Monthly Archives: May 2014

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance

30 May 2014

PG often says the best part of The Passive Voice is the comments. Here’s another example from Mia:

Sadly, this little drama is nowhere near complete. On the Kubler-Ross model the traditional publishing industry is just now deeply entrenched in the anger stage (hence all the steaming piles of vitriol being spewed via every single media channel they can force or coerce to do their dirty work, along with an able anger assist by wannabe-famous-author-journalists who think they’re going to hit the publishing jackpot someday and WHY ARE YOU STUPID SELF PUBLISHERS JACKING WITH THE SYSTEM HOW DARE YOU).

Next comes bargaining for survival, which we have only seen the beginning of. Within the confines of this industry, I expect that stage to include some being bought out by corporate sharks and bled dry (already underway in the form of republishing backlists in ebook form and trying to force those very old contract terms to apply to ebook royalties, for example) some large trad pubs going under, some additional merging of companies, etc. How long this stage takes depends on some things that are really out of everyone’s direct control: How fast electronic devices continue to proliferate, how fast those device owners make the full transition to electronic books (hence paper book sales shrinking), and how often these publishers attempt to skirt the law (a la Apple) and land in hot water with the Justice Department and others. More of that will happen before it’s over, I feel sure, particularly because so many in the trad publishing industry are still so damn ANGRY about change that they’re more than willing to break the law to keep their “way of life” going. I feel like giving them all a hug and a copy of “Who Moved My Cheese”. Except I don’t want to hug them, ew gross.

Depression and acceptance will come for the individuals within the trad pub industry when all is over for these companies (in their current incarnations) but the crying.

It remains to be seen whether any of these companies will successfully transform themselves into lean, service oriented businesses providing services (covers, editing, marketing, etc.) for a fee instead of trying to take the bulk of the profit. I doubt it just because I think they’ll ride their current business model into the dust, and new companies will continue to form to provide author services under the new publishing model. (Any number of publishing employees may successfully make the transition though – if you’re a cover or layout artist, you don’t care what publishing or author services model your company’s business uses as long as your check is deposited every other Friday.)

Why do writers write?

30 May 2014

Why do writers write? Because it isn’t there.

Thomas Berger

Publishers have ‘ceded power’

30 May 2014

From The Bookseller:

Publishers have made a grave mistake in “ceding power” to internet giants and they must provide technology and content in equal measures to survive in the future.

. . . .

The opening keynote was delivered by technology and culture author Nicholas Carr who said that advent of the e-book thus far was “not a revolution; the business has not been transformed as dramatically as the shift to digital has changed music”. He argued that given there is no generational change in readers, with the average age of an e-book buyer (42) almost equal to that of those who preferred print (41), that e-books simply mark “a shift in [platform] preferences and market segments”.

Yet Carr said the danger was that there was a “fundamental and destructive difference between the culture of the book” and how we process and use content on the computer. He added the mistake of the trade was expediently “ceding power to digital and internet companies whose main interest is to perpetuate the culture of the computer.”

Carr urged publishers to fight the hegemony of the internet giants whose true financial interests are at odds with the book trade. “The dreams for the future of the book of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page are not dreams of the readers,” he added.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Spurning Suitors, ‘This American Life’ Opts for Self-Distribution

30 May 2014

From The New York Times:

Five suitors came calling, including satellite radio company SiriusXM, but in the end public radio’s “This American Life” decided to go it alone. The popular weekly program is notifying stations on Wednesday that it will distribute the show itself beginning in July when its distribution contract with Public Radio International ends.

. . . .

In a letter sent to stations Wednesday, Ira Glass, the host and executive producer, disclosed that SiriusXM “asked how much money it would take to get us to quit public radio completely, to abandon terrestrial radio the way Howard Stern did, and play exclusively on Sirius-XM. So flattering! But of course, no chance of that happening.”

. . . .

Suitors, he said, also felt the show was undercharging the more than 580 stations that carry it, but Mr. Glass said the price would not change.

After weighing the options, Mr. Glass said, “It seemed like at this point in our show’s development there was nothing a distributor could do for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves.” Self-distribution, he added, will give the show more control over its arrangements and possibly allow it to raise and keep more money from sponsors.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Erik for the tip.

TPV – The Mobile Version

30 May 2014

For those accessing TPV on mobile devices, the plugin that provided a mobile-friendly layout without any problem reports for several months has gone through two recent updates.

It works fine for PG now.

He’s received problem reports for each of the alternate mobile solutions he’s tried over the past few days, so he’s going back to the original – WPtouch Mobile Plugin.

Drop a comment or send an email through the Contact page if you’re experiencing difficulties.

For those who haven’t the slightest idea what PG is talking about, most blog layouts are designed to be viewed on a screen much larger than a smartphone. These large-screen layouts typically show up in tiny type that is very difficult to read on a mobile device.

Mobile plugins are supposed to detect when someone is accessing a blog from a smartphone browser and automatically present the blog content in a layout that is much easier to read on the phone.

Whither the Kindle Killer?

30 May 2014

From Chris Meadows at TeleRead:

Larry Press plaintively wonders why nobody’s come up with a “Kindle Killer” yet. He notes a whole host of ways the Kindle falls short of perfection—lack of voice recognition or full interface capability with a computer, for example—and thinks such a device really should be a “low-hanging fruit” for one of the big device makers.

I’ll tell you why, Larry. The demand isn’t there. Maybe folks like you who like to get the most out of their devices would want such a thing, but the vast majority of the lowest-common-denominator general public—the ones who actually buy the devices in bulk—are happy as hogs in a trough with their Kindles the way they are, or else they wouldn’t be as popular as they are.

I don’t think Amazon gets nearly enough credit for the amazing thing it did with the Kindle. It’s one of those things that looks easy, because it made e-reading easy. But how many of you remember what e-reading used to be like before Amazon came along? You had to piddle around with side-loading stuff onto PDAs or e-ink readers, hooking them up to the computer, using conduit software to pipe the stuff on, and so on and so forth.

. . . .

Amazon came along, built cellular connectivity into its Kindles so you didn’t even have to figure out how to connect them to wi-fi, and made it so you click a button, you get a book. Boom. Dead simple. Anyone can do it. And Amazon was the first to make that possible. Anybody elsecould have done it, if they’d thought of it, but they didn’t think of it. Jeff Bezos did, and the first-mover advantage was enormous.

. . . .

So, no, it’s not DRM that keeps users locked into the Kindle store. It’s a contributing factor, but it’s not the only factor. If all the publishers stopped using DRM tomorrow and set up stores of their own to bypass Amazon, I’ll bet the vast majority of Kindle-owning customers would still buy from Amazon anyway. And if a given publisher dropped Amazon in favor of its own DRM-free store (or for that matter Amazon dropped them), they would complain to the publisher that they’re “not on Kindle” and just wouldn’t buy those e-books.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Self-publishing is not revolutionary – it’s reactionary

30 May 2014

From The Guardian:

Self-publishing has always been possible and, indeed, for centuries waspart and parcel of literary culture. Then it became expensive and, frankly, less prestigious, until digital books came along and made it affordable. Now price and success, too often the determinants of value, have made it respectable.

The idea of writers being able to bring their creations directly to readers is widely touted as a radical advance in authorial control and a revolution in the creative process.

. . . .

Unfortunately, self-publishing is neither radical nor liberating. And, as revolutions go, it is rather short on revolutionaries. It is actually reactionary, a contracted version of the traditional publishing model in which companies, who produce for a wide range of tastes and preferences, are replaced by individual producers each catering to very narrow range.

Self-publishing is supposed to democratise publishing. For Nicholas Lovell, writing in the Bookseller, “publishers no longer have an ability to determine which books get published and which books don’t.” In other words, democratisation is nothing more than the expansion of the publishing process from the few to the many. But this both overestimates the barriers to traditional publication – the vetting and selection process may be deeply flawed, but every writer can submit a manuscript – and underestimates the constraints of the marketplace. It also fails to consider whether the democratisation of publishing produces a similar democratisation for the reader by making literary culture more open.

By definition, self-publishing is an individualistic pursuit in which each writer is both publisher and market adventurer, with every other writer a potential competitor and the reader reduced to the status of consumer. Publishing then becomes timid, fearing to be adventurous and revolutionary lest it betray the expectations of its market. This is a natural tendency in traditional publishing but it is one restrained by the voices of its authors who are free to put their work first and entrepreneurship a distant second. With authorship and entrepreneurship now equal partners, the new authorpreneurs have thrown off the dictatorship of the editor to replace it with the tyranny of the market.

. . . .

The risks that are an inescapable part of an industry where every book is a gamble make traditional publishers very conservative. But they are far more liberal, far more radical than self-publishing in its current form. Cross-subsidies from commercial titles support poets, academics and writers of new and daring literary fiction who will never appear on bestseller lists. Such concerted action is impossible in a fragmented world where each writer pursues individual success.

Can a literary culture where writers are producers and readers are consumers be truly open? Only if your definition of an open society is one ruled by the market.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Nick for the tip.

PG wonders if the tyranny of the market is the same thing as the tyranny of democracy.

How the Amazon-Hachette Fight Could Shape the Future of Ideas

29 May 2014

From The Atlantic:

Over the past several months, what started as a quiet trade dispute has intensified and become public as the largest bookseller in the world, Amazon, and one of the biggest publishers, Hachette, battle over their next contract.

. . . .

Why? A contract negotiation between a supplier and a retailer rarely makes it into the press, and the specifics of this one—e-book discounting and Hachette’s profit margin—are no more interesting or significant than many others that garner far less attention. But in this case, it’s not the price of flat-screen televisions or how they’re displayed in stores that’s at stake—it’s the future of ideas in America.

. . . .

By some estimates, today Amazon controls around 50 percent of all book sales—physical and electronic—in the U.S. In the past decade, the company has steadily grown that market share, taking it from Barnes & Noble (shrinking), Borders (bankrupt since 2011), and independent bookstores (around 2,000 remain today out of the nearly 7,000 there were in the mid-1990s). It also built most of the e-book business in the U.S. following the successful launch of the Kindle e-reader in 2007. It wasn’t the first e-reader on the market, but by allowing customers to download e-books over a private, customized network built for the purpose, as opposed to making them connect their e-readers to a desktop or laptop computer connected to the Internet, it quickly became the most popular. In 2010, Amazon was estimated to control 90 percent of the growing e-book business. That’s when Apple, with the support of five of the world’s six largest publishers, launched iBooks, a main feature on its brand new iPad. Within two years, Amazon’s market share in the now much larger e-book business was thought to dip to around 65 percent, with Apple at around 10 percent and Barnes & Noble’s Nook business, launched in 2009, at about 25 percent.

. . . .

Fast-forward to 2014 and Hachette’s contract with Amazon is up again. It’s been nearly two years since Amazon regained control of the prices of many of the e-books it sells, and prices for best-selling e-books have plummeted, with Amazon leading the way when it comes to discounting; the consequences to its competitors have been predictable.

. . . .

Amazon is willing to go so far as to push customers to its competitors to win this battle. There are two major issues at play. The first is the price of books, particularly e-books. Amazon wants to continue to control it and to offer any discount it chooses to consumers; Hachette, on the other hand, likely wants to leave an opening for the possibility of going back to its previous pricing scheme in 2015. If it can set the prices across retailers, it can do a little to help protect its other trading partners, most importantly Apple and Barnes & Noble. Amazon, unlike Barnes & Noble, for instance, doesn’t need to make money on books to be profitable. It can theoretically lose money on each sale of an e-book if it makes up the difference when it sells a garden rake or a package of diapers. Trying to compete on e-book prices with Amazon has been a major factor in driving Sony and Kobo out of the U.S. e-book market.

The second issue in the negotiation is what’s known in the book publishing industry as “co-op.” It’s a form of marketing: Publishers pay retailers to ensure customers see their books in stores. For instance, when you see a cover of a book displayed on a bookstore shelf and not its spine, that’s no accident. A publisher paid for that special billing. Amazon wants Hachette to pay more for placement on its website. By paying a higher rate of co-op, Hachette would essentially be transferring some of its profit margin to Amazon.

Like nearly every business dispute, this one is about money.

But, ultimately, it’s about so much more than that.

. . . .

Think of book publishers like venture capital firms. They invest in individual titles in the form of advances and the sunk costs of editing, packaging and distributing a book. Most of those bets lose money. Some make a lot of money (for every Fifty Shades of Grey there are dozens of money-losing duds). It all evens out to an industry where a strong year is one where a publisher clears a 10 percent profit margin.

As more book sales flowed through Amazon, it would have even more direct control over what people read. The company would have little incentive, for instance, to surface books readers are less likely to buy. If The Hunger Games is all the rage, then the company is best served pushing that title toward its readers at the expense of other books. Or, much more nefariously, it could discourage readers from buying books with a point of view it doesn’t agree with.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, and the company’s stockholders, have so far shown little or no bias toward political ideas or pushing one book over another for any reason but profitability, but that’s not to say that someday that won’t change.

. . . .

Shatzkin elaborated:

Amazon has so much control over what it surfaces. Even if Amazon doesn’t do anything overtly to prevent certain books from being published, they would have so much control over what you’re likely to see or buy, it’s not good for democracy.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Patricia for the tip.

Because who could be better for democracy than a small number of huge international media conglomerates controlling the future of ideas?

What could be better for democracy than an inbred group of gatekeepers who decide what appears in bookstores and what does not?

What could be better for democracy than contracts that control and restrict what authors are permitted to write?

PG submits that Amazon is far more egalitarian and pro-democratic than big corporate publishing is.

Want to write about your personal philosophy? Want to push the boundaries of the literary form?

Don’t go to New York. For all their pretense (read the entire Atlantic article), they’re cogs in a corporate world that’s cramped by convention and quarterly profit requirements, pretenders striking poses for one another.

This is the group that has presided over a long decline in American reading, questing for short-term gain by pushing book prices ever higher while paying authors less and less and transforming them from independent artists into anxiety-ridden grist for a soul-destroying mill.

Literature in the United States was doing just fine before the industrial literary era dawned, killing dozens of small publishers and thousands of independent bookstores.

Make no mistake about it, today’s traditional publishing establishment is the product of decades of consolidation, concentrating more and more power over what is published into fewer and fewer hands. The latest and largest example of this trend is the merger of Random House and Penguin to create the largest publisher in the world.

As independent authors arise, empowered by Amazon’s democratic commons of ideas, PG says we’re looking at a renaissance of American literature, an upheaval that is shoving the suits out and putting authors back in charge of the art they create.

Despite the dying spasms of Big Publishing, the wall between writers and readers is coming down. Uncontrolled and unmediated ideas are being released into the wild, giving readers the opportunity to decide which will flourish.

Whether the path out of corporate serfdom comes via Amazon or someone else, authors who have discovered the freedom that comes with owning and controlling the fruits of their labors are not going back to the plantation.

As Passive Guy has read the tsunami of screeds that have erupted from various participants in the legacy publishing world, he has noted a common subtext: “Big Publishing is the devil we know. It gives me enough gruel to survive. Don’t mess with my gruel!”

PG and many independent authors agree in part. We do know that devil and believe it’s time for that devil to go. Whether a new devil arises or not, we know the old one is beyond redemption. We’ve found a better way.

Can Anyone Compete with Amazon?

29 May 2014

From Publishers Weekly:

Research conducted in March by the Codex Group found that in the month Amazon’s share of new book unit purchases was 41%, dominating 65% of all online new book units, print and digital. The company achieved that percentage by not only being the largest channel for e-books, where it had a 67% market share in March, but also by having a commanding slice of the sale of print books online, where its share in March was estimated at 64%.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble are the only two book outlets that have a meaningful share of both the e-book and print markets, assets that are becoming increasingly important as book buyers turn more and more to online channels to purchase books. According to the newest figures from Nielsen Market Research, online outlets accounted for 41% of book purchases in 2013, while bookstore chains accounted for 22%.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to John for the tip.

Removing Roadblocks to Community: Tom Doherty on DRM

29 May 2014

From Tor.com:

“Ultimately it comes down to the desire to be where our customers are, to play fair with them in the assumption that they’ll play fair with us. And you know something? It’s worked.”

Tor Books president and publisher Tom Doherty had a lot to say during his speech at the International Digital Publishing Forum at this year’s 2014 Book Expo of America, but the main item on the agenda was Tor/Forge Books’ decision to strip Digital Rights Management software from the ebook versions of their titles and whether, two years later, that decision has had any negative impact.

In the case of Tor Books it appears that it hasn’t, but as Doherty pointed out in today’s speech, the implications of DRM go beyond the financial impact to publishers, authors, and readers. Insidiously, it chips away at the very connectivity that the entire publishing community has always relied upon.

. . . .

During the speech, the publisher related a story about how the success of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time was built on the excitement that every aspect of that publishing community brought forth:

“…like any #1 fan, I just wanted the whole world to know about this story, this world [Jordan] was creating. From page one of Jordan’s first Wheel of Time book “The Eye of the World,” at about the length of a novella, there was a natural breakpoint. To that point there was a satisfying story that really involved me. There was no way I was going to stop there and I didn’t think others would either. So we printed I think it was 900,000, long novella-length samplers, and gave them to booksellers in 100-copy floor displays to be given free to their customers. We gave them to fans with extras to give to friends, to semi-pros, and readers at conventions and anyone in the publishing community who we thought would feel the excitement that we felt. […] We’re a community of many people, many of them here to talk about the stories that we find to be terrific.”

And from there you get #1 New York Times bestselling writers like Brandon Sanderson, notably inspired by The Wheel of Time. You get communities like Tor.com, where readers have been talking non-stop about the fiction that excites them. You get authors like Jo Walton finding new fans by engaging in a substantive manner with those communities. Although we now have digital spaces to house this kind of interaction, it has always been taking place in the physical spaces of the science fiction/fantasy publishing community, Doherty argued. It is, in fact, “a connection they make naturally. Barriers, whether it’s DRM or something else, disrupt these natural connections.”

. . . .

And from a marketplace perspective, it appears that Tor Books has achieved the same results. In a decisive statement, Doherty declared:

“…the lack of DRM in Tor ebooks has not increased the amount of Tor books available online illegally, nor has it visibly hurt sales.”

Link to the rest at Tor.com and thanks to Laura for the tip.

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