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.