About the Author

img-hugh Hugh Howey is the author of the award-winning Molly Fyde Saga and the New York Times and USA Today bestselling WOOL series.
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The Shell Collector Ebook Cover For Nook copy

The Shell Collector

He ruined her world. Now she's out to destroy his.

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A common refrain in this new age of self-publishing is that there are too many books. The outflow of new material has been likened to all sorts of natural disasters spewing forth and flooding the land. Not only are there too many books, these books are way too cheap! Many of them are even — egads — free. From down here in Florida, one can hear the chant of Glut! Glut! Glut! emanating from the glass canyons of New York City.

Everyone must be referring to Project Gutenberg, right? If you head over to www.gutenberg.org, you’ll find 46,000 free ebooks, ready to download in multiple formats, or readable in your browsers. Check out their top 100 downloads; it includes many of the greatest works of fiction ever written. Half of this list could keep most readers busy for the rest of the year, and no one could hope to read all 46,000 titles in their lifetime. These are free books, arguably many of the best, so no more books need to be written or read, right?

If you followed the logic of the most paranoid and hysterical among the Glut-Chanters, you’d have to reach this conclusion. Bookselling is dead. There are enough fantastic and free books to last us all for the rest of our lives. And yet, book-buying continues to be a $30 billion dollar industry. What gives?

How can people spend $30 billion dollars on books when there are libraries full of books that just sit there, un-checked-out and without waiting lists? How can people spend $30 billion dollars a year on books when I’ve seen piles of free physical books on the streets of New York, abandoned and left for passersby after someone moved out of their apartment? Why are people spending this much money when library overstock sales get rid of hardbacks for a buck and paperbacks cost 50 cents? Literature is being devalued everywhere, and yet it still brings in $30 billion a year? What gives?

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The Amazon Fire Phone has been hammered by the media as a colossal failure. There’s at least a story a week about the device’s disappointing launch — and Amazon has been running promotions and fire sales (sorry) for months now. When the phone came out, it was tied to AT&T (which took it out of consideration for me without needing to look at a single feature or review). Since then, the phone has also been sold unlocked for use with any carrier, occasionally for less than most smartphones cost with a carrier’s subsidy (you can get one right now for $449, unlocked. But that price has occasionally dipped below $200).

Amazon took a write-off on its unsold stock of Fire phones last quarter to the tune of $170 million. That’s a lot of money. Or as one commentator pointed out, it’s basically a Hollywood flop for a film studio. Which they suffer all the time. Some are calling this an existential crisis. Others are more cautious with their criticism, remembering the reviews and doubts about the original Kindle. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently said that Amazon would be doubling down on its investment in the Fire phone and iterating until they get it right. And they need to. Pundits who say Amazon is making a mistake to develop a phone don’t seem to understand what’s at stake. Shopping began moving online two decades ago. Now it’s moving mobile.

Online shopping is still a fraction of total consumer shopping, and mobile is a fraction of that fraction, but both are gaining steam and present massive opportunities for whoever gets it right. My money is on Google for the interface and market share of eyeballs. My money is on Amazon for the distribution network and shipping speed. Google needs to solve the latter, and Amazon needs to solve the former.

Amazon already has the best and most popular online shopping interface, but Google is making major strides in that department. Search for a product on Google, and you’ll often find a better price from a non-Amazon vendor (I did recently, and the product is shipping from Italy for less than I could buy it here). The shipping might be slower this way, so it’s a matter of how quickly you need the thing. Google search dominates lives in a way that only Facebook can match. A staggering number of people interface with the internet by starting with Google. They go where Google’s algorithms take them. By offering the Android operating system for free, Google has crushed all competitors for mobile OS market share. So more mobile searches start with a Google search, which is great for Google shopping.

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The most important things to understand about the digital transition aren’t going to come from writers, publishers, or pundits. They’re going to come from readers. How are ebooks and digital reading devices affecting their habits, their purchasing decisions, their intake?

I’ve asked hundreds of people over the years. I bug strangers in airports and restaurants to find out what they’re reading, how they do most of their reading, and why. I was curious as an avid reader, then as a bookseller, and now as an author.

So I thought it might be useful to come clean about my reading habits. I’ve made the transition to all-digital reading. That might be hard to admit, but I’ve never been happier as a reader. I read a lot more, and it costs me quite a bit less.

What follows is an incredibly boring video. It’s me talking about my reading habits. But I wish, as an author and book lover, that I had access to hundreds of videos like this. It would help me understand the data on digital adoption, and it would help me plan for the future of publishing.

This is my confession as a digital immigrant.

One of the things I left out that I should have mentioned: Kindle Unlimited gets a lot of press on the writing side, but how does it affect my reading? When I finish a book and get several recommendations from Amazon, if one of those books is in KU (and one often is), I end up reading that book next. All else being equal, the free book wins out. (Not really free, because I pay a monthly subscription, but you know what I mean.) I read a lot of non-fiction, and I’m always surprised at how many quality books from major publishers are in KU. One of my current reads, The Joy of X, was picked up for this reason. It definitely influences my “purchasing” decisions.

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Yeah, I don’t do toy reviews. But you’ve got to try this thing. It was the thing everyone wanted to get their hands on this Christmas. Inexpensive, with hours of entertainment, and just as much fun to watch someone else play with it as it is to get your turn.

Here’s the link to grab one at Amazon. You’ll curse me and thank me.

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Brent crude has dropped below $50 a barrel.

For decades, we’ve heard warnings about “Peak Oil.” This is the idea that production levels of fossil fuels will hit their apex, that we won’t find enough new reserves to meet growing demand, and that the machine of capitalism will implode as it can no longer power itself.

We are certainly seeing the peak of something, but it isn’t oil supply. It’s oil demand.Energy Use

Energy consumption per capita in the US is on the decline (albeit from pretty ridiculous highs). Growth in China is slowing way down—they had a great leap forward, but such growth simply isn’t sustainable. Or even healthy. And supply is expanding with new techniques (mostly fracking and horizontal drilling).

The global recession contributed to the decrease in demand, but it doesn’t account for all of it. Small things like more efficient appliances and the end of the incandescent light bulb have gone a long way to decreasing our energy load, offsetting the explosion in the number of devices and gizmos that now seem necessary for our survival (or at least: entertainment). Continue Reading →

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2014 was a watershed year for the book biz. It was the year self-publishing finally stopped being about the outliers and was recognized by media outlets and the general public as a viable enterprise for thousands of writers. It was the year one major publisher renewed its fight with Amazon over the price of ebooks. And it was the year subscription models exploded onto the scene. A lot to look back on, and not an easy place to see where we go next. But I have a few bad ideas that will most likely be dead wrong. First, a long-winded retrospective.

The Year of AuthorEarnings.com

For me, the year 2014 began with an email from someone who created a software spider that could crawl and aggregate data on hundreds of thousands of Amazon ebooks. The end result of that email was AuthorEarnings.com, which revealed the startling fact that self-published authors were making as much as a cohort every single day as all the Big 5 authors combined. By the end of 2014, quarterly looks at this data showed that self-published authors had overtaken the Big 5 authors.

Not that it was a competition, but it showed that the success of self-publishing was more than a handful of lucky saps like me. The real story of self-publishing (as many of us have been saying for years) is the ability for people with a small and loyal readership to make a career with their craft without being a household name.

I don’t know how much AuthorEarnings.com contributed to this, but 2014 ended up being the year the stigma of self-publishing died. Prior to last January, you had people deriding self-publishing as the last resort of those rejected by agents and publishers. You had indie authors likened to third-rate cattle by some publishing executives. There were calls by other publishing executives to segregate ebooks on retail outlets based on the method of publication. And traditionally published authors not keen on the sudden increase in competition moaned about the flood of content while publishers who priced their digital books higher than their paperbacks agonized over the devaluing of literature.

Much of that dissipated this past year. What had been a sprinkling of anecdotes piled up into real data. Authors like Brenna Aubrey turned down lucrative publishing contracts and out-earned those offers within months of self-publishing. And a steady flow of unknown authors with no publishing history or established following climbed to the top of their categories and had success out of the gate based primarily on the strength of their storytelling. Continue Reading →

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So true. Especially the phone calls from Mom.

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There are certain movies you just have to see around the holidays. Like: A Christmas Story“You’re gonna shoot your eye out!” Or: A Miracle on 34th Street.

I propose one more. A new Christmas tradition:

This relates to publishing, in a way. Today marks the first time that a major Hollywood release has had a simultaneous theater and digital launch. There have been some digital-only works that skipped the theaters, but nothing like this. The reluctance these days is more on the part of the theater owners than the studios.

I don’t see this changing anytime soon, but I wish it would. Theater owners know that by helping provide choice, they’ll lose some market share to home viewing and digital, hence the windowing. Publishers did the same with ebooks — withholding them while releasing hardbacks — and some of this pressure came from bookstores. Continue Reading →

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There’s been a bit of commentary on this blog post, which is already too long, so I thought I’d make it longer. The post wasn’t about KU being bad. I’ve blogged already that I think KU is great for many authors, that subscriptions are a disruptive force, and those who are disrupted are going to complain while the disruptors do well for themselves. I applaud that. KU has been good for me. I’m just looking at ways I would tweak the structure if I were Amazon. Not to benefit myself, but to provide the highest quality experience for their customers. (Any game of suggesting tweaks for a retailer must be taken from their perspective, otherwise it’s just wishful thinking.)

The post was also not an attempt to equate abuses of KDP with indies. Or to suggest that indies who do things the right way deserve anything less than stellar treatment from retailers. It was an attempt at a pragmatic view of the entire landscape, which I think helps explain business decisions that may seem wonky when viewed from within our immediate bubble, but might make sense when seen from a greater height or another perspective.

I’m not a fan of most of what is suggested in that blog post. My ideal publishing world would look much different from the current world. But how is that useful? If we are going to demand things from retailers like Amazon, we have to take their motives and needs into account. Motives such as: The customer comes first. Motives such as: We don’t want to give away products, but we also don’t want competitors to take market share by undercutting our prices.

I’ve seen it suggested that Amazon is all for perma-free, why else do they allow it? They allow it for the reasons stated in the previous paragraph, as a response to the actions of other retailers. If Amazon was truly for a free price-point, they would make this an option in the KDP dashboard. If they thought free should be easy to attain, they wouldn’t have limited us to 5 “Free Days” as part of our KDP Select membership. Think about that: The reward for exclusivity in 2011 was a mere 5 days of “free” out of every 90. That tells you what you need to know about how Amazon views free ebooks. Again, the fact that they price-match has to do with the fear of losing market share to competitors. We seize this as an opportunity. Continue Reading →

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My first encounter with Pinker was his excellent book THE BLANK SLATE, which seriously should be required reading for every human being. It’s like an owner’s manual for your brain and your behavior, so you don’t go through life so frustrated and confused.

After that, I looked for anything he’d ever written, which also led me to Judith Rich Harris, whose two books THE NURTURE ASSUMPTION and NO TWO ALIKE must be read.

Steven really blew up with this TED talk:

Which led to him writing THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE, an amazing tome detailing all the ways in which the world has grown less violent over time, no matter how you slice that time into bits.

His recent article on Slate.com touches on some of these points (which is what I wrote all of this to share. Talk about burying the lead). If you are a news junkie like me, it’s good to get a dose of Pinker now and then to get some perspective. This is also the primary theme behind the original WOOL. I can’t help but think that the bombardment of negativity is doing something strange and awful to us as a society.

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Does Amazon treat indies like second class citizens?

I’ve seen a few comments to this effect since Kindle Unlimited launched. The argument comes from the fact that self-published authors are paid from a shared pool for ebooks borrowed through KU, while traditionally published titles receive the same payout they would get for a regular sale. Since KU launched, self-published titles have earned in the neighborhood of $1.30 – $1.60 for each KU borrow (if the title is read to the 10% mark).

Another complaint about KU is that it ignores price for indies, so a 99 cent ebook and a $9.99 ebook both pay the author $1.30-ish for a borrow (again, if read to the 10% mark). A $9.99 ebook borrowed from a trad publisher, meanwhile, will pay 70%, which comes to $6.99.

It’s worth pointing out here that the trad-pubbed author of that ebook will only receive around $1.48 for that same borrow of a $9.99 ebook. And the trad-pubbed author of a $4.99 ebook borrowed through KU (which is a better comparison to indie pricing) will receive a mere 74 cents! So a comparison of earnings between authors on either side is actually much better for the self-published author.

But wait, you say, we aren’t just authors. We are publishers! We pay for cover art and editing. We upload a finished product, ready to go. These aren’t royalties we’re earning; they are a cut of proceeds. So comparing our income as authors to other authors isn’t fair. We should compare our income as self-publishers to other publishers.

Okay, then, let’s compare. In this case, trad publishers are getting the better end of the stick for ebooks priced above $2.99. For ebooks priced below $2.99, self-published “publishers” begin to do better. (Very few trad pubbed books are priced this low, so it’s moot.) But we have to also compare everything, not just pay. We have to compare what Amazon is getting out of the bargain. Because the way I see it, indies aren’t just treated like second class citizens by Amazon — self-published authors treat Amazon’s customers like second class citizens. Continue Reading →

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