The Good, The Bad, The Same Song & Dance.

John Locke has just made a deal with Simon & Schuster to distribute his eight Donovan Creed novels to the print retail market.

The interesting part about this is that this is said to be a distribution only deal, not publishing.  The details have not been made public yet, so its likely we don’t know the whole story.  However, to have one of the Big Six to do a print only deal in a world of  no ‘print only’ deals strikes me as a pretty big shift in big pubs line of thinking.

No.  ‘Big shift’ is accurate.  It may be more like a last gasp to buy them time as they try to tread water, trying to keep from drowning in failure of their dogmatic business model.

My thoughts on this deal:

The Good:

  • If this is truly a ‘distribution only’ deal, Locke should retain control of his material. 
  • His work is introduced to the print book hold-out demographic that would rather die than read a book that didn’t have paper pages that they could smell, caress, dog ear, cut themselves on.

The Bad (I preface this by saying the specific details of this deal have not been released, so some assumptions are made on my part):

  • Locke’s agent negotiated this deal, which means she probably has her hands in the money needlessly.  (Why Locke is using an agent in this publishing environment, is beyond me.  An IP lawyer can do a better job and do it less expensively in the long run).
  • The deal was probably unnecessary if I understand the objectives correctly.  I expect Locke could get the same amount of exposure in the print market going direct through Amazon and B&N.  It would take longer, of course, and he wouldn’t get a big shot of money up front.  But how many times have we said self-publishing is a marathon, rather than a sprint?

The part that illustrates why the more publishers change, the more they are trying to remain the same:

  • Mike Shatzkin wrote a well-reasoned article about this deal.  But his last paragraph is telling of Big Pub’s objectives (as I see it)

“The model of “self-publishing through a major house ” can be a workable one for all sides if it is restricted to authors whose commercial appeal has already been established. Since all the major houses have distribution deal models, it might not be long before there’s a person at each one assigned to making sure that authors and agents are as well taken care of as “clients” as they were in the past working through their editors.”

What he says here, without realizing it, this is a way for Big Pub to play on the false notion that a writer is not a success until they are in print because THEY will RESTRICT this arrangement to authors that are ALREADY commercially appealing.  And “making sure that authors and agents are as well taken care of as “clients” as they were in the past working through their editors” sounds a lot the current Big Pub practice of handling everything for the writer and rewarding the creator with a pittance of an advance and a joke for a royalty rate while they hold rights to the material for way too long.

But we’ll see how it goes.  I believe John Locke is smart enough to avoid these pitfalls, but that’s not to say that some other commercially successful self-publishing author might not get sucked into the same trap.


About Thomas J. rock

Writer of Science Fiction

Posted on August 22, 2011, in The Daily Grind and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. You beat me to it Jack. I was shocked, well, glad, to see a deal like this because I’ve been hearing that publishers would never separate ebook rights from print rights, almost as if that is the last straw that will break their backs. Now, John Locke has sold a million or more books than I have, but it still sets precedent. I hope this sort of thing moves forward because one thing authors seem to need help with is distribution. No one wants to haul 500 copies of their books in their car, and store them in the garage. Why did Michael Sullivan sign the Orbit deal for “less” money? Because of distribution. If he signed a deal like this, I wonder if it really would have been less money, probably not. I think all authors should have erights and publishers should stick to what they bring to the table, which is distribution. If they want to do it with returns and all that poor management, then fine. In spite of that they probably make more money than I could selling print books. What do you think?

    • Big Pub does have the distribution channels that make it appealing and as long as its distribution only, Big Pug will stay in the game for a bit longer…at least until the market share for print holds out (that time is running out faster than they think.) But I can still see where this type of deal is a means to nurture an updated version of the agent/publisher system where there are multiple unnecessary middlemen waiting to get a piece of your pie. Writers need to make sure they don’t lose sight of the fact that Big Pub is NOT required to be successful, as long as we don’t get sucked right back into the same vicious cycle. George Lucas had the right idea after Star Wars became a success. He didn’t mind releasing the sequels through 20th Century Fox. But he wanted to be in control of his work, so he financed the rest of the movies himself and took advantage of Fox’s distribution.

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