Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Franzen and the Ebook Bubble

A lot (dozens) of people have emailed me or left comments about two semi-related articles.

One concerns author Jonathan Franzen, and his comments about ebooks.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/30/jonathan-franzen-ebooks-values?newsfeed=true

The other is a UK article about the supposed ebook bubble.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/30/self-e-publishing-bubble-ewan-morrison

Franzen's thoughts, and the whole "bubble" idea, amuse me. But let me assure ebook authors everywhere that there is nothing to be alarmed about.

One of Franzen's quotes is:


"Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do."

Good for him. But his opinion is hardly universal. Amazon supposedly sold 6 million Kindle Fires in the last three months.

The grand literati concept of "Story" with a capital S has nothing to do with the media that delivers it. The story doesn't exist on paper. Or as e-ink, or screen pixels, or even mp3 audio compression.

The Story exists in the reader's/listener's head.

I anticipated this reaction of Luddites and paper fetishists two years ago.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/02/you-can-pry-my-paper-books-from-my-cold.html

Franzen could have saved himself from looking silly by reading my blog. But the same can be said about scores of writers, agents, and publishers, and it is my flawed conceit that logic, common sense, and hard data can change people's minds.

“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.” - Jacob M. Braude

It is worth noting here that I was once, pre-Kindle, 100% against self-publishing. I changed my mind as new data came in.

But I digress.

As for the ebook bubble, I put this meme to bed and rocked it to everlasting sleep a year ago:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/ebooks-aint-bubble.html

So what have we learned, other than the fact that I'm eerily prescient?

1. People fear change. When change happens, they dig in like ticks and try to defend their long-held and closely-cherished beliefs. (BTW, another term for long-held/closely cherished belief is prejudice. And prejudice ain't good.)

2. The same memes about ebooks keep getting circulated again and again and again because folks are too lazy to do any kind of simple research to inform their opinions.

3. Ebooks are going to follow the examples set by the music, movie, and TV industries. The future is digital, and anyone who disagrees with that is seriously out of touch with reality.

So all you ebook self-pubbers out there: ignore the alarmists. There are always doomsayers and Luddites and nostalgia whores who bitch and moan when new technologies take over. But they don't matter. Because new technologies don't care if some folks resist them--they take over anyway.

Now go get some writing done and self-publish the hell out of it. Trust me. I'm right a lot.*

*(Actually, you should trust no one, and figure this shit out for yourself with research and experimentation.)


154 comments:

Sarah Mae said...

{fist bump}

Love this.

Ruth Harris said...

2nd *fist bump*

Blah, blah. Yadda, yadda. It's all actually getting quite tedious.

I.J.Parker said...

Chuckle. Yes, so far pretty much 100 %.

As for the nay-sayers, those lucky enough to have actually made a living from advances, there are far more of us who never did but hung in there hoping that in time the books would take off. Well, they didn't. How could they without marketing and promotion? Instead the publishers (and agents) took off when the profits got too small for their taste.

Many of us grasped Amazon's lifeline because there was no other option. Some succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Me? I'm a much happier person. Now when the checks arrive, I have earned them. Advances put me in the publisher's debt. And Joe says this money I get from Amazon is forever. My books stay on the shelves. I control them. And Amazon does a hell of a lot better job marketing them than my publishers ever did.

Jordan McMakin said...

"Because new technologies don't care if some folks resist them--they take over anyway."

For better or worse, I think you're right.

Thanks for this post.

C R Myers said...

Well, said......as usual. :)

Keri Knutson said...

At least Franzen is doing his part to make sure the meme that "'literary" writers' are self-important douchebags" stays alive and well.

thing that bugged me is he discounts writers completely in the equation. Does he think what he writes doesn't have any merit on its own without a binding? It certainly sounds like he doesn't think the actual story or skill and talent a writer has has anything to do with, you know, writing books....

Anonymous said...

Franzen doesn't write thrillers.

Think it shows that no one is ever going to do a book like The Corrections as an indie Kindle.

Ebooks are fine for genre reads. But Franzen's type of literary writing you will only find it with the Big Six.

Free books for KIndle said...

The last gasp of a dying regime. They hope if they repeat the idea enough times someone will be taken in.

I have no doubt that print books will still exist (and be published) in 50 years time - but I think the majority of reading will be digital.

Douglas Dorow said...

I have yet to meet a person who didn't love their e-reader, once they used it.

Like me, they always loved the feel of the book, but they're discovering it's the story that counts, not how it is delivered.

And the book buying experience is so easy via the Kindle store, I know I'll never go back.

Jussi Keinonen said...

So on to newer and important things – what's with the beer diet?

Joe Konrath said...

Ebooks are fine for genre reads. But Franzen's type of literary writing you will only find it with the Big Six.

Right. When the majority of ebooks are digital, some genres will completely wither and die. People who demand literary fiction will simply quit reading altogether, because the Big 6 aren't rigorously vetting and telling them what is Pulitzer-worthy. There is absolutely no chance that a literary novel can ever succeed anywhere other than on a dead tree.

Come on. Don't you recognize how silly your argument is?

Stories are stories. A good story can find readers no matter the medium it exists on.

Watch me be prescient again. Within our lifetimes, a self-pubbed ebook will win a major literary award.

Personally, I think all awards are pretentious circle-jerks, but some people see value in them, and they don't hurt sales. If you need someone's stamp of approval to show you what is good and what isn't, it's your life.

Lit fic will migrate to ebooks like all books will migrate to ebooks. And all the current pretensions will come along for the ride.

David Kazzie said...

Joe,

Haven't agreed with everything you've said over the years, but my book hit the top 40 on Amazon overnight. It was a long slog and took a lot of experimentation (finally got my break using KDP Select). It was reading and studying this blog that ultimately helped me decide to publish on Kindle. So I must give credit where it's due.

Also, my blog post detailing my Select experience got reposted by a site called Daring Fireball, which sent its hit count through the roof.

Mark Terry said...

I just wrote this on a friend's FB wall in regard to the same articles, and I can happily pat myself on the back and reprint it here:

publishing as we know it (or used to know it) is a fairly recent development as far as the written word. If you go back to the 1700s and even somewhat to the early to mid-1800s or later, publishers were often just printers who were friends of a writer who agreed to print their work. An awful lot of great writers - Melville, etc., as well as people like John Adams - were essentially self-published. It's possible that in 200 years they'll look back at publishing as the bubble with comments like, The reading public and writers themselves were convinced that they needed the imprimatur of a corporation to validate their work, but in retrospect, this appears to have had more to do with technological development and control of distribution. Once technology and distribution were removed from a publishing monopoly, writers once again became the publishers and the public chose reading material based on their interests and less on access.

Alan Tucker said...

I immediately thought of you when I saw these two stories yesterday. The fact that these people can publish this drivel directly refutes their arguments.

Evidently the ebook version of War and Peace is somehow less enduring because a tree didn't sacrifice its life to create it.

Please.

*word verify "presses" — there's some irony there somewhere*

Ruth Harris said...

Sh*t Editors & Agents Say

For your entertainment. From Penguin.

http://bit.ly/wZrX5f

P A Wilson said...

Ah, snobbery. Yes I read the article. At first I thought it was a joke, but soon realized it was the usual form of 'mine is better' classism that ignorance and fear of change stands behind.

What gets missed here is that form does not equal content. If someone reads Paradise Lost on a Kindle, is it a lesser experience than holding a leatherbound book of John Milton's complete works? I have done both and my wrists appreciated the lightness of the Kindle.

I hope that people who prefer print are always able to buy their books that way. But, I am a confirmed e-reader and even my favorite authors can't make me go back by not offering an ebook version.

Jill James said...

Glad to come over here and read some sensible discussions. Those two stories upset me with how adament they were about being right.

Barry Graham said...

I wonder what Franzen thinks of that newfangled rock and roll music the kids are listening to nowadays.

Dan DeWitt said...

Yeah, lower prices, instant access, and readability via any number of devices (without having to carry a book around) are all fads.

Oh, noes, the batteries might run out! I've never run out of battery on my reader, but you know what's happened to me a lot in my life? I forgot to bring my &^%$#@* book somewhere and was out of luck. I always have my phone, though.

Criminy, I love paper books, too. Their tactility is comforting. But the attachment to them is the same we have for our first car or girlfriend. That sentimentality still doesn't stop us from eventually upgrading.

Dan

Deep River said...

Franzen is right. Just look at what happened to illuminated manuscripts when Gutenberg came along with his damn printing press.

Joe Konrath said...

I wonder what Franzen thinks of that newfangled rock and roll music the kids are listening to nowadays.

Heh. I remember getting into an argument with my mom in 1984 when I bought Run-DMC's first album and she declared, "That music is awful. Rap is just a fad and will never last."

Robert Gray said...

Certainly doesn't help that both of these articles came out during one of the best months in e-publishing/self-publishing history. Um, yeah, dudes, you need to wait until summer for all that doom & gloom crap.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Delurking over this one:

Ebooks are fine for genre reads. But Franzen's type of literary writing you will only find it with the Big Six.

You do realize that The Big Six publish ebooks, right? You can buy digital versions of Franzen's books, already.

Gary Ponzo said...

Asking Jonathan Franzen's opinion on ebooks and self-publishing, is like asking Peyton Manning what he thinks of Andrew Luck. You think there's some conflict of interest there?

Adam Pepper said...

People have a funny way of projecting their own personal doom and gloom on the rest of the world. The industry is shifting. People's livelihoods are at risk, so of course they try and convince the rest of us the sky is falling. I'm sure they really believe it too.

Merrill Heath said...

I have a Kindle and a Nook. I like having both to verify my formatting. And I much prefer reading on the ereaders as opposed to print. Try reading Stephen King's "Under the Dome" in hardback. The book has 1,074 pages and weighs about 15 lbs. But with an ereader you can hold it comfortably or set it down without having to hold the book open to the page you're reading. Not to mention that I have it and about twenty other books on my Kindle, which I can easily carry with me wherever I go.

Bottom line - it's all about the story, not the method of delivery. I don't care who the publisher is. I don't care who the author is. And I don't care if it's an ebook or a printed book or an audio file. If the story's good then I'm happy.

Merrill Heath

Jon F. Merz said...

My latest blog after a full twelve months of ebook sales and what it's meant for my career versus how I used to make a so-called living with traditional publishers.

http://t.co/ufrlUVRX

PS: Franzen is an ass.

Gramix Publishing said...

First stone, then clay tablets, then parchment, then paper, now electrons.

The universal historical trend has been toward ever more ephemeral media to record speak (i.e., writing).

Convenience and recording density has always trumped permanence.

John Barlow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Barlow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Merrill Heath said...

@Jon F. Merz, great post on your blog. Glad to see you are well and having success doing what you love to do.

Merrill Heath

Ellen Britt, PA, Ed.D. said...

Joe, I was such a hard-copy bookaholic for my entire life and could never have imagined that in less than a year, my preference for physical books would be turned upside down in favor of the digital format.

If it happened to me...it is surely a widespread phenomenon.

The e-book bubble argument crowd is growing thinner and thinner every day!

Jon F. Merz said...

Thanks Merrill!

Ruth Harris said...

@Jon Merz—ah yes, "reserve for returns." Haven't thought of that phrase for ages. Thanks (I guess) for reminding me. lol

Great post. Tried (& tried) to comment but Word Press hates me & vice versa.

Stephen T. Harper said...

I agree with everything Franzen said.

Now if you'll excuse me, I would like to listen to some music and this Victrola certainly isn't going to crank itself.

Joe Konrath said...

I would like to listen to some music and this Victrola certainly isn't going to crank itself.

Don't you realize the only way to listen to music is at a live performance? Recorded music will NEVER catch on. Records are ruining the music industry.

Casey Moreton said...

Sorry, I was across the room adjusting the rabbit ears on my black and white TV.

Dan DeWitt said...

Better print the post up fast before this internet fad dries up. Words deserve permanence.

Carson Craig said...

e-books replacing the printed variety? Terrible! Just as bad as when machine-printed movable-type books replaced hand-printed ones, and when hand-printed ones replaced hand-written ones, and when folios replaced scrolls, and when paper replaced clay, and when written stories and records replaced (in large part) oral transmission thereof! Surely the paper book as we know it today is the pinnacle of written mediums. Really, Franzen, you're a swell writer and all, but get with it.
And another thing! JF mentions the good feeling of taking a book and having it always say the same thing--how comforting that is. Well, what about the accumulations of scratches, cover decorations, "if lost return to" notices, etc. bound to accumulate on a well-loved e-reader? Could those not make this object as personal and precious as any other? I think perhaps they could.

Traci Hohenstein said...

I couldn't read all of Franzen's article. It gave me a headache. Come to think of it, so did Freedom.

Casey Moreton said...

Can somebody help me? The pages on my Kindle books keep sticking together. Oy!

Kiana Davenport said...

What blows my mind about these lofty discussions in FORBES, BUSINESS WEEK and the NYT about ebooks vs. print is that they concentrate on the publishers, the bookstores (or demise of), the massive ego-trips of CEO's, or quotes from pinup boys du jour like Jonathan Franzen.

Where are the in-depth articles of what this revolu-tion means to AUTHORS, you and me? Articles about how more realistic pricing of books, and more equitable royalties would, and ARE, ennabling us to see our work published and still be able to pay our rent. In short, to live with a semblance of dignity.

We are the PRODUCERS, upon which this whole chaotic industry is based. Yet once again, in this media frenzy on the 'imminent death of publishing' the writer is left unaccounted for, and watching from the wings. Except that now some of you are garnering more annual income than the CEO's who are mouthing-off and monopolizing center-stage.
Imua to all of you! Press on.

Old Chinese Proverb: "BEWARE OF FUTURE. IT COMES."

"...My flawed conceit that logic, common sense and hard data can change people's minds."
Bravo, Joe!

Dan McGirt said...

Printed books will still be around in fifty years. I think it far more likely no one will care about Jonathan Franzen fifty years from now.

Stephen T. Harper said...

"Don't you realize the only way to listen to music is at a live performance? Recorded music will NEVER catch on."

Well, as long as we're not talking about any of that amplified nonsense, I agree.

Music = 50 people playing acoustic instruments in front of a great bowl-shaped wall. And that simply can not be improved upon.

Edward G. Talbot said...

Franzen's post just screams fear. I find it hard to feel anything other than sorry for someone who's so terrified of change and who knows no other way of dealing with it than to belittle whole swaths of people and work. Part of me wonders, though, if this is all a lark, and he's operating under the idea that there's no such thing as bad publicity. It's either that or he's actually serious.

The real meat of the story is in the last paragraph:

"Seriously, the world is changing so quickly that if you had any more than 80 years of change I don't see how you could stand it psychologically."

Really? His fear of the shift from paper books is so great that in order to make himself feel okay about it, he has to make it into a frigging species-wide problem? That is some industrial strength defense mechanism he's got.

Pat Anvil said...

Just wrote a vignette comparing eBook vs. Books debate to the way I imagine scribes reacted to Gutenberg: http://patanvil.com/ebooks-vs-books-debate

AJI said...

I'm not sure how he compares this to a bubble. Bubbles occur when existing assets get inflated, generally for no sustainable reason (e.g. housing).

This is a major technology shift. There will certainly be growing pains, and this new market will have problems to overcome, but the notion that it is some type of fad that will pass is so foolish it is hard to even think of a response.

Publishers are going to have to adapt to a much lower cost structure FAST, and they don't want to let go over the Manhattan offices and expense account lunches. But a good editor can edit in her den and a good designer can do a nice cover on his back deck...at much lower cost.

J. R. Tomlin said...

I must admit you are right a lot. *grin*

Not always though and I look at the advice of a lot of people, you, DWS, Kris Rusch and others, compare it with my own experience and what I see happening, then make up my own mind.

In this case... You're right and the articles are, to be frank, rather silly, especially the "bubble" one.

Barrel Jumper said...

I'm a teacher. In the past two years I can't tell you how many of my students have gotten Kindles or iPads and started doing this thing I call READING!

It's made a huge difference, and it's amazing how many other students want a Kindle once they see their friends using it and READING!

Print books are 100% going out of style as the young embrace technology.

Alan Tucker said...

Alvin Toffler wrote a book about Mr. Franzen. It's called Future Shock.

I wonder if it's somehow less true as an ebook than paper?

Lee McAulay said...

The divide between 'culture' and 'entertainment' neatly encapsulated in one blog post. Bravo!

Suzan Harden said...

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it." - Kay, Men in Black

Joe, thanks for reminding me to buy a digital coy of my favorite movie before the VHS tape breaks or wears out.

carolko said...

When my partner purchased an ereader, I thought he should be boiled alive for the traitor he was.
Although I've not bought a kindle, I've downloaded it to my iphone and laptop... and am using it.
Personally, I think this is a positive move. The days of receiving a rejection a year after submission are passing and agents/publishers will no longer have the power. It is in our own hands.
I self published a couple of months ago and am enjoying the experience.
Hell, next I'll be buying a kindle!!

GreatNovus said...

J-Kon, what was the last thing you were actually wrong about? I know you can't be right ALL the time!

Anonymous said...

It would have been nice if you could have addressed Franzen's points, rather than just belittling them.

Jeremy Bouchard said...

Franzen is beating a dead horse. I think we're heading to a point where an artist has to adapt or die.

I especially liked this quote from the article: "One of the consolations of dying is that [you think], 'Well, that won't have to be my problem',"

I heard J.K. Rowling was against the Harry Potter books being available in digital, but see that they will be released soon exclusively on her Pottermore site. In my opinion, that seems like a brilliant f-ing move. I wouldn't advise that kind of move for most, but considering that she's practically a household name, I think they'll make a killing by selling direct.

David L. Shutter said...

"Seriously, the world is changing so quickly that if you had any more than 80 years of change I don't see how you could stand it psychologically

I like what Ed said about defense mechanism.

"I'm so glad I'll be dead in a few decades. It's so much better to be dead than to see things change from how I want them to be."

Stan Mitchell said...

Great post. And thanks for sharing all that you do about the perils of the writing trade.

Kass Lamb said...

@Dan DeWitt
Criminy, I love paper books, too... But the attachment to them is the same we have for our first car or girlfriend. That sentimentality still doesn't stop us from eventually upgrading.

Well said, Dan. A lot of people's resistance to giving up paper books is this kind of sentimentality, and once they get used to e-readers they will no more want to go back to lugging "real" books around than I want to go back to driving the 1959Ford (got 8 miles to the gallon, drove like a tank) that was my first car.

Also, as many of you have already said, this is about one small four-letter word, FEAR. Fear of change, of losing control of the industry, of losing elitist status, etc.

Ain't no bubble, folks. It's progress.

Joe Konrath said...

It would have been nice if you could have addressed Franzen's points, rather than just belittling them.

He didn't make any points that I could see. He portrayed assumptions and opinions as facts.

Wayne said...

Anonymous said...
It would have been nice if you could have addressed Franzen's points, rather than just belittling them.


Actually he has in many previous posts including the 2 linked in the post for the most part. There are also 2 side issues, 1 of which deals with politics and ebooks and 1 which deals with politics and finance. Neither really has anything to do with a publishing blog.

1) "and his belief that serious readers will always prefer print editions."
Joe and others have said at worst that the printed book will be like vinyl is now, special collectors editions. Franzen's "serious readers" though is a very pretentious way of saying what others have said. Many authors go with big6 or small press because they want a coffee table book to show off, that won't change.

2) "Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper."

And many times they have typo's, storyline mistakes, etc in regular publishing novels. If you watch many interviews with actors and authors and other entertainers they often complain they hate their early work. Since ebooks are forever they could update the book leaving the original version in the back for people. The backlist sales should improve enough over time to make it worth their while. The idea wouldn't be to destroy people's favorite versions like Lucas, but to offer both versions since its very little to no extra cost in doing so.

3) "That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government."

Basically a side issue on a publishing blog. It's more political along the lines of something to argue with Barry Eisler. He's implying that a government or group could change history or popular culture though forced editing. When you consider how many backup servers CRC checks exist for individual people now its not a strong argument.

4) Franzen said at Hay that "the combination of technology and capitalism has given us a world that really feels out of control". "If you go to Europe, politicians don't matter. The people making the decisions in Europe are bankers," he said.

Again a political issue not relating to self-publishing.

Jude Hardin said...

He didn't make any points that I could see. He portrayed assumptions and opinions as facts.

Exactly.

One of the "points" he makes is that paper books are permanent, whereas ebooks are not, and that the impermanence of ebooks is somehow going to be the downfall of civilization as we know it.

He might be right about that one. When the giant meteor strikes (or extraterrestrial aliens invade or the sun explodes or...something) and the power grids fail and droves of shambling pale nightwalkers rule the planet, The Ultimate Thriller Box Set will no longer exist.

But when that happens I guess we'll have more important things to worry about than what to read.

Taylor Michaels said...

I don't pay much attention to The Guardian. You shouldn't either.

M.E. Hydra said...

I love in the bubble article how Morrison talks about writers only making £99 from a year of epublishing. Does he not realise the majority of writers made nada under the old system--they wrote a book, it didn't get published and that was that. But, as usual, he's talking about Writers not writers. F**king snob.

I gave his article the evisceration it deserved over on the self publishing revolution blog.

Craig Thomas said...

I'm here wondering what the definition of a "serious reader" is, according to Franzen. But I guess I'll never know unless I'm lucky enough to dine with him.

David L. Shutter said...

One of the "points" he makes is that paper books are permanent, whereas ebooks are not, and that the impermanence of ebooks is somehow going to be the downfall of civilization as we know it

Jude

I can almost see his point; that any old piece of drek can be put out there now without any vetting process. However, having spent full price on hardbacks that sucked unwiped ass as many times as I have (as I'm sure many others have) I have to question the infallibility of traditional print quality control.

It's the same old line from elitists that the internet as a whole is detrimental to society. Ie; everyone with a blog or a page is now an "expert" on something and critics and columnist (the only "true" experts) have lost standing amidst a dumbed-down society.

What the publishing experts routinely (and conveniently) overlook when making these comparisons is the flood of vapid celebrity bios, the entire tables of pointless tie-in books to idiotic summer movies and any other manner of derivitive drivel mimicing whatever trend is popular that's pushed out year after year.

Print publishers are guilty of all the above yet they maintain they're the bastions of "real literature" now that they're threatened by the independent market.

Folks like B.V. Larson, Mainak Dhar and Bella Andre are f*&$ing killing it right now, connecting with massive readerships and making bank.

And it's driving people entrenched in the traditional system up the wall.

Jude Hardin said...

I'm here wondering what the definition of a "serious reader" is, according to Franzen. But I guess I'll never know unless I'm lucky enough to dine with him.

A Serious Reader n. One who is versed in the classics and can draw on his or her supreme education and wit to discuss broadly or narrowly as the occasion warrants the social, political, artistic, and cultural relevance of a modern piece of literature.

syn. A bore

Jude Hardin said...

However, having spent full price on hardbacks that sucked unwiped ass as many times as I have...

You might want to consider revising that sentence. ;)

Merrill Heath said...

However, having spent full price on hardbacks that sucked unwiped ass as many times as I have...

You might want to consider revising that sentence. ;)


LMAO

Merrill Heath

Archangel said...

Good grief Joe, is this true in your experience...?? I would like to understand this in depth... that Amaz cuts off small pubs for seeming no reason? ... this, a chilling set of two comments from an article today http://blog.authorsguild.org/2012/01/31/publishings-ecosystem-on-the-brink-the-backstory/

Andrea Siegel
It never occurred to me that Amazon's bullying was systemic. I thought just a few of the little people would be bullied. When Amazon sold over $6,000 worth of my small press book, Open and Clothed, in one week, a vice-president called me to ask me what I was doing to sell the book. I cheerfully informed him. Then Amazon cracked down, said I had no choice but to take a revised draconian contract (they would pay just about what it cost me to print it), or they would cut me off. OUCH. I've been told by folks who try to buy a copy from the publisher at Amazon that Amazon says it's "out of print." The book is in print. Amazon lists it for sale "new," but doesn't include my small press as one of the sellers. As book seller, I found Amazon initially supportive, then destructive. I worry that my writing this will cause them to blacklist me and my books. I hope that doesn't happen. On the other side, as a book buyer, I find Amazon indispensable. Life is interesting. Thank you for the research.
----------

Terry Kepner
Collapse
Andrea: There are many, many individuals and companies that have experienced what you did with Amazon. The other problem, for authors who go the POD route, is that Amazon pays "based on the average monthly sales," so you don't see that "pop" at Xmas as sales spike way up. Instead Amazon keeps your money and doles it out over the rest of the year. Do you get paid for the interest that money earns Amazon? Nope. Do you get the opportunity to verify their sales figures? Nope. If you complain, do the reasonably respond and explain why payments are slower than they said, or why a check didn't arrive on time? Nope, you're told: "Hey, if you don't like the way we do things, sell your books somewhere else."

Archangel said...

J-Kon, also is it true that Amazon does not pay out month to month what is earned but rather spreads a certain amount over the year... as the commenter Andrea Siegel above wrote about her experience with amazon on her book I think called, Open and Clothed ? Can this be true?

Jim Kukral said...

This post today from Warren Adler is actually a great, fair piece from an old-school writer who see the future in reality. A good read.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/warren-adler/self-publishing-books_b_1239201.html

Oh, and JK is right again.

Sean Roney said...

Franzen just proved he's a complete moron, valuing nostalgia more than just facing the logical outcome of the industry. Oh, and he also proved he has his head in his rectum on a regular basis.

Darlene Underdahl said...

We can talk buggies and buggy whips.

I’m delighted the eBook self-publishers are so supportive of each other; I don’t think that was the case in other environments.

There is going to be A LOT of new material that was previously dismissed for whatever reason.

www.VermillionRoadPress.com

W. Dean said...

A Serious Reader n. One who is versed in the classics and can draw on his or her supreme education and wit to discuss broadly or narrowly as the occasion warrants the social, political, artistic, and cultural relevance of a modern piece of literature. syn. A bore

And the person who can do none of those things is what, Jude? “Interesting”? Are you yearning to spend more time talking with MTV-watching teenagers because you find their thoughts on Snooki and Gaga, and, ya know, like, stuff and shit, is, like awesome? I know I sometimes find myself crying out to the lonely night, “If only there was more self-imposed retardation in the world!”

Look, I wouldn’t walk across the street to talk to Jonathan Franzen either, but I’d still take talking to him over 99% of the people on the internet. For some reason, I suspect you’d do the same. But maybe not. Maybe you can’t see when you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face. Oh wait, did I just use one of those hoity-toity metaphors y’all finds makes yer head feel all itchy-like? Seriously...

W. Dean said...

Just one point on the Morrison piece, because one’s all that’s needed. The economic analogy with the financial bubble is silly for the obvious reason that the financial bubble was brought on by the moral hazard involved in having the state insure mortgages.

Who’s underwriting e-books? No one. Who’s even selling stock in e-books? No one. Who’s speculating on the stocks no one is selling in e-books? Still no one. Where’s the bubble? There isn’t one because there can’t be one and this whole analogy is asinine.

The moral of this story is that no one should pay attention to people who use “economic bubble” in any but a figurative sense when talking about e-books or anything else that can’t inflate in the first place. QED.

GreatNovus said...

"Blogger Archangel said...

J-Kon, also is it true that Amazon does not pay out month to month what is earned but rather spreads a certain amount over the year... as the commenter Andrea Siegel above wrote about her experience with amazon on her book I think called, Open and Clothed ? Can this be true?

7:28 PM"

Yes! The nickname has caught on!

Jude Hardin said...

It was a joke, W.Dean. Get a grip.

Edward G. Talbot said...

However, having spent full price on hardbacks that sucked unwiped ass as many times as I have...

You might want to consider revising that sentence. ;)


Heh, good point Jude. I missed that because I was laughing pretty heard at the additional adjective suggesting that merely sucking ass was not pejorative enough.

Suzanne Korb said...

I don't even read blogs by writers who are still attempting to snag literary agents anymore. I'm leaving them in my eBook dust.

David L. Shutter said...

Ed

Sorry for the extra adjective use, just trying to make a point.

Pejorative; we have our word of the day

Brandon Simpson said...

Those who claim that there is an e-book bubble don't understand what a bubble is. There can't be a bubble in e-books because there's no government intervention. There was a bubble in dot-coms, the housing market, and university tuition because the government made it easy to get loans to invest in these projects. This is not true of e-books.

Casper Bogart said...

This Franzen rant is the same old repackaged fear of change that every new technology that appeals to a mass audience has faced.


Ancient Times:
Plato: The theatre corrupts youth. (Why? Because the masses like it.)

Modern times:
Records: Sousa predicted they would lead to the end of music.

Movies: Head for the hills! Men and women, in dark theatres, side by side? And close ups? Of people kissing?

TV: Too violent. Will destroy the minds of everyone.

Video games: End of civilization.

The Internet: The sinister slayer of intellect.

And now, Ebooks.

Sheesh.

Glenn Gamble said...

I'm here wondering what the definition of a "serious reader" is, according to Franzen. But I guess I'll never know unless I'm lucky enough to dine with him. A Serious Reader n. One who is versed in the classics and can draw on his or her supreme education and wit to discuss broadly or narrowly as the occasion warrants the social, political, artistic and cultural relevance of a modern piece of literature. iterature

syn. A bore


LMAO... And has some truth to it too

Stephen T. Harper said...

@archangel. Serious question, not being snarky here, but can you translate that comment. I don't understand what she's talking about. Cracked down on what? What was she doing? Thanks.

J.A. Self said...

Every quote in the first article is laden with fear and insecurity. Not easy to trust a man in a panic.
His fear of the inpermanent is silly. Why would anyone have such a fear of digital? You can still take the files off of your kindle and back them up. Or, if you sideload your documents there is no way aside from vast conspiracy to change the contents.
Franzen's paranoia makes for a nice story though.

Archangel said...

@Stephen T Harper. Sure, be happy to try. You wrote "@archangel. Serious question, not being snarky here, but can you translate that comment. I don't understand what she's talking about. Cracked down on what? What was she doing? Thanks."

I am not sure, but I think she put her book up on amazon and was happily selling along {she says 6k copies, that seems a lot)... and suddenly got a call from an AMZ exec asking what she was doing for marketing. It sounded as tho then AMZ withdrew her agreement with them and offered her some lesser contract, and additionally refuses to list her book. It sounds as though her book may be both ebk and POD.

So I was asking Joe to comment on two things, because he likely knows and I sure dont... if this is true in his experience that some authors get their initial agreement with AMZ pulled and are then offered a less desireable deal... or else AMZ 'erases them' ?

And secondly I as asking if Joe (or anyone) knew if the man who responded to the lady's comment was valid. He said that Amazon does not pay full freight per month, but instead sounds like, amortizes the money owed to authors over a year's period of time.

I hope that helps to clarify what I was asking about AMZ' policies for paying authors and for agreements offered, then rescinded, seemingly.

thanks S.

Matthew Lee Adams said...

Franzen has always had an aversion to technology and had his own purist take on writing. He's been very anti-Internet and considers a lot of technology to be distracting.

What had always surprised me was how Ray Bradbury had such a similar aversion - toward the internet, ebooks, etc. He also never drove a car and has mainly relied on his bicycle or occasional public transport.

On the other hand...

Ansel Adams (no relation to me other than sharing a common last name) was quite famous for his film photography. But over the many years since his death, friends and most recently his son have stated with great certainty that they believe he would have embraced digital photography. Because he saw the cameras as tools of his trade and not the reason for being.

Change is immutable.

Stephen T. Harper said...

@archangel, thanks. I read the article in the link. Still don't follow her story. What's still unclear is the "why." what's Amazon's motivation for forcing her to sign a new contract? were they trying to get a better cut? Seems like a lot of trouble for one book that had made 6k. And what did her reference to a " small publisher" have to with it?

Stella Baker said...

@Dave. Like you, Joe's blog has been a major force in opening my mind to self-pubbing. Your blog post, which you referenced in your comment here, hit home: your sales, attitudes, and situation is so similar to mine. Your experience made me feel ready to give it a try myself, so, I just put my book, 4 Gigs of Trouble, up for free at Amazon, Feb. 1 and 2. We'll see what happens.

Thanks to everyone here who posts their experiences, with details and data. Those of us (most of us?) still figuring our way along can use all the light we can get.

Archangel said...

@Stephen T Harper. I'm sorry, I dont know any more than that, but hope Joe will be able to say whether he's ever heard of Amazon not paying out fully monthly ESPECIALLY, and also rescinding an agreement and offering one for less favorable terms re book upload to AMZ. Thanks STH.

Anna Drake said...

I love the allure of a horse and buggy, but I drive an automobile. Change happens.

Wayne said...

Archangel:
@Stephen T Harper. I'm sorry, I dont know any more than that, but hope Joe will be able to say whether he's ever heard of Amazon not paying out fully monthly ESPECIALLY, and also rescinding an agreement and offering one for less favorable terms re book upload to AMZ. Thanks STH


There are a few marketting methods that will cause Amazon to delist your item I believe. Paid reviews got an item removed for example. Posts plugging your book on the kindle boards can apparently get you punished somehow(its in the Terms somewhere). There are other things like gimicking their algorhythms that they punish. I've never heard of a lesser contract though.

frank palardy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C. S. Hand said...

"Franzen doesn't write thrillers.

Think it shows that no one is ever going to do a book like The Corrections as an indie Kindle.

Ebooks are fine for genre reads. But Franzen's type of literary writing you will only find it with the Big Six."

This sounds like obvious trolling, but I would contend that Frazen isn't literary writing at all (compare him with Shelley, or Homer, or Plato, Nietzsche, Derrida, La Rochefoucauld, etc etc, and you will quickly find that you are wasting your time), and that yes, the real literary writing is and will be occuring on Amazon dot com until the next revolution.

Literary writers have always been at the edge of the medium. It would be wrong for a literary minded author to be at work in print these days with the sort of New York oppression of stimulating, challenging ideas in favor of tepid observations that occur in "literary" works of such "authors" like Frazen.

WiseM├│na said...

My favourite line is the last one. Trust no one and do it yourself. Great read as always Joe. Almost done with the first book x

Bruce Andrews said...

What is over-looked in the concept of "bubble", is that the bursting of the bubble doesn't make it go away. Remember the dot-com bust? Somehow, against all odds, the internet is still here. Perhaps there will be some type of ebook bust, where some initial enthusiasm peters out. But that doesn't mean the format goes away, or stops growing.

Oh, and Brandon Simpson, you might want to study a bit more economic history. Bubbles long preceded any type of government funding. Tulips, anyone?

Joe Konrath said...

It sounds as though her book may be both ebk and POD.

What she said doesn't make sense.

But let's go beyond what she said. Let's do research. Instead of asking me, did you do any research? I don't know all the facts, but I can speculate.

It seems she self-published in 1999. It's a paperback listed at $24.

When one self-publishes, they must make deals with bookstores, usually selling the books to them at a discount of 40% to 60% of list price.

One of the biggest complaints against Amazon by other retailers (and publishers who forced the agency model on Amazon) is that Amazon offers customers deep discounts.

If the paperback was listed at $24, Amazon selling it for $12 is perfectly within their rights. Retailers should be able to sell goods for whatever price they choose.

What they pay publishers (wholesalers) per unit is dependent on the contract they signed with publishers. If a book is selling well, the bookstore usually gets it at a bigger discount.

If I had to guess (since you asked) this overpriced self-pubbed book cost a lot per unit, either because of a small print run, POD, the printer charged too much, or the author didn't know how to properly mark-up a book.

The book seemed to have gotten some press coverage in the NYT, but at $24 a pop the $6000 worth of sales (she said sales, not royalties) only equals 250 books sold.

This might have been a case of a naive self-publisher not understanding how the process worked, Amazon discounting and losing money and deciding not to offer the book anymore (which is within their right), the book not being available through a distributor (I believe in 1999 Amazon still used Ingram), the title may not have been returnable, or many other factors.

The book doesn't seem to be available anywhere online other than used, which makes me believe distributors aren't carrying it.

Being "in print" doesn't mean having a few boxes of new books in the garage. It means it is on the shelf at a distributor warehouse. Distributors get a cut, just like the bookstore does. Shipping is also expensive. This may be why a trade paperback is listed at $24, which much more than comparable paperbacks--about double, in fact.

So this whole thing sounds fishy. But even if every assumption I made is wrong, the fact is every retailer gets to decide the prices they buy and sell goods for. They aren't required to deal with anybody they don't want to deal with. Which is why the agency model is wrong, and why there's current court cases about its legality.

Joe Konrath said...

The other problem, for authors who go the POD route, is that Amazon pays "based on the average monthly sales," so you don't see that "pop" at Xmas as sales spike way up. Instead Amazon keeps your money and doles it out over the rest of the year.

It can take 18 months for all the money to be collected from bookstores by publishers before the author sees any. This is how the biz works all over.

On the other hand, Amazon's POD imprint Createspace (which I use and recommemend) pays monthly, and reports sales in close to real time.

Amazon pays quicker, with much easier to understand royalty statements, than any publisher I've ever worked with.

Michael Kingswood said...

(facepalm)

Actually...

(headdesk)

Case studies in sheer idiocy. Especially the Morrison piece. Dude, if you don't have a clue about a concept, such as in this case economics, don't try to use that concept to explain your pre-conceived notions. You just make yourself look like an idiot.

I need a beer after reading those two pieces. (peers at clock) Oh well, it's 5 o'clock somewhere. :)

Michael Kingswood

Kathleen Dienne said...

Franzen is the same author who once said in an interview that he will spend weeks creating the perfect sentence. Really, he should carve his stuff one letter at a time in stone, that would really be permanent.

dawn said...

On re: e-books destroying the very fabric of what we hold dear and true in society and culture and even our world.

I say thank God. I was afraid the downfall of our world was going to be the H-bomb.

Danielle Blanchard Benson said...

Sing the gospel, Konrath.

To be honest, weren't these the same knuckleheads who bemoaned MP3 and said it was a fad. CDs were the shit and always would be. Probably were the same ones who bitched about CDs in the 90s and said that records would always be around.

The same peeps who said DVD--tried before... anyone heard of LASERDISC and that was an abysmal failure against VHS. I remember when VHS and Beta were competing. Now there is Blu-Ray and that is quickly making DVDs even less of a necessity than they need to be.

In my short life, I have seen a lot of change. Some of it good, some of it bad but I pretty much know what is going to stick and what isn't. All the naysayers who say e-books are just a passing fancy are seriously deluded and living in a dream world. Fortunately for me (and a lot of other readers out there who swear by e-books and wouldn't pick up a dead tree book except as a piece of nostalgia), I wouldn't trade the world for this awesome technology.

Time to clear out the garage and give all my paperbacks to the Goodwill. ;-)

Walter Knight said...

It doesn't even matter if most average people do not own Kindles. People who are avid readers own Kindles, and that's the important market.

Barry said...

Heh. Here's what I said on Facebook:

There's so much wrong with Morrison's thinking that if I start dissecting it, I'll wind up fisking it the way Joe and I did that Hachette memo and I can't spare the time right now.

I'll just say this: if you think the causes and consequences of (1) someone taking two mortgages on his house so he can put down-payments on six others and flip them as the market rises, and (2) someone uploading a manuscript hoping it'll earn a few dollars online whereas in the desk drawer it was earning nothing are the same, then your definition of "bubble" is so big and vague it has no meaning.

My sense, and I certainly could be wrong, is that Morrison stumbled across an article (Hyman Minsky's Financial Instability Hypothesis) and thought it would be provocative to try to make digital publishing fit the model. What he came up with was, for me, unpersuasive, but I don't have time today to debunk all his silly points. Apologies for that.

If you feel like Joe (or I) didn't spend enough time debunking the piece, one thing to remember is that responding to the same poorly-conceived arguments again and again gets boring after a while. Read Be The Monkey, it's all in there. :)

Andy Conway said...

What annoys me most about Franzen's missive is the flat out zombie meme that legacy publishers are the people taking the risk to publish literary fiction.

As a fan of experimental postmodern fiction (which is a genre just like any other) I wrote one that I thought was rather good. (Well, I would, wouldn't I?)

The problem was, several legacy publishers thought it was rather good too. This was a 'problem' because while fully admitting it was great writing, they then rejected it as unmarketable.

I had the good fortune to receive generous feedback from three very high profile British publishers. All berated me for the literary games that got in the way of the emotional story, while admitting that the literary games were essential to the story, and lauding it as a 'great', even 'brilliant' work.

Now when a major publisher tells you your book is 'brilliant' you kind of think 'Superb. Where do I sign for my advance then?' There's obviously no problem on the quality front.

But then they tell you there's no market for it, so they can't publish it.

Okay. I get it. Why would the likes of Gollancz, Orion and Faber risk so much money on my postmodern pastiche of Ulysses? I truly do understand that. It's business.

But please, if you're only pursuing what sells, spare us all the patter about being the guardians of great literature.

My minority interest postmodern ludic Ulysses pastiche is now out there. Some people, not many, have bought it. I don't expect it to ever keep me in beer money but last week a complete stranger in the US reviewed it. He complained about the layers of pastiche getting in the way of the emotional story, of course, but he liked it. I'm quite happy if a couple of people a year tell me that, to be honest. It's out there for the rest of my life.

I'll make a living off my more popular genre titles, but in my case it's ebook technology and self publishing that got the literary fiction out there for those that want it, not the legacy publishers.

Andy Conway
Love, literature and Tom Waits. Lots of Tom Waits...

Christy said...

The other problem, for authors who go the POD route, is that Amazon pays "based on the average monthly sales," so you don't see that "pop" at Xmas as sales spike way up.

I've used CreateSpace, LightningSource, Amazon Advantage, and the Amazon Kindle (KDP) platform. I sell tax books, which have a very short shelf life, and I can tell you that I track my sales very closely, and I can tell exactly when they are occurring.

Joe is right-- CreateSpace and KDP pay monthly, approximately 30-60 days in arrears. That's fantastic, compared to other publishers.

As for LightningSource, they are good too, but there's been some recent hullabaloo about Amazon pulling and/or making "unavailable" certain titles that are only printed through LSI.

Author Aaron Shepard talks extensively about this on his blog, and he a advises authors to use CreateSpace as well as LSI for maximum distribution.

As for LSI payments, I get paid about 90 days in arrears, which is still very good (for example, I just got my LSI direct deposit for Oct 2011 sales last week).

It's possible that authors get their listings pulled by Amazon for a variety of reasons. As Joe mentioned, Amazon isn't required to list a book, sell a book, or promote a book. They can stop the sale of an item at any time, just like any other store owner.

Just an FYI.

Nancy Beck said...

And I much prefer reading on the ereaders as opposed to print. Try reading Stephen King's "Under the Dome" in hardback. The book has 1,074 pages and weighs about 15 lbs.

@Merrill Heath - Yeah, I have that problem with Sanderson's The Way of Kings. A thousand-some pages and heaven knows how much it ways; it's friggin' thick brick.

Bought it well before I got my Kindle - and I don't usually buy hardbacks unless I absolutely, positively have to had well before the ppbk. (Did the same thing with Jim Butcher's Changes, the last Dresden Files book I read.)

Now, I can buy something and just carry around the Kindle which weighs next to nothing. Me happy. :-)

As for Franzen...silly, just plain silly, as I stated in my rant/blog post yesterday.

Demon Daughter

Nancy Beck said...

When the giant meteor strikes (or extraterrestrial aliens invade or the sun explodes or...something) and the power grids fail and droves of shambling pale nightwalkers rule the planet, The Ultimate Thriller Box Set will no longer exist.

@Jude - You crack me up! :-)

And it's spot on. That Franzen would equate the end of civilization as we know it (and I thought I was reading that wrong, but apparently not) because of ebooks...Franzen's credibility for me ended right there.

AvantiSmith said...

I checked out that link to the Authors Guild from Archangel and the comments read like a forum for victims of Stockholm Syndrome. "Force me to accept 70% royalties, creative control, ownership of my copyright, etc. I'd rather die than submit to that evil Bezos." It's quite unbelievable.

http://blog.authorsguild.org/2012/01/31/publishings-ecosystem-on-the-brink-the-backstory/

Jussi Keinonen said...

Had to get a sample of Andy Conways Train Can't Bring Me Home...

Good to see Joe's beer diet was ok and over.

Sad, and not at all surprised, to see the multitude of posters loving the opportunity to gang-ridicule an acclaimed prosaist for his views, on a topic he genuinely seems uncomfortable with. Envyish, to me.

Scott Pinzon said...

Franzen's basic premise is wrong enough to be unintentionally hilarious. Dead tree books are permanent and e-books are ephemeral? Well, people could feasibly round up and burn every copy of his latest book (there are many examples across history). But good luck, Mr. Franzen, trying to delete your embarrassing speech from the decentralized Internet cloud, where it will live forever, readily accessible from an unrelenting Google.

Giselle London said...

The only thing mildly accurate in that guy's article is that a bunch of people who know nothing about writing will think they'll make it rich by jumping in and slapping some stuff on Amazon. Already happening. But they won't work a full year for free. They'll work a month or two, get upset about their unedited piece of crap with a cover made from a stolen piece of poor-quality stock art and plain-tiny-font-title isn't selling, and move on to the next get-rich-without-much-work scheme. Meanwhile, those of us who care about our product and improving our writing will keep on, long after the "gold rushers" have left. And even if I tank as Franzen predicts, will I put down my Kindle because I'm disillusioned with indie pubbing? Ummmmm.....NOOOO!! I love my Kindle. It's not going anywhere, regardless of where my sales go. I have no intention of buying paperback fiction again, except for overpriced bestsellers that I *really* want, which I'll buy used.

Those who are serious about their art and about earning a living will ride through any crests and valleys in the indie publishing industry. Digital publishing will never collapse, leaving disillusioned Kindle owners wailing "why, oh WHY did we let the traditional publishers collapse?? WHYYYYY?!"

Never happen.

ROFL

Victoria said...

Franzen has thrown in with the establishment view. That's fine. I pity him but that's fine.

I understand why he may feel partial towards DTB. I love DTB myself but what is most important here is not the medium but the content and the producers of that content. We are now able to make our own choices in regards to what gets published and far more of us stand a chance at making a living at what we love to do. It has nothing to do with any supposed economic bubble.

I guess some people hate that idea. To bad for them I suppose.

Joe Konrath said...

Envyish, to me.

Envy is a useless emotion, like jealousy, guilt, worry, and regret.

I don't envy anyone. But if I did, I wouldn't envy someone who says stupid things.

Woelf2.0 said...

"Sad, and not at all surprised, to see the multitude of posters loving the opportunity to gang-ridicule an acclaimed prosaist for his views, on a topic he genuinely seems uncomfortable with. Envyish, to me."

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Franzen made his opinion known in a strong way. It was an uninformed opinion, but still an opinion and he did it on a public forum. This will invite reaction from people who do not agree with his opinion. If you want to chastise the posters for "gang-redicule", the fair thing should also be to chide Franzen for his arrogance and pompous view on how he defines a "serious reader".

I find it terribly insulting. The whole concept of it is ridiculous. I love reading books. I love collecting them (My wife wishes I'd collect just a little bit less as they are everywhere). I also love reading them on my iPhone and iPad. Why should reading a book, whether it be digital or in paperback, be mutually exclusive to enjoy the story or for a person to be called a serious reader?

See, this is what annoys me. It was careless of him to say what he did. It is elitist crap. But since he has that freedom, my freedom to strongly disagree also exists. I don't hate him. I even used to respect him.

Anyway, just my 2.5 cents.

Matthew Lee Adams said...

I'm not envyish.

Franzen earned what he's made, and he's uncomfortable with publicity, technology, and a lot of other things he has grudgingly acceded to.

Watch his book trailer from when he was releasing "Freedom" to see how little he likes doing this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qm3yuWEvCgw

Or when he recently discussed his afterthoughts on the whole Oprah thing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPCB29a63W4&feature=related

Plus the poor guy had someone steal his glasses off his face at one event (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/oct/05/jonathan-franzen-glasses-held-to-ransom)

I don't believe Franzen is being really arrogant or dismissive. I think he's simply being honest about his own preferences.

But as I said in my prior post, some artists - like Ansel Adams - don't mind embracing technological changes. But some - like Franzen and ironically Ray Bradbury - don't enjoy technological change. They feel they don't understand it, and it makes them uncomfortable.

FAXBoy said...

As I mentioned earlier over to The CBC -- "Next, Mr. Franzen will be shaking his angry fists at the sky because he can’t play any of his 8-tracks on his iPod."

Kellie Larsen Murphy said...

Writers are always looking for validation and where once that was only available through traditional publishing, the new world offers another form - sales. Thanks for the inspiring post. Thank you!

timstout said...

"Every time a new technology enables more choice, whether it's the VCR or the Internet, consumers clamor for it. Choice is simply what we want and, apparently, what we've always wanted."
-Chris Anderson from The Long Tail

Bubble? Please. Online store are providing more and more choices and better and better filters for finding incredibly niche interests. If physical book business could compete with that, it would, but it can't. Plus, ereaders are a new technology. It's just getting started. There will be plenty more for consumers to clamor for in the future.

David L. Shutter said...

Barry

Great viewpoint.

BTW, is there a video or transcript from your keynote at the WD conference posted somewhere. Just curious.

J. R. Tomlin said...

@Jussi Keinonen

You seem to think that Mr. Franzen's fame, his being a 'renowned prosaist', should protect him from criticism. Apparently you don't require that his comments make sense.

He said that print books are permanent, which on the very face of it is factually untrue. Paper deteriorates, is easily damaged, and is subject to deliberate destruction. A large portion of the books written since the beginning of printing can not be found. They were not permanent. Frankly, many would not be worth finding and the fact that they were in print didn't make them worth keeping.

The protection for anyone against criticism isn't being that you and The Guardian consider the person to be important. It is not protected against by a fancy word for someone who, sorry, is just another writer. The protection against criticism is not making absurd statements.

Anonymous said...

In the long run the whole argument is moot, anyway.

Technology keeps moving toward higher and higher fidelity until, not too long from now, digital and physical will be indistinguishable.

Just consider touchscreens, e-ink, 3D printers, etc. Even animated movies -- at one time blocky and cheap looking, now as lush as anything ever hand drawn.

So to the extent digital is cold and sterile, it's just because it's less mature than the analog stuff it's replacing.

Embrack said...

Know your enemies and do what Conan does. The words of JF are only useful as added motivation.

Embrack said...

Not that Conan, the barbarian one.

Archangel said...

thanks Joe and thanks Christy... that helps alot to hear your personal experiences on pay re the different avenues of POD and ebks offered. And Joe, that was helpful too for the several ways you outlined it.

On another note, re research, Joe, I sent the author an email to ask for more specifics and looked at her book online. Never heard back from her. Not yet. But still needed your imput that you gave. Thanks.

Re amazon carrying some books and not others... not counting book content against the law... I had thought that amaz would, because they are not limited by space, have a 1st amendment idea of carrying all comers so to speak. But then I remember what they did to Selena and without notice. I think some day someone may hit amazon with a suit about free expression (of non-criminal content) if they decide not to carry x or y book. Seems that their rather infinite 'book shelves' put them into another category than a brick/mortar bookstore

thanks again, appreciate it

Tara said...

I love the physical feeling of a book in my hand. When I really enjoy a book I'll buy the actual book even if I have a copy on my Kindle already. That said, it's silly to think that this ebook thing is some sort of "bubble". In fact that sounds similar to how home computers were a "fad", cell phones would never catch on, the internet would never be attractive to "regular" people, SMART phones were unnecessary. Something tells me none of those assumptions were correct... ;)

Nancy Beck said...

Envyish, to me.

@Jussi - Envyish? I hadn't even heard of the guy before I saw something here in the comments.

Jon Olson said...

Franzen, of course, wouldn't read your blog because it's not written on paper.

I do love his books, but he has a way of putting his foot in his mouth.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone

Sarah Stegall said...

"it is my flawed conceit that logic, common sense, and hard data can change people's minds."

Hahahahahahahaha.

Hahahahahahaha. *snicker*

You funny.

Jussi Keinonen said...

@ Matthew Lee Adams, who wrote:
"I don't believe Franzen is being really arrogant or dismissive. I think he's simply being honest about his own preferences."

That's what I'd guess. And that's why I found parts of this thread a bit disturbing, its like a high school gang making fun of the nerd with the coke bottle glasses; and amusing, as he we will never get around to even knowing – or caring – about this drivel... and still writes better prose than anyone here.

BTW Matthew, checked out your web page, your style is excellent. Not my genre exactly, but liked what I read.

@Nancy Beck, who said: "Envyish? I hadn't even heard of the guy before I saw something here in the comments."

OK, that explains... things.

- - -

From a birds-eye view, wasn't this a prime example of the internet age communication? A speech in South America was printed by a UK magazine, quoted in another, and picked up from there to this respectable blog... leading to an innocuous autopsy by the masses. I would guess that's what Franzen was really concerned about.

Sarah Stegall said...

I love this elitist panic about how the unwashed are now free to publish without going through the anointed gatekeepers in New York. Reminded me of something:

"Now that anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would best be forgotten, or, better still be erased from all books." -- Niccol├▓ Perotti, a learned Italian classicist, writing to his friend Francesco Guarnerio in 1471, less than twenty years after the invention of the printing press.

Matthew Lee Adams said...

@Jussi Keinonen


That's what I'd guess. And that's why I found parts of this thread a bit disturbing, its like a high school gang making fun of the nerd with the coke bottle glasses; and amusing, as he we will never get around to even knowing – or caring – about this drivel... and still writes better prose than anyone here.

BTW Matthew, checked out your web page, your style is excellent. Not my genre exactly, but liked what I read.


I'm sure Franzen is sort of aware of the controversy when he states his frank opinions. But he seems to shut himself into isolation from parts of the world that he's really not interested in.

Speaking for myself, I do love physical books and I get them for anything I really want to hold onto. But I also love my Kindle and its pure function for delivering a lot of reading experience to me in a portable way.

I think the technological possibilities of the current paradigm-shift in books is great - as well as the possibilities for authors of all kinds. I hate the upheavals, but they happen - and publishing has gone through many iterations over the past century alone.

Thanks for the kind words about my site and my work. I have a genre-crossing story collection on Amazon right now that's free through tomorrow (Friday) called "Becomings" - it takes nods from other styles in historical settings - one's a lyrical approach set in 1924, another is set in the 1940s in the Soviet Union during WW2, and the third goes back to 1863 Chicago in a POW camp - I was trying for spare, gritty descriptive prose and dialogue on that one that evokes some of the trend over the last couple decades toward Old West realism (the story minus the glory). Feel free to check them out if you'd like since they're free anyway :)

A.R. Wise said...

I wonder how many people in the newspaper industry wrote the same sort of editorial about the internet being a financial bubble that wouldn't affect print. Ooops.

Charles Harvey said...

Well there is always a sliver of truth in everything said. We are becoming somewhat unfocused and fractured with so many distractions at hand. However his take on books is a bit off. Ebooks are about unfiltered choice. His book made it through the filters and to the people. Lucky him. Now my book has the same chance, perhaps without the frills of being a media darling. But nonetheless I can make it. It has to be a good book. It has to be edited. It has to have a good cover.
Will there be trash out there? You bet it will and always has been. But that "trash" was there before self pub ever came along. Some publishing house got it to the corner drugstore. But everything has a niche market.
I imagine the uppercrust of society had the same thoughts when the printing press was invented. Imagine the aristocracy bemoaning the horror of the masses learning to read and thus think for themselves. I'm sure it happened.

Christopher John Chater said...

Frazen sounds like the vinyl record snobs. Problem is you can't take a record player to the beach, airport, school. . . . Does he churn his own butter--use a rotary phone? sheesh.

Jussi Keinonen said...

Just to clarify, I personally am all for e-books and self-publishing. These are fascinating times for all authors and everyone else involved.

Thanks for the heads up, MLA, I downloaded Becomings and it seems really interesting. My problem is that I read a lot just for work, so there is limited time for what I call "free reading".

Chris said...

My one worry with ebooks, is that (for now at least) authors can't avail themselves of the kind of publicity machine a traditional author has at his or her disposal.

It's great having a publicist, so books can be reviewed in mainstream presses with larger audiences. I imagine it's tough getting indie books reviewed with a glut of them now.

That being said, publishers ushered their own downfall, hammering writers over the head with "platform" talk and "you need to go online and promote!"

Well, authors did and to varying degrees, found success if they were willing to do the grunt work.

Now, those same publishers are denying the very vehicle they were so heavily trumpeting (that is, when they weren't chasing the likes of web-driven books like LOL Cats, Book of Awesome and Stuff White People Like).

Toothpaste and tube, folks. The web is how you promote and cheap ebooks are a natural extension - and are JUST shy of eclipsing trade paperbacks as the number 1 format last I read (an article online, naturally, not a paper delivered to my door).

And yet, there exists a strong anti digital bias, not just from the likes of Messers Franzen, Bloom, Gass, etc but even from book reviewers - many of whom won't accept ebook advanced review copies.

A commenter earlier was bang on: it's a little rich for publishers to say they're quality guardians, when they're the ones responsible for making shlock romance novels bestsellers.

Now, all power to writers of all stripes: write about what you want, promote however you want and sell at the price you want.

The Pain and The Joy said...

Late to the discussion as usual.

I noticed the barb at capitalism and all the effort he puts into protecting himself from outside interference.

Hmm. It sounds like he's a socialist with problems concentrating and has a paper fetish.

Ellis Jackson said...

I'm starting to wonder if the guardian article from a few months ago may be right. Now that Amazon has free books on offer (For lending etc) it's killed my sales (which were low enough anyway, I'll readily admit) as people will always vote for free stuff. While big players like yourself don't have any need to go free, smaller ones like me feel they do, and while we won't so much as dent your sales if we do, we're killing our own market, and gaining nothing from it. Jeez - I wish some of these guys would have some self-respect! Their novels took time and effort to write, and they're giving that stuff away for nothing!

This isn't to say ebooks aren't here to stay - they are - but that without a little care and consideration the "True competition" of the smaller indie author could well push prices to nothing, and kill off their own segment as they do it. There is literally no way out on your own, and as a new entrant like me with only one book to punt it isn't like I can use the free books to drive buyers to my product. I can't wait until they put back minimum pricing again.

Anonymous said...

Now that Amazon has free books on offer (For lending etc) it's killed my sales (which were low enough anyway, I'll readily admit) as people will always vote for free stuff.

I have found that offering the first book in my trilogy for free (on Smashwords as well as other sites) has increased my overall sales. I sold just over 10,000 copies of the Kindle edition of Book 1 (sales still going strong despite the book being free on Smashwords) and sales of Book 2 were approximately 4,000 units in January. In this case, I agree with Joe. -K.A.

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Ellis Jackson said...

I have found that offering the first book in my trilogy for free (on Smashwords as well as other sites) has increased my overall sales. I sold just over 10,000 copies of the Kindle edition of Book 1 (sales still going strong despite the book being free on Smashwords) and sales of Book 2 were approximately 4,000 units in January. In this case, I agree with Joe. -K.A.

I agree, if you have more than one book out that one free one can increase the sales of the others (If they are any good of course!), but the reality is that very few writers have a trilogy ready to go. Did you sell 10,000 copies of the first book, or give 10,000 copies away? How many of the second book would you have sold if there were no free alternatives on Amazon for people to vacuum up?

While I will readily admit that freebies can be a useful promotional tool, they can only be so in the short term. In the long run it will kill the small-time indie writer if all books are free, and it could well encroach on the sales of bigger authors. It's a perfect example of "pure competition" at work amongst the small indie players like me (I don't know who you are, sorry, so I don't know if you're small-time like me), and in economic theory pure competition doesn't end so well for the competitors.

Also, Smashwords is a flea-bite compared to Amazon, and while I myself use the service, putting a book for free on there is likely to have a much smaller effect than doing so on Amazon. I did it myself, for a limited period, in the hope of getting a few reviews out of it. The effect on 'sales' was huge, but the second the book was $0.99 again sales stopped almost dead.

TeriB said...

If free book promos don't help you because you have only one book, there's a simple solution: write more books.

Free book promos help authors with multiple books. However, I am not convinced that free book promos hurt authors with single books, or damage indie writing careers. So far all the people I've heard express that opinion have one or two books out.

The career writers don't seem to behaving their careers damaged by free promos.

smober said...

Those who resist the new digital age are missing out. They'll be left in the dust. I know that I wouldn't be anywhere (not that I'm somewhere-- yet) if it weren't for self-pubbing my own eBook.

Change can be scary, but it would be even scarier if things always stayed the same. (And pretty damn boring! hehe)

But no matter what, we have to go for what we want most: http://smoberhansley.blogspot.com/2012/02/go-get-job.html

Lovestorycritic1 said...

I don't think ebooks are going anywhere. They're the future now.

Anonymous said...

How do you feel about people who publish ebooks that do not type or write? What I mean is that they speak their stories and a device transcribes it for them? You say it's all a digital age what if typing and handwriting is out of style? Since I have been in college I have never ever used pen and paper always typed or tapped on my tablet my assignments. Now they are being spoken. So are my books.

dawn said...

JA--I'd like to see more praises that address the physical advantages of e-books. A friend of mine loaned me the hardcover of Stephen King's 11/22/63, and I'm not sure whether to read it or keep it by my bed to knock intruders in the head.

I see my 16-year-old niece haul enough academic books in a backpack to break the back of a horse. When she's my age (a blissful and beautiful 40, btw) her shoulders will be --as we say in the South-- "plain tore up."

Nevermind that in college a new edition seemed to come out every other week! And they cost a gazillion dollars. And they are almost all hardcover. But I know things are moving more and more to digital in that arena. I think eventually, high schools will follow....

The dean of my journalism school had a sign on his desk. It said: "Innovate or die."
Good advise. Too bad newspapers haven't followed it!

Matthew Lee Adams said...

@dawn I'd like to see more praises that address the physical advantages of e-books. A friend of mine loaned me the hardcover of Stephen King's 11/22/63, and I'm not sure whether to read it or keep it by my bed to knock intruders in the head.

Heh - that was my reaction when I just received my copy last week. I knew "Under The Dome" was a doorstopper, but I didn't realize this one would be as well.

David L. Shutter said...

Dawn & Matt

I have a thumbnail of "Dome" on my blog under "What I'm reading now".
Been there for weeks even though I've finished about 6 other ebooks since starting it.

Every time I pick it up I'm putting it down five minutes later and reach for my phone or ipad. It's been great so far but I'm already too used to reading from devices. I keep putting off finishing it.

Mark Asher said...

"Frazen sounds like the vinyl record snobs. Problem is you can't take a record player to the beach, airport, school. . . ."

That wasn't really his argument. He was saying a physical book has a sense of permanence that an ebook doesn't have. Remember, Amazon is yet to come to your door to reclaim a physical book they've sold you the way they removed a copy of 1984 from your Kindle a few years ago. I don't agree with him, but I do see get his viewpoint.

And people were taking paperbacks to the beach, airport, and school long before ebooks were ever available.

Ebooks are here to stay because they are convenient in the sense that we don't have to drive to a store to buy them. The other advantage they have is that many writers can bypass publishers and sell them directly to stores (B&N, Amazon, etc.) and we get a price break because of that. Sometimes.

Anna J. McIntyre said...

I wanted to comment on the permanence of paper books. As I am reading this blog, I am babysitting my yard sale, about ready to wrap up for the day. On one table, I have dozens of book - paperback and hardback. Many are from well known authors. I’m asking $1 each. Maybe I’ve sold 4. I will probably donate them to some charity.

Had they been eBooks, they would still be on my eBook reader, where I could reread my favorites. I often reread books – yet I simply am running out of room and trying to de-clutter my life.

I love paper books, but I no longer have the luxury to fill my home with them.

In many ways, eBooks are more permanent. They don’t go out of print, and the reader can keep them indefinitely without filling a room.

Kelly Robinson said...

I'm late to the party, so I doubt this comment will get noticed, but here goes, anyway. I work in a used bookstore that also sells used multi-media and some electronics. We recently started selling used e-readers, and our customers have been selling them back to us like crazy --many unopened, or some with one or two downloaded books read only to page three. I think the numbers of Kindles sold don't yet give a clear picture of how many people will become real users of them.

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