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Old 09-28-2010, 09:05 AM   #1
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WSJ: Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books

Excellent background article about the economics of e-books and the direct impact on authors and agents in this morning's Wall Street Journal here:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...987870022.html

Most articles focus on publishers; this one brings in some data about agents fees and authors. It's a bit negative in places, and rehashes some of the "woe is me" stuff in an attempt to "threaten" authors, but on balance it's full of interesting bits. And clearly the message is the world is changing. The article does not suggest a return to 1990s business model will work.

It also makes a few silly claims: that online browsing such as at Amazon's storefront make it difficult to stumble upon new authors and gems that you could find in a bricks and mortar store. This one is patently silly for anyone who has actually compared the experience. There is simply far more to explore at Amazon than even the biggest physical store -- and lots of reader recommendations, some intelligence behind the recommendation engine for repeat visitors, and simply a lot more content that would never be in a regular store.

The article is worth a read.
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Old 09-28-2010, 12:38 PM   #2
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Stuff. Midlist publication numbers were falling and advances were being reduced before the Kindle was released and the resulting surge of ebooks.
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Old 09-28-2010, 02:19 PM   #3
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I honestly can't remember the last time I discovered a new unknown to me author at a large Chain Bookstore. Now if you want to buy one of James Patterson's 7 current releases sure ... he'll be right by the front door at eye level. Guaranteed. Right next to the calendars, Burt Bees lotions and stuffed bears.

I find new stuff to try at Amazon almost daily though.

Advances are a tricky subject. I'm not convinced the focus for an author should be on convincing a publisher to give you a book advance. I think that the days where a Publishing House will accept that the vast majority of their contracted releases will lose money are dwindling rapidly. Rather, how about nudging the publishers into finding a way to generate higher book sales? Would everybody along that supply line benefit from that?
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Old 09-28-2010, 05:54 PM   #4
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Who pays $28 for a hardcover? That book will be $15.99 at Costco.

And I personally find it very difficult to locate new exciting books to read online. Too many poorly created websites to search through. I wanted to read a mystery and struggled with a dozen websites (both big and indie) tried to sort 36,239 choices displaying 10 at a time.

I gave up. Went to public library and found one displayed on top of a display. Read a few pages ... seemed interesting ... and took it home.
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Old 09-28-2010, 06:21 PM   #5
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Meh

I'd say I'm a little disappointed that somehow the author managed to completely blip over the whole returns process. In many cases, a publishers will withhold significant amounts from a royalty statement due to expected returns. With ebooks, the authors ought to get a more accurate accounting right off the bat.

Plus, last I heard advances in general were up. Advances are also a bit of a tricky thing -- many books, including ones that are successful and where the publisher is happy with sales -- don't end up earning back the advance for the author. I.e. big advances for a new writer isn't necessarily a terrible thing.
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Old 09-28-2010, 07:12 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by abookreader View Post
I honestly can't remember the last time I discovered a new unknown to me author at a large Chain Bookstore. Now if you want to buy one of James Patterson's 7 current releases sure ... he'll be right by the front door at eye level. Guaranteed. Right next to the calendars, Burt Bees lotions and stuffed bears.
Exactly. Every sort of media seems to be moving towards a model where 10% of the artists/authors/etc sell 90% of the product.

It always amazes me how such large buildings can have such little selection of books.
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Old 09-28-2010, 07:46 PM   #7
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Plus no articles ever seem to factor in remainders. Lookkee! A James Patterson in hard cover for $9.99 and the paper back is $12.99! Except the remaindered edition puts $0.00 into the author's pocket.
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Old 09-28-2010, 07:47 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Fbone View Post
And I personally find it very difficult to locate new exciting books to read online. Too many poorly created websites to search through. I wanted to read a mystery and struggled with a dozen websites (both big and indie) tried to sort 36,239 choices displaying 10 at a time.
I don't need to go to a dozen websites for that info ... I go to one. Amazon. it's a remarkable tool for exploration and free sampling of virtually any e-book.
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Old 09-28-2010, 10:37 PM   #9
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The one thing that I noticed in that article is that I had never heard of many of the authors they mentioned. Looking up a few of those authors, I see that they are what I tend to call "book review" authors, i.e. authors that the book reviewers love because they write literature rather than good reads. That's one of the groups that is really going to get hurt by the ebook trend. Many of their sales are books are to libraries and for decoration purposes.

Of course, advances only matter if the author doesn't earn out his advance, otherwise the author makes the same amount of money. The difference is that the author is given the money up front while he or she writes the book.
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Old 09-28-2010, 10:56 PM   #10
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You have to be a celebrity to get an advance before you write the book (and some authors are indeed celebrities). For most published authors, they need to write the book, spend time soliciting reads from agents, then wait while the agent sends the book around, and once they have a publisher and negotiate the contract, they'll get an advance against royalties. This advance needs to last a good long while since it may be a year or more before the book actually hits the shelves, and the advance has to be earned back, and even when the book is in the black, the publisher has several months to pay the royalties, and even then they'll withhold half or more "against returns."

From the publishers' side, the chain bookstores will make or break a book. In return for a large order they'll demand killer discounts and even cash payments for display space. They are notoriously slow to pay, and when they decide to cut bait on a book, the publisher is on the hook for return shipping to get the unsold books back (or they'll work out some other way to recycle them). The stores might only ship back the covers, which is why publishers admonish people not to buy books without covers--the store has gotten a refund on the book and is supposed to destroy it, not sell it in a bargain bin.

If this seems like an incredibly slow and inefficient system, remember that it's "traditional" and it's the system the publishers are defending to the death. Authors, meanwhile, are actively looking for alternatives, and so are many readers.
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Old 09-28-2010, 11:10 PM   #11
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I don't need to go to a dozen websites for that info ... I go to one. Amazon. it's a remarkable tool for exploration and free sampling of virtually any e-book.
If I had a Kindle, perhaps. But I would still have to look through 19,639 mystery titles.
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Old 09-29-2010, 10:23 AM   #12
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Only a few years back, previously unknown writer Diane Setterfield scored a seven-figure advance for her debut novel, "The Thirteenth Tale," while Jed Rubenfeld was paid $800,000 for his debut, "The Interpretation of Murder."
Sorry, but such advance payments are way off the charts. For debut novels?!
In Germany, you may call yourself lucky if a renowned publisher pays you 2.000 Euros in advance for your debut novel (and still will deduct for any copies not sold) - if you're paid an advance at all!

But, sure, put the blame to lower advances on eBooks, with their 10% of market share, at best. 90% left for book sales? Nope, won't save the day ...
Life and argumentation is so easy when there's a scapegoat around next corner.
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Old 09-29-2010, 01:34 PM   #13
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You have to be a celebrity to get an advance before you write the book (and some authors are indeed celebrities).
Untrue for nonfiction. Nonfiction writers receive an advance on a proposal, and then write the book. Authors of fiction do write the book first, though if an author establishes a longterm, successful relationship with a publisher--not necessarily best-seller status--she might be able to sell fiction on a proposal.

Quote:
For most published authors, they need to write the book, spend time soliciting reads from agents,
Only first-time authors have to get an agent (most of the time). After that, there is, one hopes, a money flow from already-published books while the author is writing the next book as well as advances, etc.

Quote:
the publisher has several months to pay the royalties,
Yep, the twice-a-year payment system stinks.

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and even then they'll withhold half or more "against returns."
Half or more???? 25%, usually, and you get it back after a year.

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From the publishers' side, the chain bookstores will make or break a book. In return for a large order they'll demand killer discounts and even cash payments for display space. They are notoriously slow to pay, and when they decide to cut bait on a book, the publisher is on the hook for return shipping to get the unsold books back (or they'll work out some other way to recycle them). The stores might only ship back the covers, which is why publishers admonish people not to buy books without covers--the store has gotten a refund on the book and is supposed to destroy it, not sell it in a bargain bin.
All true, and the chains certainly abuse the returns system, but to be precise only mass-market paperbacks are stripped. These are usually the small-size ones, but not always. That is because mass-market paperbacks were traditionally sold at non-bookstore outlets such as drugstores, supermarkets, etc. and the system is the same as that used for magazines.

Quote:
If this seems like an incredibly slow and inefficient system, remember that it's "traditional" and it's the system the publishers are defending to the death. Authors, meanwhile, are actively looking for alternatives, and so are many readers.
It would be hard for most bookstores to maintain a good selection of the most recent books if they weren't allowed to return unsold books. The returns system is not the problem, IMO; abuse of it is the problem. That being said, most people (not those here, of course) still buy books by going to bookstores and browsing. Thus, the system in place is still most efficient at getting books to readers. That being said, a shift is happening.

Last edited by MaggieScratch; 09-29-2010 at 01:39 PM.
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Old 09-29-2010, 01:35 PM   #14
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Who pays $28 for a hardcover? That book will be $15.99 at Costco.
But the authors are paid based on the cover price, which is the point of the article.

However, I don't think ebook prices are "cannibalizing" sales as much as people think; a lot of the people who are buying ebooks might not have bought the hard copy. They're probably selling more books to make up the difference. I have no proof of that, though.

And yes, this article is discussing the literary midlist, not genre authors. I maintain my original post, that advances were already dropping and not as many books were being published even before the recent surge of ebooks. The article makes a faulty argument in cause and effect, IMO.
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Old 09-29-2010, 09:30 PM   #15
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Plus no articles ever seem to factor in remainders. Lookkee! A James Patterson in hard cover for $9.99 and the paper back is $12.99! Except the remaindered edition puts $0.00 into the author's pocket.
Exposing my ignorance here, but what are remainders in terms of book sales?
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