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Posts tagged ‘Apple’

Something new(ish) from Amazon & more

I know I promised the next installment of “Know Your Genre” today but I’ll be honest. I’ve been too busy to write the post I want to. It needs a bit more research than I’ve had time to do. So I will be back later this week with the post. In the meantime, there’s been some news out of Amazon this month that should be of interest to all the indies out there. Also, for those who, like me, prefer tech over old-style but who still find it easier to edit with pen and paper, I may have a new option for you.

Last year, Amazon began offering a beta program which allowed indies the option of creating print books through their KDP program instead of going to Createspace or one of the other POD options currently available. The pros for the new beta program were simple: 1) you could upload your pdf files directly to your KDP dashboard instead of going to another site to do so; 2) your digital and print books linked automatically; and 3) you didn’t have to charge as much in order to get a royalty. All of those were great but there were drawbacks. It was a beta program and we didn’t know how long it would be before Amazon decided if it would stick with it or not. It did limit distribution somewhat. There were no print proofs offered and, the big kicker as far as most of us were concerned, authors could not order at a discount. Read more

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.

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.

On Apple, royalties and glittery bits

After several weeks of not finding anything to really inspire a post, today there seems to be too many bits of inspiration. Some of them I’ve tossed to the side because, well, the blog would be bogged down in politics all too quickly. Those I’ll save for my own blog. But others are continuation of topics we’ve already discussed while yet others simply had me shaking my head and rubbing my hands together gleefully (okay, I’m evil but you guys already knew that).

Let’s start with the continuing saga of the price fixing suit filed by the Department of Justice against Apple and five of the (former) Big Six publishers and the accompanying class action and state suits.

Last month, Apple filed a complaint with Judge Cotes complaining of the actions of the monitor appointed to make sure Apple is living up to the judgment of the court.  The monitor, Michael Bronwich, is charging Apple $1,100 and hour plus a 15% administrative fee. Apple also contends Bronwich is acting “as an independent investigator whose role is to interrogate Apple personnel about matters unrelated to the injunction in an effort to ferret out any wrongdoing, all at Apple’s expense.” In conjunction with this allegation, Apple claims Judge Cote’s final order concerning the monitor, in which she gives the monitor the authority to meet ex parte with Apple executives illegally expanded the scope of the final injunction against Apple. This, according to Apple, lets Bronwich go on a “fishing trip” that has little if anything to do with his role as monitor in the price fixing case.

In a rather quick response to the complaint, Judge Cotes basically told Apple there is a process to follow and it didn’t. The first step in the process is to take their complaints to the Department of Justice. ““Objections are to be conveyed in writing to the United States and the Plaintiff States within ten calendar days after the action giving rise to the objection.” If, after reasonable efforts, the two sides can’t come to an agreement, they can request to meet with the judge. Judge Cote did take one other step. In response to Apple’s complaint that the original ordered allowed for ex parte communications between the monitor and the court, she amended the order to disallow such communications.

Now, let’s look at Apple’s main issues with the monitor — other than the rather obvious one that Apple just doesn’t like anyone looking over their shoulder to make sure no other anti-trust violations are committed. First, with regard to the reasonableness of the monitor’s fees, they do seem excessive. However, that will be an easily proven — or disproven — complaint. All the two sides have to do is show what the current going rate is for such sort of third-party monitoring. An agreement between the two sides should be easily had. However, Apple being Apple and the DoJ probably not wanting to look weak, who knows. Let’s hope Judge Cote has time on her docket for a meeting before long between the parties.

Where I foresee a problem coming to an agreement is the issue of whether the monitor should be able to meet ex parte with Apple execs. I, personally, have no problem with such meetings as long as the monitor is working under strict guidelines. He should not be allowed to go on “fishing trips”, as Apple alleges, looking for anything Apple or its employees may be doing in violation of the law. The monitor is there to insure the terms of the injunction are being complied with and nothing more. He should not be looking for anything outside the scope of the injunction.

Nor should he be hampered by having to wait to talk to an Apple exec until a corporate attorney is able to be present at the meeting. That would be like not being able to serve a search warrant until a defense attorney is present for its execution; Not only would the notice required for such action give the perp time to get rid of any incriminating evidence, it would slow the process down beyond the snail’s pace it is already at. The same applies with regard to Apple. The monitor has to be able to talk with Apple execs. They have the right to refuse to discuss anything without him without an attorney present. But to have to wait each and every time is not necessary, at least not in my layman’s opinion.

But that’s not the last of the news about the anti-trust suit the DoJ filed against Apple and the five publishers. Judge Cote has approved the last of the e-book settlements in this and related cases. Specifically, she approved the settlement involving Macmillan and Penguin. This means more than $166 million will eventually be paid out to consumers. But it won’t happen quickly. So don’t expect an early Christmas gift. The first payments will come no sooner than 30 days after the approval becomes final. Does this signal that the end is in sight for this chapter in publishing history? No. At least I don’t think so. Apple is still appealing the injunction against it and there are still third party objectors to Judge Cote’s judgment. But we are, in my opinion, on the downhill side of it. The only question is if publishing is going to cross the finish line and learn from what happened or if there will be an avalanche that will sweep away any lessons that might have been learned and leave legacy publishing even more engrained in practices that are outdated and outmoded.

In the “duh” department, we have the following quotes about e-book royalty rates paid by legacy publishers:

“there’s a lot of inertia built into the system . . . a strong incentive for publishers not to fairly pay authors for e-book sales.” (Paul Aiken)

“The problem is that [agents and authors] don’t know what to ask for, and publishers don’t know what to give.” (industry insider)

Aiken, who at the time of the quote was executive director of The Authors Guild, is referring to a system in which many publishing contracts have a clause “stating that an author will receive a higher e-book royalty rate if, and when, the standard rate changes.” Simply put, the industry standard won’t change until the publishers start paying higher rates but they aren’t going to pay higher rates because the industry standard hasn’t changed. Don’t you just love that sort of circular thinking?

But it is the last quote that blows my mind. After several years of a very healthy e-book market, why don’t agents know what to ask for? As for publishers not knowing what to give, don’t believe that for a minute. Publishers know where every penny of their money goes. They know how much it costs to produce an e-book. But they are also the ones who have tried telling the reading public — as well as their own authors — that an e-book requires extra art costs, extra editing, proofing, etc. No, it doesn’t. Once a book is edited, it is edited. It doesn’t matter how many different formats it is being published in. As for proofing, all you need is someone to put eyeballs on it to make sure there have been no glitches in the digital conversion process. It doesn’t take long and it sure as heck shouldn’t cost much. Cover art? Give me a break. You aren’t paying for two or three different covers. You are simply manipulating size.

Agents also know what to ask for, or they should. This is especially true for those agents who belong to agencies that now offer their own publishing services. If they don’t know how much to ask for, then they need to start doing their research. It is time for publishing — agents, editors and publishers of the legacy sort — to quit acting like things haven’t changed over the last ten years. More importantly, it is time for authors to quit letting them get away with it. There are alternatives.

And then, finally, there was this article that caught my eye the other day. First off, if these few items are the only controversies inside the world of science fiction and fantasy, we’re doing pretty damned good. The flip-side of their list of controversies is that it exhibits the current trend in SFWA and amongst some concoms to bend over backwards in homage to the great god of political correctness, even if it goes against the basic philosophy of the con or organization in question.

1. Elizabeth Moon and Wiscon.

When I first heard about this, I’ll admit the double-standard presented by the Wiscon concom and those condemning Moon bothered me. I could identify with a lot about what she said. Any parent with a child in school where “senstivity” courses in Islam were taught could. Heck, any woman ought to have been able to. More than that, Moon was exercising her right to free speech ON HER OWN BLOG. But she dared speak out against one of the PC darling topics at the time and the haters came out. Wiscon, after initially saying it wouldn’t withdraw her invitation as guest of honor, crumbled in the face of criticism and did just that. While Moon didn’t condemn the con for doing so, let’s just say that it seemed more than a bit strange that a con that prides itself on its feminist roots would remove her from the program when she was simply exercising her right to express her opinion about a religion that looks at women as second class citizens.

2. Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis on stage at the Hugos.

Now, before all the glittery ones get their hoohahs in an uproar, Ellison was wrong when he groped Willis and he was wrong with his response later. My issue is two-fold. The first is that Ellison has been held up almost as a standard to strive for in bad behavior by the same folks who now condemn him. We’ve all heard the SWFA folks laugh at how Ellison allegedly sent a dead gopher to a publisher. His antics are legend. But, until it became the cause celeb with SFWA and the glittery ones to go after anyone who is male, over the age of 40 and who doesn’t feel self-loathing for being male, no one said much of anything about it. Now, Ellison is simply another “example of the sexism of the old guard of SF.”

3. Vox Day expelled from SFWA

Oh my. We’ve written about this some. Kate has some wonderful posts and comments about it.  So I won’t go into the details. What I will point out is that in this so-called list of controversies in SFF, it is apparently all right for N. K. Jemison to call Vox an “ass hole” because she didn’t name him even though the context of her remarks made it clear who she was referring to. But his response, which was over the top but — having read Vox — was probably meant to get a response — was enough to get him kicked out of SFWA. Why? Because it was racist and sexist and he’s male and not enlightened and SFWA is, apparently, the PC police of our industry now.

4. The SFWA Bulletin has a Sexist Trifecta

Okay, now my head explodes. I’ve written on this as have others of the mad ones. SFWA and some of its members have now decided that you are bad and must be punished if you are female and approve a cover with a “chicks in chainmail” type of image on it. Worse, if a couple of “old white guys” talk about women editors they’ve known and comment that these women looked good in a swimsuit, they are evil and must have their column taken away from them. Why? Because they are disrespecting the female sex.

WTF?!?

Again, if you are male, over a certain age and not apologetic for having a penis and for enjoying the company of women, you are the enemy I guess. And let’s look at the other side, just to show that there is a double standard. These same women — and so-called men — who object to these covers that “objectify” women have no problem with the bare-chested, loin cloth clad men on the covers. Why is that, I wonder?

Finally, if this isn’t enough to prove to you that the current crop of “enlightened” leader so-called leaders of the genre and its organizations aren’t just as bigoted in their own way, consider this quote that ends the article about these “controversies”:

Well, welcome to 2013. And the world wide web, where everybody, even those underprivileged nobodies you never had to listen to before, has a chance to be heard.

Everyone, it seems, except those who don’t fit their definition of politically correct and enlightened.

 

Of Apple and Amazon and e-book sales

Sitting here this morning, wondering why I dreamed about having to bug-out because of an invasion of man-eating spiders (which, btw, are a lot worse than zombies because spiders can hide in much smaller places), I scanned the publishing news for the last few days and found myself wondering if we’ve stepped back in time. No, a quick glance at the calendar confirmed we haven’t. So I guess it is just more of the same-old-same-old while everyone waits to see what happens with the public hearing on copyright (and, yes, I will get to that but it will be next week. There’s a lot of material to wade through and I’m just now starting to feel well enough to do that sort of heavy reading)

The first example of how there are some in publishing that just don’t want to give up even in the face of overwhelming odds, is Apple. Even after losing the price fixing suit filed by the Department of Justice — and this after being abandoned by most of its named co-defendants when they settled the case instead of going to trial — Apple continues to fight. It now is trying to get the class action law suit against it dismissed. Now, most of the time, I wouldn’t think twice about this sort of thing. This isn’t one of those times. Apple is basically using the same arguments it used in the price fixing case to get this suit dismissed — arguments that obviously didn’t work. If you’ve already been told by a judge that your actions were not “pro-competitive and beneficial to consumers,” why are you still arguing it?

The only explanation I can come up with is that Apple simply isn’t used to losing. A company with very deep pockets, it rarely comes out on the short end of the stick. I have a feeling Apple will soon find itself on the short end again. Judge Cotes has already ruled once on this assertion and I don’t see her accepting it now. But Apple being Apple, they will keep trying and we will keep watching. More than that, considering how slowly cases proceed through the courts, the supervision period set out by Judge Cotes will probably have run its course before Apple exhausts all its appeals and then everything will be moot anyway.

Then there’s this article in Publisher’s Weekly about how the slowing e-book sales are a “mixed blessing”. When I saw the blurb for the article, I almost didn’t click over to the full piece. Part of me expected it to be another post extolling the fact that e-books really are nothing more than a flash in the pan and now that the “ooooh shiny” has worn off, folks will get back to buying print books. Fortunately for the continued existence of my laptop, it wasn’t all about that. The article does point out that you can’t keep up with triple digit sales increases over a long period of time. It also notes, as several of us here at MGC have, that the initial leap in sales had a lot to do with people buying e-book readers and tablets and getting books to go on them. That’s the sort of thing you see with any new tech. Just watch the increase in sales of video games over the next few months as the PS4 and XBox One — and the associated new gen games — hit the market.

However, this article — like so many others — is hampered by the fact that it is using figures that are no more accurate than BookScan sales numbers. That means whole markets are being left out as are a huge amount of indie and small press titles. Does this mean e-books sales haven’t slowed? Probably not. What I would bet on, however, is that they haven’t slowed as much as the study alleges and that means the gap between print sales and digital sales probably isn’t narrowing as much as is being assumed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying e-book sales are continuing to rising at triple digit levels. Nor am I saying the print section of the industry is doomed. My issue is that articles like this, based on data provided by third parties hired by interested parties in the debate, never give the full story. We don’t know what sources were used to determine sales. We don’t know if they used only sales from major publishers or from only members of AAP. We all know that studies like this can be manipulated and being the suspicious person that I am, I need to know the background information before accepting such a study at face value.

Then I came across this article from Dear Author and I thought that, for cone, I was going to have to disagree with them. But I can’t because I agree. The basic set up is this: a new e-book comes out and you buy it right away because you like the description or you’ve read other things by the author, etc. Being an e-book and (probably) written by an indie, you don’t mind dropping $4.99 or so for it. After all, you know the author’s work or you checked out the preview and it is less than that half-caf venti mocha you planned on for the afternoon.

So you click the pretty gold button on the product page and wait for the e-book to be downloaded to your e-reader or tablet and go off happily to read your new book.

Only to discover a few days later that the author has put the book on sale for 99 cents.

Now, $4.oo isn’t going to break me but, I guarantee you, I’m not happy to discover that I have just been penalized for being an early purchaser of the book. We’re not talking about a book that’s been out for months or even years. We’re talking about a book that has been out just a week or so. As Dear Author says, “Those on the pricing side can use price promotions to drive sales, but to do so at the cost of alienating loyal fans for not much long term gain seems counterintuitive.”

And that brings up the whole question of just when and how to promote your work which, in turns, brings up the question of do you go exclusively with one retailer or not. Amazon offers some great promotional programs for indies and small presses — if you go exclusively with Amazon for at least three months. If you ask three authors what they think about “limiting” yourself this way and you will get three different answers. One author will tell you that to go exclusive is to cut out sales venues and that means fewer sales. The next author will tell you that you should consider it but only after you’ve had your work out for at least six months or a year on all outlets to see where your best sales are. The third will tell you to definitely do it because Amazon is the gorilla in the marketplace and you can choose to not have DRM which means your buyers can convert their e-books into whatever format they want.

The correct answer is there is no correct answer. You have to decide for yourself what works best and, to do that, you need to know where your sales come from. You also have to consider how quickly you get paid. Then there is how quickly sales channels are updated so you can see what your sales trends are. But to simply discount an option because it comes from “evil Amazon” is to potentially cut off a viable promotional tool that can increase your sales.

Now, if the other outlets want to compete, they need to offer similar tools for authors. Frankly, I don’t want to write my book online using a retailers interface. I don’t want to wait weeks and months for a book to get through the review process (which I’ve been doing on a couple of titles and have finally pulled them and am resubbing them with some strategic changes in tagging and descriptions). I don’t want to risk having my books pulled from sales because someone thinks they are erotica based on a tag someone besides me put on them.

In other words, it is still up to us to keep on top of what is happening in the business. We have to educate ourselves about trends and programs and apps and all other things that can make our job easier and bring us into closer contact with our readers.

Professional or not, Apple and more

Have you ever had one of those days when you look around and wonder if the world has gone mad or if it’s just you? That’s sort of how I feel this morning. It isn’t because I have some real life issues that have been persistent pains in the butt of late. Nor is it even the fact that my muse has hit me over the head again and changed how I write, at least for this current WIP. No, those actually make sense compared to a couple of other things I’ve been reading about this morning.

First things first. Brian Keene has a post up about professionalism and elitism. It seems a quiz was posted on the HWA site to determine if you are a professional writer. According to the quiz, neither Keene nor many others qualify as a “pro” writer. Here are the questions and my answers.

1. Is your home/work place messy because that time you’d put into cleaning it is better spent writing?

No. My immediate work place gets messy as I write because I have scraps of paper with notes written on them and reference material. There will also be at least one coffee cup and can of Coke. But the rest of the house will be vacuumed every couple of days as well as dusted. The immediate work area is the way it is, not because time cleaning would take away from writing but because it is how I work. The coffee mug and Coke can disappear at the end of the day.

2. Do you routinely turn down evenings out with friends because you need to be home writing instead?

Hell no. Not unless I am in the middle of a scene that would suffer by the interruption or I’m working a deadline. Writing may be my job and my passion but I also know that to stay sane I have to get out of the house once in awhile.

3.  Do you turn off the television in order to write?

This is one of those “sometimes” answers. I usually need background noise on in order to write. That noise is often the TV because music too often pulls me into it and I find myself listening to the music instead of working. Of course, it also depends upon the project. Some of them demand not only music but specific music. Those times, however, are usually when my muse is being particularly malevolent and makes me listen to artists or songs I would normally never listen to. And, in case you’re wondering, the muse stands back and laughs hysterically at those times.

4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise?

If I am still in the creative phase of a project — ie, the writing and editing phase — yes. That’s what critique groups and beta readers are for. It also depends upon your definition of useful criticism. My issue comes when that criticism comes after the work has been published. Then the so-called useful criticism too often falls under personal preferences. There’s too much cursing or not enough sex. Your characters can’t do that on Planet Snarf because they couldn’t do it on Earth. But then, that’s just me.

5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunities (either research or networking potential)?

What’s a vacation? And no. I may write while on vacation but if I plan one around writing, it no longer is a vacation. At least not in my mind.

6. Would rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend?

No. While I do talk about the business of writing when I get together with other writers, that is only a small part of the conversation. We also talk about our families, jobs — if we have besides writing — homes, kids, politics. We are, or at least try to act like — gasp — real people.

7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid less money because it would give you more time/energy/material to write?

No. I have bills to pay — some of which I’m trying to figure out how to handle right now. When I worked outside the home, the job was something I wanted to be doing and the pay was more than I needed. But, because I liked my job (until the last few months when things changed for a number of reasons), I was better able to write. Taking a job that would add more stress to my life would be counter-productive.

8. Are you willing to give up the nice home you know you could have if you devoted that time you spend writing to a more lucrative career?

That’s sort of like asking, “Do you still beat your wife?” This is one of those questions that drive me absolutely crazy. First of all, it depends on what you call a “nice home”. Then you have to look at what time you spend writing. For those writers who get up an hour before their kids so they can write early in the morning before getting the kids off to school and going to work at the office, etc., you are asking if they are willing to take on a second, or even third, job. If you write full-time, then you have to take into account how much you make from your writing and how much you could make if you worked outside of the home. Finally, you have to ask yourself if you are satisfied in the home you’re now in. For me, I am. So yeah, I’m more than willing to give up the “nice home” because I’m in a home right now that I like in a neighborhood I enjoy living in.

9. Have you done all these things for at least five years?

Huh? No and no and no again.

10. Are you willing to live, knowing you will never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless?

OMG! Do you know what my first ambition was? To be a writer. Then it was to finish something. Then it was to sell something. Then it was to sell enough of something to be able to buy something I wanted. As I progress in my career, my ambitions change. Why do they change? Because I am learning what this profession is and what I can do in it. I see the marketplace changing and am learning to adapt with it. Do I still have unfulfilled ambitions? Hell yeah. I still want to sell something to Baen Books. I want to write something with Sarah. I will achieve at least one of those ambitions, God willing and the creek don’t rise, in the next year or so. Selling to Baen, I don’t know. But I will keep trying. So my answer to that question is that I don’t know that I will never meet my ambitions for the simple reason that I’m not trying to be a best seller. It would be nice, but I know what it takes to be on the NYT best seller list and it has nothing to do with my craft. It has to do with the old machine and pre-orders. I can live without the sort of abuse that comes from that sort of publisher/author  relationship. I have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve cracked the top 100 on Amazon on several occasions already, on both the paid and free e-book lists.

So you can see, according to this quiz, I’m not a professional writer. Funny thing though, as John Scalzi pointed out, the one question that isn’t asked on the quiz is if you get paid for your writing. I do. In fact, my last novel has made more in one quarter than SFWA requires as an advance to qualify a writer as a “pro”. But since it is an e-book and there was no advance, SFWA doesn’t recognize me as a “pro” any more than this quiz does.

Sorry, but a pro is someone who works at her craft, improving and learning and pushing forward. This bit about having to put writing ahead of every other aspect of your life makes about as much sense as having to suffer for your art. Give me a break. Writing is a profession as well as a passion for most of us. If you treat it as such, well, you are in all likelihood a professional. Just because you have to work at another job doesn’t take away from that. Neither does having a life outside of writing.

As if that wasn’t enough to get my hackles up this morning, there’s the ongoing Apple/DOJ battle. In case you’ve been visiting Pluto or Io over the last month or so, Apple lost the price fixing suit filed against it by the Department of Justice. Since then, the DoJ has filed a motion seeking what Publishers Weekly calls a “comprehensive injunction” against Apple. Now, I’m no fan of government interference in business. Even though Apple’s track record is anything but sterling, I’d probably have been willing to side with them when it came to the DoJ’s proposal simply because the DoJ wants a much stricter oversight and punishment than it agreed to with the publishers it also charged with price fixing. The only difference was that Apple went to trial and the others opted to settle.

But where Apple lost my support was with its response to the proposal: “Apple does not believe it violated the antitrust laws, and, in any event, the conduct for which the Court found it liable has ended and cannot recur as a result of the publishers’ consent decrees,” the brief concludes. “In light of these facts, no further injunction is warranted.”

So, Apple is basically saying that because five publishers have agreed not to engage in the conduct which caused the DoJ to go after them and Apple, Apple won’t act in the same or similar way in the future. Does that mean Apple only wants to deal with these five publishers? Or that Apple was a victim of these publishers and would never, ever have done anything wrong? Sorry, but the evidence pretty much shows that Apple, and Steve Jobs, instigated the collusion between the parties and not the other way around.

Does this mean I think Apple should be punished more than the publishers? I’m not sure. Even when the judge in the case made it clear in pre-trial motions that she wasn’t sure Apple could prevail, Apple refused to settle. When the named publishers settled, Apple refused to. Throughout the trial, Apple refused to settle. Instead, it tried to play smoke and mirrors, attempting to put Amazon on trial. At the very least, Apple should be required to pay all the costs entailed in the trial. If the judgment does show Apple was the instigator, it should receive a more stringent punishment than the settling parties. I’m not sure the DoJ’s solution, especially the 10 year oversight, is appropriate. But Apple chose to take part in an activity that went well beyond MFN pricing. For that, it needs to be punished.

But then I’m just a writer, maybe a pro and maybe not, depending on whose definition you use. The fact that Apple makes it more difficult than it should be to get into iTunes than any other outlet does probably has something to do my attitude. Of course, I’ve never had much patience for those who think themselves better than the rest of us and that is the attitude I get from Apple on this particular issue. It, and Steve Jobs, wanted something and either you agreed or you would be tromped upon, no matter what the fall-out down the road.

Well, that attitude sometimes comes back to bite you in the butt — something Apple may soon discover.

So, in order to prove I am a pro:

 

Nocturnal Origins Book 1 of Nocturnal Lives

Nocturnal Origins
Book 1 of Nocturnal Lives

Nocturnal Origins

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

serenadecoverthumbNocturnal Serenade

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

nocturnal hauntsNocturnal Haunts

Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

 

 

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.

The inmates are trying to run the asylum again

Yep, that’s right. The inmates have managed to get out of their cells and are running around loose. Now, most days, it is pretty entertaining to watch. After all, they usually are either pointing at the sky and screaming about how the aliens are coming and taking over the world, or they are burying their heads in the sand and doing their best to ignore the changes needed to be made in order to survive. But today, well, all I can do is shake my head and wonder how long this current farce will run before the final curtain falls on it.

Let’s start with what has to be one of the most mind-boggling pieces I’ve seen in a long while. I have to give a hat-tip to one of our readers for pointing me to this link. Think about this. Your local bookstore — and not a chain store — manages to get an in-store signing set up with an author who has a book coming out from a major publisher. The store does a magnificent job promoting the event and manages to pre-sell 450 copies of the book by mega-best selling author. (These copies are to be autographed by the author) So the store calls the publisher and places the order.

Does the publisher jump up and down and offer to send the books out post-haste? Hell no. They’ll only ship the store 200 copies. Doesn’t matter that the books are pre-sold. Doesn’t matter that the store will pay up-front for the books. The publisher isn’t going to to budge. It doesn’t matter that this will be a PR debacle for the store, the author or, duh, for the publisher.

Well, here is where I tip my hat to the store and to the local Target. The store owner went down the street, talked to the powers that be at Target, and got the books needed to finish filling the pre-orders (300). Target even sold them to the owner at a discount. Epic win for both the indie store and Target and massive epic fail for the publisher.

Now, what reasonable business would turn down a pre-paid order of 450 units of a $30 item? I can’t think of any, especially not one that is suffering slumping sales. But the publisher did. It was worried about returns. The books were pre-paid so there wouldn’t have been any returns. But that little bit of information mattered not. Nor did the fact that the author, who is described as a “major best seller”, would not be pleased to find she had been cut out of hundreds of sales by her own publisher.

So, you have to ask yourself how often this sort of idiocy occurs and how many sales publishers cost themselves and their authors because they can’t see the forest for the trees?

And then there is the spin as publishers try to convince themselves that they are making up  lost ground. An example is this article about Penguin’s so-called profits last year. According to figures released by Penguin, total sales rose 1%. Sales, not profits. As a counterpoint, operating profit fell 12%. Add to that the fact Penguin expects e-book sales to slow this year and you have to wonder how they see these figures as being anything but troublesome. Yet, we are told that the powers that be feel Penguin came out of this “pretty good”.

Maybe I am having trouble seeing the forest for the trees, but a 12% decrease in operating profits coupled with a forecasted slow down in e-book sales (the one segment of the business that has continued to grow by leaps and bounds) would be something I’d be worried about. But then, I’ve never been a corporate cheerleader.

And then there are the indie booksellers who have filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon and the Big Six over DRM. My first issue with this is that there are only three plaintiffs to the suit, so I’m not sure they will qualify as a “class”. But that will be up to the court to decide.

My biggest issue is that this suit is only aimed at Amazon and none of the other online e-book retailers — like Barnes & Noble, iBooks/iTunes, Kobo, etc. If these three booksellers are really worried that applying DRM to e-books restricts the sale of e-books, shouldn’t these other retailers be included as defendants? Oh, wait, it’s only Amazon because the DRM applied means only the kindle line of products can read the titles.

But wait, aren’t the vast majority of these titles also available in DRM’d epub versions through BN.com, etc? I guess that doesn’t count. We’re just supposed to turn away from that little bit of information because it doesn’t fit the scenario that these booksellers want us to believe.

However, even if their allegations are true, so what? Aren’t companies allowed to produce products and sell them wherever they want? Sure, there are limitations like not violating exclusivity agreements — oh, wait, we aren’t supposed to think about those either because that would fly in the face of what the plaintiffs allege.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel for indie booksellers. But this isn’t the way for them to win back patrons. Worse, if this case does go to court and they lose, they will more than likely liable for court costs, not just for themselves but for the six publishers and Amazon. Do you really think the retailers will be able to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and costs and stay in business? Of course, that will be Amazon’s fault too — at least in the eyes of the haters.

Instead of stomping their feet and holding their breath like a couple of pouty kids, these booksellers need to be looking forward. How can they work directly with publishers or authors to sell e-books? What are they doing to promote local authors? More importantly, sit back and wait and see what happens in the DoJ’s price fixing case against Apple (in case you’ve missed it, the five publishers have all settled). There will be changes coming from that, not only for Apple and the publishers but, in all likelihood, Amazon as well. Take a lesson from the bookseller mentioned at the top of this post. Instead of whining and whinging, that bookseller went out and did something to turn what could have been a public relations nightmare and a big hit against the store into a positive.

Tuesday morning publishing news

Yesterday, I had that oh-so-wonderful experience of having to take my car in for repairs. That meant I spent several hours in the waiting room while they checked it out before coming to tell me just how much lighter my wallet was going to be. That gave me time to do two things: people watch and think about a couple of projects I’m working on right now. The former is always fun and often provides fodder for my writing. Yesterday was no exception. There are at least two “characters” who will be making appearances in my writing. As for the latter, well, that’s something else. I finally figured out what has been bothering me about two of my current projects. That’s the good thing. The bad thing is that it means my brain is focusing on what I figured out and doesn’t want to work at anything but finishing the projects. That means blogging today is suffering as a result.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things going on in the publishing world we need to be aware of.

First off, if you haven’t already heard, Fictionwise is finally doing what many of us have anticipated for a long time. It is closing its cyber-doors. The last day it will allow sales of any titles still listed there will be December 4th. The last time you will be able to download any titles you’ve bought will be December 21st. If you have a Fictionwise account (or ebookwise.com or ereader.com accounts), you should have already received an email about what is going to happen. You can opt in through a link in the e-mail which will transfer your titles to your Barnes & Noble account. I’ll admit that I haven’t done this yet and I’m not sure I will. I only have a few books I’ve purchased through Fictionwise and I’ve already got them downloaded to several different locations and, yes, I will be downloading them all again just to be sure.

The reason I said this is something many of us have anticipated is because of what’s happened with Fictionwise since it was purchased by Barnes & Noble back in 2009. There was a time when Fictionwise had many of the same books you could find at Amazon for the kindle. Then B&N purchased it and suddenly titles disappeared from Fictionwise and authors who had been easy to find there were no longer to be found. In other words, B&N was routing those authors and publishers that were selling well over to their main site and leaving Fictionwise to be the poor second cousin, nose pressed to the window looking in.

It has been a slow death for Fictionwise but not an unexpected one. Gone is an outlet for authors and an easy interface for readers.

Penguin Books has announced it will be expanding its e-book lending program to libraries. Now, before you get excited and start thinking this means you’ll soon be able to download your favorite e-books, what this means is that if you are a part of the Los Angeles Public Library system or the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) library system, you won’t be included. But, looking at this from the glass half full side, it is an expansion. I’m not holding my breath, especially since we have yet to see exactly how the merger between Penguin and Random House will cause things to fall out.

For more on libraries, publishers and e-book lending, check out this post I wrote on how Kansas State Library is taking their fight with the publishers to social media.

And in the WTF department, Apple now has a new patent. That in and of itself isn’t that earth shattering. But this particular patent is one of those you just have to shake your head at and wonder what the patent office was thinking when they granted it. Apple has been granted a patent for  a  “design patent, titled, ‘Display screen or portion thereof with animated graphical user interface,’ gives Apple the exclusive rights to the page turn in an e-reader application.” As the author of the article notes, this means Apple now has the patent for the page turn. Supposedly there is an algorithm included in the patent application that makes the Apple page turn different from all other page turns on all other e-book readers. However, color me skeptical. I see this — and the other 38 patents it was granted at the same time — as yet another step in Apple’s war to rule the tablet and smartphone world. I may be wrong, but Apple’s scorecard in this area isn’t the greatest.

If you haven’t already read it, check out Kris Rusch’s post on Agents and Money. It is, as are almost all of her posts, a must read.

Well, that’s it for now. The novels are calling for me — as is the smell of coffee. Happy Thanksgiving a couple of days early to everyone. Have a safe and fun-filled holiday.

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