Home » Romance, Royalties » An interesting email from Carina Press

An interesting email from Carina Press

6 March 2013

From author Kaz Augustin:

An interesting email landed in my Inbox earlier this week and, as it was addressed to me, I think I’m safe to use my own discretion and share it with you. The email had to do with pricing changes. I am told:

Last fall, we told you that we were undertaking the task of looking at our pricing and changing backlist pricing where appropriate. After several months of working on this…and getting approvals from our leadership team, we’ve finalized all changes and will be rolling them out in April and July.

…[W]e are no longer pricing based on word count, but utilizing that as only one of the factors.

As Jon Stewart says, chin on palm: Oh, do tell!

. . . .

Please note that, while Marketing, Retail, Sales and Editorial were included in these oh! so very important decisions, nothing was mentioned about the poor Author who, it appears, is only a footnote in this orgy of revenue reorganisation. You will also note “the new addition of the $1.99 price” point.Ouch! $1.99? Them’s scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel words! Not so bad for short stories and novellas but I would hate to be an author with a print-viable novel (55K words and above) forced to that price point.

. . . .

Let’s look at DRYNN by Steve Vera. It’s a whopping 91,000 words. (Congratulations Steve. No, I really mean that. It takes a lot of effort and ability to keep a novel humming for that length and, having done something similar after which I collapsed in exhaustion, I salute you.) Its price? Does $5.99 sound fair? It does to me. No, would you believe, $2.69? For 91,000 wordsNot self-published.

Is Carina serious? In my last statement from Harlequin (April to June 2012), I received $27.21 on the sale of 29 books. That works out to an average of $0.94 per book on a cover price of $5.99.

. . . .

Remember, 94 cents on six dollars. If the price of my book drops by two-thirds (as I’ve been informed it will), then I can only expect about $0.31 per copy on future statements.

. . . .

For a 91,000 word novel, the author will be getting approximately 16% of the cover price. This is due to various Harlequin shenanigans involving their mother company in Switzerland “selling” rights to their own companies in other countries and thus stiffing authors of at least half of their royalties, then on-selling to etailers who take 50%, etc. So, after all this financial bait-and-switching is done, the average royalty is around 16% (An auditor! An auditor! My royalties for an auditor!) and I think I’m being generous here.

So, on a $2.99 digitally-released 91,000-word novel, the author will be getting 48 cents in royalties.

. . . .

Carina Press has professional editors, so do I. Carina Press has a Twitter account, so do I. Carina Press has a Facebook account…well, I don’t have one because I detest Facebook. Carina Press has a website, so do I. Carina Press sells through various etailer outlets, so do I. In fact, Carina Press does bugger all more than I do all on my lonesome (almost three years later and I’m still amazed at what a skinflint organisation Carina Press is on the marketing front) and I’m still making a multiple of the figure a powerhouse like them can come up with.

Link to the rest at Fusion Feuilletons

Romance, Royalties

37 Comments to “An interesting email from Carina Press”

  1. Cue the outraged “indie vs. tradpub” comments on 3, 2, 1…

    • No outrage here. I’m happy I self-pubbed. :-)

      • Me too. But I’m not averse to tradpub. I’m averse to having a bad contract with tradpub. However, no one’s offering any to me. :-)

      • Ditto that sentiment! (especially after reading this–ouch!) And I can make it onto bestseller lists all on my own, thank you. No special publisher needed.

    • What outrage, hon? I’ve been practicing my Vulcan face so I don’t laugh when trad pub writers tell me this stuff.

    • Meryl, I’m sorry, but I didn’t find your comment to be very helpful. There are still so many authors who are not educated, that both these posts and the comments are important.

      The fact that you’ve seen alot of them, doesn’t mean they are no longer needed.

      As for good contracts with Trad. Publ., I think about 2 or 3 of them exist. They are as elusive as the Unicorn, and likely to be just as rare. One reason Publishers may have signed those contracts was to create an illusion. Sort of like the amusement park games, where the bottles are really nailed to the plank, but hey, keep trying. Buy some more balls and next time you’ll hit it.

      • Mira, whether or not you find my comment helpful, I felt like making that comment, and so, I made it. You may want to brace yourself, because it’s entirely likely I’ll be making more unhelpful comments in the future. Every so often, the Snark is with me.

  2. I’m an unpublished author who is currently shopping my first book around and just finished a first draft of a current WIP. Simultaneously, I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the publishing industry, book marketing, and the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

    It is all very overwhelming, to say the least. Admittedly, I am barely knowledgeable at this point despite all my effort! I suspect it is difficult to learn much until you actually publish something (one way or another).

    I suppose there isn’t much to be done about the rapid decline in book prices over the past few years. Readers’ expectations seem to have changed (the economics of supply and demand at work). What sounds most disappointing to me (based on this posting) is that, if you go with a traditional publisher, they don’t put any weight behind marketing/selling the book. If you get $0.31/book, but the publisher really helps you sell many thousands of books, then it would be worth it. Otherwise, not so much.

    The way you’ve described it, in a traditional deal, you give up a percentage of profits in exchange for credibility and professional editing/book design/formatting…and that’s it. You (alone) are still doing 99% of the marketing/selling. Do I have that right?

    If so, I’m amazed more well-established authors don’t just take their fans and go self-publish. Of course, the well-established authors are probably getting a lot of marketing/sales help from the publisher.

    In any case, thanks for sharing the information. Every little bit helps me learn. Best wishes to you and your career!

    • “What sounds most disappointing to me (based on this posting) is that, if you go with a traditional publisher, they don’t put any weight behind marketing/selling the book.”

      Jamie, the fact that you understand this point means you’re already ahead of the curve.

    • Jamie, increasing numbers of trad-pub authors are leaving NY publishing. But a lot of them are locked in contractually for years, depending on how many books they sold and what kind of noncompete clauses are in the contract.

      I have a friend who has finally finished out her multi-book contract and will be free to start indie publishing this fall. Believe me, she can hardly wait. :)

      • Along these lines, a lot of traditional contracts basically give control of the the book’s character and world to the publisher. The author can’t write anything in that world without the publisher’s permission. Which means you have to either accept the prices they offer on your next books, or not write in that universe again.

    • Jamie, Dean Wesley Smith has great info about contracts and traditional publishing, including this one about a contract that John Scalzi found.
      http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=8686

    • You (alone) are still doing 99% of the marketing/selling. Do I have that right?

      From what I can tell — and I am speaking from recent memory of going to panels at a SF&F convention, Writing track — you have that right. There are a rare few people who get the weight of an editor-and-sales-team behind them, chosen as the “blessed” for a duration, but the odds on that… Meh, I have little interest in pursuing them, these days.

  3. It’s posts like these that make me even more set on continuing with self-publishing. Seems the only real benefit is for the breakout successes anyway, the ones where the traditional pubs flex all their marketing muscles to push sales. No sense in being mid-list at a trad pub. Better to self-pub and rise to the top, and then take the big 6 up on their $$ offer!

    That’s the plan, anyway. ;)

  4. Everything Kaz said in her post is true.

    I’ll be glad when I can get the rights back to my titles. Enough is enough.

  5. Why does anyone, ANYONE, do business with these people.

    They are snakes and they are thieves.

  6. Hi all. It’s early morning here and I haven’t had my cup of tea yet! :)

    I’ll readily admit that when I first submitted to Carina in 2009, I thought that an outfit like them, backed by Harlequin, would do wonders for my writing career. To answer something Mira asked about WHY, it’s only when you’re caught up in the maelstrom that you suddenly realise something is amiss, and by then your signature is on the contract, you’re way too late and there’s nothing but satanic laughter in the background.

    Before then, it’s all unicorns and rainbows about who they are and what they provide. I’m wondering whether it’s the human penchant to TRUST, as we do all the time in our everyday lives, that makes us writers gullible to such sales pitches.

    Anyway, for better or worse, here’s the tale, and thanks for the words of discussion, support and understanding.

    • Kaz – Good article, and I’m really glad you shared the information!

      If I could edit my post, I’d have it say:

      Why would anyone do business with these people in the future?!

      I completely understand why authors did it in the past. Information about contracts was almost non-existent prior to about a year ago. And if you go back over 3 years, authors had no choice if they wanted to be published. So, I absolutely understand why writers signed these contracts.

      But as information spreads, I hope writers stop sigining them!

  7. Maybe someone could assist me in grasping the meaning of this article and the comments.
    Why should any book be priced based on a word count ?
    Why should back catalogue titles not be discounted down based on market value ? and not on some other formulaic method unconnected with what actual demand there is from the public ?
    The folly of signing ghastly contracts with established publishers who take too high a percentage for no work is clear to me, as it is to others, but …other than that, where is the criticism here aimed at ?

  8. Extreme discounting like this sucks for the traditional author, since they’re getting such low percentages already. To play devil’s advocate though, one could argue that Carina Press is simply doing what people like Joe Konrath and others have been telling the traditional presses to do for a long time — be more flexible about pricing and lower prices if it means more revenue. In pricing strategies, at least, their interests and the author’s interests are similar. They make more money if the overall revenue is higher, as do their authors.

    • “lower prices if it means more revenue”

      But it doesn’t always. They’re experimenting with someone else’s career. If sales drop because readers think lower price = lower “quality” then the author will be tossed out.

      • So it seems like they can’t win here. Don’t experiment with prices, and they’re dinosaurs who can’t adapt. Experiment with prices, and they’re experimenting with someone’s career.

        It seems the real issue here is that they’re not consulting with authors on pricing, which is definitely a problem, though it’s an old problem, and not the scandelous new power grab that this article implies.

        • Livia – I agree. Leaving aside all of the other issues, the pricing issue in this article is a lot more nuanced than people here are representing it, imho.
          And it goes back to some discussions that were prevalent last year – the whole misguided obsession many authors have with the individual price for their work/titles, as against the over earnings from them.
          Authors should value themselves on their overall earnings from a title, and realise that the ‘price’ of an individual copy of their title is only a reflection of the market, and NOT a reflection on them as writers or as people.
          In the world of eBooks, it seems to me that a company like Carina ( for which I have no affection of even knowledge) only wants to maximise earnings. I can see little other motivation for their eBook pricing policy, unless there is a contractual advantage or one I am not aware of.

          Of course the author should be consulted. I believe that that is a matter of sheer professionalism, myself. It at least merits a phone call and reasonable conversation.

          On the other hand I completely agree with the other wider points about contracts and self publishing.

        • Cool, Livia, I love debating you. :)

          Okay, here we go:

          Livia, I would contend it is a “scandelous new power grab” because they’ve found a new and improved way to impose on their authors without discussion.

          Just because a business pattern of complete lack of communication is entrenched, doesn’t excuse it. And if it is partner to a new way of doing business, than that is a ‘new power grab’.

          I would also ask you this: if authors don’t protest lack of communication and dictatorial decisions about their books, won’t everything just stay the same? Isn’t it possible that protests such as these will get Publishers to start communicating and stop making unilateral decisions about other people’s art and money?

          Or lead authors toward Publishers who will?

          • Sure, Mira. I’m all for encouraging publishers to communicate w/ their authors, got nothing against that, and I certainly hope publishers are motivated to become more open about their communications. As long as people know what they’re protesting.

            The only thing I’m commenting on here is that people seem to be mixing issues. There’s a fair bit of “OMG, publishers are lowering prices and thinking about revenue instead of actual price!” while failing to notice that this is the actual pricing strategy Joe Konrath has been pushing for years to much adoration and approval (nothing wrong with that — it’s a solid strategy, even if not everyone agrees with it).

            Plus, the argument here seems partly to be that a 90,000 word novel is worth X amount of money and it’s scandelous and disrespectful to the author to sell it for a lower price. That sounds suspiciously like what legacy publishers were saying back in the ebook price war days, when they wanted to keep Amazon from discounting their own ebooks. And I remember indie authors tearing into legacy publishers for having that opinion. “Silly publishers, saying their ebook must be sold at a certain price. It’s all about the market and what the consumer wants, duh.”

            If people want to criticize publisher contracts, business practices, etc etc etc, go right ahead. Just don’t suddenly change your tune on a specific pricing strategy just because it’s the Big Evil Publishers doing it now, rather than some indie guru.

            • Livia – sorry I dropped the ball on this. If it’s too late to continue to discuss this, I understand. But I wanted to respond.

              First, I think there are two complaints here, not one.

              The first is the unilateral decision making. As the author of the article mentions, Carina’s e-mail said this:

              “Then, team members from marketing, retail, sales, and editorial met to review each author and their respective title on an individual basis–each pricing decision was made to best fit each author, in order to maximize sales potential.”

              Where is the author in this? Why wasn’t the author invited to the meeting? Of – if the author has an agent – what about the agent?

              There is something very disturbing about having your work priced less without discussing it with you, as if your input was completely irrelevant.

              The second complaint is about the pricing itself.

              The freedom and flexibility that indies have to market test pricing, to go up and down, and try this and that, is not reflected in Carina’s decision to price lower based on the perception of reduced saleability. There is something in that that stings. It’s also fixed and non-personal, whereas indie pricing is flexible and highly personal.

              It’s also just guesswork on Carina’s part – there’s no market testing here. It’s one thing to have an indie guess at price on their own work, but another to have a corporation do this with someone else’s work. Carina is just guessing and playing around with price, and they are doing it without the author’s permission or input, even though it will affect the author’s paycheck.

              There is something in here that feels like bad faith. When the contract was initially signed, there were certain assumptions in place about pricing. Those assumptions are being changed without discussion or any concern on the part of Carina. There’s no pilot program. There’s no invitation for feedback.

              I don’t think they care what the author thinks.

              Finally, it’s important to mention royalty percentage. Getting 70% of the return when you are an indie, even at $2.69 is significantly more than 16% of the return. No one has experimented to see if volume of sales in that case compensates for the lower prices, so it is high-handed of Carina to simply decide to try it, unilaterally, even though other people are affected – financially – by the outcome.

              A small, voluntary pilot program would have been more appropriate here, with data collection and 360 degree communication. That would have a gained a different response.

              • I don’t think we disagree all that much, Mira. I have no argument with the first complaint you outline. Though regarding the second complaint, I’m not sure I understand where you got your characterization of Carina’s handling of the pricing. According to the letter, Carina says:

                “In order to make the best decision on pricing both on and imprint white but also individual author level, we first analyze past imprint sales, revenue, and the increase in sales needed to improve revenue a lower retail prices. Then, team members for marketing, retail, sales, and editorial met to review each other and their respective title on individual basis – each pricing decision was made to best fit each other, in order to maximize sales potential.” (From the linked article)

                That doesn’t sound like non-personal guesswork to me. Granted, you have to take them at their word for this, but if you don’t think they’re lying, then that’s a whole other discussion.

                Regarding royalty percentage. I agree that 16% of $2.69 is much lower than 70%. But that doesn’t matter when you’re trying to optimize pricing. The price point at which you earn the most at 70% royalty is the same price point at which you are in the most at 16%. That’s just how the math works out. And that is also why Konrath pushed so hard on his legacy publishers to experiment with his book prices, even though he was also getting 16% at that point.

                • @ Livia – what I mean when I say guessing, is they are guessing about what factors influence pricing and sales. They have not done actual market research testing on this, they are just taking a guess at what they think will or will not work. Then they dress it up in corporate speak, saying they will make “each pricing decision was made to best fit each other, in order to maximize sales potential”.

                  Okay.

                  I’d feel much more comfortable if they were conducting actual research. Maybe they are, but I suspect they are not.

                  I see what you’re saying about the price point, and I agree, you’re right. But without knowing what the right price point is, you’re potentially losing money for the author – at a lower royalty rate.

          • This part also bothers me me (from the original article)

            “If Carina Press is dropping prices (and so precipitously and with such flagrant disregard for the length of its released works) then all I can think is that they’ve been sent a message from upper management to increase the profits…or else. . . . But I’m jumping the gun here.
            “If Carina Press has been given some kind of financial ultimatum then, with the deadlines as set forth in the emails I’ve received, they’ve probably got to the end of the year to make some kind of difference to the bottom line. Remember, this is a multi-tentacled business and the author’s works are nothing more than commodities to be manipulated in order to maximise profit.”

            Oh no guys! Carina Press has been told to make more money! Even now, I can see them playing with prices to find the elusive sweet spot to get the most revenue from their books, and woe to the poor authors who will… Oh wait. The authors will make more money in that case also.

            Don’t get me wrong. It makes sense to hink twice about publishing with Carina if this news means that Carina press is in danger of bankrupcy. And if Carina has to lower their prices to indie author levels, it’s certainly wise to think about whether they offer enough value to justify selling to them. It’s just that the undertones of this price shifting being some kind of conspiracy theory to screw over authors that has me rolling my eyes. I mean, if they were fudging royalty statements, by all means sound the alarm about that. But here, they’re just introducing a dynamic pricing strategy.

            • But for 91K words, surely a full 2.99 to 3.99 is more fair! :D (I confess that I price based off of word-count. Short stories at 99c, the others on how “meaty” I consider them to be.)

      • Zhana: “But it doesn’t always”

        Well … no strategy ALWAYS works. But imho it is well worth a go, especially if sales are not exactly lighting up the world….

  9. PV – is there some odious law in the US that prevents people from publishing or making public their publishing contracts ? I see a LOT of discussion of contracts and you have a special section here… but I see examples – even with private details redacted.

    • There may be non-disclosure agreements in the contracts themselves, much as Kobo has one in its. I have heard that other online contractors may also have such agreements. *pokerface* >_>

      • “non-disclosure”

        But that would not stop a writer who has been offered and has rejected, or has signed a contract, from sharing it’s contents with ALL identification of either parties removed surely … I think it would be enormously educational for writers to see some of these example contracts, for example here on this site. Discussing theoretical clauses is one thing, seeing actual contracts is another.

    • Most contracts don’t have NDAs, that I know of (the big exception being Amazon Publishing). But there’s a culture of being mum about contract terms, advance levels, problems with your publisher, etc.

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