PG’s Thoughts

B&N to Sell Self-Published Books In Stores

23 July 2016

From Book Business:

The big news about Barnes & Noble is that after twenty years of battling with Amazon they have finally made a competitive move that Amazon cannot match. Barnes & Noble, with 640 bookstores in 50 states, is giving self-published authors a chance to get access to their hallowed bookshelves.

. . . .

The news reads best at a quick glance: “…authors have the opportunity to sell their print books at Barnes & Noble stores across the country… participate at in-store events including book signings and discussions, where they will be able to sell their print books and meet fans.”

But the devil’s in the details: the program is for “eligible” NOOK Press authors, defined as “those print book authors whose eBook sales [of a single title] have reached 1,000 units in the past year.”

. . . .

In my coverage of last fall’s NINC conference I noted some remarks from publishing expert Lou Aronica. Lou provided a forceful reminder that self-published authors can’t afford to ignore print: it still accounts for some two-thirds of book sales overall. The larger problem is getting retail access for print. Independent booksellers have always been more open to dealing with self-published authors than the chains. But trying to get into the 2,311 outlets operated by the 1,775 American Booksellers Association (ABA) members is a logistical impossibility. Barnes & Noble has fewer total outlets than the ABA, but a lot more floor space.

Link to the rest at Book Business and thanks to Deb for the tip.

PG had a previous post on this subject, but revisited it for the last paragraph excerpted above.

Thinking about self-published authors as an industry, like traditional publishing, is, in PG’s charmingly humble opinion, a mistake.

If you’re talking about traditional publishers, you’ll find very little difference in their business methods and practices.

Indie authors, however, are individual entrepreneurs, much more flexible and innovative than tradpub, and able to discover and exploit parts of the market that are invisible to Manhattan.

While some indie authors may find good business selling into the print market, PG suggests that, for most, it’s an unprofitable time-waster. For anything but POD, it’s too much overhead, too much administrative work and simply not profitable.

Ebooks are a far more profitable pursuit than print for the large majority of indie authors. As Author Earnings has demonstrated, indie authors are dominating more and more of the ebook market on Amazon. And not just with price. Top-selling indie authors are far better marketers, even with small budgets, than traditional publishers.

And print is a declining market. Most avid fiction readers have already moved to ebooks and they’re becoming accustomed to great prices and instant availability. Articles about the renaissance of print are focusing on ripples in a rising river that’s flowing in the opposite direction.

Barnes & Noble had 726 stores in 2008 and it has 640 today.

In 2005, Borders operated 1,329 stores. Today, it operates none.

And no, independent bookstores have not made up for this decline.

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Copyright in Small Claims: An Update

19 July 2016

From In the Open:

In theory, the idea of a small claims board that could adjudicate copyrights claims where the monetary value is not too high seems sensible.  Federal litigation is very expensive and intimidating, so a small claims mechanism could make it easier for independent artists and small businesses to defend their rights.

Nevertheless, I have never been very enthusiastic about the idea, in large part because the devil is definitely in the details of any proposed scheme.  The fear is that a small claims board could become, in the words of this 2012 article about the topic from Techdirt, just “a new venue for porn companies to coerce settlements out of internet subscribers.”  If such a board appeared to be nothing other than a mechanism to make it easier not just for trolls but for Big Content in general to bully individual users and avoid the high costs of litigation, it would ultimately be harmful to the copyright balance that is already so out of whack in the U.S.

Unfortunately, when I look at the CASE Act (H.R. 5757) (it stands for “Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Enforcement Act) introduced last week to the House of Representatives, many of these fears seem realized.  Based on the actual text of the proposed legislation, I am afraid this specific bill would have two negative impacts.  First, I fear it would greatly increase the power of the Copyright Office in shaping copyright enforcement, which is not something I can contemplate with anything other than foreboding.  Second, I think that the proposed legislation would make it easier for Big Content, and especially for the copyright trolls who are often their vanguard, to bully ordinary individuals and increase the phenomena of copyright enforcement by fear, rather than through the law.

. . . .

Two other provisions of the CASE Act leave me with a good deal of uncertainty and disquiet.  One cause for this is the potential to bring an action before the small claims board claiming infringement even on an unregistered work.  Copyright registration is required prior to bringing a lawsuit in federal court, but this bill would allow such a claim before the small claims board, with a greatly reduced potential for recovery of damages.  So such a claim would cost less to bring, but also offer less reward for success  It is not clear to me if an author, acting on her own, would be well served by such an option, or if registration, which does not cost much and would allow greater damages even in a small claims action and also provide access to the federal courts, would still be more sensible.

. . . .

Indeed, the whole area of damages in small claims is rather problematic.  On the one hand, statutory damages for copyright infringement are ridiculously high, and often are used to chill legitimate uses because the risk of making a mistake is so great.  So lowering damages in the small claims arena makes sense, and the CASE Act caps such damages at $15,000 for any one act of infringement and $30,000 in a single action.  Certainly small claims without reduced damages would be intolerable.  But these damages still strongly favor plaintiffs over defendants, since the costs of suing would be much lower, while the risk of being held liable would still be potentially devastating for individuals.  Add to this the fact that it would be impossible, before the small claims board, to be awarded attorney’s fees and court costs even if one won, and the odds are still strongly tipped in favor of the big content companies with in-house lawyers and against individual users — artists, authors and students, for example — who might find themselves on the wrong end of one of these claims.

. . . .

Overall, I have to conclude that this bill is a power grab by the Copyright Office and would be a boon to the lobbyists for Big Content.  The makeup of the proposed small claims board would be recommended by the CO from the ranks of lawyers with substantial experience in copyright infringement actions, which means that those very lobbyists would probably become the judges (called “Copyright Claims Officers”).  And the work of the board would, according to section 1402(c) of the bill, “be generally directed… by the Registrar of Copyright.”  The provisions would give the Copyright Office tremendous influence on copyright enforcement, which would please the content companies a great deal, but would undoubtedly further detract from a balanced law that genuinely encourages new creativity, rather than merely protecting profits for legacy works.

Link to the rest at In the Open and thanks to Beth for the tip.

PG wrote earlier about problems involved if copyright small claims were handled in federal court, which is where appeals from decisions of the Copyright Office Small Claims Court would go. If a large company received an adverse ruling from the Copyright Office Small Claims Court, it would almost certainly appeal that ruling to the federal court, if only to put itself into better negotiating position to settle the case on better terms.

Setting up a separate court as an extension of the Copyright Office (as opposed to the federal court system) concerns PG because of the reasons mentioned in the OP and also because the copyright small claims court holds a great potential for devolving into an organization filled with insiders where unwritten rules become as important as the written ones. Under the proposed legislation, there are three attorney hearing officers who will be doing their work at the Copyright Office, so everybody will almost certainly be located in the Washington DC area.

Perhaps PG missed it, but he didn’t see any provision in the proposed legislation that prevented any of the hearing officers from continuing to practice copyright law on the side, only that they wouldn’t undertake any activities that would conflict with their duties as hearing officers.

In federal district court, while a given district will have some local rules, those rules are written and available from the court. Individual federal judges will always have their quirks, but they won’t (usually) conflict with the local rules and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The discussion of copyright trolling in the OP is also an issue for authors of both books and blogs. Fanfic authors and video creators could expect more harassment. Since there are only three hearing officers and two staff attorneys authorized under the proposed legislation, the potential for large plaintiffs to completely jam their dockets with mass filings is high.

Talking about the legislation as a small claims court for copyrights is a bit misleading if it creates an image of a state-based small claims court where landlord-tenant disputes or local merchants collecting unpaid bills are typically handled in a few minutes by a judge.

The CASE Act is 51 pages long, much longer than any state small claims enabling legislation with which PG is familiar. It includes a great many procedural provisions which don’t seem to be particularly easy for a non-lawyer to understand.

Here’s a copy of the proposed legislation:

CASE-Legislation (Text)

The “Big Change” era in trade book publishing ended about four years ago

12 July 2016

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Book publishing is still very much in a time of changing conditions and circumstances. There are a host of unknowables about the next several years that affect the shape of the industry and the strategies of all the players in it. But as publishers, retailers, libraries, and their ecosystem partners prepare for whatever is next, it becomes increasingly evident that — from the perspective of trade publishing at least — we have already lived through the biggest period of transition. It took place from sometime in 2007 through 2012.

At the beginning of 2007, there was no Kindle. By the end of 2011, there was no Borders. And by the end of 2012, five of America’s biggest publishers were defending themselves from the US Department of Justice. The arrival of Kindle and the exit of Borders are the two most earthshaking events in the recent history of book publishing and its ecosystem. The Justice Department suit first distracted and then ultimately strait-jacketed the big publishers so it was both difficult to focus and then difficult to react to further marketplace changes.

Paying close attention to what we then called “electronic publishing” started for me in the early 1990s, with a conference other consulting colleagues and I organized for Publishers Weekly which we called “Electronic Publishing and Rights”. This was before Amazon existed. It was when the big transition taking place was from diskettes to CD-Roms as the means of storage. And it was even before Windows, so the only device on which you could view on a screen anything that looked at all like a book was a Macintosh computer, which had literally a sliver of the market. The most interesting ebook predecessor was the Voyager Expanded Book, and it could only be used on a Mac.

In this speech I gave in 1995, I put my finger on the fact that online would change all this and that publishers shouldn’t spend too much energy on CD-Roms.

. . . .

The first important new device for books in 2007 didn’t start out as one at all. It was the iPhone, first released in June of that year. Although Palm Pilots were the ebook reader of choice for a big chunk of the then-tiny ebook community, they lacked connectivity. The iPhone was not seen as an ereader when it came out — indeed, Apple head Steve Jobs still believed at that point that ebooks were not a market worth pursuing — but they could, and did, rapidly become one when it was demonstrated that there was a market. And they vastly expanded the universe of people routinely paying for downloaded content, in this case music from the iTunes store.

Then Kindle launched in November of 2007. A still unannounced number of Kindles sold out in a few hours and Amazon remained out of stock of them for several months! Because the original Kindle was $399, it was only a “good deal” for the consumer who read many books on which they could save money by buying electronic. What this meant was that Kindle owners bought ebooks in numbers much greater than the relatively small number of devices placed would have suggested. Throughout 2008, the awareness dawned on the industry thatebooks were going to be a significant business.

And that awareness rapidly shook loose a raft of competition. Barnes & Noble saw that they had to compete in this arena and started a crash program to deliver the Nook, which first appeared almost precisely two years after the first Kindle, in November 2009. Months earlier, Amazon had released the app that put Kindle on the iPhone. Meanwhile, Jobs had become persuaded to take ebooks seriously, and, anyway, he had a store selling content downloads to devices like crazy. Now, about to launch his new tablet format, the iPad, he had what looked like the perfect vehicle with which to launch ebooks. The iPad and the iBookstore debuted in April 2010. A month later, Kobo entered the market as a low-priced alternative with their first device.

. . . .

All of this change within three calendar years — 2008 through 2010 — created a blizzard of strategic decisions for the publishers. Remember, before all this, ebooks were an afterthought.

. . . .

During the period when Amazon was pretty much alone in the game (the pre-Amazon market leaders, Sony and Palm, faded very quickly), they started pricing Kindle titles aggressively, even willing to take losses on each sale to promote device sales and the ecosystem. This alarmed publishers, who were seeing small Kindle sales grow at what were frightening rates and raising the spectre of undermining their hardcovers. It didn’t hurt that the retailers with whom they (still, then, though not now) did most of their business were also alarmed. Nook arrived and Barnes & Noble would never have been as comfortable as Amazon with selling these new products at a loss. But B&N also worried about the impact that cheap ebooks might have on more expensive print book sales. Amazon didn’t.

. . . .

Coinciding with and enabled by all of this was the huge growth in author-initiated publishing. Amazon had bought CreateSpace, which gave them the ability to offer print-on-demand as well as Kindle ebooks. The combination meant that a huge audience could be reached through them without any help from anybody else. When agency happened (2010), they started to offer indie authors what amounted to agency terms: 70 percent of the selling price for ebooks. This was a multiple of the percentage an author would get through a publisher.

Agency pricing fell right into Amazon’s and the self-published hands. Getting 70 percent on the ebook, the indie author got $2.10 pricing at $2.99 and $2.80 pricing at $3.99, royalties comparable to what they’d get from full-priced print.

. . . .

Suddenly, names nobody had heard before were on the map, selling millions of ebooks, and taking mindshare away from the industry’s output. And it also handed the publishers’ authors an alternative path to market that could only have the effect of improving their negotiating position with the publishers.

. . . .

Amazon continues to grow its share, and they are around 50 percent of the business or more for many publishers these days.

Barnes & Noble is troubled but in no immediate jeopardy and is still, by far, the number one brick-and-mortar account for publishers. But the optimistic view is that their book sales will remain flat in the near future.

Independent bookselling continues to grow, but even with their growth since Borders went down, they are less than 10 percent of the sales for most publishers. It is true that ebook sales for publishers have flattened (we don’t know the overall trend for sure because we don’t really know the indie sales at Amazon, and they’re substantial) and don’t seem likely to grow their share against print anytime soon.

These things seem likely to be as true two years from now as they are now. Nothing felt that way in from 2008-2012.

. . . .

But the challenges of today aren’t about change of the magnitude that was being coped with in the period that ended five years ago. They’re more about improving workflows and processes, learning to use new tools, and integrating new people with new skill sets into the publishing business. And there are a lot of new people with relevant skills up and down the trade publishing organizations now. That wasn’t so much the case when things were changing the fastest, 2007-2012.

It isn’t that there aren’t still many of new things to work on, new opportunities to explore, or long-term decisions to make. But the editor today can sign a book and expect a publishing environment when it comes out in a year or two roughly like the one we have today. The editor in 2010 couldn’t feel that confidence.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

As PG has mentioned before, he believe Shatzkin’s posts reflect the thinking of many in Big Publishing.

Unfortunately, the predictions in the OP represent a typical pattern of thinking in an industry swept up by disruptive technology. The survivors of early changes think, “It’s going to stop now. Nothing happened to me last year or last month, so nothing will happen to me next month and next year.”

PG doesn’t think this is the case for Big Publishing and its ecosystem.

Why? Big Publishing is simply too expensive. It costs everyone too much.

It’s too expensive for authors to try to live on a royalty of 17.5% of the price of an ebook when they can earn a 70% royalty on the same ebook sold in the same place.

It’s too expensive for readers because the $15 ebook price from a big publisher is too high when they can find excellent ebooks for $2.99 or borrow them at no charge.

It’s too expensive for everyone to load Manhattan rents, salaries and costs of business into the the fixed costs for publishing a book when indie authors can and do create competitive books from a kitchen table with a wifi signal.

The relevant question for more and more authors is not, “Can I find a publisher for my book?” but “Can I really afford the expense and hassle of using a publisher for my book?”

PG regularly talks to a lot of smart and successful authors (as well as smart and beginning authors). He has an idea of what kinds of questions they’re asking. Unlike Shatzkin, he doesn’t think the Big Change is over for trade publishing.

PG thinks the largest changes of all for trade publishing are in the future.

Guest Bloggers

2 July 2016

The PG’s will be taking a short trip to visit a very small new member of the PG clan.


While PG is away from the keyboard, he is grateful to the following TPV regulars for helping to keep the lights on and the band playing at TPV:

Matthew Adams

Barbara Morgenroth


Joshua Stockwell


To Compete Better, States Are Trying to Curb Noncompete Pacts

30 June 2016

From MSN Money:

In today’s on-your-own economy, workers are urged to be entrepreneurial job hoppers, constantly adapting and searching for the next opportunity.

But an estimated 30 million Americans — nearly one fifth of the nation’s work force — are hobbled by so-called noncompete agreements, fine print in their employment contracts that keeps them from working for corporate rivals in their next job.

Now a number of states are looking to untangle workers from these agreements. The Massachusetts House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this week on a noncompete reform bill. The state is also the location of a union organizing campaign on the noncompete practices of the EMC Corporation, a large technology company based in Hopkinton, Mass., that is known for its aggressive application of these employment contracts.

Other states are also taking steps as noncompete agreements have spread to summer interns and sandwich shop employees. Hawaii banned noncompete agreements for technology jobs last year, while New Mexico passed a law prohibiting noncompetes for health care workers. And Oregon and Utah have limited the duration of noncompete arrangements.

. . . .

The issue hits Massachusetts with particular force because of its technology heritage and failure to keep up with Silicon Valley. In the early 1980s, the Route 128 corridor outside Boston, birthplace of the minicomputer industry and long-gone tech giants like the Digital Equipment Corporation, was seen as the Silicon Valley of the East.

Noncompete pacts were only one ingredient in the recipe that worked against Massachusetts and to the advantage of Silicon Valley, where employees can depart and start their own companies mostly without fear of a lawsuit. But they mattered. In California, companies are generally prohibited from enforcing noncompete agreements because of a worker-friendly statute from the 19th century.

“It’s hurt our economy in the past, and it’s a statement of values about entrepreneurship and mobility that Massachusetts has noncompetes and California does not,” said Stephen Kraus, a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners and president of the New England Venture Capital Association.

. . . .

Technical workers in Massachusetts would be paid about 7 percent more if the state’s noncompete practices mirrored California’s, said Evan Starr, an economist at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Job mobility is reduced, according to other research, and workers are more likely to detour from their original career paths. Sometimes companies sue departing employees, but those cases are the exception.

“It’s not about the lawsuit, but about the far larger chilling effect,” said Matthew Marx, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.

In 2008, Brian Connolly, an engineer with years of experience writing software for medical devices, joined a start-up developing diagnostic technology to identify biohazards, First Light Biosciences. After the financial crisis hit, the start-up laid off 12 of its 14 employees, including Mr. Connolly.

Shortly after meeting with a new company, Mr. Connolly got a call from his previous employer, telling him the noncompete prohibited him from joining any company in diagnostic devices, even if the application and the technology were different.

“I understood noncompetes were common practice, but I didn’t think they would enforce it, and that broadly, after a layoff,” he said.

Link to the rest at MSN Money and thanks to Kat for the tip.

PG has discussed the problems that non-compete clauses in publishing agreements present for authors on several previous occasions.

Assuming that the publisher would never enforce a non-compete clause against an author (even when the editor representing the publisher says this is the case) is a bad idea. Typical publishing contracts are assignable and, even if the statement is true with respect to the publisher’s current owners, it may not be with the publisher’s future owners.

With the disruptive changes sweeping through publishing, PG says you can expect more and more traditional publishers to merge, file for bankruptcy or hold fire sales of their assets. Those assets will include all the publishing contracts authors have signed with those publishers. The publisher who holds rights to your books in 2040 will almost certainly be substantially different than the publisher you sign with in 2016.

During the life of a “full term of the copyright” publishing contract, it is certain that the management of publishers will change and very likely that the ownership of publishers will change. It’s a bad idea for an author to accept any contract provisions that aren’t exactly right for the author’s long-term career prospects.

One of the many advantages of self-publishing is that, following Amazon’s lead (and pursuant to standard practices for tech companies using click-to-accept online contracts), self-published authors can expect their contracts will permit them to terminate the agreement with their distributor/etailer at any time.

However, don’t assume this is the case. You need to read those click-to-accept contracts, AKA
Terms and Conditions, when you decide to work with a distributor/etailer to license your ebooks or sell your physical books.

PG is sorry this is the case. He knows you would rather swallow worms than read that turgid lawyerese. He knows that outlandish terms in such contracts might be overturned by a judge if challenged, but his advice stands.

PG will also reveal that more than one tech company has failed to read or understand the Terms and Conditions contract it received from its attorney and just posted the document on its website. If you see something you don’t like in the contract, send an email to the company to tell them it’s a deal-breaker. You may be surprised learn that management of the company agrees with you.

It’s Frustratingly Rare to Find a Novel About Women That’s Not About Love

22 June 2016

From The Atlantic:

I came of age without a literary soulmate. Growing up, I read every book recommended to me. Nick Carraway’s lucid account of the 1920’s seduced me. Huck Finn’s journey up the river showed me the close link between maturity and youth, and Ray Bradbury taught me to be wary of big government as well as the burning temperature of paper. While the male characters of literature built countries, waged wars, and traveled while smoking plenty of illicit substances, the women were utterly boring.The assigned, award-winning, cannon-qualified books about women were about women I didn’t want to be. Jane Eyre was too blinded by her love for Mr. Rochester, as were all of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter was too maternal, and no one wants to grow up to be Anna Karenina. These women wanted to get married and have kids. They wanted to whine for 300 pages about a man who didn’t want to be with them. They wanted, it seemed, to be supporting actresses in their own stories. Their stories were equally about the men who shaped them as what they themselves wanted.

These female characters had love stories of heartbreak, but no stories of solitary self-discovery. Like many young adults, I didn’t necessarily want stable. I wanted to drive On The Road and stop off in small towns and drink more than was probably appropriate. I wanted to question who I was and be my own Catcher in the Rye. There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.”Great” books, as defined by the Western canon, didn’t contain female protagonists I could admire. In fact, they barely contained female protagonists at all. Of the 100 Best Novels compiled by Modern Library, only nine have women in the leading role, and in only one of those books–The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark–do the leading women strive to do more than find a husband or raise their children. Statistically, one percent of the Best Novels are about women doing something other than loving.To be clear, I love a beautifully told love story. I cry during The Notebook and love Mr. Darcy. I’d just as soon advocate for the banning of metaphors as I would for the banning of stories about love (which is to say never). Love stories are needed because they mirror real life. Men and women alike search for and find partners–be they for a moment or a lifetime. Love stories are huge plot lines in real life, but they aren’t everything.

These days, most women develop personal lives before love lives. They struggle, make decisions, and grow up long before they worry about finding a life partner. Women are getting married later with the average marrying age at 27 according to the most recent Pew Report. That’s four years older than in 1990. Additionally, women’s roles in the workforce have changed radically in the last 50 years. Though incomes between men and women still remain unequal, more women are joining and staying in the workforce, even after they have kids. Their literary counterparts, however, don’t reflect that.

. . . .

There are not many books that star a woman without a man to hold her hand and guide her, or a mess of domestic tasks for her to attend to as her first priority. In the 33 years since Housekeeping’s publication, few–if any–books have mirrored Robinson’s example. Female protagonists like Orleanna Price of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible or Margaret Atwood’s Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, participate in political agendas, fight in wars, and generally have goals other than their love lives. Likewise, some popular fiction has begun to feature leading women with larger career goals and less focus on love. Skeeter of The Help by Kathryn Stockett chooses her career over love as do Edna Pontellier of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and even Andrea Sachs of Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada. These women and their goals are the main thrust of these novels, but they all include a love subplot.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG came of age in a different century, but he doesn’t remember caring about the gender assigned to any fictional character in any of his early reading. Scout would have been equally cool and interesting as a boy. Gatsby was as driven and destroyed by passion as Anna K.

PG also disagrees that only a woman author can create an accurate female character. He remembers one of his professors in college (a lovely old woman) saying that Theodore Roethke’s Mediations of an Old Woman was uncannily accurate at capturing the hidden thoughts and feelings of an old woman.

The Western literary canon preceding the twenty-first century is what it is. Absent the unlikely discovery of a new literary genius in a pile of dusty manuscripts, we’re not going to find a striking 18th century female protagonist choosing career over family.

The authors of the 18th century wrote in the context of that age. Elizabeth Bennet would have been a fascinating character in any age, but in the early 19th century, her material self-interest was tied to marrying the right man. If she were going to have any significant personal independence of the kind 21st century women may seek in their careers, Elizabeth’s adult life had to begin by marrying money. Absent such a marriage, her world would become immensely more constrained. Jane Austen certainly understood that, as did her contemporary readers, male or female.

In 21st century America, if you don’t finish high school and go to college, your prospects in life are much narrower than for those who do graduate from college. Some future observer may find this arbitrary condition extraordinarily boring and limiting for one or more identity groups, but that’s the context for our world. Authors who write books set in today’s world will either explicitly or implicitly recognize the class distinctions between a high school dropout and a college graduate (or a Harvard graduate vs. a degree from The Tulsa Welding Institute).

Elizabeth Bennet’s indefatigable determination to not compromise love for money is a terrible career move. It’s like becoming a welder instead of an investment banker. She’ll be giving up income, promotions, influence, a large apartment in a fashionable neighborhood, travel, independence, social status, etc., all for the simple pleasures of living in a shower of sparks joining pieces of metal together day after day.

The true distinction between contemporary heroines with ambitious career goals and important political agendas and Elizabeth Bennet is that Lizzy is interested in love.

Fiction written in the 18th century about subjects other than fundamental and timeless human emotions has disappeared. On the other hand, PBS could not survive without Jane Austen and the Brontës.

There is a reason that romance outsells every other genre, including women’s fiction. It’s the same reason that people read and reread Jane.

“We are all fools in love.”

‘Starting To Hit the Wall’: A Conference Focuses on Publishing Rights

14 June 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

The rising importance of a mindful, purposeful, aggressive approach to rights management in publishing was phrased many ways during the course of Monday’s conference, Rights and Content in the Digital Age, organized by Publishing Perspectivesin the Grand Hall at New York University’s Kimmel Center.

One of the most intriguing images for the potential value of what book publishing has to offer came from digital content strategist Matt Dellinger, who has done a lot of work in archival content with The New Yorker, Esquire, and other magazines:

“The future of content is more and more about the history of content,” Dellinger said. “It’s a matter of taking the deeper end of the culture pool and circulating it in the kiddie pool of snack-food content.”

From Dellinger and other speakers—and as much in regard to frontlist as backlist—the message was clear: More orchestrated, coordinated, and supported approaches to the management of rights is fast becoming a major key for publishers at a time when sales are challenged in saturated markets: a failure to exploit rights to the fullest, most efficient degree possible is something publishers can’t afford.

Ingenta Chief Revenue Officer Randy Petway’s presentation pointed to how minimal investment has traditionally been made by publishers in the infrastructure of rights departments—something later echoed in comments by longtime rights specialist Kris Kliemann, formerly of Wiley.

. . . .

The day opened with a keynote address from author Roxana Robinson, President since 2014 of the Authors Guild, who warned of the mounting difficulties authors are facing in finding compensation of their work in digitally complicated markets.

“Suppose you want to buy a copy of my newest novel, Sparta,” Robinson said, “which was published in 2013. If you go to Amazon, you will find that they offer a new paperback for $12.98. And also another new paperback for $4.33. And a used paperback for one penny.

“Now, why would you choose to buy the more expensive copy, the $12.99 paperback instead of the $4.33 paperback? They’re both new. You’ll buy the cheaper one. But where does that $4.33 paperback come from? It’s probably a copy the publisher sold off to make room in a warehouse somewhere. It’s very common. Publishers have high hopes for every book they make, they make more copies than can sell…After a certain period of time, they realize they need that space in the warehouse, so they sell off copies cheap to a jobber, a middleman. They sell them at a very deep discount.

“Many contracts have clauses that will allow the publisher, under these circumstances of deep discount, to pay no royalties. The publisher gets paid by the middleman. And the middleman gets paid. Only the author will get nothing at all for the sale of this book which she just wrote…The publishers know this. But they do it [sell at discount to middleman vendors] because they want some money now.”

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

Permit PG to translate: Publishers are facing more and more difficulties in attracting and keeping top authors because more and more authors are learning they can make more money self-publishing. Such difficulties are, of course, adversely impacting revenues and profits.

So publishers are turning to books by authors who have already signed publishing contracts that grant the sun, moon and stars to publishers. The expanded rights management activities are aimed at maximizing revenues from those authors’ books.

As the comments from Ms. Robinson reflect, more revenues to the publisher doesn’t always mean more royalties for the author. Deep discount clauses are buried in the back of most publishing contracts and, in all such contracts PG has reviewed, he’s never seen any evidence that changes to those clauses were negotiated by anyone representing the author.

(For a number of years, it was not unusual for changes to the boilerplate contracts of large and not so large publishers to be highlighted in some way (bold type, underlines, indents, etc.) in the version of the contract the author signed. This practice continued for long after word processing software came into common use. Where such practices were followed, it is easy for PG to see what modifications to standard agreements were made to the author’s benefit or detriment and what unfair contract language was left unchanged.)

Under complex contracts granting a wide range of rights to a publisher, it is sometimes possible for the publisher to license or sell a book in a variety of different ways to affect how much money the publisher keeps. Harlequin’s former practice of licensing every book to a related HQ company instead of directly publishing it, thereby substantially reducing HQ’s royalty payments to authors, is one example of exploiting complex contract provisions in ways authors may not expect.

The standard contracts of other large and small publishers would permit them to do the same thing HQ did to increase profits and reduce royalty payments. It’s something PG has seen and corrected more times than he can remember.

When lowering the price of a book to increase sales, a publisher that is paying attention to the deep discount clause can make more money by pricing the book at a penny less and triggering deep discount royalties (or non-royalties) than it will make by pricing the book at a penny more and paying standard royalties.

PG suggests that aggressive rights management activities are more likely to materially increase the publisher’s income than the author’s income.

Author Sues Universal Over Musical Theater Adaptation of ‘October Sky’

7 June 2016

From Yahoo Movies:

The author of the New York Times best-seller Rocket Boys is suing Universal Pictures for overstepping the life rights he granted in the 1990s and shutting down a musical adaptation of his book in favor of launching its own, according to a complaint filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Homer Hickam Jr. says he agreed to give Universal the rights to one book to adapt into one film, October Sky.

Now he is suing Universal, and its president James Horowitz and vp of live theatricals Christopher Herzberger, for a host of claims including breach of contract, fraud, misappropriation and unfair competition. Hickam is seeking at least $20 million in damages, an injunction to shut down the October Sky musical and a declaration from the court that Universal does not have any rights to his life story other than the right to make the original 1999 film.

Rocket Boys is the story of Hickam’s life, centering on the family conflict surrounding his decision to build rockets instead of entering the coal mining business.The author claims he sold that story to Universal in 1996, and his now-deceased literary agent Mickey Freiberg assured Hickam that his sequels were protected and reserved, that the agreement was for one film only and that Universal would have to provide significant payment if it wanted to remake the movie or create a new project.

A decade later, Hickam developed and produced Rocket Boys into a live stage musical with the approval of Universal, according to the lawsuit. In 2015, Universal decided to create an October Sky musical, purportedly based on the film and Hickam’s memoir, and has shut down the author’s stage show.

“Universal has demanded that Hickam cease and desist in developing, producing and performing the Rocket Boys musical and accept a complete gag order that would punish him if he ever said a word about Universal’s wrongful and improper conduct,” states the complaint. “Universal has taken the completely fallacious position that Hickam has optioned all rights to Universal to make any and all motion pictures or live stage productions arising from any and all stories he may write about his life.”

Link to the rest at Yahoo Movies and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

PG will observe that deceased agents are not very useful for determining the meaning of ambiguous contract clauses.

If an author contractually grants rights to his/her book for the full length of the copyright (the remainder of the author’s life plus 70 years in the US and similar durations in other western countries), everybody involved in creating the contract will be dead before the contract ends. This is one of the many reasons for getting the language of the contract exactly right.

Of course, the consequences of poorly-drafted contract language would have fewer potential adverse consequences for the author if the contract’s duration was a more reasonable period of time. A misunderstanding that impacts an author for three years or five years or seven years is less serious than one the author will never outlive.

PG will also observe that the contracts of KDP and other ebook sales channels of which PG is aware may be terminated by either party at any time. This is not to say that authors should not take their KDP contracts seriously and understand the obligations contained therein, but an author who wants to take their book in a different direction can easily do so.

Books’ Prices and Writing’s Value: Careful What We Asked For?

23 May 2016

From Writer Unboxed:

Blurring ‘Our Dignity, Our Value’

“The biggest issue is one that will be difficult for us to recover from…the degradation of our worth as creatives.”

That line is from a piece here at Writer Unboxed a year ago, in May 2015. Our colleague Heather Webb, in As Writers, What Are We Worth?, was anticipating a groan heard ’round the world.

Last month, when I led a round-table discussion at Berlin’s Publishers’ Forum, our topic was “Re-Thinking Ebook Sales and Understanding the Consumers.” But what drew the biggest response was book pricing.

“The consumer,” one of our publishers said, “is in perpetual confusion. No way to understand what a single book costs or how to value our authors’ work.” And at the influential publishing house Bastei Lübbe AG, executive board member Klaus Kluge is calling book prices “staggeringly low” in an interview with Sabine Schwiering Tert at

In the UK in January, Penguin Random House CEO Tom Weldon told my Bookseller colleague Benedicte Page: “”One of the biggest challenges in 2016 will be e-book pricing: how do we maintain the value perception of our quality content and maximize revenues across all formats for both authors and publishers?”

. . . .

What have we done to the idea of writing’s value? How fuzzy is this math going to get?

That’s my provocation for you today. How are today’s pricing problems affecting what Webb characterized here last year as “our dignity, our value, and the viability of this industry”?

Books were always commodities of a kind, and buying second-hand romances by the grocery-bagful didn’t start yesterday.

. . . .

With both the trade and the self-publishing sectors in rampant over-production as they are today, you’re facing a sheer rock face of competition for every glance your book might get, let alone a read, let alone a sale. Your price is in free-fall.

And we can look to our cohorts in Hollywood for a little guidance here, too. You may not remember what the advent of Blockbuster video and then Netflix did to film. But those of us who watched those developments roll in know. Suddenly there were films everywhere, peopled with actors who are not quite the stars they look like speaking dialog that’s as wooden as they are, in strangely unsatisfying knockoffs of other films.

We can’t entirely blame independent authors for this gauzy focus on pricing in books. As the indie insurgence began to impact the trade a few years ago, authors who had never been able to get past the agents and editors, the dreaded gatekeepers, found that they could self-publish in our digital age. But self-selling was a different thing.

When you have no marketing department behind you, when you’re not even listed in a publisher’s catalog or recommended to a Barnes & Noble buyer—and no one’s ever heard of you in the world of books—the one way you might turn the head of a potential buyer cruising Amazon is offer a low price. Or no price.

. . . .

If the trade was aghast at Amazon’s institution of $9.99 as a viable price for the ebook version of a hardcover hit, it’s tempting to mutter “all is forgiven” now. I know many authors who’d love to get $9.99 for their ebooks. Free downloads by the hundreds might feel exhilarating, but your take-home pay? And while it’s popular to hunker down in the bloggoria and shoot the breeze about the “sweet spot” between $2.99 and $4.99, what frequently is not mentioned is frequency: how many of those things do you have to sell at $3.99—even if you’re getting 70 percent—to put together an income?

. . . .

And nobody forced the industry to follow the self-publishing sector in driving the car right on over the cliff. For a time, a UK publisher staged a 20-pence promotion on some of the hottest titles of the year. Now, the bigs are in “new-agency” pricing contracts with Amazon that somehow have them charging high “this price set by the publisher” prices for ebooks at the very moment that the industry needs to energize its digital investments, not price them out of reach.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed and thanks to Kristian for the tip.

PG says successful indie authors are very savvy about pricing their books at a level that maximizes author income. And more than a few earn their living from their writing. And nearly all authors who were traditionally published earn more as indies.

Yes, there are exceptions, but PG hears and reads success stories often enough to feel confident these are reasonably reliable generalizations for mid 2016. Simply put, in 2016, an author is much more likely to be able to support themselves as an indie than as a traditionally-published author.

The “pricing problem” that bothers Big Publishing is centered around the unfortunate reality that ebook prices which will maintain an indie author in fine fashion don’t generate nearly enough money to support a large publisher, regardless of how little it pays its authors.

One of the pivotal stages in a disruptive innovation comes when low-priced producers learn how to satisfy an economically significant portion of the overall market and use that position and their low prices to keep garnering more and more customers. These customers are satisfied with the quality of the product the low-priced producers offer and the low-priced producers have reached a point where they sell enough products and earn enough money to continue their business without interruption and without infusions of new capital. In short, the low-priced producers – indie authors – aren’t going away.

Speaking generally, more and more purchasers of ebooks are making purchasing decisions that say they don’t see enough added value from large publishers to justify the higher prices they have to pay. If $2.99 buys them an enjoyable reading experience, why would they pay $14.99 for an enjoyable reading experience?

The more enjoyable reading they experience for $2.99, the less likely they are to ever go back to paying $14.99. They’ll spend time digging around in the $2.99 bin to find a good book instead of paying $14.99. If they get stuck with a $2.99 clunker, they won’t give up on $2.99 books because experience has taught them there are more than a few good reads available at this price.

The question that Big Publishing can’t afford readers to ask is “Will I get five times more enjoyment if I pay $14.99?”

PG has been in the tech business for long enough to see the disruptive innovation process play out in many different markets. In each case, the incumbent market powers believe they add some special sauce to their products for which customers will always be willing to pay incumbent prices. Names like Novell, Lotus 1-2-3, Digital Equipment and Sun Microsystems come to mind, names once associated with the finest products, products that customers were happy to buy at the prices these companies set.

Today, major publishers assume today’s market will support the same prices as the book market of 2-3 years ago. They want to believe customers will agree that ebooks should be priced like printed books. They want to believe that ebook purchasers pay close attention to how much printed books cost and will use that price to determine the reasonable price for ebooks.

PG says these publishers do not understand consumer behavior.

Referring back to the OP, the relevant question in 2016 isn’t “As Writers, What Are We Worth?”

The real question is “Publishers, What Are They Worth?”


Our (Bare) Shelves, Our Selves

18 May 2016

From The New York Times:

When I was 13, in the early 1990s, I dug through my parents’ cache of vinyl records from the ’60s and ’70s. We still had a phonograph, so I played some of them, concentrating on the Beatles. Their bigger hits were inescapably familiar, but a number of their songs were new to me.

Were I a teenager in 2015, I may not have found “Lovely Rita” or acquired an early taste at all for the Liverpudlian lads. The albums stacked up next to the record player, in plain sight for years, would be invisible MP3s on a computer or phone that I didn’t own. Their proximal existence could have been altogether unknown to me.

S. Craig Watkins, a professor who studies the digital media behavior of young people in the department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin, said that he and his family almost exclusively stream music now in their home and that he and his wife stored their old CDs in a seldom-used cabinet. To his teenage daughter, “those CDs are, at best, background matter,” he said.

“I can’t recall her ever taking time to search through what’s in there,” Professor Watkins said. “But I could imagine that when she gets a little older, it might become meaningful to her — that those artifacts are a way to connect back to us.”

Sometimes, though, he and his daughter discuss what is on their devices’ playlists.

. . . .

Aside from the disappearance of record crates and CD towers, the loss of print books and periodicals can have significant repercussions on children’s intellectual development.

Perhaps the strongest case for a household full of print books came from a 2014 study published in the sociology journal Social Forces. Researchers measured the impact of the size of home libraries on the reading level of 15-year-old students across 42 nations, controlling for wealth, parents’ education and occupations, gender and the country’s gross national product.

. . . .

After G.N.P., the quantity of books in one’s home was the most important predictor of reading performance. The greatest effect was seen in libraries of about 100 books, which resulted in approximately 1.5 extra years of grade-level reading performance.

. . . .

The implications are clear: Owning books in the home is one of the best things you can do for your children academically. It helps, of course, if parents are reading to their children and reading themselves, not simply buying books by the yard as décor.

“It is a big question of whether it’s the books themselves or the parental scholarly culture that matters — we’re guessing it’s somewhere in between,” said Mariah Evans, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Nevada, Reno. “The books partly reflect intelligence.”

Although the study did not account for e-books, as they’re not yet available in enough countries, Dr. Evans said in theory they could be just as effective as print books in encouraging literacy.

“But what about the casual atmosphere of living in a bookish world, and being intrigued to pull something off the shelf to see what it’s like?” she asked. “I think that will depend partly on the seamless integration of our electronic devices in the future.”

We’re not quite there. Amazon Kindle’s Family Library enables two adults in a household to share content with each other and up to four children. But parents must explicitly select which of their books their kids can read. So much for the “casual atmosphere of living in a bookish world.”

Will parents go out of their way to grant access to their latest book to their 9-year-old?

. . . .

But the decline of print journalism means that millions of children are eating breakfast at tables without any reading material other than what they bring. That hypothetical 9-year-old may not be inclined to read an op-ed about Syria in the family’s copy of the newspaper, but at least that child sees the headline and is reminded of the existence of the outside world, for better or worse. And it would take very curious teenagers to read, during a hurried meal before school, an adult periodical online over whatever they typically default to on their own devices.

Digital media trains us to be high-bandwidth consumers rather than meditative thinkers.

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

PG suggests that the decline of The New York Times (and accompanying layoffs) appear to have colored the author’s view of physical books and newspapers.

The younger members of Clan PG are digital natives. They’ve grown up around computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. Finding information that fascinates them is emphatically not a challenge for these little people.

PG was about to relate anecdotes, but he will restrict himself to saying both monster truck and lemur aficionados can feed their interests easily and to a great depth online.

As a lifelong lover and rabid consumer of printed books, PG believes the digital world presents much richer possibilities for expanding an inquisitive child’s horizons and satisfying their quest for understanding and delight than the largest of home libraries.

And, considering those of modest means, how many printed books can you buy for the price of a $50 Kindle Fire? $50 does not buy most people weekly trips to the local library for very long.

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