In which I take on the publishing industry.


Little Library by finelyInc

To date:

-Steve Jobs is shaking up the book world like he did the music world (This is good and bad. Sometimes things come out of his pie hole that are beyond arrogant and yet this industry needs a good housecleaning.)

-McMillan and Amazon are duking it out over pricing.

-Other folks are also crying foul

-Google is also messing around with content, but I don’t have a good opinion on that. If you need that, I can point you in that direction as several authors I know *do* have opinions on that.

Several thoughts immediately go through my head when I try to wrap my head around this whole situation:

1. “Out of Print” is a repugnant phrase

Actually, in the age of print on demand, eBooks and all sorts of options, this phrase should not be an option. I see it as a cop out on the publisher’s part and a deliberate withholding of content. Pony up the words, boys.

Trade a free book to someone who helps you scan old manuscripts if necessary… I’m sure the authors would love a revenue stream from old books.

2. The publishing industry is a huge environmental polluter and waste monger

Have you ever seen what happens to unsold books (hardbound and soft cover)?

Hardbound books are returned to the publisher without a charge to the bookstore (they don’t want them to play it safe or promote reasonable consumption behavior and not over order.) So those over printing runs, the shipping and the raw materials used to create all those books are a waste as well as the cost passed onto you.

Mass market books are “stripped” by ripping off the covers (which are sent back to the publisher) and the rest of the book is destroyed.


Utter and profligate waste.

I can understand people and their desire to have a printed word on paper-and print is sometimes necessary, but can’t we tone it down a little? Maybe shift the model toward the electronic and print on demand? We’re going to run out of raw materials here and if the last tree is cut down to print up some shite hardcover of “Angels and Demons” I promise you I will do damage to the human that ordered its creation.

3. The music industry already went through this….
can’t you LEARN something from them (but without the heinous attack on your own customer base? Hi RIAA! I still hate you and hope you burst into flames and I am still NOT A MUSIC STEALER. NOR AM I A BOOK STEALER.)

4. Hey publishing dudes, can’t you release the eBook at the same time as the hardback but discounted a dollar because you aren’t using materials to manufacture, print and ship that book to me through electronic channels? Then when the paperback is released drop the price with a dollar off as well?

Moreover, you have a guarantee that I won’t just get the book from Mom and then read it myself (1 copy you don’t get revenue on) and then sell my old stuff to a used bookstore (infinite copies you don’t get revenue from)… do you not see any value in that?

I am a voracious reader. But I will do the same damn thing as I do with music and boycott the major assholes being greedy. I’ll buy directly from independent authors. I’ll only borrow from the library. I’ll only buy from small presses or people who don’t gouge you/their authors (moreover, I will offer my eBook skills to the press to help them…)

I hate greedy bullies with no imagination and I’m a stubborn, stubborn human.

Now, here’s the Washington Post opinion on the situation as well (read the article, its really good)

Readers want books that are plentiful and cheap, publishers want to preserve their profit, and authors want a larger share of revenue.

I do see both sides of this.

It costs money to write a book, it costs money to produce an eBook, to pay for the software that generates the DRM, rent for your offices, to host it on servers, blah blah blah. I even know that people need a salary and profits are nice. But gouging is not nice (neither is screwing your authors) and I will use my $ as my vote to say no to that crap. I will pay for what I receive-electronic or paper. But there can be various models to support the different delivery channels. Software manufacturers do it… you get a few dollars off of a download so that they don’t have to print up a CD and the packaging. You don’t have to pay shipping, but you are still getting the content.. happy right?

When you don’t have materials to wrangle you can focus on generating a eBook ONCE, then selling it multiple times then divvy up the profit after the bills are paid. Paper books will cost a bit more because you have to put more in to make them… so pay for that extra bit of material.

So pick a model and try it. Or pay clever people to invent a new system. Or partner with smart companies who like to invent new ways of looking at the world. In any case, its time to change. Cope with it.

But if the publishers want a role in the e-books business, they’ll need to get over it and get on with it, embracing lower-priced e-books with higher author royalties. That seems unlikely. Because it’s now clear that publishers just don’t want to listen to what their customers are telling them.

The WP mentions the publishers’ trying to keep their back list (which when they bring up the “out of print phrase” that makes my blood boil) to keep their revenue stream. It also talks about the author vs the publisher in terms of digital rights, but there’s only so long you can screw your content providers before it isn’t cost effective to be a writer with the current publishing world.

I know that change is hard and this is a substantial change. However, when you build an industry on wasteful behavior and you spawn parasitic industries on the waste, and when you finally streamline the process, there is inevitably going to be a collapse somewhere. Truthfully, the superstores out there need to scale it back a bit.

Here’s another pretty relevant take on the industry with actual numbers and cost per book…

What Should an E-book Cost?

But I don’t know that he has all the facts.

He doesn’t mention any of the “but what if it doesn’t sell?” options that I saw first hand working in a bookstore in college (and after) for 6 years. There’s a whole lot more to this whole situation.

The thing is, they need to treat eBooks differently than paper books. Both will have the initial overhead to bring to “press”, but after that, there is a substantial dip in costs that should be passed on.

Should be an interesting fight.


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