Big Publishing

Reasoning with the Unreasonable?

31 January 2015

From author Renee Bernard:

Recently, I’ve begun drafting my next semi-annual requests to my previous NY based publishers for the rights to revert back to me for dustier tomes that I would love to welcome back onto my shelves. It’s become a bit of a ritual and repeated rite of supplication and rejection for me.  For a lot of Indie authors, it’s just part of the landsacpe–a nearly hopeless quest to recover your creative offspring and reunite them with their newer siblings.

I ask.  They say, no.   It isn’t fun.

They say something about the book still being available for sale…and with the veils of secrecy that they’ve perfected over a century, it’s tough to argue that it is NOT “in print” if one box is rotting in a warehouse, or if they’ve jobbed out copies for pennies on the dollar and it’s clear they aren’t making any print runs anytime soon (aka never).  Prove it.  Even if I buy the few remaining copies at a fire sale, they refuse to let go.  They use the same electronic copies that have become the stuff of dreams against you because those books never go out of print, right? Sorry.

As NY publishing continues to stumble in the dark, the fallback position is to hold onto everything they have, either for fear of losing the tiniest revenue stream from past books or out of the hope that one of those long-neglected and dropped authors will become quite the lottery win if the writer goes on to do great things outside of their hold.  For them, they think retaining every scrap of rights is a win-win.

. . . .

If an author has stepped away from traditional publishing, they probably had reasons.  By refusing to play nice and yield publication rights when it is reasonable to do so–you step firmly into the role of greedy villain.  Which while probably an awesome thing to be in a captitalist profit-driven scenario in a Hollywood film, won’t sustain an industry in the real world for long.  As talent flees in droves and the publishing world changes, what hope do they have of luring back any of those Big Fish if things do take a turn for the better?

What author would look back and say, “Yes! Oh, please! You’ve been so reasonable and pleasant to deal with!  Where do I sign?”

They lock the door on any future contracts with incredible writers because let’s face it, those creative types tend to remember every bruise and insult.  The business model becomes dependent on new, naive, uninformed talent to sign on the dotted line… And we all know how that’s going!  Because writers are talking to each other!  We communicate.  We share stories of our experiences, numbers, names, details.  That’s right–it’s quite the forum out there!  In other words, I believe that the pool of talent they say is shrinking is in fact the pool of willing newbies they can attract with the diminishing prestige of hardcovers and shiny marketing.

Link to the rest at Renee Bernard

Here’s a link to Renee Bernard’s books

Simon & Schuster Offers Expanded Author Services in New Multimedia Imprint

30 January 2015

From Digital Book World:

Simon & Schuster rolls out a new imprint designed to “offer authors an expanded suite of profile-building, ancillary services that extend beyond the boundaries of traditional publishing,” according to a statement released today.

The imprint, called North Star Way, will focus on wellness and self-improvement nonfiction, delivered in a variety of multimedia formats in addition to print and ebooks, from apps and podcasts to online video.

Headed up by VP and Publisher Michele Martin, North Star Way will initially launch with four titles. Adam Rothberg, SVP of Corporate Communications at Simon & Schuster, explains that “the focus is to do a lot of things with a smaller group of authors and titles,” as opposed to publishing in high volumes.

. . . .

The move shows Simon & Schuster doubling down on forms of multimedia that books now compete with in an increasingly mobile-driven landscape. Earlier this month, Simon & Schuster announced a series of paid online video courses called SimonSays, featuring tutorials led by some of the publisher’s best-known authors. The new imprint appears to take that approach one step further, positioning such multimedia as a regular part of authors’ content offerings, not just marketing material surrounding their books.

. . . .

Rothberg confirms that contracts for North Star Way authors will account for the “new services and activities being offered, along with the traditional book publishing language about advances, royalties, rights, territories, etc.” but declined to offer specifics.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to HN for the tip.

For some reason, PG immediately thought of Author Solutions.

No, the Big Five are not a cartel and it really ignores reality to label them as one

30 January 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

One of the best-attended breakout sessions of Digital Book World 2015 was the discussion called “Should Amazon Be Constrained, and Can they Be?” which shared the very last slot on the two day program. That conversation was moderated by veteran New Yorker journalist Ken Auletta, and included Annie Lowrey of New York Magazine, thriller author Barry Eisler, and Barry Lynn of the New America Foundation.

It turns out that the two Barrys, who have pretty much diametrically opposed positions on Amazon (Lynn wants them investigated by the DoJ as a competition-stifling monopoly; Eisler casts them, for the most part, as the heroes of the book business’s digital transition) have a common position on the Big Five publishers. They refer to them as a “cartel”. Eisler is sneeringly dismissive of “New York”, which he refers to the way Republicans of the 1980s referred to “Moscow”, as an obvious pejorative. He appears befuddled by how anybody interested in the well-being of authors and the reading public could take the side of these publishers who maintain high prices for books, contract with authors to pay them smaller percentages of sales than Amazon does (either through Amazon’s own publishing operations or through their self-publishing options), and notoriously reject a very high percentage of the authors who come to them for deals.

Perhaps because the focus was Amazon, perhaps because Eisler was both emphatic and entertaining in his roasting of the publishing establishment, and perhaps because the facts to defend them are not well known.

. . . .

I am not certain that Amazon can or should be constrained, but I am damn sure that the Big Five publishers are not villains, and they are certainly not a cartel. They do seem to be extremely poor defenders of their own virtue but they are doing yeoman work maintaining the value in the old publishing model — for themselves and for authors — while adjusting to changes in their ecosystem that require that they develop strong B2C capabilities while maintaining their traditional B2B model, the death of which has been greatly exaggerated. If I’d been on that stage, the discussion of Amazon would have been diverted when the trashing of the big publishers began.

I took the step of confirming in an email exchange my recollection of the counts in Eisler’s very entertaining, persuasive, and unchallenged indictment of the big publishers.

1. Their basic contract terms are all the same, which it felt at the time he was suggesting demonstrated collusion, but which in our subsequent exchange he clarified he interprets as evidence of “asymmetrical market power and a lack of meaningful competition”;

2. They pay too low royalties on ebooks, which he also attributes to their “asymmetrical power” and “an implicit recognition that publishers come out ahead if they don’t compete on digital royalties”;

3. They only pay royalties twice a year, rather than more frequently or more promptly, which Eisler also attributes to a lack of competition;

4. The term of big publisher contracts is normally “life of copyright”, which Eisler calls “forever terms”

. . . .

First of all, the Big Five have plenty of competition: from each other, as well as from smaller niche publishers who may but be “big” but certainly aren’t “small”. (That is why the big ones so often buy the smaller ones — they add scale and simultaneously bring heterogeneous talent in-house). They are all quite aware of the authors housed elsewhere among them who might be wooable. In fact, since we have started doing our Logical Marketing work, we have done several jobs which were big author audits commissioned by publishers who wanted to steal the author, not by the one which presently has them signed.

. . . .

But the big flaw in Eisler’s logic is the same one that dooms Hugh Howey’s“ Author Earnings” project to irrelevance: the assumption that the per-copy royalty terms and rights splits are the most important element of publishing contracts. In fact, they’re not. Actually, those terms matter in 20 percent or fewer of the agented author contracts with the Big Five. Why? Because the agents get the publishers to pay advances that don’t earn out!

In fact, I have been told by three different big houses what they calculated the percentage of their revenues paid to authors amounted to. We could call that thetrue royalty rate. The three numbers were 36, 40, and 42 percent. That includes what they paid for sales of paperbacks, all of which carry “stipulated” royalties of well less than 10 percent of the cover price (and therefore below 20 percent of revenue).

Take that on board. Big publishers are paying 40 percent of their revenue to authors!

. . . .

Not only were the authors’ collective royalty rates much higher than contracts stipulated, the authors got most of that money in advance, eliminating the authors’ risk. The only contracts on which the royalty terms matter are those that do earn out (and, arguably, those that are close). For all the others, most of Eisler’s list of complaints is irrelevant. And, for the record, I have never heard an author complain about that show of confidence, the work that follows in helping him or her reach an audience (which benefits all involved), nor the cash upfront.

More frequent accounting doesn’t matter if you aren’t owed any money. And if the solution to “forever” contracts were that you could buy your way out by paying back what you got in advances that your book didn’t “earn”, how many authors would do that?

. . . .

First of all, the standard terms in big house contracts are almost always more generous than the terms in smaller publisher contracts. Few — if any — of the smaller ones pay a hardcover royalty as high as 15 percent of list. Although higher digital royalties can sometimes be found, usually those are from publishers who have little capacity to deliver print sales, so digital royalties is all you’re going to get. (That might be okay for a romance novel where a big majority of sales could be digital. It would be disaster for the author of just about anything except genre fiction.) And some smaller publishers actually pay less than 25 percent for digital royalties.

So the Big Five terms are generally better and they routinely pay agented authors advances that no other publisher would attempt to match.

But, beyond that, the idea that they are a “cartel” (a characterization enthusiastically seconded by Amazon critic Barry Lynn after it was introduced by Amazon supporter Eisler), is really preposterous. In fact, the Big Five are, to varying degrees, federations of imprints that even compete internally for books, sometimes to the extent that they will bid against each other when an agent conducts an auction.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Daniel and many others for the tip.

Everybody who believes that 80% of the authors publishing with Big Publishing are not expected to earn out their advances, please raise your hands.

And the price-fixing that the Price-fix Six engaged in with Amazon is the very definition of cartel behavior.

Sure, I Trust You

29 January 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Here’s the one sentence response that I expected to last week’s post  and didn’t receive:

I know some writers have had troubles, but my agent [editor/publisher] would never do something like that.

Am I optimistic enough to believe that writers—traditional and indie—are finally getting the message that they’re business people? And, as business people, they should operate under the trust-but-verify model?

Or have I simply trained the people who respond to my blog not to put that sentence on here? (And if that’s the answer, then how come I didn’t see that sentence in the comment threads on other sites?)

In the past, I’d put up a post challenging the numbers coming out of traditional publishing and half a dozen writers would defend traditional publishing, their agents, or their editors.

But so far, no one has—at least in the venues I’ve seen.

Does that finally mean that events of the last few years have proven to writers that traditional publishing does not hold a writer’s best interest at heart?

. . . .

It doesn’t matter how much you trust your editor or your agent, they’re not the ones handling every aspect of your career. You are. You are responsible for your career. And as such, you need to trust but verify.

In other words, you need to run your business as a business.

When I negotiate contracts, I always imagine that I’m negotiating with someone worse than the person I’m actually negotiating with. The easiest way to do this is to imagine that the person handling the other side’s negotiation gets fired or dies or moves to a better job, and gets replaced by a savvy spawn of Satan. That spawn of Satan will take every innocently drafted clause of the contract and twist it to his advantage.

My job, if I do it correctly, is to make certain that the clauses can only be interpreted as written.

. . . .

But there’s more to trusting and verifying than audit clauses or even a fiduciary responsibility.

There’s an attitude.

When I started in the publishing business, long-time professional writers told me that my relationship with my agent would be like a marriage. I was startled, because at that point, I had just come out of a divorce, and frankly, I didn’t want another. What I didn’t realize was that about six years hence, I would fire my then-agent and the experience would be lots worse than the divorce.

. . . .

Your editor might be nice, but the publishing company she works for is a corporation attached to a large international conglomerate. Whose attitudes do you think will triumph inside the corporation when it comes to dealing with your business relationship? Your nice, salaried editor’s or the corporate legal department’s? Your editor may be on the communication end of the contract negotiation, but you can bet cash money that she’s checking with legal before responding to your requests. She has to, or she’ll lose her job.

So, if something goes awry, your editor will not be able to help you. A lot of editors go dark when things go badly, and forward emails and paper communications directly to legal. Some editors try to maintain the relationship with their authors, only to lose their jobs in the process.

When it comes down to it, the business decision for the editor is pretty simple: Do I defend my author or do I keep the job that pays for my home and feeds my children?

. . . .

Imagining that these powerful people are protecting us is quite parental, isn’t it? And it’s flattering to think that our talent is so great that important people will do things for us so that we can concentrate on “what we’re good at.”

Only…they’re not doing these jobs for us. They’re doing the job for money. Agents get more than 15% for the work they do. Agents are only as powerful as their clients, so if they have powerful clients, the business grows. And many agents work hand in glove with publishers.

Agents run their own businesses, and again, that trumps anything they do for you. Given a choice between the good of the agency and the good of a single writer, they’ll choose the agency every time. (And so would you, if you were an agent.)

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

January 2015 Author Earnings Report

28 January 2015

Executive Summary

  • AuthorEarnings reports analyze detailed title-level data on 33% of all daily ebook sales in the U.S.
  • 30% of the ebooks being purchased in the U.S. do not use ISBN numbers and are invisible to the industry’s official market surveys and reports; all the ISBN-based estimates of market share reported by Bowker, AAP, BISG, and Nielsen are wildly wrong.
  • 33% of all paid ebook unit sales on are indie self-published ebooks.
  • 20% of all consumer dollars spent on ebooks on are being spent on indie self-published ebooks.
  • 40% of all dollars earned by authors from ebooks on are earned by indie self-published ebooks.
  • In mid-year 2014, indie-published authors as a cohort began taking home the lion’s share (40%) of all ebook author earnings generated on while authors published by all of the Big Five publishers combined slipped into second place at 35%.

. . . .

U.S. ebook sales have plateaued — or are even declining, relative to print — declare some widely-cited industry statistics. Publishing pundits opine that readers’ Kindles are all “full” now, and talk about the “glut” of ebooks. News articles imply that consumers are abandoning ebooks and are returning to print books, and then those articles speculate about whether ebooks were “just a fad.” Other pundits assert that indie authors will no longer be able to compete with the Big Five traditional publishers, now that those publishers have begun to price some of their ebooks lower.

Lots of speculation. Lots of flawed studies based on 2008 methodologies. Lots of inaccurate statistics. And very few facts.

As always, we turn to the data for real answers.

This is our fifth quarterly Author Earnings report. It is based on a data snapshot of 120,000 of the best selling ebooks on Amazon, giving us a deep cross-sectional data sample comprising roughly 50% of Amazon’s daily ebook sales. According to the publishing industry’s most oft-cited estimate, Amazon controls 67% of the U.S. ebook market. Thus the title-level data used in our analysis includes roughly 33% of all daily ebook sales in the U.S. No other industry survey or ebook market-size estimate comes close to this level of accuracy or detail.

. . . .

The increasing prevalence of lower-priced Big Five titles has had no measurable effect on the Big Five’s share of titles on Amazon’s daily-sales-based ebook bestseller lists.

Similarly, the agency-pricing control afforded by the new contracts Big-Five publishers Macmillan and Simon & Schuster have signed with now allows them set their own final retail prices for many ebooks. Both of them have done so for the majority of titles we captured:

  • 81.6% of Simon & Schuster titles in our dataset were tagged with “This price was set by publisher”on their product page.
  • 94.4% of Macmillan titles in our dataset were tagged with “This price was set by publisher” on product page.

But what effect has Macmillan and Simon & Schuster’s return to agency pricing had on the overall ebook market? Apparently not much.

The return to agency pricing by two of the Big Five has had no measurable effect on the Big Five’s share of titles on Amazon’s daily-sales-based ebook bestseller lists.

. . . .

At least a third of all paid ebook unit sales on are Indie self-published ebooks.

But the 33% shown is an extremely conservative lower bound on the true indie market share. The real number is almost certainly several percent higher, because the vast majority of the Uncategorized Single-Author Publisher ebooks are also self-published titles — we simply didn’t have the time (or energy) to check all ten thousand of them, one by one. And what we’ve labeled as Small or Medium Publishers — a designation we use for all publishers that are not the Big Five and not Amazon Publishing Imprints  — includes a significant chunk of multi-author collectives and tiny indie micropresses publishing through KDP. Many in the industry would classify that fraction under self-published ebooks as well.

In our past reports on Barnes & Noble’s ebook sales, we found the ratio of ebook sales by publisher type to be roughly the same on Barnes & Noble as on Amazon, and together Amazon and Barnes & Noble command at least 75% of the U.S. ebook market. The large indie ebook market share is not an Amazon-only phenomenon. It’s safe to conclude that at least a third of all paid ebook unit sales in the U.S. are Indie self-published ebooks.

But publishing industry pundits usually prefer to talk about dollar market share instead of unit market share. They point to the higher average price of traditionally-published books and say that publishers bank dollars, not numbers of books sold. So what about gross consumer dollars spent on ebooks?

. . . .

The Big Five publishers as a cohort still command just over half of consumer dollars spent on ebooks. But this website is titled Author Earnings, not Publisher Earnings. Our focus is always on authors and how much they take home in earnings, rather than how much money is spent on corporate publisher overhead. We are primarily interested in the portion of that gross consumer spend that goes to authors in the form of traditionally-published ebook royalties or self-published ebook revenue share.

. . . .

40% of all dollars earned by authors from ebooks on are earned by Indie self-published ebooks.

A quick aside on Kindle Unlimited (KU). The indie share of author earnings includes 8% from KU borrows of indie books. In our last report, KU was a brand new part of the author-earnings landscape. To account for it accurately, we crowdsourced borrow-versus-buy ratios from hundreds of indie authors participating in KU, and found that they averaged 1:1 (half KU borrows, half full-price purchases). We used that 50% borrow ratio as a baseline in our author earnings calculations, although we found that plugging in any other ratio instead, even 0% borrows or 100% borrows, made little difference in the overall numbers and pie charts. In November, when announced the size of the October KU “pot” at $5.5 million and the indie per-borrow payout at $1.33, we could now double-check our crowdsourced KU-borrow ratio of 50%. So we did:

$5.5 million / $1.33 = 4,135,338 indie KU borrows in October

Which is exactly 48% of the 8,561,293 paid monthly downloads (purchases + borrows) of Indie & Uncategorized books in KU shown by our data — quite close to the 50% we originally crowdsourced. Perhaps the wisdom of crowds is a thing, after all.

. . . .

Only seven months ago, the idea that indie self-published authors and their ebooks were outearning all authors published by the Big Five publishers combined was jaw-dropping heresy. Today, it’s boring — a widely-acknowledged fact among knowledgeable authors, if not industry pundits. Many authors who publish both ways point out their earnings disparity in favor of their self-published titles, and so this data is no longer surprising.

But what is surprising is how consistent each of our quarterly snapshots has been. And because of that quarter to quarter consistency, we can discern a few broader trends…

. . . .

The most notable change over the last few quarters is the continued progressive growth of indie market share at the expense of traditionally published ebooks. Here, we can see it in unit sales terms, in gross consumer dollar terms, and in the all-important metric of author earnings.

a1 a2 a3

Somewhere between May and July of 2014, Indie Published authors as a cohort began taking home the lion’s share of all ebook author earnings generated on, while authors published by all of the Big Five publishers combined slipped into second place.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

The Prose Was the Easy Part

28 January 2015

From a book review of Gail Godwin’s Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir, in The Wall Street Journal:

‘I have a disease,” the ambitious, young Gail Godwin once wrote in her diary. “I want to be everybody who is great.” More than 50 years later, Ms. Godwin has written 14 novels, two story collections, three nonfiction books, 10 libretti (with her late companion, the composer Robert Starer ) and, now, a chronicle of her life as a writer whose career has been boosted and buffeted by the vagaries of the publishing industry.

. . . .

She grew up in Asheville, N.C., for years watching her divorced mother support the family as a teacher, reporter and writer of pulp fiction. Mother and daughter wrote short stories together, sometimes the same one from different points of view. But along the way, Kathleen Godwin Cole, as she came to be known after she remarried, suffered many rejections of her work. Three novels and a play were summarily turned down. She tried to make a joke out of rejection, but clearly her daughter felt her mother’s disappointment to the core. Reading “Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir,” it sometimes seems as if Ms. Godwin’s life task has been to fulfill her mother’s thwarted dreams.

Ms. Godwin majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, writing fiction on the side. When a scout from Knopf came to campus looking for young talent, the hopeful Gail lined up with other students. The man’s wife read submissions behind a screen—presumably to give students privacy when their work was rejected. “This isn’t right for us,” she told Gail.

But the need to write grew in Ms. Godwin “like a beast.” For a while, she was a reporter for the Miami Herald. She had a bad marriage, moved to London and had another bad marriage. Still determined to write, she enrolled at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She also got a Ph.D. in English. If she couldn’t be a writer, she reasoned, she could teach.

By 30, Ms. Godwin had written at least two unpublished novels. But she had a certain “pigheadedness,” she says. And she was fatalistic. “We were all going to vanish, every last one of us, published or unpublished, back into the night from whence we came.” So she continued, as she puts it, “marching to the beat of a doomed language.” At last, on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 1968—of course she remembers the exact date—Harper & Row accepted a novel she had written, which became “The Perfectionists” (1970), based on her unhappy second marriage and her struggle to escape the domestic coil.

Her editor moved to Knopf and took her with him. (Apparently her work was at last “right” for the publishing house.) They made their first lunch date, but the editor dropped dead. Ms. Godwin landed with the esteemed editor Robert Gottlieb, whom she credits with making her cut bad passages from her work.

. . . .

Eventually, though, she left Mr. Gottlieb. The parting seems friendly: He saw her as a literary writer; she wanted more money. She found another editor with whom she did have lunch, Alan Williams, at Viking, who published “A Mother and Two Daughters” (1982). It was her first best seller.

. . . .

In 1983, Viking’s president was fired by the head of its corporate parent, and Ms. Godwin worried that she might soon lose her editor, who was then reading the manuscript of her sixth novel, “The Finishing School.” He resigned before it was published.

It became clear to Ms. Godwin that the publishing industry was changing. It was becoming a business—or no longer the “literate, gentlemanly occupation” it had always pretended to be. The era of consolidation had begun. For various reasons, a kind of fear crept into Ms. Godwin’s writing—she began second-guessing herself, making cuts at her publisher’s behest in her novel“Father Melancholy’s Daughter” (1991), for instance. Then the president of her new publishing house, Ballantine, was fired. Ms. Godwin started some books she couldn’t finish and received some bad reviews.

. . . .

Part of being a writer, “Publishing” implies, is the constant effort to find talented confederates within an unstable, commercially driven industry. The success of the effort, it is clear, can be as fugitive and uncertain as the success of a novel or memoir. In many respects, Ms. Godwin, for all her travails, has been luckier than many writers who never manage to find happiness with an agent, editor or publisher.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) or try this one if you’re not a subscriber.

Here’s a link to Publishing: A Writer†™s Memoir

Amazon and Its Friends

27 January 2015

From the Bits Blog at The New York Times:

Forget about same-day delivery of diapers or reconnecting with your high school girlfriend or publishing those  novels without the aid of an editor or bookstore. The greatest achievement of Silicon Valley has been the marketing of Silicon Valley. Google, Apple, Facebook — they all assert they exist for your benefit, their only goal to amuse and enlighten and help you. To be, in short, your best buddy.

The tech world’s devotion to its customers was put to a vote this month in Manhattan, at one of the Intelligence Squared series of debates. The evening’s topic: “Amazon is the reader’s friend.”

. . . .

“What the record demonstrates is that Amazon is nobody’s friend but Amazon’s,” Mr. Turow said.

“You are truly throwing the baby out with the bath water if you let Amazon kill the publishing system that has nurtured our literary culture,” he added.

The crowd, which voted on the proposition before and after the debate, was ultimately swayed against Amazon. But the mere fact that the topic under discussion was Amazon’s generous ways seemed a victory for the company, a measure of how the center of gravity in bookselling and with books themselves has shifted.

Over the last few years, the reputation and status of New York publishing seems to have gone in only one direction: down. Amazon and its supporters say the publishers are worse than useless, and publishing has done little to defend or promote itself.

. . . .

 Few would dispute that Amazon has revolutionized and democratized the book business. The question is, how much of that was tactical — to win market share — and how much was because this is a new kind of business, one we can trust to look out for us the way our friends do?

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Top 10 Reasons Why I Would Never Publish Traditionally

25 January 2015

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Got an interesting question last week when sitting having dinner with an old friend. He wanted to know why I said I would never go back to publishing novels with traditional major publishers.

Now over dinner, with my friend having no background in what was happening in publishing, that question because impossible to answer. So I muttered something about bad contracts and moved on.

Now understand, I published over a hundred novels with traditional novel publishers and made my living doing that for a few decades. So why not now? What changed?

The industry changed, that’s what. Traditional publishing is flat not what it was when I was selling books to it a decade ago. Not even close.

. . . .

Reason #9… Editing. If I sold a book to a New York traditional publisher, I would be stuck with an editor who hadn’t yet been born when I started selling novels. And this “editor” would need to try to tell me how to “improve” my book because the editor would feel that it was his or her job.

I am flat not interested in working with someone on my book who hasn’t learned as much as I have forgotten about storytelling. Once again my life is too short.

. . . .

Reason #6… Non-compete in contracts.  Seriously, why would a publisher put this in a contract? As much as I write, I could never, ever sign one of these. I have no idea why any writer signs these clauses. But writers do.

. . . .

Reason #4… Money. I can make a ton more money writing and indie publishing my novels and stories than I ever could or did with traditional publishing.

. . . .

Reason #2... Control. In indie publishing, for good or bad, I have a measure of control. Instead of some bored editor writing the blurb for the sales force, or some “let’s-try-him-out” artist doing a cover, I get to write my own blurbs and either do or approve my own covers.

No control in traditional publishing at all for 99% of all writers. The top 1% might have some control, but none of the rest of us do. Traditional publishers just don’t have time to give us that control in any measure.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Chuck for the tip.

Traditional Numbers

23 January 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve started this blog four separate times in the past week, and each time, I stopped about 1,000 words in. I have been planning to analyze some bestseller numbers that I found two weeks ago, numbers that truly had me shocked. In doing so, I wanted to check some other numbers as well, because an article about numbers is only as good as its data.

It didn’t seem to matter how many numbers I found, how much data I linked to, or how I did the math, something was confusing me. The harder I worked, the more confused I got.

It wasn’t until I was complaining about this at the weekly professional writers’ lunch that it all came clear to me: Most of the numbers I was working with were suspect in one way or another.

. . . .

Let me give some examples of confusing information that I explored these last two weeks:

  • In an article titled “Real Data On Print Sales In the eBook Era — And the eBook Plateau”  Publisher’s Lunch reported that ebooks have “cannibalized” sales in trade paperback editions, not in hardcover editions. The conclusion comes from a presentation that Jonathan Nowell at Nielsen Book gave at Digital Book World last week.

I like numbers, and there are some fascinating ones here, and even more fascinating ones in Nowell’s slide show presentation but they are completely untethered to anything. By that, I mean, I could find no information on how the study was done, how many data points Nowell worked off of, and what he based his conclusions on.

Granted, Nielsen Book is the company that does Bookscan, so in theory, they have raw data, but as I examined thePublisher’s Lunch article (which is on Publisher’s Marketplace, mentioned last week), I found a statement that set my teeth on edge:

[Nielsen Book’s] quiet PubTrack Digital service — the only source of real, granular ebook sales data, based on invoices for ebook sales from participating publishers — shows adult fiction still accounting for 65 percent of all ebook sales.

Um, what? I’d never heard of PubTrack Digital. Where did it get its numbers? How does it track things?

. . . .

But here’s where PubTrack Digital comes in.

The description for that service isn’t based on a physical product. It doesn’t seem to go by channel either. It uses information from 30 publishers (according to this site) to examine “the top e-book categories, authors, and titles based on unit sales and revenue.”

So, thirty self-reporting publishers send their numbers (unverified, I guess) to PubTrack Digital in order to receive information from the other twenty-nine.

. . . .

Both PubTrack Digital and Publisher’s Lunch also tell me that PubTrack Digital is the only source for aggregated ebook sales in the country.

. . . .

But the data is self-reporting, which makes it flawed from the get-go.

. . . .

Digital Book World . . . hired PubTrack Digital specifically for the conference last week.

. . . .

“Digital Book World asked this guy to examine the impact of ebook sales on hardcover sales, making the study flawed in the first place.”

Words straight out of my subconscious. Of course, the study is flawed. Because we have no way of knowing if ebook sales have any impact on paper sales at all. No way. None.

We don’t know if people who bought paper books in the past are buying more books due to ebook availability while still buying the same number of paper books—or if those people stopped buying paper books altogether, or, if faced with a choice of ebook or paper, choose ebook. We don’t know.

And because we don’t know, looking to see if ebooks have had an impact on hardcover sales by looking at ebook sales and looking at hardcover sales doesn’t answer the question. We don’t know if hardcover sales remained steady (as Nowell reported) because hardcover readers are hardcover readers and have sought out the hardcovers in various markets. We don’t know if the rise of ebook sales over the years is because ebooks are cannibalizing print sales or because more readers have ereaders (or tablets or phones) and therefore have 24-hour access to books and can order easily and quickly.

We don’t know if the reason trade paper sales have gone down (which Nowell reports) because most people don’t like the format or because the number of retail outlets carrying trade paper books has gone down (witness the loss of many chain bookstore locations, where most trade papers were sold) or because given a choice between trade paper and ebook, the average reader will choose ebook.

. . . .

So we can’t do a legitimate study of how ebooks impact the sales of paper books until we have done a study that tells uswhether or not ebooks impact sales of paper books. Looking at the sales figures of hardcovers, ebooks, and trade paper does not give us that answer, because that data doesn’t address the initial question.

. . . .

[D]uring my entire career, the “numbers” in traditional publishing have always been based on extrapolations from one piece of evidence.

For example: traditional publishers used to base all of their accounting on books shipped not books sold. Why? Because books shipped was the only number traditional publishers could be sure of. The books sold wouldn’t be known for six to nine months, maybe even for a year or two. That’s because of the returns system. A bookstore could return a book, depending on the account the bookstore had with the distributor or publisher, for as long as a year after purchase.

. . . .

In other words, all of traditional publishing from the introduction of the returns system in the 1930s to the early part of this century was based on educated guesses by the sales department in consultation with editorial.

Not based on actual numbers. Not based on real sales figures. Not based on any kind of fact-based system at all.

The traditional publishing industry is in transition because it’s gotten gobbled up by international conglomerates who need real numbers for their own internal reports. Digital book and online sales actually allow for real numbers. Since the American Booksellers Association has taught independent booksellers how to manage their inventory (at the ABA’s Winter Institute), those booksellers have lowered their returns to a maximum of 25%.

So the traditional publishing data is becoming solid, but it’s not there yet. And because so many people in traditional publishing—particularly those in its upper echelons—have been in the business as long as I have, they’re a lot more accepting of wishy-washy numbers and fake statistics. Reports that have lovely graphics and percentages that seem real are still the norm in this industry, rather than studies based on real methodology.

. . . .

I know of no traditionally published bestselling author who regularly audits their agents and publishers. Not a one.

I know of a handful who have audited when something went wrong. But a standard business audit? Never.

Yet all of those traditionally published bestselling authors are million-dollar businesses, just like the local businesses our accountant/writer friend worked for are. These local businesses, these small town businesses, as a matter of course, audited their sources of revenue every year.

But writers, who make millions, and often funnel those millions through a single point—an agent and/or an agency and/or their publisher—never audit that agent, that agency, or their publisher.

In fact, several years ago, when I ran into some glaring errors in my payments from a former agency, I threatened to audit that agency. It was still handling the books my once-agent had sold for me. It wouldn’t release those books or split payments. When I pointed out the errors and demanded an audit,  the agency did the literary equivalent of flinging my books at me. The day after my threat, made in December, just before Christmas, that agency decided it no longer wanted 15% of my business, and sent letters to all of my publishers telling those publishers to send any monies owed directly to me. That agency—on its own volition—cleared me out of its entire company.

Within 24 hours of me stating that I wanted an audit, I was finally free of that agency.

This was—and is—one of the biggest, most famous agencies in New York, with several repeat #1 New York Times bestsellers. I found irregularities in royalty reports coming from overseas, irregularities that made it clear someone (probably a foreign rights affiliate agency) was pocketing my money—and, most likely—pocketing a lot more money from all those #1 bestsellers.

Because I personally know that those bestsellers don’t audit their revenue sources.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

PG says the insights Kris shares with authors are extremely valuable. You can make a direct donation to Kris at the bottom of the blog post or buy her books to show your appreciation.

What Nielsen Bookscan data tells us about ebook sales cycles & the ebook plateau

21 January 2015

From Publishing Technology:

Last week at Digital Book World, Nielsen’s Jonathan Nowell gave a presentation where he broke down how the ebook and print book markets were faring on both sides of the Atlantic.

. . . .

In the UK, a slight recovery in print book sales were coupled with remarks from the James Daunt, the managing director of Waterstones that Kindle ereader sales had ‘collapsed’, have been interpreted as a resurgence of ‘real’  books. Regardless of whether anyone in publishing benefits from efforts to talk down the industry’s future prospects, the narrative over ebooks reaching an alleged plateau of sales raises some interesting questions. Many of these relate to the way the industry collects and interprets data on its own performance. How reliable are the publishing industry’s estimates of ebook sales, for example? Do ebooks follow their own sales cycle apart from print books?

. . . .

Ebook sales cycles are different from print book sales cycles

. . . .

There isn’t (yet) enough data in Nielsen’s charts to be categorically certain of this, but it looks as though ebook sales have their own cycle. Sales of print books tend to peak in the last quarter of the year as consumers buy books as Christmas presents, though this trend may itself be in decline. Sales of ebooks, however, seem to peak in the first two quarters of the year, presumably as consumers load up on content to enjoy on the tablet, smartphone or ereader that they received as a Christmas present.

This trend has important implications for how commentators view the book market. Until now, the tradition has been to monitor the health of the book market in January following Christmas sales.

. . . .

Ebooks aren’t plateauing, adult fiction is declining

The second key takeaway from Nielsen’s figures was that ebook sales volumes did unquestionably take a year-on-year dip in Q2 and Q3, after enjoying their best Q1 ever. Looking more closely at where sales were allocated it appears that this can be attributed to flattish year-on-year performance for adult fiction. Strong sales of ebooks in Q1 2014 appear to have been driven by a one-off spike in sales of religious non-fiction.

Perhaps a more appropriate question to ask when faced with this data is not why did ebooks under-perform as a format, but why did adult fiction not hold its own as a category in 2014. While it has been possible for some industry watchers to brush over this fact by pointing towards strong sales in print for children’s books, the continued decline of adult fiction is a disquieting overall trend that can’t help but have a knock-on effect on the ebook market.

Link to the rest at Publishing Technology

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