Tag Archives: hachette

My Droplet Of Rain

If you’ve published a book on Kindle Direct Publishing, then you probably got a nice lengthy treatise from Amazon over the weekend. In short eBooks should be cheaper, Amazon good, Hachette bad. Amazon wants KDP Authors (and probably readers and authors in general) to e-mail Hachette and tell them to end this nasty little dispute between the two companies that’s been going on for months. And, oh by the way, CC Amazon when you do. One drop of rain cannot do anything against a stone wall, but hundreds of thousands of droplets, united together in the roaring river, can (my metaphor, not Amazon’s, but not far off the mark).

Amazon says the eBook should cost $9.99 and not $14.99. I disagree. I think it should cost $4.99.

See as a Kindle Direct Publishing author, I set my own price, so I don’t have a publisher like Hachette dictating what my price should be. Technically Amazon is in charge of the final price, but not to raise it, but rather to ensure it matches any low prices I might have set elsewhere in the marketplace.

And I’m not the only one. When I wrote my little “five dollar fractals” book, it was basically alone in the market for digital fractal books at that price. A year later there are several others, some that started at $9.99 and came down to my $4.99 and some even cheaper. (And they’re not bad books either, I own them both).

But this doesn’t mean I love Amazon and want to defend it. Hardly. Amazon would have published my book no matter how I feel because KDP is a platform. Sure they might promote it better, but only if it seemed to stand a chance at making them a lot of money. I do okay because I still am one of a few on a very small hill of digital fractal books, but let’s not pretend Amazon is really doing me any favors. In fact, half the profits I made in the last year were made from only a quarter of my sales through one of my other markets.

As an indie author I want every channel available to publish my books. That’s why it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to rail against a publisher when conceivably they might publish something of mine in the future. From what little I’ve seen, you don’t succeed in the indie writer business if you narrow your markets. Amazon’s not a bad place to be for exposure, but they’re not my friend either.

Recently (although I’m honestly not sure when) Amazon made a change to the 70% royalty. For many countries (including the US) you don’t have to enroll your book in KDP select to get the higher royalty (meaning your book doesn’t have to be an Amazon exclusive). In my case this would be an additional $0.75 a sale, since the transmission size does figure into the 70% royalty, making my effective royalty more like 50%, but still way better than 35%. Did Amazon tell me about this? Ask me if I wanted to change when I logged in (which I do every day)? Or even better, just automatically set my book to earn more money because who wouldn’t want that? Of course not.

So maybe here’s the bottom line. It’s not a good idea to piss off people who might buy your book, so be nice. But on the other hand, remember that no one is looking out for your best interests but you.

So, Amazon, write your own damn letter.

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing

Really we’re to blame

It’s pretty easy to pick sides in the Amazon vs. Hachette contract negotiation battle. Amazon is evil for removing the buy buttons off many (though not some of the bestselling) Hachette titles, and Hachette is foolhardy for taking this long to negotiate with one of the largest book distributors in the world, considering that the average consumer doesn’t think about publishers, they think about authors.

But here’s the thing, Amazon may be evil for squeezing profit margins down to razor thin amounts, or requiring the eBook to stay at a certain price, but if we wanted that to change, if we actually wanted to make sure that authors and publishers got more of our money, then we would need to be willing to change our behavior.

See the solution to Hachette’s problem with Amazon could be so simple. Instead of selling eBooks through Amazon, it could sell them through its own site, DRM free in epub, mobi and pdf formats. That way the customer actually owns the book, and can read it on the reader or tablet of their choice.

But that solution will never work for two simple reasons: Consumers don’t really care that they don’t own their eBooks (or they simply don’t think about it), and even if they do care, most do not want to have to manage their eBook libraries themselves.

Buying eBooks from many different sources requires organization, and even though there are plenty of good software options for doing so, most would rather Amazon just do it. Hachette’s audience is broad, it houses some of the most popular authors. Sure, some of its audience is tech savvy, but many just want to read and not think about it.

And yeah, maybe you don’t own an ebook, but does it really matter if you’re only ever going to read it once, and you only paid a couple of bucks for it? There’s always risk in losing something, you could be robbed, you could lose a physical book, or drop it in a puddle, or whatever. Owning a book DRM free may reduce your risk of losing the book, but not significantly enough for people to change behavior.

And worst of all, we each make perfectly rational personal economic decisions when it comes to buying books (i.e. we buy the cheapest book we can find). If I want a lot of ebooks, I will want to buy them cheap, and apart from a few book bundles, the answer to that is Amazon. As an author, publishing on Amazon is a must because it’s the best channel for people finding my niche work, despite the fact I can get a better royalty almost anywhere else. But higher percentages don’t matter if they aren’t matched by higher sales.

Now some of us are charitable. We think about who our money is going to, or we’re willing to pay a few extra dollars to get a better product (I’m doing this with the comic book Saga by buying it directly from Image instead of waiting for the cheaper trade). But if we have finite dollars, we probably can’t do that for everything we like, unless we’re willing to buy less things, and that doesn’t seem like us.

So yeah, Amazon is evil. And we’re totally going to keep buying from them anyway. And Hachette is going to keep selling through them. And so am I.

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Writing

Publishers Steal

Or at least they used to, according to a post by Greg Sandoval, “How Piracy Built The US Publishing Industry“. Some of the great publishing houses we know today, such as HarperCollins, got their start by stealing from Dickens and many other UK writers. A publisher would go over to the UK, ship a popular book back to the states, and start printing with the author receiving nothing, except fans of his book.

In the case of Dickens there was no system for licensing international material, and obtaining a book from another country would be extremely difficult as it would require a lengthy boat trip both ways. The only way many in the Americas were ever going to read him at all were if American publishers reprinted the books, and given the time and expense required to obtain the source material, it’s at least understandable why they left the authors out of the profit sharing.

But today piracy is a serious problem, and one the US and other countries have been vigorous in pursuing. Among the more recent examples was UK publisher Hachette (those Brits don’t have any luck do they?), actively pursuing sites that were putting their content up for free and making money on ad revenue or premium subscriptions to that content.

This is a tough one to unpack. I’ve talked before on the blog about how piracy can build an audience for a work that might not otherwise exist, but on the other hand piracy provides avenues for people to obtain content they DO have access to, they just don’t want to pay for it.

This brings to mind a similar situation I wrote about a number of years back for a Computer Science Ethics class, Anime Fansub. Fansub used to be prohibitively expensive, it cost 50-100 dollars to obtain source material, and video dubbing and subbing technology only allowed for low quality VHS. Around the time I was in college, though, technology improved to the point where fansubbing groups could produced DVD quality material for free. With the right software and even a fairly low-end computer, anyone could be a fansubber. At the time, I wrote about how this practice far from hurt the anime industry, it actually helped it to grow. Shows that would have been thought to be abysmal failures in the US, turned out to be smash hits because of the early community of people who obtained the material for free, promoted it to their friends or clubs, and bought the content when it was actually licensed. The fansub community created buzz about shows that could be commercially successful, and provided access to those who were interested in older content that was otherwise unavailable.

The key reason for the success of this model was the “gentlemen’s agreement” that whenever a show became available in the US, the fansubs came down and the people who had them supported the original by buying a copy. This is very similar to the argument Coelho made with his book. Nowadays, the content providers have learned from this model and are making many of their shows available for free and streaming only weeks or days after they air (most commonly on Hulu). This has made fansubbing a much less necessary practice, and one that might now interfere with legitimate channels for content. For shows that are still unavailable, it’s a practice that might still work, but the industry has changed. Anime no longer needs fansubs to be able to judge what is popular and what can make money.

The key takeaway from this is that models have to continuously shift. Just how US publishers no longer pirate UK writers, practices like fansub and other “pirating” have to adjust as things become legitimately available. Fans of the material have a role in this too. When legitimate channels come along, fans should support them and cease other channels of obtaining material. One area where this is applicable to ebooks is digital library lending. Right now this is still an area that publishers seem less willing to fully embrace, but I think if enough users stopped pirating ebooks and started borrowing them that publishers would take notice.

I think a lot of people “pirate” because prices are too high or because material is unavailable. If you make material available and affordable, people will buy.

Note: For fun I have posted my original paper on Anime fansub. You can read it here. It was on the web for a while and a Google search will *shudder* uncover several people who used it as the basis for their own articles. People actually listening to me is scary.

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Trube On Tech