Traditional publishers, especially the Big 5, have been dragging their heels, not to mention kicking and screaming in protest, from the moment the first e-book appeared on the scenes. For years, however, they knew they had nothing to really worry about when it came to the new format. After all, even though it was cheaper to produce and easier to distribute, there was no way for authors to leverage the platform on their own. Traditional publishers were not only the gatekeepers, but they were the sole guards of the industry. If they didn’t like your book for whatever reason, your only hope was to publish through a vanity press and that was a death sentence to any professional career as a writer you might have wanted.
They laughed at Jim Baen when he started offering e-book versions of the traditionally published books released by Baen. They told him the format was a fad and would die away.
They shook their heads and smiled when Fictionwise and Smashwords started giving authors a very small foothold into the market. There was no way anyone would take e-books seriously. After all, who wanted to read a book on their computer.Paper was king and would never, ever fall.
Then along came Amazon. Approximately 9 years ago, Amazon did something no one expected. They opened up a platform that allowed authors to publish their books as e-books and sell them directly through the Amazon store. More importantly, Amazon created the Kindle e-book reader. Now reading the new format became easy. Better yet, readers could put dozens, no hundreds of books on their devices and carry them with them wherever they went. They could buy books directly from Amazon and the books would be delivered to their devices, making trips to bookstores unnecessary.
We all know what happened next. The Big 5 (then the Big 6) colluded with Apple and others to price fix the cost of their e-books in an attempt to harm Amazon. The Justice Department and the courts were not amused. In the aftermath, the publishers have contracted with the various stores to set the price for their e-books and discounts are only applied with their approval. Once that went into effect, e-book prices for titles from the Big 5 increased and sales decreased.
And the delusion that e-books would not be major players in the publishing landscape set in. They point to the “re-invigoration” of the print market as a reason to believe e-books aren’t in as much demand as they once were. Of course, they forget to talk about how that re-invigoration happened. All you have to do is look at the pricing of books from the Big 5 to know they are doing everything they can to cannibalize the digital market in order to prop up their beloved print books.
Origin: A Novel by Dan Brown came out earlier this month. The hardcover version sells on Amazon for $17.96. The Kindle version sells for $14.99.
Haunted by James Patterson sells in hardcover for $16.38. Paperback is listed at $14.39 and Kindle is listed at $14.99.
The Shining by Stephen King has been out for years. The Kindle version sells for $8.99 while the mass market paperback version sells for $5.43.
Secrets in Death by J. D. Robb sells for the exact same price for the paperback and e-book versions.The price? $14.99.
These are just a few examples. All you have to do is go over to Amazon and you can find hundreds, if not thousands, more. So is it any surprise readers aren’t buying as many e-books from traditional publishers who continue to overprice their e-books? Instead of stroking their egos and congratulating themselves on stopping the trend, publishers should be paying closer attention to the overall sales of all forms of books by ALL authors and publishers. They should be paying attention to the information being complied by Author Earnings. They should look at the best sellers lists from Amazon — which, whether they like it or not, is the gorilla in the book selling market — and see how many of those titles come from indies and small press authors.
There is a reason readers are reaching out to indies to find their reading material. It goes to price, yes, but it also goes to the fact that indies are offering stories that traditional publishing is not.
Oh, but the delusions continue along that line as well.
Publishers, Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle said, have a key role to play as curators of content. “Publishers stand for quality and perfect each product before it makes it to the market.” Of course, he doesn’t explain what he means by quality or the rest of it. If he is talking technical quality, I’d like to discuss with him the formatting issues, poor product quality (as in spines breaking much too easily, for example) and misspellings or other issues that should be caught by proofing that I find with traditionally published books. Sure, you can find those issues with indie published books but, when you are touting yourselves as the purveyors of quality, you should be able to stand behind that claim.
But we all know what he means, don’t we? Publishers are the gatekeepers of rightthink. If you aren’t presenting them with the fad of the day along with the proper tickler list of social issues, etc., they aren’t going to care about what the story happens to be. They have forgotten that readers of fiction want to be entertained. Sure, you can have a message in your fiction but the fiction had better be compelling and entertaining first and foremost or the reader isn’t going to keep buying your product.
But it gets better.
Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy claims that nothing “went wrong” with e-books. It seems she believes people have gotten tired of reading on their screens. Again, a complete disconnect from reality. People don’t want to pay as much — or more — for an e-book as they will for a print copy. But the laugh out loud moment comes further down in the article when Reidy says she firmly believes “a new version of the book based on digital delivery will come eventually, though she does not know what it might look like.”
Hmm, wouldn’t that be an e-book? The bells and whistles might be a bit different, but it if walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, isn’t it a duck?
And what about her argument that e-book sales have leveled off because we are tired of reading on our screens?
It constantly amazes me the way these folks continue to tie themselves into knots trying to explain how e-books are bad, or are a passing fad or a way for writers not good enough for traditional publishing to get their works into the hands of readers. All I know is that the real numbers, the numbers that look at more than the Big 5 titles, tell a different tale. As a reader, I know I find myself picking up more and more books from indie authors because they are writing stories I want to read and they are doing it at prices that allow me to read two or three or more books for the price of a single Big 5 title. When is the point going to come where an accountant who isn’t afraid of rocking the boat says they can actually sell more — and make more money — if they lower their prices to something reasonable?
Since I’m talking about reasonable pricing and I’m an indie author, I’m going to take a moment to tout my latest. The special edition of Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) is now available in both print and e-book editions. (Hopefully, they will link the two editions shortly.) This new edition contains approximately 20k words of next material. It is only available through Amazon.
The original edition has been released on Kobo, Playster, Tolino (link not yet available) and Inktera. It will soon be available on iTunes, B&N and Overdrive.
When I read something from one of the Big 5 about how ebook sales are flat or dropping, I’m torn between wanting to laugh at them for the fools they are and wanting to cry because there are readers out there who believe them.
I laughed out loud at the Dohle quote. I can’t pick up a recent traditionally published book without finding quality issues either with the product itself or with the content inside. It’s sad that with all the money the Big 5 is supposedly throwing into publishing a book, they can’t hire competent editors and proofreaders, or bind a book that will last beyond the first reading (and sometimes not even then). Feh.
I’m doing this all by myself. I don’t have a cadre of people making 5-6 figures helping me. I have one editor and one cover artist (sometimes that’s me, but not always). And I think I’m doing a pretty good job. People may not always like my stories, but I haven’t had any complaints about the quality of the work. So, the Big 5 naysayers can go pound sand. I’ll stay indie and shop indie.
Not just sad because there are readers who believe them but because there are authors, who should know better, who do. I understand the James Pattersons, etc., who get the big bucks not wanting the status quo to change. But there are so many lower selling authors, and authors trying to break into the business, who buy into the line of BS.
I remember a time, years ago, when one of the Big 5 heads tried telling us that it cost the exact same to produce an e-book as it did a print book. He went on to say that they had to re-edit a manuscript for e-book publication, even after that same manuscript had been edited for print. He said basically the same with regard to covers. It was all a way, laughable though it was, to justify their high prices.
As for quality, yep. I get tired of paying for a book only to have pages falling out before I finish reading it or finding as many, if not more, typos as I do in an indie book. If you are going to tout your quality, make sure it is there first.
You run into the same thing with online magazines– the only one I’d put up against a blog and expect to win is stuff like First Things. It usually looks like someone used the old Microsoft proofing tools, and messed up half of it.
Something is seriously out of whack, when a Big 5 published book has almost the same price for e-book and the paperback versions.
Yep, and we know what it is. Their priorities and understanding of the marketplace.
Or a deliberately higher price for the eBook, to discourage getting it. All that does is drive readers who strongly prefer ebooks to shop bootleg.
The other thing the Big 5 overlook is that THEY are the main reason Amazon is the one-ton gorilla it is. Barnes and igNoble basically said “Yes, masters” to them because they saw themselves as paper distributors. Amazon had no such incentive since it was an electronic marketplace from day zero.
The result is plain. I haven’t bought an eBook from B&IgN in years, and I buy indie books from Amazon, periodicals (Locus, Magazine of F&SF, et al.) from Weightless Books. I buy every eBook Baen turns out. I also buy every paper book Baen turns out, so I can donate them to little free libraries in order to create new addic… er… fans. 🙂 It also does my heart good to have an indie bookstore around when I need one.
Baen is loyal to good stories and their readers. Loyalty is a two-way street. The Big 5 (and too damn many of their authors) have no loyalty to anything but their wallets, so why should I return courtesy when none is given?
I’m not sure the Big 5 have loyalty to their shareholders wallets, though.
I just finished reading Dean Wesley Smith’s “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing” blog posts this weekend. He hits every single one of these points. Can’t remember the last time I have bought a fiction novel that WASN’T Baen in dead tree edition. Just not worth the effort.
Dean’s series is excellent and something I recommend everyone interested in making it in the industry read. And I’m right there with you when it comes to dead tree books. I can’t think of the last one that wasn’t from Been.
The delusional quality of trad publishing amazes me, and you’ve skewered it beautifully here. But you know, they’ve been insane for a long time. Thirty years ago I read an article in which the author imagined an alien spy trying to explain the publishing/distribution system to his masters. They wound up shooting him because he was obviously lying; nobody would do business like that!
I don’t doubt it at all. It also explains why their business plan really hasn’t changed in not just years, but decades. Thank goodness there are now ways for indie authors to get their work into the hands of readers.
I’ll admit to paying that $14.99 for JD Robb books on my Kindle when they come out. I enjoy the books and want to read them – and more importantly, re-read them – without the stress of finding someplace to put them between readings. But when I look at the hard copy books I have bought in the last 8 years (or, since buying my 1st Gen Kindle), most have a rocket ship on the spine, and the rest are small press.
I try to wait for Robb’s books to go down in price. But she is one of my guilty pleasures that doesn’t have a rocket ship as the logo. As for print books, I haven’t bought anything but Been print books for years.
I’m turning 70 soon. I have leisure enough to read lots of books. I have enough money to buy books. However I have strong glasses and arthritic hands. If ebooks disappear I will listen to audio. I will not buy paper again. Surely there are lots of people in my situation. I don’t care how pretty they make their paper books I am not going to buy them.
There most definitely are. My mother is 86. Her retinologist told us that he preferred her reading e-books. In fact, he said he wanted her using an e-ink reader because there was less reflection on those screens than on a tablet screen or on a print book. She started with one of the original Kindles and now has a Paperwhite. Yes, she reads some on her iPad and occasionally a print book. But the majority of her reading is on the Kindle.
While I’m now having trouble holding my paperwhite because of arthritis in my thumb joints, and find it easier to hold a book-book. Except my new bifocals are a wee bit too strong (have to hold book close) or weak (run out of arm with primary lens). Thppppth 😛
As far as Big5 pricing goes, I’m not as shocked as I should be, because I look at academic press books. $650 for the ebook is a steal compared to $1300 for the hard-copy. If by steal you mean “more likely to convince a department or university library to buy it for me.” Now, I just need to find that department or university library… 😉
As an accountant, it would be very hard to enlighten senior or executive management – if they want to force print, because that is what they believe in, then the sell e-books at a lower price point to make more money is not going to move them. Smart execs listen to their accountants/finance teams, but sometimes even the CFO drinks the kool-aid, and then there is nothing we can do. And yes, I am viewing this in context of a particular Jones.
having to move everything recently stressed the need to stick with ebooks. i am still de-sorting boxes of books, building bookshelves etc.
I wonder if this may be part of why people get so snarly about kids “with their noses glued to their screens” and such.
Edit in a paperback, and I looked exactly like them as a teen!
Maybe, but I think most of the kids (and adults) with their noses glued to the screen are “communicating” rather than taking in non-gossip content.
But that’s an assumption– not actual evidence, and there just aren’t that many people who actually ask. I have folks assume I’m facebooking or something all the time, and they never even bother to check– I find out they assumed it bcause they’ll say something like “the doctor is slightly delayed” and I’ll just smile and say oh good, I can finish my chapter.
My response to “the doctor is slightly delayed” or other news of that ilk, is to hold up my phone and say “That’s OK, I brought a book.” 🙂 (Actually, 46 of them in four different eBook readers.)
Only 46? Slacker! 🙂
The one bright spot for tradpub is probably library ebooks, like Overdrive. But they may know perfectly well that lots of people are getting their trad ebook fixes on Overdrive instead of buying the expensive ebooks.
So even if Boocoo County is buying 25 super-expensive library ebook copies of the new Dan Brown book, a lot of Boocoo County residents are only going to read the new Dan Brown on Overdrive, instead of buying it for themselves.
Hardbacks? This Weber fellow, a Baen author, also published with Tor, and I buy them, too. Having said that, you make a superb case that the rest of the Big 5 publishers other than Baen are not advancing in favorable directions.
Having said that, with respect to shortages of editing and proofing, if you give Senator Clinton an IIRC $50 million advance, that money had to come from someplace.
“Hardbacks? This Weber fellow, a Baen author, also published with Tor, and I buy them, too. ”
And if I hadn’t read his books through Baen, I wouldn’t have given Tor a second look.
It was hard, but I waited for the last two to show up used. I refuse to give Tor any of my limited funds.
Does anyone know whether his contract there is up, now that the series has been wrapped?
Is there something I’m missing about Tor and their business practices? I’ve considered them one of the good guys in the Big 5, and I do give them my money.
In my case, it’s not so much business practices as a vicious and uncalled-for action by Hayden’s blog admin back in 2009 that put Tor permanently on my s**t list. If they’re going to condone that sort of thing, they aren’t going to get my money.
Don’t ask for details. I’m not going to call further attention to the incident.
Is there something wrong with Tor and their business practices? I’ve always considered them one of the good guys in the Big 5, and I do give them my money. Willing to reconsider with new information.
The Irene Gallo affair (Tor’s creative director, IIRC), where she slandered the entire Sad Puppies group as a bunch of racist neonazis in a post promoting Tor books.
A number of us didn’t care for that, and Peter Grant, who has actually traded bullets with Nazis, was decidedly pissed off and called for a boycott until such time as she is gone and Tor apologizes. This has not yet happened.
Not just that but the way others in their editorial upper management acted. I can forgive a lot but when someone slanders my friends, I have to draw the line. There is more but the way Tor talking heads acted during Sad Puppies 3 turned a number of us against them.
I had a bad taste in my mouth from the others, but Gallo was (for me at least) the “Nope, not another dime” moment.
Mine, too — I had about a half-dozen Tor books on my shelves, but I took them all down and resolved never to purchase another one, after I read MS Gallo’s comments.
That was pretty much my final moment as well, especially after so many from Tor came to her defense.
I actually managed to work just about all day today, so I’m late coming back to the party. Thanks to all for writing my answer!
I don’t do business with people that hate me, unless it is absolutely unavoidable. There are, undoubtedly, sane people at Tor as there are at all of the Big 5 – but all we get from any of them is constant attacks for daring to read (and some of us, write) things that do not fit their ideology.
This is why husband and I refuse to buy any books from certain authors. They’ve publicly declared they don’t want our patronage, because we’re not of the same politics.
That too. They don’t want my business, they don’t need my business.
Mostly, I really don’t care what they are like (some, like Delany, Bradley, etc. are just plain too vile). Mistaken ideology (from my viewpoint) doesn’t matter either, so long as they write a good story. (Eric Flint and I could hardly be farther apart – but I must have the equivalent of three feet on the shelves with his name on them.)
(I’m sorry. I had more to say, but I keep losing my train of thought. I recently re-found a photo of my husband from when we first started going out that I took, and the look in his eyes and that gorgeous smile just has me going off into la-la love land… The photo was held up by my F1-4 keys, and is not conducive to coherent thinking.)
Absolutely forgivable. Lucky man!
I wonder if Eric knows that he is often the singular counterpoint to “leftists are both dumb and unentertaining”,
Another source of fiction are all the amateur and alternative-route writers who put their stories up on any of a bazillion free-to-read websites. Many put up tipjars and I hit them if I like their work. (And have the money; I’m self-employed and my income is highly variable.)
A few of these authors offer their books through Amazon or Smashwords when they’ve completed a serial novel, but most don’t. These probably don’t appear at all in the “books sold” statistics, even though there’s a *lot* of these authors.
FanFiction is a Huge Thing(tm) but since it’s not sales doesn’t appear on the Big5 radar. Still it takes up reading time for millions of people. I know of lots of works that have tens of thousands of people ‘following’ the updates and who knows how many people like me that just bookmark the story without signing in to the website for the push notifications.
Sturgeons Law applies but when the pool is millions of stories wide/deep some stuff is golden and better than the original works they are basing it on. For example JK Rowling is notorious for being bad at math or calendars, and not thinking things through as she introduced new magics for the needs of the current scene but break both past plots and her future plots… One of my favorite currently being written HP fics is ‘Harry Potter and the Daft Morons’ by Sinyk which takes great delight in pointing out the logical loopholes and inconsistencies in JKR’s canon writings.
All true, but I excluded fanfiction from my “free stuff out there” comment because it can’t be (legally) sold, so it wouldn’t affect “sales made outside of the Big 5”.
Of course, fanfics can be tweaked and then sold as original works, but I don’t think the world needs another 50 Shades thankyouverymuch.
But when you are looking at “what are people spending their reading time on” It DOES cut into sales of both traditionally published and indy authors sales.
Fanfic can be sold, if the original work is out of copyright.
Dante got kinda famous for doing that!
Long before 50 shades, it was done far, far, far better by an author who created the heavily reworked / serial numbers filed off fanfic that grew to be a two book set, and spawned a series… Why yes, I speak of Shards of Honor & Barrayar, now sold as a two-set under Cordelia’s Honor.
On the other hand, by the time that was published, it was so darned original I didn’t realize it’d started as a fanfic until decades later, reading an interview.
High e-book prices on mainstream new releases is why a lot of my e-book purchases tend to be reprints of older stuff. My latest is the Gateway edition of H. Beam Piper’s Space Viking. At .99 cents, it’s cheaper than a trade paperback reprint or even a used bookstore copy.
Project Gutenberg and its Canadian and Australian relatives are a godsend. Wildside Press has darned reasonable prices for older stuff. I’m busy gobbling up all the Mack Reynolds stuff they’re bringing out. Not to mention MegaPacks by the dozens.
What Canadian and Australian relatives of Project Gutenberg? O_O I wanna know, please!
Thank you very much!
I stumbled on the University of Adelaide when I’d already paid $4 for the Oxford University edition of an H. Rider Haggard e-book. Unlike Project Gutenberg, Adelaide had the illustrations for “She”. Here’s a link, https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/
For the Australian Gutenberg it’s gutenberg dot net dot au (not sure if WordPress allows more than one link, sorry). Feedbooks dot com also has public domain e-books. It’s tricky, though, because based on my search for the Haggard story a lot of what’s available there is not-even-poorly-disguised editions of the American Gutenberg edition. Still, though. I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought tradpub fiction in paper. It’s e-books or nothing … unless, yeah, Baen.
Thank you! Will definitely look into what they have. I’m hoping they have this book about local plants I’ve been looking for…
Got back from my vacation and now its time to read some extended edition double dipping fun. Because buying all 3 regular books and the extended is still cheaper then big 5 prices for one single book. Plus they don’t even promote all their people well. Its really sad.