Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
Friday, November 18, 2011
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
But that's what he did. I've been talking with Paul about this for years, and he and I were two of the first authors to becom
e involved in the Amazon Shorts program (now defunct). When KDP came around, Paul got his backlist up, and I collaborated with him, Jeff Strand, and Blake Crouch on the ebook horror novel DRACULAS.
So along comes Kindle Fire, being released today, and Paul is right there to take advantage of this new color technology with his beautifully illustrated (by Alan M. Clark) children's ebook, THE CHRISTMAS THINGY.
How did THE CHRISTMAS THINGY come about?
FPW: We have to go way back to the 70s when I wrote it for my two daughters. I would read it to them every Christmas season. I’d change my voice for all three characters—do a British accent for Mrs. Murgatroyd and hold my nose for Thingy's voice (he has no nose, after all). Kids always love that one the best. As the girls got older and learned to read, they’d take over the voices of Jessica and Thingy. It’s been a great family tradition.
JAK: Never a thought to publishing it?
JAK: Hard to believe.
FPW: I was informed by someone in the field that having a white middle-class protagonist is quite a handicap in that world. Jump to June of 2000. The girls were off to college and THINGY moldered in a file cabinet. I’d just handed in the final Sims novella to Cemetery Dance when Rich Chizmar asked me if I had any fiction lying about. I told him my trunk stories were long gone except for this children’s Christmas story from way-back that he wouldn’t be interested in. He said to email it to him. He fell in love with it and within 36 hours he had Alan Clark signed up to do the artwork. I don't think Cemetery Dance has ever produced a book so quickly. It was released in hardcover December 1, a little late for the Christmas season, but I loved it.
JAK: Alan, how did you come to be involved?
AMC: I've known Paul for quite a while and I remember talking with him about the children's book and knew he was excited about it. I thought it was a delightful story and was thrilled to take on the task of adding imagery to it. I've always loved children's books and felt fortunate to have the opportunity to explore the medium and process.
JAK: What was it like working with Alan? How was the collaborative process?
JAK: Your turn, Alan. How was the collaborative process?
AMC: Paul is easy to talk with and quite willing to discuss ideas. I made only one suggestion for the text. The story originally opened with dialogue, and I asked if he could add to it some visual element that would give me something to focus on for the first illustration. He added description of Mrs. Murgatroyd bending to pick up the broken pieces of a plate she'd dropped, having been startled by something Jessica said just prior to the opening of the story. Mrs. Murgatroyd is simultaneously asking Jessica to repeat what she's said so that we then know what it was. This allowed me to have an illustration facing the opening text that shows Mrs. Murgatroyd dropping the plate.
FPW: That’s right! Completely forgot about that.
JAK: What made you decide to go digital?
FPW: We went digital now because we can. Cemetery Dance did a hardcover first, and that sold out. Then they did a paperback—same trim as the hardcover—and that’s gone. The rights reverted and a few months ago Alan called and asked what I thought about an ebook of THINGY. I said if we can do justice to your art, then absolutely.
AMC: My publishing company, IFD Publishing, released the e-book of THE CHRISTMAS THINGY with the help of my partners, Eric Witchey and Elizabeth Engstrom.
As an illustrator who does primarily full-color work, when I was first starting out in the 1980s, I was frustrated by the fact that the jobs that helped a rookie get in the door in freelance illustration were mostly black and white illustrations for magazines and, rarely, for books. I'm talking about the pre-digital days of paste-up, when even continuous tone, now known as grayscale, was too expensive for low budget publications. This work was primarily line art. I was not practiced at pen and ink and so my line work did not represent my skills well. I was a painter.
In the 1990s, publications began printing from digital files, and suddenly black and white illustration, whether line art or grayscale, cost nothing extra in the printing phase. When this occurred, I started IFD Publishing and put out several lavishly illustrated books. Still, color was expensive and so color content was minimized.
When the iPad came out, and I saw how popular it became as an e-reader, and how it rendered full-color in high resolution, I realized it cost nothing now to add full-color art to a book—an ebook, that is. The physical, or traditional color books, such as the hardcover and the paperback of THE CHRISTMAS THINGY, were very expensive to produce. I saw the opportunities for IFD Publishing with e-publishing and here we are. Paul liked the idea and so we now have THE CHRISTMAS THINGY available for all e-reader formats.
JAK: What were the trials of mixing text and full-color illustrations?
AMC: Because we want the files for the book to function properly on all the different readers, we faced restrictions in layout. In the traditional or physical book you can do fun things with the text, like having it interact with the images on the page. Not so in an ebook because the user can resize the text, altering the layout. We had to keep the illustrations independent from the text. On the other hand, the advantage of the ebook version is that you can blow up the images and explore them in detail.
FPW: Whatever you did, Alan, the result is stunning.
JAK: Agreed. THE CHRISTMAS THINGY turned out beautifully in ebook form. Are either of you planning to do any projects specifically as ebooks?
AMC: Thank you for the compliment. We do not at this time have a project to work on together, but I'd be pleased to work with Paul anytime.
FPW: Tom Monteleone and I are collaborating on a series of YA books that was temporarily derailed by looming deadlines on a number of previously contracted projects. But the decks are cleared now and we’ll be back to full speed ahead this week. We plan to launch it as an ebook exclusive and move to paper later.
JAK: Many readers of this blog (me included) believe that paper will someday soon be a subsidiary right. Print books will never disappear, but they may become a niche market, like vinyl records. You both have been in this biz for a while. Your thoughts on this?
AMC: I agree with your prediction. There are many who love books so much, I don't think traditional books will stop being made, but I believe it will be limited to those most in demand. There are e-publishers now who make their books available in a POD (print on demand) edition alongside their digital edition.
That’s a good example of why paper books, though they’ll fade in importance, will never go away. They’re physical objects to which we can attach memories and reference times in our lives. I have books that have sentimental value, that trigger memories when I see them on the shelf. I’ll never read them again but the physical package itself has value for me. That is, until I move and have to pack them up. Then I kind of hate them.
JAK: If we do transition to mostly digital, what are the plusses and minuses for artists and writers?
AMC: Because e-publishing costs next to nothing, publishers have the ability to pay the writer a higher percentage of each sale and still make a profit. But because it costs next to nothing and because there are little or no filters in the way of editors--anyone can decide they are a publisher, start an account with an ebook distributor and publish books--everyone who believes they are a writer can put a book on the market. There's a lot of vanity publishing going on, and much of it gets equal billing through the distribution points.
If we look at it like a river of publishing and the readers as fishermen, all the vanity books muddy the waters and make it difficult to distinguish a nice trout from a mealy carp. What IFD Publishing has done is to create a collective of writers/artists with good reputations who support each other's efforts and work to publish books of high quality. We believe that if we are consistent with this our reputation for good quality will allow our books to rise closer to the surface where they can be recognized.
FPW: I think we all know the plusses for writers—rapid transition to publication, lower cost of putting work before public, lower cost for the reader, higher royalty for the writer, etc. I do see limitations for artists, however, especially because choices of media are narrowed. Alan’s art for THE CHRISTMAS THINGY was designed for high-gloss paper and so it looks great on a high-gloss screen. But other art might be designed for a matte surface, and so you aren’t going to fully appreciate it on a Nook or iPad.
As for me, I’m delighted that people can store THE CHRISTMAS THINGY in their e-readers and tablets and computers and even their smartphones. They can call it up and see Alan’s art and read my words to their kids, or their kids can read it to each other, year after year. Christmas isn’t going away, and neither is THE CHRISTMAS THINGY, now that it’s an ebook. It will remain available to future generations. Because ebooks never go out of print. As someone likes to say, ebooks are forever.
Monday, November 14, 2011
STIRRED, co-written with Blake Crouch, also concludes his Luther Kite/Andrew Z. Thomas series (Desert Places, Locked Doors, Break You).
We'd like to launch STIRRED with a lot of early Amazon reviews. So earlier I put out a call for reviewers.
Q: Do I have to have a Kindle to read Stirred?
A: No. You can download Kindle aps for your computer or phone, and read it that way.
Q: What about for paper readers?
A: That version won't be released until February.
Q: Do I need to have read your earlier books?
A: No. Stirred can be read and enjoyed without any knowledge of our previous titles.
Q: Is Stirred being released on Kindle only?
A: Yes. But it is DRM-free, so it can be easily ported to any format.
Q: What is Stirred about?
A: Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels has seen humanity at its most depraved and terrifying. She's lost loved ones. Come close to death countless times. But she always manages to triumph over evil. Luther Kite is humanity at its most depraved and terrifying. He's committed unthinkable acts. Taken human life for the sheer pleasure of it. He is a monster among monsters, and no one has ever caught him. Each is the best at what they do. Peerless. Unmatched.
In Luther's experience, people are weak. Even the strong and fearless break too easily. He wants a challenge, and sets his depraved sights on Jack. But with a baby on the way, Jack is at her most vulnerable. She's always been a fighter, but she's never had so much to fight for. So he's built something especially for Jack. His own, private ninth circle of hell--a nightmare world in a forgotten place, from which no one has ever escaped.
It's J.A. Konrath's greatest heroine versus Blake Crouch's greatest villain in Stirred, the stunning conclusion to both Konrath's Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels thriller series and Crouch's Andrew Z. Thomas series.
Only one can survive. And it won't be whom you think.
Q: How do I get Stirred?
A: You can preorder it on Amazon. Right now it is $2.99. The price may go up soon.
Friday, November 11, 2011
David sez: Joe features a lot of great writers on his blog who are selling insane amounts. I always get a kick out of those stories and learn a lot. I’m not one of those guys, but maybe I can address the question of whether to self-publish from another angle.
I tried the traditional route for eighteen months – collecting over 300 rejections – before deciding to take control of my career. Self-publishing had been on my radar for a while. I was reading the heretical thoughts of Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath who said we didn’t need a publishing deal, that we could publish ourselves.
Some critics say that people like Joe are repetitive: banging the same drum over and over. I don’t know about anyone else, but I needed that. I was so wrapped up in various myths that the message had to be repeated again and again before it got through to me.
Eventually, I confronted my assumptions and found them to be flawed. I decided to self-publish some shorts to see if I could sell anything (and if I enjoyed the process), but held that novel in reserve as it was still being considered by a few NY agents.
I still had a lot of doubts. While I was convinced of the viability of self-publishing, and had serious concerns about the sustainability of the traditional model, I was less sure about my own abilities to handle things like promotion and platform-building: I had no blog, no Facebook page, I didn’t even have a Twitter account (something I swore I would never do).
Well, it turned out that I enjoyed all that stuff and was kind of good at it. After five months I’ve sold over 1,000 books, I’m getting 20,000 visits a month to my blog, and I have 10,000 followers on Twitter. Not bad for an unknown, unpublished writer.
I don’t take this as proof that the Gatekeeper was wrong. For starters, I still haven’t released the novel that attracted all those rejections. I pulled it from the last agents that had it after I sold 150 copies of my two short story titles in my first month.
I was having lots of fun, enjoyed connecting with readers for the first time, and found an aptitude for promotion which surprised me. But that wasn’t why I decided to self-publish the novel. It was because I was convinced I could sell more and make more on my own.
My logic was this. I hadn’t snagged an agent yet, but I was pretty sure it was only a matter of time – I was getting closer and closer. I don’t know if an agent could have placed my book, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that they would have got me the average advance: $5,000.
When I release it in December, it will be priced at $4.99. It’s a long novel, and I think the genre (historical fiction) allows higher prices, and I like the idea of earning $3.50 per copy. To beat that average advance, and to cover production costs and some promotion, I need to sell around 2,000 copies.
Joe likes to say e-books are forever, which sometimes draws a reaction. But if you are self-publishing, you will own the rights to that content for as long as you live (and your heirs will own it long after that too). Maybe it will be consumed as a holo-novel or something we can’t conceive of yet, but you will still own those rights.
But to avoid clouding the argument, let’s assume I only earn off it for ten years – maybe tastes will change or I will forego the internet and pushing my books for a simple life. Can I sell 2,000 copies in ten years? Well, if I can’t I shouldn’t be in this game. That’s less than one book a day.
In fact, I would say that any writer good enough to attract the average advance could do that too. Even if you are pricing your book at $2.99, earning $2 a copy, you only need to need to sell one book a day over ten years to beat that advance.
There are lots of nice things about a publishing deal (from the outside at least, I’ve never had one). You get your book published for free and they throw in a little promotion. However, the only real selling point, for me, is access to bookstores.
Let’s be honest here, on a $5,000 advance no-one is going to be walking into Barnes & Noble facing a wall of my books. I’ll be lucky if they don’t have to order it. And it’s probably going to be the last money I see from that book, at least until I get the rights back – if I ever can.
As I said above, I easily beat that deal if I can sell a book a day for ten years, which is more than doable. In fact, the way things are going, I might even beat that advance before my book would have hit the shelves by the traditional route.
In short, I can’t afford to take a publishing deal.
Some writers are worried about how much writing time they will have to sacrifice if they decide to strike out on their own. But I can tell you that I am writing more than before. Self-publishing is immensely satisfying, incredibly motivating, and my productivity has soared.
But there are other considerations. Just recently, huge formatting/editing/proofing errors have been spotted in major releases from Neal Stephenson and Terry Pratchett. If this is the level of quality control the Big 6 have for new books from their big writers, I shudder to think what is happening lower down the food chain.
I can’t afford to take the chance that could happen with my book or that I would be stuck with a crappy cover. I know that if I do it myself, the formatting, editing, and cover will be top quality because I work with experienced, committed professionals of my choice, and I have final approval of everything.
When you enter a business relationship with someone (which is how I look at a publishing deal), there are going to be issues if the two parties have divergent views. During the London Book Fair in April, publishers were defending their paltry royalty rates, saying they needed a bigger share of the cover price to help them combat piracy.
At the last Frankfurt Book Fair, the story had changed. Now they say they don’t need to raise royalty rates because authors are doing fine because they charge so much for e-books.
I shouldn’t need to tell you that this is all backwards and speaks nothing to the money going into their pockets at those higher prices. It’s also shows contempt for readers forced to pay that premium so publishers can get a juicy cut. I can’t afford to grant an exclusive license to sell my products to someone who has such an outdated view of the marketplace.
Even if snagging a traditional deal was one of my career goals (which it no longer is), I would still self-publish. Then, with some solid sales numbers, I could approach a publisher from a position of strength, instead of one of desperation.
I’m not going to tell anyone to self-publish; that’s a very personal decision. But if you want to take back control of your career, if you like the idea of connecting directly with your readers, and if you think you deserve more than the smallest slice of the book’s profits, then you should know that there are thousands of us ready to help you take your first steps.
Joe sez: David says a lot of really smart things in this blog entry, which doesn't surprise me because his blog is also very smart. His ebook, Let's Get Digital, is a must read for anyone considering self-pubbing. I recently bought, and read, his story Transfection and I'm happy to say it is terrific, and well worth the 99 cents.
Of the many memes being parroted by writers, one of the most destructive is "Most self-pubbed ebooks don't sell."
When you are arguing a point involving a new technology, such as ebooks, it is essential to make sure your argument also encompasses the older technology. The fact is, most legacy-pubbed books don't sell. Why do newbie writers continue to believe that signing with a publishing house is a guarantee of success? It isn't. You may get a modest advance--$5000 is still considered the average--but in today's publishing climate that may be the only money you ever see. And you can do far better on your own, even if you're selling modestly.
I've recently blogged about how ebook sales are far outselling paper sales. Bookstores are closing. The midlist is disappearing. David has a smart post about how declining paper sales aren't offset by rising ebook sales for legacy publishers, which points to Big Trouble for the Big 6.
So getting a legacy deal isn't about getting into print anymore. Which means you'd be signing with a Big 6 publisher in order for them to release your ebook.
Guess what? The Big 6 suck at releasing ebooks. They charge too much. Their royalties are too small. Often their formatting is sub-par (I've gotten into fights with my publishers to force them to reformat ebooks of mine riddled with errors.)
But exactly how bad a job do they do compared to self-pubbers?
I'll show you, with my numbers.
Hyperion has published six of my novels as ebooks, and Hachette has published one of my novels, and so has Berkley. That's eight novels, going back t0 2004.
On my own, I've published six novels, going back to 2009.
All totaled, my eight legacy pubbed ebooks have sold a little over 100,000 copies on Kindle.
All totaled, my six self-pubbed novels have sold over 235,000 copies on Kindle. And I made twice as much money per copy sold as I did on my legacy ebooks.
So my legacy pubbed ebooks have sold an average of 12,500 copies each, while my self pubbed ebooks have sold an average of 39,100 copies each.
Think about that. Ebooks that have had the support of three major publishers have only sold 1/3 of what I've done myself through KDP.
David is making a wise move, pulling his novel from submission and self-publishing it. Here's a quick recap of some of the reasons why.
1. Getting a legacy deal is difficult, and often doesn't happen even if the book is good. (All the novels I've self-pubbed were rejected by legacy publishers.) You can spend a looooong time looking for a legacy deal--time you could have been earning money via self-pubbing.
2. If you do land a legacy deal, you will get lower royalties.
3. If you do land a legacy deal, it will take 6 to 18 months before that book is for sale.
4. If you do land a legacy deal, the publisher has total control of price, title, and cover.
5. Ebooks are outselling paper books, bookstores are closing, and ereaders keep getting more advanced while coming down in price.
6. If you do land a legacy deal, you likely won't ever get your rights back.
7. If you do get an advance at a legacy deal, it will take a long time to earn out, if ever. Higher ebook prices mean fewer sales, and lower ebook royalties mean smaller checks.
So why are you still looking for a legacy deal? I can think of a few reasons.
Vanity. You want the prestige (whatever it may be) of signing with a legacy house.
Validation. You want the gatekeepers to tell you your book is good enough.
Dreams. You always wanted to see your book at a library, or on the shelf at a bookstore, and those dreams die hard.
Less work. You want a publisher to take care of things like promotion, editing, and cover art.
Money. You're getting a big advance that will amount to a life-changer.
Of those five reasons, the only one that makes sense from a business standpoint is money, and the chances of you getting a large advance from a legacy publisher are about the same as you being struck by lightening. This is a lottery dream, and not a smart business plan.
And as for those who believe legacy publishing is less work than self-publishing, you need to go back to 2005 and read my blog. I worked much harder as a legacy published author than I do as a self-pubbed author. I also make a much better living now than I did then.
If you're reading this, you're probably a writer, and these issues matter to you. Which means you need to gather as much information as you can, and think long and hard about your goals and how to reach them.
As David asks, can your really afford to take a legacy deal?
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Anyway, among reactions to my post, two far-reaching misapprehensions stood out -- misapprehensions that I think could inhibit people from understanding as clearly as they might the new choices facing writers today, and what those choices mean for the industry as a whole. So let's address those misapprehensions here, and see if we can clarify them.
1. All Legacy-Published Authors Are Making A Mistake.
In fact, I can think of many legitimate reasons an author might want to go the legacy route (and the self-publishing, and Amazon-publishing ones, too), and here's an online conversation I did with Amanda Hocking and agent Ted Weinstein discussing several of them. I've repeatedly said that for me, publishing is a business, not an ideology, and I don't think it's legitimate to criticize someone's tactics without first understanding his objectives. The key is not your chosen means (legacy, self, Amazon), but rather the degree to which those means maximize your chances of achieving your objectives.
So let's talk about those means for a moment. I think the most accurate way to understand the current choice between legacy- and self-publishing is this. Both systems, statistically speaking, are lotteries. If you measure the number of authors published in each system overall against the number who are making a living wage in that system, I don't think you can reasonably conclude that the odds of making a living wage through publishing are particularly good either way. It's so obvious that it shouldn't need saying, but neither system remotely guarantees success.
All this being the case, authors have to do some additional analysis to make a sensible decision. Reasonable questions to ask would include, How much is the advance? How much do I need the advance? Do I think that with higher self-publishing royalties, I can beat the contract (to see what I mean with that concept, follow the last paragraph in this Daily Beast interview)? If so, how long do I expect beating the contract will take? How important is paper distribution to me, and how important is digital? How important to me is control over things like pricing and packaging? How important is time-to-market? How much do I like, and how good am I at, running my own business vs. outsourcing business management to someone else? How much do I trust my potential business partner to manage things well? How much do I hate what legacy publishers are doing today vs how much do I fear what Amazon might do tomorrow? Which system gives me more personal power to influence my odds of success, and how important is that power to me? Etc. If you make a decision without asking such questions, you're making a mistake, at least in your process (though you can still get lucky in your result). If you are asking these questions, then regardless of the path you choose, you're making an informed decision, and for you, the right one.
Speaking only for myself, it's difficult for me to imagine going back to the legacy world (and at least as hard to imagine, at this point, that they'd have me). I'm very attached to control over packaging and pricing; time-to-market is important to me; I love the dramatically higher per-unit royalties self-publishing affords me. In other words, in general, I expect self-publishing will be, for me, more profitable and more pleasurable than was legacy-publishing. (Incidentally, I've also found all these personal objectives have been well served in my experience with Amazon as the publisher of The Detachment. In fact, I've found that, given my various personal objectives, a business model where I publish some works with Amazon and others on my own is the ideal mix). But that's just me. If your objectives are different, it makes sense that you would choose a different course of action. When I write these posts, I'm always far more interested in trying to tease out objective and widely applicable lessons from my own experience than I am in talking about the experience itself.
2. New York Publishers Are Evil And Publishing Would Be Better If They Died.
As I've argued many times, I believe legacy-publishing business practices have become overly self-serving because of a longstanding lack of competition in the industry. But I don't believe these practices make legacy publishers evil; in fact, I think these practices are just a natural part of legacy publishers' humanity. Power corrupts, as the saying goes, and monopolies, by virtue of human nature, always come to serve themselves at the expense of the wider society (that's why we have laws against them). But it doesn't follow from this that any monopoly needs to perish, or that I would personally want it to. After all, when someone is sick, you don't want him to succumb to the disease; you want him to get better. Similarly, what I want for New York publishing is not for it to die, but to reform.
And I want New York to reform not just because even New York would benefit from more enlightened business practices (not to mention the benefits to readers and authors). I also want New York to reform because Amazon needs healthy competition, too. If New York disappears as a counterweight, then current fears about an Amazon publishing monopoly will have substantially more basis in fact. Yes, I expect Amazon will still face competition from a host of players like Apple, Google, Kobo, Smashwords, and others, and from newly emerging author website bookstores, too (check out Joe's store right here), but the more competition, the better, so I hope everyone stands with me in cheering New York on in its efforts to reform its business practices.
Now, if you ask me to bet on the likelihood that New York will successfully adapt to the advent of digital and the emergence of Amazon as a publisher, I would have to regretfully decline to bet very much. As I noted in my previous post, companies coddled by a lack of competition get flabby, and New York, which hasn't faced real competition in living memory, is now squaring off against a formidable competitor indeed. I don't think it's likely legacy publishers will be able to adapt and survive. And though I hope I'm wrong about that, my hope doesn't lead me to want to protect New York from competition, either.
Maybe I'm clarifying here more than is really necessary, but I've learned from recent experience how willing and even eager people can be to mischaracterize arguments they find threatening. So again: the fact that I'm predicting an outcome doesn't mean I'm hoping for it. I predict that one day I will be dead, but that doesn't render me particularly enamored of or eager for that outcome. Similarly, though I don't think New York's chances are good, come on, guys, I'm cheering you on. I want you to step up, not give up.
Which brings me back to the question I asked in my previous post -- a question no one, as far as I know, has yet tried to answer:
If there's a better way than Amazon to reform New York’s previously unassailable quasi-monopoly and all the suboptimal business practices the monopoly has enabled, what is it?
One way of answering this question would be to deny the legacy publishing model is suboptimal at all. You could also respond by acknowledging some degree of suboptimal behavior, while denying that the behavior is the result of a lack of competition. I doubt I'd be persuaded by such arguments, but I would welcome them because they'd be on point.
But if you accept my "Suboptimal New York business practices are the result of a lack of competition" premise, then what I'd like to hear is your solution for getting New York to improve. Personally, I'm thrilled by the advent of self-publishing and the emergence of Amazon publishing because I can't think of any more potent combination of competitive pressure on New York. But I'd be very interested in the views of others on this point -- thanks.
Second, the primary reason legacy publishing has traditionally been able to take 85% of an author's earnings is distribution. Because no author could cost-effectively distribute her books in paper without a distribution partner, legacy publishers have been in a position to charge an 85% monopoly rent for paper distribution. The other services they provide -- enumerated above -- are add-ons. How can we be confident about the relative value of distribution vs the add-ons? Because if those other services could be disaggregated from distribution, no author in his right mind would pay anywhere near 85% for them, and publishers would not have the negotiating leverage to charge such an amount.
Today, with the advent of digital distribution, an author can distribute her works 100% as effectively as any publishing conglomerate. In digital distribution, authors and legacy publishers stand on an entirely level playing field -- which is another way of saying that in digital, an author simply doesn't need a publisher to distribute. So what legacy publishers are saying to authors today -- the new legacy publishing value proposition -- is this: "Before, when we handled distribution plus, we charged you 85%. Now you don't need us for distribution anymore, and we're only going to handle the plus part -- and you'll still have to pay us the same 85%."
Obviously, this is unsustainable.
Now as long as digital doesn't become too big a proportion of distribution generally, publishers can continue to try to stake their claim to that 85%. But the bigger the share of digital distribution, and the smaller the share of paper, the more absurd becomes legacy publishing's argument that it can still make a reasonable claim to that antediluvian 85%.
Put those two developments together, and what you get is a massive disintermediation and disaggregation play. Authors still need the same editing etc. functions they needed before, but now we can get them via a variety of emerging business models, many of which have nothing at all to do with legacy publishing. All of which means that legacy publishing will have to reinvent itself and reprice its drastically reduced list of value-add services if it wants to survive. Meanwhile, with legacy publishing's paper lock broken, new entrants, including literary agencies and authors like Bob Mayer, are offering authors various collections of add-on services for various rates of remuneration. So whether legacy publishing survives or not, today authors have more publishing choices than they ever had before.
Personally, I don't think there ever was a time of "pure" indie publishing. After all, Amanda Hocking needed Amazon's, B&N's, and Smashwords' distribution to get her books to readers -- she didn't sell through her own website. And even if she had sold through her own website, she would have been reliant on her website hosting company, on Paypal for billing services, etc. If you think about it, even an old-fashioned paper indie author was reliant on Kinko's for printing services and on Oldsmobile and a network of gas stations for his distribution platform. No one accomplishes anything in business entirely on her own, and I'd argue that notional concepts of independence are less important than the presence of actual choice. No man is an island, nor ever was; what matters instead is the effectiveness, desirability, and range of vessels available to carry us to our hoped-for destinations. For authors, there used to be only one such vessel, which was as expensive and inefficient as monopolies always are. Now there are many, and we're living in a different world as a result.