Monday, February 1, 2010

A Case for the Writer - The E-book Issue

I know most of you are aware I try my best to stay out of politics. I am an agent who is in this for the writer and want to see high quality writing out there for people to read. That is the literacy specialist in me. I do want to bring up something that a few people have touched on but I think needs to be brought a little more to the forefront.

As most of us have heard all weekend, Amazon adn Macmillan have been battling over the price of electronic books. Time and time again, I have seen people on the net screaming about the money the publishers or Amazon would be making, but we again seem to forget the author out there.

Hey, I am all in favor of advancing technology and moving into a digital age, however, we have to bring the author back into the equation. Writers have fought long and hard to see an increase in advances and royalties. For a new author, spending those hours sweating, crying and laughing over a book, should be worth something. Decreasing the cost of a book has a trickle down effect to the author who finally ends up with little.

Now before any of you jump in on this, I am not talking about those mega-authors here - the ones who have been around for a while - I'm talking about the average, mid-lister.

Sure, the same process of editing and marketing goes into an e-book. A book is a book. But the cost cutting comes in the form of printing. In essence. the e-book becomes a Print-on-Demand book without the paper. For a publisher, storing a ton of books on their hard-drives costs little to nothing, compared to the warehouse space and all of the other stuff that comes with print books. But, just because the book is cheaper to print, does not and should not mean the advances to an author should be any less.

Look, I understand this is all competition out there as book sellers attempt to show who can sell books the best. And yes, I know as readers, we always look for a great deal when buying a book. But with that said, let's again remember that someone, at least a year ago, spent time and energy writing those words that you are holding in your hand, or just downloaded to your computer or e-reader.



  1. I’m glad you posted this. There seems to be a lot of misconception over who the villains are in this latest Titan’s clash. Is it Macmillan for what most call price fixing? Or Amazon, who are in essence, trying to do the same thing? That’s true, isn’t it? One fighting for higher cost to Joe public for book consumption and the other fighting for lower cost to Joe public for MASS consumption. Unfortunately, the bottom line, of course, is corporate profit.

    Macmillian wants to maintain a high residual from sales to the agents that broker their product - while those agents (Amazon) want to continue to enjoy their traditional 30% commission - but keep costs of brokering that product low, so as to increase their sales base - (in other words volume by getting more people to buy from them). What I don’t hear mentioned much - is the fact that Amazon, itself, requires authors and publishers to agree to fixed price restrictions - just like Macmillian is doing to do to them. In Amazon’s recent pricing agreement - Ebooks can’t be sold elsewhere for less than the AMAZON ebook price, even on an author or publisher’s own website. Um, what? Isn’t that exactly the strong arm tactics I hear bandied about in regards to Macmillan taking on Amazon? The only difference, that I can tell, is that Macmillian’s CEO mentions that those higher priced ebooks may eventual have a price scale down - much like the hard copy reductions in a retail store – yet, here’s where it gets interesting. Amazon, currently doesn’t have a scale down price index. So, does that mean, that Joe public could actually enjoy last year’s best seller for less than Amazon’s 9.99 price fix across the board, eventually? Probably.

    So, here’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking that the above summation covers Macmillan’s interests, Amazon’s interests and Joe public’s interests. All of whom, are squabbling over a share of the digital market - a concrete right to it - at a price they want to pay for it . What I don’t hear in this argument? Is the most important piece to this convoluted puzzle : product protection. Without an author to produce the products to be sold - and a way to protect that precious commodity - there is no industry. HELLO?

    Maybe we should revisit a few industries that have already been technologically converted. First it was films - at that time, it was the stars and creative directors that took the hit when that industry was expanded and brought into the digital age. Then it was music - same thing there. So, why is it taking so long for the publishing world - and when I say that, I don’t just mean publishers , I mean - writers, groups, forums and associations that have to start to wake up and pay attention. Collectively. The only constant thing I see repeated, in the history to be revisited is the artist, talent or creator, must get involved and have a voice. Otherwise, just as we’ve seen before - the industry in question, will continue to adjust to market and profit demands - leaving the heart of what’s driving it, drained and exploited. Just my .02


  2. Interesting comment, Murphy. I follow several SP blogs and am intrigued to see how many authors insist that they have no interest in getting paid at this point. Their only motivation is "to be read." Thast's well and good, but I fear that WILL be the end point of all this. How can it not? We will have a two-tier group of authors, the senior rainmakers with a huge platform, and a huge group of nowheresville newbies who write (for a short time) in order to be read by someone, anyone. There will be an occaisional lightning strike, of course, like "The Help," but for the most part bookstores will devolve down to kiosks that stock the bestsellers for the dwindling few who do not have readers. Anyway, why would you waste money on a book, when you can have the Apple Tablet with color and sound? Boy, life is change all right. What will be left when the dust settles? Did I not say last month that I almost always choose spending money on a DVD rather than a book? A book is too much work, too old-fashioned in its appearance and tiny smudged type, and here comes the Tablet. Talk about being bit in the kiester. At least I will be "reading." Sort of. I so strongly wish it was otherwise, but in my distracted and chronically overscheduled typical female life, I would rather be surrounded by sound and light and CG effects, and taken right out of myself by all that for hours. Who might I still read? Philippa (sp?) Gregory. Beautiful expensive books, wonderful writing, and a clean attractive type face. And in her higher-cost line, really lovely cover illustrations. Gets me every time. But of course she returns on that investment for her publisher.
    I do think the romance genre will remainm a stronghold for the usual reasons. I cannot imagine how all this might change the advance status quo for the topselling authors? It don't look good for the newcomers.

  3. Okay, Anon, I hear you, loud and clear. BUT, bottom line? This is a business. Now tell me, do you know of any one business where people go to work 12 hours a day and say at the end of that day: I'm not interested in getting paid at this point, I just want someone to see that I'm doing a good job? Um, I don't think so. *insert huge shrug here* So, why are writers so keen to say this? It's because they feel they have no choice. They have no power. Don't get me wrong, I'm not an activist - in fact, I'm one of the few hold-outs who still goes to my local book STORE and buys a book - so I can hold it in my hand, feel the texture, bend the pages (don't tell my son, he'd die. He loves his books pristine for his book case. :D ) but I do think that writers/artists, need to get their heads out of the clouds and help the people who do treat this business as a business. It's not enough that a writer produces a good story - a great story - it's not enough that s/he was lucky enough to get it sold. They have to empower those who are actively working with them. Writers need to pay attention to the changing market so they can help, participate, and excel in this market.

    I mentioned in my previous comment about looking to other industries. Well, take a moment and do that. Take a good look. Who were the survivors? I think it was talent that made adjustments and worked with a shifting market - but it was also those who knew that, what they had was worth something, and they didn't settle for less, or give it away.

    Truthfully, Anon, I'm not sure, you and I are on the same page. (Which is okay :) ) But when I read:Did I not say last month that I almost always choose spending money on a DVD rther than a book? A book is too much work, too old-fashioned in its appearance and tiny smudged type, and here comes the Tablet I actually cringed. Books are my constant. A DVD feels like it’s disposable for some reason. Honestly, I’d have no problem pitching them out - but if you tried to take even one of my hard, even a paperback - you’d have a fight on your hands. And I can’t help but think, I’m not alone in my feelings. There has to be other people, like me out there - people who just can’t get their heads around curling up with a computer Ipad. That just sounds wrong, doesn’t it?
    Murphy- who is limping into the digital age - one stumble at a time.

  4. Oh Murphy...we are SO on the same page. I'm an English Literature major (double major, but had a 4.0 in the EL half) who has lived for books every day of my life. Even took a six months course solely on Moby Dick, and listened to it on tape 3 times.
    I too want no part of digital readers, but noticed about ten years ago that the appearance of paperbacks was changing much for the worse. The pleasure of a beautifully made book has never changed for me, but the books themselves have become such poorly made products. Curiously enough, I notice that the teen and preteen market are often still beautifully made, with good paper and wonderful fantasy art covers.
    Now there's a clue about who still has the time and money to read. I also notice on Autonomy how many of the books are now aimed at the teen and preteen market. Uh oh again.
    I saw stacks of the last Dan Brown at Costco last week, for about $14. Why then would you go to Barnes& Noble and pay much more? Why would you even buy the Costco edition if you have a reader? Why not pay nine or ten and not even deal with leaving the house in the winter?
    For better or worse, the future seems to have arrived. Why use your Kindle if you can buy the Tablet and have video images and a soundtrack and lots of special features ala the DVD? Goodbye to Kindle et al.I think they have been t-boned .
    Paying work calls. I am enjoying your thoughts on this topic. Yeah, Scott, I do fear for writers, but see no immediate way to get off this tiger. If you can buy a Dan Brown product for under nine dollars, (ebook) what miserable pittance will be paid to the midlister down the line?