Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Ebooks and Self-Publishing Part 3 - Yet Another Dialog Between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath

Joe: Many exciting (and some strange) things have been happening since we chatted about ebooks in our first and second online conversations.

Barry: Something with monkeys and frogs?

Joe: The frogs are losing, man. Losing bad.

Barry: Might be worth mentioning here that for anyone who’s interested, in addition to the blog posts linked above, in about a week (around June 7), the whole three-part conversation, fully edited and with headings and a table of contents, will be up on Amazon, B&N, and at Smashwords under the new title, Be The Monkey: A Conversation About The New World Of Publishing Between Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath. We wanted to make it free, but because it’s self-published, we can’t charge less than 99 cents. Which is still a pretty good deal for a 35,000+ word conversation containing so much interesting commentary, much of it made during intervals of sobriety.

Joe: And also containing so many monkey and frog links. In the interest of keeping this installment under 10,000 words because we both have deadlines, let's curtail the monkey business for a moment.


IS IT HYPOCRITICAL FOR AN AUTHOR TO SELF-PUBLISH AND ALSO PUBLISH WITH AN AMAZON IMPRINT? AND WHAT’S IN THAT CONTRACT, ANYWAY?

Joe: You made big news at BEA with your announcement that you've signed with Thomas & Mercer, the new Amazon.com mystery imprint. The same imprint I just signed with for Stirred (with Blake Crouch).

Barry: Yes! I’m thrilled about the deal. And fascinated by some of the commentary on Kindle Boards and in the Twitterverse.

Joe: Seems like a lot of people have responded without thinking things through.

Barry: The most common complaint goes something like, “Eisler said he was going to self-publish, but now he’s just with a legacy publisher again! Hypocrite!”

Joe: Funny how they were quick to jump on that without having read your contract.

Barry: From what people were claiming, you would have thought they’d read not just the contract, but my mind, too.

Joe: Why don’t you give a quick rundown of what’s in the contract?

Barry: The gist of it is, it’s the best of both worlds, legacy and indie. The advance and marketing muscle you (might) get in a legacy contract; the kind of digital royalties, creative control, and time-to-market you get with indie.

Joe: I think this is a good place to give everyone a friendly reminder of what our goals are, because a lot of people seem to think that going with Amazon means our goals have changed.

Barry: Let me take a crack at that.

I've said many times that "publishing is a business for me, not an ideology" and that the right deal could certainly lure me back to the legacy world. That remains true. What's more important, though, is the nature of what could conceivably lure me back. And what could lure me back is precisely what I've never been able to get from any legacy publisher--not the two who have published me; none that I've negotiated with, either. Specifically:

1) A much more equitable digital royalty split.
2) Full creative control (packaging, pricing, timing).
3) Immediate digital release, followed by paper release when the paper is ready (no more slaving the digital release to the paper release).

As it happens, all these terms are available to a self-published author, so I decided to self-publish. What some people might be missing in that simple statement, though, is that it's the terms that are important to me, not the means by which I achieve them. If these terms are a destination, self-publishing is undeniably an excellent vehicle for getting there. But it isn't the only vehicle. And if another vehicle comes along that offers all these terms, plus a substantial advance, plus a retail wing that can reach millions of customers in my demographic... then, as a non-ideological businessman, I'm going to change rides.

But "change" is a somewhat misleading word under the circumstances, implying as it does an overall either/or dynamic. And here's another misconception I've been seeing a lot: this notion that authors must somehow be classified into indie, legacy, or whatever. Reminds me a bit of apartheid South Africa's obsession with classifying citizens by their race--equally strange, though admittedly the authorial version is less invidious. Anyway, here's the thing: what really matters is that we're not living in an either/or universe. I now have four low-priced, self-published digital works, and if Amazon blows out the marketing for The Detachment, those other works (and the ones to come that I plan on self-publishing) will benefit enormously. In the face of all this, why would anyone want to argue for some sort of either/or approach? It would certainly foreclose a lot of potentially lucrative business opportunities.

For a single title that doesn't incumber my ability to self-publish or otherwise publish anything I want, Amazon offered me all three of the items I list above (except for pricing, but regardless of what the contract says, we agree that digital books should be priced far lower than legacy prices), plus a massive, uniquely Amazon marketing push to its retail operation and otherwise, plus an advance comparable to what SMP had offered me (note, though, that the Amazon deal is for one book; the SMP advance was predicated on two books. When I say "comparable," I mean on a per-book basis, and sorry everyone if I wasn't clear about that in my announcement at BEA). In exchange, I've given up certain digital retail channels because the Amazon deal is exclusive to Kindle platform devices. And Amazon will sell paper versions through its retail stores and through wholesale channels to other retailers. Anyone who thinks this sounds like a legacy deal has been talking to legacy publishers I've never heard of.

Okay, your turn.

Joe: It's a brave new world, and someone has to be first.

But it's more than that.

I wasn't the first person to upload my ebooks to Amazon using DTP.

However, I was the first person to start posting my royalty figures. This helped to inform other authors so they could make their own decisions. I've lost count of the number of people who have thanked me (over a thousand) because I was transparent in what I was doing, and because I actively disseminated the information.

Still, my main goal has been to sell books. That doesn't mean I can't help some authors along the way.

We owe no one explanations. While the self-pub culture has become pretty open about sharing figures, the legacy-pub culture is still closed-lipped.

Closed-lipped doesn't help anyone. The more information we all have, the better off we all are. Which is why we continue to talk numbers and disclose what we're doing.

My goal isn't to save the world. My goal isn't to take down the Big 6. My goal is to make a good living doing what I love.

But if I can also help a bunch of writers, and help destroy a greedy, bloated, ignorant industry, it's an epic win for writers and for readers.

Be the monkey! Remember the old saying, monkey see, monkey do? Monkeys tend to teach each other what they've learned.

The first thing you did, mere minutes after signing the Thomas & Mercer deal, was do a live interview and talk at length about contract terms. You didn't say, "sorry can't discuss that" over and over again. Instead, you broadcast (and continue to broadcast) how this deal is better than any you’ve ever had before. Not because of money. But because of the great terms it offers you as an author.

Barry: Just to be clear, it’s not just the substance of the agreement that I think is so excellent. It’s also the structure and style. It’s an amazingly clear, easy-to-understand document, and it’s free of the kinds of punitive provisions legacy publishers use to maintain dominion over writers. I love that Amazon gets that its publishing contract is a key sales tool.

Joe: Which will no doubt bring more authors to them.

Barry: Yes. Exactly the kind of competition we need in the industry, but that we’ve never had.

Joe: If the Big 6 were smart, they'd begin offering authors similar terms. For decades, the only way they competed with each other was through bidding wars, offering the largest advance. But Amazon's author-friendly contracts are about more than just the advance. Wouldn't it be great for authors if every legacy publisher suddenly realized, "We're going to lose our authors! How do we woo them back?"

Which is what will happen, but I haven't seen any wooing. I haven't even seen any acknowledgement that there is a problem.

Barry: A last thought about what one author owes others. While I certainly am guided by self-interest, I’m also profoundly motivated by the desire to make publishing a better industry for readers and authors (for anyone who doubts me, see the For Writers section of my website). During the course of our negotiations, I worked hard to persuade Amazon to jettison various legacy provisions that gain publishers little and that authors loathe. It's a huge credit to Amazon that they listened to my arguments and changed their template accordingly, and it's satisfying for me to know that other authors will get the benefit of the more enlightened template I helped forge--both from Amazon directly, as it expands its publishing wing, and from legacy publishers, who will be forced to compete with Amazon's more enlightened terms.

Joe: What about the fact that your deal with T&M is exclusive?

Barry: Right, it’s a world deal for digital, paper, and audio rights. The ebook, again, will only be available on Kindle-format devices. My calculus was: on this one title, I’m giving up something like 20% or 30% of my digital retail channels, but Amazon’s marketing muscle will mean I sell more Kindle copies with them than I could have sold all-format copies on my own.

IS EXCLUSIVITY BAD FOR THE INDUSTRY?

Joe: You don’t think format exclusivity is bad for the industry?

Barry: I love when you play devil’s advocate.

Though I think I understand why they’re doing it, I think Amazon is making a mistake with the format exclusivity. I also think they’re going to change the practice and allow Nook and other devices to download books from the Amazon store. The store itself offers a first-rate customer experience, so I think they’d make more money giving more devices access to it. Plus it would be good for authors, too.

But on balance? I would argue that the kind of pressure required to improve legacy publisher performance and practices can better be exerted by Amazon and self-publishing together than by self-publishing alone. Because I believe legacy performance and practices are a much bigger hindrance to readers than the unavailability of this or that title on this or that platform, I do think that on balance readers will be better off in the presence of deals like mine than they would be in their absence.

Joe: Exclusivity is the new currency. Look at the videogame wars. Each system (Wii, PS3, 360) has exclusive games that help the customer determine which system to buy. This is good, not bad, for consumers, because it promotes competition. The more competition, the more technology improves, and the more prices drop.

Thomas & Mercer will allow us to reach more customers, even though it isn't an epub release. The paper distribution will be much farther reaching than we could achieve on our own, and the level of marketing Amazon does will let us peak higher on the Top 100 list, selling more ebooks (at least initially) than we could with a self-pub release, even taking into account fewer sales to Nook, Sony, and Kobo customers. I say fewer rather than zero because we're releasing without DRM, meaning the files can be formatted to epub for free.

But let's think farther ahead. Technology has become disposable. When we upgrade a cell phone or printer or iPod or TV, we dispose of the older one. We suffer from abundance.

When I was a kid, we had one black and white television. Now my family of three has seven flat screen monitors in the house, plus two laptops. We each have an iPhone. We have five iPods. I just got an iPad. And we have a Wii, a PS3, and a 360, so exclusivity doesn't matter to us. We buy the games we like.

I can see a day where it isn't a choice between a Kindle or a Nook. People will own both a Kindle and a Nook. The concern of many who haven't bought an ereader yet is exclusivity, and losing purchased ebooks if the format changes.

But ebooks are digital. While you can't play an 8 track on your iPod, right now, using free software, you can format Kindle mobi files into epub files, playable on Nook, Sony, and Kobo. You can also strip DRM and format epub into mobi, if you know what you're doing.

Exclusive is more good than bad, and there are ways around the bad.

A WORKING DEFINITION OF “LEGACY PUBLISHING”

Barry: You know one thing I think has been missing in all the online conversation?

Joe: More monkey/frog video links?

Barry: Don’t tempt me. A simple definition of what “legacy publisher” means.

Joe: We were both at BEA this week. I heard the term dozens of times. Which amused the hell out of me, since you coined it.

Barry: And you popularized it. It’s really a perfect descriptive term (and by the way, there’s a great discussion about it going on right now on Lee Goldberg’s blog). This is Wikipedia’s definition of “Legacy System:”

A legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program that continues to be used, typically because it still functions for the users' needs, even though newer technology or more efficient methods of performing a task are now available. A legacy system may include procedures or terminology which are no longer relevant in the current context, and may hinder or confuse understanding of the methods or technologies used.

Joe: Amazon doesn't fit that definition. They're innovators. They pretty much single-handedly popularized ebooks, which had been around for years without taking off with the public. Funny that publishers complain Amazon has too much power in this area, when nothing prevented them from inventing a popular ereader, or selling ebooks from their websites.

Barry: Also, have you ever heard of a traditional publisher with a powerhouse retail wing?

Joe: Or a traditional publisher who actually listens to their authors? I've been screaming about how legacy publishers need to step up their game, and have even told them how to do it. For years. None listened. Except for Amazon.

So let's put this misconception to rest: Amazon is NOT a legacy publisher.

Barry: Reasonable people might differ and we can argue at the margins, but here’s what a legacy publisher is to me. It’s a publisher that offers authors a shockingly low digital split--17.5% of retail, or 14.9% after the agent’s cut--while keeping 52.5% for itself; that insists on controlling packaging, pricing, and timing decisions; that slaves the digital release to the paper release because its business imperative is to retard the growth of digital and preserve the position of paper. Am I missing anything?

Joe: The legacy system is based on an ineffective, archaic business model. The shelf life of paper titles is getting shorter, it's getting harder for authors to make money, returns are a terrible waste, and not all books are treated equally. The few with large coop budgets and widespread distribution don’t enhance reader reader choice; they restrict it.

Barry: That’s the gist of it, anyway. If your business model revolves around: (i) maintaining the primacy of paper (in significant part, by delaying the release of digital books and pricing them too high); and (ii) offering punitive financial, creative, and other terms to authors, you’re probably a legacy publisher.

We should come up with a ten-part questionnaire or something: “If you answer more than four of these questions ‘yes,’ we’re sorry to say that you’re probably a legacy publisher.”

Joe: Another one I'll add is the inability to deal with change. It's the music industry all over again. They should be embracing new technology and innovating ways to improve their business model. I'm not seeing this. I'm seeing fear, anger, and denial.

Barry: Agreed. Anyway, I wanted to have a working definition to be clear that whatever else anyone might claim about my decision to publish The Detachment with Amazon, one thing I haven’t done is gone back to legacy publishing. Not that I wouldn’t, by the way; I’ve always been clear that for the right terms, I could go back (assuming they’d have me, and assuming there’s anything to go back to). But the right terms are what Amazon offered me. That’s the point. That, and the fact that legacy publishers, because they’re trapped by their own infrastructure and mentality, seem incapable of offering those terms.

IS AMAZON A LEGACY PUBLISHER?

Joe: Here are some quickie comparisons between legacy publishers and Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint.

Legacy publishers set their prices for ebooks. Amazon went with the list price I desired.

Barry: Gonna chime in here to say that in my contract, Amazon has the power to set the price.

Joe: Yes they do. No publisher will ever give up pricing control. But so far they've honored my wishes.

Barry: Based on my discussions with them; on the dynamic of their battle a year and a half ago with legacy publishers over ebook prices; and on your experience with them, I know we’re philosophically aligned: ebooks should be priced far lower than the legacy norm. So I have no problem with their contractual right to set the price. I understand why they want it and they’ve demonstrated they’ll use it wisely.

Joe: Legacy publishers demand DRM. My Amazon ebooks have no DRM.

Barry: That’s good to know. Someone just asked me that today on Twitter and I wasn’t sure. Agreed that DRM is stupid.

Joe: Legacy publishers pick the cover and the title. At Amazon, I pick the cover and title.

Barry: Right, same here. This one is huge for me. Too many olive-green garage door covers in my past. Amazon was fine with my choosing the cover and making all other packaging decisions, though because they’re smart, experienced, and thoughtful, we’re already organically collaborating on what would work best. If your publishing partner is smart, you want to collaborate with them, regardless of what’s in the contract. And if they’re enlightened, they want to collaborate with you.

Joe: Legacy publishers insist on windowing the ebook release until after the print release. With Amazon, the ebook can be released first--as it should be, because it's easier to create than a paper version.

Barry: Again, same here. Thomas & Mercer and I talked about timing and they were totally game for releasing the digital book first.

Joe: Legacy publishers take from six to eighteen months to release a book after it is turned in. My next Thomas & Mercer book is due in August and coming out in November.

Barry: I think my turnaround might be even faster than that.

Jeez, better turn in that manuscript.

Joe: Legacy publishers offer lousy ebook royalties. Amazon's are much better.

Barry: I don’t want to get too into specifics, but my new digital royalty split is nothing like what legacy publishers insist on. And the paper splits are all comparable. Though even there, Amazon is showing their innovative DNA--we’re discussing a lower cut of paper sales for both of us as a way of boosting brick and mortar paper margins. As you have blogged and as Mike Shatzkin has pointed out, paper is becoming a subsidiary right--but a special kind of subsidiary right, with a lot of advertising value.

Joe: Yeah, I was talking about that a year ago. Whoever gets their name on the most pieces of paper, wins.

Barry: So there’s a great play in here for smart bookstores and authors: sell paper rights for less, achieve more paper volume, and sell more digital via the advertising value of paper.

Legacy publishers, by the way, would find such a notion heretical. Amazon looks at it and says, this could be good.

Joe: Legacy publishers have convoluted royalty statements and cut checks twice a year. Amazon has easy-to-understand royalty statements, and pays quarterly.

Barry: I’ve noticed that. I have two shorts up (The Lost Coast and Paris Is A Bitch) plus a political essay (The Ass Is A Poor Receptacle For The Head), and the royalty statements are completely transparent.

Joe: The imprint statements are also transparent. And the payments are on time. I know several authors whose legacy publisher royalties have been delayed, and the delays are getting longer.

Barry: The timing of advance payments is terrific, too. Execution and publication, half and half. Simple, fair, easy to track.

I have to emphasize again the fact that these entirely sensible and obviously better business practices have never emerged in legacy publishing is further evidence (as though further evidence were needed) that legacy publishing has always functioned as a quasi-monopoly. If there were competition in the industry, new entrants would force improvement.

Joe: Well, that new entrant is Amazon.

Barry: Indeed.

Joe: Legacy publishers often do little promotion. Amazon promotes like crazy.

Barry: That’s the bet I’m making. Fundamentally, I’m giving up certain retail channels in exchange for Amazon making a huge push on all its retail platforms and through the paper wholesale channels its developing.

Joe: Legacy publishers have one-sided contracts. Amazon's are the smartest (and best) in the business.

Barry: The contract they sent me was the best publishing agreement I’ve ever seen: short, transparent, easy to understand. And the really bitchin’ part? Former licensing attorney that I am, I had a ton of suggestions for how they could make it even better, and they listened. They get that treating authors well confers on them a significant competitive advantage. I’m telling you, their new template is a wonder to behold--substance, structure, and style. A lot of authors are going to benefit--directly, as Amazon expands its publishing business; and indirectly, as the Amazon contract pressures legacy publishers to do better or die.

Joe: I just spent a few days talking at length with various members of the Amazon team at BEA. They're smart. They're efficient. They understand what they're doing.

Barry: And man, they like beer.

Joe: All smart people like beer.

Also, as you said, they listen. Really listen. Having a publisher who actually pays attention to what I'm saying, and acts on requests I make, is incredibly fulfilling. Especially after years of my raging against the machine.

Barry: We could have included “ignores author input” as one of the definitions of legacy publishing.

Joe: Timecaster, my sci-fi novel with Berkley/Ace, was released yesterday. I signed a two-book deal with them, and pretty much begged for them to concede on a few marketing and pricing issues I had. They flat-out refused. So I bought back my second book and am releasing it myself (for $2.99 and without DRM).

The "my way or the highway" attitude has sent me to the highway, where I'll sell a lot more books and make a lot more money.

Barry: As you’ve said before, if you're selling eggs, don't piss off your chickens.

Joe: Amazon treats their chickens well. The Kindle Digital Platform and Createspace programs are expressly for self-publishing, so there are no more barriers to reaching readers. And their various imprints now give authors some of the benefits of the legacy system (advances, no author costs, widespread distribution, marketing) without the many disadvantages we've discussed over and over.

When each of us signed with Thomas & Mercer, we weren't turning our backs on self-publishing and embracing legacy ways. Instead, we were getting much of the same control we have with self-pubbing, but with a powerhouse behind us that will ensure we sell more books than we could have on our own.

That said, I'm still self-pubbing like crazy. I'm not going to give that up.

IT HAS TO BE EITHER/OR... AND OTHER EXAMPLES OF ERRONEOUS THINKING

Barry: This is another widespread misunderstanding. It’s not either/or, everyone! I’m still self-publishing short stories and essays and I don’t know what I’ll do with future novels. But every low-priced, self-published digital work I have available will get a huge boost from Amazon’s promotion of The Detachment. Again: publishing is a business for me, not an ideology. And self-publishing is a means, not an end. The end is fortune--the financial kind and the happiness kind both. For that, a mix of self-publishing and the Amazon models seems perfect to me for now.

Joe: Seems obvious. But there are a lot of people out there who don’t get it.

Barry: Some of the most misguided thinking I’ve seen on this issue came from an otherwise good editor I’ve worked with myself, who said of my deal with Amazon, “So much for self-publishing.” But... I’m still self-publishing lots of other works, all of which will benefit from the Amazon deal! And suggesting that because I’ve decided to publish The Detachment with Thomas & Mercer rather than self-publish it means self-publishing isn’t real... come on. What’s most significant about everything I’m doing now is what’s missing: a legacy publisher. Thinking that one author’s decision to publish a single title with Thomas & Mercer means he’s turned his back on self-publishing, or that self-publishing isn’t real... well, let’s just call it wishful thinking.

Joe: It’s not about either/or--

Barry: Wait, I gotta tell you one more amazing comment I came across.

Joe: Go ahead.

Barry: This one’s from Susan Petersen Kennedy, president of Penguin Group USA. The New York Times quoted her this way: “‘There’s a tendency to think that the other guy’s piece of the pie is so much easier, and you can just jump in and do it,’ Peterson said on Tuesday afternoon with a hearty laugh. ‘It’s good for Amazon to go into publishing. Maybe they’ll develop some respect for how hard it is. Come on in, try it. Go ahead. It’s not so easy.’”

Joe: That's similar to something you often say, in a slightly different context. Just because someone knows something, doesn't mean she can execute.

But here's a newsflash, Susan. Amazon CAN execute. They published my Jack Daniels thriller Shaken as an ebook in October 2010, and in paper this past February. I've made more money on that book that I did on my last two legacy books, and soon Shaken will make more money than any of my other legacy novels.

So I don’t know about easy, but they are doing it in a way that's smart, efficient, and beneficial to the author.

I've worked with Penguin. I don't anymore, because I left. I paid them so I could leave.

I don’t see myself leaving Amazon anytime soon.

Barry: Again: treating the chickens right... not a bad practice if you’re in the egg business.

Joe: Or to use another food analogy: Smart businesses don't try to take your piece of the pie. They make the pie bigger for everyone.

Barry: The thing that struck me was Peterson Kennedy’s thinking, or purported thinking. I mean, is it true that people go into new businesses because they think it’ll be easy? Is that why Amazon got into book retailing, because it looked easy? Is that what drew Peterson Kennedy to publishing?

My take on why Amazon is getting in to publishing? The same reason Michael Dell got into computer retail: they recognize legacy publishing’s quasi-monopolistic practices are so screwed up that a better way will create a devastating competitive advantage. That, and the fact that through their “agency model” pricing policy, legacy publishers were forcing Amazon to charge too much for digital books. It’s like Del Monte insisting on pricing a can of green beans for $10.00. Sure, the grocery store will stock it, but they’ll sure as hell also develop a store-brand canned green bean, too, because they know there will be a bigger market for the lower-priced option and they’ll make more money with it.

I’ll tell you, if publishing looks easy, it’s probably because legacy publishers are so screwed up they’re making it hard.

And wait, as long as we’re on the subject of denial, here’s another one--a tweet from a Curtis Brown literary agent: “so the Eisler story meant nothing. he eats at Amazon table for his supper instead of St Martin's.”

Joe: What the hell does that even mean?

Barry: You have to deconstruct it a little. I think he’s saying my decision to leave legacy publishing is meaningless because ultimately I decided to publish The Detachment with Amazon.

Joe: Sounds like he needs to turn Amazon into something comparable to what he's used to dealing with (St. Martins) in order to fit it into his worldview and dismiss the threat. Weird terminology, though. Makes you wonder what’s going on in his head.

Barry: Yes. It’s another instance of an apparently powerful urge to believe, “Amazon’s just like a legacy publisher! So if an author decides to publish a book with Amazon instead of self-publishing it, it means self-publishing is no threat to legacy publishing after all!”

Joe: Denial.

Barry: In fairness, it’s not just him. Here’s another, this one from an author: “So Eisler isn't really going it alone, he exchanged one corporate master for another. Better terms, apparently, but not a revolution as such”

Joe: You have a corporate master? Does he have a leather hood and make you wear a ball gag?

Barry: When I ask nicely. And all this time, I thought I ran my own business and was hiring distribution partners who worked (albeit often ineptly) for me. Who knew?

The comments about supper tables and corporate masters reveals a lot about the worldviews of the people who are making them. The first suggests a kind of serf mentality; the second, one of self-slavery. But aside from the psychological projection at work, which is interesting, the substance of these arguments is just silly. I depend on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords to distribute my self-published works. I depend on my web hosting company and on PayPal to fulfill orders through my website. Am I therefore eating at the “supper tables” of these companies, and are they my “corporate masters,” in this context, too? Why the one but not the other?

Joe: As I’ve heard you say in related contexts: when the voices in someone’s head get too loud, he can’t hear what’s actually being said.

Barry: Yes, and he loses the ability to tell the difference.

We’ve talked in our earlier conversations about how some publishers are in denial, some agents are in collusion, and some authors are in the grip of a weird combination of Stockholm Syndrome and a peasant mentality. The quotes above are evidence--anecdotal, yes, but still suggestive.

Joe: I can’t get over the “exchanged a corporate master” one. How about: “Exchanged a crippled horse for a new Ferrari.” That works better.

I used to call working with legacy publishers a partnership, back when I thought they were smart enough to know how to make money. My take was that if I made money, they made money, and we'd help each other to that effect. But then I started to realize how hidebound they were, that there was this whole set of infrastructure and a worldview that was actually inhibiting them from making money. Then I began to think of them as backers or investors, but with too much say so and power. The one thing I never thought was that I was working for them. Usually when you work for a company, they show a minimum concern for your base needs and future security. An editor works for a publisher, and as a result get things like an office and health care and a 401k plan.

So now I think of them as assailants who force you to thank them after they beat you up.

Barry: The terminology reveals the mindset. A lot of writers think of themselves as employees of the publisher, not as CEOs of their own companies, with the publisher as their customer/investor/distributor.

Joe: Well, at least those folks offered some humor value. And the psychology is interesting, too.

Barry: There is that. Mind if I mention just one more?

Joe: Fire away.

Barry: This one is from a literary agent. She says, “I'm keeping a very close eye on a couple things: the reaction from Minotaur; the reaction from Dan Conaway; and what term Eisler will now use to describe Amazon since ‘legacy publisher’ appears to describe everyone else.”

Joe: Dan was your agent, right? With Writers House?

Barry: Yes. We parted ways after I decided to self-publish The Detachment because we couldn’t come up with a model for self-publishing that worked for both of us. And Minotaur was a reference to St. Martin’s Press, the publisher that offered the deal I walked away from--Minotaur is an SMP imprint.

Anyway, I thought, “That’s it? Your big concerns aren’t about these seismic shifts in the industry and how they’ll affect your clients, but are instead about gossipy, personal stuff? Are you a literary agent, or a staff writer for Us Magazine?”

Joe: She writes that blog to impress her existing clients and attract new ones, presumably?

Barry: Presumably.

Joe: Wow. Hey, isn’t this the same agent who when you first announced you were going to self-publish said she wasn’t optimistic and people should see how it was working out for you in a year?

Barry: That’s the one. Apparently she thinks the appropriate finish line for measuring whether an author has been successful in digital self-publishing is one year, as though after the first year you stop making money or something.

Joe: Does she maybe have a personal issue with you?

Barry: Not that I know of. Anyway, I’m just responding to the substance of her thinking--not because it’s unusual, by the way, but rather because it’s representative of other erroneous thinking I’ve come across. And there’s a tendency out there to treat the personal stuff as more relevant than broad industry dynamics, just as there’s a tendency to think a self-published book only makes money for a year or something, when in fact it makes money forever.


BRIEFLY RETURNING TO THE QUESTION OF: IF THE BIG SIX ARE LEGACY PUBLISHERS, WHAT DO WE CALL AMAZON?

Joe: So what do you call Amazon?

Barry: That’s a good question, and I haven’t come up with anything that feels entirely right. Again, there’s a good discussion on Lee Goldberg’s blog on this topic and I’d be very interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on what would be the most appropriate nomenclature. Speaking of which, I think the right way to approach the question is this:

Are Amazon and, say, Random House, which are clearly both publishers, the same in all relevant aspects?

If not, what are their relevant differences?

And how can we reflect those relevant differences in the nomenclature we use to categorize them?

Trucks and sedans and sports cars are all just types of automobiles. Yet no one would say, "Why do we need all this new nomenclature? They're all just automobiles, right?" And before the Internet, stores were just “stores.” But then we had online stores, and the previous variety became known as “brick and mortar” stores, so that we could distinguish.

At a sufficiently high level of generality, everything is the same. All matter is, in the end, made of molecules. Yet we don't refer to people and chairs and trees as "molecule conglomerations"--and that's because the similarities are less relevant in everyday conversation than the differences. So noting the presence of similarities isn't really the proper way to approach the nomenclature question. The nomenclature question exists because of the presence of differences.

If you believe that Amazon and, say, Random House are in all relevant respects identical, then you won't find any use for a system of nomenclature that distinguishes them. If you believe that in various relevant respects they're different, you'll search for a nomenclature that conveys those essential differences. For the reasons I note above, I think "legacy publisher" perfectly conveys the essential differentiating qualities of what are also colloquially known as The Big Six. I haven't come up with an equivalent for what Amazon's doing. But I'm working on it, and again would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on the topic.

Joe: For now, I'd just call Amazon "much better than anyone else."

Barry: Can’t disagree with that.

AND NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED ERRONEOUS THINKING TOPIC

Joe: Getting back to that literary agent’s quote, if I were an agent, my thinking would be: “Great! I now have another publisher, Amazon, to whom I can sell my clients' work.” But I suppose watching and waiting to see what other people say is safer than acting.

Barry: Anyway, sorry for interrupting. Just had to mention those. You were talking about the thinking behind your overall publishing strategy.

Joe: Yes. Right now, self-pubbing has incredible advantages over the legacy system.

That does NOT mean I'm a "self pub or die" evangelist.

Self-pub was a terrible business model prior to 2009. It may someday be a poor choice once again.

I change my opinions as new facts come in, and I change my tactics as new opportunities become available. Anyone married to a single ideology, who doesn’t constantly test it and question it, is an idiot. A big idiot.

Barry: Let me approach the either/or issue this way. If Thomas & Mercer wanted to release all your books, would you do it?

Joe: No. I like self-pubbing too much, and I dislike deadlines. I'm thrilled to be working with Thomas & Mercer, and a book a year fits perfectly into my schedule while still allowing me freedom to do whatever I want, when I want.

Barry: Plus T&M’s marketing push for the book you’re doing with them boosts all your self-published books, too. In the face of all this, only an ideologue would suggest an author’s approach should be either/or.

HOW DO BRICK AND MORTAR BOOKSTORES SUCCEED IN THE NEW PUBLISHING LANDSCAPE?

Joe: Let's veer slightly and talk about bookstores.

Barry: Good. We haven’t been veering enough.

Joe: When Amazon announced the launch of the Thomas & Mercer imprint, some independent bookstores in a Yahoo group refused to carry my titles. Blake Crouch and I recently blogged about it, and our post has gotten close to 400 comments.

Barry: Hey man, one of those was mine.

Joe: I'm disappointed that some bookstores would rather blame authors for signing with Thomas & Mercer and point fingers at Amazon for hurting their business instead of responding to some of our suggestions as to how they might improve their sales.

Barry: Yes, what people need to understand is that a lot of the problems bookstores are having are caused by legacy publishers. I know this will sound cold, but in business you have to identify opportunities. And right now, there’s a huge opportunity for retailers to disintermediate the publishers who are inflating the costs of books. Amazon is already doing it. If B&N is smart, it will, too. And, as you and Blake suggested (pleaded, in fact) in your blog post, there’s no reason indie booksellers can’t buy direct from authors, too. Promise to sell a lot of our books and we’ll even sell ’em to you cheap, knowing we’ll make it up on volume and in the advertising power of paper.

Joe: Capitalism is about competition. But indie bookstores (or all bookstores, for that matter) need to realize Amazon is only doing well because they're giving customers what they want. The customers are the ones who are changing their buying habits.

If you're a young bride and your husband is cheating on you, you don't blame the other woman. You blame your husband. He's the one who should have been loyal. The other woman doesn't owe you any loyalty, and doesn't have to play fair.

Don't want him to stray? Make him want you more.

There is a lot of talk about "unfair business practices." Is business fair? Is life fair?

Barry: The frog would say no.

Joe: The frog should have said no.

Barry: Um, I don’t think it could say anything, under the circumstances.

Joe: Hard to talk when your mouth is full.

Barry: Mmmmmmph, maybe?

Joe: Well, the monkey wouldn’t have listened regardless.

Barry: Hey, let’s not include a link this time. I think we’ve done enough damage.

Joe: How about just this one? This isn't about a monkey taking advantage of some poor, helpless amphibian. It's about thinking outside the box.

Barry: I have to admit, I clicked on that link with substantial trepidation. But it was totally safe for work. And interesting.

Joe: And therefore probably disappointing to anyone who’s clicked on any of the other monkey links. Sorry, guys.

The thing is, customers are speaking with their wallets. The one who gives the customer what she wants is the one who gets that customer dollar. That means thinking, and innovating, and listening. You don't make money pointing fingers.

Barry: You make it by solving problems and adapting to situations, like the monkey in the link.

AND HOW DO LITERARY AGENTS SUCCEED?

Joe: But you don't have to figure this stuff out all on your own. There are folks who can assist you.

Dean Wesley Smith recently had a blog entry about how some unscrupulous agents are adopting the estributor model and charging clients 50% to perform publishing services (cover art, formatting, uploading) that Dean insists should be one-time costs.

Barry: I just want to jump in here and beg anyone who’s reading to come up with a better term than “estributor.” That is one butt-ugly word.

Joe: You know you love it.

Barry: I know we need something to distinguish the “agent helping authors self-publish” model from the “agents helping authors sell publishing rights” model, but please... not that.

Joe: Heh. I think it’s too late, my friend.

Anyway, I respect Dean, and understand his argument, but I don't agree with him. Here are some reasons why.

I know a few agents who are becoming estributors. They cover all costs, and only take 15% (and they don’t recoup their investment first).

Right now I’ve got 32 self-pubbed books available on 8 platforms (soon to be 10). It’s a full-time job just dealing with properties that already exist.

I just released a new ebook, which took dozens of hours to launch–hours I could have spent
writing.

I don’t have a problem giving an agent 15% for negotiating a contract. That’s worth it to me.

Doing the cover art, formatting, and uploading, along with all of the potential benefits of a vetted imprint, is a lot more work, and also worth 15% to me.

It isn’t worth 50%. That’s a rip off.

But I already hire folks to help me: My cover artist, and formatter, and proof reader, and then I upload them myself. This is a time suck. More importantly than that, even though other people are doing the work, I was still forced to learn an entirely new skill set in order to understand who I was hiring.

I wish I didn’t have to deal with all of that. I wish I could just write the book then pass it on to an estributor.

Which, in fact, I’m going to do. And the time it saves me should more than make up for the cost.

One day, I plan on building a house. I have a specific idea in mind of what I want to build. But I DO NOT want to micromanage the building process and hire/oversee every individual contractor. The thought of spending all that time doing mundane things like picking out PVC pipe or getting permits would make me want to shoot myself.

Barry: One thing I know you will micromanage is the choice of bidet.

Joe: Inside joke, people. I just bought a bidet (because I tried one at Barry's--monkey see, monkey do) and am now experiencing a level of clean that I never knew existed. It even has a blow dryer.

I love my life.

Getting back to building a house, I’ll hire someone I trust to do the overseeing. It’s worth it to me. That way, I don't have to immerse myself in doing the hiring myself and learning the construction business.

Of course, you could do it all yourself, and take even more time away from your writing (as well as hurt your sales because you won't do as good a job as an expert.

Barry: Definitely there are estributors who charge an unreasonable amount, take advantage of authors, do a poor job, etc. That doesn't mean some aren't worth what they charge. You don't avoid going to a doctor (and you certainly don’t perform surgery on yourself) because a certain number of them are quacks.

Joe: Right now, I’m making so much money, I’ll gladly pay someone to do the things I hate and that eat into the most profitable use of my time, which is writing. And just as there are unscrupulous agents who will rip you off, there are most certainly unscrupulous independent contracts who could wind up costing you more money. It's not as if all agents are bad and all cover artists are honest and know what they're doing.

It's also worth noting that there isn't a conflict of interest if an agent becomes an estributor. Agents are there to sell rights to books that their clients write. Is there any difference between selling to a Big 6 publisher, or helping the client upload to Amazon? As long as the agent does what her client wants, it's all about offering a service.

I know agents who have hundreds of authors with projects they couldn't sell, or backlists that are out of print. If publishers don't want those books, Kindle and Nook and Smashwords and Kobo and Sony and Apple and Google and Createspace and Scribd do. An author could do it herself. But an author could also negotiate a deal with Random House on her own.

Barry: For me, the way to put to rest the suggestion that authors should never pay anyone a percentage is this. What about an excellent estributor who charges only one percent? Still too much? Even if that one percent would come to less than a flat fee for the same service? What about if you could clone yourself and hire the clone for 15%--not worth it? Okay, but then I'd say this is starting to be a matter of an ideology against percentages, which means there’s no room for further discussion. But if the problem is the amount of the percentage, then, to paraphrase Churchill, we're just haggling over price.

Joe: I suppose I could hire someone full-time to oversee the freelancers and run the ongoing business, but I believe the estribution model will allow for greater ongoing opportunities and ultimately higher income. Group advertising, imprimatur, excerpt exchanges, marketing, and a centralized author hub, to go along with continued subsidiary rights sales and translations, is worth 15%.

If you don’t think it is, don’t do it. But understand you’re taking time away from your writing to do it on your own, which is a very high cost indeed.

Barry: For me, the argument really comes down to, “Don’t pay more than you have to.” If you can pay a low flat fee instead of a percentage, jump on it. If the percentage is 50%, don’t touch it. If it’s one percent, jump on it. If it’s somewhere in between, maybe. It’s all just a matter of, “Make sure you’re getting value for the price, and don’t pay more than you have to.” Not really so controversial, I think.

Joe: Also, like any business relationship, know who you're dealing with and what you're buying. Get recommendations and references, ask for samples, become informed, don't be afraid to negotiate terms.

Barry: One more thought about agents and... damn, I really wish we had something better than estributors to call them.

Joe: Muwahahahaha. I coined that a few years ago and it seems to be gaining traction.

Barry: If Amazon’s approach--an easy-to-understand and fair contract; simple, transparent royalty statements--becomes the standard, some of the value traditional agents have offered as interpreters in these areas will diminish. Smart agents will find ways to offer new value to offset what’s been lost. So the move to an estributor model will become even more important for agents.

Joe: This is all happening pretty quickly, so don't feel bad if you don't know what you're doing. Just try to avoid snap judgements and acting without thinking. Right now the publishing world is in a state of transition.

Barry: AKA, “State of Confusion.”

NEXT STEPS IN THE EVOLUTION OF EBOOKS

Joe: Which leads me to something else I noticed at BEA. Though ebooks are now outselling paper, the ebook section of the convention was minuscule--by my rough estimation not even 1/10 of the overall floorspace.

If I were a Big 6 publisher, I would have put an extra booth in the ebook section. There were tens (hundreds?) of thousands of paper books being given away, yet I lost track trying to count all the ereaders and iPads in the hands of attendees.

Why wasn't there an ebook signing booth? The technology exists. Why weren't publishers pushing this new ebook format, which on Amazon is now outselling paper?

But then again, if I were really a Big 6 publisher, I wouldn't have blown all that money attending BEA in the first place. It was like Mardis Gras, but the currency was denial instead of beads. The gigantic booths (meant to broadcast prosperity?) seemed to me more like whistling past the graveyard. What a waste of money and manpower.

However, in the Digital Book section, Blake Crouch and I met with several smart, hungry start-ups in small, modest booths. Among them Overdrive, Kobo, Vook, Autography (where authors can sign ebooks), adboku, Bookrix, and Smashwords. They see where the future is headed, and they're innovating to ensure their place in this future.

These are the companies working to make the pie bigger.

Ebooks are by some measures now outselling paper, but they’re still an early adopter product. The general masses haven't embraced them yet, as they have with DVD players and iPods, though all signs point to that happening.

When a technology reaches that tipping point and becomes a "must buy" for folks, innovation increases dramatically. Right now, ebooks are basically text in an electronic format. They don't do much more than print books do.

Barry: The car was known as the horseless carriage. Initially, television was talking head radio.

Joe: Soon, ebooks will be more than just a replacement. We've talked about what the future of ebooks might be. I believe it will change the way people think about fiction, and bring people to fiction who might have avoided it in the past.

What's your opinion about the book as a social network?

Barry: I think it’s another example of you thinking so far ahead of the current state of affairs that initially a lot of people won’t understand what you’re getting at. But yes, I think it’s a great idea, and I was knocked out by the way Amazon not only listened to it over those disco fries, but by the way they refined and expanded on it, too--all while taking notes. Again, can you imagine a legacy publisher ever having a skull session like that with its authors? Let alone listening and adding value along the way?

Joe: I could imagine a legacy publisher doing that. But it would remain strictly in the realm of imagination. Also, for the uninitiated, disco fries are poutine--French fries with cheese and gravy. I'd been searching my whole life for a way to make fries unhealthier.

Barry: Heh. I swear, you want to get Amazon’s attention? Say, “I have a new idea.”

Joe: Years ago, I proposed that ebooks would someday be free, supported by ads. But whenever I mentioned ads in ebooks on my blog, I got a lot of resistance from people, just as I did when I proposed that books could be social networks. Well, this is exactly what adboku is trying to do.

BE THE MONKEY

Barry: One thing I’m learning from the whole changing publishing landscape is that a lot of people just don’t like change. Their arguments--their perceptions--flow from that.

Joe: The legacy publishing world seems to offer up similar resistance to change, and makes a lot of the same excuses as to why the old ways are the good ways.

It's natural to dislike change. Change is scary. It's also natural to assume that because you don't like an idea, no one will like an idea.

But the reason we live in such a cool world now, and why our lives are so much better than our grandparents', is because of change.

So here are some parting words for authors resistant to ebooks, booksellers resistant to Amazon's imprints, and even Big 6 publishers who want to survive the next five years.

Barry: Assuming you’re going to offer fewer than a thousand parting words, I just want to congratulate us for getting this bad boy in at under 10,000 words.

Joe: Yeah, at 9400 this one is a little short. But I think it covers what needed to be covered.

Barry: We probably should have included a few more monkey links. Maybe next time.

Joe: Here’s the thing. Change will happen. The more you fight it, the more you'll fall behind to those who embrace it.

Your goal shouldn't be to fight over a larger piece of the static pie. Your goal should be to make the pie bigger.

That means paying attention to what readers--and writers--want. It means innovating. Experimenting. Learning. Embracing change, and thinking up ways to utilize all of this incredible technology that's coming at us.

You don't want to be the last dinosaur. You want to be the first primate.

You want to be the monkey.

243 comments:

1 – 200 of 243   Newer›   Newest»
Luis Vila said...

I was hoping to see a 3rd part of this magnificent discussion. As a big fan of Amazon.com, I found all of the information discussed very informative.

You guys are convincing me one day at a time to self-publish. Keep up the great work and thanks again for taking the time out of your busy lives to inform the little guys.

Selena Kitt said...

Good for you guys! But I hesitate to think what you might be giving up in terms of other distributors. The potential to make money on B&N, kobo, iBooks and even Google... I make far more on B&N right now than I do on Amazon. But that wasn't always the case and probably won't stay that way forever and if Amazon actually starts selling epubs? Then you'll have no worries at all!

Stephen Prosapio said...

Thanks for the continuing dialogue! Things are happening so fast and furious it's hard to keep up. Nice to have this resource of direct information!

Stephen Prosapio
=================
Author, Dream War

Melissa said...

Mr. Konrath, Mr. Eisler, thanks. This has been an interesting exchange between two traditionally published authors who now have the option to choose whether to self-publish or to accept a publishing deal with Amazon. “Option.” Pretty important word here. We can argue until the cows come home about if Amazon is similar to legacy publishers. It certainly has all of the pertinent earmarks, to my mind. Amazon provides editors, cover designers and a method of distribution. Most importantly, it gives authors’ books a ginormous marketing push. Aren’t these perks precisely why new writers aspire to go the legacy route? It sure isn’t for the money.

I live in a city that used to be dominated by the music industry. I’m sure you know what happened there. There are a lot of musical artists in this town who were dumped by their labels quite unceremoniously. Interesting times. Now they produce their own music and sell downloads, and they make good bank, even the one-hit wonders. But let’s be clear about one thing: their success is entirely due to their reputation as a “label artist” -- just like your success as writers is only due to once being part of legacy publishing. Where would you be right now if no one knew your names?

This is the first time I’ve commented on your blog, Mr. Konrath, but I’ve been reading it for quite a while. I do think that it’s important to encourage aspiring authors to build their reputation, to find the system that gives them that “juice.” Lest you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, I established myself as a print journalist with large national publications more than fifteen years ago. That’s the main reason why I make a living as a freelance writer today.

Jeremy Billings said...

Sooo... are there NDAs in those new contracts, fellas, or can we hope to learn what Amazon is offering as a favorable percentage?

N. L. Earnshaw said...

@Melissa

Have a look at how the little guys are doing. The numbers aren't as big but they are building their own readership. If they had waited for a legacy publisher many of these people would be seeing $0.00.

numbers http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,69390.0.html

are any of these guys living off their work?
http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,67313.0.html

rdlecoeur said...

I was in import/export for many years. If you wanted foreign lumber you had to buy from an agent-there was no other way. Then someone invented the fax and the foreign mills started dealing direct with the importer in a small way. Then some fool invented the internet and it went 100% dealing direct and soon there were almost no agents left at all. From grandees with all their grandiose trappings to zero within a very small space of time. I see exactly this scenario playing out in the book world. Why go through an agent when you can deal direct with the end user?
Global rights are the way forward as regional rights are a legacy of print and constitute restrictive practices. You drum home the most valid point of all. Self publishing is a business.You are self employed. Do whatever it takes to make $-its your business after all and frankly how you do it is your own business and should not be subject to misinformed bloggers who are desperate for content to their latest lame posts.
I wish you both continued success.
Roy

Jonas Saul said...

Great Conversation!

Thanks for taking the time to type and post this.

All the best,

Jonas Saul

Robin Sullivan said...

I've read a lot of anti-Amazon rhetoric the last few days since the announcements. To be honest I'm not sure where that is coming from. Amazon has done more to propel the writer making a living wage (first by breaking the barrier to entry by allowing for on-line buying) then by opening up their kindle platform to self-published authors. Now with contracts that actually make sense and allow authors to get the best of both worlds. It's like I've said all along There's never been a better time to be a writer and part of that reason is Amazon and what they've done.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Jon Piotr said...

Very interesting conversation, as usual. But in order to be fully transparent, you two should have indicated the percentage offered by your Amazon contracts. They are more interesting contracts than anything offered by the Big Six, sure, but could you tell us why and show us the proof ?

Archangel said...

i think most of all, most, most, just congratulations: the angels are smiling upon you both. Along with hanuman and kermit, too no doubt

dr.cpe

Andy said...

Here's the wonderful thing about all of this. Last night I published my 'new' novella with a few clicks. It was live to buy within an hour on both Amazon and Smashwords (you guys must have seriously upgraded your systems as I was expecting 48 hours!).

The story, though, isn't 'new' at all. It was published in an anthology 17 years ago and was quite a success. As much as a young student could hope for. I got to see my story in print and I did a public reading with some literary heavyweights. But despite them directly recommending me to their publishers, I was still considered to be not worth the risk. Fair enough.

The published story was a highly edited version of a longer novella I'd written years before, which I always loved and thought had a life. Over the years various agents and publishers said it was beautiful and well written but there was no market for it. Fair enough.

But now there's Amazon and Smashwords and the market that no publisher wanted to take a risk on is quite clearly there, and a 22-year old story that I only had on paper, written on a typewriter, rescued from a box full of similarly neglected stories, now has a new life and can find an audience. And I fail to see why any publisher should feel annoyed about that.

Thanks for yet another inspirational discussion, guys.

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.2011 on Amazon and Smashwords : 3 down, 8 to go

The Very Thought of You, a timeslip ghost story, out now...

Kathleenshoop said...

This was extremely informative, but it left me wondering how Amazon Encore is to be approached by ordinary writers like me! It seems as though they've approached most/all? The authors they work with. I'll go back and look for the info again, but if there's a quick answer I'm just overlooking I'd appreciate the heads up.

Congrats to Barry and Joe on the strides you've made. It really is an amazing time!

PS I sold approx. 1700 books since releasing The Last Letter on May 1! Much of that is in ebooks and Joe's advice played a big part in how I've chosen to push my book! Not totally, but significantly, yes!

Thanks!

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

IF THE BIG SIX ARE LEGACY PUBLISHERS, WHAT DO WE CALL AMAZON?

NextGen publisher? NewGen publisher?

Robin Sullivan said...

@Robert Bruce Thompson said...
IF THE BIG SIX ARE LEGACY PUBLISHERS, WHAT DO WE CALL AMAZON?

NextGen publisher?

I like it!!

And I'd just like to say...proudly...that I was a NextGen publihser even before Amazon. Ridan's contract is outstanding in the industry. We offer 70%/30% split with authors (yes they keep the 70%, we leave all sub-rights to them, and what's more....you can leave anytime you don't like what we're doing on your behalf. If you can get a better contract some where else - we want you to take it.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Ellen Fisher said...

"But in order to be fully transparent, you two should have indicated the percentage offered by your Amazon contracts."

They probably can't. That's one difference between self-pubbing and writing for a publisher-- non-disclosure agreements.

Joe, I'm not sure I agree that an agent working as an edistributor (is that the right word?) doesn't have a conflict of interest. If an agent is packaging books for sale on Amazon, what is her impetus to continue trying to sell to New York? I suppose it depends on what the author wants-- if you don't want to sell to a traditional publisher, it doesn't matter much anyway. But if you do, it seems like an agent who's packaging ebooks would indeed have a conflict of interest.

TK Kenyon said...

I knew that when you didn't post for over a week, that you'd have something good for us, and it's GREAT!

Thank you yet again, Barry and Joe!

TK Kenyon
______________

Dr. Kenyon's Writing Apple -- Writing prompts to help you think about your work-in-progress, not about monkeys and frogs.

Michelle Muto said...

I think this deal is smart, Barry. And thanks for helping to pave future contracts for us indies!

My goal isn't to take down the Big 6. My goal is to make a good living doing what I love.
This. I couldn't agree with you more.

Tracy Lynn said...

As a reader, and a voracious one, I have been fascinated by this continuing discussion about where publishing is heading. I own a Kindle and have been pretty appalled at what the legacy publishers consider a reasonable price for an e book.
Even taking into consideration the fact that publishing is a business, you can't help but look at their prices and feel like you are being had.
I am all for authors making money and in fact want them to make enough money to write full time, and it galls me to know that the majority of the money I am paying for a book is not going to them. I think I would feel better about the prices if it was.
Anyway, thanks for posting this. You guys are fantastic.

Terri Reid said...

Great post. I think this is exciting news - another option for writers!!! Thanks for sharing your information.
I've never felt this was a "war" between indie writers and traditional publishing - I've always felt it was just another road to take - the road less traveled. But the basic idea is to have our stories read - and, if we are lucky enough, be able to do this for a living.
I'm lucky enough to be able to write for a living now - and I owe a great deal of thanks to you, Joe!
Terri Reid

Isabella Amaris said...

Hi Joe,

I agree with your post completely. I've never understood the need to label authors based on the publishing models they buy into. Funnily enough, just blogged about this (http://devenakas.blogspot.com/2011/06/self-publishing-or-traditional.html) and came to pretty much the same conclusions as you (albeit not in so much detail:D).


At the end of the day, readers don't care how you're published as long as they enjoy the work, and any method which gets your stories to readers without killing your livelihood/rights/creativity is the logical option for any author to go with. The publishing world is evolving for sure, and I'm optimistic that whatever happens, readers and writers are going to benefit from the changes.

Oh, also, just wanted to thank you for all the great information on self-publishing, which ultimately caused me to self-publish a few titles myself:)

Cheers.

John Rector said...

This was extremely informative, but it left me wondering how Amazon Encore is to be approached by ordinary writers like me! It seems as though they've approached most/all? The authors they work with. I'll go back and look for the info again, but if there's a quick answer I'm just overlooking I'd appreciate the heads up.


Other than self publishing ebooks, most of the Encore writers I know were recruited out of Amazon's Breakthrough Novelist Award.

At this point, I don't think they have the infrastructure to open their doors to the onslaught of submissions they'd receive from Agents, but with the New York office opening soon, that might be coming eventually.

Right now they're being smart about this. Unlike the big 6 who have to take chances on unknown and unproven novelists, Amazon can look at the data and see who is selling and who they are selling to, then make a decision based on those figures as well as on the quality of the book. The big six have to shoot in the dark, and they've failed so often that they're hesitant about signing new authors. Amazon might move more toward what the big 6 do, but I doubt they'd turn their back on a formula that is working very, very well for them right now.

I think your best bet if you want to publish with Amazon is to either have an ebook that sells REALLY well, or enter the ABNA and make it to the final rounds. If those don't work, you can always go the old fashioned route and find an agent who will submit your books to them when/if they open their doors for submissions.

Best of luck.

blog

Kathleenshoop said...

@John rector
Thanks! That's pretty much what I thought from looking around myself! I appreciate your response.

Selena Blake said...

As usual, an interesting discussion.

I think the biggest problem for agents right now is the not knowing. Essentially their job is the gatekeeper between the Big 6 and bazillions of authors. With the Big 6 in trouble and offering less contracts/less in the way of an advance it makes sense that they'd feel like they're on spin cycle. I think the agents who get their heads together and work through this period gracefully are the ones who'll come out on top. Otherwise, authors are going to remember who was snarky and unhelpful.

JW Manus said...

Thank you, Joe and Barry.

You might be interested in the deal I currently have going. A short story writer was doing the "find a paying market" thing and we all know the current state of print publishers and short fiction, and there are so many rip-offs with online fiction markets, it's a bear separating good guys from bad guys. Then you guys started your conversations, so I sent the writer to this blog and told her, "If you like what you see, let's epub your collection." She doesn't have the cash on hand to pay my regular editing fees, but I looked at it as an investment (she's very talented). Our deal is, I edit the collection and format the books. (she got creative in bartering for proofreading services and cover art). Our deal is, I get 10% commission off the first 5000 copies sold. Period. No encumbering her rights, none of that pay me into perpetuity crap. If the collection does well, I make bank. If it doesn't, I've still learned lots and will know how to do it better next time.

It's an interesting experience, and I pretty much blame you guys for it. Thanks!

Selena Blake said...

I agree with Isabella. Sometimes I'll hear readers say "oh, I'd never buy a self published book" but I wouldn't be surprised if at some point in the near future they buy one without even knowing.

It's not about the labels. It's about writing and producing a fabulous book that will entertain readers. We can hire editors, cover artists and marketing gurus just like the Big 6 can. We have a responsibility to produce the best product possible. If we do that, readers aren't going to care that we don't have a major publisher behind us.

At this point in the game having a big publisher backing you is what you want when you don't want the hassle and extra work of hiring an editor, cover artist and doing your own distribution.

E.C. Belikov said...

@Robin Sullivan,
Your post made me want to polish up my manuscript and send it in. Then I saw that Ridan isn't currently accepting submissions. Tease LOL.

Really though, great looking site and from what I could see it looks like a great publisher to work with.

I will keep checking back in and watching for when you open up for subs.

John kelly said...

Thanks very much, gentleman. Great stuff, as always.

I was just on another blog discussing with an agent his feelings that publishers were sick and tired of 'Mr. Bezos trying to ruin their business' and that he thought we'd see publishers pull out of using Amazon, which seemd ludicrous to me because that would mean loosing lots of dinero. I then asked him what he would do if Thomas & Mercer offered one of his clients a lucrative contract. It amazes me that there is so much negativity. I know it's fear but it's as if agents and publishers forget that the engine running all of publishing is content; writers. And offering them options and potential for growth and success would seem to beenfit everyone. Talk about biting the hand that feeds them...

John

John Kelly said...

Geez, John, use the preview so you can correct your typos....

CCMacKenzie said...

Hi Joe & Barry

I've also left this comment in Barry's blog too:

I am delighted for you and Barry. I left a post on a certain agent's blog which says it all really.

Both of you have been open and honest and even handed in dealing with the tsunami of change that has washed over the industry.

In any creative genre, be it in music or writing, there will always be 'purists' and that's fine. You can't please all of the people all of the time.

However, the whole point about 'creative freedom' is to be able to be nimble footed and jump when you see a new opportunity.

Barry is giving his READERS a choice, ebook or printed. How is that wrong? Okay, so Nook etc are not included, but he fought hard for them to be included. I bet in the future they will be. You roll with the punches. Barry is not Jesus Christ, he can't walk on water (er, can you?)

Different and better opportunities will arise in the future of self publishing or with a progressive publisher like T&M. And Barry and Joe, knowing them, will be right at the front of the line.

Another thing, I bet good money on it, that if T&M do not follow through. Guess who'll be shouting the loudest, yep Barry and Joe.

I've been lurking around Joe's blog for a year and I'm not the only one either. Although I came across Barry, from girls in the romance community.

Yep, you're a poster boy for those ladies. They love your hair! TMI?
Especially Joanna Terrero. I was dared to mention that, so I won't apologise, she'll be thrilled. I can't resist a challenge.

Keep on keeping on Barry, don't let the B****** get you down. We can't thank you and Joe Konrath enough for banging the drum for fair royalties and giving a voice to the author.

Christine

Elizabeth Ann West said...

Thank you so much for the conversations, though I am still traumatized by the first monkey/frog link. :) I was cyber-monitoring (Stalking?) a literary agent that linked to the first conversation and after reading that and doing more research, I realized self-publishing is for me. When you've made the living you want for the last 4 years writing non-fiction on-spec, there is very little from the legacy publishing that appeals to me. I am a business woman, and my business happens to be writing. But I acknowledge there are some who people who are writers, and don't want to be businesswomen. That's why I think there will always be a legacy publishing system (and I do laugh you had to define legacy, that term is used in computing all the time).

As you pointed out a long time ago, we have electricity and yet people still make a living selling candles. Though, I don't see many oil lamps running around :)

Here's to a very big pie with lots of different flavored filling. And the best news I can think of is so far I haven't seen any changes that mean readers have less to choose from, and that's a very good thing.

Oh, a little off topic but one of the quotes I saw from BEA was that parents would be reluctant to buy ereaders for their children because of the price. !!! Are they out of their f*ing minds??? $114 shoot even $249 for a color Nook for my kid to be in the back seat READING instead of playing the $200 DS or PSP, or watching DVDs on the $99 portable DVD player? $100-$200 is an acceptable price point for the "large" gift for Christmas or birthday for most pre-teens/teens. And if my 10-year-old can read Rick Riordan on an ereader he can take to and from school, have his textbooks loaded on it, and oh yeah, use a stylus to make fan art he can then whizz to his buddy? Even better. Quick, someone get Nintendo on the phone and have them work with Amazon of B&N. :)

Mags said...

Barry and Joe, I can't help wishing that, rather than limiting yourselves (and your potential customers) by entering a publishing arrangement that excludes certain markets, that there wasn't an opportunity for an entirely new kind of company, one that wouldn't limit a certain segment of your audience but will still allow you to get your books into brick and mortar bookstores. As Miss Snark used to say, exclusives suck. The context was different, but the sentiment remains the same. I'm not suggesting that you two set it up--you are authors, your job is to write--but I wish some other group would do it.

Non-bestseller authors will not be able to publish on Amazon alone. They can't afford to give up anyone's ability to one-click-buy a book. As a Nook owner, I always prefer to one-click buy when I can, which is most of the time. I have a couple of books to review for my blog and one I had to buy from Book Depository because it wasn't available in the U.S. sitting on my computer at home because I haven't had an opportunity to sideload them. One-click buying makes us ereaders very lazy.

And I doubt I'll buy a Kindle. I really, really, really like my Nook Color. It is the sixth ebook reading device I've owned and has spoiled me thoroughly. I am thinking about buying the upcoming Nook Simple Touch to have an eInk reader available, but I'm really not sure I'll use it enough to make it worth spending the money or keeping another device around the house. I never thought I'd love a non-eInk reader so much. I get now why people love their iPads so much! (I don't want one of those, either.)

I'm not at all anti-Amazon. I buy from them all the time, including just about all my music downloads, and even the occasional paper book. Just not ebooks.

Selena Kitt said...

Are they out of their f*ing minds??? $114 shoot even $249 for a color Nook for my kid to be in the back seat READING instead of playing the $200 DS or PSP, or watching DVDs on the $99 portable DVD player?

Ah but it's the cost of BOOKS that matter in that scenario. Because you're going to buy the books anyway. Is it cheaper to do it on an ereader or at the store?

Unfortunately right now, it's usually cheaper at the store, especially for kids.

The good news is more Indies are out there writing good children's books that I can get on my iPad so yay! But legacy pubs (I still like "corporate pubs" - of which Amazon would be one, I believe, in the scheme of things, and there's not much difference, but I'll get to that...) continue to cinch the noose tighter around their own necks with high ebook prices. *shrug*

You know, I'm not Indier than Thou Art, and I could care less who you sign with or don't. But I would caution authors (why am I always the alarmist? lol) to make sure they know exactly what they're getting into. I trust Joe and Barry do. They've been playing this game a long time.

But not all of the Indies out there are as experienced or knowledgeable. And as always, I'm going to pipe up for not putting all your eggs in one basket. Maybe for a book or two a year, as Joe is doing, it makes sense, especially if you're prolific. But the name of this game is distribution - always has been - and in a free market, we WANT competition, as much of it as we can get. Eggs in many baskets, chickens! ;)

BTW, Excessica was also way ahead of the curve in NextGen publishing. We still only take 10%, but like Robin's company, we're closed to submissions. The reality is you can't get a business to truly make enough money at that percentage. That's why most epubs take 70% and leave the author 30% or so, not the other way around.

JAMES BRUNO said...

I just let go of my big name agent, now completely won over by Joe Konrath's arguments about legacy vs self-publishing. With two Kindle multiple bestsellers and two more books on the way this year, I only wish I knew how to get Thomas & Mercer's attention. At this early stage I guess it's by invitation only.

Coral Russell said...

I just downloaded the whole she-bang for my Kindle. Great stuff!

For 7 mos. I've been pouring over this stuff and have put it all on my blog in sections. The last section, Book Promotion, is up.

Hope ya'll find the information is useful!

http://alchemyofscrawl.blogspot.com/2011/05/almost-diy-guide-to-ebook-publishing_31.html

I'm amazed that I keep adding stuff almost daily. My plan is to keep it updated and re-post/publish twice a year. Adding a link to this conversation to the eBook!

Nick Cole said...

Buggy Whip Manufacturing Association. A suggestion for Legacy publishing moniker.

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

Selena Kitt said...

BTW, Excessica was also way ahead of the curve in NextGen publishing.


Did I mention that I trademarked "NextGen Publish*"? ;)

When I wrote that last post, I was thinking of Amazon as the first nextgen publisher, and B&N as the likely second one. You and Robin made me realize that it isn't just the Amazons and B&N's of the world that the trad publishers need to worry about; they're about to be eaten by a horde of tiny mammals.

The exciting thing to me about all of this is that the dam has burst and ideas are flowing again. I read a dozen or so publishing blogs, and I see ideas sprouting left and right. Some of them, like Dean Wesley Smith's post on putting "book cards" in bookstores, strike me as non-starters, but among this flood of ideas there are no doubt quite a few that are going to work out. No wonder the trad publishers are scared shitless.

kathie said...

@Elizabeth Ann West "I don't see many oil lamps running around..."

Boy, that image gave me a chuckle! Holy Beauty and the Beast! Great insight re: business of writing.

kathleen shoop
The Last Letter May, 2011

Robin Sullivan said...

I'm with Ellen on the conflict of interest. If an agent wants to sell titles to publishers - then stay an agent and do that. If you want to publish backlists (or front lists) become a small press. To do both is a conflict of interest - IMHO.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

@Blogger E.C. Belikov -- Yes we are closed to submissions - we're swamped with some great work that I just can't wait to hit the market with - the trick is keeping the old stuff going strong while bringing in the new ones. So many plates spinning. Now that I do this full time the timing of releases should accelerate nicely.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Joe Konrath said...

To do both is a conflict of interest

Only if the agent is selling to her own publishing wing.

An agent taking 15% of what she helped to publish, whether it is on Amazon or with the Big 6, is not a conflict of interest. It is in an agent's best interest to get as much money for her client as possible, either way.

Robin Sullivan said...

@ Robert Bruce Thompson...

Woohoo I'm a tiny mammal - I'll take that distinction. I was at Balticon this weekend and had a standing room only session on "The Changing Face of Publishing" where I spoke about my model and the successes I've had. Almost everyone in the audience "got" what I was doing and really liked the idea. A few "hold outs" wanted us to act "old school" - they were upset we didn't give advances - but then I noted if I did that I would have to "tie you into" a set period to recoup my money. The guy who raised the issue just didn't "get it".

While at the session Nathan Lowell (one of my authors) had the best quote of the day..."I can't afford to be a tradtionally published midlist author." He is so right! The type of money he makes at the volumes I produce verses the small volume low %'s he would have gotten with a legacy imprint would be huge.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

@Joe - But what makes you think they can make more money when they publish it?

I think agents have some of the skills required to be publishers - editing - certainly as many used to be editors before becoming agents. But I'm not sure they have the "marketing chops" to do right by a title they bring on. So if they grab up a title and publish it themselves because it is "easier" then shopping it to other publishers - and then do poorly with it - the author may make less than if they had just placed it in the first place.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Megg Jensen said...

I'm curious Barry & Joe - will your paperbacks be closer to the quality of traditional published books?

Create Space does a good job, but....you have to admit, it's not the same quality as the paperbacks you see in a bookstore.

Megg Jensen

Joe Konrath said...

So if they grab up a title and publish it themselves because it is "easier" then shopping it to other publishers - and then do poorly with it - the author may make less than if they had just placed it in the first place.

I agree.

But agents will develop chops. You can learn how to self-pub effectively. If they're motivated to make as much money as they can, it will be a nice combination of selling to the Big 6, self-pubbing, and subsidiary rights.

Christina Garner said...

I'm fascinated that there is any controversy whatsoever about Barry's deal. Who's business is it??

That said, I completely understand why he took a deal that was such a match for what he was looking for. I'm marketing my YA Urban Fantasy novel now, and let me tell you, I enjoy writing way more than marketing. It's why I totally understood Amanda Hocking taking the deal with St. Martin's when she did. Anything that gives the writer a fair deal and puts his/her book in the hands of readers is a good thing, in my opinion.

Congrats, Barry, and thanks Joe, for always sharing your wealth. (Of knowledge, that is. Though if you wanna share your profits, give me a call;)

SlingWords aka Joan Reeves said...

Joe and Barry, thanks for the latest installment. My two cents about why Amazon is getting so much bad press by the legacy crowd? Everyone is running scared: agents, editors, distributors, legacy authors.

I've got 4 ebooks out now. The first went live 2 months and 5 days ago. At the moment, I'm closing in on 20,000 sales. 20K in just a little over 2 months!

I hate to say it, but if I still had any contacts in NY, I'd be sorely tempted to send a "na-na-na-na-na" email to them.

Joe, add this to your tally of thousands who have probably made this statement: I wish I'd entered the epub arena sooner.

J. Steven York said...

Joe, Barry, another interesting and informative post. Thanks.

I'd like to make a limited defense of a my pal Dean Wesley Smith's points. Limited, in that we disagree (or at least have unequal certainty) about some of them.

One of Dean's points that I agree with is that entering into any sort of open-ended percentage deal such as we're talking about here is fraught with potential difficulties and opportunities for fraud.

Not that such agreements shouldn't be entered into. Barry's deal with Amazon, for example, makes sense. Such a deal with an agent might make sense (Dean would probably disagree with me here, and I admit to being skeptical about agents myself these days, but I'm not yet totally adverse to them).

But entering into something as deceptively complex and long-term for what is essentially one-time piece-work, I agree with Dean that this is at best a questionable idea, and probably a very bad one. And I'd further say that it's a bad idea at 50%, and it's an even worse idea at 1%, because at that point it's so UNNECESSARY.

Look at it this way. Say a guy shows up and offers to paint my house for an ongoing percentage of my monthly gross income that currently amounts to a dollar a week. Great deal, right?

But now, every month, I've got to pay the paint bill. I've got to compute the amount of the paint bill, and provide the painter with a statement. A small but annoying pain in the butt.

Maybe, on the other hand, the painter could do that. All I have to do is provide him with access to all my personal financial information (I've given him a pretty good window anyway, since he knows exactly what I make, and probably has the right to audit me to verify that). Or of course, I could just route all my checks through him, trust him to take out his minuscule percentage, and pass the rest along to me. Nothing could POSSIBLY go wrong with that arrangement!

Anyway, months go by, and my self-publishing starts doing great. I double, triple, quadruple my income, and suddenly my paint-guy bill is going up too. Suddenly I get a big windfall advance from a next-gen publisher, and the paint guy gets his cut too.

In five years, I'm making so much money that I'm paying the paint guy $500 a month, and meanwhile, the house still needs painting...

Cut 50 years into the future, when I'm gone, and my heirs want to sell the house. Except they'll first have to deal with the heirs of all the paint-guys and gals who want a slice of my literary estate and the sale of the house... (Not to mention all the roofing gals, plumbers, lawn care folks, gutter cleaners, etc.)

(But also pity the poor painter heirs, who have to track and untangle the financial status of thousands of home-owners and their estates.)

In other words, it's just a stupid way to pay for such a service. It's a stupid way to sell such a service too.

(cont.)

J. Steven York said...

Percentage deals make more sense with publishers and agents who are presumably offering an ongoing service to the author. They make sense when transferring a primary product of indeterminate sales value (the sale of a literary work to a publisher, for example).

(There's also a unsettling potential for fraud in most such agreements which increases exponentially with the complexity of the deal and the rights being handled, which is one of my major problems with the current agent model. But at some point, you're always going to have to put a certain amount of trust into other parties, so that potential is always there. We put a huge trust in our ebook distributors that they'll accurately reports sales to us, for instance.)

But paying an ongoing percentage to someone to format your book into an ebook format that could be obsolete in two or three years anyway? That's insane.

(I suppose a greater argument could be made for the creative folks who paint cover-art, but there's little evidence that covers are a primary reason for people buying books, and in any case, they're package, not product. At any rate, artists have plenty of opportunity these days to sell limited rights, and turn their other rights into primary products that they can sell or licence directly.)

I'd also have less trouble with a limited percentage deal: perhaps one with a cap on pay outs, or a (relatively short) duration, but in those cases, the percentages would likely be so high it becomes obviously what it is: a loan with bad terms. So you might as well just pay for it anyway.

If you're a beginning author, you might just say, "but Steve, I can't be bothered to learn to do things well enough to bootstrap myself into business, and I can't afford to hire someone out of pocket!"

Well, if you can't afford to buy some lemons and paper cups, you can't open a lemonade stand either. What's your point?

In general, percentage deals like this don't really make long-term sense for EITHER party. So for me, the bottom line is: I'm going into a long-term business arrangement with someone whose business is likely to collapse, and I'm going to get tangled in the mess.

Really. Learn to do it yourself until your sales generate enough money to pay someone. Or raid the college fund. Or sell your Hummel collection. Or something. Anything is better.

Kathleenshoop said...

@jStevenYork
Hummel collection liquidation--eBay is saturated for some odd reason...hehehe...

Kathleenshoop
The Last Letter--May, 2011

J. Steven York said...

On the agents-as-publishers business:

I don't have any problem with agents becoming publishers. Bold lateral move and good use of your skill-set. But I'm of the opinion that you can be a publisher, or a agent, but you can't be both. Choose.

And I don't care if we're talking about 50% or 15% or 5%. If the agent has an INTEREST in your publishing through them, then there's a conflict.

Yes, even if if they're offering to do it for the same %15 they'd take for publishing with the other guy. Because one reason you hire an agent is for their insight into the business, to tell you that house A, despite the bigger advance, is offering a crap contract and won't promote your book as well and is in the middle of a corporate merger, and thus is undependable and unpredictable.

An agent can't objectively make those sorts of determinations about themselves. Assume that yes, they make 15% either way. That doesn't mean all things are equal. Probably, despite the formatting and covers, doing it themselves is probably MUCH easier over the long term than dealing with a third-party publisher and all their paperwork and oversight. Perhaps they can sell far less, and still make much more.

Or maybe it's just a matter of their ego. Maybe they just can't admit that their covers suck, their formatting is glitchy, their sales copy is terrible, and the guy across the street could do a way better job and sell more books.

Or maybe (hopefully a long-shot, but you have to consider), just by keeping everything in-house and away from third-party systems, they have more opportunity to misreport sales, cook the books, and pocket a "hidden commission" that you'll never know about.

No, if you're making a publishing deal with your agent, no matter how benign it may seem, you need an agent (or an IP attorney, or at least a lot of publishing smarts) to deal with your agent. That's not the relationship you signed on for.

Joshua James said...

Does anyone have any feedback, positive or negative, regarding Telemachus Press?

My understanding is you pay them a flat fee, they format, upload and do everything to set your work up on all platforms while leaving all the contact info and power with you ...

How's it worked for everyone else?

Megg Jensen said...

I also see more agents closing to submissions across the board and more indies being offered representation out of the blue. Is their next plan to troll the amazon sales rankings for clients? First chapters are free downloads, the synopsis is there, people are already ranking it.

Why both with a slush pile anymore?

Megg Jensen

Mark Asher said...

I think this is a great deal for Barry. I just wonder if this development is good for indie writers?

We have no marketing budget to speak of. We depend on Amazon putting our books in front of customers. When we climb high enough in the sales rankings, Amazon's algorithms will do this.

The issue is that on an average visit to Amazon, a customer views an average number of books. Let's call it 30. You need your book to be one of those 30 that is displayed without it being specifically searched for. That generates sales.

But what if two years from now Amazon has signed 100 writers? How many of those 30 slots will Amazon fill with its own imprints?

In the past Amazon has been something of a meritocracy for indies. I worry that indies may be crowded out of the front of the store now by Amazon's own line of books.

Elizabeth Ann West said...

@Selena Kitt

I drop $15-$25 per video game for the DS, even used games. From a parent perspective, the price per book wouldn't be an issue. I'm talking middle grades - high school here. Chapter books for kids are usually a series, so the first few we buy in paperback because our kid is getting into the series on Book 2 or 3. But as the series continues, and they come out in hardback first, if it's what the kids will read, we buy it.

We pay $9.99 for albums for ipods, $9.99 -$14.99 would be a very reasonable price to me for an ebook where the vocabulary words are click and popup the definition. ETC. I think there will be a huge market for e-readers in that age group. These kids already have hundreds of dollars in technology spent on them in DVDs, MP3s, cell phones, etc. AND, with the digital library continuing, you only have to buy one copy for your kids to share, and now worry about losing the book or one kid destroying it.

Barbara Morgenroth said...

I had an agent, former editor at a Big Six, who was as lazy as could be. I wrote her a nice note about submitting my work in a timely fashion because this was a business for me and I needed the money. She snapped back "I'm not responsible for your income!"

It's impossible to deal with someone who thinks like that. And pretty much they all think like that.

T.M. Souders said...

I actually read the particular comments from the unnamed agent you mentioned in your discussion. At the time, I thought, "Oh jeez. Can't wait to see what Barry and Joe have to say about this." I'm glad I wasn't dissapointed.

Buddy Gott said...

Joe, thanks for yet another great posting. I'm an aspiring novelist and I find myself checking in here every day for your latest updates. Very inspiring stuff!

Cathy Titus Neumueller said...

@MarkAsher
But what if two years from now Amazon has signed 100 writers? How many of those 30 slots will Amazon fill with its own imprints?

In the past Amazon has been something of a meritocracy for indies. I worry that indies may be crowded out of the front of the store now by Amazon's own line of books.


This is my concern as well. What if Amazon decides to modify the terms for Indie authors to favor their own authors?

Also, has anyone heard a reason why the tags are gone from the Kindle books?

Great post guys.

Jude Hardin said...

Great post, guys. Very, very, interesting. And congrats on the deal, Barry.

I'm with Joe on the estributor issue. I think it would be well worth 15% for someone to take on all those duties mentioned. They make money if you make money, so there's incentive to see the book succeed and keep on succeeding; there's no big upfront expense (i.e. gamble) for the author, as there is now with covers and formatting; it frees up writing time, which translates into more product and ultimately more money.

I don't see the down side to it.

Unborn

franklin said...

I think you're making an assumption about the publishers that could be wrong. Hollywood had a similar situation with dvd. It's starting to hurt them now that the dvd market is crashing, but they were making a mint for a few years there. These publishers can put out their catelog of old titles that might not have been in print. Doesn't cost them much and they get to keep most of the money. Long term it's going to destroy their business model but short term they might get rich. This is the obvious flip side of your complaining about their contracts. I wouldn't be surprised if you see many of these publishers merging and some specializing in these old titles. Amazon might even get into that game.

Shawna said...

You guys are kicking a-- and taking names, keep it up! And as always, thanks for the great info!

Nicholas La Salla said...

Hey Joe,

Great post, both you and Barry bring up a lot of great points and I don't think there's anything wrong with signing with a publisher while continuing self publishing. It's like having a day job AND a fun job where you can run wild and do whatever you want.

It's nice to see Amazon bridging the line between traditional publishing and the brave new world of doing it on the Internet.

Let's say that publishers do what Amazon has and create new, more fair contracts that benefit the reader and the publisher on relatively equal levels.

Now for my question.

How do you think the legacy publishing industry can change the problem of sheer volume? When an agent submits a novel to a publisher, they are going up against potentially thousands of other manuscripts, and there are only X number of slots for said publisher to fill.

What about the overflow? And by overflow, I mean the books that are good enough to publish but just do not find a home for whatever reason, not the ones that are poorly written first drafts.

Do you think the answer is to create more publishers? Is the answer to continue the self publishing model so that, in the event a book cannot find a home, it can still see the light of day?

When the contracts are fair, should we return to that old gatekeeper hovering over the slush pile? Do you still see self publishing being more lucrative no matter what?

Thanks,

Nick

One More Day: An Urban Ghost Story -- Kindle Nook
Three Before Dark: A Collection Of Horrifying Tales -- Kindle

Rob Cornell said...

So are there estributors out there already? If so, where do we find them? How do we vet them?

The more I think about it, the more I think it would work for me. I simply don't have the upfront cash to get pro editing and book covers. So far the editing isn't really an issue. I have a second reader and I write pretty clean copy and can proof well on my own. But the covers I have, while OK, aren't near the quality of some. And the more reading/research I do, the more I think my sales would increase quite a bit with better covers. While I don't have tons of sales and reviews, I have all five-star reviews. So it isn't the content (as near as I can tell). No one's getting hooked in the first place to even look.

I dunno. Anyway...where are the estributors, or more small presses like Robin's that basically work the same way?

Rose said...

Ah, my post showed up then disappeared. Any way, here it is again.

I had an Amazon tab open on a Kindle book I was interested in buying. When I went to look at it after reading this post and comments I found that what had been Kindle Store was Amazon Digital Services, Inc. After I moved away from it and came back it showed as Kindle Store again. Looks like Amazon is experimenting.

Katherine Sears said...

I am thrilled to see this post. Even more thrilled that you are able to articulate so well that it isn't about the process of the revolution, so much as it is about the result. The result must be better terms, better conditions, with the ultimate result of better books.

In point of fact, I believe so deeply in what you are saying, that my co-founder and I read your posts and take them to heart as we are refining our own publishing company's business model. Our stated goal is to change the way books are published. (Our company is Booktrope, also out of Seattle, ironically enough). We are trying to take it even one step further by ensuring fair terms for all those who work to create the book including editors and cover artists. Plus, (because if you are going to change things, why not change everything?), we incent marketing managers financially for book promotion by basing their pay on book sales.

So again, bravo for speaking honestly, and publicly so that others may learn through your experience. You are inspirational!

Mary Anne Graham said...

There's nothing that will kill gossip like refusing to hide. Thanks so much for the excellent info.

I agree with you that it's all about the business. As long as writers support each other, it doesn't matter how they're published. A steak is still a steak whether you pick it up and gnaw it off the bone or use a knife and fork.

I'm indie but if Amazon called or emailed - I'd be tickled witless. (Not that I'm terribly well-stocked with wit to begin with, mind you.)
The point is, everyone would have that conversation with Amazon - including all the writers who've been squawking the loudest.

Maybe I appreciate y'all so much because you're anti-frog. I've always been anti-frog. (Also, frogs terrify me - but that's another story!)

Also, I've got to quote ya'll - "If you're selling eggs, don't piss off your chickens." Now that kind of sharp patter explains all the best-sellers past and future!

Good luck to both of you.

Robin Sullivan said...

Wow -- Congratz Joan 20,000 books already is a tremendous accomplishment - way to go!

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

Based on the previous conversations with Barry and Joe - I don't think they proposed the percentage deal for "one time time services". I think they're looking for someone to "handle it all" from editing to public relations. Formatting is "day labor to be sure" but a good marketer who can propel your sales is worth paying a percentage to - and the really good ones won't work for a one time fee. In advertising its common for the ad firm to get a % of the ad buy. This model isn't any different then what is already around for professionals with these types of skills.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

Rob Cornell said...
I dunno. Anyway...where are the estributors, or more small presses like Robin's that basically work the same way?


To be honest I don't see the difference between what I do and an edistributor - I do the editing, cover design, formatting, PR, marketing - don't know why we call these estributors sounds like a "good" small press to me.

The only differences between what I do and others is

a) The ability to "walk away" anytime I'm not serving your needs - and no I don't think other publishers of any size will match that.

b) A "share" the favors the authors (who do most of the work) but still makes it profitable to me to put my "all" into the project. The 70/30 split works well for me - but for authors that bring more to the table (for instance already have established sales) I can take a smaller cut as I can predict a working budget more than I can with someone who hasn't been pubished before.

I think you'll find others that are willing to take the 15% of an "already performing" author but the question is - will they be able to do as well or better than they are already performing? If you have to "teach" an agent how to market (as Joe suggested) what's the point? I personally would be looking toward marketing professionals since IMHO that is the harder nut to crack then editing/formatting.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Errol said...

Masterful blog post. Enough said.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Melissa - because of one case of fraud Amazon has to remove all user generated content? Seriously? I'm sure they are making good money on all the indie autors who are selling books on DTP why would they walk away from that? I totaly don't understand your perspective.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Livia said...

What's scary is that a large number of the people who don't get it (judging by their comments), are publishing professionals whose jobs are to advise writers. Just shows how important it is for writers to be educated and think for themselves during this industry transition.

Barry said...

Hi everyone, thanks for all the comments. I'm a little reticent about sharing exact details about advances and splits because at some point I feel like these things are my own financial business. And regardless, the exact dollar figures and percentages are less relevant than the general points I'm trying to make. Of course, by not offering exact figures, I create an opportunity for some people so accuse me of using wiggle words or of being misleading. But even if I gave exact numbers, these same personality types would then just accuse me of outright lying. So I try to draw a balance between what's comfortable for me and what I think will be helpful to other authors, and people should draw their own conclusions.

I don't see any conflict of interest in an agency that charges its clients the same percentage for a sale to a publisher as for assistance with self-publishing. Either way, the agency makes the same percentage from the client's earnings, so should at least be theoretically neutral as between the options, looking only for the option that makes the most money for the client.

Remember, what Joe calls estributors aren't publishers. Publishers buy rights, and for me, the acquisition of rights vs the retention of rights is the essential difference between being published by someone else and publishing yourself. As long as an agency isn't acquiring rights but is only assisting its clients get published one way or the other and in both cases for an identical percentage, I see no conflict of interest. An author will still have to exercise her own good judgment in choosing the right path, but this is nothing new.

(Ah, I see Joe has made the same point further down.)

I don't really know how Amazon will be approaching other authors, or how other authors should be approaching Amazon. I feel fortunate that they got in touch with me. FWIW, I've asked them if/how they'd like me to get out the word about how to submit to them, and I'll post whatever I learn.

Barry said...

There's probably a lingering brand distinction between legacy published books and self-published, but it's fading fast. A couple weeks ago I read Blake Crouch's self-published thriller RUN and IMO it was straight-up superb. With this kind of quality available in self-publishing, I expect the legacy imprimatur will become decreasingly important, to be supplanted by customer rankings, customer reviews, and bestseller lists.

I like the "NexGen Publisher" moniker, but it seems more of a term of art than something that nails the heart of what Amazon is actually doing. Someone on my blog suggested "direct publishing," which I also liked, but also felt wasn't quite there. Author-centric publishing, maybe? But that's not quite right, either, because it ignores low prices and time to market, plus the excellent retail operation, all of which is reader-centric. So I'm still not sure.

The CreateSpace books I've seen seem to be of excellent quality, but I don't have that much data, so will let someone else take a crack at Megg's question.

Mark, I'm not sure Amazon (or any other distributor/retailer) has ever been that much of a meritocracy for providers (or, if it has, I'm not sure how relevant the concept of meritocracy is). The way I see it, it's always a challenge to get your product to the front of a retail store. There are different ways to get there, and everyone starts at the same place, but the end point in any industry is always narrow compared to the base. Legacy publishers have limited marketing budgets, and the job of a legacy author is to persuade her publisher to devote as many of those dollars to the author's works as possible. Brick and mortar stores only have so much space on the front table. Online retailers only have so much front page room, and only so many emails they can send out. As entrepreneurs, we authors will always have to find ways to get our books noticed -- indie, legacy, hybrid, whatever.

Melissa said, "I do believe that poor quality books on Amazon will affect indie authors profoundly. If Amazon wants to get in the game of publishing and be thought of as a “serious” publisher, all “user-generated content” on the site must necessarily go.

I think this is why Amazon has created sub-brands like Thomas and Mercer. Think Toyota and Lexus -- same company, signifying different things.

Livia: Yes!

Okay, back to The Detachment... :)

Katherine said...

Joe and Barry,

I appreciate you both sharing your views on self-publishing and the whole Thomas & Mercer thing. I have to admit I was disappointed, at first, to hear this is the way that you went, Barry, but after reading your blog I can clearly envision why you did and what Amazon's offer was. You were fresh in the newly self-employed and I'm sure it was beyond tempting to take their deal and being the savvy marketing guys that they are--an offer you couldn't refuse.

I would like to say to all those authors venturing into self-publishing and to the two of you as well...from my perspective, you have to do what feels right for you. You two are legacy publishing authors striking out on your own, so to speak, the majority commenting on this blog don't have that legacy (back lists, branding, name recognition, familiarity with the traditional publishing world).

But, all experience counts. I spent the last two years writing full-time and venturing in to the querying of agent waters. In the mean time, the traditional publishing industry was spinning out of control. I did notice that Borders was empty when I went there. I did notice that the poorly written Twilight books occupied an entire table and no one was there to buy them, although they must have been buying them at Amazon. I began to notice people carrying e-readers and then I stumbled on to Joe's blog. More than ten agents were interested in my work, but they were taking their damn sweet time getting back to me on full MS requests. Some wanted exclusives and then would turn me down with no explanation beyond: "it didn't feel right." What? Is this a fairytale?

My background is in high tech sales. I was floored by their old fashioned responses: "We'll get back to you in three months; six months; maybe never." Come to find out; the whole industry is like that. So no wonder the Amazon boys seemed refreshing...high tech, smart people always are.

I'm running my self-publishing foray as a business and know I will have to invest time and some money into marketing. I do the writing. I do the covers. I set up for e-books. I set up for print using Adobe InDesign because I love grey drop cap letters and fancy fonts in my chapter headings which I notice the Big Six don't even take time for anymore. All my chapters start on the right page like they are supposed to (a big time best selling author has all her chapters starting on the left because somebody didn't take the time to check and make sure it was done right.) I set the price. Lightning Source does the printing for trade paper and I just signed the contracts with them to offer those internationally as well in Canada, Australia and the UK and my e-books are available at B & N; Amazon, Smashwords (so I can get to Apple since they only accept Mac uploads which shows their own legacy tendencies).

It's all good. It's a big, bright world out there. It's too bad New York isn't even going to see it.

Best,

Katherine Owen
Author of Not To Us
and Seeing Julia

Karen Woodward said...

As always, great post! Thank you Joe and Barry.

One reason I like posts like this is because they create a place where self published writers -- or writers who are intending to self publish -- can virtually gather and share thoughts and ideas.

Like many beginning writers I belong to an organization for writers. I pay yearly fees and am part of this group's yahoo group and am welcome to attend their monthly meetings. And that's great. They have been a big help.

Lately, however, more people have been making comments to the effect that if a writer decides to self publish that they are doing so because they want to take the easy way. Those sort of comments used to make me angry now they just make me sad. I wish there was a professional organization for self published writers.

Sorry, that was off topic. I guess I just needed to vent. :)

Again, great post! Thanks!

Joe Renzo said...

Hey Joe/Barry in one section of your discussion you guys mention that you do not add DRM to your ebooks and that it's stupid.

My question is
1. By DRM you mean digital rights management; Right?
2. Why do you feel adding DRM to your ebooks is dumb?
3. DRM is added so people can't copy your digital works, Right?
4. And if that is the correct definition of DRM why wouldn't you want that protection?

Robin Sullivan said...

@Joe - I'll take on your DRM question as I think I know Joe's opinion on it as it is the same as mine.

Yes DRM is Digital Rights Mananagement. The reason it is "dumb" is it prevents people who have legitmately bought your book from using it on multiple devices which is a totally legitmate thing to do. In theory DRM is "suppose" to stop piracy but those that want to steal can circumvent it so easily that it provides no real deterent. So bottom line - it provides no real protection from those that steal and inconvienences those that buy legitmately - that's why most people who oppose DRM do so.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

Yes, Robin summarized the worthlessness of DRM in a nutshell. It does nothing to stop a book from being copied, but it does piss off the paying customers. Nothing like telling your prospective buyers that you consider them to be thieves.

In practical terms, putting DRM on a book reduces its sales. If I come across a book on Amazon that otherwise sounds perfect for me, I won't buy it if it has DRM on it. Or, if for some reason I simply must have that book, I'll buy it, but the first thing I'll do is strip the DRM from it, which takes about 30 seconds. I simply refuse to have DRM-laden stuff on my Kindle.

Glynn James said...

I'd say that Amazon (or Thomas and Mercier) are a "contemporary publisher" :)

CCMacKenzie said...

I'm wondering if labelling Amazon or anyone else is useful, especially until things settle down. (If they ever do.)

Even the term 'legacy' publisher is polarising opinion, as soon as some people read that their hackles rise which closes their mind to informed debate and I'm beginning to think we need cross-functional communication across the whole industry.

I'd like to see Agents, publishers, e-publishers, self-published authors (published and unpublished) coming together under an umbrella of some sort and speak openly about what is going on.

After all, we're in the business of using language and labelling is not helpful. Look how hard it's been for self-publishing to be taken seriously, it's been an uphill bloody battle.

I'm not criticising anyone btw. Just thinking out loud.

David Gaughran said...

How about this term for Amazon:

Hybrid Publisher

They are taking the best of the old and the best of the new. They are allying a traditional-looking publishing arm with one of the most advanced online operations in the world.

They are hiring editors from "old publishing" and teaming them up with some of the best tech brains from Silicon Valley.

Plus, they are taking the advantages of self-publishing (higher royalty rates, creative control, speed to market) and marrying that to the advantages of traditional publishing (editorial, marketing, print).

Hybrid Publisher!

John Rector said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kathleen shoop said...

Anyone know anything much about the sunshine special books that Amazon is packaging and recommending? By packaging, I just mean they're selecting 600 books priced from .99-2.99 and putting them forth as a group for customers to consider buying. Anyone know the scuttlebut or facts regarding this new push?
Thanks so much!
Kathie
The Last Letter, May 2011

Jude Hardin said...

About Amazon’s Sunshine Deals

Livia said...

Coming back to the subject of conflict of interest. I'm struggling with this, and I haven't decided completely where I stand. On the one hand, you can argue that there is already a clear conflict of interest with the way the system works now. Given the fact that agents don't make anything if an author self publishes, there is a glaring conflict of interest when an agent is advising the author about whether to accept a publisher offer on the table, especially if the agent has worked very hard to secure an offer. And I'm not saying this from a standpoint of "oh those evil agents, trying to steal our money." Just from a personal standpoint, if I signed with an agent, I prefer not to be in the position where I have to choose between a mediocre publishing deal deal, and choosing to self publish knowing that I'm screwing over a business partner who has put a lot of work into my project. So on the one hand, you could almost argue that and making an avenue for agents to be compensated either way would reduce the conflict of interest when the agent is an advisory role.

But on the other hand, I don't think the agent publisher route is perfect either. I agree with J. Steven York -- it's not enough to equalize the percentage an agent-publisher would make. To truly get rid of conflict of interest, you have to equalize the amount of work it takes, the amount of personal stake and ego. And you also need a new neutral third-party to act as the author's advocate when negotiating the estributer contract, and also in cases where disagreements arise. In other words, you'd need to get someone else to act as agent.

So I don't know. I've never worked with an agent, so I'm not incredibly familiar with how the business relationship goes. I'd love to hear other people's thoughts.

kathleen shoop said...

@Jude
Thanks so much! I hope your sales are up where you want them! I have your book on my kindle, but haven't read it yet. I'm slow, it seems...

I did see that article yesterday, but wondered if anyone had any experience yet, with the list, for their own books, if any publishers/authors here were contacted by Amazon for this list?

Very curious to see how this impacts indies--will it give them more value due to these "other" books or will it dilute the sales from bargain shoppers?

Kathie
The Last Letter May, 2011

Barry said...

David, hybrid publishing is the best moniker I've heard yet. Seems obvious in retrospect, but if it were obvious, someone would have come up with it sooner.

Livia, I've heard the "but who will represent the author in her talks with the estributor?" concern before. My response is, but who has represented the author in her talks with agents? Agents and estributors both offer authors contracts, and in both cases, authors would be wise to seek some sort of outside advice before signing anything. As for so many aspects of the new world of publishing, what looks like a new problem is in fact a familiar one.

Kevin Lynn Helmick said...

I'm a curious about the effects of the createspace library . I saw this coming a long time ago, but figured they would apply the editing, marketing and promotional sevices to createspace for a share sales. (wishful thinking I guess since that's where my books are.) I don't see any hope for that happening now. I want to know of the future of creatspace. Will it no longer be needed, wanted by Amazon?
What's in it for these self published authors? I'm selling at Amazon and Kindle but as far as the Createspace site; I've heard nothing but crickets over there lately, kinda creepy, sounds like a slow death.
By the way, really enjoying the Joe and Barry show. Lots of great info and thanks for sharing it.

Mark Terry said...

Definitely worth reading, if only for Barry's assertion (which I agree with 100%) that the writer is a business owner that hires publishers as distributors and, I suppose, packagers. And yes, I'm all too aware that agents and publishers tend to treat writers as slightly retarded employees.

Plenty of good stuff here and the Amazon publishing deal sounds very, very intriguing.

Nice job, guys.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Kathleen - so the sunshine is messing with rankings to be sure - almost all my titles have fallen substantially in ranks (as well as others like John Locke etc). But...sales are still good so not a big deal. Watch my blog as I'm going to do an analysis on the Top 100 during this period and for awhile afterward to see how the ranks were influenced by this - it will be interseting to see if some of these publishers decide it was a good idea and continue the price point past the 15th.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

SlingWords aka Joan Reeves said...

Robin Sullivan said...Congratz Joan 20,000 books already is a tremendous accomplishment - way to go!

Thanks, Robin. I'd estimated I'd hit that mark today, but I noticed sales slowed a lot since last night. Now looks to be the weekend to break 20,000.

Guess that's the Sunshine Sales effect on indies. Also, I'm wondering about the absence of tags on my bookpages. I had emailed Amazon, and they said it was a tech glitch they were working on, but that's been days ago.

Anyone know anything about the keyword/tag situation?

HS said...

Another awesome conversation! Thanks for posting it.

As for what to call Amazon, may I suggest that they are part of Publisher 2.0.

Leigh Saunders said...

One of the questions I keep asking myself is "why would I want to give an agent/estributor/[anyone!] a percentage for helping me epublish, and tie them indefinitely to myself and my work?"

What happens if I’m not happy with the covers they’re putting on my titles? If I signed a crappy contract with them, I could be stuck with their covers. What if I think they’re doing a poor job with the ebook conversion of my manuscripts, but my estributor doesn't want to put out the effort to actually format the material properly? Oh well – readers will complain and my sales will suck, but they’re still getting their percentage. Etc.

It seems to me that one of the biggest advantages of the “day-laborer” model is that I can choose a different laborer any time I want to for any of the various tasks I want to offload, with no strings attached. And if my epublishing efforts grow to the point where I want to actually take on a staff, I can select the employee(s) who I think are best suited to the roles, and replace them with other employee(s) if the fit isn’t right or they want to go and do something else, or we run into whatever other situations life throws at us. I’m not tied to them for life (or the life of my work).

And, of course, while I’m happy to pay someone for the services they provide, I’m just not seeing how that translates into giving them a percentage of everything I earn. Head-shaking...

"Synth: Gold Record"
a science fiction novel by Leigh Saunders
www.leighsaunders.com

Kathleen Shoop said...

@robin Sullivan
Thanks for the info, Robin. I'll watch your blog for sure. So many of you are true gifts to the rest of us! I appreciate your work.
Kathleen shoop
The Last Letter

Jude Hardin said...

Plenty of good stuff here and the Amazon publishing deal sounds very, very intriguing.

As more authors sign similar deals, which seems inevitable, and other presses finally see the light and drop their prices, will it become harder and harder to stay afloat as an indie? Will publishers (including Amazon) once again become the gatekeepers?

Mark Asher said...

@Jude: "As more authors sign similar deals, which seems inevitable, and other presses finally see the light and drop their prices, will it become harder and harder to stay afloat as an indie? Will publishers (including Amazon) once again become the gatekeepers?"

I have the same concerns. Barry sort of addressed them, but his take was that writers have to do what they have to do, and it's always been hard to be in the front of the store.

I think the danger is sort of a mirror of what is going on in the U.S. right now -- the rich are getting richer, and the middle-class and poor are falling further behind.

It could be like that with books again too, with the top sellers selling even more while the mid-listers limp along and the indies fall back.

One of the exciting things about Amazon opening the gates with KDP is not that it created Amanda Hocking, but that it has allowed a lot of previously unpublished writers to make a living wage from self-publishing. There are writers making $2000, $3000, and even more each month.

These writers depend on Amazon and B&N displaying their books in front of customers. They are not known names. They sell because they've written books readers like and, more importantly, because Amazon and B&N actively promote them through their algorithms.

To illustrate how important that visibility is those algorithms produce, in early April B&N artificially dropped the rank of a number of erotica titles by a thousand spots. Why they did this they never explained, but it was probably because they were feeling some heat about a number of smut titles being in their top 200.

The sales for those books fell off a cliff. The books were still there for sale on B&N. Same books. Nothing changed beyond their sales rank. Just that change, however, reduced their visibility and dramatically reduced their sales.

That's the scary thing about Amazon signing a lot of writers. That they will favor those writers at the expense of others who would otherwise have gotten that visibility.

Sam Lee said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Barry and Joe.

Going with T&M sounds like no-brainers: all of the speed, price, and format advantages of indie publishing, more reasonable percentages of royalties, and the bonus of a big company that is a leader in its field to push a limited-contract work that will help float sales of your other products. Again, best of both worlds.

I like Hybrid Publisher; what about FlexPub? Amazon seems to be adapting very well to the changes that are occuring and snapping up opportunities in the new world of publishing and epublishing that legacy/trad publishers are either not aware of or are unable/unwilling to take advtage of and that is going to end up hurting them in the long run.


As for naming estributors, I would call them epackagers, as agent-publisher just shouldn't be used despite being more accurate--so as not to encourage them (g).

I'm not a fan of giving percentages of property, especially intellectual property--after all, even Silicon Valley VCs put up money up front before getting a percentage of ownership--but I'll follow the experiences of those who do go with agents and percentage-ownership epackagers with interest.

Walter Knight said...

I have been putting ads on my E-books, but it has just been in the form of promoting other books from my publisher.

Could I charge someone to place an ad at the end of my E-books? I don't see why not, if my books were popular enough.

Post sample chapters at the end of a popular E-book is a great way for a new author to get noticed. I have done that for friends, and can see positive results.

Walter Knight said...

So Joe, how much will you charge to place a sample chapter from one of my books at the end of one of your E-books?

Let me be the first.

Rose said...

@Robin Sullivan: I checked out a couple of books on the Sunshine Deals that I thought I might like and realized that I had got them last year (when they were free). In fact, one I had read just last month and didn't particularly enjoy it-- a Louisiana political corruption, animal abuse, incest mystery-- not that well written. Thank goodness for Amazon's "you've already bought this one" reminders.

There is also a lot of christian stuff from Tyndale and Barber, which I wouldn't even download for free.

Selena Kitt said...

"That's the scary thing about Amazon signing a lot of writers. That they will favor those writers at the expense of others who would otherwise have gotten that visibility."

I'm with you, Mark. And not just because I was one of the smut writers who got hit in the B&N rankings fiasco. :) Prudes. :P

If you think you're lost in a sea of books on Amazon now, wait until they have double the inventory, ebook prices have come down at the big houses AND Amazon is weighting their algorithms toward their own imprint.

Visibility is everything. Which means, authors, that BRAND will be everything in the future. Start creating yours now. As fast and as furiously as you can. Market your a$$ off.

Konrath has his niche carved out as the bad-boy/poster-boy for self-publishing. What's your brand? How will people know who you are?

Because if Amazon's algorithms aren't working for you, that just makes your job twice as hard.

Jude Hardin said...

If you think you're lost in a sea of books on Amazon now, wait until they have double the inventory, ebook prices have come down at the big houses AND Amazon is weighting their algorithms toward their own imprint.

Bingo.

Better start dusting off those query letters, because self-publishing isn't going to be a viable option for much longer.

David Gaughran said...

@Jude

I'm always interested in what you have to say - you've been around this game way longer than I have - but I don't get your take on this on all.

To me, it seems like you are not thinking about how readers actually operate.

Even amongst trade published titles only, there are way too many books for any reader to possibly flick through.

Go into any large bookstore. There is no way a reader could scan the entire collection before deciding what titles were their favorites.

That's not how people operate.

They buy stuff from authors they know and like. They pick up books recommended to them by people they trust. And, they pick up the odd title or two that catches their eye.

Same in a bookstore, same on Amazon.

And it would be the same if there were 10,000 titles published a year or 10 million.

The number of titles available is irrelevant.

Readers find books the way they always have. They tell each other.

chris said...

@Selena

You produce lots of titles, I would suggest you focus on building your email list.

Aweber.com is your friend for this.

You can also incentivize your reader in-book and push to an email submit.

Don't rely on retailer's email lists, generate your own ASAP.

Jude Hardin said...

Readers find books the way they always have. They tell each other.

Agreed. But they can only tell each other about books they've been exposed to. soon their exposure will once again be limited to what the publishers have deemed acceptable.

Selena Kitt said...

Don't rely on retailer's email lists, generate your own ASAP.

Way ahead of ya. I've got 3000 on one, 1200 on another and 650 an yet another. ;)

David Gaughran said...

Agreed. But they can only tell each other about books they've been exposed to. soon their exposure will once again be limited to what the publishers have deemed acceptable.

Why?

Readers have never blindly followed top-down messages from publishing before. It's like herding cats. They're very wilful, and they will read what they want to read.

Plus, they won't let anyone tell them what they can't read.

How could their exposure ever be limited?

The genie is out of the bottle. There is no corralling these folk. They have all staked their little claims for each little sub-sub-genre and they want more and more.

Publishers can't give them what they want.

Remember how horror was "dead". Indies proved that BS.

How long have you heard the short story is dead or dying?

I know a bunch of people making nice sales on short stories right now.

Indies are hitting demand before publishers even know it's there.

Andy said...

On the subject of random things that Amazon do. Why is it that I set a price for my books of $0.99 for my two novellas and $2.99 for my novel, but they're appearing on amazon.com at $1.14 and $3.40 respectively?

I'm UK-based but I set the price in dollars when I published and my UK prices seem to match what I set. Just don't know why they're more expensive on amazon.com than they should be.

Anyone got any idea as to why this is happening?

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.2011 on Amazon and Smashwords : 3 down, 8 to go

The Very Thought of You, a timeslip ghost story, out now...

W. Dean said...

Mark, Jude, Selena:

Amazon has no more incentive to stack the algorithmic deck in favor of their own titles than a grocery store does in stocking their shelves exclusively with the store brand. For one, consumers are easily turned off of recommended items that they don’t like, especially when they’re being recommended the company’s product. They circumvent the system when it doesn’t work for them.

Second, the barriers to market entry in e-commerce are far lower than they are in traditional publishing and bookselling. Setting up a website to sell e-books costs peanuts next to setting up a press or building a bookstore. So even if Amazon dominates the market, its dominance will not provide immunity against competition.

Selena,

I can understand why B&N would want to bias their searches against “erotica.” I’m not condoning their move or condemning erotica, but I have to admit I was a little surprised by the graphic material that comes up in an Amazon search. I searched for short stories and it seemed like every third hit was an erotic title, which ran the gamut from naughty to downright hardcore (e.g., one cover featured a naked, male demon delivering some punishment to a naked, grimacing man who was bent over in front of him—if you catch my meaning).

Again, it doesn’t bother me (except for the inconvenience of scrolling through it), but I can see it bothering a lot of customers.

David Gaughran said...

@Andy

That price difference your seeing is VAT.

Amazon trades out of Luxembourg for tax reasons, and thus must apply VAT to all sales within the EU, and is eligible to apply Luxembourg VAT rates on e-books which is 15%.

Dave

Selena Kitt said...

On the subject of random things that Amazon do. Why is it that I set a price for my books of $0.99 for my two novellas and $2.99 for my novel, but they're appearing on amazon.com at $1.14 and $3.40 respectively?

@Andy That sounds like a Google price to me. Are you on Google Books? Amazon will price match if they find a lower price somewhere else but I haven't heard of them raising the price. Strange!

Amazon has no more incentive to stack the algorithmic deck in favor of their own titles than a grocery store does in stocking their shelves exclusively with the store brand.

@W Dean: Maybe. I do hope you're right.

the barriers to market entry in e-commerce are far lower than they are in traditional publishing and bookselling. Setting up a website to sell e-books costs peanuts next to setting up a press or building a bookstore. So even if Amazon dominates the market, its dominance will not provide immunity against competition.

@ W Dean: Which is why I always encourage not putting your eggs in one basket. I put my books on B&N even when I wasn't selling gangbusters there and I'm leaving my books at places like Kobo/Borders (even if Borders is going bankrupt) and I'm cheering for Google Books and iBooks to catch up.

I can understand why B&N would want to bias their searches against “erotica.” I’m not condoning their move or condemning erotica, but I have to admit I was a little surprised by the graphic material that comes up in an Amazon search. I searched for short stories and it seemed like every third hit was an erotic title, which ran the gamut from naughty to downright hardcore (e.g., one cover featured a naked, male demon delivering some punishment to a naked, grimacing man who was bent over in front of him—if you catch my meaning).

Again, it doesn’t bother me (except for the inconvenience of scrolling through it), but I can see it bothering a lot of customers.


@ W Dean: B&N especially, with their color Nook aimed at kids. I've said this before, but I have no problem with a business deciding what it will and will not sell. I'm a parent, I get it. I wouldn't want my kids stumbling over some of the stuff out there either. Including my own! But what bothers me is the WAY they handle things. We're so repressed about sex in this culture that it's like they have to sneak around pulling "naughty" books off the shelves behind everyone's back. Amazon literally did that. B&N messed with the ratings, as did iBooks, taking erotica out of their top lists.

All they need to do is actually PLAN for having erotica in their virtual shelves. There are lots of ways to do it - I've been in contact with B&N and we've been having bi-weekly meetings about this very subject. They, at least, have been very responsive - after they realized how devastating to our sales their original move was. A little late, but it's something.

Andy said...

Thanks for the response. It's still puzzling, seeing as it doesn't actually allow me to buy them from Amazon.com, just lists the price and redirects me to co.uk. And does this mean that because I'm in the EU, I can never sell at the 99c price in the US?

And how do people manage to sell at 49c?

And if my title is cheaper on Smashwords, aren't Amazon supposed to match it, or do they wait for someone to inform them through the 'tell us about a lower price' button?

So many questions. I'm sure it will all become clear one day.

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11 on Amazon and Smashwords : 3 down, 8 to go
The Very Thought of You, a timeslip ghost story, out now...

Stephen T. Harper said...

Joe and Barry, and everyone else for that matter...

What do you think about an author and a freelance PR/marketing person entering into a deal for a cut of royalties. This would be on a per book basis. What percentage would be fair?

What if they are asking for a high percentage? How high would you go?

And what if the commitment goes on forever? No time limit. What kind of protections would you need written into the contract?

Robin, I'd be very interested in your take too.

Thanks all, Steve

Mark Asher said...

@ W. Dean: "Amazon has no more incentive to stack the algorithmic deck in favor of their own titles than a grocery store does in stocking their shelves exclusively with the store brand. For one, consumers are easily turned off of recommended items that they don’t like, especially when they’re being recommended the company’s product. They circumvent the system when it doesn’t work for them."

Ok, here's how the Amazon grocery store works. You want chili sauce. You go to the chili sauce section. There are 3000 different brands of chili sauce. At the front of the section are the top selling chili sauces, Amazon's own store brand of chili sauce (probably about a dozen different brands), and the chili sauces from other makers who have paid for the premium placement.

Are you really going to keep walking to continue to look at all those other chili sauces, or will you be most likely to grab one at the front of the aisle? You will if you heard about Uncle Joe's Fire-in-the-Hole Chili Sauce and want to try it, but if you don't have a specific recommendation in mind, how deep will you search?

Andy said...

@Selena

No, I'm not on Google Books. Might be VAT, as David says.

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11 on Amazon and Smashwords : 3 down, 8 to go
The Very Thought of You, a timeslip ghost story, out now...

David Gaughran said...

@Andy - it's definitely VAT. If you log out of your Amazon account you will see 99 cent instead of $1.14

David Gaughran said...

@Mark, @Selena & @Dean

First off, Amazon has no real motive to game the system in terms of their algorithim. They make almost as much money from a competing title.

Second, there is no way of gaming the system without compromising the algorithm.

I used to work for Google, and customers always thought we gamed the system to have Google's own ads appear higher than those of its competitors.

We didn't for two reasons.

#1 If you undermine the integrity of the system to place your own products top, customers will find out, and then you lose a lot of goodwill. A competing service will get you in the end by offering a purer algorithm. And anyway, the whole point of the algorithm is display the product that is most likely to sell to that particular person. If you game the system to to display something else, then you are showing the customer something they are less likely to purchase, which defeats the whole purpose of having the algorithm in the first place.

#2 We didn't need to game the system. We understood better than anyone how the system worked and were able to use that knowledge to write effective ads that people were likely to click on. The ads performed better than their competitors because they were better ads, and so they placed top of the results (most of the time).

It's the same for Amazon. They can't game the system because it will destroy confidence in the algorithm and it is counter to the whole purpose of the algorithm. They don't need to game the algorithm because they will only be dealing with high-performing products (Crouch, Eisler, Konrath) which will do well anyway. They don't want to game the algorithm because they make almost as much for selling a competing product (and in some cases, they will make more).

Dave

Livia said...

Plus, Amazon has many ways to promote the books without resorting to gaming the algorithm: newsletters, the front page deals, targeted ads...

David Gaughran said...

Or to put it another way, using your grocery store analogy, gaming the system would be like Amazon putting out so much of their own-brand chili sauce that it makes it difficult to walk around the store and find anything else. Customers will purchase less stuff and eventually start shopping elsewhere because it is a pain in the ass trying to walk around without bumping into another huge chili sauce display.

David Gaughran said...

@Livia - exactly

Eloheim and Veronica said...

I used to sell used books on Amazon. One of the big controversies were "penny books." Sellers would offer their books for $0.01 plus the shipping allowance.

This meant that they made about $0.27 per book after paying for the postage. This whopping $0.27 covered all the acquisition, listing, storage, handling, communication, etc. costs.

It always seemed like an INSANE way to make (or not make) $0.27, but people swore they were rolling in the dough doing it.

My point is, Amazon let people do it. They seemed quite happy to make NO % commission on these sales and just take a bit of the shipping fee.

They are set up to make it work even when getting small margins.

If they bother with a bunch of penny book sellers, they are going to be even happier to hang out with a bunch of us selling self-published ebooks.

Why not? They have a huge site and huge traffic.

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1, Vol. 2

Steve said...

David -

"Or to put it another way, using your grocery store analogy, gaming the system would be like Amazon putting out so much of their own-brand chili sauce that it makes it difficult to walk around the store and find anything else. Customers will purchase less stuff and eventually start shopping elsewhere because it is a pain in the ass trying to walk around without bumping into another huge chili sauce display."

So a grocery store - or, say, the largest supermarket in town - never promotes its own brands? They never seem under-promoted to me.

All this talk of "gaming the system" is over-complicating it. There are various mechanisms by which Amazon puts products in front of the consumer. If they gain a larger percentage from certain products - ones they represent - they'll obviously use their promotional mechanisms for those products at the expense of indie writers.

That's why Barry's response to Mark seems so uncharacteristically (read deliberately) vague and obtuse. Mark is quite right. The correct nomenclature for Amazon - as Joe and Barry have signed with them, regardless of the undisclosed beneficial terms for themselves - is "traditional publisher". The difference between Amazon and the big six isn't relevant to the vast majority of people here as they will never have the opportunity to sign with them or be promoted by them the way that Barry and Joe will. Barry and Joe are effectively on the 3 for 2 table. Indie-wise, It used to be possible for anyone to be, but it won't be for long.

It is disingenuous for them to pretend otherwise. Ultimately, for most indie writers here, the world will remain the same - a handful of sales; more with a bit of luck - but, as Amazon gathers and promotes a list, I imagine the goldrush will swiftly be over.

David Gaughran said...

@Steve

I have to disagree.

Why would Amazon push five books at the expense of tens of thousands of others that are making them just as much, if not more, money?

And re. the grocery store analogy, yes supermarkets promote their own brands, but not to the point where it interferes with customers selecting other products. If it did they would shop elsewhere.

As other posters have detailed, there are plenty of ways Amazon can promote their own books without interfering with the algorithm.

Those paths aren't open to indies anyway, so doesn't change much for us

Robert Burton Robinson said...

@Selena said (about building your own mailing list): Way ahead of ya. I've got 3000 on one, 1200 on another and 650 an yet another. ;)

Whoa, Selena, what kind of incentive are you giving for people to sign up? Cash? ;)

I send them four short stories immediately when they sign up. Then they get a new short story each month in the newsletter. And of course, I get to remind them about my current and coming books.

It works pretty well, and very few people unsubscribe. But I don't have 3,000 subscribers like you. Yet. ;)

Robert Burton Robinson's
Insider Newsletter

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Since Amazon's Sunshine Deals promotion has started my top selling book has dropped from a rank of 57 to 88, which is rather discouraging.

However, I'm still selling about the same amount of books.

Wonder what will happen when the prices of the Sunshine books go back up?

Steve said...

David -

"Why would Amazon push five books at the expense of tens of thousands of others that are making them just as much, if not more, money?"

By that logic, why sign anyone at all? Surely you admit that Amazon will promote those five? That's the point of signing them, isn't it? If one is a thriller, Amazon will make sure people who buy thrillers see it. If it's only five, it's not so much a problem, but wait until it's fifty or sixty.

Do you think a supermarket that had invested money in its own brand would think twice about minimising a smaller product so as to maximise the impact of their own? In the UK, Asda will stock Heinz beside their own, just as Amazon will stock Patterson beside Konrath. But if you want a small-selling indie brand in either category, why would you expect Amazon to do anything for you at all? It's already been made clear here, again and again, that readers just want good books and don't care where they come from.

David Gaughran said...

@Steve

I don't expect Amazon do "do anything for me" other than provide a platform for me to sell my books.

As I have already said, there are multiple ways they can promote their authors effectively, they have millions of email addresses with a mountain of buying data.

Why do you think they will alter their hugely successful algorithm, which helps them sell millions of books, just to promote 5 or 50 particular titles?

As for why Amazon have signed these guys, there are many reasons, not least to leverage these authors' e-book success into print - which is still 70% of the market.

Dave

Steve said...

David -

Are we talking at cross-purposes? I don't expect them to alter their algorithms in any complicated way, but I suspect that -on the most basic level - were you to buy a thriller, the "you might also like..." notice would include some thrillers, as it does now, and that Amazon would prioritise thrillers that it represented, especially given they're people like Joe and Barry.

Do you think that's unlikely? Do you think a first-time indie thriller writer stands a chance of being promoted, regardless of quality, cover, synopsis, etc?

David Gaughran said...

Hi Steve,

For the "also boughts" to be changed to include their own books, they would have to alter the algorithm.

Basically, my contention is that doing so would have marked negative effect on book sales. They might sell a little more of their own books, but a lot less overall. The reason for that is simple - the algorithm is designed to show the book most likely to sell to that particular reader. By definition, if they show something else, it is less likely to sell - overall sales go down.

The motive isn't there to risk this as they could easily make more on a competing title. I'll give you an example. Joe's $2.99 indie book makes him just over $2 a copy, and Amazon just under a buck. Let's assume Joe's Thomas & Mercer book is retailing for the same price. Let's also assume Joe gets 60% royalties. So Amazon are making almost $1.20. However, Dan Brown's $9.99 e-book makes Amazon almost $3.

So, if they were going to game the sytem, it would be to advertise high priced Big 6 e-books. But they don't. They show the one most likely to sell. That could be Joe's indie book, his Amazon book, Dan Brown's book, or your book, depending on the reader.

What I think they will do is lots of promo on the homepage, lots of promo in mailshots, and automatic inclusion in deals like the Summer Specials we see now.

Those options are largely unavailable to indies, so I don't see this affecting us. It will affect the Big 6, no doubt.

Dave

David Gaughran said...

I could of course be wrong about this, but I doubt it.

It would run counter to how high-tech companies think and operate.

As I said, I used to work for AdWords - Google's advertising division - and we got this question all the time.

And I know for a fact we weren't gaming the system because I was writing the ads.

Mark Asher said...

It's all about visibility. Amazon controls that. I can't think of a single reason why they wouldn't favor their own imprints over other books.

There are only so many books that can be shown to a customer on an average visit. If they show their own books more often, isn't that going to be at the expense of other books getting less visibility?

And I'm not suggesting that they are going to stop displaying other books or anything nonsensical like that -- just that Amazon's own books are going to take up room at the top, forcing everyone else down the ladder a bit.

Barry seems to have made a great deal and I don't begrudge him a bit of it. Looking at my own self-interest, though, I'm not sure I am happy to see Amazon becoming a publisher.

Mark Asher said...

"And I know for a fact we weren't gaming the system because I was writing the ads."

You had inside knowledge, sort of like what Amazon has. If Amazon was open about how their algorithms worked we'd all have the same opportunity to fine-tune our efforts. We don't. Amazon does.

Does it really matter how your ads floated to the top? Gaming the sysem or superior knowledge? To someone on the outside lacking that knowledge, it might as well be gaming.

W. Dean said...

Mark A. and David G.,

Well, I did go to Amazon’s “Hot Sauce Mall” out of curiosity, and what do you know: nine out of nine hits on the first page appeared to be boutique sauces—no Kraft, no Heinz, no Bezos’ Bazooka Blend, etc. Maybe the big players own some of these little guys, but they’re not advertising it on their websites (I checked some of them to see if they were subsidiaries).

Of course, the bigger questions are, first, why a company like Amazon would buy into the highly volatile gourmet food business when they can serve as the retailer for the flavor of the month? Second, retailers don’t make money from ads. Ask yourself how much the big producers are going to pay Amazon for product placement to move a few more units of ketchup and mayo when they already have brand name recognition and sell to every store in the world at a brand name premium? Ask a grocery store owner how much they dish out to them…zip.

Third, David G.’s experience with algorithms reinforces these points. Retailers are in the business of selling things people want. They know this, and they know that frustrating the consumer with clutter they don’t want will backfire. People will shop somewhere else.

Selena,

It’s often wrongly supposed that all monopolies are the same. An economist will tell you that monopoly power depends on many things, and that one of the most important is the barriers to market entry. If anyone can get into the business, prices will be competitive even if there’s only one dominant player at the moment.

It's easy to forget, for example, that the major complaint against Microsoft a few years ago was that they were giving away their operating system for free. Sure, that’s a pain if you’re trying to break into the OS market, but great if you’re a consumer.

Your own recent experience with B&N supports this case: how many chain bookstores would have bothered calling you in to discuss product placement? Not many I suspect, because they didn’t feel the same competitive pressures that an on-line retailer like B&N does, so they don’t have to be as responsive.

Steve said...

David -

Well, either of us might be wrong - who knows?

For myself, I see Amazon signing up as much as they can. They'd kill for Patterson; they'll settle - with the greatest respect - for Konrath and Eisler. And when they get them, they'll promote the hell out of them, to make whatever increased profit margins they can. Whether it's 'you might like this...', or email ads, or front pages splashes, those books will be getting infinitely more attention than Mr or Mrs Self Pub who loves Joe's blog and thinks he speaks for them.

Selena Kitt said...

Whoa, Selena, what kind of incentive are you giving for people to sign up? Cash? ;)

I send them four short stories immediately when they sign up. Then they get a new short story each month in the newsletter. And of course, I get to remind them about my current and coming books.

It works pretty well, and very few people unsubscribe. But I don't have 3,000 subscribers like you. Yet. ;)


@Robert

Free blowjobs.

JUST KIDDING! :D

The 3000 list is a group one. (Actually it was 3000 the last time I looked - I just checked and it's 4400 members...) It's for our co-op and we have several free stories in our database. People have to sign up to the group to get access to them. But I don't add free stories every week or even every month. Maybe one every six months, at most. I have access to "special messaging" in that group - meaning I can target all of the members, even if they've chosen not to receive email regularly from the group. I do that for new releases.

The 1200 list is my own Yahoo group (actually it's 1400 members now) and the 650 one is a direct mailing list I just started for a newsletter.

Your own recent experience with B&N supports this case: how many chain bookstores would have bothered calling you in to discuss product placement? Not many I suspect, because they didn’t feel the same competitive pressures that an on-line retailer like B&N does, so they don’t have to be as responsive.

@W Dean

B&N has been a dream compared to Amazon and I agree, it's because they're playing catch-up. But I'll take it! :)

Jason said...

Amazon = Progressive Publisher

Because they appear to be innovative and forward thinking. I like it better than Hybrid.

Donald Wells said...

@Selena
Please sign me up immediately for your newslett--oh wait, I see where you say you were just kidding. Never mind.

CCMacKenzie said...

@ Selina!

LOL! You're going to get lots of comments for that one, hold on, you already have!!

Your own mailing list is a fabulous marketing tool. I know a couple of romance authors who get over 4,000 hits a day and they send out freebies and games to win their latest releases etc. It works.

Jude Hardin said...

Free blowjobs.

I just ordered your entire catalog.

Cyn Bagley said...

It is fun to watch the two of you - Barry and Joe. Just having the slight let down of going through a huge effort and then getting ready for writing the next 20,000 words.

Books might be a business, but even if I lived in the days of caves and before writing, I think I would be telling stories anyway. Or at least poetry

Good luck with the imprints. Congrats!!!

josephinewade said...

@Selena and Robert

I have to say if I were a newsletter kind of gal I'd sign up for Selena's newsletter and I haven't bought that much erotica in my life (did buy one of hers and it was very well written) -- I never know what she's going to say next, but I always know it will be interesting.

You've got style girl!

Selena Kitt said...

I haven't bought that much erotica in my life (did buy one of hers and it was very well written)...-- I never know what she's going to say next, but I always know it will be interesting.

You've got style girl!


Thank you!

*blush*

kathie said...

@Selena
What do you mean that B and N has been a dream? I'm just a month into all of this and so far I don't see what B&N does at all. I don't mean that rudely--just curious what I'm missing!
Thanks.
Kathie
The Last Letter

Selena Kitt said...

What do you mean that B and N has been a dream? I'm just a month into all of this and so far I don't see what B&N does at all. I don't mean that rudely--just curious what I'm missing!

I just meant to deal with, behind the scenes, when it comes to how they handle authors, especially in relation to how they handle erotica. They've been very responsive, which has been a dream compared to Amazon's stonewalling.

Robin Sullivan said...

Mark Asher said...One of the exciting things about Amazon opening the gates with KDP is not that it created Amanda Hocking, but that it has allowed a lot of previously unpublished writers to make a living wage from self-publishing. There are writers making $2000, $3000, and even more each month

I so agree - there is a whole midlist of indie authors who are kicking butt (from an income perspective)of the mainstream traditionally published midlisters. I compiled a bunch of data on this, forwarded it to a few newspapers that had recent articles on the change in publishing and never heard anything back even after a few inquiries. They are mostly interested in covering Amanda and John Locke.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

David Gaughran said...

@Robin

And that's such a shame, because what made me take notice of self-publishing was the numbers posted by Locke, Konrath & Hocking.

However, what made me take the leap myself was the sales of the huge amount of writers on the next "tier" down - David Dalglish, HP Mallory, Victorine Lieske, Michael Wallace, J Carson Black etc etc etc

I think people want to read about that too, and it's a shame those newspapers took such a narrow view.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Stephen - my first comment is that you MUST be able to end the relationship. I HATE anything that locks people into partnerships. I've been both a marketer, and purchase of marketing services for years and I've found that many people are better at selling marketing services to you then they are at selling your product/services to others ;-p

Giving them a defined "ramp up time" say 3 - 4 months seems reasonable. That should be enough for them to start making a quantifiable difference. If they are producing results - continue the relationship but have the ability to sever it at any point from then on.

Results should be quantifiable not subjective. I track all kinds of stats for my authors: Total revenue, Amazon rankings, sales per day, # of interviews received, # of blog page hits, # of twitter followers, # of reputation points on forums, etc, etc etc. You should be able to get very specific data on improvements they are bringing to your brand.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

David Gaughran said...
And I know for a fact we weren't gaming the system because I was writing the ads.


That statement would have a bit more weight if you said...I know for a fact we weren't gaming the system because I wasa writing the code ;-p

I agree with David that I doubt Amazon will alter their algorithm but I do think that online stores will start to exhibit some of the same type of "co op" tactics that were so prevalent in the B&M stores.

I also expect big-six publishers to get more serious about how to increase online discoverability. Does this signal the end of the gold rush days? I don't think so. It just means that "the little" guys will have to work harder and be more innovative in their marketing techniques.

The fact that the environment will change is certain. How it will change is only speculation. But one thing that has proven reliable is that entrepreneur inginuity will make those people nimble. The important thing to do is stay abreast on what is going on (by this blog and others like Rusch, Smith, and my own) and be prepared to adjust as data becomes available.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

Mark Asher said...I'm not sure I am happy to see Amazon becoming a publisher.

As a self-published author, yes this may have some downside. I personally am interested in writers as a whole making more money (and living wages) from their writing. There is no doubt that no other single organization has done more to put $'s in author's pockets.

a) Popularizing on-line buying to break the monopoloy of B&M stores.

b) Opening DTP to everyone allowing authors to publish FOR FREE and gain audiences through (a)

c) Creating an "author friendly" contract which will force other publishers to "match" to prevent losing their top talent.

I feel VERY good about the move.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

David Gaughran said...

@Robin

If I had been writing the code, I would be typing this conversation from my yacht off the coast of Honduras!

I guess my point was, if the code had been tilted in our favour, I wouldn't have had to work so hard to keep our ads on top with good copy and the right keywords.

But I do take your general point. Coop will go online to some extent. I would hazard a guess that Amazon will treat carefully here, they don't want to upset a system that has been working very well for them.

Changes will have an effect on indies - many are seeing a drop-off in sales from the loss of tags.

But indies are nimble, and the smart ones will adapt much faster than any large publisher.

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

Jude Hardin said...

Free blowjobs.

I just ordered your entire catalog.


I ordered two copies of each.

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

@Selena Kitt

But seriously, now. I see that you have prices ranging from $0.99 to almost $4 (with some pretty weird ones in the mix; $3.19? $3.82?), so it looks like you do some experimenting with pricing.

I'm curious as to your experience with comparable books at different price points. Not so much the $0.99 versus $2.99 thing, but how going above $2.99 or having one in the "dead zone" between $0.99 and $2.99 seems to affect sales volume.

Stephen T. Harper said...

@ Robin, Thanks. I agree about making certain it the arrangement would be end-able... but the question that this hypothetical pr/marketing person would be concerned with is "okay, but when would that be?"

They would be doing a great deal of work in the beginning basically for free. So they would need to be protected against getting shut out of the real profits. And there's no telling exactly when those would begin.

I have a follow up question (because this issue is not entirely hypothetical). Looking at this as a partnership, let's say the writer could dissolve the deal if he didn't like the results. But if he DID like the results, does it make sense to pay out a large cut of royalties ad infinitum? Does the the pr work get easier after the book takes off? Or does it remain a ton of work as long as it's selling well?

This is such a new arena, and there are so many possibilities. Smart decisions needs more view points.

Thanks for your help.

Selena Kitt said...

But seriously, now. I see that you have prices ranging from $0.99 to almost $4 (with some pretty weird ones in the mix; $3.19? $3.82?), so it looks like you do some experimenting with pricing.

I'm curious as to your experience with comparable books at different price points. Not so much the $0.99 versus $2.99 thing, but how going above $2.99 or having one in the "dead zone" between $0.99 and $2.99 seems to affect sales volume.


@Robert

I price mine at $3.99 to pad them. I list on Google books and they currently discount - and they won't NOT discount. So if I price at $3.99, I'm pretty safe. They haven't discounted $0.99 books and they don't seem to discount more than 20-ish% or so. That's why the weird pricing.

As for books that sell or don't vs. price points, I'm so not a stats girl (math hurts my head :) but the $0.99 books used to be $2.99 (back when someone would actually pay $2.99 for a short story in the ebook world) and while the sales volume has increased on those considerably (at least doubled, if not tripled in some cases) I make about the same amount of money on them as I did when they were $2.99 because the royalty rate is 35% instead of 70%.

And whether I price a book at $2.99 or $3.99, it doesn't seem to make a difference in my profit, as least that I can tell. The books that always sold well still sell well - I make about the same amount on them as I always have. They fluctuate a little from month to month but generally the line stays pretty steady. Kind of a plateau.

Books at $1.99 sell somewhat less than books at $0.99... but they make a little more in royalties to make up for it.

For me, it seems as if I've hit a point where things aren't moving up or down... they're just holding. I keep releasing new work, though, and those books rise to a certain point in sales and stay there, steady.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

I'm not familiar with this band, but this idea is the type of out of the box thinking that excites me!

http://www.kaiserchiefs.com/album/create

Create your own version of their album, make money when people buy your version.

1. Select 10 out of 20 possible tracks. (And you put them in the order you want.)

2. Design your own cover.

3. Pay and download your album.

Their website is really cool too.

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-4

Anna Murray said...

Mark Asher said...One of the exciting things about Amazon opening the gates with KDP is not that it created Amanda Hocking, but that it has allowed a lot of previously unpublished writers to make a living wage from self-publishing. There are writers making $2000, $3000, and even more each month

YES. I'm one of those authors, and the income is putting a kid through college. While I realize Amazon is a business, and a business doesn't care about building the middle class, that is what they are doing. There's a huge economic ripple effect when they put money in the hands of midlist authors all over the country (and they are then able to buy Kindles), rather than concentrate it in the hands of a few select authors.

Bezos' vision has created an economic stimulus plan more powerful than he knows.

Mark Asher said...

@Robin: As a self-published author, yes this may have some downside. I personally am interested in writers as a whole making more money (and living wages) from their writing. There is no doubt that no other single organization has done more to put $'s in author's pockets.

a) Popularizing on-line buying to break the monopoloy of B&M stores.

b) Opening DTP to everyone allowing authors to publish FOR FREE and gain audiences through (a)

c) Creating an "author friendly" contract which will force other publishers to "match" to prevent losing their top talent.

I feel VERY good about the move.


I agree. Amazon has been great. But all that great stuff happened yesterday. I'm concerned more about tomorrow.

I see a tomorrow where Amazon has a lot of writers and a lot of books it's promoting at the expense of the visibility of other books. Not only that, but because ebooks are forever, as Joe likes to say, these authors will create backlist that Amazon will continue to promote. Fifty writers will begat 250 books in a few years.

I'm not saying the sky is falling. I am saying it looks like it's getting harder as an indie to hit that top 500 sales rank.

There's going to be a combination of Amazon pushing more and more of its own books (its new imprints, Kindle Singles, and AmazonEncore) and the Big 6 spending ad money to pay for visibility on Amazon -- again, at the expense of other books. Add to that a likely flood of new ebook publishing from publishers publishing backlist, traditionally publisher authors publishing backlist, and more and more indies, and it's going to be a crowded field of books vying for that slice of visibility during a customer visit to Amazon.

There's still a lot of opportunity and it's certainly a much more author-friendly environment than before, but it looks to be getting harder. I don't think this new publishing initiative makes it easier for indies. I think it's going to make it more difficult.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Stephen - six months seems like the right length of time to give someone to make a contribution or to realize that they don't really have the skills required.

As for to "ongoing" - actually I think you need to spend more "sweat equity" the further from the release date. To make a big splash before or at release is pretty typical but, for me at least, I'm intersted in people who have strategies that continue to "reinvigorate" a title such that the sales stay high for as long as possible. From experience I see direct correlations between iniatives and sales so a good marketer will constantly work on titles not just get them going and walk away. - My 2 cents anyway.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Louis Shalako said...

It's 'encumbered' Mr. Eisler.
You're right about the apartheid, incidentally. Some editors are, in my opinion, holding back rejection slips in order to 'punish' the intransigent authors who feel that they have a right to both self-publish their own works, and to sumbit a story to someone else once in a while. I see that as an effort to withohold or deny the credibility gained by the gate-keeping process, which many pro magazines have. It is also true that to do one's own formatting, editing, cover art and such is not seen as an achievement but failure!

Robin Sullivan said...

@Mark - we are in agreement - but you can't hold back the tides of change. Best to spend energy figuring out how to adjust then to lament what is or will be lost - Not saying that you're doing that, I'm really just talking more about what I'm doing in response.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Jude Hardin said...

I ordered two copies of each.

Well, you got me beat. No pun intended. :)

BUY ONE GET ONE FREE!

Rob Cornell said...

I see a tomorrow where Amazon has a lot of writers and a lot of books it's promoting at the expense of the visibility of other books. Not only that, but because ebooks are forever, as Joe likes to say, these authors will create backlist that Amazon will continue to promote. Fifty writers will begat 250 books in a few years.

I'm not saying the sky is falling. I am saying it looks like it's getting harder as an indie to hit that top 500 sales rank.


So far, all this speculation assumes that Amazon will remain the only progressive publisher in the game. Eventually, others--either some of the Big 6 or new kids on the block--will match Amazon's model, or improve on it. Smashwords, while still a little weak in comparison, has a smart guy at the helm. Mark Coker could step into the void that Amazon leaves if they truly do abandon their KDP folks for authors under their own imprint.

Honestly, I see indie publishing as the new slush pile. Amazon isn't going to cut out the indies, because that is their pipeline of new talent. Instead, they will court the big sellers and reap the rewards from both sides.

Same with other progressive publishers (I'm liking that term). They'll look to the indies to find the proven talent. The old school slush pile will be a thing of the past. Meanwhile, the midlist can still make a living and newbies won't have to submit themselves to the humiliation of arbitrary gatekeepers like agents and editors. Instead, they will answer only to the readers.

Stephen T. Harper said...

@ Robin -

"...you need to spend more "sweat equity" the further from the release date. ... I'm intersted in people who have strategies that continue to "reinvigorate" a title such that the sales stay high for as long as possible. From experience I see direct correlations between iniatives and sales so a good marketer will constantly work on titles not just get them going and walk away."

Thank you for this. With this in mind, creating a long term relationship with a a dedicated marketer for a share of royalties does seem like a good model. The only question left is "what is a fair percentage for such an arrangement."

Any thoughts on that?

Thanks again.

wannabuy said...

@Anna Murray:"Bezos' vision has created an economic stimulus plan more powerful than he knows."

Well said! That is why we're not going back to the old model. There is now an economic drive that will keep it alive until one company has a Monopoly. Since Amazon is losing market share... they are very unlikely to be the boogieman.

I agree with Rob, Amazon will use KDP as the new 'slush pile' to feed their 'progressive publishing' wing. Sure there will be Co-op and marketing bias; but there is no putting the genie back in the bottle as David already noted.

As Joe has posted: 'forever is a long time;' authors will won't be kicked off the shelf for 'midlist sales' again.

With Barry and Joe, Amazon just proved they are being wise and using KDP as a 'slush pile' for talent. Why do work when tens of thousands of authors are doing the hard stuff for Amazon?

Not to mention I'm a believer that books is the 'poster child market' to prove the long tail theory of retail. Music, movies, and other mass entertainment won't have as long of a tail in the distribution of sales. Readers are, as David noted, more like wild cats; readers are going to wander off. (e.g., I've buried myself in a library reading civil war era diaries. Good luck getting non-commercial music from that era.)

Neil

wannabuy said...

"You don't want to be the last dinosaur. You want to be the first primate.

You want to be the monkey.
"

Anyone else want to gouge their eyes out due to this image of how T-REX went extinct?

Robin Sullivan said...

@Stephen - I would say 10-15% If it is too low, they will have no incentive to really work as hard as they can to push the sales. It also is in line with other marketing standards such as the % of an ad buy an agency gets.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

@Stephen
One more thing. They should be producing a monthly report detailing their efforts on your behalf. If you find them just "sitting" and raking in their cut then that would be a good reason to exercise your "out clause" with them. It will be a good way for you to be kept abreast of all that they are doing.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Stephen T. Harper said...

Thanks again for the wisdom, Robin. Those numbers are in line with what I was thinking sounds fair, too. But it's great to hear from someone who actually knows. This helps a lot. This is an interesting new field of business, for sure.

Barry said...

Thanks again for all the great comments, everyone. Progressive publisher... I like that, maybe even better than hybrid. Steve, apologies if I've been obtuse (at least it was uncharacteristic ;)), but I'm just calling this the way I see it. As David and others have pointed out, there are already far more titles than any reader can sample on her own. Accordingly, publishers and retailers have always worked to promote certain titles more than others. Smart authors have always been aware of this dynamic and have worked hard to position their books among those select titles.

But here's a critical difference between the high-priced legacy world and the low-cost digital world: the latter is far less a zero sum game. So much of the thinking I've read here assumes an Amazon-promoted sale for Konrath is a sale lost for a non-Amazon-promoted indie title. Is this in fact the case? Or is it possible that in the world of low-priced, instantly available digital books, a sale for Konrath will lead to multiple additional purchases of titles the consumer learned of through the Konrath purchase? If the latter possibility is the accurate one, it means not only that Konrath's sale led to your sale, but that your sale would not have happened in the absence of the Konrath sale.

When we stop looking at a sale for X as a lost sale for Y, the world starts to look quite different.

David Gaughran said...

@Barry

I think that's a very good point.

We're not in competition with each other. We're in competition with The Simpsons, American Idol, Transformers 3, and Lady Gaga.

Kaaronica said...

Thanks so much for the dialogue. It's priceless. Just one question, how do you prevent your books from piracy? I saw my only book on a file sharing site. It was published with a small publisher so I don't think they used DRM. Do you use DRM? Have you found it effective? Do you even care?

Peter said...

I do hope you good fellows realize in your heart-of-hearts that the vast bulk of your comments related to a vastly small percentages of what counts as publishing. Most authors and most publishers just don't fall into the rubric of your conversation or the dynamics involved in your own lives as authors.

Mark Asher said...

@Barry: So much of the thinking I've read here assumes an Amazon-promoted sale for Konrath is a sale lost for a non-Amazon-promoted indie title. Is this in fact the case? Or is it possible that in the world of low-priced, instantly available digital books, a sale for Konrath will lead to multiple additional purchases of titles the consumer learned of through the Konrath purchase? If the latter possibility is the accurate one, it means not only that Konrath's sale led to your sale, but that your sale would not have happened in the absence of the Konrath sale.

I'm not really following the reasoning behind a sale of an Amazon-signed writer leading to a sale of one of my books, assuming we write in the same genre. If I write horror, does the sale of a Stephen King book lead to a sale of one of mine?

Anyway, it's not about the sale of a Konrath book meaning a lost sale of an indie book as it is about reduced visibility of indie books due to Amazon highlighting its own imprints.

There's only so many books that can be displayed during an average visit to Amazon. Will Amazon push some of its own books ahead of others to make sure they get better visibility? I think there's a good chance of that happening.

B Lord said...

Enough of these fucking informercials, okay?

Robin Sullivan said...

@Kaaronica Look further up in the comments for mine at 6:22 AM. It discussess DRM and piracy.

Bottom line, if you are being pirated congratulations as you have written something that people want to read enough to bother stealing. Obscurity (i.e. no one caring enough to steal your stuff) is the bigger problem.

You can't stop piracy. Most believe it is really not a "lost sale" as the people who steel it would never have bought anyway. The best you can hope for is they like the book and provide some word-of-mouth advertising for you.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Vicky said...

It will always be more difficult to self publish than go through a publisher. The gold rush that everyone has been experiencing these past couple years was only due to the fact that publishers needed to catch up. What we're seeing is the first signs that they are doing just that. In a couple more years, things are going to be even harder than they are now.

Sucks, but that's just the way things are.

Robin Sullivan said...

I've been banned!!

Got this today from the Absoulte Water Cooler site:

"You have been banned for the following reason:
Just get the hell off my site. You're relentlessly snotty, rude, and you're a [expletive] bald-faced liar. I'm done with you.

Date the ban will be lifted: Never"


Can someone with Absoulte Water Cooler access go onto the "Ridan Thread" there and just post that I've been banned and therefore will not be responding to any additonal posts. I just don't want people to think I'm ignoring or snubbing them by my absence.

Thanks!

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

David Gaughran said...

@Robin

That's ridiculous. They had no right to treat you like that.

I'll be next, I would think.

If I didn't have a deadline I would have been in that thread too.

Things are getting mighty defensive over there. And very hostile to self-publishers.

I find myself spending less and less time there, which is a pity, because before I opened my mouth about my intention to self-publish, it was a helpful place.

Dave

Andy said...

Which thread caused the controversy? I'd like to read it. (I know it's the 'Ridan' thread but there are so many forums there it's hard to find).

Can't imagine Robin being snotty or rude, unlike that outrageous moderator message.

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11 on Amazon and Smashwords : 3 down, 8 to go
The Very Thought of You, a timeslip ghost story, out now...

Adam Pepper said...

Wow Robin! That's harsh. It's their board and they can run it however they'd like, but they should stop pretending to be a forum that welcomes fair exchanges when it's simply not true. Dissent is shouted down and when that doesn’t work they edit posts and ban contributors. It's a great place to find out the latest skinny on agents, but if you are looking for intelligent debate based on mutual respect you aren’t going to get it. It’s more of an Animal Farm, all posters are equal but some more equal than others…

Rob Cornell said...

Hey, Robin. Posted my 2 cents on Facebook and Twitter. What a bunch of douche-bags. Here you remained so professional while they baited and harassed you. Clearly, that forum is hostile toward the new publishing world. Sounds like they're all in denial. They're still moving deck chairs and complementing each other on how unsinkable their ship is.

Morgana Katz said...

Robin,

Not a member, too busy writing; however, even on your older posts, the status below your Name is depicted as "Banned."

Joe and Barry,

Thanks for the post and for not including any more monkey/frog links. I haven't recovered from giving in to my curiosity the last time around. Shudder.

Joe Konrath said...

I've been banned!!

Good. Now learn from it.

We talked about this over dinner. You need to realize that there are idiots in the world who don't want to hear your common sense.

If you argue with idiots, you always lose. Walk away.

This is something I learned long ago. I mostly keep my ideas and opinions to my blog, because people come here looking for what I have to say.

People seeking out the information you're offering will find you. You can't help someone who doesn't want help.

You also can't fix someone with a closed mind.

Prove you don't have a closed mind. Stop wasting time and energy arguing with morons.

I've long ago stopped trying to convince other people that I'm right. I know I'm right. Those who want to benefit from my knowledge can do so. The rest aren't worth my time, or yours.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Stop trying to teach those who don't want to hear it.

Karen Woodward said...

@Robin
You run an amazing publishing company, the likes of which has perhaps never been seen before. You are a trail blazer.

I read some of the exchange on the board that banned you and my two cents is that you scare some people.

I just wanted to add my voice to those of your supporters. I'm sorry this happened to you. The whole thing is surreal.

wannabuy said...

@Robin:

Wow. Thanks for putting the link on your blog.

As ebooks gain further market share, there will be further anger at the format and self publishing due to the transfer of income.

How dare those authors think they should earn a living wage. ;)

Neil

jtplayer said...

Sorry to hear about what happened to you over there Robin.

While I don't participate at Absolute Write, I've been reading there for a long time. I've enjoyed your posts very much, and feel that you have always been well-mannered and respectful, very professional with your information.

I do participate at Kindle Boards, and likewise your conduct over there is always helpful and informative.

Good luck to you.

Selena Kitt said...

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Stop trying to teach those who don't want to hear it.

Isn't there some saying about pearls before swine? :) Quite apropos in this case, methinks...

Joe's right, Robin. Don't waste your energy. You've got a lot of wisdom and a wealth of knowledge to share and there are lot of people who ARE ready and willing to hear it. It's tempting to try to convert the unconverted (which is why the Jehovah's Witnesses keep showing up at my dang door...) but mostly it's just you banging your head against a wall. Not worth it!

Jon Olson said...

Interesting stuff.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone

Steve said...

Barry -

Well, I'm just being fair to you - it is uncharacteristic!

Look, in an earlier comment you say:

"I'm a little reticent about sharing exact details about advances and splits because at some point I feel like these things are my own financial business."

Which obviously doesn't square very well with the conversation where Joe says (sorry, "sez"):

"The more information we all have, the better off we all are. Which is why we continue to talk numbers and disclose what we're doing."

Fair enough. But the fact is you're not continuing to talk numbers, you're not being open, and shouldn't claim any credit for doing so.

"But here's a critical difference between the high-priced legacy world and the low-cost digital world: the latter is far less a zero sum game. So much of the thinking I've read here assumes an Amazon-promoted sale for Konrath is a sale lost for a non-Amazon-promoted indie title. Is this in fact the case?"

You can't really have "far less" a zero sum game, can you? It either is or it isn't. I'm not sure why you think this situation isn't zero sum. People only have so much money to buy books with, and can only browse (as Mark says) so many titles while on Amazon due to time. Both factors, therefore, are zero sum. It is common sense that Amazon will promote its own authors to occupy as much of both as possible - otherwise why are they signing you and why are you signing with them?

You and Joe both refer to the marketing muscle Amazon possesses. Can you explain - without figures if you like - what that means? And how it can possibly benefit you without pushing aside other indie writers here who don't have Amazon behind them, merely under them? Aren't you just helping to replace Six Big gatekeepers with one?

SBJones said...

Very good read. I enjoyed the bit about Dell Computers in there, having worked for Dell. Its evolve or die for the publishing world.

Robin Sullivan said...

Thanks for the support all. Here is the thread that was under discussion where the moderator lost it.

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=215658%20

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

Selena - when the Jehovah's Witnesses's come to your door and give you their books - do you give them one of yours? ;-)

That would be entertaining. You could tell them this this will "change their life".

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

jtplayer said...

"Aren't you just helping to replace Six Big gatekeepers with one?"

True...in a manner of speaking.

Amazon is obviously branching out into areas previously controlled by traditional publishers. What their ultimate game plan is we can only guess.

But I think it’s a fair assumption to say they will continue to sign name authors, and to that end they will promote those same authors a little more “enthusiastically” than they might otherwise.

There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s merely business after all. And once they sign guys like Eisler and Konrath, well then they’ve got a whole lot more skin in the game, don’t they?

But I think it’s also fair to say that if this trend continues the window of opportunity changes dramatically for the little guy, the true Indie.

Yes, the really good ones will likely have an opportunity to get signed up by Amazon too. But the not so good writers will likely drop out of sight.

It’s almost like we’re in the Wild West days right now, and anything goes. Eventually the powers that be will decide they need some law & order in town, and the good times just may come to an end.

W. Dean said...

Robin et al. on e-publishing as death sentence:

I don’t profess to be an expert in publishing, but the claim that agents and publishers won’t consider a self-published book is wholly implausible on business grounds. It may be true that they won’t accept an e-published book; but if so, it is not only an anomaly in the business world, it is counter-intuitive business practice that needs some explanation.

After all, if I were to invent a new mousetrap, I’m in roughly the same position as an author: I can have it produced and then sell it out of my garage, or I can sell the production rights to Acme Mousetraps International (AMI) and collect a royalty.

But AMI won’t spite me if I choose to go it alone before offering it to them. In fact, I could likely negotiate a better contract if I could show strong sales. So why is publishing a novel any different? It seems to me that the onus lies on those claiming that book publishing is an exception to this rule.

There’s a simple sniff test for claims like these: if you can’t give a good business reason (e.g., a legal problem) for what is, on the face of it, a profitable business decision, then you’re likely blowing smoke or trying to protect your own position in the market.

W. Dean said...

Steve said: “I'm not sure why you think this situation isn't zero sum. People only have so much money to buy books…”

This is common misunderstanding of how markets work. There’s no such thing as an absolute book budget or an absolute time limit on browsing for books—for that matter, there’s no such thing as an absolute audience. How many people read books and how many books they read is always a matter of trade-offs against other expenses and other pastimes.

Someone who loves books, for example, may buy a cable package instead because it’s more entertainment for less money; but make books cheaper and easier to access and transport (e.g., e-books) and that person takes up reading again. Even better: make it possible for that person to find a steady stream of enjoyable books.

In fact, the only number a writer has to care about is price: all other things being equal, of course, the cheaper books are, the more you will sell.

Steve said...

W. Dean -

If there was no such thing as an absolute book budget, as you say in your first paragraph, then price wouldn't matter, as you assert in your last.

Selena Kitt said...

Selena - when the Jehovah's Witnesses's come to your door and give you their books - do you give them one of yours? ;-)

That would be entertaining. You could tell them this this will "change their life".


Bwah! If I had cojones that big, I'd be publishing under my real name and I'd give one of my books to my sister, the fundamental baptist. :)

Stephen T. Harper said...

Neil said. "As ebooks gain further market share, there will be further anger at the format and self publishing due to the transfer of income."

Anger, yes, I agree. But I'm not so sure it will be over income per se. I've only read the one AW thread in question, but I think the kind of vitriol that was happening there is less logical than that.

People don't generally bury their heads in the sand from fear of losing money. It's from fear that the thing in which they've invested a ton of time and effort - a ton of themselves, really - might turn out to be the wrong thing. Fear that they've done everything right and climbed the ladder fast and hard, only to find that it was set up against the wrong wall.

People cling tightest to the things they've invested the most of their past in. You can't change a person's mind about religion, politics, or apparently publishing, in a conversation because their point of view has already become too important to who they are.

One guy in that AW thread spent a half hour quoting statistics about self publishing... from 2008! With no sense of irony or even understanding that the game has changed irrevocably in the last (1) year, let alone since 3 years ago.

The people who were attacking Robin and Kevin at AW don't want to hear certain things because it simply hurts. For people in that position, truth and logic can feel like an attack even when it's meant to help. Ever see a battered wife vigorously defend her husband from friends or relatives offering great advice?

just my 2 cents.

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