Monthly Archives: June 2011

A mix of self-publishing and the Amazon model seems perfect to me for now

26 June 2011

Lengthy interviews in The Guardian with a British and American self-publishing star.

Excerpts from an interview with David Moody:

When I’d finished my first novel in 1995, I immediately went down the usual route of trying to find a publisher. I signed with a very small press. The book was published and it did absolutely nothing. I’d naively thought that once I’d signed the contract I could sit back and wait for the cash to start rolling in but, of course, that didn’t happen (in fact, I still have the remains of the microscopic first print run sitting in boxes in my attic!). A few things got in the way – work, having a family etc – and it wasn’t until 2000 that I finished my second book, Autumn. Now slightly more savvy, I realised I had two options – did I get back on the submission/rejection merry-go-round again, or did I try and do something with the book myself? I reassessed my priorities – what was more important, making money or getting the book out to people? An author’s at a bit of a loose end without any readers, so I decided to give the book away for free from my website to try and build a readership. The effect of that move, although slow at first, was dramatic. Within a few months I was getting 2,000-plus downloads a month (not so impressive now, but we’re talking 10 years ago). I’d always had it in mind to write sequels to Autumn. When the second book in the series was ready, I released it as a paid-for ebook and, to my amazement, people were soon buying it in decent numbers.

. . . .

I was made redundant in early 2005, and that gave me a great opportunity to look at the business I’d developed and to try and take it to the next level. I started to work with a print-on-demand publisher to produce physical copies of my novels. It was surprisingly easy: I just had to produce print quality text and covers, and they turned them into a book which, to all intents and purposes, was indistinguishable from many of the books on the shelves of bookstores. I bought a batch of ISBNs, and that enabled me to use the distribution services of the printer’s parent company (Ingrams), making my books available pretty much worldwide via Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc. In order to avoid the self-published ‘stigma’, I set up my own publishing company and hid behind the name ‘Infected Books’. Incredibly, it cost less than £250 to get everything up and running. [And] within 12 months of launching Infected Books, I had seven titles published and was selling several hundred books every month.

Part of me wishes I was self-publishing now, because I’d make a fortune! Back then, the ebook market was a fraction of what it is today – no Kindle, no iBooks, very few dedicated e-readers … I sold ebooks very cheaply, primarily because they were virtually 100% profit and I figured a potential reader would be happy to take a chance on spending a couple of quid . . . .

. . . .

As it happened, it wasn’t a publisher I caught the eye of; rather it was two different groups of film-makers. I was approached by a small Canadian production company for the film rights to the first Autumn book (they produced a very low budget movie in 2009 starring Dexter Fletcher and the late David Carradine). The same week I was approached by a production company in Los Angeles for the film rights to Hater – a novel I’d published just a couple of months earlier. Initially I thought it was a scam – one of my mates winding me up! – but after a few weeks of negotiations I sold the film rights to Mark Johnson (producer of Rain Man and the Chronicles of Narnia movies among others). Johnson subsequently brought Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy I and II, Pan’s Labyrinth) on board, and the movie is currently in development. As a result of this deal, I sold the rights to Hater and its two sequels (Dog Blood was released last year, Them or Us is out at the end of 2011), to Thomas Dunne Books in the US. They went on to sell the rights to the books to a number of different territories, including Gollancz in the UK.

Excerpts from an interview with Barry Eisler:

Financially I think it makes sense to take the long term into account, and I’m confident I can do better financially over the long term on my own than I could with a legacy partner. If I don’t need the advance today, why take it if I believe it’ll cost me money tomorrow?

But it’s not just the destination that matters to me; it’s also important that I enjoy the trip. And ceding creative control over packaging, not to mention control over key decisions like pricing and timing, has never been comfortable for me. It might be OK if I thought my publishers were making all the right decisions, but when your publisher is doing something you think is stupid and that’s costing you money – something like, say, saddling your book with a close-up of an olive-green garage door, or writing a bio that treats your date and place of birth as a key selling point, or misunderstanding the concepts of automatic resonance and acquired resonance, or otherwise blowing the book’s packaging – it can be pretty maddening (at least it can be for me). I’ll be happier making these decisions myself.

Ask yourself this. If someone offered you a half-million dollars today as a one-time payment, or $50,000 a year for the rest of your life, which would you take? Assuming you weren’t in the middle of a financial emergency and expected to live longer than a decade, you’d be better off with the annuity. And that’s the difference between legacy publishing and indie.

. . . .

Here’s what I wanted out of self-publishing: 1) a much more equitable digital royalty split. 2) Full creative control (packaging, pricing, timing). 3) Immediate digital release, followed by paper release when the paper is ready (no more slaving the digital release to the paper release).

As it happens, all these terms are available to a self-published author, so I decided to self-publish. What some people might be missing in that simple statement, though, is that it’s the terms that are important to me, not the means by which I achieve them. If these terms are a destination, self-publishing is undeniably an excellent vehicle for getting there. But it isn’t the only vehicle. And if another vehicle comes along that offers all these terms, plus a substantial advance, plus a retail wing that can reach millions of customers in my demographic … then, as a non-ideological businessman, I’m going to change rides.

. . . .

One thing I think is important to understand: we’re not living in an either/or universe. I now have four low-priced, self-published digital works, and if Amazon blows out the marketing for The Detachment, those other works (and the ones to come that I plan on self-publishing) will benefit enormously. As I’ve said many times, publishing is a business for me, not an ideology. And self-publishing is a means, not an end. The end is fortune–the financial kind and the happiness kind both. For that, a mix of self-publishing and the Amazon model seems perfect to me for now.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

J.K. Rowling Really Is Self-Publishing: A Closer Look

26 June 2011

David Gaughran is a regular visitor and comment contributor here. David has written a detailed analysis of what J.K. Rowling is doing with Pottermore and has pulled out several elements Passive Guy hasn’t seen elsewhere.


She will pay Sony & OverDrive a percentage. Sony will build the “interactive reading experience” and manage the website. A percentage is their fee. Same for OverDrive who will build and manage the e-shop.

Why Warner are getting a percentage is less obvious. My guess is that it’s because they own the rights to any game set in the Harry Potter world. Rowling has been careful to describe the “interactive reading experience” as anything other than a game.

However, the descriptions of how that will work, and the screenshots, leave little doubt that she could have been open to a legal challenge without coming to some agreement with Warner first. In addition, they owned the trademark to the word “Pottermore”.

. . . .

The e-books will be available from October. She is going to give a sneak preview to 1 million lucky readers who will be able to “shape the interactive reading experience”.

If you are a Harry Potter fan you will be bouncing off the walls just imagining what that could be. From now until the end of July, you can enter your email address to be in with a chance to be one of those lucky 1 million.

She will hoover up the email address of every single Harry Potter superfan in the world. Then she is going to sell directly to them.

October will see the launch of the interactive reading experience of the first book only. The second book will come in 2012. Do you see what is happening here?

The movies are at the end of their run, with the final one being released shortly. There are no more movies in the pipeline. There will also be no more Harry Potter books. There may be related stuff, such as an encyclopedia, but no new books in the series.

Now she will have a “new Harry Potter release” for her fans every year – a new interactive version for them to experience – only on her website. She is tying them in. It’s genius.

Link to the rest at David Gaughran



Class-Action Suits Against Authors and Publishers

25 June 2011

On the same day Passive Guy drops a little thought about class-action suits, the Boston Globe reports on two class-action lawsuits against authors and their publishers.

To be completely clear, based upon what the Globe writes, these seem to PG to be enormously without merit.


Before this year, there had been only two significant class action suits against major publishers, both of which were settled. Since January, however, both Simon & Schuster and Penguin Group have found themselves staring down the barrels of class action litigation.

S&S filed an aggressive response to a class action complaint from lawyer David Schoen, who has temporarily backed away from his attack on Jimmy Carter’s controversial 2006 tome, “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid.’’ In his plaintiffs’ lawsuit, Schoen said Carter’s book was “an anti-Israeli screed’’ characterized “by falsehoods, misrepresentations, misleading statements, omissions of material facts and outright lies.’’

More recently, two plaintiffs in Montana sued local resident Greg Mortenson and Penguin, which published the gajillion-selling “Three Cups of Tea,’’ a heartwarming tale about all the nice things that happen to strangers in the wilds of Central Asia. The sequel, “Stones Into Schools,’’ sold pretty well, too.

The Montana suit alleges that the author and publisher “have repeatedly fabricated material details in the books ‘Three Cups of Tea’ and ‘Stones into Schools.’ The purpose of these fabrications was to induce unsuspecting individuals to purchase these books and feel good about Mortenson, thinking he was such a humanitarian for the sole benefit of children. These fabrications have generated significant sums of money for Mortenson . . .; and Penguin in the form of book sales.’’

Link to the rest at The Boston Globe (you may have to register and/or log in to read the entire article on this annoying site)

The article goes on to discuss The First Amendment which certainly seems to cover the authors and books mentioned.


25 June 2011

Another article, this time from Salon, about spam books invading Amazon.


Exactly one year ago, I wrote of my fear that, in the current self-publishing boom, “slush fatigue” — a form of existential nausea, once suffered only by a few entry-level staffers in the book business, brought on by overexposure to terrible manuscripts — could infect the general public.

. . . .

Most PLR [Private Label Rights] texts seem to be the product of content farms, quickly-written, work-for-hire informational material cranked out by underpaid writers with little more than a passing knowledge of their subjects. It’s the same sort of stuff you’ll find on The content packages are filled out with public domain material, usually available elsewhere for free, such as old junior league-style cookbooks (“Cat Head Biscuits And Garlic Fried Chicken”) and self-help manuals (“Nice Guys, Shy Guys & Good Guys”). Some e-book spammers publish reformatted classic literature that’s gone out of copyright, passing themselves off as the “editor.”

One of the first to observe this phenomenon is British marketer Mike Essex, who found, in the Kindle store, nearly 3,000 99-cent e-books “created” by one Manuel Ortiz Braschi. Braschi is purportedly the author of “Canvas Painting 101,” “40 Ways to Prevent or Get Rid of Stretch Marks,” and “Seven Days to Profitable Blogging,” among many, many others. When he’s not providing this invaluable guidance to the public, Mr. Braschi somehow finds the time to offer his editorial assistance to such authors as D.H. Lawrence, Leo Tolstoy and Georgette Heyer. (Though how he reconciles publishing both “St. Michael The Archangel — The Prince Of Angels!” and “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” is an interesting question.) Since Braschi’s oeuvre first came to Essex’s attention in March, this authorial dynamo has added nearly 1000 new titles to his oeuvre.

. . . .

Why are $1 rip-offs worth getting upset about? Essex, himself an e-book author, says that some of Braschi’s reviewers have claimed to be so disillusioned they’ll never purchase an e-book again. Others, like Tony Bradley of PC World, worry that there will be “so much spam in the Kindle book store that nobody can find my [legitimately authored] book.” Many self-publishers set their prices low to encourage e-book buyers to take a chance on their titles, and e-book spam could end up discrediting the entire field of 99-cent books. Much as your email spam filter is set to screen out every message containing the word “Viagra,” a book buyer’s mental spam filter could learn to automatically rule out cheap e-books.

. . . .

Ernie Zelinski, who writes work and retirement guides, found that three of his titles had been posted to the Kindle store by a “publisher” named Mingfeng Lai. The self-published author S.K.S. Perry had a similar experience with his novel, “Darkside” and its sequel.

Zelinksi complained to Amazon and, he told me in an email, it took them two weeks to remove the pirated e-books from their store. He’s had less luck in persuading them that any copies sold by Mingfeng Lai should be withdrawn from their purchasers and their cost refunded. As he reminded me, Amazon takes at least 30 percent from every sale, legit and otherwise. “Amazon has earned money from my copyrighted material that shouldn’t have been on their system,” he wrote. “To me, this is totally wrong and definitely not a sign of a company that operates with integrity and decency. I don’t care how much of a problem it would be to take the three Kindle e-books from all the purchasers; Amazon should be doing it.” He also notes that Mingfeng Lai is still being permitted to sell e-books (apparently PLR titles) in the Kindle store.

An Amazon spokeswoman assured Reuters that the company has “processes to detect and remove undifferentiated versions of books with the goal of eliminating such content from our store.” However, Perry was able to upload his own version of “Darkside” without any difficulty, despite the fact that a pirated version of the same novel (with Perry also listed as author) had already been “published” by someone else. (This is less bewildering when you consider that many traditional books have multiple publishers in the course of their existence.) To test the system, Essex published a Kindle book that featured nothing but the phrase “This is the song that never ends” repeated over and over, without formatting, for 700 pages. It “went live” within 24 hours, leading Essex to conclude that whatever automated quality controls Amazon has in place are inadequate.

Link to the rest at Salon



Pirating $.99 E-books – Is It Worth the Effort?

25 June 2011

Want to drive a stake through the heart of ebook pirates?

Lower your prices says Piotr Kowalczyk.


Two e-books, priced $9.99 and $0.99, start two completely different purchase processes. The price level is affecting how eager we are to get a pirated copy. In case of e-books it’s combined with, in my opinion, the biggest solution to piracy –convenience.

Digital goods (especially the ones under a magical level of 1 dollar) – music, e-books, applications – join a group of impulse purchase products. It’s not only because of a price. It’s because of possibility of immediate consumption.

. . . .

For a piracy site users all what’s there is free (or for a price of a premium account/features – which is another case). In fact they don’t really know how much they save, because they don’t know the price of the original copy.

The economics of downloading pirated content is that you download items in bulk. You download a folder with e-books, convert files to your primary format and upload to your device.

. . . .

You’ve just bought a Kindle e-reader. You have to learn how to use the device and download e-books legally – enough for a start. You probably keep in mind that there is always a possibility to use illegal sources. The only thing is that it’s a whole new world to learn. Some people, including me, don’t want to bother with it. I want to read books, not waste my time on file conversion and adding e-books to my virtual bookshelf in a way which is not most convenient.

Kindle owner is aware of the price. It’s $0.99, full stop. She or he has a choice: to get the book in less than 60 seconds and start reading it or look for the pirated copy somewhere else. How long would it take to grab it, download, deal with DRM and upload to Kindle? 5 minutes, 15 minutes? 15 minutes every time you’ve found a book you want to read immediately.

Link to the rest at Password Incorrect

Yesterday’s Goliath, Today’s David

25 June 2011

There was a time, not long ago, when smart money said Amazon couldn’t compete against Barnes & Noble and Borders selling books.

Excerpts from The Wall Street Journal:

[Shortly after Amazon launched in July 1995] Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, enjoyed playfully tweaking both B&N and Borders. In 1996, he said that he understood—but did not share—the two retailing giants’ initial disinclination to make a commitment to selling books online. “I think it’s rational for those guys at this point,” he said. “They’re big enough to break into the market after it’s been validated.”

At that time, Leonard Riggio, B&N’s chairman and chief executive officer, told Mr. Bezos he was interested in buying part or all of, according to Tom Alberg, an early Amazon investor and a member of its board of directors. Mr. Riggio and his brother Stephen, then B&N’s vice chairman and chief operating officer, “started calling Jeff,” recalled Mr. Alberg. “They said they wanted to do something. They didn’t know exactly what they wanted to do. They said, ‘You’re doing a fantastic job, but, of course, we’re going to kill you when we launch.'”

In the late fall of 1996, the Riggio brothers journeyed to Seattle, where they had dinner with Messrs. Bezos and Alberg. Mr. Alberg recalled that the Riggios were very complimentary about what Mr. Bezos had accomplished, but they also reiterated the claim, “We’re going to kill you,” when they launch their own website. The Riggio brothers expressed interest in putting together a joint venture. One suggestion was a website—separate and apart from the site—that would use the system and would carry both the Barnes & Noble and brands. Nothing ever came of the B&N approach.

. . . .

Today, B&N, which is the target of a takeover bid by Liberty Media Corp., has a market cap of about $1.2 billion, compared to $84 billion for

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (link may expire after a few days)

J.K. Rowling, Indie Author – Roundup

24 June 2011

A quick roundup of all of Passive Guy’s J.K. posts in the last 24 hours in reverse chronological order:

What Does the J.K. Rowling Announcement Mean for Indie Authors?

Harry Potter Could Force Amazon to Open Up The Kindle

Bookstores Unhappy about Pottermore

J.K. Rowling – Lots of New Potter Material

J.K. Rowling Brings Her Own Disruptive Change to the Book Business

J.K. Rowling is Self-Publishing

Passive Guy has had enough of all J.K. all the time, so he’s declaring a Potter hiatus for awhile.

What Does the J.K. Rowling Announcement Mean for Indie Authors?

24 June 2011

Passive Guy follows a few agents’ lists on Twitter and, via Twitter psychoanalysis, hereby diagnoses denial.

He suspects publishers are in slightly less denial and will do some heavy drinking this weekend. To anyone with access to liquor store sales information from the Hamptons, please share your data with PG next week.

Make no mistake about it, the J.K. Rowling Potterworld announcement is a big deal, a big disruptive change deal.

Let’s pull out the disruptive elements from what we know so far:

1. Rowling will sell ebooks direct.

Who gets disrupted? Physical bookstores, yes, but also Amazon and the Nook Store.

Amazon is usually the disruptor, not the disruptee, and is experiencing some unfamiliar emotions. The last time they felt this way in Seattle was when Apple announced its bookstore for the iPad and iPhone.

2.  Rowling is not using her publishers.

In a million blog posts, traditionally-published authors have rained scorn on self-pubbers, claiming that anyone who has real talent will, of course, have a publisher handle their books. Rowling has superb contacts with her publishers and she chose not to use them in this venture. At all.

Rowling, who presciently retained her electronic rights will “share” a portion of her ebook revenues with her British publisher. Various analyses speculate that she will also share with her American publisher, but PG hasn’t heard anybody who knows confirm that.

What an amazing statement of relative power between an author and her publishers. Rowling is paying her publisher a share, not receiving a share from her publisher. PG would love to know how much will be shared and whether such sharing is pure benevolence on Rowling’s part or not.

But the main story is that an author who is #1 on her publishers’ speed dial could have done this ebook deal with her publishers and chose not to do so.

3.  Rowling will be publishing new materials on Pottermore.

The author has lots of backstory, notes, material previously edited out, etc., that she’ll put up on Pottermore. She’ll be addressing an obsessive market segment who is not satisfied with the amount of detail on characters, etc., in the books. PG wonders if Pottermore will have a section for fanfic.

This isn’t the same as the author publishing a new novel. It’s probably easier and it will continue to keep her Potter franchise alive with fanatics who will, in turn, continue to bring new readers into the Potter fold.

4.  Potter’s principal partner in Pottermore is Sony.

She did not user her book publishers, but did use her motion picture distributors in a move which disintermediated her publishers from their traditional role as a go-between with the movie people.

Sony has far more financial resources than Rowling’s British or American publishers and infinitely more creative resources. PG expects tie-ins and cross-merchandising between Pottermore and Sony products. Will a Pottermore trailer show up in theaters? Is there anything for the Sony ereader in this arrangement or has Sony concluded they missed the boat (again) with that product?

UPDATE: I’ve been corrected by a commenter. Warner Bros. (a subsidiary of Time Warner) is the Harry Potter movie distributor, not Sony.

When business histories are written about publishing and self-publishing in future years, the Pottermore announcement will be recognized as a significant milestone in the disruption of traditional book publishing and distribution.

Harry Potter is a major brand among serious young readers and their parents that that brand has firmly linked itself with ebooks. It has done so in a manner that removes publishers, book distributors and bookstores, both physical and online, from the value chain leading from the author to the reader.

How much money Rowling’s publishers would have made if the money had flowed in a traditional manner is something we won’t know for several years. Ditto for how much money Amazon and the Nook store would have made if she had sold ebooks through them.

Disruptive Change

The course of disruptive change is very difficult to predict. Once all the experts think they understand the future, something happens that calls their predictions into question. Is Rowling an outlier, a one-off, or will we see other mega-authors sidestepping Amazon to sell direct to their readers?

The timing of disruptive change is also very difficult to predict. It never runs in a smooth path. Last week, the timing for ebooks and the evolution of self-publishing looked slower than it does this week, after Rowling announced she is self-publishing her ebooks.

The Rowling announcement is far from the last of big events that we’ll see. Putting on his prediction hat, Passive Guy says we’ll see:

  • Continuing reduction in the number of physical bookstores (easy to predict)
  • Further consolidation of publishers (also easy)
  • More big author names announcing some version of indie publishing (easy)
  • More Wellesley English majors looking for work outside publishing/agenting (barista training booms)
  • Continuing proliferation of ereaders and/or tablet devices conducive to reading and reductions in ereader and tablet prices (easy)
  • A giant ebook/ereader Christmas season in 2012 (easy)
  • Nastier publishing and agency contracts designed to lock up authors forever (easy)
  • More John Lockes and Amanda Hockings appearing among indie authors
  • Continuing rapid innovation in publicity strategies for indie authors
  • More crowded online bookstores
  • More aggressive talent searches by movie/TV types or new-style agents among indie authors as the publisher/agent pipeline of books begins to dry up
  • On the lawsuit front (after authors work through their battered wife/husband/child codependency syndromes):
    • One or more lawsuits by authors against their publishers and/or agents for underpayment of royalties
    • One or more lawsuits by authors against their agents for misrepresentation of the benefits and consequences of agent-as-publisher agreements
    • Multiple lawsuits by authors trying to break publisher/agent contracts

But what doesn’t change?

People will continue to want stories, new stories, interesting stories, stories that bend their minds and touch their hearts.

Storytellers are always necessary.

People are always willing to pay for good stories.


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