Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, October 22, 2009

And Then Everything in Publishing Changed All At Once.... Or It Was More of the Same

It was the best of weeks, it was the worst of weeks....... and no one knew which.

This was, quite simply, a massively huge week in the publishing industry. All of the various pressures on the industry seemingly came to a head: the steady rise of e-books, downward pressure on book prices (due to bad economy/presence of e-books/competition with free content/used books/inevitability), the rising clout of e-tailers, an increasingly difficult landscape for independent bookstores, and the industry's creeping dependence on a small handful of mega-bestselling authors.

First, several new e-readers are giving the Kindle a run for its money in both its functionality... and its bizarre name. Meet the Alex (yes, THE ALEX), the Que (yes, THE QUE) and the Nook (yes, THE okay that one doesn't bother me so much). Also: I call dibs on ¿Qué? jokes for the next five years.

The Nook is perhaps the most notable of all as it is backed by Barnes & Noble, features wireless that you can use in a physical B&N to read/preview basically anything, and also allows you to "share" a book with a friend for 14 days, during which you can't actually read it. Kind of like a real book.

It remains to be seen how popular all of these devices will be, but certainly e-book adoption is moving ever closer to the mainstream.

Meanwhile, WalMart dropped a megaton bomb more faster than you blink and sparked a ruthless price war with Amazon by announcing that they would sell 10 hotly anticipated titles for $9.99 through WalMart.com. Amazon quickly matched and announced same-day delivery in 7 cities, then WalMart countered by lowering the price to $8.99, which Amazon also matched. Then Target jumped in the fray, and so did Sears, who announced that if you by a $9 book from Amazon, Target or WalMart they will reimburse the entire amount if you buy something on Sears.com and spend $45. So, basically, you can get a free book when you buy your dog a pirate costume (come on, you know you want to click through to see that one).

Where does this end?

Where indeed.

Right now, even as WalMart, Amazon, Target and Sears fight it out for e-tailing primacy, publishers are still receiving the standard amount for every copy sold, or roughly 50% of the hardcover list price, meaning WalAmaTargEars are the ones taking a loss. So, assuming the deep discounts spur sales, in the short term this has turned into a huge cash cow for the few publishers/mega-bestsellers WalAmaTargEars have chosen.

But who loses? Well... potentially just about everyone else. In the words of literary agent David Gernert:

If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over. If you can buy Stephen King’s new novel or John Grisham’s ‘Ford County’ for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer’s attention away from emerging writers.

And as Eric at Pimp My Novel notes, this could have huge impacts on independent bookstores, who simply can't compete with the discounting. He also notes that if a few e-tailers cement their dominance over the bookselling market, they could have increasing clout to dictate terms and discounts.

There are some who are cautiously optimistic about the price war. An anonymous publishing executive told the Times: "If this is a short-term statement to let hundreds of millions of people know that they will be able to buy books from Walmart.com, it’s a good thing."

But surely this isn't temporary. These trends have been in the makings for years, from deep discounts (now something everyone takes for granted) to competition with other cheap media to the rise of e-books to the industry's shedding of mid-list authors, their simultaneous aversion to small risks and dependence on big risks, and their increasing reliance on bestsellers, who they often overpay.

This doesn't have to mean the end of publishing as we know it. As former editor Marion Maneker writes, this could spur publishers to reevaluate their deals with their top sellers, and he also notes that people are already accustomed to paying more for different products. Just because James Patterson's latest is selling for $10 doesn't mean someone won't pay more for a book by someone who sells less.

But it looks as if book prices are coming down, one way or another. And that shift is going to send major shockwaves through the industry. Already Stephen King, an early e-book champion, announced that S&S will be delaying the release of the e-book edition of his new book, citing a desire to help bookstores, while simultaneously expressing concern that the deep print discounting "threatens the industry's pricing structure."

So is it the best of times or the worst of times? It's too soon to know. Lower prices don't have to be a bad thing provided people buy more books. Smaller authors don't have to lose out provided consumers don't flock en masse to the deeply discounted bestsellers.

But things are changing very, very quickly. The longtime trends that have been shaping the industry are only accelerating, and everyone in the business is holding on for the ride.






155 comments:

lynnrush said...

Thanks for this viewpoint. All the recent activity has been mind-numbing to say the least.

dan radke said...

Look on the bright side. With incredible TV shows, wondrous video games and 60 inch LCD LEDs, what more comfortable point in history has there been to give up on your dreams?

Scott said...

Hard to tell what's happening. My hope is that more affordable books means people will buy two instead of one, which in turn will mean they'll burn through the big names and start looking for more arcane fair. If you push your book hard enough with a website and an intelligent use of media, you just might be the "indie band" of the season.

Would I pay more for an exciting, new talent? Something tells me I would, as long as the costs for the other stuff were down.

Dara said...

Well...hopefully by the time I'm ready to query my book, things will settle down a bit...

Times are certainly changing!

Jean said...

I don't know if it is the worst of times, best of times, or just plain old changing. JA Konrath displayed his e-book royalty statements (rights held through a publishing house vs. rights he owned) on his blog and it was a wee bit mind blowing.

The world is changing. It's exciting and frightening all at the same time.

Jean

Alan Orloff said...

Please fasten your safety belts, don your crash helmets, and keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle.

Enjoy the ride!

Ken Hannahs said...

The Nook looks very promising. This week has definitely been a game-changer in many ways, and I think that your worries about nobody wanting to spend $25 on first-time authors is well-founded. I think what you will see (hopefully) is fewer first-time authors have hardcover releases. Instead you will have a straight-to-paperback release which could spur on more sales as long as the books sold well. I still think there should be a "New Authors" section at the major bookstores where they only hold a few copies of books and they can use it as a litmus to see how they do.

Similarly, a question was asked today by @Weegee which asked "Publishers: Please solve this problem. Wand [sic] to read new hardcover. Can't afford. Library waiting list 300 long. Answer?"

I think the answer will change the future of publishing as well. The idea of "rented" books is something that can be done with much more ease now than it ever could before. Microtransactions are getting bigger in the U.S. and being able to "rent" a book for a number of days might encourage people to read newer authors.

Just an idea.

-Ken

Lisa Dez said...

The whole “lost leader” concept by the big boxes is designed specifically to put every competitor out of business. As a new writer who’s agent just went on submission to editors this week, I find that more than a little frightening.

It’s going to be a huge hit to publishing in general and the reading public as a whole if the big boxes succeed. As a reader, your only options for buying books will be Amazon, et al, and your choices will be severely limited.

As a new writer…well, let’s just say the future’s not looking so bright if your name’s not Stephen King or Stephenie Meyer. (Am I allowed to use them in the same sentence?) Publishers will shy away from new talent because, if the boxes won’t buy it, they can’t sell it. There won’t be anyone else to sell it to.

So, enjoy your cheap books while you can because, as soon as they’ve put all the little to medium sized guys out of business, they’ll jack their prices right back up. As a consumer, please don’t shoot yourself in the foot!

Margaret Yang said...

Okay, okay, okay. I remember in the late 80's/early 90's when POD was going to CHANGE PUBLISHING AS WE KNOW IT. End of bookstores, end of publishers, end of the midlist, etc. People were freaking out!! Some were throwing up their hands and quitting the whole business. Some were seeing how POD could benefit them. Most were just watching and worrying.

I know that the technology is different, but still.... I'm not freaking out. Heck, my agent still thinks he can get me a hardcover deal for my first novel. Bless his heart.

John Ross Harvey said...

As an author hoping to publish his 6th book, the one I think will finally take me to notoriety, Walmart and company slashing for already best selling authors is problematic to my book ever being read. This is a career I intend to pursue full on, and this kind of ignorance by chains for lack of a better term is disheartening. Yes, the Ma and Pa bookstore is in trouble too, and the authors you don't know yet like me. Certainly many authors are known by word of mouth more than advertising (save perhaps Rowling and Brown) but how do the little guys/gals like me get a break? My current project (in editorial hands right now) is in my reviewers opinion THE NEXT NOTEBOOK. How will anyone know if it goes for $12.95 when Walmart is selling Dan Brown for $8.99 for an example? I'm using a psuedonym for the obvious reasons of genre and a namesake primarily. If I win an award, then I may make waves, so look out Walmart, I'm not going down without a fight. I've also won every legal battle I've faced.

Charlie said...

I still believe that too many people prefer books printed on paper for the Brick and Mortor stores to go under. (Then again, I said that about CD's)The bargin hunters that buy celeb bio's as gifts for the holidays might be good for the industry, but real readers will hunt out great stories by the emerging writers no matter what.

There will always be a need for good writers.

Fran said...

So, we have a weapons race against the rest of the entertainment industry, and a race to the bottom to sell books.

It's not a good time to have a dull pencil.

GrrlgeniusBklyn said...

Unfortunately the same thing has happened to the music and movie industry, which haven't figured out a way to make up for loss of display space for music, DVDS, and discounts and exclusives with Wal-mart only can just as easily backfire even for A-list artists. The movie studios are a bit more pro-active inventing high quality like Blu-ray and the impending Disney operation Keychest.

Even if quality of the books is less at Wal-mart, consumers are going to look at their bottom lines. Can they get the latest novels for less? Does that let them feel better about spending in this economy where job security is a myth? Yes, it's not going to trouble them to loss the glossy covers for a lesser price.

As much as I've made a living off growing digital entertainment, the Internet has streamlined creativity to being less of a premium. Power to the people. They still need someone to direct them towards great content.

In NYC I have only seen two Kindles in the subway, the second of which was two days ago (several on planes, where you are less likely to get mugged for it.) If anything manufacturers are more interested in selling devices which fetch high prices, even when discounted like the iPhone at $99. Books are large, they take up a lot of space.

Personally I'm not as ready to give up on the physical side of books as I have with music (although not completely, I still love vinyl.)

On the upside, as Scott hopes.... consumership on the music side is up. It's just people don't pay for it. I started to read Chris Anderson's "Free" for Free on Google books and lost interest after a few chapters reading it that way. I'd rather hit up the library and have the sensation of flipping pages when I lie in the sand.

JenniferWriter said...

Thanks, Nathan, for distilling this week's craziness into a single, sane post. I've got a big knot in my stomach after reading, but what can we do? I'll continue to write because I have to and I'll continue to buy books and support local bookstores--because I love them, not because I want them to exist long enough for me to sell my books.

For now I think that's all I can do.

Anonymous said...

Seems like a good time to bring this up:

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/3/9/

Ghost Girl said...

I've got the criss-cross, send-me-screaming-upside-down-in-loop-the-loop-terror straps buckled and I'm ready for the ride. Okay...I make no guarantees that I won't wet myself or puke before it's all over, but I'm hoping for the best in all this.

I'll refrain from repeating the petulant little doomsday track running through my brain because I'm just too damn optimistic... Really, I am...

Stephanie said...

What a week. I have to believe that those of us who love books will find a way to keep things going. After all, if we can dream up new worlds, plots and people, we can certainly figure a way out of all of this.

My first very small step will be to stop shopping at these stores.

Anna said...

All I can think is this what's happened to music over the last ten years.

What it means for writers is still unknown. But musicians and singers still trade their wares, albeit in somewhat different forms than pre-web days. While authors don't have the luxury of concert tours from which to make some cash, a BOOK is still a BOOK, and maybe that format will outlast vinyl, cassettes, 8-tracks, CD's, etc.

We will see...

Bobby said...

I think moves like the ones mentioned in the post are rapidly pushing more and more writers towards independent publishing - I like that phrase better than self-publishing :-)

Why even try to go the traditional route if you're a new writer when the deck is so stacked against you?

Anne Dayton said...

I want someone to invent a device that reads a book for me. Anyone?

Thermocline said...

Who knew the executives at Sears were so devious? Luring customers with free money for making a competitor take a loss is pure evil genius.

Charlie Pratt said...

No matter how zealous we are about our books, history has shown time and time again that low prices, by and large, will win the day. Whether that's paper and ink or plastic and pixels, people will ultimately choose the path of least resistance. I personally love books with paper and ink. Does that matter? Not if economics has anything to say about it.

owlandsparrow said...

What a thought-provoking post. Thanks for shedding some insight on what's going on. In general, I think we all just need to promote paying for quality goods and not just what's cheap, popular, or both cheap-and-popular. Not that the popular options don't become that way for a reason - some do. That said, lots of great work goes unrecognized, because too many people take other people's word for what's worth their limited free time and hard-earned money, instead of checking out all the options themselves.

Anonymous said...

S**t. What's the point of even finishing the dang book now. Maybe I should change my name to Dan Brown.

Samuel said...

I think Nathan meant 'lose out' and not 'love not' in the penultimate paragraph. Though 'love out' has its own lovely logic.

Susan Quinn said...

I'm not a fan of rollercoasters, but give me a good free market thrill ride and I'm happy.

I love books, stories and reading.

I love technology, free markets, innovation and change.

And, I'm a die-hard, steely-eyed optimist.

So.

I think this is going to settle out in a net positive way for writers, but the creative destruction will leave a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in its wake. With more and better ways for writers to connect with readers, more every day, I think there will be more opportunity in the future for authors. But it will come through self-publishing, e-books, a revamped (revitalized?) publishing industry and ways that you and I can't yet dream up, because we're still reeling from the pace of change today.

It won't be pretty. But in the end I think it will be better.

You can keep the Que jokes (!) - I'll be curling up in a nook with my Nook, reading the e-tomes I haven't (yet) shared with my friends.

Bane of Anubis said...

Makes me think of the South Park Episode "Something Wal-mart this way comes."

People expect to get things on the cheap (if not free) nowadays and it's up to the publishing industry to adapt to the new model (and overcome any e-version it might have... I'm telling you, advertising is gonna be the game of the future... both genre-related and, 10 years from now, individually targeted).

Anne said...

I always will purchase a hardcover to a paperback, but do shop around and hardly ever buy when first release. This is more due to my financial situation than to the actual worth of the book [in most cases].

To what ends must we get our one-stop shopping fix! Another fine example of our economy gone awry. So sad.

The Que? Really?

Nathan Bransford said...

Samuel-

Freudian slip, or at least wishful thinking.

Sorry for the large number of typos in the original post!

Sam Blake said...

When Penguin introduced paperbacks in the 1930's it was the end of publishing, but the biz evolved. Times are certainly a-changing but I wonder if the cost structure of traditional print needs reviewing -would first time authors be happy to take a bigger royalty than an advance, would they be prepared to get out there and market their books generating PR through editorial and public apprearence rather than straight advertising, creating whispering campaigns through social media? It's hard work launching a business on a micro budget, but if you can do it with a business can you not apply the same principles to a book? It means thinking outside the box, harnessing the e-book boom (which it might be eventually) and providing a hardcopy follow up. There will always be something uncertain about technology - we back up our laptops using all sorts of methods, perhaps print publishing needs to reinvent itself. Hard to accept it might be the back up, but the very fact that a book is tangible gives it value. That very 'tangibliity'will become its USP.

T. Anne said...

Honestly, I can't see me shelling out $35 for King's new e-book and that's because Amazon's set a precedence with there $9 pricing for new Kindle books. The consumer in me likes the price wars, the author in me isn't sure what to make of it. Looks like the tower of publishing is starting to crumble.

Beth Barany said...

Best/worst of times? Nope. How about "these times they are a changin.'" Again. Rocky seas? Yep! And opportunities abound. Like people will rush out and buy these cheap big names authors at WalAmaTargEars (great! Nathan) for curiosity's sake, then ditch them at the used book stores, because frankly, they aren't that good. (Dan Brown, your plots are fun, but your writing stinks!) So, three cheers for the everlasting used bookstores! And I don't know about other ravenous readers, but I discover new authors at the library and used bookstore. Then, when I've fallen in love (Sharon Shinn, anyone?), I buy ALL of their books. Hey, I need my fix! (Two cents from an independent author, and book coach.)

jjdebenedictis said...

I want someone to invent a device that reads a book for me. Anyone?

Anne Dayton: They have! I think it was the Kindle they wanted to install the technology on, but then a snarl exploded over whether the publisher needed audio rights for that.

Jokes aside, it would be awesome for the visually impaired.

Beth Barany said...

Sam Blake: I like the way you think. The tangibility of books is a huge added value, for those of us that love the physical form.

J. Nelson Leith said...

The market for physical books could be buttressed a bit by flipping the traditional hard-to-soft paradigm.

To me, from a buyer's perspective, a hardcover edition is for a proven winner of a book that I intend to keep, mark up, reference, and read again and again.

It has always seemed counter-intuitive as a reader to see the "keeper" hardcover version of a book come out before the "trial" softcover version.

My advice: put out everything softcover/digital first, thus reducing upfront cost and risk, and then the books that really etch themselves into the public consciousness can merit a hardcover "permanent collection" printing only after they've proven themselves worthy of the investment.

Also... perhaps a recycling discount when you turn in the softcover to buy the hardcover.

Christa said...

As usual, very concise and informative, Nathan. I did have one question, and this is probably more reflective of my naivete in the business side of the industry, but what hold does Amazon really have over publishers?

My take on the current pricing is that other etailers are competing with Amazon for market share of books/e-books. And right now, the price war is focused on that goal.

When the losses prove to be too much, Amazon will try to bully publishers into reducing their costs to meet Amazon's e-book model. The problem is, with other e-tailers offering similar services, Amazon doesn't have much leverage. They may have the largest market share, but if publishers refuse to meet their demands, Amazon either has to adjust their prices back up to make money or keep their prices where they are and hope to outlast the other etailers losing money.

I guess I keep coming back to this: if the publishers, and thus authors, are still getting their full share of profit from the sales at these prices, they have no incentive to reduce their rates. And if that request comes to them from Amazon or other etailers, why can't they just say no? Unless a majority of currently published authors decide to go independent and self-publish (not likely to happen), then the publishing industry holds the prize and ultimately calls the shots on pricing.

People will still by the books, whether from Amazon or somewhere else. But Amazon or other etailers can't go somewhere else to get books to sell.

Like I said, I really don't understand the dominoe effect this will cause further down the road, so please let me know what I'm missing.

Ken Hannahs said...

I like what Sam Blake said about marketing yourself. Creating grass-roots hype about your project months before the book is released is really going to amp up the excitement about the book. I know one thing that I plan on doing is trying to get people to know about me now through my blog and twitter and other means so that by the time it is time to market my book, I will already have the followers there!

Advertising campaigns are relatively useless to the general public for the large majority of fiction. It is only through the real bibliophiles that people will break out in this industry. Word of mouth and social media will sell more books than a poster in the subway. (I don't know if this is true, but I believe it... ha ha)

Paul Neuhardt said...

I see Nora Ephron penning a sequel to "You've Got Mail" in which Fox Books is put out of business by Wally World and Kathleen Kelly yells, "In your face, Fox!" She will then suffer a cute little fit of angst over her rude behavior, he will forgive her, and the sequel wil be just like the original, only not as good.

Seriously, I'm more concerned about the impact of the WalTarEarsAzon price battle than I am over eReaders.

Have you ever seen the selection of books in a WallMart or a Target? Kathleen Kelly's The Shop Around The Corner had a larger selection, and a better one too.

WalMart has gained tremendous influence over which music and which movies get sold and which don't. They have done so by undercutting everyone else on the few items they choose to stock on their limited shelf space. The rub is that limited shelf space in a bazillion stores is still several bazillion CD's and DVD's being moved, and thus they gain significant influence. I can see them doing the same with books.

We as writers can rant on all we want to about how "real readers" will still look for lesser-known works in our corner book stores, but will they? How many people are going to pay $25.95 for the same book they can get for $10? People only have so many dollars to spend and the more that are spent in WalMart, the fewer spent elsewhere.

With publishers wanting (and deserving) to make a profit, they may be forced to focus on those few titles that WalMart (and their closest competitors) will carry. Go look in a WalMart: That is going to be a very short list.

My question is: What do we do about it? Or more to the point, what CAN we do about it?

Nathan Bransford said...

christa-

You're right that if the e-tailers are competing against each other it limits the clout of any one company somewhat. But still, that's a lot of power in just a few hands.

Also, I (and lots of other people) just got a press release that the American Booksellers Association is asking the Department of Justice to examine the book price wars.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Glad I'm not playing in that ballpark. (Yet, anyway.) So far I'm very happy with my decision to self-publish--I just ordered my second run within a month today. My readers are psyched and I love having $10 per book end up back in my pocket. Maybe there's something to be said for small potatoes after all.

Marilyn Peake said...

I’ve been following these news stories all week. I think the road has already been taken, and we’re not veering off it anytime soon. My prediction is that within the next few years and lasting at least the next two or three decades, writers will be a mostly unpaid group. We’ve been heading in that direction for quite some time now, with many cheering on the individual pieces of the puzzle that are now falling into place. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. Writers haven’t always been well-paid.

RKCharron said...

Hi Nathan :)
Thank you for the great insightful post. I am looking forward to buying all 10 of those books. (Early Christmas presents for myself). Did you know that Under The Dome ebook is to be sold for $35?
It is a book publishing renaissance.
:)
All the best,
RKCharron
:)
PS - It's Stephen King not Steven King
:)

Steph Damore said...

This is why I read your blog Nathan. It's been a massively huge week in the publishing industry?! Really?! See, I did not know this. Somehow this news has yet to penetrate the perfect publishing bubble that I live in.

I'm also with JenniferWriter who said: I'll continue to write because I have to and I'll continue to buy books and support local bookstores--because I love them - Nicely put girl.

David said...

That is not a happy dog.

GrrlgeniusBklyn said...

I'm glad the book industry is standing up for itself because the publishers are the ones who made these deals with the discounted pricing. This isn't a time to panic, it's a time to band together and figure things out before the discount powerhouses do the deciding for you. It's pricing to sell devices that hurts the content makers.

The newspaper industry gave their content away willingly and now want to have readers pay .03 cents to access an article. Um, good luck with that Rupert Murdoch. The NY Times iPhone app was given away for free....they have 25 million users online. They didn't even have a one time fee of $5 but people are willing to pay that much for a virtual koi pond!

Unfortunately for music, sales went down another 20% from last year and digital sales don't make up for the gap. Most labels do not get a slice of touring profits. I could go on, but there are parallels to learn from so other industries that have been effected by technological advances.

Interesting books/music/movies content will always sell, not every country is as tech savvy and the Japanese have sold millions of books that were written and freely consumed in microblogging.

re: for the 'read the book for me' posting, I volunteer at Reading For The Blind, there are devices and everything from text books to novels get recorded. There are tons of books on CD (I get these for my Dad) you can pick up too, great for long drives or sitting in traffic.

Nathan Bransford said...

GrrlgeniusBklyn-

Actually, the publishers don't have any say over what the retailers charge and didn't craft special deals to help this happen. They have a "suggested" cover price listed on books, but they can't control what people actually charge for them.

Ravenous Romance said...

Publisher's don't get 50% of the revenue from the price of a book - it goes to the bookseller and the wholesaler and the ridiculous depression-era publishing practice of reserves against returns. If more books were bought outright by stores, which is what WalAmTarSears is doing, then the publisher can get a break on the cost of the print run and pass that break on to the consumer. And the writer still gets his/her 10/12/15% or 7 1/2/% or 8/10% of what the publishers get, so no one looses out but the middle man. It's more important to get more readers than to keep book chains in business. Readers should be retrained to but their books directly from the publishers digitally, which cuts the cost of everything and gives more money to the writer and saves the planet.

Ash. Elizabeth said...

Maybe it's just me, but I don't buy books based on prices or name. I read the blurb, first couple of pages, and check the cover out. . .If I like these things, I get it. One of the benefits of having two jobs.

To me, the prices don't bother me, but I'll admit I do hold off on hardcovers unless I MUST have it. I don't do the kindle or nook or whatever. Just staring at the comp too long bothers my eyes.

Chris Bates said...

Books are ridiculously over-priced.

Cover price is around $25 in the US for a hardcover, then discounted.

In Australia cover price is $45 to $50 ... discounted to $35 to $40.

This is not a sustainable model in a day and age where the internet and associated visual media dominates the landscape. Some rethink needs to happen at the publishing company end. No advance for authors. Lower price points.

How much do you reckon 5000 copies of a 400page hardcover book, stitched and banded interior pages, foiled and embossed jacket will cost?

Five bucks? Four? Three?

Nope.

I'll print it, insure it and ship it to a US port for under a buck fifty.

Let's not even talk about B format softcover books under 200 pages.

Mark up, anyone?!

Leila Austin said...

I work at an independant.

One thing that people often forget when the whole 'price' thing comes up is that price is not the only factor in buying books. It is a big factor, but it's not the only one. For a lot of us, it's also about the experience. Generally with selling books, the cheaper you get, the more impersonal you get. And a lot of people don't like their book buying experience being an impersonal one.

Walking into an independant bookstore and having staff chat with you and track down the perfect book to suit your needs is very, very different to going to a huge chain and pulling the same book out of a bargain bin, and very different again to buying an electronic version online. A lot of my customers are people I know by name, people who come back over and over. And while there's a large number of people who are obsessed with getting the lowest possible price, and people who find it more conveniant to buy online, these people are not generally my customers to start off with.

But am I scared? God yes. It's always been a tough fight for an independant bookshop to stay afloat, and it only seems to be getting harder.

I know the experience of buying books is important. I'm just hoping it's important enough.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I don't think books are going to fade away completely - at least not any time soon. There's a tactile component of reading a book you can't get with an e-reader. You can toss it around, spill things on it, pile 60 pounds of textbooks on top of it, wave in you BFF's face when you got the last copy of the "hot" book she really wanted because you stood in line for the 12:01 debut at the store (in costume!)and she didn't. And you don't have to recharge them.

Sure things are changing, but the multi-media aspects of digital reading (interactive maps, pictures, etc.) open doors for more content than a printed book can allow.

Places like Wal-Mart have always had competitor price matching, and they've always had the volume buying power to keep their prices down. It's a sales tactic - they can do the same sales on the major titles as B&N with only a fraction of the space required. Target's got similar abilities. They'll eventually equalize.

Nathan Bransford said...

RR-

"Publisher's don't get 50% of the revenue from the price of a book"

Just to clarify, publishers do generally get 50% of the list price for a book, which is what the ABA points out in their argument against the price cutting by the chains. Also, according to the ABA, as far as anyone knows the publishers aren't offering WalAmaTarGears special terms.

"And the writer still gets his/her 10/12/15% or 7 1/2/% or 8/10% of what the publishers get, so no one looses out but the middle man."

Writers generally receive these royalties based on the list price, not on what the publishers receive.

"Readers should be retrained to but their books directly from the publishers digitally, which cuts the cost of everything and gives more money to the writer and saves the planet."

I'm not sure that this will fly with consumers, who want a one-stop shopping experience, or with authors, unless they're willing to share more revenue with the authors when they sell directly.

Christine said...

May I just say something that seems to be getting ignored in all the Amazon/Walmart hoopla?

People who buy books will continue to buy books. I go into a Target, and I buy a book that appeals to me. Yes, their prices are part of that appeal. But after I go to Target, I go to Borders, which, on a good day, carries other books, the ones in the mid-list that aren't going to be discounted, and I buy a few more books.

And then I go wireless on my Kindle, and I buy yet more books.

I buy books because I read. If there's a book I want, I will buy it, pretty much regardless of the price.

So, rather than fighting about who's going to charge what, make the full-sale books appealing to the bookbuyer, and really, there shouldn't be a problem.

The REAL problem, as I see it, is that fewer bricks and mortar stores are carrying those mid-list books that I would gladly pay full price for. And if I can't find them, then I won't buy them.

Anonymous said...

Well, since we're on the subject of Wal-Mart, here are some photos of your new target audience...

www.peopleofwalmart.com

David said...

How close to the minimum possible are the prices of printed books now?

If there were no more mega advances, there'd still be all sorts of fixed costs that can't be eliminated or reduced significantly. That's the impression I have, anyway.

POD machines in bookstores would eliminate warehousing and distribution costs, but the cost of each book would then be fixed at a higher price than can be attained by printing lots of copies in specialized print shops.

Toby said...

Nathan,

Please clarify for me: If Wal-mart is charging only ten dollars (10) per hardcover, though the hardcover price is typically (25) dollars, who gets what?

Thanks.

Nathan Bransford said...

Toby-

On a $25 hardcover:

WalMart pays roughly $12.50 and if they charge $8.99 they lose about $3.50

The author usually gets 10-15% of the list price, so let's say 10% and $2.50. Deduct 15% agent commission ($0.38) and they get about $2.12.

Publisher gets $10 ($12.50 minus author share), which covers cost of the book, shipping, overhead, and (hopefully) profit.

JDuncan said...

What does this price war signal to me? Likely it means we'll have the top ten holiday sellers each year now which are priced ridiculously low. Publishers can't afford to cave on pricing in general. I personally don't buy books at places like Walmart or Target, except for one or two authors. Even then, it's usually from Amazon. The boxes have crap for selection, truly poor. They're there for impulse buying generally. Why they don't park the top ten books by the cash registers along with candy I don't know. With such a convenience oriented culture, it's hard to imagine life ever becoming good again for the individual bookstore. The ones that do survive will find ways to tap into this necessity of convenience. I believe the deep discount will work to sell more of the best sellers, which of course helps the publisher. It won't help the box stores much, because I don't think folks are going to hit up their local bigbox for a new release and then buy other things while there. It works far more the other way around. Pushing your cart of groceries by the book aisle and seeing the new King book for $9 will make you more likely to toss it in the cart, but that person didn't come in for it in the first place. Hopefully they'll see the good deal and stop to gander at other titles (all 57 of them) and buy a second book. At least it will help the very few authors who get their books into these stores in the first place.

Rick Daley said...

Thanks for presenting this with a rational viewpoint, Nathan.

The worst thing any of us can do is panic. Irrational fear makes situations seem worse than they really are and it makes tides harder to turn.

The bottom line (as I see it) is still reassuring: people are buying and selling books, and an influx of capital to the publishing houses is not a bad thing if they can reinvest it wisely.

If someone starts whacking large droves of readers, then I'll panic. Mostly because I would fear being on the hit list, but also as a writer who sees his potential audience going under...

The compensation and pricing models will change, but that's an eventuality in any given free market. This is the time when the creative persevere by using their resources to adapt to the new selling environment.

When I buy a good bottle of wine for $8.99, it does not make me think all wine should be $8.99. I'm just happy I found a great deal, and I still buy more expensive bottles.

Steve Fuller said...

I love change. It's so exciting to be a writer in 2009.

This is the future. Everything moves faster now. Technology means products become outdated the minute they become available.

Things won't be "settling down." They'll only move faster and change more often.

This new reality isn't good or bad. It's just different. Those of us who take advantage of the new landscape will thrive. Those who sit around and complain will fail.

Linda Godfrey said...

Somehow the image of the big dogs all at war reminds me of a very old Warner Bros. cartoon where everyone is in this huge pile throwing kicks and punches, when either Bugs or Daffy creeps out unnoticed from the bottom, holding the prize. (Was it a football?)

Anyway, I'd like to adopt this Looney Toons model of reality and hope some underdog manages to squeak past the tussle and beat the big ones at their own game.

I'm betting on the duck or the wabbit.

Avid Reader said...

I think people need to keep this in perspective. They are only going to be able to do this with some top sellers, not all the books.

My book club doesn't read the best sellers (and there are 60 people in our club) we prefer to read first time authors and unknowns, we figure the Kings and Meyers make enough money, good on them, but they don't need more from us.

They can have all the price wars they want, I still love going into a small independent bookstore and browsing and supporting them.

The consumer has the power, if you don't like this policy, then don't shop there and don't buy your books there.

Nick said...

If nothing else, I can see a bright side to one point of news. If indeed e-readers become common and catch on and everyone starts reading books that way, the price of good old fashioned ink on paper shall likely decrease, and thus it becomes much easier to turn my collection of just shy of 400 books into a well and proper library.

Anonymous said...

This may also help first time authors, in that the publishers will stop handing over inflated advances to big names, simply because of their name and not the quality of their writing or books.

Some of these authors have become like those football players who are way over-priced for what we are getting.

Without naming names, there is a best selling author who has written a series 15 books, and the price is overinflated. She writes the same dribble in each book, and basically has no respect for her readers because the books are shorter and the writing is lame, but she sells based on her name.

Marilyn Peake said...

Relevant to this discussion, copies of WICKED author Gregory Maguire’s new novel, THE NEXT QUEEN OF HEAVEN, will be FREE, although with quite a few twists, including the expectation that people who receive a free copy will give money to charity or someone else in need: Article here.

J. Nelson Leith said...

Oh, but "Anonymous" ... can you imagine being one of those writers? *dreams*

;^)

Amy Cochran said...

I think it's the economy and this surely will not help. Well at least where I live. At the begining of the year you could drive about 5 miles and be at one of the local booksellers or at a major chain. Now unfortunately all the local booksellers folded much earlier this year and the only chain that remains is Books-A-Million. If I actually want to go to a bookseller I'm driving appoximately 40 miles to get to Books-A-Million and 60 miles to get to Barnes and Nobles. One thing is clear is that these economic times are taking a toll on everyone.

Brandi G. said...

Great post. Excellent information. Thanks!

And, really, that dog looks thoroughly miserable. Poor thing.

AM said...

I hate to say it, but it sounds like a brilliant marketing strategy for Wal-Mart and Target.

For about $3.50 per book, they can attract more customers into their stores, and those customers will almost certainly buy other products while they are there.

$3.50 is a small expense to pay if their other sales/profits increase.

This could be really bad news for both the large and independent bookstore chains, where the sales from the bestsellers make up a significant portion of their profits.

If Wal-Mart and Target persists with the slashed pricing, book retailers of all sizes could be in danger of going out of business.

And if Wal-Mart and Target's price war goals are

(1) to increase foot traffic into their stores

AND

(2) to drive the larger book retailers out of business,

then they could easily afford reducing ALL books' costs for an indeterminable period of time - as long as the increase in their other products sales cover the per book loss.

Scary.

Alicia A said...

In a time when video games and big screen TVs are turning our kids (and some husbands) into zombies, Its refreshing to see the big chains put so much focus on book sales. Even if it's the big name authors who get the attention it ensures that those book aisles won't be replaced with guitar hero demos. And as much a I love to read words on pages and not monitors, e-books are examples of how the book industry is keeping up with a technology obsessed market.

Rachelle said...

Take a look at the size of Walmart's book section, compared to, say, Barnes & Noble's.

I'm no mathematician but wouldn't you estimate B&N carries at least 50 times as many books?

This is the part that worries me. If people start thinking Walmart is their destination for book purchases, and Walmart then starts to dictate what gets published... well, that means 98% of the books we now publish would not be published.

And writers think it's hard to get published now.

Patrice said...

Why can't there be more Steve Fullers out there?

Good attitude, man. I'm with ya.

Nathan Bransford said...

Rachelle-

Definitely agree. I also think there's some confusion out there since the $8.99 deal is only available on pre-orders on WalMart.com for very few titles. But if there's a perception out there that people can get bestselling books very cheaply at physical WalMart stores that's going to drive people to the stores to look for books, further driving the consolidation, even if the deal is really only available on the website.

Paula B. said...

Someone on TeleRead mentioned that all the independents have to do is buy $9 books from Amazon and sell them at cost--a sort of Robin Hood redistribution of wealth. Interesting idea, though not viable in the long run.

AM said...

Whew! Thank goodness.

I missed that they were only doing this online. It’s a marketing campaign. What a relief.

Shhh… let’s hope they don’t get the bright idea to cut prices in their stores too!

Raval911 said...

many important points here but I was busy LMAO @ that fat little bulldog dressed as Long John Silver...whooha that was fun. That is all.

MedleyMisty said...

Change is constant. Although some things never change - even in the Sims story world, where everything is free and price isn't a factor, people go for the big names even though most of them aren't that good and rarely take a chance on new authors. I don't think that's an effect of the marketplace and discounted books at big boxes. I think that's just human nature.

Colette said...

Sounds like a good week for ... wait for it... readers!!

Terry said...

Every pie Walmart gets its finger in, is cheapened or destroyed. BUT, up against Amazon, I'm not so sure how this will play out. A pissing contest, no doubt.

We once worried Amazon would destroy book stores, and yes, they've done some damage. Walmart could do us all in. So I'm rooting for Amazon, in this case. I would hate to lose any more independent book stores. I'm thinking the ones in cities, such as NYC and Windsor, Ontario :) will make it.

As for my fave in The Village in Manhattan, Partners & Crime, and only a short walk from my favorite chippy, I would cry if he closed. And I haven't even been to NYC in a few years.

Who knows what it will do to the publishing industry if Walmart wins.

Fingers crossed.

Marla Warren said...

Leila Austin wrote:

I work at an independent.

One thing that people often forget when the whole 'price' thing comes up is that price is not the only factor in buying books. It is a big factor, but it's not the only one. For a lot of us, it's also about the experience. Generally with selling books, the cheaper you get, the more impersonal you get. And a lot of people don't like their book buying experience being an impersonal one.

Walking into an independent bookstore and having staff chat with you and track down the perfect book to suit your needs is very, very different to going to a huge chain and pulling the same book out of a bargain bin, and very different again to buying an electronic version online. A lot of my customers are people I know by name, people who come back over and over. And while there's a large number of people who are obsessed with getting the lowest possible price, and people who find it more convenient to buy online, these people are not generally my customers to start off with.


I work at one of the large chain bookstores and Leila has described the same experiences I have with customers. The chain bookstores (at least the one I work for) can and do provide excellent and knowledgeable customer service.

The problem here is not so much large chain bookstores vs. independent bookstores as it is bookstores against chain discount department stores—places that don’t specialize in selling books.

When the last Harry Potter novel came out, a woman called and complained that we were charging more for the book than Wal-Mart. I thought (but didn’t say), “Good luck finding a clerk at Wal-Mart who knows much about books compared with the booksellers at our store.”

Discount department store chains usually can’t order books for customers. All they can do is sell bestsellers and hot releases as loss leaders to bring people into their stores.

Mark Griffith said...

This is starting to look to me like another case of Americans blithely convinced that you're the future and everyone else is the past - so quaintly Victorian of you all!

We're issuing separate e-summaries {c. 5,000 words} and paper books {c. 50,000 words}, and treating them as two separate markets. Makes no sense to push your customers to all migrate to the next big Beta-Max.

Dawn Maria said...

Thank you for this great post- I've been confused all week.

I think I'm most worried about independent bookstores in all this. People who love books will buy them at any price point if it's a book they want. It would take an act of God to get me to shop at Walmart, but I do love Target and have purchased a few books there. B&N and Borders are both offering free Wi-Fi now, like public libraries, to help get bodies in the store. Most likely if you're there, you'll make a purchase. No one would ever consider staying for hours in a big box store, so the question really becomes how will the independents compete with low pricing and other services (like Wi-Fi)?

Thomas Dean said...

Wow, this is a big one to think about. However, I do have to say someone made the point that maybe if books are cheaper people will burn through the highly praised writers and make their way to a newbie like myself. I am sure that is wishful thinking but hey why not dream with a little bit of optimistic hope tossed in for good measure.

Still with that said I am excited about these gadgets. We have so many books in our house now I am all out of shelves to put books on. I have books stacked on end tables and in corners. Yet there are only a few I reread(not that I don't like them I just don't reread often). I say bring it on and like everything else it will plain down a little in time, music stores are still in business and people buy CDs even with $0.59 downloads available at all of the mentioned retailers.

Anonymous said...

$25 for a hardcover? That's obscene! Really, who doesn't just wait for the soft-cover for $5? Oh wait, those prices have jacked up to $8 now. Where are these decreasing book prices you were talking about?

Anonymous said...

The bottom line is people are afraid of change. Some people have every right to be because change can upset their position at the top, but if they are savvy they have the best chance of adapting fast enough to remain on top. Regardless it seems to be are nature to resist change until we are forced to adapt. In the end maybe a few will fail and new blood will come in to take their place but the industry will still consist primarily of the same players we have now.

Truly I don't think e-books will catch on until the price of the e-readers are lowered or perhaps subsidized in some fashion. Spending nearly $300 up front isn't going to appeal to the masses that by books on impulse.

I also still can't comprehend how e-books are still so expensive. For a technology that delivers a product with little publishing cost, and is intangible $10 seems to be a rather high price. Of course this comes from someone that is an avid library user.

Anonymous said...

I remember working as a bookseller for B. Dalton when Crown Books first came along. More than once people would come into the store, pick up a book and ask if we discounted. When we said we didn't, they set the book down and walked out the door. This kind of discounting will be disaster for the indie bookstores. I don't worry about the publishers, They will come out this bloodied but whole... it's the the indie stores....

-Richard B.--

ryan field said...

Interesting times.

Giles said...

For me, personally, this is kind of terrifying, but intriguing at the same time. I worked in a book store for several years, and I've wanted to be an author for over eleven, but this is the biggest change I've seen since I started doing my research eleven years ago. Do I shiver with fright, or do I hold my breath in eager anticipation?

David said...

Giles, I think you write and trust to the human need for stuff to read.

Literary Cowgirl said...

I try to stay away from industry bashing, but how is cheaper prices going to help anyone? I'll happily pay more for good books, as opposed to formula ones. But, will my bookstore stock them?

I went in search of some great American theatre at our local chain store the other day. The play shelf is shared with celeb biographies. What did I find? Tennesse Williams? Arthur Miller? Nope. A dozen Shakespearean plays, and celeb biographies. Half the shelf was actually devoted to "Team Edward" backpacks. When that sort of merchandise takes over classics, I have to wonder.

I wanted to buy a new copy of "Where the Wild Things Are"(go see the movie- so not Disney!!) because my children wore ours out a few months ago. I found one copy in the whole store (not on display), but an entire display was set up for cheap stuffies of the characters.

Cormac McCarthy- two titles. One a fairly recent movie, the other an O selection. Proulx- nothing, I bought the only copy they ordered of Fine Just the Way it Is a month or so ago. And considering I live in Canada, how can a bookstore have no WO Mitchell, Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler, or Guy Vanerhaghe? And, only two Atwood? Yet, again, an entire display for the Twilight series.

I am not against mass market books, but the others are simply getting squeezed out of the bookstore for the sake of roomy displays.

My only options (living in a semi-remote community) are ebooks and places like Amazon. So yay internet, but WTF big chain bookstore. If you have an entire bookshelf for romances, westerns and sci-fi (nothing against them) you could at least clear out the backpacks for some Candian autors, or at the very least, a few classic american ones.

The only time I miss living near TO is when it comes to art.

Kate said...

I am certainly not an expert in economics by any stretch of my imagination. But I am wondering if this could lead to better literature on the shelves by way of 'separating the men from the boys' so to speak? If this change lessens the odds of fame and fortune, those that are truly committed to telling stories, not just getting rich, will stick it out.

Maybe?

Nathan Bransford said...

mark griffith-

I agree, this whole technology thing is such a passing fad! What fools we Americans are.

Anonymous said...

This situation makes me react two ways:

1-Hahahahaha! Major publishers are in a bind! You're paying out a zillion bucks for Palin crap, now you're not going to profit!

2-(sad face)! Major publishers are taking a beating, so new writers are up you-know-what creek. Sorry, Palin has taken all the money, so you're fresh out of luck. Your potential contract is out-o-luck.

Either way, it amuses me. People, if you want inexpensive (but quality) print or ebooks, see your local independent publishers and authors. They'll give you a better deal in either print or ebook.

In my opinion, ebooks should be sold for less than five bucks. $9.99 is an outrage.

Leila Austin said...

Marla Warren - Fair point. There are chains out there doing an excellent job too and facing very similar battles.

There was one chain where I live who used to be particularly awesome. They were bought out a few years back and all their stores disappeared. My family had spent hundreds of dollars on books from them over the years and we were all very upset. It's the same thing I guess, just on a larger scale.

I like to think there's always going to be a market for stores which look after readers rather than treating them like anonymous sheep. Also bookshops are a bookbuying destination. I've seen cheap books for sale at the supermarket, but that doesn't mean I go there for them especially.

I'm not from the US so I've never been to Walmart, but I imagine going to Walmart to buy a book is nowhere near as pleasant and fulfilling an experience as going to a bookshop for it, unless price is the only thing that matters to you. And hopefully that counts for something. Even if this is a new extreme, discounters have been selling incredibly cheap books for years, yet our jobs still exist.

Creative A said...

"Already Stephen King, an early e-book champion, announced that S&S will be delaying the release of the e-book edition of his new book, citing a desire to help bookstores, while simultaneously expressing concern that the deep print discounting 'threatens the industry's pricing structure.'"

I find this statement very, very interesting. Seems similar to the way movies come out. Do you think it's possible and feasible for books to "premier in hardcover" a few months before being available in e-book form?

Marilyn Peake said...

I spent time today doing two things: creating my own page on PUBLISHERS MARKETPLACE ... and researching how it is that WICKED author Gregory Maguire is giving away his next book for free. Found out some interesting information. He and quite a few other people, including Joyce Carol Oates, are on the board of the publishing house that’s giving away books for free. Concord Free Press has jumped into the publishing arena with a rather unique approach to today’s market: Concord Free Press website. In addition, they’ve opened up submissions to an anthology about money entitled I.O.U.. Here’s part of their blurb about it: "IOU is edited by Concord Free Press Poetry Editor Ron Slate. We’re planning a book launch to be held at—and with the support of—a major financial institution. Writing meets banking, should be interesting. Details to follow."

Ink said...

Terry,

I won't burst your bubble by telling you what's happening at my little Windsor store... but I appreciate the vote of confidence!

And the extra funny thing is that I actually used to work for Wal-Mart. My well-earned response to that experience can be found here.

Oh Wal-Mart days gone by, I miss you so...

Marla Warren said...

On the lighter side…

Nathan,

When your book is released, here’s a cake to celebrate!

I didn’t even know this could be done with a cake.

Terry said...

Ink- The way you wrote about your Wal-Mart experience was so funny. Loved the 7 Habits.

I'm hoping the best for you. If I get up to Ontario, I will surely visit you... And you will be there! Channeling Positive Thoughts!

Terry said...

Annomymous 4:30 said: "Truly I don't think e-books will catch on until the price of the e-readers are lowered or perhaps subsidized in some fashion. Spending nearly $300 up front isn't going to appeal to the masses that by books on impulse."

Right. Think Gillete. His philosophy was to sell the razor cheap and make money on the blades. Worked for him.

Nathan Bransford said...

marla-

Brilliant!!

Adam Heine said...

I can't remember ever spending more than $15 for a book. And that's for books I really want; usually I'm only willing to pay $5-10.

My thought process goes like this: (One Hand) Buy 1 brand new book that I really want OR (Other Hand) Buy 3-5 books that I've been meaning to read for a couple of years.

This is compounded by the knowledge that Brand New Book will become a Cheaper Book I've Been Meaning To Read in a year or two, and I'll have missed nothing.

min said...

I'll probably get hate mail for this, but paying $24.95 for a book is insane. That's a lot of dough for a couple days' worth of pleasure. I feel like we buy more books these days (as compared to depending upon the library growing up), and so we'd rather bulk up on the under $10 section of the world.
So the death of the hardback seems like a 'so what?" to me. Just print more paperbacks. The system will even itself out...won't it???

Dana Stabenow said...

Nathan, you say "Right now, even as WalMart, Amazon, Target and Sears fight it out for e-tailing primacy, publishers are still receiving the standard amount for every copy sold, or roughly 50% of the hardcover list price, meaning WalAmaTargEars are the ones taking a loss."

What is it about book buyers in particular that these stores are willing to take such a loss just to get them into the store?

Kristi said...

I like Rick's wine analogy - okay, maybe I just like wine, BUT if I get a great deal on a bottle (never $8.99 but we'll go with that), then I actually buy more expensive bottles to go along with it. I justify that I've saved money by finding a good deal and then spend more than I would have if I hadn't gotten the sale bottle. Also, I don't shop at Walmart - so there will still be people like me around feeding the book economy. I love buying books - and wine.

Terry Towery said...

Nathan,
What's your bottom-line take on this in terms of how it will affect those of us who have finished our first novel (just this week)and are polishing that query letter to send out?

Should we continue? Will agents such as yourself continue to accept and/or read unsolicited query letters?

I'm not worried, mind you. I write because I must. But things HAVE gotten a bit cloudy of late.

Word verification: premi. As in "Is my concern premature?"

Nathan Bransford said...

dana-

Most analysts I've read believe they're trying to use books as loss leaders so that people will buy other things. WalMart is trying to out-Amazon Amazon online, and so it made sense for them to go after their bread and butter. If WalMart, not Amazon, is perceived as having the cheapest books it cuts into Amazon's edge.

It's not so much about the books as it is about their broader businesses. That's also why some people are worried about them making so many inroads into the book market. As Eric at Pimp My Novel pointed out, books would have to compete with sofas, clothes, you name it for front-of-website treatment. Yet another challenge.

Matilda McCloud said...

Sadly, even in New York City, bookstores have closed. Two of my favorite B&Ns closed a few months ago, and I'm still in shock. I've never found anything to read in Wal-Marts, except mass market paperbacks and some discounted hardcovers. The whole thing just makes me sad. Please buy all the e-books you want, but also try and keep your local bookstore in business.

Ink said...

Thanks, Terry.

I think Wal-Mart has earned a little satire. :)

Anahita said...

A book is one item I select regardless of its price. If after I selected a book, I find a better price for it, I may go for that, but choosing a book based on its price...I don't think I have ever done that. Exciting new books, whatever their form or price may be, will for sure keep me!

Donna Hole said...

I too am "holding on for the ride."

I learned a long time ago not to jump on the latest, newest, thing in technology.

"Wait for it" has become my mantra. And here is definitive proof; if you wait a few months, something new will happen. Something different, and at the very least, xomething more affordable.

Nothing new under the sun indeed.

..........dhole

Mira said...

Okay, as usual, the business side of things it abit beyond me.

Without really understanding it, I like with Susan Quinn said very much.

However, one part really stood out for me, as an author. And I do realize, of course, that this has definite effects on business - that it's scary for independent bookstores. I'm not trying to diminish that.

But here's what stood out for me.

On a $25 hardcover, the author makes $2.12.

On a 9.99 e-book, if the author gets 40%, which is what Amazon offers, after the 15% to the agent, the author gets $3.40.

I just find that really interesting.

Diana said...

Umm, you actually have to buy your dog the pirate costume AND the prisoner costume in order to get a free book. :)

Personally, I hate shopping online. I spend a lot more money when I go into a bookstory than I do online, because it takes too long to browse online. Online shopping for books is only good if I know what I want or if it's a special order, otherwise going into the bookstore is faster and more profitable for the retailer when it comes to my purchases. I walk into a bookstore to buy A paperback novel and I walk out with an armload of books that I couldn't leave in the store.

Steve said...

If the publishing business self-destructs, that will not mean the end of good stories, although they may or not still flourish in book form.

I expect to anger a lot of people here, most of whom write commercially or aspire to. I'll say this. If writing were no longer a way to make money, I think there would be fewer books (or stories) but better ones, because people would write from their heart, not their wallet.

The noveel I'm working on is from my heart. The main reason I expect to seek traditional publishing is that is the best way (at present) to reach a good audience. I will accept money if it comes, but that's not why I'm doing this.

I've also been checking into channels to publish work free on the web (e.g. blog novels) with an option for the reader to buy or donate. Some of the sites out there seem to be evolving toward providing a quality experience for the reader and a good prospective audience for the writer.

Let's see what happens.

-Steve

Anonymous said...

I'm going to stay anonymous because I don't want to get spammed for what I'm about to say.

I am a mom and hopeful writer, whose husband has been out of work a lot the past couple of years. He's in construction; I work part-time.

I don't buy books because I can't afford them. If they are not in the library, or someone doesn't loan me a copy, I don't get to read them. It means I miss a LOT. But what else can I do?

I am not thrilled about this whole Kindle thing... I don't want to read a book on a tiny screen the way Captain Picard read his Star Trek Enterprise mail. For one thing, staring at a computer screen for work is hard enough on the eyes.

And I can't afford a Kindle to begin with. And God forbid I drop it! Oh my word! I wouldn't be able to read any thing until it was repaired or replaced.

So what I'm saying is this... while I have been accused of being a hypocrite because I want to write but don't buy books, the simple truth is I can't afford them. Perhaps I'm old, but I think $5 is too much to pay for a gallon of milk, and $25 is too much to pay for a novel. That's 1/4 of $100 for something I will finish reading in about a day! I can take my whole family to the movies for that.

I don't expect to make money writing. I don't look at it for the income. I do it because I love it, and maybe I'll be able to earn a little side money eventually. I think of it as pizza money, basically. Or a car payment.

Not a living.

Not that our words aren't worth it, but that... it just ain't gonna happen, economically speaking. Only people who are wealthy (or childless) can afford the luxury of books.

At least, that's the way I see it.

Anonymous said...

No, wait a minute, it's been so long since I went to the movies that I've forgotten how expensive they are... unless we hit a second-run matinee, we can't even go to the movies for $25.

I guess that's why we don't go.

Clarity said...

I planned a Dickens derivative in my new post, rethinking that.

I know that writers are by nature sensitive. But I think that the fear is not conducive to what they should be doing; getting on with being great and thinking of new ways to turn or go with the tide.

If anyone truly believes in their work and works to prove what they believe, they have nothing to worry about.

Amber said...

Thanks for throwing the horrid picture of the dog in the pirate costume in thee. I may have to gouge out my eyes. ^^

That said, I'm forwarding the link to my aunt, who will appreciate the horridness of it all. :-P

Thanks for your insight, Nathan! I almost bough a Kindle recently, and I'm glad I held off. The Nook looks... very exciting.

Kudos to Stephen King and waiting off.

Alena Thomas said...

The recent problem with our economy is going to affect the publishing industry, like any other, but will it be long-lasting? Will it be like the pirated music downloads or more reminiscent of the Dustbuster? Only time will tell. Will it kill my dream of becoming a published author? Maybe. Will it change the way I write or if I continue to write at all? No, because unlike most professions, being a writer isn’t contingent on your success or failure. If you are a writer, you write.

J. Nelson Leith said...

Steve, if you thought your comment was likely to anger a lot of people wanting to make a living as writers, this may result in waves of apocalyptic fury from everyone else.

Free writing "from the heart" is not necessarily "better." In fact, most of it is just bad, bad, bad. How many people here have suffered through an open-to-everyone writing workshop with no vetting for membership?

Yes, we can all hate on Dan Brown and J. K. Rowling, but these pop hacks are Steinbecks compared to the painfully confessional, over-artsified, or clumsily plagiaristic stuff that gets enthusiastically distributed for free by people writing solely for enjoyment.

"Oh, your weekly submission is a YA story about a teenage girl who slays vampires? Neat. I'll put it next to what seems to be a therapy session transcript and the ... uh ... four pages of color terms apparently intended to describe emotions."

The cold calculus of the marketplace can certainly be discouraging, distasteful to our artistic sensibilities, and even result in some uncomfortable outcomes (like megastar advances draining publishers' coffers) but the underlying reality is that for-profit professionals like agents, publishers, and booksellers constitute the only barrier between readers and really, really, REALLY bad writing.

Anonymous said...

I always find it interesting how people argue they don't believe e-books will ever replace the physical experience of book buying-beause that's how it works FOR THEM. But. What if it isn't about us? What if Big Business is looking forward to other potential, perhaps bigger, markets as well...

I look at my eleven yr old and his friends who've grown up with iPods and wii's and computers in the classroom and parents without landlines. I look at my teen and his friends with their smartphones and netbooks and anti-old ways attitudes. I look at my six yr old niece and her friends who've never seen a payphone and worry about their enviromental footprint. They're only ten, twenty yrs from adulthood and all that consumerism. And they LOVE their technology.

I have to think Big Business is looking at them too and thinking of the future...

Cheryl said...

Another perspective:

I have a note posted at my writing desk (mainly precipitated by the recession and my gargantuan freelancing tax tab) that reads, "BUY NO BOOKS." I've been borrowing from the library or buying cheap at yard sales all year.

You should know that when I saw the "10 hotly anticipated titles" link on your post, I clicked. I'd pay $10 or less for a book, and I'd feel good about it. I didn't know I was killing publishing as we know it.

Are there enough of me to mediate the impact?

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.J. Bennett said...

If I need a doggie vampire suit, I have one-stop shopping? Nice.

The Qui?... This is not good. I'll let you have the jokes, that's just bad...

:) Smile it's Friday!

Mira said...

Okay, I'm still trying to understand this. I re-read Nathan's post. So, the big thing about this is pricing for books will come down.....

Hmmmm......

The positive is that means books may reach more readers, and readership could go up in general.

The negative is the bottom line for publishers and independent bookstores, and possibly regular bookstores, may suffer.

Although if readership increases, it might not.

Either way, this will probably strengthen e-publishing.

So, we'll just have to wait and see what happens and how this affects things.

But authors - e-publishing is our future, from my perspective. E-publishing gives us greater profit, more control and ease of access. So, most likely, this will be a good thing for authors, not a bad one.

I think.

V said...

I'm bemused by the whole brouhaha of e-books and publishers fearing the deep discounts of retailers. What is stopping publishers from selling their own e-books? The science fiction/fantasy publisher Baen Books (www.baen.com) does exactly that.

In addition to distributing their own e-books (http://www.webscription.net/default.aspx) They sell them in multiple formats so every reader on the market is served. Plus the books are DRM free so the purchaser of the book is able to transfer it to any other device when the first one dies or becomes obsolete or gets replaced with better technology.

Their customers are loyal and pirates more or less leave them alone. Part of that is due to Baen's Free Library of E-books. Most of these are the early books in a series so readers can decide if they want to invest the money, time and emotion into a multi-book series.

Sounds like a pirate friendly place, that looses money hand over fist, doesn't it? According to Toni Weiskopf, pirates looking for pirated Baen books are directed to the publisher for the book in question. Baen Books takes the view that few pirated e-books floating around the web are a form of advertising. It also happens to be true. Every author in the Free Library has a back list that keeps selling in dead-tree versions.

Belinda Frisch said...

I think as readers and writers we all need to speak up. See, WE read blogs and know what happens from rock-bottom pricing. Realistically, starving artist actually starve (along with everyone else in the food chain). But when I tell this to an avid reader--I mean a purely recreational reader--they're shocked. People hear you've written a book and say, "geez, why do you still work"? Um, it's all about lights, heat, and power, friends. I advocate affordability, but only when it's necessitated. If you can spend $5+ on a coffee, you can spend $20 on a book. Period. I don't support resale, borrowing, or libraries because I have the $20 (from my day job). I also tend toward the up-and-coming instead of the already on top. Like everyone, I evaluate my book purchases but I feel a certain sense of charity when I pick up the new Joe Schreiber instead of say a Stephen King. Just my two cents. Take a stand and people will follow--if only a few.

Anonymous said...

When do you see the average sales for a commercially-published e-book hitting in the thousands per quarter? My agent suggested that as a possible alternative for a book of mine that isn't selling to print publishers, but I'd rather have sales in the thousands than in the hundreds.

I'm excited about the Nook, but I still won't get an e-reader until I know for sure the books I buy will remain mine, even if the authentication servers go down and the company goes out of business.

Chazz said...

What's an independent bookstore? I dimly remember something like that. Didn't they all become used bookstores already?

Anonymous said...

I just have to say: I LOVE bookstores. I love them. It's an entire experience. Something akin to going to the movies in my mind. A place you can get lost in potential adventures. Get away from everything for awhile. Even the vibe in the air is different. Deep chairs to peruse. Then you scuttle away like a pirate with your "booty"; a handful of treasure just waiting to be unleashed.

As far as cheap prices, well, I tell ya's, maybe it will be alright for midlist because folks will be more prone to buy that extra unheard of author with some of the extra money..?

Basically, I think everything is gonna be alright. Don't get your panties in a bunch. Write that story. Sing your song. The money will come.

L. V. Gaudet said...

Everything must change some time. It's inevitable. With the book industry it has been an unusually long time coming. With the growing dependence on everything technologic it only makes sense that books will lean that way too. But like the movie theatre there will still be a niche for printed books.

The way I see it there are three ways to meet that change.

1. Fight it. Stomp your feet, shake your fists at fate, sulk, mope, and blame somebody, but do your best to avoid it.

2. Ignore it. Pretend it isn't happening and go on as usual until that path comes to a dead end.

3. Embrace it. Live with it, deal with it, and change with it. Try to make it work to your advantage.

I'm going with three. I don't expect to be the next Stephen King or Dan Brown. I'm not writing to be rich and famous. I write because I love to, it makes me feel more alive than anything else. Making a partial living off it would just be a plus.

Even if my only option turned out to be self publishing on ebooks, I would still write. Maybe I'll even be able to pay the phone bill off it.

Abby said...

First, thanks for the link to the dog pirate costume - I plan to buy one and I don't even have a dog :)

Second, I would challenge all writers, published, not or in between to find a book this weekend and purchase it at full price. Yes you heard me full price. Support an author. Oh and spend some time searching - really look for that gem which WalAmaTargEars doesn't deem a bestseller (aka a pure breed) and find a "mutt." Mutts often make the best reads!

Ammie said...

Hmmm. I, for one, have no desire to read an e-book, no matter how adorable "the" device is, because ebooks make my eyes go blurry, and I also am bored by Walmart's list of cheap books. That's not to say that I doubt that the publishing industry is in for some changes. However, as Marshall McLuhan says, the media itself speaks a message. Warm, smooth, papery codexes aren't done speaking.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Gotta agree with J.Nelson Leith on that one.

People romanticize "writing from the heart" like it's some kind of mystical experience. It's not - it's a rough draft. You write out the book the way you want it, but the way you want it isn't necessarily the way readers want to read it.

Most of the slush that never gets published is "from the heart", as is most of what's run through author mills. But the ones who've written it see it as their "vision" and don't want to hear that there's anything wrong with their baby.

Write from your heart; edit from your head.

SphinxnihpS of Aker-Ruti said...

Well, let's say ebooks do make print books extinct. I don't think they will, but let's say they do, or they get to the point where it is print books that are rarer buys than ebooks. Anyway, my question is, if that happened, what would stop the publishers from just selling directly to the public and forgoing the expense of bookstores?

Just an odd question I came up with as I read this post.

Jodi

Anonymous said...

welcome to the music world. When itunes made one song worth only $1 it ruined the music business. If you by only one song from an album it should atleast be worth $5 or more. If you buy the album you should get a deal-- but a record only being worth about $10 is the same as a book being worth $10-- really the same amount has probably gone into making both.

Get ready for the big one-- you have just begun to see the ride wait until your industry gets a huge hit like the record business.

Susan Quinn said...

"Write from your heart; edit from your head." Josin L. McQuein

I love this! Get your heart into that first draft, and then polish/edit/revise so that what your heart meant to say shines forth.

And your paragraph shows that brilliance, JLM!

J. Nelson Leith said...

First, thanks Josin. You actually expanded on what I was saying, but I agree with where you took it.

Also, in response to several comments above: Why do we have to diminish the legitimate complaints and concerns people have as if they are simply throwing tantrums, being "glass half empty" pessimists, or afraid of change? This is not an honest or rational way of engaging with a serious issue.

This is particularly true of the cross-market gamesmanship of Wal-Mart, which is not simply a technical innovation that can be adapted to. If super-actors who are effectively insulated from free-market accountability through diversification can undercut the profitability of one market in order to profit in others, this poses a very real existential threat to the parasitized market.

No dedicated bookseller, large or small (never mind independents) can survive if a cross-market actor consistently sells under cost. It essentially transforms books into a marketing tool for selling Wal-Mart/Target clothes, soda, and dishwashing liquid.

All the happy thoughts in the world won't save a sabotaged market: only carefully considered anti-trust measures designed to foster genuine, itemized competition.

Thradar said...

Why do ebooks cost so much. I recently looked up the price of the current book I'm reading. Same price as the paperback. Call me old fashioned but I'd rather be holding a paperback for the same price. I know it's the future, but I'm not about to pay the same money to beam down some 1s and 0s to my reader as I'd pay for a good old fashioned book.

Anonymous said...

J. Nelson Leith,

I couldn’t agree with you more! I don’t think it’s pessismistic to look reality square in the face. That’s the only way to deal with it and make effective changes. Reality is what it is: the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes it’s more ugly than at other times, but you can’t succeed unless you look at it without flinching.

When this conversation started yesterday, I checked two Forbes lists for 2009: richest billionaires in the world and richest Americans. The Walmart heirs actually fill the spots for 11th, 12th, 13th AND 14th top billionaires in the world, as well as the 4th, 5th, 6th AND 7th richest Americans. If they want to corner the market on books, they have the money to accomplish it.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 2:43 AM

I'm with you all the way. I borrow books, or get them from the Library.

Some people cannot afford a $25.00 book, and from the $25.00 to $30.00books I've read from the Library, they just weren't worth it.

Those inflated prices are there to pay all the middle people involved and keep the big names big. Some of us just can't afford to support that.

So be as judgemental as you want for those of us who don't buy books, but not everyone has that extra cash to fill agents, publishers, authors, distributors pockets with those over inflated prices.

Good for Walmart and others who are making it affordable.

Other Lisa said...

Wal Mart is evil. I strongly recommend you read the above Pulitzer Prize winning series by the Los Angeles Times. It tells you everything you need (or feared) to know about the real cost of "low prices."

shorty411 said...

Nathan,

I work at a Barnes and Noble and I had to laugh at your "THE" Alex, "THE" Que and "THE" Nook and that you didn't have a problem with "THE" Nook. The reason I thought it was hilarious was because our managers and everyone else at BN is having fits about us calling it "THE" Nook. According to them it is not a noun but a "lifestyle". I pause for laughter :) So as you are emphasizing the "THE" with the Nook, we are constantly being reminded that it is just "Nook". And the jokes about Que? What about the Nookie jokes? :) Thanks for your great blog!

Steve said...

J Nelson - I understand your concern. I have seen free books that are pretty unreadable. But I was talking about something other than just technical proficiency. People wruiting for money will write what they think will sell. People writing from their heart will write what they care about. In the long run, I think the things people care about are the things most worth reading about.

An outstanding example of this is the book "In His Steps" by Charles Sheldon. This is a classic of Christian literature. It is reputedly the number 2 all-time Christian best seller after the Bible. Sales estimates range from 8 million to 30 million. It is credited with popularizing, if not inventing the phrase "What Would Jesus Do". Sheldon cared so little for commercialism that he failed to register copyright and the book was picked up by several publishers who published it on their own and gave him nothing.

Some have said that the quality of the writing is poor by literary standards, I wouldn't know. I found it on a free site the other nuight and read several chapters. It is compelling.

Live Like Him!

-Steve

Anthony James Barnett - author said...

As an emerging author the situation feels quite drastic.

I can go into a local store and purchase a book by a well-known author for less than I can get my own discounted books from my own publisher.

How can we compete. No one wants to buy an 'unknown' when a 'big' author is so cheap. At this rate there will soon be no new books. The market will close down

Anonymous said...

Walmart has such a piss-poor selection of books, who ever considers going there for that anyway? Okay, so maybe they get the price of the most ridiculously over-priced books to come down, that's not going to do anything to the rest of the market. As long as "bookstore" is synonymous with "books", you don't have to worry about Walmart. AMazon, otoh... I don't do business with them, but that's mostly because I prefer to physically browse a book before I decide to buy it.

Christine H said...

Re: Nooks - I find it absolutely hysterical that a book reader would be called "The Nook." Because according to Dr. Seuss, Nooks can't read.

"We took a look.
We saw a Nook.
On his head he had a hook.
On his hook he had a book.
On his book was "How to Cook.
...
But a Nook can't read, so a Nook can't cook.
So what good to a Nook is a hook cook book?"

- One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish

Michael L. Martin Jr. said...

Was that a GZA reference I heard?

Nathan Bransford said...

michael-

Glad someone caught it!

mexh said...

Will different retailers start to feature alternate "special bonuses?" Buy it on Amazon and get it bundled with the soundtrack the author claims to have listened to while writing. Or get it and Target and get a bonus DVD interview with the Author.... just a thought. Its already happening with so many other releases.

Franzine Kafka said...

I am curious as to why Walmart hasn't instead chosen to lower the price on music CDs. Many industry experts have commented that music prices are simply too high and that CD prices must be lowered to compete with illegal downloading. Amazon occasionally sells mp3s for $3.99 an album, and this greatly increases sales. Seems like Walmart exerting downward pressure could be a good thing in the case of music, where the execs are simply too paralyzed to make a big change.

royalLD said...

What came to mind when I read this was, "Who is John Galt?" Will Atlas soon Shrug?

Steve said...

RoyalLD - Who is Eddie Willers?

Frederick Glaysher said...

The author left out several very important developments that point to the future of the publishing.


The Mission of Earthrise Press
http://www.fglaysher.com/mission_of%20earthrise_press.html

Order Books
http://www.fglaysher.com/order_books.html

s.w. vaughn said...

Just frigging stop frigging publishing in frigging hardcover. Problem solved.

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