Deck the halls, not your colleagues
Self-publishing: And a kind word for the publishers?
Following up on library ebooks: A Penguin in Amazonia
Amazonia, Part 1: O’Leary, not cowed by Prime Lending rates
Amazonia, Part 2: Lend me an author
Amazonia, Part 3: Fear and loathing and DRM
Amazonia, Part 4: Revving those reviews
Amazonia, Part 5: The last domino falls
Amazonia, Part 6: Roasting on that open Fire
More self-publishing: The Battle for Book Country
eBooks among us: Getting over it
eBooks and royalties: Autopilot’s end
eBooks and school: While you were eating…
Blog Sommelier: Pair this Jane with that Hamilton
Publishing and news media: Who’s not talking?
Joys of modern media: Britannia feels the waves (of info)
The writing life: Everybody started somewhere
Tidings of some comfort: Our benediction for this week
So now it’s December. Backing up the bus and truck for its annual sit-down engagement. Here on the literary road show. Beep-beep-beeping into place.
Heavy production numbers. December comes with all that holiday gear. Snow machines for Mayor Bloomberg. Marley’s chains. The @Rockettes (oh yes, they have their own Twitter handle). One of them is always kicking with the left, not the right. No, she’s kicking with both legs. Oh, sorry, that nutcracker was somebody from Penguin, my mistake. I was blinded by a thousand points of light. Connected to each other by Grinched-up green wires, what ebook-pricing sadist packages those things? It’s showtime, Mr. Tchaikovsky.
Problem is, our loading dock is so freaking full already. Every other tweet screams BUY MY BOOK. How are we going to squeeze in Tiny Tim between Konrath and Manus? Lose the crutch, there’s no room in the inn. He’ll just have to do extra limping. Like this industry.
See, I’m nobody’s Wise Man, but it doesn’t take Three Kings who “from Orient are” to tell you that there’s too much punch in your bowl, Mrs. Fezziwig. Weepy bids for “inspiration” among the blog carolers. Too many nogs, not enough eggs. Lo, such a big pile of Kindling on the hearth, that our Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader has taken to waxing elegiac on the e-book edition of Fahrenheit 451:
First they came for Rowling, and I smiled;
Then they came for Bradbury, and I cheered …
When what to my wondering eyes does appear but A Big, Sane Article on Self-Publishing. Free of malice, rancor, and candy-assed sugarplum fairies.
Hark, the herald angel is named Edan Lepucki. Jack Frost wouldn’t dream of nipping at her nose. What kind of a perv do you think he is, anyway? And if the Multitude of the Heavenly Host doesn’t sing backup as Lepucki opens this week’s Ether, it’s because they got into the bourbon backstage before those copywriters could get the new edits done.
Is that an audiobook in your Christmas stocking, or are you just glad to hear me?
The industry has troubles. The slim profit margins of books; the problems of bookstore returns; the quandary of Borders closing and Amazon forever selling books as a loss-leader; how to make people actually pay for content, and so on… And yet. And yet. I read good books by large publishing houses all the time, books that take my breath away, make me laugh and cry and wonder at the brilliance of humanity…I want a reputable publishing house standing behind my book; I want them to tell you it’s good so that I don’t have to.
Lepucki isn’t one to harch off on a tangent. Don’t be fooled by her headline at The Millions, Reasons Not to Self-Publish in 2011-2012, written “in a list format, the pet genre of the blogosphere.” She weighs some real concerns here. Her brother-in-law appears at one point like the Ghost of You Know What, turning up in a bit of a lather, Ebenezer: “Please don’t self-publish!” But Lepucki keeps her head about her and navigates the fruitcake terrain of the business with rooftop-reindeer poise.
The conversation about self-publishing too often ignores the role of independent publishing houses in this shifting reading landscape. Whether larger independents like Algonquin and Graywolf, or small gems like Featherproof and Two Dollar Radio, or university presses like Lookout Books, the imprint at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington…independent presses offer diversity to readers, and provide yet another professional option for authors.
Hey, I heard that “humbug.” So read author Peter Straub‘s comments in Lepucki’s piece:
Most of the editors I have worked with over the past thirty-five years have made crucial contributions to the books entrusted to them, and the copy-editors have always, in every case, done exactly the same. They have enriched the books that came into their hands. Can you have good, thoughtful, creative editing and precise, accurate, immaculate copy-editing if you self-publish? And if you can’t, what is being said about the status or role of selflessness before the final form of the fiction as accepted by the audience, I mean the willingness of the author to submerge his ego to produce the novel that is truest to itself?
“Perhaps the small press world is becoming the real proving ground for literary writers,” Lepucki writes.
When Penguin announced last week that it was disabling library ebook lending on the Kindle and pulling its latest ebook titles from all library lending platforms, libraries and readers took the hit, but to some observers they were collateral damage in a fight between publishers and Amazon about the control of publishers’ titles… Indeed, Penguin’s move suggests that the publishing industry’s long-simmering concern over Amazon’s dominant position and its aggressive new ventures in the ebook market are coming to a boil.
Andrew Albanese, writing with Jim Milliot at Publisher’s Weekly, builds a clarifying summation of last week’s fracas, aptly titled In Fight with Amazon, Libraries Caught in the Crossfire. “The Penguin controversy could very well reinforce the feeling among the major houses that it is better to wait on the sidelines to see how some of the issues shake out before getting deeply involved with ebook lending, and it is difficult to see holdouts Simon & Schuster or Macmillan changing their minds soon about entering the OverDrive lending program.”
In the American Library Association’s District Dispatch, Marijke Visser looks to Brian O’Leary’s Opportunity in Abundance presentation from Peter Brantley and O’Reilly’s Books in Browsers conference. Visser, in Sticking a toe in the e-book tsunami , goes for the emotional heat that simmers under this and so many publishing upheavals:
Recent events with ebooks bring much needed attention to the need to be proactive and include all players in a discussion as to how to ameliorate the contentious marketplace in which we find ourselves.
And in the boldest write I’ve seen yet, It’s Not About Libraries, It’s About Amazon, Eric Hellman deftly uses Colorado’s Douglas County libraries’ “Buy This Book” button on its online catalog pages to peer past the Penguinery and take a good look at the polar bear loping toward us:
The Penguin move should be seen not as corporate verdict on libraries, but as a reaction to Amazon’s entry into the library market. When OverDrive was distributing content to libraries on their own platform, the publishers were able to view OverDrive, and libraries in general, as a counterweight to Amazon. But the extension of OverDrive lending to the Kindle flipped libraries into the Amazon column. That’s the best way to understand the Penguin decision, though you won’t see them saying that.
Hands across the water, it’s a note from my recent host country (there is nothing like a Dane). There, Jennifer Buley at the Copenhagen Post writes of how it goes when Denmark’s Libraries get into the digital book business.
Each time a book is loaned out, the library pays the publisher a use fee – 18.5 kroner [about US$3.30] for new releases and 15 kroner [about US$2.70] for ones more than one year old. The more a title is borrowed, the lower the fee to the library. But to the patron, it’s always free. The individual libraries decide how many digital books patrons may borrow and for how long. In Copenhagen, users can borrow up to five ebooks per month for up to one month each…“It’s a huge worry for a lot of us,” Elisabeth Fogtdal, legal manager of Gyldendal, Denmark’s largest publisher, told Politiken newspaper. “On the other hand, eReolen could also give the commercial ebook market – which has been really sluggish in this country – a positive lift.”
And another country heard from. Here’s the Calgary Public Library Foundation site, developed by transmedia specialist Kevin Franco and his team.
With an initial investment by the city, the Calgary Public Library is poised to create an all new central library for all Calgarians. It will be unlike any other library in the world; a beacon of modern learning and community. We want to discover what a library of the 21st century can be, so we’re asking you.
I still love the grand gesture. And getting onto a site in Calgary and writing “Cities across the globe are waiting to see what the Calgary Public Library does next” is audaciously grand, is it not? They may dig out of all this before anybody else.
Amazon’s offering free content to Prime members could be interpreted many ways: as a demonstrable belief in digital reading; a continued push for the Kindle platform; a test to evaluate the impact of free content on purchase behavior; or even a revival of the “book of the month” concept. So far, authors, agents, and some publishers seem to think of it another way: theft.
With typically even-handed understanding of the noisy qualms on all sides, Brian O’Leary points how healthy it might be to look at Amazon’s trial lending program for Prime members as what it is: An Experiment.
Certainly, that’s Amazon’s argument, although, as O’Reilly Media’s Joe Wikert has blogged, Amazon’s terms may not be what publishers want or deserve. Here’s the thing about terms, though: most of them presume a static world. The world of content distribution is changing, however, and the models for delivering content are evolving at a rapid pace. For the moment, we need not qualify the Amazon Prime ebook lending program as the future of publishing or its inevitable demise. We need to call it what it is: an experiment. I can understand how free digital content undermines contracts written for the physical world. We might yearn for higher prices and windowed releases. But at some point, the cost of holding fast to what we’ve known exceeds the benefit. Maybe it already does.
As of December 1, Amazon intends to add Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) titles to the lending library. Authors approached by Amazon to participate say the company is offering a chance to share in a large pool of licensing cash–but requiring complete exclusivity in exchange. The money pool, according to those familiar with the offer, is $500,000 a month over the next 12 months, or $6 million in total. But Amazon requires that participants remove their titles from sale at all other ebook retailers.
In Kindle Lending Library Reaches Out to KDP Authors–With Cash, Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch writes up the inclusion of books self-published in the KDP program.
I have permission to quote, on condition of anonymity here, a particularly eloquent industry specialist whose work with many successful authors, both traditionally and self-published, offers an insight into how the Amazonian move is being received.
Those authors who have been successful in pricing experimentally–even for free–have sold enough books to understand the halo effect, and to know that going free for a short period can work. So some are putting their books in the Lending Library simply in order to have the option to use the free price. When you’re hungry for marketing opportunities, and the retailers hold all the power and you have no relationship with the major channels, an opportunity like this can be seen as really valuable. Quite the carrot.
How much of a carrot? Author Jennie Coughlin in her post Is Amazon Using Its Market Presence to Break The Big Six? is following author Robert Bidinotto‘s progress in the program.
If you were at Kindle Boards over the weekend, you might have seen the thread where four KB indie authors were invited by Amazon to participate in a Black Friday promotion that started Sunday. Robert was one of them, and he was featured as an editor’s pick. By the end of the weekend, his debut novel Hunter: A Thriller had passed thriller writers Stephen King and James Patterson – including Patterson’s new Alex Cross novel — in the bestseller lists. As of Tuesday night, he had sold more than 8,000 books through this promotion. It’s currently ranked 8th in sales among all paid Kindle books…. He described his reaction last night: “What’s happening is unreal right now. I can’t believe it…but I just blew by STEPHEN KING.”
As ebook sales mushroom, the Big Six’s insistence on DRM has proven to be a hideous mistake. Rather than reducing piracy, it has locked customers in Amazon’s walled garden, which in turn increases Amazon’s leverage over publishers. And unlike pirated copies (which don’t automatically represent lost sales) Amazon is a direct revenue threat because Amazon have no qualms about squeezing their suppliers — or trying to poach authors for their “direct” publishing channel by offering initially favourable terms. (Which will doubtless get a lot less favourable once the monopoly is secured …)
Charlie Stross joins those wondering if publishers’ Amazon fears haven’t got them Cutting their own throats.
While consumer purchasing will always be influenced by the prevailing tactics and technology of the current environment, consumer psychology hasn’t really changed much in the last millennium. While how readers buy and read books is changing, why they read has not. The Rosetta Stone of author marketing is simply this — know your reader and what they want.
Robert Trahan responds here to Amazon Reader Reviews: 12 Things Everybody and His Grandmother Needs to Know by Anne R. Allen, who seems to have heard from everybody and their grandfathers about it.
The Domino Project’s last print book, its twelfth, is an illustrated hardcover version of B, a poem by Sarah Kay. The imprint will also publish a “digital bonus,” and then will not publish any more new titles. “As far as I know, all the books will continue to be promoted and sold,” Godin told me. “No reason for that to change.”
Laura Hazard Owen, in reporting No More New Titles For Seth Godin’s Amazon Imprint, The Domino Project at paidContent, makes the point, “It seems unlikely that Amazon is pulling its support, since the books have sold so well—much better than most of Amazon Publishing’s other titles, in fact, at least in print.”
But from the gnomic Godin’s own heavily scrutinized blog post, The last hardcover, we get his focus on what he terms the “permission” of a developed subscription base. And while he calls the project a success – “Projects are fun to start, but part of the deal is that they don’t last forever” – he’s putting it down, as eyebrows go up.
Permission is still the most important and valuable asset of the web (and of publishing). The core group of 50,000 subscribers to the Domino blog made all the difference in getting the word out and turning each of our books into a bestseller. It still amazes me how few online merchants and traditional publishers (and even authors) have done the hard work necessary to create this asset. If you’re an author in search of success and you don’t pursue this with singleminded passion, you’re making a serious error.
Not so fast, say some industry watchers.
Of course, “for novels and for narrative non-fiction, there is clearly a role for a third party to aggregate readers who are interested in the kinds of books that those authors write,” says Simon Lipskar to Greenfield, in reference to the “permission” tribe buying Godin’s output. “There is a substantive and real role for publishers to find readers.”
Greenfield concludes, “In addition to building their own ‘tribes’ and gathering ‘permission,’ the book business still has other ways of selling books.”
A host of comments on the topic reflects skepticism. With Camp Godin chanting that all the Dominos were falling so beautifully, it’s not easy to reconcile the fact that Godin has picked up his aphorisms and walked.
Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch observes in Godin’s Domino Project Wraps Up:
Without complete statistics, which are not disclosed, we don’t know if The Domino Project actually maximized either unit sales or dollar sales for Godin. Being exclusive to Amazon in ebook was probably a factor.
And here’s the Loudpoet again, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, in Spinning Dominoes: Don’t Believe the Hype… But DO Learn From It to help us get those dominos back into the box. (You can quit poking it now.)
Has it really been only nine months since The Domino Project’s first release, Poke the Box, a disappointing retread of his traditionally published and far superior Tribes?…Godin is shutting The Domino Project down, offering the awkward explanation that “it was a project, not a lifelong commitment to being a publisher of books,” instead of, perhaps, admitting that publishing is harder than it looks if you want to swim at the deep end of the trade pool in the middle of a dramatic transition, as he obliquely acknowledges in many of his noteworthy takeaways.
Ebooks aren’t magic; having a platform doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the work; and, most importantly, in the digital era, distribution is the easy part. It’s also a part that Godin took a calculated gamble on by limiting himself to Amazon and the Kindle platform, and it will be very interesting to see where he goes for his next book after so boldly proclaiming he was done with traditional publishing last summer…I think we can safely add The Domino Project to the ever-growing list of wannabe disruptors who get tons of hype only to fade away into bit players or complete irrelevance.
Even before the busy holiday shopping weekend, we’d already sold millions of the new Kindle family and Kindle Fire was the bestselling product across all of Amazon.com. Black Friday was the best ever for the Kindle family – customers purchased 4X as many Kindle devices as they did last Black Friday – and last year was a great year… we’re seeing a lot of customers buying multiple Kindles – one for themselves and others as gifts – we expect this trend to continue on … through the holiday shopping season.
Everything’s coming up poinsettias, reports Dave Limp, VP in Amazon’s Kindle division, in the company’s press release, Best Black Friday Ever for Kindle Family: Kindle Sales Increase 4X Over Last Year.
In case I was wrong and Book Country was selling self-pubbed books on the Penguin site, I checked the Penguin website. I searched the site for any mention of Book Country or Book Country distributed books. I searched the ebook offerings. I found nothing that mentions Book Country. There might be something there, but it is buried so deeply that only a master researcher could find it.
That’s J W Manus in her post and comments and comments-on-comments, Review: Penguin’s Book Country As A Retail Site.
Colleen Lindsay, community manager for Book Country (@Book_Country, remember, tweet fans), reponds on many points, including the one in our quote above:
You can’t find any books for sale yet on Book Country because the Publish portion of the site has existed for less than two weeks. Publishing a book using Book Country’s self-publishing services means that the author must wait 2-3 days for a PDF proof to approve; once the proof is approved, it can take up to three weeks for the book to appear on sale on the Book Country. Since the site has existed for less than two weeks, it makes sense that you would not be able to see books for purchase appearing on the Genre Map or anywhere else on the site.
This is a “both/and” world, not an “either/or” world. For a long time to come, we’re going to have printed books right alongside digital books. Many of us will continue to buy both. They’re all “real” books. There’s no reason you can’t embrace both, no reason to demonize digital technology. And if you’re a writer, there’s reason to think e-books are the best thing that could have happened to you, because people who have e-readers seem to be buying more books overall, both digital and print.
In a post headlined eBooks vs. “Real” Books, agent Rachelle Gardner does Assisi duty—doves settling all over her, what a mess—to say, “No more ‘dark side’ (of ebooks). No more ‘real’ books versus whatever. Let’s all just enjoy books in the medium of our choice.”
Bit of an echo, CNET-head Nathan Bransford conducts another of his totally informal, completely unscientific, “entertainment only!” polls on readers’ feelings about ebooks and detects “what’s called a trend” when he sees ebook acceptance move from 7 percent in 2007 to 47 percent now among his avid blog readers.
Not being as gracious as Gardner, nor as devoted to the color orange as Bransford, I’ll just add this: If you haven’t yet tried reading a book on an e-reader, you owe it to yourself to borrow somebody’s and give it a spin before you trash the e-medium. “Embarrassment” starts with an “e,” too.
My hunch (all hunch, no data) is that in the long run (5 or 10 years?) retailers will find it hard to keep 30% of the consumer’s dollar, publishers will find it nearly impossible to keep 75% of what the retailers pay, and that any author who wants to compete seriously will have a cost structure that will often make a royalty rate taking even as much as half of it away worth considering.
Mike Shatzkin in The ebook value chain is still sorting itself out, and so are the splits looks at the disparities of the moment and weighs a few possibilities. “Right now putting an ebook into Amazon and having them sell it on autopilot can get a lot more of the total market than will be the case over time as a more fully articulated and global ebook infrastructure builds out.”
Simba Information, a research company specializing in publishing, estimates that electronic textbooks will generate $267.3 million this year in sales in the United States. That is a rise of 44.3 percent over last year. The American Association of Publishers estimates that the college textbooks industry generated a total of $4.58 billion in sales last year. Kathy Micky, a senior analyst at Simba,…estimates that by 2013, digital textbooks will make up 11 percent of the textbook market revenue.
Thanks to a timely tip from Peter Brantley over the poultry-powered holiday, here’s Christopher Schuetze of the International Herald-Tribune in Paris writing Textbooks Finally Take a Big Leap to Digital.
I know nothing about you. I don’t know you. And you don’t know me. Let me get a little Gawker sarcasm going – you mean I can spend some time laying out the game plan for a book in an E-mail that’s convenient to your E-mail missives although you may not have the chops or the focus or the genuine interest to put together a book – without actually being your agent? Gee, thanks! That’s an agent that you don’t want. Maybe posting snark in repackaged configurations is the sum total of your talents, know what I mean? Not to mention that I don’t know if Gawker has any official policy regarding such efforts. Books are a whole different species my friend. It doesn’t look like you’re familiar with what it takes. Am I wrong?///Sincerely, Mark Kelley
Hamilton Nolan gives us that bad boy in How to Be a High-Powered Literary Agent, by a Crazy Person at Gawker. Nolan concludes, “Look for my book, ‘An Expansion of One of My Posts,’ in the spring of 2012. Once I had the inspiration, I didn’t need to pay an agent a cent!”
Pair that with the next day’s post from #JaneFriedman – courageous host of the Ether and hashtag unto herself – giving us this truly useful tip, Turn Your WordPress Blog Into a Book on the fine plug-in for self-hosted WordPressies, Anthologize. It’s just what you need, Hamilton, to produce “An Expansion of One of My Posts” for that spring release.
Every now and again there are stories in the media (mainly traditional media: newspapers, TV, radio) that doubt the capabilities of the publishing world coping with the shift to digital. That there is truth to be found in this subject is clear, but what stings me (and many others in the publishing world), is that almost all of these stories are poorly justified, blunt and only seem to be made to cause a stir. And none of these traditional media seems to be interested in the side of the publishers. What about hearing both sides? Isn’t that what journalism is all about? Time for the other story to be told!
Timo Boezeman in What nobody sees and what ensures that publishers remain: added value is close to a point after my own heart. Mike Shatzkin commented on this recently, too. We know too little of the pressures on publishers in many instances to make judgments, not that that stops us. Boezeman is writing from Utrecht, where things may be different, so I’ll give him his argument on his home turf. But here in the States, our traditional publishers aren’t always helping. As a group, they’re not good at talking with the press, as I’ve mentioned before on the Ether. The Amazon story can be played as a one-sided rout pretty easily if the other team clenches when they should be talking. Recent example: Penguin could have done a lot more explanatory work about its off-again, on-again library-ebooks shuffle of last week. Legal-whipped as I’m sure everyone is, tension shows, fear has a scent.
This research has shown it doesn’t take much to feel like we’re drowning in data at work. The way we have to work today involves assimilating information from many sources and the fact we’re struggling to do this is a very real business issue – one that will only increase as we enter the big data era. Something as simple as searching for information can have a big effect at a time when businesses are looking to free up employees time to be more innovative and productive in order to stimulate the growth most are looking for in 2012.
On average, British workers receive 36 emails in their inbox every day…this seemingly small number of emails (is) leaving employees overwhelmed. The average worker spends over 21 minutes a day searching for information they have seen but cannot find.
Anton Chekov was a physician. Laura Ingalls Wilder taught a class of five students in a one-room schoolhouse, and later became secretary-treasurer of the Mansfield Farm Loan Association in Missouri. John Steinbeck spent the summer of 1928 giving tours of a fish hatchery in Lake Tahoe, where he met his future wife. After losing that job in the fall, Steinbeck followed her to San Francisco, where he became a warehouseman at the Bemis Bag Company factory. Margarite Duras wrote technical reports as an assistant in the French Colonial Office, and then worked on publicity for French bananas and tea.
The obvious reason for this literary vacuum is that the Christian faith, and the Catholic Church in particular, have been in full-cultural retreat since the 1960s. In the wake of the sexual revolution and the women’s movement, many Catholics left the Church over its opposition to abortion, artificial contraception, and the ordination of women, to name just a few hot-button topics. And then, beginning in the late 1990s, a wave of priest sex-abuse crimes came to light that have scandalized untold numbers of Catholics.
In Where Have All the Catholic Writers Gone?, Robert Fay at The Millions points out that ” novels — both by Catholics and non-Catholics — grappling with what used to be called “the drama of salvation” are no longer just rare, but almost unthinkable nowadays.”
Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, and a producer and consultant formerly with the United Nations World Food Programme in Rome and INDEX: Design to Improve Life in Copenhagen. As a journalist, he has worked with media including CNN, the Village Voice, and the Dallas Times Herald. He reviews literary fiction at Reader Unboxed, and is based in Tampa.
Latest posts by Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson (see all)
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