They Just Won’t Learn

Today’s topic is brought to you by the continuing idiocy of some traditional publishers.

Seriously, I couldn’t figure out what to write about this morning. Stuck, I decided to check The Passive Voice to see if anything inspired me. I should have started there instead of trying to wrack my coffee-deprived brain. There, on the homepage, a story jumped out at me and reminded me of a conversation I had with my son this past weekend.

And it drove home the false logic so many publishers operate under, one that simply drives readers away from them in ever-increasing numbers.

In this case, PG linked to a story out of Canada about how it may become more difficult for library patrons to “snag” e-books and audiobooks. Reading the story, I was reminded of how publishers have put in play policies that help throttle library access to books here in the US. Between high costs of “leasing” physical books to limiting the number of times an e-book can be checked out before a new–and very expensive–license has to be purchased, publishers have been slitting not only the throats of libraries but of themselves as well. These publishers forget a number of people still use libraries and will recommend books they read. They forget libraries host book clubs, clubs that won’t feature books unless the library has access to them.

But Amazon is the problem, not idiotic internal policies. At least that’s the line of BS publishers tell us, the reading public, and tell their shareholders.

If a business is struggling, if it sees its customer base shrinking, what should it do? Should it do everything it can to expand the base or should it throttle down on the base even more?

If you look at it from traditional publishing’s point of view, you throttle down on your numbers. Why else do you decide to release your books only to a segment of your customer base?

You can’t stand there in your ivory towers and lecture your customers on how they should be supporting the less fortunate, should be more aware of their plight and, at the same time, do all you can to keep your wares out of the hands of the less fortunate. That is exactly what this move to limit when and what titles libraries have access to does.

But putting aside the societal aspect of the issue, it is just plain dumb. It is shooting yourself in the foot, pretty much like we’re seeing in the gaming industry right now.

One of the most hotly anticipated new games coming out this year is Borderlands 3. There have been rumors about the game for years but it is only in the last few months that gamers have gotten real guarantees that not only is the game in development but that it will be released this Fall. When that news broke, the gaming world cheered. But those cheers quickly silenced when it was announced that the new game would not be released through Steam (for PC users), the platform where the other games in the series were released.

Instead, for the first six months or so, the game would be an exclusive release through Epic, a new platform, one that has yet to prove itself. Gamers are still excited about BL3 but many of them are not going to be Day One adopters. They are going to wait until it is out on Steam. Why? Because they don’t trust Epic. The platform has issues that worry them.

What does this do to the BL publisher? It will cut into its profits and for the game developers, it could be a serious hit to their bottom line. Games, like books, are judged on how well they sell in pre-orders and that first week or two after release. If enough gamers stay away from BL3 because of the exclusive release on Epic, it will be judged a failure.

And why? Because the publisher decided to turn its back on the trusted “distributor” and go with the new kid on the block, one their customers had yet to adopt.

This is where the conversation with my son comes in.

My son, bless him, is a wonderful young man who–despite one teacher doing her best to ruin his love for reading–reads almost as much as I do. In the car, instead of listening to music, he listens to audiobooks. He reads e-books and print. When traveling, if he isn’t going to be around long enough for Amazon to deliver a print book to him, he will find the nearest bookstore. Preferably a locally owned store. (This is especially true if he isn’t traveling with his iPad or e-reader.)

He has also learned one of the benefits of indie publishing–being able to get your books out on a quicker schedule than you could if you went with a traditional publisher. He likes being able to read new books in a series more often than once every year or more. His only regret is that too many of us don’t have audiobooks of our titles out there.

He, and those like him, are the audience traditional publishers should going after. Sure, those publishers can’t release an unlimited number of print titles each month, but there is no reason to artificially limit the number of new titles released in digital format. Except traditional publishers have yet to adopt a new mindset, one that lets them see the wider potential audience.

Instead, they focus on ways to limit their audience–see how I turned it back to the original topic?. They want to limit where books are released. They want to price e-books in such a way it will “encourage” customers to buy print books instead. Let’s be honest, all too many in traditional publishing would love it if they could turn the clock back at least 50 years. They want to be the only game in town, able to run it any way they want.

But those days are gone. Libraries, and similar institutions, will suffer until they learn there are other sources for books out there besides the traditional publishers. But it is those publishers who are cutting their own throats. Unless and until they decide to change their ways, they will continue to lose parts of the market and we, as Indies, if we’re smart will claim those lost readers.

So now I’m going to be smart and listen to the auditions for my audiobook and then get back tow writing. Until later!


Featured image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

59 thoughts on “They Just Won’t Learn

  1. One of the things that struck me as when I read the original article was the “limited time licence” for e-books. That seems about as stupid as it gets. It seems to me that the probable effect of that is that, after the initial burst of popularity, the library will not renew the licences. So when someone comes along after hearing about your series, they’ll only be able to find the most current one in the library, not the books leading up to it. Which means, for many series, they’ll probably just give up on it entirely rather than reading one that may not make much sense without the earlier books.

    Nice job of insuring that you can NEVER get new fans, trad publishers!

    1. Not only do they not renew the license, but they are banding together with other libraries to buy the original licenses. The result of that is their patrons are now in competition with even more people who want to read the book. Where you might be one of 25 wanting to read the book, you might be one of 100. By the time you finally get to download it, you’ve forgotten about it and have moved on to read something else.

  2. If they crank the price artificially high, I invariably go off and find a used copy. Now where’s your profit, eh?

    1. Yep. Then I find the author’s website and, hopefully, they have a tip jar where I can leave them money since they don’t get royalties for used book sales.

    2. Oh, they’re working on that. Not just the publishers, but some of the authors get their panties in a wad over used book sales. They want some kind of system where they get a cut every time a book changes hands, not just first sale.

      While it sounded ridiculous at first, the art world seems to be moving in that direction. Some of the contract terms I’ve seen in print have been borderline insane; in some cases the “purchase” isn’t just a lease, it is encumbered with all sorts of provisions, including the right of the creator to revoke the lease for no particular reason…

      1. $HOUSEMATE related a story about someone who *again* is having his supercar collection sold off to cover things or as punishment and a Koenigsegg is to be auctioned sans reserve and might be sold for “only” $1 million. And Koenigsegg is unhappy about it. But they SOLD it. The price is what people are willing to pay for it, so… the market gets to say, not them.

        My comment to $HOUSEMATE was, “They SOLD it. Not their call anymore. Were I super rich I could buy one and, if I chose, sell it for a NICKEL. I’d be a damn fool to do so, but that’d be my business.”

        1. They could buy it back themselves if it bothers them, and resell at what they think their dignity is worth.

  3. I have a very simple policy with limited-time licenses for e-books. I do not get them. I also do not review them. It does not matter how good the book is. No review.

    I can only review 52 books each year with my newspaper column, so I look for a book I can recommend to readers. In good conscience I cannot recommend a book that disappears after a time. I just cannot.

    1. My feelings about limited time licenses is the same as it is for DRM. I don’t do it. I hate it. If I pay for something, I want to own it. I want to be able to read it on all my devices and not worry about having the right “key”. shrug.

      1. I’m not sure which of the two evil textbooks from college was more painful, the 6-month-only online textbook for French class or the printed GIS textbook that followed screen typographical conventions rather than print typographical conventions (fonts, layout, spacing, etc.). The French text disappeared after 6 months and could only be read online, but the GIS textbook almost hurt to read because it gave off “subtly wrong” vibes on every page. You won’t catch me shelling out for either unless there’s a strong need – like passing classes!

        1. Those rank right up there with the “adaptable” textbooks where you have to buy what that particular professor chooses for that particular class. You can’t just buy the basic book. Oh no, there are additional handouts or deleted chapters. So your only option is to buy from the school bookstore because no one else is licensed to carry the “proper” book. I hated those when my son was in college. They always cost three times more than a standard textbook did and usually weren’t nearly as good.

          1. That’s truly horrible. For a couple of her classes, back when she was still a professor, my mother assigned the textbook she’d co-authored, but it was one of the most popular works in the field, and students could purchase it from Amazon or the campus bookstore, new, used, electronically, etc. Or they could until the publisher decided that third edition would be electronic only, and that they were concentrating on limited-time licenses, with a regular ebook version being super-pricey. My mother was not pleased, as it was a handy reference for those who’d be practicing in the field, not just for the class.

  4. I wish I could remember where I read the article—it may have been in a German-language publication—about the problems a non-US company had with trying to distribute in the US. The complaint was the the US companies that offered to “partner” all had a strict quarter-by-quarter view of business. The foreign enterprise didn’t operate from that basis, and was willing to take a slower ramp-up in sales in exchange for longer term success (the proverbial “long-tail” in sales.) This caused heartburn on the US side for revenue projections and sales plans.

    Methinks the TradPub companies have the same problem. Yes, you get a boost from a surge of rentals/leases/borrows of a “best seller.” And then they cut off access to the readers, because that was one quarter, and the TradPub companies are now focused on next quarter, not two years from now when the next book in the series comes out.

    (And yet they sit on rights and make a decent amount of money from back-list. Yea verily, the right hand knoweth not what the left hand doeth.)

  5. It seems like most publishers aren’t nearly as interested in getting new readers as they are in gouging the ones they have for as much as they can.
    To quote Other People’s Money: “And do you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market.”
    Tradpub seems to be bound and determined to follow that business model.

    Also, side note: tradpub epitomizes every negative stereotype about capitalism and free markets, which is probably why so many of its denizens are leftists.

    1. They really need someone in their camp who understands business and economics. If you raise the price high enough, you lose sales. If you piss off your customers badly enough, they won’t come back.

      1. Anyone heard how Tor is doing lately? I quit reading their catalog, even back log, a couple years ago when they refused to rein in their employees slandering the fans.

        1. Well, one of their authors decided it would be a good idea to come out with a screed that basically said if throwing milkshakes was a problem the solution was to go back to throwing bricks. So I’d say they’re still rolling left and diving into the ground.

          1. And the answer to someone threatening you with a deadly weapon is to respond with enough well placed shots to center of mass until they are no longer a threat. If they’re no longer moving, I don’t think they are a threat anymore.

            She’s one of those who apparently can’t think to 2nd order effects, let alone tertiary. Anyone taking her advice is likely to either get themselves killed or others around them killed.

      2. Comic books. For a while there Marvel and DC were doing everything they could to disrespect their core fans.

        They lost me a lonnnng time ago in the early 90’s, but since about 2012 they’ve lost another entire generation of fans. Thor-ette and Capt. America Agent of Hydra were a bridge too far for a lot of dedicated fans, at a time when the Marvel Universe was exploding in the movie world.

        That was 2016, and to be honest I have not even looked at a comic since. They might even be better now for all I know, but I and most other former fans just don’t care anymore. Like Star Wars. The fans gave up.

        1. Once upon a time, I actually spent my hard-earned money on buying the comic books. The actual comic books, not the trade paperbacks, all to collect one series.

          That one series was Ultimate Marvel. I actually liked reading it. It’s where we got Samuel M&%#fracking Jackson as Nick Fury. Professor Xavier’s worst enemy. “You’re off the team.” “Run.” Warren Ellis playing with the Fantastic Four and having fun with the concept. And, I was willing to buy the comics to enjoy them.

          Then, we got “Ultimatum.” Mother of God, who thought Jeff Loeb was a good idea to let write a comic book like this…when he was clearly on some kind of a bender. Oh, and plot lines that never went anywhere (like the new origin of the Mandarin, which I was now very curious about or The Maker).

          After that, I was cringing when I tried to read the stories after that. The only exception was Miles Morales’ real origin as Spider Man. I gave up soon after that, and I’m seriously trying to get rid of the comics (I don’t want to toss them, they have to be worth something to someone…).

          All I’m buying for comic books these days is trade paperbacks. And, I’ve been more than willing to dump series very quickly when they screw me over.

          (And, Hydra-Cap and F!Thor and Dark Metal Batman and whatever they’re doing at DC these days have done nothing to bring me back. Especially when there were versions of these stories in the ’90s and they did the stories better then.)

          1. Ya Boi Zack (aka Richard Meyer) at Comics Matter! can tell you about the good and bad of today’s comics. There are a few valiant Marvel guys who still do a good job, but the other comics companies seem to want to go broke too.

            1. Just Some Guy is fun to listen to on YouTube as well. One of his latest reviews has been an utter roasting of Mark Waid.

              Lotta pork to roast there…

  6. Alan of the Texas Author’s Association is big on helping the member authors to grow their audience, by reaching out to younger readers – basically trying to interest and engage them the way that Rowland did with Harry Potter.
    But agree with 60G – Trad-Pub seems to be more interested in gouging the existing readership instead of growing new readers.

    1. Celia, do me a favor and link the contact info/website for TAA. I need to join and I know others who would be interested. Thanks!

      1. Sure! go to this link
        And don’t mind the stupid autoplay…
        Alan has been working his guts out for years, holding seminars and training sessions. Next year, he has set up a Texas-wide book festival in Seguin, and he and some others eventually hope to open a bookstore there to serve as a permanent brick&mortar base for the membership.

  7. > If a business is struggling, if it sees its customer base shrinking, what should it do?

    Having observed this in multiple industries, the traditional response is:

    * chop the product line down

    * stop ordering or producing new product

    * raise prices

    * fire sales staff and, for physical locations, reduce open hours

    * if the business has multiple locations, shut some down

    So, with less product choice, fewer sales outlets, fewer salesmen, and higher prices, the public fails to beat a path to their door…

    1. Hey, you just described the B&N operating mindset before the sale. Only time will tell if it changes under the new leadership.

  8. Traditional publishers might blame amazon, but Kindle Unlimited has increased the number of books I buy in a year by an order of magnitude.

    1. Almost everyone I talk to says the same. But trad publishers continue to try to claim Amazon is bad for the profession and for readers.

      1. Thing is, Amazon is bad for “the profession.” Specifically, the profession of the control of the means of production and distribution of books. Tradpub had a stranglehold on authors and readers during the ’90s and early ’00s, and I think a lot of the muckety-mucks got high on the power.

        Now their power is waning, like that of the landed aristocracy during industrialization, and they’re upset that people aren’t tugging their forelock and saying “yes, m’lord.”

  9. Except traditional publishers have yet to adopt a new mindset

    They haven’t just failed to adopt it yet. They’ve fought tooth and nail against it.

    1. Not only that but have done all they could to brainwash their authors into believing theirs is the only way to true success.

  10. For a real racket, note freshman physics texts, many of which now cost more than my father’s first automobile.

    I occasionally consider writing a freshman physics/mechanics text, to be sold for, say, $15 from createspace or $5 for an ebook. I have the notes.

    This book is based on two equations:

    F = dp/dt (F and p are boldspace)



    1. Cacademia might hate you, but genuine students of physics would suggest you for sainthood. Those that didn’t deify you directly into god-hood, anyway.

      Go for it!

    2. I look at some specialty geology and ecology texts and cry. $1200 for a monograph? Only $850 for the e-book? Oh he– no! Even the people who make reproductions of medieval manuscripts don’t charge that much per page.

    3. You’d have to get professors to assign it, because it contains the problems they need to work.

  11. The madness of these people…

    I am reminded of the joke about the dog food company, “But the dogs don’t like it,” when reading about this kind of thing. Trying all sorts of games and tricks to force additional monetization. Let’s not even talk about the video game industry these days, who seem to be dead set on creating a situation where they put themselves out of business with exploitative gambling mechanics.

    I want to read new stuff. I want to buy your product. You just have to create a product I want to buy. And, between games like this, books that are barely fanfic quality (yes, I know some authors have duds and it takes time to develop the skills. I can read some early David Weber and John Ringo books and cringe…), books that are directly insulting to my beliefs, books that are incoherent messes where the author gets away with it because they are a member of the LGBTQAAAA+++****** community…

    I’m buying out my local used bookstores. Mostly because I can’t get the books anywhere else. Or Amazon, because they actually have them.

    You want me to buy your product? Sell me product that I want to buy. Sell me product that makes me feel good about spending my money. Otherwise, you may cheerfully fall into obscurity. My only regret is that some asset-stripping vulture will get your back catalog and the few books that I do like won’t see the light of day again.

    1. > You want me to buy your product? Sell me product that I want to buy

      You’re obviously racist / sexist / homophobic / Nazi, or you’d *want* to read the drivel they’re publishing.

      It’s not *about* you, you know… you should just purchase and STFU like a good little consumer and your selection of reading material will be curated by professionals.

      [does anyone have a link to Tor’s post about it being their goal to instruct, not entertain?]

  12. The BL3 and related games thing is a different thing though. Epic makes the game engine being used for BL3 and the other games that are going Epic exclusive (Unreal Engine 4) and is offering A level devs sweetheart deals on the license for the engine during the term they are exclusive to the store. I dont know the exact terms of the deals they are being offered, but it is more than the publicly discussed ‘you get a higher percentage of the gross’ deal that people are hearing. I’m expecting they are giving the devs a very steep discount on the license terms for UE4.

    1. Except it isn’t really different. The devs are deciding to limit where they are making the game available, moving away from the “store” most PC users are familiar with and going with one with zero track record and with an interface that is laughable when you look at the others out there. Frankly, the only one as bad, imo, is the one for Fallout 76 and we all know what a joke that release has been.

      But the point was, the devs are trying to make money at the price of losing money because a large number of their customers will wait to get the game on Steam. That will cut into the all-important release numbers and that will make their investors unhappy. IF the devs had handled the news better, IF they had made sure the Epic store was up to customer expectations, they might have been able to get away with it. But, for now, it looks like this might be a decision that will bite them in the financial ass.

      1. Ehh, i disagree, a lot of fans of the game will grumble and moan and bite the bullet and get it on Epic anyway because they will want to play multiplayer while the majority of people are still playing it. The same kind of arguments were made about various games when games became *Steam only* or when buying a game at a store just got you a steam code, which is the case with most PC games today. People made the *same* arguments then… people also made the same arguments about a few games a couple years ago that were exclusive to the Microsoft Store, and yet people still installed the M$ store and the game sold millions.

        Shenmue 3 is a special case because they originally (as part of their kickstarter) said they were going to be on steam then went back on it when offered the sweetheart deal from Epic, so they made a guarantee on KS and rolled back on it.

        BL3 made no such guarantee to be on Steam.

        I’m not saying I like this scenario, because Epic is doing some shady stuff with a poorly implemented store (just try to buy multiple things at once) but it’s also not something unprecedented…

        Also,,, Epic went out and made (or is trying to make) their own alternative to steam, which several people here insist making an alternative to Amazon is a good thing…. but apparently Epic doing so is bad.

        1. Where did I say it was a bad thing to have an alternative? I said it is a bad thing to not warn your customer base you are abandoning, at least for the initial “excitement” period the storefront where their other games are located. I said it was a bad thing to rest all your hopes for that game on a storefront that is, at best, second-class right now to what your customers have come to expect. If you go back and look at what we’ve said about finding an alternative to Amazon, we’ve always said it needs to do everything Amazon does well and then go beyond that, at least when it comes to readers and writers. That is what should be done in gaming as well–and isn’t, at least not right now. And yes, I am a gamer. I am active in many gaming communities and I know many more who will wait for BL3 to come to Steam instead of buying it through Epic or who will, instead, play it on console.

                1. Actually, it makes sense to me. Just because they designed the engine doesn’t mean they are the best platform to sell to the public. Game publishers have seen the backlash from releasing a game on only one platform (pc, Playstation, XBox, etc) for a limited period before going wide. It causes ill-will with their customer base. By going only with the Epic store, which is very new on the store front and not well designed, game distributors are risking a great deal, especially since they have already paid for the use of the game engine.

                  1. realistically, the Epic store thing is happening because their parent company wants it to happen… this is the kind of thing that happens when you don’t think about who you are selling out to. (So is Anthem…)

        2. EGS is an alternative to Steam in the same way that Nutraloaf is an alternative to food. They STILL don’t have an online shopping cart. Think about that for a second. They had a sale not long ago where anyone who tried to buy games in quick succession got flagged for fraud on their internal systems because they used the same payment method in multiple separate transactions. Which is what happens when the designers are too lazy or moronic(I can’t believe they’re incompetent since they were able to design the store in question in the first place, and if you can create an online store you can create an online shopping cart.) to do basic due diligence. The only sensible explanation is that this is at the behest of Tencent so they can experiment with what they will need for their own push into the American market and what the minimum they will have to do is.

          1. Yep. My son had friends get caught in that debacle. EGS might– might — be ready for prime time in another year or two but now? No way.

  13. It sounds as if Amazon needs to create some sort of library version of KU. The authors get paid for pages read by the library patrons. The libraries pay something (significantly more than a single customer) into the KU pool. Given how badly trad pub prices their ebooks, it seems likely that Amazon could undercut their licensing and still have money for royalties.

    I know someone who only gets Kindle books from the library (kids; small budget). He’s basically happy with it, but is totally unaware of indie authors.

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