Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Moves in E-Publishing

I just read this morning about a program now available to self-publishing authors. According to an article in the Washington post...

"CEO Jeff Bezos previously announced a self-publishing program in which authors can sell Kindle books on the site and keep 35 percent of the proceeds...

Look, those of us in the publishing industry have gone over this time and time again. There is a place in the world for people to self-publish, but in this case, in my humble opinion, this is just a way for companies to prey on those writers out there lacking the knowledge of the business. These authors have seen a rise in e-book sales (in fact many probably got their own at Christmas), and now they think tons of people will go out there and buy their books simply because they have an e-book reader. Heck, according to the same article, e-book sales out performed regular book sales this year.

I know, I know, e-publishing gurus and media moguls are screaming, "see, I told you so" and the self-publishing people are screaming "See, the mass market is interested in what I have to offer." Sorry to say it, but this is far from the truth.

We have to consider several things here. Work with me on this one because I am still waiting for the coffee to finish brewing (this is a no coffee article).

  • Obviously ebook sales would go up. Who would want to give someone an e-reader without something to read on it. This is like giving a kid a Wii system and then saying it is up to them to spend their own money and get the games.
  • The true test is to check back in 6 months and see how many people are still reading. I am thinking here of that post holiday let down. We see the same thing with kids. Play with a toy and by Jan. 1st, they are already bored with it.
  • The self publishers are just being sucked along with this media frenzy. Time and time again, I have heard self-publisher say they took that route because the traditional publishers just didn't have a market for their writing? Huh? What do you mean people in New York or London don't want to know about the underwater pottery making industry of Bodfish, California. Hey, if they don't want to buy the book in hardback, they won't in e-book.
  • But now it is available world wide on the internet! Again, how will we find you. Sorry to say it but I (along with a lot of other readers out there) don't just surf Facebook for a random new author on something obscure. And when I go to any online retailer, I am looking for something specific.

I still have to say, I honestly do not believe the book industry is being taken over by the e-book thing. I am more likely to pick up random books at the books story simply because it is sitting on the shelf next to the one thing I went in to get. Come on, I know you are all the same way, I hear it all of the time: "I went to Borders to get one thing and walked out spending $200.00."

Sure, the e-book thing is great. I love my reader and use it when reading all of my author's work. However, I have to say, this new move to bring in the self-publishing people, although it sounds very generous, just has a funny smell to it, at least from my perspective.

Ahhh, the coffee is finished. Off to get that well deserved cup. Oh, and when I am in the kitchen, I may browse the left-over Christmas cookie treats. Who knows what I will find there (hmmm, that sounds like a reference to a book story excursion).


  1. Well Scott, I am happy to see you take up this topic. I am good old anonymous who realized to my bitter regret that I am still writing, but have not been reading for quite few years. I already mentioned the reasons in an earlier post, but have continued to wonder why else I might have virtually stopped something that was my life until recently.
    Reading is a solitary activity, and watching a movie still allows me to be with the rest of the family.It feels selfish to hole up somewhere alone, in the only time I have at the end of the day to be with everyone else.
    I've always tried to support other writers-why should anyone read my work, when I seldom have time or money to buy or read theirs?
    Doggone. Once again, I am NOT more likely to read something on a tiny reading device (more squinting at the end of the day!) nor am I likely to be engaged by the flood of self-published material, much of which will be SP for the usual reasons.
    I still say about the last remaining market is teen and preteen girls. I notice many of the top books on Authonomy are aimed at the YA market.
    What a sorry situation. Maybe romance readers will be the die-hard holdouts in the rush toward newer media entertainment. I'll look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on the e-book revolution. I wish. Hope I am so wrong on this.

  2. ePublishing might do better if the books were priced more appropriately. Anything interesting seems to cost more than a paperback at the bookstore--and there's no paper and no ink!

  3. Funny smell? I’m gagging here! This is just another tumble down the line of mistakes that started with - well, I was going to say self-published authors, but is it truly the ‘self-published’ author that’s the concern, or is it the cloaked version of Vanity Press that’s being called self-publishing - that we’re presently looking at? You know, where a previously reputable house - decides to make money off a stagnant, but available, byproduct of their company’s waste. Sound harsh? Maybe, but when publishers can make more money taking cash from aspiring writers than by selling books to the public, both the writer and the reader suffer.

    I do like your idea about revisiting and assessing the situation in six months time. Because it’s true. You can slap a brand name on a product. Take Coca-cola for instance. This is a well branded product, trusted, proven and enjoyed by millions and then? Some pencil pusher - looking at the bottom line of profits says - let’s introduce something different. Yeah, let’s call it Coca-Cola Zero or One or The Soda that will always be on the bottom rung of our company’s ladder. Always! Oh sure, there might be the initial excitement of the consumer who wants to taste this new version, but when it disappoints - it’s not long before word of mouth kills all momentum for the product to be effective in the marketplace. Which is a shame, because maybe that product would have done well if it hadn’t been expected to live up to the brand name they slapped on it...but hey, now that they introduced it - and the public has had a go at judging it - it’s a dead issue, right? It doesn’t matter how long anyone worked to make that liquid tasty - no one is interested.

    Which makes me wonder...if I can figure this out - why haven’t the publishers who are expanding a market they know can’t be supported? *scratching my head here* And by doing so, haven’t they run the risk of diluting their brand at the detriment of the authors they currently represent? There has to be a reason, right$...oops, sorry - typo! :D

    Just my .02

  4. Murphy,

    I generally agree with you, but I see opportunities for e-publishing. Not in self-publishing or vanity publishing, because a market needs to exist for the content, and I suspect the content for these segments will not be good enough to create demand.

    However, I see e-publishing as a major change in technology that could greatly change the industry. It should eliminate printing, distribution, and return costs drastically reducing the cost of producing a book, lowering the breakeven point, and opening niche markets. The quality of the content must still be good, but opportunities should open for titles that won't have a mass market.

    Twenty years ago I worked for one of the large mini computer companies on Route 9 outside of Boston. Executives scoffed at the PC and called them "toy computers". Today all of them are gone. How does a $16 billion company like Digital disappear? By ignoring changes in technology and sticking to its old method of doing business.

  5. Murphy, brilliant! I absolutely agree with you on this one. I'm readying my 'Murph' stamp on this one all the way! It really is about the money to be made off the slush pile, which btw, was as you said, a waste by-product, but now is targeted as suddenly income producing? Shameful. Great analogy. I just hope any would be writers, that read this, are paying attention and understand all the consequences of putting their work out there for public consumption or lack of it.

  6. Not in self-publishing or vanity publishing, because a market needs to exist for the content, and I suspect the content for these segments will not be good enough to create demand.

    I like what you're saying here, but I would make a distinction between 'self-publishing 'and 'vanity publishing'. I truly believe there's a vast difference between the two. Yet, now with the lines being blurred it's hard to see it. Humm, kind of reminds me of Bill Clinton defining sex for a whole generation of kids, when he selfishly maintained: "I did not have sex with that women!" Okay, so what you DID have with her, wasn't sex? All righty then.

    Anyway you slice it or dice it, it comes down to this: It’s an abuse of power from someone that was not only well liked, but deeply trusted by the masses that followed them.

    And hey, I’m not against technology (although it may take me longer than most to warm up to new things. Why, this time last year I didn’t even know what a blog was - sad, huh?) No, in this instance, I would say that I’m disappointed that another company within the industry is running to catch a ride on the money train...Geez, they better hurry too. Because I can see this crashing and burning, but unfortunately by then - there may be many talented casualties left in its wake.


  7. Self-publishers have been able to make Kindle versions of their books available on Amazon.com for at least a year. What's new about this? Is the "program" to help authors do this new (Kindle formatting?)? Or are these percentages new?

    I see this development as slightly different than the HQN fiasco. HQN has always billed itself as a legitimate publisher, yet their new *vanity publishing* arm (and I heartily agree with Murphy that there is a big difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing) undercuts their professionalism - not to mention their slimy attempt to drive authors to the site via rejection letters.

    However, amazon.com has always billed itself as a bookseller. If someone does want to treat their self-publishing as a business and do all the work associated with driving sales, the main problem has always been how to get their book into the hands of readers. A bookseller can legitimately offer this service to a self-publisher.

    So, I can't determine this for certain (as I don't know if anything has actually changed with amazon.com's approach after this announcement, or if was just a publicity move), but as long as amazon.com is upfront about what they will or won't do for authors and the costs involved, this seems more like self-publishing than vanity publishing.

    Jami G.

  8. Jami, you bring up a good point about Amazon. I just can't help thinking though, that this is different somehow. Maybe HH is too close to the talent? There's no arms length here. I mean, Amazon isn't saying no - then yes. They aren't dangling a carrot - suggesting that a writer who does this could be that needle in the proverbial haystack to be discovered by one of their editors at some point (like HH does with their: We'll be monitoring...) So what does that mean? The public gets to read their slush pile for them and weed through it? I'm sure it ain't pretty - and yet, we're expected to pay for the privilege? The danger here - is the dot to dot process they've (HH) has designed. Where before, a self-published author had to do all the leg-work, research and hopefully in the process learn a great deal, or else buckle down, pull-back and improve their craft before putting their work out there for general consumption, now we have the shake and bake version of how to self-publish. Easy enough for anyone to follow, but worse, it's a plan that's backed by empty promises leveraged against someone's dreams. I'll make a prediction now - within a short period HQN will find a star in that haystack and hype it to death - at least they'd be smart to do this if they want to milk this cash cow until it runs dry...and it will run dry.

    Hey, did I get my point across? No? I guess what I’m saying is there’s a presumption of professional judgement coming from HQN. They look at your work and when they deem it unfit for their house and reject it, they kindly suggest you go to HH? This is where HQN differs from Amazon. Amazon makes no judgement on anyone’s work. It is what it is.


  9. Yes, Murphy, I agree. Amazon.com's approach (unless they've changed something) doesn't make any implied promises, it's simply a business offering. HQN's approach does include the implied promise of HQN monitoring sales of the vanity stuff for diamonds in the rough. Therefore, HQN = slimy. :)

    I still don't think that amazon.com is the way to go for any author that isn't 100% prepared to do everything themselves, but for those willing to do it all, it seems like a legitimate option.

    Jami G.

  10. "Look, those of us in the publishing industry have gone over this time and time again. There is a place in the world for people to self-publish, but in this case, in my humble opinion, this is just a way for companies to prey on those writers out there lacking the knowledge of the business."

    Simple rule of thumb, Scott: if the outlet in question charges the author a fee, it's vanity publishing, and your words above make sense. If not, it's not, and they don't. If there's no fee to the author, which is increasingly becoming the norm by the way, then there is no avenue for the company to "prey upon" the writer except by taking a percentage of gross sales (between 30% in Amazon's new model and the 15% taken by Smashwords), and that only amounts to a good chunk of money if the book actually succeeds, in which case the author is unlikely to complain. Most people would not call that "preying," since in reality it amounts to a hell of a generous royalty percentage.

    This is a new phenomenon, which means that you in the publishing industry cannot have "gone over this time and time again," because until recently you haven't had the opportunity. What you may have "gone over time and time again" is the mistake of using a vanity publisher, with which you seem to be confusing something radically different. Of course, there's no guarantee of success going this route, but there never is in publishing, and there's nothing risked, either, and potentially much to learn.

    I also think you're wrong about ebooks. I think from this point we see exponential growth, ironing out of wrinkles like incompatible formating platforms and DRM-stupidity, and within five to ten years epublishing will be the norm and print publishing will be the marginal exception.