Do You Need a Publisher Anymore? Hachette and J.A. Konrath Duke It Out

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

With self-publishing tools proliferating and traditional publishing business models in flux, authors, agents and book-industry observers have been increasingly debating the relevance of publishing companies.

In his obituary to the year-long Domino Project, Seth Godin wrote that publishing companies and other traditional players that do not adapt to new modes of doing business will go extinct. Others have suggested the same.

Meanwhile, some authors like J.A. Konrath and David Gaughran have eschewed traditional relationships with publishers to create and distribute their work on their own. In the aftermath to the Book Country self-publishing tool launch from Penguin, some outspoken critics took the announcement as an opportunity to question publishers’ relevance.

Hachette Book Group, one of the world’s largest publishing companies, has a response. In a document leaked to Digital Book World by someone inside the company, Hachette outlines just why publishers are relevant. The company has shown the document internally to employees and externally to a limited number of agents and authors.

“You have to take a long look at what you’re up to and how you’re changing and adapting,” said a Hachette executive who preferred not to be named and who confirmed the authenticity of the document. “We’re all trying to come up with good messaging.”

The executive explained that the document is a continual work-in-progress and would evolve as the publishing business evolved.

Konrath, the self-published author, wrote us a point-by-point response to the Hachette document. In addition, he wrote us his advice to publishing companies explaining how they could “start actually being relevant.”

Konrath has been an outspoken member of the self-published author community and has authored and self-published several successful titles; he has also published traditionally with Hachette.

Read his response to the document below here: J.A. Konrath Responds With Advice for Publishers

The Hachette document in its entirety below:

“Self-publishing” is a misnomer.

Publishing requires a complex series of engagements, both behind the scenes and public facing. Digital distribution (which is what most people mean when they say self-publishing) is just one of the components of bringing a book to market and helping the public take notice of it.

As a full service publisher, Hachette Book Group offers a wide array of services to authors:

  1. Curator: We find and nurture talent:
    • We identify authors and books that are going to stand out in the marketplace. HBG  discovers new voices, and separates the remarkable from the rest.
    • We act as content collaborator, focused on nurturing writing talent, fostering rich relationships with our authors, providing them with expert editorial advice on their writing, and tackling a huge variety of issues on their behalf.
  2. Venture Capitalist: We fund the author’s writing process:
    • At HBG we invest in ideas. In the form of advances, we allow authors the time and resources to research and write. In addition we invest continuously in infrastructure, tools, and partnerships that make HBG a great publisher partner.
  3. Sales and Distribution Specialist: We ensure widest possible audience:
    • Weget our books to the right place, in the right numbers, and at the right time (this applies equally to print and digital editions). We work with retailers and distribution partners to ensure that every book has the opportunity to reach the widest possible readership.
    • We ensure broad distribution and master supply chain complexity, in both digital and physical formats.
    • We function as a new market pioneer, exploring and experimenting with new ideas in every area of our business and investing in those new ideas – even if, in some cases, a positive outcome is not guaranteed (as with apps and enhanced ebooks).
    • We act as a price and promotion specialist (coordinating 250+ monthly, weekly and daily deals on ebooks at all accounts).
  4. Brand Builder and Copyright Watchdog: We build author brands and protect their intellectual property:
    • Publishers generate and spread excitement, always looking for new ways make our authors and their books stand out.  We’re able to connect books with readers in a meaningful way.
    • We offer marketing and publicity expertise, presenting a book to the marketplace in exactly the right way, and ensuring that intelligence, creativity, and business acumen inform our strategy.
    • We protect authors’ intellectual property through strict anti-piracy measures and territorial controls.

Related: Is Seth Godin Right About Publishing? | J.A. Konrath Responds With Advice for Publishers | Exclusive Q&A With Hachette Digital Chief Maja Thomas

Hear more insight into what publishers have to say and about the future of the book business at Digital Book World Conference + Expo 2012, this January 23-25 in New York. More>>>

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

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4 thoughts on “Do You Need a Publisher Anymore? Hachette and J.A. Konrath Duke It Out

  1. GP

    I’m not sure I agree with Hachette Book Group’s supposition that they aggressively protect their authors from piracy and the like. I’d bet that most of their works could be found as downloads, unless they’re a small and relatively unknown company. I expect that’s the only way to be protected from such theft: being unknown.

  2. Kabashi

    You have taken the “words” right out of my mouth. I can’t enjoy a really good book anymore because, like you have stated, many publishing house have copy cat books already marketing in store shelves. For instance, when twilight came out, there have been at least eight other book alike twilight about vampires, werewolves, etc. And don’t get my started about the remake of the “book” with different cover, graphics, etc. The industry just killed themselves and only thinking about money, money and more money.

    And as for those who wanted to go the route to publishing their own book, the author have to consider the notion of how to market, publish and get recognition of the book out to the public. As digital technology is becoming more advance, it is easy for some to just “copy” the author book and make money off them from their hard work.

    There isn’t really a wrong or a right way to handle publishing, marketing and pricing the books. It have to come down to how the author write their stories.

  3. pacanime

    Well big publishing houses have basically shot themselves in the foot. Don’t get me wrong. They had the ability to rule the roost for years uncontested. But now, I find more often than not, that the droves of books on shelves in bookstores to be copy cats of one another. The editors heads got so big, they think they know what’s best for everyone out in the market. It makes sense that the publishing houses would have to make arguments to justify their exsistence. But they sound a lot like the same arguments the record labels made when they were forced to adapt to a more competitve format. In reality, publishing houses, treat most authors poorly. They recieve the manuscripts, may or may not respond. They may just throw it in the trash without a second look. Call me funny, but I don’t know why I should waste my time going through that if I could self-publish. No headaches. No whiney editor. More control. Where’s the downside?


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