Sunday, June 29, 2014

More Konrants

I just got back from a wonderful vacation with my family with limited cell phone and Internet access. We had to communicate by doing something called talking, which is a lot like texting or emailing, but without emoticons or abbreviations.

I have now returned, and as I might have guessed, the stupid was strong on the world wide web while I was away.

This is probably old news to everyone but me, and I have other things I want to blog about, but I hate missing an opportunity to give clues to the clueless.

(Actually, the clueless rarely respond, or even acknowledge my gift of fisking. But hopefully some writers are paying attention, and can then make informed decisions.)

First off, Laura Miller said some ridiculous things in a recent Salon article.

Laura: Anyone who has followed the coverage of the ongoing Amazon-Hachette dispute knows that some of the most impassioned voices on the pro-Amazon side of the argument come from self-published writers. It’s easy to understand their impulse to defend Amazon’s e-book publishing programs, given that many had tried in vain to publish their books with traditional houses before opting for, say, Kindle Direct Publishing.

Joe: Sure, Laura. It's bitter losers, snubbed by the industry, who despise it because they had to settle for the meager compensation of controlling their own rights and making more money with Amazon. 

You're aware many have also tried to publish with legacy houses and succeeded. Then we discovered that legacy publishers had unconscionable contracts, archaic business practices, and overall behaved badly. But, as they were the only game in town, we lived with it... until Amazon came around.

Many authors are pro Amazon for a simple, easy to understand reason: Amazon treats authors better and pays them more.

Laura: The intense rage such experiences instill can lead to strange glitches in logic, such as the charge that it is publishers who have engaged in “monopolistic” practices because not everyone who wants to publish with a traditional house has succeeded in winning a contract.

Joe: Read Be the Monkey by me and Eisler. Publishers function as a cartel. They control paper distribution, and limited who could get in, which indeed functions similarly to a monopoly. How else could you describe this barrier to entry? (Hint: it's an oligopoly)

Laura: The Big Five compete with each other for the books they want to publish.

Joe: Compete how? The size of the advance?

Don't you find it curious that they don't compete by offering better contract terms in other areas, such as royalty percentage, rights reversion, length of term of rights, indemnity clauses, non-compete clauses, next options, and many other author-unfriendly provisions?

How about competing like other companies compete for employees? Insurance, bonuses, 401k, pension plans, severance packages, vacation time, paid lunches, travel compensation, expense sheets, etc.?

Oh, wait. Publishers only give those things to their own employees, not to the ONES WHO WRITE THE FUCKING BOOKS THEY SELL.

Is it real competition when all the major publishers somehow wound up offering lockstep 25% ebook royalties? Isn't it odd some publishers didn't try to attract authors by offering more?

Now perhaps all publishers coincidentally came to this figure independent of one another. But I think it is more likely that everyone secretly agreed that the only terms they'd "compete" on were advance sizes, except in the rare case of mega-bestsellers.

You call this competition? Or does this seem more like the Seven Sisters and OPEC? We have evidence of publishers colluding. Is there any reason to believe collusion is something new for them?

Laura: Publishers have long expressed concern that Amazon’s willingness to sell e-books at a loss (that is, less than it pays for the e-books themselves) is aimed at lowering the perceived value of books in the public’s mind.

Joe: Ah, the "value" meme.

I said long ago, value has less to do with the retail price, and more to do with how much an author earns. Selling ten ebooks for $2.99 each and earning an author 70% royalty have more value than selling three ebooks at $9.99 and earning an author 12.5%. Same $30 in customer spending, but one nets the author $21, and the other just $3.75. 

It's not a fad that customers prefer lower prices, and the lower something is priced, the higher number of units it will sell.

And BTW, loss-leads aren't something Amazon invented. They're part of a fad called capitalism, a result of the free market system.

Laura: it’s in the best interest of self-published authors that traditionally published books retain their higher prices. 

Joe: I'll bite. I have $25 to go buy two DVDs. When I get to Best Buy, the DVDs I want are $5 each, as are a slew of others. Do I only spend $10? Or do I spend all $25 (and possibly more) because the prices are so low?

BTW, I was discussing all of this in 2010. And I've watched buying habits of readers, and my predictions have been confirmed time and again. Readers binge with low prices. They hoard ebooks. 

Laura: Publishers don’t just supply professional services (editing, design, distribution, marketing); they are investors. Doesn’t mean they’re always right; publishers often aren’t. But publishing a book is always a gamble of sorts, and a traditional publisher has ponied up.
From the perspective of many readers, this is a meaningful testimonial. 
Joe: Which is why there are scores of people who look for Random House or Simon & Schuster emblems on the spine before they buy, and reject anything without that imprimatur. 
Oh, wait. Readers don't do that. Because they don't care AT ALL who the publisher is.

If you are privy to information showing the contrary, please present it. Because my blog is full of data from authors who sell more ebooks once they go indie. Start reading in April 2009 and go from there.
Laura: readers expect a higher average standard from traditionally published books and are willing to pay for it. The proof of this is in Amazon’s own bestseller list. As much as everyone likes to carp about the stinkers produced by the Big Five, the Kindle top sellers remain dominated by traditionally published e-books, despite their higher prices.
Joe: You mean they remain dominated by mega bestsellers with giant ad campaigns?
Gee, I wonder why this is the case. It must be because these authors were vetted by traditional publishers. Not because these authors are already famous, or because their work is available everywhere because publishers control paper distribution, or because they are being backed with massive marketing dollars.

No, the real reason James Patterson sells so well is because he's been curated. Or, according to Hachette, sifted. And readers know this, so they flock to his books.
Laura: Most readers are not willing to read dozens of sample chapters in order to find something acceptable or to rely on consumer reviews of questionable authenticity.
Joe: Can you show me the poll you took of "most readers"? I assume the sample was at least tens of thousands, right?

Have you ever been in a bookstore, looking for something new to read? Readers browse, whether it is legacy pubbed books, or self-pubbed ebooks. Sorta like you do when you Google something and find the website you want in the search results.

Google doesn't only list the vetted, curated, sifted websites. It lists them all. And the popularity of a website is based on reader preference, not sifting.
Laura: At present, the author of, say, a self-published thriller available as an e-book for $5 or less does not have to compete with Janet Evanovich, Alafair Burke, David Baldacci and John Sandford on even ground.
Joe: Ebooks aren't in competition with each other. It isn't zero sum. I refuted this two years ago.
Why do these old, tired arguments persist?
Laura: While there’s not much self-publishers can do to influence the outcome of the Hachette-Amazon dispute, this affair should serve as a cautionary tale about placing too much power in the hands of a single retail outlet.
Joe: Hachette authors aren't at the mercy of Amazon. They're at the mercy of Hachette.
Self-pubbed authors aren't at the mercy of Amazon, either. If you're concerned about Amazon, can you show me their history of squeezing and mistreating writers? Why worry about being eaten by wolves, when there is currently a lion feasting on your legs?

Hachette authors are getting screwed because they signed away their rights to Hachette, trusting that publisher to make business deals that best serve them. If Hachette can't make a deal with the biggest retailer of books in the world, Hachette is the problem.

I sympathize with Hachette authors, and with all legacy pubbed authors. But they need to accept that they signed the deal. I signed four legacy deals. I felt I had no choice, and no negotiating power. They were the only game in town, and I had to take it or leave it. So I took it, and I accepted full responsibility for my publishers' many mistakes.

Now that there IS a choice, authors must accept even more responsibility. Signing away your rights, when you're now able to keep them and self-publish, is a huge gamble. Because if your publisher screws the pooch, you're stuck. Forever.
Laura: A self-publisher is still a publisher and occasionally all publishers clash with the retailers who bring their wares to market.
Joe: When that time comes, I'll clash with Amazon. But I think I'll give them the benefit of the doubt for a bit longer. And I'm apparently not the only one.
Elsewhere on the interwebs, Mike Shatzkin said some silly stuff about Amazon. Mike is becoming quite a source of fodder for this blog, almost rivaling Scott Turow. Here are some highlights.
Mike: (concerning the Hachette/Amazon dispute) My “position” on all this is that it reveals an imbalance that only the government can fix. 
Joe: I agree. I'd love for the government to step in and take a good, hard look at author contracts and boilerplate clauses in traditional publishing for the past 30 years. I bet they'd be viewed as unconscionable, and that publishers have acted as a cartel.
That's when the government is supposed to step in, Mike. When an entity with too much power abuses that power. 
Amazon is an innovator who is responsible for a large amount of the billion dollar ebook market because they created the platform everyone wants. That is not an abuse of power. They're constantly striving to keep customer prices low. That is not an abuse of power. The govt doesn't step in to stomp on smart competitors. They step in when people are getting screwed.
Like authors have been getting screwed by legacy publishers, for decades, because they had no other choice. We either signed one-sided contracts, or didn't get our work into bookstores. THAT is what needs investigating, not Amazon exercising its right to sell whatever books it wants to sell.

On your blog, www.idealog.com, you post the content you want. Well, I'd like you to post different content, because your blog is one of the biggest pro-legacy publishing blogs, and you control much of that market segment. So I'd like the government to force you to post some anti-legacy publishing and pro-indie publishing posts.

Because, Mike, your choice is an imbalance that only the government can fix.
Mike: it makes it very hard, perhaps impossible, for somebody retailing books alone to compete with them.
Joe: Since when did it become ANY company's policy to promote competition? Do the executives at Coke sit around the board meeting table and say things like, "Wait a second, we're taking too much market share! We must do something to help our rival, PepsiCo, compete with us!"

Does PepsiCo go running to the government for help, crying, "It's unfair! People enjoy Coke products more than ours! Pass some laws so we can make more money!"
Actually, I'd like a piece of that action...
"James Patterson outsells me! His millions of copies of books are preventing my sales! I need the government to make Patterson write fewer books, and make it possible for my books to be next to his in every retail outlet in the world!"

That would be sweet.

And ridiculous.
Mike: Amazon will grow at the expense of all other book and ebook retailers and Penguin Random House will grow at the expense of all other trade publishers. Smaller publishers have already felt the pain and self-published authors will in the future. That’s what will happen naturally and organically from now on, unless a stronger force intervenes, and on the right side instead of the wrong side the next time.
Joe: Why do you think Random Penguins will grow? 
I've been predicting the paper business will become niche. It tends to happen when a new, superior tech overtakes an old, legacy one. Grandparents are getting iPads and Kindles, and children are learning to read without ever picking up a dead tree. B&N will close, which will kill the midlist paper market. New York and the world are woefully underestimating the allure and impact of self-publishing. Amazon is too large and powerful to bow to the demands of any publisher, no matter how many of them merge.
Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe ebook sales really have plateaued, and Barnes and Noble will be around for fifty more years, and authors will continue to accept 12.5% ebook royalties for the opportunities that legacy publishers provide, and self-publishing only works for a select few, and Amazon will willingly accept agency pricing. And then monkeys wearing "Joe Was Wrong" t-shirts will shoot out of my ass and enslave the human race.

Next, Mike attempts to fisk Hugh Howey. I'll respond to the highlights.

Mike: I think that generalized advice to authors to eschew publishers in a world where print still matters and stores still matter remains, as of today, unwise. 

Joe: I once felt the same way about eschewing publishers. Then, in 2010, after 17 months of personal data, communicating with other authors, and careful observation, I realized that in most cases the perks that legacy publishers offer authors are outweighed by the negative aspects of publishing contracts.

In case you missed my post about going indie in 2012, here are some ways publishers hurt authors:

They have given us take-it-or-leave-it, one-sided, unconscionable contracts.
They have failed to adequately market works they have acquired.
They have artificially inflated the price of ebooks.
They have refused to negotiate better ebook royalties for authors.
They have forced unnecessary editing changes on authors.
They have forced unnecessary title changes on authors.
They have forced crappy covers on authors.
They have refused to exploit rights they own.
They have refused to return rights they aren't properly exploiting.
They take far too long to bring acquired works to market.
They take far too long to pay writers advances and royalties.
Their royalty statements are opaque, out-of-date, and inaccurate.
They orphan authors.
They orphan books.
They refuse to treat authors as equals, let alone with a reasonable measure of fairness.
They make mistakes and take no responsibility for those mistakes.
For every hope they nurture, they unnecessarily neglect and destroy countless others.
They have made accessories of the authors' ostensible representative organization, the quisling Authors Guild, and are served, too, by the misleadingly named Association of Authors' Representatives.
They have failed to honor promises made.
They have failed to honor their own onerous contract terms.
They've failed the vast majority of authors, period.

I'll also add:

They have failed to negotiate successfully with the largest book retailer on the planet, limiting sales.

Mike:  And you’d be forgiven if you got the impression from this that Hachette only wanted to control the price Amazon sells at, not the price everybody sells at, keeping it the same across retailers. It does matter how you frame things…

Joe: So your argument is that because publishers have always been able to control the retail price of books (what other product has prices directly printed on it?) that this is somehow a God-given right and they should be allowed to continue to do this with every business partner they choose?

Some companies do have the power and gravitas to set retail prices. Many video game manufactures won't allow retailers to sell their products unless they keep them at their set price. No reduced sale prices are allowed.

This is fine, if both parties agree to these terms. But both parties shouldn't be FORCED to agree to these terms.

If Gamestop doesn't want to sell a PS4 for $399 that Sony demands, even though all other retailers sell it for $399, Gamestop doesn't have to carry the PS4. 

If Amazon doesn't want to sell Hachette ebooks for the price Hachette sets, even though Hachette has managed to make all other retailers agree to their price-setting, Amazon doesn't have to carry Hachette titles.

Why isn't this the end of the discussion? Amazon is engaging in blatant acts of capitalism. So is Hachette. Enough said.

Mike: Publishers are trying to keep a print book physical distribution infrastructure alive. That’s not irrational. It is rational. 

Joe: It's also rational to bet on a horse that won a hundred races. But if the horse is past its prime, what is rational may not be what is wise.

It was rational for Kodak to continue to manufacture film and film cameras after digital cameras began to take hold in the consumer world. That's one of dozens of examples of what happens when a new disruptive technology arrives. Kodak had a lock on the picture industry. Film, cameras, film developing. We had 1 hour photo shops in every strip mall in America. Every drugstore sold 110, 35mm, 126, 240, and disc film (remember all of those?). 

We know what happened. Digital won. The infrastructure Kodak tried to keep alive collapsed anyway. And Kodak was left high and dry and bankrupt.

As I mentioned above, I believe bookstores will go the way of record stores. I believe more and more people are reading on digital devices. I believe more and more people will eschew paper for its high cost, inconvenience, and lack of features. Those who refuse to read digitally are getting older and passing away. And an entirely new generation of readers is learning to read on digital devices, not dead trees.

Paper will become niche. It will only be able to support mega-bestsellers.

Luckily, we mid-list authors finally have an option. We can choose to go indie.

Mike: Up until very recently, there was no efficient means or mechanism for publishers to sell directly to readers. Their “customers” were bookstores, and they understood them very well.

Joe: So much wrong with this comment.

First, publishers had the capital and means to INVENT A DAMN EREADER A DECADE AGO. They also could have sold paper books online. Nothing prevented this. Just like nothing prevented the record companies from creating a store that sold mp3s. But they didn't, and now we have Apple and iTunes and a new way of listening to music that has become ubiquitous.

Publishers let Amazon eat their lunch because they're archaic, bloated, and refuse to innovate. And then they fed the monster they helped create with their own lack of vision.

Second, publishers treated many of their "customers" like shit. Offering big discounts to bookstore chains and big boxes made it difficult for independent bookstores to compete. They also offered these discounts to Amazon.

Publishers, in understanding their "customers", effectively marginalized themselves.

That sounds less like understanding and more like hubris and existence bias.

Mike: The important and relevant point is that we’re still waiting for the first major author to say “no” to a publisher. It will happen, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Joe: This is a fascinating perspective, and it's worth teasing out the meaning.

Me, Barry Eisler, Hugh Howey, and many other authors have turned down legacy publishing deals. Many more haven't even tried to pursue legacy deals. At first, we were called outliers. Then dozens and dozens of authors did what we did, and the term didn't apply anymore, because it was becoming the norm.

So it apparently doesn't matter to Mike that the mid-listers and newbie authors are leaving legacy publishing. Only that no "major" author has publicly done so.

That seems like limited thinking. If all but a few hardworking employees leave the factory line, the factory isn't going to be able to stay open very long.

Then Mike says, "It will happen."

So what are you arguing about, Mike? Timing? Authors should keep submitting to legacy publishers and accepting awful contract terms until JK Rowling begins to self-publish exclusively? Then, and only then, should all authors abandon ship?

Acknowledging it will happen is acknowledging the death of the legacy publishing industry. So why do you keep defending that industry and marginalizing self-publishing if you know it's doomed?

Mike: And the cherry on top is a biased characterization of the value and role of brick and mortar retailers.

Joe: I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I get the feeling that you seem to be saying paper is still viable, that authors shouldn't abandon it. I don't know any indie authors who abandon paper. They all self-publish paper books. It's the retailers like B&N and Sam's Club and indie bookstores who won't carry our self-pubbed (or Amazon-pubbed) paper books.

Perhaps I should ask the government to step in and force all brick and mortar bookstores to carry my paper titles.

But in reality, brick and mortar retailed indeed have no value and role for me, because I do well without them. I'm not the only author who feels this way. That's a paradigm shift you can't seem to see.

Mike: Recent data suggests pretty strongly that taking down pirate copies increases sales.

Joe: You cherry picked data there, Mike. For some titles, taking down pirate copies may increase sales. For others, it may lead to increased exposure. In the report's conclusion:

"For well known books and those by popular authors, online piracy mainly poses a threat to regular
book sales, while authors who are just starting out could bene t from the additional platform. My
results support this idea, at least for e-books."

So where did the study get the sales data used for research?

It was supplied by Digimarc, and RosettaBooks (which uses Digimarc to send takedown notices to pirate sites). There's a 27 page report that goes into detail.

According to the report, there was no record of how many copies of each of the 653 titles obtained through RosettaBooks were shared. The report also says:

"I ignore those titles that never enter piracy protection as those titles may be inherently different from those that move into piracy protection."

Instead the control utilized is the specific titles before and after Digimarc sends takedown notices. It would have been nice to see how much sales fluctuated without Digimarc's involvement at all.

It also would be nice to see a breakdown of costs. Did the supposed 15% rise in sales after Digimarc's actions make up for the cost of Digimarc's service?

Shouldn't these questions be asked before concluding that taking down pirated copies increases sales?

Mike: But, in fact, only authors who sell their books to publishers without competitive bids (which indicates either “no agent” or “limited appeal generated by the proposal”) are living on that 25% royalty. The others negotiated an advance that effectively paid them far more than that. And guaranteed it before the book hit the marketplace. Publishers are making a massive PR error not raising the “standard” royalty since they effectively pay much more than that now, but the authors signing contracts with them know the truth.

Joe: First of all, Mike, an "advance" is called an "advance" not a "salary" or a "sale". It is an amount of money fronted to authors that is to be paid back through book sales.

While no one owes anyone a living, most authors aren't able to live off advances that never earn out. Mega-bestsellers may get huge advances that won't earn out, but the rest of us are expected by our publishers to earn out our meager advances, or else our books are considered flops and we're dropped.

A legacy publishing advance at 25% royalty (on net, Mike, which actually means authors are making closer to 12.5% royalties off of list price) is really offering a ridiculously high-cost loan.

Would you take a deal that said, "I'll loan you $10,000, but you have to pay me 57.5% interest for the rest of your life plus seventy years"?

Because authors are giving up 57.5% royalties to their publisher, forever, just so they can get some money upfront.

It only takes some simple math (which I did years ago) to show how much money authors forfeit by not self-publishing. Even if you erroneously believe the majority of legacy authors get such high advances they never earn out, or are never meant to earn out, it's a rare thing that unearned advance money outweighs what an author could have done on their own at 70%.

Let's say I get a $50k advance from a legacy publisher and sell 20,000 ebooks at $5.99 in the first year. I made $15k toward that advance and still owe my publisher $35k. Let's also say I sold 12,000 paperbacks at $7.99. That's another $8k. So now I only owe my publisher $27k.

Or

I self-publish and sell 15,000 ebooks at $5.99. I made $63k and don't owe anyone a penny, except for the set costs of editing, proofing, formatting, and cover art. Let's call it $60k even.

As a self-publisher I sold less than half of what I did as a legacy pubbed author, but made more money. And in the second year of sales self-pubbing I'll be earning money every month, while in the second year of legacy sales I'll still be paying the publisher.

That's the "truth" authors need to know. Not your silly explanation.

Mike: It costs nothing to print, warehouse, or ship an ebook. But it cost something to create. And for many, if not most, publisher-published books, the publisher gave the author a substantial payment before publication.

Joe: Creation costs for ebooks are fixed, and inexpensive. They aren't worth giving up 57.5%.

And again you're talking about the advance as if it is not required to be paid back. While authors won't have to return unearned advance money, they're paying substantial interest on the money they have paid back via the lousy royalty rate.

An advance not meant to earn out is one of the insidious holds publishers have on authors. Rather than earn royalties every month, an author is forced to seek out another advance to sustain them. Living advance to advance isn't easy. Especially when an advance can be doled out over years. It's a company store mentality I've blogged about before, and it's why so many authors are afraid to leave their publishers; you have to stay with the company treating you poorly because you think you have no other choice. In order to keep your head above water, you need that next advance.

In reality, if you'd kept your rights, each book will continue to earn monthly income, making advances unnecessary.

Mike: Publishers live in a competitive marketplace in general but nowhere more than when it comes to signing authors. The 25% hasn’t moved, but every book that is signed based on a competitive situation (one agent told me that’s at least 2/3 of them; one big publisher believes they compete for 95% of what they sign) is getting an advance that is calculated on a much higher percentage than the “standard”.

Joe: I'll repeat what I said above. Publishers compete like oil companies compete. They've lock-stepped all contract terms except the size of the advance, just like an oligopoly.

Do you have information on how many submitted books get competitive publishing bids? I talk to a lot of authors, and I'm under the impression that most get only one offer. Perhaps because they are unagented, or maybe there indeed is limited appeal generated by the proposal. I'm also under the impression that publishers are constantly rejecting what other publishers wind up accepting. This seems less like competition, and more like having the control over an entire industry, allowing every publisher to pick and chose what they want.

And when did book sales become zero sum? Do you believe those who read Random Penguins books automatically shun books pubbed by Hachette? Can you show me how a #1 NYT bestseller is taking sales away from a #2 NYT bestseller? It's not like choosing between a Coke or a Pepsi when you're thirsty. Readers tend to read what they're interested in. For many, the only barrier is price--which publishers don't compete on, all adopting equal pricing structures that they print on their product (seriously, what other product does that?)

Mike: The Hachette authors are doing precisely the same thing Howey is doing: defending their biggest source of revenue.

Joe: No, Hachette authors, as I've already shown several times, are revealing their lack of understanding about how the business works, and eschewing blame for the situation even though they signed away their rights.

Howey isn't simply defending his biggest source of revenue. He's dispassionately analyzing the situation (much more dispassionately than you are, Mike--Howie didn't "slam" his fellow authors, and to say so is beneath you) and drawing conclusions based on logic and facts.

Mike: I think those making the argument that worrying about terms changing in the future is silly should at least acknowledge what has already happened!

Joe: I believe Mike is referring to Amazon cutting ACX royalties (I'm not sure, his link is dead).

Personally, I'm glad Amazon cut royalties. It will allow other companies to rise up and offer better terms. If Amazon does the same with KDP, that will encourage competition.

I'm pro author. I don't self-publish because of an idealogy, and I don't bash legacy publishers because of personal bias. I relish choice, and I'm not putting all of my eggs in the Amazon basket. (My two start-ups, Bookloco.com and eBooksAreForever.com should both be up and running by year's end).

But right now, Amazon is a godsend for authors. Even with 40% ACX royalties (which still beats any legacy audio deal).

Amazon cutting KDP royalties would lead to author exodus. Amazon knows this. I don't believe it would be in their best interest to do so, but maybe I'll be proved wrong in the future. Until then, I'll happily take the 70%.

But this is more than just about royalties, Mike. This is about owning rights.

If Amazon becomes the Great Satan, I own my rights. I can sell my ebooks elsewhere.

Right now, Hachette authors are screwed. Because Hachette has their rights. Once you let someone else take the wheel, you're at their mercy. I'd much rather do the driving.

Mike: Who knows what is the “the very worst that Amazon might do”?

Joe: I've been urging Amazon for years to drop KDP Select exclusive. I don't believe it is in anyone's best interest. I protested when they removed reviews. I thought that was wrong. I haven't liked some recent A-pub terms, specifically with their new foreign publishing wing, AmazonCrossing, and we had some epic debates over it. Amazon isn't perfect.

Perhaps, in the future, self-pubbing on Amazon will require granting Amazon full exclusive rights, like a legacy publishing contract.

THAT'S the worst Amazon could do. Take our rights, forever.

As for that AmazonCrossing German deal I disliked? Amazon has sold 12,000 copies of the German edition of Whiskey Sour this month.

I now feel much better about the terms I accepted. :)

Mike: Because many authors are still being very well paid and well served by publishers.

Joe: Many don't know any better. Many are afraid to leave. There is plenty of Stockholm Syndrome. Plenty of company store mentality.

But what I see very little of is authors lauding their legacy publishers, claiming they are well paid and well served by them. Yes, there is the idiocy of Turow and Patterson, who do indeed fit that description. But I believe the majority have big problems with their publishers, and are defending their bad decision to sign because it would be ego crushing to admit being wrong, or they feel trapped and don't know how to get away from their legacy masters, or they are afraid to go it alone, or they haven't discovered self-publishing yet because they were conditioned to believe legacy is the only way.

That's a far cry from many authors being well paid and well served. The happy indentured servant mentality is bullshit.

Mike: Amazon’s decision to “make a pittance” on certain products, including some ebooks, is tactical, not altruistic.

Joe: We found something to agree on.

Perhaps Amazon may some day find it tactical to keep the majority of book royalties, demand rights forever, and raise ebook prices.

But Amazon's track record shows otherwise. They haven't demanded authors' rights, have maintained high royalties (even 40% ACX royalty is high), and kept prices low.

The ones demanding rights (among other unconscionable terms) and high prices and low royalties are legacy publishers. They prefer to feather their nests at authors' expenses while Amazon chooses to tactically keep profits low and innovate.

We'll see who comes out on top, and who attracts the most authors.

Mike: The unreality in the suggestion that publishers are trying to put Amazon out of business is mindboggling.

Joe: Hugh didn't suggest that. You're not getting the concept in context. I'll quote Hugh:

Hugh: Publishers should have engineered Amazon from the ground-up. A company that invests in distribution networks for their products rather than pocketing profits. And instead of celebrating all the hundreds of benefits, like pre-orders and customer reviews and the savings on print runs and returns that Amazon’s algorithms provide, they are trying to figure out how to put their best resource out of business. It boggles the mind. Like those authors who fear Amazon might take royalties away tomorrow, so are happy to give up those royalties today, publishers are siding with companies that are hurting them today out of fear of their greatest ally getting even more market share tomorrow. And readers and writers are the victims of this illogical behavior.

Joe: In trying to control pricing, Hachette is indeed marginalizing Amazon's ability to sell Hachette's own ebooks, and Amazon is responsible for much of Hachette's profits.

In fact, Hachette made bigger profits when Amazon controlled pricing.

I knew the agency model stunk when I first heard about it. I would LOVE it if I could sell to Amazon at wholesale, say for $12.50 a unit, and Amazon paid me full wholesale price while selling my titles as a loss lead for $7.99. So would ANY AUTHOR WITH HALF A BRAIN.

But publishers feared this would cannibalize their paper oligopoly and hasten the growth of ebooks. Rather than embracing ebooks, and perhaps creating their own version of Amazon (by making their own online stores and ereaders), publishers windowed ebooks, colluded to price fix, raised prices, and basically acted petulant and fearful even as they made record profits.

Fail. If publishers truly want to wrest control from Amazon, they have to STOP SELLING THEIR BOOKS ON AMAZON.

Instead, they whine publicly when Amazon removes their pre-order buttons.

Hugh is right. Publishers can't have it both ways. They're shitting where they eat, and foolish for doing so. And their authors are suffering.

Mike: a large number of authors got an advance that already pre-paid them for the royalties they could conceivably have earned by doing their own self-publishing when the publishers’ sales died.

Joe: Again you're harping on about the advance. You really seem to have convinced yourself that advances aren't meant to earn out, and somehow constitute publishers paying authors more than 12.5% royalties, when publishers regularly drop authors for not earning out their advances, and print runs are calculated in part based on advance amount.

And I love your comment "when publishers' sales died."

Haven't you heard, Mike? Ebooks are forever. They continue to sell, for eternity.

Many publishers are refusing to revert rights for out of print books, claiming ebooks are considered "still in print" (which makes one wonder why the reversion clause even exists). This is because publishers continue to earn on these titles, theoretically to the point where EVERY SINGLE BOOK WILL EVENTUALLY EARN OUT ITS ADVANCE.

Which completely blows your whole argument. When all advances are earned out because ebooks never cease selling, advances truly function as the high interest loans I mentioned earlier.

Mike: They (small presses) are forced (by Amazon) to sell their ebooks on “wholesale” terms, which means giving much more of the retail price they set to the supply chain.

Joe: Wha?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't ALL BOOKSTORES AND PUBLISHERS for AS LONG AS THERE HAVE BEEN BOOKSTORES AND PUBLISHERS operated on the wholesale model? No matter how big the publisher was, that's how it has always been.

The only difference between paper and ebooks is that wholesale paper distribution usually involves distributors who get a cut.

Let us remember that Amazon adopted the wholesale model for ebooks from Big Publishing, because that's how they bought paper books.

It was Apple that introduced agency pricing to publishing, which the publishers quickly embraced, then they colluded to force Amazon to accept it.

Small presses, or big presses, or bookstores, or etailers, aren't forced by Amazon to do anything. Amazon has no monopoly or monopsony. Amazon can dictate whatever terms it likes to its partners, and its partners can decide whether or not to sell books through Amazon.

Mike: The desire to make villains out of the industry establishment is the most unattractive trait of what should be a hero class: intrepid authors who forge ahead without institutional support to make success happen.

Joe: I don't try to make a villain out of the industry establishment. Its own actions make it a villain. I simply shine a light on the villainy.

However, I think a truly unattractive trait is to be an apolgetic for villainous publishers, as you continue to do. You make excuse after excuse for inexcusable behavior perpetrated against authors by the legacy industry.

Early in the post you said, "When I wrote what I intended to be a balanced piece about the Amazon-Hachette battle, it brought out the troops from the indie author militia in the comment string to call me to task and accuse me of many things."

First of all, we are not troops in a militia. We are artists trying to earn a fair wage. Artists who have been screwed for decades.

Second of all, the reason you get called to task in your comments is because you are wrong. Consider the amount of detractors in your comments compared to me, or David Gaughran, or Passive Guy, or Kris Rusch, or Courtney Milan, or Bob Mayer, or Dean Wesley Smith, or any number of others who blog about the publishing business.

Certainly, if there are so many authors being "well paid and well served" by publishers, they'd show up on our blogs like militia troops and disabuse us of our foolish notions.

But they aren't. Why is that? Why do you get taken to task on your blog, but we don't?

Intrepid authors who forge ahead without institutional support and make success happen aren't heroes. They're lucky. And if they manage a degree of success and share their experience with others, they're both lucky and helpful. And that includes when they take you to task for the ridiculous nonsense you spout on your increasingly irrelevant blog.

Mike: But author success has been achieved in a wide variety of ways and the way Hugh Howey has done it is still very much the exception, not the rule. We shouldn’t leap to conclusions from unusual cases.

Joe: Sort of like assuming authors stick with publishers because they are well served and well paid? I'd call well served and well paid authors the exception, not the rule. But let's focus on indie publishers.

Sure, Hugh is an exception. So am I. So are dozens of other indie bestsellers. As I said earlier, how many outliers does it take before it becomes normal?

Did you read the recent post on Passive Voice, with authors admitting how they've given up their day jobs? Do you ever visit www.kboards.com? Have you studied the www.authorearnings.com data?

This isn't about exceptions. This isn't about Hugh specifically. This isn't about some big name author who will, as you predict, one day self-publish.

This is about a very real revolution, happening right now, that you and legacy publishing can't seem to admit exists, other than as a slush pile.

I don't care if legacy publishers, or their pundits, know how empowering, potentially lucrative, and all around good self-publishing is for authors. I'm not trying to overthrow an industry. I'm not trying to promote Us vs. Them. I don't view legacy publishers as the enemy.

But I do want authors to be informed, so they can set attainable goals and make the best decisions for their careers. Which is why I'm going to keep fisking you. And it's also why your most popular posts are the ones where indie authors chime in to disagree with you.

Mike: And I think it is an iron rule of nature that it is dangerous to generalize from one’s own personal experience.

Joe: I agree. But Hugh speaks for more than himself. He and Data Guy are speaking on behalf of 50,000 titles they've been tracking.

Whom do you speak for, Mike?

Finally, Mike said this in the comments:

Mike: And the whole self-publishing option only is commercially viable to a small minority of authors anyway. I'll write another post on this but there are only two categories of successful self-published author: those who reclaimed their backlist and those who write in genres and write a LOT. You take those two types out and the number of successful self-publishers is vanishingly small. In commercial publishing, on the other hand, these two types are a small minority.

Joe: Paul Draker did a good job of dismantling this nonsense in the comments, but I'll also offer my take.

First, legacy publishing is commercially viable to an even SMALLER minority of authors than self-pubbing. Not only do legacy authors make less (thank you AuthorEarnings.com), but when we take into account all the authors making money self-publishing who were either rejected by legacy publishers, or never bothered pursuing self-publishing, we're talking about a lot of authors paying bills who never could before.

Second, you're missing something blindingly obvious. If an author can make money on backlist books they reclaimed, WHY THE HELL WASN'T THE PUBLISHER MAKING MONEY OFF THOSE BOOKS? Why would any publisher let an obviously lucrative title revert back to the author? How incompetent is that?

I made a few hundred thousand dollars from my legacy contracts. I've made ten times that on my own. That's how poorly my publishers did.

Third, as Paul said:

"Pretending there are "only two types of successful self-publishers" is just self-serving silliness, and your outdated claim that the number of successful self-publishers is "vanishingly small" is illogical nonsense that doesn't bear any resemblance to the highly visible reality of publishing success today. There are a few thousand of us indies who first started writing in the ebook era and never bothered with all this quaint, old-fashioned querying stuff, yet are already earning a full time living from writing. And when big publishers approach us with unsolicited offers after seeing us outselling them in the top retailer charts time and time again, we turn them down as often as not.

It's 2014, Mike. :)

What year is it on your planet?"

Fourth, I wrote about the importance of virtual shelf space years ago, in this post on ebook promotion.

The more books you write, the more virtual shelf space you occupy, the likelier you are to be discovered. Some of those who discover you will buy you, and some who buy you will buy more of your books. So the more ebooks you have, the better your odds are at selling more of them.

But while prolific authors with big back lists may have better odds, no one knows which book will become a hit. I'm pretty sure Hugh Howey had a hit with Wool before the novel was even finished (he released it serially). If I remember correctly, Amanda Hocking only had a few books out when she became a bestseller. Every so often I'll look at the Kindle Top 100 and find a new author I've never heard of, and see they have a limited backlist (or no backlist at all).

Odds are a funny thing. The odds of hitting red on roulette are little less than 50/50. There are 18 red pockets, 18 black pockets, and 2 green pockets in US roulette. The more numbers you bet, the likelier you are to win.

Pretend those numbers are ebooks. If you have fourteen ebooks, the odds of the ball landing on one of your books (in our analogy that would indicate a sale) are better than if you only had one book.

But occasionally you can bet on one number and win big. And there are many examples of this happening. Right now, at #19 in the Kindle Top 100 Bestseller List, is Black Lotus by E.K. Blair. It's only her fourth book. Sweet Addiciton by J. Adams is #52, and it's her only book. The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle is his third book, and it's at #88.

Anyone who wants to spend a little time on the Amazon bestsellers list can no doubt find many other examples. But Mike doesn't like the facts to get in the way of how he views the world.

Finally, I was amused to find my name brought up in the comments.

Mike: I haven't read much (of Konrath). He's one of the VERY few people who has posted stuff I've deleted from the blog. He'd write 1000 or 1500 word comments. As long or longer than some of my posts. I tried to give him a 20 word answer and then he'd do it again.

Joe: That's because you wrote such BS, Mike, it took more than 20 words to refute it. A wise man once said; the energy required to refute stupidity is exponentially larger than the stupidity itself.

In 2011 your blog was terrific. You were a forward thinker with an open mind. You valued debate. What happened to you?

Mike: I tried to recruit him as a Digital Book World speaker in 2010 when he was pretty early in his self-publishing career and he said he was too busy writing to do anything else. Apparently, he's now got the time for writing that he doesn't sell. Good for him.

Joe: I found my email reply to you:

"I'm flattered you'd ask me to speak, but I've given up public appearances. As you may know, I've visited well over a hundred libraries and book fairs and conventions, and signed at over 1200 bookstores.

Right now the best use of my time is staying at home and writing. I took myself out of the public speaking circuit (where I had offers as high as $10k to speak) because it became a full time job. My goal has always been to write for a living. Now I can do that without all of the stress and hassle of running around the country, flapping my jaws. I also cut out pretty much all self-promotion, including interviews."

But I never stopped blogging. I consider it a public service.

I think about stopping, though. All the time. It's a time suck, and other bloggers (not you) are doing a fine job educating authors about the industry. The publishing world would get along just fine without me.

However, whenever I think that I should quit, someone sends me something ridiculous, like a link to your blog, and asks me to respond.

Please, Mike. Stop spouting nonsense. Then I would be able to get more work done.

But, on the off chance you'd like to reply, I'll give you more than 20 words to do so. I'm generous that way.

70 comments:

John Ellsworth said...

While you were on vacation, I wasn't: I checked your blog every day for new posts. Your wit and wisdom were sorely missed in between chapters of my next book. Next time you boogie, suggest leaving a few "canned" posts for those of us who might otherwise succumb to lesser sites while you're away. They just ain't got what you got, brother.

John

Alexander Mori said...

Welcome back! Hope the vacation was fun and relaxing!

There's so much nonsense from Mike and Laura to gawk at, but my favorite was this:

"there are only two categories of successful self-published author: those who reclaimed their backlist and those who write in genres and write a LOT."

There's another category of successful self-pubbed authors he forgot to include. Good writers who tell good stories and sell them at affordable prices the reading public is willing to pay.

Sue Trowbridge said...

"First, publishers had the capital and means to INVENT A DAMN EREADER A DECADE AGO." When I first moved to the San Francisco area and was looking for work, I got involved in the world of focus groups. I would be paid a hundred bucks or so to give my opinion on things from refrigerators to web sites. This was around '98-'99. One of those focus groups was to evaluate a primitive e-reader. This particular example wasn't a great product, but the testers were enthusiastic about the idea, and I was surprised when years went by and e-readers didn't become a force in the market. So you're absolutely correct - the technology has been around for a long time.

Melanie Francisco said...

I too read the Salon piece right up until I read the "selling e-books at a loss" quote. From there I pretty much tuned out. Here's the deal, there's no reason EVERYBODY can't make money on e-books with loads to spare. The additional cost to format a book into e-book should be a pittance compared to what the publisher has put into the book so far. What I don't get is the reluctance by publishers to embrace where the readers are...oh wait, yes I do. E-reading is "new" and scary and I we (trad publishers) don't know how to take advantage of it.

They also don't know anything about marketing. They'll spend a bunch of money pushing the latest Stephen King or JK Rowling and when it sells a million copies will congratulate themselves that they've done a good job. But the true test of a marketing campaign isn't the total number of units sold, it's the additional units sold.

So trads would be better off figuring out how to get more people to read than fighting with Amazon. And Amazon would be better off minding it's corporate image. Just my 2 pennies for the day.

S. L. Boots said...

Even bestselling authors can benefit from piracy: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/feb/01/paulo-coelho-readers-pirate-books

I've always found that fascinating. In a study, called The Sky is Rising, showed that Americans who used P2P sharing actually purchased more music than people who didn't.

Further, in response to questions, music listeners who used file-sharing services (primarily P2P, because that's the biggest source) said that subscription streaming services would curb their file-sharing. I wonder if that would work with the book industry. A monthly subscription to get all the ebooks you'd ever want.

What do you think?

--Shad

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Awesome post. Actually, I was reading a forward In Richard Laymon's The Woods are Dark by Kelly Laymon, his daughter, telling the true story of how Warner Books totally f*cked up his book, beyond repair, and actually drove him to tears.

She fixed it, putting together the original manuscript from dozens of rewrites they made him do. It's scarier than all of his horror stories put together, and they scare the hell out of me.

Read the forward. It's called Here's What Happened. Just do a 'look inside' of the beginning of the book here:

http://www.amazon.com/Woods-are-Dark-Richard-Laymon-ebook/dp/B003P9VOLC/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_kin?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404091086&sr=1-1&keywords=the+woods+are+dark+richard+laymon

William Ockham said...

Ha! My chance to fisk Konrath.

Joe: Second, you're missing something blindingly obvious. If an author can make money on backlist books they reclaimed, WHY THE HELL WASN'T THE PUBLISHER MAKING MONEY OFF THOSE BOOKS? Why would any publisher let an obviously lucrative title revert back to the author? How incompetent is that?

I made a few hundred thousand dollars from my legacy contracts. I've made ten times that on my own. That's how poorly my publishers did.

William: Sadly, Joe is just wrong here. He is under the misconception that his publisher's mission was to sell Konrath's books. I can see how he came to believe that. It certainly seems like a logical conclusion. I mean, they paid for the rights to sell those titles. And surely they have more marketing muscle than Konrath. But Joe's experience is very typical in this regard. Every author who gets their backlist back seems to be able sell more units per year (not just make more money) than their publisher was in the year before the reversion. That isn't an accident. It isn't incompetence either. It is part of the business model.

A publisher buys your rights to control your books' time on the market. That is why they "overpay" the advance. They make more money by steering people who would have bought your book to some other title. A title that earns out is typically a screw-up. Sure, they tell you that failing to earn out means you were a failure, but what they really mean is that is time to move on the next mark, er, author in need of nurturing.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I think 12.5% of 3 books at 9.99 = 3.74 per book

vs

70% of 10 books at 2.99 ea = 20.93.

"Selling ten ebooks for $2.99 each and earning an author 70% royalty have more value than selling three ebooks at $9.99 and earning an author 12.5%. Same $30 in customer spending, but one nets the author $17, and the other just $3.25. "

Alan Spade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Gaughran said...

Eh, someone should tell Shatzkin that a major author has self-published (I don't comment on his blog anymore, it's totally pointless - and I agree that he was worth reading in 2011 but has totally closed his mind since).

While JK Rowling might be doing it in a different way to most of us, JK she kept the digital rights to the Harry Potter books and published them through her own company. In addition to that, other authors like James Rollins have signed "co-publishing deals" with their publisher where all revenues (and costs) are split, which was noted on a blog not too far from here: jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/05/interview-with-james-rollins.html

This reminds me of the "no self-publisher has won a major literary award" canard. It has already happened, on numerous occasions. The earliest example (in the modern era) I can think of is Roddy Doyle, who self-published The Commitments in the 1980s at the behest of his agent (who couldn't sell the book). That went on to be an Oscar-nommed movie and he went on to win the Booker with a subsequent book. Plenty of examples since too, but the meme keeps getting repeated.

Back to Shatzkin. His last post was the most ridiculous of all and he has truly jumped the shark: http://www.idealog.com/blog/new-data-long-tail-impact-suggest-rethinking-ideas-future-publishing/

In short, Shatzkin takes some Italian/Canadian study of ISBNs and uses it to make predictions on the future of the Long Tail and the disruptive possibilities of self-publishing. The study found that less books with ISBNs are getting even one sale, and then suggested this meant the Long Tail wouldn't be so long (and Mike added that self-publishing wouldn't really grab any market share as a result).

Two problems with this theory:

1) You don't need ISBNs to self-publish and many self-publishers just don't bother. So using ISBN-based studies to say anything about the Long Tail or self-publishing is ridiculous. You could sell hundreds of thousands of e-books without an ISBN, and many self-publishers have.

2) Self-publishing has already taken huge market share, which kinda tanks the whole crappy theory.

Nice try, Mike.

Alan Spade said...

"A publisher buys your rights to control your books' time on the market. That is why they "overpay" the advance. They make more money by steering people who would have bought your book to some other title. A title that earns out is typically a screw-up. Sure, they tell you that failing to earn out means you were a failure, but what they really mean is that is time to move on the next mark, er, author in need of nurturing."

Yes, and Kris Rusch brilliantly demonstrated that in 2012 on her blog: http://kriswrites.com/2012/03/14/the-business-rusch-scarcity-and-abundance/#sthash.JPzz4hWC.dpbs

"Whom do you speak for, Mike?"

That's the key question, in my opinion. It's striking how the arguments of Shatzkin are best-seller centered in this post of his. Yes, Stephen King is able to negociate his ebook rights and great advances, but the real questions for the future of Big Publishing are: will a legacy pubbed midlister ever be able to become the next Stephen King? Is it really doable? If yes, through how many hoops and hurdles? Compared to how many hoops and hurdles for self publishing?

The only thing I found interesting in Shatzkin's post was him hinting that Penguin-Random, is the fiercest competitors of other Big houses. It's possible, if you follow Shatzkin's reasoning, that Penguin Random will devour Hachette, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster and Macmillan.

But will Big publishing be better for that? That means fewer editorial choices for the readers. Prices uniformly high for the books the big entity publishes.

In the end, more vertical height in the big pub business simply means it will make more noise when collapsing.

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, I think 12.5% of 3 books...

You're right. Good catch. I fixed it.

Joe Konrath said...

You don't need ISBNs to self-publish and many self-publishers just don't bother.

I haven't bothered, and I've sold a million ebooks without an ISBN.

I'd tell Mike that, but he tends to delete my comments. Like many, he doesn't want the truth to get in the way of a good story.

Valerie Douglas said...

I got a couple of my backlist books back from my mid-list publisher, especially one to which they'd made major changes. I rewrote it the way I intended and self-published it under my pen name. Where sales had fallen off because they'd moved on to the next author, I sold many more of the rewritten version.
Oh, and I don't use ISBNs either.

Joe Konrath said...

A publisher buys your rights to control your books' time on the market. That is why they "overpay" the advance. They make more money by steering people who would have bought your book to some other title. A title that earns out is typically a screw-up. Sure, they tell you that failing to earn out means you were a failure, but what they really mean is that is time to move on the next mark, er, author in need of nurturing.

I understand the model, William, but I think you're only half right. (And thanks for the link to Kris's blog on the subject, Alan.)

While scarcity is built into publishers' business models (I was blogging about the advantage of unlimited shelf space on Amazon vs. limited in a brick and mortar store before Kris did, in 2010 http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/12/you-should-self-publish.html, going as far back as 2006 http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2006/04/property-values-and-writing.html), it's that very scarcity that gives my book a chance at success at selling a lot of copies within that model.

So when my legacy publisher released my new thriller in April, some January titles were stripped and returned to open up some brick and mortar shelf space for my books. For a window, my books got the spotlight.

Rarely, those spotlighted books find a large enough audience to warrant re-orders. At B&N, if you sold enough copies, their computer automatically reordered more of them. They'd also regularly go through their stock on the shelves with pricing bar code scanners to see what was selling in enough numbers to stay on the shelves.

When I was doing my crazy touring, visiting bookstores, the "AUTOGRAPHED COPY" stickers on the tens of thousands of books I signed kept many of my books on the shelf longer than their normal shelf life. The result was, with Rusty Nail, many stores I visited (over 500) had copies of previous titles--titles that should have been returned.

I credit my efforts with the reason my books stayed in print and had multiple printings, which came back to bite me in the ass when Kindle came out and I wanted those rights back. Had I done nothing, perhaps the series would have naturally gone out of print.

I was one of the authors who stuck, according to my publisher spaghetti theory. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/04/publishers-ebooks-epic-fail.html

So I indeed earned out all my advances.

In your quote above, William, my publisher was actually steering customers to my books at the expense of another writer who was returned, because mine stayed on the shelf. But you're right--my publisher didn't want a perennial seller, they wanted a bestseller. I never hit any major bestseller lists (I still haven't, even though I've sold more books than many NYT bestsellers).

That said, I don't doubt my books would still be in print if I hadn't taken steps to get my rights back.

daneyul said...

"...but there are only two categories of successful self-published author: those who reclaimed their backlist and those who write in genres and write a LOT."

Joe, the 2nd part of this--that self publishing is only good for those who write a LOT (so important he put it in caps!) wasn't addressed in your fisk.

Can we get some counter to that--that self publishing really ISN'T valuable unless you can produce multiple books a year (or have a lot in your backlist already)?

Seriously, I'm curious--does a starting author, who writes more slowly (book a year or less--possibly MUCH less) stack up as less well-advised to self publish in your opinion if he does have a traditional offer, since he'll have less "ammo" to become well known on his own with so little product to put out? Is Self Publishing a "high output" game?

Lauren Orbison said...

Please don't quit blogging, Joe. I have LOVED reading your analysis of how the publishing business really works. I am an unagented author. I queried for a while but sending business memos instead of actually writing felt like a huge waste of time. I actually did get very nice replies with requests for edits from two major houses on different manuscripts. But I decided to go Indie instead. It takes two years to wait for your book to come to the market. My health is extremely poor and I can't sit around spinning my wheels waiting forever when I could be selling books instead.

Your comment about Stockholm Syndrome was particularly interesting because I know an author who had been in the business some 30 years and broke away from her publisher. I asked her how she knew the time was right to make the jump. She compared publishing traditionally to a bad marriage with spousal abuse. Many are afraid to leave. And she's doing quite well on her own.

OK, since you are an awesome guru about Indie publishing, what about picture book data on ebook versus print? I plan to do a very small print run and do the rest with ebooks.

As you pointed out, it costs me nothing to upload a file. It DID cost to produce the books.

Walter Knight said...

My only complaint with Amazon is that they pay only a 33 cent royalty on a 99 cent book, while paying a $2.00 royalty on a $3.00 book. That takes away some of the incentive to reduce prices for introductory promotions.

J.R. Pearse Nelson said...

Welcome back, Joe! I hope you and the fam had a great vacation. :)

I disagree with your sentiment toward the end about not being needed as a voice in publishing...this is a vital meeting place where authors can learn from each other about options and best practices, not to mention be entertained by some of the ludicrous comments about publishing found elsewhere.

And we appreciate it, truly.

Anonymous said...

I will soon self publish based on your, Hugh and Barry's blogs. A very sincere thank you.

Anonymous said...

a few years ago when my agent was sending one of my novels to publishers, the big 6 (back then) he explained he was only sending it to one editor at a time...

That didn't make sense to me, why not send it to all of them and let them compete for it...

He said (at the time, this was in 09, I think) that an editor wouldn't read it because they didn't want to compete with another publisher... they just wouldn't read it if it was submitted somewhere else...

I thought that was nuts (I write film, too, and we send a script out to everyone to get the best bid) and not at all in my interest. I want them to compete and bid over each other...

He said this was just how they operated (and granted, I was unproven as a novelist then)...

It's just one agent's opinion (someone I like, btw) but there you go... it doesn't seem that they are at all interested in competing with each other...

Todd Travis

Alan Spade said...

"Seriously, I'm curious--does a starting author, who writes more slowly (book a year or less--possibly MUCH less) stack up as less well-advised to self publish in your opinion if he does have a traditional offer, since he'll have less "ammo" to become well known on his own with so little product to put out? Is Self Publishing a "high output" game?"

Mostly, I would say yes, it is. There are exceptions, though. I depends on what you need to make a living and the sacrifices you would accept. I have been able to quit my day job in january with only five books written (one in English), because most of my sales are paperback books I handsell.

But I'm an old school indie. I have hand sold only something like 2700 paperback books since 2010 (I write Fantasy,Science Fiction and lastly, thrillers), but that is the vast majority of my sales, and as I make a nice margin on paper, and need just a little money to live, it's sufficient for me (and I'm not relying on welfare).

I know an another author, David Gaughran, who recently said on his blog he writes slowly but is able to make a living as an indie.

David Gaughran said...

There are a bunch of people who have had big success writing outside the main genres, or writing slowly, or sometimes even both! (I'm not one of them, but I do get by. Although it's getting easier as I get a little faster.)

Obviously, being able write fast is going to be a huge boon to anyone. More titles = more ways you can be discovered + more experiments you can do with pricing and ads + more stuff for readers to buy who enjoy your stuff etc. etc. etc.

But saying that the self-publishing prizes primarily go to fast writers in popular genres is like saying tall people tend to be better at basketball. Of course you are going to have a better chance if you can produce more quality work at a faster pace.

I'm not sure what his point is exactly. That if you are slow you should go with a publisher? That doesn't make any sense. If you are pursuing the traditional route, you will also have a greater chance of success if you can produce quality work at a fast pace.

That's just the way it is - whichever path or paths you take.

Joe Konrath said...

Can we get some counter to that--that self publishing really ISN'T valuable unless you can produce multiple books a year (or have a lot in your backlist already)?

I just added some examples of Top 100 self published bestselling authors who only have a few books.

P. S. Power said...

It's interesting how many people on the fringe of the old system will seek to protect it from the new way of being.

It happens time and again, as if some people can't see that they don't benefit from the ancient ways.

I liken a lot of this current defense of Hatchet and hatred of Amazon to poor people that support the Republican party. They want to be rich one day, and think that kissing up will get them there.

Is that too harsh to say here? I think that eventually, as things get a bit more desperate for the big three, which is coming in the next seven years, we'll see a lot of these fringe authors and pundits leaving the old guard and realizing that they can't kiss hard enough to be excepted into the inner circle of the publishing industry.

Until then, I guess we get free entertainment?

Liz said...

Salon really needs better quality control. There have been quite a few easily refuted pieces coming from them lately.

Violet Graves said...

I no longer think this argument is about 'traditional' publishing and vetting and nurturing and God and Country. The battlefield against Amazon and its ilk is littered with the bodies of straw-men. This leads me to believe that the Big 5 have cardboard tanks.

The way Big Pub talks about paper, you’d think dead-tree pages were the cure for high blood pressure (the way a book feels in your hands, the smell of the pages, etc). They push to maintain the current infrastructure in such a collusive manner that I sometimes wonder if the paper companies have some Big Pub family members bound and gagged in a warehouse somewhere…

…or perhaps it’s a matter of investments. If I worked at a Big 5, I would have invested in the International Paper Company (IP) from day one. I would want to reap profit six-ways from Sunday. Like an arms dealer, I would not be above inciting arguments for profit if stocks took a nose-dive.

The fact that e-publishing provides the same (more accessible, more convenient… better?) finished product for halfpennies on the dollar would mean overwhelming profits for the company but then my own personal, private portfolio would sink.

As well, the money I did make would be public knowledge and thus I would be obligated to share with the authors because—unlike labor limited by geography—authors can easily jump from one venue to another in the effort to make a decent wage. Publishers understand this, which may be why they collude, force non-compete clauses, and treat authors like cattle while paying all but the interns a decent wage for managing the herd.

Dupont was not thrilled when Henry Ford (personal ethics aside) sang about the wonders of bio-plastic and bio-fuel. And we know who come out on top. They both did, when Henry changed his tune.

Perhaps Big Paper had a seat at the table when agency pricing was discussed.

I often think the desire to Save Trees is a matter of the Collective Consciousness but then I’m a grunt working for an hourly wage and don’t get year-end dividends from IP.

Addison said...

Since this is my first time commenting I have to say Thank You for the information on your blog. Thanks to you, when I finish writing my first book I'm totally skipping that querying nonsense. I'm too much of a control freak for that anyway.

Now for the actual comment.

You said that readers don't care who published the book. Mostly true, but for me personally, when I'm browsing on the Kindle and trying to pick a book, if I see that it's self-published I'm much more likely to pick it up than if it's legacy. And I check every time. I figure self-pubbed books are the "author's preferred text" and I want to read the version they wanted to publish. And I want as much of my money to go to the person who created the book as possible.

I compare it to foreign movies that get Americanized (redubbed and edited) to be released in the states. I would much rather watch the actual Korean/Swedish/Australian version than whatever the American distributor decided to censor/change.

Editors are necessary and awesome, but I still want the author to have the final say in what ends up in the book.

So anyway, some readers do care about who published the book.

P.S. Please don't stop blogging. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

All those wailing that "Amazon killed the bookstore/print book!" forget one very important fact -- Amazon didn't kill the bookstore and print book.

Readers killed them.

Amazon merely provided readers with a way to find, buy and read books more cheaply, quickly and conveniently.

Readers chose to stop online stores over brick and mortar bookstores, exchanging the print book for the digital, because the experience of buying eBooks online and reading them using eReaders like the Kindle proved better.

Those blaming Amazon for the death of the print book and bookstore should instead train their pointy fingers to the reader.

Readers are to blame, much like the music listeners were a decade earlier, when they chose digital over vinyl, iTunes over HMV because Apple made it cheaper, easier and more convenient to listen to buy, carry and listen to their music.

And for those fear mongering about self-published authors flooding the market with their dreck, devaluing and destroying literature?

Yep. You can thank readers for that as well.

Readers have spoken once more. Indies are increasingly being chosen because readers don't care who publishes a book. All they care about is finding books they love at a price they can afford. Readers care about books and the authors who write them.

It's all about the readers in the end.

Sue

Werner said...

All this Big 5 vs. Amazon crap is ludicrous. If the Big 5 thinks Amazon is so bad, why don’t they “put up or shut up”. Pool their resources, acquire B&N, remove all their books from Amazon, and use B&N as their main platform to sell their books?

With their massive budgets, they can flood the airwaves and interwebs with ads to try and influence consumers. They’d be able set any price they like, and keep current author terms intact.

It’d be very interested to see how the Free Market plays out then.

- To see how readers would react to paying $14.99 for an ebook, where with Amazon they could get three or more comparable ebooks for the same price.

- To see how many trad-pub authors remain satisfied making chump change on their books sales, and still having to work another job to keep the lights on; while they see an increasing number of indie authors doing better.

Celeste said...

One of the things I find so intensely frustrating by the Hachette/Amazon negotiations is that Hachette is still failing their authors. Faced with no more pre-order buttons on Amazon's pages, you would think Hachette would make more of an effort to direct their customers to retailers that *did* carry their books, and yet... I have a number of legacy published authors I am still a big fan of, one of whom has a novella coming out mid-July. They posted a big link to Hachette's release page for it, and I visited, intending to pre-order. Not only was Hachette's page for it crap - seriously, you can't link to search results for the various etailers, just to their main pages?? - but not ONE of the sites they said the book was available on actually returned it in the search results. At least one of the ebook sites they linked to was actually an empty/non-functional page. I googled all over and was unable to find a single place I could pre-order the book. Of course, the author in question had to comment about how big evil Amazon wasn't allowing pre-orders of their books, but when it was pointed out to them that their book, at least as presented on Hachette's site was unavailable to preorder *anywhere* the testy response I received was "I have no control over where my books show up." Well, yes, that's the problem!! You're being held hostage by Hachette, who is utterly failing you when it comes to ebook distribution.

Paul Draker said...

Mike Shatzkin's last couple posts, and especially the comments, are worth a chuckle or two. :)

But buried in all the silliness, Steven Zacharius did offer an interesting opinion in response to my original question and print-only economics.

The tl;dr version below:

me: Assuming a publisher is starting from a break-even-or-profitable print business, then [ebooks require] essentially zero manufacturing and distribution cost per e-book unit sold.

Thus, ...three quarters of [the 30% - 35% of big-publisher revenue coming from e-books] should be dropping straight to the publisher's bottom-line profitability.

So why are publisher profit margins only 10%?

Are publishers spending a big chunk of their e-book profit windfall to subsidize a failing print distribution business that has passed the point where it is no longer profitable on its own?

This seems very likely to be the case.

Is that why trade publishers are no longer agreeing to print-only deals with successful indie authors?


Mike: No, because all that missing money is going to traditionally published authors as huge advances that never earn out. True trad-pub ebook royalties are really 48%, because one guy who was close to one big publishing house once told me so.

me: Even if true trad-pub ebook royalties were 50% across the board, that wouldn't account for the discrepancy.

Steven Zacharius: I would tend to agree that print publishing by itself will not allow a publisher to show a profit on a given title. This is because print sales have declined dramatically while digital sales have increased. It now takes both pieces of the pie to make the book profitable and this is why there aren't that many hybrid deals being made. We need both parts together to make a profit.

Of course, Steve's "we need both parts together to make a profit" doesn't address the rise of digital-only publishers, or the rise of digital-only imprints at traditional publishing houses.

Clearly, digital-only publishing is quite profitable on its own without print.

But, for most books, it seems the print side of the equation has shrunk to at best a marginally-profitable subsidiary income stream... or even an ROI-negative but strategically important subsidy intended to prop up the dying brick-and-mortar paper business.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Steven Zacharius said: "But, for most books, it seems the print side of the equation has shrunk to at best a marginally-profitable subsidiary income stream... or even an ROI-negative but strategically important subsidy intended to prop up the dying brick-and-mortar paper business."

That would be like if Henry Ford decided that automobiles were a strategically important subsidy intended to prop up the dying buggy business.

Wonder how long it will take them to actually get a clue.

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

There once was a publisher Hatchette,

That made many authors go bat shit,

Over royalty slights versus indie pubbed rights,

Cause legacy writers can’t match it.

Hugh Howey said...

Paul's comments on whether print alone is even profitable these days should be investigated further, I think. Wow.

And Joe, don't ever stop blogging, man. I totally get why you do what you do. The service is appreciated.

Joseph said...

Me too Addison. I generally buy according to author and genre, but am pumped when I see that it's self published. It's probably 3rd on my list of selling criteria.

1. Author.
2. Space ship on the cover. (genre)
3. Self Pubbed (as evidenced by a reasonable price in many cases).

Gramix Publishing said...

Mr. Konrath:
Another great post. I've saved it for reference because it is a nice summary of things you've been saying for a long time in one convenient post.

Tracy Sharp:
Thanks for the note about The Woods are Dark. I've gone ahead and gotten the book to support the author and his family.

Laura Resnick said...

Count me among the many people who would be sorry to see you stop blogging.

I'm traditionally published, and re-upped for 4 more books last year. And this is not ideology with me, either; it's business. I like doing business with my current publisher (which is the ONLY publishing company, in 26 years as a full-time writer, I have EVER liked doing business with); that doesn't instill religious fervor in me about traditional publishing.

I like making money from my self-published backlist and want to self-publish frontlist, as well as self-produce audio and exploit my backlist foreign rights that never got exploited. That doesn't make me feverently religious about self-publishing, either. This is business.

I still encounter a lot of people throughout the writing world, whether indie or trad, saying a lot of fervently religious things about subjects which should be a matter of business. I encounter a lot of fact-free and logic-free speechifying, asides, posts, rants, and assertions. Poorly-informed media and poorly-informed bloggers like Shatzkin still have a loud megaphone, and their misinformation is still repeated and disseminated.

So I think your blog still serves an important function. There's a lot of good information here, and a lot of value in taking the time to dismantle these absurdly misinformed and misinforming articles and blogs on a point by point basis. (If only journalists would bother to do with with politicians and corporations!) So I hope you will continue.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I think what Sue just said above should shut any anti-Amazon up once and for all. Because she's absolutely right. Readers have made the choice to follow the Amazon path. They know what they want and they know where to get it for the best price. They always do.

So blame them. ;)

Joshua James said...

Crikey, I posted a comment on Mike's blog thingy there about the 10k offer for a book (I was actually replying to Steven Z, but Mike jumped in) and Mike engaged me... I'm remaining polite, but I have to say I'm astounded by the arguments he's making... they're not making sense in the slightest, and he deflects as a matter of course...

I mean, all I said was, how is 10k for a book a good deal for the writer when I can make more than that off of the title myself in a year?

He claims no one is doing that unless they're already a name, etc... that's so bogus...

Laura Resnick said...

Joshua, if it's any "comfort," so to speak, about how ignorant Shatzkin's blog is about indie publishing, his comments about traditional publishing are also reality-free.

I've been a full-time, self-supporting writer in traditional publishing for over 25 years. I am friends and acquaintances with hundreds of working writers in the traditonal publishing industry. I am the daughter of a writer who's been involved with traditional publishing for over 50 years. I'm a longtime columnist for Nink, which is aimed at career novelists (the majority of them with extensive experience in traditional publishing, though Ninc also has some indie-only members now), and I'm a past president of the organization.

And based on my experience and years of candid exchanges and information-sharing with many others writers, almost nothing Shatzkin says about writers and editors in traditional publishing makes any sense, either. I don't know what aspect of publishing he's informed about, but it's not what writers and editors do, nor what our experiences, challenges, and problems are in selling, negotiating, contracting and licensing, the editing and publishing process, marketing and sales, etc., etc.

P.D. Singer said...

I certainly missed your posts while you were gone.

Would you consider doing something to stop the auto-play of that pesky Colbert clip? It about blew me out of my chair.

Pastor Martin Luther Dzerzhinsky Lindstedt said...

Over on this Mike guy's web page Steven Zacharias said:

"It's pretty hard for Amazon to make any serious money when unit prices are only $.99 to $3.99 on most indie books. "

==========

It is called volume. Everyone going to Amazon to buy their e-books -- I paid nothing for most of my over 3,500 e-books -- to feed their Kindle means that Amazon makes pure profit on most every "sale" of millions per day.

I no longer even go to my local public library unless it is to read an out of print public domain hardcover book. I download a Kindle equivalent every so often from the public library when the e-book has been out for six months and the demand lessens and it is available for download.

When I do buy print books it is for used books that are cheaper than the Kindle equivalent, if there are any such. I get the used paperbacks for $4.00 to $8.00 (.01 - $4.00 price plus $4.00 delivery) and get them via my Prime membership in two days.

The closest Barnes and Noble is in Springfield Missouri. There is a Books a Million in Joplin. Hastings went out of business two years ago in Joplin. There is a used bookstore in Granby, which in a building less than 20 x 20 feet, almost never has anything I want, even though I get up and walk three blocks to see once per month.

I buy all my books at Amazon. Twenty-plus to one ratio I get free books, most of which go to my Kindle "Cloud" so I am able to look at the Prime Instant videos on my First-Generation Kindle Fire I bought three years ago. Then there are the $1.99 books of old favorite authors and books republished at a discount from $10 or more by a major publisher of some sort. Not to mention the expensive e-books by White Nationalist or Christian Identity authors that I can download and read on my Prime membership once per month.

So tell me and others like me who read more than ever before thanks to having a Kindle how much we need Hachette or Barnes and Noble or traditional publishing. And how we are going to be hurt when Amazon has its way in the end. I don't see it happening.

If it does, then I suppose I'll have to download my 3500+ volume e-book library to the Kindle, then go out and buy after Thanksgiving a newer, bigger Kindle with twice as much memory for half the price I paid for my old Kindle three years ago.

Hail Victory!!!

Dean Wesley Smith said...

Joe, great post. Thanks for continuing to put some sanity on the insane stuff coming from the traditional side. As an author with over a hundred books on the traditional side, it now makes me just shudder to even think of going back into that grind. As you said, it was the only game in town and now it's not.

Laura brought something up I see happening with a couple of other friends. They are doing both indie and traditional, but as with Laura, they are well-informed and know what they are doing. They both know that with the slightest slip from their publisher, they are down the road and full-time indie. Both of them call their books with traditional loss-leaders for their indie books.

Informed choice. A wonderful thing. Thanks again.

Joe Konrath said...

I like doing business with my current publisher

I like that you like that, Laura. You're so self-aware, so smart, that I'm encouraged by your attitude. It's nice to see someone happily legacy published, not because they had no choice, but because they chose it knowing the pros and cons, and it turned out well.

Keep on doing what you're doing.

Laura Resnick said...

I have to add, in 26 years in the biz, my current publisher (DAW Books) is the -only- publisher I've ever liked doing business with. I don't mean tot say they're perfect--and they don't need to. (I am not perfect, either--and they can verify that!) I mean, it's a good business situation for me and a good business relationship. As long as that remains so for both of us, I hope we will keep doing business together.


That said, every other house I ever wrote for treated me like a crack whore and treated my work like something I had defecated in their lobby. (I worked with some outstanding editors over the years. Also, on occasion, with some jaw-droppingly unprofessional and disastrous ones. But I never before worked with a -publisher- that wasn't somewhere between bad and nightmarish to deal with.)

Which is why, given all the changes and opportunities in the writing world these days, I might never sign with another publisher again.

"Never say never," and this is business, not ideology, so I'll see what the future holds and evaluate opportunities and options as they occur. But one thing I WILL say is that I will NEVER again work with a publisher that does NOT pay me well, treat my work as a valued asset, and treat me like a respected professional partner. Those days are over. I put up with bad treatment for 20 years because there were no other choices. Now there ARE other choices, and I'll never put up with it again.

Laura Resnick said...

@ Martin Luther:
""Over on this Mike guy's web page Steven Zacharias said:

"It's pretty hard for Amazon to make any serious money when unit prices are only $.99 to $3.99 on most indie books.""


I see.

On a $0.99 sale, Amazon tkaes a 65% commission, which is $0.64

On a Kensington mmpb sale, cover price $7.99, the author's 8% royalty comes to $0.64.

So it's pretty hard for a Kensington author to make serious money, either, isn't it?

At $3.99, Amazon's 30% royalty is $1.20.

I randomly looked up a new Kensingon release on Amazon, and see its list price in digital is $7.59 and its discounted to $5.69. I don’t know Kensington's digital net from Amazon (and chances are the author doesn't either). But to keep it simple, let's suppose it's 70. 25% of 70% of $5.69-$7.59 is the author's royalty, which comes to: $1.00-$1.33 per sale.

So... is Mr. Zahcarius saying that those figures "serious money" for the person who WROTE the book, but NOT serious money for the company whose investment was to allow an indie author use of a single web page of a massive retail system?

Or did he not do the math and realize that every time a book sells on Amazon, the company (which sells –millions- of books) is making as much as one of his author's makes every time one of her books sells?

Or did he mean that a retail business "should" earn MORE from a book's sale than the book's AUTHOR earns from it?

Rob Gregory Browne said...

"It's pretty hard for Amazon to make any serious money when unit prices are only $.99 to $3.99 on most indie books. "

Really? This is laughably absurd. Of course they're making money. I'M making money. We're both making money. Multiply their share of sales by a few hundred thousand copies a week and their cut is looking pretty good. I mean, I'm part of a bundle with one of my books right now and we've already sold 30,000 copies. Another recent bundle buy is above 100,000 sales mark. And these are only two examples. Individual authors are selling thousands of books a month at $3.99, $4.99 and $5.99.

Do people like Zacharius not realize how many books we're selling? Maybe they need to check out Hugh Howey and Data Guy's website. It's all there and as much as they'd like to deny it, it ain't wrong. There's a lot of cognitive dissonance going on in this business. Quit drinking the Koolaid and look at the real numbers.

The bottom line is this: IT ALL ADDS UP. For us and for Amazon. To think they aren't making good money off of us is ridiculous. Do you think for a minute they'd continue doing this if they weren't?

T.L. Knighton said...

You know, I have a couple of stories up at Amazon right now in that $0.99 category. I'm sure I'm not alone on that. So how can Amazon make any money on that?

Well, let's think. First, Amazon had me upload onto their servers which are part of their normal operating expenses. They plugged my work into their automated system, again part of their normal operating expenses. Then, they pretty much sit back and make their 65 percent on each and every sale. If I sell a lot (my novelette has sold over 600 copies since the end of April when I uploaded it), they make more money than if I sell very little. However, if I sell little, I have little impact except for a few gigs of space on their hard drive.

It's not really difficult to figure out how they can make a great deal of money. After all, the few hundred dollars I've earned so far, expanded out among thousands of other people who actually made them more money than I did, well...it's kind of obvious how they're making bank.

Maybe it's just me, but if you don't see how this indie thing is currently a win-win for Amazon and the authors, you're not really looking at it. It's not perfect, but nothing is.

Margaret Rainforth said...

Seriously, I'm curious--does a starting author, who writes more slowly (book a year or less--possibly MUCH less) stack up as less well-advised to self publish in your opinion if he does have a traditional offer, since he'll have less "ammo" to become well known on his own with so little product to put out? Is Self Publishing a "high output" game?"

Regardless of which way you choose to publish, if your output is only one book a year or every 18 months, you're going to have a hard time building a fan base. If I loved your book, I'd go back to the well looking for more of your work. After a few months of finding nothing I'd give up, and by the time a year passed I'd have forgotten your name.

Kirk Jolly said...

"It's pretty hard for Amazon to make any serious money when unit prices are only $.99 to $3.99 on most indie books."

I guess that depends on what they mean by "serious money." Let's forget about the books that sell well and look only at the books that sell poorly. I'm going to make some assumptions here since I don't have exact data, but I bet they aren't far from the truth.

There are over 3 million books available on Kindle and we all know a vast majority of them don't sell well. Let's say that 2 million of them only sell 1 book per month on average. And because they are scoffing at the low price of Indie Books, let's say all of these 2 million are priced a .99 giving Amazon their lowest possible cut of .64. Take .64 X 2 million and you get $1,280,000.00. Pretty serious money right? I would bet that would cover all of the costs associated with hosting the website and all of the storage space necessary to sell ebooks on Amazon. Then you've still got 1 Million + books on top of that which sell much better (ie multiple copies per month).

The point here is you don't even have to look at the big bestsellers to see that Amazon is doing pretty well selling ebooks. The poorest performers by themselves would be enough to net Amazon a profit or at the bare minimum cover their expenses. Everything on top of that is gravy.

Sheila Guthrie said...

The thing about Amazon not making serious money on low-priced books isn't relevant, because Amazon sells a lot more than books. A whole lot more. No other bookseller can say that.

As for me, I'm just going to put up my little zombie short story collection later today, and eagerly await sales, which I won't have to share with anyone. :D

Anonymous said...

There were two things Shatzkin said that I thought were eye-opening. First was this:

"Remember, in physical retail, selection was the magnet. The books that didn’t sell were helping to pull in the customers for the books that did sell. Stores knew that too. Later work I did demonstrated that there were whole store sections that turned at half or less of the rate of the store as a whole. But if you want, say, a philosophy section that “turns”, it would only have about ten titles in it. If you want a philosophy section people will browse and shop from, you have to carry a lot of slow-moving titles.


Tell me if I'm wrong, but didn't he just admit that most traditionally published books don't move much -- and nobody really cares because the slow moving books still help? By this logic, if I were a publisher, I'd be willing to pay peanuts for a book on the shelf, and tell the authors how lucky they are to be on a bookstore shelf. Also, how well can those authors be treated when there are plenty more who would like the honor of being on a bookstore shelf?

(Having been on a book store shelf, I can admit that the first time you see your book there is definitely a thrill. The new generation coming up probably won't care, but anyone who came of age when I did still deep down finds it a thrill, which means plenty of people will want it.)


Anonymous said...

Okay, I can't quickly find the second comment which struck me, so maybe it was somewhere in the comment section.

But he said, basically, that what Indies and authors don't understand is it's much easier for a publisher to get a title that's moving well to sell more copies than it is to get a slow-moving title to sell more copies.

That was the justification for what so frustrates traditionally published authors: Publishers put a lot out there, see what sells, and gets behind those titles, and ignores the others.

I totally get it from the publisher's viewpoint. Yes, of course it's easier to sell more copies of a book already moving than to jump start one that isn't doing much.

But if he just admitted to the spaghetti theory, isn't that saying it's a bad deal for authors?

Anonymous said...

One more comment -- Joe, you were right about how there are not hoards of traditionally publishing writers coming here and defending publishers.

In fact, what happens, is because you allow for anonymous posting, we come here and post our dissatisfaction with publishers.

I am traditionally published, but for the kinds of books I take to my publisher, I still need a publisher. My last book sold thousands of copies in hardcover, but almost nothing in ebook form. Some forms of books, mostly illustrated, certain kinds of children's, and coffee-table type gift books, definitely sell hardcover but not ebook.

Kate North said...

Am I the only one who looks forward to being pirated? Isn't that a sign you've really hit the big time?! =P

Veronica - Eloheim said...

Wow! I just read this comment over on Hugh's site and I had to bring it over.

Karl Fields said:
Hugh,

I don’t think you took it far enough when talking about flukes. It’s become somewhat popular for agents to post their year-end query stats. Here are just a few from 2013:

Sara LaPolla – signed two clients out of 3,206 queries received, or .0006 percent
Rachel Dahl – 2/3914 (.0005)
Jennifer Jackson – 2/6152 (.0003)
Natalie Lakosil – 5/2244 (.002) Clearly an outlier ;-)

Forget being on an end cap, just getting an agent is something of a fluke.



Hugh added that his agent signs roughly two new clients a year.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, yeah, getting an agent and a traditional publishing deal is an "option" alright....yikes. I can't imagine how hard it must have been on authors before the indie option came along.

Alan Spade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Spade said...

That there remains so many authors querying agents is somewhat depressing.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Alan. I wonder who they are. I figure they are newbies who wander over to Absolute Write, or old timers who can't wrap their minds around all the changes.

I can't imagine the generation coming of age after youtube wanting to wait years to be sifted by agents and editors.

Erica Converso said...

Joe, thanks so much for fisking the Salon article - I was hoping to hear your input on that pile of drivel!

Hope you had a terrific vacation, but I'm glad you didn't stay away too long! There are many of us who miss your particular brand of snark. ;)

More than that, though, thank you so much for being the innovator and forward-thinker you are. I'm planning to self-publish my first novel by the end of the year, and reading your blog (and Hugh Howey's, David Gaughran's, Lindsay Buroker's, and all of the other wonderful self-publishing enthusiasts) encourages me to keep going even when the going gets tough. I can't wait to be a proud member of the self-published gang!

Jim Self said...

Joe: "First, publishers had the capital and means to INVENT A DAMN EREADER A DECADE AGO."

Now now, they did go and create that awesome book discovery website.

You know? Bookish?

*crickets*

Yeah, Bookish is the Big X version of Amazon. That's as far as their technological reach extends.

Broken Yogi said...

One reason Mike doesn't get many comments at his blog is that he's a class A A-hole. When the original Justice Department lawsuit was filed, and he wrote something claiming that there was no collusion involved, I left a comment stating that it was a pretty obvious prima fascia case of collusion. He proceeded to excoriate me to no ends, claiming that the case would be thrown out of court. I, of course, told him that would never happen, and that the publishers would clearly lose if that's the way they intended to stonewall the case. He told me I was crazy and had no basis whatsoever for my arguments, so I left, realizing this guy has no ability to reason through even the most obvious points of an evidentiary argument. And of course the publishers lost that case famously, but he still continues to opine on these matters with total confidence that he's right once again. And I predict that no matter how things turn out, he'll continue to claim that he's been right all along, and will continue to be right on all things in the future. Largely because he has no ability to admit past failures on either his part or the industry's.

And for that he should be thanked. He's an example of why self-publishers are winning and will continue to gain ground on the ignorant know-it-alls who pass for experts in the publishing industry. As Gandhi said, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Elka said...

"So... is Mr. Zahcarius saying that those figures "serious money" for the person who WROTE the book, but NOT serious money for the company whose investment was to allow an indie author use of a single web page of a massive retail system?

Or did he not do the math and realize that every time a book sells on Amazon, the company (which sells –millions- of books) is making as much as one of his author's makes every time one of her books sells?

Or did he mean that a retail business "should" earn MORE from a book's sale than the book's AUTHOR earns from it? "

This comments is made of so much win that it should be written in all caps. Thank you, Laura, for it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe

I saw this clause on your new website

http://ebooksareforever.com/faq/

Posing questions from libraries it says, "We've seen ebooks that aren't well written, aren't edited, or aren't even formatted correctly. Does eBooksAreForever vet titles?"

And your answer is:

"Yes. All titles we offer must meet a minimum quality standard. We refuse to sell you poorly produced ebooks."

Does that make you the new gatekeeper of ebook publishing?

I guess Traditional Publishers do something useful after all. :-)

T,.L, Knighton said...

Oh, that's funny. I guess the fact that I've seen the exact same thing from traditionally published books would mean that they suck at their role?

Joe Konrath said...

Does that make you the new gatekeeper of ebook publishing?

LOL, no. We're following BookBub's path: if a book has under a three star average, or reviews saying it has typos or poor formatting, we won't offer it in our catalog.

Publishers are good for getting paper into stores. As gatekeepers, not so much.

ORIGIN was rejected by every major publishers. I think that book got over 30 rejections.

I've sold 90,000 copies on my own. Which is more than Hyperion sold of any individual Jack Daniels title.

Anonymous said...

Joe,

I dare you--no, I double dare you--to NOT reply to this one:

http://flavorwire.com/465416/the-crisis-is-with-publishers-not-writers-nypl-hosts-conversation-on-amazon-vs-hachette

No conflicts of interest were noted in the article. Really, you CAN'T fisk this one, as it was all done under the non-denominational flag of The New York Public Library (with their hands wide open for a Patterson indie bookstore type donation??? hmmm)

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