Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Samuel French Dabbles with Online Sales

Founded in 1830, Samuel French represents over 8,000 plays and musicals for amateur and professional performances. In addition to their website, the company also operates two art bookstores in Los Angeles and London, which carry a broad range of scripts and technical books.
This exciting new venture with Scene Partner is the next step in our growing ePlay initiative which includes almost 1,000 Samuel French titles now available in Appleā€™s iBookstore and soon on Amazon's Kindle, Nook, and multiple eReader platforms, said Kenneth Dingledine, director of operations for Samuel French, in a statement.
The first round of Samuel French titles will be tentatively released by the end of 2012. Prices for e-Scripts will range from $10.99 to $11.99, and can be purchased through Scene Partner's online store

(from Backstage). Only a few years ago Samuel French sold plays they publish though multiple bookstores of their own as well as many other stores. Now with only 2 stores of their own, and planning to sell only 1/8 of their titles online through not 1 but 2 "middlemen" (Amazon/Apple/B&N and Scene Partner) forcing the prices almost higher than the paper versions is surprising, and slow.

Very 1830s style, and in 2012 is an almost concerning trend for play publishing in the English speaking world. Or lack of a trend. The Association of American Publishers reported that in the first quarter of 2012, adult eBook sales were up to $282.3 million while adult hardcover sales came to only $229.6 million (from ZDNet). $52.7 million dollars is more than a supplemental difference to most publishers.

As I mentioned in November, their large competition is not announcing any digital publication plans beyond a minor presence on Google's e-bookstore. There is an opening in the world marketplace for e-book versions of plays and so far no company seems committed in any timely way to filling it.

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this posted by David August at 11:07 PM 

comments: I agree David, it does seem strange they have used such a clunky way of releasing digital editions.

If electronic versions become common do you think playrights will start leaving their works unpublished and just send them out personally? I do this with my classical music. If it was published, the publisher could not spend the amount of time promoting the work I can, and they could only give me 10-12% of the sales price. The other thing is I can send electronic versions out for the musicians to play through and they only pay for the music they want to play. This is particularly important when people all over the world want copies of the music.

# posted by Anonymous Ian Stewart : 12:34 AM  

It could start to erode the sales and distribution infrastructure that is part of the unique business proposition of a play publisher, and some creators may choose to distribute without a traditional publisher, but the question becomes what is the value added of a publisher. The editorial, and marketing systems already in place may be hard to replicate as an individual creator, plus being in the catalog with established and sometimes classic writers and works is unreproducible outside of a traditional publishing context right now. And the cachet of being published by a brand name publisher may affect sales and remounts of shows.

Complex decision for a creator to make.

I am not sure what the publishers would lose by digitally selling everything they sell on paper and price it such that the profit for digital scripts could be identical to the paper scripts profit. If the paper script costs x in paper, ink, printing, shipping, merchant fees and such, and the digital copy costs y in upload, q/a, merchant fees and such, seems the profit can be equalized to cover editorial, typesetting, royalties and such at some amount z. Paper scripts could be sold for x+z and digital scripts for y+z.

Not sure if momentum, tradition or some other business realities may the reason for slow embrace and multiple non-owned distribution layers.

# posted by Blogger David August : 2:14 AM  

"The editorial, and marketing systems already in place may be hard to replicate as an individual creator"

That is the crucial point I believe David. I would never self-publish a book because I think an experienced editor is essential. Fortunately with music, at rehearsals the ensemble leader or conductor will make suggestions and point out difficulties, so the music I send out has already been edited.

An objective outside eye is essential in my opinion and I am not sure complete artistic control by a creative artist is a good thing.

# posted by Anonymous Ian Stewart : 2:55 AM  

Very true. Though with many plays, the process of their first production and the changes made as they move to opening may serve the editorial function outside of and before the publishing house connects with it.

# posted by Blogger David August : 3:05 AM  

"And the cachet of being published by a brand name publisher may affect sales and remounts of shows."

Regrettably I do not know enough about plays to comment but that certainly seems to be the case. However having a play performed by a brand name company, or in a name theatre, would also enhance the playright's reputation. Ideally maybe it should be both.

Certainly if a name performer or ensemble performed your work that would be better I think than being with a name publisher, much of whose publications may be really obscure.

Incidentally I bought a classic book on Commedia del Arte at Samuel French's London store.

# posted by Anonymous Ian Stewart : 1:49 PM  

Yes, esteem can come from many places, good thoughts.

# posted by Blogger David August : 2:55 PM  

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