Thursday, August 07, 2014

If We Were James Patterson

Joe sez: Well, once again James Patterson has managed to leverage his celebrity into coverage in a major publication, this time the opinion pages of CNN. Naturally, Barry and I couldn’t help ourselves...

Barry sez: Okay, let’s just hit the highlights. There’s little that’s new or noteworthy in Patterson’s latest screed, but there are several themes that unintentionally reveal themselves again and again when the princes of legacy publishing opine in public, and Patterson’s CNN piece provides a good opportunity to tease out those themes and examine their real implications. So:

First, in the worldview of the publishing establishment, there is always reflexive support of and sympathy for legacy publishers, and never any meaningful criticism or calls for improvement. Here, the reflex reveals itself immediately, in the first paragraph of Patterson’s piece:

As you may have read, Hachette Book Group (my publisher) is experiencing challenges with Amazon, as a result of negotiation over new selling terms for ebooks.

That Patterson might frame his first sentence “Amazon is experiencing challenges with Hachette” is inconceivable. The baseline assumption is always that Amazon is doing something bad, while legacy publishers are doing something that, if not outright good, is at a minimum justifiable and understandable. To use just one example, can you even imagine Patterson taking a moment to note that Amazon has repeatedly and unilaterally extended Hachette’s expired contract, and that Hachette has been dragging its feet in these negotiations for over six months?

Second, the publishing establishment, convinced that everything is personal and nothing is business, consistently attributes to Amazon bizarrely malicious motives. Here it’s the suggestion that Bezos can’t possibly be concerned with “trying to make this a better world.” A more common variation is something along the lines of “Amazon is trying to destroy publishing/bookselling/all that is good.”

But really, does any of this make even a modicum of sense? Did Gutenberg invent the printing press because he wanted to destroy scribes who wrote with quill pens on papyrus? Did Henry Ford invent the Model T and the modern assembly line because he was bent on the destruction of the horse-and-buggy industry?

Or did Gutenberg simply perceive a better way to get books into the hands of more readers? And did Ford simply perceive a lower-cost, more efficient means of transportation for the masses?

Yes, doubtless innovation always has a disruptive impact on the legacy way of doing things. But to jump from this to “the reason for the disruption, the purpose, is they’re trying to destroy me!” is, at best neurotic.

Memo to all technologically disrupted establishments: it really isn’t personal. If you’re a small business, I can see where there might be some ego-gratification to be found in the notion that a multi-billion dollar company is obsessed with targeting you personally -- in much the same way a disturbed person achieves feelings of importance by believing the CIA is trying to penetrate his cranial secrets with radio waves that only a tin foil hat can prevent. But isn’t it more likely that, like Gutenberg, like Ford, like countless other innovators before him, Bezos simply believes he has a better way of getting more titles of more books to more readers at lower cost, and that the effect of his belief on the legacy industry is incidental?

Third, arguments in favor of the legacy industry are typically conducted in unexamined cliches and devoid of supporting evidence. So:

[Bezos has] put enough pressure on [legacy publishers] to clean their houses, to examine their internal hierarchies, and to jettison some particularly wasteful practices…

It’s fascinating -- and telling -- that Patterson doesn’t pause to enumerate even a single jettisoned wasteful practice. Not even one example of how those publishing houses have been cleaned, not even a mention of what rooms might have been subject to the cleaning. It would also be fair to ask what the hell an “examined internal hierarchy” even is or why it might be relevant, but I doubt Patterson has any idea himself. I guess it just feels good to him when he says it, perhaps because this sort of thing strikes him as an acceptable substitute for actual evidence in support of an argument.

The urtext of legacy-publishing windbaggery, or course, remains this hilarious Hachette memo on why legacy publishing remains relevant. But Patterson, a publishing insider if there ever was one, is certainly part of that rich tradition.

Fourth, the publishing establishment conflates the old way of doing things with the best way of doing things. So, without pausing to supply any evidence or even to apply a moment’s thought, Patterson simply claims as an article of faith that:

Obviously these publishers -- however inefficient and old-fashioned (did you know many of them quaintly still let their employees do half-day Fridays in the summer?) -- remain the best way to find, nurture, and invest in up-and-coming authors.

Given that Amazon has enabled tens of thousands of authors to reach readers for the first time ever with books that in the legacy system would never have even seen the light of day, Patterson’s expression of devotion to legacy publishing as “the best way” is stunning. When faith is strong enough, it can screen out limitless amounts of logic and evidence.

(Oh, and did you know that those “quaint” legacy industry practices include, among many other examples, paying authors only twice a year? They’re so quaint, it’s adorable!).

Part of what makes these claims so fascinating is that they typically come from people who are presumably well versed in literature. And yet it’s as though they’ve never heard of Voltaire’s character Pangloss, and therefore don’t realize that they’re parodying Pangloss’s absurd faith that “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” See also Theodicy, which Voltaire was lampooning in Candide:

Theodicy tries to justify the apparent imperfections of the world by claiming that it is optimal among all possible worlds. It must be the best possible and most balanced world, because it was created by an all powerful and all knowing God, who would not choose to create an imperfect world if a better world could be known to him or possible to exist. In effect, apparent flaws that can be identified in this world must exist in every possible world, because otherwise God would have chosen to create the world that excluded those flaws.

Sound familiar? You see, legacy publishing (maybe we should rename it Best Possible System of Publishing) really is part of a rich literary tradition…

Fifth, legacy insiders believe that what’s best for society is corporate management, not human freedom. They would never say so explicitly, of course -- these days, overt support for aristocratic management of human affairs tends to be frowned upon -- but their real views always leak through. So:

We are going to have fewer great books and writers discovered in the coming years if there are fewer curators with the financial wherewithal to nurture them. And, no way around it, fewer publishing houses equals fewer curators. It's not a money thing, it's a diversity-of-perspective thing. One company -- no matter how high-minded and cleverly structured it is -- will offer fewer perspectives than many companies will.

The good news is, Patterson recognizes that when it comes to books, more perspectives is a good thing. The bad news is, he believes the best way to achieve that aim is at the corporate gatekeeping level rather than by empowering more authors to reach more readers, which is precisely what Amazon and the rise of self-publishing have wrought.

Or, to put it another way, the publishing establishment believes that the way to generate more perspectives is to have fewer published books.

In fairness, though, this is the same establishment claiming that by selling more books than anyone ever, Amazon is destroying bookselling. So at least there’s a certain… consistency.

Sixth, legacy insiders almost always use their celebrity to broadcast their views to the masses while avoiding any actual engagement with their critics. This is a sin of omission rather than commission, so I can’t quote Patterson’s words to prove it, only note his consistent failure to respond or even to mention the many public drubbings he’s taken for his reactionary views. Similarly, Scott Turow’s cravenness has practically become part of his brand, and if Doug Preston stays in hiding much longer, someone probably should file a missing person report. And the “Authors Guild,” which claims to be “the nation’s leading advocate for writers’ interests in… free expression,has become notorious for censoring and shutting down author comments on its blog.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong on that last point. Maybe James Patterson, and Douglas Preston, and AG president Roxana Robinson, and Richard Russo, and Scott Turow, and all the other pontificating pundits of legacy publishing really do have the courage of their convictions, really do believe they have the better arguments, and really do care about readers and writers enough to want to rebut all the ridiculous points I and many others have raised in public lest anyone take those points seriously and be damaged in the process.

If so, all they have to do is show up here in the comments. I’d be the first to congratulate them for it.

If not, it will be further proof (as though any further proof were needed) that despite all their chest-thumping protestations, establishment insiders care nothing about improving publishing for everyone, and are instead intent only on preserving it for themselves.

Joe sez: Now for confession time: I spend way too much time daydreaming about being James Patterson.

It's not that he's more successful than me. Or richer. It's not that he's more prolific. Or that he's able to get the media to run whatever nonsense he spouts. It's not even his mind-boggling revenue stream. (I'm frankly boggled at my own revenue stream -- though it is just a stream next to his mighty rain forest river.)

It's that I keep thinking about what a hero I could be, were I he.

I think about how I, James Patterson, could use my fame, wealth, and power, to help other authors.

How I could pressure legacy publishers into giving all writers better contract terms and higher royalties simply by threatening to self-publish if they don't.

How I could actually change things for the better, rather than spend so much time and energy and money (those NYT ads ain't cheap) to preserve the status quo.

But, at the same time, I think about how I, James Patterson, am so entrenched in the very system that made me rich and famous, that I can't possibly even slightly entertain the smallest thought that things might change.

You see, I, James Patterson, cannot see further than my self-interest.

I, James Patterson, above all things, firmly believe that books -- great books, and the producers of those books -- are of paramount importance to humanity's salvation.

But I do not believe that great books can exist without publishers. That's how narrow-minded I am. How out of touch with reality.

I truly cannot fathom a world without curators, without sifters, without the nurturing of gatekeepers. Because deep down, I believe those corporate bloodsuckers who drain 52.5% of royalties -- not actual writers! -- are the ones who are really responsible for books.

And I, James Patterson, wrongfully believe it is Amazon that is hurting those gatekeepers at whose nurturing teats I suckle. Those poor, bullied publishers, forced to compete with Amazon (when they never had to compete, or innovate, before) are doing what all embattled higher organisms do: They are joining forces by illegally colluding.

So, starting today, I am going to stop criticizing Amazon for changing the industry and for giving all authors a fair chance at finding readers. I'm going to STFU instead of defending my corporate masters, and start a movement to force legacy publishers to increase ebook royalty rates up to the levels Amazon already offers so authors can make, perhaps not as much as I do, but at least a little bit more. I'm going to pressure Hachette to match Amazon in compensating authors harmed financially due to these negotiations, on which Hachette continues to drag its feet because they want to control ebook pricing and because they don't want to lose their paper oligopoly, as Konrath, Eisler, et al have shown again and again and again.

And I'm going to do all this because I'm James Patterson and not only am I pretty legendarily smart, but I'm pretty wise, too.

Aren't I?

And then a marching band of monkeys playing "My Gal Sal" is going to parade out of my ass.


Bob said...

Patterson, like Turow, Russo and the rest are so far out of touch with the reality of publishing it's to be expected that they believe everyone is treated like they are. This is actually something I've seen in action. And the reverse is true-- I've watched editors on panels talk about how great they treat authors, realizing they are talking about their top 1% but believing they treat everyone that way.

It's interesting in the last 25 years I've never seen this group of authors advocate for anything. But now their royalty statements and business is being threatened and they band together. Why don't they just be honest and say "Hey, we got a great thing going and we want to keep doing it!" Stop wrapping themselves in BS that they're protecting new authors, the world of literature and the Shire from the Dark Lord.

Preston is protecting his six book deal. Perfectly understandable. Patterson is protecting his, I believe it was 17 book deal. Maybe Patterson could help newer authors by giving up some of his rack space at the airport? Insist his publisher, with whom he has some actual real power, rack some midlister instead of his latest co-written opus? That would be real.

JA Konrath said...

When Barry and I were doing this we kept thinking about the Clint Eastwood fail, publicly addressing Obama as an empty chair.

These guys just don't get it.

NWA said...

The TL:DR version of Patteson's article:

Old Man Yells at Cloud

Anonymous said...

Up until this morning, I was giving James Patterson a modicum of respect. After all, a decent chunk of his money must come from hard covers, and that number just has to be declining -- so yeah, he's defending the ink on paper bit because that in his interest.

But with the article posted this morning he's just reached cartoon character territory in my eyes. This lofty station includes such notables as Donald Trump, the artist formerly known as Prince, and the current governor of Texas.They're so powerful, there's nobody around them capable of telling them the emperor is running around naked. This results in them making public statements that are too far fetched to be believed as real. These idiots go through the rest of their careers pampered by yes-men and clueless as to their appearance as out of touch buffoons to the rest of the public.

If I could be anyone, I'd like to be a fly on the wall at Hachette, so I could find out who gets chosen to call up Mr. Patterson to tell him,

"You're Not Helping"

Unknown said...

Guys, I find a particular irony in James Patterson's concerns about great books. I picked up one of his books one time, and found it to be utter crap. It also looks like he's moved on to the franchising model, as so many of his I see are co-authored. I'm amazed that you're both restrained enough to not point this out.

Barry Eisler said...

Shite, we forgot to link to a video of Clint talking to the chair! Oh well, imperfect world...:)

Terrence OBrien said...

In just a few years, independent authors have moved from seeking acceptance from traditionalists to laughing.

That's what happens when market share shifts. Follow the money.

JA Konrath said...

I'm amazed that you're both restrained enough to not point this out.

I've got nothing against Patterson, his writing, or his franchising. I think he's a marketing genius, and I've enjoyed several of his books.

I'm not out to humiliate or hurt him. But when he acts foolish, and CNN gives him a platform, someone needs to point out how silly it is.

I'd love to stop blogging about this crap. I really, really would. And I wish Patterson the best.

He just needs to STFU on this topic. He has fame, and money, and media connections. He could effect change in so many areas. And instead he uses his significant power to pontificate on an issue he obviously doesn't understand.

Preston, Turow, Patterson, Robinson, Russo--these guys are hurting their own cause.

Unknown said...

Joe, I have no problem with an author like Patterson being in the business to make money. Or, for that matter, any author being in the business to make money. I was just laughing at Patterson holding himself out as the protector of great literature.

w.adam mandelbaum said...

Personally, I spend too much time daydreaming I was the guy who actually wrote Patterson's letter.

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

Totally off topic but has anyone else noticed that Barnes and Noble is no longer carrying self-published paperbacks? For a long time, our paperbacks, which are created on CreateSpace, were showing up on the B& online store, even though they are obviously not available in their brick and mortar stores.

But in the last few weeks, I have noticed that our paperbacks are no longer being sold by B&N, although there are still third party sellers that offer our books on B& Barnes and Noble seems to have stopped selling them directly.

That is a boycott if I ever saw one. It costs them nothing to list our POD paperbacks on their online store. Oh well....I am sure James P and Authors United will rise up in righteous indignation on my behalf as soon as those monkeys are done playing My Gal Sal.

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

Joe said, "Preston, Turow, Patterson, Robinson, Russo--these guys are hurting their own cause."

I think you are right. Patterson gets pretty well creamed by a lot fo the comments on his post.

J.M. Ney-Grimm said...

"[Bezos has] put enough pressure on [legacy publishers] to clean their houses, to examine their internal hierarchies, and to jettison some particularly wasteful practices…"

"It would also be fair to ask what the hell an “examined internal hierarchy” even is or why it might be relevant, but I doubt Patterson has any idea himself."

In no way do I support Hachette or Patterson. Honestly, the disingenuous spin produced by both disgusts me.

But, questioning business hierarchies - in my experience - seems quite common. I've always seen it mentioned in the context that the institution under discussion is top heavy: too many execs "managing" or "overseeing" or "strategizing" and too few workers actually getting necessary tasks done. FWIW

susie1coronado said...

I am not an author, I am a reader. I have read a lot of books and am thrilled with the ebooks. I certainly have my favorites and I have also discovered new authors that I would not have found without Amazon. Kudos to the authors who are fighting for this cause along with Amazon.

Alan Spade said...

Great post, I particularly enjoyed Barry's analysis of the legacy industry.

One more time, with this kind of sentence: "I think about how I, Jeff Bezos, have proven the theory that many, if not most people, would prefer not to get off their butts, get themselves to a store, make a purchase decision, carry it to the register, and carry the item back home when the purchase -- in this Internet-enabled age -- could more easily be delivered to them.", James Patterson shows us he is preaching only to his choir of followers: castigating the massive people buying online is a losing tactic. It screams of despair.

So, I had to smile reading Patterson's screed, because it's that of a loser.

I think Joe and Barry were right not to attack him on his books or on his business career, though, it would have screamed of jealousy. He has been a winner in the ancient world, but as far as the present and the future of the publishing business are concerned, he is losing the debate.

Daniel Powell said...

Thanks, Sharon, for posting this. Content wins, and readers deserve choice. Convenient choice wasn't always on the table in the pre-digital era.

Alan Spade said...

@Nirmala: I have still a paperback book on Barnes & Noble virtual shelf. I have chosen to remove my other books from global distribution, because I have found that Ingram (Createspace's partner in Expanded Distribution) is competing Amazon as a seller of new books on the Amazon website, discounting the paperback books.

So, as I don't have any control of Ingram's sales, and these don't improve my Amazon's ranking, I judged it safer to withdraw my paperback books from Createspace expanded distribution.

Barry Eisler said...

For anyone asking, Joe and I didn't mention Patterson's writing skilz or methods because none of that is relevant. He could be the world's biggest hack, or he could be Tolstoy... either way, what would any of it have to do with the quality of his arguments?

JM, you might be right about what Patterson means when he praises publishers for "examining internal hierarchies." Whatever the jargon might mean, if such an examination -- not even an implementation! -- is what he thinks is praiseworthy, I'd submit to you again that despite his attempts to claim otherwise, legacy publishing has accomplished nothing worthwhile in response to pressure from Amazon. If there were any such accomplishments, Patterson would mention them. That he has to reach for "examined internal hierarchies' instead is wonderfully telling.

JA Konrath said...

If "examined internal hierarchies' means "navel gazing" then the legacy industry has done a whole bunch of that.

T. M. Bilderback said...

All I can say is, in my opinion, if you plant seeds on Patterson, they should grow quite well.

The man is so full of shi...uh, fertilizer...that you could feed all of China.

Unknown said...

By the way, Barry, to let you know your pricing works well. I already owned most of your books in paper. Bought them all again at one of your sales in ebook form b/c the price was attractive. If they'd been 10 bucks, I would have just re-read the paper copies. Wonder if defenders of the legacy publishers ever think of things like this. Of course, you have to write books work re-reading.

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

@Alan Spade: It does seem to be inconsistent on B&N. I just noticed that 3 out of 26 of my and my wife's books are still being sold by B&N in paperback. None of Joe's paper books are being sold by B&N directly including of course the ones published by an Amazon imprint, but also his CreateSpace paperbacks. But it seems that all of David Gaughran's CreateSpace titles are being sold by B&N directly (not just third party sellers in their Marketplace program).

If this is how B&N wants to compete with Amazon by offering fewer paper book titles on their online store, then Amazon better watch out....not. I can't really think of a reason not to stock the titles. And maybe they are gradually removing CreateSpace titles and will stop selling the rest of them as time goes on.

I forget if it was Joe or Hugh that mentioned how they suggested to B&N reps at a conference that they should go after the indie market to compete more with Amazon, maybe offer their own version of KDP Select. It seems like they are going in the other direction and throwing their hat in the ring even more with traditional publishers.

Matthew Wayne Selznick said...

Oh my heck, does this ridiculous circle-jerk still generate enough publicity / traffic / "cred" for authors ("legacy" and "indie" alike) to make it worth continuing to get their hands sticky?

J.M. Ney-Grimm said...

"Whatever the jargon might mean, if such an examination -- not even an implementation! -- is what he thinks is praiseworthy, I'd submit to you again that despite his attempts to claim otherwise, legacy publishing has accomplished nothing worthwhile in response to pressure from Amazon."

Oh, agreed. Evaluation without action is pointless. Given how many reports there are among midlisters whose books received no editing, no marketing, with proofreading outsourced or lacking, big pub is very top heavy and - apparently - doing nothing about it.

Diana said...

I'm just a reader who LOVES her kindle. I have bought and spent more money on books than I ever thought I would have. I have so many new to me authors that I have found because of this. If not for Amazon, I would still be borrowing my books from the library. I think Mr. Patterson is failing to see the big picture here. We need new readers to continue to buy new books. I'm so over his defense of Hachette. How about thinking about someone else for a change?

T. M. Bilderback said...

Have any of you read any of the comments at the bottom of the CNN page with Patterson's rambling essay?


He's really taking a beating there...a well deserved one at that.

Ellen Byerrum said...

When I read the article, I thought Patterson was nominating himself for sainthood.

Alan Tucker said...

I'm pretty sure the only results of any "internal examinations of hierarchies" were the reduction in editorial staff. Because interns are much cheaper to use and they do just as good a job, right?

And, surely, with the nurturing Snooki got she should be accepting a pulitzer for her next great work of American literature.

I wonder if Patterson will read the comments from his diatribe or if paying attention to the plebes is beneath him. I suppose that sounds bitter, but I am tired of these blowhards who hit the publishing slot machine jackpot claiming it was "all in the wrist".

Jim Self said...

Joe, we do have a version of James Patterson that uses his influence and wealth for the betterment of all authors. His name is Hugh Howey.

I appreciate that you give Patterson the benefit of the doubt. That's the right thing to do in a critique like this. For my part, I'm not sure that I trust his motives. When people are blind to their own illogic, it's usually because they aren't being honest about their motives (even to themselves.)

tattoo girls said...

wasnt it just write it down, print, publish and profit? rinse and repeat

Anonymous said...

i noticed that Sherman Alexie, author of many books, and films made of his work, signed Preston's list. Alexie is also on the Author's Guild Board. He is outspoken on these matters, I wonder if he would talk to you guys about this matter. I noticed he also has all his backlist in ebooks in additional to paper, and that the majority of his ebks are coming not from his paper publisher, but from Open Road which is closer to indie publishing with a far better % royalty than the big five offer.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Gutenberg:

"Did Gutenberg invent the printing press because he wanted to destroy scribes who wrote with quill pens on papyrus?"

He probably did it to make money. He was a very unsuccessful businessman who died bankrupt. And in all probability he didn't invent the printing press.

Does no one check facts any more?

Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Joe,
I'm happy to see you put the Name/URL option back on, Joe.
Apparently Preston has joined Patterson and organized a trad-pubbers' protest against Amazon. I commented on that today in my blog.
Yours in reading and writing...

Valerie Douglas said...

To tell the truth, I wish we would stop all this, it makes us just as bad as they are. We're just furthering the conflict of traditional authors against Indies. I responded to the Patterson article, trying to inject some sense and the bullies came out of the woodwork. So much so that I took my comments down.
The more we respond to post like Patterson's, though, the more we give credence to his silliness. We'd do better to prove him wrong.
Where is the authors guild for Indies?
We need to go back to helping Indie writers succeed. We should be proving that Indies can be just as good as traditionally published authors rather than contributing to the divisiveness.
There are some great Indie writers out there who could use some encouragement. Shaun Allen - his book Sin is really unique. Ian Woodhead writes some disturbing horror. Paul Kater writes fun light fantasy.
Notice I don't include myself *grins* although my books generally get good reviews.
I say this because I see a lot of writers in my group getting discouraged. We need to get positive again.

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

"To tell the truth, I wish we would stop all this, it makes us just as bad as they are."

I don't think so. Barry's points are well constructed and argumented. I get that these posts may seem repetitive to a lot of followers here, but my experience is that the criticisms of traditional publishing has been constantly refining, becoming more and more accurate and to the point as the publishing industry has developed its arguments through pundits or bestsellers authors.

It is not as if we could speak directly through CNN or The New York Times. There has to be a voice to counter legacy pundits, and they have been efficiently countered whith proofs and tools like author's earnings.

"I say this because I see a lot of writers in my group getting discouraged. We need to get positive again." Yes, publishing, whether self-publishing or trad, is rough and merciless. I agree that we have to reject hate and bitterness and think positive. For me, though, as long as the debate is fair and argumented, I don't see a problem. Even a little heat can help sometimes.

adan said...

I like some of Patterson's works too, but he thoroughly deserves the thrashing he's getting not only here, but a lot of places.

It's on par with stuff I've seen from both sides, unneeded back-firing mis-fired PRs.

Reminds me of the guy in the UK who suggested all libraries be closed and folks given subscriptions to Kindle Unlimited :

These things only hurt the people inside (meaning working and running the companies) who, I'll give the benefit of the doubt, are trying to work out a deal between two large powerful media+ companies.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Smart and frequently hilarious, your clear-eyed opinions on Patterson and company continue to make my day(s) <---- clever ref to Clint o' the chair Eastwood, another smart guy who got a little lost. Thanks, Joe and Barry!

Steven M. Moore said...

The NY Times' article you refer to is only the last of many biased articles supporting traditional publishing and knocking indie. Using terminology from by blog posts, traditional newspapers are also dinosaurs. I get my news online much faster. Of course, you have to be careful there. Online sources are biased too, sometimes in many ways.

Valerie Douglas said...

I never said that Barry's points weren't well-constructed and argumented. For the record, although it wasn't for CNN or the New York Times, I was contacted by Bloomberg and NPR's Here and Now for interviews, and tried to counter the legacy pundits. *grins* Or at least Scott Turow.
And yes, as a working independent writer like you, I am well aware that publishing is rough and merciless.
I'd rather counter those pundits with proof of author earnings, but to do that, we have to support each other.

Alan Spade said...

I agree, Valerie. I very much appreciate the indie sense of community and mutual help.

Unknown said...

You think I want to be known as the man responsible for the biggest quality drought in the history of novel writing?

James Patterson, you are not Jeff Bezos and never will be, not even close. Because you know that novel I wanted to get published by The Big Five? The one that they refused? Well, I published it on my own and Jeff Bezos lets distribute it on his Amazon site. And it's a pretty good novel, my readers say.

And who are you, James Patterson, to say what is quality and what isn't? Neither you nor the Big Five have any idea, any idea at all, what quality is.

The majority of what's being pumped out of the Big Five are horrendous, noisome pieces of work - and pumped out is the exact term I use, somewhat reminiscent of the hose that goes from a Motor Home into the septic tank - pumped out based on some marketing metric that keeps the Big Five so nervous, they only publish what they know. They don't experiment, they don't try, they don't let the rabble in. They go with what they know, the plastic commercial crap that they know will make them money, but that they say is the type of quality that they nurture. It's not quality they are putting out, it's crap.

This "quality drought" you speak of in novel writing has not been created by Jeff Bezos, but instead has been diminished. The rain has come, and Jeff Bezos is the Rainmaker. And his rain is washing away the mess the Big Five's hoses have made.

Coolkayaker1 said...

Hachette should be able to suggest the price of their products, just a Apple can suggest the price of an iPad. If the retailer ent so undercut that price as a lose-leader , they are free to do so. If the seller wishes to not sell the product at all, they are free to do so.

Amazon is taking it on the chin. They have lost 800 million in profits and, despite their gorilla image, as a company, they are still on shaky ground. Their shareholders know this. This week squeeze Hachette; next week, squeeze the self-published authors. It's going to happen.

Dan DeWitt said...

They're "squeezing" Hachette out of a desire to keep prices low, not to increase their own cut. Low prices are the norm for indies. For the thousandth time, Amazon's dealings with Hachette has literally nothing to do with how they manage KDP. Christ on a cracker.

Coolkayaker1 said...

Dan, you are wrong. Many have speculated that the Hachette battle is just the tip of the iceberg for Amazon, a company that is now overdue for becoming profitable. It's in today's The New York Times article about author in Maine. Read it. Next is self-pubbed authors. Yea, they're linked in the new mantra at Amazon: make money...finally. Read CNBC. Christ on a shingle!

Dan DeWitt said...

That article is about Douglas Preston, the architect of the original Hachette email. It also included this gem regarding the indie petition: "The petition has 7,650 signatures. By comparison, a 2012 petition calling on Amazon to ban the sale of whale and dolphin meat drew over 200,000 signatures." It also mentions that Amazon has "stopped selling forthcoming Hachette books," which is as big as lies get.

Oh, but "some" have "speculated" that Amazon will next target indies to increase profits, despite a) Amazon going public with their stance that they're fine with the current 30% cut from Hachette, and b) the fact that the two business agreements have nothing to do with each other.

Are you serious, or did I bite at trollbait?

Dan DeWitt said...

Fuck it, I'm not doing this yet again.

Laura Resnick said...

I think one of the various reasons these megasellers like Patterson, Turow, Preston, etc. actively support higher ebook prices and have advocated in favor of artificial price-raising and illegal price-fixing in the ebook market is that, for them, paying $15 for an ebook doesn't even rise to the level of pocket change.

I tinkered with some math a little while ago, and for someone of Patterson's income to feel the same financial hit that –I- would feel for purchasing a $15 ebook, based on my annual income last year compared to his reported ebook income, Patterson would have to spend more than $23,000 for the same ebook.

Or for a reader who makes $10/hour, which is HIGHER than minimum wage in most US states, I estimate that to feel the same financial hit that this person would upon purchasing a $15 ebook, Patterson would have to spend more than $70,000 for the same ebook.

So to someone like him, suggesting that $15 for an ebook is too much money doesn't compute. It's what publishers are apparently saying they "need" to charge, and to a person like him (and probably to any person whose income is 8 figures per year), it's a MEANINGLESS SUM. In much the way that, although I am careful with money, I have no problem dropping a penny into a fountain to make a wish—because a penny is a MEANINGLESS sum to me.

When someone like Preston talk about readers having "entitlement" issues because they didn't want to pay such high prices for his newest ebook, these were readers objecting to what, to a person of Preston's wealth, is a MEANINGLESS sum, which may be why he got shirty about it. He has no idea that for people of working class incomes, that means they can't purchase the book. For peope of working class incomes, it means they must choose between books they want, since the household income doesn’t offer a limitless budget for book purchases.

And all of these guys fail to realize that, personal budget notwithstanding, this is PRICE-GOUGING and consumers DON'T LIKE THAT. If a person hasn't needed to think about the price of anything in decades, that may be a reality of the daily world of "the little people" with which you have totally and completely lost touch. We out here in Realiy are all people who daily forego things we want (and often HAVE TO forego thinks we actually NEED—such as health care) because the price is too high. This is not something that appears to be anywhere in the world view of rich megastar authors like Patteron, Preston, Turow, etc.

Laura Resnick said...

Joe wrote: "Sixth, legacy insiders almost always use their celebrity to broadcast their views to the masses while avoiding any actual engagement with their critics."

I don't think their failure to engage is about their realizing on some level their arguments don't stand up to factual, informed scrutiny. I think the reason people like this (Shatzkin is another example) won't engage is that they have a very specific notion of Who Matters.

As far as they are concerned, THEY matter. You don't, Joe. Hugh Howey, Barry Eisler, the 7500 people who signed the petition, the New York Times bestselling authors who are leaving traditional publishing in favor of self-publishing (I just wrote a Nink article about this; Sept. edition), the hundreds of writers who've developed hybrid careers and -can- leave traditional publisher if/when they decide, the hundreds of midlist author who have already left publishing (many of whom are now earning 3-4-8 times more annually than they were earning when traditionally published), the generation of writers who are earning a living self-pubbing without even submitting to a traditional publisher, bestselling indies like HM Ward who have declined tradpub authors (and has blogged about her business reasons)...

NONE of us MATTER to these people. They don't engage because in their worldview, we are all completely irrelevant. We do not merit their engagement. Nothing we say or do matters.

I think they view you--and all of us--that way, and are no more likely to engage with you, or with any of us, than you or I are likely to engage with ants we find in the kitchen. I think we have roughly THAT level of relevance and respect in their world view.

Which is a little irritating, but not important. The market will keep moving forward into the future, after all, regardless of what they think or how much they refuse to engage in informed debate with their critics.

adan said...

@Laura, great cost of living comparisons. I wasn't thinking entirely along those lines when I held off buying Zoo for two years (my review goes into this : ) but it was definitely a factor. The other was that the price just seemed unfair. Wasn't thinking or saying folk who can shouldn't or should buy it, if they wished, I just couldn't make myself do that.

Paul Levinson said...

Excellent analysis - thanks!

By the way, I'm bringing this issue - and my pro-Amazon assessment - to the world of academe in the Keynote Address I'll be giving at Baylor University on September 25, to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media.

An abstract of the Keynote follows. There'll be a video of it up on YouTube some time soon after the talk.

The Medium of the Book: Fifty Years after Understanding Media

A half century after the publication of McLuhan's Understanding Media seems like a good time to examine the recent evolution of the book itself as a medium. In Understanding Media, McLuhan quotes the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine's circa 1830 observation that "the book arrives too late". Today, in a revolution as important as the introduction of Gutenberg's press, books can arrive instantly anywhere in the world, via Kindles and other ebooks. But the most significant part of this development may pertain not to readers but authors, who can now can publish books without a publisher and within an hour or less after the book has been written. The advantages and disadvantages of this bypassing of the traditional gatekeeper for authors and the world at large will be explored -- they are mostly advantages -- as well as the decline of gatekeeping in other media. Current conflicts, such as the dispute between Amazon and the traditional publisher Hachette will be examined. Connections between the evolution of the book and other facets of writing on the Web will be traced, including the capacity of readers to communicate directly and easily with authors, in modes akin to the "intelligent writing" that Socrates yearned for in the Phaedrus.

adan said...

@Paul, I still remember reading Marshall McLuhan for the first time the late 60s. There is that kind of energy today, like in my teens & 20s (smiles).

A minuscule suggestion re your abstract, that maybe naming the variety and breadth of reading devices, from Kindles to iPhones to laptops to all the other amazing reading tech available, might get the point of comparison to the Gutenberg Press, than one company's model. One initial outlet, to near universal outlets.

Either way, congrats on the keynote in Waco! Best wishes (smiles).

Anonymous said...

I know a few in the publishing business and Patterson has many Ghost writers. Just ask anyone in the business.

Daniel Powell said...


I adopted New New Media for a class I am teaching this fall. Great book!

Deborah Brown Smith said...

All the (mostly men) here at the Konrath blog who've never been a success at "legacy publishing" are not doing a good job concealing massive jealousy issues. Not only do you have no inside understanding of how publishing works, but your envy and bitterness pretty much drools off the screen. Give it a rest.

Harry Sarkisian said...

Amazon Kindle asked me for my help to stop Hachette and the radical overcharge for ebooks....
I have made about fifteen bucks off a short memoir about what I do.
I'm glad you Joe Konrath and the more learned are involved in this. I don't get what I was supposed to do in terms of being substantial... Write on Y'all!!!

Dan DeWitt said...

Hi, Deb! Thanks for stopping by and, as always, making yourself look even worse.

DBD said...

Thank you dear Gatekeepers of Publishing Information. Every time I read an article you two write I think, "Thank God for Joe and Barry!" You two are keeping conversations moving and people - writers and publishers - thinking, while providing information we may not know or understand given the influential allegiance of writers (i.e. James Patterson) who write/speak from their own successful POV. Keep up the great work. What you are doing and saying is important.
Author of The Hoppernots

MikeAngelGumshoe said...

I sure hope James Patterson isn't a pseudonym for Joe Konrath! (Hi Joe, "Hank" here of old AFO fame.

switch said...

Hi Joe, Had two questions for you

First: I see all indie authors support Amazon and most published successful authors support Hachette.

Isn't it that everyone is acting in their self-interest and just using 'future of book's as a convenient excuse for 'future of me'?

Second: Would love your thoughts on our new free book promotion service. In particular we have lower rates for indie authors and guaranteed download figures.

what do you think?


Renee said...

"All the (mostly men) here at the Konrath blog who've never been a success at "legacy publishing" are not doing a good job concealing massive jealousy issues"

Oh please give me a break. As a female reader and librarian, not an author, there is no tsunami of jealous outpourings here from "mostly men" and your drive by whines never contribute anything but they do deliver a bad impression of your business sense. I am far more critical of Patterson and Preston and the others than this bunch. I have no authorial ax to grind I can think of Patterson's work as crap even as I put a couple of die hard fans names on the holds list. I actually buy or did buy Preston's ebooks whenever a promo 2.99 title came up...tho' I always felt I overpaid by about a buck because he can put out crap titles too he just manages to put out some goods ones along the way. I'd say it is you who doesn't understand today's publishing world.

Unknown said...

> Second: Would love your thoughts on our new free book promotion service. In particular we have lower rates for indie authors and guaranteed download figures.

> what do you think?


Thanks for mentioning this. We're going to give it a try next week for a Rebecca Radley book that will be free for a few days.

I would love to try it with my eBook formatting manual (Mobi Machine), but I'll have to wait. It is free on the Nepo Press web site, B&N, Smashwords, but not price matched on Amazon yet.


Smart Debut Author said...

My friends who made the mistake of signing with Bell Bridge, only to see their careers stalled by their publisher's incompetence, now cringe every time they see Deb Smith screeching her sad hatred at indies and then running away.

She must not realize how nutty she comes across.