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Posts tagged ‘agency pricing’

“Real” books, contracts and “evil” Amazon – a blast from the past

(Kilted Dave is hip deep in life between a toddler, a baby due any time and more. So, to give him a chance to get his head above water, I’ll drop this blast from the past here. It was first posted Oct. 21, 2014. It’s funny, and not necessarily in a ha-ha way, how much still applies to what we see today.)

I’m neck deep in final edits for Duty from Ashes, the second book in the Honor & Duty series written under the pen name Sam Schall. Because of that, my brain has been steeped in space marines, bad guys and things that go boom and not necessarily at night. As a result, I forgot that it is Tuesday and my day to blog. Fortunately — I think — the demon kitten oh-so-helpfully got me up. After extricating my hand from his claws and staggering into the kitchen in search of coffee, I started scanning my usual sources for topics for today’s post. Oh my, did I find some.

Let’s start with this article from USA Today. I knew from reading the headline that it was probably something that would have my blood pressure rising. After all, how else would I react to “Real books can defeat Amazon and e-books”?

Wait! What? Real books?

Then I started reading and I realize the headline was only the beginning.

The book business believes that Amazon is unfair in the way it sells books. It believes, in fact, that Amazon in its sales practices — pressuring the book publishers to lower their prices and profits — is the enemy. Amazon’s ultimate design, publishers believe, is to ruin them or to wholly shift the center of gravity in the business from the creators of books to Amazon, the dominant seller.

Oookay, yet another journalist — and I use that term loosely — who believes that the publisher is the creator of books. It always amazes me when someone who writes for a living is so willing to hand over the title of creator to the entity that simply distributes the created work. Folks, think about it. Publishers publish. They arrange for distribution and sales channels. They do NOT create the book unless you are looking solely at the printing or conversion into digital format.

But let’s continue.

The book business response has been to protest hotly and try to wage a moral war against what it sees as an immoral competitor — having, for instance, its writers sign petitions and ads.

Moral? Huh? I’m not even sure where to start here. It is moral to keep royalties low and to manipulate royalty reports through the use of BookScan, which does not report every sale or even every sales outlet? It is moral to have their authors sign petitions and ads and then deny that they, the publisher, had anything to do with it? Funny, that isn’t exactly my definition of moral.

I am not surprised that Amazon’s attempt to maximize its profit is seen as immoral. Clearly the article’s author is of the ilk that believes capitalism is evil and succesful businesses should give up their profits in an attempt to prop up the business practices of other commercial enterprises that are killing themselves through poor decision making.

Need you more proof that the author is anything but unbiased in his belief that Amazon is evil and publishers pure?

The curious thing is that while Amazon is undercutting publishers (suggesting, in the case of Hachette, its most forceful antagonist, that both Hachette and Amazon forgo e-book profits, handing them directly to writers), publishers actually have much greater leeway to undercut Amazon.

Funny how he fails to note that this suggestion was made by Amazon in an attempt to help the authors Hachette has been accusing it of hurting. Note also that the author of the article fails to say how Amazon then, when Hachette refused this proposal, offered to pay the authors directly, without any funds coming from Hachette. That, too, was refused by the publisher. But it is Amazon that is evil and trying to “undercut” the publishers.

I will admit, the article does make one or two good points. But my real complaint is its basic premise that only publisher can save books and that e-books aren’t real books and anything coming from anyone but a traditional publisher is not a real book. It is time the article’s author, like so many publishers, come out of the cave and look around. The world has changed and product demand has changed. If publishers are to survive, they have to adapt. All the protestations against Amazon and e-books aren’t going to help.

On a related note, Hachette may have dug its heels in too deeply where Amazon is concerned. While no official announcement has been made — that I have found — sources in the know say that Amazon and Simon & Schuster have inked a new deal with puts in place a modified version of the agency pricing model.According to Publishers Weekly, the new deal will take effect the beginning of next year. The deal will allow S&S to set the price for both hard copy and e-books but will, apparently, also give Amazon some leeway to discount prices. That is the big difference between the agency pricing model that was struck down by the courts. If the story is true, then Hachette has lost some of its advantage by being the first to negotiate a new contract with Amazon. How long it will now take them to reach an agreement probably depends on how much crow Hachette and, to a lesser extent, Amazon are willing to eat.

So we are, again, at situation normal. Traditional publishing — with a few exceptions — and their proponents want to lay all of publishing’s ills at the feet of Amazon. It wants to continue the myth that there would be no books without publishers and anything but a “real” printed book is not a book. I don’t know about you, but I can read an e-book just as easily — sometimes more easily — than I can a “real” book. I can certainly enjoy them the same as I can a “real” book. More to the point, unlike those cave dwelling publishers, I know that there would be no books without the authors. THEY are the creators. Publishers are, at best, distributors these days.

And now, it’s time for me to get back to my not-book. Go write and, better yet, read a book. The author will thank you.

“Real” books, contracts and “evil” Amazon

I’m neck deep in final edits for Duty from Ashes, the second book in the Honor & Duty series written under the pen name Sam Schall. Because of that, my brain has been steeped in space marines, bad guys and things that go boom and not necessarily at night. As a result, I forgot that it is Tuesday and my day to blog. Fortunately — I think — the demon kitten oh-so-helpfully got me up. After extricating my hand from his claws and staggering into the kitchen in search of coffee, I started scanning my usual sources for topics for today’s post. Oh my, did I find some.

Let’s start with this article from USA Today. I knew from reading the headline that it was probably something that would have my blood pressure rising. After all, how else would I react to “Real books can defeat Amazon and e-books”?

Wait! What? Real books?

Then I started reading and I realize the headline was only the beginning.

The book business believes that Amazon is unfair in the way it sells books. It believes, in fact, that Amazon in its sales practices — pressuring the book publishers to lower their prices and profits — is the enemy. Amazon’s ultimate design, publishers believe, is to ruin them or to wholly shift the center of gravity in the business from the creators of books to Amazon, the dominant seller.

Oookay, yet another journalist — and I use that term loosely — who believes that the publisher is the creator of books. It always amazes me when someone who writes for a living is so willing to hand over the title of creator to the entity that simply distributes the created work. Folks, think about it. Publishers publish. They arrange for distribution and sales channels. They do NOT create the book unless you are looking solely at the printing or conversion into digital format.

But let’s continue.

The book business response has been to protest hotly and try to wage a moral war against what it sees as an immoral competitor — having, for instance, its writers sign petitions and ads.

Moral? Huh? I’m not even sure where to start here. It is moral to keep royalties low and to manipulate royalty reports through the use of BookScan, which does not report every sale or even every sales outlet? It is moral to have their authors sign petitions and ads and then deny that they, the publisher, had anything to do with it? Funny, that isn’t exactly my definition of moral.

I am not surprised that Amazon’s attempt to maximize its profit is seen as immoral. Clearly the article’s author is of the ilk that believes capitalism is evil and succesful businesses should give up their profits in an attempt to prop up the business practices of other commercial enterprises that are killing themselves through poor decision making.

Need you more proof that the author is anything but unbiased in his belief that Amazon is evil and publishers pure?

The curious thing is that while Amazon is undercutting publishers (suggesting, in the case of Hachette, its most forceful antagonist, that both Hachette and Amazon forgo e-book profits, handing them directly to writers), publishers actually have much greater leeway to undercut Amazon.

Funny how he fails to note that this suggestion was made by Amazon in an attempt to help the authors Hachette has been accusing it of hurting. Note also that the author of the article fails to say how Amazon then, when Hachette refused this proposal, offered to pay the authors directly, without any funds coming from Hachette. That, too, was refused by the publisher. But it is Amazon that is evil and trying to “undercut” the publishers.

I will admit, the article does make one or two good points. But my real complaint is its basic premise that only publisher can save books and that e-books aren’t real books and anything coming from anyone but a traditional publisher is not a real book. It is time the article’s author, like so many publishers, come out of the cave and look around. The world has changed and product demand has changed. If publishers are to survive, they have to adapt. All the protestations against Amazon and e-books aren’t going to help.

On a related note, Hachette may have dug its heels in too deeply where Amazon is concerned. While no official announcement has been made — that I have found — sources in the know say that Amazon and Simon & Schuster have inked a new deal with puts in place a modified version of the agency pricing model. According to Publishers Weekly, the new deal will take effect the beginning of next year. The deal will allow S&S to set the price for both hard copy and e-books but will, apparently, also give Amazon some leeway to discount prices. That is the big difference between the agency pricing model that was struck down by the courts. If the story is true, then Hachette has lost some of its advantage by being the first to negotiate a new contract with Amazon. How long it will now take them to reach an agreement probably depends on how much crow Hachette and, to a lesser extent, Amazon are willing to eat.

So we are, again, at situation normal. Traditional publishing — with a few exceptions — and their proponents want to lay all of publishing’s ills at the feet of Amazon. It wants to continue the myth that there would be no books without publishers and anything but a “real” printed book is not a book. I don’t know about you, but I can read an e-book just as easily — sometimes more easily — than I can a “real” book. I can certainly enjoy them the same as I can a “real” book. More to the point, unlike those cave dwelling publishers, I know that there would be no books without the authors. THEY are the creators. Publishers are, at best, distributors these days.

And now, it’s time for me to get back to my not-book. Go write and, better yet, read a book. The author will thank you.

Some links and a few thoughts

Sorry, guys, but the brain isn’t working this morning. So instead of a regular post, I’m going to toss out some links and a few thoughts. Each of the links are important, in my opinion, because they represent some of the issues we’re facing as writers. I’m very interested in hearing what you think about the questions they bring up.

First up is an update from The Passive Voice about indie authors quitting their day jobs. The comments are great and show that there are different ways of defining success. But, what impressed me most of all about the comments was the amount of encouragement being given. It’s a refreshing change from some of the shrill condemnation coming from a certain sector of the industry.

This next link is one Sarah sent me last night. The title of the article, “Failure, Writing’s Constant Companion” didn’t do much to make me want to read it. Not after a day of struggling with my own work. But then I did read it and, frankly, the article is true on a number of points. The question really boils down to do we have the strength to continue fighting the small “failures” as well as the large or do we toss in the towel and do something else?

Although you may starve if your books don’t sell, or your agent might yell at you for producing something that three people will read, failure in writing is more of an intimately crushing day-to-day thing. O.K., minute-to-minute. Measured against your ideal of yourself.

Those little “failures” — the failure to meet the daily word count, the failure to finish a book by a self-imposed deadline, the failure to sell so many copies a day as determined by some number we’ve plucked out of the air — are what tend to undermine our confidence as writers. I know they do me. Add in the “real life” pressures and it can become difficult at times. It’s up to us to figure out how to cope and move forward — or to determine if the time has come to chuck the writing and go find a “real” job.

Then there is this post from The Passive Voice where a hybrid author “busts” myths about publishing. I’d seen it earlier but it was the math about the difference in what authors receive for traditionally published work as opposed to indie work. The one thing I’ll take exception to is that there is no provision in the math table (that I saw this morning) to take into account that the publisher pays authors based on net. So the figures shown on the chart will actually be lower. But the point made after the math is still valid:

So, the rule of thumb is that an indie author earns almost five times as much as a traditional author from each ebook sold.

Or, to flip things around, if a tradpub author sells four times as many ebooks as an indie author does, the indie author still makes more money.

Then, in the legal case that never ends, the judge has ordered mediation in an off-shoot of the price fixing case brought by the Department of Justice against Apple et al. In this particular situation, the original defendants in the suit (Apple and five of the then Big Six Publishers) have been told to negotiate with three e-tailers, now no longer in business, “in an attempt to resolve claims that a 2010 conspiracy to fix e-book prices forced the retailers out of business.” The three plaintiffs are “filed by Australian upstart DNAML in September of 2013, and later joined by Lavoho, LLC, a “successor” to the Diesel eBook Store and Abbey House Media, formerly BooksOnBoard,” PW notes more plaintiffs may join the suit before everything is said and done.

What this means is that it is going to be a long time before we quit feeling the fall out from the collusion that happened between Apple and the publishers. The rather tense — yes, I’m being nice here — contract negotiations between Amazon and Hatchette are just the first salvo. What I find interesting is that the same authors who are so up in arms about how evil Amazon is being toward innocent little Hatchette are silent on how the machinations of their publisher and Apple drove other e-tailers out of business. Of course, they are probably trying to find a way to blame it all on Amazon. After all, Amazon is the big evil.

Hmmm, I wonder if Amazon wants t join the Evil League of Evil.

Then there is this four question interview with Hugh Howey. It isn’t difficult to see the side of the Amazon v Hatchette issue the interviewer falls on, especially when she states that she feels Mike Shatzkin “pointed out, rightly I believe” that it is in indie authors’ best interests for traditionally published e-books to remain at a higher price. After all, those poor indies are fighting for a market share and don’t have all the resources behind them that a traditionally published author does.

Howey’s response is both measured and right on the mark, in my opinion:

I blogged about this on my site. If you want to understand this mindset, look at the indie author community, where many authors share ideas and encouragement, participate in box sets, reveal anything that works for them in the hopes it might work for others, and where you’re more likely to see a writer tout someone else’s book rather than their own.

I have spoken with Hachette authors who are frustrated with the price of their e-books. They feel powerless. They can’t speak up for fear of reprisal. When people like Mike act stunned that anyone would fight for these authors who can’t fight for themselves, it tells me a lot about how they see the world. It’s not how I see it. I don’t ever want to see the world like that, even if it’s accurate. Because seeing the world like this is the first step in making it so.

There’s a lot more there. Go take a look.

Finally, I saw this announcement on Publishers Weekly. Basically, Writer’s Digest and BookBaby have teamed up to form a self-publishing imprint. Now, you know me. I’m the suspicious sort. So I went looking to see what I could find on Blue Ash Publishing. Part of it was out of curiosity. Could it have something that might be of assistance to me? But part of it was the cynic coming out — could it really be a self-publishing imprint when they are doing the publishing? That seemed at odds with what self-publishing is.

Well, my suspicions turned out to at least have some basis. For one, Blue Ash is basically a repackager that also does e-book conversion and basic cover design. Oh, you get a couple of “guaranteed” reviews and other “perks”, but you also pay a nice bit of change for it. Their “packages” range in price from $417 to $3,137. Oh, but they will give you, the author, the highest payment out there. They say so right here. Of course, they go on to say that you get 100% of “net” sales from online retailers. It looks like that means they won’t take a cut like other repackagers do, but remember. You’ve already paid out at least $417 for a title you may only be charging a couple of bucks for. I’ll let you figure out the math to determine how many copies you’d have to sell just to break even.

There is one bit on the commission page that worries more than others. Blue Ash promises to pay weekly once you reach a pre-set earnings threshold. What they don’t say is if that means they will pay only on sales through their own storefront on a weekly basis or on projected sales from the other outlets. Since I’m not aware of any online outlet that pays repackagers on weekly basis, this could mean Blue Ash pays on spec. While that’s nice, it could also mean you would be dunned the next week — or month — when someone returns your book. That could quickly become bookkeeping hell. Sorry, but I’ll pass.

Anyway, that’s it for this morning. I promise a real post next week. In the meantime, I am curious to see what you guys think about the links above and what they might mean for indies as a whole.

coverforvfaNow for a bit of self-promotion. Vengeance from Ashes is on countdown on Amazon this week. If you are quick, you can sill grab it for 99 cents. Thanks to everyone who has already grabbed a copy. I really do appreciate it.

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

There are times . . .

When I wonder if I’ve been transported to an alternate universe where common sense and the ability to think and reason for oneself no longer exists. That’s especially true when it comes to what is happening in the publishing industry right now. Or maybe I’m just tired of the attacks on people I respect and care about simply because they dare to speak out against the “company” line. Whatever it is, I’m ready to wake up and find out that those with a clue are in charge (and no, I’m not foolish enough to think that will happen in the political arena. I’m talking publishing here). Unfortunately, it isn’t going to happen any time soon.

For those of you who saw my post over at According to Hoyt yesterday, this is a sort-of follow on. You can check out that post here. Maybe I’m overly cranky because of personal demands that have kept me away from the house too much each day and have left me emotionally drained. Maybe it’s because there are folks out there who are calling all of MGC, as well as others I care about fascists just because we don’t kowtow to the idea that men are evil and glitter is good. Or maybe I’m just tired of authors who ought to know better attacking Amazon, saying it is purposefully hurting them in its “heavy handed” tactics in its negotiations with Hatchette.

So, what is the first piece of insanity to drive me up a wall? This article from Salon is as good of a place to start as any. In it, the author suggests that we ought to nationalize both Amazon and Google because 1) they’re large, 2) they’re ruthless and 3) they touch every aspect of our lives. He’d really like it if we treated these two corporations like public utilities. Oookay, that’s worked sooo well and is why, at least here in Texas, we can now choose what electric company to go with. Sorry, when folks start saying we ought to nationalize a company because it is successful makes me squirm and I look around to see if Wesley Mooch or Dr. Ferris or Jim Taggart are anywhere around. If they are, I am most definitely going out and looking for John Galt.

This comment says so much: “Amazon’s war on publishers like Hachette is another sign of Big Tech arrogance.”

First of all, where is the war? Oh, could it be when the publishers decided they didn’t like Amazon paying them for e-books and then selling said e-books at a loss? Why would the publishers dislike that? They still got paid. That wasn’t good enough. The publishers said the $9.99 price point devalued the e-books. Funny, those same publishers didn’t have any qualms double-dipping against their authors, claiming at one time that a book that had already been edited, copy edited, proofed, etc., had to have it done again when converting to digital format. They convinced authors that it cost them soooo much more to make their e-books available. That’s why royalties couldn’t be any higher. Finally, e-book royalties increased some but are still heavily weighted to the publisher’s benefit. Yet, Amazon is the enemy.

Or maybe the opening salvo of the war came with agency pricing. But wait, Amazon didn’t do that. Apple and five of the big six publishers did. Funny thing, even though the collusian at the heart of that action violated state and federal law and yet the Amazon haters have no problem with it. In fact, they embrace it and attack the Department of Justice for actually doing its job. Because, duh, Amazon is evil.

Perhaps the battle didn’t start until now, with the Hatchette negotiations. Let’s see, Amazon is playing hard ball and hurting authors by taking away the pre-order buttons. Hmm. Okay, I’ll admit that authors are the ultimate victims with that but that isn’t by Amazon’s choice. They aren’t buying the books from the authors. They are buying them from Hatchette. They can do so because they have, or had, a contract with Hatchette that allowed them to dos. But all contracts, if they are legally binding, have an end date. That includes this particular contract. When that contract is no longer in effect, Amazon has no legal right to continue selling Hatchette’s books. Sure, as long as Hatchette doesn’t mind, it can do so but why would it?

The more important question is why would it risk the ire of its customers by allowing pre-orders of books that it might not have the right to sell, or the ability to fulfill the pre-orders for, by the time said books are released? Unfortunately, that sort of logic seems to elude the Amazon haters, just as they see nothing wrong with Hatchette turning down at least two proposals by Amazon to set up funds, to be equally funded by Amazon and Hatchette, to assist authors who are being impacted by the continuing negotiations. I guess that, because Amazon suggested it, it must be evil.

Sigh.

So, instead of looking at what sort of business practices a publisher engages in — and does anyone really believe the sales numbers they report via BookScan? — we must wage war on Amazon. Now, before you go saying that I’m being naive, I know Amazon isn’t angelic. But it also isn’t nearly as bad as its detractors would have us believe. Remember, it isn’t the only online seller to remove buy buttons. But no one is talking about when Barnes & Noble did so. Hmmmm. Also, if we are here to protect the author, why aren’t there cries of outrage because Barnes & Noble and other stores refuse to stock books distributed by Amazon’s imprints? Oh, I know, those authors are turncoats and mustn’t be rewarded for staying in the enemy camp. Funny, am I the only one to see a double standard here?

Then there’s this video being passed around, almost as if it’s gospel. The problem is, it isn’t anything more than a spoof, at best, to demonstrate how poorly Hatchette authors are being treated by Amazon. Frankly, all it did for me was impact my respect for Dick Cavette and not in a positive manner. From the opening comments, and visuals, it is clear this is an attack on Amazon. The only thing they get right in the half of the video I watched before I had to turn it off or toss the laptop across the room is that Amazon isn’t really talking about the contract negotiations. Well, guess what, all you Amazon haters, neither is Hatchette. Why? Because it is a contract negotiation. Those aren’t usually played out in public. Oh, sure, Hatchette “insiders” who are called “people close to the source” and other fun euphemisms tell us what they want us to know — and isn’t it odd that all they tell us is how evil Amazon is and not what they are asking for in return?

Something else we aren’t hearing from Hatchette is the fact that this negotiation has come about for two reasons: it was the first of the publishers to push through an agency model pricing contract with Amazon and that contract was voided as part of the agreement not to go to trial with the Justice Department. So, if Amazon is playing hard ball after their assertions that the agency pricing model as it existed came about through illegal means, can you really blame them? Or do you believe the publishers would take the high road if their roles were reversed?

I’m not a big fan of the Author’s Guild, as anyone familiar with this blog knows. That wasn’t helped when I saw an article where the president of the Guild told Amazon that the Guild would not support Amazon’s offer ” to immediately begin offering the delayed books again and give its share of Hachette digital book  sales to the authors for the duration of the dispute — if the publisher would also forgo its share of the revenue.” However, I do understand part of the Guild’s concerns. As Guild president Roxana Robinson said, the offer would require the authors to take Amazon’s side against their publisher. The text between the lines is that, by agreeing to the offer, the authors face retaliation from Hatchette in the form of no more contracts. For those authors who still believe traditional publishing is the only real way to publish, that would be a death sentence.

My issue with the statement is that there is really no push back against Hatchette. Worse, there is at least some language from Robinson that indicates she wouldn’t be too terribly upset if the government were to step in and do something to make sure Amazon no longer ruled the market. When folks start talking about government intervention into a successful company just because it’s successful, I start wondering just how far that person is willing to go to protect their dying company/industry to the detriment of others.

Finally, Amazon has broken at least some of its silence and has reached out to Hatchette authors. You can see its letter and Joe Konrath’s response here. Note a few things, according to Amazon and — to my knowledge — Hatchette hasn’t denied:

1. Amazon reached out to Hatchette in January about the contract that would soon be expiring and Hatchette didn’t respond.

2. When the contract expired in March, Amazon extended the terms and once again reached out to Hatchette. Once again, Hatchette didn’t respond.

3. It was only when Amazon finally removed the pre-order buttons and stopped keeping large stock of Hatchette titles on hand in April that Hatchette responded and most of that was whining in public to the media and its authors about how mean and evil Amazon is.

I’ll let you read the rest of Konrath’s post but I agree with him on one thing — Hatchette is trying to drag the negotiations out until September when it can try to reimpose agency pricing on Amazon. This has nothing to do with taking care of its authors and everything to do with maximizing Hatchette’s profits. But that’s okay, at least in the eyes of some folks, because everyone but Amazon can make profits and step on the little guy. In this case, the little guy are all the authors who are getting screwed, not by Amazon but by Hatchette because it is Hatchette that continues to refuse to agree to any deal to help recompense their authors while contract negotiations continue.

And folks wonder why I’m tired of most traditional publishing and those who parrot the stance of the Big Five without stopping to consider just what the impact will be if their publishers get what they want.

Now I’m going to find a cup of coffee, breakfast and get to work on everything that has piled up over the last month of emergency followed by obligation followed by emergency.

Edited to add the following:

 There is now a “new player” that is being touted as having struck a blow against Amazon. HarperCollins has now launched its own webstore. You read that right, how many years after Amazon began and B&N started selling online, a major publisher has launched a webstore. Wow, how revolutionary — not. Worse, when you go to the site, you are presented with promises of certain books offering 15% off the title plus free shipping and 20% off the ebook. Sounds good. But when you follow the link to the product page you are presented the title at what looks like full price (Stephanie Evanovich’s book comes in at $26.99) and UPS ground shipping of $7.99 and there is nothing on the buy page about the e-book. Now, maybe if I’d taken time to fill out all my particulars, including payment information, I’d have seen the discount, but sorry, that ain’t gonna happen. Unless I know I’m buying something, a site isn’t getting my address and credit card number.

Scrolling down to see the other dozen or so books featured on the home page I notice something else — there are no prices listed. Not a single one. Yeah, that’s really going to be a winning point in the battle against Amazon.

Maybe if the publishers would get a clue and actually analyze what it is that people like about Amazon, including layout and design, maybe they’d come closer to actually being able to imitate what Amazon is doing.

 

Of trains, publishers and agency pricing

(Apologies for the post being late. I’ve been fighting WordPress. For some reason, for the last couple of days, it has refused to play nice with Opera. I hate IE but had to resort — finally — to using it to get the post up this morning.)

Last night, I was talking to Sarah and I asked her what I should blog about today. Nothing was happening in the industry that really seemed to jump out at me and scream “Blog about me!”. I couldn’t find anything I thought needed to be fisked and, since I’d been busy ripping out drywall all day, I hadn’t had time to cruse the blogs and news sites I usually look at when I need inspiration to kickstart an idea. Even when I got up this morning, the well was dry. Then, as is often the case, two sites later, there were half a dozen different stories all wanting to have some additional “face time” on the internet. Here are a few of them, along with my thoughts.

First up is the Amtrack Residency Program. I’ll admit when I first heard about the program, I was excited. I have loved trains since I was a kid. I think it started when I was really little and my paternal grandmother would tell me about how she’d ride the train out to California to visit my aunt and cousins every year. I read everything I could about trains. There was just something about them that called to me. My fascination grew when I was able to spend time in Europe and ride the trains there. So, there was a spark of little girl-like glee when I read the initial posts about the residency program. After all, how cool would it be to be able to ride the rails and write?

Awesome coolness, right?

Then reality came crashing down as I started seeing posts on Facebook and elsewhere about the actual contract terms Amtrak wanted authors to agree upon.

6.   Grant of Rights: In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties.

That’s right, boys and girls, just by submitting your application, you are granting Amtrak the right to do whatever it wants to with your application. Now, I have no doubt the last thing Amtrak plans to do is publish someone’s name, address, phone number, etc. But you can’t go by supposed intent. You have to look at the actual contract language.

Another concern I have is that they can modify and publish the application, including the application essay. That means they can take part of your, edit it any way they want, and put it out there with your name attached to it as well as your picture. You have no say in the editing and they aren’t required to say that the original text might not be exactly — or even near — to what has just gone public.

Then there’s this language in the contract: Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing.

I have several concerns with this as well. Let’s start with the fact that once you apply for the program, Amtrak has the right to use your application, essay AND your name, photo or likeness. More than that, they can do it for any reason they want to. Note that the language of the clause states that the use includes but is not limited to advertising and marketing. Worse, they can do this forever. Even publishing contracts have an end clause of some sort, vague though it might be (ask any author who is trying to get their rights back about how vague the language is and how hard it is to get a publisher to release rights now.)

Needless to say, much as I like trains, I’m not going to be applying for the program. Not with contract terms like this. For more, check out what Writer Beware has to say about it all.

One of my go-to sites to find out what’s happening in the publishing industry is The Passive Voice. If you haven’t bookmarked the site and visit it regularly, do so.

In a post about why publishers need to start thinking more like Amazon, PG made the following comment:  PG thinks if Big Publishing was going to pull off any sort of transformation in time to save itself, it would have begun before now. He further observes not the slightest indication that publishers have either the ability or the intention to think like Amazon. They would rather die first. And will.

While I’m not sure we will see the death of the major publishers, I do think we are going to see legacy publishers having to either merge or die. Smaller houses, those more responsive to not only their authors but their readers, will continue to spring up and do well. They may never have the market share of the Big Five publishers, they will be more economically viable.

I think we are also, at least for the near run, see more and more authors going indie or taking the hybrid route. Of course, major publishers hate both routes and have tried to limit an author’s ability to do either through contract terms requiring authors to submit their work to said publisher in a “right of first refusal”. Like the open-ended provisions of the Amtrak contract, there is often no limit on how long the publisher can sit on the submission before the author can then submit it elsewhere or go indie with it.

And we won’t get into where agents fall in this argument. They don’t make money on self-published work. Oh, wait, that’s why we’ve seen a spate of agencies opening their own publishing arms. They’re “helping” their clients self-publish. Just because they are also taking a piece of the pie has nothing to do with it.

Finally, in the whine of the week, I give you Kobo. I’ll admit right here that I have mixed feelings about Kobo. I cheered when it said it was opening its store up to indies and small presses. Not only does Kobo have a larger share of the Canadian EPUB market than Barnes & Noble but I’d heard good things about the company and its CEO. Then I started trying to use its interface and had slow approval times and a serious lack of help when it came to actually identifying why a book might be in perpetual limbo. After that came the whole “is it too explicit sexually” or not dust-up and, well, the shine started rubbing off of the company.

Now Kobo has filed an objection to the settlement announced by Canada’s Competition Bureau between CCB and four publishers that would end agency pricing. In its filing, Kobo says it lost its market share in the US due to the ending of agency pricing. It calls its market share and revenues here as “negligible” and says this will happen in Canada if agency pricing goes away. What gets me is that Kobo should have seen this coming. It’s not like the agency pricing issue happened overnight in the US and was done. It went on for a couple of years. Everyone except Apple and the publishers involved seemed to see the writing on the wall. So why didn’t Kobo start adapting when it became clear here and in England that the agency pricing model, as it existd, was going to be struck down?

A key thing to consider comes from The Digital Reader article linked above:

In short, Kobo is saying that when Amazon was allowed to discount ebooks in the US, Kobo was unable to compete effectively, not even by means other than price (marketing, CS, features, community). This is rather curious because other companies, including Zola Books, The Reading Room, Bilbary, Oyster, and Scribd all seem to be able to compete effectively against Amazon in the US ebook market. Also, (Barnes & Noble saw most of its growth in the pre-agency era, claiming a 20% market share by the end of April 2010. This only grew another 6% to 8% in the following years.)

I have a hard time buying Kobo’s argument. EPUB – the format Kobo sells – is potentially the largest market out there. It isn’t working under the failing business model of B&N. There is no real reason why it should have lost its market share here. There is certainly no reason why it would be hit that hard in Canada where, as I understand, it is the major e-book retailer of EPUB format.

It’s time for Kobo and legacy publishers to look around, listen to what their customers and suppliers are telling them and to adapt. Otherwise, they will continue to lose market shares and go belly up.

It’s Sunday morning and . . .

I overslept. And, before everyone thinks I’ve gone and committed coup here at MGC, I haven’t. It’s just that with LibertyCon this weekend, Sarah and I forgot to arrange for someone to guest blog. So, instead of having a dead day, here I am, trying desperately to figure out something to blog about.

In the publishing world, things are about to get interesting again. The Department of Justice’s case against Apple is now in the judge’s hands. Depending on what report your read, Apple either won hands down or the judge has already tipped her hand and will be ruling with the DoJ. Me, I have a feeling we’ll see a decision that sort of splits the middle — and one that will be appealed. No matter what the ruling, the issue isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the plea agreement terms between the DoJ and the five publishers to have long expired before the case against Apple wends its way through the judicial process. What that means is that, by the time this is over, we might again see a variation of agency pricing — remember, DoJ didn’t say it was inherently bad. It said the alleged collusion is what was in violation of federal law.

Then we have Barnes & Noble. The Nook, and especially Nook media, was supposed to be the savior of the company. Instead, this past year, and especially the last quarter, finds it as the albatross around the retailer’s neck. Not even the influx of cash from Microsoft has managed to stem the tide. Making matters worse, the retail storefronts have dedicated a good chunk of their stores to the Nook and the decline in sales is impacting the bottom line for the physical stores as well as the online store. Needless to say, this is making publishers more than a bit nervous as they wonder just what is going to happen with B&N over the next year.

If that isn’t enough, lines are being drawn in the sand of social media. You have one the one hand those authors and editors who have decided it isn’t enough to condemn the other side for daring to self-publish or work with small to micro-presses. After all, they are skipping the gatekeepers and not suffering for their art by waiting for someone to realize just how enlightened and wonderful their work might be (in other words, until it meets the political/social/economic trend of the day as decided by the publisher). Now many of those same authors, editors and publishers are jumping on the politically correct band wagon to condemn men who dare voice the fact they appreciate a woman for being a woman. These are the same ones who have been so quick to jump in and help publicly flog Paula Deen for uttering what is, admittedly, a word none of us — NONE OF US — should use. She’s admitted to using the word and has apologized. Whether she’s admitted to the other allegations in the suit against her, I don’t know. What I do know is that those who denounce her have already condemned her without seeing anything but her apology and the pleadings filed in the case. After all, if it’s been charged, it must be true. Right?

Yet how many of them are out there screaming that all the producers and companies who use Alec Baldwin as a spokesman or actor should drop him? After all their high fives on social media after the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA, you’d think they’d be after Baldwin but, since he is one of the “enlightened” — except on this particular issue — they aren’t.

And that, my friends, is an example of the double standard that is prevalent in our industry today. It is also an example of how you have to have a thick skin to survive. There are sharks in publishing and they aren’t necessarily the publishers and bean counters who live in the ivory towers in NYC. No, they are the authors who have been the darlings of those same publishers and bean counters and who now are realizing that being socially relevant might not be enough. With more and more writers moving away from legacy publishing and actually writing books readers want to read, these same dahlings of publishing are seeing their numbers drop. Not just their sales figures but their advances as well. And it is the advances they worry about.

Or at least they should, especially since most books published through legacy publishing never earn out (at least that’s my understanding).

For years, publishing has managed to survive through creative bookkeeping (ie BookScan numbers) and by knowing the mid-list authors would sell X-amount for each title. But many of those mid-listers have been cast aside. Some of the others who still have contracts to fulfill are not trying very hard to get new contracts with the legacy publishers because they have learned how much they can earn on their own. Why earn 25% or less per unit sold when you can go with a small to micro press and earn 50% or more? Or when you can publish on your own and earn up even more than that?

But it is more than just the increased royalties an author can earn by going with a small press or by self-publishing. There is the time difference between writing and publishing to consider as well. Traditionally published books generally take a year or more from the time an author finishes a book to the time it makes it to the bookshelves, whether digital or print or both. This is especially true when the book has to go through an agent for acceptance and then be shopped around. That time is much less with smaller presses and certainly if you self-publish. There you are talking weeks, maybe months, instead of years.

Then you have to consider that the publisher usually won’t order another book from you until seeing the pre-order numbers. If you have one of those wonderful contracts giving the publisher right of first refusal, that means you might not be able to write anything for anyone, even yourself, until they’ve declined to buy your next work. If that isn’t bad enough, most of the ROFR clauses don’t have a time limit on them. In other words, you could submit something to them a month after they’ve accepted your currently contracted book and they can sit on the second work until they see what your pre-order numbers are.

That is not a good thing.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say with this is that there is a small group of authors and editors out there who are pounding their chests in social outrage over what happened years ago (see some of the posts about the 1930-something letter from Walt Disney denying employment to a woman because there are no female animators in the studio at that time) as well as what two gentlemen had to say about events that happened thirty or more years ago all in an attempt to prove they are still relevant. Oh, I don’t doubt some of them are truly outraged. But some of them also refuse to allow you to post on their walls if you don’t agree with them. So there is an agenda and only the “right kids” can play.

To play, you have to follow their rules. You have to make sure your male characters are sorry for being male and that they never, ever do anything that might be seen as being chauvinistic — including holding the door for a female character. Unless, of course, that male is the villain.  Your female characters have to be enlightened and strong and modern and — well, you get the message. Oh, and make sure you never have a chicks in chainmail type cover. That is bad. But a nearly naked male on the cover is good. We can objectify them all we want because, well, we can.

Rolls eyes,.

Yeah, the double-standard bothers the hell out of me. For me, I’ll write my characters as the story demands. If a male winds up being a gentleman who holds the doors and pays for dinner, so be it. If he happens to like the way the female characters looks in a bikini — or less — well, he’s human. But if she wants to enjoy looking at him, all the more power to her as well. I will not keep them from having their guns if the story demands it and if a story needs a patriarchal society, it will get one.

In other words, I’m not going to sacrifice a story just so I’m politically correct. I can and will. I write to entertain and, hopefully, make some money. If in the story I can subtly get a lesson or two across, cool. But my lessons might not be politically correct ones. After all, I do believe in the right to bear arms. I believe a man should be a gentleman and a woman a lady, although she can be a bitch at times just as he can be a cad. Big business isn’t inherently evil and government isn’t meant to be our nanny.

But that’s just me and I’ve wandered on long enough. What do you think? Should stories entertain or teach or preach or what?

 

More from the publishing funhouse

Ah, publishing. The one industry where there’s never a dull moment. Between federal lawsuits against legacy publishers for price fixing to the feud between literary authors and genre writers to the battle to save bookstores even as e-books continue to gain popularity, publishing can be like the best — or worst — roller coaster you’ve ever ridden. This week is no different.

In the Department of Justice’s price fixing law suit against Penguin and Apple, the only remaining defendants to the suit, Penguin has filed a motion to compel arbitration “in the consumer class and state claims.” This is basically the same motion Penguin filed earlier in the life of the case and that was denied by the judge last July. Penguin has, I’m assuming, refiled the motion because the judge, at the time she denied the motion, didn’t actually rule on the state claims. That leaves the door open a crack for Penguin here. Basically, this is probably simply a means for Penguin to preserve the issue on appeal and not a real effort to have the judge grant arbitration.

Now, for once, I agree with Publishers Weekly on this issue. First, arbitration in this case would be prohibitively costly. Think about the man hours needed to enter into arbitration with every person who qualifies. How many people bought an e-book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, for example, during the time in question? How many have opted in to the class action law suits? How many different states are involved? How many of these purchasers have become incapacitated or have died and the arbitration would have to be with guardians or trustees? How many of us believe this is just another attempt to drag out the suit?

As we draw ever closer to the June 3rd trial date, it is clear that the whole case comes down to whether or not the judge will buy Apple’s and Penguin’s argument that there is no “direct evidence” of a conspiracy or if she will see a pattern in the evidence presented to her. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the applicable federal statutes involved in the case, but I doubt there has to be only direct evidence. If there is an overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence, or a so-called smoking gun, that isn’t rebutted by other evidence, then that can be just as convincing as finding someone standing over the body with the murder weapon in hand.

Remember, that person you find with the murder weapon may just be some poor schmuck who came upon the body and, hearing some sound in another room, picked up the gun to defend himself. Conversely, if you have an abundance of e-mails and sworn testimony describing meetings where the players discussed how they wanted to do in Amazon and the best way to do that was to prevent it from discounting e-books by refusing to sign contracts with it unless it agreed to agency pricing, then you pretty much have evidence of a conspiracy.

Yes, that is over-simplifying it, but you get my meaning.

And then there’s the news that broke over the last couple of days concerning Stephen King. King, who back in 2000 was seen as the champion of e-books — or the betrayer of the industry, depending on your point of view — has seemingly reversed his stance. Back in 2000, he published Riding the Bullet only as an e-book. Oh, the howls of outrage at the time. But even louder were the cries of derision by his fellow authors and others in the industry. After all, back then, there was no Kindle, no Nook, no iPad. E-books were still in their infancy. He was either an innovator or a betrayer.

Flash forward to next month and the release of Joyland. Some sites are hailing King as a hero of print. Others note that, while he has said the book will only be released in print next month, he isn’t completely closing the door on releasing it as an e-book later on. Frankly, it doesn’t matter one way or another. Not really and not in the long run because King has kept the digital rights for himself and that means the e-book can come out whenever he wants it to.

King’s rationale for not releasing the book as an e-book is simple: “I have no plans for a digital version. Maybe at some point, but in the meantime, let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.”

Now, am I the only one who sees a problem with that statement?

I doubt it. After all, his publisher for Joyland, Hard Case Crime, isn’t keeping the book off of online sales sites like Amazon or BN.com. As far as I have been able to discover, Hard Case isn’t cutting any special deals with indie bookstores to make it more cost-effective for those smaller, locally owned stores to stock the book. Remember, indies don’t have the buying power that the big box stores do simply because they can’t order in the same volume the bigger stores can.

There’s something else that will happen — and that some folks will use to condemn e-books. I can pretty much guarantee that Joyland will be pirated, possibly even before it hits the shelves. You don’t need a digital file to pirate a book. All you need is a copy of the book, or the ARC, and a scanner with the proper software. A prime example of this is the last Harry Potter book. It was available for download on a number of pirate sites days before the book was on sale. Don’t forget, those books were only offered as e-books within the last year or so.

But if King’s reason for withholding the digital version is to get folks into bookstores, this is probably too little and too late. Sure, he’s a best seller and his hardcore fans will go buy the book in print even if they’d prefer digital. Even though it is coming from a smaller publisher, there will be push for the book. After all, King is a “best seller” and he has more than enough money and pull to get push by simply picking up the phone and issuing a statement like the one announcing there would be no e-book version.  But this isn’t one of his trademark horror books. It isn’t coming out in hard cover.

Perhaps this is King’s attempt to help the publishing house and to help support its other authors. Perhaps he really has had a change of heart. But, if that were the case, wouldn’t it be more effective to have Doctor Sleep, his sequel to The Shining, in only print and not digital formats? Wouldn’t that make more of a statement? It would certainly make more of an impact. Oh, wait, that would also impact his bottom line. Guess King likes getting those big paychecks as much I would.

Yes, I’m a cynic.

Let’s face it, if he wanted to help bookstores, he could do so without holding back the e-book version. Kobo has a program where indies can “sell” e-books. I’m sure there are other ways as well, including selling download codes for the book. I remember when audio books were making the transition from tape and CD to digital. You could find displays at the local big box bookstores where you could buy MP3 players with preloaded audio books on them. Publishers and authors could do the same with SD and micro-SD cards. As I said, download codes could be sold as well. There are a number of other methods that could be used as well. But each of them would require publishers, and some authors, to adapt and change their mindsets, something too many have shown a reluctance to do.

Too little, too late on King’s part? I don’t know, but I do know there were other things he could have done to make his effort more effective.

Before signing off, I’d like to ask everyone to keep the people of Moore, OK and the surrounding areas in their thoughts and prayers today and in the coming days. The devastation in the area is horrible and the loss of life is even worse, especially when you consider how many children died.