Friday, August 17, 2012

LendInk, Author Activism, and the Need for Critical Thinking

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The Dark Side of Author Activism

If you've been living under a social media rock and haven't heard of the LendInk incident, here's a brief rundown.

LendInk was a website that facilitated Kindle ebook lending, matching would-be ebook borrowers with ebook owners. All of this was perfectly legal, involving legitimately purchased ebooks, lending options provided by Amazon, and lending terms set by publishers (whether the book was self- or traditionally published). Unfortunately, some authors, finding their books listed on LendInk, jumped to the conclusion that it was a pirate site. They mounted an anti-LendInk social media campaign and deluged LendInk's hosting service with DMCA notices. The result: a legitimate website was shut down.

There's been a lot of coverage of this mess, some of it pretty hyperbolic (such as this blogger, who urges revenge on the presumed instigators, apparently blithely unaware of the irony of drumming up a lynch mob in judgment on another lynch mob). One of the more objective overviews that I've seen comes from Porter Anderson, in his Writing on the Ether column; his article also includes links to several interesting analyses of the incident and its implications.

Two things really stand out for me here. First, the ignorance of some of the authors involved, who'd used Amazon to publish their books but apparently didn't realize that Amazon allows ebook lending. Second, the lack of careful investigation, which caused some people to assume that a legitimate service was a pirate site, and others to perpetuate the meme without bothering to verify it.

Ignorance and lack of investigation are also what lead writers into the arms of scammers. I encounter this every day in my Writer Beware correspondence: writers who don't take the time to learn anything about publishing before trying to get published, who neglect to research agents and publishers before approaching them, who swallow various Internet-promulgated myths about publishing and self-publishing and as a result have completely unrealistic views of either or both. Usually it's only themselves these writers harm and disappoint--but in the case of LendInk, this ignorance and carelessness, amplified by the lightning speed and viral nature of the Internet, did harm to others.

Author activism can also, of course, be a force for good. Recently, author activism exposed and marshaled action against a real pirate site, The Ultimate Ebook Library (which unfortunately is proving a good deal harder to kill than LendInk was). But the line between a righteous mob and a lynch mob is a thin one--not a new insight, but in the wake of LendInk it bothers me a lot more than it did before.

A friend of mine feels that piracy is such a threat, and author activism is so important in combating it, that incidents like LendInk aren't an unreasonable price to pay. He also points out that it's symptomatic of the bias of the Internet that the taking down of LendInk created outrage, while many people simply throw up their hands in the face of real piracy, figuring that there's no way of stopping it and that they just have to learn to deal. 

I understand my friend's position. But I also agree with Porter Anderson, who points out the danger of wielding powerful weapons without adequate knowledge. "[D]igital empowerment," he says, "can require new efforts in training, and new obligations of learning on the parts of all players."

Which brings me to...

"The virus of mediocre and received ideas coursing through the collective brains of the book world."

That's a direct quote from Jeff Vandermeer's fantastic blog post entitled Dreaming Well: Does the Future of Publishing Need More Imagination? In it, he takes issue with the pundits and self-proclaimed trailblazers who want us to believe they can predict the future of publishing, and/or define the new nature of authorship in a radically changing environment. What value, he asks, does any of this prognostication actually have?
I feel passionately that some of the information we are getting is increasingly wrong and motivated by selfishness and, yes, to some degree, a form of hyperbolic illogic. We are so hung up on predicting the next big thing, on getting in on the next gold rush when it comes to ways for authors to promote themselves and market their work that we often seem to be active participants in our own destruction....

The problem right now really isn’t the “tyranny” of big NYC commercial publishers or an Amazon monopoly. The problem is the virus of mediocre and received ideas coursing through the collective brains of the book world, infecting too many of its writers, commentators, reviewers. It’s a kind of fundamentalism at its heart, and we want to believe in it because it’s easy to do so.
We want to believe in it also, I think, because it represents a form of wish-fulfillment, on both sides of the issue. Many pundits, commentators, and evangelists' predictions reflect not just the future they think may happen, but the future they want to happen.

What are some of these "mediocre and received ideas?" Paraphrasing Jeff: copyright is (or should be) dead and no one should have to pay for content. Agents are evil monsters who will suck you dry and stomp on your drained corpse. Publishing house editors don't edit, so who needs publishers? (Jeff didn't mention this, but a related meme is "publishing houses don't market, so who needs publishers?"). Traditional publishing is [pick one] dead/evil/going to kill your career, so self-publishing is the One True Path. Get out there RIGHT THIS MINUTE and establish a social media presence, because every author needs a platform, even if they're not actually an author yet.

These ideas aren't just mistaken, according to Jeff; they're actually dangerous. He concludes (I'm quoting so much because what he says resonates so strongly with me):
Taken together, advocates for the wholesale dismantling of the current system and, to a lesser extent (lesser because it’s not as prevalent) other advocates who too frequently defend the inadequacies of the current system represent the biggest threat to the majority of writers. By spreading a more-or-less ideological virus that is then repeated by ever-growing numbers of people who do not stop to analyze what they then put out there as gospel, a self-fulfilling prophecy occurs that may do long-term damage to the ability of writers to survive in this new age of publishing.
Just as with author mobs on Twitter, the unthinking, uncritical propagation of myths, half-truths, and ideological bombast about publishing has the potential to do tremendous damage.

We live in highly polarized times. That's as true in publishing as it is in politics--and, I think, as reflective of the fear of a future that, as much as we would like it to be clear and certain, offers no assurances but the certainty of upheaval. In such a situation, it's more essential than ever to think critically, investigate carefully, and act deliberately. And to be wary of received wisdom, or anything masquerading as such.

Edited to add: As of Friday, August 24, LendInk is back online.

58 comments:

Fiammetta Rey said...

This is a really good post, with a lot of good points about those issues in publishing. That last paragraph, though, is something everyone needs to hear, with or without any interest in publishing. Hope you don't mind if I quote you? (With a link back and credit and such, of course).
Also, regarding the LendInk thing... I've seen in other areas, particularly in the anime industry, companies have been streaming the shows for free in a effort to curb piracy. So had LendInk been allowed to stay around, it could possibly have had that effect as well (with the right types of exposure and such). That makes it even more worrisome that it got taken down by those under the impression that it was a site for piracy.

Victoria Strauss said...

Please feel free to quote. I'm glad you liked the post.

Delphine Dryden said...

Thank you so much for this. What baffled me most when the LendInk think swept the author loops was how many people didn't even take the time to read the very clear, easily-accessible "about" page on the site itself. Instead it was all just immediate umbrage and, when questions were raised about whether this really was a piracy site or maybe a legitimate and good thing, immediate cries of "well, ANOTHER publisher of mine on ANOTHER loop says it's definitely piracy." For want of sixty seconds of applied reading comprehension, authors lost a potential resource for promoting their books.

As for authors not realizing that Amazon does lending (as does Barnes & Noble), there's really just no excuse at all for that. Particularly for people using Amazon as a publishing platform; you have to opt in to the lending, right? So are people just not reading that either, before they tick the box?

Grrrr.

Lehcarjt said...

I can't seem to find the Porter Anderson comments on the link you provide. (It goes to the Ether blog, but I don't see anything about LendInk.) Is it gone? Am I blind?

Victoria Strauss said...

Ugh, the link worked when I tested it last night, but not now. Try this. I've corrected it in the post as well.

ciarcullen said...

Thanks for this well thought out post. Wholesome food for thought.

steeleweed said...

The Internet has democratized the spread of data, but not all data is really information.
The upside of democracy is that good can arise from anywhere. The downside of democracy is that bad can arise from anywhere.

The real problem is too many ignorant people with ideas they did not (and often cannot) think out fully. The social urge to jump on any passing bandwagon just makes it worse.

Bill Peschel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Dudley said...

Terrific post, as ever.

Finally, someone says out loud that all these people predicting the future really haven't a clue. Whether you love or hate Amazon, whether you think agency pricing helps or hurts self-published authors, whether A or B, in the end there will be a System, and smart businesspeople will adapt to and exploit that System to their advantage. The people trying to create that System, I think, don't fully understand how little influence they really have on the change going on around them.

On the other topic, I think your friend is deeply mistaken: "... piracy is such a threat, and author activism is so important in combating it, that incidents like LendInk aren't an unreasonable price to pay." People tend to feel this way until THEY are the ones burning on the stake of righteousness. First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Communist...

To misquote Ben Franklin, "Those who would give up a little freedom to protect a little revenue deserve neither freedom nor revenue."

We have laws that make piracy illegal. We have agencies dedicated to enforcing those laws. Vigilante justice is a dangerous thing.

Bill Peschel said...

How is this any different from authors who take a political position? Or actors who engage in a social cause? Or people who vote for [insert name here] because they like him or her, never mind what the candidate's positions on the issues that affect them?

Snap judgments, ineffectual reasoning and plain boneheadedness is not limited to writers. We think that because they use their brains instead of their muscles, they should be more intelligent, but people who believe that has never read many biographies.

Even this post contains facts that really should be opinions. Some editors at professional publishing houses don't edit. Some barely proofread. And some major publishing houses do very little marketing, except for books with large advances, or do it badly.

To put it simply, there is no such thing as common sense. Very few facts are really obvious, and in a changing industry, there's bloody less than that. At least the Internet gives us the ability to get our beliefs out there, test them, and decide what can be facts.

(I had to delete this post because of the errors, even if their presence did prove my point.)

Bill Peschel said...

Criminy. Still too many errors. Best to move on.

Frances Grimble said...

Even if legitimate, e-book lending can cut down on your sales. I urge everyone who publishes e-books to look into the Califa library consortium, an attempt to get around any licensing or pay-per-view restrictions large publishers are trying to establish by buying e-books from smaller publishers for perpetual lending among patrons of any library in Consortium. Califa has already bought or is negotiating to buy the top 10,000 titles on Smashwords. Which leads me to another point. You can self-publish in a legal sense by formally setting up your publishing house, registering a name for your business, buying your own block of ISBNs, and doing your best to "brand" your business. You can do all your own book editing, design, indexing, etc. BUT, from my reading of the contracts for Smashwords and Kindle (and this probably also applies to similar e-book arrangements), you are giving certain rights to these companies that, in effect, make them more or less your publishers. In other words, if you publish through Kindle assuming that most people will buy your books and that any loans really will be to a genuine friend of the buyer and not organized by a website, but the Kindle contract does not forbid such organization, you are stuck. If you publish through Smashwords and believe that any library purchases will be directly from you, at full price, and to one library at a time, but the Smashwords contract gives them the right to sell one copy to a library consortium to lend forever and for Smashwords to give the consortium a discount and also for Smashwords to take a percentage, and you get hardly anything and your sales are gutted by online lending by the libraries, you are stuck. People really object to my saying this, but I think the best solution is to stay out of the e-book market until it stabilizes and authors who wish to make money instead of being hobbyests have a fair chance at it.

nanday said...

The weakness of Jeff VanderMeer's blog entry is that it discusses trends that have a technical origin as though they were simply a matter of opinion.

To state what should be obvious, there's not a war on copyright in the sense that a group of people suddenly started to oppose it. There's a growing recognition that the technologies of the Internet mean that traditional copyright is no longer enforceable, and alternative perspectives are needed. VanderMeer could win a debate against those talking about copyright and his victory wouldn't change a thing. There would still be an evolving situation that needs to be dealt with.

VanderMeer does have a point when he notes that alternatives to copyright may not work for everyone. But it seems to me far more useful to look for alternatives that to suggest that alternatives are dangerous.

Victoria Strauss said...

From my observation, people who talk about alternatives to copyright are very often really advocating the dismantling of copyright.

I think "the Internet renders copyright unenforceable" is another of the uncritically-accepted memes that Jeff is talking about. The Internet doesn't render copyright unenforceable. It renders it extremely difficult to enforce. Many people simply don't want to deal with the challenges and complexities of that.

I'm not saying that copyright doesn't need to adapt and change. And I'd agree with those who say that copyright's duration in the US and UK is too long. But the answer isn't throwing up our hands, or kicking copyright to the curb, or creating "alternatives" that sound nifty but aren't supported by law.

Stephen L. Wilson said...

Victoria,
Thank you for your post, however, I would like more clarification about how “dead” TUEBL is. The term is a bit vague, but I can assure you they are at quite a diminished capacity. Yes, they may be harder to “kill,” simply due to the hard-core belief system and a bit of technological understanding on the part of a few of their more ardent members. Compared to LendInk, a one-man show hosted by a disabled military veteran with no real passion for making a cause of his position, TUEBL will limp along virtually for eternity based on their will alone. If Mr. Porter decided today to bring LendInk back up, he would have it in place tomorrow, based on the feedback by people like me, and many others, who have volunteered our resources to do so.
Just today I touched base with my group regarding our strategy for TUEBL. Since their PayPal was revoked, their Amazon affiliation was deactivated, and their Facebook site was taken down, the only other base they had – their server – cannot stay stable for more than a day or two. Their support base has effectively abandoned ship, as the confidence level of TUEBL’s credibility and integrity has been exposed, and once PayPal left, the confidence of the users slipped even more. Currently we have people gathering intel daily as to TUEBL’s condition, and we have decided to not act on them at this time. Right now, we have another pirate who is currently making money off of over a thousand pages of authors, without anyone’s consent but hers. Instead of TUEBL, my group is going to consolidate to take out her funding this week.
While the bloated body of TUEBL may continue to float to the surface, rest assured, the group is relatively toothless, at this point. Thank you for your time.

Stephen L. Wilson
Founder, “No Pirates”
http://nopirates.blogspot.com

Frances Grimble said...

The current copyright wars are all about money (and little else), and they are aggressive on all sides. E-books cost less to produce than print books, though since every other step in creating the book has to be done, they do not cost nearly as little as some people think. They can also be transferred with no shipping charge. Therefore:

* Authors want to continue making some money off older books whose rights have reverted to them. They also want to bypass larger publishers and publish new books with wide opportunities for distribution via venues like Kindle, and make some money that way.

* Larger publishers want to continue making money off older books (including sometimes those whose e-rights they do not clearly hold) and to sign up authors for length-of-copyright terms on new books, which in turn makes self-publishing look more attractive to authors. Some publishers also want to use free distributions of older titles as marketing come-ons for newer books and for lines of books that they actually expect to profit from.

* Entities such as Amazon (Kindle) and others, want to make money by providing self-publishers of e-books with distribution facilities and conversion software, and in some cases by selling proprietary e-reader hardware. If considerable profits come from selling hardware and continually updated versions of it, these entities did not pay to write or produce the books and therefore may not care much if they (and the authors) make little money off the books per se.

* Entities such as Google want to make money by selling ad space in e-books (or next to web displays) and by using them to enhance search engines, to the extent of (in Google’s case) scanning millions of copyrighted books without permission.

* Libraries want to save money by paying as little as possible for e-books while demanding the greatest viewing privileges as possible for their patrons for each copy, and to save on staff wages by making e-books downloadable from the web. Even if a library is not for profit, a penny saved is a penny earned. Furthermore, note that US copyright law does not actually define what a library is, meaning that if it is profitable to lend e-books, entities we do not traditionally consider libraries can set up a loan business but call themselves libraries for legal purposes.

* Readers, even if they actually buy few books of any kind and don’t respect authors, are pushing to get as many books as possible free or very cheap, by their choice of piracy, borrowing from libraries and/or other readers, free downloads and cheap promotions, and every way they can.

* Marketers to the self-publishing community want to make money by selling books, consulting, courses, etc., that try to persuade authors that e-books are the unstoppable wave of the future, that e-book authors will make tons of money, and that anyone who does not jump on the bandwagon immediately will lose huge opportunities.

The people most likely to lose out on this massive and multisided e-book grab are the authors. They did all the work of writing the book, and in today’s climate, often much of the marketing as well. Self-publishers have also done editing, design, and all the other steps and are paying their business overhead as well. If most authors make little money now, I see a near-future climate where most will be making even less.

The second group most likely to lose out is the larger publishers, who have also spent significant money on creating large numbers of books. However, they have much more clout in the industry (most authors have very little or none) and are much better at defending their economic interests. Which all the other entities discourage authors from doing; they’re all supposed to somehow support themselves with the sheer joy of creation—which, not at all coincidentally, means more income and/or more savings garnered by everyone else authors deal with.

Demion Maia said...

As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle. NYC publishing houses are most definitely not the Alpha and Omega of the literary world. Many very fine authors have found sucess as a direct result of their courage in disregarding the usual methods of publication. This is a wonderful phenomenon, and I hope it never slows.

I think many people have this vision of writing as a purely solitary profession. It isn't. As in any field, there are certain people born with immense innate talent, but these are such a small minority as to be unsuitable examples for the industry as a whole. Most writers need the support, professionalism, and expertise that can only be found in the traditional publishing system. Not just for the quality of their work, but to be sure that their art is published under something resembling a viable business model. The whole "lone wolf" thing is a nice ideal, buth with the complexity of modern intellectual property laws it just doesn't work.

Frances Grimble said...

Self-publishing has worked for many writers, including myself. I've self-published nine books (two editions of one of them). I've made a lot more money than I probably would have if I had gone to another publisher. I also had the advantage of having worked for midsize book and magazine publishers for about 10 years before I started my own business, so I have been able to do most of my work myself. However, it is possible for any writer (with the money) to hire editors, designers, etc. I am coming to realize that many self-publishers are hobbyists. They don't want to make money, they don't care much of their books have significant readerships, and they don't care much about their copyrights (the foundation of their earning money). If they don't act like a business they seldom do earn any money. I think that self-publishing has many advantages and many writers will use it, but that somehow, possibly through distribution channels, the industry will shake out into those who are serious self-publishers producing quality work and those who are not. Meanwhile, I am staying well away from publishing e-books and allowing anyone else to publish my books as e-books. I am increasingly thankful that I have sole control over my e-rights.

Marcia Yudkin said...

Frances Grimble wrote: "Readers, even if they actually buy few books of any kind and don’t respect authors, are pushing to get as many books as possible free or very cheap, by their choice of piracy, borrowing from libraries and/or other readers, free downloads and cheap promotions, and every way they can."

PLEASE do not lump together library borrowing with piracy. Library borrowing has always been legal and above-board. It is beneficial for society and for authors. I can't begin to count the number of people who told me they discovered my work in their public library, and even if such borrowing did not ultimately increase the sales of authors (although I believe it does), it is something all authors should support.

Maia said...

Piracy cannot be "stopped". I've spent most of my life in the open source community (yes; generally, this did take the form of dating extreme computer geeks) and I know. There simply is no way to make it disappear. So what does this mean? We must all begin to deal with this reality. We must start operating within a different paradigm. Authors and publishers have simply got to build relationships with readers and consumers. It can be done. Think of this way: we could all knock little old ladies over the head and steal their purses every day. But very few of us do it, and that's because we have accepted a social contract that tells us that behavior is wrong. Nobody can keep assuming that there is no need to build the same kind of moral and ethical "contract" between authors and readers. We must make people feel that kind of personal stake in paying for content.

It does work. I help to run a family business, and we don't use contracts. Instead, we have a relationship with our customers that makes them feel that paying us is the right thing to do. If the bill goes unpaid, I send a guilt-inducing letter about how we're a small family business and they need to support their community and buy local. And people send the money! Authors and creators who ask for *contributions* on their websites also do very well. It can happen, but we've all got to realize that there's just no other choice.

Frances Grimble said...

Miaia,

I've run a publishing business for about 20 years. Believe me, personal relationships are not enough to get people to pay bills, nor is any business I deal with operating that way. My printer does not deal with me on trust, Office Depot does not deal with me on trust, everyone expects me to pay my bills in 30 days while they pay me in 90 days. Sure I am able to interact on the net with a small percentage of my readers, but I only sell a handful of books per year to them directly. Practically all my sales are through my wholesaler. Who sells to Amazon, where many of my readers buy because Amazon gives them a discount and free shipping I can't afford to give. I can't count the number of readers I've seen burble on b-boards about how much they love my books, but don't buy them, here's free photocopies. If everyone operated on this warm small-town basis, no one would need lawyers or even locks on their front doors. Sorry, I need to get PAID, and there is no other basis I can continue to do business on.

Maia said...

I totally understand what you're saying. But we simply must all face the fact that it is not possible to stop piracy. That option is not available. It just isn't. We can't keep behaving as if it is. So we've got to come up with something else, and it's time to get creative!

Frances Grimble said...

Maia,

Saying piracy can't be stopped is a fallacy, or at least, no reason publishers and authors should not constantly do their very best to stop it. Physical theft can't be stopped either, but a combination of defense systems (such as locks and burglar alarms) and enforcement (by police and by the law) cut down on it a great deal. Publishers and authors have spent many years trying to think up ways to make more money, so saying they can suddenly do that is not an option.

Piracy advocates always act as if authors and publishers are somehow obligated or personally compelled to spend years of time and large sums of money producing books for them. I've put about 20 years of full time work and several hundred thousand dollars into my nine-book publishing business. There is no reason I should do this unless I get paid. I can (and have in the past) get corporate writing jobs with a reasonable and secure salary, health benefits, contributions to a retirement fund, sometimes stock options, and sometimes an excellent corporate-subsidized cafeteria. There is no reason I should either hold down another job in addition to my publishing business, or do anything else, just to produce books for readers who don't value them enough to pay for them. There is no reason I should "get creative" by sacrificing myself to produce books for pirates, who meanwhile expect to earn livings from their own professional work. I'm not a slave.

So if I "get creative," it'll be in looking for other work to do for people who appreciate me enough to actually pay me.

Stephen L. Wilson said...

It isn't possible to stop ANY crime. All we can do is attempt to deter it. Should we do away with laws and punishment because crime will continue anyway? We cannot reason with criminals at any level, even pirates. Maybe we should encourage personal relationships with rapists and car thieves. That will stop crime.

Agy Wilson said...

Wonderful post, thank you so much for food for thought. One thing I did think when reading this, the onus is placed entirely on the creators of content. Though it is true, it's on our own best interest for so many reasons to know and investigate as much as possible, communication, trust, contracts run both ways(or always when more than one interest is involved). I view LendingInk and publishers as middlepeople, between creators and those who want what is created. The distributors, if you will. Anyone in publishing or websites like LendingInk should make clear, EDUCATE people on what they are, and any other bits of copyright. When I've had publishers resell my stuff traditionally, I've received notification. Is this a problem because there are so many "non-professionals" entering self-publishing? Or overkill, because who can "police" all the outlets out there that DO take advantage. I think you're correct as creators we must be ever vigilant and thorough. But it's in everyone's best interest, especially the distributor that clarity reign.

Frances Grimble said...

Stephen,

A lot of crime happens just because people can get away with it, or they think they can. If I left my front door unlocked and open, I am sure my valuables would be stolen and/or vandalized within a few days. I know from experience (several experiences within a couple of weeks) that if I do not have a car alarm the car radio will be gone within 48 hours, and a car window will have been smashed to get to the radio. And I live in a very "safe," staid, middle-class neighborhood. Then there's the time the car was in a public parking lot, someone lifted the radio in broad daylight . . . but an office worker saw the theft from a window, called the cops, a patrol car happened to be just down the street, they caught the thief and the radio was returned to me immediately.

On the whole, law enforcement works. What we need is to be more vigorous in preventing theft of intellectual property and in prosecuting thieves.

Gayle Carline said...

When I first learned of LendInk, I decided to go straight to the source - Kindle Direct Publishing, which publishes my books. Here is my inquiry to them:

"There is a website offering books to be loaned called LendInk - it purports to work with Amazon to loan books and swears it is a lending library only.

Their FAQ section states: 'Is the loaning of eBooks really legal? Isn't this the same as file sharing?
Yes, loaning of certain eBooks is legal and No, it is not the same as file sharing. The key difference between the two is that the loan status of an eBook is directly dictated by the publisher and file sharing is usually done without the publishers consent. Working with Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, the publisher's make their eBooks available for loan under very strict rules. The actual book loaning process is handled by Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, not by Lendink.'

As my books are in the KDP Select program, I'm concerned that this might not be allowable. Is this okay, or are they just a storefront for a piracy site? Thanks."

Here was Amazon's reply to me:
"Hello,

We have not authorized lendink.com to loan your book and have not provided your file to them.

If you've found your work available on an unauthorized website such as lendink.com, we suggest contacting that website to confirm your rights and request removal of your work. If you distribute your book through other sales channels, you might contact them to inquire as to whether they have authorized the inclusion of your book on lendink.com.

Our lending program allows a purchaser to lend a title once and does not allow the recipient to re-loan that book."

I think I might still be confused...

Eoghan Odinsson said...

Well said. Ive seen so much mob mentality on the web lately. Group Think I believe is the term, or maybe even Herd Mentality.

Peter Dudley said...

"Piracy advocates"?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha. That's hilarious.

I would no more call myself a "piracy advocate" than I would call you a "freedom hater."

Piracy CAN'T be stopped. A sufficiently motivated person with advanced tools will break any security system. The trick is to find the right balance that uses legal, technological, and social tools to minimize the impact of piracy while guarding against the loss of civil liberties and artistic expression that can come with too much police-state or protect-the-businessman thinking.

I respect anyone who has made a go of it and run their own business for any amount of time. It's hard. But the world doesn't owe authors a certain price for their books, any more than authors owe the world free stories.

Frances Grimble said...

And a sufficiently motivated person could break the lock on my front door, or my back door, or break a window and get in--but no one ever has.

Saying the world does not owe me for my books is like saying, if I manufactured clothing no one "owes" me so it is OK to steal it. Authors and publisher do not "owe" books to readers. Pirates aren't entitled to anything--they are simply thieves.

Stephen L. Wilson said...

Francis,

A lot of crime also happens because of peoples' beliefs, mental make-up and other factors such as addiction and notoriety. I would argue that most criminals are less opportunists, and more social deviants. I have lived among criminals. The thieves I knew at the time would take the path of least resistance, sure, but if there was none available, they did not worry about having to break windows to steal, or to even shop lift in public places with security in place. It is a mentality more than an act of convenience. Do you think you would have the fortitude to live amongst criminals in order to learn their behaviors? It can be quite eye-opening.

Frances Grimble said...

I will add that publishers have the full legal right to set whatever cover prices they wish. Wholesalers and retailers who purchase legitimately have every right to raise or lower that price when selling to consumers/readers.

And consumers and readers, if they do not like the price, have every right to not buy that book. But they are not entitled to steal it. If publishers cannot afford to publish books at the prices readers ultimately want to pay, then they won't publish those books.

That's how capitalism works.

And pirates aren't doing any creative expression--it's the creators of the works who are doing that. And copyright law provides the foundation for that expression, by enabling writers and publishers to charge for books.

As for criminal behavior, Stephen, what we need is more enforcement.

Frances Grimble said...

And Stephen, although I have lived in one very dangerous neighborhood, I have not gotten to know the criminals well. I have, however, spent a fair amount of time observing pirates, who tend to cheer each other on by repeating the exact same slogans--one of which is "give up authors, we're going to steal from you anyway, so you'll just have to find some other way to make money--but we still expect you to write books even though we won't pay for them." What a deal!

Victoria Strauss said...

Gayle,

Amazon's answer to you was either ignorant--they didn't bother to look at LendInk and verify that no files were hosted there, which caused them to jump to the same conclusion the authors did (that LendInk was a pirate site)--or disingenuous. Saying they didn't authorize LendInk to loan your book is like saying that water is fat-free--it's perfectly true but it's also irrelevant, since water never has fat and LendInk never actually lent books. Given Amazon's dislike of ebook lending sites like LendInk, I suspect the latter.

P. David Gardner said...

The big problem lies in the fact that most people who download copyrighted material, whether programs or books or music or photography or art, don't equate their actions with theft. While they would vigorously protest the thought of breaking and entering a home or business to steal their goods, they see absolutely no problem in downloading illegal copies of copyrighted material, and don't see it as theft, or at least as anything serious to worry about.

The solution: education and incentives (both positive and negative). People have to understand that if they continue down this path, they will lose access to those things they want so badly. Creative types will give up if there's no hope of making a living doing what they love to do.

P. David Gardner said...

And as far as the mob mentality goes with the LendInk debacle, the sword cuts both ways. These "authors" failed to realize that they were not only in the wrong, and didn't understand that what the site was doing was NOT illegal, they also were cutting their own throats. Most of the time the books that visitors to the site wanted to borrow were not available, but the site author provided a handy link to Amazon, B&N etc. to purchase said book. If they feel that lending is in itself wrong, they are dead wrong. That's how you build interest in an author.

Mark Coker said...

Francis, Victoria's post is about ignorance and lack of investigation. I'm afraid your comments are specimens of both.

You state that if someone uses Smashwords, they are effectively making us the publisher. We're a distributor. We're non-exclusive. You can remove your books from us at any time.

Califa: Califa is creating their own ebook aggregation service, where they will acquire ebooks on terms that are mutually agreeable between them and the authors and publishers. If the author/publisher doesn't recognize the value of the relationship, they don't have to sell to them.

Califa, Smashwords and our library initiative: We spell out our program in transparent detail, and in simple language. The author or publisher sets the price to libraries, per our announcement here of our new Pricing Manager feature. We don't discount. Your price can be higher or lower than retail price if you like. You can opt out. You're in control.

Smashwords takes a percentage: Is this a bad thing? Take a look at the numbers. 70% of the sale price goes to the author or publisher through our new Library Direct service. No library library aggregator pays more. Would you rather have 100% of nothing, or 70% of something?

Lending forever: There are two primary camps on libraries. Most large publishers are wary of library ebook lending for fear lending will cannibalize print or ebook sales. Sounds like you concur. Our authors and publishers feel differently. In our survey of Smashwords authors and publishers, 82% said they believe libraries will help them increase overall sales. Nearly 25% of them want to donate their ebooks for free to any library that will take them, because they believe libraries drive book discovery and will help them reach more readers and build bigger brands faster. You're obviously in the former camp. The data indicates you'll find yourself on the wrong side of history with library lending, and lending of any sort. Libraries are engines for book discovery and book sales. Libraries put your books in front of readers who'd never find them any other way. According to a study by Library Journal and Bowker, 50% of library patrons go on to purchase books by the authors they borrow for free at the library. A Pew Research study published in June found that 41% of library card holders who read ebooks purchased their most recently read book. You'll find links to the studies and their data here, on my blog. If your books aren't in libraries, library patrons won't miss you because they'll find someone else.

Mark Coker said...

Francis, part II:

You wrote, "The best solution is to stay out of the ebook market until it stabilizes" Oh gosh. You can't seriously believe this? Please sell me you're kidding. Most self-pubbed authors sell orders of magnitude more ebooks than print books. If you write great books, and I'm sure you do, you'll reach more readers and earn more income by offering the ebook format. Have you looked at the New York Times bestseller list lately? Self-published authors are on there nearly every week. Four Smashwords authors made the fiction ebook list August 5. Or, take a look at the bestseller lists at Amazon, Apple or B&N. If a fast-growing market is your definition of unstable, then bring on the instability. :) I'd encourage you to rethink your view and wade into the ebook waters now before the world passes you by. Ebooks will account for around 30% of trade book sales this year in the US. From a unit volume perspective, however (and very few people realize this), this will probably be the year that consumers read more ebooks than print books. Most industry watchers are focused on dollars and are missing the significance of the unit side. Unit volume is a leading indicator of where reading is going. The authors selling the most units are building the biggest platforms the fastest, and those with the biggest platforms will sell the most books to readers in the future. It doesn't take magical tea leaves to understand the implications for the next few years. Ebook authors (both indie and traditional) will dominate the future of reading, and those that refuse to release digitally will find themselves marginalized. Please, Francis, for the good of your career, get your books out at ebooks now. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you don't want to use Smashwords, use another distributor. Or go direct to the retailers that allow it.

Piracy: Piracy is a non-issue. No author will fail as an author because of piracy, but some authors will fail because they're paralyzed by fear of piracy. Obscurity is the biggest threat facing authors. Even if you're a NY Times bestseller, you're still obscure. 99.9% of readers out there still don't know you, still haven't discovered you. Authors who obsess over piracy, and who limit the availability of their books for fear of piracy, relegate themselves to reaching fewer readers, building fewer fans and selling fewer books. Trust your readers. If authors make their ebooks widely distributed and priced fairly, it'll be easier and more convenient for readers to find their books through legal channels than illegal channels. If an enthusiastic reader lends your print book or ebook to a friend and tells them to read it, consider it the best marketing money can't buy. For those few black hat pirates who refuse to ever buy anything (if such pirates truly exist), they don't represent a lost sale anyway. They're not harming you. It's better to get a reader, gain a fan and benefit from their word of mouth than to remain obscure.

Frances Grimble said...

Mark, I have been self-publishing by offset printing for 20 years. I have invested and made back hundreds of thousands of dollars in them--and more. This is my profession and my living. I run a profitable business, with a wholesaler (I sell only about 10 copies a year direct to readers, mostly "hurt" copies), a warehouse rental (partial, of course!), an accountant, all the accoutrements.

My books sell from $38 to $49 list cover price. There's no way I'd ever make that up in volume, let alone make more money, if I reduced my prices to the $9.99 or less people expect to pay for e-books. Even leaving out gutting half those sales by lending alone. My readers are constantly photocopying and scanning books in my genre, so why increase that? I was in business before Amazon was and I saw what happened when Amazon reduced my prices by 27% to 34% off cover price, and added free shipping--all at Amazon's cost. I doubt Amazon is even making a profit off sales of some of my books, but that is there problem. What I have seen is that I am selling THE SAME NUMBER OF BOOKS TO THE SAME PEOPLE, even when they are deep discounted. I have had years to test this and folks, lower prices have not done a thing to accept my sales. Mind you, I still have to market to most of those people directly for them to go buy the book on Amazon.

Why on earth should I jump on an e-book bandwagon, where I'd have to give entities such as Amazon control over my e-rights--including the rights they claim to change contracts any way they choose at any time without notifying the self-publisher who agreed on the initial contract? Why should I lower my prices drastically?

The e-book model has nothing in it for me but risk. I'm not "paralyzed." This being Saturday, I just UPS'd my consolidated weekly orders to my wholesaler--eight orders for decent-sized quantities of books. My business is bipping merrily along.

Refusing to publish e-books does not equal failure, paralysis, and all those emotional words thrown at people who don't want to jump on the bandwagon. We're talking numbers here. Sales. Profits. I already have them.

Frances Grimble said...

Sorry about the typos in the previous--I really can spell.

Frances Grimble said...

Other common slogans "Before the world passes you [me] by." How, exactly? I could put my entire list of nine books into several e-book formats in less than a week, if I wanted to. It's not like there is any urgency.

Also, dollars--income--matter more than unit sales. You can't lose money on every sale and make it up in volume. This is why publishers produce small editions of scholarly books at high prices, and huge print runs of beach novels at low prices. The audiences for all books are not equally large, but the writing time and production costs may be similar for books with very different audiences. Thus, the publisher must make more per unit from books with smaller audiences.

Publishing isn't a kind of magic; you can't wave a wand and assume the money will come sometime, somehow, even if you have not idea how that will happen. If you put money into a business, you must get that money back out of it, plus a profit to live on and publish future books. This is all about money, and money now, because my creditors won't wait to be paid till someone magically figures out a sure way to make money off e-books. And, I don't give a rat's patootie about having my name generally known, any further than is needed to sell my books. I'll never, ever be on a bestseller list, I don't even bother trying for awards. And actually, since after 20 years my name is fairly well known among my potential readers, I certainly don't think publishing e-books would change that.

Frances Grimble said...

Most experienced authors already know this, so this comment is addressed to the inexperienced ones. Publishing a book (by any method) does NOT equal word of mouth. Sure, some readers tell each other about a book or two, but the vast majority of the time, they don't bother.

Sales come through publicity and marketing. There are plenty of books on the subject--one I recommend is John Kremer's 1001 Ways to Market Your Book. There are other books; just beware of any marketer who tells you there is only one way to market your book. There are probably numerous ways but you don't have to try them all, if you don't think certain ones will work for your book, your budget, your lifestyle, or your personality. My point is that successful marketing is a grind and you have to do it for the lifetime of the book, if you want to keep selling the book. You cannot just produce an e-book, put it up for Kindle lending, and expect a long-term increase in sales. Tons of authors are already doing that, so you have to actively market to make sure people hear about YOUR book.

There is no marketing magic about e-books, really.

Anonymous said...

The big problem lies in the fact that most people who download copyrighted material, whether programs or books or music or photography or art, don't equate their actions with theft.

Why should they equate it with theft when it isn't theft? The law only recognises it as a civil offense of copyright infringement. It's pretty minor under the law.

The solution to reducing copyright infringement, is to build relationships with readers, set up lending schemes, educate them as to why downloading without paying is wrong, and ensuring they can download in any format they want without restrictions. I personally don't like being treated like a criminal when I buy a book. First thing I do is strip off the drm, having been burned once - with files on my hard drive I can no longer read - I'm not going to be burned again. I would have been better off illegally downloading those files, rather than paying the publisher for them.

Peter Dudley said...

Frances argued:
Saying the world does not owe me for my books is like saying, if I manufactured clothing no one "owes" me so it is OK to steal it. Authors and publisher do not "owe" books to readers. Pirates aren't entitled to anything--they are simply thieves.

But I never said anything even remotely like the world does not owe you for your books. What I did say was, "... the world doesn't owe authors a certain price for their books, any more than authors owe the world free stories."

Of course if you make a product and someone wants it, they need to pay the price you set, or they need to live without the product you're selling. As you point out, it's not OK to steal anything. Pirates are indeed thieves. I agree 100%, and there is no argument there.

I took issue with your phrase, "piracy advocates." Being anti-DRM (which I am not) does not equal advocating piracy. Someone can be anti-piracy while believing that many anti-piracy efforts are misguided, wasteful, and pointless.

In addition, I believe the market is demanding lower book prices while publishers are trying to keep them artificially high. The argument for doing so always falls on two things: the value of the intellectual property, and the amount of work invested to create the product. But the world does not care how much work we put in as authors, and the market--not the author--determines the value of the intellectual property.

As you astutely pointed out, people have the choice not to pay the price you set for your product... and thus not get your product. Stealing is not OK, and I never suggested it was. But I also believe that if people aren't willing to pay the price a publisher sets for a book, cracking down on piracy is not going to help. It may help publishers keep an artificially high price floor, but it won't help authors sell more books. I believe in the long run it's a doomed approach.

Just my opinion. Feel free to disagree. But I'd appreciate you taking the time to understand what I've actually said before firing back.

Frances Grimble said...

Anonymous,

I have spent huge amounts of time trying to "educate" readers about piracy, on e-groups of which I have been a member for many years. And they go round, and round, and round, and round, justifying theft, with their bottom line always being, no one will ever find out and if someone does find out it will be too expensive for them to sue. Enforcement is the only way to get the concept across.

Frances Grimble said...

Peter,

The vast majority of readers who complain about "high prices" have no idea how much time and money go into creating a book. Including writing, editing, proofreading, indexing (for nonfiction), designing, illustrating (sometimes), laying out, marketing, and printing (if that is done). Then there's office overhead, computer hardware and software, warehousing (for print books), consulting services such as legal and accounting, and more. All this is required for most books, with the exceptions above.

These costs don't go away if an author self-publishes; they are merely shifted from publisher to author. If an author self-edits, self-designs, etc., they deserve to be paid for that work as well as writing. Except for printing and warehousing, these costs don't go away because it's an e-book instead of a print book, and the costs other than printing and warehousing are very significant.

There is a lot of herd mentality and a lot of slogans repeated by readers who simply have no idea what they are talking about, publishers' costs being one of them. Readers can certainly complain that prices are higher than they want to pay, but one publishing strategy is simply to target the smaller audience that really does want the book and charge a higher price. Another is not to publish the book at all. You can't lower publishers' costs by complaining about their "artificially high prices," and if you have no idea what their costs are, complaints about "artificiality" are meaningless.

Frances Grimble said...

Another issue is, there are currently all kinds of serious problems: Job scarcity, global warming, and many others. If people comfortably kick back and say, "Oh well, it's inevitable, we're doomed, so let's just let it happen," things are guaranteed not to improve and may well get worse. Piracy is the same: Authors and publishers need to be activist in preventing it. And in my experience (years of it by this time), comfortable little online chats about why it's wrong and how it hurts authors do zip, zilch, and nada. Real anti-piracy enforcement is what we need.

Frances Grimble said...

And for anti-DRM people, generally, if you pay less you get less. If you buy a hardcover, you get at minimum a binding that will last longer than that of a paperback. You may get better paper as well. If you buy a mass-market paperback, you buy a book with a less durable binding, often cheaper paper, and usually smaller print. If you want more durability you pay the higher price for the hardcover.

E-book buyers are often expecting an infinite lifetime for the file, with unlimited uses, yet they want to pay less than for a mass-market paperback. There is no reason why they should get more and pay less. If they want the most durable book, they can pay for the hardcover.

There are trade-offs between quality and price. Live with it.

As for lending sites, I strongly urge writers who actually want to make money not to give lending e-rights to Amazon, Smashwords (the Califa library sales), or anyone else. Even if it means not publishing e-books till the market settles. Any comparisons such as "lending print books doesn't hurt sales" are meaningless because e-books can be lent infinitely without wearing out, also people are far more willing to lend them to strangers than for a print book. There is far, far more potential for lending of e-books (and/or giving them away) to kill sales.

This is even without piracy, which of course also has the potential to kill sales.

Scale matters. A lot.

Maia said...

I'm not a "piracy advocate" at all. I just wish that more people could be realistic about the fact that it can't be stopped. Talk to some in the open source community to find out exactly why. They'll be happy to tell you. (No, you don't have to date the hardcore geeks, as I did. It's not always the best idea, anyway! ;) But I've seen it done. I've literally, physically SEEN (as in, been there in the room looking at the computer) that people constantly get around anti-piracy laws, and that they are not stopped by any technology or monitoring system ever invented. Then they share the techniques with others. I do think it's wrong, and I won't do it-- even though I know how. I CHOOSE not to do it.

What I think does not change the facts. What we've got to do is to find different ways of DEALING with what cannot simply be stopped.

Peter Dudley said...

I guess we will never agree because, while I see that the books you publish do incur significant costs in research, design, photography, etc., and that the quality of print and binding are important to your readers (thus your outright rejection of jumping on the e-book "bandwagon"), I completely disagree that novels incur most of the costs you've named, and the costs they do incur don't need to be as expensive as they've been in the past.

You wrote, "You can't lower publishers' costs by complaining about their 'artificially high prices,' and if you have no idea what their costs are, complaints about 'artificiality' are meaningless."

Having self-published a novel this year, I do have some knowledge of the costs of bringing a book to market today. Having run a technical publications department where we published software manuals with significant design and illustration concerns, I have some idea of the costs of art, design, project management, production and distribution. And managing a multimillion dollar budget in my current day job, I have a reasonable understanding of how innovation and technology can increase effectiveness while reducing costs.

I know with a certainty that a novel can be brought to market for very, very little cash out of pocket. We can argue over the finer points of finish--form factor, cover art, binding style, etc.--but the simple fact is that mechanisms now exist to bring a print novel to market incredibly cheaply. I know this because I've done it. (I've also created a Shutterfly photo book that looks wonderful. The technology available today is fascinating, and it's only just begun to show us what it can do.)

The market expects lower prices, especially for ebooks. (And if we're talking about piracy, we're talking ebooks.) Publishers, to date, have taken the path of any entrenched interest: Rather than innovate, reduce costs, and bring good products to market faster and cheaper, they prefer to collude (allegedly) on maintaining high prices, litigate, and complain about how consumers "just don't understand." Instead of eliminating middlemen from their process and consolidating, they prefer to make elaborate arguments about how expenses are "exactly the same for self-published and e-books." When that's just. not. true.

I agree there is a certain amount of "you get what you pay for." You'll always pay more for better editing, artwork, design, paper, binding. But except for niche books, consumers are not demanding that level of quality. They are demanding fast, cheap, easily accessible entertainment. This may offend some people in the industry, but it's true.

The fact that good, upstanding, law-abiding people can rationalize unethical piracy says a lot more about the disconnect between publishers and the market than it says about the moral compass of consumers.

Full disclosure: I guess you would call me a hobbyist in publishing. I have a very successful day job, and I write on the side.

But I put in the same number of hours as any other author developing my skills and knowledge, writing and revising, and promoting myself and my work. I chose to self-publish because I could get my product to market faster and cheaper than a traditional publisher could (even if I had a contract in hand, which I didn't). If I can do it, why won't publishers?

Mark Coker said...

Francis, I found your books at http://www.amazon.com/Frances-Grimble/e/B000APSQCO

I see your books are priced from around $40 to $70. If your discount is 50%, then you're bringing in $20 to $35 per book, minus printing and shipping.

Why don't you release ebooks that earn you the exact same net after expenses? This way, you don't care if they buy print or e-, you'll make the same profit per unit you sell.

Ebooks make your books accessible to readers who'd rather read on screens, and the lower price will make them more affordable to broader audience.

petemorin said...

Saying piracy can be "stopped" is roughly equivalent to saying that the Nigerian email scams can be stopped.

"We have laws..." Yes, of course. Every country has copyright "laws," even most of the third world. The existence of a law is only as useful as the ability to enforce it. A DMCA takedown notice does not work on a website originating in Argentina. Try enforcing your international copyright remedies. The cost-benefit analysis will convince you otherwise.

The first step for any author before clicking the "publish" button is to READ THE AGREEMENT. If the folks who jumped on LendInk had done just that, a grave injustice would have been avoided.

Tess Mallory said...

EXCELLENT post. Thanks so much for sharing a view that I haven't seen before. Very insightful and helpful!

Frances Grimble said...

Peter,

I typically spend two years of full-time work creating one of my books. One book took seven years, four of them full time. I do not know how long it would take for me to write a novel, but I suspect at least two years. I would expect to be fairly paid for that two years of work, not just production expenses and overhead. I factor my time into my book prices now, and I would do it for a novel.

Frances Grimble said...

Mark,

What I see for e-books is a broad spectrum of audiences who want to pay little or nothing. These include:

* Readers who complain about "high e-book prices."

* Readers who expect to get everything off free or very cheap promotional downloads.

* Readers who don't even want to pay low e-book prices, but want to borrow e-books from libraries.

* Readers who perhaps don't pirate, but who complain endlessly about DRM put in place to keep others from pirating.

* Libraries who want infinitely long lending privileges and to have the book bought by a consortium who buys only one copy to pass around among hundreds of libraries for the length of the copyright term.

Then there are the vendors, for example:

* Amazon wanting every Kindle e-book to be lendable at least once, cutting sales in half.

* Smashwords retaining the right to sell to library consortiums such as the above.

* Various vendors who reserve the right to change the publisher/vendor contract to anything they like without notification and as often as they like.

In other words, a whole spectrum of people who want the e-book system set up (or have already set their part of it up) so that would THEY make or save money at MY expense.

I don't think I have ever encountered anyone discussing e-books who did not focus on low prices--unless they were focusing on freebie downloads or piracy. Why cater to people who don't want to pay?

Having been in business before Amazon and at that time having sold most of my books direct to readers at full cover price, I discovered that deep discounts (given by Amazon) DID NOT INCREASE MY SALES.

Every book has a finite audience. It is easier to identify audiences for nonfiction. That does not mean a novel will sell to a large number of readers. Furthermore, to address another cliche, new technology does not "level the playing field" between self-publishers and larger ones. In fact, I think there is a very strong chance of the self-publishing e-book sites branding themselves as the home of dreck, just like subsidy publishers.

* When I publish print books, I am ultimately selling to readers willing to pay the price of print books. I am selling through a reliable book-distribution system with well-established discount, return, sales, and other procedures. (I don’t get many returns, and they have no effect on my pricing.)

* I am making sure that library consortiums at least pay for print copies they have to ship around for ILL, not let readers download from the net. This does help to increase library sales.

* I don't have to deal with endless protests about DRM.

* I don't have to deal with arguments about "reader rights." (What rights? A book is just a product they choose to buy, or not.)

* I significantly reduce piracy. While I agree that anyone can plunk a book onto a scanner, you can at least make it harder to pirate than you do by distributing non-DRM'd files everywhere, including to servers vendors and libraries don’t bother to secure adequately.

* I don't have to constantly chase every new vendor and format. Print books last a very long time without conversion. I have print books over 200 years old in my personal library that are still fresh and readable.

There is no point in running a business that does not make money. Mine does.

For me, offset print only is a proven and winning strategy. I expect print-on-demand prices to go down eventually as the machines proliferate. The print quality is already improving and I expect it to improve further. Then maybe print-on-demand will be a winning strategy for me, reducing guesses as to how fast readers will buy and also warehouse costs. (Which are only about $250/month, actually.)

Other publishers are welcome to test a highly unstable, low-paying e-book market, take all the risks, and lose as much money as they want. That is not my problem.

Frances Grimble said...

Mark,

Amazon's discounts on my books vary--they are sometimes as much as 37%. Amazon often charges readers less than I could afford to charge them, at their own expense. (I do not sell any books directly to Amazon.) My publishing an e-book would not lower prices for readers. Furthermore, as I've said, having seen a switch from readers paying full price to me and to brick-and-mortar stores and seeing it did not increase my sales, I think that the common e-book strategy of assuming lower prices bring more readers is a fallacy, unless the price is so very low the publisher is not making any money.

My books have a niche market. The average person is not going to want one of them even if it shows up on a bookstore sale table priced at 50 cents. Therefore, I charge what I need to charge to reach the readers who really want my books, and who are willing to pay for them.

Frances Grimble said...

Peter,

The only production costs you save for e-books are print and warehousing, period. You may save on shipping, but many publishers charge shipping to bookstores and consumers, and to some wholesalers.

As for eliminating middlemen: That is not how the industry is set up, and for good reasons.

* Readers want to buy from bookstores (online or brick-and-mortar) because the offerings of many publishers are presented in one place. Furthermore, in the case of online stores especially, other kinds of merchandise may be offered as well. Amazon is really a department store.

When I first published my first book, I sold almost all copies directly to readers. The minute my books became available in bookstores, especially online, my readers bipped right on over to the bookstores, even though I had given them exactly the same merchandise and equally good or better service. Meanwhile, I still had to market directly to all those readers--and I still do.

Bookstores do not like to buy directly from publishers, except possibly the largest publishers. They want to buy from wholesalers, which immensely simplifies their ordering and accounting. Again, the offerings of many publishers are in one place. Furthermore, bookstores are much more willing to take micropress books through wholesalers and distributors. These middlemen impose some selection process on the books, they guarantee shipping to the bookstore, and they guarantee returns to the publisher. Believe me, I know well from experience that going through middlemen gets me far more retailer sales, because before, I had to convince every single store that I was not a flake publishing dreck. Before I managed to get into my wholesaler (not an easy process because they reject most micropresses), I had far fewer bookstore sales.

Furthermore, going through middlemen helps publishers. My accounting and shipping are greatly simplified. My wholesaler pays in 90 days, but like clockwork and without my having to dun them. If there is a mistake, a check lost in the mail, they correct it immediately. I don't have to do what I did when I was first in business, which was to spend months chasing dozens of bookstores for payment and not get paid by a few of them at all.

Sure, you don't have to ship e-books, but all the ordering, accounting, and quality-of-book issues are still there.

Publishing is a business. The goal is not to make prices as low as possible for readers, by changing the entire publication and industry structure for the convenience of people who complain about prices. An author who self-publishes has got to stop thinking like a consumer and start thinking like a business--if they are going to make any money.



Frances Grimble said...

BTW, for anyone interested in self-publishing on a business rather than a hobby basis (whether e-books, print books, or both), I recommend the Yahoo Self_publishers e-group. It's free, and anyone can join. See:

http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/Self-Publishing/