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Posts tagged ‘Big 5’

Traditional publishing strikes out again

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know I am an advocate of finding your own path when it comes to publishing. Some writers have no qualms going the indie route. They don’t shy away from having to make sure they find good editors and proofreaders, good cover designers, etc. Others would rather focus just on writing and choose to go the traditional route, whether it is with one of the larger traditional publishers or with a small press. What path you take is one only you can choose. However, it is imperative for you to keep track of what is happening in the industry so you can make an informed decision about what is best for you. Read more

If it’s Tuesday . . .

I’ve been trying to come up with something for today’s blog for, well, the last couple of days. Every time I’ve sat down to write the post, I’ve wound up distracted. Part of it is I’m in the middle of the final edits for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). I’m really excited about the book and how the story arc is developing. I’m also scared because I see the end of the arc in the next book and I’m not sure I’m ready to let Ashlyn and company sail off into the night skies. But that’s just me. Letting a character go is, in a lot of ways, like seeing your kid off to college, knowing that life will never be the same again for either of you.

Of course, that hasn’t been the only distraction. Pat Patterson, who is one of my favorite reviewers because he not only gives honest reviews but fun ones as well, reviewed Slay Bells Ring and said the one thing any author loves to see. He recommended the book. Whee! But then he said something else, something that had me considering running away from my muse. He said he wanted another book with the same characters. Gulp! He wants a series. Worse, he’s not the first one to say so. Double gulp. The writer started whining, I already have three active series! Then I realized I had no choice. Whether there will be another book and a new series is up to Myrtle the Muse and she is an evil muse. (And she is laughing hysterically in the back of my mind right now. I think I should be scared.)

Adding to the distractions have been trying to get paper versions of several of my books prepped to come out. Then there’s been real life, including allergies that want to make breathing and seeing the computer screen problematic at best. There have been other distractions as well but, let’s face it, that’s life and I’m not complaining. I’d rather have the distractions than the alternative.

Fortunately, others haven’t had the problems finding things to blog about that I have.

The first post I highly recommend everyone here read comes from Kris Rusch. I’ll admit to considering simply reblogging the entire post. It is that good. It also is a perfect foil for a certain group of folks who have attacked us here at MGC because they view us as attacking authors who decide to go the traditional route. Those critics have obviously never really read what we’ve said here, nor have they taken time to understand our posts. Are we critical of much of traditional publishing? You bet. The Big 5 have been operating an antiquated business plan that has failed to take into account changing technologies and changing reading demands from their customers. Worse, they have, as Kris points out in this post, some horrible contract provisions when looked at with the best interest of the author in mind.

But, as Kris points out, traditional publishers aren’t the only problem facing authors. Agents can be a problem as well. Not all agents, just like not all publishers.

Here is a sample of what Kris has to say:

Suffice to say some of the things I’ve run into are simply and completely unbelievable to me, in 2016.

At the same time, I’m being approached by a number of traditionally published writers who believe they will never get another book deal, and their careers are ruined forever. Ruined! They’re lowering themselves to consider self-publishing, and are wondering if I can tell them how to do it, step by step. They get peeved when I show them entire books on the subject, not just mine and Dean’s, but several other books.

And then there are the writers who are giving up their writing careers entirely, because they can’t sell another book traditionally, and they have been told by the agent who helped them self-publish their books that the books aren’t selling because of piracy.

There are teeth marks in my lips, deep ones. I try to be diplomatic. Honest I do. But I got so frustrated with one writer recently that I had to walk away from my computer. The writer’s career was hurt by theft, but the theft wasn’t the pirating site she had found: it was her agent.

But I’m not going to say that in e-mail, although I did point her to several blogs I wrote about agents and agent agreements and how easy it is for a middleman to embezzle and/or not send royalties she doesn’t know she’s entitled to, particularly when she signed documents letting the agent get all the paperwork.

She can’t even double-check her employee, to make sure that he’s handling the money properly. That’s Money Management 101. And she was flunking.

I walked away from that e-mail exchange and started a blog post with the title, “You Can Lead A Writer To Knowledge…” The rest of that saying is this:

You can lead a writer to knowledge but you can’t make her think.

Then there is this post from The Shatzkin Files. I’ll admit that I don’t always agree with Shatzkin. The same can be said about this post.

The good news for the publishers is that print sales erosion — at least for the moment — seems to have been stopped. (Print sales started to grow even before “new Agency”; when higher prices hit the ebook market, print was immediately assisted.) 

While he is, to the best of my knowledge, correct in saying that print sales have started increasing once again for traditional publishers, he doesn’t touch upon the possibility that this is because of their over-pricing of e-books until later in the article. He discusses at length the possibility of publishers moving to the wholesale model for e-books and how different sides of the argument respond to that possibility. What bothers me is that, the more I read, the more it seemed to be an article about how to fight Amazon. Perhaps that isn’t what Shatzkin meant but that is how I read it and I once again wondered why publishing insiders and those who champion traditional publishing continue to want to attack the main outlet for their work. Isn’t that kind of like cutting off your nose to spite your face?

Shrug.

I think The Passive Guy in his commentary on the post hits the nail squarely on the head.

On the other hand, PG wonders if anyone in Big Publishing understands a single thing about disruptive technological innovations and their impact on legacy products and legacy producers.

Trying to manipulate pricing and customers to preserve printed book sales is a fool’s errand. The future of books is digital just like the future of letters became digital when email was introduced and the future of news became digital when the web and streaming video entered the scene.

Stories are special. Printed books are not. Big Publishing is trying to preserve its landline business in a cellular world. The future of paper is in napkins and toilet tissue, not as a medium for communicating ideas.

What do you think?

 

Publishers, you need to hear this

It continues to amaze me that now, years after e-books became a viable alternative to printed books, we are still having discussions about e-book pricing. When you look at what the Big 5 are saying about e-book sales vs what you see in the Author Earnings reports, you have to ask if they are operating in different worlds, maybe even universes. One tells us that e-book sales are slowing to the point of almost being flat. The other tells us the opposite. You look at the best seller lists on Amazon and you see more and more mid and small press books — as well as indie — finding their way onto the lists. So who is right?

If you want to be honest, both are. I have no doubt sales for Big 5 e-books are slowing. All you have to do is look at the pricing of their e-books to see why. The hard cover for Seveneves by Neal Stephenson sells for $20.83 on Amazon and BN.com. The e-book version is currently available for $17.99. The paperback version, currently listed at $12.22 won’t be available until May 17th.

Shadows of Self by Sanderson currently sells at $16.65 for hardcover and $14.99 for the e-book. What is particularly interesting is that the paperback version is apparently already available and sells for $11.44. If my math is correct — always doubtful this early in the morning — that is $3.55 less than the e-book version. If the product page is correct and the paperback version is available already, then it puts to lie the promises made by the Big 5 publishers long ago that they would drop the price of their e-books when the paperback versions came out.  (I will note the paperback versions being listed apparently come from overseas but I still have to ask why the publisher continues to sell the e-book at such a high price.)

Devoted in Death, the latest in JD Robb’s In Death Series, is available as an e-book for $7.99. The mass market paperback, which comes out today, sells for $6.79. Hmm, the e-book still sells for more than I would have to pay for the print book.

So, is there a trend — or possibly a clue — here as to why e-book sales for the Big 5 are leveling off?

Some folks were having this discussion yesterday in a private FB group I belong to. The consensus among those taking part in the discussion was that the price point publishers were charging, especially for newly released titles, was more than they were willing to pay. Not just for e-books but for hard covers as well. Those who aren’t big fans of  e-books lamented the fact they were turning to used bookstores to buy those hard cover titles they wanted. Not because they were paying less for the book but because they knew authors don’t receive royalties for those sales.

Note, they weren’t worried about the publishers.

And that is something the Big 5 needs to realize. The reading public is starting to look at the prices they pay for their books — whether they are print or digital — and wonder why the prices are so high. They are following their favorite authors, many of whom write for publishers that aren’t the Big 5 or who are indies, and they are paying attention to what the authors are saying. They understand that the life of the writer is closer to struggling author working in a coffee shop than it is to Castle. They are beginning to realize that the majority of the money they pay for that book, the vast majority of it, goes not to the person who created it but to the corporation what distributed it.

But more than that, the reading public can look at an e-book and realize that it doesn’t cost anywhere close to produce it as it does to produce a print book. So the reading public is asking why it should pay close to hard cover prices for a bunch of electrons, especially when the publisher tells them they don’t own the e-book.

The Big 5 continues to come back with the double talk about costs and then says that the real fan will pay the extra money to read the e-book as soon as the title becomes available. Sure, some will pay it for certain authors. But they aren’t paying it in the numbers the Big 5 believes they should so, duh, as far as the Big 5 is concerned, e-books are a craze that is slowly leveling out.

And so they believe their own press and continue to ignore what is happening around them. They aren’t looking at the number of commuters who read on their phones and tablets on the way to work. They don’t pay attention to their family and friends who are doing the same thing. They aren’t looking at the number of indie authors who are able to live off of their earnings — and do so by charging well below the $9.99 price that seems to be the cut off for most e-book buyers. In fact, I would say most e-books that sell well do so at $5.99 or less.

Yet the Big 5 continues to operate under a business plan that doesn’t adapt to the market and consumer demands. Instead, they issue statements about how the “trend” is a slowing of digital sales. Those blinders they have been wearing for so long must have been joined by a posture collar that prevents them from looking anywhere but straight down at their own P&L statements.

Here’s the thing. When readers understand they are being treated badly by publishers, they tend to look elsewhere for their reading material. As an indie author, I’m thrilled because it means more sales for me. How long will it be before the Big 5, and those who follow their lead, start looking beyond their own propaganda and realize what the full sales picture looks like? I doubt it will happen before the Big 5 becomes the Big 4 or maybe even the Big 3.

The problem is the only ones who will lose then are the authors contracted to those houses and the readers. And the suits in their corporate towers will continue to say e-books and whatever comes after them are only flashes in the pan and soon everyone will return to printed books, even as the price of print media continues to increase.

The wake up call has been issued. It was issued long ago. The problem is that the Big 5 and their hangers on hit the snooze button. Readers are sounding the alarm again and I can see the corporate hand reaching out to hit the snooze button once again. Will it deviate from its path or not? My money is on not. How about yours?

The world through fog-colored glasses

That’s the way I have started to think all too many in the publishing world look at what’s going on around them. I’m not talking about only those who work for the Big 5 Publishers. I have to include a number of authors, agents and members of fandom with a capital F. From e-book pricing to indie publishing to who is a “real” fan and what does that mean, the publishing industry is starting to remind me of those family reunions that always, ALWAYS ended with Uncle Billy trying to punch out Cousin David while someone else was trying to put the moves on someone definitely not the one they come with, if you get what I mean.

Frankly, if it weren’t so funny, it would be embarrassing. No, let me rephrase that. As a writer looking at what is going on, it’s funny because anyone with an ounce of business sense and common sense can see that what the Big 5 Publishers are doing with e-book prices is costing them and their authors money. We can look at what they say about declining e-book sales and know they are not giving us the whole picture. They still think authors are naive enough to believe that BookScan numbers are accurate representations of their sales figures. They still think authors are foolish enough to believe that most of their sales come from bookstores. Now, some authors do still believe that but even they are slowly coming to the realization that something smells and it isn’t Cousin Billy fresh in from the pig pen.

You have folks like Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin Random House UK , saying things like, “One of the biggest challenges in 2016 will be e-book pricing: how do we maintain the value perception of our quality content and maximise revenues across all formats for both authors and publishers?”

Gee, do you think they are finally starting to realize that most readers are not going to pay hard cover prices for an e-book that the publisher says they don’t own? Yep, you read that right. Publishers do not want you to own that e-book you just paid $13.99 for. You are buying a license. (Oh, and the Amazon haters have put out yet another article about how Amazon says you don’t own those e-books you buy from it. Guess what, boys and girls, Amazon doesn’t decide whether you do or not. The publisher does.) But guess what else? Digital licensing isn’t anything new. Software developers have been using that basic business model for years. It is couched in slightly different terms but it is still there. You buy a license for that software or digital game, no the software or game itself.

And folks wonder why we hate DRM and so many people find ways to crack it.

Charlie Redmayne, CEO for HarperCollins UK, had this to say, “We should expect business models and publishing mind-sets to further adapt and change in 2016. Amazon’s growth into new business models such as Kindle Unlimited will continue apace and it will push even harder to put its publishing and new businesses front and centre, often to the exclusion of traditional publishers’ books.”

Gee, I hope the publishers are going to further adapt and change in 2016. If so, they might actually make it into the 1990s mindset. Let’s face it, the Big 5 has been operating on an outmoded business model for years, decades even. It has failed to adapt not only to the digital age but to the adopt technology that would better serve authors and publishers alike. There is absolutely no reason the industry should still be relying on a company that counts sales the same way it counts TV viewership. You count what happens in certain percentage of stores (or homes) and then use handwavium to determine the amount of books sold. In this day and age of inventory control, RFID technology, etc., that is inexcusable.

Funny thing is, I have yet to see any sort of push back from agents marketing their clients’ work to publishers to get away from this way of thinking. Instead of demanding accounting of sales by their clients, they do their best to convince their clients not to rock the boat. It is almost as if those agents who do so have forgotten who they work for.

Then there are those who want to tell authors what to write. Yes, yes, this could quickly become a Sad Puppy post and, in a way, I guess it is. But let me start from the reader’s point of view. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a book in my hand (not literally but you get my meaning). My parents were avid readers and made sure they instilled a love of reading in me as well. Even though they both worked full-time jobs, they made sure every night that there was time for us to read together. It wasn’t just bedtime stories. They would read me other books during the evening and, more importantly, they talked with me about what they were reading for their own enjoyment or education.

When I was old enough to read on my own, we would still have that time in the evening where everyone sat in the den reading and discussing. I was encouraged to stretch my reading, not just my reading skills but my areas of interest. We went to the library and we bought books. Reading was a way of life for us and one I still cherish to this day.

As a reader, I read for entertainment most often these days but there are times when I read to either research something for a project I’m working on or for education because even though my school days were a long time ago, I still love to learn. I will admit there are a few authors whose books I read simply because of who the author is. Yep, I’ll admit it. I have some favorite authors. Unfortunately, thanks to the way the Big 5 have mishandled their mid-list authors, that number isn’t nearly as large as it used to be.

However, and this will surprise a lot of the other side, most of the time I pick up a book to read based on the blurb and the preview. Yes, I’m one of those infidels who read primarily e-books these days. But more on that later, probably in another post. Anyway, back to the blurb and sample. That means you, the author, have a very short amount of space to grab my attention and convince me to read your book. What I’m looking for is the hook, writing style, formatting and whether or not there is enough there to give me a feel for what the book is going to be about. No, you don’t need to give me the entire plot in a few thousand words. But you do need to let me know its genre, basic conflict, etc.

If, on the other hand, you spend all that time world-building or preaching, your prose had better be damned good, good enough that you have painted a verbal picture I want to see more of. If it is a chore to read, I will pass on the book and look for something else. If the writing style is so stilted that it becomes hard to read, I will pass on the book. If I am reading fiction, I am reading to be entertained. Authors, you need to understand that most readers are as well.

Does that mean you can’t have a message in your work? Hell, no. Frankly, fiction with a subtle message woven through it is best, in my opinion. I want something that will make me think when I finish the book. Those are the books that will make me likely to recommend them to a friend. Why? Because I remember them. I read enough bubble gum fiction where the characters are interchangeable from one book to the next by that author and nothing really stands out. So put that message in but make it subtle. Your readers — and your pocketbook — will thank you.

Oh, I know there will be those at a certain site who will tear me apart for what I said. Not only because I suggested that the message be subtle but also because I dared to mention the bottom line. I won’t apologize for being a realist. I’m a working writer. I write because I enjoy it but also because it is my job. I have to make money or I can’t write. I would have to go out and get a job. Unlike a certain self-anointed critic who is supposedly writing his magnum opus on the government’s dime, I am doing my best to put out work the reading public wants to read. That means I have to pay attention to what sells and what doesn’t and why.

But guess what? Just because a book makes money, that doesn’t mean it isn’t “good”. That’s something a vocal few seem to forget. They think the author needs to suffer for his art. Sorry, I’m not a masochist. I like to eat and have a roof over my head. Of course, that capitalistic streak in me also puts me on the wrong side of the political spectrum as far as some folks are concerned.

So, I’ve made the transition from what I want as a reader to what I want as a writer. Funny how those two seem to dovetail with one another. Anyway. . . .

I am going to write what the story calls for. It is that simple. Will there be a message in my work? Probably. There almost always is. I simply try not to hit the reader over the head with it. I want the reader to enjoy my work first and foremost. Why? Because they will recommend it to their friends and family and be more likely to buy my next book. Then I want them to think about what I wrote. Again, if they do, they will remember it and talk about it and recommend it. Do I care if it fits the message du jour? Nope. In fact, I don’t want it to dovetail with the current message, whatever it might be. Why? Because the current social, economic or political trend will change with the wind. If I am going to spend months writing a book, I want it to be read for more than a few months or a year or two. Were I to make the message too pointed and pin it too tightly to whatever the current “cause” happens to be, I am going to artificially age the book even before it is published.

As for being a fan, well, I’ve been told — as have so many of my friends and fellow authors — that we aren’t real fans. At least we aren’t fans with a capital F because we don’t go to the right cons or serve on the right committees. How sad. I guess all those books I’ve read over the years, all the movies I’ve watched and all the times I’ve promoted science fiction and fantasy don’t really count. It doesn’t matter that I’ve gone to other cons — those not deemed as important as others — or that I’ve pointed so many others to the genre. I am still standing on the outside looking in because I haven’t been one of the cool kids.

Well guess what? The cool kids proved at the Hugos this past year that they were the mean kids. They all thought they were being so funny and subtle with their asterisks. They continue to slap themselves on their backs and congratulate one another for keeping the riffraff out of the awards. Not once, to the best of my knowledge, have they stopped and looked at what they really did. I’m not talking about Vox. I’m not talking about the slander and libel committed against Larry and Brad. I’m talking about the impression they made on the readers. Readers who didn’t realize they could nominate and vote for Hugos as long as they paid the money to do so. Readers who suddenly felt themselves attacked because they nominated books they enjoyed. Way to go, folks. Good business sense there.

Not that they care any more than the Big 5 care about finding a real solution to their e-book problem. They will continue to look at the world through their fog-colored glasses, chanting that they are right and we are wrong and lalalalala. Maybe if they do it long enough, they will really come to believe it. Oh, wait, they do believe it and that is what’s really sad. For me, I’m going back to writing books that I hope entertain my readers and I will smile all the way to the bank, evil capitalist that I am.

 

Chicken Little isn’t squawking — yet

Oh that pesky little invention called an e-book is once more confounding the Big 5. You see, that wonderful digital product continues to confuse and confound them. Well, that and the buying public’s taste in books, determination of what the best price point is for an e-book, and related issues continue to  cause consternation in publishing circles. And indie writers are sitting back and smiling because it really isn’t that difficult to figure out.

You can blame our own Dr. Monkey for this post. Well, him and my frustration after considering buying the latest book in a series my mother enjoys and telling her it can wait until it is under not $12.99, not $10.99 but under $6.99. Either that or she can borrow it online from the library.

Whether the Big 5 wants to admit it or not, they are confused and, if they are smart, more than a little scared by what is happening in the business. According to a Publishers Weekly article, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) dropped last quarter and lower e-book sales were a big reason why. At HarperCollins EBITDA fell 23.6% over the same time period last year. It would have been down 33% had HC not purchased Harlequin. Lower sales of Divergent are being cited as at least part of the reason for the lower sales. (More on this in a minute.)

Simon & Schuster reported lower e-book sales but those losses were off-set by increased digital audio sales. CEO Carolyn Reidy isn’t quite ready to say she is worried about lower e-book sales, saying it wouldn’t surprise her to see e-book sales increase again. (Duh, Christmas is coming and new electronic devices will be sold and with them e-books will be bought.)

You can look at the linked article and see the figures, some of which are estimates because actual figures haven’t been released.

Here’s the thing, Reidy also said in the article that “S&S has seen little evidence to suggest that higher e-book prices are behind the e-book sales slump. . . .”

No, it is much easier to blame lower sales on the declining interest in a book series — see the comment about Divergent above — or in the end of a series (remember how they used that as an excuse after the 50 Shades trilogy ended or the Sparkly Vampire series). This tendency points out two major issues with the way the Big 5 are deluding themselves and failing their readers. First, they are putting all their eggs in the basket held by only one or two authors. That wouldn’t be so bad if they had a Magic 8 Ball to tell them what the next big hit would be. The problem is, they don’t. Publishing has a long track record of books being contracted for, huge advances being paid and then the book flopping and not coming anywhere close to selling out the first print run.

Publishers also seem to think that the newest, biggest fad will continue to be a fad. They see a Twilight or a 50 Shades of Grey and tell agents that is what they are looking for. If they have really drunk the Koolade, they will stop production on entire lines of books so the covers can be redone to remind readers of the original book that started the fad. (Remember all those books that suddenly had black and grey covers with handcuffs or whips or blindfolds on them?) Branding helps sell something but the product inside the covers has to be worth the money.

And that is where the second issue comes in. The product has to be worth the money. The Big 5 hasn’t come to the realization that their customer base is not so foolish that they can’t figure out that it doesn’t cost nearly as much to produce an e-book as it does a print book. It certainly doesn’t cost as much as a hard cover. Yet, those same publishers continue to want to charge above mmpb prices for an e-book with the vague promise that the price will come down some time in the future.

Sure, there are some folks who will pay that $10.99 – $13.99 to have the e-book when it first comes out. There are the impulse buyers. But for those avid readers who have to choose whether they want to spent that much money for one book or for several if they buy older e-books or — gasp — indie published e-books, well, that is most of the market and they are opting for more bang for the dollar.

And that is something the Big 5 has failed to grasp. Most readers couldn’t give a flying fig about who the publisher is. That is about as important in a reader’s mind as who the author’s agent happens to be. All the reader cares about is having a good read that is well formatted, well researched and priced affordably. The Big 5 and their bean counters needs to wrap their heads around the fact they are no longer the only game in town and their control of the market is slipping out of their hands. If they don’t adapt their business model and business practices, the Big 5 (which used to be the Big 6) will see its membership shrinking even further.

The truth of the matter is, traditional publishing can only publish so many titles a year. There are only so many slots they have budgeted for. Most major publishers haven’t grasped the fact they can publish digitally first.  Those who have, have frankly dropped the ball. They make those digital lines less important than their print/digital lines. Even their marketing of those lines, both to the reading public and to authors, screams “not ready for the big league!”. So, instead of tapping into a growing market — which they would see if they would simply look at Authors Earnings and pay attention to the best seller lists on Amazon — they look at how their e-book sales have declined and refuse to admit that high prices and limited available titles might have something to do with it.

So, here’s where it comes to, at least for me. As long as the Big 5 and their ilk continue to sell e-books for more than $10 a pop, they will see very little of my money. (The exception is almost always for non-fiction which usually sells for more, print or digital.) There are very few books I can’t wait for the mmpb to come out — and for prices of the e-book to drop. That means delayed income for the publishers and for authors. I hate that authors are being caught in the middle here but that is the way it is, unfortunately.  My book money is limited. It is a luxury. So I would rather buy two books that sound good and that have samples that made me want to keep reading than one book by Ms. Best Selling Author and published by Big 5 publisher.