Tag Archives: e-books

A Bit of Priming on Publishing, Part 1

Over at the SFFWorld.com forums, an author looking at different ways of proceeding in fiction book publishing asked for information regarding a number of basic questions about book publishing. You can check out that discussion thread here, and the conversation is not necessarily done as I’m sure more questions may come up, but I am also going to reprint my responses to various questions here. While many may find the info basic, it ended up being a decent foundational outline of things authors have to understand and consider in business decisions in fiction publishing. And so it may be of some interest to writers navigating the waters or those simply curious about how the odd industry of fiction publishing operates. Part 1 below:

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On Writing and Publishing Links (Dumping Days)

Some stuff left over from last year, but interesting and likely to be related to interesting developments in publishing coming up:

In 2014, during the height of negotiations with Amazon and other e-vendors, HarperCollins set up selling e-books of their titles directly to readers. Now, this isn’t exactly a new thing. “Direct mail,” as it used to be called, has always been available from publishers, where readers could order books directly from publishers, usually at a discount because of shipping costs. In the 1960’s-1980’s, it was a sizable, though not central, market for paperbacks, with book order forms printed in the back pages of paperbacks, and some publishers setting up subscription services that operated sort of like book clubs, not to mention actual book clubs run by publishers or working with publishers. (The romance publishers had it down to an art form.)

In the 90’s, when the wholesale and paperback markets collapsed, direct mail became considerably less important but still existed. With the Internet developing, publishers set up buy options on their websites, however, that increased overall direct sales. For the last several years, publishers have been setting up selling e-books directly. This is, though, HarperCollins’ formalized, larger effort. Whether that’s going to help with the lack of breadth in the e-vendors market is anybody’s guess, but publishers have definitely amped up more of their book-selling efforts as the market has changed.

To that end, Mills & Boon publishers in the U.K. has also set up not only e-book selling, but doing so to mobile phones easily through an app. This is again a re-adjustment of the romance publishers’ practice of making subscription easy for buyers who will read lots of titles each month.

Related to these developments of publishers are the continual battles going on in the music industry. YouTube is getting serious about trying to compete with various streaming services, and so threatened to ban indie labels that didn’t sign up for its new music service. Likewise, Amazon and other big e-vendors have been pressing smaller houses on terms and marketing fees and signing up for various service programs. We’re going to see a lot more of these kinds of battles in most of the arts.

Other links: an interesting author interview on io9.com with Kelly Thompson, author of illustrated superpower novel, The Girl Who Would Be King, which just got a movie deal. Thompson ended up self-publishing the novel after not being able to sell it, and funded it with a Kickstarter campaign. This is becoming more and more common the last few years — the funding that authors could get from partner publishing by selling a license to a publisher and getting an advance against their royalties, they are now obtaining in a donations model, allowing them to act more effectively as writers and go bigger in production and marketing. It doesn’t work out for all authors, but in the begging electronic economy, it’s a solid model for raising capital support.

Chris Sims of the Comics Alliance wrote an interesting piece on Business Insider about DC and its relationship to Marvel, regarding moves both companies have made regarding their comics, films and other projects.

And lastly, fantasy author N.K. Jemisin offers authors some advice about dealing with reviews of their published work, “Author Strength Training”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amazon Gives In

Every few years, giant we’re-selling-parts-of-the-moon-next conglomerate Amazon decides whether it’s going to keep selling books (a mere 7% of its revenues,) and when it decides, so far, that it’s going to do so, it negotiates sales terms contracts with the Big 5 global conglomerates that dominate U.S. publishing, among other presses. (It doesn’t have to negotiate anything with the self-published authors since they agreed to a contract that states that Amazon can change their terms, including the monetary ones, whenever it wants.)

The sales terms do not include just what prices publishers will sell print books to Amazon for or price e-books with Amazon at, but also how much Amazon gets of each sale as its retailer cut, and how much additional monies Amazon gets of each sale in “developmental marketing” fees. Those are the fees that Amazon charges for search rhythm algorithims, search inside this book features, special screen displays, recommendations, etc., that all help books sell on Amazon and make it easy for people to find them. Amazon has been increasing the number of fees it demands the publishers pay to sell with Amazon in the contracts, squeezing the publishers for more revenue to feed its enormous business acquisitions engine. (Amazon gives most of these services away for free to self-pub authors, but it has been adjusting its cut and charging some fees to them.)

This has been particularly hard on small presses, for whom the balance between the costs of doing business with Amazon and making it up in cheap bulk sales they depend on from Amazon is very precarious. But it’s of concern for the big publishers as well, especially because some of the conglomerates also sell other merchandise to/through Amazon and because other retailers and wholesalers are likely to follow Amazon’s lead in charges. So when French-based global conglomerate Hachette entered into negotiations with Amazon this year, it balked at Amazon wanting a higher cut of revenues for marketing fees for e-books and print, as well as tighter control of the e-book market and better terms on print returns refunds (meaning more expenses and shipping costs for Hachette.)

Amazon promptly tried one of its favorite negotiating tactics with any size of publisher — suspending sales on Hachette’s titles, which it claimed were suddenly out of stock at Amazon or didn’t have a buy button anymore altogether, or messing up prices, so that Hachette would cave quickly. But Hachette isn’t as dependent on Amazon sales as some of the other Big 5, and more to the point, they are facing the same need as Amazon to cut costs and squeeze more revenue, so they dug in. Amazon promptly started a media campaign, claiming the dispute was only about e-book prices, that it was trying to decrease the costs to the consumer by making more e-books at the legendary price point of $9.99. This of course ignores that most e-books, including from the Big 5, are priced well below $9.99 already.

Hachette offered a few terse statements that the negotiations were about way more than e-book price points, but otherwise ignored media knattering in favor of confidentiality over the negotiations. That media coverage, as it was back when Amazon tried this tactic on Macmillan a few years ago, was not exactly positive towards Amazon. It got worse when a bunch of authors, some Hachette authors affected by the ban, some just big bestsellers, took to the presses to complain about Amazon’s author punishment negotiation tactic in a business deal that the authors had no say in. Amazon made pie in the sky promises that they knew contractually they and Hachette couldn’t actually do, even if authors and Hachette had been willing, over e-book prices only. But that didn’t change the general view that Amazon was riding roughshod over the book publishing business, especially in the States, which was still reeling from various retail shrinkage in recent years. That e-book sales have flatlined, having reached perhaps their natural share of the market for now, and that online selling of print books has expanded to more vendors, didn’t help Amazon have more leverage. Continue reading

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Interesting Writings for a Day of Recovery — 10/20/13

I’ve been sick. Like barely moving sick. So now that my brain works a bit better, here are some interesting writings links that piled up (some a tad old in Internet days):

1) Chuck Wendig has a very funny stream of consciousness piece about his experience as an author trying to edit and revise his work. (However, his complaints to publishers piece is silly; don’t bother with that one.)

2) Laura Miller at Salon.com had a good piece about new/old models of book buying online, mainly that Netflix is reviving the idea of book clubs to some extent as well as the subscription model for heavy readers. But what was also useful in the piece is the explanation again about what is actually going on in e-books (they aren’t replacing print,) and how, once again, fiction readers are marketing resistant and use word of mouth:

The leveling off of the e-book market suggests that what once seemed like a boom destined to overwhelm and replace print publishing has in fact become a thriving submarket. (A recent survey of travelers at London’s Heathrow Airport found that even in circumstances where you’d expect e-books to prevail, 71 percent of those polled said they preferred to hit the road toting print books.) All sorts of people read e-books, but a significant portion of that market is made up of what are called “heavy readers.” A Pew Internet study of e-reading showed that the average e-book user reads 24 books per year, compared to the 15 read by people who don’t use e-books.

Even Amazon isn’t very good at suggesting the next book you might want to read — or at least, its customers rarely rely on it for such advice. Most readers (e- or print) still prefer to heed the advice of trusted friends instead. For some things, the human touch remains indispensable.

3) Nick Mamatas does a nice satire of criticisms leveled at “genre” fiction that can just as easily be utilized for “literary” fiction (i.e. contemporary drama, which is not necessarily literary, just as genre is not necessarily not literary.)

4) Foz Meadows is so very tired of writing about systemic prejudicial bias towards women and other repressed groups, but she is so very good at it.

5) Laura Miller again with an article at Salon.com (because I had them piling up,) on the rather crazy and completely pointless fighting going on between readers at Goodreads and authors and author publishing authors.

More as I get back up to speed, one more time.

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October 20, 2013 · 8:30 PM

Interesting Writings — A Few Links Before I Sleep

First up, a very succinct explanation of the e-book price developments from Salon.com. I had thought that Amazon did not have enough juice to get the DOJ interested in blocking agency pricing and that it was other factors. But apparently it actually was Amazon, trying to keep their virtual monopoly on the field.

Second, I am constantly dealing with new writers who are obsessed with grammar and who seem to believe that book and magazine editors are too, as if trying to publish was like sitting for an English exam. There seems to be difficulty understanding that there is not just one working grammar for the English language and that fiction writing is not concerned with grammar at all, but with sound, rhythm and flow. Stephen Fry tackles this problem head-on with some lovely graphics in this video. (You have to go to the article to get to the audio/video recording on this one, but it’s worth it.)

Third, the Orchard Gardens school in Massachusetts got themselves a principle who decided to stop treating his troubled elementary school like a prison, as has been the wont the last few decades as far right politicians continually slash and steal from school budgets, releasing the security guards and hiring art teachers instead. It has created a remarkable turnaround in the school. My favorite part is this quote from the article, which I intend to drag out during people insisting that there are rules for fiction writing despite all evidence to the contrary:

 

Eighth grader Keyvaughn Little said he’s come out of his shell since the school’s turnaround.

 

His grades have improved, too. Keyvaughn says it’s because of the teachers — and new confidence stemming from art class.  

 

“There’s no one particular way of doing something,” he said. “And art helps you like see that. So if you take that with you, and bring it on, it will actually help you see that in academics or anything else, there’s not one specific way you have to do something.”

Lastly, not so much interesting as potentially disastrous: Pearson Penguin and Bertelsman Random House got approval by the DOJ to merge (meaning the Big Six are now the Big Five.) This creates the largest publishing company in the U.S. out of the two largest, completely foreign owned, a global behemoth that will put out 15,000 books a year through various imprints, educational and retail. It means that authors have fewer places to sell to if they want partner publishing (which still brings in a lot more money to a lot more authors than self-publishing and will for quite a long time.) It means that they have fewer recourses if a particular title doesn’t do well, creating a black mark in the not very astute sales computer systems. (And as the article notes, Hachette bought Hyperion — which had been owned by Disney — also increasing their size.) Overall, it will mean more opportunities for more title licenses, but fewer resources given to each title, meaning fewer sales possibly per title.

Random House already had 3o percent of the U.S. market. I’m guessing that this takes them near 50 percent at least. And yet the DOJ okayed it, after pinging all the publishers for the agency price contracts. So this is exceedingly strange, but the deal has been in the works for awhile now. This is likely to have a far greater impact on book publishing than e-books did in the long term.

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Emerging

Scuba Diver photo by Adam Laverty

So I’ve been down in the depths and now coming upwards, how about you?

Things that have happened recently:

1) The Oscars, which I did not watch on the grounds that I never remember who won the year before anyway, though I’ve seen some clips. Show host Seth McFarlane, ordered to bring in the young male viewers, satirized sexists by using incredibly sexist humor, which mostly just made him look sexist,  (when he wasn’t forced to pay tribute to musicals because the Oscar show producers wanted to put on a Chicago number because they also produced that movie and apparently were annoyed they didn’t get to go onstage when the film won the Oscar years ago.)  So in a year in which women rocked the house, we got “We Saw Your Boobs” as the Oscar musical opener,  and jokes that George Clooney was waiting on a 9-year-old black girl to grow a tad older for sex as the definitive commentary. I am choosing to view this as a sign of the trickle effect. The females may have scared Hollywood just a little bit there, as they emerge as a more powerful force in the industry.

2) Random House has apparently launched several e-book only imprints (Random House is owned by Bertelsmann.) Contracts for these imprints have been coming to light, and they are a cross between a vanity press and a scam artist. The contracts offer no advances against royalties, which isn’t an enormous surprise as bigger publishers have been running various no advance “experiments” for years, looking for ways to get out of that particular business arrangement. The bigger surprise is that there doesn’t seem to be any royalties to base an advance on. The publisher’s contract seeks payment from the author for production costs, marketing costs, editorial services, cover art, etc. — all the things that publishers are suppose to be putting up as the partner in a licensing deal, while demanding well and above the usual licensing rights of a standard publishing contract. The model appears to be borrowed from the more predatory side of the music industry, an industry that has actual money and that has to produce actual varied physical products and placement services, not just an e-file as with e-books.  The goal seems to be to horn in on Amazon’s various turfs. Now, Amazon hasn’t exactly been a friend to new authors. They take way too big a cut of the profits for doing little for self-publishers, they charge for various services, and their contract is vaguely worded enough to give them something of a rights grab. But even Amazon didn’t conceive of pulling this sort of operation on new, desperate authors who don’t understand the weird business of book publishing.  So the author groups are very upset. Tune in here for what’s happening from the SFWA on that.  If this is the new business model that’s going to emerge more widely, then yes, publishers are sending themselves out of business.

3) My t.v. show Grimm finally came back on the air, to finish out its second season, after being taken off for three months by the stupid NBC network. The show got a special debut for several episodes on Monday nights, but that was not a permanent change, as I’d thought, and it’s remained on Fridays, at 9:00 p.m. in North America. The last episode back in November was the first installment of a two and a half parter, leaving us with a cliffhanger. SPOILERS: The break left us with the magical, deadly romance spell ensorcelling Nick’s amnesiac ex-girlfriend Juliet and Nick’s police boss  Cpt. Renard, who is a Wessen illegitimate prince involved in various schemes including an alliance with a Wessen rebellion force, and the discovery of that problem by the rest of the gang, which was rather hard on poor Nick. A showdown emerged, back at the big bad wolf’s ivy covered cottage where the show originally started off, leading to a big new plot direction for the series going into their back half and another cliffhanger for the episode ending  involving counterspells and political intrigue with the European royals. All in all, it was a satisfying if soapy return for the gang, with some great comic moments, the full return of Rosalee, and the chance of Juliet being brought finally into the fold of knowledge and even getting her memory of Nick back. The actors playing Juliet and Renard had great fun playing psycho steamy and we got to meet a new type of Wessen — an owl one — who was a locksmith.  Claire Coffee also did beautifully as scheming, de-powered Wessen sorceress Adalind.

The episode did very well in the ratings, pulling a number one position for its slot in the desired demographic and doing better than its last mid-season return despite the longer break. So loyal fans stuck it out and came back to watch. Since NBC has been having shows end or tank all over the place and they need to have something on Friday nights, here’s hoping Grimm will get a renewal for a third season and they will really get to rock out. If you want to jump in, again, they do lay things out for you and mostly it’s a police procedural show, so next week’s episode on March 15, “Natural Born Wessen,” which finishes off the big storyline and starts a new crime problem — bank robberies —  would be a good one to dive into. If the show gets a third season, then I’ll recap blog that one.

We’ll see if I make it to the surface for spring!

“Face Off” mid-season return

 

 

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More Pretty Things for Lucas

Australian author Lucas Thorn pingbacked my blog yesterday because I’d mentioned his novel, Nysta: Revenge of the Elf re Amir Zand’s very cool bookcover art for it. He got the name of my blog wrong, though. It’s The Open Window, Lucas, not Pretty Things. (Although Pretty Things is a pretty good name for a blog, don’t get me wrong. Also “This is Why We Can’t Have Pretty Things” would be a good blog name and somebody probably has it. There are about 500 blogs plus a famous short story called The Open Window — the more, the merrier.)

Anyway, I realized that I forgot to mention in the last post that I had actually read the opening pages of Thorn’s novel, through the Amazon U.S. “Look Inside” feature that Thorn paid for or wiggled out of Amazon. And those pages were good, in my opinion. Lot of atmosphere, dry humor, an immediately appealing character in the Prologue made all the worse because you knew he was going to buy it pretty soon.  So I was actually recommending the book to the extent that one can do so from just having read an excerpt. (And if it provides further inspiration on doing Book 2, Lucas, I’ve been a book editor in one way or another for a reeaaallly long time.) The book is unfortunately not available on all the Amazons, but may be in other spots on the Net, and in Amazon U.S. (and I would assume Amazon Australia,) you can get it as an e-book or a more expensive trade paperback print edition. So this may be going on the birthday list for me. You all can check it out. It is apparently #18 on Amazon’s list of Hot New Releases of Epic Fantasy, which means it is selling well and other people are burbling about it. And yes, Lucas Thorn is apparently his real name. So there you go.

As for Amir Zand’s lovely artwork for the book, that will be going up on the Positivity Cover Art thread at SFFWorld.com in the Fantasy Forum, with mention of what book it is to, once I get a minute to do it and some other bookcovers I like, which I’ll also reproduce here. There are lots of people over there and we have lots of Australian members  too, so swing by.

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