October 17, 2011

"Publishers are terrified and don’t know what to do."

Amazon isn't just selling books — it's replacing the publishers. 
It has set up a flagship line run by a publishing veteran, Laurence Kirshbaum, to bring out brand-name fiction and nonfiction. It signed its first deal with the self-help author Tim Ferriss. Last week it announced a memoir by the actress and director Penny Marshall, for which it paid $800,000, a person with direct knowledge of the deal said.

45 comments:

caplight said...

And Kodak didn't realize what digital cameras meant for the world of photography.

Maguro said...

$800K for Penny Marshall's memoirs, really?

Henry said...

"Monasteries are terrified and don't know what to do."

Gutenberg isn't just selling bibles -- he's replacing the scribes.

p.s. A quick check on my facts brought me to this slightly disturbing sculpture: German: Land of Ideas

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Was she schlemiel or schlemazel?

Scott M said...

A friend and I formed a writers group a few months ago and everyone's pretty much in the same boat re publishing. The traditional avenues are locked up tight. Self-publishing is tantamount to vanity publishing, though that's slowly changing.

There are a great number of alternative/indie ways to go, but this is going to end up shaking out just like the music industry and the consumers will be better served for it. Hell, they already are.

It will be that much more difficult to become a zillionaire as a writer, as it has to do so in music, but for someone that's writing what large numbers of people want to read, there will still be income.

Curious George said...

You know who should be scared? TV and cable networks.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Henry said...

p.s. A quick check on my facts brought me to this slightly disturbing sculpture: German: Land of Ideas


They left a few out, didn't they...or is that an infraction of Godwin's law?

Sixty Grit said...

Is Penny Marshall's book a cook book? Is she part of the 99% like that fat guy in the earlier picture? She is an obese filthy rich communist, so you know the book will be great. Well worth every penny. D'oh!

cassandra lite said...

Of course it is; it's following the Apple retail model--completely vertically integrated.

E-readers are a Pandora's Box for this industry that often does business the way it did 50 years ago. On Friday, I received from a major publisher the copyedited ms of my next book...on paper.

Not all publishers do that, of course, but it's a good symbol of why they're terrified. As Kindles grab a greater share of market, and hard copies a declining percentage of sales, Amazon will have the cash to make everyone else obsolete.

Nonapod said...

Eliminating the middleman when reasonably possible is just good business.

I remember reading a while back that Netflix is actually producing a remake of the classic British series House of Cards with Kevin Spacey. I hope this trend continues.

BarryD said...

What are publishers good for, if they add no value? We don't need them to package and distribute books. Therefor we don't need them.

Scott M said...

On Friday, I received from a major publisher the copyedited ms of my next book...on paper.

Just going through an agent list and reading their different query letter requirements shows exactly how old school a lot of these people are. I would believe that they are more intransigent from genre to genre with, just guessing, romance being the most glacial of the fictions. Just a guess, mind you. The most I know about romance novels is that Fabio was on some of the book covers.

Ann Althouse said...

Publishers used to typeset a book after the author submitted a manuscript.

Writers would even pay typists to type up the manuscript to go to the publisher, which would then have the whole thing retyped.

It wasn't too long ago.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Our great-grandchildren will pay a lot of money for paper books printed with movable type. They will be nostalgic curiosities.

John said...

I am currently working on 2 books under contract to traditional publishers.

I also recently published a print on demand book using Amazon's Createspace.com subsidiary (packaging Matters: John Henry on Packaging, Machinery, Troubleshooting)

Publishing through Create Space could not have been simpler. Since it is a collection of previous writing, there was no editing involved. I spent a weekend formatting and developing a cover. I had a finished book in my hand and available on Amazon the following week.

It is also available on Kindle.

(Good stuff, buy a copy)

There was virtually no cost involved (Less than $10 for a proof copy)

Editing, formatting, cover design and other services are available alacarte at prices that seem reasonable.

Royalties are 3-4 times what I get from my contracted books.

Once I get my 2 contracts completed, my son and I have a series we are working on. We will not even consider a traditional publisher.

John Henry

Scott M said...

Once I get my 2 contracts completed, my son and I have a series we are working on. We will not even consider a traditional publisher.

I'm hearing this from some of the big hitters in the sci-fi genre. The ones that I read that intend to publish old-style are, like yourself, still under contract, but then they're done. The difference in royalties are mentioned constantly. These guys have established fan bases who will follow them regardless.

wdnelson93 said...

OOOOoooo!! Sounds very "evil corporation"ish!

Deanna

Boxty said...

Amazon wanted to set a price ceiling for kindle books and the publishers fought them on it and won with the help of B&N and the nook. So I have no pity for the publishers that wanted to charge higher prices on kindle books than the paperback editions.

edutcher said...

Direct to Kindle books.

Not unlike direct to video movies.

But now streaming or downloading the movies is replacing video.

Amazon may want to watch it's back.

Scott M said...

Not unlike direct to video movies.

Except that direct-to-video has a connotation of poor quality. Writing isn't constrained by special fx budgets and such, although I think the editing process might be a bit lackadaisical based on some of the indie books I've read. This isn't the rule, necessarily, but I suppose it is inevitable.

technologist said...

Welcome to creative destruction.

John said...

Oopsie!

My book is Machinery Matters: John Henry on Packaging Machinery Troubleshooting

Packaging Matters was a different project.

Buy the book here

https://www.createspace.com/3628463

Use discount code C6C6AQBS to get 15% off.

John Henry

Scott M said...

Who is your protagonist, John Henry? Does he face a life-changing moment while boxing something up for shipping?

:)

edutcher said...

Scott M said...

Not unlike direct to video movies.

Except that direct-to-video has a connotation of poor quality. Writing isn't constrained by special fx budgets and such, although I think the editing process might be a bit lackadaisical based on some of the indie books I've read. This isn't the rule, necessarily, but I suppose it is inevitable.


I was thinking back some time (maybe 40 years ago) when direct to video was thought to be the answer to Hollyweird's money woes and would usher in a new Golden Age of movies.

Your point, of course, is absolutely valid.

Titus said...

I worked at Time Warner when Lawrence was the CEO.

Ann said...

It's also interesting that Ann's post has more than twice the comments as the original article.

Joe said...

The most stunning thing is how intransigent traditional publishers have been in the face of the obvious and that obvious has been around now for decades.

Movie and TV studios are almost as bad. They all sit around writing op-eds romanticizing a past that existed for a blink of an eye while lambasting the future.

John said...

Scott M asked:

"Who is your protagonist, John Henry? Does he face a life-changing moment while boxing something up for shipping?"

My protagonist does not box stuff up. S/He operates and maintains machines that do the boxing. The book is "Machinery Matters" after all.

The protagonist does face a life changing moment if they don't do it correctly, effectively and efficiently. They plant will close and they will be out of a job.

If you are looking for more drama in packaging, I also write "Adventures in Packaging" as "KC Boxbottom, Packaging Detective" Fictionalized accounts of real life problems that the protagonist overcomes with a bit of help from KC.

These are available on the Packaging Digest website. Latest adventure here:

http://www.packagingdigest.com/blog/Adventures_in_Packaging/index.php

John Henry

John Henry said...

You can all laugh about packaging if you like. It has been very good to me.

It put my daughter through engineering school and my son through medical school with no student loans or govt handouts.

I paid list price for tuition.

John Henry

Scott M said...

Hey, now. I'm in logistics and I've been on both sides of the table, so to speak, as both a freight customer and shipper. The mere fact that packaging engineers exist surprised the hell out of me about ten years ago, but I have since come to realize exactly how valuable they are.

Steven said...

Good!

They overreached by demanding from Amazon the right to set the retail prices for Kindle books, instead of just selling copies to Amazon and letting Amazon resell for whatever Amazon liked. They weren't happy letting the retailer control the retailing.

Now Amazon is responding by cutting them out of the business. Let the publishers see how they like having Amazon control the publishing.

John said...

Scott M asked:

Who is your protagonist, John Henry? Does he face a life-changing moment while boxing something up for shipping?

My protagonist operates and maintains the machines that box things up.

The life changing event is when s/he does not do it well and gets fired or causes the company to go out of business.

If you want drama in packaging, I write, as KC Boxbottom, Packaging Detective, a bi-weekly feature for packaging digest called "Adventures in Packaging"

The protagonist typically goes through a life changing event and in the end is redeemed with some help from KC.

Latest piece is "The case of the Sunshiney Day" here:

http://www.packagingdigest.com/blog/Adventures_in_Packaging/index.php

John Henry

John said...

That was wierd. Google just made me go through a whole bunch of rigamarole to post that last note. Not just entering my password, I had to get a code via text mesage.

And then it dropped a letter from the link.

http://www.packagingdigest.com/blog/Adventures_in_Packaging/index.php

John said...

did it again. It is www.packaging digest.com

Not .co

John Henry

Graham Combs said...

Eight years in the eccentrically-run (to be kind) NY publishing business makes this announcement no surprise to me. Not to mention years at the catastrophe-destined Borders. I've seen this coming. Professionals needed, yes. But one hopes fresher eyes unconstrained by the tired ideologies that have dominated publishing for decades. American big. NYC small.

Graham Combs

Mary Beth said...

Good for Amazon. I ordered my first Kindle before they came out and expected ebooks to be less than hardcopies. I was disappointed in that but still buy ebooks because I've run out of bookshelf space.

The insistence by publishers to keep the ebook prices "competitive" with ones you can stick on a shelf was short-sighted, another business that alienates people rather than adapt to change.

Graham Combs said...

Eight years in eccentrically-run (being kind here) NYC publishing made this an easy call years ago. And years at the catastrophe-destined Borders. Like water, liberty seeks its level. Only hope that incoming professionals don't remain under the morte main of tired Manhattan ideologies and "what works." America Big. New York Small.

Graham Combs

Wizzo said...

All for 99 cents a copy.

Brian Hancock said...

They should be worried.

Wonder how much a Cindy Williams bio would fetch?

Peter said...

“The insistence by publishers to keep the ebook prices "competitive" with ones you can stick on a shelf was short-sighted, another business that alienates people rather than adapt to change.”

I don’t want to be too hard on publishers. They do provide valuable services in selecting which works are worthy of being published and in editing and promoting the works they do publish.

I think their current approach to ebooks is flawed, as it seems to be based on (not entirely unreasonable) fears that ebooks will undercut the profitability of all book publishing. I think they’re one-price-fits-all ebook model is very badly flawed.

Paper books tend to follow a path from hardcover to trade paperback to mass-market paperback, with ever-decreasing prices (just as movies follow a path from theatre to rental DVD to low-cost DVD and perhaps to televison broadcast).

But ebooks are published at the (discounted) hardcover price, and they just stay at that price indefinitely. Surely it would make more sense if the price adjusted over time along a price-demand curve?

A real question which has not really been answered is, “What is an ebook worth?” As with any cultural product, the value is not necessarily related to the cost of production. How does the value of an ebook compare with the value of the same work in paper, and is this ratio the same for all works (for example, non-fiction vs. fiction)?

My own valuation is that a paper book is often worth more than an ebook, esp. if it’s non-fiction. I can lend the paper book or sell it when I’m done with it, and I can scribble in it if I wish and I don’t need a proprietary electronic device (or software) to access it (and limit what I can do with it).

In an non-fiction work (other than a reference work) the value tips even more toward the paper book, as it’s just easier and faster to flip between the book’s tables, graphs, etc. than do flip between electronic book’s bookmarks.

But ultimately it’s up to readers to decide what an ebook is worth. And it’s hardly surprising that publishers are cautious, as they don’t wish to follow newspapers into the abyss of offering free content with no exit strategy in sight.

And, I’m not at all convinced that readers would be well-served by if a single Google-like behemoth comes to dominate e-publishing.

Shanna said...

It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in.

How can you write an article and say this without mentioning the name of the book?

Amazon wanted to set a price ceiling for kindle books and the publishers fought them on it and won with the help of B&N and the nook. So I have no pity for the publishers that wanted to charge higher prices on kindle books than the paperback editions.

Absolutely!! I can buy some books cheaper at Target than on Kindle and I know it isn't Amazon's fault. They are doing this to themselves....

Jose_K said...

I have a kindle. i dont buy penguin books because they are more expensive than paperbacks.Thanks Apple. When Amazon tried to fight with them, Apple said yes to the publishers and their agent model.Both are now under investigation in europe for colusion
But Amazon is not all good either. i am charged two $ more than americans to buy the same book using the "free" whispernet. Not alowed either to buy the touch or the cheaper model. I understand that i cant have the model with publicity ( neither i want it)but there is a model without it.
Two dollars mean nothing there but here we have an annual quota of $ 400 . So i have to make the most of them. Minimum monthly wage here $300( official rate), $ 150 (the black market one)
They have done nothing for the availability of books here in Latinamerica( I cant buy LoTR for example)
Spanish editions are too expensive, unlike books in english, there is no way to find them at gutemberg.

Synova said...

Hardcover sales get you on best seller lists so no one wants to undercut those paper sales with e-book sales.

I think the solution to that is simple (assuming that publishers want to continue to sell the higher priced hard covers). For each hard cover sale, include a free e-book. The e-book free-bee costs almost nothing at all and consumers would be less likely to substitute a low priced e-book for a pretty hard cover.

But I imagine that most publishers would view this as giving a whole book away for free that they are not then getting any money for.

And that's why they'll fail.

John Lynch said...

Good Riddance.

Scott M said...

@Synova

Until this year, I have always bought my books in hardback and I probably do so to the tune of about 50 books a year across different genres. This year, I tried the Kindle app on my Droid X and loved it. To date this year, the only hardbacks I've bought were during the Borders implosion.

If publishers of hardback books were to offer what you suggest, I would go back to buying hardbacks. I LIKE having the hardback book library. But, I also LIKE the convenience of having the book on my cell phone in case I get stuck in a doctors office, etc.

I think you're right about the incremental cost. Sell the book at regular price and build in the x number of pennies it costs to upload a digital copy to someone that wants it.