Sunday, August 17, 2014

Konrath's Advice to Publishers

Over four years ago I wrote a blog post about ebooks:

Joe sez in May 2010: I'd always assumed that print publishers would begin to lose market dominance once ebooks took off in a big way, and they'd have to either restructure or die.

But now I'm predicting another death for them.

What is going to happen when authors stop sending their books to publishers?

If I know I can make $100,000 on a self-published ebook in five years of sales, and I have the numbers to back up this claim, why would any informed writer--either pro or newbie--ever settle for less?

The dominance of ebooks is coming. I have no doubt. But I always thought it was the readers who would lead the charge, based on cost and convenience.

Now I'm starting to believe that the ones with the real power are the ones who should have had the power since the beginning of publishing. The ones who create the content in the first place.

The authors.

It's a wonderful, dynamic, empowering time to be an author. For the first time, we can command our own ships.

We're the ones who write the books. We can reach readers without any gatekeepers at all. And we can make money doing it.

The print publishing industry's biggest fear shouldn't be the eventual dominance of ebooks over print.

Their biggest fear should be not having any books to publish in any format, because the authors all wised up.

Joe sez in August 2014: This prediction hasn't happened yet. There are still boatloads of authors sending publishers their books.

But www.AuthorEarnings.com is revealing how many authors aren't going with legacy publishers. As a result, publishers actually believe ebook sales have plateaued.

Ebook sales haven't plateaued. They've plateaued only insofar as legacy publishers can track them.

The Big 5 are looking at their own sales and seeing plateaus (or at least that's what they're reporting). Major bestselling authors have already peaked with Kindle.

They believe this is universal, because their own data is limited. They can only rely on their sales, and Bookscan, which doesn't report sales without an ISBN. I've sold over a million ebooks without ISBNs. I'm not the only indie author who doesn't care about ISBNs. I'm part of a shadow industry that the legacy industry is ignoring at their own peril.

I foresee publishers collapsing. As ebooks continue to eat away at the paper market (again, this is happening even if publishers aren't seeing it and/or admitting it), a death spiral will occur.

1. Bookstores stock fewer books.
2. Publishers buy fewer books from authors.
3. Bookstores stock fewer books.
4. Repeat until bankruptcy.

Authors, slowly but surely, are wising up. Diehard legacy authors who snubbed self-pubbing have come over to the dark side and are making money (money that goes unreported to Bookscan.) Many authors, both newbie and pro, aren't bothering to submit to publishers anymore. There may still be enough submitting that publishers don't see a difference, but it really doesn't matter if they notice it or not. They've always rejected 99.99% of the books that come across their desks. If a publisher has 100 slots to fill in a given year, I'm betting it doesn't matter to them if they had 10,000 submissions or only 2000.

It does, however, matter to authors. Because every author that doesn't submit to publishers (or is rejected by publishers) then becomes another revenue stream that publishers haven't tapped into.

The market is getting bigger. Publishers aren't seeing it, because their sales remain flat. But in a growing market, that's almost the same as sales diminishing.

In short, their market share is getting smaller, bit by bit. Like the proverbial frog swimming in a kettle, not noticing that the water temp is going up one degree per hour. Froggy will eventually boil, and not understand what happened.

I personally don't believe publishers will survive. I can't see them moving to Jersey for reasonable rent, which I advised two years ago, let alone completely changing their business model to adapt to the changing tides. But, as a thought experiment, I wondered how I'd react if I controlled one of the Big 5.

Hugh Howie had some very smart blog posts earlier this year on this same topic, and he echoed a lot of things I've said in the past. His suggestion that hardbacks come with free ebooks (which Harpercollins is now doing) is something I said directly to HarperCollins editors at the Google Conference back in 2007). This was before Kindle, and before they were widely called "ebooks" (I called it "digital text"). Hugh discussed more favorable contract terms (I've pointed out at length the unconscionability of legacy deals in 2012), and about eliminating returns (I mentioned this in 2006, along with using POD and giving authors higher royalties.)

Hugh also mentioned some things I didn't, like instant access to sales data and monthly royalty payments, which I agree with. It's amusing that both Lee Child and Douglas Preston have admitted that they can contact their publishers at anytime and get their sales data, but the rest of us have to wait 18 months to get an accurate sales figure.

But besides everything I've said in the past, and the things Hugh has said, how would I save publishing? What would my business plan be?

1. Immediately abandon the paper midlist.  Unless the book can get into Wal-Mart, it shouldn't be published in paper via offset printing.

2. Separate the company into paper and ebook divisions. The paper division will have two segments: mass market and deluxe hardcover. The mass market can be sold anywhere. Deluxe editions will be priced as luxury items, $40 or more. They'll be printed on acid free paper with embossed covers, come with downloads for the ebook and the audiobook, and be the collectible than many readers demand.

The ebook, mass market paperback, and hardcover will all come out at the same time. No windowing.

3. Offer new or midlist authors a $10,000 stipend. This isn't an advance, and doesn't have to be reimbursed by the author. This is more like a signing bonus. In return, the author will sign an author-friendly contract that gives the publisher rights to ebook, paper, and audio for 5 years. As soon as the books start selling, authors start earning money. After the 5 year period, the rights revert back to the author, or the publisher can continue to publish the work if both parties agree and another bonus is paid.

4. Give authors 50% royalties on ebooks. Since midlisters and newbies won't get paper editions, they should get more for their ebooks. That, plus a $10k bonus, should keep plenty of quality authors submitting rather than self-publishing. POD can also be ordered by bookstores for all titles, with authors getting a 25% net royalty rate. 

5. Monthly payments and 24/7 access to sales data. Nuff said.

6. Ebooks are priced appropriately. If the ebook is no longer competing with paper, publishers should be able to find the sweet spot for sales.

But here's the really cool part:

7. When ebook sales hit a certain threshold, the author will be put into the paper distribution division. The books that do well will then get the current title (or the next title) into brick and mortar stores as mass market and deluxe hardcover editions. So authors are rewarded for decent sales with an additional revenue stream, and publishers will only offset print books by authors that the public has been proven to enjoy.

Right now, the only advantages big publishing offers over self-pubbing are the advance, and the ability to get paper books onto shelves.

This model eschews the advance for a signing bonus (and $10k is much less than a print run would cost so it saves the publisher money), and paper books are reserved for authors and titles that have been shown to sell.

Naturally, publishers should also do many of the things Hugh and I already said, like move to Jersey and eliminate non-compete. But this seven step program is the minimum publishers can do to save themselves. If they listen to me, they'll continue to attract authors. $10k isn't chump change, and the carrot on the stick is getting onto bookshelves everywhere.

Of course, publishers aren't going to listen to me. They're so busy worrying about holding onto their paper oligopoly, they're losing thousands of authors to self-pubbing, and losing a shit ton of money by inflating their ebook prices. Rather than let the customer choose the format they'd like to read, publishers are continuing to try and force the customer to read what they tell them to, at the prices they tell them to. In an open source market, this approach isn't sustainable.

What I predicted in 2010 is already happening, and the trend will continue. The pie is growing. Publishers' market shares are not. I don't see B&N being around much longer, and when they disappear the midlist will, too. Readers will be forced to accept ebooks if they want to read their favorite midlist authors, just like every household with a VCR had to get a DVD player to enjoy new releases when they stopped putting them out in VHS format. That will also shrink the bestseller paper mass market. Once a reader has a Kindle (or Kindle app on their tablet) they won't be buying from the bestselling paperback racks in airports or in supermarkets. The laggards who stubbornly refuse to give up dead trees won't be around forever, and we have an entire generation right now learning how to read on electronic devices who will consider paper quaint when they start buying books, like my generation views 8 track tapes.

Or maybe I'm wrong. After all, what do I know about predicting things?

Monday, August 11, 2014

William Ockham Fisking Michael Pietsch

William: In case you haven't heard, Hachette (US) CEO Michael Pietsch is sending out a response to the emails he's getting. DBW has it: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/hachette-ceos-response-to-amazon-advocate-emails-why-we-price-books-the-way-we-do/

As you might imagine, I have a few comments:

Thank you for writing to me in response to Amazon’s email. I appreciate that you care enough about books to take the time to write. We usually don’t comment publicly while negotiating, but I’ve received a lot of requests for Hachette’s response to the issues raised by Amazon, and want to reply with a few facts.

• Hachette sets prices for our books entirely on our own, not in collusion with anyone.

William: Seriously? This is how you start? That's a bad strategic move because you lied about not colluding in the past and you never apologized for it. We all know you colluded. You know you colluded. You may think that this statement is true because you aren't currently colluding with anyone, but until you admit that you colluded in the past, it's just bullshit. And, by the way, you best be careful. Any evidence of coordination with your former co-conspirators will land you back in court. The evidentiary requirements for antitrust collusion is really low. Even coincidentally ending up with the same proposed terms as other Big 5 publishers could be trouble. Recycling the same old price list that you and your co-conspirators adopted in 2010 seems like an astoundingly bad idea.

• We set our ebook prices far below corresponding print book prices, reflecting savings in manufacturing and shipping.

William: I decided check. I picked James Patterson's "Invisible" because Patterson has been one of your most vocal supporters and is your top-earning author. The list price for Patterson's book in hard cover is $28.00 and the ebook list price is $14.99. That seems like a big difference, but you and I know that's not the whole story. The price you charge retailers for the hard cover is about $14 and you charge them about $10.50 for the enook. That will have a big impact on the actual price the customer (you know, people like me) would pay. But it's even worse. Your position (as articulated by your boss Arnaud Nourry) is that you want to compel retailers to charge the full $14.99 for the ebook version. The actual selling price of the hard cover version of "Invisible" is $16.80 at Amazon and B&N online. One of the "sanctions" that you complain about below is Amazon charging full price for the print edition of your titles. The next time you write a public letter, could you explain why it's terrible for Amazon to charge full price for a print edition and terrible for them to charge any less than full price for an ebook edition of the very same book?

• More than 80% of the ebooks we publish are priced at $9.99 or lower

William: I'm calling bullshit on this. Maybe 80% of the ebook titles published are priced below $9.99, but that's just irrelevant. Far less than 80% of your ebook unit sales are for titles priced at $9.99. Another thing you can add in your next email update: What percentage of your ebook unit sales occur at prices above $9.99?

• Those few priced higher—most at $11.99 and $12.99—are less than half the price of their print versions.

William: See my comments above. That's disingenuous to say the least.

• Those higher priced ebooks will have lower prices soon, when the paperback version is published.

William: WTF? What does the paperback version have to do with the price of the ebook version? That makes no sense at all. Does the ebook version get cheaper to produce and distribute when the paperback comes out?

• The invention of mass-market paperbacks was great for all because it was not intended to replace hardbacks but to create a new format available later, at a lower price.

William: Wow. If that's your position, you should be windowing ebooks like you do paperbacks.

As a publisher, we work to bring a variety of great books to readers, in a variety of formats and prices. We know by experience that there is not one appropriate price for all ebooks, and that all ebooks do not belong in the same $9.99 box. Unlike retailers, publishers invest heavily in individual books, often for years, before we see any revenue. We invest in advances against royalties, editing, design, production, marketing, warehousing, shipping, piracy protection, and more. We recoup these costs from sales of all the versions of the book that we publish—hardcover, paperback, large print, audio, and ebook. While ebooks do not have the $2-$3 costs of manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping that print books have, their selling price carries a share of all our investments in the book.

William: Blah, blah, blah. Don't you guys get tired of this line of argument? I'm sure tired of pointing out how completely bogus it is. But since you are the CEO of a big publishing company, I assume you know a little something about economics. Let's talk about the marginal cost of production. The short version of the definition is that it is the cost of producing one more unit of something. The marginal cost of producing one more print book is the cost of producing a single copy of a POD book. The marginal cost of producing one more ebook is $0. There are some transaction costs associated with selling that additional unit, but they are less than the transactional costs of selling the additional unit of a print book. And let's not forget that print books have resale value that ebooks don't. I've done some economic modeling of this and I find that the difference in price between a hard cover and an ebook version of the same title would tend towards about $5-$7. That's the price differential that would maximize revenue and sales across a broad range of titles. Interestingly enough, that's about the differential that Amazon is arguing for. That's not really surprising to me because they are a retailer with lots of data on book sales. Here's the crux of the matter. The market doesn't care about your costs or business model or expense allocations. They are irrelevant. Hachette has a very high cost structure for producing ebooks. In one sense, Amazon is doing you a favor, long term, if they force you to confront that reality now.

This dispute started because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves. Both Hachette and Amazon are big businesses and neither should claim a monopoly on enlightenment, but we do believe in a book industry where talent is respected and choice continues to be offered to the reading public.

Once again, we call on Amazon to withdraw the sanctions against Hachette’s authors that they have unilaterally imposed, and restore their books to normal levels of availability. We are negotiating in good faith. These punitive actions are not necessary, nor what we would expect from a trusted business partner.

William: Good luck with that. These so-called sanctions are permitted by your contract with Amazon, right? I mean, they must be because you've never claimed that they can't do this, just that they shouldn't. If these things are so terrible, why didn't you negotiate with Amazon to prevent them from pulling these shenanigans? One more thing. If you are worried by Hachette's authors, why didn't you take Amazon up on their offer to compensate them? It's beginning to look like the harm to your authors is something that you aren't willing to address. Other than by whining.

Thank you again and best wishes,
Michael Pietsch

William: Just to be clear, the comment about recycling the price list is important. In the Apple agreement with Hachette in January 2010, the customer price for ebook versions of new releases with hardcovers costing $27.51 - $30 was $14.99. Patterson's book costs $28 and the ebook list is $14.99. What a coincidence.

Friday, August 08, 2014

David Streitfeld - An Embarassment to the New York Times

Barry sez: When it comes to Amazon and Hachette and all that, there’s just too much partisan posturing posing as journalism to tackle, and most of it Joe and I ignore. But in his latest New York Times blow job to big publishing, anti-Amazon activist David Streitfeld jumps so far over the shark that we had to mock his tendentiousness, which was excessive even by Streitfeldian standards. Joe, what are you drinking?

Joe sez: I'm drinking a 1921 Dom Perignon at my summer palazzo on the Canal Grande in Venice.

Oh… wait a second. I don't have a palazzo. Or a 1921 Dom.

So I'm just having Jack Daniels, straight, in my townhouse, trying to dull my brain enough to deal with what has to be the stupidest, most biased, poorest excuse for journalism I've ever read… and I've got a poster of Bat Boy from the Weekly World News hanging in my basement.

Barry sez: Hah. We’re just teasing Preston, who tries to paint himself as an aw, shucks regular guy but who “summers in this coastal hamlet… set on 300 acres that have been owned by the Preston family for much of the last 100 years.” All of which sounds about as blue collar as it gets! Why would anyone suggest this guy is of and for only the one percent of authors?

As for my libation tonight, I’m just having a Fat Tire ale. My second, to ease the pain.

Okay, let’s get this over with…

First, I want to emphasize something we mentioned in yesterday’s post on James Patterson’s CNN opinion piece. Which is, publishing darlings like Preston and Patterson get easy access to all the establishment media they want. Last month’s fawning (and tendentious) Preston interview was by Vauhini Vara in The New Yorker; today it’s Streitfeld in the New York Times. And on Sunday, Preston et al will buy a ton of coverage with an $104,000 ad in the New York Times, for which the Streitfeld piece reads like a coordinated warm-up.

Joe sez: I'm sure Streitfeld's lips firmly stuck to Preston's ass for this entire article had nothing to do with Authors United dropping $104k on that ad. Because, you know, such a high-minded reporter could never allow a conflict of interest to get in the way of his intrepid search for the facts.

Barry sez: Oh come on, the New York Times covering a hundred-thousand dollar ad in the New York Times can only be pure coincidence!

But yeah, drop 100k on an ad, and maybe you can expect a little additional coverage to get thrown in at no extra charge. Also, establishment figures are just drawn to establishment figures. It’s like dogs sniffing each other’s butts -- they can’t help it, it’s what they do. It’s part of how establishments perpetuate themselves. Why else do “experts” who’ve been repeatedly, catastrophically wrong continue to get invited onto all the networks to opine about war and peace?



NYT: Out here in the woods, at the end of not one but two dirt roads, in a shack equipped with a picture of the Dalai Lama, a high-speed data line and a copy of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” Amazon’s dream of dominating the publishing world has run into some trouble.

Joe sez: I love how right away, Preston -- who as far as I know has never said a single thing that was correct or defensible on this issue -- is immediately linked with the Dalai Lama and Thoreau.

Because, you know, a rich, reactionary author protecting his self-interest is the modern-day equivalent of a reincarnated spiritual leader who unified Tibet and a transcendental abolitionist.

Wait… I'm getting ahead of the article.

Barry sez: No, I love that opening, too. Of all the things that must be strewn around Preston’s coastal hamlet garret, those are the two Streitfeld thoughtfully chose to emphasize. It was beautiful! But where was Preston's copy of The Teachings of Ghandi?

Also, note the slick way Streitfeld eases in his opinion that Amazon must be motivated by the desire -- no, more than desire, a dream! -- of “dominating the publishing world.” Not to make money with lower prices, greater selection, improved efficiencies… nothing like that. It’s all about [cue scary music]... Aspirations of World Domination!


This is another one we wrote about yesterday, and as we said there, it’s practically a staple of the Amazon Derangement Syndrome crowd. For people like Streitfeld, that Amazon might, like other companies, be motivated by business reasons and not some cartoonish Dr. Evil imperative of World Domination isn’t conceivable. Certainly the possibility is never entertained; Amazon is Evil And Wants To Take Over the World is just a constant, background, unexamined axiom, one of those things Streitfeld simply knows and which therefore require no evidence.

NYT: Douglas Preston, who summers in this coastal hamlet, is a best-selling writer — or was, until Amazon decided to discourage readers from buying books from his publisher, Hachette, as a way of pressuring it into giving Amazon a better deal on e-books. So he wrote an open letter to his readers asking them to contact Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, demanding that Amazon stop using writers as hostages in its negotiations.

The letter, composed in the shack, spread through the literary community. As of earlier this week 909 writers had signed on, including household names like John Grisham and Stephen King. It is scheduled to run as a full-page ad in The New York Times this Sunday.

Joe sez: The letter was also thoroughly fisked by me and Barry over a month ago.
Preston never responded. Nor did he respond to the many other times we took him to task.


Because we all know that the one thing you should never do, when you're right, is defend your position.

But then, when did Henry David Thoreau ever engage in open debate? You know, other than that time he gave those public lectures after being arrested for not paying his poll tax because that money financed slavery. What was the name of his collected speeches?

Oh, yeah. Civil Disobedience. It's like Thoreau has been reincarnated, and Preston is carrying on his unselfish message of social change. The people's champion, here to serve the needs of the many via tremendous courage and self-sacrifice.

I mean, look at all he has to lose by bad-mouthing his own publisher? Hachette could easily retaliate by…

Oops. Forgot. He's not bad-mouthing Hachette, even though they've been stalling in negotiations with Amazon since January (way to report, Streitfeld!) because they currently have no contract with Amazon (glad you mentioned that as well, Streitfeld!) and want to keep ebook prices high (that's the trifecta of ignoring important facts surrounding this story, Streitfeld! Congrats!).

Barry sez: We might call such journalistic magnificence… “Streitfeldian!”

Joe sez: Of course Doug isn't bad-mouthing Hachette -- Hachette is his publisher, and bad-mouthing them would be risky.

Barry sez: Yes, Preston knows he can do or say anything, and Amazon won't retaliate. Unlike his forebear Thoreau, he's taking zero risk.

Joe sez: It's all so reminiscent of Walden, I think Thoreau has a potential plagiarism suit.

NYT: Amazon, unsettled by the actions of a group that used to be among its biggest fans, is responding by attacking Mr. Preston, calling the 58-year-old thriller writer “entitled” and “an opportunist,” while simultaneously trying to woo him and his fellow dissenters into silence.

Barry sez: Credit where due: Preston has done a nice job of propagating that “woo him into silence” meme. But what I always wonder is this. Why is it a bad thing that Amazon, which has no direct relationship with Preston, has reached out to him? And why is it a good thing -- how can Preston be proud -- that he’s “not even in contact” with his own publisher on this matter? Wouldn’t he like to find out from his own publisher what this dispute is about (he admits he doesn’t even know himself)? Why doesn’t Streitfeld think to even ask about any of this?

Either Streitfeld is stunningly incurious for a reporter… or something else is going on.

Anyway, I don’t know why anyone would call Preston entitled. Everyone knows that’s only readers. And it’s not as though Preston worries, in this very article, “What if Amazon says, ‘Why should we sell Doug Preston’s books? He’s a thorn in our sides.’ Guess what? All this [the coastal hamlet and spacious and splendid house, presumably] goes away.” Because, absolutely, Douglas Preston has a right to have his wares stocked by all retailers, no matter what. Don’t we all? What’s entitled about that?

Joe sez: And "wooed into silence." Amazon, in a self-serving display guaranteed to provoke disgust, tried to bribe Preston into shutting up by offering to help the authors Preston said were being harmed.

Way to misrepresent, Streitfeld! Amazon reaches out to Preston to work with him and address his concerns, and they are accused of trying to silence him. And Preston stupidly, selfishly, and instantly rejects the proposal, perpetuating the harm that his letter allegedly is trying to stop.

Preston's monumental ignorance is only overshadowed by Streitfeld's terrible reporting.

NYT: Mr. Preston is unswayed…

Joe sez: Because why let logic, facts, and common sense get in the way of righteous indignation backed by collective narcissism and self-entitlement?

NYT: “Jeff Bezos used books as the cutting edge to help sell everything from computer cables to lawn mowers, and what a good idea that was,” [Preston] said. “Now Amazon has turned its back on us. Don’t they value us more than that? Don’t they feel any loyalty? That’s why authors are mad.”

Joe sez: Amazon has turned its back on you, Doug?

Uh… didn't Amazon contact you directly several times? Didn't Amazon propose three solutions for compensating authors during these negotiations with Hachette?

NYT: Amazon has been forced by the controversy to shed its longtime practice of refusing to comment on anything. Asked about the writers’ rebellion, it issued a statement that put the focus back on Hachette, bringing up the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Hachette and other publishers in 2012: “First, Hachette was willing to break the law to get higher e-book prices, and now they’re determined to keep their own authors in the line of fire in order to achieve that same end. Amazon has made three separate proposals to take authors out of the middle, all of which Hachette has quickly dismissed.”

Joe sez: Streitfeld didn't link to Amazon's statement (why am I not surprised?), didn't mention Amazon's point about the terribly low royalties Hachette pays its offers, and missed a huge opportunity to question Preston on the collusion suit Hachette was involved in.

Don't journalists have some sort of rudimentary rulebook or minimum list of standards they can fall back on to remind them of things that should be obvious?

I'm floored by the level incompetence here. Is there something like an Anti-Pulitzer we can nominate Streitfeld for? Some equivalent of the Razzie Awards for reporters?

Someone needs to send Streitfeld a snorkel, because he's liable to drown in his own BS… unless the shame of his epic failure to act even remotely like a journalist kills him first.

NYT: Mr. Preston pointed out it was Amazon that put the authors in the line of fire in the first place. Russell Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president for e-books, has called Mr. Preston twice in recent weeks, trying to get him to endorse the company’s proposals to settle the dispute, as well as to pipe down. The most recent proposal would have Amazon selling Hachette books again, but with Hachette and Amazon giving their proceeds to charity.

Joe sez: How hard is this to understand? Douglas Preston doesn't have a contract with Amazon. He has a contract with Hachette. It is Hachette's responsibility to make deals with retailers so Preston's books are widely available.

It is not Amazon's responsibility to carry Hachette's books if the two companies can't decide on terms. Yet Amazon is STILL carrying Hachette titles, even though their contract expired back in April.

Amazon didn't put any authors in the line of fire. Hachette did. Believing otherwise is textbook Stockholm Syndrome.

NYT: No thanks, Mr. Preston said. A proposal that weakens Hachette by cutting its profits was not in the interests of Hachette’s authors.

Joe sez: Except for those authors who wanted to take the deal. Authors who don't have a coastal hamlet.

How many Hachette authors signed Preston's letter? Can someone with more patience than I have check on that?

Or couldn't Streitfeld have done so? He’s a journalist, right? That thing is kind of his job. Or couldn’t he at least have an intern look into it? Wouldn't it be interesting to know how many authors Hachette publishes vs. how many signed that asinine letter?

NYT: But he took the opportunity to ask Mr. Grandinetti why Amazon was squeezing the writers in the first place.

His response, according to Mr. Preston: “This was the only leverage we had.” Amazon declined to comment.

Joe sez: Hmm. Russ Grandinetti said the only way to compel Hachette to negotiate at all was to remove pre-order buttons and stop discounting and stocking quantities of Hachette titles.

Consider that for a moment. Amazon has no current contract with Hachette. Couldn't Amazon have removed all of Hachette's titles? Why didn't Amazon use that as leverage? Amazon is the bad guy here, right? Wouldn't a real bad guy do that?

Barry sez: Yeah, I don’t know how you can reasonably say that Amazon has been other than remarkably patient, using only the most graduated leverage, and only in response to Hachette’s ongoing non-responsiveness even after the expiration of their contract. But then again, I don’t have an entitlement attitude...

NYT:It’s like talking to a 5-year-old,” Mr. Preston said. “ ‘She made me hit her!’ No one is making Amazon do anything.”

Joe sez: No one is making Amazon do anything, including carrying your titles, Doug. But they still are.

Barry sez: I’ve heard Preston say this in probably a half dozen different interviews. I know he’s very fond of it, so I wish someone would explain to him it’s both a nonsequitur and a straw man. Neither Amazon nor anyone else is claiming that someone “made” Amazon do anything. The question is, what is a retailer supposed to do when its contract with a supplier expires… and the supplier refuses to negotiate a new one? We’ve asked this question of Preston many times and he’s never even attempted to answer it.

And shockingly, ace journalist Streitfeld doesn’t think to ask something similar himself. He just enables the glib “five-year-old” dodge… and continues with the lovefest.

NYT: No one is making Mr. Preston do anything, either. He dismisses Amazon’s suggestions that he is a “human shield” for Hachette, one of the Big 5 publishers in the United States. He and the other writers say they are acting independently. Most, in any case, are not published by Hachette.

Joe sez: See my comment above. If most aren't published by Hachette, could there be some reason more Hachette authors didn't sign that letter?

How much digging would it have taken to contact a few other Hachette authors and ask why they didn't sign? Or how they felt about Amazon’s multiple offers to have Amazon and Hachette compensate them for any losses -- the offers Hachette and Preston keep dismissing out of hand?

Barry sez: In fairness, he was pretty busy taking notes about the Dalai Lama and Thoreau.

NYT: Mr. Preston is not sure how he has found himself in charge of a group calling itself Authors United. “I don’t like fighting,” he said. “I’m a wimp. When the bullies in seventh grade said they would meet me in the parking lot after school, I made sure I was nowhere near it.”

Joe sez: But damn anyone who takes away your hardcover discounts, huh Doug? That's when it's time to make a stand.

NYT: “We feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want,” the letter states.

Joe sez: For the umpteenth time, Amazon isn't blocking the sales of books.

Barry sez: And as for “preventing,” it’s almost like Amazon has the Mystical Power to Stop People from Buying Books Elsewhere. A power they nefariously wield by directing Amazon customers to other stores!

Seriously, that Streitfeld enables all this totally uncritically is just an embarrassment. I want to avert my eyes… but luckily, I’m on my third beer, and that’s helping.

NYT: Some writers wholeheartedly supported the letter but were afraid to sign, Mr. Preston said. A few signed it and then backed out, citing the same reason. The Times ad, which cost $104,000, was paid for by a handful of the more successful writers.

Barry sez: You almost get the feeling the great, silent majority of authors are behind this thing, don’t you?


NYT: The Times ad, which cost $104,000, was paid for by a handful of the more successful writers.

Barry sez: Along with the adoring interviews these guys receive practically on command, they can also afford to buy whatever media attention they want. James Patterson made $94 million in a year. A cup of coffee is more of an outlay for most people than a full-page NYT ad is for Preston’s group -- a group that’s in any event already saturated with fan fic like Streitfeld’s.

The fight between publishing reactionaries and publishing progressives is far from equal. The good news is that the forces of publishing progress have on their side both numbers and coherence. Over time, I’m confident numbers and coherence will prevail over money and star power. But it’ll require commitment, because a defining characteristic of all establishments is that they will never reform without a hell of a fight.

NYT: Amazon supporters point to a rival petition on Change.org. It is a rambling love song to the retailer. Signers sometimes append invective decrying the New York publishers for having the audacity to reject novels. “There is something wrong with a system that picks those who use their elitist ideas of art to choose who is published,” reads a comment.

The petition has 7,650 signatures. By comparison, a 2012 Change.org petition calling on Amazon to ban the sale of whale and dolphin meat drew over 200,000 signatures.

Barry sez: This is when Streitfeld really hits his full partisan stride:

* A letter that gets 909 signatures warrants a NYT headline; one that gets 7650 has no independent significance, but exists only as something “pointed to” by “Amazon supporters.”

* A letter that gets 909 letters “spread through the literary community;” one that gets over 7650 is merely a “rambling love song” (truly rich, from the guy who wrote this blow job of an article… seriously, would even one thing have read differently if it were a straight-up Hachette press release?).

* Preston’s letter doesn’t even allow for comments, which is par for the course among publishing reactionaries; for the other letter, our dispassionate reporter searches among thousands of comments for one he thinks is weak and makes sure to mention it (though is the comment really so weak? If legacy gatekeepers aren’t letting one manuscript through for every thousand they reject, why are they called “gatekeepers”?).

*A letter that gets 909 signatures stands alone; one that gets over 7650 must be compared to another letter on a totally unrelated topic that got far more. Did you catch that? The relevant Streitfeldian comparison isn’t between an anti-Amazon letter with 909 signatures and a pro-Amazon letter written in response that garnered 7650; it’s between the pro-Amazon letter and some unrelated thing Streitfeld managed to dig up about dolphin and whale meat.

Oh, and the best part? All of this is progress for Streitfeld! Seriously, he’s actually showing some improvement compared to his last outing...

My favorite part about the dolphin thing, BTW, is imagining Streitfeld sifting through scores of Change.org petitions until he found just the right one to try to make the pro-Amazon petition numbers seem unimpressive. Now that’s Streitfeldian!

Really, it’s as though Streitfeld writes a whole article about the massiveness of some guy’s four-inch manhood, and then grudgingly, almost as an aside, mentions that, well, okay, there was this guy John Holmes, who was, admittedly, like three times bigger -- but then immediately goes on to note that, of course, by comparison to the Washington Monument, which is over 500 feet, Holmes’s endowment wasn’t really all that.

Joe sez: The Streitfeld. Maybe that could be the name of the reporter Razzie Award equivalent…?

"And the first Streitfeld Award for embarrassingly partisan reporting and a shocking lack of journalistic integrity goes to… Streitfeld! How incredibly Streitfeldian! Who could have predicted this, other than anyone who can read above the second grade level?"

I apologize. That last joke was insensitive to second graders. But I am semi-serious about an award for bad journalism. Because there is a journalistic code of ethics. Someone really ought to read this to Streitfeld:

The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility.

Barry and I aren't journalists. We're more like op-ed columnists. But we always try to back up our views with data and logic, and we constantly pressure check our integrity. My blog does not claim "All the news that's fit to print". We don't pass off our biases as news and file them under Technology (the section the Streitfeld piece ran in). And we don't get paid for blogging.

The NYT should be ashamed and apologetic for running Streitfeld's nonsense and calling it news.

Barry sez: Yeah, it’s not easy to distinguish between Preston’s paid ad and the coverage the Times offers him on top of it.

Pro-tip for the Times: this is not something to be proud of.

NYT: Mr. Preston is not one of those writers who checks his Amazon ranking on a regular basis, or even totes up his sales. He would rather be writing. But he recently thought he should get some numbers from Hachette. They came in the other morning, and they seemed worth sharing with his wife, Christine.

About half his book sales used to come from Amazon. But since the retailer started discouraging orders, his paperback sales are down 61 percent and his e-book sales are down 62 percent.

Mrs. Preston, a photographer, studied the bleak sheet.

“It’s gotten personal,” she said. “I knew you were going to take a hit, but I had no idea it would be like this.”

Joe sez: Perhaps, Mrs. Preston, you should have talked some sense into your husband when he immediately rejected Amazon's offer to monetarily compensate authors? Or when he rejected the second offer, calling it blood money? That 62 percent drop could have been a 300+ percent bonus.

Instead, Preston nobly spoke on behalf of his ten-billion dollar corporate master, Lagardère, whose Kindle sales only make up 1% of their revenue.

NYT: “Are you worried?” Mr. Preston asked. “Because you should be. What if Amazon says, ‘Why should we sell Doug Preston’s books? He’s a thorn in our sides.’ Guess what? All this goes away.”

Joe sez: On a purely base, ugly, karma level, I wouldn't mind that happening.

I keep seeing legacy apologists like Preston and Patterson getting adoring press, spreading misinformation, harming writers, and the petty part of me wants to see them reap what they're sowing.

Amazon, however, has been very restrained in the pettiness department. No contract with Hachette, but still selling their titles. Three offers trying to find a way to compensate authors. Two calls to Preston. Repeated attempts to expedite the negotiation process.

Meanwhile, Preston looks at his 300 acres and wonders if his wrongly-perceived altruistic bravery will result in him losing them, while not uttering a peep about his own publisher's actions in this dispute.

And amplifying those misconceptions are journalists like Streitfeld, trying to paint Preston as some sort of a blameless, heroic figure.

Still, the fact is I do feel for Preston, and for all Hachette authors. I don't want to see any of them hurt.

I truly understand what it is liked to be at the mercy of an idiotic publisher. I sympathize. And I hope this whole situation is resolved swiftly.

But every time Preston, or Patterson, or Turow, or Colbert, flaps his gums in the media, it emboldens Hachette to hold firm to its intent to control ebook pricing and prevent Amazon from discounting. I can imagine Hachette execs back-slapping each other on Sunday, when Preston's $104,000 ad runs, while the majority of Hachette authors wonder why their publisher failed them. They don't have 300 acres to lose. Many of them will lose electricity, or their lease.

I used to live bi-annual check to bi-annual check. I struggled to make ends meet. And I also feared criticizing my publishers in public, because I needed them to put food on the table.

You're not a hero, Doug. You're still that coward, running away from bullies in the schoolyard. 

You're just so delusional you don't know who the bullies really are.

Barry sez: Well, I’m on my fourth beer. I think. I lost count.

Part of me hates spending so much time exposing the shoddy thinking of people like Preston and the even shoddier journalism of people like Streitfeld. We’ve got other things to do -- like our day jobs. But I’m always struck by how much uncritical and nakedly partisan establishment media attention publishing reactionaries like Preston can garner. If we don’t use social media to point out the flaws in the thinking and the incestuousness of the coverage, more people might swallow it all uncritically. Which would help the Prestons and Pattersons succeed in stymying progress.

Joe sez: You must be the change you wish to see in the world. At least, that's what it says on the statue of Ghandi I keep at my writing desk.

Barry sez: Hah, how Streitfeldian of you! But we also need some totally irrelevant figure to compare things to. Dolphin meat or something.

Joe sez: I'll try harder next time. Incompetence like that doesn't always happen on your first attempt. You really have to work at it.

ADDENDUM

Joe sez: Here, and on Passive Voice, writers are making some points Barry and I missed. I believe they're worth adding to the blog post, because some things often get lost in comment threads.

Also worth noting is that the law of unintended consequences is in full effect. Since Streitfield's article went live, over 160 more people have signed our petition.

Jeff Shelby: "But he recently thought he should get some numbers from Hachette. They came in the other morning..."

I laughed so hard at this because I don't think many of us that have published traditionally can relate to a quick turnaround - if any - on a sales numbers request.

I genuinely hope every single Hachette author calls in and asks for their sales figures and that Hachette gets them the info as quickly as they did Preston.

Lawrence De Maria: Mr. Preston pointed out it was Amazon that put authors in the line of fire in the first place." Since when do sources point out "facts" still in dispute?

Tracy Sharp: I think these rich writers are biting the wrong hand. Their publishers will be closing their doors some day, maybe in the not too distant future, and then they'll be kissing Amazon's ass. 

David Vandagriff: PG flat believes that either Preston or the Times author took the Grandinetti quote out of context.

It is far more likely that Grandinetti’s response, “This was the only leverage we had,” was describing the fight between Amazon and a financially failing Hachette, not a response to any question about “squeezing the writers.”

The Times got the quote from Preston, because Amazon could see a Times hatchet (Hachette?) job in progress and decided not to cooperate. This raises the possibility that an advanced case of ADS has boggled Preston’s mind completely and he entirely misremembers whatever Grandinetti had to say. Or perhaps, Preston passed on what Grandinetti should have said instead of what Grandinetti did say, all in the service of supporting the Times narrative.

and

I just did a quick search and it appears that Round Pond, Maine, where Preston “summers” doesn’t have a bookstore.

The question that comes to mind is if the dog eats Preston’s copy of “Civil Disobedience,” will Preston order a replacement from Amazon or endure having his “writing shack” appear less fashionable for the remainder of the summer?

Alan Tucker: My question is this: What can Amazon do to pressure Hachette that won’t harm Hachette’s authors?

Patricia Sierra: I don’t think the wealthy, name-brand authors are doing themselves any favors when they whine in public. A segment of those seeing the whines will think less of them.

and

Meanwhile, back in Preston’s world, it’s great to see that he still isn’t taking sides in the Hachette/Amazon contract negotiations.

Sarah McCabe: I’m sure his sales aren’t down at all because he’s publicly being a giant ass.

Dan DeWitt: This is an amazing piece of impartial journalism. They’ve used whales to prove that 900 > 7500+.

Nirmala: Amazon has not actually prevented anyone from buying Preston’s or any other author’s books. And yet where were Preston and his millionaire buddies when Barnes and Noble completely prevented people from buying Simon And Schuster’s books a year ago? I do not remember any full page ads then. And where is their outrage when booksellers all across the country refuse to stock Amazon’s publishing imprints? Or when booksellers refuse to stock even bestselling titles by self-published authors? Preston’s letter states “We feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers”, but in truth it is only a concern to them when it is their own books that are being discouraged (again not ever prevented from being sold).

Richard Fox: No author should ever play the martyr card just because they oppose something Amazon does. Amazon isn’t vindictive towards individuals, but it will cut off bad actor business partners.

Robert Bidinotto: O, woe is the life of the literary One Percenter!

While we take “vacations,” the wealthy Mr. Preston “summers” in a “shack” in the Maine woods, where he grouses oh-so-loudly about the unfairness of Amazon in depriving his books of “advance purchase buttons.”

Gee, Amazon doesn’t even offer Moi, a lowly indie author, any advance purchase buttons. But then, I’m not crown royalty. Muffy, please go fetch Mr. Preston a pina colada while he “summers” away, so that he may drown the wretched pain of his cursed existence.

Chris Armstrong: Preston is quite mystified by how he came to be in charge of an organization like Author’s United. I guess his creating the organization and putting himself in charge wasn’t a clue.

Claire Chilton: I suspect there are more people in the world who would like to see whales and dolphins survive than there are authors. 

I mean, I don't have the statistics, but I suspect that there aren't as many writers in the world as there are people who like dolphins. I have yet to meet a person who wanted to kill all the dolphins, but I've met many people who aren't writers.

I wonder how that blatantly obvious nugget got missed in the article...

Joe sez: I'll add more as more come in...