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Publishers, It’s Your Move

I’m concerned that publishers have a deep disconnect with readers.  This shouldn’t be a surprise given that readers aren’t the customer of publishers, but recent events really highlight this.  I have wavered on posting this article because on the one hand, do I really care what happens to publishers?  Won’t I be able to find good authors without the publisher mechanism? Should readers be concerned about the decline of publishing in its current state? After all, publishing will still exist even if those that are in charge of 80% of the books sold go out of business tomorrow.  Yet this is a topic I’ve given some thought to and so, by virtue of the time expended in my little head on this issue, it must be important to me.

On November 3, 2011, Amazon announced the Kindle Lending Library for Prime members. This allows Prime members to download one book per month for free that is in the Kindle Lending Library. Most publishers did not agree to be included so Amazon is testing the limits of the first sale doctrine and ownership by buying copies at their wholesale discount and then lending them for free to Prime members.

Later in November, Penguin disabled all the Kindle library lending options through Overdrive, was upset that the Kindle lending occurred at the Amazon site and not through Overdrive (as Overdrive is not considered a direct competitor), and then restricted any new digital lending. If Penguin brings back digital lending for new titles, the access will be windowed only allowing digital titles to be lent after some period of the books being on sale.

I really have no problems with this from a business standpoint (a corporate charitable or moral discussion may be different). I understand the publishing is a business and that businesses must make the best financial decisions for them. I understand Amazon is feared because its goal isn’t in concert with publishers. One librarian has suggested that if library patrons bought just one more copy per year, it would equal the entirety of the library market which is around 10%. While there are statistics to indicate the physical book lending has led to sales, there is no data that this is true for digital book lending. Of course, digital lending library is in its infancy and thus making predictions now on whether it will decrease or increase purchases is dangerous. But digital library lending is thought by some to lead to the overall devaluation of content.

The goal of any manufacturer or producer is to sell the product at the highest dollar it can achieve. Barnes & Noble is built along the same guidelines. High prices in exchange for a high quality product and great customer service.

I wouldn’t know about customer service from publishers because they don’t consider the reader as a customer, but I know that B&N’s business rests, in part, on being a trustworthy brand with superior customer service in its stores. It can no longer rest upon providing more content than any other retailer.

But the world has changed and more rapidly than anyone can expect. Carolyn Reidy, the CEO of Simon & Schuster, told a group of Korean business people that ebooks would be around 25% in 2016. Others thought it would not be until 2020 that the digital market share of books would be at the quarter mark but for trade fiction it’s 25% now and for some authors its 50% or greater now. In 2012, the digital market will easily be half of trade book sales. Unfortunately, when long range vision planned for digital adoption to be slower by a factor of 5 that business plan isn’t well suited to change which leads to attempts to slow the pace of adoption to match the plan. I don’t believe the latter works.

A publishers only goal cannot be to thwart Amazon. Hachette CEO Armand Noury stated:

“It’s not that I am against libraries, or a book being sold and then read by 10 different people, but it’s clearly a way invented by retailers to change the balance of power.”

Business goals must be to meet and anticipate the consumer demand because publishing isn’t just about finding and producing books. It’s about selling them as well.

For too long I think publishing thinks of themselves as a speciality industry, unaffected by the vagaries that might influence change within other entertainment industries but hardcovers and print books will be treated like vinyl records in a few years. These will be artifacts for a few. I still believe that there is a market for hardcover books, but it will be primarily because there is a uniqueness to the printed form of a particular book . Ordinary hardcovers, trades and mass markets won’t have a market big enough for them to be available in large quantities.

Problematically, there is a downward pressure of pricing. Most readers believe that digital content should be cheaper than physical content.  There are many reasons given for this but primarily I think it comes from a lack of substance. Digital entertainment is somewhat disposal, as mass markets have often been viewed.  Disposal or transitory entertainment has less value.  This concept isn’t aided by the push by digital content creators to abrogate the first sale doctrine by defining the transaction between publisher and consumer as a lease instead of a sale.  If a reader doesn’t have true ownership, the value of any product trends downward dramatically.

Publishers must be frustrated by this push to the bottom because they’ve been told that the digital book buying customer demographic currently isn’t short of funds. Executives are frustrated to think that the reader’s disposable income is sufficient to allow them to buy iPads and ereaders but they balk at spending $25 for a book. From Noury again:

Nourry said he would like to one day find a way for readers to lend each other e-books, but said copyright protection was currently more important as the industry’s new business models were still fragile.

“My business consists of selling books,” he said. “People who buy Kindles every 18 months and iPads for $600 — they don’t need our help.”

But what publishers believe customers should do and how publishers believe they think doesn’t actually matter. It’s what customers do and what customers believe that should be the guideposts. Aside from how wrongly I think Noury views the reader (and this isn’t a surprise because readers aren’t his customers) readers, even those who are willing to buy new Kindles every new product cycle or new iPads aren’t looking at lending as a financial break. Instead, they are looking at trying to get a return on their dollar spent. Free books or low cost access to books increases discoverability. It isn’t about “helping” the pocket book of the reader. (Digital library lending and library lending, in general, sometimes invokes the corporate citizenship concept and the moral responsibility that publishers and those in the publishing ecosystem may have to support the library and I think that is a separate issue. I want to acknowledge that publishers have the right to make a business decision, even a bad one).

Books are simply one of many entertainment option that readers have at their fingertips. It is foolish to think that readers wouldn’t want immediate access to books as they have immediate access to movies, music, and video games. The big problem that publishers have here is not anticipating the moves of the readers. Publishing does not stand alone in a separate silo. Instead, readers’ expectations toward access and price of content is influenced heavily by other entertainment options.  Thus if every other entertainment option that is at a reader’s disposal offers digital downloads, publishing needs to offer digital downloads.  If every other entertainment option that is at a reader’s disposal offers some type of subscription access to unlimited content, publishing needs to offer that.

The way to combat Amazon and other retailers isn’t simply to withhold content because Amazon’s response (as other retailers’ response will be) is to create their own content and thus make publishers irrelevant.  The method of combatting Amazon and other retailers is to offer alternatives.  This is what Amazon is doing for authors through self publishing. It is offering a viable alternative.  Publishing needs to provide a viable alternative.

1. Change your customer focus. I really don’t understand anymore why publishers believe that focusing on the retailers as their customers creates a competitive advantage. The biggest accounts such as B&N and Amazon are directly competing as publishers. I understand the desire to take care of “accounts” but what good is it? B&N and Amazon need publishers right now. This might not be true five years from now.  B&N’s physical retail existence is weakening every quarter.  The only thing that is keeping B&N from Borders’ fate is its Nook focus but Nook is taking a ton of money and retail space away from the sale of actual books.

2.  Publishers need to sell direct.  Maybe they should be working on more cooperatives. Bookish, an unrealized site, was announced early this year and was a site that was backed by three different major publishers: Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Hachette.  The site was going to sell paper books directly to the consumer. Paper books.  Not digital books.  Paper books.  They should be experimenting in ways to draw readers away from retailers by selling books in advance or at a discount or both.  There should be advantages such as club memberships.  The idea is better content at a good price.

4.  Be synonymous with quality.  Of course, if you want to keep prices elevated in exchange for quality, then quality has to be delivered.  No more Reamde debacles.  The great wealth of crappy self publishing offerings helps to increase the value of quality offerings but if the higher priced goods are crappy, then readers might as well pay $.99 instead of $7.99.

5. Leverage resources. The biggest advantage publishers have over any of the other retailers is their catalog.  The deep breadth and scope of books in the publishers’ catalogs should be leveraged to attract readers.  Why doesn’t Harlequin have a Harlequin Treasury subscription? These are books that have already earned out (or written off) whatever money that was initially invested in them.  Why not charge readers $25 per month (with a one year commitment) for unlimited access to the Harlequin Treasury library?

6.  Speak to the readers.  When I updated by apps on the iPad the other day, two companies’ update notices stood out to me. Zappos wrote “With 2.2.0, we added HIGH DEF images and zooming, but removed the swiping between images.  We’ll be the first to admit that that was a mistake.”  Goodreader said “by popular demand, we’re re-enabling the “Textured background” switch in app settings for PDF files.”  Both these updates indicate that the companies are listening to their end users.  The end user experience is important to them. How are publishers listening to their readers?  If they are listening, how are publishers conveying that the reader’s input is important?  Who are the ambassadors of the publishers?  There are actually great ambassadors: editors.  Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to speak to an editor, they’ve always sold me on the books that they were working on.  Plus, they are real people who have something in common with readers – the love of books.

7.  Learn how to monetize free content.  Amazon is offering this free content to Prime members because Prime members spend more money at Amazon than any other type of customer.  In this way, Amazon monetizes its free content.

8.  Anticipate the reader.  If one can get out ahead of the game and anticipate the reader, that company can create value where one was before.  In other words , if you create a product that the reader suddenly believes she needs, then the value and the price is what you’ve defined it.

I completely understand that a) publishers want to maximize their dollar; b) the advance model of publishing is expensive; c) a multitude of free content can lead readers to believe that content is inexpensive to produce; and d) Amazon is a threat to the existing publishing business model.  But competing with Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Kobo should not be to oppose every action that they take, but instead offering the reader an attractive alternative.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Mikaela
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 04:31:35

    I think that all readers want are good books. It doesn’t matter if they read a book from the library, or buy it. If a book is good, they will buy the next book. If it isn’t, they wont.

    I have just experienced that myself. Right now I am reading Dead Iron by Devon Monk, a library book. I love it, enough to put it on my Christmas Wishlist. But the book I read before was Changes by Mercedes Lackey, and I felt meh about it. Will I buy it? Probably not.

  2. library addict
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 05:05:14

    I think the big 6 publishers also need to do away with DRM (it does nothing to stop piracy) and the Agency Pricing model.

    I love the fact Penguin sells digital books directly to the public, but their search features on their website are in serious need of updating. Also, pre-orders are their friend. Currently I could pre-order a digital book from Amazon but not Penguin’s website.

    I just spent a small fortune at Harlequin today with their 50% off sale. I like the info they provide about books, but their website is in serious need of updating as well. Not only does the search feature need work, but the various Treasury titles aren’t usually linked to the various author’s series (for example, Linda Turner’s The Lady’s Man does not come up under her Those Marrying MacBrides! series). I admit, I am mostly buying books I already own in print. So I am paying for all of these books a second time for the convenience of having them on my Sony. Throw in a great sale and I’ll buy the ones not only on my “Must Have” list, but the ones on my “Would Like to Have Someday” and “Maybe” lists as well. They make it very easy for me to spend money at their site. (And this is the second big spending spree I’ve gone on there this year).

    Penguin’s and others library policy is ridiculous. The library introduces readers to new authors. When we like the book we not only buy it, but if we really liked the author we also buy their backlist. I used to buy more books in print but I am out of shelf space. So now I only buy fave authors in print and all others I buy digitally. And yes I have gone out and purchased digital books after reading them digitally from the library, just like I used to do in print. The fact is, I can’t afford to buy every book by a new-to-me author I want to try. If I cannot try them from the libray, it’s more than likely a lost sale. I am not totally againt windowing, but they are probably missing out on my impulse gene by doing so. If I am interested in trying a book today it doesn’t always mean I will still be interested in reading it six months from now.

  3. Eve Langlais
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 05:54:14

    I love some of your publisher suggestions. Especially number 5. I think more publishers should either create a subscription service for older titles or offer them at a deep discount if they’ve earned out.

    When it comes to libraries though, I don’t think I can blame them though for their stance. I used to read alot from libraries growing up and that went on until I was well into my twenties. During that time, I never bought any of the books I read even if I loved them. I just went and found more by the same author for free at my local library. Back then, they didn’t earn a penny from me as a reader, and I used to just inhale books. I actually didn’t start buying them until I ended up living in Quebec and unable to get decent romance novels in English. Even when I moved to an English province though, I kept buying books , so in a funny twist, I guess you could say I’ve paid them back for my early years lol.
    Eve :)

  4. Lyn LeJeune
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 06:14:03

    The Bug Six Publishing house try to dictate what we read. The are many, many great small presses that the NYT will never review or anyother mainstreet media source. Not any different than the banks.

  5. Ros
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 06:36:17

    I couldn’t agree more that publishers need to change and change FAST. In particular, I think they do need to think much more about readers and what readers want than they ever have before. All I want, and I really don’t think it’s too much to ask, is to be able to buy ebooks that are:

    (a) properly formatted. It needs to be someone’s job to read through ebooks in different formats and check them;

    (b) available across all geographical areas. It’s called the WORLDWIDE web for a reason. Don’t alienate half your customers before you start;

    (c) available at a reasonable price. I get that this is a difficult equation but I think one factor that publishers don’t understand is readers’ buying habits. For example, I would love to have ebook versions of all my favourite Heyers. I already own them all in print editions and I can’t justify paying the prices they are charging for the ebook version. If they were a few dollars less, I’d buy 20 or 30 books. As it is, I haven’t bought any. While the changeover to ebooks is happening, publishers could be making a fortune on their backlists as people replace their physical shelves with ebook ones.

  6. Man of la Book
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 07:13:53

    I wrote a blog post about this subject a while ago ( The attitude of today’s publishers is the same attitude that destroyed the music industry “you buy what we want to sell because we won’t sell what you want to buy”.

  7. LM Preston
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 07:25:57

    I totally agree with you. It’s about evolving with your customers.

  8. April (Good Books & Wine)
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 07:43:37

    I agree with pretty much all of these points. As a consumer, I only ever buy ebooks that are in the 3.99 sale or are the kindle daily deal.

    I also think there’s a big difference between a $79 or even $199 Kindle and a $600 iPad, namely $400. And think it’s ridiculous to assume that just because someone purchased a reading device, they are willing to spend $25 on an ebook. Personally, I’m not willing.

  9. Lisa J
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 07:54:14

    Publishers want to charge readers, the real customer, an arm and a leg and as Ros said, they don’t provide us with quality product. I have given up more series by favorite authors since agency pricing started than I want to think about. I also noticed formatting errors, editing issues (yes, I’m looking at the last several Lora Leigh books), and a general feeling of being unwanted by the agency publishers because I buy e-only these days. I actually spend more money on e-books than I ever did on paper, they just aren’t published by the agency publishers. So, while I have said good bye to old favorites, I have found new ones and will continue to support those who listen to what readers want.

  10. Mireya
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 08:23:10

    I don’t think the recording industry got destroyed but rather was forced to evolve. Like the publishing industry, they were resisting the accelerated change brought in by consumers discovering and adopting digital distribution of content. It took something like Napster (which Apple was quick to view as an opportunity) to finally realize that change was long overdue. I am guessing that even though there are, obviously, quite a number of differences between music and books, something similar is going to happen with the publishing business model, after a myriad of lost opportunities (aka profitable opportunities) are overlooked and/or dismissed, they will finally come to realize that there is no stopping these changes and the changes (hopefully changes benefiting the end consumer as well, i.e. book rental or better pricing) will be embraced and used in a way that is profitable for publishers as well.

  11. Keishon
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 08:33:18

    Well, I can always watch the publishing industry go kicking and screaming as things evolve for them or watch them become irrelevant. It’s their choice. I know I’m not waiting for them to catch up.

  12. farmwifetwo
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 09:16:54

    “But if they can afford a new iPad every 18mths”…. Let’s be blunt Dear Publisher… those people read about 2 books a year. Their iPad’s are for entertainment, not for reading. As a reader that reads upwards of 300 books a year… $25/book is not feasible. Also, I read a variety of authors, a variety of genres and you need to either supply me with those varieties or as Keishon says you’ll become irrelevant as self-publishing becomes the norm and I one of it’s biggest consumers.

    Or I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done… use the library or buy used or borrow from someone else. These are all in paper form since I’ve barely used my e-reader due to the ridiculously high prices of ebooks.

    Make money from the consumer directly or have the consumer go elsewhere and kick the publisher out of the money loop…

    Up to the publisher to decide if they want sales or not.

  13. Kerri
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 09:29:37

    My favourite publishing house is Baen. They have a great ebook program that rewards the readers. Their ebooks are cheaper than real books and if you buy every book that is published in a month as an ebook you get major discounts. And best of all they don’t use DRM.

    Other publishing houses are doing my head in. This year is the year that I have purchased the least amount of books (and I thought last year was bad!). I tend to read a book a day but I’m struggling this year to find new to me authors that I like.

    I’m also less willing to take a chance on new authors where before I’d buy them and try them now I wait for reviews because I’ve read too much in the last few years that’s just been a DNF and it’s getting depressing. Also living in the UK means I can’t always get the books I want to read from the library and I can’t purchase them as ebooks as I’m in the wrong zone.

    Publishers website are pretty awful. Amazon is still the best place to find out when authors new books are being released which is ridiculous.

    In the end it comes down to the fact that publishers don’t seem to care about readers only their bottom line and sticking their heads in the sand is only hurting them and their authors.

  14. Marianne
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 10:12:22

    I hate the “long tail” argument but unfortunately when it comes to ebooks I think publishers could stand to embrace it a bit more. What you lose in pricing an ebook cheaper you more than make up for in the fact that those titles will never go out of print and you will never have to deal with returns.

  15. Cindy
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 10:16:52

    1. I agree they need to knock off agency pricing. Or set up their own store to buy from and discount the books. I still don’t understand the need for the same price as print (or higher, in a few cases) for a non-physical item that as others have pointed out, I can’t do anything with after reading. I’m not a re-reader.

    2. I’ve been buying a lot of E-books this year, but most non-agency. Why? Variety of genre. They need to stop assuming that readers want a non-stop diet of vampire and paranormal. When I hit the online shops, I go to Amazon, type in steampunk and shop from there. And even many of those have vampires and zombies thrown in because that’s what they think everyone wants. But I am finding historicals (including several Medievals). Even most of the cozy mystery series were cancelled that didn’t have some paranormal element. I don’t mind paranormals but I like variety.

    3. Formatting and editing. If the publishers aren’t going to bother, I might as well by the .99 books and enjoy a story for less as I try to ignore the mistakes.

    4. Also with pricing, I’m all about the shorter story now (30,000 or less words) and I’m okay with a $1.99-$2.99 price tag. Even $3.99….if said word count isn’t including the half of the E-book that is ads for other books. (I’m still sorely disappoint over the one I bought that was supposed to be around that count and the story ended abruptly and went to excerpts. I basically ended up one action scene and one sex scene and I really did not get to know the characters at all. But #2.99 for a 15000 word or less? Nope, not on board for that. Which brings me too…

    5. Tell me the word count in the book description so that I know what I’m getting.

  16. Linda S
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 10:19:05

    As a librarian, I find the publisher attitudes maddening. We’re trying to experiment to serve readers in the new digital landscape and they’re feeding us lines like “we will always love libraries and provide them all the paper products they can buy” (okay, I am paraphrasing, but I am angry). I tried to get publisher reps to speak to librarians about ebooks and their concerns at a huge state conference and was turned down across the board. With the amount of recommendations we do and, frankly, the amount of titles we can’t afford to purchase or purchase sufficient quantities of, we will always be guiding readers to books for them to buy, even if they do get some from us for free. It makes me want to look at the publisher before I suggest a book, but that is not our philosophy, because we care about the best for the reader. Okay, I’m through venting for now. Thanks for posting about this, Jane! P.S. Eve Langlais, library recommendations led me to buy your books.

  17. Mike Cane
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 10:25:14

    >>>The goal of any manufacturer or producer is to sell the product at the highest dollar it can achieve.

    Um, no. You would think that given the perversion of the marketplace since the 1980s, but that’s just not true except for inept dinosaur companies that fear — rightly! justifiably! — going out of business if their captive market is ever breached and competed against.

    Why are eBook devices now $99 and not still in the $400 range? That alone goes against what you’ve stated.

    And how many times must I cite the example of Henry Ford? *He* is what business *used* to aspire to and what *competent* companies still do — such as Apple, which shocked everyone with the iPad’s lowball $499 pricetag.

    Face the fact that publishers are generally inept, resist upsetting their cartel gravy train, and deserve every damn marketplace thrashing they get from Amazon and others. Period.

  18. Becca
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 10:43:39

    I really resent being taken for a patsy by the big 6 publishers. Why should I pay more for a limited-use ebook than I do for a DVD of a movie, or for that same book in audio format from Audible?

    Discoverability is a big issue for me, and I find that I’m doing a lot more re-reads of old books now than risk new-to-me authors just because they’re cheap. These days, I only read books that either I’ve read before (I’m on a major In Death re-read/re-listen) or books that have been reviewed by reviewers I trust.

    and I agree about Baen – that’s one publisher that does it right. and if they offer a $15 eARC of Lois Bujold’s new book, you betcha I’ll pay that for a 6-month leap before publication date. I’ll gladly support authors and publishers that seem to have respect for me as a reader.

  19. Becca
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 11:00:22

    Let’s see if I can get this link to work right.

    the article is about some publisher’s response to ebooks, which is to make the paper books more valuable by making them more beautiful. But a beautiful presentation can’t make up for a lackluster story inside (I’m thinking of Nora’s Bride books, which I’m debating keeping, even though I bought them in paper because they were so pretty)

    (ok, the preview button isn’t working on my computer for some reason, so in case the link above didn’t work, here’s the URL)

  20. Brian
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 11:08:55

    Another thing I’d like to see from publishers is bundles. I mean real bundles with value (which we rarely see) not adding together the full price of each book and then charging that for the bundle.

  21. Darlynne
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 12:08:44

    Keishon and Mike Cane, I’ll bring the popcorn and watch with you.

    When Borders offered their discount coupons, I bought a book every time. When their coupons became available for non-agency digital books, I bought one every time. I have never understood why a discount coupon is OK for paper, but not for digital, a format that affords me fewer rights and no real ownership.

    Those coupons let me find great authors and I always bought more than just the discounted item. Now, I take free content where I can find it, I buy only discounted titles, and there are just three agency authors I continue to support regularly.

    Every forward step taken by a retailer is automatically and inevitably crushed by a retrenchment from the publishers. It will be most interesting to see just how stupid they can get.

    Great article, Jane.

  22. Ridley
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 13:42:37

    “People who buy Kindles every 18 months and iPads for $600 — they don’t need our help.”

    While I feel this guy’s logic, it doesn’t really work that way.

    I’m not poor. I have no kids. When my usual seat at Bruins games went from $70 to $110 (Stanley Cup tax, I guess) I didn’t even think about it before buying my usual games this year. Discretionary income, I haz it.

    And yet I’ve bought and read fewer and fewer books since the dawn of agency. I read 269 books in 2009, 139 in 2010 and only 81 so far this year. That’s a big drop.

    Why, though? If money isn’t tight for me, why did the agency price increase have such an effect on my reading?

    Not liking to be screwed is part of it, but since I let the Jacobs family sodomize me on the price of hockey tickets, it doesn’t explain all of it.

    The issue is, I think, that books are easily replaceable. There’s only one NHL franchise in New England (poor Whalers…) but there are thousands of romance novels. The authors the agency publishers represent don’t have the same hold on my loyalties that a local sports team does. Agency pubs asked me to grab my ankles if I wanted their books, and I just shrugged and found other books that let me keep my pants up. Unlike the Bruins in Boston, the Agency 6 aren’t the only team in town.

    So it’s not only a money or value issue. Customers aren’t stupid. They know when they’re getting porked. Publishers need to make sure they’re offering something rare and unique enough that it’s worth swallowing your dignity for it. For me, pulp fiction isn’t worth the hit.

  23. MichelleR
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 13:43:07

    I don’t think the pubs see how this plays out in the eyes of the reader. People who buy dedicated book readers are probably not the folks you want to make feel second class or unwanted, any more than you want to antagonize the person who shops at Bookshelves R Us. A lot of owners of these devices made the decision in part because they’d run out of space and weren’t about to stop reading or buying.

    Any sane business model would have these pubs sidling up to Kindle and Nook owners and purring out a Joey Tribbianiesque: How YOU doin’? Instead, it sometimes feels like they’re building more obstacles to their books ending up in the hands of a growing population of people who prefer the e-format — or who need that format due to physical limitations.

    I understand that they don’t want to empower Amazon, but that ship is so far gone that it’s an ever tinier dot on the horizon. Amazon is smart enough to know that if you occasionally give or lend to someone a free book, they’ll give you even more of their money, which dang if that doesn’t work for book series and new authors and unfamiliar-to-the-reader authors.

    Lastly, it’s not a condition for purchasing a reader is that you can never buy print again or step foot in a brick and mortar. It’s early days enough that anyone with a Kindle or Nook probably knows a couple avid readers who don’t want a reader but do want Santa to bring them some books.

    So, per year, I buy hundreds of books for my Kindle and probably 60 or 70 print books as gifts, primarily for my grandmother, only to have it be made clear to me that if I get between a publisher, say Penguin, and Amazon, that I will be considered reasonable collateral damage if they feel the need to shoot through me.

    When the dust clears, Amazon will still be standing, and so will a lot of authors who came up as indies. In the latter case, many of them can thank traditionally publishers that cleared the way and hastened their rise.

    Kindles and Nooks can be filled with books by the Big Six, or they can be filled with even more books by indies, and the ereaders don’t discriminate and folks who’ll read the cereal box if they have nothing else to read will end up buying the books that are easiest to find, and most affordable, as long as indies learn quality control. (Which is a whole other topic.)

    I had the most casual of interests in library books. Before Amazon set it up, I rather felt that they should — for the people who wanted that feature. When it was enabled though, I borrowed a book just to say I’d done it. Then, I bought the book when I didn’t finish it on time. I also favorably reviewed the book and discovered a new author. Yeah, the pub really lost out there.

    Don’t make first class readers feel second rate is probably a good rule of thumb.

  24. Beth
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 13:44:05

    I think you’re bang-on with your assessment. I have believed for some time now that publishing needs to evolve into an intelligent subscription service. Unfortunately, it looks to me like publishing is trying to find a way to recreate iTunes (find a per-unit price threshold that will encourage customers to buy in quantity, as iTunes did with the 99 cent single), whereas it should be trying to reproduce Pandora or Spotify (one hesitates to say Netflix, but let’s say Netflix, too, just without the complete lack of finesse that company has displayed recently).

    Give readers a flat subscription to unlimited quality content, hire yourself some financial geniuses to figure out what the flat rate should be, and let ‘er rip. But, as commenters above have rightly pointed out, you will also need to invest in technology that is up to the standards users have come to expect. In a world where Amazon exists, where we expect the site to “learn” our preferences and suggest similar content we’d love, the old, clunky sites that publishers tend to offer will NOT fly. That’s why I think it won’t be a publishing house that gets this right — it’ll be a third party. A startup. Or, you know. Amazon.

  25. Author on Vacation
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 13:56:19

    I read a lot. I read offerings from big publishers, small publishers, and epublishers as well as self-published works. I have to say that, in general, the big boys offer the best products in terms of quality.

    For the record, I define quality as good, clean (perfect or near-perfect) editorial, and average or above average artistic talent (creative writing and technical writing.)

    I don’t claim every self-pub or small pub book is mediocre or substandard. I have several epub autobuys I love. But for each one I love, I’ve probably sampled half a dozen that were nowhere near the level of quality necessary for me to consider them worth their purchase price.

    I’ve also purchased “Big Publisher” books I considered substandard, but that’s rarer than the opposite result.

    Like any other product, one usually gets what one pays for. There will always be exceptions, but it’s fair to say the big publishers collect greater talent and skill more consistently than other entities. Since they are producing what amounts to a premium product, it goes without saying prices will reflect that.

    It falls back on the consumer to develop shopping strategies most beneficial to the consumer. Most shoppers don’t enter a luxury furniture store and demand merchants sell a hand-crafted designer leather sofa for the same price as a more affordable, mass manufactured sofa covered in synthetic uphostelry. Consumers must decide if the premium item is desireable enough to purchase. If no, purchase the non-premium item.

  26. Amy Kathryn
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 13:57:01

    With the loss of Borders and the decrease of orders from other retailers, I think the publishers should decide in the near future that the reader is the customer and not the retailer. Otherwise they risk retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble cutting them out as they become publishers.

    I would love a subscription service, better formatting, and a sense that my wants and needs matter.

    In the end, all I can say is Sing it, Sister.

  27. Mikaela
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 14:03:11

    This post made me think about swedish publishers. Yes, I know. It is a much smaller country, and e-books are just taking off. Still,they have made many decisions that I think are sound.
    – All e-books that you buy are Watermarked.
    – Until now all books are available at the library.
    The combination of this means there are no reason to download pirated e-books since all you need is a library card.
    Unfortunately, they are making the same mistakes when it comes to pricing. Prices range between 20-10 dollar, which includes both frontlist and backlist. There are some small publishers that I really wish would take a good look at Samhain and other major e-book publishers in the US.
    But there is hope. Both publishers and stores experiment discounting selected e-books to 2.99. Infact, I am looking forward to the next couple of years, which I think will be interesting.

  28. CK
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 14:22:16

    Great post. Publishers do need to change but will they? Not before it’s too late, imo. Their huge gravy train is still dishing out their gravy even with all the cracks and leaks. Once their current model is completely demolished, then they’ll change. Maybe.

    I’m one of those readers who would totally pay the $15/25 for a six-month jump on publication for a few writers. But paying $12.99 for an ebook the day it’s released just because it’s in hc, too? Ummm, no thanks.

  29. Jennifer
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 14:28:04

    @Kerri @Becca

    Ah, the power of suggestion. I’m looking to fill my shiny new ereader and when I read about Baen, I immediately hopped over to buy all the Miles books. This is how suggestions works. Had they been more than 5 or 6 bucks, I would’ve passed. Buying books from Carina Press has also been great. The no DRM made it so much easier to move to my nook than the other DRM’d books. Ease will definitely affect what I buy and I’m only buying BNepub if they are deeply discounted. I don’t want a format that ties me to a single company.

  30. Becca
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 14:33:29

    I’d so pay $15 for an eARC of Nora Robert’s In Death or stand-alone mysteries. Not so much her series books, I haven’t been as impressed with them. In fact, I’m debating getting rid of my paper copies of the Brides quartet. I need the shelf space, and felt the stories were lackluster. Not sure about her Inn Boonesboro books yet.

  31. Author on Vacation
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 14:33:33


    So it’s not only a money or value issue. Customers aren’t stupid. They know when they’re getting porked. Publishers need to make sure they’re offering something rare and unique enough that it’s worth swallowing your dignity for it. For me, pulp fiction isn’t worth the hit.

    Ridley, your comment is great. You represent exactly what I mean when I say readers must develop shopping strategies working for them.

    To you, a book is a book is a book when it comes to the romance genre. You’re willing to compromise on preferences for a particular author’s creativity, voice, and other characteristics if your price isn’t met.

    Reading is probably one of my greatest passions. I love reading, re-reading, analyzing, and disecting books. Unlike you, I am willing to pay more money for a book I consider exceptional and desireable. Nor do I feel screwed by doing so. If I feel screwed by a book’s cost, I don’t purchase it. I don’t hold anything against the publisher, I simply don’t buy the product.

    I’m sorry you’re reading less and I hope the reads you are enjoying leave you satisfied you invested your time and your money well. : )

  32. Becca
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 14:35:35

    @Jennifer: Have you found the Liaden books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller? also addictive. Not as good as Bujold is, but so few things are.

    I lucked out – I got a first edition hardback of Cryoburn, and it had a CD bound in it with almost all the Miles books (except Memory got left out), and a bunch of other good stuff. I wonder whether they’ll do that with her next book that’s coming out next November.

  33. Evangeline Holland
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 14:36:18

    It’s their move, but will they even make it?

    Has anything truly drastic occurred that will force the hand of a major NY publisher? The music industry changed because the only way to consume recorded music was to buy it or listen to it on the radio. Then millions of people began downloading music for free via Napster and Limewire, circumventing the traditional routes. Apple tapped into that with the iPod and iTunes and then used their prominence to force the price of a song below $1.

    This power move by Apple, a company with diehard acolytes and a killer marketing team, forced the music industry’s hand. Either give in to the digital landscape, or watch people pirate your product into the millions. As a result, most if not all of the things connected to the industry had to adjust to this (i.e. Billboard counting MP3 sales towards placement on the charts).

    Right now, I don’t see anything drastic happening that will shake publishers up. The book industry has never had the wide scope of the music or movie industries. A new artist is played on the radio, and an up-and-coming actress is cast in a blockbuster, but books/authors have no platform for mass promotion, or even promotion that will reach everyone (people of all backgrounds will go see Meryl Streep in anything because they think she’s an amazing actress, but a book sinks or swims on its own reader-created buzz, and even megastars like Stephen King or Stephenie Meyer are probably unrecognizable to people who don’t read their books).

    Many people rail against Agency pricing, but I’m sure NY-published books still make up the majority of the average book readers’ purchases (and book bloggers still review more traditionally published books unless the blogger likes to read what NY doesn’t offer [interracial romance, M/M romance, boundary-pushing erotic romance, etc]). The digital-first market (e-publishing and self-publishing) does thrive, but neither markets are eating into book sales of NY authors to a substantial degree, neither are forcing NY to rethink their offerings, and the successful authors are usually snapped up by a major publisher.

    In the publishers’ eyes, they still control the market no matter how many people declare they won’t buy Agency priced books, or how many bookstores go belly-up, and with every move made over the past two years, they have acted accordingly to their perceived (or real) power.

  34. Ridley
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 14:50:49

    @Author on Vacation: I’m actually on a vicious streak of romance duds. I’ve been reading too many Harlequin Historicals, which rarely work for me if “Carla Kelly” isn’t on the cover, seeking western romance or I’ve been reading romance with disabled characters, which leads to HULK SMASH 8 out of 10 books.

    To be honest, eschewing the Big 6 wasn’t a huge hardship. Most of those romances are amazingly derivative and unoriginal. I read them back during the Fictionwise Micropay fire sales because they were reliably entertaining enough that I didn’t care that they were forgettable.

    But a hard $7.99 for a paint-by-numbers Avon romance now? GTFO. $13 for a debut author from the hit-or-miss Berkeley? Not happening.

    I’ve had good luck with the smaller publishers, actually. Since they don’t print mass markets and don’t have to work the Wal-Mart scene, they can publish unusual stories. And when I want reliable, there’s always Harlequin.

  35. Wahoo Suze
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 15:12:53

    I just shrugged and found other books

    Yep, me too. There were several authors and series that were pretty much autobuys before I got my Sony (Sony purchase due primarily to storage limitations). Shortly after that, the big 6 went agency.

    I was frustrated that books I wanted came up as “Not available in your region”. I was furious when books I bought I was not able to download for that reason (I got my money back, but grrrr).

    So I’ve discovered other books, by other authors, by smaller e-publishers. And actually, some of them are fantastic, and I never would have found them if it hadn’t been for the Big 6 fuckery, like K.A. Mitchell and Amy Lane. So yay for that.

    But I’ve completely lost track of some of the series that I used to care deeply about, and now it’s like 3 or 4 years later, and I don’t even miss them. If they’ve become available, I don’t know about it, and don’t much care.

    I’m not too choked up about price. I’ll buy an $8 e-book (although probably not one that costs more than $10. If I notice that the $8 e-book is only 30 pages long, I’ll get cranky and probably not buy from that author/publisher again–if I notice, and if the book is not stellar.

    I think what baffles me the most is this bizarre sense of immortality the publishers seem to have. On the one hand, they’re dissing their ultimate customers, the readers. On the other, many of them seem to be dicking over their suppliers, the authors. Do they really think they can exist without a supply chain or a customer base?

  36. Author on Vacation
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 15:56:28


    I completely agree with you that a major advantage smaller publishers and self-pubs offer is novelty, variety, and originality. Smaller pubs “take chances” with unusual stories and ideas. That makes for some pretty exciting reads.

    I still have issues with quality, though. Shopping in the epublisher market is tough. I’ve found reviews shaky guidance at best, so I am most likely to buy based upon the promotional info and sample chapters of a book. Sometimes I strike gold, but other times I’m stunned an editor/publisher ever accepted the book.

    I believe the industry will balance out in the future, but I imagine some publishers will go bust first.

  37. Does higher price always equal higher quality? « CAIT-TALES
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 16:06:55

    […] interesting and thought-provoking post by Jane on Dear Author; Publishers, It’s Your Move. In the article, Jane gives a list of 8 things publishers can do to reconnect with their readers […]

  38. Author on Vacation
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 16:09:55

    @Wahoo Suze:

    I think what baffles me the most is this bizarre sense of immortality the publishers seem to have. On the one hand, they’re dissing their ultimate customers, the readers. On the other, many of them seem to be dicking over their suppliers, the authors. Do they really think they can exist without a supply chain or a customer base?

    I think it might boil down to misplaced faith in the product/services they (big pubs) offer. This could be due to the fact that epublishers have not yet reached a level where they can offer comparable quality consistently. If may be big pubs don’t even regard epubs and self-pubs as legitimate competitors and a threat to their interests.

    I think it would take epubs demonstrating somparable standards in quality to shake up the industry.

  39. Wahoo Suze
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 16:27:44

    @Author on Vacation: I dunno. I’ve bought maybe 5 big pub e-books in the last couple of years, because of the reasons listed above, but also because one of the last ones I bought had HORRIBLE formatting. Like, I quit after 20 pages because it was unreadable.

    I’ve been really happy with the formatting and the writing/editing from Dreamspinner and Loose ID.

    Yes, I’m more willing to forgive, for example, the page header showing up in the middle of random sentences on EVERY DAMNED PAGE when I’ve paid less than $3 per book than I am in an $8+ book. But honestly, I don’t find the smaller publishers being the major offenders here.

  40. eggs
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 16:42:49

    I’m a bit like Ridley in that I have the budget to buy pretty much what I like, but I don’t enjoy getting screwed over for no reason. I don’t add it all up, but I guess I spend about $2K a year on books. At the end of every year there are maybe half a dozen – at the most – of those books that I still clearly remember. There wasn’t anything in particular wrong with most of the rest, they just weren’t memorable. So if more than 90% of what I read isn’t even going to be remembered 12 months later, why on earth would I pay a premium for it? I can just as easily read stacks of decent but forgettable $1.99 – $2.99 books from the epubs and save myself some bucks. What do I care if the file has the word Avon or Samhain on it? (Not dissing Samhain here, just an example).

    I still buy agency books, but now that I’ve enjoyed many author’s books on the cheap at pubs like Samhain, I am also happy to pay around the $5-7 price for full length books by these authors. So agency pricing hasn’t just led me to replace Big6 books with a cheaper, inferior product, it’s allowed me to discover smaller pubs (and independent authors) that are putting out books just as good as theirs.

    People who only buy half a dozen books a year are going to keep buying agency priced books, even if the price ends up being $15 per book. People who buy 100+ books a year are going to move to the same purchasing model as me. Personally, I could care less who publishes my book, as long as I enjoy reading it.

  41. Eve Langlais
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 17:11:57

    @ Linda, I didn’t think libraries carried my stuff lol. How cool.

    To add on to my earlier post, I guess I should have mentioned I primarily read ebooks now and 99% of them are not big six published. I’ve found great new romance writers who aren’t afraid to step our of the box, who are published by small presses or independently at lower prices. I’ve also discovered I have issues paying over 7$ for an ebook novel, but my experience has also made me shy away from 99cent ones too due to poor writing quality. My favorite medium is between 3-7$. As for my favorite big 6 authors, all have gotten bumped off my auto buy list unless I can get their stuff on sale. Like others posters have mentioned, I don’t care who publishes the book, I just want to be entertained.

  42. Ros
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 17:15:05

    Also, having thought about this, there are two main places I buy my ebooks: Amazon and the Harlequin/Mills and Boon websites. If publishers don’t want to be beholden to Amazon, then maybe they need to look at the HMB model. I buy books from that publisher’s website because (a) they make books easily available there and (b) they are available a month earlier. I’d happily do that for any book I really wanted and Amazon wouldn’t get their cut.

  43. Andrea
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 18:10:46

    Just to note that the non-returns world of ebooks is looking to be a huge boon to publishers, even as they fight and try to self-sabotage. Ebooks bypass the massive expense of the returns system.

    Kris Rusch has some analysis here:

    I don’t dislike the concept of the agency pricing system. I do dislike that publishers are (inevitably) using it to charge ridiculous prices. If an ebook is $6.99, I won’t really care what model of pricing it’s selling for.

    While I suppose it’s possible that some publishing houses will go under as the reading world shifts and shifts, I tend to feel that most will slowly judder into this new alignment and continue to treat both readers and authors with contempt.

  44. RLJ
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 18:13:01

    A few points that I consider –
    1. There is only one reason that I didn’t rally my siblings to put the new cheaper Kindles under the Christmas tree for my parents and grandma – the availability and ease of access to their preferred reading material. So, publishers still control electronic purchases in some cases.
    2. Publishers have a great resource in backlist titles that the music industry never had. When MP3s came out, so did the ability to convert existing technology to MP3s. I did not have to re-buy content I already owned in order to get it into the new more portable format. I could just spend some of my time and rip my CDs into MP3s. That way I didn’t feel ripped off from having to buy the same content again. Book consumers don’t have this option, so it is a huge opportunity for the publishers if they are willing the be price sensitive to the market – remember a lot of these purchases will be re-buys.
    3. Speaking of price sensitivity. Using the price of the device to determine what the market will bear for the consumable used on the device is incredibly bone headed.If I spend $200 on a Kindle, it’s not an impulse decision (and an iPad even less so). If books cost $25 each – I can only buy 8 books before I reach the same cost of the device. I can read a novel in an evening – I’m not going to spend $25 for a few hours of entertainment unless it special/one of a kind experience – i.e a stage production or sporting event.
    4. I know of people who won’t buy a Kindle since the only place they think they can buy a book for the device is on Amazon. Propriety formats / DRM will cost you customers. Looking at the music industry again – there is a standard and it is easy to convert from one format to another – so fewer barriers to consumers.
    5. A cautionary note to authors – especially those who talk online. A segment of consumers are becoming more savvy about publishers and if you are being published by them and spout the “company lines” it could cost you readers/good will/customers. I don’t care if you believe them – your consumer is the reader and if they are not happy with the delivery of your content they will talk with their dollars.(and their month – the internet is a big place)
    6. Libraries are not evil giver awayers of your content as piracy. They create readers who can become consumers. Also in some countries, there is a kick back every time a book is signed out of a library – Canada being one of them.

  45. lisa
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 18:54:03

    @ jane i really liked your article. I feel as though the publishing houses are not thinking strategically. In all truth the Future of the book industry seems to lie in ebooks. yes some day may be 10 20 years People will rely more heavly on Ipads and Kindles. Today we see them as device to have fun like the cell phone was or beeper was . But today everyone even a little 5-7 year kid has a cell phone and can call mom/ dad.

    My point is the publishing houses dont adapt they will not survive. Look at Blockbuster and borders ( as examples) Jane you give really good suggestions on solving a question that the professional have not looked at or even solved or even seem to care about .

    Soon (as metioned in your podcast) authors are going to self release titles and skip the publishing house all together . They should be preparing for as I call it the best , the worse of times.

    In libraries i dont think they will suffer because think about people will always need a place just to chill and relax and to rent movies, books, and etc.

    I am going to wrap this up by saying that any business that want to survive has to change and move with the times .Soon we be like the scifi books/movies (or the Jetsons). We are transition to a digital world lets embrace it the same way we embraced the cell phone, ipod and air planes.

  46. anon
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 19:13:22

    To take this to another level, publishers tend to be arrogant. They don’t like the changes and they are going to fight them every step of the way. In fact, no one in “old publishing” likes the changes or the fact that they’ve happened so soon. They won’t say this aloud, but this is what they are thinking. Amazon knows this and they are taking full advantage of it. And, evidently, publishers aren’t the best business people around.

    Their worlds have been rocked, in a literal sense. The ironic part about all this is they will read a post like this one and it will roll right off their backs. The arrogance/denial is astounding.

  47. Author on Vacation
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 19:16:09

    @Wahoo Suze:

    @Author on Vacation: I dunno. I’ve bought maybe 5 big pub e-books in the last couple of years, because of the reasons listed above, but also because one of the last ones I bought had HORRIBLE formatting. Like, I quit after 20 pages because it was unreadable.

    I’ve been really happy with the formatting and the writing/editing from Dreamspinner and Loose ID.

    Yes, I’m more willing to forgive, for example, the page header showing up in the middle of random sentences on EVERY DAMNED PAGE when I’ve paid less than $3 per book than I am in an $8+ book. But honestly, I don’t find the smaller publishers being the major offenders here.

    I’m definitely with you on smaller epublishers possessing a leg up on formatting. I also appreciate epubs include cover art with their books while many big publishers offer ebooks in a “stripped” format.

    Obviously every consumer’s tastes and experiences are different. In my experience, I am not satisfied epublishing is consistently releasing books comparable in quality to work released by traditional publishers. That does not mean I don’t read and enjoy terrific self-pubbed ebooks and epubbed ebooks. That does not mean I’ve never purchased and read an overpriced “dud” ebook released by a big pub. I own many epub books with which I’m very satisfied.

  48. Author on Vacation
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 19:30:15


    While I suppose it’s possible that some publishing houses will go under as the reading world shifts and shifts, I tend to feel that most will slowly judder into this new alignment and continue to treat both readers and authors with contempt.

    You could be right, but this wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing that could happen. A broken system inevitably opens doors to new, better possibilities. Perhaps publishing itself has outlived itself, perhaps publishing is intended to continue in a different, more innovative direction.

  49. Liz
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 20:16:39

    I have spent more in the past two years on books than I ever have in my life…and I am a voracious reader who also buys for a classroom (a classroom library of around 1000 books that I try to keep more or less updated).

    The difference is my ereader. My God, I love my kindle. I am reluctant to read in print these days. That means that a lot more of my money is going directly to authors and publishers, because before I patronized used book stores and libraries to support my habit.

    But pay attention, pubs. Before, when I bought new books, it was by and large the ones you were publishing. Books by known authors from big box booksellers and walmart and target.

    Now probably 80% of my book-buying budget goes to epubs like Samhain who allow kindle lending.

    The remaining 20% is impulse buys from the kindle daily deal/ other sales.

    FYI–the sweet spot is right around $3.50. If it’s under that, I’ll probably go ahead and buy it if I’m at all interested.

    And trust me…you want me to make impulse decisions…and I will never make an impulse decision at 7.99. For goodness’ sakes.

  50. Two Articles About Publishers | Live Granades
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 21:15:46

    […] Jane at Dear Author talks about how publishers are disconnected from actual readers. [W]hat publishers believe customers should do and how publishers believe they think doesn’t […]

  51. SAO
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 22:58:03

    Print books are not going the way of vinyl because you don’t need a device to read them. They will continue to coexist with ebooks. Printing, shipping, warehousing and bookstore space might mean that fewer books are in print and the selection has the breadth of an airport bookstore, but they will exist.

    Figuring out how ebooks might transform reader buying habits should have been a no-brainer. It’s not like this is a unique change taking place.

    Publishers aren’t needed, but editors and slush-pile winnowers (agents) are.

    Publishers need to focus on delivering a quality product and I’m not sure they are. I’ve noticed that author’s quality often declines with quantity. It’s particularly noticeable after book 2 of a series or set of connected books.

    What publishers really need to do is figure out how print books were read. How many people read one copy? How many times did it get recycled to a used book sale or lent from the library? How did these stats vary by the book (ie bestseller vs midlist, genre, etc).

    They squawk loudly at the thought of someone sharing an ebook, but the majority of print books I own have been read by more than one person. And probably 95% of the print books I’ve read have been owned by someone other than me at one point or other.

  52. J L Wilson
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 07:03:07

    I wonder if this should be re-labeled “Big Publishers, It’s Your Move.” Many small publishing houses have done much that you suggested (i.e., listening to readers, having a customer focus, selling direct). However, I think the one place small press falls short is on pricing, which is still high in many cases, but some are doing free giveaways, discounts, etc. as promotion with good results.

  53. DS
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 08:54:19

    I think publishers need to also consider their use of audio rights. I was extremely excited to see a favorite print book show up on Audible under the Neil Gaiman Presents imprint.

    Then I noticed that a couple of fantasy novels by Carol Berg that I thought interesting showed up on Audible for (after membership discount) less than the MSRP of the Trade paperbacks ($16) or the Kindle ($9.99) In fact the audio download was less than I pay for a credit with my subscriptions ($9.50) so I buy them with my credit card and thriftily save my credits. The publisher is Audible Frontiers, an imprint of Audible.

    So Amazon owns Audible. Audible owns ACX a sort of self audio publishing company that brings rights holders together with talent on either a shared royalty or one time fee basis. I’ve been an Audio subscription holder since 2004, but for these last couple of years I’ve been an ecstatic subscription holder and it looks like things are getting better for me as a consumer of audiobooks.

    Neil Gaiman blogged about his experience producing audiobooks plus telling a story about an author whose book he wanted to produce who found out that her book had already been published as a bad audiobook without any notice to her.

    Publishers really need to get their act together all across the board, not just ebooks.

  54. Jane
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 08:59:36

    @DS Such a good point. I have had an audible subscription for a couple of years now and I rarely, if ever, bought audio books on CD before Audible.

  55. Becca
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 09:51:53

    Here’s another interesting article (I’ll get the hang of links yet!)

    for me, the money quote is:

    “Overall sales at Penguin remained flat, but… profit margins were up because of the rise in e-book sales.”

  56. Chicklet
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 09:53:23

    I just checked my Nook and half of my library on it is fanfiction. One fanfic archive, Archive of Our Own (a.k.a. AO3) allows one-button downloading of fic in multiple formats, including epub and Kindle-friendly. The AO3 has more than 250,000 stories in it right now, so given my rate of reading if I wanted to stop reading ebooks entirely and read just fic, I probably could.

    As it is, I read a lot of small-publisher or independent authors, and the fanfiction. For various reasons, I find it just as satisfying as I find most of what I read from the Big Six, and the little guys (or fic writers) aren’t trying to gouge me. The Big Six can continue to publish ebooks at exorbitant rates, and ignore the actual reader, and flail around having their hissy fits; I’ll be over here, reading the PsyCop series and riding the flood of Avengers fic.

  57. Author on Vacation
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 09:58:17


    Publishers aren’t needed, but editors and slush-pile winnowers (agents) are.

    Publishers need to focus on delivering a quality product and I’m not sure they are. I’ve noticed that author’s quality often declines with quantity. It’s particularly noticeable after book 2 of a series or set of connected books.

    All branches of the publishing industry have made a critical error in attempting to release books faster with shorter gaps between serial releases. Anyone believing an author can produce the same quality work product in six months s/he can produce in a year is kidding themselves. The quality of many present-day fiction offerings reflect that fact. Unfortunately, many readers are now used to having a new read by their favorite authors every 2-4 months and can’t be bothered to keep up with less current authors.

    It’s fine with me if a publisher prefers an author create three short novels in one year, but I expect all three novels to be as well-written as a single, longer novel might have been.

  58. Author on Vacation
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 10:18:19


    A cautionary note to authors – especially those who talk online. A segment of consumers are becoming more savvy about publishers and if you are being published by them and spout the “company lines” it could cost you readers/good will/customers. I don’t care if you believe them – your consumer is the reader and if they are not happy with the delivery of your content they will talk with their dollars.(and their month – the internet is a big place)

    What exactly do you mean by this? I’d like greater clarification, please. You sound almost like you’re threatening someone, but I’m unsure who you’re threatening or why.

  59. Darlynne
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 11:46:24

    And in the Really? category, Publishers Weekly has named David Shanks of Penguin as their Person of the Year:

    Not a word about “digital,” “reader(s),” “ebooks,” and only a couple mentions of “consumers” regarding apps and the lackluster performance of selling books directly from Penguin’s own website.

    While I realize we’re talking about Publishers Weekly, the disconnect, imo, between what we’ve been discussing and the publishers continues, full steam ahead.

  60. Kristi Lea
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 12:06:39

    “Most readers believe that digital content should be cheaper than physical content. ”

    Well, yes. Yes it should. If purchasing an e-book gives me only a temporary license to read it until my specific device expires, and keeps me from re-selling it, and keeps me from lending it to my mom or my friends, and eventually giving it away to a charity group, then it should cost less.

    If publishers think that readers (even people with comfortable budgets for entertainment) are simply buying full-price, $27.99, hardcovers, reading them once, and then sticking them on a shelf until death do they depart, then they are wrong wrong wrong.

    I might pay extra for a beautiful oversized coffee table book full of artwork, but not for the latest NYT bestseller fiction. But if I can’t count on swapping books with my mom, and there is no electronic “bargain books” table, then I’m going to buy fewer books from them and rely on libraries more. Or find good things to read that don’t cost as much (hello, indie and self-publishing).

    Publishers, I am one representative of that super-reading, e-book buying market (with a nice salary that enables my book habit to the point where I recently packed over 50 boxes of books to move to a new house–not counting the kids’ collections, and I prune frequently) that you are ignoring in your quest to keep book prices high.

  61. LizJ
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 12:21:44

    Writing this on my iPad @ lunch…

    Personally I don’t know if there’s any publisher that could sell me on a subscription model, but I’m going to continue buying multiple ebooks a month at the current pricing. At $25/each, I’d likely buy books rarely.

    To look at iPad users as having loads of expendable income is overly simplistic. Perhaps it applies for the high end 3G model users. I bought my first gen model refurbished from apple right before the second gen model came out. My price: $345. I also sold a laptop in order to buy it.

    Yes, I may get a new ipad next year…and this one will be handed down to someone in my family!

  62. Becca
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 13:12:05

    I’m not interested in a subscription model. I buy by author, not by publisher or by line… I haven’t the first idea who publishes my favorite authors, nor do I care. I just want to read good books – preferably at a price I can afford. If mmpb goes away, and hardbacks get too expensive, I’ll stop collecting authors, and to hell with the publishers.

  63. Becca
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 13:14:30

    oh, and with 2 kids in college, I can’t afford an iPad. My Kindle is the least expensive one I could get at the time I got it.

  64. eggs
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 15:30:11

    I agree with Becca’s point that I’m interested in particular authors not particular publishers so a subscription model would be pointless for me. It would end up paying 4 different subscriptions to read 4 different authors. It would be cheaper to just buy the individual books. The one exception to this would be harlequin. I would pay for a subscription to them.

  65. Brian
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 16:07:02

    For me the only way a subscription type deal MIGHT work for me would be along the lines of something like the Sci-Fi Bookclub, History Bookclub (and the others along those lines) and then it would depend a lot on pricing or a multi publisher/label deal like Rhapsody is for music (as far as I can tell).

  66. Author on Vacation
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 16:16:55

    @Kristi Lea:

    “Most readers believe that digital content should be cheaper than physical content. ”

    Well, yes. Yes it should. If purchasing an e-book gives me only a temporary license to read it until my specific device expires, and keeps me from re-selling it, and keeps me from lending it to my mom or my friends, and eventually giving it away to a charity group, then it should cost less.

    I used to be very much in agreement with this sentiment, but my feelings about it have grown more ambivalent over time. I agree ebooks, a form of virtual property, have limitations print books do not have, but I also perceive advantages in ebooks unavailable in print books.

    Physical books can be lost, stolen, and damaged. While a computer or a reading device can also be lost, stolen, and damaged, prudent consumers may still access their ebooks via back-up on an alternative device or through their virtual library.

    Ebooks offer incredible convenience physical books cannot match. It still makes me giddy to know I’m carrying an entire library in my purse, I’ll probably never get past the novelty of it, and I’ve been reading ebooks for several years now. Convenience = value.

    Since ebooks are virtual products, they do not require physical storage and maintenance. You don’t need a shelf, boxes, or other furniture to contain them. You don’t have to dust them. They’re unlikely to mildew or fall apart due to substandard construction.

    The main differences I perceive between print books and ebooks are the differences between physical goods and virtual goods. A consumer purchasing a print book literally owns a physical item and a consumer purchasing an ebook has purchased the use and enjoyment of a virtual item along with particular securities and benefits (replaceability in the event of theft, convenient storage, portability, etc.)

    The value of print books versus ebooks will be determined by production costs and consumer demand.

  67. LG
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 16:46:10

    @Author on Vacation: You wrote: “Physical books can be lost, stolen, and damaged. While a computer or a reading device can also be lost, stolen, and damaged, prudent consumers may still access their ebooks via back-up on an alternative device or through their virtual library.”

    The thing is, files become corrupt, dominate file formats change, technology changes. If the file format you have cannot gracefully and easily be changed into whatever new file format comes along, you may lose your e-book library in a few years. This is why, although I might decide to buy e-book versions of books I originally read in print and love, I won’t get rid of my print copies without a really good reason – I consider my print books to be more reliable and likely to be around several years down the line. After all, I’ve owned some of my print books for 15 years and imagine I’ll still own them 15 years from now. I can’t say the same about my electronic files (an example that pains me: even if I could find the disc that had my thesis files, I no longer have the technology to read the disc, and I’m not sure any of my current software could open the files).

    All of this makes me a bit sad about the e-books I’ve purchased that I’ve really enoyed that either don’t have print equivalents or have insanely expensive print equivalents. For print books, I can at least hope to find a copy at a used bookstore or sold online by an individual. If the author or publisher decides to stop selling a particular e-book for whatever reason, there is no used bookstore option available. Although I suppose in that case pirating is a possibility. If the pirates have a usable file to work from.

    This is all part of why I agree with Kristi Lea (and worry about the future of the personal e-library I am amassing).

  68. Author on Vacation
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 19:21:58


    LG, you’ve made some great points in your post. I’m so sorry about your lost thesis BTW. I’ve saved all my college papers and reading assignments, too, and it would bother me if I lost them.

    I think we’re looking at the value of print books and ebooks from very different perspectives. I didn’t get “sold” on ebooks until my family and I were forced to evacuate our New Orleans home during Hurricane Katrina flooding. I lived in a ground level apartment at that time and all I could think was that my personal library might be obliterated from the storm surges. I was most fortunate that my home didn’t flood, but for a good six months, I imagined all my books sodden and insalvageable.

    After that kind of stress, portable technology, including ebooks, became much more appealing to me.

    I agree the possibility of format changes could be a real problem in the future. I take reasonable precautions as far as backing up all my ebooks on more than one storage device. I’m taking it on faith that booksellers will not neutralize a specific format overnight, essentially rendering all content in that format worthless. If they do, well, I’ll look for solutions to that when I must.

    Do you think uncertainty about technological advances in ebooks and ereaders contributes to the higher values some readers place upon real/print books?

  69. Brian
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 19:50:21

    The thing is, files become corrupt, dominate file formats change, technology changes. If the file format you have cannot gracefully and easily be changed into whatever new file format comes along, you may lose your e-book library in a few years.

    A person has to be aware of these potential problems and get used to thinking about them so they hopefully don’t occur. Corrupt files can be avoided, hopefully, by having multiple backups (I personally have four, plus whatever certain retailers offer as a backup). The tech change/format shift problems can for the most part be solved by paying attention to formats as they come out and if you switch formats for your newer purchases it’s not a bad idea to convert your older purchases to that format as well. Thankfully the popular formats of the past few years are generally HTML based and generally convert well, although sometimes not without a little extra help to make them ‘just right’ for picky folks like me.

    I have files at work that started out as Pagemaker 4 files in the early 90’s and I’m still using some of those files (evolved though conversions many times over the years) today in InDesign. Todays digital consumer just needs to understand the potential problems that could crop up in the future and try to be prepared (just like if you really want your print books to last without falling apart you need to take care of them and they are subject to things like flood and fire).

  70. LG
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 20:20:44

    @Author on Vacation: “Do you think uncertainty about technological advances in ebooks and ereaders contributes to the higher values some readers place upon real/print books?”

    For me, that answer is “yes.” Although you’re right that catastrophic events can wipe out a person’s physical library, I’ve personally had more horrible things happen to files than to physical books, so I guess that’s why I worry about the lack of permanence of e-books more.

    @Brian: It’s easier for me to wrap my brain around ways to protect my physical books than it is to think of how I’d protect my e-books, although I’ve been doing what I do know how to do (have multiple back ups of my files) and learning about other things (like converting files from one format into another). E-books still tend to feel more fragile to me than physical books, though.

  71. lisa
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 21:44:36

    Ladies and guys
    I would like to point of that this change to Ebooks maybe scary but we have to look at this logically. i should know that the risks of ebooks Today out balance the pros.Yet I am say this we as consumers of books should start getting use to buying though sites like diesel, overstock etc. Instead of going to bookstores and second hand stores to find old( treasures) we soon can find them online ( Personally I would like to see the Second chance at romance line and Candlelight estasy romance lines revived.) I like to find old out of market books . I believe there is a market and people who like out of date( sometimes politically incorrect) romance novels.

    From a business standpoint honestly ! I think a publishing market business person needs to be ebooks 1 st not last person to think about how ebooks effects the profit. In the coming years will tell how ebooks are effecting the Profit margin , the social integrity( go green and buy an ebook? or buy an ebook save a tree i n Brazil?)

  72. Stumbling Over Chaos :: It’s beginning to look a lot like linkity!
    Dec 09, 2011 @ 11:39:35

    […] Dear Author addresses the disconnect of publishers from readers. […]

  73. JM Cartwright
    Dec 12, 2011 @ 09:49:10

    Quite a profound discussion of the disconnect between publishers and end-users/readers. Thanks, Jane for a very thoughtful look at this issue.

    I’m passing it on.

  74. How Much Are You Willing to Pay for an Ebook? | Jami Gold, Paranormal Author
    Dec 15, 2011 @ 13:10:51

    […] are of general poor quality.  This goes for self-published and traditional published books.  As Jane pointed out at the Dear Author blog: “[I]f the higher priced goods are crappy, then readers might as well pay $.99 instead of […]

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