How “Amazon” Means “LESS BOOKS FOR YOU”

ETA: I know that grammatically, it should be “Fewer Books For You.” I didn’t do that, partly because “Less” fits better in social-networking headline space, and partly because I’m a contrarian. Also, it makes me think of the soup guy on Seinfeld. “LESS BOOKS FOR YOU!”

Dear Readers, let me tell you about my editor.

I have been with my editor at OrbitDevi Pillai, who Anya Devi in the Kismet books was loosely based on–for over a decade now. She shepherded me through the Valentine series, consoled me through the end of Heaven’s Spite, took a chance on the Damnation Affair, and loved a certain hedgewitch Queen so much she kept asking about it for years until she could finally buy it. She remains an editor I trust implicitly. When she sticks to her guns and insists, I generally rethink my position and trust she’s right, and (far less often, because I rarely dig my heels in unless it’s Important) vice versa. She understands my working style, leaves me the freedom I need while ensuring I get the support I often don’t know I need to turn in my best work.

Not only that, but she advocates for me tirelessly in editorial and marketing meetings. She fights for my books, she fights to bring my books to you. She is everything an editor should be, and it’s largely because of her faith in me that I can write full-time and pay my mortgage.

She works for Orbit. Orbit is a part of Hachette. Amazon, the behemoth that undercut its competitors and has become not the only, but the biggest game in town, wants more money out of Hachette. So, Amazon has removed the preorder buttons on Hachette books.

Including the last Bannon & Clare book, The Ripper Affair. Here’s a screenshot of the Amazon page for the Ripper Affair this morning:

The_Ripper_Affair_(Bannon_and_Clare)_Lilith_Saintcrow_9780316183727_Amazon.com_Books_-_2014-05-23_06.46.51

Preorders are largely how publishers forecast how well a certain book will do. Those forecasts create numbers that are used when, for example, Devi makes the case to buy another series from me while I’m finishing up writing the current one. It’s not fair, but it’s the only metric the publishers have in some cases, for all sorts of reasons–frex, it can take over six months for the contracts department to get all situated. (Contracts people are by their nature picky and detail-oriented, and that’s fine, it’s just frustrating sometimes.)

All of this is backstory (hello, exposition!) to what I am about to tell you.

The full, nasty effect of Amazon removing buy buttons (like they did when squeezing Macmillan for more cash a few years ago) and removing the ability to preorder a publisher’s upcoming books doesn’t hit the publisher. Sure, the publisher is who Amazon can blackmail most directly–Amazon’s a huge distributor, and if they decide not to distribute, that’s lost revenue, since ease of buying is a component of consumer activity. (Translation: every time you make a consumer go somewhere else, they are fractionally less willing to buy the damn item that’s costing them time and headache.) There’s also lost revenue from people who buy only through Amazon (they have their reasons, natch) and that means a publisher can’t afford to take a chance on certain authors. The publisher takes the visible hit, but the ripples spread out and hit midlist authors, or debut authors. And while I am not the latter, I am most certainly the former.

In other words, Amazon’s behavior right now is impacting my ability to sell more books to Orbit, since when preorder numbers take this kind of hit it’s harder for Devi to fight for me in acquisition meetings. The numbers for B&C were already not good enough for me to do the “B&C travel to different countries” books we were all looking forward to. Amazon’s blackmail of my publisher makes it harder for my editor to justify taking a chance on me next time I’m up for a contract with them. (It isn’t fair, but it’s a business decision, and I understand as much.) This impacts my ability to write full-time, to continue producing those stories you love (or love to hate) at my accustomed rate. Because I have to pay my mortgage and feed my kids, and if this won’t do it, I will have to spend my time doing something else that will.

Amazon is obeying the natural behaviour of corporations. Corporations are not people, but once they reach a certain size they start behaving like any greedy organism. They metastasize. The effect of this is passed down through the ecosystem to yours truly–and also to you. Less time for me to write those stories means less Lili books for you to read. It means less books from other authors you may like or love, as well. If Hachette has to cave and agree to Amazon’s predatory terms, I will feel that directly, because that money will come out of budgets that take a chance on me, the midlist author.

As Elizabeth Bear said this morning, Amazon is hoping customers will turn on the publishers and force them to do Amazon’s bidding. If you’re fine with that, and with the effects I’ve described above, okay. I naturally don’t agree with you, but okay. I have Amazon links, affiliate and otherwise, on this very site for your convenience, not mine.

If you’re not fine with Amazon’s behavior, you can preorder The Ripper Affair (and order other books of mine) through Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, or Indiebound. You can even preorder and order signed copies through Cover to Cover Books with a simple stock inquiry, they ship worldwide. You can preorder for other authors you like, too, at Barnes & Noble, at Indiebound, and at C2C though they may not be signed if they’re not mine–you get the idea.

Hachette has been keeping its authors apprised of developments in this situation. They’re doing their best to take care of us, because we are, after all, their bread and butter. Hachette isn’t the bad guy here. (I should hope that my regular Readers know that I’d tell you if they were, srsly, mortgage be damned.) Please think about buying somewhere other than Amazon, even if it is a little inconvenient.

In the end, dear Reader, it’s all up to you.

‘Nuff said.

ETA: Courtesy of Reader Scott Drummond:

I seriously have the best Readers.

I seriously have the best Readers.

ETA: Comments are now closed. Thank you all for participating.

Comments

  1. Leah chimes in

    I was on Amazon today and noticed that a couple books on my wishlish were no longer available, I guess this explains why. Thanks for the heads up on what’s going and for the other alternatives for ordering.

  2. chimes in

    This should be a start of the revolution to support your local bookstores and other outlets. What’s happening epitomises the danger of allowing one corporation to hold too much power.

  3. Sandyg265 chimes in

    If Amazon doesn’t have a book I want I have no problem ordering it from someplace else. You can also support your favorite authors by requesting your local library buy their books.

  4. chimes in

    Excellent article about a very troubling issue. However as a pedantic grammar Nazi, I feel compelled to point out the headline should read “fewer books” not “less books.” Now I will slink away :-)

  5. chimes in

    Just an utterly selfish reminder: in 2013, Barnes & Noble did the same thing to Simon & Schuster with permanent negative impacts on the sales and careers of Simon’s writers, like myself. Going to B&N because you’re mad at Amazon is like going to Charter because you’re mad at AT&T: the big corporations are still winning. Indiebound.org, Powell’s, bookdepository.com, Books-a-Million, a local bookstore: almost anything is better than the giant corporations pushing writers around to spite their publishers.

  6. chimes in

    I liken Amazon to Matthew Broderick’s Godzilla: They will tear down your city unless you feed them a huge pile of fish.

    It’s unfortunate this is happening. I’ve been moving away from purchasing from Amazon for a while now. I’d always used it for the convenience. There are no independent bookstores near me and the nearest B&N is an hour and a half away. More and more, I will wait until I’m in that town for whatever reason to stop by and pick up the newer releases on my wish list. I still use Amazon for a lot of the digital only because reading on my kindle is much easier than reading on my laptop, and a lot of my friends publish through KDPS.

    Anyway, I hope all gets resolved soon, for you and the other Hachette authors.

  7. chimes in

    Could I ask your opinion about abebooks.com? Is it so close to the Amazon style of selling books that authors still get hurt in the same way?

  8. Howard Phillips chimes in

    However bad you think Amazon is, it’s good to remember that Barnes and Noble was much MUCH worse when they were the big kid on the block. The reason indies have been in such bad shape is because of B&N and Borders and the other corporate chains, not to mention the role of the big publishers, like Hatchette (who played dirty with Amazon and is now getting spanked for it) who was far from an innocent bystander during the corporate bookstore rush.

    Amazon is the best thing to happen to books and literature in the last 50 years.

    Hatchette thought they’d demand special pricing from them and tried holding their books back to take advantage of Amazon Derangement Syndrome, and they got punched in the mouth for their bad behavior. Unfortunately, its the authors that suffer for Hatchette’s little game of chicken.

    • chimes in

      No, sir. Hachette is not to blame, as I believe I’ve made adequately clear above. Not to mention that, as a writer OR a reader, I don’t see how Amazon’s current behaviour makes it better for books and literature at all.

      And as I’ve remarked, it seems that rewarding a corporation (i.e., Barnes & Noble) for NOT being an asshole in this particular situation seems like a reasonable thing to do.

      • Howard Phillips chimes in

        No, Hatchette wanted new terms and when Amazon balked, THEY started holding back their books to Amazon which caused the longer shipping times for customers. After trying to renegotiate, Amazon finally called their bluff and pulled their books. B&N did something similar with Simon and Schuster’s titles a few months ago.

        Amazon’s current behavior, which is no worse than the behavior of any other big corporation, including B&N and all the big NY publishers, isn’t why they’re good for authors, and literature. They are good for authors and literature because they are slowly breaking the monopoly of the big publishers by crating an entirely new distribution network which gives authors more publishing choices, and with their own publishing imprints that focus on authors first and pay higher royalties. If it weren’t for Amazon, there would be less variety in what we have to read, and authors would still be slaves to their publishers who see them as nothing but a necessary evil.

        Like it or not, Amazon is the book industry now. If they closed shop, the big publishers would crumble to dust, and all these low mid list writers who are suffering from Amazon Derangement Syndrome would be spending their precious writing time updating their resumes and looking for day jobs.

        • chimes in

          Sir, first, stop mansplaining. I don’t like it and will not tolerate it here.

          Second, stop misrepresenting what’s going on here. What we’re talking about here is Amazon as a distributor having a monopoly. We are not talking about B&N and Simon and Schuster, a situation which resolved. We’re talking about a Amazon, the company that made $58 BILLION more than its nearest competitor, throwing its weight around. Hachette has not “held its books back,” that is an incredibly un-viable strategy for any publisher to engage in. Amazon has pulled the preorder buttons and is monkeying with search results to bring pressure to bear on Hachette so that Hachette is forced to take a loss on books distributed through Amazon. Right now, Hachette’s actions align with the interests of its authors/content producers, and through them with readers and consumers.

          Third, Amazon is not “slowly breaking a monopoly.” They are engaged in building their own monopoly in distribution instead of production. They are not “crating[sic] an entirely new distribution network which gives authors more choices.” They are trying to lock down supplies of content and playing hardball so they become the only distributor, much as WalMart uses buying power to force suppliers into giving them sweetheart prices. While this may be “natural” behavior for a corporation–as I’ve noted, corporations, upon achieving a certain size, start acting like an organism (not a person, mind you, an organism) blindly guzzling all it can–it is not behaviour that I should automatically tolerate.

          Fourth, your comment about “Amazon Derangement Syndrome” makes you look like a shill for Amazon. This is your only warning: Comments like that are not welcome here. If you again engage in name-calling, you’ll be disemvowelled, and quite probably mocked.

          • Robotech_Master chimes in

            Whereas an agent for number of authors with books with Hachette reported that Hachette started delaying shipping books to Amazon as far back as November. They complained repeatedly to Hachette and were told, no, everything is fine.

            http://nelsonagency.com/the-amazon-hachette-spat/

            At Digital Book World, Michael Sullivan reports Amazon having placed over a dozen orders for his books to Hachette in late April that Hachette was declining to ship for a couple of weeks.

            http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/an-authors-perspective-on-the-hachette-amazon-battle/

            You know who else is a big huge corporation besides Amazon? Hachette. And it takes two to tango.

          • chimes in

            It makes absolutely no sense for Hachette to delay shipping anything. I’ll say it again: they are a PRODUCER, and what we’re looking at is Amazon as a DISTRIBUTOR looking to create a monopoly. It is far more likely that Amazon has been throttling shipping for far longer than we know. It’s also very likely that Amazon has been deliberately placing teensy orders that get pushed down on the chain and then blaming Hachette when they know perfectly well how the system works and how to grind a publisher.

            Please stop trotting out this canard.

            ETA: I should also comment that the source for “Hachette is delaying shipping” is Amazon. Which makes me much less likely to believe it’s anything but a customer service rep just passing the buck, or a conscious strategy to pressure Hachette further, with the groundwork laid earlier in May.

          • Howard Phillips chimes in

            Mnsplnng? My tn ws th sm s yrs, s why d y hv t b sxst. Tht’s vry smll f y.

            ’m srry ths sttn psts y s mch, bt y’r bvsly nt thnkng clrly. Y’r fllng fr th nt-mzn prpgnd pt frth by th pblshng ndstry nd pblshd n plcs lk th NYT blgs nd Sln. f y tk stp bck nd s th sttn fr wht t s, y’ll s tht t’s jst cntrct dspt btwn tw ggntc cmplns tht dn’t cr wht y r r nyn ls n th plnt thnks. mzn s th bk ndstry nw, lk t r nt.

            Hnstly thgh, cldn’t cr lss bt yr pnn n th sbjct. wnd p hr fllwng sm mnnglss lnk n sm rndm wbpg. nd s mch s njy bng nsltd by sm n-nm, lw-lst fctn wrtr, cn gt ths knd f bs nywhr. Y gys r dm dzn, nd hlf f y wld sll yr lttl hypcrtcl sls fr gd mzn rvw.

            [Where are the vowels?]
            Howard Phillips has been disemvoweled for any or all of the reasons listed in the Comment Policy.
          • Robotech_Master chimes in

            Why would Amazon willingly hand Hachette more ammunition to use against them by intentionally placing orders in such a way as to result in a delay of shipments? It doesn’t make sense. They’re smarter than that.

            If someone orders a book from Amazon and it doesn’t come right away, that customer is not going to blame the publisher, he’s going to blame Amazon, since after all, Amazon can instantly send him just about anything else he asks for. Most customers don’t even know or care who publishes the books they read, but they know who they placed the order from.

            Thus, delaying shipments would be a tactic from Hachette’s playbook. Especially if they can spin it in such a way as to blame Amazon for it.

            It takes two parties to have a dispute. I’m not saying Hachette is wrong to fight for a better position, but you can’t disregard that it is fighting. At least some of the fallout is being caused by things Hachette is doing to put pressure on Amazon, as well as the other way around. Remember, Hachette (or, rather, its parent, Lagardere) has $10 billion in assets, making it one of those corporations big enough to act like a greedy organism, too.

          • chimes in

            You don’t seem to understand the situation. Your basis for saying “Hachette wasn’t shipping” is an Amazon customer service rep working off a script during a customer call. This is problematic for any number of reasons, but I’ll just pick one. I was just discussing this in email with a friend earlier this morning–Amazon’s customer service reps have a script when dealing with customer complaints. I know firsthand that one can upload things to KDP and see them through a publisher’s interface as live, but when a customer tries to order they’re told the publisher hasn’t done what it needs to do, ending in irate letters to me. This happens with small presses too, where things are shipped and yet Amazon passes the buck. This is a common practice of theirs, and rather than blaming Hachette, who only shoots themselves in the foot financially and from a strategic AND tactical standpoint by “not shipping orders”, it is far simpler and more reasonable to believe this is just one of Amazon’s strategies writ large. (Occam’s Razor, anyone?) Hachette “spinning” this to hurt Amazon is such a nonsensical strategy, especially given the way book distribution works, that I strongly suggest you re-examine your assumptions.

            Saying “it takes two parties to make a dispute” overlooks the fact that Amazon’s behaviour here is predatory, part of a pattern, and directly aimed at creating a monopoly for itself. Hachette is a corporation too, that is correct, but in this case their interests are in denying Amazon this monopoly, which aligns with my interests as a self-publisher in my own right as well as an author with books through Hachette.

          • HP chimes in

            Ct. Ptty, bt ct… Dd y s y jst gt yr ss hndd t y vr n Knrth’s blg? H ds gd jb f pntng t yr hypcrsy, nd hs blg gts hndrds f thsnds f hts dy. Gd jb, hck.

            *****************

            [Where are the vowels?]
            HP has been disemvoweled for any or all of the reasons listed in the Comment Policy.
        • Anne Kimbol chimes in

          Mr. Phillips, for whom do you work? The reason I am asking is that I have been following this situation as a former bookseller and fan of many Hachette authors. None of the stories have said exactly what the contract issue is between Hachette and Amazon. There has been speculation that the sticking point is discounts and/or something more specifically e-book related. While I strongly disagree with your statement that Amazon is the best thing to happen to books, I am intrigued by the information you are providing and where it is coming from, since, to my knowledge, neither Amazon nor Hachette have answered the question of what the issue really is. Given their history of playing beyond-hardball with publishers, my inclination is to think Amazon is doing the same here, but if you have information from a reliable source that you can share showing the opposite is true, I at least would be interested in it.

          As for B&N, yes, when they had lots of power they abused it as well. I have never understood the “someone else did something worse” argument as a justification for current action.

          • chimes in

            The NY Times article says this:

            Seeking ever-higher payments from publishers to bolster its anemic bottom line, Amazon is holding books and authors hostage on two continents by delaying shipments and raising prices. The literary community is fearful and outraged — and practically begging for government intervention.

            “How is this not extortion? You know, the thing that is illegal when the Mafia does it,” asked Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, echoing remarks being made across social media.

            The battle is being waged largely over physical books. In the United States, Amazon has been discouraging customers from purchasing titles from Hachette, the fourth-largest publisher by market share. Late Thursday, it escalated the dispute by making it impossible to order Hachette’s forthcoming books. It is using some of the same tactics against the Bonnier Publishing Group in Germany.

            Which answers what precisely they’re fighting over, I think.

  9. martianmooncrab chimes in

    Which is why I buy from indie bookstores.. and C2C for your books.. Evil Empires are not bought from.

  10. chimes in

    I prefer to shop B&N because I’m a Brick and Mortar man. Amazon is going to be my last choice, even if it means spending a few dollars more.

  11. kateglasgow chimes in

    Amen. As a longtime bookseller (and massive Orbit fan), crap like this makes me nuts, and your response to it is awesome.

    Your smack down of the ridiculous douche-baggery was pretty high on the awesome scale too, I must say.

  12. chimes in

    I refuse to shop on Amazon for a number of reasons. Primarily for the their slave-labour employee practices and the fact that their US-vs-Canadian pricing goes way beyond “fair exchange.” I will shop anywhere else except Amazon.

    It’s also nice to know that Chapters Indigo (once a nice Canadian company, now owned by an Asian Corp, I believe) will happily pre-order THE RIPPER AFFAIR for you and ship it to the US of A. You will, however, have to pay the appropriate exchange and shipping rates.

    http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/the-ripper-affair/9780316183727-item.html?ikwid=The+Ripper+Affair&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0

  13. chimes in

    Actually Amazon bought Abebooks years ago. And as soon as they did they started taking a cut of what the sellers charge the buyers for shipping. Just like they do with third party sellers on Amazon.

  14. Samantha R chimes in

    To be clear, this is an Amazon.com problem (i.e. the removal of pre-orders). Amazon.co.uk is still listing The Ripper Affair for pre-order… Which is just as well, since all the other retailers you mention are US-only!

  15. Anne Kimbol chimes in

    Thanks for the link to the updated NYT article! Last article I read still said they didn’t know the root cause, so it is good to have it confirmed that, once again, Amazon is the issue.

  16. KarenJG chimes in

    Well, for what it’s worth, I just went and bought one of your books for my Nook. I haven’t read any of your books yet. I’m hoping I love it, because I LOVE finding new-to-me authors with a large backlist. Because, then I know that I’ll have weeks or months of good reads ahead of me. (I read a LOT – as in several books a week.)

    On the specific issue, well, Amazon’s shenanigans are the reason I chose a Nook as my e-reader.

  17. chimes in

    It still remains that Amazon E-books are the only reason most independent authors have a market for their books. Life’s rough at the top.

  18. chimes in

    As a new author, not signed to one of the Big Six (or is it less now), I worry about Amazon. Everybody is always looking to see what their Amazon rankings are, which means better sales, but is it really?
    From digital book sales (with exception of Amazon and Barnes & Noble) I receive 30% of the purchase price. I don’t know what % my publisher receives. From Amazon, I see only 15% and only 7% of print books. I try to steer readers to my publishers storefront or to other digital sites.
    Unless you’re selling thousands upon thousands of books, you can’t make a living through Amazon. They rule the school for the moment. We are but puppets on a string.

    • chimes in

      I don’t know what kind of contract you have with your publisher, but independent authors get 70% on books between $2.99 and $9.99. 35% on books more or less. If you’re getting only 15% from your Amazon sales, it’s because your contract probably only gives you 25% of net, (that seems to be the standard but ebook only publishers sometimes give a higher royalty but no advance–but still don’t give close to 70%.

      • chimes in

        How much of that 70% goes to proofing, copyediting, editing, cover art, etc., etc., that is necessary if you don’t want your book to be another typo-ridden piece of crap flooding the market? I don’t say this to knock self-pubbers, I AM a self-pubber as well. But I find it interesting people get stars in their eyes and quote the “70%!” like a holy number, and don’t think about the costs associated with bringing out a quality product.

        • Terrence OBrien chimes in

          Easily less then $1,000. That’s covered with the first 500 sales if the book is priced at $2.99.

        • chimes in

          All of the production costs are a one time sunk cost, but that wasn’t my point anyway. I was simply pointing out that Amazon pays 70%, not 15% because it sounded like the poster I was responding to was implying that is what Amazon pays. Someone is getting that other 55% and it sounds like it isn’t the author. That is not Amazon’s fault. I wasn’t intending to debate self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Do whatever floats your boat.

          • chimes in

            Ah, I misunderstood. Thanks for clarifying.

            Production costs are mostly one-time sunk costs, true. If you’re going through, say, Lightning Source to produce paperbacks, there’s a yearly cost too. *is thoughtful* The risk is, of course, that you get the quality control and still don’t sell the number of books you need to, to break even. Small press or trad publishers are varying ways of spreading that risk out, to my thinking.

            ETA: Sorry, hit “send” too soon. Question: The 70% figure is only for those authors who give Amazon exclusive distribution, right?

          • Wendy chimes in

            70% is for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, exclusive or not. 35% applies to books priced on below or above those figures. :)

          • chimes in

            Ah, the KDP Select is for 70% through Japan, India, Mexico, Brazil. Interesting.

            It seems, from my reading of the KDP agreement for my own self-pubbed works, that the 70% royalty rate has some narrower strictures than just price, though.

          • chimes in

            Narrower structures? I have six novels on Amazon as well as a couple of boxed sets. (and a novella under another name) and it’s all pretty straight forward with regards to the royalties I noted above. If you are in Select, you can get the 70% royalty in a couple of markets you wouldn’t otherwise, but I haven’t found it to be worth it to stay in Select for that reason. If anything, getting paid on borrows is a much bigger incentive. The US, UK, Germany, Canada and Australia are all 70% whether you are in Select or not, and those seem to be the biggest markets. (for me, anyway.)

            However, I recently pulled my books out of Select to try the waters outside of Amazon. I have not had any repercussions from Amazon regarding this. In fact, when I requested them to price-match one of my books to perma-free, they did so within a few hours.

            I’ve become used to having control of my books, and in fact turned down an offer on my series last fall and one of my reasons was I wasn’t sure I could deal with someone else calling the shots. Especially for the crappy advance they offered me.

          • chimes in

            I’m glad your experience has been so positive. Can I ask what your investment in copyediting, proofing, etc., was–not the exact numbers, if you’re not comfortable with that, but how long it took those books to earn out and what your marketing strategy is? It’s a separate discussion than the current Amazon monopoly stuff, but one I enjoy having with other self-pubbed authors.

  19. chimes in

    I’m just a reader who buys a lot, and I mean a lot, of books. Since the advent of Amazon I have probably tripled my book budget. Now I would think that most authors would think that’s a good thing. (Note that 100 % of my buying is now in the form of ebooks.) But my wife is an author and from her perspective, Amazon is a godsend. They carry everything. Try asking for an independent bookstore or even B&N to get a book from a small press or a university press. The last time I asked, I was told they didn’t carry university presses because they didn’t get a large enough discount. And the local independent near me won’t carry even local authors because they aren’t distributed through Ingram. Amazon carries everything! And if a book is misshelved? Try finding it. At B&N when I was in a couple of years ago, they couldn’t find the book I was looking for, even though their computer said they had it in stock. When I queried the clerk, she said I should order it online. I went home, ordered it from Amazon, had it in two days, cheaper, and without driving 40 miles each way. And people wonder why they’re popular?

    The solution for Hachette and its stable of authors is simple. Don’t like Amazon? Don’t sell to them. See how well that goes.

    Retailers (of which Amazon is one since it sells directly to customers) and Producers have battled forever to get better terms for themselves. This is normal business practice. Sears and Montgomery Ward were excoriated for years for destroying small, higher priced, stores in small communities because they deigned to sell through the mail at cheaper prices (Sound familiar?) They failed because competitors arose who did things better and cheaper. The same may happen to Amazon. That’s OK.

    I would suggest, however, that authors who love their publishers try to negotiate a higher royalty rate, say 40% for ebooks and see where that gets you. The unfortunate fact is that authors were enslaved to their publishers until competition came along and that scares the bejeebees out of the legacy publishers.

    • chimes in

      My, you certainly impute some altruism to Amazon. Interesting.

      I’d invite you to scroll up a bit and take a look at the nav bar. Those are series and standalone books I’ve written. I have 40+ books in print this year. Some are trad published, some are small press, and others are self-pubbed. I’ve dealt with Amazon in my professional life for all of them. Now that we have that out of the way, let me ask you a few questions.

      Once Amazon has made the big publishers (who have the means to make a stink and pay legal fees should it come to court action) back down, what do you think they’ll do to the small and university presses? Simple: they will repeat the tactics that worked–pressuring them for deeper discounts, which means less money for both quality control (which is what publishers provide) and writers.

      Next, if negotiating for a higher royalty was good business for me, I’d fucking do it. The thing is, much of a publisher’s budget goes for that quality control, art departments, and marketing. Writers get the lion’s share of what’s left, and maybe the publisher makes a profit or breaks even on the remainder. I take the “lower” royalty because it’s cost-effective for me to have someone else doing the copyediting, proofing, cover work, negotiating mass discounts with printers, etc.

      I understand your reasons for buying through Amazon, but please do not impute altruism to them, and please take a moment to think about if you want to be eventually buying books in a market where Amazon is the only game in town. How soon after they finish gouging big publishers will they start on the small ones? And after that, where will they turn for more profits? Again, simple: they’ll turn on the customer. Short-term, they’re great and very convenient. Long-term, maybe not so much. Much better to push back and nip that behaviour in the bud now.

      • Robotech_Master chimes in

        It doesn’t look to me like he imputed any motives to Amazon at all. He just said he likes to buy from them because they did things that make it easier for him and his wife to find the things they need. He doesn’t say why he thinks they did it. That doesn’t require any altruism on Amazon’s part; that’s just good business practice. Make it easier for customers to buy what they want, and more customers will buy what they want. That’s how Amazon got so big in the first place.

        Lots of people make the claim that once Amazon has driven everyone out of business, it will jack up its prices. But that assumes that there’s some gateway that bars new businesses from starting up.

        I have little doubt people railed against Barnes & Noble killing off the independent bookstores (they even made a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie about it) in the same way back in the ’90s: once B&N has killed off its competition with a broader selection and better prices, they’ll jack up prices and then where will people be?

        We know the answer to that, now: they’ll be buying from Amazon. Likewise, if Amazon does something to lose the hearts and minds of the consumers it’s cultivated so far, customers will turn to the next competitor, who might not even exist yet right now. They’re just fickle that way. Even the ones who say they love the Amazon brand now would drop them in a heartbeat if something even better came along. (I know I would.)

        Amazon can’t ever rest on its laurels. It has to compete not just against the businesses that now exist but against the businesses that will become competitors if it slips up.

        • chimes in

          The altruism he is imputing is that Amazon is somehow “good” for writers–he states his wife is an author and that Amazon is a godsend to her. Which, you know, great that she feels that way, but will it remain so once Amazon keeps doing business this way?

          You seem to have a very Randian way of viewing this whole thing. The market will correct itself, and in the meantime we should just let the corporation do whatever, no matter who it hurts? We shouldn’t even sound alarmed or protest because sooner or later it won’t matter?

          You’re going to have to find a different argument to convince me, sir. I suggest you read Tobias Buckell’s excellent takedown of the chain of logic you seem to be promoting.

          • Robotech_Master chimes in

            I don’t see how it requires altruism for Amazon to be “good” (in his/his wife’s opinion) for writers. (Vitamin C is good for people, but I don’t think it’s because it likes us.)

            If helping (some) writers aligns with Amazon’s business interests, Amazon will happily do it. If it doesn’t, they won’t. So far, it has.

            I don’t think any corporate entity is capable of acting altruistically. Not Amazon, not Hachette, not Barnes & Noble, not anyone in the whole publishing industry. Not when they’ve got shareholders to keep happy.

            Through trial and error, these businesses have found that they’re more successful when they can get people to like and sympathize with them. (As they’ve managed to do with a significant fraction of all American consumers now.) But that doesn’t mean they like you back.

            I expect we’ll just have to agree to disagree about the future of Amazon. Speaking as a consumer, I’ve been very satisfied with them on the whole, and I expect I’ll continue to be. If I get to the point where I’m not, then I’ll change my mind.

          • ecw0647 chimes in

            Just for the record, in no way did I mean to imply any kind of motive to Amazon or anyone else. I have no idea where that misreading came from. No company acts out of altruism, none. Neither publishers, nor retailers. They all act out of self-interest. What will make them the most money. Amazon filled a void that should have been filled by publishers, i.e. capturing a new market for ebooks by developing ereaders, etc., but typically, and this will be true of Amazon as it was of Montgomery Ward, as they get bigger and in love with the status quo and have invested in that status quo, change becomes very difficult. I could care less whether Amazon succeeds or not. Right now, Bezos has the luxury of being able to plow his profits into R&D and building an ever bigger business. The minute someone else has a better idea (and I’m playing around with Scribd) Amazon will start losing customers who are a very fickle lot , indeed.

            Likewise, authors need to adapt to new technologies and make those technologies work for them. Remaining wedded to the old way of doing things will be as successful as the corner bakery next to a supermarket.

          • chimes in

            Fair enough, thank you for clarifying.

            I’d disagree about the reasons Amazon became the behemoth it is, but I don’t think that would be helpful. :P

    • chimes in

      The thing that bugs me about the whole ‘Amazon is good for authors’ thing is this: I buy a lot of books. Amazon deliberately makes it impossible to sort the self-published books from the books that come from traditional publishers. I’ve bought a metric shit-ton of self-published books.At least 90 percent of them would have benefited from the care and feeding of a real publisher. A few were promising. Most of them were mediocre to bad. And a good chunk of them were incredibly awful. I mean…just awful. Stuff that would get you an F in sixth grade. And it’s up to me to sort out which is which. The ‘amazon reviews’ are useless. Some of those sixth grade F books had 4 or 5 star reviews.It’s one thing if I’m dropping 0.99, but Amazon is trying to discourage that price point, so now I’m risking 3-4-5 bucks on everyone of these books, most of which are useless.

      Amazon is drowning me in shit. How is this good for authors? They’re diluting the market and lowering the overall quality. Anyone who thinks the market for book is going to magically expand because of Amazon is nuts. It won’t. There is a pretty much fixed market of readers across which all these books will be spread. There will be less money for everyone and customers unhappy with the product. To coin a phrase….thanks Amazon!

      • Terrence OBrien chimes in

        It’s good for authors because they have the opportunity to enter the market and compete. Expanded opportunity increases the probability an author can make money.

        It’s no different than widgets. Widget makers enter the market and compete. Some prosper. Some fail. Those who prosper are chosen by consumers. Those who fail are rejected by consumers.

        Consumers seem to have figured out how to navigate and buy books on Amazon. Wecan see this because Amazon total book sales keep increasing, and sales of independent books have taken substantial market share.

        • chimes in

          It is different than widgets, I should think, if only for the hours of work necessary to produce a decently readable text.

          As an author–one who has been trad published, self-published, and small-press published multiple times for each–I can’t see how the particular things Rochrist bemoans are good for us in any of those publishing avenues. I’ve often fellow professionals in all three arenas remark that the “tide of crap” Rochrist talks about makes it harder to get even a good book–or a book with decent quality control–noticed, or sell enough to recoup the investment of proofing, editing, etc.

          • chimes in

            My costs have been minimal. I have an editor I have used for some of my books. She works as a freelancer for some niche publishers and has the recommendation of the guy who used to be Deputy VP of S&S. He now heads up a new publishing imprint, and employs her services. She was very reasonable. I think she charged me about $450 for a 90,000 novel, less a $25 discount because I recommended her to another author. (I didn’t know I’d get a discount until after the fact when she sent me my invoice).

            I haven’t used her on all of my books, and in fact, for my best selling book, I had a wonderful group of beta readers. I did have issues with that one when I first uploaded back in 2010, mostly formatting, and then I did something stupid with the find/replace that messed up the whole thing about a month after I uploaded.. That’s when a group of readers I met on an Amazon forum offered to proof/beta read the book for me. Many of them still beta read for me. Through trial and error, I have become decent at formatting. I learned it’s a lot easier to write the book with the proper settings in Word to begin with. It’s not fancy, but it’s neat and clean.

            In that same group, I met some other authors, and one is good at Photoshop and design. My first two covers were bad, but keep in mind, this was 2010 and at that time, there were not many freelance cover artists out there. So, that author made a suggestion that maybe I should use a skyline as the basis for my thriller. She even found a great image on Dreamstime, which I then bought, and she did a few minor enhancements and did the text on it. By that time, I had a second book out that had a good cover, but she put the same text on that one to make them match. Cost to me was about $10 for the image. That book went on to reach the top 20 on Amazon a few months later in June 2011. It ended in the top 100 in the store for that month. So yeah, that one and the second, which was in the 200 ranking most of that month, definitely paid off and costs incurred and then some.

            Next book I used the editor, but I had a friend who had a great skyline pic of Chicago she had taken. It worked perfectly for my series with some enhancements. She was thrilled to let me use it for an image credit in the book. (she’s also now the mother of my grandson. :D) Cost for that book was the cost of the editor, which I already mentioned above. I earned that out in a few weeks. I sold about 450 copies of the book the first month at $3.99. It earned me abotu $1200 that month, less the cost of the editor.

            The next book, I bought a cover from another author who is also a graphic designer. She is a NYT bestseller, and one of the reasons she attracted readers was she had a great cover. She sold me a pre-made for about $40. I have since changed just because I decided to go with a different skyline. I did that one entirely on my own. Next book also had a cover by another author who is good at graphic design. She had a one day special she posted on Kboards for a $20 cover. It wasn’t even a premade, but a custom, and then I did a little tweaking of my own.

            The last book, which I just published a few days ago, has a cover I did. It’s not fancy, but I like it and have had some compliments from others–and I wasn’t even asking their opinion. The image cost me about $5. It paid for itself about ten minutes after the book went live and I posted it on my author FB page.

            Marketing is a whole ‘nother ballgame. I have done a few Bookbub promos and the like. Those are, by far, the most expensive, but both times, they did pay for themselves and then some. In the last few weeks, I’ve made the first in my series perma-free and changed up a cover. Not because I didn’t like the cover–it’s the one that made the book a bestseller on Kindle, after all, but because I just felt it was becoming invisible to readers who browse the genre. I wanted something to snap their attention back to it. It’s only been a few days, but I have seen my sales improve so maybe the strategy is working.

            So, that’s my self-publishing journey. Sorry the reply is so long.

          • chimes in

            On the contrary, your reply is packed with useful information! Thank you for taking the time, I do appreciate it. It’s always awesome to hear about other authors’ strategies and success.

            It’s great that you have a community and a network that helps you spread those costs. I’m also curious about the personal time investment–the hours you spent not writing and revising, but doing other publishing work for the book and making arrangements. To your mind, is the investment of time spent, say, changing out the cover etc., paid for by the royalties you receive?

          • chimes in

            I believe it has, but I love doing this stuff. I wish I had better graphic skills, actually. For the first three books in my series, I worked a full-time job. Two days a week, I worked 12 hour shifts, the other two days, 8 hour shifts. On my 12 hour days, I’d leave the house around 5 a.m. and not get home until almost 7.p.m. By then, I was usually exhausted as my day job involves a lot of walking. However, I may not have been able to write those days, but I could usually do something book related. Maybe a blog post or something. Believe it or not, I was the most productive at that time. Now that I have more time, I waste more time!

          • chimes in

            I finished a couple of (admittedly terrible) trunk novels while working full-time and going to trade school as a single mother. Time seems to stretch to accommodate some things–and definitely, nowadays, I waste more of it as well. :P

          • chimes in

            Widgets are wonderful things. They stand-in for just about anything. Some take lots of time to produce, and some take less.

            But books operate in the market just like a zillion other goods (widgets). They aren’t special. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to write a book. The market doesn’t know or care. Some authors write six looks per year. Others write one in ten years. The market doesn’t care.

            Some widgets prosper in the market because consumers buy them. Others fail because they don’t. Same with books.

            The things Rochrist bemoans don’t seem to matter to consumers. That is because Amazon total book sales keep increasing, and their total independent book sales keep increasing.

            We don’t have to guess what the effects are. All we have to do is observe consumer behavior. They are buying more and more independent books,

            In terms of authors, they compete with each other. Some authors will win, others will lose. Just like with widgets.

            In general, independents have been the winners over the past few years as they have taken more and more market share.

            Fortunately, authors can choose the path they take.

          • chimes in

            Ah. I see. Books are a commodity like any other, and their quality doesn’t matter, the market doesn’t care about that. Is that a correct statement of your stance? And this means Amazon pursuing a monopoly on distribution is a marvelous, wonderful thing that will only benefit us all, authors and readers alike? Is that what you’re saying?

            Rochrist is a consumer too. Are you saying s/he is an outlier, or that Rochrist’s concerns don’t matter because people even buy crap? Is that what you’re saying?

            Total Amazon book sales and Amazon indie book sales could be increasing because of Amazon’s pursuit of a monopoly on distribution. How do you propose we differentiate between growth spurred by customer satisfaction and customers having no other choice but to buy from Amazon because of Amazon’s market share?

            As I’ve mentioned before, I am published with trad houses, small presses, and self-published to boot, several times in each category. It seems you’re telling me that my estimation of the situation is incorrect because I am not sufficiently “independent.” Is this the case?

          • chimes in

            Commodity implies they are fungible. They are not. Each is obviously unique. But they behave just like lots of other goods in the market.

            Consumers certainly care about quality, but they determine what they like. They don’t care what someone else thinks about it. They decide. They buy what they like, and it may be something another person labels as of poor quality.

            Amazon distribution monopoly? I don’t know an example of a retail monopoly. Has there ever been one? A monopoly has to control supply. Amazon clearly doesn’t control supply. They don’t produce books.

            A monopoly can also be enforced by controlling entry into the market. As Google and Apple have shown, Amazon cant keep anyone out of the market.

            We can also have a monopoly enforced by government. Local utilities are a good example. But that isn’t the case with Amazon.

            I would be very interested in an example of a retail monopoly. then we could see how Amazon compares.

            I agree Rochrist is a consumer. But i observe zillions of other consumers don’t seem to care about her concerns. Her concerns certainly matter to her, and the market is so large, with so many offerings, Id say just about anyone can find what they like.

            Customers have all kinds of choice. They can buy at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, or Google. They can go to B&N stores, local independent stores, and libraries. Id say they choose what works best for them.

            So, since I don’t accept the notion of a retail monopoly, I attribute Amazon total sales growth to consumer choice. I attribute the increase in independent sales to expression of consumer preference.

            Publishing status doesn’t matter in economic analysis. The same principles apply to examining both the book market and the widget market.

          • chimes in

            Mr O’Brien, do you work in publishing? I ask because you really do not seem to understand how books are created–and your stance, that books are widgets, does seem to imply they’re fungible.

            As far as Amazon seeking to monopolize distribution, I’d ask you to read Tobias Buckell on this, and then come back. I feel somewhat as if you’re not listening and do not precisely understand what’s going on here.

            I would put forward that comparing Amazon to WalMart, when it comes to predatory practices and seeking to monopolize distribution, might be a fruitful line of thought for you to pursue. And I don’t quite see that you’ve answered my other questions. Would you care to try again?

          • chimes in

            My existence has zero bearing on the issue. The issue stands alone, without reliance on either of us.

            Bucknell is wrong. He cites Walmart as a monopoly. It isn’t. There are all kinds of other retail outlets available. He also says we should watch what big companies do when they become monopolies. OK. Lets watch. What should we look at? What company?

            I am happy to answer anything you think I have missed. What question?

          • chimes in

            Your existence has zero bearing? How so?

            You categorically state Buckell is wrong. You state “monopoly” is the wrong word. Okay. What, in your opinion, is the right one?

            I am curious why you’re continuing to post here, since in your estimation there’s no problem, and everything is shiny-happy where Amazon’s concerned. What exactly do you want to say?

          • chimes in

            My existence has zero bearing on the issue because if I did not exist, the issue would be the same.

            I challenge the idea Amazon is a monopoly. I await response from those who say it is a monopoly.

            The fact that I see no problem is insufficient to keep me from challenging those who tell us there is.

            I initially came here because Passive Voice featured your post.

            But I can take a hint. i will move to Konraths place.

            Best wishes. May your sales be robust and your writing vibrant.

          • chimes in

            I am unsure how you got to anyone questioning your existence–I asked if you were an economist, was that it? I am quite puzzled.

            If you seriously don’t see Amazon seeking to monopolize distribution, and are unwilling to hear why I dislike the notion, I do suspect we have very little more to say to each other. It’s a pity, I was looking forward to picking your brain if you were an economist, and gaining fresh knowledge and insight from you.

            Passive Voice? Oh, yes–I read them during the Norilana Books thing. I believe what you’re referencing, though, was the post implying that I said Amazon preorders were the only metric for forecasting, a notion that would be justly derided had it actually been what I said. What I actually said–in the very post above, the one we’re both commenting on–was that publishers largely depend on preorders, period; it is an imperfect metric but one of the few they have during plenty of contract negotiations and budget/acquisition meetings, because of the way publihsing works and the time lag concomitant with getting a book through the quality control process. I further went on to say Amazon removing previously available preorder buttons and monkeying with their search algorithms to pressure Hachette has direct effects on the metrics used at contract time for many authors, especially midlist ones like me, and I’ve detailed why I found that troubling. I found Passive Voice’s misrepresentation of my words rather puzzling, but oh well. It’s his site, he can do what he likes.

            Thank you very much for coming by and commenting, Mr O’Brien.

      • chimes in

        @rochrist there are two easy ways to solve your problem. The first one won’t be able to tell you for sure if the ebook is indie published but check its product details. If it does not list a ‘publisher’ and date, then it is definitely indie. Some indie authors have set up their own businesses, however, and will include their publishing business name there. So no guarantees

        This next one will help give you an idea of the ‘quality’ of a book (regardless of trad or indie published) and that is to read the ebook’s sample. I cannot remember if it’s 10 or 20% of the book included in the sample. This is usually the last step I take IF price is a factor in buying an ebook. I don’t usually do it though as anything under $10 is way cheaper than anything I could buy locally. Paperbacks where I live are approximately $30.

        • chimes in

          Yes, it’s undoubtedly true there are steps I can take, and I do take them. But, the point is, it makes it that much harder to find content I’m interested in. I don’t really relish the notion of having to read 10 samples to find one that’s good. It’s also true that there are indication as to whether or not something is self-published or not, albeit not altogether reliable ones. But, for example, I used to always go and look at the new release listings to see if there were books coming out by authors I enjoy. Now, the majority of those listings will be self-published books and the authors I’m interested in are lost in the noise.

  20. atmaweapon chimes in

    Dd, dsmvwlng ppl jst bcs thy dsgr wth y nly mks y lk bd. knw y’r frstrtd, bt tht dsn’t jstfy bd bhvr.

    [Where are the vowels?]
    atmaweapon has been disemvoweled for any or all of the reasons listed in the Comment Policy.
  21. Jo Vandewall chimes in

    I have one of your books on my kindle. I’m going to delete if from my library because I refuse to support anyone who uses derogatory terms like mansplaining to denigrate someone just because they disagree with them. How arrogant.

  22. chimes in

    I posted a cogent comment on this blog. Two actually. And it got garbled. Apparently your spam protector sucks or your moderating is a bit suspect. Whatever. You signed a contract with Hachette. Take it up with them.

  23. chimes in

    hv t b hnst, yr hbt f rmvng th vwls f cmmnts y dsgr wth, dn’t cr fr t… t smcks f, wll, mmtrty. f smn s rd, bn th whl cmmnt. f nt, thn ddrss thr rgmnts. Bt wht y’r dng? Slly.

    s rslt, dbt wll vr rd n f yr bks.

    ls, fnd yr lgc r mzn nd Httchtt t b twstd nd dsngns, bt dn’t wnt t ngg y n tht dbt s tht t my b wst f tm nd brth nly t hv th vwls rmvd nd my pnts nt ddrssd.

    nd tht’s nt mnsplnng… tht’s cmmn crtsy.

    [Where are the vowels?]
    Todd Travis has been disemvoweled for any or all of the reasons listed in the Comment Policy.
  24. chimes in

    there was nothing in any of my posts to warrant a disenvoweling… no personal attacks, no foul language… nothing. just polite disagreement.

      • chimes in

        it was polite DISAGREEMENT… and yeah, it was polite, no name calling, no bad words, no personal attacks, none of that. I outlined my points in the “edited” posts above and the fact that it may have made you uncomfortable does not mean it was impolite…

        so if this is how you impliment your policy, I ask that you remove the comments in their entirety. It’s your blog, of course, you can do as you please. But I asked politely.

        • chimes in

          Sir. You called me disingenuous and immature, for starters. I won’t dignify the rest. You’re trolling, and that is unacceptable behaviour here. This is your last warning before your IP is banned.

          • chimes in

            Ma’am. It’s not trolling, however, if what you’re doing is both of those, I merely noted my reaction to how you were enforcing your policy… nor is it impolite… and ban me, if you wish, I asked you politely if you disagreed or did not welcome my comments, to remove them entirely rather than “edit” them.

  25. Terrence OBrien chimes in

    Well. One gets what one pays for, I guess.

    We don’t have to guess. We can observe the success of many authors getting 70% from Amazon after paying less than $1,000 for production costs. As with any good, one can make informed expenditures which yield the most for the dollar. And we have seen many excellent books where the author has spent $1,000 or less. They got great value for the money.

    So, with the 70% royalty from Amazon, a $2.99 price, and a good book, an author can do very well. The $1,000 is paid back on a cash basis after 500 sales. From that point on, production costs are not a charge against that 70%.

    • chimes in

      500 sales. How many of the books in your sample got to that benchmark? And how long did it take? I’m very curious about the timeframe here.

      • Terrence OBrien chimes in

        I didn’t present a sample.

        There is a very wide distribution among independent authors. Some never make 500. Others do it in a day.

        However, the alternative for many is to submit to an agent and reside in the slush pile. That yields zero.

        So, the risk takers expend less than $1,000 and push the KDP upload button. We can look at the Amazon fiction best seller lists for both aggregate and genre. They all show substantial independent market share.

        So, each author has to decide if it is better to submit to publishers in hopes of a 15% royalty, or spend a few bucks and submit to Amazon.for a 70% royalty. Both paths have successes and failures.

        • chimes in

          Without a sample, I’m afraid I cannot give much weight to your claims. I’m also puzzled by your comment about agents and slush piles–one doesn’t simply wait in one slush pile, after all. I’m curious–are you a self-publisher? I ask because it seems you don’t really understand much of any of the branches of publishing, or editing. Can you help me understand where you’re speaking from?

          I’m not sure either where you get the $1000 figure as the complete costs for proofing, editing, copyediting, cover art, and associated costs, or who these “risk takers” you seem to admire so much are. Yes, there is a wide distribution among self-published authors–but a sample could tell us more about the odds and help us compare those odds to, say, the odds of being trad-published or small-press-published, or e-only small press, or or or.

          It’s true that both paths have successes and failures. Unfortunately, some tend to overinflate the “successes” of self-publishing, and consequently seem to be overly emotionally invested in Amazon as a panacea when it is, alas, anything but.

          • chimes in

            Don’t like discussion without a sample. OK. What is your sample? Perhaps we can find common ground.

            There are as many slush piles as there are submissions targets. OK. Lets use the plural.

            Im speaking from the perspective of standard economic analysis. its not an argument from authority.

            I get the $1,000 or less figure from many independent authors who have divulged their costs. I also get it from sampling through the charges advertised by independent proofreaders, editors, and cover artists. I’m not sure what associated costs are.

            The best samples to date are from Hugh Howey and Data Guy. They captured snapshots of Amazon sales on three different days.

            I would be very interested in any other samples that exist. They could add valuable perspective. What sample do you use?

            Of course some over inflate the success stories of self publishing. Some others over inflate the prospects of success in pursuing publishing houses. I don’t care. But that doesn’t deter cogent consideration of the market.

            I would also agree many are emotionally invested in Amazon. They seem well balanced by those who are emotionally invested in publishing houses.

          • chimes in

            Ah, so you are an economist? What kind of economist?

            I’m weighing your samples mostly against my own experience of: Over a decade in publishing, 40+ books out through trad, small press, and self-publishing, as someone who makes a living from writing books, and also from my experience working as a submissions editor as well as freelance editor, again for multiple years, as well as the concomitant “keeping up with” in the industry that happens just as a matter of course through interacting with other professionals and professional groups, not to mention news articles, blog posts, and other avenues of information about my profession. I wanted to know where you were coming from, thank you for clarifying.

            As for emotional investment, I’m emotionally invested in being able to pay my mortgage, preferably with writing the stories I love and many of my readers seem to like enough to pay for. Mostly, trad publishing is a good way for me to do that, but as I’ve stated above, I’ve also published in small press and by myself, multiple times for each. It’s because I’ve worked both on the publisher side and the author side that I’m so concerned about Amazon’s strategy and tactics, and their effects on the publishing ecosystem. A robust publishing ecosystem aids me in my quest to pay my bills with writing. Even putting that consideration aside, a robust publishing ecosystem means more books for the absolutely rabid booklover I have been all my life. Which is the second component of my concern and disgust over Amazon–I see this behaviour of Amazon’s, in the long term, negatively affecting me as publisher, author, AND reader.

            I will say, as a professional, that I have found overinflation of success stories to be much more prevalent in self-publishing, however subjective my estimation may be. YMMV.

    • chimes in

      Also, I’d like to ask which authors, exactly, have the success you’ve been observing, and how that sample compares against other self-pubbed works beside them in the Amazon listings?

  26. Andrew chimes in

    The internet is rife with self-published author success stories. Many have even detailed what they did to achieve that. Brenna Aubrey, who turned down a three book deal to self publish, is a recent good example. But there are plenty of examples out there. Even if you discount the self pub outliers (Howey, Hocking, Freethy, Bella Andre), there are quite a few authors out there who are making a living writing and publishing through Amazon. And thats if you take the Authors Earnings report with a grain of salt.

    Failing that, theres always authors on Kboards who haved shared their success (or lack thereof)…

    • chimes in

      How do those compare with the less successful? What is the proportion of those you consider successful to those you do not consider successful? What are your benchmarks for each?

      • Terrence OBrien chimes in

        How do those compare with the less successful?

        They do far better than the less successful, and infinitely better than those who have no sales. It’s much like measuring the success of publishing house authors to all authors who submit into the publishing house system.

        What is the proportion of those you consider successful to those you do not consider successful?

        I don’t have an author earnings distribution for independents. Do you have one for publishing house books?

        I would say a book is successful if it earns a $10,000 profit or the author. But we are all free to choose our own definition of success.

        For publishing house authors, what do you consider successful?

        What are your benchmarks for each?

        As I said above, $10,000 profit.

        What is your benchmark for a publishing house book?

        “Success” is probably too imprecise to use as a measure. I’d like to see a real distribution of author earnings from both independent and publishing house books. This would be quantified by author profit, not total dollar sales.

        • chimes in

          Okay, so $10000 profit for the author. Is there a timeframe for that? Say, $10K in a year? Six months? As long as the book is available for sale? The last doesn’t seem very useful, given that the longer a book remains for sale the more that $10K is spread out over time.

          I’m curious about the term “author profit” as well. Is that royalty disbursement? Is it the amount after earning out an initial investment measured over the entire publishing life of the book?

          What, in your mind, is a “real distribution of author earnings”? Do you mean the financial information posted publicly?

          As an aside, it’s difficult for me to parse your comments when they’re in all italics and some of the sentences seem to be clipped from previous questions. Can we fix that somehow?

          • chimes in

            Sure. Lets say $10,000 over the life of the book.

            How would you define success for a publishing house author?

            Author profit is the revenue an author receives less author expenses. Just like in any business.

            How do you define author profit?

            A distribution of earnings would be a graph where the X-axis number of books, and the Y-axis is author profit per book. Its really not limited to my mind. It is a very common device.

            Cant fix the italics since there is no edit feature available. If there was, I would replace one of the HTML tags. Do HTML tags work here?

          • chimes in

            Okay. So $10K over the “life” of a book. How do you account for a book in print for, let’s say, 30 years vs another in print for 5 years?

            Author profit…there’s another knotty question. By expenses, do you mean strictly publishing-related expenses? In that case, a trad publisher bears those costs–proofing, editing, cover art, printing for paper editions, etc., vs a self-pubber. Does that mean a trad publisher allows an author to profit more, since those particular costs are borne by the publisher? How do we weight those costs and the “lower” royalties from, say, small press and trad against the “higher” royalties and higher production costs borne by the self-publisher?

            I’m sure it is a very common device, and I understand what you’re talking about, but some of the peculiarities of the book business seem to require some adjustmentsto properly account for the complexities of said business.

            HTML tags do indeed work here–strong and italic, as well as a href for links, etc.

      • J.S. chimes in

        It’s only the industry players (Amazon, NYT, big and mid range publishers) that compare authors to each other. I’m not certain why I should really care how the “less successful” are doing other than making certain I don’t make the mistakes they’ve made (if they’ve made any). I’m not really interested in spending hours plotting the sales trajectory of other people’s books. I’m unclear what I would get out of such a task.

        I self-publish on Amazon. I only need to know whether or not my titles make the same or more money than I would make in another job. They do, and so I don’t feel I really need to know much more beyond that. What does knowing that this week my title outranks someone else’s but last week I was behind that title by ten ranks have anything to do with whether or not I’ve earned enough money to pay my bills this month? As long as I’ve paid the bills, the metric is useless to me except as a point of data in an unending stream of them.

        I’m curious why you spend time studying other people’s successes. Is there a benefit to this?

        • chimes in

          I, in turn, am curious why you’re even bothering to comment here. It’s lovely that you’ve had such a positive experience with Amazon, and I’m glad for you. I find your non-curiousity about the state of the industry you’re depending on to pay your bills puzzling, but that’s your choice.

          • J.S. chimes in

            I was just wondering about why trad published authors would place such an interest in a ranking metric as it’s not really appropos of anything. Not being trad published myself, I don’t really know what would be of significance to authors like you.

            I am curious about traditional publishing, but I don’t depend on it to pay my bills, like I said I self-publish- which is an entirely different animal than what you do. What goes on between Hachette and Amazon has no effect on me. It does, however, reinforce to me that traditional publishing is probably not a good career choice for me. I don’t think I would want to get caught in a tug of war between a publisher and a distributor and have my titles held hostage. I think I’d much rather just be the author/publisher and deal directly with Amazon myself.

            Do you think you’ll end up ditching Hachette and self-publishing, then? I suppose you might have to, since you said they aren’t offering you more contracts due to flagging sales.

          • chimes in

            A ranking metric? Please explain. I don’t recall ever mentioning Amazon ranks. Do you mean something else?[*]

            What goes on between Hachette and Amazon does affect you, though. Like I said in another comment: “I’m very curious about another thing. Once Amazon finishes extorting lower prices from the smallest of the “big trad publishers,” i.e., Hachette, in this manner, and solidifies its grasp on monopoly of distribution, do you think their practices towards self-publishers and small presses will be free of similar tactics? If you do, what leads you to that conclusion? Do you feel that’s acceptable? If Amazon was treating you, as a self-publisher, in this manner, would you be okay with it?”

            Your concern for my career is touching. Actually, Hachette hasn’t stopped offering me contracts; the contract simply required an addendum to shift to another series I already had on the boil. The problems I have with publishing in the YA field are not poor sales, either. I am already a self-publisher, as I’ve pointed out before as well–and I have several books out with small press as well.

            [*] ETA: Ah, I see, I asked about Amazon rankings in another thread while asking about someone’s definition of success and what pool they were drawing their samples from. It slipped my mind, mea culpa.

  27. chimes in

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    [Where are the vowels?]
    Todd Travis has been disemvoweled for any or all of the reasons listed in the Comment Policy.
  28. Andrew chimes in

    Well, I’m sure I define success differently than you do, which is fine of course. But as an exercise (because I am not sure there is an egalitarian way to compare a self published Midlist author and a Hachette midlist author), I’ll pose this scenario to you:

    Person A, whose never been “professionally” published before, writes a book, and submits it to an editor, who passes on it despite liking it. A Hachette editor reads it, likes it and buys it. This book doesn’t get a lot of marketing support from Hachette, but sells about 500 hardback copies (out of a 1500 book print run) and 500 ebooks.

    Can Person A claim to be a successful author? I’d say yes, but then I also think the guy on amazon whose sold about 10 copies of his self published novel on Amazon is a success as well.

    By Hachette standards, is that a successful run? Can Person A expect to publish a second book through Hachette? A series maybe? Or do we have to wait for paperback sales before that decision can be made? By your standards, is Person A successful?

    Does this scenario meet/exceed your baseline of success?

    If you want to define success as “living of your book and book related sales” I’d hazard to say you’ll find many more of those successes on the self publishing side these days. An author I have corresponded with on occasion was able to quit his day job because the books he was writing sold enough that by waking up and working for eight hours, he was losing money in the long run because it was taking away from his writing time, and the sooner he was done writing the sooner he could send it off to his editor, get it back, make the changes and get it published, and start writing the next book

    There are a lot of writers (especially in the popular genres like romance and science fiction) that have been able to quit their day jobs because their writing has made it possible. A lot of these authors don’t earn six figures, but some do. A couple even earn seven figures, but those are outliers.

    • chimes in

      You use the term “Hachette midlist author.” I’m curious what you mean by this. For example, I am not only a Hachette author, I have been published by Penguin–a separate trad publisher–and by small presses (i.e., Samhain, ImaJinn) as well as by myself. Some of the newer commenters here seem not to understand that I’m a self-pubber too.

      I asked about Mr O’Brien’s definition of success because I’m curious what exactly he means. My own definition of success hasn’t seemed germane to this discussion. I will remark that whatever your definition of success in today’s publishing landscape, Amazon, by pursuing a distribution monopoly, is going to impact your chances of achieving it.

  29. chimes in

    Wow, I’m not sure how seriously to take the commentary that accuses Amazon of criminal conduct (or, a least, using inflammatory hyperbole to support an argument).

    I suppose I qualify as one of the “less successful” self-pubbers, so my particulars might interest you (to the extent that it’s relevant to an analysis of Amazon’s nefarious conduct).

    I submitted my first novel (I will not link) to major publishers through an agent, and waited 10 months for rejections, at which time, my agent suggested that I self-publish it while I worked on a second novel for TP submission.

    I self-published the book in September of 2011. It hovers between the low 100k and high 200k ranking. At it’s best (during promotional activity such as BookBub), it reached weekly Top 25 on Galley Cat (for B&N sales) and Top 25 on Amazon (not on freebie, on paid).

    It languishes now chiefly because of my own lack of promotional activity, which is entirely my choice (and at this point no different, I submit, than any other 2+ year old TP release).

    Since its publication, the novel has sold (sold, not downloaded) slightly more than 5,000 units (netting me more than the common $5,000 advance), ebook and paperback combined (the number of free downloads is >3,000). Not very impressive, comparatively, but still a number that would be equivalent to a large number of TP debut releases.

    In my observations and experience, my situation is fairly common. But the point is not how people like me compare to a TP author. The point is, it is because of Amazon that I am able to do this at all: Publishing with the largest market in the world, at no charge, and collecting 70% of my chosen price point, garnering readership and a good healthy number of excellent reviews – all after being rejected by Big Pub (for the usual unstated reasons).

    I have a hard time with the argument that this hurts me.

    I should also state that the odds are thin that I would ever consider a TP deal from a Big Five publisher, for the simple reason that none of them are likely to offer me contract terms that I am willing to accept. In my opinion, as a lawyer, the terms unilaterally demanded by most of them are more fairly characterized as “blackmail” (I think you meant extortion) than Amazon’s treatment of Hachette, for the simple reason that those two are negotiating from equal bargaining positions, and the debut author is not.

    • chimes in

      I find Amazon’s behaviour to be extortionate and predatory. If you choose not to take that “seriously,” that’s your choice. Starting your post off in such a manner does make me wonder why you’re bothering to comment here.

      Do you feel you are “less successful,” or do you assume that I would? I’ve merely asked Mr O’Brien about his definitions for success, I have put forward none of my own. I’m glad self-publishing has worked out for you in your situation, thank you for sharing.

      I’m very curious about another thing. Once Amazon finishes extorting lower prices from the smallest of the “big trad publishers,” i.e., Hachette, in this manner, and solidifies its grasp on monopoly of distribution, do you think their practices towards self-publishers and small presses will be free of similar tactics? If you do, what leads you to that conclusion? Do you feel that’s acceptable? If Amazon was treating you, as a self-publisher, in this manner, would you be okay with it?

      • chimes in

        Well… “extortionate and predatory” are terms that have a specific legal meaning – one alleging criminal behavior, the other violative of anti-trust law. I can only assume that if your opinion were supported by facts, Hachette would have remedies beyond “negotiation.” At this time, the only one of these parties who has been found to have violated anti-trust law is Hachette.

        I find the repeated use of hyperbole with no evidentiary basis detracts from the validity of your argument.

        Note: According to the most recent Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry (2013), the “smallest” of the big trad pubs (of fiction) sits close behind Random House at #6 among all worldwide publishers (all types) and #2 in fiction, with >$2B in revenue. Their profit in 2012 was exceeded only by Random House.

        • chimes in

          Indeed, they have a specific legal meaning, and I mean exactly that. As I am not on Hachette’s legal team, I am unsure why you’re bringing this up? I don’t think I’m engaging in hyperbole either, but if you think so, well, okay. Which just makes me wonder afresh why you’re bothering to comment here.

          Your statistics on the smallest of the big trad pubs–as you say, #6 among all worldwide publishers–are welcome, thank you. My question remains: after Amazon has made Hachette back down (if they do) what makes you think Amazon will not use similar tactics in the future, and are you as a self-publisher okay with that?

      • chimes in

        You have indeed asked me my definition of success, and I answered above.

        So what is your definition of success? For a publishing house book or author, and for self published?

        What makes a Hachette author a success? How many dollars paid to the author in what time frame? Are there any successes? How do we identify them?

        • chimes in

          A “Hachette author”–is this an author solely published through Hachette? Or is it an author whose income is derived in a certain percentage from royalties from Hachette-published books? I’m afraid I would be a bad case study, since I have so many different publishers, including myself. When you say “Hachette author,” what precisely do you mean?

          My ideas of success are largely personal. I keep asking commenters for theirs so I know what precisely we’re discussing. For me personally, success is earning a living wage from my writing. For some self-pubbed authors, it’s simply a certain Amazon ranking, others measure it by awards won or advances. It’s one of those terms, I’ve found, that requires me to ask what the other person means so I know what we’re talking about, since context is not always clear.

  30. Andrew chimes in

    Well, to me anyways, a “Hachette Midlist” author means an author published by Hachette who may not always produce a best seller, but whose sales are such that Hachette keeps publishing them. The example I gave above, could that be considered a successful midlist start?

    I think your definition of success if very germane to the discussion at hand, otherwise Mr. O’Brien’s definition wouldn’t matter either.

    Amazon doesn’t have a monopoly. A brief search shows me three places within a 15 minute drive for me to purchase your works, although to be honest one of them is a Barnes and Noble so that could become 2 places in the near future, and theres always your website, if the book I am looking for is available there, or Powell’s, or another retailer with an online presence. Oddly though, if I go to orbit.com, I can’t by books there, or at Hachette. If publishers are worried about Amazon having a distribution monopoly, they need to do more than that whole Agency Pricing mess and Bookish.

    What I find interesting is that as a distributor, Amazon’s under no obligation to carry a product, right? And in this current fight, they are the customer, and the customer is always right? Aren’t they? The tactics Amazon are using to get their way are quite legal. Barnes and Noble did the same thing with Simon and Schuster last year, and both Barnes and Noble and Borders undertook the same practice in the 80’s and 90’s, driving many independent sellers out of business. Yet now Amazon plays by the same rules, and those rules are no longer the right one to play by?

    As a book consumer, to the tune 150-200 titles a year, if Amazon wins this fight it means lower prices for me, enabling me to buy more books. Why, as a consumer, is that a bad thing? I suspect I know your answer, but I’m still interested in reading it.

    • chimes in

      Nobody has asked about my definition of success, they’ve simply assumed they know what it is. Are you asking directly?

      I suggest, if you don’t think Amazon is almost a monopoly, that you read Tobias Buckell’s excellent take on the issue. Their behaviour is straight from the monopolist playbook, and I find it difficult to believe you don’t recognize it as such.

      Amazon is, as you’ve said, a distributor–like, for example, WalMart. They have used their purchasing power to force suppliers to lower their prices in several ways. Some of this is healthy. When it becomes pathological, though, it’s a little terrifying. Amazon is not a customer, it is a distributor–I repeat this because so many people seem not to understand. The difference between this and the B&N/Simon&Schuster dustup is that Amazon has the market share now, and is seeking to consolidate it as any corporation who acquires this much market share inevitably does. If this was the 80s and 90s, and Barnes & Noble and Borders were behaving this way, I’d be blogging about them. I am not, because it’s 2014, and this is the issue before us now.

      You, as a consumer, understand that in the short term Amazon may enable you to “buy more books.” Let me ask you two questions.

      1. I am part of the ecosystem producing those books for you. I am a professional within this ecosystem, and my concerns about producing those books for you–because I want you to have them–are suddenly invalid now? Is that your position?

      2. Let us say Amazon wins this fight, and the ones afterward with other trad publishers. Let us further imagine that they start forcing similar terms upon small presses and self-publishers. Do you honestly believe that will have no effect on the number of books you buy? Do you further believe that once Amazon has a lockdown on distribution, they will continue to “keep prices low” for their customers? If, as you might well protest, the “market will correct itself” in response, with something else rising to take Amazon’s place, are you prepared for the drought of books that will ensue during that event? Do you understand the effect on the people who create those books you like to read, and their livelihoods?

  31. Andrew chimes in

    I missed this earlier, but I think it provides an interesting place to start a similar discussion from.

    “If Amazon was treating you, as a self-publisher, in this manner, would you be okay with it?” The problem with this argument is that Amazon isn’t treating self published authors this way. Traditional publisher though, have been doing this with authors for a long, long time.

    So, I’d like to posit this scenario instead:

    You are negotiating with a Big 5 publisher. They offer you a contract you don’t like, are unwilling to compromise on anything in it, and have basically told you that if you don’t like what they are offering (which is a boilerplate industry standard contract), try and sell your work somewhere else.

    If you took to your blog and posted about this Big 5 publishing companies heavy handed negotiating tactics and contract terms, what, if any, fallout would (could?) you expect?

    • chimes in

      I would like to add a single word: Amazon is not treating self-pubbed authors like this YET. What makes you think they will eventually refrain, should they continue getting what they want while using these tactics? What precisely makes you think they won’t raise prices for customers who end up having no other choice?

      Actually, negotiating with a Big 5 publisher is my agent’s job. It’s one of the things I pay her for, because I don’t like those sorts of negotiations. She works for me, and my success helps her, so she’s invested in me–much as a lawyer is interested in aiding their client. Your positing this doesn’t seem, to me, to be related or even marginally useful.

      Fallout? Hm. I suppose posting the contract’s terms and my issues with them would get interest from Writer Beware and other groups–frez, the Author’s Guild and NWU, both of which I’m a member of. I can see posting the terms as a service to fellow writers and explaining why I objected so other authors have ammunition and perhaps refuse to accept the same treatment. That’s about all I can think of, other than the interest in the brouhaha providing a mild spike in sales, if I had any books out.

      If you’re trying to imply I’d be blacklisted in some manner, I don’t think that would ever happen. By the time a Big 5 publisher gets to the contracts negotiation stage, they have spent significant man-hours already invested in the book, and have little incentive to be utterly unreasonable. If you’re trying to imply that the Big 5 are a monopoly just like Amazon, I’d be willing to go down the path a little further and hear your reasoning, and point out that right now they’re acting as a counterweight to Amazon and perhaps we can save them for later. But really, that’s about it.

      • chimes in

        I don’t think Amazon will act as you suggest because economic history doesn’t support the idea. We are often told monopolies raise consumer prices.

        OK. What monopoly? What company? When? What company raised consumer prices and was not met with lower priced competition. If this is how it works, then there should be many examples.

        If Walmart is a monopoly, can we say monopolies keep consumer prices low?

        • chimes in

          You seriously think Amazon will not act that way, despite their pattern of behaviour? And that they will keep prices low if they succeed in their tactics? I am afraid I am not quite the optimist you are, sir.

          “Met with lower-priced competition.” I’m going to quote here what I said in another comment:

          Amazon is, as you’ve said, a distributor–like, for example, WalMart. They have used their purchasing power to force suppliers to lower their prices in several ways. Some of this is healthy. When it becomes pathological, though, it’s a little terrifying. Amazon is not a customer, it is a distributor–I repeat this because so many people seem not to understand. The difference between this and the B&N/Simon&Schuster dustup is that Amazon has the market share now, and is seeking to consolidate it as any corporation who acquires this much market share inevitably does. If this was the 80s and 90s, and Barnes & Noble and Borders were behaving this way, I’d be blogging about them. I am not, because it’s 2014, and this is the issue before us now.

          You, as a consumer, understand that in the short term Amazon may enable you to “buy more books.” Let me ask you two questions.

          1. I am part of the ecosystem producing those books for you. I am a professional within this ecosystem, and my concerns about producing those books for you–because I want you to have them–are suddenly invalid now? Is that your position?

          2. Let us say Amazon wins this fight, and the ones afterward with other trad publishers. Let us further imagine that they start forcing similar terms upon small presses and self-publishers. Do you honestly believe that will have no effect on the number of books you buy? Do you further believe that once Amazon has a lockdown on distribution, they will continue to “keep prices low” for their customers? If, as you might well protest, the “market will correct itself” in response, with something else rising to take Amazon’s place, are you prepared for the drought of books that will ensue during that event? Do you understand the effect on the people who create those books you like to read, and their livelihoods?

          I suspect you’ll say something to the effect of “But we’re just discussing PURE ECONOMICS, and that stuff doesn’t matter for X reason!” To which I would have to say, if you don’t think it does, I don’t think we have much to continue discussing.

          • Diane chimes in

            Have you asked Hachette about the shipping issues? I’m only curious because it doesn’t seem like they are being that transparent with the authors when asked about the stocking issues. They have blamed Amazon, yet apparently refuse to reveal the purchase orders, according to Michael Sullivan.

            http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/an-authors-perspective-on-the-hachette-amazon-battle/

            Ask yourself. Who looks bad when Amazon customers don’t receive their books in a timely manner. They won’t blame the publisher, they will blame Amazon. How would delaying shipments benefit Amazon? Most customers don’t even look at who publishes a book, they only know where they purchased it.

            Look, I think this entire situation sucks and I understand wanting to defend your publisher. I just don’t think it is that black and white. Both sides are using whatever weapons they have in their arsenal to win the war.

          • chimes in

            Due to my own experience working as a publisher and for publishers, I find it very believable that Amazon was preparing the ground for negotiations by monkeying with the orders. Why? Because I’ve seen it happen.

            Additionally, as I’ve pointed out before, if you trace the “Hachette wasn’t shipping!” stuff back to its roots, you come to an Amazon customer service representative working off a script. Is that service rep going to say, “Well, you see, the publisher’s contract is up for renewal, so…” Certainly not. Since most readers don’t even look at who publishes a book, they will find it easy to believe it’s a faceless monolith screwing the nice customer service rep they’re talking to.

            I would also like to point out that Hachette is not my only publisher. I have 40+ books out this year, through Orbit (Hachette), Razorbill (Penguin), small presses, and my own self-publishing. If Hachette was being the asshole in this situation, I’d say so, because it would hurt me just the same–it is the authors who feel ripples from this keenly in their livelihoods. Hachette is, in this situation, not the problem.

  32. Andrew chimes in

    ” If this was the 80s and 90s, and Barnes & Noble and Borders were behaving this way, I’d be blogging about them.”

    And last year, when Barnes and Noble did this exact same thing, Simon and Schuster authors, heck, a lot of authors were quiet. I’m not seeing anything from you on this, but I could be searching wrong.

    “I am part of the ecosystem producing those books for you. I am a professional within this ecosystem, and my concerns about producing those books for you–because I want you to have them–are suddenly invalid now? Is that your position?”

    Here’s the thing though, and I know this opinion doesn’t sit well with authors: Without you as an author, that ecosytem lives on. For better or worse is a matter of opinion (although FWIW I’m in the worse camp). You quit writing, another author will try and take your place.

    Heres the harder thing to hear: Without readers, that ecosystem dies.

    You can’t increase readership by increasing the cost of a book anymore than you can spend your way out of debt.

    “2. Let us say Amazon wins this fight, and the ones afterward with other trad publishers. Let us further imagine that they start forcing similar terms upon small presses and self-publishers. Do you honestly believe that will have no effect on the number of books you buy?”

    At the moment, this is an absurd argument. By this I mean let us further imagine that the massive supervolcano beneath Yellowstone is going to erupt next year…so why worry about what Amazon might do? I not worried about what Amazon might do in the future. I’m worried about what Hachette and the and the other Trad Pubs are trying to do now. I’m worried that if Hachette wins, it will be the first step in a return to something similar to Agency Pricing, which led to me buying fewer books. If Hachette wins, the other Big 5 force Amazon into the same terms, raising books costs across the board, and passing those costs onto the consumer, me. Thats my concern, thats what I see lurking in the shadows Hachette is creating with this action. Granted, the shadows they cast are smaller than Amazons, but they are no less dark. Does Hachette have my best interests in mind by undertaking this fight? Should I not be worried about any nefarious plans they might have, or can I trust that their actions are truly altruistic? Is my concern somehow less likely/less valid?

    Of course, what Amazon and Hachette are fighting about is how much of that particular pie the size of their piece is going to be. They care less about me as a reader and you as a writer, but one of them cares a little bit more about me as a consumer. Should that not matter?

    “Do you further believe that once Amazon has a lockdown on distribution, they will continue to “keep prices low” for their customers? ”

    They’ll never have a lockdown on distribution, any more than Walmart has a lockdown on being the only place to buy cheap clothes.

    But, lets say Amazon achieves monopoly status. Someone will sue, their monopoly will be broken, and something will be there to pick up the pieces, I’ll bet you a tradpub house would sue, and it would win. I’ll also bet you if that tradpub wins and amazon is broken up, that tradpub house will have nothing in place to pick up what business amazon has lost. They’ll keep the calendars on their disk firmly in 1995, and figure out how to increase their share of the pie while screwing you and me over.

    “If, as you might well protest, the “market will correct itself” in response, with something else rising to take Amazon’s place, are you prepared for the drought of books that will ensue during that event?”

    There are more books being published today than anytime in history. Thats not a drought. But, lets say the Big 5 go away. Are your works, and other authors, suddenly going to be unavailable for an extended period of time? Are there no other avenues for you to reach the buying public? Are you not going to be able to self publish through iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords or even Amazon?

    Since were playing what if, how about this scenario: Amazon gets its monopoly and comes to you and says “You can sell through us, but only if you’ll agree to a royalty of 35% gross against every sale. Because we’re a monopoly, we’re cutting by what we pay out by 50%, and if you don’t like it, go somewhere else.”
    Is that deal bad for you and other formerly traditionally published authors?

    How necessary, in this day in age, is Hachette or any Big 5 trad pub in getting your work to someones ereader or to your local library’s bookshelf? How much of this current fight between Amazon and Hachette is about you and your fellow authors 25% of net and/or your ability to reach readers, old and new? How much of it is about me, the consumer?

    “Do you understand the effect on the people who create those books you like to read, and their livelihoods?”

    I do. This is a mostly symbiotic relationship after all, writers need readers, and readers need writers. I’d argue that at the end of the day readers are more important, after all without us, why write for money in the first place? I also believe this relationship is a lot closer to 50/50 than others want to admit. This day and age though, neither of us needs publishers. We do however need a distribution network, whether it’s Powell’s or iBooks or Amazon or your webpage is up to the reader. Right now Amazons the best game in town for that. And they’re the biggest game in town right now because tradpub refused to believe the market could change without them, and they’ve been playing catchup since the late 90’s,and really fell behind in 2008/2009, right?

    I’ve never bought a book based on who published it. Never. I buy them because the blurb is interesting, because the cover is cool, because Amazon and Goodreads suggest similar titles, because a friend with similar reading tastes read it and recommended it to me. I’ve bought some clunkers, and bought some books that I liked so much I went out and bought everything that author wrote. I know that the number of books i bought in 2010 and 2011 went down, and I know the increase in book costs as a result of Agency Pricing played a huge part in that. I also know Agency pricing wasn’t enacted to help me as a consumer save money any more than it was enacted to help you as an author make money.

    I don’t think theres a white hat wearing good guy in this current fight. I know there’s one side fighting a fight that if they win, is going to result in higher prices, meaning I won’t be buying as many books, which means my favorite authors will have a smaller dollar amount of net they’ll be getting payments from. I’m supposed to be OK with that? Are you OK with that outcome? Or is everything roses if Amazon loses?

    Appreciate the conversation,

    Andrew

    • chimes in

      Ah. Interesting.

      So, 1. Because I did not weigh in on the Simon & Schuster / Barnes & Noble issue, for whatever reason, my concerns about Amazon now are invalid? Is that what you mean to say?

      2. Authors are fungible, while readers are not. If that is your assertion, does quality enter into this at all? Why would an author bother to produce a quality product, or even write for publication at all, being so incredibly fungible and with a distributor using these tactics to seek market control? You seem to be asserting that there is an infinite supply of authors, so it doesn’t matter how much they get screwed or by whom, or that I shouldn’t say anything against Amazon because I am replaceable.

      3. You go on to mock my extension of Amazon’s business tactics, following them out to a logical conclusion should they continue getting what they want. (“A supervolcano between Yellowstone,” et al.) You clearly view my professional concerns about this as groundless. Is this a fair summation of your position?

      4. “More books are being published…” Hm. Yes. And how many of those are, to put it as another commenter here did, crap? Just because the numbers are bigger doesn’t mean there’s anything there you’d want to read, or that quality control–editing, proofreading, and the like–suddenly becomes free or unnecessary. You go on to ask that we instead imagine the Big 5 going away, or Amazon achieving its distribution monopoly and everything being fine because the terms might be better. I have difficulty imagining the things you posit, but very little difficulty imagining the effects of Amazon getting what they want, because to my mind, Amazon is like Walmart, or like a company in the age of the robber barons, and has shown that it will behave accordingly. Again, Tobias Buckell says it better than I can. Right now there are other distribution networks, yes. But if Amazon gets what it wants, what it is pursuing, what it has pursued a policy of doing for years now (as Buckell points out) those distribution networks may fold, or just not matter, in the manner of minnows next to a blue whale. Yes, eventually, if Amazon continues getting what it wants, it will fall apart, as monopolies and fascist regimes do. Is that a reason for us NOT to sound the warning about their tendencies and risks before they achieve the domination they seek? Is that a reason not to push back? Additionally, you ask how integral Hachette or the Big 5 are to libraries or people with e-readers. Their presence is part of a publishing ecosystem. When they become malignant, I can see having this conversation about them. In this particular situation, that’s not what’s happening, and Hachette is acting (as I keep saying) as a counterweight to what I and many other professionals can see as a malignant growth. Continuing to drag this red herring in is a tactic I’m rapidly losing patience with.

      5. You go on to state writers and readers are in a symbiotic relationship, where writers are fungible and largely interchangeable whereas readers are a precious resource. I am having difficulty wrapping my head around this one. Can you perhaps clarify?

      6. Agency pricing benefited, and continues to benefit me personally as a writer. *shrug* I’ll spare you the details since this comment is already ginormous.

      7. No, there is not a white hat. If Hachette was the bad guy here, I’d say so. I see them as a counterweight resisting Amazon’s (quite natural, for a corporation) desire to metastasize and greedily gulp all they can. Next year it might be Hachette looking to screw me, but in this particular situation, it’s not. Pointing and saying “But Hachette’s a corporation too!” seems a bit beside the point, since, as I’ve tried to explain above, if Amazon succeeds in using these tactics to get what they want, they will continue to use those tactics in the future, no matter how large or small their adversary/supplier.

      Amazon is not fighting for your lower prices. They are fighting for their own continued profit. Hachette did not want to raise their pricing. They are objecting to Amazon lowballing their prices–like I’ve said, a certain amount of that is healthy, but it has crossed the line into unhealthy, largely because of the tactics Amazon’s using. You raising the canard of not buying my books because they sudden cost too much because I object to Amazon’s behaviour in this situation is puzzling in the extreme.

      • ecw0647 chimes in

        As an example of a small company (not that Hachette is small) taking on a large one over pricing and winning is Organic Valley Dairies. I happen to know the people involved so I have some of the details. Walmart wanted to sell organic milk. Organic Valley is a large coop of farmers who insist on control the price of their product and they pretty much have a monopoly on organic milk much as Hachette has a monopoly on the titles of their authors. You want to get a Patterson book, you have to get it from Hachette.

        After the success of the organic milk sales in their stores, Walmart tried to get Organic Valley to lower their price. OV said no and at an impasse, OV withdrew its milk from Walmart. Not being able to find a competing source or organic milk, Walmart caved and is now selling OV milk *at whatever price* OV wants. There are several lessons in this.

        In order to be able to control price at the producing end, you have to have a monopoly on the product, (Hachette does for its authors,) and you have to be willing to withdraw your product (assuming there is a demand for it – Patterson is in demand, although I have no idea why) and sell only to the retailer/wholesaler willing to meet its price demands.

        The danger is that consumers will move to non-organic milk or other authors, but that’s where branding and a consumer base enter into the picture. I suggest that’s precisely why it’s in Hachette’s interest to reduce/delay or even stop delivery of their books to Amazon. If they have a strong brand and base for their authors, consumers will go elsewhere to get the books IF they are willing to pay more. As in the case of organic milk, perhaps they will be and Amazon, like Walmart, will have to fold.

        • chimes in

          I am afraid your analogy breaks down rather badly. Hachette does not have a “monopoly” on Patterson books. They rent the rights to produce them from him, according to the contract. Should he wish to, he can take himself to another publishing house, and while it would cost him to get said rights reverted earlier than the contracted date, it’s still perfectly possible. The only person who has a monopoly on Patterson’s books is Patterson. Hachette does not have a monopoly on its authors–I publish with several other houses, and also self-publish, just for one example. While brand and base enter into this a little, it’s apples and oranges to the situation you describe with organic milk and WalMart.

          On the other hand, Amazon has aggressively taken over much of the distribution of books from all publishers, by means both fair and foul. The fair means, well, that’s business. The foul means are what I am decrying, and furthermore I’m pointing out why they’re foul for my livelihood as an author not just of Hachette books, and for my fellow authors of not-just-Hachette-books.

          • ecw0647 chimes in

            I suspect you have a very liberal reading of Patterson’s contract and I suspect it would cost him a great deal to get the rights back for a particular book, but let’s say you’re right. Patterson has the monopoly on his works. He can then determine who gets to sell those works just as you could not sell your books through Amazon if you wanted. If authors are really unhappy with Amazon and you have the monopoly on those rights, don’t sell through Amazon. Sell only to B&N, independents, or whatever. Amazon can’t force you to sell your books through them. There are numerous alternatives. Organize and refuse to sell to them by denying them your product. I suggested by my analogy that’s exactly what Hachette may be doing. Whether it works or not will depend entirely on the strength of their brand.

          • chimes in

            It’s not a “liberal reading” of a contract. It’s my knowledge as a professional about how these contracts work. I will repeat: the publisher rents those rights, and the contract is about them bringing the book to market. The distributors provide that service, and when one distributor grows massive, eats the others, and starts behaving badly, authors are perfectly within their rights to say so without being scolded. “Well, if authors have the rights, just don’t sell to Amazon!” Wonderful advice for a principled millionaire, I’m sure, but not very useful to someone making a living in the real world. What, precisely, is wrong with pointing out Amazon’s predatory and toxic practices instead of simply flouncing away in a huff?

            Additionally, I have Amazon links on this very site. I don’t have them for me–affiliate links are a horrid way to make money, frankly–but for my readers’ convenience, because Amazon is convenient. There is no reason they cannot be convenient and still receive criticism for bad practices at the same time. I’m sure there will be times in the future when I criticize Hachette for acting badly as a corporation, my criticism will not then be rendered invalid by the fact that they’re one of my publishers.

            As for the ‘numerous alternatives,” yes, there are alternatives NOW. If Amazon gets what it wants, and swallows more of the distribution business, those alternatives stand a high chance of becoming rather irrelevant until the giant breaks up, as such things inevitably do. The point now is to dig in one’s heels before the giant has grown past the size where we can easily call it to account.

            Your analogy breaks down rather badly, as I said. I suggest finding another one. I thought about this and realized the deleted pair of sentences was needlessly ill-tempered. I apologise.

          • ecw0647 chimes in

            No problem. I certainly did not consider any of your comments ill-tempered. We just disagree on interpretations of some business tactics. I view both parties as self-serving, but I see that as normal business. I wonder what you think of the battle between the (now deceased) author and her estate of Julie of the Wolves.

            Quote from the article in PW: “Second, this case is at its heart more of a contract dispute than a copyright case, driven primarily by digital royalty rates. The author opted to go with Open Road for a 50% e-book royalty, while HarperCollins is said to have offered a digital edition, but refused to match the 50% royalty.” Harper is suing for more than a million. They certainly think they have a lock on their original contract and apparently the judge agreed.

            http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/62470-harper-seeks-injunction-in-dispute-with-open-road.html

            It would seem to me that given the amount of money Harper earned from this book since 1971, that refusing the 50% royalty on the ebook edition was rather worse than predatory.

          • chimes in

            Thank you–I did feel it was ill-tempered on my part, and I appreciate your generosity.

            I’m not up to speed on that particular case. I’d have to look at it.

            Both parties are indeed self-serving, I’m not disputing that. Neither of them are saints, but in this one particular case I think one is definitely acting like an toxic asshole, and the other not so much.

          • Robotech_Master chimes in

            Seems to me part of the point of ecw0647’s original post might have been lost. It sounds as if he was supporting the idea that Hachette might have been delaying fulfilling Amazon’s orders in order to put pressure on Amazon, in the same way that the milk collective he cited put pressure on Wal-Mart by declining to sell it organic milk.

            Hachette claims it’s satisfying Amazon’s orders “promptly,” but by whose definition of “promptly”? I and others have already provided the link to Michael Sullivan noting he was told by an Amazon representative that Amazon had placed more than a dozen purchase orders that Hachette was showing a two-week delay in filling. Sullivan provided Hachette with the chance to disprove this, and Hachette said no, they didn’t want to. Only one of those parties is offering any details at all. So they’re working from a script? Fine. That script had to come from somewhere.

            It puzzles me that in this era of just-in-time shipping, wherein entire supply chains are built on the practice of parts arriving at the factory exactly when they’re needed, Hachette apparently can’t turn around an order in less than two weeks.

            But leaving all that aside: this is a negotiation. Both parties have to be able to apply pressure on the other. If Hachette didn’t have any means of putting pressure on Amazon, Amazon would presumably just steamroller right over Hachette and be done with it. So, apart from withholding the one thing Hachette has that Amazon wants—its books—how is Hachette going to try to make Amazon knuckle under?

            If Hachette offered you unfavorable terms on your next contract, what would you do to try to convince them to offer you better terms? What threat would you use if they did not?

          • chimes in

            Just-in-time shipping or not, it still takes time to print a book and ship it. Like I said, I have personal experience of Amazon playing shipping games (albeit on a smaller scale) with small presses, so I have little difficulty believing them doing the same with a larger one.

            If Hachette offered unfavourable terms, my agent would negotiate on my behalf, and give me her professional advice on whether or not to take the offer.

    • Diane chimes in

      Andrew, I think you have made some great points. However, this seems to have turned into a trade pub versus self pub argument and, as a reader, I don’t like it.

      It is okay if you prefer self publishing, but there is no wrong way to publish. Self publishers are very vocal about respectability, while denigrating authors who choose to go with a publisher. Just my two cents.

      This doesn’t need to be about choices in publishing.

      • Diane chimes in

        Just to follow up. This isn’t a Revolution. It’s two huge corporate entities with a disagreement.

  33. Andrew chimes in

    RE your post at 1023, I have an answer for you, but typing it out while in the passenger seat is not a good idea. I’ll reply later this evening.

    Thanks for the replies,

    Andrew

  34. FutureSelfPubber chimes in

    Have you thought about self publishing, Ms. Saintcrow? You don’t have to worry about all these headaches if you do so. Plus, with your backlist and future titles at a 70% royalty rate, I bet you’ll be making more compared to staying with Hachette.

    I realize there may be some legal headaches associated with that but it’s worth a shot.

    • chimes in

      Your concern is quite touching. However, as you can see above, I have dozens of books out, through trad publishers, small press, and yes, even self-pubbed. I am quite aware of the varying risks and benefits associated with each. Thank you.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I’ve seen this come across my radar a couple times this week, so before I put up today’s final Boosting the Signal post, I’d like to talk a bit about the huge brouhaha I’ve heard about going on between Amazon and Hachette. Agent Kristin Nelson talks about it here, and she links off in turn to this post on the New York Times. Author Lilith Saintcrow talks about it here. […]