Putting things into perspective

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last, oh, ten years, there’s a war going on in publishing. No, not the war over the Hugos. That is, at best, nothing more than the publishing world’s version of a military campaign. Yes, it is part of the overall war in publishing but it is only one part. The publishing world is changing, like it or not, and it is impacting not just publishers and their employees but also agents and authors. There have already been casualties and there will be more. The only group that will win in all this are is the readers. Why? Because there is a greater selection of reading material out there than ever before. Sure, some is dreck and should never have found its way out of the author’s computer. But there is also a plethora of new material out there that never would have gotten past the gatekeepers and yet is not only well-written but in high demand.

I’m not going to spend a great deal of time explaining why publishing has come to the state it now finds itself in. There are any number of posts about that, not only here on MGC but elsewhere. However, what we are continuing to see is that this war is playing out in ways that continue to hurt the industry and the authors who are at the heart of it. Business practices that should have been amended and adapted years ago. Attitudes by editors, agents and authors that have alienated one time friends and has now extended to the fan base.

The attitude, or at least one of them, that continues to act contrary to current demands is that there needs to be a gatekeeper to decide what books should or should not be released into the wild for people to read. The critics of indie published books continue to throw out the premise that there are just too many badly written books being written and self-published. They tell us Amazon or B&N or whichever platform an indie publishes on should have some sort of minimum bar that must be reached before these dastardly upstarts are allowed to pollute the literary pool.

Now, the problem with this stance is multi-fold. First, the gatekeepers used to be the publishers. Then, as profits started decreasing and publishers started cutting costs, they turned much of that role over to agents. Okay, that might be well and good but there is one problem., no matter who is the gatekeeper there is more demand for books than there are traditional publishing slots per month. Add into that the fact that what people want to read isn’t necessarily what the publishers are putting out there and, well, you have the beginnings of the perfect storm for the publishing industry.

But it goes further than that. The Big Five in publishing have been involved in a long running battle with Amazon for years. This battle mainly focuses on the e-book market and it is perhaps the best example of just how out of touch with the buying public too many traditional publishers happen to be.

The first indication of this is this article from Digital Book World. Overall sales dropped more than 5% January through May. Add to that the information from this article in the Wall Street Journal and it is easy to see that publishers are not doing themselves and their stockholders any good by continuing to try to hold onto the old business model.  A little modern background. In the latest round of contract negotiations between Amazon and major publishers, those publishers got what they wanted. They have the right under the contract to set the price of their e-books on Amazon. No more discounts that the publishers hated. All should be good, right?

Wrong.

According to the WSJ, “Three big publishers that signed new pacts with Amazon— Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group, News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers and CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster—reported declining e-book revenue in their latest reporting periods.”

Hmm. They get to set the price. They raised the price. E-book revenue down. Who would have predicted that?

Me and a bunch of others, that who.

Looking deeper into the article, you get this nugget of information: “A recent snapshot of e-book prices found that titles in the Kindle bookstore from the five biggest publishers cost, on average, $10.81, while all other 2015 e-books on the site had an average price of $4.95.”

Now, the publishers will and do blame this on Amazon. No surprise there. After all, Amazon is the source of all evil according to some in the industry. But the truth is, yes, Amazon did let us get used to the $9.99 price point for traditionally published e-books. However, it is more than that. Readers are not nearly as dumb as some publishers seem to think. We know that there isn’t nearly as much money needed to produce an e-book as there is a print book. For one, unlike what a certain publisher said years ago, you don’t have to re-edit a book for digital release. Then there is the whole fact it is nothing but data as compared to a physical entity. That means you don’t have to buy the raw materials, pay to have them put together, shipped, stored, etc. All you need is someone to convert to the proper format and a server to store it all on — oh, and internet access. Big difference in the financial end. So most readers do not and will not pay more for an e-book than they will for a paperback.

Now, here is where the industry and its double-talk about e-books and e-book pricing comes back to bite it in the rear. As the WSJ article notes, there is debate about whether the decline in sales/profits for the traditional publishers is because of the increase in e-book prices under the new contracts or because of a crop of lackluster titles. Hmmm. Is that an admission that the gatekeepers aren’t doing their jobs? Or maybe it’s an admission that the gatekeepers did but that the editors have lost touch with what readers really want to read. No matter which it is, it is clear that traditional publishing, at least among the Big Five, is out of date with what the buying public wants.

In case you need another example of how the industry is losing touch with the buying public — and this is also an indication that the same thing is happening in the entertainment industry — is the new “official” Star Wars book. I’m not going to rehash the disbelief, angst and anger Star Wars fans had when, after buying up the Star Wars franchise, Disney tossed out the Expanded Universe. Fortunately, those books — especially the ones by Timothy Zahn — are still available for purchase. But years of plots and characters are gone from the official storyline.

This month, as an intro to the new “official” timeline and to promote the upcoming new movie, Aftermath: Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been released. Written by Chuck Wendig and published by Random House, it is priced at a whopping $13.99 for the e-book. 400 pages for basically $14.00. Hmm. No.

But it isn’t even the price that draws the eye of the potential buyer. It is the review rating for the book. As of right now, there are 287 reviews on Amazon for a cumulative rating of 2.5 stars. Yep, you read that right. I couldn’t believe it either when I first saw it. So, I did what any informed reader would do. I looked at the free preview and couldn’t believe it. My eyes glazed by the end of the first page. I honestly thought I was reading a comic book without the drawings. I kept expecting the next line to have a “ZAM!” or “BAM!”

It wasn’t the present tense of the writing. It was the quality of the writing. So I went and checked to see if this was recommended for young children (hard to believe at the length but . . . ) and no.

So, I turned to the reviews and picked a couple at random. The very first one, one of those voted most helpful, begins with this quote, “The TIE wibbles and wobbles through the air, careening drunkenly across the Myrrann rooftops – it zigzags herkily-jerkily out of sight.”

After I quit laughing, I started again, this time with the old jingle “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” sounding in my brain.

And this is what Random House and Disney have chosen to introduce their new Star Wars Universe.

In trying to make the universe its own, Disney — and by contract, Random House and Wendig — have alienated a huge number of fans, fans who would have been introducing their children and grandchildren to the new movies and books. Poor decisions, bean counters, poor decisions.

I could go on, but I think it’s pretty clear. The Big Five are still trying to cling to old ways while ignoring what their customers, the readers, want and are willing to pay. If they don’t start listening to the public and start paying attention to more than just the oh-so-inaccurate BookScan numbers, things will only continue getting worse for them. But that doesn’t mean books, printed or digital, will disappear. The small press and indie revolution has shown that books are here to stay and I and thrilled. I’m even more thrilled to know that I can find books that I want to read now and not have to wait and wait and wait.

Readers win. Big Five loses.

Edited to add: Don’t forget that you can list your suggestions for the 2016 Hugos here. Simply choose which category you want to make a suggestion in, then note the title, author, and a short description of why you think it should be considered. 

109 Comments

Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: PUBLISHING

109 responses to “Putting things into perspective

  1. FWIW, I went and checked out the Star Wars book preview. It was…well, it wasn’t my thing. That’s all I’m going to say publicly at this point.

    If that is typical Wendig stuff, then I’m not going to bother reading anything else. It’ll be best for both of us that way.

  2. Christopher M. Chupik

    Well, actually John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn was how the new Star Wars EU was introduced, and it was a fun book. But yeah, they really screwed up giving the first big trilogy of the new EU to someone as completely unproven as Chuck Wendig. If they’re smart, they won’t off her any more work after it’s done.

    • Nathan

      New Dawn was was pretty good, if you forgot it was Star Wars.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        I liked it because it felt less stifled. I’d been reading less and less EU. Not only was it getting silly/depressing, but it was getting choked with references and retcons and retcons of retcons. This was a breath of fresh air.

        • Nathan

          Oh, I liked it too as a science fiction story. It just didn’t feel like Star Wars to me. The scope was too narrow for a Star Wars story, at least for my tastes.

        • While I completely agree that the EU had become a pale shadow of the thing Zahn launched in 91, I really don’t think Wendig made it better. He basically rehashed all the worldbuilding and details of things (seriously, his “people get shot up after the Special Edition scene of Palpatine’s statue being dragged down” scene is a pale imitation of Aaron Allston’s version in X-Wing: Iron Fist), his characters are incredibly bland, his prose meh, and his ability to write in the universe almost nil (the constant references to Earth animals or expressions grew more grating every page). I also tend to think the EU had become so drained because it wanted desperately to either be simply a cash grab (constant tie-ins to the movies) or a tagalong with the new hotness (Game of Thrones is clearly what the “kill a favorite character every series” pattern is attempting to imitate).

        • Personally, I too am glad to see the EU get a pruning. But if they’d wanted to stick the landing they’d have gotten Zahn or Stackpole to kick off the new universe. Proven SW authors, and a nod to the existing fanbase.

          • Joe in PNG

            There’s a few “fill in the space” novels that are part of the new canon. Lucindo’s “Tarkin” was fairly good, but paled in comparision with his own “Darth Plagueis” from the old EU.

    • Alex Jeffries

      Unproven is one thing. Borderline illiterate is quite another.

  3. But it is awesome and edgy, because it has a gay main character and a gay secondary character! Never before did that happen in sf!

    (While Disney simultaneously presents their properties as traditionally family-friendly, of course. But if push comes to shove, they would rather not have their traditional base, because Hollywood reasons.)

    • The first might have been Baron Harkonnan, Be that as it may, Disney could have released it under it’s Touchstone label. That, however, might have played havoc with adding Star Wars to their amusement parks.

    • A Few Good Men is edgy?????

      • Written by an oppressed minority who also happens to be a woman, features a gay romance (somewhere in there, I’m told), and deals with a violent popular revolution against what are obviously old, white, capitalist men? It’s practically intersectionality porn.

        If only it could pass the Bechdel Test…

  4. Bob

    Well…at least they didn’t kill Chewie by throwing a moon at him…

  5. I read Aftermath’s dust jacket when I was in B&N the other day. The blurb sounded just like a mediocre fanfiction.net blurb. Between that and the fact that I’d never heard of Chuck Wendig before, I passed on the book. Glad I did.

    Also, bn.com lists the hardback at $28, but it’s on sale for $16.97. And it just hit the shelves. Flags don’t get much bigger or redder than that, IMO.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I’d heard of Wendig when Butcher was endorsing his work. Which didn’t come across as Space Opera. Never read any Wendig, and after the name was mentioned in connection with SJWism I stopped keeping an eye out.

      • I’ve heard of Wendig. He’s written books on writing.

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          My writing advice: don’t be Chuck Wendig.

        • I’ve read some of his advice on writing books, and enjoyed them. Used to enjoy his blog, too, until he wrote an epic screed about how much he hated the Tea Party as racissssssss hatemongers who hatey-hate-hate. And I haven’t felt much of a need to go back to his blog since, until this book came out. Of course, now with the reviews coming back… his fans are trying to say that it’s the act of evil puppies bashing his book.

          All I can do is shrug at that. People seem to really not like the writing. They like the story, but they do not like the writing at all.

          Ah well.

    • Nathan

      The review war on Amazon is also telling. People are trying to bury the 40% of reviews that are 1 star.

      • scottsaxbury

        Apparently, that started after he twiitter-raged about his bad reviews, and commented about “toxic nostalgia” on his blog, while suggesting that it may be linked to wrongthink. I’m bi, so I could care less who his characters sleep with, as long as it doesn’t jar somehow. But I read the first five chapters in B&N the other day, and it was so pointless I won’t be buying it. Might try ‘New Dawn’, though.

    • Wendig is a middling writer who really likes to show what a good guy he is on Twitter by parroting every SJW that comes along. It’s very annoying that he’s the guy chosen to slot into the Zahn position.

  6. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I had been a Star Wars EU fan, but essentially quit over the Revenge of the Sith novelization. What happened in the EU between that and the reset doesn’t seem likely to change my mind. I’m willing to consider the new movie because of the reset.

    Not having the in house ability to manage the novel side of the property, and making a poor choice about who to hire doesn’t mean they will screw up the movie.

    A media property across multiple formats that wants to persist cannot rely on competently handling a single format. Even ones that are not money makers will tick off your fans if you do it wrong.

    • Bob

      I dunno, I like the RotS novel. Thought Stover went the only direction he could with a novelization that could be read to compliment the visual nature of the movie: concentrate on the internal struggles and how they acted as a counterpoint to the action. An easy approach to screw up, but I thought he pulled it off well.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I’m not saying it was a bad novel. There was a word or two, I think Democracy, that I found anachronistic. Given the politics of the time, I found that this had a distasteful flavor.

        Looking back, it is possible that I may have been unfair. There are a lot of adults who apparently do not get the distinction between a democracy and a republic. Or who wouldn’t think whether there were any republican or democratic values underlying The Republic. My expectations of writers and adults may have been too high.

        • Well, given several interviews with Stover (and other EU authors) at the time, they were definitely politically…um…silly. But the word “democracy” is strongly featured in the Revenge of the Sith movie, so it’s not entirely Stover’s fault for that.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            I figured they may have been deliberately trying to resonate with certain fears of the time, by using similar language. Once I saw that, I couldn’t unsee it, and the experience was mostly ruined. I bought the novel and soundtrack before the movie came out. I read the novel, then never watched the movie.

        • Bob

          I thought the politics were general and universal enough that the book doesn’t seem dated on rereading. And those ending lines stay with me: love can ignite the stars. Just beautiful.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Indeed, Wendig has nothing to do with The Force Awakens. A fact that Lucasfilm may want to emphasise . . . 😉

  7. That’s very odd. Wendig can certainly write better than that, and it almost sounds like passive-aggressive rebellion. I also didn’t think he would be interested in franchise writing. His writing advice collections are quite funny, if a bit, ahem, “colorful”. Maybe his traditional publishing career is not doing so hot, and he needed to pay some bills? And resented the hell out of it?

    This could be an interesting development to watch. I have long speculated that a large part of the appeal of media tie-in novels is the implicit promise that The World Won’t Change. Main characters *cannot* be killed off, major planets obliterated, etc. What Disney is doing violates that implicit promise, at least from the accumulated tie-in canon. If I am correct this reboot will not do well financially.

    • I must be missing something on this Disney-changes-the-canon. It’s happened before in Star Wars. When the movies made Luke and Leia siblings, more than a few licensed works suddenly became icky, including the Star Wars episode of The Muppet Show. Arguably it happened with the novelization of the first movie, which departed in a few ways from the released film.

      Not having a dog in this fight, I’m basically sitting back, munching on popcorn. I will point out it also happened regularly in the ST books. James Blish’s Spock Must Die> could never fit in with the movies 1-5, and How Much for Just the Planet? fits into another branch trimmed from the ST fiction tree.

      I’m not arguing that it doesn’t matter to Star Wars fans, only that I’m not getting why.

      • I think there are two types of people who care about the erasure of the EU canon.

        1) The fanboys who love being better informed about Star Wars than other fans, who have just been told that the thousands of dollars and millions of hours they spent learning literally everything there is to know about Star Wars no longer matters to the people who took their money.

        2) The fans who have stuck with the literary franchise through the murdering of their favorite characters, the progressive mediocreization of the quality, the cutting of length and raising of prices, because they remember back when a Star Wars novel was usually worth the money, and the overlap of the film and book fandoms was significant, rather than a tiny, tiny fraction of the latter.

        Both of them feel like the time and money they spent don’t matter at all to Disney, which just seems interested in hype and not turning out quality product.

        Yes, the canon was always being retconned. Yes, it was always wide ranging in terms of quality. But Disney has done absolutely nothing to win over the people who thought it used to be good. And to be fair, given how small the number of people buying the books has shrunk, they might not have to. But it would have been nice if they’d tried.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        Not wanting to hijack the comments or anything, but why doesn’t Spock Must Die fit in with the first five ST movies?

      • I really like Spock Must Die, but then I didn’t really ever consider the novels to be canon. I didn’t really consider novels written by different writers to necessarily follow each other as long as they didn’t f***up the characters themselves. How Much For Just the Planet? is my favorite ST novel, not because it’s canon, but simply because it’s so irreverent to everything. It’s one of the books I can always go back to when feeling down and know I’ll get a good laugh out of it and lift my spirits.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Yeah, but they killed Chewie in the NJO. I got into the Star Wars expanded universe by way of the YJK and JJK books. Guess how many of them had been killed off or went to the dark side by the time they decided to retcon things?

      Plus, I think they may have already retconned EU post RotJ continuity once before. Everyone remember the three eyed son of the Emperor?

      Recent books, per wookiepedia, had apparently revealed that the force was caused by a couple of ancient immortals. I recall something like one for the dark side, one for the light side. That whole addition seemed like something worth excising.

      I think if they stick to the movies, and maybe SW:TOR era stuff and other history as canon, they might make a go of it.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        Speaking of the three-eyed son of the Emperor, I’m not sweating Wendig’s folly too much. I remember when the EU had three competing versions of what happened post-ROTJ: Thrawn Trilogy, Glove of Darth Vader and Dark Empire. That’s not even counting the original Marvel version too. Guess we’ll see if they can sort this out eventually.

    • Alex Jeffries

      His writing books (or at least the two that I’ve read) are the equivalent of a few hundred profanity-filled Twitter messages.

  8. I pretty much think that the major publishers really did it to themselves in pricing their ebooks so much higher. They had all those other expenses to recover, not just the printing, warehousing and shipping costs associated with a printed book. In a couple of cases, early on, I believe I saw that some ebooks were more expensive than a paperback version of the same book. They initially saw, I believe, ebook readers as a luxury and priced the books accordingly. Just my ,02
    We kicked around the pricing of our own ebooks in the author support group that I belonged to early on, and pretty much agreed that $2-5 was the sweet spot for relative unknowns. Cheap enough for a curious reader to take a chance, and just enough to recompense the writer’s efforts. But Big Publishing has the weight of a huge establishment to support, so …

  9. Amanda writes, “Add into that the fact that what people want to read isn’t necessarily what the publishers are putting out there and, well, you have the beginnings of the perfect storm for the publishing industry.” and I agree, but have a different spin to put on it.

    You have a “market failure.” To wit, the market, as constituted, fails to meet the demand. Watch the old movie by Orson Welles where James Cotton’s friend is running a black market for medicine. Or any smuggler story where the wine, whiskey, guns or bibles are run past the customs authorities. Every market failure has three components: a supplier, a consumer, and a gatekeeper.

    Let’s make this concrete with an example. You have MP3s. I want tunes. The RIAA wants to drive up prices by limiting supply. In this case, the market failure is due to avarice. Since avarice and intelligence are not necessarily correlated, black market Napster and others use the Internet to route around the failure. This works until avarice and intelligence ARE correlated in Steve Jobs whose iPod, and iTunes infrastructure create a solution to this market failure.

    Traditional publishing is being overrun by independents and small press publishers because none of the mega-corporations have a Steve Jobs running things. The closest is Jeff Bezos who created a Kindle and Amazon infrastructure to address the market failure in publishing. Whereas Mr. Jobs could strong-arm the music publishers, the power relationships (today) do not (yet) give Mr. Bezos the leverage to do so with traditional publishers.

    We see a cold war that flares up each time Amazon and one of the big five publishers renegotiate their contractual relationships. Amazon does not exist to benefit the scrappy, independent scribbler. Nor is it destroying publishing like the Big Five Publishers’ serfs would tell us in New York Times Op-Ed pieces. None of these skirmishes should be taken at face value.

    And it seems that Amazon’s “loss” in the latest skirmish is not to be taken at face value either. I rather like the idea Amanda advances, that the Big Five won a hollow victory wherein they got what the wanted, and what they wanted was not in their best financial interests. This can only work to the advantage of the small press and independents. I might also consider short positions in Big Five stocks until they get mahogany-row upgrades.

  10. Max

    … it is priced at a whopping $13.99 for the e-book. 400 pages for basically $14.00.

    That’s … actually kind of tame compared to some others out there. Take Rothfuss’s The Slow Regard of Slient Things. Now granted, the writing is going to be better from the sound of it, but it’s still $11 for a 177 page e-book.

    I’ll repeat that: $11 for 177 page e-book. That’s barely a novel. If others followed that same pricing scheme, the first Harry Potter on Kindle would sell for about $22.

    Makes the Star Wars example almost seem tame.

    • B. Durbin

      And it’s a book that’s not exactly to standard tastes—Rothfuss himself didn’t originally want to publish it, as it’s almost more of an elaborate character sketch of someone who is a bit “off” (in modern terms, she might be a variant of OCD, though this is fantasy and there might be something real behind her obsessions.) I mean, I *like* it, but I totally understand his hesitation, because it isn’t exactly a plot book by any standards.

      • Max

        I really wondered about what Rothfuss’s side in that publication was, because it really felt like a cash grab. I’ve yet to talk to anyone who’s read it that has walked away feeling it was up to par with his other books, and it launched at such a ridiculous, out of this world price, it felt almost pandering. Hearing that Rothfuss didn’t want to publish it in the first place at least means I can aim my disrespect solely at his publisher rather than in the general direction of the whole group responsible for the book’s publishing.

        • B. Durbin

          To be fair, what I heard was that it was Rothfuss saying, “Nobody would like this!” and a whole bunch of fans saying, “I would!” And like I said, I rather like it. But I also went in knowing what it was, that it wasn’t really a novel. Someone going in blind would have a reason to be annoyed.

    • Synova

      I’d be pissed. I’m sure I’m not the only one who assumes $11 is for a full sized novel. 400 pages at least. I realize that Rothfuss doesn’t control that but readers will blame him for it anyway. I’d classify it as “screwing your talent.”

      • Max

        For a hardcover, maybe IMO. For a digital book, 400 pages should be closer to $6 or $7. $8 if you’re feeling generous and the author is really good.

    • Neal Stephenson. Seveneves. $16.99 for the ebook.

      Love Stephenson. Will not pay that kind of price for an ebook. Period.

  11. I took a look at the reviews. Chuck and friends probably think it’s SoCons downgrading his book, when more likely it just isn’t very good. Almost all comments mentioned bad writing, jarring tense issues, etc.

    Disney and Hollywood operate on a reputation – past performance predictive model when commissioning creative product. There’s a group of young SF authors and agents who support each other, and they use social media and word of mouth to recommend each other at every opportunity — they also share a certain slant in the culture wars. The failure happens when Disney execs consult with “top people” in SF writing, which they don’t know well — so they ask around and get Chuck and the like. The product can be improved by editing, but only if the editors have a higher standard than the hot young things. I am guessing it was too late by the time they realized what they were getting was a mess. Pretend it’s great and hype it as you would a bad movie.

  12. TRX

    > tossed out… alienated a huge number of fans

    They’ve probably been looking at the comic-book market too long. Every time a comic publisher “reboots” a universe, sales go up. But those sales go to the comic collector market, not Disney’s first-run viewer prime market… and those are very different markets.

    • Max

      To be fair, it would probably help if the book was actually any good. Reading the sample on Amazon, this is far from the case. Some reviews are reporting multiple misspelled words per two-page chapter.

      That’s really poor, and really reflects on the editor who handled it.

  13. Arwen

    I’m not even planning on seeing the new Star Wars film unless at least three trusted people tell me it’s awesome. The good will has been burned.

    • Bob

      Don’t know how much more dissapointment a puppy can take.

      Lucas: here, have a treat…nope! I take it away!

      Disney: forget him, here, have a treat. Have a whole mountain of treats!

      Puppy: but…all these treats taste awful-

      Disney: EAT THEM! EAT THEM ALL! MWA HA HA HA HA!

      • My introduction to Star Wars was a serialization in a newspaper. That led to buying the novelization and later the soundtrack. Since this was far from the major towns, it was a long time before it came to the local theaters. To be honest, the film was a let-down. Thought the novelization was much better.

        I never went to see another Star Wars film. I did buy them on VHS, before they were edited, but the SFx didn’t translate well to the medium. That got cleaned up for the altered DVDs, but by then I’d seen enough. And read enough. Aside for the novelizations of The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi, and Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, I haven’t read another ST book. Have never sat through an entire prequel when it showed up on TV.

        In no small part, the time difference between the events in evading the Imperial Fleet and at Cloud City, with Luke’s training, just didn’t feel right, even in the novelization. If they had played up that the failure to go to light speed introduced time dilation aboard the Millennium Falcon,, that would have worked better for me.

        Ah,well. Different strokes for different folks. More power to those who like Star Wars, and may you enjoy the sequels.

        I admit that I loved the non-authorized short TROOPS, and will confess laughing at the Robot Chicken takes on the Star Wars universe.

        BTW, if you ever watch/listen to the victory celebration at the end of The Return of the Jedi, pay close attention to the music. Right before the “singing,” there’s a bit that sounds like the opening bars of Dixie.

  14. I really laughed at this quote in the WSJ article: One high-level publishing executive disputed that the Amazon pacts are behind the e-book sales decline. “This is a title-driven business,” he said. “If you have a good book, price isn’t an issue.”

    HAHAHA. Just this morning, I looked at a book on Amazon that I’d like to read (Updraft, by Fran Wilde: http://www.amazon.com/Updraft-Fran-Wilde/dp/0765377837/) and did not buy it because it cost $12.99. I already have a big enough to-be-read pile. I’ll wait until the price drops.

    That “executive” is crazy–or lying. Obviously nobody will buy at $100. The trick is to figure out the price point at which you maximize your revenue. And elsewhere in the article they actually say that the publishers are willing to “sacrifice” (i.e. not maximize their revenue) in order to fight against Amazon’s prices (i.e reality).

    Great. More opportunity for indie writers!

    • I’ve mentioned it elsewhere in this thread, but Seveneves. I want to read it.

      I do not want to pay $17 for it.

      There’s another book that Larry Correia mentioned. The series is something like Seal Team 666, and I was intrigued. I don’t remember what the first book was priced at, but it was more than I was going to pay.

      So yeah, that exec is either delusional, and/or lying.

      • Joe Spiker

        I went looking at Seal team 666 loved the sample but then saw the price. Umm no. Same thing with Kevin Hearnes new book they listed it at 12-13$. No way in this world. E-books should never be more than 6.99 and only for bestsellers.

        • I’m still waiting for stuff written in the ’70’s and ’80’s to get under $10-12. Some of this stuff is ridiculous.

        • Max

          My policy has been that the price of the book should sit in a range. Novella’s really shouldn’t be more than $3, and after that, you should be paying roughly a buck-fifty for each hundred pages or so.

      • Alex Jeffries

        That’s why on the 8th day, God created the public library system. Or maybe that was Benjamin Franklin. I failed history and fell asleep during chuch…

      • My price point is lower for e-books than tangible copies. I backed away from the Kindle edition of Pratchett’s last Discworld novel. They want 11.99 for the e-book; 10.65 for hardback. I said no to both.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Well, I’m not sure how much I paid for my Machinery’s Handbook, but Amazon lists copies for around a hundred bucks, before the discount.

      The budget for a tool is different from the budget for fun.

      For Amazon, you need computer and internet. Hence the price for something on Amazon is competing with all the entertainment that can be got with computer, internet, and time. Not everyone has NYC cost of living driving the value of their time sky high. Not everyone has full employment.

      • TRX

        One of my copies of Machinery’s Handbook was printed in the 1920s, before there was an Amazon, an internet, computers, or even much in the way of telephony. For that matter, the county courthouse was built about that time, and didn’t even have electric lights; the gas light plumbing still sticks out of the walls where the fixtures were removed.

        All I have to do is open the book and it… just works. Eighty years from now, I fully expect that it will still work. I probably won’t be around to do the test, though.

        Once you go online, you’re on the hamster wheel, keeping up with browser versions, PDF versions, Flash or other add-ons…

        Some years ago a friend bought a service manual for his new Audi. It cost $150, came on a CD, and had a complex copy protection system that took three different code keys. It’s all encrypted, with a proprietary browser that will let you look at pages.

        He just laughed when I told him it was a bad idea. Digital, cool! But then that XP laptop died. No backups, of course. Long hours of dickering with the vendor to get a “courtesy install” unlock code to install the software on the new laptop… oops, it won’t run under the new version of Windows. Much angst, poking into the innards of Windows compatibility modes, to get it to run again. More or less.

        It would be a simple matter to install VirtualBox and an eBay copy of XP and then dicker with the vendor again for another install key, but I figure he needs some more “learning experience” about maintaining access to data he paid good money for…

        • What led me to try e-books was we were rapidly running out of space. I still haven’t accomplished my initial objective, of a large enough reader that I won’t have to print out public domain PDFs and put them in three-ring binders. That will require a larger screen. True, I won’t be able to read them should we encounter the end of civilization, but I’ll probably be too busy, anyway.

          • Synova

            Your computer screen is probably big enough.

          • Holly

            What led me to try ebooks was free. I have a computer, kindle app is free. There are always authors putting up ebooks on Amazon for free.

            But I’m not sure that’s the goal. The goal is to separate me from my money. That’s a lot harder. And it’s even harder with ebooks, because I am from the inherently untrusting of technology school. I’ve bought one (1) ebook that was not published by one of this group. And that one only because I really, really loved the free book the author had up, thought the premise of this was neat, and wanted to pay her something.
            I’d rather buy paperbacks. They’ll still be usable after an EMP or a Carrington event, after the Cascadia Subduction Zone or Yellowstone or New Madrid . . .

            So if I’m going to buy an ebook, I have to trust that if Amazon goes nuts or bankrupt or whatever, the author will make good on the purchase, as a general rule of thumb. That’s a pretty high barrier. It’s one a publishing house is going to struggle with. (I’d buy from Baen or Castalia, actually, but with Baen I can always get print books so I don’t have to, and everything I’ve bought from Castalia so far has been print . . .)

          • Same reason I tried ebooks.

    • IIRC, the publishers forced Amazon to take more money per sale as a way to ‘punish’ Amazon for wanting lower prices. Apparently they don’t have any accountants working in the publishing houses, because giving ‘the enemy’ more money just doesn’t make any real world sense if at the same time you’re making less through fewer sales.

      • You really can’t make this stuff up. Amazon has done a lot of data analysis on prices. And they give a higher percentage back to the publisher if the books is priced below $10. So by setting the price at $13 they are cutting the percentage they get from the sale, cutting the amount given to the authors, and jeopardizing their business. All in order to keep their “control”, “punish” Amazon, and set the prices to the luxury level. Publishing really is a backward, stupid business sector.

        It’s a good thing there are alternatives now.

        • TRX

          …but there’s a type of mind that simply *can’t* see that. Like being color blind or tone deaf.

          “Which is the better deal? One sale at $1.00 or three sales at $0.43?”

          “FORTY-THREE CENTS?! You expect me to give my stuff away for 43 cents? Are you mad?”

          “But you put $1.29 in your pocket instead of only $1.00.”

          “But I’m only making 43 cents! I just can’t do that.”

          I’ve also encountered (both as a customer and as an employee) businesses that figures sales as an expense, usually resulting in some sort of minimum order below which they figured it wasn’t worthwhile for them to make a sale. That could range from $10 to $300. Yes, I’ve had businesses decline to sell to be because I only wanted $250 of what they were selling, not the whole $300. Yes, I took my business elsewhere, and no, I haven’t been back…

          If you figure an e-book sales “costs” you $10 to make, then obviously you can’t price a book for less than $13.

          Where does that $10 figure come from? That’s where you run into the GAAP, or “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.” When I was a blissfully innocent bystander, I thought accounting was calculable and deterministic. After learning more, it’s actually like a trip down the rabbit hole, where nothing is fixed and everything is negotiable… the larger the organization, the bigger the rabbit holes.

      • From what I remember of the accounts while all the wrangling was going on, the big publishers wanted to price the eBooks higher in order to drive readers to the Hardbacks, until they would release the Trade Paperbacks and/or Mass Market Paperbacks. Amazon basically said, “We’ll sell a lot more eBooks at the $9.99 price point (or even lower), and everyone will make more money.” Somehow, the people at the trad pub hoses are apparently completely innumerate, and demanded raise its prices anyway, and all got together to try to force the issue.

    • JSF001

      To be fair that executive in not completely wrong, if a book is good enough people will buy it regardless of the price. The thing is that “good” enough is determined only by the audience. You could in theory price a short story e book at $100 and it will sell just fine if it is “good” enough but of course in reality that short story is going to have to be the literary version of cocaine to do so (which as far as I know no one yet has managed) In reality $15 for an e book is about the practical limit of what is actually possible to do if it is “good” enough, with “good” in this cases being absolutely fantastic.

  15. The Other Sean

    With apologies, but my mind couldn’t help but turn the quote you gave into:

    There was an old lady who swallowed a TIE.
    I don’t know why she swallowed a TIE – perhaps she’ll die!

    There was an old lady who swallowed an X-Wing.
    It wibbled and wobbled and zigzagged insider her.
    She swallowed the X-wing to catch the TIE;
    I don’t know why she swallowed a TIE – perhaps she’ll die!

  16. Alex Jeffries

    Wendig is blaming the unfolding flop that his book is on anti-gay Star Wars fans and asking whatever fans he has to go write positive fluff reviews on Amazon.

    Remember when it started being obvious Fantastic Four was going to be a flop, and suddenly we saw a rash of stories about how racists hated the idea of casting a black actor as Johnny Storm? Same tactic. Cry bigot, get media attention, hope for sympathy, hope it saves your incompetent (rear).

    The only way Wendig could have botched his fanfic collection of interludes worse would have been to insert mutant midichlorians in the mix.

    • Where is he doing this? And is the book really flopping, or is it just a bestseller that will quickly fade?

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Probably twitter. https://twitter.com/ChuckWendig

        Actually, per that, he has a blog post about toxic nostalgia, which seems to be on that topic.

        Can’t find it at: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/

        It is at an Amazon rank of 34 and trending down, but I don’t know enough to evaluate that. It is currently the top SF seller, but has 39% one star and 13% two star ratings. The ranking for Kindle seems to be worse than the ranking for hardcover and audible, possibly because the latter are more like buying unexamined goods, and hardcover is more difficult to return.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        He has a blog, and twitter. The links I found got my post stuck in moderation.

        I dunno, I’ve no idea what assumptions Random House made. We are less than a week after release. The stuff that would be obvious to a layman like me hasn’t come out yet.

      • Alex Jeffries

        In the media, who are dutifully reporting his claims unexamined. Hollywood Reporter, CNET, Yahoo. And of course the useful idiots of the blogosphere, like Hines.

        It was the easiest book sell in history, and he’s got about the worst big press reviews I’ve ever seen on Amazon.

        He’s playing the “you’re a homophobe if you don’t like my novel” card because he’s a desperate, lying fool.

    • I’d really like to know where Wendig got this though.

      You see, I went and read those reviews yesterday. Every. Single. Negative. Review.

      None were homophobic. Only a couple even referred to anything like “social justice” or “diversity”, and most of those seemed more complaining about how badly Wendig handled it.

      Perhaps there were comments on reviews that have been deleted by Amazon that prove it or something, but reviews? Nope. Sorry, Wendig’s reading crap in there that just wasn’t written.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        At some point he either had to have realized that quality would be poor, or planned that it would be so. If it wasn’t premeditated, he could use the gay aspect to throw up a ‘homophobia’ smokescreen to hide the otherwise obvious errors. The best way to sell Hollywood an excuse is to arrange to cater to their prejudices.

        The less charitable interpretation is that not only did he put in gay characters to have the homophobia smokescreen, he didn’t expect to do good work even when he signed.

  17. The problem is that the big publishers have been insulated from market forces by a monopoly on the means of mass distribution for so long that they don’t know how to be competitive.

    As long as there were a handful of companies that had access to the floor space in the handful of chain bookstores that made up 95% of the market and everyone played by the same rules there was no pressure towards efficiency and overhead creep kept the prices moving up steadily every year.

    At the same time the national reviewers were employees of companies that were either owned by the media conglomerates that owned the publishing imprints or were so dependent on the advertising revenue from those companies that they might as well have been.

    It was an incestuous hothouse environment, with gentlemen’s agreements along every step of the way. The publishers, the distributors, the retails chains, the advertising outlets, everyone involved grew to see corner offices on 5th Avenue and three secretaries as being absolutely vital to the book trade. It’s not that anyone deliberately set out to cheat the public, it was simply the way that everyone else was doing business.

    The fact that small presses were being run out of basement offices on shoestrings had no effect on their world. Those guys couldn’t get end caps in the big chains. Those guys had small print runs and didn’t have big warehouse space. Those guys couldn’t get reviewed in the New York Times Review Of Books.

    Then came the internet and the big chains started dropping like flies. POD made the size of a print run irrelevant. And some of the more popular book blogs were getting more hits a day than the NYT got in a week.

    All of a sudden the little guys who opened their own mail and didn’t summer at Martha’s Vineyard had access to the whole market and the little guys do know to be competitive. The big publishers are still blaming Amazon, but that’s like lamp oil manufacturers getting mad at Con-Ed.

    The world has moved on. Technology has changed, and the rules of the game are different than they were twenty years ago. The big traditional publishers are investing in bigger and better badminton rackets without noticing that their opponents are playing lacrosse.

  18. In the original post, Amanda describes a ‘war’ in publishing. I disagree. I see this more as a mass migration. The vicious skirmishes, such as we saw recently over the Hugo awards, are the dramatic symptoms of a much quieter yet more important migration of individual attitudes. Those individuals, of course, being the most important people in literature: the readers. It’s less like the intense few years of battles that was World War Two, and more like the long decline and fall of the Roman Empire, when even the imperial gatekeepers could not resist forever the westward migration of ‘barbarian’ people into Europe. Millions of paying readers have silently walked away, and listened to new gatekeepers in the form of the Amazon bestseller charts and Goodreads. Imperfect gatekeepers, to be sure, but at least these upstart taste setters are rooted in the aggregate views of common, barbarian readers.

    There are many quiet stories that illustrate moments in this migration. Let me share a personal one.

    The most critically acclaimed science fiction novel of 2014 (although published in October 2013) was ‘Ancillary Justice’ by Ann Leckie. The first of her Imperial Radch series. It won just about every award, or so it seemed at the time. A lot of people whose opinions I respect, and whose minds are genuinely open, thought it a good book. So did many for whom I have less respect, but let us not condemn by association. Thousands of articles and reviews were written about this novel. 2014 was the year the old gatekeepers agreed amongst themselves that ‘Ancillary Justice’ was the best SF book of the moment. Ten months after publication, the author gave a widely quoted interview in which she revealed her sales. After having won most major SF awards, and so much attention, her publisher estimated total sales at 30,000 units.

    ‘Ancillary Justice’ represents the old form of publishing. Still relevant. Still selling. Not going to die out. But the old gatekeeper model.

    By contrast, last Christmas I self-published a new series of SF novels in a similar vein to those of Doug Dandridge and Christopher Nuttall, although I do not claim their level of quality. Six months later (and to be clear, by that time I now had two books in the series) I hit two milestones in the same week: my new series surpassed 50,000 sales, and it received its first review outside of Goodreads and Amazon (I have a Google alert checking for news about my books. A somewhat narcissistic admission, but I’m afraid it’s true.)

    I’m so far below the radar of the traditional gatekeepers that the old world doesn’t even know of my books’ existence. And as far as the flawed ‘industry’ statistics such as Publishers Weekly and Nielsen Bookscan are concerned, my series has amassed precisely zero sales. And yet on some measures, at least, the true sales record for my series exceeds that of the most talked about new science fiction series of 2014, despite no reviews, no interviews, no articles, no mention anywhere except Amazon and Goodreads. It’s clear to me that the migration is well underway 🙂

    The lack of attention from the more traditionally minded side of the SF literary establishment is a good thing as far as I’m concerned professionally. After all, most of them don’t like military SF or space opera that’s played straight, rather than deliberately subverted. They would only ever give me or my books bad reviews, so I’d rather fly stealthily. It’s like Amanda said in her blog post a couple of weeks ago (‘Who Should we be Worried About Impressing’), that the awards and critical acclaim really don’t matter much to a lot of professional authors. My book sales earn me enough to support my family, and that is such a rare privilege that I don’t feel the need for any other form of validation.

    Anyway, I digress. I think we’re witnessing a migration. Look beyond the reports of cultural skirmishes that clutter social media and you will see that readers have already walked away from the old gatekeepers in huge numbers. And more are coming every day. For readers and writers alike, this is a fantastic time for books in general, and science fiction in particular. Long may that continue 🙂

  19. Opus

    If anyone is interested, Chuck Wendig rants about homophobia being the one of reasons someone would give his book a bad grade. Equales readers who oppose gay propaganda with Empire. Glosses over concerns about his prose quality.

    Meanwhile, on Star Wars boards moderators throw a fit and people get banned when they comment on the gay aspect of book. Using terms like homosexual lifestyle and gay agenda are homophobic, and therefore deserve banning. It seems they are not welcoming readers who are not in sjw state of mind. Of course, glosses over concerns about his style and narration techniques.

    So if you do not like this new book, you can only be homophobic, evil, and you need to be excluded from community.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      Well, I guess I’m SOL, then, because I’m not going to spend that kind of money in order to be an evil homophobe. I’ll just have to settle for being plain evil.

      But I DO have a great evil laugh!