Monthly Archives: August 2014

Hachette vs Amazon – The Flip Side

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Now for Part Two – The Flip Side.

I find it interesting that Hachette asked their authors not to talk about the dispute between Hachette and Amazon because Hachette wants to control the message – only have one voice for their side of the dispute. That’s actually a good idea, and I’m sure their lawyers are grateful considering they’re still in negotiations. Although the world is a cynical place and no doubt many see it as akin to a gag order, especially when Amazon has gone the exact opposite route and sent letters to its indy authors inviting all of them to put in their two cents – after carefully telling them what Amazon perceives the problem to be and telling them what talking points to address. Authors clearly cannot be trusted to think about these things for themselves. Ahem.

I posted a link to Amazon’s letter and, while Hachette has made their own statements, I’ll point out some authors aren’t siding with Amazon. Clearly some can think for themselves. Oops. Here’s a link to that letter. It’s worth looking at a list of what some notable authors are crying foul over.

Now, a point was made a week ago when the Authors United letter came out picking apart the argument citing that books from Amazon’s presses aren’t sold at all bookstores, so their authors are as much a victim as Hachette’s and the letter is hypocritical. No. It’s true that books from Amazon’s presses aren’t sold in all bookstores, but that’s a matter of distribution. When you choose a publisher, you are limited to that publisher’s distribution options. What the letter is referring to is a bookstore or retailer having the book on the shelf, having the customer available, and trying to convince the customer to purchase something else instead. That is what Amazon has been doing to some of Hachette’s authors because of this dispute.

Now Hachette, in their ever polite, understated way (which proves my point last week that they’re not living in today’s business world) says the dispute is over Amazon seeking more profit and market share at the expense of the authors, bookstores, and publishers. I hesitate to point this out, but they’re a business. You’re going to have to make a more forceful statement than that to get my attention.

And let’s loop back around to eBook pricing that Amazon says this is over. Specifically, let’s look at allegations of collusion. Amazon didn’t have to dig deep for that little gem, they were involved in the lawsuit, having brought the eBook pricing issue to the DOJ’s attention. Yes, the DOJ went after the Big Six (remember, it’s really only five) but the publishers were the sidekicks in this story, the ringleader was – Apple.

Do I believe the WSJ story? Yes, I always did. Sorry, Hachette, but the Big Six are dinosaurs in their thinking, I’ve been pretty clear on that point, and Apple is historically ruthless in theirs. Apple has been dragged into court many times before for their business practices, this isn’t a surprise. Hachette was one of the publishers who settled, by the way. They learned their lesson, paid their fine, it’s in the past.

By bringing it up, Amazon makes you not like them. Just like Authors United paints a bad picture of Amazon by telling you about what they’re doing to Hachette’s authors. It’s a PR war.

Who’s right? I don’t know everything that is in dispute between Hachette and Amazon. This is about more than eBook prices, or at least it better be. This is about control. In that context, I have to side with Hachette.

Hachette is, in a way, representing the Big Six, and by extension, the publishing industry. Publishing houses, and the extended support staff that surround them, provide direction and structure for the industry as a whole. Even indy authors benefit from it. Lessons and information are frustratingly unidirectional, it seems, but it’s better than not having the information at all. Hachette has a history with publishing. They need to update their thinking, but they understand why books are important to society. Quality is important to them, authors and readers mostly trust and understand it, even if there are growing pains at the moment.

Amazon is a business, period. Granted, they could do less to encourage a quality product, but it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to do so much more. Taking a few tips from competitors such as Smashwords, B&N, or major publishers, could help them and their authors offer a more consistent quality product for their customers. They’re so concerned with pumping out books, making it easy for anyone to publish almost anything and getting their 30-70% that they don’t care when their authors publish a book two chapters at a time and call it a series.

I publish with Amazon. I don’t want them in control of the publishing industry, I don’t want that future. They know how to do business, but not how to promote literacy or artistic expression. There’s no place for literary agents in an Amazon-based future. Brick and mortar stores, then libraries, will shrivel and many will die. Many already have, but more. We’ll lose a lot of young readers when there’s nowhere for them to go to browse and see what simply catches their eye. Children need the tactile feel of books to begin to love them. Toddlers like to touch things and be visually stimulated by the colors and pictures. They can’t get that online. They’ll graduate to eBooks later.

Amazon is a business and it has its place. That place is not directing the future of literature. Leave that to publishers.

 

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(And secondly…) Concerning eBooks and Hachette

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And here we are on part two. Part one of part two. Before I said ‘first’ remember? Well, the second thing that dropped on my lap doesn’t directly concern my books, but does concern me. Amazon reached out to its indy authors regarding its ongoing dispute with Hachette. You can read a similar letter here.

For those not intimate with publishing, Hachette is one of the major publishing houses that everyone lovingly refers to as the “Big Six.” Except now there’s five. They’re kind of dinosaurs and resistant to change, in evidence is that even the nickname doesn’t change. Part of the dispute is that their business practices and policies don’t change and Amazon takes exception to that.

In fairness, Amazon some of the time needs a swift kick to the backside themselves, but they’re better. Some companies (by this I mean the Big Six) have been in business so long, they’ve forgotten how to be flexible in their thinking. In today’s world, that’s not a good business plan.

Amazon’s mad Hachette wants to charge too much for eBooks. The cost of eBooks is a long-standing debate. Why do they cost what they do? If you’re Stephen King, you could sell an eBook for $19.99 because you’re (ahem) Stephen King. However, Stephen King is cooler than that. On Amazon, Doctor Sleep is currently $13.36 and The Shining is $1.99. I even looked at Amazon’s Best seller list, and the most popular price point appears to be $4.99. Of course the prices vary, from $0.99 to $13.99 for a single book. (There’s a reason for $4.99) The eBook that’s $13.99 is HarperCollins, not Hachette, by the way.

Is cheaper better? It’s a balancing act. Free is a great deal, but it doesn’t demand respect from the reader. If they pay for the book, they will take the time to read it. Frequently readers download anything that’s free and looks halfway interesting. It’s fine. It means if a writer doing a free promo weekend, and getting 5,000 downloads, can’t really excited. It’s not really a success. Pricing the book at 99 cents for that same weekend and getting 500 sales? That’s a lot better. Pricing the book at $5.99 will not still get the same 500 sales though. Don’t be naïve. But maybe there’s a good cover, good description, and the writer can get 150 sales a week at $5.99. If you raise the price to $7.99, sales will drop. If you lower the price, sales will rise.

The more novels the writer has, the longer he’s been writing, the more books he’s sold (not given away on promotions), and the more readers that are loyal to him all add up to the more he can charge for his books. It’s a basic of economics and the Big Six and Amazon are aware of it. Amazon addressed it in their letter, and I’ve found it to be true when I’ve played with my pricing. Still, there is a point to free or cheap eBooks. It encourages new readers to take a chance on an author or series they’re not familiar with.

There are costs involved with bringing any book to the market. Yes, even eBooks. The writer puts in a lot of time. A lot. Some of us more than others. I will grant some writers are blessed with the ability to type like the wind, or pristine first copies. Others take a year to get that first rough draft finished and it’s something that needs to go through another year of revisions, alpha and beta readers, and five rounds of professional editing before its fit to be seen by a reader. There’s a range of skill level out there. Then you add in costs of formatting and artwork (if needed) and cover design.

At this point an eBook might be done, but a print copy isn’t by a long shot. Print copies need paper, forecasting, stocking, distribution, a whole other host of costs that eBooks simply don’t have to deal with. So why should an eBook cost anywhere near what a print copy does?

From a publisher’s perspective, they’re paying for the editing and artwork once, the formatting twice (you have to format eBooks and print differently, but it’s not rocket science and these are professionals), the cover twice (eBooks don’t need a spine or back and print needs a ‘bleed’ area), and the same marketing (if they bother which they rarely do now anyway). In other words, they’re paying a bit more to bring out two versions, but not much. For the most part, the cost is a fraction of a cent per book. Publishers tend not to give advances anymore, so where is all the overhead in the eBook they’re trying to recover by pricing it at $15 or $20?

It isn’t the overhead that’s making them price it high. It might not even be greed. Their statement is they don’t want to ‘devalue’ books. It’s still a book, so that doesn’t wash. They need to grab a dictionary, I assume Hachette prints one. It could be that they don’t want to drive readers toward eBooks faster than they already are. It’s a losing battle, but I can see the Big Six thinking that way. As I said, they’re dinosaurs in their thinking.

If their readers are faced with buying the latest best-selling novel as a hardback at $20 or an eBook at $19.99, they’re going to choose what’s convenient for them. If they’re faced with the eBook at the reasonable price of $4.99, many would choose that, even if it’s not their preferred format. The publisher loses $15 they didn’t have to and it’s another nail in the coffin of print books – which the Big Six can’t afford.

Do I understand? Yes. Do I agree? No. I’m sorry boys, pull the Band-Aid off quickly. Embrace change and update your business model. As it is, you’re driving authors and readers to a plethora of independent publishing companies, some not very reputable (from an author standpoint). Corruption is gripping the publishing industry. Companies like Amazon and Smashwords make it too easy for people to self-publish with no quality control and standards are falling. Even your own editors aren’t as good as they used to be. Every time a poorly written or edited book comes out of a major publishing house and every time an indy author gets a movie deal or hits a national best seller list, it makes more authors and readers alike become more dismissive of the power the publishing houses used to have.

It’s probably too late. We should have had this talk a decade ago. So, damage control: put some younger, forward-thinking CEOs in charge. Purge the dead weight. It’s a business, not a dynasty.

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Catching Up (1)

 Make-A-Wish-Release

I’ve been remiss in my blogging and I apologize for that. I have gotten more than a few things done, however. First, in the realm of my own novels, I did a soft launch of Make A Wish! the latest in the Genie in Your Pocket Collection. It’s not really a sequel to Be Careful What You Wish For, but it does have guest appearances and answer questions readers of the first novel may have. To celebrate that, I lowered the price of Be Careful What You Wish For to free on Smashwords. It’s also an experiment. I’m curious about how long it takes to push that update to Barnes & Noble and if Amazon will ever match it. You see they used to say they match prices. Then they say they can’t match every price reported, but they try to ensure their prices remain competitive. I’ve had AKA Lexi Frost at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble free for weeks, and told Amazon, and they still won’t price match. As an author, I can’t set the price below 99 cents. If a book isn’t exclusive with Amazon, it doesn’t have free promotion days. This is the only way to do promotions – when they let us – or have free books.

 

Speaking of Lexi Frost, Never Ready is out in paperback now and Transitions will be shortly. It’s a relief to get that done. I’m also ahead of schedule with Transitions’ sequel, In Her Sights. Originally I was planning on releasing that spring/summer of 2015, but I may actually make it this winter. Wow. And lastly in my books, I’ve made a big breakthrough on getting the sequel out for Chrysanthemum also. That is a whole other headache and conversation. Another time. 

 

There is a slightly longer rant to come. It’s also more meaningful. Be warned. 

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