Why “Punishing the Publisher” Usually Doesn’t

So, let’s say you’re a reader (which, because you are here, is a reasonable assumption to make). There is an author who has come to your attention and whose work you’re considering purchasing — but then something that the publisher of that work is doing regarding that particular book is annoying you. What is it the publisher is doing? Who cares? This particular detail is not important. What is important is that you’ve now decided you’re not going to buy that author’s work, in order to punish that publisher so that it will stop doing whatever thing  it’s doing that’s annoying you. That’ll show them.

To which I say onto you: Congratulations, what you’ve really just done is screw that author.

Yes, yes. I know. That’s not what you meant to do. But chances are that’s what you actually did. And here’s why:

Take your average book publisher. Your average book publisher, over the course of a year, publishes a number of books, ranging from a few select titles in the case of a small press to literally hundreds of books in the case of a major New York publisher. They put money into all of these books and so each book carries risk, but in a general sense the publisher’s risk is widely distributed, so that the failure of one or more books can be compensated by the success of other books in the same general time frame. A bestseller can make up for several books which perform modestly or not at all. What’s more, the publisher has other books in the wings — which is to say, more opportunities on a continuing basis to recoup costs and make a profit. For a publisher, there is always another book.

Now, take your average author. Your average author sells a book a year, more or less, and is dependent on the success of that book in order to sell the next. Which is to say the author’s risk is generally not widely distributed but is sunk into a single book, or a couple of books at most. If the book fails to sell to expectation, the publisher is going to cut its losses and dump the author. When the author approaches the next publisher, that publisher is going to look at the author’s previous sales, and if those sales are too low, that’s going to make a difference in whether the publisher is going to take a chance on that author, regardless of the quality of the work at hand. Because publishing is a business, and previous sales count.

So, let’s return to the “I’m punishing the publisher” scenario. By choosing not to buy a book that you’d otherwise buy to send a message to a publisher, you’ve managed to hurt the publisher almost not at all — it’s one lost sale among a large class of potential sales, spread across a number of titles, in any given sales month, quarter or year. The author, on the other hand, has a much smaller pool of possible sales, sunk into a single work, once a year.

Okay, now pretend you’re a book publisher, and you’re looking at an author’s sales, and they’re not what you wanted. Which of the following two thoughts are you more likely to have?

POSSIBLE THOUGHT ONE: “Wow, I guess readers were punishing me for whatever policy of mine they didn’t like. I should change my ways and definitely not hold it against this author.”

POSSIBLE THOUGHT TWO: “Wow, for some reason clearly not involving me or anything I’ve done, this author just isn’t connecting with readers at all.”

I’ll give you a hint: Publishers are not generally known to be full of introspection, or of forgiveness for lower-than-expected sales.

So, on one hand, the attempt on the part of the potential reader to send a message to the publisher via the refusal to buy a particular work has succeeded. On the other hand, the message the publisher has received is “this author can’t sell.” To be fair, this has more to do with the publisher than with the reader. But that doesn’t change the result for the author.

If you will, allow me to suggest to you another course of action in situations like these: Rather than “punishing the publisher” by not buying a particular book you would otherwise buy, support the author by purchasing the book. Why? Because the support you give an author allows that author to have a better bargaining position with the publisher the next time the two of them negotiate a contract, and you know what? Generally speaking, authors like being able to make potential readers happy, and thanks to that there thing called “the Internets,” authors are often aware of the wishes and desires of their readers and will try to make them happy whenever possible.

But to do that, they need leverage. At the end of the day, the leverage that works best is an impressive sales record. Ask any author. Or, for that matter, any publisher.

140 Comments on “Why “Punishing the Publisher” Usually Doesn’t”

  1. So how does one punish a publisher then, if not by withholding a purchase?

  2. I have always been amazed at how people can so often miss the real target of their frustrations. Too often, they go after the easy target and have little to no effect on the real culprit.
    Every year Bush presented a large deficit budget, that was in fact, a tax increase. He just deferred it until the next administration comes in and have to deal with the debt. Yet taxpayers do not get angry with the one who created the need to increase taxes, just the responsible ones who have to increase it.

  3. This makes perfect sense. I’ve always assumed this was the case; specifically with regards to the relative-value-of-selling-a-book as compared between the author and publisher.

    John, what are your thoughts on readers letting publishers know directly if there’s a policy that the reader isn’t happy with?

    I tend myself towards direct action when something frustrates me, especially now that e-mail makes quick, relaxed, informal communication like feedback such an easy process.

    I’d assume that, even if one person’s griping isn’t going to change a publisher’s decisions immediately, publishers who are switched on will at least collate the feedback they receive and take it into consideration. As you say, they’re in the business of selling books.


  4. Crypticmirror:

    Quite obviously, I question that “punishing the publisher” is best way to effect a change in a publisher’s behavior.

    Pip Hunn:

    I think readers being public about their displeasure with a publisher’s policies is not a bad thing at all. The question here is whether withholding a purchase of a book the reader would otherwise buy punishes the intended target. I don’t think it does.

  5. So, would proper behaviour be instead to purchase said novel (creative work) and then send a message to the author stating your dispute with the publisher and request that they move house? If the end user has a dispute with the publisher yet likes the work then the angle of approach is then the author themselves.

  6. Rummy:

    I’m not sure why a house change would be necessary if the author has enough leverage to make a change with that particular publisher. But to be sure, an author being able to say “change this thing regarding my books or I’ll go to another publisher” and have it be a creditable threat is a wonderful thing.

  7. And then an author concludes that the publisher sold the hell out of his last book so he better stay with them. Boycotting a publisher may not be the answer but cramming all your money into their pockets is not either.

  8. Nightkrawler:

    “And then an author concludes that the publisher sold the hell out of his last book so he better stay with them.”

    If you think that an author with a sufficiently high level of sales does not translate that bargaining chip into a better contractual position with his or her publisher, I suspect you don’t understand what happens behind the scenes with agents and publishers.

  9. You could also consider buying the book from overseas.

    Of course, the amount you spend on shipping makes this something you probably only want to do if you’re really mad at the publisher. Unless you’re traveling anyway.

  10. The whole “I’m mad at X so I’m not going to buy from X” is the current, chickenshit, passive-aggressive way of ‘punishing’ X, whoever X is. If you have a beef with some X TELL THEM. Write them a letter, comment on a blog post of theirs that speaks to the issue you’re annoyed about, hell, organize a boycott on Facebook. But don’t smugly say “I’m not buying books from X, that’ll show them” and pretend you’re doing anything else other than indulging your tiny, tiny, er.. ego.

  11. What brought this on? Anyhow, if the changes to the hypothetical authors book are offensive to me, I’m not going to bother buying it, not to “teach the publisher a lesson” but because I don’t go out of my way to buy books that have content I find offensive.

    For example, in the case of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar I’d probably have bought the book, but been really annoyed at the publisher for changing the race of the main character on the cover. If they’d actually edited the book to make the main character white, I’d probably have just not bought the book, and felt bad for Justine. Luckily, she had enough mojo to get changes made.

  12. …to literally hundreds of books in the case of a major New York publisher.

    –>You’re off by an (admittedly small) order of magnitude. My previous employer published about 1500 books per year, and they’re not the largest trade publisher.

  13. Is this about the ebook whackos who post 1 star reviews of mcmillan books?

    I don’t think most book buyers pay attention to who publishes what. I had not even heard of McMillan publishing until the Amazon thing happened and in hindsite I have read alot of their books. I ignore the publisher.

    I think that 90%+ of the book buying public has no idea who publishes what and does not pay attention.

  14. Don’t quit your day job for a career in logic, Scalzi. The fact that any given reader doesn’t account for a large proportion of a publisher’s sales doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference in whether that reader should or shouldn’t patronize that publisher. I don’t patronize Walmart, and never will. The fact that Walmart doesn’t care about my tiny contribution to their bottom line is immaterial. (By the way, quite a large number of people don’t patronize Walmart, for whatever reason, and it has put a significant damper on their growth; interestingly and somewhat magically, tiny behaviors become significant when large number of people engage in them. About one-third of Americans view Walmart negatively, a far worse image than most large corporations.)

    Nor do I particularly care that my boycott affects Walmart’s suppliers (i.e., authors). Somewhere a Chinese factory didn’t sell quite as many widgets. So what? Maybe they should sell their products through a better distributor. Maybe authors should sign up with better publishers, if they don’t want to be affected by boycotts hitting bad publishers.

    I don’t care enough about any publishers to want to boycott them. But if I did, I would. And that boycott is as valid as any other. Authors should take publisher practices into account. If your publisher also runs a cute-baby-seal-bashing business on the side, maybe you ought to consider finding a new one.

  15. John: (why does it feel like I’m starting a bible verse here?) it really depends on the issue one holds with the publishing house. If it’s a matter of policy then there’s the potential for change but no certainty even when an author has decent leverage. Without actual examples at hand it’s difficult to explain one way or the other. When an author takes a strange direction and maintains it (a couple of books can be weird but not all of them) then I’ll take my leave of the author but not necessarily the publishing house. I’m currently at a loss as to how one holds the author at fault directly.

    For the general public and John: What form of policies have people taken offence to previously from the publishing houses?

  16. Fooey:

    “The fact that any given reader doesn’t account for a large proportion of a publisher’s sales doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference in whether that reader should or shouldn’t patronize that publisher.”

    It’s ironic you presume to lecture me in logic, Fooey, by misrepresenting my argument.

    This issue at hand is not whether one chooses to boycott a publisher or not, but whether by not purchasing a particular work one would otherwise purchase, one is effectively “punishing the publisher.” These are separate issues.

  17. I personally go for a reward model. If there is an author I like, I’ll by their books (though the publisher’s behavior may influence which formats I get). If there is a publisher whose practice’s I like (Baen, for instance), I will tend to try out their authors books before looking farther afield, when I’ve exhausted the catalog of the set of authors I like.

  18. GryMor: Actually, Baen was whom I had in mind when speaking of liking the publisher but not some of the authors. Their free CD angle was interesting and led me to purchasing a variety of new authors because of it. Then discarding a couple due to their writing style changes but that’s a me problem rather than something wrong with the publisher.

    Which leads to Tor whom in recent years did free e-copy novels for people to try out which was where I first read Old Man’s War and then purchased a hard copy of that and the follow ons.

  19. Gah, I am really on the horns of this issue right now. I don’t want to buy any more physical books. It’s a source of contention in my house since I have books everywhere. My boyfriend bought me my Kindle – which I love – to curb this habit. However, Amazon and some of the publishers still haven’t reconciled and there are books that I really, really want that I can’t get on my Kindle.

    I have money. I want to give it to Amazon, who can then give it to the publishers, and in turn they can give it to authors. I just don’t want the hassle of the physical books. I’ve caved on a few precious purchases, but I’m trying to stand firm. I need the ebook drama to be over and done so I can just spend, spend, spend and everyone will be happy.

  20. Eridani:

    Short term solution: The library. Yes, they are physical books, but eventually you have to give them back, thus they are out of the house.

  21. You could also purchase the books then donate them to the library or a school afterwards. Twofer karma deal. ;)

  22. Like Josh Jasper asked: I wonder what brought-on this line of thought? I’m gonna make some wild guesses and imagine that John read some reader gripes on the internets (or in his inbox) and felt the need to respond.

    I see where you’re coming from (looking-out for your fellow authors), but I don’t completely agree with your idea of ‘buy it anyway’.
    Consumers should be free to exercise their purchasing-power muscle, because it’s OUR best bargaining chip. It just so happens that, because of the number of middle-men involved in the supply chain to get an idea to the store shelves, a boycott decision to hurt 1 part of the chain may end-up hurting everybody in the chain. Then again, if the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, maybe that’s saying there’s something wrong with the chain in the first place.

  23. Emanuel:

    This was not brought on by anything involving any of my work.

    As noted above, I don’t begrudge anyone the right not to purchase anything for any reason they choose. It’s their pocketbook. My point is to make people understand that who actually gets “punished” in this particular sort of case isn’t the intended target.

  24. Yeah, I’ve gone the library route and it’s not bad, but then I feel sort of like an ass. I can afford to buy the books. I want to buy the books. I just don’t want the book books. In other news, the library has come to feel a little bit like pirating to me. I don’t torrent anything I can get legally now that I have A Real Job. I support the artists whose work I admire. Checking out a book feels a little bit like torrenting a song instead of shelling out the 99 cents to get it from iTunes. It’s possible that I’m weird, but there you have it.

    It’s just so silly that I’m practically begging to buy a product they could provide, and yet they won’t sell it to me. I do get that it’s more complicated than that, but grrrr, it’s frustrating. I feel like Jerry Mcguire shouting, “Help me help you!”

  25. I see where you’re coming from, but what you’re proposing that customers do instead boils down to buying the book & then complaining about it. That doesn’t seem effective or productive.

    The popular belief these days is that they main way to get a corporation’s attention is by hurting their bottom line. If the organizations aren’t known for being introspective, why would they listen to a complaint from an author (or a customer), since the sales don’t seem to be reflecting any unease at all?

  26. Eridani:

    “It’s possible that I’m weird, but there you have it.”

    Well, that’s the good of weird, to be sure.

    I suggest keeping a list of the library book you read that would have ended up buying, and once they’re available in the format you like, picking them up then. A sale is a sale, even slightly delayed.


    “what you’re proposing that customers do instead boils down to buying the book & then complaining about it.”

    Heh. That’s one way of looking at it. The way I think of it is that one is empowering the author to be able to make changes that benefit his or her readers, because an unhappy successful author has the potential to damage a publisher’s bottom line more directly (and effectively) than a diffuse refusal by some to buy a particular book.

  27. Guess,

    I’d second your notion that the vast majority of readers do not have any interest in the identity of a publisher.

    In that line, it seems completely foreign to me that anyone would resent an author for agreeing to be punslished by a specific house. It seems completely convoluted to reason:

    “I hate publishing house x. Author 3 ‘chose’ to sign with with x. So, fuck 3 and his horse x.”

    I feel like a person really has to hate a particular publisher to get the to the point where any author associated with them must also be destroyed.

    There does seem to be a fair amount of biblical style binary love/hate going on in some readers minds regarding publishers.

    Is the author world so easy to break in to that I could turn down offers from multiple publishing houses until I find one whose business practices across its entire multinational business front and fully owned subsidaries makes me squee?

  28. “Voting with your dollars” is the Conservative way of pretending to be Liberal. It has absolutely no effect on anything and is just a bourgeois excuse for consuming more expensive and rare products while pretending to be progressive.

    Even if some collective whining manages to damage an industry, the people who own it just move their capital somewhere else (often within the same company, from the book to the aircraft division, perhaps) and labor sucks up the loss, as always.

    In other words, I pretty much agree.

  29. @eridani,

    You have a solution, you just don’t want to use it – buy the physical books and, after reading, either sell them or donate them. There, you get to read the book and you either get some money/store credit back or you get some karma.

    in anticipation of the obvious counter to this, no, you don’t in fact have to retain the books. I get that you might want to, but in that case you’re putting one desire (“I never sell/get rid of my books once bought”) above another (“I want to buy these books, but they’re not in ebook format”). That’s a choice YOU make. You have solutions, please don’t insist you don’t until the world works the way you want.

    Oh and libraries are like pirating? Um… what?? That’s their purpose and they buy copies of books based, in part, on whether the book circulates.

  30. Other Bill:

    I had no idea about publishers until this Kindle drama. Now, I actually look at the publisher before I go down the road of purchasing a Kindle book because I’ve been burned by having 5 (!) of the series I read unKindleized (I just made up that word) by publisher vs. Amazon slap fights in recent months. Before I ever buy ‘Book 1’ I look to make sure that peace has been made between the two tribes. If not, I put it on my wish list and come back to it. So, yeah, I’m aware of publishers and not in any way that’s positive.

  31. g-clef:

    “why would they listen to a complaint from an author (or a customer), since the sales don’t seem to be reflecting any unease at all?”

    I think they’d listen to the author because they don’t own the future work of the author (ignoring the idea of multiple book contracts for the moment). If the author doesn’t like the deal they’re getting and they’ve proven they can reliably move books, that’s a stronger negotiating point.

    Also, it seems like John pretty accurately described publishers business model to be that authors fail, therefore risk should be distributed. If your only action is to not purchase an author whose work you otherwise would, the only message a publisher is prepared to accept is that an author has failed.

  32. I agree that not buying a book punishes the author. There is a very recent case where that might be appropriate. Catherynne Valente’s “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”, just won the Andre Norton Award and was immediately truncated on its web site. Normally this would be no big deal, authors can put up and take down free ebooks at their whim (they own the copyright after all). In this case, though, the work was written on the “Tip Jar” model where some people donate and everyone gets to read for free. Catherynne apparently had her fingers crossed when she said the on-line version would be free for everyone. Having “sold” on-line rights for free access for everyone to her donors she then sold conflicting rights to her paper book publisher. No doubt Catherynne has received advise that this is entirely legal. It is clearly a poke in the eye to her readers though. Usually a case can be made that the author is as badly screwed as the reader by a publisher. In this case it was clearly morally wrong for Catherynne to sign away rights she had already granted to her readers.

    I don’t expect authors to be saints, and the ebook landscape is evolving so fast that anyone could be tripped up. So I will buy this work if it is ever sold as an ebook. What seems certain is that any future “Tip Jar” projects will have to come with a legally binding license.

  33. I don’t mean to be obtuse, but if the publisher’s response to my failure to buy a book is to say, “Ok, people don’t like this author,” what’s to say that the author’s response to my overcoming my distaste for the publisher and buying his or her book anyway won’t be, “Ok, my current situation seems to be working out peachily!”

    That is, if the protocol for what I do with a publisher I don’t like (buy the book) is no different from the protocol for what I do with a publisher I like (buy the book), what’s really in it for the author to work with a publisher I like?

    I’m not an enthusiastic boycotter or someone who is constantly flexing his consumer muscle. But if John Scalzi sells a book through Nasty Boys Limited instead of, for example, the fine folks at TOR, I am going to think less of him for it.

  34. I wouldn’t buy anything from Amazon, but fortunately they don’t have a total corner on anything I want. I can boycott THEM without hurting the authors.

    Then there’s this:

    Nor do I particularly care that my boycott affects Walmart’s suppliers (i.e., authors). Somewhere a Chinese factory didn’t sell quite as many widgets. So what? Maybe they should sell their products through a better distributor. Maybe authors should sign up with better publishers, if they don’t want to be affected by boycotts hitting bad publishers.

    This is a paragraph written by someone who either doesn’t know anything about how the publishing industry actually works, or someone pretending to such ignorance.

  35. Eridani –

    “Now, I actually look at the publisher before I go down the road of purchasing a Kindle book because I’ve been burned by having 5 (!) of the series I read unKindleized (I just made up that word) by publisher vs. Amazon slap fights in recent months.”

    Based on the way you wrote it, it sounds less like your goal is to send a message to the publisher regarding the bullshit way the ebook dispute is being handled and more like you are looking after the longevity of your own investment in a particular format.

    I’m aware of publishers to the extent that I enjoy insider baseball kvetching and agitation. Even I’m not in the game. To me, of the population that is aware of, and has their buying patterns impacted by, the actions of publishers, the majority of those folks are probably made up of wary ebook supporters.

    I’d put myself in the camp of opinionated ebook supporters. Which has led me to be painfully aware of some publishers names. That said, I don’t think this group of people represents anything more than a small slice of the reading population.

    Mind, my survey that proved this fact to me was to ask my wife a few minutes ago who published her favorite author x. Her response was “Why the fuck would I care!” Of course, she was also asleep before that question. So, there may be some issues with this survey.

  36. @RickWhoIsn’tThatRIck:

    I only intend to pay for the things I actually want, which is, I think, pretty typical of most people. By your logic, I should spend money for items I don’t want, thereby perpetuating a business model that serves me content in a format I no longer desire? Furthermore, I should inconvenience myself to make all of that slightly more palatable? I’ll pass on that, thanks. Instead, I will simply patronize the businesses who give me the product I want and I will not patronize the businesses who do not give me the product I want – just like every other consumer of everything, ever. Publishing is a business, after all.

    Like John says, this will all eventually be sorted out and I will have everything at my greedy little finger tips. But for now, it’s annoying.

    Also, yeah, the library is meant for sharing. That’s great and when I was young and broke, I used it heavily. If the pirating analogy offends you, let’s call it shareware, then. If you like something, you pay the fee and get the full version. Same diff, in my mind. Been in IT too long, maybe.

  37. I just don’t think most readers pay attention to publishers. They’ll remember a title and an author before they’ll remember a publisher.

    Hardcore readers and writers are a different breed, of course.

    I can’t see a boycott doing any real harm to the publisher. The publishing house isn’t going to care because 1.) they’re not likely to notice, and 2.) if they did notice, they’re not likely to think it would make much of a difference to their bottom line. It would take some kind of massive boycott for something like this to make a difference.

    However, it might make the one who boycotts feel better about their decision.

    The best thing to do would be to contact the publisher. Write an e-mail. Call the PR department, if they have one (yes, I’m sure they’ll hate the call, but that’s kind of the point).

  38. The thing about the library is that what they do is not publishing, unlike file sharing. They lend a single copy, which comes back to them.

    I think in the UK and some other Commonwealth countries authors get paid when books get lent by libraries. That seems reasonable.

  39. I think the actual effective way to punish publishers is to work to get the editors who know what they’re doing to jump ship to another publisher, or found their own imprint.

    A publisher can always find more writers, at least in the short term. There are writers queued up out the door in most cases. Some of whom are publishable.

    However, publishing throughput depends on key staff making purchase decisions, editorial decisions on content, production decisions.

    Most of those are fungible skills across book lines, but good editors in a genre are few and far between.

    But I don’t feel like a crusade against any publishers this week. Maybe next week. This week is All Hail Bacon Cat Flag week.

  40. Jason:

    I’ve never heard of that and I’m from New Zealand. Libraries do pay royalties for productions (music/film etc) yet I am not aware of any who pay based on their purchased books being lent and returned. No reproduction is being made hence the one copy is one copy.

  41. Alan Wallcraft:

    “In this case it was clearly morally wrong for Catherynne to sign away rights she had already granted to her readers.”

    This is just about the stupidest thing anyone’s said here in a very long time. If Cat Valente was “clearly morally wrong” to do this, then I was also “clearly morally wrong” to take down Old Man’s War from here when I sold it to Tor. And if you really wish to argue to me that I was “clearly morally wrong” to do that, my response to you would be to tell you to kiss my ass. Both Cat and I did what we offered to do with our respective works, which was present them in full to readers. A simple cut-and-paste would have allowed any of them to keep either work permanently. That we later took those works down partially or fully was not a moral issue and it’s appallingly obtuse to suggest so. It was an economic issue in both cases and well within our rights, legally and morally, to do whatever we wished with our own works.

    Try not to be that stupid on my site again, Alan. And for future reference don’t presume I’m going to let you trash someone who is my good friend and who did nothing wrong with respect to her own work. You’re not going to get a second chance to do it.

  42. Buying the books still makes me feel like I’m buying coke for the pimp. I’m not seeing the balancing action of the market system unless an author boycotts the publisher, and that’s kinda like not planting crops to avoid paying a share to the taxman.

  43. So I went to see what the ratings were for Nora Roberts’ third book in her Bride Quartet, and it was surprisingly low. I wondered–what on earth? IMO, it’s nearly as good as the first and considerably better than the second.

    So I clicked to check the one-star reviews and found that they were ALL about how they’d love to give it a higher review but they can’t READ it because it’s not on Kindle and why doesn’t the company give in to Amazon and….

    Now, Nora Roberts is not going to miss dinner over a few lost sales (she makes millions each year these days). But so what? How is it reasonable that a decent book *appears* to be sucky when it’s not, in order to make a point? It’s not fair to the book or to potential readers.

    And plenty of authors getting this treatment might well end up missing dinners over a campaign that no one who can actually make a difference is likely to pay attention to.

    It maketh my head to hurt….

  44. I don’t entirely buy your “If you don’t like the publisher, buy one of their author’s books” argument. How I choose to spend money is a direct choice of mine, and by not spending it with publisher X, I’m denying them part of my money. Going ahead and spending it with the hopes that an author will effect change at the publisher is both indirect and uncertain. Authors may listen to feedback online; they may not. As they get more popular, in fact, and gain leverage they’re less likely to listen to small groups of fans. And regardless of their leverage, they may or may not have any sway over whatever it is I don’t approve of.

    As an example, Cory Doctorow, thanks in part to his popularity and online reach, has gotten Tor to allow him to offer free ebooks of his works. That hasn’t spread to other authors. If that issue were my hobby horse and I was spending money on his books as a way of giving him greater bargaining leverage with Tor in the hopes that it would translate to other authors having his same ebook policy, I’d be disappointed.

  45. @Elle:

    That chaps my hide, as well. Giving a bad rating to a book because it’s not on the Kindle is totally disingenuous. It’s like people who give a 1 star rating on an item because they didn’t like the packaging it came in. Silly bunnies.

  46. Stephen Grenade:

    “Cory Doctorow, thanks in part to his popularity and online reach, has gotten Tor to allow him to offer free ebooks of his works. That hasn’t spread to other authors.”

    Really? No, really?

    Whatever Tor’s sins, real or imagined, this isn’t one of them.

  47. With all the garbag going on in the world, there are people who actually boycott publishers over arcane pricing models? Seems like their outrage is misplaced… And stupid.

  48. But if the publishers’ own behavior destroys my wish to buy, I’m not punishing them except in that I choose not to spend money on something that no longer interests me.

    Track Record (Fictionwise ebooks)

    2008 $730, $60/month
    2009 $1578 $130/month
    2010 January-March $753 $251/month

    Much of the above includes entire series, such as Casey Daniels, Kim Harrison, “Weather Warden”, etc. bought “on spec”, as in “if it’s lasted as a series, it’s probably interesting.”

    Now: April and May 2010 (so far) put together: $40

    What caused the collapse? I had pre-ordered, in good faith, Kim Harrison’s “Black Magic Sanction” for $8. The publisher canceled the sale just before the book was released, and when I looked for it, it was only available at Amazon or Barnes&Noble for $12.

    THAT act of unmitigated greed has gone a long way to getting my addiction to books, ALL books, under control, since I almost never buy treeware as reading matter.

    Marketing is the art of inducing people to give you money for something. Supreme excellence in the art of marketing is making them glad they do.

    Last year I was glad to the tune of $1500. With the exception of Baen, which has never treated my wallet as a site for a pump, I’m not glad any more. At this point, I’ve got maybe $25 worth of books on my “to buy” list for the next FOUR MONTHS.

    I doubt the publishers will notice unless a LOT of us start to vote with our dollars.

  49. John @ 44 – You beat me to it. Well malleted, sir.

    Cat’s “moral obligation” to her readers ought to center around being able to keep herself housed, fed, and otherwise able to keep *writing*.

    As someone who’s helped Cat going by donating money when I was able to, and donated time and books when I wasn’t, I’m no more entitled to hector her about her business decisions than Allan is. The idea that I should be is nauseating.

  50. I’ve never punished a literary publisher, although I read Piers Anthony’s rants on them, and I fully understand how they can screw over an author.

    But I’ve rewarded publishers. A good example is Baen. They release old novels for free. That’s often enough to get me hooked on an author. And when I see Baen’s logo on books, it provides an incentive for me to buy that book, or at least see if the publisher released something else by that author for free on their website.

    So am I part of the problem, or part of the solution?

  51. Josh Jasper:


    That said, I want to move the discussion off Cat Valente now, if that works for everybody (and even if it doesn’t).


    I suspect rewarding a publisher for what you feel is correct action is probably overall a more effective strategy. Everyone likes positive reinforcement.

  52. “I only intend to pay for the things I actually want, which is, I think, pretty typical of most people.”

    I hate to say it, but ^^^^^ this.

    When the author’s works are available in a medium that I want them in (specifically the same medium the last several books in the series were in), I’ll buy them.

    Not before.


    I’m not doing it to punish anyone. I’m doing it because I can afford to wait forever for the paperback / e-book / neural interface holo-chip.

  53. Doing X to send message Y to recipient Z has never made much sense to me, unless you fill in the variables to make a sentence like: Writing a letter to a publisher telling them that I don’t approve of their behavior whichever. This boycott one author to “send a message” to their publisher thing just makes no sense. Tell the publisher. Use your words.

  54. (and as for screwing the author, the author can only be screwed out of something he actually had … my purchase is not one of those things)

  55. One point that seems to need clarifying: “boycott” implies an element of protest in an attempt to effect social change. Deciding you don’t want to buy a book _you would have otherwise purchased_ based on the fact that the publisher has somehow offended you and then not making your displeasure known to the publisher or to anyone else is not a “boycott,” it is “deciding not to buy a book.” And no one here said you weren’t allowed to do that.

  56. So what you’re saying, Chris, is that you’re not intending to send a message to the publisher, rather, you’re simply waiting to purchase until the book is available in a format of your choosing?

    This is a non-controversial statement which has little to do with the discussion at hand. Also, I applaud this choice.

  57. So, even if I would have bought it were it available, I’m not boycotting because I’m not gnashing my teeth about it?

  58. htom-

    “Use your words.”

    Ha. Yes. This.

    Which is ironic (?) to have to say in a discussion on how to act with the words industry.

  59. Well I guess I’m one of the people John disapproves of, because I won’t spend more than $10 on an ebook, and I won’t spend more on an ebook than the cheapest paper edition out. And that means a good portion of the time when the publisher has (to me) overpriced their works, that I will have found some other way of reading the works in question. Am I “punishing” the publisher? No, I’m giving them valuable pricing information, that, when they move forward from buggy-whip days (or more likely, when they go bankrupt and are bought by someone else who has already moved forward), they will be able to use to help them price things accordingly. I don’t pay attention to publishers other than when I note an overpriced book I tend to glance at the publisher line and go ‘yup, they did it again, idiots’. I feel sorry for the authors caught in this, but I don’t particularly feel responsible. And honestly, getting publishers to be sane is far more important than helping any particular author. If I don’t buy MacMillan books, not because I’m boycotting them, but because they’re consistently too expensive, and enough folks do that, either MacMillan will adjust their pricing, or they’ll go out of business, and someone else will take it up. Markets work.

  60. This actually hits home a bit as a number of series I’ve been reading recently and have pre-ordered from Amazon have been de-kindled. I find this highly annoying. And while I’m sure, as John points out, the author had nothing to do with that outcome, I also don’t really care who is at fault.

    I’m not trying to punish or send a message to anyone. It’s just that the universe of books that I want to read is not only bigger than I can possibly read, the smaller subset of those available electronically is still bigger than I have time to get to in this life. Those that aren’t in my preferred format go by the wayside. I still spend many hundreds of dollars a year on books, but now physical copies are no longer acquired. Similar to the way I no longer buy compact discs either.

  61. Skip:

    “Well I guess I’m one of the people John disapproves of”

    I’m not aware of saying that I disapprove of anyone in this particular entry or thread, Skip, and I invite you to show where I have. I didn’t even say I disapprove of Mr. Wallcraft, merely that he made a stupid argument. So please don’t attribute to me statements I didn’t make and didn’t even actually imply.

    As I’ve said elsewhere on this site and in this thread, choosing to purchase a book when it is in a format and a price point of one’s preference is not something I see as a problem; I see it as having consumer preferences.

  62. @stephen Grande

    I don’t entirely buy your “If you don’t like the publisher, buy one of their author’s books” argument. How I choose to spend money is a direct choice of mine, and by not spending it with publisher X, I’m denying them part of my money.

    AAHHHHH!! My god people, John’s been pretty clear but here it is in short form: It’s not about how you spend your money – no one’s saying you don’t have the right to spend your money however you want. It’s that

    (deep breath)
    when you refuse to spend money with Publisher X to ‘punish’ them you aren’t having much of an effect on them, but you might be having a fairly large effect on the AUTHOR. You do realize that midlist authors might have sales in the few thousand range – a few hundred passive aggressive people can really affect that author, but it’s not a number that will show up on a publisher’s radar.

    To be *really* clear, you’re not accomplishing your main goal and you are accomplishing a goal you might not want to be. Note how this isn’t relevant if you’re not buying something because you can’t afford it, don’t have space, etc. It’s ONLY about the passive aggressive types among you who feel that anonymously not buying a book is an act of real protest against the publisher.

    @Eridani – well, it sounded like your issue was a complete lack of space in your house for more physical books:

    Gah, I am really on the horns of this issue right now. I don’t want to buy any more physical books. It’s a source of contention in my house since I have books everywhere.

    That’s easily solved by selling or donating either existing books or new books as you buy them. You can read the books you want to read and keep the space dedicated to books the same as it is now.

    Of course, if you insist on the books being electronic, fine – but that’s your choice, you could still read the books in paper and sell/donate them to address the space issue. I guess what I’m saying is that if your issue is space, it’s solvable shy of the books being in Kindle format. If you’ve simply decided to place format above being able to read a work, fine…. but it’s not your only choice.

  63. For the Kindle folks suffering macmillian deprivation–

    *The Kindle supports more formats than just Kindle files*

    Buy and download your ebook somewhere other than Amazon, and upload to your kindle.

    If need be, there are programs that convert ebook formats for those who want to read on a non-compatible device.


  64. I think the term for this whole mess is either “collateral damage” or “you can never do just one thing.” I don’t feel like stocking up on security blankets aka books much these days because the publishers have behaved like utter jerks. And, since I’m finding every ounce I have to carry around counts MUCH more at 60 than it did at 18, I want Palm-stuffable or nothing.

    Unfortunately, if the publishers demand I pay 150% the price of the paperback for the privilege of being insulted with DRM and proprietary formats, no matter how jailbreakable, I can’t tell the publishers to fibble off without, to some extent, hurting the author.

    It’s a no-win game. The publisher will blame the fall in sales on piracy and not his own shortsighted greed, and the authors lose sales and reputation.

    Until this situation straightens out, if ever, I’m going to be buying ONLY books I am certain I WILL get around to reading. If that means buying two eARCs and the monthly bundle over at Baen, with an occasional shekel or two for odds and sods, (Tomb With a View will be out in July) so be it. I want to be HAPPY to be spending the money.

  65. I don’t “punish” authors or publishers, but I think again if I read a book that’s badly edited…I’m going to have less faith in that publisher, and feel less inclined to take a chance, even if it’s an author I’ve liked in the past. Sometimes even BECAUSE it’s an author who’s had some success there’s even LESS chance that the publisher will invest in editing that author. There are likely to be too many pages (sometimes hundreds of extra pages), and often the most egregious of copyediting errors. I will punish that publisher, I suppose, by being reluctant to purchase “product” from that house or at least that editor again. I’m also less likely to buy again if I see a lot of tropes. Tall, red-headed, green-eyed women, for example, blah blah. Editors should put a stop to that crap immediately. Otherwise we might as well have everyone self-publishing, and it seems as if they are, sometimes, for all the poor quality we are seeing.

    I also never purchase series until the whole thing is out in paperback. This is because of the increasing tendency to end with cliffhangers, which I consider to be a terrible violation of the contract with the reader… what, I stayed with you for 500+ pages, and you don’t trust me to buy your next book? Also, as in the case with the Name of the Wind, sometimes authors disappear on you. By the time they come out with a sequel, you’ve forgotten what the hell was in the first book. Plus, who wants a paperback and then a hardcover side-by-side on the shelf? Messy. So I don’t know if that’s punishment or not, but if you MUST write a frickin trilogy, and it seems as though everyone must, I’m not buying OR reading till it’s all out. I think it’s dumb to even release them separately.

    So, yeah, no one wants to take it out on the authors, but a lot of authors write a lot of crap and a lot of editors/houses don’t do a thing about it. And even when they could dive in and actually edit something so that a good story did emerge, they rarely do. So it’s okay if we don’t spend our money on that, right?

  66. How about boycotting authors who resolutely support publishers who organize cartels in order to raise prices on books? In those cases I’m punishing the publishing house and the author, so it’s a win-win from my point of view.

    Personally, I’m OK with punishing authors as well as publishing houses. I expect this to drive authors towards selling direct to consumers, and in some cases I expect that financially, that would be a good thing for them.

  67. I’m not sure I trust that authors are going to have the same views I do on a topic, so even if they did have clout with a publisher I don’t know that I’d get what I want.

    I suppose I could make an agreement with an author that I’ll buy some non-trivial number of their books (would 500 make a big difference?) if they agree to advocate for my position.

    At this point I’m thinking sending singing telegrams to the publisher might be the best method.

  68. Personally, I don’t buy any books, DVDs or CDs anymore, in a full-hearted attempt to ruin all publishers financially and maybe have them be replaced by something better. Judging by the wailing and gnashing of teeth coming from publishers whenever they talk about their business these days, I’m winning. The beer industry, on the other hand, is doing fine (coz beer is, like, free).

  69. Claudia –

    “Sometimes even BECAUSE it’s an author who’s had some success there’s even LESS chance that the publisher will invest in editing that author.”

    That doesn’t make any sense. To me, at least.

    “So, yeah, no one wants to take it out on the authors, but a lot of authors write a lot of crap and a lot of editors/houses don’t do a thing about it.”

    I think John’s post was predicated, in part, on it being an author you already enjoy. I’m not sure anyone is arguing we should fight them on the beaches by purchasing authors who write what we consider to be terrible books.

    Break break.

    In general, I’m not sure I appreciate why so much vitriol comes out in these discussions towards authors. There are thousands of pages on the internets dedicated to teaching aspiring authors how to break into the published world. This leaves me with the impression that it’s a difficult market.

    At the same time, I don’t think authors are presented simultaneously with god emperor powers and a publishing contract. Meaning, I don’t believe authors can be held accountable, individually, for the way the publishing industry runs its businesses.

    I find it hard to believe that so many would quibble so angrily with the fundamental notion that not buying the works of an author you enjoy, or might enjoy, is not an effective way to encourage or force change in the business practices of their publisher.

    I suppose it might be worthwhile to investigate the position of writers’ organizations like the SFWA when it comes to a specific business practice that is upsetting and see what their strategy is for addressing that issue. But, blaming the author for shoddy editing, production, or price gouging laying blame to the wrong party. Or, assigning them responsibility for powers that they do not have.

    But, when the day comes that I sell a book, I’ll be sure to say immediately upon the signing of the contract “As the new owner/operator of this enterprise, I hereby decree that all business practices I disapprove of will cease immediately. The king is dead. Long live the king.” I swear to use my dark overlord powers only for good. At least, until they sign another publishing contract.

  70. I am heartened to hear from others – htom, Other Bill, Geoge William Herbert – who IMHO collectively agree[1] that in order to send a message, you need to craft an explicit message and deliver it to an interested the appropriate party.

    This may, in fact, require you to obtain and utilise a physical writing instrument and commision delivery of dead-tree-matter on which you have inscribed your opinion on a subject, or expending more than a moment of your precious personal time to speak with s/he with whose policy you are at odds… kinda like lobbying your Congresscritter[3]. But – the more energetic the message, the more critical it is that that energy be precisely focused on the correct target. A personal letter in which you state what’s bugging you, along with a buck of postage (perhaps more if copies to related parties are warranted), are far more likely to get your point across than will a purchasing boycott ten-, twenty- or even a hundredfold larger.

    Authors are rarely the machinators of evil policies, almost never despotic minions of a publisher’s twisted chicanery[4][5]; they are the bringers of tales which we long to hear and for which we live … so please Hammer, don’t hurt ’em!

    1. If I have misrepresented anyone cited above, it is entirely through my own grievous fault[2] and is no fault of any person or party cited.
    2. #include <StdDisclaimer.h>
    3. [3DTiaB] Sweet Jebus, no!
    4. See also Charlie Stross’ Common Misconceptions About Publishing series, in which he categorizes the Writing Biz into areas subject to authorial input and areas of the other kind.
    5. No publisher with whom I have had business to date has ever merited adjectives such as those used above. This is a good thing.

  71. John, this is a great post, and I’ve been sharing the link far-and-wide and urging people to read it.

    There have been so many things said in comments that it’s hard to know where to start.

    First, some introduction and disclaimer. I’m a multi-published, national-best-selling author (that an a buck-fifty MIGHT get you a cup of coffee these days) who has published the majority of his books through various divisions of Penguin books (three currently in print). My wife is also a Penguin author, and has a current book stuck in the current Amazon/Pearson-Penguin mess and therefore unavailable on Kindle.

    I’m also the owner of two Kindles and rather frustrated over my inability to get certain books on it (not the least of which is my wife’s latest!). As some other posters have said, I actually much prefer reading on my Kindle to paper books, and I’m not much inclined to buy paper editions any more unless it’s a signed copy, or maybe a pretty hard-cover, from an author I like. Then I’ll STILL probably buy and read it on Kindle (assuming I can).

    I guess the first thing on my mind is to address the colossal ignorance in the people that say “I should punish author X because they deal with publisher Y, who I do not like because they just did Z.”

    First of all, the books that are appearing in the stores today represent the end of a long pipeline. From the moment the author sends out a manuscript or proposal, till they get an offer, sign a contract, deliver final copy, the book goes through editing and production, finds a spot on the publisher’s schedule is almost ALWAYS 1-2 years AT MINIMUM.

    But when you take into consideration consideration multi-book contracts, that could easily stretch to 5 years or more, and in the case of long-running series, we could be talking decades. So in most cases, what you’re saying is that authors should be punished for the failure of their tea-leaves and crystal ball.

    The Kindle has only been around for three years, and most of the policies and disputes that people are up-in-arms about are WAY more recent than that.

    And assuming the author jumps ship to another publisher. How are they to know what THAT publisher will be doing in 2-5 years? Or what issues people will be up in arms about then? Or even if the company won’t be bought out by some other “evil company” before then?

    The other fact is, if you want to work in this business, there are only a limited number of publishers to work with. Oh, I know that to anyone in a bookstore who actually bothers to look at the logo on the spine, there seem to be zillions. But much of that is controlled by a small number of parent companies with various imprints and divisions, in the U.S. and often internationally as well.

    As an example, here’s a list (cribbed from Wackypedia, so I don’t vouch for accuracy) of just Penguin’s USA divisions and imprints.

    G. P. Putnam’s Sons
    HP Books
    Hudson Street Press
    Jeremy P. Tarcher
    Penguin Press
    Prentice Hall Press
    Frederick Warne
    G. P. Putnam’s Sons
    Grosset & Dunlap
    Price Stern Sloan
    Puffin Books

    This doesn’t even scratch the surface of their international divisions.

    So authors have far fewer options in where to publish than you think (and that ignores the huge challenge for most authors of getting published ANYWHERE).

    For the great majority of authors, it’s a buyer’s market, not a seller’s. For most it isn’t a question of where to publish. It’s to publish or not publish at all. (And yes, ebook publishing is offering exciting new options, but unless you’ve already got a big following, it’s far from a proven way of making a living, and self-publishing is a huge distraction from what writers are supposed to do, namely, write. It isn’t for everyone. Certainly not yet.)

    Anyway, if the goal is actually to make some impression on publishers, to punish them or convince them change their policies, then you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot more than not buy one author’s books, or a lot of author’s books, or even one division’s books.

    John is exactly right. Don’t buy an author’s books and it will get blamed on the author. Hit them harder, it might get up to the line, or the imprint, or the genre, but it’s doubtful that even a huge and organized boycott would sting even to the division level, much less get anywhere near the decision makers. You may get results, but they’ll be unintended ones. “Oh, that science-fiction stuff doesn’t sell any more. Print more celebrity tell-alls.”

    Most of the folks trying to push major publishers around are like ants trying to push an elephant. Only there are lots of ants pushing the elephant for their own reasons and most of them don’t know the other ants exist, much less talk to them, and oh, it’s dark, so you can’t see the elephant or the other ants. Oh, and most of you don’t even know it’s an elephant, or what an elephant looks like.

    Fact is, a book not sold is not a message. A book not sold is just a book not sold. You can say to the publisher, “I didn’t buy your book today because of X,” but to be honest, you didn’t buy a lot of books from a lot of publishers today, even if you are the richest book-nut in the world. All the publisher knows is that some book, or small category of books sells less, they should publish fewer books like that (or print fewer, or pay less, or probably a combination of all of these).

    It DOES speak when you buy a book, because the publisher can then see what you bought, where you bought it, when you bought it, and in which format (ebook or trade or mass-market paper or hardcover) and at what price-point.

    Saying to someone, “I am not a customer, and here’s how you should run your business,” doesn’t make much of an impression. Saying, “I’m a customer, and here’s what I’m unhappy about,” that’s a bit more effective.

    I’m not telling people not to buy what they don’t want to buy. (I’m holding out for Kindle editions of a lot of Penguin books too, for instance, but I’ll still buy them when they’re available.) I’m telling them that if you like an author and/or their work, dislike of the publisher is a stupid reason not to buy them. It’s a stupid reason to give them bad-reviews on Amazon and other sites.

    If you’re upset about something, speaking out is good. Blogging is good. Letters, emails, good. Hitting that “I want this book on Kindle” button on the Amazon listing, good.

    If you want to do something with reviews, put your emotions and bias aside (and if you can’t, do nothing) and write an honest review of the work, giving it the appropriate star rating. THEN editorialize about whatever.

    But please know that huge majority of the writers you aren’t buying have little or no clout in the current disputes, and have relationships with the publisher that far predate them. In a lot of cases, they’ll be contractually be locked in until after their settled and the riot has moved elsewhere.

    A lot of writers, maybe more than you think, make a living at writing, but for most of them, it’s a fairly modest one. The paychecks can be small and spaced months or years apart. They don’t get insurance (often CAN’T get insurance), have trouble getting credit, don’t have an employer chipping in social-security, don’t get sick-days, or vacations, overtime, or even weekends if the deadline looms.

    It doesn’t take much to lose someone their home or have them hang up their keyboard for a day-job.

    Be nice to writers. They have an often lonely, hard, and thankless existence out there trying just to enlighten and entertain you. Yeah, they’d like to get rich doing it, but they know that for most of them it won’t happen.

    Be nice to them. They aren’t the source of the current problems.

  72. If there is a german publisher who splits an english-written boot into two books for the german market and almost doubles the price this way… then there are thoughts of boycotting them.

    How let them know that this way is not okay?

  73. Since 2001 I have bought 950 ebooks from fictionwise and 589 ebooks from ereader.com. The terms of sale were always that they don’t commit to keeping them available for redownload indefinitely, but after nine years I had paid quite as much attention to this as I should have. And I am one of those fools who even pay the higher “closer to hardcover” prices for the books I want. (Not only that, I pretty frequently buy the book in paper as well.)

    A combined 1359 of those were in ereader format. As of this writing 110 of those are not available for redownload because of the agency crap. Now I am a careful sort and am down to five or six that I can’t find a legal copy of my legally purchased book on my own variety of machines and storage media.

    While I support authors and want to get money to them so they continue writing, a primary reason for buying legal ebooks has always been the cost of MY time. Yes I could wander around usenet or IRC#bookz and find these books, but I could buy them legally much more quickly and read them on my PC, my laptops/netbooks, my Palm TX and my Windows mobile phone.

    A significant number of the missing books are from Penguin, but I haven’t had time to do the analysis. It isn’t just all from a publisher either, it’s screwier. Fictionwise is being singularly unresponsive and unhelpful.

    Being lazy, I had seen and successfully purchased some new books from Barnes and Noble and they’d been in .pdb (ereader format) About 20. I’d gotten complacent and even though I knew that B&N didn’t make it easy to figure out if you were going to get .pdb or .epub (which I can’t read on my Palm TX or my phone) I preordered two books (Storm Prey by Sanford and A
    Secret Affair by Mary Balogh) at the fairly extortionate prices.

    They are both epub. Neither is available in .pdb at this writing that I see. All of this is on me, let me be clear. But I’m not going to preorder any more ebooks from Barnes & Noble, and if I have to download a sample and examine the content to figure out what I’m going to get they are losing the value I got from the legal purchase, and I’m left with the “supporting the author” part.

    I’m not punishing the publisher by refusing to buy .epub books (in addition to my legitimately purchased paper copy!!!!!) The publisher is not selling what I want in the format I can use and while they may be keeping the letter of the agreement, they are no longer providing as much added value by keeping it available.

    THAT’s why I’m not buying from Penguin and some other publishers. It is affecting at least future purchses from Anne Aguirre, Illona Andrews, Jim Butcher, Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs. Yes, that’s just through the Bs. I do plan to write the publishers and the authors to express my displeasure, but I’m not going to buy an epub I can’t read on my Palm or my phone, and my plan to buy a Nook is on hold because of this fiasco.

  74. Other than a few zealots I don’t think most people could name the publishers. How many people look at the publisher on a book? I don’t. I did not even know that TOR was owned by McMillan(or that McMillan even existed) until the news reports about the Amazon thing. I read books all the time.

    This is such a small percentage of people, I am not sure why it matters. Most people have better things to do then pay attention to this.

  75. John @49:

    Tor has made sporadic stabs in that direction, but it’s certainly not their wide-spread policy. Regardless of the example, though, you’ve only addressed that and not the meat of my response.

    (It’s “Granade”, by the way. Silly French last names and their variant spellings.)

    Rick @65:

    “My god people, John’s been pretty clear but here it is in short form: It’s not about how you spend your money”

    Except the part of John’s argument I took exception to was exactly where he said how we should spend our money: on authors in the hopes that they would then make the publishers bend to readers’ will. In fact, it’s in the bit of my reply you quoted.

    Not buying something from a company whose practices I disagree with isn’t a silent passive-aggressive form of protest, it’s voting with my wallet.

  76. Stephen Granade:

    Sorry about the typo on your name.

    “Tor has made sporadic stabs in that direction, but it’s certainly not their wide-spread policy.”

    “Certainly?” Unless you’ve asked someone at Tor directly about it, I’m not sure you can be certain of that.

    Now, as it happens, I am in a position to know a little more about this policy, and in my experience, it’s rather more accurate to say that Tor doesn’t do it unless the author him or herself wishes to do it. Which I think is a perfectly sensible way for a publisher to go about these things.

    “Regardless of the example, though, you’ve only addressed that and not the meat of my response.”

    Well, I addressed it because you were factually wrong about it. Also, what you think is the relevant bit of your response, and what I think is, may be two different things.

  77. It seems to me that it really does matter why you’re wanting to “punish” the publisher. If it’s for an issue that affects just one author, or that only the readers of one author are likely to know or care about (say, the issue someone mentioned of whitewashing the protagonist on the cover) then your argument makes perfect sense.
    If it’s for an issue that affects all of the readers of all of those hundreds of authors (say, the Amazon/Macmillan flap) then to whatever extent a boycott is successful, that dip in sales should also (in theory, anyway) be spread across the publisher’s entire range.
    However, I suspect what really happens is that authors like you or Charlie Stross or Neil Gaiman, who are more likely to blog about publishing industry issues, are more likely to be hurt by such impromptu boycotts simply because your readers are more likely to know about the issue than other readers.

  78. I think there’s some shaky logic here. In this hypothetical uprising against a publisher, the lower sales would be spread across all authors, and the publisher would be noticing an overall dip in sales instead of just one author. Also, when people boycott something, they tend to do it loudly, so along with this uprising there would be a lot of chatter about it online and the publisher would likely see it.

    If you’re not talking about an uprising but just 1 or 2 people, then I doubt they would hurt the publisher or the author.

  79. Scalzi @79:

    “Now, as it happens, I am in a position to know a little more about this policy, and in my experience, it’s rather more accurate to say that Tor doesn’t do it unless the author him or herself wishes to do it.”

    Ah, that’s good to know. Do you know how much of that has been driven by Cory’s activism?

  80. J. Steven york @74 said:
    It DOES speak when you buy a book, because the publisher can then see what you bought, where you bought it, when you bought it, and in which format (ebook or trade or mass-market paper or hardcover) and at what price-point.

    –>Which cuts right to the meat of the matter.

    Publishers are intimately aware of what sells. They have people–sometimes whole departments!–dedicated to tracking sales and inventory.

    They are excruciatingly aware of the demand for ebooks.

    And there is the two-edged sword. They want to meet the consumer demand, but they don’t want to do it in such a fashion as to put themselves out of business. So right now there’s a war on between publishers and Amazon to decide how that’s going to work.

    If you’ve bought a Kindle, you’re collateral damage–but note that Amazon is just as much to blame. I don’t call it “supporting” the customers of your proprietary system if you embargo the books that your customers want to buy. No, not even under the guise of “protecting” them in the wallet. Amazon is protecting Amazon.

    Yes, it sucks to be collateral damage. But take comfort in that both sides have a financial incentive to work it out. Give it a few months.

  81. Stephen Grenade:

    “Do you know how much of that has been driven by Cory’s activism?”

    In the case of Cory’s work, quite a lot. In the case of others, I think not so much, other than perhaps Cory being a data point/test case. In my own case I did it because I was curious to see what would happen and because by the time Tor published Agent it had been online for nearly a decade anyway, and trying to reel it back would have been futile, so why bother.

    Simon Owens:

    “In this hypothetical uprising against a publisher, the lower sales would be spread across all authors”

    i.e., “if I change the parameters of the scenario, the scenario will be different.” Well, yes. But what you’re describing here is not what I’m describing.

    “so along with this uprising there would be a lot of chatter about it online and the publisher would likely see it.”

    I a) dispute the “likely” assumption here, b) dispute that even if it does that the publisher will be more forgiving to the author regarding his/her depressed sales when it comes time for another contract.

  82. romsfuulynn @76: have you looked for conversion programs? I’m pretty sure Calibre, at the very least, know how to do it.

  83. Since the advent of the Agency pricing model for ebooks, this has been an issue of hot debate. consumers are furious with publishers and a lot of them have done exactly what you’ve outlined here. Which, as you have stated, really only hurts the author.

    My question is HOW does the consumer make the publisher recognize that it is being an asshat?

  84. @Stephen Granade

    Not buying something from a company whose practices I disagree with isn’t a silent passive-aggressive form of protest, it’s voting with my wallet.

    No, it’s not because they don’t know why you didn’t buy the book. In fact, they won’t have any idea whatsoever that you were considering buying a book but decided not to in order to send them a message. All they will know is that, for some reason, that book just ain’t selling (if enough people do what you do). Oh well, must be that that author or that kind of fiction just isn’t popular.

    Oh, and it’s passive aggressive precisely because you get to act like you just showed them and sent them a message by not doing something. That would be, er, passive. Want to really send them a message? DO SOMETHING. Send them a freaking message – a letter, a review, a blog post. By not buying a book you’re not sending any kind of message, you’re just indulging yourself.

  85. John, what would be the likelihood that only one author’s fans would be pissed off at a publisher? That’s why I assumed you were talking about a Tor/Amazon scenario rather than an ultra-specific instance. If a publisher is screwing only one particular author, then he should really consider taking his writing somewhere else.

  86. Simon Owens:

    “what would be the likelihood that only one author’s fans would be pissed off at a publisher?”

    Perhaps a better way of getting to what I’m getting to is asking “what would be the likelihood that a publisher’s handling a particular author’s work would set off a certain class of reader, who then react against that work,” and the answer is, likely enough that I felt it was worth it to write this particular entry.

  87. My god people, John’s been pretty clear but here it is in short form: It’s not about how you spend your money – no one’s saying you don’t have the right to spend your money however you want.

    How is that different?

    I seriously don’t get it. If the sole message in this post was “if you think you’re sending a publisher a message about their practices by not buying, think again” then maybe this would make sense.

    If the sole message was “you should consider the fact that your effort to take a swipe at the publisher will have an infinitely larger negative impact on the author – who you likely feel more strongly about than you do the publisher” then sure, valid point. Something folks should weigh in their minds when making a buy/nobuy decision.

    If it was the even more general “when you take boycott actions you have negative impacts on innocent folk who are just swept up in events and trying to make a living” then I’d agree there too. Questioning whether the treatment is worse than the disease is something that should happen more often.

    But instead John states “what you’ve really just done is screw that author.” And I think when you toss in the word screw, that’s a pile of manure.

    I do not owe my business to anyone, which John and others have nicely conceded above. But calling it a screwing when someone decides they’re not willing to financially support an organization they find distasteful… that’s exactly what that implies: that you owe someone something and you’re depriving them of it.

    Sure, the author can’t exert any sort of internal meaningful change from within if they get kicked to the curb. But that’s a macguffin – nowhere above do we address the question about whether we’re talking about a policy that the author is or is not in support of, or is trying to change.

    Saying that the publisher has no idea why the consumer isn’t buying is similarly disingenuous. No seller of products knows that answer on a case by case basis unless the customer is standing in front of them with the item explaining why they are not, in fact, going to buy that item. But if sales are down and they’re getting letters saying “I’m not going to do business with you because of X” then they have the information they need to make the connection. If they’re not smart enough – because they “are not generally known to be full of introspection,” well, that’s not really my problem that they can’t run their business intelligently, is it?

    Or maybe it is – that seems to be the message when you talk about people “screwing” the author. But it’s a silly one and it can’t be backed up unless you’re willing to put it on everyone’s shoulders for every decision they make every day. Didn’t take the bus? You just screwed the bus driver (and mechanic and auto wash and…) out of continued support for their livelihood. Ate at restaurant X and not restaurant Y? You just screwed the owner (and cook and waitstaff and dishwashers and…) out of their livelihood!

    Nobody’s being screwed. They’re simply being inevitably impacted by being connected to a business someone has an issue with. It happens every day in a million ways and is the result of capitalism.

  88. I agree that any message you send that way is indirect and if you’re mainly wanting to tell the publisher something, telling them directly is a much better way to go. But voting with your wallet isn’t any more indulgent than voting at the ballot booth, and not buying a book doesn’t preclude writing a letter.

  89. OK. “Write letters.”

    WHERE? And to WHOM?

    I have yet, other than Baen and a few other independent publishers, to find a publisher’s website that has real, useful, I-can-actually-reach-someone-who-will-accept-feedback-and-pass-it-on-to-higher information.

    We’re dealing with the Boomsbury Mentality: “I should think they’d understand that if we don’t provide it, they can’t have it.” As that idiot said in response to a question about the demand for electronic copies of Harry Potter.

  90. Don:

    “But calling it a screwing when someone decides they’re not willing to financially support an organization they find distasteful… that’s exactly what that implies: that you owe someone something and you’re depriving them of it.”

    Yeah, not really. Chest-beating about how you don’t owe anyone anything is a bit of a strawman setup, and I kind of wish people would actually pay attention to what I wrote rather than use this for an opportunity for more or less random soapbox standing.

    Which is: Attempting to actively “punish” a publisher by not buying a specific work you would have otherwise purchased is rather more likely to have a more negative outcome for the author than the publisher.

    Nothing there implies that you somehow owe a sale to either the publisher or the author, and suggesting it does is, to put it generously, wildly misinterpreting the point. This isn’t an issue of morals or obligations; it’s an issue of economics, i.e., who the lost sale will directly affect more.

  91. Anrongarou @ 88, yes, calibre knows how to do it, however, you must strip the DRM off first, which, since that’s technically illegal in the US, many people are uncomfortable about doing it. It also currently requires a higher degree of technical savvy to do than many people have, and the publishers are pretty quick to get websites shut down that explain how to do it.

    Honestly, if publishers would just figure out that DRM is counter-productive, a lot of this would go away. If Amazon or B&N or whoever didn’t want to sell the publisher’s books, they could just sell non-DRM’d versions for anyone’s devices. There are probably issues with contracts that say that the retailers get it for a certain amount under the price the publisher sells it for, but the publishers have shown a willingness to play hardball to renegotiate contracts lately, so that’s not really a problem.

    Now they’d still have the issue of overcharging. Hint, when the paperback is out, and is $8, $12 for the ebook just means you’re not actually interested in selling them, which ought to make the authors unhappy as well.

    I really hope the publishers are running ebook pricing experiments, btw, taking two books they expect to have total sales about equal, and pricing them differently so they can see what happens, but I don’t really see a lot of evidence of this.

  92. Skip@97: 100% agreement on that. A recent Charles Stross blog entry mentioned a sequel Walter Jon Williams’ “This is Not a Game.” Since I got “Implied Spaces” over at webscriptions and loved it, I took off for Barnes and Noble, and discovered: Paperback $7.19 (online). eBook $11.99, with insulting DRM goodness.

    One lost sale. And, as I’ve remarked elsewhere, the publisher will simply blame falling sales on “piracy” and go merrily on their way, bleating “There’s no real market for eBooks.”

  93. I now generally won’t buy a book unless it’s both 1) in an electronic–usually Kindle–format and 2) less than ten bucks. Is this a “stand against the publisher?” Not to me. There are far more books to read than I have time to read them. I buy the the ones that are the best deal.

    The economic effect of my decision is exactly the same as the the purple-in-the-face-internet-should-be-free type who makes a “moral” decision not to buy from a publisher who prices books above $9.99.

    So, if I understand the thesis, my economic decision is fine, but the “moral” decision is ill-conceived. Yet, in either case, the author gets “hurt” more than the publisher, though both are “hurt” to some degree. Moreover, in either case the economic effect is boycott.

    My question is this: If one’s goal is a lower price, what’s wrong with a boycott even knowing that others, authors (or retirees holding the publisher’s stock) will suffer more then the suits in NYC who made the pricing decision?


  94. Mark:

    “So, if I understand the thesis, my economic decision is fine, but the ‘moral’ decision is ill-conceived.”

    Your economic decision doesn’t target any specific author for your message sending; you have simply expressed your criteria for making a purchase, and that criteria are consistent across an entire class. It’s not any different than someone not buying hardcovers because they don’t want to pay the extra money.

  95. Skip @ 97: Hint, when the paperback is out, and is $8, $12 for the ebook just means you’re not actually interested in selling them, which ought to make the authors unhappy as well.

    –>Not necessarily. It may mean that the publisher has determined that a sufficient number of people are willing to pay $12, that the loss of sales to folks who’ll only buy at $8 is not a big deal.

    10 books at $12 = $120
    15 books at $8 = $120

    By this math, a publisher can lose 1/3 of the potential $12-ebook purchasers and still make money. If they expect to lose fewer than 1/3, then they maximize profits.

    Which isn’t to say that I think the data has been crunched this finely. There’s been insufficient data until now, and what data was available suggested that (early-adopter) ebook buyers just wanted their books in convenient electronic form. They weren’t investing in a price-reducing machine.

    This has only come to a head with Amazon and their Kindle, and people who previously had no interest in ebooks (they’ve been around for a decade) suddenly wanting one. Amazon did an excellent job of marketing their device, and part of their marketing plan was to sell the ebooks as a loss-leader in order to convince people to buy Kindles.

    The publishers took a defensive move to prevent Amazon pricing ebooks at a loss, because of the larger ramifications this has on retailers–the publishers’ other customers–outside of Amazon.

    All producers of goods price them at a level that maximizes earnings, or at least holds them above costs.

    A publisher no more owes a reader a particular price point than that reader owes the publisher a particular sale.

  96. boycotts are all well and good, but everyone knows the REAL way to punish someone is to drive by their house blasting Rick Astley every 15 minutes between 1am and 5am.

    Granted they’ll have no idea what they did to deserve it, or what to do to make it stop, but strange and annoying has always been a shotgun approach.

  97. I confess I’m stunned by the near-total lack of understanding of the writing business revealed by so many of the comments here. Guess what? Authors don’t write a book and then CHOOSE which publisher to “support”. Authors hope like hell some publisher will decide to BUY their book!

    Cliffhangers — series that end abruptly in “a terrible violation of the contract with the reader” usually end not because the author gaily abandoned his or her responsibility to the reader, but because the publisher looked at the sales of books one and two, and decided it wasn’t worth the publisher’s while to publish book three. Trust me, in cases like this, the authors get awfully tired of having people ask them when the next book’s coming out!

    As for the person who blithely expects not buying books to drive authors toward selling direct to consumers — well, expect all you like to drive authors to selling direct, but as an author, I’m here to tell you it’s not bloody likely. I get an advance and then write the book. If I’m not getting paid, I’ll go back to fanfic!

  98. Wow!

    Am I missing what is going on here? It’s like a tabloid creating a controversy where non exists to boost circulation.

    I read the original blog and my first thought was, “There’s a massive boycott of some publisher happening somewhere?” Then I read the comments and despite a few people asking, John, you don’t ever specify what inspired your comments. Yet, everyone is out in the street, guns blazing.

    Such power in the hands of one man…..

    All that I can glean from the various opinions expressed, however, is that most readers are primarily concerned with the thickness of their wallets and rightly so.

    I’ve probably left it too late in life but I’m making an attempt to develop my craft as a writer. If I ever produce something worth publishing, I can’t imagine blaming its success or failure on the public’s reaction to my publisher unless every author in that house experiences the same failure.

    Has that actually happened here? Has a whole house of authors suffered poor sales because of a boycott of their publisher? Otherwise, this whole debate seems pointless.

    If Kindle, Nook or whoever are overpricing certain titles, then they won’t sell. When compared proportionately to the number of hardcover and paperback sales, discrepancies should be noted and corrected. If not, then it is incumbent on the author to speak up, not the reader. After all, it is his/her livelihood.

  99. My “favorite” Amazon 1-star reviews are when the customer breaks their item via, say, pouring boiling liquids into a glass measuring cup that’s been chilling in the freezer.

    1-star reviews based on pricing have been ever-present, even before the ebook pricing wars; I have seen 1-star review mobbing based on something being $1 more expensive than the equivalent at Costco.

    Generally if something is available in the format I want it, and the price is something I’m willing to pay for, I will buy the thingy. There are lots of people like me; what John says here, however, is something I’m willing to take into future consideration, and I’m glad he’s said this. (For instance, it makes me feel less of a sucker for being willing to shell out $16 for an ebook from an author I really, really love; and it also makes me consider past cases where I’ve done the opposite and decide I did make a good decision that didn’t depend on attempting to “punish the publisher”.)

    It’s not like John’s saying “if you don’t buy books at any price/situation you are guilty guilty guilty!”, he’s just offering another vector for consideration amongst the many we use when we consider whether something is worth spending the money on.

  100. I don’t want to punish anyone. I just want to be able to buy my mass market paperbacks and feel great about the pleasure I get from reading them. I don’t want to put extra pressure on the book to entertain me because I had to pay more than is comfortable for me. Now I see books disappearing from the shelves and coming back in spiffy trade paperback form and they cost too much for me to make that spontaneous purchase and recently I have failed to buy several books I would have if they had just been in the $7-$9 range. I’m using the library and considering an electronic reader (yes, I know I could buy a lot of books for the cost of the reader. There are other things that make the reader attractive.) for future purchases. Oh, well.

  101. I’m glad I’m not the only one who understands the basic idea that if you’re doing something to achieve a specific effect, it’s a good idea to find out whether it will actually have that effect.

    Personally, I want lower prices on ebooks; and I don’t think I’m alone here. What I plan on doing is taking advantage of the agency model. Since the plan is to drop ebook prices over time I’m going to wait until they drop to my price point and then buy the hell out of them.

    This is what’s going to influence publishers.

    If they see that they’re selling five times as many ebooks at six bucks as they are at twelve, you can bet they’ll pay attention to pricing.

    Any business is going to put its customers’ needs before non-customers’ needs, so if you want to influence their actions, you need to be a customer. Consider it buying a license to bitch.

  102. @Geoffrey, #95–

    If the publisher or its parent company is a public corporation in the US, it files reports with the SEC which you can find online. Find a recent 10-K (10-Q might also work). It will have a physical address and the names of the corporate officers. Address your letter to the CEO. It won’t be opened by him, but it will eventually find it’s way to where it needs to go even if you don’t get a response.

    I did this -once- in the 90s, but it should still work.

  103. If I can drag in something from way upthread at #72, Bill was commenting on Claudia’s assertion that:

    “Sometimes even BECAUSE it’s an author who’s had some success there’s even LESS chance that the publisher will invest in editing that author.”

    He replied: “That doesn’t make any sense. To me, at least.”

    Unfortunately, she’s absolutely right. The more successful the author is, the more power they have to push back against the evil editors telling them to change the preciousseesssss. Look at folks like Elizabeth George, whose books just keep getting more bloated (i.e. less edited).

    Sometimes, the publishers figure they can save money on the copyediting because, hey, the author may have tons of rabid followers who are not going to balk at the errors. Or the publisher may want to rush the book out for maximum sales. Case in point, the new Preston/Child book, which has, quite possibly, more glaring errors in the first 50 pages than in any single one of the preceding Agent Pendergast titles.

  104. Chest-beating about how you don’t owe anyone anything is a bit of a strawman setup, and I kind of wish people would actually pay attention to what I wrote rather than use this for an opportunity for more or less random soapbox standing.

    Stating that your word choices matter and that certain phrasings have implications qualifies as a bit of a strawman setup? Please.

    You could have said “hurting” the author but you didn’t, you said “screwing.” If you weren’t coming at this with your bias glasses firmly on you’d see the significance of the difference pretty clearly.

    As far as paying attention… you don’t think observing how you choose to say something qualifies? I’d say it’s pretty much textbook. If you’re complaining that people are reading what you’re saying and not what you meant… I don’t know how to help you there.

    Stating that someone is being screwed implies a judgment and that they are getting less than they deserve. If you didn’t mean to convey entitlement than you should use less loaded words.

  105. Don:

    “If you didn’t mean to convey entitlement than you should use less loaded words not use words I have unilaterally decided imply entitlement.”

    Fixed that for you, Don. Your issues with the word “screwing” in this context are not mine.

  106. The more successful the author is, the more power they have to push back against the evil editors telling them to change the preciousseesssss.

    Also known as “Stephen King Syndrome”

  107. Opheliasbooks,

    I wish I was more conversant on this particular subject. Allowing that I am not in possession of hard facts, I see how a diva self view can have negative effects on the quality of future work.

    I’m still not sure I see the sense in it being more likely than not that a successful author’s publisher will invest less effort in copyediting new work in order to get it out to the customer faster. Or even somewhat likely. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

    I’m not saying it can’t happen, just that it doesn’t seem to be something that would be a normal business practice for any reasonably successful publisher.

  108. Dave Robinson@107, that’s a good plan. It only has a couple of flaws. One is that at least for now, there’s no sign that the publishers are doing any sort of testing for anything other than price parity with paperbacks when the paperback is out, and in fact the MacMillan CEO has indicated that he thinks ebook prices might actually rise over time, ie to correspond with the release of a trade paperback edition.

    The second is that nobody right now actually does any particular marketing on paperback releases other than brick and mortar stores, so there’s no current mechanism to get me to actually find out that the prices have dropped. Right now the publishers are set up to do a PR cycle around a hardback release and that’s it. In the past they’d get their paperback sales from folks browsing the ‘newly released’ shelves.

    Amazon doesn’t do any particular marketing – they leech off of the marketing efforts of others by providing a low cost, easy channel for purchase, when you know ahead of time what you’re looking for. For product discovery their site and model stinks.

    As brick and mortar sales diminish, publishers are going to have to step up and actually provide the advertising that the B&M stores had been providing through other channels. As an example, I’d absolutely _love_ it if I see, for example, a Tor book that’s out in hardback now, and thus has the price point above what I’m willing to pay for an electronic edition, to be able to go to tor-forge.com, find that book, and enter an email for them to notify me when the paperback ships, and thus the price drops to one I’m willing to pay. But right now they don’t do that. Probably because they don’t sell to me, they sell to Amazon, who then sells to me.

    So the odds are, I see a book that in the past I’d have filed away as ‘pick up when the paperback drops’, and then done so a year or so later, if the price isn’t under $10 now for the electrons, I’m never, ever going to see this book again, and they lose a sale.

  109. I know a guy who actually writes letters to a company when he’s unhappy with something about what they do. That seems to be the most direct way of doing something about it.

    Not buying something from Walmart doesn’t mean their supplier will be hurt in any serious way – here’s a clue: their supplier also supplies Target and Asda and a whole slew of other big box stores. If anything, it just means that Item X that isn’t selling well from Walmart – despite selling just fine from Target – probably won’t be stocked anymore at that store. (<–this is used as an analogy, before anyone decides to jump down my throat about it )

    John's trying to explain that boycotting a publisher doesn't hurt the publisher so much as it hurts the authors. I think that's not a really hard concept to follow. And suggesting that if you want the publisher to hear your voice, if you WANT something from them, you have to actually TELL them, instead of sitting there like a mute and pretending that they know who you are when you DON'T buy anything from them.

    Why is this so hard to follow?

  110. OtherBill, you’re right. It makes no real sense at all. Unfortunately, it’s still happening. A lot of publishers are cutting costs by skipping parts of the editing process. Maybe it’s the would-be, autodidact copyeditor in me, but I’m seeing more and more of it – or less, depending on how you look at it.

  111. As Lunamoth says, writing a letter is really the best thing to do. For a while I wrote letters to every company who gave me the slightest reason to complain. Plastic hinge on your fliptop lid wear out and break off (leaving a sharp point)? Letter. Plastic pour spout fall out of an olive oil bottle? Letter. Something nasty in that bag of chips? Letter.

    On paper with a stamp, I mean. A real letter. It works wonders. With only one exception, the company wrote back to me to apologize and offer me coupons for their stuff (or they straight-up mailed replacements). The exception was a pizza chain that got hair on my pizza.

    Folks, if you really care, writing a letter is the best way to make the change you want.

  112. Unfortunately, my purse is my only vehicle of protest, and as long as publishers insist on asking ridiculous prices for “pixel property” I’ll insist on not buying.

    If it hurts the authors then the authors need to get involved and intercede with their publishers, not whine to their readers.

  113. Cillasi @ 120 “If it hurts the authors then the authors need to get involved and intercede with their publishers, not whine to their readers.”

    Or, well, the author will drop off the bottom of the mid-list and go back to washing dishes or whatever.

    I tend to buy books from authors whose stories I like. It is not a good result for me if those authors stop having time to write because they need to go earn a living wage.

    [As for ebook pricing – the agency model would be fine for me IF they drop the prices so that the ebooks are always the same or less than the current physical release. The problem is they’re often not doing this, and seem to have bright ideas about “Enhanced Ebooks” with stupid multi-media interviews included to justify the extra price. Fine example of Publisher Just Not Getting It.]

  114. OtherBill: …a successful author’s publisher will invest less effort in copyediting new work in order to get it out to the customer faster. … it doesn’t seem to be something that would be a normal business practice for any reasonably successful publisher.

    –>Alas, Bill, here is where sense and reality part company. I report this from the inside of the industry, having been a production person for sixteen years.

    There are multiple places it can happen, either in acquisitions editorial (which handles developmental editing and overall content) or in managing editorial (which handles copyediting, including checking for consistency, and sometimes including line-editing as well).

    In all of these departments, people are overworked. Publishing is a tight-margin business, and they seem to make that margin by paying very little and not hiring enough people. So imagine you’re an editor (of either sort) faced with this understaffing problem. The only possible way to get your job done is to either do a half-assed job on every book, or try to devote your talents where they will be appreciated.

    Bestselling diva who doesn’t want to be edited? Why waste your time? “The fan base will buy it anyway” becomes your mantra. Past history bears this out.

    The other problem that often arises in Managing Editorial is that no one’s really checking standards, because again, who has the time to double-check everything? Everyone trusts that the job will be done at least adequately. But sometimes a book is rushed, or a freelancer takes on more than they ought, and a half-assed job happens. And no one catches it, and the book goes to press with many errors.

    It sucks, yep. But this is going to happen in any endeavor where humans are involved.

    This is why I always tell authors to make sure their manuscripts are as clean as possible to start with, and to review their edited copy and their first pass pages closely. If they suck at proofreading, they should cultivate a friend who doesn’t and buy them lots of fancy meals.

  115. I don’t really have a dog in this hunt, as I don’t buy or read ebooks. Having said that, I think Don has made some good points. The obvious thing about collateral damage is that people whom you care about, (or potentially care about) are getting hurt. Nobody (sane) likes that. But that doesn’t by and of itself mean that the action that caused the collateral damage isn’t the right thing to do. Often, it’s the ONLY thing to do, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it. I’m not at all sure that the situation being discussed here isn’t one of those cases (I’ve yet to read a credible scenario for resolving this impasse that doesn’t involve economically hurting publishers. This of course doesn’t mean that no such scenarios exist). Whether or not one agrees with that assessment seems to be a value judgment over which reasonable people can agree to disagree. (I know purportedly sane people who think that ANY collateral damage is a valid reason for not fighting ANY war, for instance).

  116. I suppose that I am not plugged in to such things, but my first response to the post was, “Wha????” I simply didn’t see the logic in doing something to Party A (the author) in order to prove a point to Party B (the publisher). As Scalzi said, publishers have many authors, authors have only themselves, so damaging the parties who need the publishers as a vehicle but who are not representatives of the publishers…just didn’t make any sense to me at all. My thought process has always been: “Ooooh, a new book by *insert author here*! I should have that!”

    Perhaps the fact that I am hopelessly addicted to paper and have an actual library full of shelves and paper books rather than a flash drive or reading device impacts my judgment? Or the fact that I’m also addicted to coupons and sales, and usually end up paying an Amazon price in a brick and mortar store? I just don’t seem to struggle with many of the things that are mentioned, and would hate to hurt my favorite authors (most of whom tend to be mid-list) even if I did.

    My kids must be right…I don’t get it…

  117. There seems to be two issues that have produced this punish the publisher idea. The first are situations like the Liar cover and the second are the prices of e-books and related details.

    For things like the Liar cover, a boycott doesn’t work if the publisher doesn’t know it’s going on. For Liar, people and the author discussed the issue on the Net, people said they were going to buy editions of the book from other countries (thus not punishing the author,) and most importantly, people emailed and contacted the publisher and complained. It was this that caused them to change the Liar cover, and to do so for another book with the same cover problem.

    For e-books, much of the demands of fans are unreasonable given the market’s stage of development, and the belief that publishers won’t adjust prices as the market develops is unhelpful. But even so, protesting directly to the publisher about their policies is more effective than just not buying things. Publishers are used to people not buying books. It doesn’t alert them. If you plan a boycott, do it as an organized event with as many people as possible, publicize it, do a formal protest to the publisher, etc. But it would make more sense to protest to the publisher and to the media without a boycott, as then you become the paying audience to which they have to respond — and most importantly, to whom book vendors listen and get upset with publishers about. In the e-book area, protests may shape publisher policies but there are going to be limits.

    Ultimately, patience and volume of buying is going to have more effect on publishers than boycotts when it comes to e-books. But book publishers have not had to deal so directly with customers before the Net. Protesting lets them know what the issues are and it can effect behavior and make them more conscious of managing their image in the marketplace and media. And book publishers, even large ones, are a lot more concerned with this than say a company like Walmart.

    But none of it has any effect if they don’t know that you are doing it.

  118. @Harry, John

    “Congratulations, what you’ve really just done is close that author, by the means of a screw”

  119. Kat –

    “But none of it has any effect if they don’t know that you are doing it.”

    This was my take away from John’s post. Voting solely “with your wallet” sends an ambiguous message that the publisher, given their business model, is likely to misinterpret. Thus, unintentionally causing J Random Author You May Or May Not Already Enjoy to pay the price.

  120. E@123: There’s another benefit to having the cleanest possible manuscript to begin with: the proofreading/checking process is quicker and cheaper. I have to stop, mark the page, and log the error every time I hit one, and that adds to the time I have to charge my publisher for the job.

    Also, for those who enjoy such a game, think of driving the proofreader nuts when he can’t find anything wrong.

    “Objective in site.” -> “Objective in sight.”

  121. Kat@126:

    “For e-books, … the belief that publishers won’t adjust prices as the market develops is unhelpful.”

    I’m sorry, but the belief in regard to prices is backed by considerable historical data. To use just one example: The eBook price for one of the Kushiel books was still twenty dollars SIX YEARS after the paperback had been released.

    Contemporary examples:

    Walter Jon Williams “This Is Not a Game”. Paperback: $7.99(list),$7.19(online)
    eBook: $11.99 [B&N]

    Paulo Bacigalupi “Ship Breaker”
    See: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/05/20/the-big-idea-paolo-bacigalupi-2/
    Hardcover: $17.95(list),$12.99(online)
    eBook: $9.99

    I’m not bothering to purchase the Williams, I’ll be downloading the Bacigalupi in about two minutes.

    I’m not punishing the publishers, but I AM rewarding the ones that don’t attempt to have forcible carnal knowledge of my wallet.

  122. Geoffrey Kidd: “I’m sorry, but the belief in regard to prices is backed by considerable historical data. To use just one example: The eBook price for one of the Kushiel books was still twenty dollars SIX YEARS after the paperback had been released.”

    That’s because for practical, realistic purposes, the e-book market did not exist until Amazon released the Kindle at the end of 2007. Up until then, publishers had no formal e-book publishing programs and no infrastructure to produce them. E-books made up less than 1% of book sales, and most of that was in the educational market. It has only been a real market for less than three years. The fact that the technology had been around for twenty years was irrelevant because the market didn’t exist yet that was worth making use of the technology in a regular and regulated way. But with the Kindle and the continued success of Sony’s e-reader device, with increased online sales and other big companies like Apple coming into the market, e-books became a real if tiny boutique market that grew to 1% in the last three years, and then 3% in the last year or so.

    But you’ve got another five years to go before they get that infrastructure fully formed and a stabilized, sliding scale of prices in place for the e-book market (at which point e-books should be 5-7% of the total sales market.) Saying that publishers didn’t change the prices in the past, so they won’t ever ignores how the consumer retail e-book market has actually developed.

    I realize that three years is an eon in Net time, but retail trade book publishers can’t run on Net time. So yes, there will be a limited number of e-books available to you at a price you can tolerate for the next five years. But saying that this market will be frozen in time when it has rapidly changed over the course of that three years is not a practical analysis, in my opinion. That being said, nobody has to buy any e-book if they don’t want to. But if they are refusing to buy in protest of current e-book prices, it helps if they let the publishers know that’s what they are actually doing, rather than simply not buying e-books. Because most people aren’t buying e-books, so again, it doesn’t alert the publishers.

  123. KatG@131: I’m sorry, but for “practical, realistic” purposes, the eBook market started in 1999. Where there’s a vendor, there’s a market, and Baen started webscriptions then. I discovered them in early 2000 and have bought literally everything they’ve published there. The combination of PalmPilot and zero-DRM books was a godsend which got me back into regular fiction reading after several years’ hiatus.

    My first fictionwise purchase was August 22, 2000 (I asked them.), and my electronic library just with them numbers over 3400. Add in the Baens, odds and sods from MobiPocket, eReader.com, and, of all things that surprised me when I discovered them, Harlequin, the collection is MUCH larger than that.

    The eBook market didn’t come down from heaven when the Great God Bezos invented the Kindle. He merely had it created as an attempt to make Amazon effectively a monopoly on eBooks, via the Kindle, and a monopsony for the publishers, as the low cost and convenience reduced paper books to a niche market.

    So the publishers have panicked, watching the approaching Tsunami, and have reacted in just as stupid fashion as the movie and record industries have, and will be greeted by just as much customer hostility and disdain as the other mediasaurs are garnering for themselves.

    It’s not difficult to create eBooks from the “final typeset” file. And once you have decent scripts, the marginal cost of additional copies is fractions of a penny. There are very few people, except for the willfully blind and the stupid, who will object to paying paperback-level prices for eBooks, to cover the costs of copyediting/proofreading et. al. and seeing to it that their authors eat hot food and sleep indoors.

    But when the publishers insist on charging more for the eBooks than the paperback, with insulting DRM goodness and inconvenience added, they are only aiming a shotgun at their own feet. And that’s a policy change that an executive with courage and brains can choose less than a minute.

    The barriers are lack of IQ, lack of courage, and lack of understanding. You may be right about the timescale, but there are no TECHNICAL obstacles.

    If the music has sped up (net time), they had better get with the pace, whether they like it or not, before they watch their wallets start to shrink.

  124. I never said that there were technical obstacles. I said that the fact that the technology has been available for twenty years was irrelevant. That Baen Books has been offering stuff electronically, for free and paid, for so long is irrelevant. That Fictionwise got some customers is irrelevant. That several romance publishers have been doing e-books and POD online for the last decade is irrelevant. That you could read PDF files on your computer long before the word e-reader was bandied about is irrelevant.

    All of these things make sales, but they do not make a viable, full-fledged, practical market. A handful of people buying e-books doesn’t cut it. Only when the Kindle dropped was there sufficient proof that there was a reliable, potential market out there that was worth doing all the work (not technical work, business work, infrastructure, personnel, contract negotiations,) to put out not a few e-books, but a lot of e-books, and not just from one or two publishers like Baen, but the whole industry having to do it.

    That you were an early adapter is also irrelevant. You and the tech savvy don’t make the market. Some lady who doesn’t even know what HTML is, downloading from a global firm like Amazon is what makes the market. Now she’s doing it, so now you have a market. Now it is becoming part of the regular culture.

    Paper books will not die off because we can’t afford to have them die off, unless you’re going to buy everyone a laptop or e-reader. And book publishers aren’t going to die off if they don’t act like website designers on speed because the book market isn’t important enough in the Web economy for that to happen. Books are not even that important for the e-reader market. But they do have content that enough customers want that they will still have a place on the e-goods roster. Amazon made books their show pony, so they can’t dump them now. Prices for e-books will drop into a sliding scale when volume increases, which it will, and when infrastructure is set-up (two-five years.) (Also, when they figure out how they are handling textbooks, etc. — the educational market, which is much bigger and more reliable, always goes first before retail trade.)

    In the meantime, Barnes & Noble is offering a bunch of summer bestseller e-books for free as a promotion, so have fun.

  125. “If you didn’t mean to convey entitlement than you should use less loaded words not use words I have unilaterally decided imply entitlement.”

    Fixed that for you, Don. Your issues with the word “screwing” in this context are not mine.

    If you want to claim that’s not what you meant, John, by all means. But to claim that I’ve pulled from thin air the fact that “to screw someone” is to deprive them of their right is disingenuous.

  126. Don:

    “But to claim that I’ve pulled from thin air the fact that ‘to screw someone’ is to deprive them of their right is disingenuous.”

    I fully grant that you want to apply a definition of the word that I’m not using, Don.

  127. Maybe I missed this, and if so, I apologize.

    John Scalzi has pointed out that (paraphrasing) refusing to buy a book based on a publisher will most likely not understood by the publisher as intended, and will effectively punish the author.

    Valid argument.

    OK – but now I really want to punish a specific publishing house. Because the publisher, not the author, has wronged me or behaved in what I consider an immoral manner. How do I do that?

    Should I buy the books, and then write the authors? This seems to be Scalzi’s suggestion, but I fear that most authors will just ignore said letters. I’ve read a small number of authors saying as much on their blog. Maybe I’m wrong.
    Should I organize a letter like that with multiple signatories?
    Should I organize a mass boycott?

    I’m seriously asking – how can I hurt a publisher, not the specific author?

  128. Seriously, that’s the goal? To hurt someone, to hurt a company full of employees? Wouldn’t it be better to just try to get the publisher to change the behavior you don’t like? (Assuming you don’t feel that they are committing fraud, in which case a lawsuit may be a possibility.)

    Protest, the letter with multiple signatories, talking about the publisher on the Web, talking to media, etc. are ways to get your message across. That message may be ignored, or won’t be acted on until down the road, but at least it will be out in the ether. And it may, as happened in the case of Liar, effect change. And if something costs too much in your view, you can not buy it.

  129. JustAGuy @136: Instead of trying to “hurt” publishers, why not try to change them?

    Send a letter (not an email) to the publisher. Don’t be crazy or threatening. Don’t write it when you’re drunk or pissed off. Tell them you’re not going to buy their books until they do whatever.

    That’s pretty much all you need.

  130. I respectfully disagree.

    First, I’ve written the publishers with whom I disagree about their policies. Second, I also write to the author, telling them the same thing, in the hopes that, as you say, the author can influence the publisher. Third, I buy the book used. Yes, that definitely punishes the author, disproportionately to the punishment to the publisher. However, I cannot in good conscience hand my money to a corporation I believe is acting contrary to my interests.

    Follow my logic. Assume publisher A has acted in a fashion wherein they actively support criminalizing homosexuality. Not impossible, corporations pursue political issues all the time. Could you buy books they publish? I couldn’t, instead I’d tell authors to leave that publisher or get no money from me, and I would give no business to that corporation, or their authors.

    So, is price gouging on ebooks of the same scope? No, but I exercise my power the same way, the only influence I have. I tell the author, I tell the publisher, then I pursue my own little boycott.

  131. Interesting that people so knowledgeable about publishing can’t spell Macmillan!

    It would be nice to see the perspective of some more people from the publishing industry….it all sounds a bit one-sided to me.

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