Translating John Sargent

19 December 2014

From Joe Konrath:

Often times it seems as if those who work in the legacy publishing world are so out of touch with authors that a translator is needed to explain the true meaning of what has been said.

Such is the case with John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, in his recent public letter.

Sargent in crazy bold italics, the translation in common-sense normal font.

Dear Authors, Illustrators, and Agents,

There has been a lot of change in the e-book publishing world of late, so I thought it a good idea to update you on what is going on at Macmillan. 

Translation: It will be easier to accept the bad news if I warn you first.

The largest single change happens today, December 18th. Today a portion of our agreement with the Department of Justice (called a consent decree) expires, and we will no longer be required to allow retailers to discount e-books.

Translation: Remember when we illegally colluded with other publishers to price-fix? We did that because we were worried that low-priced ebooks would harm our paper distribution oligopoly.It doesn’t matter that we have a much higher profit margin on ebooks. It doesn’t matter that since forcing the agency model on Amazon, our authors made less money. What matters is that we foresaw a day where ebook sales surpassed paper sales, and we knew that would put us out of business because savvy authors wouldn’t need our value-added publishing services anymore.Happily, Amazon won’t be able to discount our ebooks anymore, so we can charge high prices and protect the interests of our business and of the cartel at the expense of your financial situation.

. . . .

Simon & Schuster and Macmillan have appealed the court’s decision to extend these dates. This appeal still awaits resolution.

Translation: Money that could have been given to you in the form of higher ebook royalties has been given to lawyers. But the lawyers will hopefully help us ensure that your ebook sales remain low. So why should a low royalty even matter to you? It’s not as if your ebooks are priced to sell in the first place.

. . . .

Irony prospers in the digital age.

Translation: We kinda screwed ourselves.

This odd aberration in the market will cause us to occasionally change the digital list price of your books in what may seem to be random fashion. I ask for your forbearance. We will be attempting to create even pricing as best we can.

Translation: We are attempting to create even pricing with ebooks. With paper, we want Amazon to discount them as much as possible. We’re okay with Amazon undercutting the competition on the price of paper books. That’s a monopoly we want them to have, even if it hurts B&N and indie bookstores. But with ebooks, because we have no distribution oligopoly and are technically not needed by authors, we insist on controlling prices.

. . . .

In our search for new routes to market, we have been considering alternative business models including the subscription model. Many of you know that we have long been opposed to subscription. We have always worried that it will erode the perceived value of your books. Though this significant long-term risk remains, we have decided to test subscription in the coming weeks. 

Translation: Be prepared to make even less money. And we’re doing this even though we’re concerned the perceived value of your books will drop, something often pointed to as the reason we’ve kept ebook prices high. So we’re hypocrites. But it’s okay, because we’re trying to save ourselves.

. . . .

I remain entirely optimistic about our prospects together as we go forward. 

Translation: Macmillan’s prospects. Not the prospects of our writers.

Macmillan owns your rights, and we can do whatever the hell we want with them, and you have no say in it because you signed those rights away to us. Your rights are our sole assets.

We haven’t exploited your rights like we should have, because we were looking at the long game. Ours, not yours.

Looks like the long game won’t pan out. So we’re changing strategies.

You’ll undoubtedly suffer because of this. But you’re used to suffering because of the poor decisions we’ve made.

Hey, at least we’re warning you, right?

. . . .

Joe’s questions for John Sargent on behalf of Macmillan authors:

1. Can I opt out of this new subscription idea?

2. My books aren’t available in print anymore, or the print sales are minuscule. Can you give me my rights back?

3. Why do you think low ebook prices are bad, but a subscription service is a great opportunity?

. . . .

10. You said that this is for books that “are not well represented at bricks and mortar retail stores”. Does that mean no Macmillan bestsellers will be in this subscription program? The rich authors don’t have to deal with this, but I do?

. . . .

14. You said there is a long-term risk that this will devalue my titles, but you’re testing it anyway. Are you going to compensate me in any way to be your guinea pig? A bonus? Higher royalties? Some sort of promotion that features my titles?

. . . .

17. A lot of self-pubbed authors are unhappy with Kindle Unlimited because they’re earning less money. Now you want to force me into similar subscription programs. Do you see my income increasing because of this decision? Because the blogosphere is full of complaints that subscription services aren’t author-friendly, and I’m very concerned.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath and thanks to Daniel for the tip.

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books

Amazon’s best-selling holiday author

19 December 2014

From Reuters:

It sounds like the usual setup for a knock-knock joke: Who is the best-selling author on all of this holiday season? Rob Elliott. Rob Elliott who?

Yet it’s no laughing matter for Rob Teigen, a father of five in Grand Rapids, Michigan who, under the pen name Rob Elliott, currently owns the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on’s best-selling book list, outpacing such hits as “Unbroken” and the latest from Bill O’Reilly.

The source of his success: two books, “Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids” and “Knock-Knock Jokes for Kids,” both of which are aimed at parents and grandparents looking for help now that their six year olds are just discovering the art of telling jokes, but have awful material.

“I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said ‘You saved my life,’” Teigen says.

. . . .

Each year, there’s a new set of parents and grandparents in the same predicament, which explains why Teigen’s “Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids” hit No. 1 on Amazon last holiday season, too. Each book is priced at $4.95 – and $2.99 for the e-book version, a low enough price point to make an inexpensive stocking stuffer.

“Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids,” his top-seller, has sold more than 385,000 copies overall, with 90,000 this year alone, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks approximately 80 percent of U.S. book sales. About 70 percent those sales came via Amazon over the holiday season, Tiegen said.

Link to the rest at Reuters and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Here’s a link to Rob Elliot’s books

Lawyers enjoy a little mystery

19 December 2014

Lawyers enjoy a little mystery, you know. Why, if everybody came forward and told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth straight out, we should all retire to the workhouse.

Dorothy L. Sayers

Forget Your Preconceptions About Teenagers and Reading

19 December 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Nielsen hosted the first annual Children’s Book Summit at the McGraw-Hill Building in New York City, co-chaired by Kristen McLean, editor of Nielsen’s Books & Consumers Children’s research and founder and CEO of Bookigee, and Jonathan Stolper, SVP Nielsen Books America. The focus of the conference was to delve deeply into Nielsen’s body of research in publishing, gaming, and film to dispel popular myths about kids and reading, provide publishers information about their audience that might surprise them, and offer opportunities upon which to act.

In 2014, children and teenagers are reading in record numbers and are often driving the buying of books by influencing their parents and peers. The children’s book market has grown 44% in the last 10 years, while adult publishing had its peak in 2008 and is in decline. International children’s publishing is still the largest sector of content creation at $151 billion (surpassing gaming, which is at $133 billion). And reading is still the #1 leisure activity for children 2-10. It’s at 11-13 that is starts to dip, being beaten out by television and games, and at 14-17 pleasure reading loses ground entirely.

. . . .

[N]ot only do 67% of teens read for pleasure, 50% of them also still prefer print books over ebooks. And, while we think that kids on their phones checking Facebook or tweeting means that they don’t know how to interact with each other or that it is taking away from their academic pursuits or that they are just playing games, Junco’s research actually proves the opposite. Online interactions build social capital by giving kids the opportunity to learn more about their peers and help strengthen the intimacy of those relationships and, academically, allow students to have more engagement in their subjects. Unlike adults, teens interact with technology in a very different way, so Junco warned the audience against believing those myths.

. . . .

What the research showed was that, yes, teens only spend 5% of their leisure time reading for pleasure (with watching TV receiving the largest portion of their leisure time at 19%), but book-buying teens are the ones most likely to own gaming consoles and technology like tablets and ereaders. And, with 44% of teens saying they need to disconnect from the internet or take a break, this might help explain their preference for print books. So, while gaming is popular and social media consumes some of their time, it doesn’t mean teens aren’t reading. What is more likely is that they have to read more for school, thus they might need a break from reading during leisure time.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Stephen Colbert Was Late Night’s Most Passionate Book-Nerd

19 December 2014

From Vulture:

“It was the most warped author interview on television,” says Jonathan Karp, the publisher of Simon & Schuster’s flagship imprint. “The more stupid the question was, the more intelligent the conversation became.”

The Colbert Report ends its run today, but yesterday was its last “ordinary” show, and its last guest was, of all people, a fiction writer (Phil Klay, an Iraq veteran whose story collection, Redeployment, won this year’s National Book Award). It was a reminder, as Stephen Colbert prepared to slough off his idiot character for good, of his strange, honorable service to literature. In addition to everything else the show has accomplished since launching in 2005, it might have been TV’s most effective servant of books.

For nine years, Colbert enlisted roughly two writers a week into a bizarre form of theater, the Dick Cavett shadow-play today’s America deserves. It was intellectual combat repeated as farce — and a Trojan horse for the promotion of good books. Everyone in publishing prays that it survives Colbert’s move to CBS.

. . . .

Network shows have much higher ratings, but the authors they feature — from early morning to late night — barely make a Bookscan blip. “The caliber of author that will even get ontoLetterman or Fallon is going to be a best-seller anyway,” says another publicity head, “and these days, even the morning shows don’t do what they once did.” The Colbert Bump, on the other hand, is real, if not always spectacular. “What’s extraordinary is that even interviews that are completely absurd and barely touch on the books have this spike to them,” says Riverhead publicist Jynne Martin, who handles repeat Colbertguests Junot Díaz and Steven Johnson. She can’t say that about Good Morning America. “There’s an unbelievable trust in his instincts — $26.95 worth of trust. Hardcover books cost a lot of money.”

Link to the rest at Vulture

Instagram Blows Away Twitter on Brand Engagement

19 December 2014

From SocialBakers:

Twitter is great for news and real-time buzz. But Instagram is now bigger, and according to our newest data, it’s the definitive place to be for brands who want to engage with their communities.

. . . .

Instagram is making waves – it now has more than 300 million users, 70% of whom are from outside the United States, and best-performing brands garner nearly 50× more engagement with organic content. This engagement is defined as the sum of all retweets, replies, and favorites on Twitter.

Instagram gives brands an outlet for creative storytelling and engagement with tight communities of people who share a passion for the the brands’ values. From the stunning photography of National Geographic and Magnum Photos, to the latest fashion from Zara and H&M – ‘Grammers love their brands.

Link to the rest at SocialBakers

Flickr kills sale of Creative Commons prints, issues refunds

19 December 2014

From Gigaom:

Flickr has abruptly ended a service that allowed people to buy canvas or wood prints based on pictures that appeared in its Creative Commons gallery, the photo sharing site announced on Thursday.

The decision comes just weeks after Yahoo, which owns Flickr, first launched its so-called Wall Art service as a way for customers to purchase physical copies of its millions of images that can be used for free online.

The service immediately ran into controversy after some photographers complained that Yahoo was earning up to $49 for each print, but was not sharing any of the money with those who had posted the photos in the first place.

Link to the rest at Gigaom

A Message From John Sargent

18 December 2014

From Macmillan president John Sargent via

Dear Authors, Illustrators, and Agents,

There has been a lot of change in the e-book publishing world of late, so I thought it a good idea to update you on what is going on at Macmillan. The largest single change happens today, December 18th. Today a portion of our agreement with the Department of Justice (called a consent decree) expires, and we will no longer be required to allow retailers to discount e-books.

. . . .

Late last week Macmillan reached an agreement with Amazon on a multiyear deal for print books as well as a multiyear deal on the agency model for e-books, starting on January 5, 2015. All our other retailers will also be on the agency model, leaving Apple as the only retailer who is allowed unlimited discounting. Irony prospers in the digital age.

This odd aberration in the market will cause us to occasionally change the digital list price of your books in what may seem to be random fashion. I ask for your forbearance. We will be attempting to create even pricing as best we can.

Under our deal with Amazon your net percentage of the proceeds will not change. You will be affected, as you always have been, by our changes in price. Your books will continue to be featured in Amazon promotions and deals.

In reaching agreement with Amazon, we have not addressed one of the big problems in the digital marketplace. Through great innovation and prodigious amounts of risk and hard work, Amazon holds a 64% market share of Macmillan’s e-book business. As publishers, authors, illustrators, and agents, we need broader channels to reach our readers.

. . . .

We plan to try subscription with backlist books, and mostly with titles that are not well represented at bricks and mortar retail stores. Our job has always been to provide you with the broadest possible distribution, and given the current financial and strategic incentives being offered, we believe the time is right to try this test.

Link to the rest at and thanks to Jim for the tip.

An archaeologist

18 December 2014

An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her.

Agatha Christie

What Traditional Publishing Learned in 2014

18 December 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Traditional publishers learned a lot these past few years, and in 2014, started putting their knowledge into action.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll do the traditional media thing, and provide you with my own sort of year in review. All of it will focus on publishing and writing, both indie and traditional, and all of it will be my opinion.

. . . .

I started with a comment Dean made about a line in a traditional publisher’s quarterly financial report for the third quarter about the importance of copyright. Dean couldn’t remember what financial report the line came from, so I decided to find it–and of course, I couldn’t. Not fast anyway. But the upshot was that I read a mountain of financial reports for traditional publishers, and honestly, they sent chills through me, considering what’s been occurring with publishing contracts.

Over the past year or two, publishing companies have changed their thinking about the industry.

. . . .

Much of the change is in response to 2013’s dismal fall sales, which happened courtesy of the Justice Department’s investigation of six major publishers and Apple for price-fixing. It didn’t matter how that case turned out; the case itself changed business as usual inside publishing.

Business as usual was this: Before that all important Christmas shopping season, publishers consulted with each other about the timing of their blockbusters.

Think of it the way that the movie industry does: When a film that will suck up all the ticket sales of a particular genre (like an Avengers movie) declares it will release in May, other filmmakers in that genre will avoid that weekend. Generally, studios will release a film that they think will appeal to a different type of audience.

. . . .

it was smarter marketing to make certain that John Grisham’s latest novel would not compete with Scott Turow’s latest novel, on the theory that legal thriller readers wouldn’t pony up $60 the week of the hardcover releases—they would choose which author they liked best, and only pay $30.

So publishers would contact each other about a year before and informally discuss release dates. Weekend 1 (in September) would belong to Turow; Weekend 6 (in November) would belong to Grisham. But…Stephen King was releasing around that time, and he might take some sales from Grisham, so move the Grisham to Weekend 4…and so on and so on.

When the court case started, publishers couldn’t make these informal phone calls. And traditional book production takes a fraction of the time movie production takes. The publishers released their fall catalogues early in the year, and then the orders would occur, and the release dates would be set in stone.

Because there was no consulting in 2013, a disaster set up: Turow, a former juggernaut author, whose legal thrillers were always an event, was releasing his first book in three years. In theory, his sales would have destroyed any other author’s sales in the same genre.

Just like John Grisham’s sales would in their first weekend. Grisham’s books had ceased to be “Events” like Turow’s, but Grisham had a loyal mass following that bought everything. He got his own release week, generally speaking, just like Turow.

Only in 2013, their releases were exactly seven days apart. Turow’s novel came out on October 15, and Grisham’s on October 22. And Grand Central, Turow’s publisher, learned that readers preferred John Grisham by a huge margin.

Even so, neither book sold at the author’s historic high.

. . . .

No book in that fall sold at an historic high. Factors came together to prevent it. Some of those factors were:

1. Publishers could no longer collude on release dates (or anything else, including price).

2. The rise of independent publishing meant a lot of readers, who would have bought a legal thriller from Turow or Grisham because those two authors were among the few still writing in the genre, got siphoned off. Those readers found other legal thriller writers or backlist novels that had been taken out of print when the legal thriller genre “died.” Indie publishing gave readers what they wanted when they wanted it, and a lot of them abandoned the bestseller they sorta liked for a midlist writer they loved and whose book was now available to them.

3. The utter decimation of the newspaper book review section. When newspapers died, they took their book review sections with them. Surviving newspapers cut the “fat” from their pages, including the book section. (Which is stupid to me, because the book section was a guaranteed source of weekly advertising revenue.) Only a handful of book sections survived, and those were in truncated form.

4. Magazines got rid of book review sections as well. Those that kept the review section, like Vanity Fair, put it in (I kid you not) 9-point type or smaller.

5. The reluctance of the book blogger. Book bloggers with large followings don’t feel the need to review a Big Book just because some publisher said they must do so. In fact, book bloggers prefer to be the source of recommendations for the eclectic reader, not the mass reader.

6. The decline of shelf space in the brick-and-mortar store. In 2013, there were fewer paid placements available in bookstores (up front is paid for, folks, as is that new release table). Readers were learning to shop differently.

7. The rise of the algorithm. Online bookstores would send out targeted marketing e-mails to readers based on previous purchases. Sometime in 2013, online bookstores changed their home pages so that a reader might see only the types of books that interested her. This is changing back in late 2014 because Amazon has realized what a cash cow coop advertising is. Now, when you log onto Amazon or Kobo or Barnes & Noble, you will see a scroll of bestsellers along the top (relatively small) before you see all the “recommended for you” books. But that sales venue is nothing like walking into a store and seeing John Grisham’s latest stacked in piles of twenty everywhere.

There was a lot of gloom and doom throughout the entire traditional industry in 2013 because it was clear to everyonethat the old system wasn’t working. The old system, based on velocity and constant push of new product, was actually falling apart.

So traditional publishers did what all businesses do when something isn’t working: they reassessed. They studied financial sheets and looked at two things—where their business lost money and where it earned money.

The publishers had a surprising realization: those backlist titles they threw up on Amazon and one or two other sites because everyone was demanding ebooks? Those damn things were selling and making the company an astonishing amount of money.

. . . .

Here’s how Houghton Mifflin Harcourt stated that in their third quarter results:

The increase in product profitability was primarily driven by a $17 million reduction in product cost…

You’ll find little phrases like that one in all the financial reports of the major publishers.

. . . .

Ebooks—at any price—are an astonishing revenue boon to traditional publishers. I say astonishing, because I’m pretty sure that no traditional publisher realized how well these things earned until they reassessed their entire business model.

The protectionism that sparked the price-fixing case from the Justice Department? That desire to make sure no ebooks sold so that customers would only buy hardcovers? That’s so 2012.

Where publishers discovered that they lost money was on marketing and any attempt to push velocity. Ad buys in book publications, doing a ton of up-front promotion to spark interest in a book, pay-for-placement in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, all had very little effect on sales, unlike the past.

. . . .

The present is pretty simple: the bestseller numbers have flatlined significantly. In the past, a new release by John Grisham would have sold at least half a million copies in its first week.

Last month, Gray Mountain, Grisham’s 2014 release, sold 122,506 copies in its first week, the highest selling fiction title out of the gate for the entire year. (The closest competitor? Top Secret Twenty-One, the latest Janet Evanovich title, which sold 88,997 copies in its first week. (As reported in the November 14, 2014, Entertainment Weekly Chart Attack [no available link.])

Neither sales figure would have gotten the Evanovich or the Grisham on any chart before the ebook revolution. Those sales figures are extremely low.

I spent much of the fall of 2014 asking serious readers if they heard that this bestselling author or that bestselling author had a new release. Every question I asked was about an author with a fall release, and every person I asked, in my informal sample, said no.

I was particularly shocked to see the anemic promotion for Lee Child’s latest, Personal, which came out on September 2, 2014. Personal is a Jack Reacher novel, and Jack Reacher is a well known character—so well known that Tom Cruise played him in a film—10 months before.

. . . .

Writers haven’t yet realized what they’ve signed. Nor have a lot of this potential cases become lawsuit worthy. Writers have yet to complain about the contracts because writers are still working to fulfill those contracts.

Although you’re hearing whispers. The entire controversy over L.J. Smith who wrote The Vampire Diaries for twenty years is a contract dispute.  Smith signed with Alloy Entertainment, a packaging firm. Smith got nothing from the sale of The Vampire Diaries to television, nor does she get anything from all the marketing and merchandising rights. In fact, Alloy Entertainment fired her a few years ago—which was all within the legal boundaries set by the contract.

Packaging firms have existed for decades. The packaging firm owns the rights to the entire creation (the “world”) and the writers are simply contractors with no rights in the work whatsoever.

When traditional publishers can devise contracts that essentially do the same thing, they do. And writers, desperate to be published, signed those damn things.

Signing those publishing contracts is more dangerous now than it was fifteen years ago. Because fifteen years ago, books would go out of print, and then the contract would end.

Now, books don’t go out of print.

. . . .

Traditional writers who go blindly into this world will get screwed worse than they ever have before. Traditional writers who go in with their eyes open might gain some benefits at the expense of a book or two or three.

Generally speaking, the writers who go into traditional publishing are risk-averse. But it would seem to me that the only writers who should go into traditional publishing are writers who appreciate and understand risk.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Elka for the tip.

PG is very happy to see Kris posting again about the publishing business, traditional and indie.

In PG’s astoundingly humble opinion, nobody writes on this subject as well as Kris does.

At the bottom of this piece, Kris has a Paypal, credit card, etc., donation button. If you want her to keep writing on these subjects, you might consider clicking on the donation button.

Here’s a link to Kris’s books

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