The collective insanity of the publishing industry

“Publishing is about she who writes and she who reads.
Everyone else can lend a hand or fuck off.”
Hugh Howey

Gene Doucette has a few things to say about the collective insanity of the publishing industry …

Gene Doucette on publishing insanity In 2014, there was a drawn-out dispute between Amazon, and Hachette. The latter is one of the largest publishers in the world, and Amazon is a company that sells things, such as books.  The essence of the dispute was that Hachette—and all the other publishers we affectionately refer to as ‘the Big 5’—wanted more control over the list price of their e-books on Amazon.

That sounds thoroughly reasonable, and it sort of is, but please let me explain because the crazy is in the details.  What was happening was that Amazon was discounting the price of the ebooks, and it may seem like this is something the Big 5 would want to stop, except the markdown was coming off of Amazon’s end.  In other words, if Hachette wanted to charge $15.99 for an ebook, and Amazon marked it down to $9.99, Hachette was still paid their cut of the full price of the book.

More people will buy a book at $9.99 than at $15.99, so essentially, the Big 5 was coming out ahead in this arrangement in every conceivable way.  They collected royalties at an unreasonably high price point while moving the number of units that corresponded to a lower price point.

So of course that had to be stopped right away.

Hachette fought for, and won from Amazon, the return to something called the Agency Model, whereby they set their price and Amazon wasn’t allowed to reduce that price.  So that $15.99 book stayed at $15.99 until Hachette decided to change it.

Soon after that contract was signed, the other Big 5 contracts came due, and they all asked for the same Agency Model arrangement.  Thus, the finest minds in publishing—or one might assume—negotiated themselves out of an arrangement whereby they sold more units at a lower cost without suffering the financial impact that comes with a lower unit cost.

On purpose.

This isn’t even the crazy part.

After securing the right to price their ebooks unreasonably high and having those prices stick, the first thing the collective brain-trust of the Big 5 did was raise their ebook prices even more.  Often, the prices were higher than the price of the print edition, which is just fundamentally insane.

It should come as very little surprise to you that after jacking up the prices of their ebooks at the start of 2015, the Big 5 sold fewer ebooks.

Now here’s the fun part, the part that just makes me shake my head and giggle and wonder how I can live in such extraordinary times.  After six months of depressed ebook sales, the Big 5 announced that the ebook market was slowing down.

Not: “we priced ourselves out of the market and stopped selling as many books”. No no no.  The ebook market!  Is slowing down!

This was celebrated!

I mean it.  One article after another, from the New York Times on down came news pieces declaring that print was making a comeback at long last, and the long national nightmare was over.

All it took was the biggest publishing companies in the world deliberately murdering their own share of the market.  And it wasn’t even true.

 

The Wall Street Journal highlighted declining sales last September with the headline “E-Book Sales Fall After New Amazon Contracts. Prices rise, but revenue takes a hit.” In January, with the annual figures in, The Bookseller positively gloated about it:

… we can without a shadow of a doubt say that e-book volume slid for the Big Five publishers for the first time since the digital age began, collectively down 2.4% to 47.9 million units last year.

 

But what they failed to mention was where those sales went. Here’s what Hugh Howey, co-author of the quarterly Author Earnings Report has to say (his bolding):

more than half the market is now in ebooks, and half of what’s left is online print sales. 75% of your market is online, and publishers are willing to nuke your career in order to protect historical relationships with the 25% that’s left. We have this in their own writing. This is not speculation. Even industry insider Mike Shatzkin has blogged about this strategy and how it has backfired.

 

So the Big 5 are celebrating lower sales and therefore reduced income for their authors. Hugh Howey again:

I’m still pro-author and pro-reader above everything. If Amazon and the Big 5 all go out of business tomorrow, all I’ll care about is whether and how writers and readers can commune. The middlemen are only useful in how they serve these two parties.

Publishing is about she who writes and she who reads. Everyone else can lend a hand or fuck off. According to our data, publishers are mostly doing the latter. I hope they turn that around.

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Two more ways publishers shaft writers

contractThe latest posting on Writer Beware
looks at the arbitration clauses buried in almost all publishing contracts. These clauses say that in the event of a dispute between author and publisher, the matter will be dealt with by an independent arbitrator — which at first sight seems reasonable enough, except that;

  • Arbitration clauses are binding, and supersede your right to go to court.
  • Going to arbitration is NOT like appearing before a judge. Arbitrators are “largely at liberty to determine how much evidence a plaintiff can present and how much the defence can withhold.”
  • Arbitrators are supposed to be impartial, but aren’t necessarily.
  • Arbitrators’ decisions are hard to challenge. Courts are reluctant to reverse them, even where they are obviously unfair.
  • Arbitration can cost you, even beyond any judgement that may go against you. In addition to travel and filing fees, you may have to pay the arbitrator.
  • Christian organizations sometimes require Christian arbitration. Prayer and scripture may be given preference over law and evidence.
  • Some arbitration clauses include bans on class actions. “By banning class actions, companies have essentially disabled consumer challenges to practices like predatory lending, wage theft and discrimination. … Once blocked from going to court as a group, most people dropped their claims entirely.”

Meanwhile, The Passive Voice, highlights deep discount clauses in many publishing contracts that let publishers offer titles to booksellers and wholesalers at big markdowns while disproportionally marking down the author’s share.

The original posting comes from the US Authors Guild which says:

We’ve seen these discount double-crosses applied for sales to book clubs and book fairs, for “special sales” in bulk outside the usual book trade, for large-print editions, for export editions. Let’s say the publisher sells our sample book in bulk for just $2.00. The discount double-crossed author would get one thin dime per copy, a royalty cut of an astounding 93%—even though the net to the publisher would decline by less than 33%.

Even crazier, some reductions can apply even to direct sales from publishers to readers, despite the fact that the publisher gets to keep the share of the transaction that would normally go to a retailer or wholesaler. If anything, an author’s royalty rate on such direct sales should be higher than normal.

Passive Guy, (a lawyer himself), notes:

Standard publishing contracts from large traditional publishers stand out in the constellation of business contracts for their one-sidedness and, in some cases, outright duplicity for anyone who fails to read them very carefully. The way that Randy Penguin and its cohorts write their standard contracts is not the way that Apple, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Disney, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, American Express, Merrill Lynch and similar entities write their contracts.
 
PG doesn’t agree with many initiatives undertaken by the Authors Guild, but he’s pleased to see their latest efforts to shine a light on some of the most abusive contract provisions routinely employed by Big Publishing.
 
However, the cynic in PG holds little hope that AG’s efforts will bring about any meaningful reform. Treating authors badly is too much a part of the corporate and cultural DNA of traditional publishing to change. These dinosaurs will die before they evolve.

And in the Comments section, author/publisher Kristine Rusch (AKA Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kristine Grayson and Kris Nelscott) adds:

It’s really ugly in trad pub contract and royalty land these days. That’s why I continually tell writers who want to be trad pubbed to hire a LAWYER to negotiate their contracts, not an agent (even if it were legal for an agent to do it, which it is not. [sigh]). But do these writers listen? Nope.

 

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Indie or traditional? An author’s dilemma

tradVsIndie

Should you opt for indie publishing or go the traditional route? There’s no easy answer. Every author has to make his/her own decision. I’ve made mine, so consider me biased. But also consider the following words from Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

(If you’ve not come across her before, Rusch is a best-selling author of science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, mainstream fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional romance. She writes under her own name and several pseudonyms. (Here’s a list of her books.) She’s also an editor, publisher and inveterate blogger.)

quote_open-light


… if you want a
career as a writer, if you don’t want to have a day job, if you only want to write, then it seems to me the safest path to take is the indie path. You’ll have more opportunity. You can work hard and publish a lot and make money doing so.

Will every indie writer make six-figures per year? Hell, no. Nor will every traditionally published writer. But what this particular Author Earnings report shows is that if you want the chance of making six-figures or more per year with your writing, the best publishing path is indie.

(Provided you continue to learn your craft, are a damn fine storyteller, have excellent covers, do the right amount of marketing … and on and on and on.)

Is it guaranteed that you’ll even make a living? Not on either road. But that hypothetical writer that Hugh and Data Guy mention in the front of their report, the one standing with a manuscript in hand, trying to decide which road to take? That writer should ask himself: Do I want to keep my day job for the rest of my life? Or do I want the chance to be a full-time writer?

If he wants a chance at being a full-time writer, he needs to learn how to be an indie writer.

I think it’s that simple.

And that hard.quote_close-light

 

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The Myth of The Lazy Writer

Hugh Howey, writing in Publishers Weekly;

hugh_howeyThe hardest part of getting a book published is the actual writing. All it takes to see this is the number of people who dream of publishing a book but never manage to hammer out a rough draft. I spent 20 years trying to write my first novel before I finally pulled it off. It’s not unusual for an aspiring writer to struggle for years and never produce a finished product to submit to agents or editors.

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Big publishers – Trouble brewing?

Dinosaur-brontosaurus-Almost 60% of traditionally published authors think that publishers have been lazy and uninnovative when it comes to matters digital, and almost 50% of them agree with the statement that “Publishers have ever less to offer. They don’t know how to market books anymore.” (Seriously, did they ever?) Only 25% thought that publishers treated authors well in non-financial ways, and a measly 7.6% thought publishers paid authors well. 16% of authors think conventional publishing will cease to exist in the next 10-20 years.

These results come from a survey released last month called Do You Love Your Publisher? Further commentary here and here.
There was one big plus for publishers. 70% thought editorial input was excellent or good, but only 50% thought publisher communications before, during and after the publication process were excellent or good. The wheels really came off on the question of feedback: “Did your publisher ever solicit feedback?” 74% replied “No,I was never asked for my opinion.”

On the subject of self-publishing, 24% of authors said they were excited by the prospect of having control, while 37% said they’d be “horrified” at the prospect.

68% reckoned Amazon was killing bookshops, 44% said it evades taxes, and 31% thought Amazon would like to destroy publishers. But 65% thought it was a boon to readers and 66% saidit was a “superbly efficient retail machine”.

In The Bookseller writer Sara Sheridan noted that authors are “100% invested in the book [they have] written”, while an “editor has a stable of books coming out in the same month or season and the reality is that they only need one or two of those books to make it big.” She added;

Corporate publishers are engaged in a kind of intellectual property gambling. In this environment, your precious book is less important to them than it is to you.

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Ah, so that’s what they mean!

Ever wondered what those editorial quotes on the backs of books are all about?
Here’s a quick guide:


a real tear-jerker writing so bad it makes you cry
a writer to watch as opposed to one you are actually want to read
absorbing makes a great coaster
accessible not too many big words
acclaimed poorly selling
affecting I felt something. Could’ve been the book. Could’ve been indigestion.
an ebook original no proofreading and bad formatting
breathless prose needs resuscitating
brilliantly defies categorization even the author has no clue what he’s turned in
dazzling prose so gorgeous you won’t really notice that nothing happens
definitive could have used an editor
edgy irritating
epic very long
erotic porn
gripping there’s something sticky on the cover
haunting sat unfinished for months while I read other stuff.
heart-warming major character is a dog, an old guy, or both
in the proud tradition of J R R Tolkien has a dwarf in it
literary plotless
long-awaited late
luminous not much happens
lyrical not much happens
magisterial long
meticulously researched overloaded with footnotes
novella a short story with a large font
promising début flawed
provocative about race/religion/sex
rollicking chaotic
sensual soft porn
stunning a major character dies
unflinching has a lot of bad words
weighty I’ve been lugging this monster all over town and I still can’t bring myself to finish it
wildly imaginative the writer must’ve been on drugs

(Freely adapted from One-Minute Book Reviews)

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