More than one game in town.

Good morning, all. I hope everyone here in the States had a safe and wonderful Memorial Day Weekend. It has always been an important weekend in my family. There hasn’t been a generation, going back more than 250 years, when there hasn’t been at least one member in the military. On my mother’s side of the family, we can trace military service back to the Revolutionary War. Before then, too, but that’s another story. Many of those generations have seen family members wounded or killed in the service of our country. Add in the fact my son is now serving in the Air Force and, well, Memorial Day is very special to me. Which is why I broke one of my rules regarding social media last night and let loose on someone for daring to condemn the “flag waving” Americans do to commemorate the day. As a result, I didn’t get my post for today written ahead of time. So, apologies to you for being late but I do not apologize for my comments last night. Some of you know what I’m talking about. The rest of you, well, it’s now water under the bridge.

Which isn’t what you can say about the Amazon and Hatchette fight. I’m not going to rehash it. Cedar did a wonderful job discussing it on Saturday. However, I do want to add one thing on the topic, something all those bashing Amazon have conveniently overlooked. What is happening between Amazon and Hatchett is the first round of contract renegotiations between Amazon and the publishers involved in the price fixing suit brought by the Department of Justice. When the court ruled against Apple, it “issued a final injunction that requires Apple to retain the power to discount e-books for an extended period. The injunction also prevents Apple from simultaneously negotiating new no-discounting agency deals with the major houses, instead forcing the tech giant to negotiate with each publisher separately, in exclusive windows, staggered six months apart.”

As Publisher’s Weekly states, “if you were Amazon, would you sign a deal knowing that your competitor has the exclusive power to underprice you in the e-book market? At the very least, Amazon is sure to demand the same power to discount as its rival Apple is required to retain—even though Apple will likely not use its court-ordered discounting power.”

PW also points out that the settlements agreed to by the publishers, and enforced upon Apple in the findings against it, most favored nation clauses will not be allowed for five years. In other words, no agency pricing as we know it will be allowed during that time. So why, I ask, should Amazon fight for anything but the best terms it can get, especially if Apple has the right by court ruling to discount e-books? It doesn’t matter that Apple says it won’t discount these titles. Apple is a business and is known for being ruthless when it comes to its competitors. Why should Amazon trust it not to undercut its prices?

But there is something else authors with Hatchett, or any other traditional publisher, ought to keep in mind. A breakdown of earnings report has come out. You can follow the link to where Passive Guy discusses it or go here to see the original post. There is a lot of information there I need to go over when my brain is functioning better than it is right now — math is not my friend first thing in the morning — but one thing sticks out: approximately 46% of traditional publishing’s fiction dollars comes from e-books.

Let me repeat that. Approximately 46% of traditional publishing’s fiction dollars comes from e-books.

Now let me ask you this, traditionally published authors, how much of your royalty payments come from e-book sales?

Consider this. When it comes to royalties, traditional publishers still are not paying author’s a royalty rate that comes close to what they could earn if they self-published or went with small presses for their e-books. When pressed about this, publishers mumble about how expensive it is to make an e-book. They have to have covers and be edited and be set up for digital release and. . . .

But wait a minute. Do you really think those same publishers are actually editing, or copy editing or proofreading an e-book after it has already been edited, etc., for print? Do you really think they hire two different cover treatments? As for getting the book ready for digital release? That takes minutes now with the software available. So where is all the expense the publisher claims is there in making an e-book?

No, e-books are propping up the print side. Publishers just won’t tell you that. They mumble about how it is too hard to track e-book sales. Funny, I have about as much trouble believing that as I do the statement that in this day and age of computers and RFIDs and other tracking software and hardware that the only way they can come close to tracking hard copy sales is through the handwavium of BookScan.

What traditional publishing tends to forget — or at least refuses to admit — is that most people have no idea who publishes the books they read. The one real exception is Baen. But Baen is anything but typical when it comes to the publishing industry and thank goodness for that. So traditional publishing can’t rely on brand loyalty. These same publishers don’t understand that trotting out millionaire best sellers to extoll the evilness of Amazon, it doesn’t help their cause, especially not when those same millionaires are crying about how Amazon is hurting their bank account. If you want to get sympathy from the average reader, bring out the mid-lister. Oh, wait, the publishers can’t because 1) they make it so most mid-listers never earn out their advances and 2) they have metaphorically killed off most mid-listers. As a result, those who had a loyal following now have fans wondering what happened to the series they’d been reading and was suddenly dropped by the publisher.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep buying from Amazon. I’ll continue to sell my books on their sites as well. I’ll continue reading and researching what is going on in the industry so I can stay informed and make informed decisions about what to do regarding my writing and where to market it. And I’ll continue to shake my head and wonder at all those authors who aren’t out there asking their agents why they aren’t demanding higher e-book royalties and better contract terms. Traditional publishers, especially legacy publishers, have to accept the fact they aren’t the only game in town these days. If they don’t adapt, they will continue to bleed out money and lose authors and readers until they are mere shells of what they used to.

And that will be a loss to us all.

Or not.

15 thoughts on “More than one game in town.

  1. It’s funny. My latest novel just went live on the ‘Zon overnight. From start of edits to publish was three months, which would have been faster but, you know, life happens. I was able to change the price of another novel and have it go live in six hours, to assist in marketing New Novel. Could Hatchett’s (and the other Big Five’s) organization and sales people even contemplate moving that fast?

    People wanted New Novel, so I hustled up and got New Novel on the market. That is what the ‘Zon (and D2D, Smashwords, even Kobo and B&N’s Nook Press) makes possible for both producer (ich) and consumer (the nice, gracious, generous, charming people who buy my stuff). Hatchett et al can’t see the tortoise that’s about to lap them because they are too busy fighting the time keeper. (Need more black tea.)

    1. Absolutely. The authors who are parroting what their editors tell them about the Hatchett/Amazon situation are choosing to ignore reality. They forget there are two sides in the dispute and that their oh so beloved publisher is screwing them with low royalties, bad reporting practices, empty promises and rights grabs. One fairly well-known author was bemoaning the dispute on FB yesterday and beating on Amazon for stealing money from her by taking away the pre-order buttons. Since this author is also a GHH/SJW, I wasn’t too surprised. After all, facts have so little meaning to them unless those facts fit their image of reality.

  2. Giving those “missing” mid-listers another outlet has to be one of the greatest things about indie. Andrew Fox, the guy who wrote “Fat White Vampire Blues,” was always one of my favorites, for instance. Two books published, and then he essentially disappeared. Now he’s doing indie, and I’m staring at “Fat White Vampire Otaku” on my Kindle — the kind of happy reader moment I only have because of the indie revolution. Makes me wonder which writer I also used to love will resurface next.

    1. Agreed. Several of my favorite authors are firmly ensconced in the mid-list — they’re every bit as good as the top-sellers, except that, due to a number of factors, they just didn’t develop as big an audience. I enjoy reading John Dalmas’ MilSF as much as I do John Ringo’s (and if you like good MilSF, but haven’t checked out John Dalmas — you owe it to yourself to give his stuff a try). And I’m always happy when I see a favorite mid-lister’s books reappear on someplace like Amazon or Smashwords. Even better when they roll out some of their new stuff — especially if it’s something that wraps up an existing series… or begins it anew.

      Nothing worse than having a favorite series fizzle out because the author got double-teamed by “ordering to the net” intersecting with publisher ambivalence. That’s one really nice thing (among many) about the e-book market — there is no ordering to the net to slowly erode a mid-lister’s sales away. There’s always a copy sitting on the [virtual] shelf, available for purchase — not collecting dust in some warehouse waiting to be remaindered and pulped.

      So yeah, I’m of the firm belief that the e-publishing revolution is the mid-lister’s best friend (as well as the newbie’s and the bestseller’s).

    2. Our own Sarah is another example. Her publisher killed the Musketeer series — in my opinion — by bringing the books out too close together, with covers that looked too much alike (making it hard for buyers, both on the bookstore corporate level and as an individual buyer to know if it was a new book or not), poor editing (where they changed things that didn’t need to be changed). Fortunately, the rights have reverted to Sarah and she is doing re-edits of the books and getting the series going again.

      Unfortunately, not all those mid-listers who fell victim to the games of legacy publishers have the stubborn streak Sarah has. Too many look at self-publishing and think it is too hard, too expensive, etc., for them to do. They’ve bought into the BS their editors and agents have fed them. Hopefully, as they see their friends coming back, they’ll step out of their comfort zone and give it a shot themselves.

      1. How nice it would be if there were a e-publishing service house whose mission & market was to FIND mid-listers who had proven their writing (by managing to get at least a couple of things published and bought before a trad dropped them) and make it easy for them to make the transition to indy. Given the big difference between trad’s payment percentages and indy’s, there should be enough money there to fund the service house AND tempt the orphaned mid-lister into trying. And a non-greedy mission statement would allow the service house (“Author Reincarnations, Inc.”?) to be happy getting, educating, and releasing new author clients to fly on their own.
        Seems it could work – or is there someone already trying this?

  3. I’m sorry, but Amazon gives me such great things… 100s of reviews to choose from, nice blurbs written by the author, competitive pricing, pays promptly, pays consistently, pays well, and even a chance to hear back from the author if I ask a question in the forums. These are things that small, niche publishers MIGHT do, but the big six don’t have the time of day for fans or even their own authors. THAT is a boycott offense to my mind, and the shipping issues are highly suspicious– more for Hatchett than for Amazon, considering they are the ONLY publisher involved. Amazon is highly organized, but that would be a VERY difficult thing to do, single out one publisher like that. If Amazon wanted to give Hatchett grief, they could do other painful things more easily, which would do more damage directly without harming Amazon’s reputation. Amazon takes delivery VERY seriously.

    As for the experiments (fascinating!), it might be easier to find a circle of friends who’d be willing to share their sales stats with you. Of course, they have different styles of both writing and sales techniques, and that would have to be quantified somehow. Though you could try to take public domain works and sell them under a different name as a part of an experiment, but I could see ways that that could backfire.

    1. I am dreaming that Christopher Stasheff might write more of the stuff that made me fall in love with him– do you have any idea what it was like to be a serious, observant but ignorant little Catholic Girl, and run into not just Catholic Friendly but Explicitly Catholic fantasy!?!?

    2. Actually, a lot of us do share our sales numbers, at least generically, on our indie work. It’s fascinating to see the difference genre makes, mainly because it proves what some of us have said for years — that legacy publishers have been ignoring what people want. So, while I know Amazon isn’t perfect — who and what is? — I also know they opened the door for authors to get out work they believe in and that readers want. Of course, that’s something else legacy publishers hate. They aren’t calling all the shots any more and the unwashed masses of readers are actually reading stuff that isn’t meeting the current right-think trend in publishing.

  4. I will always buy a Baen e-title direct from Baen. Ditto with any other publishers that let you buy direct. And often the same with print titles, unless it’s something I have to have NOW and it’s on the shelves at the local bookstore. That said, Amazon is grabbing market by selling what people want. Which includes convenience. And, thankfully, the ability to access those mid-listers that have been set adrift by their previous publishers and use Amazon for their e-book distribution.

    1. I’m firmly in the Baen corner and buy direct from them. Part of that is brand loyalty and part is convenience. After all, Baen was the pioneer of e-books. Amazon has given me the ability to access other books I wouldn’t have a chance at otherwise. No, not because Amazon killed the local bookstore — it didn’t. The Barnes & Nobles, Borders, Books-A-Million, et al, did that. Funny how the Amazon haters forget that fact.

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