Chicken Little isn’t squawking — yet

Oh that pesky little invention called an e-book is once more confounding the Big 5. You see, that wonderful digital product continues to confuse and confound them. Well, that and the buying public’s taste in books, determination of what the best price point is for an e-book, and related issues continue to  cause consternation in publishing circles. And indie writers are sitting back and smiling because it really isn’t that difficult to figure out.

You can blame our own Dr. Monkey for this post. Well, him and my frustration after considering buying the latest book in a series my mother enjoys and telling her it can wait until it is under not $12.99, not $10.99 but under $6.99. Either that or she can borrow it online from the library.

Whether the Big 5 wants to admit it or not, they are confused and, if they are smart, more than a little scared by what is happening in the business. According to a Publishers Weekly article, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) dropped last quarter and lower e-book sales were a big reason why. At HarperCollins EBITDA fell 23.6% over the same time period last year. It would have been down 33% had HC not purchased Harlequin. Lower sales of Divergent are being cited as at least part of the reason for the lower sales. (More on this in a minute.)

Simon & Schuster reported lower e-book sales but those losses were off-set by increased digital audio sales. CEO Carolyn Reidy isn’t quite ready to say she is worried about lower e-book sales, saying it wouldn’t surprise her to see e-book sales increase again. (Duh, Christmas is coming and new electronic devices will be sold and with them e-books will be bought.)

You can look at the linked article and see the figures, some of which are estimates because actual figures haven’t been released.

Here’s the thing, Reidy also said in the article that “S&S has seen little evidence to suggest that higher e-book prices are behind the e-book sales slump. . . .”

No, it is much easier to blame lower sales on the declining interest in a book series — see the comment about Divergent above — or in the end of a series (remember how they used that as an excuse after the 50 Shades trilogy ended or the Sparkly Vampire series). This tendency points out two major issues with the way the Big 5 are deluding themselves and failing their readers. First, they are putting all their eggs in the basket held by only one or two authors. That wouldn’t be so bad if they had a Magic 8 Ball to tell them what the next big hit would be. The problem is, they don’t. Publishing has a long track record of books being contracted for, huge advances being paid and then the book flopping and not coming anywhere close to selling out the first print run.

Publishers also seem to think that the newest, biggest fad will continue to be a fad. They see a Twilight or a 50 Shades of Grey and tell agents that is what they are looking for. If they have really drunk the Koolade, they will stop production on entire lines of books so the covers can be redone to remind readers of the original book that started the fad. (Remember all those books that suddenly had black and grey covers with handcuffs or whips or blindfolds on them?) Branding helps sell something but the product inside the covers has to be worth the money.

And that is where the second issue comes in. The product has to be worth the money. The Big 5 hasn’t come to the realization that their customer base is not so foolish that they can’t figure out that it doesn’t cost nearly as much to produce an e-book as it does a print book. It certainly doesn’t cost as much as a hard cover. Yet, those same publishers continue to want to charge above mmpb prices for an e-book with the vague promise that the price will come down some time in the future.

Sure, there are some folks who will pay that $10.99 – $13.99 to have the e-book when it first comes out. There are the impulse buyers. But for those avid readers who have to choose whether they want to spent that much money for one book or for several if they buy older e-books or — gasp — indie published e-books, well, that is most of the market and they are opting for more bang for the dollar.

And that is something the Big 5 has failed to grasp. Most readers couldn’t give a flying fig about who the publisher is. That is about as important in a reader’s mind as who the author’s agent happens to be. All the reader cares about is having a good read that is well formatted, well researched and priced affordably. The Big 5 and their bean counters needs to wrap their heads around the fact they are no longer the only game in town and their control of the market is slipping out of their hands. If they don’t adapt their business model and business practices, the Big 5 (which used to be the Big 6) will see its membership shrinking even further.

The truth of the matter is, traditional publishing can only publish so many titles a year. There are only so many slots they have budgeted for. Most major publishers haven’t grasped the fact they can publish digitally first.  Those who have, have frankly dropped the ball. They make those digital lines less important than their print/digital lines. Even their marketing of those lines, both to the reading public and to authors, screams “not ready for the big league!”. So, instead of tapping into a growing market — which they would see if they would simply look at Authors Earnings and pay attention to the best seller lists on Amazon — they look at how their e-book sales have declined and refuse to admit that high prices and limited available titles might have something to do with it.

So, here’s where it comes to, at least for me. As long as the Big 5 and their ilk continue to sell e-books for more than $10 a pop, they will see very little of my money. (The exception is almost always for non-fiction which usually sells for more, print or digital.) There are very few books I can’t wait for the mmpb to come out — and for prices of the e-book to drop. That means delayed income for the publishers and for authors. I hate that authors are being caught in the middle here but that is the way it is, unfortunately.  My book money is limited. It is a luxury. So I would rather buy two books that sound good and that have samples that made me want to keep reading than one book by Ms. Best Selling Author and published by Big 5 publisher.

75 thoughts on “Chicken Little isn’t squawking — yet

  1. The publisher wants to sell one book at $12.99. The way they’re taught to count profits, that’s twice as profitable as two books for $12.98.

    As a buyer, I’ll take two certain-to-be-good books for $5.99 instead of taking a chance that a title will be “change my life” good at $12.99. I can count the ones of that category I’ve read on the fingers of one hand, without even cheating with a thumb. Chances of hitting another are too slim to make paying extra worth the risk.

    1. Same here. Between lower prices for indie and non-Big 5 publishers and Kindle Unlimited, I am reading a lot more than if I bought only Big 5 e-books priced under their modified agency pricing model.

      1. I’m not only reading a lot more with KU, I’m reading stuff I wouldn’t have looked at otherwise. And I’ve about given up on the on-line library — there is more selection on KU.

  2. I’ve seen similar pricing from one successful author who now sells indie — and tho normally she’s on my “buy everything” list, I’ve backed away from her $10 ebooks.

    1. I’ve seen a few do that and I don’t understand why they are so surprised when folks complain about the price of their e-books. A few of them have even taken to FB and their blogs to chastise readers for not paying the high prices. Not exactly the way to win friends and influence readers.

      1. I could see taking to facebook to get an idea of what price fans do find reasonable, (especially for those used to the prices the big 5 set. To someone used to 12.99 ebooks, 9.99 or 10.99 is a discount) and the notion of 4.99-6.99 just wasn’t even on the radar.

        1. It might not be for those who haven’t been reading non-Big 5 e-books and for those who drank the Koolade but most who have been paying attention to what readers are saying do bring their work out at a lower price. Unfortunately, there are those who try the indie market without doing their research. They simply assume the same rules apply to it as they do to trad publishing even though those rules are not working any longer where digital titles are concerned.

  3. I find that I can work up precisely zero sympathy for the big 5. Were they in the least interested in developing a successful business model in the current publishing world of HB, MMPB, and e-books, there is nothing stopping them from copying what Baen has done. Other than, of course, that the big 5 movers and shakers apparently have nothing but contempt for their end use customers. They certainly are not making any visible effort to provide them with what they want.
    How many cons a year does Toni attend with her Baen slide show presentation? Excellent promotion for the brand, but she is also neck deep in her customer base, getting feedback on what’s selling and what isn’t.
    Baen is serving a demand, everyone else is trying to push a product.
    Big 5 wouldn’t even have to create their own version of webscriptions as Amazon already provides a somewhat similar function. Not identical, but after more than a year now webscriptions and Amazon seem to be coexisting quite well. Biggest change under the new world order is I must buy my monthly bundles ahead of time to get the package deal. That Baen worked to keep that arrangement at all is another mark of them looking after their customers.

    1. Well said, Uncle Lar. I’ll admit to being one of those who gets a bit miffed (I know, I know. It is hard to imagine I would ever get miffed about anything) at those who have attacked Toni and Baen for going with Amazon because it changed the way they had to buy their bundles and raised the initial price for Baen e-books. But, when you look at it, their e-books are still cheaper than most traditionally published new releases (e-book version) and they are very good at lowering the prices as soon as the paperback version is released. Add in the fact you can buy the monthly bundles — and they are a great deal — and you can see why Baen is a favorite with its readers. And why it is probably the only publisher that has such an active and knowledgeable fan base.

      1. I was a little disappointed as far as my budget was concerned, but I was happy for Baen. I’d rather have a supplier that makes good business decisions than one that coddles me until they go bankrupt. Amazon was and is an important market for Baen. Do I think Baen could have negotiated lower prices if Amazon had not been trying to reach accommodation with the Big Five? Doesn’t matter.

        Baen experiments, and they keep things affordable.

      2. Baen, and probably Harlequin (I don’t do romance so have no idea, but I seem to remember the girls in school fawning over Harlequin when they grew out of the Sweet Valley High stuff), are probably about the only Publishers that have an actual fan base. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone squee over the latest list of upcoming releases from Harper Collins or Random Penguin. But every time I turn around someone’s raving about what Baen’s got coming.

        1. To be fair: Tor dot com are trying. I wouldn’t touch them, or any author published there with a 40 foot pole with bob mugabe’s willy nailed on the end, but they too have their fans.

          1. initially wasn’t a bad place but it has been getting progressively worse over the last couple of years. So much so I’ve taken them off of my check daily list. It is a shame there are still a handful of decent bloggers over there but they are being drowned out by a negative destructive narrative. ::sigh::

            And I mean going hip and trendy with a daily list of 5 things? Really?

    2. I had to move from buying the current month +next month every 2 months to buying next month+the month after every 2 months, sadly missing one bundle on the change over, *sniff*.

      I can buy 3 indie/baen/madgenius or one big 5 book. But if I don’t buy the big 5 book, I can fairly reliably wait for it to turn up in the library/sales/2nd hand store, but the indie book probably won’t. Most of the time I can wait for the big 5 book.

    3. Uncle Lar nails it right here:
      “Baen is serving a demand, everyone else is trying to push a product.”

      That’s all you need to understand what’s happened with the Big Five. I would add that Amazon also seems to be pushing product more and more with their own imprints, and the successful self-publishers serve a demand because it’s the only way for them to be successful, and they know it.

      1. So true. The other thing about indie and small press books that the Big 5 haven’t caught onto yet is that these “newcomers” are filling a demand that the Big 5 weren’t. All you have to do is look at the best sellers in science fiction and fantasy to see that.

        1. It is astonishing how the Big Five convinced themselves that the hundreds of thousands of readers (or more) who want to read the wrong kind of science fiction don’t exist. You couldn’t make it up. And it’s not just the publishers but agents too. I interpret the Harper Voyager open call for submissions of military sf novels as follows: “We desperately want a part of this hugely popular market we’ve just rediscovered, but we can’t find any agented submissions. Guess we did too good a job of training the literary agencies that no one would touch this kind of crud other than those jokers at Baen. So we’ve got to go back a few decades and reintroduce the slush pile, because the way we’ve been doing things has broken. Please send us some military sf. Please.”

          1. “Hey, there’s a huge load of native copper over here, just in smallish chunks.”
            “Nah, I’m sure there’s actual gold somewhere in here” *looks at pyrite*

            And I’ve just acquired a low-end Kindle. I am not an early adopter of much of anything. I like proven things. And if I (or rather the authors I read) have to make do with high grade copper rather than the illusion of gold… well, Big5, Cu later.

    1. Possibly but I don’t see that happening until the Big 5 becomes the Big 4 or even Big 3. It is going to take a real change in the publishing environment to get them to realize their old business models will not work.

    1. Oh, I think it is a given that they don’t — and that they would prefer it if no one else was either. Life would be soooo much simpler if everyone would go back to the publishing rules of 50 years ago. Don’cha know?

  4. Great article. I am with you on Kindle Unlimited It’s interesting to note that Toni sees the only limiting factor for the number of titles Baen can release is having enough good editors on staff. I suspect she sees Amazon as her “shelf space” and the brick and mortar stores as gravy. The idea of a publishing house bottom line being affected negatively enough by a series for the CEO to comment on it at an earnings call, should be a WTF moment for investors. Publishers act like oil companies drilling a lot of holes hoping for a gusher, and missing all the oil they could be getting from a steady flow of midlist and back list ebook sales that were reasonably priced.

    1. Thanks, Richard. I admire Toni for recognizing and holding to her guns about needing more quality editors before they expand their number of releases. I’d rather have fewer quality titles than to see the brand get watered down.

      As for the WTF moment you mentioned, I have to agree with you. It is also another indication that the bean counters and Big 5 editors don’t really learn from past earnings reports. This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen. It happened after the Twilight series ended — and the publisher commented on it in the earnings report. It was the same thing with 50 Shades. But they keep following the same basic business plan and not learning.

  5. I have only spent more than $7 for an e-book once and that was because the kidlet needed a book to read for school that I didn’t have time to wait on the library for. Ticked me off because the paperback price was less than the ebook and that is my personal ‘unacceptable’ no-buy point.

  6. Don’t worry, these “e-books” are just a passing fad, like horseless carriages and talkies. The public will never embrace them.

    1. But of course. After all, my buggy whip stocks are still holding strong at half a cent per share. But they will go up, just as soon as all these silly kids realize automobiles are not nearly as reliable and long lasting as a good mule.

      1. Well, a horse will take you home after you’ve been out drinking. Car not so much. And you can’t get a DWI on a horse. (Pierre, SD had a serial offender who’d ride to town and have his horse take him home. In 2000.)

          1. You may have noticed that Tesla pushed a firmware update that made their recent cars partway self driving. (Apparently wireless.)

            Did that ring the same alarm bells for you that it did for me?

            Hopefully Elon Musk was just hyping things for sales when he claimed that in twenty years manual cars will be like horses. If that is his real engineering judgement, I am more concerned about the level of safety paranoia at Tesla.

            I should get off my rear and learn how to write, if I want to use a spoofed vehicle firmware update as a murder weapon before it happens in real life.

        1. “And you can’t get a DWI on a horse.”–TXRed

          But Drunk In Public on a horse, that you can get.

        2. You _can_ get a DUI on a bicycle or ridden animal in ND. So, if you come up here to drink with me, walk home or get someone else to drive.

  7. Another great analysis, Amanda.

    Five years ago I’d buy that $18 – 29 hardback, read it, and pass it to a circle of 4 or 5 friends, who did likewise. We each coordinated which bestsellers we would buy, making our cost per read in the $4-8 range; slightly less than a paperback, and still getting that hardback experience. Our turn with a new book was usually within 2 months of it coming out, as we are avid readers. Heck, we often couldn’t get a popular new bestseller from the library in that time frame.

    Today, I can buy the ebook (if it’s in the $2 – 4 range), or put a hond on the ebook at the library. In that latter case, I get an email a few months after release, download the book, and have 21 days to read it.

    I’d be interested in seeing an analysis author’s payouts for KU vs the ebooks for libraries; my understanding is each ebook has a limited number of checkouts. Since some of the library books are fulfilled by Amazon, it wouldn’t surprise me if the future of e-publishing wasn’t Amazon vs Apple vs Overdrive.

    1. Thanks, CE. I can’t speak to the payout analysis between KU and library e-books but I can confirm that libraries are limited to the number of times they can check out an e-book. Those loan numbers can be as low as the 20 times range. Once that magic number is met, the library has to “buy” the e-book again and at an inflated rate over what the average reader pays for it.

  8. I have only asked more than $10 for one of my books – and that is the three-in-one version of the Trilogy; the cost of it works out to the same cost as the three separate volumes, so I think that’s quite fair.
    Around $5 for an ebook is the sweet spot.

    1. And how has that worked out for you? I’m just wondering, because while I can see why it seems fair to you from a writer’s point of view it sounds to me (as a reader) like something I would never buy. Every time I buy a book I’m betting some money on whether or not I will enjoy it enough to be worth the cost. If I have a choice to split that up into three separate bets, with the first bets placed allowing me to make a more informed decision about the later bets, why would I ever choose to place all three bets up front? I’ll buy a three in one version if the cost is only 10% less as long as I’m already a fan of the author. Of course, in that case it’s likely that I already own at least one of the books, in which case I still won’t buy the combined book. For an author that’s new (to me) I might go for it if the discount is pretty steep, like maybe 30% or more off. So who exactly do you expect to buy the three in one version?

      Please note that I’m not arguing that even a multi-volume e-book can’t be worth more than $10, just that it should be less than the sum of the separate volumes. And that you don’t have to be a big 5 publisher to forget to look at your pricing from the customer’s viewpoint as well as your own.

      1. It works out pretty well, thank you for your solicitous concern. The individual volumes of the Trilogy are all about $3.50, and the three together are the price of the individual books added together.
        I may have been an English major, but I can do basic math. No matter how the Trilogy is sliced up, readers are paying the same amount for no matter how thick a slab they are purchasing.

  9. I don’t think they realized how much competition they have. Not only other companies but the stuff that’s available for free as well. Readers are spoiled for choice in entertainment and the traditional publishers are doing a good job of selling themselves.

  10. The only ebook I’ve ever paid even as high as $9.99 for was Larry Correia’s Monster Hunters Nemesis. I didn’t want to wait for the paperback and hardcovers are tragic on my wrists. (And my budget.) Otherwise, I stick with at or below paperback prices or wait for the paperback.

    The Big 5 are delusional. As a reader, their attitude sucks. As a writer, I’m fine with their delusions. People who don’t want to buy high-priced ebooks may turn to lower-priced indie published stories like mine. =o)

    1. B.E., you are right about the attitude of the Big 5. I am still amazed at some of the things I read coming from them. It is as if they really believe their readers are not intelligent enough to know the publisher is talking out of both sides of their mouth. Like you, as a writer, I’m fine with it because each reader they insult will eventually look at indie books as an alternative and I’m there to help fill the gap.

  11. On the difference between “to understand” and “to grok.” I’ve been reading these essays for months now. I “understood.”

    Then the new Rowling/Galbraith book came out. $15 in ebook. NOW I “grok.”

  12. I’ve only paid $10 or more for two e-books, and both were non-fiction reference books (I ended up buying three paper copies of The Paleo Approach). One was the Daily Bible I read every single day — I already had a paper copy, but the Kindle is easier to hold when I’m reading in bed. I’ve spent a dollar to three or four dollars on a handful of fiction works, but since I signed up for KU, haven’t seen the need to do that. There aren’t many fiction works that I’m going to read more than once, and like most people, my entertainment budget is pretty low.

  13. I worked in book publishing (technical nonfiction) for 20+ years, and noticed something peculiar: Corporate culture was radically different for presses based in NYC, as opposed to presses based almost everywhere else, even major cities like Chicago. NYC publishing houses did things as they had always done them, and for the most part hired from other (generally smaller) NYC presses. Presses elsewhere were constantly digging around for new ways to do things. The cool new stuff I used to see at the annual BEA shows was almost never from the NYC houses. It cooks down to this: NYC doesn’t listen to anybody except NYC. This doesn’t mean that tradpub outside Manhattan will prosper in coming decades, but if I had to guess, the tradpub imprints that manage to stay alive will NOT be in NYC.

    1. I am pretty certain that you have a solid point, regarding establishment NY publishing houses basically regarding their own navels.
      I had a reference, through the milblogging ring, to an old-style NY agent, who seems to have been pretty well thought of. He looked at my first novel, entire – he loved the sample chapter, wanted to see the whole thing, which I sent him … he said extraordinarily complimentary things about my writing, about the book generally … but confessed regretfully that he couldn’t market it to any of the Big Establishment Publishers, so he would have to pass on it. Regretfully — but he did give me some usable feedback as to why, so it was worth the phone call.
      That first novel was about a wagon train which came over the Sierras, got lost, caught in the snow, split apart, came within an inch of starvation — and weren’t the Donner party. That was my initial pitch — the anti-Donner party, who did everything right but of whom hardly anyone has heard. As opposed to the Donners, who karked it up, six ways from Sunday.
      He told me he had floated bits about the party I wrote about in To Truckee’s Trail to various influential people in the biz. And no one had ever heard of them … so that was why he had to turn down representing me,
      Because No One Had Ever Heard About Them.
      That was my marketing hook. The untold story that no one had ever heard.
      That was when I went Indy.

    2. Jeff, I’d wondered about that because it did seem that way whenever I looked at the situation. Thanks for the insight and, well, I wish I could say the NYC naval gazing surprised me but it doesn’t. We see that sort of thing too often with companies based there.

    3. And it’s a malaise that has been around for the better part of a century. A few years ago, I checked out a book from the library. It had been published in the 1920s, and was titled The Haunted Bookshop. (I never finished it, because turned out there was absolutely no ghost anywhere at all–what a disappointment.) What I did read of it, however, seemed to involve a lot of the bookshop owner waxing snobby about how “kids these days” only read a lot of that trash like, say, Tarzan…

      It was about that point that I dropped the book and laughed myself silly. Here was I, eighty-some years later, and Tarzan (and other Burroughs books and similar) are still beloved and popular, while I had never even *heard* of this author and only grabbed the book in the library because I was hoping for a good ghost story.

      And that fictional bookshop’s owner and his snobby views was, i have no doubt, written to pander to the prejudices of some big-wig publisher in NYC…(Meanwhile, the people publishing Burroughs were making a ton of money.)

  14. 🙂 Seeing as i was invoked (or at least it was my fault) let me talk about the pachyderms in the room everyone is studiously ignoring.

    Returns. Returns or sell-through. – The ‘acceptable’ range used to be around 55% sell through. That, de facto was required to get acceptable ‘coverage’ of the market. If your publisher wasn’t doing that THEY were getting a better return per book but they were short changing authors on sales. But think this through: that hard cover – base cost $1.50 + shipping, handling and storage – call it $1.75 as ball-park. And each book sold has to carry an additional 90% of an unsold (returned torn off cover) book Which means at less than $3.30 or so difference between HC and e-book is more profitable as an e-book sale.

    1. Thanks, Dave. I didn’t talk about the pachyderms because I am not as familiar with the workings of returns as are you and Sarah.

  15. I’ve been known to pay $10 for a book that I really want. But I am constantly seeing backlist books (10, 20, some even 30 or more years old) priced in the $12-$14 range. I can’t imagine those are selling much.

    Oh, hey, let’s look real quick like:

    The Steam Pig by James McClure (1971) is $9.99 @ B&N, ranked 268,701 and $9.66 @ Amazon, ranked 350,352.

    Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith (1981) is $11.99 @ B&N and Amazon, sales rank 65,466 (B&N) and 166,440 (kindle).

    Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991) is $3.99 @ B&N and Amazon, sales rank 172 (B&N) and 286 (Kindle).

    The Firm by John Grisham (1991) is $9.99 @ B&N and Amazon, sales rank 19,868 (B&N) and 28,678 (Kindle)

    Purgatory Ridge by William Kent Krueger (2001) is $12.99 @ B&N and Amazon, ranked 19,392 (B&N) and 25,190 (Kindle)

    Granted, Outlander is getting a bunch of play right now because of the series, but that price is awful enticing to a bunch of people. The rest must only be selling a couple of copies a month. How is that helping either the author or the publisher?

    1. I’ve noted the same thing. Not long ago, I went looking to replace some of my mother’s older books — ones she likes to reread — with the e-book version. No way. I told her I would keep an eye out and when they went on sale, I would pick them up but I wasn’t paying $10 or more for a 20 or 30 year old book.

      1. I would love to get the whole Kramer and Zondi series, or the whole Arkady Renko series, as eBooks, but not at those prices (not unless I suddenly become wealthy and money is no longer an issue).

  16. I would love if Baen had an ebook-only imprint for second stringers.

    And in other news, a friend published his novel to amazon today…

    1. Toni has heard a number of us saying much the same thing. I think the only thing holding Baen back is the need to find quality editors. Fingers crossed she can do so.

  17.      Publishers also seem to think that the newest, biggest fad will continue to be a fad. They see a Twilight or a 50 Shades of Grey and tell agents that is what they are looking for.

    That’s the economics of the world’s least forecast-able business at work. Publishers have looked for “The same, only different” ever since the invention of movable type. They really don’t have any other way to approach the market. It’s the reason the genre marketing scheme came to exist.

    I’m inclined to forgive them for it, even though one and all have refused to touch my stuff. The arrival of electronic publishing has changed the rules of the game so completely that conventional publishers must regard it as an entirely new game, to which their former successes don’t even entitle them to a bleacher seat, much less the role of first-string quarterback. I expect they’ll retain a foothold in non-fiction, especially reference works, but their dominance in fiction is over for good.

  18. I don’t look at an e-book at is more than $4 to $5, and that is usually for the next book in a series I have already gotten into. Going after these low priced books allows me to impulse buy a lot more fiction than I did in the past. Especially those series that lure you in with $0.99 for the beginning of the series and then bump up the follow on books.

    I slightly disagree that readers don’t care about who published the book. It might not make a big impact on whether not I buy something, I do prefer self published books (as long as they are still edited and formatted well).

    The author is the entity that provides the most added value to the product, at least from the reader’s perspective. Thus, that is who I want to see reap the most profit from the product.

  19. Quote: “Whether the Big 5 wants to admit it or not, they are confused and, if they are smart, more than a little scared by what is happening in the business.”

    I beg to differ. Pricing their digital editions near to that of print is the first smart move I’ve seen the Big 5 make. For the first time they’re showing the sort of smarts I’d expect from a major corporate executive.

    Why is this a smart move for them? Because they live in a different world than small publishers and independent authors.

    1. They do print books well. Their bestsellers cost less, even in hardback, because they print in large quantities. They also have well-established systems to store and distribute books. They have the connections to get their books in stores and displayed prominently. None of that is true of smaller publishers much less independent authors. One of the primary rules of business success to focus on what you do well, i.e. if you live in Alaska, don’t grow bananas.

    That’s not true of digital books. There, what the Big 5 do well is virtually eliminated. An independent author can upload a book to the Kindle Store as easily as a publishing giant. The giant throws away most of it advantages when Amazon takes over the digital equivalent of printing, storing and distribution.

    2. Unlike many simple-minded authors, the Big 5 knows Amazon is their enemy. It has told them so and shown a willingness to bully. Knowing that, favoring print over digital makes good sense. When a print book is sold, regular bookstores make money and are able to stay in business working alongside publishers. When an ebook is sold, some 75% of the sales are through Amazon. Amazon benefits and gains more power over the market and thus over them.

    Keep in mind who the real dummies are. They’re all the independent authors who’re getting cheated by Amazon’s miserly royalties scheme. Many, sad to say, don’t even know they’re being cheated. Apple pays 70% at all retail prices. Amazon only pays 35% for ebook outside a restrictive $2.99-9.99 window and charges grossly inflated ‘download fees’ that lower the real royalty rate to 60-65% inside that range. The real dummies in the ebook market are those who put up with that and don’t work to shift their sales to platforms that pay better.

    There are other reasons the Big 5 is showing good sense, including:

    3. The Big 5 can employ talented book designers and printer, making their print books look marvelous, improving their corporate image and justifying the price. Digital books, especially those released through Kindle look like trash because the formats don’t allow for quality. No amount of money and skill can change that.

    In short, most pundits are wrong. The Big 5 are being shrewd, perhaps forgoing a little quick profit now to keep publishing independent and richly diverse for everyone. The real enemy of digital publishing is Amazon, with its market dominance, bullying, pitiful formats, and miserly royalties. If the ebook is down, do the obvious—blame the market-dominating retailer.

    1. “The Big 5 are being shrewd, perhaps forgoing a little quick profit now to keep publishing independent and richly diverse for everyone.”

      You’re in the wrong crowd to be making that argument.
      Unless you’re trying to be satirical.

    2. Strange argument. It’s like you think the Big 5 aren’t competing at all with everybody else publishing books. And nobody here actually believes that ebooks are down. EBooks sales by the Big 5 are down, because we’re not buying them at those prices. I have personally not bought about 4 books in the last two books because of prices I find outrageous. Also, the genie is not going back into the bottle. We have thousands of books in our house, and for fiction have switched entirely to ebooks. If the Big 5 aren’t publishing ebooks at prices we find acceptable, we shrug and buy other books. I care not at all about the slickness of their covers and the niceness of their typesetting.

      Publishing is a “middle person” industry. It’s where there is the most creative destruction. Looks to me like the Big 5 publishing is on a slippery slope to the the dustbin of history 🙂

    3. “If the ebook is down, do the obvious—blame the market-dominating retailer.”

      Alas for your argument, ebook sales are NOT down. Ebook sales for the Big 5 are down because people aren’t willing to pay what the Big 5 are charging for their ebooks. We can’t blame Amazon for that because Amazon doesn’t set the prices for the Big 5’s ebooks. And, since ebook sales as a whole are up, there’s also no reason to blame Amazon for anything.

      I also find your “miserly royalties” claim amazingly stupid. Combined with your “ebook is down” bit, I’m forced to ask if you actually understand basic math?

      Oh, and to other readers, I wouldn’t expect any replies by this guy. He posts this kind of crap just about any place someone writes an article about ebooks and the Big 5. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d think he was a paid shill of the Big 5. And now it occurs to me I don’t actually know better. Regardless, now that he’s discovered this site, don’t be surprised if you see drive-by postings from him on a regular basis.

    4. 1. I understand your sentiment, but in this case it’s misplaced. When the battlefield changes, you have to adapt. The publishers are like the old horse cavalry. Their tactics were highly effective for centuries, and it was nearly impossible to have a decent army without a good cavalry. But then the mechanized cavalry came along. Just because you employ the best equine scientists, groomers and trainers doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get rid of the horse cavalry when something more effective comes along. Ask the Polish how well their cavalry stood up to wehrmacht.
      2. Math doesn’t seem to be your strong suit. I’d suggest you go back to high school and have them show you some basic algebra equations. While there is certainly an issue with giving Amazon too much power, the author needs to look out for himself first. If he can make more selling through Amazon why shouldn’t he utilize it? There is no honor in starving.
      3. Sure the Big 5 can employ talented book designers (I’m friends with one who works for Hachette). But indie authors can employ talented people as well. It’s not like the Big 5 have a monopoly on artists, there are plenty to choose from in all price ranges. As for your assertion that eBooks don’t allow for quality, I beg to differ. What you are apparently assessing as quality is nothing more than format. Some people prefer hardcover books because they stand up to wear and abuse better (or did, not so much anymore), but they are expensive. Others prefer the mass market paperback because it’s less expensive and more portable, but tends to fall apart after a dozen or so readings. Others prefer the trade paperback as a nice volume in-between those two. Some people prefer eBooks because they are even more portable than mmpb. The quality of the cover, editing, and formatting of the page is independent of format the book is presented in.

      And if you think the Big 5 don’t engage in bullying, pitiful formats and miserly royalties you’re either incredibly naive or a troll.

  20. In 1984 I moved from the rural midwest to somewhat rural south, northern Alabama to be precise. Wanted to learn the history and background of my adopted homeland, and one story in particular stuck with me.
    During the depression many farmers took in the wives and children of their city cousins while the men hit the road looking for work. Because of the economic situation farmers had limited if any market for their goods. Heavily mortgaged farms were taken up by the banks while those with minimal debt managed to survive.
    In the midwest farmers with expanded families to feed greatly increased the size of their kitchen gardens, added some chickens and pigs, and managed to survive.
    In the south with the bottom dropped out of the cotton market the cotton farmers doubled down and plowed up their yards to plant even more cotton. You see, there a land owner sold his cotton and bought food for his family. If cotton wasn’t bringing a high enough price the answer was of course to grow even more. Thus in parts of the south the sharecroppers who were not too proud to grow a kitchen garden often ate better than the people who owned the land they worked.
    For some silly reason the current situation with the big 5 reminded me of this bit of history.

  21. Curious that the middlemen between entertainment talent and their customers are despised by all. Look at the record industry, Hollywood and publishing; they all have a history of ripping off talent and inflating prices to consumers. Granted some are more pernicious than others but the trend is plain to see.

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