The inmates are trying to run the asylum again

Yep, that’s right. The inmates have managed to get out of their cells and are running around loose. Now, most days, it is pretty entertaining to watch. After all, they usually are either pointing at the sky and screaming about how the aliens are coming and taking over the world, or they are burying their heads in the sand and doing their best to ignore the changes needed to be made in order to survive. But today, well, all I can do is shake my head and wonder how long this current farce will run before the final curtain falls on it.

Let’s start with what has to be one of the most mind-boggling pieces I’ve seen in a long while. I have to give a hat-tip to one of our readers for pointing me to this link. Think about this. Your local bookstore — and not a chain store — manages to get an in-store signing set up with an author who has a book coming out from a major publisher. The store does a magnificent job promoting the event and manages to pre-sell 450 copies of the book by mega-best selling author. (These copies are to be autographed by the author) So the store calls the publisher and places the order.

Does the publisher jump up and down and offer to send the books out post-haste? Hell no. They’ll only ship the store 200 copies. Doesn’t matter that the books are pre-sold. Doesn’t matter that the store will pay up-front for the books. The publisher isn’t going to to budge. It doesn’t matter that this will be a PR debacle for the store, the author or, duh, for the publisher.

Well, here is where I tip my hat to the store and to the local Target. The store owner went down the street, talked to the powers that be at Target, and got the books needed to finish filling the pre-orders (300). Target even sold them to the owner at a discount. Epic win for both the indie store and Target and massive epic fail for the publisher.

Now, what reasonable business would turn down a pre-paid order of 450 units of a $30 item? I can’t think of any, especially not one that is suffering slumping sales. But the publisher did. It was worried about returns. The books were pre-paid so there wouldn’t have been any returns. But that little bit of information mattered not. Nor did the fact that the author, who is described as a “major best seller”, would not be pleased to find she had been cut out of hundreds of sales by her own publisher.

So, you have to ask yourself how often this sort of idiocy occurs and how many sales publishers cost themselves and their authors because they can’t see the forest for the trees?

And then there is the spin as publishers try to convince themselves that they are making up  lost ground. An example is this article about Penguin’s so-called profits last year. According to figures released by Penguin, total sales rose 1%. Sales, not profits. As a counterpoint, operating profit fell 12%. Add to that the fact Penguin expects e-book sales to slow this year and you have to wonder how they see these figures as being anything but troublesome. Yet, we are told that the powers that be feel Penguin came out of this “pretty good”.

Maybe I am having trouble seeing the forest for the trees, but a 12% decrease in operating profits coupled with a forecasted slow down in e-book sales (the one segment of the business that has continued to grow by leaps and bounds) would be something I’d be worried about. But then, I’ve never been a corporate cheerleader.

And then there are the indie booksellers who have filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon and the Big Six over DRM. My first issue with this is that there are only three plaintiffs to the suit, so I’m not sure they will qualify as a “class”. But that will be up to the court to decide.

My biggest issue is that this suit is only aimed at Amazon and none of the other online e-book retailers — like Barnes & Noble, iBooks/iTunes, Kobo, etc. If these three booksellers are really worried that applying DRM to e-books restricts the sale of e-books, shouldn’t these other retailers be included as defendants? Oh, wait, it’s only Amazon because the DRM applied means only the kindle line of products can read the titles.

But wait, aren’t the vast majority of these titles also available in DRM’d epub versions through BN.com, etc? I guess that doesn’t count. We’re just supposed to turn away from that little bit of information because it doesn’t fit the scenario that these booksellers want us to believe.

However, even if their allegations are true, so what? Aren’t companies allowed to produce products and sell them wherever they want? Sure, there are limitations like not violating exclusivity agreements — oh, wait, we aren’t supposed to think about those either because that would fly in the face of what the plaintiffs allege.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel for indie booksellers. But this isn’t the way for them to win back patrons. Worse, if this case does go to court and they lose, they will more than likely liable for court costs, not just for themselves but for the six publishers and Amazon. Do you really think the retailers will be able to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and costs and stay in business? Of course, that will be Amazon’s fault too — at least in the eyes of the haters.

Instead of stomping their feet and holding their breath like a couple of pouty kids, these booksellers need to be looking forward. How can they work directly with publishers or authors to sell e-books? What are they doing to promote local authors? More importantly, sit back and wait and see what happens in the DoJ’s price fixing case against Apple (in case you’ve missed it, the five publishers have all settled). There will be changes coming from that, not only for Apple and the publishers but, in all likelihood, Amazon as well. Take a lesson from the bookseller mentioned at the top of this post. Instead of whining and whinging, that bookseller went out and did something to turn what could have been a public relations nightmare and a big hit against the store into a positive.

28 Comments

Filed under E-books, publishing

28 responses to “The inmates are trying to run the asylum again

  1. Pingback: It Was One Of Those Nights | According To Hoyt

  2. TXRed

    If bookstores had sense, they’d make arrangements to get equipment for POD, and find ways to encourage authors to make a POD version available. Customer either places e-order or walks in with the data for the book, book store prints it for a small fee (cover costs plus maybe 5%), and everyone is happy. While the book is being printed, customer can browse, or the shop might offer a list of “if you like this, try . . .” to go with the new book. I could so see someone like Naked Reader, Smashwords, and other services working with indie bookstores this way.

    • What I’d like to see is a Bookstore-in-a-Box device, about the size of movie RedBoxes. A simple touchscreen/keyboard interface lets you browse through/input the title you want. When you swipe your card, the machine prints, cuts and binds a new copy of the title you requested. I’m not sure the technology exists yet, but I wants one. On every streetcorner, at least until the Next Big Thing happens.

      • Sounds cool. Although I don’t know how they’d be able to bet the size down small enough to do it. Just keeping paper, stock for covers, etc., takes up space. But, if we’re wishing, I’ll add my wishes to yours.

    • There are some that are already using the expresso machine for POD printing and binding. But the machines are expensive and most indies can’t afford them — yet. But yeah, it would be nice to have that as a viable option, not only for NRP but as a reader. Besides, there are still folks who won’t believe you’re a “real writer” until they hold a printed copy of your book in their hands.

  3. You might be interested to know– one in four folks who buy ebooks do not buy paper books at all anymore.

    Not sure what the source is, I heard it on NPR while channel surfing yesterday; they were using it as evidence that ebooks were a fad, because three out of four folks who buy ebooks still buy at least one physical book a year. The segment was on how bad the nook sucks, basically.

    • I have a Nook. It does suck, at least when compared to my wife’s Kindle Fire, which cost the same. It takes three or four times as long to boot. The reading list is a mess. Yet, at the same time, there are things I like much better in the Nook than on my wife’s Kindle, especially page-turning. I also like being able to adjust print size on the fly, without a lot of hassle. I DO like the fact that I can have over 100 titles on my Nook, can page through the listings fairly well, and the screen is decent. I would like to have a Nook that had its own independent lighting, would display cover thumbnails along with the title, and also a longer-lasting battery. Those things will come…

      • They will, but probably not from the Nook. At least not if the current word on the street is anywhere near close to the truth. If Riggio has his way, BN will spin off the nook and university stores, possibly selling them to other companies/people. The problems, as I see them, regarding the nook are that BN waited too long to get into the market and then, when they did, they didn’t have a decent enough e-bookstore to go with it. They tied it too tightly to their store, at least initially. (as in you couldn’t access wireless unless you in their store) They haven’t been updating the hardware as often as the kindle has been — again, iirc — and they limit the space for third party apps to a small portion of the overall memory. But that is also a problem with having a device that tries to be too many things at once. Is it a tablet or is it an e-reader?

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          I went from the NookColor to a true tablet (not the so-called Nook tablet). I’m enjoying it.

          • Tablets have come a long way. Now that they are becoming more powerful with better screens and are lighter as well, I think we’ll see more and more folks moving to tablets and away from desktops and laptops. Heck, even my 81 year old mother is talking about getting a tablet when her desktop dies.

    • Well, considering the source — NPR — I’d question their source for the figures. I’ve seen several different studies and, iirc, the one with that sort of response was asking an age group easily identifiable as college aged. If my son is any indication, he’d love to have most of his books in digital format. But, as a construction science major, he also has to buy textbooks that are only offered in the printed format. Plus, e-books still aren’t optimal for some technical manuals.

      As for the nook, I know folks who love it and others who hate it. I think it really depends on what you want from it. But that’s true of just about anything. Shrug.

      • Even considering the source– holy crow. A quarter of all the folks in the survey only get ebooks?

        With as flipping expensive as many new release ebooks are? (given the choice between a hardback and an ebook at the same price… I go to the library)

        I figure that it was cherry-picked out the ears…but that they thought citing that 75% of those who buy ebooks AT ALL still sometimes buy physical books, like that supported their chosen narrative that ebooks were going nowhere, startled me greatly.

        I didn’t even think about textbooks…. (which, I know, are slowing being offered in ebook as well)

        • Yeah…that hit me as well. When you consider how new e-books are, all things considered, much less e-book devices/apps, the fact that a quarter of those surveyed only buy e-books is amazing. What I think we have to remember is that a lot of folks aren’t buying from major publishers the way they once were. They either wait for the publisher to bring the price of the e-book down or they are buying from smaller presses and indie authors who are either self-publishing new work or putting out their back lists.

        • Fox — something to consider — while I still buy paper books, I buy them used and trade them back in (unless they’re research.) because I can get them for about $1. I suspect much of the trade still going on in paper IS used (or collectible.)
          Those of use who have stuff indie get badgered to offer paper option, and then we well maybe 2% in paper what we sell in ebooks.

          • They said they were going off of a survey of folks who buy ebooks, so that should catch the trade-in sales.

          • 'nother Mike

            While I love used bookstores, doesn’t someone have to buy it once to get it into the used bookstore? I mean, used books don’t just sprout, do they? And if they do, I’d like to know where to get some seeds… or is it spores?

    • naleta

      I’m one of the folks who don’t buy paper books any more. I started on eBooks about 10 years ago, and I only buy a physical book if I want to give it as a gift. If publishers let you download a ‘free’ electronic copy when you bought a book in hardcover, I’d probably buy some books that way, though.

      • Me neither also. I used to go into Barnes and Nobles every month or so and drop a Cnote. Cant’ do that in this economy. I only buy ebooks.

        • I’m the same . I used to visit my local bookstore every week, but now its once in a blue moon, and I only buy ebooks. I haven’t got a Kindle, but I’ve got a Kindle app and an epub reader on my smartphone,tablet,laptop, and desktop.

        • Ev, I know. I was the same. But now, if you buy books in the printed form, you can only get three, maybe four hard covers for your Cnote — if you’re lucky. You can get a few more paperbacks, but not many. When you look at the price difference for e-books — especially if you don’t buy from those who still think we should pay about the same for an e-book that we do for a hard cover — you can get a heck of a lot more. Then add in the convenience of carrying around hundreds, even thousands of books on your e-reader/phone/tablet/etc and the ease of instant purchase and download and it’s a no brainer to me to go with digital.

      • Joel

        Here’s another one that only buys e-books. I was an early adopter – Rocket e-book, back in the day. I had a Nook for a while, which I liked because I was able to root it and get a full Android OS going. Now, I just read on my smartphone. Screen size isn’t really an issue for 99% of what I read.

  4. masgramondou

    Glad you enjoyed that link. I thought it might inspire you :)

    • It did and thanks. If I’d been awake enough this morning when I wrote the post, I would have gone further into the idiocy of what the publisher did and would have pointed out that this wasn’t an isolated incident. Other authors have had the same thing happen to them. You really do have to wonder about the mindset of some of the folks running the big publishing houses these days.

      • TXRed

        The horror stories in that piece the Passive Guy linked to yesterday (“I’m the Author. Fly Me.” Feb 25, 2013) are hair-curling. “Sorry, we’re not stocking your book because you got hit by our buying freeze two years ago and since we didn’t buy the first book we won’t buy the second even though people are coming in and asking to buy it. Have a nice day.” And that’s rational and logical compared to the publisher tales in the essay . . . *shudder*