Why the Analysts are Wrong

When Buddha wanted to show his followers the danger of subjective experience, he told them the story of several blind men who each encounter an elephant for the first time. Only feeling one part of this multi-faceted creature, each had a very different account. To anyone listening, they would think it impossible to believe that all the men were describing the same creature. And I feel something like this is going on with publishing right now.

There are a lot of analysts out there whom I admire as people, even as they do a very poor job of covering the publishing world. There are dozens of stories that should be covered heavily right now that are going completely ignored. To name a few:

• The manipulation of bestseller lists, from the NYT list to the online B&N store. In both cases, readers are made to believe that these lists signify actual sales rank, when they do not. The B&N list features co-op spaces paid for by major publishers, and self-published romance authors are artificially shoved down to the #126 position and below. Readers might be interested in knowing this. Some may want to start browsing at position #126 to find some hidden (buried?) gems.

 

• The increased profit margins of e-books is not being passed along to readers and writers but is being kept in-house.

 

• An exploding number of self-published authors who are not household names are having their lives changed because of the ability to reach readers directly and on increasingly democratized platforms.

 

• Publishing contracts are becoming more draconian and harming writers’ careers. The most favored nation clause, the increasingly strict non-competes, the rise of high-discount sales and how this lower royalty rate buried in contracts is impacting writers, and the abusive term of copyright in an age when books no longer go out of print.

• Publishers offering lockstep royalties and refusing to compete on price. How was this email not front page news every day for a week?

 

• Any investigation into the reversal of publishers to do print-only deals. At least some digging into whether they regret these deals and why?

 

• A call for an end to DRM or a call to start bundling e-books or audiobooks with hardbacks.

 

• Any reporting on e-book prices that are double that of mass market paperbacks.

 

• And I haven’t seen a single analysts link the rise of independent bookstores the past three years with the decline of big-box discount bookstores to show how Amazon is putting the latter out of business and possibly helping save the former.

 

All of these omissions might seem odd at first, until we remember Buddha’s lesson on blind men. After an interview at a conference recently, I had a reporter confide in me about a top-name analysts she approached with some similar questions. The curt response from this analyst to one of her questions about self-publishing was: “I don’t know anything about self-publishing.” This is a pundit paid to know what’s going on in an industry, and that pundit has decided that roughly 10% of the industry (and the fastest growing sector) isn’t even worth looking at or understanding. We can assume that small and medium presses are also a distant concern. Which leaves these analysts with roughly half of the market to wax on about.

But it hit me the other day, and I finally saw where these analysts truly go wrong, and that’s this: They focus their reporting on the middlemen. Once you realize this, you’ll see it everywhere. They aren’t covering the book trade; they aren’t even covering the publishing industry (because that would include self-publishers and small presses); they are simply covering five companies and their distributors.

Most of the coverage, of course, revolves around Amazon. And most of it is negative. I even saw one pundit exclaim that he had a brilliant new idea, and that was for authors to publish their works exclusively with Barnes & Noble in exchange for co-op placement. Think about that. Give up distribution diversity for a month on a rack in a dwindling bookstore. The only way this makes sense is through the lens of anti-Amazon bias. There is no other way to make sense of it. It’s one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard, and it was announced as if bread had finally met with knife.

Any news to do with publishing concentrates on five companies. That’s it. The numbers reported by those companies are passed on as though it encapsulates the entirety of the market. We hear about e-book growth while ignoring the fastest growing sector of that growth. We get info based on ISBNs, when the same explosive sector often avoids using them. And the small presses that are employing POD and e-book adoption are treated like non-entities, when they are the true underdogs with the most to gain (and deserve more coverage).

The worst of it is this, and here is what becomes readily apparent and why you won’t see coverage on any of the stories in my bulleted list: The analysts don’t care about readers, and they don’t care about writers. That’s what their coverage tells me, anyway. High prices are not a social injustice, they are a savvy grab for corporate profits. The authors’ share of earnings is never discussed, only the publishers’, even though we now know that self-published authors are out-earning traditionally published authors on the largest e-book platform in the world.

What we have are airline experts covering their industry by reporting exclusively on travel agents. Again, look at this e-mail that shows the CEO of Penguin asking the CEO of Barnes & Noble to punish Random House for daring to compete with them and not collude to raise prices on readers. These sorts of stories are reported with a shrug. Because the analysts don’t care about the only two parties who truly matter in this business, and that’s those who write the books and those who enjoy them.

Yes, publishers can add value to manuscripts. Maybe they add 10% of that value, if I’m being generous. Manuscripts that need more than that never get to a publisher in the first place (or they are published as-is because of a celebrity’s profile). Does a 10% increase in value warrant a 100% share of media coverage?

The Authors’ Guild is no better. A mouthpiece for the top 1% of bestselling writers, their advocacy focuses on bookstores and on the largest publishers. Again, the middlemen and the distributors. There is no outrage over these pernicious contract clauses, no horror at the marriage of big publishing and Author Solutions rip-offs, no questioning the lockstep royalty rates or the slow payment processes. If the guild really was for authors, you would see them praising Amazon for changing the lives of so many writers and for growing the pool of readers. You get the exact opposite.

Middlemen should not be our concern, expect in how they facilitate the union between artists and the purveyors of that art. Those who work to bring these two parties together deserve all of our respect and praise. Those who stand between them deserve our condemnation until they improve. Until and even when that happens, they should only get a small percentage of the coverage. What we should be reporting on is the health of reading around the world and how to increase participation in this pastime that we love. We should be covering the job market for writers and all the new opportunities cropping up. Once you notice what they do cover, you’ll notice that almost no one is doing any of this reporting. And that’s a damn shame.

COMMENTS (69)

Fortunately for writers and readers, it doesn’t matter who reports what in the mainstream news. We keep writing and reading our books anyway. Someday, they’ll figure out that writers have all the power to create and readers have all the power to bestow marketplace approval on those creative endeavors.

This is a serious problem. Without accurate and complete reporting, there is no pressure for things to improve. Contracts will suck. Writers will be abused. Bookstores will blacklist some authors in order to punish perceived threats. There is a lot wrong, and none of it is being covered. Instead, we have the best parts of the industy being attacked.

Yes, Hugh, that was exactly the Comment I was going to make. Unless people — especially fellow authors — are aware of how tilted and inaccurate the reporting is, there will be no pressure for it to change. And that’s what needs to happen. When the reporting changes and calls out the Big 5 for the crap they’re pulling, public sentiment will shift against them. When that happens, their bottom line will be affected. And when THAT happens, they’ll make changes.

I suspect, though, that some of these marquee names — those who have an established brand — already see which way the wind is blowing and may decide to leave the Reservation, so to speak, at the end of their contract and, for want of a better term, “self-publish” their future work. Imagine that! 70% of the list price, small(isn) overhead for editing, cover art, formatting, and marketing, and a check at the end of the month.

That’s what the Big 5 is worried about. And that’s why they’re trying to strangle the self-pubs and small/medium Presses with silence via the non-reporting analysts. If we don’t “exist”, maybe we’ll go away?

I’m glad you’re pointing out the slanted coverage, Hugh! You have to know that.

But I think market forces are more powerful than any mainstream reporting – simply because market forces have already caused changes in the industry. Indie publishing has already grown by leaps and bounds, and it’s no thanks to mainstream reporters. It’s thanks to people like you (and Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, etc) spreading the word about the reality of self-pub, not the skewed stuff you read in the press. Would I like the mainstream press to report accurately and put pressure on publishers to change their contracts for authors? Yes. Do I think it will shift public sentiment? Possibly. Will the Big 5 change their business practices because of it? I don’t know, but I don’t think you can shame them into changing. I think they will change when they are forced by the market, which in this case is writers and readers (after all, publishers are just the intermediaries who facilitate the exchanges between those two).

Keep calling them out on it, Hugh! But even if the mainstream press doesn’t change their skewed ways, I think this is a tsunami that will happen regardless of whether they acknowledge it or not.

The power centers of the news media are too close to traditional publishing, and I mean specifically geographically. The Big 5, CNN, NPR, etc., they all operate out of New York and D.C. When a story like this breaks a journalist is always going to call that nice publisher they met at a cocktail party the week before, who gave them their card when the journalist told them she was thinking about writing a book. None of them have ever met an independently published author.

Why don’t you call NPR or CNN, Hugh, and offer your services as a reality check? Keep it polite, rational, you know, everything traditional publishing isn’t right now. At the very least, it’ll be a nice relief for them.

It’s unfortunate, but the people who control the media and the message are those very same middlemen. So, of course, the reporting is woefully slanted. And while many traditionally published authors are suffering, the bottom line is that indie authors really don’t give a damn and neither do readers.

A reader pays as much attention—or even less—to the machinations of the publishing world than they do to the machinations of Hollywood movie making. All they care about is the product. And authors who work hard to give them a great product and by-pass the middlemen to get it to their readers will eventually come out on top no matter what the media says.

Readers aren’t stupid. They know a good thing when they see it. Low prices for great entertainment always wins—just as it did back when paperback originals were declared the death of literature.

Hah. I should make it clear that indie authors DO give a damn about other authors. But most of us don’t care about behemoth corporations bitching and moaning about change.

“An exploding number of self-published authors who are not household names are having their lives changed because of the ability to reach readers directly and on increasingly democratized platforms.”

I cannot over-emphasize how true this has been for me. Every time it comes up. Self-publishing has enabled me to take control over my writing and my life I never would have dreamed possible even as recently as 2010.

Read this partial list of people whose lives have been changed by self-publishing. So much that they are turning their backs on traditional publishing or never approaching them in the first place.

http://www.thepassivevoice.com/06/2014/much-as-i-like-hugh-howey-i-disagree-with-just-about-all-of-this-recent-post-of-his/#comment-219445

Tell me more about the below. What do you know about this? What evidence do you have to support this? I know some people in the media and I think this would be something they’d want to cover:

• The manipulation of bestseller lists, from the NYT list to the online B&N store. In both cases, readers are made to believe that these lists signify actual sales rank, when they do not. The B&N list features co-op spaces paid for by major publishers, and self-published romance authors are artificially shoved down to the #126 position and below. Readers might be interested in knowing this. Some may want to start browsing at position #126 to find some hidden (buried?) gems.

There are some details and links in this story I did a while back. Many writers have reported this: http://www.hughhowey.com/does-bn-manipulate-its-bestseller-list/

Also, someone emailed me two days ago with details of how the “bestsellers” on the front page of B&N’s Nook store are purchased. You can look at a book’s overall rank, and it doesn’t match what is shown on the front page. Publishers are buying these spaces the same way they buy preferential placement in physical B&N stores.

This is why B&N is hurting. They don’t deliver what readers want; they attempt to wring money out of publishers.

This needs more attention. I know of one author who was bouncing all over the place telling everyone his book was at a particular number on the BN list. He was puzzled how low his sales were on Author Central. Naturally, he and all the writers in his circle drew the conclusion that it doesn’t take many sales to be a “best seller.”

Writers — all writers — really need more information. I’m not sure why his agent and editor didn’t tell him the truth. (Maybe his agent doesn’t know!)

Hi Hugh: I read your post with interest, esp. the comment about B&N and rank being manipulated by Big 5 Coop and artificial ceilings for erotic works. I have read about this before, so was surprised that my book, an erotic romance, was #4 in Barnes and Noble.

If B&N is selling coop to the Big 5 for the top spots and keeping erotica below some arbitrary number, it didn’t stop my indie published erotic romance eBook from hitting #4 in the Nook store after selling 1250 copies in one day.

I’m not saying that the claims are entirely wrong but without more data, how can we know for sure what rank = # sales and what is fishy?

There should be some place where authors can post their sales and rank #s and do so while having their identities protected. I would suggest Author Earnings do something along those lines so we are better able to evaluate the performance of various distributors / retailers when it comes to reporting rank.

Man, you just don’t care who you might piss off:) Love it! But sooner or later somebody’s coming after you. Don’t ever change or stop fighting, but I hope you’re taking precautions.

You mean physically? I doubt it. I bumped into Mike Shatzkin a few hours ago and gave him a bear hug and had a great chat. Everyone loves me. :)

You make me smile. :) Did you have your Huggers Gonna Hug t-shirt on?

I love it. The health of reading is so important. I’m an author and love reading and get my kids books, so they read a fair amount. But, with all the competition for activities, reading a book is becoming low on the priority list for a lot of kids. Without parental encouragement (and that can be hard in our ultra busy lives), it seems like it’s not as important to kids.

It’s always disheartening when you see studies that indicate fewer and fewer adults are reading. So, articles focusing on improving reading, and initiatives that do that are so helpful.

I know libraries do a lot in this regard–they all have summer reading programs (for kids AND adults usually). But it would be nice if more focus went on reading (beyond teachers and librarians, who’ve always been advocates of it).

Hugh, once again an excellent summary of what is really going on, or, in this case not going on.

I would just like to take a moment to emphasize what you talked about at the end. The Author’s Guild. They are anything but. I’m not sure if you caught the On Point (NPR show) broadcast about Amazon v. Hachette, but they had a representative from the Author’s Guild (I tuned in late so didn’t get her name) who was doing exactly what you said, acting as a mouth piece for big traditional publishing. I was screaming at my radio at all the inaccurate information that was being thrown around.

It’s clear that the Guild does NOT speak for the majority of authors, and certainly doesn’t speak for those of us (most here, I suspect) who’ve either gone indie after starting traditional, or have been indie from the start. What would be great is if there were a group that speaks for us, the in-the-trenches writers, headed by people who understand what’s really going on. I suspect it won’t be long before this happens (if it’s not already in the work.) I, for one, would be at the front of the line to sign up and pay my dues. Hell, I would even be willing to serve if need be!

Start that group, Brett. I and a legion of others would sign on. But it has to be about all authors. The ones who really need our support are those locked in to injurious contracts. This isn’t an indie vs. traditional fight. It’s a writers and readers against any who would come between them struggle.

Absolutely right. Has to be about all authors. I look at my friends who are still struggling behind traditional publishing contracts and think, there but for the grace of being dropped by my publisher go I. I often wonder what if Random House had offered me a marginally satisfying contract instead of letting me go, and then kept pulling me along. It’s a very real possibility I would have blindly defended them and their practices, out of fear of being dropped than anything else…which, ironically, would still be a good thing.

I’ll give a think on the group. Not sure how I’m going to fit it in, but, then again, someone has to do it.

It’s not about Amazon, or Hachette, or 5 publishers.

It’s about readers, it’s your ability to publish if you want to, it’s about coming up with new ways to get more readers reading (like Reading Rainbow, and new book formats beyond print).

Really, if you want to blame traditional publishing for something, blame them for keeping us closer to the 15th century (when the printing press was invented).

And blame traditional publishers for NOT letting the industry as a whole move forward so more people (readers) can improve themselves and use their imagination.

Because right now, THEY are the reason society isn’t moving forward.

“But blame Amazon too…” … ahem, the part of Amazon that Hachette is dealing with is the part that is moving forward, without Hachette if need be. That has almost no bearing on the bigger picture, because another publisher can replace Hachette.

You can’t replace the lack of societal progress that traditional publishers are causing because that’s time lost.

Amazon is doing business, traditional publishers are holding up an advancing society that has learned about the NEW, 21st century printing press. :)

More great insights, Hugh. I was just looking for a link to that stockholder’s report you shared recently showing how much more profit publishers are getting from ebooks and how little of it is going to their authors. I wanted to share it in a workshop on KDP that I’ve been invited to present at the Southern California Writers’ Conference in September. Very excited about that! I plan to use info from your author earnings reports and other info from your blog posts too. Do you have a link to that shareholder report?

Thanks again for compiling all this data and sharing it with other authors and readers alike. I’m honored to be following in your footsteps as an indie author of apocalyptic fiction.

PS: you might have noticed Sedulity hanging out with Wool, Shift, Dust and Sand on the Amazon Post-Apoc charts for the past few months. It’s fallen below 50 on the PA charts now, but I hope to catch up again with a one-week Kindle Countdown Deal that starts tomorrow. :)
David

Thanks Hugh. That’s the one! I’ve bookmarked it now. These are exciting times!

Wow, Hugh, my ebook “Sedulity” just passed Sand on the PA charts, thanks to the ongoing Kindle Countdown Deal. :) Don’t worry, it won’t last long. LOL But it feels great to rub shoulders with you again. :)

Wow…just wow. I had never seen that email before.

You know, you’re right. The temptation to just say “pfft” to all of it and keep on writing and self publishing and forget about what the Big 5 do is there. Mostly because it seems like an impossibility. They don’t see us or if they do, they see us as something that should be destroyed to return the book world to them alone.

But you’re right. It should be talked about until it is something people know and understand. Until the world in general says, “It is known” when some of this junk gets talked about.

I’d join a guild that was really meant for authors, but it would need leadership from someone who has the ability to be heard. Ummm….Hugh? What about you?

Hugh. Awesome.

Those firmly entrenched in the pockets of the higher ups will always provide the staunchest opposition to change. The boulder of self-publishing is already rolling down the hill thanks to people like you. The longer these “analysts” stand in front of said boulder, the greater the chance for them to be crushed beneath it.

This fits in with the attempts by the current Colbert-California-Powells-Alexie-Hatchette bestseller manipulation. All for a Hatchette author who is already likely to have bestseller? Little, Brown and Co. along with Time Warner and hatchette have been cannibalizing small publishers for years!

This is the first time I have been actually angry with Colbert. And Alexie and Powells and 3rd place books in Seattle… I need to shut myself in a room and just write! Grr, argh!

No offense against Edan Lepucki, but she needs no help. We need a buy an indie book campaign. We can all have stickers!

Have fun in Toronto. See Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo & Whitehorse at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern tomorrow night if you like kick-ass roots rock with awesome vocals. Wishing I was in Toronto today and tomorrow.

Great list that some journalist not under the umbrella of one of the big5 owning conglomerates might make a career out of.

And I had to laugh when you drop another Buddhist reference, showing you WERe in the right room at the library on Monday.

And huggersgottahug. Good on you.

Most of the so-called industry analysis I see from “experts” and pundits of the old industry does appear to be written by blind men. It’s actually pretty funny.

See, while these analysts only seem to talk about gross publisher dollars, that doesn’t really reflect consumer market share at all. The measure of market share which truly matters to readers and authors is unit sales: how many books of each format–and from each type of publisher–are being bought and read.

Once you factor in the average prices of traditionally-published ebooks versus print books, the Big-5’s own public numbers say that ebook unit sales have already surpassed the number of print books sold. In fiction, especially–but also in total.

And that’s even before we include the vast “shadow industry” of indie self-publishing, which gets ignored in calculations by most old-publishing “analysts,” even though American readers are already buying just as many self-published e-books as e-books from all of the Big-5 publishers combined… if not more.

So any business-minded person without an old-school-publishing bias, who looks at Big Publishing’s own touted data–such as Hachette’s May investor presentation–and then spends ten minutes perusing the unit-sales-based best seller lists at major e-book retailers, will come to the same conclusion:

The old, print-centric paradigm of handing over IP rights to a publisher for bookstore distribution isn’t just dying…

It’s already dead. It just hasn’t fallen over and hit the ground yet.

Because if you read between the lines, the publisher’s own financials tell a grim story about the economics of the print side of their business. It’s no wonder they no longer do print-only deals. Print books, on their own, are already a money-losing proposition for the big publishers, but they are subsidizing it by taking an oversized share of e-book profits from their authors. How can we tell? Easy.

Today, 30+% of the Big-5’s dollar sales come from e-books… which have zero print, warehousing, and distribution costs. So if the print business were on it’s own at least break-even, then after paying authors the skimpy 25%-of-net e-book royalty, publishers should be left with at least 22% of pure profit. But they are booking profits only 10% or so… because they are deliberately “investing” dollars that should be going to authors as they try to keep a failed, dysfunctional print business alive.

It’s not going to work. And besides, print has become a subsidiary sideshow, compared to e-books.

Right now, in unit sales terms, the US e-book market is:
35-40% – Big-Five Traditionally-Published
20-25% – Small/Medium Publishers (including Amazon imprints)
35-40% – Indie (Self-Published)

Given how fast Big-Five e-book market share is evaporating, and how fast everyone else is gaining (especially self-publishing), in a year the market will look more like:
25-30% – Big-Five Traditionally-Published
25-30% – Small/Medium Publishers (including Amazon imprints)
40-50% – Indie (Self-Published)

I expect some cool things will probably start happening in the print side of the industry, too, then. When half of all e-books sold are self-published titles, bookstores will have to find ways to get those books onto their shelves, too, if they wish to remain viable with consumers.

The old, dysfunctional, returns-and-publisher-co-op-based print distribution model that exists today will collapse, and new, more efficient bookstore-distribution models will arise that level the print playing field for indies, too.

If you’re an author, it’s a good time to hang onto your rights.

The future’s lookin’ pretty bright right now.

Jesus Christ, man. Why aren’t you writing this in a blog somewhere? This is the kind of reporting I’m asking for!

Because unlike you, man, I’m selfish. :)

While you’re spending all your time advocating for us authors and trying to bring some kind of transparency and sense to this bizarro-world joke of an industry, I’m just trying to finish my next book.

So I can self-publish it.

Shhh… Paul, you’re giving away the “secret.” :)

(look at it from a true business perspective, not the “media-spun” perspective)

Love it man. Going to buy one of your books now.

Thanks, but that might fuel the latest silly anti-indie meme ;D

According to some dingbat commenting on Shatzkin’s blog, indies are only “selling [our] books to other self-publishers, using so much propaganda and intellectual fraud it’s disturbing.”

“According to some dingbat commenting on Shatzkin’s blog, indies are only ‘selling [our] books to other self-publishers, using so much propaganda and intellectual fraud it’s disturbing.'”

Which is where the mass ignorance of people who refuse to do their research about the real state of the publishing industry comes in. Traditionally published authors might not be buying many indie books, but readers are. I agree with Susan Kaye Quinn, above. The market forces (the readers) will be the ones to finally topple a dying publishing model. We’re already seeing it. And the readers won’t even know they did it because the mainstream media will continue to blame the Big Bad Amazon. But we’ll know…

Great info, Paul, and exactly the sort of answer I had been tossing around to the question of “Why no more print-only deals.”

Another eye-opening post, Hugh. Truly the emperor wears no clothes and you’re the kid who points it out. Except this time, no one really wants to hear it. They’re too busy reporting what the big publishers want them to say. Kudos, man.

Oh, and thanks for coming to Toronto. You’re talk at the library left me inspired! Cheers,
Tim

Thanks, Tim. It was great of you to come out.

Consumers don’t give a hoot about any of this.

Besides Shatzkin, who are these other analysts? Most of what I read is from various authors, reviewers, bloggers, and publishers. Are these the analysts? If so, I don’t see how any of them have a responsibility to address the points raised.

The other analysts are Carr and the NYT, the entire staff of PW & DBW, Forbes, WSJ.

Authors and bloggers are indeed the ones reporting on these issues. David Gaughran has done an excellent job reporting on Author Solutions. Michael Sullivan on several fronts. KKR on everything. Why do we have the responsibility to do this? Because maximizing our individual earnings can sometimes take a backseat to improving the market for all writers and all readers. You do that all the time with your commentary on various blogs and your reasoned voice. It all adds up.

Carr’s new to me. I’ll have to look him up. But much of the stuff in the other publications comes from opeds, and guest writers. The Guardian has a steady stream of authors and publishers writing articles critical of independents. But many couldn’t analyze their way out of a paper bag.

So I don’t see much in the way of publishing analysts. I do see lots of people writing about various aspects of publishing. I do it. You do it. But in my case, God save us all if I am an analyst just because I write about something.

I’d suggest forgetting about what analysts do. The people who have been writing about independents and publishing aren’t going to change. Why should they? I sure wouldn’t change to accommodate them. Instead, it would be much more effective to get articles placed in the publications you mention.

When the other side is vocal in it’s views, we can’t expect them to give equal time to our views. That is a task we have to do ourselves.

I”m with Susan. After 20 years of pitching and querying, I decided to publish. I haven’t looked back (though for one novel, I’m still pitching} A second novel came out in April. It’s a lot of hard work, I’m not wealthy, but I’m in control. An audiobook for the first novel will be out in July. It. A third novel is in the editor’s hand. And there are more. I feel like it’s been the best choice for me. I enjoyed your presentation on the panel at AWP14. Publishing is like the wild west, but I like the curve on I’m on and readers finding me. Statistics will follow.

It is interesting that Shatzkin, if I were to make an guess, says he knows nothing about self publishing while his books on Amazon, “The Shatzkin Files”, list the publisher as the Idea Logical Company, which happens to a the company where he is the Founder and CEO.

His book “The Shatzkin Files: The Most Powerful Trends in Publishing [Kindle Edition]” shows it is sold by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Doesn’t both these cases point to Mike himself being a self-published author? Can’t he get one of his buddies at the Big 5 to publish these?

Hugh is right, we need to get the message out- because the average person only hears the pundits, and bases their opinion on that. Just last night, my book group brought this up, and people started bashing Amazon. I gave a quick counter, but they weren’t listening. So I sent them a link to my two issue-centered blog posts, where I linked to these other discussions- in the second one here, I included Hugh’s blog as a source of info.
Is Amazon Evil, With a Plan to Destroy the Universe?
http://daletphillips.blogspot.com/2014/06/is-amazon-evil-with-plan-to-destroy.html

“The analysts don’t care about readers, and they don’t care about writers.”

The surprising thing is that the analysts (business reporters) don’t care about investors either. If they take sides (or perspectives) of anyone at all, it is of those in the C-Suites of the subsidiaries of major publicly traded, international, communications conglomerates.

They consistently fail to acknowledge, report on, or analyze fundamental risk factors that is affecting a significant industry/cultural force in danger of running aground. They ignore the implications of bad news in the form of recent declines in corporate fortunes by failing to dive deeper into the data… and by failing to question and challenge an industry that is iitself responsible for generating such poor data… for not solving that problem… and they ignore the possibility of future Black Swan events–even after the sudden closure of Borders in 2011 introducted this very induistry to the reality of the concept.

Nothing that’s happened in the publishing industry since 2007 has moved them off of the conceptual framework already lodged in their brains.

We faace Joseph Schumpeter’s notion of “creative destruction” writ large (with all the inherently good and bad aspects of that phenomenon), and they act like it’s a story about children selling cookies to earn their ways to camp. I don’t think anyone is under-telling the story of writing and publishing on purpose–but I think their poor coverage of this transformational moment is indication that they are lacking in a fundamental sense of mission: to get the big story and interpret it for their readers. They go for the easy story instead and leave cookie crumbs everywhere.

I’m not sure it matters if those folks write about publishing. We saw something similar with travel agencies, music, trading floors, and phone books.

People don’t need to read about the change. They experience it and simply shift their buying patterns. They started buying airline tickets on Expedia, entering stock trades online, buying iTunes tracks for their iPods, and looking up phone numbers on their computers.

They didn’t need to be told about what they were experiencing and who won or lost. They don’t care. Now we see them doing the same when they buy independent books.

The future of independent books? The history of these other sectors tells where we are going.

The bottom line is this: Readers don’t give a rat’s ass about publishers. They just don’t. Walk down the street and ask ten people to name even one of the Big Five, and I bet you will get blank looks across the board.

You know who readers care about?

Authors. That’s who.

And that’s why the trad publishing industry is scared. That is why they are crying foul. Because for the first time in their history, they have real competition. Not just from Amazon, but from self-published authors. The trad pub industry is convinced that indie authors who are successful will seek publishing contracts. Some successful indie’s might do this, but most–like me–will not. And that worries them. They are slowly but inexorably becoming aware that they are essentially obsolete. As digital continues to gain ground against print, this will become increasingly self-evident.

There are a great many people in the pub industry operating under the mistaken assumption that they are critical to the continuance of literary culture and that publishing will die without them. They call themselves ‘curators’ and ‘nurturers’, as if readers aren’t smart enough to decide for themselves what they do and do not like. Amazon has a much better system. It’s called sales rankings. It’s called reader reviews. It’s called star ratings. And readers give a hell of a lot more credence to these things than they will ever give to literary critics or reviews from newspapers and periodicals (who still reads that stuff anyway?).

These people are operating in ignorance of the facts. They lack the vision to see where the trends are leading. They sit around in their little meetings and conventions and tell each other what they want to hear and ignore reality and shout down anyone who says different. It reminds me a lot of the GOP in the last two presidential elections. They think if they keep repeating the same falsehoods over and over again, they will eventually become the truth.

Here’s the reality of the situation: They won’t.

People like me are the Big Five’s worst nightmare. I am a successful indie author earning a six figure income on far fewer sales than it takes for a legacy pubbed author to earn the same money. And legacy authors are slowly becoming aware of this. What’s worse (for the BIg 5, at least) is the fact that I NEVER EVEN TRIED to get a legacy contract, and have no intention of doing so.

I started indie, I’m happy being indie, and I’m going to stay indie. And I’m not the only one.

To me, this whole debate is amusing. The Big 5 will continue to flounder, their authors will continue to jump ship–if not now, then in the not too distant future–and self-pubbed authors will continue to out earn their trad pubbed counterparts.

In the meantime, I–and thousands of other authors like me–are going to continue self publishing, we’re going to continue earning a living at it, and we’re going to shake our heads as the Big 5 loses market share and mutter under our breath, “I told you so.”

Thanks, Hugh, for being an outspoken voice for authors. I hope more writers read your blog and come to their senses and go indie. In the meantime, keep doing what you’re doing.

I certainly will.

Phyllis Humphrey

Hugh;
You’ve done it again. Another great post on the falsehoods being perpetrated and the truth that will be revealed sooner or later. Yes, be our Indie spokesperson and start the revolution.

The publishers will continue in business for some time because they have what writers want: the power to make writers feel legitimate. That power comes from history and from the human need for approval.
I’ve always had the impression agents and publishers relished writers BEGGING them for approval, which we have done.
They’ll do anything to keep that power.

I agree Julia. This was my 7th year at BEA, my second as an author. Many of the people I’ve met over the years knew I had a book in the works. When I told them I landed a publisher, the back slapping and congratulations started. That made me feel good. I’d say, though, that the promotional and marketing muscle of a large publisher are the biggest scale tippers. It’s very difficult and very time consuming, to self promote and reach your audience with out that

I’ve wondered this since ebooks started taking off. Music is mostly downloads now with very few retail stores, and the same is true for home video. Mom and Pop shops still exist, just as independent book stores. The biggest difference, one that may not last much longer, is in the physical product. Bibliophiles still love print books. At this year’s Boskone, I asked a panel that included Tor Books, if they adapted the changing market. Specifically, I was asking this: home budgets are tight; consumers still look for the best deals. In the good old days, you had the hardcover out for a year before the mass market paperback hit shelves. The two didn’t cannibalize each other. Now, you have simultaneous releases of hardcover AND ebook, with the ebook significantly less expensive. I’m sure someone here can pull up the stats on the number of people who have access to e-readers, and including phones, it has to reach nearly 100%. The younger generation will read books on their mobile devices–phones included. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. That panel had no answer. The best they came up with was that ebooks are now the mass market equivalent. But are they really? I rather doubt it, given, as I said, the simultaneous release. Who here thinks today’s kids will have the same affection for a physical book as bibliophiles do? I hear people still like LP’s too.

Great post but will this change anything? I’d be more worried about finding new distribution methods as self-publishers have advantage here because they are more nimble and take risks easier. One BookBub.com is great, but it’s still for discount books and it’s only one website. There is a need for more of those from author’s perspective,etc

The NYT’s List is almost arbitrary. They’ve removed books that sell more than the books they agree with politically just because they don’t want people to see anyone top who they praise more.

I haven’t self-published yet, but I know I have to. Reading through your blog I’m becoming more confident in that choice.