U.S. currency. Follow link for CC info, etc., via WikipediaNate and Good E-Reader are on the money in blasting Big Five houses for bloated publocracies and the inevitable result. Overpriced books—to pay for the waste.

We know, too, that the B5 are trying to protect their investment in pulped-wood publishing, by way of e-book gouges. Sigh. They never learn. Years ago I was grousing about the same issues. I’m pleased to see others carrying on the fight. Joanna may soon have her own thoughts to add.

Now here are  other angle to consider, in the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot department:

1. E-books aren’t just competing with each other or within paper edition. They’re also competing with other forms of mass entertainment such as all-you-can-watch Netflix—and better and better video games. The advances are not just technological. Consider the writing and acting of TV series such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men. New episode are not coming out. But other shows will follow with the same quality. This is the time for major publishers to lower, not raise, book prices.

2. Further making books less competitive, for the masses, is the tendency of some in the publishing industry to fixate on the interests of the well-to-do. Even certain librarians have gone along. Michael W. Perry, a regular TeleRead commenter, complains of “idiotic novels about guys who fly to Europe like other people drive to their local mall.” Exactly! Yes, there is a place for novels about the rich, as well as for Jane Austen clones. And I also realize that plebes like to read about the rich to escape. But could large publishers be overdoing it? In fact, one PR expert helpfully articulated the mindset of certain executives at large New York houses: Book Publishing Should Market to The Rich. Should? Members of the publishing elite already are, more than they should.

3. B5 publishers aren’t paying enough attention to half the population—men. Three-fifths of book buyers are women. Publishers need to work more closely with schools to even out the gender ratio while still giving the female market its due. Smarter book-acquisitions alone will not suffice. Let’s think long term.

4. Big publishers love to hire their people on the cheap, and diversity suffers, which in turn hurts editorial judgment. I doubt much has changed since this 2011 Forbes article. Alas, the concerns of Wellesley-educated editors—the types who use family resources to augment pathetic salaries for high-cost areas like New York—are not necessarily those of typical readers. Nonpaying or low-paying internships further make B5 publishing a citadel of the elite. Racial minorities, soon to be the majority of the U.S. population, are outrageously underrepresented. Diversity programs can’t substitute for salaries big enough to recruit blacks, Hispanics and other minorities and have them hang around.

A good, healthy remedy for all of the above would be Draconian cuts in top publishing executives’ salaries so they could better understand the needs of typical readers, as well as the competition from plebian forms of entertainment such as Netflix (60 million subscribers, worldwide). Dream on, huh? It’s not going to happen. But I do hope that, regardless of the power that agency pricing gives the Big Five, the large houses will show a little more interest in the needs of nonaffluent readers outside Manhattan and such.

Likewise helpful would be the creation of a national digital library endowment, which could put more money in the pot for everyone—writers and publishers alike. Alas, while the leaders of the big publishers worry about every nickel and dime lost to piracy, they are apparently unwilling to consider the possibilities here. Better to revel in the status quo, regardless of the sustainability issues. Am I wrong? I’d love to be. If you’re a B5 publisher and understand how an endowment could help your bottom line—not just society at large—let’s hear from you!

Update: Joanna’s links for today, including thoughts on e-book gouges.


  1. I’m not saying there is no room for the B5 to improve its business practices, but in the long run they do publish the books I want to read. Smaller publisher are also included now and then, but I’m consistently disappointed with self-publishing.

    I’m often baffled by the neverending harping to lower prices. Sure, I like books – and all things – when they cost less, but I think a new work of non-fiction is reasonable priced at $11.99 to $14.99 – it takes time to write biography and history. A few bucks less for new fiction. Maybe there is an argument for cheaper series and potboilers, though I don’t read those.

    What I want is an infrastructure that allows good books to be written and published. Is that going to be available if everything is on the cheap?

  2. @Greg: And what about the decades old novels which are priced above $10? That happens far more often than you think.

    And no, a price of $11.99 to $14.99 for a new work is not reasonable – not when I can get a paper copy for less than the price of a license t use a DRMed ebook file. Don’t forget, you’re comparing a book (which cal be resold) with a license (which cannot).

  3. 1. Ebook prices are “high” because publishers see them as the replacement for the mass-market paperback so they tend to be priced in the same range. If the big publishers sell an ebook much cheaper than that, they will be destroying mass-market paperbacks in the short term and book prices in the long term when ebooks take over the industry. The big publishers would go out of business if they can’t make a profit on ebook prices.

    If you are going to compare prices, why not throw in the appalling price of a movie ticket these days. Ebooks are a steal then.

    2. “Plebes!” “Plebes!” Way to see yourself as a superior to the rest of society, David.

    What is published is determined by market forces. In other words, if enough readers will buy it, then they will publish it. If what is being published offends you, then that’s your problem or society’s problem, not publishing’s problem.

    3. Again, this is society’s problem, not publishers. If more men bought books, then the market would provide. And the publishing industry IS concerned about more books for little boys, etc. You’d do well to start reading trade sites like GalleyCat and Publishers Weekly to see their side of this problem which they are struggling to improve.

    4. The main reason minorities are under-represented in publishing is the salaries. Most minorities smart and well-educated enough to fill publishing jobs are also smart enough to go for better paying positions in other fields. Publishers would love to have more minorities, but they are too cheap to pay them enough. If they did, all those well-educated white folks would expect the same thing.

    The last time I checked, publishing was commerce ruled by market forces, NOT a charity do-gooder organization or a social ideaology . Publishing’s CEOs, etc., are brought in from the same pool of executives as the rest of the corporations. I’ve seen a grocery chain executive brought in to run a publishing corporation, for example. If the CEOs were paid next to nothing, then their talent pool would consist of new MBAs seeking their first job or more of those white folks rich enough to see publishing as way to fast track their own agenda and ideology. Both would be a disaster.

    “National digital library endowment.” (Marilynn rolls her eyes.)

  4. @Marilynn: Huh? “’National digital library endowment. (Marilynn rolls her eyes.)” Explain.

    So you say good-bye not just to the extra library-related revenue but also to a chance to promote book reading? I’m thinking of society as a whole. But the publishing industry would benefit handsomely. I’m pressed for time right now, but will leave it to Nate and/or others to respond to your other arguments on other matters. As for “plebes”–well, get out the irony detector. Oh, and one other item. I’m happy to see you acknowledge that publishers are “too cheap” to pay minorities if that also means raising white folks’ pay. “Too cheap” describes publishing’s main problem, except when it comes to such items as executive pay. The Gilded Age mindset is alive and well among B5 execs.


  5. There’s nothing new about 1. Nearly twenty years ago, I heard a former Big N sales manager say to their small-press coworkers that the competition for their books wasn’t other publishers’s books; it was beer.

    Nate, I agree with you on fiction, but when it comes to a non-fiction work with a niche audience, $44.99 may be a bargain. (I never see people complaining about O’Reilly’s ebook prices; is that because they’re DRM-free, or because they offer a bundling system that makes the ebook seem cheaper? Or am I just not hanging out on the right boards?)

  6. @Castiron: Wise words. Yes, beer competed against books back then, and it does now. Only, now the masses are drinking beer and playing video games and watching NetFlix. And the horrid wealth-and-income gap in modern America just aggravates matters.

    As for niche books, yes, if the economics are not right, the publishers do need to charge more than for books in greater demand.

  7. RE: David Rothman’s “@Marilynn: Huh? “’National digital library endowment. (Marilynn rolls her eyes.)” Explain.”

    I went back to find the comment I made yesterday or Tuesday to link to it, but it has disappeared. What I said was that I know you are excited to own Teleread again, but you need to stop the constant harping on your national digital library, particularly when it’s really off the subject of what is being discussed. It’s annoying and comes across as the spam of a writer trying to get people to buy their glorious self-pubbed book.

    That is why I rolled my eyes at yet another rant.

    PS When I click on the “more comments” link, the same list comes right back. This has been a problem for some time.

  8. @Marilyn: So, more or less, that’s all you can say? That you don’t want TeleRead to speak out so often for well-stocked national digital libraries? Such was the original reason for the site’s creation in the 1990s—even though TeleRead is about plenty else and people are welcome here whether they love or hate the idea.

    So what are your arguments against the endowment? Don’t you care about library sales (aside from the benefits to society!)?

    Would you actually support the idea if Bill Gates endorsed it? But the concept won’t work if it comes instead from a plebe who’s a former poverty beat reporter, and who has been writing on these issues since the 1990s?

    As for being on subject—well, if we’re talking about the state of the publishing industry, the endowment idea is just as timely as the piracy discussion. Over the years, the endowment could mean billions more for writers and publishers. Only 400 Americans are together worth more than $2 trillion. Even a crumb of a crumb of that could make a difference, and indirectly the Gates Giving Pledge just might help point the right people in the right direction.

    Furthermore, the endowment ideas has been in such places as LJ and Ed Week. Are you saying that you know more than the specialists who vetted and published my writings? Or my collaborator, Jim Duncan, head of the Colorado Library Consortium?

    Regarding your AWOL comment, it ended up in the spam folder. I’ve restored it. Always, always e-mail me at davidrothmanNOSPAMpobox.com when I’m the acting editor and comments vanish (the normal person to reach is Editor-in-Chief Juli Monroe at juli@1to1discover.com). Same applies to other members of the TeleRead community. Needless to say, if the comment wanders off yet again, it will be the doing of our anti-spam Dobermans, our software. Please. Tell me.

    > know you are excited to own Teleread again

    You bet, Marilynn! We’ve got some good, talented people writing on a number of their own passions, from H. P. Lovecraft to self-publishing on Amazon; and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Libraries just happen to be one of my own.


  9. No, I don’t have anything against your beloved national digital library. As a reader here, I’m saying you’re not doing yourself, your beloved library, or this site any good by your constant ranting on the subject, particularly when it’s pulled out of left field from the topic under discussion.

    Readers don’t like spam or a constant drumming of someone’s pet project to the point of the ridiculous, and you are fast coming to that point for me who will, at least, warn you instead of stop visiting like most readers.

    If you want to talk about the library, talk about it in an occasional post so it will be noteworthy instead of being eye-rolling worthy.

    • Thanks, Marilynn. I’m glad you at least “don’t have anything against your beloved national digital library” idea. If you can talk up the concepts of the endowment and well-stocked national digital libraries, so much the better. Focus on the merits as opposed to how often these topic should be mentioned on a site established to promote digital libraries. And meanwhile hang around. As noted, TeleRead nowadays is about much more. We’re talking about just a fraction of TeleRead’s total content.

      Site draws several thousand visitors a day. Offhand, I think you’re the only one who objects right now to the library mentions. I’m sure others do. But they can either remain in the closet or go elsewhere. More than a few people like TeleRead partly because of its library advocacy. And why not? Our visitors are readers and writers.


  10. David, I was here before you sold it, and I’m still here and still commenting. That makes me extremely unusual and a friend of the site, and friends tell friends when they are being boring. People who aren’t as invested in this site say nothing or they leave. Food for thought.

  11. Please stick around, Marilynn. Differing views keep the site interesting, just so people are civil. You’ve avoided personal attacks even if we’ve both wondered what is in each other’s water. We still do!

    Beyond the matter of the frequency of library endowment mentions, we’ve disagreed on issues such as copyright and big publishing. But, hey, that’s what friends are for—to discuss matters candidly. We both love books even though I suspect our tastes would differ. That’s a powerful glue.

    All this is nothing new to me. I’m a lifelong progressive. And yet my two best high school friends were decidedly on the conservative side. We didn’t ignore political matters; we discussed them. None other than Bill Buckley, my political opposite, wrote two “On the Right” columns in favor of the TeleRead library vision.

    Once again, however, keep in mind that endowment-related words are just a tiny fraction of those posted here. I’m only reflecting my passion just as Paul does his love of H. P. Lovecraft—much to the benefit of the site.

    Careful, Marilynn. If you discourage me from writing too often about well-stocked national digital libraries, I might start inflicting essays on you about Dreiser or another topic that might bore you even more. 😉


  12. @Nate

    And many decades old novels cost more than $10 in paperback.

    So what’s a reasonable price then? For…

    New biography and history $?
    New fiction, literary or genre $?
    Decades old novels $?
    Potboilers and series $?

    Or throw distinctions to the winds. Let the biography that took five years to research and write cost the same as the potboiler knocked off in a month or two.

  13. @Marilynn. Funny. Of course, I’d say Dreiser would have sided with me in 90 percent of our debates. Sinclair Lewis, too. And Upton Sinclair and… OK. I’ll let you and Greg M have the last word for now, lest you and I bore people while trying to figure out bores people.


  14. Hi David—

    Welcome back to teleread. I hadn’t been here for a year or more, and popped in last week to see that you had returned. Congratulations!

    I’m compelled to post not on Marilynn’s defense — she doesn’t need my help — but merely to say I’m another sometime-visitor that appreciates articles that stay on topic and don’t always devolve to the same screed. I guess I should stay in the closet (odd choice of words?) or not return. That’s a quick turnaround from the recent post asking for feedback on what people would like to see on the site.

    It was a similar situation that led me to leave the ebook-community mailing list many years ago. So much harping on OEBPF, as if a standard file format were going to cure all ebook-related ills. As we’ve seen, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.

    In any case, I’d enjoy seeing some long-form articles on the state of ebooks. You and your staff have a lot more experience and history than most people writing on the topic. It’d be great if the articles “stuck around” on the site, perhaps on a sidebar, rather than immediately scrolling off, never to be seen if I don’t visit the site thrice a day.

    Some possible topics include ebook pricing, corrections to ebooks and how they’re handled by publishers and retailers, various formats (kindle vs. iBooks, etc.) and their strengths and weaknesses, whatever happened to BlackMask?, why OEB hasn’t solved all our problems, what problems a well-stocked national digital library would address, a retrospective on Rocketbook/Softbook/Peanut/Palm/eReader/Franklin/Mobipocket/Stanza, and why the recent Tokyo guidebook I bought has none of the beautiful photos that are in the hardcopy.


  15. So nice to hear from you, Lee, given your history with Palm and your importance to the e-book industry during the 1990s.

    I myself think e-book standards have helped more than hurt, but you’re welcome to disagree. No closet for you, Lee–just the opposite. Juli Monroe, TeleRead’s editor in chief, is on vacation for another few days, but subject to her approval, how’d you like to write an in-depth comparison of the pros and cons of the various formats, in plain English that ordinary readers can understand?

    The Tokyo guide book’s omission of the photos is a wonderful example of the challenges–and something everyone could grasp.

    No limitations. Want to gripe about the latest incarnation of ePub? Be my guest. As before, TeleRead will publish different viewpoints from knowledgeable people. I know you’ll go after the ePub specs with a fine-toothed comb. That’s exactly what I want even if I’m an unabashed standards-lover.

    Retrospectives? The door is wide open to you and others. Since you worked on the software side of Palm for 15 years, I can think of few people better qualified to write on this topic. People unaware of your importance in the e-book biz during the 1990s can check you out at https://www.linkedin.com/in/leefyock.

    National digital library benefits (despite your concerns with frequent mentions of the topic)? I’ve spelled out the benefits before at LibraryCity.org and on TeleRead, in terms of problems addressed, and I’ll show mercy. Masochists can visit the LibraryCity site and scroll down to “Background” on the home page. They can also read the Ed Week article: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/05/13/we-need-a-national-digital-library-endowment.html

    Blackmask? It’s still around. I’m sure David M. hates ePub as much as ever, but good on him for including files in that format. That’s about says it all. I’d hope that he and the copyright lawyers have long made their piece. While he and I had our differences, I love the idea of small independent sites that care more about classics than about making big bucks from them. I don’t want public domain titles just in the hands of big corporations or even just in the hands of libraries. A little paranoia is essential 😉

    Pricing? Already covered in the above commentary. I’m confident that most TeleRead community members want to see Big Five publishers stop discriminating against e-books just to prop up old business models. They’d also like publishers to downhold expenses on, say, executive salaries. Disagree? Again, subject to Juli’s approval, we can publish an essay.

    As for pieces just scrolling by, that’s a wonderful jog for us to consider this in the redesign of the TeleRead site.

    OK. I guess that’s it for now, except that the suggestion box is still wide open for you, Marilynn, Greg M. or anyone else.


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