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Posts tagged ‘agency model’

Mad Duck Publishing

Yesterday was one of those days when the brain shut down, forcing me to do basically nothing more strenuous than playing Peggle. We all have those days. The causes may vary but the result is the same. You stare at the wall — or the computer screen — and know you should be working but can’t quite seem to make it happen. So, last night with a brain still refusing to work properly, I asked Sarah for suggestions about what I should blog on today. She came up with two possible topics Mad Duck Publishing and Lame Duck Publishing, and then we realized that, in many ways, they are the same thing.

Mad Duck Publishing is that part of the legacy system that screams the loudest and does the most damage as they are dying. They may not recognize that they are dying and they sure don’t realize that the tools for their survival are close at hand. All they know is that things are changing and they are no longer in control. It scares them and infuriates them and, by Gum, they aren’t going to put up with it. So they huff and puff and try to blow the new wave of authors and publishing possibilities out of their world. But, like Sisyphus, they never make it all the way to the top of the hill before the boulder rolls back down and they have to start all over again.

This is what we are seeing with the Hatchette-Amazon situation right now. Hatchette is, if I remember correctly, the first of the major publishers to have to renegotiate their contract with Amazon in the aftermath of the courts striking down the Agency Model for pricing. Before, when the five of the then-Big Six used their “collective” power (along with some help from Apple) to try to force Amazon to accept the Agency Model when it came to e-book pricing, Amazon blinked. The publishers crowed because now they could set the price of their e-books, meaning no one outlet could sell for less than another. They saw this as a win because it meant they could overprice their e-books and they expected the consumer to go along.

Some did. I’ll admit, there are a very few authors I will pay $9.99 for their e-books. But those are very few and far between. My price point is actually closer to $4.99, especially if the book is also out in print. Why? Because I know how much it costs to make an e-book and I know that almost all of that cost is negated if the book is available in print. If you are bringing a book out in print, you have already edited it, formatted it, obtained artwork, cover blurb, book description, etc., etc., etc. In fact, to make that print formatted book into an e-book requires only another two steps or so. Converting from your DOC file to ePub and then putting eyes on the converted file to make sure there are no oddities in the converstion.

Anyway, back to the Mad Duck. When the court threw out the Agency Model pricing clause, finding there had been collusion between the five named publishers (of which Hatchette was one) and Apple, it mandated that new contracts between Amazon and these publishers be negotiated. Hatchette drew the short straw by being the first up. Amazon want to go back to the way it was before the tossed contract — in other words, Amazon wants to be able to set the price for e-books. Hatchette, and the other publishers don’t. Hence, the stand-off between the two entities with authors and readers caught in the middle.

Now, I’ve seen a number of authors moaning and condemning Amazon for not allowing pre-orders of Hatchette books, print or digital. I know these authors are worried. I would be too. After all, Amazon is the largest retailer for books online. The cries about how Amazon has destroyed the brick and mortar bookstores have resumed — it is a false cry because the mom and pop stores were destroyed by the big box stores and they, in turn, slit their own wrists by over-expanding, not adapting to changes in the market and not growing a vigorous online presence soon enough.

Honestly, authors are the ones who will be hurt because the lack of pre-orders from Amazon will hurt their print run numbers and that, in turn, will have an impact on their next contract. However, that isn’t really Amazon’s problem. As someone said in a comment on Cedar’s blog yesterday, Amazon has no obligation to carry books from any publisher. Taking that one step further, why should Amazon accept pre-orders for books it may not be able to supply once the books are published? Imagine the hue and cry from the customers who placed the pre-orders only to learn weeks or months down the road that they aren’t going to get the book after all.

But Hatchette doesn’t care about that. They don’t really care about their authors or their customers. What they want is control. Like mad ducks who will run menacingly at the folks who come to the pond to feed them, Hatchette and its legacy publishing pals are doing that with regard to Amazon and readers in general. Worse, they are doing so with regard to their authors. When Amazon offered to set up a fund to help the authors being impacted by this contract dispute, Hatchette did not jump onto the bandwagon. Funny, they haven’t really addressed the why nor have the authors condemning Amazon broached the topic either. Why? Because it would make Hatchette look like the mad duck and it would paint Amazon in a positive light.

The mad ducks of publishing say they need to charge more for e-books because that will make more money for everyone involved. Well, that’s not exactly true. If you raise prices to a point where you have lost a good chunk of your audience, you are losing money. Sometimes it really is better to sell more for less because that will bring in more customers and more customers means more money. As much as I dislike Walmart, that is a lesson Sam Walton brought to retail.

But, instead of taking care of its customers and authors, Hatchette is going around quacking as loudly as it can about how mean Amazon is by not stocking its books. Notice that the other publishers are being pretty quiet right now about what’s happening. They have taken on the Lame Duck Publishing role. Or perhaps the Necropheliac Duck Publishing role. They are sitting back and waiting to see what happens. Why? Because whatever happens with the Hatchette negotiation is more than likely to be what they will have to settle for. So, while they may be saying a lot behind closed doors, they aren’t saying a whole lot in public.

While all this is going on, indie authors are sitting back and shaking our heads. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Me, I think I’m doing a bit of both. I’m crying for the authors who are stuck in the middle and who know they are being shafted by their publisher but who have contracts to fulfill. I’m hoping that, once those contracts are fulfilled, they look long and hard at what all their options are, starting with refusing to sign any contract that limits their ability to bring out their backlists or to go indie on work they don’t think fits the publisher. I’m shaking my head and bemusement because it isn’t hard, looking at the Top 100 lists on Amazon, or elsewhere, to see what the optimal price points are and, believe me, $9.99 isn’t it.

Then another part of me is laughing. In the two months that Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) has been out, I have earned what many publishers would have given me as an advance for the first book in a new science fiction series by someone they would see as an unknown. After the first couple of days, it hit the Top 100 in three different Science Fiction categories and has stayed there. When I check what else is listed in those categories, I see titles priced mainly in the $2.99 to $4.99 range. Yes, there are some traditionally published books but there are also a large percentage of indie and small press published books. Pricing is one big reason for this but so is the fact that the indie and small press published books are books people want to read and not the message science fiction that is coming out of the Big Five right now (Baen is not included in this).

What I’m also seeing is that people are starting to turn a deaf ear to the continual quacking from the Mad Ducks in publishing. They are tired of hearing about how evil Amazon is, especially when Amazon does make it easier to find those books we want to read, books the publishers aren’t giving us. They are tired of seeing millionaire authors whinging about how mean Amazon is because it is killing bookstores. Where were these millionaire authors when the big box stores came in and put the small bookstores out of business? Most of all, we are tired of all the quacking about how an e-book isn’t a book. Sorry, it is. It is just a different medium for the same product.

So, for all those Mad Ducks out there, quick quacking and hurting yourselves and the industry. If you don’s start listening to what your customers and authors say and want, you will soon move from Mad Duck Publishing to Necropheliac Publishing, worshiping at the base of a dead business model while the innovators and adopters step around and over you.

More than one game in town.

Good morning, all. I hope everyone here in the States had a safe and wonderful Memorial Day Weekend. It has always been an important weekend in my family. There hasn’t been a generation, going back more than 250 years, when there hasn’t been at least one member in the military. On my mother’s side of the family, we can trace military service back to the Revolutionary War. Before then, too, but that’s another story. Many of those generations have seen family members wounded or killed in the service of our country. Add in the fact my son is now serving in the Air Force and, well, Memorial Day is very special to me. Which is why I broke one of my rules regarding social media last night and let loose on someone for daring to condemn the “flag waving” Americans do to commemorate the day. As a result, I didn’t get my post for today written ahead of time. So, apologies to you for being late but I do not apologize for my comments last night. Some of you know what I’m talking about. The rest of you, well, it’s now water under the bridge.

Which isn’t what you can say about the Amazon and Hatchette fight. I’m not going to rehash it. Cedar did a wonderful job discussing it on Saturday. However, I do want to add one thing on the topic, something all those bashing Amazon have conveniently overlooked. What is happening between Amazon and Hatchett is the first round of contract renegotiations between Amazon and the publishers involved in the price fixing suit brought by the Department of Justice. When the court ruled against Apple, it “issued a final injunction that requires Apple to retain the power to discount e-books for an extended period. The injunction also prevents Apple from simultaneously negotiating new no-discounting agency deals with the major houses, instead forcing the tech giant to negotiate with each publisher separately, in exclusive windows, staggered six months apart.”

As Publisher’s Weekly states, “if you were Amazon, would you sign a deal knowing that your competitor has the exclusive power to underprice you in the e-book market? At the very least, Amazon is sure to demand the same power to discount as its rival Apple is required to retain—even though Apple will likely not use its court-ordered discounting power.”

PW also points out that the settlements agreed to by the publishers, and enforced upon Apple in the findings against it, most favored nation clauses will not be allowed for five years. In other words, no agency pricing as we know it will be allowed during that time. So why, I ask, should Amazon fight for anything but the best terms it can get, especially if Apple has the right by court ruling to discount e-books? It doesn’t matter that Apple says it won’t discount these titles. Apple is a business and is known for being ruthless when it comes to its competitors. Why should Amazon trust it not to undercut its prices?

But there is something else authors with Hatchett, or any other traditional publisher, ought to keep in mind. A breakdown of earnings report has come out. You can follow the link to where Passive Guy discusses it or go here to see the original post. There is a lot of information there I need to go over when my brain is functioning better than it is right now — math is not my friend first thing in the morning — but one thing sticks out: approximately 46% of traditional publishing’s fiction dollars comes from e-books.

Let me repeat that. Approximately 46% of traditional publishing’s fiction dollars comes from e-books.

Now let me ask you this, traditionally published authors, how much of your royalty payments come from e-book sales?

Consider this. When it comes to royalties, traditional publishers still are not paying author’s a royalty rate that comes close to what they could earn if they self-published or went with small presses for their e-books. When pressed about this, publishers mumble about how expensive it is to make an e-book. They have to have covers and be edited and be set up for digital release and. . . .

But wait a minute. Do you really think those same publishers are actually editing, or copy editing or proofreading an e-book after it has already been edited, etc., for print? Do you really think they hire two different cover treatments? As for getting the book ready for digital release? That takes minutes now with the software available. So where is all the expense the publisher claims is there in making an e-book?

No, e-books are propping up the print side. Publishers just won’t tell you that. They mumble about how it is too hard to track e-book sales. Funny, I have about as much trouble believing that as I do the statement that in this day and age of computers and RFIDs and other tracking software and hardware that the only way they can come close to tracking hard copy sales is through the handwavium of BookScan.

What traditional publishing tends to forget — or at least refuses to admit — is that most people have no idea who publishes the books they read. The one real exception is Baen. But Baen is anything but typical when it comes to the publishing industry and thank goodness for that. So traditional publishing can’t rely on brand loyalty. These same publishers don’t understand that trotting out millionaire best sellers to extoll the evilness of Amazon, it doesn’t help their cause, especially not when those same millionaires are crying about how Amazon is hurting their bank account. If you want to get sympathy from the average reader, bring out the mid-lister. Oh, wait, the publishers can’t because 1) they make it so most mid-listers never earn out their advances and 2) they have metaphorically killed off most mid-listers. As a result, those who had a loyal following now have fans wondering what happened to the series they’d been reading and was suddenly dropped by the publisher.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep buying from Amazon. I’ll continue to sell my books on their sites as well. I’ll continue reading and researching what is going on in the industry so I can stay informed and make informed decisions about what to do regarding my writing and where to market it. And I’ll continue to shake my head and wonder at all those authors who aren’t out there asking their agents why they aren’t demanding higher e-book royalties and better contract terms. Traditional publishers, especially legacy publishers, have to accept the fact they aren’t the only game in town these days. If they don’t adapt, they will continue to bleed out money and lose authors and readers until they are mere shells of what they used to.

And that will be a loss to us all.

Or not.

Beware. What’s that you say? Another one bites the dust.

It’s December and time for everyone to start panicking because the holidays are just around the corner and there’s still shopping to do and meals to plan and relatives to visit. It’s also a time when most of us seem to forget there are those out there who are more than willing to separate us from our money by whatever means necessary. No, I’m not talking about all those shops in the nearby mall. You know the ones I’m talking about: those that started playing Christmas carols the day after Halloween, completely skipping Thanksgiving. I’m not even talking about the fake charities that are willing to play on the increase in good will most of us feel this time of year.

Unfortunately, yet another scammer has decided to try to prey on authors terrified because they don’t have a broad enough public platform. Let’s face it, promotion is something most of us would do just about anything to avoid simply because we don’t really know how to do it and, frankly, because we’d rather spend the time it takes to blog, facebook, tweet, etc., writing. Promotion is one of those necessary evils we’ve had to undertake because publishers aren’t promoting books like they used to. Oh, if you are a “best seller” or “the next best thing”, they’ll spend the money to get better placement in a bookstore or to take out ads in the paper, etc. But if you aren’t, or if you are self-publishing, you don’t get that sort of promotion from a publisher. If you have an agent, you might be lucky enough to be mentioned on their blog or twitter feed, but just how effective is that?

So authors have been looking for alternatives to doing the promotion themselves. As a result, there has been a rise in PR firms dealing with promoting authors and their books. With a hat tip to Chris Kelsey for bringing this particular “misrepresentation” — if not outright scam — to my attention, I want to warn you against The Albee Agency. You can read a great breakdown of problems with this agency over at Writer Beware. But  the quick rundown is this: the Albee Agency claims endorsements from authors who have never used it and have not agreed to have their so-called endorsements used. That is enough, for me at least, to steer clear of them. Please, before considering this agency, read the write-up at Writer Beware.

Then there is this article from Slate, published last month, that basically says we aren’t reading if we read a novel on our e-book reader. You see, reading is something we do not only with our eyes and our mind, but with our bodies as well. If we can’t hold a book in our hands and turn a physical page with our fingers, we aren’t reading. So, following that logic, you really aren’t reading this blog. Yes, I am rolling my eyes and I am shaking my head and, yes, I’m laughing hysterically. I have a vision of the article’s author sitting in a rough hewn chair by a fire, an oil lamp at his elbow as he writes his article using a quill dipped into an ink pot. I guess he then attached the article to his carrier pigeon to be flown to the Slate headquarters where some poor clerk inputs it into the computer. After all, the author wouldn’t be writing an article for digital format to be read because, duh, that’s not reading.

Oh gawd, my head hurts now ;-p

All kidding aside, I still love my physical books. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy reading on my Kindle when I first got it. After all, there is something about holding a book and curling up in a chair to read. Well, I can still do that with my Kindle. Once I’m into the story, it doesn’t matter if I’m reading a paper book or a digital book. The book itself disappears and I’m immersed in the world the author has created. THAT is all that matters: not the medium which it is presented in.

On the agency pricing model front, a third member of the Big 6, Simon & Schuster, has announced a new pricing agreement with e-tailers. This agreement is in response to the Justice Department’s price fixing suit. S&S is the third of the five publishers named in the suit, along with Apple, to reach this sort of an agreement. The other two publishers are Hatchette and HarperCollins. This agreement will allow retailers to sell e-books from S&S for a discount: a win for buyers because it means we can now shop around for the best price for a title. Yes, it might mean we’ll have to break DRM to do so, but that is possible for those who want to do it. However, in this day and age of tablets and smartphones, apps are available that will allow you to read multiple formats on your device without having to break DRM.

Whether or not Penguin and Random House will continue fighting the allegations by the DoJ remain to be seen. I have no doubt Apple will.

 

New, or at least renewed, beginnings

In a number of ways, this is a very difficult post to write. While I’ve had no problems over the last several years opening up about my feelings about the state of the publishing industry and where I think we’re going, I haven’t written much about what goes on in my life. Part of that is because I’m a very private person. Part is because being in law enforcement earlier in my life, I learned not to share personal details on a public forum. Today I’m going to break that rule, sort of, as well as do my usual schtick regarding publishing.

As most of you know, I’ve written before about hitting the wall with burn-out. Now, I can hear those nay-sayers would will tell you there is no such thing as burn-out. That when we think we have it, we should just push through. They are right and wrong. A lot of times when someone says he’s got a case of burn-out, he doesn’t. Yeah, he’s tired. Yeah, he’s having a hard time focusing on whatever his current work in progress is. But that might not be burn out. It might be that he’s writing something he shouldn’t be, whether it’s because there is a fundamental flaw with the book or the book is scaring him because his craft is taking one of those unexpected leaps forward. It might be because he’s at that part of the book where it is just hard to keep going. For a lot of writers, that’s the middle of the book. That sort of “burn-out” is what you can push through.

But real burn-out is something you can’t push through. Not really. Oh, you might fool yourself for awhile and manage another few days or weeks before you not only hit the wall but the wall falls on you. This is the mind-numbing, body-breaking burn-out that makes it hard to do anything in your chosen profession. It is often accompanied by either family stress, work stress from your outside job or illness or all of the above. When that happens, it takes time to get over it, time you may not realize you have to take.

This is all a roundabout way of explaining what happened to me. I’ve been on a leave of absence from Naked Reader Press for the last three months due to some potentially very serious medical issues that needed to be dealt with as well as some personal, but not nearly as serious, personal issues that I had to get a handle on. During that time, writing stopped. Work stopped. Life, in a lot of ways, stopped.

But, out of it came some good on several different levels. The first is that the medical issues, while not completely over, have been dealt with and did not — knock on wood — turn out to be as serious as they could have. The family issues are well in hand and weren’t serious at all. And NRP, well, we’re behind as any small business is when one of the few full-time employees is off for an extended period of time. But that also meant we, the owners and I, spent time discussing how to make NRP better and how to handle such situations should they arise in the future.

So, on the NRP front, we are bringing onboard two new editors. I’m thrilled to welcome Taylor M. Lunsford and Charles Martin to the company. Taylor will be helping set up our new romance and mystery lines and Charles will be heading up the non-fiction line. They will also be helping us get caught up on slush. So, for those of you who have been waiting for an answer, it will be coming shortly. What makes both Taylor and Charlie excellent fits for NRP is the fact they understand the fluid nature of publishing right now and they aren’t afraid to try something new, whether it is tech or figuring out what the next literary trend might be. You’ll learn more about them and hear from them about what they are looking for over at the Naked Reader site starting next week.

As for me, I’ll be continuing with NRP but my workload will be more manageable with the additions of both Taylor and Charlie as well as our own Sarah who is now our art director. It’s amazing how much that helps and I can’t thank each of these wonderful folks for believing in NRP as much as I do.

There’s another indication for me that the burnout is finally over. I’ve been writing again. Not just a few hundred words here and there but writing, real writing. In the last few weeks, I’ve managed a little over 55,000 words. They might not be my finest work, but it’s still first draft. They key here is not only that I’m writing, but that I want to write. It’s been a long time since I’ve really wanted to.

And, what I’m learning, is that I’m not the only writer/editor/etc who has been feeling this way. The turmoil in publishing has taken a toll on most of us. The push to find alternatives to traditional publishing, trying to decide if we are going to utilize these alternatives exclusively or remain with traditional publishing only or try a mix of both has been difficult for most of us. And it has taken a toll. When you add in the normal stresses and strains of life and it is little wonder there aren’t more walking dead among writers.

Any way, now that I know my health is only compromised and will, in all likelihood, return to normal and the other stress is working out, I am ready to hit the world running — or at least limping along. The ride may be bumpy at times, but that’s what makes it exciting.

Now, as for the publishing world…If you haven’t seen it already, HarperCollins has renegotiated its contract with Amazon and is no longer using the agency model to price their e-books. Yes, there are also the boo-birds out there condemning Amazon for it and forecasting doom and gloom for publishing because, gasp, best sellers may be priced below $10. Of course, these are the same naysayers who want us to believe it costs as much to produce an e-book as it does a print book and, by the way, they also tell us it costs that much even though there has been a print book produced. According to them, there is additional editing, copy editing, proofreading, etc., that has to go into the creation of the digital version of a book produced for print. When someone tells you that, call them on it because that is WRONG. You don’t have to edit, etc., again. Yes, you need to format but that is a matter of running the copy through a conversion program and then checking to see it converted properly.

These are also those who would have you believe that the DoJ’s suit is against agency pricing and who so conveniently forget that it is against price fixing. In other words, DoJ says that it isn’t agency pricing that is inherently wrong but how it came about that was. The alleged conspiracy between the five publishers and Apple is the issue. The fact that three of those publishers have agreed to terms with the DoJ, and that has been approved by the court, is not Amazon’s fault. Amazon isn’t some grand puppet master standing behind the scenes manipulating everything. What Amazon is is an innovator. Yes, it is the 800 pound gorilla but, for the moment at least, it is a gorilla that is in my corner and I will take advantage of what it offers, not only for myself but for the authors who come to NRP. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep a close eye on what the gorilla is doing. I’m not that foolish. But I won’t condemn myself to much fewer sales by not using Amazon simply because Amazon might do something I don’t like at some point in the future.

So, how do you tell if you are buying a book that is a product of the agency pricing mode or not? That’s really easy on Amazon. Go to the product page and under the price you will see one of the following: either a listing of the just the price points for the various versions of the book or the publisher’s name and “This price was set by the publisher” or “sold by: Publisher’s name”. If you see the first alternative, you know you are buying a book that was published by an author or publisher who never took part in agency pricing. The second alternative is our old friend agency pricing. These are the publishers who have yet to enter into new agreements with Amazon. The third alternative is what you will see post agency pricing.

Is the agency model gone? I doubt it. For one thing, the only publishers being forced to abandon it right now are the three who came to agreements with the Department of Justice. What happens with the other two, and with Apple, remains to be seen. For those other publishers who negotiated with Amazon and are currently using the agency model, the question remains open as to if, when their contracts come up for renewal, the agency model will be continued. My opinion is that we will see a hybrid of some sort.

In the meantime, I will continue checking not only prices but publishers. There are very few e-books I’d pay more than $10 for, especially when I know how little authors get for those traditionally published e-books. There is no way in heck I’ll by $19.99 for an e-b0ok and, yes, if you look at the best sellers this morning you will find one at that price. My question is why? Why are you paying that much? Especially when the publisher is loading the book with DRM and limiting how many devices I can have it on and when that publisher doesn’t believe that $19.99 allows me to OWN that e-book.

My money can and will do my talking for me. And now I need to go wade through some more email and start smoothing my way back into the swing of things at NRP.

And now we wait

The Department of Justice has published the 868 comments in response to the proposed settlement with three of the five publishers named in the price fixing suit it filed earlier against the original Big Five publishers and Apple. I’m not surprised to find that the vast majority of responses were opposing the proposed settlement. After all, the average reader isn’t even aware of the lawsuit. Beyond that, most authors who will be impacted by the outcome of this and who are still under contract with the named publishers aren’t going to say anything for fear of having their contracts dropped by the publishers. To publicly come out and say your employer — and, yes, that’s exactly what publishers are to writers under the current set up — is full of crap is to commit what some (publishers and agents) might see as professional suicide.

What does surprise me, and pleasantly so, is that the DoJ is sticking to its guns. Without going into politics too much, this is an election year and, well, you get what I’m saying. I won’t say more because this isn’t a political blog and I’m not going to make it one.

Without rehashing — too much — what I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of the agency model. However, I also admit that there is nothing inherently wrong with it. My issues come with how the agency model was put in place by the original Big 5 and Apple. Long before the DoJ filed its lawsuit, rumors had abounded about how Steve Jobs had required the publishers adopt the agency model if they wanted to be included in the new iBookstore. (Remember, all this came about at the same time the iPad hit the market). It was just all too coincidental to my mind. Five major publishers all demanding the same pricing model at the same time? And at a time when Amazon’s newest and potentially biggest competitor in the e-book market, comes online? Hmmmm.

But I had another issue with the agency pricing model as well. Publishing was already in trouble. Book sales had been declining for awhile. The economy wasn’t as strong as it could be and that meant there was less money available for people to spend on “extras”. So, in response to this, these publishers demanded a pricing model that would put less money in their pockets? A struggling industry shouldn’t be finding ways to cut their revenue. It should find ways to maximize revenue. But then, that’s just me. I like making money.

My biggest issue with agency pricing was that it was a knee-jerk reaction by the publishers not only to Steve Jobs’ demand for it (assuming he actually made that demand) but also to their fear of Amazon. Instead of realizing that the decline of brick and mortar bookstores began long before Amazon even existed, they saw Amazon as the big evil. They forgot about how the big box stores moved into the market in the 1980s and 1990s and drove most of the smaller, locally owned bookstores out of business. They forgot how these same big box stores then used their clout to demand changes in their purchasing contracts with the publishers, redoing things like return policies, etc. They didn’t look at how these same big box stores — and the publishers themselves — failed to embrace the e-book market from the beginning. In short, they let the market get away from them and now, panicked, are trying to stop the flood.

If you read the responses to the DoJ’s proposed settlement, you’ll find a number of them talking about how there might have been collusion and, okay, that’s not nice, but it was necessary. Something has to be done to stop Amazon before it monopolizes the e-book market. Amazon was undercutting the competition. It was killing the e-book industry and now, with agency pricing, we have competition.

Sorry, what we have isn’t competition. Competition would be giving us a market where we can shop around for the best price for our dollar. Under agency pricing publishers set the price for their titles and, guess what, it is the same price everywhere. Where is the competition?

Another argument put forth by those opposed to the proposed settlement is that the settlement will mean an increase in e-book prices. They postulate that the removal of agency pricing will give Amazon a monopoly and that Amazon will then implement its evil plan to raise prices.

The problem with these arguments, and all arguments saying Amazon might do something at some unspecified point in the future, is that it is speculation. There is no proof to support these arguments. The United States is based on laws and, fortunately, we don’t tend to punish people or businesses based on something they might do at some unspecified point in the future.

Another problem is that these arguments ignore the fact that Amazon is not by any means a monopoly yet. There are a number of different e-book outlets available to the public. It isn’t Amazon’s problem that Barnes & Noble and other booksellers didn’t climb onto the bandwagon as early as they could have when it comes to e-books and e0-book readers. I understand the fear these folks have. They are playing catch up now and grasping at straws to do so. However, instead of paying millions of dollars in legal fees to fight Amazon, they should be investing these dollars in finding ways to reach out to the public and win them over to their own e-book platform or e-book reader hardware.

Publishers Weekly has the right of it here: Observing that “there is no mistaking the fear that many of the commenters have of the prospect of competing with Amazon on price,” the DoJ noted that low prices and fierce rivalries are among the core ambitions of free markets and that contrary to many commenters views, “the goal of antitrust law is to use rivalry to keep prices low for consumers’ benefit. Employing antitrust law to drive prices up would turn the Sherman Act on its head.”

The consumers’ benefit. That is what the publishers and those opposed to the DoJ settlement have forgotten. Oh, they make lip service to it, but if you really look at what they are saying, they are worried about the publishers and big box stores. They want things to continue as they have for years. The problem is that things have been broken for years and no one was doing anything about it. No one in the industry wanted to change business models because this one worked — once. Now, instead of trying to put the genie back in the bottle — and that just isn’t going to happen — they should be looking to embrace this new tech and the new demands of it instead of playing Chicken Little.

From The Bookseller: Responding to Barnes & Noble’s comments, the DoJ asserted that Barnes & Noble was “worried that it will make less money after the conspiracy than it collected while the conspiracy was ongoing” and that that was not a matter for the court to consider. Many of the benefits B&N attributes to collusive pricing could be achieved in other ways, such as lowering costs, the DoJ said.

Like I said, change the business model and cut the fat from the budget and see what happens. But no, they’d rather break the law themselves in order to hamstring Amazon and not worry about anyone else (the consumer) who might be harmed in the process.

But I think the most ludicrous comment against the proposed settlement comes from the Authors Guild. Basically, it argues that price fixing should be allowed in publishing because of the “cultural role books play in society.” WTF?!?!?!

It is important to remember that the basis of the DoJ’s suit isn’t that agency model pricing is wrong. It is that colluding to force agency model pricing onto the market is. It is also important to remember that breaking the law because you are scared of what might happen sometime in the future isn’t justified, not in a case like this. Finally, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was written to protect the consumer, not to protect businesses from poor business practices.

And now we wait to see what the court says. While we do, you can read the DoJ’s response to the comments here.

 

 

Good Writer, Here’s a Cracker

by Amanda S. Green

All right, guys, I’ve just about lost patience with the whiners, the clueless and the traditionalists who simply can’t be bothered to explore the new opportunities offered by changes in the publishing industry. There are times when I don’t know whether to beat my head against the wall or theirs and, frankly, I’m tending toward theirs. It might be the only way to get them to at least consider they might be wrong about what’s happening in the industry. It would, at the very least, cause them to complain about something else, at least for a bit.

A little background. Over the weekend, Sarah wrote a wonderful blog about the attitude of some of those in the industry about the Department of Justice’s suit against Apple and the five publishers. That attitude is basically that books are fungible and we, the writers, are mere tinker toys to be manipulated the way they, the publishers, want. Then yesterday, Sarah posted her “response” to a non-fiction writer’s blog about what will happen if the publishing industry fails. I’m not going to rehash what Sarah said mainly because she said it much better than I ever could.

But what has my blood boiling. especially with regard to the first post, can be found in the comments section. It seems that whenever anyone posts something negative about the publishing industry, especially if it has to do with the agency pricing model, the trolls come out. We’ve seen it happen here. It’s happened a number of times on Sarah’s blog and several times on my blog as well. I’ve come to expect it. What I can’t wrap my mind around is when authors who should know better come to stir the waters but never offer anything to support their position or to really add to the conversation.

I could name the author whose responses to that first post left me wondering if we lived on the same planet, much less worked within the same publishing industry, but I won’t. You can go look it up if you want. Frankly, I have no desire to do anything more than necessary to direct traffic to this person’s website or blog. However, I’ll quote enough of their comments that you can find out who I’m talking about by simply going to the blog and searching.

In one comment, this author asked why publishers should be “legally obligated” to keep Amazon’s promise to offer best sellers for $9.99. This is a clear indicator that the author is in the camp that believes agency pricing is a good thing. That publishers, who are in financial distress, made a good decision to adopt a pricing model that brings in less money per title. This also means authors are getting less money per sale.

But there is more to the comment. It shows that the author is clearly ignoring, purposely or not, the fact that the DoJ’s suit isn’t against agency pricing. In fact, the DoJ notes in the filing that there is nothing inherently wrong with agency pricing. What is wrong is the collusion that is alleged to have taken place immediately prior to the big five publishers and Apple entering into the agency model agreement, an agreement that then had to be made with other retailers or those same publishers would be in violation of their contract with Apple.

But let’s go on.

This author later asked if it’s been proven the collusion took place. It is obvious that she is either a fan of The Paper Chase and thinks the only way to get your point across is to employ the Socratic method. For a moment, I was back in my Torts class in and my professor was asking questions so we’d think. The only problem is, her questions show that she hasn’t really read, or thought about, the law suit. First of all, the collusion is alleged and it will be up to the DoJ to prove it should the case ever see the inside of a courtroom. Second, her follow up questions about who decided what e-books could be lent is easily answered: the publishers. At least for those e-books not part of the KDP or PubIt programs. Those same publishers she is trying to defend. Then she wants to know who decided that e-books could be returned. That is probably the retail outlet. But who cares. E-books are still a commodity that can be bought — and should be able to be sold, but that’s another post all its own — and returned if there is a problem with the formatting, etc. I know she is trying to show that there are a lot of things in life that could “smack” of collusion but aren’t really. However, she doesn’t serve herself well with that argument, nor does she offer anything other than the picture of a kid stamping her foot and saying “I’m right, you’re wrong and that’s that!”

I think the best example of a disconnect comes when she asks what would happen if Best Buy decided to sell iPads for $20 without Apple’s okay and then the DoJ sued Apple for not giving Best Buy the iPads for that price.

WTF?!?

Talk about apples and oranges. To begin, if Best Buy decided to do that, it would be in violation of its contract with Apple. Apple would react quickly and swiftly, in my opinion. Best Buy would have to stop selling the iPads at that price. It would probably have to then recompense Apple for any lost profits. In fact, it would be remarkable if Apple didn’t pull Best Buy’s status as a certified reseller.

Now, tell me this, why in the world would the DoJ get involved? This argument is nothing more than the typical smoke and mirrors I’ve seen all too often whenever this topic comes up. Substitute Amazon for Best Buy and one of the Big Six publishers for Apple and you have the fall back argument these folks always come up with. Amazon bad. They were selling too low. Publishers didn’t like it. If there was collusion, it wasn’t that bad. After all, Amazon bad.

Rolls eyes.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’m more than happy to discuss the matter with those who don’t agree with me. But the key word here is discuss. But please, don’t think those of us who don’t jump onboard the Amazon is Evil wagon train lack the ability to google. We do google and it is all too easy to discover that there are a handful of authors who seem to be trolling the blogs saying the same thing over and over again, as if by doing so they can either score points with their editors or convince the rest of us that we really should bend over and take it in the rear from legacy publishers, giving up the larger royalties we can get by self-publishing or going with small presses that realize there would be no book, hard copy or digital, without the author.

Then there were some of the responses to Sarah’s post yesterday. Mind you, I understand the author’s fear about what will happen to non-fiction books if legacy publishing goes belly up. This is a scary time for anyone in the business. But it is up to each of us to decide how we are going to face the changes that have happened and that will happen. Are we going to sit there, wringing our hands and doing nothing? Are we going to think about what we should do and yet never do it? Or are we going to figure out how we can make these changes work best for us?

Frankly, as a non-fiction author, I’d embrace the changes. Digital books offer so many possibilities never offered by print books. You can have interactive sections within the e-book that lets the reader see what would happen if a certain army unit moved here instead of there. You can link to external sources. You can embed video or audio. Just think of all the possibilities.

But what this author did and didn’t realize — and I’m not sure she has realized it yet — is insult fiction authors. In her mind, those of us who self-publish simply sit at our computers and write. We don’t research. We just crank out books every few months and rake in our royalties. We aren’t, in other words, real writers. Sorry, but I know how much research I do. I know how much authors like Sarah do when writing a period piece. Working with Kate as one of her editors for Impaler and Born in Blood, I know how much research she does for her alternate history.

Writers, at least those who care to be accurate, research. It doesn’t matter if they are writing fiction or non-fiction. If a writer wants to be successful, he’d better research. Believe me, if you don’t, you will be called on each and every mistake you make. But to simply paint with broad strokes that fiction writers don’t research drives me batty.

So here it is, guys. There has been no finding of collusion yet. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. And, if it did exist — and I believe it did — you can’t overlook it just because you think the bigger evil is the entity that the collusion was aimed against. The fact that Amazon — or any other reseller — MIGHT do something in the future isn’t reason enough to penalize them now. Dig your heads out of your publishers’ backsides and actually study not only the DoJ’s filings, but what has been going on in the industry for years. Maybe then you’d realize why others are upset about the creative bookkeeping that is called royalty statements. Maybe then you’d understand that books aren’t fungible and authors aren’t interchangeable. Maybe then you’d realize that harm has been done by raising prices of e-books. If fewer books are being sold, that means less money in your pocket.

BTW, the number of states joining the suit against Apple, et al, has just been increased to 31.

I guess the easiest way to say it is this: Think and quit parroting the party line given you by your legacy publisher.

Is it time for Atlas to Shrug?

Over the last few weeks, my posts here have focused on the Department of Justice’s antitrust filings against Apple and five of the big six publishers. It’s hard to think about the state of the publishing industry and not wonder how the suit, the settlement three of the defendants have already agreed to as well as any subsequent trial will change publishing. The last five years have already seen major changes in the industry, many of those changes driven by Amazon and the rapid adoption by the reading public of dedicated e-readers and e-books.

It is also difficult, if not impossible, to think about the DoJ’s case and not consider the business practices of the publishers, and big box booksellers, over the last decade or more. Again, you have to throw Amazon into the mix because the growth of Amazon pointed out that, despite what we’ve been told time and again, people do read. I know, I can hear Amazon’s detractors saying that the only reason Amazon has grown the way it has is because it undersells the physical bookstores. That is part of it. But let’s be honest, folks. Most of us are impulse buyers. We loved bookstores because they had row after row of books we could browse through. Sure, we might have gone into the store with a book or two in mind. But how often did we leave with more books than we were originally going to buy?

So what impelled the mass exodus to Amazon?

Part of it is the lower prices Amazon offers. But there is more. Amazon customer service, especially its Kindle customer service, is second to none, at least in my opinion. Then there is the selection. E-books aside, Amazon has BOOKS. You know you can go to the site and find just about anything you want.

But that’s still not enough to drive most bibliophiles from physical bookstores. After all, we love getting recommendations from knowledgeable staff. We love walking up and down the aisles of a well-stocked physical store, our fingers lovingly caressing the spines of books as we look for authors whose work we enjoy. The only problem? Well, problems? Over-expansion by the big box stores saturated the market. Prices for books increased until most readers no longer bought as many books as they once did. They — gasp — started returning to their local libraries (or became real traitors and switched to e-books). In an ill-advised attempt to cut costs, a number of these big box stores let a lot of their full-time employees go and went with part-time employees, many of whom simply looked at it as a job and who didn’t share the love of books with their customers. They didn’t know the stock.

Then came another cost-cutting measure. Shelf space for books decreased and toys, knick-knacks and other, non-book items took over more and more floorspace. Most genre fiction and a lot of non-fiction took big hits there. Guess what, by decreasing the number of books in the store, the sellers decreased the reason for book lovers to come in. Add to that the fact that special orders often went astray or weren’t taken and, well, readers started looking for alternate sources for their books.

Amazon was off and running and oh the hue and cry that went up. It was much the same as it is today. Now, I can hear you asking why this rehash of the situation? That’s simple. I read a post over at The Passive Voice yesterday that had me shaking my head. It seem World Book Night is coming. Thousands of free books will be handed out for free to encourage reading. Among the underwriters for the event are Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. But where’s Amazon? Is Jeff Bezos as evil as legacy publishing would have us believe? Not at all. It seems Amazon wasn’t invited to participate.

“[T]he philosophy behind World Book Night has been about physical books in physical places, handed out person to person,” said [Director Carl] Lennertz.

Wait, an event to promote reading is keeping out the largest single player in the bookselling field because it doesn’t have a physical store. Besides, doesn’t Amazon have warehouses of physical books that can be handed out just about anywhere? Maybe Jeff Bezos said they wouldn’t go to the local library or mall or shopping center to hand out books to those wanting them. Oh, wait, he couldn’t have because Amazon wasn’t even asked to participate.

Is it just me or does it sound like the event organizers are more interested in making a political/economic statement than they are in actually getting books into the hands of those who might actually need them, much less want them?

This sort of thinking reminded me of the quote I had in a post a week or so ago where a publishing executive commented that there were already too many e-books out there. How in the world can there be too many books of any format? Who decides? Then I remembered this quote from Atlas Shrugged:

There should be a law limiting the sale of any book to ten thousand copies. This would throw the literary market open to new talent, fresh ideas and non-commercial writing. If people were forbidden to buy a million copies of the same piece of trash, they would be forced to buy better books. … Only those whose motive is not money-making should be allowed to write. … Ten thousand readers is enough for any book.

Think about it, folks. Doesn’t this, in so many ways, represent what we are seeing from legacy publishing now? Other than these same publishers wanting that one big blockbuster a year or so, I really do wonder if they don’t want to move away from genre fiction. Think of how much easier it would be for them to get their message, the “right” political or social message out. Of course, you’ll never convince me that legacy publishing, as it exists now, wants new talent and fresh ideas. Not when we are still getting rehashes of Twilight and that is the sort of book getting pushed. Don’t believe me. Check out the latest “it” book, Fifty Shades of Gray.

As for the part of the quote about letting only those whose “motive is not money-making” being allowed to write, these same publishers are already trying to enforce that now. As Dave and Sarah have so eloquently pointed out in earlier posts, writers are the creators of the books. It is our words, our creativity, our blood, sweat and tears that make up the product being sold. Yet we get the smallest portion of the sales price. To look at it in another light, we are the debtor who has been forced into bankruptcy and the publishers are the sharks coming in and buying our assets for pennies on the dollar. Worse, we have been letting them do it.

We’re told there is no way to determine the actual number of copies sold. Sorry. I don’t buy it. This is the day of computers, of instant world-wide communication. Stores accepting credit or debit cards have readers that can instantly send that transaction to the credit card company, making sure the store gets paid. It’s the same with checks. Then there are those wonderful new cash registers that scan the bar codes of items being bought and automatically deduct that item from the inventory and can even let you know when you need to reorder an item.

And yet publishers and distributors can’t tell an author how many copies of his book have been sold.

Let me throw one more factor into the mix. If the publishers can’t tell us how many books have been sold using traditional print and distribution methods, how in the hell are they going to give us accurate numbers as expresso print machines become more and more prevalent in bookstores?

Add to that the creative way of reporting royalties — again, something we’ve let them get away with for far too long. Royalties are determined not by the actual number of books sold. Oh no, that would make too much sense. Publishers rely upon Bookscan numbers. Bookscan doesn’t report every sale made by every bookstore or online retailer. Not even close. Yet these are the numbers royalties are based on. And we have let them do this. Worse, our agents, those men and women who have a fiduciary duty to look after our best interests, have let them do it.

Authors are being screwed out of second printing payments because publishers are now doing what’s called micro-printings. These don’t qualify as second — or third, etc — printings. So, no additional monies to be paid out to the writers, the creators of the book.

Then there are the cancellations of series that “just didn’t connect with the readers”, series that have books still on the shelves of bookstores years after they first came out. In case you don’t know already, most books don’t stay on the shelves of a bookstore more than six weeks. To have a book on the shelves a year, much less two or more years, after it came out means that book is selling. But publishers are reporting few to no sales and not thinking authors are smart enough to 1) read their fan mail which often includes photos of the books on the shelves of their local store, or 2) go to the bookstores themselves to look for — and sign — their own books, or 3) to take advantage of Amazon’s offer of free bookscan numbers.

And our agents do nothing to stop it. Oh, they may put up a bit of a fight, but not much. Instead, they remind us that we still want to sell to these same legacy publishers that are figuratively, if not literally, screwing us. So we mustn’t rock the boat. Now, I’ll give you that agents are between a rock and a hard place: they have a duty to represent their client in that client’s best interest. But they also have to work with these same legacy publishers for all their clients. So rocking the boat for one can have negative implications for their other clients. But what those agents don’t seem to realize is that the negative implications are short-term. That’s especially true if the publishing industry changes as I expect it to over the next few years.

So why are so many authors afraid of jumping off the legacy publishing ship? Some of them because they’ve been thedahlings of the publishers. Others, the majority in my opinion, because they are scared. They know the pitfalls of legacy publishing but they’ve come up through the ranks at a time when small press was bad. It meant you were at the end of your publishing career. Self-publishing meant you were no good. After all, it meant you couldn’t get past the gatekeepers. That is no longer the case, especially when it comes to e-books.

But there’s another reason. Legacy publishers, like the looters in Atlas Shrugged, have been on a years’ long campaign of disinformation. They have conveniently rewritten recent publishing history to forget how the big box bookstores put the smaller bookstores out of business. Instead, Amazon is the root of all the ails of publishing. What else would account for one of the publishers saying the reason for entering into the agency model was to help insure the success of a new e-book retailer? Remember, we aren’t talking about Joe Blow e-books. We are talking about Apple. Sorry, if that isn’t one of the most insane comments I’ve heard in a long time, I don’t know what is.

Perhaps it is time for authors, especially genre authors to take a page from their academic counterparts. Perhaps it is time for us to consider doing something like Journal publishing reform. Or perhaps it is simply time for us to remember that we are the creators of the word on the page and it is time we took control of our own futures and not rely upon outdated business practices and executives who are not considering our best interests in the distribution, marketing and reporting of our sales.