The Content Flood and Authors Whining

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Sales are down for most authors. You don’t see blog posts about it or tweets, but it’s a reality. And the reason is simple: there’s more content out there than ever before.

Jon Fine of Amazon calls it a tsunami but at least a tsunami recedes. This is a flood that is going to get deeper and deeper.

Authors United (a misnomer as it represents less than 1% of authors) wraps itself in a cloak of noble intentions. But while some of them certainly do have those, for many it’s an economic quandary. They look at their royalty statements and see less. They also see sales shifting from hardcovers and paperback to digital. Where the contracts they signed award them less than stellar royalties.

The chosen, many of the Authors United, didn’t face much competition at the front table in Barnes and Noble and on the racks at the airport and in other retail outlets for years, and they still don’t. In fact, they face less. It’s mind-numbing to see the same names splayed out in an airport store. Publishers are pouring more coop money than ever before into their big names and not taking chances on lesser names. Tom Clancy has a new hardcover out. Really?  That’s what Authors United is trying to protect?

But in digital, readers are finding new authors. And liking them. Many of them self-published. Bookbub contributes to that. So does the fact that many bestselling indie authors understand the business so much better than the Big 5 and use it to their advantage. At Cool Gus we understand publishing from the original idea for a book, through writing it, editing it, cover, copy, marketing, formatting, selling, yada, yada—the entire arc of creation and product and selling to readers. Our sales are up 22% this year. Few in traditional publishing have that broad a view. Sales that would have gone to the same old, are now going to the new in digital.

So for Authors United to claim they represent freedom of expression and ‘books aren’t a commodity’ is a flat out piece of BS. In fact, Amazon and other digital platforms have indeed democratized publishing. That’s not to say there aren’t storm clouds on the horizon, but it is the reality right now.

I’m sorry some bestselling author’s ten million is now seven million. Actually, I’m not, because many of those authors are extremely clueless about the realities of publishing, being shielded by their agents, who single-mindedly pursue their next advance without considering long-term income via higher royalties.

I know midlist trad authors are also getting hurt and signed that letter. But they also need to understand it’s not just pre-order buttons, and a retailer being reluctant to stock titles from a content distributor that refuses to negotiate, etc.. They have more competition than ever before. The reality is many trad authors have wrapped themselves in the cloak of protection (and ignorance) they thought their agent, editor and publisher provided. And the reality is readers don’t give a damn.

The real business world of selling books is a brutal place. Authors: Stop whining about it and start taking charge. Authors United is baying at Amazon, not the corporations they signed contracts with: their publishers and the ones who take 15% of their income (their agents). And beyond that, given the realities of the new marketplace, they don’t need to sign any contract if they had the intestinal fortitude to do so. Authors, change your business model instead of complaining that others need to change their model to maintain your status quo.

Related: Kindle Head to Address Future of Book Publishing at DBW15 | Boosting Discovery and Discoverability in a Crowded Market

20 thoughts on “The Content Flood and Authors Whining

  1. Edward G. Talbot

    Agree with everything you’ve written here. Outrage is cheap and easy but dealing with reality takes effort, thought and a certain amount of risk. The handful of big names I can understand, but it’s the mid-list authors whose careers are headed down the toilet if they don’t start facing the reality of 2014 instead of whining about Amazon. I feel bad for them as fellow authors, but five years into the ebook revolution, they have no one to blame but themselves.

    Reply
  2. Deborah Coonts

    Couldn’t agree more. Change brings opportunities for those clever and brave and industrious enough to seize them. As a Cool Gus Team Member, I am THRILLED to have an experienced crew, the tiller in my hand and the wind at my back.

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  3. Michael W. Perry

    You’ve got to admit that Amazon’s fanboys are really and truly fanboys. Their hearts beat as one. Nothing the Great A does shakes their faith that it means them well.

    To understand how foolish that it, note how this dispute is impacting authors. The largest retailer on the planet is making it hard for readers to get an authors books, in some cases deliberately introducing weeks of delay. At the start, Amazon attempted to inject some confusion about who was delaying those shipments. Now we know it is Amazon.

    Keep in mind that this isn’t the first time Amazon tried this. A few years back Amazon attempted the same thing with POD publishers who wouldn’t move their printing from Lightning Source to CreateSpace. There, the target were almost-unknown independent authors. Amazon only abandoned that policy when it became clear that they’d lose in a Maine federal court.

    Notice something else. This article drips with anger, envy and hatred. One example: \I’m sorry some bestselling author’s ten million is now seven million. Actually, I’m not…\ Why should one author want another to do badly?

    I know why, although it involved poor dirt farmers. I grew up in the last days of the segregated South. I was in the eleventh grade when the Alabama Democratic party finally changed its rooster logo. The former motto, \White Supremacy for the Right\ was changed to just \Democratic Party.\

    The campaign speeches I heard growing up were just like the article above—same tone, same purpose. They offered nothing positive, such as better schools and roads. They merely churned up the envy and hatred of poor whites toward black people, much as this pitiful, hate-mongering Bob Mayer tries to make us hate the more successful authors of Authors United or larger publishers. You might even say that Mayer is channeling the George Wallace of the 1960s.

    That makes no sense. If you have a problem with one publisher, you can find another. If Amazon decides to bully you, what can you do? Nothing. As I saw over and over again, envy and hatred make you stupid. It did that with poor whites. It’s doing it with many authors.

    And if you’re interested, I go into that hate-mongering in great detail in my latest book, Lily’s Ride, co-authored with Albion Tourgee, the foremost champion of civil rights in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. I adapted his bestselling A Fool’s Errand, about life in post-Civil War North Carolina, into a shorter adventure novel intended especially for high school and college student.

    Here is an example. At one point the South’s planter class, intent on putting down newly freed blacks who were doing well on their own, adopted the same ploy Mayer uses to stir up anger against bestselling authors, telling them, \Why should you walk when these N—rs are riding horses.\

    The cotton planters purpose wasn’t that removed from Amazon’s. The planters wanted cheap agricultural laborers, both black and white. Amazon wants authors as cheaply as it can get them. It already pays the lowest ebook royalties of any major retailer. If it is able to crush its competition, look for that under 70% for ebooks priced $2.99-9.99 to drop into the 35% price range Amazon already pays for books outside that price range. It’s not that Amazon isn’t signaling what it intends to do. It’s that it’s fanboys are such fools.

    In short, what a vile and ugly brew Mayer is serving up. Authors who fall for his anger, envy and hatred will live to regret it.

    I am surprised that Digital Book World would published something this ill-tempered. Does it really want encourage authors to hate other authors? I hope not. That’s not good for any of us.

    –Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride: Rescuing her Father from the Ku Klux Klan

    Reply
    1. Bob MayerBob Mayer Post author

      If Amazon decides to ‘bully’ you, you have a choice. Pull your books. This is an option that has never been mentioned by those who cry about Amazon’s tactics.

      I’m offering something very positive: suggesting authors do what they control. Change their own business model. As far as I can tell, Authors United simply wants the status quo. They want a business model that is outmoded and broken to remain the same because it favors them.

      I’m not an apologist for Amazon. Read The Everything Store and you know the company will gut you if they see a profit margin. I also suggest authors make plans for the gutting as we are doing at Cool Gus.

      Your analogies are weak and off-subject. I note your book is for sale on Amazon so apparently you are willing to do business with it. I feel that anyone who complains about Amazon but still sells through Amazon is the very definition of hypocrite since the true leverage is to remove the content. If Authors United did that, we might see some progress.

      And I don’t hate other authors. Not sure where you get that either. I’m all for authors to do well. I’ve published many, many blog posts that are of assistance to other both in craft and in business. Have you?

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      1. alyx

        Yeah, we can pull our books from Amazon. No one, not even the big names who are in AU, can pull their contracted books from Hachette or the other big publishers. I’m not sure most of them understand that.
        And Michael, who are these “fanboys?” Certainly it’s possible to appreciate the innovations and opportunities a company provides without being called “a fanboy”. I assure you, I think Amazon is pretty impressive and innovative, but the moment I think it’s bad for my business, I’ll pull my books. We really aren’t as silly as you imply. This is business, not personal.

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      2. Theresa M. Moore

        “If Amazon decides to ‘bully’ you, you have a choice. Pull your books. This is an option that has never been mentioned by those who cry about Amazon’s tactics.”

        Excuse me. Never? I have been talking about having pulled my books from Amazon for years. You are talking about something you have not been reading about, obviously. You have also focused on trad published authors, when we independents not only publish our own books, we have the choice to go wherever we wish. When I had signed with Amazon I had difficulty getting my ebooks noticed, then I saw my ebooks sink into the morass and face harsh abuse from readers when I promoted them. Then after the glitch in 2012 my sales sank to nothing. Amazon is not the best place to sell books, as everyone else knows, so when I state that I don’t care what happens to Amazon it is the truth. It never did anything for me, and if you had been paying attention, the whole crux of the matter falls down to Amazon trying to intimidate and bully authors into submission. As for me, I always made more money from Amazon’s competitors, and I continue to do so. I also blog heavily. But you are right that readers don’t care where the book comes from, they want it cheap and they don’t see why they should help to support the author who wrote it. Until that changes we’re all in the same boat.

        Reply
        1. Bob MayerBob Mayer Post author

          I’m a bit confused on how you ‘signed’ with Amazon. Same as Michael’s comment above ‘royalty rates’ being worse than others. I’m also not sure that ‘everyone else knows’ Amazon is not the best place to sell books– pretty much every indie I know has their highest percentage of sales on Amazon. Sounds like you had a bad experience.

          My comments that it’s never been mentioned refers to Authors United. They not only don’t mention it, they can’t do it, since they have no control over where and how their books are sold by their publishers.

          This post wasn’t a ‘rant’, but I seem to have made a mistake since some people aren’t getting the core message; which is that there is a content glut, there will continue to be a content glut, and affects all of us. But for authors who signed a contract, their issue is the organization they signed the contract with rather than a retailer.

          I’m not angry or envious but rather bemused at the tilting at windmills of an organization that wants things to remain exactly as they’ve always been.

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    2. Anon

      Michael, you’re confusing “hating other authors” with “trying not to be associated with embarrassing public statements.”

      Many of my friends assume I am represented by Authors United because I am an author. I find it deeply embarrassing, so I personally feel the need to distance myself, which means explaining why I think all the “Amazon is targeting Hachette authors” entirely wrong-headed.

      I publish traditionally and Indie.

      Reply
  4. Susan Raber

    Most of the arguments I’ve heard in support of preserving traditional publishing hinge on the idea that the Big Five acted as gatekeepers and prevented the market from being flooded with tripe.

    As someone who reads widely, I don’t believe they were effective in that role. Now it looks like it will be up to the market to decide who becomes successful, and I think that’s the way it oughta’ be.

    Reply
    1. J.C. Hendee

      With the constantly unspoken except that there are fewer and fewer effective ways to market anymore without notable expenditure. The few “success” stories in e-self-publishing are exceptions by an astronomical margin that is growing.

      The concept of the “market” deciding is false; the market is controlled. Assuming otherwise is blind. The only thing that has changed is the faction that is controlling the market. It is not the readers, for they only see what the market controller thinks is profitable to them.

      Marketing a book when the author does not have adequate funds to do so will leave that work unnoticed regardless of quality. The number exceptions to this are even less than the exceptional small number successes among self-published authors.

      And I speak from doing a bit in that area myself in (still) trying to figure it all out.

      Reply
  5. Steve McIlree

    I wish to offer a consumer’s perspective on this issue. I follow DBW because I am fascinated by watching whether the publishing industry will learn anything from the muddle the music and movie people made of their transitions to digital distribution. Solely from a reader’s view point it seems as if it has, thanks to Amazon, but it still remains to be seen what will happen with the remaining publishers and authors.

    Now here is my take on what has happened to my access to books over the years. I first became an avid reader back in the days before the big publishers bought up the paperback houses. I spent a great deal of time browsing the paperback racks at my local drug and grocery stores, newsstands and the airport. I bought as many as two or three books a week based entirely on the cover illustration and back cover blurb. I discovered many authors I liked and followed and also found many I didn’t want to read again.

    Like the frog in the pot, it took a while before I noticed for the slow upward creep in cover prices of the books I was buying. When I became aware that I was spending a sizable chunk of my disposable income on books, my first reaction was to stop speculating on unknown authors and follow only those who were my favorites. Eventually, even that became too expensive and I quit buying books and following the authors I liked at my local library.

    So my voracious reading habit reached the point of generating zero revenue for either authors or publishers. The first ebook I ever purchased was Karl Marlantes’s \The Matterhorn\. I had started to read a copy from the library, but at the time I had a broken arm and found the book too heavy to read without a great deal of pain. I had a Sony e-reader which had come as a freebie with a computer I purchased, so I bought the ebook and read it comfortably.

    Because the selection of ebooks for the Sony reader was limited and expensive I continued to be a library patron, but newly aware of the convenience of ebooks. Finally, I purchased a NOOK Color and found that I could afford to buy books that looked interesting whether or not I had ever heard of the author. My real breakthrough came when I broke out of the B&N wall by converting the NOOK to a vanilla Android tablet.

    Once I had access to the Kindle bookstore I had the equivalent of a vast oldtime paperback rack. I have discovered new authors that I now follow religiously, and whom I suspect the big publishers would have never allowed me to find. I am able to follow my favorite authors without the hassle of going into town to the library, and I am now buying their books rather than checking them out. I sometimes now buy as many as three of four books in a single day. Some of them are pure crap, the same as my early paperback purchases but some of them turn out to be great reads, and thanks to Amazon I can now afford to explore

    Reply
  6. J.C. Hendee

    While I can agree with some of the general sentiments herein, this article does not present viable solutions of any kind. Simply jumping into the deluge is not a solution. It is merely the default option. And it is both a delusion and illusion.

    There is nothing to take charge of in a crap shoot. And that is what Amazon has purposefully contrived. Along with trying to box in as many wannabes as possible with more and more promotional systems only available through exclusivity.

    A clear statement of the bleakness of the market. But anyone can do that.

    Reply
    1. Bob MayerBob Mayer Post author

      You miss the point. We do have choices as authors. The default option is what Authors Unite propose: let’s keep things as they are.

      An author makes a decision whether to sign a contract or not.
      An author makes a decision to list a book in KDP or not.
      An author makes a decision to enter into Select or not.

      Therein lie solutions.

      I’m open to suggestions from others.

      Reply
  7. Thad McIlroy

    Good post. A question:

    When I read “Sales are down for most authors. You don’t see blog posts about it or tweets, but it’s a reality. And the reason is simple: there’s more content out there than ever before,” I actually assumed you were referring to self-published authors and their ebooks.

    I agree, of course, about the traditionally published authors: I think those facts are well established.

    But it seems to me that the phenomena of the concentration of readers’ attention and cash to the best-known authors is happening perhaps even more drastically for the self-published group (of which I’m one).

    Reply
    1. Bob MayerBob Mayer Post author

      Thad– totally agree. One of the storm clouds I see that’s already starting is that the rich are getting richer, even among the indie authors. The bonuses Amazon is now offering for the tops in lends and Kindle Unlimited means that those who are already making a lot, will now get bonuses. Akin to the bonuses trad authors get for hitting bestseller lists that are written into their contracts. They earned them, but where does it leave everyone else?

      In fact, I see the entire indie publishing movement sliding toward a business model much like traditional publishing. I might have issues with it, but it’s a reality I’m factoring into my business plan.

      That might be the point I didn’t make well enough: the only thing which I can change is how I conduct my business; not how anyone else conducts their business.

      Reply
  8. Karen Bryson

    I agree with most of the points you’ve made in your article, but I have to disagree with your statement that Bookbub is contributing to the discoverability of indie authors. It’s becoming much more difficult for indies to purchase Bookbub ads and it seems more of their slots are being taken by traditionally published work and/or work that already has high visibility (NYT and USA Today Bestsellers).

    Reply
    1. Bob MayerBob Mayer Post author

      Quite true. Goes back to my reply to the previous comment. I see the entire business sliding back into the trad publishing mode: rich get richer and everyone else, well . . .

      Reply
    2. Vicki Hopkins

      Ever since BookBub expanded their team and increased their mailing list, it’s been impossible to get accepted. They now turn down my books, which they previously accepted years ago, as no longer of interest or a “good fit” for their readers. Their emails are filled with NY Times and USA Today best sellers, or books with huge numbers of reviews. Their prices for advertising a book over $2 for contemporary romance is $1,450 — for mysteries $1,600! When publishers are selling books at $5, $6, $7 a pop and reducing to $2, it’s what BookBub calls “deep discounts” and acceptable. The big guys and best sellers can afford those fees, so it’s a win-win situation for both of them. BookBub makes more money, publishers and best sellers get more sales, and indies are left to find other advertising avenues that can’t compete.

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  9. Joseph Ratliff

    As an author, you’re accountable for your business decisions, good or bad. Whining (like from Author’s United) won’t change the outcome of your business decisions. You and you alone decide the course of your publishing business.

    Then, there is now a \flood\ of various forms and quality of competition for a reader’s attention (books), made possible by distribution channels like Amazon’s (and others, there are others).

    This is reality, no amount of PR or the imaginary reclassification of books as \special snowflakes\ can change that. Books are consumer items, sold by retailers (not just Amazon) to consumers. The objective for each retailer is to grow their business, not cater to the literary industry … period.

    Consumers generally (the majority) do not care about the problems authors are encountering as a result of their business decisions. They also, and this is a key point, won’t be \told\ how to think about a consumer item they’re purchasing, like a book.

    A basic marketing concept is to show a consumer \what’s in it for them.\ Explaining the state of the business of publishing to a consumer in the way these Authors United folks have isn’t a way to do that. The consumer does not care, because it doesn’t apply directly to them.

    They want a book, Amazon sells books and makes it easy to buy books. Everything else is \white noise.\

    I mentioned \generally\ above, because those few (very few in the big picture) consumers that do care about publishing and the literary community will buy their books elsewhere (not Amazon) and also \fight for the cause\ that is important to them. But this group is in the minority, not the majority, and Amazon knows this.

    Amazon has a valuable distribution channel, if you choose to use it, you play by Amazon’s rules. You can’t really negotiate beyond the decision to use Amazon, because it is their \house.\ All you can do is use a different distribution method (or combination of methods).

    Amazon is not going away any time soon because the most important person in this whole transaction is the reader and the authors that choose to publish and distribute through them.

    Amazon has their attention for now (for the most part).

    Reply
  10. Laurence OBryan

    Greetings from Ireland.

    We watch the battle yonder with great interest. A civil war in writing. One thing’s for sure, your writing slaves, which traditional publishers have kept chained up, will win their freedom in the end.

    The Union army of Amazon may lose the Battle of Hachette this fall, but the war will be won by the lovers of freedom for all writers.

    I apologize to all who suffered from real slavery, but if you work out the pay per hour that writers get from traditional publishers, you would laugh at the tiny amount they pay, which would be considered illegal if minimum pay rates applied to this industry. This explains why publishers senior executives live in Manhattan luxury, while most writers are lucky to get fed. And don’t show me the mansions of the Uncle Tom’s, that only proves that .001% do well.

    We are doing our bit for run-away writer slaves here at BooksGoSocial.com by providing ultra low cost promotion and exposure of their work to hundreds of thousands of readers.

    So, onwards with the war, let freedom’s cry ring out from the halls of Amazon, the stables of iTunes and the fields of Google Play.

    And let the forces of darkness, the mighty confederated bands Clancy and Patterson fall! Their day is done!

    Freedom’s call is too strong, her army too numerous!

    Reply

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