At Least As Anyone Knows It…
Trade publishing is what I call traditional publishing. The reason for the word “trade,” very, very, VERY simply put, is that the publishers don’t sell directly to readers, they sell into the trades. The trades in publishing are a distribution system that is an old-fashioned channel to get books from an old-fashioned printing presses to warehouses to distributors to bookstores and then into the hands of readers.
(By the way, three of the major trade printers have filed for bankruptcy or shut down. That is another really bad sign that causes books to be extremely delayed.)
Trade publishers do not care about readers and in the last twenty-plus years have stopped caring about writers as well. All they care about is numbers. No real humans exist at either end of that trade distribution route as far as trade publishers are concerned.
Trade publishing has been getting pounded by Amazon selling online direction to customers, by indie publishing, by small presses, but until the pandemic, which shut a ton of bookstores, it was holding on with basically five major conglomerates owning all the major publishers and selling most of their books down the trade lines to Amazon.
And they were holding on with creative accounting and on the backs of writers too lost in the myths to not give them all rights to their IP.
But the pandemic moved just about everything DTC (direct to customer) and online. Trade channels got twisted, shut down, altered in far too many ways to detail here. Trade publishers can’t think DTC. Again, they do not care about writers or readers. (I know, damned hard for indie publishers to even grasp, but go ahead, sell a book to New York and see who is expected to do all the reader promotion…)
So now, it was announced that the big five is about to become the big four, with three of them really not counting much. Simon and Schuster announced that it was going to be sold to Penguin/Random House. That would put well past 50% of all trade books sold under one company… Bertelsmann.
Of course, how Bertelsmann plans to get that purchase approved is by counting Indie Publishing as part of the industry for the first time ever. Or some such nonsense. But if this goes through, trade publishing is effectively crippled and it will be a shell of its former self, not even counting the problems coming with the end of the pandemic and bookstores and printers and warehouses.
Kris and I have been warning now for a time this kind of collapse was coming. (Dont’ worry, they will still get the authors to chew up, no doubt about that. The myth of stupidity is strong for many authors.) But trade publishing, with any kind of real diversity and competition is over.
All diversity and competition is out in the indie and small press publishing world now.
And indie publishing is continuing to grow and flourish as writers take over all aspects of control of their own work, and keep the IP value.
Trade publishing is sputtering, eating itself, having trouble printing its books, pricing electronic books so high they don’t sell, having trouble with costs of warehouses, increasing shipping costs, and high overheads in New York City. And they are totally lost when it comes to what consumers really want.
But wow do they talk a great game, those that are left.
And one last point that I can’t help but jump on as I normally do. Agents. They will only have one or two points to sell a book, they will make a lot less money as advances for themselves and their authors go down hard because no competition to drive advances up. The few trade publishers left can set any price they want. And most agents that stay alive in a couple years will do so by theft of their author’s money.
I always used to call agents the warts on the butt of publishing. But over the last ten years I changed that description from warts to leaches. Problem is, now there is less and less blood to suck to stay alive, so in a few years we will see a vast die-off of those blood-suckers.
Watch to see how Bertelsmann gets this purchase through anti-trust. And if it does go through, just listen for the death knell of trade publishing. It’s years are almost over.