This really is the death knell for publishers
My apologies. This is a blog from an astonishingly angry author.
Today the Bookseller announced that Amazon is having a great new sales campaign. In an October Kindle promotion, they will be aiming to sell vast numbers of books.
This is brilliant news, isn’t it?
Amazon will do what they do best, push huge numbers of books at a massive discount. Book sales will shoot up.
Not mine. Because I don’t have many as ebooks yet. And do you know what? I am exceedingly glad.
Yes. I am glad to miss out on the opportunity of selling books.
Read this article: http://www.thebookseller.com/news/amazon-asks-90-discount-new-kindle-campaign.html – yes, the clue’s in the title.
I have banged on a little in the past about the asinine pricing which publishers are agreeing to. When shops in the High Street were allowed books at a massive 30-40% discount, authors were allowed a 7.5% royalty. In effect this was a commission on each sale. The amount everyone felt the author should get was no a massive sum. I mean, on a paperback it equated to about 52 pence. Wow. For most authors, who sold about 15,000 books, that meant a moderate income. It also meant few authors could work full time.
The end of price-fixing meant that those little bookshops could not compete so easily. Whereas in the past supermarkets and retailers like Amazon were not allowed to buy at larger discounts than corner shops, now they could.
Beforehand we had a thriving book industry which allowed corner shops to make as much profit from a James Patterson or JK Rowling as the supermarket. And those little shops invested in the books they were interested in. So they would buy books on Medieval warfare, the building of Roman walls, or underwater basket-weaving – whatever it was that interested the shop owner. And as a result publishing flourished because small shops could buy the books that interested them.
As a result of the end of the Net Book Agreement that fixed prices, bigger stores like Waterstone’s, Borders and others demanded bigger discounts. Publishers like Headline were delighted to offer discounts to push ever larger print runs. They could make money from economies of scale. That is why almost all the local shops have disappeared. They cannot compete in a market so heavily rigged against them.
Sadly, also many superb writers didn’t sell in the vast numbers. Publishers ran to the easiest sales. Those authors who were lower mid-listers, usually because incompetent publishers decided not to invest in any marketing, were dropped. I know one publisher who bought up crime lists of more than thirty authors, only to discard more than half in the space of two years. Ever larger publishers bought up the smaller, specialist ones, and then disposed of all the authors they didn’t think would become multi-national best-sellers.
So now we have a small number of massive publishers.
But with the bigger discounts, the authors learned that when publishers felt squeezed, they would share the pain. So it is that authors no longer have their incomes fixed on a book’s price, but on net receipts to the publisher.
That means that when a book is sold, if the publisher discounted it by 40% to sell to the retailer, the author’s income fell by 40% as well. The writer is now held hostage to the whim of the publisher’s discount structure – or the current negotiation.
Take the example above – a paperback which was sold at £7, meant the author received some 50 pence. Now consider this wonderful Amazon demand. Under this promotion, the author will be paid 5 pence.
Five pence for a book that may have taken the author two years of sweat and effort. Two years of hardship. Probably in many case, several years of hardship.
I can remember starting writing in 1994 and getting my first publishing deal. With that, I was delighted to be paid £10,000. Except that was to be repaid by the royalties. At the time, that three book deal was not stunning. Terry Pratchett was offered £50,000 for each of his first three books, I believe, but I was glad to be able to call myself a writer. At least at 50 pence per book sold, I could hope to repay the money.
How the hell do publishers, or Amazon, expect authors to be able to write when there is no realistic income at the end of their endeavours?
The problem of finance for books has been caused by a ludicrously short-sighted ambition to chase ever higher sales at the expense of ever reducing margins. And now, one retailer with an effective monopoly seems to believe it can squeeze all publishers to destroy authors’ incomes.
And not only authors. The sheer brilliance of this is, it kills off all areas of the business. Not only publishing, but agents will disappear. Because out of that generous five pence royalty, authors have to lose 15% to their agents.
Is this new discount permanent? No. It’s a one-off for the month. But this is the second one-off this year already. So now, one sixth of all sales are discounted at this level. Next year, Amazon will no doubt have a need to push another few deals. And they will do it because it will sell books. So the majority of buyers will get used to waiting for these deals, and yes, the massive discounted promotion will become the norm.
Does this mean I hate all ebooks?
No. But what this does mean is that it is very hard to see how on earth I can ever consider selling books through a middle-man like a publisher on the internet. And I am not alone. Authors are independent businessmen. If we cannot earn anything, we have to look to newer business models. And just now, the only workable model is that of working direct to internet.
If anyone can tell me how the hell it’s possible for authors to carry on working with publishers for a matter of pennies, please tell me. I would love to think that there could be a future.
But just now, I can see no possible way of the current publishing business model succeeding. Because publishers have very successfully cut off the incomes of their suppliers.
And without authors, folks, there will not be publishers.