Why I Left My Mighty Agency and New York Publishers (for now)

21 July 2014

From author Claire Cook via Jane Friedman’s blog:

As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only thing constant is change.”

I was cruising along, represented by a powerful literary agent from a mighty agency that I both liked and respected, published by a series of big New York publishers that believed in my books and helped me make them better, and receiving advances for my novels that were substantial enough to live well on.

And then the publishing world began to get rocky, just like the music world and the newspaper world and so many others had before it.

I was one of the lucky authors. I had multi-book contracts, I was still being sent on book tour by my publisher and published in both hardcover and paperback, so I was able to put on my blinders and ignore the changes at first.

. . . .

And then, after years of stability and support, it was jolting when a single one of my novels made the rounds through three separate editors, because the first two left the publishing house. I lost count of the in-house publicists disappearing through the revolving door—even their names began to blur.

. . . .

I think they tried hard with the first book, but the things that used to work for traditional publishers trying to break out a book weren’t working so well anymore. I wrote the second book I owed them. And then I found out that their entire plan for this book was to do all the things that hadn’t worked for the first one.

. . . .

And then my editor went off on a three-month maternity leave that would end just before my book came out, leaving her assistant, a very nice young woman a couple years out of college, responsible for the care of my novel. Less than a month before my publication date, I received an email from this very nice assistant telling me she was leaving publishing to start a takeout food business with a friend.

. . . .

Around this time I started receiving emails and calls from booksellers telling me they were having trouble ordering my backlist books that had been published by my last publisher. And then that last publisher went under and was bought out by another publisher who inherited all their titles.

. . . .

Independent self-publishing had taken off and grown into a viable alternative. Authors in situations similar to mine were becoming hybrid authors—both traditionally and self-published. And in this new world, there was little of the cloak and dagger stuff I’d experienced in traditional publishing where everything from money to marketing was kept secret. Indie authors were generously sharing everything they learned to help others on the same path.

. . . .

So the pieces of my new dream started to come together. I would find a way to get the rights to my backlist books reverted, and then I’d republish them with my own publishing company.

. . . .

And then one day on the phone my agent informed me that in order to continue to be represented by this mighty agency, I would have to turn over 15% of the proceeds of my about-to-be self-published book to said agency. Not only that, but I would have to publish it exclusively through Amazon, because the agency had a system in place with Amazon where I could check a box and their 15% would go straight to them, no muss, no fuss.

There was no deal, no sale. There would be no self-publishing assistance, no special treatment from Amazon to give my books an extra push, no marketing. Why would I pay 15% of my profits—forever—simply for the privilege of being represented by a big name agency? And this might well turn out to be representation in name only, since it was made clear to me that the mighty agency’s subagents could not be expected to devote time and energy to selling rights to works that were not traditionally published.

It was wrong, ethically and financially, and I just couldn’t do it. I Googled and searched message boards and was introduced to the term revenue grabbing.

. . . .

I now own seven of my twelve books. I control pricing and promotion, and I can balance my need to earn a living with making my books available to my loyal readers at the best price I can offer them. I can add fresh content and switch excerpts and change covers any time I want. By the time I have ten indie-published books, I think Marshbury Beach Books and I will be doing just fine.

But already I’m happy. Instead of waiting for the next thing to go wrong, instead of feeling like I can’t get close enough to my own career to move it in the right direction, I wake up every day and get right to work.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman and thanks to Alison for the tip. This post is an excerpt from Claire’s book, Never Too Late.

Riding the Juggernaut That Left Print Behind

21 July 2014

From The New York Times:

Even if you aren’t one of those people worried about media consolidation — there are many in that number — the big bolt of lightning last week that pierced a summer of ennui in entertainment and publishing news was hard to resist.

The unrequited bid that Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox made for Time Warner Inc. had it all: defensive consolidationstaking shape in both distribution and content production; two like-size media behemoths in an awkward, high-stakes dance; secret meetings; board intrigue; and a naked grab for size and power. Plus, there was the gift that keeps on giving: Mr. Murdoch on the prowl.

It was as if a big train with the word FUTURE emblazoned on its side was revving up. But it was difficult not to notice that one car had been uncoupled and would not be leaving the station.

Even though both companies involved in the merger discussions were built on print franchises — Mr. Murdoch’s newspaper empire, and the storied Time Inc. magazine brand — neither owns print assets anymore. In fact, 21st Century Fox is in a position to make a deal and Time Warner is an attractive target partly because they both got rid of slow-growth print divisions. To the extent that the proposal offered a crystal ball on the future of media, print doesn’t seem as if it will be much a part of it.

Mr. Murdoch moved onto his next quarry only after he had quarantined his own print assets under a separate public company. And Time Warner took on new allure when it shed those dowdy old magazine properties that now trade under their own ticker. Print has lost value in business realms because it has, in fundamental ways, lost traction with you and me.

. . . .

Between the flood of information online and the wall-to-wall television coverage, what is left for print?

. . . .

I am a faithful reader of The Journal’s and The Times’s print edition. Both are built on a wonderful technology for discovering and consuming news, and a large part of their profits still reside in that daily artifact. But when big things happen, I stayed glued to the web, at The Times and other great news sites.

Nothing can compete with the shimmering immediacy of now, and not just when seismic events take place, but in our everyday lives. We are sponges and we live in a world where the fire hose is always on.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

‘Authors United’ promises long-term Amazon strategy

21 July 2014

From The Bookseller:

Authors United, the group of writers who signed a letter calling on Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette, has said it is “developing a long-term strategy”.

. . . .

Preston has now written to the signatories to say that a full-page advert will soon be published in the New York Times, funded by a dozen authors, which will include the letter and the names of the signatories.

Preston also wrote: “This struggle with Amazon may go on for a while. Our group, which we call Authors United, is developing a long-term strategy in case our effort here is not effective. I will be in touch with you about that.

“Together, our group comprises many of the finest writers in the English language, with billions of books sold, and we include journalists and authors in every field and genre imaginable and from all levels of success. I would particularly note that many debut authors have courageously signed this letter. Amazon’s recent attempt to dismiss us as a bunch of rich, bestselling authors trying only to protect our income is not going to work.

“We have many loyal and committed readers. They listen when we speak. That represents power; perhaps even enough power to face down one of the world’s largest corporations.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller and thanks to Diana for the tip.

PG tried to remember the last time he read the print edition of The New York Times. He was unable to do so.

Undoubtedly Publishers Weekly will join with The Bookseller in noticing the ad, however.

Drama

21 July 2014

Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.

Alfred Hitchcock

Last Post

21 July 2014

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=eItm1xbAwoo

Digital sales up 10% in first quarter

21 July 2014

From The Bookseller:

Consumer e-book sales rose 10% in the first quarter of 2014, according to the Publishers Association, with strong performances from children’s e-books, and digital downloads of audio titles.

The figure show the continuing slowdown in digital growth rates, after last year’s  industry-wide growth rates of about 20%, but also how e-books continue to gain ground over print-book sales, which were down 2.5% in the first quarter, according to Nielsen BookScan data.

. . . .

The PA said the numbers continued the increasingly strong performance of digital formats which in 2013 represented 16% of total book sales, and has grown a massive 305% over the past five years.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Close The Libraries And Buy Everyone An Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription

21 July 2014

From Forbes blogs:

Amazon has launched the mooted read all you can manage service and called it Kindle Unlimited. It costs, sadly for the US only at present, $9.99 a month and gives unlimited access to some 600,000 titles. Various people have various ideas about all of this.

. . . .

HuffPo rather sneeringly argued that Amazon wants you to pay $120 a year for a library ticket. Which is true but also what sparks this little, not entirely and wholly serious, thought on public policy.

Let’s just close down the lending libraries and buy every citizen an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription. I’ll use the numbers from my native UK here simply because I have a better grasp of them. As a country we spend some £1 billion a year (currently around $1.7 billion) on supporting the library system. There’s some 60 million citizens meaning that we can, from that sum, afford to pay perhaps £20 (as with most numbers I use, there’s a lot of rounding here, the numbers are not meant to be accurate, just informative as to magnitude and so on) for each subscription. That’s a lot less than Amazon is currently demanding but I would bet a very large sum of money that an adequate bulk discount could be arranged for such a slug of customers.

. . . .

[P]aid subscriptions is exactly how lending libraries started out. Both WH Smith’s and Boot’s used to run lending libraries. For a fee one had unlimited access to the stock of that profit making private sector enterprise. It was the specific attributes of books as physical objects in limited supply in any one location that led to councils (ie, the State) taking over library provision. Now that the technology has changed that technological reason for State provision no longer exists. So perhaps the habit of having those physical libraries with physical books also no longer needs to exist?

And finally, the stock of books available is far larger than any physical library (other than copyright depositaries like the British Museum) has available to readers. 600,000 titles is, at a guess, some 550,000 greater than the library system of my native Bath and North East Somerset purchases with its share of my council tax (that is a guess by the way).

Link to the rest at Forbes blogs

Can the publishing industry do a better job of managing change than the music industry did?

21 July 2014

From Talking New Media:

The news that Amazon had launched a new eBook subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, seemed like the perfect piece of information to pass on to an acquaintance – a verocious (that’s almost a real word) reader of what she describes as mostly trash novels.

“I haven’t bought a book in months,” she told me this morning. “Don’t have the time.”

Another person I know, name withheld, said the same thing about magazines. “I used to subscribe to a bunch of them, but just don’t have the time to read them anymore.”

. . . .

It’s tough to live in a household made up of publishing veterans where the only one actually consuming digital publishing products is the one that writes about them

. . . .

We are in the middle of a revolution in the publishing industry that will prove to be no less disruptive to the industry than what occurred in music over the past two decades.

. . . .

One can look at book publishing and possibly see that it shares much in common with the music industry: the move to digital, from single product sales to streaming, consolidation in retail distribution, new competitors, etc. But with magazines and newspapers there is the added complications that arise when considering the role of advertising.

What we are seeing is many changes occurring at the same time. Reader habits are changing as many readers consider the web and social media formats that challenge for their reading time. At the same time there are platform changes brought only mobile devices and tablets. On top of all this, distribution and retail channels are evolving quickly as book chains fail, digital newsstands and bookstores become publishing competitors, and brands that once depended on publishers become publishers themselves.

Link to the rest at Talking New Media

Hillary Clinton’s new book isn’t poetry. But the Amazon reviews of it sure are.

21 July 2014

From The Washington Post:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s account of her time at the State Department, “Hard Choices,” and Ed Klein’s more tabloid-y account of her relationship with President Obama have been duking it out on the New York Times bestseller list. We have yet to learn which one will win.

. . . .

One place where nobody wins? In the customer reviews section of Amazon, where opinions of the two books are twice as polarized as the American electorate because, well, a certain type of person apparently writes these reviews. To wit: Ninety percent of the reviews of Clinton’s book give it either one or five stars. And more than twice as many are one-star reviews.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

Kindle Unlimited: The Key Questions

21 July 2014

From David Gaughran:

Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited on Friday, giving self-publishers a big decision to make.

The long-rumored subscription service will allow users to download unlimited books for $9.99 a month, and reader reaction has been, from what I can see, overwhelmingly positive – especially because they will be able to test the service with a month’s free trial. Writers have been a little more cautious, for all sorts of reasons I’ll try and tease out below.

The main stumbling block for self-publishers is that participation in Kindle Unlimited is restricted to titles enrolled in KDP Select – Amazon’s program which offers various additional marketing tools in exchange for exclusivity. Author compensation will be similar to borrows under the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library – a percentage of money from a fixed pool. The only real twist is that payment will be triggered when 10% of downloaded books have been read.

. . . .

How much will we be paid for borrows?

There’s actually no way of knowing right now. Authors had the same questions when KDP Select launched in December 2011, and I remember estimates ranging from $0.30 to $2. In the time since, borrow payouts have averaged $2.19. It seemed like Amazon was always keen to keep the rate around $2, adding and subtracting money from the fixed pool each month to keep things at that level.

It could be the case that KDP Select and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library was (at least in part) a giant experiment paving the way for Kindle Unlimited, and it could also be the case that Amazon will maintain borrow rates at around $2, but we can’t be sure until it happens. It’s possible that Amazon could let borrow rates slip and hope that increased volume makes up for it. We’ll have to wait and see.

Will this cannibalize paid sales?

This is the big question. It seems safe to assume that paid sales will be cannibalized to some extent, but Kindle Unlimited could also grow the pie. We don’t know how popular it will be with readers, but I’d be very surprised if it was a flop.

So which kind of readers will it attract? Will it be all the bargain-hunting readers that swamp sites like BookBub and make limited-time 99c sales so effective? Will it gobble up the freehunters that make permafree such a winning strategy? Will it wean the power readers off box-sets?

. . . .

Don’t Oyster and Scribd have better terms for writers?

For most self-publishers, the only way into Oyster and Scribd is via a distribution service like Smashwords, where you will get 60% of your list price every time that 10% of your book is read. Unless you are writing lots of very short/cheap books, the terms there can be much more lucrative (assuming Kindle Unlimited borrow rates do indeed come out at around $2 – which is still an open question).

However there’s a flipside to that. There’s no way in hell that the terms that Oyster and Scribd are offering are sustainable. Obviously, both companies are happy to eat the losses today in exchange for market share tomorrow, but those compensation terms will have to deteriorate at some point. The only question is how much. I have issues with Amazon’s compensation model – I hate the fixed pool on principle, and I don’t like not knowing what I’ll be paid in exchange for my work – but it’s definitely more sustainable.

Link to the rest at David Gaugran and thanks to Donna for the tip.

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