Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Patreon, Copyright, and Personal Choice

10 May 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Patreon’s Terms of Use has a possible rights grab buried in them. This is the relevant passage:

By posting content to Patreon you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, reproduce, distribute, perform, publicly display or prepare derivative works of your content. The purpose of this license is to allow us to operate Patreon, promote Patreon and promote your content on Patreon. We are not trying to steal your content or use it in an exploitative way.

Now realize that contracts need to be read in their entirety, and this is just one paragraph. But the first sentence of this paragraph gave me pause when I first read it years ago, and clearly it upset PG as well.

That sentence at the end of the paragraph? Technically, it’s not theft if you sign away the copyright. So that “steal” thing is kind of a misdirection.

And here’s another point: Even though the FAQ and Patreon’s home page contradict the rights grab, the grab is in the Terms of Use. The reassurances aren’t.

Since I’ve worked in publishing for decades, I learned the difference between language in a contract—which the Terms of Use is, whether we like it or not—and reassurances from the company. Language in a contract can be enforced relatively easily. Reassurances are usually just that: a nice pat on the head accompanied by a don’t worry your pretty little head, sweetie.

. . . .

I saw that possible rights grab the day I logged onto Patreon and started my account. And, at that moment, decided not to ever filter any fiction through Patreon’s site.

I have very different attitudes about my fiction and my nonfiction. I write nonfiction for other people. I write fiction for myself. I’m a control freak about my fiction. I’m quite loose with my nonfiction.

And those distinctions are on purpose.

To put it another way, I look at the difference this way: I’m going to the Licensing Expo in June and while there, I will be acting as a licensor for my fiction IP. I’m not even going to mention the nonfiction IP.

I see lots of possibilities for fiction. I know there are a lot of ways I can exploit the nonfiction as well, but I’m not as interested. I only have so much time in the day, and I’ll spend it on fiction.

The upshot is that I’m extremely protective of my fiction. In no way do I want to get in a pissing contest with an internet company that deals with billions of dollars in revenue when it claims that it owns my IP.

. . . .

So when I saw that clause in the Patreon Terms of Use, I cast about for mitigating factors. There are several. The final sentence of the paragraph for one. The FAQ for another. Unfortunately, those things don’t clarify the possible rights grab. Instead, they muddy the waters. There’s enough confusion to make a lawsuit possible, which brought up the nightmare I listed above.

I felt disappointed that I couldn’t use Patreon as another revenue stream for my fiction. But I wasn’t so disappointed that I would throw caution to the wind and jump onto the platform for a few extra bucks.

I hesitated on the nonfiction as well, but ultimately decided that I could take a risk with the nonfiction that I would never take with the fiction. I even put up exclusive nonfiction content on Patreon, but it’s similar to what I put on my website, and it’s never something that I would want extra copyright protection on, like some kind of investigative reporting or a piece of creative nonfiction.

I’m very protective of my IP, but I’m fluid in the ways I exploit it. Making a judgement about which service to use and which one to abandon has become old hat for me.

I do that when I see contracts. I’ve walked away from short story contracts, foreign contracts, traditional publishing contracts, and movie deals. I’ve walked away from deals that would have paid me hundreds of thousands of dollars but would have taken my IP for that price. I have yet to find that price that “they” swear we all have—you know: where you will sell out your principles for a fortune. Offer me tens of millions for total ownership of my fiction IP and I will say no every single time.

Nonfiction, though…I’ll think about it. Maybe this comes from the fact that I got my nonfiction education in radio as a volunteer. In other words, I wrote nonfiction for free (or rather, as I saw it, in return for a master class in writing under fire). When I became proficient, I got paid (a tiny salary, but still). So there was money, but it was never the focus of the nonfiction.

. . . .

1. Know What You’re Signing. Make sure you understand the legalese. Make sure you know what each clause means and/or how a court might interpret those clauses in relation to all other clauses.

As PG mentioned in his long post, “Under general principles governing the interpretation of contracts, if there is a conflict between a specific and a general provision, the specific provision will govern.” He uses the Patreon Terms of Use as an example. The first sentence in the copyright grab is very specific. The second, slightly reassuring sentence, is very general.

In other words, the copyright grab has a good chance of holding up in a court challenge. Right now, we’re discussing a made-up court challenge that might never happen. So…

. . . .

6. Don’t Ever Delude Yourself About The Consequences. Ever. Don’t let the phrase, “Yeah, I know it’s bad, but they’ll never do that to me” out of your mouth. If something is in a contract, or part of a deal, then there’s a very real chance that that something will get activated. Someone—maybe not the person you’re negotiating with—will do that horrible thing allowed by the contract.

Be prepared for that. If you can live with that bad thing, then sign the deal. If you can’t, don’t sign.

The choice really is that binary.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

As usual, Kris has created an insightful post about a good way of thinking through a common business problem.

The most common response PG has received when he points out an egregious contract provision to the other side of a potential deal (the ones who wrote the contract) is something like, “We would never do that.”

PG’s reply is usually some version of, “That’s wonderful. I’m sure my client will be happy to hear that you won’t mind taking that provision out of the  contract.”

When a large organization is on the other side of a negotiation, about 99% of the time, the next statement is some version of, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that. This is our standard contract that everyone signs.” Sometimes it’s followed by a reference to computer accounting systems or, occasionally, an unnamed lawyer or department full of lawyers (“our lawyers”).

In ancient times, when contracts were engraved on brass or copper plates, changing a “standard contract” was certainly a laborious and time-consuming task. In the 21st century, every contract exists as an electronic document somewhere. If it’s electronic, it’s easy to change. On occasion, PG has offered to prepare a clean version of the contract without the nasty bits to help lessen the other side’s onerous workload.

In some cases, the counterparty with whom PG is negotiating honestly believes the contract can’t be changed. Someone higher in the organization has said so.

What the other side is really saying is, “We won’t change the contract for your client.”

For large publishers, without going into details, PG will assure one and all that the publishing contracts for best-selling authors tend to differ quite a lot from those publishers’ “standard contracts” which “can not be changed”.

PG has sometimes wondered if, when one acquiring editor at a publisher is saying, “I’m sorry, we can’t change our contract”, another editor is saying, “What language would you suggest?”

When someone is reviewing a contract, including a contract that will govern rights to a book or story they have written, it can be a useful exercise to ask, “What is the worst thing that could happen to my story or me if every single provision in this contract were strictly enforced according to the literal meaning of the words?”

Another useful exercise is to ask, “If people I didn’t like were to acquire this company, would I upset if they looked at the contract and did (or didn’t do) everything the contract permitted?”

One of the particular problems with traditional publishing contracts is atypical of business contracts in the non-publishing world.

Most business contracts last for a specific period of time – one year, three years, maybe even ten years. Such agreements can be extended or renewed if both sides agree. If someone enters into a bad contract, in the worst case, there is an end in sight for the obligations and restrictions contained in the agreement.

This is not the case for an author entering into what passes for a standard publishing agreement, at least in the US. As PG has noted many times before, language such as “the full term of the author’s copyright” can be expected to appear somewhere. In the US and many other countries, this means that contract is a lifetime contract for the author. The contract has a good potential for continuing for the lifetimes of the offspring of authors in their middle years as well.

If PG were king for a day, he would decree that all traditional publishing contracts would last for no more three years (maybe five if he was feeling charitable toward publishers that day).

At the end of the initial term, a publishing contract could be renewed for an additional three year period if, at that time, both the author and the publisher agreed that it would be renewed. If the contract was not renewed, the author would regain all rights to the book(s) covered by the contract.

If Amazon continues to compete with traditional publishers for the books of entrepreneurial authors and if publishers decided to respond by aggressively competing with Amazon, publishers might match Amazon’s KDP contract terms – either the author or Amazon can terminate the agreement at any time and remove the author’s books from Amazon’s store.

 

Punctuation, Voice, and Control

24 March 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In January, while I was preparing to teach a craft workshop here in Las Vegas,  I was happily reading a lovely essay on the comma in the Oregon Quarterly. The essay, titled “For Love of the Comma,” written by Kate Dyer-Seeley, is beautifully done, and as I read, I was thinking of recommending the piece on my monthly recommended reading list—until I hit this:

…I never flinch when editors suggest changes in a manuscript….When my first manuscript went through copy edits, every introductory comma was removed. I made note and intentionally didn’t use a single introductory comma in the next manuscript. But stop the presses! Don’t make assumptions or get attached to the pesky punctuator, because the next copy editor added every introductory comma back in.

Sigh. I wanted to intervene somehow. Because Dyer-Seeley, who writes mysteries as Ellie Alexander, has a lovely voice. That’s clear from her word choice alone.

However, she lets others dictate the most important part of her voice. Punctuation.

Punctuation is the most sophisticated tool that a writer has. The writers with the strongest voices also have the most eclectic punctuation. If you run a grammar checker on a passage from those writers’ works, the grammar checker will light up with “mistakes.” They’re not mistakes. They’re evidence of a writer who knows her craft and knows how to make the best of it.

Punctuation, like words themselves, is a tool for writers to use. And as is the case for any tool, you have to learn how to use it properly before your usage can become more sophisticated.

A lot of you who felt vindicated when I said the grammar checker would light up may now pack that vindication away. Most new writers misuse punctuation terribly. Those writers have no idea where to place semicolons or what an exclamation point does. They don’t know how to use quotation marks properly and would probably get the hives if I tried to explain nested quotation marks.

. . . .

The manuscript you have just finished writing is not your story. Your story lives in your mind. The manuscript is a tool that takes the story from your head and puts it in my head.

The very best writers use that manuscript tool so effectively that readers can actually hear the writer’s voice as they read. That’s why so many readers have a visceral response to writers like Stephen King or Nora Roberts. (Oh, I hate them. They can’t write. Or Oh, I love them. They could tell me stories forever.) That’s why so many English students and unsophisticated writers will complain that certain bestsellers “can’t write their way out of a paper bag.” Those reviewers, students, readers, and writers are all reacting to upper-level voice, without realizing it.

Writing itself comes from the oral tradition. In class, I always tell writers that we’re storytellers first, and writers second. Before the invention of paper and pens, stories only lived orally. A lot of great storytellers only speak their stories to this day. (Listen to stand-up comedians some time.)

Generally speaking, though, writers are introverts. We don’t want to stand up in front of our audiences and regale them with adventures. We don’t care (and might not ever want) to see the audience laugh at our jokes or cry at our tales of woe. We want to tell stories, yes, but we want to do so in the privacy of our own offices. We want others to enjoy the story, but at their own pace, and far away from us.

Hence the manuscript. Which is nothing more than a delivery system.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch


Priorities

3 March 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I write a lot. I always have. When I was in college, I wrote essays instead of taking tests, wrote fiction, and worked as a freelance nonfiction writer. I also worked in the news department of a listener-sponsored radio station, where we reported and wrote a half-hour newscast. I did that twice a week on top of everything else.

Nowadays, I write books, nonfiction, and short stories. I don’t have a target weekly word count, but I do put in time, almost daily. I’m generally disappointed if I get only 1,000 words in a day, and super pleased if I get over 5,000.

Remember, I only count new words, not rewrites or anything else. All of that happens at other times, not during my writing time.

My writing has been the constant in my life. I took writing classes in college, not to learn from the instructors (most of whom had less success than I did even then) but because I needed to block out time for writing in my busy life, and I knew myself well enough to understand that if I was writing for a class, I would block out time every week.

Mind games. Writing is all about mind games and understanding yourself.

Even though I don’t understand myself as well as I think I do.

For years, I would say that I get so much writing done because I have no life. Turns out that was true. Due to the constrained circumstances I lived in on the Oregon Coast, I had no life—or very little of one. I couldn’t go out to movies or dinner with friends; I had no opportunity to see concerts or plays; I couldn’t take in-person continuing education classes; and I couldn’t make the one to two hour one-way drive that would take me to the bigger cities, because I couldn’t guarantee I would make the ride home.

I had the time to write—when I was healthy, which was rare. So I learned how to write while ill.

The key, for me, turned out to be a structure I didn’t have to think about. I knew what I needed to do—not in the deadline sense, but in the daily sense. It took me a long time to form that structure, but once I had it, I could function inside it almost instinctively. When my circumstances changed due to our move to Las Vegas in 2018, it took me weeks to realize that I had demolished my structure when I changed locations. I had to rebuild from scratch.

Rebuilding forced me to reexamine my priorities. I can’t build a structure until I know what I put first, second, and third in my life. So, priorities before scheduling—or I’ll blow everything up and get nothing done.

. . . .

I was irritated to learn that exercise made me feel better. All those studies that say eating right and exercising will improve your health and mood? Those damn things are right. I wish they weren’t, to be honest. It would be easier to sit on my butt and eat lots of bad-for-me stuff. But when I do that, I feel much, much worse.

So eating right and exercising makes me feel better. The other bonus is that I sleep better. (Yeah, also irritating.) And the third bonus? I have more energy. Even as my health declined, my energy level remained consistent because of my commitment to exercise.

. . . .

Sometimes, when I was really really sick, I had a word count quota. Or an hours-at-the-desk quota. I try not to work with quotas, though, because I love to write. What’s the point of doing it otherwise? All of my efforts are aimed at keeping the writing fun.

Except…I would rather be reading.

So, I have learned the hard way that reading is a reward for a good day’s writing. The same with any other kind of story I could consume. No TV shows until I’ve written; no movie until I’ve written; no games until I’ve written.

Sometimes I’ll stumble around my condo or my neighborhood, grumping aloud at myself: You’re not writing, are you? Shouldn’t you be writing? And if I’m not tending to my health or doing something for my relationship with Dean, that complaint is a valid one. And one I need to listen to.

Sure, I would rather read a book or sometimes, I’d rather clean the cat boxes than write. Especially if some project is going slowly.

Email isn’t writing. Research isn’t writing. Rewriting isn’t writing. Only new words is writing.

Remembering that has made me prolific, even with all the health problems.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Business Musings: Ghostwriting, Plagiarism, and the Latest Scandal

26 February 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from interviewers that I have never gotten before. They ask, “Are you going to join the latest trend and hire ghostwriters to put out more books in your series?”

So far, I have managed to refrain (at least on podcasts) from responding, “Are you fucking kidding me?” and simply say, “No, I’m too much of a control freak.”

But I have a longer answer in my head. The answer is complicated. Let me see if I can break it down for you.

Readers don’t buy plots. They buy a writer’s point of view, her style, and the way she tells a story. Some idiot whose name I will not repeat and whose blog I will not link to wrote in response to the latest scandal (which I will discuss below): “What constitutes plagiarism in a genre in which formulaic storylines and themes are the norm?”

If the idiot understood copyright, she would know the answer to that question: What gets copyrighted is the form the work takes, not tropes or the formula.

Readers like tropes and formulas. They like familiar stories well told. They also like familiar stories with twists that take the familiar and make it something new.

Readers follow writers, as a brand, and readers are very smart. Readers know that a book by James Patterson will have one voice, but a book by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro will have a completely different voice. Readers will often say (even in the reviews) that they might like Patterson by himself, but refuse to read the books he’s written in collaboration with someone else.

The voice changes when someone else writes a book in the same series. Ian Fleming’s James Bond is not the same as Jeffrey Deaver’s, no matter how hard Deaver (whose work I love) tried to catch Fleming’s Bond.

If I want to remain true to my characters and my readers, I will never bring in a ghostwriter. Never.

If I worked with another writer, that writer would get credit in a shared byline.

. . . .

I’m also aware of the fact that writing in someone else’s universe is a skill that not every writer has. I’ve played in other people’s universes. I’ve written more tie-in novels than I want to think about. My favorites were Star Trek novels, but I have written a Star Wars novel, and X-Men, and several others, often in collaboration with my husband Dean. Note that these are media properties that already have more than one writer on board. In fact, they have an entire team of people putting the properties together, because media properties are, by definition, assembled collaboratively.

And still, people oversee these novelizations. The licensors review them with a fine-tooth comb. They make sure that nothing violates the rules of the universe and that the characters are consistent and that everything fits into what the fans expect.

. . . .

Because fans get angry when someone writes something that doesn’t fit in an established universe. Some established universes bring in lawyers. And all involve contracts state in unequivocal terms that the writer is writing original material in a particular universe, and that the words and writings are the writer’s own, not cribbed from other sources.

Here’s the thing about contracts: the lawyers who write them try to see every eventuality, but sometimes they miss. And when they miss, they rectify that miss in the next contract. So the fact that there are long clauses about originality and plagiarism and libel and all of those things in traditional publishing work-for-hire contracts means that somewhere, somewhen, someone plagiarized or libeled someone in a work-for-hire project.

. . . .

When I watched the collaboration start in the indie world—and when one big selling KDP author told me that he doesn’t have contracts with his collaborators because they all trust each other, well, I just about had a fit. I tried to talk him into contracts, but no, that’s a trust thing, apparently. And it’ll bite him one day, in a very bad way.

Then, shortly thereafter, I learned that dozens of big selling indie authors can’t produce books fast enough to game the Amazon algorithms, so those writers started hiring ghostwriters to produce more books, so the writer had time to write more books too.

I remembered thinking: that’s not how it works. A writer with a dozen ghostwriters would be spending all her time overseeing those writers, not writing more. She’d have less time not more.

Unless she hired someone to oversee them. And then she’d have to trust that person implicitly. I thought about the infrastructure it would take to maintain that, the readers and the lawyers for the contracts and thought, well that’s a blog post one day, warning writers away from doing this.

. . . .

In the last twenty-four hours, things got even more complicated. A few people Serruya had hired as ghostwriters –and who quit when they saw what they had to work with—claim that Serruya cobbled the books together from random quotes from various novels, and had the ghostwriters polish the damn things.

. . . .

[W]hat’s to stop the ghostwriters from plagiarizing? It’s not their name on the manuscript. And I know some of the writers who are hiring ghostwriters. Those writers aren’t vetting the books. They’re not doing the kind of due diligence that college professors and high school teachers do to see if the writing is plagiarized.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG will add a note to the description of standard legal contracts in the OP.

Standard contracts that a large organization uses never get shorter. Over time, they grow. When a situation arises that hasn’t been clearly addressed in the contract, a new contract provision is drafted and inserted. If a new court decision comes down relating to the subject of the contract, a clarifying paragraph is added. If a lawyer for the company sees a similar contract from another company that includes a provision the lawyer hasn’t seen before, the new provision will be dropped into the standard contract.

If the contract is used over a period of several years, it grows and grows and grows. A ten-page contract becomes a twenty-page contract on its way to becoming a thirty-page contract.

If counsel is not paying attention to a long contract, a new provision might conflict with or create an ambiguity in the meaning of a prior provision in the contract, so the careful lawyer will do at least a quick review of the entire document to avoid this problem.

On the question of copyright protection for contracts, technically, there is nothing in the U.S. copyright laws that precludes registering a contract for copyright protection. Undoubtedly, it has happened at some time, but PG hasn’t heard of any litigation filed by one lawyer successfully asserting infringement of a copyright on a contract by another lawyer. (He would be happy to learn about such litigation in the comments if anyone knows of such happening.)

Law books containing form contracts of various types are available for purchase through major legal publishers. As far as copyright for individual contracts in such a book, the purpose for which attorneys purchase such publications is to use them as a basis for drafting contracts for their own clients. One might argue an implied license to do so accompanies each such book.

Back to a copyright claim for an individual contract, PG suggests it might be difficult for the author to establish he/she had not utilized material created by others in the creation of the contract and to demonstrate the contract as a whole was the result of original creative work by the author.

PG will note that an interesting lawsuit was filed several years ago by an insurance company which had labored to create a plain-English version of its previous policies and related documents which were definitely-not-plain-English. Another insurance company copied the plain-English versions verbatim and was sued by the first company. In that case, the court found the first company had a valid copyright to its documents and the second company had infringed those copyrights.

In the fraternity/sorority of lawyers, PG suspects any attorney who claimed a copyright in a contract form would certainly be regarded as a jerk. Again, lawyers copy from the legal work of other lawyers all the time, in part, as a way of saving clients the expense of paying a lawyer to create a contract from a blank screen.

The Growing Importance of Intellectual Property

31 January 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I need to be clear as I start this post. We writers create intellectual property. We license our copyrights. We do not sell stories. In fact, the stories we tell, along with their titles, are often not copyrightable. The form in which we tell that story—the order of the events, the order of the words we use,—those things are copyrightable, but the basic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl discovers she’s fine on her own storyline can and does fuel a thousand books and movies. (That’s why so many memes over the holiday season made fun of the romance movies on Hallmark. Because the movies—all copyrighted in their own right, all different in the copyright sense—share a lot in common.)

If you don’t understand copyright and you consider yourself a professional writer, then you do not understand the business you are in. If you have published a novel, traditionally or indie, and you do not understand copyright, you are volunteering to get screwed over and over and over again. I say this often, and I’m saying it loudly again, because the trend for 2019 and beyond is that every organization you do business with will try to take a piece (if not all) of your copyright on each and every one of your projects.

Your job is to protect that copyright.

. . . .

Forbes actually published an article in fall of 2018 titled “What Authors Should Do When Their Publisher Closes.” You can click over there if you want. The advice isn’t good, because as someone in the article says, what an author should do varies based on the author’s contract. And if the author has an agent, then they’re probably screwed. If the author doesn’t understand copyright, then they’re definitely screwed.

. . . .

I recommend publishing indie, because that’s the best way to protect yourself and your writing income. You’ll have a career if you do that. Your career might vanish on you if you try to remain traditional. Or, rather, you will write as a “hobby” while you make your living doing something else.

Yes, I’m being harsh, but that’s because the intellectual property apocalypse that I’ve been warning you about is upon us. The trends are there, and the signs that traditional publishing (and all of the other big entertainment organizations) know about the value of intellectual property are becoming clearer and clearer.

. . . .

For years now, the Big 5 traditional publishers have had contracts that essentially transfer the entire copyright of a novel from the author to them. The contracts don’t say that explicitly, but when you read the contract as a complete document (which is how you should read it), you realize that the sum total of what the clauses mean is that the writer retains no part of the copyright, and is only entitled to a tiny percentage of the money that copyright earns.

The reason these contracts changed about a decade ago had nothing to do with publishing and everything to do with mergers. As these publishing companies became part of big international conglomerates, many of them entertainmentconglomerates, the legal teams redrafted the contracts to do the copyright grabs.

Most writers had no idea what they were signing, and most of their agents didn’t either. Agents are not trained lawyers. A handful of the big agencies have lawyers on staff, but most of those agencies are concerned with making the agency money, not with making the writer money. So a lot of the contracts are structured to pay and protect the agent, while bilking the writer.

. . . .

Up until a year or so ago, most of the Big Five continued to operate like traditional publishing companies have since the 1990s—a focus on publishing a lot of titles, hoping that some will stick and become bestsellers. But that strategy isn’t working, and sales are down precipitously.

. . . .

[Simon & Schuster] has been in a media conglomerate since the 1980s. I’m not going to go through its tortured history, which runs from Paramount to Viacom and beyond, but realize this: It became part of the CBS Corporation officially in 2005. Around then, it became impossible to get book rights reverted, which is one of the tricks that is recommended for writers in the Forbes article I cited above. (How 1995. Sigh.)

S&S has experimented with electronic books since the 1990s. Dean and I personally made a lot of money in the early 2000s when S&S realized they hadn’t licensed e-rights for Star Trek books. (Dean and I wrote a bunch of them in the 1990s). S&S has tried to have a self-publishing arm since 2012, and they’re doing a lot of things that require writers to pay for services that publishers used to provide.

. . . .

The more IP a company acquires, the more its value goes up. Even if they don’t create anything from that IP. Acquiring a novel’s copyright—with all its potential spinoffs, TV shows, toys, comics—increases a company’s value tremendously.

Read that paragraph again, because the information therein is the key to this whole piece.

The more IP a company acquires, the more its value goes up. Your novel is IP. If they acquire it, their bottom line goes up, even if they never do anything with that IP. Got that?

That’s why S&S stopped, in 2000 or so, reverting the rights to the novels they acquired. Those novels equal more earnings potential—and they allow the company to maintain a value that it wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’ve been warning writers about this copyright grab by corporations for some time, but it was easy to ignore me because the Big 5 have not been (for the most part) exploiting (the legal term for developing or making use of) that copyright.

S&S finally is. That’s what Simon & Schuster’s CEO Carolyn Reidy’s heady year-end report was really all about. She called 2018 “the most successful year in Simon & Schuster’s history,” and yet she didn’t cite a single print bestseller as something that caused the success.

Instead, she touted the rise in audio . . . as well as a mention that sent a little shiver through me.

She wrote:

…[backlist sales now] comprise a higher portion of our revenue than at any time in memory…while readers wanting the tried and true is an industry-wide phenomenon, our concerted effort during the last few years to acquire books with the potential for long-term backlist sales has yielded dividends.

This article does not specify what exactly she means by “backlist sales.” Does she mean actual ebook and print sales, or other licensing, such as foreign rights and so on? Clearly S&S is exploiting the audio rights clauses in their contracts.

What is clear, however, is that a big traditional publisher has finally figured out that not only does their backlist have value in raising the company’s worth, but it also has earnings potential that can be exploited in 2019.

Why does this send a chill through me? Because if one traditional publisher learns it, the others will learn it as well. And the ability of writers who have sold their work into traditional publishers to get the rights reverted will go down to almost nil.

Big traditional publishers will finally join their counterparts in the entertainment industry—the movie/TV companies, the music studios, the game companies—in demanding control of every aspect of the copyright from the original author.

Which means that if an author signs one of those agreements, the author will get pennies on the dollar (if that) for any rights—audio, movie, TV—rather than the kind of earnings writers could have gotten as recently as 10 years ago.

. . . .

And those of you who licensed mass market rights a few years ago, thinking you’d get your ebooks into stores, you probably already signed away most of the copyright, particularly if you went with Harlequin or Simon & Schuster.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

As usual, Kris incorporates a lot of intelligent business thought and advice into the OP (and her other posts in this series).

As PG has mentioned before, he has negotiated, drafted and/or reviewed a great many contracts during his legal career, including some large technology copyright and patent licensing agreements. As he has also mentioned before, the typical contracts between authors and traditional publishers are some of the most unfair and one-sided agreements he has seen.

In a prior era during which it was impossible for an author’s works to reach any sort of meaningful audience without a publisher to cover the costs of printing books and provide meaningful access to buyers for large numbers of physical bookstores, perhaps the value of a publisher’s services was an extremely large portion of the income generated by sales of a book.

However, in an age in which:

  • Amazon is the largest English language bookseller in the world; and
  • Opens its electronic doors to self published authors on terms substantially equivalent to those it provides commercial publishers; and
  • Ebooks have the highest profit margin of any edition of a book a publisher sells; and
  • Ebook editing, formatting and cover design of a quality comparable to that provided by a commercial publisher can be had for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars;

the real value of a publisher for a typical author compared to the effective cost of a publisher to that author has declined precipitously.

PG was about to discuss the value of branding for either an ebook or a printed book, but he will be uncharacteristically brief.

Does anyone go to an online or offline bookstore seeking out a Random House book? Of course not. They’re looking for an author, a genre, etc.

With respect to promoting and selling books, which brand name is most valuable, James Patterson’s or Little, Brown and Company’s?

Without singling out any particular literary agent or agency, PG will say, as a general observation, that agents famous and obscure don’t do anything significant to improve the contract terms for publishing contracts other than increasing the amount of the advance on some occasions. In particular, agents rarely if ever do anything to address the issues Kris discusses in the OP.

In some types of contracts — consumer loans, for example — federal and/or state legislatures have passed laws that prevent commercial lenders from including some contract provisions that are unfair or harmful to borrowers. Compared to the number of individuals who take out loans to purchase a house, automobile or dishwasher, however, authors are a tiny constituency and elected officials have much bigger fish to fry than commercial publishers.

However, perhaps as a result of such consumer protections, some authors may believe they are somehow protected from  unfair provisions in publishing contracts between themselves and large publishers. That belief is incorrect.

Some of the most unfair provisions in a typical publishing contract are presented in the most innocuous manner imaginable.

 

 

Finally, there is nurturing. Publishers don’t just produce books. They nurture. Literary agents also provide nurturing in case publishers fall short in any way.

Like a baby duckling, a baby author needs to be nurtured and petted and encouraged and gently guided if she/he is to grow into a beautiful swan.

Who better to nurture such a delicate creature than a Kommanditgesellschaft auf Aktien headquartered in Gütersloh?

Off the top of his head, other than publishing, PG can’t ever remember ever having a business discussion that included the word nurture or any of its variants.

PG is reminded of a quote attributed to former president Harry S. Truman, “If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”

PG suggests that if you want someone to watch over you, steer clear of the publishing business.

.



Business Musings: Audio

19 January 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Publishing analysts have said for years that if the disruption hadn’t hit with ebooks, the story of publishing in the past decade would have been audio. By that, the analysts mean audio rights. They have become increasingly important and will remain so.

Here in the States, where so many of us commute to our jobs, digital audio created a revolution around 2010 or so. Rather than buy a CD or a tape to use in the car (or rent them), folks with the right kind of vehicle could play their digital audiobooks in through their car’s sound system, often by linking their phone to the system.

That has become more common rather than less. But the revolution continues. Joanna Penn, on the Creative Penn, was the first in my experience to point out that voice-first devices, like Amazon Alexa or Google Home would be able to play digital audiobooks. So someone could go from the car to the house without headphones and pick up on the audiobook exactly where they had left off.

For a while, Amazon enabled this too, by offering an inexpensive audio version of a book if you’d already bought the book in another format. Like so many things Amazon, the cheap early adaption part of this vanished, only after people got hooked, of course.

A lot of books aren’t in audio—it’s expensive to produce a good audiobook—so readers have defaulted to having their dry computer voice (Siri or Alexa) simply read the text. Purists complain about this, but when you’re desperate for audio story, you will listen any way you can.

Audio story is expanding almost daily. Podcasts have moved from a group of people talking or someone interviewing someone else into the storytelling format. Some of those podcasts are nonfiction, but many are fiction, and have become a gateway into reading novels and other fictional products. (As I write this, I just got hit with three different ideas that I want to do if only I have the time.)

. . . .

Audio is expensive to produce and it takes time to earn back the initial investment, without proper set up. I’ll get to that below, but first, let’s look at #voicefirst and Voice SEO.

Voice SEO is search engine optimization for voice-commands. With the growth of things like Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple’s Siri, voice commands are becoming more and more common. They can handle relatively easy commands, but not complicated ones or something said in an accent that the system doesn’t recognize.

. . . .

A lot of people make fun of readers who ask their Google Home or Apple’s Siri to read a book to them. Right now, the voice is flat and often mispronounces words. (My favorite version of Siri, whom we have dubbed “The British Guy,” says Wig-Wham for wigwam, and mispronounces every Spanish word he encounters. Which is tough here in Las Vegas, when he’s the one giving driving directions for the GPS. (Wigwam is a major street.) And don’t get me started on how badly he pronounces Hawaiian words, which are also common here.)

The flatness and mispronunciation won’t be a forever thing, though. The read-aloud feature will probably never be as good as a human performance. (The science fiction writer in me forced me to use the word “probably.”) But more and more people will use the feature as the reading improves.

Because the future of audio is moving so rapidly that I missed significant developments by taking nine months off, it’s more essential than ever for writers to hold onto their audio rights.

However, traditional publishers are snapping up audio rights with every single book contract now, which is rather like snapping up movie rights or TV rights. And writers are letting the publishers do it—usually on the advice of idiot agents.

Audio is the reason that Simon & Schuster’s Carolyn Reidy declared 2018 the best year ever for the company—the growth of audio and backlist sales, which I will get to in a future part of this series. S&S has its own audio division, and it increased its title count in 2018. The company has also started producing original content, just like Audible has.

Reidy expects S&S’s audio division to become even more important. She told Publisher’s Weekly:

With even more audio retailers coming on board, and the further proliferation of smart speakers and other listening devices, audio will remain a growth engine for us.

Audio will be a growth engine for all of us, if we can manage it. In addition to the audio retailers growing almost by the day, ways for indie writers to produce their own audiobooks and get them into the market have grown in 2018 as well.

Findaway Voices, in particular, has become a go-to site for writers who want to produce their own audiobooks.

. . . .

The key here with audio rights—with all of your rights, really—is maintaining control of them. Watch your contracts. If you’re publishing traditionally, reserve your audio rights. Do not sell them as part of a package to your traditional publisher, no matter how big those companies are.

If you’re indie publishing, watch your contracts, particularly if an audiobook publisher comes to you. As I mentioned above in the bit about S&S, they now have an entire audio division and are producing original content. Which means that they might contract for audio first.

The problem with all of the S&S contracts I’ve seen—the problem with most of the Big 5 contracts I’ve seen—is that they won’t accept a license for a single right. They want to license the entire property, even if they don’t exercise all of those rights. Which means that by licensing audio to them, you might lose paperback rights as well. Or the entire copyright, since that seems to be the M.O. for many of these companies.

Be very careful.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch



Planning For 2019 Part 2

4 January 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 The biggest issue for the latter half of 2018 was book sales. Indies and traditional publishers both complained that book sales were down, and that a crisis was imminent. Their ideas of crisis were different, but they come from a similar source, which is the current state of disruption in the publishing industry.

. . . .

I’m doing this short series focusing on 2018 with an eye toward 2019 because I firmly believe that you cannot plan for the future if you don’t know where you’re standing right now. (And a note on terminology: I’ll be using indie published writer instead of self-published writer because indie writers are running a business, whether they like it or not. I want the terminology to reflect that.)

This series is important to all kinds of fiction writers, whether they’re traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid of both. Please remember that I write this blog for the writer who wants a long-term fiction career, so keep that in mind as well.

. . . .

What started this discussion were some alarming numbers from the Association of American Publishers, which can track fiction sales through traditional venues  but not, mind you, sales figures from Amazon, which is the largest bookseller in the United States. (Some of the Amazon numbers were reported to AAP from the publishers themselves.) There’s a lot of self-reporting in the old fashioned way that publishing numbers get gathered, from independent bookstores telling their numbers (without a fact check) to publishers doing the same.

Still, no small bookstore will deliberately underreport its numbers unless there is a business or tax reason to do so, which doesn’t seem to factor in here. Verifying the numbers from both booksellers and publishers has never been part of book sales reporting, not even after computers came into the picture. (Although, with the assistance of numbers from Bowker and book distributors, the introduction of computers did help.)

The numbers that caught everyone’s attention were two-part.

1) Sales of adult fiction titles fell 16% from 2013 to 2017.

2) That 16% represents a rather large dollar figure. Sales went from $5.21 billion to $4.38 billion.

Realize we are talking about traditional publishing here, not indie publishing at all. Those numbers aren’t really baked into the book sales numbers in any significant way. (Remember, Amazon isn’t counted here, and Kindle Unlimited isn’t reflected here at all.)

The scarier number for traditional publishers appears deeper in the article. This number comes from Bookscan, which only tracks print sales. I’m going to quote PW here. The italics at the end of the sentence are my emphasis added.

…the BookScan figures show that no fiction title topped one million copies sold in 2016 or 2017 at outlets that report to the service.

For an industry that used to sell print titles well over a million on a regular basis (at the turn of the century and before) that’s a scary, scary, scary number. For comparison, I tried to go to 1998 with a quick web search of Publisher’s Weekly, but I only managed to find 1999. It’ll do.

There were six trade paperback fiction bestsellers that sold one million copies plus, and trade was the smallest selling fiction category at the time.  There were more mass market paperback bestsellers than I wanted to count—and these listings began at 2 million sales plus. Leading that list with 2 books was John Grisham at 4.1 million and 3.875 million respectively.  Eight hardcover novels sold more than 1 million copies, including (again) a John Grisham.

. . . .

Last year, John Grisham admitted to the New York Times that his novels sell half of what they sold in 2007, which was less than they sold in 1997.  Here’s how Janet Maslin of the Times reported his comments:

He doesn’t worry much about book sales either, except he’s very alert to the numbers. “The biggest change for me has been that I’m selling about half the books I sold before the Great Recession,” he said. “Maybe a little bit more than half. This is discretionary spending, and people are not spending.”

Savvy readers will see that I used this same quote last year in discussing book sales.  Nothing has changed in the year or so since I wrote that post.

Until the last ten years or so, traditional publishing dominated the marketplace. They could sell millions of copies to readers because there was no other game in town. Nothing competed with traditionally published novels.

. . . .

We are at Stage Three in the publishing disruption, though, and traditional publishers are no longer the only game in town. Not even close. And they’ve got a really serious issue: their business model was built in the previous century. To make matters even worse, they’ve consolidated. None of the big traditional publishers are nimble in anyway. They’re part of large conglomerates who expect major earnings from each corporation under their huge umbrella.

In an upcoming part of this series, I will examine how traditional publishers are looking to keep themselves relevant to their corporate masters. It will change the traditional publishing model forever, but it won’t benefit writers in any way.

. . . .

Traditional publishers are terrified by these shrinking sales numbers. Their solutions are based in their old model thinking—and, unfortunately for them, are mostly impossible.

The reason I chose John Grisham as my example is three-fold. First, there’s that lovely quote he gave the New York Times. Second, I looked up his numbers last year and the current ones are this: His books now sell in one month what they used to sell in one week. Sometimes in one day.  The third reason? He’s still sitting on top of the bestseller list, as one of the most important big guns, twenty-seven years after he hit it.

He’s on the list, Nora Roberts is still on the list, Stephen King…

Let’s go back to that Publisher’s Weekly article that sparked so much discussion. A lot of the discussion was about what’s “wrong” with fiction sales. The discussion is lost in that traditional publishing bubble, thinking they’re still the only game in town.

They talk about movies and TV as competition (what is this? 1960?) and claim that people are either reading nonfiction or aren’t reading much at all. Worse, they’re blaming Amazon for much of their problems—refusing to see that Amazon is their biggest client.

. . . .

There is one line in here, though, that speaks to the problem that traditional publishers have had since 1997 or so—and they have not solved, despite being told over and over and over again that they need to rethink this.

They’re not building author careers. Or, as Peter Hildick-Smith of The Codex Group (which many industry insiders use for market research and pre-publication book testing) told PW:

Creating a dependable, bestselling author is a multibook investment that requires different strategies and great persistence. It’s not a one-and-done launch.

. . . .

The essence here is that the author is the brand, not the publisher, and traditional publishers are no longer putting the money into developing new brands. Which is why you’re seeing the same old same old on trad pub bestseller lists, and why the sales figures are going down.

There’s a lot to read out in the marketplace. Readers who like legal thrillers don’t have to read John Grisham. They can read a variety of other authors in a variety of different ways.

Hildick-Smith put his finger on the rest of the problem. He said that “so much inexpensive genre fiction [is] now available at ‘subprime price points under $5’ (from such channels as Kindle Unlimited), publishers must invest to develop brand name authors who can command premium-price loyalty.”

. . . .

Traditional publishing is not going to build new writers into bestsellers. They’re not even trying. That’s clear from a quote from Paul Bogaards, a vice president of Alfred P. Knopf who is apparently still dining out on his 2009 acquisition of Stieg Larsson’s books. In talking about rebuilding fiction sales, Bogaards is simply quoted as saying this:

There will be another big novel. There always is.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch


As PG was reading this excellent post by Kris, he was also thinking about flightless birds.

PG claims no special expertise about flightless birds, but he understands that most/all flightless birds have vestigial wings. Their distant ancestors could fly, but, over time, for one reason or another, flying became less important and they lost the ability to do so.

Some species of flightless birds live exclusively on isolated islands where few predators are found. These birds deal with whatever threats remain for them without needing to fly.

Other species of flightless birds have become very large – the ostrich and emu, for example. Given their size, they are no longer potential prey for predators like weasels and small cats which could pose a threat to smaller birds.

On occasion, a small flock of wild turkeys strolls through the grounds of Casa PG. They can fly and run and, particularly in flocks, intimidate a small carnivore.

These wild turkeys bear little resemblance to the domestic turkeys which may provide the main course for your dinner next Thanksgiving. The domesticated turkeys have been bred to develop outsized breasts, the better to provide more white meat which many consumers prefer. However, the domestic turkeys are so large and heavy, they are completely unable to fly. At best, they can run for a short distance while flapping their wings.

So back to books and publishing.

Thirty or forty years ago, there were a great many more publishers in the United States than there are today. There were more large traditional publishers in New York, some of which operated under the management of their founder or founder’s heirs and including many medium-sized publishers that have now been absorbed into giant conglomerates. There were also quite a number of successful regional publishers focused on serving a particular geographic area and many more specialty publishers that focused on particular interest groups – golf, military history, regional cooking, hunting and fishing, local history, cowboys, etc.

Today, traditional US publishing is much more concentrated, with the “Big Five”, five huge publishers, all of which are located within a short cab ride of each other on the island of Manhattan and are subsidiaries of even larger worldwide media conglomerates.

One might be tempted to compare them to giant flightless birds, living within a monoculture comprised of wealthier-than-average white people who, by and large, attended the same 20-25 colleges and haven’t had any real jobs outside of publishing. All five Big Five CEO’s are white. Four are male.

Each of the large publishers relies heavily on sales through traditional bookstores. Barnes & Noble is their largest bricks and mortar customer.

Perhaps the best example of the dangers of the Big Five monoculture is the illegal price-fixing conspiracy that began in 2009 and was designed to allow Apple to derail Amazon’s ebook business.

In 2009, Big Publishing was not happy with Amazon. The publishers had finally decided they needed to start selling ebook versions of their books. However, in the typical fashion of organizations who felt entitled to exert control to protect their quasi-monopoly, the publishers did not want ebooks to cannibalize the sales of their printed books. The publishers had for some time discouraged bookstores from aggressive price discounting. This policy worked well with smaller customers, but Borders and Barnes & Noble were large enough that they were less subject to this pressure

Accordingly, the publishers set the prices of their ebooks high so as not to “devalue” their books in the eyes of customers and to encourage customers to continue purchasing printed books through traditional bookstores and restrain Amazon’s book sales.

Amazon was not cooperating with this strategy, however, and was selling ebooks from the large traditional publishers for $9.99, even if the company had to take a loss on each ebook sale.

Approximately every three months, the CEOs of the Big Six (Penguin and Random House had not yet merged) would meet in private dining rooms in New York restaurants without counsel or assistant present, in order to discuss the common challenges they faced, including most prominently Amazon’s pricing policies. (When PG first learned about this practice, he was absolutely astounded. It laid the groundwork for a classic slam-dunk victory in the later antitrust case. Any lawyer who learned a client was doing this would be hoisting red flags from morning until night. It was a profoundly stupid practice.)

In 2009, Apple was preparing for the announcement of the first iPad in early 2010. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a very sick man.

Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. By early 2009, he was a very sick man and had lost a great deal of weight. He took a medical leave of absence in late January and had a complete liver transplant in April, 2009. Following the transplant, he was better, but still not completely well. He would die from his illness in 2011.

In late 2009, Jobs’ lieutenant, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, set up meetings with the top executives of the six largest New York Publishers. Apple wanted to announce the iBookstore in conjunction with the iPad announcement but had concerns about Amazon’s pricing.

Cue told the publishers that Apple wanted to sell the majority its e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99. Apple also adopted the agency model of pricing, wherein the publishers would control the price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission.

However, Apple didn’t want to be underpriced by Amazon, so it would insist on an agreement with the publishers that Apple could match any price at which Amazon was selling an ebook.

Leading up to the agreement of five of the publishers to agree to Apple’s terms (Random House abstained), they continued their private dining room discussions and called each other over 100 times in the week before signing the agreement.

On the day of the iPad launch, On the day of the launch, Jobs was asked by a reporter why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”

The plot quickly fell apart and the Justice Department sued the five big publishers and Apple for conspiring to illegally fix the prices of ebooks. Later, the Justice Department publicly humiliated management of the Big Five by requiring an admission of guilt and forcing monetary settlements.

The whole ebook price-fixing fiasco is an excellent illustration of one of the most serious weaknesses of the groupthink monoculture that governs Big Publishing. Even after their price-fixing fiasco, they have not made any meaningful changes to avoid becoming even bigger, fatter domesticated turkeys who are unable to respond in a meaningful way to the changes in the publishing business.

While PG believes the five huge flightless birds do not have a bright future before them, as Kris suggests, indie authors need to keep their eyes open and options ready to respond to changes in the book business.

Amazon is not the same as it was nine years ago. In 2009, its net sales revenue was $24 billion. In 2017, it was $178 billion. In 2009, Amazon was filled with managers who remembered when the company was a scrappy little underdog and maintained that mindset.

Between 2009 and 2019, a lot of new people have become Amazon executives. To the best of PG’s knowledge, the KDP group has substantially changed since then. It has undoubtedly grown into a huge organization. In 2009, Amazon had a total of 24,000 employees. Today, it has 566,000.

PG continues to be pleased with Amazon, as reflected by its usual treatment of authors. However, with a large organization, things can always change and indie authors need to be wise and ready to change when change is thrust upon them or when change can provide better opportunities for their books and their business.

 

The Current State of Disruption (Planning for 2019 Part 1)

27 December 2018

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 For years now, I’ve done a year-end review, examining what happened and where the industry stands.

. . . .

I wrote down lists and links and reviewed notes and thought long and hard about things…and still couldn’t figure out how to wrap my arms around what I wanted to talk about.

I initially thought about combining the different parts of the industry under topics, and examine the topic rather than that part of the industry. But the industry is diverging in some important ways, making that way of writing these blogs exceedingly difficult.

This afternoon, it struck me: I write the year-end reviews so that I can focus on what to expect from the year to come.

So rather than look in detail at what happened in 2018, I’ll be looking at what happened with an eye toward the future.

. . . .

A reminder: I write these weekly business blogs for other writers who want to make or already have a long-term career. If you’re just starting out, some of this stuff won’t apply to you. If you’re a hobbyist who never wants to quit your day job, again, some of this stuff won’t apply to you. Don’t ask me to bend the blog toward you. There are a number of sites that cater to the beginner or the writer who doesn’t really care if she makes a living.

. . . .

For the most part, however, dealing with beginner and hobbyist issues doesn’t interest me. I’m a long-term professional writer who has made money as a writer since I was 16, who has made a living at it since I was 25, and who started making a heck of a great living at it by the time I was 35. I started writing these weekly blogs to make some kind of sense out of the disruption in the publishing industry in 2009. I did it for me, because I think better when I am writing things down.

The disruption continues, albeit in a new phase (part of what I’ll discuss below), and so I am focusing on what I need to focus on for my long-term writing career. I hope that some of these insights will help the rest of you.

. . . .

The disruption in the publishing industry will continue for some time now. Years, most likely. I don’t have a good crystal ball for how long it will go on, but we are past the gold rush years in the indie publishing world and have moved into a more consistent business model. It’s at least predictable, now. We know some patterns and how they’re going to work.

. . . .

The disruption in traditional publishing has gone on for nearly two decades now. It began before the Kindle made self-publishing easy by giving writers an easily accessible audience. Traditional publishing became ripe for disruption in the 1990s when the old distribution model collapsed.

Many of you saw it from the outside—the decline of the small bookstore, the loss of bookstores in small towns, the rise of the bestseller only in chain bookstores. All of that came from a collapse in the distribution system, from hundreds of regional distributors down to about five. (I don’t off the top of my head recall the actual number.) That made publishers panic. They couldn’t figure out what kinds of books sold best in the Pacific Northwest as opposed to what sold well in the Southeast, and worse, they didn’t have time to figure it out.

(When I came into the business, a top sales person for a major book company would know that science fiction sold well in California and quest fantasy sold well in Georgia, that the Midwest really enjoyed regional books, while New Yorkers often didn’t.)

Bestsellers sold everywhere, so publishers ramped up the production of already-established authors and sent those books all over the nation. Then, when the crisis leveled out, the publishers did not return to the old ways, scared of what to do. They continued to push for huge sellers rather than grow newer books.

Writer after writer after writer got dumped by their publisher in this period, while some new writers made fortunes because they wrote books that were similar to existing bestsellers.

When the Kindle came around and disrupted publishing, both writers and readers were ready for something new. That combination of forces created the blockbuster indie sellers—which were not blockbuster to traditional publishers. (The writers were making significantly more money, but selling fewer units than trad pub bestsellers.)

Hold that thought for a moment while I remind you that another disruption—a different one—was hitting publishing at the same time. Audiobooks went digital, and exploded. It became easy to download an audiobook and listen to it on your iPod (remember those) or your favorite MP3 player. Some cars made it easy to hook up those players to the sound system of the car.

And thus, commuters wanted everything on audio, and the demand in audio grew exponentially. As so many industry analysts said five or six years ago, if the Kindle hadn’t come around, the big story in publishing would have been the audiobook.

And here’s another publisher problem: most publishers never secured audio rights to the books they published. That money went directly to the authors.

. . . .

For years now, those of us who watch business trends have predicted that book sales would plateau. In reality, “plateau” is the wrong word for overall book sales. Those continue to grow, sometimes in ways that aren’t entirely measurable. New markets are opening all the time, bringing in new readers.

The system for measuring both readers and sales is so inadequate that we can’t count the readers we have, let alone the new readers who are coming into the book industry sideways. However, there is a lot of evidence—scattered, of course—that new readers are coming in. (I’ll deal with this in future weeks.)

Readership is growing, but individual sales are mostly declining. Traditional publishing’s fiction sales are down 16% since 2013. Traditional publishing has a lot of theories about this, delineated out in the Publishers Weekly article I linked to.

Indie writers believe a lot of the trad pub sales migrated to them. Maybe.

But some of what happened here was the inevitable decline from the gold rush of a disruptive technology.

Let’s look at traditional publishing for a moment. Traditional publishing moved to the blockbuster model at the turn of the century, meaning that the books that were published had to have a guaranteed level of sales or the author’s contract wouldn’t be renewed. The sales rose, partly because traditional publishing was the only game in town.

In that period, if you went to bookstores all over the country, and followed that up with a visit to the grocery store, as well as a visit to a story like WalMart or Target, you’d find the same group of books on the shelves. A few more in Target than in the grocery store, and certainly more in the bookstore, but still, the same books. And the airport bookstores were the same way.

If a reader needed reading material, he only had a few hundred titles at any given time in the stores to choose from. So the reader read the best of what he found, not necessarily what he wanted to read.

Then the disruption happened. Kindles and ereaders proliferated. Readers found books they’d been searching for, often for years. The readers also found some genres and subgenres that they hadn’t seen in a decade or more, usually books by indie writers that oculdn’t sell to the big traditional companies.

The boom in ebooks grew and grew and grew. (And if traditional pubishing hadn’t dicked around with pricing, their book sales would have grown even more.) That’s why the S-curves on that graph grow precipitously in between Stages Two and Three. Adoption increases revenue for a very very very short period of time.

That kind of growth is not sustainable for years, though. That’s why I say it was an inevitable plateau. If you’ll look on that graph again, though, you’ll see that both curves end higher on the y-axis—the profit axis—than they were at the beginning.

But hitting that plateau after years of rapid growth and, in the case of traditional publishing, a near-monopoly on the market, is painful. And that’s what we’re experiencing.

Also, sales are spreading out. I’ll talk about this a bit more in the next couple of weeks. But think of it this way. Instead of a lot of readers reluctantly reading the latest blockbuster because they’re trapped in the airport and can’t find anything else to read, those readers are now downloading dozens of books on their phones, and reading a variety of things—some of which we don’t have measurements of. Those readers have left the blockbusters they barely liked behind and found books/authors they like better.

So the money that would have gone to five different authors at three different publishing companies is now going to twenty authors, and only two of those authors are with traditional publishing companies. The books the readers are reading, though, aren’t the latest blockbuster by that author, but an older book that came out a decade ago. The price is lower, and the companies aren’t interested in those sales. They want the newest book to sell the most copies.

The consumer spends the same amount of money, but spreads it out over a wider range. Many of these sales are untrackable. Not all of those twenty authors report their sales to anyone, and not all of those sales were made through traditional channels. A few of the authors sold on their own websites. Some of those books came out of bundles. And some came out of a subscription service like Amazon. The traditional publishing companies lost most of the revenue, because their book sales have legitimately declined.

But that doesn’t mean people are reading less or that fiction reading is declining.

I’m not the only one who sees this. Mark Williams of The New Publishing Standard had the same reaction to the traditional publishing fiction numbers that I did. He wrote on November 18:

The big problem we have is that the fiction market, much more so than the wider book market, is so fragmented now, thanks to digital (by which I mean not just ebooks and audiobooks but online POD and most of all social media democratising the promotion of fiction titles), such that it seems like fewer people are reading fiction, but the reality is likely just the opposite.

The fragmented market is but one thing we’ll talk about in the next few weeks. We’ll look at how writers can use that market to their own advantage.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG always appreciates the analysis Kris and Dean bring to the publishing world, traditional and indie. He was going to add a few of his thoughts to Kris’ excellent post, but, perhaps as a result of holiday hangover (not the alcoholic kind), his little gray cells are not as well-regimented as usual.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Here is the most recent Kris Rusch book selling on Amazon:

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