128 responses to “The Business Rusch: The End of The World as We Know It”
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And the English majors in New York are all standing around the water coolers singing their own Kumbaya song, “Business as usual, my Lord, Business as usual… Nothing is wrong here, nothing is wrong.
It’s like they’ve all attended too many “Attitude Control” weekends and took the Koolaid recipe to work with them.
The denial kills me.
Yeah, me too, L.L. That’s one of the many reasons I blog.
The idea that books by revered 19th century writers like Dickens were considered junky reads 150 years ago reminds us that in order for something to be “good,” the conventional wisdom is that it must only appeal to a small number of people. The “masses” read E.L. James (or Danielle Steel or Nicholas Sparks or anyone who’s sold more than you think they should have) so those writers and their books must be crap.
The irony for me is that, at least in romance publishing, the entire industry works on a tent pole model. Because Kristan Higgins sells lots of books in her sub-genre, publishers only want to acquire works by new authors whose work in that sub-genre is enough like Kristan Higgins that they can be packaged to appeal to Higgins’s fans. In other words, the authors who sell the most books must by definition be writing the right stories.
This insults the readers. Readers want to read new books by new authors that are good, not derivative. Which is why a lot of the best 21st century writers will find their way to independent publication because industry professionals are rejecting them. And if those writers are making more money self-publishing than they can with trad publishers, why should they shift back?
Actually, Magdalen, all of traditional publishing now works on the tent pole model. It’s not the editors who understand exactly what you’re saying; it’s those lazy people in the sales force who have the last word on what gets bought. They want to say, “Buy Jane’s book because it’s just like the bestseller by Karen” instead of figuring out how to market a new product each time. [sigh]
You are right: it makes no business sense for indie writers making more money self publishing to go back. But not all writers are sensible about business–or they have other reasons for going back that have nothing to do with money/business.
I worked with Steve Wasserman when he edited the LA TIMES Book Review…but that was over a decade ago.
He went back to NYC & became an agent. Dave Ulan runs it now. Steve Wasserman’s views are those of NYC publishing, as a group usually the last to sniff the breeze.
I spent 2 weeks in that milieu in May and they have learned little, as you say.
The important lesson is as you also say: the future, especially for genre, lies in the indies.
Thanks, Greg. Great to know. All of the identification I saw about him in connection with this article referred to the LA Times, including something on the Nation‘s website. I knew there was a Steve Wasserman who was an agent. Didn’t realize it was the same guy. I appreciate it. And appreciate the comment. Sorry to hear that NYC publishing is still the same. [sigh]
He’s an agent? LOL! Well, that explains a LOT.
Just so you know, I log into your site pretty much every morning and then curse when I realize it’s not Thursday.
LOL, Lara. Thank you.
Yeah, Lara. Everyday should be Thursday! 🙂
Oh, man, would I be tired. And there’d be no fiction from me. So Dean would be hiding since I get grumpy if I don’t write fiction. 🙂
No. I love your fiction too. Sigh. Guess I’ll just have to remain patient.
And now that I’ve read the latest Author Guild statement, posted June 4th, the only explanation I can think of by now is that the AG was dropped on its head from a great height, with tragic results:
Wow, Laura. That’s just embarrassing. Thanks for your post here and your post there. I couldn’t have said it better.
your new website looks great kkr. Clear, clean look.
Just from being an old codger: The man who reads narrowly is narrow, not deep.
A few years ago Brandon Sanderson and I were driving along on a signing, and we got to talking about how the chains were killing one another. Amazon was indeed a culprit, primarily because they had a better business model. In all businesses, “He who best serves the needs of his customers will win.” So we were bemoaning the fact that Borders was in a bad spot and Barnes and Noble was on its way out, and suddenly Brandon said, “You know, this will just rejuvenate the boutique shops,” and he was right. There is no better time to start an indie bookstore, and it has been that way for three years.
Exactly, Dave. It’ll be fun to travel again and hit unique book shops. I remember I was in Florida a few years back and wanted some Florida history. The only bookstore in the area was a large B&N and it had exactly four Florida books in the regional section, two history and the other two essays. This was before the Nook took over the stores. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was. I ended up ordering some Florida history books from Amazon when I got home–and buying a few more from the independent used bookstore down the hill from my house.
Thank you for this post, Kristine. I’ve been thinking (and posting) about this subject myself recently, because I have a manuscript just about ready to go. And as a first-time novelist, picking my publishing route demands serious consideration.
I’m still deciding, but I feel as though I improve my future prospects if I get a novel traditionally published first. What do you think?
I think the world is changing so much, Stefon, that the answer I give you today might not be valid tomorrow. It’s got to be 100% your choice. If you need the validation of a traditional publication, then go for it. Otherwise, indie-publish. I really don’t know what will be important five years from now. If I had to guess, I would say that all that will matter is the number of readers you have–and you can get those by writing a great book and going either route.
Stefon and Kris, that’s such a great question, and such a great answer. I’m asking myself the same questions about my novel WIP. Though I’m really happy with sales of my first book as an Indie, there’s certainly still a big part of me that wants the validation (and *possibly* nice advance) of a traditional deal. But there are a lot of cons, too. Bottom line, I think Kris is dead right in that in a few years all that will matter is readership… and I think the division between self, Indie, and trad publishing will be largely irrelevant.
Woohoo and preach it, sister. Particularly you do a great job, I think, of debunking a lot of the grease the traditional publishers are pouring into the media.
For a somewhat more metaphorical argument about why professional writers should side with Amazon and cheer for the Department of Justice in this case, see the piece on my blog titled “Amazon versus Apple, Guns to the Indians, and the Viewpoint of the Fish” at http://thatjohnbarnes.blogspot.com/2012/06/amazon-versus-apple-guns-to-indians-and.html. And in general, independent writers — whether independent in publishing, politics, spirit, or any other aspect — need to repeat that slogan from the antiwar struggle of a few years ago: “Not In Our Name.” If you hear a local writer being interviewed on radio or TV about this, pick up that phone and your list of credentials, and make it clear that the writing, bookselling, and publishing community is NOT, NOT, NOT united on this issue.
Thanks, John, for sharing the link. Worthwhile. And good advice here too. Let’s make sure the media knows we’re not all united with Turow & his ilk.
I was recently on a panel, ‘Editors, Agents, and Other Endangered Species,’ at Baycon where the other panelists were not generally favourable to Amazon. I pointed out that Amazon had not cheated or done anything illegal to get to where it is–they simply understood that the traditional model was completely broken and went for it, providing terrific service to the bookbuying public on the way. As a result of Amazon’s success, many indie authors are now benefiting. There were loud gasps of disbelief from the other panelists when I pointed out that Amazon pay my royalties on the nail, every month, like clockwork, and that I can monitor my sales and royalties in real time (the same incidentally is true with Lightning Source (POD). And after 10 months, sales of my nonfiction Greek island memoir are still rising (just under 500 in May), long after it would have been off the shelves with a traditional publisher.
Oddly enough I think the publishing industry stumbled upon the answer to their own problem with sales. The e-book as a gateway drug to the hard stuff 🙂 .
One way to increase sales is to increase customer base and the easiest way to do that is to market to everyone who has a pad or an iphone (fast, wide distribution). That whole ‘mommmy porn’ which they disdain was easy, light, enjoyable, engrossing reading (going by the reviews) and it would be easy to shift readers from that to a title which that demographic could scoop up and download quickly before they forgot about reading all together (I’m imagining that not everyone who read that was a ‘reader’ to begin with given the demographic that they keep touting). The big publishers have the $$$ to do this easily and yet …. crickets. But, shhh, we shouldn’t have to tell them how to do their jobs and the fact that they insult women by calling it ‘mommy porn’ just goes to show how good at marketing they are.
LOL, Josephine. 🙂 I love what you said about “Mommy porn.” Exactly. How insulting. And crickets…yep. Let’s just keep this to ourselves and our public blogs for now. Of course, they’re not reading these blogs written by anti-publishing writers like me.
You’re awesome! I LOOOOOVE your posts! Keep ’em coming!
I’m so sorry you couldn’t be there at the Superstars! Maybe next year? I hope to meet you someday!
P.S. I’m glad your site is back up again! Kudos!
Thanks, Melissa. It all depends on my health. Right now, I’m saying no to everything. [sigh}
Well, I, for one, am enjoying The New Yorker SF issue – my subscription paid for by indie-published SF after my escapist check was cashed.
I have nothing else to say in my defense.
I don’t think I need anything else.
LOL, David. 🙂
I can’t imagine the amount of ego it takes to make the statements that Turow was willing to utter at such an open forum. Calling the Department of Justice “one of our antagonists”, makeing fun of a best selling author, and claiming Amazon, a company thats put money in the pockets of countless authors, is evil? That calls for a whole new level of arrogance. And from a lawyer no less! Why would any lawyer worth his salt deliberately antagonize the people investigating his bread and butter?
But after reading the rest of story I came away quit happy. Wassermans comments just prooved to me that the trade publishers, and their Authors Guild minions, are still drinking their own kool-aid. This meeting sounds like it was a support group for the condemned. As if they got together to ignore the facts en mass, there-by makeing the kool-aid taste better.
But I’d like to thank Mr. Turow as he has done me a great service. This information allows me to better define my publishing plans for the future, as I now know the mindset of the people “who know better than me”. I’d like to thank them all for showing me their cards.
They shot themselves in the foot with DRM, then they did it again with the collusion charge. Sounds to me like nobody’s learned a thing yet.
Denial is one of the stages of dealing with a terminal disease.
Can you imagine the size of the bucket of sand needed for Turow to stick his head in? Amazing.
LOL, Randall. I love that.
Nice article. A question and a couple comments…
Conceptually I don’t get this (and I confess I find the last sentence to be a puzzle in itself…). Those bookstores are presumably going to fill their shelves with books. It seems highly unlikely they’ll find a way to fill them with self-pub books. So I would guess their stock will come largely from trade publishing regardless of how much effort trade publishers put into “selling” to the small-fries. Sort of pulled vs pushed but still coming from the same source. What am I misunderstanding?
Regarding the chart from Coker’s Forbes article. The 10% attributed to the “publisher” in the New model would seem to me to represent Smashwords or better phrased the “distributor” and would not be something the author could co-opt. At least, that’s my impression given Coker as the source, and the graphic otherwise mimicing the Smashwords premium distribution model. (I suppose, reworded your point stands in that you can now distribute directly to Amazon, and potentially BN, Apple, and Kobo shortly.)
And then lastly, you touch on this but I think the number of books in print based on Bowker’s ISBN tracking is largely meaningless. It’s a byproduct of POD printing and ISBNs becoming virtually free add-ons to digital publishing rather than indicating a book with investment that indicated it would be printed in some reasonable numbers.
Thanks, J. Glad you liked the column.
If you want to know how indie stories can get books from indie- and self-published authors, look at my husband’s series, Think Like A Publisher on his blog, deanwesleysmith.com. And you don’t have to do any of the things Dean says. If you just click “extended distribution” on CreateSpace, you’ll get into Ingram’s and Baker & Taylor (at a bad discount for the bookseller, but still), and you’ll get into the stores. So your assumption that the stories won’t used indie books is wrong. Also, any indie author who wants his books in a local or region store can simply walk in with the books and ask the store if they’re interested. Bookstores, like readers, don’t care where the books come from if the books are good. Although that’s not entirely true. The bookstores also want a good discount and free shipping. So if you as an author can provide that, then you’re golden.
Um, as for the chart, the 30% is the aggregator/distributor. The 10% is the publisher, whoever that is. Sometimes it’s Coker, sometimes it’s the writer herself. And of course the writer can co-opt this as you pointed out in your parenthetical phrase. Yes, you can do it on Apple, Amazon, & B&N, and Kobo quite soon. Plus you can sell off your website too, if you so desire. You don’t need Smashwords if you don’t want them. (I see no reason not to use an aggregator at this point, although that might change in the future.)
And no, the Bowker system isn’t irrelevant. It doesn’t cover everything–like ebooks–but it does count paper books coming into the market and available for sale has an ISBN, free or not. Just because NY publishes a book doesn’t mean it’ll sell. Believe me. I did a tie-in novel to a Madonna movie that sold less than 50 copies. (I think I’m the only person who got paid.) So all Bowker can do is count the available titles in the marketplace, not whether or not they sell well. I think it’s a good indicator because it’s been measuring the same thing for decades. That counts for something.
Thanks for elaborating.
I understand they could get self-pub books, but I still wonder if they will en masse–outside of special cases like local history or authors or a smattering of self-pub bestsellers. Accepting returns will be tough for many small/individual publishers, and why stock non-returnable books when you can stock returnable books from major publishers? And there still seems to be a lot of resentment toward Amazon, which may continue to impact their imprints and createspace titles’ acceptance. Those are the kind of things I wonder about. Time will tell I suppose.
Again, J, if you work through Ingrams or B&T on the CreateSpace extended distribution, you must authorize for returns. It’s part of the program. It costs nothing because CreateSpace doesn’t pay you until it gets paid. So the printed books go into B&T or Ingram’s warehouse and get sent out again. So returns aren’t even an issue. Do read what Dean is writing in Think Like a Publisher. You’ll understand it then.
As someone who had nothing before indie books came around (in fact, you’re the only pro editor who ever bought one of my stories before I sold a bunch of books on my own), I have a hard time getting worked up about the travails of the publishing industry. NY still has its advantages, and I don’t expect it to go away, but I wish they would stop whining about people finding success in other ways.
Me too, Michael. 🙂
I’m thrilled with the freedom and opportunities we can now take full advantage of in building our careers. It seems to suit my independent/stubborn streak. Furthermore, the options for business minded writers are multiplying faster than we can count them.
A few years back when we were embarking on this new cutting edge of publishing, the wisdom was to pursue both traditional publishing and indie publishing. More and more it seems that there is less value and more headaches than ever going traditional.
Agents in this new world of publishing have become about as useful as a hitching-post post Henry Ford.
Is there now any point in traditional publishing at all?
I think there will be a point in traditional publishing, Marta, once this all shakes out. But it’ll be the same point as network TV versus cable TV. Do you want the creativity of a cable series or the money from a network series? Right now, that’s not how it is with books, but I suspect it will evolve into that. And that’ll be up to the individual authors. Right now, though, I’m asking the same question you are. In the short term, I’m not seeing a lot of benefit in traditional publishing of novels/books. I see a lot of benefit from publishing traditionally in short fiction. But the contracts in short fiction are much, much, much better, and the treatment is stellar.
Short fiction does make sense.
The other storm on the media horizon that feeds into this big picture is that movies are following books and music into the digital world. Cable/dish providers will be following agents into the abyss of irrelevance…soon.
Right now, I stream current movies, shows, sports, etc. from the internet directly into my HD TV (for FREE) and get it all in stunning HD – without a cable provider.
The new world of film making is currently shifting to digital programing produced for online streaming – that means that in the very near future all of our television viewing will come to us through the internet, not some middle-man cable company who has bad service and outrageous prices…hum, that sounds familiar.
Oh, and by the way, these cutting edge film producers pouring out of Berkley Digital Film Institute, Boston University’s Digital Center for Imaging Arts, as well as many others will be ravenously hungry for stories to produce.
So, writers, where will that put us if we get in the digital market now and take the time to develop an internet presence with good solid stories? You do the math.
I think this is a pretty exciting time we live in.
I hadn’t even thought of the film side of things, Marta. Good points.
Every time you write one of these NY publisher posts I am more and more amazed at the stupidity on that end. I am nobody, but even I am selling books – mostly ebooks a few at a time. My print versions are not selling nearly as well as the ebooks, though. I am about 25 ebooks to 1 print. What are your percentages of ebook vs print?
I lieu of paypaling this time, I bought one of your books.
Peter, it depends on the project. Not everything from the backlist is in paper yet. (Heck, not all of my backlist is even close to being up yet) On what is up, I’m selling–without advertising and with a bad discount–1 paper book for every five ebooks in the US. And if we just look at front list, like Anniversary Day, it might be 1 paper for every 2 ebooks. Considering that the ebooks are in Europe and other places that the paper books couldn’t get to until this month and that we haven’t promoted the paper to bookstores yet, I’m astounded. I expect this percentage to cross over (more paper than e-books) by the end of the year, as we get more into paper.
Ask me next year, though. That’ll be the real test.
That graph says it all. Thanks, Kris.
Isn’t it lovely? Check out Tom Simon’s comment as well. He says something even better.
I love that Wasserman quote: “in certain genres (romance, science fiction and fantasy) formerly relegated to the moribund mass-market paperback, readers care not a whit about cover design or even good writing, and have no attachment at all to the book as object. Like addicts, they just want their fix at the lowest possible price, and Amazon is happy to be their online dealer.””
OMG! This is such a relief! I’ve been so misled.
I can finally stop editing and taking pains to package my romance backlist well! NO ONE CARES! They’re just addicts!
I can finally stop editing and taking pains to package my fantasy backlist well! My readers don’t care about quality!
I can tell my dad, a science fiction writer, to relax and stop sweating over Hugo-quality material! No one cares! Science fiction readers are just junkies!
I can tell my publisher to stop spending all that money on my award-winning cover artist! An LA Times book reviewer has declared that it’s pointless! My readers are indifferent to brilliant cover art! We could probably just package the worthless sh*t that I write in a brown paper wrapper!
Whoa! So GLAD Mr. Wasserman enlightened me. The pressure to write well, the pressure on my editors to acquire and edit well, and the pressure on my cover artists and designers… Gone! It never mattered! Our readers our brain-dead junkies! Yay! What a RELIEF not to have to behave like REAL writers, editors, artists, and publishers, after all!
LOL, Laura. I love this post.
LOL and may I please quote you?
Of course. (I never say anything in a public place that I’m not willing to be quoted on. This saves tears and recriminations.)
I thank you for your kindness and classy forthrightness. Here is a link to my reprint of your immortal words: http://www.scifiwright.com/2012/06/from-the-pen-of-laura-resnick/
You have a great ability to catch the mentality and state of mind of traditional publishers, Kristine, and I’ve found that entry heartening.
Do you and Dean think the percentage mentioned by Wasserman is accurate in that quote : “Readers of e-books are especially drawn to escapist and overtly commercial genres (romance, mysteries and thrillers, science fiction), and in these categories e-book sales have bulked up to as large as 60 percent”
I ask that, because I think the main stat we lack is a stat of ebook/versus books genre by genre. As an indie publisher, I do not mean to give up selling physical POD books (and Dean has great advices on his blog to do just that), but if I write science-fiction and I learn 60 or 80% of all the science-fiction books sold are ebooks, I’d rather focus on ebooks.
Last question if you don’t mind, I’ve heard by the co-founder of Feedbooks (a french website) that Barnes & Noble was in a disastrous financial condition. Do you confirm ?
There are studies, Alan, of which genres are doing better. I’m not in my office right now, so I’m not going to look them up. But from the beginning of the e-pub era (all of three years ago), the genres that have done the best are romance, erotica, and sf. Western is also doing well, and so are subgenres like romantic suspense. Basically, if it hasn’t been published (or published well) by traditional publishers in the last decade, then it’s doing well on e-book. I think that has nothing to do with the genres and everything to do with the readers: they’ve been starved for books that don’t fit the conventional wisdom of being “sales-worthy.” They’ve missed their favorites, and are now buying them as they can find them.
Plus, Alan, no need to focus just on e-book and print books. Do both. It’s relatively easy to do a POD after you’ve finished the e-book. Think of it as the same process.
As for B&N being in bad financial position, they were. They’re improving now due to investors and various changes, like spinning off the e-books into a separate company. In other words, they’re making changes based on improving their standing with stockholders. I think they’ll survive this tough financial time. They just won’t be the book company that we remember.
Thank you, Kris! Loved hearing that indie booksellers are growing in number! My favorite memories as a child and teenager involved time browsing in our little neighborhood bookstore and consulting the knowledgeable book-lovers that worked there. B&N is too loud and too uninformed – it can’t hold a candle to the soft music and sharp-eyed bibliophiles working at The Book Nook that used to be on our corner.
Also, what exactly is “junk”? Dickens once was considered too popular, a pulp writer. Funny, huh?
I’ve learned, over the years, that “junk” is what someone doesn’t like to read. It doesn’t matter what genre. If they don’t like it, it’s junk. 🙂 And you’re welcome, Tara. I’m happy about the indies too.
So true. Just as the definition of a “weed” is anything someone doesn’t want in their garden bed.
I think you’ve made two excellent points. First, that the same guys now decrying the fall of B&N and Borders are the same ones who were saying those guys were evil incarnate in the early to mid 90s. Second, that the arrogant attitude of traditional publishers isn’t doing them any favors. They sneer at all the uneducated peasants who have the audacity to read Fifty Shades of Grey or some other “trashy”(in their opinion) novels. Basically, they’re saying that the reason they’re going under is that readers are just too stupid to appreciate the culture traditional publishers bring.
I promise that when they fall, most people won’t even stop to notice, much less weep.
Very true, RD. Thanks. 🙂
LOL There must be something in the tea this morning, or else you have a psychic link with my DH. Over breakfest, he discussed how I needed to get my ISBNs ordered and the print copies of my novel ready this summer before the holiday season hits. This is such a great time to be a writer!
Your DH is right. We’re moving at lightspeed to get our books in paper too, and the ones that are already, sell better than I expected.
Hey! My DH is pressing me about POD also! I know he’s right, and I do have that project on the schedule. Need to finish writing the current novel. Then get my publisher web site up. THEN do POD. Busy!
That’s half the fun, isn’t it? Being busy with your own writing. I love it.
I’m having a blast! The writing is incredible. My author website is fun. I’m really eager to work on the publisher website. And I think POD will be fabulous.
Decades ago, when I emerged from college, I did various career development exercises: what would your ideal job be? And so on.
This is it! I am so lucky to be writing in this new world of publishing!
Wow. This was such a frightenly lucid assessment it is going to enrage some people.
Someone who gives a damn about writers in the Authors Guild should snatch Scottie T up and make him read your posts like homework.
Won’t help ’cause pride goes before a fall–but they’ll know when they look in the mirror that they’re doing the wrong thing for working writers.
Nathan, I’m beginning to think that all of the folks who give a damn about the Authors Guild were in that room.
“…the number of print books published by the major publishing houses was flat this year (going along with what we already know) and the number of self- or indie-published titles fueled the growth in print books.”
Woohoo! *fistpump* Indie writers represent! Just put my second novel into trade paper, and am formatting two more. So I contributed a tiny bit to that statistic. I’m so proud.
“Readers of e-books are especially drawn to escapist and overtly commercial genres (romance, mysteries and thrillers, science fiction), and in these categories e-book sales have bulked up to as large as 60 percent.”
No, not really. Because I bought the following authors in e-book format in the last twelve months: Emily Dickinson, Rudyard Kipling, Jane Austen, Thomas Wolfe, Jack London, Benjamin of Tudela, Lord Byron, Homer, and Mark Twain. Of course I also bought that overtly commercial trash, but my buying habits are not confined to them.
I hate this whole snobbish attitude. There is no caste in writing; this week we lost a giant of a writer, Ray Bradbury, whose writing falls pretty much exclusively into the category of overtly commercial trash. Yet his work will be remembered long after the public has forgotten this year’s literary bore-fest.
My bookshelves are not organized by genre. They are alphabetized. Same thing with my writing: westerns, science fiction, romance, fantasy and even a literary novel. Indie publishing gives me the freedom to wear whatever hat suits me at the moment. Trad publishing will never grant their writers that kind of freedom.
I do organize by genre, Sarah, but I have every genre here, and then I have the unclassifiable thingies, which I love. 🙂 I write in every genre too, and I have to say, it’s soooo freeing to stop considering where I’ll sell this project when it’s done. I always wrote what I wanted, but I knew that a lot of what I wrote wasn’t marketable in NY terms. It is now, and I’m thrilled. Like Pati said, this is fun. 🙂
Wow, just wow. And they said this publicly? I am so sorry, Author’s Guild, I did not mean to sully your art and…./snort, okay I can’t. This is just ridiculous. Scott Turow needs a wake up call. If you need me, I’ll be over here, writing “junk.”
LOL, Amanda. Yes, they did. Sad, isn’t it?
P.S. I love the kitten picture at the top of your website. All the changes look great!
Great post! I’m never more thankful that I didn’t bother with traditional publishing and I’m relieved to see indie bookstores staying strong and growing! I’ve been appalled at the state of B&N and the sheer lack of books on their shelves. I’d happily support and independent than walk back through those doors.
Yeah, I took a day off Monday, and wanted to go to a bookstore that sold new books. I would have had to drive 2.5 hours to an independent (which I love) to do that. Used to be I could go to B&N 45 minutes away. No more. So I went to a local department store that has a book section–filled with sf, westerns, thrillers, romances, mysteries, and…um…one tiny rack of “approved” books, which never seem to sell. 🙂
As a writer of “mommy porn”, I’ve never been accepted in literary circles. I write erotic romance and Romance Writers of America (RWA) barely accepts the genre, let alone the Author’s Guild. We’re the bastard children in the class warfare that is American publishing.
You state that, when it comes to ebook sales, “junk sells.” Well, so does sex…and the elitists can turn their noses up at me all they want–as I make my way to the bank with my 70% royalty check.
Thanks for a good article. You remind me to keep my head high and keep writing!
Diana, exactly. Sex sells and “junk” sells, but more than that, stories sell. And that’s really what these folks forget. A good story with sex, a good story with spaceships, a good story with spaceships and sex, trump a beautifully written book without story every time–no matter how many experts tell you that book is good. And thanks! 🙂
LOL! So true. Sex and spaceships, sex and dragons, sex and mysteries, sex and…(insert favorite genre here).
You nailed it, too, about needing the story. Language is nothing but pretty words if the story isn’t there. No matter what the genre, readers want a good time from their books and and a good space western with some hot sex inside definitely gives that to them. 🙂
Great article, as usual. 🙂 One thing stands out to me, though: those Bowker numbers. I seem to recall you and Dean telling us at the Character Voice workshop to be leery about using Bowker statistics, because publishers tend to by big stacks of ISBNs and then not use them all at once (Dean mentioned a big book of ISBNs you guys still have from your Pulphouse days). Assuming I understood correctly, doesn’t that put a bit of a damper on those print book #s, since many of those new ISBNs may not have been used for actual books yet?
Erm, that should be Publishers buy big stacks, not by big stacks.
Michael, once a book with an ISBN enters the market, Bowker tracks the existence of that book as a physical item. Yes, the system is imperfect, as Bowker and the articles about this admit. They don’t give ISBNs to many book forms. So the number is low and off, but interesting nonetheless. This system has been around for decades, so it is a measure of some kind.
Wow. Nicely put. Do folks like Scott Turrow realize how sad they sound when they say such foolish things? If I were Turrow, I would indie publish while I still had my bestseller status and rake in the dough. He keeps up like this, he’s going to miss the boat.
Me, too, Rob, but Turow is a very slow writer. By the time his next book comes out in two years, he’ll wonder why his sales figures have gone down again, not realizing that the industry changed beneath him. (Around him?)
Indeed. They’re dissing a bestselling author at their annual gala, and they’re… the =what= Guild again? What’s up with THAT?
I belong to NINC and SFWA. And I certainly don’t recall either org ever using an official function to publicly diss the work of non-member writer. How is that anything but grotesquely inappropriate for a writers’ organization?
As for Turow once again postulating that the DoJ is at odds with writers when it investigates alleged antitrust violations… Er, the DoH case is about major corporations involved in alleged price-fixing and collusion. Do Turow, the AG Board, and/or the members of the AG really want to live in a society where the government looks the other way on that kind of thing? Well, okay, they’re free to be victims of corporations if that’s the fate they desire. But I have no such desire, and I want to DoJ to continue investigating and prosecuting alleged antitrust violations.
I’ve said before, Laura, how appalled I am that an attorney doesn’t believe that the DoJ should follow the law here. Turow is a partner in a storied Illinois law firm, that I would never ever ever hire after reading his pronouncements on this.
Awesome entry. Really shines a spotlight on the rampant egomania of some of the players in traditional publishing. I can only shake my head at Wasserman’s claim that “readers of e-books are especially drawn to escapist and overtly commercial genres.” SFW?
Publishing is a commercial venture. So publishers ought to stop pretending that they are anything more than glorified deliverymen, and provide their costumers — readers — with the products that those customers want. And they ought to recognize the value of the people capable of creating those products to their customers’ satisfaction. But I’m preaching to the choir on that.
Why does Wasserman speak ill of genres that are “overtly commercial”? As if treating a book like a product somehow diminishes its value. Apparently he would prefer that those sordid romance, mystery and thriller, and science fiction books be sold quietly in backalleys. He fails to realize that the physical book itself, or the digital ebook file, is not what the consumer is really buying. Readers buy stories. Books are just delivery systems. Packaging. Ways to transport ideas from one mind to another.
It’s stunning, sometimes, just how inside-out traditional publishing is. They treat their customers like drooling idiots with a preference for squalid garbage, they treat their manufacturers like drooling idiots incapable of delivery a product to a consumer, and they treat their critics like drooling idiots too dimwitted to understand that, no, no, traditional publishing isn’t really inside-out, it just looks that way to all of you drooling idiots.
Every time I even briefly consider the prospect of attempting to go traditional with my novel, I just remind myself how little they think of me, and the urge passes. All of your sarcasm, and much, much more, is absolutely called for.
Yeah. “Overtly” commercial. As opposed to what? Great points all, Anthony. I also think that this little article about that meeting reads like a 1970s country club, filled with old white men wondering why all these women and people of color are doing so well…
I simply assumed that meeting was filled with fat old monocle-wearing white guys puffing cigars and speaking down their noses with heavy Boston Brahmin accents as they sipped from their scotch glasses…
Anyway, to answer your rhetorical question, the opposite of “overtly commercial” would naturally be “covertly commercial.” Which, of course, means “stuff that only self-important self-proclaimed avant-garde blowhards would buy, and only because it would be fashionable to do so.”
Thanks for the great blogs, week after week, Kris!
And Anthony, I really love this summary and would like to post it as my Facebook status: “…the physical book itself, or the digital ebook file, is not what the consumer is really buying. Readers buy stories. Books are just delivery systems. Packaging. Ways to transport ideas from one mind to another.” Nice stuff!
You’re welcome, Michael. 🙂 And yeah…”covertly” commercial. Or “overtly non-commercial”…which if you’re in a commercial business makes even less sense…
“publishers ought to stop pretending that they are anything more than glorified deliverymen, and provide their costumers — readers — with the products that those customers want. And they ought to recognize the value of the people capable of creating those products to their customers’ satisfaction.”
Bob Mayer made a similar point in an article on Digital Bookworld which caught my attention, when he pointed out that just as railroads forgot they were in the transportation business and started to think they were in the railroad business, publishers forgot they were in the business of delivering stories to readers and started to think they were in the publishing business–that their physical product, rather than the writer’s STORY, was what readers were buying.
I prefer physical books to ebooks. But, yes, I’d certainly buy a story I wanted in ebook format if that were the only format available (as if often the case with midlist backlist these days). And there really aren’t any circumstnaces under which I’d by a print book with NO content, or with content that I didn’t really want to read.
Exactly. Bob’s column was a good one. I remember reading it, and thinking he’s right.
As for reading, I prefer print books to e-books too, except–if I need the book Right Now. Or if the print book sucks. I’m researching something for future blog posts here, and the two books I wanted I downloaded because I wanted them immediately. The print books were hugely expensive, but I bought them too–used, because I’d already bought the e-books–and am I glad I bought them used. They’re practically unreadable. Tiny font, bad paper, horrible interior design. They actually hurt my eyes. So now I’m reading my e-books with the paper book beside me so that I can mark passages according to my paper-system for research. It’s weird. I am noticing design a lot more, though.
What I really want, and what I’m angling for with WMG, is a combined e-book/paperbook package. If you buy the paper, you get the e-book. Not as easy as it sounds, but I have hopes. Because I’m finding that I often buy the e-book after buying (online) a paper book because the paper book is so badly designed/hard to read.
Pragmatic Programmers does this. You can get both the ebook and the print book for considerably less than buying the two separately.
Do you have a website, Tony? I’ll give it to Allyson, WMG’s publisher, so she can figure out how they’re doing it.
Hmm… I’m not seeing a reply link under your post (probably the level of comment nesting has become too deep). It’s http://pragprog.com/
A combined e-book/paperbook package? Oh man, I hope WMG figures out a way to do that. I love having that option with DVD/digital download combo packages, which made me think that I’d like to be able to do something similar with Thunder Valley Press’s print books — have an enhanced edition available which combines both print and e-boook, along with making a slightly-lower-priced, plain-Jane print edition available for people who don’t care about the e-book. I haven’t figured out a good way to do that yet, either.
Oh, yeah, Annie. As soon as we know, we’ll share.
I do this in my online store…it’s just a setting in the shopping cart software. As soon as someone orders the paperback, it automatically adds the ebook free of charge to the order, and when the customer pays, the ebook is immediately available for download while I ship the paperback. Pretty slick & easy, really.
Of course it’s limited to my own store, because the service isn’t offered on the other retailer sites, but I’d assume that if my shopping cart software is capable, then other companies *could* implement it, if they choose…
Incidentally, I could also just add the ebook, and use a discounted price, if I didn’t want the ebook free with the paperback, so I have options.
And I got the idea from Dean’s blog. 🙂
I always find this commercial vs. literary snobbery amusing – how quickly they forget Shakespeare (and so many other revered icons) wrote for the masses.
Ah, Shakespeare. Quite a promising poet in a minor way, when he was writing those sonnets and sucking up to Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers. All very proper. Pity he squandered his talents by going into that low-brow theatre business.
I wonder what ever became of him? He could have been somebody if he’d stuck to proper literature.
LOL, Tom. You do know he didn’t write the successful stuff. A literary writer ghosted for him. 🙂 LOL!
Just a couple of quick comments:
(1) Mr Wasserman’s article misses the point for another reason. If one plots things out on a timeline, one will find that Borders (recently) and Crown (not as recently) — while they both had immense management problems — both ended up in bankruptcy due to greedy commercial landlords. In each instance, the first renewals of leaseholds on large swaths of stores came due at the same time and crimped cashflow. The land itself, however, had not changed — there were no new oil deposits found under the Borders in Champaign, for example; only its value largely due to the presence of the store itself had (arguably) changed. The little housing bubble we had recently should cause you to question whether the actual value had changed… or whether it was illusory at best.
(2) I must disagree with the simplistic royalty math offered… but showing why I disagree also validates one of Our Gracious Hostesses other points, with a vengeance.
This comparison is valid if, and only if, both of the following conditions are met:
(a) The per-item prices are comparable. They need not be identical; if the author is choosing to price her e-novel at $9.95, while the publisher (under the resale price maintenance agreement currently being attacked as price-fixing) charges $12.95 for the same work, the numbers still work out in the author’s favor — just not by as much. However, even a fifth grader would still see that one stack is bigger than the other.
(b) Total sales volume is comparable. For example, I’ll take 12.75% of $1 million over 70% of $10,000. This, however, assumes that something that the commercial publishers are doing — and doing on purpose, and doing replacably (and predictably) — is the sole cause of the difference in total sales. As Our Gracious Hostess notes, it sure as heck ain’t their sales forces (she’s far too generous to them, in fact). With the rise of internet-based selling of all kinds, it’s no longer the “invisibility” of not being stocked at the nearest store.* I could name half a dozen books that sold more when offered independently by their authors, without misleading covers and blurbs and et cetera, in the six months after the authors’ republication than they did in the multiyear “efforts” by commercial publishers.
My point here is that the math itself isn’t quite so simple… but that the implications of that nonsimplicity largely reinforce Our Gracious Hostess’s other points.
* Casebound (“hardcover”) books have gotten so expensive — largely due to outmoded pricing models, but that’s for another time — that they’re no longer impulse buys for most of the populace. Even mass-market paperbacks are inching toward too-expensive-for-an-impulse-buy; outside of the major metropolitan areas, a mass-market paperback costs more than a movie.
I should learn not to type too quickly without enough caffeine — sorry about the typos.
Thanks, CE. And you’re right about the stacks being of similar items. I was just looking at it as Stack One=One Book, Stack Two=One Book, but you’re right about price, advance, etc. Still, I loves me that graphic. I love it when people do things visually like that.
And thanks for all the other points. What’s cool for me as a writer is that my backlist has returned, and readers no longer have to search hard for a book that is out of print and hard to find. I’m most pleased about that, I think.
We readers certainly enjoy being able to find your backlist easily as well 🙂
Thanks, Joe. 🙂
I like to break down the numbers a different way. If I, as an unknown writer, do somehow sell a book to a traditional publisher, I’ll probably receive a $5,000 advance, take it or leave it, with no significant prospect of its ever earning out. So how much do readers have to fork over at retail to earn me that money?
In MMPB from a traditional publisher, I’m getting 8 percent if I’m lucky (assuming that sales and returns are reported honestly); lower rates from some houses. That means that readers have to spend $62,500 for me to earn that $5,000; which equates to 7,822 copies of a $7.99 paperback.
With a self-published ebook, I’m getting 60 percent on sales through an aggregator; more than that on direct sales through Amazon, but a bit of that will be lost to their bandwidth charge, so we’ll simplify the math and assume 60 percent across the board. I’ll need $8,333.33 in retail sales to earn my $5,000 nut. If I’m charging $3.99 for that book, I need to sell 2,089 copies.
I make the same amount of money from a quarter of the number of the readers, and charging half the price. It’s a lot easier to find buyers for 2,000 widgets at $3.99 than for 8,000 widgets at $7.99. Of course books are not widgets; but different cheap editions of the same book are essentially fungible.
Looked at another way: if the reading public spends a million dollars on traditional print books, it provides a living wage for approximately two full-time writers. If it spends a million dollars on self-published ebooks, it provides the same wage for 15 writers. Gee, I wonder which is better for the writer.
Spectacular analysis, Tom. Thank you. Very clear and spot-on.
Agreed. Such a fascinating twist on the data, Tom. It’s one that should be put up in bright lights.
Great post, Kris! Love the stacks of books graph. (And I love the new look on the blog!)
One thing that frequently gets left out of these discussions is an advantage to the writer that is tangential to business concerns. I’ve heard it from many indie writers (Dean comes to mind) and I’ve experienced it myself.
The new, indie publishing system makes writing a JOY again. The freedom it gives us has changed writing from drudgery (please the marketing department, please the sales department) back to a fun activity. For that reason alone, unless there are big changes in traditional publishing, I’m never looking back.
Oh, Pati, exactly. I’m so happy doing my work these days. All of it, from hiring someone to help with the editing to the marketing to (of course) the writing, is an absolute joy. And for the first six months, I watched the sales numbers, mostly because I couldn’t believe this was working. It was, and well. I’m pleased. Great point.
Don’t forget the enormous benefits to the readers whose favorite writers can now write what they want as frequently as they want. Plus readers (potentially, depending on various factors, etc.) can have a much easier time finding books of a series that they missed out on. The 21st century is turning out to be a wonderful time to be reading and writing.
For an excellent example of the kind of author/reader connection the new indie publishing movement can allow, check out Debora Geary. She’s a very successful indie author with a rabid group of fans and an excellent connection to those fans via her Facebook page.
She just published her most recent book in the ‘Modern Witch’ series. In it, we learned that two of the beloved characters from the previous stories had gotten married. Her fans bemoaned the fact that we didn’t get to see the wedding played out in one of the books. So she’s put aside her work on the next book in the series to write a three-chapter short where we get to see the wedding happen. She’s already put up a potential cover for it.
THIS is an example of the best of the new world of publishing.
And don’t forget hope! I’m filled with joy now when I work on my writing projects, because I know they’ll reach an audience. I’d always looked at self-publishing as the last resort; now, it seems the only logical one.
Me too. It’s so fun to be writing right now. 🙂
I don’t know anything about the governance of the Authors Guild, but it seems to me that the membership should be looking carefully at whether Turow’s positions are a good match with their own.
I’m not sure if business majors would help. They’re all right for running a legacy business, but typically don’t work out well in environments that are in the midst of rapid disruption and/or disintermediation.
With respect to literary value and publication format, it might be worth examining the cases of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. Dickens published his work in the cheapest possible venue of the time (newspaper serials) and made a fortune. Austen got ripped off by her publishers (the first one required her to underwrite the entire cost of printing, then charged a sales commission on top, the second one conned her out of all rights for £110) and died in genteel poverty.
Tony, you’re exactly right about the membership of the Authors Guild. If I were a member, I’d be furious. In fact, I’d’ve been furious months ago. And yeah, business majors aren’t great, but they at least have a basic understanding of business. English majors don’t. I love your Dickens/Austen examples. 🙂 (And you do know that in their day, their work was considered junk, right?)
There are business majors in publishing, perhaps the majority of the execs. And there are the marketing majors who have the final say on what gets published. English majors who start a business or enter someone else’s business learn by doing, as do a large number of non-business degree holders.
Also, since those companies were very succesful for many decades, whoever ran them did a fine job; and as your husband says, the people running the publishing business know the business better than anyone and are not going anywhere.
We dont know who made that disgraceful statement about genre books, so we cant know what his/her degree was, if any. And if it was an English major, it is absurd to enlarge the reaction against one person to include everyone who holds the same degree.
There are many English majors, perhaps the majority, who love and read and even write genre fiction; and many literature professors who read and write the genres. English majors do not deserve your scorn. They are not your enemy. They are your ally.
The point here is not to insult English majors, just to point out that an English major does not have the training to go into business that a Business Major, a Marketing major, an Accounting major, or any of those other practical majors do. I have a history major, for heavens’ sake, and the only reason I know anything about publishing and business is because I started up more than ten businesses (sheesh) over the years. The bone-headed mistakes that I made were usually when I incorrectly reinvented the wheel.
That’s why I wrote the Freelancer’s Guide during the beginning of the recession and got it out into the world so quickly, so that other liberal arts majors and folks who had no training had a chance of avoiding my boneheaded mistakes when they started-up. (More businesses start in a recession/depression than at any other time–people can’t find work so they create their own.)
As for the majority of execs in publishing, they’re hired from within, so no, they’re either sales force (moved over from editorial) or editorial. The business folk don’t arrive until you get to the upper-upper tier, very hands-off on the day to day business part of things.
Have you seen the list of 160+ authors who have sold more than 50,000 self-published ebooks?
Another indication of the growth of self-publishing.
Thanks for the link, John. I’ll check it out.
Just looked at the list, John. That’s going to be quite useful. Thanks.
Well, if the traditional publishing industry is really disgusted with all those “junk” books that are like crack for addicts, then I suppose they can give back all that money they’ve made from writers with names like Martin, Bradbury, Mieville, Le Guin, etc.
And, for the first time in a long while, I can imagine a landscape with thousands upon thousands of small, independent bookstores all across the land. Now I only wish some of them would stop fighting Amazon and embrace the age in which they live, a possible second golden age for indie booksellers.
Ty, I agree. If they stop having a war with Amazon and remember that they’re in the customer service business, they’ll do fine. There are some great indie stories out there. I want more. 🙂 And I love your idea–book publishers returning money. Hah! Not going to happen.
But they won’t give up either. They’ll keep on telling us and the readers that our books are shit, they nothing is worth reading unless it he been published by a publisher, and no they don’t mean anyone like that Wayne Borean guy, he may be listed as a publisher, and have a source of ISBNs, but he isn’t a REAL publisher.
All of which is crap, but they have been saying this since the first large indie writers popped up. Remember what they said about Amanda Hocking before they decided to toss lots of money at her?
This is where I disagree with you and Dean. I think that a large portion of the traditional industry is heading towards bankruptcy.
When they keep saying such totally silly things, it’s the only destination I can see for them.
A few companies might get reorganized, Wayne, but they’ll remain. (This is happening with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt right now.) And the conglomerates will probably sell off some pieces. But the pieces will survive, owned by someone else. They are (ahem) too big to fail. Or to fail with such a huge loss of money to stockholders. Someone will buy for pennies on the dollar.
Wayne – Bankruptcy, in the corporate world, doesn’t actually mean the business gets shut down. It just means the deck chairs get re-arranged to push the less profitable sections away. The traditional publishers are just parts of large multi-national conglomerates. They’ll just keep getting re-organized.
Corporations are, in my mind, a moral abomination – as their entire purpose is to limit liability and escape responsibility. The correct answer to the often claimed bit about getting sued by someone who falls and losing not just the business, but your home and everything, is to fix the legal system that allows that kind of out-of-proportion award.