Passive Guy

Conspiracy Theories

30 July 2014

Ever since PG posted the latest Amazon comment on the Hachette negotiations last night, The Passive Voice has been hit hard with attempts to hack the site. One of the site’s plugins reports all attempts to access the admin functions of TPV and includes the IP address and other information about the would-be hacker.

PG doesn’t think these have slowed site performance, but let him know if you’ve had problems.

Some of the hacking attempts have come from France.

He’s not starting any rumors, but . . . .

July 2014 – Barnes & Noble

28 July 2014

From Author Earnings:

In February, we took a snapshot of 5,000 genre e-books on the Nook store to compare with our Amazon reports. It’s been nearly half a year, so we thought it was time to go back for another look.

The first chart is a simple count of the number of titles on the major genre bestseller lists, broken out by publisher. For each of the four sets of charts, the current snapshot is followed by what we saw back in February:

a1

Not much change in the count of titles on the lists. But look at estimated daily unit sales by publisher:

a2

This effectively captures the average ranking of the ebooks on these bestseller lists. Note the increase for indies and the decrease for nearly every other publisher.

Knowing the sale price, we can estimate daily gross earnings by publisher:

a3

Again, note the changes. Finally, knowing industry royalty rates, we get daily author earnings by publisher:

a4

One thing of note with the last three sets of charts is that Hachette titles have suffered on the Nook store over the past five months. It’s possible the ongoing negotiations between Amazon and Hachette are impacting their sales on other digital retail outlets. More striking, though, is the market share gained by indie authors. If you scrolled through Nook’s genre bestseller lists, and tallied each book and how it was published, you would find that over half are now self-published.

While Nook’s e-book market share is much smaller than Amazon’s overall, it is just as indie-friendly as the Kindle store. And the daily royalty share going to indies is nearly twice as large as the share going to Penguin Random House authors. In fact, indies seem to be on their way to overtaking the Big 5 combined, just as they have on Amazon.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

PG finds the speculation of Hugh and Data Guy that the decline in sales of Hachette’s titles in the Nook Store is a result of the decline of those titles on Amazon interesting.

Because of the Nook Store’s terrible design, some owners of Nook ereaders have discovered that it’s easier to locate new books on Amazon, then go buy those books at the Nook Store.

If correct, this speculation speaks to the scope of Amazon’s power. If Amazon can make sales go up or down on the Nook Store, what use is it for publishers to pay money for prime exposure on the Nook website? That would be yet one more reason for talented employees still working at Nook to actively seek other employment.

However, PG suggests an alternate possibility:  Hachette is spending so much time, money and energy promoting its anti-Amazon message that it has failed to spend time, money and energy promoting . . . books.

This would be a typical screw-up for a poorly-managed company – taking its eye off the ball during a crisis and sliding down the tubes financially.

Hachette marketing and PR people are expending so much effort feeding talking points to Colbert and drafting letters for Preston, Patterson et al that, by the time Happy Hour rolls around, nobody has the time or energy to schmooze with The New York Times book review editors or tweet about a new release.

If you’re a tradpub author considering whether to send a book to Hachette or another publisher, might you not wonder how much time and effort Hachette will devote to your book when its principal business seems to be bashing Amazon and sales of Hachette titles are tanking all over the place?

Or if you’re an author who only has Hachette as a tradpub option, might you not feel that now is a good time to see what this self-publishing stuff is all about?

.
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If you love books then you should be rooting for Amazon, not Hachette or the Big Five

3 July 2014

From Gigaom:

As Amazon continues to tighten the screws on book publishers like Hachette — by making its books difficult to find, impossible to pre-order, and so on — the conventional wisdom seems to be that the company is an aggressive and possibly illegal monopoly aimed at killing publishers, and that its behavior is also bad for authors and probably consumers as well. The only problem with this view is that most of it, if not all of it, is completely wrong. What Amazon is doing is not only good for book-loving consumers but arguably good for authors as well — and even for some publishers (although not Hachette and its ilk).

Is Amazon a true monopoly? Not in any meaningful sense of the word — not any more than Walmart has a monopoly on sales of toothpaste. Yes, the electronic retailer has a large share of the ebook retailing market, but this is also a market that it effectively invented, because publishers like Hachette and other members of the traditional “Big Five” cartel (formerly the Big Six, before Random House and Penguin merged) showed no interest in doing so.

And even after the major publishers were dragged kicking and screaming into that market, they have continued to try and keep prices high and their gross profit margins large — to the extent of engaging in illegal collusion in order to do so.

. . . .

This isn’t much different from what happened to the music industry when Apple came along: it recognized that the market was changing, and created the iPod to take advantage of it. Eventually, the major labels had to play ball with Apple — which used many of the same negotiating tactics as Amazon has — in order to access that market, because they had failed to do so themselves. And they tried in vain to keep the price of digital music higher and royalties lower, and by doing so dug themselves an even deeper hole. Meanwhile, music buyers benefitted.

. . . .

As authorBarry Eisler put it recently in The Guardian:

“Legacy publishers pay authors only twice a year [and] they generally pay us only 12.5 percent in digital royalties, compared to the 70 percent we get from Amazon. They insist on taking control of our copyright not for a reasonable term, but forever. They’ve done all they can to try to keep the prices of books artificially high, which hurts consumers and costs authors money. They have a record of zero innovation. And they’ve run the industry for decades in a way that has benefited the few while stifling new opportunities for the many.”

. . . .

At the simplest level, what Amazon is doing with Hachette is no different than what any other retailer does with a supplier: namely, negotiate a better deal when that supplier’s profit margin seems overly fat compared to its costs.

. . . .

What makes Amazon’s dispute with publishers different from a typical battle between a retailer like Walmart and a supplier, of course, is that books are not toothpaste or toilet paper. They are a cultural artifact that brings all kinds of emotional baggage with it, involving the struggling author, the nature of the creative impulse and other intangibles. And yet, they are also a physical product — one that is going through the same kind of wrenching change that any other kind of content is, from newspapers to music. All we know for sure is that the market cannot remain the same, and the forces that are trying desperately to make it do so are on the wrong side of history and are likely doomed.

. . . .

What makes Amazon’s dispute with publishers different from a typical battle between a retailer like Walmart and a supplier, of course, is that books are not toothpaste or toilet paper. They are a cultural artifact that brings all kinds of emotional baggage with it, involving the struggling author, the nature of the creative impulse and other intangibles. And yet, they are also a physical product — one that is going through the same kind of wrenching change that any other kind of content is, from newspapers to music. All we know for sure is that the market cannot remain the same, and the forces that are trying desperately to make it do so are on the wrong side of history and are likely doomed.

. . . .

Does this mean that writing will become a low-margin business that fails to attract the kind of creative output it has in the past?

. . . .

Or as Evan Hughes describes it:

“The Amazon–Hachette dispute is different from a battle over terms between, say, Walmart and Coca-Cola: Diet Coke has a set formula of ingredients, so the actual beverage is not going to get worse if Walmart drives a hard bargain. That’s not necessarily the case with books, each of which is a unique product. If publishers make less money on every book, they are going to pay people less to write and edit them, and talented people will decide to do something else with their time.”

Link to the rest at Gigaom and thanks to Chris for the tip.

PG says that writing for traditional publisher is a low-margin business for most of the authors who participate in that business. As indie authors who are quitting their day jobs demonstrate, writing doesn’t have to be a low-margin business.

PG also suggests that the best stewards of literary culture are the authors who create literature, not the people who make arrangements for printing presses.

Two Different Worlds

2 July 2014

Passive Guy had an interesting experience last night. He was part of a panel that should have been described as “Amazon: Threat or Menace?” The panel was comprised of six people who had close ties to Traditional Publishing on the one hand and PG on the other – see livestream here. PG also did a podcast with Len Edgerly discussing his experiences earlier this morning that will show up at The Kindle Chronicles.

First – In the green room before the panel began, everyone was very nice to PG. The event was held in the New York Public Library. PG has traveled to New York on business at least a million times, but he had never been inside the NYPL before. It’s a fabulous place, a temple celebrating books. He strongly recommends a visit for anyone who hasn’t been there.

The auditorium appeared to hold about 80 audience members and was full. It was probably the largest gathering of people who are not soccer fans anywhere in New York last night.

PG won’t review who said what because you can get that in the livestream. With only two exceptions, he’s not going to talk about particular panelists and those exceptions will be in service of the broader purpose of this post.

PG will discuss the larger conclusions he drew during and after the panel interchanges.

As the title of the post indicates, traditional publishing and indie authors live in two different worlds. The business concerns, the view of the future, the willingness and ability to change, the attitude toward Amazon and the self-image of the two groups are widely divergent.

To the extent that the other panelists were representative of tradpub as a whole, PG concludes they’re terrified of Amazon. They believe that Amazon’s commitment to low prices is simply not consistent with their survival and they’re desperate to keep prices up. The idea of changing the way they operate to thrive a lower-price world is not on anyone’s radar. Neither is the concept of making up revenue and profits with higher volume.

One of the divergences triggered by the other lawyers on the panel was illuminating. At one point during the discussion of Amazon’s evils, one attorney mentioned setting the Justice Department antitrust division on Amazon. The other responded that this strategy wouldn’t work during the present Administration (undoubtedly it’s been tried), but the next Administration might be a different story.

Some of what was going on here was typical urban lawyer marketing to prospective clients – “I know important people and have access to inside information and levers of power so you should hire me.”

Excluding PG, this was definitely an inside information group.

The larger message, at least for PG, was that a desperate publishing industry has concluded it can’t survive in the marketplace and only government intervention to throttle Amazon will save it. Publishing will have to obtain through politics what it can’t through commerce.

All major New York publishers are subsidiaries of large media conglomerates. As someone pointed out with a bit of disdain, American businesses are not willing to invest in American publishers so all but one of the conglomerates that own Big Publishing are headquartered overseas. Shame on American business.

PG spent a couple of unhappy years working for the subsidiary of a large foreign-based media conglomerate and speaks from that experience.

The top executives of the large New York publishers are essentially middle managers in the business hierarchy of the conglomerates that own them. They take orders from headquarters. Financial performance comes first for the owners. Everything else is a distant second. If one New York publishing executive doesn’t perform, he/she will be out and another will be brought in. The decision will be made overseas and, likely, no one in New York will know about it until it occurs.

Some overseas conglomerate executives are not adept at understanding American business, particularly the high tech business. There’s nothing remotely like Amazon in Europe. One of the continuing sources of anxiety among American executives is trying to get Michelle in France or Hans in Germany to understand and accept competitive realities and constraints in the US.

As followers of The Passive Voice have seen, media tycoons can instigate anti-Amazon laws in various European countries. The bosses of New York publishing executives must wonder if they need different US management in order to generate some robust American anti-Amazon laws and regulations. The stress generated by these expectations is at least part of the reason for the anti-Amazon hysteria.

Another clear impression PG gained was that authors are a bit superfluous in the business considerations of publishers.

There were three lawyers and only one consistently-publishing author – James Patterson – on the panel. That shows authors where they sit. Why would you ask a bunch of authors who aren’t centimillionaires about Amazon or publishing or business as usual?

As someone pointed out in the comments to an earlier post, James Patterson is essentially his own imprint. Given all the co-authors and ghost-writers he uses, he may be more akin to a publisher or at least a book packager than a typical commercial author these days. PG does not begrudge Patterson his commercial success or the way he currently produces his books, but he’s really only representative of himself and a handful of similar writers, not authors as a whole.

At one point, when PG was talking about the financial success of indie authors, the moderator cut him off by saying, “Everyone wants authors to make more money.”

What was unspoken was, “in the right way.” With publishers and agents, not by themselves with Amazon.

PG observed a recurring and, perhaps unconscious elitist attitude on the panel. This group really believes that big and little publishing are the protectors of American literature and the deciders of what people will and will not read. Of course the protectors must be paid for their work, but that is really a secondary consideration.

Unless book prices are held high and authors’ royalties are kept low, how will their pet projects be funded? Poetry! Important nonfiction! Everyone has to sacrifice to support Literature! Romance readers must pay more to support the creation of the definitive history of the Boer War or a breakthrough book that chronicles the rise of a new gender identity – The Fifth Sex.

Who decides which books are important? Well, people like us Manhattanites. Who better to perform this vital work? People in Seattle? Readers? Authors? Pish-posh. Those types are certainly not qualified to be protectors of our Culture. They’re the worker bees.

The strangest event of the evening was the suggestion that Amazon is tweaking search results when someone pays them to do so.

PG has certainly not heard any hint of such a thing and, when he asked for evidence, no meaningful response was provided.

Aside from the fact that the only people in a position to pay for book search results would be large New York publishers, the same organizations the panel was trying to protect, the allegation vastly understates the complexity and sophistication of Amazon’s website.

Every interaction draws customized product suggestions. When you go to Amazon.com, you’ll see something different than PG does when he goes there. Ditto for all the emails. Amazon is constantly watching what its customers are doing and attempting to put the most relevant products in front of each visitor.

The suggestion also misunderstands the position of books in Amazon’s overall product hierarchy. Amazon serves customers. Not book customers or electronics customers, just customers. Whatever the customer wants, Amazon endeavors to provide.

Amazon wants to be your favorite diaper store and your  favorite hand tool store and your favorite book store. If it doesn’t give you the very best information when you’re buying books, you might go elsewhere for diapers too.

PG and Mrs. PG buy a lot of books on Amazon, but the dollar value of their non-book purchases is much higher than their book purchases. Amazon wants PG to buy everything on Amazon. The downside of jiggered search results would vastly outweigh any payments a publisher might make to obtain such search results.

PG prefers a simpler world:

  1. Write a great book
  2. Hire a great editor and cover designer
  3. Put it up on Amazon
  4. Tell people about it
  5. Repeat a few times and quit your day job.

Start Media Buys Whiskey Creek Press, Imposes New Contract Terms

28 June 2014

From Writer Beware:

In early June, Debra Womack, owner of Whiskey Creek Press, announced in a letter to authors that the publisher was in the process of being acquired by Start Media (a company that has recently acquired two other small presses, Night Shade Books and Salvo Press).

As part of the acquisition process, Start is asking all current WCP authors to agree to and sign an offer of new terms as follows on page two below. We are offering you the non-refundable sum of $1 and other good and valuable consideration, payable to you if and when the sale of the company to Start is completed (expected to be by the end of June 2014). Upon closing you will also receive a payment from WCP of current royalties and/or advances or any other sums owing to you by WCP for sales up through and including April 30, 2014.

. . . .

WCP’s contract includes this clause:

If the Publisher sells its assets to another publisher who does or plans to market and promote books of the type and genre of the Work, the successor publisher will be bound, as a minimum, to the same terms delineated in this agreement.

In direct contradiction to this, however, the letter of agreement Start Media is asking authors to sign imposes some substantially different terms. WCP’s contract term is 3 years from publication; Start Media’s is life-of-copyright. WCP’s ebook royalties are 35% of the net download price; Start Media’s are 25% of net (“all monies actually received”). There’s also a troubling gap between April 30, when WCP ceases to pay royalties, and July 1, when Start Media’s new royalty rate kicks in. What happens to books sold in May and June?

Understandably, WCP authors are upset and angry. Many are refusing to sign–despite the fact that no explanation has been provided, either by Womack/WCP or Start Media, of what will happen to their rights if they don’t.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

The moral of this cautionary tail is that authors can’t assume the publisher they sign with (and who gives them all sorts of promises that aren’t written into the contract) will be the same publisher they’ll be dealing with for the entire term of their contract.

Indeed, in a life-of-the-copyright agreement, it is virtually certain the existing publisher will disappear before the contract ends. At a bare minimum, all the people working for the existing publisher will be long gone before the contract is done.

Writer Beware is an excellent site and provides insightful analysis and warnings concerning publishers and their contracts. However, PG disagrees with WB’s defense of life-of-the-copyright contract terms. Ultimately, it’s the worst sort of rights grab and, in PG’s unceasingly humble opinion, is always unreasonable.

Additionally, as they are typically written, out-of-print clauses are seldom a reasonable solution to the problem of ridiculously long publishing contracts.

First, the typical OOP clause is extremely complex and difficult for an author to navigate. Having to pay an attorney to help figure out whether a book is out of print and work through the OOP administrative process is ridiculous.

Second, the typical OOP clause gives the publisher all sorts of ways to avoid reverting the title with no material benefit to the author.

Third the typical OOP clause is set to such a low trigger point – WB mentions 50 copies per year or 25 copies per year – that the author has probably experienced years of absurdly small royalties before the OOP clause can be triggered.

A long time ago (as measured in Internet time), PG suggested an improvement to OOP clauses – A Mimimum Wage for Authors. Basically, it’s tied to royalties paid by the publisher to the author, not the number of copies the publisher sells. The author cares about dollars (or euros, etc.), not how many ebooks were sold at 99 cents each.

In a nutshell, the Minimum Wage for Authors OOP clause says if the author doesn’t receive a certain minimum royalty payment for a book, the book reverts. In a life-of-the-copyright contract, PG recommends that an inflation adjustment provision be applied to the minimum royalty payment as well because $100 will be worth a lot less fifty years from now than it is today.

The best solution is, of course, a publishing contract that ends within a specific number of years which is the way contracts operate in the reality-based business world.

New York Public Library Program – Amazon: Business As Usual

27 June 2014

PG has been pried out of his lair to participate in a panel discussion on the topic, Amazon: Business As Usual, at The New York Public Library on July 1, 2014 from 7 – 9 p.m.

If there had been a question at the end of the topic, PG’s answer would have been “yes.”

However, in the absence of a question mark, he is not certain what he will be saying.

He is also conflicted about whether to wear his t-shirt that says “What Is It About 70% Royalties You Don’t Understand?”

Why the Analysts are Wrong

19 June 2014

From Hugh Howey:

There are a lot of analysts out there whom I admire as people, even as they do a very poor job of covering the publishing world. There are dozens of stories that should be covered heavily right now that are going completely ignored. To name a few:

• The manipulation of bestseller lists, from the NYT list to the online B&N store. In both cases, readers are made to believe that these lists signify actual sales rank, when they do not. The B&N list features co-op spaces paid for by major publishers, and self-published romance authors are artificially shoved down to the #126 position and below. Readers might be interested in knowing this. Some may want to start browsing at position #126 to find some hidden (buried?) gems.

. . . .

• Publishing contracts are becoming more draconian and harming writers’ careers. The most favored nation clause, the increasingly strict non-competes, the rise of high-discount sales and how this lower royalty rate buried in contracts is impacting writers, and the abusive term of copyright in an age when books no longer go out of print.

. . . .

• And I haven’t seen a single analysts link the rise of independent bookstores the past three years with the decline of big-box discount bookstores to show how Amazon is putting the latter out of business and possibly helping save the former.
. . . .

After an interview at a conference recently, I had a reporter confide in me about a top-name analysts she approached with some similar questions. The curt response from this analyst to one of her questions about self-publishing was: “I don’t know anything about self-publishing.” This is a pundit paid to know what’s going on in an industry, and that pundit has decided that roughly 10% of the industry (and the fastest growing sector) isn’t even worth looking at or understanding.

. . . .

But it hit me the other day, and I finally saw where these analysts truly go wrong, and that’s this: They focus their reporting on the middlemen. Once you realize this, you’ll see it everywhere. They aren’t covering the book trade; they aren’t even covering the publishing industry (because that would include self-publishers and small presses); they are simply covering five companies and their distributors.

Most of the coverage, of course, revolves around Amazon. And most of it is negative. I even saw one pundit exclaim that he had a brilliant new idea, and that was for authors to publish their works exclusively with Barnes & Noble in exchange for co-op placement. Think about that. Give up distribution diversity for a month on a rack in a dwindling bookstore. The only way this makes sense is through the lens of anti-Amazon bias. There is no other way to make sense of it. It’s one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard, and it was announced as if bread had finally met with knife.

. . . .

The worst of it is this, and here is what becomes readily apparent and why you won’t see coverage on any of the stories in my bulleted list: The analysts don’t care about readers, and they don’t care about writers. That’s what their coverage tells me, anyway. High prices are not a social injustice, they are a savvy grab for corporate profits. The authors’ share of earnings is never discussed, only the publishers’, even though we now know that self-published authors are out-earning traditionally published authors on the largest e-book platform in the world.

. . . .

Yes, publishers can add value to manuscripts. Maybe they add 10% of that value, if I’m being generous. Manuscripts that need more than that never get to a publisher in the first place (or they are published as-is because of a celebrity’s profile).

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey

Passive Guy says that analysts ultimately tell their paying clients what they think their clients want to hear. They do it skillfully and will certainly “challenge” their clients, but they can only go so far without upsetting the flow of consulting fees.

At some level, publishers know they’re in trouble – the hysteria over Hachette/Amazon negotiations is one indication of that mindset. A healthy, confident industry wouldn’t experience apocalyptic visions every time someone mentions Bezos.

But who’s going to pay a consultant big bucks to come into the board room and tell everyone they’re toast? So, the analyst paints a stormy sea with a light on the horizon. The course to that warm and sunny place is enhanced ebooks or subscription plans or unicorns.

Because what’s warm and sunny about cutting prices and paying authors more?

Working cooperatively with Amazon to figure out new ways of selling more and more books? Where’s the garlic and the cross?!?!!

That’s a fast way for an analyst to get fired. It’s so much nicer to hear about subscription programs and doing the same thing, but better.

 

Much as I like Hugh Howey, I disagree with just about all of this recent post of his

17 June 2014

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin, a response to a post by Hugh Howey discussed here:

I need to say couple of things at the outset here. The first is that I really like and admire Hugh Howey and the fact that I disagree with almost every paragraph of this post of his shouldn’t suggest that I don’t. That’s not snark or irony; it is sincere. I think it is both noble and natural for people to defend the entities and circumstances that make possible their commercial success and it is just human nature that those who have benefited from a paradigm reflexively want to defend it. I only wish that Hugh would exhibit the same respect for that tendency when it is exhibited by authors who have done well with publishers.

. . . .

The other is that I don’t see the “Amazon versus the publishing establishment” battle as a moral choice, just a tug of war between competing business interests.
. . . .

I continue to believe that self-publishing is a useful tool that most authors should employ at one time or another but that, still almost all of the time, an author who is offered a publishing deal from a major house willing to pay an aggressive advance is better off to take it than go it alone. (If you’re not offered a substantial advance, the calculus shifts, but there is a lot of work involved in self-publishing that is not described in much detail in this post, even though Hugh Howey knows much better than I do how much work it is!) And I think that generalized advice to authors to eschew publishers in a world where print still matters and stores still matter remains, as of today, unwise. That may well change in the future, but it hasn’t changed yet.
. . . .

Publishers are trying to keep a print book physical distribution infrastructure alive. That’s not irrational. It is rational. And it is the crux of the difference in objectives between a publisher’s strategy and Amazon’s strategy. The more bookstores fade, the better it is for Amazon and the worse it is for publishers. This is a problem you could have read about on this blog a long time ago.
. . . .

I agree that ebook royalties should be higher. But, in fact, only authors who sell their books to publishers without competitive bids (which indicates either “no agent” or “limited appeal generated by the proposal”) are living on that 25% royalty. The others negotiated an advance that effectively paid them far more than that. And guaranteed it before the book hit the marketplace. Publishers are making a massive PR error not raising the “standard” royalty since they effectively pay much more than that now, but the authors signing contracts with them know the truth.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

PG has the impression that Mike and Hugh are looking at two different worlds.

PG’s experience, through people who email him and leave comments on The Passive Voice, as well as via his clients, is a lot closer to Hugh’s world than Mike’s.

If Mike’s world is the one that the management of Big Publishing sees (and PG suspects it is), then, with respect, they really don’t understand the talent drain that’s siphoning off their future income.

Look at Author Earnings which, despite all the rocks that legacy publishing throws at it, is the best picture available (outside of the inner sanctums of Amazon) of  ebook sales on the only ebook market that really counts.

PG suspects that Big Publishing is heavily focused on its own Amazon numbers and the reports that the AAP, Bowker, etc., produce. Those numbers miss the indie ebook sales that AE is able to highlight.

Indie authors are making serious inroads into the ebook fiction bestseller lists. Not only does every indie bestseller bump a tradpub bestseller down lower on the list, every indie bestseller is an author that tradpub missed and (50 Shades notwithstanding) is not likely to get. Ever.

The fantasy that a publisher can always snag a bestselling indie author with a big advance is simply not true any more and becoming more untrue with every passing month.

EL James and Amanda Hocking are old, old news. Perhaps he’s forgetting someone, but PG can’t think of a top-selling indie who has gone exclusive with a trade publisher during the last twelve months. And there have been more than a few gonzo-selling indie authors who have been selling at a seven-figure-per-year pace during the last twelve months. Indie bestsellers are turning down seven figure advances these days.

Many industry publications have promoted the hybrid author – someone who has both indie books and a publishing contract – as evidence that tradpub still has its attractions even for authors who don’t want to go steady.

The unfortunate reality is that a whole lot of hybrid authors are telling their friends that they’re only with their publishers to help build their personal brands with short-term publicity and book store exposure and are still making more money from their indie titles. These authors are also calculating how much more money they would be making if they had self-pubbed the books they sold to publishers and vowing never to make that mistake again.

But that’s the way it looks in PG’s world. Obviously, Mike doesn’t live here.

Why I rejected my publisher

11 June 2014

From author Jordan McCollum:

If you’ve poked around my site or been a subscriber for a while, you might remember that in November 2011, I received an offer of publication from a regional publisher, with a 2013 anticipated release. . . . Like any publishing offer, it was a long time coming.

Three years and two weeks after I started the novel. Two years after I submitted it to the same publishing house the first time (obviously they rejected it, and with good reason). Eighteen months after an editor at the publishing company told me not to bother resubmitting the revised, newly-award-winning manuscript. Almost nine months after I went ahead and did it anyway.

I got the good news at a writers’ retreat and I was so excited to share with my friends there.

. . . .

While we waited on that contract, they assigned me an editor, who happened to be someone I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. They asked me for the “final” submitted version of my manuscript (although editing was at least a year away). They requested an author photo, then a release from my amazing photographer. They needed tax documents. I got it all turned in.

Finally, the contract came in the mail. I held my breath as I opened that big white envelope and read through those pages with my publisher’s name and mine. And I cried.

But they weren’t tears of joy.

With a friend’s recommendation, I consulted with a lawyer who specializes in contract disputes and intellectual property law. He spent looong billable hours reading the contract and writing me an extremely thorough analysis. And, yeah, it was as bad as I feared.

. . . .

Naturally, I was very worried about the possibility of a book never being declared “out of print” because the publisher had an ebook version on the “shelves.” I might never get the rights to my backlist back unless the publisher was feeling very generous.

. . . .

But my lawyer was more concerned with another issue, one that I was anticipating, but didn’t think it would be as bad as the reality. The contract demanded the right of first refusal on basically everything I might write for the next 21 years. If I submitted any work anywhere else, it would be deemed accepted by this publisher, and contractually obligated to them first. There was no timeline in the original contract, meaning they could spend three years sitting on my manuscript, before granting me one year to try to find someone else to take it (after which the time frame and rejection process would start over).

. . . .

I offered options, options I knew other authors had gotten added to their contracts with this company, and options I knew other publishers used. I gave some, and they gave a little.

Ultimately, however, they wouldn’t budge on the most important issue.

. . . .

I sent a final message to the publisher. I told them I didn’t want to burn any bridges, but I would need to see changes to these clauses of the contract.

They said no.

So I said no.

Link to the rest at Jordan McCollum

To answer a question that may be on the minds of some — Jordan is not one of PG’s clients.

However, the contract problems she describes are very familiar to PG.

Typical out-of-print clauses are virtually impossible for an author to enforce unless the publisher wants to revert the book. See one of PG’s first contract-related posts describing a minimum wage for authors for a better alternative to standard out-of-print clauses.

Rights of first refusal and non-compete clauses can substantially limit an author’s freedom to self-publish or choose to work with another publisher, even if the first publisher is doing a terrible job of selling books.

2014 Author Survey: Indie Authors and Others Prefer Traditional Publishing…Slightly

10 June 2014

From Digital Book World:

I have had a very positive experience in traditional publishing, but I know many authors who have not. In my research life, having a prestigious publication by a highly regarded academic publisher has made the difference between long-term career stability and unemployment. Moreover, I was lucky to work with wonderful editors who not only helped me make the book infinitely better but who also provided important guidance in building my career. Cornell University Press was committed to my book Code Green: Money-Driven Hospitals and the Dismantling of Nursing, provided a gorgeous cover, and they continue, even ten years after publication, to promote the book in their list. Should I publish another book based on my research (I’ve tended toward articles), I would be hard-pressed to consider self-publishing.

My newest fiction project is another matter entirely. Later this week, writing as D. B. Shuster, I will self-publish the first installment of my serial thriller The Kings of Brighton Beach, a Russian mafia saga set in Brooklyn, NY. This publishing experience has also been a positive one—no rejection, no wasted time in the slush pile.

. . . .

Few authors share my enthusiasm for indie publishing, according to the latest data.

I recently learned this while analyzing survey results for the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey. Among the authors surveyed who had completed manuscripts, surprisingly few expressed a preference to indie publish their latest ones. Among traditionally published authors in the survey sample, only 7.5% expressed a preference to self-publish rather than to traditionally publish, compared to 10.1% of aspiring, 35.1% of self-published, and 29.8% of hybrid authors. While interest in self-publishing was higher among those respondents who had tried it, few authors reported that they only wanted to self-publish their next book.

. . . .

The survey sample is a non-scientific sample, since it is voluntary rather than a random sample. The authors, most of whom responded after receiving a notification from Writer’s Digest about the survey, may not be representative of the population of authors. However, the number of respondents is quite impressive and certainly represents many, many more sources than would ever be consulted even in the best investigative journalism.

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

PG will add that non-scientific surveys cannot be relied upon to reflect the experiences and opinions of a population as a whole – authors in this case. Investigative journalism is most definitely not any sort of gold standard for discovering the opinions and experiences of a large group of people.

PG doesn’t know how many people still read or subscribe to Writer’s Digest, but the opinions and experiences described in the survey results only represent the 9,000 or so people who are on a Writers Digest email list who decided to spend their time filling out the online survey.

Scientifically generated random samples are expensive, but they’re the only way for the results of a survey to represent a larger population with any degree of reliability.

Somebody somewhere is bound to bring up the Author Earnings data as they have when prior results of Digital Book World’s surveys have been released. While past DBW surveys have confirmed the beliefs of many in tradpub concerning idie authors and the continuing desire of most authors to be traditionally-published, Author Earnings reports tend to cause discomfort among the denizens of legacy publishing.

Author Earnings takes its measurements from the entire population the survey covers – the 50,000 ebooks on Amazon with the highest sales rank on a particular day, for example (PG doesn’t remember the exact number that AE grabbed the last time).

The analysis Author Earnings conducts on its sample presents a completely accurate picture of those books on Amazon on that day. (This is the case with any survey, scientific or otherwise. The survey results are a picture of a population at the time when the survey was conducted.)

With each Author Earnings report, we receive another completely accurate picture of a large group of top-selling books on Amazon on a particular day. While it is theoretically possible that the days between each single-day snapshot Author Earnings analyzes are completely different than the snapshot days, it seems unlikely.

With each snapshot, we not only have another completely accurate data point for comparison with prior snapshots, but we have a basis for comparing one picture with another to discern trends and develop more reliable extrapolations of what was happening on the days between each snapshot.

Obviously sampling of any sort, scientific or non-scientific, is not as good as having all the information all the time, but sample reliability is fundamental to the reliability of any conclusions drawn from survey results. It’s yet another garbage-in/garbage-out situation.

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