A fine writer and a fine speech:
The interwebz are in a collective tizzy over the case of Linn Nygaard, a Norwegian woman who bought a Kindle in the United Kingdom and took it home with her. Her crime? She bought books through the UK store. (Horror!!!) Last week, Amazon disabled her account and wiped the 40 books on the Kindle without explanation, and refused to answer her questions as to why. Unfortunately for the Bezos Bunch, the UK and UN haven’t managed to lock this pesky internet thing down, and word spread around the world. Result: Amazon relented and reopened the account.
Ars Technica has this little tidbit: “Many other websites also lamented that many digital retailers (Amazon, Apple, and plenty of others) are not selling digital goods, but rather license them. It’s a distinction many Ars readers may already understand, but it’s less apparent outside the ranks of the tech-savvy. (After all, those purchase buttons usually say BUY, not BUY A LICENSE.)”
I don’t know about you…when I buy a product I expect that I’ve bought a product. Well, Ars Technica also comes through on that point, with a post on how to strip the damnable DRM (which I refuse to use; if you want to steal my stuff, cool, but I’d appreciate a check) out of those Kindle books using Calibre. Now, under no circumstances should you even strip the DRM out of your books, music, or films that you purchased. It’s very illegal (the Digital Millenium Copyright Act here in the US), immoral, violates the Amazon Terms of Service, and lead to the deaths of kittens and impoverishes those big publishers. (Save the Publishers!)
If anyone knows a way to do the same for other e-reader platforms, please shoot me some links so we can pick on the other e-publishers, and not just Amazon (who, frankly, has been better to me than any other outlet.)
Turns out the Amazon edition somehow had not dropped the footnotes that had been in the original version of the novel. I’ve corrected and republished the novel, but it could take a few days to hit the various Amazon stores worldwide. I also enrolled all of the available ebooks into Kindle Select, so now you can loan copies.
At least, that’s the assertion of Citizens United’s new film Occupy Unmasked. Maybe you buy the conspiracy, maybe you don’t…
On that’ note, have a shufty at Brad Thor’s Full Black — a rollicking good spy thriller about a George Soros-esque figure trying to bring down the United States government to save the world with internationalism. It’s tight, fast-paced, decently written, and the good guys even win (it is fiction!)
Just wanted to thank any of the readers who picked up a copy of Perseus or Cawnpore. The sales of the former have been steadily picking up over the last few months (thank you, all that got ereaders and tablets for your loved ones for Christmas!), but the latter is a steady trickle.
Even so, I wanted to express my appreciation!
Scott Turow is more than just a massively successful author of legal thrillers, he’s the head of the Author’s Guild — an 8000 (or so) strong cabal of writers, agents, and publishers who’s only goal is to block less successful writers from getting to market and competing. So it’s no surprise that, like one of our readers who defended onerous licensing for transport companies (he owned a taxi service), they would have a problem with Amazon’s publishing model, which releases writers like me to not only get my product to market without having to go through the “guardians of taste” (publishers and worse — agents who don’t understand their job is to represent me, not me writing to make them look awesome to the publishing house buddies), and which allow me and others like me to make a bit of tuck off our works that would otherwise have been reduced by middlemen that provide only access.
It’s perfectly understandable. I’ve glanced through one of Turow’s books and he is a competent, but to me somewhat uninspired, author. He makes a shitton of money off his books. Good on him and I hope his success continues, but that does not excuse hurting other authors who would not otherwise get the same chances he has because of the guild system that publishers and agents have used for a century to keep the riff-raff out. Publishing, after all, is a game for gentlepersons and intellectuals.
You can see this attitude in his response to the Department of Justice’s case against Apple and the big publishing houses for colluding to fix e-book prices. He writes that the case “…is grim news for everyone who cherishes a rich literary culture…” How so? Wouldn’t cheaper ebooks and more authors provide more competition and better product? Or does he mean that rich literary culture should be nourished by those who know best, namely, big publishers and well established authors. Sorry, that was rhetorical; of course, it’s the later.
This elitist papp is why some of the more dazzlingly boring, narratively-vague crap has made its way to the bookseller shelves because it is “art.” Telling a good story is “low culture.” Or in the case of Mr. Turow, churning out one after another of a formulaic legal thriller that will make tons of cash…that’s art. Wait, I mean “low culture.” Or more simply put: art is what the audience decides it is.
Turow isn’t finished. Now he turns a monopolist’s eye toward Amazon: “We do know that collusion wasn’t necessary: given the chance, any rational publisher would have leapt at Apple’s offer and clung to it like a life raft. Amazon was using e-book discounting to destroy bookselling, making it uneconomic for physical bookstores to keep their doors open.” [Italics mine] This is, of course, utter swill. It is destroying a bookselling business model, yes, but destroying book selling? Hardly. Kindle, Nook, and iPad have revolutionized reading, allowing for multimedia books, for cheap dime novels/pulps to return, and have opened the market to millions of writers who couldn’t (Turow would certainly say shouldn’t) get their work to their audience. That Amazon discounts pricing on some ebooks (mostly popular works like Turow’s) is seen as predatory to Turow, instead of realizing that it allows people that weren’t going to blow $26 for a hardcover of his lastest sexy lawyers doing something sexy while solving sexy crimes story…but would toss $5-10 down. More readers, more money.
“Publishers had no real choice…it was seize the agency model or watch Amazon’s discounting destroy their physical distribution chain.” Crap — publishers had no choice but to seize the agency model because competition from cheap, independent authors means less money for the big boys who wouldn’t publish them. Physical publishing is, to be fair, expensive…and it’s rarely a money maker outside a few names like Turow, or Clancy, or Rowling. And like the movie industry — another paragon of terrible business modeling — they lose out on most of the material they put out, and are only bolstered by those bestsellers that they turn into a profit mill. Tom Clancy or Steven King, for instance, are the Star Wars or Nightmare on Elm Street of the book world. They make money, no matter the quality.
“…bookstores are critical to modern bookselling. Marketing studies consistently show that readers are far more adventurous in their choice of books when in a bookstore than when shopping online. In bookstores, readers are open to trying new genres and new authors: it’s by far the best way for new works to be discovered. Publishing shouldn’t have to choose between bricks and clicks.” Wrong. I used to be a big fan of the bookstore, but through the 1990s and 2000s, it became obvious that the “blockbuster” mentality of crowding the shelves with the new publishing house-appointed bestseller what limiting shelf space for new or less successful authors. There was a point where science-fiction author Walter Jon Williams opined that it was getting near impossible for even established writers to get more than a copy of a novel or two on the shelves for readers to find.
That hardly allows the reader to be adventurous in their buying habits. More likely, they’re popping in to nab the next installment of the infinite book series by Robert Jordan.
Turow goes further in his attempts to save the bookstore…and fails egregiously: “Apple thrives on this very model: a strong retail presence to display its high-touch products coupled with vigorous online distribution. While bookstores close, Apple has been busy opening more than 300 stores..” One problem, champ…Apple does not sell books in their stores.
“For those of us who have been fortunate enough to become familiar to large numbers of readers, the disappearance of bookstores is deeply troubling, but it will have little effect on our sales or incomes. Like rock bands from the pre-Napster era, established authors can still draw a crowd, if not to a stadium, at least to a virtual shopping cart.” This is what is called whistling in the dark. It is precisely the loss of stadium-level audiences that has old-timer rock bands bitching about the mp3 age. I no longer am locked into throwing down $20 for a mostly shitty album, when I can throw $1.29 for a popular song on iTunes. (Apple, you’ll note, isn’t being castigated by Turow for destroying the music industry.)
“For new authors, however, a difficult profession is poised to become much more difficult. The high royalties of direct publishing, for most, are more than offset by drastically smaller markets.” Wrong and right. No longer shut out of the market entirely by agents and publishers (agents, of course, usually were publishers before they became agents…ah, the closed ecosystem!) writers can get eyes on their work. Yes, you make more per unit than you would from a publishing house, and yes, you are more likely to reach a smaller audience…but for instance, I have two novels and a single short non-fiction work on Amazon (and other e-venues), and I have a slow but steady trickle of money coming in. And only Amazon, of the online purveyors, has really seen movement of the works. (Nook pulls about 10% — at best — the profits of Kindle. iBooks, so far, has been useless.) Now the average print run for a paperback is about 2500-5000 units, depending on genre, how likely it is to sell, yadda yadda…after agent fees, and other miscellaneous expenditures for marketing, you’ll be lucky to clear the $1/book I make on Amazon. That run will be expected to sell over the course of 2-5 years. So, worst case scenario: you’re not super successful, but you sell 3 books a day on average, you will move the same amount of product you could if you had 2500 books moving over 2 years.
It’s very unlikely you would move that much product that fast. The difference between self-publishing or going through the guardians of taste is that they take the hit if it doesn’t sell and you still get paid. (However, there are plenty of contracts that would leave the author on the hook for unsold units!) E-publishing on your own means zero risk — you sell, you make money; you don’t, it’s no worse than if you let the work languish on your hard drive.
Here’s my formula for success: 2500 units over 5 years. An averagey sort of success. I have to average 1.3 units a day. I’m hitting that most months. The difference is, instead of getting the money in a lump sum, I’m getting paid monthly. It’s enough to fuel my Triumph (which right now is nothing to sneeze at.) And that’s with almost no marketing, the one thing publishers are supposed to (and rarely do) provide. Other than my blogs, Facebook, and a few kind mentions on other blogs, my stuff is discovered by readers browsing around Amazon…just like they might in a bookstore.
Lastly, Turow opines, “And publishers won’t risk capital where there’s no reasonable prospect for reward. They will necessarily focus their capital on what works in an online environment: familiar works by familiar authors.” That’s already the model and is the reason that many, many writers could not even get to a publisher’s desk for review.
Techdirt.com did a nice homage to Turow’s inanity in this posting. I feel they wouldn’t mind if I posted it here:
How can I say this? Let’s have an example from this morning…
I was watching an excellent movie from 1983, Bill Forsythe’s Local Hero — a small budget Scottish flick about an oil exec coming to buy a small coastal town. Another I like of his is Comfort & Joy — another comedy based on the glasgow “ice cream wars” (which weren’t funny and involved drug trafficking…but not in the film.) I can’t get Comfort & Joy in the US, and the DVD I might be able to lay my hands on is the wrong region — thanks to greedy fucking companies that limit distribution between countries. There’s no electronic download of the movie on iTunes, either (to be fair, it’s not on the UK store, either…but trying to buy it, were it, would involve having to have a UK address, credit card, and account.
It’s a fucking electronic format file! Why can’t I buy something from another country online? Because of the distribution and copyright nonsense. I want to buy the movie…not pirate it. But what choice, if I really wanted it, would I have? I could buy the wrong region DVD and cut it to an e-format…but that’s also piracy in some countries (and always in the minds of the MPAA.) It’s ludicrous and purposefully keeps people from purchasing their material. But they’ll pitch a hissy if someone shares an Adele song they might have made a buck and a quarter from.
Similarly, a decade ago, I wanted to buy some albums from The Beautiful South. No one in the US had the band on mp3 and the CDs weren’t available. Once again, I could have bought them from amazon.co.uk — but the shipping alone made it not worth my while. What is a boy (of 33 at the time) to do? You can’t buy the damned things, as much as you want to.
The copyright system in place, and the distribution roadblocks don’t help the consumer, nor the companies that have put these obstructions in place, and they certainly don’t aid the artists in expanding their audience. (And it’s why, no matter how many book sales I might lose to “loaning”, I won’t DRM my stuff.)
I just signed up with Smashwords to move my books on the electronic readers, and for the last three days or so the site has down. Inaccessible. Apparently, their ISP is total crap or Smashwords took a bargain basement plan with them. Either way, that means my novel has been inaccessible through the provider over the weekend.
This is not a great way to run a business…especially one that is internet dependent. Worse, it makes me wonder how much care they put into the other aspects of the business, say payment of authors. I’ve yet to see any kind of movement from Smashwords or their affiliates, but the version I’ve been selling on Amazon is still moving slow but steady.
i can’t really recommend them, so far, particularly with the troublesome formatting requirements they have to get into their prestige catalogue. To be fair, I suspect the issue is .mobi — a terrible format for the Kindle ereader that cannot differentiate between page breaks and indented paragraphs without hacking the damned html code. ePub? Simple. It works like a word processor has always worked, how people have been typing for decades. None of this moronic Word style sheet nonsense.
Anyway, Perseus is live on iBooks, Nook, and Kindle. Smashwords? Whenever they sort their mess.
UPDATE: Which was a few minutes ago, apparently… They look to be back up.