Thursday, February 04, 2010

Dilemma

"I hope you will forgive a possibly naive comment, but isn't readers' solidarity reflected in their purchasing power as consumers? That is, if readers won't/don't buy hardcover or trade paperback books for $27.00 or even $14.95, then the publishers' argument is moot, really, whether or not Amazon is arbitrarily setting the price at $9.99 for e-books (and Macmillan is demanding more). Of course, reader purchasing power is not organized advocacy, and it's heavily influenced by marketing, but I would argue it's still a way that readers make their preferences known. Isn't it?
I can see that if Macmillan is greedy, one of the outcomes will be that some good (maybe great) books won't get to the hands of readers. But then, at the point where readers aren't buying at x price, won't the publishers have to rethink their strategy to stay in business?
In other words, it seems to me that the publishers and distributors (and even the authors) will forget the reader at their own peril..."

The above came in this morning from
K Ann Karlsson as a comment, but because it strikes at the heart of what's killing a wonderful industry, we thought we would respond as a post rather than a comment that might get lost.

First of all, this is not a na├»ve comment as consumers are normally the driving power behind the success or failure of a product and even an industry. However, the consumer only has this luxury when there’s competition, and with books, there is very little. Yes, many readers have stopped reading novels out of frustration; however, this doesn’t bother the book industry in the least as they continue to turn out the same types of substandard books that turned these readers off in the first place. This is the reason the industry is facing dire straits as we speak.

A recent example of consumers controlling the market might be Toyota recalling thousands of the vehicles for defects that their customers complained about. Publishers have no idea what readers want because they depend on bookstores for this information and big box bookstores can’t tell their readers what constitutes a good read if it’s not in the front of the store or doesn’t have a widely known name on it. Publishers have no idea who buys their books, or why. With an average of 80,000 books on their shelves, many of which no one who works in the bookstore has read, this is an impossible situation.

How many ads for books do you see on television? When was the last time you heard about a publisher taking a survey on who reads their books? How much direct marketing do publishers actually do--and the word, “direct” is very important in this question. If you’re curious about the answers to these questions, here are some statements that might help to answer them:

Publishing depends on a few celebrity authors to make money for them. You’ll see their titles up front in most bookstores.

Publishers have no idea what readers want to read. They depend on big box marketing people when deciding which books to publish.

Big box bookstores depend on what’s selling and what’s not to feed marketing information back to publishers. Again, remember whose books are up front in bookstores. Name recognition is key here.

You’ll find out how knowledgeable workers are in big box bookstores when you ask them to suggest a good read.

Most super-bestseller of past years have come as a complete shock to those who published them. If you ask them, they will tell you that they have no idea why certain books sell well and others don’t.

Editors buy books on personal preference and not from any data on what readers want to read.

Bottom line here is our industry is dying and you have touched on one of the reasons why. Nuff said.

Robert and Sharene

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Bully versus Bully

Are you a member of the Readers Rights Organization? Probably not. It doesn’t exist…yet. Keep that in mind, because I think the time has come for readers to re-think and realize their place in the publishing food chain.

This brings me to today’s rant, er, I mean, post. After reading the Authors Guild’s stand on the Amazon/McMillan war, I would like someone to explain to me AG’s stand on how higher priced books will HELP readers. Yes, I agree that Amazon’s action was a little harsh; however, it is THEIR business and THEIR business model that’s being threatened, isn’t it?

This whole debacle looks like two turf-hungry bullies fighting over their right to control a market that was thought, for years, to be so insignificant it didn’t warrant anything but an upturned nose. Now, all of a sudden, it seems McMillan smells money, like a shark smells blood, and the results are the same. Good for shark; bad for prey.
You, dear readers, are the prey.

The Authors Guild posted an update on its site stating that “Last Thursday, Macmillan CEO John Sargent informed Amazon that beginning in March, it would offer Amazon access to a full range of e-book titles only if Amazon were willing to sell books on an ‘agency’ model that would pay Amazon 30% of e-book proceeds and allow Macmillan to set its own retail price for e-books. (Currently, Amazon buys e-books as a reseller at a discount of 50% off the retail list price and sells at the price it chooses.) Macmillan's price under its agency model, in many cases, would be higher than the $9.99 ceiling that Amazon has been seeking to impose on the industry.”

What I get from this is Macmillan wants to pay Amazon less on one end and ask more for their book on the other side. It also looks to me that Macmillan fired the first shot and when it hit reinforced steel, it bounced off. Macmillan then got mad and accused Amazon of not playing fair. I think I’d be a little unhappy if someone who had been paying me 50% told me they would now pay me 30% and that from now on they were going to control book pricing that I had controlled for years, especially when these are the same people who’ve been putting up with the 100% return policy imposed years ago by bookstores, a policy, I might add, that is a contributing factor the descent of the publishing industry today. Ask any author who’s had to take a hit because of returns because his book hit the stores at the wrong time or stayed there a little too long.

My take on this is that $14.95, which is in the realm of the trade paperback, is too expensive for electronic ink that can’t be placed on my library shelf or given to a friend or my daughters when I’m finished reading it. Macmillan is telling me as a reader, that if this price isn’t made higher than $9.99, that I won’t buy first run, hardcover books priced at around $27.00 because I’ll go to Amazon to buy all my books because of the lower prices. This means they and their authors will suffer. As a reader, this just sounds like greed to me. Of course, I can understand Authors Guild’s stand on this as they represent authors and not readers. Actually, nobody represents readers, do they?

Considering the cost of producing an electronic book when compared to the print version, I find the Kindle price even at $9.99 ridiculous, especially with what publishers offer authors for their electronic rights. Where’s the cost and how does raising the cover price of a book benefit me as a reader? Answer that question, Macmillan and Authors Guild, and you’ll have me on your side. But, alas, this is all a moot point as it seems Amazon has already caved because of falling stock price pressures and the looming threat of the Apple’s IPad.

As a reader, the end user of all book products, apparently I’m being forgotten yet again. Do publishers and distributors ever consider me in their squabbles? I guess not. It considers the producers of the product, but not the consumers. Hence, the Readers Rights Organization. I would love to see an advocacy group for readers started, regardless of what it would be called. I don’t mean one started by a bunch of writers who are also readers and who will think of it as another way to control their products, but one founded by people who truly just love to read.

Like me.

For further reading: Click here to link to another article on the matter, which I will respond to at another time.

Sharene and Robert