The problems with Dorchester are not an isolated incident. They are a harbinger of the future. That future being just the next twelve months.
Let’s review the current structure:
Let’s look at each link in that chain:
Agent: How committed is your agent to you? Has your agent ever solved a dispute with a publisher in your favor? How have your sales been? If they haven’t been on an upward slope, how much of a battle will an agent put up on your behalf?
Publisher: Dorchester Publishing has shown that any publisher can suddenly have a heart attack and just about drop dead. Even if you’re with one of the Big 6, unless your last name is Patterson or Clancy or somesuch, how certain are you of them picking up your next book? I know writers who have had multiple books published with the Big 6 suddenly — without any warning at all — dropped by them, despite making them money.
Distributor: These are middlemen. They have problems all the time because they’re, well, basically middlemen who hate being so. When they have aspirations, they go into debt and sink their business, taking many I.O.U.s with them.
eBookstore: How many places are selling your work? Do you even know? If a publisher is using several distributors, your work can be anywhere. How many of those stores will still be in business a year from now? Even Barnes & Noble and Borders — two multi-billion dollar giants — are having problems. What about some small setup running off a couple of servers in someone’s garage that came into existence only because it got pimped as a New New Thing on the web and its principals are failures from print publishing who are just trying to hang on and stay in the game?
Reader: Well, that’s who you’re after, isn’t it? It takes a long time to arrive there, doesn’t it?
There are four intermediaries there who collect your money: Agent, Publisher, Distributor, eBookstore. If any one of those goes south, they take your money with them.
It gets worse: If it’s a Publisher, your rights become entrapped in a legal quicksand that could prevent you earning money for years.
Now let’s look at the Problem Minimization Model:
There’s only one entity between you and a reader: the eBookstore.
And your relationship is directly with the eBookstore.
Because you know where you have placed your work, you don’t have to worry about it winding up in sketchy places that might have a bleak future that will stab you in the back.
This post isn’t a HowTo about being your own publisher. And don’t mistake it for giving up things such as editing, copyediting, proofreading, book design, cover design, and marketing. It’s to make you think about your future and to see the weak links that exist.
And I’ll let Will Entrekin have the final word here, from his post, There’s No Such Thing as Self-Publishing:
Well, look at the functions publishers fulfill. They don’t really keep gates or vet quality; Franco, Snooki, and the Sarahs are evidence enough of that. The argument might go that publishing those sorts of books allows corporations to support unknown authors, but that’s like applying trickle-down Reaganomics to publishing. Seems not to work, or in fact even be the case. They do provide services. Editing, designing covers, formatting, but most of those things can be accomplished more cheaply than authors end up paying, anyway.
Print publishing will continue to shed personnel because it refuses to change course and move with the future. That personnel will be looking for work. The smartest of them will hang up shingles offering the services they once did for a regular corporate income. And those are the people you’ll then want to work with — as contract employees, not as your masters.
Publishing won’t go way, but its current structure will.