Nathan Bransford, Author


Friday, May 21, 2010

This Week in Publishing 5/21/10

Thisssss Week in Publishing

The big chatter this week in the Publishingosphere (well, besides #LesserBooks) is J.A. Konrath's announcement that he is doing a direct deal with Amazon for his new novel SHAKEN, which will be priced at $2.99, and which is the latest in a series that had been published by Hyperion. I'd accordingly like to devote a few more paragraphs to this than I normally do in a This Week in Publishing Roundup.

Among the reactions around the blogosphere: Mike Shatzkin called it a "benchmark event," and notes that this marks a "significant jolt" to publishing economics: "Sales of Konrath’s $2.99 ebook will deliver him about $2.10 a copy (Konrath says $2.04; not sure where the other six cents is going…), as much or more as he would make on a $14.95 paperback from a trade publisher, and significantly more than he’d make on a $9.99 ebook distributed under “Agency” terms and current major publisher royalty conventions."

Author Jason Pinter wonders if Konrath's very public experience is going to drive some authors to self-publish before they're really ready, Sarah Weinman doesn't think it's a game-changer but notes that Amazon-as-publisher is a significant development, and Bloomsbury publisher Peter Ginna notes that there's not going to be any one game-changer but any number of game-changing challenges as the industry evolves its way into the e-book era.

My own feeling is that I'm a little surprised that everyone is so surprised. I also think it's important to remember that there isn't going to be any one way people publish books for the foreseeable future, there will be no single fatal blow to publishers and a mad rush for the exits, nor will traditional publishers necessarily be able to count on authors needing them to reach readers (especially when they're paying paltry e-book royalties). Instead there will be a spectrum of options, from the traditional to the unconventional, and what works for one author, even wildly well, is not necessarily going to work for another.

Whether Konrath's model of publishing becomes far more common also depends a great deal on what the future of e-bookselling looks like. Right now, because Amazon got out in front with the Kindle and built a large early market share lead, Konrath is able to reach the majority of e-book customers simply by dealing directly with Amazon. But the more successful e-booksellers there are and the more market share they represent (iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Sony, etc. with Google on the horizon and surely more to come), the more unwieldy it becomes for an author to try to reach all the possible markets on their own, especially if these vendors aren't willing to deal with individual authors because of issues of scale (it's way easier to deal with one publisher with 1,000 books than 1,000 individual authors).

And in that case, guess what: authors may need e-distributors to reach the most readers possible, just like they needed distributors in the olden days of paper. And all of a sudden intermediaries (including publishers) will have a new life and purpose, and authors dealing directly won't be as feasible.

So yes, let's note this development as another signpost as the industry evolves, but let's not write publishers' obituaries either. This could be the way of the future, or it could be an aberration due to a temporary landscape where one e-bookseller has built a big lead. Either way, my hat's off to Konrath. We need more experimentation.

Meanwhile! There was more news in publishing this week, and here it be:

Still more e-book news as the Wall Street Journal has an in-depth article on the looming challenges the digital era is posing on Barnes & Noble as it confronts the possibility of going the way of record stores (via Dick Hannah).

My wonderful colleague Ginger Clark's wonderful client Steph Bowe wrote a great post about whether age matters in publishing and her experiences getting a book deal. DID I MENTION SHE'S 16? Hilarity: "I'm 16. I got a book deal when I was 15. There are authors that were published at 13 and 14 and I always find myself thinking, God, must I fail at everything I do?" Ha. Already a grizzled veteran!

Dystel & Goderich agent Michael Bourret notes that as consumers grow increasingly empowered to try and boycott books for not being available at their preferred price and format, it's really authors who suffer most of all.

And George Washington's descendants can breathe a little easier that they're not on the hook for a massive library fine: a book he borrowed 221 years ago was finally returned (via Stephen Parrish)

This week in the Forums, the importance of buying a domain for your name/pen name and how to do it, you have another think coming, book title inspirations, and I think people are nearly ready to riot about Lost.

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Nancy, who has a great spin on a quote from Agatha Christie about being a writer:

My screen saver is a marquee that quotes Agatha Christie: "I assumed the burden of the profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you are writing, and aren't writing particularly well," to which I would add, "and even when it feels like no one else likes what you write either..."

And finally, with the Lost finale on Sunday it's quite the end of an era as one of the great (if often frustrating) shows of the aughts comes to a close. And let's be honest, perhaps no show in history made us do this quite as much:



I'll miss you, Lost!

Have a great weekend!






99 comments:

cheekychook said...

Yes, the conclusion of LOST definitely marks the end of an era. It's a good thing The Bachelorette premiere airs the following night. The storyline's not nearly as complicated, but the editing is certainly creative.

Ted Cross said...

I'm making it my goal to make it into Nathan's Week in Publishing someday!

veela-valoom said...

I'm so excited about the Lost finale. How many shows get to be this complex, creative and strange AND actually finish their storyline.

I'd rather it end then fizzle out. So Hurrah for Lost!

Daniel W. Powell said...

Hey Nathan,

Where is Lebron going? I'd love to do a sign-and-trade deal and ship LMA and Oden to Cleveland and get the king to Portland to play with Brandon Roy...

Check this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHFUJ7ksczg

jjdebenedictis said...

I know J. A. Konrath's tales of his flirtation with self-publishing has my ears pricking up.

I am still trying to be patient with traditional publishing, however. Seeing my book on the shelves of my local store is a benchmark I really want to reach.

Emily White said...

What?

Sorry, couldn't resist. :)

Julie said...

I love that you highlight the evolution of publishing in light of new e-book developments. The book world has always seemed to me (from afar) one of the most vibrant, purring with possibilities -- why not explore them to the maximum? Not that there aren't consequences either way, of course...

Thanks for this great round-up!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@Daniel Powell

Ha! That was priceless. Almost makes me want to go to Dallas.

Claudie said...

Maan, I wish libraries were as nice to me as they are to George Washington. ;)

Also, lynch me, but I never went past the second season of Lost? I'll have to loan them this summer!

Nathan Bransford said...

daniel-

Haha... that was pretty impressive.

ParisBreakfasts said...

Interesting play about publishing and finding something in the slushpile on the BBC...
Called,'Cinders'

treeoflife said...

I have to agree with Sarah Weinmann... the J.A. Konrath publishing directly with Amazon is not that big of a deal.

It was the 7th in a series that was dropped by conventional publishing houses, most certainly because they weren't making money off of them.

For $2.99, I'm sure I'll get exactly what I pay for. A cheap book. This latest book by him will be published without the benefit of the editing that his old publishing house provided.

The price of the book is less important than the value of my time it takes to read one. I'd happily pay $20, or more, to read a good book, but wouldn't pay anything to read a bad one.

Cheap books won't replace good ones any time soon.

Anonymous said...

Great for Konrath, but he's doing this with a fan base. Whenever I read about something like this - self-publishing (or, self-releasing) - I think about it as the Prince phenom. Who released his own music, but well after millions of Warner Brother Records dollars and marketing / pr muscle had been invested in his career. Ditto, Anne Rice, or Stephen King's forays into new platforms. Common sense would seem to dictate that, until there are equivalent economies of scale, Konrath's strategy is destined to be the exception not the rule ... esp. since, no matter how much e-books are growing, paper books are still 90% of the business.

Chuck H. said...

So, let me get this straight. G. W. couldn't tell a lie but he could be a book thief?

Kari said...

I'm not surprised about the self-publishing with Amazon, either--this is capitalism at work. If an author can make more money by publishing directly with Amazon, then why wouldn't they do it? As always, I'm very interested to see what the upshot will be five years out. Guess I'll just have to be patient...

I hope you're right, though, and the diversity of the market will keep publishers in business.

Jaimie said...

I don't care about keeping publishing in business as much as keeping art and literature in the hands of the public. Whatever needs to happen, I'm fine with.

I will probably consider e-publishing, but not until 2-3 years from now when I understand the market better... and things settle. Until then, I'm looking for an agent like the best of them.

Mira said...

Wow, interesting links this week, Nathan. Thank you! I feel very informed every Friday.

In terms of what's happening with Konrath - yes. I think Amazon is courting authors, while Apple is courting publishers...for now.

I think e-book devices will go the same way as cell phones. There will be one or two that will win the market, with a few minor stragglers.

There will probably be sharing of applications - just like now, where you can download Kindle to I-pad....or, there will be author wars. It will be a commodity market, with authors as the commodity. And thus the need for agents.

You may be right, Nathan, in that an intermediary will still be needed, but honestly, I doubt it. Maybe at first, but down the road. Why would there be a need for that? The e-book folks won't want it - why cut someone else into the deal?

E-book folks will find their own ways to screen for authors, most likely by employing the folks who are in publishing now. I sometimes think that current publishing won't die - it will be absorbed.

I could be completely wrong about any or all of this, because, honestly, what do I know? But that's what I think from my tiny viewpoint - the field will flatten to author/seller.

Okay, that's alot, and you have many other wonderful links, so I'll be back to comment on them.

Thanks for the chance to pontificate. :)

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Joe Konrath said...

It was the 7th in a series that was dropped by conventional publishing houses, most certainly because they weren't making money off of them.

I've made about $30k in royalties--above an beyond my six figure advance--on my Hyperion books. They're all still in print and making money. My publisher dropped the entire mystery line, me included.

For $2.99, I'm sure I'll get exactly what I pay for. A cheap book.

For $1.99, I've sold 46,000 of these cheap books, and based on both sales and reviews, people seem to like them.

Come July, when Amazon's royalty rate goes to 70%, I'll be earning $450 per day--that's "daily"--on cheap books. Which is more than 99% of writers publishing at major houses earn--over $170,000 per year.

without the benefit of the editing that his old publishing house provided.

Of course it will be edited.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Konrath said...

Great for Konrath, but he's doing this with a fan base.

I'm wondering if this argument will ever die.

Here are a bunch of authors selling as well as I am on Kindle. As far as I know, none of them have agents or print deals or fan bases. They are relative unknowns.

Karen McQuestion, Marshall Thornton, Debbi Mac, Charles Shea, Rex Kusler, Joe Humphrey, MH Sargent, Jonny Tangerine, TC Beacham, RE Conary, Maria E Schneider, Connie Shelton, Norbert Davis, David L Erickson, Joseph Rhea, Eric Christopherson, Christian Cantrell, John Dillard, Michael E Marks, Stacey Cochran, Christopher Cihlar, Lewis E Aleman, Lee Doty, James Sperl, Robert Williams, David Derrico, Matthew Bryan Laube, Gregory Holden, Andrew Chapman, Linda Welch, CS Marks, Sandy Nathan, Keith Knapp, Andrew W Mitchell, and Gary Hansen.

That list took ten minutes to compile, just surfing Kindle genre lists.

To sell well on Kindle, you don't need a previous platform. Folks are doing it with a good books priced cheap.

D.J. Morel said...

I've been following Konrath for some time on his blog, surprised at how little attention he's had until now. The growth trajectory on his self-published books is staggering.

I'm surprised that you didn't mention that his agent was involved in the deal with AmazonEncore. He specifically mentions his "terrific agents" in his post.

Shawn Kamesch said...

Nathan, I've been reading for a while, but this is my first time commenting... I found your analysis of the e-publishing trend refreshingly rational and well-thought-out. There are so many voices out there on the "internets" and reason often gets lost in the fray.

Thanks for offering a shade of gray to this issue--one that I can get behind!

ICQB said...

Concerning self-publishing and e-books, I have a little experiment going. I've self-published a very small Christmas story through amazon's Kindle. I turned down a real publishing contract offered for this piece a few months ago (long story). After reading Konrath's articles on Galley Cat, I decided to experiment with the e-book platform and self-publishing.

I've only done limited promotion (I'm not great at self-promotion). It's been up for sale for maybe three weeks or so. I've sold 8 copies. It's priced to sell at $0.99.

I'm sure if I were better at self-promotion (and if it were closer to Christmas), it might sell a bit better.

But I'm letting the experiment run. We'll see what happens.

Dan said...

Konrath is really on the cutting edge of making proverbial lemonade out of lemons.

Where other authors would say a book went out of print, Konrath sees his rights reverting to him to use as he wishes.

He's developed the model for turning out-of-print books and rejected manuscripts into revenue streams, and he should be admired for that. But, however he spins it, he'd rather the books stay in print, and he'd rather the publisher pick up his manuscript.

And, as long as that's true, what's happening here is not a significant development for publishing at large.

If Shatzkin's vision of an e-book world comes true, then an author may one day be handicapping himself to be priced at $9.99 by his publisher, to make a $2 royalty, instead of self e-publishing for $2.99 and making the same $2.

But I think e-books are going to plateau. Books aren't improved in any way by being transmitted in digital formats, and holding price equal, consumers are indifferent at best, and most will prefer the paper.

Agency pricing is pushing the cost of most popular ebooks higher, and that's going to slow the growth of e-book sales. I'd prefer an e-book at $10 to a hardcover at $17, but if the e-book is $15, I'll probably take the hardcover.

treeoflife said...

Mr. Konrath, your comment has given me something to think about.

My question for you is this:

Why aren't you charging more for your book?

If it's good, you're turning away a lot of people with the cheap price. There are plenty of people like me who'll say "$1.99? Discount book. It must suck."

I understand you're making a good living at the rate you're charging, but I don't think people are just buying your book because it's cheap.

You have a decent following and a track record. A fan base. You don't need to be the low cost leader. Don't you think you could charge more?

Doug Pardee said...

There's already one way to get one's self-published e-book onto the listed non-Amazon booksellers (iBooks, B&N, Kobo, and Sony) in one fell swoop: Smashwords publishes through all of those. Okay, they're just now getting Sony on-line as a retailer, but they're getting there.

Probably more significant, though, is that Google Editions has said that they're going to function as a distributor as well as a retailer.

Nathan Bransford said...

doug-

Right, and I think there are going to be a variety of different e-distribution options in addition to publishers. But already you're seeing the intermediaries spring up. Right now it's a bit of a wild landscape, but I wonder if the future is going to look like the present, except maybe with more options.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm really interested in Konrath's experience with publishing through Amazon, but I wonder how much it will really tell us about the future of self vs. traditional publishing since he's already an established figure in the field and doesn't have to build an audience.

LOST FINALE I AM SO EXCITED YOU HAVE NO IDEA. I'm sitting here wondering why it isn't Sunday yet. Sure, the show has had its ups and downs, but since the smoke monster pulled the pilot out of the tree and those polar bears came crashing out of the jungle, I knew I'd follow that show to the end.

Anonymous said...

George Washington has no direct descendents. So no one was on the hook, anyway.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

That was a joke.

Marilyn Peake said...

It’s interesting to see famous authors experimenting with different e-publishing companies: Stephen King in 2000, Douglas Clegg with selected titles at Scribd.com.

LOL, that Lost video! I’m so far behind in watching that series, even though I seriously love it. I’m close to finishing Season 2, and, yes, I’ve said "What?!?" many, many times already. That show is made of awesome.

Mayowa said...

Woa...Mr. Konrath in the (virtual) flesh, and handing out smackdowns to boot.

Going to be a great weekend.

Marilyn Peake said...

Whoa. This is awesome! Joe Konrath popping up here to take part in the discussion about his books. Kudos to you! And congratulations on the number of books you’re selling!

I’m trying to go in the opposite direction: trying to go from small indie press to being represented by an agent and published by a big publishing house. Right now, my indie books are available on all the new eBook devices: iPad, Kindle, Nook. In many ways, it’s a great time to be a writer!

Mary McDonald said...

I keep toying with the idea of self epublishing. Some days, I really want to do that, but other days, I tell myself to keep querying, but it's very frustrating.

Bob said...

I've been following and riding this eBook wave for a little while. I'm both traditionally published (over 40 titles) and also started my own publishing company for both my backlist, new works, and other authors and we now have 19 titles up on various platforms, including Kindle.

I think there are some things that aren't being noted. First, any contract the requires a non-disclosure agreement raises red flags and goes against the openness with which things had apparently been going before. What's there to hide?

Also, one wonders how many authors, in search of full disclosure, buy their own books in bulk to 'juke the stats' as they would say on The Wire. How many do this to bump themselves up on Kindle to get linked to other books and jumpstart sales?

The vagaries of publishers are strange. I had a nine book series that sold over a million copies canceled by Random House so I understand sometimes it has nothing to do with the quality of the book.

Few authors are going to succeed by self-publishing fiction. I'm not being mean, I'm being realistic. In 2004 there were 1.2 million titles available and 950,000 of them sold less than 99 copies. Just because those self-published books are now in eBook format doesn't change that much. Yes, you're listed on Kindle. But as noted, there as so many platforms out there, we have one person working full time trying to keep up with getting our titles formatted and up on them.

I find the glee with which many writers anticipate the fall of traditional publishing a bit off-putting as I noted in my blog. Certainly it is hard dealing with the 'big six" (BTW, where is HQ in all this given that romance sells 56% of fiction?). But agents, editors and publishers are not the enemy. We all want to publish good books. It's just hard being in the entertainment business which is an oxymoron: entertainment= emotion; business= logic.

I wish all writers the best with their books, but also recommend looking at things very carefully.

Anonymous said...

In my humble opinion, epublishing will never be the utopia that many wannabe writers would like it to be. For a very SLIM few, maybe. But the dilutional effect of all those MS floating in cyberspace will kill any possibilities for the vast majority.

And Bob, thanks for the shout out for the romance genre!

Anonymous said...

"Also, one wonders how many authors, in search of full disclosure, buy their own books in bulk to 'juke the stats' as they would say on The Wire. How many do this to bump themselves up on Kindle to get linked to other books and jumpstart sales?"

It's impossible to prime the pump -- I'd love to do that, but Amazon will only let me buy one copy of any digital book (they keep track of what I've purchased on my account). I'd have to strong arm 1,000 friends to buy my book to "juke the stats".

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm thrilled things are working out well for Joe Konrath. It can only help the rest of us.
I gave up on Lost two seasons ago but I might catch up on video.

wendy said...

I found this post about self-publishing, the Kindle and Mr Konrath's experiences very interesting and timely. Thanks for this info and links, Nathan.

Denise of Ingleside said...

Gosh, i needed that laugh about Lost :D i dread Sunday!

J. T. Shea said...

Why take any notice of Agatha Christie? After all, she's only sold two billion books...

Lee Goldberg suggests Joe Konrath basically just changed publisher from Hyperion to Amazon. Is this really Amazon vs the Big Six or is Amazon becoming the Big Seventh? Of course, 'traditional' publishers' disinterest in Konrath's latest book (in the form of an outline and two sample chapters) could not possibly have anything to do with the way he's been bad-mouthing them so loudly and for so long!

I still preach the fundamental absurdity of tying certain books to certain gadgets. What TV producer in his right mind would make a program that could only be watched on (say) Samsung TVs? And what viewer would change his TV or buy several different TVs to watch different programs? Future ages will marvel, and laugh.

Transferable applications help but do not eliminate the inconvenience. And convenience is all. Convenience is otherwise Amazon's main strength. People buy from Amazon to avoid the inconvenience of browsing and registering elsewhere.

Mike Shatzkin (& Treeoflife) draw attention to the influence of time versus money on book buying, important in an age where it takes much less time to earn the cost of a new book (even a hardcover) than to read it.

As for Lesser Books, I'd definitely read STARSHIP PLUMBERS. In fact, I'm thinking of writing a sad tale called DEATHSTAR CONSTRUCTION WORKERS aka EVEN DROIDS HAVE SOULS.

Lost? What?

Anonymous said...

I've bought a few iffy books on my ereader and it's turned me off to books that aren't published by traditional houses (except some nonfiction). Maybe some people don't care about quality and will read anything. But even if the books are edited by outside editors, it's not the same as books edited by in house editors where the reputations of the editor and the publishing house are on the line...yes, an author's reputation would be on the line, too, with a self-published ebook but ego gets in the way for most authors. They usually can't see their work objectively.

Joe Konrath said...

however he spins it, he'd rather the books stay in print, and he'd rather the publisher pick up his manuscript.

Not at all. I'm putting two original novels on Kindle this month. I had offers from mainstream publishers, but turned them down. I'll make more money self-pubbing.

Why aren't you charging more for your book?

Digital media wants to be free. Low price is the next best thing.

I've compared my $1.99 ebooks to the $5 and $10 ebooks of mine my publishers sell, and I make a great deal more money on the less expensive ones. I've done side by side comparisons on my blog several times. Bottom line: because my print publishers have my ebooks and are pricing them to high, I'm losing about $100k per year. I'd be selling a ton more if the prices were dropped.

Of course, 'traditional' publishers' disinterest in Konrath's latest book (in the form of an outline and two sample chapters) could not possibly have anything to do with the way he's been bad-mouthing them so loudly and for so long!

Please point out where I've bad mouthed a publisher. Never have. I have tried, for over a year, to get them to understand the significance of what is currently happening in the industry, and I have called them out for mistakes they have made, but I don't tend to bad mouth anyone.

Also, Shaken was rejected prior to me getting into ebooks.

I love publishers. They've been wonderful to me, and I've worked with some terrific people. But, man, are they missing the boat.

Joe Konrath said...

But I think e-books are going to plateau.

They will, eventually. But right now they're supposedly 6% of the market.

Let's say there's an installed used base of 40 million people with ereaders. This is conservative. There are 70 million iphones and ipod touches, and this summer they'll all get the iBookstore app. So we may see 80 million ereading devices y the end of this year.

But let's stick with 40 million. If I sell 1000 ebooks a day, for 100 years, I still won't fully saturate that market. And 1000 ebooks a day--which I foresee happening--is close to a million bucks a year to the author. I'm already selling 220 per day, on Kindle alone, with ebooks in their infancy.

Plateau? Not for a while.

Books aren't improved in any way by being transmitted in digital formats, and holding price equal, consumers are indifferent at best, and most will prefer the paper.

There won't be equal prices. Ebooks will be less. All tech and media come down in prices.

And you really don't think ebooks are an improvement? You can store thousands of books on a device. Adjust font size. Have the Kindle read the book aloud to you. See a book you like and download it instantly, without going to the bookstore.

If we grew up reading ebooks, there wouldn't be a single reason to invent a paper version. We like paper because of nostalgia. The story isn't on the page, it's in the reader's head. The delivery system doesn't matter...

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

I’m not agented or published, but I’ve been following writers and agent’s blogs for three years now, and if the big 6 didn’t see this e-book situation coming then they need to sack some CEO’s and executive management.
What they should have done is set up their own company similar to Amazon, teamed up with a digital company and produced their own kindle e-book reader thingy. Partner with a phone company, media company, something big company, so every e-book has 30 seconds of advertising, $10 phone credit, 1 gigabyte of internet, a $2 music download, and a big mac coupon.

Don’t mess around; improve the security to prevent piracy. Plug the reader into the internet and upgrade security for free. The device won’t let you view new content unless the security is upgraded.

The advertising alone would be worth millions. Think superbowl! Give authors 40 - 50% royalties. Everyone makes money and everyone has a job.

Kudos to Konrath for showing some initiative, and stop with the assumptions about the quality of Konrath’s editing or information. His blog is overflowing with free information. The man loves the industry of writing and publishing and he’s taking risks for all of us. He’s the pioneer that the big 6 should have been.

treeoflife said...

Mr. Konrath, I think a lot of what you said about epublishing and ebooks is accurate.

What I'm concerned about is quality. I'm one of the 10% of readers that buy 90% of the books, so I take my reading seriously.

With exception of writers like yourself who have a track record to back up your quality, isn't it safe to say 99% of the people self-publishing online have no major credentials?

For most of these $1.99 books, how do I know I'm not buying a bad book? At least with a traditional publisher, I know the book was one that got accepted out of the hundreds that were rejected, and that it was edited by some pretty decent people. Sure, it's not a guarantee of quality, but it increases the odds.

I've already mentioned that I value my reading time. Why would I take a chance with my time on a cheap book that didn't cut it with the traditional publishers?

Mira said...

I second the kudos to Konrath!

I also keep coming back to this as a management issue.

Bob, I've been in management for many years. I've had many staff turn down work for higher pay because they like working for me - in the environment I've created.

If I had staff who were ready to jump ship at the smallest provocation, or who would actively applaud if they could work for someone else, or I got fired, I would assume I was doing something terribly, terribly wrong.

If some writers are gleeful at idea of the fall of publishing, that's a management issue. Publishing has not built the loyalty and morale that it could have.

And Simon - I agree. I've also thought that traditional publishers should jump on the e-book bandwagon if they want to survive.

More importantly, though, they need to start developing better relationships with writers - not guilt trips or various tactics - but genuine collegial relationships - with a significantly better royalty rate -or they risk the possiblity that writers will leave en masse as soon as they are able to do so.

These things need to happen fast, imho. They need to move quickly to build writer loyalty, to enter the e-book market. If they wait, the ship will pass.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Mira,

I think there's a flaw in that argument. The writers who want the publishing system to fail aren't the ones on the inside, just as it's not your employees who want things to fail. It's the ones on the outside who want this.

In other words, it's the people who applied to work for you and didn't get a job. And didn't get a job with any of the other similar companies/facilities. They're the ones who want to take you down.

Still a management issue? :) I mean, you found great people, you're doing great work, everyone who works for you is happy... but people on the outside aren't. Time to make managerial changes?

Anonymous said...

"For most of these $1.99 books, how do I know I'm not buying a bad book? "

Easy. I've picked up dozens of indie reads from Kindle store, all very good. They key is to look at the ranking -- anything ranked under 2500 or so is a great read. Typically these are books that have been missed -- rejected for reasons other than quality by the traditional industry. The ranking shows they've been vetted by the Kindle community (nobody gets to that rank if the book sucks -- the community rates and vets the books).

Pretty much that's it. Simple, elegant, and there are some fantastic reads that were completely missed by the industry for whatever reason -- maybe the slush piles are just too big for them to give enough attention to every submission.

It's fun and satisfying to find these books on Kindle.

Mira said...

Bryan -

My impression isn't that it's only people from the outside. I've read many accounts of folks who had bad experiences inside and aren't happy with publishing.

But that's just an impression - I think it's impossible to know whether it's folks outside or inside without getting hard numbers through a survey or something...

So let's assume for the moment that you're right, and it's just a case of 'sour grapes' or something.

Let's take the example of Google. Google gets upwards of 2,000 resumes a day. Here's a link to the first place that came up when I googled (ha!):

http://davisadvertising.wordpress.com/2008/02/04/how-many-resumes-does-google-receive-a-day/

With those kinds of number, can you imagine how many people Google turns down? Yet, I don't see folks anticipating Google demise with 'glee'.

A very important point: If I run an organization, and the people within in it are happy, I won't stop getting resumes to join my organization the moment another work alternative comes up.

But listen - whenever I post this kind of thing, I get flack for being critical of publishing. No one seems to understand that I'm trying to HELP. How can you solve a problem if you won't look it in the eye?

Anonymous said...

" there are some fantastic reads that were completely missed by the industry for whatever reason"

I need to clarify here. Many indie books on Kindle store were submitted to agents/traditional publishing, but some works are written for ebook market only. A good example would be Zoe Winter's novellas.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Mira,

Oh, I totally understand where you're coming from. You got a great heart!

And I do think there are problems in publishing. It's not a paradise, by any stretch. But I can almost guarantee that someone on the inside who has a book coming out next month is not gleefully anticipating the full-on collapse of the industry next week. Nuh uh. They might be saying "Why did that hack Joe Bob get three times as much marketing money as me?" But that's something else entirely.

There are flaws, certainly, and dialogue on this is important. But the "I hope publishing crashes and burns" is coming from outside, as opposed to, say, "publishing has some problems that really need fixing." Lots of writers have banged their heads on the walls of publishing for a long time and are frustrated. And nothing is quite so personal as a person's writing. The response is much more intense for that reason, the lack of acceptance more problematic for a writer's ego (as opposed to not getting a job with google - especially since qualified people will get jobs elsewhere).

Lots of google applicants will never be good enough for google, most likely, but they'll find jobs elsewhere. In publishing, that's pretty much it. You get in or you don't, and the numbers say most don't. Until now, until the advent of major self-publishing options. Writers have new avenues. But some of those writers, rather than embrace the fact that there are two avenues (and more diverse paths to success), would rather simply see the new path crush out the old. And that sort of glee in the possibility of publishing's destruction is an emotional reaction, not a rational one. It's satisfying for writers who have been denied, but it's not good for writers in any general sense.

I think the two-pronged approach offers the most benefits. The traditional path supported by new self-publishing options. Writers have a chance to find what works best for them as individuals.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Oh, and publishing is certainly getting enough "resumes"! Nathan's inbox is pretty clear proof of that. There's certainly people who still want in.

Mira said...

Bryan, thanks. You're a sweetheart. I'm sorry, but you are. :)

And it strikes me that this may be one of the times we could both be right. There may be different reasons why people are upset.

Well, I don't want to overdo it on this thread. There are all these wonderful links - and funny movie - and Konrath - it's a great thread.

So, I think I'll just let what I said stand.

Although - one last parting shot. :) I think Nathan proves my point - his popularity, the fact that everyone wants to work with him, the lack of bitterness on the web despite his multiple rejections - he does that through his inclusive and fair leadership.

Publishing would be wise to take a look at the community he creates on his blog.

J. T. Shea said...

There is a kind of black and white dualism about publishing arguments at times. All or nothing. Us versus them. Sour graping, as Mira and Bryan have discussed. Can publishing be easily divided into 'traditional' and 'independent' camps? 'New' vs 'old'?

Nathan uses the controversial description 'traditional publishing' and criticizes its 'paltry e-book royalties', but he emphasizes the continuum or spectrum of options rather than the dualistic view. Nihilism and 'othering' are dangerous pleasures.

We could end up with more choices and freedom and a bigger overall book market.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Mira,

I'll agree with the points about Nathan... but I'd add that all the agents are seeing increases in queries/resumes. Even the mean ones. :)

Dan said...

Joe,

I don't mean to be a jerk here; I like the Kindle, and I think it's convenient, but I think that the hype over e-books has been largely overblown, and the eventual impact will be less game changing than a lot of people predict.

The benefits of paper are pretty obvious: It's cheap. It's durable. It's easy on the eyes, and can be viewed from various angles and in direct sunlight. It never runs out of batteries.

Media formats that have become obsolete were clearly outpaced by their successors. DVD or downloadable videos are clearly superior to VHS, which is low-resolution and stored on bulky, fragile, deteriorating media that needed to be rewound after each viewing. High-def video is clearly superior to standard definition.

Similarly, CDs are materially worse than iPods. Putting songs on an iPod creates the possibility of customizable playlists, shuffle-songs features, and Genius. CDs have to be read by optical lasers, which require moving parts, take up a lot of physical space and skip when jostled. iPod devices are much more compact and portable.

Analog books cannot easily be improved on. You can't make them HD. You can't shuffle them. Most people need only one book at a time, so the ability to carry a lot on a single device is less compelling than a similar feature might be for music. As long as a book is defined as being text on a page that is read sequentially from beginning to end, a screen can only manage to be as good as paper, and the screens currently offered fall short.

Phones and iPads run out of batteries after a few hours of constantly using the screen. The screens on iPads are backlit LCDs, and the screens on phones are backlit LCDs that are also small. These screens are hard to view from certain angles, and they're hard to read in sunlight. Reading a book on the tiny screen of an iPhone is a materially worse experience than reading a book on paper.

Kindles and single-purpose e-readers have screens designed to reproduce many of the better qualities of paper. Other than the slow refresh rate of the screen and the relatively low contrast between the words and the background, e-readers are roughly comparable to regular books. The primary advantage of these devices is the instant delivery of e-books, and the fact that the price of a book is sometimes lower. The main disadvantage is that the devices are still expensive and fragile. And single-purpose devices only reach a niche market. There are only about 4 million dedicated e-readers out there right now, and I am skeptical that a vast market for such devices exists, because most people don't read a lot of books.

I'm definitely impressed by your math and your candor about finances on your blog. But I am still skeptical of the notion that e-publishing is a better financial move for authors than the traditional channel. The theoretical size of the Kindle-store market (Kindle apps are available for Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad and Blackberry) still doesn't change the fact that Amazon is still just a medium-sized chunk of the overall market, and e-publication doesn't get a book in front of the majority of potential readers.

Missing out on national bookstore distribution means a lot of lost sales and lost exposure. Do you think the ability to increase volume with low prices offsets the loss of retail sales? It seems like your income on $2 e-books is better than the income you'd be making as a royalty on a publisher's $10 e-book. But doesn't the math change a lot when you consider the loss of bookstore sales?

ryan field said...

"from the traditional to the unconventional, and what works for one author, even wildly well, is not necessarily going to work for another."

Well said.

Matera the Mad said...

mfg, I haven't seen a $2.99 book in so long I don't want to say how long. Now if only all e-books could be READABLE for people of different visual ability, I would have amazingly rosy feelings about the future of writing and reading.

treeoflife said...

Hi Dan, I don't think anyone is trying to say that epublishing is a better alternative to traditional publishing (which would include epublishing as one of it's distribution channels). But I think the existence of epublishing might offer an OK 2nd option for those who have been rejected by the traditional method. Yes, the vast vast vast majority won't sell more than 50 of their $2 books, but it's still something.

Will all authors ever be able to skip traditional publishers and just epublish (and expect to make as much money)? Highly unlikely.

Anna Murray said...

Will all authors ever be able to skip traditional publishers and just epublish (and expect to make as much money)? Highly unlikely.

Joe Konrath is doing it -- he's making more money off ebooks than he makes through traditional publishing.

Count me as another making real money from ebooks. My books were rejected by traditional publishing.

As it is I'll make thousands -- with no upfront costs -- in 2010 from self-published books that were rejected by traditional publishing.

Not bad for being a reject. I'm on my way to selling 10,000 copies of my first book. I'll make more than 99% of all authors in my genre receive from their first books, even when published in the "traditional" way.

I'm a nobody in Minnesota, and I'm doing this. I don't have a name like Konrath, and I had no fan base when I published my first novel to Kindle.

If I can do it, anyone can. A good story, good editing, good cover art, and a good price . . . that's all it takes, along with 70% royalties on Kindle, starting in June. Compare that to the 8-10% I'd be getting from "traditional" publishing.

Publish your book to Kindle store and spend a couple hours doing online promotion. You might be VERY surprised at how much income you can make from ebooks.

Don't knock it until you've tried it. I'm thrilled with the results.

Joe Konrath said...

I think that the hype over e-books has been largely overblown, and the eventual impact will be less game changing than a lot of people predict.

I thought the same way about mp3 players, until I bought an iPod. Me and 150 million others never looked back.

The benefits of paper are pretty obvious: It's cheap. It's durable. It's easy on the eyes, and can be viewed from various angles and in direct sunlight. It never runs out of batteries.

Paper kills 40 million trees a year for the book industry, plus the cost of shipping all that wood and paper is a huge carbon footprint. It isn't as cheap as free, which is what it costs to copy and download an ebook. And e-ink it fine in sunlight, and a Kindle runs for two weeks with the 3G turned off.

Analog books cannot easily be improved on.

Really? Enlarging the font. Reading to you. Instant dictionary. 1000 books on a single device, which is perfect for vacation. Instant buying a book without leaving home, and instant delivery. And wait until they start providing extra content...

The main disadvantage is that the devices are still expensive and fragile.

I agree. But will they always be? Methinks not.

e-publication doesn't get a book in front of the majority of potential readers.

Yet. :)

But it doesn't need to. I've shown that I can earn more money selling 15,000 ebooks than I could selling 50,000 paperbacks. That's a really big deal.

It seems like your income on $2 e-books is better than the income you'd be making as a royalty on a publisher's $10 e-book. But doesn't the math change a lot when you consider the loss of bookstore sales?

Nope. I've done side by side comparisons on my blog several times. It astounds me, by the way, that it is working out like this. I certainly didn't predict it happening on this level, this quickly.

treeoflife said...

This has been a fascinating blog.

So Anna and Mr. Konrath, do you two see epublishing, like you're both successfully doing right now, eventually surpassing and/or replacing the traditional publishing industry?

...Assuming that ereaders become cheap, widely available, and widely used (which I think they will in the near future).

Moses Siregar III said...

There are plenty of people like me who'll say "$1.99? Discount book. It must suck."

In truth, many more of them will say, hm ... $1.99, great reviews, the author's other books got good reviews (if it's not his first), it sounds interesting, I like the sample chapter ... sure, I'll give it a try. Worst case, I'm out $2. That beats taking a $10 or $12 risk.

I'm a new Kindle owner, and I picked up a $1.99 ebook by Scott Nicholson called Drummer Boy. Joe recently recommended it on his blog, so I gave it a shot. I'm so glad I did. It's been a phenomenal read. There are a lot of great books out there at these prices.

My first novel should be finished and fully edited in the second half of this year (knock wood), and I've been spending every day over the last three or four months trying to decide if I want to try the traditional route first, or just go for it as an independent and try to get in the game early.

Six months ago, there was no question I wanted to go traditional, because that looked like the smart move. Now so much has changed in publishing that I'm split down the middle with two good-looking options, and I literally feel like I've never had to make such a hard decision.

But there's a good chance I'll release it on my own before the holidays, because I'm starting to think that for me, with my entrepreneurial temperament and a bit of an audience that I already have established in my first career, that jumping into the ocean on my own might actually the smartest move.

But it's a long story ...

p.s. Nathan, it looks like my Suns aren't going to get it done against L.A. Here's hoping for some home court magic ...

Joe Konrath said...

do you two see epublishing eventually surpassing and/or replacing the traditional publishing industry?

How my record stores are still around? How well do CDs sell compared to mp3s?

Even broader, DVD sales have fallen behind Hollywood box office for the first time in over a decade. Not because people aren't watching movies at home. But because the tangible object is no longer needed with Hula and Netflix and Roku.

Why own when you can access digital media cheaply, on demand, 24/7?

We've got an entire generation growing up that don't understand ownership. Why burn a CD or DVD when you can listen/watch directly from the hard drive?

The mentality is changing, and fast. A book's value is in its contents, not its delivery system.

Will print books disappear? I don't think so. Not for a while. But when ereaders become better and cheaper, the only thing keeping print around is nostalgia. That didn't save vinyl, or VHS, or any of the other outdated forms of media. And that's what paper is: a medium to transmit a story. And it was pretty high tech compared to scrolls and writing in stone. But something better has come along, and even if people resist and/or hate the change, the change will still come.

Can anyone come up with a scenario where the change didn't come?

Nik said...

Nathan, what a fascinating, lengthy and intriguing discourse on the e-book revolution! VHS is still with some people, as is vinyl. Some writers still use typewriters that use ribbons... But e-books are here to stay - though their first editions will never acquire high value for collectors... I'm happy to be published in print and in e-format.

treeoflife said...

I personally think ebooks will make up for over 50% of book sales in the next 5 years, and over 90% in the next 20. With, like you said Mr. Konrath, only nostalgia holding back from more.

That said, what I'm wondering though is if you think the model of $2.99 ebooks that go from writer -> retailer -> reader will ever surpass the model of $10 ebooks that go from writer -> agent -> publishing house -> retailer -> reader?

The traditional publishers will flock to ebooks, but they'll have to charge more.

You mention music and movies as a comparison. The big record companies and film studios still dominate there, even though the electronic forms of distribution are becoming more and more prominent. Will the big publishers still dominate ebooks?

Granted, I accept that writing is different, as it can be just you and a word processor. You don't need a team of 3d digital effects guys to make a book.

Nathan Bransford said...

I think treeoflife makes a good point, and it's one reason why I fear a tragedy of the commons situation with e-book pricing.

For those unfamiliar with the term, tragedy of the commons refers to a situation where there's a fixed resource, and individual actors, all acting out of their own rational self-interest end up depleting the resource.

Right now it's relatively uncommon to find good e-books at $2.99, so Joe and others are getting an early-mover advantage by pricing their e-books that low. But let's say every author, tomorrow, starting charging $2.99. James Patterson, Steven King, everyone. The first consequence is that the pricing advantage wouldn't be there anymore for Joe and others. The second consequence is that there is no way you can have a publishing industry at those prices. Prices that low are not something you can make up for on volume. They're prices enabled by cutting out the intermediary (i.e. publishers).

A race to the bottom on e-book pricing might be a rational choice for the individuals who get there first, but it's a dangerous game to be playing on an industry-wide basis.

Moses Siregar III said...

You're right, Nathan. Much of that scenario may be inevitable, though. Self-interest is an impossible train to stop.

However, we know that the publishing industry will do all it can to adapt and survive.

What might happen is that publishers may take on less books, and put more push behind those they do take on. That will push more authors towards releasing their own work around those $2.99 prices.

Unfortunately, this probably means less jobs within the publishing industry. OTOH, it could mean a lot more freelancing jobs, such as for editors. I think many agents will have to adapt their business model, which is something that I know you've been hinting at for a while.

Anonymous said...

Right now it's relatively uncommon to find good e-books at $2.99, so Joe and others are getting an early-mover advantage by pricing their e-books that low. But let's say every author, tomorrow, starting charging $2.99. James Patterson, Steven King, everyone. The first consequence is that the pricing advantage wouldn't be there anymore for Joe and others.

True enough -- there would be more competition if everyone sold at $2.99, but under the present system Joe and others couldn't get their books onto the commons at all (he's selling books that were rejected by the big publishers, as are others), so all this ebook income is a bonus. And once they get onto the new "commons" (Kindle store) they are getting 70% royalty on a 2.99 book, not 8-10% as they would under the big publisher system. To make the equivalent amount of royalty under the big publisher system (where they put up a gate around the commons and decided who got in) they'd have to sell the same book for over $20. The book is made more affordable to the reader AND the author can make more money (it's easier to sell a $2.99 book than a $20 book).

The second consequence is that there is no way you can have a publishing industry at those prices. Prices that low are not something you can make up for on volume. They're prices enabled by cutting out the intermediary (i.e. publishers).

Correct. The publishing industry will have to change if they want to remain players. They'll move out of the high overhead digs, cut out the expensive lunches, and, in general, cut the fat if they want to survive and remain relevant.

A race to the bottom on e-book pricing might be a rational choice for the individuals who get there first, but it's a dangerous game to be playing on an industry-wide basis.

Dangerous for the middlemen, but not for authors. In the new environment a writer can get her product to market MUCH faster, respond to changing tastes MUCH faster, and make a much higher profit margin on each unit sold.

The industry will change, with smaller and leaner publishing service providers springing up to provide author services. A new business model is needed, and it will evolve. It's an exciting time for authors, as the greatest opportunity accrues to the content providers.

J. T. Shea said...

I second Dan about books. Ironically, I do so in the e-text that is Nathan's comments section, an e-text we both read and create. In recent years I downloaded a vast number of (legally available) e-texts and e-books, but bought even more paper books, paper books I might never have heard of without the e-texts. For me the effect is additive and synergistic.

Commenters have debated the number of dedicated standalone reading devices to estimate the potential e-book market. I still maintain desktops, laptops, game consoles and other hand-held multi-purpose devices will be much more important for e-books than the standalones. But a paper book requires no device or gadget, its potential market includes anyone with eyes and hands, i. e, about six billion people.

I sometimes share Nathan's concerns regarding a possible 'tragedy of the commons' and race to the bottom. But that raises another question. Why do people buy new books (particularly novels) at all? We don't have to. We have libraries and cheap secondhand books and thousands of free e-books. I can download TREASURE ISLAND easily and for free. Why did I pay about $4 for the Penguin paperback recently? We DO value some books much more than others.

If Robert Louis Stevenson suddenly turned up alive and well (at 160!) and demanded royalties, that would only add about 50 cents to the price, leaving it still cheaper than many e-books. Different debates about price, format, device and windowing are all mixed up here. I am not alone in seeing e-books as partly replacing the mass market paperback segment but also potentially growing a combined mass market/e-book segment.

I see future publishing as surprisingly like present publishing, with much the same people recombined in different ways. 'Traditional' or 'New York' or 'Big Six' publishing is a remarkably large combination, nearing but not reaching vertical integration. The closer Amazon or Apple approach vertical integration, the more they will become Big Seven and Big Eight. Yet recent trends have been against vertical integration, towards outsourcing, literary agents being a classic example.

J. T. Shea said...

I doubt Jeff Bezos and his Amazon staff work in a hovel and eat takeaways!

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I don't disagree with you that the industry needs to change (and no one in the industry is blind to this), but I'd be very careful about assuming the scenario you're envisioning would be better for authors. Amazon-as-monopolistic-distributor-of-books that would be necessary for this scenario to come to pass wouldn't be good for anyone but Amazon. You'd miss publishers dearly if you didn't have them to kick around anymore.

Anonymous said...

Amazon won't have a monopoly -- Google and Apple are already in the game. I expect there will be 3-4 major distribution channels for ebooks. If the publishers were savvy they'd find a way to bankroll a competitor to Amazon.

Publishers will still exist -- just in a new form -- leaner, smarter, smaller, with more a la carte services that add value and empower authors in the process.

Carina is a good example of what the future might look like -- it's a new small division of Harlequin that focuses on "digital-first" publishing, and they encourage the authors to be entrepreneurial, especially in their marketing.

The first wave of Carina books launches in early June, and it will be interesting to see how it rolls out. Angela James is a pioneer.

Chris Bates said...

@Nathan

I wouldn't worry too much about the tragedy of the commons situation.

Take it as a given.

The price of ebooks will eventually be zero, same as nearly other form of digital content.

The future of publishing isn't in the pricing of the content.

lexcade said...

Lord, if Steph's a failure, then at 24, i'm not even on the board. what's lower than failure, when you've tried?

as far as complicated shows go, John from Cincinnati only lasted a season, and it was by far one of the most insane shows i'd ever seen. unfortunately, i missed the boat on Lost.

ah well. back to queries.

Joni Rodgers said...

I think the self-pub bubble is going to parallel the paperback bubble of the 1950s-70s with the same result. On the downside, it did open the door for a flood of crappy, unprofessional writers to get hastily into print, and it trained publishers and readers to pay writers less for their work. On the upside, it opened the door for many worthy, excellent writers and taught publishers and readers to be more open minded.

Self-pub options available now take that dynamic to the tenth power, but I think the vast majority of writers will still want to be published in hardcover, and all of us want to be well paid.

The most disturbing thing to me is all the blowhard, us-them self-pub rhetoric, which is full of misinformation about traditional publishing. There's a total lack of respect and appreciation for the art of editing, not to mention all the other work that goes into making a manuscript into a book. I'm grateful to all the people who make it possible for me to spend my life writing books--publisher, editor, copy ed, legal review, copy setter, flap copy writer, designer, art director, PR, sales--everyone right down to the warehouse staff. Some of the physical tasks are eliminated in ebooks, but the writer who goes it alone is going to spend either a lot of money or a lot of time covering all the bases. I prefer to have the money flowing my way and my time devoted to writing.

I'm with Pinter, who's concerned that many writers who could have been great will settle for being just okay because they're not willing to have their feet held to the fire.

Sully said...

It seems to me a beginner, such as myself, would do well to try and take advantage of self-publishing with Amazon, for example, to build some credibility. Make one's ebook available on as many platforms as possible, so people using the Kindle, the iPad, whatever can get access to a copy of the novel. Get yourself out there as much as you can with your first book. Finding a good publisher right off the bat can be difficult, but may come easier with the second or third novel. I suppose it couldn't hurt if a big publisher happened to pick up your first novel, either.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

If you want to peddle that brand of hypberbole you can put your name to it.

Bob said...

Gore Vidal said: "It's not enough that I succeed, other must fail." Or some such and it seems that's the attitude of some people. Times are hard enough without directing venom at others. I've traditionally published and run my own publishing company using the new mediums. There are more options than ever before. But the need for quality writing won't change. Writers are much better off spending their time improving their craft than chasing after self-publishing their fiction unless they fit a very narrow niche. And I note that no response was made to my earlier comment about a non-disclosure agreement regarding a contract and juking the stats by buying one's own books, so I think that's answer enough. As much information that's out there, there's a lot that's not being mentioned.

Anonymous said...

"There's a total lack of respect and appreciation for the art of editing, not to mention all the other work that goes into making a manuscript into a book."

Editing is often vastly over-rated. Take Peter Straub's new novel A Dark Matter.

The editor cut several hundred pages out of that novel -- pages Straub himself put back into the book and published in small press under the title Skylark. Its a better book than the edited version.

Those same pages were pulled together and will be published in a few weeks as a novella companion to A Dark Matter.

Obviously, this is a case where the editor had no clue how much that section of novel added to the overall story.

Thomas Harris' novel Hannibal was published without an editor touching the manuscript. Nothing could have saved the comic book plot, but the writing is competent. It certainly didn't need editing.

This is more of the big publishing scare tactic "You need us!" they cry and more and more authors are discovering that isn't always true.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris Bates said...

Joni, being self-published doesn't necessarily mean that one has to forego the influence of editors, designers or legal representatives.

Also, indie film-makers, musicians and influential bloggers often have no one to 'hold their feet to the fire'. And yet, their output can be highly relevant.

In fact, content producers who decide to settle for 'okay' will simply fade away in the new age. That stuff will not pass the gatekeepers (you and I). If all content is free (like most online media now) it will have to be shit-hot to garner the attention of its niche audience.

Personally, I believe I have been exposed to more high-quality writing and general commentary in the last two years then I have during the previous ten.

Of course, there’s a raft of crap floating out there but I try to ignore that by using the same filters as I would with traditional media.

treeoflife said...

It all comes down to the value-added. If publishing houses and agents can truly help a good book become a great book, they'll have jobs until the end of time, and won't have to worry about price.

If some publishing houses survived simply because they've controlled a distribution system that's fast becoming obsolete, they'll go the way of the dodo bird.

I obviously don't have the inside knowledge, but logically I think there'd have to be value added by publishers and agents, or else they'd have been taken out long ago. This isn't their first threat.

Moses Siregar III said...

And I note that no response was made to my earlier comment about a non-disclosure agreement regarding a contract and juking the stats by buying one's own books, so I think that's answer enough.

There was an "Anonymous" who debunked the "juking" idea after you posted that.

D. G. Hudson said...

Interesting links, and very interesting comment thread.

I've followed J. Konrath's blog for some time now, so I'm glad to hear of his success. It's also nice to see him commenting on this blog. I like an author who answers a lot of our questions.

Great collection of links, Nathan.

Amy said...

My comment is late but I feel I must add my two cents anyway.

Pat the Bunny would not be nearly as interesting as an ebook. IMHO as a Pediatrician, the very thing that creates the avid reader - a childhood exposed at an EARLY age to the pleasures of reading - would fall flat with an ereader. Every book would feel the same, be the same size, the same shape as you read to your toddler, at a time when seeking out sensory experiences is a critical part of development.

So I would argue that reading is NOT comparable to music, where the sound is (relatively)comparable whether from a vinyl record, tape deck, CD, MP3, Ipod or whatever.

But it does matter that my kids, as toddlers, could run to the bookshelf in their room, pull off the books they had received as presents on their birthday, or as special treats for good behavior, and proudly carry their selection to me for a bedtime story.

So Mr. Konrath, ownership IS important.

Amy said...

Sorry for commenting twice, but my above post was SUPPOSED to start with a comment Mr. Konrath made above:

"If we grew up reading ebooks, there wouldn't be a single reason to invent a paper version. We like paper because of nostalgia. The story isn't on the page, it's in the reader's head. The delivery system doesn't matter.."

My comment probably would have made more sense if I'd included the quote I was responding to first:) Need more coffee . . .

Moses Siregar III said...

New report from the AAP today: Ebook sales up 251.9% over the last year (up 184.8 percent for the last month).

http://www.publishers.org/main/PressCenter/Archicves/2010_May/AAPReportsMarchGainsinPublishingSales.htm

Moses Siregar III said...

I just did some math on the AAP monthly numbers.

Ebooks' percentage of total sales, starting with March and then going back:

March: 6.2%
February: 5.9%
January: 3.9%
December: 1.3% (it said 19.1 million out of 1.5 billion)
November: 2.3%
October: 2.5%
September: 1.3%
August: 0.9%

What's interesting is that this doesn't have any iPad sales yet, since that started in April. The April figures next month will give us the first glimpse of the iBooks/iPad impact. If there is a decent impact from Apple (and then Google), ebooks could potentally reach at least 10% of publishers' book sales by the end of the year, since they are around 6% right now.

HOWEVER, these stats don't include figures from independent authors. That means that, for example, Joe's independently released ebooks on Amazon are not included in percentages like the above. The above percentages are those given by *publishers.* None of the indies are included in it, and many of them are doing ebooks now.

And a year ago, Amazon said that 35% of the sales on any given book were on the Kindle edition of the book, whenever a book was available in both Kindle and paper formats.

And that 6% figure is out of a base of categories that includes University Press, higher ed, K-12, and scholarly.

So really, the current 6% figure of publisher's sales is probably lower when compared to actual reading percentages, certainly of fiction. Ebooks may be 6% of publishers' overall income, but a higher percentage of books being read are ebooks.

OTOH, is the agency model pricing really depressing ebook sales? Hard to say, because ebook sales are still very much increasing for publishing houses, but what would ebook sales be if ebooks were priced lower? Maybe even better (I have to think so, since a recent study done by Critters.org showed that 93% thought that an ebook was too high at a price of around $11.20).

Also the percentage of growth in ebook sales declined a bit in February and March, compared to January. When did the agency model pricing start on ebooks?

Joe Konrath said...

A race to the bottom on e-book pricing might be a rational choice for the individuals who get there first, but it's a dangerous game to be playing on an industry-wide basis.

While I love the publishing industry, my concerns are making a living, and pleasing my fans. If I can do both, better, without the publishing industry involved, they should have made themselves more relevant.

The race-to-the-bottom theory has a few problems. Publishing is no longer a closed system with a finite readership, as John Sargent alluded to in a speech. The number of readers are now unlimited, growing every day, and ereader device owners tend to read more and buy more, especially at a low price.

While I may not be on as many bestseller lists if all ebooks were $2.99, there's no clear reason to think my sales would falter. I'm not in competition with James Patterson. His fans can also be my fans, and at a low price point, there is no either/or when in a buyer's mind--they can buy both.

Amazon-as-monopolistic-distributor-of-books that would be necessary for this scenario to come to pass wouldn't be good for anyone but Amazon.

And, apparently, the consumer. Amazon is successful because it understands what the customer wants. The publishing industry simply does not. Hardcovers at luxury prices? Windowing? $14.99 ebooks? This shows contempt for the customer.

Besides, Amazon has no monopoly. Too many other players, too much other competition. But isn't it telling that none of the other players is a publisher?

Nathan Bransford said...

joe-

Like I said, my hat's off to you, and I think you deserve credit for seeking new ways to reach readers and certainly your decision has sparked some interesting discussions.

I don't think, however, that there's an unlimited readership - there are only so many people in the world with so much time and so much money that they're able and willing to spend on books. This number is certainly malleable, and let's absolutely hope that the e-book era increases the pie, but infinite readership? No way.

I don't claim to know your readership better than you do and I trust your word that you could compete on the same footing as James Patterson even if you were priced the same. However, I think it's a mistake to assume that the best way forward for the entire industry is to do exactly what has worked for you. Every book is different, every author is different, and what works for one person might not work well for the other. While you may not see your readership decline if all books were priced at $2.99, I'm sure there are others that would. And is that really the best way for all authors to maximize revenue?

On Amazon-as-monopoly, you're right, we're not there, and thank goodness for everyone (including you, as you are seeing the amount they're willing to pay you go up as competition in the marketplace is increasing). Competition benefits everyone, and most of all the consumer. Choice is a good thing.

Joe Konrath said...

@Nathan-Good response, thoughtful and level-headed. That's why I like your blog. Also, kudos for even mentioning it. Very other few publishing pros have.

This number is certainly malleable, and let's absolutely hope that the e-book era increases the pie, but infinite readership?

"Infinite" was a poor word choice of mine. But I believe the world will continue to embrace ereaders, and those with ereaders tend to read more ebooks than they read print books. I'm predicting an ever-widening growth without limits because technology keeps getting cheaper and better, and there are new adopters every day.

If the growth just stopped right now, I could see sales slowing down. But if an author can (and will) sell 1000 ebooks a day, while not infinite, it is certainly attainable.

I don't claim to know your readership better than you do and I trust your word that you could compete on the same footing as James Patterson even if you were priced the same.

Patterson would cream me, no question. But that's not the point I'm trying to make. Even if he sold 100 times what I sold, I would still be doing very well. He won't push me out of my market share. Fans can order both him, and me. Not in direct proportion--he's a powerhouse, and I'm midlist. But I wouldn't lose sales because of him, and I could still sell well in my niche.

In other words, if every ebook was priced $2.99, I don't beleive I'd sell fewer ebooks. I believe everyone would sell more ebooks. And combined with the growth rate of ereaders, I believe I'll be able to earn more than I ever have in my career. I don't think the race to the bottom will hurt authors, and the readers will love it.

But across-the-board low ebook prices will probably destroy traditional publishing as we know it, unless they figure out a way to compete.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks for the kind words, Joe, and I don't think we disagree too much. I think you're acting rationally given the current landscape, and if things remain as they are I think people will follow you, which will have enormous repercussions for the industry. I also agree that there's enormous downward pressure on prices that publishers may be unwise to try and resist.

The wildcard for me is how many vendors there are, how much market share they represent, and how necessary it is for authors to go through a third-party distributor. That may not be much of a roadblock if there's are companies that fill that gap and automates everything for a very low fee/percentage. If, however, friction develops and an author needs a distributor/publisher we may end up back where we started, albeit with many more choices.

I'm very curious to see how it all plays out, but I share your essential optimism about this landscape. Nearly every book available instantaneously at a reasonable price? Where can I sign up?

Jillian said...

Because of this blog post, I got to meet an author who commands high sales and industry approval. Which I've done only once before.

Thanks, Nathan Bransford.

I didn't read every word, and I'm not sure I like him - but I LOVE the fact that he is not at all hesitant to interact with "the public" whether they are fans or idle critics. And I have a sort of respect toward him that can grow to liking him quite a lot.

Mira said...

Oh cool.

An exchange between Joe and Nathan. That was really interesting. Glad I didn't miss it.

Traci said...

I'm a fan of LOST and was baffled/frustrated by the finale, but after reading lots of blogs, have finally come to terms with it. Nathan, have you seen this? HILARIOUS recap (thank you, collegehumor.com) of all the questions still left unanswered:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBMYk-6cTpI

(Apologies if it's already been posted in "comments" - I haven't had time to read them all...)

salima said...

Did you happen to see Letterman interviewing Evangeline Lilly and trying to make sense of the show? It was pretty funny.

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