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Posts tagged ‘price fixing’

And the idiotic “suggestions” continue

The other day, Cedar pointed me to a post over at The Passive Voice with a warning that my head would explode when I read the headline and then the associated article.  She was right, of course. She knows me well enough to realize that anytime someone suggests an industry needs “socialism” to save it is going to set me off. When I see that applied to an industry that is refusing to adapt to changes in the market, well, my ire is doubled or even tripled.

In this particular case, the headline states that “Publishing needs socialism to save it.”

Yes, you read that right. An industry based on elitism and so-called gatekeepers barring anything that doesn’t meet their bar for not only quality but content — read social/political stance — needs to be saved by socialism. Am I the only one who sees the oxymoron (with emphasis on the moron) here?

But let’s look beyond the headline to the article itself. Fair warning, this is one of the only times — if not the only time — I can remember Passive Guy adding a disclaimer that he doesn’t always agree with what he links to on his site.

The original post appeared here. The first indication that I had that I’d probably take issue with the article came with the first sentence. Anytime someone starts off with, and I’m paraphrasing, “I love the United States [or anything else] but. . . ” it’s the “but” that worries me.

The basic premise is that the author of the original post doesn’t think we in the U.S. value books enough and that the French and other European countries do. To prove that we value books and the publishing industry, the government should step in and pass laws and regulations against Amazon (note that nowhere in the article does the author say these restrictions should apply to Barnes & Noble or any other retail outlet).

Let’s look at specifics.

“Here in the U.S., thanks largely to Amazon, books have become commoditized.”

Oookay, and this is a bad thing why? And what about the publishers who view authors as nothing more than interchangeable widgets? I don’t have the quote immediately at hand, but one of the major publishers basically said just that. The fact that the publishers the author of this particular article wants to protect sees authors, the creators of the product, in that light bothers me more than the fact we can shop for books based on price.

“You can buy clothes based on price—or a desk or the hotel you vacation at. But books should not be purchased based on price alone.”

Again, what? First of all, that insults every reader out there who ever bought a book. It assumes the potential purchaser doesn’t look at the product description, has never heard of the author — or publisher in some cases — and doesn’t look at the sample. It also assumes the potential reader hasn’t heard about the book from other sources or has had a friend recommend it. But that argument, since it will quickly become clear Amazon is the target of the article, ignores the fact that you can walk into your local Walmart or similar store and buy books at a discount. Or that you can purchase your club card for B&N and get a discount on certain books that way. But, most of all, it insults the reader because it assumes price is the only factor considered in making a book purchase.

“But when books become so devalued and sell at a loss, you have to question how such pricing helps the long-term viability of books.”

Ah, and here we start getting into the smoke and mirrors. Most, if not the vast majority of books, sold by Amazon and other retailers at a discount aren’t sold at a loss. The applies to print books as well as e-books. What this statement is actually aimed at is Amazon’s desire to sell the so-called best sellers at $9.99, a price the publishers have arbitrarily determined to be undervalue. It also doesn’t take into account that, at the time this was happening, it is my understanding that Amazon still paid the publishers the price they wanted. It was Amazon taking a loss, not the publishers. So how is this hurting the publishing industry? Oh, wait, I know the answer. Selling more e-books is a bad thing.

“In the U.S. it seems the publishing market is ruled by one company—Amazon—and five major conglomerate publishers—and one physical retailer (Barnes & Noble). When Amazon makes a change, the publishing industry trembles and acquiesces.”

Really? So, is that why when, lo those years ago, Apple and the Big 5 conspired to fix prices and push the agency pricing model on Amazon, it agreed? Funny, that’s not the way I remember it. Amazon did take its buy buttons down for a bit in an attempt to fight the bid but finally gave in. Remember those tags under prices of e-books noting that the price was set by the publisher? Oh, I know, that’s why all the other outlets sell books published by Amazon imprints, right? But what, they don’t. Hmm, I seem to recall B&N and other retailers refusing to stock anything with an Amazon imprint on it, even if their customers wanted them to. So, yeah, the publishing world quakes when Amazon does something and then gives in to the big evil.

And let’s talk about how evil Amazon is when it is the party in the Hatchette dispute that has offered to pay Hatchette authors who are being impacted by the contract negotiations, negotiations that I’m sure Hatchette would love to drag out until it is able to renegotiation its contract with Apple, thereby putting more pressure on Amazon. But it is Amazon that is bad.

If you doubt my take that the author of the post is anti-Amazon, this statement should convince you:

“In France, where Amazon only owns 10-12% of the book market—but 70% of online sales, Amazon is contained because of laws passed to protect and support bookstores and publishers.”

Amazon is “contained”. Yeah, that’s the American spirit. Let’s contain our businesses, making it harder for them to serve their customers all so five companies, at least two of which aren’t even American companies, can survive even though they are doing everything they can to destroy themselves.

The author goes on to note that French law prohibits free shipping on discounted books and also mandates that a discount can be no more than 5% of the list price. Hmm, so how would we apply that to Amazon? Would you set up a double standard so that only Amazon, and possibly Amazon fulfilled, sales were affected or would it apply across the board to anyone who sells books through Amazon? What about all those used books sellers, and new book sellers as well? Are you going to make their bottom line suffer because you don’t like Amazon?

More than that, do you apply this only to Amazon Prime members who get free second day shipping? Or will you apply it to all sales? And why only book sales? Why not apply it to all items sold by the evil that is Amazon?

The post goes on to note that France is only one of several large European countries with laws about the pricing of books. Brian Feinblum, author of the post, also notes that Great Britain used to have such laws but did away with them in the 1990’s at which time “the book world was hit hard. A third of its independent bookstores closed in the past nine years, as supermarkets and Amazon discounted some books by more than 50%.”

Now, my issue with the above is that it is going beyond the apple and oranges comparison. It completely ignores the fact that most of the mom and pop bookstores in this country went the way of the dodo when the big box stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders entered the market. Those large chains were able to negotiate contracts with the publishers that were, frankly, detrimental to the publishers (the return policy for example). My other issue is that this also ignores the fact that the publishers have already been paid for the books when they are placed on such deep discounts, discounts that for, most print books aren’t common unless the books aren’t selling.

“To preserve the value of books, we must take the finances out of the equation.”

Which has served publishing so well when it was the only game in town, right? Wrong. It’s wrong because most people can’t and won’t drop $30 for every book they want to read and they’d have to for the vast majority of books if they wanted to read them when the book first comes out. No, they’d wait until the paperback came out and, gee, guess what, they would still balk at the $15.99 price tag you see on some of them. So what happens, sales continue to go down and who gets hurt in the long run? The author. Why? Because the publishers will look at declining sales and say it is all the author’s fault and not a fault of theirs because they didn’t to the promotion they promised or because folks just don’t have that sort of spare cash.

Perhaps instead of trying to protect an industry that is operating under business plans that are long outdated, we ought to be more worried about protecting the rights of our authors. Protect them from publishers who continue to refuse to relinquish rights to books that no longer meet the contractual terms of “in print”. Protect them from agents who want to maintain hooks in the books for the life of copyright, even if they never do anything to help the author after getting the initial publishing contract signed. Protect them from publishers who continue to pay them a pittance and use creative bookkeeping to justify it. Protect them from an industry that has adopted a reporting method that makes no frigging sense in this day and age of bar codes, computers and tracking programs. But no, we have to protect the Big Five from evil Amazon.

Give me a break.

Amazon is a Business

Forgive me if I seem a bit impatient. The stupid has been strong this week, and although normally I’m the quiet, nice one, I’m a bit exasperated by now.

(but less so, now. Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the instalanche. Welcome to any new readers! I’m not Sarah, but sometimes we seem to share a brain.)

I’ve already covered the gaffe Archon made, on my blog. Now, I’m talking about the recent wave of anti-Amazon posts, usually made by people who don’t know what they are talking about, and don’t bother doing a modicum of research before they panic. Yes, Amazon and Hachette are fighting. Yes, authors are being harmed, and that’s sad. However, this is hardly a reason to boycott Amazon, and if you know anything about business, it’s not even particularly noteworthy. Let me note here that Amazon is not evil, Amazon is a business.

For one thing, it’s not one-sided. I urge you to follow and read that link before you continue.  Hachette doesn’t care about those authors you are angsting over. They only care about their profits, and if you actually know a traditionally published author, you know they don’t see very much of their share of those profits. Should someone’s career end over this, Hachette will just snag another candidate out of the pool of eager manuscripts.

But, but, Amazon is killing Indie bookstores! Pish, and posh. Before them, Barnes and Nobles and Borders did it. Or have you forgotten that oh-so-cute movie about that angsty issue? Ah… I see you have, and don’t care. Neither do you care about the incalcuable harm publishers do and have done to authors. Instead, you’d rather shoot yourself in the foot.

Go ahead. More for those of us who understand business, and finances. I make between 70% and 35% for every ebook sold through Amazon. I make less than that through other venues (such as B&N) but still, I make immensely more off of every sale than any traditionally published author will ever see from Hachette, or any other publisher. I have print versions of my books I don’t make that high a percentage from, but you can order my books in any bookstore, and there are a few which carry a copy or two at any given time. You can find more idea on how to do it right here.

Unlike these yahoos, I don’t feel the need to fraudulently slip my book onto a shelf somewhere. I do shop at the occasional bookstore, but I am far more likely to order from Amazon. Why? because they have what I want. It’s that easy. Plus, being cheap is nice, too. I can’t afford to walk into a bookstore and buy all the books I read on a weekly basis in paper. Not to mention our poor little house would be overflowing and collapsing. Yes, I bemoan not having time to read. That doesn’t mean I don’t read. With ebooks, I can take chances on new authors and books, that I wouldn’t do on a paper copy. So Amazon offers me a lot more than free shipping and the luxury of not having to go to a store. I love Amazon.

So do a lot of other people, like all the readers who neither know nor care who publishes their favorite author. Outside the industry, who knows this little piece of data? Very, very few readers. They don’t need to know, they just want an entertaining story or a well-done non-fiction book. And they want to be able to afford it. Face it, kids, the economy ain’t great. It sure as heck isn’t ‘recovering’ nor does it appear that it will any time soon. So you would begrudge your readers from seeking the best deals? Are you willing to pay top-dollar for every book you read? Didn’t think so.

Publishers are toxic. I read on my facebook feed an author terrified that she was about to have her fourth editor in as many books with her publisher. She’s afraid this book won’t sell well enough to justify keeping her on. Me? I hire and fire my editors based on their performance and merit, I am in control, not them. Another author, when the news broke that Orbit wouldn’t be giving away the Hugo-nominated books as most publishers do, begged that readers not be angry with his publisher. He said he would be blamed, lose his job, and be black-balled by other publishers, if the readers reacted angrily. (Do I really need to mention here that Baen is the exception which proves the rule?)

Look, I was in an abusive relationship. I know how hard it is to get out of. For one thing, you start to believe that you have no value. This is not true. Stop listening to publishers when they tell you you need them. You don’t. Maybe that was true, once, but reality has changed, and they are terrified. It’s making them do stupid things, like Hachette fighting with Amazon instead of negotiating. Or Apple, in the case it lost last year, over price-fixing. Or didn’t you notice that all the big publishers admitted guilt in the DOJ case? Time to open your eyes and see that it isn’t you, my author friends. You do offer something to the world. Whether it is an amusing story to lighten the burden of readers who are faced with uncertainty and risk in this bleak economy, or a well-researched and sourced non-fiction book which offers a balanced perspective on some topic. Stop letting yourself be treated as disposable, and start recognizing that it isn’t Amazon who is your enemy.

There are safe places. We won’t let them hurt you, and we offer help to those who are willing to work toward independence. I know there is a school of thought which says that those who are in an abusive relationship want it, and will go back to it, no matter how much they say they want out. I say perhaps. And perhaps all they need is a little support. It can be done, I’m living proof.

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.

 

 

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.

A settlement and another cry of “foul” from the peanut gallery

There are days when I really wonder if I’m the writer or if I’m actually a character living in some writer’s head — and the writer is a mean SOB who likes to torment me with little things meant to drive me insane. The first one of those “why me?” moments happened the other day when not-our-cat (AKA the neighbor’s cat who decided he ought to live part-time with us) decided to leave a gift of a hairball and other things on my desk, covering my thumb drive. EWWWW. Then came this morning’s rude and abrupt awakening when Mom forgot to turn off the burglar alarm, waking me with the WHOOP-WHOOP as she opened the front door. Adding insult to injury, the alarm company rep who called was perky! Yes, perky. That ought to be illegal before nine in the morning and it has to be a capital offense when it occurs before six. And, if that isn’t enough, I’ve been hit by a plot for a book that is the most demanding, insane and loud plot of any I’ve had in a long time. Yes, I’m writing it. I don’t have any choice. But I am not amused, not only because I have other books I should be working on but also because this is not the sort of book I normally write and, well, I need to be working on other things.

Sigh.

So, if I’m a bit scattered this morning, I hope you’ll bear with me and bring me another cup of coffee and maybe a Danish (no, Sarah, not THAT sort of Danish.)

For those of you who missed it, the price fixing law suit filed by the DoJ against five of the Big Six publishers and Apple is drawing to a close. Or at least it appears to be. The last of the publishers named in the suit, Macmillan, has settled with the Department of Justice. Without admitting any guilt, John Sargent (Macmillan CEO) said the company was settling because the potential penalties were more than the equity of the company. The settlement, according to Publishers Weekly, calls for Macmillan to pay $20 million. Of course, that still leaves Apple as the lone named defendant in the price-fixing suit yet to settle. Based on Apple’s history, there is no telling when — or even if — they will settle or if they will demand their day in court. All any of us know for sure is that, assuming the settlement is approved by the court, Macmillan will join the other publishers named in the law suit in having a two year period where they return to wholesale pricing of their e-books. After that, if they negotiate in good faith with the different e-book retail outlets, they are free to return to agency pricing. Yep, that’s right. Agency pricing is not dead. The original filings by the Department of Justice do not condemn agency pricing. The issue has always been the alleged collusion between the publishers and Apple. That is something so many authors and publishing professionals seem to forget in their “Amazon is bad” mentality.

Speaking of the “Amazon is bad” bandwagon, if you’ve been following Facebook the last week or so, you’ve seen a new round of Amazon hating. Authors and others in the industry have been shouting and shaking their fists to the heavens in quick condemnation over Amazon’s plans to sell used e-books. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I see something like that, I want to find the basis for their anger. So I clicked through to the Publishers Weekly post many of them were linking to. The post is a short note (two paragraphs) about a patent received by Amazon Technologies that “indicates” Amazon might be planning to sell used e-books and other digital products at some point in the future.

Now, I’ll admit as a reader, I like the idea. After all, I can go down the block to the used bookstore and sell any physical books I have that I no longer want to keep. I can browse the stock while I’m there and look for books to buy. Readers have long been asking why they can’t do the same thing with their e-books.

Oh, wait, now I remember why we can’t resell our e-books. The publishers tell us we can’t. We aren’t “buying” the book when we buy it in digital format. We are only buying a license to read it on a limited number of devices and that license does not include being able to resell it. Heck, we aren’t even supposed to give it away. That’s why the publishers load all that wonderful DRM into their titles.

So, let’s keep that in mind as we look at what everyone is claiming Amazon is about to do (mind you, keeping Amazon’s business model in mind, I don’t doubt they are looking for a way to do just that. But they also know there are limits built into e-books right now so this isn’t something that is going to happen any time soon). When you buy an e-book from Amazon, you are still buying that book with the same limitations on it that would be there if you bought it directly from the publisher’s site. Exceptions to this may — and that is a very big MAY — come from books published under the Kindle Direct program. Even then, if I remember correctly, you are still only buying a license. So, contract language is going to have to be changed before any legal transfer of an e-book can be made.

Instead of authors being upset with Amazon for contemplating reselling e-books, they ought to be looking at this as an opportunity to make more money. It is near to impossible to track the sales of used print books. Hell, publishers tell us on a daily basis that they can’t accurately track the sales of new print books. That’s why they rely on Bookscan to give them an estimate of the number of books that are sold. Worse, authors have bought into this and are only now, on a very small scale, starting to realize this doesn’t make sense.

But back to e-books. To sell an e-book, it has to go through a server. That’s the joy of digital. If it has been on a server, it is traceable and trackable. That means it is easily reported in sales. (Not that the publishers will agree with that because then they might actually have to pay accurate royalties.) But that also means if an e-book is sold as “used”, it will be equally traceable and reportable. That ought to mean more money to authors.

Now, the reality of the situation is that for that to happen, there are going to have to be contract changes on the publishing end. Changes in the contracts between the publishers and Amazon and also between the publishers and the authors. Am I the only one who can see publishers rushing to redo contracts with Amazon in such a way that these resells bring money into the publishers’ coffers and yet not redoing contracts with authors to make sure they get additional money? Remember, these are the same publishers who have been known to report the exact same e-book sales numbers to authors for multiple titles, quarter after quarter. These are the same publishers who say they can’t accurately track e-book sales because, duh, they are digital and physical and we know what a good job they do on print books (snark meter is about to break).

But, no matter what Amazon plans, it isn’t going to happen overnight. This is a patent. It doesn’t mean the technology is in place and ready to go. It doesn’t mean Amazon’s corporate lawyers aren’t telling Bezos and company they need to make sure all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. Not that it will stop the Amazon haters from crying “foul” again. You have to ask yourself if Barnes & Noble had filed the patent, or if Apple had, if these same folks would be pointing their fingers and lighting their virtual torches. I doubt it, especially if the announcement had come from B&N. But then I’m a cynic. Sue me.

Space Marine!

Sorry, couldn’t help it. VBEG.

What do you think? Should we send the space marines in to knock some heads together in publishing and drag it, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the current century?