Home » Amazon, Ebooks, PG's Thoughts (such as they are) » Data Guy’s Web of Analysis: DBW Turns Hostility Into a Handshake

Data Guy’s Web of Analysis: DBW Turns Hostility Into a Handshake

10 March 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

Author Earnings was born amid controversy and rancor around a Digital Book World event two years ago. The 2014 conference had worked with its sister FW Media vertical Writer’s Digest to update a survey of authors that the author Hugh Howey and a host of independent writers said was incorrectly depicting self-publishing as a financially lesser alternative. Howey’s answer was to create a new effort to gauge ebook sales that aren’t counted by typical industry statistical programs. And his partner in AuthorEarnings.com was and is an unnamed writer and technologist nicknamed “Data Guy.”

Data Guy made his first appearance Wednesday (March 9) in a 35-minute morning keynote presentation at DBW 2016, and he followed it during the afternoon with a question and answer session with Publishers Marketplace’s/Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader.

. . . .

Cader had neatly set up Data Guy’s session for DBW’s morning mainstage presentation, going over the three statistical programs traditionally used to try to track a publishing business we can’t see very clearly:  the Association of American Publishers’ reports, Nielsen’s BookScan (print), and the PubTrack Digital (ebooks, also Nielsen). Each source of analysis has strengths and limitations.

None has the thing needed most: the ebook sales data known only to the largest online retailers.

. . . .

Once he’d handed off to Data Guy, the keynote was primarily an explication of the Author Earnings methodology from a man who, it turns out, has his background in data analysis in the video-games industry.

In terms of what his analysis offers to the industry — “I’m trying to solve the [same] problem the Big Five is trying to solve,” he said from the stage — Data Guy focused, in part, on an interpretation of debut-author unit sales, with 22 percent of them in 2014 coming from Big Five publishers, 11 percent in 2015 coming from Big Fives, and only 9 percent coming from Big Fives in the first quarterly report of 2016.

As Cader’s associate at Publishers Lunch, Sarah Weinman, wrote:

“DG [Data Guy] showed how his analysis of Kindle store data can point to ideas across the publishing chain.

“‘There is an opportunity to give debut authors a different price point,’ DG said, pointing to the heavy concentration of sales around ebooks from debut authors priced between $2 and $5.99 versus the very small amount of sales garnered by traditional publishers bringing debuts out priced between $11.99 and $14.99.

“‘They can graduate to higher price point, the same way that mass market paperback titles graduate from trade paperback and on to hardcover. Every debut author is an investment for a publisher and they have time to develop in the market and create a good return. The risk is to become too dependent on movie tie-ins, big-money indie author acquisitions, and other acquisition-driven strategies.’”

. . . .

The potential progress that may eventually set off this iteration of Digital Book World from others was evident later Wednesday, in the last hour of the conference’s breakout sessions. Someone in the audience for the Data Guy Q&A asked if Cader might be able to merge “his” data with that of Data Guy.

Cader, making it clear that the trinity of trade-industry protocols is not his but simply the material with which we’ve had to work until now, showed a lot of interest in the idea— if not of “merging,” exactly, in some way exploring what one approach to quantifying the industry has to offer the other. Data Guy was immediately game, even soliciting data from industry players who’d like to share it.

. . . .

Until now, Author Earnings’ protocol of harvesting bestselling ebook sales data from Amazon.com and creating a rank-t0-sales comparative curve to interpret that data has reflected its original agenda of demonstrating self-publishing as a potentially viable financial approach to a writing career.

But on Wednesday, with Data Guy’s first public appearance at DBW, this changed. For the first time, Author Earnings spoke directly to the industry. And rather than spinning a web of upbeat numbers on self-publishing’s performance on the Big Platform in Seattle, Data Guy used his time in the mainstage keynote sessions to suggest that his analysis can bring new insights to an industry sorely in need of them — and in a cooperative context: what was agreeably missing was the hostility that many Author Earnings supporters have brought to the discussion.

Weinman describes Data Guy’s message this way:

“At the organization level in particular, knowing more about the missing data gaps will allow for better questions to be asked about competitive market analysis, dynamic pricing, identifying takeover targets, real-time sales projections, and more.”

. . . .

While we saw the guy — he’s witty, engaging. “quite a likeable chap,” as agent Laurie McLean referred to him — his actual name was not revealed. We called him DG. He told us at the press table that he is the author of two books. Both self-published. He mentioned that he finds publishing people nicer than video-game people. And that’s it.

But meeting him was helpful. Even learning this small amount of info was useful because he now is understood to be more Data Guy than Book Guy. Maybe it’s his distance from the center of the indie book crowd that has made him remarkably cordial to media members who emailed him — sometimes with criticism — even as some of his supporters snarled at anyone who dared suggest that Author Earnings may not be holy scripture.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to SFR for the tip.

PG congratulates Data Guy on the success of his presentation. It sounds like he was able to accomplish in person what the voluminous statistics and analysis he and Hugh Howey created with Author Earnings could not do – convince an audience oriented toward traditional publishing that AE provides very useful information about ebook sales.

For PG, the history of Author Earnings and its initial reception by Big Publishing is one more piece of evidence of the huge gap between the worlds of technology and traditional publishing.

For PG, who has some history in the tech world, the first AE report was fascinating and revealing. Through a neat (and Amazon-approved) hack, DG and Hugh had provided a deep look at what was going on in Amazon’s part of the ebook world (which is, of course, the most powerful and sophisticated part of the ebook world). Part of the reason the information was so interesting is that it contradicted several narratives about ebook sales from Big Publishing and shone a much brighter light onto what was happening with indie authors.

PG is pretty certain that most tech people who examined the first and subsequent AE reports would approve and admire the project as an innovative method of digging into a somewhat opaque market.

The initial response of the traditional publishing world was, of course, dismissive of AE. Media covering tradpub found no shortage of publishing experts to dismiss AE’s work as inaccurate and unhelpful. Some of the experts’ comments revealed that they didn’t really understand what AE was doing.

Ebooks are a technology product, data files delivered over a digital network to sophisticated devices containing hardware, firmware and software that decodes the ebook file and presents it to an end user in a (hopefully) attractive and useful format.

PG respectfully submits that if you think of an ebook as just another form of paper book to be created, marketed, priced and sold in a paper book sort of way, you don’t really understand the ebook. Barnes & Noble certainly knew how to sell a lot of paper books. We all know how little of this expertise transferred to selling ebooks.

In this post, PG won’t make any predictions about the future of traditional publishing, dire or otherwise, but will suggest that the ability to deeply understand technology and think like a technologist has become a vital and mandatory skill for publishers. Success in the future publishing business will require skillful navigation in a world that is inevitably, inexorably moving towards selling more and more of the software known as ebooks through electronic retailers via a technology known as the internet.

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

74 Comments to “Data Guy’s Web of Analysis: DBW Turns Hostility Into a Handshake”

  1. Kudos to DG! Big data effects all of us, and the more info we have the better we can tweak our businesses.

  2. It’s great to see corporate publishing and those associated with it move beyond hostility and finally work to collaborate with the indie world to share research, ideas, and best practices that can really make a difference for all authors. Well done, DG.

  3. The subject of debut authors is something to keep an eye on because of the BPHs’ move away from mass market paperbacks. And because any effort to make tradpub debut author titles more successful will cost them more money, result in lower margins, and end up making going indie even more attractive to newcomers.

    Data Guy very quietly fed them a time bomb. 🙂

    • I thought that was the most shocking data. Publishing Perspectives didn’t even remark on it. Maybe next month. New authors are publishing’s future.

      • If it’s something they can’t dispute without looking like fools and don’t want to have up for debate for others to think seriously about, silence is their only safe tool to kill/hide/bury it.

      • New authors are their future, yes.
        But as their dalliances with Author Solutions prove, they see new authors as an endless horde of sheep to be shorn. Not unlike the “endless sea” of bison encounters by the early explorers of the great plains.
        One of the (many) big dysfunctions of the BPHs is that they live in a long tail business yet operate with a focus on quarterly financials. (Must keep the HQ guys happy or the pink slips will fly!) So they optimize for the short term instead of paving the way for long term revenues.

        Indies have quickly learned that in a world of “always in print” long term success depends on planning for the long haul. Once tradpub authors catch on, they will find that for many of them their long term interests are at odds with the BPH short range interests. That they are, in the BPHs eyes, “Dixie cup” assets: use once, throw away.
        Traditional publishing does not want data on debut author success. As Allen said, they cannot afford to have that data out in public, being discussed.

        This is going to be fun to watch.

        • I’m questioning myself now. Are new authors the future of publishing when books never go out of print? The big publishing houses already have the best of the best. They have them until 70 years after they die, which is almost certainly after the publishers are dead as well. There aren’t many publisher-author age gaps of more than 70 years. The big publishing houses can keep selling their current catalog confident that new authors eschewing their nurturing will never be able to compete on quality.

          Of course I don’t really believe that. Styles change. Society changes. The common core of knowledge changes. I’ve been reading some works commonly cited as Tolkien’s influences. Ergh. Very hard going. A lot of older SF is still readable because the stories are well told, but a lot more just seems naive today when our scientific knowledge has advanced and our social assumptions have changed.

          • Do they?
            Popularity isn’t quality.
            Past success does not guarantee future success.

            And history has shown that popularity in one era is not the same as enduring for the ages.
            Times change, people’s tastes change…

            There will always be room for new ideas and new takes on old ideas.

            Of course, writers of tough guy car chase thrillers (for one) might not be happy having to share virtual shelves with Alistair MacLean, but well…

            Life is tough.
            Always has been.

    • I did wonder if the rest of that sentence, about the $11.99 price point had been truncated. As in, “But for those authors who are confident they’ve got all the readers they ever need, and don’t mind never getting more, $11.99 – $14.99 is the perfect price.”

    • It’s pretty clear at this point that the Big 5 are not interested in developing new talent. It is much easier for their executives to simply buy out smaller publishers or individuals that succeed to grow their revenues. It’s not the best way to grow, but it’s a way that can work. Most of their profits come from their back catalogues and the way to grow profits is to buy up big catalogues rather than take a chance on new individuals.

      The problem is the execs at the top simply don’t know how to develop talent and still prefer to invest what time they have trying to curate literary icons for cocktail parties and engage in nepotism and influence peddling. And there is still a real distain for seriously pursuing genre, which is where all real profits lie. Of course, writers willing to cow-tow low enough can get some cheap deals and maybe a few of them will pay off, but why should execs really work at that when they can spend their time hanging out with the already successful? Who cares if in the process a lot of talent gets wasted and discouraged?

      What’s interesting about your time bomb comment, Felix, is that you may be right. By highlighting the problem traditional publishing has with debut writers, word gradually may spread to writers (including future literary darlings and the children of politicians) that traditional publishing is such a dead end it’s no longer desirable to even suck up to big publishing execs. That could be a problem since they like to know that everyone wants something from them.

      For the foreseeable future it seems any writer with any promise is better off going indy. If a company does come around that understands how and has a true desire to nurture new talent, I think it’s more likely it will be new companies without the old world baggage.

  4. Kudos to DBW and Michael Calder for inviting Data Guy and engaging with him in civil discourse. Kudos to Data Guy for an informative presentation focused on the interests of the audience. It sounds like it was a very positive and productive event.

    However, the tone of this Publishing Perspectives article still has a lot of sneer in it and an obsession that information come from the right sort of people. It’s data. Verifiable data. The base data is useful regardless of who reports it.

    (I think much of the talking past each other is due to semantics. What some individuals associated with traditional publishing call “hostility”, others not embedded in the traditional industry would call “not kissing a**”.)

  5. Mr. Anderson’s bias is showing through, “what was agreeably missing was the hostility that many Author Earnings supporters have brought to the discussion.” Implying that the hostility is only from AE supporters is very misleading.

    While there is certainly hostility from AE supporters towards traditional publishing he completely ignores the attacks and hostility from the traditional side.

    That said, I hope this does lead to more, better analysis and a better picture overall.

    • Implying that the hostility is only from AE supporters is very misleading. …he completely ignores the attacks and hostility from the traditional side.

      Agreed. Of course, it’s rare that any individual reverses his position in an instant, no matter how compelling the information prompting such a reversal. Kudos to DG for his excellent presentation and to his audience for learning from it.

      • “…and to his audience for learning from it.”

        I’m not going to hold my breath on that one.

    • Agreed. There’s still some fairly blatant hostility:

      Maybe it’s his distance from the center of the indie book crowd that has made him remarkably cordial to media members who emailed him — sometimes with criticism — even as some of his supporters snarled at anyone who dared suggest that Author Earnings may not be holy scripture.

      I don’t really hear many in the indie community snarl, nor claim that AE is holy scripture — only that it’s hard data, and that it’s likely a helluva lot more reliable than either self-reported data or that derived by tracking ISBNs, which is all the corporate world has ever really tried to offer.

      The positioning and messaging regarding the indie community continues to be hostile, albeit in a more passive aggressive manner. Doesn’t make it much better, though.

  6. Is any of this available online?

  7. There was a post on i09 yesterday recommending “16 Fun, Escapist Books To Get Your Mind off This Crazy Election Year”(http://io9.gizmodo.com/16-fun-escapist-books-to-get-your-mind-off-this-crazy-1763867554), and good read whore that I am of course I went obediently down that rabbit hole.

    There wasn’t a single Kindle version less than $7.99 and most of them were $11.99 or more. I ended up supporting my local library by buying some of them in hc from Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, a few in pb from the Homer Bookstore (my local bookstore), and putting the rest on my wish list for when the ebook price comes down.

    I do sort of watch myself buying or not buying ebooks, not keeping score but just observing what triggers a One-Click. It’s never a book at $11.99. If the price doesn’t come down on those books, likely I will never read them.

    Now, if you’re a BPH, you can b**** out Amazon for acculturating me to low prices, or you can adapt. Darwin had an answer for that.

    • iO9 has been pretty much solely focused on corporate fiction. I keep reading their year-end best-of lists and upcoming books this month lists, always hoping to see a highlight of some indie fiction, but they pretty much universally eschew indie fiction. But then, I think a lot of their contributors are authors focused on (and hoping for) corporate contracts. Heck, I’m fairly sure their main editor just had a book come out with TOR (a division of Macmillan, whose John Sargent was the only man who contributed more to the Apple/Big 5 collusion than Eddy Cue seems to have).

  8. Porter Anderson sure managed to pack a lot of condescension and misappropriation into that article. Wow. He takes Data Guy’s generous act of providing innovative quality research and analysis *for free* and turns it into a genius move by Digital Book World. And it just goes downhill from there. The language he uses… Nobody actually snarls online, I dare say he’s never had an independent author snarl at him in person; animals snarl. Humans debate, discuss, perhaps stoop to insult; his very choice of words dehumanizes his rhetorical opponents.

  9. DG. PG.

    Any relation?

  10. I hope Howey and Data Guy make a pile of money selling stuff to the big publishers.

  11. So now that they’ve taken credit for sparking Author Earnings creation, fixing its methodology, teaching it manners, and introducing it to polite society… and figured how to indirectly make money off it, to dip their beaks, as it were… Shatzkin and Anderson now give it two thumbs up…

    What a relief!

  12. I just have to say I am VERY disappointed there was no mask.

    I was kind of hoping for one like the Mexican wrestlers wear, but I would have settled for simple Lone Ranger black eye cover.

  13. Al the Great and Powerful

    You would say that, Nate, IF you were Data Guy (dramatic chord!)…

  14. Some thoughts.

    When DG offers his services to Big Publishing, beware their exclusivity demands. They tend to do that. And while no helpful venture should have to be funded out-of-pocket indefinitely, Author Earnings has been a boon for authors trying to make informed decisions about their future. It would be a shame if the data became pay-to-see.

    But that’s the altruist in me. The capitalist in me says soak them for a fortune.

    An influx of publishing dollars could mean AE’s spiders run 24/7. That would mean new data, more accurate data, and serious money to improve the data collecting process on a big level.

    It could also have some potentially unpleasant consequences for indie authors.

    Great white sharks go after large prey. They need to, in order to feed themselves. Chasing after minnows isn’t worth their time. But many smaller fish do eat minnows.

    Is it wise to teach the sharks to hunt minnows? Even if the sharks pay for the lessons? Could that, theoretically, take a food source away from the smaller fish who need those minnows to survive?

    I’ve been watching and commenting on the self-pub revolution since early 2009. I’ve written many blog posts trying to show publishers, and legacy-pubbed authors, how to succeed in this new technological landscape.

    I swayed a lot of authors. But no publishers followed my advice. And why would they? I was spitting in the face of all they held dear, and they’d rather fail than admit being wrong.

    In regard to the animosity between legacy publishing and indie publishing, I sometimes wonder how much of that could be traced back to my blog. Back in 2005, I extolled the virtues of finding an agents and selling to the Big 5. In 2009, I began to figure out that self-publishing might actually be a smart way for an author to supplement legacy income. By 2010 I was starting to realize that self-pubbing was a superior way to make money, and I had my own subjective data to prove it. That made me a heretic and a blasphemer in the legacy world, and I was essentially blacklisted. So began an “us vs them” debate that rages to this day.

    But it was never “us vs. them”. It was always about choice, and helping authors make an informed decision. But here’s the thing: when one of the choices has 99.9999% of authors getting screwed, I believe that choice should publicly derided. So that’s what I did. It is with derision, and satire, and sarcasm, that the mighty are brought down to the level of mere mortals and their offers judged on merits rather than royal lineage.

    So I’m actually okay with legacy publishers not understanding their own industry. Because I think they’re predators, harmful to the vast majority, selling pipe dreams at high costs, and they should change or die.

    But I always wanted the change to be in the form of better deals for authors. If, by using data, they can grow their ebook market numbers, they’ll have no reason to give authors a better deal. Their value will go up without them having to offer more.

    In seven years, I haven’t seen the slightest shred of evidence that publishers can evolve. But I don’t like the concept of them evolving in a way that can harm authors.

    Am I being irrational? Will better-performing publishers actually benefit authors?

    The biggest author fear about Amazon is that they become a monopoly and then start screwing authors. I find this fear silly. In a recent post, PG used the same example I’ve been using for years: when Walmart drives away competition, it doesn’t raise prices. Neither will Amazon, for the same reasons.

    But the Big 5 has always preyed on authors. That’s their thing.

    Giving them tools to do this even better is a bit scary.

    • The cautions you raise are really astute ones, Joe — you’ve always been able to see several steps ahead of the rest of us.

      You were one of the early indie pioneers, and pioneers are always the ones who end up with all the arrows in their backs, while the folks in the second wave of wagon trains get to set up shop in the brave new world the pioneers helped create. Kinda sucks for the pioneers in some ways, because they bear the brunt of the early antagonism. But you should wear those arrows with pride. You helped make a lot of the change happen, while tirelessly spreading the word. Authors have choices now. And many of them know it. A lot of that’s down to you.

      A future where AuthorEarnings data gets paywalled doesn’t appeal to me. Hugh & I started AE for the same reason you started blogging: to help authors make informed career decisions. It’s something I feel passionate about. We put AE together as a pure pro bono labor of love, a way of giving back to the industry we all care about (i.e. authors & readers). I don’t see that changing.

      My thinking on data transparency is this: it’s an equalizer — a game-leveler. The smaller, more nimble fish will always have the advantage in a disrupted ecosystem, because they can adapt much more quickly. I think making the ocean transparent actually helps the small fish a lot more than it helps sharks. 🙂

      • The BPHs will always have to compete with three separate handicaps:

        1- their overhead
        2- their short attention span
        3- their HQ overlords

        They would have to completely remake themselves to be able to overcome those baked-in constraints and their Overlords, in particular, are not going to stop demanding quarterly revenue increases at all costs.

        Their businesses has a long way to go before they are willing to manage individual titles on a weekly (or even daily) basis as Indies can.

        It would be amusing to see them try.
        I doubt they will: their business is volume, carpet bombing, not precision targeting. Their idea of buying market share isn’t investing in newcomer titles but rather buying entire publishers and their catalog. Those are their “minnows”.

        Now, the non-BPH tradpubs…
        They just might be able to adapt.
        I can easily see our outlier niche vendor of note (BAEN) finding a way to combine spider data with their engagement tools to better support their titles.

        As I said last fall: the real “war” isn’t Indies vs tradpub but rather tradpub vs everybody else. Small tradpubs will either adopt Indie ways or become chum for the sharks.
        Their call.
        Shouldn’t hurt Indies.

      • Thanks for the response, DG.

        Having a legacy deal doesn’t appeal to me, either. I don’t want to ever lose control of my rights.

        But I would do it for the right price.

        If a legacy publisher offered you $100k to license your technology, with the caveat that they have exclusive rights and you cannot build a competing product for five years, would you take it? How about $500k? $1M?

        I think you’d be foolish not to take that offer. But I’m not sure that would be good for the world.

        Now, I know you’ve thought about this stuff, deeply. And my post here is more agent provocateur/devil’s advocate spitballing than true fear. But allow me to elaborate.

        Data is fact. And interpretation of data will always vary, person to person, as will acceptance of those interpretations. Every scientist loves the math. But you don’t want to become Death, Destroyer of Worlds. Oppenheimer ended one terrible war to start a much colder one because our new enemies understood the power of his weapon.

        Likewise, the problem with antibiotics is the bugs they cure evolve and become immune to them, putting more people in danger.

        Sometimes the greater good turns into the greater bad.

        It is my deeply held belief that publishers are too short-sighted to benefit from the information you’re offering. It’s like trying to teach pandas how to knit. They just won’t ever be able to do it. And Digital Book World has always been many steps ahead of the publishing industry it coaches. Having you as a guest shows they are forward-thinking. That doesn’t mean the masters they serve are equally forward-thinking.

        That said, we have guys like Zacharius at Kensington who are lowering ebook prices for newer authors, and whose publishing output hasn’t diminished. Because he says he personally reviews “emergency cases” to let people out of contracts doesn’t mean his contract wording has become more favorable to authors. If the Big 5 follow his lead, they’ll likely see a boon in sales, and I can’t predict how much their paper sales will fall in proportion. If it’s a net gain, they’ll be able to ensnare even more authors with lifetime contracts. And they likely won’t be as benevolent as Steve claims to be.

        Mixing metaphors, I don’t think you can teach pandas to shoot guns any more than you can teach them to knit. But if they do learn how to shoot, their next target may be you.

        Just some paranoid brain dropping on my part, my friend. You killed at at DBW, and I’m proud of you. Your success there should show a lot of authors who had dismissed AE that your points really should be carefully considered.

        But there’s a slight chance it could also show the Big 5 how poorly they’ve been conducting business, and have them change their models. I can’t see that being a net gain for authors, or the world.

        • There simply isn’t any path to the BPH folks ending what HH and DG started. Sure, they could buy off DG, but so what? The genius in what he did was seeing that there was useful data there. There are literally thousands of people who could do what he does.

          We are at the very start of the indie author crowd exploiting the value of what DG hath wrought (keeping with the Oppenheimer theme). I think there are some really interesting possibilities out there that no one has talked about yet.

          There are reasons no one from the BPH’s did this first. Inertia is one, for sure. And myopia. And a decided lack of tech talent. I think that the main reason is different, though. Turning this type of information into actionable plans, strategic or tactical, is simply not worth the effort for the BPH. They aren’t willing to invest in something like this because they can get better ROI from buying up Kensington (just an example).

          • William, you called it right. Publishing isn’t the only industry who treats potential innovation this way. Health care (my day job) is rife with management professionals who feel the current practices are “good enough.” Why delve further if the status quo is still defensible? To suggest to one of these inertial types that all human endeavor is improvable is about as profitable as talking to a brick wall.

            • Sure, they can buy Kensington. But merging doesn’t solve the innovator’s dilemma.

              Buying start-ups is the only way for dinosaurs to evolve. Though current tech-oriented companies like Apple and Amazon and Google may have inoculated themselves against that dilemma by hiring the best and brightest and spending so much money on R&D. But for the Big 5, they won’t be able to change, or roll with changes.

              Unless they acquire an agile, smart, small company who does things the right way.

              Again, I don’t really think that will happen. But I think it’s important to speculate all possibilities.

              Riffing off of Felix’s comment, let’s say some small tradpub starts to spider Amazon data in order to get a competitive advantage (entirely possible, because that genie is out of the bottle now and, as you said, thousands of people can do it).

              If this small tradpub does well enough, it will get buyout offers. Apple didn’t invent the mp3 player. They built on the work of others (and in the case of the Diamond Rio, they were sued out of existence). Remember that Nintendo used to be a playing card manufacturer. Coca-Cola was a tonic containing cocaine? For every Xerox and Kodak who didn’t roll with the punches, there are others that figured it out. Nokia made paper. Hasbro sold textiles. Glen Bell had a taco stand in 1946. Heard of him? Years later he found success selling Tacos, and Taco Bell was born.

              Again, I don’t really see the Big 5 being this smart. They’ll merge into the Big 4 or Big 3 before actually trying to compete on ebooks.

              But in some alternate universe, that’s what they’re doing…

      • Data Guy: Maybe it is time to add a donation button to the AuthorEarnings website. I know I would be one of the first to send some appreciation your way, and that would allow you to keep the spirit of a pro-bono endeavor, while also allowing for those of us who have benefited to at least help cover your costs. And if the donations added up, it might even allow you to expand the work you do to include more frequent reports or new approaches you have not had time to try yet.

  15. Addendum: Back in 2010 I wrote about publishers figuring out how to compete in the ebook marketplace.


    3. Joe, but what happens when publishers start selling at $2.99? Won’t you lose sales?

    Joe sez: I don’t believe publishers are going to go that route for a while. But if/when it happens, I can easily see my sales going up. When people can buy the new James Patterson for $2.99 instead of $9.99, they’ll have money left over to spend on me.

    Then, in 2011, I wrote about the Tsunami of Crap.


    There are already billions of books in the world. A few more million won’t make a difference.

    So I’m not worried about more low priced ebooks entering the marketplace.

    I’m worried about getting screwed by publishers.

    Maybe, if the Big 5 use Data Guy’s examples, those legacy authors will make $15k instead of $10k. But they would have made $50k on their own.

    Helping Big Publishing do better in the ebook world is helping them exploit more offers. Maybe there will be more Lee Childs as a result. But is a Lee Child worth 20,000 authors getting stuck with 17.5% royalties for their lifetime plus 70 years?

    • steven zacharius

      Hi Joe,

      It’s been quite a while since we’ve chatted. Just out of curiosity, since you’ve been traditionally published before, have you gotten your rights back to any books? The 70 year copyright doesn’t really come into play in the real world. After x amount of years, if the book is not available for sale, or selling x amount of copies or dollars electronically, the author can ask for reversion of their rights. We go through a list of request for reversions every quarter to see if the requests are valid or do they still meet the qualifications to be “in print”. I also receive personal requests from people who have special emergency circumstances and would like their rights back so that they can hopefully make more money on their own self-publishing. I personally review each request and we answer every author’s request. But I wanted to know in the real world if you’ve actually gotten your books back from your prior publishers. I assume you had a decent contract and the 70 year copyright clause would never even be a consideration.


      • Hi Steve–

        My NDA states I’m only allowed to say my contracts were amicably terminated.

        So I’ll say that. They were amicably terminated.

        Prior to that termination, it wasn’t amicable. It was a bloodbath.

        That’s great that you personally handle revisions. I can’t imagine Markus Dohle of Random Penguins doing that, but maybe I’m wrong.

        The problem with a lot of older contracts is the interpretation of the “out of print” clause. When I first published, ebooks weren’t what they later became, and contracts didn’t properly define what it meant to be in print. So they could have kept those rights for as long as they wanted to, because I was selling enough copies annually to call those titles “in print.”

        When you mention “emergency circumstances”, you show yourself to be an understanding and decent guy, but it begs the question: if authors want their rights back to “hopefully make more money on their own self-publishing” how long can Kensington keep finding new titles to publish? Won’t all authors eventually keep their rights to make more on their own? If ebook sales alone can earn more for an author than what a publisher can offer with ebook/print combined, how can your industry survive?

        • Steven Zacharius

          I don’t think they will and I certainly hope the publishing model doesn’t change like that. Publishers provide a lot of benefits most importantly being able to hopefully build an author to the level where they can get into print. The social media, promotion and marketing a publisher provides is still very different from what an indie can do. We have promotional opportunities available to us that most indies can’t get because they are a single book where we are 700 books per year.
          If we are talking about digital only publishing that’s a different discussion. But even with that, where we are releasing 20 books per month now, our goal is to build them at a lower price and move them into print when appropriate. We haven’t seen any decline at all in the number of submissions and many come from authors who are currently indies. We take a greater chance with debut authors than the big 5 would normally do in hopes of building them.

          • Steven – I’m sure you’ve heard this argument before, but unless the author is already big enough, do your ‘benefits’ outweigh the cost differential in royalties? i.e., Will the typical new author make more money using you, or less? Current indie anecdotes say much, much less. Any input from your end?

            • That is the issue indeed.

              Nobody really disputes that publishers add value.
              What each author needs to decide for themselves is whether the added value justifies the price attached to those services.

              Depending on their inclination and expectations one author might choose one path or another and be perfectly right, totally wrong, or somewhere in between.
              Each case will be unique unto itself.

              • It is difficult to justify anything when it’s all a crapshoot.

                No one–indie or trad–can predict with certainty how well a title will sell.

                The “added value” tradpub offers is an expensive gamble, not a guarantee.

                Now if Kensington began to offer authors a limited contract term–say for a duration of ten years and then an option for the rights to revert–the gamble would be less costly.

            • It’s going to depend on the author and the book. I don’t think you can make the generalization that most indies make more being an indie when in fact most indies are not here online. I spoke at a recent conference at Hofstra University to about 35 people. Some had been traditionally published and a few indies. Every single one of the indies came up to me afterwards to give me a flash drive with their book because they said they had sold 25 copies or 100 copies. We have two distinct lines…the digital first line Lyrical Press and our traditional imprints of Kensington, Zebra, Pinnacle and Citadel which also do an ebook edition. The digital only line has a higher royalty rate and different terms than the traditional print contract.

          • Indie authors can get into print just fine.

            as far as “social media, promotion and marketing a publisher provides”, have you been reading the Author comments here?

            Publishers don’t provide social media, they expect the author to do that. They may provide promotion, but if you read the reports from the authors, you will see that they don’t do any promotion or marketing unless you are already a hit.

            • David how do you figure that the indie author is getting into print….by POD in one local store? You’re not going to get a national print run via POD. It’s too expensive and slow. I didn’t know which publishers you’re referring to but we provide social media for every title we publish. Our job is to make the book as successful as possible and to hopefully be be able to get the author into print.

              • POD is in print in that people can buy paper copies.

                There are companies who are getting indie print into the same catalogs that the big publishers are in for bookstores to buy from. Katherine Roush has written about this, it’s been possible for a year or more at this point. (even with bookstores boycotting Amazon inprints that offer the same service)

                Your company may do some Social Media for your authors, but that’s far from the norm, look at the other comments posted on this topic for Authors pointing this out.

                • steven zacharius

                  David, an indie author’s print distribution is generally not even worth mentioning. The number of copies distributed is so small and I don’t know of any major distribution companies that would get them distributed. Sure Ingram can put them in their catalog to be ordered but they don’t get a distribution. They still have to be ordered by that individual account. And remember they’re probably non-returnable and an account is not going to order them unless they have a specific customer order in hand. We do POD for all of our digital first titles in Lyrical. Some might sell a couple of hundred but most of them will be under 20 copies and they’re generally purchased by the author.
                  As to the social media, I’m glad to here we’re different from the norm. We do a tremendous amount of debut authors especially in our digital line and every title gets social media and a publicist assigned to it.

                • @steven

                  how big or small an indie author’s print distribution is depends on how popular they are. There are lots of stories of traditionally published authors who’s books don’t show up on the shelves of the local stores, being traditionally published doesn’t mean the bookstores will order the books.

                  the books are returnable by the bookstores, just like from the big publishers.

                  I don’t know your publishing house, but I am well aware that not all publishers are the same (I’m a big fan of Baen for example), but you need to realize that your publishing house is very different from what the big 5 are doing. When people talk about the problems of traditional publishing, it’s very fair to point out that there are smaller publishers who are not as bad as the big 5, but you can’t claim that just because you are doing something different, that the criticisms of traditional publishing are entirely false.

                  Go read the articles that Kristine Roush has been writing over the lst few years http://kriswrites.com, also check out Dean Smith’s blog and specifically this series of articles http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/killing-the-sacred-cows-of-publishing/

                  read this article from a year ago http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/killing-the-top-ten-sacred-cows-of-indie-publishing-1-cant-get-indie-books-into-bookstores/

        • BTW we don’t have an NDA when rights are reverted.

  16. I was particularly amused by page 42 of DG’s presentation.
    Yes, indeed, where does Amazon pbook sales increase come from?


    We know, don’t we?

    Not sure if DG gave them the “bad news”.
    Brave man if he did.

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