In a letter sent to “Macmillan Authors, Macmillan Illustrators, and Agents“ on Thursday, July 25th, Macmillan CEO John Sargent announced new lending terms and pricing for library ebooks, claiming library lending was “cannibalizing sales“ and impacting royalties as revenue from library sales are “a small fraction of the revenue we share with you on a retail read.” While the embargo is disappointing news for libraries, authors, and, most importantly, readers—it reinforces the need for a cross-industry initiative to identify ways publishers and libraries can continue to support their intrinsically related missions while delivering mutually beneficial outcomes.
With few exceptions, publishers don't really know what drives most book sales, so the industry's focus on chasing bestsellers and trends lends itself to an unscientific combination of last-click attribution, confirmation bias, and way too often, scapegoats. Publishers have relied on booksellers and libraries to connect with readers for decades, but—despite the continued decline of physical bookstores, the intersectional challenge of "book deserts," and a lack of consistent and verifiable data on ebook sales—libraries seem to have become an easy scapegoat. Again.
In 2019, I remain astounded (but not totally surprised) by how many authors' platforms lack the basics—if they have one at all—but far more egregiously, too many publishers are way behind the curve with their own platforms, doing a disservice to the authors they've committed to support and help succeed. If you're querying a publisher—big or small, traditional or hybrid—you (or your agent) should be able to satisfactorily address these three planks of their own platform before they inquire about yours. Each one is potentially more important than the size of your advance, and definitely more important than the size of your own Twitter following or email list.
There are three types of people who survive in media: hard workers, sycophants, and the serial failures they both work for who somehow manage to continually find employment despite a reasonably public record of the wreckage they've left behind. Too harsh? Maybe, a bit—some sycophants are arguably hard workers too, and serial failure might not be as easy as the eternally mediocre make it look—but after my own 25+ years surviving in media (and currently in the final throes of a demoralizing corporate bankruptcy), I'm feeling a little cynical.
Thinking about my early days with comics, I realized they were the gateway to my interest in publishing, my first real awareness of people and a process behind the scenes that connected me to the stories and characters I enjoyed so much. I read "regular" books just as voraciously as comics, but Marvel and DC were meaningful brands while book publishers weren't. I had no idea (and didn't particularly care) who published Encyclopedia Brown or Stephen King until my first job in a bookstore (at 19 years old), and even then they were just vague corporate logos with no personal relevance.