Why Fairness is Hard in Publishing

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Why Fairness is Hard in Publishing by Alan Baker

October 16, 2012

Tim’s recent post, Can’t Pay My Full Fee? Cut Me in on the Deal!, has been generating interesting insight for Net Minds. Not for some crazy viral sharing effect, but the fact that publishers are upset with the content. Now, I’m not saying this to be unnecessarily provocative, just as Tim’s post wasn’t unnecessarily provocative. It just is.

What I mean: the post speaks to one of the cores of our business model. It’s what makes us different; it’s what makes us special. If the post is provocative and upsetting to publishers, it shows their real problem is with our business. We believe and do things differently and we believe that EVERYONE should share in the profits of what they love to do.

Let’s tackle a few of the major gripes publishers had with Tim’s post. Because it’s not relevant, I’m not going to name names. Instead, I want to focus on why the arguments say something really interesting about our business.

Argument 1: You’re doing something we can’t do!

This really isn’t an argument when you look at it; it’s the very nature of competition. Doing something someone else can’t or won’t do. We are a joint venture publisher. We don’t believe in self-publishing because teams make great books. We don’t believe in traditional publishing because they take too much and do too little for it.

We’ve spent a lot of time and effort understanding the people who make books and the flaws in the current industry. Like it or not, this is our business. If you don’t have the ability or stomach to jump down this hole, no one’s making you.

Argument 2: You’re opening up a can of worms on profit sharing!

I don’t think there’s much to say here that isn’t obviously incredulous. Yes, I agree. We’re opening up a can of worms valuing the people who make books. Our business is about making books in a new way so readers get more consistent, better-produced books. We believe this will empower teams to make more books that readers will love. I don’t see a downside here.

Argument 3: We have every right to ask freelancers to slash fees!

Very true. Publishers have every right to ask freelancers to cut their fees. And we have every right to say that attitude sucks and is a terrible way to do business. In any company, hiring is one of the most challenging things to do. There’s always a war for talent and it’s hard to find the best and brightest. People make companies great; people make books great. Is the best strategy really to devalue the work product of those you profit from?

Admittedly, these comments make me a bit sad and annoyed. But at the same time, these arguments are why we exist and it signifies that we’re doing the right thing. And the right thing isn’t always easy, but it’s important to do.

At Net Minds, we believe readers come first and that means empowering authors, editors, designers, and marketers, to make the best damn books possible! In my opinion, the only thing major publishers have gotten consistently right is they put together great teams to make great books. The problem is that I feel many creatives are treated with contempt, and for many, grossly undervalue them.

From authors I’ve talked to and through my own experience in book marketing, I find we share a similar stance: for how much value (80%+) publishers take from a book, the crime comes in their minimalistic support provided to make the book successful. I believe there’s already a word for this behavior, it’s called loan sharking.

The publisher cares about the publisher, they don’t care about the reader or the author. Publishing executives have secretaries that make more money than most of their authors. I’m not devaluing secretaries; I’m making a parallel about the business of publishing books and biting the hand that feeds. The publisher makes money from authors, they owe them support, just as the secretary owes support to the executive they serve.

But I don’t think they look at authors, editors, designers or any creative in that way. In criticizing the recent closed-door deal between publishers and Google, the President of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Minda Zetlin, said that authors have the contractual right to know what went on in the deal, saying “writers are partners with publishers in the joint venture of royalty publishing.”

For me, here’s where the problem lies and here’s the problem we fix. Net Minds is joint venture publishing. We’re not about giving royalties to authors. It’s the authors work, it’s the designer’s work, it’s the editor’s work. Net Minds exists to match the best people with the best books, we’re the cast members… we’re the royalty holders. It should never be the other way around. We work hard to ensure we are delivering value and earning our share.

And that is where we disagree. They have a problem with what we believe in.

Alan Baker

About Alan Baker

I'm a tech entrepreneur, expert in marketing, UX, and coding. I design web products balancing business and people. I make the Internet a better place. I craft clever campaigns that make marketing meaningful. I believe in partnerships, fairness, and transparency. And I don't sell myself out, ever.

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