Why Do Some Self-Published Authors Care How Hachette Prices Its Books?

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

One of the most confusing things to me about the Amazon-Hachette contract dispute saga is why do so many indie authors want so passionately for Hachette, a competitor, to lower its prices?

Isn’t it against their self-interest?

Don’t indie authors, who generally price their books lower than traditionally published books are priced, benefit from a positive price comparison?

Publishing expert and Digital Book World 2015 conference chairman Mike Shatzkin argues as much in this 2011 post about agency pricing:

If big publishers reduced their prices sharply, the key marketing distinction that fostered the discovery of such writers as Amanda Hocking and John Locke would be eliminated. On the comment stream of a blogpost I read on this subject (can’t find it so can’t link it), one person posted a string of suggestions for major publisher survival strategies that included “cut all your prices to $2.99.” Why? Because it would eliminate all the competition from the self-published riff-raff that is using price as a marketing tool. So not only would the publishers and branded authors make less money, the aspirants would find their path to success cut off as well.

(This suggestion actually makes the point that self-publishers who scream “big publishers are stupid and they should cut their prices like us” should be very careful what they wish for.)

He repeats the sentiment in a blog post from this past weekend:

One other aspect of this whole discussion which is mystifying (or revealing) is Amazon’s success getting indie authors to cheer them on as they pound the publishers to lower prices. (The new Amazon statement is made in a letter sent to KDP authors.) This is absolutely indisputably against the interests of the self-published authors themselves, who are much better off if the branded books have higher prices and leave the lower price tiers to them.

Mark Coker, the CEO of Smashwords, one of the largest distributors of self-published ebooks in the world, said as much recently, too.

The idea behind the argument is that if I see a book by a big-publisher author I don’t know in a genre I like for $12.99 and see another book, perhaps self-published, by another author I don’t know in a genre I like for $4.99, I may decide to buy the $4.99 book instead because of the price difference. If that big publisher book were instead priced at $4.99 or somewhere near there, I’m just as likely to choose that book as the other — based on price. This makes sense to me.

Yet — and this is what I’m confused about — prominent self-published authors like Hugh HoweyJ.A. Konrath, Barry Eisler and so many others (just read the comments on this popular indie author blog) have consistently argued that Hachette should give in to Amazon’s demands and lower its ebook prices.

(Let’s also not forget that indie authors and, indeed, all of Hachette’s competitors — other publishers, too — benefit in the short term from the dispute between Amazon and Hachette. Lost Hachette sales could go to indie authors or other publishers, especially for genre fiction books that may seem similar to readers outside of price.)

I’ve reached out to some of these folks to see if they can tell me why they want one of their competitors to lower its prices. Apologies to them and to you, readers, if I’ve missed where they’ve already written it up. (So far, I haven’t heard back. If I do, I will let you know and update this post.*)

Eisler, however, recently blogged about this. I don’t quite buy his argument (below) but it’s the only one I’ve heard that makes any sense, so, here it is:

It’s certainly possible that high legacy prices create an opportunity for indie authors to sell their books for less. But there is another possibility — that more readers will spend more money on all books overall if more individual books cost less.

To put it another way: if I had a choice between selling my books at $5.00 into a market where all other books were priced at $15.00, on the one hand, and selling my books at $5.00 into a market where all other books were priced at $5.00, on the other hand, I would prefer the second market because it would be so much bigger.

One other way of looking at it: among people who go into a bookstore thinking to buy one $20 hardback, and discover the store is having a three-for-the-price-of-two sale, how many wind up spending $40 and leaving with three books?

The point is, you can grow a market with low prices in such a way that individual sellers make more money in the bigger low-price market than they would have made undercutting prices in the smaller, high-priced market. When perceived value goes up, consumers spend more money. The market thereby grows, and individual sellers, even if the percentage of their slice of that market remains constant, make more money.

I’ve done no empirical studies on the book market and have only my own experience in the world as a guide (and my own pricing experiments with my own books). So I could be wrong about the book market generally — but as a matter of logic, it seems a mistake to to treat as an axiom the assumption that lower across-the-board book prices must necessarily hurt indie authors’ bottom lines.

Among his compatriots, Eisler, in my opinion, has consistently offered the most sober-minded thoughts, even if I don’t agree with them.

While I don’t buy this argument and haven’t seen any others, I’m always willing to admit where I was wrong. What do you think? Should indie authors want Hachette to lower its prices? If so, why?

If you’ve seen good arguments about this elsewhere, please let me know.

* Hugh Howey has posted on his blog in response to my question to him. His argument is essentially that he is selflessly advocating benefits for all authors and that to question such a motivation makes me “weird” and that I have a “sad” way of looking at the world. Well, questioning people’s motivations, especially when they say they’re altruistic, is basic journalism. When someone claims they’re doing something only for someone else, that’s the best time to question them. It’s basic critical thinking. Also, I really don’t buy the selfless argument here. I think the real reasons are probably a lot deeper. Here’s just one basic argument that I like a lot better that probably applies better to Howey than many other indie authors: If indie authors are able to get companies like Hachette to change their practices in terms of how they relate to authors, then if Howey were to be picked up by one of them, he would benefit from that change (this of course doesn’t necessarily apply to ebook pricing, unless you believe that lower prices for ebooks would make Hachette authors more money; it’s much more applicable to something like author royalties on ebooks or contract terms). I’m not sure this follows logically, but it rings a lot truer than Howey’s “don’t question my motivations” nonsense. 

82 thoughts on “Why Do Some Self-Published Authors Care How Hachette Prices Its Books?

  1. Bob Mayer

    I prefer them to raise prices back to agency. Makes my books look much more attractive in terms of pricing. My wife and I just looked at a book we want (a bio on Olivier) and the ebook price was $26.23. Seriously?

    We didn’t buy it.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Greenfield

      That makes sense to me, Bob, and apologies for not reaching out to you on this. You haven’t been out there, though, supporting the opposite, and now I know why.

      That said, you’re smart and know a lot about this stuff:

      1. Have you seen any good arguments out there from self-published authors as to why they want Hachette to lower prices?

      2. Can you think of any good ones?

      3. What do you think of Eisler’s argument?

      Reply
    2. J. R. Tomlin

      So you didn’t mind that there was a BOOK that was too expensive to buy? We’re not talking Porches here, but books… It harms readers, all readers, to have so many books priced out of their reach. And guess who I depend upon to make a living?

      Readers.

      Anything that harms readers harms the industry and me. We need to increase the number of readers by making the books they want, across the board, less expensive and hence more accessible. Anything that makes reading a less popular activity, which high book prices certainly were for a long time, harms all of us. Supporting that is seriously shooting yourself in the foot.

      If people were going to buy a Hachette book and then stop buying books for all time then your stance would make sense. They won’t. If books are reasonably priced they will buy a lot of them and hopefully some of those will be mine.

      Reply
      1. Walter Daniels

        I’ll give an example that _everyone_ (except the idiots in traditional publishing) can understand. JK Rowling, didn’t “expand” the universe of YA readers. She *blew* it up. The oldest daughter of a friend (not a truly avid reader) was *hooked* on Harry Potter, as were _Millions_ of others. They discovered what avid readers already knew. “There are some really *good* books out there.” They went in search of others like HP, and similar quality. And, *they _found_ them.* In the process, a lot of new authors, and their books, were bought. The more people are encouraged to read, the more books they buy, and the more money authors make.
        This interests me, not only as an avid reader (my money can buy more books), but as a beginning Indie Author. The more readers, the more people reading (and buying books), the more chance I have of selling them one of _mine_. My percentage slice may be smaller, but of a *much* bigger pie. _That_ is what I care about.

        Reply
  2. Bob Mayer

    I don’t quite understand why some indie authors seem intent on reforming trad publishing. But maybe I’m missing something. They certainly have the right to try.

    I’ve commented a little on all this but basically from the point of view that authors needs to be aware and then run their business. My take on things is simple: will this help me sell more content to readers?

    I’m more focused on the story behind the story. What all this portends. I predicted 2014 will be a bloody year in publishing and it will continue to be so. At the beginning of the year too many people were acting as if they’d weathered the digital storm and everything was going to stay the same.

    I look at things like Harlequins revenue dropping every single quarters for a long time now as a harbinger. Romance leads the way. Tara Parsons moving from Mira to Amazon Publishing was very interesting. No one is talking about POD and Amazon wanting to fulfill print orders for publishers with that. I think that’s a huge point.

    Frankly, I don’t know a lot of what’s going on behind closed doors and pretty much everyone commenting about it don’t either. It does make for fun reading though.

    Reply
  3. Barry Eisler

    Hi Jeremy, thanks for engaging on a topic that interests me a lot. For anyone interested in my full post, you can find it at:

    http://barryeisler.blogspot.com/2014/08/see-amazon-does-think-books-are-special.html

    In general, it’s been my experience that indie authors are passionate about the publishing industry for many reasons, with pricing being not even particularly high on the list. Speaking just for myself, I distrust cartels and other abuses of market power, and in this regard the Big Five (why are they even called that, if they don’t have more in common than they do in competition? Ask the Seven Sisters…) have a deplorable record. Life-of-copyright terms… anti-competition provisions… twice-a-year payment… a complete lack of innovation… you don’t get behavior like this in the absence of lopsided market power and abuse thereof.

    I’ve managed to get back the rights to all my previously legacy-published titles, and am now only Amazon-published and self-published. So whatever Hachette or one of the other Big Five does is unlikely to have too much of an impact on my bottom line (though I do think, per the argument you’ve excerpted in your post, the book market would be bigger if books cost less). But because I care passionately about books, readers, reading, and authors, I still want to see publishing evolve, and therefore oppose reactionaries like James Patterson, Douglas Preston, Richard Russo, and Scott Turow, who are intent on preserving the legacy industry rather than on improving it (doubt me? Name one thing any one of them has done that would *change* publishing, as opposed to all the things they’ve done in favor of *preventing* any change).

    For anyone having trouble with the concept that indie authors might care passionately about publishing even apart of their own bottom lines, I have to ask: why are you unable to imagine a set of motivations that’s other than fundamentally self-centered? Is it possible you’re sensing your own typical motivations and imagining that everyone else functions within the same limitations?

    It’s an extreme example, granted, but I was fascinated to watch this dynamic play out with establishment reactions to Edward Snowden’s revelations. He must be a spy for Russia! A spy for China! A spy for both! A narcissist! An attention-seeker! Etc, etc, with not a single establishment pundit managing to raise — even for the sake of argument! — that there are times people are more motivated by altruism than they are by selfishness.

    Something similar might be playing out here. Legacy publishers aren’t trying to preserve the position of paper because doing so is good for books, readers, and reading (unless you want to argue that windowing and high prices are sensible means for achieving such aims). They’re trying to preserve paper because paper is the historical foundation of their domination of publishing. It would be only human to assume other people must be similarly selfishly motivated. But it wouldn’t necessarily be correct.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Greenfield

      Thanks, Barry. And apologies for not linking your post above initially. That has been fixed.

      I appreciate your insight here. And while I think you raise some points, I’m not convinced. Others seem to be and that’s something to think about.

      As for Snowden, I would argue that he felt angry and betrayed at some of the things being done by the country he served and to alleviate those feelings and to attempt to right those wrongs, he did what he did. Maybe. Altruism isn’t the only possible explanation. And when it comes to commerce, I don’t think it ever is. Hugh Howey mentions in his post (which I’ll add reference to above), responding to my question, that it would “never occur to him to question another person’s willingness to perform selfless acts.” Doing so is the basics of journalism.

      There may be altruism in the world, but if it exists, it is rare. And I doubt it exists anywhere in business.

      Reply
      1. Barry Eisler

        Hi Jeremey, agreed, WRT Snowden (or anyone else), altruism certainly isn’t the only possible explanation. My point was different — that it was odd establishment punditry treated the “altruism” (in Snowden’s context, call it “patriotism”) explanation as inconceivable.

        Like you, I cast a jaundiced eye at claims of altruism in business. But if you can’t identify a profit motive, I think it becomes more likely that something else is going on. Here, as you’ve noted, legacy pricing is a business concern of legacy authors, not of indie authors (or at least it’s not nearly as much of a concern for indies). So something besides a profit motive is probably driving a lot of this. It could be stupidity; it could be hatred of legacy publishing (I’ve come across the “indies feel spurned, and now they’re trying to take revenge!” explanation before); it could be other negative things. But it seems at least equally likely that somewhat more positive motives, including an honest concern about what’s best for readers and writers, might be involved.

        Reply
        1. Jeremy Greenfield

          Yes, re Snowden. Agreed (I wanted my comment to be concise).

          Just because we haven’t identified other motivations aside from profit doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I’m much more willing to believe we just haven’t figured it out yet. And that’s why I asked the question.

          Reply
          1. Walter Daniels

            As I alluded to earlier, profit _and_ altruism are not always exclusive. (It’s called “intelligent self interest.) But, it can happen. I’m about to publish a Children’s/YA book, and raise funds to donate copies to all the Children’s Hospitals in the U.S. Yes, I hope the publicity will help me sell more copies eventually. (Not very likely right away, as Amazon.com ToS would force a “price match” apparently. So, I have to “hold publication” until the fund raiser ends. That costs me possible sales through Amazon and costs Amazon profits, but that’s how they appear to want it.) My _primary_ goal is to cheer up the children in Hospitals at Christmas. (I’d love to close the fund raiser with _one_ day, due to reaching the goal.) Any possible sales, or publicity is secondary. In 1993, I spent a couple of days in te Hospital, right before Christmas, and it s—s.

            Reply
    2. William Ash

      So Barry, you trust a dominant retailer controlling price over dominant publishers controlling price. Personally, as a self publisher, I would rather have control over the price of my product because I know the costs of that product rather than the retailer controlling my price who has no idea of my costs.

      For someone that does not like cartels, you seem very comfortable with a dominant retailer dictating the price for the market. The idea that publishing is just the Big 5 is illogical. The assumption that my only choices are the Big 5 or self publishing is also illogical.

      In order for me to make books, I need to make a profit. While authors in the one percent can make huge profits with low prices, that is not true for most authors or books. A dollar a click economics works great at scales most cannot take advantage of. We need freedom for self publishers to beable to control important factors in their business and price is one of those.

      Reply
  4. Maria (BearMountainBooks)

    Even if it would somehow help authors, I see no logical reason for Amazon to have sent that letter around. If readers are unhappy with Hachette prices NOW, they can write anytime and complain. They don’t need Amazon to send a weird letter as instigation.

    But then, I saw no reasonable reason for a bunch of authors to take out a NY Times ad. Readers/Buyers vote with their dollars. We don’t belong in the middle of a public dispute between two companies negotiating.

    Reply
  5. Joseph Ratliff

    In addition to what Barry said…

    All of this focus on “price” alone by BOTH sides of this negotiation seems to promote a rather “myopic” view of the ebook purchasing transaction.

    Only focusing on price? What about value for the reader?

    The ebook doesn’t have to be the only component of the purchase. Neither does a hardback, or paperback for that matter.

    We need more readers, and for more readers to read deeper into their book collections and buy more books.

    Price isn’t the only part of that for readers (like me).

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Greenfield

      Of course that’s true!

      It still doesn’t answer the question of why an indie author would so passionately advocate for lower ebook prices at a competitor. Not in a satisfying way anyway.

      Reply
      1. Deborah Smith

        As witnessed on this thread, the moment Barry Eisler joined the conversation he immediately cast the Big 5 as the Evil Empire. That’s part of the rhetoric of the indie world, with talking points that trickle down to be repeated incessantly across the Internet forums. If Amazon suddenly dropped its (phony) PR focus on capping ebook prices and instead, say, demanded that Hachette offer free kittens with every ebook purchased, I guarantee that the new marching orders for indies would be “LEGACY PUBLISHING HATES KITTENS.”

        Basically, there’s going to be a broadside against traditional publishers from that faction, no matter what the issue.

        Reply
  6. Lauren@ElectricBookLab

    Indie authors are a huge benefit to Amazon, and the opposite is true too. I’m totally into the way publishing has expanded to include indie authors, and I think only good can come of better access to publishing tools. But from a production standpoint, maybe authors who haven’t done production outside the KDP environment aren’t understanding the costs associated with ebooks isn’t as simple as no paper, no warehousing, no returns.

    Pricing should reflect the individual publisher’s best overall strategy–whether that’s a KDP or other indie author, an indie press publisher, or one of the Big 5. It’s not a decision Amazon should make for every publisher in the industry or for every individual ebook.

    Reply
    1. Joe

      Many indie authors are former traditionally published authors and understand full well the costs associated with ebooks and paper books.

      Also, in the business world, manufacturers offer “suggested retail prices” and retailers are the ones who decide whether or not to follow them. Amazon has the kind of data that publishers either don’t or are unable to collect and I’m betting their pricing strategies are pretty sound.

      Reply
      1. Lauren@ElectricBookLab

        *Sorry for the double post below. I meant to reply here!*

        I do production and project management for authors and publishers of all shapes and sizes every day, and have been in this industry for 12 years. I heartily disagree that authors understand the details of production, workflow, and costs, unless they’ve worked in-house doing production. That’s especially true for digital workflow, which has been a major change for most publishers.

        Amazon having data about sales on Amazon.com is definitely useful, but it’s not carte blanche to lay out a unilateral pricing policy for all ebooks sold by all vendors. Amazon’s vertical integration includes publishing services, reading devices, device-specific proprietary software, and Amazon’s own DRM applied to every product sold through their portal. All the more reason for publishers and indies alike to make sure we find, build, and use multiple distribution/sales channels for books.

        Reply
  7. Joe

    “If indie authors are able to get companies like Hachette to change their practices in terms of how they relate to authors, then if Howey were to be picked up by one of them, he would benefit from that change”

    You do realize, don’t you, that Howey was picked up by publishers a while ago in a very lucrative print deal? I highly doubt his motivation has anything to do with anything other than concern for authors.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Greenfield

      Of course. We reported on it and interviewed Howey about it. We even had him on stage at Digital Book World to talk about it with his agent.

      That doesn’t mean the motivation is “anything other than concern for authors.”

      Reply
    2. Fanch

      Interesting to see Howey’s position on traditional publishing & pricing, knowing that in all languages outside English, he goes the traditional route and his books are very expensive.

      In Germany, his latest book (Level, Wool #2) was published by Bonnier yesterday and it’s priced €15,99, in France he had 2 books published by Actes Sud and they are priced €14,99, in the Netherlands it’s Querido (WPG Group) and the book is priced €13,99, in Sweden he is published by Norstedts with a price over €20 (!).

      Reply
      1. Andrew

        How many laughs do you think the person on the other end of the phones would get out before hanging up if Hugh called and asked them to lower the price?

        Reply
  8. Dan Meadows

    Look at the long view for a second. Hachette and other publishers clearly want higher ebook prices as some sort of shield for hardcovers. Implied in that is a desire to slow ebook sales of those titles. It’s popular to look at these publishers as wounded gazelle or whatever James Patterson said, but they still control a huge portion of the book market, including an overwhelming number of the best sellers. I don’t particularly want their obstinance on price stifling the growth of a market where my opportunities lie. And to assume we need a $10 price advantage to compete is short sighted. There’s a presumed quality gap between indies and trad books that in a great many cases simply isn’t accurate. Admittedly, in a far greater number, it is true at the moment. But I believe that presumptive quality gap is going to shrink to the point that sometime relatively soon, it won’t be uncommon to see indie books and trad books competing regularly at the same price points, and doing well. Plus, $9.99 leaves a whole range to underprice their books in the mean time, so we wouldn’t even be giving that up. Add to that Hachette just claiming that 80% of their titles are at or under that price right now. The advantage you think is there may not actually be or for much longer anyway. My interest lies in a vibrantly growing, not artificially constrained market, especially when those constraints are being attempted by a group of publishers to the benefit of a market I have virtually no access to without their blessing, all my rights and most of the proceeds. The price advantage alone has its benefits in the immediate sense, but it’s too narrow a view of an indie’s interest over the long haul.

    Reply
    1. Ebook Bargains UK

      “I don’t particularly want their obstinance on price stifling the growth of a market where my opportunities lie.”

      The top end prices are for new releases and will soon come down. Readers – just like consumers in all entertainment sectors – are willing to pay a premium for early access to new products, in the full knowledge it will be cheaper later. How is this stifling the growth of a market?

      Reply
  9. Lauren@ElectricBookLab

    I do production and project management for authors and publishers of all shapes and sizes every day, and have been in this industry for 12 years. I heartily disagree that authors understand the details of production, workflow, and costs, unless they’ve worked in-house doing production. That’s especially true for digital workflow, which has been a major change for most publishers.

    Amazon having data about sales on Amazon.com is definitely useful, but it’s not carte blanche to lay out a unilateral pricing policy for all ebooks sold by all vendors. Amazon’s vertical integration includes publishing services, reading devices, device-specific proprietary software, and Amazon’s own DRM applied to every product sold through their portal. All the more reason for publishers and indies alike to make sure we find, build, and use multiple distribution/sales channels for books.

    Reply
  10. Bob Mayer

    I’ve been posting for decades about publishing and the limitations of traditional publishing, long before many current pundits have. I’ve posted numerous blogs about craft and becoming a better writer; something we rarely see any more. I used to blog on here about publishing. Overall the pushback has been stubbornness and an unwillingness on many people’s parts to even consider a point of view other than their own. From both ‘sides’. Try making a comment on Mike Shatzkin’s blog that disagrees with him. Challenge the indie side and you get ‘fisked’.

    On the other end I’ve publicly challenged Scott Turow to a dialogue and been ignored; ditto with many of the others in their ivory tower of traditional publishing. They most certainly are protecting a system that has been very good to them in most cases. It’s also called The Author’s Guild, which should really be called the Publisher’s Guild.

    Yes, I am looking out for my own interests. So are people on both sides. Even those hammering away at traditional publishing. We can get in a philosophical discussion about it but I’ve adopted the attitude that I don’t know anyone else’s situation as well as they do. I simply said I don’t understand the motives and already I get attacked as being selfish and not able to comprehend something more. And then we go into an issue totally unrelated, which is typical of the arguments people are making on both sides.

    As Seinfeld used to say: Whatever. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and to post it in public.

    Reply
  11. Travis Luedke

    As an Indie-self-pub author having stepped into the crossfire to comment publicly on this huge debate, http://thenightlifeseries.blogspot.com/2014/08/amazon-wrote-me-letter-today-i-just-had.html, my reasons for commenting are this:

    1) We (Indies) are standing on our digital street corners of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, watching this brawl, and like any crowd around a fight, we just can’t help but comment, sometimes with cheers, or perhaps jeers, and once in a while something intelligent even pops out.

    2) We (Indies) are all passionate about books, about publishing. We are all bibliophiles. We all read several books a month, some of us read several books a week. How can we keep our thumbs on the publishing industry and not see the constant barbs flying back and forth across enemy lines? How many times can you watch Patterson and Preston and everyone else spew out their propaganda and misguided tripe before you finally decide to step up to the plate and take a swing at them?

    3) I get emails every day from DBW and other sources about this huge media mess of debate. I held off getting into the mix until Amazon formally asked me to stick my neck out.

    Why would we care that the big bullies on the block are duking it out, very publicly, and calling out to us to comment?

    How can we not care?

    Reply
  12. William Ash

    So Barry, you trust a dominant retailer controlling price over dominant publishers controlling price. Personally, as a self publisher, I would rather have control over the price of my product because I know the costs of that product rather than the retailer controlling my price who has no idea of my costs.

    Reply
  13. William Ash

    The reason the self publishers are supporting Amazon is purely emotional. They are looking for a champion to take on the “dreaded” tradition publisher. They are looking for some type of revenge. They want to “win.” Self publishing is new and has not matured to a point where people can logically run this as a business.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Greenfield

      While you might be on to something, William, I invite you to look at the comments by Bob Mayer above. “Self-publishing” is not monolithic. He’s a sober-minded businessman/author.

      Reply
    2. joe

      This cracks me up. Several of us have been logically running it as a business for a few years now and making better money than we made when we were traditionally published. I suspect we probably run our businesses better than the traditional publishing houses do.

      Our support is for authors and readers, who are the only reason this industry exists. Everyone seems to lose sight of that fact. Lower prices means more books sold and that’s good for both.

      Reply
      1. Jeremy Greenfield

        But why would you want a competitor to lower prices? That doesn’t make sense. Why not just let your competitor continue to make mistakes. If Hachette is messing up so badly, soon it will be out of business and then there will be even less competition for your books, meaning more sales and readers. Why not root for that?

        Reply
        1. JamieT

          There is a theory that many people will buy more books overall when price points are lower. I am not sure I fully subscribe to it but I do believe it has a certain degree of logic too it. How does this apply to indies and Trade published works? The logic would indicate that if someone’s book budget for a month is $15 and they *must* spend $14.99 on the latest Stephen King, there is not much left over for anyone else’s book. The high priced best selling authors suck all of the air (in this case money) out of the room. If the latest Stephen King were $9.99, that same person with the $15 book budget could then afford to also buy a $4.99 self-published or Trade published older title – they buy two books instead of one and spread the wealth around a bit. Unfortunately this is largely theoretical due to a lack of data. It has been very clear for awhile, however, that very low pricing such as $.99 to $2.99 price points does result in certain high-volume readers buying far more books than they used to…a bit of a hoarding mentality, just because they can given the low prices.

          Reply
        2. Christian K

          Why the negativity, man? Do you push the old lady into the street or do you help her across?

          So, Karma, that’s answer one.

          Answer two is a little more complex. The popularity of the platform is important to everyone using the platform. If no one had a iphone there wouldn’t be much of a market for that hot new App, nor would there be many hot new iPhone apps developed. The more people with Kindles, the more people that might buy my Kindle book, and the more people who are reading kindle books rather than watching youtube videos. If Jane Reader buys a Kindle to read the new Nora Roberts or James Patterson I benefit. When Patterson advertises his new kindle book, I benefit. Now Jane Reader goes to Amazon to get all the hot new books (and there I can be as big as Patterson, at least in theory). The less Jane Reader has to think about her purchase, and there more there is to buy, the more she’s used to and excited by just clicking on that buy button. The world is her oyster, and Amazon, Patterson and I benefit.

          NOTE: oops, this should be here not down below.

          Reply
    3. Walter Daniels

      Mr. Ash, I am a previous business owner (twice, and had to give them up to injuries seven years apart). So unlike your theory, I do know the costs/difficulties _and_ marketing challenges involved. For selfish reasons, I *want* more books sold; Therefore, more readers. I am *very much* concerned with having more people reading _all_ books, not just mine. So, I price at a level that will bring the maximum profit, _per sale_. As a reader, I also want my limited funds to buy as many books as possible (I read 3-5 books/week). I’ve bought exactly _one_ Trad. published e-book, in eight months, because I really wanted the author’s book. The other fifty or so that I bought, were “indie published,” because I could get _2+_ for what I paid for the other book.
      As an author (to be indie published), I care about supporting authors. I’ve known one Baen Author for over 22 years, and his daughter is my adopted granddaughter. His income decides what “luxuries” she gets, and I want her to be happy. 🙂 I care about all authors, not just traditional, or indie. The “Tragic 5” don’t.

      Reply
    1. Jeremy Greenfield

      This link isn’t working for me (won’t load page), that said, this is another pretty good explanation that makes more sense. Let me see if I can’t take it one step further:

      “We are readers, and as consumers we prefer lower prices. As indie authors, we know a bit about what it takes to bring a book to market and feel we should have more of a voice in this than other readers.”

      It still strikes me as Samsung wishing Apple to lower its prices because its employees are “also consumers.” It’s not a perfect analogy by any stretch, but there is a less of a sort there.

      So, the explanation doesn’t completely satisfy me, but it’s not bad. Thanks, Juli!

      Reply
      1. Juli Monroe

        Sorry about the link not working for you. I just checked, and it does work for me.

        I’m not going to go as far as you did in your addition to my explanation because I don’t think my experience as an indie author compares to a traditional publisher. My costs are lower (and I don’t mean that in a snide way.) I don’t have an office, employees to support or contracts for print runs, so I think it would be hubris for me to tell them how to run their business. (I do think authors like Dean Wesley Smith, who do have some of those expenses would be better qualified than I.)

        I don’t have a problem with traditional publishers charging more than I charge. I do believe they have legitimate expenses which are greater than mine, and I’m totally okay with them recouping them. However, I don’t believe they have been honest over the years and that their pricing decisions about ebooks have had less to do with costs and more to do with secondary motives. For example, for years they proclaimed that print production costs were insignificant and used that as an explanation of why ebooks had to cost basically the same as a paper book. Now the Hachette CEO says the cost is $2-$3 per book, which doesn’t seem insignificant to me. Here’s the problem. I know they both can’t be true, but I can’t judge which one really is true. So they’ve damaged my trust, which makes me suspicious when they tell me they know what they are doing when pricing books. I’m sure they do know what they are doing, but I don’t know their underlying motives well enough to judge if their interests and mine intersect.

        Lack of trust is a big reason I’ve personally started using subscription services more. Scribd takes pricing out of the equation for me and allows me to just enjoy the darned book and not worry if I’m being gouged or not.

        Reply
  14. AMOS OBI

    Let us promote and celebrate knowledge over ignorance through low e-books prizes. Thus, amazon KDP is a boost to worldwide literacy promotion that all must emulate now or never. Kudos to KDP we are satisfied and recommend more patronage. The world must be freed through knowledge availability.

    Reply
  15. Jamie

    Maybe her answer would make more sense if you thought about it for two minutes.

    Think about her answer as a *consumer.*

    Do you LIKE overpriced goods? Especially when you know what it costs to make those goods? No? Then what’s so strange about what she said? Read it again. Then read it twice more. Still confused?

    Think back to the nineties and the music industry. Music listeners were charged $20 for a CD that had one or two songs they liked on it. Then what happened around that time? Oh yes, blank CD’s became available. And suddenly music lovers realized the extent they were being overcharged for the CDs they bought. So what happened then? Oh yes, a thing called Napster. Eventually iTunes came around, and the price of and individual song was set to 99 cents because they were competing with free at that point. Record labels whined about that, but they brought it on themselves.

    In your imagination, what makes you think a similar disruption won’t happen with books, if BPH’s continue to grossly insult their readers by over inflating the price? Are you under the impression that readers don’t know digital files, and what it costs them to use Dropbox and Google docs and Amazon storage, and compare the free storage offered them to the size of the files they’re uploading? Do you think they won’t draw any conclusions about the size of the novel they bought, and realize that even digital storage doesn’t justify $14.99? Have you heard of these services? Then why are you confused? Or is it that you think these things are hidden from the general reading public, and therefore can’t possibly influence their thinking?

    They KNOW you don’t have to warehouse digital books (see above). They KNOW you don’t have to package them and ship them. They KNOW that you already paid once for the cover art, and the editing, and you don’t have to do it a second time. They also KNOW they can’t re-sell the file. If you, too, know these things, then why are confused? Or is it that you dispute the general reading public knows this?

    This question, this matter, is only confusing if you assume that readers are completely ignorant and don’t know they’re being cheated. They know. They care. That’s not at all confusing.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Greenfield

      As a consumer, I don’t think lower price is the most important thing. I don’t mind paying higher prices for things in general for a variety of reasons. My own experience is certainly not indicative of what most consumers want. Consumers love lower prices.

      But we’re not talking about JUST consumers. There is a particularly vocal group of indie authors who are calling for lower Hachette prices and I want to know why. That’s all. I don’t see a particularly vocal group of nurses or teachers or any other kind of consumer doing the same, whether we can assume they want lower prices or not (and, I agree with you, we can assume they generally do). Indie authors stand out in this debate and I’d like to understand what about this issue makes them want to act against their own financial self-interest to stand up for it. I don’t buy that they’re consumers like everyone else and that’s why they want lower prices. I don’t see Hugh Howey, who is a millionaire, clamoring to pay two or three dollars less for the latest Malcolm Gladwell ebook.

      Reply
      1. Jamie

        Jeremy, are you not aware that ALL writers are readers, too? Yes, even indies. Why are you confused that readers want lower prices for books? That’s so ODD to be confused about.

        Are you aware that indie writers are writers, too? Yes, really. Why would we support a system that makes it difficult for our fellow writers to make money? We’re not all Douglas Preston, believe it or not. Some of us get upset about that writer who quit after 20 years because of low royalty structures. Writers read each other. Finding out that a favorite author is not going to be available anymore is not in our interests as readers. Preston benefits from that same system so he supports it. Writers who aren’t Preston generally aren’t going to agree with that system. Why is this so hard to understand? It’s an ODD thing to be confused about. Since you don’t seem to understand either readers or writers very well, why do YOU care what we think about this?

        Reply
        1. Jamie

          Seriously, Jeremy, do a poll. Ask how many writers read books. Other people’s books, not their own. You won’t be confused anymore.

          Now ask those same writers if they have any favorite writers they love to read.

          Ask them if they would like it if their favorites were dropped by their publishers for low sales, because the price of the books were too high, but said author could not get the rights back for their books.

          It would be difficult to stay confused after that.

          Reply
    2. Seer

      Jamie,
      Many thanks for trying to explain the readers viewpoint. As a lifelong voracious reader, I can attest that I am very aware of the shenanigans of BPH. I’m very interested in how this control over pricing will resolve. I remember the overnight price hikes in 2010. I am insulted by the prices of ebooks when they are over $10. I hope they are heavily pirated on principal alone. I am very aware of the collusion that occurred and do not trust anything that comes out of BPH. These companies were convicted of price fixing. We know they will cheat their own customers. Thank God for indie authors who came along with fresh stories and very reasonable prices when we were all feeling ripped off by big publishing. Do you think readers aren’t able to do a little google searching and figure things out?
      I very much appreciate indie authors coming out against gouging readers. It reinforces the fact that they are readers too, and that they respect the buyers if their work. BPH do not respect book buyers. In fact, they have a history of calling their customers entitled.

      Reply
  16. Erik Gevers

    Yes, publishing is business and writing is a profession. It is not the whole truth though.

    Many authors are very proud of their profession. They can roughly be divided into two groups: the established authors and the striving ones. And continuing being rough: the established authors have found a home in a publishing firm and the striving ones are self published. (The roughness for the sake of simplicity. I realize society isn’t that black and white.)

    Great writers are generally represented in a publishing house but to some extent it also works the other way: being represented by a publisher certainly doesn’t make you a great writer but it definitely adds lustre to your profession. We have seen here several times a debate about the choice for self published authors in considering offers from publishers. I suspect arguments like gain and security are not the only ones but there could also be something like recognition as a writer playing a role.

    My whole point is that I have the feeling, based on contacts with many authors, self published or represented, that there is a wish with self published writers to be seen as serious authors as there is the need with many arrived authors to protect their status against all those newcomers. The distinction between the two groups is best visible by the price of their books so the established group wants to keep it that way and the striving group would like to lessen the gap between and thus raise its esteem.

    I agree with Jeremy that from a business point it is not a wise point for the self published authors to wish the price difference to disappear to some extent but I think there is also a psychological component.

    Reply
  17. Brian

    Sir: your arguments are disingenuous. I don’t think it is confusing at all. I am an indie publisher over 100 titles and make a very comfortable living – most through Amazon but also Hachette’s IngramSpark. Several friends and family members also have titles on Amazon through CreateSpace.

    It is such a surprise that I would advocate for the industry?

    You are making the assumption that
    higher price = better quality
    and
    Big 5 publisher = better quality

    I would suggest to you that you are wrong on both counts.

    You may wish to also consider the other comments Hugh Downey made, ie that after speaking with 30 – 40 publishers, ebooks threaten their relationship with independent bookstores and they want to slow the adoption.

    Reply
  18. Passive Guy

    “If indie authors are able to get companies like Hachette to change their practices in terms of how they relate to authors, then if Howey were to be picked up by one of them, he would benefit from that change”

    Jeremy – Do you understand that successful indie authors make far more money than traditional authors? They don’t want to be picked up by a publisher because the publisher can’t afford them.

    For those few successful indie authors who do sign with a traditional publisher these days, it’s strictly a marketing play. The author gives up income from a couple of books in order to (hopefully) get a sales bump on past and future indie books from exposure in bookstores, etc.

    The general consensus among those indie authors who have tried the marketing play strategy is that it’s probably not worth the money lost and the time suck involved in dealing with a publisher. Hence, you’ve seen very few bestselling indies signing trad contracts in the last year or so.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Greenfield

      If that’s true, and I don’t deny that it is, then that argument falls apart — UNLESS trading conditions change, which they always could. In which case, making conditions better for traditionally published authors could benefit you if you somehow become one one day. Still, I’ll concede the point.

      The main point I was trying to make by putting that forward, though, is that there are many arguments far less flimsy than, “I’m doing it for everyone else’s benefit, not my own, and you’re a bad person if you question that.” That one doesn’t resonate and the more I hear it hysterically defended, the less I believe it.

      Reply
    2. T. Payne

      According to an industry panel that had Kristin Nelson (y’know, Howey’s agent) and Steven Axelrod (y’know, Liliana Hart’s agent) on it, there are plenty of authors who would gladly jump to a traditional contract and be exposed to the 70% of the market that is print. And the deals are still happening. J.S. Cooper, a very successful self-pubbed author, has signed with Simon & Schuster.

      But publishers are no longer willing to sign print-only deals. Those opportunities have dried up, and reading between the lines it’s because the ROI just isn’t there for the publishers. It’s a BUSINESS, after all.

      As always, Passive Guy is not so passive in his bias.

      Meanwhile, as for Howey, he said this on Twitter:
      https://twitter.com/hughhowey/status/490161043239608320

      So, yes, Howey does indeed want to publish with the Big 5; but apparently only if they accede to all his demands, completely screw their business model on his say-so, and crown him High Grand Poo Bah of New York Publishing while female publishing interns feed him peeled grapes or something (for their sakes, I hope none of the interns resemble Amy Farrah Fowler or Howey might be inspired to write a \The Bitch Who Fed Me Peeled Grapes\ blog post.)

      As for me, I’m not publishing with the Big 5 until they give me a pony. And I’m not paying for food, or the vet, or the farrier, or stable rent. And forget mucking out the stall – eew! But I demand a pony, nonetheless. It’s just as reasonable as what Howey wants, after all.

      (Heh. My captcha was “vogon poetry.” Which pretty much sums up the self-pubbed apologia camp’s arguments.)

      Reply
        1. T. Payne

          I disagree the comment was completely off base. Hyberpole, yes. But the Twitter stream is linked for anyone to read. Howey does, indeed, have a long list of demands before he will grace the Big 5 with his presence.

          As for who is really off base, Howey has this to say about authors who have the gall to disagree with him:

          \Some really pernicious behavior by some high-profile people right now. There are a few who immediately bash everything Amazon does, every single time, and then insist they aren’t taking sides. It would be amusing to watch were they not fighting so hard to wreck the marketplace that gives more aspiring writers a leg up.

          \In two of the cases, I know the authors well enough to think their motivations are entirely selfish and completely financial. These are authors who want to maximize their income, and they don’t want to compete with self-published authors. It’s a disgusting attitude. Hateful.\

          No, Hugh, they just don’t agree with you. But go ahead, impugn their character as greedy, fearful of competition, and disgusting. Nice. While creating a whisper campaign about which two authors.

          And speaking of Howey’s language, anyone who publishes a blog post called \The Bitch from World Con,\ leaves it up for three days while making fun of people who have issues with with wording, replaces it with an insincere, \I’m sorry you were offended\ apology when he is called out on the blog post by male authors with bigger readerships than him, and finally publishes a half-real apology after it hits news outlets:

          Yeah. Talk to me again about that person’s integrity.
          .
          Then there is recent trolling of Jeremy Greenfield here on DBW. And his nasty comments about Dana Beth Weinberg’s work.

          Not buying the integrity argument in anything Howey says or does, at all. And that includes his supposed \altruism.\ First, who impregnated a virgin and elected Hugh Howey as publishing’s lord and savior?! Not everyone wants to be \saved,\ Howey. Not everyone thinks that your agenda makes business sense, or even common sense.

          Second, I don’t want or need Howey’s paternalistic attitude. Nor his patronage. He reminds me of Victorian missionary: \Oh, hai, downtrodden native peoples! Let me rescue you!\ Yeah, thanks but no thanks.

          Third, his insistence that everything Amazon does is wonderful and beneficial and full of sweetness & light is…interesting. He leapt out to defend Kindle Unlimited, and didn’t even really criticize ACX when it cut its author payment percentages. Only paid corporate shills surpass him in evangelical fervor, and even then they are smart enough to temper it.

          Reply
      1. Andrew

        More than a few of the highly successful authors have said what it would take for them to sign a traditional publisher contract. The contract Howey signed is often used as a baseline. Print only, rights reversion, author keeps ebook rights. Why wouldn’t a Big 5 publisher be over those terms. Is it because the author is keeping the rights to the most valuable moneymaker of their IP?

        But you don’t hear those offers being made to successful self published authors. More often than not, you hear stories of self published authors walking away from traditional deals, because the money wasn’t good enough for them to give up what they would be giving away, and they made more money, marketed their works better, and got their words in front of readers faster. Sure, a 5 book series for $500,000 looks good, but then you get into the details…non compete, joint accounting, no rights reversion…

        When even a moderately successful self published author can turn down a traditional contract with the phrase “I made more money last week than they were offering for the life of the proposed contract”, what does that tell you?

        Reply
  19. Neal

    Foreign rights are a totally different ballgame and are not something self-published authors can easily do themselves. Thus they have to go \traditional\ if they want to go international, at which point their control over prices vanishes. So this point is pretty much a nonstarter.

    Reply
  20. B.

    There actually is a sound logic behind why indies support lower prices. The numbers show that they sell the most books at between $2.99 and $3.99 (up from the old “sweet spot” of .99). And most successful indies rely on volume in the form of serial fiction to make a profit. If you’re going to make money (and most don’t, of course, either indie or traditional), it won’t be until about book no. 5. The way you pull in loyal readers is to get them interested in the first book (making it free), which increases the number of people willing to take a chance on it. That’s the key. The carry over to book no. 2 is low but the carry over to book no. 3 is pretty high. So by book no. 5, you can have a good base of readers and you can make a decent income. Any higher than $3.99 and the numbers really drop because most readers won’t take a chance on a writer they haven’t heard of at a price that’s higher unless they’re well known. But many do very well in the $2.99 to $3.99 range because psychologically, more will take a chance on your work, increasing the number of sales overall. Careers are being made by this approach. Flattening prices for all books with an increase lowers the number of readers willing to click “purchase.” And at a 70% royalty on Amazon, you can make more per book at $2.99 than you can at a traditional rate of 15% of net (and the cut the agent takes) on a $14.99 book with a higher number of readers willing to roll the dice on you.

    Reply
  21. Deborah Smith

    Point One: No, indie authors do not make \far more money\ than traditional authors. That claim is based on faulty information collected only by Hugh Howey’s unreliable info gathering at Amazon (only.) A few (proportionately, very, very few) indie authors have done extremely well, and more power to them! But with 85 percent of the publishing market still going to trad publishing authors, that’s where the sales are, and that’s where the massive bestsellers are, bar none.

    Point Two: Trad publishing is not obsessed with protecting hardcovers (or, as many indies keep darkly hinting) getting rid of ebooks all together. Legacy houses are scoring big revenue on ebooks and began investing in those markets *years* ago (I was first published in digital form back in 2004 by Grand Central)

    Point Three: Pricing is based on a complex system of factors at legacy houses: the format, the type of genre, the popularity of the author, the timing of the release, etc. New books are priced higher then often gradually reduced. Just as in any industry, it’s about gauging what the product is worth to the customer. No one seems to have a problem with retail pricing when they purchase a Kindle from Amazon or a highly rated video game or bottled water at some ludicrous price.

    Point Four: Readers pay a good price for books they want. As a small press publisher I’ve seen this over and over. Mysteries hold a solid $ 6-8 price in ebook. That market is accustomed to it and pays without a blink. Romances, otoh, have sunk (in general) to $3-4 or less for new and midlist authors. Trying to rubber stamp a low low one-price-fits-all for books is NOT GOOD for publishing whether trad or indie. It’s not good business, it makes no sense.

    Point Five: The bigger picture is being discussed elsewhere and I don’t have the links at hand, but this battle is not about pricing, anyhow. It’s about Amazon trying to keep control of its profit margins and carve out *bigger* margins for *itself.*

    Point Six: Indies (of which I am one, since I self-pub some short stories at KDP) are a diverse group, and anyone who wanders among the posts at the Kindle Boards and elsewhere will see that a large group of them don’t agree with the Anti-Hachette sentiment, and, in fact, are growing seriously disenchanted with what they see as second-class citizenship in their relationship with Amazon, which they feel is using them as pawns in this dispute.

    Reply
  22. b.

    I would argue that it’s the media coverage of this issue that probably bothers indies more than the facts of the negotiation, which are largely unknown (let us remember that fact, by the way). The Hachette side has been pretty hypocritical: the 900-person letter assuming to speak for all writers, the Colbert Amazon-is-the-Borg routine, the cultural vanguard (Hachette) vs. ruthless business angle (Amazon). Barely mentioned in these articles is the fact that Hachette colluded illegally to fix prices and that it offers terms far less fair than Amazon. There are no good guys here, but at least Amazon didn’t break the law. The entire media angle has focused on how ruthless Amazon has been with barely a mention of how equally ruthless the publishers have ALWAYS been. When you have been told there’s no market for your writing by agents and publishers, then you find one on your own and make a living–and Amazon makes that possible–the victim narrative coming out of the Big 5 rings a bit hollow. Indies don’t care as much about the pricing schemes as they care about being treated with respect and being asked what they think, rather than 900 biased writers presuming to speak for all. 900 signatures–all over the Internet. 7,500 signatures opposing it should be much bigger news and it’s barely mentioned. That’s what ails them. And indies are much more nimble at adjusting to price changes–should they go up, for example, across the board–than the traditional industry. They’ll adapt and they know it.

    Reply
    1. Daniel Powell

      Really astute commentary…price fixing is against the laws of our country! Breaking the law makes Hachette seem kind of shifty, at least in my view.

      (cute aside:my captcha was “hammer time,” which seems appropriate for what disruptive technologies are doing to traditional publishing)

      Reply
  23. William Ockham

    The reason you can’t understand why some indie authors have completely rational and self-interested reasons to favor Amazon’s position in its current dispute is that you have a bias that blinds you to it. You believe that indies are in direct competition with Hachette. You think that indie books are nothing more than low-price alternatives to “branded books”. That simply isn’t true.

    There is some overlap in the customer base, but the ideal indie customer is an avid reader who was poorly served by traditional publishing’s offerings. The ideal Big 5 customer is the casual book purchaser who doesn’t know indie publishing exists and often doesn’t even read the books they buy. To the extent that the indie author’s customers overlap with Big 5 customers, it is in the indie author’s interest for Big 5 prices to come down so that customers can buy more books per month.

    This may not be true for all indie authors, but it is true for most of them. It took me a long time and some serious systems modeling to completely figure this out, but there are many authors who just instinctively grok this. That is the value of market feedback. I don’t know how many understand it, but it is the reason that I would argue that it is in their interest for Amazon to prevail.

    Reply
  24. Mit Sandru

    I’m an Indie Author and I bitched against Hachette, and on the other hand I want Hachette to price themselves out of the market. Am I speaking from both sides of my mouth? Not if I clarify the point of view.
    To rally against Hachette on Amazon’s behalf is an emotional issue. Hachette is part of the Big-publishers-NYC institution who has turned as down, and blocked our self-published paper books in bookstores. The enemy. Amazon has opened the gates and welcomed as all. The friend.
    And then there is the pragmatic point of view of an Indie-publisher. Hachette is the competition, Goliath, big and well funded. I am less than David and I hold in my hand one little pebble. Low prices for my eBooks. It should be to my advantage to let Goliath collapse under its own weight of high prices. Let Hachette have its way.
    But there is one other point of view to consider. Imagine, and it is possible, that all Big-publishers have it their way. Each of the big five publishers impose agency prices on Amazon, and therefore higher eBook prices. Wouldn’t that be great? Maybe not. Amazon will stand to lose, and Amazon is in the business of winning. What they could do? Decide on a progressive scale for royalty payments on eBooks. The lower the price, the lower the royalty, and vice-versa. This policy exists now, 35% for ebooks under $2.99.
    When the business landscape shifts, the players (Amazon et al) take actions and it may not be in our best interest. In the case of the unknown, maybe Amazon winning is the fair alternative for us Indie Authors.

    Reply
  25. Barry Eisler

    Well, what I actually said was:

    \Speaking just for myself, I distrust cartels and other abuses of market power, and in this regard the Big Five (why are they even called that, if they don’t have more in common than they do in competition? Ask the Seven Sisters…) have a deplorable record. Life-of-copyright terms… anti-competition provisions… twice-a-year payment… a complete lack of innovation… you don’t get behavior like this in the absence of lopsided market power and abuse thereof.\

    I guess you could try to just dismiss this as something about an \evil empire.\ Or you could try addressing the merits of my argument, instead, perhaps by claiming there are no such practices in the legacy world, or that, okay, there *are* such practices, but they’re actually nurturing authors, not harming them… something like that. That would involve a bit more effort than a silly straw man, true, but I wonder if the more substantive conversational approach might also be the more productive one?

    Reply
    1. Matt

      Forget Drive By Deborah. She’s been very vocal for a while spewing straw men and propaganda without any substantive counter arguments using say, logic and evidence.

      She doesn’t even believe the Author Earnings data! Data that’s data, reproducible, testable, and readily available. I’ll let that speak for itself.

      Reply
      1. William Ash

        Matt, I don’t think anyone has been able to reproduce Author’s Earnings data. It is certainly not a reproducible. Nor can it be tested. Do you know how they collect it? Have you never wondered why Author Earnings does not collect 30 consecutive days of data and analyze that? If they can collect one day, why not over the long term? They can then smooth the data out to reflect actual trends.

        Reply
        1. Matt

          It is certainly not a reproducible.: Yes, it is. Why would you say it isn’t? What one person produces another can reproduce, albeit on a different day.

          Nor can it be tested.: Yes, it can easily be tested. Why would you say it can’t when it can’t? Plenty of authors have verified the data corresponds to the books they have on sale at Amazon, and the data is accurate. Granted that’s only one way to test it.

          Do you know how they collect it? The fact you asked this shows me you have not read or understood their explained methodology, which I suppose I could have determined from your previous two questions. Go to the site. Read the methodology.

          Have you never wondered why Author Earnings does not collect 30 consecutive days of data and analyze that? Because people are doing this for free, devoting their time and using their hard earned money to pay for the computer power required to run the spider and collect the data. Sure it would be nice to have a report every day and someone to collate all the data into one big quarterly report, but that’s not going to happen. Trying to allude to a suspect motive because AE doesn’t produce more data than they have is clutching at straws.

          At this stage Author Earnings has produced eight reports since it started in February 2014. They’ll continue, and any trends will be sorted out.

          When you actually visit the site and see what they are doing, you’ll understand.

          Reply
        2. Matt

          Go to the site. Read what they’re doing and their methodology, and your questions will be answered.

          The reason they don’t produce more reports is they are giving up their time and hard earned money to do this and pay for the computing power necessary for their spider to collect the data. Trying to allude to suspect motives because they don’t produce enough data for your liking is a poor argument.

          Reply
          1. William Ash

            Mike, you seem to be having a problem with sample size. Go out and take the temperature. Now, from that data point, predict things like average temperature. Is that temperature even average? A single data point cannot say much. Even if you take another temperature reading in a completely different month, the sample does not help much. And as far as I know the two datasets Author Earnings has have never been correlated.

            As far as cost, how much did this cost? I don’t think a cost was ever given. But they already have the spider and computing power, then additional data should not cost much.

            You can try to attack me personally. It is not what I personally like. I looked at the excel file and data and I find no real information in there that is useful. It is ambiguous at best.

            Reply
        3. Andrew

          Time and money.

          That said, If you have a pencil, and a pad of paper, and clicked n a lot of Amazon pages, you could get the same data the Authorsearnings bot scrapes.

          I think if they were able to do a 30 day report, it would be interesting to see. I hope its something they are working on.

          Reply
          1. Jeremy Greenfield

            Can’t let this stand:

            1. The data analysis used in AE is full of flaws. Some are pointed out here: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/analyzing-the-author-earnings-data-using-basic-analytics/

            2. Look at the way traditional publisher earnings on ebooks are calculated (why it’s extremely far off here: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/clearing-up-some-misconceptions-about-dbw-and-indie-authors/)

            3. Also discussed in the last post linked about the AE’s hugely wrong assumptions about sales figures at various rankings, not to mention that these fluctuate widely day-to-day and hour to hour. We know this because at DBW we’ve been doing this kind of data scraping for over two years, every single night for the DBW Ebook Best-Seller list. The ranks are ONLY accurate for predicting sales number IF you have enough of the top sellers because most sales charts have logarithmic patterns (we did eight months of careful research and testing and data collection every night before launching our list). In addition, when you gather the data constantly for weeks, you see that flash in the pan book sales happen ALL THE TIME and if they are captured in a scrape can really skew your data if you don’t account for them somehow. We do by collecting every day at in a way to limit the effect of books that rise up the list quickly and then just as quickly disappear.

            4. #2 on this list is a big one when looking at the market as a whole. It shows AE to be elitest and classist http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/ten-fallacies-defending-author-earnings/

            5. Several more good reasons that the data obscures the reality of the entire picture for all authors: http://www.idealog.com/blog/comparing-self-publishing-to-being-published-is-tricky-and-most-of-the-data-you-need-to-do-it-right-is-not-available/

            6. Another independent analysis by someone who understands statistics calling the report a lie: http://dearauthor.com/ebooks/how-not-to-lie-with-statistics/

            7. More good objections here, including how best-seller lists are manipulated: http://brilligblogger.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-missionary-impulse.html

            But, most of all, when you’re dealing with big data sets, one thing you have to understand that most people who look at this data don’t even consider (in fact, they often say the opposite, which boggles my mind) is that small errors when put together multiply. So, when you are off a little on the estimate of sales figures, and a little on the amount earned per sale, you end up with a HUGE margin of error on the amount earned per author estimates.

            It’s all hokum. The saddest thing about it is that it could be so good. It’s a legit way of gathering data and insights, but it’s taken way too far and “data guy” doesn’t really know what he’s doing.

            But everyone should decide for themselves. At the end of the day, publishers and authors are responsible for their own publishing decisions.

            Reply
  26. T. Payne

    \The reason you can’t understand why some indie authors have completely rational and self-interested reasons to favor Amazon’s position in its current dispute is that you have a bias that blinds you to it\

    Your user name reputation precedes you. Talk about the biased kettle failing to look into the mirror.

    \but the ideal indie customer is an avid reader who was poorly served by traditional publishing’s offerings.\

    This? Makes no sense. Unless you are arguing that the ideal indie consumer is an avid reader with only the slimmest grasp of English grammar, and someone for whom things like story construction and character arc are unnecessary concepts. In which case, yes, those readers were very poorly served by traditional publishing.

    Considering that the most successful self publishers such as Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy – even your beloved enfants terrible trio of Howey, Eisler and Konrath – were traditionally published first, it suggests that traditional publishing was not as horribly blind to their genius as has been suggested.

    (Also, side note: Just how was traditional publishing supposed to publish ALL the books prior to digital?! There are only so many resources, so much shelf space, so many off-set printers in the world. Even now publishers don’t have the resources to publish all the manuscripts on all the hard drives – they can only pay so many editor, marketing, art director salaries. The \traditional publishing are nasty, evil gatekeepers\ argument is specious and illogical. OF COURSE they had and still have to make choices. It’s not personal, it’s business.)

    \ The ideal Big 5 customer is the casual book purchaser who doesn’t know indie publishing exists and often doesn’t even read the books they buy.\

    The Big 5 customer doesn’t read the books he/she buys?!? So authors like Alice Hoffman and Kate Atkinson and Michael Connolly and J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith – they build sales from title to title because Big 5 customers…what? Just like to have pretty decorations on their shelves?! Is that REALLY your argument?!

    But then, aren’t you the one who looked at a single price point of a single title published by Hachette and \fisked\ the Hachette letter on that basis?

    I would suggest the above demonstrates that logic and research might not be your strong suits.

    \It is in the indie author’s interest for Big 5 prices to come down so that customers can buy more books per month.\

    No. It is still not in the indie author’s interest. Because then price advantage – which is the only real advantage they have in the marketplace – will be taken away and indies will be forced to compete on quality.

    And they will lose.

    If faced with the choice of buying Neil Gaiman’s books at $2.99 or unnamed self-pubbed author’s books at $2.99 – I’m buying all of Gaiman’s back catalog and maybe a few gift downloads for friends and family. And then I’ll buy Scalzi’s books, and Stephen King’s books, and Andy Weir’s books, etc. I am not trying unnamed self-pubbed author. So yes, I’m buying more books, but I ain’t buying yours.

    If Neil Gaiman’s book costs $10.99 and unnamed author’s book is $2.99, maybe I’ll try unnamed because the consumer lizard brain says, \Oooh! Bargain!\

    But that’s how pricing theory and marketing strategy works. I don’t know how many people in the self-pubbed apologia camp understand Business Basics 101, but their blogs and message board comments suggest very, very few.

    \It took me a long time and some serious systems modeling to completely figure this out\

    You might want to try modeling it again. But try it with more than one data point this time.

    Reply
  27. Christian K

    Why the negativity, man? Do you push the old lady into the street or do you help her across?

    So, Karma, that’s answer one.

    Answer two is a little more complex. The popularity of the platform is important to everyone using the platform. If no one had a iphone there wouldn’t be much of a market for that hot new App, nor would there be many hot new iPhone apps developed. The more people with Kindles, the more people that might buy my Kindle book, and the more people who are reading kindle books rather than watching youtube videos. If Jane Reader buys a Kindle to read the new Nora Roberts or James Patterson I benefit. When Patterson advertises his new kindle book, I benefit. Now Jane Reader goes to Amazon to get all the hot new books (and there I can be as big as Patterson, at least in theory). The less Jane Reader has to think about her purchase, and there more there is to buy, the more she’s used to and excited by just clicking on that buy button. The world is her oyster, and Amazon, Patterson and I benefit.

    Reply
    1. Matt

      You must have a different definition of debunking than everyone else. You’ll note that Dana Weinberg chooses her language very carefully when discussing the Author Earnings data and reports. That’s because she has a professional reputation to uphold. She can’t and won’t say they’ve been debunked because it isn’t true and will tarnish her reputation.

      What Dana has said is:
      “Howey’s method of data collection overcomes some of the limits of relying on voluntary survey data and provides a new source of analysis and information that may be used to support or call into question other findings.”
      No debunking there…

      and “Howey’s data doesn’t contradict any of the findings I’ve reported here or elsewhere.”
      Still no debunking…

      and “I’m not sure that any of these assumptions are good ones, but I’m not going to challenge them”
      Some concerns, left undefined and nebulous, still no debunking…

      and “We’ll let his numbers stand and use them to tell the bigger story—which, if anything, should now be well-placed to show the striking advantages of indie publishing.”
      Wow. I’d go so far as to say that’s the opposite of debunking…

      and “the results are depressingly consistent with the findings I’ve reported from the Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Surveys for 2013 and 2014”
      Depressing for some authors, I’d agree, but still no debunking…

      and “What I find in these new data are confirmation of a number of the things we’ve already reported”
      Opposite of debunking again…

      Well, I think we’ve debunked the “debunking” myth.

      You’re welcome.

      Reply
  28. Bob Mayer

    Enlightened self interest is a curious term as used in another comment. Totally get it. True, trad publishing could do a much better job. But it’s their business model and they are falling on their own sword, much harder than most of them suspect based on emails I’ve received from many NYT bestselling authors. I dealt with it for 20 years and didn’t understand the lack of awareness of reality on their part. If they wake up now, fine. But it’s not my job to do it. Tried, done it, did it, done with it. Torch has been passed on. All the best.

    There are lots of nuances to all of this which is why I’m not on either side. I’m selfish. But I have tried very hard to inform writers of the reality of what is going on for years. And will continue to do so. Going back to being selfish. And helping all those other selfish writers since the only thing you can really command are your own decisions and actions.

    I’ve also learned to distrust obvious truths. There are layers to things which we learn as we get older. What’s obvious to one person isn’t so obvious to someone else. I don’t have all the information and bow to those who apparently do. I appreciate the information.

    Reply
  29. Daniel Powell

    Criminy, Deborah! 59 comments (60, soon) is a broadside? Barry Eisler advocates for writers. Indie? He worked with major traditional publishers as well. Amazing bluster. I think you might be sweating…

    Reply
  30. Rick Chapman

    One reason is that incredibly enough, many of the people who follow Hugh and others have completely misunderstood the concept of royalties. And I have to say that Hugh has refused to make that clear on his site and has actually reinforced that illusion:

    \Amazon pays roughly six times the royalty rate that Hachette pays.\

    Direct quote from his August 1st blog.

    One of the reasons is that Amazon calls their retail usage fee a \royalty\ split. They look at Amazon’s 30% margin hit, look at their 70% \royalty,\ compare that against the 8% to 15% typically paid in traditional public and go \all is good.\

    More info on this at http://www.rule-set.com/blog

    Reply
  31. Alyx

    I was just talking to a professor whose scholarly book was accepted by an academic publisher. Now academic publishing is a thing apart, intersecting with most of us only when we (or our children) have to spend $500 a semester on textbooks for 5 courses. Nonetheless, his experience is instructive. The publisher said they would price the book at almost $200. Really. No, it wouldn’t have fancy handmade paper and leather cover with gold lettering. It would be just a hardback book. But the publisher was going to price it at almost $200. (Academic books rarely pay real advances, so the author wouldn’t be getting much ahead of time, or probably royalties at any point.) Who would buy this, the author asked. Well, a few university libraries. And because only a few books would be sold, they would have to be priced very high. Well, more would sell if it were priced much lower, said the author (the book could be used in undergraduate courses and read by laypeople– it wasn’t by any means too abstruse for an audience). The publisher responded that this was the way it was done. So there. (BTW, once it was contracted to the publisher, it would be years, perhaps decades, before the author could have back the rights to his own book, even if almost none ever sold.)

    Author will keep the book himself, he said, and put it out as an ebook for $4 and a POD book for $15. Truth is, he wants his years of work and thought to be READ by someone. There. A motivation that is neither profit nor altruism. To want your book to be read, well, there’s a motivation.

    And I as a potential reader (I’m interested in his subject) and as an author who doesn’t want academic writing to end up as dead a profession as illumination of manuscripts, I can say– I think it’s a good thing for publishers to do business rationally and get authors’ books to readers at a price they can afford.

    What’s far stranger than the “altruism” or “stupidity” (pick your poison) of indie writers is the stubborn insistence of the major publishers to make the very same stupid mistakes that recently about doomed the recording industry. Why they care so very little about the success of the industry is far more puzzling than our desire for the industry to continue on in this century.

    Reply
  32. Tyra Masters

    My children and I (and my husband, lol) loved the Harry Potter books. We bought them as they came out. We didn’t wait for them to go on sale and we, like many people I know (okay, about 11) made a point of buying them from our favourite bookstores (my was Blaine’s in Selkirk). Other people I know borrowed them from the library or friends, waiting to buy their copies when the books were less expensive.

    The argument here seems to be that if the company had put out a cheaper product (lower cost and lower cost in production) they would have sold more books, I don’t believe that.

    I like the range of book prices and the quality of product. I understand that you believe one price, one level of quality for everyone, but that doesn’t work for me.

    This discussion (I know) is primarily aimed at ebooks. No one I know who buys ebooks regularly, buys based on price, they buy only authors they trust.

    The problem with ebooks isn’t price, it’s value. I’ve never heard the adage ‘you get what you pay for more’ than when discussing ebooks and authors with friends.

    I feel the belief that a lot of ebook authors have that if the legacy published ebooks were just cheaper, they’d get more readers is crap. Amazon has the world’s biggest slush pile with little or no way to distinguish your work (the piece you’ve paid to have edited, laid out & bought a cover for) from the person who uploads a story every week and pays for reviews. Too many wannabes pay to have their first 3 chapters polished — this is the issue that ebook authors have to contend with (there are a lot of good ones out there, working hard on the craft).

    My time is valuable to me. I love reading, but I’m not going to spend forty minutes to an hour digging through poorly written works (I spend enough time editing my own stuff, I’m not going to pay to do it for others and I’ve learned for myself that I can’t trust the ‘sneak peak’ nor the reviews)

    I buy TP, corporate published, small press published & authors I know because someone else worked on it whose judgement as to the quality of the work I trust. I’m willing, able & will continue to pay for that because MY TIME IS VALUABLE and I want to ENJOY reading a book.

    Frighteningly, the argument that if ebook prices are pushed low enough the pampered (professionally edited/laid out/produced) will be tossed into the river to sink or swim with the ebook authors (same footing) because most believe that is the only difference between the works.

    Reply

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