The technophobia, true and angry anti-technology, the complete fear of new things, shocked me at Word on the Street in 2011. As part of my role as Regional Vice-President of the Crime Writers of Canada, I took a turn running our booth, and for fun, I put two e-readers on display so that people could do a side-by-side comparison.
Tag archive: e-readers
No, New Adult is not fresh porn. It’s fiction aimed at a very specific age group, 18-25 years old, people who are too old for Young Adult but are still reading for fun and adventure. Many of this age group are fighting their way through university, establishing careers and courting mates. It’s that fantastic time when your whole life is ahead of you and anything is possible.
But I disagree.
Agency pricing–the price fixing that the big six publishers conspired on for eBooks–is bad for established authors and in the long run it will be bad for the big six publishers. In the short term the Department of Justice (DOJ) is right in that it causes “unmistakable consumer harm.” But what both the DOJ and the publishers ignore is the indie publishing market.
Here’s what agency pricing does for us indies:
Since the mortgage crisis of 2008, all the pundits are looking for the next bubble, probably because most of them are embarrassed that they failed to predict either the dotcom bubble or the housing crash. That’s why I’m wary of doom forecasters, because the disaster that’s on the way is rarely the one they’re predicting.
So I admit I was skeptical of a bubble-forecasting Guardian article brought to my attention by my friend and fellow writer, Stephen Kotowych. I gave it a read though because he and I spent a couple of years critiquing each others short stories in our writers group, the Fledglings, established by author Robert J. Sawyer. You get to know someone after reading a dozen of their stories and, even more telling, hearing their critiques of your own. I trust Stephen’s judgment.
In a nut shell the Guardian article tries to compare the ePublishing craze to a financial industry bubble, but the author, Ewan Morrison, has to jump through some pretty tenuous hoops to explain why prices aren’t increasing, which is standard for a bubble–think house prices or dotcom stock prices. He states the the actual devices–eReaders, iPads, are the price increase in this analogy, although all of these have been dropping in price. I assume he means the upfront cost to the consumer who could buy books without an eReader before, but then the article is supposed to be about self-publishers.
Yet, there is some validity to his contention that we are in a self-publishing bubble, one where people who are not authors believe they can make a million bucks on Amazon. I know of one example: a man who’d never even tried to write a book before in his life, but suddenly self-published a short non-fiction self-help book. I think he truly wants to help people, but I also believe that he expected to rake in lots of cash doing it. His book sales are non-existent if Amazon’s bestseller ranking can be believed, and I predict he will never write another eBook. But I’m willing to bet that he bought an eBook, probably with a title like How You Can Make Trillions and Trillions of Dollars and End World Hunger by Self-Publishing an eBook. Hey, maybe I should write and publish that!
Sadly, I saw this gold rush coming but I was too late. I first considered self-publishing in September of 2009, and I would have beaten the tsunami of crap, but I waited until the spring of 2010, and by that time Amanda Hocking had taken off. When I read articles about her millions of sales, I knew that every dusty manuscript in a desk drawer would be out there with a quick cover and no editing. What I didn’t predict (and should have) was that every self-styled guru would be out their selling books on how to get rich ePublishing. These are like the guys selling bent shovels and treasure maps to prospectors in the Klondike.
Any writer (or publisher) could have predicted this bubble, because it’s actually been around for a long time. The general public just didn’t know about it. For the last ten years I’ve heard one editor after another, one agent after another, groan and complain about the massive depth of the slush pile. For years people have been sending in manuscripts, certain that they’re the next J.K. Rowlings or John Grisham, hoping to make millions. Publishers should be delighted with ePublishing because the slush pile can now be sorted by readers at 99 cents a pop, sometimes even for free. And ruthlessly sort they do–just check out the one star ratings that some books earn on Amazon.
As for the scammers, they’ll peak this year and fade into the background. Like spam, they’ll always be with us, but people will get very good at recognizing them.
Yes, a lot of people have jumped into self-publishing because they think it’s easy. When they don’t sell and realize that it’s hard work to learn how to write, to promote and to write more, they’ll walk away because these are also the type of people who give up quickly. Wait for the howls of outrage next year when Amazon announces that they’re dumping every self-pubbed title that hasn’t sold in two years. Contrary to popular opinion, server space is not free. Authors like me will still be there because we’re writers and that’s what we do, even if we don’t sell millions.
But where I strongly disagree with the Guardian article is the suggestion that the government should bail out publishers. They deserve a hand out from the tax payer even less than the big banks, and they’ve adapted to new technology about as well as the record companies. In other words, kicking and screaming their way into the 21st century. But unlike the big banks, publishers can easily be replaced by smaller, better publishers without much pain for the average person.
The next few years will see publishers reluctantly adapt, and the self-publishing bubble will burst, but don’t expect the industry to return to pre-eBook days. True self-publishers, like Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, will still be out there along with many other successful self-publishing authors. They may not be making millions, but they’ll make thousands. In fact, I’m looking forward to the end of the bubble. It’ll be cleansing.
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?”
There’s a shift going on in publishing that publishers and agents should be discussing over their lattes in the boardrooms of Manhattan. I have a friend who is a well-published, successful author, but his publisher is putting the screws to him on a new contract, refusing to budge from a very miserly e-book royalty that they’ve decided is “industry standard” in a fledgling e-book industry. This ridiculous “industry standard” mantra has so upset this author that he is considering walking away and self-publishing his next novel.
I can’t name this author because the contract negotiations are on-going, but I can say that he has a big enough name that he wouldn’t have to worry about being lost in what Joe Konrath aptly named The Tsunami of Crap that is flooding e-book stores like Smashwords and Kindle. My friend already has an established audience that will seek him out and buy his novels.
So if the publisher calls his bluff and he indie-pubs, who will they publish in his place? Who will accept a horrible contract to make a name? A newbie like me, of course.
Right now we newbies put up our e-books on Amazon, desperately market them and hope to make enough sales to get the attention of the publishing or film industry and make the big sale. Even Amanda Hocking, who could probably live on her e-book sales for the rest of her life, signed with St Martins.
But if the publishing industry continues to empty their stables of successful authors and runs instead with untested talent, it will come with an unintended consequence: self-publishing becomes more respectable.
For over a century publishers have maintained that only they know good work and that self-published novels must be crap. They’ve been right often enough that this mantra has played well with the public. But if publishers drive away their authors then a lot of high quality indie-pubbed novels will hit the market. Worse for publishers, it means the public will not be so afraid to take a fly on a indie-pubbed e-book. Note that it won’t be self-publishing anymore, it will be indie-publishing. Even J.K. Rowlings has placed a toe in that water.
So the streams would reverse: newbies would be with the publishers. Established authors would indie-publish.
Of course it’s going to be a lot messier than that. Newbies will still indie-pub first, get a small following and then take the lousy industry contract. After their first bestseller, they’ll say goodbye to their publisher and go back to indie-publishing so that they can get the 70% royalty.
Watch out now for publishers trying to force authors into ten-book contracts to lock in long-term, cheap content providers. This will hurt publishing in the long run, because sometimes acquisition editors make mistakes, and so a publisher could find themselves forced to publish one poor selling novel after another when an author doesn’t perform as expected.
In my humble opinion, publishers should just offer a better e-book royalty and keep their talented authors. My friend deserves it. Otherwise publishers may discover that they’ve made things worse for themselves by giving credibility to indie-published authors.
Promoting a novel through give-aways is a great idea, but I learned a lesson recently. I was heading to the Bloody Words Mystery Convention in Victoria, mostly to hang out with a bunch of fun-loving authors. But I knew there would be lots of mystery readers there too, so I decided to give away some e-copies of my anthology, Summer of Bridges, because it has an award-winning mystery short story, Railroaded, among the other Sioux Rock Falls stories.
So I went to Amazon and ordered fifty gift cards and took them with me along with a fistful of postcards featuring the anthology’s cover. I’m not pushy, so I only handed out the gift cards to people who said that they were very interested. I also made sure that they either owned a Kindle or were comfortable with downloading the Kindle app for their computers.
Then the real mystery began. The week after Bloody Words my novel, Vampire Road, began selling copies but Summer of Bridges showed no spike at all. What the heck? What were those mystery lovers doing buying a vampire novel with their gift cards?
Then a few of my short stories started selling, and I thought the mystery was solved. Perhaps they were using the gift cards to buy the short stories. All of those stories are contained in the antho plus three new stories, so I was surprised they were blowing the gift cards on one story when they could have had them all with one free download.
Today I checked the status of the gift cards with Amazon and discovered that not one single, solitary, gift card from Bloody Words has been redeemed. The sales for Vampire Road, White Metal, Railroaded and the others all came from book-lovers surfing Amazon. None of those sales came from my gift card promotion.
I still think that gift cards can be useful, but next time I’ll say, “Show me your Kindle and I’ll give you an e-book.” I’ve done that twice since Bloody Words with better results. Both fans had Kindles and both used their gift cards.
So the verdict: the Amazon gift cards are a great way to introduce people to a novel. Just don’t give them to people who may not be comfortable downloading the Kindle app or buying a Kindle.