Mark Lawrence looks at where the money goes in ebook pricing. Hint: it’s mostly not to the original author. Actually, by these figures, most of it’s going neck-and-neck to Amazon and the publisher. Whichever one of those two entities “deserves” their cut probably depends on which side of the selfpub/tradpub debates you come down on…
This is a pretty fascinating press release to me. It’s supposedly the twenty most “well-read” cities in the U.S., a.k.a. the cities that buy the most books. Except take a look at the top three for a second. What do you see?
Here’s a story, and it’s about city #3 on Amazon’s list.
My husband and I were in Vegas in January this year. It was our first time in the city–my first time in the U.S., in fact–and it was awesome and we loved it. We weren’t there very long, four days or so, and in that time we mostly stuck to the Strip. Hell, we mostly stuck to the end of the Strip with our hotel on it, because, a) food, b) booze, and c) shows.
Anyway. After our four days, we were going to have a brief day in L.A., then it was on to Japan. At some point we got the idea that getting a Japanese phrasebook would be an awesome thing to do, and so we decided to go look for a bookstore.
Some of you, I’m sure, are already going, “… uh-oh.”
See, here’s the thing. It’s not like bookstores are universal in Australia, either. A few years back, my husband spent a while doing fly-in-fly-out work in the Queensland port town of Gladstone, and while he was there the town’s last bookstore closed its doors. Wollongong, where we both went to university, has a similar problem at one stage. But both of those are small-ish, industrial towns. The idea that we wouldn’t be able to find a bookstore in a shopping mecca like Vegas never entered our head. So we cracked open Yelp, typed in “bookstore”, and hopped in a cab.
The closest bookstore was allegedly a Barnes & Noble near the university, which isn’t too far from the Strip. We escaped the cab and started to wander around, only to realise the store was either long closed or had never been. We tried the university co-op, but it really only sold textbooks.1 So we sat in the student union for half an hour, scouring the internet, trying to find a goddamn shop that would sell us a goddamn tourist book.
No dice.2 The “nearest” options were over an hour’s drive away, and I don’t know if you’ve been to Vegas, but getting taxis off the Strip is near impossible. We’d be able to get out, but getting back? Maybe not so much.
In the end, we opened up Amazon.com, and got our phrasebook same-day delivered to the friends we were staying with in L.A.
This is the story I was reminded of when I read Amazon’s “well-read” press release. It’s not the cities on the list do or don’t buy more books than other cities in the U.S.; there’s not enough information to judge that either way. It’s that these cities buy the most books from Amazon, and at least some of them do it because there’s no other freakin’ option.
And I really struggle to think of that as a good thing.
Background: This. Tl;dr, Amazon changed the payment algorithm behind Kindle Unlimited, such that it now pays authors $0.006, i.e. a bit less than half a cent, per page read. There’s a bunch of angst going around about whether this is “fair” or not–and to whom–to which I will refer you to the linked TechCrunch article.
Thought #1: Pro rates for short stories are $0.06 per word. The average novel page has about 250-300 words. That means about $15-18 per page. So, Amazon is paying authors of short fiction in KU roughly 0.0004% of what they’d be getting from a conventional paid market.
In other words, an author’s short story needs to be read somewhere over 2,600 times to hit the equivalent to industry pro rates.
Thought #2: Minimum advances for professional qualifying markets are about $2,000 a novel, or $0.025 per word, assuming an average novel length of 80,000. So say about 320 pages, or $1.92 per novel at KU rates.
In other words, an average novel-length novel will need to be read through something like 1,000 times to “break even” against the lowest professional advance.
Question: Just how viable are these numbers? Discuss.
EtA: I just realised I’ve made the same error in this that annoys me in every other article abut selfpub, which is to say I’ve assumed the cost of a self published work is zero. Which it usually isn’t. So, yanno. There’s also that.
Normally I’m not for troll campaigns on Amazon, but I do make an exception for anti-vaxxer books aimed at children. The “customer images” on this book’s page are about as gruesome as you’d expect–photos of children covered in measles rashes, pictures of coffins, and so on–while the “reviews” range from funny-angry to funny-sad to outright angry.
Melanie’s Marvelous Measles is also the only (?) book Amazon sells on which it’s put a liability disclaimer above the blurb. Which kind of makes you wonder why they allow it for sale at all, really…
So apparently there was a debate a little while ago with the topic “Amazon is the reader’s friend“. The for and against sides are pretty much exactly the line up of bland, interchangeable white men you’d expect, if you follow the endless rounds of Amazon vs. Nonazon debates. So far, so yawning, right?
So I was kind of scanning the article half-heartedly, when I got to this quote:
So the debaters also considered whether “traditional publishing actually functions as a tyranny.” Mr. Konrath noted: “Publishers reject hundreds of books for every one that they publish. Now think about that. That’s censorship. It really is.”
Quick recap: Joe Konrath was a midlist career author who, a couple of years back, reclaimed his extensive backlist from his old publishing houses, and re-released the titles themselves via Amazon, just at the head of the big selfpub ebook wave. He made bank, and now continues to make bank by being one of the leading selfpub “gurus”. Got all that?
Okay. So. Once more:
Publishers reject hundreds of books for every one that they publish. Now think about that. That’s censorship. It really is.
No, Joe. No it’s fucking not and you know it. What disingenuous, hyperbolic rubbish. It’s also entirely indicative of a really entitled fucking attitude I see way too much of. I mean, what do people think this line is really trying to imply? That publishers are somehow obliged to publish every piece of shit-stained word vomit that runs across their desk, lest they twist themselves into a caricatured jackboot-wearing, book-burning horror? Like, seriously. Just what. The. Fuck.
Let’s just be super, super clear about this: no private entity in the world is obliged to give your piss-soaked ravings a platform. They’re especially not obliged to invest money in producing, marketing, and distributing them. I don’t care whether this is Amazon, or Hachette, or the bloody comments section on a bloody website. I know this is difficult for certain people to grasp, but the reality is you have no magic inalienable right to demand someone else invest their time and money and space in you and/or your ideas, purely for your benefit. Moreover, this is not “censorship” when it happens (or fails to happen). It might suck–such as when publishers shy away from investing in, say, books with queer content or PoC heroes–but it’s not “censorship”. And there’s a mile of difference between an industry’s systematic disenfranchisement of certain minority viewpoints and one editor rejecting your shitty thriller. Seriously. Trust me on this one. Light years worth of miles.
Yeah. This sort of attitude makes me mad. Super mad. But it’s pretty fucking telling looking at the kinds of people who espouse it, isn’t it?
So… why did Amazon’s Fire Phone turn into such a steaming pile of shit, anyway?
A good 101 breakdown of the court case between Apple and Amazon. Sorry, I mean Apple and the Department of Justice, obviously, because what use is government if it’s not for spending public tax dollars on maintaining a private corporate monopoly. Bias? What, me? No. I’m sure an article about this issue from a site called “Mac Observer” would also be entirely neutral and even-handed.
That aside, the argument here is pretty interesting, as it’s essentially asking the courts to weigh up the question of what is worse for consumers: collusion and price fixing, or a (be)low-cost monopoly. Apple’s argument is essentially that Amazon is operating so far under cost in the ebook market, that it prevents other entrants from even starting the race, meaning Apple “had” to take drastic measures to do so. Amazon’s/the DOJ’s argument is that Apple and the major publishers colluded in a price fixing scheme, which is illegal.1 Apple’s retort is that Amazon’s ebook strategy amounts to price dumping, which is also illegal.
In short, this is a bunch of large corporations, plus the government, getting together in the US courts for a giant game of NO U: Antitrust Edition.
What’s better for consumers, you ask? Oh you silly summer child. This isn’t about consumers. Whatever gave you that quaint little notion?
- Unless it’s deemed to be used in the purpose of breaking up a monopoly. I think you can see where this is going, yes? [↩]