Thursday, May 17, 2012

Exploited Writers in an Unfair Industry

exploitation: The act of using another person's labor without offering them an adequate compensation.

Are writers being exploited? I'm talking about writers working for what I call Big Publishing (Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harlequin, Hyperion/Disney, Scholastic, Tyndale, John Wiley & Sons, Thomas Nelson, and others.)

Here are my thoughts.

Back in the pre-ebook days, paper was the dominant way to deliver media. This is worth repeating, because it is very, very important. Paper was the delivery system.

Years ago I explained this delivery system in great detail. In short, the book exists in the mind of the reader. It doesn't matter if it gets there via paper, or e-ink, or audiobook, or a pill that will someday burn the story into your memory. The method of getting the story to the reader is nothing but delivery.

Without anything to deliver, the deliveryman goes broke. We need writers, because they create the book. We need readers, because they consume the book. The deliverymen are middlemen.

The middlemen, pre-ebook, were publishers. If you were a writer who wanted to reach readers, you needed a publisher, because you couldn't get into a bookstore on your own.

I believe wanting to write is a natural extension of wanting to communicate, which is something all people do. It's an art, a talent, and a learned skill. There are an abundance of people who want to write books. This results in more books being written than books being published.

Since the publishers decided and controlled what would be published and what wouldn't, and since there were many writers who desperately wanted to be published, this put publishers in a unique position. It gave them an unprecedented amount of unchecked power.

Unchecked power never turns out well. With no competition comes no evolution. Then, when a true competitor emerges, it kicks the status quo's ass.

Take railroads. They replaced the horse and wagon as a cheap, fast way to ship goods and people. They rose to dominance, and that dominance went unchecked for decades.

Then trucks and cars came along. Railroads lost vast amounts of business to trucks and cars, and still do.

That's because railroads forgot what business they were in. They thought they were in the railroad biz. Instead, they were transportation business. When a cheaper, faster way to transport goods and people came along, railroads lost market share.

I bring up railroads for another reason. Anyone who knows a bit about American history, or who has seen Blazing Saddles by Mel Brooks, knows that early railroad workers tended to be exploited. Work was back-breaking and sometimes dangerous, and the pay was meager--so meager that minorities were hired because they were the only ones who would work so cheaply.

Getting back to publishers, they erroneously believe they're just an extension of the printing business. Their goal is to sell paper. The reason the DOJ brought a collusion suit against 5 of the Big 6 was because the 6 were frightened that they'd lose their quasi-monopoly on selling paper, so they artificially kept the prices of ebooks high to retard ebook market growth and protect paper sales.

Why do I say "artificially"?

Paper books have a built-in cost structure. They cost money to print and to ship, and the distributors and retailers get discounts that are pretty standard. I'd guess this standardization developed after years of data and experience. With each sale they pay for printing, shipping, and corrugation, and the distributor, retailer, and author get a cut. On a $25 hardcover, the author makes about $3.75, and the publisher makes around $4.50 after everyone is paid. (See my math here.)

Then ebooks come around. No printing, shipping, corrugation, or distributor. Do the publishers figure out a way to lower prices and pay authors a better royalty? No. Based on ZERO real world data they begin to sell wholesale ebooks at 40%-60% of the hardcover price. So an ebook on a $25 hardcover cost Amazon around $12.50.

Publishers didn't price ebooks according to data and experience. Nor did they price according to supply and demand--I knew years ago that supply and demand didn't apply.

Instead, publishers priced greedily. Rather than be fair with authors, they took a much bigger slice of the profits. Rather than lower prices, they fought to keep them high so they didn't cannibalize paper sales.

How did publishers universally agree that 25% of net was what authors should receive? Where did they get that number, and how did they all seem to adopt it at once?

Isn't that a bit... odd?

Even worse, why didn't anyone protest this obvious land grab? Where was the AAR? Where was the Authors Guild?

The Chinese protested exploitation by the railroad industry by striking. In Hollywood, writers have the WGA. In 2007-2008, the WGA writers went on strike. In fact, they'd been on strike several times before. The latest was to improve the dismal residuals they got for DVD sales, and compensation for new media.

New media? Digital sales? Does this ring any bells for anyone? Why didn't anyone fight for us when this happened in our industry? Why didn't we fight for ourselves?

I've been thinking long and hard about that. When I look at other industries where workers were exploited, unions formed. Strikes occurred. Movements arose to defend the exploited. But that has never happened for book writers.

I believe I understand the reason why. The answer is all around us. It is evidenced in agents who belittle and condemn writers, and show support for the Big 5 in the DOJ's entirely justifiable lawsuit. It is evidenced by the publishers themselves, who have schemed to keep ebook prices high (and I'd bet they also schemed to keep royalties low). And it is evidenced by writers, who defend publishers and agents and continue to accept the meager crumbs thrown at them, even though they are the only essential component in this trinity.

Publishers are middlemen. They curated work from the suppliers (authors) and funneled it to the retailers (bookselling outlets). For decades, they controlled what was published and widely disseminated to the readers. It became such big business that they couldn't possibly handle it all alone, so more middlemen arrived. Distributors, which housed paper books and handled orders, and agents, who simplified curation by (supposedly) weeding out the crap before the publishers got it.

Writers, like many types of artists, are driven to create. Go to any party and mention you're a writer, and no doubt you'll get the response, "I want to write a book someday" or "I'm writing a book now."

Because books are made of words, and everyone uses words, a disproportionate number of people want to write. And because writing is more subjective than painting or music, it is much easier to deceive oneself that one is a good writer. Because of this, there are a LOT of writers and wannabe writers. Though success depends on an individual's goals, in my generation the only way to become a successful writer was to sell a book to a publisher.

This is a system ripe for exploitation. A lot of hungry, eager artists, and a limited number of slots for big publishing to fill.

Because of this, publishers had all the power. And bargaining from a position of power usually works out well for the powerful, and not so well for the opposing party.

Decades of this unfair advantage lead to our current Publishing Culture. Here are the rules:

1. As long as publishers control distribution, publishers have a lot of power.
2. As long as there are more writers than slots in publishers' lists, writers have limited power.
3. As long as writers consider writing to be a dream rather than a job, writers have limited power.
4. As long as agents have more requests for representation than they can handle, agents have a lot of power.
5. The powerful naturally develop a sense of entitlement.
6. The weak naturally develop Boxer Syndrome.

What is Boxer Syndrome?

Consider Animal Farm by George Orwell. In it was a horse named Boxer. Boxer worked his butt off to appease the pigs in power. The pigs got rich off of Boxer's efforts, but never amply rewarded him. Boxer continued to support his own exploitation, steadfastly believing in the pigs, even after the pigs ultimately sold him for slaughter and bought whiskey with the profit.

That, in a nutshell, is the mindset the majority of newbie writers, and a great deal of professional writers, have adopted. We're Boxers.

In the meantime, the publishers (pigs) have developed a sense of entitlement. They see books, and authors, as fungible. If a book or author doesn't succeed, drop it and try another one.

When ebooks arrived on the scene, and key costs could be removed from distribution (delivery, printing, corrugation, distribution) did the publishers accept their previous profit margins and give the authors more of the pie?

No. The publishers made a land grab and kept the money they would have otherwise paid out, taking 52.5% of net and leaving authors 17.5%.

On a $25 hardcover, the author made $3.75 and the publisher made $4.50.

On a $25 ebook, the author made $3.12, and the publisher made $9.37.*

The authors' share went down. The publishers' share doubled. And authors didn't complain. Agents didn't complain. No one complained.

Then Amazon created the Kindle.

After decades of no competition, publishers are now faced with a tiger of a competitor. One that doesn't ascribe to Publishing Culture. One that's smart and fast and has deep pockets and keenly understands all the things publishers are doing wrong.

Publishers can't compete with Amazon. They can't even come close.

Amazon understands that its customers--readers--want low prices and great service. Publishers don't even know who their customers really are--they always thought that retailers were their customers.

Amazon understands that it is a middleman, and that ebooks can connect writers and readers faster and cheaper than paper can, without the need for shipping or a distributor.

Amazon understands that everyone wants to write a book, and decided to give all writers a chance to reach Amazon's customer base. It did so without exploiting writers. Instead, it treats writers like customers it wants to keep.

So the first blow by Amazon was inventing the Kindle. Publishers were oblivious to this. They couldn't see the future, because they were too busy dominating the present. No publisher thought to create an ereader, or and ebook store.

The second blow by Amazon was allowing authors to self-publish. Publishers didn't care. These were books they didn't want anyway, and publishers were so smug they didn't think anyone else would want the books they rejected.

The third blow by Amazon was listening to customers, who wanted lower prices. Publishers never listened to readers. Has a publisher ever done a focus group? Has it ever tried to unilaterally lower prices rather than raise them? Instead, publishers tell readers what to read, and charge whatever they see fit.

If a retailer like Amazon wanted to sell books below cost, no problem. In fact, this was a good thing for publishers.

Let's say I sell widgets. I sell them wholesale, to retailers, for $5. Retailers are welcome to sell them for whatever price they want to. If they sell them for $10, they can. But I'll sell my widgets to as many retailers as possible because I want them to compete. Some of those retailers will sell them for $9, or $7, which is good because I make the same wholesale price no matter how much they sell them for, and the lower price means more buyers.

Now say a retailer decides to sell my widgets for $3. In other words, they take a $2 loss each one sold.

Why would I be upset over that? I'd be thrilled! Many more people would buy my widgets because of the low price, and I'd be making a lot more money.

That's why publishers didn't complain when big box stores began discounting. Did you hear one peep out of the Big 6 when hardcovers were being discounted? Nope. Mom and pop bookstores were buying their books at Sam's Club and Costco because it was cheaper than they could get through their distributors. Publishers didn't care. They were making money.

But the Big 6 didn't want any retailers setting the price on ebooks. Because as bloated, lazy, ignorant, and ineffective as they are, publishers saw how quickly readers were flocking to Amazon and the Kindle, and they finally recognized the threat. Publishers had a lock on paper distribution. Ebooks didn't require that.
If ebooks became the dominant media, publishers would no longer have any power.

Publishers assumed that Amazon would sell ebooks above wholesale prices, because that's how Amazon (and all retailers) make a profit. This high price would not only protect paper sales, it would also boost profits (since publishers were taking a much bigger chunk of the net.) Readers? They'll be trained to accept higher prices without the publishers justifying those prices (no tangible product, no supply and demand). Writers? They'll continue to take the crumbs publishers offered them, like always.

Amazon, however, had a different agenda. They lowered the prices on bestselling ebooks below wholesale.

This worried publishers. For the first time, they could see the future. Low ebook prices will cannibalize paper sales, and publishers don't have a monopoly on ebooks. Even the higher profit margin on ebooks (that they gave themselves, uncontested by agents and writers) won't be able to sustain their infrastructure if customers come to expect cheap ebooks.

So what could publishers do? They didn't have an ereader or an ebookstore of their own.

But one of Amazon's competitors did. Apple. And Apple had the perfect solution to the publishers' problem. The Agency model.

Apple likes Agency because they make a fortune selling devices (iPads, iPhones, iPods). They feel 30% of whatever price the supplier wants to set is fine. It's a smart way to encourage developers. The more developers, the more people will want the devices, the more everyone makes.

Amazon's business model isn't geared to Agency pricing. They are a retailer who sells a lot of tangible goods alongside the intangibles (downloads.)

I would guess Amazon doesn't make a big profit on Kindle Ereaders (I've heard rumors they might even lose money on them). A Kindle serves a different purpose for them--it's a storefront in the customer's lap. So Amazon can lose money on the Kindle Reader, then make money on everything else. For example, I just used my Kindle Fire to buy a magnetic knife holder from Amazon. It was easier than going to the store.

The Big 6 fear (rightfully) that Amazon is using ebooks to sell Kindles and Prime memberships. This is scary because people are becoming conditioned to buy directly from Amazon using their devices.

That doesn't give the Big 6 a reason to collude. It gives them a reason to compete. But they can't compete, because they treat authors poorly, treat readers poorly, don't innovate, and are only familiar with an archaic business model.

The AG and AAR, worried they won't have publishers to pay them, are supporting the Big 6 because they don't want to innovate either.

But, as I've said in the past, ereaders won't put publishers out of business. Neither will low-priced ebooks.

The thing that will ultimately destroy publishers is the fourth blow by Amazon. One that publishers, in their hubris, haven't comprehended yet.

Authors are going to destroy publishing.

Amazon is now courting professional authors. They're paying higher royalties than publishers. This is not going unnoticed. More and more authors are going to be published by Amazon, or by Amazon's ebook competitors.

In order to survive, publishers will have to abandon the shrinking paper market, pay authors higher royalties, and drop their ebook prices.

To do this, they'll need to restructure and radically alter their business strategies. But they won't be able to. Because they are bloated and ignorant and inefficient and arrogant. They dominated for too long, and came to think of their lock on distribution as a God-given right. The AAR, the Authors Guild, and many writers have a sense of entitlement they won't be able to shake off. The system worked for them. So of course it will keep working for them.

But fighting to keep the status quo never works. And I, for one, am happy for the mantle to pass. Publishing Culture is diseased. It's a deep-seated disease, where writers are exploited so badly they expect to be exploited. Writers even look forward to it. They dream of exploitation and defend the ones exploiting them. Agents claim to work for writers, but clamor for publishers' approval, while at the same time running their own fiefdoms. Publishers have such a strong sense of entitlement that they feel perfectly justified in breaking the law to keep things how they are. They abuse their power. Worse, they think their power is deserved, that they alone can deliver rich literary culture to the unwashed masses because their insights are so keen and their judgement so ubiquitous.

All the players in this little drama don't seem to realize how sordid and unhealthy it is for everyone. But no one recognizes it because it has gone on for so long. This culture infantilizes writers, teaching them to be needy, dependent, insecure, and willing to accept a pittance for their hard work. A pat on the head and a membership card to the old boys' club is not the same as a living wage, but we've been conditioned by those in power to believe that it is.

We've been so browbeaten that we get pissed on and told it's just rain and we eagerly believe it.

Amazon (and Kobo, BN, Smashwords, Sony, Apple) have empowered writers. We've never had effective unions, never had strong defenders, but now we do have outlets where we're paid fairly and given the thing all writers want: a chance to reach readers without some NY pinhead gatekeeper getting in our way.

Instead of celebrating this, many writers are defending Publishing Culture. I've called this Stockholm Syndrome in the past, but its something deeper than that. When you are an exploited writer in an unfair industry, and you can't see it, you're beyond simple delusion, ignorance, blind faith, compliance for self-preservation, or a need of acceptance.

To have so much of your self-worth be dependent on the arbitrary whims of demonstrably unfair gatekeepers, and so much of your potential income unjustifiably taken from you, and then to defend those exploiters and vilify those who are truly on your side--that's a textbook case of stupid.

My advice to writers: stop being stupid.

Publishing Culture is guaranteed to end, and when it does everyone will be better off.

Well, everyone except the gatekeepers. But don't cry for them. They never cried for you.


*Addendum: A few folks have asked me to got into more detail explaining the numbers, so here it is.


On a $25 hardcover, the author made $3.75 and the publisher made $4.50. This is after the costs directly associated with paper books--printing, shipping, distribution, corrugation--are paid by the publisher. So the author profit and publisher profit are pretty similar.

On a $25 ebook, the author made $3.12, and the publisher made $9.37. Publisher went from making a little more than the author, to almost triple, for no justifiable reason other than greed. This is based on the wholesale model, where a publisher would sell an ebook to Amazon for $12.50 which would have a suggested retail price of $25, same as a hardcover. But Amazon discounts, rarely charging the recommended retail price. The publisher would make $9.37 whether Amazon charged customers $25, $15, $10, or $5.

On a $25 ebook under the agency model (for comparison's sake). the author made $4.37 and the publisher made $13.12. But under the agency model, publishers control retail price, and I've never seen them price a single title at $25. They do price at $14.99. At $14.99, the author makes $2.62, and the publisher makes $7.87.

So under the wholesale model, a $9.99 ebook was earning $3.12 for the author. Under the agency model, a $9.99 ebook earns $1.75 for the author. Ouch.

180 comments:

Joseph Ratliff said...

I absolutely love the fact you pointed to paper as a DELIVERY system. In fact, the Internet is also a delivery system, so are Kindles... and on, and on...

When innovation changes the delivery system, all of the businesses that relied solely upon that delivery system will be disrupted.

This means that when someone innovates, and changes the Internet or e-reader as the delivery system... that could disrupt the e-book system as well.

But the good news is, that may not happen for quite some time because digital is still in its infancy.

Jonas Saul said...

Publishers can't compete with Amazon. They can't even come close.

That was my favorite line. So true, the gatekeepers never cried for writers. I've lived through a horrible situation with a New York editor and literary agent. A certain amount of it was my inexperience, but I know I was taken advantage of.

Great Post!

Scott Daniel said...

"...Boxer worked his butt off to appease the pigs in power. The pigs got rich off of Boxer's efforts, but never amply rewarded him. Boxer continued to support his own exploitation, steadfastly believing in the pigs, even after the pigs ultimately sold him for slaughter and bought whiskey with the profit."

Sounds amazingly like a description of the Republican Party.

Mira said...

Bravo!!

Writers need to stand up and TAKE THEIR POWER.

Thank you.

Standing Ovation, Joe.

Von L Cid said...

Great post, the truth shall set ye free.

Walter Golden said...

I agree there will be changes. Publishing had its use as a gate keeper and as a distribution center. It was nice to walk in to Borders on a Tuesday morning, see your book displayed just inside the door and know that all across the country, in over a thousand stores it was on display that morning. Now the big bookstores are disappearing. And with that, the reason for the paper publisher is almost gone. It’s a new game, new overhead cost and new delivery systems.

Rebecca M. Senese said...

Absolutely wonderful post. Thank you for not only breaking down how archic and exploitive publishing has been for writers but also giving an excellent review on how we got here. Now it's up to us writers to claim our power and stop giving it all away!

Tony Hursh said...

Other examples:

Western Union thought they were in the telegram business rather than the communication business (if I remember right, Bell even tried to sell them the telephone -- they turned it down).

Much more recently, Kodak thought they were in the film business rather than the picture business. This one is perhaps even more on-point, since units within Kodak actually invented many digital imaging technologies -- those units were marginalized and starved by other units who feared that digital imaging would cannibalize the film market. They were right, of course, but failed to anticipate that Kodak's failure to enter the market didn't mean that others would follow suit.

There's a good book on the phenomenon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Innovators-Dilemma-Revolutionary-Essentials/dp/0060521996

Mira said...

Btw, I don't have the platform to start something like this, but if anyone wants to form a new Writers Guild for indie publishing, sign me up.

If anyone wants to organize letters of protest to any government agency re Cartel activity, or shady contacts, sign me up.

If anyone wants to start a class action suit of money lost due to publisher collusion or shady contracts, well don't
sign me up, I'm not published, but you have my support.

If anyone wants to draft a letter to the AAR and individual agents protesting their manipulative, pro-publishing agendas, sign me up.

If anyone wants to draft a letter boycotting publishers unil they raise e-book royalty rates, sign me up.

If anyone wants to draft a letter boycotting agents until they drop their pro publishing leanings, sign me up.

If anyone wants to draft a letter signed by scores of poorly treated legacy published authors protesting how they were treated, I'll sign in support.

Isn't the time for this coming?

Isnt it starting to be time for some act

Claire Ryan said...

This is exactly it, exactly what I just blogged about as well. Publishers have a business model that revolves around the idea of limited, restricted access shelf space that needs to be rationed carefully with the best books they choose. Unfortunately, the Internet provides infinite easily accessible shelf space.

They can't compete with that, not without radically altering their entire company structure, and not while their main source of income - bookstores - are struggling to find a way to survive.

I'm pretty sure we'll see either some closures of the big publishing houses or some consolidations. It happened to the major record labels, it'll happen to them too.

TK Kenyon said...

Another great post, and once again, I agree with you.

The Kindle is an example of a disruptive technology. The publishers are getting disrupted. Sucks to be them.

Good point about gatekeepers not crying for writers, too.

TK Kenyon

Dina Silver said...

WOW. Truly fantastic article today. Truly one of your best. Thank you!!

*and now, a moment of silence for Boxer*

Christopher Hopper said...

Joe,

Thanks for inspiring me to jump ship last year with this same kind of simple, logical reasoning. I still have a cordial relationship with one of the publishers you mentioned at the top, but once I made the choice to part ways with them (and my agent), I never looked back. (Oddly enough, they've still asked me to write for them - I politely decline, and then chuckle to myself).

The results are staggering.

I'm reaching more readers, making (far and above) more money, and maintaining 100% creative control of my work from start to finish than ever before.

So thank you, Joe. Thanks you for being a loud-mouthed, obnoxious lunatic. Now I'm one too.

ch:

Ruth Harris said...

Writer Stupidity by a different name is Writer Masochism. Anne R. Allen and I blogged about the roots, causes, consequences & cures for WM a few weeks ago.

I described the toxic outcome of unequal balance of power between writer & publisher this way: Over time, the writer was placed in the position of the relentlessly abused, rejected, criticized and undermined child—even though the parent (the publisher) would aver how much they “loved” you. Out of that unequal relationship a demon’s brew of writer masochism flowered.

If you are interested in the details of our experiences & observations, here's a link to the post: http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2012/04/has-publishing-become-kinky-game-ruth.html

Joan K. said...

And before publishers, there were storytellers, who traveled and told folk tales. And before storytellers, there were monks and scribes, who recorded literature on parchment. And before monks and scribes, people carved commandments on stone or calendars on clay tablets.

You're right, Joe. The delivery method is not important. What matters are the words and the ideas.

Peter L. Winkler said...

"So the first blow by Amazon was inventing the Kindle. Publishers were oblivious to this. They couldn't see the future, because they were too busy dominating the present. No publisher thought to create an ereader, or and ebook store."

No publisher thought to create an ereader because there were ereaders before the Kindle and they all flopped. The Rocket ereader, which had good distribution through Barnes & Noble stores in the late '90s failed. The Sony Libre failed. Franklin had an ereader too. Before those attempts at ereaders, the Vyager company published ebook versions of books like Jurassic Park on floppy disks, and I have a CD-ROM omnibus of Raymond Chandler novels published by (I believe) Random House.

People just didn't want ebooks or ereaders before the Kindle broke the block.

dennishopperbook.com

Karen Cantwell said...

Joe - probably your best, most potent post to date. You've perfectly stated everything I've been thinking since your post tearing apart the agent who supported Harlequin over the author who decided to leave them.

Most readers with no knowledge of the publishing industry do not know that a large number of the authors they read (save the Grishams, Pattersons, Roberts, etc.) make a pittance of a yearly wage and have to hold part or full-time jobs to put food on the table. They assume, because they pay a hefty price for that book, that the author is receiving a fair wage. More READERS need to understand this fact. In fact, despite the fact that the DOJ's suit is in support of consumers (readers), I'd lay odds that less than 1% of readers understand this at all.

Anonymous said...

I fought for my eBook royalties and I got 30% with the second book deal being open to a higher percentage. I went for 50%, but at least I got it up from 25%. It's a start.

Great article.

Joshua James said...

Preach it, Joe!

M.P. McDonald said...

Great post. I love the Animal Farm analogy.

I think the best way to show up the Big 6 is to continue to succeed as self-publishers, and treat them as if they are irrelevant, because to me, they are.

Michael Allen said...

Dead right, Joe, on every point. And I speak as someone whose first novel was published in 1963. No modern writer in her right mind need think about finding an agent or a legacy publisher.

Aric Mitchell said...

I don't usually heap mountains of praise on you, Joe, because I figure nothing I say can make you feel as good as earning $100k in 3 weeks under the new system, and God knows, you can be an asshole sometimes.

(Though I'm thoroughly entertained when you are.)

But today, I'm going to step out of my silence and become one of those people. Great, logic-driven article. Probably your best.

Rex Kusler said...

In 1973 I got hit by a train. In the 1980s I got hit by publishing. The train didn't hurt me--but publishing sure did.

Laura Resnick said...

"In fact, despite the fact that the DOJ's suit is in support of consumers (readers), I'd lay odds that less than 1% of readers understand this at all. "


I'd go further and say that less than 1% of readers are -aware- of the DoJ lawsuit. Over the past week or so, I've been mentioning it to various non-writer friends who are all voracious readers (and active news consumers), and none of them had the faintest idea.

It's huge news in the publishing world. Outside the publishing world... maybe not so much.

Gretchen Galway said...

Adding my alto to the chorus: well said. I started reading you in 2010, started self-publishing in Feb 2011, and I'm so grateful to you I have to express my thanks. Even though you've heard it from thousands of others already.

One complaint: all these recent posts of yours are going to get me addicted to reading your blog (and all the comments) again - and I really need to get my latest book (THE GEEK WHO LOVED ME) to my editor today. Instead of refreshing Konrath every few hours... or minutes...

You're really on a roll. Cut it out until I upload that sucker.

Joe Flynn said...

The WGA has its own problems. Some of its members are hard core for gaining more respect, power and money. Others are very cozy with the studios and producers. There's an old joke about a writer's place in Hollywood. "You hear about the (ethnic) actress? She slept with a writer to get ahead."

Sarah Stegall said...

"Amazon understands that its customers--readers--want low prices and great service. Publishers don't even know who their customers really are--they always thought that retailers were their customers."

Bingo. Absolutely right. We writers tend to think in terms of our art, but when you get right down to it, writing is a BUSINESS. And smart businesspeople do not alienate the customer. But the key is to identify that customer, and that business. Big Publishing, as you point out, fails on both those scores.

Joe Konrath said...

Thanks for the link to the post, Ruth. I agree with much that Anne Allen wrote, but I didn't use the term "masochism" becauses masochists derive pleasure from pain.

The 500 rejections I got while trying to get published didn't result in one tiny bit of pleasure for me. Having 8 of my legacy titles held hostage by publishers is not pleasurable. I don't get excited or turned on at the thought of 17.5% royalties. Etc.

In a S/m relationship, the masochist has the true power, because they have the safe word that stops the pain.

There was no safe word in publishing. If you quit the game, you didn't get read.

Christopher said...

Joe, have you considered the possibility that the writers still hitched to the big publishers might enjoy the relationship in some odd way? Maybe it's sort of a BDSM thing, kinda like they're the girl in those 50 Shades of Grey books.

christopher said...

Oh, woops. Someone already beat me to that idea. That'll teach me to skim comments too quickly.

Todd Trumpet said...

Screenwriters = Authors(squared)

But we're still waiting for our Amazon paradigm-shifter (and no, YouTube ain't it).

And BTW, don't be too impressed with the collective bargaining power of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) - we got our collective asses handed to us in the last couple of costume drama-- er, "strikes" (and yes, I walked the line).

In an era when story and writing are the most universally criticized things about cinema, screenwriters remain deliriously happy to get in line to cash a low 6-figure check on a movie budgeted in the 9 figures.

Not including agent's, lawyer's, and manager's commissions, of course.

Authors(cubed)?

Todd
www.ToddTrumpet.com

Anonymous said...

"...Boxer worked his butt off to appease the pigs in power..."

"Sounds amazingly like a description of the Republican Party."

Bwahahahahah! That was my first thought.

Thanks, Joe, for all of your insight, the reason I became an indie.

Mike Dennis said...

BRAVO, JOE!

I believe this is the most informative, most provocative, most clear-eyed piece ever written on this subject, and, within the boundaries of your blog, it is, IMO, your finest hour.

I devoted a blog to it today on my website (http://mikedennisnoir.com/so-set-em-up-joe-youve-got-a-little-story-we-ought-to-know/3100/) and slapped it up on my Facebook page.

Everyone in our business should read it.

drsam said...

Without anything the deliver, the deliveryman goes broke. We need writers, because they create the book. We need readers, because they consume the book. The deliverymen are middlemen.

That's a typo right there mister bigshot professional writer man. Ha ha ha ha ha. That felt good.

Just yanking your chain a bit. I actually love your blog and this post is a damn good one.

Your blog was actually the inspiration to convince my wife to self publish on Kindle. Her book is damn good too, if I do say so myself. Now if we can just figure out a way to get people to download and read it!

Anyway, keep fighting the good fight Joe!

Victoria said...

I've been following this blog for a year now and I enjoy your posts but this one I'm posting on Facebook!

rdlecoeur said...

I guess you'll be back to blog again soon now that Amazon have kicked the last crutch out from under the 'publishers.' As and from today CreateSpace goes distro wild for free to authors seeking a European wide presence in paper.To me this is as big a game changer as anything since the advent of the Kindle. No returns, no mass & expensive print runs, just POD and JIT. Wonderful, they appear to have the entire ecosystem trumped and huddled in a corner and probably bewildered.

Joe Konrath said...

That's a typo right there mister bigshot professional writer man

Thanks for spotting my typo. According to the Big 6, I now owe you 52.5% of my income.

Ruth Harris said...

Joe, lol Leave it to publishing to pervert a perversion. Writers' Masochism: All the pain; none of the pleasure.

Seriously, the sad thing is that the mistreatment becomes internalized & even now some writers keep going back expecting a different outcome. The definition of insanity IIRC.

Jason said...

I don't think you emphasized enough about the huge and incomprehensible contracts Big Publishing offers vs. the streamlined and very understandable contracts Amazon offers.

Or the payment schedule of the Big 6 vs. Amazon (monthly!).

Or the confusing and outright WRONG royalty statements Big Publishing uses vs. the straight forward, no BS statements authors receive from Amazon.

All points you've mentioned in the past...but needed to be emphasized again.

Joe Konrath said...

The definition of insanity IIRC.

It's also the definition of abuse. The abused keeps trying harder, hoping the abuser will stop.

Ruth Harris said...

Yep. Book doesn't sell as well as the publisher hoped? (which it never does) Even if it makes the Times' list?

Publisher's response: It's the author's fault. S/he needs to write a better book...except that no one knows what a "better" book is.

Kiana Davenport said...

Most of us already know in dribs and drabs a lot of what Joe says here. But today's blog is so logic-driven, so informative, and provocative, my jaw dropped. I read it several times.

Thank you, Joe, for explaining so succinctly why the Big Six are, by their own blind greed, caught in the cross-hairs of irrelevance.

This may be your finest piece. It's brilliant.

I.J.Parker said...

If your publisher doesn't support your books with adequate publicity and marketing, he has, in my view, broken part of the contract. Writers assume that the person who engages to sell their work will actually do their best to do so. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I discovered pretty early that this is an aspect that is not spelled out in any of the standard contracts, and that publishers have no intention of promoting most of their writers. The result is failure, unless a miracle happens. Most writers are offered contracts in case a miracle happens. And they sign. That's why publishers have no respect for them.

Edward G. Talbot said...

Question for you about authors killing publishing. How do you see this going down? That always seemed to me like the biggest risk publishers faced, but to date it hasn't really proven out. Only one author big enough to move the gross sales needle has pulled the plug as far as I can tell. Will we have to get to the point where 60-70% of a big name author's sales are digital before they start jumping ship to Amazon imprints?

Jennifer R. Povey said...

All I'm going to say is this:

In what OTHER profession is it reasonably expected that the person have a second job because it's just 'unreasonable' to make a living. I think the only other one is acting.

E. Zachary Knight said...

Edward,

I would say that the death will be a slow and painful one. This will happen as the pool in which publishers dipped for new writers will shrink and eventually dry out as no one is willing to publish under a major publisher again.

Elena DeRosa said...

And the abuse towards writers starts way before they even think about publishing a book...just listen to the drivel the local newspapers hand them about the lousy freelance fees many of them receive. Yet, they gladly accept it. Why? Just to see their name in print? What amazes me is that the writers still lick the hands that slap them. Crazy.

Great post...

Anonymous said...

Writers who sign with traditional publishers are neither exploited nor stupid. Traditional publishers still deliver value, not the least of which is spending large amounts of money on the author’s behalf to have the author’s MS produced into a physical book. Before the production, of course, the book has to be carefully edited, copyrighted and proofread; a cover needs to be designed, blurbs need to be secured and the book needs to be placed into both the physical and digital distribution systems. It needs to be positioned so that it will be purchased by libraries and stores, meaning reviews in prominent venues need to be secured. All of these tasks give a value to the author. The publisher, in turn, indirectly charges the author for value it gives, typically in terms of royalty rates that are less than what a simple Amazon e-pub would provide. The bottom line is that it's a trade off.

Authors who don’t see the value of what trad publishers offer are not required to sign up. Authors who don’t care about printed books are not required to sign up. No publisher ever holds a gun to anyone’s head.

Hundreds upon hundreds of authors continue to go with traditional publishers (I myself being one of them). They are smart people who weigh the pros and cons of the system and/or the offer, based upon what is important to them. The fact that they eventually sign with a trad publisher does not mean they are either exploited or stupid. It means they have evaluated the situation and found the option they eventually accepted to be the better one for them at that point in time and for that particular book. The important thing to remember is that it is the author’s choice.

Anon from a C state.

Joe Konrath said...

Traditional publishers still deliver value, not the least of which is spending large amounts of money on the author’s behalf to have the author’s MS produced into a physical book

That indeed is the main service they provide. But soon that won't be required. Would you be willing to give 52.5% to a publisher who doesn't have a widely distributed print version?

Before the production, of course, the book has to be carefully edited, copyrighted and proofread; a cover needs to be designed, blurbs need to be secured and the book needs to be placed into both the physical and digital distribution systems.

These can be done by the author or outsourced for fixed costs. They don't warrant giving up 52.5% royalties, forever.

No publisher ever holds a gun to anyone’s head.

Read my last few blog posts, and the comments. You're blaming the victim.

The fact that they eventually sign with a trad publisher does not mean they are either exploited or stupid. It means they have evaluated the situation and found the option they eventually accepted to be the better one for them at that point in time and for that particular book.

Actually, the ones who want a legacy deal are stupid, and wind up being exploited, with rare bestselling exceptions.

Authors aren't informed. That's why I blog.

Ellen O'Connell said...

"No publisher thought to create an ereader because there were ereaders before the Kindle and they all flopped."

There were a lot of us who loved and were ready for ereaders back in the Rocket days, and the Rocket was an excellent ereader. What kept it and the others from succeeding was lack of content and overpricing on what content there was, i.e., publishers played the same game with ebooks then that they want to now.

The Kindle succeeded because Amazon changed the game, not just developing the Kindle, but far more importantly, putting its muscle behind availability of reasonably priced content. It's content availability and reasonable pricing that has the publishers going berserk, not the mere existence of the Kindle.

Eric said...

Great post.

This has got to be the best summery of the past and current situation the publishing industry that I have read.

Karen Woodward said...

Joe, if this blog post were a speech I'd be standing up, waving my hat in the air, stomping and whistling! I think I just might away! lol

"Great post," doesn't do it justice. This one is getting framed.

Glenn Gamble said...

Being a musician or an artist are two others. Being an author is the best option out of all the arts thanks to the ebook revolution.

J.H.M. said...

While I wholeheartedly agree with the notion of taking back the means of production as an artist (being a musician and a writer myself), I question the implication that somehow ebook publishing will—or should—replace physical publishing as the ideal/preferred medium of story transfer. I bring this up because I have seen this meme propagate itself like wildfire of late, and I feel that as a reader of books I must make it known that the idea that the electronic medium should entirely supersede its physical counterpart based on portability and cost strikes me as entirely missing the point of what a good, well-made book is supposed to be: An engaging mental, visual and tactile experience. An ebook is an entirely different thing, and while I'm not going to say that one is inferior to the other—they both have their advantages—I must contest that one can survive in the world of the other, and will.

kathie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kathie said...

Well done. Like, I've heard, a good steak should be. Wow, well done.

Rick Carufel said...

Very well stated, my friend. I agree with everything you've said. There is however an aspect to this confrontation of old vs. new that still has the self-published author in a bind. That is the book review process. I have searched for reputable reviewers for ebooks and have failed to find any critics of renown that review anything but hardcopy books. This discrepancy results in the ebook still playing second fiddle to the hard copy. Just as Science Fiction was looks upon as the bastard son of true literature for decades, now the ebook is getting the same treatment in literary circles. The entrenched publishers still have control of the critics and do their very best to discredit ebook writers as not real legitimate authors, but rank amateurs, wannabes.

Jay Hartlove said...

You should add reviewers to your scheme of who has what power. Widely respected reviewers will listen to publishers before indie writers. Without reviews, especially in a glutted marketplace, a book has no chance of being found by its right audience. As long as Publishers Weekly and the NYTBR only look to traditional publishers, indie writers are going to have to build their own marketing networks from scratch. And that is just too much effort for most people. Selling out to a big publisher may not get you verymuch money, or at least not a fair cut, but it will get you an audience.

Jill James said...

Off to post this to my Facebook page. Thanks, Joe.

Anonymous said...

@J.H.M.

I agree with you in principle--I, too, love print books. I'm sure if you visited Joe's house, he, like many of us, have them falling off the shelves. That's not the issue (at least on this post). Compensation and fairness is the issue.

Even assuming the opposite--that ebooks will never be a substantial market, the fact remains that the cost to a print publisher in producing an ebook is essentially ancillary to the print process. It takes thousands of dollars, for instance, to produce a paperback even if a hardcover has been previously produced. It takes significantly less than a thousand dollars to take pre-existing print files and convert them to ebooks and distribute them.

Yet, publishers want to keep an inordinate share of that benefit, claiming that ebooks have comparable costs. Yes, a publisher still has all that overhead to pay for, but for a print publisher that overhead is generated by the print process, not the ebook process. That’s an important distinction and here’s why:

To make an analogy, back in the day, book club sales were actually a thing and potentially lucrative (like ebooks are). Book clubs were often independent from the publisher and created and sold by an outside entity (like ebooks are). A publisher often sold the rights to use the hardcover plates (an electronic file would be the modern equivalent). The compensation to the author? 50% of net. Why? Because no one in their right mind believed that the publisher had any significant costs related to book club sales and the proceeds were divided to reflect that.

Now, by this analogy, one middleman is being replaced by another (the book club by Amazon, etc.), but none of the costs have changed comparatively speaking. Suddenly, for the exact same process, what used to garner the writer 50% of net, now gets them 25% of net—if they’re lucky. That’s not fair or reasonable.


Further, let’s flip the situation back and say that ebooks become by far the dominating format of book sales. Yes, then a print publisher can claim that the overhead is generated by ebooks. Then, it’s absolutely fair that the publisher takes the lion’s share of the proceeds, right? Well, no. Because if that is the case and ebooks become the dominant format, Joe and others here like him have demonstrated that if you’re making money only on ebooks YOU DON’T NEED THE PRINT PUBLISHER BECAUSE IT’S A RIP-OFF.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

While I wholeheartedly agree with the notion of taking back the means of production as an artist (being a musician and a writer myself), I question the implication that somehow ebook publishing will—or should—replace physical publishing as the ideal/preferred medium of story transfer.

I'm not sure ebooks will ever completely replace paper, but as a music listener (and musician myself), I can't remember the last time I bought a CD. And when I go to the big box stores, the CD section is usually nothing but crickets. Yes, those CDs are still available, but it doesn't seem than anyone is buying them.

I'm a paper book fiend myself, but honestly the only paper books I've bought lately are friends' books and vintage paperbacks. The rest I download and read on my Kindle.

So, while ebooks will probably never completely replace paper books—at least in the near future—I'm pretty sure we're headed toward a time when, as with music, electronic downloads are the dominant means of delivery.

Jada Temple said...

Well said Joe. The new choices we have to publish books becomes more clear to me each and everyday. I have a simple short story on Kindle and Smashwords and made money off those two alone. And I have anticipated readers. I may not have had 500 rejection letters, but the 10 I did receive off of my manuscript four years ago was enough to try to tear me down.

Thanks to authors who provide valuable information such as yourself, I am polishing that old manuscript, have revamped my blog and enjoying what I love to do: write.

I have one of my favorite quotes on my e-mail signature by Eleanor Roosevelt: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." No longer will I let yet another article rooting for traditional publishing and the agency model or downplay self-publishing (particularly on Amazon), get me down. What works for me will work for me. And no I do not want to be stupid or dense either.

I found this link to be very interesting: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/16/self-publishing-book-indies_n_1522579.html?ref=tw

Again, thank you for all that you do!

Jada
http://thrillerinkspot.com

D. Nathan Hilliard said...

While I wholeheartedly agree with the notion of taking back the means of production as an artist (being a musician and a writer myself), I question the implication that somehow ebook publishing will—or should—replace physical publishing as the ideal/preferred medium of story transfer.

I don't really think that is a problem. With services like Createspace out there, the indie author now has the ability to make a paperback version of his book, and have it linked to his ebook right on Amazon.com. If the prices of POD come down, publishers will indeed be in big trouble.

Aric Mitchell said...

As a huge eBook customer, I'm telling you, "reputable reviews" mean dick. And even if you've got them in your pocket, the idea they will somehow build you this financially profitable audience is nothing more than a pipe dream. Greatly reviewed books fail every year, and in far greater numbers than ones that actually succeed. It's simple. If the synopsis sounds good, and the sample is compelling and not riddled with spelling errors, you're good. A book's problems will normally be apparent from page one.

Melissa Douthit said...

I loved this one, Joe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Best blog yet!

RD Meyer said...

Joe - I'm a newcomer to your blog, but it has proven an excellent read and has helped me become more aware. I was leaning in the direction of self-publishing anyway, but I think you've helped push me past the point of no return. It's still a little ways off(gotta finish that military committment first), but it's definitely in my future.

I added you to my blogroll due to your prescient advice, and if you're ever in Hawaii, let me know - the kalua pork is on me!

T.L.S Clarke said...

When you look to the progression of printing technology in the past decade or so, and then extrapolate that to better, cheaper methods in the future you can only see a boom in POD. Even publishers, surely, can see the potential of creating physical copies as they are demanded. (Furniture is a perfect example of production on demand.)

Sure, stock will need to be kept in some of the bricks and mortar stores, but if the turnaround for a good quality product is less than a week then people will be happy to wait. One thing e-commerce has done is created a level of patience with the consumer. They pay, and then wait for the mail to arrive. Amazon know this with their international customers. We just ... wait.

Print on Demand is where the publishers should be looking to if they want to hang onto that "medium of delivery" as you put it. They should be investing hard into better printing technologies. They could adapt their business models to something they are already familiar with, and create less waste, less returns, less discounting.

I read so many comments on people being shy of e-readers because they 'just prefer the feel of a book'. Innovation could supply to that market, which to my mind is NOT in competition to the e-book market. Some people just won't change. Smart marketers give people what they want. Innovators do that, and make a profit.

william said...

I agree too. Business is based on creating value of customers and businesses that take advantage of their customers never survive. These days with our access to information, any company taking advantage of both its supplier and customer is bound to fail. The big 6 are basically asking authors to self-publish, and it is getting easier and easier. Sad for the good publishing houses though who can really help some authors get farther. After all, not everyone can promote well.

Ernie J. Zelinski said...

Joe:

Obviously, you take delight in running down traditional publishers and also in giving people hope (mainly false hope) about being successful in their self-publishing efforts.

As a writer who has been a very successful self-publisher for a lot longer than you (around $1.75 million in profits earned from 725,000 copies of my print books sold worldwide — and most of this from my self-published works), I can say that there are many aspects to this article that I can shoot many holes through, including that traditional publishers have victimized writers in the past (plain and simple, writers have victimized themselves). This would take too much of my time, however.

I am just going to concentrate on your take on print vs. ebooks.

Jane Friedman in an article in the most recent "Writer's Digest" magazine poses this as one of the most important questions for people considering self-publishing their book:

"Do your readers prefer print or digital?"

Jane Friedman's question is so basic. Yet it is important and overlooked by most people.

I read blogs and articles by people claiming to be book experts saying that ebooks are definitely the way to go without giving consideration to print books.

None of these experts have ever posed this important question. This just shows that they are not even close to being as astute about the publishing industry and marketing as Jane Friedman.

This question is in line with what John Kremer (author of "1001 Ways to Market Your Books") said.

"You have to ask yourself who is going buy your book. And you better have a damn good answer."

I know that the readers of two of my books prefer print books. Results don't lie. My "The Joy of Not Working" still sells about
5,000 copies in the print edition over twenty years after it was released. For the record, this book was originally self-published and sold over 55,000 copies in its self-published format. Nevertheless. I turned it over to Ten Speed Press (now Random House)and I am glad I did because there were many benefits in doing so. I managed to keep the foreign rights and ebook rights because I am not coming from the low level of intention (choosing to be a victim)that most writers are coming from.

And my self-published "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free" still sells 15,000 copies a year in its print edition. In fact, it is selling better now than the first three years after it was released in 2004. I just had 11,500 copies of "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free" printed and sent to my American and Canadian distributors. I am confident that I will need another print run done by late December or Janaruay 2013.

I don't have ebook versions of these two books and likely won't for some time (if ever). Yet I have certain books that I will release as ebooks and may never release as print books.

Again, as Jane Friedman says, "Do your readers prefer print or digital?"

In short, I am always amazed at the short-sightedness of many of the people out there claiming to be book experts.

Look, I give you credit and admire you for the success that you have attained (which is more than what 99.9% of writers — and the mostly delusional readers of your blog — will ever attain). But I am also amazed at your misunderstanding about several aspects of self-publishing and the book industry in general.

Ernie J. Zelinski
International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
Author of “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
(Over 150,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
and “The Joy of Not Working”
(Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

Archangel said...

Mr Zelinski. Congrats on your sales.

I have to take issue with you about several things you wrote here, but just this for now:

You wrote: "I managed to keep the foreign rights and ebook rights because I am not coming from the low level of intention (choosing to be a victim)that most writers are coming from. "

I'd be glad and amazed were you to make this 'exclude ebook' deal 'cause I say so' with RH or other big six pub this month year 2012. Not going to happen. Small pub, maybe. Big 6, no.

Therefor, your first premise being not realistic, the second premise you stated, that you could score such in May of 2012 because you dont have the same "low level of intention (choosing to be a victim)that most writers are coming from."

That's patently absurd. Have you personally interviewed the literally millions of authors published by big 6? Are you a shrink who has done an intake on each one. "Choosing to be a victim" is an odd way to behold others who literally walked into a sophisticated hierarchy without realizing what they were in for. Joe is right: exploitation. And in exploitation you dont call those short-changed 'choosing to be a victim'. You call it what it is, exploitation.

But then, Im just a poor little thang, a pitiful victim trying to wrestle back my erights from my big 6 publishers who squat on them using "Congratulations! You're part of our new ebook program! [Nope, I'm not.] If I'm a victim because I chose to be such, then there would be no need for pubs to use intimidation tactics and blowsy interps of contracts, now would there.

International Best-Selling Author, Psychoanalyst, and Post-Trauma Specialist
Author of “Women Who Run with the Wolves”
(Over 2 Million copies in print and published in 32 languages, the most recent: Farsi, Turnkish and Chinese Han)
and 5 additional books published in as many languages en toto.

Archangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Watch out Mr. Zelinski - you're about to be flash mobbed by rabid supporters who will deny your very existence.

You should know by now - Joe is A God. He doesn't have to answer to anyone.

;)

Archangel said...

So there. lol.

[and that would be Turkish, not Turnkish] still, lol

dr.cpe
[forgot to sign my name above because I am one of the "mostly delusional readers of ...[Joe's] blog."

6:10 AM

Anon Moose said...

I betcha a "International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach" must have some really uplifting things to say. Let's read...


"...giving people hope (mainly false hope) about being successful in their self-publishing efforts."

"...the success that you have attained (which is more than what 99.9% of writers — and the mostly delusional readers of your blog — will ever attain..."


Oh, snap.

Anon Moose said...

"Ernie Zelinski helps others find the time to live." -Boston Herald

Unless they're readers of this blog, in which case he hands them a rope and helps them find a really nice tree.

Dan DeWitt said...

I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds it odd that a guy who makes his nut as a life coach would take a blogger to task for giving other people "false hope" about their possible self-publishing success.

I've been been reading Konrath's blog for about a year now, and I will flat-out state that most people on here aren't delusional in the slightest. They're hopeful, but not delusional.

And the last thing Joe does is imply that "If you self-publish, you'll be rich like me!" As a matter of fact, he routinely says the opposite. What he does say ... repeatedly ... is that your chances of writing for a living are far greater as an active self-published author than an author who is chasing a legacy deal.

We're rapidly approaching the point where that will no longer be debatable.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

@Ernie J. Zelinski

Seems to me you're comparing apples to oranges, here. There has long been a market for self-published non-fiction. Many non-fiction self-publishers are folks who appear at conferences and seminars and sell their books by hand, so it's not surprising that the numbers would skew toward paper. Those books also have been assigned a certain legitimacy because the author is often an expert in his or her field, and the audience for those books is quite different from Joe's audience.

What Joe is mostly talking about is fiction, which, until only a couple years ago was a very bad bet in terms of self publishing. And now that ebooks AND self-published fiction have gain legitimacy, I think the sales of ebooks speaks for itself.

Do people prefer paper? I know I certainly did. The idea of reading on an ereader was ridiculous to me. Until, that is, I actually broke down and purchased a Kindle and found that I preferred this method of delivery if only for the convenience. And I was a diehard paper guy.

I've seen this happen time and again with friends and acquaintances, who speak with a certain kind of rapture about the feel and smell of paper books—as I did—only to find them discovering the joys and convenience of digital delivery.

We live in a society where convenience overrides pretty much everything else. The guy on a subway looking for a good book to read on his way to work would much rather carry a lightweight Kindle than lug a heavy book. The early adopters are already fully committed and every day, more an more readers are taking that ebook plunge.

Just as they moved from vinyl to 8-track to cassette to CD to the CONVENIENCE of digital downloads for their music.

Collectors and diehards will always opt for paper, but the point is that the preference for physical media is CHANGING. Evolving. I've heard editors and agents in NY say as much to me personally—that ebooks are the FUTURE. So, despite what some of them may think of Joe at this point, they certainly agree with him on that.

Well that future is approaching faster and faster, and for many of us is already here. And I don't know if it'll ever be the same for non-fiction books, but I suspect that eventually it will be.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

@Ernie J. Zelinski

I'd also note that your books seem to be targeted at older people, who traditionally take longer to adapt to change.

Anonymous said...

Evangelists are often one short step away from apologists and cultists and other sheep. While it's true that the Big 6 have abused their power it's also true that a race to the bottom in price and quality is not always good for the customer.

You can't make a business out of selling items at less than cost value. But you can ruin the businesses of those supplying the item. It's a well known tactic that has been used extensively to drive out the competition.

For a more balanced view on the legal tussle see Jonny Evans posting at Computerworld.com.

http://blogs.computerworld.com/20018/apple_publishers_sued_for_ebooks_but_should_amazon_be_looked_at_too

Amazon not only has the power to put publishers out of business but bookstores too. And not just bookstores, any high street store.

And do you know who works in these stores? Your readers.

No readers, no authors.

Time to take a wider view than that of Joe Konrath's bank account.

Rebecca Burke said...

Joe Justice takes his hammer to the tree house where the the local Writers and their printers hobnob. Go Joe!

Dan DeWitt said...

"Amazon not only has the power to put publishers out of business but bookstores too. And not just bookstores, any high street store.

And do you know who works in these stores? Your readers.

No readers, no authors."

That makes literally no sense.

Joe Konrath said...

Obviously, you take delight in running down traditional publishers and also in giving people hope (mainly false hope) about being successful in their self-publishing efforts.

I would take great delight if legacy publishers gave me my rights back, or retroactively tripled my ebook royalties. Because they are unfair.

As for false hope, please point out where I do that. Because I don't.

This would take too much of my time, however.

I encourage you to take the time to do so, Ernie. I do so constantly.

"Do your readers prefer print or digital?"

I prefer Dodo meat over chicken. But preference doesn't matter much when one of them is extinct.

I know that the readers of two of my books prefer print books. Results don't lie.

Uh, Ernie. These titles you mention aren't available as Kindle editions. You do realize that invalidates your argument, right? You can't compare your print sales to your ebook sales to prove readers prefer print when you have no ebook sales.

"You have to ask yourself who is going buy your book. And you better have a damn good answer."

I've sold over 800,000 ebooks. Is that a damn good answer?

Joe Konrath said...

Watch out Mr. Zelinski - you're about to be flash mobbed by rabid supporters who will deny your very existence.

You should know by now - Joe is A God. He doesn't have to answer to anyone.


On any popular blog, there is no doubt favorable bias toward the blog's writer. After all, why would commentors come to a blog if they didn't like reading it and agree with what the blogger is saying?

At the same time, logic is logic and facts are facts. I actually DO answer to everyone who poses decent counterpoints to my arguments.

But the sad fact is, hardly anyone argues with me on my points. Because my points are correct, and I'm right.

I've never been fisked. The pinheads who dislike me would no doubt love to prove me wrong about something, but I've never seen an instance of this happening.

We all have bias. It's natural. But being biased doesn't mean 2 + 2 = 5.

Those you agree with me on my blog do so not because I'm a God or because they love me. They agree because I'm right a whole lot.

Joe Konrath said...

Evangelists are often one short step away from apologists and cultists and other sheep

I'm not an evangelist, in any definition of the term. I'm a guy who presents compelling facts, and arguments, and logic, with passion.

it's also true that a race to the bottom in price and quality is not always good for the customer.

Give examples. Also explain in detail how quality is deteriorating, and how low prices are bad.

But you can ruin the businesses of those supplying the item. It's a well known tactic that has been used extensively to drive out the competition.

Since it has been used so extensively, you must have plenty of examples you can link to. Can you show me a few? Companies that went out of business because other companies sell below cost?

And don't use the incorrect Wal-Mart example. They only sell below cost on certain loss leads. Overall they make a huge profit. They drive out competition by competing. But they only drive out certain competition. Within five miles of my home are two Wal-Marts and two Targets.

I read the Computerworld article, and the author makes several unsupported assumptions. Apparently we're supposed to fear Amazon because he says so. I've heard this before. It's a bad argument, and he doesn't support it with facts or logic that can't be easily dismantled. I'm surprised Computerworld ran it. But then the author has "Apple Holic" next to his name...

Mike Dennis said...

Ernie -- As one of the delusional followers of Joe Konrath's blog, I can say with certainty, regarding Jane Friedman's question about readers preferring print or digital, people have already been born who will become voracious readers and yet who will never hold a print book in their hands.

You, as a non-fiction author, are in quite a different boat than the rest of us delusional followers of Joe's blog. We write fiction, and as such, we can't speak at seminars and sell books afterward.

I was traditionally published and am now self-published. I'm selling exponentially more books now than I did with my publisher.

The real question is not what Jane Friedman asked, but rather, why should I, or any delusional follower of Joe's blog, sign a legacy deal, turning over 52.5% of my income over to a publisher for doing what I can do better?

Anonymous said...

@Ernie J. Zelinski

Let's hear from another author who also sells nonfiction.

Me.

First of all, Mr. Zelinski's books are targeted to older readers (retirement age), and they are nonfiction titles. These two facts affect the book's potential market.

I've sold tens of thousands of nonfiction textbooks (using POD) since 2007. There's no ebook edition of my textbooks, because I believe it prevents bootlegging. When a textbook costs over $100, a potential bootlegger would have to purchase the book, then scan the pages in order to create a bootleg. I know it's possible, but it hasn't happened yet. Probably because the initial cost is so high that most people just aren't going to bother. In this case, I don't go around talking about how fantastic my print sales are compared to my ebook sales, when there's no ebook edition available.

However, I do have a few less expensive nonfiction titles that are available in paperback and in ebook format.

As an example, my book, The Enrolled Agent Tax Consulting Practice Guide sells well as an ebook as well as a paperback. The sales numbers are split about 50/50. Last year, I made about $6,000 in profit on this title. Not a windfall, but not chump change, either. And the book has been a steady earner (sales have remained constant) since it was released in 2010.

Now, as for FICTION, I have also published a few titles in that arena, as well. I released two YA fantasy novels under a pen name last year, and they took off. In this case, the ebook edition of these books outsells the paperback 20 to 1.

My experience is not unique. Joe says that if you produce a good product that people want to read, you can make money self-publishing. I've found that to be true with fiction and non-fiction, but the two markets are very different.

I'd personally refrain from giving advice on ebooks and fiction if I didn't actually have any experience in that area.

-Christy

Aric Mitchell said...

I am so sick of hearing the whines about Amazon killing competition and putting publishers/bookstores out of business. Nowhere in these arguments is there any mention that these entities COULD change their models to actually, oh I don't know, compete with Amazon? It's just, nope we're going out of business. Thank Amazon, everyone.

If I walked up to you and punched you in the face, I'd have a hell of a lot more respect for you, and you'd be a hell of a lot more deserving of it, if you punched me back instead of keeping your arms to the sides and saying, "Hit me again, Ike."

Maybe it just grates on me more because I've run a successful writing business for several years now, and I've had to continually adapt my skill sets and content areas to survive. Publishers and a lot of Stockholm writers are certainly not business people--not good ones anyway.

If they were, they would have been out in front of Amazon instead of sitting on an archaic model and waiting for someone else to innovate. But what do they do? They wait for another company to do the hard work, and then they illegally collude to fix prices so they can support their archaic model and massive print overhead on the back of the ebook (and subsequently, the writer).

This has nothing to do with Joe worship. It's logic. It's sound. It's smart business that shows a clear understanding of how the industry will operate moving forward in a new century. You could attack the points instead of the man making them and the people, who visit his blog, or you could just blather on like an idiot about how "things were different in my day, and these damn kids today got no respect for they elders."

Rob Gregory Browne said...

You can't make a business out of selling items at less than cost value.

I'd say quite a few authors are making a mighty nice living without have to deal with a traditional publishers overhead.

The cost of self-publishing ebooks is extremely low, and the price charged certainly does not devalue the work and, if the reader responds, can put the author in a very good place.

That only rarely happens in traditional publishing.

Dzejes said...

First of all I'd like to thank Mr. konrath for this blog. It is truly enlightening.

Now the reason I decided to write here (and apologies for poor language - english isn't my mother tongue): your examples are flawed. And I like nitpicking.

Railroad is far from being defeated, especially by truck carriers. It's actuall the oposite - freight rail transport is more efficient that truck.

And there are many examples of companies going banktupt because of predatory pricing, esp. dumping. Google for chinese subsidized solar panels.

Kelly Marino said...

Dear Mr. Konrath,
I thank you for this breathtaking post. You had me at “exploitation,” and held me captive until “Ouch.” BRAVO! I am a self-pubber, who, like countless others, has suffered the indignation of receiving form letters from high and mighty agents telling me:
“Your project was too similar to something else already in the works, OR, It isn’t something we’d like to pursue, OR, We have no room for more clients, OR, It’s just not a right fit, OR, We are not certain we could be effective in placing your work.”
But, thanks to the recent and long-overdue paradigm shift, I can now hold my head high with my book in my hands (or Kindle)! I have TOTAL control over my work and can price it any way I see fit. Granted, I haven't set any literary brushfires, but most traditionally published authors haven't, either. I am deeply gratified to see the 6-headed monster in NYC running like hell before an angry mob. Please, sir, keep those torches burning!

Jon Olson said...

Well, I really like the videos.

Jon Olson
The Ride Home

Adam Pepper said...

Hit and run sales calls where you smugly insult your audience? You've inspired me, Ernie. Clearly you are a genius!

C. Amethyst Frost said...

"...who simplified curation by (supposedly) weeding out the crap before the publishers got it."

They don't even do that much anymore, do they? I've seen some crappy self-published books, but I am now seeing an equal number of Big 6 crap.

I read a LOT. And in the midst of all my book reading, I find myself constantly stumbling over imperfections and non-professionalism. In a really big book, 300+ pages or so, you can expect a few typos and some grammatical weirdness. But if the Big 6 are taking such a big cut, shouldn't the authors and readers expect better editing as a part of the deal. In the old days, back when potential authors submitted their type-written manuscripts via snail mail, editors (publisher employees) were meticulous about perfection, to the point that they returned manuscripts to the writers for corrections. Once "corrected," editors would actually edit. Amazing. They used to put real effort into a book. You don't see that so much anymore.

I am currently reading a fantasy/paranormal series published by HarperCollins. While the story line is awesome, the writing is terrible. For every ten fragments, there is one complete sentence. It is really distracting to read a 600 page book that is made up of mostly fragments. The author also bypassed many commas in favor of question marks, using the question marks to emphasize inflection -- rather than trusting the reader to know where inflection occurs.

In this case, I can't fault the author as much as the publisher. It is a best selling series that should never have hit the shelves in that condition.

My point is that traditional publishers take more than they did years ago, and they give back less. If you use construction as an example, the publishers used to build the house, decorate it, inspect it, and sell it. Now they make the author build his own house and without inspecting it, they sell it as a HUD home and take in twice the profit.

As you said, Joe, they're nothing more than paper sellers.

Kim Cano said...

I love the fourth blow that they didn't see coming: Authors taking them down.
It's so fun to read these posts and be a new, self-published author at Amazon. I feel like I'm finally living my dream, and at the same time participating in some kind of revolution.
This blog rocks! Another great day at JA Konrath University. :)

Mike Dennis said...

Kelly Marino wrote:
I am a self-pubber, who, like countless others, has suffered the indignation of receiving form letters from high and mighty agents telling me:
“Your project was too similar to something else already in the works, OR, It isn’t something we’d like to pursue, OR, We have no room for more clients, OR, It’s just not a right fit, OR, We are not certain we could be effective in placing your work.”

To which I reply:
You forgot two other of the standard agent responses.
1. X
2. *no response at all*

Tom Maddox said...

Joe, this is a brilliant summation of current situation and how it got to this point.

I guess I am one of the less than 1% Laura talked about. I am a reader. I have never written a book and don’t have any overwhelming desire to write one in the future. Shoot, I am not even a voracious reader. As a reader though I have been following the situation since the Agency System was first put into place.

I see apologists for the Legacy Publishers all over the place (go read any pricing thread on the Amazon Kindle forum – it is brutal) and I see that there are a few who chime in here (anonymously of course) but there is one point that the apologists never seem to answer to my satisfaction. So let me ask that question here.

Based on Joe’s numbers, the publishers share of sale price on e-books have raised significantly while the authors share has gone down. What justification can there be for that? What value are the publishers adding to the e-book process that entitles them to pocket even more money rather than paying the authors better royalties or passing those savings on to the reader?

Give me a explanation that is rational and that I can accept and I will go purchase a legacy published book immediately. Until that time though I will continue to seek out self-published authors.

Joe Konrath said...

Railroad is far from being defeated, especially by truck carriers. It's actuall the oposite - freight rail transport is more efficient that truck.

Railroad lost quite a bit of freight shipping to trucks. They lost even more transportation business to planes and cars.

My argument is sound.

T Ludlow said...

Adam Pepper: "Hit and run sales calls where you smugly insult your audience? You've inspired me, Ernie. Clearly you are a genius!"

It was hilarious.

"You're all a bunch of goddamn morons...

...So, any of you retards want to buy a book?'

Adam Pepper said...

T Ludlow: Ernie has me so depressed and discouraged I feel like dining on a bullet. Perhaps he can suggest a book that will cheer me up and reinvigorate me.

T Ludlow said...

Adam Pepper: 'Ernie has me so depressed and discouraged I feel like dining on a bullet. Perhaps he can suggest a book that will cheer me up and reinvigorate me.'

Nah. He'll tell you to buy a whole stack of his books, climb it and jump off...

T Ludlow said...

C. Amethyst Frost: "I find myself constantly stumbling over imperfections and non-professionalism."

From what I've heard, and it might just be a rumour, some publishers are outsourcing much of their proofing and editorial work to countries like India.

It's quite possible that the books you've picked up were proof-read by some cubicle worker in Delhi sweating away for peanuts.

Sort of chimes in with the theme of the blog.

D.L. Johnstone said...

Joe - great insights as always, love the Boxer syndrome concept. I think the key point you made is entitlement. Corporations as a whole want to protect the core and just add more. Change, esp revolutionary change, is tough. Amazon has been brilliant because they've built from the ground up and threw away preconceived notions in building this machine. They have been far too agile for anyone to keep up with them. I'm not surprised at all that the publishing cartel and agents and even traditional writers have banded together - they're petrified because the walls are coming down, the peasants are storming in and they don't have a Plan B. The next 12-24 months are going to be a doozy to watch unfold.

Couple of corrections I would offer. First, I doubt retailers like Sam's or Costco ever sold any books at a loss. They would take a lower margin than traditional booksellers because of scale and business model but I'm sure publishers were helping them hold profit no matter what they were selling them for. Second, Apple went along with the agency model not only because it sold more devices but also they get the publishers online and the 30% cut of the pie. That 30% has huge potential and is pure profit with no hard costs. The profit they make from their cut on Apps and itunes is a huge part of their current valuation. Now they just have to figure out how to make it as user friendly as Kindle.

Bryan Chapel said...

"From what I've heard, and it might just be a rumour, some publishers are outsourcing much of their proofing and editorial work to countries like India."

I can see that. Late last year local papers in my area fired most of their advertising creative staff and graphic designers and outsourced the work to India.

Now we send them the items, prices, descriptions for our advertised products, they forward it to India, who makes an ad, sends it back to the paper, who forwards it to us to approve or correct.

It's kind of ridiculous, especially because it doesn't seem like this particular Indian house understands our culture. (Example: Why would you decorate a St. Patrick's Day ad with American flags? Really? Not one shamrock? A Christmas ad portraying a sunny tropical island in the background? No snowflakes, presents, trees, etc?)

It's incredibly sad the direction things are going.

Jay Allan said...

And there are many examples of companies going banktupt because of predatory pricing, esp. dumping. Google for chinese subsidized solar panels.

Bad example. Governments mess up markets constantly. We're not talking about governments subsidizing markets. The government is not subsidizing Amazon.

hwied said...

What a fantastic post! Writers, readers, publishers, we're all in the business of sharing ideas. We all champion the idea of the power of the written word's ability to change someone's thinking, touch their life, or provide them with some kind of escape or entertainment into a different world from their own. The method of delivery is secondary. This is what we've been saying since we launched our site in March.

The more we talk to people the more we realize how many obstacles we still have to overcome to change peoples' perspective of the idea of being "published" in a traditional sense. This post definitely contributes to that effort. On a whole in the industry, we're still not there, and honestly I feel as though there will always be a place for paper books, even if just for the nostalgia, novelty, and romance of it, but they don't have to come from the big 6 either. The tides are quickly changing, and the community needs to band together and support one another. The only barrier to an author's success should be the interest from the readers, not someone looking to make a buck off of your hard work. The cost structure for distribution is so different now, so the lion's share of profits should go to the content creator, not the distributor. Three cheers for progress, change, and innovation!!!

As a company it's our mission to be a part of this paradigm shift, so we hope you check out our site if you get a chance. http://kbuuk.com

Deb said...

@Ernie, when you said "you'd better know who your readers are."

I do know who they are for my novel. Since it's out in both print and e-versions, I sell approximately 6 e-books for every print book that's reported.

I don't call those long odds. That's the reason I'm taking Joe's advice, and that of others, and my next novel is going direct to reader. My readers can "curate" for me -- I no longer need an agent I don't trust or a publisher who's going to take the lion's share of the remuneration for work that I'm doing. I'm going to have that myself. I trust my readers to know what they like.

Mike Reeves-McMillan said...

I've worked in publishing, and this article omits mention of several important things that publishers do. They don't just drop ship the author's unaltered Word file through a typesetting machine and spend the margin on champagne. They do hire editors, designers and marketers. (I was an editor.)

Now, indies can, and do, and very much should hire editors and designers (maybe even marketers). And big publishing houses are dinosaurs, and exploitative, and unimaginative, and charge too much for ebooks, and are increasingly skimping on the editing and the design. All this is true. But any article about publishers and their pricing is incomplete without acknowledging all their costs and all the benefits that authors receive from those overheads.

Aric Mitchell said...

Sorry, Mike, but all that can be done for less than $1,000, and done EXTREMELY WELL for less than a $1,000. I fail to see how this is a benefit to the author when it means giving up AT LEAST 52.5% of revenue along with rights to the material forever. Throw on top of that the obvious exploitation of ebook prices that the article refers to, and it's apparent Joe was about as fair as he could have been to publishers.

Writers need to get a business sense and stop being eat up with the dumb-ass.

Anonymous said...

Joe said: "But the sad fact is, hardly anyone argues with me on my points. Because my points are correct, and I'm right.

I've never been fisked. The pinheads who dislike me would no doubt love to prove me wrong about something, but I've never seen an instance of this happening."

You haven't been fisked on your own blog, but check out this link.
It's on the first page of their subforum and it looks like it might always be on the first page.

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=244666

Here's another link about another of your blog posts, they ask some interesting questions.

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=244516

Here's one about Barry Eisler.

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=243417

Aric Mitchell said...

Cliffs Notes of Anon's Absolute Write links:

Joe shares numbers and facts. (He's lying.) Joe's career was going into the toilet, so he started self publishing and made a lot more money than he ever did with the publisher's marketing machine behind him. (Um, yeah, he's lying.) Barry said monopoly when what he's describing is a Cartel. (See how stupid Barry is, and how none of his other comments are valid because of his semantical error.) Barry turned down a half-mill and Joe is a whore for Amazon. (They just have sour grapes for the Big Six. How could they after all the good the Big Six did for their careers, even though they're making more now than publishers ever made for them in the past? How dare they! And um, yeah, Joe is still lying.)

Seriously, guys. This is what you call fisking? Cut the bullshit and address the points.

Anonymous said...

Here's another link about another of your blog posts, they ask some interesting questions.

Yeah, Joe's a big fat liar, pants on fire. Except that he's posted screen shots of his KDP reports. And his royalty reports. More than once, in fact. So... unless you think he photoshopped everything, the figures don't lie.

I gave a talk about self-publishing at the Bay Area Independent Publisher's Association in 2010, and everyone was pooh-poohing me too. Until I booted up my projector and showed them slides of my POD and KDP sales. $17,000+ in one month.

Mouths dropped open. People really need to see proof. With Joe, that's already been provided.

Repeatedly.

-Christy

Bob said...

Writers create the product. The product is not a physical book. The product is a story. The story can be consumed by the reader in a variety of mediums: print, electronic print, audio.

Anyone standing between the writer and the reader must add value to the process. For too long legacy publishers thought the PRINT book was the product.

They were wrong.

Joe Konrath said...

Simple contradiction is not fisking. Nor is it debating, or proving me wrong.

As I said, there are a lot of haters. But none have said anything worthwhile. Because I'm right.

Anonymous said...

Way back in the early days of digital self publishing, I remember trying to get my wife (The Author) on board with it, needless to say she thought it was a major step down as a person who had been traditionally published and I knew...she was wrong.

I had seen the change happen time and again during my life, from one medium and format to another. I've seen it happen. My very first thought was, "Why didn't publishing lead the way on this?" They had a property that could have digital WAY before CD were ever thought up. I mean if you think of it, currently we are reading on the equivalent of a supped up LCD screen. Books could have been first and now, they are last. Even movies (massive file sizes) beat books to the punch. Gives you a good idea of the thinking in the publishing world. I'm sure piracy was the reason for holding out but as we see now, they were putting off the inevitable.

I do feel that print reading does add something to the experience but as you stated, without the story, it's not something you would do. However, I doubt very much you would feel comfortable going into a bath with your kindle as you would a paperback. You can be rough with a book, not so much with a e-reader. However, digital will take over the lion share of the publishing world, no matter what. Good thing too.

Lastly, the reason the music industry jumped on board with CD is an easy answer. Money, lest cost to print multiple copies, and you get to sell everyone their favorite albums once more. I don't really think they thought of piracy at the beginning and when more and more people started copying music for free, they put the breaks on digital players for just that reason. So they lost out on the second wave of the digitization of music out of fear. Apple surfed it.

Now apple is on the wrong side of history and Amazon is on the right side.....for now. Let's see if anyone "B&N, Apple, Legacy Publishers" get the message before they become the next Tower Records or Borders.

The Phantom Husband

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Anyone standing between the writer and the reader must add value to the process. For too long legacy publishers thought the PRINT book was the product.

I'd argue to anyone who thinks this that perhaps they should simply go into business selling diaries.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

However, I doubt very much you would feel comfortable going into a bath with your kindle as you would a paperback.

As someone pointed out to me on Facebook, there's a solution to this: you put your Kindle into a ziplock bag when you bathe and it's better protected than a paperback.

wannabuy said...

@Rob Gregory Brown:"Unchecked power never turns out well. With no competition comes no evolution. Then, when a true competitor emerges, it kicks the status quo's ass."

Exactly. Some point to vinyl making a comeback, but that is a tiny (<1% of music) niche nostalgia market.

Every year ebooks will gain market share. Diffusion of information tends to go an an 'S-curve.'
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations

What happens to print books when India and China go digital? Good luck getting them printed at a reasonable cost. There will always be a print market. The question is "how small of a niche?"

There is a reason print book sales data is now so obscure and retail print is now compared to wholesale ebook sales...

Neil

Christinekling said...

Excellent explanation, Joe.
I've joined you guys with self-publishing and I've made more in the first five months than I made on my first two book advance.
These guys who argue that we are "in a race to the bottom" with our ebook pricing haven't a clue. There are still paperback books out there that are priced below the $3.99 price I use for my ebooks. How about the prices on the Dover Thrift Editions teachers often use. http://store.doverpublications.com/by-subject-literature-dover-thrift-editions-fiction.html Are they devaluing the classics by selling them at that price?

Anonymous said...

It sucks for artists and writers, and the way I see it, ebooks are like mp3s now. Because the files are so small, you can copy an entire library of books from 1 drive to another in a matter on minutes and have a book collection that would have taken you 2 lifetimes to acquire if you paid for it. Its way to easy and its impossible to stop.

Digital isn't always better.

Joe Konrath said...

Digital isn't always better.

Fearing piracy is silly.

Fear obscurity.

Anonymous said...

Joe said: "But none have said anything worthwhile."

From:
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=243417

"1. The Big 6 ain't a monolopy. Not even close.
2. There's more than the Big 6. There are a LOT of trade publishers in all shapes and sizes.
3. Eisler and Konrath are now being published by a trade publisher. Just because the trade publisher's name is Amazon, doesn't change that they are NO LONGER SELF PUBLISHING. They are participating in the very industry they deride."

"The thing is, the Big 6 can't be a monopoly - they don't sell the same thing, and, in fact, directly compete. Konrath made a big deal about the fungibility of books a while ago, apparently not realizing the idea cuts both ways. When all six sell the same Stephen King novel, then maybe they're a monopoly. But a Stephen King novel isn't a Patterson novel isn't a Rowling novel -- so how are they a monopoly exactly?"

"I've actually asked on Brother Joe's blog and he ignored my questions. It's as if... wait... as if he's just out to promote his *new* publisher, Amazon."

From:
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=7270115#post7270115

"Konrath already had a reader base before he started self pubbing, so he had an advantage over most self pubbers - a head start.

And of course, if it's all so great, how come he's signed up with a pub now? Mind, his blog has probably got him new readers so as a PR exercise it's worked..."

Sariah Wilson said...

"It was hilarious.

"You're all a bunch of goddamn morons...

...So, any of you retards want to buy a book?'"

This is why I read comments on Joe's blog. I laughed at this for a good long time.

And for the Anon right above me...every single one of your so-called claims about Joe has been repeatedly refuted. So yes, nothing worthwhile.

Joe Konrath said...

1. The Big 6 ain't a monolopy. Not even close.

They are a cartel. A cartel closely functions as a monopoly as far as economics go. I've used the words cartel, oligopoly, and quasi-monopoly to describe the Big 6. They all do the same thing: control prices of goods.

If I get stung by a wasp and say its a hornet, it doesn't really matter that much which is which. Ditto using quasi-monopoly or cartel to describe what the Big 6 are doing.

That said, point out where I've directly stated that the Big 6, or the publishing industry, is a monopoly. What is the context? What's the actual quote?

2. There's more than the Big 6. There are a LOT of trade publishers in all shapes and sizes.

What does that have to do with anything? If the publisher has the same contract terms and royalty structure as the Big 6, and it functions as a cartel, who cares what you call it?

I understand that semantics are important in debates so everyone has the same definitions, but these two points don't address the argument at all. They're simply whining that I'm using concepts interchangeably.

3. Eisler and Konrath are now being published by a trade publisher. Just because the trade publisher's name is Amazon, doesn't change that they are NO LONGER SELF PUBLISHING. They are participating in the very industry they deride.

Silly. Read Be the Monkey. Amazon isn't a legacy publisher for a multitude of reasons.

Nor is indie publishing an idealogy. It's a means for authors to make money. I deride the publishing industry because they are worthy of derision, not because I'm on some quest. If they shaped up, I'd be the first to praise them.

Also, Barry and I still self-publishing quite a bit.

The thing is, the Big 6 can't be a monopoly - they don't sell the same thing, and, in fact, directly compete.

No, they don't compete. Search my blog for "kabuki competition".

Konrath made a big deal about the fungibility of books a while ago, apparently not realizing the idea cuts both ways. When all six sell the same Stephen King novel, then maybe they're a monopoly. But a Stephen King novel isn't a Patterson novel isn't a Rowling novel -- so how are they a monopoly exactly?

Whoever wrote this apparently has no grasp of basic economics.

When you control prices and artificially inflate them, when the major publishers collude to fix prices, when damn near all publishers have the same unconscionable terms in their contracts, and lockstep royalty percentages, that's a cartel. They don't all have to sell the same title.

Do yourself a favor and read my blog rather than skimming it looking for word definitions to disagree with. Try attacking the logic behind the argument.

You don't want me to call the Big 6 or the publishing industry a monopoly? Fine. It's a cartel engaged in kabuki competition. Now that I've cleared that up for you, try to address the many points I've made.

Anonymous said...

Don't put words in my mouth, I'm not making any claims. I just thought these quotes were worthwhile. Especially this one:

From:
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=243417

"Eisler and Konrath are now being published by a trade publisher. Just because the trade publisher's name is Amazon, doesn't change that they are NO LONGER SELF PUBLISHING. They are participating in the very industry they deride."

And if every single one of those quotes has been refuted, then it would be easy to refute them one more time with a little edit and paste.

I actually like this blog, and I'm not opposed to self publishing. But how about answering the quotes for the people who missed the answers earlier?

Joe Konrath said...

"Konrath already had a reader base before he started self pubbing, so he had an advantage over most self pubbers - a head start.

And of course, if it's all so great, how come he's signed up with a pub now? Mind, his blog has probably got him new readers so as a PR exercise it's worked..."


These are all so old and tired I've addressed them many times. The latest are here:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/01/reality-check.html

http://www.barryeisler.com/ebooks.php#monkey

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/01/value-of-publicity.html

I stopped going to Absolutewrite because there are too many ignorant pinheads. They don't want to learn. They don't want to debate. They just want to hold their hands over their ears and yell "nyaa nyaa nyaa!"

You hear that, pinheads? How about the lot of you pool your collective four brain cells and fisk this blog entry. Or any of my blog entries.

If your best arguments are "Joe uses 'monopoly' and 'cartel' interchangeably even though they do the same things economically" or "Joe used to be against self-publishing and now he self-publishes so he's a hypocrite" or "Joe is only selling well because he's famous" that's really sad.

Address my points. And try to do it without putting words in my mouth, logical fallacies, ad hominum attacks, wild speculation, and stupidity. Please. I'd like to debate someone smart and able to defend their arguments.

But, alas, all the smart people are on my side. Because I'm right.

Anonymous said...

What's truly pathetic about this rant is that Joe actually believes his own delusions. He thinks he's some kind of messiah leading the way for all the deluded writers in the world, when in truth he's had the kind of massive support from amazon that most authors, both self- and legacy-published, never get. I bought one of his books, god help me, and was flooded with amazon marketing e-mails in the next months promoting his other books - his and other Thomas Mercer titles, mind you, no one else's, though I have bought other authors' work. Amazon captured my one Konrath buy and was all over me like mongols in a convent.

So, let's take a peek at the emperor's new clothes. Or rather, what's underneath them:

1) Joe is NOT self published. He may have been once upon a time but he is now under contract with amazon. He has therefore sold his rights. He is paid advances and earns royalties. He gets Kindle Daily Deals and other fun stuff, all of which drive his sales. Are his sales impressive? Absolutely. as they should be, with amazon's juggernaut behind him.

Which brings us to - drum-roll, please - 2) Yes, ladies and gentleman, Joe gets marketing and advertising support from amazon. He doesn't pay for it. They promote his books to their mailing list of millions of readers for free. (For free, I hear you gasp?) Yes, for free. He can call it whatever he likes: it's still marketing and advertising support. And he gets it when self-published authors who sign with the same company and pay 30% for the privilege of their "distribution" don't.

Sounding familiar?

I personally fail to see how what he's doing is really all that different from signing with a traditional publisher. Other than perhaps his higher e-right rate, which he absolutely should get, seeing as he has ZERO distribution in brick and mortar bookstores. Don't believe me? Go into any store in your area, please. Ask for any Konrath title in stock. I dare you.

Sorry, Joe. Not buying your amazon laced punch. Perhaps your paymasters think if you rattle the cage long enough and holler loud enough, you'll shake another Eisler out of the ranks. Maybe you think it'll take that bitter taste of rejection by the industry out of your mouth.

I'm betting it won't.

Joe Konrath said...

But how about answering the quotes for the people who missed the answers earlier?

How about people actually quoting me and saying where I'm wrong, rather than making accusations and interpretations without having read what I said?

Here we clearly explain how Amazon is not a legacy publisher:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/06/ebooks-and-self-publishing-part-3-yet.html

As for self-pubbing, I have over 30 self-pubbed titles, with several more coming out this year. Barry's latest self-pub ebook will be live in a few days.

But anyone with a brain would realize that publishing with Amazon doesn't negate any point I've ever made.

You disagree? Prove it. Quote me. Use my words against me. Use them in context, with a link.

Joe Konrath said...

What's truly pathetic about this rant is that Joe actually believes his own delusions.

I'm waiting for you to show me they're delusions...

I bought one of his books, god help me, and was flooded with amazon marketing e-mails in the next months promoting his other books - his and other Thomas Mercer titles, mind you, no one else's, though I have bought other authors' work.

Which is why I signed with Amazon, you bonehead. Do you know how many customers they reach? Lot's more than I can on my own.

You didn't read Be the Monkey, did you? This is all explained in easy to follow details.

Well, easy to follow if you aren't a bonehead...

Joe is NOT self published.

Maybe if you say it enough times it'll come true. Try stamping your feet and holding your breath as well.

By the end of the year I'll have at least four more self-pubbed titles out.

And again, this isn't an idealogy. Like any writer with an iota of common sense, I do what is best for my career. If some legacy publisher gave me 1.5 million for a book, I'd take it. Anything less wouldn't be worth it financially.

That should tell you something about how much I value my Amazon contracts, shouldn't it?

And the fact that I still self-publish while also being pubbed by Amazon should also tell you something.

I personally fail to see how what he's doing is really all that different from signing with a traditional publisher.

For crissakes, read Be the Monkey. You're stuck on some tiny point that is not only untrue, but irrelevant.

The reason I dislike the Big 6 and the publishing industry is because they screw authors. Self-pub is a way for writers to take control of their careers and directly reach readers. And Amazon's contracts are so unlike Big 6 contracts in so many ways it is mind-boggling.

Sign with Amazon and see for yourself. Then tell me they're the same thing as the rest of the industry.

And, once again, self-publishing is NOT an idealogy for me, or Barry.

If you want to persist in this argument, quote me with links.

Maybe you think it'll take that bitter taste of rejection by the industry out of your mouth.

That made me smile. How I wish the industry would give me my eight books back. It's #1 on my want list. TZhe only thing I'm bitter about is that I'll have to wait for them to go bankrupt before they return my rights.

I'm the one who pulled my last two books from the industry, refunding their advances. Mad that they rejected me? Hardly. I wish they'd rejected all of my novels. I'd be three times as rich.

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon at 1:50 AM.

From Anon at 2:15 AM:
"I bought one of his books...and was flooded with amazon marketing e-mails in the next months promoting his other books - his and other Thomas Mercer titles, mind you, no one else's, though I have bought other authors' work."

LOL. Too funny!

I actually like Amazon though.

Anonymous said...

With all the articles that are popping up, you know what I don't get: Why is almost everybody claiming that Amazon is the trade publishers main competition? As I see it, self-published authors are the main publishers' competition and in a small way even editors and cover artist, because they are doing for authors what publisher usually does; adding the value to the story, and that for a fixed fee. Despite its imprints Amazon's main purpose was and is distribution; Amazon is a retailer, and as such Amazon is a tool self-published authors (and trade publishers) use to get their products to their end consumers. Or am I wrong?

Upcoming4.me said...

Great essay and what's best you're not the first to have said it. I think we are slowly reaching the point of critical mass when things are about to start changing

Stitch said...

Anon 11:58 said:

It sucks for artists and writers, and the way I see it, ebooks are like mp3s now. Because the files are so small, you can copy an entire library of books from 1 drive to another in a matter on minutes and have a book collection that would have taken you 2 lifetimes to acquire if you paid for it. Its way to easy and its impossible to stop.

Digital isn't always better.


Ah, yes... Piracy. That huge scary monster that have killed every creative industry. Thanks to piracy, no new books have been written in an age. No new videogames have been created in decades, no new movies have been made, no music have been recorded since the invention of the World Wide Web and the evil MP3.

There are no longer authors, filmmakers, programmers, painters, photographers, musicians, composers or graphic artists who make a living doing what they love. Digital killed all of their careers.

Gone forever are the good old days before the internet, where every person who wrote a novel or recorded an album became rich and famous. Before the internet, no author ever died poor. No musician or filmmaker ever worried about how to pay their rent or put food on the table.

Oh, internet, you doomed the creative artists, every one of them. Oh, the humanity!

It's such a shame you can't make a living as an author any longer, not like in the good old days.....before digital....

Oh, wait...

Anonymous said...

"Then trucks and cars came along. Railroads lost vast amounts of business to trucks and cars, and still do."

I think this is a bad example. The US car industry was massively subsidized by the government in different ways. Of course, so were railroads initially and currently, but the difference is that a "car society" became the plan for the future, so much so that the actual advantages of railroads, trains, etc were purposefully worked against. Trains do very well in many other nations, more efficient than cars or planes in many contexts.

For large infrastructure technologies, these are always social engineering projects, and "market capitalism", which is a bit of a mythological creature, actually, is, well, often railroaded. And that's good, because capitalism and "free markets", whatever those are outside our minds, are incredibly limited creatures that have to be harnessed in the right way. Of course, they are never "free", nor can be, as they are an offshoot of society, and therefore ALWAYS "socialized" in a deep and fundamental way. The questions should not be the Republican talking points of "freeing markets" and anti-socialism, but HOW do you socialize markets in the best way for the current times? Recognizing what is needed and what isn't and when is key. Practical thinking, not ideological thinking, is what is needed.

Which brings me to Amazon. As much as publishers are no longer needed, neither is Amazon, and the longer indies worship Amazon (and yes, many do, even those claiming Amazon Agnosticism), the more exploitative they will become. DRM and Kindles are the new contract clauses.

Amazon is now the unnecessary middleman. We don't need DRM (and I would argue, writers are better without it). We don't need Kindles. We don't need Amazon. The internet and a growing host of tablets and apps provide EVERYTHING Amazon could, without the loss of freedom. If you can produce an ebook and market it in the digital age, you can set up your own shop and sell your own ebooks. Cut out the middleman.

The digital world changes fast. Amazon is pushing for Kindles (and Kindle apps etc) to be in everyone's hands, because then they own things. But Amazon is now irrelevant (and they know this: by helping push the ebook, they signed their own death certificate). If they disappear, there is no reason ebooks cannot continue to thrive.

When you can delete the middleman and the ecosystem is still viable the middleman is a dinosaur waiting for a meteor.

Idiotsrus said...

If you're going to quote my post from AW, least you could do is put in the, to me, most pertinent part:

"If you want to self pub, that's great. But I'd suggest that anyone wanting self pub should read as widely as possible on the subject, on the pros and cons. And not just the rah rah boys. If nothing else, Konrath is only one opinion on the matter. And you need to look at all angles, not just one."

Cheers.

Stitch said...

Anon 2:15 said:

Yes, ladies and gentleman, Joe gets marketing and advertising support from amazon. He doesn't pay for it. They promote his books to their mailing list of millions of readers for free. (For free, I hear you gasp?) Yes, for free.

Wow, really? For free? So, Amazon doesn't keep any money when they sell one of Joe's books? They give him the whole cake, yeah?

Yeah, right...

I am constantly amazed by the amount of people (especially writers) who think that publishers provide proof-reading, editing, cover design, marketing, etc, for free. Free of charge, gratis. Out of the goodness of their hearts.

Wake up!

You, the author, are paying for those services with the money you don't get.

You think that just because Amazon doesn't send Joe an invoice for marketing, he's getting that marketing for free. That's bullshit, he's paying for it, he just happen to think it's worth it. And most likely, it is. Just the fact that Amazon is actually marketing his books is a major step up from most publishers.

Most writers published by the legacy publishers never got a proper marketing push by their publisher. They never got to go on an all expenses paid book tour. Well, guess what... They paid for those few who did. With all that money they didn't get to keep from the sales of their books.

Free? No fucking way.

Griffin Hayes said...

Here's a perfect example of that Boxer/Stockholm Syndrome Joe often talks about. Definitely worth the read.

http://tilthelasthemlockdies.blogspot.ca/2012/05/self-publishing-analog.html

It's also an example of how 'mainstream' publishing has tried to shift the blame from their own arrogance, greed and shortsightedness and onto self-published authors who are finally getting the kinds of royalties they deserve. Expect the game to get dirtier as publishers feel the approaching extinction.

Christopher Wills said...

Great post Joe. You are so right when saying paper is only the delivery mechanism. This argument is strengthened when you consider that originally stories were created and transmitted in the oral mode by orators like Homer (not that one...) The oral tradition is still alive today in small pockets of the world. But that is a whole different subject.
Reference the book; you might have seen this but if not it is very funny. http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=pdkucf6wxU4 Enjoy

JD Holiday said...

Great article! Love how you think, JA!
~JD Holiday
http://www.thebookgarden.net

Thom said...

Joe:

Your comment about how writers have come to expect to be exploited, even want to be exploited--all in the name of approval from publishers--got me thinking about other writers who create for different mediums, namely film and television.

I've never been published by a big 6 publisher, but I have been produced by television networks and employed by big Hollywood studios.

But the approval I felt as a creative artist was not coming from my employers, it was coming from my UNION.

Since I'm 58, perhaps my view of Unions is different that yours; but I have tremendous pride and affirmation in having achieved a level of professionalism that comes with being a member of WGA. And even though the possibility of exploitation by management is always present (witness the fight over compensation over digital/new media you mentioned in the post, and our subsequent strike,) the union is always there to step in and stand strong for us.

I felt the same way when I got my first Actor's Equity and Screen Actor's Guild cards: I was affirmed, I had arrived, I was a pro.

Maybe, it's time for an Indie Writer's Guild. I'm not sure younger writers, who would be so important to such a cause, understand, in these days of union bashing, how important such an institution can be.

But it would be a whole lot better to seek your approval from a union that protects you, than from an employer that exploits you.

Joe Konrath said...

It's nice to get some anonymous comments that are thought provoking rather than vapid.

Trains do very well in many other nations, more efficient than cars or planes in many contexts.

I believe you're missing the essence of my argument. I'm saying that Union Pacific lost shipping and travel business to motor vehicles. What UP should have done was invest in cars, or start building their own. They forgot what business they were in, and lost business.

As much as publishers are no longer needed, neither is Amazon, and the longer indies worship Amazon (and yes, many do, even those claiming Amazon Agnosticism), the more exploitative they will become. DRM and Kindles are the new contract clauses.

DRM isn't Amazon's baby. The publishers insist on it. My Amazon ebooks don't have DRM.

We don't need Kindles. We don't need Amazon. The internet and a growing host of tablets and apps provide EVERYTHING Amazon could, without the loss of freedom. If you can produce an ebook and market it in the digital age, you can set up your own shop and sell your own ebooks. Cut out the middleman.

Amazon has a store where everyone wants to shop. And the store is in the customer's lap. That makes it very easy to reach a huge reader base. Unlike the world wide web, Amazon's kindle focuses the market.

When you can delete the middleman and the ecosystem is still viable the middleman is a dinosaur waiting for a meteor

I agree. But in Amazon's case, they are a middleman with a great online store and a great ereading device. That makes my job reaching readers easier, faster, and more profitable than if I go it alone.

William Lee said...

"As much as publishers are no longer needed, neither is Amazon...."

You bring up a welcome point about Amazon, and Joe responds accurately (to my mind) that Amazon has the platform that none of us probably do. Perhaps this blog (at least in the comments section), has become too much of an Amazon love-fest, but as long as they're giving me at least 30% more sales than I can get off my own site traffic (that's a rough 30%, based on their cut but ignoring my own store setup costs), they're the best option for me now. That said, it seems to me that another eventual target in this shift in the book business will be that 30%. If one of the main points of this article is "know your business", Amazon seems more like a fulfillment service to me, and if I'm selling widgets, they'll sell and even stock those widgets for a lot less than 30%. So although I love Amazon, I do think they look like less of a savior when you compare them to something other than publishers. Hell, just about any business looks good compared to those Big 6 (a term that will be used only with irony very soon).

Alda said...

The best books tell you things you already know - and the same goes for the best blog posts. There are few things I enjoy more than a good rant supported by solid facts and common sense, and this is the best I've read in a long time. Thanks for the post!

Kristine Kathryn Rusch said...

Great post, Joe. I haven't had a chance to go through all the comments, but let me say this to those who are lamenting mainstream reviews. And let me say it as an award-winning, very well reviewed writer. To paraphrase John Grisham, if I've written a book that all the critics love, I've done something wrong. Yep. Mainstream reviews mean nada--not even to traditional publishing. All that matters is whether readers like your books. And believe me, if your book is good, readers will find you. So stop complaining about the lack of a review, and write the next really good book. (Also, why, why, why does indie publishing only mean e-publishing? With the POD services and their excellent distribution, indie writers can create paper books as well.)

wannabuy said...

@Joe:"As for self-pubbing, I have over 30 self-pubbed titles, with several more coming out this year. Barry's latest self-pub ebook will be live in a few days.

But anyone with a brain would realize that publishing with Amazon doesn't negate any point I've ever made"

That is the amazing thing of no 'noncompete' clauses. It isn't 'either or' with Amazon as it is with some big6.

Authors, ask 'will your customers be digital within five years.' For the big6 are *very* unlikely to ever price your ebook right and your readers will blame *you* for overpriced works. Works you will *never* have control over.

Neil

Archangel said...

@Thom: as a member of sublocal af of l, cio, writers union for many years, and many of my elders (now passed) in terrible struggles to join and maintain unions for safety in factories and just wages, I love that you said this, it's stalwart 'old school' and true to those who remember the 'bad old days' before unions in many many areas of employ. There is a strong odor of similarity in the author-employer axis of our times, but issues arent safety. Perhaps if they were, pittance wages too, would have been more of a wake up call for many more. Thanks.

"Maybe, it's time for an Indie Writer's Guild. I'm not sure younger writers, who would be so important to such a cause, understand, in these days of union bashing, how important such an institution can be.

"Maybe, it's time for an Indie Writer's Guild. I'm not sure younger writers, who would be so important to such a cause, understand, in these days of union bashing, how important such an institution can be.

"But it would be a whole lot better to seek your approval from a union that protects you, than from an employer that exploits you."

Anonymous said...

Rob Gregory Browne said... "As someone pointed out to me on Facebook, there's a solution to this: you put your Kindle into a ziplock bag when you bathe and it's better protected than a paperback."

Yes, the wife told me as much but it's not the same. Reading through plastic is not the same. As well, you really can't treat your reading device rough as you can a paperback. I love my e-reader but it has a different feel than a paperback book.

I think the e-reader is better than a hard cover, never been easy to read one of those, not for me.

The Phantom Husband

Jill James said...

I've never understood the book in the bathtub thing. Maybe a magazine, but I wouldn't want to drop a paperback into the tub either.

Anonymous said...

I'm leaving this as anon only because I've been brought up not to talk about how much I earn. I would like to know if you believe that someone like me who makes gets an $125,000 plus advance is being exploited? - Anon about advances

Karen McQuestion said...

Brilliant as usual, Joe!

When I got to this line: Then Amazon created the Kindle, --I swear the sun came out from behind a cloud and cast a beam right through the window of my home office. And then I heard angels singing.

I saw an interview with Ted Turner recently where he talked about creating CNN. He said that the established networks--CBS, NBC, and ABC, were in a better position to develop a cable news network, but that none of them did. They were all too busy fighting cable (which they saw as a threat to their business model), when they should have been trying to figure out how to use it to their advantage. Sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious...

Anonymous said...

Ernie Zelinski said:
"Obviously, you take delight in running down traditional publishers and also in giving people hope (mainly false hope) about being successful in their self-publishing efforts. "

Well, I don't see Joe Konrath giving people false hope. He has said more than once : write well. He has also said more than once: be lucky.

Actually, come to think of it, luck might have less an effect now than before. In the days when an author could only publish through dead tree publishers, the author might have had the bad luck of her book coming out during an economic downturn, or when terrorists flew planes into buildings. Because of poor sales, the publisher would end the print run.

Today, if an ebook doesn't sell well immediately, it is still possible for it to sell well later, because an ebook is "out there" forever.

I follow book review sites, such as amazon's, and also goodreads.com.
It is a wonderful thing to observe fabulous books that were published years ago being read on ereaders today.

Jay Allan said...

Piracy is such an overblown issue. I've read message boards where people who are still working on selling their first 100 books are paranoid that one is getting stolen from them somehow.

This issue has been mis-characterized for decades by software and other companies who persist in pretending that every pirated copy is a lost full-price sale. Nonsense. Most of them wouldn't be sales at all.

In addition, to the extent that piracy leads to more distribution it can add sales. Let's say someone reads a pirated copy of your book, likes it, and then buys your other ten.

I very distinctly remember two of my friends buying a computer game together that neither was willing to pay the $60 for alone. They copied it so both could play, but if they hadn't then the publisher would have had one LESS sale.

I also remember pictures of the kids who wrote Doom driving their Ferraris after having given away millions of copies and selling upgraded versions.

Distribution and exposure are worth far more than staying up all night worrying that someone cheated you out of $2.10.

T.A.K. said...

To anonymous with $125,000 advances: Whether you are being exploited depends on what you could be earning on your own, right?

I do both. I publish traditionally and I self-publish. I still "chase legacy deals" as Joe calls them because I earn more money through my traditional deals. I am making some money self-publishing, but I still need the advances. Maybe one day this will change.

I am doing both, though, to learn the ropes, and I do enjoy this blog.

Joshua Simcox said...

"Konrath has ZERO distribution in brick and mortar bookstores. Don't believe me? Go into any store in your area, please. Ask for any Konrath title in stock. I dare you."

Sadly, that's true. I haven't seen a Konrath title in a chain bookstore since '04, back when I purchased "Whiskey Sour" in paperback. But the Kilborn book, "Afraid", was everywhere after it was published. Killer distribution for that title.

The latest issue of "Writer's Digest" is dedicated almost exclusively to self-pubbing. Fangoria is now reviewing self-pubbed titles alongside legacy titles. 20th Century Fox and the Scott brothers just optioned a self-published novella for a major movie.

This shit is going mainstream. Love it or hate it, there's no reason to fight it any longer...

--Joshua

Anonymous said...

"I'm leaving this as anon only because I've been brought up not to talk about how much I earn. I would like to know if you believe that someone like me who makes gets an $125,000 plus advance is being exploited? - Anon about advances"

Yes. (a) that is probably all the $$ you will ever see on that title and you will never see the rights to that book again (b) I earned $200,000 in year 1 of my last self-pubbed release. I have nothing to earn out, and I will keep ringing that cash register FOREVER. Do you believe your a novel-length work of yours is only worth $125K? If you do, then congrats on the sale! It's all relative, right?

Anonymous said...

Do you know what I dislike more than anything? Evangelicals and fundamentalists. Both of these types can be found in any part of the political spectrum and what you find amongst them are two unuseful things: righteousness and certainty.

So when you talk about the ways in which ebooks are useful for writers and self publishing can be useful for writers, I think that's great. It's absolutely true, even if the ratio of using self-publishing to more traditional models will and should vary from writer to writer.

But when you go off on a rant like this and become a fanatic because for whatever reason you've decided your way is the One True Way...I call bullshit.

There are very real and useful advantages to writers in the existing traditional system, and while some logic above is most definitely applicable to your situation...it is not across-the-board applicable to every writer or even every section of the publishing industry.

This is the classic mistake you see writers make: "I have had this experience, therefore this experience is The Experience."

And as a result what you're doing is actually harmful, whereas if you just stuck to the specifics of how this approach is useful to you--great!

Jeff

Anonymous said...

Experience counts for a lot as data can be gathered through experience.

What counts even more than experience are facts and logic.

Righteousness and certainty are always useful.

Being wrong and uncertain leads to chaos and criminals running unchecked.

Anonymous said...

A great deal of this exploitation/control has been built on the idea that only what is traditionally published has any merit. Given that 99.9% of writers were never going to get trad publishing contracts, for the reasons Joe describes, the idea that only what is published can be any good is ridiculous. Writers have been brainwashed into believing and accepting this. Even as e-publishing arrived writers were/are still saying they needed the 'validation' of a trad publishing acceptance.

Another area where writers accept abuse for the whole of their industry is the treatment by agents and publishers; what other business takes six months to a year to respond to queries and quite often does not bother to respond at all. Alongside this they demand no multiple submissions, so you'd be dead before you got the MS to all the publishers. Why do agents feel it is appropriate to criticize and ridicule writers for failing in any aspect of the submission process, while behaving less than professionally themselves?

For too long writers have been labelled, needy second class nutcases. It was a sickening process to observe and whatever happens with the new industry it's good to see the back of the old one.

Ellis Jackson said...

Great post as always, but it highlights something I've not understood about your backing for the wholesale model for some time. You rightly say that Amazon etc are empowering writers, yet you back a system where indie writers give away one of their most powerful tools: the ability to set the price of their works. Instead you are willing - nay, clamouring - to hand that power to Amazon instead.

The current system may not be the best for the reader (I say may, because I don't know the actual figures), but in my estimation the agency model is best for the indie author. Indie authors -be they big like you, or small like me, can always undercut the publishers, giving us a powerful marketing tool to sell our work. If we give that power to Amazon they could easily increase the price of your book to match that of Random House's latest work, and where you could compete on price, you now can't. Instead you have to compete on marketing, and Random house will win that one, as they have the money to do it right. In the same way Amazon selling Random House's offering at a loss will still benefit Random House under the wholesale model, and they will still profit.

I know you've often said in the past that selling ebooks isn't a zero sum game, and that there is no longer an either/or choice open to the buyer, but I strongly believe that indie authors need price to compete on, at least at first, until they gain readers and become more established. While wholesale is clearly the best for the publisher (and whichever writers are still with publishers), the indie model works best for the indie author like me, as it allows me to undercut all the published writers while I build my readership, and it is best for you, as it gives you complete control over your work, from writing to editing to cover art to price. For years you have talked about how you like having control over your books - why would you willingly hand the last element of control over to Amazon?

Anyway, my thoughts, badly strung together as usual. My books are better, honest...

Dennis (DW) Bergendorf said...

I disagree with you to a certain extent on the railroads. The guys who laid the rail (the gandy dancers) were predominantly white, with some Chinese indentured servants thrown in. And trucks are not cheaper, but are far more convenient in an age of "just in time delivery."

Joe Konrath said...

There are very real and useful advantages to writers in the existing traditional system

Name them.

You're taking me to task for tone, but avoided responding to any of my points. Then you make zero points to back up your position.

I've said, multiple times, that all writers have to set goals for themselves based on what they want. That could indeed lead a writer to seek a legacy publisher.

But lots of people have lots of stupid goals that aren't in their best interests. Giving up 70% for 17.5% is pretty stupid.

So please give me your list of legacy advantages. Then I'll help you understand why they aren't advantages at all.

MJRose said...

Like Barry says - its all a lottery - self or trad. And I do both and I do WAY better with the trad lottery.

Also I am not that afraid of getting rights back. My agency has been able to get all the rights back I've wanted.

Even if I double my self sales it will still take me more than 5 years to get to my advance - if that is- I can double my self sales.

My self sales started off good but have seriously slowed in the last six months no matter what I try.

When Amazon gives me a push they rebound but they haven't given me one lately.

Its your playground and you can call me stupid if you want but- we're all creative people with different goals, needs and reason for making the choices we make - can't we can the name calling?

Do we need to start drawing lines between each other?

T.A.K. said...

Hi, Joe,

Advantages to traditional publishing? Maybe not for genre fiction, but what about children's hardcover books aimed at schools and libraries? I have one under contract. The day will come when amazon KDP will replace those, but that day isn't here yet. Children's librarians still select their books based on reviews in school library journal.

Children's books have always been divided into books children choose for themselves (think the fun stuff with goosebumps or diapers in the titles) and the books selected for them by teachers, librarians, and grandparents. Self-publishing works for the fun stuff, but less so for the educational stuff.

Traditional publishing will probably remain for niche books. Ebooks can't replace coffee table art books, for example.

Joe Konrath said...

Even if I double my self sales it will still take me more than 5 years to get to my advance - if that is- I can double my self sales.

If you expect to live longer than 5 years, why wouldn't you go for what will ultimately earn you more money? I'd rather have a million dollars in 2020 than $100k today.

You've been lucky to get your rights back. I'm doubtful I'll get mine back, unless something drastic happens. If I had those rights, I'd be tripling my income. And I'm one of the lucky few who has earned out his advances.

If you can get huge money from a publisher, go for it. But do the math.

Back in 2011, I wrote this in a blog post:

I just got my royalty statement for AFRAID (pubbed by Hachetter). It has made $60k since 2009.

The two books Hachette rejected, TRAPPED and ENDURANCE, have made $160k since 2010.


I won't get the rights to AFRAID back. And it will keep earning a pittance compared to my other books. Extrapolate this profit chasm for thirty more years, and I'll have literally missed out on millions of dollars in income.

can't we can the name calling?

Two things. First, I only call people stupid when they act stupid. If they don't want to be called an idiot, they need to stop acting like an idiot.

Second, you have an advertising background, MJ. You understand marketing and publicity.

Let's assume I do as well.

So why would I call people names on my blog?

Joe Konrath said...

but what about children's hardcover books aimed at schools and libraries?

Give it a few years.

"Class, take out your ereaders and flip to page 17 of The Fuzzy Caterpillar Eats Its Young. Midge, start reading aloud at the top of the page."

And:

"Mom! Can we go to the library! All the ebooks on my Kindle have expired, and I need to check out more!"

I just read somewhere that children prefer ereaders. Eventually there will be a child-proof ereader.

Do you read my comments, Amazon? Talk to Fisher-Price. Partner up. Create a kid-friendly Kindle made of bright, indestructible plastic with round corners and a child-proof code for parents.

T.A.K. said...

Joe, I totally agree that in a few years, or maybe sooner, children's educational material can go self-pubbed, particularly for authors with credentials.

I started self pubbing to learn the ropes so when the revolution hits other areas, such as childrens educational, I will be ready.

Patty G. Henderson said...

Believe it or not, many authors with a big contract and authors who strive and still struggle for a big contract, continue to hold self-publishing with disdain and something that only 'losers" or less worthy would contemplate.

I hear it all the time. Sigh.

Patty G. Henderson
www.pattyghenderson.com

MJRose said...

Joe, I hope I live longer than 5 years:)

Respectfully, you know I am not arguing against self pubbing. Or for tradtional publishing.

I was just pointing out its really not one size fits all.

But as to your question.

I can't assume that after 5 years I'll make more on that book.

What if my self pubbed sales go down?

100K (since you picked that figure) today or maybe more than that after 5 years? Or maybe less than that after 5 years?

Bird in the hand... right?

There are other reasons for someone to want 100K from a trad publisher today instead of assuming that they will be able to make more than that on their own one day.

The advance system can allow an author to make a living while writing. And some authors would be assured an X sized income.

Especially because back list books often do continue to earn royalties. Some of my back list titles earn more royalties per year than I earn with on self pubbed titles.

Joe Konrath said...

What if my self pubbed sales go down?

In the summer, ebook sales are down. It's been like that the last four years. They go back up in the fall.

Slowly but surely we're entering a global marketplace. The more ebooks you have available, the more money you'll be able to make. Having your rights tied up by a publisher (who does a poor job of exploiting those rights via high prices, low royalties, long publication lead times, and not entering foreign markets even when they have worldwide) is basically robbing money from your future self.

We know that even a $100k advance is split up into three or four payments. We also know, unless the publisher makes it a lead title, it is unlikely to earn out, ever. Which means you made $85k (after agent commission) and you'll never see another cent.

That's just not smart business, MJ. I've lived advance to advance before. Never again.

MJRose said...

Joe, you are right if we're talking about books that never earn out... and authors who sell their foreign rights to publishers.. and advances that are hard to live on.

But there are also authors whose books do earn out, who don't sell their foreign rights and advances that are more enough to live on.

I simply, respectfully wanted to make the point that one size doesn't fit all.

Joe Konrath said...

But there are also authors whose books do earn out, who don't sell their foreign rights and advances that are more enough to live on.

Let's assume ebooks will become the dominant media for reading. According to my royalty statements, my legacy ebooks sell many times the amount of my print.

With a $100k advance, an ebook priced at $6.99 (which is too high, by the way) will earn the author $1.22 per copy.

That ebook will have to sell over 80,000 copies to earn out the advance--unlikely at $6.99, even over many years.

But I can (and have) made over $100k each on five of my self-pubbed ebooks, selling at $2.99, in less that three years. I only had to sell 50k copies of each to do so.

So you get a $100k advance, and it takes, if you're lucky, ten to fifteen years to earn out before you start making royalties.

In that time I'll have made between $300k and $600k for my single title.

Publishers haven't shown they can sell ebooks. Last I hear, paper sell through was only 20-30%, and paper sales are dwindling.

Giving your e-rights to a publisher, even with a six figure advance, is a really bad idea.

MJRose said...

With the sales numbers, and the situation you're quoting you're right.

But there are other books with different numbers where the math is different than your situation.

That's all I'm saying.

There are many authors - me included whose sell through is double or triple 20 -30%. Many have 100% sell throughs and go back to press. And not all are bestsellers.

And there are many authors, me included, who are not seeing the kind of ebook sales on our self pubbed books that you are.

You mentioned summer slowing - I actually did better in the summer - so its not about season for me. Its more about Amazon giving the book a marketing push or not.

Listen, I'm not saying the trad system isn't flawed - it is. But every system is flawed. And I'm not saying every author is better off with trad deals. They aren't.

I was posting here in response to your comment that authors were stupid to sign trad deals and wanted to say that its not all black and white.

Anonymous said...

"I believe you're missing the essence of my argument. I'm saying that Union Pacific lost shipping and travel business to motor vehicles. What UP should have done was invest in cars, or start building their own. They forgot what business they were in, and lost business."

If this was your point, I still don't think it applies well. Given the investment in railroads, it would have been far harder for UP to become truck-based than for something totally new, which could build a new kind of business from the ground up, to essentially come along. When a disruptive technology comes along, the reality is that the old ways heavily invested in capital pretty much have to die off (there are rare exceptions). And there is a lot of pain there. Livelihoods. Cultures. Entire towns or regions.

The reason I don't think this applies in this cases is that the publishers are NOT welded to a technology. They don't have the presses; they outsource. They are managers of content, essentially. So, they SHOULD be able to switch over to digital and modify their business model.

The fact that they aren't is therefore an even bigger tragedy, IMO. There are many good people in traditional publishing, who love books, work their asses off to find and produce good books, from agents to editors. There are of course sharks, too, as there are everywhere. But when the ship goes down, which it will, the waters won't care whether you were good or evil.

Which brings me to

"DRM isn't Amazon's baby. The publishers insist on it. My Amazon ebooks don't have DRM."

The publishers are shooting themselves in the foot with this, because they are handing Amazon the ammo to fill their Kindles with, and Amazon will be very happy to pull that trigger.

"But in Amazon's case, they are a middleman with a great online store and a great ereading device."

Sure, and perhaps they are where they are for a combination of sweat, timing, and quality. Or perhaps there is some old school strangulation of competition going on as well. I am less sanguine about market dominance.

Joe Konrath said...

I was posting here in response to your comment that authors were stupid to sign trad deals and wanted to say that its not all black and white.

Actually, the point I believe you're making is it isn't black and white in the short term.

In the long term, it is black and white. "You'll make more money self-publishing" is about as absolute a statement that can be made. Even in cases of uber bestsellers. But if you get a five mil advance, it might take sixty years at current sales rates to make as much on your own. But eventually you will make that much. Ebooks are forever.

If you can make "walk away money" from a pub, take it. I've said this many times. Take the huge advance, realize you'll never get the rights back, then move on.

But that's only applicable to very few bestsellers.

When I first began to realize a writer could make more on their own, I was only making a few grand a month via self-pubbing. I saw the numbers then.

Since then, the numbers have steadily risen. Comparing books to other media technologies, I'm confident this trend will continue. Only the future will tell if I'm right, but reading my blog going back to 2005, I've been right about an awful lot.

If you're entirely aware of what you're doing, and potentially giving up, when you sign a legacy deal, that is your choice. But I'd bet big money that within five years you'll be kicking yourself for not holding onto your rights.

When the choice is between a book earning forever, and a book earning a nice advance, forever is the smarter move, even if forever has a slow start.

Joe Konrath said...

When a disruptive technology comes along, the reality is that the old ways heavily invested in capital pretty much have to die off (there are rare exceptions)

I know. I read Christensen. But Seagate bought Sundisk. It can be bottom up if profit us used to buy competitive start-ups.

Random House should buy Smashwords. Then upload their entire catalog into it. Then they should partner with the floundering Sony and update their ereader.

Or perhaps there is some old school strangulation of competition going on as well.

It's a fine line between strangulation and innovating while outperforming.

Jay said...

Thank you, Joe, for writing about this topic. Wonderful to hear that there is a way out for you authors.

Joe Konrath said...

BTW, someone emailed me and asked why I never responded to this alleged fisk:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=244666

Actually, I did respond to that pinhead, a while ago.

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=6556720&postcount=519

Then I got banned. So I never went back to Absolutewrite. It's a shame that a few idiots prevent others from getting good information, but anyone who wants to hear what I have to say can come here.

JDuncan said...

Joe, as for it being a rather black and white issue, I have to agree for the most part. Authors will make more money per book through self-publishing. It isn't so black and white that authors will sell enough to make money self-publishing. It's something of a crapshoot no matter which way you go. There's risk on all sides.

So, for me, to say it's stupid to go traditional, is a bit misleading. There are no guarantees. One still has to be willing and able to invest in your work in order to have a good shot at making it work. Some writers aren't at that point. I'm not. I can't afford the services needed to put out the best possible product. At some point I hope to be, because I do want to dig into this whole self-publishing thing. At this point it's still too much of a risk.

So to say it's black and white, one has to take that with a little grain of salt. It's not an easy thing to do if you want to do it right. Traditional has issues to be sure. We aren't paid fairly, but if you want to take the risks involved in self-publishing, I do believe it's worth pursuing because it can help leverage the ability to invest in your own work and have a reasonable chance of success on your own.

Malcolm said...

I don't know, Joe, when the writers went on Strike against the TV networks to get a better deal for digital, they all got canned. And replaced by kids. So maybe some caution was in order.

Ignasi said...

Thanks for the great post. I agree with you, at least 95% of the way. Certainly, publishing is a dying pig. But I am not too sure about the revolution of the horses that you are hinting at.

I mean, let's face it: there are still 10 writers for every reader in the world. Even if the gatekeepers are gone, you still need some kind of middlemen to reach the readers. Of course, you could market yourself, and I know many people are doing this successfully. But most authors are not marketeers, they just want to write. And the publisher might still be able to add some value in the process. So I guess some kind of recomposition of the middlemen will take place, maybe through content & media distribution websites, who knows?

I have a question, though. Is it still 25% the industry standard for ebook royalties? Let's say I am a publisher (which I am not) and want to publish somebody else's ebook and distribute it through Amazon, etc. Would a 75%-25% split of the net profit be fair? It doesn't look to me. I would think a 50%-50% is more fair. But standards, like jurisprudence, tend to have some weight in negotiations. Could you point me to resources that give precise information on current standards and practices? Thanks a lot for the information!

Raven J Maaka-Louriero said...

What is the price difference between getting published by an actual publisher versus self-publishing?