The Future of Hybrid Authors + Who Influences Our Purchases [Smart Set]

Smart Set

Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I curate new smart reads about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.

“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams

Must a Writer Go Hybrid for Higher Income? by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Established author—and longtime blogger in the writing community—Elizabeth S. Craig writes that, as of 2013, her self-published books are earning more money than her books with Penguin. She then lists the benefits of having a traditional publisher, and says those benefits for her are “winding down.”

Questions raised:

  • Like many hybrid authors, Craig established her readership in part by having a traditional publisher, and now she can reach that readership directly on her own. How many authors have the temperament of Craig and will decide that once their readership is established, their publishers don’t offer enough value? (I should note here that a strong commercial fiction factor is in play; genre fiction enjoy the best e-book sales because their reader numbers and consumption are high. Literary fiction authors really aren’t going to be asking these questions, not for a long time.)
  • What is the likelihood that publishers will raise e-book royalty rates in light of the above? What other ways could they remain attractive?
  • What if Amazon decides to drop their royalty rate from 70% to 35%? Will publishers become more attractive?

Newspapers Are Dead: Long Live Journalism by Ben Thompson

This is the third part in an excellent series at Stratechery discussing the future of news, journalism, and newspapers. While many would like to believe that “quality” will win the day, Thompson provocatively points out that quality journalism is largely irrelevant to the financial well-being of news organizations. It’s not all doomsday, however; Thompson points out the silver lining, primarily that there’s still a (large) audience for journalism, and every writer out there has the potential to reach that audience with free distribution and sharing tools. He offers up potential business models for the future, which are ripe for debate.

Questions raised:

  • How much journalism in the future will happen through big organizations/corporations versus individuals or small endeavors?
  • How quickly and how successfully will journalism transition to subscription- and reader-based revenue models rather than advertising models? How quickly will advertising plummet for legacy news orgs—and is native advertising a stop-gap measure rather than a long-term solution?
  • How will business models differ between the general-interest news gathering operations versus niche/specialized areas? It seems quite easy to predict the success of subscription-based models around special-interest areas, or topics with high value to the reader (financial and business news, for example). Perhaps general-interest news gathering or news brands will dwindle down to a handful of big, influential brands, e.g., The New York Times and The New Yorker?

US Consumers’ Biggest Purchase Influencers by Marketing Charts

I discovered this through Peter McCarthy’s Twitter feed (@petermccarthy)—a great follow for any author who’s interested in digital marketing.

The graph you’ll find at the link confirms some of what we already know: word of mouth is the No. 1 influencer of purchases. What’s more interesting and maybe surprising is how the rest of the list stacks up:

  • “An online review by someone you do not know in real life” ranks several influence points higher than a magazine ad.
  • Ads delivered by social media platforms are near the bottom of the influence list, only beating out video game advertising and a text-message ad (the worst purchase influencer).
  • An e-mail from a company or brand ranked below newspaper ad, but above radio and in-theater advertising.

Questions raised:

  • I would love to see how this chart may have changed over time. Has social media advertising gone up or down in these rankings? Have traditional media ads declined over time? I couldn’t find any comparison data.

What questions (or answers) do you have? Share in the comments.

Posted in Smart Set.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Peter TurnerpdraggonVirginia LloydJane FriedmanWilliam Ash Recent comment authors

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How quick will journalism transition? I suspect about as quick as traditional publishers are transitioning to the digital age.

William Ash
William Ash

I think the hybrid situation is just a factor of authors thinking in terms of revenue streams. It is showing the authors are becoming more like business people rather than content providers. This is good.

The last section on influencers raises an interesting question about social media and strong and weak links. Does social media have to be active–direct engagement through places like Twitter. Does passive social media like blogs have the same impact?

Virginia Lloyd
Virginia Lloyd

Great to see this Smart Set series, Jane. I find the marketing charts problematic for a couple of reasons. The main one is that consumers are notorious for denying that advertising influences their purchase decisions, as well as for underestimating the influence of any particular channel. We don’t like admitting that advertising influences us at all. But often it’s the advertising that irritates us which does nudge us along the influence-purchase decision chain. That is why “charity muggers” are so prevalent in public places — even though most of us loathe them, they are effective at attracting donations (a kind… Read more »


I think Amazon would be unwise to drop the royalty rate. They are kicking ass and taking names as it is. I would think that many authors would simply turn to selling their books DIRECT from their websites – taking a 100% royalty – or the door would open to a new source who would step in and give a higher royalty, leaving Amazon with 100% of…nothing.

Peter Turner
Peter Turner

Gotta be very careful how you interpret this sort of consumer-reported data. For example, in order to be influenced by something, a consumer has to experience it and either be influenced by it or not. They need to be able to recall and attribute what influeced them, and honestly. Was it the “last touch” that influenced them or the “first touch.”