With summer fast approaching, con season is getting into full-swing and people’s minds turn to vacation. Looking at some of the news coming out about the publishing industry, it is clear that some folks had their brains go on vacation earlier that usual. At least that’s the way it seemed yesterday when I was trolling the internet looking for anything of interest to blog about today. Well, to be honest, not everything was of the shut-off-brain variety, but there was more than enough to have me shaking my head.
The first “huh” moment came when I read that a children’s publisher based out of New England had decided not to sell its titles through Amazon (U.S. and U.K.). If you just read that and then did a double-take, join the club. I did the same thing. Yep, a publisher has decided not to sell its books through what is arguably the largest online retailer of books. This isn’t like the battle between Amazon and the Big Six several years ago when they were fighting over e-book pricing.
No, Barefoot Books isn’t going to work with Amazon any longer because Amazon doesn’t conform to Barefoot Books’ “commitment to diversity and grassroots values.” This isn’t the first time Barefoot has dropped a major market. According to the article, it stopped selling its books through Barnes & Noble and Borders seven years ago. Some of the reasons given are “low ball pricing”, delayed payments and the difficulty they had with the “automated” customer service system.
All of those may be valid concerns. My skepticism about them comes from the fact that we aren’t reading a lot from other small to mid-sized presses about slow pay or problems finding a person to talk to at Amazon. I know from my own experience with KDP that all it takes is an email and I can get someone to call me back if I have a question about something for NRP. Yes, I know that isn’t exactly what Barefoot is talking about, but it does make me wonder.
My next thought is to wonder why anyone in the business would cut themselves off from the largest potential market available. Yes, indie bookstores are making a comeback, but it is slow. For those without a good indie bookstore in their area, they are going to boot up their computer and go straight to Amazon — or BN.com — to order a book. Unless they are familiar with a publisher, they aren’t likely to go searching for publishers looking for a book to entertain or educate their child. Instead, they will look at what Amazon or another online retailer has to offer and buy from there.
I wish Barefoot luck, but I really wonder if they haven’t just metaphorically — and economically — shot themselves in the economic foot.
The next bit dealt with a post I saw linked to on Facebook. It wasn’t so much the linked to post that bothered me, although I do disagree with some of what the author says, but it was the way folks jumped onto the boat to say, “Yes! I’ve been trying to tell folks this all along!” The post itself, discussing some information released by Mark Coker of Smashwords, focuses on how direct e-book publishing isn’t as great as some folks try to make it out to be and how most folks who go into it aren’t going to be successful (yes, this is an over-simplification, but that’s because next week I’m going to do a more in-depth discussion of what Coker said and how it applies not only to Smashwords but to other venues.)
What got to me, as I said, were some of the comments. Many of them were in support of traditional publishing, the sneers at self-published authors or small press published authors clear. One person even commented about how he’d rather get 7% of 10,000 sales than 70% of 10 sales. That comment is where my bullshit meter went off the scale and I knew I wouldn’t be able to let this go without making at least some sort of comment.
The logic of the above statement escapes me. If an author is selling 10,000 copies of something that has been traditionally published, that author has a following. That means he will certainly sell more than 10 copies of something he puts out on his own. Even if he never mentions the title anywhere outside of his dreams, he will sell more than 10 copies. Why? Because folks searching for his name will find that title listed and will buy it. So, fallacy number one.
But the big fallacy with the commenter’s statement is that to receive royalties on 10,000 copies of a title is that he first has to sell through and earn out his advance. All you have to do is read author blogs — and I’m not talking about newbie authors. I’m talking established authors who have been writing and publishing for years — to learn that they rarely, if ever, earn out their advances. Part of the reason for this is they aren’t receiving a true accounting of their sales. How can they when publishers rely upon Bookscan that only reports partial sales and then magically extrapolates the “actual” sales?
Add to this that publishers will then look at those same inaccurate sales figures when time comes to negotiate your next contract, if you are lucky enough to get a contract, your advance will be less than before.
It also ignores the fact that print runs are not what they once were. Pre-orders and publisher push (ie, anointing Author A as the next big thing while Author B is not given the same push) determine print runs as well as the number of books sold vs. the number printed for the previous book by that author. Most authors, if they are being honest and aren’t some place where their agent or editor will overhear, will admit that their print runs decline from title to title and they have yet to “earn out” their royalties.
So, the commenter dissing those who decide to self-publish to get the higher royalty rates is exactly the same person, generically speaking, that the original blogger said we shouldn’t really be listening to — one of those who are successful and who are, as a result, the exception in this industry and not the rule.
Is this my way of saying everyone should publish on their own and they’ll be successful? No, absolutely not. What I’m saying is that when you take raw data and try to make it fit your premise, it doesn’t always work. For one thing, the sales figures don’t take into account if the author has one title or 100 out there. It is data from only one outlet. It doesn’t break down how much money an author is making based on whether their titles were sold only by Smashwords or through the “premium catalog”. It doesn’t break down sales based on genre, or fiction v. non-fiction. It doesn’t take into account print sales either and how digital sales may or may not drive those sales. Simply taking a couple of raw data graphs to prove a point, even if it is a point I agree with, isn’t good math or science.
Writing is hard work. To be successful at it, you first have to define what “success” is. Your definition quite possibly will differ from mine. What I’d like to see is a break down of authors who self-publish one or two titles and then nothing else. They get discouraged because they don’t get rich quick or get lousy reviews, etc. They don’t understand writing is more than just putting the words down on paper, so to speak.
What brought all this on this morning? Probably a comment on Sarah’s blog yesterday where someone who was oh-so-superior, in his own mind at least, than the rest of us. First of all, he made the mistake of saying Heinlein wasn’t a good writer. Then, when folks didn’t agree with him, he came back and asked if we ever read anything that wasn’t published by Baen or self-published. Yep, he went there. Yep, he was a troll. But it simply underscored the problem we still have in this industry. There are still those who have been so protected by their publishers, so “cherished”, that they have forgotten — if they ever knew — how hard it is for the rest of us to break in to traditional publishing. It isn’t that the talent isn’t there. It isn’t that the desire isn’t there. But legacy publishing can only put out so many books a month. That’s the way their business models are set up. The ability to get our books and short stories out there on our own or through small presses has been our path to success — and yes, a number of indies have become successful.
So, figure out which path you want to follow and do it. But take this piece of advice: hedge your bets and do your research and never slam any door until you’re sure you don’t want back in.