I checked a book out of my local library the other day, and when I went to read it I discovered that someone had been there before me, littering the words and sentences with sharp lines and emphatic scrawls. Not a rare occurrence in my life, to be sure, but one that always makes me think the vandal (or vandals in this case, if the three different colors of emboldened ink are indeed evidence of serial abuse) is revealing something deeply disturbing about themselves in this simple, narcissistic, and completely self-absorbed anti-social act. [ Read more ]
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This post is in response to a recent series of Huffington Post editorials about the future of publishing. Each voice in these editorials, like each voice in the larger ongoing conversation, has a valid point of view. Ignoring how we got where we are, however, or the realities of this moment, fails to address the future that is hurtling toward us.
On Thursday, October 7, Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, posted an editorial titled, Why We Need $4.00 Books. As the head of a company devoted to servicing the e-book market, it’s not surprising that Coker touted the functional and distribution advantages of e-books over published texts, or that he focused on the crushing costs associated with maintaining the traditional publishing model while ignoring e-book costs and the threat of digital piracy. Coker also took notice of the publishing industry’s recent decision to withhold e-book versions of frontlist titles as a defense against cannibalizing book sales:
Many publishers view ebooks with a skeptical eye. After all, won’t cheap ebooks cannibalize expensive print books?
This is the wrong way to examine the situation. Lower cost ebooks help publishers retain customers who might otherwise abandon books altogether in favor of lower cost alternative media options.
Ebooks also hold the promise to expand the worldwide market for books. Hundreds of millions of new middle class and literate consumers have come online outside the US, especially in developing countries.
In Coker’s view e-books equal a larger market share for an industry facing intense competition for eyeballs. This larger market share would in turn compensate authors and publishers for a lower per-copy price. [ Read more ]
I’ve stumbled across a few posts recently about e-readers and how they compare to books. The overwhelming consensus is that e-readers aren’t there yet, but this rather obvious observation seems to be leading people to two completely wrong conclusions.
One group of people are concluding from the current technological shortfall that books will always be better than technology, therefore there will always be a need for books. Well, no…and yes. [ Read more ]
Imposing technological solutions for Digital Rights Management (DRM) is, in theory, a viable way to stop the piracy of online content. In theory. In practice DRM presents a host of implementation problems and customer service headaches because legitimate content owners are punished or disadvantaged alongside thieves.
Because of the gap between current theory and practice, proponents and opponents of DRM attempt to dominate the DRM debate with apocalyptic rhetoric, political gamesmanship, and the kind of righteous indignation that is both an intellectual guilt trip and calculated lie at the same time. Neither side is really interested in what is practical or effective, or even in learning how pirated content is actually consumed by the end user.
The reason they are not interested is because they cannot sell the products they want to sell in a calm atmosphere. It takes fear of nuclear annihilation to sell both bomb shelters and bombs, so both sides in the DRM debate stoke the rhetorical fires and present their hard-line solutions as the truth, the light and the only way. All of which I’ve talked about here, here and here.
Still, it seems to me that there is one DRM question worth asking. Here’s how I referenced the issue in one of those previous posts:
Elsewhere in the clip, Mr. Doctorow makes a good point when he says that books will be copied and scanned regardless of the DRM that publishers employ. I agree. But that’s not necessarily saying something important. Scanned versions of books are almost inevitably going to be less clear than licensed e-books or even licensed digital copies. Yet even assuming someone cracks a DRM-protected book and makes it available for free, the book business has a kind of built-in protection against wanton piracy simply by nature of its content.
Music comes in small files. Movies are dumb — you just stare at them. Books, however, are big, and require active engagement over a long period of time in order to be consumed.
Maybe someone somewhere is downloading two hundred cracked e-books at a whack, then reading the first sentence of each in order to find a great read, but I think it’s unlikely. In fact, it’s unlikely that most pirated books are ever completely read, precisely because a book is relatively hard to digest. This means the ratio of thefts by end-users who intend to enjoy the content they steal to thefts by pirates who intend to profit from the content they steal may be lower in the book publishing industry than in any other medium. Which means the book publishing industry has more to gain by going after traffickers and less to gain by going after end-users than any other industry.
I am publishing a collection of short stories as an e-book. Continuing a series from last week, I’m trying to work through the relevant pricing issues and set a price for that content.
We all have expectations. Sometimes, particularly when we’re young or old, our expectations can be out of step with reality. When we’re young we don’t have the cognitive ability to understand the world as it is, so we fantasize. When we’re old we may have trouble keeping up with the pace of change, and the world may move on without us.
Perhaps no other aspect of daily life in America defines our expectations more than the price of goods. We are a consumer society, and as such we gauge our worth and meaning by what we have and what we can afford. Goods that are priced out of reach make us feel poor. Goods that are within reach make us feel wealthy — or at least as if we have options.
Everyone has heard a child request a new car or new house in the same way that they ask for a piece of candy or scoop of ice cream. To a child price is no object because money has no meaning. And who hasn’t heard an elderly person comment that a candy bar used to be nickel or a gallon of milk a dime? To an elderly person prices may mark the zenith of their life experience, while also serving as a reminder of the threat posed by inflation and rising prices.
People in the prime of their working lives generally have more realistic expectations about prices, but they can still experience dissonance when the cost of goods change. Gas at $4.00 a gallon is an outrage. Gas falling back to $2.50 is a windfall. But note: these emotions and responses are usually relative, not based on an actual understanding of the costs of production. Because we live lives abstracted from our own survival needs, and because our economic lives are abstracted through bank accounts, direct-deposit paychecks and credit cards, there is often no contextual reality to the prices we pay. We pay what we pay because that’s what an item costs, not because we know that’s what an item is worth. [ Read more ]
Yesterday I posted an important excerpt from Thomas McCormack’s book, The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist. In the excerpt, Mr. McCormack dismantled the way theme is commonly taught in schools and colleges, and I urged readers to forward his essay to others so that we might collectively stop this abuse.
Today I’m going to explain why this is not simply a goofy idea but actually important. By which I of course mean that it involves making money.
If you remember my post referencing the 90-9-1 Principle, you’ll recall that 90% of the people interested in anything are passive about their interest. They want to watch movies, not make them. They want to watch cooking shows, not cook anything. They want to read books, not write them.
In the publishing business, this 90% is variously known as The Audience or Our Customers. Yes, writers read other writers’ books, and editors read books other than the one’s they’re editing. But when it comes to the people who buy and read books and generally provide the medium with a return on investment, that’s the 90% who are not interested in writing books or even in analyzing books. They just want to read.
So it stands to reason that booksellers and book writers would want as many such readers as they can get, and they would want those readers predisposed to enjoy the process of reading, as opposed to, say, hating it. Which is why the way theme is often taught to students is a serious question, and one that deserves addressing. [ Read more ]
After three weeks of blogging and Site Seeing I definitely have a better handle on what’s happening out there, but I’ve also come to grips with the fact that I simply can’t keep track of it all. And that’s true even if I avail myself of all the latest tech, tech filters and social networks — which I would also have to spend a great deal of time reading about in order to achieve cutting-edge productivity.
(There’s a reason they call it the ‘cutting’ edge.)
In the end there’s too much to see and digest, let alone comment on, let alone act on. So it’s time to tighten the focus a bit, in anticipation of tightening it more in the future. Although this is an exclusionary process in some respects, I tend to think of it as irising in on something in the distance and pulling it into sharper focus. Simplification as zoom lens. Or sniper scope.
I can’t really say the industry is dead, because it’s not dead. What I can say is that it’s broken, and I think everybody gets that. But I don’t think it’s simply broken relative to some newfangled process or advance (the internet), but rather that it’s inherently broken in ways that the internet is only now revealing. [ Read more ]
I originally wrote this post after publication of the NY Times editorial by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, noted below. After some consideration, however, I decided to withhold judgment and wait for the revised Google Book Settlement that was eventually mandated by the federal courts. The revised settlement was made public late Friday.
Throughout the history of civilization, at any one time, there has always been a large-scale dynamic in play, a momentous prize at stake, and one competitor who emerged victorious. The measure of such victories, however, is not in the accomplishment, but in what the victors do with their fragile, momentary claim to power. Feed yourself and you go in the junk bucket of tribal butchers, charismatic frauds and political plunderers that have been the inevitable, predictable rule. Feed the world and you transcend the basest of all human traits.
On Friday, October 8, 2009, an editorial written by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, appeared in the New York Times. Titled, A Library to Last Forever, the editorial made the case for Google’s proposed settlement with the Authors Guild over Google’s attempts to exploit content they do not own. (It is not at all clear that the Authors Guild has standing to act on behalf of copyright holders in crafting such a settlement.)
After explaining why it is important to digitize books (so everyone can have access; so they won’t get lost in a flood), Brin states Google’s selfless case:
Because books are such an important part of the world’s collective knowledge and cultural heritage, Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, first proposed that we digitize all books a decade ago, when we were a fledgling startup. At the time, it was viewed as so ambitious and challenging a project that we were unable to attract anyone to work on it. But five years later, in 2004, Google Books (then called Google Print) was born, allowing users to search hundreds of thousands of books. Today, they number over 10 million and counting.
The next year we were sued by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over the project. While we have had disagreements, we have a common goal — to unlock the wisdom held in the enormous number of out-of-print books, while fairly compensating the rights holders.
It is important to note what is being omitted here. Nowhere does Brin acknowledge what changed between 1999 and 2004: that Google found itself with such massive cash-on-hand that it was able to fund the entire book-scanning project itself. It did not need to “attract anyone” any more, so Google simply plowed ahead — without asking for permission from relevant rights holders. Too, there is no admission or acknowledgment of a profit motive in Brin’s statements, yet Google clearly intends to profit from this enterprise. Despite protestations that Google is “unlocking wisdom”, Google is in fact stockpiling other people’s intellectual property for its own economic benefit. [ Read more ]
This post documents the workflow I followed while formatting my short story collection, The Year of the Elm (TYOTE), for printing with CreateSpace. If you’re venturing down the same print-on-demand (POD) road I hope my experience makes your project a little easier. I also fervently hope this post reminds me of all the useful things I learned the next time I have a manuscript to format. (Had I not kept notes, ninety-percent of what follows would already be lost.)
As posted previously, I finalized my cover redesign, uploaded the files to CreateSpace, and got the proof back in short order. To my utter amazement, all of the decisions I made turned out exactly as I hoped, and I was quite pleased with the result.
But I worked hard for that happiness. [ Read more ]
When I originally decided to use CreateSpace as the print-on-demand (POD) publisher for my short story collection, The Year of the Elm, one of the main attractions was its tight distribution integration with Amazon.com. (CreateSpace is a subsidiary of Amazon, and an amalgam of two companies that were acquired by Amazon in 2005.) I have always been opposed to proprietary e-book formats, so making my work available for Amazon’s e-readers was less of a draw. However, because I already offered the collection in multiple e-book formats on Smashwords, adding a Kindle version was essentially adding a market, not a product. Offering a print-on-demand paperback and selling it through Amazon, however, was a whole new proposition.
The conventional wisdom about distributing a book through Amazon is that every independent author should make their work available on that site. In fact I’d wager that every person reading this post believes that to be one hundred percent true. And as someone who felt a definite thrill when I first saw my work for sale on Amazon I understand the appeal. Instead of waiting for a publishing-industry gatekeeper to green-light participation in the market on an equal footing, Amazon makes it possible for you to green-light yourself. Who’s gong to turn that down? (I mean, other than Groucho Marx, and, apparently, me.)
Over the past two years or so, much to my surprise, I have slowly come to the realization that my work doesn’t and probably never will belong on Amazon.com. Incongruously, this evolution was accelerated and crystallized over the past couple of months while trying and ultimately failing to compel the Bing search engine to find my work on CreateSpace’s out-of-the-way e-store pages. Yes, the fact that royalties are higher on CreateSpace than on Amazon is a plus, but that’s about the only obvious business-related advantage in choosing CreateSpace over Amazon. Yet I’m still convinced I’ve made the right decision.
Before exploring my rationale in detail, however, a couple of stipulations. First, there is no question that Amazon.com long ago became the default bookstore for the country if not the world. Tell most consumers to order a book and they will, without thinking, click over to Amazon because the association is that complete. Second, it is also clear that Amazon does an excellent job of facilitating purchases and fulfilling orders. Since many people already have an Amazon.com account, and because Amazon does everything possible to make purchases effortless, there is literally no easier way for most people to buy a book.
Given those two truths, it should be obvious that any self-published author who chooses not to make their work available on Amazon.com is an idiot. And for a long time that’s how I felt as well. Until, that is, I started thinking about what I’m trying to do by self-publishing my own work, and about the relationship I want to have with my readers. That’s when it dawned on me that what Amazon.com wants and what I want are not the same thing, which in turn led to the realization that how Amazon gets what it wants is not something I want to be part of. [ Read more ]