Sometimes there is even something that makes sense in strangest places.
In a curious twist I’ve actually got to commend an article in the Guardian, about an author’s organization that actually seems to have the interests of authors (not publishers and agents) at heart and be outspoken in support of them. This is so different SFWA and from the usual spittle-drenched fare provided by Damian Walter in the same newspaper that I could hardly believe the masthead. Normally the Guardian is a Traditional Publishing Establishment loyalist to the core, strongly opposed to any form of change in the status quo. Perhaps they’d been hacked… but no, it seems genuine, an article worth reading.
I want to quote Nicola Solomon – who apparently heads the 9,000-member strong Society of Authors : – ‘publishers, retailers and agents are all now taking a larger slice of the profit when a book is sold, and that while “authors’ earnings are going down generally, those of publishers are increasing”.
“Authors need fair remuneration if they are to keep writing and producing quality work,” she said. “Publisher profits are holding up and, broadly, so are total book sales if you include ebooks but authors are receiving less per book and less overall due mainly to the fact that they are only paid a small percentage of publishers’ net receipts on ebooks and because large advances have gone except for a handful of celebrity authors.”
On top of that, said Solomon, “publishers are doing less for what they get. There are still important things they do – a traditional publisher can edit, copy edit, design, market, promote, make your book better, deal with foreign sales. With ebooks, though, publishers’ costs are less, so authors should get a better share. They do not have to produce, distribute or warehouse physical copies. Even on traditional books, publishers’ production costs have gone down but authors have not benefited from these costs savings. And, increasingly authors are being asked to do a lot of marketing and promotion themselves.””
According to Solomon, most writers would “still prefer a traditional publishing deal but the terms publishers are demanding are no longer fair or sustainable”.
Whoa Nellie! That, finally is an Authors’ Organization BEING an Author’s Organization! Bravo!!! Telling the traditional publishing the establishment the same home truths we at Mad Genius Club have been banging on about for years… Did you ever hear the like from Scott Turow (former president of the Author’s Guild) or John Scalzi (former president of SFWA), or Roxana Robinson (the current President of Authors Guild) – which I’ll talk about later) Or Stephen Gould, the current SFWA president? But hey, they’re all pretty good at shrieking Amazon evul in 50 different sharps and flats. Amazon may be evul… but compared to the thorough abuse that, as Solomon points out above, authors have got from traditional publishing, Amazon are saints. And speaking of which the same article mentions self publishing.
“Self-publishing meanwhile, is becoming an increasingly attractive option for writers, according to the survey, which found that just over 25% of writers had published something themselves. Writers were investing a mean of £2,470 in publishing their own work, with the median investment at £500, and typically recouping their investment plus 40%. Eighty-six per cent of those who had self-published said they would do so again.”
They’re spending money. They’re making a profit. They overwhelmingly will do it again.
My hat off to the Guardian’s Alison Flood for this article. It took courage and foresight. The Guardian is a far left wing newspaper. The publishing establishment both in US and UK are almost entirely fervently far left. Of course writers (and readers) come from across the spectrum. But… this still means that self-publishing is actually for everyone – if you can draw an audience. While a few darlings and the message got favored by traditional publishing, this was still bad for the vast majority (regardless of politics, just worse for anyone not left of Lenin.) and the longer term future of reading. People do not read because they have to, they read because they enjoy it. It is why, especially in tough economic times books (escapist books, uplifting books that leave the reader feeling better about the future, himself, and his world) have always sold well (along with vegetable seeds, beer, camping gear, and escapist movies – not movies in general, but ones with qualities like those mentioned when I spoke of books. Movies of hope, movies of dreams.) Dreams probably come in all sorts political guises, so long as they have the hope too. IMO this why the self-pubs are doing well with a cheap product that does exactly what the public want. I did read a whine from an award-winning author that while at the conferences she attends the queer and diversity and women topics are packed… so where are her sales? It’s an interesting question. I suspect that the cons are not a true reflection of the wider potential book buyers. Maybe the problem is also the hopes and dreams side? I have enough despair and nightmares without paying for extra. That’s why I write what I write – because I want read hopes and dreams too, and people I can identify with and want to care about. Maybe that is why Stardogs – which I finally have up as a dead tree —
has sold well, so far. I hope so.
Anyway, moving on: It’s interesting to pick up on these articles as well, on the ongoing Hachette/Amazon negotiations. (hat tip to Tully who brought it up on my last post, sometime midweek.
“If Hachette agrees, for as long as this dispute lasts, Hachette authors would get 100 percent of the sales price of every Hachette e-book we sell,” Amazon said in a letter sent to authors and literary agents. “Both Amazon and Hachette would forego all revenue and profit from the sale of every e-book until an agreement is reached.”
It’s been largely ignored, as most of the media are big five trad-pub affiliates or sympathizers. I think it is fair to say Hachette DOES want authors to act as human shields. Not only did they turn the offer down, just as they refused the Amazon offer of a fund to compensate authors (which Amazon has done before, with MacMillan) for losses incurred during negotiations, but they turned this offer down too, and no, they have made no alternate offers to their authors and it seems plain they want them very much in the middle.
The publisher responses to this fight seem to be that authors are cannon fodder. Hachette are first, and Harper-Collins next. It appears it’s not Amazon dragging its feet on settlement. The negotiations are set by the DoJ for 6 months apart, and I have a feeling it might have been the game plan to play for time (while not losing money, by playing business as usual) until they could be joined by Harper-Collins. On their own, Hachette are a tiny percentage of Amazon’s business (7% of Amazon’s business is actually selling books.). Unfortunately, they found that two could play the game and now they are losing money, because it isn’t business as usual.
I do think Hachette are right that it would be suicidal to agree to this, getting authors out of the middle. Having seen 100% and reliable transparent reporting and quick payment, they aren’t going to find returning to the ‘25% of net’ (which probably amounts to 12-14% of gross and is very many months late, and where the accounting is well… interesting) acceptable. It’s not about Hachette not being able to afford it – that is as Amazon put it, baloney. It’s about their cannon fodder deserting en masse or turning on them.
The response hasn’t been stunning from the utterly disinterested darlings… make of it what you will. I think changing the name to Publisher’s Guild seems appropriate. Konrath and Eisler pull it apart here.
Harper Collins are apparently planning to launch their own online store, as a strategy to cope. It’s something I advocated for years, and I’d guess Tor.com is trying. I don’t actually think either have any more chance than snowflake in Darwin in Midsummer on the tarmac, but that is because they tend drag their corporate culture with them. I will bet they don’t pay authors substantially more, or pay a referral fee to authors for sending the readers their way. Or try to gear their offering around reader demand, rather editorial taste. Baen, with far more savvy than these guys ever displayed, didn’t make themselves Amazon independent in the long run either.