Good Writer, Here’s a Cracker

by Amanda S. Green

All right, guys, I’ve just about lost patience with the whiners, the clueless and the traditionalists who simply can’t be bothered to explore the new opportunities offered by changes in the publishing industry. There are times when I don’t know whether to beat my head against the wall or theirs and, frankly, I’m tending toward theirs. It might be the only way to get them to at least consider they might be wrong about what’s happening in the industry. It would, at the very least, cause them to complain about something else, at least for a bit.

A little background. Over the weekend, Sarah wrote a wonderful blog about the attitude of some of those in the industry about the Department of Justice’s suit against Apple and the five publishers. That attitude is basically that books are fungible and we, the writers, are mere tinker toys to be manipulated the way they, the publishers, want. Then yesterday, Sarah posted her “response” to a non-fiction writer’s blog about what will happen if the publishing industry fails. I’m not going to rehash what Sarah said mainly because she said it much better than I ever could.

But what has my blood boiling. especially with regard to the first post, can be found in the comments section. It seems that whenever anyone posts something negative about the publishing industry, especially if it has to do with the agency pricing model, the trolls come out. We’ve seen it happen here. It’s happened a number of times on Sarah’s blog and several times on my blog as well. I’ve come to expect it. What I can’t wrap my mind around is when authors who should know better come to stir the waters but never offer anything to support their position or to really add to the conversation.

I could name the author whose responses to that first post left me wondering if we lived on the same planet, much less worked within the same publishing industry, but I won’t. You can go look it up if you want. Frankly, I have no desire to do anything more than necessary to direct traffic to this person’s website or blog. However, I’ll quote enough of their comments that you can find out who I’m talking about by simply going to the blog and searching.

In one comment, this author asked why publishers should be “legally obligated” to keep Amazon’s promise to offer best sellers for $9.99. This is a clear indicator that the author is in the camp that believes agency pricing is a good thing. That publishers, who are in financial distress, made a good decision to adopt a pricing model that brings in less money per title. This also means authors are getting less money per sale.

But there is more to the comment. It shows that the author is clearly ignoring, purposely or not, the fact that the DoJ’s suit isn’t against agency pricing. In fact, the DoJ notes in the filing that there is nothing inherently wrong with agency pricing. What is wrong is the collusion that is alleged to have taken place immediately prior to the big five publishers and Apple entering into the agency model agreement, an agreement that then had to be made with other retailers or those same publishers would be in violation of their contract with Apple.

But let’s go on.

This author later asked if it’s been proven the collusion took place. It is obvious that she is either a fan of The Paper Chase and thinks the only way to get your point across is to employ the Socratic method. For a moment, I was back in my Torts class in and my professor was asking questions so we’d think. The only problem is, her questions show that she hasn’t really read, or thought about, the law suit. First of all, the collusion is alleged and it will be up to the DoJ to prove it should the case ever see the inside of a courtroom. Second, her follow up questions about who decided what e-books could be lent is easily answered: the publishers. At least for those e-books not part of the KDP or PubIt programs. Those same publishers she is trying to defend. Then she wants to know who decided that e-books could be returned. That is probably the retail outlet. But who cares. E-books are still a commodity that can be bought — and should be able to be sold, but that’s another post all its own — and returned if there is a problem with the formatting, etc. I know she is trying to show that there are a lot of things in life that could “smack” of collusion but aren’t really. However, she doesn’t serve herself well with that argument, nor does she offer anything other than the picture of a kid stamping her foot and saying “I’m right, you’re wrong and that’s that!”

I think the best example of a disconnect comes when she asks what would happen if Best Buy decided to sell iPads for $20 without Apple’s okay and then the DoJ sued Apple for not giving Best Buy the iPads for that price.

WTF?!?

Talk about apples and oranges. To begin, if Best Buy decided to do that, it would be in violation of its contract with Apple. Apple would react quickly and swiftly, in my opinion. Best Buy would have to stop selling the iPads at that price. It would probably have to then recompense Apple for any lost profits. In fact, it would be remarkable if Apple didn’t pull Best Buy’s status as a certified reseller.

Now, tell me this, why in the world would the DoJ get involved? This argument is nothing more than the typical smoke and mirrors I’ve seen all too often whenever this topic comes up. Substitute Amazon for Best Buy and one of the Big Six publishers for Apple and you have the fall back argument these folks always come up with. Amazon bad. They were selling too low. Publishers didn’t like it. If there was collusion, it wasn’t that bad. After all, Amazon bad.

Rolls eyes.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’m more than happy to discuss the matter with those who don’t agree with me. But the key word here is discuss. But please, don’t think those of us who don’t jump onboard the Amazon is Evil wagon train lack the ability to google. We do google and it is all too easy to discover that there are a handful of authors who seem to be trolling the blogs saying the same thing over and over again, as if by doing so they can either score points with their editors or convince the rest of us that we really should bend over and take it in the rear from legacy publishers, giving up the larger royalties we can get by self-publishing or going with small presses that realize there would be no book, hard copy or digital, without the author.

Then there were some of the responses to Sarah’s post yesterday. Mind you, I understand the author’s fear about what will happen to non-fiction books if legacy publishing goes belly up. This is a scary time for anyone in the business. But it is up to each of us to decide how we are going to face the changes that have happened and that will happen. Are we going to sit there, wringing our hands and doing nothing? Are we going to think about what we should do and yet never do it? Or are we going to figure out how we can make these changes work best for us?

Frankly, as a non-fiction author, I’d embrace the changes. Digital books offer so many possibilities never offered by print books. You can have interactive sections within the e-book that lets the reader see what would happen if a certain army unit moved here instead of there. You can link to external sources. You can embed video or audio. Just think of all the possibilities.

But what this author did and didn’t realize — and I’m not sure she has realized it yet — is insult fiction authors. In her mind, those of us who self-publish simply sit at our computers and write. We don’t research. We just crank out books every few months and rake in our royalties. We aren’t, in other words, real writers. Sorry, but I know how much research I do. I know how much authors like Sarah do when writing a period piece. Working with Kate as one of her editors for Impaler and Born in Blood, I know how much research she does for her alternate history.

Writers, at least those who care to be accurate, research. It doesn’t matter if they are writing fiction or non-fiction. If a writer wants to be successful, he’d better research. Believe me, if you don’t, you will be called on each and every mistake you make. But to simply paint with broad strokes that fiction writers don’t research drives me batty.

So here it is, guys. There has been no finding of collusion yet. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. And, if it did exist — and I believe it did — you can’t overlook it just because you think the bigger evil is the entity that the collusion was aimed against. The fact that Amazon — or any other reseller — MIGHT do something in the future isn’t reason enough to penalize them now. Dig your heads out of your publishers’ backsides and actually study not only the DoJ’s filings, but what has been going on in the industry for years. Maybe then you’d realize why others are upset about the creative bookkeeping that is called royalty statements. Maybe then you’d understand that books aren’t fungible and authors aren’t interchangeable. Maybe then you’d realize that harm has been done by raising prices of e-books. If fewer books are being sold, that means less money in your pocket.

BTW, the number of states joining the suit against Apple, et al, has just been increased to 31.

I guess the easiest way to say it is this: Think and quit parroting the party line given you by your legacy publisher.

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22 Comments

Filed under E-books, publishing

22 responses to “Good Writer, Here’s a Cracker

  1. ppaulshoward

    This is getting old. Not your reporting of these “individuals” but the existance of these “individuals”. [Frown]

    • Paul, I’d settle for them actually discussing the issue instead of their falling back to the Amazon is evil, we have to do whatever we can to make sure Amazon doesn’t do anything we don’t like at some unknown point in the future and we’re not going to discuss all the other reasons why the industry is in the state it’s in.

  2. What’s getting old is that they never come up with any new arguement, even if wrong I would like them to come up with a new angle so I could study it and decide if it was wrong and how. Right now they get on here every day or two and effectively say “The sun is purple”, I don’t have to go outside and look at the sun to check, I’ve seen it every day for the last thirty years, it is not purple.

    • Absolutely. Of course, I’d also like for them to admit — or at least realize — there are more reasons for the industry to be in the state it’s in right now than just Amazon.

  3. To begin, if Best Buy decided to do that, it would be in violation of its contract with Apple. Apple would react quickly and swiftly, in my opinion. Best Buy would have to stop selling the iPads at that price.

    Even before that, there’s the problem that Apple sure as hell isn’t selling the iPads to Best Buy for less that $20 — probably something more like $400. The hypothetical Best Byt $20 special wouldn’t last for long at all; losing $380 each would very quickly teach Best Buy why it was a mistake. What’s more, it wouldn’t hurt Apple much, if at all, because they still get their wholesale price.

    That’s the key underlying point, in fact, to the whole argument: Amazon could sell ebooks for $9.99 and break even or make a bit of money even if they pay their wholesale pulp brink price to the publishers, and the publishers make money on the ebooks even if they do take some discount, because ebooks cost nothing on the margin to produce.

    • Charlie, now you’re expecting them to apply logic. Besides, they’re going to tell you it costs just as much to produce an ebook as it does a hard copy book, even if they are being released at the same time.

      • Ehgads. Yes, they will. They’ve told me this to my face. ALSO they will tell you people value more expensive stuff more. THIS IS INSANE

        • There is a slight bit of truth to the statement that people value more expensive stuff more. They do tend to take better care of it. This is actually a counterproductive arguement however if you are selling stuff by volume. If they ruin, lose, destroy a book they have paid for, there is a good possibility if it was a ‘good’ book they will buy another copy to replace it. Ergo, two sales instead of one.

  4. Mark Alger

    Under the rubric of trying to understand the POV of the “other”… My sole experience with non-fiction book publishing is third-party, after-market, computer software manuals. You know, those multi-thousand page doorstops you see retailing for mid-double-digits. I’ve never been a principal on one, but I’ve associated on several.

    The capital outlay for one of those is probably beyond the reach of most authors, even those principal authors who have several series under their belts.

    Which might explain in part why a non-fiction author, faced with the potential demise of the firms who foot the bill for production of such magna opus, might panic at the prospect.

    Maybe. Possibly. YMMV. Amateur driver on the open road, by all means try this in your personal vehicle. Keep your tires properly inflated. Title, taxes, dealer prep, and options not included.

    M

    • Mark, I understand that. What I don’t understand is 1) the constant whining about how things are changing and for the worse, 2) we can’t make it without publishers — there are too many on both fiction and non-fiction sides who are and 3) those who continue to look down their academic noses at fiction writers because we don’t research.

      • Mark Alger

        In an interesting parallel: I am a participant in a FB group for music touring professionals — roadies, in essence. And there’s a minor controversy as to whether those who haven’t done their time on the bus ought to allowed in. And the oldest and most professional members are the ones who are the most ecumenical — arguing that it’s a sign of professionalism to not be so clubby, but to be inclusive of those coming up, of those who participate from OFF the road.

        Sound familiar?

        M

        • Kate Paulk

          Very familiar – it’s always those who are least sure of their status who are most insistent on said status being “respected”. The old pros are the ones who know damn well where they stand. The younger ones are less sure of themselves and deep-down probably scared the newbies will show them up.

  5. TXRed

    As someone who is looking at both semi-traditional publication and e-pub for some projects, I’d love to see fiction folks (self included) leap off the cliff first, so that non-fiction types (self included) can see where the rocks and angry mother eagles are: maps that don’t reproduce, interactive text that induces seizures, embedded videos that won’t work on certain platforms, intellectual rights battles over host vs. author ownership, what have you. But again, as Amanda says, that is logic and reason speaking. (I’m also suddenly reminded of something from the S/M realm about relationships, but I’ll just stop here to keep this PG.)

    • I agree. I’d love to see the same thing — and partly because I do have a couple of non-fic projects percolating in the back of my head. But I still find it hard to understand that the author in question simply can’t wrap her head around the fact that she insulted a whole group of folks with her over-generalizations. Her comments on her blog today just prove it. Sure, I know why she’s worried. Any writer with an ounce of brains should be worried if they are solely published by legacy publishers. But you should be exploring the alternatives instead of clinging onto the traditional until it is too late.

    • Hey, watch the random BDSM references, I almost snorted coffee out my nose ;)

  6. Synova

    Most of the interesting non-fiction books, potential wonderful reference books, that I’ve come across are obscenely expensive. At our local con last year or the year before, some fellow was selling a book of his research of French science fiction. A scholarly work! Wow, huh? So I’m all set to buy it and had my pocketbook out and everything and he tells me the price. it was better than $40. That was my entire “fun” budget for the whole weekend. I couldn’t do it.

    And I wonder, really… how many people would have bought that book at $15? If he sold one copy that day at $40+, would he have sold four copies at $15? If he sold two copies, would he have sold eight?

    Pretty darn quickly, the difference would be made up in volume. It would have to be. It can’t possibly take more money to *print* a paper copy of something worthy, than it takes to print the book of the next fellow over selling his SF-noir monster self-published trade paperback.

    • Synova, you and I both know that it doesn’t cost as much to put out an e-book as it does a hard copy version. But the publishers continue to tell us that it does. Just as they tell us they have to apply DRM to protect the work from piracy and just as they tell us we can’t buy the e-book, only buy a license. That means we can’t resell it or loan it or anything we would with a hard copy of the book. Oh, and we can only read it on a certain number of devices. And then they wonder why we no longer take them seriously.

  7. Synova

    I’ve also, for what it’s worth, made a vow to never ever buy another e-book text-book for school. Ever.

    Paying half or better of the cover price of the “dead tree” version for a static HTML page that is not interactive, is not acceptable. I have a Nook. I expect to be able to scale the text, view text separately from the illustrations, and touch select and look up terms in dictionaries or on-line.

    And no one can tell me, without me knowing better, that they don’t have a data file with the text on it. They have to. Books are formatted electronically these days. They can give me the text in a form that I can scale up and down, read without the hassle of dealing with page formatting, columns and unwieldy illustrations. Magazine publishers manage this on a regular basis… put out a product with text, linked illustrations, all that can be read comfortably in electronic format. If they don’t give this to me, it’s only, ONLY , because they don’t want to.

    • The problem with almost all e-book version of text books is that they are pdf’s. Or at least the ones I’ve had occasion to see are. Which makes no sense because pdfs aren’t good for e-books for the very reasons you said. For me, there’s another issue. I have to be able to highlight and make notes in the margins, etc., and I can’t do that on my e-reader. But then, that is one area where I am old fashioned.

      • Synova

        Yes.

        I forgot “insert notes and highlight text”.

        There are things about the new technology that would multiply the value and usefulness of the product and justify setting the ebook price on par with dead-tree.

        But everyone seems to be trying so very hard to hold on to what is old.

        (And I also meant ‘pdf’… I’m sort of a cave-person when it comes to computers, and if even *I* know what can be and ought to be done, what is the excuse the professionals hang on to?)

    • Heck, it’s old hat– I’ve got a logic text book somewhere around here from five years back that came with a CD of the text book and a program to help learn classic logic. (I’m still horrible at it, but I recognize the worst fallacies.)