In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon interviews Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. This exchange from the Q & A is great and neatly illuminates the real seismic shift that is coming to book publishing:
JEFF BEZOS: We also have a self-service platform where small publishers or even self-published authors can put their books on themselves.
DEBORAH SOLOMON: How does that work?
JB: Basically you submit the book, you set the price for it, we charge the customer and then we give you 35 percent of the revenue.
DS: And Amazon keeps 65 percent? That sounds like a lot.
JB: Does it? You’re an author, what does your royalty check look like? Are your royalties 35 percent?
DS: No. Let’s not have that conversation.
JB: O.K., I think we’re done.
I think the future of book publishing looks more like movie-making where a group of people (writer, editor, publicist, and so on) sign on for a project, get it financed and sell it. Publishing houses still exist, but in very different form than we know them today. They are more like modern movie studios and exist mainly to provide distribution and sales support. The good news for writers is they will have a lot more control over their destinies and will realize a lot more of the revenue from their work. The bad news, for many, is they will need to take responsibility for their own success. Unlike some pundits, I think this points to a real future for smart literary agents. The best agents will morph themselves into producers who can help talented writers get financing and find the best editors, marketers and publicists to work with. Since many writers aren’t naturally good at promoting themselves this will be an important role in a brave new publishing world and one that many agents could excel at.