Now Die, Die, Die, Die, Die!*

Yesterday night I didn’t know what to blog about.  The problem looked even more complex when Amanda Green dropped Mad Genius Club rotating Saturday blogship on my lap late last night.

Fortunately the gods of fate are kind to me.  And fortunately the publishing industry will never, ever, ever run out of teh stoopid for me to marvel at.  So just as I was about to go to bed, a friend of mine gave me a link to The Passive Voice which made my blood boil and my mind become awed at the sheer amount of stupid in this field.  The particular link was this.

 The background for this is the DOJ case against the big six publishers who are accused of collusion in pricing in the so called “agency pricing” that was imposed on ebook retailers.  Amanda has covered this very ably here (as here, here, here here and here)  I don’t have time to go into it, but fell free to check it up.

Every time Amanda talked about it, someone came up with the talking point that “it didn’t matter” and “it didn’t hurt anyone.”  This puzzled us because on the face of it, agency pricing hurt quite a lot.  It hurt readers, who had to pay more for a book they wanted than they would have, had the free market been allowed to operate.  It hurt publishers, who sold fewer books because some people simply refuse to pay that much for what is essentially a license to carry the book on one, or a limited number of e-readers.  It hurt authors (at least it would, if publishers in most cases didn’t calculate ebook royalty by guess and by golly) because they made less money.  (This is not in dispute.  Publishers say everywhere the agency model means they’ve made less money.)

More importantly, Amanda said the law – unjust or not – is the law and price fixing is against the law, period.

 BUT the talking point still puzzled us.  How they’d even come up with that gem made no sense to us (or probably ninety percent of human beings.)  And then, as I said, a friend sent me that link.  The link was about a letter Simon Lipskar, agent and board member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, sent to the Department of Justice regarding the antitrust suit filed by the DOJ against Apple and five large publishers alleging the group colluded to fix prices on ebooks.

 Joe Konrath, long may his beard grow, fisked the letter here.  Also linked was another column by Konrath – a letter by a publishing insider.  And that is what caused this blog post, because it FINALLY explained what they meant by “but it doesn’t hurt anyone.” 

This is the money shot: 2.  One Book Is Pretty Much The Same As Any Other.  Lipskar acknowledges, as he must, that the prices of New York Times bestselling books went up following the simultaneous industry-wide imposition of agency pricing (“prices for a limited number of titles published by these publishers increased, i.e. those ebooks that were digital editions of newly released bestselling hardcover titles.  Amazon had quite explicitly promised its consumers that these titles would be available at $9.99, and with the switch to agency pricing, these titles did indeed increase in price, mostly to $12.99”).  But, he claims, these higher prices couldn’t hurt anyone because the prices of other books decreased (“No Price Increase for Non-Bestselling Titles”).

Okay, got that?  (Beyond the fact that yes, they increased the price of non-bestselling books or else some of my books are REALLY selling beyond statements, but we’ll leave it at that.)  ONE BOOK IS JUST LIKE ANOTHER.

 Look, guys, I’ve been in this field forever, and I have the bruises to prove it, but the thing about shocks me to my core.

We’ve long known that publishing execs weren’t readers.  But NOW, now, we have proof they’re not only not readers, they’re insane, or possibly an alien life form.

 What they’re saying above is that if you’re a fan, say, of Nora Roberts, you’ll be just as happy with a book by Terry Pratchett.  If you’re a fan of Jonah Goldberg, you’ll be equally pleased with a book by Michael Moore.  If you’re a fan of Robert A. Heinlein, you’ll simply adore a random book with “SF” on the cover.

 Got that?  Books are fungible, which means they are interchangeable.  You want to read Shadow Warriors by Tom Clancy and we don’t have it?  No problem, we have If you Give A Mouse A Cookie.  It’s a book and it should make you just as happy.

 “Of course they don’t mean it to that extent,” you say.  “Are you out of your ever-loving mind, Sarah?”

 Okay, so they don’t mean that to THAT extent, to what extent do they meant it?  I can tell you to what extent they mean it.  They mean if you’re into a certain sub-genre of science fiction or fantasy or Romance or anything, you’ll be just as happy with a book which is more or less along the same lines.  Say, you’re a fan of Nora Roberts and her book is too expensive.  Well, you can buy this nice book by Julia Quinn (or, since JQ is also a bestseller, let’s use a made up name, like Mary Smith).  See, you have a book.  It has words and everything.  So, you – being an idiot child who is easily distracted – will be perfectly happy.

 “But Sarah,” you say, “they didn’t call us idiots who are easily distracted.”  No?  Really?  But they’ve been TREATING you and me and every other reader as idiots who are easily distracted.  This is the only way they can treat books as fungible and think a book is just as good as the other.  (And I’ll have something to say on this before I close this article, btw.)

 This particular sentence though, this concept of any book being just as good as any other suddenly made sense of a bunch of industry practices which – otherwise – make no sense whatsover.  (It also made a mockery of a bunch of other industry practices, which is why I’ll have more to say on this.)

 For instance, how many of you, as readers, are aware that publishers think books are bananas?  Okay, maybe not bananas, but some other, fragile, quickly-expiring, short-sell-by-date produce?  Probably not many of you.  Heck, I didn’t when I was just a reader.  (Though it was a little different then, too, because the particular inventory tax laws that killed back list hadn’t come into existence yet.)  Most books these days have a an expiration date of just a few weeks.  When you have a traditionally published book, you have to start promoting MONTHS before it is even available because that influences how much it will be available, which influences how many will be bought in the first weeks they are on the shelf.  After that, they are removed from the shelves (if they ever got on the shelves at all) and replaced with other books.  This never made sense to me, but now it does.

 If books are fungible, why would you want to read a book that’s older than a few weeks?  If any book is much like another, all that counts is that the book is new and shiny and on the shelf, right?

 Or consider what publishers do, by buying books for the AUTHOR’S life story or the author’s cute face, or the author’s nice bit of leg in lace stocking.  It makes no sense to readers who – silly us – read for the story and the words and couldn’t care less if the creature who wrote them is secretly a cockroach.  BUT if one book is exactly like another, then the only way to sell them is the “image” and the “narrative” – therefore buying writers for things other than their writing?  Genius!

 Or consider “stocking to the net.”  Since all books are alike, readers – those idiots – must be attaching to the writers’ name in order to buy books (who knows why.  Maybe it’s like imprinting.)  So they will buy every book with the same author name in the same amounts, even if they are in totally different fields.  Romance by Georgette Heyer?  TOTALLY the same thing as mystery by Georgette Heyer.  And if a writers’ name isn’t selling, the best thing possible is to change the name, since that’s all the reader imprints on.

 Or consider that the publishers thought it was a PERFECTLY VALID and, in fact, marvelous state of affairs to be able to control which books even got seen, much less bought.  They would buy a hundred books and plan on 80 of them failing and, in fact, make it impossible for those books to succeed.  (The reason for the inventory being so large is related to all sorts of other stuff, including “holding space” and the fact that even a book which “doesn’t sell” will sell a few hundred copies, which with the new print on demand tech was enough for them to make money.)  How could they think this made sense?  How could they think they could PICK the books the public would want to read, across the country with that much exactness?  How could they think they could say “this book will sell 100,000 copies and this one will sell 500?”  Let alone why would they buy the book which would sell 500, let’s concentrate on their belief that it was a good thing to decide how much the book would sell before exposing it to the reading public (this from an industry that does no consumer surveys and in which twenty one houses turned down Harry Potter.)

 HOW could any sane industry think it was a good thing to be able to say “Well, I don’t care if the customers want more Pratchett.  We shall give them more Laurell Hamilton.  They’re both fantasy.  The readers will buy more of what is in a bigger display, and that’s the end of it?”  (Of course, both Mr. Pratchett and Ms. Hamilton sell.  However, Pratchett didn’t for almost a decade in the US while selling in the UK.  Why?  Because NYC had decided he wouldn’t sell.  So he got print runs of five thousand books and was about as well known here as I am.  The moment at the first Discworld con when Pratchett said “What changed between then and now?  Different agent, different publisher.  I write the same,” was a moment of intense relief for me, because if they can hold Pratchett at that level, they can hold anyone.  It’s their decision, not the writer.  More on that later.)

Well, the publishing execs think one book is much like the other.  So, it’s perfectly fine to push the books they want to push, with the opinions and attitudes they want to promote.  The reader, is after all an idiot, and they can just buy whatever is available.

 But Sarah, you say, printruns have been falling since this became policy.  Well, yes, I know that, but editors and publishers say it’s video games and TV and movies.  That’s their problem, not mine.  (And also, readership has increased with the e-book revolution.  I wonder why.)

 Other things that are their problem – if every book is fungible and every reader will be just as happy with one book as another:

 How come you stop buying an author when he/she doesn’t magically become a bestseller, when you haven’t slated him/her for it?  Because, look, if the reader will be just as happy with Harry Potter, A Farewell to Arms or If you Give A Mouse A Cookie, HOW can it be the writer’s fault?

 How come you give different advance levels to different writers?  Exclude the celebrities, since you think that sells a book.  How come you give some writers millions and some a thousand?  If a book is the same as the other, then all writers should be paid the same, right?  Maybe a certain amount per word?

 And if every book is the same as another book, why would anyone buy books from a certain publisher?  (Baen fans, SIT DOWN.  I’m not saying every book is the same.  Big Publishing is.  Baen is NOT part of teh stupid in this, and Baen is not guilty of this nonsense.)  Why not buy indie instead?

 By their very logic this brings us to the conclusion that the big six might or might not be alien life forms or mentally damaged, but they ARE in fact fungible.

 Don’t give big publishing a cookie.  BUY INDIE (Small press, micro press or self published and, of course, Baen who is in many ways indie).

 *My title btw, is taken from Shakespeare, whose works still sell, and therefore – by not being bananas – puncture all of big publishing’s argument.

140 thoughts on “Now Die, Die, Die, Die, Die!*

  1. I’ve just begun the querying process in earnest, and I’ve run into more and more stories like this. It’s made me wonder if it isn’t a good thing I haven’t found an agent or publisher yet and if self publishing isn’t the way to go. Due to the ease of e-books, it’s not near as hard as it used to be. Further, since most unknowns have to do the vast majority of marketing themselves, perhaps we’d be better to simply start our own businesses and do it ourselves. That way, the results are more on ourselves, and it eliminates the excuse of “Well, the publisher didn’t give me the support I needed.”

    1. You really want to read and Kris Rusch (I don’t know if her site is down yet.) And go to Dean Wesley Smith’s site (link on the right side somewhere) and read his new world of publishing posts. Then make your decision. I THINK if I were breaking in now, I’d go it solo. BUT it’s impossible to know for sure. My decision is of course influenced by 10 years of inanity from above.

      1. Dean Wesley Smith’s site is uber helpful and has an actual page with various notes and thoughts about how to break into non-traditional publishing (since that’s pretty much what he’s doing these days). Here is the link to that page (I hope Sarah doesn’t thwack me over the head for posting a link here (hint hint)).

      2. Thanks, Sarah. I haven’t made a deciosion yet and intend to carefully research, but it’s probably best I consider all options at this point rather than glumly say, “If I can’t get an agent or publisher, I just can’t make it.”

        1. I eventually went solo and so far, have been rather happy. (And would be a much bigger chunk towards the books earning out their covers, if I hadn’t had to cover a friend’s debt. Oh, well. The royalties paid for half that check, so yay?) The control over price, over cover… It’s very empowering, I find.

          You may wish to dabble with self-pubbing short stories, first, of course.

            1. Sarah – A little off topic, but I’ve been following your blog the past couple of days since seeing you post on Instapundit, and I must say I enjoy what you have to say. I enjoy it so much that I added you to my blogroll(barring objection…I can always remove if you wanted me to). Also, on your recommendation, I added JA Konrath’s blog as well. Lots of good stuff and helping sway my “breaking in” decision.

              And yes, I am checking out Dean Smith’s site as well. 😛

  2. Well, speaking strictly for myself, I refuse to read any book written by a cockroach.

    Seriously, this is substantiation of a concept from “Ink-Stained Wretch” Don Whittington: In all of Pub World, there is only one brain, and it floats about the publishing scene, picking which editor it will (briefly) grace with its services, allowing him his moment of sanity, and then moving silently on. If the relevant persons truly think “one book is just like another” — at any level — then someone has just shot the editor with the brain and doomed us all.

  3. The more one learns about publishing, the more one wonders that any of these clowns can find their heinies with both hands in the dark, much less run one of the world’s most influential industries. And the people running film and television are even worse, by all reports. Can anybody explain why we take seriously ANY of their opinions on politics, economics or puppy-training?

    1. There is an old _Dilbert_ comic where a new MBA* arrives; Alice asks him what products he’s helped produce — of course, the MBA hasn’t, but “I have a degree”, to which Alice responds “So you’re qualified to run this company because… you’re good at math?”

      [*: Which as we all know stands for “monumental bulls*** artist”.]

      This is why the industry is failing: It isn’t being run by Readers; it’s being run by Suits — and the death of any industry begins when the Suits take over.

      1. It used to be taught in business school (I assume it still is) that management is management no matter what the business or the product or service is. I lost a lot of respect for business school at that point. There may be fundamentals that are generally true across a wide swath of businesses; but I don’t want my hospital run by people who were great toy store managers.

        1. Management IS management no matter the business or the product or service … but it is ALWAYS the tail, never the dog*.

          More properly, bad management is always bad management. Good management always recognizes it is a support function** and its duty is to facilitate operations in whatever the business or the product or service. The principles of good management remain attention to customer, reduction of costs that do not add value for the customer, maintenance of product quality etc etc etc.

          *This is complicated by the fact that, when business is drooping, you’re always looking at an a**hole.

          **The possible exception here is when a company’s product is managerial services/consulting.

          1. I would add fundamentals of project scheduling and tracking, resource allocation, employee relations, and more. At that level, management is management.

            But as a software developer, I’ve had too many bad managers who assume that software development (an analysis and design task) can be managed exactly like fast food (a production task) and shipping (a distribution task). The techniques that make production more efficient will usually make analysis and design LESS efficient. But they make us go through the motions anyway.

            In the publishing world, they should manage the printing as a production task, but they should manage writing as an analysis and design task. I don’t see signs that they do that.

  4. While I hate to quibble (I will pause briefly for y’all to wipe the monitors clean) it occurs to me that, from one particular orientation, the publishers are (dare I say it?) … correct. Statistically speaking, all books are fungible. It does not matter if Reader A buys Author X or Reader B buys Author Y, in either case one book has been bought. From the publishers perspective, books ARE interchangeable, the more so once they learned how to rig the writer roulette wheel and fix sales. All that other stuff is just vestigial detritus from the earlier pre-scientifical publishing world and will in time wither as they break you stooped writers to the plow.

    Yeah, from the viewpoint of those actually creating and consuming litrachure it is all bollocks. But what leads you to think They are interested in those perspectives?

  5. I will note that the track record for works authored by cockroaches is pretty impressive, as Don Marquis would attest.

    1. Well, yeah, but they had a lot of help!

      On a tangential subject, anyone who enjoys lighthearted fantasy will almost certainly love the late Roger Zelazny’s book “A Night In The Lonesome October.” I mean, how could you not love a book that features every last important figure from Victorian-era horror fiction, has Jack the Ripper for its hero, and is narrated by the Ripper’s watchdog?

        1. I picked up the audiobook of Nine Princes In Amber because, while abridged, it was cheap … and I loved that book. AND because the abridgement, production and reading were done by Zelazny. I was absolutely bumfuzzled to hear his narrator start up and realize he was reading the book as a hard-boiled detective story.

  6. Yea – I ran into this a couple of years ago when I tried to get my novel Erika T. Red to an agent. She told me it was derivative, which still drives me nuts because I wasn’t seeing many Norse fantasy novels at the time. Now I wonder if it was just fungible.

    I have now indie-published it on ebook and POD. The book is slow to sell, except when I do a free promotion. I have taken Dean Wesley Smith’s advice and not worried about the promotional part. I write, and then I publish it. I am seeing an overall increase in sells. I now have four novels, several short stories, and an autobiography about my disease.

    Before I go off on a tangent, I realized that I could not play the publisher/agent game because I didn’t know how many years I had left, which is why I started my publishing. I love that I can make my own covers, make my own interiors, and write my own books. I do my own editing, which makes me a fool. 😉

    However, my books are different in that they are written in the desert and the West. (I am not writing in the Old West, but the current West with fantasy elements). It makes me different. I used to try to find books that were written in the desert – except for some Romance writers, I haven’t found any.

    I am so pleased that and other houses have started this Wild New West of publishing.

    Plus I am beginning to think that the Big Six are all aliens too.

    1. You’ve fingered one of the paradoxes of Pub World. On the one hand, they want “the same, only different,” because that simplifies their marketing to the maximum possible extent. On the other, they disdain “derivative” works, for reasons they seldom deign to articulate. It can be more than a little frustrating, in part because it’s hard to shake the suspicion that it’s self-serving: a form of rejection that doesn’t involve them in the hard work of actually criticizing the thing rejected.

      Independent publishing and marketing are as much a response to that sort of barrier as anything else.

      1. I think that derivative is supposed to be derogatory as you said (fporretto) without the agent having to explain why they are really rejecting the manuscript. It really confused me because it didn’t derive from anything else but my imagination.

        I would suspect derivative would really explain fan fic.

        Anything worth doing in my world starts out hard so I don’t give up easily.

    2. When the Daughtorial Unit was young she would often disdain proffered new shoes as “Too tight.” We could have put flippin’ clown shoes on her and they would have been “Too tight!!” Eventually we realized that her twisted little mind had determined that “They’re ugly,” “They’re stoopid,” or “I don’t like them” were potential invitations to negotiation, but “Too tight” was an inarguable deal breaker.

      OI have since learned that words like “derivative” are merely a situationally appropriate way of saying “Too tight.” When I hear that I remember the cartoon’s advice: I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.

        1. Well, we can all see that Big Publishing doesn’t like offering “derivative” material. Just ignore that Harry Potter mines and combines the English Boarding School and Fantasy lodes, the recent spate of works commingling Jane Austen and Supernatural forming a new subgenre, the many publisher commissioned sequels to GWTW …

          1. I think Harry Potter doesn’t support your thesis. J.K. Rowling faced rejections from countless traditional publishers before one would take a chance. Yes, to you and I it’s derivative; but to them, it was completely foreign.

            Now since then, Percy Jackson and host of others have come out all clearly marketed as Potter clones. And THAT supports your thesis.

            1. Point accepted — I grabbed HP hastily, aware that publishers had rejected it (which became a sales point, eh: “plucky book rejected by publishers, beloved by fans”? Like to see them figure how to market that.)

              Of course, if “derivative” really were a problem, we’d never see “In the tradition of ___” on a blurb, would we? (Dinner calls me, so please apply your own experience to broaden and extend that phrasing.)

              1. I sometimes like the “In the tradition of ___” I have found a couple of my favorite authors by using that in reverse. I read a book I like, and the selling points are all comparing it to some other authors books, so I try that author. On the other hand when they call something ‘In the tradition of Tolkien’ (who I don’t like) all it really means is that it is fantasy with a fairly good chance that there will be elves in the book somewhere. It’s a advertising ploy, just like Budwieser uses pretty girls in bikinis, has nothing to do with the love in a small boat beer they’re selling, but most men like pretty girls in bikinis, so they’ll look at the ads closer.

                1. we all read “in the tradition of” — we’re just discussing having books rejected with “it’s too derivative.” I’ve read some of the books they published after DaVinci Code or Harry Potter… if those weren’t too derivative…

                    1. The rest of the math textbook is in the stomach of the beholder, along with the PC party…. 🙂

                2. I should have an instinctive distrust of “In the tradition of ____”; but… Way back when I was an aspiring young writer (before I foolishy gave it up for three decades), I took honorable mention in a local contest, after taking consecutive second places in the two prior years. I was disappointed, because I thought I was supposed to get better over time. On the way home when we stopped at the store, I just stayed in the van and sulked. So while Mom was in the store, she shopped for a book for me; and she bought something from the bargain rack which was marked “In the tradition of Tolkien”. When she brought it out, I tried to put on a brave face and appreciate the gesture, even though I KNEW it couldn’t really be anywhere near as good as Tolkien. To show proper appreciation, I started reading it; but I didn’t expect to finish it.

                  That book was “The Face in the Frost” by John Bellairs. Thirty years later, it remains one of my favorite books ever. I’ve reread it every few years. Almost any time I create a wizard character in a story, there are direct echoes of that book. If I ever write anything half as good as that, I will count myself successful as a writer.

                  So I’ve learned not to be taken in by “In the tradition of _____”, but also not to hold it against the author just because someone in marketing thinks that’s the best way to sell a book.

                  1. Baen Books used to (still does?) use filler pages at the backs of their paperbacks, advising “if you liked this book, you might also like …..” or “People who like books by [Column A] might also like [Column B]”.

                    So, if you see David Weber in Column A, over in Column B you might see John Ringo. The correspondences were generally reasonable and offered a useful guide for anyone looking for more to read (and who isn’t?)

                    Baen not only isn’t afraid of “derivative” it helps readers find it. It’s so crazy, it just might work!

                    1. Yes, I always liked those pages, sometimes I might like one author and not the other, but usually if I liked one I would either like the other or at least find them readable. And I could usually always see why the two authors were grouped together.

                      Amazing isn’t it, how the stoopid readers not only like derivative, but find it useful?

                    2. In point of fact, that’s the most effective known way to market entertainment. Amazon’s AI engines do the same thing, and all the other online retailers are struggling to emulate them.

                      My (limited) sympathy for Pub World and its travails derives from the enormous difficulty of predicting what the audience will like. Every branch of the entertainment industry has the same problem. William Goldman made use of that in his movie-industry novel Tinsel. As that tome has found a secure hiding place in my immense private library, I shall now paraphrase it.

                      Let’s say it’s the Seventies, you’re a producer, and you want to make a comedy, but you also want to make an immense amount of money. The way Hollywood does these things is to assemble cast, scriptwriter, and directory according to past records of success. Well, looky here: Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and Stockard Channing are all available and willing! So much for bankable stars. And Carole Eastman, who’s a genius at rom-com, has agreed to write the script. All you need now is a real ace of a director. What? What did you say? Mike Nichols has expressed an interest?? This will make billions!

                      The resulting movie, The Fortune, was an immense flop. It lost an amount comparable to the GDP of Luxembourg. But as Goldman has his antihero-protagonist Julian Garvey tell his family, if the same package of concept, stars, scriptwriter, and director were offered to any producer in Hollywood the very next year, that producer would have made the very same deal all over again.

                      There’s simply no good way of predicting what sorts of entertainment will sell. Publishing has a better set of guides than the movie business — people tend to buy books according to preferred genres and favorite writers — but it’s still a very chancy business.

                    3. And when you’re putting your thumb on the scale, as they’ve been for years, it makes it worse. Because you’re deciding that “I’ll push A, she has an interesting life story” but “I’ll bury B, she’s totally average” and who knows? The fickle favor of the public MIGHT very well have liked B and it might hate A — partly because the thumb on the scales comes from NYC which is only one small part of the country. Again for years they slated PTerry for low midlist. He was selling like crazy in the US in the UK (coffee, Sarah, coffee) and here NO ONE KNEW WHO HE WAS. I stumbled on him early because someone in town took in a bunch of his books to trade at the used bookstore. I bought one, brought it home. Read it. Went back. Bought them all. I still get cold sweats when I think that in an alternate universe someone bought them meanwhile. BUT I couldn’t find him on the shelves in ANY of the city’s five new bookstores. Was he as good as he got? Well, no. He’s a good writer. He grows. BUT he was already doing bestseller level work. And he sold five thousand copies of each book, with luck. Actually closer to two thousand according to him. THAT’s how heavy the thumb-pressure was on the scales.

                      Is it still? I don’t know. They’re doing better at burying than at pushing these days. There is a chance to break out if you’ve been buried — Amazon — but they can delay your release date, give you an awful cover and generally “bury” you, so if you can’t reach your audience yourself, you’ll disappear from sight. And even if you CAN reach your audience, you’ll not reach all you could. BUT some of their pushes have fallen spectacularly on their faces. I’ve seen at least one that was pushed EVERYWHERE and that they were trying to make Twilight-big disappear without a sound. It does my heart good. (Particularly since the thing sounded like a precious, involuted, politically correct mess.)

                    4. All tragically true, dear. But as Emerson told us in “Compensation,” “You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong. Justice is not postponed… Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty.” Or, as we of the papist persuasion have been saying for millennia, “God is not mocked.” Or, as one of my characters said to another:

                      “You know how to make God laugh?”
                      “No, how?”
                      “You tell Him your plans.”

                      I have this suspicion that He laughs quite a lot at the conceits of major publishing houses.

          2. Gnawing on it further … if derivative” was a serious complaint we would see no sequels, no series, no genres. Has any publisher ever turned down a celebrity “authored” novel as derivative?

            1. NO sub genres, either. Like “oh no, quest fantasy? But we already have Tolkien.”

              Weirdly I never got “Too derivative” which means even publishers have SOME limits on what they think we’ll swallow. I have got “too weird” “too complicated” and “insufficiently woman-centric.” (CURSE my heterosexual female characters, I guess. 😉 )

  7. Why are publishers legally obligated to make Amazon’s promises come true? “Amazon had quite explicitly promised its consumers that these titles would be available at $9.99, and with the switch to agency pricing, these titles did indeed increase in price, mostly to $12.99”)”

    1. No-one said that, Rowena. What publishers aren’t legally permitted to do is collude with each other to SET prices, and this is what the DOJs lawyers – and the filings (which are public) support – claim that they did.

      Amazon isn’t relevant in this case, because Amazon was not involved in the collusion.

      1. Um. Isn’t price fixing still price fixing when they set prices lower (as it seems Amazon wanted) as when they set them higher (as we expect)? It seems to me that most of this sound and fury is a result of market failures to offer books desired by the public at optimal prices.

        1. It’s not price fixing when ONE retailer chooses to discount them to boost sales.

          Now, if every retailer of ebooks had priced them the same, AND there was evidence the retailers colluded, there might be a case for price fixing.

          Am I to assume from It seems to me that most of this sound and fury is a result of market failures to offer books desired by the public at optimal prices. that you see the lawsuit as a bad thing? The tone of your post suggests that this is the case.

      2. Has it been proven that they colluded to set prices? Or to adopt an agency model? When is collusion, “collusion”? Who decided that e-books could be lent? Who decided that e-books can be returned? Who decided that all bookstores may return unsold paperbacks? There are a lot of things that “everyone” does, that smack of collusion at some point in the process. There are a lot of instances where one company copies what another does, and the end result is no different from alleged collusion.

        1. It hasn’t been proven yet. That’s why we have courts. It has been alleged — not by Sarah, not by anyone here, but by the Department of Justice. Preumably they have evidence that they will present in court, some of which is detailed in their court filings. The fact that some of the publishers are looking to settle gives me some reason to believe that the evidence persuades them.

          I’m not automatically trusting the DoJ on this. I think they can be very heavy-handed on matters of anti-trust and collusion. So I would agree that it’s not proven until a court says it’s proven — and maybe even not then, depending on appeals. But on the surface, it’s reasonable to suspect collusion.

        2. The Department of Justice believes they have a case for “collusion.”

          Honestly, to some extent, I don’t see how they could not have colluded, at least informally. Human curiosity, they all know each other… How could someone not have picked up the phone and said, “Hey, are you going to take that Apple deal?”

          The prices they center around, though? Those, I think, are a long tradition of oligopolies. Look at gas stations. Especially look at gas stations that are right next to each other. Look at the games they play with their prices. Are those collusion? No — but they sure center in on a given price for an area.

          Look at airplane tickets, too, if I recall correctly. Do you see much variation in price with those? (Or if you do, can you figure out what’s causing it?)

          Basically, in an oligopoly, someone nudges the price one way or the other and everyone else waits briefly to see what the consumers think of that price-nudge. If the First Nudger is successful in the strategy, everyone else matches it. If the First Nudger isn’t successful (enough), then they return to lockstep with everyone else.

          1. And I don’t think nudging as you describe crosses any lines. That’s how pricing signals SHOULD work: the market signals what it’s willing to pay, and producers signal what they’re willing to accept. It should produce locally stable optimum values until conditions change.

            Where it crosses the line is when two or more producers contact each other outside the market and say, “Hey, if you won’t charge less than twenty bucks, I won’t charge less than twenty bucks, and the buyers will just have to pay twenty bucks or lump it. Oh, and make sure you double delete this email.”

            There’s an irony here, with the producers treating books as fungible commodities. In a truly fungible market like oil, price fixing generally leads to price cheating: some party to the agreement realizes that he can undercut his partners and make more money. But since books AREN’T fungible, you can’t do that. I can’t underprice my books and take sales away from Stephen King.

            1. Yes. And btw, As Far As I Can Tell, that’s how the “returnable books” model came about. A publisher tried it, did better, the others jumped in. THAT is not illegal. For for f*ck’s sake, Jobs bragged about orchestrating the collusion.
              I also don’t TRUST DOJ, but RC seems to have issues telling the difference between supplier and retailer.
              So, what do you guys say? Per-click troll? Whole word reader? Sad product of our educational system? All of the above?

              She’s STILL missing the fact that is NOT what my post was about. On purpose or accidentally?

              1. I try not to assume the worst. I looked at her site, and she looks like an earnest author whose books I might like. I can’t explain how she can keep reiterating points which have already been directly refuted; but I have seen that enough in the business world to lead me to conclude that people don’t comprehend arguments when those arguments conflict with their preconceptions. That’s my guess here.

        3. That’s what the court case is for. The agency model isn’t what’s being argued by the DOJ lawsuit: the existence of collusion is.

          The fact that two publishers had settled within 24 hours of the announcement that there would be a suit suggests that those publishers considered either that a guilty verdict was likely, or that their accounting practices would fail to withstand DOJ discovery.

          Copying practices is one thing. Repeated meetings and emails discussing how to implement a new model to protect hard copy sales (yes, this gem is available in the DOJ filing, and you can go and read it for yourself if you so choose) is a different beast altogether and does strongly suggest that collusion occurred.

        4. Good heavens, woman. Study the history of the field before flapping fingers on keyboard. The “who decided” — on returning paperbacks — it was decided during WWII. Laws were very different then. As for “Has it been proven” — the case hasn’t come to TRIAL yet, but the ones who are settling (the majority) have damn well admitted it. BESIDES Jobs BRAGGED about it. You know, if you follow the links I put on the post and READ them you might actually get all this stuff. And if you google “consignment model, paper books” you’ll find it was a war time measure that just never went away. And… Mind. Wonderful resource. USE IT.

          1. Sarah,

            Do you have the specific link showing Jobs was bragging/involved in this aspect of it? I’ve read differently in the past, but am not wedded to any particular position. If Apple actually was involved then they should be slapped down with the rest of them.

            I’d read in a couple of places that the deal was handed to Apple as a fait accompli. It was literally smoke-filled back rooms where the publishers hashed it out, and then they approached Apple and said “take it or leave it.” That Apple was only involved after the fact. Is that not the case?

            1. I THINK if you follow my links to Amanda’s writing you will find it. I’ve read about it, yes, I just haven’t the slightest idea where specifically. Interesting though, I read the exact opposite of what you did. Jobs put the deal together, contacted the publishers and said “this is how we’ll do it.” I know that’s what his biographer said, and there’s an interview with Jobs somewhere talking about it, clearly blissfully unaware it could be wrong.

              1. I’ll dig into the links when I get a chance. Never finished the biography (as much of a Jobs fan as I am) because it seemed shallow and uninformative. Maybe I’ll go back to it.

                1. It’s quite possible his biographer was speaking duck, too. BUT I know it’s the biography that finally made the DOJ move. And I remember seeing a youtube clip of an interview. I THINK it was linked at a writers’ site, though, but you know how it is — you do your morning blog reading, and you walk away with an impression but no clear focus.

  8. I don’t understand why you think that publishers have a legal obligation to keep rash promises made by Amazon to customers about content that does not belong to Amazon. Imagine if Best Buy quite explicitly promised to sell all ipads for $20 without asking Apple, and then the DOJ sued Apple because it would not give Best Buy ipads for $20.00
    “Amazon had quite explicitly promised its consumers that these titles would be available at $9.99, and with the switch to agency pricing, these titles did indeed increase in price, mostly to $12.99”)

    1. I never said they had an obligation. My take off on that quote was the “one book is like the other.” Please work on reading comprehension.

      1. Sarah is right, but there is a point here that Rowena is missing; her analogy completely fails and shows an utter lack of comprehension of one of the issues at stake.

        Rowena, Best Buy can sell all the hardware it wants at a 96% discount of $20 instead of (list price) $500, as long as it buys each unit legally from the manufacturer at whatever price the latter sets in the appropriate country in which it and BB are operating. True, BB will take a giant loss, but nothing prevents BB from doing so that I am aware of, in the US or Canada. Most manufacturers have MRSP — a manufacturer’s Recommended Sale Price, not an agency model for hardware where the producer dictates the final price.

        Similarly, prior to the agency model, Amazon could set whatever prices it wanted for books, and was losing money on some books, selling them at $9.99, and paying the publisher more. Switching to the agency model prevented Amazon from setting prices.

        The argument that a lawsuit is occurring because Amazon insists on selling books at 4% of what they are nominally worth and demands to get books at 4% of list price is just … well, “out to lunch” is the kindest term I can apply.

        Amazon wants to be able to set prices on what it sells. That certainly creates a threat to independent booksellers, and it could threaten to accelerate the phasing out of [higher margin] hardcovers, but attack on those grounds rather than creating silly and false analogies.

    2. Amazon’s price is largely irrelevant. Collusion to fix prices is illegal in pretty much all other markets. The problem is not the price, it is the collusion.

      But that wasn’t the point of Ms Hoyt’s post, was it? It’s di-straction, it’s di-gression, it’s di-version (mmm, love me some Gershwin on a Saturday afternoon) from the fact that publishers are acting idiotically, being dis-respectful of their producers and consumers — which is a good way to lose one’s middle-man sinecure and encourage alternate means of connecting writers and readers.

      1. In the complaint, Amazon’s price is mentioned in paragraph 2, page one, and repeatedly thereafter (page 8 of the pdf page 2 of the Introduction). The premise of the suit appears to be that publishers and Apple conspired to “raise prices”, which suggests that prices were in some way set (without any collusion).
        What makes a price that Amazon decrees unilaterally into a set price that cannot be changed or exceeded?
        The so-called “price competition” appears to be Amazon’s ability to sell any e-book for the cheapest price it appears anywhere on the internet. That is not really competition.

        1. Oh, good F*cking LORD woman, study business, or are you paid per click?
          AMAZON IS A RETAILER. The PUBLISHERS ARE SUPPLIERS. Retailers always set the price. People have explained this to you till they’re blue in the face. Is English your native language? If so, you really need to read more carefully, because you’re missing stuff. A supplier can set the price too. A GROUP OF SUPPLIERS cannot set a price in common and impose it on retailers. That’s collusion, and that’s what is bad. READ, woman, READ.

          1. Yes. You guys know I try to be patient, and I apologize to regulars for swearing, but really! Bringing up WWII practices and not knowing the difference between retailers and suppliers, while trying to discuss BOOK business.
            Oh, heck, I guess RC works for a publishing company. Probably a big one.

            1. Tsk. Ad hominem attack on Ms Cherry as a publishing company shill? Please, let’s not jump to conclusions. She may merely be trying to land such a gig, or she might even be a useful idiot. She certainly isn’t effective, persuasive or entertaining (well, I retract that last, slightly — there is a certain traffic accident / tabloid newspaper front page entertainment value to her contributions thus far, but it would be helpful if she had the mother wit to actually respond to the issue addressed in your initial post: Books ain’t peanuts.)

        2. The so-called “price competition” appears to be Amazon’s ability to sell any e-book for the cheapest price it appears anywhere on the internet. That is not really competition.

          As a retailer, yes it bloody well is. B&N.COM has exactly the same ability. So does any other retailer selling ebooks. THAT is – by definition – competition.

          Clearly you have no idea what you’re flapping your fingers about. I suggest you learn.

        3. Still missing the point, aren’t you Cherry? To quote The Right Stuff the problem here isn’t pussy, it’s monkey. Amazon’s pricing, publisher collusion, DOJ anti-trust suit? Pussy, every last jot & tittle of it. Which is why I will not respond to your … peculiar … views on what constitutes “competition.”

          The monkey in this case is the publisher’s statement to the effect that books are fungible. That Pratchett = King = Heinlein = Taylor Effing Caldwell. If you don’t see how that is a problem for writers and readers, then you are neither.

    3. Because nobody actually thinks that?

      You seem to have missed a key point here about how retail pricing works. If Best Buy wants to sell 64-inch Sony LCD TV for $0.99, they can. They pay Sony whatever wholesale Sony wants, then retail at whatever price they want. It might drive Best Buy bankrupt, but Sony gets to decide what price it sells at wholesale, and then Best Buy gets to decide what price it sells at retail.

      And before the “agency model”, this is how it worked for ebooks. The publishers could demand $6 an ebook, $12 an ebook, $16 an ebook, $60 an ebook, or whatever other price from Amazon they liked. Amazon would pay the publisher, and then Amazon could then sell the book for whatever price Amazon liked ($9.99). The model made no demands on the publishers to support Amazon pricing at all; they could set their price where they wanted and Amazon could choose to sell at a loss or not as it wanted.

      What makes the actions by the publishers illegal price-fixing is in two parts. First, the publishers, instead of setting what price they’re willing to sell to Amazon for, are telling Amazon what price Amazon must charge retail. Until 2007, this was per se illegal price fixing; now it’s handled under the “rule of reason”, and only illegal if it hurts consumers. (And the only argument the publishers have to say it didn’t hurt consumers is that “one book is like the other”.) Second, the pricing was coordinated by the publishers in mutual agreements and discussions, which is per se illegal price fixing.

      A publisher tells Amazon, “You have to pay us $13 a book”, and it’s is perfectly legal. A group of publishers talk with each other and then jointly tell Amazon, “You must charge the retail buyer $13/book”, on the other hand, is illegal price-fixing twice over.

    4. Your comment, to the extent I understand it, is based on a bald-faced lie. You probably didn’t realize that, so are only guilty of perpetuating it rather than originating it, but you ought to quit anyway. When people lie to you, you should investigate rather than simply re-bleating the falsehood (and no, that wasn’t a typo). No, that isn’t “civil”. I’m sick of being civil to people who throw insults in my face or lie without shame.

      Amazon never even tried to cut their prices to publishers, so your hypothetical is flatly false. What Amazon did do was charge $9.99 for a book when they were paying the publisher much more than that for it, $15 or more in a few cases. This is a technique common to retailers, called “loss leader” pricing; the retailer hopes it will attract customers who will buy other things that turn a profit, with the net result being that they get money overall. Your grocer does it every day, multiple times, and so do pharmacies, car dealers, newspaper vendors, drug dealers, and every other seller to the public, including the occasional bank. The United States Government does it officially — see “Chevrolet Volt”.

      So before: List price $20; Amazon gets a 40% discount, so pays the publisher $12, sells the book for $10 and eats a $2 loss.
      With “Agency”: Publisher lists book for $13, Amazon gets 30% for its services as retailer. The publisher gets $9.10, Amazon gets a $3.90 profit, and the book-buyer gets screwed. Whatever the reason for that, it wasn’t either publisher profit or serving the book-buying public — and if you think it meant an overall advantage to the publishers, you must live in Manhattan.

      Check before carrying tales next time, willya?

  9. How could they think they could PICK the books the public would want to read, across the country with that much exactness?

    Classic example of the “knowledge problem” that Hayek wrote about. (For those completely unfamiliar with the concept, here’s a Wikipedia link, though you should really go read Hayek’s essay in full). The ones most prone to falling victim to the knowledge problem are the ones who think they’re smarter than everyone else, i.e., New York publishing execs and their ilk. Also, way too many university professors — I’ll grant that they’re smart, but they’re not smarter than everyone else the way they seem to think that they are. (Most of the professors I had did not fall into that category, but I chose my college well.)

  10. Sarah,

    I’m beginning to wonder if you guys just need to break the model, period. Surely there are enough authors out there with enough in the bank to fund a start-up of sorts.

    I’m envisioning a publishing company that is focused on the electronic medium, targeting the Kindle, eBook, etc., as the primary means of distribution. Not as the secondary. Yes, many of us still love to hold a book in our hands (I count myself in that group, although I’ve really taken to reading Kindle books on my iPad of late). But I think we’re a dying breed.

    Start a publishing house that treats authors as, not just equals, but as kings and queens. You guys are the reason books exist. You are the reason that publishing houses can even make money. To hell with the old model. Make the authors, and their relationships with the readers, the core of the process.

    Find authors who are willing to take a risk. Find authors who are sick of the old way. Develop a publishing process that cuts out most of the crap, and delivers quality content to the readers.

    Sure, it will undoubtedly be a slow and expensive process to get moving. But long-tail economics says you’ve got a real chance at capturing some marketshare, and developing a readership that trusts you and demands more. Especially if you can develop quality goods at a cheaper cost to the consumer.

    Maybe I’m completely talking out of my ass. But this isn’t a completely new thought to me. I’ve cogitated about other industries in a similar way, and have seen inklings of it happening.

    Fuck the publishing cartel. Instead of going through them, go around them. They’ll either wake up and change their ways, because of honest competition in the marketplace, or they’ll go the way of the dinosaurs.

    Thoughts? Am I completely out to lunch? Is there enough volume (currently or in the foreseeable future) in the self-publishing industry to warrant the investment in building this new model? It sounds like Baen might be pushing in this direction. But I think there is further to go.

        1. Remember that when you mercilessly reject my submissions. Merciless is expected (this is a business, after all); but please make sure you smile as you reject!

          1. I should be reviewing them in the next week or so. I can almost see the bottom of the stack. Of course, it is still as high as I am tall ;-p

    1. Umm, you might check out Naked Reader Press? Run by Amanda Green who is a fairly regular commenter on this blog and was in fact mentioned in Sarah’s post.

      1. I’ll take a look. I’m new to this blog, as this is my first time here. So I may very well be coming into the middle of existing conversations. My apologies if my suggestion to reinvent the wheel is a tad tardy. 😉

        I like the timbre of the conversation here. It’s been a fun read. I’ll take a look at NR and see if it fits my internal vision. Maybe there’s already something in line with what I’m trying to express.

        1. actually, NR is just one of the venues. Most of us published authors are also starting our own presses on the side. It’s a new world, and there are wonders in it. Oh, and welcome. This blog has the most entertaining and informed commenters in the world. I’m just the hostess laying out snacks. THEY are the party.

        2. We’re all new to this, in some ways. The situation is changing so fast that anything you knew two years ago might be completely wrong today. So there’s no need to apologize for “tardiness”. We’re all here to learn and share and discuss.

          Check out the Dean Wesley Smith series linked elsewhere in the thread. Check out the Joe Konrath and Passive Voice links. Check out Sarah’s and Amanda’s posts. There are a lot of people who are ahead of us in this thinking. The biggest thing to learn (in my opinion) is that we have more options now. A new, ebook-focus press like Naked Reader is one new option, and I hope the do well (if for no other reason than I hope to sell them something!); but it’s only one option among a growing list. Self-publishing is also a much easier option than it has ever been before.

          And in fact, I’m not sure “breaking the model” is the metaphor I would use. It sounds sort of like trying to supplant the old model, when I think a better approach is to supplement and surround. The old model can serve its customers and its interests; but now there are a lot of other ways to serve OUR customers and interests. There are market niches they don’t occupy, leaving them open for us to experiment. If any of our experiments prove successful enough, expect the traditional publishers to start taking those niches more seriously.

          1. BUT we’re all pioneers. The other day a group of us pros got together to discuss this, and … oh, my. Things are changing so fast. We’re the people in new territory with our musket. We are in no man’s land.

        3. Sorry, reading my comment it sounds like I was trying to snap your head off, it was intended to be helpful, not snappy, but tone doesn’t always come across the way it should in text.

        4. You may also want to look at Open Road, which is not as good a deal as taking one’s backlist into pixels on one’s own, but apparently they do earn their 50% of the take by doing the conversions, covers, and most importantly, Facebook-wrangling when needed. (And if an author is holding down a “real job,” time is at a premium.) I know a few SF&F authors have gone with Open Road, and the ones I’ve seen mention this seem to be pleased with them. (Which may also be a statement of how dismally they were treated by other publishers, too.)

          1. Beth, I’ve been meaning to ask — see guys, this is how new it is — what does one do to distribute audio? You can’t do it via Amazon, right, like we do with ebooks? So… what gives?

            1. Actually, yes, you can do it via Amazon. It’s early, but I’ll hunt up a link when I wake up. They announced some sort of program for this last year. Amazon (owners of, remember) really wants to empower people to provide content, because they expect to make money when we make money.

              That’s the whole psychology of Amazon in this market: they make money when we make money; but with ebooks, POD, and audio, it costs them next to nothing to store our content until someone wants to buy a copy. So they can afford to list ANYTHING, whether it will ever sell or not. There is no risk for them in letting us take a risk. In the old world, if a brick-and-mortar store wanted to give a self-published author a chance to sell a physical book, that physical book had to take up expensive and scarce shelf space in that store. If that book didn’t sell fast enough, the store paid an inventory tax (something I don’t fully understand, but it seems economically idiotic to me). There was risk in giving the new author a chance. In this new world, the risk to Amazon or any similar vendor is near zero.

              1. Oh, and Dean recently announced that Kris is teaching an audio workshop late this year, including how to record your own books and do a decent job of it. That’s an option that intrigues me. But if you don’t like your own voice, I think Amazon/Audible’s plan included a way to hire voice artists as well.

      2. Thanks for the mention, bearcat. I’d be commenting now on what Rowena Cherry has said, but my mind is still reeling at the sheer idiocy of it.

    2. As noted: It’s already being done. I will however sound a cautionary note — o/~ — on this: It skates dangerously close to “auteur theory” in cinema. For the textbook example of how this can go disastrously wrong: .

      Not saying “this is how it will turn out”; saying “It doesn’t do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations if you live next to him”. 🙂

  11. Every time the publishers talk about their vital gatekeeper function, I remember having to cross the Canadian border to Windsor to buy British editions of Terry Pratchett, since US editions were simply impossible to get.

    1. YES. I was begging/borrowing them from friends traveling to Europe. How insane is that? All because they THOUGHT he shouldn’t sell in the US.

      1. Well, yeah – nobody in America reads BritFic (at least, nobody in NY) — we all know that. There’s just no appetite for such things and besides, it costs money to change all those British spelling (like honour to honor) and phrases (such as, Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone) for books nobody here wants. That’s why those Brit writers like Tolkein and Moorcock cluttered remainder bins. Heck, the only place in America willing to accept Brit entertainment is Public Television and even there nobody much watched crap like Upstairs, Downstairs, Dr. Who, Agatha Christie junk like Poirot and Miss Marple, Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes, those Sharpe’s movies or silly comedies like Monty Python. That junk only appeals to an elite, highly literate audience, the kind of people who probably read books instead of watching the NFL on Sunday afternoon.

        It just ain’t worth the bother. Next you’ll be suggesting Broadway should try British musicals like Les Miserable, Phantom of the Opera or Miss Saigon.

        1. Just a chunk of slightly interesting trivia, but Louis L’amour published his first novel in Britian, because no US publisher would publish it. (Bantam later republished it after he had wrote a lot of books for them) Why Britian would be a better place to sell a Western than America, boggles my mind, but then I’m not a publisher.

  12. The primary reason I sulk about the DoJ messing with the Big Six and their agency pricing is because they’re taking away the Big Six’s gun, that was aimed so nicely at the Big Six’s collective foot. Nooooo! Let them keep shooting themselves, DoJ!

    Although from what I’ve heard, the arrangement the DoJ is promoting will still allow quite a lot of foot-shooting, so I may be reasonably happy on that count. >_>

    (Secondary reason to sulk is a deep concern about the likely interaction between B&N and Amazon if indie authors also lose agency pricing control; it probably depends on if the DoJ decides to decree all agency pricing to be evil, though, and that’s yet to be seen. I simply don’t trust the elephants to notice the grass if the worst-case contract-changes happen.)

    1. Agency pricing is not illegal, and nobody competent has suggested that it is — certainly not the DOJ.

      What’s illegal is collusion for price fixing. The only relevance agency pricing has to that is that it makes it easier to enforce the “fix”, because under the alternate (wholesale/retail) model retailers have an opportunity to defect from the system. The combination of the agency model and uniform pricing leads to a suspicion of collusion, which is now being investigated. Agency pricing is thus a possible symptom, but not the disease.

      You needn’t worry about Amazon in that respect, because they’ve already won that war. We self-publishers set the retail price of our books, but if you look at your contract with Amazon, they already reserve the right the change the retail price if they like. There’s no real reason for them to do so in 99.999% of cases; the only time it might make sense would be if they decided to run an indie-publish promotion, and with the number of self-publishers they have on hand that makes about as much sense as doing a valve job on a bicycle.

      1. Actually, they exercise that right ruthlessly (and understandably) in the case where your book is for sale for less on another site — especially if it’s available for free anywhere. As far as I can recall, they were very explicit that they would do that in the terms I agreed to before I submitted to them, so no one should be surprised by it.

        1. I have long thought it would be useful if Amazon enabled consumers to “bid” for product. As they are currently configured I can put an item in my shopping cart and, by checking the cart daily, watch the item’s price fluctuate until it reaches a point at which I will buy.

          This applies more commonly to DVDs than books, primarily because DVDs have greater volatility (it pretty much doesn’t matter how great a flick is, eventually they all seem to hit $5 — it’s just a matter of patience.) These days, when I see a movie at theatre (or wait for it to go to disk) I usually mentally set a price point at which I will pull the purchase trigger. I do the same for TV series and certain (non-mmpb but nonetheless dead tree) books.

          If Amazon permitted consumers to set a “notify” on an item when it reaches that point it would provide invaluable (albeit perhaps uncomfortable) information for the seller. Maybe there are a lot of us eager to buy a HB when it hits the remainder table — it would help the publisher to know that they have a market, it’s just a market. of cheapskates. They could also use that information when determining to put in a short-term price cut, or when considering re-release of books in a series.

          I, and I suspect many another, will buy the first book or two in a series by a new author in mmppb — aka, least expensive sampling cost — and, if I find I really like it, I continue to buy the series in the same format I have already started it in. I might buy a reissue compendium of the pbbs if it is available and the price not too much. (Again, Baen is particularly good at exploiting this, repackaging series that originally ran in softcover, such as Drake & Flint’s Belisarius or Bujold’s Vorkosigan series in omnibus editions.) Frankly, the data-mining opportunities of such a “notify @ $X” button seem endless.

          1. RES, that bid system is an excellent idea! You should suggest it.

  13. The thing is, to the extent that reading is fungible, the publishers are doing their mid-list extreme harm. If I want to read the next Ringo or Kratman, the latest Roberts doesn’t fill the bill, but I probably buy something over a hundred books a year I wasn’t specifically looking for. Those extra books used to be almost 100% from the midlist or remaindered bestsellers that were down in price enough for me to give them a chance. Quite a few of my ‘must-buy’ authors I discovered this way.

    Now? When the initial paperback’s gone away, and the midlist kindle edition is $14.99 for eighteen months, then dropped to $11.99 to match the tall skinny trade edition, and then maybe dropped to $8.99 eighteen months later with a paperback release (if it even gets one), the chance of me ever buying it is zero. That author has no chance to move onto my radar.

    My extra reading time gets filled in by Baen webscriptions extra books, and mostly indie stuff.

    1. YES. I stopped reading new books and discovering new authors when paperbacks went to 8.99 I mean… 8.99… That’s meat for one meal for this family of four (or more if I am using one of my extending techniques, like kabobs or quiche.)

      1. Given that my book buying is pretty much limited any more to the Amazon card my Manager gives me every year at Christmas, I’m the same way. And yes, the cost of a paperback being enough for the meat for a meal for a family of four (I see you limit yourself to the same lower-price selections I do), is awful.

        1. Try living in Canada, where they tack an extra three dollars or so onto the paperbacks (average price 9.99-11.99) and almost ten to the hardbacks. Over the last three years I’ve watched the price of one of my favorite author’s hardcover books go from $24, to $27, to $31. That’s without adding the CD that Baen does that ustifies that high of a price, and with the Canadian and US dollars hovering only a two or three cents from par. Worse, they print the prices side by side on the cove or dust jacket so I know exactly how much extra they are trying to sueeze out of my pocket. (Sorry for the rant, but until I discovered ebooks I had to stop buying new books and it hurt.)

          1. Ugh. Yes, that practice was started back when the Canadian dollar was worth about 80 cents American, and while I HAVE seen a couple of cases where it was re-structured, it would definitely suck to see that you’re paying so much more.

            1. I always assumed that the “Canadian premium” was due to exchange rates, and that when exchange rates narrowed, it would go down.

              Yes, I was THAT naive! Why would they lower the price instead of reaping the windfall?

        2. actually I KNOW when my grocery stores (within five miles) put meat on sale, so it’s not bad. 50% allows us to buy beef. But yeah. Look, we’re raising the kids on mathematician-money and writer-money. There ain’t no Santa Claus to make up the short falls. I don’t know if I talked about when I was taking an art class and everyone in the class was about our level education/work/income and they were all talking about their vacations in Europe and their taking the kids on grand tours. I still have no clue how they managed it, though my husband said “credit” which we don’t use, except for the house, (an habit that has kept us from being real trouble more than once.)

        3. I compare everything to the price of gas, of course at $4 a gallon those paperbacks are only worth a couple gallons of gas, so that may not be a good comparison. 😦 I just know that my fuel bill is more than twice the rest of my bills combined every month, and when the price of gas and diesel goes up but wages don’t, well something has to give. It means I buy books secondhand or reread ones I already have, or switch to more ebooks (I prefer deadtree, but I’ll try new authors for the 3-6 dollars of a new ebook a lot more often than I will for the $9+ of a new deadtree these days).

          To be perfectly honest I don’t really like ebooks, but I find myself reading more and more of them for a couple reasons.
          1. Price
          2. Authors I like printed only in digital
          And of course to check out new authors that sound good for discount or free, if I really do like them and they are available in deadtree I will usually buy future books of theirs in deadtree. However much I may prefer deadtree books, the selection is better in ebooks, and the publishing options are better for authors, so ebooks are going to be prominent and probably the dominant future of publishing. And anything I publish will probably be digital for that very reason.

          1. Fuel prices fluctuate too much (and carry too high a tax component) to be a good barometer for broad purpose, but can be critical in specific instance.

            I wonder whether publishers ever engage with serious readers (as opposed to readers of serious books.) For most serious readers the ONLY reason to read an e-book is price and convenience … For most serious readers, the ONLY two reasons to read an e-book are price, convenience and variety … For most serious readers life bears too close a resemblance to a Monty Python skit.

            I buy new authors in paperback. I buy preferred authors in hardback. I would buy some authors in leatherbound, gilt-edged editions if they were available and I had the money. Yes, I am a biblioholic and prefer the hard stuff. Most biblioholics do. In my experience, if a biblioholic likes a book in e-format he (she) will desire it in dead tree and publishers would be wise (as Nelson Muntz would say: Hah-ha!) to recognize and exploit this preference. Get ’em hooked on the pixel edition and move ’em to the hard stuff.

            Kids these days may not fancy dead trees, valuing portability and wall (and floor) soace more than shelves and piles of rotting paper. But, by virtue of being kids, they lack funds for lots of books anyway, so publishers should stop insulting these tech-savvy youth with pricing models that drive them to Project Guttenberg. Just at a guess, I would suggest there are more great reads out of copyright than under it.

      2. Heinlein taught me to translate money into something meaningful and not accept the face amount. Thus I realized some time back that the cost of an evening movie ticket equates to about an hour and a half at minimum wage. Thus, that $8.99 ppb is about the same price as a matinee show.

        Now, being an old coot myself, I can remember buying brand-new ppbs at $0.95 back when that was minimum wage. Of course, i also remember paying $0.50 for ppbs, but can’t swear those were not bought at the second hand bookstores I haunted in the late 60s. I am SURE the $0.35 I recall paying for some ppbs was second hand. Those second hand bookstores were something else way back then — I also recall buying early copies of Warren’s Creepy and Eerie there, the ones edited by Archie Goodwin with Frazetta covers and interior stories by Neal Adams, Dan Adkins, Reed Crandall, Johnny Craig, Steve Ditko, Frank Frazetta, Gray Morrow, John Severin, Angelo Torres, Alex Toth, Al Williamson and Wally Wood. There was even an adaptation of EandO Binder’s Adam Link tale.

        1. If those are the prices you remember, you ain’t no old coot, you’s a mere chile.

          I remember when MMPBs on the rotating rack at the drugstore went from 25 cents to 35 cents. It made me mad. School lunches were 35 cents per day; if the book cost a quarter, that left ten cents for a couple of candy bars so I didn’t have to go completely hungry, and the raise in price eliminated that possibility.

          That rack was also my introduction to “marketing”. What I bought was almost exclusively SF, and I noticed that the more I bought, the larger the proportion of SF in the rack was. The jobber who filled the rack was paying attention, and stocking what sold. If I slacked off over a couple of refill cycles, more romances and thrillers would creep in — another incentive to spend money. After a while I was even buying stuff I didn’t really care for all that much, just to keep the jobber from thinking I’d lost interest. When I confided that principle to another customer, a lady who preferred romances (nurse stories, IIRC), between the two of us the rack was soon almost completely divided between spaceships and ripped bodices. Ah, the good old days…

          1. Hey, gotta keep the stories at least somewhat credible. I am unsure what I first paid for mmpbs, but I remember the trauma when comic books went to twelve cents from a dime.

          2. “the rack was soon almost completely divided between spaceships and ripped bodices.”

            In other words, typical Heinlein fare. 🙂

              1. Oh, hell no! Heinlein’s the original king of space pr0n!!!

                Frankly, I loved how he pushed the envelope wrt sexual mores.

                I’m assuming you’ve read the re-release of Stranger that Virginia published after Robert died. Usually, editors have a pretty keen eye for cutting the cruft from an otherwise good novel (e.g. Stephen King; the re-pub of The Stand is the definitive example of why the cutting room floor exists in the first place; what a travesty). But the re-release of Stranger in a Strange Land was a revelation to me. It continues to be the top “gift” book on my list. I have lent and given that book to more people than I can count. It is soooo much better than the original publication. I understand the reasoning at the time for the hatchet job they did on it. The public was most likely not ready for it. But the sense of the novel completely changes when read in its original form.

                Heinlein’s libertarian (and libertine? 🙂 ) approach to life and writing, I think, are one of the most important contributions to Science Fiction and Space Opera known. I think the world would be a much better place if we all took his values-system more seriously.

                Why, yes. I am a libertarian (small-L). Why do you ask? 🙂

                1. My favorite Heinlein is The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. BUT — even though I disagree with some of his “how people work” particularly about sex — I think his work with sex/relationships was NEEDED and is the only one truly exploring a future in which our evolutionary sexual/mating responses become scrambled by technology — life extension, divorce of sex and reproduction, etc.

                  The ahem was to serve you notice that you’re in the blog of a “child of Heinlein” and that I endure enough sniggering about his writing in the panels at which they make me the “sole Heinlein defender” in conventions to put up with MUCH of it on my blog. How much of a “child of Heinlein”? The older son is named Robert Anson. OBLIGINGLY, though due on the fourth of July, he was born on Heinlein’s birthday. (My spending the days intervening in labor was probably someone’s idea of a joke.)

                  Right. Carry on!

                2. Side note on “pushing the envelope” – I’ve been wondering lately – when has the envelope been pushed enough? Should there be no boundaries at all (my opinion is that there should)? If “art” (including writing) continues to push the boundaries, how will we know when it’s gone too far?

                  I really can’t trust “the public” to decide, the majority can be manipulated far too easily. Anyway, something to ponder. I’m not going to claim to have the answer, because I can’t decide exactly where I fall on the subject myself.

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