It's been interesting for me to read the recent posts by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Katheryn Rusch and Lawrence Block, because they're all basically saying that, at this point, they wouldn't bother to traditionally publish a novel. This is definitely a shift--before they were of the "Why not keep a foot in both camps?" mentality, but now they're saying, gee, the contracts are really bad and the money really sucks and there aren't actually any advantages to being traditionally published.
And I've had a similar shift: Obviously, on a personal level I had already decided against trying to be traditionally published by a small press in favor of self-publishing, but when someone like Amanda Hocking got a traditional publishing contract, I said rah-rah! There were people whose reactions were more like, OH NO, but I thought they were being unduly negative.
I think, though, that it's more a reaction to recent events, and their implications.
Event #1: The DOJ's agency-pricing lawsuit. What bothered me about this was just how stupid the publishers were. They did something that was quite obviously illegal, and they did it very publicly. And now, predictably enough, they're going to have federal prosecutors climbing all over them for years to come, which is not going to be good for business.
And why did they do it? Well, the world was changing, and they couldn't cope with the changes.
Do you how bad that is for a business? What this means is that they looked at the future, and they saw no room for themselves. They looked at industry trends, and they looked at their own particular business model, and they said, "Holy crap, we're going to go under."
That is their take on the situation. They are expecting disaster. And what they did in their panic can conceivably only make that disaster worse.
I don't know about you, but I'd rather not sign a long-term contract with a company that believes it is going to go under, especially since, if they do, I may never get my book back. They may be wrong about their prospects, but it's never a good sign when a business is expecting the world to end.
Event #2: The IPG/Amazon debacle. Seriously--your publisher's choice of distributor could cause you to lose half your income? How the hell can you protect yourself against something like that? You could do background checks until the cows come home and it's not going to help you. "Hey, Ted, don't worry, we've been in business for 40 years, we're very respectable, and our distributor is a totally above-board industry leader. Oh, sorry about those Kindle sales--sucks to be you! Good luck with the foreclosure!"
Event #3: Gee, we can't sell your book after all! Yeah, Boyd Morrison--he may not actually have to pay back that advance, but it's hardly a happily-ever-after ending here, is it? More importantly, it points to the serious limitations of traditional publishers--with their high costs, they can't afford moderate successes, and they can't reliably create major ones.
Event #4: Math is your friend. Oh my God, the post I did guesstimating Stephanie Meyer's share of the Twilight money in 2010. Holy crap. What's the upside supposed to be, again? Against all odds, you write a huge blockbuster and your publisher keeps 90% of the money, if not more? Isn't this the reason pimping is frowned upon?
And don't say, "Well, she got $21 million, she should be happy!" ("Yeah, bitch, you got your 10%!" Slap!) There is a pot of money there. It exists. The question is simply, how should it be divided? The $160 million Meyer's publisher took did not vaporize or go to charity or anything--it went into the pockets of publishing company executives and shareholders, who have no greater moral or ethical claim on that money than the woman who created those books out of thin air.
And now it's occurring to me that Sarah Hoyt said all this better when she noted that "you don’t have to be in that van. . . . You don’t have to diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie." (Just go there and read the whole thing. It actually makes perfect sense.)