Thanks for the heads-up on this, Hugh. I’ve been seeing more and more reference lately to print-only deals falling out of favor without any explanation as to why. This helps.

  4. Dear Mr. Dumb Hick,

    Thank you for providing so much information in a format that is so easy to understand. I’m not a numbers-person. More of a I-can’t-be-broke-I-still-have-checks person. Presenting information in bar charts with pretty colors is totally my speed. Seriously.

    The work that is being done on this project is incredible and paints a telling story. Your data guy is flaming brilliant. The narrative presentation is straight forward and clear. Your detractors seem to focus on what the data is NOT intended to portray-you have clearly stated caveats that are being ignored. Or simply not read.

    This data is not meant to be everything there is to say about the world of publishing. You have stated several times, in many ways, that you respect an author’s decision in choosing Traditional vs Self-Publishing. I understand your goal of providing real information so individuals can make intelligent decisions. The goal of pushing publishers to change with the times.

    I don’t understand the goals driving people who feel only they, with their degrees and experience, are qualified to quantify data. Please.

    I am a writer wannabe and sometimes editor. You-my dear, dumb, hick-have taught me more than I ever wanted to know about publishing. You are leading a charge forward for an army of indie writers.

    Don’t stop.

    1. And HELLOOOO….

      1. Oops.

        Print = $0

        Print + Digital = $1,500,000

        Says it all. It should be a billboard.

  5. Hugh —
    I was just poking around Reddit and this thread was charting:

    Why indeed?

    1. It’s a simple answer actually. If the major publishers competitive advantage is their control over the print market, why would they do something that speeds up the process of converting readers to ebooks? In print they have little competition. If they had this same control over the digital market, they would do everything they could to convert readers to digital because it is so much more profitable.

  6. Hugh, thanks SO much for this. I’m seeing a lot of pushback from people in Tradpub (as you knew would happen) and I find it frustrating that so many industry insiders, from authors to agents to consultants, have no clue about what is happening with indie publishing and are so dismissive.

    But I’m a Wyoming gal at heart, and it reminds me of John Colter, the first white man to see Yellowstone. When he returned to the East with his accounts of geysers and bubbling mudpots, he was ridiculed and almost nobody believed those wild tales. Such things certainly didn’t exist! The man was clearly mad/working with flawed data/delusional…

    Those of us who have journeyed into the wilds of self-publishing and seen the azure-eyed pools and plumes of smoke, well, we know. And eventually more people will travel our way, and see the work and wonder for themselves, and before you know it, everyone will believe and flock to this crazy, surreal destination.

    Meanwhile, do what you can, know that those who haven’t been there really can’t understand (though some are trying) and be patient. :)

  7. […] Howey discusses how print might not be everything publishers are saying it is. I do not believe that print books will go the way of newspapers, at […]

  8. I had a similar vision of the death of print. Ironically, it looked a lot like Fahrenheit 451, except it wasn’t satire. We were gladly piling books into a pyre. After all, we can’t burn what “books” are now. They’re digital strings of 1s and 0s. If only rabbits and cockroaches had the ability to duplicate and proliferate like digital information does.

    But there is a problem.

    The new Fahrenheit 451 isn’t about burning books or preventing the spread of knowledge. It’s about manipulating the digital code beneath it and no one is ever the wiser.

    We already see this daily. News blogs post up any sort of information ASAP in order to get a scoop. When/if the information comes back faulty or flawed, it is immediately amended without note or reference that a change has even taken place. The works we once loved become fluid (and perhaps not in a good way).

    (Yeah, I know this is a bit of a tangent from the post. I just love when we catch up to the futures of beloved SciFi stories and its so much different than envisioned — yet, the same problems rear their heads in ways we could have never imagined. P.S. Favorite part of Back to the Future 2 — futuristic 2015 phone booths. Yeah, where are those huh?).

  9. I see printed books as a marketing contraption. A proof of concept to take with you on the road for entertainment value. You know, when someone asks what you do, and you show them a copy of your book. But yet, when it comes to making money, e is where it’s @. Or to be more specific, Kindle Ebooks.

  10. Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook
    or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog based on the same ideas you discuss and would really
    like to have you share some stories/information.

    I know my viewers would appreciate your work.
    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

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