Monthly Archives: June 2014

New data on the Long Tail impact suggests rethinking history and ideas about the future of publishing

29 June 2014

From long-time publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

For most of my lifetime, the principal challenge a publisher faced to get a book noticed by a consumer and sold was to get it on the shelves in bookstores. Data was always scarce (I combed for it for years) but everything I ever saw reported confirmed that customers generally chose from what was made available through their retailers. Special orders — when a store ordered a particular book for a particular customer on demand, which meant the customer had to endure a gap between the visit when they ordered the book and one to pick it up — were a feature of the best stores and the subject of mechanisms (one called STOP in the 1970s and 1980s) that made it easier. But they constituted a very small percentage of any store’s sales, even when the wholesalers Ingram and Baker & Taylor made a vast number of books available to most stores within a day or two.

It was an article of faith, and one I accepted, that if you could expose most books to a broad public, they would “find their audience”.

. . . .

There was also ample evidence over time that a large selection of books in a store acted as a magnet to draw customers. That fact was noted by my father, Leonard Shatzkin, in the early 1960s, when they doubled the inventory at the Short Hills, NJ, Brentano’s store (the chain reported to my father, who was a Vice-President of Crowell-Collier, the company that owned Brentano’s, Collier’s Encyclopedia, and Macmillan Publishers, among other things) and it went from the worst-performing store in the chain to the best. In the 1970s, BP Reports published a survey that said that nearly half of bookstore customers chose the store they were in on the basis of the selection they’d find and more than half reported their particular purchase decision was made in the store.

By the late 1980s, both of the big national bookstore chains — Barnes & Noble and Borders — were undergoing a massive expansion of “superstores”. Whereas chain bookstores (B&N’s B. Dalton and Borders’s Walden) carried 20,000 or 30,000 titles, and large independents carried as many as twice that, now the new superstores would carry 100,000 titles or more! Customers flocked to the massive bookstores and the ever-expanding chains ordered lots of the publishers’ backlists and everybody celebrated a new era, except the independent bookstores who were increasingly squeezed by their new large competitors. The era was less than 10 years old when it got disrupted.

. . . .

Remember, in physical retail, selection was the magnet. The books that didn’t sell were helping to pull in the customers for the books that did sell. Stores knew that too. Later work I did demonstrated that there were whole store sections that turned at half or less of the rate of the store as a whole. But if you want, say, a philosophy section that “turns”, it would only have about ten titles in it. If you want a philosophy section people will browse and shop from, you have to carry a lot of slow-moving titles.

. . . .

The challenges for conventional publishers got steeper again when ebooks became mainstream, pioneered by Amazon’s Kindle in late 2007. There had been a modest ebook business building for about a decade, but until Amazon committed its resources to creating a dedicated device, a repository of content, and audience awareness, it had a trivial impact. But a full-fledged ebook business unleashed a new wave of competition from self-publishing authors. Amazon fostered growth by creating an easy on-ramp for self-publishing, a move quickly copied by B&N, Apple, and Kobo. In the several years that ebooks have been commercially important, many — certainly hundreds and perhaps thousands — of authors have achieved meaningful sales. Many of those have been of backlist books originally published conventionally but there have also been thousands of successful original ebooks. Whether revived formerly-dead backlist or new titles, these are books that are competing with the output of the conventional publishers and wouldn’t have been a decade or two ago.

So the Long Tail for books has been a topic of conversation for most of the past 20 years. Amazon’s limitless shelves and Ingram’s Lightning contributed heavily to this before the turn of the century; self-publishing has accelerated it dramatically. The early expectations, including mine, were that the Long Tail would take sales from all the books being “currently” published. But it became evident pretty early that the big books were just getting bigger: the head of the sales curve wasn’t diminishing. In fact, both the head and the Long Tail took sales from the middle of the curve. This was particularly challenging for publishers because publishing mid-list, those books they do that aren’t bestsellers, became much more challenging.

. . . .

The implications of this in the discussion of how the publishing industry might be affected by self-publishing disruption are interesting. It would suggest to me that the boosts publishers can give a book — even their catalogs provide more marketing lift than most self-published books start with — will become increasingly important as the market becomes increasingly flooded. If the data Vena has presented turns out to be the future trend, the increase in self-published titles will drive more and more sales to a smaller number of winners, and my hunch would be that the winners will most likely be from publishers.

. . . .

So far, the commercially successful self-published authors overwhelmingly, if not entirely, fall into two categories. There are authors who have reclaimed a backlist of previously published titles and self-published them. And there are authors of original genre fiction who write prolifically, putting many titles into the marketplace quickly. Successful self-publishing authors are often in both categories but very few are in neither. Those two categories are nearly 100% of the self-publishing success stories but a minority of the books from publishers. So, even before Vena published his White Paper, the idea that self-publishing would upset the commercial establishment was way overblown. If Vena’s data turns out to be prophetic, the road is going to get harder and harder for all books, but especially the self-published.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

J.K. Rowling’s New Novel Reveals What She Really Thinks of the Publishing Industry And it isn’t pretty

28 June 2014

From The New Republic:

In The Silkworm,the disappearance of Owen Quine, an eccentric, third-rate writer, unearths the bizarre underworld of the publishing industry. In both novels, solving the murder involves a kind of anthropological investigation of the characters and practices that comprise each subculture. It’s cultural commentary through genre fiction, and since Rowling is one of the most famous and successful writers of our time, it’s hard not to feel like we’re getting the inside scoop.

So what does Rowling really think of the literati?

The line-up of murder suspects gives us a few hints: a boozy editor; a powerful though closeted publisher who retreats to the countryside to paint naked youths; a jealous literary agent whose own writing is “deplorably derivative”; a much-revered but pompous and sexist novelist; a writer of “bloody awful erotic fantasy”; and the victim’s wife, who ignores his books until they have “proper covers.” Then there’s Owen Quine himself, a middle-aged writer riding out his career on a novel published years before—the only decent work of literature he’s produced. Quine is so desperate for adulation that he habitually persuades his mistress to mock-interview him. Even his disappearance is initially disregarded as a publicity stunt to garner attention for his latest manuscript—a thinly disguised exposé of the above figures.

. . . .

It’s [a world] of ego-maniacs. And the writers, or would-be writers, are the worst of the batch. When the amateur author of erotica describes her work to Strike in rehearsed phrases and sound bites, he wonders how many people “who sat alone for hours as they scribbled their stories practiced talking about their work during their coffee breaks.” (One wonders: Did—or does—Rowling do this?) Meanwhile, Quine’s agent describes him “as a bigger glutton for praise than any author I’ve ever met, and they are most of them insatiable.” Of course, this agent, a wannabe writer with a first in English from Oxford but no novels to her name, turns out to be pretty insatiable herself.

There’s more than just caricature in Rowling’s submerged criticism. Her reproach of Internet trolls is downright vitriolic: “Hard to remember these days that there was a time when you had to wait for ink and paper reviews to see your work excoriated. With the invention of the Internet, any subliterate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani.” Or the exclamation vis-à-vis online publishing: “The dross the Internet has given us!”

Link to the rest at The New Republic and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Rule of storytelling

28 June 2014

Rule of storytelling: When a character is shoved against a wall, shove them against a wall harder.

Aaron Sorkin

Breaking Free Part 2 – One Month Later

28 June 2014

From author Nick Stephenson:

I had a bunch of emails last time I posted on this subject, asking me to update how my adventures outside of KDP Select were going after a month – so, if you haven’t read the previous post, go check that out here.

For everyone else, here’s the skinny: From my very first book release in March 2013, there had always been a common trend. Book sales would spike massively around a promotion (usually Bookbub) and then fall right back down again within a few days. Not that I’m complaining, but my eventual goal was to try and keep sales consistently strong, rather than relying on a monthly spike in numbers and then thirty days of diddly-squat.

. . . .

So, I pulled my titles from KDP Select and uploaded them onto other vendors, then set my strongest-rated novel to permafree. I applied for a Bookbub free promotion, which went live on the 27th of June. The results have been better than I could have hoped. Sales have remained consistently higher for over a month, beating out my average daily revenue of $80 by a factor of four. This last month has easily been my strongest to date, and is set to overtake the $7,000 mark by the time July rolls round. And, best of all, sales on non-Amazon retailers make up a significant portion of that figure, and Amazon UK has opened up for the first time.

. . . .

I’ve also been extremely impressed with my first experiences with other retailers. iTunes has been easy to work with (despite it taking nearly a week to get a title approved), Nook was simple and fast (12 hours from submission to publication) and Kobo was a dream. Kobo were also kind enough to feature my permafree book as one of their “first free in series” titles, which gave my numbers there a little push. Kobo is now a nice little side earner – and the efforts these guys go to in order to accommodate indies is commendable – especially given the vacuum that opens up every time I try to email Apple or Barnes and Noble. Well done, Kobo!

Link to the rest, including sales charts at Nick Stephenson

Start Media Buys Whiskey Creek Press, Imposes New Contract Terms

28 June 2014

From Writer Beware:

In early June, Debra Womack, owner of Whiskey Creek Press, announced in a letter to authors that the publisher was in the process of being acquired by Start Media (a company that has recently acquired two other small presses, Night Shade Books and Salvo Press).

As part of the acquisition process, Start is asking all current WCP authors to agree to and sign an offer of new terms as follows on page two below. We are offering you the non-refundable sum of $1 and other good and valuable consideration, payable to you if and when the sale of the company to Start is completed (expected to be by the end of June 2014). Upon closing you will also receive a payment from WCP of current royalties and/or advances or any other sums owing to you by WCP for sales up through and including April 30, 2014.

. . . .

WCP’s contract includes this clause:

If the Publisher sells its assets to another publisher who does or plans to market and promote books of the type and genre of the Work, the successor publisher will be bound, as a minimum, to the same terms delineated in this agreement.

In direct contradiction to this, however, the letter of agreement Start Media is asking authors to sign imposes some substantially different terms. WCP’s contract term is 3 years from publication; Start Media’s is life-of-copyright. WCP’s ebook royalties are 35% of the net download price; Start Media’s are 25% of net (“all monies actually received”). There’s also a troubling gap between April 30, when WCP ceases to pay royalties, and July 1, when Start Media’s new royalty rate kicks in. What happens to books sold in May and June?

Understandably, WCP authors are upset and angry. Many are refusing to sign–despite the fact that no explanation has been provided, either by Womack/WCP or Start Media, of what will happen to their rights if they don’t.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

The moral of this cautionary tail is that authors can’t assume the publisher they sign with (and who gives them all sorts of promises that aren’t written into the contract) will be the same publisher they’ll be dealing with for the entire term of their contract.

Indeed, in a life-of-the-copyright agreement, it is virtually certain the existing publisher will disappear before the contract ends. At a bare minimum, all the people working for the existing publisher will be long gone before the contract is done.

Writer Beware is an excellent site and provides insightful analysis and warnings concerning publishers and their contracts. However, PG disagrees with WB’s defense of life-of-the-copyright contract terms. Ultimately, it’s the worst sort of rights grab and, in PG’s unceasingly humble opinion, is always unreasonable.

Additionally, as they are typically written, out-of-print clauses are seldom a reasonable solution to the problem of ridiculously long publishing contracts.

First, the typical OOP clause is extremely complex and difficult for an author to navigate. Having to pay an attorney to help figure out whether a book is out of print and work through the OOP administrative process is ridiculous.

Second, the typical OOP clause gives the publisher all sorts of ways to avoid reverting the title with no material benefit to the author.

Third the typical OOP clause is set to such a low trigger point – WB mentions 50 copies per year or 25 copies per year – that the author has probably experienced years of absurdly small royalties before the OOP clause can be triggered.

A long time ago (as measured in Internet time), PG suggested an improvement to OOP clauses – A Mimimum Wage for Authors. Basically, it’s tied to royalties paid by the publisher to the author, not the number of copies the publisher sells. The author cares about dollars (or euros, etc.), not how many ebooks were sold at 99 cents each.

In a nutshell, the Minimum Wage for Authors OOP clause says if the author doesn’t receive a certain minimum royalty payment for a book, the book reverts. In a life-of-the-copyright contract, PG recommends that an inflation adjustment provision be applied to the minimum royalty payment as well because $100 will be worth a lot less fifty years from now than it is today.

The best solution is, of course, a publishing contract that ends within a specific number of years which is the way contracts operate in the reality-based business world.

Amazon Prime Music Just Set Streaming Music’s Price

28 June 2014

From The Street:

For much of the last year, companies have been scrambling to create their own Pandora and take a piece of the growing — but poorly monetized — music streaming market. Amazon may have just stumbled upon the solution.

In a message to Amazon Prime members in mid-June, Amazon unveiled Prime Music, a collection of more than a million songs and hundreds of playlists available to Prime members through the Amazon Music app. The service is accessible through Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Fire TV products, Android and Apple iOS devices, Samsung Smart TVs and speakers and just about any Mac or PC.

. . . .

So what separates Prime Music from Pandora One or Apple’s iTunes radio and its recently purchased Beats Music? Prime customers are already paying for it, bundled with a bunch of other services including two-day shipping of Amazon marketplace products and Prime video streaming of movies and television shows.

. . . .

Apple attempted to work around them with with iTunes Radio — and its failing attempt to use streaming to sell music downloads — but it discovered the streaming audience doesn’t care about buying music. Only about 2% of iTunes Radio listeners ever hit the “buy” button to download a song.

. . . .

All of the above are just an attempt to wring money from music that consumers are loathe to pay for anymore. The number of music download purchases dropped for the first time in 2013, according to Nielsen and has just continued to plummet in the first half of 2014. Interactive streaming like that offered by Spotify and Beats Music increased volume to 34.28 billion streams in the first quarter of the year from 25.44 billion streams during the same period in 2013. With music executives putting 1,500 streams at the equivalent of a full digital album, streaming equivalent albums have increased by 10.1 million units so far this year as download sales dropped by roughly 9 million units, according to Nielsen.

. . . .

When Amazon raised the price of Prime for new members from $79 a year to $99 earlier this year, it faced the same question that’s still puzzling Pandora: Where’s the value? Amazon responded by securing proprietary streaming content for its video service and tapping into its supply of cloud-based music content to cobble together a streaming service. It may not be quite as intricate as what Pandora offers or tailor its playlists to a user’s profile as the Music Genome Project does, but it’s a streaming service that existing Prime customers get as a freebie and that new customers see as added incentive to sign on for Prime service.

Prime Music does what the Fire Phone can’t and what Apple’s iTunes infrastructure won’t: It enhances the overall value of the service. Amazon’s Fire products have had a tough time keeping pace with Apple even at lower prices, but the integration and bundling of all of Amazon’s offerings — marketplace, video, audio, e-books, etc. — under one payment and on several different devices is making a strong pitch to consumers. Amazon isn’t pleading with them to ditch Netflix, Pandora or even iTunes on-demand services, but showing them how much Prime can offer under one roof.

. . . .

Amazon, however, took the extra step of setting up an all-inclusive pricing scheme and shoving everything else into it. Instead of streaming music and bringing in zero for it while hoping consumers find it in their hearts to download the occasional album, Amazon gave itself a base membership price to work with and built up. It’s not unlike what Costco did by making membership fees the foundation of its retail model, and much of that bulk shop’s growth and ancillary offerings including tire shops, auto sales and travel services are bolstered by that base consumer investment.

Link to the rest at The Street

PG says the music business started experiencing technology disruption with the introduction of the iPod and iTunes in 2001. No two disruptions are the same, but it’s instructive to study the development of different disrupted business.

Why Creativity is Your Best Negotiation Tactic

28 June 2014

From Fast Company:

Ted Leonhardt always got the jitters before a big client meeting. It didn’t matter that he ran a design firm with big name clients like Boeing and Charles Schwab, raking in $10 million a year in fee revenue. Closing a deal with a new client always brought up those same feelings of insecurity.

Leonhardt would duck into the men’s room before a meeting, lock himself in a stall, and jot down a list on a scrap of paper–projects he’d done successfully, awards his company won, other accomplishments. “I would make two to three lists a week and they were always the same,” he says. “I never needed to read them, but making the list, and putting it in my coat pocket made me feel okay about whatever it was that was stressful.”

And it gave Leonhard the confidence to tackle what so many creative professionals dread doing: negotiating.

. . . .

“For about 10 years I’ve been consulting with creative firms and over and over I would find people who are sophisticated professionals running firms with 50 to 100 people [who are] terrible negotiators,” he says.

. . . .

A common weakness of creative people is impostor syndrome–that nagging voice telling you that you’re just a big fake, no matter how successful you are.

Creative work requires a healthy measure of sensitivity. You want your work to move people, which means being in-tune with their emotions. But at the negotiating table, this same sensitivity can backfire for creative people. “They are too sensitive. They don’t want to bicker over the price. They just want to get over it and get to the work,” says Leonhardt. “Learning to ask for what you need is really important and it’s hard to do.”

Link to the rest at Fast Company

New York Public Library Program – Amazon: Business As Usual

27 June 2014

PG has been pried out of his lair to participate in a panel discussion on the topic, Amazon: Business As Usual, at The New York Public Library on July 1, 2014 from 7 – 9 p.m.

If there had been a question at the end of the topic, PG’s answer would have been “yes.”

However, in the absence of a question mark, he is not certain what he will be saying.

He is also conflicted about whether to wear his t-shirt that says “What Is It About 70% Royalties You Don’t Understand?”

Publishing Vs. Amazon: A Play in Five Acts

27 June 2014

From Insatiable Booksluts:

Act I:

Amazon: Hey Publishing, we just invented a new thing that we think you’ll like. You know how after you make a book you have to pay a buttload of money to get it all printed and shipped and stuff? We figured out a way that you could not have to pay all that money and still sell lots of books.

Publishing: OMG NO WHAT IS THIS WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO DESTROY PUBLISHING

Customers: Hey! These ebooks are pretty cool! I can carry a bunch with me all the time and it sucks less when I have to move!

Publishing: NO THEY ARE NOT COOL, PAPER BOOKS FOREVER, WE KNOW YOU JUST WANT TO STEAL OUR CONTENT OFF OF THE INTERNETS. CAN WE TRIPLE THE DRMs PLEASE

Customers: ……

. . . .

Act III:

Amazon: Hey Publishing, since it only costs you like a fraction of a percent actually to produce ebooks vs printing books, why do they cost so much?

Publishing: SHUT UP

Apple (aside to Publishing): Hey, I know how you guys can make more money off of ebooks.

Publishing: You have our attention.

Apple and Publishing whisper quietly between themselves.

Publishing: OK SO FROM NOW ON EVERYONE HAS TO SELL AT THE PRICE WE DECIDED AND YOU ONLY MAKE 30%

Amazon: What? But . . . I mean, we’re a retailer, not a consignment shop? And your prices are higher than paperbacks–isn’t that kind of silly for a medium that costs significantly less to produce? Why not price them less so you can sell at a higher volume, since you have no limit on the units you can sell?

Publishing: NO WE ALL DECIDED ALREADY

Apple blows a raspberry at Amazon, then sells them a bunch of iPads and iPhones.

Link to the rest at Insatiable Booksluts and thanks to Nick for the tip.

Twenty Verbs

27 June 2014

Most people use twenty verbs to describe everything from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. You know the ones: Was, did, had, made, went, looked… One-size-fits-all looks like crap on anyone. Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.

Janet Fitch

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