Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Race to the Bottom

I've had a few people forward me the article written by Ewan Morrison for the Guardian, Are Books Dead, And Can Authors Survive?

I mostly agree with Morrison's prediction for the end of paper (something I've been predicting for a while now--print will become a niche market) and the end of publishers (which I've also been blogging about for years.)

But then Morrison takes a giant leap and says that authors will also go extinct. He ends it with:

But ultimately, any strategy conceived now is just playing for time as the slide towards a totally free digital culture accelerates. How long have we got? A generation. After that, writers, like musicians, filmmakers, critics, porn stars, journalists and photographers, will have to find other ways of making a living in a short-term world that will not pay them for their labour.

And then:

I ask you to vote that the end of "the book" as written by professional writers, is imminent.

Well, you can go ahead and ask. But you're wrong, Ewan.

One of Morrison's problems is being unable to differentiate between the organizations that support artists, and the artists themselves. He uses a lot of examples, and on the surface his arguments seem solid, but they topple easily once counter-examples and some basic logic is applied.

So go read the article, then come back here and I'll attack it, point by point. I'll put his points in italics.

Most notable writers in the history of books were paid a living wage.

That's because publishers, who controlled distribution, decided who would be published and who wouldn't, and paid those writers advances. Though "living wage" is incorrect, as the majority of professional writers also need day jobs, now and throughout history.

But the end of paper books and publishers does not presume writers will no longer be paid. The model is changing, but writers will still be paid in the new model. More of them than ever before.

The economic framework that supports artists is as important as the art itself; if you remove one from the other then things fall apart.

Wrong. There can be many different types of economic frameworks that support writers. Publishers, the state, ereader manufacturers, and ultimately the readers themselves. I can take away publishers, and even heavyweights like Amazon, and still get paid.

But Amazon isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Without advances from publishers, authors depend upon future sales; they sink themselves into debt on the chance of a future hit.

I didn't get a single advance for any of my self-pubbed ebooks. Yet I'm getting rich. The investment to self pub an ebook is minimal, and since most writers already have other jobs, their livelihood isn't dependent on immediate success. If anything, the legacy publishing industry has taught writers how to live frugally, waiting for long periods of time before (hopefully) getting paid.

I know plenty of writers. Plenty comment here on my blog. Have any of you sunk yourselves into debt on the chance of a future self-pubbed hit?

When authors either self e-publish or do deals through agents that to go straight to digital they embrace a philosophy of the digital market called the long tail.

This is a big jump in logic without any proof at all to back it up.

While Amazon may profit from the long tail, that isn't how I'm earning my money. I'm selling a shitload of ebooks. So are many others.

While there are no doubt some authors selling very few copies, Morrison incorrectly assumes that all authors will make very little money. Like any industry, some will make a lot, some will make a little.

But unlike other industries, Ebooks are forever. That's a long time to find an audience. What sells 5 copies in one month may sell 5000 the next. After the initial investment (the writing, the uploading) an ebook will continue to earn money.

Morrison presumably got paid for his article. One lump fee, and that's it.

When I publish an ebook, someday my grandchildren will be making money from it. That's the kind of long tail that applies here. Not one company making a lot of money off microsales. But one IP selling for a hundred years.

I've mentioned before that this is not a zero sum game, and books don't compete with each other. People who buy ereaders read (and buy) more books than print readers. This industry is growing, and will soon be global, allowing for more writers to get a piece of the pie.

The reason why a living wage for writers is essential is that every industry that has become digital has seen a dramatic, and in many cases terminal, decrease in earnings for those who create "content".

Disregarding his flat-out wrong assumption that most artists earn living wages in the first place, the digital revolution has no doubt hurt industries unprepared for it. That can be proven. It is also proven that those prepared for it (Apple, Microsoft) have found the profits that the old guard lost.

But has digital really hurt artists? Morrison points to other industries. Let's see if he makes any sense.

First of all, I'm not going to comment when Morrison brings up the piracy meme, which he does many times, except to say that:


Repeating the fairy-tale that piracy hurts writers is lazy researching.

So let's look at other industries through Morrison's monocular.

Home video - Sites like Netflix and LoveFilm have thousands of films available to watch entirely for free or with subscriber packages for a few pounds a month.

Hollywood is doing fine. So is Netflix. And these exist because movies exist. Movies made by artists. So, obviously, somewhere down the line the artist is getting paid.

Though DVD and Blu-Ray sales are supposedly falling, streaming and downloading are rising, and enough people pay for them to support artists making new movies.

YouTube has become a cash cow for popular artists. I watch a video, or a coming attraction, then go buy the song or the movie. I do this all the time. So do millions of others.

Music - The total income of the industry dropped by 25% between 1999 and 2008 and is expected to fall by 75% by 2013.

That stat tells me the record companies are hurting. And it serves them right, for forcing $17 CDs on us when we only wanted one song. Maybe Sony and Columbia should have embraced mp3s rather than fought Napster, and they'd be profitable like the iTunes store.

But are artists being hurt? Is the musician without an RCA album deal better off now that digital has exploded, or not? Are big name artists being hurt because they are selling fewer CDs?

I'd like to see evidence showing me the artist is being harmed by digital. All I see is record companies bemoaning their loss of control.

By the way, the statement: "I had a way to make money, now that way is gone, therefore I can never make money again" is such a stupid thing to say that I won't even bother refuting it. Yet it is one of Morrison's main arguments.

Porn - One top porn star, Savannah Stern, has cited that, on par with most of her colleagues, her earnings fell in 2010, from $150K a year to $50K.

No doubt the Internet has changed porn. But there is more porn than ever, and someone is making money on it or it wouldn't exist. While Ms. Stern may not be starring in those big productions anymore, I'm sure a woman with her considerable talents can find a way to exploit them on the world wide web. There are plenty of popular pay sites, and Savannah could also do her own live webcams. I also hear the Mustang Ranch is hiring.

The point is, she can still get paid for having sex, even though DVD sales are dropping, and her job is still a lot cooler than mine.

Computer games.

More piracy bitching. Look, I know pirates steal games. I've done it myself. But last I heard, the videogame industry was making more money than Hollywood. There are more opportunities than ever before. Farmville and Angry Birds, anyone?

Just like porn, or writing, video game artists aren't entitled to earn a living at their craft. Talent and hard work does not mean the world owes you. You have to keep at it until you get lucky.

Newspapers - As newspapers lay off staff to cut costs, they confront the fact that newspaper readership is tied to an ageing demographic.

I've been comparing the publishing industry to the newspaper industry for years. They both rely too much on selling paper, and they're paying for it.

While the Internet is replacing print, it still needs writers. If you're an old-school reporter who got laid off, here's an idea: Write a book. You know you always wanted to. And don't bother with all that finding a publisher BS. I've heard that self-pubbing is a viable option...

Photographers - Picture desks now use amateur online photo archives instead of commissioning new images and get pictures for a fraction of previous costs or entirely for free.

Wow. With that many people going to online photo archives, maybe photographers should start putting their works up for sale on online photo archives?

Like an ebook, a jpg is forever. One pic could sell hundreds of times (and some do, as I spy the same images used over and over on ebook covers.)


Thanks for bringing this up, Ewan. I thought I was the only one weeping for all of the unemployed telecommunications artists.

Oh, wait. There aren't any artists in telecommunications.

Hmm. So why did you...?

Got it. You were trying to say that new tech makes things cheaper.

I agree 100%. I can't wait for a $49 Kindle. It'll help me get even richer.

The Internet - Many of the largest growth industries in the last decade provide an entirely free service to the consumer: Google, Yahoo, YouTube.

These are all uber-rich companies, making money via advertising. They also require user-aggregated content, i.e. artists, in order to exist.

And I'm pretty sure that many artists use Google, Yahoo, and YouTube to find fans who then go on to buy their art.

I'm also sure that there will one day be ads in ebooks.

These digital providers are not in any way concerned with or interested in content, or what used to be called "culture". To them culture is merely generic content; it is a free service that is provided in the selling of customers to advertisers. Ideally for service providers, the customers will even provide the culture themselves, for free. And this is what we do when we write blogs, or free ebooks or upload films of ourselves, at no cost.

And yet, with all of this free content available, I'm still selling hundreds of ebooks a day.

Here's the problem with the crux of Morrison's argument. Already, in the world, on the Internet, there is enough free media to take a man from cradle to grave. We can watch non-stop free movies and videos, listen to non-stop free music, play non-stop free videogames, and NEVER run out of free content for our entire lives.

And yet movies, TV, videogames, music, along with books and porn, continue to make billions of dollars worldwide. Even though all this free stuff already exists.

While the future will no doubt offer more free content, the whole "race to the bottom" is fear-mongering BS.

Newsflash: We're already at the bottom. And artists are still making money.

Reread that, over and over, until the piracy meme and the "race to the bottom" meme stop getting hashed out over and over by those who refuse to listen to logic or think things through.

All that is clear is that for authors and publishers to abandon each other only accelerates the race towards free content.

No, Ewan, that's not clear at all. By abandoning publishers, many authors are reaching more fans and making more money than ever before. Many authors are getting readers for the very first time, because they were excluded from the legacy industry. The pie is getting bigger, soon to be worldwide, and we can all get a slice.

I like free content. Some of my writing is available for free, by my choice. I'm also widely pirated in both ebook and audio.

Free exists right now, and it hasn't hurt me, or the artists who are working to understand this digital revolution rather than fear it.

As we grow increasingly disillusioned with quick-fix consumerism, we may want to consider an option which exists in many non-digital industries: quite simply, demanding that writers get paid a living wage for their work.

What does this even fucking mean? Do I write my state senator? Do I get an online petition going? Do I contact every person who ever sent me fanmail and demand more money from them?

I think not. Instead, I'll just keep writing ebooks, selling them for cheap, and getting rich.

I ask you to leave this place troubled, and to ask yourself and as many others as you can, what you can do if you truly value the work of the people formerly known as writers.

Joe sez: Here's what you troubled souls can do. Download my ebook, SERIAL, for free. Like half a million other people have.

Then leave a comment on my blog, which is free, and gets tens of thousands of hits a day.

And while you do that, I'm going to go buy a new car. For cash.


Anonymous said...

Great debate and well thought out on your part Joe.

About author debt: I've accumulated no debt getting my books up and selling and now I'm selling in the thousands. Ewan was wrong on that point thinking that we're investing our money and hoping for a hit.

Although we're all hoping for a hit...

Jonas Saul

Justin Luke said...

You're so good at eviscerating bitches... I wonder if it's because of the subject you write on :)

All great points! LOVE this blog.

Oh, and Joe, not sure if you got the emails I've been sending you, but I put all your tips to work for me... and they WORKED! I'm selling a shit-ton of eBooks on Amazon AND just signed a book deal WITH Amazon.

All just like you said! Proof is in the pudding. I'm glad I let you convince me to go this route, instead of trying the stodgy, useless way.

I owe you everything (and I was sure to tell the folks at Amazon again and again that YOU'RE my inspiration, and the reason my book even crossed their desks to begin with :) )

- JL

Dustin Scott Wood said...

Well said, Joe.

This may simply be my skewed perception, but doesn't it seem as though all the recent articles from the NY Times, Guardian, et. al., regarding publishing are of the same tone? Cutting Block Press linked an article from (I believe) the Guardian the other day that was nothing more than a variation on this same theme. The same thing goes for the NY Times and several other papers.

I don't think that there's some cabal of journalists and publishing houses hoping to eradicate indie authors, but sometimes I'm tempted to think so.

Our Man in Abiko said...

Thanks for this. I am that laid off newspaper journalist, and I am writing for myself at long last.

And it's great. I've done the best reporting in my career, completely independently of the media moguls. I haven't made a penny, yet, but helped raise $50,000 for Japan earthquake relief through. Pretty good karma. And good journalism.

The blatherings of the old guard will continue, meanwhile, folk with heads not up their own asses are busy figuring out how to make writing work - all by their lil' ol' selves.

Now is the best time to be an independently minded writer.

Stephany Simmons said...

I get so tired of these people yelling that the sky is falling. Thanks Joe, for once again being the voice of reason and shutting this jackass down.

kathleenshoop said...

I'm still amazed that so many writers and editors I know don't really understand what can be gained by self-publishing ebooks.

It's a shame because there are a lot of talented people who've been writing for a decade. They are being told by their peers to just hang in there--the trad. deal is just around the corner if they just believe enough, if they just tuck another book in the drawer and start the next one.

Start the next one, yes, but please explore options for the stack of books in the drawer! There's a world waiting to read your work, I say.

Then I get the pat on the head with an expression that says, "That's cute, but I'm better than that..."

Well, if cute is over 22,000 books sold since May, then yes, it's cute all right. I'm really looking for that non-traditional deal with Amazon Encore or some forward thinking trad. publisher. That would be fantastic. But until then, I'll just write the next one and collect on this one.

Joe, thanks for the article autopsy. Your work is much appreciated as always.

SBJones said...

I think the only real problem aspiring authors have is breaking out to the point where writing and selling e-books allows them to make a living. The only thing it takes to write a book is time. If you have the time, you can do it very quickly. If you don't have the time, it can take years to finish a rough draft.

That advance money can go a long way to get that second, third, or tenth book written.

Blue Tyson said...

Most notable writers were paid a living wage?

He means like H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard then?

Eloheim and Veronica said...

When I ask people how they found out about my work, I get the same answers over and over again.

1. YouTube videos (I have 227)
2. Facebook

All content on both sites I offer FREE and they act as great advertising for my PAID material.

lordnoak said...

The further we go into the future the easier it will be to spend money digitally.

Products (books included) won't be free, they'll be easier to buy.

Aaron Polson said...

Threats and promises from the sinking ship...

You da man, Joe. Thanks for telling the truth.

JA Konrath said...

That advance money can go a long way to get that second, third, or tenth book written.

That's selling your soul to the company store. Same principle.

Matthew Masucci said...

I think one of the main problems with America is seeing the world in "quarters" rather than looking at the big picture. I think you hit the big picture here.

Ebooks can sell perpetually.

Anonymous said...

I can refute most of Morrison's arguments with one hyperlink:

Marillion is a British band that supposedly disappeared around 1992, right?

Wrong. Their last four albums charted with 0 radio airplay and no record label beyond one formed to manage their business affairs.

And apparently, since they first turned to the Internet almost exclusively in 1997 to finance and promote their work, they've been doing something they hadn't been able to do since leaving EMI in the mid-90's: Turn profits.

Writers are rapidly embracing this concept without even knowing these guys exist. A lot are not making money, but they're not exactly losing their shirts when they fail, are they?

Hiroko said...

Wonderful dissection!

As "bad" as free services and media "are" to those who write, consider that writers harness them all the time for promotion and, generally, making more money.
This notion that being paid to write is a dying profession is like saying anyone who has a service/product that has free alternatives is going to be out of work from the future onward. Ridiculous.

Mark Terry said...

"When I publish an ebook, someday my grandchildren will be making money from it. That's the kind of long tail that applies here. Not one company making a lot of money off microsales. But one IP selling for a hundred years."

Y'know, I wonder about this from time to time. Partly because I edited and published an anthology, DEADLY BY THE DOZEN, and I pay royalties to the submitters. In 50 years, with nothing ever going out of print, Amazon's going to need a server farm all to its self just to handle the computerized royalty statements and payments. :)

Sariah Wilson said...

I'm curious as to your thoughts on him claiming Google is going to make all books ever printed for free in a few years. I can't see how they're going to get around copyright laws on that one. Is it just the hope that most authors are not well off enough to fight them in court?

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that he has enough confidence in his viewpoint that he felt absolutely no need to solicit input from one single author. Throws out plenty of quotes as long as they come from individuals that in no way represent the target group. Shouldn't there be at least one author bemoaning the loss of their livelihood if his observations hold any water at all?

Joseph D'Agnese said...

You take the piracy thing a lot better than I would or do. When I found a torrent site that was offering one of my trad-pubbed books, I saw red.

Notified my agent, who notified Random House legal. They sent a cease and desist. All fine. But the more humorous moment came when a someone at RH sent a note saying there was only so much they could, um, do about such things.

Lesson? Get over it. Most readers I know can't be bothered wasting their time. Nor can the big boys we've put our faith in all these years.


Jennifer Oberth said...


Most everything you said I was already thinking!

Do people actually believe those articles? It's not obvious who's writing them and what they have to gain? Though, I'm not clear on what they think they'll gain. Do they think everyone will flock back to printed newspapers and physical books, turn their backs on the internet and give these reporters lots and lots of money?

If you don't learn the new way, you won't make money. Whining that it changed is just plain silly!

Every single generation in the history of the world has gone through industry-changes! This isn't new.

Great Post, yet again.

I.J.Parker said...

Google cannot be trusted. They did it once, were stopped, and will do it again. It's because of the Google problem, that I'd like to see prosecution of all who ignore copyright laws and make money from our work without paying us. And that includes the pirates. It's the principle of the thing.

Burritoclock said...

I was nearly at the point of rage when I read that article last week. Every notion in it is wrong. People view things so statically it makes me cringe. Just like whining that ATM's took away bank teller jobs, or what have you. It's nonsense. It's an argument that's made over and over again, even though it's been completely disproved over and over again. As has been said, these arguments were and have always been made EVERY time there is a technological advance. Printing press to cotton gin, ATM to ipod.

Then, when I thought I could not me more blown away by the dumb oozing from my monitor he proposes some sort of government pay check for "artist". Put aside how stupid this is on it's face. Let's assume we get enough idiots that think that's a good idea. WHO WOULD DECIDE WHAT'S ART?!? Who would decide the people "good enough" to be subsidized by the guy crawling through mud under a house in 110 degree heat for $13 an hour? Maybe that guy thinks your books suck...

Honestly, and I'm sure someone will take me to task for this, but if you are this worried about all of this it tells me you have no confidence in your work and your abilities. Any one that thinks they are actually talented would not want a living wage for writing. No one "Deserves" anything because they want to write.

If a publisher pays you they can force editorial decisions on you, you think government won't do this? hahahahahahahaha

Nancy Beck said...

After that, writers, like musicians, filmmakers, critics, porn stars, journalists and photographers, will have to find other ways of making a living in a short-term world that will not pay them for their labour.

Porn stars are going to have to find another way to make a living?? WTF??

Has this guy been living in a cave? Like you said, Joe, porn has been making a ton of money for a long time on the Internet; doesn't everybody know that? (Obviously not.)

Fear mongering, that's all I can see with this article. It sells papers. Or advertising. Or something.

Ten Cent Wings

Anonymous said...

About the Google thing.. Yeah,, Google wanted to digitize all books, which would turn up in searches as excerpts. This was a brilliant idea. Google makes money by being the most popular search engine (and thus, most desierable to advertisers.). Authors make money becaue people searching for 'something' find their books and would then have to buy the books for tne entire context. (No doubt google would have been happy to help that proces along as well).

Not to name names, but a win win situation like that was disagreable to some folk. I'll never understand people. (Like those newspapapers crying fowl that they loose all their visitors since Google a legan injuntion against indexing their sites.)

Aaron Pogue said...

That's a good response to an infuriatingly stupid article.

One of the most frustrating things about his claim is his reference to Chris Anderson's work. He cited Free...and got it 100% wrong. The whole point of that book is that people who are willing to understand the new market can and will make money at "the bottom." Big money. Trillion-dollar industries.

I like that Morrison wants writers to have a living wage. I'm confused why he thinks we'll get one from the same people who have been preventing it for centuries.

Nancy Beck said...

As to the debt thing, I sure as hell haven’t been spending thousands for covers and the like: There will be some who might do that, but most of the indies I know are doing as much as they can for free. They take their own pics, manipulate them with free software, have free blogs, yadda, yadda, yadda.

The article writer isn’t living in the real world.

As for myself, I just uploaded a couple of shorts in one e-book, all done without spending a cent. (Already had the software, found a public domain image online, found some nice textures for free online.) And I’m just now springing for a new cover for my first novella, after buying a cover that was on sale for $10; I thought it was perfect for the 3rd novella in the series.

After thinking about, and looking at the so-so cover I came up with for the 1st novella, I asked the artist if she’d be interested in doing the other 2 covers in the series.

Do I have to say she said yes?  We worked out a price for her servies, and I’m hoping the 2nd one will be ready to go sometime in late September (when I should be done with the editing). Of course, her price is probably a bit lower than if she were to start from scratch (I provided her a bunch of pics, a couple of which I licensed, the rest public domain), but I will say it’s way, way, way less than $1,000 (or 1,000 pounds).

Ten Cent Wings

Todd Trumpet said...

Joe: A compliment, then a purely technical question.

The Compliment: I read the original article by Morrison, and found myself longing for a rational, reputable refutation. Lo and Behold, surf over to "A Newbie's Guide to Publishing" and...

...sometimes wishes DO come true!

The Question: How long did it take you to write your reply? I'm curious because I couldn't help but wonder how long it would take me to compose a similar essay. In my case, it might be half a day. You? I guess what I'm really asking is:

Just how big has your Writer's Muscle become over the years?

A.) Isaac Asimov
B.) Stephen King
C.) Jonathan Franzen
D.) Harper Lee
C.) Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi

In any case, thanks for the inspiration,


P.S. This is my first post ever as a newly self-published writer...

...and, yes, this blog was enormously inspiring in reaching that goal. However, I'll leave it at that for now, as I feel I may have already exceeded some sort of Butt Kiss Limit for a single reply!

Nancy Beck said...

Ugh, a typo. That's "services" not "servies."

Damned fingers.

Ty said...

Another former newspaper journalist here. And I can't imagine ever going back into newspapers. I make just as much money, often more, as an indie author than I ever did as an editor, even after 20 years in the business. And I have far fewer headaches, work fewer hours, and can set my own work shifts. I don't have to worry about a staff or management or the next hours-long meeting that will be completely useless.

I still have to worry about crank readers from time to time, but so far none of my fiction readers have threatened my life. ;-)

Jacklyn Cornwell said...

I'm just beginning to get some significant sales, but it takes time with only two books available. I still have two day jobs but not forever. I figure it will take about two years.

As for the article, I had the same reaction as you did to it. Fear mongering and not long on research or accuracy.

As for a living wage, for instance, Washington Irving, one of the best known (internationally and nationally when this country was considerably smaller) authors, supplemented his living wage from publishing royalties by writing newspaper articles and reviews, a stint as ambassador to Spain, supplemental income from his family, and eventually by publishing his own books. He lived mostly hand to mouth, but kept going anyway. I guess that is what one calls a living wage.

Mark Twain supplemented his income with speaking tours and he turned to publishing his own books. Another living wage story.

Unknown said...

This is a brilliant reply to a very short sighted article. Thank you!

Derek J. Canyon said...

It costs me about $1500 for each novel I publish. $500 for cover, $1000 for editing. For me, $1500 is not an excessive risk.

Oh, wait. It's not a risk at all. I've spent about $4500 to publish 4 books, and I've earned royalties of about $9400. That's almost 5 grand in profits over the last 10 months.

I'll take that amount of risk any day of the week. And I'm just a newb author selling about 30 books a day.

Adventures in ePublishing blog

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

Yes! High five! Thank you so much for dissecting this ludicrous article by Morrison. I must admit I did feel a little worried when I read his article last week, but a lot of what he said struck me as dumb, at the time. Your blog post clears it all up, again thanks!

Ellis Jackson said...

I figured you might get wound up by that article! I know I did!

He is a typical old-schooler who is worried that his livelihood is under threat as the world is changing around him, but too scared to do anything about it. I'm on a writers discussion forum where that was posted, and more than half the guys on there complained bitterly that I rejected almost all of the notions in the article. and then I looked again: every naysayer was a published author (published, not necessarily successful, not at all rich) and the precious few backing me up were wannabes, like me, who have been excluded from the publishing game and frankly can't be bothered to fight it any more. I'd rather side-step the lot of them and go it my own way. I may only make $100 out of it, but if I do then I'm in profit, and $1 up on where I would have been. I'm already at $25 after 2 weeks (It's a marathon, not a sprint I've heard!), so where will I be in a year? What about when I've learned how to market my work properly?

Great deconstruction of the article, and I couldn't agree more with it. i love that someone who was on the inside has been willing to step out and shout about how great the sunshine is out here!

J.R. Pearse Nelson said...

Well put, Joe. Makes me wonder how many millions you'll make while still having to answer these same delightful bits of conventional wisdom.

Any writer with enough time on their hands to rehash this nonsense would be better served by spending that time writing. This is one of those gigs where you put in all the sweat, blood and tears before seeing any payoff. There's no hourly wage. And that's fine. I have a career that pays the bills. I'm also lucky enough to do this thing I love, called writing.

JL Bryan said...

This kind of article cracks me up. I made NO money for years pursuing the traditional model. After one year of indie publishing, I'm making a nice income from the books. I know plenty of writers for whom this is true. Things are better than ever for writers.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Wonderful article. I'm excited about this new industry.

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

When someone figures out who will pay us starving writers (I wasn't speaking of you, Joe) a wage, please, please let me know.

On a side note: writers will never stop writing and readers will never stop reading.

Wendy Tyler Ryan
Fire's Daughter

mkotschi said...

Folks like Morrison don't understand. What is happening is the implosion of the middle man. What else are Publishers and Record Companies but dead weight to producers AND consumers? Digital products are making the markets more efficient, not to continue the old trade routes, but to open new ones. In the end maybe not everyone becomes rich but EVERYONE GETS PAID DAMMIT!

Kathleen Dienne said...

Argh. That debt line makes me bonkers. I've taken it apart on multiple blogs, but I am now old enough that I must sound like the adults on "Peanuts."

I have spent money on my self-published titles... for editing and stock photos. Several hundred all told.

Why am I the only one in those arguments who understands amortization?

My books for my publisher take a few weeks to make back the costs they sink into the books. I am not shocked that the same is true of the books I publish myself.

Bobby Polo said...

I love this blog so much it hurts.

RAO said...


Tremendous response. Fuck the old guard; they had their chance.

Optional Delusion said...

Overheard circa 1439 "This new invention called the printing press will put real writers out of business now that monks can no longer control what books are made!"

Overheard circa 1827 "This new invention called the photographing camera will put real artists out of business now that anyone can capture an image! Who will be the gatekeepers of artistic taste now?"

C. Allyn Pierson said...

The ease of self-publishing is going to make more money for starting writers, as well as those who are established, and they can publicize their books online, right where they are sold. A friend of mine has self-pubbed two books and sold 10,000 of them last year. One of the big problems is that a reader may not be able to distinguish which writers are good, but Amazon Kindle sample, and posting excerpts on websites allow the consumer to see if they like the book. When people can take their ebooks everywhere with them, they will probably read more, and everyone in their family can share the same books.

Editors now working for publishers can work freelance for the writers themselves and those who are professional and realize that everyone needs editing will rise to the top of the pile, as has always happened when publishers were acting as gatekeepers.

I know several writers who have started in self-publishing, were then picked up by a traditional publisher, and are now going back to self-publishing because that's where they have the most autonomy.

Reading is not dead and never will be, but publishers who do not adjust to the electronic world may find themselves resting in peace.

Jack D. Albrecht Jr. said...

I just uploaded my novel a few days ago. I have only a few sales so far, and no reviews yet, but i am not discouraged.

I decided to do this because I had a story to tell, and I see great potential to the future of writing. This whole digital movement does not have me thinking that the written word will die a slow trickling death, rather the opposite.

Kindle is the perfect example of why I feel this way. I stopped buying books because I did not like the thought of finding a place to store them. In this era, everybody loves a clean looking home, and I felt that books just add clutter. I got rid of all of my paper back's and hard covers, in favor of the Kindle. Now I have a much large collection of books (all on a 6x9 computer pad) than I have ever had.

Thanks again for a great article Joe!

Ian Martin said...

Yah, well you trashed that oke good and proper, I must say. Good thing too, snivelling and whining like that about the status quo seeing its arse. I’d also like to kick him in the balls if I could, whoever the prick might be.

You know what I heard on the BBC today? It wasn’t 12 hours ago, so help me God. It was the story of some darkie up there in Zim who made a movie on 80 thousand bucks and the smell of an oil rag, and a bloody good movie too, by all accounts. Anyway, the regular price for such a movie is $10. But Zim being Zim, nobody pays more than a buck for a pirated DVD on the street. And EVERYTHING gets pirated. So you nknow what this dude did? He made a whole truck load of DVDs and sold them on the streets as imitation pirated versions of his movie, also for $1 apiece! And now he’s getting famous and making shitloads of boodle, and lots of people are getting to enjoy his art. Just goes to show. But you got to have helluva big gonads to scheme out of the box like that, hey?

J. R. McLemore said...

I believe you whole-heartedly, Joe. I wrote short stories and sent them out to magazines where I thought they'd be a good fit. Rejection after rejection was my reward. Finally, I said, "Fuck it!" and self-pubbed many of those stories as an eBook after discovering your blog. I've sold quite a few copies (not getting rich...yet) and I continue to keep writing and self-publishing. Thanks for providing your insight to all of us who don't want to be ostracized by the gate keepers.

Aric Mitchell said...

Joe sez: Here's what you troubled souls can do. Download my ebook, SERIAL, for free. Like half a million other people have.

I see your point, Joe, but I'd rather not. I much prefer the paid version and am glad that I forked out my $$$ for it :). I read a very good book once called "Making a Living as a Freelance Writer," and in it, the author cited that most, who aspire to write for a living made only a paltry $5,000 per year. (Keep in mind this was in the "legacy" times.)

I made $4,000 this month writing for the web.

TheCityWire.com, one of my clients, is a local site here in Arkansas that sensed the digital revolution ahead of time, and has since pretty much replaced our town newspaper. I realized there was a need for more human interest stuff surrounding local high school football in our area, so I came up with some recurring features, pitched the idea to them, and they loved it so much that they started a whole spinoff site called "The Varsity Wire" based on my plan.

Two months later, we landed a major local bank chain as sponsor, and I was given an advance and a salary to write the content. We're completely advertising supported. We don't charge a dime for anything. And like the editor tells me regarding our survival:

"It's all on you. If the content isn't compelling enough, we'll lose our advertisers as quickly as we got them."

Doesn't sound like he thinks we writers are in danger of becoming irrelevant, does it?

Incidentally, I have a horror novel called THE CONGREGATION coming out in October, and the only money I've forked out for it is the $45 for Scrivener, which does a fantastic job formatting your ebook in epub and mobi for you, and the $100 I paid to have my cover professionally produced. And the cover is so good that I feel obligated to read through my book 1,000 times and have an outside editor look at it just so my story will be worthy enough to deserve it. Buy 100 ISBN numbers at $525, and if I publish 100 titles (which I will), then my total cost per unit is only $106. I don't think that's going to break anybody.

Ewan obviously put a lot of thought into his article, but not much research. Embarrassing.

Sharper13x said...

I love how defending the status quo is framed as a call to protect the artist. As in, "what in the world will creative people do without huge corporations to care for them?!?"

Hmm, maybe they'll come up with something creative.

Rambling Expat said...

Hi there,

I agree with most of what you write.
Most is the key word there.

"When I publish an ebook, someday my grandchildren will be making money from it. That's the kind of long tail that applies here. Not one company making a lot of money off microsales. But one IP selling for a hundred years."

I believed that for my photographs for many years, and around 8/10 years ago it all changed, because the industry changed, and now I do hope that my grand kids will have a good job...

"I've mentioned before that this is not a zero sum game, and books don't compete with each other. People who buy ereaders read (and buy) more books than print readers. This industry is growing, and will soon be global, allowing for more writers to get a piece of the pie."

I would be a bit worried that one day we reached a point of saturation. There is only a certain amount of books that you can read in a day. And when this point will be reached, no matter how good the books will be, I won't be able to read more of them, and then they might start to compete between each other.

"The point is, she can still get paid for having sex, even though DVD sales are dropping, and her job is still a lot cooler than mine."

Not sure of this one, I still love the privacy of my own bedroom...

"Newspapers - As newspapers lay off staff to cut costs, they confront the fact that newspaper readership is tied to an ageing demographic.

I've been comparing the publishing industry to the newspaper industry for years. They both rely too much on selling paper, and they're paying for it."

My personal opinion about that is that it also has to do with content...
It is becoming more and more difficult to find a newspaper with some good content, and this might be hurting the sales too.
Or maybe it is just me becoming older and grumpier and more difficult to satisfy...

"Photographers - Picture desks now use amateur online photo archives instead of commissioning new images and get pictures for a fraction of previous costs or entirely for free.

Wow. With that many people going to online photo archives, maybe photographers should start putting their works up for sale on online photo archives?"

Many and many more have been doing that in the past 10 years...
But when a photo sells for 10 cents, you really have to sells a lot of them to make a living out of it in the western world. And with the ever growing supply, photos have a very short lived sales potential.
I am lucky to still make a living out of it, but many of my former work mates have had to change their jobs.
You can see photographers with huge online archives not meeting ends need.
It still cost me the same amount of money, if not more in fact, to produce a good image than 10 years ago. Yet a photo that I was selling $1500 ten years ago, will sell for $38 today if I am lucky.
And the number sales for photographs is not the same as books.

But overall, I am still happy that all these changes happen during my living, that makes for some interesting times.

Have a good day,

Anne R. Allen said...

I'm so glad you've addressed this article. It first came to my attention because somebody had offered my blogpost "The Way We Publish Now" as a rebuttal.

But as I was reading it, I kept screaming at the screen "Read Konrath, dude!"

He didn't seem to know how badly broken the old system was.

The idea that the advance system is the only way writers can earn money is silly. Advances are left over from a long-dead paradigm. They were kept alive by agents, but they were simply a payday loan--paying us now for money not yet earned. And these days the money often doesn't get earned at all, because books are pulled off the shelves so soon. And then the writers career is over. And he's mourning that?

Thanks for this in-depth, and very sensible rebuttal.

Michael E. Walston said...

That cracked me up, that he tossed porn stars into the mix with writers, musicians, filmmakers, critics, journalists and photographers.

Golly, we'll still have astronauts and firemen, though, won't we?

After reading that paragraph, it was impossible to take anything else the man said seriously.

Sharper13x said...

"After reading that paragraph, it was impossible to take anything else the man said seriously."

I hope that didn't make you stop reading, because you would have missed it when he said...

"I ask you to leave this place troubled..."

Sharper13x said...

I'm going to start using that as my signature.

Hoping you will leave this place troubled,


Renee Pinzon said...

What amazes me is the assumption that no one will ever want to pay for anything. I don't want something just because it's free. I may be swimming in free movies, music, or especially books, but I want the good shit. Sometimes it's free, sometimes it's not free. I want it bad enough that I am willing to pay for it.

Bobby Polo, I feel your pain!


Unknown said...

I find it a bit laughable that we'll reach a point where content creators won't be paid.

People are more than willing to give money to content creators if the content is of a high quality.

J. Carson Black said...

You said it, Joe.

I didn't get a shot at "making a living wage" until four months ago, when I put up the thriller that the publishers said "would not be able to compete in the crowded thriller market." Now I've got four years of a decent salary in the tank, for those hard times this guy keeps wanking on about.

Thanks, Joe - you inspired me to take the plunge.

Unknown said...

I've seen responses to this article floating around my blogroll and I think it's telling that every single one is a list of examples of why this guy should never join a debate team.

His logic is so full of holes you can drive trucks through them. Trucks with e-readers and thousands of new artists along for the ride.

Thank you for providing a level head on this.

Todd R Moody said...

I read this article and had the same reaction you did. He seems to really believe that everything will really be provided for free. I'm surprised he got paid for that article. =)

Anonymous said...

I just don't know here, mon, but of course hope you are correct. However, as an example, we had one thriving video(dvd) store in our community for some years. Owner put his heart into it and made friends with many customers. In comes the Redbox. Store sales tank. Owner sees the future and sells to a very young couple. They have 1-2 customers a day, if that. Larger problem for me is that many people walk in, YELL at them for charging the usual store DVD prices and march back out. What? No one is being forced to rent their merchandise.
BUT, we are all now wanting to pay the $1 Redbox price and no more, and feeling exploited, apparently, if we are asked to pay more for new hits. I see books quickly becoming a nearly free purchase online, and wonder how many writers truly want to work that hard for nearly nothing. We shall see.

Aric Mitchell said...

I see books quickly becoming a nearly free purchase online, and wonder how many writers truly want to work that hard for nearly nothing. We shall see.

Nine times out of 10, I have no interest in free books. If I want to read a freebie, I'll download the sample. I'm not rich by any means, and I legitimately enjoy supporting authors via eReader because 99 cents to $4.99 is a damn good deal on a novel, and the author earns more that way on a 70% royalty than they would by selling legacy. I love supporting good authors because you can tell they love their work, and they're now able to charge a reasonable price and be more profitable than ever. Not the case with movies. Movies are often absolute labors of crap, and it shows from the opening frame. Most are shallow ripoffs. That's why I won't pay $3.99 for a new release unless I really want to see it. I will spend 99 cents or $2.99, however, on an author with a good sample, and I'll be happy doing it.

Judith said...

Here's another good take down of Ewan:



CC Carlquist said...

"Talent and hard work does not mean the world owes you. You have to keep at it until you get lucky."

That is so good I had to write it down in my "keeper" notebook.

Richard S. Freeland said...

Just taking my time floating my boat down the lazy river to success. Right now, striving to develop a reader base, following the sign of those successful alternative authors who've blazed this trail before.

It would be nice to land $2.99 per sale, but for now, free will get me on the map.

I do envy those prolific authors that can write great, fast first drafts. I can't seem to do that - I'm the proverbial tortoise, plodding along. Oh, well. I'll get there some day.

Thanks for the great post!

wannabuy said...

" I can't wait for a $49 Kindle."

Readers eRead more and the biggest barrier to entry is the ereader cost... I can see why you root for lower cost Kindles Joe! ;)

We heard the same arguments when VHS came out. Somehow there is still a movie industry with movie theaters... Oh wait, movies take a writer, sound, lighting, directing, acting, sets, touch up, distribution, and then they spend as much advertising it as they spent to make it!

A book requires a good writer, editing, cover, distribution... and... err...

I'm still trying to figure out why the old way paid the author so little. Perhaps I'm missing why great books only come out of fancy offices in London or NYC. It certainly wasn't the advertisement budget...

@Wendy:"On a side note: writers will never stop writing and readers will never stop reading."



Perhaps this is why the June 2011 AAP sales numbers are so late?

Finnean Nilsen Projects said...

I love the line:
"All that is clear is that for authors and publishers to abandon each other only accelerates the race towards free content."
News flash big guy - publishers have been abandoning authors for decades, and I didn't hear you bitching then. This is a blatant attempt to beg authors to stay in the slush piles.
Thanks, Joe, for calling this douche on the hypocrisy.

WDGagliani said...

Hey eviljwinter, this is almost OT, but I think it's cool you made your point by dropping the name MARILLION! My name is in a bunch of their CD booklets because I was one of the fans who ponied up some cash to help them produce the albums. I think I only missed the last one because I ended up busier than I expected and kind of lost them from my radar screen -- but you're right, they used the internet model to fund their albums, and don't forget the fan tour, to which I also contributed so I could see them in Milwaukee again. Nice to meet another Marillo fan!

I almost wonder if maybe we all shouldn't stop trying to bring over all the "trad-obsessed" writers ... why share the pie? If they don't believe, why make them? LOL Let them cling to their outmoded thinking.

Having said that, my numbers should could use a boost. Anyone? Bueller?

Anonymous said...

Lovely rebuttal, Joe.

This man is trying to close the barn door after the proverbial horses are out. While he's chatting about what the industry shouldn't do, it's already gone and done it.

This is an exciting time to be writing. I've been working on novels since 1992, outlining, synopsizing (word?), drafting, rewriting, querying, praying, critiquing, submitting, going to workshops and conferences, even going so far as to fly to Honolulu -- such a sacrifice! -- and pay an agent to sit down at one of those asinine speed-dating sessions where you pitch your book for ten minutes. After many near-misses and agents almost selling my manuscripts, plus one heart-stopping "we'd like to buy your story for a movie of the week, as soon as you get a publisher to buy it" that never went anywhere, I was left with several novels in the drawer, and nothing published.

Until Independence Day, 2011, when I said screw it, I'm going to get a book out to the world. And I did. And it's selling, and it's got good reviews, and I'm even starting to make money.

To Mr. Morrison and the Guardian, I say --

You are not my gatekeepers any longer. I jumped the gate and found the readers, and I am gamboling through the elysian fields of writing.


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

I've been passing that piece around since it appeared as a kind "Know your enemy" thing, though i don't actually think Morrison is the enemy — i think he's a victim, specifically of the faulty logic that undermines too many writers today, both established and aspiring.

The thing that i find most disturbing in his essay (aside from the verbatim quoting of MPAA piracy "losses", which alone demonstrates the narrowness of his focus and his lack of research) is the implicit idea in every one of his examples that the work of a creator/artist has no value outside what the publisher/producer will place on it.

The value of our work is defined wholly by its quality, its accessibility, and how much people fall in love with it. That's always been the rule, and as such, it's the thing the publishers and producers have had to control. The new reality of writing takes that control away from them, but Morrison confuses a change of order with anarchy, to his own peril.

— Scott Fitzgerald Gray

Ben said...

I'm going to play devil's advocate just a little here...

Just like there is no reputable study on piracy, there is no reputable (scientific, unbiased) data on self-published writer salaries. Anecdotally, we can say that "lots" of writers are now making money selling self-published ebooks online. But when this is the crux of a logical argument, I'm not sure it stands up. Joe Konrath is making tons of money, but that doesn't prove the rule. I'd like to see hard numbers on how many people have ebooks for sale, and how much they are actually making.

And just because "ebooks are forever," that doesn't invalidate the long tail. The long tail is a statistical concept, not an absolute one. Besides, having extra time does not automatically guarantee success or profit. I imagine many ebooks will sit around—forever—and still sell nothing.

Rebuttals? I'm sure there will be many.

Ramon Terrell said...

I normally just lurk on this blog to learn valuable information from you, Joe, and the many people who post here. I can't help but be amazed at how people can come up with such nonsensical banter. Anyone who comes up with scenarios like this person did clearly does not study the histories of the industries he falsely speaks about.

Now more than ever before, content providers can reach consumers, and we can sell them our work for a fraction of what the big companies do and we make more money doing it. This is common sense that so many people seem determined to ignore or refuse. All I can do is shake my head and keep writing.

Thanks for your time in writing these blogs, Joe. They are very much appreciated.

JA Konrath said...

I'd like to see hard numbers on how many people have ebooks for sale, and how much they are actually making.

Go to Kindleboards.com and search the threads. Many authors are open about their sales.

I imagine many ebooks will sit around—forever—and still sell nothing.

That may be the case for poorly written books. But I believe cream rises.

Many artists, musicians, and writers didn't become popular until after they died. But accessibility was the key to their popularity. That meant being seeable.

Forever means you'll get eyes. Some will buy. Some will like. Enough eyes over enough time and word of mouth spreads.

How many movies flopped, then became hits on video or on TV? The Wizard of Oz gained popularity on TV, not in theaters.

Expose the public to quality, and you'll find fans.

crw said...

Good arguments Joe. Holly Lisle also commented on him on her blog. It's amazing that guys like this get so much publicity; I suspect he is part of the literati mafia desperately struggling to keep afloat his gravy train. You have the 'Big 6' in the USA; in the UK we have the M25 which encircles London and the 'literati mafia' of luvvies who clutter up our chat shows and news programmes as experts on everything because they have written a chick lit novel, live in london, read the Guardian and go to lots of book launch parties. They are the kinds of people who see their world being torn down by the ebook and Amazon and they are the ones who put forward these biased propaganda articles. Shame they haven't got long left...

David Welton said...

Something to consider regarding this:

"I'd like to see evidence showing me the artist is being harmed by digital."

Is the "marginal" artist (in the economic sense). Those who are just at the edge between not being able to make a living from their art, and those that are. How many of those, if any, are 'pirates' tipping to the 'not employed as artists' category (or, while we're considering it, the other way - you never know!). That's where you'd want to look, not at the big name acts.

India Drummond said...

I paid for professional editing for my first indie title, so yes, I have some up-front expense. But my book sold well enough to cover that expense IN THE FIRST MONTH. So, going into debt for this? No, I haven't at all.

I started out with a small press (and have since received the return of my e-rights). Recently, I made more IN ONE DAY than I did the ENTIRE time I was with that small press, and my indie book has only been out three months.

I'm not making millions, but I'm doing better than I expected for so early in the process. As I get more books on the market, my income will only increase.

This guy is fulla beans. =)

Melissa Woycechowsky said...

I had to laugh at that article. I used to buy mostly used books. Now I started buying books for my Kindle and reading a lot more independent authors. So my money has switched from supporting mostly used book sellers to supporting the authors directly.

Paul Andrew Russell said...

I read this article too, and thought it was BS. Then I came here and read your dissection. Nice job!

JD Rhoades said...

Anyone who writes an article suggesting something so radical as "professional authors will soon be extinct" is more interested in stirring up controversy than in arguing a proposition.

Excellent points, Joe. The business is evolving, but "authors" as a group, will not become extinct. INDIVIDUALS might, if they fail to adapt.

Jon Olson said...

The digital culture started out free -- see under "shareware." No it's been monetized. Ewan's got it going in the wrong direction.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone
The Ride Home

Milton Bagby said...

Your comment about the same free photos showing up in multiple covers reinforces your oft-stated point that authors must have a good cover. I've hired Rob Kelly (www.namtab.com) to re-do my covers, just so my covers won't look like all the other stuff out there.

Am I going into debt? Well, yeah, but no more so than you do by using Carl Graves or Rob Siders or any other pros (who are making money) to help you create a marketable product.

Right now, my first book is selling a few copies a day. Instead of being bummed, I am amazed. I look at it from the other side: how the hell did these people find my book? I've done no great marketing, rarely participate on reader blogs, forget to post to Twitter. All I've been doing for the last two months is finishing my next novel and doing voiceover for Amazon on an Audible audiobook, and yet my book chugs along out there, unassisted.

What's going to happen when I have two or three books online with great Rob Kelly covers and a tiny bit of marketing? I can't wait! And when I find out, I'll send Ewan a memo.

Rob Cornell said...

It's encouraging to hear the success stories of self-pubbed writers that come out when articles like this try to defend the status quo. But it is also a little discouraging. If cream rises, how come an author (okay, me) with four- and five-star average reviews not break a 3/day sales average?

I also have almost 10,000 Twitter followers. You'd think that would amount to more than 3 sales a day.


Had a rather lackluster release of my newest book, so I'm a little touchy. Sorry, all. :)

Rick Wilson said...

Another good blog Joe!

CC Carlquist said...

@Rob Cornell: "luck" ... you haven't gotten lucky yet.

"You have to keep at it until you get lucky." --JA Konrath

Nancy Beck said...

I'm going to start using that as my signature.
Hoping you will leave this place troubled, Steve

LOL!! :-)

Nancy Beck said...

Movies are often absolute labors of crap, and it shows from the opening frame. Most are shallow ripoffs. That's why I won't pay $3.99 for a new release unless I really want to see it. I will spend 99 cents or $2.99, however, on an author with a good sample, and I'll be happy doing it.

Aric, totally agree with you here. I can't remember the last time I've been to the movies (a year ago? 2 years ago?), because nothing interests me. Not even the Harry Potter movies (and I'm a fan).

I'll wait until they're out on DVD or whatever.

Paying 99 cents to 4.99 for a good book (sampling before buying)? Yup, I'm there too. :-)

Tyson Adams said...

Thanks Joe, I knew I could rely on you to debunk that woeful article.

I really do take issue with the piracy meme and the technology is bad meme. Apparently Skype is free. Funny, I could have sworn I had to buy a computer, a webcam, router, sign-up for broadband internet.......

Aric Mitchell said...

@Nancy Beck: I should have probably included $4.99 in my price point, too. I've seen some books at that point that I've wanted to give a try, and probably will. I think it gets risky at $4.99 for the indie author, but if it's quality and it looks like a professional piece of work, I'm game. Might be one that I save for a Christmas purchase, though :).

@Rob Cornell: Don't get too discouraged. Have you tried putting yourself in the shoes of your reader? I've got a blog post on how buying books will help you sell more books that I think may be of interest. It really is more than just a numbers game. Reader empathy is probably the most important thing that you can have, and that should come easy to develop, since we're all readers. We just don't often slow down enough to think about what motivates us to buy. Chances are what motivates you will motivate the people in your niche. You can find my post here:


Nancy Beck said...


$4.99 is about tops for me, although I have allowed myself to buy 2 $9.99 books (both non fiction, though).

...and I checked out your article. (Too bad I can't leave a comment there, which is why I'm commenting here; might be a problem on my end, as I'm at work). Thanks for letting me know about the Jon Merz book on how he's used FB/Twitter to sell his stuff.

I'm always on the lookout for anything that can get my name out there...for a minimal amount of time and/or money.

Ten Cent Wings

nikki broadwell said...

good article...people are still reading and will continue to read. The way books get to the marketplace is changing but they're still getting there! I am in the process of self-publishing a fantasy trilogy I've been sending to agents for two years--decided it was time to grab the reins and steer the beast.

Brian said...

When an article ends with some plea for a government solution, I turn off. Government solutions (giving me money because I write instead of giving me money because you want to read what I write) is the beginning of the end of writers and artists. Check out what they're done for education, medical services, and creating jobs.

John Brown said...


Morrison didn't look at the very long tail image he referenced.

He quotes an estimate that 40-60% of the market at Amazon etc. is in the tail.


Which means, um, 40-60% of the market is in the BODY OR HEAD!!!

Best and better sellers DON'T go away! The market doesn't become one long tail where everyone sells 10 copies of their books! That's absurd.

Cumulative advantage and visibility will always insure we have better and best sellers. Always.

It's true that in the long tail, you don't have the concentration of sales in a few titles like you did before. So while you have big sellers, they don't, on average, sell as much as when there was less choice. But they still sell big quantities.

Look at viewership on TV and cable now. No program gets the level of viewership the 3 national networks did pre cable and satellite. But you still have stations with huge viewership.

Morrison's premise that all sales fall to tiny levels is wrong.


Morrison also fails to account for the fact that an author can make a living wage on FAR FEWER sales than he could with publishers. In fact, with mm paperbacks it's just under half.

$7.99 paperback x 12% royalty = $0.96 per sale.

$2.99 ebook x 70% royalty = $2.10 per sale.

To make $50k, you have to sell about 24k ebooks versus 52k mm paperbacks.


Morrison IS right that there will be a lot of book for sale that hardly sell a thing.

Contrary to Joe's assumption that books don't compete, the fact is that they DO COMPETE because there are a LIMITED number of readers and each has a LIMITED number of books they can read in any given period. Each book is competing for those slots.

For example, if you have 5 million readers who each read 20 books a year, there are only 100 million reading slots for that year. It's a FINITE number. Reader time & moolah is a FINITE resource. To say that isn't so is to live in dope-smoking-flowers-in-your-eyes la la land.

Come on, Joe. Knock off the space brownies.

Supply exceeds demand. Otherwise, all books published e or otherwise, would sell.

So if some books, a minority, take up 40-60% of those sales (the head and body), then the rest see much smaller sales. Many see none at all.

Furthermore, because ebooks are forever, and because writers will be adding millions of titles to the store each year, you'll have gobs more stories each year competing for those FINITE slots. Of course, our population is growing, so it's not like the slots are static. And it's possible to increase the % of the population that reads.

But even so. It's still FINITE.

To quantify this for US readers, we'd need to get some numbas on how many books the average American reads, the expected population growth, the % of population who writes books, and the % likely to list on Amazon. Then we'd be able to estimate how much supply exceeds demand at any given point.

But that's all in aggregate. For any one author and his or her group of author friends, there's quite a bit of play in how many of the slots they take. So there's no need to be anything but generous and helpful with those you know. All of the boats of those you know can rise at the same time, even if the boats of hundreds of thousands of others you don't know, sink a bit.

V.K. Scott said...

People are always uncomfortable with change. Heck, Socrates thought that the development of the written word would be bad for people (since they wouldn't exercise their memory and wouldn't have the "proper instruction").

I couldn't be more excited about what's happening in publishing right now. So many opportunities, so many possibilities.

Thanks for the article, Joe!

V.K. Scott

Anonymous said...

"While the Internet is replacing print, it still needs writers. If you're an old-school reporter who got laid off, here's an idea: Write a book. You know you always wanted to. And don't bother with all that finding a publisher BS. I've heard that self-pubbing is a viable option..."

For newspapers, the handwriting was on the wall in the late 1990s, but our esteemed leaders kept their collective heads in the sand until it was too late. The idiots that ran my shop, the Ann Arbor News, managed to kill it, a paper that served the community for more than 100 years.

I was lucky and able to find a job that actually allows me to do better financially than before.

But I've also taken your advice, Joe, and started to publish e-books. Just put a novella up for sale....

Though our views on religion may differ, Joseph, I respect the heck out of you and admire your tenacity and help that you offer newbies like myself.

Bravo, Joe!

MT Nickerson said...


It's more of bitch to some than it is to others.

John D said...


Morrison IS right that there will be a lot of book for sale that hardly sell a thing.

Contrary to Joe's assumption that books don't compete, the fact is that they DO COMPETE because there are a LIMITED number of readers and each has a LIMITED number of books they can read in any given period. Each book is competing for those slots.

But books have ALWAYS competed. Under the old system, most of the competition took placed behind closed doors. Only literary agents and acquisition editors saw the majority of books written. Only a small fraction of books (i.e., the winners) became available to the public. Those that didn't win earned nothing for their authors except rejection letters. And only a small fraction of the winners made a living wage for their authors.

Under the new system, most of yesterday's winners can make more money than ever. Many of yesterdays losers can make decent money on their work. And even some of the worst-sellers can make a buck or two, even if it's only a buck or two. And that's still better than a pile of rejection slips.

The major difference is that the competition takes place in public. And the judges deciding the winners have expanded to include the public, rather than being limited to an elite few. You're still facing the same number of "opponents," but the playing field is more level, and the rules are easier to understand.

The Munk said...

Right you are.
Keep going man!
And ignore the five (or is that five thousand?) blind men trying to make sense of the elephant. The one you've already snapped a 12mpix image of with your smart phone! And shared.
Thanks for this frank and clear blog-voice in an otherwise pretty dark cave of neo-luddites.

P A Wilson said...

I think we can all be guilty of getting caught in a tunnel of ideas. These arguments seem to come from the perspective of 'this is the way it works and it can't work any other way'. The new industry has a lot of potential for any author willing to take a look at it.

I haven't built any debt in my self publishing efforts. With a friend we created PaperBox Books to publish our own work and help other authors get their ebook up for sale. We paid a lawyer to put the paperwork together and that's it.
When we upload a book, we earn our cut by working with an author to polish and refine the work. Not a little task.
Why did we start PaperBox Books? Because we didn't see any benefit in going with the traditional publishers. Too long to find out if you have a deal - too hard to get a deal - too long from deal to shelf. And, the idea that a writer with a deal gets to work on their writing and the publishing was responsible for marketing was a myth - authors needed to do their own marketing.
So, why give publishers such a big cut of the income?

Darlene Underdahl said...

I downloaded SERIAL and I also buy Joe's books. So there, Ewan.

I like Joe's books and I love this (free content) blog. So there, Ewan.

Just my way of saying "thanks."

W. Dean said...

John Brown,

“…there are a LIMITED number of readers and each has a LIMITED number of books they can read in any given period.”

This is a half-truth. You’re right that the number of books that can be consumed is finite, but finite covers everything between 0 and infinity minus 1.

The problem is that you’re confusing finite demand with static demand. Like any other commodity, the demand for books is restrained by price. Since they’re a luxury good, the demand for books is even more sensitive to price. Drop the price and you increase demand until a new saturation point.

But again, the saturation point keeps getting higher as the price for the good decreases. This does not entail the claim that it will increase to infinity if the price is zero or some such; it means that you can’t assume that there’s fixed number of books that can be consumed.

Mark Feggeler said...

I tried commenting on the article but they've closed it to comments. I guess shrinking profits means they can't afford an extra meg or two for online storage.

Anyway, well said.

I've made no money off anything I've ever written (unless you count my extravagant $13,000 annual salary when I was a newspaper reporter in the early 1990s). I presently have no fiction for sale in any format, but I expect to address that in the near future with two WIPs. It doesn't take more than a couple active brain cells in my otherwise empty skull to understand how much simpler, more measurable, more accountable, more controllable, more flexible, and more timely the present self-publishing environment is than any traditional publishing option past or present.

JA Konrath said...

…there are a LIMITED number of readers and each has a LIMITED number of books they can read in any given period.

There is a difference between being read and being bought.

We all have TBR piles in print. In the eworld, they're much bigger. It's that buffet mentality I spoke of before.

By "no competition" I mean low prices don't mean people buy either/or. They buy everything that looks interesting, often impulsively.

At $2.99, I'm not competing with James Patterson. Someone would buy Patterson and me. And if it takes them years to read me, or never, I still made the sale.

When you walk into a bookstore, you're aware of your budget because it doesn't go far. People have different buying habits when it comes to ebooks.

Until I've sold my entire catalog to everyone who buys ebooks, I'll never saturate the market. Especially since it keeps growing. And with low prices, it will never be a question of buy me or buy someone else.

As for obscurity, I'm lucky to not have that problem.

John Brown said...

By "no competition" I mean low prices don't mean people buy either/or. They buy everything that looks interesting, often impulsively.

You're right when you say that the demand to purchase books is greater than our ability to read them. That's probably a better limit. But you're still wrong about competition.

People cannot purchase all the books that look good to them, even at $2.99or $0.99 or even $0.25 cents.

Each person has a FINITE amount of disposable income. Even if $2.99 stimulates our buy impulse like crack. Even if you throw in credit cards and stealing from your sister's piggy bank.

But even if we had all the money in the world and could click until the Romanians take over the world, there's decreasing marginal returns.

There's a limit to how much juice we get from each purchase. A limit to our time. People won't keep clicking. They need to eat burritoes once in a while.

So whether it's reading slots, cash, or marginal returns that limits us, we all have a FINITE number of books we will buy. There is a finite demand for books.

Eprices allow readers' finite resources to go farther and float far more authors than before. But they don't remove contstraints.

John Brown said...

But again, the saturation point keeps getting higher as the price for the good decreases.

This is theoretical flim flam. Make ice cream free. Demand does not become infinite or infinite - 1 or anything like it. You'll barf before you get to your twentieth cone. After three weeks of barfing, you won't each ice cream again for the rest of your life.

There are meaningful practical limits to the demand for books. Finite buyer dollars is only one of those constraints.

David L. Shutter said...

Joe: loving your commentary on this pretentious and out of touch article from Mr. Morrison

And loving my my free copy of Serial...thanks!

With radio, silent movies, TV, the web and books and music in all their forms...there's ony one real rule: content is and will ALWAYS be king. I still consider myself fairly young (39) but I remember drive in movie theatres, when multi-plex's and cable TV were amazingly new, when 45 LP's and 8-tracks were widely replaced by tapes and then CD's, now MP3. I remember walking into a Borders for the first time, before then there was only small Waldenbook stores and the library. I remember seeing both VHS and Betacam players at Sears, (giant 1000$, fake wood-paneled boxes) both obviously replaced now by DVD and digital.

With every sweeping technological change there's fears and predictions that "everything will change as we know it" but time and again while form is ever evolving content remains of sole importance. I was in film school during the height of the "indie" film era, late 90's, and this was all we heard: digital will change everything we know!!!

Well, the world is all digital now and everyone can finally make movies with their own digital cameras and PC's...quess what, movies that suck, regardless of budget and of they were made in someoens basement or not...still suck. Conversely, consumers will always find and pay for the stuff that doesn't suck.

Mary K said...

Jack, you can't say that "In this era, everybody loves a clean looking home," unless you have really asked EVERYBODY. Everybody doesn't because =I= don't, for one. I love a cozy looking home, and my books also act nicely as extra insulation when the bookcases are on outer walls. I sure hope your Kindle never gets wiped accidentally, or at least that if it does, you've got a hard-copy list of all the books on it. It's also hard to read a Kindle while lazing around in the bathtub.

Sharper13x said...

The fallacy of the race to "only free books" argument is that it assumes that people who read books are so not-discriminating that any "book" will do. They aren't.

Reading a book is personal and large investment of time and energy... like shopping for groceries or pornography. No one reads a book because it's free. And anyone who reads for pleasure is willing to pay for something that they like.

If quality of the product and the personal taste of the consumer didn't matter, then food might come in pellets and be free too. But that's just not the case... except, obviously, for weirdos and scientists.

Hoping you will leave this place troubled,


Gary Ponzo said...

It's amazing we're discussing the saturation point of ebooks when clearly 80% of the reading public still doesn't own an ereader.


Edward M. Grant said...

"There is a finite demand for books."

But that doesn't mean that buying Joe's book prevents someone from buying my books.

To give an obvious example, when I look at the 'Horror' shelf in the local bookstore it's typically full of Twilight ripoffs, 'Historical Figure: Vampire Hunter' novels and 'Public Domain Historical Novel And Zombies'.

I have no interest in them whatsoever, so I won't be buying any of them. If somoene starts up a Horror shelf alongside it filled with books that I do want to buy, then my demand for Horror novels has just increased.

Good books increase demand, by diverting money from other entertainment purchases that aren't as good.

Arguing about a theoretical limit of a few trillion book sales a year as everyone spends all their disposable income on books seems about as pointless as arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Edward M. Grant said...

"It's also hard to read a Kindle while lazing around in the bathtub."

I don't think there's any reason why that should have to be the case. A friend was able to use his portable computer in the shower in the 90s and I don't see why an ebook reader couldn't be made similarly water-resistant without adding huge amounts to the cost.

Alternatively, before long ebook reader prices will be low enough that dropping your reader in the bath and trashing it won't be any worse than doing the same with a $30 hardcover book. Assuming your books don't have some kind of DRM tying them to that reader, anyway.

Cyn Bagley said...

Thanks for this post. I do believe that writers (or artists if you prefer) will always be around. And I am including the oral storytellers too.


JA Konrath said...

Each person has a FINITE amount of disposable income.

You're forgetting that ebooks are forever. As long as there is a human race, I can keep selling.

By 2020, when ereaders and ereading devices are as common as mp3 players, I'll be quite happy with a potential readership of more than a billion. I only need to reach a fraction to get very rich.

Which, incidentally, I am doing.

Renee Pinzon said...

I'm sorry Mary, but I'm with Jack. I like a clean looking home. That doesn't mean my home is always clean looking, but... I would like it.

And worrying that my Kindle might get wiped clean would be like worrying that there might be a fire that would ruin all my books. I suggest we buy our books, whether DTBs or ebooks, and enjoy them.

I am leaving this place troubled.


wannabuy said...

@John Brown:"For example, if you have 5 million readers who each read 20 books a year, there are only 100 million reading slots for that year. It's a FINITE number. Reader time & moolah is a FINITE resource."
As W. Dean already noted. Demand isn't static. Ebooks are making book demand very dynamic via a multitude of market growing mechanisms:
1. Convenience reading
2. Large type (font) reading
3. Winning customers back from video entertainment
4. Displacement of used books by low cost ebooks.
5. Enabling serial production/fan bases

'Convenience reading' (e.g., at the pediatrician) has been shown to increase consumption by 20%. I'm reading more now due to having the book I want to read with me in my pocket.

We're not losing new-parents to other entertainment as we did before. The demographics of readers (usually less than 25 or more than 45) is losing its hole. I expect those that keep the reading habit to consume more in future years too.

The biggest gain will be in LARGE TYPE ereading. I personally know over a hundred individuals who returned to reading thanks to ereaders. Take some time to chat with your elder friends and discover the quiet revolution occurring now in large font ereading. (Hint, librarians clued me into this trend.)

Many good ebooks cost less than a used book plus the gas to buy that used book. Not to mention freeing the house from 'book clutter.'

One other tidbit. Because my favorite authors are able to distribute more than one book per year; either feed the machine (fan base) or watch it die. The losers? TV, movies, and internet surfing. Heck, even big6 authors are winning more sales. Why? Reading kindles the memories of enjoying prior reads, so readers search for new books by almost-forgotten favorites. Win-win-win

A very dynamic and fast growing market. I cannot wait to see the devices for this Christmas. We'll have new ereaders from the usual crowd (Sony, Amazon, B&N?, Kobo?) and a few new ones (Google books branded). And then the flood of tablets and smartphones.

Who wants to bet against reading on smartphones? Seriously...


wannabuy said...

Digital is now 20% of Random House's revenue:


David L. Shutter said...

"By 2020, when ereaders and ereading devices are as common as mp3 players, I'll be quite happy..."

Sounds good to me as well! For existing popular devices the technolgy is easy at this point, look at the average "app", an e-reader is no problem if not already available for whatever smart phone or "pad" you have. Just need the demand and, well, I guess that's up to us.

Back to work on my draft..and I too dream of a clutter free house.

Anonymous said...

You can eat dinner at McDonald's for a few dollars, and you've been able to do so since the 1950s. This obviously hasn't stopped more expensive restaurants from doing well. In fact, it hasn't even put the expensive burger joints out of business.

The race to the bottom is a myth, and it's the kind of myth that will destroy the careers of those who believe it. Joe is spot on with this one.

- Z

John Brown said...

Joe, I don't see how your last comment has anything to do with competition. Your book will be there forever. So will all the rest. And the books that are added every year. A massive ever-growing pile of books all competing for scarce dollars.

Maybe you're saying that while it's true there's competition, as far as an individual author is concerned it doesn't amount to a practical hill of beans.

I can see that.

Or maybe you're just trying to drive home the point that ebooks open huge opportunities for more authors to make more money.

I can see that too.

Or maybe you want to point out that having an adversarial attitude with other authors is just plain moronic on many levels.

Amen, Brother Joe.

But the eworld hasn't ushered in a utopia of no constraints :)

It's really a small objection to an otherwise great post.

Wannabuy, you're absolutely right--demand isn't static. But that was never my claim.

Of course, demand can change. We're seeing that now with the intoduction of ebooks. We saw it with Rowling and again with Meyer, who both dragged millions into the reading public and turned teenage reading around.

But just because demand changes doesn't mean it becomes infinite. And it specifically doesn't mean that ebook pricing removes all constraints.

In the end, for any given period you want to look at, there is only so much demand that suppliers compete to fill.

I think the problem here is that, as farsighted and prophetic as Joe is, on this topic his comment is myopic--only seeing the sales in front of his face, not the decisions book buyers make all the time. And how they add up.

Which is fine. I think a case can be made that when you're in competition with a million other people for millions of slots, it's hard to see the competition as anything meaningful at all.

JA Konrath said...

A massive ever-growing pile of books all competing for scarce dollars.

If you think a customer pool of a billion people is scarce dollars, there's no point in continuing the debate.

This is a utopia for authors. I know this, because I was part of the broken legacy system.

Sales can only grow, and the amount of ereaders sold are outpacing the new ebooks being added. I've seen less that 300,000 ebook titles added to Amazon since 2009.

I'm betting they've sold a lot more Kindles than that.

David L. Shutter said...

"I think a case can be made that when you're in competition with a million other people for millions of slots, it's hard to see the competition as anything meaningful at all."

John, I see your point there as well viewing competition. Unlike the traditional market there we're dealing with unlimited bookshelf space. No matter how big or how high a market share a traditional publisher was they could only put out so many titles a year. Something else I've noticed along those lines is paperbacks (usually from the Patterson's and Evanovich's at the supermarket and drug store) are now in a taller format and therefore thinner, allowing for more books in a single spot.

Plus I think that when you drill down into genre and even sub-genre (and as Joe advises, don't write crap) any genuine competition quickly dwindles.

David L. Shutter said...

"I've seen less that 300,000 ebook titles added to Amazon since 2009."

Sounds like a massive number compared to the traditional 15k printed but stop and thick of the 'relative' ease of e-publishing (end quality being subjective) and the number of people out there aspring to be J.K Rowling billionaires...I think's it's rather small.

wannabuy said...

@John BrownIn the end, for any given period you want to look at, there is only so much demand that suppliers compete to fill.
Ok, demand isn't infinite. So? Supply above 'quality X' isn't infinite either.

We've heard every version of 'protect us from the slush pile' in these comments. I'm trying to figure out what new point you're making. Joe already debunked the Tsunami of crap argument.

Adam Smith noted a disproportionate share of the population will become lawyers due to the perceived ease of wealth. Most will fail, but the best will make a fortune. The same is true of authors. Note: Adam Smith wrote that in 1775! (Perhaps earlier.)

@John D:"Under the new system, most of yesterday's winners can make more money than ever. Many of yesterdays losers can make decent money on their work."

Please read John D's post. We've had numerous discussions here how the cream will rise to the top and we won't even notice the crap. Seriously, what is the difference in finding a good book among 100,000 (Borders books) and 10 million (future ebook inventory)? At least with ebooks you have reviews.


Anonymous said...

WAIT WAIT WAIT. Did he say PORN is going out of business??? That's all I needed to read to know how idiotic his predictions are. Porn is something like a $5 Billion per year Industry right now!

frank palardy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Cornell said...

Ok, screw this writing crap. I'm going into porn!

Rob Cornell
Author of Darker Things

frank palardy said...

Apple has proven with their apps that people do like to pay for content if it's worthwhile. The free internet is probably past its prime. He does have a point about music but this is not really the same as books. Music really went down with mtv and cable in general. People leave their tv on with music in the background all the time. So they don't need to buy music. Then the music industry focused around making advertising jingles. Bands like the Who and the Beatles gave in to this. Writers do get used by Hollywood, but it's not getting worse. They can't take your book and stick it in there over the credits. If anything Hollywood is going to be hit harder by digital and this means fewer new movies. The movies that get made now have to sell worldwide, which makes them even more generic than ever. I have a theory that this could lead to more heat around books. In other parts of the world that don't have a big movie business they seem to give writers more attention. We'll see.

W. Dean said...

John Brown,

“This is theoretical flim flam.”

It’s economic fact. In case you missed it, the same phenomena happened with every other commodity and luxury good over the last century. People were lucky to have a car at one time, now most families have two; the lucky few had one TV, if any, now they have four; the same goes for all electronics. How many people really need four phones in their houses and four PCs?

You’re static view shows through in your analogy, not to mention lack of imagination. You think the only thing people can do with ice cream is eat it. But if ice cream was free, people would melt it to substitute for milk, they’d feed it to their pets, use it to keep their freezers cold and to air condition their houses, fill holes in their backyards, lubricate their wheels with it, and God knows what else.

The same thing goes for books. You think everyone buys books for the same reason and does the same thing with them: buy, read through to end, buy another. But as books become cheaper people will be able to indulge in other reading habits: buying to read only the chapters and scenes they like, other more artsy connoisseurs may buy just for the covers. It’s not inconceivable that it’s already happening.

So, you’re “meaningful practical limits to the demand for books” is actually meaningless, because demand for books is an amorphous abstraction containing practices you’ve never even thought of. Also, i would have thought that the debt crisis in your country would have taught you that there’s no such thing as “finite dollars.”

Matthew MacNish said...

Fuck yeah.

J. Wolf Scott said...

Perhaps in the past self-pubbing was a money pit, where said author would pay a vanity press big bucks and have to order 1000 copies of their book, only to have 950 of those books live in their garage forever. I went with publishing to Kindle first because I thought I would have to pay to go through CreateSpace. What a pleasant surprise! I published First Wish in both Kindle format and paperback for less than $300.

Nearly all of those start-up costs were software purchases or website related, but I was more than pleased with the final product on both ends of the deal.

Meanwhile, I'm working hard to get lucky. Thanks, Joe!

Julie Wolf Scott

Jussi Keinonen said...

I was happy to see a little quality discussion started here by John Brown, after the typical one hundred Cult Of Joe Sez commentators saying "Yeah, Joe, you kick 'em!" :)

And, like John Brown, although I normally agree with a lot that Konrath writes about the business, this post does have myopia. It hops from a point to another (actually much like Joe's prose!) is exciting to read, and occasional parts of the beef are a bit chewy. And sometimes it misses out on core themes.

I think commentators in their New Frontier excitement have made a big mistake in not understanding that Ewan not-lighting-their-fires Morrison was having a peek at what could happen 25 years from here.

And that's something I think only John Brown here picked upon.

So my short me-Tarzan take on Finite Demand and Pricing:

Joe has surpassed many famous authors with (his blog fame and good writing and) $2.99 pricing during the last couple of years. Amanda Hocking and John Locke kicked Joe's ass chartwise during the last year with $0.99.

Can't you see where this is going to, and what that Morrison guy was saying as his number one point?

Although, as long as Amazon is almost monopolizing the US market with it's great Kindle, there may be a year or two of $0.99
holding on as the "price frontline" from the author's point of view.

But it can't last.

We'll see 0.29, then 0.09 and then offers where the reader is paid by the author/publisher/15% to get visibility or "sales" just to have his/her shot at breaking it.

As you have only had Spotify available in America for a couple of months, you don't necessarily know what that model is up to, but prepare for whopping 30 cent book compensations at the first stage before competition wipes the first-level spotifys out.

Like someone said above, there are already more books available than a person can read in a lifetime. Now multiply "more" by "morillion".

There will be SO MANY adequate books to read digitally 25 years from here, that there really will be a chance that FREE with add-ons is the BEST income opportunity for most written things.

Really, think about it!

We, in 2011, may think it's worth the money to pay $2.99 or even $19.99 for a book.

But only because we don't have the massive oversupply of free choices yet.

This time is a wonderful window of opportunities for Konrath, Locke and the next 0.29 NYT #1 Bestseller [are there sarcasm smileys?] and the 0.09 one after that.

So in that way, Morrison was definitely not 'old skool' in the essential part of his article. On most of his things, like people here and Joe, I do disagree, TODAY. But he did try to look 25 years further, and my guess is that FREE was the best guess in his Guardian piece.

(A quick sidestep: in the article, Morrison also pointed out that the p*rn industry wasn't prepared for people video recording themselves doing "it" and sharing for FREE. But it IS true, my Mom told me!)

So, prepare for the future, all I know it's not in anyone of our hands.

To finish off, I'm genuinely all for e-volution and author publishing. I just am interested in looking beyond the obvious next steps.

Edward M. Grant said...

"There will be SO MANY adequate books to read digitally 25 years from here"

There are already SO MANY classics of literature available to read digitally for free that I probably couldn't find the time to read them all. There are already SO MANY used books available for a few cents each that I could definitely never find the time to read them all.

Guess what? I still read new books, because tastes have changed and many of those old classics that were wonderful in their day are painful to read today.

The library has thousands of books available to me for free.

Guess what? I still buy books myself, either because it's more convenient at that time or because the library doesn't have them yet.

I have around 700 free ebooks that I've downloaded from Smashwords and Amazon over the last few months.

Guess what? I still buy new ebooks, because I've rarely managed to work through more than a few pages of the free ebooks before I gave up. In fact, most of them are so bad that I've pretty much stopped downloading anything that isn't good enough to pay for.

You seem to be arguing that people won't pay $2.99 for a book while there are free books available, when we live in a world where people happily pay more than $2.99 for a cup of coffee when they could make their own for next to nothing.

Jussi Keinonen said...

Thanks Ed,

I appreciate your comment.

However, what I tried to say, is that 25 years ahead you don't have to make a choice of paying 2.99 or 0.00, because you'll get it either way; and that is a challenge for future authors and the e-legacy authors of today.

Mary K said...

Renee, I didn't say that "no one likes a clean looking home", I said that Jack can't legitimatately say that EVERONE likes a clean-looking (ie, minimalist) home unless he's asked everyone. Certainly many people like minimalist -- while many don't.

Mary K said...

Renee, I didn't say that "no one likes a clean looking home", I said that Jack can't legitimatately say that EVERONE likes a clean-looking (ie, minimalist) home unless he's asked everyone. Certainly many people like minimalist -- while many don't.

John Brown said...


I'm not engaging in any type of "protect me from the slush" argument. Truly.

In fact, I blogged about why readers will NEVER face any sort of crappy book tsunami, adding points I think Joe missed: http://johndbrown.com/2011/07/the-ebook-tsunami-of-crap-is-crap/

I think you're reading something into my comments that isn't meant to be there.

I do NOT buy into Morrison's predictions. I think ebooks are fabulous. And I think the ebook revolution promises nothing but GOOD for the hordes of us authors trying to build an audience.

I'm just taking issue with Joe's one point of wishful thinking where he suggests that ebooks usher in a world of no constraints.

It just ain't so.

It changes the dynamics, but we still live in a world of scarce resources with alternative uses.

Yes, Dean W, even in all the examples you pose. Especially the one with ice cream refridgeration.

Patrice said...

I really like the way you took apart what Morrison said. I'm convinced that you are the man to listen to!

wannabuy said...

John Brown,

I wanted to thank you for your reply. I apologize as we seemed to be discussing a bit off. Perhaps one day we could have a drink and catch the nuances that are tough on the net discussions.

But I do agree (with others) that it is a long way out until the market is saturated. Right now ebook sales (in dollars) is outgrowing ebook availability.

That won't occur for long. At most 2 years. But only good authors will count.

I'm now with everyone else on the 'luck' thread.


ps Jussi, you claim that $0.99 won't hold when $2.99 actually seems to be holding. What other major ebook seller is trying to undercut Amazon? By major we must talk about market share above 2% (at a minimum). That only leaves: Amazon, B&N, Apple, Sony, Kobo, and possibly Google.

Since all of the above make money off of a cut of the sales, none have an incentive to let the bar slide any lower.

I do see smashwords breaking down the $2.99 price point (eventually). I'm just not seeing the disruptive technology. For selling digital content, it is tough to do without significant market share and that takes cash for advertising. (That is the biggest expense I can think of getting someone to an ebook store.)


Randy Morris said...

Your post had me laughing a ton, great job calling him out on each individual point.

I agree 100%, music is out there all over the place for free and itunes is still making a ton of money by selling songs for cheap.

Books have found a similar route into the digital world and are adapting a lot like the music world did... but they're still around and will be forever.

I read a lot of your other posts and wanted to also say thanks for telling everyone to keep working at writing if they are serious about it. I'm sure some of us will get lucky with a book someday.

Jussi Keinonen said...

Thanks Neil & others,

But how long has Kindle dominated the market for? It's only a feeble beginning. Looking 25 years ahead things will be unpredictable. But for only 3 years ahead, I'll guess:

1) Amazon has lost the azw/ePub format war.

2) azw/mobi/ePub DRM's have lost the game, people will be exchanging "their" libraries freely.

3) Likewise, as Joe wrote a few days ago with Blake Crouch, authors will increasingly surpass the last middlemen, the amazonkobos, with their own sites and other webcostcos. The best sales pitch as it always is? "The lowest price near you!"

4) The supply has exceeded the demand, even Joe makes less money than today and drives the same car he just bought.

5) iTunes will have lost the game because of the same kind of new monopoly breakers (they're already losing it here in Europe). Why would I pay 99 cents a song in a propriety format when I can listen to all I need legally for FREE (with ads) or $4.99 a month. That's Spotify's streaming model TODAY, and they'll lose out too, one day.

6) TODAY, NOT three years from now, Spotify pays less than 0.02 CENTS for each time a song is played. Yes, after 100 plays, you have earned TWO CENTS and with 10,000 plays you will have earned two dollars.

(In my post above I guesstimated the compensation for a book to be about 30 cents on TODAY's Spotify model. Of course I have no idea.)

- - - - -

Now, I actually DON'T want to instill fear or pessimism. I myself work to try to help Finnish authors make a living. I believe that writers should be able to make a living with their work. But I think there will be huge challenges ahead.

OK, how about a little guessing game: how much do you guys think a novel-length book will cost 25 years from now?

Will it be 9.99, 2.99, 0.99, 0.09, FREE, or "you get something if you actually read it"?

I've thought of this a lot, and will offer a guess if some of you do it first.

Jussi Keinonen said...

Erm, did I just get censored, or did my post just disappear to interspace?

Took a while to write that one!

Joe, if there was a problem, please elaborate. First dot last, at that mail provider that just bought the mobile phones.

Werner said...

we may want to consider an option which exists in many non-digital industries: quite simply, demanding that writers get paid a living wage for their work.

When I read that, it almost sounded like he expected some sort of government mandate on wages for writer's? I know Ewan is from a socialist run country, but the mere concept just gave me the heebie-jeebies

Claude Forthomme said...

Well done, Joe! And like you, I am getting tired of the doomsday sayers!

Bottom line, GOOD content will always be paid for, one way or another. It's just that the ways are changing with the digital revolution.

The example of Spotify, something of a scarecrow that always comes up in this kind of discussion, is just one among many ways and certainly not the main road to the future! If nothing else, precisely because it pays a pittance to artists!

Artists will find other ways to make money - musicians will turn back to concerts: for them, a live performance is the royal road to success!

For writers? At this point, ebooks are!

Anonymous said...

Guess what? All my life there's been this thing called the "Public Library", that let me borrow books, read them FOR FREE, then return them, so SOMEONE ELSE could borrow them and read them FOR FREE. A single copy of a book might be read by hundreds of people. FOR FREE.

Don't let the publishing industry know about this. Their lawyers would go batshit.

These "Public Libraries" exist in almost every single town in the US, even rual towns I've lived in with a population of a few thousand.

Even better, there's this thing called "inter-library loan" that allows the "library" to borrow a book from another "library" to lend to me, to read for free. (shhh! Don't tell the New York publisher's lawyers!)

And a wide variety of stuff, to. Classics, popular fiction, genre fiction, literary fiction, non-fiction. Anything you can think of.

The publishing industry hit bottom in the "race to the bottom" a very, very long time ago, when public libraries reached a saturation point such that anyone who could have purchased books (and quite a few others as well) could obtain more reading material than they could read in a lifetime. For free.

The "race to the bottom" hit bottom before any of us were born.

Yet, somehow, I've managed to spend a lot of money on books...

anarchist said...

I wonder if the declining income in the pornography industry is because, unlike with books, consumers don't make much distinction between one provider and another.

There's lots of free Harry Potter fan-fiction out there, but that doesn't make anyone not buy JK Rowling's books.

Whereas maybe no one wants to pay to see boobs when they can see other boobs for free, even when those boobs maybe aren't as good.

Jacklyn Cornwell said...

Joe, you featured Kiana Davenport on your blog and I'm certain you know about the current madness from her Big 6 publisher having fired her and demanded return of her big advance ($20,000). She's suing, as would any author worth her salt, and her agent is siding with the publisher. Is this what you foresaw?

Now there's a UK bookseller suggesting that print and ebook be bundled, which isn't a bad idea, except the ebook would be free. Ebooks are not a frill or a gift with purchase, but a viable and lucrative product in their own right, not a makeup bag filled with makeup no one ever uses.

What's your take? Or do I need to ask?

Anonymous said...

Talent and hard work does not mean the world owes you. You have to keep at it until you get lucky.

My new mantra, thank you!