Posts Tagged ‘Publishing’

Holy Moly! It’s a Fight!

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I was going to blog about something else but since there’s a major controversy going on in the publishing world, I’m going to blog about that instead.

Here’s the details as I know then now. FYI: Things may change as this is ongoing.

1. Wednesday (Jan 27) Apple introduced its iPad. This touchpad computing device does a bunch of stuff. For this issue, you need to know it includes iBook — kind of like iTunes for books — and Apple’s answer to the Amazon Kindle. Reader and writer types noticed right away that the book prices were pretty high. $14.99. For the most part Amazon sells Kindle books for $9.99 and below. They take a loss on books for which the publisher actually charges more.

2. Soon after the iPad announcement, video surfaced of computer techno-maven Walt Mossberg speaking with Steve Jobs. They talked about books and their pricing vis-a-via the Kindle and Steve Jobs told Mossberg that “They will be the same.”

Now that’s interesting, I thought when I saw that clip. How does Steve know that? Does that mean they’re lowering their price to match the Kindle? (I am at times sadly naive.)

3. The CEO of MacMillan Books has said some pretty uninformed stuff about eBooks, mostly about the price Amazon is charging. The basic issue is that hardcover books, as you probably have noticed, cost a lot more than $9.99 which is what the Kindle version of the hardcover costs. Hardcovers are VERY profitable for publishers. Mass Market Paperbacks (MMP) are not as profitable, don’t cost as much and sell in far greater numbers, excluding the odd blockbuster everyone buys in hardback because they just can’t wait.

4.MacMillan, in particular, has been very vocal about this. They, and other publishers have done things like publish in hardback but delay the availability of the Kindle version because they don’t want to loose a hardback sale to a (cheaper) Kindle sale.

5. Today, Amazon pulled the Buy Now button from all MacMillan titles. This includes Tor and St. Martin’s Press, by the way. This means you can no longer buy these books at Amazon unless you want to buy them used and that means NO money going to the author.

Here are the links to check out:

My Take on This

There are several things wrong with this. The first is the assumption that but for the availability of the Kindle version, book buyers would buy the hardback. This appears to be an egregiously wrong assumption. There is, to my knowledge, no evidence that a Kindle owner would be a hardback buyer if she didn’t own a Kindle.

I think it’s much more likely that a Kindle owner, if she didn’t have the device, would wait for the MMP rather than buy the hardback. The MMP would be priced at $7-8. But the Kindle owner, instead of waiting for the MMP, pays a bit more for the book right now. Instead of waiting. By the time the MMP comes out, she’s not going to want to pay $9.99. So what’s actually happening is the Kindle buyers represent BRAND NEW customers with respect to this release. MORE people buy this brand new book because there are two formats. And the cheaper one comes with some well known and much hated limitations.

But anyway, that’s what the publishers are thinking. They think this because they haven’t informed themselves about the changing landscape of book buying. (which is different from the changing landscape of book SELLING) They are not only technophobes, they are techno-idiots. They don’t understand the digital world and they don’t understand the people in it. Instead, they’re running around yelling The sky is falling instead of listening to the consumer, some of whom are NEW consumers, tell them what they want.

Instead, they’re trying to force consumers, who are new and/or different than they used to be, to behave in the comfortable way that matches the spreadsheets they’ve already got. Which are about selling something these consumers would rather not buy in the manner it’s being sold to them.

Publishers need to hire someone who actually understands technology. Someone who grew up with it or enthusiastically threw themselves into it when the world changed. And it did, people, it did. And then they need to actually LISTEN to that person. Any C-Level employee who didn’t personally take a look at Twitter when the buzz started is automatically disqualified from this position.

That’s my personal line in the sand, by the way. If you weren’t curious to know what Ev was doing over there, you’re not the right person to help lead Publishers out of the Analog world. If you don’t know who Ev is, you’re really not the right person.

FYI: Ev is the person who started Blogger. After Google bought Blogger, Ev went off and tried a couple things that were neat but not neat enough. Then he did Twitter with some buds. Blogger, by the way, does not look significantly different than it did shortly before Ev left Blogger (post acquisition). There was one big upgrade, then Ev left.

Carolyn’s Demands

  • Stop wishing this digital stuff would just go away. It won’t.
  • Believe in your heart, because it’s true, that pissing off your customers is not a sound business practice.
  • Start listening to what READERS want.
  • Forget territorial rights. They are now only a fiction. (heh) Concentrate on translation rights for your eBooks. If someone in Singapore reads English well enough to prefer buying books in English, let them. If I decide I want to buy a book in French, even though I live in California, let me. You will sell more books that way.
  • Do some fucking research about piracy. Fund it if you have to. Pick an academic to do the work. Get some real data instead of the fake data, knee jerk assumptions you’re using.
  • Listen to your tech person about how to get people to buy legally. Oh hell, I’ll just tell you now:
    1. Make it easy
    2. Don’t rip me off
    3. Don’t break my shit doing it.

  • Keep in mind that you sell stories. Authors write them. If we have to, we’ll write them without you. Your (fiction) business goes away without the stories.

Update

Thanks for the comments. I appreciate people weighing in on the issue. I thought I should clarify a few things.

First, I don’t write for MacMillan, so my books are still on Amazon. I write for Berkley (Penguin Putnam) and Grand Central (Hachette Books) I do, however, read lots of authors who do write for MacMillan.

Also, I have the Kindle app on my iPhone and have purchased and read a lot of books that way, including books from MacMillan. I also read books on Stanza, another iPhone app, because the Kindle isn’t always the best way to go. Especially when my author friends send me their books to read before they’re published (Oh, I am so lucky!)

At Christmas, I bought my 82 year old mother a Kindle. She and my dad have both read books on it. I loaded it up with free books and helped my mother buy a book she was interested in reading.

So, that said, this post is not about DRM (Digital Rights Management). I happen to think it’s a mistake, particularly as DRM is typically implemented. So far, in my opinion, DRM does far more harm than good because it breaks stuff for the consumer.

This post also isn’t about piracy. I’ve posted about that a few times on this blog. My books have been pirated. What frosts me about that is the people who pirate my books and then sell them. Yeah. They steal my stuff and then sell what they stole to other people. That is wrong. Other than that, there’s only one person (Brian O’Leary) who is actually studying piracy with any rigor at all.

Therefore, my position on piracy is aside from the obvious issue of stealing, I don’t know for sure yet.

BUT!

Please don’t think I am totally on the side of Amazon here. I’m not. I’m not a lawyer but I’m not clear on what agreements were made about pricing for iBook, the Kindle or anything else. Was there a smoke filled room and nefarious dealings? I don’t know.

I think Amazon removing MacMillan from its site is pretty silly. They’re screwing authors and readers to make a point with MacMillan and, probably, Apple. It’s possible to view Amazon’s pricing decision, and its $9.99 price point as predatory in effect. They know what publishers charge. They’re willing to take a loss on these books in order to create a market at at price point less than publishers charge.

What happens when Amazon decides it doesn’t want to take a loss any more? History suggests they won’t be raising their price. History suggests they’ll go to the publishers and say, hey, we won’t carry your books unless you charge us less. Publishers have seen it before: from the big chains and from Wal-Mart. That’s a fundamental change in the economic landscape. Price isn’t set by the cost of the product + markup – what consumers will pay. Price gets set by the retailer and the seller has to suck it up or else. In MacMillan’s defense, that’s scary. But it doesn’t excuse publishers lack of understanding.

Hopefully, I’ve been clear that I think publishers are making decisions based on misinformation and misunderstanding and that can just lead nowhere good.

And, as usual, let me say that in an emerging trend, the facts are fluid, not everything is known. All I can say is this is what I think so far, but I stand really and willing to hear more facts and opinions and change my mind accordingly.

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The Benefits of Backlist

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Just in case anyone is wondering, backlist is books a writer has written that are not current releases. They may, or may not, still be in print. When a reader, such as myself, finds a new-to-her writer and likes what she read, that reader may well go in search of the writer’s back list. As, for example, what I did when I discovered Mary Balogh. I went off and read as many of her titles as I could get my hands on. I did the opposite when I read J.R. Ward’s Dark Lover. The book store had the first three titles, but I didn’t want to buy all three when I didn’t know if I’d like the first one.

So off I went to read Dark Lover. I went back to the bookstore the next day and bought the other two, profoundly relieved that 1) my not-so-romance friendly store even had the titles and 2) that no one had bought them after I was foolish enough not to buy them right away.

Backlist is important to a writer’s career because it gives new readers a feeling of depth about a writer. When they find a writer they like, they go looking for backlist. Despite all the hoopla we hear about frontlist (books that are selling for the first time now), publishers make money off of backlist titles. They’ve already paid for the publication process. Reprinting, as I understand it, is certainly cheaper than starting new. And with some backlist titles, they may have warehoused copies, if the book has remained in print. And for original sales of backlist, the author eventually gets some money flowing her way, too.

Authors, as most people probably know, are not paid for used book sales. Which completely makes sense, in our system. Most authors, being avid readers themselves, understand about buying used — it’s much cheaper and who doesn’t want to be cautious about shelling out $7 or more per book on authors who are unknown quantities?

My very first two books (Passion’s Song and Stolen Love) are years and years out of print and will never be reprinted. They are only available used and that’s if they can be found in a UBS.

My other titles, however, are more recent history. Lord Ruin and The Spare (2002 and 2004 respectively) went out of print for quite a while. But in the last year and a half, they’ve been reprinted and are available for sale new. I’m guessing that’s mostly online sales, since I’ve not seen either title in a bookstore as new. I only found out about new copies being sold when I was on Amazon one day and saw that those titles said there were new copies available to be shipped right away.

What this means is that I have a backlist. And now I’ve seen mentions of people looking for and reading my backlist after reading a more frontlist title.

Huzzah!

Obviously, I hope people buy new, but even if they buy used, I end up in their thoughts about writers whose new books they’ll want to buy. Which is pretty cool, if you ask me.

Here’s looking at me having even more backlist one day. Along with more frontlist, of course.

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