Dear Publishers,

Hi there, publisher!

I’m an author. Maybe you know me? I’m the Internet’s “Chuck Wendig.” AKA, “That Guy Who Curses A Lot In Interesting Ways.” I write stories. I have a beard composed of thousands of self-aware cilia that whisper those stories in my ear, stories I then transcribe for the world to read.

You’re a publisher. Or a person who works in publishing. Or a robot in the humanless future scouring ancient blog posts to try to discover exactly how people went extinct (spoiler alert: iOS9 became self-aware and killed us all).

I like you.

I think you do the Story Lord’s work in bringing books to to the world. People can bag on you all they like, but I say, without you and the authors you publish, my life would be a hollow, smelly carapace — like a turtle’s shell if you first scraped out all the vital turtley bits.

And that word, “vital,” applies to you. You are vital. A vital part of the ecosystem. A critical and competitive keystone of the entire book-reading, book-loving, book-smelling, book-humping culture. I love books. You publish books. So let’s be best pals, yeah? *cuts palm with a Swiss Army Knife, offers to shake your hand* LET US SEAL THIS FRIENDSHIP IN BLOOD.

Ahem. Sorry.

Still, as much as I like you, I think it’s time we had a conversation. I’ve noticed some things you do that, frankly, I think you could be doing better. Admittedly, I’m just an outsider — a rogue ronin author stalking the dustblown wastes, writing my stories during the day underneath collapsed highway overpasses — for at night I must flee the Yowling Hell-Warblers and their motorcycle riding Coyote Men. I’m an outsider who, I admit, is probably ignorant to The Way Things Really Are Inside The Publishing Machine.

Just the same, I’m going to opine loudly.

Because that’s how I do.

Let’s talk about you, you silly scamps, you.

DRM Is For Assbadgers

I get it. You like DRM. You think it’s valuable in staving off waves of book-thieving pirates.

And, hey, DRM by itself is not toxic. DRM is like GMOs or lasers or hybridized bat-shark-wolf monsters: fine on its own until someone comes along and implements it poorly.

And, for the most part, DRM is implemented poorly.

DRM is dumb. DRM does not work. DRM is the Empire is tightening its fist, which only forces more star systems to slip through its fingers. You know how our war on terrorism basically begets more terrorism? Like, someone blows up our shit, then we blow up some Yemeni daycare thinking that an Al Qaeda higher-up is hiding there, and then all the people affected by the blown-up daycare suddenly think, “The US kills kids so now we’re gonna be fight the US with tooth and nail?” Meaning, our war on terror just creates more terrorists?

Similar situation with DRM (with way fewer dead people, to be clear). You don’t want books to be pirated; you implement DRM. DRM mostly just pisses off regular users who suddenly have reduced access to the thing they thought they owned. They decide to become pirates, instead, because it’s easier and it gives them the access to the content in the way that they want it.

DRM creates — and then challenges — pirates.

It punishes regular readers.

I Will Buy The Physical Book And You Will Give Me The E-Book

No, really, I’m not kidding. You tell me, “You buy a hardcopy, we’ll give you an e-copy,” then I’ll take that deal every time. Practically and financially, this makes sense: I’m buying the story from you in one container (the hardcopy) already. You might as well give me the story in its more ephemeral, digital non-container (aka an e-book), too. It’s a great value. And it encourages that physical distribution chain we all love so much. I said a while back, “If you don’t do this, Amazon will,” and drum roll please, they have, with Kindle Matchbook. (And one of my publishers, Angry Robot, will now do this in the US with Clonefiles.)

Don’t worry, there’s still room for you at the party. Ever hear of a bookstore called “Barnes & Noble?” Could be a shot in the arm of their book business (and their Nook business). Plus, I keep hearing about these little magic pockets of book-love called “independent bookstores”…

Partner With Independent Bookstores

Indie stores are awesome. (I mean, in theory. Some suck ass, just as some fraction of everything and everyone sucks ass.) Indie bookstores want to sell books and spread the book-love around. And you, as publishers, are purveyors of those very books. Partner with them.

I don’t just mean, “Let them sell your books.” I mean, “Let them sell special editions that only they can sell.” I mean, “Let them sell e-books in new and interesting ways, such as on USB keys or by (as above) selling them with the physical editions.” Give them access. Opportunity. Unique entries in the canon and culture of sweet delectable bookishness.

Libraries Are Our Friends And, Also, Vital

You know another way that a lot of people learn to love books? Libraries. I mean, how awesome is a library? It’s a BIG BUILDING. Filled to the fucking ceiling with BOOKS and people who will help you find MORE BOOKS. It’s a book playground! A wonderland of reading and learning and fantasy and drama and information! And it’s great for people who can’t afford books. (Like, say, a whola lotta folks in this occasionally wibbly-wobbly fucky-wucky economy of ours.)

Help libraries. Help them. They’re customers. But even beyond that, they’re the drug dealers of the book world. They’re the ones giving out free samples of your work (which, to be clear, they paid for) and fostering a love of stories and a culture of books. Libraries are Willy Wonka factories where they make new readers instead of weird-ass child-endangerment candy. (Seriously, the government needs to step in and shut Wonka down. Last I heard he was drowning kids in a corn syrup river or something. He’s like a fucking Batman villain, that guy.)

Don’t obstruct their e-book lending library. Don’t make the library’s job more difficult. Help them! Give them aid and succor in this horrible time when our government has a real boner for this “austerity” bullshit (austerity sounds nice until you realize it’s a lot what happened when the Titanic sank — the rich people get their boats, the poor people get eaten by ice sharks). Do you want libraries to be places where people just get to use the Internet for free? Do you want libraries to just go away? No! You don’t! Libraries rule! Librarians are the curators of our culture!

HELP LIBRARIES.

GODDAMNIT.

Mmkay? Mmkay.

Change Starts From Within

SFF right now is going through a lot of growing pains in terms of straining its white dude diapers and trying to figure out how to accommodate, well, Those Who Aren’t Heteronormative White Dudes. This is a good thing. We’re starting to see that there exists a whole audience who maybe isn’t being talked to — this is good for society but also makes financial sense, too, because untapped audience is an audience who isn’t yet spending money with you.

A lot of this change happens inside publishing. It starts with hiring people at all strata within the industry from a variety of life experiences and social configurations.

Please do that! Thanks!

A Ten Dollar E-Book Is A Little Bit Of Bullshit

“BUT IT COSTS AS MUCH TO MAKE AN E-BOOK–” you start to say, and I cut you off with a frowny look and a cat’s hiss. Listen, I don’t care what your justifications are for selling an e-book at a price above ten dollars. You’re trying to slow the flight from the physical distribution model, maybe. Or maybe it’s just that you don’t know yet how exactly e-books fit into the staggered chain of release from hardback to paperback.

What I know is, a mass market paperback does not cost ten dollars.

Nor should an e-book. Ever.

I learned a very important lesson from author Maurice Broaddus at Worldcon this year, and it was this: if someone is saying or doing something you don’t like, threaten to pee on them. Threatening that seals the deal, gets the job done. So, publishers: if you keep offering $10+ e-books, I’m gonna pee on you. On your shoes. Your socks. On the legs of your khakis. God help you if you’re sitting down because then I can get better reach.

Cheaper e-books. Or I pee. On you. That’s the choice.

*stares*

*drinks a big glass of water*

*stares harder*

Authors Are Your Partners, Not Your Bangladeshi Climate Change Refugees

I’ve been happy with my publishers. I know a lot of authors who are happy with theirs, too, and who have signed smart contracts (usually through the intervention of their agents) and who are doing just fine. I also know authors who have seen (and sometimes signed) onerous contracts that are exploitative and nasty. Little clauses and line items that knock an author down at the knees. You try to grab rights that should never be yours, or offer up Byzantine rules so confusing and labyrinthine it’s like a math puzzle for MENSA meth addicts.

Here’s an actual line from an actual publisher contract:

“If you sell 4,312 copies, your percentage goes from 17.5% to 25%, unless it’s a Harvest Moon, in which case you are to be visited by three editors who will offer you three rare minerals and if you choose correctly than you will be allowed to pick your cover artist but the publisher will also claim eternal copyrights to your work in Bulgaria, and also if four trains leave Penn Station at 4:22PM, each carrying seven constipated random penguins –“

Okay, I might just be making that up.

So, let’s go back to the time where we all remember that publishers need authors to publish. Let’s also note that self-publishing has become a Very Real Thing and a Bonafide Actual Option, which means that even as the Big Six becomes the Big Five, you still have competition — competition in the form of authors who choose to become author-publishers, instead.

As such, it is best to approach authors as if they are a partner in this endeavor (as they are) and to bring value to that relationship instead of acting as if they’re making iPhones for you in a Brooklyn sweatshop. What I’m trying to say is –

Publishers: I like you! Do you like me? Then let’s get book-married. Because that’s what this relationship is: sure, it has a business component, but given that we’re both at our core bibliogeeks of some stripe or another, it looks a helluva lot like a marriage. You’re not my boss. Nor am I yours. PUT A RING ON IT. *mashes cake into your mouth*

Authors Need Some Motherfucking Data, Stat

Let’s assume you agree that we’re your partners and not an expendable resource like so much authorial lumber. Let’s also assume that while you will handle the lion’s share of Big Marketing, you will, just the same, expect us writer-types to do some more interpersonal marketing and to go on book tours and such in order to connect with our once-and-future audience.

To do this? We need data.

Constant, accurate, capable data.

Where are we selling? How much? To whom? What bookstores dig us? What bookstores have never heard of us? Where will we have the most effect? How’s Twitter at selling books? Facebook? Google Hangouts? If I get naked on YouTube, will that sell books? How many of my readers are bespectacled bearded men like myself? Are any of them ultraterrestrials from the Hollow Earth, and how best can I serve our chitinous subterranean secret masters?

Two things to note, here:

First, if you keep data from us, it might seem as if you’re trying to hide something. Again, we want to feel like partners, not like employees. What you know, we should also know.

Second, if you don’t give us the data, then — repeat after me — Amazon will. (That should become your mantra in the coming years, by the way.) And so enters a fundamental question: do you want us to see Amazon as our first ally, and not our publisher? That’s what Amazon wants, I’m guessing. So: help us. Data helps us sell books. And that is part of the point, right?

Stop With The Sneaky Vanity Publishing Stuff, Because, Ew

Archway Publishing, from Simon & Schuster. Author Solutions from Pengdom Ranguinhaus. Amongst others. They all offer self-publishing opportunities to authors for frequently absurd prices. Mmmyeah. No. Here’s the problem:

First, that’s actually not self-publishing anymore. Really, like, not at all. It’s actually just regular publishing, except now you’re charging me for it instead of paying me for it, which is so fucked up I can’t even discuss it without my words devolving into a series of BUH DUH WUH stuttering.

Second, self-publishing doesn’t actually cost that much money.

Third, signing up with these services often wildly exploits the author.

It’s bad news. It’s ugly business. And it just gives ammunition to those who say that publishers are giant Sarlacc pits ingesting authors and digesting them over the lifetime of their contracts. I get it. You’re a business and you want to do businessy things. But this? This is not how you do it, at least not without dirtying your blouse in the process.

Self-Publishing Is Calling From Inside The House

Author-based publishing is here and it’s not going anywhere. Author-publishers are all up the attic, like squirrels. I think over time that traditional publishing and self-publishing will start to squish together in a big wadded up ball, like a bunch of socks in the dryer. And that’s a good thing. Hybrid authors will become more of an important presence — authors who recognize that both paths offer unique benefits and increase audience and competition.

But that doesn’t easily happen when you see things like the vanity publishing stuff, mentioned above. Or when you see how some publishers are reticent to offer print rights separate from digital rights (print rights and print distribution, be advised, is where author-publishers still can’t get a great foothold). I think you’ll find continued value in treating the new class of author-publishers not as competition or as a vein of ore to be exploited but, again, as partners. And that means crossing the bridge and offering them some of the things they’re maybe used to getting: input on cover design, higher percentage rates (which means reduced advances, most likely), a measure of unprecedented control.

Authors are no longer as hungry for that big break — because, with electronic distribution becoming so easy, so accessible, so free — they can do it for themselves. Doesn’t matter whether or not it’s a good idea to do so (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t). The mere fact that the option exists as opportunity is enough for you to sometimes change the dynamic, to present new ways of partnering with authors going forward.

Publishers are still a critical component to this entire thing. They offer whole buildings full of people who love books, love authors, and who know a whole lotta important things about this bath salts Thunderdome called “publishing.” Hell, most traditional publishers have forgotten more about this industry than most author-publishers have yet known. But that isn’t enough. Not anymore. Relationships must evolve. The business models must change. Authors are starting to drive the bus — sometimes, okay, yes, off the cliff, but that’s where you can help. But you can’t help if the relationship isn’t equitable. If it doesn’t make sense.

Let’s cast our eyes forward together.

Let’s be nimble.

LET US SEAL THIS FRIENDSHIP IN BLOOD.

I mean, uhh, let’s publish some books together!

137 comments

  • Yes! $10 ebooks are ridiculous. I do not have the money for that. Seriously, I cannot afford that, and I refuse to believe that you really think ebooks cost as much (or more) than paper books. No, really, I code XML publishing system, so I won’t fall for that nonsense. I just won’t buy them. Pbbt. Please, Chuck, please… go pee on them.

    (This is funny to me, because when someone in the house irritates me, I tell the youngest child to poop on them. Sadly, she never does…)

  • It’s so, so true about the data. Can we get the full picture instead of only the Bookscan numbers at Amazon?

    I know that sales numbers can change between the purchase date and the royalty payment because some people return books (even e-books), but it is so useful to know that yes, something worked, or no something didn’t.

    A few years ago I self-published a title through Lightning Source and their sales info is basically real-time. You can pop over to the LSI website, and see how many books sold and where they sold. Why not set up an access account at the publisher for each author, and let them look up sales for their titles? Everybody benefits.

  • This. All of it. I wet myself.

    More importantly, I’ve been thinking and saying the free ebook with the purchase of the hard copy for over a year now. Movies have already been doing it by giving you a free digital download of it when you purchase the dvd/bluray. And cheap ebooks would make for another source that encourages whiny ass punks (I don’t read books… reading is dumb) to read! Throw some technology into their reading paths and they’ll bite better than they aren’t right now.

    Probably a bit over the top, to be sure, but damn, we could at least make more money on the sales that way.

    • Thank you for that. When I was self-published my books were available to people regardless of geographic location. Now, even though I sold world-english rights there are readers who started my series and cannot finish it. They want to buy the books – but they can’t. Signing with a big-five should mean better distribution – not worse.

      • Yeah, but I DID SELL World English – and yet the titles are not available in many countries as ebooks. It has to do with the infrastructure Hachette has when pushing content internationally. They keep saying they are working on it but it’s been more than 2 years with no changes. They say it’ll be fixed later this year, but I’m not holing my breath.

    • This is one of the two reasons for DRM: reason one is, “make people buy our shitty eReader instead of the other one,” the second being, “make people suffer for their crime of favouring the other shitty eReader.”

      Case in point: Anna Rose, “Madlands” is available on Amazon or iTunes Bookstore in Australia, but not on Kobo. I prefer reading non-technical books on my Kobo or Sony Reader. I prefer reading technical books on my iPad: it is a balance between weight and page size (and rendering power and utility of the reader software, etc, ad nauseum)

      The Kobo bookstore is the closest to being DRM free, since the Adobe DRM is available on multiple platforms (but you are limited to a small number by the digital editions software). O’Reilly, Baen any Tor all sell DRM-free. You can self-publish on Amazon but your books will only be available as Kindle format and Amazon will impose DRM on you.

      It is very hard to do the right thing if one has any kind of preference for a particular reader or format.

  • Spot on, young man, spot on.

    I agree strongly with the nonsense of selling an e-book for ten dollars or more, not least because the cynicism and greed behind it is so utterly transparent. It is rife though – whenever a book is released by a ‘name’ author, Amazon happily sell the kindle format for twelve dollars or higher.

    This moves into the realms of the ludicrous when even the writer of the book can be found elsewhere on the internet screaming : ‘They’re selling it for HOW much?’

  • This is why I choose to self publish, to be independent and free of all the bullshit, fake smiles while stabbing the author in the back, publishers. Yes, I know I’m losing sales, distribution opportunities, and that so-called validation, but I’m gaining self-reliance and self respect. Plus, I don’t make enough selling books to quit my day job yet. Besides, I know some authors that bowed to the ancient beliefs of publishing and found and agent and a publisher. While I may not be looking at buying my own island yet, I’ve made as much as them self-publishing smut under a pen name and selling it for ninety-nine cents a pop (so to speak.) They’ve got their books on the shelves at the local book store. I know, I’ve seen their pictures, but that doesn’t mean much anymore. They are being raked over the coals making six percent or less in royalties while their book remains difficult for other to buy because of the very reasons you mentioned in your post. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I agree with what Squidge said above.

    • Keep in mind, not all publishers are fake smiley and author-stabby. Many are filled with great people who love books and who want to do right by authors and their books. Not every author is being raked over coals.

      Obviously, I’m all for being an author-publisher outside the traditional system (and I’m even more for being an author who walks both of those paths) — but I’m not here writing this post because I think publishers are obsolete or that they need to go away. I think publishers are — and can be — great, and so a little improvement could go a long way in terms of bolstering the culture and the environment. Helping both writers and readers.

      — c.

  • A lot of what you speak to is solved with print-only deals. It uses the publisher to handle their core competencey (books into bookstores and the distribution chain),while the rights that aren’t being adequately serviced by pubishers to someone who will – me. By keeping my ebook rights I can:

    * Distribute my ebooks DRM-free

    * Give away a free ebook for everyone who buys print books (I enroll in MatchBook) and for all other venues (B&N, Independent bookstores), I email DRM ebooks when I’m emailed a receipt)

    * Enroll my ebooks with Overdrive to get them into libraries

    * Charge half what my publisher does and still earn a very good income from the books

    * Make my ebooks available in all territories

    Those are things that help my readers..but I also get stuff that I want

    * Out of print means something again. My rights revert when the warehouses are empty – they are not retained even though I’m only earning just $9.16 a week.

    * I get a good royalty rate. The publisher making 300% of what I get on an ebook is NOT an equitable share of the profits

    * I know what my sales are – I see them in real time

    * I’m paid monthly – not twice a year

    And in fact, this is exactly why I did a print-only deal for my latest novel Hollow World. I’m going to do everything I can to make my publisher successful because I think we need more print-only deals and by proving that the publisher can make money with “some of the rights” and it is better than getting “none of t he rights” a lot of this will be solved.

    The problem. Print-only deals at this time are very rare: Bella Andre, Coleen Hoover, Hugh Howey, Brandon Sanderson and myself are the only ones that I know of. You are right publishers are in competition not just with each other but with self-publishing. If they want to retain titles – offer a print-only deal. We’ll take smaller advances since we are selling less rights.

  • I will not spend over 3 dollars on an ebook. I think that’s completely ridiculous to think that someone should. And yes. Paperback/hardcover books should come with a free ebook.

    • At that price point I think you’ll mostly need to be reading self-published titles or catch a sale when publishers do them from time to time. An author only makes $0.52 on an ebook priced $2.99 offered from a traditional publisher. A self-published author would earn $2.10. It’s hard to make a living at the $0.52 a book so if my publisher were offering all their books at $2.99 I’d have to shift to self-published.

    • Three dollars on an e-book is a great sale price, but not, I find, the best long-term cost. I appreciate that you have a mark and you’re sticking with it, but that’s a pretty lowball number that won’t be able to sustain most writers *or* most publishers.

      • I wonder just what that optimal pricing might be. If only one reader will buy a book at (say) $7 but five readers would be willing to buy the same book at $3, there is less profit per individual sale, but there is greater profit per book. Also, at a cheaper price point, more readers are willing to experiment with a given writer, which opens up their whole body of work, again resulting in more sales overall. I get that there is a point at which the pricing is too low, but I think considering the impact of increasing sales numbers for decreasing book prices is a crucial element to figuring out what those prices should be.

        • This is where you need access to data again. If halving the price of the book tripled its sales, everyone would do it. It turns out in the iTunes App Store world that halving the price of an app doubles its sales. This means the developer has half as much funding per customer to provide support. If halving the price of a book doubled the number of buyers, would you as an author like that or loathe that?

          Yeah, citation needed, but I am lazy today :(

          • September 25, 2013 at 10:42 AM //

            Well, actually, as an author it would be a good deal. I don’t have y do product support, and more readers means wider reach–so maybe eventually more sales. This probably ends up like trying to second-guess the stock market–I.e. you won’t know until much later, if at all.

    • I like the $3.99 books – and I will always jump on a sale and grab a $.99 book offered when I see it, but I’m willing to pay $5.99 or sometimes $7 if it’s 3 a.m. and I MUST read the next book and my local book store is closed. Usually if it’s over $5, I wait, though. Because really. It’s a digital file. If my battery dies, no book.

      I could pay $8 to $14 to get an actual BOOK. I’d *rather* buy the book and get the e-book free. Because I love books. Holding them and turning the pages makes me happy. I’m weird and I’m old and stuck in my ways, yes. But I’m a sucker for cover art, and I love looking at the covers. At least half of my book collection is because a cover caught my eye and I had to have it.

      It’s not so fun to peruse my kindle to look at the cover art as it is to turn my books face out and enjoy them like a mini art gallery.

      Ok, totally rambling here. sorry. My point being that I don’t think the ebooks have as much value as the physical book, therefore, I’m willing to pay more for the physical book than the ebook.

    • This is a ridiculous thing to say. The only way I can even make sense out of it is to think that perhaps you are one of those people that thinks that eBooks aren’t “real” books or are only adjuncts to the real thing that one reads casually and doesn’t value at all.

    • The most I’ll spend is $5/$5.99… but that’s my limit on guilt-free purchases in general. Really, if I’m spending that much I’m pretty likely to just wait around for a mass market. At $6/$7 I’ve moved into the realm of real luxury items, and I’m very unlikely to spend that on anything digital.

      I get that the $5 and lower price point isn’t great for authors, but I can only say that when the only place to find a book under $5 was a used book store you got nothing at all from me. The store didn’t even get much because it was across town. Now, a wide variety of publishers get money from me all the time, and it’s a little easier to spend that $5.

      I’m sure I’m not the only one w ho could say that.

    • And yet we’ll pay $12 for a 1.5 hour experience for a crappy movie at the movie theaters, but not over $3 for a multi-hour experience with a book we might like, also with the benefit of supporting a literate culture.

      The great thing about these debates is that editors and publishing insiders can’t really participate, so it’s all 1-sided. And before you think it’s cowardly that we can’t participate, think about this: we have so many contracts and so many allegiances to so many authors, distributors, and the reading public, we are bound to anger someone, no matter what stance we take. So while some changes are necessary, yes, the echo-chamber will continue about the “future of publishing” largely by people who don’t have the messy, tangled multiple allegiances that being a publisher entails.

      • “And yet we’ll pay $12 for a 1.5 hour experience for a crappy movie at the movie theaters, but not over $3 for a multi-hour experience with a book we might like, also with the benefit of supporting a literate culture. ”

        OK. First off, while I can’t speak for the average run of Americans, most of my friends treat going to the movie the same way they treat going out to a nice dinner: It’s a social event, and what they’re paying for isn’t really the movie, it’s the chance to get out with a whole lot of their friends to do something. If they really want to see the movie, they use NetFlix.

        Second, if movies were still only 90 minutes, I’d see a lot more movies. It’s more like $12 + $15 for a two-plus hour experience. The movies are mostly still pretty crappy, though, you got that right.

        “The great thing about these debates is that editors and publishing insiders can’t really participate, so it’s all 1-sided. And before you think it’s cowardly that we can’t participate, think about this: we have so many contracts and so many allegiances to so many authors, distributors, and the reading public, we are bound to anger someone, no matter what stance we take.”

        And that’s why things won’t change, and why these arguments are so one sided. The publishing industry not only won’t participate in discussions, they (you?) won’t even give us the information we need to decide for ourselves whether they’re being reasonable. I can sort of understand being unwilling to step up and state opinions that are guaranteed to make someone angry. That’s not a great business move. But I want to see a publisher step into one of these conversations and say “Hey. You’re all arguing without data. Here’s what it costs to publish a book. Here’s the breakdown on costs of editing, printing, shipping, marketing, paying the author, and all the other little things you haven’t thought of yet. Here’s how much it costs to convert old books to ebooks, and how much it costs to convert a new book to an ebook. Here’s the profit benefit to staggering releases and refusing to sell to some countries.” But we don’t get that. We get silence, and occasional complaints that we just don’t understand the costs of doing business as a publisher. And for some of us, that makes us feel like publishers have something to hide. We only know that you’re making it more and more expensive to buy paper books, and you appear to be deliberately hindering our attempts to buy ebooks, to the point that a lot of people find it easier to just steal them.

        So no. I don’t think the refusal to join the debate is cowardly. I can understand that. That’s just reasonable caution. But I DO think the refusal to give people real information is either cowardly or dishonest, depending on what the real information is.

      • It think “the stance” that industry people need to take — and what this post and others show they are not doing this — is a focus on the needs of the readers. Ultimately they are the ones keeping all of us (authors, editors, booksellers, publishers, distribution partners) fed and watered.

        The self-publishing movement is gaining ground because many authors there are doing just that…putting the reader first. Hugh Howey said, “Indie authors are maniacally focused on the reader, almost to the exclusion of anything else. Low prices, fun and interesting genres and styles, a direct relationship, frequent output, you name it. Indie authors are doing well because they know it’s all about the reader.” and I agree with him.

        I’m like Chuck, I want to work with publishers, I like my publisher, but when your policies get between me and my readers…well I might have to circumvent you because I don’t care about pleasing the “industry people” (editors, publishers, big-bookstore purchasers) I want to satisfy the readers.

      • Good point. I don’t actually go to the movies unless it’s a really special occasion. I wait for it to come out on Netflix or Redbox. Movies disappoint me too much lately, and I just get annoyed that I spent that much money.

        However, I can see other places in my life where I probably spend money where it could be better invested elsewhere.
        I still don’t think people should be charging six dollars for an ebook, but I guess it’s all in the perspective.

    • Okay, ETA: I should have expounded here. I was in a bit of a hurry, and shouldn’t have left it so bare bones. So let me explain:

      As a reader, if I’m going to pay upwards of $6.00 for a book, I’d like to hold it in my hand. One book I bought from a self-published author to help support them cost $6.00 as an ebook, but I got it for $2.00 used as a paperback, and with shipping, it came out to be the same price. That is something I would prefer, PERSONALLY. People are different, and I know that others like the organizational element of the e-reader and feel it’s faster.

      As far as being someone who doesn’t think an ebook is a real book, I think that’s a fair evaluation based on my lacking comment. I don’t think that. In fact, I’m an aspiring author that hopes to self publish sometime within the next six months. I hope it doesn’t ever come to the point that’d I’d have to raise my book higher than $2.99. Maybe it will? But I know that as a reader that would turn me away. I’d have to really want the book to pay more than that. Again, that’s just a personal evaluation. I’m sure some people who have a bit more money, and don’t buy as many books as I do, would have a budget that could support more ebooks priced between 4-6 dollars.

      Forgive me for not expounding earlier. I see my fault in that.

      • I tend to go the same route. I’ll usually give it up to 3.99 if I really want to read the book, but am not willing to pay $8 for an e-book. I’d rather pay $15 and have the paperback/hardcover sitting on my shelf. I feel the same way about digital movies. I don’t want to pay the same price (or almost the same price) for the iTunes movie when I can buy the Blu Ray AND get the digital copy.

        Which is an amazing reason paper copies should come with the ebook. The movie business is doing it and it seems to be going well (as they keep doing it).

  • All of the things you point out here are why I ultimately decided to turn down a publishing contract. Now I know many people don’t do this and I could entirely come to regret this decision. This could be that hairy dog tale that follows me the rest of my life, “Remember the time you turned down that fantastic opportunity?”

    I hope you’re right and that they can modify business as usual to make your goal of transparency, reasonable pricing, etc. come to pass. But I’m skeptical. Not because I’m a publishing hater or anything. But simply because after many years of working with Fortune 500 companies I’ve learned that big companies have such a high degree of inertia that change almost never happens and if it does, it rarely happens in the way you hope it will. And if change does happen, it’s only after almost catastrophic disruption forced their hand. The indie publishing trend so far, isn’t taking enough money out of traditional publishing to make a dent.

    So if change is coming, I think it’s a long way off.

  • I have a lot of bones to pick with publishers lately. E-book prices are obscene. I won’t pay more than a mass market paperback for an e-book (so $6 or $7 is my threshold). I am in shock that Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves is about $12 to preorder the e-book. They must be out of their minds. I mean, really?

    There’s also some confusion with English language rights that are driving me up a wall. Maybe you can help me understand. A series I desperately love came out in England last week. To my shock, the US version of the actual physical book won’t be out until NEXT August. Same publisher. After much gnashing of teeth and wailing on Twitter, I plunked down the $30 (man, the exchange rate is harsh!) to get Amazon UK to ship it to me here in the colonial wilds of New Jersey. Why in the blazes would a book take eleven months to become avaliable in America, from the same publisher?

    I want to give publishers (and you authors whom I adore!) my money! Why do they make it so freaking hard?! *sits in a corner and pulls hair out*

    • Yeah, I think my threshold is about $6. There are tons of books out there — I’ll just find a cheaper one. I don’t have time to read all of the books. Or I’ll get it at the library, so instead of getting my $6, they get virtually nothing. I have all of the Harry Potter books in paper, but my eyes are tired at night and I want to turn the lights down when I read to the kids, so I wanted to buy ANOTHER COPY in ebook form, but they made it *too hard*. You can’t just buy them from Amazon, you have to jump through hoops to another web site… so instead I just realized we read them at a pace of about 1/month so I just use my Amazon Prime borrow every month for the next book (which you can do through the Kindle Amazon interface). Once again — no sale! I want to give them my money…why make it so hard?!

      • In the case of Harry Potter – Rowling’s ebook rights were not sold with the original books – she ended up keeping them and now Pottermore is the exclusive source for the books. (Although there are relationships with companies like Amazon) This though is a REALLY an unusual case..as she is the only one that has a separate site with exclusive worldwide rights to her English language versions.

    • What you saw is probably the result of the publishers being independent even with the same brand. For instance Orbit UK does not have to pickup an author that is signed by Orbit US – although they often do. Sometimes they may be cautious about a new authors so wait to pick up the option. Then as pre-orders for the book come in and sales look strong they decide to carry it…but…the next spot in their editorial calendar is 6 or 9 or 12 months away.

      In the future…try book depository. Usually both publishers will sell via that venue so you’ll be able to get the “English version” of the book in the US and since Book Depository has no shipping fees to almost any country you’ll not have to pay for the excess shipping or worry about exchange rates.

  • This is a great letter. I hope it reaches some of the right people because I am sick to death of $10 eBooks that I can’t even lend to a friend with an eReader because of the DRM. I hate the fact that I can’t borrow a book from my own husband, even though I technically paid for at least half of that book because we live in the same house and draw from the same bank account. As much as I love new book smell and the feel of fluttering pages through my fingertips, I’m getting old and my hands can’t handle holding a 1200 page book by George R.R. Martin like they used to, but I’ll be damned if I’m paying $12.99 or more just to read his next book–assuming it ever comes out.

    Printing books isn’t cheap, but there is no excuse for an eBook to sell for a few cents less than the paperback. I imagine they could probably make more money if they sold their books for less because they’d sell way more books.

    I also think they need to get on board with libraries, which could desperately use a little cooperation to stay afloat.

  • Chuck, you’re brilliant, and so much of this is spot-on, but offering sub-$10 ebooks on $30 hardcover launch day is the (hastening of the) end of hardcover books and the lovely advances they provide, and the bookstores they sustain. Yet whenever publishers delay ebook publication, readers complain. That’s complex to fix.

    • Hardcover books have long been the territory of very committed buyers, though — if you really dig physical, and I do, I’ll still buy the hardcover even with a cheaper e-book offered. (Or, more to the point, I do this with books and authors I really want or already love.) Hardcovers are already something of a limited release but still a viable one, and I don’t think that cheaper e-books kills anything.

      (That said, I might not be aware of more complex economics. I’m pretty ignorant on that, in part because as the post notes, I don’t have a shitload of valuable data, here. But my feeling, at least, is that hardcover is already something of a rara avis. I’d rather help a larger bulk of book buyers and get them e-books at not-nutty prices — after all, they bought an expensive e-reader device already, so they’re out that $$ — than buoy an already limited hardcover release.)

      — c.

    • But if the publisher would bundle the ebook with the print book, then more people would buy they print book to get both – so they won’t go for that sub $10 ebook they’ll go for the $30 hardcover. If you want to stop the erosion of print book sale – make them more attractive to the readers.

  • I’m have to admit that I came to this page with a bit of fear at what I was going to read, as I’m the MD of a publishing house…but it was with a certain amount of surprise (and yes, relief), that I realise Inspired Quill ticks all of these boxes just as a matter of day-to-day operation. Huzzah!

    And thank you for reminding people that not all Publishers are evil backstabby, moneygrabbing, faceless entities!

    ~Sara, from Inspired Quill.

    • Yeah, this is definitely not me spitting in the face of publishers. I’m not being sarcastic when I say I consider them vital. (Author-publishers should not be so hasty to want to see the downfall of the traditional system, as some do. Because you get rid of publishers, you collapse that system, and self-publishing is likely to get a whole lot less lucrative.)

      I’ve been largely very lucky in my experience with my publishers. I know a lot of great editors and, frankly, totally dig the ecosystem. But I also see some occasionally troubling trends — as well as some occasionally holy-crap-awful contracts and clauses — and so it seems like a good idea (and a bit of fun) to call that stuff out.

      • Absolutely. Even as a publisher, I more than welcome awkward questions from potential authors (or just writers randomly deciding to email me to ask ‘stuff’ about the industry). It’s the dialogue and transparency which is absolutely vital to a Publishing House, otherwise we’re all going to go the way of the dino.

        Absolutely huzzah for authors demanding we be kept on our toes. I (and therefore IQ) don’t/doesn’t believe in using our authors as meal-tickets. When we do something wrong or something doesn’t work, we stick our hands up and make sure it doesn’t happen again. (For example, our authors can ask for up-to-date, very detailed breakdown of their titles at any time).

        But on the other hand, I also find it enlightening when there are posts like this, which outline what you as authors really hate/love about the whole ecosystem. It means I have actual opinions to work from to make the offering IQ has better and better. So thank you for that, too. :)

        ~Sara

  • It’s hard to top what you’ve put down here, Chuck. But I’d like to add one more vital thing that is keeping a lot of great people away from traditional publishing.

    DON’T TAKE SO FUCKING LONG

    I’ve been at this a long time and it seems to be getting worse. I look at a book I have right now I’m thinking of submitting and I get all excited until I start thinking about the time frame. First, let’s look at agents. From initial submission through rounds of partials and then full manuscript we’re talking a year most likely before I sign with an agent. Once the agent has it, we’re likely looking at another year (or more) between doing edits for the agent and then having the agent submit the manuscript. Then, once we have an offer, we’re looking at ANOTHER 18-24 months before the book is on the shelf. That’s 3-4 years before the book is available if I started submitting today and everything went my way. That’s unacceptable.

    • Some publishers do need to cut that back, yeah. Part of this is again in deference to the physical distribution system. Sometimes the time frame really is reasonable, to be clear — while I think some publishers could take less time, some author-publishers might want to take MORE time. The agent, the submission, the deal, the editing, the copy-editing, the cover, the marketing — this all does genuinely require a lot of time, and in my experience publishing IS starting to move faster. I think for the most part now if you get a deal you’ll see the book published in 1-2 years, not 3-4.

      Anyway, you think publishing is slow, try to get a movie made. HA HA HA HA HA *sob*

      — c.

    • There’s a fine line between rushing it out and making sure the quality is there. Just look at some of the stuff the micro-presses put out (quantity over quality). But I definitely agree that sometimes the timeframe seems absurd. Especially when it can take anywhere up to /six months/ to even get a reply from a publisher. I think it’s different if there’s always progress being made on your work. So for example, (and please do excuse me for using Inspired Quill as said example, but it’s what I know…), we give out a ‘Timeline’ document to the authors we sign. A) so we’re accountable if we haven’t done something when we said we would, but also B) so the author can see there’s constant progress instead of us simply ‘queuing’ the book up to be dealt with further down the line.

      Out of interest, how long would you say is acceptable for submission-to-launch if (for example) you were submitting directly to a publisher?

      ~Sara

      • I very much agree with you that, for the most part, the time frames are needed to produce a quality book. I still think the biggest lags from publishers and agents are on the submissions end. It’s just such a huge, inefficient system that I have no idea how to fix, but I know it’s one of the biggest reasons I think about bypassing traditional publishing for self-publishing.Back when the validation of traditional publishing was very important to writers, they were willing to put up with ridiculous wait times.

        • I guess that depends on what you’re getting out of the process. Most of the time it’s a ‘no thanks’, and I’ve heard a lot of stories from authors who never hear back at all. IQ takes up to a month to respond, and if the answer is a ‘no’, we’ll give you a full edit/critique of your first two chapters as well. We’ve had a lot of good feedback from that.

          Multiple submissions makes it a bit better. It amazes me that publishing houses keep submissions open even when they seem to be overly swamped with a slush pile that just won’t quit.

          ~Sara

    • As an agent who is not a fast reader, I’d say that 1 year from query to signing is overshooting it, and certainly isn’t average. I’ve only done that once, and that was a special case for a way-too-long book that I had to get opinions on to try to talk myself out of signing (I couldn’t, because it was that damn good).

      How long edits take is generally more up to the author. And while the publisher will take 12-24 months to publish, they aren’t just sitting on their hands. It’s going through editorial, copy edits, proofs, building buzz through the sales and marketing folks, getting a cover, getting a new cover because B&N didn’t like the first, and then there’s some built in buffer room in case the author doesn’t hit their deadline (which happens at least half the time).

      And all this to make a book that will be much better than the one you originally sent to an agent. At least, that should be the case, since the author is editing it after all. If that was 3-4 years of nothing being done, then yes it would be unacceptable, but that time frame is actually full of lots of work in order to give the book the best chance it can have in the market.

  • Yes, yes, and yes some more.

    Also: a substantial discount on the paper book if I’ve already paid full price for the e-book. There are many many books I “try out” first on my Kindle and then wish I had the actual book.

    • What do you consider substantial? I’m doing this for Hollow World and offering signed copies…but even then I think 15% – 20% is about all I can do since I have to pay 50% to get it from the publisher (plus shipping). Amazon can get better discounts than I can so it’s hard for me to compete with there 40% off which they do to some of my books.

  • Perfect list. I just wanted to give you a heads-up that Random House has an Author Central website — I think that it’s been around for a couple of years now — that provides me with weekly sales info (print, e-book sales breakdowns). Via graphs, it also gives me info on where my books are selling (independent bookstores, chains, digital, etc.). It’s not perfect and I don’t receive monthly royalties (still biannual — recent royalty statements are also posted on the web page). But the information is very helpful. I can see how small press e-book promotional sales affect my RH backlist. How an NPR interview in the past pushed sales of certain e-books. Author Central also offers these monthly marketing webinars on how authors can use Google analytics, Facebook pages, electronic newsletters, etc. I don’t think many authors actually take advantage of the webinars because they don’t realize that they are available OR they are just used to the paradigm of getting little help in promotion from their publisher. Another great thing is that all RH authors can get a 50% discount on any other RH print book. (I can’t remember now if shipping/handling is free.) I don’t know how features are going to fare with Penguin RH. I’m not being an apologist or defender of the Big Five — only that this service has been available for a while now and I don’t see it mentioned in any of these blogs.

  • Damn, that was a fine editorial. I hope someone other than the choir hears and listens to your preaching, though. There’s some brilliant ideas and insights presented – real solutions to problems the publishing industry is facing. We just need someone with the power to make change pay attention instead of grabbing what goodies they can for themselves before the whole industry crashes. Too much of corporate America (and I assume elsewhere as well) is based on a handful of individuals raping the industry they’re in, and leaving a battered corpse behind while they move on to their next victim. Need to make the stockholders happy? Outsource another department come November.

  • No $10 ebooks. This is critical. Something like 75% of the ebooks I bought, I bought directly from Baen. In the period before they raised their prices, I would look at an ebook description and say “Yeah, that looks interesting. Five bucks? Sure, I can do that.” Then they raised their prices. Now I look and go “Hey, that looks pretty cool! Oh… wait… it’s only available as a trade paper right now. That means it’s $9. I’ll wait until it comes out in paperback.” Since my memory is pretty bad, I have bought exactly zero books from them since their price changes last December. I’ve bought essentially the same number of books from Barnes & Nobel, the only other easy source of (legal) eBooks for my Nook.

    In other words, their decision to double prices took my monthly expenses on Baen ebooks from about $10-15 to $0. I bet they’re thrilled by THAT math. Yeah, sooner or later I’ll happen to check in when a book I want is available in paperback ($7 as an ebook), and I’ll buy it. It’s not like I’m boycotting them or something stupid like that. But… taking a book by an author I like from “impulse buy” to “can I afford that this week”? Not a responsible choice for a publisher, if you ask me.

      • And in many formats. When I buy from Baen, the book works on my Nook, my tablet, or my computer. If my Nook dies and Barnes & Noble has gone under, I can just go back to one of the other formats to put on my new eBook reader, or my phone, or something else. When I buy from Barnes & Noble, I’m stuck. The only format I have is the (semi-)proprietary one they use.

  • I agree with pretty much all of this. I also know there are a lot of things standing in the way. For example, the major reason that there are ebooks that cost more than $10 is publishers are afraid to undermine hardcover sales. Which makes sense; hard to convince the majority of readers to buy a $25 book when the $9 ebook is sitting right under its listing on Amazon. Now that most books are subject to distributor pricing, there will be more cheap bestselling ebooks, but even the threat of being peed on probably won’t make publishers do the price jump themselves (also of note is that when Amazon lists ebook prices, they point out how much cheaper it is than the list price for the physical book rather than how much it is off the publisher’s list price for the ebook, so even if publishers do change their prices, it would take some searching by readers to know it).

    The greatest way to battle this would be to include the ebook with the hardcover, but that’s got its own can of worms. Even if the higher ups at publishers get on board with this, when they try to implement it, there is going to be a shit show from many, if not most, authors. This would likely be less true for SFF and romance authors since they understand ebook readers a bit better (although let’s not forget that the last WoT ebook was released after the hardcover because the estate wanted it so, against the advice of the publisher), but there will be many crying out that the publishers are detracting from their ebook sales, and some contracts might actually make this venture impossible.

    As for the vanity publishing stuff, alas, I don’t see that going away. Try to convince the big conglomerates that own publishing houses that Author Solutions isn’t to them what KDP is to Amazon Publishing. Buckets of piss probably couldn’t even do it.

    So there you have my two pennies. Don’t spend it all in one place.

    • You know what, though? I’m not GOING to buy the hardcover copy. I don’t want hardcovers. We have something like 4500 books in our house, and less than 200 are hardcovers. We’ve started buying ebooks because we simply don’t have space to store more hardcopy books. So if the only way to get the ebook legally is to buy the hardcopy, I’m left with two options: spending a lot of money on a paper book and then throwing it away (because you know rights to the ebook would be legally linked to the paper copy, and if I’m going to get the book legally I have to abide by that), or getting the book illegally. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine how most people would decide.

      And here’s the other thing. Yes. Every $5 (or $9) ebook sold might (or might not) cost them a hardcover sale. But that’s a meaningless argument. How many more books would you buy if they cost $5 instead of $25? Do you think it would be enough to cover the difference? Personally, I’ll happily pay $25 for 5 books, but I haven’t bought a new hardcover since, as far as I can figure, 1991 (I worked at a bookstore then, so I didn’t even pay full price for it). Also remember that a lot of that $25 is the cost of paper, ink, shipping, disposing of waste, maintaining printers, paying people to RUN the printers, and all of that. If they print half as many $25 books and sell them all, but add three times as many $5 books, how does that change the profit margin? Yes, producing ebooks isn’t free. That’s why we have to pay for them. They still have to pay the authors, editors, and IT people, along with paying for the servers and network connection. But there are a LOT of physical expenses that disappear, and a lot more people can afford a cheaper book.

      • The thing is, publishers aren’t going, “This much money went to making the hardcover, this much to making the mass market, this much to making to making the ebook.” They look at how much money went into making the book as a whole. And if they have print editions, then that means no matter what, they have to pay printing and warehousing costs, as well as salaries, rent, utilities, etc. Producing 10,000 copies of a book doesn’t cost much less than producing 20,000 copies of a book, so they’d prefer to sell 20,000 physical books over selling 10,000 physical books and 20,000 ebooks at half price.

        But aside from expenses, how ebooks should work (and do for the authors I follow, but I can’t speak to all) is that when the hardcover comes out, ebooks are rather expensive. A year later when mass market comes out, the ebook price drops. This is similar to the hardcover/mass market mode where as a fan you had to decide if paying more was worth having the book now or if you were willing to wait a year for the cheaper version. Difference of course is that the final product in both cases is exactly the same, which sucks, believe me, I get it. And I’m not saying it’s right. Just saying I understand the publishers’ logic. They want to keep making physical books. If a book is making more in ebook than it is as a book, though, it’s hard to convince the higher ups to keep that book in physical print.

        • “If a book is making more as an ebook…”

          See, that’s exactly my point. I know a lot of people who used to insist on buying hardcover: they last longer, they look better, etc, etc. They mostly stopped when hardcovers hit about $22 or $23. While I do know a few people (other than myself) who buy books and keep them, most of the people I see on a daily basis buy a book, read it once, and get rid of it. They give it to a friend, donate it to a library, or whatever. They’ve mostly stopped buying hardcover as well, because it’s just too expensive.

          When I worked at a bookstore, we generally ended up sending back 30-40% of our hardcovers, which meant our distributor (and, presumably, the publisher) had to give money back on those.

          So maybe it’s time for publishers to change how they think about things. Maybe it’s time for them to realize that reading patterns have changed. Their logic doesn’t track for me: I have a really hard time believing that they actually profit more by doing a big print run and having to buy a significant fraction of them back rather than doing a smaller print run and selling all of them.

          Maybe I’m wrong. But most of my friends are readers, and they’ve mostly given up on buying paper books unless they get them used. Even the ones who still buy paper have mostly given up on buying hardcover. It’s just too expensive these days. And if the cost of paper and shipping isn’t the largest part of the cost of producing a book, why do costs keep going up? I have books I bought in 2000 with a cover price of $4.99. Last time I went to Barnes & Nobel, I paid something like $7.99. The value of a dollar has not decreased enough to raise the price 60% in 12 years, so that price increase has to be coming from somewhere, right? Maybe it’s time to admit that hardcovers have a limited market, and ebooks are the way things are going to go.

          • The thing is, smaller print runs actually cost the publisher more, to the extent that many contracts say that if they have to do a small, supplementary print run (say, 1500 copies), then the author gets a smaller royalty. It’s similar to how, say, if you want to get t-shirts printed and sell them. The difference between you printing 100 and printing 200 is marginal, because all the costs are actually in the set up. So it’s more cost-effective for a publisher to print and warehouse 20,000 print books that sell than to print and warehouse 10,000 print books that sell and sell an additional 20,000 ebooks at half price.

            So when publishers decide that ebooks are the way things are going, it means they’ll do more e-only books, not that they’ll just print fewer copies of each book they acquire. Which might be great for you, but those on the lower side of the digital divide are going to be hit hard, as will libraries, even more than they are already. Only books in print, whether hardcover or paperback, would be guaranteed best-sellers.

            As for the increase in costs, warehousing, salaries, rent, utilities, etc. have all gone up. There was also a change in the IRS laws concerning warehousing that greatly affected publishing. I’m not privy to the budgets of publishers, but books are hardly in a vacuum when it comes to price increase.

          • September 26, 2013 at 3:04 AM //

            Yes to all of this. My Mom is a huge reader and used to have a subscription to a SFF book club. They have 14 double-stacked bookshelves in their home; they have nowhere to put new books, and I’m pretty sure they have already culled the herd down to keepers. So, what she used to do was get in the hardcovers, read them, and then pass them on to us. She doesn’t do this anymore as my partner and I can no longer read physical books due to the arthritis in our hands.

            (My partner, before some lovely friends gifted us with a Nook Color several years ago, had been unable to read for about a year. Getting the tablet reader has been such a lifesaver, or well, reading-saver, for the both of us, although I can still read YA hardcovers as they are much lighter weight. My partner can’t, though.)

            We do end up spending more on ebooks but for us it is either that or not read, and while the extra price tag on ebooks is annoying, we’re pretty much in a catch 22 situation. Neither of us are willing to give up books, or go indie only (we certainly have our auto-buy authors that we have followed for years), and we’re in a better financial situation, but we probably buy less than we did when we could go to Borders and buy a bunch of books on the buy 4 get 1 free deals they frequently had.

        • There is no question that costs fall into three categories: (a) Sunk costs (advance, freelance editing and cover design) which are incurred no matter which format the book comes out in (b) production costs (which depend on format) such as warehouse fees, returns, and shipping, and overhead to keep the lights on and pay the rent. What is left over is profit.

          Currently publishers earn 123% more than authors on print (not far off from 50/50 so a reasonable distribution) but on ebooks publishers earn 300% more than the authors. Back when ebooks were a small % of sales, author’s didn’t care about this. But I sell more ebooks than print even though I’m published through a big-five and in such an environment…publishers are bleeding authors. The ebook royalty share should be on chuck’s list (imho).

    • Oh, I’ve few illusions that my post will somehow SHATTER PUBLISHING and ILLUMINATE MINDS — though, if I contribute somehow to moving the needle even a little bit, I’ll take it.

      Like I said in another comment, I don’t *quite* buy the concern over hardcover sales — people who want a hardcover will still want it, and those who don’t didn’t before and don’t now. Hardcover is an elite object driven by the scarcity model which sits in perfect opposition to the infinity model of e-books. It’s special to own a hardcover and I suspect that those who want them will want them regardless — e-books being $11 doesn’t change that, and I don’t think dropping that price to, say, $9 changes that, either. Assume the hardcover is an object of art and treat it as such; for the rest, allow them the e-book at a reasonable price equal to or around mass market.

      My two cents added to yours.

      FOUR CENTS.

      Time to buy a Lamborghini.

      — c.

      • I should have been more clear; I understand their concern, but I don’t know how much is warranted. However, in my strictly-a-reader days, I knew folks who didn’t want to buy hardcover because it was expensive but did anyway because they didn’t want to wait for the mass market. This is the logic that publishers are applying to ebook, but thankfully most have done away with holding the ebook hostage completely. Instead, they’re saying you can buy the expensive ebook now, or if you wait a year, you can get the cheaper one. It’s the old model applied in a different way. Difference of course is that it’s the same damn file. So yeah, it’s screwy, but I can see their thinking, and why they’d be reluctant to change.

    • “Even if the higher ups at publishers get on board with this, when they try to implement it, there is going to be a shit show from many, if not most, authors.”

      That’s not what I’m seeing…I and many authors I know are begging our publishers to enroll our books in Amazon’s MatchBook program. I want to take it a step further and get an amendment to my contract so that if people email me the receipt I can email them ebooks – this would expand MatchBook to B&N, BAM, and inide bookstore purchases. Do I think I’ll get either of those things? Not likely.

      • Well, you’re a SFF author. Like I said, SFF and romance authors get it. That’s why Baen, Tor, Angry Robot, etc., are the publishers/imprints doing some of this stuff already. The majority of their authors are in the know and are vocal about it. Outside of those genres, while many authors do get it, they aren’t the majority. And some big names can be the most against it; like I said with what happened with the WoT ebook.

        • I was glad when Tor went DRM free and was hoping that Hachette(Orbit), Harper Voyager, Penguin, and the rest would jump on board – it’s been awhile now and nothing yet. What are the chances they’ll embrace MatchBook? I’m not holding my breath…and I’m upset I don’t get a say, but that’s the price I pay when I signed and I’ll abide by that. But for new projects…makes a person wonder. I kept ebook rights to Hollow World and that means I can bunde, provide DRM free, and give multiple formats. I think part of what Chuck is saying is “Hey, we want to work with you, but there are other alternatives that we have to consider when you don’t.”

    • Perhaps they should then “test the market” with the SFF and Romance crowds and see what happens. If it’s a wild success, they’ll know. i.e. New book release! Buy the hardcover, get the ebook free! Or, get just the ebook for $8.99. And then they can compare numbers to the previous book release and see if it is better or worse.

      Not being an insider in the publishing world, I know that marketing would probably have a million things to want to compare and run numbers against, but I still think that if you know a particular market is clamoring for something, it’s worth it to at least test it out and see if it’s a viable option.

      • Well that’s why Angry Robot is doing it. And I imagine, with some vocal editors fighting for it, imprints like Tor might be able to test the market as well. But it’ll take time.

        • I applaud what Angry Robot is doing with Clonefiles…but it doesn’t go far enough. It is limited to just a few independent bookstores in the UK (and soon the US?). What we need is bundling REGARDLESS OF POINT OF PURCHASE. To me this is really easy to solve. Create an addendum to the contract (for those authors who want one) that says they can distribute DRM free ebooks in any format free to any reader that provides them with proof-of-purchase of a print book. Let’s face it the majority of the bundling will happen on Amazon through MatchBook so I’ll have a few more emails each day…and if it gets too cumbersome, I’ll teach my kids to do it. If it gets really popular, I’ll run a Kickstarter to implement an automated system. This isn’t rocket surgery…and is very doable.

  • Amy,

    I agree entirely about bundling ebooks with Hardcover sales. I don’t think publishers have done a good enough job justifying the ‘premium ebook’ price to consumers when it comes alongside a hardcover release. I think it’d be possible to create a marketing effort to re-frame that expensive ebook as the ‘VIP or early access’ edition, but that would work better with extra ebook content to make the premium ebook seem like it’s actually worth more and not just an up-charge to protect HC sales.

    But that fight is probably harder and could be more expensive than bundling ebooks with the HC, and since I’m pro bundling, that’s where my efforts are going.

  • I’ve said some of this in the various replies to comments but I wanted to include my additions to the “Dear Publisher list in one place. Dear publisher,

    * Making me sign over my rights until I die + 70 years (life of copyright) is ridiculous

    * 300% of the income I receive on ebooks is NOT equitable

    * When I sell English world-rights you should distribute ebooks worldwide. If your infrastructure prevents you from doing so, then I should be able to sell in those territories without you.

    * $9.16 a week is not enough income to me for you to still retain the licensing rights to it. Raise your bars on what “out of print means”

    * Many non compete clauses are illegal and unenforceable – so why are they in your contracts?

    * Getting 50% of my audio book income when all you did was sign a piece of paper, is a lot of money for a few hours work.

    * Sign more print-only deals or face losing authors to smaller presses who will do these contracts, or self-publishing – because the e-book royalty rates are ridiculous (see bullet above).

  • The thing that really cracks my tooth enamel is when the ebook price is higher than either the hardback or paperback edition. (I’ve observed it on Amazon.) I know they’re likely overstocked with paper and want to drive sales in that direction, but it simply means they’ve lost ANY sale.

    • I agree with Chuck – it’s usually not the author or publisher doing this. Most (if not all) publishers set the ebook price lower than the print books – but they have no control over how much discounting Amazon does (especially now in the post-DOJ ruling). Before that, retailers couldn’t discount ebooks – and the publisher set the prices – but now Amazon controls the discounts on both print and ebooks so if they discount one more than the other – it is Amazon’s doing – not the publishers.

  • I’ve worked in publishing for 12 years now and I think DRM is crap too. Part of why we keep DRM is that some authors (cough, cough, crazy authors) are OBSESSED with the idea that people are stealing their book or that the publisher is giving away too many copies. I’ve had authors cancel contracts with my company over the fact that we don’t use DRM in our ebooks. Sorry kids, you can’t have it both ways. You can either accept that there will be some book thievery with no DRM (and that your royalties check may be a little smaller due to said thievery) OR you can have stranglehold DRM and be sure that only people who pay for your book can read your book.

    • The catch is that WITH DRM you get more piracy, because people face the choice of buying that other reader which your DRM supports, or getting the pirate copy of that book.

      O’Reilly sells DRM-free books in ePub, PDF and mobi format. They are still profitable.

    • In terms of piracy, haven’t studies shown that book piracy is the least favorite of those who say AARRR? People are more likely to pirate music and movies than books?

      As a reader, I think the DRM is a stupid hassle. I’ve seen several authors asking about it and deciding to go DRM free based on their reader feedback.

      If someone’s going to steal your book, they’re going to steal it whether it’s DRM or not. If someone’s going to pay for your book, make it as easy for them to read it as possible.

  • I agree $10 is too much for an eBook. Although I have paid that much for an eBook I absolutely had to have. Right now I personally don’t have the room for physical books, but I do love the idea of getting a cheap/free e-version of a book with the physical copy. I also think libraries need to get as much support as they can.

  • 1) If you charge more than $10 for an ebook, I’m going to find the used paperback version. The used bookstore will get my $3, the previous owner will get 50 cents, and you will have to be content with the $8.99 that the original owner paid for it in the first place back in 2007.

    2) If you are charging more than $10 for something that is nothing more than a data file, somebody might think that you are trying to launder money. Using an AI to buy 50,000 ebooks at random intervals could be a low profile way to get money from point A to point B.

  • It intrigues me that people who don’t blink at paying $12+ to see a movie once in a theatre complain about paying that much for a book that they will have as long as the technology holds out. 2-3 hours of entertainment? yeah that’s worth $12; 10-20 hours (more or less depending on length and reading speed) that you can experience again as many times as you wish? no way I’m paying that much!

    I’m not saying I know what the prime price for ebooks are or even if that price is above or below $10. Not enough data. : ) All I’m saying is it makes me sad to see works of art reduced to the materials they are made of. It depresses me terribly to see when people discuss the value of a book they don’t talk about the ideas, or the stories, or the way it makes them feel, Nope, they talk about paper and distribution and resell.

    This is a great post though, with a lot of truth that needs to be repeated.

    • I stopped watching movies in theaters over a decade ago. :D I’ll go for movies I really really really have to see, like LotR. But otherwise, I just wait for the DVD because they cost the price of one ticket, then I can pause it, watch it a million times, have closed captioning.. and even resell it if I hate it. Oh, and I’ve taken my kids to see maybe one every other year or so so I can teach them how to behave in a theater or enjoy air conditioning when our house is broken. XD

    • Like Katie, I don’t go see movies unless it’s a special occasion (someone’s birthday and they really want to see a movie, or something like that). Part of that is that I haven’t really been interested in many movies in the last few years, but part of it is the cost: movie, popcorn, and drink for one person runs above $20. I could go out for a reasonable meal for that. When there was still a theater that let students in for $6, I saw a lot of movies that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. They were cheap enough that I didn’t mind the prospect of walking out halfway through if it sucked.

    • I agree…books provide hours of entertainment and I don’t like seeing $0.99 and $2.99 ebooks. I’m not in the $12 and $14 camp either but it seems like $4.99 – $7.99 is a reasonable price for the time I spend with my books. Heck a McDonalds meal will run you $7 these days.

  • As a writer and soon to be publisher I applaud what you’re trying to do here, but strongly disagree with much of the specifics. Especially the implication that “all writers think these things,” kind of rubs me the wrong way. Just to pick one item, the idea that all eBooks should be permanently capped at $10 is outrageous. All books are different.

    I agree that around $10 is definitely the sweet spot, but just as with music publishing, the “real” eBook price should be something lower than the printed paper book price, but still related to it.

    The analogy to a mass market paperback is something I agree with but your statement that this is always under $10 is just incorrect. Many are floating in that range between $10 and $20 although most are below $15.

    This (to my mind), is the correct price for an eBook. “Around” $10, but with some lower and some higher by a small margin.

    • I do not recall asserting that all writers think these things.

      If you think e-books are well-priced above ten bucks, hey, cool. Then you are probably comfortably paying for e-books left and right.

      But here’s often what happens with me:

      I see a book that’s interesting.

      I think, “Mmm, I don’t know the author, don’t know the book, but it sounds cool. The physical price is a bit high.” Then I think about Kindle. And if it’s higher than ten bucks, I think, “Nnnyeeaaaaah, I dunno, I fear disappointment for that price,” and then, momentarily paralyzed by indecision, I go eat a cookie and forget about the book forever. Or at least until someone on Twitter tells me it’s totally worth the price, then I’m back in.

      So, for new authors in particular, or mid-list authors, that ten-dollar-plus price is high. SO SAYS MY OPINION NOT THE OPINION OF ALL AUTHORS ALL THE TIME EVERYWHERE *awooga awooga*

      — c.

    • There was a time when customers demanded $9.99 ebooks as a fair price. There were even reviews where they would criticize books that were above that price point.

      http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/amazon-customers-boycotting-ebooks-over-9-99_b8952

      In some aspects, I think self-publishing has hurt e-book pricing because there are too many people selling 300 page novels for free, .99 cents, or $2.99. I disagree with what publishers have done by over charging, but indies are more than willing to give away the entire store.

      • I agree with you. There has to be a good medium ground. $0.99 and $2.99 on occasion as a sale to boost prices – a good thing. But if we completely devalue books to that price point such that readers expect they should never pay more than that…well we’re going to suffer from really crappy books because even more authors than now will need day jobs to survive and that leaves less time for writing.

  • >>perhaps you are one of those people that thinks that eBooks aren’t “real” books or are only adjuncts to the real thing that one reads casually and doesn’t value at all.

    Can I loan it to a friend? Can I resell it when I’m done with it? Can I be guaranteed it will still be readable and I’ll still have the “rights” to read it in 5 years, 10, 20?

    Yes, it’s an ephemeral, inferior product to a physical book (although it also has its strengths and advantages and I’m not suggesting otherwise), and I for one don’t think any ebook is worth more than about $6.

    And since I’m responding, let me add that I think the original post above was on-the-money.

    • Thank you for being in a profession that helps foster a love of reading. I’m appalled by how publishers treat ebooks and libraries. My own publisher, Hachette, only recently started an ebook program – May 2013!! And they require 3 times the print price for an ebook that can only be loaned one at a time. I have no problem with the one-at-a-time criteria…after all that’s how real books are loaned. But lower the price and allow the libraries to have more books to loan!

  • September 25, 2013 at 1:50 AM // Reply

    You would not believe how difficult some publishers make it for a library to buy an e-book to lend out.

    Seriously. It’s like they don’t want our money.

        • Agreed! I’m not saying I agree with this tactic, but it is unfortunately the truth. As I stated once on here, I used to work for a major bookstore chain, and now matter how much people love books, no matter how much writers love writing, in the end it eventually comes down to profit.

    • I read in the industry a lot – and I’ve seen the stories – and I’m horrified by them. Publishers are thinking completely backwards on this issue to be sure. If publishers REALLY want to combat piracy, make it cheap and easy for libraries to distribute ebooks . Authors will find new fans (who will buy subsequent books), and the readers will provide essential word-of-mouth advertising. Don’t try to squeeze every cent out of the libraries, let them stretch their budgets and expand your author’s fan base!

  • $10 ebook? $10 ebook? There are times I would be fucking GRATEFUL for a $10 ebook. I’ve been writing my thesis, and there was a book. As there is. The library had it, but I wanted my own copy so that when I went out tramping in the bush, in a vain attempt to retain some fucking sanity, I could take my Kindle and try to fathom out my work in the great outdoors. So, what do I do? I look for the ebook on Amazon, and there it is, a Kindle edition… priced at $104.80. No, that’s not a typo. And it’s in US dollars, which is God knows how much in real money (New Zealand dollars).

    Don’t believe me? Look it up: “The Mathematics of Sonya Kovalevskaya” by Roger Cooke. Great book, truly informative. If I could have gotten the ebook for $10 I would have shelled out my tiny student budget for it, but ten times that is taking the piss. My money stayed firmly in my pocket, and I went the time-honoured student route of hogging the damn library book, denying others of its presence for close to a year.

    Of course, I don’t think anyone bar me had checked it out in the past decade, but that’s not the point.

  • >>And yet we’ll pay $12 for a 1.5 hour experience for a crappy movie at the movie theaters, but not over $3 for a multi-hour experience with a book

    No we don’t! We pay a monthly price for an all-you-can-eat buffet and watch it on Netflix. Or Hulu. Or even cable. How old ARE you, anyway?

    >>And before you think it’s cowardly that we can’t participate, think about this: we have so many contracts and so many allegiances to so many authors, distributors, and the reading public, we are bound to anger someone, no matter what stance we take.

    You’re right, sounds cowardly to me. Angering someone is not the worst thing in the world; enabling them may be. Sounds like dinosaurs in the La Brea tar pits, too “stuck” to survive…

  • Okay, late to the party here, and I will readily admit I may not understand the whole publishing ramifications, but an idea hit me the other day and just won’t let go. So here it is.

    When mass market paperbacks don’t sell, the front cover gets ripped off and returned to the publisher for “buy back” credit and the rest of the book gets tossed in the trash.

    And that seems crazy to me.

    Why not donate those books to libraries, give them to the Boys/Girls Clubs, the YMCA and/or YWCA, etc?

    As writers of SFF, we’re keen to embrace ever wider audiences, to get more folks onboard with both reading and writing our genre, and the place to start that process is with our kids.

    But books can be pricey. I for one as kid couldn’t readily afford them, especially not at my reading speed, so we used the Bookmobile, and went to an old dude in town who traded books (and comics!) two for one. And I used the heck out of my school library.

    But money is tight for the libraries (and the schools) these days, and other orgs probably don’t even have book budgets.

    So why not help them out? Give the publishers some sort of charitable contribution write off, and get those unsold books into the hands of eager young readers, and keep them out of our landfills.

    Because you know that’s where they wind up, in the dumpster behind the Save-o-Mart.

    Oh, and add our various veterans’ organizations to the list of eligible recipients too, and retirement centers, and any other places “we” deem wanting.

    The saying goes “a mind is a terrible thing to waste”. So is a book.

    • I used to work for Border’s, and yes I had to do that. It appalled me. The reason for that is so that when the book is thrown away or recycled (depending on the company) it can’t be resold without a cover and the first few pages.

      I agree with you completely, but it’s the logic of the world. There is no profit in donating books. Plain and simple. Gotta make money on it or something becomes obsolete.

    • I totally see your point…but here’s the problem. The reason the cover is returned is so the bookstore doesn’t have to pay for the book. If the books were donated…then they could sell 100 books but also claim they donated that same 100 books and they could get credit even though they sold them.

      The whole reason the covers are torn off is because shipping them costs more than it costs to print them. So if the store returned the books “whole” and then the publisher “donated them” to a worthy charity the shipping costs would really drive up their costs on a product with already VERY LOW margins. There are many mass market paperbacks where the publisher has a “return loss rate” of 3 to 1. So if they print 30,000 books they’ll sell only 10,000.

    • Yes, I do get that money part, but we’re talking about changing publisher behavior, right?

      All it would take is one publisher/reseller combo, Baen and B & N as an example. And yes, it would require a bit of honor on their parts. And there are penalties for fraud already on the books (no pun intended)

      And they could switch it up by tearing off the back cover instead, it’s where the UPC symbol is, seems like that would be better for automation anyway.

      And yes, there is a lot of longstanding operational inertia to overcome. That “no front cover” thing has been around a long time.

      But think of all the positive press they could generate. It’s “green” and it’s good for growing readership, esp. among under-served demographics.

      And let the receiver be responsible for pick-up, so no shipping costs there.

      I’ll leave it lie for today, but someday I’ll return to it. It just makes too much sense not to, despite the valid arguments against.

  • Not to toot my own horn, but, well TOOT…Booktrope (which I co-founded) based a lot of what we are doing on the very things you call out in this blog post. We have 260+ people working in our process, and have produced 160+ books – many of them bestsellers on Kindle and Nook (although we do create print books, that is not our focus). We love libraries, embrace giving metrics to our authors (how else will you know if marketing is working?), and even pay royalties on a monthly basis. We often give away books, and in some situations when we have ended up with outdated print books, happily give them to used bookstores – cover intact. We do not use DRM and all our books are licensed under Creative Commons. I would love to tell you (or any of your readers) more if you are ever so inclined – I am pretty easy to find, as are the rest of the crazy Booktrope crew. You can find us using the hastag #Booktrope on Twitter, or any of the other social media conglomerates ;) Thanks for fighting the good fight. Without visionaries such as yourself, companies such as Booktrope couldn’t exist, let alone succeed.

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