Posts tagged Joe Konrath
I am forced to wonder, after reading this latest interview with the noted president of the Author’s Guild, if the man has actually a) bought any books in the last decade, b) listened to any of the writers he is supposed to be supporting about what they’d actually like, or c) thought for fifteen seconds about what spills from his fingers onto a computer screen before pressing “send” on interview questions.
Because frankly, what he wrote “don’t make no sense”. But here’s the article, so you can see the whole bit yourself.
I hate to beat on the guy twice in a row, but really – I don’t understand why someone who so obviously lacks even a basic grasp of the industry is in a position he’s in.
Examples of inanity:
The Guild’s beefs with Amazon became pronounced over the issue of the resale of new titles some years ago. This was something that Amazon pioneered. They would sell you a [just-released] book on Day One, buy it back from you on Day Two, and then resell it to another customer on Day Three. This was legal, but certainly not what anybody ever intended.
Traditionally, in hardcover, that’s been basically a split of the proceeds between the author and publisher. (An aside: That’s something we’re fighting with publishers about in the digital world.) So Amazon decides to go into competition with the publishers by reselling the book they just bought. The publisher gets paid nothing, and neither does the author. It’s a pure profit for Amazon.
Now, the reason you don’t see used bookstores within new bookstores is that the used books compete with the new books and the publishers supplying the new books would object.
OK, wait a sec here. My local B&N has had a HUGE used book section for as long as I can remember. They’ve been doing this longer than Amazon has been around. Not only that, but this is not an uncommon practice at B&N superstores. And yes, Scott, they are quite happy to buy back the hardcover I bought a couple of weeks ago (for a fraction of the price) and resell it at a profit.
This isn’t some new gimmick Amazon came up with. B&N has been doing it since before there was an Amazon.
Leaving aside the fact that this sort of buy back for books was not an Amazon innovation, there’s also the bit that this is not unique to books. Video game stores have been doing buybacks for as long as Gamestop and EB Games have been around. And while they’re not doing as well as they once were, that has more to do with game-buying moving online (shipped to your home) than it does any buyback system. Those game stores make a huge profit reselling used games, yet video games as an industry are still a booming business.
Amazon bought a POD service called BookSurge. Then they informed their customers — university presses and some other publishers who the Guild had organized to do POD for Authors Guild members — that they would not list their books on Amazon’s site unless they paid BookSurge more for their services.
True or false, Scott?
Amazon did buy BookSurge, but has consistently LOWERED prices for their services. In fact, Amazon now offers print on demand services through Createspace for less cost than any other POD printer in the US. I know. I’ve looked. Nobody else is even coming close except Lightning Source (an Ingrams company), and they cost more than Createspace.
Amazon taking over BookSurge was a huge boon to the small press industry.
So Amazon says, “We’ll pay you the same amount we pay you on a hardcover.” So publishers think that sounds fine, how can they complain about that? They agree and are then stunned when Amazon announces that they’re going to sell every e-book at a loss, for $9.99. That’s an average loss of $4 to $5 a book.
Why would Amazon do that?
I suppose they could argue they were doing it to sell devices and that may well have been one of their intentions. It had the additional benefit of making it much harder for any of their competitors to enter the market.
So, let’s see. Publishers make the same income. Writers make the same income. Amazon offers books at a loss to them, in order to build market share.
Why is this a problem?
First off, the only people losing money on those sales was Amazon.
Second, anyone else was free to copy their model, lose money on sales, and compete. Since we’re talking about ebooks here, the big competitors are B&N (who could have done the same thing – less depth of pockets would have stopped SOME of it, but they could have competed well with some work), Apple, and Google. OK, B&N might have had some rough times. But Google and Apple both have MUCH deeper pockets than Amazon. Trying to say they could not compete with Amazon’s price cuts is a little ridiculous. Of course they could.
The real issue involved was that publishers were afraid hardcover sales would crash; and they had too much invested in the print infrastructure, and could not afford to have that happen. Thus, price protectionism was initiated.
The stunning thing here is that Turow is favoring the publishers’ move to agency pricing, which cost both publishers and the authors he is supposed to be representing tens of millions of dollars. Because when they went to agency, the publishers involved gave up income on books. The publishers earned less; therefore the writers earned less. The publishers were happy to soak that loss to retain print sales. The writers - and the Author’s Guild – ought to have been outraged.
Most writers are.
You couldn’t read all those books you bought from Amazon on a competitor’s device — you can now, if you have an iPad, but you couldn’t then.
Yeah, actually, you could. The Kindle iPhone app appeared in March 2009. The app also worked on the iPad, when it was released a year later. Yes, the iOS Kindle app was around for a year before the iPad existed. No, Scott Turow has no idea what he is talking about. Again.
Barnes and Noble developed the nook because they really had no choice but to compete with Amazon.
No, B&N created the Nook because they recognized that ebooks were going to largely supplant print. They realized this belatedly, and were therefore well behind the curve. If B&N had been more on the ball, and launched before Kindle, we might have had a 90% Nook majority in the early market, retaining 65% today, and Kindle in the minority, rather than the other way around. Firstcomer to new tech is a big advantage, and Amazon was the company to first create an outstanding combination of retail platform and decent device.
One way that 25 percent of net became the standard royalty for e-books was because publishers said, “We all know they can’t go on selling e-books at a loss forever and sooner or later this pricing structure has got to change.” They told authors they couldn’t agree to a different royalty because everyone knew that Amazon wouldn’t be paying them $14 to $15 per title indefinitely.
First off, those prices are flat out ridiculous for ebooks. There are no returns by bookstores, which account for nearly half the publisher’s share of hardcovers. There’s no print cost. There’s no shipping costs. The fixed costs all remain: but publishers should be able to produce ebooks for less than hardcovers and still pay authors a respectable amount.
To wit: there are small presses out there producing excellent ebooks and print books, with ebooks selling for about $6 a book, and giving authors 70% of net (50% of cover price). The company I am thinking of has EVERY book they produce hit the top range of the bestseller list for its genre.
If they can do that, why can’t big publishers? Feeling a little bloated, are they? Maybe time to trim some of the fat, get lean, mean, and back in the ring. Publishing was a business able to coast along for far too many decades. Honestly, it’s about time something shook things up a bit.
You’re implying that Amazon planned eventually to use the consumer’s habituation to $9.99 books to force publishers to charge Amazon lower wholesale prices for books. They’ve tried to do that recently with some small presses, removing their titles from Amazon unless the presses agree to sell their books at rock-bottom wholesale prices.
This was actually part of a question from the interviewer. No bias here. Again, false information. NO small press has had this happen. One distributor was recently refused the renewal of a contract with Amazon. They have not disclosed the deal. They have not disclosed the details at all.
But since every small press is free to publish direct to Amazon at 70% royalty on ebooks, it’s hard to see how this loss hurt any small publishers. Did it hurt that distributor? Apparently it did. But all the small presses which used to distribute with them can simply go direct to Amazon instead, cut out the distributor, and make more income – for very little (10 minutes or so per book) additional outlay of time. I feel bad for the people working at the distributor, but that is the nature of disruptive change: some business models will become invalidated. Unless distributors can think of some massive new benefits to add to the chain, or cut their fees to a fraction of what they were for print, they simply aren’t necessary for ebooks.
The other thing Amazon could have done once they had the market to themselves — and this is virtually inevitable — is that they would have raised prices to consumers.
That’s part of the less-known history behind anti-trust laws. Once a large company has spent its capital to fund predatory pricing and drive its competitors out of business, there’s no reason to keep selling for cheap. The low prices don’t last.
Right. Look, if what they’re into is maximizing profits, then if they were to have a monopoly there’d be no rationale not to use the monopoly power to increase prices to consumers. Now, if I were on the other side, working for Amazon, I’d say “Show me where I’ve done that.”
Presumably, they haven’t done it yet because they haven’t achieved the monopoly yet. Historically, that’s what monopolies always do.
First off, somehow, Turow is missing that Amazon’s market share has shrunk from over 90% to around 65% or so over the last couple of years.
Second off, can he please name examples of companies with 2/3 or so market share who suddenly raise prices?
Google has gained a 2/3 share of internet searching. Did they begin charging more? Apple has a 2/3 share of the tablet market. Did the iPad suddenly shoot up in price? Microsoft has a big share of the operating system market, but as Konrath already pointed out, they’ve gone down in price, not up (taking into account inflation) since they started selling Windows.
So what companies out there got to a 2/3 market share and then suddenly kicked the prices up?
Wait – what would happen if Amazon suddenly got to a 90% market share and then kicked up prices? Take a guess. Readers would all go someplace else.
Amazon is a market leader because they have excellent prices, excellent service, and arguably the best retail site on the internet. The constantly innovate, and they consistently work to try to bring costs to consumers DOWN. They do this because they know that the very instant they stop doing it, some smart kid is going to start a new company in their garage – just like Amazon started – and eat their lunch.
Amazon is not going to raise prices for consumers. Amazon cannot afford to raise prices for consumers. Amazon wants to keep its customers, so it will do everything in its power to keep their costs to customers as low as possible. Even if it means cutting publishers out of the loop because they are insisting on obscene prices for ebooks, and going direct to writers instead. Why do you think Kindle Direct Publishing is so important to Amazon? It’s a means to get inexpensive ebooks out there, after publishers refused to play ball.
And I think a world in which online book selling is driving bookstores out of existence is a pity.
Sad, but true. Physical bookstores can’t compete with online ones. Not just for ebooks, but for print as well. They simply can’t do it. Online bookstores are better for the consumer, or they wouldn’t be showing preference for them over physical bookstores. Like music stores and video stores and camera stores, the brick and mortar bookstore is being phased out by digital change. I feel nostalgic about it, too. But the correct move is to adapt your business model and move on. Nothing Scott, publishers, Amazon, or anyone else can do is going to save brick and mortar bookstores at this point. Books – print and ebook – are moving online. Adapt, move on.
New authors traditionally are nurtured by bookstore personnel, especially in independent bookstores. These people literally hand sell books to their customers, by saying, “I’ve read this. I think you’re going to love it.” Not to mention the fact that a bookstore is a small cultural center in a community. That’s definitely a loss.
I am left again wondering when the last time Turow bought a book was. The average B&N employee seems to be working there because it paid two bucks an hour more than McDonalds, not because of any great love for or knowledge of literature. I’m sure there are some awesome exceptions out there. But frankly? Small bookstores don’t carry enough books to compete. Big bookstores don’t have employees who care. Readers prefer shopping online: preference shown by where the numbers are shifting for sales of books.
The idea that new authors are “nurtured” by a bunch of B&N employees who’ve never heard of them or by a small bookstore owner who refuses to buy copies of non-bestselling books is ridiculous.
The idea that bookstores are an irreplaceable cultural center is only slightly less so. And that’s because some of the good ones really are. But if they ARE cultural centers, they’re likely to survive anyway, because they will have value to people, therefore people will shop there. The stores which people choose not to shop at aren’t having very much cultural value to them.
Again, my concern is for the sake of literary diversity. If the rewards to authors go down, simple economics says there will be fewer authors. It’s not that people won’t burn with the passion to write. The number of people wanting to be novelists is probably not going to decline — but certainly the number of people who are going to be able to make a living as authors is going to dramatically decrease.
Don’t worry, Scott! Right now, thanks to Amazon and their self epublishing initiative, and their lower prices for POD printing, there are more authors earning a living wage than at any previous time in human history. There are thousands of self published books selling over a thousand copies a month right now. Remarkable! Across fiction, the ebook lists are dominated by self published books. It’s thrilling! More authors writing, more diversity than ever, more writers earning a living from their work, instead of the tiny wage paid by the major publishers.
Literature is not in a decline, but a renaissance. Largely thanks to the actions of one company.
Will Amazon always be the writer’s best friend? Perhaps not. But for the last three years, they have been a staunch ally.
As for Scott Turow, I’m going to assume that the bits of libel he had printed in that interview were accidental, the result of ignorance of the industry on his part, and not actual malice. But why does the Author’s Guild continue to have as its president someone who is that ignorant of the business of publishing, and is actively campaigning against the interest of writers?
WAY back in December last year, I made a post with a set of predictions about what would happen in 2011, in the realm of ebooks and epublishing.
So I was curious, with the year ending, how I did. What came true? Where was my crystal ball horribly off?
- EPUB solidifies as the main open format. AMZ maintains its lead as the dominant format, however, losing some market share as iBook builds on the continued success of the iPad, but still holding 2/3 of the market for Amazon.
Yes. No real shockers there, though.
- Ereading Devices begin to coalesce into several main groups: dedicated eInk ereaders (long battery life, easier reading, but poor internet and less multipurpose), tablet computers (the iPad, Archos, and the numerous iPad clones planned by every major computer retailer for early next year), and pocket communications devices (basically, cell phones, often with video phone, often mini-tablets in their own right, with ereader functionality). None of these are dominant yet. Netbook sales plummet as tablet computers eat their market.
Yes. Although the Archos is dead, the Fire and Nook Tablet have risen to the challenge. Some computer manufacturers have had their tablets flop (Dell, HP), while others are seeing sales soar (Asus, Toshiba). The iPad is still dominant, but has a host of competing products, and phones continue to grow – the Samsung Note is a great example of a supersize cell phone that’s half cell, half tablet.
- By the end of 2011, wireless internet companies are offering cheap tablet computers for free with two year 3G/4G contract (not so far out; the cheap ones are only $100-200 retail right now), giving millions more people access to mobile internet tablets (with ereader capability).
Oops. I missed on this one. I still feel this was a missed opportunity for wireless providers. There are some *very* inexpensive tablets out there still, and 3G services are already offering discounts for the high end tablets like the Galaxy. Offering the basic models for free with a plan should be a no-brainer. But it hasn’t happened – not yet anyway. I’ll reserve this one for 2012.
- Amazon releases the color eInk Kindle. It sees sales as a niche product, since it costs more than the B&W eink, but doesn’t play video or look as crisp as LCD tablets – so it’s really mostly for readers who want to buy magazines and newspapers from Amazon.
I got this one part right. We certainly have a color Kindle! The Fire has sold millions of units already. But it’s not eInk. And far from being a niche product, it looks like the Fire is perhaps the most popular Kindle right now. The reason it’s not a niche is because it’s LCD, not eInk – so it has much broader potential appeal. Amazon’s moves with free video for Prime members has been a powerful stroke in marketing the Fire, too. So I hit the board on this, but missed the bullseye.
- Borders declares bankruptcy to reorganize. They close most or all of their big box stores, moving to a mostly online retail position with minimal brick exposure.
This happened. And then their reorganization failed, and they got an extension. Then it failed again, and they went under completely.
- At least three new ebook retailers take off to compete with Amazon, B&N, Borders, iBook, Sony, Kobo, and Smashwords.
Yes. Actually, there are quite a few more than three. But none have been able to generate enough market share to be real competitors yet. Some regional companies are getting into ebooks in a big way, though – Kalahari.com is serving some overseas markets in the same manner Amazon is here in the US, and is beginning to make people take notice, for instance.
- B&N begins the process to close their large stores, shifting to smaller print on demand stores capable of producing fast, quality books from their e-inventory. This does not happen in 2011, but they begin the work to make it happen.
Definitely seeing the shift toward this in B&N, as they busily dump every store for which they don’t own the physical property. Not seeing them make major moves into POD based stores yet, and it’s possible they simply might skip that step entirely. Ebooks are growing so fast that there might be very little time between when big box bookstores stop being viable (probably happening in 2013-2014 here in the US) and when even POD based bookstores stop being viable due to increasing ebook dominance.
- Ebooks pass 25% of total consumer book sales.
Yes, happened in January. Dipped down a bit over the summer, but definitely back over 25% before the end of the year.
- Joe Konrath sells his millionth self-published Kindle book toward the end of the year (he’s passed 200k for 2010).
Darn it, I inserted this partly as a joke, but I really did think the guy had it in him. ;) He didn’t make it, far as I know, but I think he’s getting close. And good for him. Some people have done as much for indies as Joe has, but few have done more. He’s earned his success the hard way, and I’m glad for him.
- New York Times sets up the ebook bestseller list, as they have announced they plan to do. Over 10% of the books on the list are self-published by the end of the year, with signs that this is growing.
A tricky one. The NYT did indeed set up this list, but I did not predict that they would deliberately falsify their list by excluding indie books! This has devalued their list (already dubious) in terms of using it as any sort of measure of success. Later, they began adding a few self published books, but very few. As a result, at this writing only one of the top 25 fiction ebooks on their list is self published. HOWEVER – seven of the top 25 ebooks on Amazon are self published. And scanning fiction genres recently, 60-80% of the top 20 list for every genre I reviewed was self published. Indies have moved onto the bestseller lists in a very noticeable way.
- No major publisher shuts down (I know some folks are predicting this, but I just don’t see it, not next year anyway). However, we see more line consolidations and changes to infrastructure as publishers continue to prepare for the digital-primary publishing world.
Correctly predicted. I think we may see some issues for some publishers in the next year or two, but most are still reporting higher than normal profits, due largely to paying a lower than usual share of profits to writers on ebooks.
So that’s where we were. Many predictions were dead on; some were off on the specifics, but on in general. And I missed on a couple completely. ;) But that’s the nature of predictions. Overall, I think we’re sitting just about exactly where I expected us to be when I made those comments a year ago. Indie sales have moved to an undeniable chunk of the marketplace – not yet dominant perhaps, except in fiction, but substantial and growing. Publishers are still chugging along and beginning to come to grips with the new market. Retailers are continuing to battle for customers and work on improving the experience for their users.
It’s been a fascinating year – the year when the stage was really set. I think 2012 will be critical, too, because it will largely determine how the chips fall, where control of what work is published lands, and who ends up in the best position in the years ahead. Make smart decisions, folks – what we do now will have reverberations felt for many years to come.
For those who don’t know yet, Book Country is a program founded by Penguin last spring as a community for writers. Which is fine. But now, Penguin has gone a step past that. Joe Konrath has already been talking about this. I figured I’d chime in with a few comments as well.
It means Penguin thinks writers are stupid. And that they’ve decided to start a subsidy press.
There have been subsidy press scams around for years. These force writers to pay up front for book production costs, and then on top of that they take a large percentage of the income from book sales. I’ve spoken about these before. The problem with subsidy presses is not that they charge up front (which is fine) or that they take a percentage (which is fine), but that they do BOTH. And that’s not OK.
Take Penguin/Book Country, for example. $549 is not atypical for print and ebook production. You’d pay about $50-150 for ebook conversion to all major formats, and you’d pay $200-500 for print book design. So they’re not over the moon expensive there. And they’re only taking 30% of net on ebook sales (not sure what percent on print), which isn’t terrible either. The problem is that they’re doing both, which is a HORRIBLE deal when you can get a freelance designer to make the book for you for $300-600 and no percent – or find a small press willing to pay all the production costs AND edit your book for 50% of net.
Consider: say I indie publish, and don’t want to bother learning how to make my own ebooks. I pay someone $100 to format the book, and spend half an hour uploading it to the various retailers. I sell 5000 copies over the next X years at $2.99 each, and make ten grand. Or, I use Book Country, pay them $99 for the ebook-only option they have, and they keep 30% of the net. I make $7000. I’ve just paid them $3100 for a $100 job.
On what planet is that a good deal?
Or, you can use their “do it yourself” option. You format your own print and ebook; you give it to them along with $299, and Book Country will upload it to the various retailers for you. Understand: that means they’re spending about $70 in fees for the print book, nothing for uploading the ebooks, and it’s taking them about a half hour to an hour. So you’re paying them $229 for an hour of work, which seems…a little high to me. And worse, again they’re taking 30% of your income on all sales.
The bottom line? This is not a good deal. This is not even close to a fair deal. In fact, this is such an incredibly BAD deal that I find it offensive it’s even been offered.
It’s not a deal.
It’s an insult.
This is what the publisher thinks of us, writers: that they can offer a deal this awful and we’ll take it.
The world has changed, and we have much better options now, thanks.
Spread the word, writers. Let’s make sure not one person falls for this awful program.
First, appearances. OK, we’re working from photos and videos right now, unless you happened to be at BEA this week where they announced the device. But the new Nook has a sort of clean, streamlined look to it that other readers have largely lacked. It’s got nice “lines”, I guess you could say. And honestly, if I am going to be holding a device in my hand for a couple of hours a day, 5-7 days a week, for a year or more, I really don’t feel bad about wanting it to look pretty and feel good in the hand. Knowing about the latter will have to wait til we actually see them in two weeks – but it certainly looks nice.
It’s a touchscreen ereader. Gone are the buttons which users of other devices have complained gradually lose their paint and sometimes stop working. Instead, you can pull up a touchscreen keyboard. That also means when you’re reading, pretty much the whole device is the page, sort of like…well, like a book. My feeling is that this style will make for a better, easier reading experience. I don’t think having to open the touchscreen keyboard will bother many folks – most of the time you’re reading on an ereader anyway, not writing; and touchscreen keyboard seem very popular in cell phones. Not to mention the iPad.
The new Nook is only 80% the weight of the Kindle, but is reported to have much longer battery life. Not sure how they extended the battery without raising the weight, but if so, I’m not going to complain! B&N is advertising that you can go two months between recharges. Obviously, that depends upon how much you read (I’d be more interested in hearing the actual battery life in page turns or hours read). But they’re claiming they now have the longest lasting battery in an ereader. If so, it’s another big plus.
I want to talk a moment about Nook Friends, too. Nook Friends is B&N’s upcoming book-related social network. Now, there’s other social networks out there for books. But by tying the network into the ereader, B&N is opening up a lot of new worlds. Joe Konrath recently wrote an exciting blog about how ebooks could become social communities in their own right. It looks to me like what B&N is trying to do – link books directly into a reading focused social experience – could be a powerful step forward. And a lot of fun, to boot. I think this is a great move, and look forward to seeing what they do with it, and what opportunities they offer publishers to make their books more actively involved in Nook Friends.
Having the ability to put any picture I want in as the “off” image is something else about Nooks in general that I am fond of, and the New Nook retains this. The storage system for books on the new Nook is supposed to be a bookshelf style set up, like the iBook layout I assume. I think that’s dramatically better than the Kindle layout, where books are stored by title, in folders, with a fairly crude level of organization involved.
Don’t get me wrong – I still like my Kindle. I like having free 3G wireless internet, for one thing. Being able to read blogs on the fly or use my Kindle 3G to mapquest or read email from anywhere is pretty nice. But this new Nook is a serious step forward in a lot of ways. And if they do a good job rolling out the social network Nook Friends, that could be a huge impetus for folks to jump on board this ereader.
Overall, I’d say this looks like a great effort on B&N’s part, and I look forward to seeing the devices themselves soon!
Joe Konrath ran an interview with Mark Coker of Smashwords the other day. Great interview. Super comments thread. Well worth reading, even the comments, as there’s a lot of meat and Mark takes the time to go in again and again to address various issues folks have had.
But there was a repeating strand of thought in the comments, about trying to break down the “odds” of self publishing vs traditional publishing. The thought seemed to be that someone could somehow do the math and show the odds of any given book making as much or more self published as it would be likely to make picked up by a traditional publisher.
OK, I’m here today to say that publishing is not a lottery. Nor is it a sure thing.
Publishing is an act of hubris.
In the wake of Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath’s discussion of Eisler’s move to self publishing (turning down a $500,000 contract in the process), Dean Wesley Smith has posted some thoughts that he disagreed with their views on how to get help in those bits of publishing a writer wasn’t able to do, or didn’t want to do: things like covers, formatting, and uploading the books.
Today Dean, Joe, and Barry all posted a chat they had where they discussed these different opinions. Dean insisted that these services were “day labor” and that authors should resist paying a percent. Joe was adamant that they were worth a 15% fee to agents-turned-book-packagers who would take your book, edit it, slap on a cover, format it, and put it up online, managing the book and sending you a check when sales came in. Barry sort of took a middle road.
I am firmly on Dean’s side in this issue. There’s so many holes in the percentage idea that it would quickly turn into a nightmare, I think. Let me hit some of the major points here. More >