Home » Amazon, Books in General, PG's Thoughts (such as they are) » Cory Doctorow Launches a Bookstore Where Authors Sell on Behalf of Publishers – Wait, What?

Cory Doctorow Launches a Bookstore Where Authors Sell on Behalf of Publishers – Wait, What?

20 March 2017

From The Digital Reader:

Cory Doctorow just announced his support for an ebookstore platform that has me scratching my head.

. . . .

It’s not just that he has apparently abandoned his support for free Creative Commons-licensed ebooks in favor of selling ebooks (welcomes to 2007, Cory!) but also that he believes that authors should be sales staff for publishers.

From PW:

Walkaway has traditional publishers, and it will have a traditional e-book edition. But I’m going to sell that e-book in a nontraditional way. I’m launching an e-book store with the book, a store that I’ve privately developed for the past three years, code named “Shut Up and Take My Money” (SUATMM). SUATMM is what I like to call a fair trade e-book store, in which the writer also serves as a retailer.

There are many small, niche-oriented e-book stores serving highly specific markets, but SUATMM is different. It’s a retail platform that lets authors with traditional publishers serve as retailers for their those publishers, on the same terms as Amazon, Kobo, Google, BN.com, Apple, and other giants. Those stores have resources no individual author (save, perhaps, the delightfully DRM-free J.K. Rowling) can muster. In particular, they can manage a seamless experience that no indie bookstore can hope to match.

. . . .

While it is easy to buy ebooks in the Kindle Store, it’s difficult to find much less buy ebooks in niche 3rd-party ebookstores (hence why Harry Potter ebooks are available everywhere, why Baen Books moved into the Kindle Store – not away, and why Hachette never launched its Kindle Store competitor).

. . . .

Instead, I want to point out Doctorow’s blind spot: the unwarranted assumption that authors need or even should be doing business with publishers.

. . . .

It’s 2017, and publishers now expect authors to do their own marketing, blog regularly, be active on social media, and ideally already have their audience built before the contract is signed.

And now Doctorow wants authors to also

Sell ebooks for publishers,
And handle payments,
And remit the money to publishers in several countries?
Okay, but if authors are going to do all this work then why sign with a publisher in the first place?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Meryl and othes for the tip.

PG delayed posting about Doctorow’s plan because he was waiting for someone to propose a theory about why an intelligent trad-pubbed author would try to sell books directly from some strange organization for side-loading onto a Kindle. What kind of service is that for an author’s readers? Who do those readers call for tech support when the ebook file won’t load?

Certainly, having an affiliate account with Amazon and embedding links to an author’s books on the author’s website might bring in a bit of money, but that’s a set-and-forget job that takes a few minutes. Some cobbled-together spit and baling wire book-purchasing system does the readers no favors.

The shortest and easiest route from an author’s website to a rewarding book purchasing experience runs through Seattle.

Amazon Derangement Syndrome takes on many different forms, but this may be the most extreme.

Let PG be perfectly clear – if Jeff Bezos woke up one morning, decided that Amazon was indeed evil for shaking up the sclerotic book business and ordered his Amazon minions to immediately stop selling books, the traditional publishing industry would collapse.

PG suspects that if Big Publishing really examined its accounts, it would discover that ebooks offered through Amazon generate virtually all of the meager profits that inure to the publishing business these days.

Amazon, Books in General, PG's Thoughts (such as they are)

35 Comments to “Cory Doctorow Launches a Bookstore Where Authors Sell on Behalf of Publishers – Wait, What?”

  1. Another Anonymous

    “… but also that he believes that authors should be sales staff for publishers.”

    Change that to ‘self/indie publishers’ and it would be true.

    But for ‘trad-pub’? So why did you need them again?

  2. (sitting here scratching my head, trying to figure out what Cory’s thinking)

    • if true, and if it’s cory, there’s money in it for him, or favors given. All others are fodder/feeder blood donors to … the top up people.

  3. Coincidentally, I followed up with Cory and asked about his platform.

    He isn’t answering my emails.

  4. This must be a joke surely?
    Perhaps one of those satirical tongue in cheek things.

  5. I’ve always thought that ADS was in some ways similar to grape boycotting back in the 70s. It was a thing, and then it sort of took on a life of it’s own, such that people wouldn’t buy table grapes at the market even after the specific boycotts were over. It took years and years for the effects of those boycotts to wear off. ADS is similar. Certain sets of people know, or think they know, that you shouldn’t like Amazon, even though they’re not sure why and can’t be bothered to stop and figure it out.

  6. I read Cory’s plan (the part in Nate’s article) and I’m confused. I like this question, it says what I’m thinking: …Okay, but if authors are going to do all this work then why sign with a publisher in the first place?

    That’s exactly the question I want answered. That, and the platform. So reading this article:

    As an author, being my own e-book retailer gets me a lot. It gets me money: once I take the normal 30 percent retail share off the top, and the customary 25 percent royalty from my publisher on the back-end, my royalty is effectively doubled.

    Now, I only majored in journalism, so I’m prepared to be massively corrected on my math going forward 😀 I’m really confused on the benefit of this platform.

    Let’s suppose an author, an indie author has uploaded files to the server on the “buy my books” portion of her website. Bonus if she’s selling combos/options for different formats (epub as well as mobi, PDFs, etc).

    Let’s suppose she uses Square to process payments, or for the halo effect, Amazon Payments. She wants Square/Amazon/PayPal to handle the money because she doesn’t want to worry about taxes and e-commerce security. Those companies have deeper pockets, which makes it worth it to sue them and not the author 🙂

    Let’s suppose she has a $4.99 ebook. Square charges 2.9%+$.30 for each transaction. So when a reader buys a book, the author is charged $.44 total. She therefore gets $4.55 from that transaction. That’s ~91% royalty, no? Turns out Amazon charges exactly what Square is charging (so long as no one is buying from another country, then the fee goes up to 3.9%. Here’s Amazon payments fee schedule in a helpful table, they confirm my math is right here.

    Now Doctorow’s system. Assuming the same $4.99 ebook. Retailer is apparently charging 30%, leaving $3.49. And you [tradpub author] only see 25% of that, leaving you with $.87.

    So I think I’m missing something here, and I say this without any snark. I am truly not seeing the point of Doctorow’s plan, admittedly due to my bias that “writers should get paid.” I’m unclear on why the “Shut Up and Take My Money” platform he’s referring to is the better option. If anything, his scheme (I suppose I mean this in the innocent British sense) just seems like yet another reason why Indie Is Better.

    Indies who are currently selling books: do you sell from your website? Does it help? If so, which commerce platform do you use? Any tips?

    • Do companies like Square remit taxes on your behalf or do they just collect it?

      Another key aspect you neglected to mention was the cost of a secure website. Everything adds up.

      Considering the paperwork or tracking that needs to be done for tax time, the fact that Amazon takes a small cut is well worth what they provide.

      • Considering the paperwork or tracking that needs to be done for tax time, the fact that Amazon takes a small cut is well worth what they provide.

        Yep. I hope I did not imply Amazon/Square et al are cheating by charging their fees; their fees sound reasonable to me. I agree secure websites cost money. I’ve heard of e-commerce platforms (e.g. Shopify) that offer to host the site, likely for security. But that option wouldn’t be cheap either, and for most indies it wouldn’t be worth it. As for taxes, I think the most they offer is to charge taxes and give you an easy way to track them so you can pass them along to the state you’re operating in.

        Doctorow never mentions security / tax collection, which is one thing that might explain the 30% fee he speaks of for his SUATMM platform. If security & taxes are what the fee is going to, then it still makes more sense to be indie because your royalty would be … 70% on that platform. So why not just go ahead and sell on Amazon anyway?

        The one virtue he does mention is that his platform lets him track who his customers are. Indies can do that easily via mailing lists, but without the risk and hassle of setting up a store. So I don’t know what problem the SUATMM store is solving. Or what its benefits are compared to going indie.

        ETA — I don’t know that I’ve ever said anyone had ADS before. But I’m leaning in that direction for this project.

        • What he say’s he tracking is actual sales, not mailing list members. If I could wrap the Amazon “click to buy” button with my UTM queries, I’d be happy about it, too.

          That said, the whole thing makes no sense to me, either.

    • I’ve had baby ecommerce (Gumroad) on my sites since day one and have sold almost nothing that way.

    • what jamie said

      the math seems odd

  7. The snarky answer is the old Stockholm syndrome gag.

    A more likely answer is he is stuck with a “first look” contract clause that amounts to indentured servitude. He may not be able to selfpub and he’s trying to recapture part of the money he signed away. After all, he can’t try to Oliver Twist his tradpub “partners” for a bigger share.

    It may be a Hail Mary play but he may not have a choice.

    Or, maybe his hate of Amazon is that deep.

  8. Sounds like “Shut Up And Give Up Royalties.”

  9. If this is in any way relying on people buying books from author websites, it’s already doomed regardless of how the $ breaks down. Website design and maintenance is expensive if done right, and creating a merchant portal on a website just raises the cost, and at the end of the day it won’t matter, because an author site isn’t going to be competing with Amazon.

    • The websites would have lots of traffic — well, some — once a year when publishers issue the authors’ new books.

  10. PG, Kudos for use of the word ‘inure’.

  11. Well, this is going to fail. Are we taking bets yet on how long SUATMM stays online?

    • Depends on how much venture capital they have to burn through and how many authors can do good arithmetic.

  12. Walkaway – kindle price, $12.99

    Sold by: Macmillan

    Price set by seller

    It’s his first new book in 8 (eight) years, read into that whatever you like. In this post


    he says “My biggest (and, IMO, best) adult novel has just sold to Tor for a very pleasing sum of money.” He said that it “will be attended by some rather exciting news that I will be revealing in good time.”

    I have tried some of Doctorow’s stuff and find his voice to be nauseatingly hipsteriffic, such that I could not finish it.

  13. Nate sort of mentions this in his analysis, but I want to state it plainly. Doctorow’s claim of the restrictions retailers put on selling internationally are restrictions publishers impose, not retailers. Amazon and Kobo are happy to sell anywhere the supplier tells them to.

  14. Nate sort of addressed this in his analysis, but I think it bears stating plainly. Doctorow’s claim of the restrictions retailers place on selling internationally is false. Publishers place those restrictions on sales, not retailers. Amazon and Kobo are happy to sell anywhere the publisher gives them permission to.

  15. Does anyone know where I can find good clean copies of Doctorow’s ebooks?

    The copies hosted on his site are atrocious.

  16. If Doctorow wants to try his hand at being a ebook retailer, why not? He is already running a website with a store attached, so the technical issues shouldn’t be a problem.

    Marketing-wise, I am doubtful about this venture. As the article points out, even Rowling couldn’t sell her books through Pottermore and had to sign on with Amazon et. al.

    But there’s no harm in giving it a try.

  17. Cory wants to make a buck off other people’s work. Yawn….

  18. Almost like this came from The Onion.

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