Mad Duck Publishing

Yesterday was one of those days when the brain shut down, forcing me to do basically nothing more strenuous than playing Peggle. We all have those days. The causes may vary but the result is the same. You stare at the wall — or the computer screen — and know you should be working but can’t quite seem to make it happen. So, last night with a brain still refusing to work properly, I asked Sarah for suggestions about what I should blog on today. She came up with two possible topics Mad Duck Publishing and Lame Duck Publishing, and then we realized that, in many ways, they are the same thing.

Mad Duck Publishing is that part of the legacy system that screams the loudest and does the most damage as they are dying. They may not recognize that they are dying and they sure don’t realize that the tools for their survival are close at hand. All they know is that things are changing and they are no longer in control. It scares them and infuriates them and, by Gum, they aren’t going to put up with it. So they huff and puff and try to blow the new wave of authors and publishing possibilities out of their world. But, like Sisyphus, they never make it all the way to the top of the hill before the boulder rolls back down and they have to start all over again.

This is what we are seeing with the Hatchette-Amazon situation right now. Hatchette is, if I remember correctly, the first of the major publishers to have to renegotiate their contract with Amazon in the aftermath of the courts striking down the Agency Model for pricing. Before, when the five of the then-Big Six used their “collective” power (along with some help from Apple) to try to force Amazon to accept the Agency Model when it came to e-book pricing, Amazon blinked. The publishers crowed because now they could set the price of their e-books, meaning no one outlet could sell for less than another. They saw this as a win because it meant they could overprice their e-books and they expected the consumer to go along.

Some did. I’ll admit, there are a very few authors I will pay $9.99 for their e-books. But those are very few and far between. My price point is actually closer to $4.99, especially if the book is also out in print. Why? Because I know how much it costs to make an e-book and I know that almost all of that cost is negated if the book is available in print. If you are bringing a book out in print, you have already edited it, formatted it, obtained artwork, cover blurb, book description, etc., etc., etc. In fact, to make that print formatted book into an e-book requires only another two steps or so. Converting from your DOC file to ePub and then putting eyes on the converted file to make sure there are no oddities in the converstion.

Anyway, back to the Mad Duck. When the court threw out the Agency Model pricing clause, finding there had been collusion between the five named publishers (of which Hatchette was one) and Apple, it mandated that new contracts between Amazon and these publishers be negotiated. Hatchette drew the short straw by being the first up. Amazon want to go back to the way it was before the tossed contract — in other words, Amazon wants to be able to set the price for e-books. Hatchette, and the other publishers don’t. Hence, the stand-off between the two entities with authors and readers caught in the middle.

Now, I’ve seen a number of authors moaning and condemning Amazon for not allowing pre-orders of Hatchette books, print or digital. I know these authors are worried. I would be too. After all, Amazon is the largest retailer for books online. The cries about how Amazon has destroyed the brick and mortar bookstores have resumed — it is a false cry because the mom and pop stores were destroyed by the big box stores and they, in turn, slit their own wrists by over-expanding, not adapting to changes in the market and not growing a vigorous online presence soon enough.

Honestly, authors are the ones who will be hurt because the lack of pre-orders from Amazon will hurt their print run numbers and that, in turn, will have an impact on their next contract. However, that isn’t really Amazon’s problem. As someone said in a comment on Cedar’s blog yesterday, Amazon has no obligation to carry books from any publisher. Taking that one step further, why should Amazon accept pre-orders for books it may not be able to supply once the books are published? Imagine the hue and cry from the customers who placed the pre-orders only to learn weeks or months down the road that they aren’t going to get the book after all.

But Hatchette doesn’t care about that. They don’t really care about their authors or their customers. What they want is control. Like mad ducks who will run menacingly at the folks who come to the pond to feed them, Hatchette and its legacy publishing pals are doing that with regard to Amazon and readers in general. Worse, they are doing so with regard to their authors. When Amazon offered to set up a fund to help the authors being impacted by this contract dispute, Hatchette did not jump onto the bandwagon. Funny, they haven’t really addressed the why nor have the authors condemning Amazon broached the topic either. Why? Because it would make Hatchette look like the mad duck and it would paint Amazon in a positive light.

The mad ducks of publishing say they need to charge more for e-books because that will make more money for everyone involved. Well, that’s not exactly true. If you raise prices to a point where you have lost a good chunk of your audience, you are losing money. Sometimes it really is better to sell more for less because that will bring in more customers and more customers means more money. As much as I dislike Walmart, that is a lesson Sam Walton brought to retail.

But, instead of taking care of its customers and authors, Hatchette is going around quacking as loudly as it can about how mean Amazon is by not stocking its books. Notice that the other publishers are being pretty quiet right now about what’s happening. They have taken on the Lame Duck Publishing role. Or perhaps the Necropheliac Duck Publishing role. They are sitting back and waiting to see what happens. Why? Because whatever happens with the Hatchette negotiation is more than likely to be what they will have to settle for. So, while they may be saying a lot behind closed doors, they aren’t saying a whole lot in public.

While all this is going on, indie authors are sitting back and shaking our heads. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Me, I think I’m doing a bit of both. I’m crying for the authors who are stuck in the middle and who know they are being shafted by their publisher but who have contracts to fulfill. I’m hoping that, once those contracts are fulfilled, they look long and hard at what all their options are, starting with refusing to sign any contract that limits their ability to bring out their backlists or to go indie on work they don’t think fits the publisher. I’m shaking my head and bemusement because it isn’t hard, looking at the Top 100 lists on Amazon, or elsewhere, to see what the optimal price points are and, believe me, $9.99 isn’t it.

Then another part of me is laughing. In the two months that Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) has been out, I have earned what many publishers would have given me as an advance for the first book in a new science fiction series by someone they would see as an unknown. After the first couple of days, it hit the Top 100 in three different Science Fiction categories and has stayed there. When I check what else is listed in those categories, I see titles priced mainly in the $2.99 to $4.99 range. Yes, there are some traditionally published books but there are also a large percentage of indie and small press published books. Pricing is one big reason for this but so is the fact that the indie and small press published books are books people want to read and not the message science fiction that is coming out of the Big Five right now (Baen is not included in this).

What I’m also seeing is that people are starting to turn a deaf ear to the continual quacking from the Mad Ducks in publishing. They are tired of hearing about how evil Amazon is, especially when Amazon does make it easier to find those books we want to read, books the publishers aren’t giving us. They are tired of seeing millionaire authors whinging about how mean Amazon is because it is killing bookstores. Where were these millionaire authors when the big box stores came in and put the small bookstores out of business? Most of all, we are tired of all the quacking about how an e-book isn’t a book. Sorry, it is. It is just a different medium for the same product.

So, for all those Mad Ducks out there, quick quacking and hurting yourselves and the industry. If you don’s start listening to what your customers and authors say and want, you will soon move from Mad Duck Publishing to Necropheliac Publishing, worshiping at the base of a dead business model while the innovators and adopters step around and over you.

20 Comments

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20 responses to “Mad Duck Publishing

  1. Technomage

    I’ve been a Baen fan for a long time. But I used to buy books from other publishers, too. Tor is probably the second most represented on my shelf in recent years. Then came ebooks, specifically Baen ebooks, since I refused to buy ebooks with DRM from the start. When David Weber started a new series with Tor, I was excited to read it…but the 14.99 price (or whatever it was) was too high. I figured they were doing a “first year hardback price” thing, so I waited. But it never came down to Baen price levels. So I never bought it.

    Now Baen’s individual book prices are higher (and I mostly understand why, and why webscriptions stop selling when the book comes out, given Amazon’s compensation model that depends on a book not being available elsewhere for cheaper)…and I still find that that price is too high. So now I buy the Webscription, since I like most Baen titles anyway.

    With all the good stuff that I’m now finding in the Indie market via this site and Sarah’s, I no longer have a shortage of reading material. So I’ll probably never read that other Weber series that is priced higher than that 4.99-5.99 sweet spot. And I love Weber’s stuff.

    Also important, please note that (at least at the moment) this isn’t because I can’t afford it.

    Mad Ducks indeed.

    • Old Griz

      I’m waiting for the Safehold books to hit my local library. I won’t what Tor is charging for them. On the other hand, Weber seems to have switched to writing dull history instead of an exciting story.

  2. I was looking at a history book last night, one that’s available on dead tree and Kindle. Even used, the hard-cover print version is $35 or so (cover price $55 US), so I looked at the e-version. $35.00. Or I could rent it, starting at $9.50 for thirty days. Helloooooo Inter-library loan. Fiction e-book prices are foolish, but non-fiction prices range from faintly tolerable to insane. I’m sure it’s the same madness.

    • It is. I once paid $80 for a book on Marlowe because there were only 80 printed. You can see why that would need to be a high price. Of course, this doesn’t apply to ebooks!

      • Indeed. For a limited run, highly illustrated technical work, there’s going to be a cost, be it print or e-book. But for a large run, 350 page work with four maps and twenty pictures (batch in the middle)? Nope, sorry, price does not compute.

  3. robfornow

    You probably already know this but- When Tor does the high price thing, its time to play by their rules and buy paperback from a used dealer. The price drops to 4-5 bucks and you can trade it back for a lower price on another book or give it back, like with Better World Books (who have a massive inventory) sponsored by the Literary Council. When you give it to a used book store in trade you make that author available to a new reader. Like Baen’s free book library does. It constitutes word of mouth advertizing. Word gets back to the author and he then decides to go with better publishers who will give him lots of fast nickles instead of Tor’s slow dime. As well as he sells already, I’m surprised he hasn’t hired a computer geek to set up his own publishing system. Then make twice the money by cutting Tor completely out.

    • Technomage

      Yeah, but the thing is I pretty much only read ebooks nowadays. Even a paperback is too much trouble to carry around when there is something more convenient. Also, I’d rather the author get something if I do read their book.

      • Some authors… and I don’t know that this is the case with Weber, in fact, I’d bet not… have a ‘tip the author’ button on their websites. Or feed the kitty, like Sarah’s.

        I hear you on the ebook prices. Had a conversation this morning about how I refuse to pay for a full-price Butcher ebook (I bought several on sale) which is why my First Reader is having to make do with used hardbacks (which can be had for $4) to finish reading through the series. Now, on the other hand, I’m preordering and springing about $19 for Monster Hunter Nemesis. Why? he asked. Because I will have MHN signed at some point in the future, as I’m a huge fan of Correia himself, not just his books. But he’s one of very few authors I do that with. I’m not a collector, I’m a reader.

        i don’t smoke, I rarely drink… my vice? Books. Bought two this morning. Rarely go a day without clicking and picking a new one. Fortunately, at indie prices I can afford it for now.

        • Wes S.

          I normally buy Correia’s stuff in hardcover, but I went ahead and got “Nemesis” in Kindle format this time around, because $9.99 is a lot cheaper than $20 for the Amazon hardcover (or $25-$27 from a local bookstore; I do try to support my local bookpushers whenever possible) and I really have to watch my pennies at the moment.

          I will say that since I got a Kindle for my birthday a couple of months back, it’s opened up a whole new world of reading at very reasonable prices. Only problem with Kindle is the digital succubus otherwise known as “1-Click Ordering”…it’s the road to perdition. 😉

          As for David Weber, does he really *need* a tip button? He’s such a money-making publishing machine, that his grocery list would likely make the bestseller list. Especially if it had a Baen imprint and a doodle of an exploding starship…

          • Oh, I’m sure he doesn’t need a tip button, that was to assauge the guilt of those who have bought used for any author ;-D

            Personally, I have picked up two of the Safehold series at the dollar store. I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet, however, I do most of my reading on the kindle apps I keep on my phone and tablet. I have the Baen app, too, which is handy.

            I justify my reading (and some book buying) by doing reviews on my blog. Helps my guilt, anyway.

  4. Synova

    I find the whole concept of a publisher being *forced* to decide initial print run sizes on pre-orders laughable. Yes, I understand that they do, and it probably makes sense… what jumps off the logic train for me is this notion that because Amazon (understandably!) won’t take pre-orders, that the author will be hurt by a smaller initial print run, and that Hatchette is helpless to do anything about it.

    Part and parcel, I suppose, of trad publishing’s inflexibility and battle to maintain the status quo.

  5. Kryten

    I was in Waterstones (UK) at the weekend – decided to take a look at the SF/F section as I hadnt in a while. Wasnt inspired. 4 shelves, about 30% were old reprints – including Jules Verne and HG Wells. The “newest” authors Id already found on Amazon last year. The same old Fantasy stuff (about 30%), almost no actual original SF (2% if Im being generous) – The rest was message fiction, paranormal romance or game / movie tie in stuff.

    Then remembered I have a ton of free stuff from Baen waiting to be read (when I can pry the Kindle out of the wifes hands) and a list of recommendations as long as my arm from the Baen Free Library, here, Sarah’s, Larry’s and Vox’s sites for when funds allows (most likely birthday / Xmas). Shrugged and moved on.

    Ive simply stopped buying at the store – no longer willing to chance a series in hardcopy as its too expensive for something I might not like – even in paperback. Those I do want in hardcopy Im buying after Ive read on the Kindle.

    The real irony is that Id almost stopped reading SFF totally about a 2 years ago as the selection in store was rubbish – it was only the occasional trip to Forbidden Planet in London that kept me going (only got the kindle at xmas just gone), and even then Id buy Baen almost exclusively.

    Trad Print is in its dying throes. The opportunities E-books have opened up for me as a reader are massive, and as a result I more willing to spend when the cash allows (not often at the mo, but it happens) – on the stuff I actually like – direct.