Saturday, June 9, 2012

Post BEA Thoughts: Generic vs. Name Brand

Image courtesy of

I didn't actually attend Book Expo America this week, but I feel like I might as well have, considering all the articles, blogs, and tweets that filled the digital airwaves.

I imagined BEA to be an amazing experience in celebration of books. Based on some of the coverage, I thought it was neat to see what kind of new books were releasing in the Fall and beyond.

But from a distance, it also kinda looked like a weird family reunion, where warring cousins put down their arms just long enough not grieve Grandma and the new in-laws were shunned. That was mostly from talks on the business of publishing and digital books. And digital books have seem to become almost synonymous with self-publishing these days, since it's a low cost platform for independent writers to distribute their work.

Image courtesy of Cheerios(R).
I don't know how it became an "us" vs. "them" thing with self-pubs and traditionals. And I'm not sure if I see the reasoning behind it still. I figured both were options, just like choosing whether to buy store/generic brand cereal or Cheerios.

But it seems like the friction between the two is getting more vehement. It's like one says to the other, "You're not a real buyer for buying cheap generic," and the other retorts, "You're an insufferable snob for wasting money on Cheerios." Alter those two statements to refer to books, and that's sorta what some of the BEA presentations and subsequent responses appeared like.

It's a little sad. It's like saying someone isn't a "real" artist because her work appears on Etsy instead of an art gallery, or that another isn't a "real" musician because he's not signed to a label. On the other side, it's like saying someone is a tool of the industry if she or he chooses to sign with a publisher or label.

Some people like generic brands and others like Cheerios. They choose the options that work for them, and there's nothing wrong with that.

I do think it's a a little weird when an author says Amazon is evil for allowing self-pubbers to flood the market with poor quality books. They can have their publisher remove their books from Amazon then, if they don't want them to sell it next to the "bad" books. It's a simple solution, isn't it?

And there are people who jump from one "side" to the other with amazing results. Some authors like JA Konrath and others started out as traditionals and then decided to self-pub, and it totally worked in their favor. Amanda Hocking, Christopher Paolini, and Beatrix Potter self-pubbed first before going traditional, and the rest is history. Others are doing both and crowdfunding through Kickstarter (for example) to get their indie projects off the line. Options!

I don't think traditional publishers are dead, and I think they'll figure out how to operate with changing business models and such. And it'll take time. After all, it takes a traditional publisher YEARS to acquire and release a book, so naturally they'll take a while to get things sorted. But I think they will eventually. I also don't think self-pubbing is a fad. It's an option that I don't think is a bad one (obviously). After all, an author gets to retain all her rights, so why should she not experiment with and exploit those rights how she sees fit?

And at the end of the day, the readers/consumers are going to be the ultimate judges when they vote with their dollars. It works that way on both sides. I don't think people have to worry about poor quality books flooding the market. (News Flash: They already have. You would've seen that straight away if you were one of the first ever buyers of Seranfyll for the Kindle :p Thank God for cool people catching typos and re-uploads.) And like on both sides, the cream is always going to rise to the top because the consumer is buying what she wants, whether generic or name brand.