Publishing advances are payments a publisher pays to an author when it agrees to publish a book. In most cases advances are only made to established authors though new authors may receive a small advance if they have a book that really seems to be destined for stardom. The amount of advances a publisher will pay is based upon the author and the book’s potential thus the reason established authors can receive a contract and advance based solely on a book proposal.
Publishing advances can be a bad thing in the event that the book turns out to be less popular than the publisher expected. If you are paid an advance of $10,000 and the book doesn’t generate royalties that come even close to the amount of the advance, the author will not receive any royalties until the advance is utilized. In some severe cases the author may be asked to return the advance if sales turn out to be severely less than original projections. Unfortunately there is no way for a publisher to know how well a book is going to sell; all he has to form an opinion is previous sales by the same author and previous sales of books in the same genre.
Readers are very fickle and what they make enjoy one day they may abhor the next. For that reason it can sometimes be difficult for a publisher to project accurately how well each book it contracts will do. All they have to utilize is past experience, but if the market changes that means next to nothing. Market trends are very changeable and even volatile, so authors have to be on the lookout for sagging sales even in genres where they have previously done extremely well.
The print market is becoming changeable and volatile, too, because of the use of both eBooks and POD publishing methods. Though it is doubtful the print book will ever become obsolete, more people are turning to eBooks and buying from publishers using POD that the bookstores are often forced to carry less inventory than they did in the past. For the author that means less chance of seeing their books in bookstores but more of an opportunity to sell online. Some publishers are even adding CD versions of books to give readers an opportunity to listen to audio versions of popular books as they drive.
Will the changing technology eliminate the need for publishing advances? It is too early in the century to know for sure, but most people believe there will always be a demand for the printed book. After all, not everyone is interested in eBooks though few would dispute the feasibility of the POD publishing industry. As long as there are printed books, there will be a need for publishing advances. Indeed printed books have been in existence for centuries and will not likely diminish any time soon. As long as authors are still seeking publication publishing advances will remain a part of their contracts.