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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Thank You, Dick Cheney

Former VP Dick Cheney has been unleashed again, presumably without his meds. Now he thinks the Obama Administration should "thank" George W. Bush and Cheney for all the swell things they've done to make President Obama's life easier.

Here's a few of W.'s accomplishments:

* Allowing the largest domestic terror attack in the history of the country to happen despite repeated warnings from the State Dept. But W. had brush to clear at his Crawford ranch and couldn't be bothered to take action.

* Starting a war of choice and not necessity by attacking a nation that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks (that would be Iraq, for those keeping score at home). Bush's "easy" war where we would be "greeted as liberators and not conquerers" turned a stable if authortarian state into a seething cauldron of violence that is creating a whole new generation of terrorists. Saddam Hussein was a bad man, no doubt about it...but I really think setting off a civil war that STILL threatens to engulf the entire region is inarguably worse.

* By taking out Iraq, Bush helped make Iran a powerful agitator in the Gulf Region, which threatens to further destabilize the region for years to come.

Oh, yeah, there's a lot more after the break...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Authors Love their Publishers...

Authors love their publishers...the way cattle love their farmer.

See the kind farmer, how he feeds and nurtures his cattle. How he takes care of them, protects them from the big, bad predators beyond the confines of the electric fence.

The farmer is looking out for the interests of his cattle out of the goodness of his heart, the cattle all moo to each other...right until they're shipped out to the big farm in the sky.

Right now, many authors are going on and on about how publishers like MacMillan are just looking out for the authors' interests in the battle against the big, bad Amazon wolf. (Commentary from John Scalzi, Catherynne M Valente, Scott Westerfield, Tobias Buckell -- of the group, I found Buckell's comments to be the most reasoned and insightful.)

Meanwhile, the publishers are paying authors tiny royalties from their ebook sales.

My fellow authors:

I know the publishing world is a big, scary place. I know many of you are turning to your publishers for comfort, the same way that Metallica suckled up to music labels when it started complaining about music downloading. But remember, the publisher is interested in you only for the money you can make for them.

Don't be part of the herd. Supply your books directly to ebook distributors. Even sell directly to readers.

Give readers what they want: open, non-DRMd formats, no geographic restrictions, decent pricing. Make decent royalties.

And take your fate into your own hands instead of waiting for the day that Farmer Brown decides you're no longer economically worthwhile and sends you off to be turned into a baseball glove.

Don't think it can happen to you? Go ask a midlist author or two whether or not it can happen to you.

Look at the economics:

With a big publisher, you need to sell tens upon tens of thousands of each book to make a living. On a typical 8-10% royalty, that's maybe 75 cents royalty per paperback sold. Say a target income of $30,000 a year = 40,000 books a year sold. That's a tough nut to crack in the current marketplace, what with returns, fighting for shelf space, etc.

Now, selling directly through ebook distributors: $2.99 ebook with 70% royalty = a little over $2.00 a book. Same income selling 15,000 books a year.

Yes, 15,000 is a lot of ebooks right now. But bear in mind, no warehouse or shipping costs. No fighting for shelf space, only mind share. Your books are instantly available around the world to anyone who speaks English with an internet connection and $3. Providing books in open, universal formats like HTML, PDF and txt helps, too.

Now, here's the kicker. Mix sales and giveaways of ebooks to increase awareness of yourself as an author and upsell readers to something really valuable: Write one novel a year and self-publish in a limited edition, autographed hardcover with bound-in CD extras: Interviews, behind the scenes, alternate scenes, etc....stuff you have lying around in your scraps folder anyway.

Sell the hardcover for $25 + shipping. Sell direct only to readers and at cons and appearances, or non-returnable to wholesalers who might be interested. Production cost is about $5, so you make a $20 profit.

Now, you're looking at a pretty viable business: Sell 1,000 limited edition hardcovers ($20,000), sell 5,000 ebooks ($10,000) and giveaway a whole bunch of freebies to prime the well. Anything above those numbers is gravy.

It's what's going to happen anyway...the question is, are you going to do it now and embrace the future...or wait until it's done to you?



Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say "Amazon good, MacMillan bad." I've made it clear earlier that I believe MacMillan has every right to charge whatever the market will bear and Amazon should have let them...and I suspect Amazon is blocking that pricing because they want to dominate the ebook market.

A couple of points, however:

* I know it is NOT the publishers' fault for the death of the midlist--not entirely, anyway. Publishers are struggling to get books into stores with limited shelf-space. With the industry dominated by two major bricks-and-mortar retailers, those two companies can dictate a lot of terms.

But publishers, most of them now owned by large corporations, are obsessed with "swing for the fences" results--they want everything to be a big hit and aren't really all that concerned with nurturing a new generation of writers who can post reliable but unspectacular numbers.

* Amazon needs content to sell and they don't care if it comes from MacMillan or JoeNewb. You're not competing for shelf-space online and that is a HUGE issue for authors.

* I'm not blindly saying "trust Amazon." I don't trust Amazon. I'm not under any illusion that they'll pay out that 70% royalty one day longer than they need to, and when they dominate the market, they're going to whittle it down to something favorable to them.

* I don't own a dedicated ereader and never expect to own one. I think it's an interim technology, just like PDAs have turned out to be. Most people will end up reading their ebooks on laptops, netbook/smartbooks or portable media players.

I think dedicated ebook readers with proprietary formats and DRM are just a bad purchasing decision.

I get all of my ebooks as non-DRMd PDFs, Epubs, HTML or text downloads. If I can't get it that way, I just buy the mass market paperback. I buy a LOT of used books. Authors and publishers are missing out on a lot of royalties from more frugal readers like me.

HOWEVER, the thing to remember is that Amazon need not be the only game in town. In online retailing, they can be on top of the world this year...and in a heap o' trouble the next. I see companies along the lines of becoming a major player in publishing. No DRM, open formats, great prices, no proprietary hardware--what's not to love?

I think a big part of that is the same few points I keep harping on every time: Non-DRM, open universal formats (HTML, PDF, txt...Epub I guess although I don't see the point), no geographic restrictions, very modest pricing.

With that combination and the freedom as an author to go where the best deal is, you can sell anywhere, anytime, to anyone and make a decent royalty...and give your fans a great product at a fair price. You are not at the mercy of any outside company.

The key is going to be "how to find ebooks you're interested in"? You'll see social aggregators like becoming much more important as people turn to them to find new authors, share ideas and catch up on "what's new and exciting." You'll see news and gossip sites dedicated to books and storytelling -- like Slashdot or Digg for books. That is where the power in publishing is going to end up.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can MacMillan Dictate Ebook Prices?

The Story So Far on "Ebook Smackdown"...

* Amazon dictates ebook pricing to the publishing industry. Much grumbling ensues.

* Publishers insist that ebooks cost as much to produce as printed books.

(My opinion--if they really do, you're doing it wrong. Time to get into another business.).

* MacMillan is emboldened by Apple's whispering sweet nothings in its ear about the IPad, which can apparently bring about world peace, solve hunger and display ebooks.

* MacMillan tries to dictate ebook pricing to Amazon.

* Amazon responds by delisting all of MacMillan's books, including printed ones.

* Publishing goes nuts. Authors and publishers alike demonize Amazon. Readers don't understand why they can't purchase books they had access to before the weekend.

* Two days later, Amazon surrenders. Publishers are happy. Authors appear to be happy. Amazon looks foolish. Steve Jobs still looks smug peddling an inferior tablet computer that doesn't even have USB ports or play Flash.

Which Brings Us to Now:, one of the better sites chronicling the ebook wars, posts an interesting article on the Amazon/MacMillan fallout.

The article essentially makes the case that MacMillan has acted unethically if not illegally. Many authors who publish through MacMillan (and a few other companies) have called for a boycott of Amazon.

Personally, I think MacMillan has stepped into a big, steaming pile of fail. If everyone else in the industry follows suit, as this article suggests they might, you're about to see big publishing get mightily humbled by small presses and independent authors.

MacMillan does have the right to decide what it is going to charge for its products. And consumers have no choice but to pay those prices if they insist on reading those particular books.

That is how capitalism works.

But readers are not powerless. In fact, quite the opposite.

You see, boycotts cut two ways.

Readers, remember that you have the money.

So what if MacMillan wants to move the price up to $14.99?

But there are over 100,000 new books published every year. Most of them are by small presses and independent authors. And many of them are smart enough to be willing to sell you an ebook for $9.99...or $4.99...or $1.99.

Boycott the big boys. Support the companies that "get it."

Be sure to let MacMillan know that you won't be purchasing any of their books until they compromise. Not just ebooks...any books published by them at all, print or ebook.

Be sure to let the authors who work for this publisher know that you are boycotting them, too. It's not personal, it's just that $9.99 is a fair price for an ebook, thank you very much, and if you expect me to pay $14.99, then I will gladly purchase ebooks from another company.

There are plenty of companies that "get it." Baen, Smashwords, BooksForABuck and a whole host of small presses and independent authors go out of their way to keep their prices fair. Many of them offer ebooks without DRM, too, because they understand that DRM sucks.

Personally, I will gladly sell you my Outlaw Galaxy ebooks for $1-2, without DRM.

Support publishers that get it...and let the authors you love know that you're voting with your wallet.

Remember, boycotts cut two ways.

-- Bill Smith