The things that happen when you’re head down tail up at work… I discovered today (thanks, Amanda!) that a truly epic discussion spanning multiple blogs and drawing in the CEO of one of the few independent publishers remaining had spawned over the last couple of weeks in response to an author posting what she was getting paid.
It wasn’t much, and within a day or so the post vanished (unsurprisingly).
There’s a decent summary of the whole affair to date over at teleread, with links to most of the salient stuff. Fair warning: bookmark the teleread post because it will take a LONG time to wade through all the discussion and commentary.
The part I find most interesting is the arrival of Steven Zacharius, CEO of Kensington Books, in Passive Voice’s comments – read the whole thread. It’s worth it, but it will take a while. First off, kudos to Mr Zacharius for actually engaging authors indie, hybrid, trad and often rather browned off. Kudos also to him for attempting to answer their questions and not getting into a snit when some of the comments got a bit snippy. He did have a lengthy and rather difficult to follow discussion with Joe Konrath where he mentioned the hostility he saw from the Passive Voice commenters – dude, if you think that’s hostile you ain’t seen nothing.
My takeaways: if Kensington is as Mr Zacharius seems to think, utterly open and honest with its authors, I’ll eat my hat. All of them. I gather from the many, many comments along the way that Kensington is for the most part an improvement on the Big Howevermanyitisnow publishers, but they still have non-competes that prevent their authors publishing elsewhere in the same genre (big fail on the “open” front), he’s been endlessly coy about showing his boilerplate (quit the giggling damn it, for once I wasn’t being rude), and to judge by the comments made by unhappy authors with current contracts, he does not know what is happening in his company.
Frankly, I’d guarantee he doesn’t know how wrong his company’s royalty payments are either – although I’m not going to say anything either way on whether he believes what he says about them. Also, for a business leader he shows an astonishing disregard for mathematics, calling Amazon’s discounted pricing “predatory”. Joe Konrath ate that one for lunch and spat out the bones:
I’d kill to sell ebooks to Amazon for $12 , which they sell to readers for $5 while paying me the full $12. That sounds like a recipe for printing money. I’d be whistling zipideedoodaa all day long.
You do realize that is your complaint, right? The Marx Brothers used to do that. For fun, they would go out into the street and sell $5 bills for $1. Invariably, a policeman would come by and try to figure out how to arrest them, because he was sure it was a scam, even though they were losing $4 each transaction. There had to be a trick. Why else would they do it?
This is NOT predatory from the publisher’s point of view. The publisher still gets every penny of their wholesale price AND sells more book because of the deep discount. What’s more, the idea that Amazon, which sells damn near everything imaginable and probably a fair few things you’d prefer weren’t imaginable, would sell at a loss to boost sales for something else (like, say, Kindles…) does not appear to have occurred to Mr Zacharius.
Um. For a CEO not to get cross-subsidization goes beyond mind-boggling into WTFery of the highest order. It’s like a department store not understanding that by selling sheet sets at a loss (or giving them away with each mattress sale) they introduce people to that breed of sheets, potentially sell more mattresses because of the perceived extra value, and the sales of the bigger ticket item will ultimately make up for the loss taken on the smaller margin item. Basic math, here. If a CEO doesn’t get this he should not be in charge of a lemonade stand, much less a business with the kind of revenue Kensington Books turns over each year. (Micro rant – Baen figured this out years ago. Why is it so damn hard for everyone else in the industry to get?).
So. Go read. Be prepared to lose a crapload of time. And try to be nice to Mr Zacharius, because he’s at least talking to the indie folks which is more than can be said of almost all his counterparts. Who knows, he might even be able to answer Joe Konrath’s question: Why would an author choose to be traditionally published when they’ll earn more per sale through self-publishing, they’ll probably sell more copies (or have their sales accurately reported, more like), and they can be in control of the process themselves and get paid monthly?
I wouldn’t mind seeing an actual answer to that question myself.