Home » Big Publishing, Joe Konrath, Self-Publishing » I Understand and Sympathize

I Understand and Sympathize

8 June 2014

From Joe Konrath:

So I fell into the trap of becoming too involved in the Amazon/Hachette dispute, and I’ve been openly wondering where all the stupid is coming from, and if I could somehow cork the stupid so it stopped splashing all over the Internet.

Whenever I recognize I’m grinding an ax, I try to take a step back and walk a mile in the other person’s moccasins to gain some perspective. I did, and it chilled me out. Because I remember walking that same path, years ago.

I’ve been preaching since 2010 that self-publishing is not only a viable alternative to the legacy industry, but it can indeed be a preferable one. I’ll do a quick recap.

1. You own your rights, rather than a publisher owning them for your lifetime plus seventy years.

2. You can control your cover art and product description.

3. You can set your own price, and change it almost instantly.

4. You don’t have to deal with unconscionable contract terms like non-compete clauses.

5. You can get your work to readers faster, and you have the same reach (perhaps even more reach) as publishers do when it comes to digital distribution.

6. You get 70% of list rather than 12.5%.

7. You can run you own ads like on BookBub and Booksense because you can put your work on sale.

Any writer looking at these advantages has got to be thinking, “That’s pretty sweet.”

But not every writer looking at these advantages can actually take advantage of them.

If you’re locked into a legacy contract, you can’t self-pub any of your books. You either owe them your next book, or aren’t allowed to release any on your own. Or maybe you’re a slower writer and can only write a book a year.

You can see the high prices your publisher is selling your ebooks for, and you are powerless to do anything about it.

If you get a bad cover, you’re stuck with it.

. . . .

All of you legacy authors who hate me; I know you played by the rules, and are angry that your sales are diminishing, and that your advances are shrinking. I played by the rules, too. I did more signings than any of you–over 1200. I busted my ass to make my legacy career work. And I took a chance on self-publishing, and was lucky that it paid off.

I can see why you don’t want to take a chance. Or why you feel you don’t even have a choice. You worked within the system, got the keys to the kingdom, and it was supposed to be smooth sailing for you. Then, somehow, the rules changed, and you got screwed.

I get it. I really do.

But your answer isn’t hoping for the old system to return. It isn’t going to.

Your answer isn’t blaming Amazon for your problems. They are here to stay.

Your answer isn’t blaming me, or other indie authors, or the self-publishing revolution. We’re not trying to rub your nose in our success. We’re trying to help you to share the wealth.

. . . .

I’m not an advocate of self-publishing because I know better than anyone else. I’m an advocate of self-publishing because I’ve been on both sides of that fence, and my experience isn’t unique. Many authors got screwed by the legacy system like I did. Many authors have benefited from self-publishing like I have.

Maybe this Hachette/Amazon dispute isn’t bringing out the stupid in people. Maybe it is forcing authors to defend themselves, because they’re scared. And when you’re scared, you lash out without thinking. You defend yourself rather than consider new ideas. You find scapegoats. You rally with others who feel the same way because there is safety in numbers. You defend your oppressors. You fight the future because it’s either that or risking everything.

. . . .

Authors need to stop thinking of Amazon as the bad guy, because they feel bad about the contracts they’re stuck in.

Worrying Amazon is a monopoly that might someday lower royalties makes no sense, when the Big 5 alreadyfunction as a monopoly and have low royalties.

The old ways aren’t going to return. The new ways aren’t going away.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath and thanks to Margaret for the tip.

Big Publishing, Joe Konrath, Self-Publishing

39 Comments to “I Understand and Sympathize”

  1. Amen to that. 🙂

  2. “…you have the same reach (perhaps even more reach) as publishers do when it comes to digital distribution.”

    Joe, show us your (or any other indie) titles in, for example, UK ebook stores like Tesco Blinkbox, W H Smith and Sainsbury and maybe this kind of statement would stand up to scrutiny.

    “You get 70% of list rather than 12.5%.”

    Presumably this is a plug for Apple – the only retailer to pay indies 70% across the board.

    Amazon of course only pay 70% in a handful of countries, and then only at selected prices. For prices below 2.99, and for most of the countries where Amazon actually allows downloads the rate is just 35%, and in many of those countries they then impose surcharges (so much for “You can set your own price”),of which the author sees nothing.

    And let’s take a second look at that “You can set your own price.”

    Correction. You can set your own price on Amazon, within their parameters, but because of the pernicious most-favoured-nation clause in the KDP small-print you then you hand over to Amazon the right to dictate the price you can set on all other retailers.

    • Hey there. Just an FYI, this isn’t Joe Konrath’s site.

      His site is here:


    • If Tesco Blinkbox etc actually sold many ebooks (as a % of total worldwide ebook sales of course) you’d actually have the beginnings of an argument. But they don’t.

      On the 70% Amazon pays you’re right, I’ve calculated mine and I average 65%. Compare this to the 14.875% you’d get from a traditional publisher (25% of 70% less 15% agents fees) and you can see that… hang on… one of them is over 4 times higher.

      The ‘handful’ of countries paying 70% you mention are where 95% of my ebook sales come from. The countries where Amazon pays 35% just don’t sell many at all. And I suspect (guessing here) is that’s why they don’t pay more, and when the market increases the 35% will increase as well.

      And a ‘pernicious’ clause which is really just price matching to other retailers? Based on Amazon’s philosophy of providing their customers with the best deal around? I’ll take that, and 65%, and Amazon’s market reach, and I’ll sell 20,000 ebooks and make $100,000 this year.

      Bringing up small points about how bad you think Amazon is without comparing them to what publishers do to authors is disingenuous.

      • Plus…
        The Konrath article is about being able to *choose* indie vs tradpub, not about Amazon. Anybody who thinks they can go indie without Amazon is welcome to try it; it is still tradpub-free.

      • could you Mitch , please explain to me how 70% comes to 65%? I am sincere. Is that because of download charges or?

        • Download charges, and averaging with those few sales in countries where the share is only 35% even at higher prices. I’ve done the math and it comes out about the same for me, too.

          • Libbie is spot on. At the 70% rate (I don’t call it royalties because it isn’t, Amazon don’t own your rights they take a retailers cut) for me it works out to 65% after download charges and the books bought at say .com from a location outside of the US for which you only receive 35%.

            • ah, I see now./ Thank you Mitch, i didnt realize about the foreign sales. I wonder if Amz has plans to ever raise those lower percentage for .com out of USA.

              THanks Libbie too.

    • Or, you can sell your own ebooks on your own website and collect 96% royalites.

      It won’t be 100% because you’ve got to pay web hosting ($15./yr) and finance charges (1.5%).

      • This was my plan when I started, before I realized I could get on Amazon without a publisher.

    • I am not aware of an exclusivity agreement when you list your book for sale on Amazon. I may be wrong, but if other online bookstores are not allowing independents then they soon will, or they will fall terribly behind.

    • A book doesn’t have to be placed with every retailer to be in reach of every consumer.

    • Just wanted to point out something here:

      1.) By Amazon’s rules, you can set your prices differently at other vendors — you just can’t favor other vendors by setting the price lower there. (Except for free.)

      2.) I’m not sure of this, but I believe that legally, you’re not supposed to set different list prices for different vendors anyway.

  3. We are not “Bringing up small points about how bad (we) think Amazon is.” Simply addressing the gaping holes in Konrath’s post.

    Comparing the royalty from a trad publisher with the pay-out from Amazon as a retailer is a fallacious argument.

    Amazon is not publishing our books. It is selling them, and charging us up to 65% for the privilege.

    When Amazon does publish our books it pays royalties admittedly higher than mainstream publishers but still nowhere near the 70% figure bandied about.

    And of course when indies opt for POD through Create Space the royalty rates again plummet.

    The countries where Amazon does not sell many ebooks at all will be because Amazon is not the main player and / or because Amazon is busy alienating readers with surcharges or insulting them by telling them to buy from the site of a neighbouring country (Belgian? Go to Amazon France. Austrian? Go to Amazon Germany).

    The pernicious MFN clause is not just price-matching. It is threatening authors with the removal of their titles from the Kindle store if they do not observe the rules Amazon imposes. Therefore indies are not free to set their price as Konrath states.

    Worth noting that last August, after investigation by the UK and German authorities, Amazon quietly laid to rest the MFN clause across the EU.

    The issue of how much market share A, B or C has is irrelevant. Trad Pub will get titles in to A, B & C and also D, E and F where indie titles are simply not permitted. Konrath’s argument is that self-publishers have better digital reach than trad pub. Our point stands.

    But since you mention market share let’s bear in mind Amazon US and Australia market share has already fallen to around 65%, while in Germany it has plummeted to around 40%. In India Amazon is nowhere near the biggest player, and the same goes for most of the world.

    In fact, in much of the world Amazon isn’t a player at all, as it blocks downloads to numerous countries.

    The handful of countries Amazon only charges a 30% sales commission may well be where most of your sales come from, but that’s not the issue here. Konrath is stating indies have better digital reach than trad pub. This is not true. Period.

    Most indies will not be selling 20,000 books this year and will not be making $100,000. Your personal sales are not relevant to the issue, which is whether or not Konrath’s statements are true.

    • Semantics. The bottom line is that an author is paid better per book in indie than he is in trad pub. And I know, because I’ve done both. You can b**** and moan about Amazon all you want, but it doesn’t change that basic fact.

      Oh, and I see nothing wrong with Amazon having rules that sellers must abide by to sell through their site. Publishers have rules, too.

    • Please, please place this comment on Joe’s site so he can respond to it.

      All I can say is… the points you’re making aren’t pointing out “gaping holes” in his post at all.

      • Not worth the time, really, as responses to similar “pointing-outs” have been made thoroughly and repeatedly over the last few years. It’s reached the point where one can tell how versed others are in the topic by how new and insightful they believe their arguments to be. 🙂

        Of course the next point in the argument will be, “Show me where someone has said this before!” And the response will be, “That’s what archives are for. Go forth and read.”

    • I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in a bookstore but I did in Coles (Canadian version of B&N) and we ‘charged publishers for the privilege'(your term) 33% to 60% of the cover for selling physical books. Books where publishers had a lot more overhead due to printing and shipping costs.

      Retailers and distributors don’t ‘charge’ their suppliers fees. They pay their supplier based on the contract the two have agreed upon then sell the product to customers. There’s plenty of reasons not to like that contract but using ‘for the privilege’ is emotional language for a straight forward business deal.

      And yep, Amazon outside of North America and Europe isn’t much of a player. But that’s most of the native English speaking audience for books. It would be nice if some of the big foreign market ebookstores reached out to indies other than Kobo. Maybe HM Ward sells through some of the big German eBookstores but I doubt it. Anyone know?

      Pushing back on Amazon to offer better deals is good. But Konrath’s points were indie vs traditional, a choice most people never really get anyway.

  4. Overall there seems to be a lot of shouting into the dark.

    Can I sell my stuff without being abused by a corporation? Great! That’s all I really need to know.

  5. Let’s Play – Still Better Than Legacy.

    Amazon Could…
    1. Demand exclusivity.
    2. Pay identical royalties to legacy.
    3. Punch my momma in the mouth.

    …and still be better than legacy.

    Anyone want to add? For the lols.

  6. “Worrying Amazon is a monopoly that might someday lower royalties makes no sense, when the Big 5 alreadyfunction as a monopoly and have low royalties.”

    This. So much this.

  7. Aaaand once again this discussion gets diverted from the subject of indie publishing (per se) to Amazon-bashing and Amazon-defending. It’s pathetic, really. You guys respond to the trolls Every. Single. Time.

    • And the funny thing is that Amazon doesn’t even need defending from these people. Either they’ll choose to use Amazon or not. What does it matter to us? We’ve mostly all benefited from it. It really doesn’t matter if they do or not. We’re all our own people and presumably we’re all adults who can make our own decisions. I’m not swayed by any of the weak arguments against Amazon from the whiners, honestly. I mostly skim or skip those comments now.

  8. “Or maybe you’re a slower writer and can only write a book a year.”

    Is it just me, or did no one pick up on that?

    Times are changing. In the past that would have set off a flame war. What? A book a year SLOW? If you write 100 words a day Hemmingway will hunt you down and pit on your face, man.

    Now, no one even notices it…

    • Yeah, I’m glad to see the tide has turned away from people shrieking that if you write faster than a book a year, you’re automatically writing crap.

  9. There is a story (perhaps apocryphal) about Willie Sutton, a famous American bank robber. When asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

    Indie writers (and the Big 5 and most other publishers) will offer their books for sale on Amazon is because that is where their customers are. Apple must offer better terms because Apple doesn’t have nearly the value proposition that Amazon has.

    Everyone should understand the terms and conditions of the contracts they enter in to. I don’t see “EbookBargainsUK” as a troll. Just a font of information that is quite likely completely irrelevant to most folks here.

    I would add some information that may be relevant to those folks who put their trust in Apple as a partner. Examine their history of partner relationships. Look at how they treat app developers and others who have helped them build their platform. It isn’t a reason to avoid the iBookstore, but it certainly provides a reason to have a backup plan.

    I think the most likely reason for Amazon’s share of the ebook market to increase dramatically is Apple pulling the plug on the iBookstore when they run out of appeals in the antitrust case. That they will lose is as close to a certainty as a future event can be, but I don’t know how they will react. If I were running Apple, I would seriously consider dumping the whole business. It doesn’t do much to sell hardware and they would still have book apps, which are a better fit for their platform.

    • Yeah, I agree completely. I’m not making a good chunk of money from the iBookstore, but I don’t expect it to last, either because Apple will pull the plug or because their terms will become too draconian and I’ll pull the plug on my products being in their store. I very strongly dislike that company. They’ve given me ample reason to dislike them. Amazon so far has not.

      • That would be a shame if they pull the plug (even though I don’t make much with them either).

    • The fines being discussed amount to five-ten years’ worth of iBooks profits. Not sure if the Judge would let them walk away in lieu of restitution but it would certainly put an end to the BPHs’ infatuation with Apple-the-savior.

  10. As far as I know, and that means in my case, Joe was the first to tell us what we could do through self-publishing. He did so over and over again with enormous zeal via his blog. The publishers and agents laughed at him. When I first raised the topic with my agents after they had failed for the third time to get me another publisher for my series, they mocked me. I insisted. They handled my excursion into self-publishing reluctantly and badly, not having the experience or resources. I made some very good money, though, even after their 15 %. Those were the golden days and Joe had opened the door for us. My agents congratulated me on my sales.
    Frustration with poor formatting and excessive proof-reading for other people’s mistakes caused me to publish my short stories on my own. A break-up with my agency followed.
    These days, I do everything myself (except e-book formatting).
    Joe started it all and for this he deserves an enormous thank you from all self-published writers.

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