Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lee Child Chimes In

Joe: Yesterday I asked any Authors United signatory to engage me on my blog.

Lee Child took me up on it.

For those who aren't familiar with Lee, he's the author of nineteen mystery-thriller novels and over a dozen shorts about military policeman Jack Reacher (who was also the basis of hit movie in 2012 starring Tom Cruise). They are among the most popular books in the modern era, and Lee is a worldwide bestseller. They're well-written and I've read several and enjoyed them.

Lee's first novel was published in 1997. He's bought me too many beers to count at various conferences over the years, and was kind enough to blurb my second novel in 2004. (Lee may hold the record for blurbing more novels than anyone, which is testimony to his generosity). He also has volunteered at International Thriller Writers since its inception, and is a pleasant guy to hang out with.

Here is Lee's original email. Afterward, I'll break it down with my responses..

Lee: Joe, thanks for the invitation to participate.

Here’s my personal take … speaking generally, with a plural “you” … and as a guy entirely unafraid of the future, whatever it may bring – after all, I kicked your ass under the old system, and I’ll kick it under the new system, and the new-new, and the new-new-new, until I retire, or the lung cancer gets me, whichever comes first. I’m completely confident of that, and you’d be an idiot to bet against me. We both started from nowhere, and in the last three weeks I sold more ebooks – of one title – than you have sold in your entire life. Or will sell. Print visibility, you say? How? Print is a niche, according to you, and no one visits bookstores anymore!

And don’t tell me I was lucky or “anointed” or some such … again, we all start from the same place, but I worked harder and smarter than my rivals, and believe me, I’m ready to do it all again … so don’t tell me I’m scared or whining – truth is, I’m licking my lips in anticipation of the big win in whatever scenario comes next.

And let’s settle one thing … the so-called Amazon/Hachette contract … I think you overestimate it, or misunderstand it, possibly. It ain’t the key to some kind of magic kingdom. Almost every sale Amazon makes happens without a contract with the supplier or manufacturer. It used to be that way with Hachette. Hachette sold to wholesalers, at a certain discount, and the wholesalers sold on to Amazon, at a slight markup. Soon Amazon wanted to avoid that markup, so it went to Hachette and asked, “Please will you sell to us direct?”  And Hachette said, “OK.”  And that’s the so-called contract, right there.

Subsequently Amazon larded on the "fees"... in street terms, protection money, to keep the playing field level with other publishers also paying protection money. Equal visibility and honest rankings – which are the best kind of visibility – were at stake. In plain English, Amazon was saying, “Give us cash under the table or we’ll lie in public about the relative merit and appeal of your products.”

Publishers were, of course, accustomed to that – B&N pioneered a junior version long ago – so it was business as usual. No sympathy from me, by the way. Life ain’t fair, things suck, get over it.

But, here’s the thing – by continuing to trade under expired terms, it’s Hachette doing Amazon a favor, not vice versa. Amazon is still getting its protection money – and giving nothing in return right now – and still avoiding the wholesalers’ markup.

If Hachette walked away, Amazon would lose... unless it was prepared not to carry Hachette titles ever again. Which it isn’t, because Amazon’s whole theory is to be the go-to, first-stop, everything store. “I’ll get it from Amazon” is what they depend on hearing. “I wonder if Amazon has it?” would be the kiss of death.

Which is why the dispute is so intractable. It’s half-rational, half-emotional. And flawed – Amazon wants more protection money now (yes, it’s really that simple) but it isn’t prepared to get up from the table and walk away. Neither is Hachette. Hachette’s best play – logically – would be to walk away and suffer a few lean years before an alternative presented itself. I’m absolutely sure its parent company wants it to do that, and would support it in so doing. Huge European corporations are good at the long game. But local management is resisting, because the hiatus would derail too many careers. Again, half-rational, half-emotional.

And no big deal, in the grand scheme of things. Not to me, anyway. I’m not a Hachette author. PRH is a different ballgame, and as I said, even if it gets beat, I’ll prosper under whatever comes next.

So why did I sign my friend Doug’s letter?

Because of what I know, and what I can guess. I've known Amazon people for 17 years, dozens of them, old hires, new hires, quitters, true believers, through dinner party talk, pillow talk, all kinds of talk. I’m making no value judgments – you’ll never hear any of that from me – but things are what they are. And the big deal is – Amazon is a publisher too. Not a very good one yet – no big hits so far, and they missed the biggest trade publishing phenomenon of recent years, even though it was right under their noses – but Bezos never gives up, and he wants Amazon to be the only publisher, and he’ll do what it takes to make it so. Which casts a different light on what’s happening. He’s broken rivals before, and he’ll keep on trying.

So it’s a thus-far-and-no-further thing for me. I don’t want Amazon to be the only publisher. Neither should you.

It’s staggeringly naïve to think the current KDP landscape is anything other than a short-term tactic. Note well – I am NOT saying don’t get into it now just because it will get worse in the future... instead I say, hell yes, make hay while the sun shines. Exploit Amazon’s game plan for all you can get, as long as it lasts, and more power to you. But understand that today’s KDP is a pressure point, designed to suck authors out of the established system, along with sucking out money and margin by other routes. Truth is, it ain’t working great so far – no significant authors have jumped ship, and publishers are still profitable. But Bezos never gives up.

And if he wins... then we all have a problem. Note well – I am NOT talking about nurturing or culture or curating or any of that kind of non-existent crap. I’m talking about money. Amazon is a tech company. The basic tech paradigm says content is always the smallest part of the cost. Those guys really believe that. Storytellers will be working for whatever few pennies they choose to hand out. (Or some will. I’ll be doing something else by then. I don’t work for pennies.)

And don’t tell me some alternate savior will ride to the rescue. There won’t be one. Publishing makes no sense to any other player. Certainly there won’t be a publishing-only player. Not enough margin in it.

Now, I fully understand lots of folk will scoff and disagree and make fun of me. Have at it. I don’t care. I have no dog in this fight. I’m old and staggeringly rich and I can live like a king without making another buck ever. I have nothing to be scared of. That should be you. Your hopes are pinned to a mast that isn’t a mast at all. It’s a spear, and when it has done its job, it will be dumped.


So really we should all be equally concerned. We should make common cause. Behind the noise and the bullshit we’re all trying to do the same thing – sell our stories to the same people, for a living wage. And it’s those last four words that made me sign the letter. Not my living wage – that’s already in the bank – but yours, and the people that come after us.

Joe: Thanks for participating, Lee. (And a word of warning to commentors: Stay polite. Keep your comments focused on the argument. Anything personal and I will remove your comment and ban you. I see this as an opportunity to talk in depth about some important issues. If you want to troll, flame, hurl insults, or act badly, do it on your own blog.)

I'm now going to respond to your points.

Lee: Here’s my personal take … speaking generally, with a plural “you” … and as a guy entirely unafraid of the future, whatever it may bring – after all, I kicked your ass under the old system, and I’ll kick it under the new system, and the new-new, and the new-new-new, until I retire, or the lung cancer gets me, whichever comes first. I’m completely confident of that, and you’d be an idiot to bet against me. We both started from nowhere, and in the last three weeks I sold more ebooks – of one title – than you have sold in your entire life. Or will sell. Print visibility, you say? How? Print is a niche, according to you, and no one visits bookstores anymore!

Joe: First of all, congrats on selling more than 1.5 million ebooks (which is where I'm at to date) in the last three weeks. I assume I'll sell a few million more before I kick off, so let's call my total lifetime sales 5 million. It's damn impressive that you sold that many ebooks in three weeks of just one title.

But it's also nearing the end of that era. You're everywhere books are sold. I'm not. That's a huge advantage. One I never had. Your massive paper distribution serves as a giant, global advertisement for your ebooks.

Let's set aside the quality of our writing because that's subjective. We both attained a minimum quality standard to get the attention of major publishers. But the legacy industry never handed me the keys to the kingdom like they did with you. No coop. No discounts on the front table. No giant print runs and distribution. No worldwide sales.

You may believe the legacy publishing world is a meritocracy. I believe it's a lottery. No one earns a lottery win. No one is entitled to it.

You've kicked my ass because you had the weight of two heavy hitters behind you (Penguin and Random House) who got your books everywhere in the US with major marketing pushes. I'm unfamiliar with your UK and foreign publishers, but I'm betting they did an equally good job at distributing and promoting you everywhere books are sold.

This only happens to a rare few. 

Lee: And don’t tell me I was lucky or “anointed” or some such … again, we all start from the same place, but I worked harder and smarter than my rivals, and believe me, I’m ready to do it all again … so don’t tell me I’m scared or whining – truth is, I’m licking my lips in anticipation of the big win in whatever scenario comes next.

Joe: I'm not discounting your talent, or hard work, or business savvy. You've written some good books, made some smart choices, and fought hard for your career.

So have I. You're aware of that, as are readers of this blog.

But I never got the same breaks you did. Neither did 99.9999% of authors. While book sales aren't zero sum, there are only a certain number of titles that get put into the bestseller track and get a massive marketing push.

I understand why you believe talent and effort win the day, but you're wrong. Unlike a sport, such as track and field or basketball, writing talents and efforts don't translate to stats because there is no even playing field. Usain Bolt can run 200 meters anywhere on the planet. Michael Jordan can have a personal best even when his team is losing. Their successes don't depend on other factors.

Authors can't do it alone, and publishers make a lot of mistakes. Neither you nor I had any power over how many stores our titles were available in, or how big our marketing pushes were, or if our titles were pre-printed on the NYT Bestseller list, or how many reviews we received, or how many ads were bought. We don't know how my books would sell in airports or drug stores or Sam's Club or in Uzbekistan, because I've never been available in those places. We don't know what would have happened if I'd landed at Simon & Schuster rather than Hyperion (S&S made an offer, we didn't take it).

That's luck, Lee.

You seem to be arguing that your sales resulted from you working harder and smarter. But correlation doesn't equal causality. Yes, you worked hard and smart. Yes, you're one of the most successful writers in modern times. But any conclusions you draw are speculative.

Certainly you've read good books that were never huge hits. Certainly you've read huge hits that weren't good books. Certainly you know how hard and smart other authors have worked. Certainly you've seen titles get bestseller treatment and flop. In each of these cases, I'm right, not you. Luck played a big role.

If your success is fully based on the strength of your writing and your efforts, you can pull a Richard Bachman and soar up the charts with a pen name. By the way, Bachman didn't sell as well as King. Thinner sold 28,000 copies as Bachman, and 10x that amount when he was revealed as King. 

https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Richard_Bachman.html

Or I could write a novel under your name and it would sell as well as the rest of your backlist, and I bet no one would even know. You're a fine writer and storyteller, but I could name a dozen writers who can write a similar book in a similar style. That isn't an insult. Good writing is good writing. There's no magic to it. Ask the writers who took over for the posthumous Robert B. Parker, V.C. Andrews, Robert Ludlam, and Ian Fleming (weren't you even offered a James Bond book by the Fleming estate?). What we do isn't rocket science, and none of us deserve success.

Since you're not going to attempt a pen name and I'm not going to write a Reacher story, and since it will just devolve into a dick-measuring contest if we both start in about how hard we've worked to get where we're at, I suggest we move on.

Lee: And let’s settle one thing … the so-called Amazon/Hachette contract … I think you overestimate it, or misunderstand it, possibly. It ain’t the key to some kind of magic kingdom. Almost every sale Amazon makes happens without a contract with the supplier or manufacturer. It used to be that way with Hachette. Hachette sold to wholesalers, at a certain discount, and the wholesalers sold on to Amazon, at a slight markup. Soon Amazon wanted to avoid that markup, so it went to Hachette and asked, “Please will you sell to us direct?”  And Hachette said, “OK.”  And that’s the so-called contract, right there.

Joe: And then Hachette colluded with four other publishers to force Amazon to accept their new terms, i.e. the agency model. Amazon didn't want to accept those terms. Not because of the 30/70 split, but because it took away Amazon's ability to discount.

Suddenly contracts became important. What began as a mutual handshake (assuming you're correct about this) was no longer acceptable to either party.

Right now, Hachette doesn't want Amazon to be able to discount. Amazon wants to discount. Since Hachette forced a contract on Amazon--the agency contract--and that contract lapsed, Amazon does not have to sell Hachette's titles under Hachette's terms.

I've had verbal contracts in the past, and a handshake was enough. But when things become contentious, written contracts come into play. And, currently, Amazon and Hachette have no written contract, and Amazon apparently sees no reason they should go back to a handshake model under Hachette's terms.

Lee: Subsequently Amazon larded on the "fees"... in street terms, protection money, to keep the playing field level with other publishers also paying protection money. Equal visibility and honest rankings – which are the best kind of visibility – were at stake. In plain English, Amazon was saying, “Give us cash under the table or we’ll lie in public about the relative merit and appeal of your products.”

Publishers were, of course, accustomed to that – B&N pioneered a junior version long ago – so it was business as usual. No sympathy from me, by the way. Life ain’t fair, things suck, get over it.

Joe: It was under the table? How so?

As you said, bookstores have been selling coop for decades, and publishers have bought coop to place books such as yours (and not mine) in prominent places around the store. This isn't protection money, it's more like a kickback. I'm calling you on that terminology because I just did a post on the specific fear words and hyperbole that Authors United are using. Assuming you're correct about all of this, kickbacks are part of the book business, and Amazon didn't invent them, and they're legal.

You need to spend money to make money, and no one ever said it would be fair, fun, or easy. I didn't have an even playing field when we both had new releases in Borders--you had every advantage while I didn't--and I don't expect an even playing field now.

But at this point in time, I can do much better through KDP and A-pub than I was ever able to do through Hyperion, Hachette, or Penguin. More sales, and more money per sale. Through my legacy publishers, I made about $300k in eight years. On my own, I've done about 10x that in four years. And I'm not the only one. I bring this up in response to your earlier comment of "Print is a niche, according to you, and no one visits bookstores anymore!"

For the majority of writers, print has become a subsidiary right. Ebooks are the main income. But you are not in the majority. For you, print is still your main source of book income, and I'd guess a good deal of that income comes from non-bookstore outlets. These are outlets that I've never had titles sold in, and neither have most of our peers. 

Lee: But, here’s the thing – by continuing to trade under expired terms, it’s Hachette doing Amazon a favor, not vice versa. Amazon is still getting its protection money – and giving nothing in return right now – and still avoiding the wholesalers’ markup.

Joe: If Amazon wants to charge Hachette to sell its books, it can do that. If Amazon doesn't want to discount, it can do that. Amazon isn't a monopoly, and it isn't the government. Being a tough competitor or being tough with suppliers doesn't violate any laws.

Lee: If Hachette walked away, Amazon would lose... unless it was prepared not to carry Hachette titles ever again. Which it isn’t, because Amazon’s whole theory is to be the go-to, first-stop, everything store. “I’ll get it from Amazon” is what they depend on hearing. “I wonder if Amazon has it?” would be the kiss of death.

Joe: I believe you overestimate the value of Hachette's catalog to Amazon.

Right now Amazon has 500,000 exclusive ebooks available to customers. If Douglas Preston is no longer available on Amazon, do you really believe millions of Kindle owners wouldn't find something else to read? You think they'd seek him out? Forgo the fast, easy, and inexpensive Amazon shopping experience--on a proprietary format no less--and instead buy his books on a platform that is more expensive and less convenient? Or would they find some Preston-ish technothriller on Amazon and buy that for $3.99 with one-click? 

Mega bestsellers like you, and midlisters like me, have fans. But I think we both realize most of our sales are accidental. Someone browsing Amazon, looking for a particular type or genre of book. Or, in your specific case (as in Preston's), casual readers who want a thriller to take on the plane and only have a choice of six in the rack at their local airport. You have long signing lines when you do a book event. Those are fans. Are those lines proportional to the 100 million books you've sold? We know they aren't. Because the overwhelming majority of your readers, and mine, aren't fans. They're casual readers who gave us a try.

Let's look at it another way. In the USA, between 1926 and 1956, if you wanted to travel by car from Chicago to LA, you took Route 66. Along 66 were places for travelers to get gas, eat, and sleep. These places did well, because travelers had no alternative.

Then the Federal Highway Act of 1956 was signed by Ike, creating the Interstate. It was faster than Route 66. And what cropped up along the Interstate? Places to get gas, eat, and sleep.

Let's say there was a terrific restaurant on Route 66. One that was always busy, and made a lot of money. Maybe it had great food and unparalleled service. Maybe it was the best damn restaurant in the USA.

Guess what? That didn't matter. It still went out of business once traffic disappeared. People preferred the Interstate. And most of the businesses on Route 66, including the best restaurant in the country, withered and died. Because as good as it was, people preferred to get their food on the Interstate. They didn't go out of their way to eat at that wonderful restaurant. Bye-bye Route 66, and all who made their living on it.

As for "I wonder if Amazon has it" is something I do a lot. If Amazon doesn't have it, it's rare I go elsewhere... I just find something similar on Amazon. And I'm not the only one who does this.

Right now the majority of your sales is paper to casual readers, and you believe ebook sales have plateaued. (You mentioned this on the Passive Voice blog.) That may be true, for you. But while your ebook sales have plateaued, there is ample evidence that ebook sales overall are increasing. The market is growing, but legacy publishing sales aren't growing along with it. 

If you believe that in ten years there will still be chain bookstores, and books will still be available in the check-out isle at the local grocery, you aren't following the same trends I am. In just five years, ebooks have gone from a small niche to outselling paper in many genres. When those book outlets disappear, so goes the majority of the paper audience. And they will disappear

Lee: Which is why the dispute is so intractable. It’s half-rational, half-emotional. And flawed – Amazon wants more protection money now (yes, it’s really that simple) but it isn’t prepared to get up from the table and walk away. Neither is Hachette. Hachette’s best play – logically – would be to walk away and suffer a few lean years before an alternative presented itself. I’m absolutely sure its parent company wants it to do that, and would support it in so doing. Huge European corporations are good at the long game. But local management is resisting, because the hiatus would derail too many careers. Again, half-rational, half-emotional.

And no big deal, in the grand scheme of things. Not to me, anyway. I’m not a Hachette author. PRH is a different ballgame, and as I said, even if it gets beat, I’ll prosper under whatever comes next.

Joe: You mean by getting really, really lucky again? :)

It's entirely normal to look at where you currently stand and point to your past to explain how you got here. But that kind of thinking completely discounts luck and randomness. So many things happened that were beyond your control, and so many other things could have happened. If you'd gone with another publisher, or if I had, we might not be having this conversation right now. 

Lee: So why did I sign my friend Doug’s letter?

Because of what I know, and what I can guess. I've known Amazon people for 17 years, dozens of them, old hires, new hires, quitters, true believers, through dinner party talk, pillow talk, all kinds of talk. I’m making no value judgments – you’ll never hear any of that from me – but things are what they are. And the big deal is – Amazon is a publisher too. Not a very good one yet – no big hits so far, and they missed the biggest trade publishing phenomenon of recent years, even though it was right under their noses – 

Joe: Are you referring to 50 Shades? You know that the other Big 5 publishers missed out on that too, right?

Lee: – but Bezos never gives up, and he wants Amazon to be the only publisher, and he’ll do what it takes to make it so. Which casts a different light on what’s happening. He’s broken rivals before, and he’ll keep on trying.

So it’s a thus-far-and-no-further thing for me. I don’t want Amazon to be the only publisher. Neither should you.

Joe: Who ever said I want Amazon to be the only publisher?

Competition is good. But I'd like publishers to compete for authors as well. Better royalties. Better terms. For decades it has been lockstep unconscionable contracts offered to all writers save for a few lucky ones like you. Contracts that last for an author's life plus 70 years. Non-compete clauses. I've listed these all extensively before

You won the lottery. So did your friend Doug Preston, and many of the other Authors United signatories. You could no doubt buy a $104k NYT ad with change you find between your sofa cushions. And you want that to continue. But it continues at the expense of authors who didn't win the lottery, all 99.999% of them.

Lee: It’s staggeringly naïve to think the current KDP landscape is anything other than a short-term tactic. Note well – I am NOT saying don’t get into it now just because it will get worse in the future... instead I say, hell yes, make hay while the sun shines. Exploit Amazon’s game plan for all you can get, as long as it lasts, and more power to you. But understand that today’s KDP is a pressure point, designed to suck authors out of the established system, along with sucking out money and margin by other routes. Truth is, it ain’t working great so far – no significant authors have jumped ship, and publishers are still profitable. But Bezos never gives up.

And if he wins... then we all have a problem. Note well – I am NOT talking about nurturing or culture or curating or any of that kind of non-existent crap. I’m talking about money. Amazon is a tech company. The basic tech paradigm says content is always the smallest part of the cost. Those guys really believe that. Storytellers will be working for whatever few pennies they choose to hand out. (Or some will. I’ll be doing something else by then. I don’t work for pennies.)

Joe: Most of us already have a problem. It's with publishers like Hachette. Right now, Hachette, and the rest of Big Publishing, treat the vast majority of authors as the smallest part of their costs.

Hachette authors are getting screwed, working for pennies. And Hachette's insistence on keeping ebook prices high to protect its paper oligopoly will continue to hurt all authors but the very top of the heap (such as yourself).

On the other hand, Amazon is allowing many authors to make money for the very first time.

Lee: And don’t tell me some alternate savior will ride to the rescue. There won’t be one. Publishing makes no sense to any other player. Certainly there won’t be a publishing-only player. Not enough margin in it.

Joe: We'll see. After my experience with the legacy industry, I'd never put all of my eggs in a single basket. And if there were only one basket left, I'd create others. A new publishing model makes a lot of sense to me, and I see a big demographic that Amazon is dismissing. As for margins, I'm funding it myself, and we should be in the black by the end of the year. 

Lee: Now, I fully understand lots of folk will scoff and disagree and make fun of me. Have at it. I don’t care. I have no dog in this fight. I’m old and staggeringly rich and I can live like a king without making another buck ever. I have nothing to be scared of. That should be you. Your hopes are pinned to a mast that isn’t a mast at all. It’s a spear, and when it has done its job, it will be dumped.

Joe: I've disagreed with you but never scoffed at you, and have always liked and respected you. And no one is going to make fun of you here.

My agenda is transparent. I'm pro-author. Right now, Amazon's stance aligns with what is best for the majority of authors. If it continues along those lines, great. If it doesn't, I don't plan to be at the mercy of a large company.

Lee: So really we should all be equally concerned. We should make common cause. Behind the noise and the bullshit we’re all trying to do the same thing – sell our stories to the same people, for a living wage. And it’s those last four words that made me sign the letter. Not my living wage – that’s already in the bank – but yours, and the people that come after us.

Joe: At this point, Amazon has given more authors opportunities to earn money than Hachette, Penguin, Random House, et al have, combined.

You've been extremely generous to new writers, me included. But perpetuating the current system isn't for the benefit of midlisters. It only benefits the publishers, and a few dozen gigantic bestsellers like you. You believe that Amazon intends to wipe out other publishers, and then it will pinch authors. At this very moment, Hachette and other major publishers are pinching authors with shitty royalties, high book prices, and one-sided contract terms. Bookstores are pinching self-pubbed  and Amazon-pubbed authors by refusing to carry our books.

Authors United isn't made up of altruists. It's made up of status quo writers who don't want the gravy train to end, and Stockholm Syndrome writers who want to be part of that gravy train. Preston's insistence that AU isn't taking sides is silly, and it's only one of many silly things your group is proclaiming. If Hachette does get its way, it will mean Preston's and Patterson's Amazon sales go back to normal, but it also means all the Hachette midlisters will continue to get screwed in the longterm.

But if Hachette allows Amazon to discount, all Hachette authors will benefit from increased ebook sales. It might come at the expense of paper sales, but for the majority of authors those sales don't matter; Hachette isn't getting their midlist paper titles into airports and grocery stores.

I see $104k wasted on an ad, and I think how many unhappy Hachette authors could have benefited from that money--money that could pay for lawyers to help get them out of Hachette contracts, get their rights back, and start actually making that living wage you mentioned. Instead it was wasted to help the rich stay rich, while those rich folks spouted nonsense.

Likewise, these authors could have benefited from accepting one of Amazon's offers to compensate them. 

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on this, Lee. You haven't defended any Authors United statements, or addressed my criticisms of those statements, but you did make a valid and important point about Amazon attaining too much power. AU should have stuck to that and left all the other BS out of it. 

Your "thus-far-and-no-further" statement is entirely reasonable, but that's the way I feel about legacy publishers. As I've said many times, why worry about the tiger who may eat you tomorrow when there is a wolf currently gnawing on your leg?

The wolf is gnawing on 99.999% of all writers. So I'm not concerned about the tiger just yet.

I think we could support a common cause, but if you truly aren't worried about your future, and truly do care about authors making a living wage, you're siding with the wrong team.

Maybe there is no right team. Maybe Amazon, when they control the universe, will be worse than NY Publishing ever was (though looking at my previous legacy contracts, I doubt that.) But I was surprised you signed the AU petition, and surprised you chipped in for the silly NYT ad. I understand your goals are aligned, and that AU includes many of your friends, but you never struck me as someone who'd join a movement whose main talking points are all bullshit, let alone allow their words to speak for you.

That said, I don't see our viewpoints being all that different, and I'm glad to hear yours independent of the AU nonsense I've been fisking.

Also, I already knew this, but kudos for owning a pair bigger than any other Authors United signatory. You read opposing viewpoints, and respond politely and thoughtfully, while other vocal AU endorsers reiterate ridiculous bullet points off of cue cards and refuse to engage in any sort of discussion, let alone defend their position.

Your friend Doug is now approaching the DOJ to investigate Amazon, as if the DOJ isn't already aware of the situation. I assume this will involve more money. No doubt you're involved in a great deal of philanthropy and charity work, but I hope I've gotten you to at least reconsider how much help you're giving Authors United. 

Thanks again for stopping by. If you'd like to respond to any of my points in the comments, I'm in and out of the house all day, but I'll be monitoring. 

239 comments:

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Gerald Hornsby said...

You're right, Joe - Lee didn't really answer the main questions, but just perpetuated the idea that Amazon is a Big Bad Monopoly. He ignores the fact that most legacy pub writers are earning peanuts from their contracts. He doesn't seem to care about that. You do. Kudos.
But an interesting discussion, albeit a little one-sided, as if Lee wasn't really listening to what you were saying.

Joe Konrath said...

as if Lee wasn't really listening to what you were saying.

Calling is a discussion or conversation is probably a misnomer. Lee emailed me, I responded, he didn't have a chance to respond back.

I'll add that bit.

Norma Beishir said...

"Staggeringly rich." And wants to be richer.

I know the drill. If I can't say something nice, I can't say anything...so I'll just say right on, Joe!

Barry Eisler said...

I’m going to take a probably thankless stab at getting to the heart of what’s going on between publishing’s establishment and publishing's revolutionaries…

Writers like Lee believe that fundamentally the legacy publishing industry is good, and therefore that anything threatening that system must be fundamentally bad.

Writers like Joe believe that fundamentally the legacy publishing industry is oppressive to readers and writers; propagandistic (all that hokum about “nurturing”); and cartel-like, and that anything tending to force that system to engage in more enlightened business practices must be good.

Lee perceives Hachette and the other “Big Five” (the cartel is right there in the name, no?) to be under threat, and wants them protected — “Apres moi le deluge.” Joe perceives the Big Five as already being protected by their paper oligopoly, and in need of real competition for the sake of readers and writers.

Obviously I’m with Joe on all this, but that’s not the point. The point is, if you believe legacy publishing needs to reform, what might bring that reform about?

The debate reminds me of a discussion I sometimes get into with Democrats who support Obama, most of whom have been forced over the course of two terms to acknowledge something along the lines of, “Okay, he sucks—but a Republican would be even worse.”

It might be true that a Republican would be even worse (given Obama’s record, I don’t think that’s an easy argument to make—for example, Obama has bombed seven Muslim countries so far, while Bush bombed four—but leave that aside). My concern is that whenever you signal to an incumbent that you will back the incumbent *no matter what*, you have surrendered all your leverage.

Which is why my attitude toward the legacy industry is, “If you want a shot at my support, immediately double digital royalties to all authors; immediately begin paying all authors once a month instead of twice a year; immediately eliminate rights-of-first refusal, non-competes, and other draconian clauses from your contracts. Short of that, I’ll know the only thing you’ll respond to is pressure — and I’ll be sure to support the party that’s applying it."

Like a Democrat effectively saying, “Vote for me or I’ll turn the keys over to John McCain and Sarah Palin,” the Big Five and their supporters are effectively saying, “Support us and our cartel-like business practices because Amazon could become even worse than we’ve been.” I don’t buy that bullshit when I hear it from Democrats, so why would I buy it from legacy publishing? I’m willing to take that risk, recognizing the only way things might get better is if I’m willing to ignore self-interested threats to the effect that “Without us, it might get even worse.”

To put it another way: the Big Five and its supporters in Authors United and the Authors Guild are playing a game of chicken with the 99% of authors who have been ill-served by the business practices the establishment refuses to reform. I’ll be damned if I blink first in the face of that.

P. S. Power said...

Wait... Mr. Childs...

If being a best selling author means that your place was only, and fully, earned, does that mean Stephanie Meyers is a better author than you are?

She had a vast hit with Twilight, and seems like a lovely woman, but she's also knew and still forming as a writer.

By your way of thinking, she's one of the best in history however? Good to know. You should send her an email and tell her that directly. (She catches enough flack that I bet that would make her day!)

Joe...

Are you really a mid-lister anymore? I've seen your works in the top one hundred best sellers list on Amazon (The only accurate best sellers list, by the way. The one that doesn't fudge or give space to people based on lies or politics...) and you've don't it several times. That doesn't sound like a low place in the world to me.

Sure, it may not mean Robert Paterson numbers, but that's not exactly living in complete obscurity either.





Chris Crawford said...

Sadly, Lee perpetuated the attitude I see consistently from AU representatives - denigration of any writer who doesn't manage to secure a traditional publishing contract. I have to ask, why would any of us support AU given that a) they don't respect self-publishers and b) they only want our numbers to help prop up the careers of already successful authors?

P. S. Power said...

I wish I could go back and edit mishtanks here. :) That's what I get for not proof reading comments first.

New, instead of knew... Silly of me.

Barbara Morgenroth said...

Thank you, Joe.

Joe Konrath said...

Joe... Are you really a mid-lister anymore?

Compared to Lee, Douglas Preston is a mid-lister. :)

I was midlist, which is a term to describe the pecking order at a publishing house. You are literally in the middle of the catalog. Front list is celebrities and famous authors like Lee, backlist is titles from previous years.

I'm not technically midlist because I'm not with a publisher anymore, except for Amazon and KDP. In KDP, I'd be considered a bestseller, though probably not in the top 20 of all time. With Amazon Publishing I've solved over 250,000k books, which is better than most but not nearly as good as others.

Joe Konrath said...

denigration of any writer who doesn't manage to secure a traditional publishing contract.

Were did Lee do that? Can you quote him?

I read him telling authors to use Amazon to make hay while it is sunny. I'd call that supportive.

Joe Konrath said...

I’m going to take a probably thankless stab at getting to the heart of what’s going on between publishing’s establishment and publishing's revolutionaries…

Thankless indeed. And time consuming. I could have written a few more novels with all the time I've spent on this stuff.

the Big Five and its supporters in Authors United and the Authors Guild are playing a game of chicken with the 99% of authors who have been ill-served by the business practices the establishment refuses to reform. I’ll be damned if I blink first in the face of that.

It all comes down to them preferring to help each other over helping everyone else. Which is what all organizations do.

So I'm with you. I don't like it, and will call it when I see it.

Bonnie said...

He is a nice person, and like all authors he believes his good fortune is due to his own hard work. Hard to blame him on that. "You didn't build that" is the most infuriating phrase of my adult lifetime.

Not to say that luck isn't a big part of all creative people's successes. Each book is an opportunity for that lightning to strike. Legacy publishing gives authors one or two chances for that lightning strike and then abandons them and moves on. Amazon allows the author to put out as many lightning rods as they are able.

Arphaxad said...

I think the most telling thing he said was:

but Bezos never gives up, and he wants Amazon to be the only publisher, and he’ll do what it takes to make it so.

I do not see evidence that Amazon want's to be the only publisher. In fact, they have made it possible for millions of people to become their own publisher. He would have more of a claim if he said Amazon wants to be the only bookstore.

Maybe I'm wrong. What do I know. I only have one book for sale and have sold less than 20 copies so far. I can only say this, I have not written more material in my life than I have once I realized Amazon had made it possible for me to get my book into the hands of readers. I currently have two manuscripts in editing (yes, indie authors edit, not that AU would know this) and several shorts I am considering for publishing.

No legacy publisher has given me the oppertunity. None have fueled my passion to write. Only Amazon, and the ebook system, have done that.

Joe Konrath said...

Spitballing on Barry's earlier point, the central theme of the graphic novel Watchman was that the only way mankind would stop destroying itself is if it united against an alien threat.

Maybe. But an alien threat doesn't excuse all of the violence, war, rape, torture, slavery, and inhumanity we've inflicted on one another.

In this case, rallying against Amazon isn't an excuse to get everyone to treat each other better; it's an excuse to allow the subjugation of writers continue. Even worse, it's asking those writers to participate in their own subjugation because of some perceived future threat. A threat that might turn out to be entirely unfounded, when there is currently a very real threat harming writers.

Nope. No thanks.

Jenn Nixon said...

Thank you Joe and Barry for all the work you do to help us! I'm actually cracking the big $1000 mark this quarter with ONLY Amazon sales. I wouldn't have gotten this far without you two. :-) <3

Rick Gualtieri said...

I can't say I agree with Lee, but I applaud him coming here (or at least writing you with his thoughts, Joe). That in of itself speaks volumes to me about someone that they're willing to step into the proverbial lion's den to defend their stance.

Kudo to you both...although it really would have been nice to see him address some of the talking points of the letter. :)

Eden said...

Thank you, this was an interesting read. It was nice to hear Lee's point of view about the ongoing contract dispute between Amazon and Hachette, as well as his thoughts about where Amazon might be going with this.

Lee, if you're reading this, thank you for taking the time to engage Konrath. It's very refreshing to finally hear the other side explain their stance using logic and plain English. I really appreciate it.

Gerald Hornsby said...

What Lee fails to admit, although I'm sure he realises, is that self-publishing has enabled thousands of authors to get their writing published, for little or no cost. More than that, it has enabled a number of authors to sell good quantities of books, earn good money, become full-time writers. This is a good thing, no?
And, to be honest, I find his dick-swinging, "I earn more than you do, I'm stinking rich" talk (which I've read before) a little offensive. It's great that he helps smaller and newer authors, and he's exceedingly generous in that regard. But is his opinion any more valid because of that?
And, on Amazon, we're not stupid. If the Mighty 'Zon isn't working for us, we'll do something else (as you said, Joe). We're independent authors. We can do that.

alyslinn said...

I'd love to see Lee (or any other of the AU people) address the unfairness, shitty royalties, and other issues with legacy pub contracts, but yet none of them seem to be able to do that. Instead they doom-and-gloom about how Amazon could become the only publisher in town, and then where will we all be?

Robert Ross said...

Does anyone care about us readers in all this mess? I believe most of us certainly care about you authors and journalists.

It seems to me that the really important elements of "great" writing (composition, editing, etc.) aren't going away in our ever expanding, digital world. What is evolving is how writers engage their readers. And in this regard, it's not an "either / or" (print vs digital) proposition; it's about both.

It's time you writers support alternatives so we readers can continue to support you. Have you heard of "micro-licensing" or the "Open-Publishing-Initiative?"

These are grass-root ideas initiated by readers who LOVE writers of all genres.

Here are some other ideas you "successful" writers should also consider:

1. Consider licensing your digital content directly to your readers, and support freely available digital formats so we're not locked into proprietary DRM systems and eReaders/tablets

There are much easier ways to protect your copyrights without offending your readers.

2. Provide recorded books to streaming services like Netflix to reach a larger audience.

My 80+ year old aunt and all her friends have fallen in love with recorded books as their eyes are now failing them.

2. Offer (at cost) print AND digital versions of books to K-12 schools. a.k.a. engage your future readers as they learn to love reading.

I've seen first hand how kids of all ages (...wife's kindergarten class and our teenage daughter's friends...) swarm to books AND digital readers. The only time it seems to matter, at least to the teenagers, is when they have to study. Then they HATE digital, preferring the printed word. (...oh wait until they get into college with all those high priced text-books...I suspect they'll make the digital switch...)

Rallying behind some of the alternatives to the Amazons, Apples and Googles of the world would be a much better return on investment, in my opinion, than the time and money spent thus far on this Amazon mess.

We readers are here for you writers. Help us, help you.

Joseph Ratliff said...

Lee pointed out something rather peculiar in this "discussion"...

Lee kept pointing to "how well Lee will do" through thick and thin. Lee has enough money in the bank because, let's all bow down to Lee now, he's still going to sell tons of books, more than Joe (not a personal attack, just a "feeling" I got from the rather egotistical tone of Lee's responses).

Well, congratulations Lee, I'm happy for you. Thank you for sharing that perspective.

I'm hoping you intended that to be motivational, but it did not sound like it.

But, I'm not trying to compete with you, Lee ... I'm going to focus on the people who will be reading what I write.

Because those people put food on the table, not you.

I appreciate the fact you shared your perspective today Lee, I really do.

It says a lot about your character to be willing to exchange words with Joe based on a challenge he issued.

A pleasant read indeed.

As for Amazon, they aren't just a publisher, they don't just sell books. They are a huge retailer.

That might be one reason why the mighty "Big 5" etc... are having trouble, they are trying to compete with the entirety of Amazon under the assumption they are "only a publisher."

If they would stop competing with them, and start partnering with them, perhaps they would fare better.

Because Amazon probably isn't going anywhere, and if KDP is, in your words, going to "... suck authors out of the established system..." as an end game, well, then the next system will probably benefit authors (and readers) too.

Those authors and readers are a necessary component of Amazon's growth.

I just wish the Big 5 and all of the "establishment" saw it that way, instead of focusing their attention on the product (books and ebooks) AS the profit.

But if Amazon were to ever go away, yep, I'm sure we'll all adapt too. We might not be able to put as much money in the bank as you Lee, but we're probably going to all do just fine.

Hairhead said...

Mr. Child's responses are extremely disappointing and problematic.

1) Perhaps most disturbing (that's why I label it #1) is his clear belief that publishing is a zero-sum game, that authors fight for contracts, recognition, and money within a system that has a strictly limited number of readers and amount of money, that more money for him means less money for you (or other writers). As proof, his words: "I kicked your ass under the old system, and I’ll kick it under the new system . . ." "I worked harder and smarter than my rivals . . "

2) Arrogance and ignorance. Mr. Childs believes that his work has pure merit -- what about 50 Shades? And the Twilight Series? For that matter, what about A Confedracy of Dunces, a multiply-rejected Pulitizer Prize winner? And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, rejected 18 times before hitting? I could go on and on. Joe, if the following doesn't break your embargo on personal insults, Mr. Child is delusional.

TBC . . .



Hairhead said...

3) Mr. Childs is a FUD-er. Someone who spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. He claims that Amazon charges "protection" money -- a choice of words, which, as a write, he knows likens Amazon to the Mafia. (And we can't be insulting?) Further, he claims to know Bezos' inner thoughts, motivations, and goals. Amazon wants to be the ONLY PUBLISHER IN THE WORLD? Really. (Looks under my bed. Nope. Don't see any Commies there.) And he claims that Bezos will, as soon as he can, crush the publisher/authors who are now making a living on KDP. Without evidence.

And he pulls out of his ass specific provisos of the Amazon/Hachette contract. Really? Why don't you post it?

4) A complete refusal to address the facts about the past and current way in which traditional print publishers treat writers.

That's a great big fail there. Why can't ANY of the AU writers, or other publishers, agents, for other members of the legacy system address the lifetime+90 years copyright issues, the late-payment issues, the low and unfair royalty issues, in particular digital royalties. These are the real bread-and-butter issues for writers, and no member of the legacy system will argue for them or defend them in comparison to Amazon's system.

It's an important discussion to have, and they simply will not engage.

Mr. Childs has proven to my satisfaction that his opinions are no longer worth my time.

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, if the following doesn't break your embargo on personal insults, Mr. Child is delusional.

I prefer the term "mistaken" to "delusional".

Lee stands where he sits, and has strong opinions about where he got where he is. I disagree with those opinions, and I think many others do as well, which might qualify as a textbook definition of delusional, but "mistaken" isn't as pejorative.

SJArnott said...

Arphaxad said... I think the most telling thing he said was:


‘but Bezos never gives up, and he wants Amazon to be the only publisher, and he’ll do what it takes to make it so.’

This struck me too. It’s such an odd thing to say. As if the only reason Volkswagen or Honda put so much effort into their cars is because they one day expect to be only motor manufacturer in the world.

It’s simply not a realistic goal. If Amazon dropped the ball to the extent that its Indie authors got pissed off enough to look for other outlets, then that’s what they’d do. Amazon’s reputation is built on its ability to deliver physical goods cheaply and quickly. I doubt anyone could do it as well as Amazon can. But you don’t need all the organisation and infrastructure to sell and deliver ebooks, all you need is a computer and lots of copper wire.

Selling ebooks is not (to further beat the expression to death) rocket science. There must be any number of companies who’d be up for a slice of the action, because I disagree with another of Lee’s comments:

“Publishing makes no sense to any other player.”

Why? It makes money (and if it doesn't, what are we arguing about?). Print distribution might be hard to crack (see above), but ebook publishing would be wide open to anyone willing to make authors a better deal.

To date, Amazon has kept the door to competition closed with a very healthy 70% royalty rate, but if it ever decided to abandon this ‘short-term tactic’ how quickly would authors jump ship to the iBook store, or whoever else was waiting in the wings.

I like the convenience of Amazon as a one-stop-shop, but if I knew there were authors who were exclusively found elsewhere, I’d shop around, especially if some bright spark started an ebook store devoted to genres I was particularly
attached to.

To date, Amazon has stifled this kind of competition by providing a pretty much unbeatable deal to authors and customers alike, but how quickly would that would change if it didn’t?

Joe Konrath said...

A complete refusal to address the facts about the past and current way in which traditional print publishers treat writers.

I'm not sure that was the point of this exchange. Lee wanted to explain why he sided with Authors United, and he did. He doesn't have to defend their every word and action, nor does he have to respond to non-sequitors.

Yes, the fact that currently the Big 5 are awful to the majority of writers is tangled up in this debate, but Lee's focus here is on Amazon, not on reforming the system. It it really that curious why he chose now to speak out against Amazon, while never taking his publishers to task for skeevy business practices?

Hairhead said...

Joe, I'll agree with "mistaken", in order to maintain the dialogue --- a dialogue, which, no fault of yours, continues not to happen.

Really, I would be ecstatic if any of the legacy players would address the copyright, royalty, and payment issues directly, on your blog or elsewhere, and prove, with facts and numbers, that Amazon is NOT good for us. I would love that. I would love a bit more certainty in publishing/writing. It's a hard enough row to hoe as it is. (I have a 200,000-word writing project going up on Amazon piecemeal, but that's another story.)

Oh, and I just received my first-ever cheque from Amazon. It is small, but it is real!

B. Rehder said...

"no significant authors have jumped ship"

What does "significant" mean in this context? Well reviewed or critically acclaimed? Probably not. I think Lee means big sellers.

If that's the case, seems obvious why a "significant" author would not want to leave a system that made her or him significant. If I had been significant to my publisher—and had that been reflected in their last offer—I probably would've stuck around. I am so glad that didn't happen.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I'm seconding the request that you mention upfront that you're responding to Lee's email and there was no literal back and forth. It really does read as if he's dodging your points; I started to think Lee was a weasel until I read your response to Gerald. You made great points that I hope Lee responds to.

~Jamie

Joseph Ratliff said...

As for "significant authors" not jumping ship, perhaps they are on the wrong ship?

The Titanic did sink.

Hairhead said...

Joe, your point about Lee not addressing current legacy practices is partly right -- the discussion was supposed to be about the AU letter -- but the legacy practices in question are the proximate cause of this whole kerfuffle, and it would behoove legacy authors to address them.

In response to your calming words, I would read Lee Childs' response to any of the point you brought.

But I'm not hopeful of either getting a response, or of the content of such a response.

I should be writing . . .

Joseph said...

Hate it when rich people talk about working hard. Everyone works hard. That's a prerequisite for anyone hoping to achieve anything, not the beginning and end of it.

Hard work is lobbed about as if people that didn't "make it" didn't work hard or some such.

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, I'm seconding the request that you mention upfront that you're responding to Lee's email and there was no literal back and forth.

I did that hours ago. Try refreshing your browswer.

Tony said...

Every time Lee Child opens his mouth I'm astounded by his insecurity. Whether it's debating lit fiction vs genre fiction, or talking about Amazon vs Hachette, he never misses a chance to point out that he's rich and (in his mind at least) better than everyone else.

Normally, I'd see this and immediately think "Wow, small man syndrome" and that's exactly what it is, but in this case it also seems to run deeper.

I've read a couple Reacher books over the years, and they were just ok. Definitely nothing special. He basically writes Lone Ranger stories, which is fine. I don't begrudge him his lucky career, but he's in no way good enough to justify his ego.

Sheryl said...

In my opinion, Lee is right for the wrong reasons that he and other authors like him will survive whatever happens with publishing in the future, and that they're likely to do better than all but a very few self-publishing authors.

Why? As Seth Godin says, the advent of e-books and self- publishing has made entry into the market much easier, but at the same time the resultant flooding of the market will largely benefit those who already have a name.

I would have liked to see a little humility from Lee, e.g., an expression of some gratitude for the position he's in would have been nice, but all I saw was a combative and arrogant personality. I won't be buying any of his books as a result, but I'm sure he doesn't give a damn because he doesn't need me. Bully for you, Lee.

Talin said...

The AU post mentioning the drop in sales for Hatchette authors pretty much points to Joe being right about people willing to shop for other authors instead.

If a majority of customers had followed their authors to other sites then I believe that AU would have posted that sales were up elsewhere to increase pressure on Amazon.

Only a small percentage who are true fans will follow everywhere and buy at higher prices.

Joe Konrath said...

but he's in no way good enough to justify his ego.

Let's debate points, not make it personal.

I can see how someone making 8 figures a year might have a healthy dose of confidence and an unflappable sense of his own ability, but your personal feelings about Lee's ego don't add to the discussion.

Joe Konrath said...

I won't be buying any of his books as a result, but I'm sure he doesn't give a damn because he doesn't need me.

Let's curtail any personal opinions about Lee and his writing.

Come on, people. We're all adults.

Ken Prescott said...

I have some thoughts about the publishing business, based on my own experience in program management for Navy communications systems...

The Big 5 have huge advantages in the marketplace...and they're either not making effective use of those advantages, or they're systematically destroying those advantages because they don't understand the modern marketplace.

The have structural problems. It takes too long to make a go/no-go decision for a book. It takes too long to get a book through the production cycle. It takes too long to get the books to the prospective customers. It takes too long to book revenue. All of these delays--avoidable delays--translate into additional (and avoidable) cost.

Those costs must, in turn, be recouped. This is usually through either shafting the writer (i.e., the guy who actually makes the damn product--when you trash the cook, eventually you're only going to eat trash), or through various means of forcing up the price tag.

And that's what terrifies the Big 5 about indie publishing--because the indies do NOT have to follow the Big 5's lead on submission-to-retail timelines, etc, and they have not done so.

Sue Trowbridge said...

I've been working with authors for 15+ years. I've seen first-hand the different treatment that big, NYT-selling authors gets from their publisher vs. that received by a midlister. It's night and day. No wonder "no significant authors have jumped ship," as Lee said.

However, there are plenty of authors who were once the toast of the town and are now indie, because they've seen what happens once you fall out of favor with the Big 5 (sometimes through no fault of their own). Eileen Goudge is a perfect example. She sold over 3 million books as a legacy writer and is now indie. Any legacy author who thinks "it can't happen to me" should read her story. Sure, Lee Child and Janet Evanovich will probably never have anything to worry about, but authors in the lower rungs of the bestseller list should consider the points Eileen makes.

Anonymous said...

I don't like it when authors think they have kick other authors' asses to be considered legit, or better, or a demigod. Let's cut that crap.

I like both Lee and Joe. Joe for his blog and Lee for his generosity to me and other authors.

I don't think Lee was "lucky." He did work hard, he got better, and as his books caught on his publisher made the decision to give him the big push, and that's what made him what he is today. Only authors who get the big push make it to the A List. Lee worked his way up and got enough sales to merit this treatment, and it has paid off.

But I'm sad that Lee is siding with this AU appeal to the effing government. He should withdraw his name now and call on Preston et al. to disavow that jack-booted tactic. Because it will hurt the vast majority of authors who are making a living now via Amazon.

They preach that they are pro-author, but this move is not...and Lee Child and Stephen King, who say they are for writers, need to put a stop to it.

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

I'm not surprised that extremely successful writers side with their publishers. Not only do they see them as right, but they are loyal and will forever be loyal.

They believe, rightly so, that they never would have made it to their current status as writers if not for their publishers taking them on and giving them the push they needed to make it to that level of success.

Status quo put them where they are today. No shock that they fear change.

And yes, they do fear change, or they wouldn't have signed that AU letter.

Thanks to Lee Child for appearing on Joe's blog.

And Barry, thank you! See? Not totally thankless :)

Alan Tucker said...

I had a short exchange of comments on the Passive Voice blog a few weeks ago with Lee. We were discussing advances and royalties, where I wondered why publishing houses paid everyone a living wage EXCEPT the people who produce the content.

He was gracious in the discussion, which I appreciate, but ended it with what essentially was "get a better agent". I found that response disheartening and emblematic of the problems writers face with big publishing. How many clients do the powerhouse agents pick up each year? I'm guessing you could count them on one hand in most cases. Some of them probably with fingers missing.

He credited much of his success to his wonderful agent in those comments. While I am happy for him, I can't see how his hard work was the sole reason he caught the attention of that agent, even if times were different 30 years ago.

If a writer's hope of getting a decent contract with the big publishers lies only with the ability to sign with a powerhouse agent, then it still comes down to a lottery. You're just buying a different ticket.

J. Carson Black said...

That was more fun than I've had in years... the years before my books hit on Amazon. Joe, you tied that up nicely and neatly. As a former midlist author (or, as I call them, "the sad pathetic love that dare not speak its name")I am overjoyed to make an actual living doing what I love to do. I have my own little business, but I am also with Thomas & Mercer, and what a wonderful publisher it is, compared to the "here's your new title, here's your book cover, don't call us, we'll call you" publishers I once had. "And by the way, you'll have to hunt for your royalty statement five or six years from now, but don't bother, because the dog ate it. Sincerely, your soon-to-be ex-publisher, since you didn't make your sell-through---because that's virtually impossible anyway."Good riddance!

Samuel Morningstar said...

Lee is, unfortunately, like a lot of highly successful people in that he doesn't really know WHY he's hit it big, so he naturally assumes he did something brilliant. There is a danger in believing in one's own hype...

It's fortunate for him that he's already Oprah rich, since he clearly doesn't intend to adapt his strategies to a changing landscape.

Libbie Hawker said...

*applause*

Randall J. Morris said...

While I don’t think Lee addressed any of the points made in the AU letters, this is the closest AU has come to making sense. Lee didn’t reference bricks, razorblades, or snowflakes. Not even once.

The author I’m most disappointed in for signing the AU letters is John Grisham (I’m in law school right now and I love legal thrillers, especially Grisham’s books). I doubt he’ll respond to Joe’s invitation or engage anyone as to why he sided with AU. I’d bet it’s because of a “these super rich authors are all buddies” kind of thing.

Lee Child said...

Briefly ... I mentioned money and success only to refute the tired old meme that authors like me are "scared" or "whining" ... I'm neither, nor do I need to be. That apart, yeah, it sounds crass and it is. Apologies.

Barry ... I don't believe the established publishing industry is good. I believe it is what it is, i.e. reasonably satisfactory for most, and likely better for most than a projected Amazon-only future.

I understand that Amazon is tremendously enabling for writers - at the moment. My advice is make the most of it while it lasts.

More later, but let me make the point I'm a little upset with Joe for formatting my e-mail to break up the logical flow, and making it look like we were conversing and I was dodging his questions.

Joe Konrath said...

More later, but let me make the point I'm a little upset with Joe for formatting my e-mail to break up the logical flow, and making it look like we were conversing and I was dodging his questions.

Mea culpa. That's how I always do it.

But I'll reformat it so you're in one chunk and I respond in one chunk.

Anonymous said...

I'll employ the sandwich approach to my comments about Child's response to you, Joe.

First slice:

I appreciate Mr. Child's willingness to engage us by responding to your post. :)

Yummy sandwich filling goodness:

I found Mr. Child's letter to be lacking in any semblance of humility considering his success in an industry where some of the greatest books were passed over or don't sell and horrible books sell like hotcakes.

He owes that success to many factors, including his talent and business acumen and it would do good for his public presence and argument to show some recognition of that fact or to engage the meat of the issue without reference to his millions. He had huge publishers behind him putting his books everywhere and the willingness of his readers to keep buying his books, and for new readers to give him a try and should acknowledge that.

As you point out, Joe, when you are one of only a dozen diners for miles on the main road, you'll make money even if all you're offering is greasy burgers.

How wonderful for Mr. Child to have such wealth as a result of his writing. Throwing references to his wealth into the discussion does not make it any stronger.

I guess it's human nature to attribute your massive success to your own actions, and I guess it's human nature to gloat about it, but such gloating comes off as arrogance. Human nature being what it is, seeing it makes me less likely to read the rest of what he has to say, which is a shame. He has insights into the publishing world because of his experience and I am always interested in learning.

Nice to see him apologize for gloating. He could have made the same point about not whining and being afraid a little more graciously. He is a writer, after all. We're supposed to have a way with words. :) He could have also done so recognizing that he is part of the 0.01% of traditionally published authors who may feel secure. He is not the face of legacy publishing any more than Donald Trump is the average American.

Second slice of bread:

I was very interested in his notion that KDP is "the tip of the spear".

I'd like him to expand on that idea. If he has insight into Amazon's larger goals and strategy regarding the publishing industry and books, I'd love to hear it. As an indie who was able to quit my day job because of Amazon KDPS, I need to know this kind of thing so I can keep making a living at it.

I appreciate his willingness to engage us on your blog, Joe. :)

Anon Author

Zane Sachs said...

Perhaps no writers the Big 5 considers significant have jumped ship (wait a second ... wasn't Barry Eisler's departure considered significant?), but many authors once considered "insignificant" have jumped ship to create significant and lucrative international writing careers: J.A. Konrath, Blake Crouch, Bella Andre, Bob Mayer, among others.

Mr. Childs says, KDP is designed to, "... suck authors out of the established system ..."

True.

For many writers (myself included) getting sucked out of the established system and swimming with the current offered by KDP, and others, has proven to be far superior to being chewed up and spat into traditional publishing's slush pile sewer.

Nikki Vanderhoof said...

Lee, Joe did indicate at the beginning of the blog post that he did not have an actual exchange so as to address the concerns of anyone thinking it was a conversation. I think it's great that you responded to Joe's request when there are so many other authors out there that are only communing with the NYT and not other authors or readers. As someone who has a extremely limited amount of funds to spend on books, e-books were a Godsend and I would no longer be able to engage in something I love so much if paper were the only source of reading; it's just way too expensive, not to mention, takes up way too much room in my tiny little apartment. I think it's wonderful that Amazon offers another platform for writers to introduce their work to readers; there shouldn't have to be publishers or Amazon and I've never ever gotten the impression that Amazon is trying to be the only publisher out there. Especially since books aren't their only major source of revenue. I've also seen way to many instances of authors getting a deal with a publisher simply because they're work is very commercial, not necessarily that they worked harder or smarter than anyone else. Many of the authors I love out there have never had a publishing deal and I will continue to follow them whatever their path turns out to be. Also, as someone who works in contracts for a living, Amazon has every right to run their business how they are and there isn't anything wrong or illegal about it. At all. If I were Bezos I most likely would've dropped all Hachette titles from my website due to not be able to come to solid agreement so in that I see Bezos as being a very amiable business person. Good luck in everything, and thank you.

Laura Kirwan said...

We indies get criticized all the time for not understanding how traditional publishing works. Well, I'm guilty as charged on the issue of the fees, or "protection money" as he describes it. I've heard that brought up by other Amazon critics. What are they talking about?

Joe Konrath said...

republished the blog so Lee's comments appear in one block at the beginning.

I encourage everyone who has read this to reread his section and take it as a whole.

Then, below it, I added my comments and questions.

This should make it clear this wasn't a debate, discussion, or conversation, but rather me responding to points in an email.

Julia Robb said...

Joe, you and Lee Child didn't even touch the problem most KDP authors have. We have no way of marketing ourselves (without spending money we don't have) except social media and that means we can reach only a limited number of readers.
I've written a mainstream novel, an historical novel and a western, and gotten excellent reviews for all of them.
But it hasn't helped me sell books.

Anonymous said...

I love Lee... have every single one of his books, read each multiple times (full disclosure, my fave is THE ENEMY)...

and I'm fortunate in that I also met him at a reading of Barry's at one point, and he is indeed very gracious.

I don't agree with him about Amazon, of course.

I'd note, though, that he may be caught up in a tech revolution that
he entirely can't see in full from where he sits (line of sight, LOS)... which is common in many industries (music, for one)... sometimes it's cultural, sometimes it's technical.

Publishing is not what it was in 1997, which I don't think Lee misses that point, but I think he doesn't see HOW exactly it is different from when he was a struggling writer sending out a manuscript...

One thing that would be of interest, actually (and I would understand, Lee, if you would be reluctant to answer this) is how different his contract is now from the first one he was offered...

I don't mean in terms of $ (of course, you make much more now) but in terms of royalty percentages, subsidiary rights, etc... how are they different?

Because that's the thing that has changed, the corporations (publishing) as gotten quite cruel with their contracts across the board, have they not?

I remember an article, too, about Lee speaking about his days as a union steward and fighting for the rights of his fellow workers (and which ultimately led to him leaving production and writing full time)... and I think that's pertinent to this discussion. (I'm paraphrasing, of course...)

I also remember another about suspense writing and how Lee maintained that the remote control changed how television was made because of it.

The reality is, ebooks have changed the game... and what Amazon and the publishers are fighting about, ultimately, is how much to share with authors... are they not?


Lee, big fan and I applaud and thank you for dialoguing with Joe and Barry.

Todd Travis

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, you and Lee Child didn't even touch the problem most KDP authors have. We have no way of marketing ourselves (without spending money we don't have) except social media and that means we can reach only a limited number of readers.

All authors have that problem, Julia. And there is no simple or easy answer.

I recently wrote a post about ebook sales.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2014/09/ebook-sales-down-here-are-15-tips.html

Jim Self said...

Lee, you've made two serious charges and I hope you can provide some evidence or reasoning to support them: "protection money" aka co-op is being extorted (rather than Amazon simply raising the price of premium advertising on their site), and that Amazon is threatening to falsely represent Hachette's sales rankings if they refuse to pay.

Everything I hear about you says that you're great to other writers and that you actually care about them. That gets a lot of respect from me. With that being said, how can you believe Hachette is a good partner for a writer building a career? Joe listed a lot of the usual points above, but like you say, it comes down to money in your pocket. You get paid giant advances because that's how the biz works for bestsellers like you. You aren't supposed to earn out. For writers building a career it's about royalties, and royalties with the Big X suck balls.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was interesting that Mr. Child thought Amazon would be hurt more than Hachette if it turns out Amazon delists them. Authors United said that Hachette authors' sales were down 50-90%. Unless Amazon's sales are also down 50-90%, I think that makes it clear that Hachette would suffer more. The only way we would know for certain is if Amazon delists Hachette titles. However, the people who we know would be damaged the most are Hachette's authors, about which apparently Hachette doesn't care.


The only authors I have seen speak out on behalf of Hachette are its mega best sellers. I wonder why that is? I'd have more respect for them if they worked even-handedly to help resolve the dispute for the sake of other Hachette authors who don't have the same mountains of cash as Mr. Child.

I also don't think you can seriously equate getting a publishing contract with the Big Five and selling oceans of books as evidence of superior effort or writing, otherwise E. L. James, Snooki and Kim Kardashian would be up there with Mr. Child, right?

Joe Konrath said...

Because that's the thing that has changed, the corporations (publishing) as gotten quite cruel with their contracts across the board, have they not?

They've always been pretty bad. They only get better when the author has power.

Power is attained via celebrity, previous sales, buzz, and the size of the advance. The more a publisher invests, the likelier they are to protect that investment by throwing more money at it; advertising, marketing, media, tours, coop, discounts, print runs, promotion, etc.

Alan Spade said...

Hmm... I think that my previous guess about Lee Child being the anonymous bestseller speaking on Joe's blog was rather accurate. ;)


"‘but Bezos never gives up, and he wants Amazon to be the only publisher, and he’ll do what it takes to make it so.’"

Isn't that some kind of projection? It seems to me, Lee Child, that you are often comparing publishing to a basket or football championship where there can only be one winner? So, in your mind, Jeff Bezos intend to be the only publisher and retailer?

Not very likely, in my opinion. The thing that precisely reassures me about Amazon, is that the company has never invested ALL its power (yes, they do have imprints like Thomas and Mercer) to play Big Publishing game and to make fantastic offers to bestseller writers (or their agents).

Because, if they had acted like that, it would probably have become necessary for them to do heavy coop for these bestsellers they would have "bought" (yes, like in those championships aforementioned), and they would have to game their own system and algorithms.

Amazon has always played with coop, but hasn't gamed its own system (they constantly tweak it, yes, but in a way to allow a real turnover in the bestselling lists).

As I've said before, I'll always prefer a technological predator like Amazon than the predators from the old school, because these had really the power to lock distribution, whereas it's far much difficult in a digital world.

Jeremy Kester said...

I can see both points of view, but as a writer who is 'just starting out,' I have no hope in the current state to gain traction with big-pub, thus I cannot do anything but align with Amazon. Lee certainly does have points (that would ordinarily concern me as well) about Amazon growing too big and getting too much control. We've had similar arguments about Walmart and other companies across other industries. For our sake, the crust of this argument still resides in your points, Joe:

The system does need to change.

And the vast majority of writers hold no hope to 'make it' via traditional methods.

Amazon just is the best alternative to big-pub, and it gives us newbies the best chance... right now. But what is even better for us? What can we do if we just damn well feel like it? We can always go elsewhere. We own our work. Writers locked in with big-pub just don't have such luxuries.

That last point more than any of the others is why I believe it needs to change. That is truly why I support Amazon here.

Tom Maddox said...

"but Bezos never gives up, and he wants Amazon to be the only publisher"

Is there a publisher out there that would not like to be the only publisher? To have all the best selling authors in their stable? To not have to compete for books they want to publish?

I doubt this is a unique desire just to Amazon, even if we make the assumption that the statement is true.

Lee Child said...

Joe, many thanks for re-formatting. Very gracious of you.

Re standard contract terms being shitty: They're the result of many decades of back-and-forth between agents and publishers, in good times and bad, and as such were completely acceptable to most - in fact, I remember Joe being completely enthused about his published status as recently as 2009. Now they look very bad compared to KDP ... and one's feelings on that depend on how one sees KDP. Is it a hippy-dippy feelgood Kumbaya-fest generated solely by Amazon's generosity? Or is it a disposable short-term tactic designed to be ditched after Amazon either wins or quits? Your call is as good as mine, and history will show who's right and who's wrong.

Todd Travis: My contracts are exactly the same as they always were, apart from larger advances to reflect larger anticipated sales. Call me a jerk, but I don't take higher royalty rates or preferential treatment, as a matter of principle. I was effectively subsidized early on (as all new authors are) and I won't pull up the drawbridge now. I want to earn my corn the old-fashioned way, by selling books, not by using leverage.

Jim Self: I earn out my advances as fast as I can. I don't like the feeling of owing money longer than I need to.

Julia Robb: Agreed. Marketing is always the fundamental problem ... and ... how should I phrase this? ... a publishing house at least offers the theoretical possibility of maybe getting some.

Joe Konrath said...

Writers locked in with big-pub just don't have such luxuries.

I no longer sign any contract that lasts more than seven years or has a non-compete.

Alan Spade said...

"Is it a hippy-dippy feelgood Kumbaya-fest generated solely by Amazon's generosity? Or is it a disposable short-term tactic designed to be ditched after Amazon either wins or quits?"

Amazon is not losing money by taking a 30% margin (as booksellers do) on ebooks between $2.99 and $9.99. Contrary to what you seem to imply, their model is sustainable.

Yes, they probably loose money with the sales of Kindle devices. But they regain it by selling ebooks files.

Other players like Kobo also offer 70%, and that's a clear indication that this model is sustainable.

Zane Sachs said...

@Lee: I'm glad you said "theoretical possibility" regarding advertising/marketing support from publishers. From what I've gleaned, most writers receive little or nothing. In fact, I've even heard horror stories from bestselling authors regarding editors ... for example, not having one.

Chris Armstrong said...

I'll admit that it can be a little troubling that Amazon is approaching holding the majority of the market.

My thought is that if any author would be in a position to try and starve the beast and withhold their books, it would be those that have "purchase third home" on their to-do list.

It is certainly never going to happen that all the new and mid-list authors can afford to walk away from their primary source of income - nor would their doing so impact Amazon anyway.

Chris Armstrong said...

So I guess my point would be that the AU authors should understand that self-pubbers won't bite the hand that pays the rent.

If they want to blow some expendable income to make a point, they should go right ahead.

Mit Sandru said...

“… and as a guy entirely unafraid of the future, whatever it may bring – after all, I kicked your ass under the old system, and I’ll kick it under the new system, and the new-new, and the new-new-new, until I retire,” aside of the snide remarks about kicking ass, and I hope Joe and Lee are still friends, Lee said something that for the first time it sounds intelligent, coming from a legacy-trad-published author.
Translation: and as a guy [author] entirely unafraid of the future, whatever it may bring, I [sold well] under the old system, and I’ll [sell well] under the new system, and the new-new, and the new-new-new.
This is all there is to say. If you are a well selling trad-published author a new technology will not change that. If the trad-published authors are not afraid of the future, why are they siding with the old, the past?
The heart of the problem is competition. Limiting the supply of books is good for Lee Child et al, and they don’t want to change it. Amazon is allowing competition, and that’s the problem. The new technology allows the other 9 out of 10 good writers who were not so lucky to win the Trad-pubs lottery to publish and sell their books.
Lee Child et al are fabulous authors, but they don’t have a monopoly on all the best stories and writing out there. They will have to share the market and that may be inconvenient.
Amazon is a retailer, the last guy in the distribution channel. As long as the supply of books keeps coming they will not suffer. Hachette, on the other hand, is a supplier and it has competition from the Indie authors. And as a supplier you don’t turn off your distribution channel, especially as good as Amazon is, if you want to remain profitable.

Anonymous said...

Lee, I wouldn't ever call you a jerk, I've met you... you certainly didn't act that way.

Joe, I'd say, though, that the shittiness of the contracts has changed (for example, digital rights are now an issue, they weren't in the 90s) espec regarding subsidiary rights...

I can't go into details, but I've had to turn down some deals that were just simply out and out ripoffs aimed at trying to hit the Lotta via subsidiary rights.

Just like the film world is constantly looking for IP to exploit, publishing seems more focused on that (which isn't a bad thing, per se) rather than reaching readers, and that they'll take those rights by fair means or foul... in my experience.


Thanks again Lee,

Todd Travis

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, many thanks for re-formatting. Very gracious of you.

Happy to. Normally when I fisk something, I state it's a fisk.

In this case, it wasn't actually a fisk, more like replying to points you brought up. But that made it seem like a dialog, and it wasn't.

Running your post first without interrupting it seems to work best.

Laure Reminick said...

Lee, and the other authors with him, fear Amazon having complete control -- because their universe is CONTROLLED. That's what they would fear, because that's what they know.

It's hard for them to realize a universe where it's totally easy to skip to another retailer. Amazon must know it could lose an author's business, easier than it was to gain it in the first place.

In fact: that's why this conversation keeps going and going. One group is all about the publishers that control their livelihood. And the other group is all about selling through any retailer that works.

The two groups are not talking about the same thing.

Alan Spade said...

What Laure Reminick said. Legacy authors try to project what they know about publishing on Amazon, but it doesn't fit, because it's a whole different model. They are projecting their own fears, and those fears come mainly from the old model.

Terrence OBrien said...

I’m talking about money.

Good. So am I. And that is why I can't make common cause with you.

The system you advocate makes money for you, but does not make money for me.

The system I advocate makes money for me, and does not make money for you.

Our causes are in opposition. You have told us how great you are, how much money you have made, and how great you will be in the future. I aspire to the same, and and support the system that maximizes my chances.

There is no common cause. That's fine. That is how competition works. There will be winners and there will be losers. Amazon maximizes my chances of winning and someday writing about how great I am.

Lee Child said...

Alan Spade: I didn't say Amazon loses money on KDP. Rather, I wondered out loud how long such an anomalous pay-out rate will last. Every other Amazon supplier is squeezed pretty hard. Can you explain in detail why you feel KDP authors won't be?

Lee Child said...

Terrence OBrien: I think you're great already. Believe it or not, I worry about your future, not mine. I see no convincing reason why KDP will operate as it does today forever. I'm sure you don't, either - why should disruption stop now? - so the question is, do you think it will get better or worse?

Anonymous said...

I am Anon 2:42 PM. I thank Lee heartily for the apology, which shows his graciousness. I do think he speaks well for his position. I just wish he would quash the awful idea of governmental intrusion.

I will also add that "standard contract terms" were hammered out when there was only one game in town and only one player with leverage, which qualifies that part of the argument greatly.

Randall J. Morris said...

Just a thought / guess, but maybe KDP Authors rates won't change because Amazon is happy to take 30% while basically just data mining its customers. The data they have (which they aren't sharing) is worth quite a lot.

Laura Resnick said...

"no significant authors have jumped ship"



The subject of my current NINK column (for Ninc) is the tendency of people in the industry to keep repeating this fallacious statement despite a growing body of evidence to the contract. In the article, I cite the decisions or PR announcements of about 20 established authors who've "jumped ship." (I could certainly have named many, many more, but my column space is about 1600 words, so I stopped there.)

About half of the writers named in this piece are New York Times bestsellers.

(Two NYT bestsellers are currently engaged in hybrid models, doing some self-publishing of new frontlist but also still in a frontlist relationship with a published. So is one midlister. Everyone else on the list is now all-indie all the time (at least in the US--in some cases, they're licensing translation rights to foreign publishers).)

As I concluded in wrapping up the piece, anyone who is currently denying that established writers are "jumping ship" is going to KEEP denying it, because that is clearly a person ignoring what's right in front of them or choosing to be willfully ignorant about what's happening in their own industry.

And anyone currently denying that "major" writers are "jumping ship" despite how many NYT bestsellers are already doing so will =continue= denying it's happening even if/when a "household name" writer (like some of the megaselling names in Authors United) "jumps ship," because it will be easier and more comfortable to find an excuse for why that writer "doesn't count" than to acknowledge it's happening. I think that anyone who's denying NOW that it's already happening is entrenched in a level of denial that's not going to be affected by th intrusion of more reality.

Hollis Shiloh said...

I am reading all of this with great fascination.

At present, I am earning more money self-publishing with Amazon than I've ever earned with any publisher, period.

A lot of it is luck, but it's also putting out new stuff, learning, and trying things (like giving away free books, or opting into the new Kindle Unlimited program) to see how these work for you.

I am not concerned with what Amazon will do in the future so much as doing the best I can in the present. I've wasted enough time trying to get publishers to show interest, and then not being able to get traction because I couldn't try new things with my stories once they were published.

I now regard publishers as partners. If we can work together, without heinous contracts, then great! But it's business first. If we can't, then I'll see what I can do on my own. Some projects will succeed. Others will fail.

Bring on the future. Let's see what happens.

Alan Tucker said...

There may come a day when Amazon elects to lower the pay rate for KDP authors. There may also come a day when a meteor strikes the Earth and we all die. Both are possibilities. Should I be afraid of both, of either?

Say Amazon does as you suggest, Lee and cuts the rates. They'd have to chop pretty long and hard to get down to 25% of net, the standard rate from the Big 5, paid every six months.

If all that was required was hard work, there'd be hundreds, if not thousands, of authors in your position, Lee. I have no doubt you busted your ass, but I know there are plenty of other folks out there busting their asses too. They just haven't had that spark of luck come their way yet.

Amy Eyrie said...

My favorite part is when Lee Child's says, "Hachette’s best play – logically – would be to walk away and suffer a few lean years before an alternative presented itself."

An alternative presents itself?

The passive detachment in this statement is amazing. This is the core of why the Big Five will fail.

Jeff Bezos has created something extraordinary. He created a delivery system no one else has been able to imitate. The Big Five are not willing to build such a system.

Yet Mr. Childs thinks if they all wait long enough, some unknown entity will build such a thing and let them charge what they want?

VARNBYRDE said...

"Note well"

"I kicked your ass under the old system, and I’ll kick it under the new system, and the new-new, and the new-new-new, until I retire, or the lung cancer gets me, whichever comes first."

"You’d be an idiot to bet against me."

"...in the last three weeks I sold more ebooks – of one title – than you have sold in your entire life. Or will sell.

"And don’t tell me I was lucky or “anointed” or some such…"

"I worked harder and smarter than my rivals, and believe me, I’m ready to do it all again."

"…so don’t tell me I’m scared or whining – truth is, I’m licking my lips in anticipation of the big win in whatever scenario comes next."

"Life ain’t fair, things suck, get over it."

"…the kiss of death…"

"I’ll prosper under whatever comes next."

"…staggeringly rich and I can live like a king without making another buck ever. I have nothing to be scared of."

All the above defensiveness and aggression make the following feel very disingenuous:

"…for a living wage. And it’s those last four words that made me sign the letter. Not my living wage – that’s already in the bank – but yours, and the people that come after us."

In my opinion, this was not a productive way to move the conversation further.

Jude Hardin said...

I read him telling authors to use Amazon to make hay while it is sunny. I'd call that supportive.

Indeed. There are authors out there who use the term self-publishing with condescension and contempt, but Lee isn't one of them. Lee's one of the good guys.

I understand that Amazon is tremendously enabling for writers - at the moment. My advice is make the most of it while it lasts.

That’s sort of the beauty and terror of self-publishing, Lee. There is no contract. KDP could slash royalties tomorrow; thousands of authors could walk tomorrow.

But Amazon was built on a customer-centric philosophy, and so far they have treated authors like customers. They pay attention to authors’ wants and needs in a way that no other company has. If they stop doing that, they really won’t be Amazon anymore. They’ll be something else, and a lot of authors will probably bail. Maybe I’m naïve, but it’s hard for me to imagine that happening. I really don’t think that’s what Amazon wants. They’re raking in millions of dollars every day from the sales of self-published books, and looking at it strictly from a financial standpoint, I can't see why they would they want to rock such a lucrative boat.

I also wanted to say that I’m totally sympathetic to the authors who are losing money while the big corporations duke it out. It seems that both sides could give a little and at least strike some sort of temporary agreement while negotiations continue. I hope they come to terms soon.

Thanks to Lee for chiming in here with the original email and with the follow-up comments, and thanks to Joe for the counterpoints and for making sure the discourse stays civil. Both of you guys rock, and I’m proud to be exploring the universes you created.

Terrence OBrien said...

Lee Child: I also have no reason to think KDP is static.

And I have no idea if KDP will get better or worse. How would I know? If I had that kind of insight, I'd be summering in Maine.

I try to position myself to take advantage of unknown trends that will emerge from the current situation. I can do that while acknowledging my ignorance of the future of both KDP and legacy publishing. I think that acknowledgement gives me an advantage over those who are certain about the future of either.

But even if KDP does get worse, it can get a lot worse before I would see it as generating less money than what Preston advocates. It's about the money.

Like I said. It's competition. Authors compete. Books compete. Let the games begin. Best of luck.

Lee Child Fan said...

I'm a huge fan of Lee Child. His Jack Reacher books is what got me back to reading after I had left the hobby because of a demanding job and, well, life.

I've since gone into self-publishing. Not because I didn't think I could hack it in tradpub, but because I read Joe's blog and realized it was the better alternative. Plus, I really, really, REALLY hate the idea of getting permission from someone to do something, and paying them the majority of my would-be profits for the privilege gave me hives. (I've never queried, but I have turned down two agents who offered me representation since. Go figure, right?)

I'm still a huge fan of Lee Child, even though he's "staggeringly rich" and from all appearances, seems to be on a mission, along with his fellow 1% authors, of trying to take away my livelihood (re: Amazon).

I still love ya, Lee. I haven't read the last 4 or so Jack Reacher books, but that's only because I ain't got the time, as Jack Reacher would say. You coming on places like this makes me respect you even more.

Peace out, bro. And please, go easy on the rest of us, huh? We're just trying to make a living, too, ya know? Jack Reacher would totally understand and be on our side. You know it's true.

Joseph Ratliff said...

Lee,

I seriously appreciate the fact you're devoting part of your time to this discussion, and for apologizing for sounding "crass" earlier.

In some of your recent comments you keep pointing to "KDP not lasting forever" and "Amazon using KDP to accomplish some other business objective."

(quotes used here to summarize the two main point I'm addressing, not to quote you)

What logical reason would Amazon have to use KDP with such short-term thinking?

Almost every business "move" Jeff Bezos has made over the years has lent itself to a seemingly longer term outlook.

I just can't see where a major adjustment to the KDP program would happen in the near-term.

Even IF they absorb/eliminate competition, which would take a number of years, they still have one more variable for it to make sense.

They have to have books to sell. Authors sell those books, and the Internet allows them to keep selling books independent of Amazon.

In short, there are other marketing choices for authors.

So Amazon eliminating or making a major change to a program that puts an incentive on book creation by authors would seem to be suicide.

Authors would either keep "dealing" with Amazon's adjustments, or sell their own books themselves.

Then, we have two market conditions that would probably happen IF Amazon took this program away or altered it.

1. Competition would fill the void and provide authors another distribution choice at rates they would be more happy with (like what is happening now).

2. Since Amazon did not build their business as a "gatekeeper" it would find it difficult to become one, I think.

Obviously, this is all just conjecture. But logic dictates that you're right about making money at it while it's sunny. :)

Thank you for participating Lee. And thank you Joe, for encouraging the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Irony...I read this blog on a tablet and yet when I decide to comment, out comes a pen and legal pad. The world of publishing has opened up with the advent of ebooks, both for readers and authors. Authors who might never hold a paper copy of their novel are read and readers, readers get to read so much more. People are reading, authors are being read. It is hard for me to see a negative here. I do not believe this means the death of bookstores. There will always be books that need that medium. Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, J. Ffordes' Thursday Next series, the Griffin and Sabine trilogy...I could go on and on. And for me, as much as I love the convenience, i do love holding and reading a book of paper. So...goodness, what is this kerfuffle for?

Alan Spade said...

"Every other Amazon supplier is squeezed pretty hard. Can you explain in detail why you feel KDP authors won't be?"

True, Amazon is not a philanthropic society. It would be logical for them to try to squeeze authors if they would be sure the authors had no other choice in the future. Unfortunately for them, the only way they can accomplish that is to become a monopoly, and there are strong antitrust regulations in the US.

Besides, I don't believe a real monopoly to be reachable in a technological world: any start-up could beat Amazon on its own terms, if Amazon's margin becomes the opportunity of the start-up.

Amazon has also to take into account that every authors share a bit of power with her newsletter, with the ability to talk to readers and to talk to each others. A website like author earnings is a great tool of transparency for us authors, we are able to communicate and share very quickly, to make comparisons, and if it becomes more profitable to choose a new retailer to go with.

You know, it's like in Jurassic Park, if they really try to squeeze us, life will find its way. That's what happened when publishers squeezed authors like they never did before.

VARNBYRDE said...

We all have a limited time on this earth to find out what we're here for, and align ourselves to that purpose. As a writer, it is quite miraculous to finally have an alternative to queries, slush piles, and unconscionable contracts to pursue one's dreams in a level playing field. It's unfortunate that self-preservation--in the form of fear, ignorance, denial and/or greed--has swayed AU and its signatories to be so short-sighted, and to disregard the progressive company that may very likely become crucial to their own independence in the future.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Quite stunning to read Mr. Child's take on this! He swaggers in like the 6'4" success he is and really hands it to you. Never read him, and figured he was some old guy... turns out he's not THAT old. Kudos to Lee for having the cojones to engage you directly.

Having said that, I think he's off base in a lot of the ways that you pointed out. I don't think Bezos is interested in anything but being the go-to online source for everything. He started in books because it was the thing he could first do digitally. He's in this to make money and to be on top of an entirely new ecosystem.

But it is utterly fascinating to read about someone else's worldview and see that it's so alien. Reminds me of the politicking in the U.S. these days. Different news sources; different realities.

Save this post (I know you will) and let's see where print books and brick and mortar stores are faring in the fall of 2019... and how much the Child's of the world are selling.

Patrice Fitzgerald, bestselling indie author

Terrence OBrien said...

We hear lots of folks suggesting Amazon will reduce payments to authors. There is really nothing to say about that unless we also know what Amazon is doing with retail prices.

If it lowers retail prices, and maintains the same profit margin, then there is little incentive for other players to enter the market.

If it does not lower retail prices, and increases its profit margin, then that provides incentive for other players to enter the market or expand their current participation.

So, for those suggesting Amazon will lower payments to authors, under your model, what does it do with prices? None of these actions happen in a vacuum. They all produce cascading responses.

Jill James said...

So glad that it was able to remain calm and civilized. I like some of those AU people and their books.

Sabrina Chase said...

Lee, regarding contracts --

you said Re standard contract terms being shitty: They're the result of many decades of back-and-forth between agents and publishers, in good times and bad, and as such were completely acceptable to most - in fact, I remember Joe being completely enthused about his published status as recently as 2009. Now they look very bad compared to KDP

I was offered a contract for one of my books in 2006 by a major publisher. The terms were not *horrible*, but I was still willing to consider it. Then my agent attempted to clarify certain terms in the contract (that did NOT involve money, just so we are clear), and that would have made it a more solid contract for both sides. They adamantly refused, said "take it or leave it." So I left it. There was no "give and take." They had all the standard boilerplate about right of first refusal, etc. It was for the first book in a trilogy, and I had seen with my own eyes favorite authors get hamstrung by the contract and never finishing great series. So even though Amazon didn't have KDP or an ereader or anything, I turned them down. The only comparison then was their "shitty contract" and not being published. I chose not being published, that's how bad it was.

Now, of course, I am delighted they were so arrogant to me--otherwise my desperation to be published would have overcome my sense of foreboding reading that contract.

Oh, and that same book, available on Amazon AND Barnes & Noble AND the iStore AND my own personal webstore (note the multiple options?) earned me more than the whole advance that publisher thought it was worth--and it is still selling. The publisher missed out. I did better than they thought I would, and I did it myself. And they only have themselves to blame. This *is* the give-and-take. It just took several years for the reaction to show up. Now the publishers are feeling the effects of their poor choices. They tried to hurt *this* author years ago. Where were you then?

J. R. Tomlin said...

Joe, you're a more patient person than I am in being able to refer to Mr. Child's email as "polite and thoughtful". I thought it was a lot less than that and I'm afraid I am unimpressed with a position that seems to boil down to: I got terribly rich so I must be right. But its admirable that he does have the balls to stand up and defend his the letter he signed.

Craig Schaefer said...

Lee, I have tremendous respect for you (and much love for your books), which is exactly why it distresses me to see you putting your name behind Authors United.

Frankly? These people are buffoons.

Every letter from Authors United has been a morass of lies (and easily disprovable ones at that), obfuscations, painfully blatant appeals to emotion, and hypocrisy on an epic scale. I respect where you're coming from on the Amazon issue -- I disagree, but reasonable people disagree all the time, and there's nothing wrong with that. But do you really have to put your name behind THAT chuckleheaded crusade?

You're better than that.

Sue said...

I enjoyed hearing Child’s take on the Amazon/Hachette situation. I think he should speak for AU, not Roxanna Robinson, because he at least seems to understand big business and has no illusions about its goals (to make money). He addressed the they’re-doing-Hachette-a-favour-by-trading-without-a-contract opinion with a coherent, different opinion. He didn’t defend books as special snowflakes, or pretend that publishing companies nurture talent or curate culture – it was all about money and business and how a monopoly might affect a writer’s future. Maybe we should be thinking about what happens when Amazon is the only publisher/distributor in town? The wonderful Howey has even mentioned on his blog that perhaps Amazon should reassure authors about its future plans re KDP – why don’t we discuss that too? Blind loyalty to a corp, any corp, is a very bad idea. We feel warm and cuddly towards Amazon because Indies are treated well by them, but that treatment arises out of business practises that suit their business goals, not altruism. The status quo is actually in our best interests as Indies – maybe we need Amazon to be competing with publishers and bookstores for writers and market share. BTW, I thought Childs’ tone was fine – he’s a friend of Joe’s and he’s a Brit (snark is a cultural right)! Now how do we get him to come back regularly?

Terrence OBrien said...

Every other Amazon supplier is squeezed pretty hard.

This is interesting. Can you tell us about it?

It is extremely difficult to make any blanket statements about merchandising on Amazon. Merchants can select from a variety of options for shipping, storage, picking, and shipping. Product weight, package size, price, cost, and warehouse distribution all have to be taken into consideration.

What metric are you looking at when you say Amazon is squeezing every other supplier? Squeezing how? And why use the word squeezing? Are you trying to imply something beyond reasonable merchandising charges?

Michael Savastio said...

It's interesting to hear Mr. Child refer to the Authors Untidied talking points (nurturing, culture, curating) as "non-existent crap." I wonder how many other AU signatories disagree with the content of the letters, but signed anyway only because of some tangential beef with Amazon, such as their treatment of warehouse employees or methods of tax avoidance.

Anonymous said...

"Re standard contract terms being shitty: They're the result of many decades of back-and-forth between agents and publishers, in good times and bad, and as such were completely acceptable to most - in fact, I remember Joe being completely enthused about his published status as recently as 2009. Now they look very bad compared to KDP ... and one's feelings on that depend on how one sees KDP."

Child labor and sweatshops were acceptable too, you know, until modernity.

William Ockham said...

Let's settle one thing about the Amazon-Hachette contract, Lee Child has been misinformed. None of what he says is relevant to the current negotiations. Here is what is relevant. The current negotiation between Hachette and Amazon is about their ebook contract. Period. Since 2010 Amazon has sold Hachette ebooks under an agency agreement>. Although the DoJ-Hachette settlement now allows Amazon to offer discounts, the selling arrangement is still under an agency agreement. An agency agreement creates a fiduciary agreement between the principal (Hachette) and the agent (Amazon) whereby the agent can bind the principal to honor sales agreements the agent makes. Making agency sales without an agreement is legally risky. Technically, Hachette has no legal obligation to pay Amazon their commission AND Hachette could demand that Amazon remove from customer devices all Hachette ebooks sold since the expiration of the contract.

Child's evaluation of the strategy and interests of the two parties is also dead wrong. And he is wrong in a way that might cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars. He needs to hire better staff. Amazon holds all the cards. They could stop selling Hachette ebooks and print books tomorrow. It would cost them almost nothing and it would put Hachette out of business. They could do that to RPH too. The publishers know that. Whoever told Child otherwise is a liar or a fool. If Child needs a more in depth explanation, Joe can give him my email address.

Mr. Child, I suspect someone has been lying to you. You deserve better. The situation you describe has no relation to reality. Continuing to believe the fairy tale you describe will cost you real money.

Lee Child said...

One final comment, if I may. I recognize that there's a lot of cognitive bias on both sides, and I tried to be as clear as I could, but things are creeping in that need to be addressed.

I don't think success in our business has anything to do with merit per se. I think it has everything to do with providing things that people want to buy. I was very clear about that from the start - perhaps easy for me, as an ex-TV whore. I worked hard, and made some choices that turned out to be smart. I didn't get "lucky" in any real way - not like Tom Clancy, say, with Reagan, etc. I was a complete unknown for five or six years, and didn't get to the top for about ten. On the other side of the coin, in retrospect I can identify a couple of serious mistakes that slowed me down.

For Joe and others to talk about "luck" doesn't really convince me. I have seen a large sample of authors succeed and fail, and don't see good luck or bad as significant factors overall. So in general, for a serious conversation, I think it's a cop-out to dismiss offered opinions by saying, "Oh, he just got lucky." I remember meeting Dick Francis early on and learning a lot from him. In some ways he was the pioneer of the regular-as-clockwork, book-a-year paradigm. How much sense would it have made for me to say, "Oh, you just got lucky, so I'm going to ignore you"?

Also, I hear words like "fear", "insecurity", "whining", etc, and have to report they bear no reality in connection to the Preston 900 - or 1000, or whatever it is. Please believe me, these people are not scared or insecure. They're concerned, is all. Some of them really don't have a dog in the fight the way you imagine them to. Anne Applebaum, for instance - a first-rate academic historian ... or Daniel Mendelsohn, a classicist and essayist (whose "The Lost" is one of the great books of recent times.) These are not the scuffling midlisters you take them for.

It's also too easy to say I'm out of touch. If I am, then everyone is automatically out of touch with everything they haven't personally experienced for themselves within the last twenty-four hours. I know the scene is very different now, but it always is - it was never in stasis, and no two years were ever the same. I have 40 years' experience of the places where giant corporations and political moods and market forces impact artistic endeavors, and I'm a curious person eager to listen, learn and pass on what I know, but I have to say this arena (by which I don't mean Joe's blog exclusively) feels like an echo chamber where grounded but alternative views are most unwelcome. Which is disappointing.

Anyway, goodnight, and good luck.

Lee Child said...

OK, one final-final comment for William Ockham ... who I think exemplifies the echo chamber's cognitive bias better than anyone. Is it likely you know more about this than I? Just from reading the internet? Answer: no. You don't. You know some public information, but you have no idea what's really being discussed behind closed doors. I'm sure you would think it weird if I told you all about your business (software, is it?) so I have to say I find it weird when you tell me about mine.

Joseph said...

Child I like the way you come off. You don't fuck around. I just hope you and the AU boys don't screw up my best chance to make a living writing. Practicing law sucks.

I don't write the kind of thing a big publisher would be interested in, I also don't like being treated like shit. So I'll stick with Amazon (and kobo, and nook, createspace, etc...) until such time as they start fucking people as bad as Hachette does. Then I'll move on.

TY for your clear voice. This was a fun day of blog reading, but now it's writing time. Tonight I'm creating a drug smuggling ring run by super villains. Yay.

Tyson Adams said...

Huge thanks to Lee and Joe for the discussion. This sort of discussion is far more useful to me as someone shopping my first novel than just about everything else that has been written on Amazon vs Hachette.

Also, Lee's books adorn my bookshelves, Joe's adorn my Kindle.

Ronda said...

First…. thanks to Lee Child for his books. You are one of my mom’s favs

I thought most of Lee’s statements made sense from a Big 5 publisher author’s perspective. There were a few places where I really didn’t understand what he was saying but maybe it is some kind of Author/Publisher code that readers wouldn’t really understand.

But there are a couple statements that are just wrong that make me doubt an understanding of business :

"Almost every sale Amazon makes happens without a contract with the supplier or manufacturer"

Really? I have worked for a couple large companies (in accounting or contracts) and almost everything they do requires a contract. This May 2014 post from Amazon alludes to contracts with over 70,000 suppliers.
http://www.amazon.com/forum/kindle/ref=cm_cd_tfp_ef_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1D7SY3BVSESG&cdThread=Tx1UO5T446WM5YY

"But, here’s the thing – by continuing to trade under expired terms, it’s Hachette doing Amazon a favor, not vice versa"
"Hachette’s best play – logically – would be to walk away and suffer a few lean years before an alternative presented itself"

No. Neither is doing the other a favor and it sounds suicidal for Hachette to walk away without the other big 5. They are both acting in what they think is their best interest right now and neither thinks removing the books is in their interest, or it would be done already. At some point one of them might remove the books, or they might come to an agreement. No real signs that either is happening but it will probably happen someday.


And I agree this one is an issue…. for publishers, but what can they really do about it now.

"And the big deal is – Amazon is a publisher too."

Well, yes they are. But why did this happen?
This looks mostly like a response to the publishers not working with them since they first put the kindle out. Maybe the publishers shouldn’t be working with them….maybe the terms are that bad ….. But that is a hard argument to make about one of your biggest retailers. If all Big 5 (or maybe just a subset) band together they can hurt Amazon, but not without hurting themselves too. & the publishers would have to worry about the DOJ right now concerning the banding together thing.

I do think the letter was pretty awful and ineffective.

And this anger at Amazon makes me think of my favorite Judge Judy line when 2 women are fighting over a man and saying she shouldn’t be doing this cause he is mine. She says “ Why are you mad at her. She never promised you anything ”

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be nitpicker, but you have one (to me) glaring typo, Joe:
In the sentence

there will still be chain bookstores, and books will still be available in the check-out isle at the local grocery,

isle should be aisle!

Laurence O'Bryan said...

What kind of a person writes this:

"I kicked your ass under the old system, and I’ll kick it under the new system, and the new-new, and the new-new-new, until I retire, or the lung cancer gets me, whichever comes first."

A smug, self inflating, deluded (how can he know the future so well) example of the corrupt heart of traditional publishing.

Is this what writing is about "kicking ass," the playground numbers game, "I sold more than you - na na na na na"?

There is more to writing than sales numbers. If Mr Child can't see the wave of self empowerment that allows millions to produce a book and put it up for sale, he is blind.

Open your eyes, Jack Reacher.

amsterdamassassin said...

Publishing has never been a meritocracy, as Lee Child evidently believes. Commercial success doesn't equate quality. Someone so wrong at something so fundamental is hard to believe to be right in other areas.

Sorry, Lee, you lost me.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I'm coming in late, but I wanted to address something Lee mentioned about working hard and making choices.

I'm only guessing here, but I think one of the choices he may be talking about is the creation of Reacher himself, who is a tried and true archetype that has always been popular in fiction. Reacher is the larger than life loner who comes to town and fixes things. Like the man with no name. Shane. Yojimbo. Etc.

Lee says he comes from TV, so I imagine that he developed Reacher and his world much the way he would have developed a television series, with a keen eye toward audience expectations.

It doesn't hurt that he also writes with a grace and economy that is always entertaining, and his stories often move at a lightning pace. Something that isn't easy to do, and even harder to do well.

Lee, as we all know, is one of the best.

So unless I'm completely full of crap, I assume this is part of the hard work he's talking about that he feels helped put him on the top. A calculated minimization of risk aimed at attracting first a publisher, then the largest audience possible. And it has obviously worked.

I assume there were many, many other choices made along the way, many of them having to do with the business itself, but all that said, I'll finally get to my point:

There are many authors who do all of the same things (and do it well), but never come even close to achieving the kind of success that Lee has. If luck doesn't play a part—a big part—in any author's success (I know I've been lucky on many occasions and I don't sell a tenth of what Lee sells), then I'd really be curious to know what the "secret" of that success is.

In all my years on the planet, luck has played a part in nearly every success I've had, big and small.

For example, one day a television producer walked into B&N during his lunch break, happened to see a book with LEE CHILD's name on it and picked it up. That book turned out to be an anthology that had one of my stories in it. The producer read my story right there in the store, loved it, so he went to the shelves and found my book, Kiss Her Goodbye, and took back to his office to read.

A month or so later, I had a deal for a TV pilot as CBS. And let's face it, this would never have happened without a nice big dose of luck. Yes, it was up to me to deliver when that luck came about, but if it hadn't been for the right guy wandering into the bookstore at the right time, that TV deal would never have happened.

So, yes, we can prepare, and yes, we can create properties that have greater potential for commercial success, and yes we can make business decisions that help further our careers. But to say that luck doesn't play a big part in everything we do is, to my mind, ignoring the obvious.



AnonymousWriter said...

Konrath.........Lee should be able to respond to your respsonse.

Richard Stooker said...

No "significant" authors have jumped ship to self-publishing?

What about Lawrence Bloch? He not only self-publishes his very early backlist, but the latest Bernie Rhodenbarr Burglar in the Closet novel.

He's an MWA Grandmaster.

As well as has had bestsellers and movie sales and Edgar winning novels and short stories. And wrote WRITER'S DIGEST fiction column for many years.

Who decided Bloch is not significant?

Anonymous said...

It definitely is hard work to attack the very thing that supports you. Denigrate other writers and such, because let's face it, there's no way those writers could be potential readers. Oh . . . wait.

Kit Power said...

I want to express my gratitude to Mr. Child and Mr. Konrath for this discussion. As with others above, I've found this to be one of the most genuinely illuminating exchanges on the subject so far. I appreciate you are both busy and successful people, and that the day job comes first, but I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping that this dialogue can continue over the coming weeks and months - for those of us just starting out in our writing careers, this sharing of perspectives from seasoned veterans on both sides of the debate is invaluable. Please find ways to continue, as time and circumstance permit.



Broken Yogi said...

Since I disagree with most of what Lee says, let me begin with what we agree upon. And it's an important aspect to the Amazon-Hachette battle that gets ignored on all sides. It's something I've posted about here and at Hugh's site, say maybe in my fantasies Lee picked up on it from me.

It's the problem that Amazon faces in the event of a true showdown, in which Hachette and the other Big Five cannot get the agency pricing they want from Amazon, and pull their books. Who gets hurt the most? In the short run, of course it's the publishers, because they depend on Amazon for a lot of their sales. But they are big corporations, and they can afford to take a hit and rebuild with other retailers. Apple seems hungry to join the feast, and don't forget about Google, and B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.

What Lee points out is very important, that Amazon's whole business model, especially in publishing, is based on the notion that you can get any book in the country at their store. It's one-stop shopping for books. That's always been a big selling point. It has been for me, especially since my tastes and interests are very eclectic, and most of the titles I want can't be found in bookstores.

Now, if we get to the point over the next couple of years where the Big Five pull out of Amazon, that's not small matter. They represent 85% of books sales in this country. The self-published sector is just not big enough yet to make up for that loss. Because it's not just the sales themselves that will hurt Amazon, it's the lack of availability. It means that Amazon isn't Amazon anymore. It's one of many places one might go to get some of the books one likes, but it isn't the only place online that we really need.

That has really got to hurt. And it will hurt self-published books on KDP as well, because not as many book customers will be shopping at Amazon. So it's a big loss all around.

So there's a serious question as to whether Amazon can really afford to let things drift that far. They can handle the loss of Hachette, the smallest of the Big Five, but they can't handle the loss of all of them. So they are trying to scare and bluff Hachette into capitulating, because they think if they can break up their commitment to the agency model, they can win.

The problem is, the Big Five already know Amazon can't handle all five of them standing firm. When they did that back in 2010, Amazon capitulated to their demands. The only thing that changed that was the Justice Department lawsuit for collusion. But the JD didn't rule that agency pricing was illegal, only collusion. So there's nothing to stop the Big Five from continuing to demand agency pricing, just without any actual collusion. It's no longer necessary, since they all know what the stakes are, and they are willing to pay the price it looks like. I'm betting their lawyers have laid out a safe strategy for demanding agency pricing or nothing. So I gather that this is what is stalling the negotiations, and it will be the same for all the Big Five as their turn comes.

So I don't see Amazon's tactics working. They are bluffing, and the Big Five know it. If they aren't bluffing, they are facing a disastrous event for their entire book retailing and publishing business. And self-publishers will also face disaster as well. They depend on the huge flow of traffic to their site by book lovers, which will fall away if 85% of the market goes elsewhere.

cont.

Broken Yogi said...

This is not to say that self-publishing isn't a growing power in the marketplace. But it's still young, and even if it turns out to be the future, it's not there yet. Give it another five years, perhaps, and it may be a different story. But for now, it's simply not enough to sustain Amazon's reputation as the place to go for books. I can't see Amazon allowing that to happen. So I think they will have to capitulate once again to the Big Five and their agency pricing.

I still think that's a stupid decision by the Big Five, for all sorts of reasons, most of which Joe and Hugh have already laid out. Lee doesn't have much to say about that except that he doesn't care, because he already has his, and yet somehow thinks he has some kind of magical crystal ball which can tell him the future. Good luck with that.

The reason I think Amazon's approach is stupid is, first of all, it can't win, and it makes possible a disastrous loss that really isn't necessary for Amazon's long-term dominance of the industry. Agency pricing is at best a stop-gap measure by the Big Five to protect print distribution and its general dominance of sales. All it does is make inexpensive ebooks more and more attractive to Amazon's customers. So as customers shift their buying habits to digital books, and cheaper, self-published books in increasing numbers, the health of the Big Five will weaken. Slowly, but surely. Lee Child will still be rich, and still not care, but it will happen. We just don't know the timetable.

So what can Amazon do? Well, if it can't force its own pricing structure on the Big Five (and I don't think it should even bother to try), it can do the only thing that seems to help its own position over time, which is to make self-publishing more and more attractive not just to the marginal authors out there, but to the mainstream authors looking for a better deal. There's a whole lot of things Amazon could do to make KDP more attractive to authors, especially to mainstream authors looking to defect from the Big Five. There's nothing they can offer to franchise players like Lee Child, but there's a lot they can offer to speed up the growth of self-publishing, which is the only thing that actually undermines the Big Five's power over the industry. I have a lot of suggestions about that, and I'm sure Joe and Hugh does also. If anything good can come of this whole fiasco, it would be a stronger self-publishing effort from Amazon.

As to Lee's fears of some future in which Amazon dominates the world, and authors can only make pennies on their books, and no one remembers how to write code or set up consumer websites because Amazon has control of all books and schools and businesses on the Internet and elsewhere, and we all walk around as zombie-slaves to our Amazon overlords, wondering how things got so bad, well, I think he needs to channel those imaginative fantasies into a novel of some kind. I'm sure it will sell millions of ebooks on Amazon, who will be glad to publish it.

Chris Hollis said...

This thread is great entertainment. Credit to Lee for being the only big name to engage in discussion on this subject (or the only one I'm aware of). And credit to him not for getting to the level he is, but for staying there. Can't imagine it's easy to keep writing good books after nineteen.

Did come across a bit cocky, though.

Brian Drake said...

Whatever Mr. Child's secret of success is, he's apparently not sharing it with his little brother, Andrew Grant, who has yet to break out in the exact same way, and Lee won't even let him use the other half of his pen name. When I was young, I always thought hard work won the day, but now I'm coming around to hard work .... and luck. That being said, I think we've given Mr. Child enough time. We should all go back to our own projects, which I intend to do after a nap.

Valerie Douglas said...

I love Lee Child's books, but I notice that he didn't address the hundreds of midlist writers that Hachette and the other Big Five are sacrificing on the altar of their publishing model.
He's admittedly very rich, as is Doug Preston. In their letters they profess to worry about those sacrificial lambs, yet when it comes down to it, neither has given one penny to help them. Because, of course, those writers don't deserve the help, and haven't earned it by writing a book like Mr. Childs or Mr. Preston, which is the barometer by which the Big Five measure things. By the sameness. God forbid you write something different.
There's a reason I can't find other books to read except by independent writers. And why I write my own. I don't want to read another bad knockoff of Lee Childs.

adan said...

I'm very impressed by both Lee's willingness to participate via his initial email and his replies to commentators, and Joe's willingness to keep things civil in the comments.

It was a distinct pleasure to read both men's thoughts and efforts to keep a conversation going "as" a conversation.

Thank you both, very much!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lee Child, for saying that KDP authors should make hay while the sun shines and for being respectful to authors who self-publish.
When you said that no one significant has jumped ship, I thought of JK Rowling. Isn't she self-publishing her Harry Potter ebooks? And offering the Harry Potter ebooks through KDP?
And could one of the reasons Hachette won't pull their books from Amazon be that Hachette doesn't want to antagonize its mega-selling authors who would lose a lot of money if it did?

William Ash said...

This is a much simpler problem than people are expressing. People are looking for winners and losers and painting the side that don't like with whatever simplified world view that suits them.

For me, the problem is simple--who controls pricing, the retailer or the producer? The retailer does not know my costs nor my sales. To dictate to me the cost of my goods is just insane. Any publisher, self, small, big, or just square, needs to the ability to price. I did not become a self publisher only to be an employee of some retailer. As for the "big 5," they can run their business any way they want--it makes no difference to me. And the same to other authors, they are welcome to decide their career as well.

And here is the irony, self publishers don't want to be told how to run their business (except by Amazon, apparently), but they are happy to tell large publishers how to run theirs. Sounds like sour grapes.

Erica Converso said...

First, to Lee Child, thank you again for being willing to come on the blog and speak in favor of Authors United in a rational, no-nonsense manner. I may not agree with the policies of the legacy industry, but you can't discount that they do work for some, and kudos for being confident enough in yourself to come into the lion's den and defend your views.

And as always, thanks to Joe for hosting. I've been following you for years, and you're a direct reason for my decision to self-publish in this coming year. The arguments you make are too compelling to ignore.

And that's where my opinion comes in. I apologize if I'm repeating anyone else - there were so many comments I didn't get a chance to read them all. But here's my two cents:

I believe that Lee Child is operating under a fundamental misconception that undermines his entire argument. He believes that when Amazon drives the Big Five and Barnes and Noble out of business - as it likely will - no one will step in to fill the void, as publisher or as bookstore.

Frankly, I think that's complete BS.

When in our history have we ever seen such a monopoly occur? Why would a capitalist economy such as ours let that happen? Child believes that no one will be able to mimic Amazon's platform and gain as much traction. People made the same argument about iTunes for the music industry. And while Apple has a large market share, they by no means have a monopoly, nor ever will they. It wasn't true there, and it won't be true here either.

Why would big companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, Target, Walmart, and many other mega-corporations let such a lucrative opportunity go by? Just because they're not in the market now doesn't mean they won't join later, and use their considerable leverage to wedge their way into market share. You can say that maybe they won't bother, because it's not lucrative enough. But at the same time, you say that Amazon will take a hard hit without Hachette. Clearly, the book industry must be worth something. You can't have it both ways. My thought is that books are a valuable form of entertainment, and other media giants won't let ever let the publishing or distribution of them fall into Amazon's hands alone. At the same time, I think Child is discounting new up-and-comers like Smashwords, who might need only one or two of a Lee Child or Nora Roberts or James Patterson or E.L. James to suddenly be the Next Big Thing.

I believe that it is an author's market right now, and that with so many choices and no likely long-term narrowing of the market whatever the choice you make, an author would be wise to find the option that makes them the most now, and gives them the opportunity to make more in the future. Selling away your rights to a publisher that may hold onto them longer than your lifetime or it's own makes no sense to me.

mike j said...

as one of the keeper's of Dinosaur Way (book buyer for a large retail chain). I cant help but be fascinated with this interplay. E-books are here to stay and important, paper books will not go away.

amazon does not make money. in fact they will be reporting a loss over $1B next month for a 90 day period. They are pressuring the publishers for lower costs so they can try to climb out of that hole, discount (devalue) the hard work and creative output of everyone to further reduce competition and eventually allow them to drive up prices by being in a monopolistic situation.

At the end of the day. Bezos wont care about books any more than dishwashers, groceries or cloud services, and the opportunities and avenues for writers will have been narrowed even further than they are today. The fact that amazon has provided a path for new and self published writers, offering more royalty money than the traditional pubs confuses the issue - again if your business plan is predicated on accepting massive losses, then you can afford to be extremely generous with your authors and customers.

just look out when they dominate even more and need to show wall street a profit, books and authors will be cannon fodder.

I like this site, the conversation is great; I will continue to check in here and see what's up. the future is bright, we are selling more physical books than ever!

Werner said...

Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever read a letter where the writer bursts through the swinging saloon doors, and not with just a pair of six-guns blazing, but a god-damned mini gun, hosing the place down.

I really like the confident style of the this cocky sum’bitch.

I can’t really blame authors like Lee. Why would they ever want to strangle the golden goose that has given them such a good living?

They’ve been at the top of the heap for so long they can no longer see the greater details of the entire writing landscape from their lofty perch.

I’m not sure I agree with much of what Lee said, but I respect his stance and thankful to him for providing us a look at the other side of the coin. There are always two sides of perception to every situation.

After all, in the stories we read and write the antagonist believes in what they are doing is the right thing, every bit as much as the protagonist does.

J.M. Ney-Grimm said...

I worked hard, and made some choices that turned out to be smart.

Mr. Child, I would love to hear more about the specific ways in which you worked hard and the specific smart choices you made. I believe that not only must one work hard, but one must work smart. I suspect you did both. I learn better from examples than I do from generalities, so any specifics you'd care to share would be much appreciated.

On the other side of the coin, in retrospect I can identify a couple of serious mistakes that slowed me down.

What were they? Any tips on how we could learn from your mistakes?

I have seen a large sample of authors succeed and fail, and don't see good luck or bad as significant factors overall.

That certainly catches my attention. What strategies did the successful authors pursue? (Aside from persistence and working hard? :) ) What strategies did they eschew?

Arphaxad said...

Lee said: Believe it or not, I worry about your future, not mine. I see no convincing reason why KDP will operate as it does today forever.

A lot of what Lee Child tries to sell as fear for indie authors is that Amazon is using us to destroy publisher and then, once they have, they will turn on authors. This does not make logical or financial sense, but let's say they do.

In a world where Amazon controls the publishing industry and decides to soak authors like the current Big5 do Amazon will fail, as the Big5 are failing now. A new culture of independent authors has been created. Does Lee think these independent authors will just accept whatever Amazon tries to force them into? Not a chance. There are already other means of distributing ebooks, if Amazon becomes a lesser option those others will pick up the slack. I also think we have yet to see the company that will compete with Amazon because it is in development. Now that Amazon has shown there is a profitable market in selling ebooks, I'm sure there is some tech company that will show up to compete with them.

Amazon has taken epublishing to a new level. They will not be the ones to take it further is they do anything to upset the authors that have had a taste of independence. We will always be looking for the best deal and if Amazon is not the best deal, we will move on. The system Lee is fighting to preserve has proven to not be the best deal for the majority of authors, that is why authors have moved on from it.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see Mr. Child address what I thought was the most ludicrous statement in the AU letter, that books cannot be made more cheaply.

This, to me, say that all publisher overhead is absolutely necessary. I recently visited my publisher in NYC. There was a receptionist sitting in a posh reception room, not doing much. My contracts are in the 10K range. Not a living wage. I'm sure she receives benefits, sick leave, vacation time, and a living wage. What about all the paid assistants, custodians, NYC prime real estate rent?

The AU rejected Amazon's offer to jointly compensate authors, and never counter-offered an alternative way to compensate authors. (The argument was that Hachette would pay a higher price than Amazon, so the proposal harmed Hachette)

All of this tells me that Mr. Child and his friends are interested in protecting publishers, and publisher profits at the expense of mid list and smaller authors.

Craig Reed said...

How about this: Challenge Lee Child to write and publish an E-novel (under a pen name), promote it, and do everything else a SP author is doing and see what happens.

Granted, any money he'd make from such a novel would be peanuts compared to what he's making now, but what's one author's peanuts is another author's fortune. But to say the new way of publishing is wrong without testing it yourself is short-sighted. The new way is not going for the one-hit bestseller, but building a solid list of novels and going to the long game.

Acutally, should Lee Child decide to go independent, he wouldn't need to promote with the same intensity that a less-known author.

Craig

Anonymous said...

No "significant" authors have jumped ship to self-publishing?

Maybe I missed it in one of the above posts, but has Barry Eisler been mentioned or chimed in on this?

Paul

Joe Konrath said...

I think it has everything to do with providing things that people want to buy.

And I didn't?

After three books, my publisher dropped their mystery line, and no publisher would pick up a midlist series in situ.

Bad luck.

I didn't have five years to build an audience, like you did. Or over ten years, like Dick Francis.

And yet, once I had control of my IP, I managed to earn 10x as much money, because people DO want to buy my work. They just weren't aware of it under the legacy system.

That is the very definition of luck. Me, you, and Francis all got lucky.

Please believe me, these people are not scared or insecure. They're concerned, is all.

Their actions don't show that.

If they were concerned about authors, they could have done a thousand other things prior to this. But once it hits them in the pocket book, they whine in public.

And yes, it is whining. Getting media attention to this degree, and buying ads bemoaning Amazon (which is engaged in the villainous act of capitalism) comes off as whiny entitlement.

A group of reasoned, measured, smart people who were truly concerned would have conducted this campaign much differently. But instead of reason, we're getting escalation. And it's getting even more embarrassing.

but I have to say this arena (by which I don't mean Joe's blog exclusively) feels like an echo chamber where grounded but alternative views are most unwelcome. Which is disappointing.

Lee, maybe this seems like an echo chamber not because people are simply parroting my viewpoint, but because they've thought it over and agree with me.

I'm sad you didn't respond to any of the points I made in the blog post. Maybe if you had, you'd have a better understanding of why AU has so much opposition.

Seriously, we got 8x the signatures that Preston did, in 1/10 of the time. There is a reason for that, and it isn't an echo chamber.

We're right. Authors United is not.

Thanks again for stopping by. Anytime you have anything you'd like to say, my platform is yours.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

Amazon is a publisher too. Not a very good one yet – no big hits so far,

A quote from Lee.

Very good publisher = Big hits

Is that actually true as we evaluate the marketplace today?

Sure, I expect that Amazon would love a "big hit." However, this is a company that stocks/sells millions of products and is the "everything store."

"everything store" does not equal "only big hits"

I'm not convinced that Amazon wants to be the only publisher; I am convinced they want to sell as many different things as possible.

Books may have been where they started, but books aren't where they stayed.

Terrence OBrien said...

Please believe me, these people are not scared or insecure. They're concerned, is all.

It's reasonable to attribute fear and insecurity to them because they spend so much time telling us how their sales have dropped and how their economic welfare is in danger.

When they tell us they are hostages, they are scared.

Barry Eisler said...

Paul asked, "Has Barry Eisler been mentioned or chimed in on [the] 'No significant authors have jumped ship to self-publishing?" point?

Hi Paul, if you're suggesting that I'm a significant author who's jumped ship, I'm flattered.

I actually don't know how "significant" I am. My sales are better than some, and a tiny fraction of others. Also, while I did leave the legacy world to self-publish, I wound up working more with Amazon publishing, instead, so overall I feel like I'm a better example of how authors can leverage the new choices we have than I am of any particular choice.

But more important, I think the "significant" question is the wrong metric. Much more important is something Hugh Howey likes to point out: that self-publishing has enabled thousands of authors to make real money for the first time. So far, that aspect is one of the most significant things about self-publishing, and by comparison, I don't care that much whether James Patterson decides to self-publish, or whether self-publishing winds up with a runaway hit comparable to 50 Shades, or whatever.

For more on all this, I recommend a post I with Joe on publishing as a lottery:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2014/02/eisler-publishing-is-lottery-konrath.html

Barry Eisler said...

Lee said, "I remember Joe being completely enthused about his published status as recently as 2009..."

Lee, I don't think that date's a coincidence, as it was about the time self-publishing really starting becoming a viable choice.

And "choice" is the operative concept here, because look, if there's only one place in town where you can get food but all they're serving is gruel, is anyone likely to complain, or even really to know better?

One of the things that interests me about the revolution in publishing is the way the advent of choices has revealed various suboptimal legacy practices that pretty much everyone used to take for granted. Speaking only for myself and to use just one of many examples, as recently as 2009 I never even thought to wonder why legacy publishers paid authors only twice a year. It was background, simply the way things were, and I felt lucky just to be published. Now Amazon and KDP pay authors once a month, and when that started (actually, it started at every two months, but Amazon then made it even better), I realized, "What's up with the twice-a-year bullshit?"

There are ton of other examples. The point is, the advent of choice is what's helping people realize the inadequacies of the legacy system. This is a good thing.

canonizer said...

Hi Joe,

Here is something I don't understand and perhaps you've addressed elsewhere in your blog at other times: don't you benefit from publishers' inefficiency? Their high prices, failure to pick winners and, ultimately, lethargic schedules?

I say this as a literary agent and observer, it seems like no one gets more out of publishers' pricing policy than independent authors.

So (and I think this follows from my note above) why do you choose amazon or anyone at all, for that matter? You're a third party beneficiary from the detante.

Shanah tovah,
Paul

E.B. Black said...

I think the problem is that Lee Child doesn't understand how self-published authors think.

I'm self-published and I have zero desire for Amazon to become a monopoly. Most self-published authors are wary of any part of publishing gaining too much control. We're fiercely independent and hate the idea of large companies telling us what to do.

In fact, I hate sometimes that Amazon has such a monopoly on self-publishing. I want Smashwords and Barnes & Noble to grow stronger, so they can make the self-publishing field more competitive. Would I want Amazon to control the entire industry and destroy traditional publishing? No way!

But we love it when Amazon gives traditional publishing companies a hard time because that shows that traditional publishing companies don't have a monopoly either.

What most self-publishers want is for authors to have more control over their own books. You think we're on the side of Amazon. We're actually on the side of AUTHORS. If Amazon ever takes things too far, we will all jump ship.

The only reason we are taking Amazon's side on this issue is because we sell so many e-books by selling them cheaply. And we're also often people who buy a lot of e-books, too. So we see how valuable readers find e-books and how much they hate it when those e-books cost the same amount as paperback.

We want traditional publishers to understand the e-book market better. It costs less money to make an e-book, so sell it for less money and you'll sell a lot because you make e-book readers happy.

I don't read as much traditionally published books as I used to and it's not because I hate traditionally published books. The e-books are so expensive that I'd rather get them at the library if I read them at all.

But after reading this, I get why that might not be the best idea for an author like Lee Child and understand if he were resistant to the idea. If it hurts his paper sales and he's doing so well with paper sales and would make less money on e-books, then yea, I get it.

He just needs to understand that he is not the majority of authors. The majority of us work as hard as him, but with little reward.

I'm sure there's a lot I could learn from him about writing, but it was more than his talent that got him here.

I have a yearly budget of only $1,000 for both publishing and marketing. What would he do with that money that's better than me?

The advantage he has is a big company agreeing to back him completely when they don't agree to do that with most authors they sign on.

Success isn't about luck. And it isn't about hard work. It's about having both.

Our advice usually helps out most authors who haven't had the mega success he has achieved.

About an hour ago, I was on facebook. I read a post written by the head of a publishing company complaining about one of their authors. They were saying that the author and ALL authors with contracts should learn that they need to put their own money into promotion for their books and that it's not the publishing companies fault that their books aren't selling. That they have no obligation whatsoever to promote the books and this is entirely the authors problem. How dare they get angry about it and try to get out of their contract. And how much of a wasted investment this person was.

If I were in the same contract, I would still have only a thousand dollars a year to promote myself. I'm not going to get far with that kind of money, no matter how you cut it.

That's the kind of things self-publishers get mad about. That's the reason we like Amazon. Because if we have to put all our money and work into promoting with no help from publishing companies anyway, yet all the blame, then we might as well go with the one with better royalty percentage.

SJArnott said...

Barry Eisler said... “Speaking only for myself and to use just one of many examples, as recently as 2009 I never even thought to wonder why legacy publishers paid authors only twice a year. It was background, simply the way things were, and I felt lucky just to be published.”

Absolutely. I felt exactly the same way. I figured there must be complex reasons behind the biannual payout. It seemed arcane, but the publishers were the experts, and if there was a faster way, they’d be doing it...wouldn't they.

I was pitifully slow in realising that they had absolutely no incentive to speed up the process (because it was only affecting the authors after all) and that that longer they hung onto the money, the more interest they accumulated...

Come to think of it, we were probably lucky we weren’t paid once every five years.

Funny how all the publishers had the same schedule.

Lee Child said...

Barry, just a quick response to your 11:49a.m., and as I'm sure you know: The six-month payments are because of the returns system that all retailers including Amazon insist upon retaining, and the 60-day payment terms they're given. In recognition of the clunkiness of the system, publishers pay advances upfront, so that authors aren't actually out of pocket in any meaningful way. In fact most are paid years ahead, effectively. Plenty of things need improving in publishing, but I don't see how this is a major concern.

Joe and others: I admire the skill and knowledge displayed by many indies - Joe himself, Hugh Howey, and many others - in succeeding so well in an arena they're simultaneously inventing. But I don't admire their doctrinal requirement to dismiss skill and knowledge on the other side of the fence as luck and ignorance. It's a peculiar inversion, and it needs to be reevaluated.

Linked to that is the regular use of "got" as a dismissive ... I "got" my books put in WalMart, I "got" coop, etc. The WalMart decision is taken by a cold-eyed buyer in a windowless office in Bentonville, using data to determine who he can make most money out of. Likewise the coop decisions ... it's about profit. Brutal, yes, but there's no personal favoritism involved - it's simply a market assessment. And such a market obviously allows for the possibility that product marginal at one price might succeed at a lower price - as you have proved so handsomely.

Terrence OBrien said...

"But more important, I think the "significant" question is the wrong metric. Much more important is something Hugh Howey likes to point out: that self-publishing has enabled thousands of authors to make real money for the first time."

Perhaps KDP doesn't need anyone of significance to defect from the publishers. Amazon might just pass them by and build a cadre of KDP authors who rival the sales of King, Grisham, and Roberts.

Theresa M. Moore said...

It certainly looks like butting heads on this particular topic is not going to solve the problem. As a former KDP user, in 2012 I encountered something called a "glitch" on Amazon, during which I experienced a sudden stop of sales. After that, my sales never recovered, and a subsequent search of Amazon's vast and overbloated catalog revealed that some of my titles were not even on sale, shipments were being delayed, and also that Amazon often offered the titles for free despite my objections. In practical terms Amazon was trying to edge out independent authors in favor of publishers who had paid "protection money" to stay on the list. After a few months of looking at the writing on the wall, I closed my Amazon account and stopped using it altogether, and I don't miss it one bit.

In fact, during that time I also used PubIt to reach Barnes & Noble and Smashwords to reach Apple, Kobo, and a host of other retailers. And I consistently sold ebooks through them. Not through Amazon. If you are going to talk about Amazon being necessary in order to sell ebooks, you can exclude me from the list of its deluded and brainwashed fans. Amazon never did anything for me. Barnes & Noble and the other retailers did.

Having said that, I go where I see results, not holding out any hope that Amazon's goal is to sell my ebooks. Amazon's goal is to use anyone and anything to achieve a monopoly status and reap profits from the vast army of slaves it has created.

Jeff Bezos is deluding himself if he thinks he can intimidate authors into signing up, without seeing at all that his retail monster has competition from sellers who are profiting from its failures, and even overtaking its ability to maintain a decent profit margin by (what a shock) SELLING BOOKS.

Hollis Shiloh said...

Amazon pays three months behind sales. But they pay monthly once those first three months have passed. Other retailers who work with self-publishers pay at various schedules. Draft2Digial, a distributor, pays monthly, although I don't remember what their lag time is. There is still time for returns, as I understand it.

Jennifer Minar-Jaynes said...

At 31:27, Child says: To get as successful as I have gotten as a writer, it's like winning the lottery the same day that you get hit by lightning twice. It's staggeringly unlikely. So I'm unbelievably fortunate.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiEAQIzBjoM

Steve Hockensmith said...

Thank you, Joe and Lee, for sharing this illuminating conversation with the rest of us. I learned a few things and, as a result, have changed my thinking a bit.

I would like to point out one thing that Lee might want to take into consideration, however. It involves this part of his response to Barry Eisler:

The six-month payments are because of the returns system that all retailers including Amazon insist upon retaining, and the 60-day payment terms they're given. In recognition of the clunkiness of the system, publishers pay advances upfront, so that authors aren't actually out of pocket in any meaningful way. In fact most are paid years ahead, effectively. Plenty of things need improving in publishing, but I don't see how this is a major concern.

Someone who's receiving million-dollar checks twice a year wouldn't see this as a major concern, yes. But anyone who received, say, a $10,000 advance and is trying to pay the bills and feed a family would. I believe your disconnect is showing. Also, you're talking here about paper books. Why should the same antiquated payment system still be used for ebooks, where returns aren't a major factor? The answer to that is simple: It benefits publishers to keep writers waiting for their money. Some writers -- the ones who are rich as Croesus, for instance -- obviously won't mind. The rest of us don't have that luxury (or much luxury at all).

I also found that, after reading through all the comments here, I was asking myself a big question: "Wait...why did Lee sign on with Authors United again? He's not buying into their hot air about saving Culture from the pitchforks and torches of the mob." So I had to go back and read Lee's original message to Joe again. And there it was: Lee said he supports AU because Jeff Bezos "wants Amazon to be the only publisher." I can only assume, Lee, that you think that's actually a possibility. Otherwise, why take action to try to stop it? Yet to me that seems far-fetched. Does Jeff Bezos want Amazon to dominate publishing? Well, duh. But can I foresee a future in which the Big 5 are smoking ruins and all the smaller publishers have been driven into the sea and Jeff Bezos gets to give a personal thumbs up or thumbs down to every book that's published or allowed to succeed? Well.... It's wise to be wary of any corporation with too much power, but I can't see even Amazon ever getting that far. Then again, you've had much, much, much more contact with Amazon muckety-mucks than I. (I say "much, much, much" because I've had none.) Are you truly convinced that the literary Mad Max scenario above is the way we're heading?

Lee Child said...

Steve, good to hear from you. Advances (assuming a competent agent) will reflect at least two or three years of projected earnings, all upfront, and whatever the dollar level I think that's reasonable. I mean, have you ever had a job where they did that? Has Barry? As in, on his first day at CIA, for instance, did someone give him a fat check and say, "Here you go, Mr. Eisler, five years' salary in advance, and oh, by the way, we don't really mind if you give us value or not?" Because that's the situation he was in as a published writer. In 2009, when he was doing all that wondering, he was sitting on a huge advance that eventually turned into a gift. First-world problems, and I don't get why that's so high on his list of concerns.

And yes, I believe that Amazon wants to be - and plans to be - the only major publisher, and the only major book distribution channel. Joe often says judge by what someone does, not what they say, and I see no evidence to persuade me otherwise. The Gazelle Project (later hastily renamed by Amazon's antitrust counsel) is fairly unambiguous.

And to those who airily say if Amazon turns bad they'll jump ship are fooling themselves. That's 20th century thinking. Part of Amazon's genius is to run three messages simultaneously - "We love you," to its customers; "We're coming for you," to its suppliers; and "You can't compete with us," to its putative rivals - and especially to Wall Street, who would have to finance those rivals.

You all talk about disruption, quite rightly, but you need to grasp the 20th century is over and we're seeing models now that have no precedent. These are uncharted waters.

Chris Armstrong said...

I would ask again that if Amazon is then a monster-in-the-making, a proven threat to all writers, then why don't the writers that have the huge sales and bankroll's step up and stop feeding the beast? If this is all about altruism towards the little guy, I'm waiting to see someone with real pull really challenge Amazon - beyond a sternly worded letter.

Lee Child said...

Steve, I'm sorry, I see that I didn't answer your question fully. Worst case would be, you get a $10k advance, but your book sells like crazy, so that $10k would have to stretch most of six months until the first big check rolled in. A pain, sure, but a temporary issue, and after that you're OK. Worst case, you don't earn out the $10k and you get nothing more. But why would you expect to, in that case?

I don't think it benefits publishers to hold money back until the six-month date any more than it benefits you to have the advance upfront. Who's carrying that cost? At worst, it's a wash.

As for ebook payments - Amazon pays publishers much, much, much later than it pays KDP authors. (All part of the Gazelle Project.) If I've already had an advance, I feel content to wait until my publisher has eventually received Amazon's check.

Lee Child said...

Chris Armstrong: Amazon loses other people's money on most everything it does, so logically the best way to discipline it is to sell and buy as much stuff through it as possible. As losses mount, perhaps investors will get uneasy.

Steve Hockensmith said...

Thanks for the response, Lee. Food for thought. And speaking of food -- and perhaps being it -- I agree that the Gazelle Project is an illuminating episode. Could indie writers be the vulnerable prey of tomorrow? Sure. In the here and now, though, I still find Authors United's arguments hyperbolic and its tactics ineffectual. But perhaps one day I'll regret not signing on for the great crusade to save us from discounted hardcovers and cheap ebooks.

Jim Self said...

Lee,

Thanks for answering my point about earning out advances. I'm actually glad to hear that your advances are designed to earn out as well. It makes me wonder if you're pursuing a paper-only deal like what Hugh Howey signed.

Could you provide some evidence when you say that Amazon is demanding "protection money"? As William Ockham said above, the story going around is that the Amazon-Hachette dispute is about wholesale vs agency pricing (which matches Amazon's public statements).

Alan Spade said...

I'm not here to defend Hachette authors, but I like transparency, and on Joe's last blog post (just before this one), an Hachette author chimed in lately and asked questions that weren't answered. I think that Joe has already covered her interrogations, but out of respect for her, I deem it necessary to copy/past her message here:

"I'm Maggie Meade, an author published by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette, and I'd like to chime in here.

What makes me the most angry and upset about the Amazon/Hachette dispute is the fact that Amazon is using "guerilla tactics" in its negotiations with Hachette. Quite simply, my book is being held hostage by Amazon. Please, I understand that "Amazon does not have to sell my book" and it is true. Amazon does not have to sell any authors' books but that is another issue entirely.

Amazon hopes to force Hachette into a new eBook contract and Amazon is using Hachette authors' and their books to achieve this end. You have written on your blog that the Authors United should turn on Hachette and some of your suggestions are solid. I wonder though, how is it that you (and others) feel that Amazon is right and just in using authors and their books as tools?

Amazon is impeding and/or blocking the sale of Hachette authors’ books as a negotiating tactic. This is fact. Is Amazon's position so weak that it cannot negotiate without targeting the authors by impeding or blocking the sale of Hachette books? It's a rather childish but effective stance.

My book sales, along with the books other Hachette authors have written, are suffering greatly due to these tactics.

As you know, these tactics include:
refusing preorders, delaying shipping, reducing discounting, and using pop-up windows to cover authors’ pages and redirect buyers purchase non-Hachette books.

My book now has a 2-3 week delivery and is not being offered at a discount; this has gone on since February; at one point in time the shipping was 4-6 weeks out. At least the pop-ups directing buyers to other, non Hachette published books have been removed – for the time being.

How do you justify Amazon's use of these tactics? I wonder if you believe that this "war" is much needed comeuppance; I get the feeling that you [and possibly a few of your readers] believe that all Hachette authors are multi-millionaire authors who never earned any of their monies and deserve to be casualties of this "war".

Please, tell me why it is right and just for Amazon to use authors and their books as instruments to force Hachette to bend? Imagine what would happen if all businesses were to begin to run themselves this way.

Thank you for your space,
Maggie Meade
The Wholesome Baby Food Guide"

SJArnott said...

Lee Child said... "The six-month payments are because of the returns system that all retailers including Amazon insist upon retaining, and the 60-day payment terms they're given."

How would this preclude a monthly payment schedule? A sale is sale, it's irrelevant how many unsold books are returned, this would not affect the money due to an author for each book going through the tills.

I agree that there are probably more important things to worry about, but it's just another example of the legacy publishers clinging to antique business practices that suit no-one but themselves.

They have to accept that the 19th-century is over.

Steve Hockensmith said...

Thanks for your follow-up, Lee. (I was still writing my last response when you popped in with your addendum. What can I say? I'm a slow writer. No doubt that's part of the reason I have to sweat biannual checks.)

Again, I've learned something. (I wasn't aware that Amazon delays its payments to publishers -- I'm not even sure why I would have assumed that they don't.) And I probably shouldn't have referred to the Gazelle Project as an "episode," as it seems to be very much an ongoing thing, albeit under a different banner.

It's no fun when a nice black-and-white picture has to get all grayed-up with context....

Lee Child said...

JIm Self: I can't provide evidence without betraying confidences, and it would be hearsay anyway. But, if you're interested - wholesale-vs-agency is the easiest and smallest part of the current discussions. On top are numerous payments with Orwellian names - named at the behest of antitrust counsel to conceal their nature ... originally they fell under an umbrella openly called "Pay to Play" ... easy to see why the lawyers didn't like that one.

If publishers don't pay up, their product disappears off recommendation algorithms and bestseller lists, buy buttons disappear, and visibility is crippled. One Amazon executive was quoted as saying, "I did everything I could to screw with their performance." The publisher in question caved.

I'm a realistic guy and have no issue with market forces and capitalism, but there's something back-street and thuggish about that kind of approach, which is why most folks don't use the Orwellian labels, and call it as they see it - protection money.

Steve Hockensmith said...

I'm not saying that I'm changing my mind here, but I will say that I'm finding the picture Lee paints much more compelling and persuasive than anything that's come out of Authors United. It makes me wonder. Is it just because we're having a more inside baseball-type discussion here, whereas the AU message points seem to have been aimed (quite poorly) at the general public? I feel like this is the first time anyone associated with AU has stepped forward to respond to criticism with something other than hand-wringing or bloviating.

Terrence OBrien said...

You all talk about disruption, quite rightly, but you need to grasp the 20th century is over and we're seeing models now that have no precedent. These are uncharted waters.

The Twentieth Century is indeed over. So what? Economic models aren't a function of the century.

What basic economic principles and behaviors changed with the turn of the century?

If we now see models with no precedent, and we are in uncharted waters, what is the basis for your predictions for Amazon?

Joe Konrath said...

I feel like this is the first time anyone associated with AU has stepped forward to respond to criticism

I appreciate Lee sharing his thoughts, but he didn't actually respond to AU criticism. He defended why he signed their letters, but he didn't defend AU. In fact, he said that some of AU's biggest talking points are "non-existent crap".

I'm left wondering how many other AU signatories feel that way as well. And if there is a majority, why don't they cut out all the BS and cut to the core issue; if Amazon gains control of everything all writers will be in trouble.

I don't agree with that stance, but it's logical, and defensible, and a lot more persuasive than anything said by Doug Preston.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the letter Mr. Child. I guess the question is do I trust Amazon?

Answer, I don't. It's a company. I'm not a self-published author yet, but I plan to be and it's nice to know big players like you care about my future.

Going back to your letter, I see where you are coming from. Jeff Bezos is quoted with saying "Your margin is my opportunity." Why not squeeze some of that from self-published authors in the future when they have no where to go?

Or for another example, why not reduce pay rates like Youtube did when it became the primary vlogging channel.

Here is why I think the future is safe.

1) The Internet's changing nature. There is Kobo, Apple's bookstore, Nook and others. These didn't exist 10 years ago. If Amazon screws authors, they will find a place to go and some people will follow them. In enough time you'll have different companies. It's easy to look at Amazon and say "it's too big", but I'm sure a decade ago we said the same about the publishers.

2) Publishers will evolve. They will and they will bring better terms for writers. I refuse to believe everyone in publishing is an "idiot". I bet some smart people are making moves to slowly turn the ship around. However, from what I have read on this blog from Joe and others, right now the Big Five might as well be the Big One in terms of contracts. Soon they will have to adapt.

3)Self-published authors own their own rights. Amazon can't keep screwing authors unless it buys their rights. Some of the authors like Joe work with Amazon publishing, but I'm betting they didn't sign their rights over for life. I can't see that happening, and with limited contracts people can always have power over the system.

Again, thank you for being concerned about the next generation. It means a lot when a big guy says they care and then interacts, proving it.

Signed,
Matthew

Broken Yogi said...

In the interests of congeniality, I'll make another concession to Lee, and by inference a criticism of Joe. Quality of writing does matter. It's not pure luck that Lee is such a huge success, and Joe's success is a lesser one. Lee is a better popular writer.

There, I said it. Joe is a good writer, but Lee is better, and that is the main reason for the difference in their success. Would Joe have sold a lot more if his publisher had promoted him better? Probably. Would he have reached Lee's level of success? Probably not. You can never really know, but one of the reasons Lee got so much publisher support was that his books showed more skill at their respective genres, and more promise of catching on big.

I'm not putting Joe down by that comparison. We can see by Lee's aggressive character here that he also has a tremendous drive and self-confidence. Joe has that too. It's fun to watch, and education to see how important that is to an author's success, even if this is just a sample of two. This attitude is probably a big part of what has made Lee so successful. Writing is the kind of career that can just destroy a man's drive and self-confidence, and so it's probably necessary to have these qualities to be a big success.

But it's important to realize that having great talent and drive as a writer doesn't confer any particular skill upon the person in making predictions about the future of business. If Lee were talking about what it takes to write a good popular novel, I'd consider his word to carry a lot of weight. But when he starts pontificating about business matters, and claims to know the future of publishing, well, I think we can see that as mere bravado. It's bravado that is fueled by the same self-confident drive that has made him a successful author, but it doesn't mean anything he says about Amazon or Hachette or publishing makes any sense. It sounds more like one of his fictional scenarios that he has created for a novel, and imbued with that bravado to make it sell better. That works for fiction of course, but not for the real world, even of selling fiction.

Getting back to Joe, it's important to realize how much more important Joe's experience has been to most writers than Lee's. Lee is basically right that Joe is a midlist author. He was when he was published by the Big Five, and he still is, now that he's self-published. The only difference is that now he's on the higher end of the midlist.

cont.

Joe Konrath said...

I'm a realistic guy and have no issue with market forces and capitalism, but there's something back-street and thuggish about that kind of approach, which is why most folks don't use the Orwellian labels, and call it as they see it - protection money.

Protection money is when thugs shake down businesses that they don't own or operate.

What you describe Amazon as doing is pay-to-play, or commercial bribery. And this has been going on in bookstores forever.

Your books were in the window at B&N because your publisher paid for that spot. They paid bookstores when you signed there. They paid for end cap placement. They paid for front table space. If they didn't pay, your books would have been shoved spine out in the mystery section, like mine were.

I'm not for or against such behavior. It's business. But thuggish? Building an empire from scratch means you can dictate what you sell and how you sell it, and that includes terms for suppliers.

Will Amazon ever squeeze authors? Time will tell.

Broken Yogi said...

Oh, wait, excuse me. The one other difference is that Joe is making millions as a midlist writer. Millions. By self-publishing. That's the difference that matters. It would of course be nice to be a mega-bestselling author like Lee, but face it, most don't have the talent to even get in range of winning that lottery, or have the drive to sustain it. Most writers are midlist writers.

The huge difference here is that midlist writers in traditional publishing barely scrape by making a living. That's how it was for Joe. But midlist writers who move over to self-publishing can make serious money, even millions, just like Joe. That matters. It also matters, as Joe has pointed out, that writers who couldn't even make the mid-list in traditional publishing are now making a living in self-publishing. Hundreds, even thousands, are doing so. Lee may not care about them, but they do. And Joe does. These are real people, real authors, trying to make a living at their craft. Sure, they aren't living fat as Lee is, but they are living the writer's life, whereas before they were not. And from their ranks some breakout successes do come. But even if they just make it to the midlist, they are making more money than they would in traditional publishing.

So even if Joe isn't as good or rich a writer as Lee, and Lee's success isn't just a matter of luck, Joe still wins the exchange, precisely because he's mid-list. Unless we see the publishing world as Lee sees it, as populated by big-selling authors who matter, and a whole lot of small fry who don't matter, then Lee is an aberration, whereas Joe is what the industry is really all about. In other words, in the long run, Joe is more significant than Lee.

Terrence OBrien said...

Protection money? That sounds good, but has little basis. Was it protection when B&N charged to be on the front tables? Was it protection when they charged to be face out on the shelves in the first floor? How about those cardboard displays or the spinning paperback racks on the first floor?

Amazon has promotional space and resources. They are selling them. We don't need Orwellian terms to describe the sale of promotional space and resources. Simple economic terms are far more precise. If you want better placement, then you pay. If you don't want to pay, then someone else will.

Is there some reason publishers should not pay for promotion? If so, what is it? Do publishers deserve some level of visibility and service on someone else's property? Why?

This is a big kids game. Step up and play or sit back and watch. Widget makers have figured it out. Authors can do the same.

Joseph said...

Mr. Child we've heard quite a bit about Amazon crippling algorithms. It's mentioned so often people are starting to believe it without evidence. Even if true the requirement that Amazon play fair while Hachette blatantly breaks the law seems like a double standard.

Predicting the grim future in which Amazon acts like Hachette isn't all that scary, worst case scenario it becomes a meet the new boss same as the old boss type of situation. If that happens maybe you and some of the other megasellers will create a kinder friendlier book store that we can all use.

I'd put my stuff up on Child and Friends Dot Com. Lots would.

Keith Raffel said...

We're in a writing world where pragmatism rules. If you do better with the Big 5, go with them. If KDP has enabled you to make a living with your writing, that's great! Go that route. Some of Lee's braggadocio was surely tongue in cheek, but it is true that a big chunk of his success is not luck. He has the strongest brand in publishing (per Forbes Magazine) and that takes something more than more happenstance. http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2014/03/04/the-strongest-brand-in-publishing-is/

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

Lee said, "If publishers don't pay up, their product disappears off recommendation algorithms and bestseller lists, buy buttons disappear, and visibility is crippled. One Amazon executive was quoted as saying, "I did everything I could to screw with their performance." The publisher in question caved."

This is the first time I have heard a claim that Amazon has threatened to remove a book from bestseller lists. It seems Amazon has some incentive to keep its rankings impartial. They of course can alter the algorithm all they want, but I have always thought that they apply it equally to all books on the store.

Does anyone know of any direct evidence that they have adjusted or threatened to adjust a publisher's rankings if they do not pay some kind of co-op? I have heard of Barnes and Noble doing this kind of thing, but I thought Amazon's rankings were pretty straight forward.

w.adam mandelbaum said...

Like da song say "God bless da Child dat got his own" For the rest of us in the cheap seats, there's KDP.

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

Broken Yogi, I think your opinion that Joe isn't as good a writer as Lee Child is subjective.

I have read and enjoyed many of Lee's books. No doubt, he is excellent. But Joe is every bit as good in my estimation.

I find his Jack Daniels books addictive. I loved them so much that I actually forced myself to leave time between reading them because I didn't want to be left with none.

I've never loved a series that much. His writing is wildly engaging, funny and as I said, highly addictive.

Broken Yogi said...

btw, the one question I have for Lee is, given that he's sold more ebooks in the last week than Joe has sold in his lifetime, what kind of royalty rate does Lee get from his publisher on ebooks?

I'm willing to bet it's not the standard 25% of publisher's gross, but something much higher. But how high?

Joe Bruno said...

Reading the back and forth between Konrath and Child was like watching Godzilla vs Rodan.

That said, I have 23 true crime books, and four crime novels, all exclusively on Amazon KDP. I make a good living. Can't complain.

But the most important thing to me is that I control my destiny.

Don't need no stinkin' agents. Don't need no stinking' publishing companies.

I got my first writing paycheck in the mid-1970's. I've been around the block a few times, and I've been beaten to a pulp by the traditional way that writers used to make a living.

To me it's a no brainer.

If a huge publishing company came banging on my front door and begged me to sign on the dotted line, I'd tell them to go spit in their hat.

My income is directly proportional to
the quality of my books. If my books suck, then my paychecks will look scrawny, and it will be my fault and nobody elses.

I'm willing to take that chance.

Broken Yogi said...

Tracy,

Broken Yogi, I think your opinion that Joe isn't as good a writer as Lee Child is subjective.

Of course it is! Everything in publishing is subjective, except our sales figures and dollar income. I could claim that because Lee's sales are better than Joe's that Lee's books are better. And I suppose in the sense of "popular writing" that's true. But every reader has their own tastes, and their own value judgments, so it doesn't really matter until you add up the dollars at the end of the day.

And to be honest, my evaluation of their respective writing skills isn't just on the level of "I like this better than I like that". I can see why both are successful, but I can also see why Lee is more successful, just from reading their books. That's what publishers call "curating". When it comes down to it, they can't publish everyone, so they have to publish the writers they think are better at writing books that will sell (not caring so much about literary quality even). So I'm saying I can see why publishers chose to push Lee's books into the big-time over Joe's. Not that they couldn't have pushed both. I think Joe has shown that they made a mistake with him. But still, if I had to choose one over the other as a publisher, it's not so hard to choose Lee. Of course, it's easy to say that given how their careers have worked out. Lee had advantages given to him by publishers based on their subjective judgment that they didn't give to Joe. So we'll never really know. And none of that changes any individual's enjoyment of either writer. We are only talking about the overall judgments of the marketplace, and the job publishers have had trying to guess them. Not easy to do at all, and tremendous numbers of failures in that arena, including with their judgment of Joe.

That's why self-publishing is such a relief. Most everyone starts off on an equal footing, and has to build their own brand and readership. No need to please the curators, just the readers. It doesn't take the subjective out of the game, but it does put it squarely where it belongs - with those readers.

Rex Kusler said...

Amazon started out as a mail order book retailer, but their book sales now are only 7% of their total revenue. While all of this negotiation is continuing between Amazon and Hachette the bottom could drop out of Amazon’s core business—which is supposedly anything anybody would ever want to buy. The problem that I see as a customer who used to buy most of my online stuff from them is that they’ve turned into a façade. When I go to their site looking for bargains, I might find it, though I won’t save as much as I used to. And most of the stuff now is sold through questionable third-party online retailers I’ve never heard of. I’ve have bad experiences with all of them and, after Amazon takes my money and gives them my order—I’m totally screwed—because I have to deal with a mom and pop working out of a trailer park. So now I never buy anything from Amazon that isn’t stocked by them. The problem with their site is that the third-party merchandise is mixed in with the stuff stocked by Amazon. So, now I go to reputable online retailers that specialize in whatever I’m looking for instead of Amazon. Amazon’s financials are horrible. They’re losing money like crazy. If enough of their other faithful customers are doing their online shopping elsewhere the way I am—that could be catastrophic. Lee thinks KDP might end. That’s optimistic. Everything ends. I fear Amazon might end before I do. I’m grateful for every dollar that gets transferred into my checking account at the end of each month. And every morning that I see new deposits I jump up and down in my head.

Anonymous said...

I guess I can understand comparing the two authors is important because it would affect their stance on the issue. And each author, depending on where they are professionally, would have differing views based on what they have experienced and what end result is best for them. I am trying to sort out the facts, but I must agree with Broken Yogi. There exists that extra factor of subjectivity when speaking of art. Build me a fence. You build me a good fence or one that is ineffective. Next time I need a basic fence, I will decide on rehiring you based on that work. The fence has kept out what I wanted it to or it failed. Books, art...don't really work that way. Even over time, you can read a book and hate it as a teen, but love it as an adult or the reverse.

Anonymous said...

Rex, pretty sure they 'lose money' by pouring it into R&D.

Silas Payton said...

This is the first I've heard of Amazon and the Pay-to-Play. I wouldn't be surprised and don't really have a problem with Amazon charging a premium to the big players to have their wares show up more on recommendation lists. Isn't this like paying for subtle advertising?

This is prevalent in almost any commercial business now. The pasta sauce on special at the end of the iasle, the potato chips on the shelf that's eye level, the chocolate bars at the cash, the make-up by the enterance of every department store. Random placement? No. Paid for to increase profits for the business owner. Come to think of it, I'd be surprised and somewhat disappointed if Amazon didn't do this. It's business.

Lee Child said...

Joe and others: I stand by "protection money." This is not the same as paying for a table or an end cap over spine-out in section for individual titles. This is paying so all your books aren't hidden in the basement, or thrown in the Dumpster.

And bestseller lists and "customers also bought" are concepts rooted in fact. If a title is the 4th bestselling in the store, and Amazon says it's 34th, that's lying. If customers also bought another title, and Amazon denies it, that's lying. I think there's a qualitative difference. (But then, maybe I'm just old-fashioned.)

Some evidence, if you want it, is coming out of Japan right now. NDAs don't seem so effective there.

Anonymous said...

Mr Child,

I've read about the thing in Japan and it appeared that was something *only* happening on the Japan Amazon site. Possibly indicative of something more widespread on other Amazon sites, possibly not.

I seriously doubt on the flagship .Com site if they're cooking the bestseller lists. Too many people comparing and crunching numbers, IMO, for it not to be caught if they were.

Silas Payton said...

Lee,

How would it be in Amazon's best interest to intentionally "basement" books from a large publisher? It doesn't make sense. Amazon wants those books to sell as well. Why wouldn't Amazon treat them the same and let the cream rise, like everything else.

I can see how Amazon would charge more for better placement in some ads, but to intentionally decrease their profits? Why? Can you share what you've heard to back this up and shed some light?

Lee Child said...

Silas: They play the long game, and would be prepared to give up a period of profit from a publisher or two in order to win big later. We're seeing that happen right now with Hachette. Their authors are reporting 40% - 90% fewer sales, which means Amazon is seeing 40% - 90% less profit out of Hachette titles. Amazon's previous experience is that publishers cave faster than this, but clearly they're prepared to dig in a while longer.

Lee Child said...

Anonymous @ 9:24: Quite the reverse - the Gazelle Project debuted in the US, was extended to Europe, and is now in Japan. And it's widely understood that Amazon's lists are heavily manipulated. Generally it's revealed because the payments received often don't match the alleged chart positions.

Rex Kusler said...

Lee, I think you may be right about this “protection money” thing. Looking at the list on my Amazon author page of authors “customers also bought items by”, I see your name along with Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, Stuart Woods, John Sanford, Craig Johnson, and others. When I click on their names I notice I’m not listed as an also bought author on their page. Who do I send my protection money to, so I can start getting some also bought listings?

Silas Payton said...

Sorry Lee, I don't agree.

Call it what you want, but what we are seeing with Amazon and Hachette right now are tactics in negotiating...by both sides.

If they come to an agreement, where Amazon offers as part of that agreement, to provide all of it's services available to sell books (discounts, ads, pre-release, etc.) isn't that fair? I don't see how that is equivalent to "protection" money. It's what they are offering as a service and the client (Hachette in this case) is deciding if it wants that service.

When you use the term "protection" money, it implies more of an over-and-above agreement threat. Do you have any information on this happening while an agreement is in place? That I would find interesting.

And Lee, thanks for coming out and trying to help us see this from your POV.

Lee Child said...

Silas: I'm not certain enough to say in public that terms have changed *during* a contract. But the net effect is the same at renewal, which is frequent. Suppose, as you say, the expiring agreement called for all of Amazon's services to be provided ... how then can Amazon get a better deal next time around? In short, by asking for co-payments to cover certain costs. Which go up. And which are linked to other co-payments. Which go up. And the other guy blinks, so to teach him a lesson you smash his restaurant windows. Or bury his books. At which point I think it's no longer cool. I think "protection money" works pretty well as a metaphor. Your mileage might vary, of course.

Terrence OBrien said...

Generally it's revealed because the payments received often don't match the alleged chart positions.

Exactly what are you comparing? Payments are computed on a monthly basis. That's one data point per month. Rank is a continuous function. It is recalculated continuously (hourly?) based on all sales of all books. There are many data points per month (720 hourly points?).

So exactly what point are the payments matched to in verifying the accuracy of the sales ranking?

We would also have to know the algorithm Amazon uses to compute sales rank. It's hard to say it is being manipulated without knowing the result it should be delivering.

Specifically, how is sales velocity handled? In calculating current sales rank, how is a sale from eleven days ago weighted compared to a sale one hour ago?

This kind of analysis isn't at all dependent on how great one is as a writer or how long one has been in the book business.


Silas Payton said...

Lee,
Short of the smashed windows, you've just described what goes on at the renewal of most contracts. Each side plays a few cards, both trying to guess what they might get away with. A commercial landlord asks for more rent knowing the tenant small business owner can't afford to move, the football player asks for more money knowing he might get traded instead, the list goes on.

The smashed windows in your comparison would be illegal, whereas negotiating tactics without a binding agreement is not. If Hachette had decent lawyers in their last contract, they could have added a clause that stated something like "if by the end of this term, both parties haven't come to an aggreement, all conditions will remain the same for six months...legal talk...mediation..more legal talk." That would have protected them legally. Amazon is not smashing windows, it is trying to emphasize the benefit of what they have to offer, the same as any other contract negotiations. The same as me trying to negotiation with my kids to do things around the house.

Again, if Amazon was making changes to an existing agreement, more like a threat, I would be more in agreement with the use of the term "protection" money, but that is not what is happening here now.

Thanks for engaging.

Craig Hansen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig Hansen said...

I appreciate Lee stopping by and engaging with Joe. That said, I wish he hadn't chosen such an arrogant tone to present himself in.

Maybe it was intended tongue-in-cheek, because he considers Joe a pal, but it's not clear that this was his intent, and therfore makes what he says rather off-putting.

On content, however, I have nothing to add since Hour did so quite sufficiently already.

Joseph said...

Baloney.

You have zero reason to say Amazon manipulates algorithms like the other retailers do. Zero. You need to quit banging that drum, it's dragging you down.

Saying it's "widely understood" to be true is nothing, and even that isn't accurate. It's not widely understood at all.

You have good points and I am absolutely riveted by this discussion but goddamn

Broken Yogi said...

Amazon's previous experience is that publishers cave faster than this, but clearly they're prepared to dig in a while longer.

What evidence do you have of publishers caving to Amazon? The only similar negotiation I'm aware of was in 2010 over agency pricing, and it was Amazon who caved. With that as a precedent, it seems more like that Amazon will have to cave once again, if the other publishers take the hard line on agency pricing just as Hachette seems to be doing. And from the way Hachette is playing this, I think we have every reason to expect that the other Big Five will take the same line when their time comes to negotiate with Amazon.

Luke 2Feathers said...

Broken Yogi: Can you say why you think Lee is a better writer than Joe?

I think the opposite, that Joe is a better writer than Lee. It seems to me that Lee, to get his word count up, pads his paragraphs with information that isn't essential to move the story forward or to delineate his characters. His sentences are terse but not tight. Joe's narrative is tight. He doesn't tell me anything I don't need to know right now. That pulls me forward, keeps me turning pages. When I'm reading Brideshead Revisited or Huckleberry Finn, I don't want that, but when I'm reading a thriller, I demand it. I haven't been able to finish a Jack Reacher novel because Lee doesn't hold my interest. He almost does, but not quite. Lee's writing reminds me of television, and Joe's, of film. Television moves more slowly, stringing out the story across as many episodes as possible, whereas a film needs to tell the whole story in about two hours.

SJArnott said...

Joe Konrath said... "Protection money is when thugs shake down businesses that they don't own or operate.

What you describe Amazon as doing is pay-to-play, or commercial bribery. And this has been going on in bookstores forever."

I think most people would call it advertising.

I was surprised when I first found out that publishers pay for extra visibility in the form of table displays and the like, but it seems reasonable. For Amazon to do the same is equally reasonable.

Joseph said... "If that happens maybe you and some of the other megasellers will create a kinder friendlier book store that we can all use. 

I'd put my stuff up on Child and Friends Dot Com. Lots would."

And imagine how little effort it would take for Stephen King to create the world's greatest horror publishing platform...

Elka said...

Since Mr. Lee continues to contribute to this debate, I have two questions for him, if he would be so kind to answer them. What I don't understand is:

1. Why worry that Amazon will squeeze self-publishers and writer: “ Storytellers will be working for whatever few pennies they choose to hand out.” when your traditionally published fellow-authors are already working for whatever few pennies traditional publishers choose to hand out. Shouldn’t you first repair something that is already broken, before you start to worry about something that might break?

2. If Amazon is demanding “protection money,” since you are traditionally published mega-seller, why drag this into the open and be against it? Isn't it in your and publishers' best interest to continue to buy visibility that only rare self-publishers and small press can afford? Readers can't buy your book, if they don't know about it. B&N is known for charging the premium placement, on their online story and in their bookstores, and if a publisher refuse to pay, from its negotiation with S&S we know what happens. So I assume, even though you hadn't mentioned it, you are against them demanding money for placement aka protection money, too?

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

Broken Yogi, what you said. :)

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

Let's admit that Lee Child is right (he sounds like an honest man), and that Amazon is cheating with numbers.

So, let's say Stephen King has sold between 18,000 and 25,000 ebooks on the Amazon Kindle Store each day for a week, and that during the same period, he is ranked #21 and not #1, as he should.

If publishers would like to denounce that treachery, the best thing they would have to do, in my opinion, is to BE TRANSPARENT.

Why not rejoin author earnings.com? I cannot imagine that the publishers don't know their daily sales as authors do.

So, by measuring more precisely the ranking and sales with the additional data provided by Stephen King's publisher, we sould be able to demonstrate any gaming of the system.

The problem is, big publishers have been obfuscating sales for their authors for decades. The reason why it's so important for Barry -and others- to have monthly payments, at least of ebooks, which are not subject to returns, is the transparency reason.

Go to conventions, Lee, talk to authors at the bar, and you'll see that what is poisoning the relation between a publisher and a traditionally published author is the lack of transparency.

We have some indie authors that study Amazon algorithms (as you could read in David Gaughran's ebook, Let's Get Visible), and that enables them to forecast Amazon's future policies.

If the publishers want to fight any Amazon injustice, they have to become far more transparent with their authors, and with everybody.

Thugs are strong in dark alleys. So, turn on the light.

Big publishers don't have daily reports from Amazon? I don't think the DoJ would frown if the big publishers bended their strength toggether to demand daily sales reports from Amazon, because that wouldn't be a collusion against the consumers.

I'll repeat, turn on the light! If publishers don't agree to, how couldn't we infer that they have something to hide?

Lee Child said...

Folks, thanks for engaging. It's been fun. Now I'm going to take the day off. Maybe read a little Aldous Huxley. So long ...

Alan Spade said...

It was an interesting conversation, I think, one where both sides have learned something. As with all conversations (and even if I must concede that Lee couldn't answer ALL the questions), unanswered questions bring as much, if not more, food for thought than answered ones.

Thom said...

Hi Lee:

I don't think your success is based on luck.

Your success is based on hiring Maggie.

(Well done on that one! :-)

Barry Knister said...

Joe--Thanks for clarity and fairness on this issue.
Your real-world emphasis on luck make me think of the "star system" in the New York art world. Assuming a certain level of competence, an artist makes it big in NY because a key, high-profile dealer decides to track that artist for success. It's how the business works, how assets are allocated. It's how some work becomes hugely valuable in the marketplace. This would seem to be closely related to what you're saying about authors.

Broken Yogi said...

Luke 2Feathers said...
Broken Yogi: Can you say why you think Lee is a better writer than Joe?


First, I have to say that by "better writer" I am very specifically meaning "is likely to sell more books", because that's all a publisher cares about when it comes down to it. That's how they determine who they push and market and try to get into the big-time. Not literary quality. I'm not here to make some sort of literary criticism of either writer based on purely subjective criteria. I'm trying to put myself in the place of a publisher who has to decide which of them as the best commercial potential.

You have to remember, that both Joe and Lee are good enough writers that some people are going to prefer one over the other. You obviously prefer Joe. That's probably not uncommon. But is it the overall experience of readers? I would suggest that there Lee has a considerable edge. The numbers don't lie.

I find it interesting that you compare Lee to a TV writer (which makes sense, in that he worked in television before becoming a novelist), and Joe's books are more like movies. What you may not realize is that television is far more popular than movies, and is where the most money gets made all around. Television is the real bread-winner in the entertainment industry. So in that sense, your comparison works against Joe. In general, I'd say that a TV writer has a much greater chance of writing a successful popular novel (and series) than a movie scriptwriter.

As to their respective styles, I think Lee has learned how to infuse his stories with an atmosphere of tension and aggression better than Joe. He molds his style and plotting together in a manner that is simply more coherent. It may not work for you, and that's fine, because nothing works for everyone. But overall, it works very well. It allows the reader to fall into a groove that just feels right.

Again, that's completely subjective, but that's the nature of a novel. It's the most subjective experience there is in any form of art. The words on the page aren't even the thing, it's the images they evoke in the mind, and the mood, the groove, that the reader falls into as a result. So it's all about aligning oneself with the subjective mind of the reader. And in popular writing, it's all about aligning oneself with the subjective mind of a whole lot of people. That's hard to predict, and while you can break it down to certain basic elements, the devil is in the details of doing it just so. That's why it's hard for a publisher to know which writer has the best potential of selling the most books. that's why they take chances on all kinds of oddball writers. You never really know. You have to use not just your own subjective experience, but your feeling for the subjective experience of all those people out there, and the various niches and crannies of the marketplace. Who knew such a piece of crap as Fifty Shades of Gray would be such a monster bestseller? Not the E.L. James - but then again, she was also a TV producer, like Lee, so there's some inner affinity there for the mass market.

A writer who wants to be popular has to go for the mass-market jugular. I'm sure Joe has tried his best to hit it. So has Lee. I think Lee has better results. It doesn't make him a better writer in any objective sense, except that of books sold and money earned.

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