Dear Readers: Publishers Think of You as Customers I SWEAR
Posted on December 27, 2011 Posted by John Scalzi 361 Comments
A few days ago, Robin L., one of the bloggers of the Dear Author site, took exception, via Twitter, to my announcement that I would be deleting kvetching about eBook pricing on my Big Idea posts, that I consider such persistent ebook price kvetching as a symptom of a particular sort of entitlement, and that doing it at the author, who generally speaking has no control of the pricing and who is probably neurotic enough, is pretty mean. Robin L. believes differently, which is of course her right, just not here on my site, in a Big Idea comment thread. She does have further thoughts on the matter at Dear Author, here.
However — and here we leave this issue of reader entitlement behind entirely — during our Twitter conversation on the matter, Robin L. made an assertion (also present in the entry linked above) which I found frankly a bit silly, namely that publishers don’t consider readers to be customers. I consider this a bit silly because, having worked with a number of publishers in a professional capacity for a dozen years now, in both non-fiction and fiction, at no time was it suggested to me, either by words or by how my books were sold, that my publishers don’t consider readers to be their customers. To be certain, they are not the only customers; publishers work directly with retailers, who are often but not always the middlemen in the relationship with publishers and readers, and they also work with libraries and schools. But only a foolish publisher is not aware of and solicitous toward its relationship with the reader, who is, after all the ultimate consumer of the product. Indeed, many publishers, including ones I work with, like Subterranean Press, primarily sell via a direct relationship with readers, with mailing lists and other sales tools.
When I pointed this out, there was some backtracking, with the assertion that the publishers we’re really talking about here were “the Big Six” — i.e., the major publishers in New York. Well, okay, but the assertion that these publishers don’t have a direct relationship with readers isn’t true either, since at least some of these publishers do have direct sales — here, for example, is the direct sales link on the Penguin web site for The Dispatcher, today’s featured Big Idea book. For that matter, here’s a direct sales link on the Macmillan site for Fuzzy Nation, my latest (need to contact Macmillan, as a reader, about an issue? Here’s how to do that. Or if you want to contact Tor/Forge directly, here’s the page for that).
But even if it were true, it only points out a flawed assumption, which is that a direct sales relationship is the only “customer relationship” that counts, which is on its face a really interesting assertion. A similar argument could be made about any company whose products are primarily sold through a retail middle man, from soda to jeans, and in each case it would be equally untrue. I wouldn’t argue that Coca-Cola doesn’t see retailers as important customers, in a manner very much like publishers see bookstores as important customers (and in much the same way, as both Coca-Cola and publishers use their own versions of “co-op” for product placement and the like), but anyone who suggests Coca-Cola isn’t intensely aware of their ultimate consumers is being a bit foolish. In the same manner, publishers have their own marketing and publicity branches, whose entire purpose for existence is to address their customers: Retail, for one; libraries and schools, for another; and readers, for a third. In point of fact, publishers — even the big New York kinds (indeed, especially the big New York kinds) — spend a lot of time cultivating their relationships with readers to generate interest and enthusiasm for their products.
I said so; Robin L. responded with links to articles she felt bolstered her point (here’s one), to which I pointed out that I wasn’t entirely sure why she seemed to believe that article cites would be persuasive to me over my own personal experience. But, fair enough: Perhaps publishing seventeen books in a dozen years with six different US publishers ranging from Macmillan to NESFA Press and working intimately with each on matters of marketing and publicity — and, for that matter, dealing directly with editors, publishers and publicists for other authors on a nearly daily basis for four years now regarding the Big Idea feature — isn’t, in fact, as persuasive as something you read somewhere on the Internet that you feel confirms every bad thing you think about publishers.
So I decided to ask someone who I figure is in a position to know better than I; namely, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who in addition to being my editor at Tor, is also that publisher’s Manager of Science Fiction, which means he spends a lot of time talking to other people in Macmillan about various publishing issues, including reader relations. The question I asked him specifically was: “Based on your own personal experience as an editor and in your involvement with major league publishing over the years, do major publishers see readers as customers? Or is major publishing customer focus solely on retailers?”
I think the observation that New York City trade publishers need to cultivate more and better relationships with their readers, as opposed to merely their retailers, has a lot of truth to it. So much truth, in fact, that for the past ten years or so pretty much everyone in New York City trade publishing has been repeating it, elaborating on it, and being inspired by it to engage in all kinds of initiatives. Whether it’s major editors and publishers getting out into the net on blogs or Twitter or whatever, or Macmillan pouring immense amounts of staff time and money into stuff like Tor.com and Heroes & Heartbreakers, or similar projects like Del Rey’s Suvudu, a lot of the reason is that everybody knows perfectly well that the world is changing, and nobody has any intention of just sitting around and becoming superannuated.
Of course, there are thousands of people in New York trade publishing, and while some of them are brilliant, others are timeservers, and some of the brilliant people are brilliant-but-wrong, so lots of effort is wasted and we frequently manage to tie our own shoelaces together. This is how human enterprises work — lots of error. But you know something, the so-called Big Six didn’t get to be the Big Six because they’re run by nincompoops who pay no attention to the world.
Meanwhile, lots of self-publishers, small publishers, e-publishers, and so forth also repeat the observation to one another. For some (far from all!) of them, it seems to be something they tell each other to reinforce their shared belief that big publishers are Doomed Baby Doomed, that the dinosaurs will inevitably become extinct and leave the field to the small mammals, and therefore EVERYBODY WILL FINALLY WANT TO READ MY SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK. Good luck with that.
Another truism you hear all the time in trade publishing is that the genre publishers and imprints are way ahead of the pack when it comes to engaging directly with their readers; that’s because so many of them have been going to SF cons and romance gatherings and Comic Con and so forth for years, decades. Some of us even came into trade publishing from SF fandom or the other-genre equivalents of SF fandom. We’ve been hanging out online, talking with and listening to our readers, since there was an “online,” and we have the old Compuserve and Fidonet addresses to prove it. The predecessor of the original Tor Books web page was the Tor Books gopher server. So this is another of those truisms that’s a truism because it’s, hey, true.
Basically, from where I sit, it looks like trade publishing contains a heck of a lot of smart, savvy people working very hard to roll with a changing world, while in a few corners of the online world there’s an odd subfandom of people devoted to the idea that we’re all complete morons who will be dying out shortly and good riddance because we have NO CLUE ABOUT THE INTERWEBS FWOAR LOL. Okay then. Maybe it’s true. We’ll see.
(My prediction? Trade publishers will make some stoopid errors. Trade publishers will have some fabulous successes. A few small scrappy e-publishers and self-publishers will be wildly successful. Lots will sink without a trace. People will be loudly wrong at one another on the internet. Readers will lay out money for stuff that gets their attention and seems likely to be worth their time.)
Now, bear in mind I don’t expect either my points or Patrick’s observations to be at all persuasive to Robin L., roughly for the same reasons that someone who believes in astrology is going to be unconvinced by a planetary astronomer; i.e., what one believes one knows is often more persuasive than what those with direct knowledge and experience might say — because, of course, why wouldn’t we say that. Our experience is a primary argument against believing what we say. If this is her worldview, then she’s welcome to it, although I would recommend against others signing onto it without a little more digging. There’s enough nonsense going around online about publishing these days.
Note well that this isn’t to excuse publishers from falling down on customer relations or to avoid listening to readers with an open mind. That’s something I highly encourage them to do, since it’s readers who buy the books, read them and (hopefully) love them. Please, publishers, give the readers your ear and make it easy for them to find that ear, since among other things, it’ll keep authors from having to deal with kvetches they can do nothing about.
But my own personal experience with publishers is that they are in fact rather very interested in what readers think, and think of them as their customers. I could be wrong. My experience says I’m not.
Update, 5:16pm: Teresa Nielsen Hayden has additional thoughts on the topic in the comments.
And now, for additional edification, this e-mail from Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who, like her husband Patrick, has been in and around “traditional publishing” for decades now, and non-traditional publishing as well. This e-mail posted with her permission.
Patrick just gave us a dramatic reading of your letter and his response.
I observed, not for the first time, that IMO the default answer to someone who’s ranting about the Big Six, the evilness in general of NYC publishers (who only promote bestsellers and anyway are only interested in books by celebrities), the coming selfpublipocalypse, et cetera et cetera yammer yammer yammer, is “I’m sorry your book was rejected.”
“Publishers don’t pay attention to the readers” is at best projection. More cynical souls might take it as an attempt to forestall the standard response to exotic publishing schemes, which is that they don’t take readers into account. That’s where most of those schemes break down.
Stated axiomatically: If you’ve written a book that people want to buy and read, you stand an excellent chance of getting it published by a real commercial publisher. If you haven’t, no clever workaround publishing scheme is going to help, because there’s no way to force readers to buy and read books they don’t want. The other necessary truth is that the relationship between how readable a book is and how many people want to read it doesn’t generate a smooth curve. Readership initially declines in tandem with quality, but beyond a certain point it simply plummets.
Patrick knows the publishing industry, but he has near-zero interest in following forum arguments where pretend-authorities are saying dumb things about publishing. Consequently, he isn’t aware that being focused on readers and their reactions is a marker for people who work in the commercial publishing industry. Reader-fixation is water, and he’s spent decades being a professional fish.
As noted above, the lack of that characteristic focus on the reader is a good way to distinguish non-viable publishing schemes, since it tends to be a weak spot of theirs. You can even use it to spot people whose home universe is degree-granting creative writing programs. I’ve seen people with that background have long discussions of books and publishing without once committing a major factual error about how the industry works, but also without once mentioning the book-buying reader, even when they were talking about aspects of publishing where readership and sales are the single most important factor. It was unnerving, in an Uncanny Valley kind of way.
There is one other milieu where you get writers saying that reader response is a matter of life and death: fanfic. Funny thing: I know a lot of writers who move from fanfic to successful commercial publication, but almost no writers who get there via tricksy alternate publishing schemes.
“People will be loudly wrong at one another on the internet” This is not only the safest prediction one could ever make regarding the internet, it’s so perfectly succinct and vivid it’s going in my permanent quote file, properly credited of course.
I can offer some supporting evidence for your position. When I pointed out to my publisher that many librarians felt one of my covers was too young for the book, my publisher changed that cover. They listen. I see it all the time on conference floors. They pay the same type of attention to individuals as they do to influential committee members and reviewers. I think, to many people, “publishers” represents some sort of faceless business entity. But each house contains individuals. Many of whom will buy a writer a drink. But that’s another topic.
I’ve found (from years of frequenting MMO discussion boards) that “the people that do this for a living don’t understand XXX” is a phrase that can usually translated as “WHY WILL NO ONE LISTEN TO MY BRILLIANT IDEA!”
John, you really like to win arguments, don’t you?
I’m not complaining, mind you — I’m just appreciating the master at work (and possibly learning a few things from the meta).
I haven’t written any books, but I’ve bought thousands of them, including hundreds of ebooks, so I’ve certainly had some relationship to publishers. And it appears to me that some large publishers consider ebook buyers to be nuisances rather than than customers, and wish we would just go away (and go back to buying what they consider to be *real* books, on paper). “Agency pricing” is extremely anti-customer, refusing to let retailers take less money on a sale to build volume or beat out their own competitors. And the driving force behind agency pricing seems to be an attempt to preserve higher prices on paper books.
Hmm, I feel like Patrick’s comment was a long way of saying, “No, not really. But they should be! And we’re working on it! And there’s progress! But no.” Alternatively, you could read it as, “OF COURSE they’re customers – and we’ll start treating them like that as soon as we can figure out how.” Which is still basically “no.”
That said, the industry is clearly in transition. I think that in the past, there’s no question that the big book stores were the customers, because they were the ones you had to sell to. They were the filter that took into account the tastes of the end-user. As that business model fades away, publishers have got to reach out to the end-users themselves and they’ve been doing that. But it’s kind of in fits and starts and odd little hops. Like having random bloggers run their Tor twitter accounts instead of having them in-house (that’s changing at the end of the month, btw). Or setting ebook prices all over the place and playing fast and loose with ebook release dates. (Orbit is especially egregious with that last.)
So, they should think of us as customers, and I think they know that. But it’s tough to figure out how to go from having a few massive retailers as your customers to having this huge, squirming mass of meatbags as your customers. It takes time for business culture to adjust, which is what we have here.
How about asking someone in marketing?
Dear Author was the last site I was expecting this sort of petty behavior from. Oh well.
“Hmm, I feel like Patrick’s comment was a long way of saying, ‘No, not really. But they should be! And we’re working on it! And there’s progress! But no.'”
I suspect it’s more accurate to say that it’s a yes — and an acknowledgement that readers are very much a moving target.
John, I love you better than apples, but here’s what I think: when someone has to say “Look at ALL MAH EXPERIENCES and be IN AWE” to carry your point, there’s something a little off there. Because then you’re just one voice among many. If the person you’re arguing with doesn’t believe your authority trumps his/her authorities, then you don’t really have much argument to fall back on.
I learned this the hard way in my own life, btw. (I also think you’re right on the whining about ebook prices thing, though.)
Janice in GA:
“If the person you’re arguing with doesn’t believe your authority trumps his/her authorities, then you don’t really have much argument to fall back on.”
Well, as noted, some people will believe what they want to believe in the face of evidence to the contrary. I agree that there’s not much to be done about it; it doesn’t mean that they are correct, however, or that this erroneous thinking should not be pointed out for the edification of others.
Okay, I can agree with that. We’re slippery little suckers.
I also want to say that bitching at an author about the price of his book is equivalent to bitching at a software developer about the price of the software suite he works on. Each has roughly the same amount of control over such things, which is to say absolutely none.
I got free books from Tor and Subterranean on the condition I promise to go forth and babble about them (even if I didn’t like them). That to me says everything I need to know about those two publishers: They love me as a reader and a customer.
I kind of want to talk about my experience with publishing as a customer, even if it’s on the whiny side. I’m not proud of it.
Once upon a time, there was an ebook series that had its backlist published out of order. This was kind of annoying, so I found out who the editor was (not hard; just look at the acknowledgements section and any decent author will be thanking their editor), found their work email, and emailed them about it. She responded with quiet tact under the circumstances, which was dealing with an irate, persistent customer who was fussed over not very much at all. However, she did listen to me, which is more than I can say for some customer service departments. And the books were eventually all published as ebooks.
I feel so ashamed about this interaction that I have never talked about it until this day. But she treated me well.
So there’s anecdotal evidence from just another schlub that individuals in publishing are willing to listen. I suspect this is the majority of people in the Big Six and among the more clueful small publishers.
In many ways, I wish that readers were more aware of publishers rather than only being aware of authors. If there was a way for people to know about and easily contact publishers and make their thoughts heard, rather than hunting down numbers, perhaps they’d feel more like that they were customers, and that feedback could indeed be passed. We can just say, “Those readers are lazy, they don’t deserve any better,” but most people aren’t even aware of this connection because there wasn’t really a need to be in the past. And now it’s the future, and no one is particularly prepared—readers or publishers.
Would it be as simple as putting up a CS number for people to call on the publisher’s website? Maybe, but that would need to be backed by clueful CS. This is difficult to set up, but perhaps is an idea that people are entertaining. I certainly hope so, anyways.
Efforts like Tor.com feel like the exception rather than the rule. Great exceptions, but there needs to be more outreach, somehow. But the way of things is simply this: adapt or die. And the Big Six, I think, can adapt. It’s just painfully slow to watch sometimes.
Also, my Dear Author comment above should be explained, and I apologize for putting it out there and not doing so. I would have expected them to have more experience with contacting individuals in publishing directly. If I, a mere schmoe, could do it, then so could they. I expected more from them.
@Chris Bickford —
You missed a part: “…EVEN THOUGH I HAVEN’T GIVEN A MOMENT’S THOUGHT TO HOW MUCH IT MIGHT COST TO IMPLEMENT!”
To be fair, in dysfunctional organizations the cost is often political, by way of tunnel vision, unwillingness to dismantle an internal empire, unwillingness to write off sunk costs, or more than one of the above. Meanwhile, the Internet continues to route around damage.
I have probably purchased somewhere in the neighborhood of 3500 books in the course of my life. To state that I am not a customer is absurd.
I was thinking pretty much what you wrote in the paragraph after the quote, as I was reading this. There’s only so much arguing one can do to a brick wall. If someone isn’t going to give credit to people who know exactly what they are talking about, then you can’t convince them otherwise. I’m not going to get into anything specific about my observations, for the same reason I didn’t last week, I don’t feel like getting into any annoying back and forth with anybody. I’ll let you and others handle that. You do it a hell of a lot better than I would anyway.
I maybe shouldn’t say this, but the above blogger is one of two I’ve learned from experience to ignore on Dear Author. (She blogs as Janet–early on, all the bloggers used J names.)
Clearly, my anecdotal evidence is better than your anecdotal evidence. And your mother dresses you funny.
This sounds like the same complaint made by every ignored artist, in every field, since the dawn of time. My music is great, the man is just keeping me down. YAWN.
Having worked in marketing for over 10000 hours, I can speak as an expert. Every single time a manufacturer thinks they know something better than their consumers, they fail. EVERY SINGLE TIME. All you have to do is look at new coke to see the “truth” in this.
On the other hand, how many great books are out there that didnt get the press they needed and deserved when they were first written? And was it the writers fault for not having a good agent?
(Bridge of Birds/Hughart comes to mind.)
I once worked as an admin for Coca-Cola’s sales and customer service agents. They spent a lot of time trying to shape customer’s preferences (by getting Coke machines into schools and Pepsi out) and very little time serving their smaller retailers. Taking calls from convenience store owners with late shipments is great way to learn south and east asian swear words.
“And it appears to me that some large publishers consider ebook buyers to be nuisances rather than than customers, and wish we would just go away (and go back to buying what they consider to be *real* books, on paper).”
That is an argument I’ve heard before but I simply don’t understand. Publishers want to sell books. If I would buy, say, five hard copy books a month, but fifteen ebooks a month — which has more or less been my average since I got an iPhone with a Kindle app on it — publishers are going to be delighted, and keep pushing ebooks my way, with that handy “read this in under a minute!” button right in my face. (And I do. Oh, I do. Instant gratification is awesome.) That, combined with the vast and ever-increasing number of books that are available in multiple ebook formats as well as (and sometimes in place of) their hard copy formats, including even cookbooks, for eff’s sake, indicates to me that publishers see ebooks as a wonderful new pile of money they are just loving rolling around in. Which is fine by me. There’s an entire new line item in my budget dedicated to that instant gratification button.
Basically, if publishers didn’t want to sell us ebooks, they wouldn’t make ebooks available to buy.
I think that you both have points valid and not. I am not inclined to wade very deep into the waters here on the point / counterpoint. (I do think that your establishment credentials / biases are on full display.)
I will note that my impression with publishers is akin to my impression with too many companies that I deal with. They don’t give a damn about me as a customer; they have no interest in providing me with the services or products that I want. “You’ll take what we give you and be happy.” is a pervasive corporate doctrine. No, I won’t.
I will concede that ‘entitlement’ feelings of readers (and customers in general) are a problem. Free books, .99 books, and stolen books are bad for everybody in the long run. On the other hand, I also feel that publishers are doing a spectacularly poor job on the ebook front – in no small part deliberately so – and I am entitled to point it out repeatedly. Authors are not innocents. When they make deals that make ebooks cost as much as, or more than, buying the physical book – they deserve to be called on that.
In response to “publishers aren’t giving us ebooks”, I have this to say: I stopped doing New on Kindle for SF/F because in a few months it became new books without Kindle editions became the exception, rather than the rule; and because in a few more months, many, many backlist books—in particular, series which I was interested in keeping track of—were being made available on Kindle as well. These days, for books that aren’t on Kindle but available as DRM’s epubs, they’re often being sold on legitimate sites linked to by the publisher (I always check).
Pricing is a whooooooole ‘nother bag of beans. So is DRM.
“I do think that your establishment credentials / biases are on full display.”
As I was one of the very first people to offer up a novel on the Web on a shareware basis, and who regularly releases material exclusively online and/or electronically, often for free, I find this amusing.
I also find amusing that depending on whom you speak to and in what context, I am either for or against electronic publishing, for or against print publishing, for or against the “establishment” or for or against authors making a living.
I wish someone would just tell me what I really think so I would know!
As usual, when it comes to Publishing, I find that both you and PNH seem to be about 96% Spot On — which works out to 100% for all practical purposes.
Mind you, I’m finding that what most publishers think readers/customers want (at least in the sf and mystery genres, which make up the bulk of my ca. $100-per-month new-book purchasing Habit) does not correspond well with what _I_ want, but (perhaps unlike Robin L.) I long ago realized that my reading tastes could well be considered a bit weird. And perhaps it’s just as well that publishers don’t have me primarily in mind as a customer — if they did, my fixed & limited income budget would be all shot to hell.
I agree with Robin. WalMart buys millions of books a year, I buy tens of books year. To say we are both customers and therefore [insert whatever your point is] seems to be a way to ignore her point. E-book readers have very little power to change the way publishers price their products. This is a very frustrating position to be in and therefore we complain to authors when we get the chance in the slim hope that they will post about the topic on their blog or contact a publisher buddy of theirs to weigh in on the issue.
I agree with your points about how publishers should feel about ebooks. But some publishers have not made ebooks available in the recent past, and a few still don’t even now. And others delay ebook editions. And many price ebooks as high as or higher than the actual selling (not list) price of hardbacks. That all makes it seem to me that they would much rather we bought paper books, and sell us ebooks as a last resort. That’s not universal behavior, and it is not as bad today as it was two years ago. But it’s there.
What changes would I like to see? First, drop agency pricing. Charge whatever wholesale price you want, but don’t fix retail prices any more than they do with paper books. I think that will drive ebook prices down, but if it doesn’t, I’m fine with it.
Second, drop DRM so I can buy an ebook from any retailer and read it on any device (using a converter like Calibre if necessary). I got several heavy paper books for Christmas that I’d rather read as ebooks. Since they came from Barnes and Noble, I’ll probably be able to exchange them for Nook books. But I have a Kindle, not a Nook, so the only way I could read them would be on a general purpose device, not my preferred reading device.
“To say we are both customers and therefore [insert whatever your point is] seems to be a way to ignore her point.”
Well, her point was that publishers don’t think of readers as customers AT ALL. Which is flat wrong, and is foolish of her to assert.
Likewise, I don’t think it’s at all accurate to say that publishers don’t think about readers because an individual reader buys fewer books than Wal-Mart. I will certainly grant that publishers think about readers differently than they do Wal-Mart, but “differently” is not the same as “at all.”
Complaining to authors about eBook pricing that they have no control over is an “empty calorie” method of complaining: It makes you feel better because you’ve kvetched, but it doesn’t do anything, since the author is not in a position to change the pricing. All you end up doing is making the author feel bad. I understand some folks may not care about that, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still a bit mean.
You would be better off finding the correct person to whom to complain. This is why, incidentally, I placed those contact links in the entry. I’ll note they took me all of five seconds to find in each case.
Your post made me sad. You and I, dude, we’re the untapped potential. There are plenty of other people who have ‘weird’ tastes like us, and if they market books toward us, we have the power of the internets to help them spread the word. If the publishing industry is going to work with this new business model, there’s a benefit in diversifying, taking risks, and publishing the less formulaic books along with the old stand bys. We may not be their primary customers, but we can still be important ones.
What drives me crazy about e-book pricing is when you’ve got a rather old work (The Maltese Falcon, for example) that’s just barely in copyright, and its price is just as high as a newish book that’s been available for maybe a year, or in other cases are priced just as high as a “hardback” e-book (Shelby Foote’s history of the American Civil War). I understand that typesetters &c have to eat, but oy, especially if it’s a half-assed conversion.
I don’t mind much paying a little extra for a brand-new book, because that’s the same market as hardbacks, and publishers tend to slowly drop the price after a while.
In fact there is a way to break DRM (using a Calibre plugin, even) for at least a few of the major ereaders, such as Amazon and B&N, but I suspect I’d be out of line if I posted a link.
While this is true, to an extent the big retailers are just a layer of abstraction on top of the reading public; if we don’t buy what Walmart’s got on their shelves, then they’ll quit carrying the stuff and get different. That said, you’re still wasting your time by bothering the author. You should contact the publisher.
Starting your argument with the comment that those who complain about ebook pricing are doing so from a sense of entitlement is a special kind of mean spirited. sure, anyone who argues with you is just a bad person, and afterall, you have experience. Hey, so do we.
Look, ebook pricing can’t be currently justified. I’ve read the arguments, I’ve read Mr. Hayden’s posts on the matter, and yours. No one has produced an argument that withstands scrutiny. Agency pricing (previously abandoned as anti-consumer) came not because publishers wanted eSales to flourish. It was and is hostile to the consumer. So, when someone says something broad (and inane) like publishers don’t care about readers, they’re engaging in hyperbole, but with some justification. Publishers want to do their thing, and want you to like it, as opposed to doing what we want. That’s human nature and businesses, especially big, old businesses, work that way.
The fact that we call them “the New York Publishers” is a perfect example. Why in the world in the electronic age would any publisher be HQed in NYC? Because they always have been. Not because it makes business sense, not because the location is helpful (it’s actually just expensive), but because they were “always there.” Why encourage sales of a product that steals sales from hardcovers? (Sure, there are lots of good reasons to, but inertia has them here). Publishers aren’t anti-reader, or anti-ereader, they’re just hidebound and clumsy. Epublishers will replace them, not self-publishers. Amazon among others. From a “right here right now” point of view, Amazon is for the reader, and publishers against. One is not only raising prices, but forcing retailers to not offer deals, while the other is fighting like hell to lower prices. Who should we support? We, as readers? It’s an easy answer, short term…more complex long term.
I, like others, want J. Scalzi and friends to make scads of money, and produce a quality book every other month or so, while sitting on piles of money. We also don’t want to pay more than we have to. Those two ideas are in conflict. We identify the publisher as the villain here, because he’s the one actively hurting us. When an ebook is MORE expensive than a new hardcover, we just hate that publisher more. He insists on DRM (we hate) he makes a more limited “ownership” cost more money (we hate) and he actively colludes with other publishers so that their products have the same pricing (oh, how we hate). Of course publishers are hostile to us, nothing else explains their actions unless they’re just stupid and bad at their jobs. Oh, wait…
While I’m sure every point you make and referred to in this post is true and the picture you paint is very compelling, the contrary point is, in my experience, supported by overwhelming data.
Namely, just in the last month, I’ve been to two publishing conferences (Futurebook in London and Publish! in Bristol, both in the UK, which probably skews the sample in some way) where every single big publishing employee (*every* *single* *one*) repeated ad nauseam that they really need to begin to focus on readers as the customer really soon now.
Everybody said they should view readers as the primary customers, everybody said the processes they had in place hardly recognised them. They said this on panels, in their talks, over the buffet, over cups of tea, and at the pub in the evening. This point was delivered in such overwhelming volume that it was the single biggest impression those conferences made on me, a relative outsider/newcomer to the industry.
Which brings me to my second point: Good intentions are not enough. Even though individuals employed by the big publishers want to focus on readers, even though the managers might want to shift the supertankers they run into that direction, all of the processes in publishing are geared around the retailer as the primary business partner and most important customer. In MBA-speak, big publishing are business-to-business firms with aspirations of being business-to-consumer. Having nice thoughts about the reader doesn’t change any of the facts of how the overall business is run (processes, PR, distribution, marketing, sales, etc.) and big publishing is run with the retailer in mind, not the reader.
I have had this exact same experience in every encounter I have had on the business or marketing level with big publishing firms throughout this year. Everybody I’ve met from the industry has said the same thing. It’s harsh to say this, but it seems that the ambitions of the editorial departments are incapable of adjusting the behaviour of the larger corporation on this level.
So, your post would be very convincing, if it weren’t for what I have heard and experienced this year from people working in the business and marketing sides of big publishing.
P. Pong said: “When they make deals that make ebooks cost as much as, or more than, buying the physical book – they deserve to be called on that.”
But they don’t always get to make deals that state the pricing structure of the product. Most midlist authors don’t have that kind of clout at all.
Also, some books are under very old contracts. There are still book series in print that started 20+ years ago, and have been in print by the same publisher under the original contract. No one knew about ebooks 20 years ago. Authors, agents, and publishers are working to fix this. But this is one reason why you don’t see some books in electronic format. Don’t gripe to the author, but ask nicely. The author can use those requests to help renegotiate their contract.
By the way, check out your links to publishers where we can “contact” them. Note the absence of email. It’s curious how little they want feedback if there’s no email link or online email to fill out. I didn’t look thru all of them, but having tried to contact several about ebook pricing in the past, they’re not particularly interested in hearing from us. But, they have links for email for retailers, wholesalers, and for web related issues, so we know they can use email, they just don’t want a direct conduit.
John, when the guy whose opinion you solicit, and whose opinion you blockquote in your post, starts off with, “I think the observation that New York City trade publishers need to cultivate more and better relationships with their readers, as opposed to merely their retailers, has a lot of truth to it,” isn’t it fair to say that Robin isn’t wholly wrong?
I don’t know much about publishing other than as a customer, but I read what Patrick wrote to you twice, and he basically said that despite the fact that they’re pretty good at what they do, and that they’ve been doing it for a long time, sometimes they lose sight of the point (people buying their books), and that they try really hard to be better at that.
He wasn’t exactly disagreeing with Robin L. there. It wasn’t remotely a ringing endorsement, but it sounds like she might have a point.
“Starting your argument with the comment that those who complain about ebook pricing are doing so from a sense of entitlement is a special kind of mean spirited. ”
I understand people don’t like being confronted with their sense of entitlement, to be sure. Does that count as mean-spirited? I’m not entirely sure. But even if it is, I can live with it.
“Look, ebook pricing can’t be currently justified”
Is entirely wrong. It certainly can be justified, but you’ve decided that the justifications don’t work for you. That’s fine; don’t buy eBooks whose prices you feel are too high. If there are enough others who feel as you do, then we’ll see what happens. At the moment, there are enough people who feel the current price structure is equitable. Which of course is the ultimate justification for pricing eBooks at their current levels; namely, that people will buy them.
Re: E-mail, I personally agree that I would prefer e-mail contacts to Twitter contacts; on the other hand, I’ve noticed anecdotally that lots of companies are more initially responsive through Twitter than e-mail, and indeed many have people actively seeking out references to their company on Twitter (I had this happen just today with Lycos). So I’m willing to entertain the idea that a Twitter contact is not all bad.
This is one of those cases where the differences between the US and UK book market are sufficiently large that I don’t know that making a one-to-one comparison is accurate. My understanding of the UK and overall European eBook market is that it’s behind the US by a significant amount.
Agreed that asking nicely is nice.
“John, when the guy whose opinion you solicit, and whose opinion you blockquote in your post, starts off with, ‘I think the observation that New York City trade publishers need to cultivate more and better relationships with their readers, as opposed to merely their retailers, has a lot of truth to it,’ isn’t it fair to say that Robin isn’t wholly wrong?”
One, the problem with selective quoting is that it’s selective and thus misses clarifying context (i.e., the next sentence). Two, Robin’s argument wasn’t that publisher’s don’t need to do a better job of addressing readers as customers, which is a position I find entirely unobjectionable. It was that they don’t consider readers customers at all, which is wrong.
@ Bryan Broyles
Why do we all seem to forget there is such a thing as a telephone?
John: Sure, your blog, you can be mean (and inaccurate) if you want. That doesn’t make it untrue, now does it?
And, no, it’s not me not buying it, it’s not being true. But, if you’ve decided the justification works for you, that’s fine. I understand you have more skin in the game, and all the biases that brings with it. And there’s not much to support that proposition (I assume you don’t want to argue that whole issue again). By the way, I support the “don’t bitch about pricing in the big idea threads” don’t get me wrong on that.
AJ Shephard: I agree, but not particularly relevant. They don’t provide a phone number for readers, either.
“John: Sure, your blog, you can be mean (and inaccurate) if you want. That doesn’t make it untrue, now does it?”
It does, if in fact people are acting in an entitled way. I’m entirely sympathetic to the argument that people may not be aware they are arguing from an entitled space. Be that as it may, the argument of “eBook prices should be [x]” is an argument of entitlement, i.e., “I have the right to have this thing at this particular price” or alternately “I have a right to have this is thing at a price no higher than [x].”
I think it’s fine to people to make those arguments in a general sense; I’m interested to see if the arguments hold water methodologically. I don’t think Big Idea comment threads are the right place for that argument, especially when from a presentation point of view saying “I won’t by your book because of something you have no control over” strikes me as obnoxious, even if it was not intended as such.
It seems that various people are talking at cross-purposes, and not noticing. From a channel sales position, readers aren’t customers, so Robin is correct. From a category marketing position, readers very much are customers, so Robin is incorrect. Both of these roles live within major publishing companies.
On the other hand, Robin’s article, which quotes a Google “Director of Strategic Partnerships,” is the worst cite ever. Turvey’s agenda is to drive business to Google, if making broad and completely unsubstantiated claims about an entire industry helps him accomplish that, well, he’ll do it. Basically, Turvey’s job is to run around to conferences and say that all publishers are mean and have cooties.
Damn you John, and your ability to edit…I wish we had that on these comments.
Twitter is great, for what it is…but hard to bring a real issue in 14 characters and LOLs. I wish they’d had the twitter link a year ago when I was pursuing this issue with the publishers instead of on an author’s blog.
In the work that I’ve done as an editor, freelance and in-house, for a variety of technical publishers over the last 18 years, I can say that I’ve always considered the readers to be the first, last, and only customers of the books I’ve worked on. I know that the bookstores have been a necessary middleman for most of that period, but I can’t recall ever making an editorial decision based on the needs of the bookstores.
That said, I worked in the editorial department, and my salary was not directly tied to the number of books sold. In all honesty, I don’t know that I can say that our sales and marketing staff thought the same way.
Mr. Scalzi (sorry for the “John” before), those arguments you present are examples (or at least can be) of arguing from entitlement. It’s a mistake to assume those are the only arguments. Additionally, if one assumes that the argument on whether ebook pricing is justified is over, and the publishers were right, it does make it much easier to assume the guys still arguing are doing so from a sense of entitlement. As for sales equaling being correct, the long term sales point will equal that. The short term strong arm tactics hardly equal that. In 2 years we’ll see. Even now, you see some radical change in thoughts toward epublishing, DRM being the primary area of change.
“AJ Shephard: I agree, but not particularly relevant. They don’t provide a phone number for readers, either.”
I’m not trying to be an a**, but it took me all of five minutes to find the telephone numbers of 285 publishing related companies in New York, including the “big six”
People are book customers in many different ways.
I buy hardbound, paperbound (both mass-market and trade) and Kindle versions, depending on whether I intend to read them once or pass them on, and on whether I’m going to read them on the Metro. Since the demise of DC’s only SF bookstore and both of its mystery stores, I buy more online than I want to.
I also buy used books (more from online sources than I used to, now that second-hand stores have become almost extinct) and remaindered books (mostly from catalogs, since places like Brentano’s and Crown are mostly gone also). When I was young, I used to relish a trip to New York’s Fourth Avenue, where dozens of second-hand book stores used to be — all gone now except for the Strand.
If my public library had more money to acquire current novels, I’d use it more as well. (I probably underutilize it, since I can reserve bokks online and have them delivered to my local branch.)
AJ, don’t worry, this isn’t personal. Again, finding a phone number is easy. Is someone there a “customer service” person for this? What happens when you call that number? If you’ve found a customer service phone number (not retailer, or web service) but a “reader” number, post ’em. I’ve never found them on their websites.
@ Bryan Broyles 4:53 pm:
“The short term strong arm tactics hardly equal that.”
What strong arm tactics are publishers using? Random House certainly doesn’t send a big guy named Mickey to break your kneecaps for using an e-reader, or not buying one of their books.
Pricing books, in any format, at “what the market will bear” is just business, plain and simple. And frankly, ebooks are still only 13-14% of the book market, so there’s not a huge incentive to examine ebook pricing, at this time, especially since electronic readers and formats are still a moving target. Why commit a large segment of a company’s workstream to something which may be obsolete in a few years? Doesn’t make sense, short term or long term.
“From a channel sales position, readers aren’t customers, so Robin is correct.”
Well, except for the part where I noted at least two of the “Big Six” have a direct sales channel for individual readers. Which means her assertion is in fact incorrect. I realize this sounds a bit like harping, but, you know: If you’re going to make an assertion, it helps to have the facts back you up.
“Mr. Scalzi (sorry for the ‘John’ before)”
Heh. For the record, “John” is fine. As is “Scalzi.”
Constance: The publishers, as a group, changed their pricing structure to the “Agency” model. That model is not “market pricing” and is strong arming. If it were just Random House, you’d have a better argument, but when they all collude, and I choose that word carefully, they aren’t pricing books at what the market will bear.
Your argument that a 13% market, that is outpacing the others in growth isn’t worth examining is curious. Not to mention, they DID examine it and changed not just prices, but price models to prevent market conditions from setting pricing.
No offense taken, and none intended.
I have found that my ability to call even a corporate 1-800 number and be talking to someone in charge in five minutes flat is obviously a skill that most people do not have.
Mr. Scalzi, thanks, but when we’re arguing, I think calling you John is forward. Thanks for not taking it that way, it wasn’t intended that way. I can like you, like your writing and respect you and still think you’re wrong. Still need to SHOW that respect and politeness, it’s too easy in the e world to do otherwise.
AJ: I can do that in my “business” capacity, do it all the time. For some reason, I don’t carry that skill over to my personal stuff.
@ Bryan Broyles 5:09 pm Looked more like the publishers were concerned about an Amazon monopsony in e-books and the agency model allows other sellers to enter the e-book without having to worry about always having their prices undercut by a deep pocket competitor.
The publishers are pricing books at what the market will bear. People are buying the e-books. “What the market will bear” is usually an argument for higher prices, rather than lower.
Do publishers care about individual customers? One small example.
Years ago, before internet ordering, I went in to my local bookstore and ordered a book they did not have on their shelves. Every week or so when I would go in I would ask about the book, but was never there yet. Finally I got fed up and wrote a letter to the publisher, detailing when I had ordered the book, and the book store I had ordered it through, and wanting an explanation for taking months to send my order. The book arrived by return mail. There was no excuse about volume shipping, or anything else, just an apology. The next time I went in the bookstore, they jumped all over me for going over their head. It seems that they waited until they had enough special orders to be worth the expenditure of their precious time before acting on them, and they hadn’t even sent in my order yet. They told me that they had gotten a very angry letter from the publisher, explaining that these little customers are the important people, because they buy all the books, and the the bookstore had damn well better send in future orders in a timely fashion, or there would be hell to pay. I just asked, “Well, hadn’t you sent my order yet? Do you think prople order books just to give cash to bookstores, and don’t really want the books?” No answer, but I was never really welcome there again. The publisher counted a single reader as an important customer. The bookstore considered me just a stupid teenager who really wasn’t worth their time.
For what it’s worth.
“Is entirely wrong. It [ebook pricing] certainly can be justified, but you’ve decided that the justifications don’t work for you. That’s fine; don’t buy eBooks whose prices you feel are too high.”
If it can be justified I’d like to hear the argument…
On Amazon the mass market paperback of “Old Man’s War” is going for $6.99 and the Kindle version is also going for $6.99.
Now I can’t say that I know anything about book publishing but it seems odd that a publisher would charge the same price for bits as they do for a physical copy because with ebooks you eliminate: material, printing, and shipping costs. It seems to me that you’d have to do some funny math to show that an ebook costs the same to produce as a physical book.
With the move to digital music consumers demanded lower prices because they inferred that digital albums cost less to produce than physical albums. If it costs the label less to make, then the consumer should pay less at checkout. I suppose you could debate if it’s right or wrong that consumers feel this way, but it’s the way it is.
As far as complaining to the author about pricing… I understand that authors may not have any control over the pricing of their books (I really don’t understand why authors relinquish such control). It’s does not make sense to complain to you about the pricing of a book that’s not yours (such as the Big Idea comments). That said, you put yourself out here, you make yourself available, so it seems odd that you’d complain, or find it surprising that people would complain to you about the practices of an industry that you’re in (and have no shame in extolling your experience and knowledge in). At the very least you are a voice within an industry that may otherwise feel impenetrable (not saying it is) to someone who is not.
From someone who’s on the outside looking in – if I had a problem with the ebook price of “Old Man’s War” and I knew of your blog… I’d probably drop you a note. It is after all your book. Whether or not you have power to control such things, the perception is that you at least would know and could pass information to people who can control such things.
I have a few stories like yours. Are we the exception and not the rule?
John @ 5:05 pm:
Eh, sorta. The companies I’ve worked with generally refer to direct customers as “buyers” not “readers,” because the vast majority of direct sales (based on buyer feedback, and shipping vs billing info) were either gifts or promotional.
Disclaimer: I have never been directly employed by a publishing house in sales and/or marketing; my specialty is logistics and fulfillment operations, so that is what I’ve been contracted for or consulted upon. That obviously affects what I was exposed to, and my interpretation of events.
Jon M: Monopsony? Yeah, my autocorrect was screwing me earlier too.
Was it a reaction to Amazon? Sure. That doesn’t make it better for market pricing pressures. It’s a terrible model for that, especially when done as a collective effort among “competitors.” I think we’ll find out when that model goes away what the market will bear. I wish there were some statistics on the sales growth of ebooks before and after agency model, and among the smaller publishers who don’t follow the model.
Mr. Scaltzi, is this the right place to mention that I overpaid on my eBooks of Penthouse Letters? Do you want titles and zone of purchase? Can you help me get some of my $$$ back? Thank you for your attention and assistance in this matter.
I think that Robin L. is technically correct to say that publishers don’t consider readers to be customers (though it does imply that publishers are not constantly thinking of the demands of their end users), and Scalzi is technically correct to point out that big publishers do have web portals for direct sales (though, really, do you know *anyone* who buys from them?). But I think there is a larger, more interesting issue at the heart of this: the growing distinction between “reader as end user” and “reader as customer.”
Us readers have traditionally been at the end of a supply chain intermediated by retail outlets. Publishing companies have spent many years thinking like wholesalers and many dollars building the marketing/distribution/customer relationship management infrastructure appropriate to a wholesale business model. But with ebooks compressing that supply chain and with publishers trying to get more retail, there are going to be some hiccoughs: the wholesale model is quiet different than the retail model that publishers are working towards (or, as is more likely, a hybrid model), and it will takes quite a while, and a fair bit of trial and error (as PNH alluded to) before the publishing industry figures out how to do it.
This is all separate from the issue of complaining to authors about ebook pricing, which is a pretty d!&k move in my book. (It is also separate from the issue of how ebooks should be priced—the notion that they should somehow be a function of production cost rather than supply/demand is absurd… But that’s another matter.)
I read both Whatever and Dear Author. I’m a little more than gobsmacked at the tone in both blogs. Yes, you have a lot of industry experience, but as a reader and as a blog representative, ‘Jane’ also has hers. She has interacted with the publishing industry in many ways, that I have followed for the past few years. To dismiss the validity of her experiences as you did upsets me, because I am reading it as paternalism. This is not something that I would have expected from this blog.
To be clear, I understood your point about posting price complaints in the “Big Idea”. I know that this is your blog and you can run it however you want. I don’t agree with your assessment about the publishing industry and I don’t want to be dismissed as some crackpot/superstitious little woman who should just listen to the educated man.
@Adam 5:28 p.m Charles Stross had a series of articles on his blog laying out the economics of publishing. The paper, printing, and shipping cost of a paper book are rather low. (Paper and ink being cheap when you buy them by the truckload and shipping being cheap when you’re sending out tractor trailers) There are also costs that are specifically incurred for the e-book, so the price variation isn’t that significant. Especially since both the paper book and the e-book have to amortize the payments to the author, editor, cover artist (or two of them), layout people, etc.
JohnC @ 5:35 pm —
“big publishers do have web portals for direct sales (though, really, do you know *anyone* who buys from them?)”
Mostly other corporations, who give them out as corporate gifts, and promotional specialty (e.g. gift basket) operations. I’ve been on both sides of that transaction, professionally.
Individual readers buy from Amazon or B&N online, etc; I think the reason is because their selection is not restricted to a single publisher’s catalog, but that’s pure supposition on my part. Nonetheless, when I worked with Unnamed Giant Web Retailer, much more of the fulfillment was to the same address as billed. By much more, I mean, like 1000:1 type ratios. I don’t remember the final number I came up with, but I do remember that it was like looking at the exact reverse of Unnamed Big Six fulfillment ops.
As an Australian, I’ve never felt the publishers were the people who didn’t give a flying fsck about me as a consumer of written material. That honour has always gone to the retailers.
The Australian retail sector, ever since it first came into existence some time after 1788, has been a largely closed shop. It’s a small market, an isolated market, and one which strongly lends itself to the sorts of retail practices which have actually grown up here (such as massive mark-ups, slow service, and a very strong attitude of “if you don’t like it, tough!”). However, in the last few years, there are signs that the game is being changed. One of these is the arrival of the internet, which has allowed the average Australian consumer to see things such as the amount of the mark-up we’re paying for various items (just about everything) and the amount postage to this country actually adds to the cost (nowhere near as much as the mark-up the importers and retailers are charging) and the difference between good service and what we’ve been getting from the retail sector.
The end result is that the average Aussie consumer is starting to fight back, and we’re starting to ask questions like “well, why should I pay a premium to XYZ retailer when ordering the product direct from the manufacturer in Malaysia/China/Indonesia/Wherever and paying the shipping and freight is still going to wind up cheaper?”
Meanwhile, the big players in the Australian retail industry have been doing their level best to nail their coffins shut from the inside. This was started by our “big” bookselling chain, Angus and Robertson (who are now in receivership… the first stage to bankruptcy and going out of business) when they attempted to put the pinch on small Australian publishers a few years ago (along the lines of “you pay us to put your product in our stores OR ELSE”). As a consumer, I heard about this, and it solidified an existing decision I’d already made on an informal basis – namely that I wasn’t going to be bothered with A&R any more. But the reason for the informal decision was the more telling one for me: I wasn’t going to bother with them as a sales point because they already demonstrated they weren’t interested in me as a customer.
The science fiction/fantasy section in the average A&R was always tiny, but by then it was getting to the point where it was 1/3 Tolkien, 1/3 Rowling and 1/3 Pratchett, and sod all else; established names and sellers only. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I go to a bookshop looking for books, one of the things I’m looking for is books by authors I haven’t heard of. I’m looking for something new (this is, incidentally, one of the reasons why I don’t shop at Amazon; it’s harder for me to find new authors I’d be interested in). If I can’t find something new to read, I’ll look elsewhere. Toward the end of their retail dominance of the Australian book market, I’d learned the only place I was going to find something interesting or unusual in an A&R was possibly in the “remainders” display (“5 books for $20”).
Now, book prices here in Australia are weirdly high anyway (for all kinds of reasons), and that skews the market all over the place too. Most of the reasons for it are either historical, ideological or both. But either way, the main aim of the various publishing companies has always been to get things sold… in which happy enterprise they have, I suspect, largely been hindered by the Australian retail sector.
Perhaps it’s because I am myself a retailer, though not of books, that I utterly fail to understand the insistence of some that ebooks should be cheaper because of (insert favorite arguement).
Publishing is a business, and the prime purpose of ALL business is to make as much money as possible – just when exactly did end users start to think they have the right to set prices, rather than the seller?
I am finding the same thing in my own industry – big ticket homewares – over the last year my customers are trying, quite agressively, to tell me what my sell price should be; often a ridiculous fraction of my costs, of which they have no idea, but also no interest in.
I also see this as entitlement and I do not understand it. Sure get the best price you can negotiate, but it is in no way immoral for any reatiler to make as much money as possible – if people stop buying then and only then will prices will drop. But to say i really want this but it’s not fair or reasonable that its not cheaper is just dumb. Buy it or don’t, but stop bitching about it. Even in this brave new world of the internet not EVERYTHING can be free – and I think that is the true heart of the complainers issue – they don’t want it cheap they want it free – because their tv shows, and their music, and their software, etc ad nauseum, IS.
Well tough – your fellow humans need to eat too and those giant faceless publishers you complain about are full of people just like you who need to be paid.
End of rant.
Yay, finally, someone who can answer Robin’s annual mile-long complaint about “readers aren’t publishers’ customer” mantra point by point! I’ve heard her mantra repeated so many times through the years, I think she’s convinced herself to be knowledgeable of all things publishing. She’s argued these same points with any and everyone on Twitter and DA for a long time and I’m often at a loss about how many different answers she needs before she realizes that she isn’t 100 percent right about this. Don’t worry, in a few months, she’ll be arguing the same thing with someone else writing for the “Big Six.” She should get Jane Litte to tell her Big Six publisher to lower the ebook price ($10!!!!! OMG!!!!) for Agony and Ecstasy because Jane has so much clout.
Especially since both the paper book and the e-book have to amortize the payments to the author, editor, cover artist (or two of them), layout people, etc
Nuh-uh, I call no way. They have to do that stuff for the paper book, it is a non-optional cost and covered in the price of the paper book. With the ebook, they just have to do the equivalent of copy’paste and everything the paper book buyer has paid for is transferred to the ebook. I’ll accept a publisher who only does ebooks has to cost more because they’ve got to do those fresh, but for a paper and ebook publisher the costs are already covered. Those economies of scale work both ways, and if publishers feel it is okay to pass costs on to the customer then they can darn well pass the savings on too. Frankly if anything, both paper and ebook version prices should be coming down.
TL;DR Paper book costs automatically cover the ebook costs, ebooks only bear costs if there is no paper release.
“If it can be justified I’d like to hear the argument…
On Amazon the mass market paperback of “Old Man’s War” is going for $6.99 and the Kindle version is also going for $6.99.
Now I can’t say that I know anything about book publishing but it seems odd that a publisher would charge the same price for bits as they do for a physical copy because with ebooks you eliminate: material, printing, and shipping costs. It seems to me that you’d have to do some funny math to show that an ebook costs the same to produce as a physical book.
With the move to digital music consumers demanded lower prices because they inferred that digital albums cost less to produce than physical albums. If it costs the label less to make, then the consumer should pay less at checkout. I suppose you could debate if it’s right or wrong that consumers feel this way, but it’s the way it is.”
I’ll give it a shot.
I don’t think the “it costs less to make therefore should cost less to buy” argument is the whole story.
Why do people want ebooks instead of paper books? I’d say the answer is something along the lines of convenience and instant gratification. Those are additional value to the customer, and would tend to increase the price (since the publishing industry is in the business of making money).
The lesser cost of ebooks to produce offsets this to some degree. I don’t have the capacity to make a full analysis of where the price point “ought” to end up, but apparently the publishers who are selling OMW for the same price in paperback and ebook think the differences between media offset.
Now for music:
When you buy a digital album, you’re buying a subset of what you get from a physical album; a CD can be copied into a digital format (possibly multiple times). Therefore obviously the price for a digital album is lower. The difference in costs is no doubt a factor too.
When you buy a print book, on the other hand, that (generally) doesn’t include the ability to make digital copies. The difference between physical and digital prices for books should probably be smaller than the difference for music, which is the case.
I have actually tried to contact a “Big Six” publisher over an issue in an ebook that I bought. If they think of me as a customer, then they’ve got a funny way of showing it. Tired of paying $12 or more for ebooks that were full of typos, I searched and searched on Penguin’s web site for a customer service email address. Failing that, I picked an email from the site that looked like it might be appropriate, and sent an email with specific information about the specific book they had published. A couple of days later, I got a form email in reply, and that was the extent of their customer service.
Now, it’s true that I didn’t buy the book directly from their website, because they don’t sell it in a format I can use, but they did publish the book, and provide it to the vendor I bought it from (under an Agency agreement.)
So, for all the protestations that they think of me as a customer, they don’t treat me like one.
“If it can be justified I’d like to hear the argument… ”
People will pay that amount. I understand some folks don’t see that as adequate justification, but, eh.
The argument of “eBooks are cheaper to produce” has been addressed so many times over the years, here and elsewhere, that at this point it’s often an indicator of someone who doesn’t know the economics of book publishing, which means that it’s not someone who should be using an economic argument. This often isn’t the fault of the person posting — we all have to start discussing the economics of publishing somewhere — but after you’ve addressed this particular point enough, you begin to feel like the biologist who has to deal yet again with the “there are no transitional fossils!” argument.
“To dismiss the validity of her experiences as you did upsets me, because I am reading it as paternalism.”
I dismiss the validity of her experience in this particular case because factually, she is wrong, such as when she asserts that “Big Six” publishers don’t see readers as customers, while in fact they have direct sales mechanisms on their sites, a fact which is not difficult to find (in addition to the other arguments I have made, along the lines that a direct sales channel is not the only way to consider a reader a customer). I’m not sure that pointing out someone is factually incorrect as a rebuttal to something they’ve posted publicly on the Internet, especially when they’ve used me as a primary peg of their post, entirely counts as paternalism BUT I also accept that in this case how the post makes you feel may be different than what I intended, because that’s been known to happen on the Internet, and to me. In which case: My apologies.
Jon M: Monopsony? Yeah, my autocorrect was screwing me earlier too.
You do realize that he used the word correctly, right? Cause your comment above reads as *really* patronizing.
David: I was joking. Obviously joking. Seriously, obviously joking.
Jon M: If it wasn’t obvious to you, sorry.
What? A joke goes wrong on the INTERNET? That never happens!
Let’s table it and move forward, please.
Well, if you favour that course of action we can certainly table it. Might be better to forget it and put it to one side though.
I love the Dear Author site and I was disappointed to see that entry. I had to roll my eyes when she insisted that authors had pull over their pricing and could find other publishers who would price e-books more fairly. I suppose Stephen King and Nora Roberts may, if they felt like it, threaten to jump ship for other publishers if their e-books didn’t have a certain price point, but the vast majority of authors don’t get to pick and choose between multiple publishers all begging to publish their book.
Whether e-book pricing is “fair” or not is a whole separate issue (personally I’m not nuts about it, but I still buy e-books and dead tree books). What’s not cool is back to John’s original point: bitching to the author about the price of his/her book is about as useful as bitching to the bookseller about the price of mass markets, or complaining to the cashier about the price of TP. There is nothing your Author, Cashier or Bookseller can do to fix your problem, so why are you wasting your breath?
@ CrypticMirror at 6:10 pm
“Nuh-uh, I call no way. They have to do that stuff for the paper book, it is a non-optional cost and covered in the price of the paper book. With the ebook, they just have to do the equivalent of copy’paste and everything the paper book buyer has paid for is transferred to the ebook. I’ll accept a publisher who only does ebooks has to cost more because they’ve got to do those fresh, but for a paper and ebook publisher the costs are already covered.”
Costs are amortized over an entire production run, so you can’t put all expenses on the paper books side of the ledget and then say the e-books cost nothing. Most of the costs of an e-book are the same as the costs of a paper book. Further, while an e-book saves on printing and shipping, other costs are incurred and they need to be paid for as well.
Bryan, arguing for market pricing for ebooks in the same breath as allowing Amazon to sell below cost? That’s privileging a verifiable form of anti competitive/market behavior over a supposed one (collusion).
Take a breath, people. The Kindle is 4 years old. Every Kindle reader is an early adopter and they’re paying the backlist conversion prices and largely buying new books – because every Kindle ebook is 4 years old at most. Old Man’s War was released in Kindle in April 2010. The MMPB was January 2007. The Kindle device itself came later in 2007.
Things that contribute to cost of a book:
These are not small costs. There is actually probably some streamlining that can be done, but regardless, these are costs that are carried by both paper and ebooks. They are not 0. Consider also that many books don’t earn out.
Older books have problems with coming into ebook format—if a book is old enough, there may only be formatted PDFs which are difficult to convert into modern ePub/Kindle formats, and is comparable to the cost of OCR/OCR correction, and possibly even unfavorably so.
If a book is REALLY old enough, it may need to be scanned in, in which case you get all the OCR fun.
I know pirates can turn out ebooks quickly, but it’s only through dedicated pirating (i.e., someone loved a book enough to spend hours on layout) that you get the free flow text, the linked table of contents, sane font/formatting, which PDFs and OCR texts do not naturally give you.
Those are the costs. They cannot be arbitrated away to nothing. Some parts can be streamlined, is my belief, but they are not zero and will never be zero.
Sure amazon is working for amazon. But my interests align there for now. And it’s not an either or. Agency model is bad even if used to fight something else that could tilt the system.
By the way, the publishers appear to have facebook pages. Best available access right know.
Oh and I was less arguing for market pricing and more arguing against the notion that the current model reflects it.
I would like to point out that, whether publishers consider readers customers or not, ebooks are significantly different than print books at least for the reader. Because of DRM and proprietary formats ‘buying’ an ebook is actually more like a short term lease. You may own it for now but it isn’t yours forever. It doesn’t have the same permanence of a paper book. I have no guarantee that I’ll even be able to re-read it in a year let alone 10 or 20. The company could go out of business or change formats. It could even decide to delete the book from all customer’s devices.
For me, that’s enough reaereson to justify buying only paper books. This is my personal choice because when I buy a book I want to be able to come back and read it again in another 5 years. In my mind that justifies a price difference between ebooks and paper books. This means that I don’t buy ebooks, not that I harass authors about it.
Ebooks like other digital media (music, movies, etc) still have a long way to go before the best society decides how to treat them and until that happens there will continue to be controversy surrounding them.
You want to know who is the customer, look to see who is writing the check. You want to know who is the most important customer, look to see who writes the biggest check. It is as simple as that, and nothing and no one can change it.
The Big Six get their checks from retailers, not end customers. End of story.
“End of story?” Yeah, not really. Again, call me crazy for relying on my own practical real-world experience of a dozen years of dealing with publishers over a confident-sounding but vacuous assertion without so much as a shred of practical evidence to back it up, but, well.
Look, I’ll make this simple: Saying silly things about how publishing works on my blog really isn’t going to fly. I know too much about it from personal experience and from the experience of people who know even more about it than I do.
It’s true for an industry John, not just publishing, The guy with the checkbook always wins in the end.
Unholy Guy, merely repeating your statement doesn’t make it any less vacuous.
You know there were a lot of record label execs that made a big deal about their years of experiencing in the industry up until they suddenly didn’t have an industry anymore. The thing about experience is it is great until all the suddenly the world changes and it becomes suddenly irrelevant.
One of the things that is kinda frustrating about living in the modern era is the rate of change is continually increasing. Hello Future Shock. I work in technology and one of the lessons I have learned repeatedly is revisit all those experienced based assumptions every couple years
Like Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. “
Unholyguy at 9.07, the biggest amount of money is put into the system by the individual reader/customers, it dwarfs what Amazon or Walmart pay.
“You know there were a lot of record label execs that made a big deal about their years of experiencing in the industry up until they suddenly didn’t have an industry anymore. ”
And this has relevance to your previous comment exactly how? Because it looked like to me you were positing an unchangeable, immutable “end of story” assertion, there.
Beyond that, the idea that my experience does not include the idea that things are always changing is a little silly, considering I’ve made that point often enough here on the site.
I wonder if the reason that the Haydens feel that everyone complaining about ebook pricing is a failed author is because statistically, the only people they talk to are either authors or folks who want to be authors? Otherwise the statements as a whole are pretty darn offensive, and pretty much scream, “we aren’t really paying attention to our customers, because we’ve managed to come up with rationalizations why we shouldn’t.” I mean, Teresa first says, in essence, “When we hear a reader complain we assume you’re complaining because you’re just bitter so we’re discounting what you’re saying” and then with absolutely no sense of irony says, ‘“Publishers don’t pay attention to the readers” is at best projection.’
This probably shouldn’t be a surprise to me, considering that I buy probably 10% of the number of books from Tor that I used to, before the agency pricing model. I spend the same amount of money, or more, but with other vendors. But hey, I’m just part of that corner of the internet who thinks that either they really don’t want to maximize profits on ebooks, or they’re really really bad at their job, so I’m guessing that they don’t really care. But I have faith that the market will take care of that, eventually, assuming the price-fixing cartel gets busted.
“I wonder if the reason that the Haydens feel that everyone complaining about ebook pricing is a failed author is because statistically, the only people they talk to are either authors or folks who want to be authors?”
“Statistically”? You want to provide those statistics, there, Skip? I would be very interested to see your hard data for such an assertion. That said, you may be making the rookie error that assumes that every SF fan wants to be a pro.
Also, it’s “Nielsen Hayden.” If you’re going to speculate wildly about who they talk to and their motivations for saying what they do, you should at least try to get their names right.
[Deleted because it’s a response to a comment posted in error, since deleted. Unholyguy, if/when TNH reposts, you may repost the comment. I have saved it for you and can mail it to you if you send me a note in e-mail — JS]
Unholyguy at 9.13, it is a great shame that I can’t buy DVDs or music downloads as the music industry doesn’t exist any more. Big Farmers are going to have to be careful now that food pills are destroying their industry.
Experience in business does count as you often learn flexibility from it. The main thing in capitalism being that different people learn different lessons and try different new things. Some decline and many fail but others rise.
In some ways it doesn’t really matter whether the big Six “consider readers to be customers ” or not, nor is that knowable, what matters if the customers perception.
Right now the customer relationship is most certainly with the distributors not the customers,. This is a dangerous position to be in when your biggest distributor is also a direct competitor with a proven ability to undercut your price point.
It sure doesn’t feel like Big Six care about anything other then protecting their price point and way of doing business. Regardless of how true this is, they certainly have an image problem
Sorry, I screwed up the name. I apologize and will try to not make that mistake in the future. As for those statistics, the use of the term “I wonder” should have been a clue that what I was doing was providing speculation on why their experiences don’t match those of my own, since I know many people who complain, and exactly zero of them are prospective authors. I KNOW my sample set skews, because I only know a couple of people personally who would like to publish and neither of them falls into this category. I SPECULATED that their sample set skews differently. I’m certainly not assuming every fan wants to be a pro, and I’m not sure where you got that from. Teresa sure seems to be making that assumption though, or at least a variation of it. My assumption is that, in general, the people complaining are the people who think prices are too high.
The thing about all of this back-and-forth that is particularly interesting is that it really seems to be a nifty little microcosm that represents/simulates the real world problem that everyone is currently dealing with, which is basically – how the hell do we monetize/protect IP in a world where digital copies are almost universally accessible through back/black-channels?
On the one hand you’ve got the “entitled” crowd who think that they should get everything legally for $0.99 (and thus feel perfectly justified in grousing about over-priced media or just stealing it). On the other are the folks willing to fork over hardcover prices for what amounts to a limited-use license that subjectively seems to have less intrinsic value than it’s atom-based counterpart (and subsequently feel they must justify the spend when yelled at by cost-conscious/challenged folks).
There’s a simple answer here – entertainment of any sort is worth exactly as much as its maximum revenue potential. A document that is read by a thousand people willing to pay a thousand dollars for a copy is worth exactly the same amount as document read by a million people willing to pay a dollar (and for those of you out there who don’t have experience with insider/professional/industry publications, there are plenty of thousand-dollar documents out there). The problem is in *predicting* the appropriate price. Publishers and consumers are still trying to figure out, in this shiny new data-driven world we live in, what a given piece of entertainment is actually worth to customers.
While I’m not placing bets on it, it may turn out that “pay what you think it’s worth” will become the go-to pricing system in twenty or fifty years. Conversely, the enormous amount of data mining that companies are now engaged in might ultimately allow them to get a fairly accurate statistical basis on which to price digital products — sort of an uber “folks who bought this also bought that on Amazon” thing, except that the assessment would take into account the average buyer’s available disposable income, their network of connected individuals who are likely to respond to their purchases, etc.
Personally, I’m pretty sure that “big publishers”, like “big movie studios”, aren’t going to go away. We need these businesses to act as gate-keepers, filtering out the dross from stuff that it’s worth investing our entertainment time/dollars in. We can individually despise “mass market crap” as much as we want, but there’s no denying that it satisfies a significant majority of the population. The idea that I’d have no recourse but to try and wade through a thousand or so poorly written, badly edited novels in order to find one that I barely enjoy is not something I want to consider.
To that end, every publisher MUST have the customer/reader in mind.
Insofar as wanna-be novelists who get annoyed that a publisher has rejected their masterpiece… In the past there was no recourse but to take those typewritten pages and file them away on a shelf somewhere never-to-be-seen-again. Now, however, you can at the very least upload your collected works to a website/blog/repository and have the hope/belief that someone will read and enjoy them.
Of course, you’d best be prepared for the ire of anyone who decides you wasted their time.
“Right now the customer relationship is most certainly with the distributors not the customers”
Given there are people in this very thread who have spoken to the contrary, I’m not sure that this is a blanket assertion you can make.
Thanks for the clarification.
Pat, you can still buy a CD but I wonder for how much longer, given that the music industry is down to about 1/3rd of their sales at their height…
If I may be so contrary: ebook prices don’t bother me. What bothers me is DRM, proprietary formats, and an unbelievably large amount of typos.
None of which has any place in the comments to a Big Idea post.
John seriously, how many people have actually bought anything direct from a publisher? How many people even know who the Big Six ARE? Do you honestly think readers feel an ounce of loyalty to Hachette Book Group or Simon & Schuster ?
Probably some loyalty to niche publishers, I will grant you, but up until recently the Big Six were not even trying to have a direct relationship with a consumer.
“John seriously, how many people have actually bought anything direct from a publisher?”
You’re making the same rookie error as Robin L., Unholy guy, which is assuming the customer relationship is always/exclusively about direct sales. It’s a bad argument. But beyond that, if a publisher offers the ability to make direct sales to individuals, then the precise number is not actually an issue; the issue is that the sales channel exists. I understand this is inconvenient to your thesis; nevertheless, there it is.
As for brand loyalty: Yes, in fact, I do think people have brand loyalty, if not to Macmillan than to, say, Tor or Baen (which, while independently operated, has always been distributed by Simon & Shuster). Speaking from personal experience, before I was a professional writer I gave some consideration to who the publisher was when I was taking a chance with a new writer. Tor and Del Rey were two houses I gave the benefit of the doubt to. Now, it’s possible you’ll suggest that a relationship with an imprint is not the same as a relationship to the overall house, but I’ll just suggest you’ll be splitting hairs at that point.
I don’t have as much experience with the publishing industry as John does, but I did a lot of back-and-forth with my editor when Del Rey published my three novels, and never once did we talk about retailers or distributors. Every conversation was about making the books work for the reader.
That’s my experience, for whatever you think it’s worth.
“Our experience is a primary argument against believing what we say.”
That’s kind of a Teaparty stance, isn’t it? Distrust those who know?
I did, just the other day.
Well of course they see us as “customers”. My “god(s)” they are in the business of selling books after all. That is one of the reasons they have certain labels for different types of fiction. I can honestly say that in the past, based on experience, I have sought out titles that were tied to certain labels/publishers. I expect nothing less from them, and as for e-book pricing, if it is from a “traditional” publisher I expect it to be what it is. Being the owner of a couple of Nooks, I can say that I have also found a couple of authors who publish by non-traditional means and charge what they think is a fair price. I understand that author A may go through Ace/Del Rey/what have you, and his prices are controlled by the publisher. I also know that author B may go through SmashWords or some other group and have free or cheap prices. For our host John or any author A, it is Her/His living. For author B it is a living or hobby. Each has to choose his own path.
It is silly for anyone to think though that we the readers are anything but customers.Otherwise all books would be free.
In the previous article when you said you were going to delete whinges about
ebook prices I wandered off to plunge the toilet (not true) because I care
about the toilet. (IIRC, I /did/ read the rest of those posting guidelines.)
Something I do care about is rumors that I can’t sell an ebook the way I don’t
for all of my tree murder book purchases.
(Not that anyone was asking, but yes, I’m aware of the occasional fog bank
created by paper plants that leads to multi car pile ups.)
I don’t know if publishers think of me as a customer (several book sellers do (hey,
bookseller, give my time to get, unpack and maybe even read _one_ of the books
I bought before you offer me a Really Good Coupon!!))
I’m quite certain that the publishers are of aware of types of people: readers
who like good books, people who don’t read, and that guy who likes crappy books.
Book sales to the last two are a trifle unprofitable.
Simon and Schuster’s website visits per month seem to be very healthy considering that they only publish 2000 books per year. Amazon has millions of products on its site and is only interested in selling directly. What do you get from that comparison, Unholyguy at 10.03?
I love Orbit, Tor, Sphere, Puffin, Penguin (mainly nostalgia for that one) and Myrmidon. Having just watched a bloopers video at Simon and Schuster UK’s Youtube site I feel quite positive about their brand.
I’ve never in my life made a decision around what to read based on the publisher, unless it was a niche publisher. I honestly could not tell you who publishes my favorite authors, or even who publishes John for that matter. I could not name you more then two or three publishers off the top of my head. And I have read a LOT of books.
Nowadays I rely on online recommendations, algorithms, and word of mouth to decide what new authors to try. I’ve found it extremely effective.
This is a YMMV situation without data, however there certainly is market research out there on the strength of publisher brands and how they influence purchasing decisions. My guess is “not much at all” based on everything I know about brands and what powerful ones look like, and how they are employed by retailers.
Arr, just to butt in: I’m pretty sure there is such a thing as brand loyalty in publishing. For example: for over a decade, I bought every comic published by Vertigo. Even now, when Vertigo publishes something, I look twice. That’s brand loyalty.
I suspect there is a whole block of crime fiction fans who buy everything Hard Case crime publishes just for the covers. Just to have the set. Hell, I don’t *suspect* it: I know it. I know at least three people actively collecting the series.
Scholastic, in particular, used the success of Harry Potter to go on and market books such as Bone, Hunger Games, and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. The brand as a whole has come to mean something to parents and kids and I’m sure any major Scholastic launch catches the eye of readers who have good experiences with their offerings in the past.
Scholastic got me hooked on Buck Rogers and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea several decades ago. I would recommend them for any school age children based on the stuff the got me to love.
yah same here for Vertigo Joe, that was actually the one I was thinking about myself. Niche publisher though.The Big Six all seem the same to me. As far as Orbit, Tor all those, does anyone still know what Tor means opposed to Orbit anymore? What the difference in those two brands is suppose to be nowdays?
Interesting thing about Vertigo is it actually behaved like a powerful brand. I had a Vertigo tee shirt at one point.
Vertigo a “niche publisher”? They’re an imprint of one of the two largest comic book publishers in the United States (DC), which is itself owned by Time Warner, one of the largest publishing companies in the world (and which used to own the book publishing assets of Hachette, now considered one of the “Big Six”). It’s a bit of a stretch to call it “niche.”
Likewise, unholy guy, given the number of people who have pointed out that they have specific associations with book imprints, the best you can say at this point is that you don’t have any brand associations when it comes to book publishers. But your case is clearly not a general condition.
I have fond memories of Ace, Del Rey, Tor, and Scholastic. Yes, brand DOES mean something to mean something to me. And as an aside to those of you who have parents still living., cherish them. My mother died today, and my father died 26 years ago. By total coincidence, I enlisted in the U.S. Army on his birthday… seriously it wasn’t planned… i didn’t even think about it at the time.
sorry for the fvcked up typing.. been a very long day. best wishes to all.
@John, Thank you Sir. It has been a trying day. Besides the death thing, I’ve had to deal with a fucked up sewer problem and several hours of no power due to bad bad winds. Do me a favor Sir and tell those lovely ladies at Casa de Scalzi that you love them.Please?
Already did so today, several times.
Good. I know the last thing I said was “I love you”, so I’m at peace. As regards the overlard mammals at Casa de Scalzi, I know they know they are loved. When you have had to say goodbye to your parentals like I have, ya realize that any bit of love you can show is always a good thing.
grrrrrrrrr.. damnitalltohell, overlard=overlord. heh. ;-)
Sorry to hear that DA )-:
Thank you, seriously. As for the rest of Scalzi nation, carry on with your lives, and if you have a few bucks to spare, donate to your favorite cause. Knowing my mother (after 44 years) she would tell you the same. Love ya all even when I don’t totally agree with things ya might say/believe. After all we are all humans.
And as another aside, I wish to apologize for bringing a downer into the discussion. I came here to have some normalcy in my life. And the stuff here is as normal as my life can get. :D
Been quietly following along here. While I agree that confronting an author about the price of the ebook in a Big Idea piece is silly and mean (they don’t even control it), I am not sure it’s very productive to scold consumers who complain about the price of a product. There’s no scolding or lecturing or educating someone into wanting to pay more for a product. They’ve decided what it’s worth and they’re not going to pay. I’m not sure it’s fair or accurate either to say it comes from a sense of entitlement or that these are all just bitter, frustrated writers who have had their own books rejected by the publishing houses. What is the basis for that? Isn’t it also possible that these are thrifty people who feel that a paper book offers a significant premium over an electronic product that is generally less permanent and less satisfying to own? I’ve had lots of friends complain that they don’t like the prices of ebooks, and I don’t think they’re entitled jerks, nor do they overlap in any way with my friends who are frustrated authors. (All of the latter group actually don’t seem to mind paying the going rate for ebooks.)
The fact that some undisclosed number of ebooks are selling at the publisher’s asking price is not really proof that that is the right price for the product, because it’s always possible that sales and profits would be better at some other price point. It seems to me that customer complaints are a valid input for publishers and they ought to at least be noting them. If lower prices for ebooks are untenable for their business model, then so be it. But if those really are their customers doing the complaining, seems like they should be taking notes, not engaging and debating.
For folks looking to fill up their ereaders who are offended by the major publisher’s pricing practices, I have a wonderful solution for you. There is a whole new world of indie publishing out there, and there is some genuinely good quality stuff out there. While we’re waiting for publishers to figure out that most people who are willing to pay full hardcover price for a book actually want to have the hardcover, you can have fun downloading tons of free and extremely cheap reading material from Smashwords and all of the major ebook outlets. Even if the price you’re willing to pay is free, there is plenty to keep you busy. (Check out the free store on Kindle, or search “0.00” at Barnes and Noble.) Review and ratings systems help you to separate the wheat from the chaff, or you can walk a mile in the Nielsen Haydens’ shoes and try reading the fresh, unfiltered, unreviewed product as it comes down the pike, just like they do. A good exercise in compassion. I recommend it.
I agree with you 100% I’ve been reading a coouple authors on my B&N Nook who have ben publishing Indie. They have had some really great stories and I’m glad i found them. Because of the way things work at times they would have never been published by dead tree book publishers.
I just want to say that comparing Robin L.’s opinions of the big 6 publishers to a belief in astrology is really hitting below the belt. Sorry, John, but that was just a cheap shot.
@John, Really hard to say what is general vs uncommon with regards to imprints and branding. We would both need some market research on that to make a call. Scalzi nation is hardly a representative sample of the book buying public.
As far as “Is Vertigo niche” it was certainly niche from the audience it was targeted to and it’s whole marketing angle. Also the comic industry has always been a bit of a different beast to traditional publishers.
I agree though, it is a good counter example to my claim. It does suggest to me the direction publishers would want to go in if they wanted to build up a direct relationship with readers, Vertigo certainly did that, and did it well.
I bought a used Ford minivan because I couldn’t afford a new one. I didn’t go to the factory and complain to the engineer/designer that new Fords were too expensive. When, at some point, I have enough money, I will then make a decision whether or not a new Ford is worth the money. I still will not complain to the engineer/designer that the price is too high.
Writers are much more exposed to the public than automotive engineers, but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to gripe at them about the price of their work. Either buy it or don’t. If you have a criticism regarding the quality of their work, congratulations, you can tell them directly. This is a luxury that doesn’t exist in many industries.
As far as publishers not viewing readers as customers, hogwash. Everything about a finished book is designed to entice, appeal, and please readers. From the cover art to the type-face to the editing, it’s about attracting and maintaining readers. Wal-mart, for example, from an organizational standpoint, doesn’t care about any of this except in that it drives sales, which is the point. Readers are the retailers’ customers, they are also the publishers’ customers.
The argument that the bigger paycheck equals the real customer is false. Publishers buy back unsold copies of the books they distribute (unless this has changed recently) so the reader is still the ultimate payor/customer.
Now, ebooks don’t get all of the attention as far as typeset and cover art and the like as physical books do, or, at least, they don’t translate as well, so it would seem that would be a bit cheaper. However, there is a lot of work and money that goes into producing and distributing books outside of printing, transportation, and storage, so the profit margin of ebooks vs print isn’t as great as one would think.
In my opinion, an ebook is intrinsically less valuable than a printed version, but the convenience usually makes up for it price-wise. I am, apparently, not alone in this thinking, hence the price of ebooks are relatively high. I’m willing to pay it, so are others. It’s the way capitalism works. Paradoxically, the only way to make ebooks cheaper is to stop buying them.
So there. Those are my opinions and observations, for what they’re worth.
One more thing. I have considered the publisher when buying a book, especially if I’m ordering online. For example, my experience has taught me that Harper Collins books are high quality, physically. The covers, the binding, and the paper are made to last and feel good in my hands. At least, that’s the case with the Neil Gaiman hardbacks I’ve purchased.
One relatively simple question: How does the complaints about customer’s “entitlement” square with the shrugging acquiescence to the idea that publishers will charge every cent they can possibly get, and begrudge every right they can possibly begrudge?
They’re two sides of the same coin. If publishers can grasp, then so can consumers. If publishers can lobby to restrict or destroy both the used market and simple booklending using DRM-friendly lawmakers, then surely consumers can create obnoxious spectacles of themselves to convey the general dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs.
(Granted, one is more successful than the other, but that’s the whole problem, isn’t it? Consumers don’t *have* lobbyists. Maybe they should.)
If we don’t feel like customers of publishing companies, don’t you think there’s a reason that’s true?
Look, I don’t think publishing companies are evil. I think they’re behaving like corporations behave; trying to preserve their business model in the face of disruptive change. I’m not a rejected author, I’m a reader who has made the switch to ebooks because there’s just no more room in my house for paper books. I’m lucky enough to not be very price sensitive about books, but that doesn’t mean I’ll pay any price that a publisher slaps on a book. When the switch to agency pricing happened, I shrugged my shoulders and paid for the authors I liked, for a while. I tolerated the low quality of the ebooks being put out by major publishers, for a while. As I mentioned, I tried to register a complaint with a major publisher, like a good little customer, but nothing came of it, just a “thanks for contacting us” form letter.
So, I stopped. We’re in the midst of an ebook explosion. Even if you think that indie publishing is full of crap that real publishers wouldn’t touch, there’s still lots of stuff available. Backlists of authors that I always meant to get around to, translations of foreign works, not to mention all the Project Gutenberg works – my reading time is full, with books I’m enjoying as much as the books that I was spending so much on before. I’m not a “books must be free” person; I want to support authors. But I’m not a sucker; I won’t pay prices that are higher than paper for a typo-ridden ebook that I only own a license to.
If a publisher wants me to be their customer, then they can treat me with respect, and I’ll happily return the favor.
The sad thing about these discussions is that many people that are supposedly readers seem to be so bad at reading comprehension. There are always comments that go on a tangent based on some trigger words, completely ignoring what a post actually discusses.
Having step away for a while, let me just say that Ms. Shaffer has said well what I intended to say about some of this.
I’m less inclined to say that the Big Six simply don’t want to listen to readers than I am to say they are clueless as to how to do it. It’s clear to me that they don’t always KNOW what the readers want. Any business is flooded with suggestions, demands, and complaints, and it looks to me like they simply aren’t adept at filtering those into useable data. I’ve been told many times by people inside Conglomerate press about the hoops they jump through to be approved to try anything “new”…anything “groundbreaking.” Maybe if they allowed the editorial staff to do that more often, they might find it worth the return. Indie/e press seems to do well with pushing the boundaries. The fact that ebook sales (and NOT just of the Big Six) are on the rise, they might want to do what several publishers did a decade ago and start watching what is selling for the indie/e publishers and adopting it. Using indie/e as a “test market” has served them well once before. I can’t see why it wouldn’t continue to do so.
“I just want to say that comparing Robin L.’s opinions of the big 6 publishers to a belief in astrology is really hitting below the belt.”
In my discussion with her, she seems deeply resistant to expert knowledge that contradicted what she thought she knew, and she presented opinion as fact ( which she also said was “common knowledge,” incorrect though it was). Nor do I believe she would be likely to find any arguments here persuasive, even if they are factually correct. So I think the comparison is perfectly apt. You are of course free to disagree.
“If we don’t feel like customers of publishing companies, don’t you think there’s a reason that’s true?”
Well, some of you don’t feel like customers. Some of you do. This appears by all indication to be highly variable thing. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that it behooves publishers to be responsive to readers.
“How does the complaints about customer’s ‘entitlement’ square with the shrugging acquiescence to the idea that publishers will charge every cent they can possibly get, and begrudge every right they can possibly begrudge?”
Do they need to square? They are two separate issues.
Likewise, my opinion that publishers do see readers as customers does not mean I am of the opinion that publishers do no wrong, ever. Remember that at the moment I am the head of a writers’ organization, which spends a lot of time confronting publishers with their errors.
After a night’s thought it seems to me that while publishers might see end users as customers, I’m not convinced they see customers as actual individual people. At best we are demographic groups. Sure they might have a direct sales channel, but it’s not widely publicised or known, and its more they have to have it than need to have it or its negative brand recognition. They might respond nicely to complaints, but most companies do that without caring about their customers in the first place before a complaint. That’s why big companies have complaint departments, to clean up after their callousness accidentally shows.
Just a few observations:
*Blaming an author for the publisher’s book pricing is, indeed, d*ckish.
*Just because some books are available directly from some publishers doesn’t mean all publishers, or even most publishers, consider readers to be their customers. Of course, it doesn’t mean they don’t either.
*I have loved the Neilsen Haydens from afar lo these many years (I promise, in a not-creepy way), and have enjoyed their making of light, but “…et cetera yammer yammer yammer … “I’m sorry your book was rejected,” really hit a sour note. There are plenty of published authors (including me, though the therapy seems to be taking) who have good and sufficient reason to be displeased with the big six publishers.
*Ultimately, IMHO, the element in the food chain that let down the reader-customer was the retailer. Borders died because Borders stopped selling books to book lovers and started selling ‘units’ to ‘consumers’ and floor space to publishers. The people best placed to listen to the customer, stopped. I was a small part of that mess for a time, and it wasn’t pretty.
Ho ho ho,
Digital Atheist, sorry for your troubles. I find this song curiously comforting, between the tears:
@Pat, Thanks… yesterday was just one of those days around here. If it could go wrong for someone, it went wrong. Between the plumbing, no power, and death stuff (which took hours to find a doc who would sign off on the certificate!) I expected the domicile to burn down during the night or at least lose the roof due to the high winds we had.
re telling an author you arent buying their ebook because the price is too high: the dickishness of that statement may have skill-based modifiers associated with it. Specifically, someone in the publishing industry will have a -2 modifer increasing their chance of being offended.An author may have something like a -4 modifier. Probably some more personal modifiers too.
It is like telling a programmer you arent buying the software they worked on because the corporation they work for has priced it too high. And as a low level tech at a corporation, I wouldnt be offended by that comment towards me. It doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of my work, it is not an insult directed at me. And if I ever get published, I dont forsee it offending me as an author.
In a “Big Idea” thread, such a comment could be of topic because it is part of a larger “all ebooks should be $.99” or “all ebooks should be free”, and that seems to be many of the comments about price on the big idea threads. That is the sort of conversation that should be had somewhere where it is the point of the thread. The point of the Big Idea threads seems to be to give new authors some positive exposure about some specific book, and ‘ebooks should be a buck’ conversations can be derailey.
But I dont see them as universally dickish.
PPong: “When they make deals that make ebooks cost as much as, or more than, buying the physical book – they deserve to be called on that.”
While there are authors who have the clout to dictate pricing not only of their books but of *individual editions,* as in, they can tell the publishers what the editions should cost relative to one another, there are maybe five of them, and none of them are interested in what you think their books should cost.
By all means, tilt at your particular windmills. I myself will drive five miles out of my way rather than pay a toll because IMO the Illinois Toll Authority is a criminal enterprise. But I don’t pretend that my view is widely held or, frankly, all that rational. Nor do I attempt to “call” anybody on the basis thereof.
At least part of this argument probably comes from the comic book sphere. It’s long been a truism that the direct market created a reality where instead of the publishers selling to the consumer, as with the old spinner racks and newsstands, the direct market created a relationship where the publishers were selling to the comic book stores instead. So when the lists of best-selling books were compiled, it was really a list of what the retailers thought they could sell the best, not necessarily what actually sold through to consumers. But that is almost entirely because the direct market was set up as a non-returnable market instead of the more traditional distributor controlled returnable market. Thus, the publishers solicit new books almost exclusively from the perspective of how to sell and market the book – not necessarily in terms of storytelling or consumer friendliness. I can see many people carrying this argument over into the traditional book market, not understanding returnability, etc.
In fact, now that digital comics are finally accepted as reality by the bigger publishers, they are beginning to market to the consumer directly, and it’s been interesting. All of a sudden, Marvel can offer a special on all Avengers books on a particular Friday – which they could not do with the current direct market stores. Some publishers, like Image Comics, have offered special bonus packs or deals on certain graphic novels to get stores to carry the product, but those deals are not usually carried over to the consumer. Now that the bigger publishers can and are selling more directly to the reader, things are changing in the comics world.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people arguing that publishers don’t see readers as customers weren’t involved in education in some way. In education, the customer has almost exclusively been the instructor/textbook committee. The ultimate consumer/reader has almost no marketing done to them – it’s the instructors who get the multiple free copies of the textbooks and the visits and phone calls and emails from sales reps. The interesting twist here is that the instructor then hands the actual selling of the product over to the bookstore, which is in conflict with the publisher because the bookstore wants to sell used copies for their higher internal markup. In fact, the electronic bookstore used by my college’s bookstore (operated completely independently of the college) many times will ONLY list used and rental copies, not even giving the student the option of buying new.
Textbook publishers are responding by setting up direct to consumer websites, but since most textbook purchases involve financial aid, unless there is a connection to the institution (like the college bookstore has already set up), the consumer has to put out their own money instead of charging it to the financial aid. The bookstore’s emphasis on used is beginning to hurt them though, as their used price is almost always horribly inflated, and can be severely undercut by using online retailers. However, this also leads to many students not having their textbook for the first couple weeks of class while they wait for their used copy from an Amazon or Half.com seller to get to them. the same is also true of ordering direct from the publisher.
Textbook publishers want to move into e-book publishing, but they still want their inflated prices (not justified because there is no used book market to undercut future sales potential). In addition, a lot of current research is showing that while students love supplemental audio/video apps, they do not like having textbook materials in an e-reader format – there is a difference between reading for enjoyment and reading for education in terms of how one interacts with and utilizes a text.
Well, I’ve rambled enough here – and I agree with John’s basic disagreement with the original author’s complaint. But there are at least a couple of areas of publishing where the basic argument of the ultimate reader not actually being the customer have some element of validity.
Representative quote: “Now I can’t say that I know anything about book publishing but it seems odd that a publisher would charge the same price for bits as they do for a physical copy because with ebooks you eliminate: material, printing, and shipping costs.”
I think this got addressed over on the other thread, but leaving aside that the cost of goods for a p-book (p is for physical) is a pretty small portion of the price, the costs of production are at best a secondary consideration when pricing ANYTHING. This is one of the things about economics that seems counter-intuitive and/or mercenary to non-econ-wonks.
Most people, when they try to price something they individually do/make, either just charge something similar to what other people charge for the same service or good, or try to figure out their cost of production and add what they feel is a “reasonable” profit. This advice is extraordinarily common in “how to go into business” books. Its primary positive attributes are that it is simple, not too hard to do, and will, assuming reasonable arithmetic skills, produce a positive cash flow. Its primary negative attribute is that it’s entirely wrong.
The way to price something is to charge as much as you possibly can without reducing demand so much that you lose enough sales to cancel out the higher price. Cost of goods can tell you whether you can find a price that enables you to establish a positive cash flow in the first place: if you can’t, and you’re not a horizontal marketer like Amazon or Gillette, don’t even start. But once you can, forget about cost of goods. It’s totally irrelevant at that point. (Though you should consider its potential effect in future if it goes up or down a lot.) Competition, over time, will tend to drive prices down to the point where cost of goods becomes a significant portion of the price, but only in commodities or other fairly fungible* goods and services. A gallon of gas from BP costs roughly the same as a gallon of gas from Shell because most people, despite what they may say, don’t prefer one brand of gas over another to the point where they’ll pay a lot more for it. However, our esteemed host’s works and the works of Danielle Steele are not fungible. (At least not for me.) Even though they have the same rough cost of goods, you will note that their books are priced differently. That is because the cost of goods is a minor consideration in this market.
Would I like it if e-booksbooks were cheaper than p-books? Yes, yes I would. Does this stop me from buying books I want on Kindle? No, no it does not. Would I buy significantly more e-books if they were cheaper than p-books? No, not unless the price was SUBSTANTIALLY lower – at least for me, the difference would have to be quite a bit more than any realistic savings on cost of goods between e-books and p-books. Therefore, it would be foolish, economically-speaking, for publishers to charge me less for Kindle books, because *I will pay the same price.* (In fact, for me in particular, they might even get away with charging a little MORE since I am an instant-gratification junkie and as I get older I get less enthusiastic about traipsing to the bookstore, assuming the bookstore even has the book I want in stock in the first place.)
The question then becomes, are most customers like me, or are most customers going to have different buying behaviors and buy significantly more e-books if the prices are lower – but not very much lower – than the price of the equivalent p-book? Thus far, it seems like I’m in the majority, or at least the publishers think so. Time will tell.
*Snarky comment: “It’s amazing how many economic arguments can accurately be restated, ‘I don’t understand what the word ‘fungible’ means.'” Not directly applicable to the OP’s post but I just like to say it.
My biggest gripe about the e-book pricing threads is not even related to ignorance of the publishing industry, or choose-your-own-price entitlement, or economic wishful thinking. It is simply this: it’s boring. It is just boring. It is tremendously frustrating to read a Big Idea which is supposed to be about an Idea, and read the comments thread to see what people have to say about the Idea, or the execution of it, and it’s about the tremendously repetitive and tedious book pricing thread, again, and it derails what could otherwise have been an interesting discussion before it even gets started. The fact that people find it upsetting that they would not be allowed to be this boring, now that’s entitlement. Nobody is going to explode from having an unexpressed thought, but you’d never know it from the mini-kerfuffle.
Coming from newspaper and periodical publishing initially, I can say unequivocally that there was a pervasive attitude amongst management that readers weren’t our customers, advertisers were. Readers were the “products” we produced to sell to advertisers. That attitude didn’t exist at the lower levels, where most folks were very reader-conscious. I can see how, in book publishing where the lion’s share of revenue is coming from sales to retailers, who then take on the responsibilities of appealing directly to readers, how that same attitude could carry over, likely on the management level. I have no direct experience to back that up, it just seems like a realistic possibility to me, but I certainly experienced it first hand in newspapers.
Sherri complained that she wrote to Penguin to complain about typos in an ebook and got a form letter in return. Readers aren’t the only ones who are ignored about this issue.
I have a book published with a division of Penguin. Having seen many glaring formatting errors in Kindle books – not just typos but garbage that made it clear no human had ever looked at the book – I begged and pleaded for a copy of the Kindle version to proofread. I was told that this was impossible, and assured that they checked it for “quality control,” whatever that means.
Of course when the book came out it had a recurrent and disastrous formatting error that took weeks of email back and forth to get fixed, still in a half-assed way.
I think this incident is relevant not only to the customer service question but to the issue of what authors have control over. If I can’t even get them to let me proofread the e-editions of my book – which costs them little or nothing and would have been doing them a favor, as it turned out – I sure as heck don’t have the power to influence how much money they charge, something they care about a whole lot more.
Maybe a Scalzi has the power to negotiate that sort of thing, I don’t know. But for a first time author, sure, there were minor contract provisions that I could negotiate, but certain basic things, it’s take it or leave it. Being a published author doesn’t automatically come with the awesome power that some people seem to imagine it does. And I’ll never get to a better bargaining position by turning down my first contract over an issue like that.
Another data point… I think a lot of people believe that the cost of a book is mostly the cost of the paper and ink and the physical distribution of same, which is why they feel that e-books are overpriced. However, a few years ago I served on two different panels for scientific organizations looking to alter the way that scientific journals were published… options ranging from self-publishing (print and web), to pure web publishing, to going with a regular commercial press. What was surprising at first, but made sense when you looked at the numbers, was the discovery that printing and distribution of paper copies was a much smaller fraction of the cost of producing a journal — about a third of the cost — compared to the cost of editing, typesetting, layout, etc. And this is for a publication where the acceptance editors, referees, and authors are not paid, and there is zero budget for promotion or sales! So I am not surprised that e-books are not significantly cheaper than paper books.
On the recommendation of another commenter I read Charles Stross’ posts on publishing and ebooks. The posts relevant to this discussion are here (read in the order listed):
Very informative posts. That said, Stross does not provide any real data on the issue of ebook pricing, just his anecdotal experience and statements that cannot otherwise be verified.
I would not presume to think that an author or publisher would lie about what it cots to make an ebook compared to a physical book but it is relevant to point out that both the author and publisher do have something to gain, or rather maintain, by justifying the cover price of an ebook.
Not that I think ebooks cost too much. Stross thinks that in time ebooks will replace the MMPB, and in my armchair opinion, I would trend to agree. At that point I don’t think that people will have a problem paying $10 or $15 for an ebook but I think that somewhere around $5 is the sweet spot.
I find it interesting that Hayden is so dismissive of “alternative” publishing methods. I wonder what kind of conversation her and Cory Doctorow, or Amanda Hocking would have?
As far as publishers not listening to readers… by and by most of your ebook readers are technically literate. This means that a good majority of people who read ebooks are going to have at least a cursory understanding of DRM. I’d wager that a good majority of ebook readers are against the use of DRM.
I do not think that publishers are unaware of the issues that DRM creates for readers or that most readers are against its use.
I submit that if publishers listened to readers, and indeed their authors who are vocally against DRM, they would have stopped using DRM on their ebooks long ago.
“I wonder what kind of conversation her and Cory Doctorow… would have?”
There is some deep-level irony in this question.
I observed, not for the first time, that IMO the default answer to someone who’s ranting about the Big Six, the evilness in general of NYC publishers (who only promote bestsellers and anyway are only interested in books by celebrities), the coming selfpublipocalypse, et cetera et cetera yammer yammer yammer, is “I’m sorry your book was rejected.”
That is really dismissive and condescending. If we readers truly are her customers then she doesn’t seem to think too much of us.
@Adam at 12:54pm- Stross’s posts address the issue of why e-books have DRM. According to his posts, most of the actual book publishers don’t like it. However, the decision is being made higher up in the corporate hierarchy. Corporate policy is generally DRM on everything because they’re looking at it from more of a movie/music view than that of book publishing.
“There is some deep-level irony in this question.”
Care to explain?
Doctorow has self-published more than one book and is by all accounts a successful author. Hayden dismisses “alternative” methods of publishing as a baby cry of rejected authors, which Doctorow certainly is not.
Amanda Hocking is an interesting story as well – rejected by traditional publishers she self-published on Amazon and is making millions that she (less her costs to produce the book) gets to keep all of.
So yes, I do wonder what kind of conversation someone like Hayden who dismisses alternative publishing out of hand and people who are by all accounts successful under the alternative model would have.
“most of the actual book publishers don’t like it. However, the decision is being made higher up in the corporate hierarchy.”
I don’t buy the pass-the-buck argument.
Even so, Regardless of why they do it – if they listened to readers, and cared, they’d of stopped using it long ago.
brother guy: that’s a really good point. The scientific journals have actually trained their readers to pay top dollar for e-copies already. Sciencedirect charges $30 for ONE article. A lot of people, including me, don’t like it, but the issue is not the cost of paper and ink, or lack thereof. At some point you have to let go of that comparison, because it just doesn’t apply.
I write for an online daily newspaper (pdf format). Subscriptions are–last I checked–$2400 per year. The writing staff is keenly aware of the premium price of the subscription, and we work hard to deliver the value the customer expects every day. Although we maintain the traditional wall between editorial and marketing departments, we are pretty aware of the reader as customer (not the institution with the huge multi-copy site license). I HAVE been confronted about the price of subscriptions, both on the phone and in person. Every time, I listen to the complaint, and I say, “Is it okay if I pass this along to marketing so they can talk to you about subscription programs for academics and small companies?” and we sell a lot of subscriptions that way. Through all of his, the paper and ink cost of a comparable publication have nothing to do with the economics of selling our product. It’s true that there’s a cost savings to electronic publishing compared to paper publishing, but the product is and always has been the content.
“Care to explain?”
Not really. Google is your friend in this respect, however.
Also, as noted before in this thread, it’s not “Hayden,” it’s “Nielsen Hayden.”
“I don’t buy the pass-the-buck argument.”
By which you mean “don’t annoy me with facts that don’t comport with how I feel things should be.”
Authors in fact do have a choice and do have a level of control over their pricing. Firstly they have a choice whether to work with the Big Six or work with Amazon/self publish. Admittedly not a very attractive choice to some, however the alternatives to Big Six do seem to be getting better over time.
Authors also have some say in the matter as a block, they have a degree of negotiating leverage.
While I do not think it is productive to hold authors accountable for ebook pricing, it certainly could have a productive effect to lean on them a bit and let them know their reading public is not happy about it.
I’m curious John, in your role with the SFFWA whether you could influence publishers (and I would include Amazon in that to keep everyone honest) to either perform or reveal market research to authors around some of these trends and questions that have been brought up in this thread.
Honestly feels like everyone is flying blink here, some actual data would be useful.
Key unknowns to me seem to be
– Degree to which publisher brand effects purchasing habits
– Price elasticity for ebooks
– Degree to which an ebook can serve as a substitute good for a higher priced ebook
– Consumer behavior at the $2.99-0.99 range, how it differs from traditonal purchases
– Comparison of efficiencies and price between traditional publishing supply chains and Amazon’s publishing services
“By which you mean ‘don’t annoy me with facts that don’t comport with how I feel things should be.'”
Save putting words in the mouth’s of your characters, not mine. Besides, we’re not dealing in facts, we’re dealing in anecdotal statements from people who have a vested interesting in maintaining the status quo.
Your contradicting yourself, you say that publishers listen to readers. I give a clear example of how they don’t and you imply that it’s ok that they don’t because it’s out of their control. How convenient.
Whatever you mean by your “irony” quip (do you know what you mean by it? Your adamant about not explaining yourself) what I was pointing out that is that your industry expert seems to be out of touch with the fact that authors have used alternative publishing methods and had success. Let me correct myself, Nielsen Hayden is probably not so much out of touch as she is annoyed by the fact that authors have had success outside of the traditional publishing system that she is embedded in.
Just catching up on this thread today.
@D A: I’m very sorry for your loss.
@unholy guy: Authors don’t have the amount of control you think they have. I can’t just walk into an editor’s office and demand they publish my book, and on my terms. I can decide whether or not I want to submit to a particular publisher, but I have to look at it as a purely business decision, I have to go with where I can get the most exposure/money. Going with the big six may or may not be the best for a particular project. But it IS a purely business decision. At this point going with a commercial publisher (either the big six or a decent small press) is going to get me more exposure/money. I have bills to pay.
Also, you continue to assert that the retailers call the shots because they write the big checks. Where do you think the money to cover those big checks comes from? All those little checks written by customers. I did a fair amount of time in retail, and believe me, much time and effort is spent in attempting to determine what people will buy. Yep, sometimes the retailers get it all wrong, or don’t listen. But in the end, it’s you and I walking into that bookstore, department store, signing into that web site, who provide the money for the retailers to cut those big checks. Retailers lose sight of the customers at their own peril.
Corporations are not people. They are collections of people and different people have quite often conflicting motivations and behaviors. It is VERY possible for a corporation to be customer oriented AND retailer oriented—even in the same department.
Two. I find it VERY amusing that so many people are so eager to reject the expertise of people who have actual experience…particularly when they have so little relevant expertise themselves, I also find that…less than intelligent. Think carefully about your behavior folks; just because it’s from an old paradigm doesn’t mean that it’s useless…even if things ARE changing rapidly.
Retailers certainly care about the end user and what they will buy
Publishers have to care a great deal about the retailers and what they will buy, or lease, or host or indenture or whatever strange archaic business relationship they dreamed up with eachother in some 17th century laudanum den.
I retrack my earlier statement that this is the only thing they care about, however it is certainly a major factor in their decision making. It’s probably much easier for them to have access to retailer sentiments (which they deal with every day) then end customers who they never see.
“Save putting words in the mouth of your characters, not mine.”
Then don’t say things that clearly indicate that you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about and are willing to toss aside data that doesn’t fit the already existing framework you have in your head, built on nothing other than your own wishful thinking. Otherwise I’ll be compelled to summarize your position into a slightly more coherent form – or at the very least, what your position appears to be from the outside of your head. While you’re at it, entertain the notion that “listening” is not synonymous with “doing what I tell you,” because it’s not, nor is understanding such a thing a contradiction. This, incidentally, goes back to the issue of entitlement.
And while we’re it, also consider the possibility that what you appear to be assuming that TNH is saying is not actually what she’s saying. Pay slightly closer attention. Also, as suggested previously, do a little research on why I find you trying to trot out Cory to counter Teresa’s observation full of irony. As you seem resistant to actually doing the research — which, incidentally, does not speak well regarding the soundness of your overall argument — allow me to give you a hint and suggest you look at page 207 of Cory’s first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. You may find it instructive. Or you may not.
“willing to toss aside data”
Did someone provide actual data that I missed?
You and others may assert that publishers don’t like DRM and would like to remove it but can’t because the “higher ups” won’t let them but this is noting more than assertions made by people who are woefully biased. It is not data.
Whatever you thought I meant by my “wonder what kind of conversation” thought I think your mistaken. All I was pointing out is that it seemed Nielsen Hayden was dismissing self-publishing. I used Doctorow and Hocking as on-hand examples that self-publishing does work.
Possibly the fact that most of Doctrow’s books, are published by Tor.
Taken to the literal extreme Robin’s comment that “publishers don’t consider readers to be customers” is obviously untrue.
But than again your statement that “the author, who generally speaking has no control of the pricing” is likewise literally untrue. The author chooses who to partner with and that choice drives consumer pricing among many other things.
So until either of you address the substance behind these two statements not much of value can come out of people talking past each other.
If someone thinks they have posted a fact or data in any of this (and I include myself), could you introduce me, I would love to meet it (-:
People’s opinions, no matter how knowledgeable they may be, are not facts, especially when they are a position which implies bias. That doesn’t mean their opinions are not worth listening to or taking into string consideration, but facts, they are not.
My copy of Down and Out does not have a page 207
There isn’t an “unknown” number of Kindle e-books being sold, e-books are tracked both on retailer sites, e.g.:
As well as by the NY Times:
Lots of people are buying Stephen King’s newest at $15, Clancy or Grisham’s newest at $13, the Steve Jobs book at $15, and the now 3-year-old release The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo still at $10. In a year or so, King’s e-book will be cheaper, and the people who have a line in the mental sand at $10 will buy it. That will last a couple of years. Then the price will drop further and another round of people will buy it at its new price point.
Gee. Sounds like Hardcover to Trade to Mass Market all over again. Lots of people hold out for the mass market paperback. (Or used mass market paperback. Or the end of the library’s wait list.) Lots of people will hold out for the “mass market priced” Kindle e-book as well. Complaining about new release e-book prices is pretty much the same as complaining about hardcover prices: wait a year or two, and you’ll get the price you want. (Or get your library to order more e-copies so the waiting list actually moves once in a while…) Examples: Ender’s Game on Kindle is $6. The forthcoming Shadows in Flight is $10. (Vs. $21 hardcover, if you’re keeping track. As Amazon helpfully computes: “You Save: $12.00 (55%)”. And if you still feel that’s not enough of a discount, wait a couple of years and the price will come down. Until then the publisher’s customers, paying readers, will be bringing the book out of the massive hole of red that is acquisition, editing, design, etc., so that there will be an actual book for you to enjoy then, instead of a blank piece of paper.)
Interesting thing: in checking out Amazon’s overall bestsellers in literature/fiction I had to get all the way to #67 to find a printed book (King’s). Everything above it was a Kindle edition.
By the way: I’m definitely a customer of various publishers. I get (and read) e-newsletters from Pyr, Tor, Orbit, and Angry Robot, because of past experience with them I will at least look twice at everything they publish. (And then I go visit other publisher web pages, “niche” publishers like Tachyon, Small Beer, PM Press, Chizine, etc. to see what they’re up to — for much the same reason.) These web pages and newsletters aren’t put there to impress the B&N buyer. They’re there to impress readers.
Even if that’s what Scalzi meant it’s irrelevant to my point that Doctrow self-publishes and even gives his books away freely both of which fly in the face of traditional publishing.
Statements from informed individuals is data. Saying that they are not data is fundamentally rejecting them, and is unscientific. It’s rejecting expertise, which is not an intelligent thing to do.
They can, however, be trumped by additional data. And they are limited, like all data. But they are data all the same.
Interesting, so arguments from authority are now accepted as data… I missed that memo.
@ Adam 3:06pm “Even if that’s what Scalzi meant it’s irrelevant to my point that Doctrow self-publishes and even gives his books away freely both of which fly in the face of traditional publishing.”
As noted previously, Scalzi himself has self published and given a book away freely. So have other authors. Not to mention traditional publishers do give away books at times, usually to book conventions and schools. (not counting ARCs and review copies). Though, admittedly, traditional publishers are limited in how much they can give away because they have to pay the author.
Data is generally the result of measurement. it is also generally quantitative in nature not qualitative.
The fact that John holds a set of opinions is data. The essence or content of those opinions are, well opinions, regardless of how much of an expert he is, they remain opinions until he has facts to support them.
Experts in fields actually have a pretty poor track record in diagnosing and responding to massive disruptions in that field. I refer you to The Black Swan for support of that statement
Great! Scalzi has given books away.
My point was that Nielsen Hayden dismissed self-publishing as a baby cry of rejected authors and yet there are successful authors that have/had self-published to one degree or another. So her dismissal seemed a bit… misplaced.
Unholyguy: “Authors in fact do have a choice and do have a level of control over their pricing. Firstly they have a choice whether to work with the Big Six or work with Amazon/self publish.”
Right, one of the Big Six comes to you and says, “We want to publish your book (that you spent a couple of years writing and another year or so shopping around hoping for a buyer). The advance is $1,000, with royalties, and we handle everything for you, both paper and eBook.” On the other hand, you could publish it yourself (and you aren’t a professional at this so you have to get the software for making the correct eBook files, as well as to produce the correctly formatted pdf for a paper book, not to mention spending a good four or five months learning how to do all that stuff, CORRECTLY–what font to use, what size, (do you know what leading is?), and so forth) and deal with Amazon and their pricing model. And lets not even go into the whole difference between the marketing power of the Big Six (thousands of copies in hundreds of bookstores across the country) and yourself (just putting a book on Amazon is no guarantee that it will ever sell a copy to anyone other than your family members or close friends).
My wife is a writer. She has ZERO interest in self-publishing–she is a WRITER. She has several unpublished, and circulating, manuscripts. Do you sincerely think that if one of those manuscripts are finally accepted that she is going to take a chance on blowing a guaranteed contract on a dispute over the price of her eBook, when she has no knowledge about what costs are involved in creating an eBook–just demand a certain price for a book she doesn’t know how to price?
You are being naive. Most, no, I think, ALL unpublished authors are not going to do ANYTHING that might sink a contract offer from he Big Six. Maybe after a they have three of four books out and have a following, then they might be brave enough to bring up the issue eBook pricing with their publisher, but not before.
Also: Adam, not to further bury you on this thread here but in addition to Doctorow, Hocking was recently at Macmillan because her next series is being published by them. (Macmillan employs the Nielsen Haydens at Tor as well.) Both of your examples (Doctorow and Hocking) are being published by the same Big Six publisher which employs the people whose message you are criticizing. (On the blog of another of the same company’s authors.) I mean, pick Eisler — oh wait, no, he’s also published by a big publisher (Amazon’s own Thomas and Mercer). Or Konrath — oh wait, no, he’s also published by a big publisher (the afore-mentioned Thomas and Mercer). There *are* some true self-publishing success stories, some of which are in the comments (not the article really) to a recent USA Today piece:
But there’s a reason why Eisler and Konrath signed with Thomas and Mercer, why Doctorow and Scalzi signed with Tor, why Stross signs with Ace, why Hocking signed with Macmillan, and it isn’t because they’re stupid. It’s because selling 100,000 $0.99 e-books nets about $40,000 (before taxes, editing, cover art, marketing, …) and these publishers can offer a better overall deal. Why? Because their customers, paying readers, will pay more than $0.99 to read their next book.
@Terry, I agree, as you say, the choice is not particular attractive at least to people that depend on writing for income AND have already received a book deal. However, that is changing, it is exactly Amazon’s plan to change that dynamic.
The thing that is more interesting is not so much why brand new authors take the book deals but why established authors like Charlie and John stick with the publishers once they have a name and brand. They could likely make a lot more money selling their books at $8.99 and keeping 70% of the gross.
Charlie has even admitted as much on his blog, his caveat is he thinks he can reach a wider audience with his existing relationship and that is important to him from a personal satisfaction perspective.
That is another one of Amazon’s schemes, to poach the authors with strong brands.
Oh for Pete’s sake. I was not trying to dismiss traditional publishing. Read my fucking comments before going out on a limb to show that I’m wrong.
All I was saying it that there are successful authors who use self-publishing to one degree or another and are successful despite Nielsen Hayden dismissal of the practice.
Try not to misuse the term “argument from authority.”
Someone who makes a statement based on their experience is not making an argument from authority. You are, like creationists, rejecting data from people who are actually conversant with what you want to argue about.
I think you have an unneccesarily narrow view of data. Case studies, expert testimony and the like abound in many disciplines of scientific literature. I see no reason to exclude them from here, as I said, they, like all data, are limited (and in different ways from numerical data). But they can be informative if used correctly.
re: Adam: “My point was that Nielsen Hayden dismissed self-publishing as a baby cry of rejected authors”
Not correct. That was a response to “ranting about the Big Six as evil and/or stupid”, not self-publishing or self-publishers. Just because some very loud promoters of self-publishing (who don’t actually happen to solely be self-publishers themselves…) rant about the Big Six being evil and/or stupid doesn’t mean that every time someone talks about the topic “ranting about the Big Six as evil and/or stupid” they are talking about self-publishing. That’s not the way Venn diagrams work.
The one thing that bugs me about ebook pricing is that when I choose to support my favorite authors by buying the hard cover when it first comes out is that I then have to get double dipped at a fairly hefty cost to get an e-copy of the book as well if I want it. What I’d like to see, moving forward, is something like what the movie studios have started doing – I can pay $15 for a DVD, or if I’m so inclined, I can buy a copy of that DVD for a small upcharge in price, (usually in the $3-5 range) and get the ability to download a digital copy for my iPad from the studio. It’s a win/win – For a small convenience fee I avoid having rip the movie and the studio gets some extra coin that I don’t mind paying. I’d like to see publishers adopt a similar model. If I’m willing to drop $25 on a copy of Redshirts when it comes out next year, I’d be just as willing to pay $29 to get the hard copy so I have it for my personal library as well as a code that lets me go to Tor’s website and download an e-version. Otherwise, I’m fine with paying close to or the same price for an ebook that I would for a physical copy if that’s the only edition I’m purchasing.
It’s generally dangerous when a person claiming authority or expertise uses his experience as an excuse to not properly support his claims with data and facts. Adam is quite correct in saying that there is some of that floating around in this thread.
However, I kind of agree with John that overall Adam’s posts have been poorly researched.There is a certain amount of “you must be this big to ride this ride” in these kind of discussions.
Definitely agree, John! That would be absolutely outstanding. I’d love for e-text to come along with audiobooks as well, if we can join together in wish-listing. I go through an entire series not knowing how a character’s name is spelled…
Gwangung I’m sorry but “data” is a scientific concept, it has a very precise and well defined meaning, and whether you agree with that meaning or not, I’m sticking to it. You must be from one of those “soft” sciences (-:
Also John himself has posted a very precise guide to the difference between opinion and data, which I am trying to stay true to.
Expert Testimony is primarily a legal construct, and generally relies at least superficially on the unbias nature of the expert giving testimony. Case Studies are usually used as narrative supporting or explaining fact based conclusions.
Didn’t you guys learn nothing from the Iraq War (-:
I’m not sure what you mean by “poorly researched” I’ve stated my opinion. I’ve not asserted it as fact and what I’ve referenced in support of my opinion is either common knowledge or can easily be verified via a Google search.
Adam. Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom was edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Both Patrick and Theresa are thanked in the acknowledgments as Cory Doctorow’s mentor.
That you don’t know this and are trying to set them up in opposition to each other is why people are laughing at you, and why people consider your research skillz to be substandard.
@Terry Kepner: You’re absolutely right.
I have some background in design and could produce a book that looks good. However, I don’t do that every day. I’d have to spend time getting back up to speed on the tech and tools. Why mess with it when a publisher will do all that and pay me to boot?
I also have to agree with Teresa Nielsen Hayden to some extent. To fully understand the context of that remark, you should read Slushkiller.
Oops. That last line should be directed to all instead of a single person.
It has never occurred to me to complain about the cost of ebooks to an author, and in fact, it’s never even occurred to me to complain to a publisher.
But I’ve realized that I buy a lot less books than I used to. I actually never buy a Debut Author from one of the Big Houses until the price drops to the $6 or less range. I WILL buy the newest Pratchett or Butcher on release day at the agency price, so it’s working that way, I guess.
But I’d buy more books at lower prices. So I don’t know how much the current pricing works overall within a larger schema focused on getting lots of sales right out of the gate. I think the ongoing rumor about overall book sales dropping was demonstrated untrue this year? Can’t remember where I read that however. So maybe they’re right to not worry about lost sales. I dunno. It sort of seems to me that the various business strategies engaged in by the corporate publishers aren’t entirely complementary to each other, though.
Off-topic, sorry. I definitely feel like I’m the customer of the authors and the editors. I don’t know if I’m the customer of the people who pay the editors, though.
For people wondering about the Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom excerpt of interest, it’s the Acknowledgements. In particular, these bits that Cory Doctorow wrote:
Acknowledgements are always interesting things to read.
Mass market paperbacks used to be much cheaper than the $8-$10 they generally cost now. IIRC, prices went up about a buck a year for a couple of years in the ’90s, and the explanations I heard & read were all about paper prices, how they’d gone up very dramatically and that was why prices went up.
(For reference, a 1991 Glen Cook paperback I had at hand cost $3.99, while a more current edition is $7.99. 1991’s $3.99 after 20 years of inflation is more like $6.63, per a couple of online inflation calculators, than $8.)
It doesn’t feel to me that “paper is a tiny percentage of the cost” and “paper’s gotten more expensive, prices gotta go up a buck a book” really fit the same reality. Having heard about paper’s expense so much during the ’90s (I buy books, tabletop RPGs, and comics, so I heard & felt it, a lot), it seems weird and disconnected to now hear, “but paper isn’t really a big cost, so e-version shouldn’t be much/any cheaper”. My inclination is to feel that I’ve either been hoodwinked, or someone is trying to hoodwink me now; thus, I would tend to want to whine about ebook pricing. But I think I’ve restrained myself (especially here, since I think this is maybe comment #4 or 5, ever), so I’m claiming a moral victory.
(Note: FWIW, MHO is: $0.99-3.99 books are awesome, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable standard cost; free is just silly. At the same time, ebooks that cost more than the physical book is even more silly, doubly so if the ebook has DRM and only works with one company’s scheme. But authors have no control over any of that in the current system, so complaining at them doesn’t help.)
@ Bob 5:13 pm “Mass market paperbacks used to be much cheaper than the $8-$10 they generally cost now. IIRC, prices went up about a buck a year for a couple of years in the ’90s, and the explanations I heard & read were all about paper prices, how they’d gone up very dramatically and that was why prices went up.”
There was a pretty bad paper shortage in the early 90s, which caused a chunk of that cost increase. Then you had the collapse of the mass market around the mid 90s. In the mid to late 90s you had greater consolidation of the industry with other media companies, which added another level or five of management and requirement to make a certain amount of profit for the corporation. The prices went up for more than just paper costs, though they were a factor. Now paper is cheap, but the other reasons are still around.
I think you both have valid points, but I think there are many places where you, and especially Theresa NH, are very dismissive of the Dear Author blogger.
I makes me sad. I kind of expected better.
Ok, irony point taken. But actually you and Scalzi have it backwards. The irony is that Nielsen Hayden dismisses alternative publishing in her comment while having mentored one of the biggest voices (that I know of) for alternative publishing methods.
“That you don’t know this and are trying to set them up in opposition to each other is why”
I’m not trying to set them up in opposition just using Doctorow as an example of a well known author who has used “alternative” publishing schemes.
Does my apparent research foo-bar it change the fact that Nielsen Hayden dismissed alternative publishing, including self-publishing, and yet there are prime examples out there, including Doctorow, who have used alternative publishing “schemes” to their benefit.
Expert Testimony is primarily a legal construct, and generally relies at least superficially on the unbias nature of the expert giving testimony.
Expert testimony means that you have a witness who has expertise on a particular subject and will testify as to conclusions drawn from their expertise. This is different from a lay witness, who might testify about what they saw, or know, or otherwise matters related to the actual facts but not conclusions. A lay witness will testify that he worked with benzene every day at his job. An expert witness will testify about the effects of benzene on the human body and offer her opinion as to whether benzene caused the witness’s cancer, for example.
Experts are almost always hired by one side or the other and in that sense are not expected to be “unbiased”.
My point was that Nielsen Hayden dismissed self-publishing as a baby cry of rejected authors
Huh, I missed that. Probably because it did not actually appear in her comment at all – unless you are conflating ‘someone who thinks self-publishing can work for them’ with s’omeone who’s ranting about the Big Six, the evilness in general of NYC publishers (who only promote bestsellers and anyway are only interested in books by celebrities), the coming selfpublipocalypse, et cetera et cetera’. Which you clearly are.
I’m also curious about the notion that giving away copies of one’s books electronically and/or for free is identical to “self-publishing”. Doctorow does not shun traditional publishing, nor does Scalzi.
Does my apparent research foo-bar it change the fact that Nielsen Hayden dismissed alternative publishing, including self-publishing, and yet there are prime examples out there, including Doctorow, who have used alternative publishing “schemes” to their benefit.
Your question makes no sense because your “fact” was never established anywhere outside of your own mind.
Please try to give serious consideration to the idea that you’re misreading her comment, as John says above.
@anonymouse 12:04 pm
My recent book for a Big Six publisher (not Penguin) had a coding error in the Kindle edition that affected certain letter combinations. I heard about it from two readers on publication day and contacted my editor. Within 24 hours Amazon had been sent a new file though it wasn’t distributed for three weeks. (Apparently this is typical. Self-published files are updated in 24 hours, Big Six files in 1-3 weeks, Amazon being anxious to subtly undermine the “agency” publishers as much as possible.)
I was glad I was able to attend to the problem, though it shouldn’t have been either my or my editor’s job. Clearly the retailer (Amazon) wouldn’t have responded to the problem. This is an argument in favor of an easily reachable customer service department at the publishing house – which would also be responsible for fielding all those pricing complaints.
I don’t mind hearing complaints about pricing from readers, though I’m a firm believer that the market will, eventually, take care of the matter. As a reader, if I want an ebook I pay the asking price. If I think the price is too high, I don’t buy it. Same as with any other purchase. What’s the big deal?
Mythago, “unbias” in the sense of “not involved directly in the case or with the defendant”. Hence the caveat “superficially” since each legal team is free to select their own expert witness.
They often tend to cancel eachother out, often possible to find an “expert” willing to take either side of an argument.
Three questions occur to me during my read of all the talk:
1) Publishers seem to have accepted the agency pricing model for ebooks. Will we be seeing it for paper books ? (And could the agency pricing model be accepted for other (physical) goods, like sneakers ? )
2) About the earlier assertion that the physical costs of the book are around 1/3 of the costs (it was about the costs of a technical journal) … if you go to a manufacturer and show them how they can reduce their costs by 1/3rd, will they say “Get out of here kid, you bother me” or will they offer you a job ? (In my industry, cutting my costs by a third would be major.)
3) Are the royalty rates for ebooks and physical books to authors from the major publishers the same ? (If not, why not ?) I’m guessing that they are these days; but if they are not, then there’s something still different cost-wise between e-books and physical books which would be interesting to know.
“I observed, not for the first time, that IMO the default answer to someone who’s ranting about the Big Six, the evilness in general of NYC publishers (who only promote bestsellers and anyway are only interested in books by celebrities), the coming selfpublipocalypse, et cetera et cetera yammer yammer yammer, is ‘I’m sorry your book was rejected.'”
She mocks self-publishing and says that the only people who speak of self-publishing are authors who have been rejected by traditional publishers and they only do it because they have been rejected.
“If you’ve written a book that people want to buy and read, you stand an excellent chance of getting it published by a real commercial publisher. If you haven’t, no clever workaround publishing scheme is going to help, because there’s no way to force readers to buy and read books they don’t want.”
She then says that if an author is not picked up by a major publisher it’s because no one want’s to read their book. As if to say that major publishers are the only ones who can determine if an authors work is worthy of public consumption. Someone should tell Amanda Hocking that.
(Yes I know that Amanda Hocking is with a traditional publisher now but she was selling books via self-publishing before her publishing deal and it seems as though the publishers didn’t care about her until they realized she was a gold mine – self-publishing made Amanda Hocking.)
Anonymous150 it’s amazing how intentionally blind everyone in the this industry seems to be to this little thing called “piracy”. Never seen a clearer case of the invisible elephant in the room…
“data” is a scientific concept, it has a very precise and well defined meaning
You have a wonderfully touching faith in the power of this data thing about which you talk. Naive, but touching.
To know the proper definition of a word and to object to it;s misuse is not the same thing as having faith in it. I know the definition of “astrology” too…
“The irony is that Nielsen Hayden dismisses alternative publishing in her comment while having mentored one of the biggest voices (that I know of) for alternative publishing methods.”
No, the irony is that if you actually knew who Teresa Nielsen Hayden is, you would understand why suggesting that she disses “alternative publishing” is sixteen different layers of clueless. Hint: Go find out what awards she’s been nominated for in the science fiction community.
Adam, your problem is that you literally do not know what you’re talking about, and as a result you continue to dig your yourself into a deeper hole whilst apparently being unaware you’re holding a big damn shovel. I think that this point you really should stop and excuse yourself from further commenting on this particular thread. And although I know you show no evidence of having any interest in doing your own footwork in terms of research, it might be worth it to read the comment rules to know what it means when I suggest you stop commenting.
Make a bad argument, expect to have it dismissed by people who know it is bad. As I’ve said here before, “if you want me to treat your ideas with more respect, get some better ideas.”
However, I’m sure she’s otherwise a perfectly nice person.
@ Andy Finkel 7:27pm ” 1)Publishers seem to have accepted the agency pricing model for ebooks. Will we be seeing it for paper books? 2)About the earlier assertion that the physical costs of the book are around 1/3 of the costs (it was about the costs of a technical journal)”
Regarding 1- Doubt the agency model would work with paper books. With e-books, the retailer has low stocking costs, and very low risk if a book doesn’t sell. With paper books, there’s a higher stocking cost and a higher risk of waste if the book doesn’t sell- in shelf space and time rather than money.
Regarding 2- Physical production costs are much lower than a third of the book price for the mass market. Generally, the publisher only gets about half the retail price for all of their costs, including paying the author. Mostly I’ve heard that the cost of book production is 5 to 7 percent of the price of the book.
[Deleted because Adam apparently did not read the link I gave him — JS]
To know the proper definition of a word and to object to it;s misuse is not the same thing as having faith in it
Good. Then you shouldn’t have any trouble with people offering up their experiences (aka anecdotes) as being reasonable evidence.
David you can offer up whatever you want and claim it to be a mackerel if you prefer and I will have no problem with that until you call it a fact or say it is a piece of “data”.
Anecdotal evidence is, well, anecdotal and it comes with all the baggage that anecdotal evidence comes with.
– It can always be countered by someone else anecdote
– There is no way to tell if it is a representative occurrence or an outlier
– It’s colored by selective memory and bias
Other then that, anecdote away, I know a good one about a fish I almost caught once.
@Adam: “She mocks self-publishing and says that the only people who speak of self-publishing are authors who have been rejected by traditional publishers and they only do it because they have been rejected.”
She’s not mocking people who choose to self-publish. She is talking about a subset of people (some of whom feel their own sense of entitlement) who self-publish. Again, read Slushkiller. It is instructive.
As I’ve excused Adam from the thread, further comments to him will not be useful here.
Sorry, John. You can feel free to delete my previous comment.
Re: “agency” pricing for physical goods:
It’s actually the norm for thing like video game consoles (walmart, amazon, etc. can’t offer a better price than best buy) and games (Mario Kart 7 3DS – though somehow amazon offers $20 off Madden 12 which I don’t understand how they can beat Walmart on that) and some other electronics, such as retail outlets for iPhone and iPad.
Fun thing: retail outlets for the Amazon Kindle? Amazon-set prices. Audiobook titles in the iTunes music store published by Amazon subsidiaries Brilliance Audio or Audible? Take a guess to see if it’s wholesale or agency. Goose, gander, etc.
I think John Scalzi is showing a lot of restraint. If it had been my blog (, I have one but it is too small that any subjects are a problem,) I would have banned ALL discussions on e-book pricing.
It is an easily searchable fact that physical costs for a hardcover is 5-15%, or $2-$5 INCLUDING $1 for returns, depending on the number of books printed at once. Amazon pays, as far as I know 50% of retail price for paper books, although 40% has been mentioned for huge authors. If you check prices you’ll find that agency priced e-books are priced below what Amazon pays for physical books. So Amazon chooses to sell physical books with a loss.
As someone living in Noway, and this goes for any non-US territory that has to buy e-books from amazon.com, Amazon puts a surcharge of $2 (,I know this is standard for Norway, where I live, it varies,) I wrote a blog post about this http://weirdmage.blogspot.com/2011/02/amazons-hidden-extra-charges-does.html . If you look at the comments, you’ll find that there is no reason that Amazon should do this, and as far as I can ascertain, no author or publisher gets a share in the $2 price hike. And I have seen several self-published authors steering their customers towards others outlets lately because they feel this is unfair. (Royalty for a $0.99 e-book that Amazon sells for $2.99 is 11.5886288%.)
My point is that Amazon is purposefully keeping the price of physical books lower than e-books, thereby making their Kindle customers pissed at publishers. Even though it is easily checked internationally that it is in fact Amazon that drives the price higher than paperback. Most books I checked when searching my article that were more expensive in e-versions were $0.50-$1.50 more expensive in Norway. If it doesn’t say “price set by publisher” internationally, Amazon has raised the priced by $2 (,or close to it, depending on what they can get away with, -it is frequently more).
That Amazons “Kindle minions” will never listen to facts like those I have stated above, is the main reason I think any online conversation about e-books is a waste of time. Most of the “facts” that e-book users cite about e-books are remarkably similar to Amazon press releases, I don’t think that is a coincidence.
There’s more free e-books (, including in Kindle format), available on Project Gutenberg than any person can read in a lifetime, so arguing that e-books cost too much is just saying “I don’t feel like paying the asking price for the books I want, so it should be cheaper”. Anyone can get LEGAL e-books for free.
“I bought a used Ford minivan because I couldn’t afford a new one. I didn’t go to the factory and complain to the engineer/designer that new Fords were too expensive.”
Hilarious. When there’s a market for used e-books, your argument will have relevance.
“If you look at the comments, you’ll find that there is no reason that Amazon should do this, and as far as I can ascertain, no author or publisher gets a share in the $2 price hike.”
Unless you count the fees of the copyright and e-commerce lawyers Amazon employs when they ascertain the right to sell e-books in various non-US markets, each of whom has its special rules, often written in another language than English.
Maybe I’m cynical but I wonder, I really wonder why John Scalzi choose to not reply – again – to Robin L. main argument?
Which brings me (FINALLY!) to my central question: why is it inappropriately entitled behavior for a reader to complain about ebook prices to or in the presence of the author?
Or to this one:
I’ll focus on this: among retailers, authors, and readers, the only party not in contractual privity with the publisher is the party Scalzi insists has the burden of dealing with directly. This just strikes me as fundamentally illogical.
That would be more interesting than name-calling (astrologers? really?) or going on about what your world experience taught you while dismissing out of hand your opponent’s on the basis that “our experience is a primary argument against believing what we say”. Pot, kettle, etc.
Please aggregate your posts in the future. Multiple sequential posts trigger my OCD.
I’ve already addressed why I find it obnoxious and entitled behavior in the entry where I explained why I’m not allowing such comments on Big Idea threads. And as I’ve also said, she (or anyone else) is free to disagree. Just not on my site, in a Big Idea thread.
Regarding the thing about publishers and readers, I don’t dismiss Robin L’s opinions out of hand. I dismiss them because she’s factually incorrect. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, but when the opinions are based on assertions I know are wrong, I’m not going to give those opinions much credence. When I point out my own professional experience runs counter to her opinion and she suggests that my professional experience is a reason to disbelieve me, then I think that the astrology comparison isn’t name-calling; it’s merely an accurate representation of her worldview, or my experience of it, from her. I understand people may think it’s harsh, but I’m not obliged to give a shit. I dislike willful ignorance.
I’m late to the party again, and the thread seems to have shifted slightly, so I hope this isn’t too off-topic by now.
unholyguy: Vertigo’s corporate parentage has already been pointed out. It should also be noted that they move a lot of trade paperbacks and graphic novels. Over the years, they’ve sold a minimum of 7 million (with an ‘m’) units of Neil Gaiman’s various Sandman and related graphic novels. This is confirmed by Gaiman himself. http://bit.ly/tlH92i They’re not all sold to comic book fans.
Vertigo’s niche was very much people that were NOT comic book fans. That was their genius. Comic book fans often don’t even like Sandman…
IreneD – My argument is relevant. It had nothing to do with used ebooks. I’m sorry that you missed the point. (Condescension is a two-way street.)
Let me make another argument, this time devoid of analogy or hyperbole, so that no one gets confused: Complaining about ebook prices vs print prices is all about entitlement. Let’s take Scalzi’s ‘Old Man’s War’ as an example. The mass market paperback and the kindle version are both available on Amazon for $6.99. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that (the ubiquitous, impersonal) “you” find the paperback price reasonable. Then buy the paperback version, problem solved. But you want the kindle version, for whatever reason, I don’t know, maybe you don’t want to carry a bunch of books around on your vacation, it doesn’t matter. You choose the kindle version because it has additional *value* for you over the paperback. Why should you get a more valuable product (to you) for less money? That is entitlement (“you owe me more, for less”).
Maybe you think the paperback price is too high, so you want to get the electronic version in the hopes that you can get the same content for a lower price. Entitlement (“I perceive this to have lower value, therefore you must sell it to me for less”).
Perhaps, you look at how the publishing houses are making their money and you think that they owe you a discount on an ebook because, in your opinion, they are cheaper to make. That is, in fact, the very core of entitlement (“your needs, wants, and desires are not as important as mine, therefore you must reduce your profits to make me happy”).
I could go on and on, I haven’t been able to develop a realistic argument supporting complaining about ebook prices that doesn’t boil down to entitlement (what I deserve, what I am owed).
(Warning, this is an analogy) “Car insurance is a requirement is California, you have to have in order to drive here. Therefore, I think it should be cheaper.” That’s a good argument against high prices that’s not necessarily about entitlement. When the state starts forcing citizens to buy ebooks in order to read, we can take another look at that.
So, going back to my original argument – Ford does not owe me an explanation as to why their minivans are as expensive or more expensive than their or someone else’s other products. They are not obligated to lower the price, even if I can prove that their vehicle has less value than a competitor’s offering at the same price point. (Of course, I can negotiate with the salesman, that’s not the point) ultimately, my choice is to accept their offer or not. I am free to spend my money as I choose. My choice is determined by my available resource and my judgement of the price vs value of the vehicle. In either case, Ford doesn’t owe me anything other than the vehicle that I chose to purchase for the price they offered (if, indeed, I do so.)
“Comic book fans often don’t even like Sandman…”
What a strange point of view, I’d love to find out how you came up with that.
I don’t have data on this or anything, but I have yet to find anyone, let alone a comic book fan, that has read Sandman and *not* liked it. And I know a lot of readers, both words-only and comics, having worked in bookstores and helping my friend start his comic book store.
On the other hand, most people that I’ve met haven’t read Sandman. Maybe that’s what you meant. However, it’s not fair to say they don’t like it. They are Schrödinger’s cats in regards to Sandman.
Johnathan, no one owes anyone an explanation. No one is entitled. However it is in the best interest of the producer of a product (be it books or cars) to pay attention to whether their value proposition is resonating with their customer or not.
The customer is providing the producer with valuable information, free of charge, it would do them well to listen to it. It’s not often you get valuable things for free. If the producer chooses not to fine, but then they better not come whining to the electorate for a government bailout when their business explodes in their face (again following the Ford analogy)
There are reasons you know why companies cultivate customer feedback, run focus groups, do surveys, spend millions on market research, and it isn’t because they are altruists. It’s because if enough of your customers have a problem with your value proposition, then your business is in trouble.
That customer may well go to a competitor. Or in the case of books, again just pirate it. I know we don’t like that word. However, if I was in a business where any of my freaking customers could waltz over to bittorrent and download my entire product catalog whenever they felt like it with no repercussions, I think it would bloody well pay attention to what the customer considers is a fair price?
Mary mother of God, did we learn absolutely nothing from the record labels?
Maybe “not like” Sandman is not the right way to put it. I know several comic book writers that feel a little raw that those kind of comics get such a lot of critical accolades, to the point where you “can’t write a superhero comic and get it taken seriously anymore” kind of thing
I think that Sandman was a gateway drug for a lot of people like me that were very turned off by men in tights and guys with letters on their chests and had always discounted the comic industry.
Wait, wait, wait. Any complaining, anywhere, about ebook pricing comes from a sense of entitlement? That seems like it’s going a little far. Maybe ‘complaining’ isn’t the word you want to use. I complain about the prices of a lot of things, and it isn’t because I feel entitled to them. It’s because I have some reason to want to spend money on them, and spending that money is a mild hardship. Sometimes I cope. Sometimes I decide to pass. It seems like letting the seller know is just providing information (if that’s something I feel like bothering to do). Heck, half the time when I unsubscribe from something they ASK me if it was priced too high.
And it’s weirder with books, because often I want to support an author. Unlike the creators of a lot of products, authors are usually _people_ to me. And I wish publishers would make it easier for me to help support said author, and even help support their industry.
Or are ebooks a special category? People who complain about ebooks as compared to paper books are entitled? Clarity is nice.
Unholyguy, are you aware that Ford didn’t take any government bailout funds? They are the only major U.S. manufacturer that didn’t. Your point is not good.
And, yes, you can pirate ebooks, it’s super easy. However, the kind of person that would do that is generally not someone that would pay even a low price. Thieves are thieves. If there was a scenario in which your survival depends on having a particular book in your collection and you just can’t afford it, then, well, that would be an extraordinary exception.
However, I am not going to buy, for one minute, that people complaining about ebook prices are doing so to help the publishers out. It’s not free advice, it’s entitled kvetching. Hey, we’re all free to that in our own spaces and in other spaces where that’s allowed (at least here in the U.S.), but don’t be deceived, it is whining.
I suppose, if someone did the research and discovered a link to ebook pricing and a decline in sales and put in the work and did the math and could show that lower prices would equal more profits for the sellers, that would be a non-entitled argument for lower ebook pricing. Perhaps the only one. Anecdotally, the market doesn’t seem to reflect that perception, with eReader and ebook sales skyrocketing lately. I’m sure someone has already done the market research and determined that consumers are willing to pay X amount of money for ebooks, otherwise they would be priced differently. It would be a painfully illogical business decision otherwise. Again, the market shows it to be a very healthy model.
As I stated in an earlier post, if people stopped buying ebooks, the prices would go down. My guess is that’s not going to happen anytime soon. There’s always been ebook (and print book) piracy, that’s a non-factor when it comes to pricing their products. They are selling to people that are willing to pay.
As @scalzi put it on twitter
Chrysoula, my argument was specifically that complaining about the price of an ebook vs the price of the same printed book is all about entitlement. Books, in general, are too expensive, is a fair complaint and not necessarily about entitlement. If they were cheaper, I’d buy more is my non-entitled argument. Resources are limited and choices have to be made. There’s a time and place for that, too, but not in a Big Idea post.
My point regarding Ford is that the US Auto Industry is probably not the best example of how companies can afford to not care about the way they are perceived by they consumers. I was actually thinking more of the late 80’s when the Japanese auto manufacturers used the very attitude you are preaching as an opportunity to eat their lunch.
I did not say “advice” I said “free information”. Regardless of what the motives of complainers are, it is still valuable information. Again, companies spend a lot of money every year giving people the opportunity to complain to them, they don’t do it because it is useless.
As far as where the price of ebooks are going, hard to say at the moment. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence on both sides, that prices are going up and down. Probably both true, depending on what you are measuring.
I am a little confused as to where you are going with this “entitlement” argument Jonathan? Even if it is in fact entitlement that is driving the complaining what difference does it make? How does that effect the outcome? Who cares? Consumers hate your company bad enough, it dies eventually, doesn’t matter if the hate is warranted or not.
As far as piracy being a non-factor how do you figure? The more people that pirate, the more the ones that don’t have to suck up a greater chunk of the production cost of a book. This can have no other effect then to raise prices, and is a reinforcing cycle to some extent.
This is kind of an interesting article
One of his ideas is elastic pricing, based on number of purchases. Raise the price a penny every ten purchases. Could make it algorithmic where you hold the price.
Piracy is generally a non-factor because pirates weren’t going to pay in the first place (in general). There exceptions, of course, but when pricing digital media, it doesn’t make sense to undercut your profits in the hopes that fewer people will steal your material. Most people don’t pirate, most people won’t, most people can’t. Pirates are a subset of the general population that has the technical knowledge and ability to use file-sharing technologies and the like, have little or no fear of law enforcement or law suits (or alternately, feel untouchable), and have no respect for other people’s work. That’s a small amount of people. It’s more likely that majority of readers will buy the book, electronically or printed, depending on price and preference, or borrow it from a friend or library, if they really want to read it. Overall, it’s bad business strategy to pander to people that are willing to steal from you. They are not good customers.
And it matters if it’s about entitlement or not because provides a frame of reference and a context for your complaint/argument. It helps determine what is an appropriate forum for your complaint (retailer’s/publisher’s forum, your website, a relevant blog post, …) and what isn’t (the author’s blog or Big Idea post).
Hybrid companies have special problems when it comes to customer relations.
The guy at the direct sales desk would doubtless be overjoyed if suddenly 10,000 extra sales orders for Big Book A came through. Even if the guy from the retail sales desk walks over and complains that those 10,000 sales came straight out of his accounts, direct sales guy can respond, “Hey, we made more money on those sales when they came through direct sales, so it’s all good, right?”
Retail sales guy answers, “Sure, but Big Bookstore A is a little ticked, because we gave them what turned out to be a pretty accurate sales estimate, and they stocked accordingly, and then we went in and poached a lot of those sales ourselves. So when I go to him to pitch Big Book B, and let him know what I think it’s going to sell, he’s going to lop a bunch of sales off that number and stock accordingly… and he’ll do the same thing with Big Book C, Big Book D, and Big Book E. Are you going to have digital mojo for all of those?”
“Well, sure, but if people come in and can’t find what they’re looking for, they can always order more, right?”
“No, because when people don’t find what they’re looking for, the first thing they do is say ‘gee, I can’t find the books I want at that bookstore, I shouldn’t go there anymore’. Then they go to Big Website Which Wants To Put Publishers Out Of Business A.”
That’s the problem that publishers face. If they poach off their retail channel, it hits them not just on the specific titles, but on lots of future titles too. And a not-insignificant number of people who fail to find stuff they want at the retail channel will end up just abandoning that channel for other alternatives, which might include your digital store, but will probably include the big web-based company who is also a competitor in your market.
You see the same issues in other industries too. If you’ve got direct sales and a lot of retailer relationships, it can make your company pretty dysfunctional. The direct sales guys are strictly limited in what they can do because the retail guys fear retaliation from the retailers who are their customers. Undercutting your own MSRP, for example, is horrendously retailer-unfriendly and can result in stores abandoning your entire product line. And retailers are consistent sales (they’ll at least buy one for the shelf, right?) while direct sales can run hot and cold.
This isn’t something that retailers like to talk about, but there you go. Even if they’re all “customer-oriented”, there are times when chasing the direct sales nickels can cost you the retail dollars…
When Jim Butcher’s book _Ghost Story_ came out, the ebook price slightly exceeded the hard cover price by about 20 cents or so. [Roc Hardcover, affiliated with Penguin.] I gritted my teeth and paid it since the previous book ended on a cliffhanger. Then the price-fixing lawsuit was publicized and suddenly they reduced the ebook price and raised the hard cover price (as set by the publisher). I had already paid the higher price so this didn’t make me very happy. Now, months later, the ebook price is $14.99, slightly higher than what I originally paid by about 50 cents. The hard cover price is now $13.97. It is hard not to feel like we are just being jerked around. It wouldn’t occur to me to write to Mr. Butcher about this although having authors as part of the dialog about pricing isn’t a bad idea. I just recognize that it’s not under the control of authors.
I accept that publishers do think of readers as customers but have to wonder what their idea of treating customers well really is. I see no reason why I should subsidize the print production costs and certainly no reason why my copy should cost more than a hardbound book. My eyesight makes ebooks a necessity since publishers no longer wish to take on the expense of printing (many) large print books. I certainly don’t see large print editions of my favorite sci fi and fantasy authors. I did recently find a contact email for a real person at an imprint who kindly responded to my email about pricing and am in dialogue with him but I don’t see many such email links or even contact forms. I think if I were a big publisher I would have polls about things like ebook pricing, how many customers preferred ebooks for vision-related reasons and so on, to get an idea of how customers are thinking about such things. I read a lot and have bought many new hard cover books through the years but I have always supplemented that with affordable used books. That’s not really an option now.
I am increasingly reluctant to invest in reading new series of books if new Kindle editions are going to cost me more than a hard bound book. I find myself checking out more and more self-published books and there are some good writers there. (If publishers were smart, they would realize that they could nurture more new authors by publishing some in ebook only, with all of the editing, cover art etc., they’d struggle to produce with self-publishing. If those ebooks start earning, then they can do print runs.)
Disclaimer: I have never submitted anything to a book publisher or agent. I’m speaking as a customer.
@Tapati – The hardcover *list* price for Ghost Story is $27.95. I realise that the list price is more or less a marketing tool these days, at least if you buy everything at Amazon, but it still does represent something, doesn’t it? One thing it represents is what you would pay if you bought it direct. Another is that people would, presumably, be happier with the exact same eBook prices that they have now if Amazon couldn’t command such amazing discounts.
David you can offer up whatever you want and claim it to be a mackerel if you prefer and I will have no problem with that until you call it a fact or say it is a piece of “data”.
Anecdotal evidence is, well, anecdotal and it comes with all the baggage that anecdotal evidence comes with.
– It can always be countered by someone else anecdote
– There is no way to tell if it is a representative occurrence or an outlier
– It’s colored by selective memory and bias
Other then that, anecdote away, I know a good one about a fish I almost caught once.
Oh good, I’m glad that data has none of those problems. It can never be countered by someone else’s data, it never has problems with questions of generalization, and it’s never shaped by the people or institutions who gather it.
I am much relieved.
And now, back to reality, where it actually has all those problems. Especially in such a contested arena, where publishers are trying to prove one thing, Amazon another, and so on. Data in this case is not just suspect, it’s actively suspicious.
“Unless you count the fees of the copyright and e-commerce lawyers Amazon employs when they ascertain the right to sell e-books in various non-US markets, each of whom has its special rules, often written in another language than English.”
The rights to sell books in different territories is negotiated between the author, or his/her agent, and the publisher. Amazon only negotiates these rights for their own imprints, so according to your logic only Amazon’s own books should have this price hike.
In reality Amazon hikes the price of e-books because they can, nothing else. Whether the point is to make e-books more expensive (,before shipping) than paper books, or that is just a bonus for them is really beside the point.
“[…]raised the hard cover price (as set by the publisher).”
Physical books are sold wholesale, for a fixed price, to the retailer who then sets the price to the customer. Unless you mean that the retail price printed on the book was changed, the price change for the hardcover was done by the retailer .
As I said in my comment above there is absolutely nothing that stops the retailer selling hardcovers with a loss, making them cheaper than e-books, or selling them for the full retail price (,usually $28 as far as I know). So if you are going to complain that e-books are more expensive than paper books, the correct place to complain is the retailer.
[Not specifically directed at anyone.]
I have noticed that the more people love/champion e-books, the less likely they are to use the internet to find facts about the book industry, and the more likely they are to just ignore these facts when they are presented to them.
That agency pricing of e-books functions pretty well is evidenced by the fact that George R.R. Martin is in the million-seller club on Kindle. It looks like the people who won’t pay agency prices for e-books are in a (very vocal) minority.
@David: The difference between data and anecdote is that data has a published methodology describing how it was produced which gives anyone with the appropriate means the ability to be reproduced at will to validate or challenge the results. It’s this little thing called “the scientific method” you may have heard of it? The scientific method is not perfect, but it works pretty well, certainly better then having a bunch of people making shit up and then scream at eachother, which is the alternative.
Do studies get cooked? Yes. Is there conflicting data? Yes. Is it relatively easy to figure out who is cheating? Usually. It sounds like you are not a big fan of rationality?
@Jonathan you hold some interesting beliefs with regards to piracy having no effect on anything, certainly beliefs which do not seem to be shared by most of the companies claiming to be hurt by it and the content industry in general, which is going to great and expensive lengths to prevent it. Do you have any evidence for any of that?
As far as if it matters about entitlement, I’m not sure how you have shown that? It only provides a frame of reference and a guide to an appropriate forum if the people complaining about it listen to you, and change their ways, which they are not likely to do.
@Weirdmage with regards to overseas pricing, I was under the impression that the agency model prevented amazon from setting prices, are you saying that is not true, a little unclear on what is happening here? Are they taking on som service fee above and beyond the agency dictated one? That does seem odd to me.
I’m also not sure where you get your “vocal minority” from, to prove a minority you would at the very least have to have an accurate count of people that are currently either boycotting, pirating, or downgrading to less expensive books, or simply not buying anything because of it, and then compare that to the people that are paying full price. The Amazon US bestseller list for Speculative Fiction currently has a $5.99 book as #1 and a $6.66 as #2, there are no books over $9.99 in the top 5, and only two in the top 10. So there is at least some reason to believe the downgrading story, similarly piracy numbers seem to suggest that piracy is appreciable as well
Anecdotal evidence may or may not be a form of limited data. See:
If it is verifiable, it may be considered data, although it may be of limited use (one data point, least certain type of scientific information). Anecdotal evidence from an expert that is verifiable would certainly qualify as some form of data to me, although if it conflicted with more rigorously obtained data, it would be suspect. In the absence of better data, I would not reject it out of hand simply because it is anecdotal.
Keep in mind that a collection of anecdotal evidence may otherwise be known as survey results, which definitely is data :)
I think a recent business book is apropos to this discussion: “Fixing the Game” by George L. Martin. There is a detailed review in Forbes at this link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2011/11/28/maximizing-shareholder-value-the-dumbest-idea-in-the-world/
On overseas pricing: An author commenting on my blog post checked with their publisher, and they have no share in the overseas price hike. Neither has KDP authors.
And yes, it does seem very strange. I don’t know if Amazon has a deal with publishers that allows them to charge extra overseas, or if there are legal reasons as to why they can do it. It is a fact that most books here in Norway have an extra $2 added to the US agency price. Anyway it means overseas customers are getting shafted by Amazon.
When it comes to vocal minority: I know a lot of people through Twitter who have no problem paying agency priced books. And I have seen a lot of people elsewhere online that buy agency priced books. My impression, based on what I can see when it comes to revenue figures from publishers, is that they sell a lot of e-books. That is of course anecdotal evidence. But there is no doubt that agency priced e-books are selling, so a lot of people are buying them. Until Amazon releases actual sales figures (, as in numbers of copies sold,) it’s impossible to prove if those who don’t buy agency books are in a minority or majority.
As for your example on price, that doesn’t really matter, lots of agency priced e-books are under $9.99. To find out if a book is agency priced you have to look for the “Price set by the publisher” on the buy page.I might also add that none of the top five books on your list are self-published, and as far as I know only the Eisler one is not agency priced.
-It must be said that ALL KDP books are agency priced. I.e. The author (, it would be a publisher for published books with agency pricing,) sets the price they want to sell the book for, and Amazon takes a cut. (Only small publishers sell e-books to Amazon wholesale, and that is only because Amazon refuses them agency terms.) If Amazon really was against agency pricing, they would ask KDP authors to set what they wanted to be paid for each copy, and then set their own price to the end customer. (AKA, wholesale model.)
When it comes to piracy: There’s not any studies (at least I have never seen any) on people who pirate books as to who would not buy them no matter the price, or for that matter what price-point they would buy the books at. Or how many pirate books, and buy them afterwards if they like them. So I’d say that using piracy as an argument when it comes to e-books is not really relevant.
You may want to read the following for more thoughts on the piracy issue. Although it talks about free books, it is still interesting, particularly where it talks about lost sales.
“I’m sorry your book was rejected.”
Whatever the merits of the argument you’re replying to this is a reprehensible answer, tantamount to dismissing someone trying to point out that there are problems with our financial system by saying “I’m sorry you’re poor.”
You had a nobler voice once, when the sneering that’s crept into your writing over the last few years was beneath you.
Have read it before. And I understand that argument, I even think it’s much closer to reality than the “every book pirated is a lost sale” side of the debate. But my point is neither side can support their argument with hard facts, so we don’t really know what the reality is.
Some people will always pirate and never pay, some will not pirate if the book comes under a certain pricing point, and some people will use pirating to discover new authors and then buy all their books. It would be interesting to know if pirating is a loss or a gain for publishers/authors.
“You had a nobler voice once, when the sneering that’s crept into your writing over the last few years was beneath you.”
Oh, boy. Dude, you must not have been reading closely previous to the “last few years,” then. If anything, I’m less sneertastic than I was before.
That said, if you are tying that reproof to the “I’m sorry your book was rejected” comment, please go back and read more carefully, as I didn’t write it.
I think the interesting part is the classifications of the lost sales. I think the only point of contention is the percentages of each category. So long as the category that would never buy the book regardless of price is not too high, then the argument seems like it would hold, as long as the prices are not too high (whatever that means) or enough people can afford to buy books.
Since this argument was made to justify an experiment (Baen Free Library) and since that library still exists eleven years later, I would say that there is data to suggest that the argument has so far held up and that looking at books sales vs books available on the free library could prove it. (that is not to say that it may not in the future)
@unholyguy heh heh heh. Sorry, you made me chuckle. Lots of data in this larger discussion really contain a full discussion of its methodology and potential errors? Lots of data really being tested by replication is it? Lot of double blind studies going on with e-books, are they?
So let’s start with the basic of questions. How many e-books did Amazonsell last year?
Hey, I am all for legalizing piracy, a lot of my issues with the ebook priceing model would kind of go away then. Silly me though, I always kind of thought they were keeping it illegal for a reason, maybe the publishers are just deluded? (;
Weirdmage, the fact that you know a lot of people that perform an action does not tell you much about the people that don’t. Sure, lots of people buy ebooks at sticker price, but lots of other people do not. My personal feeling is that in the long run, the higher price points will not be supportable other then a few big ticket authors with blockbuster releases. No one really knows though, still too early to tell.
We can assume that the big six are being clever and split testing all this stuff and picking an optimum price point (kind of a big assumption in my mind honestly) but the price point they are picking has to take into account the physical book sales which are stil the lions share of their revenue. They cannot at this point in the game afford to let the ebook market find its natural, optimal place if it means it will cannibalize the physical book market. A few more years and physical books become a minority in sales, and at that point no on really knows what will happen to the pricing model. This means that whatever is optimal now may not be optimal in the long run. It would be pretty coincidental if the optimum price point ended up being what the dead tree versions were priced at.
The whole scenario is pretty annoying for ebook consumers who don’t really want to be so heavily influenced by the dead tree side of the world, hence a lot of the bitching.
David, there is not. A lot of data at the moment, at least not avaiable publically
My whole initial point which you seem to be reacting to is that we have no data, and that anyone who is claiming otherwise is deluding themselves.
Amazon has data though, you can bet your ass, really good data too. Publishers have much less, consuming public has very little. Amazon likes it this way.
Dude, you must not have been reading closely previous to the “last few years,” then.
I apologize for being unclear; that was directed at TNH, not yourself.
In the general fiction list, two in top five currently are 9.99, and number 6 is 14.99 and number 8 is 12.99.
The Help 9.99
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Trilogy) 9.99
Kill Alex Cross 12.99
In the speculative fiction list, one is 29.99, 2 are 14.99, one is 12.99 and two are 8.99.
George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones 4-Book Bundle: A Song of Ice and Fire Series: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows 29.99
A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five 14.99
The Night Circus 12.99
A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Two 8.99
A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One
Rochestist, that $29.99 is a four book bundle, so price per book is $7.50
Yes.. And? If anything, that argues against your point when a four books bundle of books long out in PB can command 7.50 apiece and be a bestselling item.
What is the point that you are addressing? Most of the objections we’ve been talking about are for books priced over 9.99?
My personal guesstimate is the eventual price will fall somewhere between $5 and $8 for back catalogue from a famouse and popular author. I don’t expect it to land much lower then five for famouse people.
re: Unholyguy: “The whole scenario is pretty annoying for ebook consumers who don’t really want to be so heavily influenced by the dead tree side of the world, hence a lot of the bitching.”
I (like 85% of Americans) don’t have an e-book reader and (like 75% of these 85%) don’t plan to buy one in the near future. The bitching is coming from a vocal minority that appears far over-represented online, and holy cow is it annoying for those of us who just want to read and talk about good books and move on with our lives.
While there was a nearly 100% increase (from 8% to 15%) in the number of people with an e-reader, there was also a 65% increase year to year on the number of people who did not read a *single* book (from 9% to 15%) and a 50% increase year to year on the number of people who did not *buy* a single book (from 21% to 32%).
I certainly won’t be getting an iPad or a Kindle; the Nook is mildly tempting but it’s something more fully open like the Kobo that even begins to appeal to me. Now that I can buy many e-books through my local bookstores (IndieBound’s agreement with Google eBooks) I am also a bit more likely. (I’ve bought a couple of ePubs this way to read on my PC, for some e-book-only publishers like Carina Press, or e-books of foreign limited editions whose prices+shipping to the US is beyond what I can afford, or the occasional ARC that the publisher hasn’t printed yet or is out of ARCs for.)
What’s the most telling for me about the e-book world right now is how many e-books are Kindle-only, something which Amazon is further “encouraging” through its KDP Select program. This is damaging on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start. A brave new world of Kindle-only books? Count me out. These are books I will simply never read. I’ve made enough mistakes with closed platforms (iOS was moderately OK until the ridiculous money/power grabs, Audible (now owned by Amazon) *still* not allowing publishers to publish DRM-free) that I will absolutely not buy a Kindle, period; it’s something I think many more readers should be aware of in their rush to trade the future of books for a few dollars off an e-book here and there.
Jeebus, I take some time off from the internet and miss a glorious shitstorm. Having skimmed through this thread, a bunch of the links in the thread, the previous thread that started this, I just have to say one thing:
This has fuck-all to do with “facts” about ebook pricing, and everything to do with people being insulted:
Scalzi (original post from previous thread): going into a comment thread of a Big Idea and making a big show of why you’re not going to buy the book because of a price point that the author very frequently has absolutely no control over kind of makes you a dick
Even a half-orc barbarian with a charisma score in the toilet (which I usually play on this blog) can look at this and see the issue is that pretty much everyone who got offended, got offended because they thought Scalzi was talking about them, that Scalzi was saying they were being a dick, being entitled, and so on.
The thing is the quote is fairly specific about who is and is not a dick. It is aimed at someone who would go onto a “Big Idea” thread about a specific book and try to hijack it into your soapbox about ebook pricing in general.
Scalzi (original post): consider such persistent ebook price kvetching as a symptom of a particular sort of entitlement, and that doing it at the author, who generally speaking has no control of the pricing and who is probably neurotic enough, is pretty mean.
And unfortunately, the target identification in this sentence relies on boolean logic being applied to two chunks of text both chock full of prepositional phrases among others and depending on how one applies order of precedence and association to the various linguistic operators (because you can’t put parenthesis in your sentences to indicate what part gets “anded” and what part is after the “and”, and so on), one could land at the conclusion that Scalzi called them “entitled” and “mean”.
Pretty much everyone who has objected to the original thread and this thread has objected with an underlying emotional state entirely consistent with having just been called a dick, entitled, and mean by Scalzi. Clearly, that’s how it landed for many of them.
And talking about “facts” while the landed-as-an-insult goes undistinguished isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. The “facts” have turned into clubs and everyone is beating each other with them.
@unholyguy 11:28 am
In the absence of “good data” I’m more inclined to listen to the information presented on this blog by writers, editors, etc then the information presented on the post on Dear Author which seemed to be more randomly sourced. This may be because the information on this blog seemed more in line with my own anecdotal experience as a reader and consumer :)
As someone who has purchased a large number of eBooks via amazon, I now prefer to purchase an eBook vs a physical book. I’ve generally noticed that there are very few cases where eBooks are not available for the books I buy (and more cases where physical books are not available in the case of self published authors). Additionally, I’ve generally found current eBook quality to be as good as physical books for newer books (not OCR or Topaz books). The books that suffer the most in quality, not surprisingly tend to be the self published ones. Finally, I’ve generally found the eBook prices to be less than or equal to physical books prices. To give an idea as to the data points behind my experience, I currently have over 1750 eBooks, 1600 of which were purchased from Amazon, I’m also aware that I may be an outlier.
One thing that occurs to me about the earlier criticism about “the coming selfpublipocalypse” . I don’t think this was meant to say that self publishing has no place, merely that it would not completely replace existing publishers. As somebody who has purchased a number of self published books on amazon (at least 200), I find that the recommendation and rating system has been very helpful in helping me find good self published books. However, I must also say that even among the better of the self published books (mainly of which I enjoyed), there has generally been more issues with spelling, grammar and formatting – in other words they would have been improved by being edited, etc. Additionally, I have found that for every decent self published book, there appear to be many more ones which were junk. All of which leads me to believe that publishers do play an important role, although they do result in decent books getting rejected and that self publishing is also here to stay.
Brett substituting bad data or anecdotal evidence in the absence of good data is a wellknown cognitive bias. The correct action in the absence of good data is to either withhold judgement or speculate wildly while realizing you are speculating wildly.
This whole thread belongs firmly in the “speculating wildly” category as far as I am concerned. Fun, not totally useless, but mostly useless. The most productive thing that could happen is if John goes out and strong arms his publishers into giving us some actual (;
You should read the comments on the dear author blog. There are about ten authors chiming in, some of them quite famous. Very interesting dialogue.
Thanks for the clarification.
For reference, I wasn’t responding above to Scalzi’s statement on Big Idea threads, which I did respond to FURTHER above (in a vague ‘what the hell are people thinking’ way). I was responding to the generalized claim by a commenter that any complaining about ebook pricing, anywhere, was entitlement. Clarity was sought for and provided. I’ll take my penny-pinching wish-I-could-buy-more-books ways back into lurking on other threads now.
Just to be perfectly clear, here’s how categorically opposed Teresa Nielsen Hayden and I are to self-publishing. Since the late 1970s, we:
* Self-published a run of issues of a Hugo-nominated science fiction fanzine, Izzard
* Self-published an anthology of the best science-fiction fanzine writing of 1981, Fanthology 1981
* Were each two-time finalists for the Hugo for Best Fan Writer
* Ran a short-lived small press that published a book by Samuel R. Delany (Wagner/Artaud: A Play of 19th and 20th-Century Critical Fictions; Ansatz Press, 1988)
* Co-edited the final year of the small-press poetry magazine The Little Magazine
* Co-founded the New York Review of Science Fiction
* Helped small publisher NESFA Press publish a collection of Teresa’s best fan writing (Making Book, 1994)
* Self-published weblogs from 2000 to the present day
Self-publishing and small-press publishing can be rewarding in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it even achieves commercial success; on occasion, it smites its big-publisher competitors a mighty smite, and everyone’s smarter for it.
But there’s an enormous amount of delusion, hot air, and magical thinking promulgated about self-publishing, e-publishing, small presses, the “Big Six,” dinosaurs, mammals, the ways in which the internet changes everything, and so forth. That’s the sort of things my original remarks were addressed to, and Teresa’s as well. I think the kindest assumption about anyone who takes either of us as categorically dismissive of self-publishing or small-press publishing…is that they were skim-reading. It happens.
I’m sorry I misread your comment. Thank you for the clarification.
Wow, there is so much clarification going on here…
And just to clarify, I’m not saying that’s bad.
Just want to be clear. I hope nobody got offended.
@Weirdmage, Amazon used to control the prices for Kindle editions. Then the publishers started setting a hard price below which Amazon was not allowed to go. This has been cited in the press about price fixing allegations, and Amazon itself had to insert a line about how the price had been set by the publisher. So it is the publisher who has been changing the price of Ghost Story’s Kindle edition in relation to the hard cover edition. This is how it reads on Amazon currently: “Kindle Price: $14.99 includes free wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet Sold by: Penguin Publishing This price was set by the publisher”
Before publishers pushed to control the retail price on Amazon, the price was typically 9.99 if a book was not yet in paperback, and then it would drop to the paperback price.
As for free ebooks, I certainly am making use of those. That doesn’t stop me from resenting paying more for a product that has to be at least slightly less to produce than hard cover (no matter how you figure total costs, printing and paper costs money). I also resent being offered book one of a series for 8.99 and then the next book is 14.99. I am avoiding any new genre series for that reason.
@CS Clark, the list price for hard cover editions would be more relevant if any retailers regularly charged that much but they all discount heavily. I did used to inhabit bookstores before my vision pushed me towards ebooks. :)
Clarification is always good.
My apologies is this is straying too far off-topic…
This is all, of course, JMHO.
The emergence of cheap, mass-audience self-publishing — via the Kindle, the Nook, and other platforms — has peeled the foil back on a popcorn-hurricane of resentment and bad feeling, not only on the part of unpublished writers, but also on the part of some fans, and especially the so-called “midlist,” some of whom feel very much that traditional publishing has done them wrong.
I’m too new to the biz to have a grudge, either way. Like I told Mike Resnick last week, for me the publishing world — traditional, and self — seems like a big bowl of holiday candy. I’m just now getting to have a few pieces, and it’s excellent fun. And well worth all the work and waiting it took to make it this far.
The work — slogging through the hard chore of learning to create prose which is at least entry-level professional quality — is what I see too many self-published authors trying to avoid. E-publishing allows anyone with the technical skills to skip editors, skip agents, skip slush piles, skip the waiting and the toil, and go direct-to-market. This can be very good, or it can also (as often as not) be very bad.
Which is a wordy way of saying: if you haven’t paid your dues, in producing your proverbial “first million words of crap,” self-publishing is an amazingly-attractive, very terrible idea.
But new writers are doing it like never before, which is why I think a lot of people with e-reading devices are beginning to feel burned. There is a colossal mountain of garbage available through e-publishing avenues. I think quality control is a major flaw in the new model. And it’s the one thing traditional publishers can still offer — beyond the tangible feel of paper, which some of us (as readers) still adore. Thus “filter” may be the saving grace of traditional publishing, when all else is in question.
Having said this, for authors who have paid their dues — the first million words of crap, additional million(s) of words in sold stories and/or books — the new model can be an enormously liberating and even lucrative avenue. It allows them to bypass the system and complete series which may have been orphaned or abandoned. They can exploit cross-genre niches which marketing departments can’t handle. They can generate collections of short work, the selling of which in New York can be all but impossible. And if they don’t mind shouldering the business burden of becoming their own one-person publisher, an experienced author with an existing audience can do okay. Or, once in a very, very great while, better-than-okay.
Me? I’ve established myself with a major genre short fiction publisher, the bona fides from which have since allowed me to develop a good raport with both a respected agent and a respected novel house — the dividends of which are (hopefully) forthcoming in the next couple of years. So I don’t see it as an either-or dichotomy. No need to be slamming shut doors which ought to remain open.
Though I also understand that for many veterans, they feel (not always wrongly) that doors have been slammed on them, thus e-publishing appears to be an escape hatch and a revelation in one go: no more trying to please the fickle editors, the fickle agents, the marketing departments, or beat the Bookscan “death spiral” as it’s been called.
There may come a day when self-publishing is all that’s left to me. When all of the doors have been slammed in my face. But so far, I’m only seeing open doors. Because as Eric Flint is fond of saying, good writing just isn’t that common. And if you can write well — through talent, but more especially through long practice — you stand a decent chance of getting published in the traditional realm. No guarantee you’ll be a Grisham or a King or a Rowling. No way in hell. But then, you don’t have to be a Grisham or a King or a Rowling for traditional publishing to seem worthwhile.
@Chrysoula — you can even keep that penny, there are thousands of free e-books, not just from Project Gutenberg, but from author websites, free promotions, Baen free library, on and on. There are more free e-books already than anyone has time to read.
@Tapati — plenty of retailers charge the list price for books. Even B&N charges list prices for nearly all of their books; they do offer a discount on bestsellers, and a further discount to Members. Not even every retail bookstore offers a discount on bestsellers — some do, some don’t. (Many have a 10% discount for a Member program, which is how I can even save money vs. Amazon on some Subterranean Press titles for example.) Lots and lots and lots of books are bought in person for the list price. As for “I also resent being offered book one of a series for 8.99 and then the next book is 14.99.” Goodness. I hope you never bought the first book of a new-in-hardcover series in mass market paperback. If you don’t like the $14.99 price, just wait: it will come down in a couple of years. Again: every single Kindle e-book is less than 4 years old. (OK, or 4 years and one month old, as the device was released in November 2007.) You’re an early adopter. Early adopters pay. And the idea, the nearly unbelievable idea, that a new $30 hardcover *must be offered in e-book at $10 or it is unfair to the point of resentment* is, well, nearly unbelievable and, indeed, reeks of entitlement. The margins on hardcover sales make the world go round, and the cost of e-book production has almost nothing to do with it — the marginal cost of production for the second copy and on of an e-book is what, a nickel? You’re not paying for the nickel’s worth of electrons. You’re paying for the text of the $100,000+ story for a book that, otherwise, is locked into a $30 print format for 18 months or so. When the MMPB comes out for A Dance with Dragons, the e-book price will come down as well. I feel pretty confident with this assertion, given the prices for A Game of Thrones, etc. (A Dance with Dragons lists at $35, actually, and I know no fewer than 8 people, personally, who paid this price in a local bookstore. I bought it in audiobook, another digital format.)
Again: the first copy of an (big new release) e-book costs from $10,000-$100,000 and up. Each next copy costs a nickel. This averages out over the 500 to 5,000 readers (the average is about 1,000, with of course massively high exceptions for runaway bestsellers and some self-published books which sell 10-20 copies to friends and family) of the first year and a half of a book to, surprise, somewhere in the $15 range.
And there are plenty of publishers who have lower priced e-books, such as Amazon’s own 47North imprint, Angry Robot, Pyr, Solaris, Orbit (the first edition MMPB titles, not the hardcovers), Baen (though if you REALLY want early access, they’ll sell you an electronic ARC for a pretty penny!), Small Beer, Tachyon, Chizine, Subterranean, Golden Gryphon, etc. And lots of these are absolutely great books, too! These authors aren’t (generally) making their living from these books, though. It’s not my business to post what friends have told me advances range from around the industry, but there is a significant (“I’m getting the next round” etc.) difference between a Tor advance for a new hardcover which is expected to be a bestseller and a Solaris advance for a new MMPB from a relatively unknown author. (There are even less expensive publishers, like EDGE, e-book only imprints like Carina, and of course self-publishing as well.)
Even at Tor, for example, look at The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. A hardcover release in the summer of 2010, The MMPB came out in May 2011 at $9 and, surprise surprise, the Kindle e-book is also at $9. It’s not rocket science: getting a book at the same time as its $30 hardcover isn’t going to cost the same as getting it at the same time as its $9 MMPB, whether the electrons the copy is on cost a marginal nickel or not. If you want early access, you have to pay roughly equitable to everybody else. It’s really, really simple.
I see that clearly now.
Various thoughts only tangentially related to the original point:
– I don’t see any reason ebooks should cost less than paper books. Computer games haven’t dropped in price as they’ve shifted to online distribution, and while there was some initial grumbling, everyone is pretty much okay with that by now.
– The state of typography and copyediting in ebooks is shameful. Not universally, but the exceptions are glaring.
– I hate the fact that the paper book and the local bookstore are about to go the way of the LP record and the local music store. I like my shelves full of books, and I like visiting Another Change of Hobbit or Borderlands.
– I love the fact that someone living in a small town in the middle of nowhere will soon have just as much access to new books as someone living in a densely-populated area with great bookstores.
– It’s possible to complain about price without being entitled. “I will pay this price, but I will feel ripped off as I do so” is a valid position to take. So is, “I will pay this price, but I will buy less than I otherwise would.”
– Isn’t it cool that there isn’t any need for books to go out of print any more?
– Publishers are really shooting themselves in the foot by allowing Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook retailers to sell DRM-encumbered books. When a customer is locked into a single retailer’s ecosystem, the retailer has all the power. The music industry already learned what that means with iTunes; I’m amazed the book industry is letting it happen all over again.
– I also hate the fact that the kids of the future aren’t going to get to experience the joy of finding an older brother’s boxes of science fiction novels in the attic.
– The kids of the future are probably going to pirate all their books until they grow up, get jobs, and start thinking about supporting their favorite authors. I don’t know how I feel about that.
– “Agency model” pricing pisses customers off. That’s dangerous. Probably not as dangerous as letting Amazon sell books at under cost and establish a monopsony, but still. See also: DRM. Stupid.
– In general, there seem to be a lot of angry readers out there. I’d be scared about that if I was a publisher. Delighted customers want you to succeed; angry ones are looking for an alternative.
– I can’t shake the feeling that the publishing industry, as a whole, really wishes this whole ebook thing would just blow over so they could get back to their comfortable old business model.
– “I’m sorry your book was rejected” is insulting and wrong.
“I understand people may think it’s harsh, but I’m not obliged to give a shit. I dislike willful ignorance.”
I have to say that the above quote is probably one of the best things I’ve read on a thread in a while.
I rarely ever comment on threads, but this has been so entertaining that I had to add my two cents.
I honestly didn’t know that ebook pricing was such a hot topic. I just barely got into the ebook game and have been perplexed at times as to why an ebook would cost as much as a regular book. This disussion has actually helped clear quite a bit up for me on that front. Especially the articles linked by Adam earlier in the thread to Charles Stross. I don’t quite understand how anyone can say that we’re not customers of publishers. I buy the products they produce, therefore, I’m their customer. As such I get to vote with my wallet on where their prices stand and if I think they’re fair. If I don’t, then I don’t purchase that particular product. If enough customers don’t purchase it then most companies drop their prices to be more competitive. Whereas if we are purchasing them at the prices listed, which I have no problem doing, then I don’t see why they would drop them. Let’s not forget that these are for profit corporations not charities. Those are my thoughts on the subject, take them or leave them. Thanks for all the great work you put out!
re: “I’m amazed the book industry is letting it happen all over again.” — Definitely this. Also: Readers are letting it happen all over again, every time they buy one of these DRM-fested books. Reader choice (the customers at work here) will trump all, but the footprint of the Kindle (which doesn’t easily allow alternative e-books — yes, yes, I know you can e-mail a file to wherever, meh) is getting pretty wide.
re: “I can’t shake the feeling that the publishing industry, as a whole, really wishes this whole ebook thing would just blow over so they could get back to their comfortable old business model.” — I can’t think that anybody in the publishing industry really believes ebooks are going to “blow over”. 5 years ago? Maybe. Today? No way.
As a consumer I cannot really lament what Apple did to the labels. If we hadn’t had a Steve Jobs to beat down the record labels we’d all still be paying $2.99 for every single track, if the labels even let us buy individual tracks rather then shoving whole albulm purchases down everyone’s throat.Whle not perfect, I certain like the Apple vision better then the record label vision.
This time around with the publishers certainly feels familiar in a lot of ways, probably one of the reasons consumers are reacting so negatively.
It is utterly amazing to me that no one in publishing seems to have learned anything from the last go round. the video game industry certainly has. Online distribution via Steam is an incredibly creative response to the electronic channel. By wholeheartedly embracing the new tech, the video game people even managed to keep their price point on the big title release at least, without angering anyone, and also fostered a very vibrant ecosystem across the whole gamet of price ranges.
As far as good writing vs bad writing, even if 99.9% of self publishing is total crap it doesn’t matter provided
1: Enough non crap gets written to meet demand
2: Readers can easily sort through and find the good stuff
We certainly have the technology to do #2
@Adam 12/28 1:38PM
re: not buying passing the buck/decision made on higher level.
I don’t have a problem with this, because I’ve seen it. Nothing to do with publishing, but I work for a Fortune 500 corporation that grew by gobbling *many* smaller companies, who all operated in one sector of the economy–financial services of one sort or another. Check printing, banking software, etc.
Decisions have come down from on high that presented major challenges for the piece of the puzzle that employs me. But though really frustrating, it really wasn’t rant-worthy. I’m not claiming that it’s all cool, and the C-suite (CEO, CFO, CIO, etc.) people were models of human decency. One got to be the butt of a Dilbert comic for a stunning lack of sensitivity.
However, I have to read a lot of policy from corporate, and some random related email from these people. In most cases that I was sorely tempted to get a rant on, for, say, mindlessly complicating my life, there was another explanation: managing complexity. At a certain size (the Rule of Seven comes to mind–Google it, if it’s new to you) this becomes a huge issue. It would be extraordinarily difficult to produce even email, let alone policy doc, which specified which organizations some paragraph didn’t apply to, etc. I can’t really read a corporate communication the size of an encyclopedia volume each and every morning. I have stuff to do.
And I’m just the consumer of the stuff. I can search for our org name, etc., in the text. Generating it, at that level of detail, would be more or less impossible. Even with the best will in the world, people at the headquarters of major corporations will have to paint with a broad brush. Humans aren’t good at managing complexity. My org is regarded as a pretty serious cash cow, but even we get things that generate an ‘aw, shit’ and a scramble. In a media conglomerate, where probably a minor bit of the financial take involves customers having to *read*, I have no problem believing that there are many such ‘aw, shit’ moments.
Bureaucracies evolved to manage complexity. They are the best mechanism found, to date, but they are also famously bad at it. Not buying passing the buck/decision made on higher level? I would imagine that many, perhaps most, people can find examples of this in their daily lives. If you can’t; if this is all somehow new to you, I’m envious. And very, very, doubtful.
“I don’t see any reason ebooks should cost less than paper books. Computer games haven’t dropped in price as they’ve shifted to online distribution, and while there was some initial grumbling, everyone is pretty much okay with that by now.”
Actually, if you look at PC games, this is shockingly wrong. Valve’s “Steam” game distribution service is absolutely legendary for it’s immense and jaw-dropping sales on games. This Christmas, they’ve gone to the extent of using their in-game achievement system to give players free games. There’s also been a ton of experimentation in pricing among indie developers. The pay-what-you-can “humble indie bundles” have been such an immense success that there’s been a flood of indie developers gathering together to create their own bundles and get in on the action. Games on tablets and smartphones aren’t generally terribly expensive either.
The only titles that are priced the way they used to are “triple-A” console-style titles like, say, the mega-popular Skyrim. Even if they WERE the dominant form of game these days, Skyrim actually just had a 33% off sale on Steam just a few days ago. So even THOSE prices aren’t stable.
Meanwhile, book publishers are apparently at the point where they’re trying to kill off public libraries. Mmmyep.
Oh, and as for that “why should ebooks cost less than paper books” question? It’s, um, pretty simple economics. When you pay for a physical book, you aren’t just buying the book itself, you’re buying the right to resell it at some point in the future.
Publishers charge what the market will bear (and feel “entitled” to do so). Fine, and the fact that you can get a little bit of your money back is going to affect exactly how much you can bear. You’re going to be willing to pay an extra five or six bucks (say) because it’s five or six bucks that you can get back at some point in the future by reselling the thing. In turn, that helps enforce a bit of price discipline on publishers: if they charge TOO much, then they’ll see their books resold over, and over, and over again, with the resale intermediaries pocketing the dough instead of the publishers.
The same is true of console gaming, and has come up in the interminable arguments about the legitimacy of used game sales. The publishers arguably do charge too much, considering the declining length of modern games and the wide variety of quality competition, and it’s created a lively and well-served used game market that sustains entire franchise chains. The publishers, some developers, and some journalists are screaming about how everybody who buys used games are “thieves”, taking away sales that they’re rightfully (heh) entitled to enjoy.
Of course, used gamers aren’t thieves any more than librarians are. The price of resale is part of the price that they charge. But if that’s the case, then you’re going to have to discount for formats that don’t include that right of resale. They’re inferior products. They’re quite literally worth less money. That’s why Valve discounts the way they do: they know that they’re selling an inferior product, and are trying to sort out the proper price. The fact that they’ve been willing to do so is why their service is now synonymous with PC gaming, and has been credited with near single-handedly saving PC gaming. They get it.
If anything, e-books should get a DEEPER discount. Games have shelf-life problems. Systems break down. Media becomes obsolete. Graphics become outdated. A book? Yeah, it’s still a book. Twenty, thirty, fifty years from now, it’s still a book. If it’s treated properly and on the right kind of paper, a physical book can last centuries. E-books? They’re no better than games. We’ll be lucky if Amazon’s current format is even readable by machines a decade from now. It’s quite likely that readers will end up in the same situation as aficionados of other media, where they end up going through the stomach-churning process of re-buying their media again and again and again in new formats. Forever and ever, Amen.
And you’re telling me that physical books shouldn’t be worth more?
Forget economics. That beggars sense.
“Actually, if you look at PC games, this is shockingly wrong.”
If you look at newly released PC games, no, it is not wrong in the slightest. A brand-new game download will cost as much as a copy on disc. Possibly more, in fact. You are, of course, correct that games do tend to plunge in price quickly, and that Steam has very good sales indeed. But if I want to buy, say, Anno 2070 from Steam or Amazon, I have a choice between a $50 download or a $45 DVD.
As for the arguments on why physical books “should” cost more: I believe I can summarize your thesis as stating that physical books are better–they can be resold and they last longer. In which case, rejoice in your ability to purchase the superior version! The price of ebooks is of no matter to you, for to you they are a lesser format.
Many people, however, don’t appear to share your views. They prefer the increased portability of an ebook. They like being able to buy a book online and receive it instantly, or the ability to carry a hundred books in their pocket. To these people, the ebook may well be the preferred edition.
Both views can be right. The paper book can be better for you, and the ebook can be better for another reader. (Me? I tend towards your side, but I’m somewhere in the middle.)
I see no reason why an ebook should necessarily be priced according to the value placed on it by someone who doesn’t like ebooks, however. Especially since my entirely unscientific and anecdotal impression is that people who will buy ebooks at all tend to prefer them entirely to paper.
Actually most games on Steam canno even be bought on disk
“we certainly have the technology”
Really? Perhaps you can point me to it, and then explain where I get the time to sort through the slush pile to find these hidden gems…
Amazon recommendations plus librarything recommendations plus amazon reviews plus librarything reviews have always pretty much nailed it for me. I usually find out about new books either through the librarything libraries I follow via rss or amazon recommendations. It helps that there are about 20 people on librarything that have similar tastes as me
That’s not technology, that’s word-of-mouth, facilitated by (effectively) 40 year old technology. It’s also a lot of man-hours of work, sorting through either the piles of crap, or the pages of reviews. It’s barely one step removed from “I know this one guy who reads everything. He tells me what to buy.” So, yeah, it’s easier than reading the first 3 chapters of all the crap yourself, but don’t over sell it, man.
A recommendation engine is technology, very sophisticated technology
I’m glad someone brought up Steam, because Steam is an example of online distribution done right. It’s not a perfect model for the publishing industry, because unlike books, computer games have always been a digital product. But I think any industry making the transition to digital could learn a lot from the gaming industry’s success and Steam in particular.
When Steam first came out, most games were discounted. Now that it’s a mature distribution system, some products are discounted and some (generally the A-list titles) are not. Even though some games aren’t discounted on Steam, I still happily buy them because they’re actually better than the boxed product. I get access to community features, can chat with my gaming friends and see what they’re playing as I play, and I can install the game on as many computers as I want, unlike a lot of boxed software which turns into a pumpkin after 3 or so installs. Steam does its piracy check online, but it’s forgiving about this. If my internet connection is down, and I try to play a Steam game, Steam gives me the benefit of the doubt, allowing me to play anyway and syncing up later. Steam shows me respect as a customer. In return, I gleefully shovel money in its direction. E-books, by contrast, are often a really shoddy product, rife with errors and inferior to the print book.
The gaming industry also does something else that’s very interesting. They price differently according to platform. Consider the game Plants vs. Zombies. This game costs $20 retail if you buy it for the PC or any console platform. On Steam, it’s $10 (recently dropped to $5). But for the small devices, like the Kindle Fire, it’s $2. I’ve purchased it on multiple platforms, and as far as I can tell, on every platform, it’s the SAME GAME. The $2 version is on a smaller screen, but it’s not a scaled down game. Popcap, the company that makes this game, could have said, “We don’t want to cannibalize sales from our $20 product by selling $2 copies for mobile devices” and priced the mobile device versions at $20. But for better or worse, that’s not the route they took. I’m not privy to all the company’s financial data since they were privately held until purchased by EA last July, but I know their revenue has been growing by 30% annually and operating margins were 16% last year.
Ah, but there’s on thing Amazon (or B&N online) doesn’t do for me. I can’t just look at a shelf of books. Maybe it’s just the way my brain is wired, but there’s something to be said for walking into a bookstore, going to the (whatever) section, and perusing titles. I can easily compare two books (very useful for when I’m looking at books on programming) and flip through them. Most major publishers do have the “look inside” feature activated on their books. That’s a help.
Walking up and down the aisle in the SF section (or any section) is easier than scrolling through many, many pages to find what I want. Now, the bookstore may not have what I want. I that case it’s easy to zero in on the web. But if I’m just looking for a new mystery read, I want to browse. So far the online experience doesn’t do that for me. I can look at a book I own and see Amazon’s recommendations and things other users who have bought this book have also purchased. That’s helpful, but it’s still not the same.
I’m fully aware this is a YMMV type of situation, so please don’t try to convince me of the superiority of one method over another.
Oh, I’m sorry, I thought we were discussing technology that worked. ;-)
Seriously, though, it’s a fair point, and I’ll concede it, with this caveat: the recommendation engines I’m familiar with have a hit-to-miss ratio that is comically low. And often, when it’s wrong, boy howdy is it wrong. So, at this point in time, it’s a variation on “this guy I know”, except that guy doesn’t know me, and doesn’t actually speak English, and suffers from a traumatic brain injury. Also, those engines still require a great deal of work, both on my own part and on the part of a host of other readers. So, your value of “easily” starts getting pretty large error bars.
@Doc Rocketscience at 1:50: Oh, Dear Dog, yes!
Another nice thing about Steam is they really do not force you into a particular price point. You really get the feeling that they are trying hard to find something for you no matter how much you are wanting to spnd
Funny, recommendation engines work really well for me, of course they are better the more they know about you and I’ve bought a lot of books from amazon over the years
Librarything especially knows me pretty well since I took the trouble to put 400 or so of my favorite books in and rate them all which was a fair amount of work. That gives them a lot of data to match on now.
Unholyguy @ 2:25 said:
Wow, blockquote tag fail. Sorry.
If you want a look at what an uncurated, gateway-free world of publishing looks like, fanfiction.net is probably better example than Amazon. Amazon does have a good recommendation engine, but it has the benefit of recommending works picked from a set that mostly meet some minimum standard of quality.
A lot of people like fanfiction.net, and there’s some good stuff on there. It’s a very different world than the one that currently occupies bookstore shelves, though.
Yeah the 400 books was a pain in the ass for sure, but only had to do it nce and it is kinda useful in general. Of course if all those books had been ebooks it would have been no work too put them and 15 minutes to rate them all…
A second thought (apologies for the double post!):
Steam absolutely is a great example of how to sell things online. Not only do their customers love them, but they make a pile of money for the people who publish through them. Everyone wins, and everyone is happy except for some of the really big publishers who are getting worried about the long-term implications of Steam as a future monopsony market.
I am thankful I ran across this blog page. I agree with some of the comments and disagree with some of the comments. But I thought I would just give you a little of what I do/thought.
Being a new editor/publisher, I found some helpful information from all of you. I got into this business by accident..meaning a friend was writing a book, and she told me she was looking for an editor and I had told her I’ve done a lot of editing and would love to be her ‘editor’. Within a month or two after I started editing, circumstances led me to starting a full service publishing company. I had numerous conversations with the author about who would be reading the book, what stores would ‘fit’ the category and what kind of marketing would be affective. Numerous times, the words reader/customer would surface. I said a reader IS A CUSTOMER, and they are the ones who are buying the books and the big retail stores are just a conduit for the books, and I personally don’t think they really care what the content is (except porn) as long as they sell and make money. If they don’t, they either send them back or won’t reorder same.
We priced the book so everyone would be able to purchase. Personally, I don’t look at price, if the book is of interest and I want it, I buy it. Unfortunately, not everyone has this privilege, so we MUST consider a reasonable price.
One of our policies at the publishing company, is to be reachable by anyone who has concerns, suggestions, or questions. We have our email and phone number on our site. Why wouldn’t a publishing company want to be reachable by the ‘customer’? I want our staff members to be available to the author and the editor and publisher to the customers.
“And you’re telling me that physical books shouldn’t be worth more?”
That’s the thing, isn’t it? If a physical book was worth more to any particular customer, they would buy that and not the e-book, if they were the same price, right?
However, there is tremendous value for someone to not have to bother storing and keeping track of a book, dealing with spills, torn pages, two-year-olds with crayons, etc. A physical book has more, let’s say intrinsic value, initially, but that degrades over time. Sure you can sell it, but for not as much as you paid, unless it’s a rare book kept in great condition. Plus, if you sell it , you don’t have it anymore. You’d have to buy it again if you wanted to read it again.
ebooks have the potential to last forever and never degrade. No, you can’t pass it along to your kids, but those words will always be available to you. Plus, ebooks occasionally improve, (edits, added functionality, interactive content and such). not to mention portability.
There are a number a value-added features with ebook licenses over physical book purchases.
So, there’s a choice that a customer makes should depend on how they handle books and what they mean to them.
That’s what determines whether an ebook is “worth” the price that the publisher or retailer is charging.
Comparing ebooks to physical books comes as close to literally comparing apples to oranges as anything I’ve seen. Yeah, they’re both fruits, but the similarity stops there. Ebooks and physical books have the same words, but the similarity stops there.
Oh, and going back to Unholy Guy for just a moment: I didn’t say that piracy doesn’t have an effect on anything, I said that it’s a non-factor when it comes to pricing in a “good” business model. Lowering prices in an attempt to prevent piracy, is bad business. Record labels and movie studios are pursuing legal action and prosecution of pirates which is the right thing to do. They are also going after the wrong people and screwing everyone up, that’s not right, but going after criminals is. I’m not here to defend their actions, just making a point.
Yes, the price of music has gone down, but that’s because of the market demands it, not the “pirates”. I wish I had the time to dig up the stats (as non-scientific as the are) about piracy and those that steal the things that they want. The general idea, from what I read years ago, was that a person that is steals an mp3, piece of software, video file, etc. would steal it no matter what the price is. They simply want something for free.
If a business panders to these people, no price will ever be low enough and no profit will be made.
It’s bad business.
And it all goes back to entitlement. I want X but it costs too much. A non-etitled person goes, I wish I had more money or I wish that was cheaper so I could get it. The entitled person says, you’re wrong to charge so much for that thing I want, I’m taking it anyway. Somehow, that person has decided in their heart that they are owed whatever that ‘thing’ is and the retailer/publisher is withholding something from them that they deserve.
Depending on where and how someone chooses to complain/discuss ebook pricing or whatever, it may come across as exactly that, ‘I deserve that new Neil Gaiman book. You owe it to me. I’m doing you a favor by willing to pay $5 for it. You are wrong to ask more.’ (for example)
I saw this story over at Dear Author and followed it for a while. Eventually, I decided it only fair to come and read about it here as well. Good post. I enjoyed it.
Although I have to take umbrage with this part even if it isn’t your prediction:
“(My prediction? Trade publishers will make some stoopid errors. Trade publishers will have some fabulous successes. A few small scrappy e-publishers and self-publishers will be wildly successful. Lots will sink without a trace. People will be loudly wrong at one another on the internet. Readers will lay out money for stuff that gets their attention and seems likely to be worth their time.)”
Not fair to “predict” something that is current!!! Foul!!! We want real, risk-taking predictions! :>)
Happy New Year,
Jonathan i dont know what survey you are remembering either, I think you are really oversimplifying the whole piracy thing and i have my doubts about anything that boiled ir down so simply.
A fair percentage of America has pirated mp3’s at one point or another, I’ve heard numbers on that as high as 20% and for ages 12-20 it is almost a majority.
So unless you want to write off an entire generatin as thieves you might want to rethink.
My feeling on the matter is that while consumers are ok with a certainly level of markup over cost and people getting paid for their work they don’t actually agree with this capitilist philosophy of “charge as much as the market will bear” they tolerate it only so much as the have to and they resist it when they can.
In Europe especially piracy is part and parcel with other anti capitalist political beliefs. While I don’t believe a 12 year old American torrent kiddy is thinking anything this complex, I think a general feeling of “they are trying to screw me, so I am going to screw them” is prevelent.
Unholy Guy, if your numbers are correct, then I and others of my generation are absolutely correct in our view that 12 – 20 year olds these days are selfish, entitled a-holes.
You do not have a right to take someone else’s work for free or for any other terms other than the ones for which that work has been offered. You don’t deserve it. Taking it is stealing.
It’s not fighting back against some big bully. You don’t have to have that song, that book, that movie. You *want* it, but you don’t want to pay the creator/owner/licensor the amount that they are asking. You think that the rules are different because it’s easy to steal the material, but they’re not.
Yes, we have an entire generation of thieves, if that is indeed the case.
That attitude of “they are trying to screw me, so I am going to screw them” is a purely selfish, entitled, arrogant attitude. Publishers/Retailers/Record Labels/Whatever are not harming you by charging more than you want to pay or can afford. You are not justified to take any action. Whether or not you think the price is fair or are upset by the amount of profit the company stands to make or have a problem with business decisions they have made, you must accept their terms to consume their product or you are stealing.
I agree that the RIAA, MPAA, and their kin are overblowing the “loses” to their industry due to digital piracy, but that does not entitle me or anyone else to simply take their work on any other terms than the ones they offer.
I can live without reading the next Neil Gaiman or John Scalzi novel. Even if they charge $1000 for a one day digital rental and have no other options for consuming it, they have done me no harm. I’d be pretty disappointed, though, and they probably wouldn’t make much money or keep many fans if they did so. That’s how the market works. And the market does work. Mark-up and production costs vs asking price are completely invalid reasons to steal.
No one is obligated to sell you a book, song, or movie for the price you are willing to pay. You are not entitled, under any circumstances, to take it.
“But there’s an enormous amount of delusion, hot air, and magical thinking promulgated about self-publishing, e-publishing, small presses, the “Big Six,” dinosaurs, mammals, the ways in which the internet changes everything, and so forth.”
Oh, brother. Ain’t that the truth. Well said.
“The emergence of cheap, mass-audience self-publishing — via the Kindle, the Nook, and other platforms — has peeled the foil back on a popcorn-hurricane of resentment and bad feeling, not only on the part of unpublished writers, but also on the part of some fans, and especially the so-called “midlist,” some of whom feel very much that traditional publishing has done them wrong.”
Again. Well said. Thank you Mr. Torgersen. I’ll be looking for your work when it comes out.
I don’t have an axe to grind in any of this, but I did find the shitstorm interesting, funny, bemusing, and sad. I’ve seen similar things among musicians, artists, and actors. They struggle with their art, they struggle to sell in a saturated market, and they struggle most of all with their own myths about success. Being good at any of these crafts is amazingly difficult and requires a buttload of work. Finding success at them is as common as winning the lottery, which is to say not common at all. Making a living at any of these crafts is possible, but its not easy.
The ship is sinking. There is not enough room on the lifeboats. Not everyone is going to make it. Most in fact will not. This is both heartless and amazingly unfair. That’s how business works.
@Jonathan David Ward 11:15 pm
When the local radio station that played new music went off the air I stopped
hearing new music, and only heard the top forty poo and went with occasionally
remembering a group/singer that I liked to _try_ to buy that music.
And mostly couldn’t.
A couple of decades later Itunes was not available for me, a windows user.
Now, I can buy any music I wish to, but I haven’t heard any except for what
I’m still trying to remember of artists from that radio station.
Did you know that broadcast ‘airwaves’ radio plays songs without any having
to pay anyone anything? (perhaps USA only)
“Did you know that broadcast ‘airwaves’ radio plays songs without any having to pay anyone anything? (perhaps USA only)”
Not true. I worked for a radio station, we paid royalties every quarter to ASCAP and BMI based on how often we played songs by the artists/labels they represented. I’m pretty sure that’s still standard practice.
It would’t make a difference if they didn’t pay. It would still be in agreement with the terms the content owner put forth. It wouldn’t be stealing.
I’m sorry that you couldn’t access the music you wanted. I’m glad that you have the opportunity to find and buy it now. It would seem that you understand and appreciate the value of those offerings.
Now, really, the consequence of missing out on that music for a time was pretty minor, right? It didn’t affect your survival, it wasn’t a threat to you, and didn’t violate your rights, dignity, or freedom. So, I would hope that you didn’t and do not consider yourself entitled to illegally download or copy that music.
I’m not saying that I’ve never illegally downloaded a file. I’m not saying that I have, either. I am willing to admit, however, that if I had, I would be in the wrong – a violator of both the law and rights of the content owners.
ASCAP radio licensing.
And of course broadcast radio has these things called “ads” in between all the music.
WRT whether an entire group of people are or are not thieves, I think it’s worth noting that Unholyguy will argue that nobody has any real data when he doesn’t like a particular argument, but will use handwavy pseudodata like “I’ve heard” and “as high as” in his own arguments. I don’t think that wild-ass guesses about how many of what age groups might have downloaded an mp3 once tells us much about the moral fiber of a generation – particularly a generation that seems pretty happy to pay a buck for a song on iTunes.
ebooks have the potential to last forever and never degrade. No, you can’t pass it along to your kids, but those words will always be available to you.
No, they really won’t, if the format those e-words are in becomes obsolete, or if your data is corrupted, or if Amazon pulls those words back through the memory hole. Just the other day I found my old Handspring PDA in the garage; it’s had dead batteries for quite some time, so the e-books I had on it are long, long gone.
This isn’t meant to be a statement that paper books are better than e-books by any means – they have their advantages and disadvantages, and people will sort those out differently depending on their preferences. But I find the ‘convenience’ and availability of e-books to be a little oversold.
Hey! Let’s all follow Mythago’s PA link and play a little game of Spot the Irony! ;-P
Yes, we all know that the only reason Borders went under is that it stupidly clung to the obsolete dead-tree format and failed to embrace the New Digital Revolution, and not because of mismanagement or Amazon doing a better and cheaper job of selling…um….dead-tree format books.
mythago, I don’t know about all ebook formats, but Kindle files will be available and readable as long as Amazon continues to exist. That’s the license agreement. As far as the format becoming obsolete, Kindle files are ASCII text formatted by HTML. You can be reasonably certain that those technolgies will be around for a very long time and that any new technology developed will be backwards compatible with them (or expect a class action lawsuit to make that happen). The Kindle file format exists to provide DRM. If your device breaks, batteries die, or whatever, you can just download it again. Or simply read it off the “cloud” on any internet connected device. If Amazon “loses” the file or denies you access, you have recourse through customer service or through the legal system.
I like both physical books and ebooks, by the way, and for pretty much the reasons that anyone likes either format. I love the feel and smell of physical books, the cover art, the uniqueness of the typeset. They are easier to flip through and find information. Plus I like that they are mine, I own them. All that is great, except when it comes time to move. I have about 500 books, four and half six-foot tall bookcases worth. Moving them, packing them sucks! I have plenty that have gotten wet & moldy. I lost a few. I’ve loaned books out that have never returned.
I have a Kindle with about 300 books. Weighs a few ounces. Moving it is easy. I can access those books on my phone, my laptop, my desktop, and, in the future, my tablet device (which I don’t have yet). Most of the books were free – public domain. It’s just as easy to read as a paperback, not quite as nice as a quality hardcover. It’s not easy/possible to flip through and find what I’m looking for, so I tend to only download material that is meant to be read in order. All my training and technical books are physical. I haven’t tried it on a Kindle Fire or iPad yet, maybe it is easier to flip through with them, but they are not as comfortable to read for long periods of time as an e-ink Kindle.
Physical books aren’t superior to ebooks, ebooks aren’t superior to physical books. They are different experiences. One format may work better for you than the other, depending on how you interact with books. Apples and oranges, man, apples and oranges…
Jonathan, we’re not really disagreeing re your last paragraph there, and I too own both e-books and physical books. Where I am disagreeing is that I think your view of the durability and accessibility of e-books is a bit optimistic; DRM exists precisely so that Amazon can manage ownership and use of my e-books, and ‘well you can just sue them’ or ‘a class action lawsuit will happen’ is like saying ‘Moby Dick is about some guy hunting a whale’. That is, technically correct while omitting reams of crucial details. Whatever technology Kindle books are “based on”, the format is proprietary, not open, and waiting years for a class-action lawsuit is not inspiring. One can criticize Amazon’s choice of a proprietary format and DRM, and recognize the risks of that format, without saying “therefore e-books are worthless”.
As you say, this is one of the trade-offs, and for many people (or at least many books) it may well be worth it. I’m just wary of saying that apples are way better than oranges because if an apple turns out to be wormy you can sue Whole Foods.
Just as an add-on to Jonathan’s comment at 1:06am: ASCAP also demands payment from restaurants and shops that play that so-called “free” over the airwaves radio. I was pestered on a weekly basis by ASCAP because I had a radio playing in my cafe. Apparently, even though it was “free” for everyone listening in their car or home, it was not “free” if I wanted to use it in my cafe, because it allegedly helped my business and therefore I owed them money. (They only stopped calling when I assured them that nothing could help my business and I was selling the place.)
I’ve been following this for a while, and this is what I take away:
-DRM – not a fan. Mostly because I don’t trust technology to always work, and I would like the option to have an alternative way to read that DRM’d stuff I bought via B&N. Right now, I don’t. Nook for Mac doesn’t work right, and other readers (including Caliber) won’t let me open the files on my computer. I can *only* read them on my Nook. Meanwhile, the non-DRM’d stuff, i can read on multiple programs. All is good there. I wish publishers would find some other way to flex their muscles on this topic.
-Price of eBooks – meh. They cost what they cost. I’m not owed a lower price for them. No one is making me buy that option. And I don’t require them to survive. Lots of things (tangible and non) are more expensive than I’d like. But I’m just lacking the disposable income to buy buy buy whenever I get the inkling to. Until the DRM thing is done, I won’t buy Nook books via B&N anymore anyways.
-People stealing ebooks – well, gosh you really told ’em, by stealing it didn’t ya? That’ll teach people to want to sell you their creative works. They’ll just have to go back to working in a cubicle like the rest of us schlubs to feed themselves, kinda like musicians. Good job! /sarcasm.
Whoa there myth you denegerated rather quickly to character assassination, just skip the tedicious intermediaries huh? . If anyone claims incorrectly that data doesnt exist there is a pretty easy way to counter that, provide some
Actually there were multiple studies data on the penetration of mp3 downloading across various demographics I’ll see if I can dredge them up
I am also of the opinion that lowering song prices to 99cents decreased piracy significantly, just not worth it at that price point
As far as Jonathan’s reply, there are a lot of people who dont believe it is stealing, who do think it is standing up to a bully, and who fndementallt disagree with you. Pirating is actually not theft bythe legal definition. And this whole society is built on using other peoples works without paying for them, since most everything is in the public domain.
Here is some data, according to this study
52.2% of 8th graders
72.3 % of 11th graders
Have pirated music in their lifetime
Well, since no one firebombed their corporate headquarters and every store in a coordinated attack, I think it’s safe to say that no one thing caused the collapse of Borders. However, Borders was notoriously inept at adapting to digital, insofar as they tried to deal with it through partnering (Amazon for internet sales, Sony for ebooks and readers) rather than innovation and sweat.
That particular PA cartoon has a lot to say and works on a lot of levels:
-Everything Old is New Again
-Marketing Jargon of Tech is Meaningless
-Consumers Are Idiots/Rubes
-Dead-Tree Books Aren’t Dead
-eBooks are Fadish
-Jeremy Melcamp from Borders Is Trying to Keep Up with the Digital Age by Doing NOTHING; and/or:
-Jeremy Melcamp from Borders is Going to Beat the Digital Age by Doing NOTHING
That cartoon was drawn in 2009. Remove the Jeremy Melcamp from Borders reference, and it still works. But here in 2011, with hundreds of Borders stores sitting dark in malls and strip malls across America, his presence in that cartoon is ironic. Or prescient, depending on how you read the cartoon.
Unholyguy, I have a feeling that moral arguments and the simple truth are not going to work with you. I agree with mythago about your nebulous facts. You are just wrong. Your argument lacks support, both from a factual standpoint and a moral one. I will continue to debate this with you because I feel that it is helping me understand the issue for myself.
A pirate may “feel” like they are standing up to a bully, but they are wrong. A bully is someone who uses their superior strength to harm you or force you to do something against your will. A publisher/content creator/etc. is someone that has created or owns the rights to something that you like. They are the opposite of a bully. They are someone that has added something of value to your life and to the world, namely, creative works. The pirate is the bully because they are demanding that work on *their* terms. “They wanted too much for it, so I took it anyway” is not a safe, legal, or morally acceptable position. You can fundamentally disagree with my position, but you are wrong. I will counter every argument you have (within the realm of creative works); if you’re talking about a cure for cancer, I will hold a different position.
Guy, I want you to think about this: what is the consequence of *not* getting that song/book/movie? How does it harm you not to have immediate access to it? The truth is the only “harm” is that you don’t get something that you *want* and/or that you don’t get to enjoy/consume something that someone else does. Getting angry about that is selfish, immature entitlement. Just pay for it so that creative works will continue to created and offered. We all benefit from that situation.
The public domain is great! Yes, culture is built upon consuming, internalizing, mixing and re-mixing other people’s work and ideas – creations – and coming up with new ones that are built upon what came before. We are standing on the shoulders of giants! Does that mean that we should just take what we want and consume it freely when the creator of that work is trying to sell it? Absolutely not. Creative work enters the public domain after a significant period of time, so that the creator/owner has time to make a profit from that work.
Whether you want to call it ‘theft’ or something else, piracy is a violation of someone else’s rights. The violator is subject to civil and criminal action. Morally, it is taking something that is non-essential, a benefit, and denying the rightful owner compensation.
Also, 99 cent downloads may have reduced piracy, maybe not. It’s hard to tell, because if we knew exactly who was taking what and when, those people would have been prosecuted. We do know that 99 cent downloads have resulted in increased sales. It was a business decision to make more money. But people don’t consume books the way that they consume music. And if you really want to think about it in those terms, 99 cents buys you 3 to 4 minutes of content, a George R. R. Martin novel may take 40 hours or more to read, so a fair price for that would be $600, right?
Or maybe you think a book should cost less because it costs less to produce (not true, btw). Well, then the DVD for ‘Juno’ should be way cheaper than the DVD for ‘Titanic’, right? I should be able to go to the theatre and pay much less for a ticket to ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ than I would pay for ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’, right? Or should I just sneak in and watch these movies for free, since I am being bullied by being asked to pay? Ridiculous.
“there are a lot of people who dont believe it is stealing, who do think it is standing up to a bully, and who fndementallt disagree with you.”
That’s nice for them. They’re wrong. Categorically. It is stealing. And who is this bully they think they’re standing up to? Record labels? The RIAA? Fine. Download the song, then send the $1 to the artist (which will actually be a lot more than they make in royalties normally). Go ahead. I’ll be over here. breathing normally.
“Pirating is actually not theft bythe legal definition.”
Oh, wait, you’re serious?
If someone has the exclusive legal right to sell a thing, and you actively acquire it without recompensing that someone, you are engaging in theft. That’s the law as it stands.That we call it “piracy” is just to make it sound more nefarious/cooler.
“And this whole society is built on using other peoples works without paying for them, since most everything is in the public domain.”
You do realize that this is completely irrelevant, given that we are discussing work that is, very specifically, not in the public domain.
Y’know, there’s a technical term for this entire paragraph: rationalization.
Unholyguy, that link you provided supports my arguments much more than it supports yours. Thank you!
I don’t think anyone needs to make the argument that piracy is immoral. We all know that it is. The issue is, what’s the best method for fighting it?
Option A is the company can treat its customers with respect and offer them a high-quality product at a fair price. Most customers will then respect them enough in return not to steal from them.
Option B is to do the opposite of those things and then take legal action against pirates.
Neither option will eradicate piracy. But I believe option A is more effective and more profitable for the company.
The legal definition of Theft has an element of “depriving another person of use” the standard argument is “if I steal your car, you don’t have it anymore”
Theft is legally defined as “the unauthorized taking or use of, with intent to deprive”.
I’m not making an ethical or common use statement. I’m stating that by the current legal definition of theft, piracy does not qualify. This is why we have other laws to prosecute pirates by.
It’s illegal mind you, just not as theft or larceny or burglary. These arguments and precedents go way back to when people used to pirate stud services without paying
My personal, ethical feelings about piracy is that is ethically wrong to consume content created by a person still living without compensating them (assume that the work was created with the intent to be compensated of course). I do not consider piracy as great an ethical infraction as theft because there is no “depriving someone of use” you are hurting one person rather then two.
I also firmly believe our existing IP system is broken beyond belief and exists primarily to benefit large corporations, rather then content producers or consumers. I and am somewhat sympathetic to people that choose to ignore such a broken mess, but stil beloved such action is unethical.
Alpha – In my opinion, companies are giving us Option A. If it wasn’t high quality, who would want to take it? What is considered a fair a price is highly variable amongst consumers, so businesses must price according to their business models and profit expectations. But they must continue with second half of Option B, taking legal action, because some people are pirating their work anyway, and not taking action means that they are agreeing that the work should be free, thereby losing their right and ability to profit from that work.
“Let’s put out a low-quality product and sell it for an unreasonably high price” is probably not a very common business model. It would be pretty hard to make a profit that way. ;-)
Doc, I don’t really beloved ((ethically) in our current concept of public domain. It seems an artificial legal construct created by bought politicians to maximize corporate profit. I think once the producer of the content is dead, the rights should revert to the public. That is my personal opinion on the matter
Jonathan I actually do believe that in most cases the price of a thing should bear a relationship to the cost to produce it. This is not such a heretical belief actually, it’s why we have laws against monopolies and price collusion cartels. In capitalism, you normally see such a relationship develope though competition, new companies are usually wiling to undercut existing ones on price, price naturally moves toward cost over time (I.e. industries get commoditized)
Of course clever business types have over the last hundred years worked very hard on methods to circumvent commodization, which is in my mind not an especially healthy thing for our society as a whole. I have yet to hear a good solution though.
So, unholy guy, to summarise, there is no technology and you have the sort of life which leaves you time to upload extensive details of 400 books.
Many of us have rather more demands on our time, and many of us value not having to sift through vast heaps of garbage to find something enjoyable to read; John provides a valuable resource in the Big Idea and I am grateful to him for doing so. I also value BTL comments, provided, of course, they are comments and not whinges about matters irrelevant to the books themselves.
More generally, I think an obvious point tends to be overlooked; Dear Author is a romance review site. Historically romance books have been a specialist mass produced market; the books have built in obsolescence and are cheap as chips. Trying to extrapolate from this market to the generality of books simply doesn’t work. You have only to look at the Harlequin vanity publishing debacle to realise just how ignorant the romance bloggers were of other markets; they didn’t spot the blindingly obvious point that trashing your own brand is really not a good idea.
Many of the claims about how cutting prices would result in far more sales are akin to advising Christian Dior to cut it’s prices and sell at Walmart; this isn’t driven by rational analysis but by “I want”. “I want” is fine, but it needs to be recognised for what it is; at the moment it’s dressed up as the Emperor’s new suit…
“I think once the producer of the content is dead, the rights should revert to the public.”
Okay, why not? I mean, I think it’s fair for content creators’ heirs to continue to reap a benefit from that work for a time, but we can disagree on that.
However, Public Domain does not entitle to take any particular form of that content without due compensation. Meaning, you can’t just walk into Barnes & Noble and take a copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare without paying for it. You also may not copy, distribute, and or sell copies of that work just because it’s in the public domain.
The same is true for digital files. Someone produced that file, that work. You are not entitled to it. Once a work goes into the public domain, you are allowed to make your own versions of it, including word for word reproductions, distribute and/or sell that newly created work without having to compensate to content creator. I cannot hack a Kindle file, copy the content, and call it original work and sell it, though, even if it contains work that is in the public domain.
Yes, public domain is an artificial legal construct. All laws are. The exist to restrain behavior and to protect others from abuse.
Steve you don’t have to upload details, just scan isbn numbers.I bought a scanner forms iPhone. It took maybe 3-4 hours, I did it over a period of weeks
I like johns big idea posts too though, very valuable
One of the commenters on the dear author blog entry that spawned a lot of this was N K Jemisin by the way, multi hugo and nebula nominee
I do not know if cutting prices would result in more sales, I think prices will fall regardless of the relationship to sales. Cutting prices to 99 cents for the record labels resulted overall in far fewer sales (if you count in albums) .
Actually john as long as we have he right to scan a public domain book we have bought and then make the file freely available, that is good enough for me
Unholyguy, while I don’t necessarily* disagree with you, it’s still not relevant to discussions about what to do with work under copyright protection.
As far as the definition of theft, you’re playing in order to justify behavior. See above about rationalizations. You’re also implying that only material objects can be stolen. In that case, please come over and paint my house. I have all the paint and brushes and such. I’m sure you’ll understand when I decide not to pay you later, since I’m not depriving you of anything material. (Yes, yes, contract law. But that still requires that services are things that can be stolen.)
You’re also suggesting that if you purchase (or steal) music, you’re not receiving (or taking) anything, so long as it’s in the form of computer data. This isn’t so much a legalistic argument as a philosophical one about the value of information. But I think it will take a lot of rationalization to argue that information does not have value. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t want it to buy or steal.
Ugh, my kingdom for either a preview or edit button…
“…you’re playing with semantics in order to justify behavior.”
It’s more then semantics its a matter of degree
Theft and piracy are both wrong because thy hurt another person, however the way they hurt the person is different
The degree to which a crime hurts another person is an important criteria for the degree of “wrongness”.
Even for theft there are a lot of distinctions, cost of the thing stolen, manner n which the theft was perpetrated etc etc
I’m not saying piracy is not wrong, just like you example of breach of contract is not wrong, just saying they are not the same as stealing. The reason why anti piracy people label it as stealing is they are trying to find an emotional hook, it’s a form of manipulation
“I actually do believe that in most cases the price of a thing should bear a relationship to the cost to produce it.”
Believe it all you want, it is simply not true. Monopoly laws and price collusion laws are not at all about keeping prices relative to production or about limiting the amount of profit someone is able to make. The are about keeping the market open, fair, and competitive. It’s about letting consumers decide what a good or service is worth. I’m telling you, if most ebook consumers felt that ebook prices were too high, they would be cheaper, because people wouldn’t buy them.
Publishers setting a floor on the price of ebooks is an attempt to prevent them from unfairly competing with themselves (the physical books). There are some people that will never buy an ebook, no matter how cheap they are. However, there is a fairly large market of people that prefer physical books but would be strongly tempted to purchase an ebook if it was significantly cheaper. So, let’s say the hardcover version of a new release costs $25 and the ebook costs a $1. Many people that would otherwise be willing to pay $25 for their preferred format may be willing to compromise and buy the ebook version instead because of the price. At this point, the publisher has just competed with themselves and lost a significant amount of profit for themselves, their retailers, and authors. Now, let’s say something spectacular happens and that ebook is purchased a billion times. Well, now the publisher has no incentive to publish physical versions of that book. So consumers will lose their ability to choose which version they want. And since the market is the way it is, with ebooks being the exclusive form of that material, the price will go up. People will cry ‘unfair’, the sellers will say ‘too bad’, piracy will continue as it always has and that will be it. We all lose in that scenario. There has to be a floor so that there can be a ceiling, as it were. Unfair competition is harmful to the market.
That’s why I have no problem with ebook prices relative to physical book prices. I’m allowed a choice of formats, each having their own benefits and value, for reasonable prices. It’s more than I deserve and I am grateful.
“Actually john as long as we have he right to scan a public domain book we have bought and then make the file freely available.”
You absolutely and expressly do *not* have that right unless the publisher grants you that right (Creative Commons and the like).
Someone paid to produce that physical book, the asking to be compensated for that. You don’t have the right to copy that work and distribute it. Think about what you are saying.
Jonathan you are aware of price elasticity right? No matter the price, someone will buy anything, similarly if someone wants something bad enough someone will sell it to them. Capitalism is exactly about keeping prices low and quality high. The whole reason we have a capitalist system is the belof that in the end it is the system that is most beneficially to most people.
Cartel pricing circumvents normal market functioning and allows a defacto monopoly to set prices arbitrarily and squash competition, which is bad for everyone but the cartel.
As far as the example you give, in the event that the market is healthy and it is possible to make a profit selling an ebook at $1 then a competitor will rise and do precisely that. The publisher only has two choices in a free market, compete with himself and loose some of the money or do nothing and loose it all. And that is how it should be. Because that is the way the most consumers benefit the most.
Given that people still exist that want hardcovers though, and are willing to pay a premium, someone will still manufacture and sell them.
The legal definition of Theft has an element of “depriving another person of use” the standard argument is “if I steal your car, you don’t have it anymore”
So, wait, your argument is that piracy may be some sort of other illegal behavior, but it’s not precisely theft? That’s your defense? It’s worse than when you were lionizing “data.”
The problem with your scenario is that I, as publisher, have purchased, for a time, from the author the rights publish and sell the physical version and the electronic version of that book. It is in my best interest and in the best interest of the market, the consumer, and fair competition, to ensure that one version is not undercutting sales of the other. If another publisher wants to sell a *different* book for $1, that’s up to them, more power to them. But, I know that my book is valuable in both formats and I am not going to allow Amazon or any other retailer to force me to undercut my own sales in favor of their own proprietary format or for any other reason.
Ok how about if I memorize the public domain book and then read it back into a text to speech converter? Does that make me a theif (:
Actually I can do all of the above legally, just not in the USA. And once the book is OCR’d it can come back into the USA and the original publisher can do nothing.
Yes you have purchased the right to sell, but not necessarily the right to control the price point of a resell, which is what the agency model was quickly adopted, and the doj became involved
The current system of rights management was designed to perpetuate the cartel pricing monopoly and is one of the most broken things about the whole system.
David that is correct, piracy is currently a crime in the us but not classified the same as larceny. It also does not come with anything like the same penalty as actual stealing does.
I am sorry if two things you would like to be the same are not treated that way by law, but thems the breaks
David, I think Unholyguy has realized that his argument that piracy was justifiable behavior of a group being bullied by another group has utterly failed, so he changed his argument to “it’s not as bad as something else”, rather than admit that he was wrong or that he needs to re-think his position. Some people just don’t know how to put forth an argument or defend a postion.
Hang around, Unholyguy, you’ll learn. Critical thinking and (good) argumentation are extremely valuable skills. You’ll get better as you continue to try. However, you must be willing to admit your mistakes and faulty positions as they are pointed out to you or you simply wasting your time, beating the air.
I never said it was justified. I said there are a fair amount of people that believe so, and that I am sympathetic to their beliefs and not willing to take the easy route and call them dirty theives, especially given they represent the majority of the citizenry.
Nice atempt at a straw man Jonathan
I mean I guess if we want to take a simplistic approach we can just label them all criminals, declare a War On Pirates, and try to lock them all up. That has been such a rousing success the last few go rounds. Running out of prison space though, that we will probably need for those dirty hippies that are squatting all over wall street.
Silly me, I thought maybe we could try to actually understand what is happening and draft an approach that might actually you know, work, perish the thought. Possibly take a good hard look at what we are trying to accomplish and how best to accomplish it. There are a lot of ways to organize this whole book thing that would make a ton more sense.
Work in retail for awhile and you will find out exactly how much control and rights a manufacturer/distributor has over the re-sell price of their goods.
I worked for a music store in a small town for awhile. As an example, Yamaha told us that we could not sell a particular model of digital piano for less than x amount. We asked why and the distributor said that Guitar Center, about 50 miles away, normally purchases 10 or more pianos at a time, set up displays, and generally has better throughput than we did. They weren’t willing to harm Guitar Center’s business by allowing us to sell an item at cost or near cost, upsetting their relationship with a good retailer. Guitar Center may decide to stop selling Yamaha products because of that and Yamaha would lose a high volume retail channel in favor of a store that sells 4 or 5 pianos a year. They are entitled to set forth terms in their contracts that protect their business and investments, as do publishers. You are just wrong Guy. The agency model is legal and ethical and, overall, is good for everyone involved. Nobody gets everything they want, but we all benefit from the system (i.e. prices are that high, reasonable profit is made, the wheels of industry keep turning…)
“Straw man”? I hate it when people use that term in an argument. Whatever. I guess I’m wasting my time talking to you then. No problem. I’ll probably keep doing it as I think of things because it’s fun for me (as long as John doesn’t feel the need to wield the mallet of loving correction).
However, Unholyguy, your arguments lack merit. They unsupported by even the facts that you have provided, other than an assent that many young people are engaging in criminal behavior, however it’s labelled. You say the book system doesn’t make sense, but it really does. It’s developed by people whose livelihoods depend on it working.
I understand that you want some things to be cheaper than they are, so do I. I want a lot of things. But getting my way may come with other consequences that I don’t want. ebook pricing does make sense for a lot of reasons outside of what you or others thinks is fair or justifiable. Thankfully, you have other options. You are not being wronged and saying so is wrong.
Jonathan David Ward:
“(as long as John doesn’t feel the need to wield the mallet of loving correction)”
So far, no, but I am wondering whether this is actually going anywhere.
John- My only hope, as a libertarian sort of guy, is that you negotiated a good piece of the action for yourself on ebooks. While it seems on the surface that you ought to be able to charge a relative pittance for ebooks based on no printing costs, tell that to software developers. And of course, no one MAKES me buy a book from them- if I don’t think the first hardcover meets my personal price/value calculation, why then I wait for the paperback… or till I can find it in a used bookstore for less than that.
Whining to an author never occurred to me, for some reason. I like the Baen model, I’ve been doing business online with them for years… and, I suppose, wish other publishing companies might emulate them a bit more, but the market will sort that out. Those same companies want my money, and will eventually figure out a deal I can’t… er, won’t… refuse.
Its not going anywhere anymore John, we have reached the name calling stage. I will go away now. Thanks for the discussion all.
So, now i have to buy a scanner and an i-phone, which I don’t want and don’t need. This is neither cheap nor easy, and it does not bring me any closer to finding the hidden gems in the slushpiles of the self-published. You are clutching at straws…
David that is correct, piracy is currently a crime in the us but not classified the same as larceny. It also does not come with anything like the same penalty as actual stealing does.
Oh, good, I’m glad we cleared that up. The defense “Well, sure, I committed [illegal act] but it’s not as bad as [illegal act 2]” is definitely a winning one.
“So far, no, but I am wondering whether this is actually going anywhere.”
I guess not, too bad. Sorry if I was inappropriate in any way. The truth is that I never really thought about the consequences of my behavior as a young man, now that I’m in my thirties and trying to raise my children to be good people, I can see clearly how selfish entitled behavior can be really harmful for everyone. I also have a better grasp on what it means to earn and what it feels like to receive what I’ve worked for. I’ve learned that my opinions about what’s right and wrong, especially in light how I personally benefit or lose, may not always be in line with the truth or reality.
I would hope that others reading this exchange at least were able to see a different point of view and maybe think about these issues in another way. If not, thanks for letting me use your space to express myself. I really appreciate it.
No worries Jonathan, it was a good discussion and I certainly saw some new points of view. I think many young men don’t think a lot about consequences, I know I certainly didn’t.
Alpha – In my opinion, companies are giving us Option A.
I’m not so sure they are, given that readers are complaining about the prices in droves. We’re not talking about pirates here, but about well-intentioned legitimate customers who read about the book in the Big Idea piece, went to a website to order the book, saw the price and changed their mind. Then came back to the Big Idea piece and posted to complain (which they won’t do anymore since Scalzi has forbidden it, as is his right, since it’s his blog). And it’s not just here that these complaints are occurring. I hear them in all places that readers gather. And as for it being a poor business model, I don’t think the publishing industry is exactly thriving. Last financial statement I looked at, ebook sales were up as a percentage of overall sales, but overall sales were down.
It’s been theorized by some that publishers are intentionally inflating the prices of ebooks in order to slow their adoption and preserve their print business as long as possible, because they have advantages in the print business they want to hang onto (e.g. advantages in distribution–smaller competitors have a hard time getting their product onto the shelves in retail stores). I don’t presume to understand their reasons, but if this theory is correct, then customers (and authors, for that matter) are collateral damage and have every right to cry foul.
The good news is, this situation can’t last forever. If the prices truly are too high, then one of several things will happen. The publishers will lower their prices, or they will go out of business. Or they will become less relevant as smarter competitors eat their lunch. One way or another, the market will fix this problem. But it may be a rocky ride for a few years.
It’s been theorized by some that publishers are intentionally inflating the prices of ebooks
All kinds of wacky things are “theorized by some”. For example, that publishing is a cabal intent on keeping good writers down. The fact that a lot of people theorize it doesn’t mean it should be given credence. At the very best, this is an argument that the publishing industry needs to get more PR out about why it structures e-book prices the way it does, because in a vacuum of information people will speculate.
I’ve watched the cover price of paperbacks move from something I happily paid (out of pocket money), to something painful. It’s reached the point where I seldom buy a book unless it’s deeply discounted or on a bogof. Of course when I started buying books, there was no choice but to pay the cover price (the net pricing agreement, which lapsed in the UK some years back)…
I look at paperbacks which cost 8/9/10 GBP (circa 12-15 USD), and increasingly feel that I can’t afford to buy them on impulse anymore. That’s surely bad news for the publishers?
I started buying ebooks from Baen, when I realised they quite often sell them direct, at a discount on the dollar price. While, generally speaking, for paper imports we pay pounds for dollars (or more).
So price got me reading ebooks. Price and portability keep me reading them. Portability on it’s own might not.
Alpha, sagging sales numbers is a multi-industry problem right now. It’s the state of economics right now. Non-essential goods and services are being cut-back. Not my industry, by the way, I’m technical writer for one of the largest wineries in the world. We’re doing pretty well. However, music, movies, books, etc are not seeing the growth that they once did. Hopefully, it will return.
It’s hard to speculate, well it’s easy to speculate, but hard to be right. I would guess that the people that object to the price of an ebook probably won’t buy the hardcover for the same reason, the price is too high. Otherwise, why come back and complain about the price of an ebook when you have the choice to buy a hardcover? It may be that they have a low esteem for literature in general and only want it if it’s cheap. Since ebook sales are up, I would say that the publishers have made a good call in pricing them the way they have.
Now, if all the publishers got together and set a minimum price by which all ebooks must be sold, we would have a problem. As it stands now, each publisher has their own agreements with the various retailers and ebooks are available at many different price points.
It only looks like people are complaining in droves because, as a general rule, people don’t come back say, “Wow, what a great price. Thanks!” nor would it sound good to an author to hear “I bought your book because it was such a bargain!” I don’t think your theory will bear out, but we will see. Of course I would appreciate it if ebook prices would come down. Just like I would appreciate it gas prices came down or LCD televisions or iPhones or anything else that I enjoy.
There are so many reasons why anything is priced the way it is, but that doesn’t mean there’s some conspiracy behind it.
Low esteem for literature may be going too far, sorry. I’m sure that there are many people that appreciate literature but simply can’t afford hardcovers, paperbacks, and such, and were looking for a cheaper alternative in ebooks and are disappointed. ebooks, in general, are cheaper than physical books, but I guess still not cheap enough, especially considering the cost of the e-reader device. I’m really sorry that others cannot afford to make the choices that I can and I wish that I could afford to make the choices that other people can, but it’s just not so.
JDWard: you are certainly permitted to buy, scan, and post on the Internet a public-domain book; but you have a little trouble buying it since it will have been published quite a long time ago. In the EU, the author needs to have been dead seventy years, and the actual edition that you’re picking up needs to be at least 25 years old (for the copyright in the typographical arrangement to have expired); in the UK there seems to be something slightly more complicated going on.
Not an insurmountable lot of trouble: antiquarian book-sellers exist, and I believe that is the precise process that produces most of the books on Project Gutenberg.
I don’t particularly feel like investing the time to argue about it with you since you seem to take the approach of drowning out opposing viewpoints through prolific posting but could you please cut the copyright discussion? About half of your dozen or two posts contain factually incorrect information about copyright and public domain or claims which are contrary to research regarding piracy. Invest the time to understand the concept if you need to bloviate about it on the internet rather than just fountaining opinion as if it were fact.
I write for the UK and Australian branches of a big publisher (Hachette) and their staff lean over backwards to help individual readers having problems, as well as deal with the mega-issues. Believe me, they care about readers at every level.
For all their supposed faults at least the Big 6 spend time on the editing process of any book that they publish. I have read self published books which could have been improved with a good copy edit in addition to running the Word document through spell check first. When I hear self-publisher’s complain about the big 6 lack of publishing expertise I want to say “fine, if you think you can do it better than the evil N.Y. publishers, please, do your readers a favor and at least hire a proof reader for your manuscript.”
“I don’t particularly feel like investing the time to argue about it with you since you seem to take the approach of drowning out opposing viewpoints through prolific posting but could you please cut the copyright discussion?” – Beth
I’m sorry that you feel that way, but your entire sentence is wrong, in every claim that it makes. Saying that you don’t want to invest time to argue, but then do a hit-and-run “you’re wrong” comment is pretty cheap. I have invested the time and I do know what I’m talking about, if you have a different opinion and other facts to bear that may change my mind or open up other avenues, I’d love to hear it. Either hear or on my own blog.
Oops. That last “hear” should be “here”.
Tom Womack – I was talking about buying a recently published book contained Public Domain work, like the ones you can get at Barnes & Noble, i.e. Jane Austen or Shakespeare, etc. I was also envisoning the person simply scanning the document into a PDF image and reposting it. I didn’t consider using OCR to import the words. Seems like a lot of work and I have no idea about the legallity of that. But making direct copies of printed material without permission is a, literal, violation of copyright.
Sorry for being a latecomer here, and I realize what I’m saying is not particularly original, but…I do think that Jonathan David Ward’s “thieves are thieves” line deserves (what I hope is) a thoughtful rebuttal, which I don’t think it received.
David dismisses unholyguy’s distinction between piracy and theft as “I committed [illegal act] but it’s not as bad as [illegal act 2]”, and as long as we’re talking about legality, that’s fine, as far as it goes. I do wonder, though, given the implication of David’s line if he really believes “I committed jaywalking but it’s not as bad as murder” is not, in fact, a sensible thing to say.
But much of the discussion here has been about morality, so I’d like to offer my tale….
I was a middle class kid — when I went to college, my parents paid for my tuition and room & board — everything I needed to keep body and soul together. If I wanted to buy anything else, well, that came from my own money. I worked a succession of work-study and part-time jobs in the local community for that money, but my focus was, in fact, on my studies, so I had relatively little disposable income.
Now at the time, those halcyon days of the late ’80s and early ’90s, on-campus housing was a paradise of high-speed data (note, I say data, not internet — you see kids, there was a time…oh, forget it. And get off my lawn). We had 19,200 baud digital connections in every dorm room on our IBM ROLM phones (a serial port, right on the back of the phone — no modem required!). 19,200!!! For the kids out there, that means 0.0192 Mbps (at best — I don’t know how much error correction or other overhead was built into the protocol). This was INSANELY FAST. Given that the particular college I was at was Virginia Tech, it was a freakin’ hotbed of software piracy.
Now, given that I did not have much disposable income, I pirated a lot of games. A lot. Like, lots and lots of games. I didn’t feel bad about it, either.
Here’s the thing — those were not lost sales. I did not have the money to buy games. Now, I understand the argument that this is an entitled position to take, but I as far as I can tell this is simply based on a puritanical ethos which says that suffering is good for the soul. The fact is that I was not even following games in the media (such as it was) at the time. I would not even have been aware that The Dark Heart of Uukrul existed, had I not been pirating games at the time. I submit that absolutely nobody was harmed by my pirating it.
There were exceptions, certainly. My pirated copy of Sid Meier’s Civilization will have a lot of explaining to do to my sophomore year’s GPA, come Judgement Day. Of course, once the school year was over I took my first paycheck from my summer job right down to my local Egghead Software to buy a copy. Okay, that’s not true, I cashed the check first.
I’m not trying to hold myself up as a paragon of virtue, neither am I saying that every pirate is simply a frustrated consumer who cannot get a “fair price”. I’m absolutely certain that there were, in fact, people at Tech who downloaded Civilization, loved it, thought it was worth $30 (if memory serves, the going rate for computer games at the time — might have been $40), and were happy to have the opportunity to pirate it rather than pay for it. Here’s the thing — all these things are true. I’m trying to say the world is more interesting than “thieves are thieves”.
Honestly, now — what virtue would have been served by my not playing The Dark Heart of Uukrul in college? Keep in mind that if whoever owns the rights to that game now would put it up for sale on Steam or Good Old Games, I’d snap it up in a second, for nostalgia.
20 years later, I don’t pirate anything — movies, music, games, books — nada. And I buy a lot (well, not music, much to my brother’s dismay, but that’s just because I’ve lost interest — I don’t pirate it either).
So, what does this have to do with ebooks? Hell, I don’t know. I’ve been reading ebooks since my days at Tech — not knowing at the time that Project Gutenberg was older than me. I’ve been buying them since the last century (Amazon really didn’t invent this business).
“Thieves are thieves” is simply a tautology and is just as interesting as every other example of such.
And now I consign this post to the mercies of the internets, unable to preview my HTML….
“Thieves are not customers.” That was the point of the “thieves are thieves” snippet. The context of that comment was that sellers shouldn’t reduce their prices in order to canter to people that are willing to ‘steal’ (take without paying) from them. It was a tautology, sure, but not meaningless. Sorry you didn’t find it interesting. :-)
As far as entitlement goes: you valued those games, but you couldn’t or didn’t want to pay for them, so you took them. They weren’t created for you to take, they were created for you to buy. No, they weren’t lost sales because “a thief is a thief” you were not going to pay for those games, you simply lacked the self-control not to take them. You think not having them, not playing them is “suffering”. That is “entitlement issues” in a nutshell. I like it, I want it, therefore it must be mine.
Where does one draw the line? What’s okay to take instead of paying, and what isn’t? Who decides? That’s the harm of piracy, to you, to me, to content creators, to everyone. If it is simply winked at, not taken seriously, not called “wrong”, eventually more and more people will do it and not “feel bad about it”. This, in turn, de-values these creations. It reduces the motivation of creators, publishers, record labels, etc. to take the huge risk of spending thousands of dollars to develop and bring a creative work (game, book, song, movie, etc.) to market. (That “fair price” thing is an impossible chase. “Fair” always seems to resolve to some amount less than the selling price.) Culture suffers, the economy suffers… it’s really not good. You might say that hyperbole, that situation would never happen. That’s because most people, puritans and non-puritans alike, know that it’s wrong to enjoy the fruit of someone else’s work without giving them their reward.
I’m not saying that you harmed anybody by pirating, you probably didn’t. As you said, you weren’t going to buy those games anyway (except for Civilization…did all the other games just suck?). However, saying that piracy is okay, justified because you can’t afford the asking price or any other reason, is very harmful. It’s much more harmful than any one individual pirating games. In my opinion.
Thanks for the reply — really! I thought no one would read my comment 3 days after the last one so I really do appreciate your attention and thoughtful reply. But! I shan’t give up the metaphorical battle just yet! I hope, during the course of this comment to bend it back toward ebooks.
So, first: You think not having them, not playing them is “suffering”. That is “entitlement issues” in a nutshell. I like it, I want it, therefore it must be mine.
Well, to be fair, I don’t actually think that not having those games was suffering. I think that puritanical belief structures valorize suffering and it leads to attitudes that claim that anyone getting any enjoyment anywhere without a proper accounting is sinful. Which leads me to you simply lacked the self-control not to take them. Well, that’s one interpretation. Another would be that I saw no harm in taking them. And if there is no harm to anyone, why not take them? I really am interested in your response to this question — if you concede that I didn’t hurt anyone (which is the reason that the analogy between theft and piracy is a bad one), why is it bad?
My real issue with what you say can be summed up with “Thieves are not customers.” I’m living proof that this is demonstrably untrue. My point is that things are more complicated than that. Yes, I agree that there are some people who believe in the whole “information wants to be free” nonsense and will climb up the spars and bare their cutlasses when any protected content comes in sight. But, by your lights, I was a thief, and now (by anyone’s lights) I am a customer.
On the whole, I think that most people who appreciate content (whether it’s music, books, or computer games) actually appreciate the people who make that content — that they want them to be fairly compensated for their work. Yes, yes, yes — again, there are going to be people who abuse the system or who outright pirate work. The question is — is this really the gigantic problem that the Big 6/RIAA/MPAA/ESA want us to believe it is?
Finally, Where does one draw the line? Well, harming others seems like a pretty good place to me. People pirating stuff just because they want free stuff is a bad thing. I think we can agree on that. If Warren Buffett’s iPod is full of pirated songs, I think we can agree again — that’s bad. On the other hand, a kid downloading a copy of “Imagine” because it makes her feel good and her parents won’t give her access to the iTunes account? Is this really evidence of a horrible lack of moral fiber, or rather a recognition that the rest of the world will, in fact, be essentially the same whether she downloads it or not?
Finally finally — no, the other games didn’t all suck :) Civilization is the one that sticks in my mind because it really did dominate my life for a while — if there was multiplayer, I swear my roommate and I would not have graduated — damn it, now I want to go and play Civ V. There were others I “stole” and then paid for.
But, dammit, I really wish that someone would give me the option to pay for The Dark Heart of Uukrul (for non-gamers — not a terribly successful game, gone from shelves by the time I could buy it, but it had some really cool, innovative ideas).
The problem with the ‘I used to be a thief but now I’m a customer’ line is that if everyone else had followed your practise there would be nothing for you to be a customer of now.
That makes you a parasite relying on your host- ie. the people who don’t feel entitled to have whatever they want- and there are inbuilt limitations on how many parasites an organism can survive…
Since we’re using words like ‘thief’ and ‘parasite,” I’ll just pop in to say let’s make sure we’re talking about these things in a general sense and not using the words to stab at people personally.
FYI, just in case anyone is still following, and as an aside from the piracy debate
This is what thinking of your readers like customers looks like, and this is what the big six are competing with.
Heh, now, I think I’m writing for posterity — SAVE THE LEMURS YOU DON’T KNOW HOW IMPORTANT THEY ARE…..
Ahem, anyway Scalzi, I for one never felt the word “thief” was being used personally — rather to describe behavior. I suppose that depending on one’s definition I was a thief of software…I don’t have a problem with someone calling me that — I would just like to challenge the moral (as opposed to legal) ideas that lead them to their condemnation.
In any case, I would really love to see Jonathan’s reply — but because of the facts of blog reading, I don’t expect to. (Note, that was really not snarky — If I don’t see a new comment on a post I’m interested in for x amount of time, it goes into the memory hole — it’s the only way to remain sane in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours — I recognize the fact that because of the way I read blogs, I’m regularly 2-n days behind the times. This is probably a good thing as regards political threads)
Anyway…Stevie — that’s a pretty simplistic view of the world. I think we both recognize that there are shoplifters out there, but they, somehow, have not destroyed the entire idea of retail. You’re envisioning a world where everyone, at the same time, decides that they’re not interested in paying money for a product. That might happen sometime, somewhere, but it’s not happened in the real world — ever — so I’m not going to lose too much sleep over it in the here and now.