Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ebooks wars ramp up: Authors/publishers finally push back

Authors have been getting screwed on ebook royalties, and it's likely to get much worse. Publishers fear they are going to get screwed by Amazon once it has a choke hold.

Finally, they are both pushing back. A flurry of activity in the last week:
The Authors Guild released a statement fighting Random House specifically on rights to older ebooks, but  also on the royalty rate for all of us. It wrote:

It should also start offering a fair royalty for those rights.  Authors and publishers have traditionally split the proceeds from book sales.  Most sublicenses, for example, provide for a 50/50 split of proceeds, and the standard trade book royalty of 15% of the hardcover retail price, back in the days that industry standard was established, represented about 50% of the net proceeds of the sale of the book.  We're confident that the current practice of paying 25% of net on e-books will not, in the long run, prevail.  Savvy agents are well aware of this.  The only reason e-book royalty rates are so low right now is that so little attention has been paid to them:  sales were simply too low to scrap over.  That's beginning to change.

It's very tough to fight the publishers one deal at a time, but we may get some traction from owners of older books (not covered by the 25% deal) getting higher rates. Several high profile authors and estates have announced plans to do just that in the last two weeks. The latest, Steven Covey. His “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” is still selling about 200,000 copies a year (based on Bookscan numbers, grossing up for the 30% they miss). That's better than most bestsellers on their initial big run.
NY Times summary of some of it all here.

Meanwhile, the publishers are finally pushing back with Amazon. Many are now delaying ebook release of their big and medium books by four months (or so).

Good for them. They don't like that cheap eboos at $10 are canibalizing the sales of hardcovers priced at $27, and often selling as low as around $16.

Writers need the publishers to fight and win, because ultimately, authors can't get paid a decent wage without money coming in to the publishers. If they get squeezed, we all do.
 
Though the delayed release makes some sense--comparable to movies coming out four months later on DVD--I doubt that is the long-term solution. Eventually, publishers will want to capitalize on all readers simultaneously. The problem is Amazon (followed by the others) undercutting the value of their product by selling it so cheaply. No industry can survive something like that. Authors probably can't survive it.

What I think the publishers are doing is playing for leverage. They need some--since they can't control the retail price. Amazon is selling every one of those $10 ebooks at a big loss. They can control handing over the ebooks, and that's what they are doing. Hopefully an equitable solution can be worked out.

I am all for relatively cheap books, and for instant access to ebooks. And in the long run, the much cheaper production/distribution should allow for everyone to benefit: authors, publishers, online retailers and readers. But not if the whole system gets skewed so badly that any one of those parties gets screwed. We are all in this together, and need a solution that works for everyone.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas presents: inscribed COLUMBINE & other suggestions

OK, this post is just flat-out commercial--but useful plugs, perhaps, so . . .

I'm working with my wonderful local indie bookstore to get out autographed and personally-inscribed copies of COLUMBINE for Christmas presents.

Just let us know who it's for and any information about them or your relationship to them that you'd like me to mention in the msg (eg, if you say it's your boss who has been kind of a mentor, or your sister-in-law  who always helps look after the kids.) I'll write something about that.

Tattered Cover Bookstore will handle sales, shipping, etc. I live a few blocks from them and will drop in to write in the books. They handle everything else.

INSTRUCTIONS:

Call or email the Colfax Avenue Store: 303-322-7727 books@tatteredcover.com and let them know:

1. Title/author: COLUMBINE, by Dave Cullen
2.That I offered on my website to do inscription and I live nearby. Specify the COLFAX store (they have three.)
3. What you want in the inscription (including the name).
4. Your name, phone number, address and credit card info.
That's it. Pretty easy.

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Since I'm plugging, GoodReads.com has nominated COLUMBINE for Favorite Nonfiction Book of 2009. Winner will be chosen by online voting, so please consider voting.

It's Item #3 here. You have to join if you're not a member, but it's a quickie membership, just name and password. And if you like books, it's a great site.

(They are a huge site with over 2 million unique visitors per month. Winning would help. And you'll find many great book discussions. Idid an author Q/A with them this summer.)

BTW, here's the run-down of year-end lists COLUMBINE has hit so far. It's been a nice way to end the year:
  • New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2009
  • Los AngelesTimes Favorite Nonfiction of 2009
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2009
  • Amazon Editor’s Picks: Best Books of 2009; #5 in Current Events
  • Amazon Customer’s Picks: Top 100 Books of 2009 
  • New West Best Books in the West
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Other great book suggestions:
  • Bob Eckstein's wonderfully funny The History of the Snowman. Very timely for Christmas, and a bargain for $12.92 at Amazon, in hardcover.
  • Patricia Smith's staggering Blood Dazzler, a National Book Award finalist last year. It's poetry about Katrina that blew me away. I'm way overdue on a post about it, her. She is also a remarkable woman I met this spring. And it's $12 at Amazon.
  • David Eagleman's Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. You've seen nothing like this. It's a quick, fun, provocative 108 pages. I met him at the Texas Book Fest, where he was invited as a breakout author. You'll be hearing more from him. He's also a great guy. My final girlfriend and I spent half an hour with him and his girlfriend (they both have PhDs in nuerology, but with social skills. Haha. And creativity.) $13.60 in hardcover.
Damn. I didn't pick those because they are so cheap, but they are.

I hope those give you some ideas, and joy.

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And in the ongoing controversy of women being ingored in Best Lists this year, here's an excellent essay by Women’s Review of Books editor Amy Hoffman: Still Crazy After All These Years.

From NY Times evisceration to their Top Ten list

The New York Times Book Review announced its Ten Best list about eight minutes ago. (Not that I was watching or anything. Haha. No, I didn't make it. And then I forgot to post this for a week.)

There were some surprises there, and several books I can't wait to read.

For me, the biggest, and happiest surprise was seeing Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City make the cut. I have not read it, but am highly amused that it could get savaged in the daily edition of the Times and still make the top ten for the year in the book review.

If you're not aware, those are two completely separate operations. But still. The review of Lethem in the daily Times, by Michiko Kakutani was merciless.  The first sentence described it as  this tedious and overstuffed, a bit later as insipid and his charaters as annoying and tiresome. It's like that start to finish.

At the same time, the paper's Sunday book review section loved it. Gregory Cowles called it astonishing and bravura, and makes a strong case for those adjectives.  

Looks like Jonathan had the last laugh. (The Book Review's take is far more important than the daily's to start with, and the ten best list, that's a real feather.)

I also can't help snickering about it, since I got my first bad review and my worst to-date in the daily Times (from Janet Maslin), offset by a great one in the book review, and a spot on their hundred list. I quite enjoyed that. I bet Jonathan is laughing his ass off. I hope so.

Jeanette Walls also surprised me by making the list for Half Broke Horses.  It's gotten good reviews, but not on a level with her first book, The Glass Castle. 

I have not gotten to either of them yet, but planned to. I think I'll swap the order now and see what Horses is like. The reason her appearance pleases me is that I met her last month at the Texas Book Festival and she was wonderful. We chatted for awhile and she's completely genuine--plus funny and nice. It's good to see nice people make the list. I don't judge art that way, so we'll see what I think of the book, but I do like to see good people succeed.

And she told some wonderful stories. She also took a lot of chances with the book--deciding to keep it in her grandmother's first-person voice and release it as a novel--and I like seeing those pay off, too.
After the ruckuss over Publishers Weekly choosing an all-male top ten list--(followed by an equal number of women on a list compiling the eleven books that made the top 100 from PW, NYT and Amazon)--a lot of people were surely watching the gender breakdown today. The Times' list included six women and four men.

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I was not the only one surprised by this list.

This Amazon piece a few days ago predicted these six would make the list (working off the Times 100, which narrowed things down a bit): "The Age of Wonder, The Good Soldiers, Lost City of Z, and Cheever to be on that list, along with the big award winners Wolf Hall and Let the Great World Spin."

They got only two right (the first two). Not a very predictable list. Which is good, because taste in books is highly subjective, and all the lists have been very different this year.