Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Publishers Offer of Real-Time Data a Good Thing?

posted by Ken

The NY Times is reporting that three of the Big 6 publishers will provide real-time book sales numbers to their authors:
Three major publishers said on Wednesday that they would allow their authors to access book sales data directly online, a move that appeared to challenge Amazon and its continued efforts to woo authors.       
The three publishers are Simon & Schuster, Random House, and the Hatchette Book Group. All have all committed to creating author's portals for accessing the data.

According to the Times' Julie Bosman, the publishers hope that the new services: publishers strengthen their relationships with authors who have expressed frustration at the difficulty of getting up-to-date sales information. In the absence of data from their publishers, many writers turn to Amazon, which last year began giving them access to data from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 75 percent of print sales.
Too much of good thing, or not enough?

I applaud publishers for making changes in response to what writers are expressing they want, but I would caution them to be prepared for skepticism. For too long they have ignored the will of their clients, who are fleeing for reasons beyond ready access to their sales figures. While this is a move in the right direction, it will likely provide only mild relief to those who feel they've been slighted by the megalithic publishing machinery.

There's also the risk that writers, having up-to-the-minute access to their numbers might now be constantly reminded of the relatively small royalties they are making compared to what they might get going indie or publishing through one of Amazon's imprints. This, I think, is a bigger problem for the publishers to address, and they've been strangely mute on the subject. A little good will in that regard will go a lot farther than simply providing authors with what they should have been getting in the first place.

Finally, is this really what writers need? Haven't we already got too much to obsess about without having the urge to constantly refresh our author portal page to see if we've sold yet another copy of our book?

Access to the data is wonderful, but I fear this move may end up cutting both sides of the table in ways unexpected.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope this goes a long way toward rebuilding relationships. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if writers see this as a crack in the wall and begin pounding harder. Maybe this is the opening salvo in a building battle between writers (and their agents) and publishers. Or the first retreat. Then again, wither of those things would be a good thing.

What do you think? Is this a good move? Does it go far enough?

Here's a link to the article:
The NY Times reports three of the Big 6 publishers will provide real-time book sales numbers to their authors.

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