Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday Wrap-up

What a strange couple of weeks it has been in publishing, whether you're a reader, a writer or work in the industry. The Kindle-Macmillan (now Kindle-Big 6) kerfluffle has dominated the news and rightly so. It has also become the third topic you don't talk about at the dinner table, especially if you have two or more writers, a reader and -- gasp -- a publisher present. Unfortunately, what folks from all sides seem to be overlooking is the fact that the Big 6's issue with Amazon selling e-books for $9.99 isn't really the central issue, imo. It's part of it, but not the real issue.

The real issue is control and the fall-out has been bad will toward the Big 6, Amazon and a bunch of writers who have been very vocal in their stand supporting their publisher -- understandable -- and badmouthing the reading public that they saw as feeling entitled and ungrateful - very bad. Even if you feel that way, you don't tell the folks who buy your books. It just makes them mad and buyers, when made mad, quit buying.

Let's look at the facts. To begin with, Amazon doesn't sell all e-books at $9.99. Never has and never will. Those books in question are the ones hitting the New York Times best seller's list. The same books that in their hardcover version are sold for $9.99, not only at Amazon but at Walmart, Target and a lot of other stores. Now, does anyone here not see a problem with the statement, paraphrased, that the $9.99 price for e-books devalues the hardcover book? Excuse me? How can it devalue the price when they are the same? Yet that's not something you see the supporters of the Big 6 and their new agency model addressing.

So the question becomes why. If Amazon is taking a hit on selling e-books for $9.99, you know it is on hardcovers sold for that very same price. And yet Macmillan says it pushed for this new agency model even though it would make less money so Amazon can make more. Excuse me??? Somehow that just doesn't ring true.

Okay, before you guys start jumping all over me and telling me I'm missing the point here, I know I'm simplifying things. But Macmillan isn't acting out of the goodness of its heart. Nor is it acting in the best interest of its authors. If it was, it wouldn't have lowered their royalty payments a few months ago. And again, I know they say they are going to change this...but you notice the open letter didn't say how or when -- or by how much. IF, and this is a very big IF, the price increase really did go to to the author -- without whom we wouldn't have the book in the first place -- I might pay more for an e-book than I tend to now. However, not more than the paperback price and especially not the same, or more, than the hardcover.

Things to ask yourself about this issue and then I'm leaving it until there is new information:
  • how often do you buy a hardcover book these days;
  • when you do buy a hardcover, do you pay full-price for it, or do you purchase it at a discount or as a used book;
  • if you are looking to buy a hardcover book, do you comparison shop;
  • would you pay the same for a softcover book as you would for a hardcover of the same book;
  • would you pay the same for an electronic version of the book than you do for the softcover? More? How about hardcover prices?
  • if hardcover prices return to suggested retail prices and not discounted prices for best sellers, will you buy as many books?
  • now, for the big question, has your purchase history of e-books had an impact on the number of hardcover books you've bought and will an increase in the price of e-books make you buy more hardcover books?
For me, I'll keep singing the praises of Baen Books and others who realize they can sell e-books, released on or BEFORE the hardcover/paperback version of the book for a discounted rate and not savage the dead tree version of the book. In fact, many times the sale of an e-book leads not only to the sale of a dead tree version of that same book but also sales of dead tree copies of other books by that same author.

On a non-Amazon v. The Big 6 topic, agent Janet Reid has a great breakdown on what you need before you query. She has it broken down between fiction, non-fic and memoir. Go take a look and tell me what you think. The only issues I take with her list -- which is geared toward her own agency -- are where she says you don't have to have a marketing strategy for a fiction query nor do you need to be able to compare/contrast your book to others. Unfortunately, too many agents -- and publishers -- are now asking for your marketing strategy right off the bat. It's the same with the question of what books is yours like and what makes it different. In fact, there are agency that require you to answer those two questions on their online submission forms right now. So, what's the answer? Research. Find out exactly what the agency you're querying wants and the best way to answer it.

Okay, guys, the floor is now yours. What do you think about all this?

20 comments:

sehlat said...

I can only speak for myself, but my position in all of this is "A plague on both your houses."

Amazon: If you want to buy/read the books, you either must have a Kindle, which becomes just another damned gadget to carry around(jadgtca), or read them on the Kindle4PC, which means you have to carry around a multipound laptop(jadgtca) if you want portability, or be chained to a desktop PC if you don't.

In addition, many of Amazon's books are in "Topaz" format. It's been established beyond reasonable doubt that a huge chunk of those books are simply editions done with a quick OCR and some basic checking, and the books present well because the "tough to OCR" parts are really images. You are not getting electronic content isomorphic with the paper edition. In my opinion, that's fraud.

Publishers: We want to charge higher prices early for the eager, and we'll lower them later when the paperbacks come out.

As far as I'm concerned, the publishers have every right to decide on pricing. The books belong to them and the authors and I'm very big on authors and publishers eating hot food and sleeping indoors. Remember, the setup costs for any book worth reading (writing, editing, fact-checking, proofreading) don't go away just because the final copy is electronic.

Also, nobody has to buy the book if they won't pay. I have yet to walk into a bookstore (treeware or online) and be told at gunpoint: "Take this book and give me money for it."

But their claim of "We'll lower prices later." doesn't hold water. For example, Macmillan is still demanding $20 for the eBook of "Kushiel's Avatar" six years after the paperback was released at$8.

I'm certain this is because they don't want people buying eBooks, and they can cite the damage done by overpricing the books as "Nobody wants eBooks anyway."

Me: Oh, really? I've had months where I've spent over $60 on eBooks, most of them bought at paperback prices. I never spent that kind of money on books in the treeware-only days.

Both Sides: DRM, DRM, DRM. Locked-down formats that can't be tailored to the requirements of people with poorer-than-20-year-old eyes, can't be read aloud by electronic text readers for the blind, or just plain format-shifted to fit into things like PalmPilots that people like me already carry around anyway.

I think your colleague John Lambshead put it brilliantly in his recent post on this scuffle:

The industry has no plan and no clue. Currently it is trying to pretend that an ebook is just a book in a different format. Hence, DRM, overpricing and the current skirmish between the suits at Amazon and Macmillan. That is a turf war between threatened clans over the last waterhole in a drought.

John Lambshead said...

More comment here;
http://ow.ly/14MZR
John

Dave Freer said...

Amanda you are SO right. Authors need to carefully engage with readers and make sure that readers care about us. Positioning oursevers as bitter and cheated by them (which we're not - they do not set our income or even really decide what gets bought). Like the Australian Dymocks (big retailer) / Publisher fight - both sides sought to engage proxies rather than show this to be what it was - a fight for control of the goodie bag (high volume sellers). Authors are the only 'weapon' most publishers have in the cheaper-prices-for-readers fight. Amazon acted foolishly, not co-opting them. Most authors reacted vicerally at seeing their tiny share of income threatened, and made the mistake of assuming that as their publishers were fighting with their retailer, and their retailer had in the fight hurt them as heedless collateral damage(establishing itself as unreliable and untrustworthy in the process) that their publisher was therefore right. Hmm. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. That works so well in the real world (The Taliban were the enemies of the Russians, remember). Readers are our friends, we and they are one. Publishers and retailers are necessities (now anyway). A few have shown themselves as really supporting authors. I'm happy to support them, as long as they don't get in the way of the relationship with the readers.
And no one owes me - or the publishers, or retailers, anything.

sehlat said...

Update to my earlier reply:

1. Baen Books got me back into reading books ten years ago when I discovered their webscriptions ebooks. No DRM. Fair prices(I think they don't charge enough, BTW.). And I can stuff the books into my Palm as text plus _italics_ in about two minutes, since they're open-format. Before Baen, I didn't read nearly as much as I do now, since there were other things (internet, computer games) to capture my time, and I was getting tired at having to carry around pounds and pounds of treeware for casual reading.

Here's my current inventory of eBooks and matching treeware formats as of two days ago (before I'd finished and deleted the Palm copies of two of them):

Darkship Thieves (Sarah A. Hoyt-Baen)(TP)(Finished-5 Stars)
Live Free or Die (John Ringo-Baen)(HC)(Finished-5 Stars)
Torch of Freedom (David Weber and Eric Flint-Baen)(HC)(In Progress)
Sorceress of Karres (Eric Flint and David Freer-Baen)(HC)(In Queue)
The Breach(Patrick Lee-Fictionwise-eReader)(PB)(In Queue)

I get to choose between carrying around a five ounce PalmPilot, or six pounds(Amazon-listed shipping weights) of paper. I chose years ago.

----

2. eBook Pricing: This morning I went out to my local supermarket, and browsed the paperbacks on the rack. I stumbled across a promising-looking title: "Demons Not Included" by Cheyenne McCray. Cover jacket had interesting premise, and I like Urban Fantasy. I don't buy treeware, so when I got home, I looked the book up. Here's the play-by-play.

Fictionwise(EB-DRM): $11.90(my club price, no rebates to micropay, always my first stop for eBooks)

Barnes and Noble(PB-NODRM)): $7.19(everybody gets member discount)

Barnes and Noble(EB-DRM): $9.99(and that's "discounted" from $14)

Amazon: same ugly story as Barnes and Noble.

Result: Scratch one sale that could have been made in a heartbeat. But..."Nobody wants eBooks."

Chris McMahon said...

Hey, why stop there? Why not ask the writers how they would print the book, design the cover, get distribution as well a promote and market - hey wait a minute. What does that leave for the publisher to do?

Mmmn.

Amanda Green said...

Sehlat, I understand and share your frustration with Amazon and DRM. Unfortunately, you have the same issue with Sony, B&N and even Fictionwise. Yes, those stores with their own e-book readers have a proprietary interest in selling e-books embedded with DRM that limits those books to being read only on their hardware. However, it still comes down to the publishers insisting on DRM as some misguided attempt to ward off piracy.

As for your comment regarding OCR and Amazon, I don't have enough information to really comment. My question is if the publishers provide the content.

As for the Big 6, they are harming the entire industry by their attempts to deny that demand is changing. E-books may still represent a small portion of their profits but it is a growing portion. It isn't the advent of e-books that has led to the decline in HC sales. That decline has been going on for years. The causes, and they are multiple, include becoming too expensive and, much as it pains me to say it, a lowering in quality -- both physical quality of the books and in too many cases in the quality of writing and editing.

That said, I have no problems spending 5 or 6 bucks on an e-book and, if I really like it, going out and buying the HC. And, guess what, that means more money to the publisher and to the author.

The end result will be, I feel, that we'll see more and more authors taking a proactive role regarding their e-rights, offering their backlists for download at reasonable prices either through author co-ops, Amazon or other outlets.

The times are changing and the sooner the industry accepts that and adapts, the better it will be for all of us.

Amanda Green said...

John, thanks for the link. I wonder how long it will take for SFWA to put the links back up now that the Macmillan books and e-books are back up on Amazon. I find it interesting that, to the best of my knowledge, none of the other major organizations took this action.

Brendan said...

I don't buy hard covers. They cost to much. In the latest dust-up the industry people say they need to control the HC price since that is where they make the most money. Does that mean they are gouging the customer? They can make more money on hardcovers despite increased printing costs, despite paying a higher author royalty on books sold?

Over on her website Making Light Teresa Nielsen Hayden posted a piece about lessons that could be learned from the music business ( A music exec’s take on the Macmillan/Amazon throwdown ) and spends her whole time in the comments justifing maintaining the status quo(Publishers are your friends: Trust them). The problem being that the publishers haven't learned anything from the music biz and are making exactly the same mistakes.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, absolutely.

As a consumer, I resent the fact Macmillan -- and the others comprising the Big 6 -- want to dictate to sellers what their prices will be. That means the only decision to make is which form of DRM I want and who might have the cheapest shipping and handling costs.

As an author, I don't buy Macmillan's tripe about how this action will save the hardcover book. It won't. Nor will it, as they want, destroy the e-book. It will hurt authors and it will drive consumers to look at small press and independently published (e-books put up on Amazon by their authors as opposed to the Lulu or vanity press route)authors for their "fix".

The industry is getting just a bit too interesting right now.

Amanda Green said...

Sehlat, I still love my physical books. But it is so much easier to carry my Kindle with the 200 or so books on it than to carry even two or three physical books with me whenever I leave the house.

I did a quick inventory of what's on my Kindle after reading your second comment and it breaks down to approximately 100 Baen books/e-arcs, half a dozen of my own works-in-progress. The rest are from Amazon with a couple from Fictionwise. All of the Baen and Fictionwise are DRM-free. At least Amazon now offers authors the option of turning off DRM and a number of the indies are doing just that...and I wholeheartedly approve.

As for price, the most I've paid for an e-book is $15 for e-arcs from Baen. But that's only been for a couple and only because I'm impatient and couldn't wait for the regular e-book/dead tree version to come out. The next highest price has been $6.99 -- cheaper than most paperback books these days, even with discounts.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, I'm hoping your tongue is firmly planted in your cheek because more and more often writers here are being asked just that -- with the exception of cover design and distro. Not only are publishers wanting to know how you'd market and promote a book when you query them, so are agents. In fact, even for novels, more and more agents are asking for a marketing plan to show publishers when they shop a book around -- and this is sometimes even before the agent signs you.

I also know a lot of authors who would kill to have some input on their covers just to prevent being saddled with atrocities that have nothing to do with the actual story.

I won't even get into the decline in quality of proofreading and copy editing of late. So, perhaps the question should be what are publishers doing beyond distribution these days.

/cranky rant off

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, I saw the post you linked to and could only shake my head. If publishers are making most of their money from a dying portion of their business, it's time for them to reexamine their business model and, instead of trying to hang onto the status quo, figure out what's wrong and work to adapt to new technologies and demands. Okay, maybe per book they make more on a hard cover but if they can't sell them, where is the profit?

Michael Stackpole has a good post on the cost of e-books today. You can find it here: http://www.michaelastackpole.com/?p=1057"

sehlat said...

Amanda:

DRM is a speed bump. Every single form of DRM, whether for video, audio, or text, has fallen within days of its release. The term used by people who genuinely own their iPhones is "jailbreaking."

With traditional treeware publishing, DRM doesn't exist. I have books I bought back in the sixties that I can still read, even though the hardware I use (my eyes) has changed. You can't say that with DRM-infested ebooks. Unless you jailbreak a book, if you move to a new machine, you're toast.

James Patrick Baen, who was one of the human race's great geniuses, saw the writing on the wall ten years ago and set up a very successful business model. How successful? Well, you're talking to a reader who, a few years ago, bought entire years of webscription books at a time, even when the last six months of that year showed "To Be Determined" in their playlists. I'd still do it if the credit card companies weren't hobbling the practice.

I suppose my real frustration is that a provably successful business model for mixed electronic-paper publishing has been available for at least eight years (first two years count as proof-of-concept), and the rest of the publishing industry has chosen to ignore the evidence and gone to work on alienating their own customer base just the way the movie and music industries did.

Amanda Green said...

Sehlat, I agree wholeheartedly about DRM. The same faulty reasoning the music industry applied to it years ago is what the publishers are applying now. What they fail to recognize is that piracy is going to happen whether there are e-books or not. I pointed out in an eralier post that the last Harry Potter book showed up online BEFORE the dead tree book was released and that was without an e-version of the book being made. How? Someone took a copy of the HC and scanned it in, converted it and posted it for download.

Frankly, if more publishers followed the Baen example, I think they would see a decrease in piracy. I know most sites have been pretty good about taking down illegal copies of Baen e-books when asked. Or at least that's been my impression from following the discussions on the Bar.

And you are right. Jim Baen blazed a trail many are still not only reluctant to follow but afraid to. That's unfortunate not only for the buying public but for the writers as well.

The next issue that has to be dealt with with regard to e-books is the decision of a generally accepted format. Will a DRM-free version of epub be it or will it be mobi or what?

Kate said...

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I don't know who's ultimately to blame and as a reader and an author I really don't care - I just want it fixed.

Without touching my personal suspicion that a random audit of any of the big however many it is would uncover the kind of systemic fraud that makes most scammers look like patsies (how often have 'bestsellers' turned out not to be - where do their royalty payments come from? And why do so may midlisters have tale after tale of signing more books than they've supposedly sold? The black hole that is the publishing business doesn't exactly help to make them trustworthy, either, but anyway...), it's never good to treat your customer base like idiots who don't know what's good for them.

Both Amazon and the big bastards are doing that.

It's not that people don't want escapism - they do. Why else would reality shows be so popular? It's a long, long time since most publishers have actually cared what readers wanted, as evidenced by the offerings on the store shelves.

What other business, anywhere, regards a 50% return rate as normal? It's a sign that what's being published is, mostly, not what people want to read.(We won't go into the bizarre nature of book shelf-life. That rant gets even less coherent, and I'm starting to sound like I need my medications as it is).

It's the same things as the delusional Hollywood big box movies that no-one wants to see. If the last five movies with this theme failed, gee, maybe it's not something people want to see movies about? The same goes with books. If you can't sell your pacifist mil-sf (don't laugh. There really is such a beast, and yes, it's as bad as it sounds. The things I inflict on myself to spare the readership of MGC the horror) no matter who writes it, maybe people just don't want to read that. It's not rocket science.

And I'm ranting at the converted.

Sorry. I'll shut up now.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, you mean you don't want all the sparkly vampires and emo werewolves and bad almost-porn that passes for paranormal romance these days? Will someone please tell me when the rules changed and vampires could be pimply faced high schoolers full of angst? Oh, wait, that's another post.

Unfortunately, the so-called accounting practices of some of the publishers will stay as they are until one of a couple of things happens: 1) one of them goes bankrupt and a judge orders a full audit. If that happens the industry really will hiccup and the cry of "Incoming" will sound high and low. 2) one or more of the so-called best sellers finally demands a full accounting of all on-line and e-book sales. Now, how long do you think it will be before that happens? Me, I'm not holding my breath.

Kate said...

Amanda,

I'm not holding my breath either - smurf is so not my color.

It's one of those lovely vicious circle things. Everyone on the business knows everyone else, so whoever dobs someone in for shoddy bookkeeping is torpedoing their career - they'll be blacklisted to hell and back. When you can get blacklisted for not upholding the pa... ahem... received wisdom loud enough, who's going to try something that inflammatory?

Amanda Green said...

Kate, too true. Which is why it will take either a court order in bankruptcy or reorganization or one of the superstars (or several of them together) demanding the accounting.

sehlat said...

Amanda@8:48PM--
...bankruptcy or reorganization or one of the superstars...

Like Wall Street last year?

Amanda Green said...

sehlat -- don't get me started on the Wall Street thing. I'll head deep into politics which I do try to keep out of MGC. But to answer your question -- no. I'm talking an actual filing, court hearings, conservators (or whatever they're called. I haven't had coffee yet so brain isn't fully functioning and I slept through bankruptcy law lo those many years ago) named and audits ordered.