Yes, you can start an international business; no, it won’t be easy
The good news about the modern age is that true democracy has reached the business world. If you want to start a business with world-wide reach, you can. The bad news is that the individual is now expected to perform on that stage and the long-held support systems and business affiliations hungry for bolt-on talent are evaporating quickly. The dog-eat-dog world has moved to the Internet. Let’s take a look at books.
The concept of self-promotion has always been at the core of the dilemma facing the ART of writing. Poe, Dylan Thomas, R.L. Stevenson, Hemingway — they either encouraged self-promotion, indulged in it or pandered to it, depending on your point of view. Heck, even Keats and Milton used self-promotion.
The key element here is that good authors, solid artists all, always promoted themselves over their work. In that Stephen King and John Grisham have it right, it is about the author, not the work. What is less encouraging is that authors do not get additional pay or credit for the work they now have to do to promote the business of selling themselves and their work.
Publishers have traditionally used the “we promote you” argument to pay smaller advances, persuade authors to sign, and control the authors’ careers. Their promise of an author becoming “a Random author” or a “Harper author” has been leveraged for decades — making the author a member of the family — “of course the company will promote you and your work.” That promotion was expert and expensive, neither of which have prevailed in poor economic times and the rampant access of so-called “free” Internet publicity.
Those publisher-supported days are far and few between now and so the question has to be asked: Just what promise of success is the author getting? If it is a one book deal with a tenuous option for a second, and there is no publicity clause or promise (the author has to do it all him or herself), then why is the author not entitled as a business to have the means ($) to undertake this traditional publishing role themselves? As a business matter, such a contribution is an important part of any joint venture (between the author and publisher).
On the other hand, viral media and self-promotion can be learned, can be effective and are now part of the job of being an author. So it all boils down to a new negotiation, with one side doing less and the artistic side having to do more. Set royalties and advances are off the table. It’s a new world and new business models have to be applied.
But this is not so easy for established publishers. Even if both sides have to wake up and smell the future, the problem is that publishers need to avoid falling into the accountants’ trap of equating potential profit with a traditional model of amortization of costs. That’s not how it works any more even if publishers are moaning, “But we have an infrastructure that we have to support.”
Yes they do; outdated infrastructure and business models. And that traditional business model is what is preventing many publishers from engaging new talent, finding tomorrow’s winners. They simply cannot work out the business model with more risk, especially if the new authors want a larger slice of the pie (given all the work an author has to do in self-promotion).
This same business model is playing itself out across America and the world. Finding the new Internet promotional platforms (public relations and advertising) is easy, leveraging antiquated profit and loss planning to meet the higher risks of a global market is much less certain. And that uncertainty is what causes much new innovation to come out of a garage and not a well-funded corporate research and development program. In the past decades IBM spend 15 percent of turnover on Research and Development, now they spend less than 1 percent —- and they are surprised to be losing market share?
In this brave new world, innovation, personal responsibility for personal outreach, and a new business paradigm are the only means to an effective outcome. The business model needs to be tailored to the business of one to one, not the traditional business model of the multi-national corporation.
Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.