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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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are a very funny man! I hope you never change!