Sharing the Wealth: 6/24/2014

Been a little while, I know, but I’ve been very busy at work and haven’t had the time or energy to come home and recap like I normally do. This Sharing the Wealth cover roughly all of June up to this point.

David Gaughran starts things off, asking who is afraid of cheap books. And, of course, it is publishers who have fought for high prices and Amazon who has fought for lower.

The Washington Post has an article examining why Amazon is wanting a bigger slice of its supplier’s margins. Keep in mind, the Post is owned by Bezos now so they aren’t exactly going to take a different stance on this.

Amazon now has a series page (yeah, I know this is a bit dated, but still) and Indie Unlimited has an article on how to use it. I don’t really have a reason to test this out yet but look forward to doing so once the second book comes out.

PG brings us some slides from the Legardere (parent company of Hachette) investor presentation. Love how they point out the need to maintain control over author relations.

Hugh Howey dives into why Publishing Industry analysts are wrong. Specifically, that they are reporting on just the five major players in the arena. Period. That’s fine for a snapshot and general analysis, but hardly enough to base every singe decision on.

I’m fucking shocked that I am citing this, but John Scalzi wrote a post discussing Yog’s Law and its application to self publishing. Yog’s Law states that money should flow toward the writer. I just knew where this was going and was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. He voices his opinion that Yog’s Law still applies to self pub authors, just in a different sense. Even though money might flow away from the author for start up costs on a book, the rights and control flow toward the author.

Writer’s Digest has dumped Author Solutions. Took them long enough.

Sara Hoyt discusses one of the first lessons she learned in publishing, that it’s always in crisis and things keep on ticking.

David Gaughran covers a piece from the New York Times, in which an author discusses how he was a bestseller yet made no money. He points out several fallacies, breaking down the actual rank it achieved, and why authors have illusions about where they stand.

Barnes and Noble is saying it will split up its physical bookstore business and Nook business into two, independently traded companies…again. What sucks so, so, so bad for B&N is the flip-flopping nature of this communication. When a company is in trouble, one of the worst things they can do is seem like they, you know, don’t know what to do. Till now, I have yet to spread the B&N is dead news so many have jumped on, but this is concerning. Others think so as well. The only one that sounds like he might know what he’s doing is the original founder, who seems to have given up trying to reign in the company he no doubt loves.

The Guardian cited “experts”, stating the supposed terms Amazon is demanding from Hachette would amount to assisted suicide. TeleRead points out that these “experts” are in fact book publishing pundits, cited only because of their support for the industry they are a part of. Those horrible terms by the way, Hugh Howey and David Gaughran have a few things to say about the context of these “leaks”.

TeleRead also makes a great point about no one being the good guy in this negotiation though. That’s an important thing to remember, these are titans battling overhead. We just need to stay out from under foot.

The Supreme Court ruled against Aereo. Don’t exactly know how I feel about that.

The SFWA is asking their members to comment on self-publishing and possible criteria for allowing self pub authors into the organization. Yay…

The Digital Reader thinks it’s about time indie authors joined publishers in the battle against Amazon. Really? I mean, are you fucking kidding me? We should join Hachette, who offers 25% on ebook royalties, requires exclusivity options and non-compete clauses, and all the others who do that and worse…because Amazon might slash royalties in the future?

Okay, let me lay this out. I am concerned Amazon is going to slash royalties. It would be a bad move because it would drive up prices, something they have shown a habit of wanting to lower, but it could happen. Especially since they have had two streams of behavior, one that fights to lower Trad books below $9.99 and another that tries to increase Indie above $.99. And if/when they lower the royalty I and all the rest of the community, I am sure, will raise hell. Probably to little affect.

And it will still be a better deal than what a new author can get from a traditional publisher.

That’s the difference.

I’m calling it with that. Everyone have a great weekend!

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Sharing the Wealth; 6/6/2014

David Gaughran discusses what kind of competition Big Publishing wants, specifically the kind where they’re guaranteed to win. They want the industry that is completely controlled by them, where they can control supply (authors) and distribution (bookstores) and set their prices and policies to benefit them to the maximum. They want a perfectly controlled, inbred, little biodome where they set the gatekeepers and milk everyone of as much money as they possibly can. They want $30 hardbacks and $15 ebooks. They want authors to take all the risk and then lock them into ironclad contracts that control everything about their creative endeavors in case they succeed. For those authors question this and want to go it alone, they hire AuthorSolutions to bilk them out of more money (as Gaughran covers here).

These are businesses that dug their own graves. There was a time when Tor, Spectre, and DelRay meant something, when they were a brand that readers looked for because they specialized in finding the type of fiction certain readers wanted. My mom has a chest of drawers in their attic filled with their books and can tell you who published what. These days it hardly matters, that is what massive consolidation does.

Their biggest mistake was in how they chose their customers, when they made bookstores their end consumer and forgot all about the people who buy from bookstores. Indies Unlimited recounts an experience at a writer’s festival, pointing out one of the major differences between self published professionals and traditionally published professionals is the focus on readers. That should tell you everything right there, as some authors seem to have gone down that path as well. James Patterson sure does worry about literature but he never, ever talks about his customer’s ability to afford his hardbacks.

Joe Konrath has made a hashtag for James Patterson, #JamesPatterssonSTS, asking him to Stop the Stupid. He’s actually really nice about it, giving him the credit of caring about books but pointing out that Publishers aren’t the ones who make books, authors are. I would have said Patterson doesn’t give a shit about new authors, just those that line his pocket, but I guess I’m just more cynical.

Sorry, that was a pretty long editorial on publishing. We have a few news items this week as well.

Simon & Schuster has launched a new internal networking site, InkedIn. A great idea, but how long, I wonder, until we hear reports of authors getting banned or censored for trying to find information on payments, terms, etc.?

Barnes & Noble and Samsung are making a tablet together. On the one hand, I feel like they’ve totally given up on their own manufactured brand of Nook. On the other, Samsung definitely makes an awesome product. That said, the problem really isn’t the hardware and I think most would agree the Nook is probably a better reader, maybe even a better tablet, than the Kindle. The problem with the Nook platform has always been the software, and more importantly, the market behind it.

Random Penguin has a new logo. No one cares, and more importantly, no one likes it. They really set themselves up for disappointment too, because they show you a video full of logos from hundreds of imprints…then show you the most boring one out there. I actually though I’d missed it.

Now, onto the whole Amazon VS Hachette thing.

Last week, I posted about Jeremey Greenfield over at DBW discussing what Hachette has to do to win against Amazon. It was BS then and remains so now. PG has his rebuttal which articulates the many reasons why. TeleRead has a response too, addressing as well many others making similar arguments.

The Watershed Chronicle discusses why what the publishers are trying to do still amounts to agency pricing. It won’t get treated like that, but then that’s probably a good thing. If they each, independently, compete the same way against their suppliers, it’s not collusion.

Hugh Howey discusses why he is willing to trust Amazon VS publishers and how that affects his outlook. I’m a bit of a cynic so I’m not entirely in line with this, but I spelled that out in my post on Amazon’s “Evil” nature.

Michael J. Sullivan has a guest post on Konrath’s blog. He takes a very even keel to the whole Amazon/Hachette deal and it’s very well done. The great thing about Sullivan is he has one of the truest, most balanced experiences of many authors out there. He started as a self-published author, sold his work to Orbit (a Hachette imprint) and has had a very good experience. Since then he has sold them some work while still self publishing other work, making a dynamic portfolio.

Barry Eisler (who so often assists in Joe Konrath’s fisking) has a post up on The Guardian (brought to us by PG). He editorializes on why Amazon is being labeled the issues when really the issue is technology, and asks why it is Amazon is evil when it plays hard but publishers (who threatened to pull their books, in collusion, from Amazon) don’t get the same type of publicity when they play just as hard.

Mike Shatzkin goes on and on and on about why no one really gets it about Amazon and Hachette, while also pointing out that “Amazon pays amateur authors, often unedited, who upload files not yet ebook-ready to them and don’t know anything about marketing or metadata, as much as 70 percent of retail if they meet certain exclusivity and price stipulations.” Thanks Mike, way to play it straight. I’ve linked to PG’s post because he has a great rebuttal. I’d also like to point out that treating authors right is what is making a lot of this swing Amazon’s way. Just like print distribution, those who have grown up in traditional publishing, and were able to take advantage of its successes, will frankly die. They will need to be replaced by new authors and Publishers will have a harder and harder time doing that if they continue down this path.

This really came as a surprise, but Stephen Colbert has come out against Amazon on his show. I like Colbert and enjoy his humor, so I find it especially odd that he, a man who mocks news people for editorializing about things they have a biased personal and financial stake in, is now doing the exact same thing because his publisher is involved. Joe Konrath has a response…which might be a bit too far so I’m not going to post it. Let’s just say he was angry.

I end the week with this. After two solid weeks of Amazon VS Hachette, four or five posts compiling various opinions from many different sources, with it crowding out at least two of my Sharing the Wealth posts, to see that the publisher is now laying people off just made me giggle. Not because people are losing jobs, which is horrible, but because there are people who have said that Hachette could take on Amazon and win. Really? Because a few months of lukewarm heat led them to lay off 28 staffers, a move that only happens when a company is in a crunch. Amazon could give them the heave ho and it still probably not even put a dent in their earnings statement.

Just remember this.

One of these two wants lower prices.

One of these two treats authors better.

One of these is used millions of times a day by consumers and has a brand that is recognized worldround.

One of these two, if plied to people, would probably be confused with a woodworking tool.

I’ll let you figure out which of those applies to who.

 

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The Bargain Ebook Buyer

Had to post this now. A poster on Kboards has a thread detailing a few things some people might not know about Bargain Ebook Buyers.

All this comes from a report BookBub has put up on SlideShare.

This is some great information and three of them are key for new authors (myself included).

  1. They try new authors.
  2. They read what they buy.
  3. They stick with authors.

God, I hope BookBub accepts my submission when FayTown Calling comes out…

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iOS 8 and Why it’s Not a Gamechanger for Ebooks

This isn’t a tech post. I do those once in a blue moon (I believe the last one was about Apple’s last operating system announcement) but this isn’t one.

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, had a post yesterday about iBooks and the way it will revolutionize ebooks the same way iTunes did for music. Usually, Coker is pretty damn smart, especially in all things publishing, but I’m afraid he’s a little short sighted with his last couple posts. First, he acts like Amazon is planning to rob authors blind (not considering what else might be at play) and then he treats iBooks like it’s going to be a better marketplace for books. All the while making a pretty blatant sales pitch for Smashwords, a move I understand and appreciate since he is a business owner and entrepreneur, but maybe he should be focusing on making his site a little easier to use before he makes it out to be the next best thing for authors to Amazon and the best way into Apple.

Not the point.

His latest assessment is that iOS 8 is basically going to be the shits. He states that because it will be pre-loaded in the operating system it will make Apple a much more viable marketplace, possibly even a true contender for Almighty Amazon.

God, I hope he’s right. I want people reading. I want buying ebooks, especially my ebooks, to be as easy as possible. I’m up on Apple, ready to go (through Draft2Digital which was so, so, soooooooooo much easier to use than Smashwords), and I would love to see my sales (more like sale) increase.

Here’s the problem. Apple, they’re great innovators but God help us if they are following. Their way is the Only Way, and it’s not intuitive. The reason we think iTunes and the iPhone are so great is because they were the first to make them. I love it when people yak on about their Macs, but at the end of the day its a niche market, partly because of cost and partly because the way people were brought up using computers isn’t the way Apple thinks you should use a computer. In fact, switch to Android, you’ll see how a smartphone should run. And really, take a look at iTunes, try and search through your library or transfer music in a way that hasn’t been blessed by the Altar of the Bitten Fruit.

What made me think of this was when today, when trying to find my link to the iBookStore for Sorcerer Rising, I couldn’t find it. In fact, the only way I could find it is in iTunes. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s a best practice to make your marketplace only accessible through a single program. Sure, iTunes is popular, but why not make a .com where you could purchase digital content that is automatically synced to your account? It doesn’t just apply to the web, there is still not an iTunes for Android, alienating the entire market (which is now bigger than iPhone).

I could deal with these things but at the end of the day they are symptomatic of an attitude. The Apple attitude. They don’t make these things possible, not because it’s too challenging, but because they know what you want.

And as soon as you change your mind, they will let you know.

Sometimes this attitude produces amazing results. They have invented whole industries with their innovative thinking by truly giving people things they didn’t know they wanted or needed. But they’re not flexible and they do not hold themselves bound to their customers in any way. If anything, you should just be happy they offer what they do and keep on worshiping with your doallars.

At the end of the day, this will be what makes this a lackluster affair. It might do alright, but it won’t be iTunes and it certainly won’t be Amazon, not without a shift in thinking.

And if you’re sitting there thinking Apple’s success speaks for itself, remember that for a long damn time they were a has-been. They innovated then failed to keep up with what customers wanted and lost the market. They were the hot thing and no one thought they could fail.

They were right.

It was the customer who was wrong.

And you know what, that sounds a little familiar to some other business authors are acquainted with. Apple might have heard of them too.

How’d that work out for them?

 

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Amazon and “Evil”

A lot of people have been talking about Amazon and Hachette. It started as a simple reporting of what was going on between the two. It was a juicy story, I can’t blame the news outlets for going after it. Amazon is the Biggest of Fish and their relationship with Apple and publishers has been newsworthy since the price fixing thing first hit the internet.

What it quickly became, first through innuendo from those that broke the story, then in attack pieces from TradPub voiceboxes (the Guadian, Slate, etc.) is a debate on whether or not Amazon is in the right. Are they bullying Hachette, a big company owned by bigger companies, still smaller than Amazon? By default, does that also mean they are bullying publishing? Going even farther, are they getting a headlock on the market so they can enact a nefarious scheme to extort authors, demolish indie bookstores, do away with publishers, and destroy literature as a whole?

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Are they evil?

No, they’re not.

First of all, you want evil, take a look at this.

This is pretty bad too.

What you are seeing, is a contract negotiation. Perhaps one that has gone a bit awry, but that’s not unusual. What is unusual is that we know about it. We see the impact. People are reporting a company going after better terms as if they are a conquering nation, raping and pillaging a helpless neighbor across the border, when really companies do this every day. The ones that don’t are the ones that go under, the ones that are used as business cases for failing to evolve.

Of course, it is more than just a simple, run of the mill contract negotiation. Maybe that’s what confuses so many. This is a strategic negotiation, one that allows Amazon to practice before they take a whack at the bigger, better funded publishers. Even that is happenstance, Hachette was the first to settle and the first to be up to bat for renegotiation. They, and all of publishing, know this will set the precedent for things to come.

But what about authors? Like I said above, they could just be doing this so they can drop our royalties, to change our terms and conditions to be more in their favor. And you know what, that could happen. Yep. And as soon as it does, I’ll be on this blog and my author site, ready to discuss it. If it doesn’t make sense, is abusive, manipulative, or is a bad business practice, I will carve it up. And I’ll be sharing the posts from the rest of the self pub community who’ll do the same. Even if it makes sense and from a business standpoint I agree with the move, I’ll still bitch about the inconvenience.

But until that happens, yeah, I’m going to stick with the company that made my authorial pursuits possible. You think Amazon is evil? They’re no more evil than the publishing companies, the ones who built a system that saw authors run through their system like it was a meat grinder, filling their coffers with copyrights they could sit on until they became convenient to exploit due to happenstance, luck, or the author’s other successes. The publishing companies that treated self publishing like something you have to wipe off your shoe before you come inside. Then, when it became reputable through the hard work and ingenuity of Amazon and the authors who exploited that opportunity, they bought and used the company most notorious for doing the form of vanity publishing they railed against.

Hugh Howey has a great post, in which he discusses why he’d rather just have faith that Amazon. It makes sense. But it’s also kinda sentimental.

am a bit of a cynic, so let me give you a cynic’s point of view:

At least Amazon is good at what they do.

If someone was backing your play, would you want it to be Lex Luthor or Mirror Man. See, unless you’re a Flash fan, you don’t even know who the fuck that is. Of course, there is the risk of inevitable betrayal, but there’s the benefit that they have empowered you to survive that betrayal. Amazon will do what is in their best interests. In the case of publishers, they want to control price to drive it down to gain market share. In our case, they don’t need to drive down price because we’re so eager to do it ourselves. If anything, they broke the systems we so loved, nerfing the power of free and offering a 35% discount on .99 titles, to drive up price. Unless they took away our power to control our own prices, if they lowered the royalty they would drive up prices as authors tried to adapt.

I’ve said before that we’re more an Amazon Supplier than a Customer, but that’s not entirely accurate. We’re actually more like their third party sellers, which is Amazon’s favorite group of people. All they have to do is list the item and make the transaction. They take a small cut and don’t have to do a fucking thing! Yes, at certain levels where Amazon handles the fulfillment, they become more difficult to work with but that’s because they have to do more work.

What work do they have to do with us?

That’s right. The only thing they have to do is manage KDP as a program, a heavy investment sure, but one that pays rich dividends as there are no incremental costs with each unit sold, other that whatever it costs them to handle the transaction and store the good.

That’s why Amazon, even if they’re evil (which is debatable) isn’t worried about you.

And it’s why Big Publishing, who doesn’t find themselves in that particular spot, needs to worry a lot.

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Sharing the Wealth: 5/30/2014

I posted in one of my past Sharing the Wealth posts about a lawsuit that saw a publisher, HarperCollins, successfully argue in court that another publisher, Open Road, did not have the right to publish one of their books in ebook format, even though HarperCollins themselves had not provided any language in their contract with the author giving them that right. Now they are asking for an injunction to stop the sale of the book while the legalities (and hopefully, the appeal) are worked out. More than that, PG has a great legal analysis of the situation.

TeleRead reports from the latest Author Earnings report, that a debut author has more earning potential with indie publishing than traditional.

They also have a post on why Myindependentbookshop.co.uk is not an independent source for finding books. They also discuss the ineptitude of publishing consultants. Topics include windowing, the agency model, and stalling ebook releases to sell hardbacks. Hilarity ensues.

The Guardian says self-publishing is simply a reaction, not a revolution. On the one hand, I would call that bullshit. On the other, that’s actually pretty correct…especially since every revolution in history has in fact been a reaction to a situation. American, French, Industrial, they were rebellions against old thinking and new practices.

Salon, who has a tendency to be as stupid as the Guardian, has this.

Okay, so that’s my general news for the week. Now, because the whole Amazon VS Hachette thing has been pretty busy all week, I have a whole section dedicated to it. I have two posts, here and here, but the following is my cap on the end of the week.

The Watershed Chronicle has one of my favorites, calling out Hachette on their supposed/alleged/feigned concern for authors.

Tobias Bucknell posted about Amazon abusing authors, citing Mark Coker’s argument that indie authors will be in a bad position in the future. I’ve already expressed my opinion on this, as has Hugh Howey, but David Gaughran has an unrelated post that I think rebutts this rather well. He call into question why it is the media, and those like Bucknell, have been so quick to jump on the Amazon VS Hachette debate, citing future author abuse, yet have completely ignored the situation with Author Solutions, where current abuse is occurring.

PG shares a post from the Atlantic, which states Amazon is putting itself in the position to control ideas. This is a legitimiate concern, to a degree, similar to what has been levied against Google in the past. Of course, Amazon has routinely showed pure objectivity to its search utilization, and will take anyone’s money no matter who they bow to, what color they may be, or who they fuck. Unless it’s kids, in which case they bring the hammer down pretty hard (though if I remember correctly, the controversy there was that they didn’t censor this offensive material fast enough).

Digital Book World (specifically Jeremey Greenfield) has stated that Hachette can beat Amazon by pulling their books and having their authors run aggressive campaigns to urge their customers to buy elsewhere. So…why haven’t they done that yet? And what, exactly, is a new author supposed to do? Because the publisher certainly isn’t going to help.

Hachette has launched a dedicated bookshop on BooksAMillion.com. Good luck with that.

 

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Amazon VS Hachette: A Second Summary

I posted an aggregation of news dealing with the Amazon VS Hachette negotiation that’s been going on Monday. You can read it here, but I wanted to post a follow up since there have been new developments.

Smashwords has drawn a parallel between the Amazon VS Hachette debate and indie authors, specifically pointing out that indie authors might find themselves in the same situation that Hachette has as Amazon pushes its agenda. The only problem there, is that indie authors set their own prices, and they’re already pretty damn low. Maybe they’ll do it just to make a higher profit, but that hasn’t really been their modus operandi. They cut their supplier’s margins so they can set lower prices. If they were to cut our royalty rate, I think the trend would he a higher price, the exact opposite of what they’re trying to do.

Hugh Howey than has his response, pointing out my comment above, adding that Mark Coker is a competitor of Amazon, which needs to be remembered.

Joe Konrath fisks Charlie Stross, who is defending his publisher, drawing in other sources as well. Good read, but long. TeleRead weighed in with a great analysis, as well as the Digital Reader.

Passive Guy discusses how, of the two, the latest Author Earnings report is a much bigger deal than the whole Hachette situation. I have to agree. He discusses how as each author learns they can build a career with Amazon vs traditional publishing, those houses are losing potential backlists and blockbusters. He points out that blockbusters, while few and far between for individual authors, are what make up the profits of these corporate entities. To find that potential Patterson or King, they have to invest in those authors when they’re a no name, something that have been reticent to do. It’s a typical thing you see with struggling companies, failing to invest in capital and development of their product. Authors are, essentially, the product Publishers “create” and they haven’t been investing.

Then things got real.

Amazon weighed in, which is the first time in the year or so I’ve been doing Sharing the Wealth that I’ve ever written that. They’re usually pretty tightlipped and in this case they do a really good job of communicating without giving the slightest detail as to the actual negotiation. They are also very polite in the announcement, saying nothing negative about Hachette. The most interesting part is the fund they’ve proposed for authors that would be split by Hachette. This is far and beyond what they’re required to do and very generous.

As Digital Book World has pointed out, they even pushed people toward competitors. They didn’t name anyone, but that is a bold move that most companies wouldn’t state. It’s a strong showing for their customer centric mentality and not what you would see a monopoly typically do.

Joe Konrath has a great analysis of their announcement, going so far as to hypothesize that the proposed author fund was not accepted by Macmillan two years back. I actually don’t know what is being referenced by Amazon there, so I don’t know if it was or not. Their letter didn’t seem to leave that up to question.

Hugh Howey has also tied the effect of these negotiations into his numbers for the author earnings report.

Then, even more to my surprise, Hachette responded, basically rejecting the fund, stating that:

“It is good to see Amazon acknowledge that its business decisions significantly affect authors’ lives. For reasons of their own, Amazon has limited its customers’ ability to buy more than 5,000 Hachette titles.

Authors, with whom we at Hachette have been partners for nearly two centuries, engage in a complex and difficult mission to communicate with readers. In addition to royalties, they are concerned with audience, career, culture, education, art, entertainment, and connection. By preventing its customers from connecting with these authors’ books, Amazon indicates that it considers books to be like any other consumer good. They are not.”

I can’t help but laugh at that. Everyone has been talking about livelihood, the ability of authors to make a livelihood, to support themselves, to feed their families…but then Amazon proposes a fund to pay them and it’s all of a sudden about more than just money, it’s about the difficult job of communicating to their readers!

 

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