Publishing’s Dirty Secret (Yes, Another One)

There has been a lot of interest in, and condemning of, paid-for publishing of late. (I was going to add, ‘discussion around’ as well but when I thought back, I realised that there hasn’t really been any discussion at all, just poorly-qualified reports from industry organisations, and unsubstantiated tweets stating authors should never pay, so I refrained.)

Anyway, if you’ve read any of my other posts on the subject you will know that I firmly believe that paid-for publishing is an area fraught with problems and one that desperately requires some sort of regulation, but the conversation around who pays for publishing (if there were to be a conversation) would be an interesting one.

Because something that is rarely mentioned in publishing is just how many small- and medium-sized independent trade publishers rely on other funding just to exist. They are simply not making enough money from book sales, so if they are to be a ‘successful’ publisher they need some kind of external funding or income that will support them to do that. Isn’t that crazy?

Sometimes it’s Arts Council Funding (or similar), sometimes it’s a partner or spouse paying the bills, sometimes it’s the publisher themselves taking on other work to pay those bills, sometimes it’s a publisher relying on cheap labour via internships and work experience placements to take pressure off their bank balance. Either way one thing is clear, it is very often not the publisher funding the books they publish.

Money, and the making of it, is seen as somewhat distasteful in publishing. I think it harks back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, when publishing was largely a gentleman’s industry. Something to keep the upper-middle classes busy; gentlemen with a private income and a few hours in the day to fill before they headed for their gentleman’s clubs for an afternoon whisky.

I’m not saying they weren’t brilliant publishers and businessmen. I’m saying they didn’t have the stresses and strains of trying to earn an income on top of the stresses and strains of running a publishing business. It’s a lot easier to be successful if you have a cash cushion to fall back on and this is as true today as it was then.

So, although it is true to say that paid-for publishing is an area wide open to exploitation, and an area that really should be regulated in some way (I’m working on it!), it seems to me that there is very often someone other than the publisher paying for their books to be published, and that this is something that really isn’t talked about.

Why is that?

#business #publishing #secrets #money #funding #hybrid

1 comment

  • Foremost it is the writer, who, let’s say, spends years writing a novel. Unless the story hits a timely node, combined with a lucky connection, a sponsor, or a passionate small publisher, it will always be the writer whose time and effort dissipates like water into parched ground. Small publishers are to be admired for promoting a writer, since it’s often a toss of the dice game.

    Ashen

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