Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Hunger Games Movie

30 August 2011

It’s starting to ramp.

Get More: 2011 VMA, Music

Women Are From Amazon, Men Are From Apple

30 August 2011

Women are dominating eReader ownership while they have been slow to adopt tablets, according to recent data by Nielsen.

Women are now 61% of eReader owners, up from 46% last year, while they have climbed up by only four percentage points in tablet adoption for the same period.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

The Coast-to-Coast Video Book Club

30 August 2011
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No, a video book club is not ten people getting together to eat cookies and talk about a YouTube cute kitty video.

From Reuters:

Nine book clubs across the United States took part in an hour-long discussion earlier this month with Meg Wolitzer, the best-selling author of the “The Ten-Year Nap,” in what is thought to be the first coast-to-coast virtual book club with multiple participants.

“I got a kick out of seeing these women sitting there, in their homes around the country,” said Wolitzer who talked about her latest novel, “The Uncoupling.”

. . . .

Using group video-calling from Skype, the club members and moderator Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief of More magazine, chatted with Wolitzer about the book.

The magazine teamed up with Skype to sponsor event. The book clubs were selected after entering a competition.

Wolitzer and Seymour sat before a huge monitor that transmitted a live feed from all the book clubs. Instead of just discussing the book, the club members were able to put questions directly to the author, who then responded.

Wolitzer said she found the virtual book club was not all that different from a traditional one, and much less formal than a reading, which she said tend to be “fairly formal events.”

Link to the rest at Reuters

Here’s more on how to do this and here’s a video about free Google+ Hangounts Hangouts.

A Note About Excellent Comments

30 August 2011

Passive Guy is one of those visitors to a blog who checks out the posts and usually ignores the comments.

Don’t be like Passive Guy!

We receive some really great comments around here. Quite often, they display more insight than people PG quotes and even more of the time, they are more cogent and interesting than PG’s snark.

As just two examples yesterday, check out the comments on The End of the World Jeremiad and How or How Not to Price a Book.

So, if you don’t want to end up like Passive Guy when you grow up, read the comments and don’t be afraid to contribute yourself.

Writers who oppose agency pricing aren’t acting in their own self-interest

30 August 2011

From long-time publishing pro, Mike Shatzkin:

I hope it is a mistaken impression — it certainly isn’t scientifically arrived at — but I have the feeling that there is widespread sentiment among self-published writers opposing publishers’ attempts through the agency model to keep ebook prices up. I have said before that I think agency pricing has, in many ways, saved the ebook business from monopoly control by its strongest retailer. Today I want to posit another virtue of the model: that it boosts the revenue of all writers, whether they are published by an agency publisher or working entirely on their own.

. . . .

Unionized workers and union officials would argue, and I would generally agree, that the benefits the union achieves for its workers actually pull up the wages and working conditions for all workers. It might literally be more “democratic” for employers to be free to hire non-union labor and for workers to be free to take non-union jobs, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t in the vested interest of all the workers for the unions to be pushing to improve wages and working conditions in those situations they can influence.

An analogous situation is now developing among writers of books, thanks to the democratization of access for authors created by the ebook revolution.

I think of the agented authors, published by the Big Six and other major publishers, as the unionized workers. Their union management is the agent community. The structure is different that it is for auto workers in a factory or miners in a pit, but the effect is very similar. Agents control the access that major publishers have to the labor they want: the writers who can deliver the books they can most readily sell. With that control comes the ability to drive up prices and improve working conditions.

The prices — which we call advances against royalties — that publishers have to pay for agented writers is part of the industrial cost structure of publishing. And the prices that publishers are charging consumers for ebooks through the agency model are necessary to maintain revenue levels that will support the industry as it has developed over the past century.

Agented writers pay “union dues”: 15% commission to the agents. And, like a union, the opportunity to get the privilege of paying those dues is limited, not democratically distributed. But those writers get the benefits of an environment negotiated between powerful industrial capability (the publishers) and controllers of a critical labor source.

. . . .

Thanks to agency, the most obvious way to for a consumer to distinguish between the “union” books and the “non-union” books is by price. The major publishers are (generally) maintaining prices of $9.99 to $14.99 for ebooks available in print as hardcovers for two or three times that amount and then, usually, at $7.99 and up when the printed book is in paperback. The non-union books — the self-published books by authors who (again, generally) couldn’t get into the “union” — are most often available for $2.99 or less, often for as little as $0.99.

This price differential, along with it being obvious to the purchaser that the unit cost of what the consumer receives when an ebook is purchased must have been trivial, has led to pretty widespread excoriation of the pricing levels of agency books. This should not be confused with any apparent reluctance on the consumers’ part to buy them; the biggest books in print appear to also be the biggest ebook sellers, despite the fact that the print versions have far fewer direct competitors overall and none at the great price differentials that exist for ebooks.

. . . .

But I want to argue here that all authors, including those who self-publish for $0.99 or $2.99, should be applauding the big publishers’ efforts to keep the perception of value for branded books high by keeping prices high and stopping retailer discounting. Authors should be vocally supporting price maintenance and the agency model, even if they are not “in the union”. There are several reasons for this.

1. Although the standard big publisher split of ebook revenues (75-25 in favor of the publisher) allows a self-published author to gain comparable or even greater revenue at a lower price, those are just today’s transient conditions. It will be easier for authors (through agents) in the future to improve the split than it would be for the publishers to raise prices in the future to get authors more money. If the consumer is putting more money in the pot, then there’s more to divide. The division is something to fight over; keeping prices and value perception high benefits both sides.

. . . .

3. If big publishers reduced their prices sharply, the key marketing distinction that fostered the discovery of such writers as Amanda Hocking and John Locke would be eliminated. On the comment stream of a blogpost I read on this subject (can’t find it so can’t link it), one person posted a string of suggestions for major publisher survival strategies that included “cut all your prices to $2.99.” Why? Because it would eliminate all the competition from the self-published riff-raff that is using price as a marketing tool. So not only would the publishers and branded authors make less money, the aspirants would find their path to success cut off as well.

. . . .

A cost-driven print book commercial model has created a legacy business which has made consumers willing to pay $25-30 for what is for many an 8-10 hour immersive reading experience. Millions of readers conditioned this way find paying around half that price to be a great bargain. The entire mechanism by which those printed books have been selected and delivered — the aggregation and curation of the major publishers’ offerings — is depended upon by the consumers who spend all that money.

No doubt, over time this will change. The print book infrastructure, which has inventory and supply chain costs that are responsible for the pricing conventions that have developed, will not last forever. Almost certainly, books will get cheaper and cheaper. But writers will also make less money when there is less to divide, not more. All writers, whether they’re among the fortunate ones that have a publisher pushing them or whether they’re trying to do it themselves, should be grateful that publishers are doing their damnedest to maintain prices and the perception of value for writers’ work. If that segment of consumers that complains about prices finds fault with agency pricing and the publishers’ insistence that the digital discount from the highest print price be limited to about 50% at the moment, that’s understandable.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Passive Guy has great respect for Mr. Shatzkin and his deep knowledge of publishing. PG has learned much from various Shatzkin writings.

However, PG believes Mr. Shatzkin is dead wrong in his analysis on this point.

First, one of PG’s fundamental principles is the interests of writers and the interests of readers are, in the long term, perfectly aligned. Writers want to write stories people will enjoy and readers always enjoy great new stories.

One of the if/then consequences of this alignment is that when readers can afford more stories, they’ll buy them. Expensive stories are not in the interests of most readers because that means they can’t afford to buy as many as they might want. In the short term, this may mean more money for some writers, but in the long term, this means fewer hard-core readers.

PG included just a few sections of a longer comparison between unions and traditionally-published authors in Mike’s piece and recommends you read it all.

Regardless of whether a company has good or bad union relations, unions are in a fundamentally adversarial relationship with management. PG doesn’t doubt that authors are in a fundamentally adversarial relationship with publishers, but when authors effectively support price fixing designed to increase costs to readers, that puts authors into an adversarial relationship with readers.

PG doesn’t want to get into political issues, but in his union/non-union analogy, Mike doesn’t have any placeholders for Chinese or Indian overseas labor.

Of course, over the last 30 years in the United States, many unionized industries have become much smaller or disappeared entirely as production of goods has moved overseas to lower-wage countries. Steel, automobiles, etc., etc., have become too expensive in the United States because of labor cost differences.

PG doesn’ t think the analog to overseas labor in the book world is cheap ebooks. He believes the real analog is all the other forms of entertainment available at low cost on the Internet and via cable. His contention is that books compete with videogames, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, blogs, television shows, movies, political websites, technology websites, book blogs, etc., for share-of-eyeball.

For some of us, the idea of spending an hour surfing YouTube videos instead of reading a book for an hour sounds dumb.

If the choice was that obvious, it might be something we would never choose to do.

However, PG bets most of his readers have gone web-surfing or Tweet browsing or seeing what old friends were saying on Facebook on more than one occasion, lost track of the clock and discovered it was time to pick up the kids or go to bed or finish the research paper, having surfed their way through time usually devoted to a book.

PG can lose track of time with a good book but he can also lose track of time on the web. If it costs someone $30 to lose track of time with a good book and zero to lose track of time on the web, across a large population over time, after millions of choices, you’ll see books shrink into a smaller and smaller eyeball-share. That process has already started with traditional publishing in a long-term decline in profitability. Hold prices high and you continue that process.

Finally, Passive Guy suggests it is impossible to unionize the web. Trying to turn books into a walled garden with high prices will be an economic failure if antitrust litigation doesn’t tear down the wall before the garden dies.

Author Sues Publisher for Restraint of Trade

30 August 2011

A thoughtful reader forwarded Passive Guy a most interesting tidbit from the UK.

Charles Saatchi, co-founder of what was the world’s largest advertising agency, art collector and general wealthy Brit signed a publishing contract with Phaidon Press. Evidently this contract included a clause PG, Kris Rusch and others have ranted about prohibiting Saatchi from working with any other publisher on a title that might compete with his Phaidon book.

Excerpts from The Telegraph:

[Charles Saatchi] has issued a writ at the High Court in London against his publishers, Phaidon Press.

Saatchi . . .  claims that part of his agreement with the publisher is void and unenforceable.

His contract with Phaidon is, he claims, a restraint of trade because it seeks to ban him from working on other projects with different publishers. The owner of the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea says he made two agreements with Phaidon in 2009 for books provisionally called The More You Like Art The More Art You Like and Questions by Charles Saatchi.

According to the writ, a section of the agreement prevents him from preparing, editing or licensing any work which forms part of the two books, or which might compete with the titles, for the life of the agreement. A judge is due to decide whether this amounts to an unreasonable restraint of trade.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph

PG is definitely not any kind of expert on UK law, but restraint of trade sounds like an interesting attack. In the US, this is a species of anti-trust violation that often involves a combination of companies who get together to reduce competition. The suit over Apple and Big Publishing fixing prices is an example. Restraint of trade is prohibited by Section 1 of The Sherman Antitrust Act in the U.S., passed in 1890.

The Sherman Act generally generally defines restraint of trade as acts, which can include contracts, that interfere with free competition in business and commercial transactions. Such restraint tends to restrict production, affect prices, or otherwise control the market to the detriment of purchasers or consumers of goods and services.

However, restraint of trade is a much older concept under English common law, going back to the Middle Ages. This is also relevant to the United States because the the English common law is incorporated into the laws of 49 of the 50 American states, usually via the state constitution.

Just as the Sherman Act has partially pre-empted common law restraint of trade in the US, Competition Laws in other countries, including the EU, have done the same thing elsewhere.

On a different note, if a wealthy guy like Saatchi could make a mistake and sign a publishing contract that ties him up for the rest of his life, it could happen to anybody. PG wonders whether Saatchi’s solicitors were asleep when they reviewed the contract.

Will the World End When Publishers Stop Paying Advances or Immediately Afterwards?

29 August 2011

Passive Guy saw the doom-and-gloom summary of a speech given by author Ewan Morrison at the Edinburgh International Book Festival a few days ago and dismissed it as hopelessly chicken little.

However, regular visitor and commenter Julia Rachel Barrett tweaked him about it, so here are some excerpts:

Will books, as we know them, come to an end?

Yes, absolutely, within 25 years the digital revolution will bring about the end of paper books. But more importantly, ebooks and e-publishing will mean the end of “the writer” as a profession. Ebooks, in the future, will be written by first-timers, by teams, by speciality subject enthusiasts and by those who were already established in the era of the paper book. The digital revolution will not emancipate writers or open up a new era of creativity, it will mean that writers offer up their work for next to nothing or for free. Writing, as a profession, will cease to exist.

. . . .

But let’s leave the survival of the paper book alone, and ask the more important question: Will writers be able to make a living and continue writing in the digital era? And let’s also leave alone the question: why should authors live by their work? Let’s abandon the romantic myth that writers must survive in the garret, and look at the facts. Most notable writers in the history of books were paid a living wage: they include Dostoevksy, Dickens and Shakespeare. In the last 50 years the system of publishers’ advances has supported writers such as Ian McEwan, Angela Carter, JM Coetzee, Joan Didion, Milan Kundera, Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, Norman Mailer, Philp Roth, Anita Shreve, Graham Greene, Muriel Spark and John Fowles. Authors do not live on royalties alone. To ask whether International Man Booker prizewinner Philip Roth could have written 24 novels and the award-winning American trilogy without advances is like asking if Michelangelo could have painted the Sistine Chapel without the patronage of Pope Julius II. The economic framework that supports artists is as important as the art itself; if you remove one from the other then things fall apart.

And this is what is happening now.

. . . .

With the era of digital publishing and digital distribution, the age of author advances is coming to an end. Without advances from publishers, authors depend upon future sales; they sink themselves into debt on the chance of a future hit. But as mainstream publishers struggle to compete with digital competitors, they are moving increasingly towards maximising short-term profits, betting on the already-established, and away from nurturing talent. The Bookseller claimed in 2009 that “Publishers are cutting author advances by as much as 80% in the UK”. A popular catchphrase among agents, when discussing advances, meanwhile, is “10K is the new 50K”. And as one literary editor recently put it: “The days of publishing an author, as opposed to publishing a book, seem to be over.”

. . . .

In reaction to the removal of their living wage, many writers have decided to abandon the mainstream entirely: they’ve come to believe that publishers and their distribution systems are out of date; that too many middle-men (distributors, booksellers) have been living off their work. When authors either self e-publish or do deals through agents that to go straight to digital they embrace a philosophy of the digital market called the long tail.

. . . .

The recent enthusiasm for the long-tail market does, however, obscure a very basic economic fact: very few writers and independent publishers can survive in the long tail. Amazon can sell millions of books by obscure authors, while at the same time those authors, when they get their Amazon receipts, will see that they have sold only five books in a year. This is not an accident, but part of a trend endemic to the digital world. As Chris Anderson said in his book Free: Why $0.00 is the future of business: “Every industry that becomes Digital will eventually become free.”

The reason why a living wage for writers is essential is that every industry that has become digital has seen a dramatic, and in many cases terminal, decrease in earnings for those who create “content”. Writing has already begun its slide towards becoming something produced and consumed for free.

. . . .

Well, books might not be manufactured in China and Korea but the long tail is the sweatshop of the future, and it will contain millions of would-be-writers who will labour under the delusion that they can be successful in the way writers were before, in the age of the mainstream and the paper book.

. . . .

Authors must respect and demand the work of good editors and support the publishing industry, precisely by resisting the temptation to “go it alone” in the long tail. In return, publishing houses must take the risk on the long term; supporting writers over years and books, it is only then that books of the standard we have seen in the last half-century can continue to come into being.

. . . .

If the connection between publishers and writers splits completely, if they fail to support and defend each other, then both will separately be subjected to the markets’ demand for totally free content, and both shall have very short lives in the long tail. The writer will become an entrepreneur with a short shelf life, in a world without publishers or even shelves.

. . . .

The only solution ultimately is a political one. As we grow increasingly disillusioned with quick-fix consumerism, we may want to consider an option which exists in many non-digital industries: quite simply, demanding that writers get paid a living wage for their work. Do we respect the art and craft of writing enough to make such demands? If we do not, we will have returned to the garret, only this time, the writer will not be alone in his or her cold little room, and will be writing to and for a computer screen, trying to get hits on their site that will draw the attention of the new culture lords – the service providers and the advertisers.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

OK, PG can’t take this any more. Whenever someone talks about a politically-mandated “living wage” for anyone, PG looks for the exit.

Something basic in human nature sends some people into fits of apocalyptania whenever something changes. The closer the change is to a person’s preferred way of earning a living, the more extreme the reaction can be.

“Most notable writers in the history of books were paid a living wage: they include Dostoevksy, Dickens and Shakespeare.”

Who paid Shakespeare a “living wage?” My bet is that Shakespeare worked his tail off writing his plays then made most of his money from the performances of them. History says he was an actor, so he blended two professions which involve a lot of hungry days for many people.

Who paid Dickens a “living wage?” When he was twelve years old, his parents and the rest of his family were sent to the Marshalsea debtor’s prison that was an inspiration for Little Dorrit. Charles worked 10 hours a day under terrible conditions pasting labels on cans of boot polish to support himself.

John Forster, who wrote The Life of Charles Dickens, records Dickens’ description of the bootblack factory:

The blacking-warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford Stairs. It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscoted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again. The counting-house was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river. There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work. My work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking; first with a piece of oil-paper, and then with a piece of blue paper; to tie them round with a string; and then to clip the paper close and neat, all round, until it looked as smart as a pot of ointment from an apothecary’s shop. When a certain number of grosses of pots had attained this pitch of perfection, I was to paste on each a printed label, and then go on again with more pots. Two or three other boys were kept at similar duty down-stairs on similar wages. One of them came up, in a ragged apron and a paper cap, on the first Monday morning, to show me the trick of using the string and tying the knot. His name was Bob Fagin; and I took the liberty of using his name, long afterwards, in Oliver Twist.

Later, Dickens attended a horrible school that he used as a pattern for Mr. Creakle’s Establishment in David Copperfield.

Before he started writing fiction, Dickens was a political journalist. It appears he never felt completely comfortable with the income from his novels because he earned money by editing and contributing to political journals throughout his literary career. He was finally able to buy a house when he was 44. Four years later, he started to give public readings, which provided more income than his writing did.

At age 53, he was in a train accident and became generally unable to write thereafter. He supported himself  and his family with his public reading tours. These were exhausting and he had his first stroke during one of his tours.

How lovely that Dickens “was paid a living wage.”

PG won’t go into as much detail about Dostoyevsky except to say that, at age 28, he was arrested, sentenced to death, subject to a mock execution, then sent to a prison camp in Siberia for four years. After he was released, he was forced to serve in an Army regiment in Kazakhstan for several more years.

Dostoyevsky described conditions in the prison camp to his brother as follows:

In summer, intolerable closeness; in winter, unendurable cold. All the floors were rotten. Filth on the floors an inch thick; one could slip and fall… We were packed like herrings in a barrel… There was no room to turn around. From dusk to dawn it was impossible not to behave like pigs… Fleas, lice, and black beetles by the bushel.

 
Passive Guy proposes that if Dostoevksy, Dickens and Shakespeare were to return to life in 2011, they would conclude there had never been a better time to be an author.

A Writer May Omit Things He Knows

29 August 2011

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.

Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

By the Time A Self-Published Author Hits it Big, Do They Really Need a Publisher?

29 August 2011

Former agent and current author Nathan Bransford says he’s been thinking about this question for a long time:

For now, self-published authors absolutely do need publishers in some form if they want to hit it really big because publishers can get print books into bookstores. But as the John Locke deal demonstrates, they don’t necessarily need them to publish the e-books, and in fact, in many if not most cases the authors would prefer to hang onto e-book rights themselves.

And this is a major challenge for publishers as we move forward into a primarily e-book world: By the time a self-published author hits it big will they really need a publisher?

Let’s revise that: In an e-book world, by the time any author hits it big will they really need a publisher?

. . . .

As I’ve blogged previously, publishers provide these essential services that go into making a book: Editing and Copyediting, Design, Printing and Distribution, Publicity and Marketing, Patronage (i.e. an advance), and Cachet.

While there are amazing editors in the traditional publishing industry, there are also plenty of great freelancers (many of whom used to be quite successful in the publishing industry). Editing can be farmed out. Design can be farmed out. Distribution is a snap in an e-book world.

If you’re just starting out, chances are you really do need the Publicity and Marketing, the Patronage, and the Cachet that a publisher provides. This is what I needed as an author, and I don’t regret going the traditional route with my debut novel.

. . . .

For publishers, here’s the nightmare publishing path for authors of the future: Author signs with traditional publisher for first book, author hits it big, author says thankyouverymuch I got this now and self-publishes from then on out.

Publishers depend heavily on the steady and huge sales of the James Pattersons, Stephen Kings, Dean Koontzs and Danielle Steels of the world. For now, those authors still need publishers because it’s still a print world and publishers are indispensable for getting paper into stores.

. . . .

But I think publishers are going to have to think long and hard about what exactly they will actually be providing authors in an e-book world. There needs to be a major mindset shift from a gatekeeper-oriented “You’re lucky to be with us” mentality where authors are treated on a need-to-know and your-check-will-arrive-when-it-arrives basis to a service-oriented “What else could we possibly do for you” mentality.

No more books that get dropped in the ocean without publisher support. Embracing and investing in new marketing tactics for the Internet era. Becoming an integral part of how consumers find books.

And innovating with new ideas and experiments and models. Some publishers are, yes, but is it enough?

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Book Pricing – Finding the Sweet Spot

29 August 2011

Stephen Blake Mettee, founder of non-fiction publisher Quill Driver Books, talks about pricing factors:

* How big we anticipated the market for the title would be. A small, concentrated market may support a higher price because there are fewer books for those who are in this market to choose from. Large general markets may require a competitive price.

* The buyer demographics: Is this book for poor, starving writers or successful business people?

. . . .

For instance, if we priced a book so we netted $3 on each copy and sold 10,000 copies, we would make $30,000. But, if we priced it with $6 in it for us and sold 40 percent less, or 6,000 copies, we would make $36,000, a 20 percent increase in profit. Of course if the price that returned $6 each cut our sales to 3,000 copies we would make only $18,000.

. . . .

Crown Publishing is rushing out a $.99 e-book on Rick Perry, the latest candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination. The book is actually one chapter from The Victory Lab a fall 2011 release by Sasha Issenberg. According to Crown, Victory will present a broad coverage of electoral strategies and the motivations behind the voting decisions people make and isn’t solely about Perry. This is doubly clever, because the $.99 book will sell on its own and act as an ad for the whole book. Why not consider doing this with a chapter of one of your books?

Link to the rest at The Write Thought

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