Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Publishing (black and) blues

As a working author, I'm a (tiny!) part of an interesting marketplace -- adjective as per the supposed Chinese curse.

Loosely related eye candy
Not the least of that curse/interest lies in the continuing battle of titans over the pricing of ebooks.Viewpoints widely differ.
  • The pirate's view: Why shouldn't an ebook's price reflect the marginal cost of production (i.e., be free)? 
  • The producer's view: Because, apart from production, there are other costs. That is: payment (one hopes) for the contributions of authors, editors, cover artists.
  • The retailer's view: Looking at single titles is too narrow a focus. No matter the conflicting wishes of the author (for whom each book is a unique product!) or the publisher (who wants the product category of books to retain intrinsic value), retailers find opportunity in books (or other intellectual content) sold as loss leaders. Etailers use loss leaders to lure a consumer to a particular gadget and ecosystem (Kindle, Nook, iBook, etc).
I can't claim to know the answer, nor would the marketplace care if I offered my opinion. Regardless, the battle over ebook prices continues. You'll perhaps recall that several publishers, in a pact with Apple that later extended to other etailers, established an "agency" model for ebook sales. That is, etailers served as agents, receiving a commission, in the sale of ebooks. Publishers set the retail price. The Justice Department challenged that arrangement, labeling it price-fixing, and took publishers and Apple to court. More and more publishers settled. The latest to settle was my most frequent publisher. "U.S. settles with publisher Macmillan in e-books case."

Did Apple collude with publishers? We'll likely know more soon, because Apple CEO "Tim Cook to testify in eBook price-fixing case for four hours."

Amazon, which had opposed the agency model, is doubtless pleased with these recent events. That doesn't mean the publisher/etailer wars have ended. Consider that:
Two publishing industry groups, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, are opposing Amazon.com Inc's request to own new domain names, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The organizations argue that allowing Amazon to have such domain addresses that end in suffixes such as ".book," ".author" and ".read" would be a threat to competition, the paper said.

Is self-publishing the answer? Or, at the least, not signing away ebook rights? Some authors believe so. There have been self-publishing successes, including within the genre. Consider, from the WSJ, "Sci-Fi's Underground Hit: Authors are snubbing publishers and insisting on keeping e-book rights. How one novelist made more than $1 million before his book hit stores." 
The book (and resulting series) in question is Wool.

Of course Wool made it into the WSJ because it's the exception, not the rule. Is it true that the average self-published book sells about 100-150 copies? I don't know, although I have seen that number -- and lower ones -- on many occasions. If you're curious about the ins and outs of self-publishing, see (from CNET), "Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know."

It turns out there is money to be made selling only a few copies of a title. The trick is to quickly churn out lots of titles. Such as, say, 2007–2012 World Outlook for Wood Toilet Seats. See (from IEEE Spectrum), "Is Micropublishing the Death of Publishing—or Its Salvation?"

Did you happen to catch Google's doodle of  March 11? If not, check out, at Space.com, "Don't Panic! Google Makes Douglas Adams Doodle."

(If you haven't run across it, there's an entire archive of Google doodles.)

Douglas Adams, of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fame, would have been 61 that day. Let's end this post with that homage to an unquestioned authorial success and a giant of the genre.

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