Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Grinch Comes to Visit

Going through the news from around the publishing industry this week has made me wonder if the Grinch hasn't paid an early call this year. To say the week has been interesting is too mild. For one, I'm positive it wasn't interesting in the standard Webster's Dictionary sort of way. Oh no, it was most definitely interesting in the old Chinese proverb sort of way and that always has me looking over my shoulder to see what is about to happen next. So, let's get started and see what you think.

Jenny Rappaport announced the closing of her agency, The Rappaport Agency, LLC., on her blog on the 9th. For more information, check out her blog, Lit Soup. I haven't dealt with Ms. Rappaport personally, but have heard enough about her to know she will be missed. Good luck in all your future endeavors, Ms. Rappaport.

In other agency news, Rachelle Gardner announced that her agency, WordServe Literary, is closed to queries until January 14, 2010. With the holidays coming up, a number of agencies will be taking a vacation. Others will close to queries until after the New Year. Be sure to check their websites before submitting for any updates.

Wednesday of this week, Simon & Schuster and Hatchette Books announced that they will delay e-book releases of certain best sellers and high print run books by four months after the release of the hard cover version. "The right place for the e-book is after the hardcover but before the paperback," said Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS Corp. "We believe some people will be disappointed. But with new [electronic] readers coming and sales booming, we need to do this now, before the installed base of e-book reading devices gets to a size where doing it would be impossible." David Young, the CEO for Hatchette, said they will delay the "vast majority" of e-books by 3 to 4 months. His explanation, "I can't sit back and watch years of building authors sold off at bargain-basement prices. It's about the future of the business." Add to this the announcement by Harper-Collins the following day that they, too, would delay certain e-books and you can see the line in the sand. Their delays will range from 4 weeks to 6 months. According to Brian Murray, CEO of H-C, the continued sales of hard cover books at $9.99 will eventually lead to fewer literary choices for readers because publishers can't won't be able to risk so many new authors. "We're going to experiment with this," Mr. Murray said. "Each new e-book represents a potential new marketing opportunity at a time when we need every possible hook to get consumer attention."

What does all this mean? My take on it is that the publishers are worried that Amazon, Walmart and the like will soon insist on lower costs to them, the stores, for the best seller hard covers. Right now, they are buying these books at the price dictated by the publishers and selling them for a loss. The publishers aren't losing anything, but they are scared that things will change. So, what do they do when they're scared, they lash out at what they don't understand and, in this case, it's e-books and those who read them. The publishers think that by delaying e-book versions of their best selling books, they will sell more hard covers of those same books. Wrong. Especially if the prices of hard covers go back up to the $25 - $30 range. Worse, by delaying the release of the e-book version, there will be no push and there will be lost sales there. For example, you have a new book by best-selling author X. It's his first book in three years or more and the publisher gives it a lot of push to increase pre-order sales, etc. It hits the NYT best sellers list. Then the hard cover comes out and the reviews are awful. Worse, blogs and word of mouth trash the book. Sales of the hard cover decrease and, guess what, when the e-book version comes out at more than $10 -- something else the publishers want. They want e-book prices to be closer to HC prices than PB -- no one buys the e-book. Publishers will say, "See! We knew this e-book thing was just a fad." And they will loose sales and the publishing industry will continue its downward spiral.

Except there are those publishers who do realize e-books are now a part of the industry that must be addressed and business practices must be adapted. According to WSJ-Online, Albert Greco, a professor at the Fordham University Graduate School of Business who studies the book industry, estimates that e-book retail sales could hit $201 million in 2010, still a fraction of the physical book market but up from an estimated $150 million this year. That is nothing to sneeze at, especially not when publishers are hurting for sales.

I'm going to close this by borrowing from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. SB Sarah sums up my feelings about this mess and I just have to share. Please feel free to add your comments.

Withhold My E-book! No, no, no!

Do you like this hardcover book?
You should buy it! Look look look!

I do not like a hardback book
I will not read it, not that book.
I want to read it, yes, I do,
but not that hardback, no, thank you.


Will you buy it here, or there?
You can buy it anywhere!
This hardback book is just for you.
The only kind we offer you.

I will not buy it, here or there.
I will not buy it anywhere.
I do not want a hardback book.
I want to buy a digital book.

Would you buy it in a store?
If you buy one, will you buy more?
You can buy it here, or there.
You can buy it anywhere!

We only have this hardback book.
There are no others, if you look.
This hardback paper is for you,
and if you buy one, you can buy two!

I will not buy it in a store.
I will not buy one, two, or more.
I will not buy it here, or there.
I will not buy it anywhere.

I will not buy a single one.
Our transaction might be done.
I do not want your hardback book.
I want to read my digi-book.

We do not sell digital books.
We only sell the hardback books.
If you want e, you have to wait.
Until the hardback sales abate.
This digital is just a fad,
and in our viewpoint, very bad.
The only books are ones like these:
Buy in hardback, won’t you please?

I will not buy them, don’t you know?
This is why your profits blow!
I want to read your books, right now!
I want to read them anyhow!

I want to put them on a Kindle,
or Nook or Sony, and not be swindled.
I will not buy a hardback book,
not now, not later, you backwards crook.

Your clueless thinking blows my mind.
E-sales are climbing! Are you blind?!
See this finger, nice and high?
You can kiss my sale goodbye.

I’ll go online and find my book,
scanned page by page by pirate crook,
and you have lost all sales from me,
both now and in the future. See,
I do not want your hardback book.
I want to read my digital book.


24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your rhyme rocks!

I'm on an undecided opinion regarding e-book sales. Sure, from a reader's standpoint, I would like to have books made more available to me by price and distribution. I also understand and agree that writers need to make a living, too. So, there must be a healthy compromise somewhere.

If I were that level of writer who had books available on a fairly frequent basis, I believe I would like to sell cheaper books to more readers than sell more expensive books to fewer readers. I don't know that publishers care about the distinction. However they make more money is how they're going to do it.

I would like to think that more people would buy new releases if they were less expensive. Maybe the pricing solution for e-books new releases is to offer them at less expensive prices but not so cheap as a mass market. Then again, there's no point for even a mass market e-book to run its regular price there either. I would think that an e-book publisher could offer their books much cheaper yet the profit margin would be the same or bigger than before and everyone makes either the same amount or more money than before. I don't know enough about the actual price of an e-book to make an educated guess, but when an author makes a top royalty of roughly $1 per mass market, certainly they could be paid that per e-book for $5 or $6. As a reader, I would certainly rather pay $5 or $6 per mass market than the current $8 or $9.

In any case, I see a future where e-books dominate. Yes, actual books will still have a place, but why waste all of those natural resources, money on distribution and transportation, and physical effort when e-books are so much more efficient?

As I said, I certainly don't have enough knowledge for such assumptions, but to quote a cliche, there's got to be a better way.

Linda Davis

C Kelsey said...

Hmm. I prefer hardcover books for the feel, but eBooks definitely have a place. Arnold just announced that PC Hodgell's latest book is now available as an eARC from webscriptions. This was important to me because I would never, ever have read any of her books if it wasn't for the ebook format. IMO, she has a style of writing that I can *only* read as an ebook.
As for the market trying to figure out how to handle the ebook/real book problem for sales I'm starting to look at an interesting gambit from outside publishing. Namely computer games. Several months ago Turbine announced that it's MMORPG Dungeons and Dragons Online was adopting a free to anyone to play scheme, with better content/more things available for one time fees as you play. This has apparently taken a failing computer game "publisher" and a failing gaming franchise, and turned both into reasonable successes in very short order. So publishers really need to start realizing that e-content is not bad. And free may actually make you more money.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Amanda,

There must be something in the air. The post I've written and scheduled for Tuesday has the theme of the Chinese proverb and deals with the future of books!

Kate said...

There are reasons I'm still undecided about ebook readers. This sort of thing is one of hte bigger ones. Even without this kind of nonsense it's going ot cost a fortune to move to ebook. With it, not worth thinking about.

Chris McMahon said...

Probably depends on the book. Some books I really want in hard-copy first as soon as I can get my hands on it - whether that's hardcover or just large format trade paperback.

Can't say I am really an ebook convert. Just call me a Luddite. All those poor trees dying to feed my habit.

Ori Pomerantz said...

There is nothing inherently wrong with charging more for early access for a book. Baen charges $15 for an e-ARC, or $6 for a better edition of the same book a few months later. I have yet to hear anybody complain.

These publishers want to keep the early access premium. That's legitimate. But unfortunately, they are too stupid to realize that they don't need to do it by restricting the products available. They just need to control prices. Offer the e-book for $20 in the first month, $15 in the second, and so on.

Brendan said...

On the whole I do not buy hardback and only trade paperbacks I buy are by Tad Williams and I don't even do that all the time. Part of the reason is I am a hoarder and I need the space. Another is that for most books the size is too big and difficult to read and carry around. The third is the price. In Aus with a mm @ $25 and a hardback almost double that, I would really need to be desperate to read something. In general I am not that desperate and will wait the 6 months or so for the mm release.

Amanda Green said...

Linda, I loved the Dr. Seuss take-off SB Sarah did and knew I had to include it in today's post.

I guess my biggest problem with the stance these publishers are taking is that it truly is a catch-22 for them. They are holding back sales of the e-book in order to bolster hard cover sales. They don't like the lower price of the e-books and feel that cannibalizes sales of HC. BUT, the same books they feel are being effected by the e-book sales are those already being offered by Amazon, Walmart and others for $9.99 -- the same price as the e-book offerings from those same outlets.

Frankly, they are trying a smoke and mirrors act in an attempt to hide their fear and inability -- or at least their unwillingness -- to adapt to new technologies and buying trends. Sure, they're worried that Amazon, et al, will one day demand the publishers sell the books to them at a cheaper price so they aren't taking such huge losses on the hard cover "best sellers". I can understand that. But alienating a growing market, those who prefer e-books, isn't the way to do it.

As for royalties on e-books, that is a whole different critter and I know Dave, Sarah and the other MGCers will have a better grasp on the figures than I do. However, it is my understanding that those publishers who are mainly e-publishers offer 25%, sometimes more, of the cover price to the authors. This is because they usually don't offer an advance. Sometimes the royalty is up to 40%. This, too, is something the traditional publishers aren't happy with and it is something I think will be played out in the courts as more and more authors and their estates attempt to claim e-rights to works that were sold prior to the creation of e-books, works that aren't "out of print". Mind you, the houses haven't put out an e-book of the work and never made any attempt to amend the contract or the like. But, when faced with an author/estate wanting to issue an e-book of that particular work, the publisher is suddenly up in arms.

As I said at the beginning of the post this morning, things are certainly interesting, and not necessarily in a fun way.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, I am always going to love the feel of a book over that of my Kindle. There is something about curling up with a good book that I'll always enjoy. The feel, the smell, whatever. That said, I wouldn't take for my Kindle either. Both serve their purposes and the quicker the publishers recognize that e-books aren't the boogeyman but, quite possibly, the savior of the industry, the better.

And you are right that publishing could take a page from gaming. The could do it from the music industry as well. Free content, if it is good free content, will get you more customers. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but Baen Books with its free library is a prime example of that. How many readers has Baen gained, and how many more hard cover and paperback books has it sold because of the free library. And the CDs included in some of the hard covers?

The lesson to be learned from the music industry, and from Baen as well, is to get rid of DRM. If e-books are the future of publishing -- and I believe it is going to be a major part of it -- then DRM has to be junked. Just like I want to be able to carry a HC book with me from room to room, it would be nice not to be limited to what e-book reader I can read any given e-book on due to DRM.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, LOL. I think a lot of us in the industry, as well as those watching the industry, are writing about this very topic right now. Between the launch of the Nook and the announcements by Harper-Collins, Hatchette and Simon & Schuster, it's hard not to wonder what's going to happen next. Wait, is that the other shoe dropping that I hear???

Mike said...

Meanwhile, Random House believes ebooks are such an important part of their business that they are preemptively claiming all such rights for any book that was contracted before such things were included in contracts?

http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/randomhouse1213.pdf should take you to the letter from Random House. Fourth paragraph from the bottom is the key one where they suddenly explain that the old language actually gives them all rights...

Amanda Green said...

Kate, I perfectly understand what you're saying. We are still in the infancy stages of e-books and e-book readers right now. However, I truly believe that within the next few years we'll see publishing reaching an industry standard on formats and non-DRM (if they haven't all lost their minds by then) just as the music industry finally settled on MP3 format, etc., for their downloadable content. Until then, I want the popcorn concession as we stand on the sidelines and watch the fireworks.

Amanda Green said...

Chris Mc, while I'm a big fan of e-books, I, too, have some authors I will buy in HC. Those are the authors who have consistently entertained me and who continue to hone their craft. That said, others I used to rush out to buy as soon as their newest book came out have long since been relegated to waiting for the paperback to come out. Others, I'd like to have but can't afford the $25 cover price. That's where e-books are nice -- assuming the publisher has realistic pricing in place. Frankly, there is room in publishing for all three formats and, if the publishers would wise up, they'd see it and they'd realize e-books can be a good way to increase sales not only of the digital format but of the dead tree version as well.

Amanda Green said...

Ori, early access isn't really the issue, no matter what they say. The issue is that they are afraid Amazon and others will one day come to them and say, "we are no longer going to pay the price you want for the best sellers. If you want to sell them through us, you will lower the price we pay you so we will once more make a profit on them."

Further, the argument that e-books cut into the monies made by authors is spurious as well. At least it is if the contract is a reasonable one for the authors. But that is another story. Many of the big publishers don't want to alter what they pay authors for e-royalties.

The problem still distills down to the fact that the publishing industry is changing and publishing houses are scared and like most people when scared, the publishing houses are digging their heels in and doing their best not to change. The result will see some hoses undergoing major changes, possibly even failing, before the industry levels out again.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, what I see happening is that the e-books that are delayed won't sell as many "copies" as the publishers expect and then they will say, "see, there really isn't that much of a call for e-books after all." When, in reality, it will be the same as with pb sales. If there is no push, folks don't buy the book -- no matter what the format. If the HC got bad reviews, there won't be the sales. Somewhere push is going to come to shove, whether it is the increase in small e-publishers, author cooperatives that put their work out in e-formats, or a complete upheaval of publishing as we know it. But e-books are here to stay and, as a pack rat and avid reader, I am glad. I would much rather have e-books available and I can now be more discerning about what books I buy in HC, MMP, and PB/

Amanda Green said...

Mike, Random House is going to have fun trying to get the courts to buy that. Technology has changed and RH has had plenty of time to adapt their contracts for these books to include e-rights. The fact that they haven't until they hear the author or their estate is planning on taking the e-rights elsewhere says a lot. When this finally goes through mediation or court case, RH may end up with the rights but it wouldn't surprise me at all if they are ordered to add compensation for the e-rights commiserate with what their current contracts, or industry-standard contracts, contain.

Brendan said...

Amanda,

I have 240 titles on my iphone and I am a true convert. Many are out of copyright, some are still covered by copyright but simply unavailable any other way(sorry Mr second hand dealer, I am not going to pay $65US for an out of print mm book no matter how much I want to read it). Others I read first and then bought the mm editions (all the Jim Butcher books) and the final catogory, the new releases, I will buy when the mm is released but am not forking out a cent till then.

Most of these e-books I have not paid for. Not that I am adverse to paying, when I realised how good Jim Butcher was I did almost $300 damage on my CC. But most I can't buy and the rest , well the price just isn't right.

For example. The latest Katharine Kerr novel, The Silver Mage. Aus/UK HC: $44. When the MM is released it will be $25. Cost of the e-book? $25. So I can wait 6 months and get a traditional book that goes on my shelf, that has to be typeset, printed, bound, transported to my local shop(and since there will be no local print run this means transported from the UK), marked up to meet local store costs before I get it. Or I can pay $25 and get it now in a format that has none of the costs I have listed above. So why is it $25? A premium for immediate release? If it is, I can wait.

Mike said...

The one trick that RH may be depending on is that most authors aren't going to want to go to court because it costs -- so RH may get away with their interpretation for quite a while. Of course, if someone takes them to court and the court rules against them, it might be a big hit, but it may take a while to get that court case. Not sure how it will play out.

kesalemma said...

I have been reading e-books for at least 5 years - first on my pocket-pc, and now on my iphone.
In that time, I have also introduced several people to e-books, all of who, like me, are buying both the e-books and a hard copy of books they particularly like.
I have around 300 titles, most free or several together for a very low cost.
I am slowly working through them.
Thing is, the majority of them were free. But, as a result of reading these free e-books, I have bought several more - and in many cases also have a hard copy - whether PB or HC.
Many of these, I would not have found out about - either out of print, or not available in my part of the world, or, as in many cases, I had been looking at for a while, but not considered because I could not afford to spend my money on a risk, yet it wasn't available at the library - except for the Baen Free Library and CD's.
The several multi-book series I have discovered, and often shelled out twice for the same book because I wanted to read it immediately it was released (ARC) and then have a hard copy.
Or the current series I am reading - only the first book is available in e-book format, but I have been buying the rest book by book. It's a series I've heard of but not come across before - and generally on the most recent ones are available here, to get the earlier ones involves importation. And I don't read series out of order.
But this action will not affect me so much - because IMO most publishers demand too much for their e-books.
I'd rather wait for the library to get it in so I can read it to judge whether I like enough to spend my money, and then I'll wait for PB, HC being far too expensive to justify here (a few very favourite authors excepted).
Publishers will get more money out of me if they take the Webscriptions example.
E-books bring the books to a wider audience. I can't understand why more publishers cannot embrace them.

Kate said...

Kesalemma,

The issue is power and control, not format, and not cost. There are publishers who take a book out of print as soon as it earns out its advance, just so the author is 'beholden' to them for whatever they decide to offer as an advance for the next book.

There are publishers who will suddenly discover ridiculous amounts of 'lost' statements if they are being audited. Authors who discover they're bestsellers in languages they'd never known their books were sold in. Authors who have won lawsuits against publishers with the records from a signing session that show more books signed in that one session than their statements for the entire year show. These are the horror stories.

Then there are the publishers who are actually honest and are making a good faith effort to treat their authors as people rather than commodities. Good luck figuring out which is which: with the exception of Baen and some of the small presses, most of the field is owned and often forced to act in certain ways by parent companies who know nothing and care less about books in any format.

Their view is the same as the RIAA and MPAA, with the same results (Google disabled user DRM exemption treaty if you doubt)

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, you sound like me, except I use a Kindle instead of an iphone. Most of my 160+ books on the Kindle and another 100 or so that are on my computer HD and just haven't been transferred over are free -- mainly through Baen's Free Library, but also from other publishers and Project Gutenberg. Those e-books I have bought have mainly been because I love the author but don't want to pay the more than $20 HC price. I can buy the e-book and, if I want to later, the PB for less than the price of a HC. Of course, some of them are from authors I still buy the HC for, simply because I do collect their books and also want to do all I can to support the author.

Amanda Green said...

Mike, you may be right but I think RH will be surprised. For one thing, the authors they are trying to do this to are authors like Styron who will no, imho, not sit still for actions like this. Also, we may see reactions to this like we did to the attempt to tie up all rights in perpetuity to a book and to tie up authors to a house by not letting them submit to other houses during the life of their contract. That went over like a lead balloon and the contract language was changed -- not completely to the benefit of the author, but better than what had been proposed.

Amanda Green said...

Kesalemma, you have had much the same experience as have I. And much of it due to Baen and its approach to e-books. Unfortunately, the larger publishers are dragging their heels and kicking and screaming as they try to resist the need to adapt to this latest reader trend.

But it is more than that as well. This is a battle between the publishers and the resellers over who gets to decide how much to charge the consumers for a book. We are all familiar with the standard rule: publishers put a price on a book and almost every reseller follows it, especially for the best sellers. That rule has suddenly changed with the advent of Amazon and stores like Walmart where discount is their motto. So now the publishers are afraid these resellers will soon say that because they're selling the books at a discounted rate, they aren't going to pay the publishers as much. And that has the publishers quaking in their metaphorical boots because they can't take any more losses.

So they are trying to artificially prop up the sales of their HC best sellers by delaying the release of the e-book versions. Worse, they want the buying public to pay the same, or close to it, for an e-book that they pay for a HC (and at non-discounted prices). First off, the delay in e-books won't substantially increase the sales of HCs. Nor will it encourage readers to pay inflated prices for e-books. What it will do is decrease sales and increase piracy of books. Very short-sighted on the part of the publishers who need to focus on how to win over readers instead of further alienating them.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, absolutely and thanks for pointing out the RIAA and MPAA, et al. The next year or two are going to be interesting and more than a little scary for those of us in or wanting to be in the publishing business as the industry adapts to advent of e-book readers, smart phones, netbooks, and the next phase of technology that makes it easier to read whatever you want whenever you want without carrying a physical library around in your back pocket.