Thursday, July 10, 2014

Konrath and Eisler vs. Richard Russo: The Sequel

Think the Authors Guild really has all writers' best interests in mind?


Richard Russo, who in a previous Authors Guild letter tried to show he was attempting to win a second Pulitzer Prize, this one for Not Knowing What He's Talking About (I'm sure that's a category), is adding to his bowl of fail with this new letter, sent to Guild members.


So, contrary to what anyone could have possibly expected, Barry Eisler and I fisked it.


Russo in crazy bold italics, me and Barry in commonsense font.


Russo: The primary mission of the Authors Guild has always been the defense of the writing life.


Barry sez: One of my favorite things about Russo is the way his real priorities leak through no matter how much he tries to mask them in high-minded verbiage. Because yes, what Richard Russo and the “Authors Guild” want more than anything is to preserve a certain lifestyle -- the lifestyle that comes with being anointed by a legacy publisher, becoming a member of an exclusive club, and getting to write full-time from the proceeds. The lifestyle that’s theoretically available to everyone but that is in fact doled out to only a tiny fraction. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. We’re talking about a one-percent economy, where the one percent’s lifestyle is achieved at the expense of the other 99%. I’m sure when Lloyd Blankfein argues for the merits of the system that landed him at the head of Goldman Sachs, he makes the same sorts of arguments Russo makes in all his missives to members of the Authors Guild. Because the worldviews are identical.


Russo: While it may be true that there are new opportunities and platforms for writers in the digital age, only the willfully blind refuse to acknowledge that authorship is imperiled on many fronts.


Joe sez: I would have liked it if he said something like, "authorship is sinking", which would have acknowledged he is indeed winking and nudging about how stupid that comment was.


But he isn't winking. He is, unfortunately, serious.


There is not a single front where authorship is imperiled. Not one. In fact, more people are publishing books than ever before (Bowker noted a 400% increase in the last five years). This is because every single one of those authors now has a chance to reach readers and make some money.


Richard, if you believe "authorship" is "signing your rights away for your lifetime plus seventy years to a legacy house" then use that precise definition. Because if every legacy publisher suddenly disappeared, authorship would still exist.


Last I checked, I wasn't blind, willfully or otherwise. It's interesting you use that term, because it perfectly describes your myopic confirmation bias. Barry Eisler just blogged about this very topic, namely the inability for those within an establishment (in this case, the legacy publishing industry) to rationally judge opposing viewpoints from outside that establishment due to psychological projection. You are the one who is willfully blind, Richard, and yet you are saying those who disagree with you are willfully blind. Who else but one blind would even suggest authorship is imperiled when more writers than ever are making money?


Barry sez: I just have to add… “While it may be true that there are new opportunities and platforms for writers in the digital age”...? Russo isn’t sure? This is just a hypothetical possibility he’s heard sing of from seers and psychics? What can you say about a person who thinks this “may” be true? It’s like someone saying the earth “may” be round.


Joe sez: You may be right.


Oh, wait. I mean you are right.


Russo: True, not all writers are equally impacted. Some authors still make fortunes through traditional publishing, and genre writers (both traditionally published and independently published) appear to be doing better than writers of nonfiction and “literary” mid-list fiction. (The Guild has members in all of these categories.)


Joe sez: And some authors are making fortunes, quitting their day jobs, paying bills (take eight hours and read through the thousands of comments from writers who signed our petition), through self-publishing (The Guild also has members who self-publish as well as publish traditionally, but apparently you haven't met any of them. Or spoken to them. Or care.)


Who again is being willfully blind?


Russo: But there’s evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, that as a species we are significantly endangered. In the UK, for instance, the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society reports that authors’ incomes have fallen 29 percent since 2005, a decline they deem “shocking.” If a similar study were done in the U.S., the results would be, we believe, all too similar.


Joe sez: I fail to see how I'm to be kept from reaching readers and making money. Perhaps because I'm not willfully blind.


Barry sez: I make this point again and again, even though I know the Richard Russos of the world will never understand it. That a way of doing things has worked doesn’t mean it’s the only way of doing things. An entity that has traditionally provided a function is not the same as the function itself, nor is that entity the only way the function can be provided. Again and again, Russo reifies the system within which he succeeded with success for writers generally. He’s convinced that if the legacy system evolves or is displaced, success will become impossible. This is logically absurd and empirically mistaken. Other than that, of course, it makes perfect sense.


Russo: On Tuesday, Amazon made an offer to Hachette Book Group that would “take authors out of the middle” of their ongoing dispute by offering Hachette authors windfall royalties on e-books until the dispute between the companies is resolved. While Amazon claims to be concerned about the fate of mid-list and debut authors, we believe their offer—the majority of which Hachette would essentially fund—is highly disingenuous.


Joe sez: As Eisler says, what if Hachette had offered to give its authors 100% of the income their ebooks generate on Amazon? Would that also be highly disingenuous?


I've played poker, Richard, and I'm sure you have as well. When I'm sure someone is bluffing, I call their bluff.


There was a very easy way for Hachette to find out if Amazon was indeed disingenuous. They could have accepted the offer.


Barry says: Amazon has been pilloried by people like Russo for “targeting” and “boycotting” and “hurting” authors. Then, when Amazon says, “Okay, let’s let those authors keep all the proceeds while we sort it out,” it’s disingenuous.


Okay, Richard, how about this: what do you propose? Outside outright capitulation to terms you don’t even know because they’re confidential, what from Amazon would satisfy you? What do you feel would protect the way of life you cherish and feel you deserve? Specifics, please.


Russo: For one thing, it’s impossible to remove authors from the middle of the dispute. We write the books they’re fighting over. And because it is the writing life itself we seek to defend, we’re not interested in a short-term windfall to some of the writers we represent.


Joe sez: Uh, Richard, when you're referring to "some of the writers we represent" you do know that those are the ones currently suffering? Perhaps, at the moment, you worry about them, and not all. Sort of like when, in an ER, you treat the patient with the knife in his head, not the asymptomatic one.


And as for "it's impossible to remove authors from the middle of the dispute" wasn't Amazon's specific offer intended to remove authors from the middle of the dispute?


Please go and read Barry's post, then see if you can figure out who is being willfully blind.


Barry sez: The “writing life” again, and defending it. It always amazes me when professional writers are this wooly-headed. What is this “writing life”? Richard, define it, please… extract it from the gauzy corridors of your emotions and explain to your audience in clear English the elements of the lifestyle you’re so desperate to preserve. If you can’t, or won’t do that, why should anyone take you seriously?


Also, “it’s impossible to remove authors from the middle of the dispute”? AG president Roxana Robinson said the same bloviating thing a couple days ago. What does it mean? It very much *is* possible to remove writers from the middle of the dispute -- by doing exactly what Amazon proposed. Amazon’s proposal would precisely result in all Hachette authors being protected from any fallout from the Amazon/Hachette impasse. Denying is like a visit to the Monty Python argument clinic.



Russo: What we care about is a healthy ecosystem where all writers, both traditionally and independently published, can thrive.


Joe sez: And I think it would be awesomely cool if I still had a Tower Records in my town, and a pet stegosaurus. But the world changed, and now there aren't any record stores, or
dinosaurs, anymore.


Bummer. But I moved on.


Russo: We believe that ecosystem should be as diverse as possible, containing traditional big publishers, smaller publishers, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as both e-books and print books. We believe that such an ecosystem cannot exist while entities within it are committed to the eradication of other entities.


Joe sez: I'll translate for those who don't speak Legacy Archaic: We don't want things to change even though they're changing, so we'll fight for the old way of doing things--you know--the way we're comfortable with that made us wealthy and feel special.


I'm all for diversity. I love having multiple choices as an author. But that's not up to me. It's also not up to any author.


It's up to readers. They are deciding how and what they want to buy.


For over fifty years, publishers have been able to control the situation. They decided which authors to publish. They decided which books would be read. They decided on the price. They released hardcovers a year before paperbacks to make as much money as possible. And they were able to give authors unconscionable contract terms. All because they were the only game in town. An oligopoly.


But since Amazon, an outsider, came along, the shadow industry of self-publishing has given readers, and authors, a choice.


The Authors Guild should be thrilled with this. But instead, they continue to act like the "Legacy Publishing Industry Guild" bravely defending the status quo.


And Richard? For the majority of authors, that status quo kinda sucked.


Russo: Over the years the Guild has often opposed Amazon’s more ruthless tactics, not because we’re anti-Amazon but because we believe the company has stepped over the line and threatened the publishing ecosystem in ways that jeopardize both our livelihoods and the future of authorship itself.


Joe sez: I gotta keep going back to Barry's post, because this is such a perfect example.

Amazon, which is doing more good for authors than any company in history, including legacy authors, for inventing the Kindle and creating the online bookstore everyone wants to shop at, has stepped over the line for doing more  good for authors than any company in history, including legacy authors, for inventing the Kindle and creating the online bookstore everyone wants to shop at.


I just don't see anything here other than blatant bias. Like AG President Scott Turow saying Amazon is destroying publishing by discounting books, and then Douglas Preston writing a letter, signed by Turow, saying that Amazon is hurting authors by no longer discounting books.

Look, I'm going to take a little detour and say that I really do understand your bias, Richard. I'm inclined to have a bias toward Amazon, because they've helped me make so much money, but I criticize them when they do things I don't like (marginalizing erotica on their site, removing reviews, recent contract additions) both in public and to them directly.


Why hasn't the Guild, or any prominent Guild member, criticized Hachette?


I'll opine. People tend to value rarity and exclusivity and clubs that don't allow everyone in. Clubs like legacy publishing. It makes them feel special.


Amazon is making something that was once an exclusive club into something that is no longer special. That's a beef the Authors Guild has but won't admit. It's a beef also held by the MWA, HWA, SFWA, and other writing organizations.


I can admit to feeling special and privileged when I signed my first legacy deal. I'd gotten the key to the executive washroom. I felt like I'd finally made it. And that feeling wasn't easy to shrug off.


I didn't feel special the first time I self-published, at least not in that way. Instead of feeling entitled, like I deserved success, years of legacy publisher abuse changed my mind about what was truly important in this business. Namely, control.


Control over my IP gave me a sense of empowerment that was greater than the sense of belonging I had with the legacy system.


So does this sense of empowerment make me defend my new self-pubbing business partners?


Actually, no. It makes me question everything, because I'm now the captain of my own ship.
I'm grateful to Amazon. I was grateful to my legacy publishers. But I don't feel beholden to


Amazon as I was to Hyperion or Hachette. I've become anti-establishment, and no longer fully trust anyone other than myself.


One more quick, related analogy.


How happy are we when, as children, our parents hang our school art on the refrigerator?


We're proud. We got approval. Recognition. A pat on the head. A gold star.


It's a powerful motivator, to have this honor bestowed upon us.


Now if, instead, we'd hung our art on the fridge ourselves, would it make us feel as special?


No. We wouldn't really feel anything.


That, right there, explains the difference. Some people spend their whole lives striving to get that validation, and it is tough to separate personal self-worth from what others say about us.


I'd argue that the healthier perspective is to hang your own art.


Barry sez: Amazon “has stepped over the line and threatened the publishing ecosystem”... this is Russo being unintentionally honest again. Yes, this is exactly Amazon’s heretical offense: it doesn’t respect the cozy club Russo loves and depends on. It insists on actually competing with that club, not joining and enabling it. This is what Russo calls “eradication” -- a refusal to collude and collaborate; a determination to do things differently and to do them better; a willingness to pay authors more and charge readers less. That’s all just an evil campaign to eradicate the cozy club.


I’ve said it before: it reminds me of the joke: “If we’re not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?” People like Russo are so deep inside the box, they can’t recognize there’s a reality outside it.


Russo: There’s no need to rehash our disagreements here. But it is worth stating that we are not anti-Amazon, or anti-e-book, or anti-indie-publishing. Amazon invented a platform for selling e-books that enriches the very ecosystem we believe in, and for which we are grateful. If indie authors are making a living using that platform, bravo.


Joe sez: You don't mind Amazon enriching the ecosystem. But you fear them fundamentally changing it. Even if tens of thousands of authors' lives are improved.


Russo: Nor are we taking Hachette’s side in the present dispute. Those of us who publish traditionally may love our publishers, but the truth is, they’ve not treated us fairly with regard to e-book revenues, and they know it. That needs to change.


Joe sez: Exactly! Bravo! Which is why you wrote this letter, to finally take a stand and tell legacy publishers you'll no longer accept low ebook royalties! I now feel silly for taking you to task, since your motives are obviously in the interests of all authors and...


Oh. Wait a sec.


This isn't a letter to legacy publishers demanding higher ebook royalties.


Hmm.


So what are you demanding, Richard?


Russo: If we sometimes appear to take their side against Amazon, it’s because we’re in the same business: the book business. It may be true that some of our publishers are owned by corporations that, like Amazon, sell a lot more than books, but those larger corporations seem to understand that books are special, indeed integral to the culture in a way that garden tools and diapers and flat-screen TVs are not.


Joe sez: So you're saying that books are special snowflakes. Because of culture. And should be treated like rare, hothouse flowers in need of special love and attention.


Yeah, we already debunked those silly memes in the links above.


Barry sez: I call BS. Richard, even with an Internet connection and a hundred-dollar bet, I doubt you could even name Hachette’s parent corporation or any other publisher parent corporation, much less describe what they sell, much less offer a meaningful opinion about anything they’ve ever done or said that would indicate they understand books are special and culturally integral and all the rest. I’m sorry to be rude, but we both know you’re just making this stuff up because you like the way it sounds.

Seriously. Pause and honestly ask yourself what you know about any publisher parent company that would serve as evidence for your assertion. There’s nothing. Like a man dying of thirst seeing mirages in the desert, you believe these things exist because your worldview depends on that belief. But that doesn’t make any of it real.


Russo: To our knowledge, Amazon has never clearly and unequivocally stated (as traditional publishers have) that books are different and special, that they can’t be treated like the other commodities they sell. This doesn’t strike us as an oversight. If we’re wrong, Mr. Bezos, now would be a good time to correct us. First say it, then act like you believe it. We’d love to be your partners.


Joe sez: First of all, Richard, if you want to be Amazon's partner, buy some Amazon stock. Because you are owned for your lifetime, plus 70 years, by your publishers.


Second, when you say books need to be treated as different and special, I'm guessing what you're actually saying is publishers should be allowed to control prices, and keep those prices high, since that is the stance the Authors Guild has been supporting.


Third, you asking Jeff Bezos this reveals your complete lack of knowledge of Amazon's beginnings.


After reading a report about the future of the Internet which projected annual Web commerce growth at 2,300%, Bezos created a list of 20 products which could be marketed online. He narrowed the list to what he felt were the five most promising products which included: compact discs, computer hardware, computer software, videos, and books. Bezos finally decided that his new business would sell books online, due to the large world-wide demand for literature, the low price points for books, along with the huge number of titles available in print.


Again, I ask: who is being willfully blind here? Would you demand a cheetah admit that the vegan lifestyle is better, and its spot are illusions? First say it, then act like you believe it.


Barry sez: Wow, if I made this stuff up, people wouldn’t believe it. Russo wants certain companies to take… what, a Pledge of Allegiance to the Legacy Way of Doing Things? As parody, it would be funny. As reality, it’s pathetic. But it is an interesting window into the mindset of an establishment insider. I wrote about this in the blog post you’ve been referring to. Joe. Russo believes in his bones that the legacy way is the best way, indeed, the only way, and that anything that doesn’t buy into that way is inherently suspect and illegitimate.


Religious references from Preston, now Pledges of Legacy Allegiance from Russo. Seriously, you couldn’t do better as parody. But this is really who they are.


Joe sez: Seriously, Richard, you're showing you really don't have even the wisp of a clue what is going on in the industry, in the Amazon/Hachette dispute, or even with what your own Authors Guild (hint: the group you belong to and wrote this letter for) is doing. You just claimed you aren't taking Hachette's side in this dispute, when AG President Roxana Robinson just said:


"Having the government step in would be one way. I don’t know the legal definition of a monopoly, but when a single company (Amazon) has so much power, that would be a situation in which legal intervention would make sense."


That isn't taking Hachette's side? Really? How about:


"If they (Amazon) really wanted to benefit mid-list authors, they could have refrained from taking them off the site in the first place. Or they could have offered single-handedly to give up its revenues from e-books."


Why hasn't the Authors Guild mentioned the negotiation delays Amazon accused Hachette of?
You know, the ones Hachette hasn't denied?

Also, when did Amazon take any books off their site in this dispute? They removed pre-order buttons. Why keep insisting it's a boycott when it isn't? And you still insist you aren't taking sides?


Maybe, as Amazon recently said about Robinson:


"Given her position as the head of an author's advocacy group, it is hard to believe she could be against such an offer," the company said of Robinson. "She's the leader of the Authors Guild, not the Publishers Guild."


I agree with this. Not because I'm part of the Amazon bias club. But because it's a correct assessment of the situation.


But then, I'm not willfully blind, so I have an advantage you do not.

Coming up next: On the Internets, more willfully blind authors defend Russo without explaining why, and then call Eisler and Konrath names but won't fisk us. To those authors: take a good, hard look at why you're defending someone who can't make a coherent point, and why you despise the authors who bring that point up.

91 comments:

Christina Pilz said...

Russo says:
Russo: We believe that ecosystem should be as diverse as possible, containing traditional big publishers, smaller publishers, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as both e-books and print books. We believe that such an ecosystem cannot exist while entities within it are committed to the eradication of other entities.

But why on earth doesn't he mention writers? He doesn't mention self-published writers at all. Is it because he doesn't feel that self-published writers exist, let alone have a voice? Throughout all of his rebuttals and going on and on, he rarely talks about the writer at all. He really hates the idea of self publishing, doesn't he. He hates the idea that there are actually (GASP!) folks who not only don't care much for his Ivory Tower, but also, they don't actually want to be inside of it with him. Good grief. The paradigm is shifting, so get used to it!

Joshua James said...

Can we presume then, that none of these auhtors use iTunes or any apple products because of what they did to the music industry?

Libby Hellmann said...

Don't you think a debate between Russo and Larry Block would be interesting? Wonder who would come out alive at the end...

Alan Tucker said...

That's seriously the closing of his letter? That he wants Amazon to admit that books are special?

Unbelievable.

If he wants to partner with Amazon, he should self publish like the rest of us.

Angry_Games said...

Sorry, Joe and everyone else, but since Steve Z., publisher to the stars won't answer the question, maybe this Russo guy will:

Dear Mr. Russo,

What exactly do you, the publisher, provide to authors that you feel you deserve to control the rights to an author's work for lifetime + 70 years?

Anonymous said...

Joe sez: And I think it would be awesomely cool if I still had a Tower Records in my town, and a pet stegosaurus. But the world changed, and now there aren't any record stores, or
dinosaurs, anymore.


Bummer. But I moved on.


This is really what it's all about, isn't it?

The Big 5 want Agency so they can set the price of eBooks, keeping them high (or in some cases, higher than print) so they can slow or stop the adoption of eBooks in order to preserve the print book industry as it is. They want to be able to delay the publication of eBooks or keep the price of eBooks artificially high until they have milked every dollar out of everyone who buys the print books.

They want to stop the asteroid before it hits so they can preserve the dinosaurs, but it's already struck. Instead of adapting, they're running around holding up parasols in the hopes of deflecting the firestorm.

Anon Author

Andy Jennsen said...

This whole "books are special" thing that keeps cropping up isn't playing the way they think it is. Everyone thinks their thing is special. People who work in TV feel it's special. Gamers think video games are a new art medium. You name the hobby and you won't have to look very far to find egocentric people who are convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that their passion is the secret to the universe. Authors and readers aren't unique in this view and I say that as a guy with an entire room full of books in his house.

In this context what this statement sounds like is an excuse for why the basic laws of economic shouldn't apply. Readers have spoken through Amazon and the Kindle - they want cheap books.

If Richard and Hachette and every other aspect of the legacy publishing empire doesn't want to supply that demand, someone else will. In this case, Amazon and indy writers.

Every call for adjusted outcomes in the natural flow of an economy always seem to come from people with a vested interest in "the way things were". They very well may get it to some extent, but it still comes off like a spoiled three year old pouting on the sidelines because the rules changed and they aren't the King of the Hill anymore.

Life is hard. Buy a helmet Richard.

A.G. Claymore said...

I really don't understand why Hachette didn't jump on this offer. I assume the royalty money would still pass through Hachette hands first since Amazon has no direct relationship with those writers. Most of that cash would probably never get to the writers, unless they'd already earned out their advances.
If Amazon thinks Hachette is dragging their heels now, wait till they start collecting all that extra cash. They'd keep filibustering until every single advance earned out...

Anonymous said...

...but those larger corporations seem to understand that books are special, indeed integral to the culture in a way that garden tools and diapers and flat-screen TVs are not.

Big old dumb old Bezos and Amazon... Thinking that books are not special snowflakes...

Books as commodities are not special -- at least, not in the sense that they need special protection from the normal workings of the market.

Some books may be special -- I can believe that there are hundreds or thousands that should be preserved as part of humanity's cultural legacy. It might be nice to have some hard copies of those books, especially the first edition for museums etc.

But what matters is not the format as much as the content and the ability for writers to keep writing. That is not under threat. In fact, the advent of eBooks, digital distribution and self-publishing might make it even more possible for the written word to be produced and consumed on a wider and more democratic scale.

What is under threat is the old format and old forms of production and distribution.

What these publishers are really saying is that the legacy print book industry is special and is to be protected from technological innovation and price competition.

They claim it is because the legacy system is somehow necessary for the creation and preservation of cultural products but books were written before the legacy industry existed and are currently being written and published outside of it.

Sorry, boys, but the ship has already sailed. Customers -- readers -- have spoken and they have said Amazon.

Anon Author

Jennifer Oberth said...

“We believe that ecosystem should be as diverse as possible, containing traditional big publishers, smaller publishers, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as both e-books and print books. We believe that such an ecosystem cannot exist while entities within it are committed to the eradication of other entities.”

This is one of the most obvious things I’ve read in a long time. It makes me question what Mr. Russo is even saying, what point he’s trying to make. Of course entities can’t exist together if they’re destroying each other. And what he wants doesn't really matter because this is business and if there is a competition (and traditional publishing is creating the competition, I think) then all sides will fight.

Perhaps a traditionally published author would like an ecosystem that contains good royalties for the author, more control for the author, more respect for the author (not a cog in the machine) and so on. Why can't all those things exist together? Oh, wait, they can. They do.

“If indie authors are making a living using that platform, bravo.”

Maybe it’s because I just read Joe’s kid analogy but I feel like a small child after reading that line. Like he’s given me a pat on the head. And it reads so nonchalantly, as an insight into his beliefs that self-publishing is not to be taken seriously.

William Ockham said...

Shouldn't there be a mercy rule in fisking. How many times can you guys embarrass the Authors Guild? Oh wait, it's still hilarious. Never mind.

Maybe it is funny to me because every time I hear Authors Guild it makes me think that the organization escaped from the lamest D&D game ever.

Laura Resnick said...

At my most generous (and I am by and large a cranky person, rather than a generous one), I am open to the theory that letters like Russo's (and the one written by Preston, and the public commentaries of Turow, Patterson, etc.) represent, above all else, a complete failure of imagination.

It's a common human failing, exercised in many areas, to believe that one's own experience is universal, or normative, or representative.


Among people to whom traditional publishing (and, in particular, the large publishing conglomerates) have been very, very good, I think that these statements they keep coming out with represent a complete failure of imagination.

THEY have been treated very well by publishers. THEY have been made rich and famous, THEY have been made to feel valued and important, they have been treated like assets and partners in the publishing process, they have good relationships with their publishers and have seen those publishers work very hard on their behalf and invest a lot of money and work in helping them become mega-sellers.

All of that makes their loyalty to those businesses and to that business model completely understandable IMO. You dance with the one that brung you.

But there appears to be a colossal failure of imagination (also a stunningly wide and deep information chasm in their knowledge of the industry), since they seem wholly, completely, 100% UNaware of how many talented, hardworking writers--writers whose books people read and enjoy--have never had any support from publishers, either because they never got contracts or because, during years of getting contracts, they and their work were always treated like street garbage by publishers. They seem completely unaware of the existence of the 99%--a range that includes award-winning and bestselling writers, in fact, not just the great "unwashed tsunami of crap" the industry keeps dismissing as irrelevant (hi, HM Ward, with a dozen NYT bestsellers as an indie).

These guys speak only for wealthy mega-sellers treated like valued business partners by the top executives at publishing corporations; but they keep talking AS IF they speak for "writers."

It's like Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise speaking on behalf of all actors, basing all their assertions on their own world-famous multi-millions dollar circumstances, rather than the reality of most working actors, which is very, very, very different.

And the most generous interpretation I can put on it is that it's a stunningly obtuse failure on their part to recognize that their own start treatment for book after book after book is NOT normative, either for publishers OR for writers.

Terrence OBrien said...

Russo: To our knowledge, Amazon has never clearly and unequivocally stated (as traditional publishers have) that books are different and special, that they can’t be treated like the other commodities they sell.

Of course they haven't. Why should they? I bet they also haven't taken a pledge to support the Writers Life. Why should we care about either?

William Ockham said...

As a software consultant, I have worked with companies in many different industries and every one of them believed that their industry was a special snowflake. Even software developers believe that software is a special snowflake. (We usually avoid thinking about the fact that most big software projects fail.)

But there is one thing that I know for sure. If you can replace transporting atoms with transporting bits, you win.

Every. Time.

No. Exceptions.

That is what digital (ebooks and POD) vs. legacy print is. Ship the bits, not the atoms.

SM Barrett said...

“If indie authors are making a living using that platform, bravo.”

...if?

Bye, bye, Mr. Russo's credibility. Don't stay out past bedtime, and don't eat too much sugar, sweetie.

Laura Resnick said...

""Russo: To our knowledge, Amazon has never clearly and unequivocally stated (as traditional publishers have) that books are different and special, that they can’t be treated like the other commodities they sell""



I don't see how that's important. What's IMPORTANT is that Amazon's business model clearly evinces that the company recognizes that -content- is king in selling books.

What have we been told our whole lives as working writers (which, in my case, goes back to the 1980s)? That word-of-mouth is crucial, even for a book with a big ad budget, but especially for any book without.

So Amazon created a whole word-of-mouth system on its website, from early days, with the reader-reviews system, the reader-rating system, the reader-generated chatboards about books and authors.

Amazon also mimics word-of-mouth with its algorithms; as has been noted before, when I log on to Amazon, I'm shown a list of books relevant to my buying habits (as if Amazon were a local bookseller who interacted regularly with me and remembered my tastes), rather than a list of the big titles the tradpub conglomerates are promoting. When I look at or buy a specific book, I am shown a list of titles purchased by people who purchased this title--just like a local bookseller who knows her customer's tastes saying, "As a Mary Stewart fan, you might want to try Barbara Michaels. I've got several Mary Stewart customers telling me they really like Michaels' stuff."

Amazon also introduced look-inside functions and free-sampling functions so you can browse while sitting at home in your jammies. Because CONTENT is what sells books.

I don't care about the absence of flowery statements when Amzon's business model clearly evinces a thorough understanding that content is what sells books.

Laura Resnick said...

Hugh Howey makes a number of excellent points in this interview, all of which are completely ignored by the interviewer and by Douglas Preston, who gets the lion's share of the microphone time and gives non-response responses (he completely evaded the question about why he doesn't just turn over his 100% to Hachette and let struggling writers for whom the Amazon author would be a mortgage-paying book collect it?).

Hugh makes a point wholly overlooked by the media and pundits, which i've been wondering about, i.e. why didbn't Hachette make a counter-proposal when they turned down Amazon's proposal. Hachette just lay there like a dead fish. And Hugh has constructively proposed what Hachette COULD have said that would have actually demonstrated the concern they profess to feel for their authors.

http://www.bloomberg.com/video/authors-weigh-in-on-amazon-hachette-feud-uXNXYP8~TCqlu8HDl9d~TA.html

T. M. Bilderback said...

This has been mentioned already...if I were Jeff Bezos, I would have pulled every single Hachette title off of my website.

I believe it was Mr. Konrath that said that...whoever it was, I heartily agree.

That might get a little attention when Hachette realized that nothing in the world could make Amazon sell anything by that particular publisher.

The hit to Amazon would be small...but the hit to Hachette? Hmmmm...

Silas Payton said...

Anon 7:26 "Books as commodities are not special -- at least, not in the sense that they need special protection from the normal workings of the market.

Some books may be special -- I can believe that there are hundreds or thousands that should be preserved as part of humanity's cultural legacy. It might be nice to have some hard copies of those books, especially the first edition for museums etc."

Well said.

Jeff Bezos is not running a museum. It's a store and a damn good one at that. The public will decide what becomes a snowflake or a classic in what ever format it is created or transmitted in. One could argue that there will be many more classics (great creative works, enjoyed by many...my definition) that come about because of Amazon.

Led Zepplin, Fleetwood Mac, The Stones, The Beetles, Black Sabbath to name but a few. Classic bands (IMO) my kids are listening to and enjoying in digital format. I collected these in vinyl, cassette, CD and now we listen in digital. They were bought in music stores, second hand thrift shops, garage sales, listened to for free on the radio, etc. Does any of this denimish from their enjoyment as classics? Not in my opinion. The same is happening with books. We will still have our classics. We will still enjoy the best writers and pass them on to our kids, enjoying them again and again. The format does not matter. Amazon is simply the best way for authors to be read at this time. He has made it affordable and convenient for writers and readers.

As I was reading these comments my 15 year old took his iPad, opened iTunes, pointed it at a gift card and pressed read from camera. SECONDS later he was buying music. Seriously? It's a different world. Embrace it or get left behind.

Silas

Terrence OBrien said...

Hachette just lay there like a dead fish. And Hugh has constructively proposed what Hachette COULD have said that would have actually demonstrated the concern they profess to feel for their authors.

Amazon's 100% proposal has demonstrated the concern Hachette professes to feel for their authors is bogus. They are concerned for themselves.

Maia Sepp said...

I am totally stealing that line about the pet stegosaurus.

JKBrown said...

I've always wondered why Hachette doesn't make this counteroffer, which makes the most sense to me:

Hachette takes enough royalty to pay for the physical book's production, and the author gets the rest. It evens the playing field on what is lost by both companies. Since Amazon doesn't print Hachette's books, it's not fair for Hachette to eat the cost of printing when Amazon doesn't have to.

I don't know the actual ratio of royalties for a physical book (Help me out Joe) but let's say Amazon takes 30% of the price, Hachette takes 60%, and the author gets 10%. Hachette uses 20% of their take to print the book. Therefore, Amazon get 0%, Hachette gets 20%, and the author gets 80%. That's still a sweet deal for the author, while it negates the cost of making the books that Amazon sells. Yes, Amazon is still losing fewer royalties than Hachette, but their losses at that point are basically identical; namely, salary of the shipping staff.

Note that this deal obviously wouldn't apply to ebooks, since they cost nothing for Hachette to create; Infact, that becomes Amazon's job. So for ebooks, Amazon gets 1% (my imagined cost of running all servers that ebook is sold on), Hachette gets 0%, author gets 99%.

Hopefully everyone understood what I just said. With Amazon's offer rejected, Hachette would be fools to not counteroffer like this.

Alan Spade said...

An article maybe unrelated, but still interesting from Nouvel Obs in France: Amazon spits on Aurelie Filipetti's face. http://tinyurl.com/lgph2je

Aurelie Filipetti's is French ministry of culture. Her government has voted an anti-amazon law preventing the free delivery of physical books on Amazon related websites.

Amazon reacted by sending a letter to its customers, saying the delivery fee was now fixed to just one cent, the lowest authorized by law.

Why am I quoting that article? Because at the end of the article, you have the sum of all fears:
"When Amazon will manufacture all tablets, decide numeric formats, publish texts, impose its contracts and sell the books to the public, when it will be at the beginning and the end of the chain, when it will have the right of life and death on every book, on every author, we will remember with love this july 8 2014 law which thought it had it bring down."

The journalists in France are playing the fear game louder and louder.

Kris Lewis said...

What really torques me off about this letter is the utter transparency of it. Russo wants people to believe they're doing this to preserve the art of literature, but it's obviously about money, because hey, literature has existed for thousands of years without Hatchette, so what other motive could there possibly be?

Anyone else read Gilgamesh? How about Beowulf? I do hear, however, that Miguel De Cervantes's Hatchette contract is on display at the Prado in Madrid.

See, Russo, we're on this side of the line because we're tired of people pissing on our heads and telling us it's raining. So put the beast away, zip up your fly, and go write something worthy of an audience, because this garbage is not.

Anonymous said...

I know Joe (and others) have stated this, so no claim of an epiphany here, but...

The bottom line is this:

Hatchette (and other publishers I imagine) want to dictate price and margin to a retailer (Amazon).

Sure there are other issues, but they are the concern of writers - and while I care about them as a writer - they are not the problem in this specific instance.

So if the deal is Big 5 wanting to demand control of their product on Amazon's 'shelves', I can't see why the hell this is an argument.

Stanley tools does not tell Home Depot how much screwdrivers cost. Whoever sells buns to Wendy's has no say in the price of burgers. Goodyear does not demand a certain price on their tires from Midas.

It's insane to think any supplier would.

Party A sells items to party B(the retailer) who them sells them to Part C (consumer). As long as B pays A what they ask - A has no say in what C pays for it. What these publishers want is akin to tell me selling my brother a car for 10k and telling him he is not allowed to sell it again unless he sells it for 15k. If he wants to give me 10k on Friday and sell it to his neighbor on Saturday for $3 - WHAT THE HELL DO I CARE??

No one gets hurt here. In a more traditional supplier/seller/consumer relationship, retailers sell items ata loss ALL THE TIME. Very often your local grocery store sells items at a 0 or negative profit margin to bring you into the store. The cover of their weekly advert is filled with loss leaders - they will sell you milk below cost to get you into the store to buy bread and cheese at decent profit margins.

The dairy farmer has no right to call the store and demand higher milk prices. IF he want to sell to the store at a higher price, fine, but the store may switch milk suppliers. It's called commerce.

I love books. I write them, I sell them (occasionally!! Sell baby sell!) and read them at what might be an unhealthy clip :).

But they are NOT special. I liek to think they are to me, but musicians fell the same about their music, artists about their paintings and seamstresses about their dresses. Loving something doesn't elevate it's status for all - just for you.

I think my kids are the best in the world. Oddly, you all probably think the same about your own. You;re wrong of course... :P

Anonymous said...

The one thing Russo says that I am relieved to hear, is that he does acknowledge that there is no way a conflict between a book retailer and book publisher would not involve books and their authors.

Amazon's detractors have been acting as though it was a choice to "target" writers - when that's the full scope of the relationship between these two entities, that is the selling of books (written by authors).

Rob Gregory Browne said...

It's gotten to the point where I'm beginning to believe that all they want to do is wear us down.

Anonymous said...

I really wish I could still listen to my favorite music on cassette or watch a great movie on VHS, but the world moved on. And then? It moved on again. Download an album and stream a movie? I'm in the future!

B. Rehder said...

These folks are starting to remind me of science denialists. It's frustrating to read their nonsense.

Joe Konrath said...

It's insane to think any supplier would.

Yes.

And no.

Some suppliers have such a high demand they can dictate price. Apple, Xbox, and Playstation all sell for the same, everywhere.

Know what else used to? Paper books.

Paper books are one of the few things manufactured that have the price printed on them. Prior to the big box stores (and Amazon) discounting books, they all sold for that cover price.

Publishers have a long history to telling retailers how to price their products. And they were fine with that until ebooks came along. They assumed Amazon would price them as they wanted. Instead, Amazon drastically discounted. Hence the agency model collusion.

Mir Writes said...

Astounding. Thanks, guys. You try. You do try. But the blinding miasma is dire amongst them.

May some light get through. (If they can use religious tropes, so can I.) I hope it opens some eyes, though I doubt it. They are mired in their weird little reality and refuse to dare believe they aren't lining up the points rationally. That they bumble around farcically and still get most of the press not framing this negotiation and situation properly, or even just fairly, is a testament to how similarly mired the trad-pub-philic journalists are.

Well. Here's to a nice dazzling burst of truth to knock them off their high horses and to their knees. (oh, more religious metaphors, St. Paul approves).

Chris Meadows said...

Suddenly I feel an urge to filk Rick James's "Ghetto Life" into "Writing Life". Who's with me? :)

Anonymous said...

I don't trust anyone who uses 'ecosystem' in their argument, other than maybe Darwin.

Rick Gualtieri said...

If someone had posted that letter on the Onion it wouldn't have looked out of place as a parody. I'm thinking Amazon has a point and the Author's Guild should just whip off their masks, cry "Hail Hydra!", and admit their allegiance is to the big 6 not to the writers they claim to represent.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

What kills me is that the mid-list authors with legacy publishing don't realize that these huge, popular writers writing these letters and doing these interviews don't give a damn about them. They really, really don't.

And the publisher who make them feel so special will drop them in the blink of an eye if they feel that these writers aren't pulling in enough money.

It's a terrifying position to be in. If I were those mid-list writers, I'd be scared. There is no security. It's an illusion.

Marc Cabot said...

That a way of doing things has worked doesn’t mean it’s the only way of doing things.

Nor does it mean that it will continue to work indefinitely. :)

Valerie Douglas said...

I was contacted by two news organizations Wed. - Bloomberg and and NPR's Here and Now about the Hachette/Amazon debate because I signed the Change.org petition. I didn't know that I would be offering the rebuttal to Scott Turow until after I had agreed to the interview. *facedesk*.
These are the results -
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-10/amazon-e-books-proposal-puts-authors-in-a-tough-bind.html and
http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/07/10/amazon-hachette-dispute

Anonymous said...

Wow, great publicity for you!

Steve Hockensmith said...

A lot of good points were made in the fisking, but I wonder if you might have lost sight of the forest while whacking at the trees. I found the letter interesting not because of the arguments it used, which we've seen (and have seen refuted) many times before, but for some of the concessions it made.

(1) It acknowledged that writers are getting screwed by Hachette's ebook royalty rate.

(2) It acknowledged the existence of writers who don't share the Authors Guild's viewpoint.

(3) It acknowledged that some of these writers might be doing quite well thanks to a platform Amazon created. (Although the phrasing -- "If indie authors are making a living using that platform, bravo" -- manages to sound pretty patronizing.)

The bottom line: The indie community kicked up such a fuss in the wake of the Preston letter, even Richard Russo heard it up in his ivory tower. Did it change his mind about anything? Obviously not. But the fact that he's had to admit that the Authors Guild doesn't represent the opinions or interests of all writers is, I think, a victory.

Graeme Ing said...

Valerie Douglas: "(3) It acknowledged that some of these writers might be doing quite well thanks to a platform Amazon created. (Although the phrasing -- "If indie authors are making a living using that platform, bravo" -- manages to sound pretty patronizing.)"

I'm willing to believe that tradpub authors are aware that Indie authors can make a living wage. I'm not sure they can dispute that anymore. I think their real beef is that only THEIR form of publishing is genuine, and that Indie's are third rate punks. Like comparing swapmeet vendors to legitimate mall stores.

Patronizing in either case, to be sure.

Joe Konrath said...

But the fact that he's had to admit that the Authors Guild doesn't represent the opinions or interests of all writers is, I think, a victory

True. We should have touched on that.

Charlie Ward said...

It really is weird how people can't seem to shake the feeling that legacy-published authors are "real" authors. I mean, I'm a self-published author-guy and even I kind of still feel that way. It's just so, SO hard to shake. Luckily I've got Joe Konrath here to reinforce my decision for me, otherwise I'd probably pull my book off Amazon and return to the pointless, soul-crushing idiocy that is "querying". Why should we beg agents and publishers to let us get to readers anymore? They're not even in our way.

...There's a point somewhere in there, I'm sure of it. Maybe even two.

Anonymous said...

Hey, John Connolly is linking to this on his twitter account.

Not in a favorable light though.

"Visions of the mob cheering while the Library at Alexandria burns. Shouldn't writers cherish ALL forms of the book?"

Joe Konrath said...

I retweeted Connolly's quote: "Visions of the mob cheering while the Library at Alexandria burns. Shouldn't writers cherish ALL forms of the book?"

My reply:

"Good thing you can't burn ebooks. Perhaps we should cherish writers, and treat them better?"

What does it mean when a bestselling legacy author compares a fisking of Russo's wrongheaded letter to the single greatest historical tragedy in the history of human communication?

This is why I ended my blog with: take a good, hard look at why you're defending someone who can't make a coherent point, and why you despise the authors who bring that point up.

Connolly doesn't want his keys to the executive washroom taken from him. And he thinks I'm a barbarian at the gate, trying to do just that.

No one I know advocates for the demise of the legacy system you're in, John. We'd like to see it treat writers better. Hachette is using its writers as a human shield, while falsely spreading the propaganda that Amazon is hurting writers. Amazon tried, twice, to compensate writers. Hachette has made no such overtures.

That's why you consider my stance against Russo and the Authors Guild to be akin to burning books. The Authors Guild doesn't write books. Hachette doesn't write books. Writers write books. And no one I know wants to see books burn. On the contrary, we want to see them thrive.

Russo isn't looking for books to thrive. He's looking for the legacy industry to thrive. That is indeed willful blindness.

Joshua Simcox said...

First Preston, now Connolly too?!?

Oh, how I wish my favorite authors would stop pissing Joe off.

I feel like a sad kid caught between feuding parents.

Judith said...

The sheer number of people who repeatedly just won't deal with simple facts gets dispiriting. I don't think, in the end, they will hold back the tide. But, to me it's discouraging how many people just don't want to see the nose on their face.

No burning libraries, no cheering mob. We are readers, readers and writers, goddammit!

Angry_Games said...

Well, I engaged Connolly on Twitter. He claims authors siding with Joe/Barry/Hugh are dancing on the graves of printed books (I assume he means books in general, if keeping with Patterson's war cry).

He never did answer that, and when I pressed him as to exactly how authors like me are dancing on the graves of books, he decided to go to bed and link me to this:

https://2.bp.blogspot.com/_7vnsVHXWu7g/TVERMGDqR0I/AAAAAAAAAb8/pQisd3eIgXo/s1600/crimespree%2Bcrouch%2Band%2Bkonrath.jpg

(hopefully Joe will let that link go, or post it himself).

I think he's realized that bunching authors into a "wants to ban/burn books" group is maybe not such a wise decision.

Rob Gregory Browne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Gregory Browne said...

We must live in Bizarro World. In the place where I USED to live, if a huge corporation offered to help people going through a tough financial time—at its own expense, no less—that was generally considered a good thing

Joe Konrath said...

In that picture Blake and I are burning our own titles while reading them on Kindle.

Anyone who reads the interview will know why we went with that pic. It was intentionally provocative, funny, and fit in with the theme of the interview, which was largely about the rise of ebooks.

Connolly linking to that shows his cluelessness.

Joe Konrath said...

I feel like a sad kid caught between feuding parents.

You discovered these authors because the legacy system worked for them. It's human nature for them to defend that system, and their personal beliefs have nothing to do with their fiction.

But don't worry. They'll come around to my way of thinking.

It's only a matter of time. :)

P. S. Power said...

The very odd thing here is one that I don't think people who are siding against Hatchet and the other big publishers realize yet.

It's a fine point, but a real one...

You've already won.

Not some pyrric victory of small crumbs and the leavings of your betters. No, a real one. It's been a battle against the big five Goliath, and this is a sign that they are stumbling. Not down. Not dying. But staggered enough that they have to start fearing their new opponent.

That isn't Amazon however. Oh, they are a mighty retailer, and as such hold their own power, which no one should doubt.

It's the little, humble, and consistently winning indies that are making a difference now.

You, me and yes, even Joe and Barry. Hugh Howey and many others, are starting to keep these people up at night, and that is a real win.

*Sure, they'll still claim they're sleeping just fine, but you can see it in their eyes. They want to run us out of town, and you don't do that if you aren't worried.

Hatchet and their pet authors are going after Amazon for the moment, but not because they're big and want to run their own business. (Or, not just that.)

But their real worry is a loss of revenue and power in the market. All because of people that they didn't want, threw away or denigrate as lacking some vital spark that they cannot define.

The war isn't over, but no matter how Hatchet comes out, there current strategy has told us all a whole lot about what's going on in their fevered minds.

It's a win, for the side they don't realize is being arrayed against them.




Dan DeWitt said...

At this point, I've come to the conclusion that the Author's Guild is the publishing equivalent of Doofenshmirtz Evil, Inc.* Grandiose plans, a love of long-winded explanations for ridiculously complicated inventions that have little to no practical application, prone to self-sabotage ... and completely inept.

*Ask a kid.

Rocky Wood said...

Of course the claim about the HWA is wrong. We have no beef with "Amazon making something that was on mean exclusive club into ask thing that is no longer special". For a blog that attacks someone else for making statements they claim are wrong this is a particulalry egregious error - there is no evidence for that claim. HWA have a good relationship with Amazon, including a mutually developed page for Bram Stoker Award (R) winners, which includes the oh so not exclusive club of speciality and small press and can include self published works, as they have always been eligible for the Awards.mthenonky 'beef' we have with Amazon is about fake and inappropriate reviews on Amazon posted by people under the guise of anonymity

Terrence OBrien said...

Does anyone know the annual fees for membership in the Authors Guild.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

But don't worry. They'll come around to my way of thinking.

It's only a matter of time. :)


And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the real truth of the matter. I can pretty much guarantee you that every traditional author who is self-publishing today once took a dim view of the practice.

It took all of us a while to come around. Some of us are simply taking longer.

Anonymous said...

And now Connolly... sheesh.

I'm the Anonymous who commented a couple days ago that I buy 200 ebooks a year, but I had pirated Preston's The Kraken Project as "asshole tax."

You know how I said I had only ever pirated 2 other ebooks in my life, both by UK authors whose greedy publishers windowed their titles to try to force hardcover sales?

Guess what... Connolly's "The Wolf In Winter" was one of them.

What's really sad is to see that the writers I loved growing up are all turning out to have feet of clay. Connolly was one of my favorites.

What's even sadder, judging by the small number of reviews on his Amazon ebooks that have been out for years, is the fact that in just a few short months, my own no-name indie books have managed to outsell the shit out of Connolly's.

Connolly was one of my favorite authors -- I feel terrible for him. You know traditional publishing is failing him miserably to let this happen. And he just can't see it.

Joshua Simcox said...

"What's even sadder, judging by the small number of reviews on his Amazon ebooks that have been out for years, is the fact that in just a few short months, my own no-name indie books have managed to outsell the shit out of Connolly's.

Connolly was one of my favorite authors -- I feel terrible for him. You know traditional publishing is failing him miserably to let this happen. And he just can't see it."

And, sadly, this is the game we're playing now: "My $2.99 ebook is outselling Connolly's $11.99 ebook! Dude, I'm totally a bigger deal than John Connolly!"

Never mind the substantial paper sales and the seats on bestseller charts here and abroad. Never mind the Agathas and the Edgars and the Barrys and the Anthonys. Never mind a celebrated body of work dating back to the late 90's.

Disagree with his sentiments all you like, but he doesn't need your pity, and I don't see a whole of "fail" happening in his career.

This never should've become "Us vs. Them", and now it's exactly that.

Anonymous said...

Different Anonymous here. I pointed out Connolly's tweet.

There are six early novels of Connolly's that, living in the US, I cannot buy because of rights issues. I brought it to his attention at one time and was directed towards Isis Audio, which is the only place where you can get a physical copy of the audiobooks in question. The cassettes (they still sell cassettes?!) are at least £24.49. CDs and MP3s, if available, are more.

And I have no problem with spending more than $2.99 on a book. In fact I'd spend $10.00 on a book. A BOOK. $10.00 for an eBook though? I always assumed eBook prices were lower because you're not paying for the materials to print and distribute a physical copy.

Kevin Hallock said...

"People tend to value rarity and exclusivity and clubs that don't allow everyone in. Clubs like legacy publishing. It makes them feel special." I love these sentences because they are so true.

Shah Wharton said...

Perhaps because I wanted what I thought I couldn't have, or because I thought TP was the 'right' way to publish, or because I wanted other's to know I'd been assessed and found worthy by someone other than myself, I sent off my MS to a few publishers.

But when I got an offer, instead of signing on the dotted line, I felt scared. I realised how much I valued the control Amazon allows me and I said... no thanks.

It isn't easy to 'believe' in one's own worth consistently, but no publisher offers that either. I blog with a lot of TP's and I see them dropped after one book and see how they plod away trying to get another offer? I see all that extra work on top of writing a book and wonder what they really get out of it?

Some of their books have awful covers and their publishers offer no promo support and charge more per book from readers, so they make pennies. But they keep repeating the same actions because they STILL believe it's the right way to publish?

And I know they take people like me less seriously because I don't have a publisher?

In some things traditions hold value, but when they don't, move them to one side and embrace change.

Simples!

Tom Simon said...

Dan DeWitt:

At this point, I've come to the conclusion that the Author's Guild is the publishing equivalent of Doofenshmirtz Evil, Inc.

So those are the guys who invented the Bookinator? That actually makes a scary amount of sense.

Joe Konrath said...

Never mind the substantial paper sales and the seats on bestseller charts here and abroad. Never mind the Agathas and the Edgars and the Barrys and the Anthonys. Never mind a celebrated body of work dating back to the late 90's.

Joshua, authors make about 60 cents on a paperback sale.

I've been nominated for a lot of awards, and have won a few. They're either popularity contests, or the subjective opinion of a few people. No award truly indicates "best" or even proves inherent quality.

A celebrated body of work is great if your publisher can keep it in front of readers' eyes. If they can't, you need to get those rights back and do it yourself.

I've met Connolly. He seemed affable enough. But he's been taking potshots at me on Twitter for a while.

Envy is sad. Defending an industry that hurts you is Stockholm Syndrome. Defending an outdated tech is career suicide. But I wish him nothing but success.

Joe Konrath said...

What's really sad is to see that the writers I loved growing up are all turning out to have feet of clay.

Sometimes it is noble to dance with the one who brought you to the dance.

But when that person sprouts fangs and tries to suck all of your blood, find another dance partner.

Joe Konrath said...

And I know they take people like me less seriously because I don't have a publisher?

No one took me serious either, Shah. I was an outlier. I was a freak success. I was only poplar because my legacy publishers made me popular.

But since 2009, tens of thousands of authors have tried self-pubbing, and some have outsold me.

Never worry about what others think of you, unless they are close friends and family. And if they become poisonous, cut them loose.

One of the greatest journeys in life is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit.

Joe Konrath said...

Does anyone know the annual fees for membership in the Authors Guild.

Last I checked it was $90. Oh, and your eternal soul.

Ha! Kidding! I think it's more than $90.

Anonymous said...

Joshua SImcox said:

"And, sadly, this is the game we're playing now: "My $2.99 ebook is outselling Connolly's $11.99 ebook! Dude, I'm totally a bigger deal than John Connolly!""

John Connolly's talents as a writer far exceed mine. And he's been at this a hell of lot longer, and you point out, has won lots of awards and spent decades building his career.

But as far as getting discovered by new readers is concerned, due to his publisher's ineptitude, I *am* "totally a bigger deal than John Connolly."

I earn more on my $3.99 ebooks than Connolly earns on his $11.99 ones (most of which Amazon is discounting to $5.98 - $6.83 right now.)

And his publisher's inept ebook windowing and pricing decisions are pissing off long-time fans like me enough to pirate his work.

So... yeah.

Russell Blake said...

This is the classic case of the lapdogs touting the agenda of their masters, nothing more. These authors are beholden to the Hachette's of the world for their livelihood, and so ignore any data that doesn't conform to their masters' agenda.

As an author who's built a seven figure income exploiting the price inefficiency of trad pub offerings, I pray every night as I drift off to sleep that Hachette prevails in this battle and trad pub books stay pricey forever. Completely selfish of me, I know, but that's how I am.

Alas, Amazon seems unlikely to roll over.

Screw the author's guild. They're a case of an advocacy group being wholly captured by the pecuniary interests that benefit from the work of authors. Arguing with them is like arguing with any other disingenuous group: a complete waste of time.

Joe Konrath said...

This is the classic case of the lapdogs touting the agenda of their masters, nothing more. These authors are beholden to the Hachette's of the world for their livelihood, and so ignore any data that doesn't conform to their masters' agenda.

I know.

You could probably guess that a lot of indie populists who blog, me included, keep wondering why we continue to bother. We're not going to change the minds of anyone within the establishment, and those not in the establishment have more than enough data available about indie and legacy to make informed choices.

Mark Edward Hall said...


@Rocky Wood


Joe said: “Amazon is making something that was once an exclusive club into something that is no longer special. That's a beef the Authors Guild has but won't admit. It's a beef also held by the MWA, HWA, SFWA, and other writing organizations.”

Rocky, I believe Joe was speaking about the exclusion of “writers” from organizations such as the HWA with his above comment. I realize that writers, no matter how they are published can be considered for a Bram Stoker Award. The problem is, you do not allow self published writers to become active members of your organization unless they have sold a work to a “legacy” publisher. Your membership guidelines specifically exclude self-published writers. I have copied and pasted those guidelines below this comment directly from the HWA website.

I have been eligible for an active membership in the HWA for quite some time now based on short stories I’ve sold to magazines such as Dark Discoveries and Book of Dark Wisdom to name a few. My refusal to apply for membership in the HWA thus far is, for me, a personal boycott of sorts based solely on your exclusionary clause for active membership.

Last year I sold more than a hundred thousand books as an independent author, yet that would not be good enough, under your guidelines, to qualify me for membership.

There is something wrong with that.

Rocky, I have the utmost respect for you as a human being and as a writer, and from what I can tell you did a fine job of heading up the HWA for the years you were at its helm. I want you to know that this is not personal.

But like so many other so-called writers organizations, the HWA’s very existence is tied directly to legacy publishing. These organizations seem to favor the publisher over the writer. It’s a brave new world now where writers no longer need the approval of gatekeepers. The question is, will the HWA change with the times or will it stay tied to a system that just might make it irrelevant?

HWA Active Membership Guidelines:

Professional writers of Horror and Dark Fantasy. There are a number of ways to qualify as an Active member. (Only works of Horror or Dark Fantasy can be used as qualifying materials.)
Sell three or more short stories, articles, or reviews totalling 7,500 words or more, for payment of at least 5¢ per word.

Sell one book-length manuscript for a minimum advance and/or royalties of $2,000.
Sell a 90-minute TV movie, or two 30-minute teleplays for at least WGA minimum rates.
Sell one theatrical film script for at least $5,000.

Sell three full-length comic book scripts at professional rates and/or with professional print-run and distribution levels.
Sell three 10,000 word Role-playing Game project or one 40,000 word project for a payment of at least 5 ¢ per word.

Sell a script for a computer game or a single work of interactive fiction intended for electronic media for at least $2,000.
Sell a computer game for a minimum payment of $2,000, regardless of length or memory usage, or create a piece of shareware or other work produced without payment in advance, with a paid circulation exceeding 1,000 copies.

Sell 10 poems at 25 ¢ per line or $5 each, or sell a poetry collection for an honorarium of at least $50.

Please note that sales may only be used to qualify for membership if payment has been received. Also, self-published works may not be used to qualify, with the exception of self-published comic books that meet special criteria.

Joe Konrath said...

Last year I sold more than a hundred thousand books as an independent author, yet that would not be good enough, under your guidelines, to qualify me for membership.

Indeed that was my reference, Rocky. I mentioned it in a post from a few days ago.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2014-07-08T16:35:00-05:00&max-results=10

Also, way to kick ass, Mark!

HWA have a good relationship with Amazon

Never said you did. As Mark mentioned, I was referring to your guidlines.

'beef' we have with Amazon is about fake and inappropriate review

And when people complain about fake reviews, Amazon winds up removing real reviews, which is a beef I have with Amazon.

How many real reviews should we allow to be taken down for every fake one that is taken down?

That's sort of like asking how many innocent men should die on death row just so we can execute the guilty ones.

Readers cans sniff out fake reviews. I've seen very few that did harm. And those that do get taken down when enough people report them using Amazon's self-policing system.

But when Amazon removed thousands of legit reviews, I feel that indeed did hurt a lot of authors.

BTW, I quit the HWA back when I saw the crazy nepotism with the Stoker nominations. Authors nominating friends, sending free books to voting members, silly popularity contests, and so on. Hopefully that system has been reformed since I left.

Joshua Simcox said...

"But as far as getting discovered by new readers is concerned, due to his publisher's ineptitude, I *am* "totally a bigger deal than John Connolly."

I earn more on my $3.99 ebooks than Connolly earns on his $11.99 ones (most of which Amazon is discounting to $5.98 - $6.83 right now.)"

Well, since we're playing that game...

For a time, my collab with Joe was outselling a handful of novels by some top tier thriller writers, including a few of my favorites--guys like Connolly and Gregg Hurwitz.

But am I even in the same UNIVERSE as Connolly and Hurwitz in terms of acclaim and success? Absolutely NOT. Those numbers, you see, didn't tell the whole story.

I'm glad for anyone selling books, indie or otherwise. But when we start comparing sales rankings like a couple of guys at a urinal with measuring tape...well, that's not a healthy thing.

Again, there's more to the story than what Amazon's sales rankings reveal.

Joe Konrath said...

like a couple of guys at a urinal with measuring tape...well, that's not a healthy thing.

Wait a sec... I shouldn't bring my measuring tape into public restrooms?

NOW someones tells me!

Anonymous said...

Try reading and comprehending before reacting, Joshua.

I said "review counts" not "amazon rankings" -- review counts times 125x-150x are a decent proxy for lifetime sales.

Joshua Simcox said...

"Wait a sec... I shouldn't bring my measuring tape into public restrooms?

NOW someones tells me!"

LOL!

"I said "review counts" not "amazon rankings" -- review counts times 125x-150x are a decent proxy for lifetime sales."

Well, that's fine, Anon, but since you refuse to tell us who you are, I can't compare your review counts or sales rankings to Connolly's to be sure you're on the level. And please clarify what you mean by "review counts times 125x-150x"...not trying to be obtuse, just looking for clarification.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, Joshua :)

I'm posting anonymously right now because my comment was about a few particular books I'm illegally pirating, and why.

On each of my books on Amazon, I observe a linear relationship between the number of lifetime sales and how many reviews that book gets -- roughly one review for each 125-150 sales on average. I've also compared notes with other authors (bestsellers and midlisters--trad, hybrid, and indie) who've shared their Amazon sales figures with me. All of their books show the same rough slightly-less-than-1% ratio between total reviews and total lifetime sales.

That's what I mean by "review counts times 125x-150x" will give you an estimate of a book's lifetime sales.

Connolly's most-reviewed book on Amazon is The Book of Lost Things, which shows a publish date of 2008. It has 295 reviews -- indicating fewer than 40,000 lifetime Kindle sales. Most of his other books have fewer than 100 reviews -- indicative less than 15,000 lifetime Kindle sales.

Connolly's salesranks indicate that his books are selling single-digits each per day on Amazon.

That's why I say that, despite all Connolly's talent, his publisher's policies are still fucking him in the world's biggest sales channel just so they can preserve dying paper sales.

Anonymous said...

Follow the money. Connolly and the other big name authors are starting to lost money to the independents. We can sell with lower prices and get higher royalties. Sure, they are still wealthy, but when have people who became wealthy by shutting out the competition ever willing to share? They hate Amazon because of the opportunity it has given us--particularly the level playing field.

Sam West said...

We believe (Amazon's) offer—the majority of which Hachette would essentially fund—is highly disingenuous.

Okay, now Russo just can't do math. Which is the majority in 50/50?? If he's trying to say it would be a greater financial burden on Hachette than Amazon, well let me just say: Boo f**king hoo!

I mean, I'm still trying to wrap my head around this latest development. Amazon wants to, in partnership with Hachette, give authors 100% of book revenues until a contract settlement is reached ... and they are the devil? Seriously?? Can that really be the reaction that Russo and friends are having?

Guess we can stop wondering why they won't break with their publishers to make 70% profits on ebooks. They won't even go for 100%, while STAYING WITH THEIR PUBLISHER!!

Do they just hate money?

I can't help but wonder what their reaction would be in the following scenarios:

Amazon now offers to pay authors 100% of book revenues, with Hachette having no obligation to pay anything.

Predicted reaction: Amazon is Beelzebub!! They are trying to publicly humiliate Hachette in a childish attempt to demonstrate that big publishing houses can be easily bypassed, and are obsolete in the modern publishing ecosystem. This is petty and cruel and authors must unite against it. Let's get another petition going! Ecosystem!!

Amazon now offers to secretly pay authors 100% of book revenues, while publicly crediting Hachette for doing so, plus paying Hachette its usual fees per unit sold.

Predicted reaction: Amazon is Natas! (That's Satan spelled backwards so it's extra evil.) Now they're just throwing money around to flaunt it! They're basically saying that we're all useless, poor scumbags. We have to stand up to this petulant, tyrannical behavior before Amazon uses Loki's staff to open a transdimensional portal and unleash Chitauri hordes upon us. Authors: Assemble! And mommy says I get to be Iron Man this time!

Angry_Games said...

This is what I've learned this week from Connolly, Shatzkin, Russo, and Steve Z:

1. Since US Copyright law is lifetime + 70 years, publishers include it as a rights grab BECAUSE THEY CAN. Not a single publishing person has answered the question I've been asking:

What exactly does a publisher provide that makes them feel like they should control the rights to an author's work for lifetime + 70 years?

2. Going along with #1, we've learned that publishers will do/say ANYTHING to keep from answering the question. They claim they've never held the rights for a full term, and that they allow for authors to get their rights returned.

UNLESS the book in question is selling very well, which Steve Z admitted that then they would most definitely keep the rights to that book for the full term. Even though if the book is selling very well, the services a publisher provides have more than been paid for (according to even the most expensive editing and cover services that we self-publishers use).

Another suspicious answer is that publishers easily allow authors who aren't selling well to get their rights reverted. This is suspicious because of probably 50+ authors that have commented here, at TPV, and other blogs (and the Kboards forums) that have talked about what a legal nightmare it was to get their rights back, how it took at least six months, usually longer, and that publishers that don't want to revert rights will simply buy X-amount of copies to meet the terms of the contract to keep the rights to that book.

3. Print authors and their traditional publishers are an exclusive club, one where the members can stand atop the castle walls and shout down insults in a haughty voice to those below who dare to self-publish. They try to round up the mob carrying torches and pitchforks and lead them against anyone who doesn't believe that publishers should be the sole decider of what is and is not quality literature, what readers can/should and cannot/should not read. If they cannot convince anyone to follow this line of thinking, they change tactics and start getting big name authors to cry loudly how Amazon and self-publishers are destroying not only literature itself, but also BOOKS. I've heard at least five times this week how Konrath and his cronies (of which I guess I'm one of?) are working hard to kill print books, going so far as to either get people to burn paper books, or we'll burn the books ourselves. I'm not really clear on how this last part is supposed to work, but that's what is being said.

4. Publishers cannot adapt to technology quickly enough to save their industry. Uninformed (or ignorant) persons like Steve Z. are so clueless about technology, that they believe running their own sales website costs 10x or more than it costs any other business that I've ever helped set a site up for.

Angry_Games said...

5. Publishers believe that readers are loyal to a publisher's 'brand' instead of an author's brand. Or maybe they believe their brand is equal or more important to an author's brand. Readers, other than a select few, have no clue nor do they care which publisher produces the book they're reading. Readers are loyal to authors. Hence why I and millions of others read Stephen King books no matter how many publishers/imprints distribute his books.

6. Publishers cannot (or will not) admit when they are wrong. Instead, they double-down on every comment or talking point, providing zero actual data to back up their argument, choosing instead to use emotional responses to try and win/sway an argument.

7. Apple and publishers were found guilty of collusion and price fixing. Publishers all settled out of court after realizing the overwhelming evidence against them, yet Apple chose to fight on only to ultimately lose. Not just lose, but Judge Cote wrote such an extensive, detailed brief as to WHY Apple lost, no appeals court to date has agreed to hear the case.

7a. Publishers and Apple still believe they've done nothing wrong, despite overwhelming evidence against them (again, evidence so great that the publishers decided to settle). Distributors like Mark Coker, who has publicly admitted that he believes the publishers did nothing wrong AND Apple should win on appeal, have such blind hatred of one of their own distributors (Amazon) that they blindly wander around, shouting talking points at anyone who will listen. The only ones listening are some of their own authors.

Hrmmm... did I miss anything?

Joe Konrath said...

8. Konrath has known all of this since late 2009, and has been preaching it since then.

Slowly but surely, writers are listening.

William Ockham said...

What exactly does a publisher provide that makes them feel like they should control the rights to an author's work for lifetime + 70 years?

That is an easy one. The advance. No, seriously. That advance represents their estimate of your portion of the NPV of the income stream that your manuscript.

Angry_Games said...

Ah, Joe, I was sort of leaving #8 as a given (and I'm thinking it should be #1 or at worst, #2).

William: I'm guessing publishers don't distinguish between $5,000 advances and $500,000 advances?

Cherie Marks said...

Russo says, "the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society reports that authors’ incomes have fallen 29 percent since 2005, a decline they deem “shocking.” If a similar study were done in the U.S., the results would be, we believe, all too similar."

And yet, publishers are still profiting. So, who really needs defending?

Gary Ponzo said...

If Amazon authors and Hachette authors continue with this acrimony then the terrorists win.

Nirmala said...

And yet, publishers are still profiting. So, who really needs defending?

Great point! Seems like Russo is using evidence here that undermines his point. Here is an article about this that sounds like one of Joe's posts:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/11/traditional-publishing-fair-sustainable-society-of-authors

Note this from the article:
The Society of Authors includes self-published writers among its members if they have sold 300 copies of a single title in print form, or 500 copies in ebook form, within a 12-month period. According to Solomon, most writers would "still prefer a traditional publishing deal but the terms publishers are demanding are no longer fair or sustainable".

One wonders why most writers prefer a deal with terms that are no longer fair or sustainable.

Nirmala said...

That is an easy one. The advance. No, seriously. That advance represents their estimate of your portion of the NPV of the income stream that your manuscript.

This article seems very optimistic, but it would also suggest that most advances from a publisher are still way too low to account for the life plus 70 years terms.

Here is an example from the article:
You’ve published five books that earn, on average, $50 per title per month average across all sales venues for the past year, you are committed to writing and publishing two books per year, and you spend $2,500 per book on professional production services (editing, cover, print interior design, ebook programming, etc.). Each new book boosts your overall royalty earnings by what you consider a barely measurable 5 percent.

NPV: $55,618

If it takes you 500 hours total, you’re earning $111 per hour in NPV.


How many authors who can earn just $50 per title on their books (either through legacy publishing, or through self-publishing which makes that $50 a month easier to reach) are being offered over $50,000 in advance by traditional publishers?

And the analysis in this article uses 40 years which is less than life plus 70, especially if you have heirs that could benefit from your book sales.

Nirmala said...

I meant the following article (not "this article"):
http://jeffposey.net/2013/05/02/whats-your-novel-worth-npv-and-cash-flow/

I wish there was a way to edit our posts on this blog. I notice some commenting systems give you 5 minutes after posting to make changes.

Nirmala said...

I will add that the article by Jeff Posey seems to suggest that all even moderately successful self-published authors who stick at it will be extremely wealthy in about 20 years. The net monthly income for the author in the example cited above rises to $77,533 per month if they keep producing books at the same rate for 20 more years.

Maybe in 20 years we will all be living like Patterson and the like :)

Or maybe the aticle's assumptions are off a bit. For example it assumes that every new book boosts your overall book sales by the same percentage. If only the real world had that kind of consistent compounding of sales.

Alan Spade said...

Meanwhile in Europe... German booksellers and publishers file an antitrust claim against Amazon. The case is interesting, because the case regards a dispute between Amazon and Bonnier (a publishing group like Hachette) over delays for deliveries of Bonnier physical books.

Amazon is also negotiating with Bonnier to lower ebook prices, so this is a really similar case.

The European Commission is “trying to understand the issues involved,” said Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the commission, in an e-mailed statement.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-11/amazon-s-e-books-antitrust-clash-in-germany-on-eu-radar.html

I don't know if Amazon is really a monopoly as an online retailer in Germany, so I don't know if the complaint will have real consequences.

Matt said...

Blogger Gary Ponzo said...
If Amazon authors and Hachette authors continue with this acrimony then the terrorists win.

8:12 AM


And there's the problem in a nutshell. Self published authors are not "Amazon authors". And it's this thinking that has trad. published authors blinded. Amazon is a retailer which sells books and takes a retailers cut, a far cry from a publisher.

Amazon authors are those published by 47 North etc., whose print books are under a very real boycott by B&N and most "indie" bookstores. I put "indie bookstores" in inverted commas as to me they aren't indie at all, they are beholden to their corporate masters, the publishers.