Should Publishing Be Compared to the Music Industry?

(Maybe Not)

Continuing on the theme of how publishing is evolving, you probably know that many people are comparing our current situation to the music industry’s revolutionary changes over the last dozen years. If we’re smart, the wisdom goes, we’ll carefully study how things have gone in that medium and see what we can learn from it. I’ve read many, many articles that astutely point to things that have worked and things that didn’t for the big record labels; analysis of mistakes that were made; and how that industry has adapted to changing technology which has in turn changed consumers’ buying patterns.

There is much that can be learned and applied to the book business, but I’ve been concerned lately that some people seem to be taking the analogy too far. There are too many ways that books are not like music, and if we slavishly try to incorporate the lessons the music biz has learned, we are going to end up in big, big trouble. Many of the strategies that are now working in music won’t work in books—we need to creatively think up our own solutions!

Here are a few of my thoughts:

The music business has always been driven by live events.
For thousands of years before recording even existed, music was performed and enjoyed live. It makes sense that many of the answers for the music industry lie in the better exploitation of live music; not so in books. The book business has never been driven by live events, and I doubt it ever could be.

Listening to music has always been equal parts social and personal.
Whether we’re listening on the radio, on recordings, or at a live event, we have always enjoyed sharing music with others equally as much as we’ve enjoyed it by ourselves. By contrast, reading has always been primarily a personal activity, something we do on our own—discussion groups and author events notwithstanding. It has never been primarily a social activity.

Revenue in the contemporary music biz has been driven by live shows more than by record sales.
The music business has primarily been able to rally through smarter exploitation of live shows and merchandising. It has been suggested that similarly in publishing, we need to create better festivals and live events that can add value to books, as a way of saving our industry. I disagree with this. Revenue in the book business never has been, and never will be, driven by live events.

The majority of book buyers will not be attending book festivals and events—they already don’t. If they do, it’s once every few years and they spend very little money there. Think about how much money fans are willing drop at a concert of their favorite rock band. A couple might spend two hundred dollars on tickets, another hundred on parking and food, possibly another hundred or so on merchandise. Four hundred dollars per couple would be normal. Can you imagine the masses spending that much money—or even 1/4th of that ($100) on an author event? In an environment where more and more people are loathe to pay $15 for a book by their favorite author?

There is a crucial difference between music events and book events.
The pleasure of listening to music is an integral part of a music event. By contrast, a book event doesn’t include the experience a reader most craves, which is sitting down to read a book. It may include hearing parts of a book read aloud; discussion of books, and other activities having to do with books, but the primary draw of a book is completely missing. So music events can’t be analagous with book events.

Sales of recorded music have dramatically shifted.
One of the things that has dramatically changed the music landscape is the ability for consumers to buy single songs rather than entire records. We do this routinely on iTunes. Instead of selling an entire CD, many artists are only selling 1/10th of a CD as people pick and choose, and decide to only buy one song rather than ten.

But a book is still a book. Consumers won’t be buying 1/10th of a book. However, possibly due to the iTunes model, we are now buying entire books for the price of a single song! How can that be good for the book business as a whole? How can it be good for authors? This is another area where, unlike the music industry, we can’t make this model work to the advantage of either the artist or the publishing company.

In music, sales of physical product (CDs) is still as strong as sales of electronic product.
This is one way we CAN learn from the music business. Ten years after the advent of the iPod, CDs are still selling. And there aren’t even any music stores like there used to be! We need to pay attention to the fact that people like to own a physical product (such as a book). Let’s not be too quick to assume the physical book is imminently headed for obsolescence.

Bottom line: While we need to be studying the music industry to learn what we can, it’s also important to be studying how music and books differ, and asking ourselves how that affects what we can learn and how seriously we should take the comparison.

Q4U: I’ve presented a couple of the ways the music business isn’t like the book business. But there are numerous other issues and possible points of comparison. What do you think are some things we CAN learn from the music business?

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Lyn Miller-Lachmann

    >A lot of people look at piracy as one of the major forces that undermined the music industry, but an equally powerful though less noticed force was the ownership consolidation of radio stations and the resultant standardization of playlists. Consolidation meant that listeners had less variety and much of the music being rammed down our throats was bland flavor-of-the-month pop.

    College performance venues and college radio stations have become principal incubators of indie bands, the kind of music one would never hear on a corporate station. I can see these kinds of incubators emerging for self-published and small press published books that appeal to passionate audiences who have their own networks to get the word out.

  • Nerine Dorman

    >Authors can put up free reads nowadays electronically, the same way bands can release EPs or teaser albums for potential consumers to download and give a spin.

  • Melissa

    >I can actually speak to this, as my ex-S.O. was dropped by a major label, and we lived through the hell of those fall-out years. The main difference, Rachelle, is that unlike smaller publishers, smaller indie labels (and they do come courting) are in no financial position to effectively back and promote the artists they sign. There are numerous ways in which these industries differ structurally that give writers, agents and even publishing houses an edge. The music industry has dramatically curtailed the mainstream selection and tailored it to the tastes of younger listeners. (Sorry, I’m not interested in the Black-Eyed Peas, or whatever appeals to the tween set.)

    I really don’t want that to happen to books, and I think this is what readers are concerned about. I read a blog recently where it was projected that by 2012, there would only be 100 titles released? (Cringe.) I want a huge variety. I want niche. I want the books that appeal to all of .05 percent of the reading population. I want to read controversial books, quirky books, subtle books, books that take me way off the beaten path. I feel that we readers – not necessarily writers – need someone to direct us to those “artists” so we can always be able to find them. I don’t care if they’re paper books or eBooks. That’s where the music industry failed the consumer.

    There is one thing that’s incorrect – hardcopy CDs are very low sells compared to downloads. And even when priced low, more people continue to pirate music rather than purchase it in either form.

  • Kate Larkindale

    >Only 100 books released in a year? Yikes! I read more than that every year. Probably twice that. What will I read?????

  • Tana Adams

    >While I think that people still like to own a product, I think that we might see a generational phase out with that. Older people are used to reading physical books, and owning CD"s and cassettes and records, but teens in general aren't. I think the more they get used to the idea of owning it in another way they won't mind so much the nonphysical presence of it. Stephen King said in a recent interview that the actual paper book was ephemeral. It's the vehicle of delivery, but that's all. I think, like the record industry, the book industry will be swallowed in the tidal wave of technology. It's still a good thing.

  • Weirdmage

    >I think you already mentioned the most important lesson, half of music sales are still on CD. (In Norway, where I live, 75% of the revenue from music sales came from CDs last year.)

    And I'm pretty sure most of those sales are big names. Not like it was said ten years ago, that everyone who wanted to could now make a living off music because it had gone digital.

    So basically, the book industry shouldn't panic and rush into anything. The "all digital" people make the most noise, but the lesson we can take away from the music industry is that they are not the majority, and they are nor right. If they had been CDs would have been gone five years ago.

    I think people will still buy paper books from publishers for as long as they are produced.

  • Aimee L Salter

    >I used to work in branding and the thing I'm always surprised to see overlooked is the pure difference in the products themselves:

    Music is high-use, multi-environment, simultaneous-use product. I.e. You listen to it a hundred times, in a hundred places, often while talking with others or doing other things.

    Though books can also be used in a million different places, they are single or low-occurence use and generally a solitary use(as you've noted).

    That's important because it means customers purchase music for entirely different reasons than they purchase books.

    I have a hunch those $0.99c books are generally only purchased because they are so cheap. It's essentially zero risk.

    Put those exact same stories in a $19.99 format and the market shrinks to the same: zero.

    Without some extensive research on why readers are choosing specific kinds of books and formats, the publishing industry will only ever be flying blind.

    Mind you, they'll probably be listening to butt-loads of music while they do it.

  • A3Writer

    >I still buy CDs, but I haven't listened to a CD in over five years. When someone buys a CD, they are essentially buying the physical product and digital copies all in one. It used to be only the techno geeks among us (of which I am one) had the know-how to take a CD and a computer to produce mp3s. Now computers readily offer to rip tracks from a CD as soon as it is inserted.

    Books are not like that at all. There's no quick and easy way to get books electronically from the physical product. Yes, there is piracy, but I don't think book readers are as interested. One thing to consider is to start bundling the electronic copy of a book in with paper copy, either by download code or included on a media card. Of course, we still need electronic readers to conform with page numbering of the physical product so we can freely go from physical to electronic with ease.

  • Juliette

    >In defense of the analogy, in the Roman Empire reading was, for some, primarily a social activity. But I appreciate that that was kind of a while ago!

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >I am mostly leaving this comment so I can get the comments from the others. =)

    My favorite thing is introverted. Curling up with a good book, either paper or on my Kindle.

    I love the Kindle for traveling. I prefer paper at home.

    So I don't see it as either or.

    I see things changing in publishing but also staying the same in that we will always need writers, agents, editors, and publishers.

    We need each other.

  • Jessica Nelson

    >Wow, great points. I know nothing about that industry but what you're saying makes sense to me.

  • Heather Webb

    >Weirdmage- I agree that the digital folks or those in favor of change are the most vocal. People will always buy books, some will buy digital. (I see kiosks in the airport where one can download a new "book" as an option or pick one up in the magazine shop.) The point is there will be more choices.

    As for the indie titles disappearing and the tayloring of tastes for the mainstream, this makes me cringe. I can honestly say some of the most beautiful and inspiring books/pieces of music come to us raw and unprocessed from the execs. To stifle that creativity is a crime.

  • Lawrence J. Caldwell

    >In the back of Karen Kingsbury's recent book "Unlocked" she hints at a new project bringing music and writing together. I'm doing the same thing for my novel. I got the idea from an Alan Parsons Project album "Tales of Mystery and Imagination". In it, Orson Welles said, "Shadows of shadows passing. It is now 1831, and as always I am absorbed with a delicate thought. It is how poetry has indefinite sensations, to which end music is inessential. Since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception, music, when combined
    with a pleasurable idea, is poetry. Music without the idea is simply music. Without music or an intriguing idea, colour becomes pallor, man becomes carcase, home becomes catacomb, and the dead are but for a moment motionless."

  • Kelly Combs

    >Fan loyalty, and the fact that different genres prove there really is something for everyone. In other words, you may like R&B, and I like pop; you may like mysteries and I like chick-lit. There is a place for all in the check out line.

  • Lynne Connolly

    >Just want to mention one thing.
    I used to be in the music industry in the 1970's, when the stadium show was just beginning.
    At that time, the cost of the shows meant more often than not that tours were a big expense, and rarely showed a profit. The emphasis was on selling the albums. Not singles, the bands I worked with knew that market wasn't for them, but albums. That was the era when album sales were huge, the age of "Dark Side of the Moon" and the Led Zeppelin albums.
    At that time, the album financed the live performance, not the other way about.
    Might be interesting to look at that era, and see how it was handled. Eventually it was corrected by the advent of punk and the return to the smaller venue, until electronics had developed enough to produce the gargantuan effects demanded by the larger places at a reasonable cost.

  • Rosslyn Elliott

    >Great topic, Rachelle, and excellent insights from your commenters. You have some smart followers!

  • elizabethreinhardt

    >When I like a band, I want to read interviews, see photos, feel like I know that band…that didn't used to be possible for authors.

    You read books, and maybe wrote a fan letter to the address on the author bio page, but you didn't know a ton about them.

    I think the most important revolution is the networking authors are doing on social media. Authors will never get the high-media coverage bands get, but I can link to their blogs, like them on Facebook, read indie interviews.

    I love Lisa Kleypas, and yesterday she commented back to me personally when I mentioned an author I loved on her Facebook post! I had a squealy fangirl moment, got to see a side of Lisa that was so personal and warm and guess what? I downloaded one of her books that I hand't yet read that day!

    Author fans now have access to a slightly more exciting, interactive version of fandom that has traditionally been reserved for music groups and movie stars with major PR backing. The accessibility of interaction is a great thing!

  • Wendy Paine Miller

    >When I read this I kept turning Margaret Atwood’s humorous point (from that video you linked to not too long ago) about writers and the comical stage presence they’d have as rock stars.

    (That's my man in the picture above.) ;)
    ~ Wendy

  • J.M.Cornwell

    >I've been intrigued by the multi-media platform offered by eReaders that incorporate voice as well as the written word. The one way books and music compare equally is in the sale of audiobooks. Audiobooks are big business and any number of people can gather around and listen, which is similar to what authors used to do less than 100 years ago.

    I'll go back to Mark Twain for this, but he was in great demand as a speaker, as was Dickens and several other well known authors of the time. People paid a lot of money to listen to Mark Twain read passages from his books and book sales soared. We have gotten away from that, preferring that public readings be small and intimate, mostly because it isn't felt that authors could draw a sufficient crowd to boost sales. I think that is a mistake. Get someone with a good voice and do public readings and people will flock and pay the money, not so much for the ancillary products, but for the books. Isn't that what audiobooks are?

  • Rachelle

    >Just to clarify, I've read a number of articles from reputable sources that say at least half of music sales are still coming from CDs, but it varies by band, genre, and like one commenter mentioned, country or region.

    Most of the articles I've read in the last six months point to exploitation of live events as the main way to save the music industry, apparently because fighting piracy is expensive and largely ineffective, and because not much can be done to change the new "one song at a time" digital model. It makes sense to expend efforts where it has the most chance of being effective. But still, where does that leave the book industry?

    Lyn and Melissa: You mentioned the streamlining of "playlists." Of course this has been happening in radio for more than 50 years with "Top 40" radio. But yes, it has happened much more lately, especially since the only retailers carrying music are places like Walmart with a teeny tiny section alotted for CDs. But note, the exact same thing has been happening in books, and will continue. In an environment where companies can afford less risk, we will naturally see a shrinking of the availability of outside-the-mainstream books and music.

    This is where the Internet becomes our saviour in a sense. You may find precious little you like in Walmart, but you can find anything on the Internet.

    Tana: Good point that maybe our desire to own a physical product will fade with the generations. But this is something really worth thinking about. There are a ton of downsides to only owning electrons vs. something physical that you can hold, and see lining the walls of your home. There are upsides too, and I'll be interested to see how it all shakes out. For me, I still like to have both.

    Aimee: You're hitting on exactly what my main concern has been — the difference in the products themselves including the reasons and the environments in which we enjoy them.

    Lawrence and J.M. Cornwell: I've noticed this concept of bringing music and writing together in several venues so far. In fact I'm listening to a Jodi Picoult audiobook that does just — songs were written specifically for the book. In my opinion, it's a nice try and I love when people think outside the box, but it's not the answer, mainly because (in the case of this Picoult book) I love the book and the author but I hate the music they've put with it! Tastes are so individual. You're not going to be able to accurately predict that people who like certain written products are therefore going to like a certain kind of music.

    Also, I think it's a long shot to imagine people wanting to gather 'round to hear an author read from their books. When Mark Twain and Dickens were doing this, people's entertainment choices were severely limited compared to today; if your choice was sit home and read a book vs. go out with your friends and listen to an author read a book, we all would choose the latter sometimes. Today it's obviously a whole different ballgame and I can think of 20 things I'd rather do than sit and listen to an author read to me.

    Lynne: Good point about the stadium shows of the 70s. But everything I've been reading lately points to the profitability of tours (including the merchandising) as the key to keeping the music industry alive.

    Wendy: We can agree to share, right?

  • Cynthia Herron

    >Was just thinking, Rachelle, wouldn't it be neat if there could be a book/author/publishing reality T.V. show!? You know, kinda like American Idol with a lot of hoopla behind it. Sadly, I'm guessing that books and the brilliant authors that write them wouldn't garner the WOW factor that music/reality shows do.

  • Shelly Goodman Wright

    >As someone who plan on being a career novelist, an agent would be my ideal. I'd rather pay the percent to someone who knows the industry and would know the best markets for my diverse writings.

    However, I do feel that for first time authors, the authors will be required to make some sort of investment on their side. Whether you pay to self-publish (and hire an editor and marketing firm) or go with a small publishing house (and hire a marketing firm), there will be out-of-pocket expense. Yes, we all can market and jump on the internet, but it's the professionals who will get your book into the major bookstores and worldwide distrubtion.

    Most people don't want to hear that. The old saying 'money should flow to the writer and not from', I think is quickly becoming untrue. I'd call it more of an investment for future gains.

    Great blog! Thank you.

  • Daniel F. Case

    >After 30+ years in radio, I've seen zillions of musical artists out promoting their stuff. Whether it's a local artist trying to get his songs on his hometown radio station or a "big name" with an entourage of promotional pros, real success requires three critical factors:

    Talent.
    Product.
    Persistence.

    The same thing is true in publishing. The means of delivery is secondary. As long as people are still reading, there will be a need for talented writers with the craft to produce great books for them to read–whether on paper, e-readers, or whatever new technology comes next.

    Keep writing.

    D.

  • Christine Ashworth

    >The only analogy I make between the book business and the music business is that we writers must keep writing. The musicians didn't stop making music and recording; we must not stop writing. It's that simple and everything else will get sorted out in the end – it always does.

  • adamo

    >As someone who's played 400+ rock shows, I can tell you that one place the analogy holds up quite well is in the rise of self-publishing.

    The independent author, like the independent musician, needs to hone many skills beyond musicianship and showmanship. Skills like booker, promoter, publicist, graphic designer, writer, webmaster, marketer, accountant, inventory manager, travel agent, roadie, chauffeur.

    Self-publishing lets you put it out there, but unless you've got a lot of time, energy, and skill to make it go, it's just going to lie where you put it.

  • Ishta Mercurio

    >I can see your point when you say that reading a book is a solitary tradition, where listening to music is not. However, publishing, with its involvement in the production of audiobooks and in the sale of film rights, is not about books anymore. It's about storytelling. And the oral tradition of storytelling goes back way, way beyond the first printed word.

    I think that print books, in the mass-produced form, are probably not going to last much longer. They'll go the way of sheet music: great for afficionados and the people who want to read books in order to make them more accessible to the masses, like actors doing audiobook recordings. But the fact that fewer and fewer people actually read the actual words anymore, opting instead to go see the movie version (analogous to a concert) or buy the audiobook (analogous to getting a band's latest CD) is evidence that the publishing industry actually has a lot in common with the music industry.

  • Carradee

    >I think the major thing that crosses the music and book industries is DRM.

    I have an old computer. It's happened, more than once, that I wanted a book but couldn't buy it because it was being offered ONLY in a format I couldn't use, and I wouldn't be allowed to convert it.

    Also, maybe it's just where I hang out, but I've never heard indie bands lambasted like I hear indie authors ridiculed. And I've heard some TERRIBLE indie bands.

    But the terrible ones phase out, the ones that have no idea what they're doing topple, and the good ones get listeners. Eventually.

    Isn't indie publishing the same? Yes, some indies assume that it's a fast track to fame and riches, but the ones who get anywhere are those who approach their work as something that will take a lot of time and effort, and they're in it for the long haul.

  • traceybaptiste

    >I'm with A3Writer. Physical books should be bundled with electronic downloads so that readers can get their content in whatever way that they like. In the long run, I think it's better for us authors as well because it's about the story reaching the reader, and that shouldn't be limited, especially since reading is a limited use product, as you said. Allowing the consumer to have it the way that they want, and be able to read it in whichever format they choose will make them feel good about the purchase.

  • Rich Friedeman

    >Good points, Rachelle, but you I think you overstate some. "A book is still a book" is valid as far as it goes, but neglects some of the changes possible in e-publishing. Books are the length they are largely because of production and perception-of-value reasons related to physical books.

    When spine width, shipping cost, and cover size are unimportant because a book is only electronic or nobody buys a physical book off a bookstore shelf, the nature of stories being told has a lot more range of possibilities. Shorter/longer works, serial works, tie ins between works become viable in e-publishing where the production and distribution structure in traditional publishing prevents viability.

    Long term, I agree that the $.99 book isn't good for authors or consumers, but $.99 isn't a necessary price point, and the new writing product possibilities enabled by e-publishing help offset downward price pressure.

    CD sales continue to be strong, as book sales will likely be. Music stores, however, were never an important discovery mechanism for music. It was all word of mouth (fan based) and radio (promotion based). Book stores are important discovery outlets for books. But bookstores face a potentially faster demise than music stores because shipping books is considerably more expensive than shipping CDs. A smaller degree of cannibalization of in-store book sales by ebooks or online sales can torpedo book stores than was necessary for music stores.

    I think you underestimate the social aspects of books. Reading is solitary in a way listening to music is not, but discovery of books to read is highly social. It simply occurs on a smaller scale than with music.

    Ultimately, I think you're right-on with the need to examine, but not inflate, similarities between the music and publishing businesses. Thanks for a good post.

  • TL Jeffcoat

    >I like Carradee's comment on indie authors. I would like to think of myself as the patient one. I have nearly 50 novels I'm going to write over the next 25 years and I don't expect to get rich overnight with any of them. But eventually, someone will discover them, and who knows. Sorry off topic a little there. Got excited. Anyway, I am a very tech savvy type, I buy everything new as it comes out. But I didn't get an e-reader. For some reason I still prefer my books on paper. I don't know why, I've tried out e-readers but I find myself losing interest in books that held me on paper. So I don't think paper is on its way out, but it will drop in sales as the young readers who won't step in a bookstore or a book section in Target, all get older and buy more and more digital. I don't see publishing companies going under for the very reasons pointed out in the blog. Books and music are totally different.

  • Marcus Brotherton

    >Fascinating article, Rachelle. Thanks.

  • J.M.Cornwell

    >In my opinion, it's a nice try and I love when people think outside the box, but it's not the answer, mainly because (in the case of this Picoult book) I love the book and the author but I hate the music they've put with it! Tastes are so individual.

    I don't think integrating the music into the book is a good idea, but Laura Esquivel did something similar with her second book, The Law of Love, and included a music CD. It contained classical music and was a nice bonus with the book. Too bad the book didn't do as well. Something like that would be a better idea, and certainly writers are thinking outside the box more as more types of media are included in an e-book version.

    While readers might not flock to hear an author do a reading, I know that a great voice telling a great story sells plenty of audiobooks and that can be included as a bonus with an ebook offering.

  • Jill

    >With the advent of mp3 players, the quality of recording has gone down, such that most songs sound like muddy messes on normal speakers. I've noticed some of the same quality issues with e-books–typos and word errors all over the place. One e-book I bought garbled every use of certain words, and I found I had to replace the words in my mind as I read. As prices decline, so does quality. It's sad, but true.

  • Christopher

    >I'm interested in knowing where you got your data. There are several broad sweeping statements in your piece that don't seem to add up. For example, the notion that the music business has always made the bulk of its revenue from live performances is simply wrong. Bands were often forced by record companies to tour in support of their records, not the other way around. Many acts like the Beatles (post 1967) and Steely Dan (for the bulk of their recording career in the 1970s) refused to tour and yet they were hugely successful. Consider all the duets done over the history of rock 'n' roll and very rarely did those performers go on tour together yet they sold untold numbers of records. The golden calf has always been the record, not concert tickets in the same way that writers hold book signings in order to sell their books but they don't write books so that they can hold signings.

    There are many contemporary acts that tour sparingly yet sell recorded music in vast amounts. I am not a fan of rap by any means but it is well known that many big rap artists don't tour because the music (term used loosely) doesn't translate well live.

    And think about all the staff and overhead involved in a massive tour by a band like U2 (the photo above). Sure they make money performing live but they make far more money in the recording studio. For their 2009 tour U2 grossed over $500 million, a record at the time but consider the overhead. The profit would have been far less. By comparison
    their mid 1980s album The Joshua Tree has sold over 25 million coppies and continues to sell by the boatload to this day. The tour was brief, good records sell forever just like good books are always on the shelves.

    I'm not saying that your entire piece is without merit, but there are some conclusions in it that demand support.

  • Carrie L. Lewis

    >I believe there is one way to improve marketing for authors by following the example of artists (painters).

    I've been a painter of horses for 30 years. I prefer to stay in the studio and paint and I'm thrilled if someone buys a painting or orders a portrait online, but the most excitement comes from live shows. Being at a show and putting up a 'mini exhibit' of my work. The interaction between clients, buyers and me as the artist can't be replaced by slick online marketing or anything else that doesn't involve face-to-face interactions.

    This sort of interaction COULD be beneficial to authors, too. No, not every show (or book signing) is guaranteed sales or followers, but the only way to guarantee failure is to not even show up. Should the occasion ever arise when I have something published, I expect to promote it at least in part through similar kinds of events, where I can meet with the public and make face-to-face connections with readers and potential readers.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you on one point and that's the allure of an actual book. I have a reader for my PC and I have read books on it. But it's a tedious activity on my eyes, my backside and other things. Unless the story is riveting, it's a lot easier for me to close the reader and forget the book is there than it is to close a physical book and forget about the book.

    There are things for book writers and book sellers to learn from the music industry, but everyone in every occupation can learn something from almost every other occupation. The real trick, as far as I've been able to see as a painter, is to find the things that work for me, my particular style and my particular subject and use them for all their worth, rather than chase after every market whim or trend that comes along.

  • J.M.Cornwell

    >The tour was brief, good records sell forever just like good books are always on the shelves.

    It's a bit harder with books, since booksellers and publishers take them off the shelves when they stop selling. Not so with records because you can almost always find the record or CD you want. I think that is one thing publishers could learn from the music business. Keeping books on the shelves instead of dumping them in landfills if they don't sell after three months.

  • Tom M Franklin

    >I would hope that the publishing industry would learn a lesson from the handling/selling/distribution of digital files to consumers from the abysmal way the recording industry continues to bungle the issue to this day.

    Tom

  • mfantaliswrites

    >What a great post and interesting comments! Two things that occur to me:

    I saw a chart not long ago showing how much a musician makes from a song selling in various formats (CD, iTunes, etc.) and was appalled. In every case, it was pennies or fractions of pennies on the dollar. I imagine it is much the same in publishing, although I have not seen statistics. Without going into a lengthy discussion of what the music company (or publisher) provides in terms of marketing and services, surely the creator of the work deserves more? Surely there is a way to streamline the corporations so that everyone can still get paid and the author/artist can see more for his or her efforts, without having to raise prices to the consumer which depresses sales.

    Secondly, when did the $10 paperback become a "bargain?" As a reader, I have to say, I'm relying more and more on my local library because I just can't afford to try out a book from an unknown author. As a writer, that breaks my heart, because I hope that someday, someone will take that chance on my book. Could the publishing industry perhaps create a two-tiered system: one level for established authors (the Steven Kings and Jodi Picoults) and another level for newbies, selling their books at a lower price with the goal of generating more sales.

  • Stephanie

    >You make a TON of great points!!!!! But the one thing you didn't mention is the next generation's love of all gadgety things.

  • Ricky Bush

    >I do think that musicians looking to land a recording contract face a lot of the same frustrations that authors face is seeking a book deal. Sometimes they have to settled for a small company when the big boys won't listen, sometimes they must just do it themselves (put their performances on youtube, website, just go digital or sell the self-productions from the bandstand).
    Hmmmm…plenty of authors have to choose option to get their work out there, also.

  • Dan Holloway

    >It's a fascinating subject, Rachelle, but I have to say I think you've set it up with misdefined terms. Yes, music has a pre-recording history of live and social; books don't – but how is that relevant? Recorded music wasn't social long before recording, as it were. It's a false comparison to compare music and books. The comparison is either recorded music vs recorded words OR music vs storytelling, and I don't need my 5 terms of Classics to know that storytelling has thousands of years of live performing and socially-oriented history before enyone recorded it.

  • Rachelle

    >Dan: You're right; I'm just trying to address the latest prevailing "wisdom" I've seen in articles all around the Internet telling us that we'd better be watching what the music folks are doing if we want to get this right. And the other articles saying that the music industry is focusing on better handling & monetizing of live events to stay in business. There are a million different ways to look at these comparisons; I just don't see that we can follow the path of the music business without some significant considerations of the differences between books & music.

  • J.M.Cornwell

    >Given the difference between the music and publishing industries, there are still some solid corollaries, and selling a product, whatever it is, is still selling. The biggest issue in publishing, and in music, too, is about who gets which slice of the pie.

    There was a big upheaval in the music industry when it came out that gold and platinum record artists were destitute, and not just because they spent it all, but also because they were given a much smaller piece of the pie and were expected to pay for some of the costs of producing records.

    Even with an agent and publisher, the author must still expend a great deal of personal effort and funds to make their books a success. More and more is being put onto the author's shoulders, but the cut remains the same.

  • Andrew

    >Maybe the best thing we can learn is how to effectively market short stories. Most agents and publishers seem to avoid anthologized short works like the plague. I don't want to sell novels for $0.99, but if I can post 'teasers' on my website and sell the rest of the story for that, I wouldn't mind.

    Short works can be soooo rich, and maybe this can point the way to reviving what seems to be a dying art form?

    Don't think this would work for poetry, as a poem really has to be experienced as a whole…maybe for epic poetry? Maybe we can revive THAT?

    Stop laughing.

  • Sarah Thomas

    >Oh, I want to see Cynthia's reality show! And I think we're a strange enough lot that we just might appeal to the public. Well, maybe we could get it on PBS.

    I also like Andrew's idea to sell short stories the same way individual songs are sold. Seriously, I can see that happening with e-readers. With the ever shortening reader attention span the short story could see a resurgence.

  • Melissa

    >Rachelle, I’m encouraged to hear you say that variety won’t go away. With all of the bookstores closing around me, I look to agent blogs to see what’s up and coming. I know which agents best reflect my taste in literature – not necessarily genres I write – and can make a better decision, as a consumer. ☺

  • Ted

    >I believe a key difference between the music industry and the publishing industry is the time it takes to consume their respective products. When I listen to a song, it takes me 3 to 5 minutes to consume that content. With a novel it will take several hours if not days for me to consume the content.

    The other key difference I see is that when I buy music, I'm more often than not buying a song I've already heard. I've determined the content has value before I make the purchase. With a book, I'm guessing. Oh, I might have read the first chapter in the store, or online , but I haven't read the whole book. I'm going mainly off my trust in the author, or the recommendation of a friend.

  • Mark Huffman

    >One difference that I haven't seen mentioned, and it's the difference that's so far kept me from purchasing an e-reader, is (recorded) music's absolute reliance on, as Stephanie said, "gadgety things." Live music is, of course, a transient medium; to be in a more permanent form, music must necessarily be recorded into a format that requires SOMETHING ELSE to actually listen to it. Records, cassettes, 8-tracks, CDs, MP3s – they're totally useless without the machines that play them.

    That's why I love a physical codex, and why I'm resistant to relying on the transmission of the printed word by an electronic product that's designed with obsolescence pre-planned. To me, the "printed book is to e-book as CDs are to MP3s" is a false analogy. A printed book is a complete entertainment package. An e-book, for all its advantages, is a player-dependent format, like MP3s, CDs, and all that came before those.

    Long story short, a bound book doesn't break, and it doesn't run out of power.

  • Jay

    >Good post! I've been involved with the music industry for about 15 years now and I'm seeing differences/similarities for show.

    One thing…

    "Revenue in the contemporary music biz has been driven by live shows more than by record sales."

    Sort of true, mostly for independent artists. Artists on mid- to large-sized label route their tours based on market sales. They're more likely to hit first the markets where they move more copies.

  • Ella Schwartz

    >While I agree with much of what you state, I disagree with one point(you know I still love you Rachelle). I think for bookstores to survive we need to focus on the social aspects of reading. You are correct… reading tends to be a solitary activity, which makes it perfect for the digital era. For a bookstore to survive, they must find that special something to bring customers through their front doors, and that will not be books alone. It is these other services – the human interaction – that will drive customers. Book talks, author signings, critique circles, etc.

    I actually had a blog post about this very recently if you are interested:

    http://ellaschwartz.net/2011/03/the-future-of-the-bookstore/

    That said, I am talking about the brick and mortar bookstore. There are plenty of other factors to consider in the book industry other than the brick and mortar bookstore.

    So now to answer your question, what CAN we learn from the music business? We need to embrace technology and not try to fight it. Books are going digital – that's a fact.

  • gedixon

    >I mostly agree… though you are still talking "Books" and maybe this very concept is on it's way to being discarded. Stories, for most of human history – like music, were live events. Homer recited the epic poems over days – live. Whether we could go back to that or whether that would ever be a revenue stream for authors or publishers is doubtful. But books will change. When you talk of itunes and buying singles of music only, well why not parts of books. Why would I not by a select chapter of a Malcolm Gladwell book or the first few chapters of a novel (before I decide to buy the whole thing). What about short stories? What about the idea that novels may become a lot shorter. Is that necessarily a bad thing. The point is, things will change. The book as we know it will change.

    I'm an author and I'm not at all afraid of that. If we can't deal with change who the hell can?

    Glenn Dixon

  • Lawrence J. Caldwell

    >I think back to my childhood and my favorite literary music classic "Peter and the Wolf". Leonard Berstein narrated the story and of course captivated me with the music he conducted. Perhaps the rejuvenation, or an attempt to test the waters of this media combo, may cause some entrepreneuring authors to take a risk. Some of my favorite music is from movie soundtracks. What if the soundtrack was written for the book first?

  • Declan Stanley

    >I think the better analogy is between books and software rather than music.
    Once ebooks become the norm for casual reading there is essentially no difference between buying books and buying software. In both cases you are buying (and downloading) a digital file that you will "run" on a piece of hardware be it your PC, phone, or ebook reader.
    As well as looking at the mistakes and successes of the music industry we need to look at the mistakes and success of the software industry, particularly computer games. Though again there are as many differences as there are similarities.

  • RobynBradley

    >This is a thought-provoking post. I do think the analogy of the decline of physical books : decline of CDs is apt, however. Sony closed its second-to-last U.S. CD-pressing plant in New Jersey last month. And CD sales have fallen by more than half since peaking in 2000. (Note: the article in the first link doesn't mention the fact that Sony now just has one U.S. CD-pressing plant, but that's stated in a tidbit in the March 25 issue of The Week on page 46.)

    CDs aren't going away, just like physical books aren't going away. (And I doubt they ever will — hey, some people still have vinyl.) But they're on the decline: people are moving to digital for music and for books.

    As always, a great post and great discussion within the comments.

  • Emily Wenstrom

    >I agree, Rachelle. There are some ways in which it makes a lot of sense to me (like paper books becoming like record album collections, a concept I love), but these are some very good observations about some critical differences between the two.

  • Claire Dawn

    >Also, a song can play on the radio and it's sort of like an advertisement of that artist. You're not going to just run into an advertisment for a debut writer on your drive home from work.

  • WordTickler

    >You know, the music industry's woes have also been felt in the movie industry. One way that the publishing industry has learned from that is in borrowing the "trailer" concept.

    More and more talented video artists are stepping over into our neck of the woods and helping our image.

    I've seen some absolutely AWESOME book trailers and expect that aspect of the other entertainment industries to continually grow in ours. Perhaps the music industry could also benefit from trailers? I know we do.

  • WordTickler

    >In fact, I'm thinking writing jingles and full-length songs about book plots and characters might be something to look into. As a musician, I do believe I'm getting excited about this!

  • stacy

    >I just saw Neil Gaiman do a reading in Chicago this week and there were about a thousand people there. Many of his books sold out (he pre-signed something like 1100 of them a day or two before). And while he did no autographs afterward, he did stay and meet anyone who wanted to talk with him and get a picture. So I do think the live performance thing can work in publishing if authors are willing to make themselves accessible and work really hard at them.

  • Shaun Hutchinson

    >I think the one point this misses is that while artists do traditionally make most of their money through live performances, many record labels do not. They make their money through the sales of CDs, MP3s and the like. So when you’re comparing writers to musicians, the comparison doesn’t quite work. But when you’re comparing Publishing companies to Record companies, the comparison is a little more apt.

  • tamarapaulin

    >I have a musician friend, so three times a day I hear publishing being compared to music.

    Me: Wah, breaking in to publishing is hard.

    Musician friend: Music is harder! At least you can query strangers and they might read a chapter. NOBODY will listen to my album unless I know someone who has an in.

  • Taz

    >Ways in which the two are similar seem to me to be that once you get a top ten or top twenty hit, people are willing to take a second look the next time you make an offering. Second, there's also word of mouth – people talk. It's a fact. If something's good enough for one trip, they'll want to go back a second time. I have books on my shelves I have read more than half a dozen times because of the same reason I have favourite movies and music – they excite and entertain. Third, if you've had a great album by either an unknown artist or a popular one, their NAME alone will get your attention. And Rachelle's right. I don't have an iPod but I do have more CDs than I can count because of how much I enjoy having something to hold, I love the covers, and I really like to read lyrics. Seeing the pictures inside the coverlet makes me feel "in touch" with the band. I love knowing what inspires people and why. Author notes, for me, are the same.

  • Rachelle

    >Shaun: The point is that, in figuring out ways to make money these days, the record companies ARE putting together new models in which they profit from live shows and merchandising. They've been saying for awhile now that it's the only way they're going to stay afloat. It's the "latest and greatest" effort to save the record companies and it seems to be working for some of them.

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