I realised yesterday, with a strange, contrary mix of emotions, that I now have more people subscribed to my book club than Fairfax has journalists on its payroll. A lot more, actually. The latest round of layoffs, another 120 jobs to go out of an already shrunken newsroom would have landed as a heavy blow in Sydney and Melbourne. I have no idea what effect the cuts will have in Brisbane, but I can’t imagine we’ll dodge the bullet again. It’s not just the newsroom, of course, the freelance budget has also been slashed. You can expect a lot more opinion pieces on the op-ed page to be written by politicians, lobbyists and the various urgers and bagmen pimping for vested interests and what they used to call in the 1930s “the money power”.
My Saturday morning column in the Herald was cut two weeks ago, although there was no announcement made. Wendy Harmer spilled the beans when they gave her the arse as well. It was gratifying to be a trending topic for a couple of hours as readers vented their anger, and then moved on to the next outrage-of-the-moment. As the media world contracts, I can feel my own acceleration away from it gathering pace. This has been coming for years, and I’ve been preparing for it for a long while now, but of course doing everything it just the right moment is a matter of timing.
I sat down to do some schedule planning yesterday morning, before the Fairfax announcement, looking at which books would be finished when, and even more importantly at what point they might start turning a profit if they’re ever going to. It looks like Cairo should be ready for distribution to bookclub members by mid April. It’ll be free and exclusive at jbismymasternow.com before dropping into the online retailers. But it’s not really meant to make money directly, simply to drive subscriptions to that mailing list.
The first real pay day comes with the launch of the two Hooper ebooks, A Protocol for Monsters, and A Soul Full of Guns, most likely on May 30. Given the way ebook payments work, I’ll probably see a return from them in September. Before then, of course, I have to cover the costs of production from my own pocket. Each novella length title, averaging 30-35K words, costs about two grand to drop into the channel. Stronghold, the first full length novel I’ll publish myself will probably top out at $3K+.
I have no idea what happens next at Fairfax, or whether I’ll have any part to play in it but I’m pretty sure that ten years from now my media commitments will be zero.
That’s why I’m sucking up the pain of building an independent income stream through my own ebook line. It is painful and difficult to do while managing the collapsing business models of old school media and book publishing, but the prospects for turning it into a sustainable business are a lot better than simply sitting in place and wishing for the best.
I’ve been pondering where the Burger sits in all this. It doesn’t have the firepower of Twitter or Facebook for channelling traffic and generating sales, but it does have a role to play. It’s a kind of complicated role, actually. In one sense it’s a simply place to retreat, like the bar in Cheers where everybody knows your name. We have a lot of social capital invested here, a lot of trust built up. That’s why I’m comfortable calling for Beta readers here, for instance, but nowhere else. If I did the same thing anywhere but the Burger, I am certain the raw drafts of those ebooks would be in the wild within days.
The Burger also gives me somewhere to write things that need more than 140 characters, on topics that would make most readers outside this joint scratch their heads. The people who follow me in the wider realm of social media have no interest in discussing things like naval strategy or a submarine program – not unless it’s to complain about all the kindergartens you buy for the cost of a Collins boat.
Finally, the blog can and does work to build the mailing list and provide a place for me to sell books directly, or at least via associate links to collect a little extra cream off the cover price. I’m talking to Dan about redesigning the site to foreground this stuff in the near future. He’s done yeoman’s work in the background getting a store set up. I’m not ready to cut the ribbon yet but for anyone interested you can have a look here.