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Facts, figures and scams. Oh my!

After last week’s non-post, I spent some time last night and this morning trying to figure out just what to  write about in today’s post. There’s a lot going on in the industry and yet so much of it is the same old same old. You have the report from AAP (Association of American Publishers) confirming what most of us suspected: e-book sales have risen past the 20% mark. At the same time, others are predicting the resurgence of print or the death of e-books because their rate of sales increase. Then there are the new and more imaginative ways to scam writers desperate to see their name “in print”. Of course, there is also the continuing story of the Night Shade Books sale. And that’s only scratching the surface.

According to the AAP, e-book sales accounted for 22.5% of all sales in 2012. Ten years ago, e-books accounted for 0.05% of all sales. In the last few years, there’s been a great deal of discussion about where the tipping point would be with e-books. I suggest we have reached it. For one thing, the figures reported by AAP are about as accurate as those reported by Bookscan. AAP is a voluntary organization that is reporting sales reported to it by its members. It doesn’t take into account, as far as I can tell, sales by any number of small and micro presses, nor does it report sales by self-published authors. If we were to take all of those potential sales into account, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see that e-book sales accounted for over 30% of all new “book” sales last year.

But there is another reason why I say we’ve reached the tipping point. I’m hearing more and more authors talking about how their legacy publishers are refusing to release rights e-books rights back to them even though these same publishers are reporting digital sales on the titles in question that are well below the “in print” figures necessary to maintain the rights. Now, there are several possible reasons for this. The first is that the publishers know the e-books in question are selling more than they are reporting to the authors and are, therefore, an active participant in fraud. Since I’m sure there is no one in publishing who would willingly and knowingly — much less carelessly and negligently — defraud an author, we won’t spend any real time on this. (Besides, I need to quit laughing before continuing.)

What I feel is the truth of the matter is that publishers know just how important a role e-books will play in their continued survival and, like someone afraid of drowning, they are clinging to anything to stay afloat. So they drag their feet when they receive notice from an author demanding their rights back. They’ve learned over the years that authors are hesitant to hire attorneys to protect their rights. There’s still that mentality among too many of us that tells us that if we rock the boat, we’ll go on some blacklist publishers share amongst themselves and will never be published again. The only problem with this is that those authors demanding their rights back are the ones who have figured out that they can make money without having the “big name publisher” putting out their e-books.

Does this increase in market share mean the death of print? Not yet, and probably not for a very long time. I can foresee a niche market for print for years to come. But it does mean we will see a steady movement away from print as the medium of choice. That’s pretty much a no brainer because our kids are more tech savvy than we are. Their kids will be even more so. They will be much more comfortable reading on their screens than we are and that will be their “comfort” read, just as a print book is for so many of us.

All that said, there are those who are saying that because e-books sales grew “only” 41% last year that it has reached the saturation point in the market. Now, let’s face it, that’s just silly on the face of it. But the same qualifiers I put on the figures reported by AAP on the market share held by e-books apply here. Besides, a 41% increase is still a major indicator that e-books are here to stay and will continue to be the major force in publishing sales. This is particularly true when you consider that print sales continue to be flat or, in many areas, fall.

If all that isn’t enough to make your head spin, then the lengths some folks will go to get money out of authors ought to. Anyone who want to call themselves a writer or an author ought to know the first law of writing: money flows to the author not from it. We’ve all heard the horror stories of vanity presses that would guarantee to publish your book as long as you paid a few hundred to many thousands of dollars to buy and sell X-number of the books afterwards. The result was usually that the poor author was out the money and had a garage full of books that he couldn’t give away.

Over the years, these vanity presses have found new ways to market themselves. Unfortunately, they still exists. But now there’s a new twist out there: crowd sourcing. Writer Beware pointed to one that, at least on the surface, appears to be questionable at the very least. Fifty Shades of London is an anthology being touted by Endeavour Press. They are looking for fifty short stories or essays to go into the book. Their project page claims Endeavour Press is “the UK’s leading independent publisher of digital books.” All you have to do is submit your short story or essay of 2,000 words. Oh, wait, there’s another little catch: you have to pay to be included.

That’s right, you pay to be included. What do you get for your money, you ask? You get your work proofed and published in the anthology. No editing. Nothing more than proofing and editing in a book you have to pay to get into. Sounds like a deal to me — NOT!

At least there are only two backers for the project so far. But those two are guaranteed to be two of the first five stories in the anthology, should it be published. How do I know this? Because it is one of the “perks” of being a first backer. For the first five backers at a MERE 50 GBP, you guarantee your place as one of the first five stories. After that, your 50 GBP gets you a place someone in the anthology. Now, what is interesting reading their pledge levels, they are all the same price. You can choose to be among the first five stories, or to simply be included in the anthology, or to be part of the anthology AND receive one of only 10 printed copies of the book, or be part of the anthology and receive five — that’s right FIVE — e-books from Endeavour.

Folks, I repeat, money runs to the author and not from him.

And that brings us back to the Night Shade proposed sale. I wrote several weeks about about how the terms they were presenting to their authors (which really amounted to nothing more than blackmail, imo) were horrid. I wasn’t the only one to do so. Nor was I the only one to question why SFWA seemed okay with them. Since then, the terms have been amended and they are better. Not great, mind you, but at least better. Michael Stackpole has a post here about why he is now going to sign the new contract. While I understand his decision — and would probably have done the same thing — it’s still not a great deal for the authors. But it does beat having your novels, and future novels based on those currently held by Night Shade, from languishing in bankruptcy hell.

The lesson of all these stories is to be sure you know the terms of any contract you sign. Don’t just rely on the fact that your editor or publisher is “a nice guy”.  Failure to pay royalties in a timely manner is a breach of contract. Failure to do so on a regular basis is a warning sign that ought to tell you to start whatever process you have to in order to get your rights back. Stop thinking about your career as something other than a business, because that is what it is. It is your business and you wouldn’t let a distributor of your goods fail to pay you for items they’d already shipped and been paid for if you were a farmer or manufacturer. So why do it when you are a writer?

Money flows to the writer and not from him.

8 Comments
  1. Yeah. The one book that my non-Baen, ex-publisher is holding onto — Dipped, Stripped and Dead — suddenly sold JUST enough paper books for them to retain it, after a year of selling nothing. (We’re talking report here, not real sales. Look, sailor, that book has been on shelves since it was printed. You know what it takes to stay on shelves. Like heck it had years of selling a bare dozen books — rolls eyes. They might think I’m dumb, but I’m not.) At the same time, lest they be forced to pay me more money than a few hundred, they reported ZERO ebooks sold. Yes, that’s right. Six months, zero ebooks. Look, I publish indie. I don’t think one of my SHORT STORIES under a pen name fails to sell at least one copy in six months, in all outlets.

    This is what’s known as the best bullsh*t. Those numbers aren’t tweaked. they’re imaginary.

    April 23, 2013
    • Sarah, you know my feelings on the matter. Yeah, they are, at best, employing creative accounting. Hell, what else could it be when they resort to using something like Bookscan? I’d really love to see a group of authors band together, file a class action law suit and demand a full accounting of their sales for the last X-number of years. Not only would we see some of the crystal palaces of publishing crumble, but there very well could be possible criminal charges coming out if some of my suspicions were to hold true.

      April 23, 2013
  2. ABE #

    The publishers seem to have Madoff-like accounting, or money-laundering-type accounting, or Hollywood accounting!

    Are you getting royalties from the paper copies, or haven’t you ‘earned out your advance’ yet on that one?

    Keep giving them bad publicity for being what they are – anything readers can do to help? Other than not buy it?

    April 23, 2013
    • Abe, that is all most of us can do. But for those who are on the receiving end of their creative accounting, as I said in my response to Sarah, I’d love to see a group of them band together and demand an accounting. It really would be fun to watch the scurrying that happened as a result.

      April 23, 2013
  3. TXRed #

    Funny you should mention niches and print vs. ebooks. The historian Geoffrey Parker just released a new book last month. The electronic version came out a week before the print one did. I have not done a price comparison yet, but IIRC the original e-price was 30% of the list print price. I can see some history works coming out as very successful e-books, especially big summary works, like Parker’s latest, for the general reader.

    April 23, 2013
    • If it is “Global Crisis” then the ebook is listed at $24 (although the suggested price is $40, the same as the cover price for the print version). Amazon is selling the h/c at $27.59. I’m glad to see the discounts — thanks to agency pricing going away, at least for the next 2 years or so.

      April 23, 2013
      • TXRed #

        Ah. “Global Crisis” Started at $13.50 when it came out. I guess they bumped it up now that the print edition is available. Thpoil-thports.

        April 24, 2013
        • LOL. Exactly. Silly publishers and retailers.

          April 24, 2013

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