"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan
"Before the year is out"
Sound familiar? A little Chicken-Little-ish? If it doesn't, you probably haven't been listening. For that matter, you probably haven't been listening for at least 100 years...
Some trivia - for his first novel, Charles Dickens ultimately received (pound symbol) 400 - which works out to about $240,000 in modern money, give or take. He was paid per installment, in 20 installments of (pounds) 20 each - which works out to about $12,000 a month over 20 months. For his first novel. By comparison, today a first author is doing very well to earn $5,000 total for a first novel. So clearly the cost of paying authors is not the reason why publishers are "rooned".
Some of the other Doomy Doom Doom of Doom cries include "people don't read any more". Sarah's dissected that one a few times, exposing it for the fowl clucking calumny it is. The equation there is pretty simple. When schools use reading to punish - or worse, to push 'worthy' views - schoolkids get fed a turgid pile of alleged message fiction which is worse than sappy Victorian message fiction. At least that had a happy ending. When editors insist of 'proper' messages, well... if the gatekeeper insists on something that isn't what the consumer wants, the gatekeeper gets it - but the consumer stops buying the product.
There's always the Doomy Doom Doom of Doom falling sky myth of "circumstances beyond our control". Let's see... what's outside publishing control when it comes to books? They can't do anything about the cost of paper. They can't control shipping prices outside a fairly narrow band. They can and do control what they pay authors, which of the umpteen gazillion submissions they buy (this is why they're gatekeepers), what they promote and the like. They can control whether a book gets into a bookstore and how many copies get there. They can control end cap displays (by buying them). And there it ends. They can't control whether or not Joe Browser actually decides to pay for the book.
Oh, yes. They can also control (and do) what data outsiders get to see. It's generally assumed that publicity costs are averaged across all books even though they're incurred by a handful of them - because that particular accounting bucket allows publishers to keep more authors effectively "in their debt" and therefore psychologically if not also financially dependent. When an author needs their publisher more than the publisher needs that author, the publisher holds a lot of power - and we all know about power and what happens when people have it.
Ebooks are the current Doomy Doom Doom of Doom du jour - that's been covered all over the place on this blog. Personally, I think the real reason for the Chicken Little act is the effective disintermediation. An author can sell directly to a reader, and leave out all those intermediaries taking their cut - no bookstore, no distributor, no publisher, no agent... Just the author, the website, and the reader. And the website can give the author accurate numbers of sales, broken down by zip code if the author really wants. The data is there - if you're selling off your own site, you can set up to have it. If you're selling through something like Amazon, you may or may not get all the details, but you can bet your boots the site has it.
The question is... are we following Chicken Little clucking about the falling sky, or are we the fox? Or is the sky really falling and we're all Doomy Doom Doom DOOMED! (Or rooned, said Hanrahan).