So, right then, the news: Samhain is shutting down, after realizing that their sales were foundering over the last two years and they couldn’t keep up with the changing book industry.
Samhain was one of the strongest (until now) of the digital erotic romance pubs, known for a great catalog of LGBTQ titles as well as het, and a decent marketing strategy and sales record not so long ago.
I’m sorry to hear they’re folding. Samhain was one of two publishers who were considering Moro’s Price, and getting another book in front of them always been a goal of mine. There was some shuffling and downsizing at Samhain last year. I’d hoped they could regroup.
Instead, they’ve made the sane and responsible choice to end things as gracefully as possible. They are spinning down the business as contracts naturally age to a close, and using that income to help keep overhead from becoming overwhelming. (What Ellora’s Cave should seriously consider, in place of the inevitable crowing I’m sure we are going to hear. There is Bad History between Samhain and EC.)
The immediate fallout is that obvious sharks are circling, other erotic romance presses coyly trying to poach unsatisfied and scared Samhain authors right away. Other publishers are clearly declaiming their solvency and strength, so they won’t suffer by mere industry association.
It’s a precarious time. I salute Lisa Cox and NineStar for starting a new digital-only press in this market; if anyone has a chance, they do.
But across the field, publishers, agents, and authors are grimly coming to the realization that myriad forces are gathering to squeeze small presses out of existence. Possibly leaving a sea of self-published authors, and a few large corporate houses enticing the best of the self-publishers into contracts.
I have only a limited idea of the causes. To quote Mongo, I am only pawn in game of life.
Easy self-publishing is one reason, certainly. When entry barriers are low, the aggregate quality of the entrants will be lower – that is true in any industry or field, much as it is not politically expedient to say it. Barriers weed out the hapless and the hobbyist. Self-publishing has become very easy to achieve for most authors.
This leads to a rising sea of cheaply-sold self-published crap, and crap coming from vanity publishers targeting authors who cannot even navigate self-publishing. Most them seem to collect on Amazon, because Amazon’s CreateSpace platform is one of the easier self-publishing methods for beginners.)
These were all authors who might have tried legitimate small presses first, a few years ago. Most of these have no chance in hell of getting a Big Five contract, advance, and support. Some of them will make a living wage or better from self-published works. Most won’t put in the effort and money to do it right. They flounder onward with bad writing, bad (or nonexistent) editing, and bad covers, trying to make up for poor quality with $.99 books. They scry the arcane algorithms behind Amazon’s ranking system in order to game it with one scheme after another. Such authors gamble, often rightly, that readers will not only forgive bad writing…they won’t even recognize it. Amazon wins with every purchase: gaining a profit from even small sales, and grudging industry respect from resounding successes.
On the other end of the curve, the Big Five imprints are consolidating into larger and larger groups. More are closing to unagented authors, or building manageable slushpiles with limited submission openings. Advances, marketing, and print runs are lower. Contracts are often for very long terms, and grab every right available. If it was hard to get a commercial deal 15 years ago, it’s worse now. I’ve talked to senior agents who have said bluntly, “I can’t sell now what I could easily have sold five years ago, or ten.” This is the ebb tide of my title: the shrinking of the mass-market genre paperback and the relative failure of genre ebooks (except within romance) to take up the buying slack. I know at least two agents who won’t submit to purely digital Big Five SFF imprints, due to uncertain sales.
Many pro authors are diversifying in response, with a mix of commercial contracts, Kickstarter-funded co-op projects, small presses, and self-publishing. I had lunch with a veteran commercial author last week, who even before the Samhain news broke said, “Stay away from small presses, they’re going nowhere. Consider more self-publishing.” I know she is.
I think there will always be markets and readers. I just don’t know what they’ll look like, or how they can be monetized for the authors’ survival.
In three months, I’ve had nearly as many people read Bloodshadow for free on Wattpad, as read my debut ebook Moro’s Price in three years. Sure, I didn’t get paid for the former, but it is some exposure for a story that would otherwise have stayed trunked.
I’d like to stay positive about the industry, commercial and self-publishing alike. I think there is tremendous potential in each.