Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Guest Blogger James Swain

Joe sez: James Swain is an accomplished magician, gambler, and the bestselling author of fourteen thriller novels. I talked to him at a conference in Florida several months ago. He had a few questions about ebooks, and I was more than happy to answer them. As with all authors who ask (and even those that don't ask) I iterated that the keys to Kindle success are:

1. A good book with good formatting.

2. Good covers.

3. Good product descriptions.

4. A low price

Recently, he self-published four new ebooks on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and they're doing exceedingly well. His covers were done by my cover artist, Carl Graves at Extended Imagery. He had them professionally formatted by my formatter, Rob Siders. And he priced them to sell, at $2.99.

I asked Jim to answer a few questions about ebooks, and he kindly responded.

Joe: What prompted your move to self-publish your ebooks on Kindle?

Jim: It was actual a series of events that led me to this decision. My publisher, Random House, had two books which they'd paid me to write in the Tony Valentine series that were in their catalog to be published. RH decided to release two other novels I'd written instead, and after two years of nothing happening, those books got kicked back to me. I'd been thinking about self-publishing them, and actually had orders for 5,000 of each title. Then I looked at the cost and flipped. It was going to run me over $50,000 to do this! The eBook route seemed much less expensive the more I looked at it. I had two other novels which my agent was shopping (The Program & The Man Who Cheated Death) which I decided to release as eBooks as well.

Joe: Have you been pleased with your results so far?

Jim: Ecstatic! I've sold over 1,400 books and also got renewed interest in a TV series that's in development in Hollywood for the Valentine series. I also enjoyed the process of self-publishing digitally, which is radically different than self-publishing in print. Back in the 1990s, I self-published two hardcover books on magic. Each book took 18 months to complete from start to finish. This process took 10 weeks from start to finish. Talk about a difference.

Joe: How easy was it to get your ebooks published? Did you get some help?

Jim: I didn't find it easy at all. If I hadn't heard you speak at the Mysteries to Die For conference in Sarasota, I don't think I would have done this. Your talk answered a lot of nagging questions, and empowered me to try this. Rob Siders, the gentleman who formatted my books, also helped a great deal.

Joe: Would you consider ever writing a novel specifically for Kindle?

Jim: Absolutely. I love to write stories, and have been doing so since I was a kid. Writing is my passion, and I can certainly see myself writing a book for Kindle. I think eBooks are the greatest thing since sliced bread for people who love to read, and there's no reason not to write something just for this audience.

Joe: Are you going to list your ebooks on Smashwords (and through them, on Apple, Sony, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Borders, etc.)?

Jim: My eBooks were listed with Smashwords, but I was forced to take them down. Let me explain why. I got complaints from readers who didn't like the way Smashwords formatted my books, which was upsetting to me. I didn't want a product in the marketplace that didn't look professional, and readers were telling me that the books on Smashwords weren't up to snuff.

The second reason was B&N. At the time my books were released, Smashwords was the only way to get onto B&N's site. As you know, Smashwords doesn't put every author on B&N, just those they want to. While I was waiting for them to make up their mind, B&N launched their own platform called Pubit, which allows authors to list books on their site. I put my books on Pubit, and they went live in two days. Then a strange thing happened. Smashwords put their versions of my books on B&N's site, and undercut my price by 10%. I had no choice but to end my relationship with Smashwords.

Since then, I've listed my books on the iBookstore through Lulu, and am listing my books on Kobo and Borders as well, which I think covers all the bases.

I hope people won't take this comments as a slam of Smashwords. I think it's a good site that offers a good service, and Mark Coker, the founder, is a brilliant guy. It just didn't work for me.

(Joe sez: Just an FYI, the issues Smashwords have been having are the results of the retailers they're dealing with, not because of any problems on the Smashwords site. B&N, Sony, and Kobo take a long time to implement SW ebooks into their catalogs, and then they discount those ebooks. Smashwords is currently working to stop the discounting, and to make uploading books and reporting sales more timely, which is why I've stuck with them.)

Joe: Any predictions about the future of publishing?

Jim: I have been making a living from the publishing business my entire adult life, and could go on about this topic for days. Here's the Reader's Digest version: Those who embrace ebooks and the new technology will do just fine. Those who don't, won't.

Joe: I've been preaching about ebooks for over a year now. Have you been evangelizing this to your peers as well?

Jim: Yes, I have. The mainstream media has done a wonderful job of demonizing ebooks, and blaming them for publishing's current dire straits. As a result, many writers are avoiding the topic like the plague. They need to wake up, and look at the reality of what's happening. The publishing industry's downward spiral began in the summer of 2008, and had nothing to do with eBooks, and everything to do with a financial crisis that was out of control. Ebooks are the best thing that's happened to the business since the popularization of the paperback. They will eventually be the industry's salvation.

Joe: Thanks, Jim, for stopping by. I love it when "name" authors jump on this bandwagon, because it echoes what I've been saying all along: this is the future.

I'm not sure ebooks will be the industry's salvation, as much as they'll be authors' salvation. Making 70% royalties is a Very Big Deal, especially for pros who have accepted 8% for years.

But just as important is the time issue. After Jim and I spoke in Florida, he had four novels up on Amazon, fully formatted and with killer covers, within two months. There are no Big 6 publishers that could have accomplished that. Nor would any Big 6 publisher release four novels by the same author at the same time, worrying they would cannibalize each other's sales.

Which brings me to a point I often harp about. In an ebook world, there is no shelf life for books. Ebooks are forever. Which means that every day your ebook isn't live on Amazon is a day you aren't getting paid.

There is no longer any need to stagger book releases, or subscribe to the "one book a year" ethic that publishers seem to love. If you've got something ready to go, then sooner is better.

It's also worth noting, if you're a professional author with a backlist, that new Kindle books give your backlist a boost in sales. Previously this year, I'd been selling about 200 ebooks a day. Since November 1st I've been selling 350 self-pubbed ebooks a day. This is due to the launches of Shaken and Draculas in October.

This doesn't count the sales of Shaken, which I'm not allowed to specifically disclose because AmazonEncore likes to keep their numbers close to their chest. But I can say, if I include my backlist Jack Daniels ebooks with my self-pubbed ebooks, I was selling over 1000 ebooks a day not including Shaken.

That's a lot of ebooks.

Elsewhere on the interwebs, a lot of folks have been making predictions about how big this ebook market is going to get. While my belief that ebooks will replace print as the dominant format is based on precedent for other media technologies, my own sales, and my experience with the publishing world, it is still just a guess on my part. But ebook sales will increase quite a bit this holiday season. And they'll increase even more next year, now that color is possible with E Ink.

And print? It's dying. Check the latest stats on Publisher's Weekly. In a nutshell: ebooks up 151%, hardcovers down 40%. The same thing is happening with audiobooks. Downloads up 74%, CD sales down 40%.

This is the future. Get in on it as soon as you can.


Mark Asher said...

Interesting about those PW numbers:

"Sales for the 14 publishers that reported e-book sales hit $39.9 million in the month....In contrast, sales in the three adult trade segments, adult hardcover, trade paperback and mass market paperback, all fell by more than double digits with the adult hardcover segment experiencing the biggest decline with sales down 40.4% at the 17 publisher who reported sales to the AAP of $180.3 million."

If I'm reading the correctly, ebook sales represented about 28% of the market. That's a big jump.

Tuppshar Press said...

A very useful interview, Joe, and it's always nice to have your comments at the end. We've been seeing the same things you have: ebooks are rapidly turning into the new wave of fiction, and are also making a lot of fiction available that would not otherwise have been published. As they continue to expand, I expect we'll see more and more quality fiction written, since authors do love an audience, and ebooks give them access to one that was denied under the old system.

It will be interesting to see what happens this Christmas...

Another Naughty Tuppshar Press Title

Jeff M said...

Fascinating to see how each guest bloggers path to ebooks began.

On a side note, does anyone have advice for Canadian writers? What kind of tax hoops would they have to jump through to publish on Amazon?

Marie Simas said...

So much literary awesomeoness.

I'm sad about what James had to say about Smashwords.

I'm also a big fan of Mark Coker and I hope he gets this stuff ironed out with the retailers soon. Smashwords is really a pioneering site and I want them to make it.

Do Tampons Take Your Virginity?

Unknown said...

James Swain! I LOVE him!

It's great to see someone else whose books I dig jump on the ebook train and make his books more affordable and available.

And a great interview/post, as always.

Reviews Of Unusual Size!

Tara Maya said...

I've decided to bring out my fantasy series as ebooks. I am hoping to put out one a month, although I may not be able to keep up that schedule because the drafts for the later novels are still a bit ragged. However, except for that, and for my need to stagger the costs of the editing and cover art, I would put up the whole series at once.

Tara Maya
Conmergence: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Steve said...

Loved the post. The covers are done nicely. Joe your pushing me toward Kindle, and I thank you.

Anonymous said...

Mr. J:

You sign a W8-BEN and send it to the IRS and they withhold 0% of proceeds because Canada has such an agreement with the US, among others. Money is sent to a Paypal account only. The details are available on the Amazon publishing FAQ.

Unknown said...

Joe, I just discovered your blog earlier this month when I was researching e-publishing. I was attracted to the site because I am a "Newbie" to the business. Thanks for the valuable information and advice. I've been amazed to see the jump in ebooks this year.

I know you are a big advocate of Amazon and Kindle, but I wondered what you think about Pubit by B and N? I realize it is new, but I wondered what your thoughts were regarding a new author taking advantage of being on the "ground floor" of a new epublishing venture?

James Scott Bell said...

I'm a fan of Swain's print, so was pleased to see these new titles. Classy look all around. Congrats.

Thanks for the interview, Joe.

Unknown said...

"Those who embrace ebooks and the new technology will do just fine. Those who don't, won't."

This comment has applied in every facet of industry during every era of history. Technological changes lead most evolving markets. All other parameters being equal, the producers who trail in adoption tend to trail in the market. The publishing industry feeds so many middlemen that the producers don’t view themselves as leaders. Critical decisions are often outside their control. Some authors fear offending the middlemen. If this were marriage, not all would be healthy.

I gave myself a Nov. 1 deadline for traditional publishing. For many months I’d been working with an enthusiastic agent and wanted to give him ample opportunity. I'm big on loyalty, and he’d earned some. But the groundswell under this business model keeps shifting the landscape. Like unrequited love, at some point, logic dictates a change.

My thriller, 3 LIES, will be out this month, with another soon to follow. Joe’s ebook drumbeat helped me move on without guilt or remorse.

All the best to James Swain! Thanks again, Joe, for another great profile!

Unknown said...

Fabulous info as always, Joe!

And kudos to both of you - Joe and Jim - for rockin' the E-Book World!!!

Smiles & Toasts All Around --- D. D. Scott

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Can you, or both of you, talk for a moment about the difficulties with self-publishing. Is it the formatting? The promotion? What do you see as the biggest hurdles? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Welcome Jim!!!

Congrats on all your success as a writer. As a recent Kindle owner I am STOKED to be having established writers pricing their books at appropriate price points. It amazes me that bBooks are coming out at prices DOUBLE that of paperbacks. It's insane. I'm ordering one of your books today and look forward to reading your work!

Gary Ponzo said...

I'm curious what percentage of ebook sales are from Smashwords and B&N compared to Amazon. I have an exclusive agreement with Amazon and wondering what I'm missing out on from other sites.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. I looked up the Amazon ranking of two of the books from the Authonomy site that Harper Collins liked and decided to publish. I never saw any mention of the terms of the agreement they made with the authors, but according to the Authonomy site both books were well-written and praised highy by HC on the web site. I did see those quotes on Authonomy.
I was saddened to discover that both books are so far, far down in the rankings as to be lost at sea. I never saw any ads for them-I don't know if they recieved any media support from HC or not. The books were "Somebody to Love Us" and "The Mango Orchard." They both sounded like books many people would enjoy reading.
It's difficult to see how SP can be a worse way to go. At least you would own the rights to your own work, and unless you are one of the senior rainmakers that got in long ago, the chances of selling even a well-written book through a publishing contract with one of the majors seems very unlikely.I keep hoping Boyd Morris will say something about his experience going with a major publisher. Would he do it again?

David Wisehart said...

Nice interview. Love the covers. Interesting insight into the Smashwords dilemma. I haven't put my book up there yet. It's on Kindle, and I'm thinking of going direct to B&N with Pubit. May wait on Smashwords until they figure out their discount issues.


Jude Hardin said...

You're a good man, Joe. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and your site.

Glad to hear your books are doing well, James. I'm planning to self-publish eventually, so all this is music to my ears.

Anonymous said...

Am I crazy or do the people on the cover of "The Program" look just like Angelina Jolie and a young Marlon Brando?

I assume they aren't, but is the similarity intentional?

Just curious - Anonymous Steve

Rex Kusler said...


You have an interesting background. I especially like your take on Indian casinos. I've studied and played blackjack my entire life, a lot of hours. I couldn't believe how badly I always lost in some of the small Indian Casinos in California--and how easy it would be for them to add or remove a few cards. A bad run can last a long time, but not forever.

I had never heard of you. Can't wait to start digging into your novels.

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wannabuy said...


Well done.

My curiosity is to when the quantity of ebooks available pushes a mass number of readers over.

New books by established authors
and, of course, newbie authors.

I think we're six months from that 'tipping point.' Every new book pushes us that way...


KevinMc said...

Neil, do you think we're going to see a "tipping point" based on total book numbers? I mean, there's already a couple million ebooks out there. That's more than I'm likely to read anytime soon. And most new books are being released to ebook at the same time as the print copy, so it's not a lack of access to current or future new books.

I think it's more a matter of finance. The median household income in the US is about $46k - that's for a household, often with two people working! So half the country earns less than that... And we're at 9% unemployment. Spending $140 on a new kindle (per family member, possibly!) is a lot of money. Probably as much or more than many families spend on books in a year.

I don't think it's about how many books there are; I think it's about ereader price. We're simply *not* going to see real saturation happen while ereaders are over $99. If they drop that low, we'll start to see much higher adoption (and there are android tablets entering the market at that price point now, finally). Once the tablet price drops to $50 or so, we'll see much deeper saturation, and that's probably when we'll see sales go over 50% ebooks.

But right now, that $140 represents a significant barrier to entry for most people.

jtplayer said...

Speaking of pricing, it's interesting to note just how few "cheap" ebooks are in the Kindle top 100.

There are currently 10 books in the top 100 priced 2.99 or less, and two of those are the bible.

Conversely, there are many books at the top of the list priced at 9.99, 12.99, and even higher.

I've been keeping an eye on the list ever since Joe touted Shaken at #8, and have found the pricing trends interesting indeed.

It's too bad Amazon won't release actual sales figures, a situation I find highly suspicious relative to this whole "ebooks are taking over the world" nonsense I hear incessantly.

In my mind, the only way ebooks will ever take over is by being cheap...really cheap. As long as the Kindle bestseller list is filled with ebooks priced at or above their paper counterparts, I don't see those DTB's going away any time soon.

KevinMc said...

@jtplayer: Yeah, I actually did a pretty detailed analysis of one genre (fantasy) over on Dean Smith's blog last week. Took the top 50 bestsellers released in the last 90 days and broke down the prices. Most popular prices were all between $6.99 and $9.99, with a few outliers above and below that. Only one $2.99 book, and that was a novella/Wheel of Time thingie.

It wasn't for lack of $2.99 books, either. There were plenty - well down the bestseller list.

It wasn't because the top 50 were all name authors, either. I know the genre pretty well, but didn't on sight recognize 27 of the 50 names. Nine were first novels. Eight were second novels.

But very few books were selling at "bestseller" levels below $6.99.

I wonder if we're already seeing a knee-jerk reaction to the deluge of random novels being put up by authors at 99 cents to $2.99; where people are avoiding those works because of a perceived lack of professionalism.

jtplayer said...

Re" I wonder if we're already seeing a knee-jerk reaction to the deluge of random novels being put up by authors at 99 cents to $2.99; where people are avoiding those works because of a perceived lack of professionalism."


If this isn't happening now, it will soon enough, IMO.

Right now readers are in a blissful "gee, aren't ebooks wonderful" stage.

At some point all of this will become old news, and it will be back to business as usual, with the bestseller lists full of traditionally published authors taking advantage of one more revenue stream.

Sure, authors like Joe Konrath will continue to do well, and the occasional indie will break through in a big way. But that will not be the norm.

Just look at the music industry if you have any doubts. In many ways, ebooks are tracking the same trajectory as the digital revolution in music.


KevinMc said...

I think "best price" may shift up shortly (or might be already). There is a nasty tendency among self-publishers to devalue their own work simply because it's self-published. I hear it all the time - from self-pubbed authors! - that "$6.99 is a good price for a real publisher, and $2.99 is a good price for self-pub" or similar junk.

As I've said elsewhere: if you have a good story that is well packaged, most readers can't tell if it was from a major publisher or if it was from the small press you founded to publish your own work. Can't tell, and don't care. Stop thinking about it as "self-pub", start thinking about it as founding your own small press, and you're on the right track. I don't see that changing.

If there ends up being a negative reaction to the $2.99 price (I'm still not sure, but beginning to wonder), it will be because BAD novels or BADLY packaged books are tending to be launched at or migrate to those levels in an effort to sell them to readers. Not because there's any visible difference between a good book you package at your own small press and a good book packaged at most other publishers.

You might be right, in a roundabout sense though... Those people with the business sense to put their work out there in a professional manner will in effect be starting their own publishing business, so at that point, I guess they might not count as "indie" anymore? ;)

Douglas Dorow said...

Wait a minute. Did I read Jude is going to self-publish or did somebody hack his account? :)

Jude Hardin said...

Another one of Joe's predictions come true. ;)

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Great interview. I've also just epubbed my YA novel, Into the Shadows, and used the services of Carl Graves and Rob Siders. They are truly awesome at what they do and I would HIGHLY recommend working with both of them.

I've only been selling since November 1st, but I've sold 32 ebooks so far, and I'm a complete unknown. Of course, they aren't the numbers other writers are pulling, but I understand and hope it will increase over time and with future book releases.

I am listed on Amazon (US and UK), Smashwords, and B&N. So far I've sold 28 copies on Amazon, 2 on B&N, and only 1 on Smashwords. On Smashwords, I did opt out of having it on Kobo (after hearing Joe had some issues with pricing)and B&N, because I already had it posted there. And I couldn't get posted for Sony or Apple because I didn't have an ISBN then. I do now, because I've done a paperback version, but I don't think that ISBN applies to the ebook.

In any case, I think Amazon will prove to carry the bulk of my sales, as they already have. I have to say I've been super satisfied with the experience so far and look at it as a great way to get myself out there.

Thanks again to Joe, for all the info and resources...I've thanked you in my acknowledgments!

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

@ Kevin Mc,

I love your advice to think of it as starting your own small press instead of self pubbing. That is SO true! I will remember that.

evilphilip said...

"Just look at the music industry if you have any doubts. In many ways, ebooks are tracking the same trajectory as the digital revolution in music."

The reason the music industry is in so much trouble is that the consumers moved from retail sales to digital downloads and digital players while the industry itself ignored digital music players and digital downlads.

This created an environment where ALL digital music was illegal downloads or rips from your own collection.

When Apple finally got smart and opened their own digital music store (iTunes) it was designed in such a way to benefit Apple and not the industry. Apple allowed consumers to purchase ONE song from an album instead of the industry model of forcing you to buy an entire $10+ album to get the ONE song you were interested in.

This has created an environment where the number of digital sales is increasing every year and yet the overall amount of revenue for the industry as a whole is declining.

The downside is that this is killing music and killing off bands and indie bands have no way to 'get the word out' about their music.

This is something like what we are seeing with the Kindle. Authors going directly to the Kindle (Apple) at a lower price (one song) is going to kill off the publishing industry.

What authors have that indie bands don't have is a platform that helps you get the word out about your product. Amazon's recommendations and "Other users bought this." is a form of promotion that works a lot better with a book than it works with music.

Most people find out about new music from radio, TV, movies, friends... they can't go directly to the source the way readers can go directly to Amazon and find the books they are interested in.

Plus, a single author doesn't need to make the kind of money a band is looking to make. Bands want to be 'famous' and they want to play in a big venue. That means they need hundreds of thousands of sales.

A single author only needs a few thousand sales per item before that money starts to supplement your full time income or even replace your full time income.

We are going to see a big shift as the print industry tries to grapple with eBooks, but I don't see this as hurting authors the way bands have been hurt by the move to digital.

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evilphilip said...

Sorry for the duplicate posts. Blogger was acting weird.

evilphilip said...

"I've only been selling since November 1st, but I've sold 32 ebooks so far, and I'm a complete unknown."

I have a single short story up on the Kindle and I have sold almost 500 copies in three months.

jtplayer said...

Completely flawed analysis philip...nice try though. is this:

"Bands want to be 'famous' and they want to play in a big venue. That means they need hundreds of thousands of sales."

You obviously don't know any independent musicians.

Stick to writing books dude.

wannabuy said...

JT said:
"There are currently 10 books in the top 100 priced 2.99 or less, and two of those are the bible."

Impressive considering how few of the indie authors have developed a name. :) Seriously, the big6 have the marketing skills to sell a book in volume, so we should expect them to dominate the best sellers.

The big6 are abandoning midlist. If we ever see 30 indie books in the top 100 it is game over for the big6's business model.


jtplayer said...

The point I was making Neil was about pricing, not how many Indies there are in the top 100.

Konrath is certainly not an independent author, and he is among those 8 in the top 100 (when you exclude the bible).

As long as Amazon's top 100 ebook list is dominated by books priced at or above their paper counterparts, I don't see how it will ever be "game over" for anyone.

Likewise, I don't see a day coming anytime soon where you'd have 30 true independent authors in the top 100. Guys like Swain and Crouch and Konrath don't count, as they've started their careers as traditionally published authors.

Karly Kirkpatrick said...


500 copies of a short story in 3 months! Congrats! That's awesome! I hope to pull those kind of numbers soon. Being that we're only at the middle of the month tomorrow, I'd like to end the month selling 40 or 50 ebooks total, and hope it will continue to grow month after month.

I also did a paperback version (for non-ereader-having friends/family/ students) so I think I'll initially sell quite a few copies that way. But I teach in a high school, so once the kids get a hold of the copies, I expect word to spread pretty quickly!

I do have a friend that also epubbed and did a paperback version and says her sales are 50/50 at this point, mainly because most young readers don't have ereaders yet. But I anticipate they will in the next couple years.

Tara Maya said...

As far as I'm concerned, even if indies don't regularly break into the top 100, and even if the Big 6 continue to merrily be the Big 6, ebooks and self-pub has still changed the industry radically for the better.

There are still writers who are so desperate to be published, they will sell their futures to something vile like Frey's chump farm. Whoa, and people warn against self-publishing?

Tara Maya
Conmergence: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

jtplayer said...

I completely agree Tara that ebooks have forever changed publishing, the end result being great new opportunities for independent authors.

In my mind the successful ones will be those willing to put in the work necessary to produce a professional product, and follow-up with a smart, aggressive marketing plan that capitalizes on all of those newfound opportunities.

What I don't see happening is the end of traditional publishing or an all ebook world.

Just like the music business, you're going to have large corporations capturing the bulk of ebook sales, with the usual suspects topping the bestseller lists.

The paradigm has indeed changed, but hard work is still required, and those thinking the streets are paved with gold will be sorely disappointed when the "revolution" doesn't pan out for them in the ways they imagined.

jtplayer said...

And to those who still believe paper books will go the way of the dinosaurs, and point to the music business as their proof, keep in mind digital never completely killed off vinyl records.

In fact, vinyl has never been bigger, and virtually every new release is available in that format.

So the reality is, digital peacefully coexists with the oldest of "old school" technology.

Imagine that.

wannabuy said...


I get the point on pricing. My point is the publishers:
1. Charge higher prices, in part to pay for the advertising to get into the top 100.
2. Their business model has changed requiring them to hold the top 100.

We've had a few indie authors break into the top. I speculate that will be the norm. But if indie authors ever do take a significant share, it rocks the model.

I do not get the point of your Vinyl records. That is a niche industry. Are you saying publishing will survive as a niche industry? I live in LA, the music industry of today is not what it was. Once their business model was broken they sold themselves off to 'entertainment conglomerates' and suffered through downsizing, wage freezes, etc..

I think pbooks will be around for bit. But ebooks will easily take half the market. The question is when.

My point is that unless the big6 hold the top100, their fate will be as bad as the music industry.


wannabuy said...

Just to clarify:
1. I've pointed out in a few discussions that pbooks will survive. Its tough to compete with that stack of books at Costco/SamsClub/Walmart. While people might not buy that day, it puts the cover in their mind. The airport kiosk will be the last place to go (and it won't disappear).

2. Vinyl records as an example? 2.5 million is all the albums sold in 2009 and that is up almost 50% from 2008! Niche industry...

Vinyl 'has never been bigger?' Ummm... only since 1991 after Vinyl collapsed to CD sales. CD's sales are collapsing at a mere 300 million per year! 2.5 million vs. 300 million...

The record industry is a mere shell of what it once was back in 2000 (sales down 54% since then). My point on pricing is that the publishers had better use their higher prices wisely (e.g., advertising) or they will suffer a worse fate as it is far easier to make a living selling indie ebooks than indie music.

Oh, apparently catalog music isn't selling well at $1.29/song:

Just like music, that is what it comes down to: being able to make a living doing one's 'labor of love.'

Let's talk vinyl albums when their sales are in the hundreds of millions per year. Not 2.5 million albums.


jtplayer said...

The point about vinyl was the fact it survives to this day.

And it is less of a "niche" market than it's ever been since its supposed demise with the advent of the digital medium.

Virtually all name artists release on vinyl now, along with CD's and digital downloads.

Yes, the music business is radically different than it was 10,20, or even 30 years ago. But it still survives as a viable business, and for all their shortcomings (and perceived lack of vision), the big record companies are still chugging along.

As will the big publishers. Of that you can be assured.

Basically Neil, I think we're on the same page here, and view epublishing from the same side of the fence.

Have a great day.

KevinMc said...

Big publishers are not going anywhere. Not most of them, anyway. They are billion+ dollar a year businesses, most in turn owned by conglomerates with fifty+ billion dollars in annual revenue and many times that in assets. They have the deep pockets they need to soak up hundreds of millions of dollars a year in losses - each! - and still come out OK.

Might some get shuffled off into a corner anyway? It could happen. But most will be just fine.

Print is not going to "go away" anytime soon. Too many people grew up with it, are used to it, and will always prefer it. I think we will see print become a niche market within the decade though. The only thing really holding back ereaders right now is a model cheap enough that your average McDonald's employee can buy one, and that's coming ($99 tablets are already flooding the US out of China - and we'll see that price plummet next year). The $49 tablet - that's really what we're waiting on. When that happens...

We're already seeing the future of print books though. I have a friend who works at an interesting bookstore in NY. The bookstore has POD machines on site. It prints books from digital on site, on consumer request. You order a book, they print it. No stock. No returns. Just two million titles available within an hour, printed to the same trade paperback quality you see from a B&N right now.

Bestseller lists: probably going to stay mostly with the big publishers, with the occasional break-in. That's OK. Check instead the genre and sub-genre bestseller lists, since that's where readers go to look for books anyway. A good third of most of those lists are indie-published. The top tier of sales still belong to Big Publishing. But where it counts most, indies are making huge inroads.

Anonymous said...

Hello EvilPhillip & congratulations on your SS sales. I never saw any pricing information on the site. Would you mind saying something about what you are charging, and what you are receiving for the SS I had heard (and assumed, it was literally pennies on the dollar, which does not mean it is absoilutely worthwhile.
Anything seems better than the endless wait. Harriet Brown's book was cited (Brave Girl Eating,local author here) is having been bought for 200,000 nearly 5-6 years ago. The book just appeared on the market. Why?

wannabuy said...


I think we can agree. :) Publishing will survive.

I'd love to see a POD setup. (Two young kids keep the weekend trips focused.) I think that is the long term focus of print. In particular, 'targeted stores' with a theme.

Of course, airport Kiosks will be around too.

I'm convinced the reason the big6 are going so big on best sellers is Costco/Walmart/Target and other big box stores. I've been in two where the pallets of books have been selling like hotcakes. I'm certain the sight of the books moving in those stores sells other books by the same authors (pbooks and ebooks).


Anonymous said...

Joe, I've been thinking about a few things around ebooks that I'd like to hear your take on.
Currently when I buy a 'dead tree' book and have read it, I then normally pass this on to friends or relatives. I also use bookmooch to swap books with others.
So now I have bought an ebook and want to pass it on to a friend. is this going down the road of file sharing that the music and film industry are so worried about?
Discuss !

Tara Maya said...

Kevin the POD bookstore sounds pretty good to me. I would prefer a POD home printer, but I've been told that's still a ways off because right now it is done by two or three separate machines, not easily scalable.

KevinMc said...

Nook has had very limited sharing enabled a while now, and Kindle is now following suit. But I've been reading you can only loan a Nook book once (?), for instance. No loaning it out over and over to all your friends, like with a paper book.

Anything beyond that involves breaking the DRM (if any) which is illegal, and copying the work to distribute it - also illegal. Now, personally I agree wit Joe about how little this sort of thing really hurts an author and how much it tends to help. But that's a tough message for a lot of folks to understand.

It'd be nice if there was some way to legally just transfer the license from person to person, like it was a physical book. I think people would like that.

Burritoclock said...

I disagree, I don't think that it's feasible to ever expect an open license to send your book around. It's actually one of the advantages for publishing digitally. There has to be a pro for all the sides involved, I think anyway...

I new solution for sharing needs to be address though. There has to be a way to turn sharing into a plus for all parties. One I've been thinking about would be more like a recommendation system. As good as amazon recommendations are, there is still nothing better than a person who actually knows you recommending something. So perhaps instead of sending the entire copy of a book, you could send a small message "Hey John, I just finished reading 'Conmergence' by Tara Maya. It's awesome and a lot of these stories are right up your ally dudebro!" and then at the bottom a buy now link for half off or a third off or whatever plan the author chooses, or just a sample download.

Just spitballing here

Café Lopez said...

I completely understand the logic behind low priced novels: but what about longer reads, books over 140k words that are professionally formatted, etc. Should those be priced the same? I just published a novel at $7.99, and I don't want to devalue it with a lower price point, but I also don't want to go broke because I'm too stubborn to back down. Suggestions, anyone?

Anonymous said...

You can easily change prices on Amazon. Do a sale for $2.99 and see what happens. Then raise it back up to $7.99 or raise it to $5.99. Heck, you can even go for $9.99. Keep a close eye on your numbers and you should be able to answer your own question.

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

jtplayer said:
> There are currently
> 10 books in the top 100
> priced 2.99 or less, and
> two of those are the bible.
> Conversely, there are many
> books at the top of the list
> priced at 9.99, 12.99,
> and even higher.

what you're seeing is precisely
what you should expect to see
-- the "hits" at the "head" and
a "long tail" spread underneath.

corporate publishers continue
to have the pick of the litter, as
they're willing to pay an advance.

they pick books that'll sell well.

these books have a presence in
the bookstores, and in the media
(who're owned by the very same
entities who own publishers), so
it's no surprise they top the lists.

it's also no surprise that they'are
priced at $6.99 to $9.99, and up,
because corporate publishers are
protecting their _print_ business,
as that's still their major money.

(their e-books would sell better
at lower prices, but as long as
the titles hit the best-seller list,
that's all that matters to them
at this point in time. they aren't
concerned with maximizing their
e-book sales. on the contrary,
they'd prefer to minimize them.
but they still want "best-sellers".)

but print is declining. just look at
the path of the chain bookstores.
borders is in lots of trouble, and
barnes&noble is now counting on
_toys_and_games_ to "save" their
brick&mortar stores, and e-books
(i.e., nook) to "save" profitability.

so a big print-run, which is what
lets corporate publishers exist, is
gonna come to a very abrupt end,
probably sooner than most think.

and when the big print-run goes,
so does the big cash-flow, which
means the p.r. budget dries up...
worst, profitability goes buh-bye.

when a corporation can't make a
profit doing something, it simply
pulls out of that business arena...

that's what will happen to the big
publishing houses. they will stop
doing business. they'll still exist,
as "holding companies" to exploit
their old "intellectual property"...

but in terms of publishing books,
sorry charlie, that's last century...

so, let's review, shall we?...

ink-on-paper. survives, _nicely,_
thanks solely to print-on-demand.

publishing? absolutely _thrives_,
thanks to the virtually-zero cost
of reproduction and distribution
as they apply to digital products.
fans support artists more directly,
and middlemen get little, if any.

the publishing _industry_? gone...


Anonymous said...

Yup, I would agree. I'm still working at Costco, & anyone interested can look up "Costco Author Appearances" and see several pages of big gun (and local interest) authors scheduled to appear over the winter at the premium location stores.
Our once-jammed B & N, as said, is a ghost town. Only the coffee shop is still thriving, until Christmas.
Nostalgia aside, there is simply no reason to waste time & gas chasing off to our huge B & N miles away, to buy a much more expensive PB or HC,when everything can be done at once, the book tossed into the cart along with the baked brie and spiniach & goat cheese ravioli, not to mention additional goodies that can be purchasec after saving so much on the book itself.
I surely miss the days when spending the entire winter evening parked at the yummy B & N coffeeshop was the biggest treat imaginable, but the big box sales just have to be the future of publishing if it is to survive. I can imagine authors choosing, insisting, soon enough, that they be booked into Costco & the like first, rather than B & N, because of the greater sales potential. And yeah oh yeah, you'd better believe that success creates its own momentum, because the books available at Costco, a VERY limited & closely selected group,are entirely based on the reputation & proven past sales of the senior rainmaker authors.
It ain't newbie turf, and not likely to be, although our Costco has hosted at least one local author. I hope for many more.
If you can SP and gain enough traction to generate major sales, and use that to talk your way into a big box appearance, you are indeed in the promised land. But if anything, I see traditional publishing becoming ruthlessly more selective about who they choose to agent, and promote in the airports and remaining bookstores. Absolutely ruthless.

Tara Maya said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Burritoclock. And the awesome review on Amazon. You totally made my week.

Tara Maya
Conmergence: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Neil Crabtree said...

I'm interested in the format problem that James Swain reports at My blog Smashwords Books Reviewed has yet to hear the complaint, but coming from Mr. Swain, I think this is a big deal. If we might ask him to be more specific, it would help address the issue. I know I pulled and re-did my Smashwords manuscripts because I thought they looked horrible in the HTML previews, but friends say on their readers they look fine. Also, I need to feature you at the blog, and ask questions the readers are concerned about.

Merrill Heath said...

KevinMc, I've really enjoyed your comments. I think you're spot on.

jtplayer said...

IMO, the biggest reason the chain bookstores are hurting so badly has less to do with the decline of print and more to do with the fact books can be purchased cheaper online.

The simple fact is the brick & mortars cannot compete.

I agree with most here that DTB's via traditional publishing will greatly decline as ebooks take a larger share of the pie.

What I don't believe is the big publishers going away any time soon.

Some may, but the reality is these are huge corporations adept at surviving, albeit slowly when it comes to new trends.

The opportunities for independent authors are very real, yet hard work and business savvy still rule the day, IMO.

Ebooks have provided the access, but the rest is up to us.

bowerbird said...

summon up all the platitudes,
if they make you feel better...

but the fact of the matter is
if your corporation doesn't
make money, your parent
is going to shut you down...
in a second, without a thought.

corporate publishing houses
make money because they
have been able to leverage
the economies of scale that
derive from a large press-run.

but they must sell a certain
number of copies of that run
in order to seize the benefits.

if they can no longer do that,
they will cease to make money.

the houses are suffering _now_
from the trends already in play,
which will only _exacerbate,_
to the point the equation tips.

and if you cannot see this,
it is because you've placed
your head beneath the sand
precisely so you won't see it.

in which case even the most
careful and clear explanations
will merely fall on deaf ears...


KevinMc said...

Bowerbird, I don't know that's entirely true.

There's economies of scale, and then...there's economies of SCALE. We're looking, when we peek at big publishing, at companies that make a billion dollars in revenue per year. And they're in turn owned by conglomerates that make $50 billion a year. Some less, some much more.

These conglomerates look at the companies they hold like you or I might look at diversifying our stock portfolios, and they operate using time-lines that stretch over a decade or more. They are perfectly capable of supporting a publisher losing $100 million a year for the better part of a decade, if they thing that loss will buy them time to restructure and earn profits again. We're talking about conglomerates that make more each year than most nations on the planet.

Some part of any given conglomerate is *always* operating at a loss.

The only time big publishing will go away is if the folks running those conglomerates feel they will never again make a profit. And I see that as very unlikely.

The system they have built is horribly flawed, I completely agree. They know this, too. The change we're seeing will let them drop bad contracts, drop massive amounts of bad real estate investment, no longer have to print two books for every one that sells (returns go bye bye), and more. The amount of change is making it possible for them to shake free the money to make all this happen.

It's not going to happen in a year, or in two. But they don't *need* it to happen that fast. They have the money backing them to survive at a loss for a long, long time while their restructuring plans go into effect.

I don't think they'll end up with the same level of dominance they once had, when things settle out. Too many of the new presses springing up with survive (even if only 5% make it, that's still a lot), and the new systems of product delivery are too open to allow a lock like we used to see. But big business will still be in publishing. Count on it.

Author Scott Nicholson said...

I'm amazed how much energy authors put into worrying about the "publishing industry" instead of their own industry. Sure, I don't want anyone to lose a job, but I am much more concerned with my readers, not the structure or system of delivery. Publishing in NY can be worthwhile but it's almostbecome the most difficult route possible for matching a story with a reader.

Publishing may be at risk, but reading is better than ever. And so is writing.


jtplayer said...

The point is bowerbird, many here gleefully predict the end of traditional publishing and the evil big 6 (or big 5, depending on who you talk to) publishing companies, all at the hands of ebooks and Amazon and Kindle and countless indie authors that are gonna take over the world.

IMO, this ain't going to happen.

Are big changes coming? Sure

Have things already been shaken up dramatically? Hell yeah.

But that still doesn't equate to the end of print and the publishers that produce it.

And no, my head is not buried in the sand...or up my ass, or anywhere else except on my shoulders ;-)

KevinMc said...

I think it does matter, Scott, even to writers.

Because it takes 2-3 years from acceptance of a novel to publication - if bowerbird is right and some high percentage of big publishers are going down in the next couple of years - if you got a novel accepted for publication tomorrow, would it ever actually see print? Or would those rights end up tied for years in bankruptcy proceedings, with you unable to use them?

If we're going to lose publishing houses in the next 2-3 years, then signing a contract with any of them right now is a little bit like Russian roulette.

If on the other hand we believe that the big publishers will, on the whole, do OK in the long run, then submission to them still makes sense as one possible route to publication.

In the greater scheme of things, I agree - someone, somewhere, will still be buying books. :) But I think the short term impacts are still worth considering.

Anonymous said...

Yep yep again, & consider the momentous cost of running our big (one of the biggest in the country, I've been told, Barnes & Noble building, paying for prime mall space, in a subzero climate, insurance, employee benefits, it's endless, as opposed to utilizing an existing space that is already very profitably run without any books at all.
There is, as said, a very limited selection of books by already-best-selling authors at our Costco store, which changes very quickly as the momentary excitement over each "bestseller" quickly peaks and diappears. The books are stacked face-up on a couple of big folding tables, banked by fresh seafood on one end, and seasonal clothing on the other. At those prices, it's no tragedy if you only spend a minute or so making a selection. Don't like it? Into the Goodwill box and grab another the next time you are out of salsa.( Behind the tables.)
I expect every day to see the B & N disappear. They were only paying $7 an hour when a family member worked there. Can't afford to pay more, & so can't keep employees for long, even in a college town.
The big box seems the only efficient way to sell books- I've tracked some books at B & N that have not sold a single copy in years. Who can afford to have all this stock on hand anymore?There seem to be thousands of books there that never sell more than 1-3 copies a year. I envision a kioask selling the BS's at a big discount soon,rather like the gourmet coffee hutches on roadsides. Ugly but cheap to run. year-round.

bowerbird said...

> But big business will still be
> in publishing. Count on it.

cook-books, diet-books, bibles,
and celebrity-tell-alls. that's it...

all contracted as "work-for-hire".
even the bibles, just you watch...

even john grisham, stephen king,
lee childs, stephanie meyer, and
j.k. rowling will be independent.



bowerbird said...

> all at the hands of ebooks
> and Amazon and Kindle and
> countless indie authors that
> are gonna take over the world.

i don't know who is saying that.

it's confused mush as statement.

p-book sales have been falling
on a per-book basis for years...
that's already our solid reality...
and yes, e-books will speed that.

and yes, more books mean that
each book will sell fewer copies.
(that's why sales've been falling;
there's tremendous competition
in the marketplace, lotsa books!)
so more self-published authors
with more self-published books
will make it harder for the big6.


e-books will give the corporate
publishing houses some new life,
when they accept the inevitable.
(i.e, once they cannot ignore it.)

it's much more profitable to sell
e-book units with variable costs
that approach zero, compared to
p-books with huge variable costs.

this will benefit the big houses
just as much as the small ones.

perhaps even a bit more, at first.
(they know how to move books
even at very high prices; it'll be
a breeze for them to move _lots_
of e-books at very low prices.)

but the respite will be very brief.

because smaller publishers and
_authors_themselves_ can use the
same negligible variable costs to
offer the product at a price that
has no cash for _any_ middlemen,
let alone the fat-cat greedy types
with big boat-payments to make.

once the prices collapse, avarice
will go in search of other suckers
and other situations to exploit...


jtplayer said...

Re: "it's confused mush as statement."

You really have a way with words bird.

But that's ok's a big world out there, room for lots of different opinions.

Time will certainly tell whose "predictions" come true.

Have yourself a nice evening.

KevinMc said...

I'm not sure prices *will* collapse. Why?

1) Writers as a whole *like* to be taken care of by publishers. I've been told repeatedly (to my surprise, I admit) that the majority of good writers don't want to have to manage their own small business. They are happy to have agents manage their money, and publishers manage everything else. Marketing? Selling their own product? People are clueless about this, and we're seeing that change at a glacial rate.

2)Publishers are still vetting books. Perfectly? No. But they are generally avoiding the publication of the worst slush. Self-pub does not do this. Publishers put ebooks at $4.99-$9.99 (I'm ignoring the whole "put ebook price high so we can sell hardcovers" thing - THAT will go away in time). There's a ton of $2.99 books out there. They are not in general breaking into top 50 lists in genre bestsellers (some are, but a very small minority). Why? Only two possible reasons: a) publisher marketing is working, and boosting their boost in spite of higher price, b) consumers are already beginning to equate $2.99 with slush because too many of the books at that price ARE slush.

Either way, it spells a serious advantage for the large publisher. And my guess is, both are true.

CAN indies break in now, self pub or make their own small press and succeed? Yes. It couldn't have happened five years ago, but today, it's an option. That doesn't mean it will be simple or easy, or that most people who can write will be able to do it successfully.

I think we're going to continue to see most authors perfectly happy to see their books take top 100 spots under a publisher, rather than be forced to take responsibility for their own small business. I've been a small business owner twice now; the idea doesn't bother me. But it scares the socks off a lot of people.

It's perfectly possible for publishers to make great profits selling ebooks at $4.99-9.99, once they get out from under the debris of a century of business in the old model. That will take time: which they have, because they have deep enough pockets and conglomerate support. But once they make those changes, ditch the old contracts and old real estate and all the other things costing them bundles - expect things to be business as usual for them. With a smaller share of the pie due to the growth of small/self publishing, sure - but not enough to make them unprofitable.

bowerbird said...

kevin said:
> I'm not sure
> prices *will* collapse.

i'm absolutely convinced of it...

> Writers as a whole *like* to be
> taken care of by publishers.

we all like to be taken care of.

the problem is, there aren't
enough publishers out there
to take care of all the writers.

so each writer will have a choice,
whether to try to find a publisher
-- who'll take care of them -- or
just go it alone from the get-go.

even some of the writers who
choose to try to find a publisher
will fail in that effort, and then
decide that they'll self-publish...

with -- literally -- millions of
authors writing tens of millions
of books, the competition will
become white-hot with intensity,
and most authors will choose to
lower the asking-price in order to
get _any_ sales at all... indeed,
a good many authors will simply
start _giving_away_ their book,
in the hope that some people will
read it and then kick back a tip...
(the hope for a tip will outweigh
knowledge of zero revenue from
absolutely no sales being made.)

this extreme pressure will exert
a downward force on prices that
will be just impossible to resist.

and if you don't see this coming,
i don't think much of your vision.
no offense. but it's very obvious.

> Marketing?
> Selling their own product?
> People are clueless about this

authors will not have to "market"
their books in the future, because
will connect books and audiences.

but that won't solve the problem.

if you have 10 choices of books
-- all of which you _will_ enjoy,
because the system really knows,
and you have come to trust it --
you're gonna pick the cheapest.
there's no reason to do otherwise.

> Publishers are still
> vetting books.
> Perfectly? No. But they
> are generally avoiding
> the publication of
> the worst slush.

they still must aim at the masses.

the collaborative filtering system
tailors picks to the individual, so
it's gonna be far _far_ superior...

> consumers are already
> beginning to equate
> $2.99 with slush
> because too many of the books
> at that price ARE slush.

collaborative filtering will slap all
of these crude mechanisms away.
no need for any guessing-games.

besides, amazon buyers of today
are reading the sample chapters,
so they already avoid any "slush".
so i don't buy your whole premise.


Anonymous said...

Times are already a changing...NYT will be adding ebooks to the Best Seller List starting next year!

Anonymous said...

with -- literally -- millions of
authors writing tens of millions
of books, the competition will
become white-hot with intensity,
and most authors will choose to
lower the asking-price in order to
get _any_ sales at all... indeed,
a good many authors will simply
start _giving_away_ their book,
in the hope that some people will
read it and then kick back a tip...
(the hope for a tip will outweigh
knowledge of zero revenue from
absolutely no sales being made.)

this extreme pressure will exert
a downward force on prices that
will be just impossible to resist.

and if you don't see this coming,
i don't think much of your vision.
no offense. but it's very obvious.

I think this shows a lack of vision, due to an assumption that readers perceive no differences in quality between traditionally published books and the self-published. Bicycles don't compete against sports cars in the marketplace.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with Kevin, and to my mind,the advantages of being picked up by an agent or publisher make all of the difference in output. Who can imagine getting enough of an advance to do NOTHING but write for a year, as opposed to juggling three jobs & family and snarling at your loved ones for fifteen minutes of privacy at the end of the day? I don't see ANY way to compete with that kind of given free time on the part of the rainmakers.
I'm also by impressed by the mommentum of the rainmakers in a Costco or any big box situation. Once book buying is this convenient and cheap, I doubt many will go back to the traditional bookstores again. Since the selection is so tightly limited to proven big sales authors, consumers of course wind up buying more and more of the already best selling books, which pushes their sales up even more.
A rare consumer may have some fleeting interest in a book by a newbie,( the store just got "The Help" in,) but the simple inertia of having to exert more effort to get it, will quickly result in just settling for the next J Patterson next to the faux fur collar parkas. I watch this happen all day.
As they did with "organic" foods,( jumping in and by sheer volume underpricing the independents) I think the corporations will quickly find a way to compete with less expensive SP books-they already have, and it's going to be a real scramble to get any share of the reading market. Get in now.
Along those lines-I've tried to contact Siders for three weeks, via my Yahoo acct, and get turned around to a blank screen each time I get to the referral question. Has anyone reached him? Perhaps he was overwhelmed with requests. What might he charge for a typical book? Thanks.

bowerbird said...

jtplayer said:
> it's a big world out there,
> room for lots of
> different opinions.

when you sit down to
figure out _the_truth_,
opinions have no chair
at the work-bench...


"anonymous" said:
> I think this shows
> a lack of vision,
> due to an assumption
> that readers perceive
> no differences in quality
> between traditionally
> published books and
> the self-published.

readers _do_ perceive
differences in quality.

you seem to be trying to
make us believe that
the quality books _all_
come from corporate
publishing houses, and
_all_ the self-published
books are pieces of crap.

i wish life were so simple.

> Bicycles don't compete
> against sports cars
> in the marketplace.

this is so stupid that i'm
not even gonna bother to
destroy the "logic" therein.

if you really believe that
self-published books are
like bicycles, and big6 books
are like sports cars, _fine_.

i'm sure no one confuses
the two, so the sports cars
have nothin' to worry about.


bowerbird said...

oh yeah, and let's review, ok?

when you cut the price of
an e-book from $12 to $6,
you sell 4 times as many...

since each individual e-book
costs you _next_to_nothing_
to produce and to distribute,
that's _twice_ as much profit.
(half as much per book, but
on four times as many books.)

when you cut the price of
that e-book from $6 to $3,
you sell 3 times as many...
or 1.5 times as much profit.
(half as much per book, but
on three times as many books.)

that's reality, folks...

corporate publishing houses
understand profit very well...
this reality won't escape them.

right now, they're protecting
their legacy ink-on-paper
business model. but when
they shift to an e-book model,
which they most certainly will,
they will _lead_the_charge_
to the lower prices, believe me.

of course, they will eventually
learn that these clipped margins
won't support a lavish lifestyle,
and will seek other opportunities.

but the low prices will remain...


Anonymous said...

If that was for me, I don't think SP books are crap at all-I am only concerned with convenience and pricing.
Back in the day, I thought cover magazine ads and front of the shelf appearances meant the bookstore owners and NYTBR editors thought the featured boks were the best. Little did I know that most of the placing is being paid for by publishers. The very late appearance of "The Help" in our store makes me wonder if there is some kind of noncompete clause action happening behind the scenes. The Stockett book was by a newbie author, I believe, that really caught on, and was near the top of the list for months. Now it is inevitably on its way back down. Do the Patterson and Grisham's get to appear first? Are publishers just unloading surplus copies that did not sell during the book's heyday, rather than take a hosing on returns? The big boxes are a great (!) place to dispose of extra stock at low prices.
Nothing would surprise me here. Nevertheless, I think Costco will move books like hotcakes over the next three months. Looks like you put more thought into the gift than a box of dusting powder, and does not cost anymore, anymore. I'd love to know what kind of behind the scenes agreements are taking place here between the big boxes and "owners" of the senior rainmakers output.

jtplayer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KevinMc said...

Bowerbird, the problem is that your claims of sales increases don't match what we're seeing in reality. If it was true that dropping price from $12 to $6 quadrupled sales, then there would be almost no $12 books on the bestseller lists for ebooks; but clearly, there are quite a few.

If dropping price from $6 to $3 tripled sales, then those lists would be dominated by $2.99 books - which they clearly are NOT. Instead, they are dominated almost completely by $6.99-$9.99 books, with a random $2.99, $3.99, or $4.99 book tossed in, and a couple in the $12-14 range (about as many as in the $2.99-5.99 range, generally).

If your numbers (your guesses) are right, then where are all the $2.99 bestsellers? Why, if price dictates sales, are we not seeing even a tenth of most new release genre bestseller lists below $6.99?

Anonymous said...

you seem to be trying to
make us believe that
the quality books _all_
come from corporate
publishing houses, and
_all_ the self-published
books are pieces of crap.

i wish life were so simple.

You seem to be discounting the experience of people (agents and editors) who spend huge chunks of their waking hours identifying quality and/or commercial fiction, people whose livelihoods depend upon their being right more often than not. That's not what many would call a worthless filter.

That the very best of the indies--perhaps the top one percent--is equal in quality to the trad-authors is largely irrelevant.

jtplayer said...

All we know is what's happening today. Everything else is pure speculation.

And as of today, the Amazon top 100 ebook bestseller list is populated with books costing far, far more than the magical $2.99 price point.

And the majority of the books on that list today are published by traditional publishers.

Sure there are some indies there. But they are far and few between. Come talk to me when that changes.

KevinMc said...

Ah, but jt - I'm curious *why* that is. ;)

I'm not disagreeing that a lot of $2.99 and under stuff out there is poor quality. But a lot of it isn't, too. And there's a LOT of it.

If price point really mattered, shouldn't we be seeing more movement of the good and even the mediocre inexpensive books into the bestseller lists? Not the overall bestseller, but the genre-released in last 90 days-bestseller list. Those are the ones I think matter the most (avoids classics released for 99 cents), because I think that's where readers go to peek for more new books of the sort they read.

I can think of only two possibilities: either big publisher marketing really IS making a difference (remember, when I did my survey, 30% of the $7-10 books were from 1st or 2nd novel authors, not famous ones); or people are avoiding the lower price point because they are associating it with poor quality. Yes, some folks want to read the first 20% of a zillion slush novels, and will - most people don't, and won't.

There could be other answers besides those two, but I don't know what they could be.

We know that lower price point creates more sales in most industries. Why is it NOT happening on Kindle?

bowerbird said...

to the costco anonymous,
no, that wasn't for you...

but what you are seeing
in your costco store is
a very distorted view...

publishers use costco to
move a boatload of units.

not to make any money...

they make little money on
each of those costco units.

it adds up, for a bestseller,
to a reasonable amount,
so it repays for the effort,
but that's only because of
the massive print-runs that
must be done for bestsellers.

the print-run numbers are a
talking-point for marketing.

in order to convince the press
of the importance of that new
book by _insert_author_name_,
you must announce a huge run.

and then you must make good
on the number, so you print up
a massive amount, and then go
to costco and dump 'em there...

it's cheaper than pulping them.

but it won't work for a book that
is not a bestseller, which is why
you won't see it for most books.

but once big press-runs go away,
we won't see any books at costco.


bowerbird said...

kevin said:
> If it was true that
> dropping price from $12 to $6
> quadrupled sales, then there
> would be almost no $12 books
> on the bestseller lists
> for ebooks; but clearly,
> there are quite a few.

kevin, i like you... i like the fact
that you're thinking, and you're
observing, and you're interacting
in a pleasant and polite manner.

and you've made a very good
observation here, a solid one,
and i appreciate that...

i find your observation skewed,
but it's definitely not "wrong",
let alone "stupid", and deserves
a carefully-crafted response...

so let me run some stuff by you.

if those books cost $6, not $12,
they'd sell 4 times as many units.
and still be on the bestseller lists,
rank-ordered exactly the same...

if those books cost $18, not $12,
they'd sell fewer units (a third?),
but still be on the bestseller lists,
rank-ordered exactly the same...

it's a huge drop-off in numbers
if you drop off a bestseller list,
as bestsellers learn quickly once
they do fall off the list, which is
why they work hard to get on a
bestseller list in the first place,
then work so hard to stay on it.

simply put, these are the books
that people _want_ to read now.
bad enough so that some of them
will even pay prices that others
of 'em consider to be outlandish.

people want to read those books.
that's why they've made the list...

but there's more to it than
just that.

if you want to cut to the chase,
bestseller lists are comprised of
books with marketing budgets.

that'll continue to be the case for
as long as big publishing houses
have marketing money for books.

and as long as we're waiting for a
fine collaborative filtering system
to crawl from the internet muck.

(authors with a built-in fan-base
don't need the marketing budget,
but they usually get one anyway.)

bestseller lists are the province
of corporate publishing houses
-- with deep pockets for hype --
so the cost of books on the lists
is whatever those houses charge.

right now, they're charging prices
which protect the legacy business
of ink-on-paper, so they do not
care much at all about how many
units they sell of digital product.

some consultants even instructed
publishers to drag their feet for
as long as they possibly can, to
delay the progression to digital.

overpricing your digital product is
a great way to follow that advice,
wouldn't you say?


archangel said...

I've made a good deal of money on my costco sales in the past. it's not just a dump

@person who works at Costco, As a first time author, I addressed the entire management of Costco USA for an hour and also made appearances at many Costco warehouses.

also @several, from close up views inside 3 of the big 6s, and from the outside as an author, I'd say there's much fantasy about what actually goes on inside, but most all is just that, a fantasy. There are factors such as the Mohn family controling interests from half way across the world, there are the major blunders of past 'old guard,' there is the lack of young blood, there is most of all just the humanity of people in the big 6 trying to make their ways.

Too, I can garuntee that no big 6 "makes' or 'causes' or creates a bestseller. That is the most fatuous of all. If they knew such a formula, which they do not, every book they paid more than 10k for would be a bestseller... and they are decidedly not. The inner workings of the Big 6 are far beyond the petty or ignorant that often seems projected onto to them. To see the slide, you'd have to go back to the sale by the Newhouse bros, and perhaps even before that. You'd have to go back to the regime of Vitale and his sudden grab for authors' rights including as he put it'those not yet invented.'

I like whoever said... more attention to the SP than to the PonP biz would have much merit.

Most of all @Jude, I am glad you will be SP. Me too. We shall see wont we.


jtplayer said...

You guys can parse this out any way you want. The fact remains, Amazon produces a list of the 100 top selling ebooks. It's their list, and I assume it's accurate and not manipulated in any way.

And that list is almost exclusively filled with ebooks produced by traditional publishers and priced, on average, at $6.99 or higher. Sometimes much higher.

Now maybe the next 100 best selling ebooks are all indies and priced $2.99 or less, or the next 100 after that. But we don't have access to that information, do we?

If someone here does, perhaps they could share it with the rest of us.

So this is the reality today. Maybe it will change in the future, but if so, that's pure speculation at this point.

KevinMc said...

Re: Costco sales... I believe I read that Costcos can get "overstocks" like that for something like 40% of retail (instead of the 50% bookstores pay when they were new)? This still represents a substantial income to the publisher, since the cost of printing a hardcover is 10% or less of the cover price. They don't make as much, but they still make money. Author makes less (may make nothing: beware contracts which reduce royalties to zero on products sold at a discount!) generally, but still make money too.

KevinMc said...

@bowerbird. Thanks for the continued discussion. Here's some quick data:

Kindle-Fantasy-Released in last 90 days (241), ordered by bestselling.
Top 100 books:
- 14 were below $6
- 2 of those were free books offered by publishers as a loss leader

For all 241:
- 62 books were below $6

So going out to the top 100, we ARE seeing more than 10% under $6 now. But we're still seeing the bulk of the cheaper books not cracking the top levels. Most are sitting at the bottom. Keeping in mind, this is ALL fantasy books released to Kindle in the last 90 days - even those with zero sales.

Then I attacked another genre. Fantasy only had 241 books posted in the last three months. Romance had 1704! No, I'm not going through all seventeen-hundred of them, I value my sanity too much. But data for the top 100 was notable: 49 of the top 100 bestsellers were under $6.

Science Fiction: 23 of the top 100 were under $6, out of 174 total. Sixty of the 174 were under $6.

Mystery and Thriller: 20 of the top 100 books (released in the last 90 days) were under $6. Notably, a very high number were over $10 - the most common price point was actually $11.99, which was unique for this genre among those I surveyed. And 174 of the 597 books there were under $6.

Raw data. What do folks make of it?

bowerbird said...

jtplayer said:
> So this is the reality today.

um, we could've stipulated that
with cordiality at the very outset.


archangel said:
> I've made a good deal of money
> on my costco sales in the past.
> it's not just a dump

i knew that was a loaded word,
and i went and used it anyway,
because i explained that a "dump"
like this won't do for _any_ book.
it must be a work people _want_.
the sales are real, in every sense.

archangel, you weren't clear; did
you "make money" as an author,
or as a publisher, or as both?

an author makes money on these
sales at costco, as far as i know...

(the "discount" provision kicks in
for book-club deals and that rot,
but i believe authors are paid for
sales at a big-box store, in full,
at least with a standard contract.)

but a publisher makes very little
money from outlets like costco,
since that's not even the object.

those stores are utilized to make
lots of books go away quickly, so
the big initial press-run is viable.
thus, books are priced to move.
no profit even necessary, just as
long as you make books go away.

> Too, I can garuntee that
> no big 6 "makes' or 'causes'
> or creates a bestseller.
> That is the most fatuous of all.

first, i can guarantee that you
misspelled "garuntee" up there.

but next, gosh, i'd certainly hope
nobody misinterpreted what i said
so badly. especially if they want
to hold _me_ accountable for it.

a marketing budget won't put a
book on a bestseller list... but...
it won't get on a list without one.
(unless it has a built-in audience.)

i mean, sure, you might hit the
bestseller list for a few weeks...

but i mean _real_ bestseller lists.

you can't buy your spot on those.

but neither can you make them if
you can't obtain a good amount of
customer attention in the world.
thus a need for marketing money.
not sufficient, no, but necessary.

(kudo konrath for finding how to
get attention without _buying_ it,
but corporate publishing houses
have money, and are pragmatic.)


kevin said:
> Raw data.
> What do folks make of it?

it's too meaningless at this time.

until all the corporate publishers
start playing the e-game for real,
and the influx of authors becomes
akin to the waters of the niagra,
it's nothing but a waiting game...

nobody remembers the news from
september the 10th of 2001, and
nobody cares -- it doesn't matter.

so keep an eye on the trends and
wait for the teeter-totter to tip...


archangel said...


yea, i caint spel and thaz wot edit-eers r 4 sum sa. Thenk Got, mani of uz hev sum gud onz.

@KevinMc, that's valuable analysis in real time. Thanks.


KevinMc said...

It's more data than analysis, right now, but thanks. =) I think if we collect such data over a decent period of time, we might be able to see trends, at which point analysis sounds more viable.

Right now what I think I am seeing is some genres more entrenched, electronically (like Romance) having a much greater percentage of sales on the low price range. Romance and erotica were two of the early-adopter genres for ebooks, so romance (also one of the best selling genres overall) might be a good place to watch for future trends.

If that's true, then we might well see the downward trending prices in other genres as well.

bowerbird said...

kevin said:
> Right now what I think
> I am seeing is some genres
> more entrenched, electronically
> (like Romance) having a much
> greater percentage of sales
> on the low price range.

some people might say
"it makes sense, because
romance has always been
a leading genre indicator
for e-books."

and that's true.

but that's not what really
matters in this case either,
since romance is just like
every other genre, in that
what we're seeing now is
merely a mid-stage game.

the prices of books on the
bestseller lists are directly
related to the prices charged
by the publishers who are
doing the books on the list.

i haven't looked, but i will
guess that the publishers
who predominate on that
particular list is harlequin,
and all of its sub-labels...

harlequin is one publisher
who understands e-books,
so they price e-books low.

that's why you found that...

but harlequin books would
make that list even if they
were priced twice as high...
(they'd sell fewer units, but
would _still_ make the list.)


and, to advance things a bit,
you won't get very far doing
such cross-book comparisons.

the way you have to do tests
is on a _within-book_ basis...
(the only book that compares
with itself is that exact book.)

that is, you price a book at
a certain amount, and collect
the sales data, and then you
change the price and collect
the sales data after the change.

through random assignment of
both books and prices, you can
cancel out the effect of trends,
and the results become clear...

lower prices mean markedly
greater sales, to a point that
total profit actually increases.

amazon understands this,
which is why they agitated
for the $9.99 price-point.

for elaboration on this,
see the results of another
e-bookseller, from canada:

amazon is extremely skilled
at doing price-manipulation
experiments. the publishers
did a massively stupid move
by forcing agency pricing,
because they all could have
learned a _ton_ from amazon
about dynamic book pricing.

as it is, they remain clueless.

there is a good reason that
corporate publishing houses
are incapable of groking this,
but i already wrote too many
long comments lately, and
i'm taking the weekend off...


Jason Jack Miller said...

Hey Joe,

My wife and I met you at Seton Hill a few years ago. At the time I thought it was heresy to even think of self publishing or ePublishing. A lot of it probably had to do with the parade of editors and agents we courted as a community. But things have changed quite a bit since then. I'm planning on taking my latest project straight to Amazon-totally bypassing the Biog 6 machine.

It's easy to be skeptical, but reading your blog has given me the confidence to say my project is better than a form rejection letter and that my rights are too important to just give away.

And to the commenter who said he couldn't wait to see what Christmas brings, I agree 100%. I think this seasons going to see the tide turn in a big way.


Tara Maya said...

Another author calls it quits on trad publishing.

Interestingly, on twitter the response from a person inside trad publishing was, "Nonsense dismissed."

Which was exactly the attitude she was complaining about.

Conmergence: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

KevinMc said...

Where is this, Tara?

evilphilip said...

"The fact remains, Amazon produces a list of the 100 top selling ebooks. It's their list, and I assume it's accurate and not manipulated in any way."

No one knows what formula Amazon uses to calculate their "Top" lists.

It is a combination of total sales, sales per hour, sales per day and overall revenue produced.

Due to that complexity, it is impossible to say exactly why any given book is in the Top 100 or how long it will stay there.

Despite brisk initial sales, Joe's book is about to drop out of the Top 100.

evilphilip said...

"Hello EvilPhillip & congratulations on your SS sales. I never saw any pricing information on the site. Would you mind saying something about what you are charging, and what you are receiving for the SS"

I'm charging $.99. You can find it here: Z is for Zombie

A new novella in the series will be up on Amazon in a few weeks. I'm doing final edits now and the cover has been completed. I will be charging $2.99 for the novella.

It is more zombie themed gun porn. It's rock 'n' rolla.

Tara Maya said...

Sorry, here's the link:

Feminista Files: Farewell Publishing Dinosaurs!