Odds and Ends and In-betweens

Lots going on in the world of books and publishing right now. Because of that, I’m going to throw some things out here and would like to know your thoughts on it. That’s the short version of what today’s post is all about. The longer version is my brain is fried and I’m stressed and distracted due to family stuff that’s going on. So it is this or watching me OD on coffee as I pace the floor and worry that everything is going to be all right.

First up is something that has me giggling on the one hand and wondering what will actually happen on the other. Randy Penguin–pardon me, Penguin Random House–wants to buy Simon & Schuster. According to the Justice Department, PRH is already the world’s largest publisher. Allowing the deal to go through would give it too much power over publishing in the US.

“Books have shaped American public life throughout our nation’s history, and authors are the lifeblood of book publishing in America. But just five publishers control the U.S. publishing industry,” the Attorney General continued. “If the world’s largest book publisher is permitted to acquire one of its biggest rivals, it will have unprecedented control over this important industry. American authors and consumers will pay the price of this anticompetitive merger – lower advances for authors and ultimately fewer books and less variety for consumers.”

 One of the justifications PRH gives for allowing the sale to go through is that larger publishing houses would allow for better bargaining power against evil-doers like Amazon. What PRH didn’t plan on was having some of their internal documents about the sale come to light. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Penguin Random House’s internal documents “tell a different story: Penguin Random House plans to embrace Amazon even more closely after the merger,” the lawsuit alleged.

What do you think should happen and what do you believe will happen if the acquisition of S&S is allowed to go through?

The Passive Voice linked to this article from Mike Shatzkin. I’m the first to admit I don’t always agree with Shatzkin. However, he is right in the article when he said there are really only two big players when it comes to getting your books into the hands of readers: Amazon and Ingram. From the indie point of view, Amazon has been the leader in allowing us a path to readership. But we have to be honest about our relationship with the ‘zon. It is both good and bad. Good because it did break ground for us. It offers us a huge potential customer base. It is easy to use when it comes to uploading books (although I am not a fan of some recent changes on the back end).

But there are some potentially negative issues we should keep in mind as well. The first is that we have to weigh whether or not we want to put our metaphorical eggs all in one basket. Yes, Amazon will pay us for “page reads” if we go exclusive with them. But are those reads and the ever changing payouts worth ignoring other e-book markets? 

The second potential negative comes to print books. Yes, we can offer print versions of our books through KDP. We can even offer hard covers for the first time. That’s huge. But let’s face it, most indies don’t make a great deal of money from print books sold through Amazon. The problem comes down to the antagonism between bookstores and Amazon. While they can special order our print books for a customer asking for them, it is nearly impossible to get those bookstores to stock our books–especially if the only bookstore in town is a chain store.

That’s where Ingram, specifically Ingram Spark, comes into play. THIS is where bookstores get their stock. Publishing our print books through IS doesn’t guarantee we’ll see our books on the shelves of the local bookstore but it makes it possible. The downside is the cost. There’s a set-up fee. You have to pay on a yearly (iirc) basis to keep the books listed. Want to make a chance to your cover or interior file, it very well may cost you. Yes, there are ways to get “coupons” to help defray some of these costs, but it can add up, especially when you look at the zero cost to doing your print books through Amazon.

Still, if it helps get your books into the local store–and I highly recommend you talk to your independently owned bookstore to see if they will stock your books–it might be worth the money.

The truth is, even indie publishing is changing. We need to take a hard look at what we’ve been doing and what we can do to improve our market share. More and more indies, including yours truly, are moving away from being Amazon exclusive. But that doesn’t mean we don’t keep looking at the stats and adapting and changing as needed. And that means keeping an eye on the current anti-trust suit filed against Amazon. Depending on what comes out of those suits, the self-publishing landscape could change again–as could traditional publishing.

A couple more quick notes. I’ve been a proponent for Vellum for a long time. It has made converting and formatting books for print and digital formats so much easier and the results are professional looking. There have been two real problems with the program. The first is that it is Mac only. The second is the cost. But another problem started rearing its head over the last year or so. While the program devs are awesome when it comes to updating the back-end section to meet new requirements for the various markets where we upload our books, there wasn’t much change being offered to the available templates, etc. That shortfall became very apparent with the release of Atticus, which can be used across multiple operating systems. However, I received an email from the Vellum devs yesterday. A major upgrade to the program is coming the end of the month. the upgrade will include a number of new templates and other changes that users have been asking for. I’m looking forward to seeing what they have to offer because I still prefer Vellum over Atticus.

But don’t get me wrong. Atticus has the potential of being an excellent program. My concern, however, is it is trying to do too much. It is a formatting tool. It is a writing tool. It wants to become a collaboration tool and organizational tool. In other words, you are looking at a mix of word processing, Scrivener, Vellum and more. That’s a lot of bells and whistles and a lot of things that can go wrong. It is also the potential of a lot of distractions (my main complaint about Scrivener). But, it might be worth it in the long run, especially for the non-Mac users out there.

Okay, I’m out of here. Let me know what you think.

Until later!

23 comments

  1. I love my Swiss Army Knife. But it only has the basic blades. It is not the 20-tool wonder. That’s how I look at word processing vs. formatting software. I’d rather deal with two programs that do X task and do it well, than an all-in-one. Things may well change, and I look forward to Vellum’s upgrades (and dread them. Software. Improved. Arrrrrrrrgh!).

    What works for your needs? That’s the key question. And don’t get me started on Trad-Pub. I saw a 109 page hardback fantasy book for $20 this weekend. Ah, no, thanks.

            1. See Harald’s and my comments on the cover, even. (Basically, the art is reasonably good. For fine art. Not commercial art.)

              Agreed on the walling – I’m not even sacrificing a KU slot, temporary as it would be.

              1. Honestly, I’m not all that about commissioning original art for one of my books – even if you get the friends and family rate (I have a brother who is a commercial artist – he has done many of my covers, especially the complicated ones) it still costs a bomb, certainly more than many of us indies can afford and still get our return on investment. I have a soft spot for using photographs to which one owns the rights, and applying artistic effects up the wazoo, and applying the right sort of fonts in the right places. There are things one can do which do not look unprofessional and still don’t cost a bomb …
                I was stuck for the cover of my first book, and took a hint from the cover for Memoirs of a Geisha – a sepia tinted photo, with lettering in pale pink. Others of my own covers are photos or several photos with artistic effects and carefully considered lettering.
                One of the other indy authors that I know has several friends who are model-attractive; some of them are in to reenacting, and others of her friends own ranch property, horses and frontier props. Also a photographer friend – she manages beautiful, professional-grade covers for her frontier romances, on barely a pittance, through appealing to those friends.
                Cat, skin, more than one way to accomplish …

                1. Celia, I totally agree with you on cover art. Yes, I’d love to be able to afford to commission artwork for every book but that isn’t financially smart, not right now for a number of reasons. So I look for elements I can use and combine into something I think fits the genre, sub-genre and book.

    1. Exactly. I would rather have a “suite” of programs where each program does one thing exceptionally than one program that does a lot of things okay.

  2. Only thing I can say about distribution strategy is “your mileage WILL vary.” It will always change as you get further down the road, too.

    On print and bookstores – um, it really doesn’t matter whether your local bookstore will stock them. It matters whether a large number of bookstores over a large region (preferably at least nationwide) will stock them, and how good your marketing is to drive bookstore customers to buy that book at their bookstore.

    1. I’m going to disagree with you some here. Yes, it would be nice to get into the large number of stores. But getting into the local store, especially if they push the book, does help with exposure and recommendations. Also, some of those readers will go and leave reviews either on Amazon, etc., or on their blogs, etc. This is a situation where a little exposure can help lead to greater exposure, especially if you sell well with that local store and they start talking your book up to other locally owned stores.

      1. Amanda, I was formerly one of those bean counters that made marketing types cry (and wonder if they knew anybody that would do a contract on my kneecaps).

        I want to see numbers on the net of the proposed strategy. By genre, demographic, region, etc. Compared to other strategies (that means not only the “sell soul to Bezos” strategy, mind you, there are others than just these two).

  3. All very interesting. I’d seen the announcement of the proposed merger but h no details.
    Prayers up on the personal issue. Been there, done that, still doing it off and on.

    1. Thanks. It was a difficult day made more difficult than it should have been. But we’re going to get through it. It is just going to take time.

  4. As the Owner of a Teeny Publishing Bidness, I have been with Ingram’s print and distribution arm, Lightening Source, Intl. for more than a decade, doing my own books, and those of our clients. I also started a program of helping authors set up as their own independent publishers; getting the ISBN, doing the editing and formatting of their MS, and walking them through setting up their own account at Ingram Spark. The requirements and options are pretty much the same: $35 each for the text and cover files, $12 yearly for distribution through their catalog. It lends a kind of legitimacy to an author, to have both an ebook and a print version available. I sell the print books mostly in person at local author events. Some of my clients prefer to have their books only available through direct sales from them – they have their reasons.
    For formatting my books and those for my clients, I’m happy enough with being able to do it with old-school, with MS Word and then convert with Adobe Acrobat Pro to a print-ready file. I know enough of the shortcuts and methods to do it that; the spacing, size of the page, margins, installing running heads, page numbers, and even indexing, when required. I’d love to try out something like Vellum, but I’m put off by the expense, when I can do a perfectly adequate and attractive job with programs that I already have.

      1. $35 each for text and cover files, and another $30 if you order a print proof for review. Then, if something has to be fixed on either file, another$35.

  5. I’d be interested to know just what the economics are of distributing books in a bookshop for Indies. Laying aside whatever fees Ingram Spark requires, I can’t imagine that the bookstores are willing to stock indie books without the same “return” guarantees they get from trad pub, and it seems that the cost of sending out books and having them destroyed would add up. Do Indies get enough sales and royalties to cover the cost of the books that don’t sell? Is it profitable as a loss-leader, causing new readers to discover you, then go order the rest of your catalog?

    I do have this little fantasy about being in bookstores and having dozens of fans flock to my signings, but I’ll admit that I’m skeptical that it’s really worth it from a financial perspective.

    1. It’s almost not worth it, actually – unless you have some kind of celebrity fame. For bookstores, they want a 40% discount off the established retail price, plus returnability. To get that, Ingram wants (IIRC) a 55% discount off the established retail price, so you have to calculate your retail price to allow for this discount, your print costs, plus a sliver of profit. And … if you opt for return, rather than destroy unsold copies, there is a catch there, too. Early on, it was OK, if it was just one or two or three copies, which would be sent back to you, and you’d be charged the print costs plus a return fee. This was OK, because you could add the undamaged returns to your stock for selling directly.
      I stopped doing this, when for two years in a row, some bookstore ordered thirty copies of eight or nine of my own books, and didn’t sell more than one or two, if any. Three heavy boxes of books returned to me two years running, and I was charged $1,000 in print and return fees each time, which put me into considerable of a hole with Ingram. It’s taken me a good few years to sell those returns at direct market book events.
      I opted for “destroy unsold” after that, and I may have stopped offering the 55% as well. I sell most of my books as ebooks – and the print versions at holiday markets around the end of the year.
      Your mileage may vary, of course.

    2. A number of locally owned indie stores will initially take your books on what is basically consignment from you, the author. How much good it does the indie is really dependent on so many factors that no two cases are the same. I know some indies who do well with sales from their local stores. But that is because they have a good working relationship with the store, are active with events locally, etc. Others don’t even try to get into stores. So there is no easy answer.

  6. Why would S&S’ shareholders sell?

    Generally, share value and profits don’t do well when a company gets gobbled up by a bigger conglomerate. High-level execs might get golden parachutes, mid-levels are just unwanted headcount, and since S&S’ “core business” isn’t in the least unique (and PRH already has its own acquisitions and editing), there’s no need to keep the worker bees.

    Yeah, the people with the authority to make the deal will make out, but just about everyone else is going to come out poorly.

    1. There’s only one stockholder (that counts, anyway) – S & S is a subsidiary of ViacomCBS. I’m positive it’s a cash deal, too, as ViacomCBS wants out of the publishing business. So they don’t care what happens at Randy Penguin after the deal goes through.

      You’re right about the little people, though, they’re hosed. Probably some mid to high level execs will stay on to run the subsidiary imprints, but excess to need will be shown the door.

    2. If the GameStop fiasco proved anything, it’s that the “shareholder” is now largely notional.
      Over and above mutual funds and large financial institutions with no vested interest in the long term success of a company, you no longer even own your shares. They’re owned by a central clearinghouse, you merely “own” a license to vote on the behalf of the actual owner. And if that owner happens to sell that same license two, three, dozen, hundred times, well, it’s a quasi-governmental thing where the regulators would be implicated.
      Fortunately, large amounts of money never corrupt anything, and our government is full of good, honorable people,

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