More than a place--it's a writer's muse.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

One Thing You Might Not Think About Starting Out

When I started writing years ago I did lots of research. Research on writing, research on editing, research on character and world-building. Lots of that research came from reading (in various genres, magazines and writing books).

But, like so often happens, all the book-learning in the world doesn't prepare you for reality.

Today, I'll just share one thing I never thought I'd need to worry about when signing with a big, traditional NYC publishing house:

the supply chain/distribution of books

Those of you following the news (or publishing in general) may have noticed the Amazon vs. Macmillan scuffle over ebook prices which resulted in Amazon removing all the buy buttons on Macmillan books (ebooks and print). Pre-order pages also suddenly had no option to actually pre-order. That was Friday.

Macmillan is one of the "big six" (actually, according to some resources, the smallest of the big six publishing companies). This would lead one to believe there's some security there. That isn't so much the case.

So much business is done online now, that large distributors like Amazon (who recently decided they'd be willing to drop their take of ebook sales from 70% to the 30% Apple's doing IF Macmillan kept all ebooks at $9.99) are powerful players in the publishing business. When they decide to throw a hissy fit, it gets noticed.

And when they throw a hissy fit that impacts the livelihood of writers--guess what? It gets written about.

So, from Friday to today sort of looked like this: can't pre-order 13 to Life at Amazon; search for other distributors pre-selling; update all links to Amazon's competitors; move Amazon's link to the bottom of the list; blog and read about the situation to educate writers and readers and self; watch my sales at Book Depository, Borders and Barnes & Noble go up; hope editors aren't stuck in meetings all Monday as a result of this fiasco; buy candy for editors in case; have Jackie Kessler's posts quoted to me by the husband and laugh; ship candy to editors; read John Scalzi's posts and laugh; host contest to give away books that *still* are not available for purchase. <--That excludes my 7 hours driving Sunday and keeping up with the farm and house chores. Life doesn't stop because you're a writer.


How much writing did I get done outside of blogs? Not nearly what I hoped.

I never thought I'd have to do so much scrambling beyond the writing and editing of the books (which was easy in comparison). I guess my point is this--educate yourselves about all the things you can in regards to the craft and business of writing.

And then be prepared to move fast when the unexpected comes.


Jennifer L Hart said...

Sigh, I'm going to be curising like the sailor's wife here girls so you better sit down. It's like watching a bunch of monkeys fucking footballs.

Courtney and I were IM-ing about this yesterday. The truth of the matter is that the publishing industry is now going through what the music industry did when iPod came out, a total shake up clusterfuck.

While I want to offer Amazon execs either a tissue or a tampon, the truth is they have the right of it. They are the book sellers and as such get to dictate the price of books. As a consumer, I think 14.99 for an ebook is fucking insane as we can get hardcovers from the same site for about three dollars more. An investment which we don't need to purchase a 250.00 device to enjoy.

If the publishers can't keep the cost of ebooks down they shouldn't be playing in that pool. Basic economics here if cost is more than sale price, you be fucked. I get about twenty seven cents from every copy of Laundry Hag 1 sold on Amazon, Fictionwise, Omni books what have you. Much less than if someone purchased same book from
Wild Child's site. But be honest, before you met me, who here heard of Wild Child, much less bought a book from them?

Pulling the print books was STUPID beyond belief. Amazon has carved a niche for itself in that it sells media cheaply, and that many coustomers don't have to pay sales tax. Those fucker lobbiest from Wal-Mart are trying to change that and now with this mess Amazon has hurt itself, consumers, and Mcmillan authors, editors ect.

Now let me tell you what will probably come of this.
The cost of print books will go up over the next few years. Probably at least ten dollars for mass market paperback, thirty for hardcover, depending on length of course. (See size does matter ;-)It's the only way to match the ebook prices. Authors won't benifit from this and neither will consumers. When my kids are my age, print books will be an elitist item.

I think I'll go slit my wrists now as I've totally Cassandra-ed myself into a depressive stupor.

Shannon Delany said...

Jennifer, first: *hugs* Holy heck, my eyes are burning! I'm glad you girls are good about giving your opinions. :-) Something to keep in mind, from Jackie Kessler's research:

“Not only did the buy buttons stay active for the Palgrave trade titles, for those new releases with Kindle editions, Amazon was already selling the ebook versions for the “needlessly high” as they would put it price $15 in many cases.” (via Publisher's Lunch)

So they were *already* charging these sorts of prices before throwing their fit. So *this* is not the only thing going on. There's something I don't think we know yet.

One of the things we've found over the weekend was info about Amazon wanting to be named as "EXCLUSIVE publisher" for the ebooks it sells via Kindle. Although I can't be certain this is a big part of the issue, it makes me twitch because it means potentially MY rights will be sold away to Amazon (which has done such a frikkin bang-up job with all this already). And exclusive? that says a bunch. No other platforms, kiddies. No other choices. So. Don't know how much that plays into Macmillan playing hardball, but several folks are suggesting Amazon's desire to be named publisher is important to the dealings, too.

Also, keep in mind that the price range is from $6-$15 depending on release date and format (kinda like when movies are released on DVD, etc., the price starts high and then lowers). I'd have no problem with posting a "manufacturer's suggested retail price" for each book. It'll make them look like heroes when they undercut it, but I can't imagine the griping when Macmillan's suggested $6 and Amazon still pushes for $9.99.

This hearkens back to the iTunes issue (remember 99 cents a song and Metallica's unwillingness to capitulate?). It's common knowledge Bezo has formulated some of his business strategy based on Jobs' concepts. And now Jobs offers songs at varying prices. Bezo's just behind the current situation. ;-) *shrug*

Let's be frank (as I prefer). These are two corporate giants dealing with each other in uncertain times for their industry. This is all shades of gray except for the fact the little guy (authors and staff on both side) is feeling the pinch (and you can bet both Macmillan and Amazon are, looking at stock of one and sales of both). Is there a clear good guy or bad guy? Not so much.

BUT. If Macmillan gets more say in pricing, in the end it's the consumer who will make the choice of how this all goes. If Macmillan takes a hit because people don't want to pay the release price for ebooks, eventually Macmillan will adjust the "agency model."

This is about competition in the marketplace. Apple's willing to work with Macmillan on ebooks. Amazon's not willing to even sell the print books.

Let's also keep in mind this is *very* representative of Amazon's recent behavior (the de-listing of titles of a homosexual nature; pulling other publishers' books off the UK site over a scrap). People are starting to take notice.

Will traditional book prices soar? Perhaps eventually but I hope not.

I'd like to see the whole thing settled (and not settled the way Amazon claims it has been and then doesn't follow through). Do whatever you're going to do, but at least due what you say you will.

Jennifer, thanks for your thoughts--no need to slip into a total funk yet. Things do get resolved. I just hope authors aren't too big a casualty here.

(And yes, I had heard of Wild Child before but, no, hadn't bought.)


Liane Gentry Skye said...

I think I just erupted out of my warm, fuzzy, writerly place. It's a cold, cruel market out here!

I hope this will all be determined by who we all write for--the reader. We can only pray they will choose to vote with their pocketbooks.

Another great post, Shannon. And Jennifer, thanks for your take on it, as well!

Shannon Delany said...

Sorry to shake you out of your comfort zone, Liane (believe me, this whole thing definitely shook me, too).

I'm a firm believer we must write first for ourselves (because you have to be satisfied with your work first and can never guarantee a sale), then for the readers, and eventually with an eye on numbers and money (but that should be furthest from our thoughts).

Unfortunately this mess snapped numbers and money crisply into view. Blech.

Now curl back up and enjoy writing and creating! Overall this sort of drama appears to be minor in the writer's timeline. I'll hope it's not an issue any of you need to face personally. :-)

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