Two Different Worlds

2 July 2014

Passive Guy had an interesting experience last night. He was part of a panel that should have been described as “Amazon: Threat or Menace?” The panel was comprised of six people who had close ties to Traditional Publishing on the one hand and PG on the other – see livestream here. PG also did a podcast with Len Edgerly discussing his experiences earlier this morning that will show up at The Kindle Chronicles.

First – In the green room before the panel began, everyone was very nice to PG. The event was held in the New York Public Library. PG has traveled to New York on business at least a million times, but he had never been inside the NYPL before. It’s a fabulous place, a temple celebrating books. He strongly recommends a visit for anyone who hasn’t been there.

The auditorium appeared to hold about 80 audience members and was full. It was probably the largest gathering of people who are not soccer fans anywhere in New York last night.

PG won’t review who said what because you can get that in the livestream. With only two exceptions, he’s not going to talk about particular panelists and those exceptions will be in service of the broader purpose of this post.

PG will discuss the larger conclusions he drew during and after the panel interchanges.

As the title of the post indicates, traditional publishing and indie authors live in two different worlds. The business concerns, the view of the future, the willingness and ability to change, the attitude toward Amazon and the self-image of the two groups are widely divergent.

To the extent that the other panelists were representative of tradpub as a whole, PG concludes they’re terrified of Amazon. They believe that Amazon’s commitment to low prices is simply not consistent with their survival and they’re desperate to keep prices up. The idea of changing the way they operate to thrive a lower-price world is not on anyone’s radar. Neither is the concept of making up revenue and profits with higher volume.

One of the divergences triggered by the other lawyers on the panel was illuminating. At one point during the discussion of Amazon’s evils, one attorney mentioned setting the Justice Department antitrust division on Amazon. The other responded that this strategy wouldn’t work during the present Administration (undoubtedly it’s been tried), but the next Administration might be a different story.

Some of what was going on here was typical urban lawyer marketing to prospective clients – “I know important people and have access to inside information and levers of power so you should hire me.”

Excluding PG, this was definitely an inside information group.

The larger message, at least for PG, was that a desperate publishing industry has concluded it can’t survive in the marketplace and only government intervention to throttle Amazon will save it. Publishing will have to obtain through politics what it can’t through commerce.

All major New York publishers are subsidiaries of large media conglomerates. As someone pointed out with a bit of disdain, American businesses are not willing to invest in American publishers so all but one of the conglomerates that own Big Publishing are headquartered overseas. Shame on American business.

PG spent a couple of unhappy years working for the subsidiary of a large foreign-based media conglomerate and speaks from that experience.

The top executives of the large New York publishers are essentially middle managers in the business hierarchy of the conglomerates that own them. They take orders from headquarters. Financial performance comes first for the owners. Everything else is a distant second. If one New York publishing executive doesn’t perform, he/she will be out and another will be brought in. The decision will be made overseas and, likely, no one in New York will know about it until it occurs.

Some overseas conglomerate executives are not adept at understanding American business, particularly the high tech business. There’s nothing remotely like Amazon in Europe. One of the continuing sources of anxiety among American executives is trying to get Michelle in France or Hans in Germany to understand and accept competitive realities and constraints in the US.

As followers of The Passive Voice have seen, media tycoons can instigate anti-Amazon laws in various European countries. The bosses of New York publishing executives must wonder if they need different US management in order to generate some robust American anti-Amazon laws and regulations. The stress generated by these expectations is at least part of the reason for the anti-Amazon hysteria.

Another clear impression PG gained was that authors are a bit superfluous in the business considerations of publishers.

There were three lawyers and only one consistently-publishing author – James Patterson – on the panel. That shows authors where they sit. Why would you ask a bunch of authors who aren’t centimillionaires about Amazon or publishing or business as usual?

As someone pointed out in the comments to an earlier post, James Patterson is essentially his own imprint. Given all the co-authors and ghost-writers he uses, he may be more akin to a publisher or at least a book packager than a typical commercial author these days. PG does not begrudge Patterson his commercial success or the way he currently produces his books, but he’s really only representative of himself and a handful of similar writers, not authors as a whole.

At one point, when PG was talking about the financial success of indie authors, the moderator cut him off by saying, “Everyone wants authors to make more money.”

What was unspoken was, “in the right way.” With publishers and agents, not by themselves with Amazon.

PG observed a recurring and, perhaps unconscious elitist attitude on the panel. This group really believes that big and little publishing are the protectors of American literature and the deciders of what people will and will not read. Of course the protectors must be paid for their work, but that is really a secondary consideration.

Unless book prices are held high and authors’ royalties are kept low, how will their pet projects be funded? Poetry! Important nonfiction! Everyone has to sacrifice to support Literature! Romance readers must pay more to support the creation of the definitive history of the Boer War or a breakthrough book that chronicles the rise of a new gender identity – The Fifth Sex.

Who decides which books are important? Well, people like us Manhattanites. Who better to perform this vital work? People in Seattle? Readers? Authors? Pish-posh. Those types are certainly not qualified to be protectors of our Culture. They’re the worker bees.

The strangest event of the evening was the suggestion that Amazon is tweaking search results when someone pays them to do so.

PG has certainly not heard any hint of such a thing and, when he asked for evidence, no meaningful response was provided.

Aside from the fact that the only people in a position to pay for book search results would be large New York publishers, the same organizations the panel was trying to protect, the allegation vastly understates the complexity and sophistication of Amazon’s website.

Every interaction draws customized product suggestions. When you go to, you’ll see something different than PG does when he goes there. Ditto for all the emails. Amazon is constantly watching what its customers are doing and attempting to put the most relevant products in front of each visitor.

The suggestion also misunderstands the position of books in Amazon’s overall product hierarchy. Amazon serves customers. Not book customers or electronics customers, just customers. Whatever the customer wants, Amazon endeavors to provide.

Amazon wants to be your favorite diaper store and your  favorite hand tool store and your favorite book store. If it doesn’t give you the very best information when you’re buying books, you might go elsewhere for diapers too.

PG and Mrs. PG buy a lot of books on Amazon, but the dollar value of their non-book purchases is much higher than their book purchases. Amazon wants PG to buy everything on Amazon. The downside of jiggered search results would vastly outweigh any payments a publisher might make to obtain such search results.

PG prefers a simpler world:

  1. Write a great book
  2. Hire a great editor and cover designer
  3. Put it up on Amazon
  4. Tell people about it
  5. Repeat a few times and quit your day job.

Amazon, Big Publishing, PG's Thoughts (such as they are)

400 Comments to “Two Different Worlds”

  1. Thanks for such an incisive view of the panel, PG. From where I currently sit in southern New Jersey, I’ll be able to see the mushroom cloud when New York publishers finally explode.

  2. Thanks for the post PG. I want to live in your simpler world so please count me in 🙂

  3. That fellow was coming, in my non-defamation-law-specialist opinion, dangerously close to actionable defamation. He specifically accused Amazon of an activity he explicitly stated (correctly, IMO) was unlawful, and at one point said that they had admitted to doing it. That is not mere opinion, that is an assertion of fact. And if his actions didn’t constitute reckless disregard for the truth, they would pass for it in bad light.

    Allow me also to add my congratulations to the list: you were assertive but civil, and gave, in my opinion, much better than you got. I agree that you were treated much more harshly than anyone else, but it seemed that you got your fair share of talking time and then some by sticking to your guns.

    • The only problem there is, it seems doubtful Amazon will suffer any actual damages based on what he said. I doubt anybody listening to that panelist contradict himself thought, “Hey, this guy has a point.”

      • A dollar and costs is still a win. 😉

      • Automatic damages for per se defamation, accusations of criminal conduct AND accusations pertaining to business conduct.

      • Until the Justice Department DOES level anti-trust charges, IWC, just going to court is a punishment, and even if you win, how do you collect your costs from Eric Holder? Not to mention all the outsiders — stockholders, customers, AUTHORS, who stand to lose if Amazon gets “taken down a peg or two.” Somewhat like the DOJ persecution of Miscrosoft in Y2K tanked the NASDAQ and trashed about 30% of the value of millions of people’s 401(k)’s.


    • Patricia Sierra

      I think that guy confused recommendations with search results. I just did a search for “Sue Grafton” in Books. I had to get partway down the third page of results to see a book that was not in the alphabet series. If the search results favor those who pay, Sue must be paying a lot to get all that real estate on the site. In fact, the second item on the first page was a link to her author’s page.

      Something I don’t understand about Amazon’s recommendations for me is how often they’re recommending a book I’ve already purchased and a film I’ve already seen.

      • I don’t think she’s paying co-op necessarily to get all that real estate. You did search for her name, after all. When I do a search for my pen name I get my best selling book (whatever that currently is), then my Amazon author page, then the next six or seven listings include the other five books in that series. That’s simply Amazon giving me what I asked for. And when I look at also-boughts for my books I see a mix of indie and traditionally published books (small press–trust me, they’re not paying co-op either) in my genre written by people who write clean romances like I do. That’s Amazon making smart recommendations. Especially since I happen to have read at least one book by most of those authors.

        I think he was confusing Amazon and B& =)

        • Patricia Sierra

          I was joking when I said she must be paying a lot for those search results. It was the panelist who said the search results are delivered per whomever paid the most, or words to that effect.

          • I should have guessed. Sarcasm doesn’t always translate to print. His comment definitely had me scratching my head because it’s pretty clear that he was way out in left field.

    • good points….Marc Cabot

  4. “PG prefers a simpler world:

    Write a great book
    Hire a great editor and cover designer
    Put it up on Amazon
    Tell people about it
    Repeat a few times and quit your day job.”

    There’s your next t-shirt. Thanks so much for the insights, PG.

  5. Thanks for the update. I will try and watch the live stream if the opportunity arises, but I am thinking it will affect me in the same way as watching my favorite sports team play in a game where all the official’s calls go against them.

  6. You were civil and classy last night, PG. I’m sorry the event was a waste of your valuable time. I hope the pastrami was worth the trip.

  7. I was hoping you’d write about your experience on the panel, PG. It was agonizing hearing all those Big Pub apologists defending a broken status quo while the rest agreed with them nearly in lockstep. The only one besides you even pretending to think of authors was the one who takes 15% off the top, including off one of the panelists. The BS that was spread around at that event would fertilize the world’s fields for a generation.

    However frustrating it was for those of us viewing, it must have been so much more so for you. Still, you brought a lot home from it and shared it with us. Thank you.

  8. Term of the Day:

    INDIE READER. Readers who read what they want to read without waiting for approval from the literati.

    • ^This.^

    • AMEN!!

    • This, ditto.

      Just where do all those publishers get off thinking they can tell me what I want to read? That they even know what I want to read?

      I have read about writers who went the “usual route” to publishing, only to be told, “this isn’t popular right now.” Or, in other words, “this isn’t the flavor of the month wherein we can cash in.” Then they cloak that attitude about money with a directive that tells me what I want to read – by making only the moneymaking books available for reading, and then pass it off as culture.

      Excuse me! I don’t want to read about vampires anymore – I did when I was a kid, and frankly, sometimes I do go back to those. But now, somewhat older, I want to read about other things – yet all I see are crime novels and vampire books. This is good culture? Hogwash. Give me some Gene Stratton-Porter or Joan D. Vinge, give me more of that why don’t you, and we’ll call it good. Find out what I want and then give me that, that’s what business should do. Exploit my weakness for historical fiction and make money off of that!

      Oh wait, Amazon will do that, Amazon is doing that. Amazon makes it easy to search and find exactly the type of book I’m looking for with all the various shadings that I like to have in books that I read.

      End of rant. Thank you for your time.

      • A friend of mine was told by her agent that her book was good, but there was no market for it.

        The charitable interpretation is that she meant publishers wouldn’t buy it, because my friend self-published it a month ago and has already made more than the average trad-pub advance. You know, that thing that often isn’t earned out?

        The problem is that agents think about what they can sell to publishers, and publishers think about what they can sell to bookstores, and bookstores don’t know what they could sell if it existed; they only know what sold last year.

        • “… agents think about what they can sell to publishers, and publishers think about what they can sell to bookstores, and bookstores don’t know what they could sell if it existed; they only know what sold last year.”

          Absolutely right.

      • To be fair, the non-money making books are usually in the bargain bins.

        I remember when I read a New York Times review of a book (something by Franzen) and decided to go to the local B & N to get it. The book had just been reviewed, but when I arrived at the store, I couldn’t find it on the shelves. I asked a clerk and they pointed to the bargain bin. Something about that made me not want it anymore and I ended up getting a key chain instead.

        (Also to be fair, I LOVED that key chain.)

    • I love this.

    • T-shirt, please!!!!

      • Done. Don’t know if it’s up yet, but if you search for INDIE READER on Zazzle it should be there within 24-hours. I’d put a link, but don’t think PG would appreciate that.

        Gotta love the Internet. 🙂

    • Pretty much.

      The whole thing is comical in a f*cked up way. Not sad at all (at least I feel no pity.) Just comical.

  9. Your panel experience reporting seems to reflect that there exists a fundamental lack of understanding that authors, readers, and publishers are simply different use case scenarios, each of which has a valid perspective–but does not stand alone in its ability to describe the complexity of what’s going on. If publishers were to recognize themselves as a specific kind of customer (they’re buying “literature”), maybe that would help them empathize with Amazon’s broader understanding of the different customers its business serves.
    As you’ve said elsewhere… Amazon Derangement Syndrome is pervasive, and apparently in no danger of eradication.

    • You think the Big 5 only buy “literature?” You might want to go to their websites and look at their vast genre collections to get a better idea of what they publish.

      • I read that as literature as in “written material” not as literary writing. (You know, as when a sales person offers you some “literature” on the benefits of their product.)

        • 🙂
          Camille, you picked up on my “irony” correctly.
          Each house buys according to what it knows and thinks it can sell, many with the pretense that they’re supporting Great Literature by also peddling same ol-same ol best-seller fodder. IMHO, that leaves quite a goodly portion of genres and cross-genres un-addressed–unless an author grabs his or her own courage and self- or indie-publishes the work that’s in his or her heart.

  10. At one point, when PG was talking about the financial success of indie authors, the moderator cut him off by saying, “Everyone wants authors to make more money.”

    My response: Where are the authors’ yachts?

    I’d say more, but that cringing montebank of a lawyer saying “wait til the next administration” to drop the hammer on Amazon is making me see green now.

    • Sure they want authors to make more money, getting paid more money, now that’s a different matter entirely. With the current situation, author makes more translates into all the supplemental businesses getting paid more. I doubt that comment would be made if it were everyone wants authors to get a higher cut of the money. Notice how defensive she got when PG mentioned authors could finance themselves. If authors can drum up financing on their own to publish, that’s one less reason to need an agent. I agree with his assessment after watching about 2/3 of it. Sorry, I just couldn’t make it all the way through. Those folks are living in abject terror. I don’t think it’s just Amazon that scares them, either, it seems to extend to readers and writers as well.

      • Publishers are not afraid of readers and writers, I guarantee you. They spend their days going through enormous e-mounds of submissions from writers desperate to sign with them.

        • I don’t think it’s the readers and writers that they’re afraid of, so much as losing control over readers and writers through the erosion of their position as “curators” and “gatekeepers.” A whole new generation of talented writers is springing up that has never submitted a single manuscript to a traditional publisher, instead circumventing them entirely by self-publishing. These people are building careers on their own and learning that they really don’t need a publisher for anything. THAT is what scares these people, or should at least, if they’d take their heads out the sand long enough to see it.

          • Respectully disagree

            If BigPub was scared, in any way, of losing future mega-sellers they sure as hell aren’t showing it through shrinking advances and worsening contracts and royalties, particularly on digital.

            Things might start getting better for TradPub writer’s, not a tightening of the clamps.

            • I don’t think that they’re afraid of losing future mega-sellers, but that’s only because they are not able to look past what’s happening now.

              From what I have seen, when corporation is going downhill and CEOs start to get afraid for their bottom line, they don’t start to invest into the firm and its products or services, but the first thing that they do, is to squeeze the company workers, especially the ones at the bottom of the pyramid. That’s how corporations on general work and publishers are no exception. Since in publishing the lower layer consist of writers, it’s only logical that publishers at first would shrink advances and worsen contracts and lower royalties.

        • I would disagree. They seem very much afraid of readers. If they believe books should be priced highly enough to support the cultural efforts they believe are so important, then just make that argument, back it up and price em higher. But it’s clear they don’t want to make that argument in a competitive setting, rather one in which books are locked into higher prices. They’re afraid of readers even having the option of lower prices. DRM shows they’re also afraid of readers having control of the product they bought. As for writers, if they aren’t afraid of the choices writers can make in the future, why the attempts to basically wipe out reversion? Do you actually think every one of these publishers doesn’t know precisely how much money their former midlisters who got their rights back from them has made? Why the non compete agreements that don’t even allow some to try other methods. They are very much afraid of writers seeing the real financial picture and the options they now have driving demand for better terms. They are in a position to get squeezed from both sides and don’t think they don’t know it. Look at the dead silence PG’s mention of unconscionable contracts was met with. Everyone on that panel knew they were talking out of one side of their mouth about Amazon squeezing it’s suppliers while their own contracts do the same thing to their own suppliers, only worse.

        • So please tell us the details about the contract you offer your writers. If you pay decent royalties, don’t require non-competes or DRM or life of copyright terms among other things, some here might be interested in giving you more work.

        • Even if not afraid, Deborah, the self-publishing community has to be a huge inroad into the number of creative works from which to choose from.

          It’s like a town with one huge high school which suddenly gets a second school. The talent pool is divided.

          There’s usually still plenty to choose from, but each school feels the re-location of talent, now competing against them, from the other school.

          Not a perfect analogy, but realistic I think.

        • Traditional publishers are still getting tons of submissions, but by who? The best writers?

          Are they getting submissions by great romance novelists who haven’t bothered to do enough research to know that those writers are treated as second class citizens by traditional publishing even though their genre sells the best?

          Are they getting submissions from great sci-fi writers who know so little about technology they are afraid to hire someone to design their own covers or help them format to publish on Amazon?

          Are they getting submissions from horror and detective novelists who have no knowledge of social media and therefore expect a publisher to handle all publicity?

          How can any young novelist who is interested in their craft not be aware of the benefits of self-publishing and the rip-off contracts being offered by traditional publishers?

          Yes, I’m sure they’re still getting submissions from aging high school English teachers who remember the good old days of print books. And from socially awkward technophobes who want someone else to promote their careers and give them lots of editing notes. And from college professors who want to write “serious” literary fiction about college professors who have affairs with their students.

          But the writer of the next great teen vampire series? Or the writer of the next Harry Potter? Or the writer who can crank out six wonderful romance novels or detective stories a year? I’m highly skeptical those people are going to blindly submit to the NY slush pile. I think they’re already publishing on Amazon and making money.

          • A huge number of tomorrow’s successful indie publishers are currently building massive fan bases on Wattpad. There is a lot of poor quality writing there, but then there are books that aren’t great everywhere. There is a growing number of very high quality writing, though, and some of these writers are getting millions of reads and votes and moving their work to Amazon.

            The days of the non tech savvy writer are fast running out; the writers of tomorrow are growing up with tech, and designing it, shaping it. Some bright spark will come up with a 3D virtual book and change the world.

          • Be careful about making assumptions. We talk to one another and hang out at places where writers are savvy about indie publishing. In other groups I belong to, the desire to be traditionally published is still strong and the misinformation about indie publishing rampant.

            • Major good point, Elise. I know many previously trad-published authors in whom the mere mention of indie publishing causes the sort of reaction common to courteous people when approached by beggars. That split second of distaste followed by a wholesale shift of attention to Something Else.
              Yeah, the old days were great, but they’re gone! Those of us who’ve seen the light are even happier now with regular automatic deposits from the ‘Zon, while our cohorts continue to send bushels of agent queries and dream of a world that no longer exists and for many, never did. I think of it as the Walter Pater Syndrome, an entrenched and intractable devotion to tradpub as the imprimatur of “real” authordom.
              And so, given a chance, they’ll sign those lousy contracts, accept those lousy advances and continue to provide cheap content until the industry, inevitably now, collapses.

            • You’re not kidding. I went to a crime fiction event a couple of months ago and while a lot of us in the audience were self-publishing, most of the speakers were trad pubbed and couldn’t get over it. Perhaps because their publisher was in the room? Some of the published writers made no secret of their disdain for those of us going indie, not in so many words but by the look on their faces when I said I was self-published.
              In the bar later a couple of ’em asked me how to self-pub, because they reckoned it was a path they’d take at some point in the future, and there was a panel on self-publishing (first thing on a Sunday morning – heh!).
              But mainly the focus was on pitching to an agent, getting an agent and submitting to an agent. Getting your work in front of a publisher – any publisher – was a long way down the list.
              Tried that. Took too long, stifled my creativity. Prefer indie.

              • I hadn’t thought about it, Lee, but your point re: the attitude at cons is significant. I’m headed off to one in Boston next week, a new venue so I’m just checking it out, but in reading over the speaker creds, they’re all tradpubbed. Mostly small presses, but much of the pre-con talk is ABOUT small presses, a reminder that much of the funding for writer’s cons comes from publishers!
                Yikes. All those party suites and goody bags with free books (that you’d never choose to read) may vanish if The Biz actually perishes. Amazon isn’t going to start sponsoring writer’s conferences, so maybe a whole new set of entrepreneurs (I think this is already happening) will seize the reins and organize around issues like creativity? Including book-business creativity? Whole new world.
                And your experience in the bar is telling, isn’t it? I’ve had the same, three this week alone emailing questions about how it’s done “just in case” they can’t find another agent or get another contract. Going indie is the court of last resort for them, I guess, but at least they know it’s an option and that’s 100% more than existed ten years ago!

                • Why wouldn’t Amazon sponsor writer’s conferences?

                • Either no one’s asked Amazon, or they offered and were firmly rebuffed.

                  (I tried to stay off the internets, but I didn’t make it 24-hours.)

                • Actually, the divisions of Amazon (Kindle and Createspace) sponsored part of PubSmart in Charleston this year. A new conference that focuses on the new trends in publishing and supporting the indie author.
                  All of Amazon played a part in the Author’s Hub at BEA this year and threw a great cocktail party for us indies. So they are supporting some conferences.

    • Hey!

      By my rough calculations, including travel time, it cost James Patterson $36,000.00 to attend that panel.

      It’s not all about the money for authors, you know.

  11. I would have loved to see PG backed up by Howey, Eisler and Konrath to even out the panel.

    You could probably sell pay-per-view tickets to that panel.

    • I was thinking the same thing, Tom.

    • Howey was active in the online comments section during the debate. He said he was invited to participate but didn’t own a tie.

      There were several other familiar PV names in the comments, and they were far more interesting that most of what happened on stage. Others were on Twitter (#amazonbau).

    • I was thinking this, too. What’s to prevent people with a more informed and progressive perspective from holding a live-streamed panel discussion about the business? Given that the NYPL presented a panel that was both blatantly biased and disappointingly uninformative**, why not present a separate panel?

      (** Those moderator questions! “Is this topic important? Are books a pure commodity? Is Amazon a squeezer or is it worse? What do we speculate in a vaccuum Amazon’s end game is?” etc. I’m skeptical that a kid in a high school debate class could get a passing grade with such vague, pointless questions; yet here was the NYPL hosting and then -congratulating- this silliness.)

      • I seriously would pay to see a well moderated discussion between Patterson, Turow, Shatzkin and maybe Douglas Preston and some other shill on one side of the table and PG, Konrath, Eisler, Howey and Gaughran on the other.

        It would be epic!

        • The comments here make me not want to watch the debate that did happen. It sounds like more of the same old head-in-the-ground ignorance that I’m tired of, but a balanced debate you suggest would be golden.

          • That’s precisely what it was, but without the merciful barrier of the written word to disguise the stifling smugness.

          • The ignorance on these boards surpasses all.

            • Then why bother dropping in, ma’am?
              Live and let die, if your position is so righteous and strong.

              A few submissions less won’t matter, right?

            • Patricia Sierra

              But at least we have good manners.

            • So what are we ignorant about, Deborah? You do realize that you’re addressing career writers, lawyers, small publishers, tech people, math whizes, managers, business owners, etc.? And as indie authors, we’ve spent a great deal of time educating ourselves about the business of writing and publishing. If we’re ignorant about something regarding the business, maybe, instead of snide drive-bys, you could share your perspective and add to the conversation. Speaking for myself, I’m always interested in learning new things.

              • I have this sudden urge to toss out the Deb Smith books in my first floor romance/women’s fiction bookcase (as opposed to the fantasy bookcase, science fiction bookcase, theology bookcase, art history bookcase, sports bookcase, engineering bookcase, etc).

                Cuz, really, how does that enlighten anyone? Deb, could you link us to a post where you fisk the ignorance? That might help loads more than just saying folks here are ignorant.

                I happen to have books by Laura Resnick and her dad, too, and they’ve been in the biz a long time (especially combined publishing experience would trump yours), so there can’t just be totally know-nothings, yes? Libbie was able to quit her day job to write now as an indie: Is she a know-nothing? As someone else pointed out, there are people writing, earning bucks, with histories of working in publishing in some capacity. But they’re all know-nothings?

                I’ve rarely read as interesting and thoughtful comments as on these boards (hence my visitations). I’ve read some mighty stupid boards over the years. This one does not surpass all. So, I suppose you just wanted to insult folks here, rather than debate.

                • If you’re looking for posts by her, there’s this one on her blog discussing her impression of the NYPL discussion. As might be expected, it comes from a different world than the rest of us live in.

                  The Bible says “by their fruits, ye shall know them.” Someone who posts the kind of substance-free invective Smith has done here is unworthy of any kind of consideration as a writer, thinker, or human being. Clearly, this lady’s fruit is sour grapes.

                • It did lack substance, sadly. All this “we” the ones with “deep knowledge.” Elitist. Ad hominem. Which would be fine if the facts back up the comments. But it was just pretty much name-calling and “we know better than you indie and Amazon-friendly snots out there.”

                  Still, if Amazon is really so damn bad, they should pull all their books from it and support other vendors/retailers/sites, especially those happy to bend over backwards to support publisher pricing directives.

                  I don’t think it’s sour grapes. Deb has made beaucoup bucks as a writer and I don’t doubt makes a nice income from being in the publishing side of the business. But the condescension is real and not pretty. (Again, I can take snooty if they are really putting the facts out there and making a case. Snooty for snooty’s sake is really unappealing.)

                • I just made the mistake of reading that blog entry. She may be a successful writer/publisher, but she ain’t too bright.

                  She literally made the argument that five tradpub industry professionals plus the moderator constantly interrupting PG with ” verbal tranquilizer darts” (?) was a “fair balance.”

                • Timothy Wilhoit

                  She was saying that one PG was more intelligent than the rest of those nattering nabobs put together? If so, then I would (shudder) be forced to agree with her.

            • Lol.

            • Let’s not feed the trolls guys.

              • But Joe, how can a publishing professional like Deborah Smith possibly be a troll? She’s got pages and pages of books for sale on Amazon. She’s Vice President of a publishing company and a well-known nurturer of writers, and let’s face it, she knows more than we do. She knows that big publishing publishes genre fiction, which apparently many or even all of us genre writers–some with long backgrounds in big pub–did not. She knows that musicians can’t make a living anymore, despite the fact the indie music scene is livelier than ever, and more profitable. She knows publishers (All of them?) are not afraid of writers because they read submissions from writers who want what they have to offer. Doesn’t that make perfect sense to you?

                She’s been spreading this knowledge all over the recent discussions of Amazon: Business as Usual, making sweeping statements of “fact” at every turn. She even called PG an “Amazon mouthpiece” on another blog. None of that could possibly hurt her image as a publisher, now could it?

                It’s possible I’m cranky. Just barely possible. 🙂

                • Maybe she can set up a debate with Hugh or Barry. Let’s see how that goes. Barry has trad publishing experience (as does Konrath). And they both have indie experience. They know both sides pretty damn well, so they cannot be dismissed as “ignorant.” In disagreement with interpretations, but not ignorant. So, it’s the interpretation of the facts that will need to be supported.

                  I suspect Deb would not fare well in that one-to-one facts-interpretive match.

                  Personally, I hope all my fave writers go indie. Then I can buy their romances and fantasies and space operas and thrillers at 3.99 and 5.99 instead of 11.99 or 9.99–and more goes into their pockets DIRECTLY and MONTHLY. I’m big on supporting the authors who bring great fun into my days. The creators. They’re who I’m fans of and I want them to get the big fat muscular lion’s share of the moolah I pay for the work.

                • “Maybe she can set up a debate with Hugh or Barry.”

                  Nah, she thinks Hugh jumped at a traditional contract and is very happy. I’m not sure she knows who Barry is.

                  I ran across her trad pub defense crap a couple of weeks back on another blog, and refuted some of what she kept inserting there. I have no use for people like this, and certainly won’t read any of her books.

            • People, be nice to Ms. Smith. Turing programs of that level of sophistication are a rare thing, and deserve respect.

        • Someone should start a Kickstarter project for this. One of the prizes could be the choice of a T-shirt from PG’s Zazzle store.

        • Oh, god. I’d volunteer to be the moderator for that debate.

      • Great idea, I’d pay to see this. But who from tradpub would accept the invite?

        • How about Steven Zacharius and Mike Shatzkin?

          • Would that even be fair? Stevie Z. couldn’t handle the commenters at TPV, and The Shatz won’t be able to delete counterpoints.

            • Oh wow. I hope the gentlemen in question know how to treat burns.

              • I wasn’t trying to be mean, C.R. Both gentlemen have shown a propensity toward obfuscation when presented with logical arguments, or in The Shatz’s case, press the delete button instead of providing a thoughtful answer. What would be the point of including them in the proposed debate? How would it be productive?

                Last night’s “debate” (and I put the word in quotes because it could hardly be defined as such) showed that a great many people invested in trad publishing are so scared they refuse to acknowledge reality.

                Let’s say the Big 5 do manage to shut down Amazon. One of the other e-tailers, or possibly a new player, will step into the void. What are the Big 5 planning to do next? Knock each one down as they step up to the plate?

                And if they manage to do that, does it matter? I’ll set up my books on The Pirate Bay and ask for donations before I sign one of the contracts I’ve seen over the last seven years.

                • The thing is, that with shutting down Amazon, the Big 5 would lose a big chunk of their revenue. It makes me wonder, among all that whining and crying about Amazon and how it is destroying culture, are they forgetting that without Amazon they would be shut down or sold years ago.

                • I don’t think the big pubs want to shut down Amazon, just control how it sells books and for what price. As you noted, they would lose a huge number of sales, and they’ve already shown (PG has an article on it) that they have no clue how to set up their own store.

                • Yeah, I don’t think it’s really about shutting down Amazon either, even though the way they are whining and crying about the end of the culture, and scream Amazon is evil, one would think that every time Amazon sells a book, a new demon is born.

                • This is it exactly: they don’t want to kill the bull, they want to put a ring in its nose.

                • My question to you all: do you really think Bezos would give up control of Amazon?

                  Because he strikes me as the type that would shut down the company before he lost control of it.

                • If every publisher in the world including all indiepubs stopped selling to Amazon tomorrow, it would lose… a single digit portion of its gross revenue.

                  Not only would he not be willing (or able) to shut it down, he wouldn’t need to and there would be no reason to.

                • I hope you didn’t misread my comment. I wasn’t trying to say you were being too harsh, I was saying you were right on the nose with the scathing comment!

                • No worries, C.R. Sometimes I scorched the earth without meaning to. Such is the life of a mother of dragons. 🙂

        • Deborah Smith? I’ve yet to see her answer any questions though.

  12. You are being polite, maybe too polite. New Yorkers in the book business are (mostly) insufferable egos wrapped in smugness, self-importance, and elitism. They do not engage us, the great unwashed, with politeness, but with patronizing sneers. What they really deserve is a solid kick in the nuts. Happily, Amazon is delivering it.

  13. PG, you did an excellent job in an awkward and surreal situation. What kind of debate/discussion concludes by thanking its moderator for being “not a moderator”?

    And I agree with Jake: a richly deserved nut-kicking is happening now. Embrace the pain, Big Five. You effing earned it.

  14. There are two distinct classes of people in America. Those who mock and disdain “flyover country” and the rest of us rubes in “flyover country”. ADS is only one expression of their elitism but it has many other forms as well. Their obnoxious arrogance was on unfettered display last night.

    • There are two distinct classes of people in America. Those who mock and disdain “flyover country” and the rest of us rubes in “flyover country”. ADS is only one expression of their elitism but it has many other forms as well. Their obnoxious arrogance was on unfettered display last night.

      I retyped and deleted several answers to this post but I know PG would rather we play nice so I decided to just say one thing. Wow Just Wow.&lt</b?

    • Wonderful way with words, Barbara. And I agree 100%.

  15. Some overseas conglomerate executives are not adept at understanding American business, particularly the high tech business. There’s nothing remotely like Amazon in Europe. One of the continuing sources of anxiety among American executives is trying to get Michelle in France or Hans in Germany to understand and accept competitive realities and constraints in the US.

    As followers of The Passive Voice have seen, media tycoons can instigate anti-Amazon laws in various European countries. The bosses of New York publishing executives must wonder if they need different US management in order to generate some robust American anti-Amazon laws and regulations.

    Interesting! That makes so much sense. Thanks for elucidating a point that I haven’t seen made before: ADS fueled by overseas masters. Huh!

  16. PG Said:
    “There’s nothing remotely like Amazon in Europe”

    Actually, that’s not quite right. Bertelsmann On-Line (who ironically own Random Penguin) has been in existence since 1999. You can visit it here:

    It caters specifically to the Dutch speaking population of Belgium and The Netherlands. It has about 3.5 million customers, offering about 5 million products. In many ways, it is the next best thing to Amazon (which isn’t active in these two countries).

    They offer free shipping when you buy for more than 20€ and I use them all the time. The service is great, tracking the packages is great, you can have it drop-shipped to certain chain stores to pick it up, etc. They have affiliate programs, second hand goods, make your own store ,etc.
    Overall, I’m extremely happy with them and will keep on shopping there. From all that I’ve read, they’re doing extremely well and are looking to expand into other countries.

    Here’s the fun part…
    The recently opened up a self-publishing platform that is very similar to KDP:
    It seems to be picking up authors slowly, but surely. You can compare the ebook market here to that in the US 5-6 years ago: ready to explode. I’ve looked into their terms and they are reasonable. If I ever do a translation of one of my books, I’m going with them.

    My point is this:
    The whole thing that “moderator” was on about needing huge capital to build Amazon alternatives? How hard it is now that Amazon is so big? All the whining about no competition and other blahblahblah?

    It’s nonsense.

    Bertelsmann simply cloned Amazon with its BOL shop and it’s working. Sure, 3.5 million customers pales compared to Amazon, but I would offer up this: if Amazon ever opens shop here, it’s going to have an uphill battle because those millions of customers are overall very happy where they are right now. Prices are good, shipping is good and they offer increasingly more products. To the point that many people here simply skip going to shops and order with BOL.

    The next BigPub shill that spouts nonsense, perhaps we could mention BOL. Explain how Bertelsmann owns RandyPingu too and even offers self-pubbing on BOL.
    AND millions of customers are so happy they keep on buying from them. So not even can BigPub compete with Amazon on books, it can compete with them on *everything*.
    If it can be done here, it can work in other countries too.

    • Patricia Sierra

      That’s very interesting input. I’d never heard of them.

    • I note that the German language wing of Bertelsmann has announced that they are closing their book stores.

      • Der Club a.k.a. Club Bertelsmann is what’s left of the Bertelsmann book club and an entirely different beast from BOL. BOL is more like an Amazon clone and online only, whereas Der Club operated under a book club model until very recently (you couldn’t even buy something in their stores, if you weren’t a member) and also had a number of brick and mortar stores.

    • You might want to research the efforts of the Big 5 to create an alternative to Amazon in recent years.

      • The efforts that have failed miserably? So much so that the average person on the street has never heard of them?

      • I’ve seen several come and go. From recollection, most of them seemed to be focused on books only and were horrible re. user interface (Bookish, shudder…). I agree with PGs assessment that they fundamentally have no understanding of IT. Star-ups and companies that do get it make e-commerce solutions that rock all the time. For some reason, BigPub seems unable to do the same. Given their record profits, I doubt it’s a potential lack of funds that’s the problem; they have the cash to spend. The problem probably lies elsewhere. My bet is on not getting tech and IT.
        BOL is an example that it can be done. It won’t be easy (no tech venture is), but it is possible. Smashwords is another example. BigPub could have launched it or bought it by now. They didn’t.

        Just my 2 cents, I could be wrong too.

        • I’ll go in on your bet that BPHs don’t “get” IT. One clue: their failure to recognize that DRM is a stupid idea.

        • Well, Manhattan isn’t quite a hotbed of IT tech. Most companies import their IT from upstate or Jersey… But since BPHs are big believers in acting local… 🙂

        • “BigPub could have launched it or bought it by now.”

          At least they bought Author Solutions so they won’t miss out entirely. 🙂

    • BOL has also been around in Germany for at least 15 years. I remember them sponsoring the literary talkshow “Das Literarische Quartett”, which finished its run in 2001. I think they were the first online bookseller operating in Germany and they’re also offering e-books by now via the Tolino alliance. In Germany, BOL never quite gained the prominence as in the Netherlands, but then Amazon came to Germany relatively early, whereas the Netherlands are still waiting.

      Interesting to see that the Dutch BOL is now also offering a self-publishing service. Which stores do they supply?

      • Cora, thanks for mentioning that BOL offers ebooks for the Tolino (a German Nook, basically). I’ve been wondering how to break into that market as indie author, and now it seems possible with the new self-publishing option of BOL.
        More options for indie authors! Yay!

      • Cora,

        They don’t deliver to stores, only their own online shop. Maybe this will change in the future (I hope so). Like I said, it’s still early days here and the local TradPubbers are just starting to see what is going to happen with ebooks.
        to give an example: at last year’s book fair, they held an event to further awareness that we need to save the paper book and give the publishers government subsidies so literature can survive. I kid you not.

    • Amazing info PG, thanks! Always surprising to find out about endeavors that get little or no press here. The indie-ni-zation wave is, it seems, more and more worldwide.

  17. Well, PG, the comment stream was definitely heavily in your favor, although one guy said you were a shill because Mrs. PG “publishes with Amazon.”

    I don’t know if you plan on ever watching the livestream, but I’m not sure you could get the full scope of the ridiculosity from your seat next to the Moderrupter.

  18. That moderator was practically itching to cut PG off every time he talked. You could see her twitch several times and then launch into a lecture.
    Great moderating…

  19. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. They are always the best thing about your site.

    Now off to watch the stream of the event.

  20. I know Publisher’s Marketplace shamelessly slants articles in favor of big publishing, but this makes me think Indies need a letter to go viral:

    • What kind of completely self-absorbed a-hole thinks that any company has a duty to carry their product?*

      *I guess we can easily identify at least 110 of them.

      Edited to add: My favorite part is about the “unfair pricing.” It’s so unfair that it was printed on the book by the publisher.

      • It’s completely crazy. Barnes and Noble stocks whatever they want. I know someone who published with Harper Collins. When BN refused to stock her book, she started a negative on line campaign to get all her friends to order her book through BN to convince them to stock it — and her publisher told her to stop immediately. They didn’t want to anger BN.

        The panel began with the assumption that publishers add value. Right away you have a sticking point.

    • Interesting letter since no books have been blocked from sale.

      But why let facts get in the way of creating hysteria?

    • The article lost me at the first sentence. Sheesh.

    • “The position stated in the letter is: “Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business. None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage.””

      Why not an open letter to the publishers asking for better terms, royalty rates, reversion of rights and any other number of ways they are “harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business”.

      It’s good they are not taking sides though.

    • “We feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation. Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery, Amazon is contradicting its own written promise to be ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company.'”

      I can only assume the signatories also sent a stern letter to B&N and indie bookstores when they banded together in refusing to carry titles published by Amazon, right?

      And how can so many smart people be so damned dumb. Their PUBLISHERS are setting the prices.


      By the way, PG, that was a most… interesting panel. That you managed to refrain from b****-slapping that twinkie of a moderator speaks highly of your character.

      • If your best argument is that your mouthpiece should hit women, you’re in a sad state.

        • Shoot, guys, she’s on to us, and she’s armed with a firm understanding of hyperbole, to boot.

        • Step 1 accomplished: Skim until offended.

        • I’m a woman and I was mentally judo-chopping her the entire panel. 🙂 I believe someone upthread suggested one of the panel members should have their nuts kicked so it looks like PG’s regulars are all for equal opportunity!

        • SET word.def.modernusage[bitchslap] TO “to overwhelmingly prevail in a physical or mental conflict”;
          LINK word.def[bitchslap] TO word.def[curbstomp];

          There. That should fix it.

    • Where’s OUR ‘viral’ letter to sign? Assuming it’s worth the effort.

      • Not much effort at all. My draft consists of only two letters.

        Dang it, my tranquility is already slipping.

      • My hope for “our” viral position is that the general public gets the wool (Hugh Howey, please don’t sue me, I love you and you are my BFF even if you don’t know it) removed from their eyes and they realize publishing’s real aim (other than to make a lot of money at the expense of those who do the majority of the work *cough*authors*cough*) is to promote what they believe to be quality literature.

        With the millions of books by HM Ward, Howey, Konrath, Casey, etc., there has to a few million readers who would frown upon hearing that somehow a traditionally published author is vastly superior to the self-pub trash that these superstar indies are putting out. A few might even be insulted that publishing houses consider devoted self-pub readers stupid/ignorant sheep that haven’t been convinced of the extremely low quality of self-published.

        As a reader, I’m pretty insulted when a company that I have no clue about (in terms of what books they published… the only publishers I ever notice or take the time to “know about” are Tor and Baen because I’m old and love(d) the SF books they published, and Tor because of their anti-DRM stance) believes they know better than me what is proper literature that I should be reading. I’m even more insulted when I learn they are possibly worse than the recording companies that hosed musicians for decades when it comes to contract terms.

        The other viral bit I’m hoping catches on is all of us self-pubs continuing to expose the gulf between self-pub and trad-pub earnings potential (70% vs 12.5%-10% for the agent, for example).

        Or the fact self-pubs keep their rights.
        Or that they get paid monthly.
        Or that they have almost real-time access to sales figures and rankings. Or that they get to decide what goes into a story instead of the editor (who works for the pub house, not for the author).
        Or that they get to decide on the cover art for their books.
        Or that they can change prices whenever they feel like it, or even make some books free on a whim / for a promotion.
        Or that they can publish as often as they want instead of waiting 6-18 months for a trad pub to get the book out. Or they don’t have to worry about non-compete or first-rights clauses kicking in.
        Or that they can hire someone who will work for THEM (an IP attorney and a financial advisor, for example) to handle the business end of things yet consult with the author when it comes to choosing cover art or promotions, etc., so they can worry 98% about writing instead of having to juggle so many hats, yet still earn far more than they would with a publishing contract.
        Or that selling $100,000 worth of books via self-publishing is no different than selling $100,000 worth of books via a traditional publisher… except the self-pub would potentially earn $70,000 from that many sales, while trad-pub authors, after agent commission and all that other stuff… might earn $10,000-$20,000.

        This is the question I’ve asked a lot of persons, including authors and publishers, and no one has been able to give me an answer:

        How is selling 100,000 books through traditional-publishing better / more elite / more respectful than selling 100,000 books by self-publishing?

        No one will openly say that readers who helped the self-pub author reach that plateau are ignorant and don’t know what good, vetted literature is (or have been tricked into buying it, or have went the sock puppet route somehow). You can hear it leaking out of their cranium, like a steam valve about to burst from the pressure, but they generally know better than to say anything at all.

        But if you listen closely, you can hear it embedded in their words, like a secret code. The way they twist and squirm and hem and haw to say readers are ignorant savages without actually saying readers are ignorant savages would be entertaining if it wasn’t so disgustingly pretentious.

        But… shouting from the rooftops about how trad pub authors are getting shafted and trad pubs are elitist moneygrabbers isn’t any better than the other side shouting about what trash we write and how Amazon is somehow going to monopolize everything (breast milk? vaccines? oxygen? where, oh where is the limit to Amazon’s greed???).

        Thankfully, we can vent here. Or in my case, can annoy others who mistakenly read my nonsense posts.

  21. PG prefers a simpler world:

    “Write a great book
    Hire a great editor and cover designer
    Put it up on Amazon
    Tell people about it
    Repeat a few times and quit your day job.”

    I agree. It has worked for me so far!

  22. So… it’s true, the Emperor(s) has been convinced he’s actually wearing clothes…

    Great job, PG. I’m sure all of those smug @^#$@#’s are breaking/dislocating their arms with all of the patting on the back they are doing.

  23. “The larger message, at least for PG, was that a desperate publishing industry has concluded it can’t survive in the marketplace and only government intervention to throttle Amazon will save it. Publishing will have to obtain through politics what it can’t through commerce.”

    Exactly. Every company exists in a larger external environment. That environment in the US has become very negative for fiction publishers. The conglomerates know it. They have two options.

    First, they can execute an orderly and profitable withdrawal from fiction. This can leave them with a healthy balance sheet and a very healthy portfolio of book rights which can be fiercely exploited with the new technology. (They might leave a mechanism where authors pay the company to take thier book rights.)

    Second, thay can pursue government action. But what action? They aren’t going to get subsidies or price controls. The best they can hope for is a break up of Amazon. But that doesn’t do anything to ease the pressure from the technology and its commercial users. The environment is still hostile to them.

    And those stupid Americans? They let foreigners have the US paper market, while they take the foreign eMarket.

    • “And those stupid Americans? They let foreigners have the US paper market, while they take the foreign eMarket.”


      • Listening to traditional publishers talk about ebooks versus paper reminds me of a hilarious old skiing-versus-snowboarding American Express commercial, where dramatic snowboarding jumps, driving rock music, and a hip voiceover are interrupted by a couple of expensively over-dressed skiers just standing around, one of whom addressed the camera disdainfully in a heavy French accent, saying: “snowboarding will never be as popular as skiing.”

        • You do realize that the Big 5 now make enormous profits from ebooks and were, in fact, moving into the ebook business as long ago as 2004, when Hachette (then under a different name) started an ebook division? Ebooks are a huge profit center for major publishers. They’re not against them, hardly. LOL

          • They’re merely opposed to giving authors more than 25% percent royalties.

          • Really? Why did Carolyn Reidy say that the reason they (S&S) wanted to raise prices was to slow ebook adoption? Every one of the other Big 5 publishers has said more or less the same thing. They see ebooks as a threat to their business, even though you are correct that they are making huge profits. This is a serious question on my part. Why undermine something that is hugely profitable?

            • Perhaps they want to slow the adoption of ebooks so they can bring their business practices up to speed at their pace, not Amazon’s.
              Without the revenue from their existing business model i.e. paper books, they won’t be able to raise the capital to invest in the sort of IT and infrastructure they need to run their ebook business effectively. So the business managers will attempt to slow down adoption of the game-changing technology, even though it’s highly profitable, until the old parts of the business have been adequately reassigned or disposed of.
              I seem to recall DWS said as much, a couple of years back.
              (ooh, and he’s done so again!

          • You do realize that the Big 5 now make enormous profits from ebooks…

            I think the Big 5’s problem is that *everyone* realizes it now.

            – Including trad-pub authors looking at crappy royalty statements.
            – And readers wondering why some ebooks cost more than paperbacks.
            – And Amazon looking at margins.

          • Their behavior seems counter intuitive to this, except for the rights grab. Grabbing lifetime copyright is awesome in the changing market.

          • Paper is providing the promotion for the eBooks. However, if eBook prices fall to a point where they take sales from paper, then the promotion necessary for eBooks sales falls. It’s a delicate balance. Publishers need high eBook prices to protect the paper that is necessary for the eBook promotion.

            While eBooks are profitable today, that is in an environment where they have paper editions. There is no reason to presume publishers will have the same eBook sales if they did not have paper.

            It’s a feedback system. Throw it out of balance, and it collapses.

            • The ebook/pbook system is at what we math and science geeks call a local maximum. I think it’s been there for a year or two, maybe a little more but not much more.

              It appears to be steady, and with small oscillations will return to a reasonably predictable local equilibrium. But if it is pushed too far outside the local equilibrium range, the truth becomes apparent: it was in an unstable state, and it will not return to the local maximum by itself. In fact, it will very likely reach a new equilibrium quite different from the prior one.


          • If you actually opened your eyes and looked at what people are saying, instead of parroting your corporate master’s b****, you’d realize that we actually do know that.

            Yes, they’re making huge profits off ebooks. The authors who provide the content for those books? Not so much. Some of them are actually realizing that, too.

            You aren’t making a very good impression here. Why don’t you stop wasting your time and ours, and go away?

  24. Thanks, PG. I actually got sick to my stomach reading your insights. The Justice Department? God help us…

  25. Thank you for sharing your experience.
    I have always said that big pubs are too arrogant and by what I have read, it seems that I’m right.

  26. Great post! I especially like this:

    “PG observed a recurring and, perhaps unconscious elitist attitude on the panel. This group really believes that big and little publishing are the protectors of American literature and the deciders of what people will and will not read. Of course the protectors must be paid for their work, but that is really a secondary consideration.”

    This reminds me of the old gas station attendants before self-serve came to be. How in the world are people going to pump their own gas? They don’t know what we know! The horror!

    • Keep in mind, there are still those who believe gas station attendants are the only true and honest way to get gas into your automobile or other approved container. Just stop for fuel anywhere in Oregon.

      • I actually appreciate the gas station attendants when in Oregon. I visit a client in the Portland area 3-4 times a year and I make sure to fill up before heading back north. It’s like buying myself a treat.

        • It’s not that I don’t appreciate them, it’s that I live next door in Idaho where we pump our own gas.

          When I’m in Oregon, I have no choice. Yet all the surrounding states (heck, all the other states as far as I know) not only allow self-pumping, but we do it without complaining about having to get out of the car, swipe the card at the pump, pull the lever, stand around and wait for the tank to fill, hang up the hose, and get back in the car. We take it as a given that we’ll have to do it ourselves, and we learn how to do it.

          Doing it ourselves not only helps us become better at it, but we don’t have to pay for the ‘service’ of letting someone else do it for us. If the car gets scratched up, that’s our fault, but it’s our choice to have the freedom to pump our own gas (and scratch up our car, if that’s what we’re into).

          We don’t have to worry that some other person knows our car better than we do, and thinks he/she knows the right way to pump gas (after all, they’ve been pumping gas as a profession and have a ton more experience at it, right?).

          There’s no skimming off the top, and there’s no middle-man when I pump my own gas:

          “ORS 480.315-320:

          “An owner, operator or employee of a filling station service station, garage, or other dispensary where class 1 flammable liquids are dispensed at retail may not permit any person other than the owner, operator or employee to use or manipulate any pump, hose, pipe or other device for dispensing the liquids into the fuel tank of a motor vehicle or other retail container.”

          But let’s be honest… $20 worth of self-pump gas isn’t any better or worse than $20 of traditionally-pumped gas. Other than I don’t have the overhead of having to hire employees to pump gas for me (I have kids/wife for this heh).

          But seriously… read the link. I can’t help but mentally exchange the bits about gas/fuel with books/publishing. Oregon pretty much declares that drivers are such ignorant savages about pumping gas that they are a danger to not only themselves, but the general public. That’s why gas stations have to have gatekeepers… to keep us from harm and from harming others.

          • New Jersey is another state where you don’t pump your own gas, Travis. A touch longer drive for you than Oregon though.

            • Ah, my wife just told me that as I was hitting the post button haha. So, each coast has a case of “drivers are too ignorant and unsafe to do such a thing as pump their own gas.”

              Not really surprising.

            • I want the station attendants back. I miss having someone check my tires, oil, wipe my windshields, etc. Seriously…bring them back to Florida!!! I’m lazy.

              • I lived in NJ for years. They don’t check anything, they just pump the gas. You need a time machine to get what you want.

                • OK, so how do I crowdfund an “artisanal gasoline dispensary” where they check my car’s vitals and pump gas for me and then bring me a latte?

          • Hold on there a minute sir. You are just flat wrong. No one in Oregon makes that argument you are suggesting, not seriously, we just say that ironically and then laugh.

            The reason Oregon holds to the gas pumping this is spite. Just complete and total spite.

            Same with sales tax. It’s a screw you to everyone else. We are just going to do it this way and watch everyone else be pissy about it.

            Oregon is great for these totally intentional quirks.

            TY for the LOLs. 🙂

            • Now Mrs. Angry is behind me ranting and raving about the speed limit in Oregon. Oregon… kings of saving us poor, unfortunate, dumbass humans from ourselves!

              (That being said… Oregon and Washington are our two dream retirement locations, or if I sell a bunch of books, we’ll just move there before retirement. Astoria or right on the other side of the river is our target location. Legal weed + self-pump gas might be my argument for choosing WA instead. No offense, Oregon.)

              • Oh man. You might try to do a winter in Astoria before you move there…rain rain rain…then…rain rain rain rain rain.

                Bend is nice on the Oregon side, Yakima on the WA side. Dry, not so much rain.

                Ask Dean Wesley Smith about it, he lives in Lincoln City. He loves the Oregon coast I guess, but you better love the rain.

                Ever been where it rained for over 30 days straight? That’s probably not even the record in Astoria.

                • Unfortunately, wife and I both love the gray and the rain. Love Astoria. It’s where pretentious authors like me prefer to live (amongst others of our kind, including but not limited to pretentious artists, pretentious scholars, pretentious musicians, and pretentious psychics).

                  Eastern Washington… nah. I like the bike-riding, granola-eating, tree-hugging western-edge-of-the-state types.

                  And let’s be honest… with the new pot laws, and Oregon’s medical marijuana laws, who’s sober long enough to notice whether or not it is raining? And before I met and married Mrs. Angry, I dated a nice lady from Salem (back when you could fly from Boise to PDX for $99 round trip pretty much anytime you wanted), and I stayed an entire month with her once. It rained for 28 straight days. I saw the sun maybe five times in a month. It was glorious.

                • ^this

                • Bend is awesome! Worth every minute of waiting for the guy to come pump your gas 🙂

                • I’ve heard it is a good place to set a novel, too, Jools. 🙂

              • Lol. You don’t like 65? My old Toyota tops about at 70, so I’m good with it. 🙂

            • We have a statewide urban growth boundary as well, which is rare. Which means our cities don’t sprawl out all over the place in an idiotic manner cutting down forests…they’ve been trying to shut that down for years.

              Also the strip clubs are the best in the nation. Low key. All over. All nude, full liquor bar. No one pressuring you as you walk in the door. Think dive bar but in the back, in the dark, naked ladies you can give money to if you want. I won’t go to a strip club anywhere else in the US (so far). Too depressing.

              Also our football teams don’t have locally themed names, which is awesome. Not that rare, but Beavers and Ducks. Sweeet!

              Also cash poker games in the pubs! Sweet!

              Okay, enough Oregon touting for now. 🙂

          • The gas law was put into place as a job creation mechanism.

      • In NJ it’s illegal to pump your own gas. I’m always confused when I’m back in MA visiting family and I realize I have to pump my own gas & vice versa. On the other hand in NJ it’s all they do – no cleaning windshield or anything else.

  27. As I mentioned in the other thread, folks disappointed in how the panel was set up can email their complaints and suggestions to I suggested that next time they try to get a more balanced selection of speakers.

    • Love it Chris. I see you are really pushing this.

      Please continue. 🙂

    • Maybe next time Amazon can send an actual spokesperson instead of someone not connected with the company.

      • Maybe if they cared about a bunch of hysterical people lying on stage, they would.

        Who was the Hachette rep, by the way?

      • Why should they waste their time? While we are at it, why should I, as a reader support an entity that will pay 14 million dollars as an advance for a book that only sells 68,000 copies its first week? Or out of 20 sales expects one to make it? Why are they taking my hard earned dollars to support someone who has something to say? No other business does this. If that is your goal, take it from the profits or hold fund raisers. The arts are just as vital as literature but the average man is not required to support them except through donations. Even medical research depends on outside donations and they are working to make us healthier. If you want me to buy from a traditional publisher, make your companies more efficient. Come up with imprints that I trust will provide the reading experience I am looking for. You have to earn my dollars and and trust. At the moment not many of you are successful.

      • Why send an Amazon spokesman? Why talk to them?

      • Yet elsewhere (your web site), Deborah, you called him an Amazon mouthpiece. Which is it?

      • Amazon probably just didn’t want to send someone all the way to NYC to spend 2 hours repeating the phrase, “No comment” over and over. After all, all indications in the media for the last 6-7-8 weeks are that, whether due to a legal agreement or a business agreement, Amazon and Hachette each cannot or will not discuss the details of their negotiation in public (or with anyone who might make those details public). The title of the panel suggested that the Am-Hach negotiation would be its focus, and that negotiation is something Amazon isn’t talking about in public. So why send someone for that?

      • Why? This farce of a debate ended up mattering precisely as much as Amazon apparently thought it would. Pretty sure Amazon has better things to do than listen to a lot of entitled rich people sob at it for two hours.

        Who was representing Hachette, again? I missed that part.

      • Why should Amazon engage at all with this sort of sham panel? They’re busy doing what a bookseller is supposed to do: promoting books and enabling authors to make money. Meanwhile the doubletalk produced by folks on the side of the Big 5 becomes more and more transparently self-serving to people who do even just a little bit of research about the current state of the industry.

        The bottom line is that Amazon and self- and indie-publishers don’t need to engage with you at all. They just need to keep doing what they are doing and enjoy watching you and yours slide into well-deserved obscurity. And bankruptcy. All this screeching and squawking isn’t going to stop the market from doing what it does: eliminating inefficiency. Nor is your posture of amused superiority fooling anyone here.

        The best revenge is to live well.

  28. The agent-moderator, desperately lecturing instead of moderating, seemed both outraged and near tears over the The Death of American Literature. I daresay some among us who write “genre” fiction would have no problem casting her as The Overlooked Villain – so articulate and cultured she couldn’t possibly have wielded that candlestick, could she? The whole thing was eerie – a bunch of NYC suits oh-so eloquently rearranging the deck chairs while refusing to respond to PG’s savvy suggestions for saving their aggregate tail. Offer decent author contracts? Reorganize business practices to capitalize on reality? Alas, they only heard each other. Glad you got some stellar pastrami out of the deal, PG, literally and figuratively!

    • I watched about 10 minutes of the thing, mostly to see what Passive Guy looked like. It was like watching a very tedious section of a minor Woody Allen movie — backwards.

  29. “had never been inside the NYPL before. It’s a fabulous place, a temple celebrating books. He strongly recommends a visit for anyone who hasn’t been there.”

    NYPL offers free guided tours daily to the public. It’s so interesting that I’ve done it twice over the years, so obviously I highly recommend it. A magnificent place. Even though the program director who put together that pointless panel and then applauded the moderator for failing to moderate it should probably be replaced with someone competent.

  30. I live in California, but was just in the NYPL last week.

    What I liked best was they will give a library card to anyone. You don’t need a NYC address. It’s the first library I visited with that policy, which I see as making sure, among other things, not to discriminate against homeless people (who might also like to read!)

  31. “At one point during the discussion of Amazon’s evils, one attorney mentioned setting the Justice Department antitrust division on Amazon. The other responded that this strategy wouldn’t work during the present Administration (undoubtedly it’s been tried), but the next Administration might be a different story.”

    Sure, right, the “next Administration” being in the pocket of the Masters of the Universe and strongly in favor of antitrust and consumer protection and regulating banks…(sarcasm mark).

    If that’s what the Big 5 and their hangers-on are depending upon, they’ve got a problem known as the Beltway echo chamber, where most of the noise comes from what’s “trending” in the media. Including the Washington Post, now owned by – oops.

    Pass the popcorn.

    • You know how the old saying goes about anyone that says “there ought to be a law…”

      Legal maneuvering is almost never a good last resort strategy.

      • It’s actually an excellent strategy. There is more bang for your buck bribing (ahem, I mean lobbying) a senator than actually doing something productive or innovative.

        • In my home state the Supreme Court justices are elected. I once knew a fellow who went on a decade-long odyssey to achieve a particular regulatory objective, which was opposed by another fellow. The first one told the second one that the law was on his side, he’d gotten approval from the regulator, he was the logical choice, etc.

          The second guy said, “Yeah, but I own the Supreme Court.”

          First guy won every battle overwhelmingly up to the Supreme Court. They overturned everything. Second guy got way more bang for his buck.

  32. Bottom line: Publishers cannot stay in business without keeping the book prices high, and Amazon is ruining their ability to maintain high prices. If the Publishers go out of business then books that only a few want to read, like the moderator in this case, will not be published. The Publishers redistribute the money, taking from the successful authors and fund less commercial writers so a few elitists can claim that they support art. The worst art or literature is subsidized art and literature.
    The writers who want to publish can self-publish like the vast majority of us on their own dime. But that’s not what ails the Publishers, as these panelists including the biased moderator pretend to say, except for Mr. Vandagriff. What’s worrying them is that they will not be able to stay in business because Amazon has opened the gates to publishing and they have competition from the Indie Authors at lower prices. Their survival is at stake, and they blow smoke in our eyes with well-polished and academic arguments, but with zero economic sense to convince us that low prices for books is bad, and the books should not be a cheap commodity.

  33. PG, I salute your grace, forebearance, and class.

    In your place, I would have given the Diet Coke a shake. Then, every time that silly moderator interrupted me, I would have sprayed her like a misbehaving cat.

    • Hmm. PG gets quoted from the blog twice within three paragraphs wondering about ADS. Obviously that phrase stuck in the head of this write. 🙂

    • I honestly can’t comprehend being that devoid of integrity.

    • “Patterson worried that Amazon was a danger to free expression, even invoking the image of burning books.”

      Wait. Wait. WAIT just a %$#@@^ minute. Haven’t watched the vid, but did this really happen???

      This, my friends… I mean… Has there ever been an instance of such complete and total Amazon Derangement Syndrome? I know we’ve seen a lot of it over the last couple of years, but this? This is akin to saying “oxygen is poisonous, so better not shouldn’t breathe it.”

      First… how the hell would you burn a book made out of binary code?

      Second… how is allowing anyone to publish anything they want (within Amazon’s ToS, let alone the no-rules vastness of the internet itself) remotely comparable to the end of free speech???

      It’s the most obvious oxymoron I think I’ve ever encountered, and it leaves me completely flabbergasted (yes, I used that word) that someone who isn’t under the influence of a mental illness or hallucinogenic mind-altering drugs or suffered a very traumatic brain injury would even allow the words to get by the brain’s subconscious filter.

      • He said he just filmed a commercial about the death of books and the ascendance of Amazon, and depicted it with a book burning. So, yes, it really did happen.

      • Herewith a contribution to the commonweal. I warn my readers that I make words and that some of them are original to me. Here’s one: flabbergastion n. A state of being flabbergasted. All of indie-dom is in flabbergastion over the moronitude of tradpub in its slagging of its largest outlet for books.


    • Man it sucks that they don’t have commenting enabled on that article.

    • There were two different ads on the page for that article directing the reader to Author Solutions.

      This isn’t just the absence of integrity, this is negative integrity.

  34. Remember, if you’re disappointed in the way the panel was set up, you can email in a complaint.

  35. I was disappointed with the actual layout of the panel. Instead of chairs, it would have been great to see podiums where people can stress their arguments like in a political debate.

    Also, I don’t understand why for a debate about publishing, authors were left out. There’s Patterson but as PG mentioned he’s more like a mini-publisher. It’s fine that there’s differing viewpoints, but there should have been a successful indie author like Howey in there too.

  36. I haven’t watched it yet, and with my schedule doubt I will be able to for a couple of days yet; hope it’s still available then. However, based on the comments here and in the related PV thread, some thoughts.

    James Patterson is a wounded gazelle? Isn’t he more of a bloated, aging hippo?

    I hope Amazon and Hachette can’t come to terms, and Hachette books are no longer available at Amazon. If that does happen, just wait for the Bloated Hippo and his ilk and the foreign corporate owner to squeeze the New York Hachette execs, and a solution will be quickly reached.

    Just wondering whether there are more trade-published authors or self-published authors making significant money from their books? I have a feeling it’s more self-pubbed. In which case, the vitriol against self-pubbed is, to some extent, sellers remorse.

    • Tide is turning toward self-published authors in almost every category:

    • honestly agree w you David AT that you not use 90 minutes or even less of your precious life to watch what is equiv to a test pattern on old time tv. It was BORING, and BOORISH. I want my minutes back that I spent watching. It was like being at grandmas, thinking, can we go now, can we go now?

      But, it showed what those of us who have been inside trad publishing for decades know, but many other writers do not: the sense of entitlement, the pretend ‘majesty’, the stifling provinciality, narrowness of those who think their bubble is better than other bubbles, lol

    • He might be worth listening to, if he wrote books rather than putting his name on work he pays other people to do. As things stand now, he’s mostly a joke.

  37. I just put PG’s 5 rules right next to Heinlein’s. TY PG.

    BTW you looked great on that panel. The way they cut you off consistently just made me want to grab a pitchfork and storm the barricade. Made you the most interesting person really. Though the guy next to you wan’t a complete tool.

    How did you get set up as the Amazon crony? I think they were hoping for a punching bag, a straw man. You are and were far more than that. Love it.

    You can adequately express yourself in speech and in writing. That is a rare thing, sir. I will remember it.

  38. I love Amazon. And “I” sure don’t want to p*** them off.

    But, only thing I would change is #3.

    For me, I would add : and everywhere else I felt worthwhile.

    Like PG, my wife and I spend far far beyond what we buy in books on other stuff. Yes, literally special diapers for the youngest grandchild, baby detergent hard to find even here in Austin, specialty batteries, and even, very recently, a new Kindle Fire with blue tooth keyboard etc etc etc.

    Customer service and willingness to communicate. Big big stuff for us.

    But I still want my work on Scribd, iTunes, Oyster, Barnes & Noble, OverDrive, Smashwords, Kobo, etc. 🙂

  39. I was interested in PG’s reflections on this today. Will go look up that podcast.

    My take on/summary of the attitude of PG’s panelists in that discussion is that they’re so focused on a particular tree that they’re not seeing the forest. That is, they seem to think Amazon is the architect of their professional problems. But, actually, their problem is disruptive technology. Amazon, as the biggest, most productive, most aggressive, and most successful distributor in the new technology system is currently the source of a lot of their symptoms, but it’s not as if these problems would disappear if Amazon collapsed tomorrow (or if Amazon inexplicably became the major publishers’ bff and did business exactly the way they want it to).

    Amazon’s competence and focus has put the pressure on and increased the pace of change, but CHANGE is the publishers’ problem. CHANGE wouldn’t cease to exist without Amazon, and it won’t go away even if Amazon went away. CHANGE is the leviathon that’s moving forward now and can’t be stopped: digital production, digital distribution, online marketing and retail of content that does not have a physical form–all of which eliminate the lock on production and distirbution that the major houses had in the enormously complex and expensive paper/print production and distribution system.

    That Pandora’s box is now open and cannot be closed again.

    I thought the extent to which the panelists were NOT seeing the forest was evident in several moments last night–such as any time PG mentioned B&N, Apple, or Kobo. It was clear from the bemused reaction of the panel in this moments that all of their focus is on Amazon, as if Amazon is The Threat to the traditional corporate publishing business model, rather than cheap, efficient, effective digital production and distribution of content being the challenge they need to adapt to.

    • My take on/summary of the attitude of PG’s panelists in that discussion is that they’re so focused on a particular tree that they’re not seeing the forest.

      I suspect they see the fiction forest very clearly, and are concerned that it is encroaching on their territory. That is because it is. Each additional point of independent market share reduces their influence and expected future welfare.

      Their attitude isn’t driven by ignorance or a lack of understanding. It is driven by a realization that the system that sustained them for so long is losing power and influence. This is a rational response.

      It may be that many people currently prospering in traditional publishing are not equipped to prosper in a a system dominated by authors who are entrepreneurs. Many certainly are, and have demonstrated it. But others are in danger.

      If we stand back and watch the fight against the Uber ride-sharing service, we see the same thing in an accelerated form. Established taxis are losing market share to ride-sharing services, and these services are another example of technological disruption. The taxi drivers and medallion owners very clearly see a future they want to choke in the crib.

      • To expand on this and other implications from the panel:

        Genre fiction bankrolls the “cultural” efforts of the publishers. They can’t count on things like Piketty’s “Das Kapital 2.0” turning into bestsellers and funding other nonfiction.

        The loss of genre writers – and genre profits – to indiepub means that they won’t be able to do as much of this any more, especially since they’ve sold their souls to ginormous parent companies who expect return on investment. As our CFO is fond of saying, “A positive cash flow covers a multitude of sins.” We – genre-writers generally – are their sin-coverings. Without us, their pecadilloes will be laid bare for all the world to see.

        So, by their lights, they’re quite right. Amazon and indiepub generally are a threat to what they see as the One True Way of distributing culturally important material. And, to the extent one agrees that they distribute culturally important material *coughnotmecough* this is a perfectly rational concern.

        The thing is, if people want something, it survives. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of blacksmiths and swordsmiths in this country. This despite the fact that as a society, we left behind the need for swords and armor generations ago. Why? Because there is a demand and people who want to meet that demand.

        Now, if culturally important material demands people able to drop a quarter of a million dollars of genre authors’ money on the possibility of obtaining a culturally important book five or six years from now, it’s hard to deny that culturally important material is about to get scarce on the vine. However, I am far from convinced that this is the case.

    • It was quite eye opening for me to see how unaware these people seem to be that the entire paradigm has changed. PG’s comments left them shifting uncomfortably, eager to redirect the focus of the conversation, to make it all about Amazon and monopoly(really?). I saw desperation more than once, as if saying “I reject reality and therefore substitute my own” will somehow make it all true.

      These people happily defend price collusion as a market strategy, and then condemn loss-leaders as illegal? I’m no lawyer, but… really?

    • “But, actually, their problem is disruptive technology.”

      Thank you for bringing this into the discussion! This is the truth, and the democratization of literature will not be constrained.

  40. I enjoyed your comments, both during the event and in the above. It would seem obvious that there are far too many in this industry who refuse to see the reality of the $3.99 quality ebook, the coming relegation of hard cover books to collector’s shelves, subscription services, and self-publishing.

    Where were these guys ten years ago when the music industry went through the exact same transition?

    • And look how well that’s turned out. Musicians no longer make a living.

      • That’s ignoring what Netflix has accomplished.

        And that apparently there’s efforts among musicians to correct the licensing / sale loophole creating the lack of royalties to musicians.

      • Actually, the musicians I know personally are making more money than ever now, whether they’re internationally touring headliners who now have more control of their own careers than they did in the 1970s, or local musicians who now have access to production and distribution technology that was completely out of their reach when it was expensive and controlled primarily by a few corporations. I know musicians buying homes and paying for their kids’ college who, 20 years ago, thought this level of income for their music would always be beyond their reach. Things have opened up tremendously for musicians in the digital age.

        As it has for writers. Without my indie income supplementing my trad-pub income, I couldn’t have bought the very nice house I now live in.

        • Good to hear, thanks Laura 🙂

        • I’ve seen this as well. I have friends making good money this way. In fact, a few years ago I uploaded a CD of my own (under a different name), completely self-produced and written. I sold quite a few copies. Ironically, I had just put it up there because I didn’t want to lose the files and I was in an unstable living situation.

          I’ll probably put out a new album soon to see if I can make some really money at it. Even if I don’t, I have the chance to make coffee money from songs that never would have been heard outside my family. The music thing has opened up in the same way that publishing has. For us creative types, this is a godsend.

        • Not just musicians. Any creative or single-person business. I’ve seen the internet and especially digital disruption make it possible for all sorts of creators and suppliers to make money at home–be it painters, jewelry makers, musicians, writers, editors, graphic artists.

          I buy a homemade hair product for curly hair, natural ingredients, from an Etsy provider. I have bought art directly from artists selling online. I’ve bought books in pdf form directly from writers (no Amazon, no bookstore). I’ve bought cds artists themselves burned and sold, no big record company needed.

          I think it’s cool. I hope there’s more disruption and more ways to directly connect creators and sellers with buyers and fans. I like supporting artists directly, no or minimally-intrusive middlemen.

          Thank you, internet. 😀

      • And here’s a musician who’s basically doing the musical equivalent of self-publishing. After striking out on a talent show, violinist Lindsey Stirling took her act to YouTube, building a huge fan following and selling a lot of albums.

        • It’s been a while since I’ve done it, but I know musicians can upload to iTunes, too. And of course, sell on their own sites. I just find it amusing that the music contract shenanigans talked about here are considered preferable to going indie.

          For myself, I grew up on too many stories of musicians cheated out of royalties to disparage the advent of indie music. Yay for keeping rights. Yay for keeping profits. Yay for keeping creative control 🙂

      • So status quo ante then?

      • Lindsey Stirling seems to be doing just fine. Also, last I heard, Jonathan Colton nets more than a million dollars each year.

      • The musicians I know and I follow are now making more money than ever since they control their rights and reap the largest share of sales (and performances).

        Musicians have the same options authors now have (the ability to list their music anywhere that allows them to sell it, keep their rights, etc.).

      • Not true. Many musicians make a living doing YouTube videos, from iTunes downloads and doing live shows.

        What you don’t really find is these musicians becoming household names. But does that really matter?

      • Deborah, You never back up any of these strange little attacks with any, like, facts? I can’t for the life of me figure out what you’re trying to accomplish here.

        • Deborah Smith’s fear and anger are understandable, if misplaced.

          I happen to know and talk to some of her Belle Bridge-published authors. Their books were badly overpriced by their publisher, despite poor sales, to the point that within a few months of publishing my own first two books, I had significantly outsold and outearned these highly talented authors.

          Our conversations have gone from “My publisher knows the business side better than me” to “I think I’m going to give self-publishing a try with my next book.”

          I’m posting this anonymously for their sake, not my own.

          • I am very happy to hear that. I hope lots more of the romance authors I have loved in the past break free and go totally indie. I don’t see any reason why these talented gals can’t make a go on their own and keep the vast bulk of their $$. 🙂

      • Are you kidding me?! I know more musicians making a living from their music than I did fifteen years ago.

        Girl, please. Pull your head out of New York and look around the rest of the world for a few minutes before you make grand sweeping statements that simply aren’t true.

        • Tch, tch, tch.

          Ah Libbie, the musicians don’t count. It’s the music industry matters – the curators.

          Think of the children. They have ears too you know.


      • Oh, yeah. Sure. An entire global multi-billion-dollar industry has just stopped in its tracks. The music doesn’t play any more.

        No, Deborah (You ignorant slut) the issue in the music biz is just as it is in the letters biz. Outdated, obsolete, creaking, and sclerotic parastic mechanisms which try to foist crap off on the buying public cannot survive the change brought on by disruptive technologies and the business practices that come in its train.

        The rest of us — the actual creators and those who remember that the biz is about THEM, and their fans, and not the record companies/publishers are doing just fine, f*ckyouverymuch.

        PS I work in a support business to the touring industry and, yes, life is tougher. We have to work harder, smarter, and be more nimble and responsive. But we’re doing just fine. And if PG finds this comment to confrontational, he may delete it with my blessings.


        • Mark, you make a good point, but you are reducing its greatness with calling people names.

          • I’ve had critters ding me on word choice, too. I pay them, also, about as much attention as their comments are worth. About name calling. In these parts, we have a saying: “It’s the hit dog that yelps.”

            Thank you for your kind words. Fifty points off for (apparently) missing the pop culture reference.


            • I didn’t miss the pop culture reference, but still gonna ding you on calling this woman a slut. She’s ignorant, foolish, a paid shill, or whatever, but no need for that term.

        • Stick to the facts and leave the name calling at home. There’s no place for it, and it only makes you look as ignorant as the other trolls on the internet who have no facts and can only debate by shouting louder or using personal insults.

      • More musicians are making more money from their musical talent now than ever before in human history.

        More authors are making more money from their writing talent than ever before in human history.

        All the snippy namecalling and Arguments To You’re An Ignorant Nyetkultur in the world will not change those two basic facts.

        Which means, fundamentally, that your side loses, our side wins, and as always, Truth Prevails.

      • No Deb. The object lesson is Bertalsmann buying Napster and then, remember what your great company did with musicians re N and re BMI contracts and strangling musicians to death. FACTUAL Institutional memory trumps fantasies about non-culpability of ny publishers of books and music, both.

      • I’m one of the patrons of this guy –

        He’s making $4K *per video*; he averages two a month. This ignores what he makes from YouTube ads, Spotify, iTunes and so on.

        Yeah. Poor musicians.

    • It wasn’t that long ago that paperbacks were in that price range. The cost of books far, far exceeded the rate of inflation for some reason that didn’t involve a similar spike in the cost of printing or a massive upswing in demand. I suspect, because there was no real competition to prevent it, publishers kept pushing that cover price higher and higher for no real economic reason but to try and increase profits and because they could. The artificially protected higher prices became the norm and publishers grew fat and dependent on them. Now that genuine competition has entered the picture, they’re finding they don’t fit in the jeans they used to wear 15 years or so ago. But instead of slimming down to meet their goals, they want to make any jeans under their current waist size illegal.

      • In lockstep, don’t forget.
        Every time the mmpb price went up it went up everywhere at the same time to the same price.

        Kinda like the iTunes launch, actually…

  41. Holy moly. Circular thinking tornado, basis is not true either.

    -It hurts people big enough to pay Amazon to skew search results for Amazon to skew search results for the people big enough to pay Amazon to skew search results.-

  42. I must say – the smell of fear is overwhelming. That’s a lot of terror if I can smell it over the internet.

    When the agent made a crack about ‘better watch out, or somebody’s feelings might get hurt.’ She lost any sympathy I may have felt.

    “PG observed a recurring and, perhaps unconscious elitist attitude on the panel.”

    I believe this is the crux of the matter. These people believe they are born entitled, superior to the point where they can live off the labor of others (authors)…in return for very little.

    When I wiki ‘entitlement’ this wonderful word popped up: Narcissism – which has this definition:

    In clinical psychology and psychiatry, an unrealistic, exaggerated, or rigidly held sense of entitlement may be considered a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder, seen in those who “[Freud said] because of early frustrations, they arrogate to themselves the right to demand lifelong reimbursement from fate.”

    All the people on that panel, except PG are in grave danger of losing their jobs…slowly, in excruciating pain. All I can say is “Gee somebody’s getting their feelings hurt.”

  43. Thanks PG for being on the panel. I thought it was quite interesting. Couple of comments: 1. The moderator, who didn’t act like one and at one point even recognized it, became almost hysterical in her defense of traditional publishing for non-fiction authors who need advances in order to do all their research, etc., etc. Clearly she is terrified of change. Does anyone seriously believe that Robert Caro, if he approached a legacy publisher today with his LBJ biography proposal would get an advance and be published? The Grove/Atlantic publisher tried to make a case he might, but the counter-argument would be OK, but how many deserving of being published wouldn’t be. And what about the role of university presses? Now at least authors have an alternative. 2. I laughed when Patterson referred to “the junk I write…” 3. Only 80 people? In New York, capital of the publishing industry? Seriously? My guess is either everyone has made of his mind or no one cares.

    • Eric, the agent’s comments about non-fiction authors needing advance income MORE THAN fiction authors do, and the clients she described who are able, according to her comments, support their families for 2-8 years on their signing advances… Well, it made me curious enough to look for her client list.

      Although presumably only her biggest clients are listed in her promo/PR coverage, she does have a long list of big clients (mostly, but not exclusively, in nonfiction). And what mostly struck me about her list was that almost everyone on it had a prominent and lucrative platform–broadcasting (one client has his own TV show), media (several are famous journalists and commenatators), academia (one client is a Yale Law School professor), and so on.

      I didn’t see anyone on her client list who I agree would realistically be unable to write nonfiction or find another support network for the book (editing, money, promotion, distribution, speaking tours, etc.) if, as she seems to fear, traditional publishing no longer published their books. (I also don’t think there’s much realistic fear of traditional publishing abandoning writers with such strong media platforms. The group making the biggest migration to self-publishing and other alternatives in the current climate are commercial fiction writers–a group which the panel repeatedly made it clear they consider unimportant, anyhow.)

  44. Well, I did watch the whole thing at the NY Public Library and it seems like these people are from another planet! Or I am.

    A lot of babble, really, but two things struck me from what babble I could decipher:

    1.The crying foul of Amazon, and then the examples given of fears of how terrible they could become included most of the things tradpub has themselves done to authors (such as worse and worse contracts.) So far Amazon has not done those things but the FEAR that they might is huge on the side of tradpub trying to put fear into the hearts of peon authors to return to tradpub horrible contracts. My experience with people in general is that often their biggest fears are their own issues and not really about what the other guy is doing or might be doing down the line.

    2. So many times these tradpub advocates claimed they were so concerned about protecting consumers and authors but it is so very very clear they are really concerned only with their own bottom line and use those “fear the other guy” tactics to try to booster their outmoded and failing business practices.

    Oh, and just for the record, the moderator grandly failed in her role, talking more than anyone else. It took much time away from guest answers and was truly annoying because she was so clearly biased and irritated (esp. by Passive Guy.)

    Also, it seemed nothing was moved forward or even remotely a prelude to solving tradpub issues or issues with Amazon by even having this panel. It was just a “beat Amazon” party. Oh, and one guy saying Amazon needed to grow up was quite funny.

    • Scare sounds from BigPub about what Amazon *might* do are like a crack addled pimp, who wouldn’t care if you died in a gutter, suggesting you’d be better of chained in his basement, than staying with your current partner – because he’s *certain* to be mean to you one day.

      Projection much?

    • The technical/marketing term is FUD. If you can’t show that your product is better than the other guy’s product, then spread Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about the other guy. FUD is a prime tell that they know they’re losing.

  45. Yes, but Laura, what she MEANT was if nonfiction authors don’t get big advances SHE won’t be able to earn a living 🙂

    Anyone smart enough to write a decent nonfiction book is probably smart enough to figure out how to reach their audience without traditional publishers. She’s the one in trouble, not her clients.

    • Considering where the big money is in non-fiction (self-help, fad diets, ghost writing for politicians) things would actually be better if they *couldn’t* get that stuff to market.

    • Okay. Got it.

      (Whenever there aren’t subtitles to help me out, I routinely make the mistake of thinking people mean exactly what they say. It’s a lifelong problem.)

  46. I got too worked up to finish listening to these stuffed shirts.

    PG, your self-control is admirable.

  47. So my question is this: what exactly do these folks hope to accomplish? What is the point of the exercise? To convince people that Amazon is the devil? They’ve tried that with Walmart and a hundred other companies and it doesn’t work. People continue to shop there because they love the store for whatever it offers them. In Amazon’s case it’s lowish prices and amazing customer service.

    So is this merely an exercise in mutual masturbation? Let’s get on stage and make each other feel better and have people applaud us for it? I seriously don’t get the game plan.

    The idea of government intervention is a joke. That’ll happen when pigs fly. So what, exactly, do they hope to do?

    • Scare the hostage authors, maybe.
      They’re losing the next generation so they can’t afford to lose too many of the current herd being nurtured.

    • What do they want to accomplish? It’s a musical chairs game. As traditional fiction publishing shrinks, chairs are removed from the game. The objective is to grab a chair and hold on as long as possible.

      Publishers won’t all collapse Tuesday morning. It will be an incremental withdrawal. These people are competing with each other for positions. A track record of vocal support for traditional publishing can’t hurt.

      • Interesting that none of them consider the idea of embracing Amazon and authors and offering them better contract terms, rather than hang onto the old company line. But I guess that’s the problem. They aren’t the puppetmasters. They’re merely the puppets—with the possible exception of Patterson.

        • Embracing Amazon doesn’t solve the problem of having a fiction model that has been effectively supplanted.

          Better contract terms? That reduces profit and accelerates the decline.

          I doubt the puppet masters can do it. There comes a time to simply recognize one economic model fades away as a new one appears.

          The only ones I have seen buck the trend are the mechanical watch makers. When digital watches hit the market, they simply kept better time and did more stuff. But the Swiss managed to pull it off. I know books aren’t watches, but there are probably some lessons there.

          • This is only true under the current business model. There are certainly ways to cut costs elsewhere, starting with relocating to a less ridiculously expensive city in which you operate.

            Under a new business model, they could offer better contract terms and certainly do better than they will be in the future if they stick with the current model.

            • Well, the current business model is traditional publishing. What other model is there for them?

              Costs can always be cut, but cutting costs within the same business model just makes an instance of an obsolete model more efficient. It still can’t compete. And moving offices can cut costs. But it isn’t sufficient for survival in fiction when the other guy doesn’t even have an office.

              I don’t know what the recommended new business model is. People keep talking about it, but I don’t think anyone knows what it is. We hear a lot about giving better terms to authors, but how does that help the publishers compete with the entrepreneurial independents who continue to take their market share?

              I think we have a lot of Underpants Gnomes business theory.

              1. Decide to change business models.
              3. Success.

              • Well, frankly, I think most of us are following the same basic “traditional” model, except concentrating on digital first, and we don’t have the luxury of staffs. There are plenty of authors, however, who aren’t interested in doing it all themselves and instead of antagonizing authors with crappy contracts, New York could trim their overheads, embrace authors as actual partners and go from there.

                This isn’t really an all or nothing thing.

  48. So you are saying that the foreign execs of the big media conglomerates that own the publishing companies are pushing the heads of the publishing companies to try and get anti-Amazon laws passed. They’re hoping if enough publishers yell wolf,then tv/media/journalist types will propagate the idea that there’s a wolf. Then, enough people will hear and believe there is a wolf and ask lawmakers to deal with the wolf by passing laws to cripple it.

    Convincing enough people that the company whose bargains they love is a wolf–enough to get laws passed– is an uphill battle. But it can be done. Look at the proliferation of misinformation regarding vaccines. So many people were convinced by the spread of misinformation that Britain has huge numbers of people who didn’t get MMR vaccines and the US has scattered communities with large numbers of unvaccinated people. The consequence is a resurgence of illnesses not seen in decades. Granted, that wasn’t done intentionally, but it does show how people can get sucked in by a particular point of view, even an unsubstantiated one, if they hear it enough.

    They don’t have to fool all the people. They just have to fool enough to cause trouble. We can call the conglomerate execs uninformed in American business, but the method they are employing has been known to work in scary ways.

  49. I am fascinated by Deborah Smith. I have seen her comments over at The Digital Reader and a couple of other places. On this thread, she dropped 8 trolling comments in 9 minutes. And then disappeared. I am waiting for an answer to my question. Just sayin’.

    • I’ve been asking her questions for weeks and have yet to see an answer from her. That leaves me assuming she really is just trolling. I refuse to buy books published by trolls. I wonder what her authors think of that? Are they ok with it?

    • Who is Deborah Smith?

      • Publisher/author at Belle Books.

          Vice President and Editorial Director
          30-40 titles a year. They “nurture”…

          • Indeed, they do.

            “Bell Bridge Books is known for nurturing emerging fiction voices as well as being the ‘second home’ for many established authors, who continue to publish with major publishing conglomerates.”

            Must admit I don’t much care for the infantilizing subtext that seems to go with that word “nurture” in the trad pub environment.

            • This nurturing nonsense has to stop. No publisher ever nurtured me.

            • Actually, Deb Smith is a well-regarded writer in her genre, and I personally enjoy the work of some of the writers who have pubbed through her publishing house. I don’t doubt these ladies are very supportive of each other and their work. I don’t know what their contracts look like (are they as awful as what I’ve seen posted on the web and discussed, such as the Harlequin ones or the Trad 5, dunno).

              So, Deb can write. Her people can write. Why she goes trollish here, beats me. If she were engaging and debating, I might feel that it was worth it. But it comes across as peevish, not enlightening, not engaging, not clarifying. Just, “you’re idiots and don’t know squat.”

              Doesn’t serve much purpose and doesn’t reflect well on someone who, among my circle of women’s fiction/romance readers, is thought well of for her labors.

              • I would posit that for the same reason mr Zacharious is so vocal in public these days: the romance genre going so heavily indie.
                Now that Harlequin fell, lesser players in that genre have to be sweating bullets. And they have a lot of themselves invested in the ancien regime.

                • Haven’t you heard, they (and digital only imprints) are getting loads of submissions, and Mr. CEO is not afraid and he has nothing against indies:

                  I have no problem competing on a level playing field. I’ve said many times that I support indie publishing. There will be many writers who come to us from indie publishing.

                  Yes, of course they will.

                • A level (read:segregated) playing field.
                  Anybody interested in real estate 50 miles east of Miami, Fl?

                • Why compete on a level playing field? The objective of competition is to tip it in your favor.

                • If it is heavily tilted away from you (by readers going elsewhere) a level field starts to look pretty good.

          • Never heard of her, never heard of this company, never heard of any of the writers listed there (including her, so she’s got two fingers in that pie). Might just be they aren’t my type of books, but it seems they publish a lot of genres, including horror and SF, so I don’t think that’s it.

            The link to Amazon, where we can supposedly find all sorts of their books there ($14 avg), goes to the general ebooks page, so unless I knew who to look for I’d see some other books — the first one listed is actually self-published.

            I don’t care how well she supposedly writes, she’s spouting nonsense all over the Web and it makes her look ridiculous.

    • Deborah Smith the author is probably a real person. I have no evidence to the contrary.

      Deborah Smith the internet commenter, is in my opinion quite possibly a very high-level Turing program.

    • I already explained this. That’s a Turing program. But make a single pass with your namesake tool, and the answer is exposed to the light of day.

      ETA: sorry, got my threads confused.

  50. I finally watched the whole thing, and I’m ready to give out my review of the participants.

    PG – All in all, I thought you did an excellent job making your points. My only criticism was at the beginning when you made the ‘Evil Amazon’ point too much because while I thought there was a definite undercurrent of that with certain other panelists, there was a bit more nuance there especially concerning the African American professor panelist and the Grove Atlantic publisher panelist.

    Your best moment was when you defended indie writers :).

    Literary Agent Tina – I thought she made a good point about the loss of advances for certain nonfiction.

    On the other hand, she was clearly scared of Amazon and disintermediation. Her callous comment about writers “getting over” hurt feelings was her low point. As a literary agent, she hasn’t faced the level of rejection that writers face when their work is rejected so now that the shoe is on the other foot and her livelihood is in danger, well I guess she should get over it.

    Grove Atlantic publisher guy – Good comments about how publishers can provide advances for writers who might not have the most commercial of works either fiction or nonfiction.

    For his low point, he made a comment about how Amazon is in danger of controlling the flow of ideas. I don’t see how Amazon can do that. They have plenty of competition.

    Tim Wu “the middle guy” – He made some interesting comments about monopolies.

    His incredible low point came when he accused Amazon of manipulating searches without any evidence to back it up. Absolutely ridiculous.

    African American professor lady – Her best moment came when she suggested publishers needed to rethink how they did business.

    But she kind of went on a tangent about the Stamp Act too much.

    ‘Wounded gazelle’ James Patterson – He was kind of funny in places.

    In the end about book burnings. Ugh, seriously? People moving over to digital is something to be celebrated as people can get books where and when they want.

    Bob Kohn – He had no high points and he gets the award for worst panelist. From his defense of price collusion to his weak arguments about high prices, he had publishing water boy written all over him.

    First, ASCAP and BMI are both nonprofit companies and publishers are more like record labels than ASCAP and BMI so I don’t know what point he was making there. Second, ebooks and the internet have lowered the cost of producing and distributing books, why shouldn’t the savings be passed on to the reader?

    Also, he questioned why Amazon deserved 30%. They built the marketplace! It’s no different than a commercial building owner like a mall owner charging rent from their tenants. He should ask himself why publishers deserve the margins they get from fleeced authors.

    Kohn was absolutely awful in every way.

    Ok, that’s it. If you haven’t watched it, you should. It was fun to hear about opposing viewpoints, and I certainly tried to keep an open mind.

    • W.E.S,

      Had I bothered to write a through summary of my thoughts, it would be almost exactly like yours.

      I did think Kohn might be going somewhere interesting at one point when he talked about how “air is free” and because of that the cost of dirtying it doesn’t get accounted for, but then he went off talking about publishing and books without making the case that the two had anything to do with each other, probably because there isn’t a valid comparison.

      • BigAl,

        Thanks. I’d love to get a time on how much each participant talked. Kohn probably got the most talk time out of everyone there probably because of as you mentioned, he made points that didn’t quite connect to one another. Case in point, when he said, ‘the DOJ won’t go after Amazon but the next DOJ might!’ based on no evidence at all or perhaps his own wishful thinking.

  51. My letter to the NYPL, which I sent via the addy that Chris Meadows provided:

    I watched the NYPL discussion about Amazon on live-streaming the other night, and I was extremely disappointed with the moderator, whose poorly-focused questions ensured the discussion was primarily a mishmash of empty speculation and pointless pearl clutching. She also seemed confused about whether she was a moderator or a panelist, since she kept interrupting the speakers to take over the floor for her own opining. Additionally, she used her position as moderator to pursue her undisguised bias, not only in how she framed her questions, but also in her tendency to cut off any speaker who made comments that didn’t mesh well with her own expressed views.

    I was stunned to see the NYPL coordinator –congratulate- the moderator afterwards and declare that this was great moderating. I mean… WHAT?

    I’m also disappointed in how mypoically narrow the panel topic was. Amazon is just the most media-hyped symptom of the publishing industry’s problems, not the source. The advent of affordable and effective digital production and distribution for books, the successful shift to online retailing for books, and the cheap, effective widescale distribution of content which has no physical form have eliminated the virtual lock that the major publishing corporations had on the extremely complicated and expensive physical format and distribution paradigm that previously defined the book market. Can large business structures with high overhead costs that were developed specifically for an old system which is rapidly changing now adapt, thrive, and survive in the new market? If so, how? If not, what’s next? What other viable business structures are arising and thriving in this new market, developed to work profitably with new production and distribution formats?

    Wouldn’t a discussion of well-moderated experts in the current and rapidly changing book world be a better use of the NYPL’s resources than this disappointing hour was?

  52. My NYPL letter, which I also posted to the “Amazon: Business as Usual” thread. I wish I’d sounded half as intelligent as Laura, but here it is anyway:

    Dear New York Public Library –

    Yesterday evening I watched the livestream broadcast of the NYPL-hosted panel. What I was hoping to see was a well-balanced and intelligent discussion featuring people from different places on the spectrum of opinion on the recent contract negotiations, which I also thought—wrongly, as it happens—was the topic.

    What I saw instead was a one-sided Amazon-bashing gabfest. Only one panelist, David Vandagriff, did not have his bread buttered in some way by the publishing establishment. Even the moderator, who did not actually moderate but made herself part of the discussion from the beginning to the end, gets her paychecks from big pub. She represents one of the other panelists and has business dealings with several others. The topic rapidly devolved into something along the lines of “Just how evil is Amazon, anyway?”

    It’s pretty well known that questions are more important than answers, because the question you choose limits the possible answers that can be given to it. The questions frame the discussion. And last night’s questions were chosen to make Amazon the villain in a debate about a confidential contract negotiation about which no-one outside Amazon and Hachette actually knows anything. “How worried are you about Amazon?” “Is Amazon a squeezer or a killer?” The only person who even attempted to bring up quesitionable conduct on the side of big publishing houses like Hachette was the aforementioned Mr. Vandagriff, and unlike his fellow panelists, who were allowed to go on at length about the evils of Amazon without the slightest concern about facts, he was repeatedly interrupted and cut off by the moderator. A great deal was said about the future of books and writing, neither of which seems to me to be in the least danger from the world’s largest bookseller.

    A lot of time was spent talking about the fact that Amazon had not sent a representative to the “Amazon v Hachette” panel. I wasn’t at all surprised that Amazon didn’t send a representative to discuss a confidential contract negotiation. Neither did Hachette, but that fact was ignored. There’s more—much more—I could point out about the inequity, the silliness of the questions and the answers, the condescension toward authors who choose to publish independently, the quick changes of subject when anything even slightly critical of publishing house practices was raised. But anyone can watch the video and see for themselves.

    There is much to be said on the subject of Amazon’s role in 21st century publishing, and the role of the entire spectrum of traditional and independent publishing in an increasingly disruptive future. But if you ever choose to host another such discussion I sincerely hope you do so with a balanced panel of people who can discuss the issues without being forced into the frame that six of these panelists (because Tina Bennet most certainly acted as a panelist rather than a moderator) seemed to favor: that what’s happening in the negotiation is nothing more or less than a war between the good and noble publishers who want to save literature and the unrepentently evil customer—for Amazon is nothing if not publishing’s biggest customer—who unaccountably wants to destroy it.


    Bridget McKenna

  53. IMO everything the Big 5 do results in less competition for Amazon. But they do not understand this, because they have lived without true competition for decades.

    When the other side is making mistakes, don’t stop ’em.

  54. Speaking of panels and such…

    Is anybody here planning on being at NASFIC / Detcon in a few weeks? Could be a good place to stage a discussion.

  55. You rock, PG. 🙂

  56. “PG observed a recurring and, perhaps unconscious elitist attitude on the panel. This group really believes that big and little publishing are the protectors of American literature and the deciders of what people will and will not read. Of course the protectors must be paid for their work, but that is really a secondary consideration.”

    This paragraph nails it. And is exactly why they fail. The world has changed. It’s ALL about the customer now and what they want. Not what you decide. And they want choice, and low prices, and they could care less about traditional publishers and their broken business model.

    I’ve said it before, it’s like a bunch of big babies crying that someone stole their candy. Instead of adopting and flourishing in a new model that competes with Amazon and paying authors what they are due, they continue to whine and point fingers, and that is exactly why they will fail. It will be their own fault.

  57. Wow. Just finished watching that horror show/witch trial and skimmed through the comments here.

    PG: Thank you for bringing a small amount of sanity to the proceedings.

    I have a hard time deciding what offended me the most. Bouncing between Patterson’s assertions that Amazon is hurting authors and his book burning analogies to Lawyer Bob’s assertion that lower prices aren’t always good for consumers to the Professor Lady insinuating that self published authors don’t have editors…

    I could go on, but what’s the point?

    Willful ignorance is a choice, and one that 7/8ths of that panel have made. As someone else said above, the amount of fertilizer tossed about in that room was astounding. I’m surprised PG didn’t need hip waders to cross the stage at the end.

    It can all be summed up in the moment when Big 5 contracts and royalties began to be discussed and the un-moderator decided they should get back to talking about Amazon. Translation: We’re not here to discuss the ills of big publishing, we’re here to bash Amazon.

  58. I had no idea that publishers waste money on poetry books and such that would never ever make money back. That they fund international journalism projects on spec.

    Does anyone know of any examples of this? Publishes working as a charity and/or funding research/journalism projects?

    • “That they fund international journalism projects on spec.”

      Essentially any time they pay any kind of advance on a book where the research isn’t completed, this is what they’d be doing, at least partially. Does that happen? I thought I remembered one of PG’s posts as a specific instance of this, but when I searched it out ( ) realized the initial money came from what he describes as “an online publication,” so I guess that doesn’t fit.

  59. Great job, PG!

  60. Thanks for the valiant effort to inject some sense into the proceedings of the hanging jury.

    I got a data point today: Amazon sent out an e-mail promo which had my book at the top of its list. I’ve done my best to follow your suggested recipe (except for doing my own cover design and crowd-sourcing the editing), and certainly have’t paid the Seattle Cyclops a penny to promote my book.

    You’re very right about the NYPL main branch. Thank goodness they’ve decided not to “improve” it.

  61. This was the first time I heard anyone associated with traditional publishing flat-out admitting that their long-term survival might be in doubt.

  62. I just want to know if it’s really possible that the Big 5 can get the US government to act against Amazon in a way that would affect self-publishers (temporary ban on SP, lower royalties, driving readers away from Amazon etc)? Sorry, I’m new to self-pubbing and I’m worried that all this would affect my livelihood when I’m only just starting to be able to provide for my family.

    • Yes, it sadly is a real possibility.
      And a likely probability in europe.

      A lot of politicians get a lot of money from big pub, especially in New York.

      There even is publicly documented precedent: the CEO of Netscape was the top campaign fundraiser in California and his reward after his candidate won was an antitrust charge against microsoft and a “conviction” where the judge admitted neither consumers nor Netscape were actually harmed but MS was branded a monopoly, exposed to hundreds of nuisance suits–resulting in higher consumer prices–and a non-political company that had exactly one employee in DC before, is now a top donor to both parties and has one of the biggest and most sophisticated lobbying machines in DC.
      Buying politicians is cheaper than changing your business model or actually providing a good product or service.
      Going by the reports out of Lousiana and NY state in the not-so distant past, the going rate for congressmen is in the $30-50K range. So about $10M could buy them a bill in the house. Senators are more expensive but you only need 49 of them as the NY ones will come for free. Presidents are a bit more expensive and few actually stay bought for long but $20M should suffice to get a bill signed.
      Figure ten million from each of the BPHs and they’d get their “anti dog-eat-dog” bill enacted.
      Heck, Patterson could fund it out of petty cash.
      (Given his statements, he just might.)

    • If Amazon fell off the edge of the earth Tuesday morning, the successful model of the entrepreneur who writes books would still be with us. So would the technology, internet sites, and all those books on hard drives.

      And it wouldn’t be a model tucked away in some econ journal. It’s a model that zillions of people know and accept.

      Here’s a book idea. Someone actually does pay off those politicians Felix mentioned, and the big eRetailer gets shut down . Authors then flood the internet with their work. Free.

      It would rise up again, and again, and again.

  63. I’m slow, but I get it now. Read this:

    Because the publishers give authors 25% of NET, when Amazon wants a bigger cut, the publishers can accuse Amazon of cutting into author royalties.

    The problem though is the contract the publishers gave the authors. If authors got a percentage of gross, they wouldn’t be affected. (It’s late — did I say that right?)

    Second point: According to this article, Big Publishers want 70%, same as KDP — but they get perks KDP users don’t get, like warehousing and preorder buttons. Shatzkin felt publishers deserve more than KDP users because the books are done “professionally.”

    Amazon says “if you want 70%, upload to KDP.” But then, of course, Hachette wouldn’t get preorder buttons or warehousing.

    • Unfortunately that article is behind a paywall, so I can’t read it.

      • Sorry Chris. It’s very long. I can try to cut and paste parts of it. Here are the key points:

        “In brief remarks to the WSJ, longtime Amazon executive Russ Grandinetti has rewritten the core principle that has guided Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos for the past 20 years . . . their position has always been, “We start with what the customer needs and we work backwards.” They “don’t focus on the optics of the next quarter; we focus on what is going to be good for customers.”

        [snipped parts]

        “But the newly revised version of that mantra sets out a parental “we know what’s best for you in the long-term Janey” paradigm instead: Grandinetti “indicated the retailer was willing to suffer some damage to its reputation and was simply doing what is ‘in the long-term interest of our customers.'” So Amazon now has insight into the difference between consumers’ long-term interests and their immediate ones, and has empowered itself to put the former above the latter. Grandinetti says of the current standoff with Hachette Book Group, “this discussion is all about e-book pricing” (essentially confirming that Amazon is looking for more ebook margin).

        “When Amazon announced the launch of a 70 percent royalty option for KDP authors on January 20, 2010 — before any publisher executed agency pricing in the marketplace — Grandinetti was “excited that the new 70 percent royalty option for the Kindle Digital Text Platform will help us pay authors higher royalties when readers choose their books.” But the company seems less excited about allocating the same margin to Hachette and their authors.

        “In answer to the WSJ’s note that “such trade disputes aren’t new,” referring to last year’s eight-month disagreement over terms between Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster, there’s one important point to keep in mind. The terms concessions that BN and S&S eventually agreed to had no effect on author earnings; they were all charged to the publisher’s margins. But a significant change in the ebook retailer commission would directly and dramatically effect author earnings, since authors’ share is based on the publisher’s receipts — which is the primary reason authors at all houses have an interest in the current standoff, and is the primary way in which this dispute is indeed “new.”

        “We asked the company why they are able to allocate 70 percent margins for those who publish/upload directly through KDP but not for sizable professional entities such as Hachette. The indirect reply was: “Any publisher is welcome to use KDP. Of course, in order to earn the 70% you describe, publishers would need to agree to a variety of terms for their titles including that they be priced between $2.99 and $9.99 . . .”

        • Oh wow. How dare Amazon try to engage in long-term strategic thinking? Don’t they know they’re supposed to give people everything now even if it’s not in their long-term best interest? Yeesh.

          I’m frankly a little puzzled that they’re still doing a 30/70 split. I’d have thought that if agency pricing were rolled back, they’d have returned to the usual 50/50 wholesale/retail split that they had before agency was implemented. If that was good enough before agency, why shouldn’t it still be good enough now?

          • It was obviously written to reassure publishing insiders not to worry about the WSJ article — that there is a big difference between the Amazon-Hachette standoff and last year’s SS-BN standoff.

            Also, hairsplitting “long time interests of the customers” v. “interests of the customers” to make Amazon out to be hypocritical.

            Watching this frenzy and hysteria really is bizarre.

            The rest of the world isn’t paying attention, though. My husband follows the news and this stuff is buried. Amazon isn’t worried about any negative publicity.

            • “The rest of the world isn’t paying attention, though. My husband follows the news and this stuff is buried. Amazon isn’t worried about any negative publicity.”

              That’s my impression, too. Virtually all of my friends are readers, and although they typically ask me questions about the book world if something catches their attention, none of them have asked me about this or commented on (Hachette) book availability at Amazon or absence of pre-order buttons, etc. I think the publishing establishment’s or media’s notion that this dispute is hurting Amazon’s public image is wishful thinking.

              By contrast, I -do- remember a number of my friends commenting in 2011-2012 that ebook prices were too high and they had stopped buying digital new releases, which were then priced $12-$15. They were reading older books, library books, books released in paperback (the ebook prices were lower for those), etc. I also remember that they didn’t blame Amazon (or publishers, or writers). They just felt prices were too high and they decided how to react to that.

  64. “There’s nothing remotely like Amazon in Europe.”

    Yes there is: it’s called ‘Amazon.’ Though the French probably pronounce it strangely.

    • Indeed. And when Amazon’s 4-5 new distribution centers in central Europe open later this year, it’s going to be much more obvious.

      (Anyone notice that while and and and even are not yet fully functioning Amazon URLs, they do redirect to a temporary-looking “Amazon Europe” website? Just those four countries represent 60 million potential customers who are not currently able to order from a localized Amazon website.)

      In December, the Wall Street Journal had a piece on Amazon’s upcoming push into (new) Europe:

      “Getting a strong footprint in Central and Eastern Europe will allow us to go north and east,” said Tim Collins, director of Amazon’s European operations, during a visit to the Czech capital.

      The online retail giant is currently finalizing building permits for two new sorting, packaging and shipping sites in the Czech Republic and two more in Poland. The four sites, which Amazon calls “fulfillment centers” for processing customer orders, are due to be fully operational in time for the 2014 Christmas holidays.

      At least one of the distribution centers Amazon originally proposed (in Brno, Czech Republic) appears to have been ixnayed, but the others should be coming on line soon.

      Watch this space.

    • Whoops, just found another one:, representing another 20 million potential customers.

      20 million new customers here, 20 million new customers there — pretty soon it starts to add up.

  65. Here’s an idea. Have Amazon suspend its print book business, keeping ebooks, Kindles, and the used book market. Handling physical new trade books is probably a minor portion of its business, anyway, and just say to the publishers, “Here, you run it then and go ahead and charge whatever you want.” Then watch how fast they come flying back begging for Amazon to return. Then Patterson et al could enjoy their single digit sales through independent book stores.

  66. Fascinating. Thanks for posting this, PG.

  67. I like one of the comments further back, saying Amazon’s not really even the target, it’s just the most visible symbol to pin their campaign on.

    And with Amazon opening distribution centers in Europe (which I learned about here on this thread, thanks you guys!) and most of the Big Pubs owned by corps in Europe, well…

    But it’s also true, regarding foreign owners’ desires to get legislation passed here in the US in their favor, that many of our own domestic companies do that already here, and around the world.

    Companies here and abroad both locate their “address” to avoid taxes that many other companies have to pay to be able to do business in a particular country, including here. That hurts funding for regular folk.

    And speaking of regular folk, most of the people I know (very limited circle, I admit), could care less if a good book comes from a big publisher, Amazon, their library, or a subscription service.

    Quality customer service, a fair price, and something of interest, is what I keep finding is what the people I know like.

    And the two best I’ve found for that, so far, are Amazon and Scribd.

    Price and selection may only be doable to different degrees for different size businesses…

    …but great customer service is doable by anyone.

    It’s a choice. It shows.

  68. This fight is already over and one side is too blind to see it.

    Don’t believe me?

    Pick a reader, any reader outside of the business, and ask them to point to any one Hachette title on their bookshelves or on their e-reading devices. Very few will be able to do so.

    Now ask the same reader to point out the last few books or e-books they bought from Amazon.

  69. Having mulled this over, trying to put it in context and attempting to find a basis in reality, I’ve come a bit closer to a conclusion regarding one panelist–James Patterson. I think he’s right. I think Amazon does hurt him.

    It struck me that my local Walmart holds part of the answer.

    To create a blockbuster requires a huge investment not only on the part of the publisher, but it also requires that retailers play along. Most independent book stores cannot afford to play the game in any meaningful way. They don’t have the shelf space and the game involves consistently disappointing their customers (I came to browse for something new and all you have is James Patterson! Pfft. I’ll shop at Amazon.) The only brick and mortar entities that can afford it are the big chains. Borders (deceased). Books-a-Million (too regional). B&N (going wobbly).

    With shrinking shelf space devoted to blockbuster building, the Big5 turned to other-than-bookstore outlets such as Walmart and Costco. Now it is nothing new for Walmart and grocery stores to carry books. Last year I started seeing Walmart playing the blockbuster game. I saw multiple racks devoted to THE HUNGER GAMES. I started counting authors. For an entire year, that particular Walmart was carrying on average 50 authors. Plenty of EL James, Suzanne Collins and yes, James Patterson. Stock rotated very slowly. Week after week, the same blockbuster titles. It was a real bummer because it used to be a pretty good place to find a decent selection of mid-list genre paperbacks (nicely discounted).

    The result of that grand experiment? That particular Walmart concluded that books don’t sell enough to justify the shelf space. They stripped out all the interior bays in the book department and replaced them with toys and remainder bins.

    For those who do not know what remainders are, they are hardcover books that the publisher cannot sell on regular terms, so they are sold off at pennies on the dollar. The authors don’t see a penny of those pennies. Consumers see bins filled with bargain books by best selling authors.

    Then there is Amazon, which does not play the blockbuster game. When I go to Amazon, what pops up is not a pyramid of 250 Patterson novels. In fact, I rarely see Patterson novels at all because Amazon has figured out I’m not in the market for them. If I happen to check the best seller lists in thrillers (which I do quite a bit) I might see a Patterson title, but I also see a lot of other books, all featured in the same way and in the same quantities (i.e. a thumbnail image).

    There is no way for a publisher to saturate Amazon with All Patterson, All the Time. Without that market saturation, without the constant visual clues, a mega blockbuster is going to be very rare.

    I can’t say what is happening at other Walmarts, but I suspect my local store is not all that unusual. Retail space is valuable real estate. They aren’t going to waste it on a strategy that doesn’t pay off. If as I suspect that Walmart has bowed out of the mega blockbuster game, that pretty much leaves B&N. If your B&N is anything like my B&N, the store has turned into the place to find cookbooks and overpriced toys, not fiction.

    That has to be hurting Patterson (“hurt” being a matter of scale, his books are still selling). If Amazon played the blockbuster game they wouldn’t be as big as they are–they’d be just like B&N online and we can all see where that dog’s breakfast is headed. But, it’s still a major market, the only one left that the Big5 hasn’t decimated with the blockbuster game. The more other-than-bookstore retailers bow out of the blockbuster game, the less chance there is of a mega blockbuster happening. That means a LOT of remainder bins (remember, not a penny to the authors) where folks can pick up Patterson hardcovers for $5. The Big5 aren’t totally stupid. And they don’t make any money on remainders. So print runs are decreased and visibility lessens and down and ’round and down it goes. Advances shrink, publishers slash promotional budgets. Print runs are cut back even more.

    Ergo, from a Patterson, Turow, Dan Brown perspective, Amazon is destroying literature.

    • Freakin’ brilliantanalysis, Jaye. No more Pattersons, perhaps, but not no more publishers stealing from midlisters to finance attempts at creating them. Until the whole house comes down.

    • Poor Patterson.

      Having to compete with indies on a level playing field is *so* unfair.

      The government needs to step in and fix this injustice, stat.

    • You forgot another place that plays in the mega book blockbluster game — airport bookstores.

      The problem is now people can buy a book to read on their phones, laptops, tablets and/or kindles.

      That hurts Patterson big time.

    • “Having mulled this over, trying to put it in context and attempting to find a basis in reality, I’ve come a bit closer to a conclusion regarding one panelist–James Patterson. I think he’s right. I think Amazon does hurt him.”

      Sure it hurts him. We shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t. So, what should the rest of the country sacrifice to make sure he isn’t hurt?

      • From our corner of the world, the question to ask is “How much does the mega blockbuster business model hurt authors who are NOT Patterson, Collins, James, Turow, et al?”

        If the Big5 could produce ONLY mega blockbusters, they would. But they can’t (and not for any lofty reasons about literature and culture) because it’s gambling and it’s extremely expensive gambling.

        The money has to come from somewhere. It comes from the editorial department, meaning already overworked editors have to do even more with fewer resources. It comes from advances (Paying a blockbuster hopeful 10 or 20 million means paying a mid-list writer a whole lot less). It comes from promotional budgets. They’re going to double down with properties they believe will give them a return. Everything else gets zip. Shipping mass quantities and risking having to pay for return shipping costs big bucks. So print runs get smaller. And on and on it goes.

        The Big5 have budgets. They also have corporate masters breathing down their necks. Something has always got to give. What generally gives are the costs involved in producing books by anyone who is NOT a mega blockbuster. Lower advances, lower royalties, accounting games. The money from the mega blockbusters doesn’t trickle down. It’s used to make a small circle of people very rich. The money from the run of the mill best sellers and mid listers pay for the blockbusters.

        • “What generally gives are the costs involved in producing books by anyone who is NOT a mega blockbuster.”

          Well, if they knew who was a mega-blockbuster, there wouldn’t be any problem. The megas carry themselves with their sales revenue. They don’t take anything away from anyone, and they pay for lots of publishers’ costs.

          We can make a case the books the firms see as potential megas are being pushed more than other books. That seems reasonable. Consumers like blockbusters. They buy boatloads of them.

          I think it might be time to forget about trying to get publishers to change the way they deal with their suppliers. They have no incentive. If the system isn’t attractive for a fiction author, then don’t enter it. Just hit the Kindle upload button.

          Benign neglect is often the best approach to things we don’t like.

    • Wow! Great analysis. I usually prefer midlisters so finding NYT Best Sellers everywhere books are sold, to the exclusion of all else, has pushed me closer to Amazon. I think Target may be on the cusp of forming the opinion that “books don’t sell” too.

      If trad pub hadn’t betrayed me I’d still be buying their books in grocery stores, drug stores, and airports.

      But, the Big 5 decided I wouldn’t notice when they slashed the editing budget, decreased advances/author pay and gave themselves bonuses instead. I thought I could hear them high-fiving each other (well, raising their cognac glasses in silent salute) every time they tricked me into buying a book that was not ready for readership.

      “See?” I imagined them exclaiming, while they sat sipping champagne on a Manhattan terrace, “It’s as we suspected all along. To think of all the years we’ve been wasting money on authors, editing and marketing! Who knew the dear little plebes couldn’t tell the difference as long as we put a pretty cover on the book!” The Big 5 ran out of blockbuster authors so they began manufacturing them out of spare parts. “Next, well just put different covers on the same books for the entire fall release! I tell you, these “people” won’t even notice!”

      The trad pub book prices continued to move in opposition to the quality of the product. They reasoned I still “had” to buy their shoddy books because they still “needed” to make sure there was money left in the budget for them to publish the books they wanted to be seen reading. (Well, THEY weren’t going to be caught reading the kind of book they were selling to me.) So they sold half-baked retread books to me and published small quantities of unpopular books for publishing literati to read, while moaning about the weight of their “noblesse oblige.”

      Recently, a truly garbage worthy book was featured at Target. The book bore the imprint that one of the Big 5 is using to conceal their entry into indie publishing (this just means they don’t pretend to care about the contents but they still get paid for curating and marketing). The publisher’s web page assures readers that the books in this imprint line received ALL the attention that their other valuable acquisitions receive. Who knows, maybe they have gutted their expertise and budget to the extent that this is actually true, all I know is that the “polished” book bearing a trad pub imprint on sale in Target was written in the style of “angsty-teenager-tries-to-write-novel-and-fails.” Naturally, the price of the book implied it was hand crafted by a highly talented, experienced team of inspired publishing veterans. Way to kill my interest in Impulse purchases. (Yes, I did sneak part of the imprint name into that sentence.)

      How I LOVE the death screams of the Big 5! The look of dazed entitlement on their faces as they assure us that we can’t live without them, won’t have access to culture if they collapse, and hint that it is we who have been abusing their authors all these years. The collapse of the Big 5 can’t come soon enough, or make a “boom!” loud enough, to please me.

  70. Something might be changing, for me, in a related way, to Patterson.

    I’ve read and reviewed (either on Amazon or Goodreads) one or two of Lee Child’s books featuring Jack Reacher, and my Amazon page has two of his books on my “Related to Items I’ve Viewed” scroll.

    One is a short story pre-order “Not a Drill” from Random House, and the other is an older novella, “High Heat” (73 pages) also from Random.

    Both are priced at $1.99.

    That’s tempting. And in line with prices I’m comfortable with for an ebook.

    I’m only hesitating on the pre-order because, there’s no info is the short story is just 5 pages or something. I may contact Amazon and ask.

    My only point here are, this surprised me, and might, “might” mean something is changing or being tried out. I’ve no idea. Interesting though.

    ps – I’ve still never purchased a Patterson ebook ’cause they’re just too darn high. I can wait. Or read someone else.

    • Got a fairly prompt reply from Amazon Customer Service.

      This is an excerpt,

      “I’ve checked for the information you’ve asked on our website and couldn’t find that information as it’s purely depends upon the discretion of author or publisher.

      The author or publisher didn’t release this information yet on our website.”

      The rest is info for me on how to check back, etc.

      I appreciate the timely response, but gonna hold off buying an unknown quantity at this point, bummer. But I just don’t trust what’s being offered by Random. Sorry you guys.

  71. Did anyone else sense some cognitive dissonance as Tim Wu described the “predictable life-cycle of information monopolists”?
    ~50m in:

    “When the company begins to believe it may face some kind of threat or may not be able to sustain… it stops investing in trying to make things better for consumers and starts to try to defend itself against competitors”

    Of course, he was describing traditional publi- wait, Amazon? He was talking about Amazon? Amazon is the established, mature monopoly defending itself from a new, threatening upstart?

  72. I’m so late to this party, but I want to congratulate PG on staying put during his ordeal – I would have walked out at the first interruption. The other panelists reminded me of blustery middle-school wannabes.

    Also, I laughed out loud when I heard the ‘new administration’ comment because I can’t imagine any elected official p****** off millions of Amazon customers/voters by messing with their favorite shopping place.

    It’s time to sit back and watch the gatekeepers die, because they might be noisy, but they’re also irrelevant at this point.

    PG, I would consider this a success, because you may not have influenced the blockheads, but you did speak to a lot of listening writers. They heard you, no matter how hard that goofy woman tried to shut you up. Writers and readers are the people who matter now.

  73. Kathleen Rovner

    I think I need to adopt the attitude that some others have on here: Let me get my popcorn.

    If I had not told my husband (who spends way way way too much on amazon) about this silly boycott or my parents (who watch Colbert and happily still buy everything off Kindle (lots of Indie titles 😉 I guarantee they would not even know about this dispute at all. I’ve even seen it on the news channel my parents watch and they just seem to wait for the next story which is more relevant to them. That’s right, they are not involved in publishing at all, and my parents watch Colbert, and they don’t care. Oh, not a single person I work with at both places I work talk about this, hmmm neither do any of my friends … Hmmm. They are more likely to talk about amazon drones flying around :).

    Just for laughs look up how successful most boycotts have been in history. Enlightening.

    Here’s another popcorn worthy moment coming in the next few months:
    How confusing will it be when this is over and these same authors turn around and say to everyone: oh, by the way loyal fans, you can now feel free to buy my book on amazon. If you haven’t already. Butter or kettle pop anyone?

    • …when this is over and these same authors turn around and say to everyone: oh, by the way loyal fans, you can now feel free to buy my book on amazon. If you haven’t already.

      :: cracks up laughing ::

      That is so rich!

      • You’re so right. Over the past couple of days, I’ve tried to explain all this ‘stooshie’ to some friends who are also voracious readers, only to realise that they neither know nor care. It simply isn’t on their radar. Nor do they know or care about who publishes a book. They don’t even look. The last time they used to notice was when they maybe bought something with the Penguin logo and that has gone. I’m not sure they’ve even noticed because Penguin as a mark of quality disappeared some time ago. They all have Kindles. They all buy eBooks just about every week. They won’t pay more than around £5 or £6.00 for an eBook, maximum. Thought PG did brilliantly under trying circumstances. There was a panel debate about Indie Publishing at last year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. I was one of the panel members. The moderator was a model of how it should be done – but she’s a trad published author who has also been publishing her backlist to Amazon for some time.

        • Kathleen Rovner

          I remember when I didn’t notice as a teenager and in college (not THAT long ago) and I just looked for books less than $5 in paperback. There were very few authors that I would pay more for and even then I waited for paper back or a good deal impatiently. I didn’t like spending a lot of money on something I would spend maybe a day or two on at most. Now I only read eBooks and have some old boxes in the basement full of paperbacks I haven’t touched for years :). Its really funny to me that a little less than a year ago I found out that almost every book I loved and enjoyed in the last five years on my kindle was self published. Often from new authors. I was like what? You can do that? OMG!

  74. Just to say again PG, you did a good job. I liked your evenhanded responses. Usually in a takeover there is room for roughnecks and for the reasoned to make the same point. But, as you know, the race is usually taken to good ends by the steady and the enduring… with a huge dose of legal thrown in too. [just thinking of Act Up and the legal teams who together have helped to defeat unfair laws re glbt persons for instance. The overthrowing could not be accomplished by the rougher rant elements, as reasoned people look for reasoned people to join up with. But leaders who are even tempered and relentless: ay, there’s the ticket to ride.

    The set up for you to speak there looked unorganized with no real prep. Like a substitute teacher trying to wing in through class, instead of coming prepared with the syllabus. It was not ideal. And you did well. I knew it was going down the toidy when the ‘mc’ bragged that the library was the greatest in the world. Maybe once, esp with the hugely monied Brooke Astor behind so much that is the library physical plant. But there too, he’s apparently not seen the libraries of Dubai or the other huge gleaming cities of the world which are stupendous. And isnt that the heart of the issue: many people in a small vertical city, thinking they in ny are the sun– and all other bodies are in their orbit.

    Thanks PG, and I hope you had some great food in Ny, which still has many outstanding places that are not tourist over-run; there are still a few eateries left too in what are the increasingly gentrified old ethnic neighborhoods. Mrs. PG too. Tell her she did good too. I know she did.

    • …reasoned people look for reasoned people to join up with. But leaders who are even tempered and relentless: ay, there’s the ticket to ride.

      Love the way you think, USAF!

      • me, you also, jm–there’s a lot on comments to like here, and laugh with each other over too.

  75. So, I’m 250 comments in this stream and am finally watching the livestream:

    First observation: The bogus introduction of panelists via the gimmick of their 7-word “haikus” was a real disservice. I’ll never know who some of these people represent, though I get the gist of their NYC and trad publishing natures.

    2nd: The moderators first question told the tail, quoting Bezos on his Amazon business startup, focusing initially on books because of their commodity-like nature (same size, shape, packability, ship ability) and hanging that word “commodity” around his neck as though he had meant that “commodity” was the only fair description of books, making him a piñata of a target.

    3rd: Urgghhhh! to the idiocy 25 minutes in: accusing Amazon of being anti-copyright and saying that this is the essential nature of the dispute with Hachette.

    4th: The moderator’s 2nd question: “is Amazon a squeezer (of its competitors) or a killer?” Sounds like a good, fair moderation of discussion to me…


    5th: Somehow the entire panel discussion takes place out of its true context: never focusing on the history of agglomeration of imprints into 5 or 6 big corporations; never focusing on the consolidation of book retailing via the B&;N behemoth, etc.

    6th: I agree with PG that government intervention through Congressional action against Amazon was a very popular notion Live-on-Stage at the NYPL. And that they, the trad pub NYC-centric crowd are scared of Amazon and all it represents.

    7th &; close: DAY LATE AND DOLLAR SHORT: Mostly this panel was a six against one Battle Royale in which our PG did a great job–and let’s thank him very much! There were a couple of places where (dollar short) someone tried to change the subject of AMAZON IS BAD to one of “why don’t or why haven’t the publishers innovated?” e.g. why haven’t they created a competitive online store? why haven’t they innovated on contract terms? why haven’t they had more diversity in their approach to ebook royalties? They didn’t come with much of this and were easily distracted… (day late)… unable to be present with these ideas when it was crucial to the discussion at hand.

    My 2 cents.

  76. “The ignorance on these boards surpasses all.”

    To be followed up by:

    “You do realize that the Big 5 now make enormous profits from ebooks and were, in fact, moving into the ebook business as long ago as 2004, when Hachette (then under a different name) started an ebook division? Ebooks are a huge profit center for major publishers. They’re not against them, hardly. LOL”

    “And look how well that’s turned out. Musicians no longer make a living.”

    Oh irony, thy name is Deborah.


  77. Quote: “They believe that Amazon’s commitment to low prices is simply not consistent with their survival and they’re desperate to keep prices up. The idea of changing the way they operate to thrive a lower-price world is not on anyone’s radar. Neither is the concept of making up revenue and profits with higher volume.”

    I’m not sure if that’s their real POV or simply one that media pundits think they believe. If it’s the former, then they’ve not been paying that much attention to Amazon’s behavior rather than its words. Pundits fall for words. Sensible people look at deeds. I hope these people are among the latter.

    Amazon is not committed to low prices. Like many retailers, it wants to create the impression that it offers lower prices. That means nothing. You see Amazon’s real attitude best in its otherwise strange royalty scheme. Ebooks inside the $2.99-9.99 price range get 70% royalties less a hideously inflated download fee. Ebooks outside that range get only 35%.

    Do the math, and you’ll see that for books whose high development costs and limited sales (i.e. professional books and textbooks), Amazon’s royalty scheme forces publishers to double an ebook’s retail price, with 65% of that inflated price going to Amazon. That’s why many ebooks prices are inflated. Amazon forces publishers to inflate those prices. If a publisher needs to earn more than $7 per sale to recoup costs, then it must raise that price to over $20.

    Say a nursing textbook needs to earn $20 per sale to recoup the cost. Sold through the iBookstore, the publisher can recoup that cost by pricing it at just under $29. To earn that same $20 per sale selling though the Kindle store, a publisher has to price it for over $57. That’s Amazon driving up prices substantially to grossly inflate its profits. Sold through the iBookstore at that necessary $29, Apple makes $8.70, certainly enough to keep their business model alive and well. But with Amazon, for that same book, forced to a $57 retail price, Amazon is profiting a fat $37.05.

    That is why Amazon fights tooth and nail to force publishers to not offer ebooks at a lower price elsewhere. That’s why those terms are in in their contract. It’s why doing otherwise will get you a nasty letter from Amazon lawyers.

    To state the situation again, to earn a break-even $20 on the investment a publisher has in that nursing textbook, a publisher can price it at $29. To earn that same $20 from each sale at the Kindle store, the author must retail it for $57, or almost twice as much, with Amazon reaping the lion’s share of that grossly inflated price. That is why it is total, utter bosh to say that Amazon want’s to keep prices low. It’s quite willing to force them far higher, to pocket almost all that excess price, and to let publishers take the blame for those high prices.

    Keep in mind something else. In statements to German officials, Amazon has stated that it believes the proper price split between them as a retailer and an author/publisher has them taking between 40 and 50% of the retail price. Authors and publishers will spend tens of thousands of dollars in time and expense to create that book. Amazon will spend pennies for a file download and financial transaction and pocket as much as they. That’s Amazon’s goal.

    Keep in mind that a 70% creator and 30% retailer split is quite profitable. Apple’s being doing that for years with music and apps and the price of providing such services is going down rapidly. Retailers could actually do quite well today with an 80/20 split.

    That 80/20 spilt is precisely what authors and publishers should be fight for. Given that sort of margin, they’d be able to cut prices substantially and go for volume. Given the sorts of profit margins Amazon want’s to take off the top, they’ll starve with the pittance Amazon gives them.

    • You know, those authors are perfectly free not to sell their books on Amazon at all if they don’t want to deal with Amazon. So are you, for that matter. Nobody’s forcing them to list their titles there.

      • Exactly my thought. I took pre-nursing classes way back –for fun, I did not become a nurse. And I have two university degrees. Textbooks are hugely expensive (57 would have been considered cheap 25 years ago, shoot). Don’t sell it via Amazon. Sell it via the university and college bookstores or via B&N or send it directly to the students (selling online).

        I bought all my textbooks at school in ye olde days. Are there no longer university textbook stores? I”m gonna check. Yep. U of Miami and FIU still have bookstores. Their medical/nursing students can buy it there at whatever price a publisher wants to spend.

        Skip Amazon. Problem solved.

    • Amazon has stated that it believes the proper price split between them as a retailer and an author/publisher has them taking between 40 and 50% of the retail price.

      Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t bookstores demanding 40% to 50% splits on books? Why is that bad when Amazon is mentioning the split, and good when Bookstores are demanding it. Because Amazon is about ebooks and bookstores are about print books? But the cost of ebooks are lower than print books, which means even if Amazon gets split the same split 40/60 or 50/50 as bookstores, the publishers earn more on ebook on Amazon than they do with print book in bookstores, and let’s not forget the difference in the quantity of sold books via Amazon and via bookstores.
      ETA: And why do the publishers even have to inflate the price, they never had to inflate the price of print book as they seem to have with ebooks to get even (as Michael W. Perry seems to claim), and pbooks are more expensive to make, all that paper and glue and ink.

  78. “To state the situation again, to earn a break-even $20 on the investment a publisher has in that nursing textbook, a publisher can price it at $29. To earn that same $20 from each sale at the Kindle store, the author must retail it for $57…”

    I believe this is called a sleight-of-hand in English. Yes, the second phrase is true – the price needs to be $57 to get $20 in the Kindle store – but it has absolutely nothing to do with breaking even or recouping costs. There are NO per-unit costs in the Kindle store. Pricing that book at $9.99 would give you more than a third of the profit ($7) and, given that the price is almost six time lower, likely more than three times the sales – therefore giving you at least the same total profit.

    • Yep. Those ebooks are nearly pure profit. If their print books aren’t profitable, stop making print books. If they make mostly profits from ebooks, focus on ebooks.

      But as many online have pointed out, they can only really 1. keep power with print distribution 2. promote ebooks via bestsellers pushed in print via bookstores, etc 3. have nothing much to offer authors if they got out of print and bookstore distribution that authors could not get a la carte from freelancers nowadays, then keep lion’s share of revenues.

      Their power and prestige right now depends on print and their current and future profits on ebooks. They don’t want to cave on ebooks one bit. Amazon is right to ask more, as they are the power seller. Power sellers can ask for a bigger cut for providing more volume in sales. Period.

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