Posts tagged publishing
Back in February, I posted the results of some data mining, specifically about the bestseller lists for fantasy and science fiction. You can see the old article here.
It seemed like now might be a good time for an update. There’s been much to-do about the change to the Amazon algorithms. The very-important “Popularity” ranking has seen significant changes in March and again in May. The new algorithms have made major changes to how books show up in the “Popular” ranking – which is the default manner customers see ebooks on Amazon, making it vital to sales.
Roughly how it works: you get sales, your rank goes up. The more sales you get over the period tracked, compared to other books, the more your rank goes up. The old system made loans via the Select program about the same as sales, and gave a lot of weight to free books given away through Select promotion periods. The new system rates free books at perhaps 10% of the value of sold books, does not seem to give any boost for loaned books, and most crucial – it seems to factor price into the equation, weighting higher priced books more heavily.
So how does this affect indies, whose books have been selling like hotcakes because they’re priced lower? If Amazon weights higher priced books higher, then this makes breaking out at $0.99 or $2.99 that much more difficult.
It’s the end of June, four months since my last survey and over a month since the May algorithm changes. Seemed like it was time for new data!
Fantasy Genre, Top Hundred Bestsellers
Well, top 95 bestsellers, anyway. There seem to be some issues with doubled up versions of some of George R.R. Martin’s books, which resulted in only 95 books actually listed in the top 100.
The breakdown was 53 (56%) traditionally published books vs 42 (44%) self published books. This is a significant change. In fact, it’s the first time this year that I’ve seen the genre drop much below 50% indie/self pub books; in February, indie books were 53% of the top list for fantasy, and it’s stayed at that level +/- about 4% through early May.
Some other interesting data points:
Indie price average: $3.24
Trad price average: $9.56
Overall average price: $6.77
Breakdown follows. Note, there were several books I raised to the X.99 levels to make the data easier to chart. These were Indie at $2.51 and $4.95, and Trad at $4.90, $7.29, $7.39, $8.32, and $9.34 (actual numbers were used for the averages above, no rounding).
$0.99 – Indie 6 (down 7), Trad 0 (same), Total 6 (6%)
$1.99 – Indie 2 (same), Trad 0 (same), Total 2 (2%)
$2.99 – Indie 16 (down 7), Trad 0, Total 16 (17%)
$3.99 – Indie 13 (up 1), Trad 0, Total 13 (14%)
$4.99 – Indie 4 (up 2), Trad 2 (up 1), Total 6 (6%)
$5.99 – Indie 0, Trad 0, Total 0 (0%)
$6.99 – Indie 1 (up 1), Trad 0 (down 1), Total 1 (1%)
$7.99 – Indie 0 (same), Trad 20 (same), Total 20 (21%)
$8.99 – Indie 0 (same), Trad 15 (up 4), Total 15 (16%)
$9.99 – Indie 0 (same), Trad 7 (up 4), Total 7 (7%)
$10.99 Total 0 (same)
$11.99 Indie 0 (same), Trad 1 (same), Total 1 (1%)
$12.99 Indie 0 (same), Trad 6 (same), Total 6 (6%)
$13.99 Total 0 (same) (0%)
$14.99 Indie 0 (same), Trad 1 (down 2), Total 1 (1%)
$29.99 Indie 0 (same), Trad 1 (same), Total 1 (1%) (Martin boxed set)
As ever, a picture is worth a thousand words:
This is not enough data to draw conclusions from. However, coupled with the excellent analysis done by Ed Robertson, it’s possible to hypothesize that the changes he noted to the Amazon book algorithms are damaging indie sales penetration. Some of this might be the loss of impact from Kindle Select promotions and loans. Some could also be due to algorithms favoring higher prices (note the upward trend across the board for prices of indie books which made the top ranks).
I think we need to do substantial more work on data crunching to see where things are headed, and I’m open to collaboration with others. In the short term, however, I think it’s extremely likely many indies are selling themselves short by pricing too low – to their detriment.
Hopefully this helps some folks out.
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you found this information interesting and useful. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the data, what it might mean, and how writers can best adapt to these changes.
To celebrate a year of indie publishing, I have my novel, “By Darkness Revealed” reduced to FREE on Amazon for today and tomorrow – 6/21 + 6/22 only. If you enjoy urban fantasy, you might enjoy checking it out, and you’ll aid my in my quest to break the top 100 free books! http://www.amazon.com/Darkness-Revealed-Blackwell-Magic-ebook/dp/B005G8L3X4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340283711&sr=8-1&keywords=by+darkness+revealed
By this time next year, that will have gone up to over 2 million.
By this time in five years, I expect it to be over five million.
By this time in twenty years, I expect it to be…well, really, really, REALLY doggone high.
Breakout vs. Slow Boil
Guys, it’s important to understand something about writing: the one book breakout is RARE. It almost never happens. Of course, we see lots of them, so we think it’s the goal to shoot for. It’s not. Most writers who only produce one book will sell a few hundred copies, maybe a few thousand over the years. More marketing will only very rarely cause a breakout.
If you have one book to write, one story to tell, then write it, get it up there, and do a little free time marketing. Don’t expect big sales; expect a trickle. I basically don’t market my work, yet get steady sales. I have two or three more books and a serial coming out this year, though. And will have more coming out next year. And more the year after that. Once I have a few more books out, I’ll start focusing a little more on the marketing. But I need enough product to make it worthwhile first – you don’t spend time and money advertising your new hardware store when you have one tool on the shelf, right? Same is true for books.
The goal for a professional writer trying to make a living shouldn’t be to get a breakout on any one book. That’s impossible to predict and cannot be engineered. You can’t make Twilight happen. Sometimes it just does. If it happens to you, I am thrilled for you. I’m not going to plan my career around it, though, and I don’t think you should, either.
Instead, the goal for writers who want careers (which I am differentiating from those who just want to write a book and publish it – a fine goal, but not going to make a living) should be to slowly, over time, build a fanbase. You build readers who love your work. You build connections to those readers. You inform those readers when your next story is available, and they support you financially. This sort of organic growth takes time. Years. Many, many books. But that’s the key to making a living at writing: write a LOT, write WELL, CONNECT with readers, and build a group of people who like your work enough to buy it as soon as you release it.
I’m on BV Larson’s mailing list. A few times a year, he sends out emails to everyone on his list announcing a new book. Like many other people on his list, I buy the new book within minutes of receiving the email. (They are fun, not deep, SF&F books). I usually read the book that day, maybe running into the next. But I buy pretty consistently. I am one of his “10,000 fans”, the folks who will consistently buy what he produces as soon as he lets us know.
Mailing Lists Connect Us With Readers
A mailing list is a great way to connect with readers. You can sign up for mine here!
But treat the mailing list with care. You have to ensure what you’re offering in any email you send is something interesting, relevant, and of value to your readers. I named the list “Readers First!” to remind myself of that – that the list is about the readers, not about me. It’s not about my cool new blog post. It’s not about research I did on the industry. It’s about readers, folks who enjoyed my work and want to hear about more of it when it comes out.
Present the reader with well-designed, high quality emails. Look like a professional. Those emails should be your “business best” work. Keep them short and to the point: show respect for your readers by not wasting their time. Those emails are a way to maintain contact with readers, so make yourself available as well. Create means to do two-way contact through those mails, even if it’s something as simple as inviting your readers to email you. If they do, respond, even if it’s brief.
We want to build connections, to create doors that open both ways for our readers. For all MY readers who are reading this post: thank you. You’re the reason I keep writing, and I appreciate each one of you.
For the writers our there: how far into building your 10,000 fans are you? Do you have what it takes to go the distance and get there? What have you done today to help make that happen? Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!
First, he was right – publishing is facing a lot of problems.
Second, that digital technology and distribution were on their way to solving many of those problems.
The list of problems was very different from the ones we hear so often. Nothing about indie bookstores being in trouble, or bad contracts, or the other stuff. It was all meta-analysis of the industry as a whole, and therefore kinda interesting! I thought I’d give a few of those problems AND the likely solutions here. The solutions that are already happening are happening because of digital. Or perhaps a better way of putting it: digital is happening, and happening so fast in book publishing, because digital presents new solutions to many longstanding industry issues.
We have a younger generation which is more focused on “gizmos” than on literacy.
That younger demographic is encouraged to read by the very devices they want to use; the internet is a blossoming ground of reading and writing, and it’s becoming well understood that those who can write well and in a convincing manner can attract a large audience to their work through that medium. The internet mandates a certain level of literacy.
Fiction today seems mostly dominated by tired plots and bad writing.
The tired plots are largely due to major publishers attempting to guess what readers want to read – and then overproducing tons of that specific band of content. Digital publishing, in contrast, opens the doors for ALL content (which means yes, a lot is bad). Readers then get to decide for themselves what is good and what is not; what they want to read and what they don’t. Readers as a group are *exceptionally* good at this.
Literature is lacking in notable masters, and often less skilled writers are marketed as “masters” of their craft without merit.
It’s been hard to determine who the true “master” level writers of fiction are, because fiction sales were dominated by publishers with narrow buying requirements, sponsored book placement, and big ticket marketing moves. Again, digital opens the doors for people with mastery to do very, very well (by reaching an audience!); with virtually unlimited choice of books, and the ability to sample them all for free, readers simply aren’t going to buy books they don’t like. Mastery of writing implies the ability to reach readers: masters of writing fiction will do remarkably well in a free market. On the plus side for publishers, freedom to publish gives them a chance to learn (by watching for successful work) which writers are masters of their craft.
Longer works are the norm, giving readers less time to explore more books.
Longer books were, again, the result of print retail demands in a print dominated market. Digital books have no physical shelf space. My 3k word short stories are selling at a slow but steady pace; so is my 45k word novel. In fact, there is strong evidence that while most readers prefer novels in the 60-100k word range even in ebook form that there is a growing desire among readers for shorter novels (40-60k words). And those shorter works are certainly more profitable for the writers creating them (more than twice as hard to write a 100k word novel as a 50k word one, in my experience; but income does not even double and often does not go up at all). Short stories, novellas, and short novels are back and growing in a big way.
The price of many books is prohibitive, especially in a still-recovering economy.
Books are getting less expensive. Writers can now sell an ebook for $4.99 – and earn about six times as much per copy as they used to get for an $8 paperback. Even selling at the lowball 99 cents, a writer will earn only pennies less per copy sold than they earn from that $8 paperback. Ebooks open the door for books to become less expensive, easier to acquire, and more abundant in terms of selection choice. Publishers are finding ways to reduce their expenses to compete with these lower cost works (or are simply losing market share). Lower prices are good for the readers and the market.
Digital SOLVES problems.
Digital isn’t just growing because it’s the “cool new thing”. It is growing precisely because it DOES solve so many of the problems with which publishing has been faced. The end of returns, which are a huge money sink for publishers. The opening of new options for writers. The ability for publishers to use self published books as a “farm league” from which to pick winners for future representation, and the associated ability for writers to tell them *no*, if the deal isn’t good enough.
Are there other problems in the industry you can think of? How can we push technology to help solve those problems? Looking at the problems an industry has today is the key to seeing what the changes will be in that industry tomorrow.
This year at BEA (Book Expo America), a number of sponsors are working together to bring a special all-Sunday set of workshops and seminars. They’ve named the experience “UPublishU”, and it’s ALL about self publishing. For $99, it looks to me like it could be a fun and interesting experience.
Here’s a link to the planned sessions for the day: http://www.bookexpoamerica.com/Concurrent-Events/DIY-Authors-Conference/#page=page-2
Highlights include a keynote address with Mark Coker (founder of Smashwords) as one of the speakers; a session on maximizing Kindle sales from the Amazon Director of Author and Publisher relations, Jon Fine; several sessions on social media and marketing for writers; and quite a bit more. Sessions run from 9am til 5pm.
It sounds like it might be worth attending for the networking potential alone. There’s bound to be quite a few indie writers checking this thing out. The seminars themselves look fairly interesting, though. When I first saw the announcement, I sort of poo-pooed it. What did Publishers’ Weekly (one of the sponsors) know about indie publishing, anyway? And was it in their best interest to provide a good set of seminars, or to do a lot of discouraging of self publishing? The latter, I thought – but looking at the list of discussions, this looks worthwhile.
So in a reversal of opinion, I’m seriously considering going. For the networking – to meet folks. To listen to Mark Coker speak. And to hit as many of the more interesting sounding seminars as possible. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that I don’t yet know *everything* about *anything* – which means there’s always at least one new byte of information or new trick I can learn from other folks. Probably always will be. I probably won’t stick around for the rest of the conference (although the tracks of the IDPF Digital Book seminar look awesome too) because I’m frankly just flat out busy right now.
So what about you? Thinking of going? Which sessions appeal most? I’d love to meet some of you folks there, if we can!
I’m writing this post on an iPad, using the virtual keyboard. No external keyboard, not bluetooth. Thus, writing on glass.
I was always a little iffy about the idea of writing on a virtual keyboard. I type pretty rapidly. On a good hour, I’m putting out fifteen hundred words. Losing writing speed in any serious way would be bad for me. But I had two experiences which made me want to give it a try.
First, I bought a laptop with one of those chicklet type keyboards about a year and a half ago. I’d typed on regular key type keyboards my entire life, you understand, starting with a manual typewriter over thirty years ago. It was a big adjustment. But I very quickly got my writing speed back up to full speed.
The second was talking to a college professor I know about tech. He commented that the new thing on campus was students using an iPad. Not alongside a laptop or desktop, but often instead of another computer. Simply typing out papers and assignments on the glass screen and turning them in.
OK. In my experience, college students are something of a litmus paper (perhaps canary in a coal mine is a better metaphor) for where tech is going. If the college students have moved to typing on glass keyboards, then not only can it be done, it’s likely things are moving in that direction for everyone. On the theory that this might be an upcoming vital life skill, I decided to give it a try.
A week in, and I’m basically up to full speed typing. There is no appreciable loss of speed. Oh, my fingers still stumble on the keys sometimes. But they always did that anyway. I’m back to touch typing, watching the screen more than my keys and fingers. Getting better as I go.
I’m not sure I’d have thought that was possible. But here I am. And it’s VERY freeing. With Storyist, I have a decent option for typing that I can export to my laptop. Daedalus Touch is a good program as well, but without support for RTF export there’s no way to retain formatting. Storyist retains bolds, italics, and other bits. I’ll be watching both as I go forward, as well as keeping eyes on the upcoming Scrivener for iPad.
So I can take this little pound and a half device with me anywhere, type away on it anywhere for eight or more hours, and upload it to my laptop via Dropbox when I hit an Internet connection. I’ve got a 3G iPad, but don’t have the service turned on right now. So far, I’m really liking it.
What have your experiences been with writing on tablets? Ever tried it? Thought about trying it? I’d love to hear your opinions on tablets for writing in general, and “writing on glass” in particular. I look forward to seeing what other folks are doing with these devices!
At the London Book Fair, one of the major topics of discussion was publishers discussing cessation of DRM use on their ebooks. DRM – digital rights management – is the encryption added to digital media which prevents copying, conversion, and some other sorts of uses of the media. In some cases, it might force the use of a user key to use the media. In others, it locks the media to a specific device. For ebooks, generally it prevents copying, prevents use on other devices, and prevents conversion.
All of the largest publishers used DRM as an anti-piracy measure – until yesterday. TOR, a subsidiary of Macmillan, announced that their imprints would be issuing ebooks DRM free in the US and UK.
Tom Doherty Associates, publishers of Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen, today announced that by early July 2012, their entire list of e-books will be available DRM-free.
“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”
DRM-free titles from Tom Doherty Associates will be available from the same range of retailers that currently sell their e-books. In addition, the company expects to begin selling titles through retailers that sell only DRM-free books.
Removal of DRM is a big, BIG deal.
First off, it’s important to understand that DRM is ineffective. There is no unhacked DRM; in fact, any ebook from any major vendor can have the DRM quickly and easily removed with free tools you can acquire using a simple Google search. And once even one person removes DRM from a book and posts it publicly, the DRM free version is out there, being passed around.
Second, public feedback on ebooks without DRM has been positive. For example, in the hours after Pottermore opened, pirated versions appeared online (they don’t use DRM, they use watermarking of the files instead). User response was immediate: they saw this as taking advantage of a product which was already doing as users asked (cheap and DRM free), and within hours most of the pirated versions were taken down without the company having to do anything.
Third, and this is critical for publishers (and it’s key to understanding why TOR and other publishers are getting ready to remove DRM now), the main thing DRM does today is keep anyone but Amazon from selling books for Kindle devices and software.
Most people reading ebooks use Kindles or Kindle software on other devices (about 2/3). The only form of DRMed book that can be read on those is the sort bought from Amazon; anyone can make DRM-free mobi files, but only Amazon can sell Kindle ebooks with DRM. The result is that it’s impossible for companies like Google and Apple to really compete with Amazon for their market share – it’s locked into a “walled garden” by DRM.
Removing DRM would allow other companies to sell mobi books. It would allow new indie ebookstores to open up, selling epub AND mobi files. Since mobi/Kindle is the most popular ebook format right now, indie ebookstores at the moment are locked into competing with B&N/Apple/Kobo for the other third of the market.
Removing DRM opens the door for more companies to begin nibbling at slices of the Amazon pie. I suspect this could make a huge difference in the long run, allowing greater competition between online bookstores and more viability for smaller startups in ebook retail.
In short, this is a smart, smart move, and one which I believe other publishers will follow once they see TOR’s success. Kudos to TOR for having the courage and foresight to go first.
Addendum 1: John Scalzi (SFWA president) sounds off on the subject here.
Addendum 2: More on the topic from Charles Stross.
Self publishing is an outstanding way to go. Dean Wesley Smith has just sounded off that his position is now that for novels, self publishing is a better method than traditional publishing unless you’re being offered a solid six figures per book. And possibly even then, depending upon the contract clauses the traditional publisher is trying to force on the writer.
However, there are a ton of scam companies out there trying to make money from writers who are struggling to learn about this whole self publishing thing. I don’t use the term lightly. Merrian-Webster defines a “scam” as a “a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation.” Which is exactly what these companies do. They take enormous sums up front, then take 50-90% of the income off book sales, and they present a polished appearance as a “self publishing help” company, attempting to make writers believe their deals are some sort of standard.
Not everyone wants to do their own ebook or print book formatting. Some writers can; others hire these tasks out. And hiring these tasks out IS an acceptable way of doing business. But there are legit companies doing this sort of work – and scams which will do the same work, but take you to the cleaners in the process.
Here’s some rules to avoid getting skinned as you’re learning the ropes:
Rule #1: Upload your own PDF files directly to the printer. Printer might be Createspace, Lightning Source, Lulu, or some other printer. Upload your work to YOUR account. Always.
Rule #2: If buying copies of your book cost more than Lightning Source charges for printing, you are being ripped off. Lightning Source charges 1.3 cents per page plus 90 cents per book, so a 300 page book costs $4.80. If a company is charging more than that for author copies, PASS.
Rule #3: Printer you upload to MUST distribute directly to the Ingrams Catalog, and MUST handle fulfillment without your needing to do anything. Createspace and Lightning Source both do this.
Rule #4: If you are hiring out the cover art, interior print book design, and/or ebook conversion, you should pay ONE TIME fees only. They should give you the finished work. You should upload the finished work yourself. That means setting up your own Createspace or Lightning Source account for the print book upload (upload interior PDF and cover PDF). It means creating your own KDP, Pubit, Smashwords, and maybe Apple accounts for uploading the mobi (KDP), DOC (Smashwords), and epub (everybody else) files.
If someone is taking money from you for editing, for covers, for interior design, for ebook conversion, or for any other publishing related services, and is then uploading the book to THEIR account, they are a scam. If you use them, you are being scammed.
This is a scam because they are billing you up front (legit) and also taking the majority of your income on sales.
It is the equivalent of there being two auto mechanics. One charges a flat fee for replacing brakes and lets you go on your way. The other charges you the same flat fee and additionally charges you a penny every time you tap the brakes.
Which mechanic would you want to use?
Don’t throw your money away. Get services from someone who charges you for the work, GIVES YOU the files, and then you upload those files.
I know we have some experienced self publishers who visit here. What other rules would you suggest novices can follow to navigate around the scams and find good providers? Any service providers you know that you’d especially recommend?
Amazon announced today in their KDP newsletter that they have updated their recommendations for cover sizes for Kindle ebooks.
The new guidelines are a minimum of 1000 pixels on the long side – although they “recommend 2,500 pixels on the longest side to ensure better quality, and an ideal height/width ratio of 1.6.”
So to break this down, if you go with the minimum, your new image size should be 625 pixels wide by 1000 pixels tall. If you jump to the recommended level, to retain a 1.6 aspect ratio, you want an image size of 1562 pixels wide by 2500 pixels tall (roughly).
While the smaller size is pretty typical of what many indies are already using for cover images, jumping to the recommended level will often mean paying higher prices for art. Jumping an image from 1000×625 to 2500×1562 isn’t just a matter of expanding it in your image editor – that way leads to pixelated, ugly looking images. Instead, you need to go back to the source art and use larger source art. Both royalty free art sites and artists for unique art will generally charge more for larger images, and in some cases artists might not have larger source art available for an image.
It’s not the end of the world, but it’s something indie writers need to pay attention to moving forward. Screen quality is only going to continue improving on ereaders, which means images with higher pixel counts are going to become desirable. Plan accordingly, and build your cover images with higher resolution than you intend to use.
A last note on this: these images are the display images Amazon uses to sell books on their site, NOT the cover image included in the book. In most cases, it is advantageous to include in the book file an image on the lower end of the spectrum, since readers will rarely actually see it there, and higher quality images result in a larger files size for the ebook. Since indie writers getting the 70% royalty from Amazon are billed a small amount for file downloads, the bigger the file, the less you earn per sale. Those pennies can add up in the long run, so best practice is to include in the book file a smaller file size of image than the one you’re using for display.
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?
The Author’s Guild blog has just posted a letter from Scott Turow titled “Grim News”. The post expounds upon how the DOJ’s recent announcement it intends to file suit against major publishers for conspiring to fix prices on books is a terrible thing for everyone, and basically defends the assorted publishers’ actions.
Leaving aside the major issue of trying to excuse publishers taking allegedly illegal actions in the defense of their business model, let’s look at the rest of the issues a minute.
Remember, his thoughts were sparked by the “Grim News” that the Department of Justice has just announced it plans to sue several major publishers and Apple for colluding to price fix ebooks with Apple, via the agency pricing system on ebooks. His thoughts are here.
Scott Confuses “Bookseller” with “Brick and Mortar Bookseller”
It’s an easy mistake to make. We’re all used to thinking about bookstores as those actual places you go to, you know, buy books. But that’s simply not the case for most readers anymore. Most consumer books are bought online. In fact, Amazon alone is thought to have close to half the trade book market in the US, these days.
Are the brick bookstores getting hammered? Sure. First by B&N – then by Borders – then Amazon, and now by ebooks from a variety of sellers. I know a lot of you reading this like the physical bookstores, enjoy browsing the stacks. Lots of folks liked buying CDs from a big CD store, too. That didn’t save CD stores, and bookstores are headed to the same place they did: online. Today most music is bought in MP3; and what’s left of the CD market is mostly either top album sales in Walmarts or online sales. Some music is coming out in MP3 only now, and that trend will likely grow.
We’re about seven years post iPod. We’re also about three years post Kindle. Based on comparisons of the trends in each, it is extremely likely that book buying is going to follow a similar pattern, which means over the next few years almost all chain bookstores will close, most indie bookstores (physical ones) will close, and most (but nowhere near all) books bought will be ebooks.
We don’t have to like it, but we should prepare ourselves for the idea. Ebooks are a replacement media, and are almost certainly the last nail in the coffin of physical bookstores. Nothing publishers or writers do is going to substantially slow that process.
Scott Attacks the Amazon Walled Garden
Scott attacks Amazon for having a walled garden, using it as an excuse for their alleged collusion with Apple. That would make sense – walled garden approaches to commerce limit competition, and aren’t really good for suppliers. But Apple, Sony, and B&N each have their own walled gardens too. It’s about as hard to get most Apple epubs into a Nook as it is to get most Kindle books into a Nook. Just because a company is using the epub “standard” doesn’t mean that DRM makes it easy to transfer the books to a new reader.
I recall getting a free review copy of Stephen King’s “11/22/63″ from the publisher’s website. I know from personal experience that converting a Kindle book to Nook is a LOT easier than getting that book onto the Nook software on my cell phone (yes, my cell phone has both Nook and Kindle apps – why not?). Shame on Scribner for making what ought to be an easy experience into one so painful that, tech savvy as I am, I had to spend half an hour trying to figure out how to follow arcane directions that I had to use Google to find in the first place.
Here’s the other catch: Amazon didn’t make their place a walled garden; publishers gave Amazon the walls. It’s called “DRM” – digital rights management. The little bits of code which prevent an ebook from being converted or copied. Years ago, the music industry figured out DRM was bad for business, bad for sales, and dumped it. The book publishing business has not caught on that the same might just be true for them, so pretty universally big publishers launch their ebooks with DRM.
Yes, I can remove DRM. In fact, just about anyone can remove DRM. But it’s a pain, and unless your Google-fu is strong enough, finding out how can be tough. Most customers probably won’t bother unless they’re driven to do so for some reason. Which means the DRM publishers *ordered* Amazon to put on their books is one of the most powerful tools Amazon has for retaining customers (note: Amazon is just as happy to not put DRM on books; none of my works have DRM on Amazon, because I don’t want DRM on my books – I want readers to be able to read my books where they want to). Once customers have invested heavily in a DRM-laden library from Amazon (or anyone else) they are unlikely to switch venues.
Publishers, you MADE the monster you fear.
Scott Mixes Up His Facts About Booksellers
Once again, recall: Scott only considers bookstores with a physical store “booksellers”. Those online places which ship tens of millions of books per year to customers don’t count.
He claims “bookstores are critical to modern bookselling”. No – they’re critical to large publishers maintaining their oligopoly on distribution of books. Books are selling just fine online.
He claims “Marketing studies consistently show that readers are far more adventurous in their choice of books when in a bookstore than when shopping online.” To which I reply, “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. There are very few studies out there about book buying patterns performed in the last two years which I have not read. I have never seen data which even vaguely backs up his claim. Citation, please?
He says “Publishing shouldn’t have to choose between bricks and clicks.” He’s missed the point. Publishers don’t get to choose where they sell their product. Readers get to choose where they want to buy the product publishers sell. If readers want to buy books from physical bookstores, they will; if not, they won’t. Publishers don’t get a say in this.
He says “A robust book marketplace demands both bookstore showrooms to properly display new titles and online distribution for the convenience of customers.” A fascinating claim. Why? He never explains. In fact, the majority of fiction ebook bestsellers in my recent genre surveys have no print presence in bookstores, putting the lie to his claim. What he truly means is major publishers need bookstore showrooms to properly display their wares and advertise them to readers so they can charge higher prices for their work.
He claims that bestsellers are OK, but that “For new authors, however, a difficult profession is poised to become much more difficult.” Again, pretty obviously false. Even a cursory investigation of Amazon shows that, on that site alone, several thousand self published ebooks are selling in excess of a thousand copies a month. The reverse of his claim is actually true: as bookshelf space decreases, bestseller advances are going down. However, more “midlist” writers are making excellent returns on their work than we’ve seen in over fifty years.
Scott Thinks Agency Helped!
No, not really. What agency pricing did was allow publishers to set their prices: which they did. At very high levels. In fact, skimming by Amazon one can find hundreds of ebooks from major presses at $10-15. Most of those titles have numerous 1-star reviews from customers protesting the price. Publishers didn’t help themselves with their ebook pricing scheme.
But most devastating for publishers is the loss of a majority of the ebook market.
There’s only one type of book growing in sales today – ebooks. Print sales are declining, and will likely continue to decline in a rapid slide for years yet before they settle down. Ebooks are the growth market. Ebooks are what most readers will be buying – if they are not already – within a year or two. And by pricing themselves out of the market, all existing evidence says that publishers have handed a majority share of that market to self publishing writers and small presses. No, we don’t have all the data to absolutely and positively prove that as fact – but all data which does exist, including all the market surveys I have personally done, support that theory adequately enough.
The folks who will mourn the passing of agency pricing the most are not publishers – it’s the indie writers, the self publishers, who will miss it the most. Agency pricing has allowed self publishers to dominate ebook fiction in a manner which would never have been possible if Amazon and B&N had been able to discount books from major publishers. Once Amazon gets to discount the hit bestsellers (at their expense), indies will have a harder time of it. We can only hope enough writers will have won enough fanbase by the time that happens to make a difference in the long run.
So yes, when agency pricing falls, life will get harder for writers, but not for the reasons Scott suggests.
So what the heck is going on there over at the Author’s Guild?
They’re sticking up for publishers committing allegedly illegal actions. They’re spreading information that’s got more holes than swiss cheese, loaded with false claims and erroneous data. They’re favoring one retailer over another. They’re proving they’ve locked their minds into 20th century retail, ignoring the fact that for better or worse, retail has changed with the advent of the internet.
Perhaps Scott, who wrote this article, really believes this stuff he wrote; it’s certainly being shoved down the throat of the public by enough mass media sources (the owners of whom also own the publishers currently under threat). But shouldn’t somebody over at the Author’s Guild be better informed? It’s embarrassing to see this sort of tripe up on the website of what’s supposedly a writer-focused organization.