I’m Outraged!


Now that the war between Amazon and Hachette has ended (at least temporarily), I’d like to mention another unsettling development that may be even more threatening to the future of publishing. I learned about it from a recent article in the New York Times, “E-book Mingles Love and Product Placement.” Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, if you don’t want to read the whole thing, I’ll give you a summary. An author named Hillary Carlip has written a novel titled Find Me I’m Yours, which was published by e-book publisher RosettaBooks earlier this month. According to the Times, the book is about a quirky young woman named Mags who’s searching for love. The plot sounds fairly conventional, but the e-book is linked to a whole series of websites and web TV shows that supposedly flesh out the story. I think that’s a pretty cool idea, actually — I’m all for experimentation and interactivity. But what’s not so cool is how Carlip got the money to pay for all those web extras. Cumberland Packing Corporation, the company that makes the artificial sweetener Sweet’N Low, invested a whopping $1.3 million in Find Me I’m Yours.

That’s a surprising number, right? Because novels, in general, are not great investment opportunities. I usually don’t get calls from venture capitalists begging to buy a piece of my latest manuscript. So why is Cumberland Packing so sweet on Carlip? Because her novel says nice things about Sweet’N Low, and in particular, defends the safety record of the artificial sweetener. Here’s a quote from the quirky Mags: “They fed lab rats twenty-five hundred packets of Sweet’N Low a day…And still the F.D.A. or E.P.A., or whatevs agency, couldn’t connect the dots from any kind of cancer in humans to my party in a packet.”

My favorite part of that quote is the “whatevs agency” bit. It’s like the author knew her main character was showing a suspiciously deep knowledge of food-safety testing, so she had to pull back a little. According to the Times, this kind of product placement was appealing to Cumberland Packing because it gave the company a new way to reach younger women and fight “latent myths” about the dangers of artificial sweeteners. The company even provided Carlip with the research statistics that Mags recites so dutifully in the novel.
I was utterly flabbergasted and outraged when I read about this. It’s so darn sneaky. When you read a novel you’re not expecting it be a commercial! I went on the Amazon page for Find Me I’m Yours and saw no mention of the Sweet’N Low connection (except in a couple of one-star reviews that don’t appear on the main page for the book). I’m sorry, but that’s just deceptive. There should be a big warning across the top of the page. Newspapers and magazines are required (by their trade associations, I believe) to clearly mark advertisements to distinguish them from editorial content, and I think booksellers and publishers should do the same.
You might argue that it’s not fair to force this requirement on the book industry, which shouldn’t have to operate under the same rules that govern the press. But readers get a lot of useful information from novels. I’ve learned a lot about handguns from Lee Child. Thanks to Leo Tolstoy, I know plenty about nineteenth-century Russian mores. I’m certainly not going to demand that fiction be factual, but if some corporation is going to push its products in a novel, at least be upfront about it.
Here’s one piece of information you won’t find in Find Me I’m Yours: researchers recently reported that artificial sweeteners can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, triggering changes that can lead to diabetes. One of the substances investigated in this study was — surprise! — saccharin, the sweetener in Sweet’N Low. You can read the full story here.

Stick that in your coffee, Mags.
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In Praise of Henry Pritchard

  

And who is Henry Pritchard? He is, among other things, a self-published author in the truest sense.

There is a British rock band named Temples that is currently touring the United States. They are quite popular in their native England and in Germany, and a few other places. Temples is currently attempting to replicate that success in the U.S. by climbing into a van every day or two, driving a medium to long distance, unpacking their gear and setting it up, playing a set or two at a small venue, then unplugging, loading up, jumping in the van and doing it all over again. They are assisted in this endeavor by a gent named Henry Pritchard, who is their driver and guitar tech. The latter job involves a bit of knowledge of sound acoustics, engineering, electricity, and the occasional use of duct tape and a glue gun when things go FUBAR in the middle of a hot guitar solo. It’s definitely a job for a young man who has an old and experienced soul.
Pritchard is also an author in the truest sense of that word. He writes what my daughter Annalisa calls a “zine” and I call a “chapbook” (“Oh, where did this chapbook come from?” “It’s a ‘zine, Dad.” “No, it’s a chapbook.” “No, Dad, it’s a zine.”). Regardless of what we call it (and Pritchard also calls it a zine), the title of Pritchard’s publication is applecore. It is a digest-sized paperback publication consisting of around seventy-six single-spaced pages, held together by a pair of small but sturdy staples in the middle of the spine along the crease. applecore is not entirely unlike the broadsides that Richard Brautigan used to give away or sell on the streets of San Francisco before he became unhappy and famous, or the Pocket Poets series that City Lights (the publisher and the bookstore) publishes and sells. Pritchard has been publishing it since around 2001. He’s up to twenty-three issues (which I suppose qualifies it as a ‘zine, if it’s numbered and issued on an irregular basis) as of this date. The content consists of his memoirs though he’s about ten years behind at this point (note: if you’re going to write your memoirs, start when you’re in your late twenties, so you can remember everything). Pritchard divides his first person narrative into chapters (which I believe qualifies it as a chapbook) and it’s not uninteresting. As one might expect when one hangs around with and is employed by musicians, Pritchard drinks and uh, smokes quite a bit but some interesting things have happened along the road of his life, from being unemployed to attending university to landing a pretty good gig as a band road manager.

How does one acquire applecore? While the world has moved ahead since applecore #1 was published some fourteen years ago, Pritchard is content to be very low tech in both the format and dissemination of his work. He sells issues of applecore for two dollars from the “merch” table (where one can buy music, tee-shirts, bumper stickers, and other band memorabilia) at Temples’ concerts. In a reluctant nod to the times, Pritchard also “markets” it from his Facebook account  and accepts payments through PayPal through his email address. And that’s it. No Amazon, no Barnes & Noble, no Hachette. Pritchard’s other writings can be found for free on his blog, if you want to sample his work before laying down your cheddar for a physical copy.

One takes the sense from the vignettes contained on Pritchard’s Facebook page, blog, and applecore that he leads what might tactfully be called a nomadic existence, one in which a fixed abode is not an element. One also, upon reading applecore, gets the feeling that Pritchard likes it that way. He is only responsible for himself, and does not have a home or apartment which owns him. Somehow, however, moving from town to town and couch to couch, Pritchard gets it done, and gets it done pretty well. His narrative moves ever forward with occasional side trips, and friends move in and out the scenes without warning, explanation or transition. It gets confusing, sometimes, but it also puts you in the moment in the best kind of way, even if the moment occurred a decade or so ago. The important thing, however, is that he runs his whole show. There is a downside to that, of course. I doubt that Pritchard sells enough copies of applecore to earn a living; he probably clears enough to buy some liquid refreshment, or, uh some other substances (if his stories in applecore are any indication). The important thing for our purposes, however, is that he cares about his art, and it shows. He has four people proofread his work; his writing is coherent, interesting at worst and (occasionally) riveting at best. Issues of applecore don’t feature a die-cut dust jacket, but they are functional — they can fit in your pocket, and don’t crack when you sit on them — and turning a page won’t leave ink on your hands or the feeling that you need to reach for the handjel or the Phisoderm.

No, what Pritchard does is tell a story without worrying about whether he’ll get an ‘A’ or four stars from this or that reviewer. He is pleasing himself, and hopefully the reader as well. Isn’t that what it’s all about, ultimately? And getting it done? I recommend that you check out Pritchard’s blog and Facebook page, see what you think, and buy an issue or two of applecore from the guy. It’s almost four times the page count and half the price of a new Jack Reacher short story, if that puts things in perspective.

While Pritchard may be unique, and not so much off as around the radar, I don’t think that he is alone out there in the backwoods of the lo-tech, primitive do-it-yourself world. Do you know of anyone else who is doing something similar? And are you? If the answer to either question is “yes,” please let us know how we can sample the goods.
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The Dispute Continues…

The author debate over the Amazon vs. Hachette business disagreement proceeds apace. The latest volley is an impassioned though civil discussion between J.A. Konrath, a staunch supporter of Amazon, and Lee Child, a very visible signatory of Authors United, and which was featured as an entry on Konrath’s blog on Thursday, September 25. It is worth reading, if you are at all interested.

I see strengths and weaknesses with the positions of both sides. Where I am having a problem, however, is the proposition that Amazon is doing something wrong or evil by refusing in some cases to sell Hachette books by pre-order (or at all). Permit me to draw a comparison with another product: there is a type of breakfast food that my wife likes; let’s call it “Flavored Cardboard to Go.” Six-count boxes of multiple flavors of this product were readily available at all of the supermarkets within a three mile radius of our home. I would buy a box or two during the course of my weekly shopping trip with the result being happy wife, happy home. That is, until one day when…it wasn’t available. I asked at each supermarket and was told that the item had been discontinued. But that wasn’t exactly accurate. The grocery supplier that serviced the supermarkets locally to me was no longer carrying it because…well, they just were no longer carrying it. Being the resourceful type, I checked the website of the company which manufactures the product and discovered that a certain national chain which I normally don’t patronize (let’s call it “Bullseye”) carried the item. They don’t have a store near us, but there is one I pass occasionally while out and about causing trouble. I will accordingly stop in every six weeks or so, stock up on Flavored Cardboard to Go, and all is well in the House of Hartlaub. Have I been a bit inconvenienced? Yes. But big whoop. There was no evil involved, however. A company and a distributor stopped doing business with each other and another company filled the vacuum. Nothing more or less was involved. 
I don’t see any difference between my experience in my role as hunter-gatherer and the current dispute between Amazon and Hachette. One can go to Barnes & Noble (or visit its fine, sparkling website which leaps to one’s command at a keystroke or two) or Wal-Mart, or, as they say, wherever books are sold (including Hachette’s own website) and buy or order any Hachette book you want, so long as it’s in print. Amazon hasn’t choked off the supply. You just can’t purchase certain Hachette books there at the moment. There was actually a similar dispute between Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble last year — bet you forgot about that, didn’t you? — where Barnes & Noble was cast as Simon Legree because they stopped selling S & S books when the two entities couldn’t come to terms. Again, Barnes & Noble didn’t shut off the supply. One could buy from other outlets. One DID buy from other outlets. The dispute was ultimately settled and things rolled on, until now.

Word: what is happening is a business dispute. It will get resolved at some point. It’s not a hero vs. villain issue, and casting it as such is a diversion, pure and simple. My questions for you, however, is…have you had trouble buying books published by Hachette? Has the dispute, and its fallout, changed your book buying habits? Other than in the abstract, do you even care?
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The New Bestseller Lists

Guest post by L.J. Sellers

 [Note from Jodie: I’m on my way home from When Words Collide, a writers’ conference in Calgary, where I presented two craft-of-writing workshops, so I didn’t have time to prepare a post for today. My good friend LJ Sellers kindly accepted to step in for me. Thanks, LJ!]

Elements of the publishing industry have never been more hotly debated! The most passionate discussion is the Amazon/Hachette dispute over distribution terms and pricing, but another issue has come up that may have a broader effect on authors. Or at least, a more personal influence. 

Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited program was unveiled recently, and it’s already affecting the measure by which authors all live—the Kindle bestseller lists.  I’ll get to that in a moment, but first the background: Kindle Unlimited (KU) is a subscription service for ebooks. For $9.99 a month, readers can download all the digital books they want. So far, the books included in the service mostly come from the Select program of Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Amazon Publishing (AP) imprints. 

[You can enroll in the KDP Select program by clicking on the box when you upload your book. When you click the Select box, you’re agreeing to make that ebook exclusive to Amazon and not sell it in ebook form anywhere else. In exchange, you get various promotional opportunities, plus you’re enrolled in KOLL (the lending library), so you get paid each time someone borrows your book. And now, with the new program, you’re also in Kindle Unlimited, for even more paid sales.]

The issue of how authors get paid for books that are read through subscription services was already under debate with the launch of other services such as Scribd and Oyster. But deep-pocketed Amazon is offering to pay authors for each download that the consumer reads more than 10% of—the same as if it were a sale or a Kindle Lending Library download. 

So the famous Amazon algorithm—that generates the Kindle top 100 lists—treats these downloads/reads the same as it does a retail sale. Now books that are being consumed through the subscription service are being bumped up in the rankings, and many are making the top of the bestseller lists. 

This is great news for authors like me, whose books are published either through Thomas & Mercer or KDP. Those lists represent visibility, and visibility leads to more sales, and more sales lead to higher rankings, which leads to more visibility. A positive cycle! 

But for authors with traditional publishers, or KDP authors whose books aren’t in the Select program, the effect may be the opposite—bumping their titles farther down the list. 

Digital Book World has decided that phenomenon isn’t fair, and so it’s excluded from its own bestseller list all titles listed in Kindle Unlimited. Which is also not fair, when you consider that the top-tier books from KDP and AP are bestsellers even without help from KU downloads. 

And now they’re being excluded from this one particular bestseller list. Many of those authors may not care much about Digital Book World. Ranking high on Amazon’s lists is the key to success. The other lists they care about are from the old guard: The New York Times and USA Today

But what if those print-media lists decide to exclude Kindle Unlimited titles too? That could be a major concern for those authors. So the big question is: Are those subscription downloads the same as a sale? Digital Book World says they’re not, because they’re not point-of-purchase sales. But Amazon and authors in the program argue that those downloads are paid for and should contribute to ranking—which is about popularity. 


What do you think? Are they sales? Should they count toward bestsellers lists? 

L.J. Sellers writes the bestselling Detective Jackson Mysteries—a two-time Readers Favorite Award winner—as well as the Agent Dallas series and provocative standalone thrillers. L.J. resides in Eugene, Oregon where many of her novels are set and is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Housing Help. When not plotting murders or doing charity work, she enjoys stand-up comedy, cycling, and social networking. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes. LJ’s Website  Facebook  Twitter  Google+

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The Eternal Fire…I Mean, Kindle Unlimited

The rumors started earlier this week, but it became official on Friday morning: Amazon’s home page trumpeted something new called “Kindle Unlimited.” It’s the Kindle version of Oyster and Scribd, or the book version of Netflix and Hulu Plus.  Kindle Unlimited is simple for the readers: pay $9.99 per month, and one can select from “over 600,000 books” (more on that in a minute) and thousands of audio books (not so much about that in a minute) as many times per month as one wishes. Are you one of those readers who like to have two or more books going at once? Step right up, my friend; you can have up to ten books at once from Kindle Unlimited on your reader and for as long as you want (so long as you keep forking over that $9.99 per month, of course). Finish a book, and you return it with a click or two and pick another book of you want, or finish up what you have and then select away again.  Do you read a book a day? Two books a day? Help yourself. The first month is free, and yes, I joined. Amazon makes it easy (is that a surprise?). Click on the sign up button, log into your account, and all of a sudden every book that is part of the Kindle Unlimited plan has a red button next to it that 1) indicates that it is part of the Kindle Unlimited plan and 2) announces that it can be read for free.

I was pleased to see that every book that Hachette has ever published is included in Kindle Unlimited. Just kidding, of course; THAT woke you up, didn’t it? Actually, none of the big five traditional publishers are represented on Kindle Unlimited. All of the Kindle imprints are present, as one might expect, and Open Road Media (mysteriouspress.com, anyone?), HMH, Algonquin, and Bloomsbury are there, as are authors’ works which are exclusive to Amazon. I also found a goodly portion of T. Jefferson Parker backlist to be part of it, and, if you are so inclined, The Hunger Games series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Seven Habits…you get the idea. You know that business dispute between Hachette and Amazon? I am sure  that the participation of Hachette (and, down the road, the other major publishers) is an important element of it.

There is also an audiobook component to Kindle Unlimited through audible.com but at this point anecdotal reports indicate that there are only two thousand titles or so are included in Kindle Unlimited. This number will undoubtedly increase.  Further, if you borrow an eBook that has an audiobook version which is part of the program, the audiobook is included automatically. And, of course, there is also the whisper sync feature included with many books. So there is plenty for everyone.

Kindle Unlimited is not Amazon Prime. There’s no long-term commitment with Kindle Unlimited; it’s for books only; and if you are already an Amazon Prime member, Amazon apparently is not folding Kindle Unlimited into your Prime membership. The only elements both programs have in common are 1) uh, Amazon and 2) borrowing books. With regard to the latter, Prime lets you read a book per month for free and lend books you’ve purchased; Kindle Unlimited is, well, unlimited; but you can’t lend other books you’ve purchased.

There is an additional consideration, of course, for the authors among us: how are the royalties for those authors whose works are included in Kindle Unlimited get paid? I did some searching for the answer, and even made a few telephone calls. Responses ranged from “Amazon isn’t releasing that information” to “I don’t know.” One source told me that for an independent author to receive royalties the “borrower” has to read at least ten per cent (10%) of the book (and yes, as an aside, it kind of creeps me out that Amazon would have a way of knowing how much of a particular book I have, or haven’t read). Once the author has accomplished that threshold through the reader, royalties are calculated along the lines of an equation which looks something like 5(x)+3(y)-42+(-7)=zippideedoodah. To put it another way, no one who is talking is really sure at this point. Authors who are free to do so might want to seek further information before committing, which of course is a good idea before entering into any contract, agreement or commitment.

There will be more — much more — to be said about Kindle Unlimited in the coming weeks and months. For the moment, however…are you interested? Did you sign up for a free trial? Have you given it a test run? And what would you like to see? I’ve already answered all of the questions but the last. I’d like to be able to borrow…graphic novels. I think that will happen when we land a man on the sun, but I’ve been surprised, pleasantly and otherwise, before. One can always hope.

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Amazon, Hachette, Michael Corleone and Me

@jamesscottbell

Unless you’ve been on the surface of Saturn for the last couple of months, you have no doubt read at least something about the clash between Godzilla and Mothra.

By which I mean, of course, the strained negotiations

between Amazon and Hachette. There is a whole lot out there on the internet about this. Just tickle Google and you’ll find hours of reading pleasure.

On the macro level, this is about nothing less than the future of publishing. If Hachette “wins,” things will look brighter for the entire traditional publishing industry. If Amazon “wins,” traditional publishing will face ever-increasing challenges to its relevance and perhaps even its survival.
So this is a very big deal indeed, which is why both sides are entrenched and why so much acid is being hurled from advocates of either side. For a bit of this, consider James Patterson (Hachette advocate) versus Joe Konrath (Amazon advocate).
Which brings me to  Michael Corleone.
You’ll recall that Michael is the good son, the Army vet who comes back from the war determined not to get involved with his family’s enterprises.
That all changes when his father, Don Vito Corleone, is nearly assassinated. Michael comes to the hospital one night and foils another attempt on his father’s life. Outside the hospital he confronts the dirty police captain, McCluskey, who proceeds to break Michael’s face.
At a meeting of the Don’s inner circle, Sonny Corleone rants and raves. Michael then quietly suggests a plan to take out the traitor, Sollozzo, and the dirty cop. He, Michael, will be the shooter. (This, by the way, is the “mirror moment” for Michael).
Sonny rejects Michael’s suggestion. After all, Michael is just a “nice college boy.” What does he know about such things? He’s mad just because a cop slapped him around? “You’re taking this very personal,” Sonny jokes.
But Michael lays it all out in further detail, convincing everyone to go along with it. Then he looks at his brother and says, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s just business.”
And that’s what’s going on with Amazon and Hachette. It’s business. Big business. Really, really big business.
But it’s not personal. This is what businesses do: jockey for the best position in a competitive marketplace. (Of course, if a business runs afoul of anti-trust law in this competition, the Department of Justice is liable to step in).

This time, we assume everyone’s playing by the rules. How does the game look?
Amazon does not owe Hachette a profit and Hachette does not have to do business with Amazon.
If Amazon loses Hachette’s business, it will not have a huge affect on Amazon’s bottom line (one that is fed by other items than books). If Hachette walks away from the world’s biggest book seller, Hachette will suffer a major hit.
On the other hand, Hachette believes that if it accedes to the current offer by Amazon it is accepting a long, downward trendline.
But it’s not personal. Except for authors. Because right now Hachette authors are being squeezed out of the Amazon store, and that means real harm to actual careers. This week Hachette revealed just how much they are being impacted in the Amazon dispute. And several Hachette authors have gone public on said harm, often making Amazon the villain in very Godfather-like terms (“Amazon stabbed me in the back!”).
So when I see frothing and vitriol from authors over this fight, I am not surprised. I’m even sympathetic. Yet I remind myself that such fights are just business as usual, and fuming does not put steak on the table.
I am a Hachette author and I am an indie author.
But I am also a cork riding on top of the roiling sea. No matter what happens around me (most of it out of my control), my job is to keep writing and then find the best place for what I write.
Which is why, as Godzilla and Mothra decimate Tokyo, I sip coffee in Los Angeles writing my next novel.

So how do you view the Amazon/Hachette kerfuffle? Do you see villainy here or simply the free market at work?  
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Amazon, Hachette, Michael Corleone and Me

@jamesscottbell

Unless you’ve been on the surface of Saturn for the last couple of months, you have no doubt read at least something about the clash between Godzilla and Mothra.

By which I mean, of course, the strained negotiations

between Amazon and Hachette. There is a whole lot out there on the internet about this. Just tickle Google and you’ll find hours of reading pleasure.

On the macro level, this is about nothing less than the future of publishing. If Hachette “wins,” things will look brighter for the entire traditional publishing industry. If Amazon “wins,” traditional publishing will face ever-increasing challenges to its relevance and perhaps even its survival.
So this is a very big deal indeed, which is why both sides are entrenched and why so much acid is being hurled from advocates of either side. For a bit of this, consider James Patterson (Hachette advocate) versus Joe Konrath (Amazon advocate).
Which brings me to  Michael Corleone.
You’ll recall that Michael is the good son, the Army vet who comes back from the war determined not to get involved with his family’s enterprises.
That all changes when his father, Don Vito Corleone, is nearly assassinated. Michael comes to the hospital one night and foils another attempt on his father’s life. Outside the hospital he confronts the dirty police captain, McCluskey, who proceeds to break Michael’s face.
At a meeting of the Don’s inner circle, Sonny Corleone rants and raves. Michael then quietly suggests a plan to take out the traitor, Sollozzo, and the dirty cop. He, Michael, will be the shooter. (This, by the way, is the “mirror moment” for Michael).
Sonny rejects Michael’s suggestion. After all, Michael is just a “nice college boy.” What does he know about such things? He’s mad just because a cop slapped him around? “You’re taking this very personal,” Sonny jokes.
But Michael lays it all out in further detail, convincing everyone to go along with it. Then he looks at his brother and says, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s just business.”
And that’s what’s going on with Amazon and Hachette. It’s business. Big business. Really, really big business.
But it’s not personal. This is what businesses do: jockey for the best position in a competitive marketplace. (Of course, if a business runs afoul of anti-trust law in this competition, the Department of Justice is liable to step in).

This time, we assume everyone’s playing by the rules. How does the game look?
Amazon does not owe Hachette a profit and Hachette does not have to do business with Amazon.
If Amazon loses Hachette’s business, it will not have a huge affect on Amazon’s bottom line (one that is fed by other items than books). If Hachette walks away from the world’s biggest book seller, Hachette will suffer a major hit.
On the other hand, Hachette believes that if it accedes to the current offer by Amazon it is accepting a long, downward trendline.
But it’s not personal. Except for authors. Because right now Hachette authors are being squeezed out of the Amazon store, and that means real harm to actual careers. This week Hachette revealed just how much they are being impacted in the Amazon dispute. And several Hachette authors have gone public on said harm, often making Amazon the villain in very Godfather-like terms (“Amazon stabbed me in the back!”).
So when I see frothing and vitriol from authors over this fight, I am not surprised. I’m even sympathetic. Yet I remind myself that such fights are just business as usual, and fuming does not put steak on the table.
I am a Hachette author and I am an indie author.
But I am also a cork riding on top of the roiling sea. No matter what happens around me (most of it out of my control), my job is to keep writing and then find the best place for what I write.
Which is why, as Godzilla and Mothra decimate Tokyo, I sip coffee in Los Angeles writing my next novel.

So how do you view the Amazon/Hachette kerfuffle? Do you see villainy here or simply the free market at work?  
0

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Program…



I used to really enjoy Larry King’s column. It consisted of a number of comments of a sentence or two that were either 1) informative or 2) opinionated. One could read it quickly, and best of all, one did not have to look at or listen to Larry while doing it. Yay!

So what does that have to do with anything? I’m glad you asked: the dreaded deadline doom is approaching and I’m functioning (if that’s the word) on a few hours of sleep and really don’t feel competent to devote three or four paragraphs to a single topic. I accordingly am going emulate Mr. King and provide a sentence or two about a number of topics, primarily related to books and the musical and visual arts but also to some other things as well. We’ll be back to normal in two weeks. Maybe. Here goes:


Joseph Finder, after a layoff of a couple of years, is back with SUSPICION, which may be his best book yet…with all of the bombast about the Hachette vs. Amazon disagreement, has anyone considered that there are no good guys or bad guys here? They are just a couple of entities which are unable to come to terms at the moment but will do so eventually…I am loving every minute of 24: Live Another Day…I AM PILGRIM by Terry Hayes reads like a true account of a near-miss terrorist act. I was up all night reading it…Find a way to be the first on your block to hear “Thirteen Sad Farewells” by Stu Larsen before everyone else does. Great video, too…How will the second season of True Detective ever surpass, let alone equal, its first? I still watch all eight episodes once a week at least…Is it just me, or has this year been a particularly strong one for the mystery and thriller genres? Established authors are stepping up and writing the novels of their careers while every week brings a new and worthy debut. It has always been difficult to keep up but it seems to be well-nigh impossible now…

You know that the Skinny Cow brand of ice cream sundries and candies have officially arrived when you see that they now have their own fleet of trucks. Eating a box of the candy bars kind of defeats the purpose of having a diet chocolate treat but they are hard to resist…Health tip: add ONE drop of  Yucateco Chili Habanero Hot Sauce (the green one) to your food at each meal and mix it well. It will ward of colds and flu…

Sunbathing Animal, the new album by Parquet Courts, is a punk classic, a pre-dystopian soundtrack of what the night before the Apocalypse will feel like…following the success of Afterlife with Archie, Archie Comics publisher is planning a similar adult-themed rebooting of Sabrina the Teenage Witch…and, best for last…Kill Zone alumnus John Ramsey Miller is a step or three closer to the recognition he so greatly deserves as a television series based around his character Winter Massey approaches reality. Go, John, go!
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We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Program…



I used to really enjoy Larry King’s column. It consisted of a number of comments of a sentence or two that were either 1) informative or 2) opinionated. One could read it quickly, and best of all, one did not have to look at or listen to Larry while doing it. Yay!

So what does that have to do with anything? I’m glad you asked: the dreaded deadline doom is approaching and I’m functioning (if that’s the word) on a few hours of sleep and really don’t feel competent to devote three or four paragraphs to a single topic. I accordingly am going emulate Mr. King and provide a sentence or two about a number of topics, primarily related to books and the musical and visual arts but also to some other things as well. We’ll be back to normal in two weeks. Maybe. Here goes:


Joseph Finder, after a layoff of a couple of years, is back with SUSPICION, which may be his best book yet…with all of the bombast about the Hachette vs. Amazon disagreement, has anyone considered that there are no good guys or bad guys here? They are just a couple of entities which are unable to come to terms at the moment but will do so eventually…I am loving every minute of 24: Live Another Day…I AM PILGRIM by Terry Hayes reads like a true account of a near-miss terrorist act. I was up all night reading it…Find a way to be the first on your block to hear “Thirteen Sad Farewells” by Stu Larsen before everyone else does. Great video, too…How will the second season of True Detective ever surpass, let alone equal, its first? I still watch all eight episodes once a week at least…Is it just me, or has this year been a particularly strong one for the mystery and thriller genres? Established authors are stepping up and writing the novels of their careers while every week brings a new and worthy debut. It has always been difficult to keep up but it seems to be well-nigh impossible now…

You know that the Skinny Cow brand of ice cream sundries and candies have officially arrived when you see that they now have their own fleet of trucks. Eating a box of the candy bars kind of defeats the purpose of having a diet chocolate treat but they are hard to resist…Health tip: add ONE drop of  Yucateco Chili Habanero Hot Sauce (the green one) to your food at each meal and mix it well. It will ward of colds and flu…

Sunbathing Animal, the new album by Parquet Courts, is a punk classic, a pre-dystopian soundtrack of what the night before the Apocalypse will feel like…following the success of Afterlife with Archie, Archie Comics publisher is planning a similar adult-themed rebooting of Sabrina the Teenage Witch…and, best for last…Kill Zone alumnus John Ramsey Miller is a step or three closer to the recognition he so greatly deserves as a television series based around his character Winter Massey approaches reality. Go, John, go!
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Field Report From the E-Book Revolution #2


UPDATE: Well, that didn’t take long. Random House and Penguin have announced their merger. So what will that mean for authors? Agent Richard Curtis has one opinion. So does The Passive Voice.


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David Letterman once did a Top Ten list of headlines that would cause a panic. Such as:


“Sometimes When We Touch” Made National Anthem.
Constitution Thrown Out in Favor of Old “Marmaduke” Cartoon.
Willie Nelson Discovered Washing Hair in New York City Water Supply.
That last one is very troubling. And in the publishing industry, it seems there are headlines each week that, if they don’t cause a panic, at least give traditional publishing executives the jimmy-legs at night. Headlines like the following:
Indeed, it was inevitable that the Big 6 would become the Big 5, and maybe even the Big 4, and that soon. I predicted this would happen sometimes in 2013. Well, the talks are happening right now.
“It’s a recognition that they don’t individually have the scale to be able to stand up to companies like Amazon or Apple,” Philip Downer, former chief executive of Borders UK who now runs the retail consultancy Front of Store, told the BBC.
Thus, it seemed apt to file another field report on developments in the e-book revolution. It was a year ago that I filed my first one. Happy anniversary:
1. The Business Cycle as a Funneling Sump Pump
Traditional publishers are in the midst of a horrible business cycle (not necessarily in terms of income, but in terms of sustainability and growth of income). We all know that, and the merger talks are a sign.
Another sign: In an effort to “streamline operations,” Simon & Schuster has reduced its adult publishing divisions from six to four, with accompanying layoffs.
Layoffs, hires and re-structuring are all focused on digital now. For example, Hachette announced changes in its sales force with an appropriate press release: “We are changing our current structure to enable HBG to meet the needs and challenges of our ever-shifting world, where digital has made a deep and lasting impression on the way HBG sells and the customers we sell to, the platforms we advertise on, and the manner and type of content we publish.”
On the other side of the publishing fence (an electric fence, BTW):
• In 2011, 39% of books were sold via some form of e-commerce. Only 26% in bookstore chains. (Source: Bowker)
• The number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S. has nearly tripled, growing 287% since 2006, with 235,625 print and e titles released in 2011. (Source: Bowker)
• And a company that recorded $13.8 billion (with a “b”) in sales this past quarter did not make a profit, but rather a $247 million loss. That company is Amazon. But it is also Amazon’s strategy. As Jeff Bezos puts it:
“Our approach is to work hard to charge less. Sell devices near breakeven and you can pack a lot of sophisticated hardware into a very low price point. And our approach is working – the $199 Kindle Fire HD is the #1 bestselling product across Amazon worldwide . . .The next two bestselling products worldwide are our Kindle  Paperwhite and our $69 Kindle.”
Is this just sound and fury? Or is it, as Forbes magazine puts it, a crafty strategy worthy of Steve Jobs? For it just may be that what Amazon is after now is Apple. As Bezos says, in a shot across the bow from the above release:And we haven’t even started shipping our best tablet – the $299 Kindle Fire HD 8.9.”
And this in light of Apple’s disappointing iPad sales this past quarter.
2. The New Vanity?
“Vanity of vanities; all is vanity,” wrote Solomon the Wise. Was he thinking of self-publishing Ecclesiastes? Or was he hoping to sell it to a big papyrus company? One writer has gone so far as to call traditionalpublishing the “new vanity publishing.”

According to this HuffPo post, many writers “are willing to forego the benefits of self-publishing for the unshakable belief in the “prestige” of signing on with a ‘real publisher.’” He concludes:
Think about how much you are willing to sacrifice for a “real publisher.” Is the “prestige” of a traditional publisher’s imprint mostly illusory in the context of the new world of publishing? Ask what traditional publishing will do for you in the long run if you don’t get effective distribution and publicity. Which platform is more likely to bring you sizable sales? Which will help you build a large following for marketing future publications? These are critical questions that deserve serious attention, especially if you are planning a career in writing.
Is the imprimatur of traditional publishing the new “vanity” plate? Perhaps that’s not the right designation. Vanity publishing was about paying your way in with a crummy book. Traditional publishing requires a great book (and/or platform, and/or celebrity co-writer who does not really do any of the real writing but is on TV.)
But more and more authors are asking what specific benefits are there for a new writer within the walls of traditional publishing. Especially in light of low advances (or, in the case of digital only, no advance at all), the semi-fixed royalties in the publishers’ favor, the shrinking of shelf space, and the lack of a significant marketing push unless you have a “name.”
If deals are to be made favorable to both sides, they will have to be creative, forward thinking, shared-risk and flexible. This is my message to the Big 6 or 5 or 4, or whoever is left standing when we file our next field report.  

As Jane Friedman (not the former CEO of HarperCollins Jane Friedman, but the publishing world observer Jane Friedman) recently wrote:

In a nutshell, I suggest that—given the changes happening in the industry—traditional publishers will need to be more author-focused in their operations by offering tools, community, and education to help authors be more successful, to everyone’s greater benefit. If publishers fail to do so, then authors, who have an increasing number of publishing options available to them, will depart for greener pastures.
3. Remember Sony Reader?
With all the talk about Kindle, Nook and Kobo, it’s easy to forget the first kid on the block, the Sony Reader. Yes, it’s still out there and people still have them. But if Kindle is Godzilla, and Nook is The Hulk, and Kobo is Mothra, what would Sony Readers be? Jean-Claude Van Damme?
Because at least they are alive and kicking. From a press release this week:
Today Sony Reader Store has announced the launch of its inaugural virtual Book Club, the ‘Sony Readers Book Club.’ Each month, Sony Reader Store will select a book of the month. During each month, Reader Store will host a virtual Book Club meeting, an online chat with the author, on the Sony Reader Store Facebook and Twitter pages, giving participants the opportunity to interact with the author and each other and ask questions related to the book. The Sony Readers Book Club will also offer special discounts and book club extras for download, available to U.S. customers at Reader Store.
Upcoming chats will feature Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Connelly. Not a bad start. I wish them well.
4. Happiness as the New Currency
In Field Report #1 I wrote this: Authors who are succeeding at being completely independent are those who are able to bring entrepreneurial analytics to the task. If you’re going to publish successfully as an indie, you have to think like a business.
Which is why, not long after, I published Self-Publishing Attack! The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books. I’ve used the formula successfully for going on two years now, and am holding workshops to help others do the same.
Because I want writers to be happy in their work.
I have a friend who is a New York Timesbestselling author. He has found advances decreasing and the publishing lag time of 18 months – 2 years intolerable. So he has self-published his new book, in both e form and POD (Print On Demand). He has set up his own book signings with independent bookstores. And he’s happy about it.
I have another friend who is a successful screenwriter. But he now finds the whole vibe of the business “soul sucking” and longs to get out and just write fiction. He has self-published a thriller, and I’m helping think things through.
You see, sometimes being happy as a writer is worth trading in other things that just don’t matter so much anymore.
Happiness just may be the new currency in the writing game. Make your choices accordingly.


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