traditional publishing


As you might have noticed, things got pretty heavy for me, and now Tax Time Approcheth. However, 1. I did manage to send an e-mail to the copy editor of the YA book wondering what the hell happened (if I don't get an answer, I will jam in Finding a New Copy Editor and Actually Getting a Book Out onto my to-do list), and 2. Look! Large publishers are seeking to bulk up their non-e-bookable titles! Cooking and children's books, plus gardening. Yup....

Some of this is interesting, and some of this is dumb

The Wall Street Journal has an article on the Author's Guild meeting with the Department of Justice about how Amazon is a big, evil monopoly that should be burned at the stake.

I've done a number of posts about how Amazon is not in fact a monopoly, and I've done other posts on how the Author's Guild is comically useless. I'm not seeing anything here to change my mind about either topic (which also explains why I don't do much industry posting any more)--I mean, it's only been two years since the DOJ ignored the Author's Guild and successfully sued publishers, and the Author's Guild is already running back to them with the exact same argument? Really? I bet the DOJ had a good laugh about that one.

Anyway, what really interested me in the article was some numbers on Amazon's market share, done via a survey of book buyers, not book publishers:

Amazon had 40% of the new book market, 62% of all print books sold online, and 64% of the e-book market, according to a June 2014 online survey by researcher Codex-Group LLC, based on a survey of 3,672 adults who purchased books in the prior month.

The e-book percentage was lower than I thought it would be, although it is in line with the publisher figures the Author's Guild regurgitated two years ago. So, yeah, Amazon's choke-hold on the industry resulted in them . . . not really increasing their market share at all over the past two years. OK.

And just FYI, a similar survey of customers who bought digital music found that roughly 80% use a single retailer, namely iTunes. This is why the Amazon-is-a-monopoly argument just isn't going to fly--it's not about market share. There needs to be anticompetitive behavior, and it's just not there.

The whole Hachette dramarama is nothing more than a standard-issue conflict between a supplier and a retailer, just like the Macmillan one was. It's just that there's a lot of people out there who don't understand business very well and are willing to act as Hachette's unpaid publicity agents.

Open Road still not making much sense

This was in the Wall Street Journal (all emphases added):

Forty years ago, "Airport" author Arthur Hailey was one of the country's best-known novelists. Today nine of his 11 novels are out of print in the U.S. and difficult to find even in used bookstores.

That's about to change. This spring, six Arthur Hailey novels, including "Airport" and "Wheels," will be published [by Open Road] in e-book form, priced at $14.99 each.

The article goes on to say that publishers are discovering that e-books are good for backlist revenues.

The re-issuance of the writers' works reflects a broader effort by publishers to mine their inventories of "backlist" titles—books published more than a year ago—in a bid to generate revenue from younger readers.

And it quotes Mark Tavani, editorial director of fiction at the Random House Publishing Group, as saying:

"These [backlist books] aren't front list titles, books that your friends are talking about. But people who shop electronically are willing to load up and try stuff if the price is low."

Notice a slight contradiction there between the first quote and the second two? Younger readers have never even heard of Arthur Halley, and people who read e-books will buy unknown backlist books if they aren't too expensive. So Open Road's plan is to woo readers who have no idea who Hailey is . . . with a FIFTEEN DOLLAR e-book?

Fifteen dollars? For fuck's sake, that's more than any mass market paperback, and many a trade paperback. All for a license to read something--a license that you cannot sell yourself later on.

Oh, and maybe you can't find Hailey in used book stores, but on Amazon? You can buy used copies of his books for a penny. Yes, you have to pay for shipping, so it comes out to a whopping $4. For a hardcover edition.

Hailey is dead. He's been dead for a decade. He's not going to be coming out with a big new book that will create a splash and drive interest in his backlist. If you want to interest new readers in what is to them a new writer, $15 e-books are NOT the way to go.

Well, this explains why I don't listen to the radio anymore

I thought it was just because Seattle radio sucks donkey balls compared to NYC, but according to the Wall Street Journal, this is the wave of the future:

Faced with growing competition from digital alternatives, traditional broadcasters have managed to expand their listenership with an unlikely tactic: offering less variety than ever.

The strategy is based on a growing amount of research that shows in increasingly granular detail what radio programmers have long believed—listeners tend to stay tuned when they hear a familiar song, and tune out when they hear music they don't recognize. . . .

The top 10 songs last year were played close to twice as much on the radio than they were 10 years ago, according to Mediabase, a division of Clear Channel Communications Inc. that tracks radio spins for all broadcasters. . . .

"[T]aking risks is not rewarded, so we have to be more careful than ever before."

Aiiigggh! (And double-aiiigggh! because that last quote is from someone who works for an NYC radio station.)

Ok, now that that's out of my system: That seems to be another common effect of digitization, right? I mean, that's definitely what's happening to publishing--the traditional publishers are getting more and more risk-adverse.

I guess it's OK as long as there are ways for indies to make money--it's harder for musicians to get top-40 radio play nowadays, just like it's harder for writers to get tradpub contracts, but if they can make money selling on their own, who cares?

I just hope my iPod never breaks, you know? I actually wound up listening to the radio in my sister's car during the holidays, and I heard maybe one song I didn't already know--and it's been almost a year since I stopped.

Wow! It's just like a Kris Rusch post!

You know how Kris Rusch has, like, a thousand horror stories about publishers deliberately killing the sales of a book because the author is out of favor or because they want an excuse to fire a particular editor? And of course you might think that wouldn't happen, because it's in the publisher's best interest to sell as many books as possible, but the fact of the matter is that short-term considerations and politics often take the fore, in publishing as in other businesses.

Fascinating reading, of course, but pretty much not my problem, what with my being indie and all. Sure, sometimes Amazon glitches up, but I never thought I'd actually witness this kind of thing happening myself.

Except that, you know how I run that Block B Web site? I have a page that lists where you can buy their music. They just released a new album (under their new management company), so I was updating the site and thought I'd make sure that the retail links are all up to date.

Guess what? Their last album, which sold quite well when it was released under their old label last year (you know, the label they sued and quit), is not nearly as available as it used to be. Indeed, it looks like pretty soon you'll only be able to find it among the Amazon resellers and maybe on eBay.

Interesting, isn't that? I mean, it would seem a no-brainer to have their last album out and available for purchase, since a new release typically stirs up a lot of interest in whatever you call a musician's backlist, and backlist is so profitable.

Given their label's track record, I'd say it's a coin toss between incompetence and spite. And it's just more evidence that, in any industry, handing over all the business power to someone who isn't you is probably a mistake.

That dream....

Hugh Howey and Kris Rusch both have some good things to say about that fantasy that traditional publishing is gonna make you a star

Howey notes:

As for the 99.9% [of self-published authors] who won't see my level of success, I would point out that 99.9% of those who submit material to the traditional machine will never see a similar level of success. It isn't like our option is to self-publish OR see how well our novel does fronted out on an endcap in a bookstore. Our options are to self-publish OR spend a few years landing an agent, another year selling the book to a publisher, a year waiting for that book to come out, and then three months spine-out on dwindling bookshelves before you are out of print and nobody cares about you anymore. If you're lucky. Most likely, you'll never even get an agent. Because you aren't Snooki.

Could I agree more? No, I could not. I haven't had anywhere near the success of Howey, but I've come sooooo much further in two-and-a-half years of self-publishing than I did in the previous six years of trying to get published traditionally, it's comical. Hello--I HAVE TWO BOOKS OUT. That's two more books than I ever got out going the tradpub route. You can't sit around and say, "Your books would have sold more with a traditional publisher behind them!" because they never would have existed.

And Rusch points out that the headline earners will always be traditionally-published authors, not because they're necessarily earning the most, but because their information is being made available.

Every year, Forbes tallies up the “World’s Top-Earning Authors” and invariably, they’re all traditionally published. Why?  Well, Forbes explains it to you:

  FORBES bases its estimates on sales data, published figures and information from industry sources between June 2012 and June 2013.

In other words, the only place Forbes gets its data is through traditional media. If you earn a million dollars on your latest indie published title, well, that’s between you and your banker. Amazon doesn’t give out the sales figures, nor would Kobo or any other e-book publisher—because that’s your proprietary information. They don’t do it with traditionally published books either.

That information is released by the publisher. So if you’re an indie published writer, and you’re making tens of millions, the only way to get on the Forbes list is to broadcast your earnings to every damn media outlet you can find. (Which I would not recommend, by the way, since you’ll discover relatives that you never knew you had.)

I'll add that if we see the "world's top-earning authors" suddenly making less money, that won't actually mean that bestselling authors or authors in general are earning less. You can't get a good picture of the whole if you only survey one part.


Yup, Apple lost its e-book price-fixing case, big time.

Let's quote the judge!

“This trial has not been the occasion to decide whether Amazon’s choice to sell NYT Bestsellers or other New Releases as loss leaders was an unfair trade practice or in any other way a violation of law,” the judge wrote. “If it was, however, the remedy for illegal conduct is a complaint lodged with the proper law enforcement offices or a civil suit or both. Another company’s alleged violation of antitrust laws is not an excuse for engaging in your own violations of law.”

What was that?

“This trial has not been the occasion to decide whether Amazon’s choice to sell NYT Bestsellers or other New Releases as loss leaders was an unfair trade practice or in any other way a violation of law,” the judge wrote. “If it was, however, the remedy for illegal conduct is a complaint lodged with the proper law enforcement offices or a civil suit or both. Another company’s alleged violation of antitrust laws is not an excuse for engaging in your own violations of law.


"Another company’s alleged violation of antitrust laws is not an excuse for engaging in your own violations of law."

Wow! That's a concept that is...entirely familiar to me, but apparently quite novel to some.

Good links, scammy crapola edition

David Gaughran has a good post on a service designed to help agents rip off writers. In a delicious irony, agents who sign clients onto this service will hasten their descent into bankruptcy, because as Gaughran's post makes clear, they obviously doesn't know a damned thing about actually selling books--they don't even use categories correctly! Honestly, the most serious problem facing traditional publishing today is that the people in it so clearly believe their own bullshit.

And Lindsay Buroker has a good interview with a lawyer specialising in literary and publishing law. I especially liked the story about the agent who would advise you on whether or not to sign an agreement with him. I'm sure that's some totally unbiased advice being offered there....

Math is tricky

Some more unreliable numbers have come out about e-books, and Dean Wesley Smith continues to insist that e-book sales are flatlining. He makes a fairly common error when he tries to evaluate the significance of the "fact" that e-book sales were 17% of the market in 2011 and 23% of the market in 2012:

Yup, that’s 23%. A 6% difference over a full year.

Hello, that's also a 35% growth rate. What will the book market look like if this growth continues? Like this, only faster.

David Gaughran takes a shot at reading the tea leaves as well, and I think he does a better job (in no small part because he is willing to acknowledge that we don't actually know much). I agree with him that it's impressive that 25% of books sold on Barnes & Noble are self-published, despite the fact that B&N does a notoriously craptacular job selling both e-books and self-published books.

Just to give you an idea of how quickly a troubled industry can implode, here's a chart on Passive Voice about ad revenues (i.e. the major source of revenues) for newspapers. Note how until about four years ago, it would have been fairly easy for wishful thinkers to trick themselves into believing that the industry was going to survive the Internet.


I just wanted to make a couple of quick links to Passive Voice posts regarding shit contracts. They are still very much out there, and as Harlequin novelists recently discovered, if the contract provides for you to be ripped off, and then you get ripped off, there's not much recourse for you, because you agreed to let it happen. Remember, when you sign a contract with a publisher, you do not have the same protections as, say, a consumer signing a contract with a credit-card company.

Passive Guy points out in the Harlequin post:

Who you deal with – the publisher writing the contract – is very important. If you do business with an entity that is willing to treat authors badly, you should not be surprised when you receive bad treatment.

I completely agree.

Where the industry is, and is going

So the very special BFF relationship between Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster is going the way of all very special BFF business relationships when the market changes: Down the toilet.

Business is business, and the bottom line is the bottom line.

Of course, the authors in the story are interpreting this in the way most likely to get them screwed:

Several writers published by Simon & Schuster expressed dismay that their books have been affected by the dispute but said they understood economic forces were involved and didn't blame their publisher or Barnes & Noble.

Jamie Mason, author of the thriller "Three Graves Full," published by Simon & Schuster imprint Gallery Books, said Barnes & Noble was "incredibly supportive" of her book during preproduction and that the chain was instrumental in changing the cover. "It was really cool," she said. But shortly before publication on Feb. 12, she learned that "Three Graves Full" would no longer receive the promotion at Barnes & Noble stores that had been expected. "It's frustrating," she said. "I'm a debut novelist. I don't have name recognition." She said Simon & Schuster has worked to boost sales elsewhere.

That's right, authors--it's your job to be understanding (not to understand) an industry that is failing you, because all these BUSINESS people who are in this to MAKE MONEY are so Gosh-darned nice and supportive.

Remember what your mother told you: It doesn't cost anything to smile. Yeah, sure, your mother wanted you to take something different away from that than I do.

Anyway, the Wall Street Journal also has an article on how publishers of coffee-table books are coping with the changes in the industry, since their books aren't well-suited to the e-book format and bookstore ain't what they used to be.

It isn't all doom and gloom for Quarto [Group, which publishes specialty books,] though. Many of its sales aren't in traditional bookstores but in specialist retailers that mostly sell nonbook items, such as home improvement and arts & crafts stores.

Marcus Leaver, Quarto chief executive, says selling books in nonbook stores can be extended to less obvious areas, adding that having the right books on display can enhance the atmosphere of a store. He cites the fashion chain Urban Outfitters, where you might go in looking for a distressed T-shirt and end up buying a book about body art....

Mr. Leaver, who became CEO in December, says books have a better chance of capturing a buyer's attention in a specialist store than in a general bookstore. In a traditional bookstore, niche titles are vying for attention with thousands of other titles.

Quarto says traditional bookstores now account for just 15% of its overall sales in the U.S. and Canada, though the figure is higher in other markets, such as the U.K.

Random points

You know, if one of the big selling points of a traditional publisher is prestige, what happens when those prestigious houses start running vanity presses?

Well, then John Scalzi (via Dean Wesley Smith) starts asking Random House if they're fucking kidding him and calling their behavior genuinely shameful, while April Hamilton starts accusing Simon & Schuster of bribery.

That's the problem with prestige: It's hard to earn and oh-so easy to lose.

And a helpful commentator explained the correct way to make a link on Kobo. Thank you, helpful commentator! As much as I truly appreciate that, I feel obligated to point out that when a retailer is relying on the public-spirited to explain how things work, that's actually a bad thing.