Where Is All the Book Data?

From Public Books:

Culture industries increasingly use our data to sell us their products. It’s time to use their data to study them. To that end, we created the Post45 Data Collective, an open access site that peer reviews and publishes literary and cultural data. This a partnership between the Data Collective and Public Books, a series called Hacking the Culture Industries, brings you data-driven essays that change how we understand audiobooks, bestselling books, streaming music, video games, influential literary institutions such as the New York Times and the New Yorker, and more. Together, they show a new way of understanding how culture is made, and how we can make it better.

—Laura McGrath and Dan Sinykin

. . . .

After the first lockdown in March 2020, I went looking for book sales data. I’m a data scientist and a literary scholar, and I wanted to know what books people were turning to in the early days of the pandemic for comfort, distraction, hope, guidance. How many copies of Emily St. John Mandel’s pandemic novel Station Eleven were being sold in COVID-19 times compared to when the novel debuted in 2014? And what about Giovanni Boccaccio’s much older—14th-century—plague stories, The Decameron? Were people clinging to or fleeing from pandemic tales during peak coronavirus panic? You might think, as I naively did, that a researcher would be able to find out exactly how many copies of a book were sold in certain months or years. But you, like me, would be wrong.

I went looking for book sales data, only to find that most of it is proprietary and purposefully locked away. What I learned was that the single most influential data in the publishing industry—which, every day, determines book contracts and authors’ lives—is basically inaccessible to anyone beyond the industry. And I learned that this is a big problem.

The problem with book sales data may not, at first, be apparent. Every week, the New York Times of course releases its famous list of “bestselling” books, but this list does not include individual sales numbers. Moreover, select book sales figures are often reported to journalists—like the fact that Station Eleven has sold more than 1.5 million copies overall—and also shared through outlets like Publishers Weekly. However, the underlying source for all these sales figures is typically an exclusive subscription service called BookScan: the most granular, comprehensive, and influential book sales data in the industry (though it still has significant holes—more on that to come).

Since its launch in 2001, BookScan has grown in authority. All the major publishing houses now rely on BookScan data, as do many other publishing professionals and authors. But, as I found to my surprise, pretty much everybody else is explicitly banned from using BookScan data, including academics. The toxic combination of this data’s power in the industry and its secretive inaccessibility to those beyond the industry reveals a broader problem. If we want to understand the contemporary literary world, we need better book data. And we need this data to be free, open, and interoperable.

Fortunately, there are a number of forward-thinking people who are already leading the charge for open book data. The Seattle Public Library is one of the few libraries in the country that releases (anonymized) book checkout data online, enabling anyone to download it from the internet for free. It isn’t book sales data, but it’s close. And such data might help us understand how the popularity of certain books fluctuates over time and in response to historical events like the COVID-19 pandemic (especially if more libraries around the country join the open data effort). Literary scholars have also begun to compile “counterdata” about the publishing industry. Richard So, a professor of English and cultural analytics at McGill University, and Laura McGrath, an English professor at Temple University, have respectively collected data about the race and ethnicity of authors published by mainstream publishing houses. Through their work, So and McGrath each prove that the Big Five houses have historically been dominated by white authors and that they continue to systematically reinforce whiteness today.

While all of this data is powerful in its own right, it becomes even more powerful if we can combine it all together: if we can merge author demographic data with library checkout data or with other literary trends. This promise anchors the Post45 Data Collective, an open-access repository for literary and cultural data that was founded by McGrath and Emory professor Dan Sinykin, and that I now lead as a coeditor with Sinykin. One of the goals of the repository is to help researchers get credit for the data that they painstakingly collect, clean, and share. But a broader goal is to share free cultural data with anybody who wants to reuse and recombine it to better understand contemporary literature, music, art, and more.

. . . .

BookScan’s influence in the publishing world is clear and far-reaching. To an editor, BookScan numbers offer two crucial data points: (1) the sales history of the potential author, if it exists, and (2) the sales history of comparable, or “comp,” titles. These data points, if deemed unfavorable, can mean a book is dead in the water.

Take it from freelance editor Christina Boys, whom I spoke with over email, and who worked for 20 years as an editor at two of the Big Five publishing houses (Simon & Schuster and Hachette Book Group). Boys told me that BookScan data is “very important” for deciding whether to acquire or pass on a book; BookScan is also used to determine the size of an advance, to dictate the scale of a marketing campaign or book tour, and to help sell subsidiary rights like translation rights or book club rights. “A poor sales history on BookScan often results in an immediate pass,” Boys said.

Clayton Childress, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, came to similar conclusions in his 2012 study of BookScan data, in which he interviewed and observed more than 40 acquisition editors from across the country. Bad book sales numbers can haunt an author “like a bad credit score,” Childress reported, and they can “caus[e] others to be hesitant to do business with them because of past failures.”

According to editors like Boys, the sway of book sales figures has siphoned much of the creativity and originality out of contemporary book publishing. “There’s less opportunity to acquire or promote a book based on things like gut instinct, quality of the writing, uniqueness of an idea, or literary or societal merit,” Boys claimed. “While passion—arguing that a book should be published—still matters, using that as a justification when it’s contrary to BookScan data has become increasingly challenging.” In a similar vein, Anne Trubek, the founder and publisher of the independent press Belt Publishing, told me that BookScan data is a strong conservative force in the industry—one of the reasons, though not the only reason, that Belt Publishing stopped subscribing after only one year. Trubek says that BookScan data encourages publishers to keep recycling the same kinds of books that sold well in the past. “I didn’t want to be a publisher who was working that way,” she elaborated. “That was not interesting. I think a lot of Big Five publishing is driven by data, and I think that things end up much more unimaginative as a result.”

Despite these claims, other publishing professionals maintain that BookScan data has not changed their work quite as dramatically. Childress interviewed one editor who explained that he manages to use BookScan data in creative ways to support his own independent choices. Yet even when editors find inventive ways to use BookScan data and to preserve their own aesthetic judgment, it is striking that they must still use and reckon with BookScan data in some form.

Perhaps most importantly, however, it is likely that books end up much more racially homogenous—that is, white—as a result of BookScan data, too. For example, in McGrath’s pioneering research on “comp” titles (the books that agents and editors claim are “comparable” to a pitched book), she found that 96 percent of the most frequently used comps were written by white authors. Because one of the most important features of a good comp title is a promising sales history, it is likely that comp titles and BookScan data work together to reinforce conservative white hegemony in the industry.

. . . .

For all of its extensive influence, most of us outside the publishing industry know surprisingly little about BookScan data: how much it costs, what it looks like, or what exactly it includes and measures. According to a 2009 business study, publishing house licenses for BookScan data cost somewhere between $350,000 and $750,000 a year at that time. Literary agents, scouts, and other publishing professionals can subscribe to NPD Publishers Marketplace for the humbler baseline price of $2,500 a year, and many authors can view their own BookScan data for free via Amazon.

But academics and almost everyone else are out of luck. When I inquired about getting access to BookScan data directly through NPD Group (the market research company that bought US BookScan from Nielsen in 2017), a sales specialist told me: “There are some limitations to who we are permitted to license our BookScan data to. This includes publishers, retailers, book distributors, publishing arms of universities, university presses and author agents. Do you fall within one of these categories?” When I reached out to NPD Publishers Marketplace, they told me the same thing. David Walter, executive director of NPD Books, confirmed that NPD does not license data to academic researchers: “We only license to publishers and related businesses, and … our license terms preclude sharing of any data publicly, which conflicts with the need to publish academic research. That is why we do not license data for the purposes of academic research.”

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG notes that the OP continues to delve into the details and problems of excluded data in BookScan and he recommends reading the article in its entirety.

PG has written about BookScan on several prior occasions. BookScan is presently owned by Hellman & Friedman, a private equity investment firm headquartered in San Francisco with offices in New York City and London.

This structure means that BookScan’s activities and finances are watched carefully by a group of numbers guys and numbers gals (although all the big bosses appear to be guys).

A quick look at H&F’s portfolio companies reveal 77 present and past subsidiaries that are all over the board. Insurance, cloud computing, home décor products, home security, customer experience management, energy and metals research, etc., etc.

H&F’s description of the companies it formerly owned/invested in shows more than a few that the company purchased, rehabbed and resold.

While sampling H&F’s past and present portfolio companies, an old term floated into PG’s mind, Pump and Dump. Pump and Dump involves acquiring shares in a publicly-held company, then fraudulently inflating the price of shares of stock of that company and selling out while the share prices are high. Such activity was often followed by a decline in the price of the company’s shares.

Pump and Dump is illegal and PG is not suggesting that H&F’s activities with its past or present portfolio companies constitutes an illegal Pump and Dump scheme.

However, the company does list former portfolio companies it acquired and later sold presumably for a higher price after increasing the health and value of the company.

The traditional publishing industry’s reliance on BookScan for a whole lot of decisions that impact authors is, as the OP implies, close to a religion.

If anyone in the traditional publishing business asked PG for his opinion regarding the tracking of book sales (pigs flying is more likely to occur), he would advise developing an analytics system that sliced and diced sales on Amazon in a large variety of ways.

While not ignoring BookScan completely, PG suspects that publishers would gain more actionable data from watching sales (and returns) of their ebook and print editions in close to real-time from the world’s largest bookstore instead of a collection of traditional retail outlets that have been losing market share in books for a very long time.

In PG’s monumentally humble opinion, those people who regularly purchase books from a physical bookstore are not representative of the book-buying public as a whole.

The books world is much tougher now

From The Guardian:

William Boyd, 70, is the author of 26 books, including Any Human Heart (2002) – adapted for television in 2010 with three actors playing the lead role of Logan Mountstuart – and Restless, the Costa novel of the year in 2006. His new book, The Romantic, is set in the 19th century and presents itself as a biographical fiction inspired by the personal papers of one Cashel Greville Ross, a Scots-born Irishman who fought at Waterloo, met Shelley, smuggled Greek antiquities and set out in search of the source of the Nile, among other adventures. Boyd, whom Sebastian Faulks has called “the finest storyteller of his generation”, grew up in Ghana and Nigeria and lives in London and the Dordogne, from where he spoke over Zoom.

Where did this novel begin?
My mid-20s were steeped in Romantic poetry because I spent eight years at Oxford not finishing a PhD on Shelley. I’ve always felt that nothing is wasted, and I was asking myself how I could recycle this material when I read The Life of Henry Brulard, the fantastically modern-feeling autobiography by [the 19th-century French writer] Stendhal, who I don’t think is much read in UK literary circles. He called himself a romantic because he kept falling in love – he felt it was a curse – and I decided that this store of knowledge I had about Romantic poets could gel with writing about someone with that kind of temperament.

How does writing a “whole life” novel – this is your fourth – compare with writing your thrillers?
It’s more challenging. In a tightly structured spy novel like Restless, the plot machinery is part of the allure. Here, the narrative has to seem like it’s happening randomly, like life, yet it can’t flag: Cashel is 82 when he dies, and you can’t write a 5,000-page novel with every month and every year. My other three whole-life novels are told in the first person, so nothing can happen and it’s still interesting because of the voice. I was conscious that writing The Romantic in the third person meant that things had to keep happening, even at the end of Cashel’s life. What I came to understand was that 19th-century lives were incredibly crowded; Anthony Trollope went to Australia twice and America six times.

. . . .

What about your use of faux-real framing devices – what attracts you to those?
When I published my novel The New Confessions in 1987, it was reviewed in the Times by Bernard Levin, who said he was so convinced by the novel’s autobiographical form that he found himself riffling through looking for the photographs. That was where the idea of Any Human Heart was born. I had a kind of test drive for that novel when I used anonymous photographs of real people in my art hoax, Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960, a biography of this nonexistent painter, where I got people like [David] Bowie to join the conspiracy. In [Boyd’s 2015 novel] Sweet Caress the photos telling the story of the main character’s life all come from junk shops and websites. It’s an old trope – Daniel Defoe pretended Moll Flanders was a real person – but I want people to think, God, did Logan Mountstuart really exist? I’m trying to show that fiction can grip you in a way that reportage and history can’t.

How has the writing life changed since you began publishing?
The 1980s was a kind of boom period but the challenge for a literary novelist now is to just keep the show on the road. It used to be you could write a novel every couple of years or so and have a perfectly nice bourgeois life. Now the mid-list has gone. The brutal fact is you either sell or you don’t. Friends of mine who’ve written 12 novels can’t get published or their advances have dropped by 80%. It’s a much tougher world.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to C. for the tip.


The OP describes a currently secret method/process for serializing traditionally-published books and making money from sales of such serials. It’s focused on traditional publishers and is, potentially, a different way of monetizing their backlists.

It is a long-standing practice in traditional publishing to put most titles out to pasture a few years after their initial release. They’ll keep some copies in a warehouse in case someone or someone’s friendly local book seller, contacts the publisher Agatha Christie and similar evergreen authors are among the rare exceptions to this habit.

It is pretty clear to PG that Publishing Perspectives was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement with some teeth in it before being briefed on this method/process, so the OP includes a lot of dancing around, presumably to work around the requirements of the NDA.

From Publishing Perspectives:

Our sources tell us that the company developing this app expects that it will welcome new content as well as backlist, “seeing serialized fiction as representing a major opportunity for publishers to bring new and exclusive content to a rapidly growing storytelling medium while also allowing them to unlock revenue and value from back-catalogue content. The company sees this new revenue opportunity for back-catalogue content as similar to how streaming unlocked new revenue for studios.”

What’s more, the age-demographic shift from that of Webtoon and Wattpad is quite significant. At Wattpad, for example, 90 percent of the platform’s universe of users is GenZ and millennials, and Webtoon’s anchoring aesthetic in comics and graphical storytelling keeps it close to a younger readership, as well. Professionally created and operated channels for adult literature (as well as for nonfiction offerings, for that matter) could provide many publishers the leverage of serialization but for a more mature consumer base.

Publishing Perspectives understands that the development team behind the app is already “in discussion with traditional publishers and bestselling authors” as the project comes together. And we’ll have more details of this new development as they’re made available to us.

But as a final note, it’s interesting to remember that a strong dynamic in backlist sales was observed in many markets during the deepest periods of the world’s coronavirus-related lockdowns. In some markets and demographics, that backlist interest has persisted well beyond the spread-mitigation measures of the early pandemic.

If the new app being described to us can take advantage of that trend, it may arrive with a wind at its back as a new and attractive way for readers to consume backlist as well as new content.

. . . .

Both Wattpad and Webtoon are platforms for the creation and consumption of serialized content, and their combined audience at the time of this report stands at some 179 million users.

Wattpad alone tracks a collective 23 billion minutes being spent monthly by roughly 94 million users, and its user-generated storytelling is what the company calls “webnovels,” written by and for huge communities drawn to serialized stories niched by genres and interests.

Webtoon, however, has two tracks of serialization for its presentation of comic and graphic storytelling.

Webtoon has some user-generated content available, but it also has graphics-industry staffers working with its user-“creators” to produce a class of content with a finished, professional look and feel.
The timing of those serialized releases is coordinated (rather than being posted whenever a user chooses) and Webtoon’s terminology for these properties is “originals,” meaning in this case work that the platform itself is professionally developing and producing.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

A New App For Serializing Backlist

From Publishing Perspectives:

In an unusual instance for us here at Publishing Perspectives, we have first news today of a potentially important publishing app currently in development—and our sources on this exclusive story have spoken to us on condition of anonymity, in advance of a public release of the information. 

They are describing to us an app that has the potential to be a bridge between traditional trade publishers—based in any market in world publishing—and the popular framework of serialization as a way of presenting valuable backlist titles, often otherwise overlooked by consumers.

Those who are working on this new app are being characterized by these persons-familiar as teams that “effectively built the serialized storytelling category,” which, as many of our readers know, has found vast, faithful audiences particularly in Asian markets.

In providing our audience of publishing executives and rights specialists with this next bit of information, we’d like to get ahead of one potential misconception: our sources are telling us that this new app will not be for user-generated content (UGC), as many high-visibility serialization platforms are.

Instead, this property will be professionally curated and designed as a market resource for professionally published books.

Our readership will recall that in May 2021, a US$600 million merger was completed between Naver’s Webtoon, based in a suburb of Seoul, and Toronto’s Wattpad.

Both Wattpad and Webtoon are platforms for the creation and consumption of serialized content, and their combined audience at the time of this report stands at some 179 million users.

Wattpad alone tracks a collective 23 billion minutes being spent monthly by roughly 94 million users, and its user-generated storytelling is what the company calls “webnovels,” written by and for huge communities drawn to serialized stories niched by genres and interests.

Webtoon, however, has two tracks of serialization for its presentation of comic and graphic storytelling.

  • Webtoon has some  user-generated content available, but it also has graphics-industry staffers working with its user-“creators” to produce a class of content with a finished, professional look and feel.
  • The timing of those serialized releases is coordinated (rather than being posted whenever a user chooses) and Webtoon’s terminology for these properties is “originals,” meaning in this case work that the platform itself is professionally developing and producing.

We’re being told that people behind the development of that professionally driven part of Webtoon’s offerings are behind the forthcoming app.

. . . .

Our sources tell us that the company developing this app expects that it will welcome new content as well as backlist, “seeing serialized fiction as representing a major opportunity for publishers to bring new and exclusive content to a rapidly growing storytelling medium while also allowing them to unlock revenue and value from back-catalogue content. The company sees this new revenue opportunity for back-catalogue content as similar to how streaming unlocked new revenue for studios.”

What’s more, the age-demographic shift from that of Webtoon and Wattpad is quite significant. At Wattpad, for example, 90 percent of the platform’s universe of users is GenZ and millennials, and Webtoon’s anchoring aesthetic in comics and graphical storytelling keeps it close to a younger readership, as well. Professionally created and operated channels for adult literature (as well as for nonfiction offerings, for that matter) could provide many publishers the leverage of serialization but for a more mature consumer base.

Publishing Perspectives understands that the development team behind the app is already “in discussion with traditional publishers and bestselling authors” as the project comes together. And we’ll have more details of this new development as they’re made available to us.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Gen Z is driving sales of romance books to the top of bestseller lists

From National Public Radio:

Ask a Gen Z woman what she’s read recently, and there’s a good chance two names will come up: Colleen Hoover and Emily Henry.

“Gen Z is my favorite of all generations for so many reasons, and their love for reading is just one of the many,” Hoover said. “I love that they are consuming books and sharing books and recommending books. They’re reading so much – not only my books, but books across genres.”

For months, Hoover and Henry have occupied multiple spots on the New York Times paperback trade fiction bestsellers list. The success of these contemporary romance writers has been driven in large part by Gen Z readers – and social media.

“It’s the right person finding the book at the right time and then sharing it with the right people,” said Henry. Her novels Beach ReadPeople We Meet on Vacation, and Book Lovers are all bestsellers.

Hoover’s upcoming book, It Starts With Us – the highly anticipated sequel to It Ends With Us from 2016 – has more pre-orders than any novel in Simon & Schuster history – and there are still seven weeks to publication. Its pre-orders have surpassed Stephen King’s Dr. Sleep, which went on sale in 2013 – the publishing company’s previous leader.

What makes a romance novel a Gen Z hit

A decade ago, the main demographic for romance was women ages 35 to 54. But in the past several years, that has widened to include women 18 to 54, according to Colleen Hoover’s publicist Ariele Fredman.

“Gen Z is a huge audience for romance,” she said. “If you think about it, like millennials, their youth has been marked by global and social upset and unrest in many ways, so looking for a happy ever after or an emotional outlet in a book seems like a healthy way of coping.”

Kaileigh Klein, a 19-year-old college student in Ontario, Canada said she loves Hoover’s books for just this reason – for the big emotions she writes about.

“People [my age] gravitate towards her novels because they’re really emotional. I feel like even if you can’t express emotion in real life, reading it on paper, it’s really easy to connect to it and relate to it,” she said.

Sahar Kariem, a 22-year-old stylist from Maryland, said Emily Henry’s “balance of romance and life lessons,” as well as themes of coming of age, have cemented Henry as one of her favorite authors.

Meanwhile, marketing trends, like covering contemporary romance novel jackets with cartoon figures and bright colors, has also helped pull in a younger audience, according to Leah Koch, who co-owns The Ripped Bodice, a romance bookstore in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that I’ll ever have a grasp on it, but I’d like to think they’re responding to the entertainment factor,” Hoover said. “The last few years have been wild in the best way, and I’m very grateful to readers who continue to share my books and the books of other authors on their social platforms.”

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

In search of Agatha Christie. Misperception and mystery cling to the life of the elusive novelist

From The Guardian:

If Agatha Christie remains elusive, it’s not for the want of those trying to find her. Janet Morgan’s official biography of 1984 and Laura Thompson’s equally detailed but ultimately more impressionistic portrait of 2007 have both been updated and reissued; and there are numerous other analyses that try to understand how the woman who routinely described herself as a housewife became Britain’s bestselling novelist of all time. Enter historian Lucy Worsley, whose declared intention is to rescue Christie, who died in 1976 at the age of 85, from the misperceptions that cling to her life and her works of fiction.

In service of the former, she revisits the most notorious episode of Christie’s life: her disappearance for 11 days in December 1926, prompting blanket media coverage, an extensive police search and, after she had resurfaced at a hydropathic hotel in Harrogate, widespread suspicion that her tale of memory loss was an elaborate publicity stunt. In terms of the novels, Worsley’s focus is on debunking the assumption that Christie invented and epitomised what has become known as “cosy” crime fiction, pointing to the darker elements of her work, its modernity, and its increasing interest in psychological themes.

Is she convincing? Up to a point. These ways of thinking about Christie are not entirely new or unfamiliar, and although Worsley has evidently done due diligence among her subject’s correspondence and personal records, there are no major revelations. It’s more, perhaps, that she brings a clear-eyed empathy that allows her to acknowledge Christie’s limitations and prejudices without consigning her to the silos of mass-market populist and absentee mother.

Sometimes, this is a stretch. Worsley is correct to argue that dismissing the books as formulaic – algebraic, indeed – is a way of diminishing Christie’s power to graft an apparently impenetrable mystery on to an evocatively imagined and interestingly peopled setting, and to repeat the trick over and over again; such reductive ways of characterising the work of popular writers are still very much in evidence. Her gift for dialogue and for manipulating social stereotypes, as Worsley demonstrates, was formidable, keenly attuned to the proliferating class anxieties of the 20th century; numerous characters are, interestingly, transitional or dispossessed in some way, at odds with one view of her as a writer of the country-house elite. (This approach gets only so far when it comes to discussing her reliance on racist tropes, and particularly antisemitic slurs, on which Worsley maintains that we must accept her as a product of her class and time, but also that we must squarely face the reality of what she writes and not try to excuse it. The issue here is that, fundamentally, the circle cannot be squared and rests largely on whether one believes bigotry is, at some level, historically inescapable.)

This doesn’t quite amount to the claims made in one eyebrow-raising passage in the biography, in which Worsley appears to argue that Christie has common ground with the modernists whose defining moment came as her first novels were published: “What if the middlebrow and the modernist could actually be the same thing?” she writes. “A more inclusive definition of modernism might mean that you can also find it in works that don’t necessarily bludgeon you in the face with the shock of the new in the manner of Ulysses.” If you are going to rescue one writer from misunderstanding, it’s as well not to visit the same ignominy on another. And as much as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’s ingenuity relies on the disruption of accepted narrative convention, I don’t think it has a lot in common with Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Once again, PG notes that the publisher, Pegasus Books, has a release date of September 8, but makes it impossible for enthusiastic readers to look inside the book.

Kindle Unlimited paid out over $250 million to indie authors in H1 as APA reports total H1 ebook market of $500 million

From The New Publishing Standard:

The industry journals are reporting the latest APA figures, summing up June and the first six months of 2022, painting a bleak picture for the ebook format, down 6.3% in June to $83 million compared to 2021, and down 8.5% to $500.4 million for the first six months of 2022.

By value ebooks accounted for just 12.7% of the trade market.

Except that it didn’t. At least not the total market. These figures are just those from the publishers reporting to the APA, and to be clear the APA itself makes no claim to be reporting the whole market. Not that you’d know that from some reportage, which treats the APA numbers as a definitive statement on the US ebook market.

What isn’t the APA counting? Essentially any publishers that do not report to the APA – which means all indie authors, APub, and countless small presses.

Indies of course are famously digital-first publishers, and many are solely ebook focussed. Many non-reporting small publishers are digital first or have a strong digital portfolio. APub publishes ebooks, audio and print, but given Amazon owns the Kindle store it’s a given that its titles own the Kindle store charts, as any glance at the ebook charts will confirm.

Given none of these report to the APA it’s also a given – but not one many in the industry want to say out loud – that the APA statistics only show us part of the picture.

But just how much more in trade value might the APA be missing?

We cannot know for sure, but we can be sure APub is the single biggest player in this uncounted field, and that it won’t be sharing its numbers any time soon.

But Amazon does share the amount it pays out to indie authors through the Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription platform. This doesn’t tell us total revenue, but the “royalty” paid through the “pot”.

To be clear, the pot is paid out only to indie authors and small presses loading to the Kindle store via KDP and that are enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited programme.

Bigger publishers with titles in Kindle Unlimited are paid à la carte quite separate from the pot. The same applies to APub authors.

But what we do know is how much Amazon paid out to indie authors as “royalties” in June – the same month the APA reported a total of $80 million in cold ebook revenue.

In June Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited pot totaled $43.4 million.

That’s more than half as much again as the total APA reported ebook revenue, and again this figure does not include à la carte sales from indies.

Over the first six months of 2022?

The Kindle Unlimited pot value has risen every single month except February. Here’s the running count:

• $42.2 million in January
• $39.4 million in February
• $41.4 million in March
• $41.5 million in April
• $43.3 million in May
• $43.4 million in June
• $251.2 million = H1 total

Yes, read that again, In the first six months of 2022 the Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service paid out a quarter million in ”royalties” to participating indie authors and small presses, quite separate from its pay-out to APub authors and to bigger publishers with titles in the programme.

That’s more than half as much again of the total ebook revenue – not royalties but hard revenue – reported by the APA, that has not been counted.

Subscription services notoriously do not pay much to authors/publishers – the June rate for indie authors was $0.00458496 per page read, equivalent to a royalty of $1.37 for a 300 page book assuming all pages parsed.

. . . .

Let me end with this thought: if we take the APA’s June count and add only the Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out we know of, and still exclude all other Kindle Unlimited revenue and all other ebook revenue, that alone takes the ebook total to $123.4 million, compared to the $80 million the APA tells us.

And if we take the H1 APA numbers and the H1 Kindle Unlimited indie pot pay-out together we are looking at a revised ebook value of $751.6 million, compared to the $500.4 million the APA numbers alone tell us.

And of course we are still nowhere near counting all ebook revenue.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Book trade’s next generation fear burnout and low pay will force their departure

From The Bookseller:

Young people in the book trade are experiencing widespread burnout and dissatisfaction about pay and progression, a survey by The Bookseller has revealed. The results also indicated that more needs to be done to make the industry accessible and that, though most respondents are largely satisfied in their current roles and hoping to stay in the industry, retention is a rising concern.  

The bulk of the 238 people who completed the survey, which was aimed at book trade staff aged 25 and under, worked in publishing (86.5%), with agents accounting for just over 10% of respondents and booksellers accounting for just over 2%. The remainder hailed from the distribution, library and freelance sectors. When asked why they pursued a job in the industry, the vast majority cited a love of books and a desire to work in a creative field. Others highlighted the opportunity to make a cultural impact, with one distribution worker wanting to “be part of making a change with [regards to] diversity in the book world”. 

In terms of entering the industry, more than half of the survey respondents found it “fairly easy” to find out information about the trade and the job roles available, but more than 40% had found this either “fairly” or “very” difficult. Furthermore, it was “fairly” or “very” difficult for over 80% to actually get a job in the book world. Common reasons for this included: huge competition for vacancies, unrealistically high expectations for “entry-level” roles, a lack of transparency about the industry, geographical constraints and the pandemic. 

One respondent shared: “Even when you have transferable experience, you could be applying to entry-level, low-paid roles and hearing nothing back for well over a year… It can feel impossible.” The pandemic compounded this, as some companies paused hiring or internship schemes, while competition increased as experienced candidates who had been made redundant were also going for junior positions. 

The first step

Several responses highlighted that “entry-level” roles regularly require applicants to have extensive work experience. According to one agent, publishers “expect more and more every year—now, even for junior positions, you often have to do two interviews and time-intensive tasks”. One publishing staffer felt that “the job hunt is harder than the job itself”, which was echoed by someone with a Masters in Publishing who confessed of their qualification: “I don’t need this to do my job at all in practical terms, it just adds to my CV.”  

Several comments suggested that the barriers to entry are even higher for those who are working class, not white, not British, disabled and/or living outside of London. An agent described it as “near impossible” to find a good job outside London. One publisher who entered the trade via a dedicated scheme said they would have “struggled to get a job through a CV and cover letter, having no connections to the industry and not knowing what to highlight”. “The publishing industry is riddled with classism,” wrote another respondent, who felt judged for being working-class. A couple of answers touched on the application process for immigrants, with one person feeling they “had to jump through even more hoops to show my commitment” compared to British candidates. 

. . . .

Reflecting on how their experiences within the industry have differed from their expectations, many found it friendlier than anticipated, but also less forward-thinking and glamorous. One person said: “Working for a large publisher was more corporate than I expected… I moved into working for smaller independents and I have really enjoyed that.” An agent was surprised by how “gossipy” the industry is and also by “the sheer amount of extra work people do outside of working hours and how this is very openly expected”. 

Meanwhile, a Big Five publishing staffer had found that “in many ways, it’s been better” than their preconceptions, as “overwhelmingly, staff are kind, generous and super-creative”. However, they noted low morale in more senior colleagues, expanding: “Low pay, over-working, slow or no progression seem to be common themes. I’m at the very start of my publishing career and it makes me nervous for the future.” 

This was echoed in the survey results, with similar topics arising in answer to a question about the key issues young workers face in their jobs. Many argued that they could not afford to live comfortably in London, with a Big Five staffer sharing: “Sometimes I have to skip meals to pay my bills.” Others confessed that they would not be able to support themselves without a secondary income or partner’s financial help.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Trial Ends in Government Challenge to Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster Merger

From The Wall Street Journal:

A Justice Department lawyer delivered closing arguments Friday in an antitrust challenge to Penguin Random House’s planned acquisition of rival publisher Simon & Schuster, a test for the Biden administration’s aggressive approach to challenging corporate mergers.

“The merger will reduce the number of players in this market,” Justice Department lawyer John Read said, “and will clearly exacerbate the risk of coordination in the market.”

Lawyers for the publishers countered that the merger would benefit authors and consumers and that the government has failed to prove its case.

“It’s a good deal for all involved, including authors,” said Stephen Fishbein, a lawyer for Simon & Schuster, during closing remarks on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Florence Pan in Washington oversaw the three-week nonjury trial. She hasn’t said when she will rule on whether the publishing merger, valued at more than $2 billion, should proceed.

German media company Bertelsmann SE, which owns Penguin Random House, agreed in November 2020 to buy Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS, now called Paramount Global.

The Justice Department sued a year later to block the deal, saying it would give Penguin Random House—itself the result of a 2013 merger—too much control over the industry.

Penguin Random House is the country’s largest consumer book publisher; Simon & Schuster is the fourth largest as measured by total sales.

In a pretrial brief, the Justice Department said the combined company would have a market share of 49% of what it described as “anticipated top-selling books,” which the government defines as titles that command advances of at least $250,000.

In his closing argument, Daniel Petrocelli, a lawyer for Penguin Random House, said no one in the industry views “anticipated top-selling books” as a distinct market. The government is focusing on this narrow slice of the industry because it can’t show the acquisition would harm consumers, Mr. Petrocelli said.

The defendants, in their pretrial brief, estimated that only 1,200 books a year, or 2% of the books published by commercial publishers, sell for advances of $250,000 or more.

Famed horror writer Stephen King testified during the first week of the trial, saying he opposed the sale of his publisher, Simon & Schuster, to Penguin Random House.

“Consolidation is bad for competition,” Mr. King said. “That’s my understanding of the book business. And I have been around it for 50 years.”

Mr. King testified that years of consolidation in the publishing industry and the failures of other independent publishers had combined to make it “tougher and tougher for writers to find enough money to live on.” He cited a 2018 survey that found full-time writers were earning an average of slightly more than $20,000 annually, which he described as “below the poverty line.” Mr. King has had a highly successful publishing career, having testified that he has written between 60 and 65 bestsellers.

Mr. King also said writers enjoyed specific benefits by signing with one of the country’s five largest publishers, a group that includes Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. Mr. King noted that the largest publishers can pay huge advances, raise awareness of new titles by sending out advanced copies to reviewers and orchestrate sophisticated media campaigns.

“Not every book is successful because of that, but when a publisher really gets behind a book, particularly a big publisher, the chances are that that book is going to probably succeed on some level,” he said.

Mr. King wasn’t cross-examined by an attorney for Penguin Random House.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

How an Antitrust Trial Could Reshape the Books We Read — and Who Writes Them

From The Authors Guild:

The outcome of an antitrust trial currently underway in Washington could reshape the kind of books Americans read — and who writes them.

Last November, the Department of Justice sued to stop the proposed merger of two of the country’s largest publishers, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. At the time, U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland said: “If the world’s largest book publisher is permitted to acquire one of its biggest rivals, it will have unprecedented control over this important industry.” The consolidated company, according to Garland, would control half the market for top-selling books.

The Authors Guild, America’s oldest and largest association of published writers, opposes this merger. As we argued to the Justice Department in January 2021 — a position it adopted in its complaint — less competition in the industry, particularly allowing one publishing house to dominate all others, will be bad for authors and readers in general, and it could harm the free flow of ideas in our democracy.

Agents seeking a publisher for a book by one of their authors, especially those with commercial or other potential, often offer the manuscript up for auction to publishing houses, which bid against each other to acquire the right to publish it. When I first entered the publishing world 30 years ago, an auction might attract bidding from eight or nine major publishers.

Over the years, consolidation and mergers have reduced the pool of dominant bidders to five — known to insiders as “the Big Five.” The merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would not only reduce that to four, it would create a company larger than the other three publishers in the Big Five combined. This could lead to further mergers, as publishing houses consolidate in reaction to their growing competitors in a kind of self-reinforcing cycle.

Fewer bidders for books, and fewer books that attract more than one bid, will likely drive down advances for authors. As Macmillan Chief Executive Don Weisberg testified: “Less competition is going to change the dynamic. Two of the major players becoming one — the prices, the advances, the type of competition at the auctions — I think it’ll have impact across the board.”

As an example, an author advance of $250,000 or more — which is higher than the majority of advances offered — often represents the total compensation for a book that took several years to write and usually has to cover the writer’s research, travel costs and other expenses. The Justice Department’s attorney asserted in his opening statement that testimony would show the average advance for top-selling authors would go down $40,000 to $100,000 should the merger go through. As bestselling writer Stephen King pointed out in his testimony, book authors have already experienced severe declines in writing income, partly due to fewer publishers bidding for books.

But what should concern all Americans — not just authors — is the potential harm the merger might do to diversity in the marketplace of ideas. Fewer publishers would mean fewer voices — including marginalized voices — being published. It means a reduction in political and cultural viewpoints, which especially can have an impact on authors with unusual, unpopular or controversial ideas, whose books tend to be more of a financial risk for publishers.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

Is Publishing About Art or Commerce?

From The New Yorker:

On the afternoon of August 10th, in the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse, the Department of Justice trial to block Penguin Random House from acquiring Simon & Schuster had hit a midweek lull. The courtroom itself—as well as the overflow room, where journalists were permitted Internet access—was a few booksellers shy of crowded. But the first witness for the defense, the mega-agent Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, was intensely present, and seemed thrilled to be testifying. (Penguin Random House was paying her a quarter of a million dollars.) In a rippling cream-colored blouse and gold jewelry, her hair loose around her shoulders, Walsh painted a picture of publishing as a labor of love. Agents, she said, are in the business of fairy-tale matches between author and editor—mind meldings that span decades, shape careers, and win prizes. Walsh even had a magic wand, she added, that was given to her by the novelist Sue Monk Kidd. When the judge Florence Y. Pan asked if agents had a fiduciary duty to secure their writers the highest possible advances, Walsh responded in the negative. “More isn’t always more,” she said. “We’re not always looking to take every single dollar out of an editor’s pocket.”

The exchange exposed the core question of the day, and of every day in a trial that has riveted the publishing industry since proceedings began on August 1st: Is publishing about art or commerce? The answer, of course, is “Both”—as with any creative business—but watching each side wrestle with that ambiguity has been instructive. Penguin Random House, itself the product of a merger between Penguin and Random House in 2013, is the biggest of publishing’s so-called Big Five. (The others are HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette.) If the acquisition goes through, the new company will dwarf its nearest rivals. This is one of the first high-profile antitrust suits to be brought by President Biden’s Department of Justice. It may, along with the recent appointment of Lina Khan as chair of the Federal Trade Commission, indicate a new direction for the country’s regulatory climate. But, to people who care about books, what’s gone most conspicuously on trial is publishing itself. In the course of two weeks, an image of publishers as savvy and data-driven has vied with a tenderly drawn (auto-)portrait of gamblers, guessers, and dreamers. At times it has felt reasonable to wonder whether the industry should be characterized as an industry at all.

The spectacle has been curiously entertaining. Publishing executives have had to initiate federal employees into a dialect of “backlists,” “advance copies,” and “BookTok influencers.” Onlookers have been treated to piquant performances, from the cheeky verve of Simon & Schuster’s Jonathan Karp to the C-suite solidity of Brian Murray, of HarperCollins, who seemed to quietly deflate under a round of pointed questioning. On Tuesday, the horror maestro Stephen King popped up to testify that “consolidation is bad for competition” and that the disappearance of “idiosyncratic” imprints from the publishing landscape has made it “tougher and tougher for writers to find enough money to live on.” King, who wore sneakers and introduced himself as a “freelance writer,” wanted to advocate for younger and less established peers—those for whom a book deal might mean the difference between creating art and waiting tables.

And yet King’s championing of struggling artists felt tangential to the specifics of the trial.

Government lawyers have built the heart of their case around a relatively narrow category—“anticipated top sellers”—where the threat of monopsony is greatest. The plaintiff defines these as the small fraction of books for which authors receive advances of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars or higher. They are also the books that tend to fly off shelves and the books with which publishing houses pay their bills. The Justice Department is claiming that a Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster merger would suppress competition for top sellers, driving down advances and ultimately lessening both the number and the diversity of the titles. The defense has countered that “anticipated top seller” does not designate a real market—merely a “price segment.” One cannot “anticipate” a blockbuster, lawyers have implied; the publishing gods are fickle, and whether a book will sell at all—much less go supernova—is anyone’s guess. Moreover, Simon & Schuster’s authors would benefit from access to Penguin Random House’s superior distribution and sales teams. Other houses would need to compete even harder to lure them away.

One by one, soberly dressed executives mounted the dais to frame publishing as a game of chance—a “business of passion,” in the words of the departing Macmillan C.E.O., Don Weisberg. “Everything is random in publishing,” Markus Dohle, the C.E.O. of Penguin Random House, testified on August 4th. “Success is random. Best-sellers are random. That is why we are the Random House!” Acquiring books, Brian Tart, the president of Viking, testified on August 3rd, “is as much an art as a science.” To illustrate his point, he described passing on Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and the current No. 1 New York Times best-seller, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens. Judge Pan observed that profit-and-loss statements “are really fake.” Tart enthusiastically agreed. On August 2nd, Karp, the C.E.O. of Simon & Schuster, testified that gloating over a best-seller is like “taking credit for the weather,” and wryly recalled the eagerness with which he’d promoted a manuscript by a prominent spiritual guru. “Unfortunately,” he said, “his followers didn’t follow him to the bookstore.”

The rogue’s gallery of industry figures presented a stark contrast to the government’s expert witness, the economist Nicholas Hill. Soft-voiced and physically imposing, with broad shoulders, thick silver hair, and a square chin, he was there to reinforce the idea of an “anticipated top seller” market. Writers behave differently around the two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar threshold, Hill alleged. They’re “making different choices.” His most memorable contribution, though, was a series of Gross Upward Pricing Pressure Index (guppi) models, which he’d crafted to theorize about the market share that a joint Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster might capture.

The guppis proved a matter of tense dispute. If Hill embodied the Justice Department’s academic approach, Mark Oppenheimer, an attorney in the defense, appeared intent on casting him as the Casaubon of economic consultants. A meandering cross-examination summoned impressions of mystifying esoterica, as Oppenheimer’s attempt to refute Hill’s methodology morphed into a ritual hypnosis, a ceremony to stupefy the courtroom. The lawyer, gentle and avuncular, dramatized his own inability to keep “monopoly” and “monopsony” straight; he paused to rifle through his notes, asked repetitive questions, and referred Hill to such destinations as a table’s “last column, fifth line”—or was it the “sixth line”? Several times, Judge Pan challenged Oppenheimer’s path of inquiry, and at one point pleaded with him to move on. When the court recessed, a clutch of ashen reporters staggered out of the overflow room. “Guppies,” Publishers Weekly’s news editor John Maher, who’d been valiantly live-tweeting the trial, whispered. “All I see are guppies.”

The entertainment value of Hill’s models aside, his larger case was persuasive. Big Five publishers possess advantages that render them uniquely attractive to literary stars: reputation, breadth of distribution, breadth of marketing, and—perhaps most important–extensive backlists that generate enough revenue to offset potential losses. New companies, such as the bantling publisher Zando, “can’t expand to mitigate the anticompetitive effects of the merger,” Hill said, because they lack such backlists, which grow over decades, like oaks. Yes, publishing is a risky endeavor; yes, the elusiveness of a good formula for success means that small presses and self-published authors all have a shot at producing a best-seller. But, year after year, the Big Five churn out the vast majority of profitable books—and this is precisely due to their ability to manage risk. Success in the publishing industry is not being able to publish a single hit; it’s being able to publish many hits over a long period of time. Here, the larger publishers eat their competitors’ lunch.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to C. for the tip.

The Weirdest Quotes From the Penguin Random House Trial

From Book Riot:

As you may or may not know, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing to prevent Penguin Random House (PRH) from acquiring/merging with Simon & Schuster, on the grounds that it will lose authors money. Unlike many antitrust suits, it is not concerned with monopoly (not enough sellers) but monospony (not enough buyers). I explained in more detail when the trial was first announced.

. . . .

Right out the gate, while defining terms, PRH’s lawyer described “backlist” as meaning “Books that were published a very long time ago.” (Backlist is anything more than a year old by most definitions, but it can mean anything that isn’t brand new.)

. . . .

“My name is Stephen King. I’m a freelance writer.”

This is the tweet heard round the world, isn’t it? First a brief explanation: all witnesses are asked to identify themselves this way, by name and (relevant) occupation. So he didn’t do anything wrong here.

Now back to snark. Imagine being Stephen King and introducing yourself this way. Actually, imagine being Stephen King and introducing yourself the way “freelance writer” suggests. “My name is Stephen King. I can’t afford health insurance.” “My name is Stephen King and I work in coffee shops.” “My name is Stephen King. Will do novels for food.” “My name is Stephen King and last month I made negative 73 dollars.”

. . . .

Simon & Schuster CEO Jon Karp said quite a few outrageous things, most of which involve his testimony contradicting his earlier deposition. None of them are particularly quote-worthy without context (read the thread!) but I was delighted that the DOJ lawyer apparently hurt his feelings by saying, “I should have guessed you’d have a big vocabulary, as head of a publishing house.”

Karp also called self-publishing “more of a threat than I thought” in reference to Brandon Sanderson’s $50 million Kickstarter — something that literally no other self-published author is capable of achieving, yay — and, in defending the idea that publishers don’t guarantee a marketing budget, said, “It’s like taking credit for the weather. You can’t promise success to the author.”

. . . .

The quote heard round the world, part two: $100,000 is, according to Karp, a “fairly small advance.” Lilith Saintcrow breaks down why that is a lie — and the implications.

. . . .

Actual Jon Karp quote: “I’m not a game theorist, but….” Honestly, the man is hilarious. Asked if he has calculated Amazon’s market share: “I haven’t. I wish somebody would!” Govt isn’t taking the bait, but Karp is definitely pushing buttons.

. . . .

From PRH CEO Markus Dohle: “Everything is random in publishing. Success is random. Bestsellers are random. So that is why we are the Random House!”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG thinks the CEO’s didn’t listen to what their lawyers told them about their demeanor on the stand and how to answer a question. Judges tend to become upset at witnesses that can’t restrain themselves from being flippant in court. Among other things, the judge is constantly assessing whether these guys are telling the truth or not and whether their opinions are reliable.

PG reminds one and all that, although Karp and Dohle carry CEO titles, their companies are owned by very large business interests which strongly desire for this merger to be approved. If the big bosses decide their hired hands contributed to losing this antitrust case, Karp and Dohle will be out on the street tout de suite.

DOJ v PRH: Agents Have Their Say

From Publishers Weekly:

Thursday’s proceedings in the Department of Justice’s efforts to block Penguin Random House’s acquisition of Simon & Schuster started with the remainder of testimony from Norton’s John Glusman and ended with the testimony of literary agent Gail Ross of Ross/Yoon. In this first full day for the defense, a great deal of time was spent on the submission and acquisition processes in publishing and how these affect book advances, from the perspectives of publishers (Glusman, and later Putnam’s Sally Kim), authors (Charles Duhigg), and agents (Elyse Cheney, Ross, and Andrew Wylie).

Glusman, who in Wednesday’s testimony said he didn’t believe the merger would hurt advances, quipped that the Big Five “regularly overpay for books” and that Norton is impacted directly “because we end up losing authors. We don’t overpay for books. We pay on the basis of what we project for sales.” In his opinion, midlist authors will be harmed by the proposed merger.

Next, The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg took the stand, testifying that he did not start writing books for advances, but instead “to sell millions of copies… because that’s what allows you to make money,” adding: “You make so much money from things beyond the advance.” While Duhigg acknowledged the importance of money to a writer’s career, he also spoke at length about the power of “the right editor.”

In his case, the editor is PRH’s Andy Ward, and Duhigg also talked about the importance of author support from all members of an imprint and publishing house. “These people worked tirelessly [for my book],” said Duhigg in reference to everyone from PR teams to sales staff. “If this merger goes through,” he said, “I believe PRH wants to make the world a better place for writers. The thing I know about Andy Ward and PRH is that they love authors and want to give us the freedom to write what we want to write.”

Next on the stand was Sally Kim, senior v-p and publisher of Putnam, who has been in acquiring roles for 25 years. The defense took Kim through a long back-and-forth about the acquisition process, but Kim—like others in this trial—said that when it comes to predicting sales, “things can’t be calculated exactly.” “How common is it for different imprints to value the same book differently?” the defense asked; Kim replied, “Very different.” And, again like other who appeared before her at the trial, Kim spoke of publishing as “a relationship business,” between publishers, editors, and agents.

During its cross, the government asked Kim why she is always thinking about Putnam’s reputation, and she answered: “Because we want to be known for publishing… books of prestige and of quality, books that people are still going to be reading 10, 20 years from now.”

Despite more questions about the acquisition process that involved advance payments and proportion of books won by and lost to PRH and S&S, all witnesses for the defense, including the three literary agents who testified Thursday afternoon, emphasized matters of literary prestige, taste, experience, and “nuance.” Elyse Cheney said, “I want to go to an editor who’s going to get the best book out of my client.” She also told the government, when asked about pricing a deal, that she cares less about advances and marketing spending than about reputation overall: “In general, PRH has made a real commitment to books over a long period of time,” said Cheney. “Whereas a company like S&S that is a shareholder driven cannot develop the same tools as a company like PRH, and could post-merger.”

The judge asked if Cheney was saying “competition doesn’t matter in book publishing because you are hand-selecting these editors?” and Cheney replied that competition is not the primary thing.” Her authors, she told the defense, are “very sophisticated clients, and the editor who can help them make the richest, most robust project? It’s huge. How that editor communicates what that book is about, is essential to success of a book.” She wants “ very particular people” when she’s submitting a manuscript. “Of course, everybody wants to make a lot of money, I do as well, but that doesn’t mean I suggest everyone take the largest advance.”

Next, Andrew Wylie of the Wylie Agency told the defense that his agency “doesn’t conduct auctions” and he is satisfied that he’s getting the best deal for his clients because “I’ve been doing it 42 years and I can predict with a high degree of accuracy whether it might be best to do a multiple submission or a single submission.” He believes a merger would have “a positive result” for his clients and that the highest advances he’s negotiated have been with Big Five publishers “because I think they have the broadest talent editorially, they are generally well financed, and their production and distribution is expert.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that any agent who didn’t toe the Big Publishing line would be out of business well before the inevitable appeals of the trial court’s decision in this case are over.

He also wonders how Judge Florence Pan, who is hearing the case without a jury, feels about “competition is not the primary thing” and “literary prestige, taste, experience, and ‘nuance'” being at the heart of an agent’s daily concerns when dealing with publishers.

Where Are Mass Market Paperbacks Headed?

From Publishers Weekly:

No matter which way you look at it, sales of mass market paperbacks have been in steady decline since 2017. NPD BookScan data shows that unit sales fell 31.5% in 2021 compared to 2017, while the Association of American Publishers put the decline in dollar sales at a more disturbing 42.7% in 2020. Both data sets show more declines occurring in 2022.

To be sure, the mass market paperback format has experienced ups and downs in the past. The last time PW wrote about the prospects for mass market paperbacks, in October 2014, the format was trying to recover from the shock it suffered due to the explosion of cheap e-books, especially in such important areas as romance and science fiction and fantasy. (Asked last week, during the DOJ’s trial to prevent PRH from acquiring S&S, whether he had made reductions in title output following the Random House–Penguin merger in 2013, PRH CEO Markus Dohle pointed to adjusting the number of mass market paperbacks published by Berkley/NAL in response to the flood of 99¢ and $1.99 self-published e-books that hit the market, luring away readers of genre fiction.)

Low prices have always been one of the most important attractions for readers to mass market paperbacks, and that continues to be the case, according to Craig Swinwood, CEO of HarperCollins’s Harlequin subsidiary and CEO of HC Canada. The most recent research, conducted by the company after the worst of the pandemic was over, found price accessibility and portability to be the first- and second-ranked reasons that consumers buy mass market titles.

Jennifer Long, v-p, deputy publisher of Gallery Books Group, the home to Simon & Schuster’s mass market Pocket Books imprint, said pricing is a “very important consideration” for some readers. “As long as those consumers who want mass market continue to support it, we will continue to publish into it or risk losing them as readers.”

All mass market publishers are aware of the price sensitivity around the format, and even as a few publishers have increased the trim size of mass market paperbacks, they are reluctant to go beyond the $9.99 price point. The so-called price cap, especially in a time of rising costs, puts pressure on margins, acknowledged Swinwood, who noted that sales of mass market paperbacks for the company are generally flat, though they still account for about 49% of the publisher’s revenue, down from 59% a few years ago.

The pricing limit is one reason mass market publishers have cut back on their output. Kristin McLean, analyst for NPD BookScan, said a factor in the drop in both mass market title output and sales is the steady migration of what she calls “the next generation” of major romance and mystery/thriller authors from mass market to trade paperback, a format that has had “tremendous growth” since 2017. One author who has undergone such a transition, McLean added, is Colleen Hoover.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

What we gain from independent publishers and bookstores

From Nathan Bransford:

The antitrust trial over Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon & Schuster is now in its third week. There’s a whole lot of coverage and smaller bits to chew on, and if you want a deep dive, Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch ($ link) have comprehensive coverage.

Just two of the eyebrow-raisers yesterday came when agent Andrew Wylie testified that he doesn’t do auctions, and when author Charles Duhigg asserted that authors don’t want advances higher than they can possibly earn out. (Um, yes they very much do).

But I also wanted to touch on two articles that discuss the impact on authors and the independent publishing ecosystem. Bookseller Richard Howorth argues in the NY Times that industry consolidation threatens the number of quality midlist books that get published, and Nicole Chung writes about the need for independent publishers to survive so they can nurture authors.

. . . .

It’s not personal, but it can really feel like that sometimes. Jillian Medoff talks about breaking up with her agent.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Lots of links in the OP.

NPD Books on July’s US Print Market: 6 Percent Lower, Year to Date

From Publishing Perspectives:

The United States’ market’s print book sales declined by 1.6 million units in July by comparison to the four weeks prior, according to data from the NPD Group’s NPD BookScan update from Kristen McLean.

In her discussion, McLean writes, “Losses in July are historically normal and were a little shallower this year, resulting in 1-point year-to-date gain. July ended 6 percent lower for the year to date on a total print volume of 414 million units, which is 26 million units under 2021 but 51 million units over 2019.”

The upshot, then, is a steady field, “pretty consistent trends across the first seven months of the year,” McLean says. “I don’t expect any major change of course before Labor Day; it seems increasingly likely that we’ll see incremental market movements heading into Q4, and at the moment the larger economic volatility isn’t hitting too hard.”

. . . .

As far as bestseller charts, July’s bestsellers in the States were all fiction, McLean points out, and nine of the Top 10 were adult fiction.

Four of the Top 10 were frontlist titles—again, a point being carefully watched in the American market. The four frontlisted titles have their titles in blue below. Only one of those bestsellers is in hardcover.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that nine out of the Top Ten were trade paperbacks which typically have lower royalty rates than hardcovers and ebooks (and earn less for the publisher on a per-unit basis).

Amazon’s top sellers are hard to match with a monthly trade publishing top ten list because, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Zon updates its charts in close to real time. If Amazon posts a monthly top-ten list, PG doesn’t know about it.

However, here is Amazon’s list of the Top Ten Best-Selling Paper Books for the week ending July 24:

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing
  2. Verity
  3. It Ends with Us
  4. Reminders of Him
  5. Ugly Love
  6. Things We Never Got Over
  7. Portrait of an Unknown Woman
  8. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
  9. The 6
  10. The Hotel Nantucket


From Publishers Weekly:

After months of anticipation, the government’s bid to block Penguin Random House’s acquisition of rival Big Five publisher Simon & Schuster got underway in Washington, D.C., on August 1. It wasn’t exactly an electrifying start.

In opening arguments, there were no surprises. The parties largely stuck to their pre-trial briefs, with the government asserting that a merger would harm authors and the defense insisting on the opposite. Then the government’s first witness, Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch, took the stand to offer a basic, foundational view of the current competitive landscape in the publishing world, with many a detour into the nuts and bolts of the business.

The result was a sort of meandering publishing 101. In halting, often clipped responses, Pietsch, a 45-year publishing veteran who estimated he has personally acquired between 300-400 titles over his career—and overseen many more acquisitions as an executive—attempted to explain to the court how basic things like book advances and rights auctions work, and how publishers manage their bidding strategies.

But the key points of his testimony involved the competition for book rights, in which Pietsch explained in no uncertain terms that when Hachette loses a book they’ve bid on, they “very seldom” lose it to a publisher outside the Big Five, and even more rarely when it comes books with advances over $250,000, the portion of the market the government is focusing its case on. In fact, Pietsch revealed that Hachette keeps a running list of the books the publisher loses out on over $500,000—called “The Ones That Got Away”—and of the 302 books on the list (at the time the list was entered into evidence) Pietsch told the court that Hachette lost the most to PRH (124), followed by their fellow Big Five publishers in order of size: HarperCollins, S&S, and Macmillan.

Under questioning from the government, Pietsch also outlined the significant advantages that the Big Five publishers hold over their smaller competitors, chief among them their large backlists, cobbled together over decades of acquiring other companies (HBG has made six acquisitions under Pietsch). A bigger backlist means more revenue, and importantly more profitable revenue—and more revenue means more resources, and a greater tolerance for taking risks on higher advances. Hachette derives roughly $300 million a year, roughly a third of its revenue, from backlist sales, Pietsch testified, noting that smaller publishers do not have such a cushion, and later adding that it is “not conceivable” that a new entrant in the publishing business could build a competitive backlist advantage “organically.”

Furthermore, Pietsch explained, the Big Five publishers enjoy other significant scale advantages over other publishers, including more media pull, review attention, as well as marketing and retail advantages. He noted that Amazon Publishing, despite its parent company’s size and influence in the book business, has not emerged as a competitor where book acquisitions are concerned—nor is the self-publishing industry Amazon helped forge. “Anyone can publish a book now, and that’s a wonderful thing,” Pietsch said—but those books and authors simply do not compete with the major publishers.

When finally asked for his take on how for a PRH/S&S merger would impact the industry, Pietsch expressed a litany of concerns. Advances would likely decline, he suggested, as one of “the major houses” would be subsumed, decreasing the number of bidders for a work. Title count would also likely go down, he surmised, as there is likely some redundancy between PRH’s and S&S’s publishing programs that would be eliminated. Pietsch also expressed concerns about the impact on the “variety” of books published and the risk of “homogenization.”

On cross-examination, defense counsel Daniel M. Petrocelli engaged in a few strained exchanges with Pietsch. These included a line of questioning about bidding strategies, which was intended to suggest that PRH would be unwise to pursue a strategy of offering lowering advances because other publishers—including Hachette—would simply step up and win the books, but instead left Pietsch questioning Petrocelli’s logic.

One of the punchier exchanges involved a discussion of the potential buyers for S&S should the merger be blocked—including Hachette, with Pietsch admitting that he would like to see parent company Hachette Livre bid on S&S even though the company did not do so in 2020.

“So you’re not concerned with a 5-4 merger,” Petrocelli remarked, to which Pietsch responded that he was never concerned with a merger taking the Big Five down to a Big Four, but with the creation of one “super dominant publisher” that is “so far out of scale” with the rest of the business, a view shared by many industry insiders. The problem isn’t so much that S&S is being acquired, Pietsch suggested, the problem is that Penguin Random House, already the largest Big Five publisher, was acquiring it.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Stephen King Testifies Against Book-Publishing Merger

From The Wall Street Journal:

Famed horror novelist Stephen King took the witness stand in a federal antitrust case on Tuesday, testifying that up-and-coming authors would be harmed if his longtime publisher Simon & Schuster is acquired by larger rival Penguin Random House.

“I came here because I think consolidation is bad for competition,” Mr. King said in a Washington, D.C., courtroom. “That’s my understanding of the book business, and I’ve been around it for 50 years,” he said.

The bestselling author said less-established writers are harmed by corporate consolidation in the industry. As publishers combine, “it becomes tougher and tougher for writers to find money to live on,” he said.

Mr. King’s testimony came on the second day of trial in the Justice Department’s lawsuit challenging Penguin Random House’s planned purchase of Simon & Schuster, a deal valued at more than $2 billion.

The trial is being closely watched by authors, literary agents and publishing-industry executives. Instead of arguing that the deal will increase book prices, the government has focused on author wages, saying writers of anticipated bestsellers likely will receive smaller upfront payments, or advances, if the deal is completed.

Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster have defended the transaction as pro-competitive, saying that author advances won’t be lowered and that Simon & Schuster authors will benefit from access to Penguin Random House’s distribution channels and supply chain.

The German media company Bertelsmann SE, which owns Penguin Random House, agreed in November 2020 to buy Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS.

. . .

Mr. King testified that he wasn’t reassured by Penguin Random House’s pledges that, if the merger is completed, imprints it owns will continue to compete against imprints owned by Simon & Schuster.

“It’s a little bit ridiculous,” Mr. King said. “You might as well say you’re going to have a husband and wife bidding against each other for the same house,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal and thanks to S. for the tip

PG notes that Bertlesman is a very large media conglomerate which is owned and controlled by one very wealthy German family, both directly and via a family-controlled trust.

PG suggests that such ownership is usually not conducive to innovation, including lower prices.

The Dreaded Synopsis

From Writers Helping Writers:

Many authors would rather write a whole new novel than cram the one they’ve already written into a five-hundred-word summary. If I wanted to write a short story, I would have written one. Right?

The reason we hate writing synopses is because they’re hard. The reason they’re hard is because, more than any other tool available to us, they show us what’s wrong with the novel we’ve labored over for months, if not years.

The synopsis is the equivalent of a house inspector—that man or woman who walks around with a clipboard and goes through the house you thought you were ready to sell, pointing out all the structural issues you either didn’t know about or pretended weren’t a problem: roof damage, termites, a saggy bearing wall, you name it. You can do all the fancy writing in the world. If there’s something fundamentally wrong with your novel, it will come out in the synopsis.

            That’s why we hate them.

            That’s why most agents ask for one.

Reading a synopsis is the quickest way to know if a novel will work or not. It’s also the surest way to find out if the author knows what they’re doing when it comes to things like structure, causality, story arc and characterization—you know, those critical developmental issues you hoped wouldn’t matter.

Guess what? They do.

If your plot is anecdotal, it will show up in the synopsis. If your protagonist doesn’t have a goal that they’re actively pursuing throughout the story; if there are no stakes, a weak antagonist, a plot that’s bursting with too much superficial business and no depth—yup, the synopsis will reveal all of that.

If you, the author, are willing to see it, the synopsis will be that heart-sinking moment of truth where you can no longer deny that this house is not ready to sell, not by a long-shot. It needs help. It might even need to be razed to the ground.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

You Can’t Buy These Books

From The Nation:

In a remarkable brief filed on July 7 in their ongoing lawsuit, four titans of corporate publishing (Hachette, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Wiley) accused the Internet Archive of stealing, “mass-scale copyright infringement,” and “[distributing] full-text digital bootlegs for free.” Those are pretty wild allegations—especially considering that the Internet Archive’s Open Library operates on the traditional terms that libraries in this country have abided by for centuries. The Open Library loans books, which it owns, to one patron at a time, for a fixed period—just like any other library. Like any public library, the Open Library doesn’t charge money for this service. The main difference is that the Open Library loans e-books online. Each e-book is scanned from a paper copy, and the paper copy is stored away and doesn’t circulate; this practice is called Controlled Digital Lending, or CDL.

One book, lawfully bought or acquired, one scan, one patron at a time—no money changes hands. And yet the publishers’ brief does its best to cast the librarians of the Internet Archive as a gang of thieves and pirates.

In reality, the publishers’ attack on the Internet Archive is a Trojan horse for a very different, and radical, idea: that e-books are fundamentally—legally—different from paper books. If accepted, their argument would remove e-books from the many statutory protections upon which library rights positively depend. That outcome would leave libraries vulnerable to the draconian licensing deals under which e-books are increasingly offered. And libraries would have to pay and pay, in the absence of digital books that can be permanently bought and owned outright.

The publishers’ true goal appears right on page 6:

Controlled digital lending, as practiced by Internet Archive, collapses the boundaries between physical books and ebooks. CDL’s basic tenet is that a non-profit entity that owns a physical book can scan that book and distribute the resulting ebook as a proxy for the physical copy. But this ignores that ebooks are a fundamentally different product from physical books.

They may be a different product, but e-books are still books.

The real stakes in this lawsuit concern not digital piracy but the preservation of library rights; the real renegades here are not the librarians of the Internet Archive but the publishers, who are looking to take a machete to the Copyright Act in order to make their e-book products rental-only, so that libraries—along with you and me and everyone else—will have to keep paying for them forever. Libraries will no longer be independent entities, free to make their own decisions about what to lend; they’ll be limited to whatever publishers want to offer—or not offer.

“We need strong and independent publishers,” says Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, “and we need strong and independent libraries.”

Because the statutory protections for libraries were written decades ago, when technical constraints on copying and distribution were entirely different from what they are now, preserving traditional library rights has presented challenges in the digital age. These issues were always going to be revisited in the courts, one way or another. In fact, in 2011, in her seminal paper on the legal framework that came to be known as CDL, legal scholar Michelle Wu foresaw this very lawsuit:

[P]ublishers have used new technologies to exert control over works beyond the control they had over printed works. They are replacing ownership with licensing, where they can regulate not only the number of users but also the number of uses.… Given this trend toward greater control over material by publishers, it would be remarkable if the industry did not object to libraries’ digitizing printed materials.

Having anticipated the legal pushback from publishers, Wu observed that the spirit of the law is on the side of libraries: The Copyright Clause was adopted not only to protect authors but to promote the advancement of learning and public knowledge. “At the heart of copyright,” she wrote, “is the public good.”

In the years following the publication of Wu’s paper, a score of leading experts on copyright and libraries joined forces to create CDL, a whole legal toolkit for the traditional library lending of e-books developed with exactly these legal challenges in mind. The Internet Archive’s digital lending relies on CDL, and its reasoning is what is really being tested in the lawsuit.

Disingenuously, the publishers’ brief flatly misinterprets the long history and development of CDL: “Internet Archive…has searched for years to find a legal rationale for its radical infringements. Around 2018, it helped manufacture and market a theory called ‘controlled digital lending’ or ‘CDL.’”

“Publishers spend millions of dollars to make books available to the public,” according to their brief, and that is true. Publishers shepherd books into the world, providing a vitally important service for all. They have every right to profit fairly from their work. But they don’t have the right to change the laws protecting libraries.

Public-spiritedness, by the way, is a quality conspicuously missing from this document. Perhaps realizing they’d better choke out a statement of support for libraries in general, they were able to manage the following: “The Publishers deeply value libraries, recognizing that they foster public literacy, serve local communities, and increase the visibility of authors through book clubs, author talks, and other creative means of reader involvement. Libraries support authors by paying for print books and ebooks.”

They sure do! Libraries have become a huge cash cow for publishers, especially during the pandemic, when nobody could visit a physical library. They admit it themselves, in this very brief: “The publishers’ annual revenue from the library ebook market, which is shared with authors, has risen to hundreds of millions of dollars, simultaneously establishing an important market channel for many titles and serving a more digital public.”

I’m a writer, obviously, and I find it entirely startling that these powerful publishers have no discernible sense of responsibility to the public commons, nor of the symbiotic relationship that principled publishers in a free society should have with libraries. They’re supposed to be on the same side: the side of an educated, healthy and informed public. Publishers should be the champions of libraries, not their enemies.

Link to the rest at The Nation

PG says that, to the extent it ever existed, the ideal that publishers should consider the common good, encourage knowledge and art to be widely distributed within the general population, rich and poor, or cultivate new generations of readers has entirely disappeared with the consolidation of publishing into massive international conglomerates in which the managers of individual publishers are far down the hierarchy of corporate power.

Those up higher in these power structures understand messages in dollars, pounds and euros, not in airy-fairy ideals and principles of democratic concerns of the greatest good for the greatest number.

StatShot: US Industry Down 12.6 Percent in April; 2.3 Percent Year-to-Date

From Publishing Perspectives:

Trade Sales Down 8.9 Percent in April

In its April 2022 StatShot report released this morning (July 11), the Association of American Publishers (AAP) cites total revenues across all categories down 12.6 percent over April of 2021, at US$788.3 million.

The April figures exclude PreK-12, but include higher education course materials; professional publishing; and university presses. PreK-12 data has, once again, been delayed, and the program expects to update when it becomes available.

In year-to-date revenues across all categories except PreK-12, AAP reports that the numbers were down 2.3 percent, at US$3.8 billion for the first four months of 2022.

. . . .

Trade (consumer books) sales were down 8.9 percent in April, at US$685.7 million.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down  16.8 percent, coming in at $232.4 million
  • Paperbacks were down 2.8 percent, with $251.9 million in revenue
  • Mass market was down 22.0 percent to $14.1 million
  • Special bindings were up 2.1 percent, with $12.5 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 8.3 percent for the month as compared to April 2021, for a total of $84.3 million
  • The downloaded audio format was up 5.6 percent for April, coming in at $66.6 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 47.9 percent, coming in at $1.2 million

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Internet Archive Would Like To Know What The Association Of American Publishers Is Hiding

From TechDirt:

Last year when a bunch of the biggest publishing houses sued the Internet Archive, in the midst of a pandemic, over their digital library program, I was a bit surprised that the announcement about the lawsuit came not from any of the publishers themselves directly, but rather from the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which is officially not a party in the lawsuit. That alone felt a bit… sketchy.

And, now it may be an issue in the lawsuit itself. Last week, the Internet Archive asked the judge for a hearing because the AAP is attempting to withhold various responsive documents on the discovery requests that were made to the publishers themselves regarding their communications with the AAP, and a separate subpoena served on the AAP. And it appears the AAP really doesn’t want that stuff to get into the hands of the Internet Archive’s legal team.

This dispute concerns documents (i) responsive to the Internet Archive’s requests for production served on Plaintiffs and (ii) responsive to the Internet Archive’s subpoena served on the AAP. These withheld documents are critical to the Internet Archive’s fair use defense, specifically the fourth factor, market harm. The varying views of publishers regarding whether they objected to the Internet Archive’s activities, whether they regarded themselves as having been harmed by those activities, and whether that harm was of a large or of a small magnitude are key pieces of evidence as to whether Internet Archive?s nonprofit library lending causes any substantial market harm.

There’s also a hint in the letter suggesting that the Internet Archive is suggesting that the only real “harm” caused by its Open Library was that it made it more difficult for the big publishers to collude (as they did with Apple regarding ebook prices) to jack up the prices on ebooks sold (but not really sold) to libraries.

And publishers’ communications regarding the source of that harm, for example, if the Internet Archive’s activities simply make it more difficult for publishers to agree among themselves on ebook prices, as they did in United States v. Apple, Inc., 791 F.3d 290 (2d Cir. 2015), will shed light on whether that harm is cognizable under the fourth factor. Further, the Internet Archive is entitled to explore whether Plaintiffs and other publishers conspired here as they did in the Apple case; if so, such anticompetitive conduct here may support an additional defense which could preclude infringement liability. See Saks Inc. v. Attachmate Corp., No. 14-civ-4902-CM, 2015 WL 1841136, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 17, 2015) ([H]istorically, the defense of copyright misuse has been successfully asserted most often in cases where anticompetitive effects were alleged.). Finally, withheld documents are likely to be relevant to the Internet Archive’s laches defense. The requested documents will shed light onto why the AAP (and Plaintiffs), despite being aware for years of the Internet Archive’s digital lending library, waited until the summer of 2020 to sue.

The AAP is trying to argue that its communications with the publishers is protected by attorney-client privilege, which is made difficult by the fact that the AAP is not acting as the publishers’ lawyers here, but rather as lobbyists.

Plaintiffs have not demonstrated beyond conclusory statements in their privilege logs that communications with the AAP were exchanged to solicit, receive, or give legal advice rather than to discuss business concerns and interests….

…. One of Plaintiffs? justifications for withholding their communications with the AAP is that some AAP staff members are attorneys. But AAP employees who happen to be attorneys wear many hats. For example, the President and CEO of the AAP is also a lawyer, as is AAP?s Senior Vice President of Global Policy. While it is conceivable that these executives do legal work for the organization, the burden is on AAP to justify why particular documents are privileged, given these executives? predominant business roles.

Also, generally speaking, if documents are attorney-client privileged, it means you don’t share it with anyone who is not on the legal team. But, that’s not what happened here:

Plaintiffs’ privilege logs also suggest that AAP employees who were not attorneys were copied on withheld documents, including communications staff which suggests that the predominant purpose of the document may not have been to secure legal advice. United States v. IBM Corp., 66 F.R.D. 206, 213 (S.D.N.Y. 1974) (no protection attaches to a document prepared for simultaneous review by legal and nonlegal personnel.). Finally, several entries on Plaintiffs’ privilege logs reference communications either (i) solely between non-party third parties or (ii) between Plaintiffs and third parties (like authors and literary agents). Plaintiffs have not met their burden to show that privilege extends to any of these third parties.

There’s some more in the letter, but it does seem pretty clear that the AAP desperately doesn’t want the Internet Archive to know what it was talking about with the publishers regarding the plans around dealing with the Open Library.

Link to the rest at TechDirt

PG notes that the major international publishers that provide most of the funding for The Association of American Publishers, undoubtedly including the legal fees for pursuing the suit against the Internet Archive, have a history of stupid errors on the part of the entitled and arrogant lords of traditional publishing which have caused them major pain whenever they’ve become involved with the US legal system while trying to stifle ebooks and prevent anyone from discounting them.

Exhibit A is United States v. Apple, in which the same large publishers tried to strangle a much smaller Amazon in the cradle in 2012 for committing the sin of selling the ebooks of these publishers at discount from their list price.

Copyright: American Publishers File for Summary Judgment Against the Internet Archive

From Publishing Perspectives:

[F]our primary member-publishers of the Association of American Publishers have filed a motion for judgment against the Internet Archive in this case that has international implications because of the reach of Internet connectivity. A “summary judgment” is a way for one party to win a case without a trial.

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recognize, this is a stage in two years of litigation that began in early June 2020, when the publishers, three of them among the Big Five, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Internet Archive, in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Those plaintiff-publishers:

  • Hachette Book Group
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • John Wiley & Sons
  • Penguin Random House

The 2020 lawsuit asked the court to enjoin the San Francisco-based Internet Archive’s “scanning, public display, and distribution of entire literary works”—which it has offered to the international public through what the association terms “global-facing businesses” branded the “Open Library” and “National Emergency Library.”


As you’ll remember, the Internet Archive responded by claiming that its operations in the Open Library and shorter-lived National Emergency Library were couched in a concept called Controlled Digital Lending that it asserted would protect its use of copyrighted content without payment or permission as a form of “fair use,” in some cultures called “fair dealing.”

A concise explication of the publishers’ complaint is found in the court filing’s preliminary statement, which says, in part:

“Masquerading as a not-for-profit library, Internet Archive digitizes in-copyright print books on an industrial scale and distributes full-text digital bootlegs for free. Internet Archive has amassed a collection of more than 3 million unauthorized in-copyright ebooks—including more than 33,000 of the publishers’ [and their authors’] commercially available titles—without obtaining licenses to do so or paying the rights holders a cent for exploiting their works.

“Anybody in the world with an Internet connection can instantaneously access these stolen works via the Internet Archive’s interrelated archive.org and openlibrary.org Web sites …

“Having scaled up its operations since the complaint was filed, Internet Archive now ‘lends’ bootleg ebooks to users approximately 25 million times a year.”

In her comment on the day’s request for summary judgment, Maria A. Pallante, the association’s president and CEO, says, “Outrageously, the Internet Archive has wrapped its large-scale infringement enterprise in a cloak of public service, but that posture is an affront to the most basic principles of copyright law.

“We hope and expect that the court will uphold established legal precedent, including by recognizing that formats are neither fungible nor free for the taking, but rather a key means by which authors and publishers exercise their copyright interests, develop new markets, and contribute to public progress.”

. . . .

What’s more, the publishers assert, “The defendant’s activities are part of a larger commercial enterprise that not only provides access to books but also adds to its bottom line. Between 2011 and 2020, the Internet Archive made approximately US$30 million from libraries for scanning books in their


Indeed, the filing goes a long way to take apart various elements of the Internet Archive’s arguments.

  • For example, it points out that the Archive, under the direction of Brewster Kahle, has said that its site helps rural populations, but “Internet Archive does not even track rural readers and ignores the considerable geographic reach of authorized library ebooks.”
  • The filing also produces some interesting observations, reporting that “three of the [plaintiff-] publishers estimate that between 35 percent [and] 50 percent of Americans who read an ebook use free library copies, rather than purchasing a commercial ebook. Internet Archive’s ebooks are no more ‘efficient’ than the authorized ebooks that libraries license—except the authorized ebooks generate revenue for authors and publishers.”

. . . .

There are caveats, as well. Here’s one: “To be clear, this lawsuit does not intend to foreclose the possibility that the unlicensed use of a particular work may be fair use in extenuating circumstances, such as the digital preservation or occasional e-loan of a clearly orphaned work.

“Further, the Association of American Publishers has long supported legislative modernization of Section 108 of the Copyright Act regarding library digitization to address preservation needs. But Internet Archive has gone far beyond what any calibrated exception might allow by appropriating every in-copyright work it can find without license or payment.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

HarperCollins Union Authorizes Strike

From Publishers Weekly:

Unionized employees of HarperCollins have voted to authorize a strike if the publisher does not agree to a fair contract.

The union, Local 2110 of the UAW, represents more than 250 HC employees in the design, editorial legal, marketing, publicity, and sales departments. According to the union, current contract negotiations with HC management began in December 2021, when a one-year pandemic extension of the contract was set to expire. The union is bargaining for higher pay, improved family leave benefits, a greater commitment to diversifying staff, and stronger union protection.

Until a deal is reached, the unions will continue to work without a contract. A union spokesperson no new bargaining session has been set, and no deadline for a strike has been announced.

The negotiations are the first to take place since HC bought the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt trade division, and the union said that it is disputing the company’s refusal to include former HMH Boston-based employees in the bargaining unit or to recognize the seniority of former HMH New York–based staff who now work for HarperCollins. The negotiations also come after HC posted a record year in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2021.

“I worked at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for two years before HarperCollins bought my division in 2021,” said Carly Katz, audio coordinator in a statement. “The company’s current offer isn’t even coming close to accounting for the current rate of inflation. If they can buy a whole division and still have record setting profits, they can raise salaries to match the cost of living.”

Indeed, improving low wages is a major objective for the union. “Most of us earn low salaries that are unlivable in major cities like New York and Boston,” Laura Harshberger, a senior production editor in Children’s Books and the union chairperson, said in a statement. The union is comprised mainly of women who have an average salary of $55,000.

“All of our proposals are to make HarperCollins a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace,” Harshberger said. “The company says publicly it supports diversifying the industry, but management is refusing to meaningfully address the low pay rates or codify policy changes in our union contract. Our members are tired of empty gestures. They want meaningful change.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

It’s not pretty working for an organization that is in long-term decline. PG suspects note about the last fiscal year’s financial reports reflects Covid shutdowns, staff pruning and a lot of help from Amazon selling their books.

A union won’t save employees if the enterprise is on a long-term downsizing path.

Readying Authors for Their Close-Ups

From Publishers Weekly:

When an editor recently asked me for a photographer’s credit for my author photo, I paused. The one I’d been using—a selfie taken amid a wall of vintage license plates in Tinkertown, N.Mex.—had, up until this moment, seemed to suit me fine. It was summer. I was relaxed. Genuinely happy, road-tripping through the country and writing every day, taking pictures of the Rio Grande and the cattle-flanked stretches through Texas, and getting my first taste of chili cherry pie. Blissfully unaware—as we all were—of what 2020 and beyond would bring. Unaware, too, that when I took the photo at the roadside attraction off the Turquoise Trail, this would eventually become my official author photo.

Anticipating the March 2022 publication of Proof of Me & Other Stories, a friend of mine suggested this winter that maybe it was time for an update. She connected me with a wonderful photographer (and colleague of mine), Cheryle St. Onge, and we set it up for the following day. I thought I was ready: I’d just had a haircut. I’d wear my turquoise necklace and find my lipstick from the far reaches of my backpack. On the eve of my big book debut, I believed I was set for my rite-of-passage moment and for getting an honest-to-goodness real Professional Author Photo from an honest-to-goodness real Professional Photographer. What could possibly go wrong?

What went wrong was the very thing that Susan Sontag had observed about picture-making in her 1977 book On Photography. Photographs, she wrote, often capture the mortality and vulnerability of their subject, and “do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, a miniature of reality.” And yet, I was hopeful that Cheryle, with her photographic finesse, might help me skip right over the whole mortality and reality part and capture instead just me as a writer. Ah well.

Before our session, Cheryle had suggested I research author photos to find ones I admired, so as to get a feel for my own aesthetic. Looking through dozens of photos of smart, intense faces of other women writers (and musicians—those of Patti Smith and Emmylou Harris were among my favorites) was an absolute gift—each face and setting a story in its own right. It got me thinking about what my own authorial face might say or convey about me and the nature of my work. I didn’t want to look “corporate” or overly polished.

I didn’t want to appear too intense, or vulnerable, or cloyingly pleasant. I wanted my expression to suggest that I was perhaps telling or hearing a joke, and I liked the idea of a textured background—with books or plants or a sense of place.

The conceit of cultivating the conditions to produce a single image that would approximate “Erica as writer” to the wider literary world felt both unnatural and ungainly, and yet there I was in a brightly lit studio, getting my photo taken, lipstick AWOL, borrowing Cheryle’s compact powder to reduce the shine on my forehead, while she endeavored to capture through the lens some version of the writer I sought to be.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG remembers overthinking any number of things a long time ago when he was young.

Sunshine and Glistening Seas on the Cover of Your Beach Read Might Mask Something Darker

PG seldom posts two items from the same source during a single day, but he couldn’t pass on Big Publishing at its finest.

Plus, this is the first time PG recalls the head of Amazon Publishing being quoted in a story that’s all about New York Publishing and its idea of smart marketing, e.g. selling to people exactly like themselves or how they imagine themselves if they’re not the CEO.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The siren call of the “beach read” finally reached Jennifer Weiner, who long considered the term dismissive of writing associated with women.

“After years and years of, ‘This is sexist,’ I was like, ‘You know what? If I can’t beat them, join them,’ ” said Ms. Weiner, whose new book out this spring, “The Summer Place,” is set on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

“I wanted to be at the beach,” said the author, who wrote the novel during the pandemic, the last in her three-book Cape Cod series. “I wanted to be anywhere but stuck in my house with my family.”

Beach reads, loosely defined as any engrossing tale released for summer, are under pressure to perform. June has been the second-biggest month for adult fiction sales for the past decade, according to NPD BookScan, and book sales overall soared during the pandemic. Now, as vacations start in earnest with the Fourth of July holiday, publishers are trying to hang on to those numbers.

Novels with beachy covers are so popular, book industry executives say, publishers put bare feet and glistening seas on all manner of titles.

“Authors perhaps have a darker element only to find that our covers are enormously beachy and sunshiny,” said beach-read novelist Jane Green. “Publishers think that a beachy cover will pull in readers even when it has little to do with the story.”

Ms. Green had a working title of “The Hemlock Sisters” for her 2017 novel about a dying mother who calls her estranged daughters back home to assist in her suicide. It ended up with the title “The Sunshine Sisters” and features an aquamarine sea on its cover.

Last summer’s hit “Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid has a cover of surfers shot from above on a seductive blue ocean, but its tale of sibling bonds after a mother’s drowning death is far from a Barbie beach party. This year, “Vacationland” by Meg Mitchell Moore uses a similar image—an overhead view of an ocean just begging the reader to jump in—while the book explores the impact of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease on its characters.

Ms. Reid and her publisher declined to comment and attempts to reach Ms. Moore and her publisher were unsuccessful.

“There’s a reason publishers lean this way,” said Sarah Gelman, editorial director of Amazon Books. “Beach books sell well when people who don’t have time to read say, ‘This is the one book I’m going to pack when I go to the Jersey Shore.’ ”

Successful beach-read authors know what readers are looking for. “They want to hear the scrape of a palmetto frond against a screen door,” said Mary Kay Andrews, author of the new book “The Homewreckers,” about a widow who stars in a beach house renovation reality show. “They want to see those curtains blowing in the summer breeze, and they want to hear the waves lapping at the shore.”

Ms. Andrews mostly writes in her Atlanta home with a scented candle she said “smells like waves” to get into a nautical mood.

Others ponder how to put “summer” in their book titles or find new ways to describe sand. Ms. Weiner pictures the “splayed fingers of a clutching hand” on a shrub-covered sand dune, Nancy Thayer describes an “elbow of sand” while Elin Hilderbrand writes about a “long arm of golden sand.”

“I’ll just be like, ‘I hope I haven’t said this before,’ ” said Ms. Hilderbrand, a novelist who is so associated with Nantucket, Mass., she wrote sightings of herself into her latest book, “The Hotel Nantucket,” which came out in June. (The “local author” is spotted by the ferry and at a bar.)

Sunny Hostin, the legal journalist-TV host who wrote the 2021 bestseller “Summer on the Bluffs,” entered the beach-read genre because she saw it lacking diversity. She set her novel in Oak Bluffs, Mass., a town on Martha’s Vineyard with a history as a summer escape for wealthy Black families.

“I think a lot of people underestimated this book,” Ms. Hostin said of the first novel in her beach-set trilogy. “I knew there was an audience.”

Beach-read writers make efforts to not tread on other authors’ turf. A swath of North Carolina’s Outer Banks often appears in Kristy Woodson Harvey’s books. Isle of Palms, S.C., is author Mary Alice Monroe’s territory. Spots on the Georgia coast belong to Ms. Andrews.

Ms. Green set her 2008 drama “The Beach House” and her 2015 novel “Summer Secrets” on Nantucket. She has since switched to Westport, Conn., where she has a home by the water.

“Today, I would never dare write about Nantucket,” Ms. Green said. “Nantucket is owned by Elin and should be owned by Elin.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Publisher Gives Away Books It Thinks May Help People Bridge Political Divisions

From The Wall Street Journal:

Simon & Schuster is giving away two books meant to help readers engage with people holding opposing views as the country is divided on issues ranging from abortion to gun rights.

The book publisher, a unit of Paramount Global, is making the digital audiobook and ebook editions of Amanda Ripley’s “High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out,” and Anna Sale’s “Let’s Talk About Hard Things: The Life-Changing Conversations That Connect Us” available for free until the end of July.

Jonathan Karp, the publisher’s chief executive, said it is the first time to his knowledge that Simon & Schuster has given away books outside of charitable efforts—a decision that he said was prompted by a flurry of recent events that further worsened divisions.

“The Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade was on my mind, along with the debates Americans are having about guns, the 2020 election, Jan. 6, climate change and immigration, to name just a few of the issues that divide us,” he said.

Both Ms. Ripley and Ms. Sale are on board with the plan and agreed not to receive royalties for the copies that are downloaded, Mr. Karp said.

“High Conflict” and “Let’s Talk About Hard Things,” which both came out in 2021, have sold more than 19,000 print copies and more than 11,000 print copies respectively so far, according to book tracker NPD BookScan.

Both books are “trying to help us understand how we got to a place where we have turned on each other,” said Ms. Ripley, a journalist and host of the weekly Slate podcast “How To!” She said, “What is a better way to handle conflict?”

She said giving away the books was akin to paywalled news sites making health-related content available to all during the pandemic.

Ms. Ripley said “High Conflict” argues that “there is a kind of malignant conflict that becomes conflict for its own sake, in which everyone ends up worse off, as opposed to ‘good conflict,’ which is healthy and generative.”

“Let’s Talk About Hard Things,” Ms. Sale’s debut book, focuses on how to have thoughtful conversations about such subjects as money, death and identity, while being able to listen to other opinions.

. . . .

“Publishers see that the books addressing the ideological extremes often sell the best, even though polling indicates that a majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle,” Mr. Karp said. “What’s needed are more books that show us how to find common ground.”

Paramount Global agreed to sell Simon & Schuster to Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House publishing unit for about $2.18 billion in November 2020. The planned sale was later challenged by the Justice Department on antitrust grounds, and a trial is expected to start Aug. 1.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG would have been more impressed if S&S had paid the authors of the two free books a reasonable sum to replace the royalties they might be losing under the free book promotion.

When PG checked, “High Conflict” had a Best Sellers Rank of #1,765,731 in Kindle Store and “Hard Things” had a Best Sellers Rank of #1,413 in the Free category of the Kindle Store (PG couldn’t find any non-free ranking info for either title). The authors may have concluded they were not likely to earn out their advances, so going free had no financial downside.

A Wall Street Journal article by itself, is a big boost for the authors’ brands and maybe the authors get S&S brownie points until the Bertelsmann acquisition goes through, at which point, “free” goes out the window forever.

A Publisher on the Translators’ Debate

From Publishing Perspectives:

[Multiple Individuals Shared Their Opinions on this Topic]

I was fascinated by the call from the chair of the International Booker Jury, Frank Wynne, for translators to be recognized as equals in terms of cover placement and royalty share.

More or less the first book I published was a translation. I was relieved to discover that the translator was identified on the title page, but not on the jacket.

But before that, I was addicted to translated works, usually in the black Penguin livery reserved for “foreign classics”—Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Tolstoy, even Machiavelli, although I don’t think I learned  from him as much as I should have. And then to the racier Alberto Moravia and the ever-entertaining Don Camillo series by Giovanni Guareschi. Not to mention the fantastic Asterix and Tintin series.

I think translated books play an enormously important role in furthering our understanding of other countries, other systems, other geniuses.

It’s, therefore unsurprising that the role of the translator is crucial. A bad translation can ruin a book. A great one can allow an author’s words to reach out to a new and bigger readership.

Rewarding translators is a given, as is giving them credit. But this particular announcement got me thinking.

[A Different Person’s Opinion]

It’s not my job to work out what would be best for literary translators, but it would be my strong recommendation that they should avoid sharing any profits from the sales of the books they’ve translated. There may be a few titles for which this would make sense but, at least in the world of translations into English, the translators would find that this would result in having to pay out quite substantial sums to publishers for their share of the losses.

Most translations into English are lucky to cover their real costs, at least in the short term. In fact, most books find it difficult to cover their costs, and translations even more so.

However, it could be that the translators were really asking for a share of the revenue rather than the profit generated. This would make more sense, but I fear that the income from this would in most cases be lower than a typical flat fee and, of course, a lot less certain. It would also lead to translators having to make decisions about which book to translate based on likely sales rather than importance.

In addition, and from the publisher’s point of view, where would this additional royalty come from given the low profitability of translated books in general?

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

James Patterson shares his formula for success. It’s pretty simple.

From The Washington Post:

Halfway into his memoir, “James Patterson by James Patterson,” James Patterson takes a moment to discuss his writing process. It’s nothing fancy, he explains, and it starts with a folder stuffed with unused story ideas. “When the time comes for me to consider a new novel,” he writes, “I’ll take down the trusty-dusty Idea folder.”

Given Patterson’s fecundity, you have to ask: Is it ever not the time? Does the Idea folder ever go back to whence it came?

Patterson is among the world’s best-selling and most wildly prolific living authors. His books have sold more than 300 million copies. His new memoir is the 10th book he’s published so far this year, and one of four books he has slated for release this month. A checklist of books on his website includes nearly 400 titles, comprising thrillers, true-crime books, contributions to various children’s and YA series and collaborations with a variety of celebrities including a former president and a former Fox News host. Patterson, 75, insists he’s responsible for at least outlining every last one of these literary creations.

Patterson’s approach to writing is unapologetically pragmatic: Give ’em something irresistibly compelling, then give ’em more of it, quickly. It’s also the MO of his memoir, filled with snappy, short chapters and a lot of name-dropping, from Dolly Parton (the unlikely co-author of “Run, Rose, Run”) to Tom Cruise (potential movie collaborator) to James Taylor (patient at a mental hospital he once worked at). His writing process is pragmatic, too. His a-ha moment in terms of efficiency, he explains, came while writing 1993’s “Along Came a Spider”: Rather than fill out the story he’d outlined, he decided the outline was the novel. He likens this approach to Bruce Springsteen’s bare-bones “Nebraska” album, as if a minimalist aesthetic were the same thing as being satisfied with your first draft. Or perhaps Patterson is just pitching himself to a potential new celeb collaborator. (Don’t do it, Bruce!)

Patterson is a man of the people, as his sales figures decisively prove. But in his memoir, he also positions himself as a man of taste. A lengthy list of his favorite books is an exercise in careful balance of brows low and high: For every Lee Child, a Gabriel García Márquez; for every John Grisham, a Bernard Malamud.

That balancing act extends to his description of his own life. He’s college-educated and spent time as an advertising executive before becoming a novelist, but refers often to his humble roots in blue-collar Newburgh, N.Y. (“I’m kind of a working-class storyteller. I just keep chopping wood.”) He’s proud that his first novel, 1976’s “The Thomas Berryman Number,” won a prestigious Edgar Award, but self-effacingly says he wrote it while “still a literary twit.” He thrills at meeting John Updike but is more deeply heartened by a reader who tells him that the first book she ever read was a Patterson novel.

After a time, Patterson’s play-it-down-the-middle approach feels less like the remembrances of a Renaissance man and more like evasive, unassertive hedging. He mushily criticizes Jeff Bezos when asked to attend one of his private A-list get-togethers: “I didn’t feel Amazon always wielded its tremendous power for the good of readers, writers, or publishers. Just my opinion.” He goes anyway. (Bezos owns The Washington Post). He recalls golfing with former presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. When he spots them playing together, his prose goes squishy: “It’s the way things used to be in politics. Better, saner times.” You can feel a terrible novel about golf-based brinkmanship arrive in the Idea file.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG notes that Patterson spent a number years at a large New York advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, prior to becoming an author.

While PG hasn’t seen this work experience highlighted very much in the stories about Patterson, he believes that what Patterson learned at JWT played a significant role in his success as a writer.

Side Note: PG also worked at J. Walter Thompson, although for a much shorter time and in a different location. Patterson was in the New York office and PG was in the Chicago office.

Their paths never crossed during PG’s employment, but, many years later, PG was on a panel with Patterson in New York City – he doesn’t remember who sponsored it.

The topic was Amazon. PG only spoke with Patterson briefly on that occasion. PG was on the panel because he was an outspoken proponent of self-publishing as a way for authors to control their own business and artistic futures while making more money and was not particularly oriented towards traditional publishers.

Needless to say, Patterson and PG did not find much to agree about.

One of PG’s observations about Patterson over the years is that he does a very good job of promoting himself in part because knows more about effective advertising and publicity than all of the marketing executives in all the publishers in New York City combined.

Is Hybrid Publishing Ethical?

PG Note: He published this post prior to the one just following it chronologically. The UK study was talking about what are known in the US as vanity presses.

Vanity presses are shady operators who say they will “publish” an author’s book if he/she/they pay the vanity press a fixed upfront fee, which may sometimes be increased by additional “services” that cost more money.

In return, the typical vanity publisher will print up a few hundred books, list them for sale online, wholesale and retail, send out a canned press release, and provide the author with a number of copies of the book.

Typically, the vanity publisher only orders a short run of books because they know very few copies will sell. When the book doesn’t sell, the vanity press typically contacts the author to ask if the author wants to have the unsold books destroyed or shipped to the author.

It’s not unusual for people connected with traditional publishing to conflate vanity publishing and self-publishing, but, if the self-publishing author wants to make money, she/he/they need to spend some time learning how to do it reasonably well. All the information necessary to understand and execute the process is available online.

Although PG thinks some serious competitors to Amazon would help indie authors as well as encouraging Amazon to up its game a bit, at the moment, Amazon is, effectively, the place the indie author must be successful and the company provides financial incentives for an author to sell exclusively through them.

From Jane Friedman:

The publishing industry has been arguing for a long time about traditional vs. hybrid vs. self-publishing and which of these avenues are legitimate, and which are not, but a recent UK study that decries hybrid publishing as unethical has ruffled a lot of feathers.

Here’s the basic problem, in my view: these arguments ultimately conflate “ethical publishing” with positive ROI on a per-book basis. I’d like to take a closer look at that foundational premise, its inherent cracks, and offer a different paradigm.

Regardless of who pays for it, this is the cost to produce a book

My operating assumption is that you want to create a quality book—a book that will be on par with the quality of every other book on the shelf next to it. Regardless of who is fronting the investment (the publisher, in the case of a traditional publishing, or an author, in the case of hybrid or self-publishing), it can easily cost upward of $20,000 to create the thing.

Yes, there is variance based on the book’s contents (if you need a fact-check or an index or photo permissions clearance, for example), word count, or printing specifications. There is also a great deal of variance in terms of the pricing you can find these services for—but generally speaking, you’re going to get what you pay for. Good designers and editors have fairly standard rates, so I’m using those here to illustrate what I call the actual cost of producing a high-quality book. If you cross-check these numbers with a traditional publisher, you’ll find they expect to outlay about the same amount when such responsibilities are handled by freelancers.

Three-pass editing (Developmental, Copyediting, Proofreading): $7,500
Cover and custom interior design: $3,000

Finding great editors and designers is an important task—one that many self-publishers have no interest, ability, or time to do. Partnering with a reputable hybrid publisher or a publishing services firm who continually vet their creative partners removes the onus of team curation from the author.

Project management and back cover copywriting: $5,000

Self-publishers can and often do take on their own project management. It takes around 120 hours of professional project management to produce a book, more for the inexperienced. A lot of authors decide this is not how they would like to spend their time and hire out project management accordingly.

Offset print run (let’s assume a relatively small run of 3,500 copies, for example): $8,750

Total creative investment: ~$24,250

These costs do not include marketing and publicity. A full-scale publicity campaign, for example, starts around $10,000. The vast majority of traditionally published authors receive limited marketing and publicity support from their publisher, so regardless of publishing route, the bulk of a book’s marketing and promotion responsibility falls squarely on the author.

The earning potential from a single book

Publishers, as well as many individuals deciding on a hybrid publisher or on self-publishing, are concerned with turning a profit on the project. So, let’s look at how many copies a book needs to sell to earn out the creative investment alone on a paperback with a list price of $18.95.

  • From $18.95, we subtract the wholesale discount. If the book is being sold into bookstores, 40-55% is standard.
  • Then we subtract the distributor’s cut (18-20%).
  • The hybrid publisher and author split the net revenue (let’s call that $9.23 in this case) along the lines of their specific deal, and these vary widely. Sometimes hybrids take 15%, others take 50% of net revenues. We’ll use 30% for this example, making author earnings ~$6.46/book.

What this means is that, if all your books are sold through the brick-and-mortar channel, you would need to sell around 3,700 copies to break even on your up-front creative and printing investment. (Direct, non-retail-distribution-dependent sales channels earn more per copy.)

This sketch should shed some light on why traditional publishers are increasingly looking to acquire books that will sell more than 5,000 copies. It also suggests why publishers stress the importance of author platform: the author’s direct relationship with readers reduces the need to pile on marketing spend to reach sales goals.

Traditional publishers face ever-increasing printing costs and relatively stagnant retail prices (the market simply will not bear a $30 paperback novel, or even a $20 one). So they have little choice but to recover their margin with bulk rates for larger print runs. In other words, the sales projection threshold for a traditional publishing deal continues to move up, yoking publication to commercialization.

Is producing a book worth doing if it in and of itself is not a profitable project?

There is not a single right answer to this. For some people it is, and for some people it isn’t. A book does not always need to be an ROI-positive event to be worthwhile. Many thought leaders and entrepreneurs write book-production costs off as a marketing expense, since they recognize the legitimizing value of a byline to their authority. A book can function as a lead-gen tool to drive conversion to contract sales; a book can act as a compelling business card that helps net new clients or speaking engagements; a book can drive an individual’s community engagement and retention. Many authors prefer to work in a hybrid or fully assisted self-publishing model because those avenues offer them more control over their work and rights, greater speed to market, and increased potential for return on their intellectual property.

I echo Jane Friedman in saying that “Most writers, regardless of how they publish, are motivated not by money, but some other reason. Prestige, Infamy. Status. Visibility. A million other things.”

This insight applies not only to nonfiction writers, but to novelists, children’s book authors, and memoirists as well, for many of whom producing a high-quality book is a lifelong dream. The value writers get from publishing their book often has little to do with the royalties it generates. As Jane describes in great detail in the aforementioned article, “The writer who makes a living from book sales alone is the exception and not the rule in traditional publishing . . . what most frustrates me, year after year, is why we believe or assume that authors have ever earned a reasonable full-time living from publisher advances or book sales.”

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG was very interested in the costs estimates in the OP. He assumes that these are the costs that major traditional publishers accrue when they publish a book.

He also suspects that many of these costs are associated with getting printed books into physical bookstores – persuading the bookstore buyers to purchase a bunch of printed books (with the ability to return unsold books to the publisher for full credit) by touting all the money spent on publicity, taking book review editors to expensive Manhattan restaurants, etc., etc.

PG thinks that serious self-publishing authors are happy to get status, visibility, etc., but their primary objective is to make money from their writing via book sales through online bookstores, Amazon being the big dog.

Because indie authors sell their books online, they focus most of their efforts at gaining visibility for their books online via social media, websites, email lists, etc.

For PG, the last quote from Jane Friedman in the OP is the killer:

What most frustrates me, year after year, is why we believe or assume that authors have ever earned a reasonable full-time living from publisher advances or book sales.

So, are we to assume that everybody else in the traditional book business — publishers, employees of publishers, editors, agents, publicists, book distributors and wholesalers, traditional bookstores, Amazon — has a reasonable expectation of being able to earn “a reasonable full-time living,” while authors must have side jobs, wealthy spouses, inherited wealth, etc., in order to survive?

The author belongs at the bottom of the publishing heap?

The author is a peon and agents, editors, publisher gofers, book stores, etc., are the aristos?

Taking a Stand Against Discrimination at Book Fairs

From Publishers Weekly:

Authors Eliot Schrefer and Brandy Colbert withdrew from separate book appearances within the past year over censorship concerns—Schrefer from the Plum Creek Literacy Festival and Colbert from a Black History Month presentation. Below, they discuss why they took a stand.

Colbert: Eliot, we experienced surprisingly similar situations with book censorship over the past year. First, you were set to attend the Plum Creek Literacy Festival and then withdrew after seeing that your LGBTQ YA book The Darkness Outside Us was missing from the order form—along with another celebrated LGBTQ YA book—and discovering that the host college had a policy to discipline students for “active involvement in a homosexual lifestyle.”

Schrefer: Yes, that captures it! Then, a few months later, you were invited to present to a school district in Texas, except they said a few days beforehand that they didn’t want you discussing your newest book, Black Birds in the SkyThe Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, as it was “too controversial.” When your publisher pushed back, the organizers decided not to censor your presentation, but said they would not purchase Black Birds as part of the book buy-in for students, choosing one of your backlist titles instead. You withdrew.

Colbert: All this at an event that was expressly designed to honor Black authors during Black History Month! Both of our cases seem like soft censorship to me, in that the organizers didn’t object to our presence and overall work, but refused to provide students with access to specific books. I think it’s even more important to push back against this type of censorship, as it’s still quite harmful and can lead to more blatant bans.

Schrefer: Soft censorship is usually invisible, which is why it’s so effective. We both happened to be in situations where it was revealed. Me because I clicked on an order form; you because the school district became scared of the “CRT” bogeyman.

Colbert: It’s difficult to turn down appearances where we’ll get to meet and interact with our readers, but it’s vital that we stand up for ourselves and our work. Allyship is also important; authors whose work hasn’t or won’t be censored should stand by the authors whose books are under attack. In your case, I was pleased to see so many other authors withdraw.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

AAP StatShot: US Market up Slightly Year-to-Date, March Down 4.2 Percent

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its StatShot report released this morning (May 27), the Association of American Publishers (AAP) for March 2022, released for publication today (May 27), trade revenues are seen falling 6.4 percent, but are up 2.0 percent, year-to-date.

March trade revenues across all other categories came to US$804.4 million, which is down 4.2 percent from the figure for March 2021. Year-to-date revenues up that slight 2.2 percent, came in at $3.0 billion for Q1. As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the AAP’s numbers reflect reported revenue for tracked categories including trade (consumer books); K-12 instructional materials; higher education course materials; professional publishing; and university presses.

That step back of 6.4 percent translates to $702.5 million. And what to watch for is just below: Look at this big drop in hardback sales from last year’s March figures.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 19 percent, coming in at $238.1 million
  • Paperbacks were up 8.6 percent, at $266.0 million in revenue
  • Mass market was down 30.7 percent to $14.3 million
  • Special bindings were down 17.6 percent, with $12.7 million in revenue

Paper formats, according to a note from the association’s team, “still account for 75.6 percent of all trade sales. And–as was discussed in an audiobook and podcast panel Publishing Perspectives moderated this month at the Jerusalem International Book Fair, a part of what’s reflected in that paper-formats observation may have to do with the fact that downloadable audio—so loudly praised for its gains on the market—in March came in at 9.0 percent of the overall trade, trailing ebooks at 10.9 percent. (See the graphic to the right.)

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 12.2 percent for the month as compared to March 2021 for a total of $76.9 million
  • Downloaded audio was up 8.4 percent for March, at $63.5 in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 20.1 percent, at $1.3 million

Year-to-Date Numbers

  • Year-to-date, the industry’s trade revenues were up 2.0 percent, at $2.1 billion for the first three months of the year.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 3.0 percent, coming in at $740.6 million
  • Paperbacks were up 14.6 percent, with $763.5 million in revenue
  • Mass market was down 20.1 percent to $49.4 million
  • Special bindings were down 3.1 percent, with $43.6 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 9.8 percent as compared to the first three months of 2021 for a total of $249.3 million
  • The downloaded audio format was up 2.7 percent, coming in at $194.5 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 23.4 percent coming in at $3.7 million

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that the report only covers revenues generated by traditional publishers and likely does not include more than a few small and mid-sized traditional publishers. Plus, to the best of PG’s knowledge, publishers report on the honor system and the AAP doesn’t perform any sort of checks or audits on the financial information they receive.

He will also note that, due to the right that many traditional bookstores have to return unsold hard copy books to the publisher for full credit/refunds, big purchases of books by bookstores of all sizes in December may generate large returns in January or February, adversely impacting publisher financial performance for the first calendar quarter of the year.

Additionally, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon doesn’t disclose its sales of KDP ebooks and POD to any third parties, nor is he aware that Amazon Publishing shares its sales outside the company.

PG suspects that traditional publishers that are either publicly owned or are subsidiaries of larger companies which are publicly owned provide accurate numbers due to potential claims for fraudulent disclosures under the laws and rules governing what publicly owned companies must disclose and the penalties for knowingly disclosing incorrect information about the company’s sales, etc.

Here’s an excerpt from the AAP’s description of how it gathers information underlying its reports:

“We’ll excerpt here from the proverbial fine print provided on methodology for this report. We’ve edited only slightly, to minimize promotional language and to do away with a few gratuitous institutional capitalizations.

“AAP StatShot reports the monthly and yearly net revenue of publishing houses from US sales to bookstores, wholesalers, direct to consumer, online retailers, and other channels.

“The pool of StatShot participants may fluctuate from report to report [this month’s report coming from some 1,366 publishers]

“Like any business, it’s common accounting practice for publishing houses to update and restate their previously reported revenue data.

“If, for example, a business learns that its revenues were greater in a given year than its reports first indicated, it will restate the revenues in subsequent reports to AAP, permitting AAP in turn to report information that’s more accurate than before.”

Supply Squeeze, Changing Consumer Behavior Challenges Publishers

From Publishers Weekly:

A May 4 webinar hosted by Ingram Content Group addressed supply chain challenges, logistic delays, inflation, the role environmental impacts play on consumer shopping preferences, as well as how accessibility is increasing the reach for e-books and audiobooks. Participants included Rob Grindstaff, director of sales operations and product development for Ingram’s Lightning Source; Ruth Jones, director of global sales and digital services at Ingram Content Group UK; and Gina Walpole, the senior services manager for Ingram Content Group UK.

Panelists noted that troubles with the supply chain persist. Problems include a shortage of materials, increased freight prices, and port congestion. All of this is putting a strain on publishers as it becomes more difficult for them to accurately predict demand and, consequently, supply for a given title. It was pointed out that paper mills are operating at full capacity while some are shifting production from producing paper to packaging. Labor shortages persist across the logistics supply chain—and are predicted to carry into 2023. All this is resulting in rising costs.

Customer buying habits are also changing, panelists said, not only as a result of inflation, but because of a growing awareness of the need to support companies whose values align with the customer’s own—be they about ethics, equity, or environment.

One solution the panelists offered to several of these issues was Ingram’s own “print in market” (i.e. print-on-demand) solutions, which had various advantages over offset printing from speed to market to having a lower carbon footprint. The panelists noted that Ingram could serve markets in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and the United Arab Emirates, and are planning to expand operations to South Africa.

Another trend to note is the year-on-year increases in digital sales. This has been aided by several advancements in the industry, from increased discoverability due to better metadata management to the growing awareness that e-books have a far lower environmental impact than print books. Text-to-speech is improving and A.I. narration—Google now offers 35 voices for narration—is expanding the audience for audiobooks by making them more accessible.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Capricious Actions That Cross the Line

From Publishing Perspectives:

[A] digital annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) “would hardly be a meeting of publishers,” said AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante, “if we didn’t address the First Amendment.

“As we all know, across the country, thousands of books are being questioned with a scrutiny that’s newly chilling,” she said, “from novels to math books. This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do. But that roll has constitutional limits. It does not extend to capricious actions that cross the line and amount to censorship. In fact, the line is important.”

Indeed it is. And the association shines most brightly when it operates with such outspoken clarity in public policy and political channels to protect and promote the place of the book industry and its freedom to publish.

“And so last month, in Missouri,” Pallante said, “we were proud to join with the booksellers, Authors Guild, and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to file a brief in support of the NAACP—a case involving the removal of books from school libraries, including award-winning books addressing race and sexuality, such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

“In our filing, we highlighted the constitutional rights of minors to receive intellectual information as well as the deep flaws in the school district’s assertion that the banned books were obscene and therefore removable.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that Ms. Pallante needs a bit more understanding about public education and the constitution.

“This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do.”

To PG’s sensitive ears, this statement sounds amazingly condescending. Public education is, by and large, funded by state and local taxes. To the best of PG’s knowledge, public school boards are elected in local elections by “parents and communities.”

Generally speaking, the public schools where most students are educated are determined by what geographical school district where the students reside. PG is aware that at least some states allow students in one school district to attend schools in a different district, usually, one adjoining the district where they reside. PG is not familiar with the state of vouchers across the United States but believes vouchers aren’t available to the large majority of children in public schools.

PG was raised in rural, sometimes very rural areas where getting to public school involved a school bus ride that lasted 20-30 minutes or more in some cases. Attending a more distant school would have required his parents to transport him there because public transportation was not available in any form. The only practical choice for his education was the local public school so even if “school choice” had existed, it would not have been practically exercisable.

Many states provide “educational vouchers” that allow families to fund attendance at private schools. Typically, private schools that accept vouchers (PG doesn’t think all do) receive an amount per student that is roughly equivalent to the money a public school would receive from local and state funds for a student’s education for a year.

Ultimately, educators receiving state and local funds for their salaries select textbooks for children to read in class, spending state and local funds to purchase those books. School principals and district superintendents are also paid from those funds.

PG suggests that parents have a right to pressure public school officials if they believe their tax money is being used to provide access to books they reasonably believe will cause harm to their children. When a large group of parents supports such objections, public school officials should realize that their concerns should be carefully considered and, in virtually every circumstance, be reflected in the school’s libraries and textbooks.

The Association of American Publishers is located in Washington, DC. Virtually all major trade publishers are located in New York City. PG suggests that these two cities, their inhabitants, and their values, priorities, and interests are quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

As PG has written previously, publishers of all sorts are controlled and managed by a group of people who are quite homogenous in their values and experiences and are atypical of American families with children who attend public school. These people ultimately control the content of traditionally-published books, school books, and a wide range of other media. He suggests that their values are also quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

If you would like to read the American Association of Publishers’ brief filed with the Federal District Court, it should be embedded below.

Trade facing industry-wide burnout, Bookseller survey finds

From The Bookseller:

Publishing is facing “industry-wide burnout” according to a survey conducted by The Bookseller, which revealed 89% of staffers responding to the survey had experienced stress during the course of their work over the last year, while 69% reported burnout.  

The survey also found a significant number of employees are working more than their contracted hours each week, with many unhappy at the state of their work-life balance.  

With more than 230 responses, heavily dominated by publishing staffers (87%), the survey found 64% of people working in the industry felt their work had impacted their mental health in the last year. Many attributed this to unsustainable workloads and an “always on” culture, worsened by the pandemic. 

One editor, who has worked in the industry for seven years, said they are required to do “entire strands” of their job outside of contracted hours, to the extent they feel unable to start a family and are “seriously considering” leaving the industry. 

In total 63% of respondents said they worked more than their contracted hours each week, with some saying they worked up to 20 or 30 hours extra. Nearly three quarters (73%) agreed that their workload had increased in the last year, while 37% said they were not satisfied with their work-life balance. 

One senior desk editor who has been in the industry for nine years said working from home during the pandemic had “definitely” promoted a culture of working extra hours. “Work-life balance is a joke! I’ve heard editorial assistants not taking their lunch break and even cancelling training sessions as they felt they had to continue with their work,” they said. “Morale has severely decreased since the pandemic, lots of colleagues have left (either to other publishers or out of the industry) as they did not enjoy their jobs and were not valued as staff or compensated well enough.” 

The survey showed 38% of respondents wanted to leave their job. An assistant editor, who has worked in the industry for four years, said they “love” their job but were working more than two extra hours a day “not to even catch up, but to fall behind less”. They said: “I have had to work weekends. I am constantly stressed about the deadlines I am missing, as they impact my colleagues. This should not be the workload of a junior staff member. And, quite frankly, the workload and the pay do not add up. This is not worth it, and I am making plans to get out of the industry.” 

. . . .

 “Junior members of staff are often doing enough work for two people but are only in rare instances offered external help such as being able to freelance certain tasks out. There is an expectation from senior leadership that the company will continue to buy more and more books, but no corresponding communication re hiring more staff to help with this. People have been stretched beyond their limits over the last two years particularly and that’s why we’re seeing a mass exodus from the industry.” 

A marketing executive, who has worked in publishing for seven years, agreed. “There’s been a huge change in focus over the past two years, driven by the pandemic, to look at backlist titles and perennial sellers as well as more focus on e-books and audio, but the expectation that teams can do that on top of their pre-existing workload is going to lead to workforce-wide burnout.” They added: “My line manager recognises the issue and is understanding but there seems to be limited appetite higher up in the company to take steps to address the issues.” 

Another assistant editor, working in the industry for five years, said they had “not known burnout like it was in November” due to supply chain issues. They said: “We’re all exhausted and we know everyone else is exhausted, as an editor you don’t want to give marketing and publicity more because you know they are overworked too so it’s just this cycle of piling more on your own plate and drowning in it.”

They said their manager also felt the same. “It’s industry-wide burnout and change needs to come from the top, I can’t expect my mid-level manager to be able to solve this.”

A former publishing staffer, who recently switched to agenting, said they experienced “horrific” working conditions as an editor. “My last year as an editor I took only five days of holiday because I didn’t have an assistant and there was no one to cover even the basics of my day-to-day when I was away, so going on holiday meant a month of working through the weekends to make up for it.” 

They said they “love” being an agent now, because it has made them enjoy books again. “I see my friends who still work as editors continuing to struggle while their line managers refuse to give them anything approaching help or support. The bright, hardworking young people who work in publishing because they love books leave to go to better industries—as I nearly did—and nothing changes. M.d.s and c.e.o.s need to have a hard look at the workloads they place on their junior staff and start making real and consequential changes.” 

However burnout is not limited to publishing staffers. A number of booksellers also reported issues with stress due to working conditions. An archives assistant, who has worked in the industry for 10 years, said: “Rotas would be provided with only a week or two notice at times, trying to secure holidays was always a protracted affair, trying to speak to management about any HR/pay issues was always impossible, trying to view payslips was a convoluted affair, working hours would regularly be unsociable—you were supposed to be on a pattern of lates and earlies but management would just put you in for what suited them, so you would regularly be working weeks of mostly late shifts, you’d be lucky if you got weekends off, and you’d be expected to just accept very last minute changes to your rota.” 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

International Book Fairs Still Thrive in the Digital Age

From Publishers Weekly:

The international circuit begins each year with two spring fairs: the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the London Book Fair, typically held in March and April, respectively. The several book fairs of the summer and fall follow: Beijing International Book Fair and Frankfurt Book Fair held, respectively, in August or September and October. The fairs rounding out the year include those in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Sharjah, UAE. A slew of other fairs are also of some international, but primarily regional, importance, including those in Abu Dhabi, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Cairo, Gothenburg, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Kyiv, Leipzig, Montreal, Moscow, New Delhi, Paris, Prague, São Paulo, Seoul, Taipei, and Thessaloniki. One could spend the entire calendar year just traveling to book fairs.

Sometimes world affairs intervene to create challenges for the fairs, such as in the fall of 2008, which saw, first, the Russo-Georgian war in August and the global economic collapse in September. The impact of both events was apparent at the 2008 Frankfurt Book Fair, where the stands of Greece, Iceland, and Ireland stood nearly empty as a result of the economic crisis, and the Georgian stand, in close proximity to Russia’s stand, staged a days-long protest in which Georgians bombarded the Russian stand with paper airplanes made from pages torn out of Russian books.

Fast forward to 2022. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is likely to cause ripples on the international book fair scene as well, though the full impact is uncertain at press time. For starters, nearly all the major international book fairs announced they have banned Russia’s state-sponsored publishers and booksellers from exhibiting at their fairs, though independent publishers will be allowed. The primary concern is that the war will spill over into other countries in Europe and create hesitation among fairgoers about traveling to the fairs or exhibiting; this would have significant consequences for both Bologna and London. Both fairs have been idle for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and each had offered virtual alternatives in both 2020 and 2021. Most people found these virtual events less than satisfying, however, and it is urgent that the fairs return to in-person events as soon as possible, lest fairgoers lose their sense of loyalty.

Frankfurt, Beijing, and Guadalajara also went digital in 2020, and then each returned with scaled-down in-person events in 2021. Having benefited from its late date in the year, Sharjah was able to hold a modest book fair at the end of 2020, then returned in 2021 with its full show. Thus, Sharjah could take bragging rights to being the biggest book fair in the world last year, attracting 1.3 million people, compared with just 75,000 in 2021 for Frankfurt, which would typically bring in some 300,000, and Guadalajara, which allowed in just 200,000 people, when it would usually host more than 700,000. The Beijing fair was said to be half its usual size in 2021, which generally brings in 300,000 people. All these fairs are not exclusive to publishing professionals and cater to some extent to consumers and members of the public, who account for most of the attendees. In contrast, both Bologna and London only allow professionals to attend and typically draw 30,000 and 25,000 attendees, respectively.

These large numbers of people spend a lot of money and, accordingly, represent a huge, predictable influx of cash into the community hosting a book fair. Some people take advantage of this, such as the hoteliers in Frankfurt who triple their rates during the fair. When Covid-19 shut down the fairs, national governments were compelled to step in and shore up the finances of the organizers to ensure the fair would keep going. Still, Covid did have some consequences: Jacks Thomas, director of the London Book Fair for seven years, retired, then started working with Bologna, while Frankfurt closed several overseas offices and significantly reduced its overall staff numbers.

Despite returning to live events this year, the fear remains among the fair organizers that as publishers become accustomed to doing business digitally, they will feel less and less compelled to travel to meet with colleagues in real life. Going into 2022, for the first time in many people’s careers, the relevance and importance of attending in-person events is being questioned.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The 9 Biggest Myths About Nonfiction Trade Publishing, Debunked

From A Writer’s Notebook:

At least once a month, there’s a big discussion online about something or other that has happened in publishing. It might be about where novelists find inspiration, or how authors use sources in nonfiction, or the research practices of journalists versus academics, or the intent of a memoirist, or how much power and influence your average author has. Regardless of the topic, one thing I’ve noticed, which tends to run through all these discussions, is a series of common misunderstandings and misconceptions about how modern trade publishing actually works.

It makes sense, in a way. Why should your average non-author know what an author actually does in the process of writing, publishing, and promoting a book? Most representations of authors and the publishing industry in popular culture, from television and film to characters in books themselves, do not reflect reality. It’s a fantasy, and people project onto that fantasy. They see Carrie Bradshaw enjoying a book party that costs more than most people’s weddings, and assume that a toned-down version of this must await most authors at the end of the publishing rainbow.

Yes, every now and then a first-time author who is not already famous will get a big seven-figure advance. But these are usually hot young novelists, and are quite literally one in a million. They were the exact right person in the exact right place at the exact right time. For the rest of us—the remaining nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine—the reality is very different.

So what is it really like to “get a book deal,” publish your first book, go on tour, and do press to promote it?

I’m a traditionally-published nonfiction author, so I’m talking about trade nonfiction here. That means nonfiction books that are published by the Big Five international publishing houses (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Simon&Schuster, HarperCollins, and Macmillan) and the independents, as opposed to academic presses, texbooks, self-publishing, and other options.

So without further ado, here are nine basic trade publishing myths.

Myth #1:

Getting a “book deal” means getting a bunch of money that the author then “lives on” for years.

No. Not even in the slightest. Especially not for a first book. Almost never.

A realistic first advance for a trade nonfiction book is between $1,000 and $10,000. After your agent takes 15%, you get 25%-50% of what’s left. The first check usually arrives a few months after signing, and then nothing else until the book is done.

A common first advance for a trade nonfiction book is $5,000. You sign your contract, and in a few months you get a check for $2,125 to write between 70K and 100K words.

Sometimes you might get lucky and sell your book to a bigger publisher who is willing to pay more—maybe your first advance is more like $30K! In that case, you’ll get $12,750 to “live on” for the year or years it takes you to write those 70K to 100K words.

Of course, you can’t really “live on” even a first book advance like this. If you have a well-paying full-time job, and you’re somehow writing in your spare time, then this money is more meaningful. However, if you’re a freelancer, you’ve just signed up to write an enormous amount for far, far, far less than you would be receiving for the same hours and word count at a newspaper or magazine.

I’m not meaning to complain here. Most books are passion projects, and authors are generally thrilled to publish at all. But getting “a book deal” in trade publishing does not mean $$$$$. In most instances, the promotion that an academic might receive due to publishing a book without an advance will result in greater earnings in both the short and long term.

Myth #2:

Once you’ve written a trade book, the money keeps rolling in.

No. Most books do not “earn out” their advance, meaning that the author never sees another penny from the publisher for that book again.

This is true even for books that you have heard of. Even books that you read a review of in The New York Times, or hear the author speak on NPR. Of course some books earn out—mine did, thanks to small advances—but most do not. Once your book earns out the advance, then you will start getting a check from your agent once or twice a year with your royalties. Most sales happen in the first year, so these are usually small.

(I’m pretty sure that a single California bookstore is responsible for me still getting enough royalties to take myself out to dinner twice a year because they keep my first book on their shelves. Or did. It stopped during Covid lockdown.)

In our current era, books tend to have “a moment” when they come out, and then there are very few opportunities for readers to find them after that.

. . . .

Myth #4:

Authors are paid for readings at bookstores.

No. I doubt even Stephen King would take a speaker fee from a bookstore, and 99.9999% of the time no fee is offered. The bookstore is doing the author a favor to host them.

If a bookstore is willing to host an author for a reading, it’s great for the author because it means the store will stock their book. It may be on the front table! They’ll have signed copies! This is how books get sold.

Myth #5:

Your publisher will pay to send you on a book tour!

No. Most of the time, there will not be a budget that pays for you to fly places and stay in hotels. All of these costs will fall to you.

When my first book came out, my publisher did schedule me to read at bookstores in different parts of the country, and then informed me of those dates. It was then up to me to see if I could afford the airfare and hotel to actually go and do it.

If a publisher has invested more money in your book, then this equation starts to change and you may be sent on a book tour. But most authors will not be given any financial support in this capacity and are expected to pay for all expenses. The cost of a “tour” alone can easily be more than the entire advance.

Funding your own book tour or series of readings is simply a fact of the business for the majority of trade published nonfiction authors. Again, whenever you can, it is always worth it, and a privilege, to be invited to read at a bookstore, so most do so whenever possible.

Also, if your publisher does not help you secure readings in bookstores—good luck getting them! Even if you have published before and drawn large crowds to your readings, if it’s just you cold calling a bookstore to try to get a reading, you may not be able to get a slot!

Myth #6:

Surely authors must be in control of the cover, title, and subtitle of their books! They get to choose. It’s all them.

No. These choices are made collaboratively, and authors must pick their battles if they don’t agree with a publisher’s choices.

I’ve talked to a lot of authors who go through this, and it can end up being an agonizing experience. For the cover, you’re usually given a few choices, and have to pick one. It can behoove you to go with the one your editor likes best. If you hate them all, it’s a whole thing.

Publishers have professionals whose whole job is to know what will sell the most books. These are obviously different skills from writing the books. Most of the time, authors are encouraged to trust these pros, and often the publisher is right.

Nonfiction books are usually sold to a publisher on proposal with a title attached, and agents can have a lot of say in this too, because they are also extremely good at knowing what sells most of the time. But sometimes the title can change even after signing. Subtitles are trickier and can be actual hell to work out!

A subtitle has two major tasks in a trade nonfiction book:

1. It can explain what the book is actually about.


2. It can tell you what kind of book this is and how it will feel reading it; the genre, tone, popular accessibility, etc.

Link to the rest at A Writer’s Notebook

The 10 Awful Truths about Book Publishing

From Berrett-Koehler Publishers:

  1. The number of books being published every year has exploded.
    According to the latest ProQuest Bowker Report (October 15, 2019), nearly 1.7 million books were self-published in the U.S. in 2018, which is an incredible 264% increase in just five years.  By 2019, the total number of books published in the U.S. exceeded 4 million in that year alone—including both self-published books and commercially published books of all types—according to data provided to me by ProQuest. This is 10 times more titles being published annually in the U.S. than Bowker figures show were published in 2007, when book sales peaked. At the same time, more than 20 million previously published books are still available through many sources. Unfortunately, the marketplace is not able to absorb all these books and is hugely oversaturated.
  2. Book sales are stagnant, despite the explosion of books published.
    U.S. publishing industry sales peaked in 2007 and have either fallen or been flat in subsequent years, according to reports of the Book Industry Study Group and Association of American Publishers (AAP). Similarly, U.S. bookstore sales have declined 42% from their peak in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (Statista.com, April 15, 2020).
  3. Despite the addition of e-book sales and downloadable audio sales, overall book sales have shrunk.
    After skyrocketing from 2008 to 2012, e-book sales leveled off in 2013 and have fallen since then. E-book sales fell from 28% of trade sales in 2013 to 17% of trade sales in 2019 (U.S. Books Performance Review of the NPD Group, January 22, 2020.) Downloadable audio sales have been the fastest-growing area of publishing over the past four years but still represent only 10% of publishing revenues (Publishers Weekly, March 16, 2020). Even adding in e-book sales and audio sales, the total book publishing pie has shrunk since its peak in 2007—yet every year it is divided among millions more titles because of the explosion of new titles and because most titles ever published are still available for sale.
  4. Average book sales are shockingly small—and falling fast.
    Combine the explosion of books published with the declining total sales and you get shrinking sales of each new title. According to BookScan—which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail print sales of books (including Amazon.com)—only 690 million print books were sold in 2019 in the U.S. in all publishing categories combined, both fiction and nonfiction (Publishers Weekly, January 13, 2020). The average U.S. book is now selling less than 200 copies per year and less than 1,000 copies over its lifetime.
  5. A book has far less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.
    For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. For example, the number of business titles stocked ranges from less than 100 (smaller bookstores) to up to 1,500 (superstores). Yet there are several hundred thousand business books in print that are fighting for that limited shelf space.
  6. It is getting harder and harder every year to sell new titles.
    Many book categories have become entirely saturated, with a surplus of books on every topic. It is increasingly difficult to make any book stand out. Each title is competing with millions of other titles available for sale, while other media are claiming more and more of people’s time. In a crowded marketplace, brand name authors and books stand out, and an increasing portion of the limited sales are going to mega-bestsellers (Publishers Weekly, November 4, 2019). At the same time backlist titles are accounting for an ever-greater share of publishing revenues (U.S. Books Performance Review of the NPD Group, January 22, 2020.) Result: investing the same amount today to market a new book as was invested a few years ago will yield a far smaller sales return today.
  7. Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities.
    Everyone in the potential audiences for a book already knows of hundreds of interesting and useful books to read but has little time to read any. Therefore people are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.

Link to the rest at Berrett-Koehler Publishers (June, 2020)

US Book Market: NPD BookScan’s Viewpoint on Q1 Book Sales

Publishing Perspectives:

The NPD report issued Monday (April 11) shows that United States’ market turning in a less high-flying performance in the week ending April 2 than some may have been lulled into expecting.

With her usual care to try to avoid scary headlines, NPD BookScan‘s Kristen McLean writes “While US print book sales in March lagged the previous five weeks by 1.8 million units, overall the US book market is turning in a very strong performance by historic norms.

“However, 2021 was far above historic norms, so that’s creating negative comps in all areas of the business, which is why it’s very important to benchmark against historic views.

“The book market is doing okay overall, but the sales softness is likely to continue past Easter in the wider American retail landscape, as domestic and global uncertainty, supply chain issues, and price inflation on non-discretionary categories cause consumers to tighten their belts. We’ll know for sure next month.”

As artfully as McLean is saying “what goes up must come down,” there are those who have been alarmed at the news this week, apparently having expected that COVID-19 would be a kind of permanent booster of the market into a new orbit.

. . . .

On today’s (April 15) “Velocity of Content” podcast from Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally, as a matter of fact, weekly regular Andrew Albanese of Publishers Weekly says the obvious: “We shouldn’t be so alarmed and it’s really not surprising, and it’s not as bad as the headline makes it sound. But it isn’t great news either. Right? So what is the news?

“Well, this is the NPD BookScan quarterly numbers are in and they show the unit sales of print books fell 8.9 percent in the first quarter, which ended on April 2, over the same period in 2021.

“Now 8.9 percent is a pretty big number,” Albanese points out, “and especially after the steady growth we’ve seen over the last two years. But again, none of this is unexpected.

“Remember, first-quarter sales in 2021 were crazy. They soared 29.2 percent over the first period of 2020.

“So while sales are down from a year ago, they’re still up about 16 percent over the first quarter of 2020 and the 183 million or so unit sales in the first quarter of 2022 is still well above 156 million units sold in the first quarter of 2019.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Perhaps PG is missing some nuances, but it seems to him that the headline might be something like, “COVID Caused the Book Markets and a Bunch of Other Markets to do Strange Things and Experts Don’t Know Why”


“Comparing Sales Without COVID to Sales With COVID is not Terribly Helpful Because COVID was a Black Swan of the First Order That Will Never Happen Again. Even If It Does Happen Again, It Won’t be the Same as It Was the First Time”


“Nothing is Going to Save the Traditional Book Business”

Texas leads among 26 states with book bans, free speech group says

From CNN:

More than a 1,000 books have been banned in 86 school districts in 26 states across the United States, a new PEN America analysis shows.PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization, released a detailed analysis on Thursday of challenges to and bans on school library books and class curriculums. The group said it documented media reports, consulted school district websites, and spoke with librarians, authors and teachers from July 31, 2021, to March 31, 2022.According to PEN America, in that period, there were 1,586 books banned. Texas led the country with the most book bans — 713 — affecting 16 school districts, followed by Pennsylvania and Florida with 456 and 204 bans, respectively. PEN America describes a book ban as “any action taken against a book based on its content” that leads to the removal or restriction of a previously accessible book. The analysis includes book removals or restrictions that lasted at least a day, the group says.

Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program and lead author of the report, said challenges to books in American schools are nothing new, but the rate at which they have recently taken place is “unparalleled.”

“Challenges to books, specifically books by non-White male authors, are happening at the highest rates we’ve ever seen,” Friedman said. “What is happening in this country in terms of banning books in schools is unparalleled in its frequency, intensity, and success.”

. . . .

The group says the book bans were directed at 1,145 different titles, many of which tell stories related to LGBTQ people and people of color.

PEN America said the analysis of book titles was based on “standard publishing information provided through marketing and sales materials by publishers for books, as well as relevant reading and review of the books in question.”

. . . .

Politicians and school board members have played a significant role in book banning, PEN America says. At least 41% of book bans were linked to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers.
In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has pressured school boards to remove what he calls “pornography” from school libraries. Meanwhile in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill late last month that requires school libraries to post more information about their collections and seek community input on materials they acquire.

The trend, PEN America says, is a departure from past book removal practices, which were usually initiated by community members.

The book bans “have become a favorite tool for state-wide and national political mobilization” with groups such as Moms for Liberty, a conservative group whose “mission is to organize, educate and empower parents,” curating lists of books to be challenged and urging parents to mobilize, the analysis says.

The group also found that at least 96% of the bans were initiated by school administrators or board members and that for the most part, school officials did not follow existing guidelines, raising “serious concerns,” it said.

Link to the rest at CNN

PG wonders who else other than elected school board members and the parents of students attending a public school should determine what sort of books their children should read.

PG also doesn’t have a problem with people residing in some geographic locations making different choices about what is appropriate for their children to read.

PEN America presently has 7,500 members. Its principal office is in New York City with another office in Santa Monica, California and a third in Washington, DC.

The current president of PEN America, Ayad Akhtar, lives in New York City. The overwhelming majority of PEN America’s staff lives in New York City with much smaller number based in Santa Monica and Washington, DC. (For visitors from overseas, Santa Monica is solidly ensconced in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.)

If PG were asked to list three large metropolitan areas that are the least representative of the majority of the population of the United States, he would, without hesitation, name New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, in that order. PG has spent substantial periods of time in each of those cities/metro areas and can say with confidence that he has a pretty good idea of the sorts of people likely to staff PEN America’s offices in each of those places.

While he won’t categorically reject the opinions of the PEN staff regarding choices made by Texas school boards and parents about what their the children for whom they are responsible should read, PG will with confidence say that the opinions of those in the New York PEN office are exceptionally unrepresentative of almost everybody in Texas. PG would guess that few members of PEN management have close friends or acquaintances in Texas.

The current PEN America senior management appear to come from an exceptionally homogeneous backgrounds. The bios PG was able to access showed that virtually everyone attended college in New York or Boston (there was one outlier from the University of Chicago, an elite institution that isn’t located within 50 miles of an ocean). Everybody listed in Los Angeles appeared to have attended colleges located in the same places that staff in the New York office attended.

PG says that Texans and Floridians can be pretty certain that nobody at PEN America is much like them or holds views about almost anything that parents of public schools in Texas or Florida believe are relevant to their parenting decisions, including decisions about what sort of books their children should be reading.

PG will note that both Texas and Florida have a much higher percentage of Latinos (AKA persons of color) in their populations than the state of New York does.

PEN America is simply too provincial to be credible outside of the narrow social, educational and cultural sphere its employees inhabit.

“Unlivable and Untenable.” Molly McGhee on the Punishing Life of Junior Publishing Employees

From The Literary Hub:

Fiction writer and former Tor assistant editor Molly McGhee joins co-hosts V.V. Ganeshananthan and Whitney Terrell to discuss details of her recent resignation from a position she’d fought for in the industry she loves. She also talks about what’s behind #PublishingBurnout for junior employees and what that means for the future of publishing.

. . . .

V.V. Ganeshananthan: As I was telling you just before we started recording, I was kind of off Twitter, uncharacteristically, working on my own book. And one of my former students texted me and said, “Did you see this?” And I was like, “Oh, my God.” And she said, “Search hashtag publishing burnout. It is not cheerful.” And there was this huge, important public conversation. I’m curious as to whether you got any responses from higher-ups?

Molly McGhee: I had a lot of people reach out privately to me, and publicly, and express that this is something they felt as well, but that they were really nervous to burn any bridges. The thing about publishing is that no matter how high you are, especially if you’re in editorial, you had to start from the bottom. And so you have been experiencing this struggle for years and years, and then find yourself in a position of frustration where you cannot alleviate that struggle for other people below you.

And so this is something we’ve done a lot of thinking about, but because we’re in such a small industry, where so many people know one another, they don’t feel comfortable speaking out publicly about it. And they feel quite disempowered and alone in their struggle towards burnout.

Whitney Terrell: The other thing that’s interesting about what you’re talking about, is you’re talking about a specific kind of position that’s unique to the publishing industry, this editorial assistant position. I wonder if you could talk about that position, and what it is and how it’s developed over time, for listeners of ours who aren’t familiar with that.

MM: Thank you, Whitney, for asking. You know, I think that something really interesting and unique about editorial publishing is that it’s run in an apprenticeship model. So when you come in, especially to editorial, you start from the bottom, no matter your experience, with very few exceptions. Sometimes a celebrity editor can come in at a higher stage, or sometimes people make a switch from marketing and publicity to editorial, but for the most part, you start as an assistant and then go through a period of what I like to think of as hazing; that can take two to five years. I explain it to people like you’re entering into a profession that is highly competitive, with a lot of people in the junior position who want to get into it. So there’s a high pool of people you can hire from.

Before I became an editorial assistant mentor, I had taught undergraduate writing at Columbia, I had worked in associate positions at McSweeney’s and The Believer, but on the digital side of things, I had been a proofreader, a copy editor. I had done narrative consulting for clients like Google and SoulCycle, and I still had to start at an editorial assistant position. That’s because I needed to learn the ropes, as I was told. And this is not abnormal. Everyone that I was working with at Tor had either been in publishing for four or five years before they started an editorial system, or they had master’s degrees, graduate degrees. It is a highly competitive hiring environment.

Once you’re in it, you do a lot of support work, and what this looks like for you can really depend on who you’re supporting. For me, I was supporting three to four editors and their digital workload and their production cycles. What that meant was I was tracking submissions, corresponding with offers, handling the production timeline, working really closely interdepartmentally so that everybody was on the same page, maintaining what was fed out to retailers and sales teams—basically all the invisible labor that goes into getting a book to the consumer. A lot of logistics work.

Most people I talk to think about editorial assistant roles as production manager roles: you’re in charge of a lot of deadlines, a lot of tracking, a lot of high level communication. While your editor focuses on their job: editing, acquiring, making connections, positioning, pitching, those types of things.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Print Sales Likely to Fall in 2022

From Publishers Weekly (28 Jan 2022):

After increasing 8% in 2020 and 9% in 2021, it is unlikely that unit sales of print books will grow again in 2022, said Kristen McLean, executive director and industry analyst for NPD/BookScan Books Group in a January 26 webinar.

McLean explained that the back-to-back large sales gains in 2020 and 2021 were unprecedented in BookScan’s 18-year history and were fueled by unique circumstances related to the pandemic and the growth in interest in social justice titles after the murder of George Floyd. She doesn’t think print sales “will fall off a cliff” in 2022, but she noted that the industry should be prepared for negative sales figures in the first and second quarters of 2022 compared to the same periods in 2021. In early 2021, the industry benefitted from ongoing lockdowns, which kept people indoors and reading, as well as the arrival of child tax credit checks that spurred spending.

McLean thinks print unit sales in 2022 will fall below 2021 levels but above those of 2019, and possibly even above those of 2020. Among the challenges she sees ahead this year is the likelihood of price increases for books due to higher manufacturing and shipping costs. She noted that the industry will need to monitor consumers’ reaction to any increases carefully. Publishers and other industry members will also continue to contend with supply chain problems, as shortages of paper, packaging materials, and printing capacity are likely to persist throughout the year.

Those factors, as well as the possible easing of pandemic restrictions, may lead to more changes in consumer behavior in 2022, McLean said. For one thing, she believes customer traffic will increase in bricks-and-mortar stores, and that retailers, through changes in store layouts and marketing, are well positioned to take advantage of the higher traffic. In addition, growing concern about climate change and sustainability could lead consumers to limit their online buying, since direct sales involve lots of packaging. And while online book sales have jumped since the pandemic began, McLean believes the online channel’s market share of book sales could decline in 2022 as people return to stores.

McLean also thinks that if some books become hard to find this year due to supply chain problems, the industry could see increased e-book and used book sales, as well as increased library borrowing.

There were a number of positive trends in 2021 that should continue into 2022, according to McLean, including the impact of BookTok in driving sales. She noted that a group of 80 authors that BookScan identified as having large BookTok followings saw sales more than double last year, from a total of nine million copies sold in 2020 to 20 million in 2021. She said BookTok has been embraced by the industry and that its recommendations are being amplified by retailers such as

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

As print sales plummet 20%, industry says print fatigue is to blame

From The New Publishing Standard:

This week Publishers Weekly (PW) reports that US print sales dropped almost 20% this past week.

Imagine for one second that it was ebook sales that had precipitously dropped 20% in the past week and was down almost 8% so far this year.

The industry pundits would be reeling out the “experts” and “spokesmen” patiently waiting for their next opportunity to explain how screen fatigue, the desperate desire to visit a bookstore, the sheer pleasure of holding a book in one’s hand, and how readers hanker for the feel and smell of the printed book were driving digital publishing into oblivion.

But this is print, and the panic days of the early 2010s when much of the industry really did fear for the future of the print format, are behind us.

But make no mistake, print sales are falling.

Last week PW reported print sales down -12.8%.

The previous week? Try -8.3%.

The week before that? How does -16.2% grab you?

We have to head back to mid February to see PW run anything about print sales rising, and that only by +4.3%.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Requesting Rights Reversion From Your Publisher

From Writer Beware:

This is an update of a post I wrote some years ago. Since I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately from writers wondering how to request contract termination and rights reversion, I thought it would be useful to take another look.

There’s no “right” or “official” procedure for a rights reversion request. If you do a websearch on “rights reversion request” you can find various pieces of advice from authors and others. That said, here are some common-sense suggestions for how to go about this (Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, so what follows is not legal advice.)

First of all, if you have a competent agent, discuss the situation with your agent and ask them to approach the publisher on your behalf. Especially if you’re with a larger publisher, your agent is more likely to know whom to contact, and in a better position to push for a response.

The advice below is primarily aimed at authors who don’t have agents, and/or who are with smaller publishers.

1. Look through your contract to find the clause or clauses dealing with termination and rights reversion. Typically this will be a separate clause, but some contracts bury termination/reversion language in other and even unrelated clauses.

Hopefully there will be stipulations for when and how you can request your rights back–for example, a book may become eligible for rights reversion once sales numbers or royalty income fall below a stated minimum.

The ideal reversion language is precise (“Fewer than 100 copies sold in the previous 12 consecutive months” or “Fewer than 50 copies sold in each of two consecutive royalty periods”) and makes reversion automatic on the author’s request, as long as those benchmarks are met. (For more on why reversion language needs to be precise–including examples–see my post on The Importance of Reversion Clauses in Book Contracts.)

Unfortunately, reversion language is often far from ideal. Your contract may impose a blackout period (you can’t request reversion until X amount of time after your pub date), a waiting period after the reversion request (the publisher has X number of months to comply, during which time your book remains on sale), or provide the publisher with an escape mechanism (it may only allow you to request reversion, leaving the publisher the latitude to refuse, or may make your request moot if the publisher issues or licenses a new edition within 6 months of your request).

Worse, your contract may not include objective standards for termination, leaving the decision entirely to the publisher’s discretion; or it may include antiquated standards, such as this: “The book shall not be considered out of print as long as it is available for sale through the regular channels of the book trade”. Such language was meaningful in the days when books existed only in print, and print runs could be exhausted, but it’s useless for today’s digital reality.

It’s also possible that your contract may not include any reversion language at all. This is often the case with limited-term contracts, so if your contract is one of those, you may just have to wait things out. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen life-of-copyright contracts with no reversion clause. This is a big red flag: a life-of copyright contract should always be balanced with precise reversion language.

. . . .

6. DO: be polite, businesslike, and succinct.

7. DON’T: mention the problems the publisher may be having, the problems you’ve had with the publisher, problems other authors have had, online chatter, news coverage, lawsuits, or anything else that could be construed as negative.

As much as you may be tempted to vent your anger, resentment, or righteous indignation, rubbing the publisher’s nose in its own mistakes and failures will alienate it, and could cause it to decide to penalize you by refusing your request, or just refusing to respond. This is a real risk: I can’t count the number of stories I’ve heard over the years about vindictive publishers who decided to punish authors they deemed troublemakers by holding a death-grip on the authors’ rights.

Again: keep it professional, businesslike, and unemotional.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG notes that it is not uncommon for publishers large and small to do all sorts of things with an author’s books that aren’t mentioned in the contract. Look for those as well.

While PG doesn’t do that sort of work any more, on more than one occasion he found errors and omissions in publishing contracts, including from the largest of publishers, which would get a first-year lawyer fired from any reputable law firm if she/he had made a similar error.

The type of people who do well in law school don’t have the slightest desire to go to work for a big publisher because the pay is terrible and management doesn’t like lawyers very much anyway. A publisher won’t hire a law firm with serious attorneys until the publisher gets itself into serious trouble because they didn’t hire a good lawyer in the first place.

Creation from imagination is the basis of intellectual property

From The Creative Penn:

How can you future-proof your author career by being careful with the publishing clauses you sign? Why are NFTs so interesting for intellectual property? How might DAOs help authors with estate planning? Copyright and trademark attorney Kathryn Goldman talks about these things and more.

. . . .


Joanna: Kathryn Goldman is a copyright and trademark attorney, and has worked in intellectual property for over 30 years. She runs creativelawcenter.com, which offers resources, workshops, and advice for creative professionals, including authors, artists, designers, and more.

. . . .

Joanna: I’m so excited to talk to you about this. Let’s start with more of an attitude question.

Let’s say metaverse/web3/whatever we’re going to call it in the future. What do you mean around that? What do you mean by given up their rights?

Kathryn: Publishing contracts are license agreements between an author and a publisher, and in that license agreement, the author grants to the publisher a group, a bundle of, or part of their copyrights in their creative work. And publishing contracts are dense with language.

In those grants of rights, there are these broad provisions that encompass future technologies. And so, if there is a publishing contract that was drafted and signed 10 years ago, that includes language that encompasses future technologies unknown at the time, then the author may have already agreed, with that language, to allow a publisher to mint an NFT of her work without even knowing what an NFT was at the time.

So it’s possible that there’s language embedded in the contract already, covering future technologies, that would give the publisher control over the creative’s NFTs.

. . . .

Joanna: Why are you so interested in this intersection between web3 and intellectual property?
Because I’ve seen so many people shying away from it and saying it’s just not happening. But you embrace the change. So, why is that?

Kathryn: I embrace watching the change. It is happening. You cannot turn your back on it right now, but mostly what’s intriguing me is that people’s imaginations have caught fire in a way we really haven’t seen for a couple of decades, or maybe a decade.

People are taking this technology and doing things with it that are just limited only by their imaginations, and that is what is fun to watch. It’s the creation, from imagination, that is the basis of intellectual property. That’s why I am just loving what’s going on these days.

[Joanna: You have written:]

“Authors who have signed publishing contracts may have already given up their right to control their work in the metaverse.”

Let’s say metaverse/web3/whatever we’re going to call it in the future. What do you mean around that? What do you mean by given up their rights?

Kathryn: Publishing contracts are license agreements between an author and a publisher, and in that license agreement, the author grants to the publisher a group, a bundle of, or part of their copyrights in their creative work. And publishing contracts are dense with language.

In those grants of rights, there are these broad provisions that encompass future technologies. And so, if there is a publishing contract that was drafted and signed 10 years ago, that includes language that encompasses future technologies unknown at the time, then the author may have already agreed, with that language, to allow a publisher to mint an NFT of her work without even knowing what an NFT was at the time.

So it’s possible that there’s language embedded in the contract already, covering future technologies, that would give the publisher control over the creative’s NFTs.

This analysis, this concept, is not without precedent. The same thing happened with e-books. Before e-books were commonplace, there was language in publishing contracts that gave publishers the right to control the creative work in unknown or yet-to-be-known technology. So, about 10, 20 years ago, the battle over can a publisher publish the e-book of a work was fought.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

PG will comment that, some time ago, he was involved in many more than one argument regarding whether a publishing agreement covered ebooks or not. Without compromising any client confidences or violating any client obligations to keep these sorts of matters confidential, PG can say that on frequent occasion, the publisher had done such a bad job on its standard publishing contract that PG was able to convince publisher’s counsel that the publisher didn’t actually have the right to license ebooks because the contract only talked about selling ebooks and ebooks are always licensed by those whose business is to find people to acquire ebooks.

For the record, PG isn’t doing anything in this sphere any more.

Perfume as a Sensuous Act of Resistance

From Electric Lit:

In Sensorium by Tanaïs is, at once, a sensuous and gut-wrenching experience in expansive memoir that bleeds across genre and time. Using perfume as a framework, Tanaïs builds the work slowly, moving from the base to the heart to the head notes, recounting alienation and life on the margins as a Brown Muslim growing up in pre- and post- 9/11 America, tracing similar erasure of their ancestors at the hands of colonizers and fascists borne out of the caste system, the genocidal birth of their homeland Bangladesh, the blood-stained lineage of its people—Bengali Muslims, women and femmes—alongside the racism and capitalist greed behind the art and commodification of perfumery.

An exposé of the orientalist gaze, a battle against the eons of patriarchal notions that have oppressed women and femmes and created molds for sexual and gender identities, In Sensorium emerges as “an act of sensuous resistance”—much like a perfume—confronting what Tanaïs terms patramyths, “foundational lies and mythologies recorded in history to protect the powerful.” Trauma, pain, shame—there’s space held for it all, carved meticulously for the ones who have been denied visibility throughout history, encapsulated in exquisite writing, driven toward generational healing. 

Tanaïs is a Brooklyn-based Bangladeshi American Muslim femme, a writer, an artist, a perfumer, founder of TANAÏS, the beauty and fragrance company. Above all, they are proof of the magnificence of manifesting your authentic self, beyond the noise and corruption of the dominant culture.

. . . .

Bareerah Ghani: You speak of perfume as a sensuous act of resistance. Given that you’ve used perfume as a structure, the memoir too is a force of opposition against what you term patramyths. While the memoir and the perfume seem inextricable from one another, there is a liminal space. You’ve spoken about this before, this idea of erasure happening even as you speak of erasure. But perfume, the way you envision it as a language in itself, transcends patramyths. Did the use of perfume as a lens allow you to bridge that liminal space to a certain extent?

Tanaïs: For me, perfume is a way of understanding how the patramyths of purity, male and white supremacy and Brahmanical patriarchy have been established, and I wanted to use this kind of shape of a book to explore how the patramyths around scent have allowed the powerful to wield their domination over others. This shape kind of emerged and there’s an act of transcendence laced into that process, but I also think that, like the book, it’s emerging out of the patramyths too. It’s hard not to be the very thing that we’re trying to throw away. 

Becoming a part of a record is part of why I seek writing as my medium. A book is impermanent in many ways, but we write to create a body that lasts beyond our time. There’s comfort in knowing that a perfume is ephemeral. It’s an experience that’s in the moment, on the body, then it disappears. There’s something to that that felt like the perfect metaphor for borderlessness, for becoming someone who makes an impression, and then is not recorded. A perfume can never fully be expressed through language too, so that’s another aspect of being chosen by perfume and choosing perfume that tries to tell the narrative, the history, eschewing the patramyths because it’s not bound by language in the same way.

BG: You’ve spoken about the intersection of your creative practices of perfumery and writing in the context of rejecting Western rules and respecting your instincts. Can you speak to some of the media, institutions or individuals you’ve relied on in your journey to decolonize yourself, exact your agency and identity in white-centered spaces?

T: I really try to avoid white centered spaces as much as possible. Even among Muslim diaspora, we’re reckoning with casteism, colorism, and history, so I really tried to be aware of the work that’s happening. The people whose work influenced this book like Poulomi Saha (Empire of Touch), Julietta Singh (No Archive Will Restore You)—they’re working to complicate the notion of an archive and what representation is because it really fails to hold the nuance of our lives. The act of us finding each other as Muslim diaspora, writing narratives that have that nuanceI really seek to experience that. Laila Lalami, Randa Jarrar, these writers who are giving us this breath of Muslimah writing that’s flexing the powers of actually writing, not just about our identity. I find great inspiration in that. 

Responding to white-centered spaces is exhausting because they don’t necessarily listen to us, they don’t see us, they don’t accept our work as saying something universal. But I think our faith, our cultural milieu gives us a very deep insight into what’s universal because there’s so many people who are brought together under it. That’s something I’ve come to find as a gift. That’s not easy in America. They try to make us feel ashamed about that. And it’s not just the bigoted white person. It’s liberals, upper caste and Indian people. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have a certain role in their mind, so you have to really assert your feminist femme power of your mind. You have to reject what whiteness imagines you as, keep clear and tell our story in a way that feels rife with the complexity of human experience.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

“a sensuous and gut-wrenching experience in expansive memoir that bleeds across genre and time”, “an act of sensuous resistance”, “there’s comfort in knowing that a perfume is ephemeral. It’s an experience that’s in the moment, on the body, then it disappears”, “working to complicate the notion of an archive” and “proof of the magnificence of manifesting your authentic self, beyond the noise and corruption of the dominant culture” seem a bit overwritten and overwrought to PG, but he will, of course, allow others their own opinions.

The publisher, Harper, appears to have made a corporate decision to not offer a “look inside” option for the book on Amazon. Or that lack could be just another screw-up by a Harper corporate drone. A third possibility is that it may be another “act of sensuous resistance” calculated to “complicate the notion of an archive.”

Publishing Giants Are Fighting Libraries on E-Books

From Sludge:

Last year, Maryland lawmakers unanimously passed a bill that aimed to help public libraries offer e-books and audiobooks to patrons. Publishers were charging libraries three to five times as much as consumers pay for an e-book, and for only a two-year license, state legislators showed. The law, signed in May, would require publishers to license electronic literary products to Maryland public libraries “on reasonable terms.”

A similar measure in New York was also passed, virtually unanimously, over the summer, with 210 state legislators in favor and one voting nay—only to be vetoed in the last days of the year by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Gov. Hochul’s veto came after the industry group Association of American Publishers (AAP) initiated a lawsuit in December against the Maryland law, arguing that it violated federal copyright law. Hochul echoed the AAP’s position in her statement explaining why she vetoed the bill, which had strong grassroots support from library advocates.

Lawmakers in six other states have introduced bills that seek to support schools and libraries in accessing e-books, as institutions are being hit with high prices and restrictive licensing terms for digital works—and with publishers refusing to make some e-book titles available to libraries. According to a recent survey by the library group ReadersFirst, e-book prices for libraries have tripled over the past nine years, with publishers charging between $20 and $65 for an e-book copy that libraries cannot own permanently. For popular e-books, libraries pay $55 for a copy that expires after two years, or $550 for a copy for 20 years, compared with the about $15 that a consumer would pay, according to the American Library Association (ALA).

. . . .

Libraries and schools worldwide have been increasingly lending out e-books and audiobooks, even before the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Over 500 million copies of digital books were circulated last year, according to digital reading platform OverDrive, an increase from 430 million the year before and 326 million in 2019. Back in 2016, the total had reached 200 million, which was up from just 15 million in 2010.

Library patrons and students went digital to crack the covers of everything from Barack Obama’s memoir to young adult fiction to the latest issues of The Economist magazine—or its rival US Weekly, based on OverDrive’s lists of the most popular e-books. The Toronto Public Library alone circulated nearly 10 million titles last year, a new record, and the Los Angeles Public Library surpassed 8 million lends.

Librarians have been warning that large publishers are squeezing licensing terms on digital works, pushing for libraries to merely rent digital works, rather than allowing them to own copies as they do physical books.

The Maryland law passed 130 to 0 in the General Assembly and 47-0 in the Maryland Senate, and took effect on the first day of this year. Last month, however, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction, siding with AAP’s argument in their lawsuit that the law interferes with federal copyright law. The Maryland attorney general will defend the state’s law, a stance applauded by the ALA.

“Libraries simply can no longer be forced to rent their e-book collections with restrictions and pricing that are designed to minimize the libraries’ ability to provide access to the public, while maximizing publisher profits over that library mission,” said Jennie Rose Halperin, executive director of Library Futures, a nonprofit group that launched in January 2021 to champion the right to equitable access to knowledge.

In 2019, when the House Judiciary Subcommittee of Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law held an investigation into digital marketplaces, the nonprofit ALA slammed the publishing industry’s practices—including those of Amazon, which sells 90% of e-books, according to industry figures.

Link to the rest at Sludge

Editorial Resignations At Big Houses Spark Reckoning

From Publishers Lunch:

Multiple resignations from the editorial departments at two big houses caused an online reckoning on Friday. Four editors, Angeline Rodriguez and Hillary Sames at Orbit, Erin Siu at Macmillan Children’s, and Molly McGhee at Tor all announced their resignations, leading to a discussion about the workload of junior and mid-level employees and the difficulty of advancement across the industry. The online exchange brought into the open the frustrations of increased workload, burnout and turnover that have been brewing as the pandemic continues. Those feelings are intensified as big publishers report record sales and earnings, even as multiple people report on Twitter they believe their employers are not sufficiently reinvesting those proceeds in additional staff, systems and raises.

At the heart of the discussion was McGhee’s resignation letter which she posted on Twitter. McGhee, who was an assistant editor at Tor/Nightfire, writes that after ten years in assisting roles, she requested a promotion when her first acquisition debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times Best Sellers list. She says in her letter that she was told she needed “more training” before being promoted and she could not expect to be relieved of administration duties “any time within the next five years.”

McGhee pointed to “the invisibility of junior employees’ workload” as a major issue, asserting that “many executives in the publishing industry are technology illiterate” and rely on their assistants to manage databases, pull manuscripts, and navigate new technology, on top of the duties outlined in their job descriptions.

McGhee’s letter opened the floodgates to other people who have left editorial positions recently speaking openly about labor issues. As part of a thread, one former Penguin editor flagged “the fact that editorial productivity ONLY survives because of the exploitation of assistants.” Many others pointed out that the same pressures and frustration are being felt across all departments at publishing companies, though there may be less public awareness, and smart managers and veterans offered empathy and tips, and opened themselves up to consultation. A number of agents also underscored their own difficulties in establishing sustainable careers and keeping up with the workload and representing clients without overburdening editors, while emphasizing the broad financial hardship of converting “advances” into extended “guarantees” that are not paid in advance.

Former editor at Avon Books Elle Keck posted, “As one of the editors who left publishing this year, every editor you know, you’ve seen on Twitter, you’ve heard of: they are miserable and struggling. They’re tired of working all day, working at night, and feeling guilty if they take a weekend off.” Julie Rosenberg, formerly of Razorbill, also noted the “crushing guilt and anxiety” caused by the workload.

Speaking to PL, McGhee described this workload: “I worked with five editors during my time at [Tor parent division Tom Doherty Associates]. I always supported at least two editors, in addition to the publisher, all while building my own list. What this means is that I did all administrative work on my editors frontlist and backlist…. At one point in time I was tracking 150 frontlist titles across four seasons in one calendar year…. On top of doing this I was managing company calendars, scheduling my publisher’s meetings (publishers take a lot of meetings), reading my editors’ and publisher’s submissions, drafting contracts, executing deal memos, writing copy, positioning novels, networking to get to know agents as I chased my own submissions, training other junior employees, creating work flow systems to manage cross department care,” and much more.

McGhee emphasized that she loved working at Tor, but the amount of work was unmanageable, especially in light of the compensation. She said, “I think a lot of folks will view this as a disgruntled employee situation. It is not. I never thought I would leave TDA. I loved my editors, I loved my authors, and I loved my coworkers. But unfortunately the workload expectations and the pay were untenable. There was no way to communicate this to my managers in a way that was not seen as ‘poor time management,’ as they had never assisted/started in the technological environment junior and mid-level employees now face.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Lunch

The Great Resignation hits publishing

From Nathan Bransford:

Editors are creaking under chronically low pay, ever-expanding publisher expectations, publisher under-investment in support infrastructure like contracts departments… and oh yes, all of this is happening amid bonanza years for publishers’ bottom lines. This makes it accordingly more difficult for young agents to get their books read by editors and compete in an increasingly “winner takes all” ecosystem where bestsellers are bigger than ever and everyone else is fighting for scraps. You can throw in an often-toxic environment for employees of color to boot.

When you combine all this with an economy where it’s easier to find advancement elsewhere, it’s probably not terribly surprising that you’re seeing editors and agents throw in the towel for more hospitable climes. Those who are staying raising red (and white) flags. 

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

How Are You Going to Spend the Money?

From Brandon Sanderson’s Blog:

How Are You Going to Spend the Money?

I got this question from the journalist from the Associated Press who interviewed me.  He gave an excellent interview, and we had a really great conversation.  But this question stopped me for a moment.  It’s a valid question, but it took me by surprise, as I haven’t been looking at this the way that some people seem to be.  I didn’t hit the lottery, any more than any other business hits the lottery when they have a product that connects with their market.

I will spend the money as I spend the rest of my money.  Part into savings, part into paying salaries (along with nice extra bonuses because the Kickstarter did well), part reinvested into the company.  (We’re still planning on building a physical bookstore, and this will help accelerate those plans.  Also, it’s not outside of reason that as I move into doing more film and TV, I will want to partially fund some of the projects.)

While this Kickstarter is an incredible event, and (don’t get me wrong) is going to earn me a good chunk of money, it’s going to be comparable to other projects I’ve done.  Also, don’t underestimate how much money it costs to maintain the infrastructure (like a warehouse–or in this case, probably more than one) it takes to be able to ship several hundred thousand books.  It will likely be years before we can be certain how much this actually earned us after all expenses.  More than we’d get from New York on the same books, but potentially not that much more.

That said, I will almost certainly buy myself some nice Magic cards.  Still have a few unlimited duals in my cube that could use an upgrade to black border.

Did You Anticipate This Level of Success for the Kickstarter?

I did not.  I knew the potential was there, but I didn’t think it (getting to this astronomical number of backers) would happen.

My guess was that we’d land somewhere in the 2–4 million range, though I really had no idea.  My team can attest to the fact that in the lead-up, I was very conservative in my estimates and expectations.  This was an experiment from us that I’d been wanting to try for a while.  (I’ll talk more about that below.)  I didn’t have any idea how well it would go.

To pull back the curtain for you a little, Rhythm of War’s first week sales were somewhere around 350,000 across all formats.  (That week was 50% audio, 25% ebook, 25% print.)  Starsight’s numbers were around 80,000 copies across all formats for the first week.  (This one was 54% audio, 29% ebook, and 17% print.)  Those are US numbers only.  Note, these are both what I’d consider very successful projects.  Both of these books sold enough to claim the #1 spot on their respective New York Times bestseller list, for example.  And though Stormlight sold 4 times as much–it also took 4 times as much work.  (In the long run, because of its larger price point, Stromlight does earn more though.  Which is why it amuses me that people sometimes accuse me of writing the YA books to “cash in.”  Um, no, my friends.  I earn less on those.  Not significantly less, but still.  I write them because they are stories I want to tell.)

The first year for Rhythm of War was about 800,000 copies total.  Starsight ended up somewhere around 250,000 copies after one year.  (Rough estimates.)  It’s too early to tell for Cytonic on this second metric, which is why I used the previous book.

Now let’s look at a less successful Sanderson book.  Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds is my worst-selling recent book.  First week was under 10,000 copies–and it’s only sold about 80k copies so far in the three years it’s been out, with the first year being roughly in the 50k range.  These numbers weren’t surprising to me–it was not only a short fiction collection (which is a tough sell to a lot of readers), it was also in a genre I’m not known for and the first two novellas had been out in ebook for years, with quite good sales.  So while this isn’t the best comparison ever, another good thing to look at was the Way of Kings leatherbound, which had roughly 30,000 backers.

Together, this knowledge gives a rough idea of my readership.  It’s hard to judge apples to apples with this Kickstarter, as I am giving the ebook with the other editions–and it’s hard to know how many of those readers above are buying two copies instead.  But I could guess that the upper end of the number of people willing to show up to buy a Sanderson book in the first year of release is somewhere around 800k, while the lower end of people who will show up for one is around 50k.  That’s why I say I knew the potential was there.  If the 30,000 people from the original Kickstarter showed up and bought the lowest tier, we’d be right around a million for the Kickstarter.  We knew it would likely be bigger, but how much bigger?

Modern media consumption is, for better or worse, very platform-specific.  People don’t like to be moved from one platform to another–and I get it.  The convenience of having your media collection all in one place, of already having your credit card info stored, of not having to do much besides click a button (or grab something at the bookstore where you’re already visiting) is huge.  The question wasn’t if people would want to read these books.  It was this: Would they be willing to move from their comfortable platform to Kickstarter?  Would we be able to even make them aware of these books?

How many of those potential 250k–800k people who normally buy a Sanderson book in the first year could be convinced instead to move and preorder it through Kickstarter?  Our guesses, it turned out, were way low.  But at the same time, it is interesting that (not disregarding our huge success, which I’m not at all complaining about) even this huge Kickstarter breaking all records is only grabbing a fraction of my normal audience.  So maybe you can see why we knew we had potential, but were conservative in our estimates.  We didn’t know what to expect, but assuming that we’d do a fraction of what a Stormlight book did in the same space (even if it was a reprint) was at least a reasonable baseline.

Note that if you want to consider a really daunting fact, realize that if all 800k first-year Stormlight readers showed up (these are the ones willing to buy the hardcover or the more expensive ebook, since the prices don’t drop to mass-market levels until after the first year) to buy these books on Kickstarter…  Well, our current average spend per backer is over $200.  So we’d be talking about a Kickstarter of $150 million plus, in that pie-in-the-sky case.

No, we’re not going to try to do that by releasing a mainline Stormlight novel in first run on Kickstarter.  The reason why has to do with the next questions.

Is This the End of Traditional Publishing For You?  Is That Why You Kickstarted These Books?

I know some of you know the answer to this, having read the sound bites I’ve put into various news media interviews I’ve done recently.  But if you’ll humor me, I want to go into more depth.  To do that, first let me tell you a story.  (Totally unexpected, I know.)

In 2010, Macmillan (the parent company of Tor Books) got into some finicky contract negotiations with Amazon.  The publishers felt that Amazon was selling ebooks at rock-bottom prices to move Kindles–something they wanted to do to dominate the market and control the reading platform.  During negotiations, Amazon–to put pressure on Macmillan and try to starve them out–stopped selling any Macmillan books.  (Except for used copies through the extended marketplace.)

This was within Amazon’s power; as a retailer, they can decide what they want to sell and what they don’t.  They used a common, if cutthroat, strategy here.  They had a flood of money during that time they actively didn’t want to turn a profit at the end of the year.  They knew that if they sold ebooks at a loss, Nook and Kobo would have to do likewise–and they weren’t flush with cash they literally needed to burn.

I don’t like that mindset, using our pieces of art as the thing sold rock-bottom.  But it’s not like the publishers have been angels in their treatment of Amazon.  The two have had a rocky relationship for basically forever.  Plus, the publishers have historically been backward-thinking about electronic mediums (see my next point).

The point here is that this event twelve years ago taught me something.  Amazon turning off the ability to buy books didn’t really hurt me in the long run. (Amazon, notably, picked the month of the year with the lowest book sales to do this.) But it did really hurt the careers of some newer authors who were releasing that month.  And it told me just how fragile my career was.  And it’s only gotten more fragile in the years since.

Judging how much market share Amazon has is famously difficult, as people keep sales figures close to their chest.  But many estimates put Amazon at around 80% of the ebook market, 90% of the audiobook market (they own Audible), and 65% of the print book market.  (You’ll sometimes see much lower guesses for ebooks, but I can tell you that at least for me, 80% is low.  It’s probably closer to 85%.)

So how many of those 800k copies of Rhythm of War did Amazon sell?  Probably around 650,000 copies–maybe more.  Somewhere around 80%, by my more conservative of estimations.  And in my most popular format, audio, they completely dominate the market.

This is deeply unsettling.

Now, it’s hard to blame Amazon for this, at least not entirely.  I absolutely blame them for their terrible treatment of workers.  And yes, they’ve engaged in some predatory practices, as I talked about above.  But I honestly think that the bigger factor is that they’re just really good at selling things.  Kindle has the best user experience, and was the innovation that finally broke open the ebook market.  Audible championed the credit model and finally brought audiobooks to a reasonable price point.  (Old people like me will remember the days of $70–$80 Wheel of Time audiobooks.)   Amazon’s delivery speed is incredible.  Their stock, near-infinite.

Beyond that, I have friends at Amazon.  I like the people at Amazon.  I’ve worked with them on many things, and the people there have universally been excellent.  Book lovers, passionate about their jobs, and really easy to get along with.

Still, their market share should terrify authors.  Innovation is strangled by market dominance.  And the problem with loss leading (like Amazon did over the years) is that eventually you have to start making profit.  And then the squeeze comes.  Indie authors are feeling this right now.  Amazon created the indie book market, quite literally.  Before it, indie publishing was an enormously expensive and risky affair.  One of my neighbors when I was growing up was a journalist who decided to try to indie-publish a book, and he ended up with the proverbial garage full of tens of thousands of copies he was unable to sell.

The ebook revolution, spearheaded by Amazon paying a whopping 70% royalty to indie authors who published on their platform, was huge.  (For reference, traditional publishing currently pays 17.5% on those same ebooks.)  This, mixed with authors having far more power to choose what they want to do with said books–including walking away whenever they want–created an extremely author-friendly boom that has legitimately done great things.  Smaller voices have a much better chance, the New York gatekeepers have lost some of their control, and there’s a feeling of democratization to publishing that has never existed before.

At least there used to be.

You see, since Amazon controls a huge chunk of the market, this gives them a lot of control.  For example, to get the good royalty, indie authors are forced to sell their ebooks under a maximum price chosen by Amazon.  (And that maximum price hasn’t changed in the last twelve years, despite inflation.)  The bigger problem, however, is how Amazon changed its advertising game–targeting indie authors with a kind of “advertise to sell” model.

You see, Amazon wasn’t making as much as it needed/wanted to from those books–in part because it insisted on keeping the prices low to maintain market share.  In part because it had promised kindle buyers this was their perk: cheap ebooks.  But it didn’t want to change its famous 70% royalty.  Otherwise it would look bad to indie authors.

So instead, it changed its recommendation algorithm and its page layout.  It moved organically recommended books down, and added advertisement slots across most book pages (particularly popular ones).  These slots were available for indie authors to buy.

If you go to the Way of Kings page on Amazon, you will find twelve advertisements between the top of the page and the reviews section.  Nine of these are for indie authors trying to sell their books to fans of the Stormlight Archive.  The other three are ads for non-book Amazon products.  This is better than it once was when Amazon first implemented this “feature” five or six years ago.  I once counted even more advertisements, and you had to go all the way to the bottom to find the traditional “books related to this one” list.  (This is the organically generated recommended books list, where other titles rated highly by readers of the book’s author could be found.)

These days, according to some of my indie author friends, you have to spend a great deal to sell on Amazon.  Not everyone’s experience is the same, but I hear this time and time again.  To make it as an indie author, you need to shell out for expensive advertising on the very website selling your books.  I have indie author friends who are spending a good portion of their income on these advertisements–and if they don’t, their sales vanish.  Amazon has effectively created a tax where indie authors pay back a chunk of that glorious 70% royalty to Amazon.  (And this is for the authors lucky enough to be allowed to buy those advertising spots, and therefore have the chance at selling.)

This might seem good.  Publishers spend to get their books in front of people, so it’s good for indie authors to have the same chance.  Except I think this system–as it stands now–takes power away from writers.  In the old days before this system, the primary way that you sold books on Amazon was by having people read them and like them.  If fans of the Stormlight Archive read your book (even in small numbers) and left good reviews, then your book showed up for free on my page.  Amazon might claim that it would be hard for indie authors to compete with traditional authors this way.  But if they really cared, then on the Stormlight page they could make a section titled something like “Independent authors liked by fans of the Stormlight Archive” and help them that way.

The truth is that while the people at Amazon are wonderful, Amazon itself doesn’t care about the indie authors as much as it claims.  If it did, it would let them raise their prices with inflation, and would promote them for free like it once did.  And we shouldn’t expect Amazon to be benevolent.  It is a corporation.  Indeed, this is exactly what we should expect Amazon to do in a system where it has a near-monopoly.  It lacks competition, and so where are these authors going to go?  There’s no other game in town.  So, now it’s time for Amazon to cut into what they’re being paid.  (With Audible, the move was more transparent.  Audible just dropped the royalty they’d been paying indie authors from 60% to 40%.)

This is a long-winded way of saying what many of you probably already knew.  Monopolies (or if you insist on being technical, near-monopolies and monopsonies like Amazon) are bad for everyone.  I insist this is bad for Amazon.  They could collapse this very market they created, and squeeze too much on both the publishers and the authors.  They could stagnate to the point that their user experience is bad, and we lose readers to other forms of media.

Regardless, this has been bothering me for over a decade.  I feel that the current system has a gun to my head.  Heck, all that has to happen is for someone at Amazon read this blog post or see my Kickstarter and decide they just want to make an example out of me.  Poof.  85% of my sales gone.  And while some people might go to another vendor to get my books, the painful truth is that many would not.  Time and time again, studies of contemporary tech media consumption have shown that the person who controls the platform is the one who controls the market.  And users like their platforms.  I mean, I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  I still haven’t gotten around to playing Starcraft 2, despite loving the first one, because I just am so used to Steam (where Starcraft 2 isn’t available) that I haven’t overcome the inertia to go buy it.

That said, even if Amazon weren’t a dominant force, there are some problems with traditional publishing that I’ve been fighting for years.  This is another reason for the Kickstarter.

Link to the rest at Brandon Sanderson and thanks to C. and others for the tip.

The OP includes substantially more of his thoughts and plans for the future together with past experiences, including some ways he’s tried to persuade his New York publishers to change.

PG was pleased with his perception that Sanderson doesn’t show signs of having this experience go to his head. PG didn’t agree with all of his thoughts, but admits Brandon has devoted some serious time to thinking about how he and other authors can be more successful.