A Dying Industry?

01 postcards (28) pBuggy whips, anyone?

I look at the book business the same way I look at the movie business. The people who ostensibly hold the reins are scared to death of making a mistake instead of being enthusiastic about discovering things. As I have said many times, in 1976 a little known movie idea about a boxer got turned down by every studio, until Sylvester Stallone got lucky and caught a break. His groundbreaking movie “Rocky” went on to win best picture.

Subsequently, a slew of Rocky – very rocky – sequels.

But the film industry has always been lazy, relying on blockbuster books to give them their blockbuster movies – and even then they usually messed them up. Even if they do accidentally make something original, they whore it into a franchise. They’d rather do Rocky 9 than risk their cash on anything new again.


With basically NO competition, the movie industry still managed to put out mostly duds. Once they used up successful books and successful Vaudeville acts, TV came along and nearly obliterated them.

I’m sure you know who Tom Brady is, quarterback for the New England Patriots. He was a sixth round draft pick. That means every team in the National Football League (NFL) passed on him five times in the draft. He’s considered the best quarterback in the league and maybe one of the best of all time – and nobody in charge could see that on draft day.

Same thing. The old systems don’t work.

The metrics used in the publishing business have always been wrong. The difference is, when a really, really good book got passed over by a publisher, it had nowhere to go, and so no one ever heard of it. The books they picked, since there were no other choices for anyone else, tended to do well –if they were marketed well.

I could have picked QBs by how cute their butts were and done a better job.
I could have picked QBs by how cute their butts were and done a better job.

By that standard, it means those guys have no idea what to do.

How do we know this?

There is a cautionary stat that most traditional book authors will tell you, so they obviously got it told to them by their publishers, which is something along the lines of: advances to authors are low because most traditionally published books don’t earn back their advances.

The translation of that to me has always been, the people who pick the books really suck at their jobs.

Just like the people who pick quarterbacks for the NFL.

Luckily, we have a place to go.

Indie, baby. Avoid the gate keepers protecting the dying world.

Ten years ago, having a title with a traditional publisher was a mark of validation. Five years ago it still was. Ten years from now I’m not even sure the traditional houses will exist. They certainly won’t exist in their current form.

I can't guess wrong!!
I can’t guess wrong!!

Today, in that in-between phase, where they are not yet the buggy whip manufacturers of our time, they rely on agents to find books with an existing market, to go to retailers with a pre-designated spot in a shelf.

Fill the shelf spot. That’s the game. What’s trendy? Can we get more of it?

The problem is, while trad publishers take two years to fill a spot that existed today, indie authors are stealing the customers and making new spots. It’s a game the trad houses can’t win so they don’t play, and they become less and less relevant. We know this because LOTS of their big names are leaving them.

The writing’s on the wall.

And we’re the ones who scribbled it there.


Your humble host.
Your humble host.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Check out his other works HERE.

Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 50+ titles published in more than 120 countries and over a dozen languages.

13 thoughts on “A Dying Industry?

  1. But, Dan, even you seem to agree that being published by traditional publishers is a mark of validation!!
    Yes, it still is. No matter what we say, it still is. Of course, I see your point about them choosing the wrong ones almost every time, but hey, it was how the market used to be. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Illusions, Zen and the art of Motorcycle maintenance (I cannot believe I read it when I was so young.. and erghh.. not now). Times change, tastes differ and some of us might even become dinosaurs in another age when the tastes do not favour us. Still, there is something to be said for traditional publishing. I am well aware how liberating it has all been for indie authors, self-publishing authors and all that. But may I ask you if the inherent value of the content has actually become better at all? I see thousands of books every day, based on whatever theme is currently the hot topic and I say this with all my spider-senses tingling that a thousand people are about to pounce on me… I am sick and tired of teenage vampires, magicians, sorcerers, werewolves, romances, erotica and the kind. I might sound like an irate old Tyrannosaurus, but there it is. I just cannot stand it anymore. Do you see any decent humour any more? Do you see good literary fiction any more? Do you see epics these days? It is all about fulfilling the need for personal fantasies, getting lost in frivolous little escapades. You will probably tell me that is entirely the purpose in the first place – but hey, look at the most liked movies in Hollywood and you really have to think there is something wrong with the viewers. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how these top 250 movies even existed, let alone be so popular. So what this liberation has actually done is make it a level playing field in the other way. Real talent becoming obscure with idiot authors flooding the market every single day with thousands of insipid, mindless books.

    Lastly, publishers are in the business of making money, it seems to me, and I guess they always worry whether a fad would remain or pass by soon enough before they could exploit it enough. So when they tarry and hesitate and go “harrumph” over the selections, the fad would have changed. I know it is the age of instant gratification, but you do agree there was a time when it was far more mellow and every action, every word was given deep consideration. I miss those times, for sure. And I do understand the world has changed. But I don’t have to like it very much 😀

    I am sorry for this harangue. Not hectoring here, nor trying to prove how much of a dinosaur I am. 😀 Especially since you are so encouraging to new authors and those aspiring ones (and you do a good job of it too, which I am grateful for) and my message here must sound terribly wicked and cynical : “Please don’t inflict your books on us, we are drowning in them… please do not write about more vampires, more shades of grey, blue, red, black or whatever.. please stop tormenting us with half-baked plots and terrible grammar and absolutely horrendous twists and illogical dialogues and plot-points. Please, you are killing us all”.
    Oh well! There, I am done.. now you are free to rip me apart !! I lay me down at your feet, having done my good deed for the day (towards myself) and ranted enough. Catharsis!! hahaha.. sorry, Dan.. just had to explode some day.. sorry it had to be here..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t disagree with most what you’re saying, but the difference is, the actual readers are getting a chance to decide what is passable and what is crap, not some low level agent or executive. I make fun of teenage vampire movies, too, and the deluge of crappy copies is embarrassing, except to say people obviously liked the first book enough to be inspired. When I was a kid, some books and movies inspired me, too, and I’d have written a dozen sequels to whatever I saw in the theater or read in the library.

      The good stuff gets a chance to rise to the top in ways it never did before.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks.. and I am sorry for the long rant.. And yes, Dan, ideally that should have happened – the cream rising to the top. But it depresses me that most times it gets lost in the churning below 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A friend from high school worked for Sony and then for Samsung for a while. I was talking to him about how glacially slow the trad process is. Blew his mind. “We go from concept to product in six months,” he said. “How does it take 2-4 years to print words on paper?”
    It is amazing that it takes that long, and I think the problem is resources but also drive. Harper Lee’s new book seemed to happen overnight after it was found in a desk. Trad publishers bank on known names. Everyone else isn’t a risk – they’re a calculated loss. That “the majority don’t make back their advance” stat exists for a reason. But it’s because they’re dumping their resources into those names. They’re not just looking for the next book that fits into a tidy box. They’re looking for the next big name, and who can predict that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m slightly sympathetic. By the end of this month it’s possible I’ll have three books all ready to release: Poggibonsi, a romantic comedy; Stinky Toe, an illustrated children’s book; and a marketing series (2 books with a 3rd on the way). It isn’t smart to release them all at the same time even though they are not competitors for each other. I can’t feasibly promote three books at once. However, if i were to stagger them by 2 months each, I would be able to manage it much better – and that means a book that’s ready “now” will be released six months from now.

      If anything were to happen in between, like a better book getting finished and me feeling the market was ripe for it, that might push the six month book back to eight months. Suddenly a publisher with resources to spend but a budget to deal with, make sense when it takes 2 years.

      But I could also release all three books October 1.

      So while I’m sympathetic, I’m also pragmatic. I will benefit me to have a book coming out every 60 days while I write to hit the next self imposed deadline and don’t get overwhelmed with too much marketing.

      I’ll end up promoting a book I haven’t read in eight months, I’m sure, but I think I’ll remember it okay, and I can move it up if I want.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dan,
    You had me at Rocky! Sylvester would not sell the script unless he was able to play the role of Rocky. It was such a risk for him, but one that definitely paid off. The rest is history. I seriously doubt that movie would be made today. Too much of a risk. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to go to a local film festival, you know that some of the most interesting films out there now are small budget, indie films that most people will never hear about. It’s the same for some talented fiction writers. And don’t get me started on the talent in the music business. The raw talent in street musicians in my town will blow you away, but they will never get a “deal” because they don’t look the part. Too much of a risk.

    Now, excuse me while I go jog around the office.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So true! As a matter of fact, over 95% of advances are never earned back by the publisher. Also, when the author is 100% responsible for the promotion of the book why would anyone use a publisher? With print on demand and digital reader options the publishing houses offer nothing but a temporary ego boost of “you like me, you really like me…” followed by the train wreck of giving your power away.

    Liked by 1 person

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