Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Fleecing the Lambs

I make my living in the Internet software business and, on the side, write for good old dead tree publications, so the intersection between the web and the traditional publishing world is a topic that has long fascinated me.  I've noticed--over Twitter, of all places--a seeming increase in magazines making "calls for submissions" for food writers . . . only to look at the fine print and see that there's a "reading fee" of $25 to $50 for writers to have their submission considered.  This is nothing new, of course.  Agents and "literary" journals' charging reading fees to gullible but hopeful writers is a long-standing tradition.

But, with the much heralded decline of traditional print media, the pressures to resort to such revenue-generating tactics seems to be increasing.  Two weeks ago, Publisher's Weekly, the old warhouse trade publication of the mainstream publishing industry, announced that it was launching PW Select, which they described as "a quarterly supplement announcing self-published titles and reviewing those we believe are most deserving of a critical assessment."  The deal?  Pay Publishers Weekly $149 and they will include you in their listing of self-published titles (complete with your name, title, price, brief description, and ordering instructions).  Plus, they will select 25 titles for a published review.

PW, the announcement noted, "briefly considered charging for reviews, but in the end preferred to maintain our right to review what we deemed worthy."  So, instead of knowing that your $149 buys you a review, you're just signing up for a slight chance.  And, the best part is, this review doesn't appear in the actual Publisher's Weekly print journal but rather in the "special" PW Select supplement.

The journal's "DIY" site claims that their regular  readership--everyone from agents and publishers to booksellers and librarians--constitute an "ideal audience" for such a supplement, because they are "always on the alert for new talent, worthwhile books, and marketable products."  PUL-LEASE.  What better way to guarantee that no one takes a look at your particular self-published book than to segregate it in a "special" issue along with all the other self-published titles out there?  Most agents and publishers don't even bother--or, perhaps more accurately, don't have the physical ability much less the commercial need--to even skim through the massive flood of over-the-transom manuscripts and proposals they get delivered to their doors daily.  What makes anyone think they would actively seek out more material from self-published authors?

And that got me thinking about what it would cost for a self published author to just run his or her own ad in the real Publisher's Weekly--the one that all the agents, publishers, and bookstore buyers actually read.  It's a little hard to tell since--not surprisingly, considering the PW Select side business--the magazine doesn't post their rates online.  But from a few other online sources--like this one from the Independent Book Publishers Association--suggest that non-discounted rates for a 1/6th of a page ad would likely run you in the neighborhood of a grand.  About five times as much as the "PW Select", but at least you have a prayer of someone actually seeing it.

I know the traditional print media trade is suffering, and I believe that new online media channels offer writers and other "content producers" intriguing new options for earning money from their pens . . . oops, I mean . . . keyboards without the traditional intermediaries of the publishing world.  But, this worst-of-both worlds approach strikes me as more than just a little unseemly.


Ken Albala said...

Robert you are right on the mark here. And I thought it would be an article about lambs, and how to cook them.

We MUST have a discussion about BBQ some time soon. Your BBQ site is really fabulous too. Ken

Robert said...

Thanks, Ken. Maybe I should do a post on barbecuing lambs!

I'm always up for talking BBQ.

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