Challenge,  publishing

Another Interesting Bit of Information…

Again Out of the Hot Sheet and New Sales Studies.

30% of traditional publishing sales comes from front list, meaning the new books they put out.

70% is now coming from the backlist. (Remember, they buy all your copyright for the life of the copyright and they can do what they want with it.)

But breaking down that backlist number, 30% of it is what they are calling “newer backlist” meaning originally published in the last five to ten years.

40% of the sales are coming from older backlist (because books are still new to readers who have never seen them).

Traditional publishing is learning slowly that books don’t spoil, something we indie writers have known now for 15 years..

That does not bode well for the poor idiots who want to sell them new books when the traditional companies are starting to use author books from over a decade or more ago. And they have the right to do it because the authors gave them that right. The traditional publishers own all the copyright. They can do what they want with the author’s book. Author has no say.

Add that onto the fact that 50% of all traditionally published books sell under a dozen copies. (last post)

Yup, makes you want to run right out, rewrite your book four times over three years to find an agent, and sell them all rights, doesn’t it?

In other news, Barnes & Noble has shifted to buying more backlist because the returns are so much lower. And then there has been the crazy story about ordering in middle grade and young adult books. (Look it up.) That sector is now at 20% new, 80% older books.

Oh, wait!! On more quote from the Hot Sheet from the big trial. McIntosh from Penguin Random House said, (And I quote.) “We were acquiring hundreds of books for very little advance. We were investing no marketing money to support them. We were putting covers on them that were very, very old-fashioned … while we were printing these and in some cases shipping a couple of hundred, we were getting most of them back.” 

I wonder why… Now imagine your book, after years of going through the grinder, is bought by an imprint of Penguin Random House and that happened to it. And you never see your book again because they bought all rights and don’t care.

Yup, he said that. And you still want your book to be published by a major corporation?

After my years and hundred plus books published with traditional publishing, Kris and I have been saying all this for a very long time. What is amazing is this big trial is making it all come out into the public eye. And sadly, the myth of traditional publishing will make a ton of writers just not care.



  • Rob Cornell

    That whole under a dozen thing is a mind-blower. Every single thing I have published myself has sold more copies than that. Even the old single short stories with horrible covers I did way back in 2010 when I was first experimenting.

    I suddenly feel a lot better now. 😁

    • dwsmith

      Yeah, we have books that sell under a dozen in a year, or short stories that sell none or under a dozen in a year, but that is just one year, not the life of the book or the story like in traditional publishing. And that is a massive difference. When I published the first eight books in my Cold Poker Gang series, we just put them out and didn’t say anything and they were selling a dozen or so each per year. One or two a month. Each. As some say, coffee money from that series for five years. But I honestly didn’t care, I just loved writing them. Then on the 9th book we did a BookBub on the first book, and the entire series exploded. And I do mean exploded. Now, three years later, each book is down to selling hundreds and hundreds of copies a year baseline, and there are eleven books in the series. That never would have happened in traditional publishing. In fact, in traditional, the series would not have made it past book two.

  • Em

    Acquiring hundreds of books but no marketing for them? Money into the backlist of established writers?

    I would like to know how many of those backlist writers started in Indie then jumped to traditional? And which books are the money-makers? Those from writers established in the 90s? The 70s? Or further back? That statistic would be very telling.

    • dwsmith

      Em, none. These days once indie, you aren’t stupid enough to go traditional and it makes no money sense. Also realize that it has just been 15 years that this side of the publishing industry has even existed.
      So much of this with authors is because they grew up with the dream of being traditional and haven’t realized the industry changed under them.

  • T. Thorn Coyle

    In that same HotSheet issue is a link to the BubbleTrouble podcast. They’re wondering the same thing:

    Richard Kramer: So, how come no one of these financially-minded publishers has sa-, taken the approach that, “Look. You know what? Let’s just diminish the importance of this front list. Let’s not publish so many titles, and let’s just milk that back catalog”? Because, we certainly see that, and Will can speak to this, in the music industry, where the rights of, of artists that are now dead and buried are transacting from hand to hand for hundreds of millions.

    That’s right,

    Will Page: Richard. Just to jump in quickly, I think the Universal IPO prospectus said that 30% of their business was front line and 70% was catalog. The money’s made at the back, not at the front of the

    Andrew Savikas: release

    Richard Kramer: schedule.

    So hasn’t any clever private equity boffin said, ” You know what? We’ll buy one of these publishers, stop publishing books [laughs]-”


    “… and, and just milk the, the long-dead authors that we can, that we have the rights

    Andrew Savikas: for”?

    • dwsmith

      Makes good business sense, actually, Thorn. But most of the Big Five have no idea what they own. Not one clue. The accountants do, because of how the IP is used on the bottom corporate valuation, but no one with publishing and editorial has clue one, and none of them have departments or even one person trying to keep track. An author sells a book into traditional, sells all rights, it runs through the process, these days gets put up electronic, and vanishes from sight. Not one living person knows it’s there except the author and they can’t do anything because they sold all rights.

      • Chong Go

        You’d think it would be worthwhile for them to hire some recent grads or interns to go through their stuff and see what might be worth mining for IP or reprinting.

        • dwsmith

          Ahh, the idea that intelligence lives in traditional publishing… It has been proven now for forty years that it does not.

  • Philip

    Dean, all most “aspiring” writers see or choose to see is Oprah’s Book Club, Today Show interviews, Neil Gaiman book signings for 5,000 fans, Stephen King college lectures for an audience of 10,000, James Patterson paperbacks in every other hand on the commuter train.

  • Kristi N.

    Dean, my respect for your patience for new writers grows every year, especially when dealing with those lost in the myths of traditional publishing. New writers come into the writing groups asking for contact info for agents and wanting the secret ingredient to bestseller success. When indie writers point out the downfalls (and point them to your blog and Kris’s), they dismiss the advice and state that their dream is hardcover, in bookstores, with multiple city author book tours. It’s very disheartening, and I greatly respect your willingness to answer the same questions over and over again.

    This information from the trial makes it even sadder. Years of rewrites for an agent, another two years if they can find a publisher, and then a dismal few sales? And the current contracts make reversion a pipe dream. (Shaking my head)

    Edited to add: the newest craze is movies. So many new writers wanting to know how to get a movie made of their first book, now that they have it published in Kindle Unlimited.

    • dwsmith

      Kristi, sadly, Kris and I only work with the writers who show promise. You can’t help he idiots and myth believers. 95% of them just vanish into their shattered dreams. A few move past the myths and those are the ones we love to help and I will answer any question, no matter how basic I think it is, for a person actually working to make writing something real.

      But the other 95%, they tend to not come to me or Kris. We’re too scary, or it is clear that since we are not pushing the myths, we don’t know anything. And then thinking we don’t know anything turns to anger as they discover we knew more than they thought, so they still don’t come to us because we are the bad guys and it is our fault. Not kidding. Seen it hundreds and hundreds of times. Will see it again in November at the 20Books conference.

  • Sheila

    “And sadly, the myth of traditional publishing will make a ton of writers just not care.”

    The dream is still king, Dean. These folks will argue vehemently with you that only traditional publishing is real, that only traditional publishers can sell books, that you get big advances and loads of marketing money, your agent loves you and sell everything you write. No point aruging with them, because they don’t believe you.

    And then there’s the folks up toss up some “book” they’ve spent ten years worldbuilding, and no time learning to actually write. They ask if a traditional publisher will take their book, since it’s not selling and they’re tired of dealing with the actual job of being a publisher. Those folks won’t listen to you either, because that dream of a publishing contract just won’t die.

    We’re all Richard Castle here, easy work, loads of money. If only.

  • Sean Monaghan

    I was at a little one-day conference with writers talking about publishing, and someone mentioned a writer who’d been ‘picked up’ by a traditional publisher from their indie book publishing, and how excited they were because wasn’t that every indie writer’s dream? I died a little inside and wanted put my hand up and suggest it was a bad idea, but, you know, then I’d just seem like a crazy person.

    • dwsmith

      Yes, sit silently, feel sorry for the writer, but say nothing. They will lose their dream soon enough and that is just flat sad.