Last night's Literary Salon featured Moira Forsyth, a Scottish writer who works as a commissioning editor for a small Highland press called Sandstone. It was interesting hearing the perspective of a publisher (with a vested interest in making money) who is also an author. She was kind enough to talk with us about the writing side of things, but what was perhaps more interesting was the publishing business model, and why this business is so layered and complex, especially for smaller presses.
The big realization for me was that Amazon takes 60% for every book it sells. If you think about how heavily discounted Amazon books are, and subtract 60%, it's no wonder publishers are searching frantically for other ways to make money. Big chains such as Waterstones here in the UK take 45-50%, and independent bookshops take far less. Yet another solid reason to continue supporting your local, independent bookshop, especially for books from small presses.
(Side note: check the imprints of the books in the front of the store at a chain bookshop. Not a small press in sight. 3-for-2, 'bestsellers' - paid for by the publisher. As are many of the blurbs you read on the back or front cover.)
Moira then segued into the financial side of things: You pay Amazon their 60%; you also pay the cover designer, the typesetter, the printer, the copyeditor, the editor, and if there's any left over, the author. It's no wonder small presses sell out to the big boys. And it reiterated the respect I have for smaller presses around the world, those which manage to survive because they are incredibly picky with the books they choose and because the books they choose are adored by readers. (Look at what a certain bespectacled boy wizard did for Bloomsbury.)