Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Author Barry Eisler and Literary Agent Robert Gottlieb and an Open Invitation to Debate

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Joe: Barry Eisler posted this on The Bookseller recently. It's a back and forth with Trident Media chairman and literary agent Robert Gottlieb, and I felt it was worth sharing here.


Before we start, I want to praise Mr. Gottlieb for commenting on this topic in a public forum. It's rare for a prominent industry professional (and Trident is inarguably one of the best and most prominent literary agencies on the planet) to actually engage someone on the topic of ebooks and publishing, which many seem afraid to do. 

Barry: Literary agent Robert Gottlieb was kind enough to leave a comment in response to an interview Porter Anderson did with me for The Bookseller last week.  While the comment wasn’t particularly responsive to what Porter and I discussed, it did raise some interesting related points that struck me as worthy of a detailed response.  I thought I’d address that response directly to Robert, in the hope that further engagement might prove useful and interesting to authors, agents, and others in the book biz.  Robert, your comments in italics; my responses interpolated.

Robert: Early on in the ebook environment some authors thought it was the only way to go.

Barry: Could you name the authors who were advocating ebooks as “the only way to go”?  While many authors (I would include myself in their number) have over time devoted increasing marketing resources to digital rather than to paper because more and more of their sales are in digital, I don’t know of any author who has claimed paper should be outright avoided.  Even Joe Konrath, as high-profile a proponent of the revolution in publishing as I know of, claims only that for many authors paper is becoming a subsidiary right, like foreign language or film rights (note that Konrath first blogged about this almost four years ago.  He’s a prescient guy and I hope lots of agents read his blog).  But it doesn’t follow from this that anyone should abandon paper, any more than anyone should abandon digital, and in fact Joe (to stay with just this one example) makes tens of thousands of dollars a year from paper sales.  Why would he or anyone else advocate giving up a potentially lucrative source of revenue?

I note all this because the very first sentence of your comment struck me as a straw man, and therefore not a productive way to introduce your thoughts.  If I’m wrong, of course, and you can name some authors (citations and exact quotes would be helpful) who have declared digital “the only way to go,” I’d be grateful because I, too, would want to do what I could to push back against such wrong-headed advice.

Robert: A problem with Thomas & Mercer is that they can’t really do much on the print side of the equation. They are very good in the ebook publishing space.

Barry: I don’t think anyone would much dispute that T&M’s strength is in online sales, and particularly in digital (I’ve published two novels and two short works with T&M myself, and have been extremely happy with the results).  But it’s telling that you would describe T&M’s strength in online and digital as a “problem.”  Certainly for an author whose books sell in a ratio of, say, 99% brick-&-mortar/paper and 1% online/digital, T&M’s strengths and weaknesses would represent an unappealing mix.  But for an author whose books sold in the opposite ratio, T&M would be a very attractive publisher, indeed, while a legacy publisher would be a terrible fit.  I’m sure you know that different authors sell in different ratios, with some more heavily represented in paper/brick & mortar and others more heavily represented in digital/online, so you should know that what you describe as a “problem” is for many authors exactly the opposite — a solution.

So the more relevant question — the question discussion of which is likely to prove most useful to authors trying to decide what form of publishing is best for them — is, “What are the various strengths and weaknesses of the various publishing avenues newly available to authors, and how do those strengths and weaknesses fit with your books, your goals, your needs?”  That’s a discussion I would welcome, and I’ll bet other authors would find it beneficial, too.

Robert: Authors need more than distribution in one channel of publishing.

Barry: Well, authors don’t really “need” any particular channel.  That said, it’s certainly desirable to have more channels, because each additional channel represents a potential benefit, both in terms of direct revenues and in less direct ways, such as overall brand awareness.  But this raises a question you don’t discuss, which is:  how much should authors pay for those benefits?  An author whose sales ratio is heavily weighted toward paper might not mind much if she receives only 25% in digital royalties, because the low digital royalty would be an acceptable price to pay for the opportunity to leverage legacy publishing’s strength in paper channels.  But an author whose sales are primarily digital might legitimately wonder why she should give a legacy publisher such a large cut of digital revenues.  After all, she doesn’t need a legacy publisher for digital distribution, a legacy publisher will publish her book much later than she would be able to publish it herself, and she’s not selling much in paper, anyway.  Not to mention the various other reasons an author with a large digital-to-paper sales ratio might be leery of legacy publishing.

The thing to remember is this:  there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for authors.  Different authors have different needs, and, depending on those needs, different publishing services will be worth different premiums.  Assuming otherwise is apt to be a disservice for the thousands of authors who don’t fit the single mix you assume is right for everyone.

Robert: I advise authors that the more channels of publishing you are in the greater your reading audience will be now and in the future.  That includes the international markets as well.

Barry: True enough, other things being equal.  But things aren’t equal.  Access to the various channels costs different amounts in different places, and again for whatever reason you act as though these channels are available for free (or at any rate that cost is irrelevant) and that they all represent the same value to all authors.

Robert: That is how opportunity is created for growth in publishing.

Barry: That, and nothing else?  And again:  why do you discuss only the opportunity, but never the opportunity cost?  Discussing the potential benefits of a service isn’t particularly helpful if you don’t also discuss price.

This is just common sense, is it not?  Telling someone how much she stands to benefit from a product or service without also discussing what that product or service is going to cost her is meaningless.  If an insurance salesperson tried to sell you on a policy with such-and-such a payout, for example, would you immediately say, “Hell yes, sign me up!”?  Or would you need to first consider how much you yourself needed that particular policy, and how much you would be charged for that policy, before being able to make an intelligent decision?

Robert: Nothing remains the same and the end of traditional publishers as articulated by many was dead wrong.

Barry: I don’t know why you would claim that “nothing remains the same.”  Countless things remain the same.  Legacy publishers still pay digital royalties at the same lockstep rate of 25%, still pay their authors only twice a year, still insist on life-of-copyright licenses, still issue royalty statements as impenetrable as the Dead Sea Scrolls, still insist on draconian rights lock-ups and anti-compeititon clauses.  Books are still sold through traditional brick-and-mortar channels, still bought and enjoyed in paper.  A Martian revisiting the earth after a ten-year hiatus might reasonably conclude that more is the same in the book business than has changed.

As for the end of traditional publishers being dead wrong, don’t you feel it’s a bit early to be sanguine?  I certainly hope publishers will read and implement the lessons of Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma and I hope they’ll listen to Hugh Howey and Joe Konrath, too (as I’ve said many times, when someone is sick, you don’t want them to die, you want them to get well).  But so far I don’t see much evidence of an onset of progressive and enlightened business practices in the legacy world (for example, see the list of some of the countless things that a Martian would find the same in the paragraph above).  Moreover:  Borders is gone and B&N is in trouble.  Legacy publishing’s current health is largely the result of the industry’s practice of paying authors so little in digital and keeping so much for themselves (a practice that for me always calls to mind the image of Wile E. Coyote racing off the cliff and thinking all is well because he’s running on air… until he looks down).  See, for example, this excellent breakdown of Harper Collins’ own numbers:

$27.99 hardcover generates $5.67 profit to publisher and $4.20 royalty to author

$14.99 agency priced e-book generates $7.87 profit to publisher and $2.62 royalty to author.

So, in other words, at these average price points, every time a hardcover sale is replaced by an e-book sale, the publisher makes $2.20 more per copy and the author makes $1.58 less.  If the author made the same $4.20 royalty on the e-book sale as he/she would have on a hardcover, the publisher would STILL be making an improved profit of $6.28.

We have all heard the additional argument:  that for a very large percentage of authors this is irrelevant since their advances don’t earn out– effectively raising their per unit royalty. That may be true, but it logically leads to what seems to me the most unfair aspect of all:  That, therefore, the only authors that are financially punished by this system are the ones whose books perform very well.  The ones whose books earn out.  The big name authors and the celebrities whose books don’t perform to expectation are untouched; the author who gets a reasonable advance and whose book sells much better than expected are the ones who suffer the greatest loss.

How can anyone in this industry see that as defensible?

(If the link above is broken, try this one)

If publishers lose more paper retail sales channels, and if digital continues to grow (more thoughts on this below), the 70% digital royalty available to authors though self-publishing is likely to entice increasing numbers of authors to go the indie route.  Will this happen?  If so, to what extent?  And when?  I’m not sure, but dismissing concerns about the long-term viability of legacy publishing’s current business practices as “dead wrong” strikes me as whistling past the graveyard rather than pausing to take a close look at what’s going on inside it.

Robert: Some publishers have thrived and made the adjustments to the new environment and others have indeed struggled.  It took a while for most major trade houses to get their footing as ebooks substantially changed the publishing landscape.  It is more like a layering process as each format finds space within the publishing layers.  Traditional publishers still have a ways to go but they are pressing forward.

Barry: I don’t have any material objections to any of this, most of which strikes me as so general as to be anodyne.  I will note that if “it took a while for most major trade houses to get their footing” in digital, it might be because their primary response to the advent of ebooks was price collusion and double deletion of pesky incriminating emails.  If collusion is your primary response to changes in your industry, then yes, you might find yourself swaying around on the deck for a bit before gaining some digital sea legs.  I don’t really understand what it means to publish in layers, but that could be because I’m not a legacy publisher.  I don’t doubt that publishers are “pressing forward,” though I think I’m less confident than you that they’re pressing in the right direction.  Publishing revolutionary Hugh Howie has some excellent thoughts on the directions publishers might usefully press forward in; I highly recommend it.  Certainly legacy publishers might have gotten their digital footing a lot sooner if, rather than attempting to fix prices, they had heeded what Joe Konrath has been advising for years.  Here he is in January 2010, March 2010, September 2010, and even all the way back in 2007 at a speech at Google, offering free, potentially life-saving advice to publishers that’s still incredibly relevant.

Robert: Now the stats show ebook sales slowing.  That’s maybe because the initial growth which started at zero had a one way trajectory.  A lot in the ebook space depends on innovation with the hardware as well as pricing.  As prices rise that will also have an impact on ebook sales and history shows prices do move up more often than down.

Barry: There is so much in this paragraph that’s misleading or outright wrong, I’m going to take it one sentence at a time.  So:

Robert: Now the stats show ebook sales slowing.

Barry: This is at best a highly misleading way of describing what’s really happening, which is that the growth of ebook sales is slowing.  Put more simply and accurately:  ebook sales are not slowing, they are growing.  Here, from Publishers Weekly:  “Total e-book sales rose 44.2% in 2012, to $3.04 billion. The gain in e-book sales offset a flat performance by print sales which held virtually even at $12 billion between 2011 and 2012.”  And here, from Futurebook   “If we look at these particular stats from Publishers Weekly, for this segment, sales of e-books rose to $2.07 billion from $869 million as units increased 210% to 388 million.”

There’s more:  in December 2013, Amazon revealed that a quarter of US ebook sales were by indies.  The numbers for B&N’s Nook are similar.  Hachette and HarperCollins both report that ebook revenues are increasing — indeed, by 40% for Hachette (of course, now we know why).

Most astonishing of all is that missing from these figures demonstrating a still dramatically growing market are indie figures, because data is collected only from major publishers.  That’s right:  the ebook market is still growing even when measured without including indie published books.

Calling this kind of continued explosive growth “slowing” is like saying a car that went from 50 miles an hour to 100 and then to 130 is “slowing” because since it hit 100 mph its speed only increased by 30 percent.  Would you honestly describe a car that just accelerated from 100 to 130 mph as “slowing”?  Because that’s what you just did with the ebook market.

(In fairness, there is a rich tradition among establishments of changing the meaning of words to suit the establishment’s purposes.  See, for example, this excellent guide to the NSA’s Humpty-Dumpty definitions of everyday words like Collect, Relevant, Targeted, Incidental, Inadvertent, Minimize, and even No.  In describing continued dramatic growth as “slowing,” you are in august company.)

In fact, by the standards of any industry at any time, the numbers above represent continued hyper growth.  But because it’s slightly less hyper than it was in the previous year (as growth inevitably will be — it’s much easier to double your growth when you’re doing a million dollars in revenue than it is when you’re doing a billion — and again, even without including self-published books), establishment publishing is trying, whether out of ignorance or psychological denial or in an attempt at propaganda, to persuade authors (and perhaps themselves) that it’s all a “slowing.”  For anyone who might be taken in by this false meme, here are two excellent articles with actual data, appropriate graphs, and sound analysis.  There are many more — they’re not hard to find and it’s difficult to understand why you wouldn’t be aware of them.

Robert: That’s maybe because the initial growth which started at zero had a one way trajectory.

Barry: I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here — that sales can only improve when they start at zero?  Doesn’t this truism apply to everything?  And if you’re trying to say that the tremendous growth of ebooks is slowing in percentage terms because as a market gets bigger and bigger, continued growth represents a smaller percentage of the overall market, well, yes, that’s always true, and there’s nothing “maybe” about it.  It’s a law of business, as well as of math.  But it’s still growth — huge growth — and trying to frame such growth as “slowing” is unlikely to come across as honest and informed commentary.

Robert: A lot in the ebook space depends on innovation with the hardware as well as pricing.

Barry: On this we agree, but I think you might be misunderstanding the nature of innovation in the book world.  Paper is a fully mature technology:  there’s very little that can be done to improve it (although if Espresso book machines ever become widespread, they could decrease the cost of paper distribution, which would certainly be a positive development for paper books).  In contrast, digital readers are continually, dramatically improving in functionality even as they fall in price.  In other words, paper represents a static defense; digital, a dynamic offense.  And between a static defense and a dynamic offense, over time the outcome is never in doubt.  I wrote about this in more detail four years ago (Paper Earthworks and Digital Tides), and since then I’ve seen nothing but confirmation of my view.

Also:

Robert: As prices rise that will also have an impact on ebook sales and history shows prices do move up more often than down.

Barry: Can you cite even one technology or consumer product the price of which, adjusted for inflation and for increased features and other product improvements, has historically increased rather than decreased?  What happens instead is that features and functionality improve and prices drop.  Certainly this is exactly what’s been happening with digital readers and tablets, as anyone with even passing familiarity with the short history of the Kindle and the iPad knows.  In the face of all this, it’s not easy to understand why you would argue that history suggests prices of digital readers are likely to increase.

Well, here’s one possible explanation:  the one exception to the rule that consumer prices decrease over time is probably legacy-published books.  But this is the exception that proves the rule, because legacy publishing functions as a cartel, exploiting its lock on paper distribution channels to artificially inflate prices.  In the presence of actual competition, prices decrease, as they have for digital readers and tablets, and as they have for self-published books.  It may be your intimacy with the legacy publishing world that’s caused you to confuse its practices of artificially keeping consumer prices high with the fact that in normal consumer markets, prices tend to fall.  If so, you’re missing the most fundamental impact of digital on the publishing industry, which is that digital has broken legacy publishing’s lock on distribution and therefore its lock on pricing.  If legacy publishers are betting their business on the price of digital reader and digital book prices increasing, they’re badly in denial.  And as the saying goes, denial has no survival value.  Publishers need to approach the world realistically, and realism here means understanding that digital prices are not going to increase, and digital features are only going to improve.

Robert: When an author is solely vested in one format it is like type casting.

Barry: I suppose it could be, but really, isn’t this another straw man?  Because what author is vested solely in one format?  Can you name even one such person?

Publishing is not an either/or world anymore, and I don’t know any author who isn’t trying to leverage all available distribution channels.  So again, the question for authors isn’t, “Should I sell my books only in paper?” or “Should I sell my books only in digital?”  The question is, “How much should I spend and invest in the various channels available to me?  How much are each of the available channels worth to me?  What are my most effective routes into those channels?”  These are relevant, helpful, and important questions, and setting up a straw man about how no one should be solely vested in a single format does nothing but obscure them.

Robert: I’ve heard publishers worry that if an author does well at $1.99 will the public ever pay more?

Barry: Yes, “can I sell a low-priced product for more” is a legitimate concern for all books and for all authors, as it is for everything else.  Different brands will command different prices.  A few years ago, I saw Ken Follett’s book Fall of Giants published in digital at something like $21.00 (no discount — that was the purchase price).  Presumably Follett, an exceptionally strong brand, is maximizing his income at a $21.00 digital price point.  For most authors, a price like that would be way too high.  Every author needs to consider what per-unit price multiplied by volume will maximize his income.  Different authors will experiment in different ways with different books and arrive at different answers.  Reducing this complex and critical issue to something as narrow as publishers worrying about whether the public will pay more for an author whose previous success was achieved at $1.99 is not a particularly helpful approach.

Robert: It is hard to move into other formats successfully.

Barry: I’m not sure what you mean here.  Hard how?  Hard why?  What might make it easier?

Robert: Some have done it.  At Trident we represent authors who started as ebook original authors and have found great success in other formats as well.

Barry: Good news for Trident and for these other authors.  I’m not sure what it signifies, though, other than that Trident has had some success in getting self-published authors legacy contracts.  Not that this isn’t a potentially positive thing for all parties involved, of course, but what can other authors learn from it?

Robert: The more formats the greater the reach.  The greater the reach the more desirable an author is to a publisher.  Simply math.

Barry: Or to put it another way:  “If you achieve great success on your own, more people will then be motivated to help you succeed.”  AKA, “Nothing succeeds like success.”  Okay, as far as truisms go.  But why the assumption that the main metric and primary purpose of success in self-publishing is to become more desirable to a big publisher?  This is an exceptionally parochial view, and a particularly odd one given that it starts from a straw-man premise — it’s better to have more sales channels than fewer — that is entirely axiomatic, that no one would dispute, and that is completely in keeping with what all authors are in fact doing in various individually customized ways.  In fact, as shocking as I know this will sound in some establishment circles, there are thousands of authors who actually prefer self-publishing because of its far higher royalties, faster time-to-market, and scope for controlling packaging, marketing, and other business decisions.  Assuming all self-published authors secretly long for a legacy deal when they’re making so much money and are so happy without one is as antediluvian as the cliche “pajama-clad bloggers.”

Robert: Thomas and Mercer has already pushed back on the range of ebook royalties they once offered in order to get to a better profit position.

Barry: You’re doing it again.  You discuss potential benefits without discussing real costs.  And now you’re discussing how T&M has lowered some of its royalties without bothering to compare T&M royalties with those of legacy publishers.  And legacy publisher digital royalties are still much lower.

(Maybe this is like ebook sales “slowing”?  Certain T&M royalties started at a higher number and are now lower, while legacy royalties started at an even lower number and have never changed, so the way to describe all this is as a “T&M pushback”?)

I don’t think these distortions are deliberate, by the way; rather, I think they’re likely a reflection of various biases of which you’re unaware.  But that doesn’t make them any more helpful for authors who are trying to gather sound information on which they can build sensible business strategies.  Wouldn’t it be more productive (and accurate) to say something like, “Amazon pays higher digital royalties than any other major publisher.  Is that worth it to you?  It depends on a lot of things — most fundamentally, how many of your sales are digital vs how many are paper.  If most of your sales are digital, that higher digital royalty is going to matter a lot.  If most of your sales are paper, then it might make sense to fork over a higher digital cut to a traditional publisher for access to the traditional publisher’s strength in paper channels.  There are other factors, as well.”

Robert: The risk of paying advances and primarily selling ebooks alone is a challenge at best.

Barry: I’m sure it is a challenge.  But what is the paper-based system, a cakewalk?  How many legacy-published books lose money?  How many legacy published authors are dropped after a book’s performance disappoints?  Are these questions not at least equally worthy of discussion?  Why would you describe only one publishing approach as a challenge, when obviously all approaches, in any business, for that matter, have their challenges?  Do you think a description like that is accurate?  Well calculated to offer authors information they can productively use as they go about planning their careers and implementing decisions?  Why not instead offer some data about how many authors are making how much money with T&M vs how many are making how much with legacy publishers — and why?  Wouldn’t that discussion be more interesting and relevant as authors try to decide which route makes sense for them?

Recently, David Gaughran blogged about astro-turfing by the publishing establishment.  He quotes the chairman of the International Publishers Association as follows:

We gathered all the communications people together to discuss the issues and create an action plan.  We have a multi-faceted audience to address, and in the next 12 months you will see key messages delivered, compelling stories of our impact on society for culture and education.  We’ll ask you to personalize that message.  I’m very excited that there is a meeting of minds on this.

Robert, I don’t know if your comments were an example of this kind of key messaging — and I certainly hope not.  But, respectfully, they feel that way.  Don’t authors deserve better?  Can we try?

[Robert left a comment in response; which Barry also fisked]

Barry: Robert, thanks for having the integrity to reply — rare in establishment publishing.  If Scott Turow hunkers down for much longer, for example, I’m concerned his photo might start showing up on milk cartons.

I do wish you had chosen to address my points, rather than simply repeating your straw man arguments and misunderstandings.  The good news is, regardless of what either of us thinks of the quality of the other’s thinking or command of the facts, authors reading this exchange will be able to make up their own minds and come to their own informed conclusions.

Robert: Mr. Eisler has chosen to be an original ebook author.  Nothing wrong with that.

Barry: What’s wrong with it is that your statement is factually incorrect.  All my novels are available in digital and paper.  Neither format is “original” for me; neither is exclusive. My short stories are available only in digital, but this is because there’s no cost-effective way to distribute short works in paper.  When I write one or two more, I’ll put them together in an anthology and then they, too, will be available in paper.

Robert: The misconception sometimes made by some authors is not what you give up but rather what you get that is better and grows your overall publishing audience.

Barry: The authors I know have no misconceptions in this regard at all.  But the misconception you continue to try to peddle is that legacy publishing offers only benefits and represents no costs.  Doesn’t it make more sense, as I argued earlier, to discuss publishing in terms of what benefits the various publishing systems might offer different authors and how much authors will have to pay (cost) and give up (opportunity cost) in exchange for those benefits?

It’s not easy for me to understand why you don’t recognize that discussing potential benefits without also discussing real costs is incoherent.  When someone is trying to sell you something in any aspect of your daily life, do you not typically ask, “What’s it going to cost me?”

Or do you believe the benefits you see for all authors in the legacy system are available free-of-charge?  If so, you should say so plainly.

Robert: When an author lives in a specialized eco-system as long as that environment does well the author’s sales do well and if it doesn’t then like any life form extinction is always a possibility.

Barry: Are you talking about the tens of thousands of authors who over time have been dropped by their legacy publishers?  For tens of thousands of authors, the legacy-publishing environment “hasn’t done well” and their contracts have then gone “extinct.” Is this not the case?  Why do you discuss “extinction” as though it can only happen in self-publishing?  Especially given that extinction actually *can’t* happen in self-publishing or in digital.  Sales might be low but they are forever.  And no one is going to outright cancel your contract and remove your books from shelves — which is what happens all the time in the legacy system.

Do you not know this?  Why don’t you mention it as a demonstrable risk to authors inherent in the legacy system?  Why do you pretend that it’s only a risk in self-publishing?

Robert: As we have learned at the DNW conference in New York City recently and as publishers are noting ebook sales are flattening out.

Barry: You’re still trying to argue that a car going from 100 to 130 miles per hour is “slowing down.”  Considering the detailed data and links I included in my previous post debunking this misleading claim, your repetition and refusal to discuss or even acknowledge your earlier error is beginning to sound less like accidental misinformation and more like deliberate disinformation.

Robert: It has become difficult for authors to raise prices in the present economic conditions.

Barry: Can you name a time in human history, under any economic conditions, for any product at all, when it has been other than difficult for sellers to raise their prices? Why do you say things like this as though they’re peculiar to publishing and unique to the year 2014?  These aren’t insights; they’re cliches.  Again:  don’t authors deserve better?

Robert: The 99 cent model is not making authors more than when they would have made with traditional publishers.

Barry: I don’t see how you can fail to understand that tens of thousands of self-published authors who offer their books at 99 cents and at whatever other price points they find maximize their overall income would have been making zero in the legacy system.

And I don’t know why you would pretend that many authors who have left the legacy system, myself and Joe Konrath to name just two, are making more with their low-priced digital works than they ever did in legacy.

It’s just a simple fact that many authors are indeed making far more on their own at 99 cents or whatever other price point they choose for their works than they were or would have been in the legacy world.  Pretending otherwise is either deliberate disinformation, or evidence of psychological denial.  As the saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.

Joe adds: The 99 cent model may only make an author 35 cents (or 70 cents on a KDP Countdown deal) which is about equal with the royalty rate in many legacy contracts. But there's a difference--those legacy ebooks are $4.99. I bet more ebooks would be sold at a 99 cent price point than $4.99, so I bet those 99 cent authors are making more than they would on a $4.99 Digital List Price ebook with a legacy publisher.

Robert: The ebook original space has been great as a farm team is to baseball.

Barry: You keep saying “ebook original” as though self-published authors don’t also offer their books in paper.  Do you mean that many originally self-published authors were subsequently offered legacy contracts?  If so, that’s indeed the case.  But isn’t this an argument *for* self-publishing rather than against it?  For authors so inclined, self-publishing has proven one possible route to a legacy contract.  Many other authors prefer the actual benefits of self-publishing and find the potential benefits of legacy publishing not worth the cost.

Robert: Many terrific authors are coming out of the ebook original space.  Again that is one of a number of reasons to be in as many format tributaries as possible as an author and a means to grow an authors reader ship globally.  It also impacts the authors perception in the film and TV business.

Barry: If you want these sorts of assertions to be taken seriously, you might try backing them up with actual evidence.  What “impacts perception in the film and TV business” isn’t whether an author has a legacy deal.  It’s how many books the author is selling. Otherwise, Hugh Howey would never have been able to do a film deal with Ridley and Tony Scott for his self-published WOOL series.

Suggesting that what makes Hollywood take interest is who’s publishing a novel rather than how that novel is selling is as wrong-headed as it is narcissistic.  Claims like that make you sound like a rooster taking credit for the dawn.

Robert: Every day traditional publishers are becoming more savory [savvy] about the ebook space and they are making investments in this space.

Barry: These are nothing but glittering, unsupported generalities, which sound like they’ve been cribbed from a certain notorious Hachette memo.

Can you describe the ways in which traditional publishers are getting more savvy? Can you name the investments they’re making in this space?  Would you be willing to discuss what they’re charging for this new savvy and these new investments, and how specifically the new savvy and the new investments will benefit authors?

Or is your argument to authors more akin to, “You don’t need any actual evidence or even anecdotal examples.  Just trust my self-interested general pronouncements.”

Robert: Authors who are published by them greatly benefit from this evolving investment and the relationships they have with ebook retailers.

Barry: Again, please provide examples of authors who are greatly benefiting from this evolving investment, and how.  Please explain how the relationship a legacy publisher has with an ebook retailer like Amazon greatly benefits an author, and why that benefit is worth legacy publishing’s lower digital royalties and other real and potential costs and risks.

In fact, as I’ve said many times, a legacy publisher trying to sell me digital distribution is like someone trying to sell me air.  It’s already available to me and I don’t need to pay for it from a third party.

Robert: Mr. Eisler took a chance early on and went digital only.

Barry: Again, this is simply factually false.  Every one of my novels is available in paper and digital.

Robert: My point is by doing so one risks the possibility of never reentering the traditional trade in today’s very tough retail market.

Barry: There are so many invalid assumptions in that one little sentence.  Many authors (myself included) have no desire to “reenter the traditional trade.”  Regardless, one’s ability to enter or reenter that trade will be determined by one’s sales (though regardless of my sales, I doubt I’ve made many friends in the legacy world in the course of frequently calling out legacy bullshit).  Most importantly, every author who enters the traditional trade risks having to leave it because of publisher screw-ups and resulting poor sales.

Do you not know all this?  Why do you not mention it?  Why do you continually imply that self-publishing is fraught with risk, while the legacy route is magically risk-free?

Oh yes, and “today’s very tough retail market.”  As opposed to yesterday’s retail market, which everyone knows was easy.

I don’t think you’re aware of it, Robert, but again and again you make pronouncements as though they’re somehow unique to self-publishing when in fact they apply to everything.  Again:  don’t authors deserve better?

Robert: Again, as I have pointed out in a number of blogs Trident believes authors should be in as many tributaries as possible or an author to loses potential opportunities.

Barry: I’m glad Trident believes this, especially since no one on earth would argue otherwise. Although some people might believe it’s also worthwhile to ask what access to those tributaries is going to cost, rather than pretending such access is cost- and risk-free.

Robert: Retailers order to net and if an author has no recent hardcover track record publishers more often than not won’t buy the author’s work because they simply won’t succeed in convincing the retailers to take the books.

Barry: Do you really not understand that what you just said applies at least as much to legacy publishing as it does to self-publishing?  What do you think happens to orders of an author’s new hardcover book if her previous sales numbers were disappointing?

And how did Hugh Howey and Bella Andre secure their paper-only deals with legacy publishers?  How did Amanda Hocking ever get her legacy deal?  None of them had hardcover sales of their self-published books.

I don’t mean to be harsh, Robert, but the things you keep saying are consistently wrong both logically and empirically.  Instead of just making assertions, why not try backing the assertions with evidence, as a way of testing whether the assertions are sound?

Robert: We at Trident feel an author should have success in as many formats as possible therefore ensuring future grow and opportunity.

Barry: That’s nice.  Do you at Trident also believe in motherhood and apple pie?

Robert: Our recommendations are not solely based on a “higher ebook royalty” as was the war cry by some many in the beginning of the ebook revolution.

Barry: Why on earth would you put scare quotes around higher ebook royalties?  Do higher ebook royalties not exist?  Are they impossible?

And you’ve succeeded in making me wonder… are your recommendations based on higher ebook royalties *at all*?

Anyway, once again, you’re just arguing via a straw man.  I wish you would do better. No one I know advocates higher ebook royalties as the “sole” determinant of what publishing route to take.  There are obviously many other factors, including time to market, control over business decisions, the importance of paper channels, etc.

Robert: Sometimes sharing opportunity with a publisher, wherever possible, creates greater opportunity for an author’s career.

Barry: My God, who would dispute something so obvious, indeed, something so axiomatic?  I mentioned Hugh Howey and Bella Andre above as just two examples.  And every author who’s ever made it really big via the legacy route presumably has experienced that “greater opportunity.”  But as I keep having to point out to you, it’s incoherent to discuss opportunities without also discussing costs, or to pretend that those opportunities are automatically available in equal amounts to all entrants.

Contrary to what all your arguments imply, legacy publishing isn’t done for free. Legacy publishers take 75% of digital royalties in exchange for the benefits they promise.  And those benefits work for only a tiny portion of legacy authors overall.  Is that irrelevant to you?  Unworthy of discussion?  Not something authors should weigh and consider?

Robert: The purpose of my response to Mr. Eisler’s story is that as a company we represent over 700 authors with many different experiences in all the formats and I wanted authors to be aware of the risks of living in one eco-system.

Barry: It might be helpful to translate that into plain English:  “The purpose of my response to Mr. Eisler’s story is to advertise Trident’s services and to try to scare authors away from forms of publishing through which Trident currently has no way to profit.”

Robert: Change is good but one should always be well prepared to adapt and to make sure all options continue to be available in the management of authors careers.

Barry: This is so obvious and axiomatic that it’s veering dangerously close to self-parody. Remember the motto of Animal House’s Faber College?  “Knowledge is Good.”  That’s about the same level of potential controversy inherent in the statement above, and in so many other of your pronouncements.  When you offer such obvious, entirely uncontroversial, applicable-to-every-era-and-every-facet-of-life-Mom-and-Apple-Pie generalities, who are you helping?

Robert: Solely being an ebook author is not the panacea many first thought it would be.

Barry: And thank God for that, since contrary to your repeated assertions I’m not solely an ebook author, nor is any other self-published author I know.

Robert: That is not to say I and Trident don’t value the format.

Barry: Thanks for clearing that up — I wouldn’t want to think a literary agency doesn’t value a format that for even many legacy-published authors now represents over half of overall book sales.

Robert: We work closely with all the book retailers through our ebook program at Trident and have a lot a solid business relationships with them.

Barry: Well, if your true purpose wasn’t clear enough already, you close with another plug for Trident.  I wish you’d show as much concern for sharing useful information with authors as you do for trying to reel them in as paying clients.

Again, Robert, I appreciate that you at least tried to engage here.  Though if the substance of your response is the best the publishing establishment has to offer, I can understand why Scott Turow figures he’s better off remaining in hiding.

[Robert then replied with this]

Robert: Mr. Eisler, we can agree to disagree and still respect one another and our differing view points.

[I responded]

Joe: I'm not sure he respects your view point, Robert. I certainly don't. You haven't defended any of your statements (which were ludicrous), or responded to any of Barry's questions, and he took you apart line by line.

Props to you for bowing out gracefully in a bout where you were outmatched. Failsies for posting in the first place without a single substantive thing to say.

[Robert responded]

Robert: Thank you Mr. Kornath for telling me what I should and should not do.

My comments reflect mine and Trident's experiences and knowledge in the business of publishing globally. We represent authors over a wide spectrum of formats and markets. We have an outstanding ebook department and we know the markets well. For the past decade Publishers Market Place has rated us the #1 Literary Agency in sales in North America for the past decade. In Britain in fiction we are in the top three and in non-fiction as an American firm we are in the top ten.

Those results are due to the our wonderful authors and putting our knowledge and ideas to work for all our authors regardless of any book format(s) they are being published. I am more than happy to stand behind Trident's results.

[I responded]

Joe: Thank you, Mr. Gottlieb, for not taking my advice.

The larch tree is a conifer from the genus Larix, and can grow up to 45 feet tall. Even though it is a conifer, it loses its leaves in the autumn. They are prone to fungal canker disease, and their wood is waterproof. Dendrologists are undecided as to how many species the larch there are, but the accepted range is between 10 and 15.

And now I've wasted as much of your time as you've wasted of mine, as neither of us have contributed a single relevant thing to this discussion, and have instead wasted space on needless information.

The difference, of course, is that the larch doesn't give me 15% to talk about it in public forums.

I'm sure Trident authors are pleased you stand by their results, but what does that have to do with ANYTHING Barry mentioned in his original post, or his rebuttal to you?

You take the time to respond, but without anything substantive to add. Why?

What in Barry's post do you disagree with? He explained, in great detail, why you are wrong. In return, you plugged Trident. I goosed you to defend yourself and reclaim a bit of face (and perhaps actually join the conversation), and you plugged Trident.

Please, if you respond again, for the love of all that's good, for the sake of all those on the sidelines watching this exchange, for all of your wonderful clients at Trident Media Group LLC who no doubt have the best possible representation in the history of the universe, can you actually say SOMETHING in response to Barry's many points?

This isn't a case of different viewpoints, Mr. Gottlieb. It's a case of you misunderstanding Barry, misunderstanding the current state of publishing, saying a lot of things that were flat-out wrong, and then plugging your company.

Now if you were to blog about something you know a lot about (something other than self-publishing and ebooks), and then I were to respond in the comments with misinformation, and then you corrected me, I believe I'd take that as a learning experience, retract my silly comments, and thank you for enlightening me. Or, if I truly believed I was right, I'd make at least a token effort to defend my point of view.

You did neither. And yet you continue to engage.

Putting ego aside for a second, Trident is indeed a major player, and you no doubt have helped countless authors get great deals. Kudos to you on that, no sarcasm at all. Good agents are worth their weight in gold.

But good agents should also stay in step with what is currently happening in the publishing world, rather than make assumptions, spout uniformed opinions, and act like sound bites.

You actually have an opportunity here to learn something that Trident and your clients could benefit greatly from. Other agents have.

I really do wish you continued success, and I'm sure you're a smart, likable guy with a lot of friends and a great many stories to tell.

If you want to continue with this discussion, it needs to be a true back-and-forth, where points are addressed and questions asked and answered and facts introduced and logic applied. I think it could prove valuable if you had a go at it.

Joe sez: Mr. Gottlieb hasn't responded. But if he chooses to, I'll be happy to post it, unedited, here.

I, for one, am encouraged to see pros like Robert Gottlieb and Steve Zacharius engage in open debate about these things. Ebooks are here to stay, and self-publishing is a shadow industry that legacy publishers either ignore or dismiss, but the fact remains that tens of millions of books are being sold outside of the legacy system.

This isn't an us vs. them debate. It's a way for everyone to become more informed about the changes happening within the industry, and how we can all benefit from them.

Writers now have choices they never had before. There's a lot of money in play, here.  Let's discuss it.

I'm talking to you John Sargent (CEO of Macmillan). And you Gail Hochman (president of the AAR). And you Craig Swinwood (CEO of Harlequin). And you Jamie Raab (President of Grand Central). And also authors Scott Turow and James Patterson and Richard Russo.

You've all said some really outrageous things (and I'd be happy to repeat them if you want me to). I'm giving you a popular forum to voice your points of view. And if you don't want to debate me and/or Barry Eisler, I bet I could get Hugh Howey or Bob Mayer or Kris Rusch or David Gaughran to fill in for us. We can even send you questions beforehand, and you can pick and choose the ones you'd like to answer. 

I extend this open invitation to any literary agent, legacy publishing editor, or legacy executive. Come to my blog and say whatever you'd like to say. I get anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands of hits per day. This is your chance to share your knowledge with the people who allow you to have a job. You know... writers. 

I promise to be respectful, not to edit you, and you can even be anonymous if you wish. My house is your house, feel free to speak your mind. Naturally we'll respond, but you'll have as many chances to reply to our responses as you'd like to, and I'll even give you the last word.

Email me if you're interested. 

UPDATE #1

Mr. Gottlieb posted an update on The Bookseller thread.

Robert: More Information reported by Publisher's Weekly concerning formats that authors are published in:

87% of e-book readers also read a print book in the past 12 months, and 29% listened to an audiobook.

84% of audiobook listeners also read a print book in the past year, and 56% also read an e-book.
A majority of print readers read only in that format, although 35% of print book readers also read an e-book and 17% listened to an audiobook.

Overall, about half (52%) of readers only read a print book, while just 4% said they only read an e-book, and just 2% only listened to an audiobook. Some 9% of readers said they read books in all three formats.

The survey was conducted for Pew by Princeton Survey Research Associates International over four days, January 2-5, 2013. It is based on a representative sample of 1,005 adults ages 18 and older living in the continental United States. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

This goes to the core issue of why it is good for authors to be published in as many formats as possible in order to garnish the largest reading audience for their work by readers.

The majority of ebook authors who are only published in that format only earn on average a year $1000.00 or less. This information is from DBW.

Ebooks are a wonderful way to publish and can be a stepping stone to success as Trident has found with our ebook program and from authors we have been able to move into mainstream trade publishing from the ebook format. As I said above ebook publishing is not a panacea but it is a valuable layer in the publishing landscape.

Joe: Mr. Gottlieb, thank you for this response, but you hardly refuted anything Barry posted earlier. 

I'll repeat Barry's rebuttle: "Could you name the authors who were advocating ebooks as “the only way to go”?  While many authors (I would include myself in their number) have over time devoted increasing marketing resources to digital rather than to paper because more and more of their sales are in digital, I don’t know of any author who has claimed paper should be outright avoided."

Could you be conflating "ebook publisher" with "self-publisher"? If so, they aren't the same. Self-publishers and legacy publishers both publish ebooks, and both also publish paper. I don't know of any ebook-only self-published authors. If they have something novel-length, they use Createspace or Lightning Source to get it into print.

The DBW survey you reference states that nearly 80% of self-publishers earn less than $1000 per year, not "ebook authors who are only published in that format."

It also said that 54% of “traditionally-published” authors earn less than $1,000 a year.


But as Hugh Howey says at the end af that article: “This survey does not capture the fact that self-publishing is going through a renaissance. It expects a group of authors with two or three years of experience and market maturity to line up against the top 1% of authors who have had several generations’ head start…"

Also, we have to consider the source you're citing. This was a survey of over 9000 authors conducted by Digital Book World and Writer's Digest.

Writer's Digest is notorious for its many ads touting vanity publishers such as AuthorHouse and Xlibris. These companies charge a lot of money. 

Lots of self-pubbed authors who read WD go the vanity route, and I've been against vanity publishing for a decade. It's a rip off, and it doesn't lead to sales. I'd be inclined to throw out the data from self-pubbed authors who use vanity services, as they don't represent what the rest of us are doing.

Then there is what Beverley Kendell said on my blog:

"That Writer's Digest survey of 9210 "authors" is very misleading. Only 32% of those authors were actually "authors" in any real sense as I pointed out to Steven on The Passive Voice post. 

That BIG number includes aspiring authors who a) have yet to START and FINISH a manuscript. I really hate that that number is being thrown around like that in terms of earnings because it leaves the wrong impression."

That leaves only 3000 authors left. 

Now, 3000 authors may seem like a decent amount, but no one except Amazon knows how big the shadow industry of self-publishing is. I know there are tens of millions of ebooks that don't exist to the NYT and USA Today bestseller lists. They aren't counted by Bookscan, or in any accurate poll I've seen. There are 70,000 writers who self-publish on Smashwords, but no one on SW is in KDP Select (KDP Select is exclusive). So I'd guess there are hundreds of thousands of self-published authors--a fact easy to estimate considering there are almost 2,400,000 ebooks listed on Amazon Kindle.

I also want to mention a point brought up by h lynn keith (aka antares) in my blog comments: "9,000 is a statistically valid sample IF AND ONLY IF the members of the sample were randomly selected from the target population."

To quote author Jude Hardin, "if the worst sellers are moving 100 units a year, and there are 1,000,000 of the worst sellers... Well, do the math."

Also, check out Beverley Kendall's own self-publishing survey:


She polled 822 writers, and found over 48% of self-published writers earned over $10,000 in 2013.

You said that ebooks are a "stepping stone". While some authors may move into trade publishing after self-pub success, the vast majority do not. Nor do they desire that. You are incorrect in saying that "ebook publishing is not a panacea". In fact, more authors than ever are making money by self-pubbing, and they have no desire to take a legacy deal even if offered. I've spoken to many bestselling self-pubbed authors who have turned down legacy deals, or done print-only deals with the Big 5, keeping the ebook rights for themselves.

It would be benefit Trident and your clients if you developed a better understanding of ebooks and self-publishing. 

Barry and I await some actual substantive response to our comments.We'd prefer for you to actually consider our points before pointing to surveys that we're well aware of and have dismissed, and I encourage you to define the difference between "ebook publisher" and "self-publisher" in your mind and in your statements, because you seem to be using them interchangeably when they are anything but.

UPDATE #2

Robert: Mr, Konrath, I'm not in the business of refuting and arguing. I have laid out facts that I Trident believes and has insight through many years of successful business operations in publishing globally. Experiences by individual authors can certainly vary. The information I share is important for authors and publishers to take under consideration. They are entirely free to follow their own paths. If some one disagrees with me they have every right to do so. I certainly respect freedom of speech. As I have said I stand behind our decades of success, knowledge and experience.

(note: for some reason Mr. Gottlieb's reply above no longer appears in The Bookseller comments.)

Joe: Mr. Gottlieb, you're in the business of selling rights. Rights to stories written by authors.

If you don't understand how what Barry and I are saying here is relevant to your livelihood, I'm astounded.

Your years of insight will soon no longer be relevant. And you aren't sharing any pertinent information. What exactly have you said that authors need to consider? That ebooks are a stepping stone to mainstream trade publishing? Perhaps they are, to .00001% of authors. To the rest of us, they are how we pay our bills, or make our living, and how some of us are making a lot more money than we ever could in trade publishing.

My agents actively search for, and find, movie, audio, and foreign deals for me, on books I've self-published. They don't look for trade publishing deals for me, because I make more money self-publishing. As do a great many authors that you seem to be dismissing.

Can Trident thrive selling only subsidiary rights for its clients? Because unless you can convince the Big 5 to offer more than 25% ebook royalties, you're going to have more and more clients choosing to self-pub. Even major clients.

BTW, I certainly hope, on behalf of your clients, that you are in the business of arguing. I hope you argue on their behalf on each and every contract.

Robert: Mr. Konrath, This is the end our conversation from my standpoint. I wish you luck in all your endeavors.

74 comments:

Chris Redding said...

I wonder if this is the beginning of the "push back" that Bob Mayer predicted for 2014?

Barry Eisler said...

Thanks for posting this here, Joe. I hope Turow et al will have the integrity to accept your invitation. One of the things I've always found most telling about the publishing establishment is its apparent unwillingness to engage people who, from the establishment's perspective, must be peddling pernicious myths to impressionable new authors. Doesn't something that calls itself the "Authors Guild" care enough about authors to try to set the record straight on what's really best for authors? Apparently not. Though I would be delighted if Turow could prove me mistaken...

Joe Konrath said...

Happy to post it Barry. I'm grateful for Porter Anderson and The Booksleller to run this, but it doesn't seem to be getting the comments that I believe it should.

Maybe this will help open the topic up for debate, and also goose some industry pros to join in.

Anonymous said...

I have to be honest, while I'm glad for the debate, it seems less like a dialogue and more like combined PR move on behalf of the establishment... it's disconcerting, to say the least... I really wish they'd open on on numbers and respond more fully to the arguments...

they don't seem to be making a case for themselves logically, just blurbing their accomplishents and belittling SPing...

Todd Travis.

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

Is there really even a need to "engage" the remnants of legacy publishing? Royalty percentages are numerical, not metaphysical. 70% is better than 25% regardless of what suit the accountant is wearing. Control over design, publishing, marketing,editing by the author is better than not having this control. Is there--can there be any debate about this? Also, there is a matter of personal dignity. When I received a good PW review for my St. Martins book (eons ago) my publisher too me out to lunch. When the book didn't sell like they wanted it to, my calls were never returned. I was as non grata as they come. None of these negatives exist in indie publishing, and no amount of debate is going to alter that fact. Let the pipe and elbow patch crowd continue to delude themselves, as print distribution channels dry up, as technology makes serious encroachment on tree killing publishers, and as authors now can become masters of their own work, and not tools of trad publishing fools. Screw debate, let's get back to the keyboard.

Steven Zacharius said...

Just my two cents again....First of all Bob Gottlieb is a wonderful agent for his authors. In fact he's too good most of the time and he's not easy to make a deal with :)

Barry, again thank you for all the retweeting the other day and of course Joe as well.

I disagree with the comment that legacy publishing is in trouble because they've kept too much of the digital proceeds for themselves. Most publishing companies have actually done very well the past few years because of digital publishing offsetting declines in print.

The comment about ebook sales leveling off I mentioned the other day. This is what has been reported by the AAP and others, but I agree that they don't include indie publishing like you said. However the reason they don't include indie publishing is because Kindle won't release the information, not because they don't want to include it. I don't know why Kindle won't include it. And for Amazon to say that indie publishing is 25% of their business; we have no way of knowing if that's hype or reality....we know it's units and not dollars and as I've said, indie or legacy, we all bank dollars. I would like to see some more transparency from Amazon on numbers rather than their constant secrecy as to number of kindles sold, number of units sold, what areas of Amazon's business make and lose money, etc..

Interesting dialog as always and I am learning from watching. We did take Courtney Milan's tip about our links to their other books and are implementing that. I do listen.

Keep the dialog going. At some point legacy and indie might work together. I agree with Bob that the broader the distribution channel distribution, the better for the author and the publisher. One feeds the other.

Eric Christopherson said...

Haven't seen such engageless engagement since my parents were divorcing.

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

I honestly don't think these trad pub heavyweights can "engage" in the way you want them to. It would mean admitting that their goose is cooked.

I mean, the headline from your last post should be "Steve Zacharius, CEO of major publishing company, admits traditional publishers have no viable business model" -- because that's what he said.

Quoting Zacharius: "do you expect publishers to give away 70% of the net receipts like Amazon is giving to self-published authors? That wouldn’t be a viable business model for publishers. The numbers just wouldn’t work. There has to be a hybrid model that works for indie authors and traditional publishers. But it would involve the books coming out at the same time and at realistic pricing levels so that the print book has a chance of selling."

He says "there has to be" a model that works for traditional publishers.There just has to be -- because otherwise his company is toast -- but it's clear he hasn't got a clue what that model might be. The best idea he can come up with is to deliberately cripple ebooks by raising their prices and delaying their release for 18-24 months so they don't compete with printed copies.

That's his plan?

So, again, you just got the CEO of a major publishing company to admit that his company has no viable business model; they can't offer authors anywhere near as good a deal as Amazon because "The numbers just wouldn't work."

Authors (and investors) take note.

Daniel Kenney said...

Steve, You've mentioned several times now in this conversation that you'd like to see better information from Amazon. I think I can safely speak for most people when I say, "we agree." As authors, we would love to see better information from all industry players. Amen. But since none of the usual posters to Joe's blog are Amazon executives, I don't think any of us will be able to answer your question about why Amazon doesn't give better information.

But you are a top executive, in fact THE top executive for a major publishing company and there is a question you can answer for us. Will you consider changing your non-competes to allow authors who sign deals with you to continue to publish ebooks on their own? I appreciated your earlier comment about how hard it is for a bookseller/account to deal with more than one book from an author at a time. So, on the print side, in a brick and mortar store where there are serious inventory issues and placement issues, I will grant you that point. But...certainly an author building his brand by releasing his own titles as ebooks wouldn't cause the same issues...right? You seem genuinely interested in convincing high quality authors who have gone the self publishing route to...come back to traditional publishing. One of the things you could do to facilitate this would be to change your non-competes. Will you consider it?

Joe Konrath said...

Most publishing companies have actually done very well the past few years because of digital publishing offsetting declines in print.

We're aware of that, Steve. And if you look at the stats Barry quoted, that money is taken DIRECTLY from authors.

$27.99 hardcover generates $5.67 profit to publisher and $4.20 royalty to author

$14.99 agency priced e-book generates $7.87 profit to publisher and $2.62 royalty to author.

So, in other words, at these average price points, every time a hardcover sale is replaced by an e-book sale, the publisher makes $2.20 more per copy and the author makes $1.58 less.

Laura Resnick said...

Daniel Kenney wrote: "Will you consider changing your non-competes to allow authors who sign deals with you to continue to publish ebooks on their own?"


Even better, ELMINATE the non-compete clause.

I write for DAW Books, a fantasy house that's 50+ years old and releases about 60 books per year, distributed via the Random Penguin. There aren't any non-compete clauses in my 10 (so far) DAW contracts.

I have a very reasonable option clause. They've got 60 days, from submission of a proposal for the next book in the series I currently write, for them to make an offer to decide, after which I may submit/sell elsewhere. The option clause applies ONLY to the series I currently write for them, and there are no restrictions on when I submit the option proposal.

And that's the only clause I sign which in any way =at all= restricts what I can do with work which isn't already under contract to DAW.

There is no non-compete clause in these contracts. I am a freelancer and, as such, not restricted in any way whatsoever by my respected publishing house from making a living.

Sure, DAW would prefer to have first crack at anything I write that's suitable for their program. But the way they protect their interest in that is (wait for it!) by building a good business relationship with me, one wherein I would CHOOSE to show them other/new work first, because I find working with them enjoyable and professionally beneficial.

An ethical and reasonable house focused on building good business relationships with its writers doesn't need to "protect" itself by including egregiously damaging restrictions in its contracts.

Let's hope more publishers follow suit.

Joseph Ratliff said...

The hard pill for legacy publishers to swallow seems to be the math.

Numbers are numbers, the math will always work out the same way.

I'm losing hope they will ever see the light, but remain hopeful.

Barry Eisler said...

Steve said, "I disagree with the comment that legacy publishing is in trouble because they've kept too much of the digital proceeds for themselves. Most publishing companies have actually done very well the past few years because of digital publishing offsetting declines in print."

Steve, Joe already responded to this point, but I have to add... it's fascinating for me to see you put those two sentences side-by-side and not see how they're really connected. Yes, in the short term, your ability to keep more and pay authors less than ever before has made you more money (second sentence). But do you really believe this is a sustainable business model (first sentence)?

As I said in the post itself: "Legacy publishing’s current health is largely the result of the industry’s practice of paying authors so little in digital and keeping so much for themselves (a practice that for me always calls to mind the image of Wile E. Coyote racing off the cliff and thinking all is well because he’s running on air… until he looks down)."

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe as digital continues to grow and paper to shrink, you'll be able to make even more money by keeping more for yourself and sharing less than ever with authors. I guess we'll find out.

In the meantime, it sounds like you are confirming those Harper Collins numbers that Joe just quoted. Could you elaborate? You're saying that you do indeed take more in digital and give authors less, and this is a good business model that you plan to continue and that you believe will sustain you? Thanks.

Robert said...

I was a Trident author for about five years. Just recently I left the agency. I've had some great success with my self-published work, but my agent didn't really seem all that enthusiastic in helping me sell subsidiary rights or, well, anything. I understand the reality that agents only get paid when an author gets paid, so many agents may not prefer to work with authors who primarily self-publish. Several times there were chances for my agent to try to capitalize on my self-publishing successes, all of which I brought to his attention, but again, he didn't seem to care. In the end I felt like I was spinning my wheels, so I decided it best to part ways. This comment isn't meant as a slight against Trident or my ex-agent, only a reminder that times in the industry are changing and the need for agents is disappearing for some ... and that it's probably better to have no agent than an agent who doesn't care.

Joe Konrath said...

Barry, you might not be surprised, but I said this over three years ago.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/09/ebook-pricing.html

To wit: On a hardcover, and on a paperback, there are so many costs that the publisher earns very close to what the author earns--three bucks on a hardcover, about a buck on a paperback.

But on a $9.99 ebook, the publisher earns $5.25.

$5.25 for simply uploading it to Amazon? Sorry, that's way too much.

Not only that, but they do a lot less to bring an ebook to market, and pay a lot less to get it to market. Lower costs, lower overhead, but jack up the profit? I think not. A world where a publisher earns three times what the artist earns is simply messed up.


And now, finally, publishers admit this.

They've had more than three years to feast on authors' ignorance (well, authors who didn't read my blog). And where were the agents, supposedly protecting our interests?

How could I have been the only one who saw this? And why does it seem like I was the only one who cared?

Steve, and Mr. Gottlieb, if you show up, you really need to follow the link I posted above.

At the end of it I answer questions that are being asked right now, and this was back in September 2010.

Apparently the world has finally caught up...

Barry Eisler said...

Joe, hah, not surprised you were writing about this a long time ago. I know I've heard you talk about it from way back.

As for publishers finally admitting it... yes, they're admitting the skewed split, which is an important first step. But they still seem to believe (and Steve is arguing) that the split is sustainable. We'll see.

Mike Fook said...

Jesus, I hope I'm never on the other end of one of these. What could the guy even say? Where was the opening you left so he could say a damn thing? LOL.

He's effectively dead in the water.

There won't be a response...

Randall Morris said...

I'm wondering what people like Steve and Robert think we should do. You know... the authors who just want to write and make some cash. Legacy publishers reject the small fish over and over. I'm one of the ones that made under $1,000 last year. I came in at right around $500. As far as trying to get a legacy deal, that doesn't seem like it would be worth my time... at all. Not until I have much stronger numbers, right? When I have those numbers though... why would I try to get a legacy contact? I'd rather just take the cash from Amazon and other e-distributors instead of jump a twenty foot wall and then fart the alphabet backwards just to hear some self-important publisher tell me no (or agree to "give me a shot" and take most of my money.)

Kevin C said...

Randall,

I don't know if I should admit this but I kinda want to witness you fart the alphabet backwards.

For posterity's sake of course.

Randall Morris said...

Kevin C,
Well that's one of the requirements to get a legacy contract, right? I've always been told it was... :-P

Ann Voss Peterson said...

The failure to see from others' points of view is always fatal to any argument. But that's why a real discussion of any issue is good. As long as the discussion is honest, it can force us to see things from points of view other than our own, and that helps everyone involved.

Thanks for a great discussion!

Joe Konrath said...

Well that's one of the requirements to get a legacy contract, right?

Actually, depending on the legacy contract, you're required to spend a certain amount of time in the love room. Could be just a few minutes. Could be hours.

Sounds great, right?

Bring shoes that have handles on them.

C.R. Reaves said...

With all due respect to Joe and Barry - I feel like you both are more hinting to Mr. Zacharius about what the problem is with what he said. Maybe someone should just say it outright, so I will:

Yes, in the short term the publishes are covering for books that didn't sell out off the backs of ebook profits. If you look at the short term, the tactic makes an amazing amount of business sense. You are earning more money, after all.

But what about the long term, Mr. Zacharius?

Soon enough, even the most starry-eyed writer is going to ask themselves whether it's okay that their publisher is taking advantage of that. That they have to accept pennies when they could have had dollars. Money they could have used to put braces on their kid or save money for retirement or pay the rent is going towards some other writer who couldn't perform to expectations, or a business lunch, or more expensive offices, or the year-end bonus of an editor who won't return their calls. (Not necessarily all of this is at your publishing house, mind. I'm not familiar enough to say.)

It won't sit right with most people. And unless you are making up for that in other ways, they're eventually going to say, "It doesn't matter if they're nice people. I need to pay my rent/buy braces/know that when I retire, I don't have to struggle to make ends meet." And it sounds like a lot of your writers already don't necessarily think of you as "nice people".

I'm not one of your writers, so don't worry about me... in that respect, at least.

But do you know why you should worry about me?

I've only made one book proposal to a publisher in my life, and that was probably more than a decade ago. I decided to gain more experience before attempt number two. Two years ago I chose to take it seriously again, so like any reasonably business-minded person, I went digging for information so I could make the approach professionally. I found Joe Konrath's blog and realized I didn't like the mindset of traditional publishing houses. What's more - it didn't make good business sense to me to go with a publishing house. I might accept a print-only deal in the future. Maybe. A year ago I would have agreed to a print & ebook deal provided the offer were tightly contracted and worth "losing" the books for the right amount of money. Two years ago, I would have accepted just about anything, if the house wanted me and the offer weren't insulting. Maybe in another year, I won't find a print-only deal financially or contractually appealing, because a year from now, who knows what printing and distribution options an indie like me will have?

Time's passing, Mr. Zacharius. The longer you wait to discover what it is that will keep writers with you, the more writers like me will exist. Writers who have the potential to be very profitable partners, who wouldn't dream of working with a traditional publisher.

Worse? The more time passes, the angrier those writers you have will get when they realize you've been making up for poor decisions on your part off of money they could have had if you'd played more fairly with them. And the more likely they are to leave the first opportunity they get.

(cont. next post.)

C.R. Reaves said...

(cont. from above)

Don't look at this from the perspective some people seem to. Writers haven't suddenly been bitten by greed. We haven't suddenly become too lazy to make our way through publishing channels. We haven't suddenly become to full of ourselves to listen to others. We want to be paid fairly. Self-publishing can be a lot of work. If we didn't listen to others, why would we interact with other indie writers and hear what they have to say?

I respect the heck out of you for being willing to engage with people. I'm just a bit frustrated on behalf of not just the writers whose money is being siphoned off of them so you can make up for bad calls or inexplicable failures, I'm also frustrated for the sake of you and your employees. How many Americans (or people in general) don't have a soft spot for a family-owned business? How many people don't respond to the story of someone trying to reach out and learn something? I admit it - I'm a sucker for your story. I see other writers already have had their tender hearts touched by it and want to work with you just based off of the fact that you are reaching out like this.

But I can't make business decisions based on sentiment. And fewer writers going forward will.

Anonymous said...

an amazing limp read. Mr Gottleib redefines and redefines, as it's called in debate when one subject is on the defensive. How is it he never answers a direct question or shows insight and curiosity? Really 'drawing room' boring, rather than lively debate. I congratulate all who did not become uncivil. That's good.

However, the small list of people at the end who ought be flushed out to 'talk,' is palid. Take on head of Bertalsmann, Dohle. Take on head of Knopf international. Take on whoever is head of Harper Collins now that jane Freidman is toast in Rupert's empire. Hell, take on Rupert. Take on the TOP people, not the retinue and wavers of fans. That would include newly let go Kirschbaum from AMZ. Choose instead those who actually make the decisions. Not the toadies.

Nick Marsden said...

I don't understand the back and forth that has been going on lately from this blog between Legacy publishers and pro-indies. Yeah, we understand that each has different views and anyone who reads this blog knows that legacy publishers have a skewed view of indie publishing as they try to save their businesses by trying to convince authors that legacy is the best way to publish.

However, breaking down a response line by line and attacking it in tiny parts is unfair. It's like taking each individual snippet out of context. You don't really believe that just because a person isn't exactly specific in a statement they are ignorant of all else.

For example:
"Robert: That is how opportunity is created for growth in publishing.

Barry: That, and nothing else?"

Barry can't believe that Robert is saying there is only one way to create opportunity!

I believe many of the responses, both by Barry to Robert and by Joe to Steve Zacharius are sniping and mean-spirited. Steve even called Joe out on the negative nature of his response at one point. Joe's tone was confrontational and harsh from the get-go and I applaud Steve for continuing the conversation and arguing his points in a manner that didn't try to break down Joe or his business.

All this said, I am pro-indie. I have 3 books published on my own and almost done with my 4th. I will never seek out a legacy contract because I want to maximize my royalties and my licenses.

Alan Spade said...

Anonymous 2:25 said: "That would include newly let go Kirschbaum from AMZ. Choose instead those who actually make the decisions. Not the toadies."

I'm inclined to agree, because we have to confront multinational companies in today's world. The issue I see is this people may not have the detailed knowledge to debate properly.

What I found very amusing in Robert Gottlieb answers to Joe is that he constantly plugged his company. You know, as a self-published author coming to comment on Joe blog with a link to his books. We are not so much different after all...

Bev said...

The reality is that most authors self-publishing:

a) Woudn't be able to get representation by an agent much less at an agency like Trident

b) Are former traditional published author who either couldn't get another contract or opted to self-publish because it offered them something they consider better

c) Were tired of chasing the dream of a traditional contract and decided to go the self-publishing route.

d) Decide from the get go that self-publishing was the best route in trying to find success with their writing careers

I have nothing against traditional publishing. They gave me my start and I'll always be grateful to them for that.

That said my print sales were abysmal. OTOH, my digital sales were stellar. It just makes sense that I would opt to self-publish.

And I'm not alone, there are many many "failures" with traditional published print books. I was one of MANY. Nothing is guaranteed. Agents and publishers can NEVER guarantee you success. And I think authors are quite aware of this.

What publishers are doing now is acquiring most of their new talent and delegating them to their digital-only lines. No mass print distribution. Many times no advance. It's easy to see why a new author may see self-publishing as the most beneficial route to take.

It's also easy to see why someone who isn't a James Patterson or Nora Roberts may see self-publishing as MORE beneficial (creatively, financially, control-wise) to them. More and more of them are taking this route and in the future will take this route.

That's the reality.

To each his own and all that but for a growing many, sometimes it's better to cut out the middle man because until publishers and agents can show their 75% value to those who AREN'T their stars, this trend will continue unabated.

And if their model is such that they only want the stars, then they have nothing to fear from the rest of us. We're just doing out thing writing and trying to earn a living.

Anonymous said...

Classic. I laughed out loud.

"Robert: We at Trident feel an author should have success in as many formats as possible therefore ensuring future grow and opportunity.

Barry: That’s nice. Do you at Trident also believe in motherhood and apple pie?"

Joe Konrath said...

However, breaking down a response line by line and attacking it in tiny parts is unfair. It's like taking each individual snippet out of context. You don't really believe that just because a person isn't exactly specific in a statement they are ignorant of all else.

Nick, I encourage you to look at the Wiki definition of fisking.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisking

Blanket statements are dangerous, and I don't believe the quote you cited was out of context. It was in context. Gottlieb's response certainly shows he believes that is the only way growth happens in publishing. He certainly didn't mention any others, and ignored what Barry said.

Joe's tone was confrontational and harsh from the get-go

My tone is carefully cultivated.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/05/tone.html

There is a reason sarcasm is a powerful tool to motivate. It's the same reason revolutionaries burn effigies. It's the reason for political cartoons.

When someone has power over someone else, with that power comes responsibility. Often, those without the power defer to the powerful. We seek their attention and approval. We give the things they say more weight and listen closer than we would to a peer. We want what they have.

This results in lots of kow-towing and ass-kissing and deference. When trying to get a legacy publishing deal in the 90s, I revered publishers. While I wasn't overly sycophantic, you can read my early blog posts and see how thrilled I was to be working with them, and how much I liked them.

In a way, it was like doing well on a report card and seeking approval from parents.

Well, my attitude was wrong. Unlike parents, publishers don't care. It's about business, not people. Bottom lines, not feelings.

My publishers did a whole bunch wrong. And I still tried to work with them. Because I had no alternative--there was no Kindle.

(Yes, there were ebooks, but it was Kindle that made it viable for authors to make money.)

One way to take away the luster from the mighty, and reduce their awe-factor, is to be a little confrontational and harsh. It shows I'm not intimidated. And that's HUGELY important in a debate between the have and have-nots.

Gottlieb and Zacharius are publishing royalty. They're powerful, and have done very well. They aren't children whose feelings are being hurt by disrespectful talk, any more than I am.

I applaud Steve for continuing the conversation and arguing his points in a manner that didn't try to break down Joe or his business

I applaud Steve as well. But read a bit closer. How many times did Steve bring up how little money indies were making? How many times did he mention how small the ebook market is? How many times did he take a fear-mongering route in regards to Amazon?

He very much tried to break down my business. That's the point of debate.

His tone was kinder than mine, absolutely. But I'm not the one offering small advances and taking money out of authors' pockets. I have no power. I don't have any say in how much an author earns, or how they're treated.

He does. And so does Gottlieb, to a degree.

Joe Konrath said...

I don't recall Gottlieb rallying against the Agency Model, even though it was earning him and his clients less money. I don't recall him callng for higher ebook royalty rates.

If he did either, why not mention it? I have no doubt Gottlieb fights vigorously for his clients. But he's in a position to take the public stance that publishers' ebook royalty rates are too low.

Why won't he?

Because, as I said before, most agents work for publishers, not authors.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/05/aar-fail.html

I use ridicule and sarcasm carefully; to draw attention to issues, bring the mighty down to earth, and goad them into responding.

You don't have to agree with my tactics. That's fine. On your blog, you can use whatever tone you'd like.

Joe Konrath said...

You know, as a self-published author coming to comment on Joe blog with a link to his books. We are not so much different after all...

Are you sure? You made a substantive comment, and your name linking to your books isn't your main point.

Gottlieb said nothing substantive, and trumpeted his company. That was his main point. He felt like he's the man, his company is big and powerful, and he knows best. That was pretty much the sum of his response to Barry's many questions and rebuttals.

You contribute to the conversation, Alan. Gottlieb didn't.

Joe Konrath said...

And if their model is such that they only want the stars, then they have nothing to fear from the rest of us.

I don't sense fear yet. I don't even sense that most legacy professionals even believe there's a problem.

Part of it is the bottom line. They're still making good money.

But most of it is denial. The sources they rely on--Bookscan, Publishers Lunch, Publishers Weekly, the NYT and USA Today bestseller lists--don't see the full extent of the shadow industry of self-publishing.

When authors like me or Hugh talk about how much we're earning, we're anomalies, or farm team recruit potential.

I have been talking about this for almost 5 years. I started on Kindle in April of 2009, and immediately recognized how it would change the industry.

I was right. Over and over and over again.

But a basic trait of humanity is denial. "I can't believe this is happening" has resulted in a lot of lost fortunes, and a lot of lost lives.

I see so much denial from the legacy side that it has almost become self-parody.

It's going to take some major upheavals before the fear truly sets in. And by that time it will probably be too late. You can only exploit a group until they're dead, or they revolt.

Joe Konrath said...

The failure to see from others' points of view is always fatal to any argument.

Agreed.

Another fatality is failing to respond to or refute the points the other side made.

Joe Konrath said...

Hell, take on Rupert.

Give Rupert my blog URL and tell him I'm ready.

Alan Spade said...

Joe said : "Are you sure? You made a substantive comment, and your name linking to your books isn't your main point."

I should have added a smiley, Joe. It was sarcasm on my part. You know, to make Mr Gottlieb answer. Maybe I do have a priori, but in my opinion there's NOTHING a "have" like Mr Gottlieb hates so much as to be compared with a self-published author like me.

Thank you for saying I'm contributing to the conversation. Here's another contribution: I'm persuaded at least some industry insiders know, and have known for some years (at least since 2010, when Amazon raised royalties), that legacy publishers cannot compete with self-published authors on business terms.

They try to milk the cow for as long as the cow will allow it.

Joe Konrath said...

I should have added a smiley, Joe.

I also needed a smiley. ;)

Daniel Kenney said...

Thanks Laura Resnick for the information about DAW and about not having non-competes.

I of course, agree with you. But in response to asking for non-competes to be thrown away, we hear about how hard it would be for a bookseller to deal with 2 books in 1 genre from one author.

So I wanted to find a case that wouldn't be problematic for a publisher. One that they could easily say yes to. In other words, you want to self-publish your ebooks whenever you want no matter what genre while you have a contract with us? No problem.

My understanding is that currently, this is a problem for the major publishers.

And I guess, if a major publisher can't say yes to this easy case, this case that helps an author build her brand and cultivate an audience and make a living...well, then the publishers are showing their cards. They care less about their authors and their bottom line and more about doing things the way they've always been done.

Joe Konrath said...

Gottlieb responded on The Bookseller, and I updated the blog accordingly.

Bev said...

Thanks again for the mention, Joe.

You know no survey is going to go out there without criticism. LOL. Mine certainly isn't immune to that. However, I will say this about what I found, which is that many of the successful writers are doing certain things. I detail the things they are doing and I think, if nothing else, that is the one thing anyone reading it can take away from it.

Do I promise if you do this, this and this, you will make the kind of money you hope to? Absolutely not. There's no guarantees in SP nor are there guarantees with traditional publishing.

I said this yesterday and I'll say it again, so if the number is 70% or even 80% of SP authors don't make more than $1000 a year but there are 20% that are making a comfortable living doing it. What I'm going to do is look at those succeeding as see what I can learn from them to better my chances of succeeding.

I mean let's face it, you're in a tiny (1 or 2%?) minority of authors TODAY if you get a print contract with a traditional publisher.

Joe Konrath said...

Thanks again for the mention, Joe.

I hope it gets the attention it deserves. The more writers who see the possibilities self-pubbing offers, the better off they are.

Yes, not every writer will be a success. Some won't earn anything. But, as you said, very few get a legacy deal.

There are no gatekeepers in self-pubbing. No barriers to entry. There are only readers, who vote with their wallets.

We all have to continue to write the best books we can, and do what we can to make them visible to readers.

In the past, that meant going through a legacy publisher, jumping through their hoops to get notices, and if you were very lucky you could accept the deal they offered.

Today, it means pressing a button.

Regardless of how much you make, or your royalty percentage, the very fact that writers have a choice is incredible.

Barry Eisler said...

Nick said:

"However, breaking down a response line by line and attacking it in tiny parts is unfair. It's like taking each individual snippet out of context. You don't really believe that just because a person isn't exactly specific in a statement they are ignorant of all else."

Nick, Joe has already directed you to an article on fisking. The example you gave in your comment was indeed a contextless "snippet," though I'm not sure what it demonstrated. Fisking is anything but. Fisking is a way of carefully and precisely addressing everything a person said.

I don't know why you would suggest that responding to a person's exact words would be "unfair" (see how careful I'm being to use your exact words now? See how it forces me to engage your actual arguments, rather than trying to dodge them?). In fact, I wish more people would do it to me, as I find the extensive use of exact quotes inherently fair, respectful, and productive. Gottlieb's style is the opposite: he ignores everything that's been said to him, even factual corrections, in favor of continually repeating his canned responses. I don't find that style of discussion productive at all, other than that when one person engages in detail on the merits and the other is continually evasive, readers can make up their own minds about whose arguments have more merit.

Barry Eisler said...

Joe, thanks for the typically well-reasoned, evidence-backed points in response to Gottlieb. I'd like to go on engaging him, too, but at some point it starts to feel purposeless to point out so many factual and logical errors and to have none of them corrected or even addressed, and to ask so many questions of someone who, for whatever reason, seems unable or unwilling to respond on point. I think there's already enough information here, both on the surface and between the lines, for authors trying to decide what route is best, and I'm glad Gottlieb could be part of that, though perhaps not quite in the fashion he might imagine.

Joe Konrath said...

And Gottlieb has ended the conversation.

I'm not going to respond, but if you read this, Mr. Gottlieb, I wish you much success as well. I also wish your clients and company much success.

It's unfortunate you didn't make any real effort to engage, but I suspect you either aren't informed enough to reply, or you realize your position is untenable.

I encourage you to read my blog, and other author blogs, to get a better understanding of the revolution that's occurring right under your nose.

This isn't us vs. them. It isn't self-pub vs. legacy pub. There's room for everyone to make money. But, more importantly from the author standpoint, there's room for writers to make more money than the vast majority of them ever could.

How much money is unknown. There are no magic bullets. Success is hard no matter which route you take.

But things are changing. And self-publishing will effect legacy publishing, simply because self-published authors are going to comprise more and more of the market.

Is Trident ready for that? I hope so, for your sake and for the sake of your clients.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

I've been thinking quite a lot about the "publisher's strength is print distribution" idea.

It seems completely true to me.

What exactly does it mean though? Having a publisher (distributor?) gets your book into places where paperbacks are sold. Which is bookstores, grocery stores, Target-type stores, airport shops, etc. (although those are the only places I've noticed recently).

So we have how many publishers? And how many print books are they representing each year? And how many "slots" are open to any one book anyway?

It's sort of confusing in that way that tells me something is very fishy with the whole plan.

I think I'm missing something or that something is missing.

Imagining a "print only" publisher who has come to the realization that authors like 70% royalties on ebooks and just push the button themselves. So, POP needs to be AWESOME and super streamlined at producing and distributing print.

POP says "I can get your book into ______ store(s)"

But can he really? With so many other print books to represent? How many books can POP really "guarantee" to get into stores?

I'm full of questions this morning.....

Joe Konrath said...

but at some point it starts to feel purposeless to point out so many factual and logical errors and to have none of them corrected or even addressed, and to ask so many questions of someone who, for whatever reason, seems unable or unwilling to respond on point.

I see what you're saying, and you're correct.

But the very fact that he replied at all is a step in the right direction.

We've been making many of these arguments for years, and the legacy industry is finally responding.

The reason to keep making the same points, over and over and over, es because those points are new to somebody. Sure, a lot of authors are probably sick of this debate. But for some, it is entirely new. They just finished their first book and are looking on the internet for how to publish it.

This may feel repetitive, or purposeless, but I think it's worthwhile enough to take me away from my job--a job where I make very good money.

I've written 20k words in the past few days, replying to Gottlieb and Zacharius. I don't consider that time, or those words, wasted, even though I could have written something that could have made me money.

I felt it was so important to make these points that I neglected work (bad Joe). But, to greatly hyperbolize, the only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

The only way to stop the bullshit is to call out the bullshitters. Publicly. So others, as you said, to decide what route is best.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

"I said: The failure to see from others' points of view is always fatal to any argument.

Joe said: Agreed.

Another fatality is failing to respond to or refute the points the other side made."

I say: I don't agree. Sometimes failing to respond or refute the points the other side made is the only way to camouflage a weak argument. And that kind of duck and spin often works, as long as the failure isn't pointed out.

You guys just happen to be good at pointing such things out. :)

Joe Konrath said...

And that kind of duck and spin often works, as long as the failure isn't pointed out.

I concede that point. How about:

Another fatality is failing to respond to or refute the points the other side made, provided the other party catches it and presses.

Barry Eisler said...

Ann said:

"Sometimes failing to respond or refute the points the other side made is the only way to camouflage a weak argument."

Hah! Yes, good point... :)

Barry Eisler said...

Joe said:

"The reason to keep making the same points, over and over and over, es because those points are new to somebody."

I completely agree -- with that and with everything else you said in that comment. I'm just talking about when we hit the point of diminishing returns. After this many exchanges, it's clear to me Gottlieb can't or won't respond on point, and my sense is that the exchange has enough useful good for people to make use of. For me, that's the point of diminishing returns, though obviously different people will feel "Okay, that's sufficient" at different times.

Bev said...

I honestly think (some or many) publishers and agents don't know what to do while keeping the status quo. This is not the publishing industry they are accustomed to.

Never in the history of publishing have they ever had to justify their value, their worth to authors. It was always the other way around. You may see how this is might be an uncomfortable fit for them.

But sometimes you have to know when it's time to get a new tailor.

Laura Resnick said...

Barry wrote: "Gottlieb's style is the opposite: he ignores everything that's been said to him, even factual corrections, in favor of continually repeating his canned responses. I don't find that style of discussion productive at all,"


I have to agree. I'm extremely puzzled by what Mr. Gottlieb thought he was conveying or accomplishing.

I chose to sign for 4 more books with my publisher a few months ago. So obviously –I- think a traditional publisher has still has something to offer me (given the right terms and circumstances), or I wouldn't have done that.

Yet Mr. Gottlieb's comments and behavior, while I was reading along, made –me- never want to deal with a publisher again!—which is not what I actually believe, for goodness sake. So what on earth was he attempting to do in this discussion???

Joe Konrath said...

I chose to sign for 4 more books with my publisher a few months ago. So obviously –I- think a traditional publisher has still has something to offer me (given the right terms and circumstances), or I wouldn't have done that.

The very fact that your commenting in this blog makes me believe that you have very good reasons for signing a new deal.

Maybe I wouldn't sign that same deal (or maybe I would), but that's not the point.

The point is you signed that deal deliberately, as someone informed about the current state of publishing. You fully understood it. You're self-aware, and decided it was in your best interest.

I can't argue with that. There's nothing to debate. And I wish you HUGE success. :)

Laura Resnick said...

Joe wrote: "It's unfortunate you didn't make any real effort to engage, but I suspect you either aren't informed enough to reply, or you realize your position is untenable."


My impression, having read all of Mr. Gottlieb's comments, is that it's both.

By contrast, people in publishing whom I find interesting and persuasive in recent years have taken the attitude that their role is to put value-added on the table for the writer in exchange for their share of the proceeds, in a rapidly-changing business environment where the writer has other viable options now.

(Whether or not you agree that a publisher can put enough value on the table to merit licensing of your work is a separate (and detailed) discussion, and often an individual decision that depends on specific terms and circumstances.)

It's a question of publishers changing focus to talk about what they can do for you, the writer, that might make you want to partner with them, and negotiating those terms in a mutually satisfactory deal. Rather than publishers continuing to assume that you desperately need them, as used to be the case—desperately enough to accept the traditional "industry standard" and "take it or leave it" terms—in order to reach a large audience in multiple well-produced formats.

Alan Spade said...

In what occurred in the past few days, I had the impression either Steven Zacharius or Robert Gottlieb had come to the conclusion it was perhaps not so much a good thing (for them) that so many midlist writers choose to self publish.

So, perhaps there's the beginning of a change in the mentality, there: authors, good authors, are no longer in limitless supply for trad pub.

While the Big 5 may continue to ignore royally this fact, confident their bestsellers will suffice, it may not be the case for less huge publishers.

Jude Hardin said...

I've written 20k words in the past few days, replying to Gottlieb and Zacharius. I don't consider that time, or those words, wasted, even though I could have written something that could have made me money.

You never know. If Mr. Zacharius plays his cards right, he might be able to have J.A. Konrath and Jude Hardin on the same ticket. We have a Jack Daniels/Nicholas Colt novel coming out sometime soon, and I'm pretty sure the mass market paperback rights are available. ;)

Edward M. Grant said...

What publishers are doing now is acquiring most of their new talent and delegating them to their digital-only lines. No mass print distribution.

Indeed. the attitude of many publishers these days increasingly seems to be 'we'll pick up a bunch of novels, release them cheaply as e-books with no marketing or advance, then we'll keep the authors who do well and release them in print. The rest can go.'

Well, I can do that myself, other than the release print in book stores part. So what's the point?

As for non-compete clauses, I honestly don't understand them. I mean, I can understand why people who don't think too hard could consider them essential, but imagine this:

Say I'm a publisher, and I have a novel by some unknown writer call Don Brown, and I release a 10,000 copy print run.

Next day, Big Publisher releases another Don Brown novel called 'The Mona Lisa Code', and the world goes mad for it.

Do I:

1. Cry and pulp all his books because I can't possibly compete?
2. Order a new 500,000 copy print run?

The only way I can see harm in a situation like that is if the author releases another book that really sucks so bad everyone is making fun of them. Otherwise, any book they release that readers read and like is going to drive more of those readers to the other books that I'm publishing.

Jill James said...

This has been a few great days of posts. Thanks.

Mitchell Hogan said...

The first publisher, and they don't have to be big, to start signing indie authors on print only deals with decent terms and clauses is going to be the last publisher standing. Not only big selling authors, but midlisters who could still sell from a few thousand to tens and even hundreds of thousands of print books.

All it needs is one publisher to take the initiative and they'll leave the rest behind.

At least until the 'new and improved' espresso POD machines start appearing in bookstores...

The fact they won't touch Joe's offer of a print only deal reveals a great deal more about their mentality than they'd wish.

Laura Resnick said...

A non-compete clause doesn't exist to "protect the publisher's investment" from other titles being in the market by the same author (which is a patently absurd argument).

The purpose of the clause in fiction contracts is to ensure that the publisher can continue underpaying the author without any risk whatsoever that the author might introduce LEGITIMATE BUSINESS COMPETITION into that equation by finding or exploiting another market for her writing.

In the past couple of years, I've spoken with writers who've discovered that their publishers (large corporations with deeper pockets and more lawyers than the average writer has) claim their own non-compete clauses mean the author cannot write under the same name for any other house for many years; or cannot write fiction in the same genre (even under another name) for any other house for many years; or cannot write any sort of book at all under any name at all for any other house -or- self-publish at all for many years.

There are no ethical or valid reasons for a non-compete clause. That is why ethical publishers DON'T HAVE THEM. The clause exists solely and exclusively to eliminate legitimate business competition for the writer's work and maintain exclusive access to a writer's work at low cost--even if the publishing relationship ends.

I've also talked with a number of writers who've walked away from deals because of the non-compete clause; and unethical publishers are so terrified of legitimate business competition that they let a writer/book they want walk away rather than strike that clause.

Daniel Kenney said...

Amen Laura. Is there a publisher willing to disagree with Laura about non-competes? Would love to hear your detailed explanation of why they are necessary and would love to hear you refute what Laura is saying here. If you're silent, that will tell us all a great deal.

Fran Veal said...

Very interesting dialogue. I gave up on a very well-known online writer's group because I got sick and tired of the idiots who trolled the self-publishing forums simply for the purpose of denigrating it.

I chose self-publishing quite intentionally after studying this blog. I decided I could either spend years banging on the doors of "the Establishment", or I could get out there and publish my stories. I'm quite happy with the result.

Alan Spade said...

I'm wondering if a judge couldn't decide these non-compete clauses makes de facto authors the employees of the publisher. So the authors have to obtain a salary until the ending of the contract, and compensatory damages if the publisher unilaterally ends the non-compete clause.

After all, if you are a full-time employee for a company, you have to work exclusivly for that company, not for competitors.

Toby Neighbors said...

Mr. Zacharius, I just want to say that I read your posts and discussion on Joe's blog and I applaud your courage for engaging honestly in this debate. I am one of the uncounted self publishers. I earned a little over $100k in 2013, solely through ebook sales, mostly on Amazon. Personally, the biggest motivation I had in going the SP route was retaining the full rights to my own work (and the fact that I couldn't get a Lit Agent to represent my work). I wish you, your family, and your company the best of luck in all your endeavors. Sincerely, Toby Neighbors

Edward M. Grant said...

I'm wondering if a judge couldn't decide these non-compete clauses makes de facto authors the employees of the publisher. So the authors have to obtain a salary until the ending of the contract, and compensatory damages if the publisher unilaterally ends the non-compete clause.

That's an interesting point. I did sign a non-compete clause in one of my IT jobs, but the clause only prevented me from working for the competition for one year after leaving the company (which I had no intention of doing anyway), and said that the company had to pay me the same amount of money for that year that I would otherwise have earned in that job.

I'm guessing more writers would be willing to sign them if the publisher was on the hook for however much their income would have been elsewhere.

(I'd also add that several employees did go to work for the competition and the clause was never enforced, because it wasn't in the company's financial interest to do so unless it was one of the top managers or developers)

Jason Brant said...

Robert: Mr. Konrath, This is the end our conversation from my standpoint. I wish you luck in all your endeavors.

Conversation? I must have missed that. All I read was Joe and Barry shitting on some ridiculous platitudes.

J.R. Pearse Nelson said...

Wow. Not a great representation of agents there…oh well. Moving on! Time to hit the keyboard and produce more work for a paying market. All on my own! Whee! :)

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

He who has the "how" does not care for the "why". In other words who gives a rodent's posterior when legacy tries to defend its own greed? The (self published)writing is on the wall, and legacy is on the way out. Or as the old tent maker said:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Walter Knight said...

I've noticed a growing proportion of books at stores to have photos and illustrations. Is that because E-books haven't infringed on the graphic market yet. The end is coming soon for paper graphics, too.

Dawn said...

As always, great post, Joe.

When I was in journalism school in the 90s, the dean of our school had a small sign on his desk that said, "innovate or die." It's a message I think most newspapers have failed to get and why some in the industry are hurting.

I do not worry about independent bookstores, but I think they need to borrow a page from my dean. Case in point-- I have the big a$$ Life's Century in Pictures Book. It weighs as much as a small BMW. It's a coffee table book, and frankly, kind of cool. There will always be a market for such things because while I would marry my kindle if it were a man, I do like to feel something tangible in my hands (okay, that came out dirtier than I meant it too.)

My point is, I don't see this as an either or. Joe said a while ago that the invention of the car didn't cause the end of horseback riding, but the focus of horseback riding changed.

Dawn said...

Sorry, "meant it to."
My portable keyboard hates me.

Broken Yogi said...

You cannot get someone to see or admit to something that his paycheck requires him not to see or admit to.

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