pain.jpgNotice anything missing in the publisher press releases about their ‘victory’ in the Amazon/Macmillan battle?

John Scalzi writes to other authors. John Sargent is writing to ‘authors, illustrators and literary agents.’ Rupert Murdoch is speaking directly about his own bottom line.

What all of these seeming insiders are forgetting though is that without the paying customer, there would not be a bottom line! Authors, absent a paying audience, would be sticking it in a drawer like Emily Dickinson did, writing for their own personal satisfaction.

Where is the voice of the customer in all of this? What are they doing to try and make things better for themselves?

On forums such as Mobileread, this blog and elsewhere, customers are mobilizing and trying to advocate for themselves. The book review blog Dear Author is hosting a survey for ebook readers which it plans to take to an upcoming conference, this blog continues to serve as an aggregator for news relating to the Great Price War of 2010, and readers at Mobileread are organizing initiatives such as a boycott on all $15 books, and an interesting campaign to catch author and agent attention by deluging offending books with 1-star reviews.

And what has the response been? Plaintive replies, in every venue, about how these attempts to mobilize the reading community ‘hurt authors’ and we should just accept that there are aspects to doing business that we don’t understand and our only option is to shut up and pay.

To that, I say nonsense, and—this is going to be an unpopular opinion, but it needs to be said—maybe ‘hurting’ the authors is what we actually need to do for awhile. I don’t mean ‘hurt’ them through piracy or anything ridiculous like that. But we have to get someone to see that this fear of all things digital is costing authors actual sales from people who want to spend legitimate money. If a spate of 1-star Amazon reviews is what it will take to send panicked authors running to their agents and publishers demanding change for us, I say Power to the People.

I’ve written to retailers, to publishers, and to authors themselves about things like geographical restrictions preventing me from buying a book I wanted to pay for, or being unable to buy a series because it was only available from book 2 onward and I couldn’t find book 1. Responses ranged from outright ignoring at worst to polite ‘thanks for letting us know, too bad that’s not my responsibility and I can’t really help you.’

Nobody seems to care about how the customers are feeling, and how sad they are—for themselves, deprived of books, and for the authors too, whom they would read, whom they would support, whom they would generate profit for if only someone would let them.

All our efforts to advocate for ourselves have been in vain—nobody is noticing the letters, the blog posts, the veritable shouting from the internet rooftops begging someone to help us out, or if they can’t, then tell us whom we can write to who actually can help us. But judging from the angry responses to the thread at Mobileread, people are noticing the 1-star reviews!

Does it hurt authors? Maybe. I think an intelligent book-buyer could see at a glance where the 1 star is coming from and judge for themselves if they’re really going to cost an author a sale over it, so I am not sure how much bottom-line pain an action such as this would cost.

But it would certainly be less than what they are losing now to people who want to buy legitimate e-books and are prevented from doing so. All I know is, complaining from readers hasn’t gotten us anywhere yet. Maybe the pressure of authors at last mobilized to help us finally will.

Note to new readers: Welcome! Please note that first-time comments go into a moderation queue, and some posts may be caught by our spamtrap. However, we check for moderated posts and spam false positives frequently. Please don’t double-post!


  1. Actually, if readers simply developed better literary tastes the authors that currently have the power to do something would feel the heat. The bottom line is that DAn Brown, Stephen King, James Patterson (anyone read the New York Times Sunday Magazine article about his $500 million novel factory?), John Scalzi, and the like, aren’t particularly great authors. Their books will not stand the test of time. So if ebookers simply became more discriminating, the Scalzis of the world would soon recognize who butters their bread. :)

  2. Nobody has said what I’ve been thinking since I started hearing the authors complaining about this.. your article is the closest.

    If the authors are hurt by the actions of their publishers, then maybe they will look to sign on with publishers who are not so consumer and e-book hostile.

    It’s happening in the music business, and it will happen in the book business. Publishers are becoming obsolete, and they are desperately trying to hang onto their business model.

    And authors are playing right along with them, thinking the publishers are “protecting” them. The publishers don’t care about the authors or the consumers. They only care about their bottom line.

    Authors, listen up. If this issue with Amazon is costing you sales, take a good hard look at who and why it is happening. The blame falls on many sides, but your publisher is NOT doing this for you. Find a smaller publisher (if you think you need one) that will protect your rights AND look out for you, while being progressive enough to see the changes coming.

  3. Book publishers = Just another bunch of dinosaurs failing to adapt to the times. (see RIAA and MPAA for further reference)

    I think that they are scared. Amazon will now directly market for an author with a 70/30 split (that is 70 percent for the author and 30 percent for Amazon). How much does the typical author make from the typical publishing house? I know that it is hard, right now, for an unknown author to make it on their own but it’s getting easier every day.

  4. Not once in this entire discussion have I read of one publisher or author that was interested in improving ebooks. Instead they apparently just slap the rough draft of books (full of typos, misspellings, and poor formatting) into ebooks and complain that we the ebook customers are devaluing their books by not paying enough for them.

  5. A number of false assumptions here. The major one is that authors have any control over any of this. We don’t. In the publishing food chain, authors have the least power and the most to lose. Authors have less power over the conglomerates than the average fast food worker has over McDonalds.

    Authors are also the scapegoats. If a book has a bad cover/blurb/marketing/distribution which the author can’t control, and the book has poor sales, it’s the author’s fault.

    Authors also have the most to lose. Publishers/distributors/agents have other books to improve the bottom line. Authors do not.

    Another false assumption is that hurting the author will improve things for the reader. Writers write books; readers read them. If you take the author out of the equation, you take book out of the equation. Boycott or steal the books you like to read, and more of those books won’t be written.

    What readers need is a healthy publishing ecosystem, and destroying any element of that system isn’t the answer.

    The last false assumption is that the publishers aren’t listening. They are. The trade press and blogs are full of the readers’ reactions. Readers might not get exactly what they want, but they are being listened to.

  6. @ Marilynn Byerly

    If ebook readers were being listened to when they asked for better ebooks, more titles, fair prices and so much else, they wouldn’t be so on the edge about this. It wasn’t the Amazon/Macmillan thing that lead to readers outrage, that was merely the tipping point. Ebook readers have been largely ignored by both publishers and authors for way too long. Macmillan is just reaping what it sowed by treating ebook buyers as lesser customers.

    As for the authors I’m truly sorry that they’re losing sales, and i don’t think they should be punished. But may this be a wake up call that they and their publishers should start paying more attention to ebook buyers out there.

  7. Marilyn,

    “A number of false assumptions here. The major one is that authors have any control over any of this. We don’t.”

    Two reactions. First is that many authors — and author organizations such as the SFWA — have taken anti-consumer actions and written blog posts supportive of the publishers’ actions. Some of them with very sarcastic and snide responses to those of us with different opinions.

    Second is: *Take* control. Fight for your digital rights with terms that are favorable to you, or consider self-publishing. Your fans will follow you.

    Ficbot has said what many of us are thinking right now, and said it well IMHO.

  8. How are the authors ignoring the ebook readers? They write books. The publishers decide how those get distributed, not the authors. Really, the authors are the scapegoats. Publishers are driven by money, plain and simple. They sell books that people, you know, actually BUY. So, if Dan Brown sells lots of books, who are the publishers going to publish a second time? Right, the author who actually sold the most books, in any format.

    Honestly, this is like getting mad at musicians for how Ticketmaster charges for tickets!

  9. Cat Valente has the very best response to all the idiots out there who think publishing companies are obsolete and writers would be better off without them. Is that really what ebook readers want, a market saturated with unedited, lame, amateurish selfpubbed crap that would never have made it out of the slush pile? Do we want quality work by professionals, or do we all just want to buy mountains and mountains of slush?

    To the original poster, dude, really, use some of that money $10 ebooks are saving you and buy a clue. How is flooding Amazon listings with one-star “reviews” anything other than infantile, petulant idiocy? How will that actually accomplish anything in the way of bringing publishers and Amazon around to agreement on fair ebook pricing? If you want to be intelligent, just keep to the policy of not buying anything you think is too pricey. No one ever said you didn’t have the right to do that.

  10. Thiago, what exactly do you want authors to *do* to “pay[] more attention to ebook buyers”? Like Marilynn Byerly pointed out, most of the issues being talked about here are fights between publishers and distributors. Authors are watching on the sidelines, trying to figure out how this is going to affect them, but it’s not like they have the market power to demand changes for themselves or on behalf of readers. (with potential exceptions for Dan Brown, James Patterson and J.K. Rowling).

    And what do you want them to demand, even if they could demand something? That their publishers cede pricing control to distributors? (Because that’s worked so well for the companies that supply Wal-Mart). Or just that they demand the publishers coordinate lower prices (which is [a] liable to be an anti-trust violation, and [b] sort of a bizarre demand, given how authors are paid, and yes, I think it’s a good idea to keep paying authors of writing books we enjoy reading). What am I missing? Help me out here.

  11. The error in your reasoning, in my opinion, goes something like this:

    The value of a book, like the value of a home, is not simply a function of the cost to produce it. Take the price of hard-cover vs. soft-cover books – the difference is NOT due to it being that much less expensive to produce the soft-cover version. The difference is due to the time lag and (presumably) fall in demand that a book experiences after its release.

    From the publisher (and in many cases the author) perspective, the price of a book should be driven by the combination of demand/quality/popularity of the content. The price of a book, like the price of many other products we consume, is not a function of the manufacturing or distribution cost. It is a function of demand for that produce.

    And that is what publishers are trying to (re)establish.

  12. The authors aren’t the ones causing this shitstorm. How about acknowledging that the assholes here are Amazon and Macmillian, not the authors who are trying to get their work published at a fair price? Not one affected author — not ONE — wants to fuck over their customers.

    Direct your rage where it belongs, why not?

  13. Bill: First is that many authors — and author organizations such as the SFWA — have taken anti-consumer actions and written blog posts supportive of the publishers’ actions.

    Talk about distortion; this one is Fox News-worthy. All SFWA has done is removed Amazon links from their site and replaced them with links that will actually make it possible for consumers to get the books that Amazon has presently delisted. So how is it an “anti-consumer action” to make it possible, rather than impossible, for a consumer to buy a book? Unless, of course, said consumer is a Kindle owner, and has apparently absorbed the inflated sense of entitlement that seems to have become a natural by-product of having bought one of those ugly things in the first place.

  14. E-books are still such a tiny part of the market that it IS going to take time (and a larger market share) before readers’ voices are heeded on these issues. Publishing is a business, and adjusting any business to encompass emerging markets while still tending to existing markets is going to have some growing pains, some trial and error, and some head-bangingly bad decisions.

    But authors have as little voice as readers do on these issues, so expecting them to fix the problem is unrealistic. A few top-rank authors can dictate terms to their publishers and pick and choose where they publish, but even they have issues to consider other than the relatively small e-book market. Most authors can’t do anything except express their opinions, and many authors are saying that they want their books available in e-formats, for whatever that’s worth. In my experience, authors care a lot more about their readers than publishers or retailers do.

    As the digital book market grows, it will get more attention. As readers show their preference for certain KINDS of e-books, by buying the ones that best meet their needs, that will start to shape the market. It seems horribly slow, but look back on what happened with music — in retrospect, the digital downloading of MP3s became a huge part of the market very quickly, and without replacing CDs for those who prefer them.

    Refusing to buy, especially e-books, just reinforces the view that the digital part of publishing is too small to matter, and that print publishing is where the real money is.

  15. Being listened to and getting your own way are not the same thing, as any parent of a tantruming child will tell you.

    Publishers and retailers are engaged in a battle over profits in an age of changing technologies, but authors (who wield little to no power and rarely make a living wage in their chosen profession) are the civilian casualties. Attacking them will accomplish nothing.

  16. The authors were the first ones to get hurt in this entire mess. Instead of continuing negotiations with MacMillan behind closed doors like true professionals should, it was Amazon that decided to delist the authors’ books without any warning in a broad-stroked move that actually is most likely hurting many authors’ ability to make a living from their works – both good authors and “bad.”

    Amazon is still moving MacMillan authors’ products, just in a way to make sure that *they* make profit at the expense of someone else’s intellectual property. As noted above, authors do not have any say-so about distribution chains and final pricing, even with small presses. They hardly even have a say over it when they self publish! Amazon dragged the authors into this immediately, however, displaying their own dubious market ethics and punishing precisely the kind of people who are most at stake, yet the least likely to be of any influence at the negotiation table.

    If you care at all about books (which, I’m guessing you do or you wouldn’t have written this bit of nonsense), you would understand that there would be no books without authors or publishers. Good and bad books will persist whether Amazon or eBooks were here or not. Consider this when you’re trying to pick sides in this thing.

  17. First, most of the expositions of the cost of publishing an ebook that I have seen are utterly without a clue. It is, of course, possible for a text-only book to be fed into a conversion program (like Amazon’s DTP site) and come out as an ebook.

    Doing that, though, guarantees that most of the books will be much less entertaining or useful than they should be. There’s a lot more work that goes into preparing a draft manuscript for publication than that, if you want a half-way decent book. (I’ve posted on exactly what and how much elsewhere, as I am wont to do, but if there’s interest, I could do it again here.)

    Second, there’s only one determinant of a fair price: when the buyer and the seller are both willing to make the transaction. Fair is not a function of cost — which is why loss-leaders are fair, for example. If you don’t think e-books are worth what publishers feel they must have in order to make the books profitable — don’t buy them. (Note: piracy is NOT fair in that situation, but boycotts are.)

  18. @ Network Geek

    Given the online presence of authors like Scalzi and others, one would expect them to be at least not so surprised as they seem to be by the anger from ebook readers (since that anger is not at all new, it only surfaced now), which indicates that so far they couldn’t care less about the experience most ebook readers had finding, buying and reading their work in electronic format.

    Besides that, many authors, either writing on their own blogs or commenting other blog entries, were quick to point out how Sargent’s letter promised variable pricing and that eventually, if only we waited, the prices would drop, showing complete ignorance of how Macmillan has dealt with variable pricing so far on Fictionwise, which works under an agency model like the one they want push Amazon into, and where most ebooks with already released paperbacks are priced higher than their paperbacks.

    So yes, authors have been ignoring ebook readers, which is probably because at this point they don’t mean much in financial terms for most authors. But if there’s nothing they can do (and I’ll agree there probably isn’t much), at least they could try to understand and sympathize with these readers problems, instead of giving them the same old company talk we’re getting from Macmillan.

  19. I read eBooks, and I enjoy being able to carry a small library around with me.

    That said. I do agree with pretty much all the authors comments I have seen, so far.

    Firstly, why does no-one complain about the high price of hardback books? Why does no-one boycott them and give bad reviews? Because everyone knows that eventually there will be a paperback and it will be cheaper. The price plan Macmillan proposed mimics that. Buy the eBook now – pay $15, wait a while – pay $6.

    Am I the only person who thinks that making the eBook market resemble the rest of the publishing industry is a good idea?

    Secondly, hurting the authors means that the authors are going to become disillusioned and they are going to stop writing. That does not help the reading public. The books are not going to be available in any format.

    If you don’t like what Macmillan or Amazon are doing, tell them. They can do something about it authors can’t.

  20. “All our efforts to advocate for ourselves have been in vain—nobody is noticing the letters, the blog posts, the veritable shouting from the internet rooftops begging someone to help us out, or if they can’t, then tell us whom we can write to who actually can help us.”

    Did you, perhaps, consider the possibility that this is because all of the letters, the blog echoing, the ‘shouting from the internet rooftops’ is just *noise* in the overall picture? That the people kicking up a storm out of this are a vocal but small group that would not significantly affect sales if they all deliberately boycotted Amazon and Macmillian, and that the majority of book purchasers accept things as they are?

  21. “Honestly, this is like getting mad at musicians for how Ticketmaster charges for tickets!”

    Actually, the petulance of the authors is a lot like musicians bitching at fans considering a Ticketmaster boycott.

    “You can’t boycott MacMillan/Ticketmaster! That will hurt authors/musicians!” It’s not the readers’ fault you have wedded your fates to a company they don’t like.

    “How about acknowledging that the assholes here are Amazon and Macmillian [sic], not the authors who are trying to get their work published at a fair price?”

    The authors won’t acknowledge that, so why should we? As far as the authors are concerned, ONLY AMAZON is at fault for the dispute, and everyone should hate Amazon. The authors won’t acknowledge MacMillan’s responsibility because they are the lackeys of MacMillan. Well, fine – if you’re going to be the lackeys of MacMillan, we’re going to TREAT YOU like the lackeys of MacMillan.

  22. @ Plain

    I don’t want nor do I demand that they do anything. I don’t think there’s anything they could do about the lousy state of the ebook market.

    I just wish they’d stop giving everyone the same talk we’re getting from Macmillan… they’ve all talked about how in the end Macmillan’s deal will be better for everyone, including consumers, and that if we only wait ebook prices will drop from 14.99 to even lower than 9.99. Ebook readers have been there, done that with Macmillan (and other publishers) for years now, and their experience all this time is far from the one authors are painting.

    I want them to hear to what ebook readers are saying, to the concerns being expressed instead of just ignoring all that as they’ve been doing for years.

  23. No books without authors or publishers? Well yeah, without authors, no books. Without publishers, nonsense.

    And rather than call people “idiots” (Martin, I’m looking at you) when you disagree with their opinion, how about a reasonable discussion.

    I say again, authors do have a choice, ultimately. If you choose to use a publisher, choose one that isn’t going to do bad things (be “evil”). If you choose a publisher that does bad things to consumers, don’t be surprised if you get caught up in the storm. Remember, those publishers don’t care about you… just the dollars you bring in.

  24. The authors are and will get hurt in publisher/distributor wats. Tha Amazon/MacMillan tussle surely has hurt their writers. But to say that authors have no say or play no role in publishing decisiona is to cast the blame on others but not yourselvs.

    If writers love their books, then fight for them. Fight to get them in well-done ebook formats, and priced intelligently so that they will sell. (Pricing an ebook at or very close to a paperbook is an insult to intelligent people and is NOT FAIR.) So, writers, you need to complain to your publishers, or you will continue to suffer the fallout by angry customers- and we won’t accept- “It was someone else’s job.” Passing the buck won’t work and will cost you money.

  25. I am an author and an ebook enthusiast. I understand the concern and anger, and the arguments made are in many cases perfectly logical and understandable, but the problem is that many readers simply have no idea how commercial publishing works. Nobody does until they actually are commercially published. (Hint: is is extremely unglamorous.) The suggestions are perfectly logical, but unfortunately the workings of commercial publishing are not based on logic. However, at this time it is the best system for authors to get their books into the hands of readers.

    Until ebooks become way more prominent than they are (and I hope they do!), change will be incremental. There are good reasons for this that are transparent to the public. I personally see the agency model as a huge change that in the long run will work out really well for all parties, except perhaps Amazon in its quest for world dominance. (And don’t think their resistance to the agency model is anything else. I don’t hold that against them–they are simply acting as a business–but that is what is going on. There is way more to it than simple consumer pricing.)

    Also, I think consumer rage is premature until we see how the dynamic pricing is implemented. It might end up being better than it is now. MMPBs that are priced at $9.99 on Amazon might end up being $5.99.

  26. Coming to Teleread from a country where eReaders & ebooks are virtually unknown one would hope for some insight into this. Instead I get this waste of pixels. Starting to wonder if owning a Kindle doesn’t lead to a softening of the brain. Ah well at least these curious characters are a perfect example of late western man, totally self absorbed, wanking away in their basements while devouring the stolen goods produced by others. History of the west really.

  27. Let’s all agree that there are idiots and wrong-headed loud mouths on all sides of the issue. Don’t blame everyone else who is an author/reader/publisher, etc. for what a few people say.

    Many of us are trying to have a civil discussion. At those places where the person in charge of the blog or whatever is being a jerk, leave to save your blood pressure and your time.

    Send people to places like Teleread where you are, at least, heard.

    As to authors picking the right kind of publishers, let me give you this scenario. A big publisher wants to buy your book. He will give you great distribution in all the bookstores in paper and will pay you a nice advance on your royalties. However, if you don’t give him your ebook rights the deal is off.

    eBook rights these days are worth almost nothing in comparison to paper rights. So it’s a bunch of bucks and a major boost to your career on one hand and next to nothing on the other?

    That is literally the choice an author has about ebook rights if they want to sell their book to any major publisher in the US.

    Another thing no one is talking about is supporting the authors and publishers who are giving ebook readers exactly what they want. My publishers, who are known for their quality product, all sell books way under $9.99 with no DRM and multiformat, but I’ve not heard from any of them that sales are skyrocketing. My sales are steady, but I’m not seeing a huge spike because my books don’t have DRM, are reasonably priced, are available in English all over the world. No other author I know has.

    You don’t have to buy my books, guys, but, at least support the publishers who are giving you what you want.

  28. Wow, I disagree with most of that. I wrote up something earlier about this whole mess, and honestly? I think that a lot of the blame lies with Macmillan and Amazon for this one, with Amazon far more at fault. The publishers have whatever right they want to sell their products (that’s right, books are products) at whatever rate that they care to value them at. It makes sense to sell an e-book for a little cheaper, I think, but I don’t believe that should reduce the value at a loss for the publishers and then the authors, simply to drive sales to the Kindle device.
    The authors? Well, they’re pretty helpless here, because they depend on the publishers to put together a good product that people want to buy, and they don’t make much off of each book sale anyway. In punishing a publisher, has incurred some collateral damage.

    My post:

  29. The real problem is that it is extremely labor-intensive to produce a well-written book. So in order for authors to make a reasonable amount of money for their efforts, they have to sell a lot of books… or prices and margins must be high…or both.

    The second part of the problem is that there aren’t enough book buyers to support the number of books produced. Yes, many book buyers purchase more titles than they are able to read, but even so, there isn’t enough demand to fairly compensate all authors who publish through traditional channels.

    And that’s why this battle rages and will continue to do so. Too many people fighting over a too-small pie.

  30. I am in total agreement that we the readers have a viewpoint here, and it’s not being heard.

    But I don’t agree that we should side with Amazon on this. Honestly, when this started I was probably thinking I was in Amazon’s camp. I like cheaper ebooks too. But when Amazon decided to remove my ability to purchase any books from Macmillion as a negotiating tactic, it taught me real quick where the real priorities are.

    Macmillion may charge what it wants for its books. I’ll buy them or not, as I see value in their offering. If I don’t buy them, they’ll learn and adjust and the market continues.

    But when Amazon chooses to deny me the ability to purchase Macmillion physical books (which are not under dispute) and ebooks (for which their contract has not expired) as a negotiating tactic, I have to recognize that I’m just a tool in Amazon’s arsenal. One who can’t buy the things he wants to buy, which makes me very dissatisfied.

    This isn’t about Ebooks. Ebook pricing will get negotiated and worked out. Negotiations like this happen every day. But I won’t accept being controlled and abused by Amazon like this going forward.

    If you feel otherwise, join Amazon Shall Not Censor Me:

  31. The difference between ebooks and physical books is like paper napkins and linen napkins in a cafe. There’s a drop in overhead (printing costs = cleaning costs,) but it’s not as big as everyone thinks. Really, it’s not. It’s not even an arcane mystery; it’s just that the actual costs are complex. I doubt you’ll believe me, but I’ll try my best to explain.

    The true costs of a book, physical or digital, are like those of a dish in a cafe. Is that the price of the raw ingredients plus the gas or electricity required to cook them? Well, those are a part of it — the ideas and energy in the finished draft — but they’re only a part. You also have the raw ingredients and gas or electricity that was used in developing that final recipe. And less tangibly, you have: a) the time and toil the chef (author) invests in coming up with the new recipe (novel); b) the time and toil invested in setting up and maintaining a viable cafe (publishing mechanism — and this could be BPH, indie or author-controlled venture,) that can serve that dish to the public plus the resources required to achieve this; c) the time and toil invested in bringing those two together OR the time and toil added where they’re *already* together in an author-owned venture (because doing two jobs adds a friction factor); d) the time and toil invested by waiting and kitchen staff (editorial, design teams, etc.) in actually creating the individual dish to serve the customer’s order. The difference between the total costs if you present it with linen napkins (hardback) or if you present it with cotton napkins (paperback) or if you present it with disposable paper napkins (ebook) are minimal.

    It’s as simple as that. Authors know this because, yes, we’re “insiders”; we see that work taking place first-hand. Some of us have published with the BPHs, indie presses *and* through our own schemes, so we know the pros and cons of each. I’m experimenting with a direct-to-consumer project right now, if that does anything to convince you that I’m on-board with the whole new media revolution. But I’ll lay odds that this attempt to explain will meet blank denials and bitter invective. Why? Because this is what all the authors are saying, many detailing the costs in stage-by-stage breakdowns, real facts and figures; and the response they’re getting is largely obstinate and obnoxious.

    If ebook readers won’t listen to authors on this for even a second, but instead rage incoherently and spit venom at anyone who tries to explain, how do you expect authors to react? You don’t listen to a mob with pitchforks; you either try and shout some sense into them, stand your ground and fight, or head for cover.

  32. Adam Gott Says: Book publishers = Just another bunch of dinosaurs failing to adapt to the times. (see RIAA and MPAA for further reference)

    Adam, there’s pretty good reason to think that this negotiation is happening exactly because Macmillion wants to avoid exactly what happened to the music industry. From someone who knows from experience:

    In honesty, everyone who thinks that Macmillion is being the bully should read this article. It covers this topic much better than I am capable of.

  33. @ Marilynn Byerly

    “You don’t have to buy my books, guys, but, at least support the publishers who are giving you what you want.”

    That’s exactly the sort of atitude I’d like to see from more authors. Thank you. I do support publishers like Baen and Night Shade, which sell DRM free ebooks at

    @ Mags

    “Also, I think consumer rage is premature until we see how the dynamic pricing is implemented. It might end up being better than it is now. MMPBs that are priced at $9.99 on Amazon might end up being $5.99.”

    And that’s exactly what I’m tired of getting from authors. I would love me some dynamic pricing! But it’s not what experience has taught me and other ebook readers to expect from Macmillan given how it has handled it’s agency model so far, by maintaining ebook prices higher than the prices of their already released MMPBs.

  34. I am surprised more people in the comments don’t see that as soon as decent ebook readers are available for a reasonable price (sub-$100), ebooks books will be Napsterized. So any pricing model that doesn’t take into account that the competitive price point will be *free* is doomed to fail. Charging $15, or even $10 for a digital book file is about as ridiculous as charging $0.99 for a single music track. You will get some dedicated, mostly older, fans but most people will simply sample from the vast free library of the Internet.

    As with music, the barriers to entry for publishing have dropped to almost zero. In other words, just about any good writer can write and publish his own ebooks without the parasitic intermediary formerly known as “publishing houses.” The days when those houses added value — physical printing and distribution — are numbered. Any writer who needs an editor will be able to hire one, maybe for a small percentage of their total sales.

    At some point, a company will spring up that specializes in selling unlocked, open format ebooks for maybe $2-3 each, with most of the money going to the authors. Or maybe a subscription based ebook company will emerge; all you can read for $10 a month. At this point, readers and authors will both win. Authors will get to keep more of the money brought in by their own creativity, while readers will be incentivized to sample more deeply and broadly than they ever could under the old “scarcity” model.

    In any case, I would strongly discourage anyone to buy a Kindle or any other locked, proprietary device which takes away rights you currently have with physical books. Ebooks should be more, not less, flexible with regards sharing and distribution. That quality of digital information is a feature, not a bug. Any business model that suppresses that feature is an enemy to authors, readers and lovers of free speech everywhere.

  35. To Martin: “If you want to be intelligent, just keep to the policy of not buying anything you think is too pricey. No one ever said you didn’t have the right to do that.” This assumes you have the right to buy something in the first place. It is not the price I care about, it’s the availability. If you read my post, I write about things like geographical restrictions and books not being available in the first place.

    To Willem: Who said anything about stolen goods? I am talking about readers trying to BUY books with money and being turned away, and you think readers like me are the problem? I bought over $100 books last year. They may be ebooks instead of print books (although I bought those too—I prefer my non-fiction in paper) but that’s still real money *I* earned and gave to real authors. *I* am not the problem here.

    Marilynn: I still disagree with you on several things, but I respect your thoughtful dialogue and you are read, we do need to be devoting some of energy to supporting authors and publishers who do get it. That’s part of why I started my blog and part of what’s driving my latest website effort. I want to draw attention to those authors who are doing it right. It’s just frustrating when there is an author you enjoy and they are not in this stable of people.

    If I truly didn’t care about authors and wanted to steal, I wouldn’t be writing articles like this. I would not care about price or availability or anything like that because I would be going to the Darknet and you’d never here boo from me. It just baffles me that here I am with money, and authors don’t seem more concerned that nobody will take it from me…

  36. ficbot Says: It just baffles me that here I am with money, and authors don’t seem more concerned that nobody will take it from me…

    Um… trust me, the Authors would be happy to take your money. You seem a bit confused. You can buy those books from many places other than Amazon, and the publisher and authors will get your money.

    Amazon is the only one preventing you from buying things, in their attempt to control the market.

    No author is doing anything to prevent you from buying books.

  37. @ Hal Duncan

    Yes, many readers have been raging morons, unwilling to hear, and authors have every right to be angry at those people. I for one am glad that authors have taken time to explain some of the costs in publishing, and I don’t deny that they’re the ones being hurt the most (at least for now). I should also point out that I don’t believe hurting authors even more is a good thing and that I have in fact bought paper copies of some Macmillan authors as a way of supporting them.

    But this is not a one way street. Not everyone has been a raging moron, many people are simply expressing concern over the fact that so far their experiences with Macmillan’s agency model have been very bad and that while authors seem to be taking Sargent’s promise of flexible pricing at face value, they’re not. Most authors responses to those raising concerns was either dismissive or outright offensive. While I understand that there’s nothing they can do about it I’d expect them to at least acknowledge these concerns.

  38. Lots of good points here… two of the things I wanted to say Thiago said perfectly in his last comment… so I concur.

    To Hal Duncan about the costs of ebooks. You are undoubtedly right about the cost of ebooks not being significantly lower than physical books. Even when you include the ‘hidden’ cost of printing more books than actually sell.

    What I think is missing in that analysis are the other benefits publishers get selling ebooks over physical books… huge benefits. Namely, no used book resales, no book loaning, and significantly limited library usage.

    I believe (perhaps naively) that these three advantages are a HUGE win for publishers (and authors in the miserly royalties they do receive from publishers) with ebooks.

    ebooks should cost less than physical books… always. Period.

    IMHO :)

  39. “If a spate of 1-star Amazon reviews is what it will take to send panicked authors running to their agents and publishers demanding change for us, I say Power to the People.”


    How about helping us authors speak up to our publishers and retailers? As has been well said here, only those authors who make publishers rich have any clout. The rest of us have to worry we’ll be booted out if our sales aren’t high enough. But if consumers talked directly to publishers and retailers like Amazon, you could help amplify our quite vulnerable voices.

    You may or may not know this: publishers rarely communicate with their authors. Once a book has been published, you’re lucky ever to hear from them again. Even before the book is published, the same can be true. I’ve never quite figured out why. I thought the relationship was supposed to be a partnership, not an employer-employee thing. Authors can try to talk to their publishers, but unless you’re dealing with a small house, they usually won’t be interested in communicating unless there’s money in it for them.

    Publishers, tell me if I’m wrong here. This is my experience, anyway.

  40. PeaceLove said: As with music, the barriers to entry for publishing have dropped to almost zero. In other words, just about any good writer can write and publish his own ebooks without the parasitic intermediary formerly known as “publishing houses.” The days when those houses added value — physical printing and distribution — are numbered. Any writer who needs an editor will be able to hire one, maybe for a small percentage of their total sales.

    Peace, I understand what you mean. But it’s apparent to me that you haven’t produced a serious music piece before, have you? Yes you can now get quality recording gear at a reasonable price, but that doesn’t ensure that you have the skills to produce reasonable output. The change in output ensures that decent musicians can produce adequate output on a CD within their budget. It does nothing to ensure that a decent musician can produce an excellent CD (one that you would actually buy) within their budget. (I’ve been a musician most of my life, and I formerly ran an website publishing independent musicians for no cost to them, so I know a bit about this topic)

    As for how this relates to authors, the issues seem to be much the same. Many people have written at length on this topic. Please educate yourself a bit on the issues, starting at these great points:

  41. Good points, Mike Orange, and here’s another one for all concerned: the cost of shipping and handling physical books.

    The cost of shipping adds unnecessary overhead to a book. Add to that the issues of damaged books and mistakes filling orders, and you’ve got a lot more wasted time and money.

    Of course there is the digital infrastructure necessary to support the distribution of ebooks, which isn’t free (Chris Anderson and his nonsense notwithstanding), but at least ebook transmission is virtually instant, and there are no torn or grease-covered pages to worry about.

  42. Marilynn “As to authors picking the right kind of publishers, let me give you this scenario. A big publisher wants to buy your book. He will give you great distribution in all the bookstores in paper and will pay you a nice advance on your royalties. However, if you don’t give him your ebook rights the deal is off. ”

    This is exactly my point though… if you make a deal with the devil don’t be surprised if it doesn’t turn out well. The big publishers don’t care about authors or consumers, just profit. That’s fine, but know who you are dealing with.

    That may mean making tough choices. If there is a big publisher offering a fantastic advance and they’re the only ones interested in your book, it will be hard to say no and look for a smaller publisher who does care about you. If you make the easy choice and then that publisher does something evil, it reflects on you for choosing them. It *is* the author’s choice.

    Now, let’s not get into multi-book deals and situations where a company starts to act evil after you are already committed… that’s obviously going to happen but probably not to many people. Those people are stuck, to be sure.

  43. If you can get your head round the cafe analogy, by the way, it might help explain where publishers have foolishly let readers get entirely the wrong idea of what they’re actually paying for.

    Think of linen napkins as hardback and cotton napkins as paperback. The expensive linen napkins have to be dry-cleaned, while the cheap cotton ones can be chucked in a washing machine, right? Just like hardbacks cost more to produce than paperbacks, right? So the customer sees these two options, hardback and paperback, one double the price of the other, and thinks that since they’re buying this physical thing, well, the price difference must be because one is of a higher quality than the other, because one costs more to produce. But that’s *not* the case.

    The printing cost differences between hardback and mass-market paperback are negligable. The hb is sold at a high mark-up, while the pb is sold at a low, low, *low* mark-up, and the difference in valuation is largely down to when they’re available. You’re paying a premium price for a hb to get it hot off the press, as a new release. With the pb, released a year down the line, you’re paying less because it’s been out for a year already, so demand has tailed off, so the publisher chucks out a discount version to eke more sales from those who’re less keen.

    In the cafe analogy, it’s like the linen napkins come with table service, but the cotton napkins come with the self-service buffet. One menu option is more expensive than another, but it’s nothing to do with the napkins, and *everything* to do with the difference in the service. Just as with the hardback, you’re really paying not to wait, with the linen napkin table-service, you’re paying to be waited *on*.

    Problem is, with books, publishers have let readers imagine that it’s all about the physical costs of these different quality products. They imagine that a 2010 pb being half the price of the 2009 hb reflects a substantial disparity in physical costs of production and distribution. When that mindset is applied to ebooks, readers think that *surely* by scratching those costs entirely you should be able to offer the digital version for even less! But the truth is it’s just a matter of switching from linen/cotton napkins to disposable paper ones.

    The agency model Macmillan are pushing is to have both table-service and self-service buffet available with paper instead of linen, charged at comparable rates. The alternative, they said, if Amazon insisted on a fixed price on all meals that come with paper napkins, is to *only do the self-service buffet with paper napkins*. Why? If you’re only willing to pay $10 a meal, you’re not paying the waiter’s wages. If you want the waiter, if you don’t want to wait, they have every right to ask a premium price for that premium service.

  44. To Jo Rhett and Paula:

    1) “You seem a bit confused. You can buy those books from many places other than Amazon, and the publisher and authors will get your money.” NO, *you* seem a bit confused. You can’t but every book from every store for every platform. You can’t even buy it in every country. I can site you examples of individual books, if that would help you. It’s not just prices that have people concerned, it is AVAILABILITY. Look at Covey and is exclusivity deal with Amazon—non-Kindle customers cannot buy these ebooks. Or the series I mentioned, where the first book in the series is not available and the others are. I would buy it if I could, but they won’t sell it to me. Or talk to the Brit at Mobile Read who had $400 of books on his wish list that they wouldn’t sell to him because he’s in the UK. If you think price is the only issue here, you are tragically mistaken.

    2) “How about helping us authors speak up to our publishers and retailers?” Did you read about the part whee I said I have done this and nobody cared? I emailed the retailers and they told me it wasn’t up to them. I wrote back and asked them for the contact information, or job title even, of the person who is WAS up to. They said they would get back to me. They never did. I personally emailed seven authors about geographically restricted books. Four of them did not write back. Two wrote back and said it wasn’t up to them and oh well. One of them actually did a very active role, spoke to several people and got back to me. The book was later made available. I bought it.

    I buy a *lot* of books. I spent a *lot* of money. I would spend even *more* money if somebody, somewhere, somehow would get a clue and address the availability issue—both in terms of issues like DRM, exclusivity and geographical restrictions and in terms of pricing issues like books which have been in $6 mass market paperback for over a decade being issued at $15 ebooks. The goal here should not be to gouge the customer or to block them from obtaining and reading a book. The goal here should be to make it as easy as possible for the customer to spend their money on your stuff. And if you, as an author, want that to happen, then you have to work WITH your readers to resolve these issues. Because I am telling you, I and others have devoted tons of time to being loyal fans and trying to resolve them ourselves, and it’s gotten us NOWHERE.

  45. Bravo. I have been against 1-star reviews as a method because reviews are meant to be of the book themselves, but since the large publishers and so many of the authors in public forum posts disparage buying-customers’ thinking, what’s being ‘reviewed’ is the arrogance of the sudden 50% rise in book prices we should ‘accept’ graciously and as some form of charity for authors, never mind the effect of the economy on any of us — meaning we are reviewing the fact that the book is unavailable to us for half a year at all even if we want to buy it legally — or it is now priced out of range, with justification by too many authors. They’ll have to live with the results of the bad PR they themselves engage in on forums everywhere.

    Add that this whole action is so obviously the brainchild of an Apple exec who ASKED the publishers to raise their prices (WSJ story before the iPad launch) and the unseemly rat-pack of publishers now gathered to make sure Amazon and then every other bookseller MUST go with their $15 strategy does not help — especially not with a smiling Steve Jobs telling Walt Mossberg in a videotaped talk on launch day that the prices at Amazon and Apple would be the same — the prices he had asked the publishers to use once offering them a better cut of the book — meaning they’d have to raise prices to get what Apple wants out of it while ignorantly thinking anyone will make more money out of a situation in which customers who wanted to buy their books are no longer buying them.

  46. Ficbot,

    I really appreciate that you’ve contacted retailers and tried to get them to listen. And if my trade books were an issue, I’d work like crazy to try to resolve any problems with them, but they’re too old and geeky to have been issued in ebook form.

    Having said that, if there *is* an issue with my Kindle books, which I publish myself, I will yell and scream at Amazon and try to get that fixed; if the problem is with the way I’ve formatted the books, I’ll correct whatever it is. So if there is a problem with my stuff, please let me know: Paula Berinstein’s ebooks and articles at the Kindle store.

    I’m not surprised that one consumer alone doesn’t get anywhere by contacting retailers and Amazon. There has to be some sort of mass/group action on the part of book buyers. You know how that goes: most people behind the counter just don’t care.

    But how about this? A letter-writing campaign by consumers to Jeff Bezos and the heads of publishing companies.

    And how about this too: come on The Writing Show, which I produce and host, and talk about this issue. You want to start a letter-writing campaign or get suggestions from listeners on how to approach the problem? Come and talk to us! Email me:

  47. @ Hal Duncan

    “The agency model Macmillan are pushing is to have both table-service and self-service buffet available with paper instead of linen, charged at comparable rates.”

    I understand that ebook prices souldn’t necessarily be lower than that of physical books, I think most people pushing that argument are seriously overestimating costs of physical book producing and shipping (if these costs were so high, physical books would probably be even more expensive), though I think publishers are at least partially to blame for that misconception, with all that “prices are raising because of paper costs” talk.

    I even understand that there may be a number of people willing to pay more to have an ebook the moment it is released (Heck, depending on the author I might be one of them) and that it makes sense for the publishers to explore that.

    What I don’t understand, as someone who is an ebook reader for years now, is why should I look forward to Macmillan’s agency deal with Amazon when my own experience (and that of so many others) with this model is not as good as it’s being painted? Will I really have “self-service buffet” if I wait until the MMPB release to buy the ebook? Or will things remain as they are and I will have to pay for “table-service” for years and years.

  48. @Thiago: The new pricing paradigm hasn’t even been implemented yet. It’s too early to tell whether it will work. As the way the books are provided to the retailers will change, it is not unnatural to expect the pricing changes to come across as well. If, AFTER THE PARADIGM IS PUT INTO PLACE, the dynamic pricing doesn’t happen, then you have something to complain about.

  49. @ Mags

    “The new pricing paradigm hasn’t even been implemented yet. It’s too early to tell whether it will work. As the way the books are provided to the retailers will change, it is not unnatural to expect the pricing changes to come across as well. If, AFTER THE PARADIGM IS PUT INTO PLACE, the dynamic pricing doesn’t happen, then you have something to complain about.”

    Fictionwise has been working under Macmillan’s agency model for years now and no such thing as dynamic pricing has happened. (I’m getting tired of repeating that, by the way). So, yes, I think I do have some reason to be concerned.

  50. I’d just like to remind folks (and mention to any newcomers following this thread) that I’m going to be hosting a live talk-format TalkShoe podcast myself tomorrow (Saturday) at 4 p.m. Eastern, 9 p.m. UK, and if anybody would like to come on and discuss the matter I’d be happy to have them. All points of view will be welcomed, and I will be moderating so things don’t get too out of hand.

    There are ways to call in free from the UK via SIP voice-over-IP, including a TalkShoe java client. If you don’t want to call in, you can use a text chat client to send in questions or comments in the chatroom that goes along with the show.

    For more details on how to call or chat in, see:

  51. This is like punishing the average American citizen by siphoning money from his paycheck while screaming “hey, you need to tell the President to do X, or I’ll keep punishing you.”

    It’s also ridiculous when consumption is a choice. You don’t have to buy said author’s books, or books from that publisher.

    Hurting the authors only furthers your problem. It’s a self-referring crisis…

  52. Mike Orange: Those three advantages… “Namely, no used book resales, no book loaning, and significantly limited library usage.” These aren’t really considered significant problems by either publishers or writers, I’d say. You’ll find the vast majority of authors, the vast majority of editors too, I’d hazard, and a massive proportion of even the Grand Poobahs, deeply supportive of these as potential means to spur further sales by creating word-of-mouth.

    Hell, as a UK author, actually, I get a tiny royalty for every UK library loan — amounts to about £300 a year, and every little counts. And more importantly if that person doesn’t buy the next book, maybe they’ll rave about it to someone who will. Writers and editors are readers too. We buy second-hand, foist books on friends, and *love* libraries with a passion, most of us. It’s all part of the culture.

    Those in publishing who *would* worry about that — and frankly I think they’d be a tiny minority — will undoubtedly be pissing their pants at the idea of DRM being cracked such that resale and loan becomes just as much of an “issue” for ebooks.

    As regards your comment, “ebooks should cost less than physical books… always. Period.”

    See my most recent comment posted just before this one. Sure, you can say that “service with paper napkins should cost less than service with linen napkins.. always.” In theory, it sounds fair. But it becomes silly if you’re seriously demanding $20 table-service for $10 self-service buffet prices… and on what basis? On the argument that you’ve selected to go for paper rather than linen, and that *must* cut at least $10 off the base-line cost of the meal.

    Macmillan is basically saying, Look, the real saving is only $2, so realistically, if you want paper napkins, yeah, we can give you paper napkin table-service for $18 and we can give you paper napkin self-service buffet for $8. Hell, they could do the same with mass-market paperbacks, release them on the same day as the hb but at a similar premium rate, where you’re paying more for getting it *now*. That cafe could offer cotton napkin table-service at $19 and cotton napkin self-service buffet at $9. Bob’s yer uncle, you have all options available to you, and whaddaya know? The ebook is *always* one dollar less than the paperback and two dollars less than the hardback.

    I mean, the alternative Macmillan offers is basically coming from the exact same logic as your principle. If ebooks should always cost less than physical ones, then paperbacks should always cost less than hardbacks, right? There’s the added board, thicker paper, the increased bulk and all the shipping and storage issues that creates, so paperbacks should *always* be.. um… half the price! At least that’s what we might think as consumers. Doesn’t matter if we don’t actually know the different costs overall. We just look at something that’s half the size and imagine that ratio applies across the board.

    We’re certainly not likely to buy that paperback if it’s only a dollar cheaper than the hardback. No, we insist on a half-price option. So, publishers give us that option. They treat the pb as a discount edition for those more concerned with low price than snappy service, releasing the $10 pb a year after the $20 hb. Look at it as people crying out for a cheaper option than table-service. OK, says the cafe-owner, and brings in the $10 self-service buffet. With that you get cotton napkins rather than linen, but that’s mainly because it’s aimed at people who *don’t care* about the little luxuries.

    Macmillan’s other option to Amazon follows that logic through. If the demand is that ebooks should always cost less than physical books, as paperbacks should always cost less than hardbooks, then we (they’re saying) need to look at digital editions as discount editions. That is, if being given paper napkins means you’re automatically and absolutely *never* going to accept a bill of more than $10 for you meal, well then, we can only sensibly provide the paper napkin option with the self-service buffet. You’ll have to wait a year like the paperback readers with their cotton napkins.

  53. Two things:

    1) @Hal Duncan: You are describing exactly what is wrong with the present-day publishing industry. It sells a low-cost product for a higher price to the biggest fans, only because they are the biggest fans, and only lowers the price down toward marginal cost once it squeezes what it can out of them, and then tries to trick them into thinking that the average reader is paying less because they’re buying a cheap, crappy mass-market book. Present-day publishing works the way it does only because it can create artificial scarcity in order to extort the most frenzied consumers. It’s impossible to pretend that a digital product is scarce, and so now the veil is being lifted. The simple fact is that first-release hardcovers are a scam!

    2) I lost my faith in Scalzi in this whole mess, when he claimed that what keeps him from going with Bean and their somewhat more rational model, is they they won’t give him cover approval. And yet, he routinely chuckles publicly over the cover choices made by his foreign publishers, proving that it’s not really that big a deal to him, as long as they sell more of his books.

  54. Ebooks should never be priced the same or higher than their paper equivalents, even if there are tiered releases (HB, trade, MMPB, etc.). They should always cost less, regardless of the issue of physical manufacturing and distribution costs.

    The reason is they are worth less to the consumer. If I can’t lend my ebook to a friend or family member, it has less value than its dead tree equivalent. If I can’t sell it to a used bookstore or sell it on Ebay, it has less value than its DTE. If I can’t donate it to a charity thriftstore like Goodwill for a tax donation or simply to feel good about myself, it has less value than a DTE.

    Seriously, if you had a choice of buying a new car in the traditional way or buying a car under a new distribution model, where the manufacturer has legal righs to keep you from letting a friend or family member drive it occasionally, won’t let you sell it (you can only have it destroyed if you want to get rid of it), won’t allow you to give it to your college kid when you don’t need it anymore, etc…would you pay the same amount for both cars?

    I think auto consumers would have a hissy fit, and rightfully so. I’m having one about ebook pricing, so I just load up mostly on free classics and public domain/creative commons license ebooks. Occasionally I find newer material as ebooks which are reasonably priced (no more than the MMPB price) and buy those. When the publishers and online stores decide to sell me new literature at a reasonable price considering the lesser value I get from the product, I’ll start buying again.

    BTW, the argument that the convenience factor of ebooks justifies higher prices is false. By that logic, a MMPB should sell for more than a hardcover because it’s certainly more convenient to carry around.

  55. Some of us customers are saying that we DON’T WANT Amazon to be the sole source for e-books, which is what this fight is really all about. Some of us are saying that we’d like to see our favorite authors (and editors, and copy editors, and proofreaders, and everybody else in the publishing chain) paid more than Wal-Mart wages. Some of us are saying that we’d like to see new authors getting a chance to be published at a quality level better than vanity publishing, and to see bookshelves with more choices than Dan Brown, Danielle Steele, and Stephanie Meyer on them. Amazon’s power-grab isn’t going to give us any of that.

    The stench of entitlement rising up from this post is suffocating. THE UNIVERSE DOES NOT REVOLVE AROUND YOU.

  56. @Dave: My point is that you’re seeing a low cost product where what’s really being sold is a high cost, high risk service. That service is sourcing novelty and quality.

    Imagine a Real Ale Bar that serves regular beer at £2 a pint — stout, heavy, lager, wheat beer. All of the beers it stocks are tried-and-tested, guaranteed sellers… except for *every single new beer they bring in*. They have to source these beers from microbreweries all round the country, taste them, test them, make sure they’re not full of stomach-churning cooties that will bring down the wrath of the Health Inspector. And there’s no guarantee that customers will take to these. So they buy in a few barrels to try it out, and charge £4 a pint for these “guest ales” to cover those costs. If the beer sells, they just keep ordering it, make it a regular at £2 a pint. There’s no reason to cry scam! It’s just that the publican has a heavy investment to recoup.

    Those regular beers being so cheap makes for a tiny profit margin, but because the bulk of customers pretty much just want their usual, they sell in enough volume to keep the bar going as a basic bar — but only a a basic bar. A publisher could downsize their business and just keep selling LoTR (or whatever they have in that league) in cheap paperback editions. A publican could just not bother even trying out new beers. If they want to satisfy a demand for novelty and quality though, they need to finance it, and those low profit margin sales *don’t* really cover the cost of sourcing the guest ales; and there’s enough people out there who want that service that it’s worth offering the right to choose whether they’re willing to pay £4 for something new or £2 for something old.

  57. @Hal: However, your major point is that the quality doesn’t really come at a significant cost, and the novelty is entirely artificial. So the value in hardcover books is only real if you can convince people that the rarity is of necessity (it’s harder and more expensive to print hardcovers).

    The fact is that publishers manufacture artificial scarcity for the purpose of squeezing more money out of the most enthusiastic consumers, for a product that is not really any harder or more expensive to produce. Now that ebooks have blown the cover off that model, they are searching desperately for other rationalizations, and the only one that really sticks is “to recover costs”.

    Sorry, if recovering costs is your only justification for sticking it to your biggest fans, your business model isn’t going to last long.

  58. @Hal: To pervert your Ale Bar example slightly: The current publishing environment would be analogous to the following…

    Our entrepreneurial publican is successful at trying out new beers at £4 a pint. To make sure, though, that people are willing to try out the new beers, he will sell you the regular beers at £2 a pint, but requires you to pour out the first half. So the only way to get a full pint at a time is to buy a “guest ale.” Since some people insist on getting a full pint in each glass, he will even offer “special label” variants of all the regular beers, which cost £4, and you don’t have to pour any on the floor.

    Oh, and the “guest ales” that don’t fly with the customers? He sells the dregs to Joe’s Pub down the street, who vends them at 50p a pint.

  59. Hal: ‘Those three advantages… “Namely, no used book resales, no book loaning, and significantly limited library usage.” These aren’t really considered significant problems by either publishers or writers, I’d say.’

    I bet you publishers sit there and stew all day about the fact that Amazon offers used book choices side by side with their new book buy buttons… I know *I* would if that were my business. If someone chooses the cheaper used book (and why not?) then the publisher gets nothing. I can’t imagine that doesn’t bother them.

    And as to loaning… if it’s a great way to get publicity, then why does the Nook have a limit of one lifetime loan per book which can even be turned off by publishers? Why does Amazon have a limit to the number of Kindles per account that can receive a copy of a book, and why can that be adjusted downward by publishers? If the publishers really don’t mind loaning of books (and I can believe this one somewhat) then why are they working so hard to put up all these artificial barriers for ebooks? B&N and Amazon are certainly not putting these restrictions in for themselves. It was done to appease the big boys.

    As to your $18 napkins versus $20 napkins and $10 napkins… frankly I’m the kind of guy that just grabs a paper towel off the roll. It’s just a tool to get the job done :-) But seriously, I’d be happy with the $18 price versus $20 if that is all the savings warranted. But I don’t think that’s the case. I believe that if publishers will work to make older popular books available electronically, and if they will continue to offer the ebooks they offer today, that they will make a lot of money that would have otherwise gone to the used book market, and they know it. That’s a huge win.

  60. igorsk: thanks for the links. I will be closely looking at the books at Closed Circle. They really seem to get it.

    Kevin O: spot on analysis of why ebooks are less valuable to consumers, in their current form. Lending *could* easily be solved, and already is in a ridiculously limited form (Nook) — baby steps, though. Reselling ebooks seems pretty unlikely to happen ever.

  61. Congratulations. You’re the reason good mid-list authors get dropped and you, me and millions of other people are being reduced to a selection of drivel that sells.
    You don’t want to pay that much for a book? Great, well go to the library.
    There’s a reason why you can’t find the first book in a series: It’s out of print. Why? Because the publisher wasn’t making enough money keeping it in print and now you don’t get to read what you want. See what I did there?
    Yes, books are expensive. No, I can’t afford to buy all the books I want either.
    When libraries are gone and the only authors left standing are the pop-fic rock stars that the uneducated masses drool over, (think of the worst bestseller you can, multiply that by 100,) what will you do then?
    Grow. Up.

  62. @Dave: It’s nothing to do with scarcity *at all*, I think. To be sure, I think the biggest mistake publishers have made is in letting that idea fly, I don’t doubt their motives in doing so were in part short-sighted and cynical, and I’m not at all surprised it’s come back to bite them on the ass. But I think the entire paradigm of fiction as product is a mistake *everyone* has made — writers, editors, publishers, readers.

    I’m kind of disappointed that the people calling loudest for new business models, new ways of thinking, are as trapped in an obsolete paradigm as the publishers they’re decrying. Fiction is and always has been really a *service*, with the book as a *ticket* to that service. Reading is using that ticket. You can use the ticket as many times as you want. You can lend it to a friend, sell it on to someone else. (Unlike a gym membership, say.) But there’s zero value in the object itself… except maybe the fact it looks pretty with its little gilded edges. In fact, because what *really* matters is the service you get when you *use* the ticket, you can replace the dead tree with an entirely virtual ticket.

    Books have never been valuable because they’re scarce, not outside the antiquities markets, not beyond the interests of collectors who value them as one-off objets d’art (numbers, letters and signatures betokening uniqueness). To be sure, given the industrialisation of production on all levels, including the creative (i.e. in formulaic category fiction,) people were bound to end up seeing creative output in terms of column inches, pages of dead tree, extruded product, but *this* is the lie that ebooks kill stone dead.

    Twenty tickets to me on stage going “bibble bibble bibble” have never been more valuable, individually, than twenty thousand tickets to [David Bowie / Carmen / Avatar in 4D / choose your poison] simply because they’re a thousand times more scarce. The value in those tickets relates entirely to the service they give you access to, as becomes crystal clear when the ticket is reduced a pattern of bits that can be stored in any medium whatsoever, with any physical instance of it no more than that — an instantiation.

    This is where publishers really have to get with the 21st century, but readers do too. If publishers have spun the whole fiction-as-product to their benefit, readers have swallowed it to the extent that even as they rail against those publishers for their obsolete mentalities, they’re so caught up in the old paradigm themselves that they end up coming across like the worst cafe customer ever, with an utter disregard for the work of those who made that meal and served it to them, insisting that it’s only really worth X bucks because those paper napkins are free.

  63. @Dave: “However, your major point is that the quality doesn’t really come at a significant cost, and the novelty is entirely artificial.”

    The quality of service I’m talking about is quality in fiction terms, not linen versus paper. And that quality comes at a significant cost of time and toil for the writer, and for the editor, copy-editor, proofreader, type-setter, etc..

    For the writer: Even a midlist novelist kicking out mid-level entertainment novels is looking at 6 months to a year per book, and that’s not counting the work involved in honing your skills to that approach. A novelist aiming to write something that actually *really* matters to people — they could be looking at five years to a decade. If you have a powerhouse of a writer who can do 3 or 4 books in a year and keep them *good*, that’s a higher quality service in terms of turnover. Me, I’m a slow writer, but I’m aiming to change the whole frickin way you look at the world — which is a really high risk strategy, frankly, cause it plays out in work you either love or hate. Like some beers, yanno. Either way, that’s where the quality of the service mainly lies.

    As for the quality on the publisher’s side… Yes, I know there’s a lot of sloppy shit slips through in a lot of books. That’s in part because some big name authors (e.g. Anne Rice) play a “You cannot edit the genius that is ME!!!” game (and are rightly called on it). With midlisters, it’s because service suffers when belts tighten and budgets get cut. Cost-cutting on the finishing during a financial squeeze is a mug’s game on the publisher’s part, but it’s classic (bad) business. It’s like sacking testers to save on costs in a software company. Hell, it actually underlines the amount of work required — by demonstrating the folly of not paying enough to get the work done properly.

    Even when it *is* done well… man, my first book has been translated into a whack of languages, and each time the translator has contacted me about *something* that nobody, including myself, has picked up on even after more than a score of us poring over the minutiae of the text word by word, time and time and again. It is *brain-melting* work, worse than debugging spaghetti code in C that was written by an Italian as controller software for an industrial dyeing machine you don’t have the specs for. Trust me, I’ve done the latter, and it’s easier than proofreading a novel. With code you can tell that it’s wrong even if you don’t know where, because it doesn’t run. With prose, it always runs.

    Skimp on that and it’s like not cleaning your pipes properly in that bar. It doesn’t matter which tap the beer is flowing from; you’ve given bad quality. It’s like employing a moron with no taste buds to source your beer, and having them not even bother to check the bacteria level. The value of having the right person in place to do those jobs well is real.

    The novelty is also quite real, every new book a brand new recipe that’s valued specifically for that. You’d feel ripped off if you picked up a book — however much it cost — and found it was basically just a rehash of someone else’s work. Hell, if it goes far enough in lacking novelty, there are laws against it.

    The exception would be pure formula writing honed to a specific marketing category, where the audience is looking for “more of the same” over and over again, and really the quality considerations are… not negligible but different. It’s basic functionality that’s required there not the design innovation the audience is looking for outside formula fiction. You’re talking workmanship rather than craftsmanship. With those workman writers it’s like some microbreweries are producing the same sub-Guinness pseudo-stout over and over again, because they’re aiming for a market that just *wants* the same sub-Guinness pseudo-stout over and over again, with only the *slightest* variation to give it a hint of novelty, to keep it interesting.

    But here’s the point: Note that many books published like that *go straight to mass-market paperback*. In other words, the lower-quality, lower-novelty “guest ales” go straight in as regular beers at £2 a pint. With much category fiction the hardback was/is an exception. Often it’s either replaced with a trade paperback (like a £3 guest ale) or done away with entirely.

  64. Speaking strictly as a book buyer, here’s what would make me happy:

    A book comes out as a hardcover. It comes out the same day as an ebook, available not only at Amazon but at Fictionwise, EReader, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook retailers. If it comes out at the same price as the hardcover, with any variations from that price dependent entirely on what the retailer wishes to do in the way of discounting, that’s fine by me. Later, when the book would be issued as a trade or mass market paperback, the ebook price drops to paperback level at all outlets, with any variations from that price etc etc.

    As for Amazon’s price break… if a book is available both from Fictionwise and from Amazon, and the FW copy is DRMd ereader priced higher than the Kindle edition, I buy it from Fictionwise because the ereader format DRM is far more user-friendly than the Kindle’s.

    Would I like to see DRM die out? Sure. Would I like to see all ebooks priced at 5.99? Sure. And maybe that’ll happen some day, but I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime I’d be happy just to know that if I wanted to purchase a title as an ebook I could do so with or without a lower-than-print-edition price and with DRM (until it dies out) as user-friendly as the ereader format.

    I would happily trade the price breaks that so many people think should go with ebook formats for the certainty that any book being published in paper will also be available as an ebook, even if the price is the same as the print edition, and available not just for Amazon’s Kindle but from other stores as well.

    Maybe I’m unique in the world of ebook consumers. But I doubt it.

    Bests to all,


  65. @Mike: “I bet you publishers sit there and stew all day about the fact that Amazon offers used book choices side by side with their new book buy buttons.”

    I’ll take that bet for 1000 internets. I’ll win on the “all day” clause, cause if they do it at all, it’s not gonna be *all day*. Yay! 1000 internets for me! 😀

    OK, I’m being facetious, but look at the reality of buying second-hand *sight unseen*. Yeah, some are up as “new” but “nearly new,” “good condition,” and so on… it’s still a bit of a gamble. No doubt, sales will be lost, and no doubt some publishers spend *some* of the day worrying about this, but you’re (quite literally) overstating the extent of this concern. I mean, at least on ebay you can *see* what you’re buying. But I’ll come back to this.

    With your questions about the Kindle, etc., remember that my point was specifically about why these aren’t seen as significant problems with hardcopy books. You only have so many people in your monkeysphere to lend your copy to, hand to hand. Second-hand bookshops and libraries are localised, limited in coverage and what stock they’re likely to hold, or even interested in holding. You can’t *give* books away to second-hand bookstore owners half the time. I’ve tried to flog books to a second-hand store to get money for food (couldn’t afford postage if I sold em on ebay) and had no luck. Bernard Blacks to a man, those tight-fisted misanthropic bastards. *Ahem* Anyway, point is, the effect of those sorta non-sales is not a big enough bite out of potentials to bother most, I’d say. At least, not enough to make them see ebooks as advantageous in comparison in that regard.

    The factors you point to indicate the opposite, if anything. The minority that worries about that will also worry about epiracy and probably more so, because it’s a conservative mentality, a mentality of fear. In fact, I’d say, that’s included within a larger contingent who *don’t* worry about that but *do* worry about epiracy. The DRM lobby basically. They’ve clearly been strong enough to effect the restrictions you point to, all clearly driven by a fear of the unlimited replication that the new media facilitates. (For what it’s worth, I’m totally with Kevin that *this* sort of stuff lowers the value of the ebook. It’s a limitation of the service, like not being able to have the chicken jalfrezi in the self-service buffet.)

    I’ll go further. Amazon does factor in here because it’s an online redistribution channel, and therefore part of the whole “what will the interwebs do to publishing?” question. It scales up second-hand bookstores to an international coverage, and right at your fingertips. So, yeah, I can see *that* being more of a concern for publishers, but I’d bet their *biggest* worry is based on the used books being accessible from the main page for the title, cause this is essentially like having B&N stock second-hand copies right beside the new hb. Would they be so worried if it was another site, equally big but distinct? I doubt it. Ebay already exists and there’s nothing they can do about it.

    All of this is to say that publishers aren’t seeing huge benefits in ebooks versus dead tree on the bases you suggest because it’s really conservatives versus progressives on both media. And to wire this into what I’m saying to Dave above, I think a lot of it is to do with a paradigm of fiction-as-product being destabilised. The conservatives are locked into that paradigm so they panic. In the more progressive thinkers on this — those who’re more likely to oppose DRM, support libraries and loans, and so on — I see glimmers of the fiction-as-service paradigm. I think this is part of why you’re seeing so many of the strongest advocates of all sorts of new strategies, writers who have actually put them into practice, supporting the agency model and kicking back against the ebook reader outcry. They’re basically denying the service, casting our work as mere extrusion of product and imposing an absolute valuation by the unit. That’s 20th century thinking. Worse, it’s the thinking of the *early* 20th century pulp era that gave us work-for-hire in the comics industry and genre formula hackdom in commercial fiction.

  66. @Thiago: “What I don’t understand, as someone who is an ebook reader for years now, is why should I look forward to Macmillan’s agency deal with Amazon when my own experience (and that of so many others) with this model is not as good as it’s being painted? Will I really have “self-service buffet” if I wait until the MMPB release to buy the ebook? Or will things remain as they are and I will have to pay for “table-service” for years and years.”

    I’m not going to urge you to blind faith. Your skepticism is entirely fair, and I’m not out to play Macmillan’s PR rep. All I’ll say is that I think using this strategy at Amazon might give them better feedback on where to set the price points to maximise sales at different levels of service — i.e. to strike a satisfactory bargain with as many people as possible. And that if they don’t set the “self-service buffet option” — the price point for the ebook when the mmpb comes out — at a comparable level, the lack of sales will tell them loud and clear that they’re fricking morons. Finding the right price points is, I think, in their self-interest, and I’d say the right price point for the ebook on the mmpb release *has* to be lower than the mmpb. Whether they get that… we’ll see.

    I mean, I could speculate that the existing Amazon pricing screws with any data they might get from Fictionwise enough that they couldn’t feel their way to a fair price, and so they let conservatism win out with a crude “charge high and hope they bite” attitude, that now ebook sales are taking off they’re trying to set their house in order with a coherent strategy they didn’t have before… but that’s pure speculation, *not* a case I’d actually argue. My main hope for an agency model with ebooks is that it feeds into the fiction-as-service paradigm I see as a necessary part of dealing with the new reality.

  67. “Congratulations. You’re the reason good mid-list authors get dropped and you, me and millions of other people are being reduced to a selection of drivel that sells.”

    Ah, yes. Me and the 100 books I bought and read last year are destroying authors. THAT makes sense!

    Look, if I had ANY faith that the publishers would actually lower the prices after six months or whatever, I would be okay with what’s happened. But when a book has been a $7 mass market paperback for over a decade and is selling at Fictionwise for $14, it makes me feel like the publishers don’t really care about me. I worry that this means they are trying to make ebooks so unpalatable that they will sell so few of them they can then turn around and say ‘see, nobody wants them.’ And people like me who don’t have a house massive enough to store every book we read will go back to the libraries and used book stores because we won’t be able to buy books anymore.

    If you read the post, it isn’t just about the agency pricing model. It’s about geographical restrictions, it’s about trying to buy a book and being told you can’t do it even though the book is out there and available. It’s about paying customers who are NOT going to the darknet and are trying to buy the books legitimately and are being turned away and left feeling like nobody wants their business. THIS IS A PROBLEM FOR THE AUTHORS TOO. Real authors, mid-list authors such as the one that poster accused me of destroying, have lost ACTUAL MONETARY PROFIT from readers like me due solely to the fact that we live in the wrong country. And when I have emailed them about it, as I said, most of them were either not terribly concerned or said it wasn’t really up to them and oh well. Only ONE of them actually helped me, and I rewarded her by buying the book when I was able to.

    The business model you guys have is BROKEN. My post is a call to arms to you to HELP ME FIX IT. I don’t have authors. I am not a greedy, selfish person who doesn’t want to pay for what I read. I haven’t even BOUGHT a Kindle book (except for a replacement for the on-board dictionary) because I don’t support their Kindle-only DRM.

    I am intrigued by Tobias Buckell’s post in that rather than reassuring me that he values my business, that he wants to see these barriers to purchasing end too, that he would like to work with passionate readers to get a better model going for everyone, he jumps on the price point issue (which wasn’t even my main point) and treats me like his enemy. If he really does not care about the experience of an avid reader and book buyer like me, what hope does he have for making a profit off his writing? Why turn people away with a bad attitude when you can instead agree to work with them and help bring about a system where they can spend their book-buying money more easily?

  68. As an author who has been through NY and in January released my first ebooks on my own, I am blown away by the difference in being able to set my own price, make my own marketing categories, and control my covers. Of course, now I have no one else to blame for my failures!

    Seriously, I have found $1.99 a fair price for an ebook, though I am currently releasing already-published backlist. I still make more than I did on paper copies at that price. It has gone so well that I am releasing an original novel THE SKULL RING on March 1. I don’t know if this is the way my career will go, as I am currently seeking a major publisher, too, but one of my big regrets so far is my carelessness with all my backlist digital rights. I get them back eventually, but i don’t hear many authors talking about the lifespan of their books and careers and how things may change once the dust settles.

    I believe ebook prices will naturally move downward and I’m seeing bigname backlist in the $4-$5 range now. The inflated prices will only be for six months or so on bestseller hardcovers, while the rest of the world moves on.

    I do understand the various production costs in publishing a book, and I know what goes into formatting a paper file into an ebook (an hour of time), and I believe the prices should be amortized over the various formats. My self-released backlist The Red Church is outselling my newer NY ebook by at least at 10 to 1 margin at a third of the price. Lower ebook prices will mean overall better income for authors, assuming they haven’t given away 80 or more percent of that income to a publisher for deals that could last a lifetime.

    Authors should still partner with publishers, but perhaps it’s time to think of a book as remaining permanently in print instead of having three months of shelf life.

    Scott Nicholson

  69. Kristen, that is rubbish.

    There are more books published now than at any time in the past. This is part of what it makes it harder for any garden variety author. People have more choice. They aren’t limited to what is in the country town newsagent or the library.

    The ‘but you won’t have anything to read’ argument is baseless. There have been millions of books published. No one is going to run out.

    I’ve said this before: if every single publisher gets disintegrated by aliens overnight, tomorrow authors will be selling their books directly.

    Me, I might read a few more academic papers, I’d imagine. :)

  70. This is an excellent idea. In fact, I’m going to apply this concept to other products I want but I think are too expensive:

    1. I’m going to go to dealerships and vandalize cars I want but I think are too expensive.
    2. I’m going to turn off refrigerators in stores that sell price-fixed milk.
    3. I’m going to go into department stores and rip clothes on the rack that are overpriced.

    Great idea.

  71. There has not been any mention of the fact that when I buy a hard copy book I can read it then give it to somebody else to read ( or donate it to a library)providing a huge value that is not availible with Ebooks. My hard copy cannot be erased by the publisher if they decide that they don’t wish to have it digitally distributed ( see Amazon and the book 1984). This greatly devalues ebooks thus they should be lower in cost because they have less value. Make them shareable and remove the DRM and they may regain that value in my eyes.

  72. @Martin: “To the original poster, dude, really, use some of that money $10 ebooks are saving you and buy a clue. How is flooding Amazon listings with one-star “reviews” anything other than infantile, petulant idiocy? How will that actually accomplish anything in the way of bringing publishers and Amazon around to agreement on fair ebook pricing?”

    It is working with DRM (Digital Rights Management) on video games. People were 1 staring new games into oblivion that had intrusive DRM on Amazon. Due to the backlash on Amazon, video game companies have been forced into changing the DRM or removing it completely off of new games. This new uprising with e-books will work however it will take time. Publisher’s, author’s, and Amazon will lose money which will force them to adapt and actually listen to the people that are paying their salaries.

    On a side note, I wonder when companies will spring up that will allow you to create your own e-books and bypass the publishers? In the next 10 years we might see something like this.

  73. Scott Nicholson – excellent post.

    $5 – $8 is a very good target price range for an ebook in my opinion as a reader. It leaves plenty of margin for the publisher and for the writer.

    Your comments on writer awareness is also on the money. Publishers have sucked in authors in an appalling way for decades, limiting their rights and making enormous profits for a bloated and inefficient industry.
    Now Publishers are scaring authors that the nasty ebooks are hurting them and they are trying to tell the reader than they represent the poor struggling writer.

    Publishers can’t have it both ways with their whinging and whining.

    We need a new awareness by the writers and a new breed of publisher.

    But in this mix we need a new kind of online publisher web site that promotes new writers through better previews and reviews. This is needed to compensate for the promotional shortfall left by the coming disappearance of the ‘big publisher’.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail