Saturday, August 01, 2015

Barry and Joe and More Authors Guild Nonsense


TL;DR - The Authors Guild Still Sucks.

Joe sez: Okay, so the Authors Guild keeps acting like a bunch of assclowns, and now the ABA has embarrassed itself alongside them. There’s a good breakdown of it over at The Digital Reader via Nate Hoffelder, and some smart comments over at Passive Voice. But there’s more to say about this matter, so Barry Eisler is going to unleash some much-needed logic and reason, and then I’m going to fisk.
Barry sez: Publisher Lobbyist “Unprecedented Joint Action!”
Life is too short to continually respond to self-serving publishing establishment bloviation, so I was going to ignore this American Booksellers Association “interview” of Mary Rasenberger, the Executive Director of the Authors Guild. It’s such a regurgitation of long-since debunked legacy publisher talking points that the most useful thing you could do with it is play Bullshit Bingo: Amazon a Monopoly…Devaluing Books…Free Flow of Ideas…Engine of Democracy…Bingo! Besides, Nate Hoffelder had already performed the thankless task of acting as this week’s bucket brigade and responding to this latest cycle of the same old publishing establishment bullshit, and Joe intended to do the same. So I was all set to roll my eyes and move on...
But then I realized: the piece is such a purified expression of publishing propaganda that even apart from the tired, repeatedly debunked substance (a charitable word, under the circumstances), there were a few propaganda aspects worth noting.
First, though the answers Rasenberger provides are entirely predictable (and indeed, have been debunked so many times they’re not worth addressing with anything more than a link or two), the questions themselves are revealing. Here’s a sample:
·How has Amazon’s abuse of its dominance in the book industry directly affected authors?
·How have Amazon’s punitive actions against publishers, such as Hachette during their 2014 contract dispute, impacted authors?
·According to some news reports, self-published authors who once thought of Amazon as their ally are now feeling victimized. Why is that?
·As Amazon continues to sell huge numbers of titles below cost and uses them as loss leaders to entice sales on other segments of its website, what will be the long-term effect on a thriving and robust literary marketplace?
Holy “When did you stop beating your wife,” Batman!
If you were a legacy publisher…if you were an Amazon competitor…if you were any one of the unprecedentedly joint actors…indeed, if you were a clone of Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, interviewing yourself!—would you phrase even one of these embarrassingly loaded questions differently?
Assuming you had an exceptionally low shame threshold, you wouldn’t. The questions would all be the same.
Which brings us to the second revealing aspect of this "propaganda masquerading as an interview" drill. You see, in the standard “blow-job masquerading as interview” gambit, it’s generally enough to hope the reader will just assume the interviewer and interviewee are working at arms-length. Making the point explicitly isn’t really the done thing. Here, however, perhaps not trusting readers to be sufficiently gulled, the ABA and AG are at pains to describe the “unprecedented joint action” of the AG, Authors United, the ABA, and the Association of Authors’ Representatives in going after Amazon for monopolizing the marketplace of ideas, devaluing books, and generally crushing dissent, democracy, and all that is good. The impression they’re trying to create is, “Wow, if so many separate organizations hate Amazon, Amazon must be doing something bad.”
But what’s critical to understand is that the most fundamental purpose of the Authors Guild, Authors United, the American Booksellers Association, and the Association of Authors is to preserve the publishing industry in its current incarnation. Whatever marginal differences they might have (I’ve never actually seen any, but am happy to acknowledge the theoretical possibility) are eclipsed by this commonality of purpose. Under the circumstances, the fact that these four legacy publisher lobbyists agree on something is entirely unremarkable (indeed, what would be remarkable would be some evidence of division). But if people recognize the exercise as a version of “No really, I read it somewhere…okay, I wrote it down first,” the propaganda fizzles. And that’s why these propagandists have to nudge readers with the bullshit about the “unprecedented joint action.” Otherwise, when Authors Guild Executive Director Mary Rasenberger cites Authors United pitchman Doug Preston as though Preston were a separate, credible source, people might roll their eyes instead of nodding at the seriousness of it all. They might even giggle at the realization that all those “When did Amazon stop beating its wife?” questions were functionally being put by Rasenberger to herself.
So no, this wasn’t remotely a cross-examination, or even a cross pollination (indeed, publisher lobbyists are expert at fleeing anything that offers even the slightest whiff of actual debate—which does make their alleged devotion to the Free Flow of Ideas and Information as the Engine of Democracy worthy of a smile, at least, if nothing else). It was just a stump speech lovingly hosted by someone else’s blog. The sole reason for the exercise was to create the misleading appearance of multiple, arms-length actors when functionally there is only one.
In fairness to the aforementioned Unprecedentedly Joint Actors, there is a rich heritage behind this form of propaganda. For example, in the run-up to America’s second Iraq war, Dick Cheney would have someone from his office phone up a couple of pet New York Times reporters, who would then dutifully report that anonymous administration officials believed Saddam Hussein had acquired aluminum tubes as part of his nuclear weapons efforts…and then Cheney would go on all the Sunday morning talk shows and get to say, “Don’t take my word for the aluminum tube stuff—even the New York Times is reporting it!”
So leave aside the fact that the “joint action” in question is anything but unprecedented—that it is in fact publishing establishment SOP. Anyone familiar with the record of these organizations will instantly realize that the “unprecedented joint action” in question is a lot like the “joint action” of all four fingers—plus the thumb!—of someone throwing back a shot of tequila. Like that of a little boy pleasuring himself—with both hands!—and trying to convince anyone who will listen that the Unprecedented Left and Right Action is proof that “Everybody loves me!”
The third aspect of this publisher lobbyist propaganda worth mentioning is the standard “we’re just disinterested, non-partisan, democracy-loving onlookers” dodge. Authors United, one of the partner organizations cited by both the ABA and the AG in the piece (they all work so hand-in-glove and cite each other so promiscuously they can be hard to distinguish) is particularly shameless in this regard, repeatedly proclaiming “We’re not taking sides” even while buying $100,000 anti-Amazon ads, sending complaints to the Amazon board of directors, and lobbying the Justice Department to break up Amazon. I’d ask Author United’s Doug Preston what more he would do against Amazon if he were taking sides, but these organizations never engage their critics (a tactic that could fairly be cited as its own form of propaganda).
Here, the ABA is careful to issue the standard “We’re not anti-Amazon!” disclaimer—a disclaimer that serves as its own punch line given the surreally tendentious questions that follow it, and given that the very title of the piece is “Why Amazon Deserves Antitrust Scrutiny.” It’s like the old French joke about Germany—“We love Germany so much we think there should be two of them.” The jointly-acting, non-side-taking, non-anti-Amazon ABA, AG, AU, and AAR actually love Amazon—so much they want the company broken into multiple bite-sized chunks!
You know what, though? I doubt even the Unprecedented Joint Actors believe their own storyline. Because a resort to this type of crass propaganda isn’t a sign of confidence or strength. It’s a recognition that people aren’t buying your bullshit. That doesn’t mean the Unprecedented Joint Actors won’t prevail—after all, Cheney did, so we know that sometimes the propagandists win. But this is why it’s so important that their tactics, as well as their aims, be constantly exposed.
Joe sez: So, with Barry’s points in mind, a-fisking I shall go. The asinine interview in crazy bold italics, my reply in common sense regular font.
Two weeks ago, the book industry saw an unprecedented joint action: U.S. booksellers, authors, and literary agents called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the business practices of Amazon.com. On July 13, the group Authors United, led by author Douglas Preston, delivered a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling for an investigation of Amazon’s “abuse of its dominance in the world of books.” The Authors United action was supported by the American Booksellers Association, which sent its own letter to the DOJ, and by both the Authors Guild and the Association of Authors’ Representatives.
Here, Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, talks about the organization’s support for the Authors United letter and why Amazon’s unprecedented dominance of the book retail market is harmful to authors, booksellers, and the reading public.
Barry just talked about how this is hardly “unprecedented.” But why is the American Booksellers Association involved with this issue? Specifically, how are they being harmed other than Amazon simply competing better than they are? Let’s read on…
BTW: Why did the Authors Guild support last week’s Authors United appeal to the Department of Justice and what has been your role in the Authors United letter?
Mary Rasenberger: We at the Authors Guild have been working closely with Doug Preston for the greater part of the past year on both the longer policy memo and the shorter letter that he is asking authors and others to sign.
Wow. I have so many sarcastic responses in my head competing to be first. It took over six months for two committees of authors to write these terrible 23 pages?

Sad.

With all those eyes on it, the policy memo was still so poorly done a four-year-old child could poke holes in it.

Pathetic.

And during all this time, the Authors Guild could have been devoting its efforts to doing something that actually helps authors instead of publishers.

Awful.
We could argue about the merits of getting into bed with the enemy that controls you, and trying to change things through appeasement rather than conflict, but then don't call yourself a guild for authors. On the AG website is a lengthy pronouncement on how they protect free speech and defend the"digital arena" from censorship, when they just wrote to Congress in an effort to resurrect a ridiculous offshoot of SOPA.
Might I suggest they call themselves the Vichy Guild?
Barry also mentioned that on their website the AG crows "Half of Net Proceeds is the Fair Royalty Rate for E-Books," while two lines down it calls on the government to investigate Amazon… for paying exactly that fair royalty!

Fail.
We sent a separate letter to the Department of Justice on this topic last summer and met with them as well. We wholeheartedly believe that Amazon deserves antitrust scrutiny.
Follow this through to the conclusion. The DOJ goes after Amazon. What happens next? It levies fines? Who will ultimately pay those fines? You think perhaps those costs will be passed along? To whom? Customers? No. Amazon wants to keep prices low. So how would it recoup that money, since Amazon is notorious for not making a profit? Maybe, perhaps, Amazon will pay that fine by squeezing suppliers? You know, like publishers and writers? It that what all of these organizations want?
Or let’s say the Assistant Attorney General pushes to break up Amazon. What will happen to Amazon as a result? Well, what happened when Standard Oil was broken up? Hint: many of those companies thrived, but it didn't foster new competition in the market. It simply divvied up the pie. But let's pretend that breaking up Amazon fosters innovation and competition (even though Amazon seems to be the only player actually innovating and competing). What happens next? More competition means… lower prices. Doesn't the Big 5 want higher prices? Isn't that the whole point? What the hell are they thinking trying to use the government against Amazon? How does this scenario end well for the Big 5?

I can think of just one way: Amazon is afraid so it gives the Big 5 all the terms they're asking for to get them to stop poking Uncle Sam.

Do they really think Amazon is afraid? Or that Amazon doesn't have a stable of lawyers who are experts in anti-trust?

If the government fines Amazon, or breaks it up, publishers will be disintermediated even faster than their present course is dictating.

Didn't anyone think this through? The problem isn't Amazon. The problem is that technology--which is inevitable--is changing the way consumers buy and read books. If not Amazon, another company or companies will follow the same path. The reign of paper dominance has ended. They way to thrive is to innovate, not to whine to Uncle Sam.

While Amazon has done a lot that has benefitted the book industry — it created an e-commerce platform that made buying books online very easy and fast; created the first really good e-reader, which dramatically increased access to e-books; and made it very easy for authors to self-publish — in recent years it has ruthlessly used, indeed abused, its unprecedented dominance of the book retail market in ways that harm the book industry as a whole, including authors and the reading public.

And my wife harms me by bathing me with love and constantly supporting me. Maybe I should ask the DOJ to intervene in my marriage.
The fact is Amazon now virtually controls an important marketplace of information. That is not good for bookstores or for authors, and it is not good for democracy. We now have a single, corporate entity that exerts a dangerous amount of control over the channels of free expression that sustain our democracy. A corporation has never before in American history been allowed to monopolize an information or communications channel. The courts and the government never let that happen before, precisely because democracy relies on the free flow of expression and that requires a broad, diverse array of information sources. When the Associated Press, Turner Broadcasting, or Barnes & Noble threatened to dominate a single marketplace of information, the courts or a government agency intervened. It’s important to see the big picture here, because this situation can easily be trivialized. We’re not just talking about the price of an e-book. We’re talking about interference with the marketplace of information and ideas, which is the engine of any democracy.
I’ve already blogged at length about how the “marketplace of information” bullshit is bullshit. But let’s examine the end of that ridiculous statement, “the engine of any democracy.” On the AG website is a lengthy pronouncement on how they protect free speech and a defend the "digital arena" from censorship, when they just wrote to Congress in an effort to resurrect a ridiculous offshoot of SOPA.
So, do they only want to protect the democracy that they agree with? Isn’t that called something other than democracy? They don’t want Amazon to control the marketplace of information, and at the same time they wrote to Congress demanding that Congress control the marketplace of information.
WTF?
And why is the ABA involved with this? Wouldn’t they want Amazon to stifle the “marketplace of information” so seekers of true information will instead patronize indie bookstores?
Think about it. Your main competition is seriously messing up. Instead of letting them hang themselves with their own rope, you want to get the government involved? Instead of one large competitor, does the ABA want five more smaller competitors? What if the DOJ breaks Amazon up, and one of the new companies formed by the breakup decides to set up a new brick-and-mortar bookstore chain? If that happens, will the ABA be pleased? Or will ABA members just sue the chain like they sued Barnes & Noble?
How about, instead of suing or whining to the government, you just try to compete?
I like bookstores, even if they refuse to stock my Amazon published work. I don’t want them to disappear. But nobody owes anyone a living. If they need government interference to compete, because customers freely choose to shop for books elsewhere, I don’t see how that can be called a good thing.
So the Authors Guild has taken a keen interest in Amazon. We’ve been following Amazon’s behavior in the book markets for a number of years — as have most other publishing industry observers. But I want to be clear on one thing, even after everything I just said: We’re not anti-Amazon. We don’t oppose everything the company does. We give praise where it’s due. We’ve simply opposed Amazon’s more ruthless tactics and the unhealthiness of its monopoly.
What horseshit.
We’re not anti-Amazon! Except when we are!
We’re against monopolies! Except, you know, the Big 5 cartel that controls paper distribution!
Amazon deserves praise for opening up the long tail to readers in the most remote parts of the country, for instance. But did it have to do that at the expense of so many independent bookstores?
No, it didn’t. Some indie bookstores could have opened up to service customers in remote parts of the country. But they didn’t. Amazon did. And Amazon didn’t do it to smite indie bookstores. It did it to reach customers. The fact that indie bookstores don’t offer the wide range of products Amazon offers isn’t Amazon’s fault. No one, Amazon included, is preventing bookstores from competing
And we are grateful to Amazon for making it so easy for authors to publish on their own, but it should pay authors decent royalties and allow them to set their own prices without punishment; Amazon should be transparent about what goes into determining its royalty pool.
I agree. Amazon should pay authors decent royalties. Which is why I’m glad its royalties are four times more decent than the ones paid by the Big Five. Someone really ought to let the Authors Guild know this--it’s important.

And yeah, I agree it would be nice if Amazon would eliminate its 35% (still twice the legacy rate) band for books priced under $2.99 and over $9.99. But calling that band--which again, at a minimum still pays out twice the going legacy rate--a “punishment” is worse than moronic. It’s blatant fear-mongering through propagandistic word choices. If Amazon is “punishing” authors for paying 35% and 70%, what is the Big Five doing to authors when it pays 12.5% or 17.5%?

The call for more Amazon transparency is also interesting, given the legendary openness practiced by the Big Five. But let’s examine this one in detail anyway.

Amazon’s KU payout rate fluctuates according to some equation only Amazon knows. Like a utility bill. Every month someone comes to the door asking me to “lock in” my gas or electric rate, protecting it in case it goes up. But then I’m locked into the higher rate if prices drop.
Amazon could pay a set, agreed-upon rate per page that doesn’t fluctuate. What then? What if subscriptions become the #1 way to read, and our sales our cannibalized, and we’re locked into that rate?
Well, you could say that if that happens, Amazon could always raise the rate. Or pay bonuses.
But that’s no different than what Amazon is currently doing. That still means fluctuating payments.
If Amazon allowed authors to opt in or out of KU each month, forecasting what the per page rate will be for that month, that would give authors more control. But how much more? If the rate fluctuates, we still have no financial stability. And we still won’t know how much we’ll earn at the end of the month, because we can’t predict how many page reads will get.
I don’t see an easy answer here. But if you’re worried about ebook retailers screwing you, your only true alternative is controlling your own sales via your own website.
In the meantime, KU is optional. We can opt out after three months. And if authors don’t like the way Amazon pays, they’ll leave, and Amazon will need to entice them back with better payments. This seems like a system that polices itself.
Last summer, in the midst of Amazon’s dispute with Hachette, when Amazon began deliberately suppressing Hachette authors’ sales in order to drive a wedge between the publisher and its authors, we worked behind the scenes, writing a series of white papers that led to meetings with the DOJ and a number of state attorneys general.
Well slap me with a mackerel until I spit scales, here comes the “Amazon Attacks Authors!” meme again.
Amazon has never suppressed sales. I swear I'm gonna get a tattoo gun and start inking that on every moron who says they did.

Hachette refused to make a deal with the #1 book retailer in the world, and Amazon had no legal or moral obligation to keep selling Hachette books. Hachette authors should have sued Hachette for bad faith breach of contract, because Hachette used them as human shields to get terms from Amazon that benefitted Hachette and not its authors.

Meanwhile, Doug, with his Authors United grassroots group of authors, brought great and well-deserved attention to the Hachette authors’ cause. We’ve been supportive of Authors United from the start. Doug is an Authors Guild council member — we’ve worked hand in hand with him.
Ah, nothing like a bunch of multimillionaires taking the grassroots approach by wasting $100,000 on a full page NYT ad. Power to the people, man! I mean, isn’t an ad a lot better for authors than maybe, I dunno, sharing that $100,000 with authors who were harmed because Hachette dragged its feet for eight months to sign a new deal with Amazon?
BTW: How has Amazon’s abuse of its dominance in the book industry directly affected authors?
Worst. Interview. Ever.

Unless… maybe this isn't an actual interview? Maybe it's propaganda?

MR: Amazon has artificially driven down the price of books and, because of its market dominance, it has been able to force publishers of all sizes, as well as independently published authors, to accept its terms on a “take it or leave it” basis.
Amazon has indeed driven down the price of books, but how is that artificial? That’s called "reality". When you have a lot of buying power, you can negotiate for better deals, and pass along the savings to consumers. You can even afford to make some items loss leaders.
As far as harming independently published authors, is Mary Rasenberger high? Serious question. I say some really stupid shit when I get high, and I can forgive her this giant hunk of idiocy if she was bogarting a purple kush spliff when she said it.
If not, I’ll remind Mary that indie authors get 70% for self-pubbed sales on Amazon, and 17.5% through Big 5 publishers. I’ll also remind Mary that both Amazon, and KDP Select, are optional for authors, not mandatory, whereas if an author signed with a publisher they have ZERO say on who sells it, or for how much.
Plus, it drive me nuts when Authors Guild morons say things about Amazon that could also be directly applied to Big Publishing. Hey! Mary! You think Amazon has take it or leave it terms? Have you ever seen a contract from the Big 5? Do you think it’s maybe significant that the authors who sign the Amazon “take-it-or-leave-it” contract can walk away from it pretty much any time? Think that’s maybe worth mentioning? While by comparison a legacy contract functionally lasts forever? See any distinction there that might be worth pointing out--unless your point is obfuscation rather than education?
Since no one can sell books without Amazon, guess what? They take it.
Where were you, pre-Amazon, when tens of thousands of writers actually didn’t have a choice? You really think this is a new phenomenon? Those who have market muscle tend to flex it. But I don’t see anything in the KDP TOS that gives Amazon rights for the author’s life plus 70 years, or non-compete clauses, or any of the many unconscionable things that Big 5 publishers have stuck us with for decades. Amazon is so big and mighty it could demand all rights. It doesn’t. Stop calling Amazon a bully when the real bullies, the ones who came before Amazon, are so much worse.
Small publishers in particular have been hurt: they have had to accept really unfair terms, and there is nothing they can do to fight back. Amazon could care less if one little publisher refuses to sell through them; that publisher will just go out of business and it won’t affect Amazon one bit.
And someone think of the poor travel agents, driven out of work by Expedia and cohorts! And shouldn’t the DOJ be going after Netflix for hurting all those poor cable company monopolies?
Low prices hurt authors because their royalties are lower, of course.
Joe makes $2.74 on a $3.99 ebook on Amazon via KDP. Joe made $1.74 on a $9.99 ebook when he pubbed with the Big 5.
And do we even need to get into the “lower priced books sell more copies” argument?
But it has also devalued books generally. Amazon has commoditized books by offering them all at the same low price, losing money so they can lure readers in as consumers. The result is that readers start thinking books should be that cheap — even though those prices are artificial — and everyone else is forced to lower book prices.
I spanked this ridiculous “devalue” meme over five years ago. Books are not being devalued. Period.
Barry and I were chatting about this, and he reminded me that books compete with other forms of entertainment. As those forms become cheaper and more ubiquitous, the notion that we can protect the place of books in the entertainment ecosystem by making them more expensive is suicide. What kind of hubris could lead to these positions? Books are not special snowflakes. When you can get unlimited Netflix streaming for $9.99 a month, you shouldn’t price an ebook that can be read in eight hours at $14.99. That’s not a sustainable business model.
Needless to say, advances are way down, as well as royalties, and fewer books are being bought by publishers because there is only so much money to go around. It is one of the reasons we have full-time authors making 30 percent less in absolute dollars (not accounting for inflation) than they did in 2009 when the e-book was first taking off.
And here we have the Authors Guild doing what it does best; advocating for publishers. Because we all know that publishers write the books, so publishers deserve keeping 75% of the royalties.
If authors are making less, publishers should pay more. Maybe the Authors Guild should focus on getting better royalty rates from the Big 5. Or maybe authors should dump them and earn 70% royalties going indie.
Another way Amazon has adversely affected authors is an issue [ABA] members are familiar with — the drastic reduction in discoverability on its service (leading some book buyers to go to stores to browse and then buy on Amazon). Most mid-list books simply get lost on Amazon; it is difficult for the titles of lesser-known authors to be discovered on Amazon, where “discoverability” often means simply being updated about the newest title from famous authors.
Unlike EVERY OTHER FREAKING BOOKSTORE IN HISTORY?!?!
Seriously, hasn’t discoverability always been a giant issue with all midlist authors? What does Amazon have to do with that?
Except, you know, giving ALL authors the chance to reach readers, rather than the gatekeepers who prevented 99.9% of them from ever reaching anyone.
An author has a better chance to get discovered by readers on Amazon than they have getting discovered by readers in a Big 5 slush pile.
So, the mid-list authors are badly suffering in sales, and because publishers are not making enough on those books, they are disinclined to offer advances that actually support writing the book.
Newsflash: no fiction author gets an advance for a first book. And with all self-pubbed  books, you start earning money 30 days later if you hit publish, which isn't that far removed from the 14 day waiting period after starting a new job. So enough with the BS "authors need advances to survive" meme.

If you need some sort of income to feed yourself while writing, try Kickstarter or Indiegogo, neither of which keeps your rights for your lifetime plus 70 years.
Hence, we see more and more books by celebrities rather than authors. At least there is more work for ghostwriters!
That’s the answer. Change your name to the Ghostwriters Guild. Then I won’t have to keep wasting my time on you.
BTW: How have Amazon’s punitive actions against publishers, such as Hachette during their 2014 contract dispute, impacted authors?

Why do I feel like I'm watching the audience participation during the Rocky Horror Picture Show?
MR: To begin with, Amazon’s punitive actions against publishers end up harming individual authors much more than they harm the publishers they’re intended to punish. There’s no way around it. Many publishers are themselves major corporations — some are parts of multinational conglomerates — and they can absorb the losses caused by Amazon in a way that an individual author cannot.

Wait a second... publishers are losing money? And it's Amazon's fault?

How, exactly?

Let's read on...

Amazon controls more than 40 percent of total book sales in the U.S., 75 percent of online sales of physical books, and 65 percent of the e-book market.

Oh, snap! So publishers are losing money through Amazon because Amazon sells more of their books than anyone else!

Wait. Hold on. That doesn't make a lick of sense.

Publishers set the prices of books on Amazon, via the agency model. And publishers sell most of their books through Amazon.

How could Amazon be causing publishers to lose money?

Call me stupid, but if I'm selling a lot of something, and I get to set the price, doesn't that earn money for me? And if it doesn't, shouldn't I stop selling through that particular retail outlet?

How can the Authors Guild spout this craziness with a straight face?

When Amazon stands between authors and the reader or potential readers who might want to buy their books — as they did with the Hachette authors — it is the authors who feel the sting.
Let me see if I understand this; when I sign a contract with a publisher, expecting that publisher to properly exploit my work by selling it in every market possible, and said publisher doesn’t do that because they want to keep the prices of my books high when Amazon wants to keep them low and sell more copies thereby making me more money via volume, I’m supposed to get angry at Amazon and not my publisher?
Tell me again what I need a publisher for?

Seriously. If Amazon controls so much of the industry’s sales, why do I need a Big 5 company when I can put my books on Amazon without them? ESPECIALLY when some publishers, like Hachette, prevent me from fully utilizing Amazon?
And that’s just the financial side of things. There are some very real and very frightening risks to the free flow of information when one corporation has the power to favor or disfavor expressive, creative works.
I agree. I was rejected hundreds of times by the Big 6. How dare they stifle my voice! The DOJ needs to force them to publish me!
When a corporation gets this kind of power, it can play favorites. It can pick winners and losers. It has picked winners and losers. Last summer, Paul Ryan’s book was published by Hachette [and was among the titles initially delisted by Amazon]. Paul Ryan’s a congressman; he has a pulpit. So he went on TV and complained. What happened? In a flash, his book was fully available again.
Amazon didn’t delist any Hachette titles. Stop the revisionist history nonsense. Amazon removed pre-order buttons, because it had no contract with Hachette.
Most authors don’t have the power to make that happen, of course. But you can see, the power to suppress or promote certain ideas and certain political flavors is there. And it’s a threat to free speech, plain and simple.
Actually, the threat to free speech is demanding that a retailer sell what you want them to sell. Next does the Authors Guild want to tell me what I can and can’t write?

The Authors Guild does this all the time. Not only do they make arguments that can easily be turned against them, they also make accusations against Amazon that can be applied to the Big 5, in much bigger ways. But the Authors Guild constantly defends the Big 5. It's just a house of bad logic cards.
This isn’t mere speculation; it has already had a chilling effect: Doug Preston describes how dozens of bestselling authors declined to sign an Authors United letter last summer for fear of retaliation from Amazon.
Show me ONE author who was retaliated against.
In fact, Doug Preston recently had a book promotion on Amazon’s Prime Day event. So Amazon retaliated against its #1 Critic by selling a fuckton of his books.
Damn, why won’t Amazon retaliate against me like that?

And since when did being afraid of someone equate to someone actually being injured? Authors were afraid, ergo Amazon must demonstrably be a monster?

Or maybe authors were afraid, because they're a bunch of babies?

As Barry put it in a recent Techdirt post:

All of which gives the lie to the oft-repeated Authors United claim that Amazon “retaliates”against authors. There’s no evidence at all for this charge; in fact, were it true, it’s hard to imagine how the books of every Authors United member, even those of floridly outspoken Authors United pitchman Doug Preston, would be available on Amazon, despite all the crazy accusations and anti-Amazon advocacy. These “author” organizations demonstrably have no fear at all of crossing Amazon. But the one group they never cross is the New York Big Five. Which is about all you need to know about where real retaliation, and real power, lies in the book industry.


Someone once said, “If you want to get noticed, pick a fight” (I thought it was Banksy, but couldn’t verify–if anyone knows, I’d be curious). Good advice, and I doubt anyone would claim you can get more attention with a blog post than you can by picking a fight. And clearly the AG isn’t across-the-board *afraid* of picking fights; look what it’s done WRT Amazon and Google. So why is it willing to pick fights with Amazon and Google, but not with legacy publishers? Why even within the relatively safe confines of the very blog post under discussion here do they not call out even a single legacy publisher by name?

I'll agree that authors are afraid. But they aren't afraid of Amazon, because if they truly were they wouldn't speak out.

You know, like how the Authors Guild never speaks out against the Big 5.
BTW: According to some news reports, self-published authors who once thought of Amazon as their ally are now feeling victimized. Why is that?
According to a talking squirrel in a dream I had, hearsay is not only admissible in court, but new provisions allow witnesses to also express how they feel about the hearsay and it’s totally iron-clad evidence. That’s how come we could burn all those mean old witches who were cursing my fields and making my pee pee shrink into my body.
Wait, is leading the question allowed?
Also, speaking of non-sequiturs, I love it when something is demonized without proof, because it always leads to good things. I mean, cats are satanic and evil and therefore need to be outlawed. What’s the worst that can happen?
MR: As we’ve seen time and time again, at the end of the day, Amazon is only interested in one thing —
To become the most customer-centric company on the planet?
its own welfare and obscene growth.
Damn! I was wrong again!

Amazon really needs to change their mission statement.
That became clear to a lot of the self-published authors who used to be on Team Amazon right when Amazon began pulling the rug out from under them on their royalty payments. When Amazon rolled out its subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, last year, it automatically enrolled most of the self-published authors who published with the KDP Select program in the subscription service, where readers got unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of books for $9.99 a month. So, all of a sudden, a lot of these indie authors’ royalty checks just plummeted. And there were some misgivings in the indie community; many of these writers thought they had a partner in Amazon.
We're your Authors Guild, pandering to you even if you can't get a real publishing contract! As long as, you know, it suits our current pro-publisher agenda…
I didn’t mind KU, because KDP Select is optional, and Amazon is only offering subscription services because customers want them. Incidentally, Amazon wasn’t the first ebook subscription service. KU was launched to compete with others. Competition is what everyone wants, right?
Worse, though, Amazon treats its indie authors as second-class citizens. Traditionally published books in Kindle Unlimited were paid for as if sold every time a reader read beyond a certain portion. Indie authors, on the other hand, are paid pro rata out of a pool, which pits indie authors against each other in a competition for readers: One author’s gain is another’s loss.
I already debunked this silliness when I fisked Scalzi. Subscription services aren’t zero sum. If someone borrows my book, you don’t lose $1.40. That what “one author’s gain is another’s loss” actually means.
And there is no limit to the number of books that can be borrowed, and the pool is only limited the same way the any industry’s gross sales are limited.
And how does Amazon calculate the amount of money that goes into the pool? No one knows but Amazon. There is a complete lack of transparency in how it determines what the pool is and, so, what any author’s royalties are. They expect authors to just trust them? It is shocking when you think about it. Imagine if a publisher said, “Don’t worry, we’ll pay you something out of our profits; just trust us.” Not exactly a model for professional authors to rely on.
I already explained this above, but I’ll add: KDP Select is opt-in. If you don’t like what you get paid, you opt out. And it’s not like professional authors EVER knew what their royalties would be. From the beginning, authors were asked to trust publishers with royalty statements. Trust the indecipherable figures. Trust that the numbers were true when we had no way to verify them. Trust that their withholding reserves against returns were fair and consistent.

With Amazon we find out within 30 days, instead of 180, what we get paid.

As for complete lack of transparency, anyone can read Amazon's KDP terms of use. It's transparent. But every single publishing contract varies to some degree. Where's the transparency there? Instead, we get NDAs that bestselling authors sign to never admit how high their royalties are compared to other authors. Via the Authors Guild:

If the Authors Guild is demanding transparency, how about starting there?

Things got even worse when Amazon announced that starting in July it will be splitting up the Kindle Direct royalty pool in a completely different fashion, based on the number of pages read — and this was announced just weeks before it took effect. We still don’t know how that will play out, but one thing is sure — if the per-page model benefits Amazon financially they will start forcing it on publishers, starting with the smallest, who have no bargaining power.
Shit. It sounds like the bank forcing me to pay my mortgage so I can live in this nice house.
Ha! Kidding! I don’t have a mortgage. I paid off my house with one month of Amazon royalties.

If you want to play, you pay. Everyone knows this.
But someone should worry about the poor publishers. And what better advocate than the Authors Guild?
Are they really too stupid to see this blatant conflict of interest?
Our biggest problem with Amazon vis-à-vis indie authors is that they do not treat their authors as professionals. They provide a take it or leave it contract. Yes, we have lots of problems with the standard contracts of traditional publishers — but at least they allow authors to individually negotiate terms. The KDP authors don’t even have that luxury — they are forced to accept Amazon’s terms and its unknowable royalties, or go somewhere else.
Uh, publishers keep rights. Like, forever. Amazon doesn’t. Authors can walk away from a KDP contract anytime. See my comments on this above. If you’d rather have the ability to negotiate your contractually obligated 25 author copies up to 30, and in exchange for that power give up ever being in control of your book again, knock yourself out.
Whoops, the problem is that Amazon has so dominated the market there is nowhere else to go if you want any reasonably sized potential audience.
Translation: The problem is that Amazon sells so goshdarn many books, they get to dictate their own terms. Except, you know, where they don’t. Like when legacy publishers forced the Agency Model on them, which hurt author sales.

But let's punish the company that made us more money than any other.
BTW: As Amazon continues to sell huge numbers of titles below cost and uses them as loss leaders to entice sales on other segments of its website, what will be the long-term effect on a thriving and robust literary marketplace?

Uh, cheap and plentiful books for everyone around the world?
MR: Just like any ecosystem, a thriving literary marketplace is a diverse, multifaceted literary marketplace. We need a diversity of publishers — big houses that can invest in major projects and distribute on a mass scale, as well as small houses committed to publishing marginalized voices.
Actually, the majority of us don’t need publishers. Fewer than 1% of authors need that extended paper distribution. .
We need diversity of authorship no less. And we need diversity in our distributors. We need independent stores with community ties and highly curated collections; big box stores for the selection they offer and their purchasing power; we need public libraries to serve their communities; school libraries to get kids reading; we need Amazon, too.
You need tricks when you don’t have truth. The buzzword is “diversity”. Who doesn’t want or like diversity?
The thing is, it’s a strawman. Amazon isn’t hurting diversity. Amazon is making consumers happy. You can’t force a consumer to shop where you want them to. You also can’t force a supplier to deal with a retailer. And how is selling more titles than ever, and allowing all authors to publish whatever books they want, and enabling readers to find any book they want, anything other than “diverse”? If this isn’t diversity, how would you characterize the Big Five’s function of “curating” titles by making sure 999 out of 1000 never even see the light of day?
You’re whining about the cow you’re currently milking.
Has there ever been a diverse marketplace as the AG describes it? Are retailers supposed to promote their competition? Are readers supposed to read only what certain companies want them to read?

Here’s the truth about publishers: they limit what they publish.
Here’s the truth about bookstores: they limit what they carry.
Here’s the truth about Amazon: they have no limits (except for certain types of erotica). And if they don't carry it, a third party can sell it via Amazon.
Any real fan of diversity wants more choices. That’s what Amazon offers.
Here's what Amazon doesn't do: prevent competition. Any supplier is free to go to any other retailer.
Our concern is that Amazon is ruining that necessary diversity.

If the Authors Guild truly wants diversity, their members need to do what I did, and start their own company.

Its loss leader pricing allowed it to capture its outsize market share. That market dominance enabled it to extract excruciating terms from publishers, which in turn led to a dangerous amount of consolidation among publishers.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, we see the effect this is all having on authors. In April, we at the Guild conducted our first major member survey since 2009. The findings aren’t encouraging. Median writing-related income dropped 24 percent in that time; full-time authors’ median income is down 30 percent, from $25,000 to $17,500.
Wow. Sobering. Perhaps maybe... I dunno... I don’t want to be out of line or anything... but perhaps the FUCKING AUTHORS GUILD CAN WRITE SOME FUCKING LETTERS TO THE FUCKING HEADS OF THE FUCKING BIG 5 AND FUCKING DEMAND HIGHER ROYALTIES. NAME AND SHAME THE MEMBERS OF THE BIG FIVE INDIVIDUALLY. YOU KNOW, THE WAY YOU’RE CONSTANTLY TRYING TO DO WITH AMAZON.
But whining for government intervention might work, too. Because maybe the government will break up Amazon, and Amazon will die, and then we call go back to higher book prices, fewer book choices, and lower book royalties.
Yeah. That sounds a lot better than actually advocating for authors.
Advances are down — authors need these to keep the lights on while they finish their books. These developments are unsustainable. We need to turn things around so that authorship can once again be a sustainable career, and so that authors can continue to create the sort of work that sustains the rest of the industry — and that sustains its readers and our culture at large.
In these carefree days of crowdfunding, we don't need advances. And crowdfunders only want a book in return, not 75% of your royalties for life plus 70 years.

But there is, indeed, something unsustainable happening.
It’s called the status quo.
BTW: What kind of feedback are you receiving from your members following last week’s appeal to the DOJ?
MR: The response has been terrific. We’re really looking forward to seeing how many signatures the letter collects. We have a huge number already.
I can’t feel bad for my peers when so many are so stupid. I don't know what the "huge" number is (I'm guessing somewhere between five and a gazillion), but anyone who signs that ridiculous letter is either showing they have Stockholm Syndrome, are motivated soley by greed, or are a product of a failed educational symptom.
Here's my plea to not just the Authors Guild, but to humanity in general: Think about why you believe what you believe, and then logically and ably defend your beliefs. Everyone knows that publishers are being disintermediated by Amazon. And everyone knows that bigshot authors--those status quo bestsellers who have gotten fat off the gravy train--don't want publishers to become extinct. That position is defensible. Take that position. It reveals you as greedy, self-interested dicks, but it's honest. Trying to guise greed in the form of altruism is evil. Using the media for your propaganda is insidious. Repeating the same easily refutable nonsense arguments and accusations, over and over, without ever engaging in public debate, is embarrassing. If you really believe Amazon is bad, learn more about the situation, or take a closer look at your own motivation. I challenge anyone from the "huge number" who signed the Authors Guild letter to write a guest post for my blog about why they did, defending their point of view. You can even do it anonymously. Shoot me an email. Explain to the world why you sided with a bunch of morons. Prove that I'm wrong. Am I asking a lot? For you to justify your signature? Or are you someone who votes without knowing why they do it? Someone who makes decisions without thinking? Someone who eagerly wants to ban dihydrogen monoxide? Surely a single signatory out of that huge number has the guts to step up and explain, in their own words, why they want government intervention with Amazon, and what they expect will happen. My blog is yours. I'll be waiting....

221 comments:

1 – 200 of 221   Newer›   Newest»
Lee Child said...

Listen … hear that? No, me neither. That’s the sound of the point being missed all over the internet. You’ve mounted a loyal and stirring defense against a Section 1 antitrust charge, but you’ve wasted your time. This isn’t a Section 1 issue. It’s a Section 2 issue. Because:

We’ve seen that Amazon turns over more than a thousand million dollars a week. How much of that is Hachette’s? Almost none. An utterly, utterly, utterly insignificant proportion. So why the squabble last year? That’s the issue.

Now, Section 2 law is vague, largely untested, devoid of consensus, and devoid of coherent precedent. So I don’t expect a result, or even an investigation, especially because Amazon runs cloud services for the government. But:

Section 2 says if a dominant retailer or distributor later also becomes a manufacturer, it may not discriminate against a competing manufacturer it previously retailed or distributed, absent a compelling business reason. Squeezing margins could be a compelling business reason, of course, but did Amazon put the same level of scrutiny on all its many millions of individually insignificant suppliers? Empirically, no, it didn’t. So why the unique focus on Hachette? Because of the Gazelle Project, obviously. Which was a strategic error. The Gazelle Project should have died when Amazon Publishing started, because of Section 2. Or, if the Gazelle Project was too important to abandon, Amazon Publishing shouldn’t have been started. Not rocket surgery.

Then there were three minor tactical errors: Randy Miller was publicly mouthy - “I did everything I could to screw with their performance” - and an unnamed spokesperson admitted “We took steps to reduce availability” of Hachette’s product. (I know the shills and the fanboys gallantly stick to the it-was-Hachette’s-fault spin, but you’ve been cut off at the knees. Better deal with reality.) And then mysteriously Paul Ryan’s book didn’t suffer from reduced availability, which was dumb, with a Democrat running the DoJ.

All without anything similar aimed at the other millions of insignificant suppliers. So it’s all a little murky, vis-à-vis Section 2. Again, I don’t expect anything substantive, but books are generally seen as vaguely important, so the initial think-of-the-children rhetoric might get attention, and then maybe there might be a back-channel whisper: “Enough with the macho bullshit - make sure you treat all your small suppliers exactly the same, will ya?”

Which is all anyone wants. Amazon should retail and distribute everyone’s stuff on a level playing field, without fear or favor or behind-the-scenes vindictive fantasies. Can you argue against that?

Alan Tucker said...

Lee,

I'm pretty sure Hachette and the rest of the Big 5 have better terms than I do as an indie author. Am I supposed to shake my fist and cry foul at Amazon for that? The problem the Big 5 have is that Amazon is retailing and distributing everyone's stuff on a level playing field. At least the most level one we've ever seen.

Hachette happened to be first up in the line up the DOJ established a few years ago when the then Big 6 decided it was a good idea to collude to keep ebook prices high. Once one of the subsequent publishers agreed to a deal, it didn't take long (a matter of weeks) before all of them had deals in place for the next few years. I'd be willing to bet all of those deals look remarkably similar. So, how is everyone being treated differently again?

Barry Eisler said...

Lee said:

"Which is all anyone wants. Amazon should retail and distribute everyone’s stuff on a level playing field, without fear or favor or behind-the-scenes vindictive fantasies. Can you argue against that?"

I'd try, but I don't understand your point. Leave aside the vague "level playing field" imagery and "fear or favor" cliche and silly "vindictive fantasies" rhetoric... are you saying all retailers must treat all their suppliers equally? Will this rule apply only to retailers, or does it apply to all companies, including members of the Big Five, as well? Or is it a rule you want applied only to Amazon?

And are you arguing for this concept (whatever it is) based on personal preference, or is there some law you could cite for the proposition? I ask because even though I'm not an antitrust lawyer, I did look up Section 2, and it doesn't seem to include any of the language you attribute to it. Here's what I found:

"Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $100,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $1,000,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court."

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/2

Are you referring to some other law? Again, I'm not an antitrust lawyer, so if there's some applicable law I'm unaware of that could support your preference that Amazon/all retailers/all companies must (I think) treat all suppliers equally, I'd be grateful if you could let me know. It would certainly be an interesting exercise to apply a law like that to publishers with regard to their supplier authors.

Elka said...

Lee, your last paragraph is something that I can wholeheartedly agree with.
But since we are already at it, why only focus on Amazon? Let also focus on Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

And why not also focus on bookstores, Walmart and all those airport bookracks? Because is totally unfair that they have so many of your books (and of Patterson and Roberts and co.) displayed cover out, but none of mine and majority of my fellow self-publishers’ aren’t even hiding on their shelves. That is totally unfair, don’t’ you agree?

Just because your books sell and your publisher pays for the placement, there’s no reason why your books should be there on the front table or on the top bestselling spots in that lovely New Your Times, right?

Well, since you were the one who wrote “Which is all anyone wants. Amazon should retail and distribute everyone’s stuff on a level playing field, without fear or favor or behind-the-scenes vindictive fantasies. Can you argue against that?” I don’t know why I’m even asking, you are bound to agree with me. ;)

William Ockham said...

It is true that any antitrust action against Amazon would proceed under Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. However, the DoJ doesn't have the same view as the first commenter. Here is what they say:

The Department believes that antitrust liability for unilateral, unconditional refusals to deal with rivals should not play a meaningful part in section 2 enforcement.

I am not a lawyer, but I think the DoJ statement is clearly stated in plain English. None of the actions decried by the publishing industry pressure groups is going to result in antitrust liability for Amazon. This campaign is designed to rally the troops and keep the focus on the evil 'Zon. It seems to be working.

William Ockham said...

There is one potential liability issue for Amazon under antitrust law that I see. If KDP Select ever exceeds 30% the ebook market, the exclusivity requirements could become an issue. However, the short-term nature of it makes that less likely. If there is no perceived harm to consumers, a case is unlikely.

Sabrina Chase said...

In April, we at the Guild conducted our first major member survey since 2009. The findings aren’t encouraging. Median writing-related income dropped 24 percent in that time; full-time authors’ median income is down 30 percent, from $25,000 to $17,500.

To be a useful statement, the Guild should include membership counts for the years in question, and the income ranges. The loss of members could also cause a change in the median income.

Authors *can* leave the Guild, right? Or is that for life+70 years too?

Bridget McKenna said...

Good to see the Joe and Barry Show hit the Internet again. First thought on reading the original AG piece was "Another travesty piece in which the interviewee supplied the questions." David Streitfeld couldn't have written more ridiculous ones, and come to think of it, he probably doesn't write his own either.

The reason questions are far more important than answers is that the question frames and limits the answer. And that's especially true if you're asking the questions of yourself, because you will slavishly answer them as intended. Just ask Mary Rasenberger.

T. M. Bilderback said...

Well...it's a well-known fact that all the people at Amazon - from Jeff Bezos down to the lowly warehouse workers - are notorious users of dihydrogen monoxide. Something should be done.

And, if anyone associated with the Big 5 are found to be users of dihydrogen monoxide, they should stand up and admit it, too!

I use it regularly. But I'm not ashamed.

Lee Child said...

@ Barry: and n.b. "monopolist" here is usually taken to mean great but less than 100% market power - Refusal to Deal: "... courts have, in some circumstances, found antitrust liability when a firm with market power refused to do business with a competitor. For instance, if the monopolist refuses to sell a product or service to a competitor that it makes available to others, or if the monopolist has done business with the competitor and then stops, the monopolist needs a legitimate business reason for its policies."

Murky, as I said, but slightly persuasive. And I don't see my "vindictive fantasies" as silly - not when a VP goes up against a tiny supplier and boasts, "I did everything I could to screw with their performance." That's silly.

And I'm sure your misunderstanding is deliberate and provocative - I'm saying antitrust law should be followed, in those specific cases where it's applicable. Therefore, @ Elka, yes, if airport book racks or WalMart became publishers too, then they should continue to deal with previous suppliers as before, absent solid reasons.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

Hey Barry, thanks for taking the time to thoroughly fisk this "interview". And thanks for the mentions!

BTW, did you notice that Lee didn't just misquote the Sherman Antitrust Act? He also misquoted the Orwell letter and took it out of context. The correct quote is:

"Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store."

It reads a lot different in context, doesn't it?

Lee Child said...

@ Nate - my point was Amazon owned its actions "to reduce sales" of Hachette product, which was an unwise admission, and which continues to make the shills and fanboys look silly when they claim otherwise.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

@ Lee,

You really should not have used the words "market power", Lee, because you just called your entire argument into question. With only 40% of the trade book market, Amazon arguably does not have market power.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

You know, Lee, that is the second time that you've engaged in name-calling.

And to think I took time to double check my comments for tone and accuracy before posting them.

This really isn't worth my time.

Joe Konrath said...

Thanks for chiming in, Lee.

If I recall my Sherman Act, Section 1 is about restraining trade in interstate commerce. That's not what I argued against. But I'm pretty sure that here, and elsewhere, I've pretty soundly crushed AG's appeal to Section 2. As for this:

Or, if the Gazelle Project was too important to abandon, Amazon Publishing shouldn’t have been started.

Section 2 does not exist to protect competitors. So Amazon wanting to beat competition and cut out middlemen is legal.

Accordingly, mere harm to competitors is not a basis for antitrust liability.

Are you suggesting that Amazon promotes its own A Pub titles ahead of its competition?

If you are, can you point to some legalese that shows Amazon is abusing its market power by favoring its own brand.

Assuming you find that legalese, I have to ask if you know how A Pub promotion works internally at Amazon. I know you know a lot, but do you know what the various Amazon imprints have to do in order to promote one of their titles?

Hint: they can't just take whatever promo time and space that they want. In fact, far from it.

If you're suggesting that Amazon promotes, say Shaken by me (the first title Amazon published by a legacy author) over any other legacy title, thereby favoring their own brand, I suggest you're wrong.

Amazon should retail and distribute everyone’s stuff on a level playing field, without fear or favor or behind-the-scenes vindictive fantasies. Can you argue against that?

Yes, I can. First of all, Amazon is allowed to sell whatever it wants to sell. Second, it's allowed to make separate deals with separate suppliers. Third, unless Amazon is sending thugs to your business to set it ablaze, or has a flotilla of ships parked outside your warehouse to prevent shipments, you can't use the word "fear" when discussing legal negotiation tactics.

Does Big 5 publishing operate on a level playing field? Or do they get to pick which authors get paid more, and get the big marketing dollars? Should we level out the playing field there, and make sure every book gets the same advance and same advertising budget?

Smart Debut Author said...

Credit to Lee Child for his willingness to engage in public discussion, and for sounding like he's thought this through rationally. Agree or disagree with him, he's a class act.

Unlike Douglas Preston, who is an embarrassment of a spokesperson, and whose statements sound irrational, ill-considered, and self-serving even to a lay audience.

Lee, you have my sympathy. It can't be easy publicly aligning yourself with AU.

You must be cringing every time Doug opens his mouth.

Joe Konrath said...

And I don't see my "vindictive fantasies" as silly - not when a VP goes up against a tiny supplier and boasts, "I did everything I could to screw with their performance." That's silly.

It is silly. But is it illegal? You know, illegal like Apple colluding with five publishers to price fix?

I remember how disillusioned I was the first time a bookseller explained coop to me. I was prevented from doing signings, by my publisher, because they didn't want to pay coop.

How is that any different than the situation you mentioned? Wasn't my performance being screwed with?

Bookstores and publishers have always had deals. If one side doesn't play ball, the other retaliates. And there is often collateral damage. That's what happens when you sign away your rights.

Joe Konrath said...

You know, Lee, that is the second time that you've engaged in name-calling.

Thanks for adding to the discussion, Nate. I'll opine that Lee mentioning "shills and fanboys" is a lot more polite than I was in the blog post, and Lee also didn't call you that specifically, so I don't think it counts as name calling.

That said, let's all keep the comments focused on the topics, not people.

This really isn't worth my time.

Yes, it is.

Lee Child has the integrity to defend his position and respond to detractors, and that's admirable, especially since he's the only person who does so. It's also a great opportunity to engage in intelligent discourse, which is something my blog often lacks. I don't get enough opposing POVs here. I don't learn anything from people agreeing with me.

This isn't personal. My tone is intentional; it draws traffic and thus attention to issues I believe need to be spotlighted. But I haven't any animosity toward anyone in the Authors Guild, or Authors United. I know a lot of them, and they're decent company.

Lee Child said...

Joe, sure, life is unfair. Got it. And none of us really know anything about antitrust law. Got that, too. But your publisher's unwillingness to invest in promo dollars for you was its right, and really has nothing to do with the FTC or the DoJ. For you to compare the two is a little solipsistic, no?

But the Gazelle Project is - just - smelly enough that I'm betting that back-channel whisper happens, which is the whole point of this process. We'll know in a few years. Let's revisit the issue then.

Joe Konrath said...

You must be cringing every time Doug opens his mouth.

I'd guess not.

Let's say you made 25 million dollars a year, and in order to maintain that income, once a month you were required to dress up in a chicken suit and stand on a busy street corner with a big sign that says, "I'm a moron!".

No matter what that sign says, you aren't a moron. You're a smart guy, protecting your income.

Lee Child said...

I'm sure you'll laugh, but I do it to preserve the possibility of newbies getting to $25m a year. KDP is great, but you're reaching a small subset of the global readership, with low sales numbers, albeit nicely feather-bedded by the 70%. But some writers want access to all the world's readers, in all formats and all languages. I'd like that possibility to be there for them. After all, isn't this year's really smart debut author Paula Hawkins?

Joe Konrath said...

But your publisher's unwillingness to invest in promo dollars for you was its right, and really has nothing to do with the FTC or the DoJ.

True. And I'm contending that Amazon removing Hachette pre-order buttons was within its right as well. I brought up that example as an emotional corollary, not a legal one. Companies are allowed to do those sorts of things. They do it all the time. That's business.

Lee Child said...

Joe, they're - possibly - not allowed to do that stuff to pre-existing suppliers after becoming competitors themselves. Starting AP had antitrust implications. It was a kind of Catch-22. They needed to modify an earlier approach but didn't. You can't wish that away. It's the whole point here.

Barry Eisler said...

Lee said:

"And I'm sure your misunderstanding is deliberate and provocative - I'm saying antitrust law should be followed, in those specific cases where it's applicable."

Not at all--if that's what you'd said, I'd have agreed with it. But who wouldn't?

"I'm betting that back-channel whisper happens, which is the whole point of this process."

On this, we can agree. Or, as you put it in your first comment:

"So it’s all a little murky, vis-à-vis Section 2. Again, I don’t expect anything substantive, but books are generally seen as vaguely important, so the initial think-of-the-children rhetoric might get attention, and then maybe there might be a back-channel whisper..."

Not only are you the only AU person with the integrity to try to debate its talking points; you're the only one with the integrity to acknowledge what it's really up to. The antitrust rhetoric is just a stalking horse no one actually expects to go anywhere; the real aim is a public relations effort leading to a whisper campaign you hope will put pressure on Amazon. Hence the use of the propaganda techniques I discuss in this post and in one I did with Techdirt a few days ago:

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150729/15551431793/authors-guilded-united-representing-not-authors.shtml

As I said in the last paragraph of my section of this post:

"...sometimes the propagandists win. But this is why it’s so important that their tactics, as well as their aims, be constantly exposed."

You guys employ propaganda such as "think-of-the-children rhetoric" to achieve an outcome you believe is desirable. To prevent that outcome, I do what I can to expose the propaganda for what it is. And I appreciate the assist you just provided. :)

But do you ever wonder why Authors United et al are so afraid of making a straight-up, honest argument? You just made one; why can't the organization you're part of?

Joe Konrath said...

But some writers want access to all the world's readers, in all formats and all languages. I'd like that possibility to be there for them.

I agree.

I was with three major publishers. I sold a few hundred thousand books through them.

In a little over a year, I've sold 200,000 books in German. Via Amazon.

The possibility is there. And I didn't sign away my rights for life and 17.5%.

Will I get to $25m? Not ever. But this blog isn't A Newbie's Guide to Publishing Bestsellers. My readership is happy to pay their gas bill with their monthly earnings. Most writers won't get foreign deals no matter which path they pursue. Your path is awesome for the 1% of the 1%. My path is egalitarian. If a newbie, reading the AG and AU nonsense, believes it and fears Amazon, they're missing opportunities. Which is why I fisk the nonsense.

Anonymous said...

How is Amazon a competitor? Every brick and mortar bookstore I've ever visited doesn't carry anything from an Amazon imprint?

Lee Child said...

Barry, really? You want to "prevent" the future viability of traditional publishing? Why? You tried it, didn't like it, so it must be destroyed?

Lee Child said...

@ Anonymous - important to understand that Amazon was a distributor that became a publisher, hence a competitor. If B&N had carried AP books, then became a publisher itself, and then gave AP an unreasonably hard time about carrying its books, your point would have merit. But as it stands, it doesn't.

Smart Debut Author said...


"After all, isn't this year's really smart debut author Paula Hawkins?"


Maybe. Or maybe she just got lucky. Without knowing her story in detail (which I don't), all I have to go on is some NYT fluff piece bio which doesn't make her look smart at all. Just broke and desperate, and willing to gamble it all on a last-ditch Hail Mary throw, submitting an incomplete novel and praying. I'm sure that's just apocryphal NYT mythmaking, though -- given the NYT's apparent inability to do any real fact checking on anything publishing related -- so I have to say I just don't know.

I will say this, though: I wouldn't have traded places with Paula Hawkins at any point in her career up until the very moment she won the publishing lottery. "Access" to a global audience or to the possibility of getting $25M a year is like "access" to the lottery's hundred-million-dollar prize. Sure, it's a path. But it's a path with a VERY LOW expected value in a mathematical sense, in that it returns exactly $0 for most participants.

And I wouldn't be so quick to discount $25M paydays for indie authors, either. We're talking about a brand new industry sector -- barely 5 years since indie publishing truly became a viable alternative to traditional -- and we've already seen dozens of indie authors making seven figures. Ridley Scott optioning indie books for film. Ingram cutting decent-scale distribution deals with indies. Barriers are still falling, and formerly closed doors are still opening.

I think it's smart to hang on to one's IP rights now, and see how the landscape will look in 3-5 years.
It's a safe bet that traditional publishing's glory days are now behind us, while indie publishing has just started to spread its wings.

Barry Eisler said...

Lee said:

"Barry, really? You want to "prevent" the future viability of traditional publishing? Why? You tried it, didn't like it, so it must be destroyed?"

Sigh. For a guy who likes to chide people for deliberate and provocative misunderstandings...

Why are you trying to put those words in my mouth? You know I didn't say them. Here's what I have said, many times, most repeatedly in very post you're commenting on:

"But what’s critical to understand is that the most fundamental purpose of the Authors Guild, Authors United, the American Booksellers Association, and the Association of Authors is to *preserve the publishing industry in its current incarnation*."

I even italicized the last clause in that sentence in the original to make it harder to miss.

If you can think of a way I might use the English language to make even clearer that the outcome I'm trying to prevent is the "preservation of the publishing industry in its current incarnation," I'm open to ideas. Whatever you might imagine, though, I don't think it could legitimately be the words you just tried to attribute to me.

As for the "traditional publishing must be destroyed?" part--as I've said many times before, when someone is sick you don't want him to die; you want him to get well. Why would I want Amazon to not have robust competition? I've seen what happens to authors when a publishing cartel like the Big Five faces no meaningful competition. I certainly don't want to repeat the no-competition exercise with Amazon or anyone else. I welcome competition in publishing--which is why I'm glad Amazon has stepped into the ring, and why I wish the Big Five would whine less and compete more.

You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think that last comment of yours was just a lame prank to avoid engaging anything else I've said here. Including the questions I closed my last comment with. Here, I'll run them by you again:

"But do you ever wonder why Authors United et al are so afraid of making a straight-up, honest argument?"

"You just made one; why can't the organization you're part of?"

Courtney Milan said...

Lee, I have a simple question for you.

If you think there's a legitimate action here, why don't you (and authors who are similarly situated) bring a civil antitrust suit? You literally do not need the DOJ to do anything. You can file your own lawsuit. If you're right, and this is as egregious as you believe, you get attorneys fees and treble damages. You guys could raise $100K for a NYT ad, but not this?

You think Amazon is guilty. You think they're destroying author livelihoods and the book publishing industry. You think the DOJ is unlikely to act. If all those things are true, and you are literally capable of bringing the suit yourself, what on earth are you waiting for?

As to the rest: I am not an antitrust lawyer, either, but I do know a random ton of stuff about antitrust law, and everyone is essentially wrong.

Barry and Joe: You can't understand antitrust law by reading the text of the Sherman Act. The Sherman Act is understood as opening the door for courts to create common law in the area of antitrust. The actual text of the statute bears little resemblance to what is enforced. It's all precedent these days.

Lee: I would not characterize Section 2 as "vague, largely untested, devoid of consensus, and devoid of coherent precedent." I would characterize it as "the Chicago School of Economics has convinced courts that they should generally not intervene on what they used to think of as monopolization unless it's extremely egregious, and pretty much if Richard Posner expresses an opinion on antitrust it will become the law of the land." In other words, I think you should have said, "I dislike current Section 2 jurisprudence" instead.

For instance: Amazon can't be guilty of monopolization, and probably not even attempted monopolization, because its market share probably isn't large enough. In general, paper books and ebooks are pretty darned good substitutes for one another, and so I doubt they'd be considered separate markets. And "more than 40% of the total book sale market" is not that exciting to antitrust law. Penguin/Random House produce about 40% of all books that are sold, too. This is an area that contains big players.

More importantly, your story about the Gazelle Project is a little hard to make out as an antitrust violation. You're right that it would be illegal for Amazon to use extensive market power in one market (book selling) to obtain market power in another market (book publishing). But to get to an attempted monopolization claim, you have to that Amazon (1) engaged in anticompetitive behavior, having (2) a specific intent to monopolize the relevant market, with (3) a dangerous probability that they will succeed in obtaining a monopoly in that market. Even granting you #1 and #2 on Amazon's behalf, getting rid of small publishers could not have a dangerous probability of giving Amazon a monopoly as a publisher of books, because most books are not produced by small publishers. These sorts of actions might give Amazon a more secure foothold in book publishing, but the law prohibits monopolization, not getting footholds.

So, TL;DR: Section 2 probably isn't going to be any use to you as constituted.

In any event, I would personally appreciate it if you could bring that lawsuit against Amazon. You might be able to force them to divulge sales numbers, finally, to prove market power questions. I suspect that's the only way we will get graphs from Jeff Bezos that have units on the axes.

And hey, I like having numbers. Something good should come of this all.

Rob @ 52 Novels said...

I'm not meaning to be obtuse... I'm genuinely struggling to understand a couple of things. The first is how an executive who last worked at Amazon in 2006---one THE EVRYTHING STORE portrayed as particularly sadistic---is necessarily relevant to what happened with Hachette in 2014. Further, the executive was in charge of dealing with European publishing houses where antitrust laws, I presume, are different.

The second is reducing sales equivalent to "refusal to deal"? Hachette has north of 150,000 titles listed at Amazon and my recollection is that only a fraction were unavailable in paper (ebooks apparently we're unaffected). Granted, the affected titles were from arguably important front listers, but tens of thousands of Hachette titles in all formats remained available for purchase for the duration of the dispute.

Lee Child said...

Barry, I'm not really "part of" AU (and certainly not a member of AG) and I'm not entirely sure AU is an organization as such. No membership process, no officers, no by-laws, no nothing. I'm speaking for myself here.

And OK, you're trying to prevent the preservation of the publishing industry in its current incarnation. De minimis. What's so wrong with it? It's an upfront gamble - go wide, maybe do well. Are you against MLB too? Because not everyone makes it? The SEALs?

And for a guy who likes to chide people for Orwellianisms? How is the publishing industry sick? It's massively dominating worldwide, consistently profitable, and a lot of fun.

Lee Child said...

Courtney, hi. I never sue anybody. Life's too short. And realpolitik suggests that 99% of stuff is settled by other means, which I hope this will be.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say the debate in the comments section has a lot more going for it then the article its responding to.

Some of these fisking posts really are TLDR for my tastes. I'm really interested in the topic and can't bear reading them, guys. I don't think it's the best way to go about this.

Also, Lee Child is my damn hero. Between here and The Passive Voice, the dude comes in and makes cogent arguments and shuts a lot of mouths. Is he right? Maybe not on all points.

But sometimes lately the echo chamber has gotten so out of hand in indie publishing circles. It's beginning to remind me of the Trad Pub lemmings and the same echo chamber tactics they use to make each other feel better.

I thought us indies were a little smarter, a little better than that. Apparently not. We're all just people, subject to the same biases.

But right or wrong, for my money, Lee Child makes an awful lot of sense and is way more even-handed in his comments than most of those opposing him in conversation. Oh, and he's entertaining without being strident.

Thanks, Lee.

Barry Eisler said...

Courtney, I think your comment should be its own blog post (even if it does school me on antitrust law--though in fairness, I've never claimed to have more than a little Internet knowledge on that topic).

My only concern is that the more we get sucked into any form of antitrust discussion, the more we're playing into the AG/AU/ABA/AAR propaganda framework. After all, Lee himself just acknowledged that the antitrust stuff isn't the point--it's all about the "back-channel whisper" campaign.

Matt said...

Joe, please stop saying pre-order buttons were removed. You're perpetuating an untruth. Amazon didn't just remove pre-order buttons, they REPLACED them with "buy when available" buttons. Readers could still effectively pre-order titles. My guess is the publishers were annoyed as for some reason they now couldn't game the best seller lists with these sales by counting months of sales on one day.

Courtney Milan said...

Lee, assume that this was a more collective you. The question is: why haven't the Authors' Guild sued Amazon?

They surely cannot make the same claim.

Lee Child said...

Barry, to be fair, it's about establishing - via propaganda, if you must - the possibility that Amazon might have some antitrust vulnerability, so that a back-channel shortcut might save everyone a lot of hassle. Not quite as disconnected as you're making it out to be.

Smart Debut Author said...

Here's a question:

If the propaganda is a sideshow, what does the AG/AU/ABA/AAR really *want*?

In concrete terms what outcome would they like to see happen as a result of a backchannel whisper campaign against a freshly-cowed and vulnerable-feeling Amazon?

-- Better percentage splits for publishers?
-- More guaranteed co-op visibility?
-- Fewer Amazon-imprint books (and KU and non-KU indie books) appearing on the Best Seller lists and Amazon marketing emails and therefore cannibalizing "their" sales?

Barry Eisler said...

Lee said:

I'm not really "part of" AU (and certainly not a member of AG) and I'm not entirely sure AU is an organization as such. No membership process, no officers, no by-laws, no nothing."

I think this might be part of what creates the impression that you're part of the organization:

https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=lee+child+authors+united&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

"I'm speaking for myself here."

While explaining your take on the organization's whisper-campaign strategy. That said, I don't think this is a distinction worth fighting over; happy to accept that you're not part of the organization and are speaking for yourself.

"And OK, you're trying to prevent the preservation of the publishing industry in its current incarnation. De minimis. What's so wrong with it? It's an upfront gamble - go wide, maybe do well. Are you against MLB too? Because not everyone makes it? The SEALs?"

My critiques of the legacy publishing industry are about... the legacy publishing industry, not baseball or the military. "Upfront gamble" and all the rest is certainly an aspect of publishing, and, I've seen before, the aspect you prefer to emphasize. But the industry has also historically been run like a cartel; is characterized by asymmetrical power and abuse of author suppliers; and is propped up in part by the kind of propaganda I discuss in this post.

"And for a guy who likes to chide people for Orwellianisms? How is the publishing industry sick? It's massively dominating worldwide, consistently profitable, and a lot of fun."

For the sickness I'm describing, see my paragraph above. And I thought massively dominating was bad and needed to be stopped? Consistently profitable...the AG/AU are always going on about Standard Oil. Weren't they consistently profitable, too?

As for the fun part, definitely for some--but then so is, say, an economy that delivers rewards to only one percent of the citizenry. The fact that a few people succeed in a system isn't really an argument for the system's overall desirability.

For the record, I have no problem with lotteries. I just want them to be run transparently. And to face competition.

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

Lee Child said...

Barry, the least transparent operation on earth is Amazon. Every single one of your dealings with them is unaudited and unauditable, unverified and unverifiable, and completely secret in its favor. You should worry about that, and I'll worry about my stuff.

Nirmala said...

She says, "n April, we at the Guild conducted our first major member survey since 2009. The findings aren’t encouraging. Median writing-related income dropped 24 percent in that time; full-time authors’ median income is down 30 percent, from $25,000 to $17,500."

Now let's see, during the period from 2009 to 2015, what happened to publishers' profits. They must have gone down by 30% or so and that would be why they reduced the amount they pay their authors. Right?

Wrong. During that period, sales were relatively flat, but profits and profit margins were up: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/how-much-money-the-biggest-publishers-actually-make/

So then why are author's making less? Could it be because publishers increased their profit margins by paying authors less? And how exactly is that Amazon's fault?

And wouldn't it seem only fair that if authors have lost 24% of their income over the last 5 years that average salaries in the publishing industry itself would have gone down in the last five years also?

Wrong again, salaries have mostly gone up:
http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/59399-publishing-s-new-normal.html
http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/64083-publishing-s-holding-pattern-2013-salary-survey.html

And with authors only making on average $17,500 a year, it would not be fair for the people working to publish their books to make much more than that. Right?

Wrong once more. Average salaries in the publishing industry are many multiples of what their own authors earn across all positions in publishing: http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Industry=Publishing/Salary

Rasenberger implies that publishers are being forced by Amazon to treat their authors worse and worse every year. This would seem reasonable if they were not able to afford to pay themselves well or if they were not making the same profits anymore. And yet since they are still making the same amount of profit, the only possible explanation for traditionally published authors' reduced advances and income is that they are being royally screwed by their own publishers.

Anonymous said...

Lee,

"Barry, the least transparent operation on earth is Amazon. Every single one of your dealings with them is unaudited and unauditable, unverified and unverifiable, and completely secret in its favor. You should worry about that, and I'll worry about my stuff."

You realize it's August 1st, not April 1st, yes?

Lee Child said...

@ Smart Debut Author (gotta ask, smart and an author you may be, but for how long can a person be a debut?) ... you say, "I think it's smart to hang on to one's IP rights now, and see how the landscape will look in 3-5 years. It's a safe bet that traditional publishing's glory days are now behind us, while indie publishing has just started to spread its wings."

Not totally sure I would argue with that, but I do worry - a little bit - that it's a form of timidity or procrastination. Probably publishing will still be fine in 3 - 5 years ... you're passing up some major opportunities. Waiting-and-seeing could waste time. Maybe it's an age thing. You must be younger than me. I'll be dead in 5 years, and need to deal with the present as it is.

And you asked, what do we want? To be treated the same Amazon's other utterly insignificant suppliers, in a normative, combative, adversarial manner, but without the weird Gazelle Project hostility ... like an ironing board supplier, for those who remember my last exchange on Joe's site.

Lee Child said...

Anonymous - yes, I know it's August 1st. My mother-in-law's birthday, actually. Now tell me how you audit or verify your sales figures from Amazon. Oh wait, you don't. You can't. You just believe what you're told. Which is OK, because large corporations always tell the truth. Right?

Barry Eisler said...

Lee said:

"The least transparent operation on earth is Amazon. Every single one of your dealings with them is unaudited and unauditable, unverified and unverifiable, and completely secret in its favor. You should worry about that, and I'll worry about my stuff."

In this comment, I see two possible differences between us.

First, I agree Amazon should be pressured to be more transparent, and more subject to audits and verification. But the same can and should be said about every incumbent player in the system. Criticizing Amazon for excessive secrecy without all criticizing the Big Five is tendentious and misleading. Which is why we see it constantly from the AG/AU/ABA/AAR.

Second, I'm not worried about your "stuff," or even particularly about mine. My focus is on reforming the publishing system to make it produce better results for readers, writers, and society as a whole. For me, the fact that you, I, or any other individual author is doing well in some aspect of the system isn't particularly relevant.

Lee Child said...

Barry - you say Amazon should be pressured to be **more** transparent, and **more** subject to audits and verification. There you go again, with the Orwell thing. Amazon isn't transparent **at all** and is **in no way** currently subject to audits and verification. Whereas the Big 5 has well-established contract provisions for same often exercised. Nothing tendentious or misleading about that.

John Ellsworth said...

Interesting debate but may I respectfully submit that its parties have shown up in the wrong courthouse?

Even a brief reading of Amazon's homestate's statutes regarding business practices by Amazon in its home state (being the state of Washington, we can all agree--I hope), exposes Amazon to a hell of lot more potential liability than antitrust conceivably brings to the table even on the best pro-publisher day of its codified life.

I'm talking about Chapter 19.86 RCW UNFAIR BUSINESS PRACTICES — CONSUMER PROTECTION

More doesn't need to be said until one has immersed him or herself in this very understandable set of laws that enable even private individuals to trouble Amazon under this statute and its off-shoots in any number of interesting ways.

Again, to the AU and DP: why wait? The statutes are there. Avail yourselves, make your tortured case, and may the best (unliving, something like a legal zombie) man win.

Barry Eisler said...

Lee, respectfully, I don't think either of us has done a survey of the industry, so we're each coming to conclusions based on what we know from our own contracts and those of other authors we know.

With that in mind, I can tell you that as a factual matter you're mistaken in claiming "Amazon isn't transparent **at all** and is **in no way** currently subject to audits and verification." Every one of my Amazon contracts contains audit provisions, and this is true also for other Amazon authors I know. As for the "isn't transparent **at all**" charge, I have more access to my sales data through Amazon than I ever did through any of my previous publishers. And have you ever seen an Amazon royalty statement? Readily understandable when it arrives every month, unlike the impenetrable gibberish I used to receive twice a year.

Which isn't to say that Amazon couldn't do better in various ways, along with the legacy industry itself. But I think you'd be on firmer ground if you dialed back the "**not at all**" rhetoric. And if you broadened your concerns to include publishers other than just Amazon.

Lee Child said...

@ John Ellsworth - actually Amazon's *real* exposure was detailed in Kathryn Schulz's piece in the July 20 issue of The New Yorker.

Lee Child said...

Barry, OK, point taken re AP contracts. Apologies - my ignorance. How does KDP compare?

Brian said...

All the mentions of propaganda called this helpful little instructional film to mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rq2aCuYSB_c

Nirmala said...

Lee: Thanks... that song, I feel the earth move under my feet, is going through my head now :)

Fortunately, I live in Arizona which is one of the most geologically stable places on earth.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Just sitting here enjoying my popcorn...

Lee Child said...

Nirmala - yeah, puts it all in proportion, right? And to your earlier point - rewards are patchy, sure, but the top twenty (or way more, depending on size) earners in any publishing house are authors, often by orders of magnitude.

Barry Eisler said...

Lee, now it's my turn to plead ignorance--I'm not as familiar with the KDP contract, and would love to hear from other people here. But one critical aspect of the KDP contract that Rasenberger (propagandistically) doesn't mention is that an author is only bound by it for 90 days at a time. So even if there's no audit provision, having the ability to say, "You know what? This isn't working for me, I'm going to pull my wares and sell them elsewhere" is a crucial quid pro quo. Does this mean I wouldn't prefer a KDP audit provision? Not at all. But comparing, as Rasenberger does, a contract that locks authors in functionally forever with one that locks authors in for only 90 days without mentioning that difference has the effect, if not the purpose, of misleading authors who could otherwise use the information to make informed decisions.

Lee Child said...

Rob - yeah, popcorn ... I'm going to a movie now, so will be unable to continue for a spell. Please don't think me impolite or unresponsive. Best to you all.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

http://bit.ly/KDPTerms

William Ockham said...

I need to make a correction. The quote from my first comment in this thread is no longer the official position of the DoJ. I found that quote from a document on justice.gov, but when I went back for further research I discovered that the document had been withdrawn by the Obama administration. I regret the error. I applaud the change. The current position of the DoJ is that actions of a monopolist which harm competitors must be evaluated based on the impact on consumers and competition.

Terrence OBrien said...

LEE CHILD: We’ve seen that Amazon turns over more than a thousand million dollars a week. How much of that is Hachette’s? Almost none. An utterly, utterly, utterly insignificant proportion. So why the squabble last year? That’s the issue.

Why? That's no issue. Because well managed firms pay attention to all their business lines. This argument would result in paying attention to nothing, since all of Amazon's suppliers are individually insignificant. It would mean paying attention to no customer, since each customer is individually insignificant.

LEE CHILD: Which is all anyone wants. Amazon should retail and distribute everyone’s stuff on a level playing field, without fear or favor or behind-the-scenes vindictive fantasies. Can you argue against that?

Of course I can argue against that. Retailers use their resources to push the products they think will make them the most money for them and enhance their competitive position. So do publishers and B&M bookstores. It is accepted pattern and practice in all retailing. There are no level playing fields for retail offerings.

COURTNEY MILAN: For instance: Amazon can't be guilty of monopolization, and probably not even attempted monopolization, because its market share probably isn't large enough.

I'd add to Courtney's comment that Amazon is not acting like a classic monopolist. The monopolist curtails production and raises prices to the point where the demand curve provides him the maximum profit. This means consumers are paying more for less. This is the simple economic argument against monopolies.

However, with Amazon, we see them increasing production and decreasing prices. Hence the economic argument that Amazon is detrimental to society immediately fails.

Barry Eisler said...

Brian, that propaganda film was fun, especially for an observer of Authors United. Plain folks... how many times will the NYT run that photo of Doug Preston in front of his little shack, and not on the grounds of the palatial family estate on which it sits?

Wayne McDonald said...

One note for Lee, B&N is a publisher(since 2003 I believe) and was a publisher during their complete shutdown of S&S. Admittedly not a huge one but it's has books in a few different categories and a few have sold over 100k.

John Ellsworth said...

@ Lee Child 6:38 PM:

My god, man you would leapfrog to the Existential in your reference to Ms. Schulz. Next thing you know the lady will be posting on the possibility of Death being more threatening even more than earthquakes. Please don't encourage this.

Somewhere on this spectrum, however, there has to be a spot where the Washington State statutes can have their say.

I know, let's give the RCW statutes a 10, Schulz's earthquake a 40 and death a 90 (we all know there are worse things than death)

Good on us.

Anonymous said...

"The least transparent operation on earth is Amazon."

I offer the IRS (or frankly any department of the US government) for your consideration....

In all seriousness, Barry is hitting the right note here AFAIC. I really don't give a shit about the legacy vs. indie garbage or the Amazon is an evil empire nonsense or whatever. I'm busy writing books and trying to make money.

That said, when Barry brings up the Preston photo, it reminds me of why this stuff pisses me off. Lee Child lays it out. I don't agree with him sometimes, but the guy doesn't bullshit anyone. It's Preston and the photo and the smoke and mirrors that makes me want to scream. It's like the careful placement of one white, one black, one hispanic and one Asian kid behind the president when he gives a speech (any president I'm not getting into politics here). It's theater. Its all style no substance. It makes me instantly believe AU and AG and the ABA are full of shit.

Amazon is looking to make money. They are a corporation. I get it. There are things I love about them and things I don't. But Bezos isn't getting his picture taken on the hood of a 1980 Plymouth Reliant K-car to look like a 'working class hero'.

Smart Debut Author said...


"gotta ask, smart and an author you may be, but for how long can a person be a debut?"


@Lee: Heh. SDA started out as "Any Smart Debut Author", a tongue-in-cheek comment signature that has by now probably outlived its original intent.


"I do worry - a little bit - that [hanging onto IP, and waiting to see how the landscape will look] is a form of timidity or procrastination. Probably publishing will still be fine in 3 - 5 years ... you're passing up some major opportunities. Waiting-and-seeing could waste time."


There are times I wonder the same thing... :) but those moments are rare and fleeting. I started writing in 2012 with the intent of indie publishing from day one -- pretty much what you've previously said you would probably do, too, if you were starting out today. For me, *that* is dealing with the present as it is, but obviously, YMMV. :) I published my first book in 2013, and my second in early 2014 -- both of them thrillers -- and was able to quit the proverbial day job on the strength of my self-published earnings. So it's not exactly like I'm advocating authors just sitting around and waiting to see how the future looks; I'm writing books, publishing them, finding fans, and earning money... and it's almost immaterial to me whether or not traditional publishing at some point turns itself into a more interesting option for more entrepreneurial authors. If it does, great. If it doesn't, it doesn't.

I've had my look-in-the-mirror "are you sure?" moment. Based on my indie visibility, last year I got an unexpected offer from a huge-selling mystery/thriller imprint that most authors would kill to be published by... and I amicably turned them down.

Sometimes "wait and see" -- especially when you're making money doing it and building your fan-base, while watching the industry contort itself -- can be smarter than closing off future options for your work, the way signing a trad-pub contract does.

Wayne McDonald said...

Lee, here's the payment dispute section of KDP:
5.4.6 Payment Disputes. You may not bring a suit or other legal proceeding against us with regard to any statement unless you bring it within six months after the date the statement is available. Any such proceeding will be limited to a determination of the amount of monies, if any, payable by us to you for the accounting periods in question, and your sole remedy will be the recovery of those monies with no interest.

10.1 Disputes. Any dispute or claim relating in any way to this Agreement or KDP will be resolved by binding arbitration, rather than in court, except that you may assert claims in small claims court if your claims qualify. The United States Federal Arbitration Act and federal arbitration law apply to this Agreement. There is no judge or jury in arbitration, and court review of an arbitration award is limited. However, an arbitrator can award on an individual basis the same damages and relief as a court (including injunctive and declaratory relief or statutory damages), and must follow the terms of this Agreement as a court would. To begin an arbitration proceeding, you must send a letter requesting arbitration and describing your claim to our registered agent Corporation Service Company, 300 Deschutes Way SW, Suite 304, Tumwater, WA 98051, USA. The arbitration will be conducted by the American Arbitration Association (AAA) under its rules, including the AAA’s Supplementary Procedures for Consumer-Related Disputes. The AAA’s rules are available at www.adr.org or by calling 1-800-778-7879 (in the United States). Payment of all filing, administration and arbitrator fees will be governed by the AAA’s rules. We will reimburse those fees for claims totaling less than $10,000 unless the arbitrator determines the claims are frivolous. Likewise, Amazon will not to seek attorneys’ fees and costs in arbitration unless the arbitrator determines the claims are frivolous. You may choose to have the arbitration conducted by telephone, based on written submissions, or in person in the United States county where you live or at another mutually agreed location. You and we each agree that any dispute resolution proceedings will be conducted only on an individual basis and not in a class, consolidated or representative action. If for any reason a claim proceeds in court rather than in arbitration you and we each waive any right to a jury trial. You or we may bring suit in court on an individual basis only, and not in a class, consolidated or representative action, to apply for injunctive remedies. You may bring any such suit for injunctive remedies only in the courts of the State of Washington, USA.


One small correction for Barry. You can withdraw from Select with 90 days notice, not KDP. KDP only requires 5 days. No clue on Audible.

Nirmala said...

Lee: I get it that the top earning authors are treated like royalty. But of course, that makes the average figure of $17,500 yearly income for full time authors sound even worse. If just a few of those bestselling authors took the AG's survey, they would have raised the average quite a bit.

There is some old story about how the 'average' annual income of 1985 graduates of the University of North Carolina who majored in geology exceeds $1,000,000. Michael Jordan graduated from UNC in 1985 with a major in geology, and single-handedly skews the average dramatically.

So an AVERAGE income of $17,500 means a lot of full time authors are earning even less, and if there are even just a few authors in the AG's data that are earning millions, that means a lot of authors are earning a pittance. Things are very rosy for the 1% at the top of the heap, but the rest are not being treated fairly, especially considering that publisher profits are still relatively strong as you yourself have pointed out in this thread. Why then, on average, are they treating their authors so much worse than they did 6 years ago?

The odds are pretty low in traditional publishing of even getting published (maybe 1 in 1000), and then if you make it through that gauntlet, you can look forward to an average annual payout of $17,500....with extremely low odds of earning much more, and much higher odds of earning less. I do not choose to play that lottery. I like the odds of self-publishing where there is a 100% chance of being published, and then probably smaller odds of making mega-millions, but possibly similar odds of making something that counts. My prolific wife makes much more than the average author in the AG's survey. I have a lot fewer books but still make something....again because 100% of my books are published. We publish in a small niche non-fiction subject and even after being taken on by one of the largest agencies in the world, we did not get anywhere with traditional publishing. Well, my wife did get a three-book contract with a mid-sized publisher, but then the company was merged, the person who championed her work left (he was the president of the company that was swallowed up by another imprint), and nothing came of it. In contrast, self-publishing has treated us well.

Anonymous said...

Lee if you're still here:

"...you're passing up some major opportunities. Waiting-and-seeing could waste time."

I was signed up by the Big 5 recently. My first book won awards and everything. I have to say that major opportunities and 25m was not what they offered me. I got fifty quid for the year in royalties, and I wrote them three novels--no advances. This was from one of the Big 5 publishers.

Amazon pay me more in one day as an indie.

I don't feel I'm passing on any opportunities since the offering of fifty quid a year doesn't excite me. Have you looked at what new authors are getting from big publishers now? There are no great opportunities in traditional publishing. It's turning into the small press in every way.

Nirmala said...

OOPS.. I just realized the original quote above says the median income is $17,500 for full time authors...not the average income. That means half of authors make less and half make more. And it would not affect the figure even if some of the authors that are making more are making millions.

Oh well, median versus average is confusing sometimes.

But it still suggests that the odds are 50% that you will make $17,500 or less, if you even get published in the first place. And it is still 30% less than the median 6 years ago, so the overall point that publishers are treating most authors worse even as their profits are staying strong is still relevant.

Broken Yogi said...
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Broken Yogi said...
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Broken Yogi said...
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Broken Yogi said...

Amazon should retail and distribute everyone’s stuff on a level playing field, without fear or favor or behind-the-scenes vindictive fantasies. Can you argue against that?

I suppose every business person in the world would argue against that. Even you. And especially your publisher.

I don't know of any business that treats every business partner equally. I would love it if Amazon would share the profits from your books equally with the rest of us, but somehow I don't think you'd like that.

But seriously, I think I get where you are coming from. There seems to be a not-very-well-thought-through idea going around that Amazon ought to be run as some sort of public retail utility, that simply lets everyone in the world sell their products through them on exactly the same terms, without Amazon being able to set any of those terms on their own, but basically just turn over their entire company to its suppliers.

I guess you could try to have the government declare eminent domain over Amazon's entire company, nationalize it, and open it to all comers at the same rates.

I'm will to be that your publisher wouldn't like this proposal of yours one bit. I am willing to bet that they want better terms from Amazon than some small publisher, much less a self-publishing author. And I get you want better terms from your publisher than most authors get, because you sell more books and can demand special treatment. Which is how it works in business. Have you not heard?

Brian said...

Barry, glad you enjoyed the film. Plain folks was the tactic I immediately thought of, too.

For those who don't know which photo Barry's referring to, here's a visual aid:
http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/08/08/business/08amazon-web1/08amazon-web1-master675.jpg

Broken Yogi said...

Lee,

it's about establishing - via propaganda, if you must - the possibility that Amazon might have some antitrust vulnerability, so that a back-channel shortcut might save everyone a lot of hassle.

If that's the purpose of the AU letter, it really fails miserably. It has zero chance of raising any genuine anti-trust issues, no matter how much whispering you engage in. It's laughable as a legal charge.

You don't strike me as stupid, so you must know that. Barry doesn't think you're stupid either, so he presumes that the propaganda angle is the only real purpose to the letter. Not an unreasonable presumption. But I'm having to consider a third option - that you may not be stupid overall, but when it comes to anti-trust stuff, you are so far out of your league you don't even realize it. And I think that's probably the case with all the AU authors. They may be good writers, but terrible at evaluating this stuff.

As for the overall trad publishing industry, I agree with you, it's doing just fine. They have record profits, thanks to Amazon's amazing sales record. So what exactly are you/they complaining about, and why? I'm having a very hard time figuring that out. Maybe you can explain it better.

Broken Yogi said...

Squeezing margins could be a compelling business reason, of course, but did Amazon put the same level of scrutiny on all its many millions of individually insignificant suppliers? Empirically, no, it didn’t. So why the unique focus on Hachette?

Lee, I'm not much up to date on section 2 of the anti-trust code, but it's important to recall that Amazon was required to negotiate with Hachette first under the terms of the JD collusion settlement by the federal court. That's why they had a "unique focus" on Hachette. It was required by law.

The Big Five were required to take turns negotiating with Amazon, one at a time in something like six month intervals, as required by the court. Hachette seems to have taken a very hard line with Amazon, so hard that they couldn't make a deal before the next big publisher came to the table. And guess what, S&S made a deal with Amazon within a few weeks of their negotiations beginning. A deal favorable to the publisher with agency pricing. Which goes to show that it wasn't Amazon being the hard ass in the negotiations, it was Hachette. And then each of the other publishers also closed deals with Amazon in turn, without any trouble, with agency pricing as well. Hachette finally did too, also with agency pricing.

So I really don't see how anyone could possibly make a case that Amazon has been violating any kind of anti-trust laws in its negotiations with the major publishers. If anything, it's the publishing cartel that handed Amazon its ass and got their agency pricing almost the same as they had by collusion three years before. The best Amazon got was a free give-away for higher margins if the publishers priced their ebooks under 9.99.

Broken Yogi said...

and btw, what kind of "back channel shortcut" are you proposing, or even imagining?

Terrence OBrien said...

Barry doesn't think you're stupid either, so he presumes that the propaganda angle is the only real purpose to the letter.

I think they tried the propaganda approach last year with the big ad in the NYT, FedEx deliveries, and tales of how authors were victims of Amazon. It was a total failure. Nobody cared.

Elka said...

“I'm saying antitrust law should be followed, in those specific cases where it's applicable. Therefore, @ Elka, yes, if airport book racks or WalMart became publishers too, then they should continue to deal with previous suppliers as before, absent solid reasons.”

So, Lee, companies shouldn’t break the antitrust law and if airport book racks or WalMart becomes publishers too they should continue to dealing with their suppliers as they were.
Ummm… Is this your way of implying that since Amazon started their own imprints they are not treating their suppliers similar as they did before they made their imprints? If so, do you have any evidence that supports that? And if you do, do you believe that when a store has its own brand, the government should prevent them from pushing their own brand before others?

antares said...

FWIW PG says Authors' Guild = Authors Gelded.

James Scott Bell said...

This has been an intelligent, entertaining, and civil debate on the matters discussed. Nicely done.

Any publishing decision an author makes is a gamble. The trick is to act like a rational gambler, and not like someone who leaves Las Vegas dressed in a barrel. Assess wants, needs, dreams, desires, skill set, odds, trends, and patience level. Then place your bet. Once placed, don't complain. Just keep playing.

Anonymous said...

Finally a liberal admits it in print: the 'law' is never the issue to them, it's all about mounting a propaganda campaign with help from their incestual buddies in the mainstream media based on false pretenses and accusations. Thanks Lee. And he goes one step further admitting that the 'it's for the children' line is another great big scam perpetuated on the public so he can protect his multimillion dollar income.

The goal isn't to prosecute Amazon, it's to remove any impediment to authors dependence on Big Pub.

Step 2 is for him to mention how much money he gives to poor people, as if that absolves him of any guilty white privilege. Do all you liberals work from the same manual? Are you permitted to deviate from the steps or are they only to be followed in sequential order?

Lee Child for President 2016!!!

Anonymous said...

I've been terribly harmed as an indie author by Amazon -- to the tune of $445,000 since June 2012.

Oh, the Humanity!

Anon Author

Joe Konrath said...

If anything, it's the publishing cartel that handed Amazon its ass

It seems that way on the surface. But I'm pretty sure Amazon doesn't suck up losses. If they accepted the agency model, it was for a reason.

For example, giving a competitor enough rope to hang themselves.

Joe Konrath said...

If that's the purpose of the AU letter, it really fails miserably. It has zero chance of raising any genuine anti-trust issues, no matter how much whispering you engage in. It's laughable as a legal charge.

The message doesn't need to get DOJ approval. Only public approval. So it has already won, as the average person thinks Amazon is a big mean bully.

But the amusing part is that the average person who thinks Amazon is a big mean bully still shops at Amazon.

There are a few places on the internet to hose off the bullshit and reveal what's underneath the propaganda. But, realistically, we're not needed. Even if public sentiment labels Amazon as evil, the public still loves Amazon. This smear campaign is a big failure.

Joe Konrath said...

Step 2 is for him to mention how much money he gives to poor people, as if that absolves him of any guilty white privilege.

Uh, so we shouldn't give money to poor people? Is that the message here?

For the record, I don't give to charity to absolve guilt. I don't feel guilt. I just like helping people. Perhaps charitable contributors should be given the benefit of the doubt?

Joe Konrath said...

It's Preston and the photo and the smoke and mirrors that makes me want to scream.

I find it hilarious. Millionaire author on acres of land owned by his family for generations, but look at how grassroots his shack is.

That said, I've had magazine photographers come to my house and tell me where/how to pose. It might not be propaganda. It might just be that was the best pic they had.

Joe Konrath said...

Some of these fisking posts really are TLDR for my tastes.

The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

Joe Konrath said...

Barry and Joe: You can't understand antitrust law by reading the text of the Sherman Act.

Agreed. But when someone espouses their layperson's understanding of the Sherman Act, I counter with my layperson's understanding. We're arguing at the same level. It isn't in court, but it's even.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I ran out of popcorn.

terrence OBrien said...

But the amusing part is that the average person who thinks Amazon is a big mean bully still shops at Amazon.

The average person doesn't have any idea what we are going on about. If we told them they would yawn. They get cheap prices and two day shipping from Amazon. Think they give a hoot about some author in a shack in Maine?

Allen F said...


Lee Child said...

Joe, they're - possibly - not allowed to do that stuff to pre-existing suppliers after becoming competitors themselves. Starting AP had antitrust implications. It was a kind of Catch-22. They needed to modify an earlier approach but didn't. You can't wish that away. It's the whole point here.


Ah, but there was no longer a contract, so why leave the pre-order buttons up if there was a risk of never getting the books? That and H was already delaying orders to Amazon in the hopes of making Amazon look the bad guy.

Heck, if Amazon had really wanted to hurt H, all they would have needed to do was turn those 'buy now' buttons into redirects to H's website, and let the buyers try to muddle through it.

Joe Konrath said...

As someone who has five books pubbed by Amazon, I know how the promotion process works. There is no guaranteed promo. Ever. Amazon essentially has to pay itself in order to advertise an A-Pub book on its own site.

This used to drive me crazy. But now I’m thinking that they do it do avoid any trouble with anti-trust laws.

As I’ve said before, Amazon has a gaggle of lawyers who are paid to think of worst case scenarios and bulletproof against them. Before Amazon published anything, no doubt they studied the law.

Joe Konrath said...

So, out of the huge number of signatories, Lee Child is the only one with the integrity and balls to speak on this issue.

Kudos to Lee. Fails to everyone else.

TJ Kearney said...

Not sure anyone's still interested (or ever was), but the DOJ does a nice job of explaining the DOJ's views on Chapter 2 of the Sherman Act.

At its core, section 2 makes it illegal to acquire or maintain monopoly power through improper means. The long-standing requirement for monopolization is both (1) the possession of monopoly power in the relevant market and (2) the willful acquisition or maintenance of that power as distinguished from growth or development as a consequence of a superior product, business acumen, or historic accident.... as the second element makes clear, "the possession of monopoly power will not be found unlawful unless it is accompanied by an element of anticompetitive conduct."

A company has a monopoly, for purposes of federal antitrust law, if it has the power to control prices in, or to exclude competitors from, the relevant market. Neither of which appears even remotely to describe Amazon.

http://www.justice.gov/atr/competition-and-monopoly-single-firm-conduct-under-section-2-sherman-act-chapter-1#ci

Anonymous said...

"So, out of the huge number of signatories, Lee Child is the only one with the integrity and balls to speak on this issue.

Kudos to Lee. Fails to everyone else."


Pattersons responses are being ghost written as we wait...

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

Excellent discussion. Thanks, Lee, for engaging.

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

Joe,

But the amusing part is that the average person who thinks Amazon is a big mean bully still shops at Amazon.

And this is the bottom line. If the purpose of the letter is not to demand anti-trust action, but to create anti-Amazon propaganda, it's failing even more miserably. It's only succeeding within a very small bubble of people who are pre-disposed to care about this, but who have no actual power and very little influence over the public.

Lee and other writers may be under the false impression that because they are best-selling authors, the public cares what they think about Amazon. But it turns out, they don't. And you know why? Because in spite of their propaganda about the evils of Amazon, every single one of them still sells their books through Amazon. The average reader might hear about the AU letter, but when they go on Amazon to buy their books, there they all are. In fact, their major complaint seems to be that occasionally, Amazon makes it more difficult for them to sell their books on Amazon. They actually want, even demand, the right to sell their books on Amazon. Which to most people must mean that Amazon is this really great thing, if even its biggest critics want to sell their books through it.

It's really a very strange phenomena, a form of cognitive dissonance. People might start taking this sort of propaganda seriously if it was backed up by real action. If these publishers and authors took their books off Amazon, that would make some headlines. And then their readers would have to buy their books elsewhere. And that might actually hurt Amazon.

That would be a thing. This is not a thing.

Terrence OBrien said...

A company has a monopoly, for purposes of federal antitrust law, if it has the power to control prices in, or to exclude competitors from, the relevant market. Neither of which appears even remotely to describe Amazon.

Correct. What people forget about monopolies is they have to control supply. If they don't, then someone else can enter the market and sell at lower prices. They can't exclude competitors.

Amazon doesn't control supply. They don't have rights to any books other than the ones they publish.

For a retailer to control supply, he must be a monopsonist. Given all the books for sale on Apple, Kobo, Google, and B&N, we can observe Amazon is not a monopsonist.

gniz said...

"Given all the books for sale on Apple, Kobo, Google, and B&N, we can observe Amazon is not a monopsonist."

Hey Terrence, what you say betrays your lack of experience trying to sell books on those other platforms you so glibly listed.

Yeah, tons of books selling at Google! How much you making there, Terrence? Any idea how much any other authors are making there? Why not just list Tolino while you're at it! Yeah, so many great places to sell tons of books, right?

Except for one little teeny tiny problem. None of those places move books on any scale.

While Amazon might not yet be a monopsonist, for those of us who ACTUALLY SELL BOOKS--and I mean, books with an S--we know darn well that it's not hard to envision Amazon having control of 70-80 or even 90 percent of the ebook market in the near future.

As it is, making real money on those other platforms is getting tougher.

You'd know that if you sold books anywhere besides Amazon...

I'm one of the biggest sellers on one of those platforms you mentioned, and I happen to know intimately just how small an amount of books I sell there.

Amazon is close to being the only game in town, and it's only getting worse, not better.

gniz said...
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gniz said...

A big distinction, FYI:

The difference between "books for sale" at a given store vs "books selling" at a given store.

You're right, Google and B&N and Kobo have lots of "books for sale" at their stores.

But more importantly, how many books are actually selling?

Hint, not very many. And authors who actually try and sell there know it quite well. Those who say they are selling great in wide distribution? Ask them their numbers. Great is a relative term...

Joseph said...

Where do I click to vote Lee Child for AU Prez?

Joshua Simcox said...

"I find it hilarious. Millionaire author on acres of land owned by his family for generations, but look at how grassroots his shack is.

That said, I've had magazine photographers come to my house and tell me where/how to pose. It might not be propaganda. It might just be that was the best pic they had."

The "shack" sure does get a lot of ink in this debate. I wouldn't presume to know if that photo was intended as propaganda or not, but if I had to guess I'd say that since Preston is known to the world as a writer, and the shack is presumably where he does said writing, that it made sense to the photographer to photograph Preston in his work environment--his "office space", if you will. Either way, Preston's real estate has gotten an absurd amount of attention here, especially from Barry Eisler, who's referenced it multiple times with a tone that reinforces the caricature of Preston as Scrooge McDuck floating on an ocean of money as he devises schemes to crush all the working-class self-publishers.

No offense to Barry, but that feels a little disingenuous, as I imagine he's probably as far from working-class himself as you can get. I mean, wasn't he a ninja with the CIA even before he became a bestselling author with the luxury of turning down six-figure publishing contracts? That doesn't exactly sound like paycheck-to-paycheck living...so why all the snark about the size and value of Preston's property, especially when it has no relevance to the issues at hand? Just doesn't feel kosher to me.

Alan Spade said...

"Amazon is close to being the only game in town, and it's only getting worse, not better."

I wish I wouldn't agree so much with gniz. As far as ebooks are concerned, Amazon is really close to being the only game in town. That's definitely not a good thing.

I don't agree with Courtney Milan when she says: "In general, paper books and ebooks are pretty darned good substitutes for one another, and so I doubt they'd be considered separate markets."

You have big players that invest only on ebooks: Kobo, Apple, Google. These are no start ups. For instance, try to build an erading device and to link it to your website. It requires investment. A different kind of investment than a brick and mortar bookseller.

So ebooks are a distinct market than books. A market that is, in my opinion, fragile and difficult for the new players. Especially with one million ebooks exclusive to Amazon.

gniz said...

Oh, and just as a side note:

Notice the authors saying how Amazon doesn't control the market--notice where those authors are selling books.

They're all-in on Amazon.

So Joe and Hugh and Barry? All-in with Amazon in KU.

But they tell you it's okay, if Amazon screws with authors, there's plenty of other places to sell books. If it's so easy, why aren't they doing it?

I'll tell you why. Quite simply, none of them were selling many books elsewhere. So they went all-in with Amazon. That's the squeeze, folks. Only these guys try and pretend that it's no big deal. It's "voluntary." We can always go wide distro if Amazon messes with us in the future.

Except, no. You haven't proven you can move books anywhere else.

I've been wide distribution for the most part, and I sell better than most authors at the other platforms. And guess what? Every other platform combined can hardly equal thirty percent of what I make on Amazon. And that's with me selling BETTER than 99 percent of indies on those platforms.

So I have the data, folks. I know that it's not really that easy to sell books anywhere else, and it's only getting tougher. Amazon is that good.

But is that good for authors? No, it isn't. And being glib about selling wide when you've stuck all your books in KU because you know you can't sell anywhere else...let's just be real, here.

Authors who have the data know that Amazon is where it's at. Why doesn't Hugh and Data Guy do author earnings reports for the other sites if they are doing so well? They don't bother because everyone knows those other platforms aren't selling bupkis.

Data Guy said...


"Why doesn't Hugh and Data Guy do author earnings reports for the other sites if they are doing so well? They don't bother because everyone knows those other platforms aren't selling bupkis."


We have actually done a couple reports on Barnes & Noble Nook in the past -- see www.authorearnings.com .
I would actually love to do AE reports for Apple iBooks & Google Play, too, at some point, but neither displays an overall sales rank for books beyond the top 200 or so, making it difficult to build an accurate model.

With that said, there's also some truth to the reason gniz gives for us not knocking ourselves out over it.

B&N represents less than 10% of the US ebook market now -- possibly even less than 5% -- and they are shrinking fast. Apple represents something like 7-10%, while Google is maybe 5-7%, and Kobo well under 5%. Those percentages hardly justify the effort of doing an AE report on them... the numbers would tell us very little about the overall US ebook market, whereas we're getting arguably 75%-80% of it with Amazon (remember that the trad-pub-reported 65% doesn't include no-ISBN indies or Amazon exclusives).

gniz said...

Data Guy said: "B&N represents less than 10% of the US ebook market now -- possibly even less than 5% -- and they are shrinking fast. Apple represents something like 7-10%, while Google is maybe 5-7%, and Kobo well under 5%. Those percentages hardly justify the effort of doing an AE report on them... the numbers would tell us very little about the overall US ebook market, whereas we're getting arguably 75%-80% of it with Amazon (remember that the trad-pub-reported 65% doesn't include no-ISBN indies or Amazon exclusives)."

Yes, and I replicate that with my own sales, as do most authors. it's not a pretty situation, and those pretending it is either don't try and sell books wide or have some other agenda.

gniz said...

And so if Amazon is already at close to 80% of the market, I don't think it's too much of a stretch, nor laughable, to envision them essentially having a stranglehold on the ebook market in the near future. Another five or ten percent growth is all they need, with maybe one of the other retailers folding up shop...

That makes me pretty nervous. I think it's a reasonable concern, and I have my own history and experience and data to back up that concern.

Joe Konrath said...

I mean, wasn't he a ninja with the CIA even before he became a bestselling author with the luxury of turning down six-figure publishing contracts?

LOL, Joshua. Doug was born rich, on acres of land his family has own for generations.

Barry was not. He worked hard to become a lawyer, he was recruited by the CIA, and last I checked the CIA wasn't particularly easy to get into. He also worked to get a black belt in Judo at the kodokan in Japan. They don't just hand out black belts. I'd guess learning Japanese played a part.

You say "luxury of turning down six figure contracts", which is hilarious. Do you think that was easy? Especially when, years ago, there was still a great deal of uncertainty about the future of ebooks? Barry took a huge risk doing that. Don't discount bravery because you don't understand it.

Barry's activism goes beyond helping authors. He writes about torture, and gay rights, and government surveillance. He's one of the good guys, out to make the world better.

Preston is out to feather his own nest at the expense of other authors. He has a deep-seated sense of entitlement, and he's a coward. If he hates Amazon, he should take a page from Barry's book and turn his back on Amazon. Barry turned down a quarter million dollars with no other offer in place. He just felt strongly that another legacy deal wasn't the way to go, and he decided--after a lot of thought--to give self-pubbing a shot, even though it effectively blacklisted him from the Big 6.

Doug needs to man up and demand that Hachette pull his books from Amazon. That's how you make a statement. That's how you promote change.

But he won't. Because he's a greedy, whiney, entitled little coward.

Barry is none of those things.

Anonymous said...

"Amazon could care less if one little publisher refuses to sell through them" -- perhaps the AG should learn proper grammar. As in: "could care less" should be "couldn't care less". If the AG can't even get that right.... Honestly, the anti-Amazon millionaires make me want to stuff my contracts with a traditional publisher down their throats. As soon as I'm out of contract, I'm going to publish with Amazon. It's 2015, folks; there's no reason I should have to wait six months to get a royalty statement and/or check.

celtgirl68 said...

I don't know enough about anti-trust to weigh in on any of the issues there, but what I don't see people like Preston or Patterson et al. addressing is that the vast majority of writers will never see the light of day via the traditional publishing industry. I went that route first and had an agent, had my book go to auction etc. It still didn't happen for me. I kept at that route for years, because there were no options and without any results other than feeling like I should probably give up writing and go find a job that paid. Then I took a shot on indie publishing and it was a struggle for a long time. Finally I combined indie publishing with FB ads, and hit the jackpot, so to speak. I'm not in danger of becoming a millionaire any time soon, but I made a living wage last year rather than the zero dollars I would have made if I was still sending out query letters each day. Most of which go unanswered. I just wish these household name authors that seem to hate Amazon so much would acknowledge that they did hit the jackpot- yes, they worked hard, etc but so do many of us, but it doesn't guarantee getting published, ever. All the talk I've seen in these articles from Patterson and other representatives of the AG makes it sound like traditional publishing is some wide open option for all writers when it's not the least bit true. How is Amazon stifling voices when for many of us it was the only avenue we could take to be heard? One of my rejections from one of the big five was based on the fact that they felt my subject matter was too controversial- I write about the Irish Troubles-or that it would be of limited interest to readers. However, I found my readership and it's growing steadily every day. Had I waited for traditional publishing to take a chance on me, I suspect I'd still be waiting and all of my books would be gathering dust in a drawer right now. The gates to traditional publishing are not wide open the way all these articles try to make it seem, nor is it some amazing club to belong to- unless you belong to the one percent of the one percent. I've heard from a lot of mid-listers who were dropped even after selling more than half a million books for their publisher- every one of them wanted to ask me about indie publishing, because they were completely disillusioned by their experience in traditional publishing. The truth is the trad road isn't open to most of us, but Amazon allowing us to self-publish in their store allows us to still be heard and reach readers. If that makes me a fangirl or a shill for them, I'll take the title and wear it happily.

Nirmala said...

"Amazon is close to being the only game in town, and it's only getting worse, not better."

As I recall, the reason Apple was involved with the price fixing scheme was that they are used to their flat 30% on apps. And so they only wanted to commit to a big ebook effort if they could also figure on making 30% on each sale. So they helped push agency onto Amazon, and then Amazon could not undercut them on price by discounting. Apple did not want to have to compete on price with Amazon as they do not have a big online store that sells everything else under the sun, so ebooks are not a loss leader for Apple like they can be for Amazon.

Well, we are back there again today. Agency is back and Amazon can no longer discount Big 5 ebooks and therefore it seems that the ebook market today might be more attractive to Apple, Google and others as they can be sure of making that flat 30% on every sale, and they do not have to compete on price, just like how they have always not had to compete on price when it comes to indie sales.

So maybe, just maybe, the other ebook players will step up to the plate now and create alternate ebook stores worth shopping at, and worth promoting our ebooks at. I would love to see Google and Apple actually compete with the Kindle experience (I somehow have given up hope for Barnes and Noble, unless someone else buys the Nook brand and does something with it). Let's hope the incentive is there now for them to innovate and invest in their ebook stores.

My wife and I keep some books wide and some books in KU, but that will change for sure if the other stores improve their game.

Nirmala said...

For example of posible ways for them to catch up with Amazon, why can I still not read an iBook on my Windows computer or Android tablet, when I can read a Kindle ebook on any Apple device? How dumb is that?

Alan Spade said...

"For example of posible ways for them to catch up with Amazon, why can I still not read an iBook on my Windows computer or Android tablet, when I can read a Kindle ebook on any Apple device? How dumb is that?"

Good question. By itself, the question shows how much Apple cares for reading and ebooks.

Another question: is Jeff Bezos the only businessman in the Silicon Valley who likes to read? Is he the only one to have understood the potential of reading?

Perhaps the businessmen and engineers who despise reading should remember that Bezos started his business with books.

AnonymousWriter said...

Anyone else here think there is a great possibility JAK is on the Amazon Payroll?

Joe Konrath said...

Quite simply, none of them were selling many books elsewhere.

Sure we were. Just not as many.

If Kobo gave me better incentives than KDP Select, I'd go back. Same with Google, iTunes, and Nook.

It's a sellers market.

envision them essentially having a stranglehold on the ebook market in the near future.

And then what happens? Do tell. But before you start yelling doom and Armageddon and apocalypse, cite precedent. What will happen when Amazon is the only one left?

Precedent is key, here, Show me an historical example.

Joe Konrath said...

Anyone else here think there is a great possibility JAK is on the Amazon Payroll?

Sadly, the only money I make via Amazon is royalties.

Anyone else here wonder what you're so afraid of that you have to post anonymously? Do you fear my retaliation? Why? What are you worried I'll do to you that keeps you from signing your name to your post?

Or do you just not want your peers to know how stupid you are?

Alan Spade said...

"What will happen when Amazon is the only one left?

Precedent is key, here, Show me an historical example."

What happens when there is no more competition? You become lazy. Until someone with a whole new approach come and blow you world by disrupting it.

That's what happened with big publishing.

Will Amazon, once it has secured the ebook market, exploit the authors as ruthlessly as big publishing when it had secured the brick & mortar distribution? I don't know, it remains to be seen.

I think there is definitely more freedom in an electronic world than by the past.

But I understand gniz' nervousness, because there is precedent for us authors.

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

Time for a fisking, Joe.

Gniz said: Quite simply, none of them were selling many books elsewhere.

Joe said: Sure we were. Just not as many.

My response: Not as many? I'd like to see your numbers for what you sold on Kobo, Nook, Google and iBooks. My guess is the numbers were dreadful. I'm not trying to insult you, Joe. But I'm fairly certain you weren't selling in big numbers on those other platforms. Most authors have struggled to do so, and I suspect you were no different. Let's not be coy, now. You don't like when others try and dance around the truth, so I'm going to hold you to that same standard...

Joe said: If Kobo gave me better incentives than KDP Select, I'd go back. Same with Google, iTunes, and Nook. It's a sellers market.

My response: The problem is that, while I agree right now Amazon is giving the better incentives and clearly the superior distribution channel in the marketplace, the other channels are only getting worse. This goes against your commonly stated assumption that if Amazon ever starts working against authors' best interests, we'll just go elsewhere. By the time Amazon makes that sort of move, you can be sure those other channels will be even less attractive than they are now.

Joe said: And then what happens? Do tell. But before you start yelling doom and Armageddon and apocalypse, cite precedent. What will happen when Amazon is the only one left? Precedent is key, here, Show me an historical example.

My response: The precedent is in any competitive industry where profit is key. If I was running Amazon I'd try and do exactly what they're doing. Slowly strangle the competition by being better. And then once I've eliminated or elevated myself to where my competition is not of much concern, I would make sure to get every drop of profit from every part of my business. And an easy place to get more profit would be to pay my suppliers less. They would have nowhere else to go, so why should I pay them the same as when it was, in your words, "a seller's market?"

So let me turn the question back around Joe. Do you think it will always be a seller's market? Can you give me precedent where a market stayed a seller's market forever? And what will happen when it no longer is that for us authors?

gniz said...

P.S. Please don't give me the "nobody owes you a living" dodge.

I'm not saying that Amazon is wrong for doing what they do, or that making money writing books should always be this easy. I'm making a prediction, not begging Amazon to change their ways...

Joe Konrath said...

Time for a fisking, Joe.

Sure. But it's tough to fisk someone who has numbers and logic on his side. Like I do.

Not as many? I'd like to see your numbers for what you sold on Kobo, Nook, Google and iBooks. My guess is the numbers were dreadful.

Your guess is incorrect.

I went all in KDP Select 2013. In 10-12 I made $12,474 on Apple,$41,958 on B&N, $12,013 on Kobo, and about $1600 on Smashwords direct. Add in Sony and a few smaller outfits, and it worked out to about $4k a month--which was more than I was making as a legacy author.

Then KDP Select came out, and I tried a freebie offer and my numbers bounced over and I made $60k extra in that one month, Amazon only. So I stuck with it. Amazon changed the ranking system for free (even though they never admitted it) and I was ready to go back to other platforms when Amazon started doing Countdown Deals. That, coupled with BookBub, continued to bring in big money. Then Amazon kept opening up more foreign stores, and allowed ads, and then there was KU and they started giving bonuses, and I averaged between $8k and $30k monthly in Select money.

I don't think $40k a year was dreadful. And there were indicators that third party sales were going up. But they couldn't compare close to Amazon perks.

By the time Amazon makes that sort of move, you can be sure those other channels will be even less attractive than they are now.

This is simple capitalism, and why predatory pricing doesn't work. As soon as Amazon stops rewarding authors, competition will arise. This is why, when Walmart takes over a town and drives the mom and pops out of business, it has to keep prices low. If Walmart raises prices, competition will form.

Kobo et al need to lure us back. If they do, Amazon will need to offer more. We're not talking penny start-ups here. Apple, Google, Rakuten, even B&N--there are heavy hitters. They aren't going away.

And then once I've eliminated or elevated myself to where my competition is not of much concern, I would make sure to get every drop of profit from every part of my business.

In other words, I asked for precedent twice, and you didn't offer any. This is a rather poor fisking.

Can you give me precedent where a market stayed a seller's market forever?

I can't give a precedent for forever, because forever isn't over yet. :P

Ebooks will remain a seller's market as long as we can control our prices, and our rights. I don't foresee demand for ebooks lessening. As long as I'm able to supply readers at fair prices, I'll be able to eek out a living. If you really want to get into economic theory of non-physical markets, that bores me but I'm game. I have IP that consumers like and want. The IP doesn't cost me anything to reproduce or deliver. As long as there are channels to deliver my content, I'll be able to make money.

I'm not interested in the whole "Amazon will slash your royalties!" nonsense. That meme won't die, and I've debunked it many times.

Playing agent provocateur, I do think we're going to switch over to subscription models for digital books. And I don't think it will pay as well.

But we're the suppliers. If the business model starts screwing suppliers, choices will arise. That particular genie isn't going back into the bottle. I'm one of thousands of authors who would never sign his rights away for life. As long as I keep my rights, I'll have some power. As paper sales dwindle, the demand for ebooks will continue to grow, globally. I've sold 200,000 books in Germany. How many other countries are there?


In the meantime, I'm hedging bets and starting my own ebook company.

gniz said...

" In 10-12 I made $12,474 on Apple,$41,958 on B&N, $12,013 on Kobo, and about $1600 on Smashwords direct. Add in Sony and a few smaller outfits, and it worked out to about $4k a month"

This doesn't seem to add up. Are those totals you listed for 3 years of earnings on those sites? 40K a year is also pretty bad when you acknowledge that it was the result of ALL OF THOSE PLATFORMS in total.

And you were making so much more on Amazon, because Amazon is by far the dominant market force with much more readers at their store. Kobo et al can't lure anyone back because THEY DON'T SELL ANY BOOKS relative to Amazon.

So the pittance you were making over three years' time (although decent enough for trad pub--which isn't really what we're talking about by the way) is actually kind of bad when put into perspective. Thanks for giving us the numbers, by the way. Fair enough...

By the way, it's only getting worse. You aren't assured to make even 4k a month anymore. If you went wide distro now, you could end up making a thousand a month or maybe three. But will you do better than before, with Nook's share shrinking and Kobo doing pretty much nothing?

I'm just stating that you're being fairly glib for a dude who pulled all your books and have been all-in with Amazon for years. The numbers I have on my side is that Data Guy came in here and said I was on-target with my market breakdown. Amazon has close to 80% of the US market. The others are doing nothing.

As for your feelings about subscription, I completely agree.

You and I aren't nearly as far apart as it might seem. The difference is that you castigate those of us who have legitimate concerns about where Amazon's market dominance (deserved as it may be) will leave us in the near future...

gniz said...

P.S. Just to be clear, 4k a month is not bad money for some authors. But it's bad money for YOU, based on what you were making on Amazon. Other authors will make far less in proportion to what they make on Amazon. It's all down to the market split.

So to say that 4K a month is good is misleading. It might be good for someone else, but it wasn't good for you, relative to the size of your backlist and what you made on Amazon, where they actually have an audience and sell books in quantity.

That's why you are where you are. Pretending you could just leave Amazon is silly.

You can't.

It's not 2010 anymore. It's not even 2013.

Things are changing, and for you to pretend otherwise is just as blinkered as the trad pub folks who try and run that game. All due respect...

Joe Konrath said...

This doesn't seem to add up.

My spreadsheet is... daunting.

In a period of 30 months from 2010 until 2012 I made about $138k on platforms other than Amazon (no KDP or A-Pub). It wasn't for all of 2010 or all or 2012, and some dates don't overlap (I was in B&N longer that Apple.) But it works out to better than $4k a month.

40K a year is also pretty bad when you acknowledge that it was the result of ALL OF THOSE PLATFORMS in total.

If my income was reduced to that $40k a year, plus what I make via my agent, foreign deals, and A-pub, I'd be able to live without KDP just fine.

Hell, my income prior to Amazon was around $40k a year, total.

If you went wide distro now, you could end up making a thousand a month or maybe three.

I guess I'd have to try it, wouldn't I? Don't assume my numbers would match yours. I've done promos on B&N and Kobo, and I did pretty well. I never tried Google. But if Amazon started to play hardball, watch how quickly I'd start playing other platforms. Scribd. Oyster. Flipkart.

The fact is, I haven't had to do this for three years because Amazon keeps incentivizing me to stay in Select.

Amazon has close to 80% of the US market.

Sounds like a prime opportunity for someone to get rich by targeting that other 20%.

No one is going to beat Amazon. They're too smart and too good at what they do.

The key is to target opportunities that Amazon isn't interest in. Free. Ads. Libraries. Those markets will arise.

In the meantime, if I become unhappy with Amazon, you don't think I'd get in touch with Kobo and iTunes and B&N and Google and start talking incentives to lure my catalog over? You don't think I'd bring an exodus of authors with me?

Right now. I'm not worried.

When I start to worry, you'll hear m blogging about it.

Pretending you could just leave Amazon is silly.

That's what every editor in NY told me when I left the Big 6.

gniz said...

Joe said: "Don't assume my numbers would match yours. I've done promos on B&N and Kobo, and I did pretty well. "

I won't go totally public with my numbers, but I'll tell you that I've made far, far more money than you in Amazon and in wide distribution. If you want to speak in private about it, let me know and I'll shoot you an email...

"In the meantime, if I become unhappy with Amazon, you don't think I'd get in touch with Kobo and iTunes and B&N and Google and start talking incentives to lure my catalog over?"

Now you sound a bit like Lee Child when he talks about Big Pub. When you get big enough, you have opportunities to hobnob and get special deals that most authors can't hope for. What if you couldn't just get in touch with the head honchos at Google or iBooks? A lot of authors won't have your opportunities if Amazon treats them poorly and that is good for Amazon and bad for most authors.

FInally, I'm not trying to bust your chops. I highly admire your spirit of risk taking and entrepreneurship, and as I've said before, you are the reason I have a great career. I do believe that you are walking the walk.

But don't mock people like me who have valid concerns about our business. Like I said, I'm happy to show you my sales numbers in private. My data backs up my point, not because my sales numbers are so paltry--but just because of the data as it is points to certain clear trends with Amazon and the other retailers.

Alan Spade said...

"Apple, Google, Rakuten, even B&N--there are heavy hitters. They aren't going away."

They aren't going away, but as far as ebooks are concerned, their strategy doesn't seem to lead them anywhere.

And I say that using all the platforms, with no ebooks in KU.

Joe Konrath said...

I won't go totally public with my numbers,

Why not?

What if you couldn't just get in touch with the head honchos at Google or iBooks?

You mean, what if I lost their email?

But don't mock people like me who have valid concerns about our business.

Are you saying you've made millions of dollars, you're worried the gravy train is ending, and I shouldn't mock you because of your concerns?

Put the money in the bank and recognize your success for what it is: luck. Right place, right time.

Being afraid you aren't going to make six figures a month anymore ranks among the silliest fears I've ever heard.

And, seriously, I'm not trying to bust your chops either. But these are first world problems here. I don't know you, don't know if you're able to put your career in perspective, but bemoaning the changing payout structure of a company that's made you rich might be a case where you need to re-evaluate some personal life stuff.

This is not a career where anyone has it made, or where the future can be predicted. We can only try our best, experiment, and hope to catch a really nice wave every so often.

Expecting more belies a sense of entitlement far out of touch with reality. We're all just an Enron, or a Hulk Hogan, away from losing it all. Enjoy it while it lasts, and do your best to plan for the future.

Joe Konrath said...

They aren't going away, but as far as ebooks are concerned, their strategy doesn't seem to lead them anywhere.

Where there is money to be made, there will be competition. It will be interesting to see how the next few years play out.

gniz said...

"Expecting more belies a sense of entitlement far out of touch with reality. We're all just an Enron, or a Hulk Hogan, away from losing it all. Enjoy it while it lasts, and do your best to plan for the future."

I think you're being a bit unfair here. I'm out of touch with reality because, like any business, I'm competitive and care about my future?

This is not a complaint. I've said again and again that I'm interested in predicting the market, and that I have CONCERNS about the market's affect on my business. I'm doing well in this ebook thing because I fight hard and am passionate about it. It's not going to kill me to lose money and marketshare--but I'm not actively hoping it happens either.

And you seem only too happy to say that Amazon, a business, has every right to be ruthless and competitive. Well, I'm a business too and I feel the same way. I've said over and over that Amazon is doing it the right way.

My only real disagreement with you is whether or not what they do is longterm beneficial for authors on the whole. If the other platforms can't compete--and my data tells me they can't--then I don't see how it's good for any of our businesses, whether we make 6 figs a month, a year, or in fifty years.

So you taking shots at my attitude when I bring my experience, telling me this is first world problems? What are we here to talk about if not this business?

You're the one being silly. I'm just as able to have valid concerns whether I make a lot of money or none at all. If I made none, you'd tell me I lack experience and data. If I make too much, you say I'm a whiner.

I think you should attack my ideas instead of my character. Resorting to ad hominem shows that you've lost the argument, Joe.

Joe Konrath said...

I'm out of touch with reality because, like any business, I'm competitive and care about my future?

When you've discovered a way to force readers to buy your books, you can focus on being competitive and plan for the future. Until then, you're a powerless raft in the middle of the ocean. You can build a damn fine raft with money and sheer determination, but this biz doesn't follow the regular rules of supply and demand. Luck is a huge, huge part of it.

I'm doing well in this ebook thing because I fight hard and am passionate about it.

So are thousands of other authors who don't earn close to what you earn. Or what I earn. You don't believe we deserve it more than they do, do you?

My only real disagreement with you is whether or not what they do is longterm beneficial for authors on the whole.

I don't have any disagreement with you. I'm thrilled someone is actually debating me on something in my comments. I'm very pleased for your success, happy if I made any small contribution to it, and truly hope you conquer the world.

However, trying to figure out Amazon, and the book market, is impossible. We can study. We can guess. And after that, all we can do is hope. I think my blog shows I'm pretty good at this predicting thing, as far as tech and direction of the industry goes. But earnings? Every month is a surprise. I can force some luck, like with a Bookbub or a new release, but I'm at the whims of the market like everyone else.

What are we here to talk about if not this business?

You are correct. I took a cheap shot. Apologies.

My point wasn't to go ad hominem. My point was to show this argument really doesn't have much of a basis in logic. It's emotional.

Everyone wants to make more money. No one likes it when their income drops. It's normal to think that good times will last. It's also normal to lament when they end, and try to wonder what happened.

But in this business, in publishing, you'll be happier if you really understand how much luck plays a part. You might feel like you're at Amazon's mercy. Guess what? You were at Amazon's mercy when you were making $200k a month. You had no more control than than you do now.

I'm not trying to attack your character. Really. I've enjoyed this debate, and I appreciate you being civil and smart and thoughtful. I'm sure you're a great person.

The thing is, this argument has basically come down to character. If you're blaming Amazon that your sales a slumping, I consider that a personal problem rather than a logical one. It's based on emotion, not business sense. Amazon had ample incentives to switch the KU2 payout, so they did. Amazon has always tried to offer customers more than their competitors. Amazon has earned a commanding position in the ebook market through innovation and customer service. It is unfounded fear to believe Amazon will stop caring about innovations and customers and suddenly become evil.

I understand your concern. Do you understand why I'm not afraid, and why I'm not taking this personally?

Anonymous said...

gniz,

As I understand it, you are deeply concerned that no other company can seem to get as popular as Amazon when it comes to selling ebooks.

What do you think should be done about that fact?


gniz said...

"I understand your concern. Do you understand why I'm not afraid, and why I'm not taking this personally?"

First off, Joe, thanks for the apologies about the ad hominem thing. I didn't really take offense per se, but I just want to be clear that my interest in this is business. I do feel lucky. So, so, so lucky. This whole thing has made my life 1 zillion times better than it ever was.

And yes, you are a HUGE part of that because I learned a lot of what I did in the beginning from your blog. I learned this was even possible because of your blog and your transparency.

I think I understand why you're not afraid, Joe. I think I understand why it's not personal.

But it's happening. That's all I'm saying. I'm all about facing what I believe to be the reality I'm living in. My reality is that things are changing and Amazon is getting more dominant and making my job more difficult. There's NOTHING WRONG with that. And if it sounds like I'm blaming Amazon, well I can only say that I'm not blaming them so many times.

But I also won't praise them and kiss their feet for essentially placing barriers in my path. And I do believe they're erecting barriers to success, and I've gone into detail about that already. I also think that other retailers being terrible at selling ebooks is not helping things any.

As far as concern, my concern is in being good at what I do. And being good, to me, means evaluating this business better than others.

Joe, you've been just about the best at predicting the future with ebooks.

I do think that you see where things are generally headed and just happen to feel less concerned about it than myself. It's a difference in attitude, but not one that changes the facts.

Thanks for engaging. I usually do agree with you over the years...this is the first time we've been at loggerheads and I don't mind it at all. Like you, it helps me to discuss things and really debate and examine my own thought process...

Joe Konrath said...

What do you think should be done about that fact?

Let's say you refuse to go all in with Amazon KDP Select because you don't want Amazon to get anymore marketshare, and you want competition to foster.

What is that telling competition? "I'll put my work on your platform, even though you aren't making much of an effort."

What is it telling Amazon? "You haven't tried hard enough to woo me, so I left."

What's going to happen in each case? Competition won't feel the need to innovate, and Amazon will try harder to win you back by offering you more.

Essentially, you're helping kill the competition.

Now let's say Amazon becomes a 99% dominant market leader in ebooks. What happens once they start screwing suppliers?

At first, outrage. Thousands of unhappy authors, bitching and whining everywhere on the Internet, and in the media.

Would that be enough incentive for a smart start-up to enter the marketplace and woo authors over?

And once authors left Amazon, would the smaller selection cause readers to seek out other ebook retailers?

gniz said...

"gniz, As I understand it, you are deeply concerned that no other company can seem to get as popular as Amazon when it comes to selling ebooks.

What do you think should be done about that fact?"

Unfortunately, my lame ideas about how to combat Amazon's dominance are just that...lame.

For me, it's trying to put a bit more effort into building my own fanbase up and controlling traffic more, with the idea that someday--if needed--I can drive a portion of that audience to wherever I need them to go. Whether that be my own website and my own bookstore, or someplace else.

I say that it's lame, because essentially I think in doing that I'm acknowledging that I've become a marginalized niche supplier to a very small audience.

As Joe would say, I'm lucky I even have that possibility in front of me. Many authors do not.

In a perfect world, five or ten of the biggest indie authors would band together and create either a union of some sort, or a book selling operation to gain some leverage. But it would be very, very risky to do that and possibly lose out on the short term money and also have to risk money to build such an operation.

No easy answers here. Amazon is just that good.

But I don't always look for answers to hard problems--sometimes I just try and describe the situation accurately and then see if later on, solutions arise.

Joe Konrath said...

And I do believe they're erecting barriers to success, and I've gone into detail about that already.

Amazon has gotten in its own way many times. There are battles I've had with them that I never blogged about.

But we have to remember that Amazon's self-caused problems for itself are still quality problems. We wouldn't have this industry without Amazon. Every so often they mess up, like every company does. But for the most part, they keep striving to improve.

I like the new KU2 payout (saying this before they announce their payout for July). I should do better with it than I did under KU1. I can see where some authors are going to make less. I'd suggest start making boxsets of shorter work, start consolidating some pen names, start doing sets with other authors, and focus on writing longer work. Also, if you're doing well with ultra-niche erotica, keep it out of KU. The avid readers will find you.

gniz said...

For me, the issue is that Amazon is erecting barriers to success and it's THE RIGHT THING FOR THEIR BUSINESS.

As long as they're able, they can continue to tighten the noose around our necks and it wouldn't be wrong for them to do it.

Now, again--I'm doing well. KU2 hit me hard, but I adjusted and am bouncing back. The issue for me is less about a so-called slump (because I can't say I'm slumping) and more about the position I find myself in.

It's called between a rock and a hard place.

You can tell me that Amazon is "incentivizing" all you want. But an incentive is something you get on top of your normal situation, like a reward. It's a bonus. It's gravy.

What Amazon's doing with KU can't be considered merely an incentive because we get PUNISHED for lack of participation. The punishment comes in the form of tougher to get visibility if you're not in KU, books falling in rank faster when not in KU, and not being promoted as well internally by the Amazon recommendations.

Those are punishments for not playing ball. And they hurt pretty bad, if you have enough data to look at the difference.

Amazon uses the carrot and the stick, Joe, not just the carrot.

As well they should. I never said they were stupid.

Joe Konrath said...

In a perfect world, five or ten of the biggest indie authors would band together and create either a union of some sort, or a book selling operation to gain some leverage.

I've been mulling this over for years. The problem is, Amazon truly treat erotica authors as red headed stepchildren. And I say this as an erotica author.

I don't like it. Selena Kitt has some very justifiable grievances against Amazon that I agree with. But I also will fight for Amazon's right to sell what it wants to sell, however it wants to sell it. I get the impression that Amazon would just assume lose the millions it makes on erotica just so it didn't have to acknowledge it.

So a lobby of erotica authors probably wouldn't have much power. Amazon just isn't there yet.

A lobby of bestselling romance, thriller, horror, sci-fi, and YA authors might have some sway. But what would we ask for that we don't already get? Seriously?

Veronica said...

Thanks Joe, pretty much how I see it too.

About a year ago I discovered my ebooks for SALE on a site (casadellibro or something like that). Actually, Amazon discovered them there. I had no clue.

It took some time, but I finally figured out that XiiXii (or however that's spelled) distributed my books to Casa and when I closed my account with XX the database didn't update or whatever it is that goes on and my books were still for SALE there. As I had no account with Casa and a closed account at XX, I wasn't really sure what to do. Let's not forget that the Casa site is in Spanish and they didn't reply to support emails.

It took emails and FB messages, and BEGGING for XX to intercede with Casa on my behalf. HOURS were spent on this before it was resolved.

Amazon incentivizes me to go all in and frankly this story is one of the incentives. The competitors must do better to get my business not just be "other than Amazon."

The energy it takes to engage other platforms at this time, for me, is best invested in new projects.

gniz said...

"A lobby of bestselling romance, thriller, horror, sci-fi, and YA authors might have some sway. But what would we ask for that we don't already get? Seriously?"

The lobby is just about having leverage. It's not to just constantly ask for things. But if you get in a position where Amazon does something that we find a step too far--a coterie of big authors that Amazon might not want to lose could hold some sway.

To be honest, I doubt Amazon would even care about that...but if those same authors went out on their own and made their own bookstore? I mean authors who really could carry a fanbase with them, like Bella Andre, Hugh, etc. That would mean something.

That would give some control back, because then you have REAL leverage.

Joe Konrath said...

What Amazon's doing with KU can't be considered merely an incentive because we get PUNISHED for lack of participation.

Again, this is a persepctive issue, based on emotional response.

You earn X without KU. You earn X + Y with KU. Actual punishment would be you earn Y with KU, and Y - X without KU. Amazon isn't actually taking money away from you. It seems that way, but it isn't.

It's like the zero sum argument Scalzi made. It was an emotional response, not logical, and it was incorrect.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2015/07/fisking-john-scalzi.html

There's no real stick here. Just seems that way.

Unfortunately, my lame ideas about how to combat Amazon's dominance are just that...lame.

If you're really bothered by their dominance, you need to invest in alternatives. Just taking your titles out isn't enough. Spend a million bucks investing in Selena Kitt's http://www.excitica.com/. Go insane with Google and Facebook ads. Draw people to the competition.

As I've said, when it rains; sell umbrellas.

gniz said...

Hey Joe,

I am doing some of what you suggest. Like I said, for me this discussion is all about trying to describe the situation accurately and test my thinking.

Get different perspectives. Just like you seem to enjoy doing.

I am changing up my game. BTW Amazon hasn't punished my work in the sense of taking things off sale or the like. And although KU2 hurt and some of my response is emotional--not all of it is.

Again, what I'm describing is how Amazon is slowly squeezing authors so they participate in KU, become exclusive, and then weaken Amazon's competition while making authors more reliant on sticking with Amazon in the future.

It's smart and it's working.

And it's not emotional to see that clearly.

Joe Konrath said...

To be honest, I doubt Amazon would even care about that...

You'd be surprised. I've talked with various Amazon departments dozens of times, and I'm not the only author they call. They want feedback. They want advice. They listen.

KU2 wasn't done overnight. A lot of people knew about it for a long time before it was unrolled. And we offered a lot of advice and suggestion. Amazon asked smart questions. All signs point to Amazon valuing authors as partners/customers.

Could that change? Of course. And having a powerful author lobby couldn't hurt. Amazon doesn't seek retribution. You can still find Turow and Preston and Patterson on Amazon's shelves.

But so far, I just don't see a need for a lobby.

Joe Konrath said...

It's smart and it's working.

And it's not emotional to see that clearly.


I agree. The emotional part is calling is a "squeeze" and taking it personally. Right now, it's an opportunity. It's not a Brando offer we can't refuse.

Remember I think subscriptions are the future, and don't see how authors will earn as much via subscriptions. But I don't see this as Amazon's doing. I see this as a tech trend that Amazon is smart enough to capitalize on. They weren't the first ebook subscription service. But it was going to happen eventually. There is no need to own IP when it is available to rent 24/7.

gniz said...

"The emotional part is calling is a "squeeze" and taking it personally."

For me, calling it a squeeze means that if I take the "incentive," I'm doing it out of necessity rather than because I'm happy to take the opportunity.

If I didn't see it as a situation where the rest of the market seemed to be crumbling around me, then I would be fairly happy about the wealthy of options. But more and more, it's becoming a choice between KU and terms that I find a bit difficult to swallow--and being in wide distribution with booksellers that aren't competent enough to compete.

It's a little scary when you talk to the head of a digital operation at one of the "alternatives" and you know more about what they do in their ebook store then they do.

And you have to tell them how Amazon operates and what incentives are on offer because the competition is just so clueless.

After a few conversations like that, you quickly realize that none of these other place stands much of a chance...

Joe Konrath said...

It's a little scary when you talk to the head of a digital operation at one of the "alternatives" and you know more about what they do in their ebook store then they do.

LOL. I hear that. Ah, the stories I could tell...

But natural selection happens just the same. If the current crop vanishes, something else will take their place.

Veronica said...

gniz your post at 6:22 lays out your point very well. I love clarity. :) I've really enjoyed this back and forth with you and Joe.

The options that are working for me (I'm non-fiction so it's a whole different thing) are to expand beyond books to other products.

Alan Spade said...

"What is that telling competition? "I'll put my work on your platform, even though you aren't making much of an effort."

That's also the argument of Hugh Howey. Let's be clear: for me, the only pure players against Amazon are Kobo and B&N (and perhaps Tolino in Germany): they have eink devices and websites. As I said, Apple and Google are not that much invested in ebooks.

I am very happy that they don't try to lure me to their stores with exclusive deals, because ebooks as a means of reading has nothing to gain in that kind of trench war.

They could offer indie authors like me a better visibility on their websites and run their websites with better algorithms, providing more sub-categories, for sure. And maybe they will do that some day.

But they won't if I and all the indies authors cut their head down.

The punition for not being competitive, not benefitting from as much ebooks as their main competitor, is much too heavy, too harsh in my opinion.

Rakuten could get rid of Kobo if they lose too much money with it. B&N isn't in good shape. Things could change pretty quickly.

"Now let's say Amazon becomes a 99% dominant market leader in ebooks. What happens once they start screwing suppliers?

At first, outrage. Thousands of unhappy authors, bitching and whining everywhere on the Internet, and in the media.

Would that be enough incentive for a smart start-up to enter the marketplace and woo authors over?"

Maybe, but you know that the suppliers don't have all the power. This is a balance of power between the suppliers and the public. If the place the public want to be is Amazon, even if some suppliers (authors) leave, they will have a very hard time attracting the customers to their own website or to a competitor's website.

Whereas if Amazon was divided into a handful of websites competing against each others, those websites wouldn't be able to exert such a power over the market. Competitors could survive. Exclusivity deals would become pointless.

And the new websites wouldn't be at the mercy of big publishing, because indie authors are here to stay, and have many titles, and many successful ones.

Joe Konrath said...

If the place the public want to be is Amazon, even if some suppliers (authors) leave, they will have a very hard time attracting the customers to their own website or to a competitor's website.

I agree with that. But it cuts both ways.

With the exception of erotica, Amazon doesn't want there to be content that isn't available elsewhere. They want to be The Everything Store. It's in their logo. A to Z.

If they lost, say, 5000 top authors, they wouldn't like it, and they'd reach other. They reached out to Preston, remember. And to Hachette authors.

gniz said...

"If they lost, say, 5000 top authors, they wouldn't like it, and they'd reach other. They reached out to Preston, remember. And to Hachette authors."

Maybe, but they're also patient and willing to wait out the competition and slowly kill it when necessary.

It's not a game of chicken I'd be comfortable playing, because those with the deepest pockets usually win.

gniz said...
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gniz said...

One other small nitpick, Joe. That's actually much larger when you dig deeper...

You said: "You earn X without KU. You earn X + Y with KU. Actual punishment would be you earn Y with KU, and Y - X without KU. Amazon isn't actually taking money away from you. It seems that way, but it isn't."

It's really more like the second scenario you gave.

Before the KU program came along, my books had X ranking and made a certain amount of money. This is data gathered over months and months, so I know what I was seeing... THE MOMENT KU STARTED, my books dropped like stones in the rankings and started making less money.

So that was less money than they were making before KU, and that was due to less visibility, because of the way the KU system was implemented. It wasn't just a case of adding money or not adding it. It's a case of losing money, breaking even, or potentially adding money.

And the calculation varies depending on how high or low priced your work is and how much KU cannibalizes your sales--and now it even depends on how long your books are.

The complexity of it makes these things hidden to all but a few industry folks who have enough data to actually scrutinize and make sense of it.

So when I say that most people don't really get what Amazon is doing, I'm serious. A very few people understand how this KU scheme works, and you need access to tremendous amount of ranking and sales and borrow data from lots of books at different places in the market.

If you think the notion of KU being punitive is emotional than you haven't seen enough data.

gniz said...

A note: You'd probably laugh, because I've actually MADE A LOT MORE MONEY with KU than before KU.

But that's a mistake. The issue isn't whether I've made more money in the moment. It's about seeing how KU works. I can take an opportunity in the market--sort of like arbitrage--and yet still understand that this is an imbalance that is bad for the overall health and direction of said market.

I've made my arbitrage play, Joe, and it paid off. That's not the point.

The point is how KU works. I capitalized on it, not by luck, but by understanding its fundamentals and using them to my advantage. However, the catch is that in seeing how KU works and how to use it to my advantage--I also see the peril its creating down the road.

So again, just to be clear. KU can't really be said to have hurt me just yet. For me, it's about seeing very clearly the intent of KU and what it means in the long game.

Joe Konrath said...

I capitalized on it, not by luck, but by understanding its fundamentals and using them to my advantage.

You understand that the very fact that Amazon, and KU, even exist was luck, right?

Broken Yogi said...

Gniz and Joe, really enjoying the dialog between you two. A couple of questions:

Gniz,

For me, the issue is that Amazon is erecting barriers to success and it's THE RIGHT THING FOR THEIR BUSINESS.

What barriers? Are you still talking about the KU switch to paying by the page? I don't see how that's a barrier, unless you can only produce shorts. Who is preventing you from writing longer books that people stick to reading all the way through?

Likewise, you have a legitimate point about Amazon's growing market share of the ebook market. Closing in on 80% is pretty significant. But all I'm hearing from you are vague fears, and I don't respond to vague fears. What specifically do you think Amazon will do with that kind of market share on ebooks? I want something real that makes sense to talk about. Most of the scenarios I hear about are unrealistic. And the scary things I can imagine don't seem to actually be in Amazon's best interests either. So I'm not sure what you're really worrying about, or what you fear.

Joe,

I have a somewhat similar question for you about subscription services. You keep asserting that the future of publishing is in subscription services, but you are very vague about how that happens and why. I don't see what you see, and maybe that's because I'm not as perceptive as you, but I think you really ought to spell out the pathway to subscription service dominance in publishing. I see so many obstacles to that, it simply doesn't seem reasonable to me. I think there is probably a future for subscriptions, but dominance seems not just pretty far off, I can't see a route that ever gets there. At best, it looks like part of a windowing system for trad publishers, but even that seems pretty far away. The only way I see it as profitable is if the author payouts are severely diminished, and then authors will pull out and go back to regular sales. So unless Amazon tries to make regular sales similarly diminished in profit margins, I don't see how it ends up with everyone in KU.

Again, I want some specifics. None of these vague assertions about "subscription services are the future". Maybe you should do a whole blog post on the topic, because it's worthy of that kind of thoughtful attention I think.

gniz said...

"You understand that the very fact that Amazon, and KU, even exist was luck, right?"

Yes. That part is luck. But when my business was hurting because of KU, I was able to (also luckily) find the opportunity in that situation and make the most of it.

That being said, my data (and I have a lot of it) tells me that the KU scheme is slowly killing the competition and narrowing my options day by day. It's like a python, slowly squeezing the life out of my business.

Even if I'm fat and happy now--I really don't see KU as being a good thing on the whole for me or authors in general. But it's a very, very smart play by Amazon.

gniz said...

BY said: "What barriers? Are you still talking about the KU switch to paying by the page? I don't see how that's a barrier, unless you can only produce shorts. "

KU is a very complex system. You can't just look at it simply from the standpoint of pages read. It's a scheme that has totally changed the playing field.

It's going to continue to do so, I believe. It's essentially a slow and steady (but gaining momentum every day) way for Amazon to crush the life out of their competitors while making authors more and more dependent on the Amazon ecosystem.

Amazon is "incentivizing us" (Joe likes that term better) to play more and more in their system. We sell there more and more exclusively, we depend on them to drive traffic, etc. Amazon punishes outside promotion by giving your rankings a hit if you get too big a sales spike at any one time. Amazon does not want to encourage you doing outside promotion or having access to your audience without Amazon as a go-between.

This is all very, very smart business. It's why Amazon is the best.

KU is a program that elevates the visibility and "ranking stickiness" of those books in the KU system. So you do get a nice gift by being in the program and you can definitely capitalize on that. And you'll get some sort of payout based on pages read or borrows or whatever other neat little bonus that Amazon decides on.

But more and more, you hand your business over to them. You hand promo, customer knowledge, your ability to gather data and understand what you'll actually make every month. More and more, you get caught in the web, taking what Amazon deigns to give you.

So far, I admit they've been kind. But for me, their intentions are very clear. They are erecting barriers that make it more difficult for me to act independently outside of their system--particularly their KU program.

That's BAD FOR MY BUSINESS and my longterm success.

It's very, very smart for them and their business.

In the short term, there's lots of money to be made and advantage plays for the smart and savvy author. Longterm its going to be a blood bath.

Bridget McKenna said...

@gniz:

"Amazon punishes outside promotion by giving your rankings a hit if you get too big a sales spike at any one time. Amazon does not want to encourage you doing outside promotion or having access to your audience without Amazon as a go-between."

Seriously? Amazon penalizes authors who sell too many books because some of the people buying them might not have found them on Amazon? Seriously. I'd be fascinated to know more.

Unknown said...
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gniz said...

"Seriously? Amazon penalizes authors who sell too many books because some of the people buying them might not have found them on Amazon? Seriously. I'd be fascinated to know more."

No, they don't punish you for selling too many books. They punish sales spikes. If you do like a Bookbub or even a Facebook type promotion, you get a flood of people buying all at once. When the Amazon algo's see that spike, they make your ranking drop faster than if you had slow and steady organic growth.

This is not a controversial theory.

However, how it relates to the overall scheme and puzzle might be controversial. My take is that Amazon is "incentivizing" us authors to play with them exclusively in every way. That includes depending on Amazon organic, internal promotion rather than Bookbub and the like.

It's not punishment for selling too many books, but rather the way you do it. If its internal to Amazon, it tends to be a nice slow build and you get Amazon ranking stickiness. A spike from outside means no stickiness and a very short tail.

What has the best stickiness right now?

You get a prize if you guessed KU books!

Joe Konrath said...

I think you really ought to spell out the pathway to subscription service dominance in publishing.

I've blogged in detail about this twice.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2015/07/subscription-ebook-services.html

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2015/07/ebook-subscriptions-q-a.html

There is no need to own digital media anymore. Even if you'd like to read an ebook more than once, having it int he cloud 24/7 is the same as ownership. Why pay $3.99 when you can access 2 million titles for $9.99 a month?

Sales of Blu-Ray, VOD, DVD, mp3, m4a, and CD are losing ground to subscription services. Why should ebooks be different?

There are generations under us growing up without any understanding of ownership. Once upon a time I had to visit dozens of stores in Chicago to find a comic, LP, VHS, or book. I haunted used bookstores, Chinatown, swap meets, pawn shops, and seedy little specialty stores of all kinds just to find that rare, OOP, hard to get item... that I can now find on Amazon in eight seconds. And slowly but surely, media--all media, whether the IP copyright holder likes it or not--is being digitized.

Marvel comic back issues are now on Kindle. It took ten years to happen; that's how long ago they were digitized by fans for free on Demonoid and Pirate Bay and Megaupload.

In ten more years they'll be part of a subscription service, along with all the Big 5 titles. It's just the way everything is heading. Once it was a hunt for content. Now it's all about one-click user ease.

But don't take my word for it. Start looking around at viewing and reading habits.My 18 son has never bought a CD. My wife got KU and went from $150 a month Kindle habit to just the subscription. I listen to Amazon Prime music instead of buying mp3s. I have professional musician friends who lament Spotify even as use goes up.

Last year music sales on iTunes dropped 13%. http://www.wsj.com/articles/itunes-music-sales-down-more-than-13-this-year-1414166672

Spotify and Pandora--subscription services--were up 46%.

The same trend is happening with movies.

http://deadline.com/2015/01/home-entertainment-spending-fell-2014-deg-1201342148/

DVD and Blu-ray sales at $6.93 billion fell 10.9% (vs an 8.1% drop in 2013). Subscription disc rentals at $829.7 million were down 18.3% (vs. -19.3%). And rentals from brick and mortar stores at $696.4 million fell 27.1% (vs. -21.4%). The drop in kiosk rentals, overwhelmingly from Redbox, also accelerated: Sales amounted to $1.81 billion in 2014, off 4.4% vs the 2.2% slide in 2013.

Consumers continued to warm to non-disc entertainment. EST sales at $1.55 billion were +30.4%, a slowdown from 2013’s +47.1%. Subscription streaming at $4.01 billion was +25.8% (vs +33.2%).

Why own a bunch of ones and zeros?

Joe Konrath said...

When the Amazon algo's see that spike, they make your ranking drop faster than if you had slow and steady organic growth.

My understanding is that hours, days, weeks, and months are all weighted. A spike and drop selling 10000 in a day books doesn't hold a rank as well as a month selling 10,000 books. But there are other factors at play. A spike that gets you on bestseller lists leads to more sales, whereas a slow, steady sales stream might not. And there is often a noticeable backlist pump with spikes.

I was doing bookbubs back when they were just a wee noob. I've yet to do a promo that didn't pay off, free or countdown.

But no one really knows how Zon's algorithms work. We can make some close guesses, but I always see exceptions that confound me. I've been screwed before, when I was sure I'd hit a ranking and didn't. And I've hit higher than I expected for not having very many sales.

The path to understanding is paved with madness...

Nirmala said...

And sometimes the path to madness is littered with understanding. Go figure!

As for subscription services, I recently posted over on the latest Author Earnings report about how a recent promotion of one of my wife's free ebooks on Bookbub had 21,000 downloads and only got to #5 on Amazon. And that was with a headstart from the day before that already had the book at #88 due to some other promotions we did. We were surprised by the number of downloads we had without reaching #1 that day.

The number of free downloads on Amazon every day is huge. Those people are enjoying getting their ebooks for free. It seems like a lot of people that are being introduced to ebooks for not much money. Those folks could easily be good candidates for a subscription service if they start wanting to branch out from what is available for free, but still "are not gonna pay a lot for this muffler".

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Personally, I think fearing Amazon is the height of paranoia. Okay, maybe not the height. But it's up there. Amazon has been nothing but good to authors and the publishing business.

People are afraid of them because they might get too big? Well, my plan is to get big with them and worry about the fallout if or when it comes. And I have my doubts there's anything to worry about.

gniz said...

"Personally, I think fearing Amazon is the height of paranoia. Okay, maybe not the height. But it's up there. Amazon has been nothing but good to authors and the publishing business."

There's been a ton of discussion right in this comments section, and it's full of in-depth points and commentary both for and against your point.

But if that's the level of discourse you're bringing to the table--nothing but broad simplistic statements and dismissiveness. That's no different than the Big Pub fanboys in my opinion, just the other side of the fence is all.

Joe Konrath said...

That's no different than the Big Pub fanboys in my opinion, just the other side of the fence is all.

I've known Rob for a decade, and watched him go from legacy pundit to Amazon pundit. It isn't fanboyism. It's a calculated weighing of data and options.

Legacy publishing fucked authors. Lots of them. A lot.

Amazon hasn't fucked anyone. It's made a lot of writers rich. It's made a lot more some decent money. It has shorted a few, for various reasons. But fucked? No one.

This isn't about being on sides of the fence. The vast majority of writers who have actually been on both sides agree with Rob.

Alan Spade said...

Even Broken Yogi, who is incisive and very sharp against the ones propagating fear and uncertainty against Amazon, found the debate between you, Joe, and gniz interesting.

Gniz is no trad published author. He's one of us. I, too, found Rob's statement simplistic and disappointing.

How can we use reason and arguments if the counter-opinion is just Amazon Derangement Syndrome? It's a bit dogmatic to my taste.

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

"Amazon hasn't fucked anyone. It's made a lot of writers rich. It's made a lot more some decent money. It has shorted a few, for various reasons. But fucked? No one."

I think you guys are either misstating or misunderstanding my arguments. I don't think Amazon is going to "fuck" authors. I think it's just business. In actuality, you all are the ones who appear to be coming from an emotional standpoint.

Talking about authors "getting fucked," mocking people with differing views, dismissing facts and logic from the other side and using putdowns.

I've never, to my recollection used the terminology that you're ascribing to my beliefs.

I believe that it's simply business.

Amazon won't be "fucking" us, they'll be doing what a smart business does who essentially owns the market. They'll take every bit of profit from every area where it makes sense to do so. They'll control data, customers, and they'll punish authors/suppliers who attempt to become competition.

That's just being good at the business of publishing--at the business of anything.

I've given data and facts for my side of things, too. And I have some data on my side, Joe. I think I must understand this business pretty well, given the fact that I helped clear up a few of your misunderstandings about how your author rank was moving, which you believed was because page reads were now affecting ranking of books.

You were wrong about that. I had the data on my side, because I look at data to make my assumptions about how this market is functioning.

And I've given data-based reasons as to why Amazon is using KU to slowly kill their competition (as well they should). It's an unknown as to what Amazon will do if they're able to gobble up another ten percent of the ebook market and retain a truly dominant position. There are other things that could get in the way of that happening, but certainly it could occur.

I've shown why I think that your comments about "just going elsewhere" are simplistic, once again using data to back up my claims.

We have a difference of opinion. Fine. I can accept that.

But when someone diminishes my arguments by creating straw men, or uses tactics like simplistic blanket statements and character attacks to counter my rational and reasoned points...well, I think that's about as lame as Amazon Derangement Syndrome on the other side of things.

And I don't think you should defend your buddies who do that, either, Joe.

If he has experienced both sides, fine. Let him explain the data he has on his side about what Amazon will do when they have 90 percent of the ebook market in their pocket, what's to stop them from getting there, and why they'd be so dumb as to not take more profit from their business when it will be easy for them to do so...

If he can explain where he's drawing his data from and what it means to him, I'm only too happy to hear it. I've given both my own personal experience, and used Data Guy's numbers to back up my points. Data Guy came into this thread and essentially agreed with my market breakdown.

Let's hear more from you guys then "Amazon wouldn't do that to us. Amazon likes authors."

gniz said...

Joe said: "In ten more years they'll be part of a subscription service, along with all the Big 5 titles. It's just the way everything is heading. Once it was a hunt for content. Now it's all about one-click user ease."

At least on this we are in complete agreement. Subscription is the future and the only ones who will make money in that future scenario is authors with enormous audiences or authors with enormous backlists who can afford to make pennies per "rental."

Joe Konrath said...

In actuality, you all are the ones who appear to be coming from an emotional standpoint.

I'm coming from experience. You're coming entirely from speculation.

I know what it is like to get screwed by the company you're working with. Amazon simply isn't that company. Postulating that it might be, someday, reveals little knowledge of the past.

I helped clear up a few of your misunderstandings about how your author rank was moving,

No, you didn't. I still have no idea what my author rank is moving. I formed a hypothesis. Annie B provided an experiment to try. I tried it. But my fluctuating rank still makes no sense.

I've given data-based reasons as to why Amazon is using KU to slowly kill their competition

Objection, intent. KU may indeed kill competition. But Amazon's goals are to give customers the best experience possible, not to dominate the marketplace. If giving customers great service, wide variety, and low prices, along with innovating, leads to market dominance, it isn't because the goal was to kill competition. That's like saying the goal of ever prehistoric mammal was to kill dinosaurs. Mammals dominated. Dinos died. But there was no intent to destroy.

KDP Select being opt-in is very customer-centric. Amazon is trying to give customers a unique, exclusive reading experience, unavailable elsewhere. They're trying to draw customers. Saying their intent is to destroy competitors is like saying that whenever McDonald's has a Beenie Baby Happy Meal promo, it's intent is to wipe out Burger King. Your rhetoric is wrong.

But when someone diminishes my arguments by creating straw men, or uses tactics like simplistic blanket statements

I didn't notice any straw men. As for blanket statements, Rob has earned that right. He's been in the trenches as long as I have, and his career has paralleled mine. He knows what it's like to work with companies who have their heads up their asses. Amazon is not one of those companies. And anyone who looks at Amazon's behavior over the last 10 years can easily prove the position of "Amazon has been good to authors and publishing. I have my doubts there is anything to worry about." This is perfectly defensible.

It is not analogous to being a big 5 fanboy, as you put it. My blog has spent 6 years showing the harm caused by the big 5. Big 5 authors can't defend their publishers, because they are indefensible.

You hae yet to come up with a cogent argument as to why we should fear Amazon, other than they closed the loophole that allowed you to clean up on KU short stories (and they closed that loophole to the betterment of authors like me.)

Data Guy came into this thread and essentially agreed with my market breakdown.

Data Guy did not come here to support your fear mongering in regards to Amazon. He came to talk about rankings.

Let's hear more from you guys then "Amazon wouldn't do that to us. Amazon likes authors."

You want to here more? Start reading my blog from April 2009 until now. That's a million words you can read that support my position on Amazon.

gniz said...

Joe, I see that in essence we are disagreeing mostly on terms, not substance.

When I talk about Amazon killing the competition and hurting authors--I could be talking about anyone. If it wasn't Amazon, it would be Apple. Or Google.

Their intent is not to harm, it's to benefit their business interests.

If Amazon had better competitors (like McDonalds and Burger King or Coke and Pepsi) with more parity, then I don't believe we'd be in such a precarious situation.

The moment Apple or Google or anyone of those other platforms actually INNOVATES a new ebook program or product, I will change my tune. But they haven't shown they can compete with Amazon.

So in the end, you and I agree on subscription models and we agree in almost every way about this business.

What you continuously see as me calling Amazon "bad" is actually me calling Amazon "good." Only I don't see them as good to authors. I see them as completely indifferent to authors, we are just a means to an end for them. As well we should be.

We are NOT customers. We are suppliers. They only need to keep us relatively happy if they need our work and there is adequate competition for our services.

gniz said...

P.S. I've been faithfully reading (and commenting) on your blog since 2011. If you think I missed a lot in 2009 and 2010, then by all means...I should read more.

:)

Joe Konrath said...

I see that in essence we are disagreeing mostly on terms, not substance.

Any lengthy debate comes down to semantics, or flaming. It's great that we're talking about meaning rather than calling each other poopy heads. :)

If Amazon had better competitors (like McDonalds and Burger King or Coke and Pepsi) with more parity, then I don't believe we'd be in such a precarious situation.

I hear you. I understand. I somewhat agree.

I think where I veer off is I believe Amazon is its own competition. Its constant striving to please customers means it isn't going to screw them. Its constant striving to please authors means it isn't going to suddenly start taking advantage of them. There just isn't a precedent for it. And I admit bias because I know and talk with a lot of Amazon employees involved in A-Pub, KW, KU, KDP, AC, etc. These folks understand a great deal about the publishing ecosystem, and their place in it, and readers' place in it, and authors' place in it. And what they don't understand, they strive to understand.

I see them as completely indifferent to authors, we are just a means to an end for them.


Except we aren't.

When they removed Macmillan buy buttons, Amazon financially compensated Macmillan authors later. They tried to compensate Hachette authors on three different occasions. They fact that they kept selling Hachette titles for six months after the contract ended could be construed as a pro-author move.

I've been part of so many Amazon beta programs, and they've asked for my advice on so many different topics. I was the first known author in AmazonEncore, which lead to Thomas & Mercer and other imprints. I was one of the first Amazon Crossing authors, and they used the German translator that I sent to them, which has lead to 200,000 German sales of my titles. I was there when they unrolled updated reports, new ways to promote and advertise, new territories, and for several press releases.

They might not care emotionally for authors, like I love my wife and kids. But part of their cold, calculated business practice involves listening to, and catering to the needs of, authors. Shatzkin's latest blog post, where he admits what I've been saying for years (that self-pubbing authors will be the downfall of the Big 6), shows how savvy Amazon has played it. Without any Big 5 publishers in KU, Amazon has managed to take market share away from them. They did this via incentives, not via hardline tactics or pressure.

That said, thanks for commenting since 2011. You're helping make this blog better, and a lot of people both here and via email are saying they're learning from this exchange. I'm also learning from it. I appreciate you sticking with it.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

gniz-

As one of those authors who has been dealing with the publishing business for a while and has experienced both sides, I think we just have a different perspective, and frankly, more experience in this business. There are a few things we know the future will bring.

-Change.
-Corporations doing what is in their own best interest.
-Readers spending their money in their own best interest.
-We (authors) are not entitled to anything, especially not the continuation of our previous success.
-We will continue to write, adapt in our business strategies, and strive to serve our readers.

Maybe Amazon will will decide to change their business model and take advantage of their customers (readers and self-employed authors) in the future, as many companies have done in the past. That will open the way for competition. Things will change. We will adapt and keep writing. Change. Adapt. Change. Adapt.

I've been self employed for 27 years and have supported myself and my family as a published author for the last 15. Possible disaster is always looming (when it isn't actually happening). And that much will never change. It sounds as if you have been dealing with that reality well. I would suggest not worrying about things you can't change quite so much, however. Worry is a waste of your time and talents.




Alan Spade said...

"I would suggest not worrying about things you can't change quite so much, however. Worry is a waste of your time and talents."

As I understand it, gniz wants to come ahead of its curve. He has to read trends to understand what's coming next, to anticipate better. It's business.

Part of this predicting thing may lead to worrying about some trends. I said trends, repeated facts observed among many authors and books, not speculation at all.

As authors, we all share some bits of power--our books. We can empower Amazon's competition with our books. That's the power we have. I think that's also a responsibility.

More competitors equates more freedom to the authors, provided said competitors have many readers purchasing at their websites. Each time an indie author promotes in her newsletter by inviting her readers to review, download or purchase only on Amazon, she ties more customer to Amazon. Let's not forget that.

It's not only idle debate. We do have bits of power in our hands.

Alan Spade said...

"Of his curve", sorry.

gniz said...

Thanks to Joe and Ann for both your thoughtful comments.

I do hear what both of you are saying regarding what we can control and what's worth worrying about. And you are both more experienced overall in this business, which is why I do take your opinions very seriously.

That being said, you both make certain assumptions about my background (which is understandable, since I'm pretty much anonymous). But your assumptions are slightly--slightly off base.

First of all, before ebooks came along I'd had about five years solid of getting agents and having books out to editors and being rejected by the big NY publishers. All in all, I had four agents and five books and nothing came of it. So I know how it felt to get my heart torn out and stepped on and to be treated like garbage.

Secondly, my wife and I work in the ebook business together. And she has been traditionally published for over a decade with deals that span 3 big NY publishing houses and over twenty books in that time. I've seen and experienced all of the ups and downs and frustrations, and seen how she handled it all with uncommon grace and smarts.

The point being, I'm not taking certain things for granted that you seem to believe I am.

But unlike yourselves, I'm sort of "over" the whole "Big publishing sucks" era of my life. Big publishing is over. It's finished.

Now I'm worried about what comes next. Worried isn't even the right term. Let's just say, now we are interested in how the market will change and how we can adjust and be prepared for what's likely to come.

This is where my wife and I part ways with Joe and Ann. We believe that Amazon's terms WILL get worse for authors and that as a whole the industry is going to get more difficult as readers switch to a more subscription based model.

Even my wife and I disagree on the timeline--I think it's coming sooner. I think that authors without major pull or a substantial backlist (or hopefully both) are going to find themselves on the wrong end of a bad deal.

It's NOT AMAZON'S FAULT. I can't say it enough. If I use the name Amazon, it's simply because they just so happen to be the best, the biggest lion on the Serengeti. And so that's who I discuss, and that's who I'm concerned with.

I don't really care, at this point, that we used to have to deal with fire breathing dragons (big five publishers). I'm over it, just like Joe's kids are over buying stuff that they can rent or stream.

You all keep hammering on about how Amazon is a zillion times better than the big five publishers and you'll get no disagreement from me. I simply don't care. I wouldn't take a deal with them unless it was something absolutely insane, something that would make Lee Child dance a jig over.

So my point is--please stop dismissing my comments and logic based on assumptions about my mental state or background. This is my passion. This is what I do instead of watching football or baseball. It's fun for me. It's both entertainment and business wrapped up in one nice burrito.

Again, I do take some of your perspective into account, regarding the nature of Amazon's corporate culture. But remember, Joe--corporate culture can easily shift, and I don;t want to depend on Amazon's internal politics to make sure I can grow my business in the coming years.

Thanks again for encouraging debate, intelligent discussion, and pushing me to justify my sometimes overblown rhetoric.

Joe Konrath said...

Part of this predicting thing may lead to worrying about some trends.

Worry is one several useless emotions (others are guilt and regret, envy and jealousy, self-pity, and intolerance). Worrying means you've given up control. Rather than worry, so something to change the outcome. Or, as Ann said, accept it and move alone.

I don't worry about trends. I adjust. I don't bemoan failure. I learn. I don't complain if things don't work out. I experiment.

Amazon changed KU payouts. That doesn't mean Amazon is only out for Amazon and screw everyone else. There are many examples to show Amazon isn't indifferent towards authors. So Rob and Ann (like me, both legacy pubbed authors who have gone through the wringer) don't worry, and neither do I.

Alan Spade said...

"I don't worry about trends."

I hope you are right, Joe. I hope this is not a case of fatalism (you don't have to worry if you are a fatalist), of prefering short-terms advantages over preserving the future, of being used by a greater power rather than using the bits of power and influence that you have.

Rob Gregory Browne said...
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Joe Konrath said...

The point being, I'm not taking certain things for granted that you seem to believe I am.

Thanks for putting that in context.

please stop dismissing my comments and logic based on assumptions about my mental state or background.

I see your argument as emotional rather than logical. It's based on fear and worry rather than any business decisions Amazon has made. As such, the best way to dismiss an emotional argument is to get to the heart of it, and that does involve considering your motive and intent, which springs from feelings.

Amazon hasn't ever attacked authors. Amazon has shown it cares about authors. Amazon having the biggest share of the ebook market doesn't automatically mean they'll abuse that power. Since Amazon's arrival, it has had a lot of competition, and it will always have competition. In 2007 it was Sony. Eight years later, it's Scribd and Oyster. The industry keeps changing, but Amazon keeps on innovating and incentivizing authors. It's an emotional argument to believe that Amazon uses the stick rather than the carrot, because we haven't seen examples of the stick. And to worry that one day the meteor will destroy us all isn't a wise way to make business decisions.

But remember, Joe--corporate culture can easily shift, and I don;t want to depend on Amazon's internal politics to make sure I can grow my business in the coming years.

Amazon's corporate culture has remained remarkably consistent for as long as I've been involved with Amazon. That said, I think I've been pretty consistent in stating how it is impossible to grow a business--in this case a self-pub business--when luck plays so large of a role.

You can't build a house on a shifting foundation. The only thing fully within your control is your writing. Focus on that rather than trying to grow your business.

Again, I understand your argument, and I understand your frustration and concern. I really do. I keep bringing up legacy publishing because I know how bad things were, and the concerns I have with Amazon are minuscule compared to those I used to have.

Amazon could get abusive. It's possible. But I don't see any signs it will. And I don't find dwelling on the things Amazon might do someday to be helpful.

If you want to hedge your bets, compete with Amazon. I just blogged about six ways to do so.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

While I'll be the first to admit my comment was a bit "hit and run," I'm not what you could classify as anyone's fanboy.

I published eleven books with the Big 5 (SMP, Penguin) and Harlequin (what are they, the Little 5?) under various names. And I was a strong advocate of traditional publishing until I looked at friends like Joe and Lee Goldberg and Brett Battles making a shit ton of money on their indie books and saw the world that Amazon had opened up to anyone who wanted to sell their writing.

No one else was doing that. Certainly not traditional publishers.

I once ran a workshop at a well-regarded writers conference in which the participants would read a chapter or two from their manuscripts, then I'd lead the critique in hopes of helping them improve their craft. But here's the thing. Ninety percent of them didn't need me. Their work was so polished and professional I said out loud to the group, "Why the hell aren't any of you people published?" They all shrugged and one said, "You tell us."

And I couldn't, except to say that the editors they had submitted their work to had decided, for whatever arbitrary reason, that they couldn't make any money from the work.

So Amazon not only comes along and makes my friends and many others rich—or, at the very least, able to quit their day jobs—but it also gives all those amazing unpublished authors a chance to get their work out to readers and make a good chunk of money on each book. Certainly far more than New York is offering.

After talking to my financial guy and telling him what my indie friends were making, he just looked at me and said, "Of course, they're making a lot of money. That's all money the publisher normally gets."

Those words resonated with me for months and after some careful number crunching I decided to abandon traditional publishing and go indie. The first month I went indie netted me more money than my highest advance—and it was a pretty respectable advance. What publisher's marketplace would call "a very nice deal."

Not only that, I was completely in control of the property and had no one to answer to except the readers and myself.

All of this thanks to Amazon, a company that hasn't let me down yet, and, in fact, came to me and offered me numerous promotional opportunities as well as ongoing discussions to publish with one of their imprints. To assume that they will one day, in the dark future, decide to turn on authors and screw us all seems ridiculous to me, and is the kind of negative thinking that I have no interest in.

Amazon is my retailing partner and as it grows, I hope to grow as well. And if my intuition proves to be wrong and things don't work out with them, I'll either retire or find another way to reach readers. In the meantime, I'd rather focus on the positives. And there are a lot of those, thanks to Amazon.

gniz said...

" To assume that they will one day, in the dark future, decide to turn on authors and screw us all seems ridiculous to me"

So you didn't read or understand any of my comments in this thread.

Okay then.

David Lang said...

There are a couple things that Amazon is doing that are bad for competition that I think may need to get curbed at some point. We may be at the point that these things should happen, but if so, the current complaining about Amazon and the lack of proposed solutions is not going to make progress)

1. Exclusivity requirements for indie writers for some things (especially where they don't require exclusivity for big publishers)

2. kindle reader lockin (the inability to buy from other stores with kindle devices/software and the inability to buy from the kindle store with competing e-readers/software)

Unfortunantly, these are things that all of the vendors are doing, so picking on Amazon because they are doing the same thing is an uphill battle and you would probably need to force the other stores to open to Amazon at the same time you force Amazon to open to others.

gniz said...
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gniz said...

There's no way to stop what Amazon is doing. None.

Not even competing with them for the crumbs, as Joe says in his new post. They'll still get more crumbs than you.

If anyone has read what I've written here thinks that we can stop Amazon or change Amazon, well then..I apologize. I do think Amazon is highly aware of public perception and wants to control it, but that will hardly change their core business practices.

No, the only thing I argue for is cold, analytical understanding and then trying to jump on the opportunities that exist in the marketplace as created by Amazon. So when they paid more for borrows, I wrote short work in series that had high borrow rates and made me lots of money.

When that changed, I pulled some work out and went wide, also raising prices to make up for the shortfall caused by KU2.

Before that, I wrote young adult fiction when that was the thing. I also wrote short and sexy smut books when that was the thing that could make me money--way before KU was even a consideration.

Now I write different stuff, and we're building brands, driving customers and working with advertising more.

We cannot hope to change the fact that the technology is heading for subscription and ultimately paying authors less, as the supply will overwhelm demand before long.

I never argued that we could change any of this. But opportunities can only be seen when you look clearly and without emotional attachment.

Fawning over Amazon because they paid you what you earned by being good at your job is one such way that you lose perspective and miss opportunities.

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

And finally, if you want precedent for what will happen as Amazon gains market dominance with ebooks, check out what they're saying about audio books in the comments of the Passive Voice.

Tell me again why Amazon will never change royalty payouts and hurt authors?

http://www.thepassivevoice.com/08/2015/audible-royalties/#comments

Rob Gregory Browne said...

"So you didn't read or understand any of my comments in this thread."

Don't take it so personally. I was speaking in general, not about you. There have been plenty of people over the last couple years or so warning that Amazon will eventually screw us. I don't buy it.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

As for ACX, it has always been run differently than KDP and offered less control. But my experience with both ACX and negotiating directly with Audible has been pretty wonderful.

Joe Konrath said...

They'll still get more crumbs than you.

The whole point of crumbs is that Amazon has no interest in them.

If you want to be forward thinking, you have to look at what others aren't looking at. Amazon is missing opportunities with libraries, free ebooks, erotica, enhanced ebooks, ads, and user aggregating content. Their business model is treating these opportunities as afterthoughts.

You won't get Amazon to change. You can't beat them at their own game. You can't stop them. But you can develop business models based around what customers want, but Amazon doesn't focus on.

trying to jump on the opportunities that exist in the marketplace as created by Amazon

Which is smart. But it relies on waiting for Amazon to do something, and then you follow. Your business b=plan is based on watching what others companies do. Sometimes they'll do things that you can benefit from. Sometimes they'll do things and your income will go down.

You're reacting, rather than acting. If Amazon does X, you'll do Y. How about you do X rather than wait for Amazon to do it?

Fawning over Amazon because they paid you what you earned by being good at your job

That isn't what's happening. Being grateful for opportunities that didn't exist years ago isn't fawning. And being good at your job is no indicator of success. There are writers who aren't very good, but who succeed. There are great writers who have never found success. No one deserves anything, and there is no objective correlation between quality and wealth.

Tell me again why Amazon will never arbitrarily change payouts and hurt authors?

Old news. The old Audible royalties were never meant to last. They were an incentive to get authors to join. Amazon was hemorrhaging money under the previous payout structure.

Does that mean they could cut royalties with KDP? Of course. It's possible.

Is it likely? I don't think so. From what I knew about Audible, I knew it wasn't sustainable. KDP had proven sustainable for seven years, and Amazon keeps adding more incentives.

Joe Konrath said...

There have been plenty of people over the last couple years or so warning that Amazon will eventually screw us. I don't buy it.

Indeed. Been debunking that meme for years. Here's one from 2012:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/02/amazon-will-destroy-you.html

gniz said...

Joe said: "Old news. The old Audible royalties were never meant to last. They were an incentive to get authors to join. Amazon was hemorrhaging money under the previous payout structure."

It seems to me that you can always come up with an excuse for why Amazon hurt authors. There's always an out if you look for one.

And again, of course they do it for a reason. There will be a reason they continue to squeeze authors in the future, and it will be because it benefits them, just like KU2 and changes to audible and on and on. They don't do any of this to be mean. A good reason doesn't have anything to do with my descriptions--I agree they usually act with good reason for their business interests.

I can come up with three precedents that you asked for previously in regards to Amazon's behavior being at odds with what was good for most authors' businesses:

1. They didn't move their royalty up to the 70% threshold until Apple did it. That means it was competition that caused the change. They could have done it sooner but chose not to for profitability's sake.
2. They slashed audible royalties without warning, decimating some authors' audio endeavors.
3. They made the change to KU, hurting longer form authors initially, and then to KU2 hurting shorter form authors. But the real hurt was caused to children's book authors, whose businesses were also badly hurt. You can argue away the other casualties, but the treatment of children's book authors was quite bad here.
4. Bonus: their poor and erratic treatment of erotic content, where they do everything from adult dungeoning work to taking it down, making erotica categories difficult to find, etc.

These aren't things that I consider mean or wrong for Amazon to do. I just look at them as cold and calculating maneuvers that Amazon does which can at times, hurt or even destroy an author's business if you end up on the wrong side of it.

And they will continue to do more in the future, and it will always be for a good reason. Especially if you want to try and make excuses to help Amazon appear that it "cares" about authors.

Another major difference between you and I, Joe, is how we view ourselves in relation to Amazon. You call them partners, you see yourself as their customer, you even say that they consult you for your opinions, etc.

I see Amazon as a business entity that I can sometimes work in alignment with, and other times they are my competition. I view them as expedient to what I want to do, and nothing more.

As far as reacting to Amazon--it's made me a ton of money to do so, not just because of KU, but since almost day one. I see it as using my size and quickness to take advantage of what the big behemoth does for its own ends. When that stops working, I'll stop doing it. I make quite a bit of money with a two-person operation, zero overhead, everything is profit.

Works for me!

Thanks for continuing the thoughtful and engaging discussion...

Joe Konrath said...

It seems to me that you can always come up with an excuse for why Amazon hurt authors

I see what you did there.

Amazon hasn't hurt authors. Amazon has changed terms that are less beneficial than they once were. Surely you see the difference.

I don't make excuses for Amazon. When Amazon screws up, I call it. If you follow my blog, you know I haven't written an Amazon review in years because I don't like their review policy. I don't like their erotica policy, either. But in neither case am I, or any other author, being hurt.

There will be a reason they continue to squeeze authors in the future

LOL. Such as when Amazon breaks into your house, steals your silverware, and threatens to burn the place down unless you pay protection money.

Since your wife has had legacy contracts, you're no doubt familiar with how authors can actually be squeezed. But even then, writers would sign contracts willingly. Amazon doesn't own rights in KDP. In A-pub, my contracts have expiration dates. They haven't squeezed me, therefore your statement falls under the "when did you stop beating your wife" fallacy Barry mentioned.

They didn't move their royalty up to the 70% threshold until Apple did it. That means it was competition that caused the change. They could have done it sooner but chose not to for profitability's sake.

Technically, it wasn't competition, it was illegal collusion that forced Amazon to accept the agency model. I'll suggest that Amazon's move to 70% wasn't a response to competition, but rather a proactive solution to what would eventually become a court case. I've stated many times that I'd be comfortable with KDP using wholesale terms, and allowing Amazon to set my prices.

They slashed audible royalties without warning, decimating some authors' audio endeavors.

I'm smiling at your hyperbolic word choices. "Slashed" "Decimated" "without warning".

If memory serves, there was warning. And Amazon had a date where authors could retain a higher royalty if they published by a certain date. I've never used Audible--my agent has sold 99% of my audiobooks--so I had no dog in that fight and never needed to learn much about it. That said, they "slashed" them to what? 40%? That's more than any audio deal I ever signed. Just sayin'.

The ACX situation is something that Amazon haters bring up all the time, along with hot warehouses and 1984 and the Gazelle Project and sales tax and Hachette. I'm still waiting for Amazon to actually do something really objectionable.

But the real hurt was caused to children's book authors

How so? Amazon has allotted for pictures in their page count averages.

Joe Konrath said...

their poor and erratic treatment of erotic content

I agree with you here. I don't like how Amazon has dealt with erotica, as much as I don't like how they handle reviews.

Especially if you want to try and make excuses to help Amazon appear that it "cares" about authors.

I'd use the term "values" rather than "cares." It's business. Thusfar, Amazon's business decisions have benefited me, and I consider them a partner in that our goals are currently aligned.

You have to remember how I got on this bandwagon. I abandoned the legacy publishing ship, and Amazon saved me from drowning. Any evangelizing I do for Amazon is about showing newbie authors the choices now available, and how Amazon is a worthy alternative to the Big 5.

I see Amazon as a business entity that I can sometimes work in alignment with, and other times they are my competition. I view them as expedient to what I want to do, and nothing more.

I feel the same way, with some tweaks. Amazon isn't simply expedient, they created a market and gave me the opportunity to thrive in it. They offer a much-needed alternative to what the status quo was. Writers need to know this.

I understand that you've earned your opinion, but your opinion is harmful to newbies entering this arena. The media is decidedly anti-Amazon. Many authors are anti-Amazon. But Amazon isn't the enemy. For writers, it's a lifesaver.

I can't view Amazon without the context of legacy publishing. Nor should any writer.

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