Category archive: Dead pulped trees

James Patterson’s Attempt to Stop Change

I don’t necessarily believe that all change is good even though that’s the fashion these days. We’re all supposed to embrace change and love change, as if everything that already exists is inferior, but sometimes change isn’t for the better, or is sideways. Our school board changed how they taught math, and that’s resulted in lower scores on standardized tests for kids in grades three to six, not exactly a good change.

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Don’t Mentioned the Ebook Thing

I’m a big fan of the SF Convention, Ad-Astra, which is described on its website as a “literary fan-run convention” with panels on writing, publishing, media, creative works, comics…you get the idea.

But today I decided to try a little experiment: I went to the panel schedule and did a search for the word ‘eBooks.’ My concern is that the emphasis of the conference seems to be totally on the old publishing model, and since ad-astra is a reference to a latin phrase that translates as “through hardship to the stars,” I think of this as a forward looking convention.

So guess what my search turned up? Nada. It’s as if the very word eBooks has yet to be invented. I am happy to see that there is a panel on marketing for indie-authors, so you could fairly claim I’m nit-picking. Yet the panel description could have been written to attract self-published authors long before eBooks even existed.

The Publishing FAQ Panel does pose the question “on-line versus print, independent publishing versus publishing house?”  Since Susanne Church, a friend and great SF writer, is on the panel I’ll definitely go, but I’m bracing myself for more of the “don’t indie-pub an eBook or it’ll destroy your career” meme that I heard at SFContario.

I’ll be tweeting from the con, something I’ve never done before, so I’ll keep you posted. You can follow me (McPherson_Mike) if you want the inside scoop. Maybe Ad-Astra will surprise me and truly be reaching through hardship to the stars.

 

My Boycott of Agency Pricing

My library card had expired.  Gasp!

I’ve been reading eBooks for the last few years, either on my ancient Sony ( two year old technology) or on my spiffy new Kindle, but thanks to agency pricing, I have renewed my card and started borrowing dead-tree books again. That’s right, me the big eBook fan, has had to crack open some weighty volumes to get all the information I crave.  But the publishers made me do it.

In an effort to fight the rising tide of eBooks, the Big Six publishers adopted the agency pricing model, where they set the price and no one is allowed to discount, and they’re setting the price of eBooks higher than paperbacks.  So an electronic download, which doesn’t require logging companies, pulp mills, trucks, printing presses, more trucks and heated bookstores are now priced higher than dead-tree books.  Let’s not even get into the incredibly environmentally unfriendly paperback returns policy, which sees the cover of an unsold book ripped off and returned to the publisher for credit, and the rest thrown into the recycling bin so that more trucks, pulp mills and trucks can get rev up their engines.

But what really gets me steamed is that great authors are being squeezed by the new “industry standard” on eBook royalties.  This cartel of six has decided that they will not sign a single contract that pays an author more than 17% of the list price of a novel.  Their stated claim that they must have this deal in order to make a profit on eBooks doesn’t ring true when you read Publishers Marketplace, which reports on each publisher’s financial statements as they’re released, and it turns out they’re all making a good profit on eBooks.  It’s reduced hardcover and paperback sales that are hurting them.  So they’re using eBook sales to subsidize the old industry at the expense of authors.

So I’m boycotting agency priced books, and it’s really easy to tell which books are subjected to this policy.  If it costs more than $9.99, and more than the paperback, it’s an agency priced book.  If Amazon can’t sell you a discounted copy, it’s an agency priced book.

For instance, a friend recommended The World Without Us as essential reading for all apocalyptic fiction authors.  Amazon’s  price for a Kindle version is $11.20, but the paperback is $10.20.  I’ve seen far more glaring examples, where the Kindle edition is near $14 and the paperback is around $10 dollars.

This won’t last, of course.  Someday one of the really big authors will say goodbye and indie-pub (or worse, sign with Amazon) so that they can collect the 70% royalty.  When that happens others will follow suit, and the publishers claim that they have the best authors will melt away.  Then they’ll want to lure someone like John Grisham back, and they’ll offer him a 35% eBook royalty, and every publisher after that will not be able to claim that 17% is the “industry standard.”

Meanwhile, out of the millions of indie-pubbed books, some cream will rise to the top.  These authors will keep selling under $9.99 to get the 70% royalty, and as they build their careers and become in demand, they’ll eat into sales of books from traditional publishers.  The only solution for the Big Six will be to lower the price of eBooks in order to compete.

But for now, I’m off to the library.  I got an e-mail notice that the hold I placed (via the library’s website) on The World Without Us has been filled.  Oh, and I’ve been loaning eBooks from the library too for my Sony eReader.  Thank you public library.  You’re a forward looking institution.

Thank You Publishers for Agency Pricing

Publishers are my enemies.  Okay, not really, but the obvious finally did occur to me the other day: publishers are my competition.  I’d never thought of it that way simply because those corporations are so big that they operate in a totally different league, one so stratospheric that I couldn’t imagine that little me and my eBooks were anywhere in the same ballpark.

But then agency pricing came along.  Those rascally publishers are forcing the price of eBooks higher than paperbacks, gradually moving away from the $9.99 price point that Amazon set and pushing prices up to twelve dollars and more.  What drove this home for me was seeing that Amanda Hocking’s new eBook, Switched, published by St. Martins Griffin, will be nearly $12 while the paperback is around $10.  Now my memory isn’t the best, but I’m pretty sure I missed a chance to buy Switched for 99¢ when Hocking first self-pubbed it.  She’s very popular, so I was surprised to see the whole Trylle series off the market until next February when the paperbacks are ready.  How many sales have been lost in the months since I first considered buying Switched?

That’s when it hit me.  As long as Hocking is with St. Martins, her books will be far more expensive than mine.  Thank you St. Martins.  It’s like opening a coffee shop across the street from Starbucks and finding out that the corp back in Seattle has decided to charge $12 for a regular coffee compared to my $1 price point.  You couldn’t ask for a more accommodating competitor.  It’s like they want me to undercut them and sell.

Great!  Thanks Big Six Publishers.  You’re helping many writers like me along the road to indie-publishing success.

EBook Sales “Only” Double Over Last Year

It’s not often that I can say a newsletter has shocked me.

Publishers Marketplace has an e-newsletter I subscribed to last year at the advice of literary agent Stacia Decker.  While it’s really aimed at publishers, it’s good for authors to know what’s going on in New York too.

Of course I was more interested in e-publishing, so I was surprised that the newsletter tended to report about eBooks with a slightly condescending tone.  You could almost hear the moniker “upstarts” muttered in between the lines.

But as Barry Eisler publicly jumped into self-publishing and then into the arms of Amazon, as Amanda Hocking and John Locke hit the millions in sales, P.M. adapted quickly, holding conferences at BookExpo like eBooks for Everyone Else.

Yet, the tone of their updates on eBooks still occasionally has that disparaging taint, perhaps because it’s written for publishers.  Thus–because P.M. has tried to clamber awkwardly onto the eBooks wagon–I was stunned last week when I read their update on book sales.

They preface it by reminding everyone that the numbers are only from publishers who voluntarily report to the Association of American Publishers, so this is by no means an accurate measure.

P.M. then goes on to  trumpet how hardcover book sales recovered nicely in July 2011 compared to July 2010, going from $68 million to $91 million, certainly good news for publishers.  But what really made me slap my forehead was the next paragraph.  While appropriately reporting that eBook sales were $82 million, making them the second biggest category of sales after hardcover, P.M. states that this is “only double the total recorded last July.”

Only double?  I had to read it over twice to understand what great news this is because “only double” sounds like a failure.  In any other industry this would have been the lead statistic because it indicates a trend.  Could you imagine a stock broker telling a client that his portfolio had earned in July “only double” what it had earned the previous July.  The broker would be screaming from every advertising venue possible that he had doubled his client’s earnings rate.

When I first subscribed to Publishers Market place way back in 2010 ( oh yeah, way back) they were still reeling from the shock that e-books were getting close to breaking double-digits as a percentage of publisher’s sales.  Now P.M. blithely reports that eBooks are 20% of  publishers sales.  Nothing to see here.  Move on.  It’s only double from last year.

Of course I still like Publisher’s Marketplace because I get to read a lot of publishing industry gossip that I might otherwise miss, and it’s good to be updated on lawsuits involving agency pricing of eBooks, etc.  So I won’t be canceling my subcription because I don’t like their tone.

The salient fact is that eBook sales–even just those voluntarily reported to the AAP–are obviously still rising exponentially.  They may not be the biggest chunk of the sales pie, but they’re close and they’re headed in that direction.

Of course, these numbers do not include sales by indie-pubbed authors like Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking or John Locke because they’re not members of the AAP.  I suspect when Amazon or Barnes and Noble release their sales figures we’ll get a better picture of eBook sales, but I can’t wait to read how Publishers Marketplace will describe the numbers.  Will they say that eBooks are now “only” half of all sales?

What if eBooks become 80% of sales.  Perhaps then Publishers Marketplace will drop the “only.”

Why We Launched William Deverell’s Kill All the Lawyers

This will not be recorded in the annals of publishing history as a pivotal moment, and yet William Deverell’s decision to jump into eBooks indicates a fundamental sea change.  More established authors every day are discovering that the barriers to distribution of their words have crumbled and that publishing houses are not the only way to reach the reading public.

Deverell approached me just after I’d concluded a panel on eBooks at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention back in June.  As the most outspoken member of that panel, I’d upset an editor from Orca Books enough that I’m pretty sure she will never publish my work.  Perhaps that caught Deverell’s attention, because he asked if I’d be able to help him publish one of his backlist novels, Kill All the Lawyers, originally published by Random House.  I was completely gob-smacked to have the guest of honor of the conference approach me for advice, especially since I’m a big fan.

Deverell–a lawyer himself–has won many awards for his novels, including the Dashiell Hammett award for literary excellence and an Arthur Ellis award for best novel.  His most recent work I’ll See You in My Dreams was just published by McClelland and Stewart.

The sea change part is that Deverell–who has done well in traditional publishing–was not only open to eBooks, but excited about the possibilities.  Until that day in June, I had it in my head that only newbies like me and a few outliers like Joe Konrath would really be interested in self-publishing their work, but now I know better, and publishers should pay attention.

Deverell went the traditional publishing route for Dreams because it was far along in development by June, but next year is a whole new era–one in which a Kindle Touch is $79, and the Kindle Fire is $199.

I can imagine families opening their Christmas presents: “See Gran, you can make the text any size you want so that you don’t have to buy large print books.”  Or to a special grandchild who is struggling with reading, “It’ll make reading fun, like video games because it’s electronic.”  Enhanced eBooks certainly will make reading fun, and a lot of young readers will get Kindle Fires for that reason.  A whole new world of possibilities has opened up.

So the big question publishers should ask: when eBook sales start to beat print numbers, will authors like William Deverell continue to accept a paltry royalty on eBooks or will they go it alone?  And here’s the real problem: if publishers lose their great authors and replace them with less well known authors, will that not damage a publisher’s brand?  What if an indie-published Deverell garners more critical acclaim than M&S’s replacement author?

This would totally upend the public perception that only big publishers can assure them good reads.  That’s the real danger.  If indie-pubbed books are by top authors, the public will care less and less about who an author was published by and more about what the customer reviews say.  My advice to the big six: when Deverell comes knocking to sell you his next novel, offer him a fat eBook royalty.  You don’t want him deciding that he’d be better off without you.

Kill All the Lawyers is a hilarious romp with three dimensional characters and a complex plot woven so beautifully that it is effortless to follow.  I’m humbled by Deverell’s writing and aspire to be that good.  That’s why I’m proud to have helped launch Kill All the Lawyers as an eBook.  It shouldn’t be out of print as demanded by the old model of publishing.  It’s still a great read and it’s only $4.99. The best part though is that Deverell is making the full 70% royalty on his novel, and he should.

Full disclosure: Bill insisted on paying me to help put up Kill All the Lawyers, although I offered to do it for free as my part in the e-revolution.

Publishers Should Be Watching Kodak’s Bankruptcy

Kodak or Fuji?  Whenever I landed a gig as a camera assistant back in the 90s that was the first question we’d ask.  Which film stock would we be shooting for a TV show or a movie didn’t really matter because both products were essentially the same, although some camera assistants swore that Fuji was louder in the camera.

But the real difference between the two companies became obvious as HD video came online.  Fuji’s response was to dive deep into this new technology.  Kodak dug in their heels.

Now as a lowly camera assistant, I shouldn’t have been more tuned in to the future than Kodak executives, but apparently I was able to see from the ground floor what they couldn’t see from the boardroom.  At the end of the work day on a TV show like Due South, I’d hand off ten $800 rolls of film.  The production still had to pay to process this film and then pay again to transfer it to video for editing.

So imagine my surprise when I got a daily on Earth Final Conflict, which was shooting HD.  I walked onto the camera truck, took one look at their rushes on the HDTV and said, “Oh, oh.  That’s the end of film stock in television production.”  That wasn’t the half of it.  At the end of the day I handed off two $100 HD videotapes, all ready for editing–no processing required.

Kodak reacted to this new technology by pouring R&D into the old film technology under the mistaken assumption that if film was still much better quality than HD that producers would continue to use it.  Kodak churned out one fantastic new film stock after another, culminating in the amazing 800 ASA film stock.  But the problem is that the price differential between HD and film was just too great, and the average TV viewer didn’t care if the blacks were crisp.  Film is still used on feature productions, but the majority of TV has switched to the much cheaper HD video.  That is a big chunk of the film stock market.

Kodak eventually got with the program and moved into digital, but they’ve had to go through some gut wrenching reorganizations while Fuji’s CEO was busy collecting an award for leading one of the best managed companies in the world.

I thought Kodak had survived, but on Friday their stock dropped by half after it was announced that they’d hired a law firm that specializes in bankruptcy.  Oops.  Too little.  Too late.

The publishers should be watching because they’re making the same mistake.  Kodak believed it was in the film stock business, but in reality they were in the image capture business.  Fuji understood this, and when a better technology came along they simply began hunting for ways to profit from this innovation.  I know purists will argue that film is better quality than HD, but some people also argue that a vinyl record album is better quality sound than an ipod–just try to go running with a record player.

Publishers believe they are in the printing industry, but they are in the book industry.  Books no longer need to be delivered to customers in the form of dead pulped trees.

I’m not saying paper books are going away forever.  Film is still used to shoot major Hollywood movies, but how many people use a film camera for their family photo albums?  I can tell you that very few TV series still shoot film, but back in the 90s they almost all did.

Publishers–rather than resisting e-books by trying to artificially hold the prices high and offering authors pathetic e-book royalties–should be looking at how to profit from e-books.

I’m on the ground floor of publishing, like when I was a camera assistant, but I’ve got that same feeling that I had back in the nineties when I wanted to run up to Kodak’s boardroom and scream, “Don’t you guys see what’s happening out there?”

Today I want to do the same in the boardrooms of the six major publishers.  I want to scream, “Don’t you guys see what’s going on out there?”