Archive for category Business of Writing

An Ode…

…To The Final 48 Hours of a Kickstarter

By DL Thurston

F5.
F5 F5 F5.  Woo!
F5.  F5 F5.
F5.
F5 F5 F5 F5 F5.
F5.  Woo!
F5 F5.  F5.

 

F5.

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Unrelated Weekend Things

Thing the first: We are now officially beekeepers.  Saturday afternoon my wife and I picked up our nuc from one of our fellow members of the Beekeepers Association of Northern Virginia.  The bees were just chilling in the dining room when we showed up, well secured in their cardboard travel case and humming away like mad.  There are few things that make me a safer driver than having a hatchback full of bees, apparently.  The buzzing was always just a little louder than the radio, especially when a stop or turn made their little cardboard box slide around.

It was raining when we got home, so we immediately broke my first and most sacrosanct rule of beekeeping: no bees in the house.  The cats were exceedingly concerned about the box, I suspect the sound of the bees humming sounded different to their ears.  I picked up our younger, stupider cat and let him have a good look from about five feet away.  He wanted no closer than that, tensing as I held him and scampering off when I let him down.  The rain tapered off, so we took the opportunity to suit up and get the bees into their new hive.  This meant doing things faster than intended, so we didn’t have time to identify the queen, even though she has a little yellow dot on her back.  We’ll need to go in again by next weekend anyway, we’ll get another chance then.

We were told to expect productive and gentle bees.  True to form, they only buzzed around us curiously while we assembled the hive, and by yesterday were already coming back to the hive with huge saddlebags of pollen, even with a patty of artificial pollen sitting right in their hive.  We did come across one bee who was a little braver than her sisters.  This is the bee that will hover right at eye level with us, really staring us down and just daring us to come in closer to the hive.  We’ve long planned to name one bee “That Bee” who we could blame any problems in the hive on.  I think we’ve officially found That Bee.

It’s unusual to harvest from a hive in its first summer, but this colony apparently produced around 100 pounds of honey last year, so it’s not out of the question that we might, might, get a taste of some honey in late August.  Of course by then I’ll be beekeeping solo for a few weeks, so we might just let them keep all the honey this year so they have more than enough to overwinter with.

I have some photos, but I’m having a hard time wrangling them at the moment.  I’ll update this post later in the evening and send a ping on Twitter when it happens.

Thing the second: Late yesterday I got word of a short story sale to an upcoming anthology.  I’m never sure if I’m supposed to share details of just which anthology, so I’m going to hold off until I see something official on their website or get a green light on email.  I will say I’m one of two Unleaded contributors on the author’s list, which is awesome.  Because of that, it’ll probably be over there not over here that I give more details, when they exist to give.  This is my third sale since getting serious about submissions, which is fantastic.  Means I need to write more short stories so I can have more rotating through markets.  If you’re a fellow Cat Vacuumer, yes, it was that story.

Speaking of anthologies, we are in the last week of the Kickstarter for The Memory Eater, and what was once moving fast and furious is now stalled out just shy of 80%.  It’s not too late to get in and preorder a copy.  I’ve seen Kickstarters pull in impressive last week numbers, but there’s certainly no room for complacency.  If you’re still considering, time is running low.  If you are already in, please consider giving us a signal boost on Twitter.  Doing so can even earn you free reward-tier prizes, check out the contest here.  Our deadline for funding is Saturday morning at 7:55am eastern time.

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State of the Author: May 2012

Hermes and Maia

2012 Goal: Query Nickajack.  Big progress in April: the rough draft is complete!  It came in at 90,054 words, right at the lower end of my target range for the novel.  This is just the first step, but it’s a big first step, as the entire novel exists as a full length narrative.  The next step is turning it into a first draft.  Especially for something as long as a novel, I consider the rough and first drafts as two different creatures.  The rough draft is the first version of the story that takes the plot from beginning to end with no holes in the middle.  The first draft is the first draft we’re willing to let others see as a completed project.  There are three major steps between here and there:

  1. My wife and coauthor is taking three weeks to punch up Act Three with more description, as there were points in the narrative where I was concentrating more on getting to the end than stopping to smell the roses.  Or to look at, feel, taste, or listen to the roses either.  It’s largely about dividing the labor to play into our strengths.
  2. Rewrite chapter one to fit the theme and conclusion of the novel.  We want to make sure we’ve got good bookends after all.
  3. Redefine a character.  She was: a nurse.  She will be: a Luddite-style reactionary.  As she exists now, the first half of her appearances she’s the one, the second half (after we decided to change her character, and knew the new version would have a far different plot interaction) she’s the other.  So we need to make sure to unify her purposes.

Can we get this all done in May?  Maybe.  May-be.  See what I…nevermind.  Actually, probably not, but I’ll be thrilled if we get the first two steps done, and get the third done by mid-June.  Then we’ll actually consider something that’s altogether new and scary to me: alpha readers.  I’ve never had an entire novel beta read as a single unit.

This also means I’m going to be more hands-off than hands-on for the next two or three months.  Which is fair and I knew would be part of the process of coauthoring.  It makes me twitch a little, but I’m hoping to use that nervous energy to get a few other projects done.  So with that in mind…

Looking forward to May.  Yesterday was day one of the first hands-off period.  I’ve got four projects lined up, though I’m not sure what order they’ll get done in, and which will get pushed back to the month long alpha reader hands-off period.

  1. Find the next destination for Vampire of Mars and kick it out the door.  This one languished awhile before getting an entirely tacit rejection, which was harsh.  My first choice of markets is currently closed, so this will include some research and not just polishing.
  2. Finish the series of eight Nickajack side stories.  I’ve written the first three, my wife wrote the last one, so there’s four in the middle to fill in.  500-1000 words each.
  3. Create a novella-length outline for Ghosts of Venus.  I think it can take it, and I’ve got some ideas for potentially tripling the length.
  4. Create a novella-length outline for Unnamed North Carolina Time Travel War Story.  Plus…come up with a better title.  This is the story that had its origins in my accidental world building, though I may not use quite the same time period.

Novella-length stories will be an experiment for me, which is part of why I’d like to give them a try.  I’ve seen the market for them re-open lately (though largely through self publication) and I think the two stories I have in mind can support longer narratives but not novel length adventures.  I’ve also been considering them thanks to dipping my toes into one of the stronger novella markets of the 1960s, those Ace Doubles I’ve been snatching up (11 more inbound from an eBay auction, though one’s a duplicate).  If I like them, I might bundle them together and slap on this little logo that I made in a moment of insanity when things such as self-publishing something in the style of an Ace Double sounds like a good idea.

State of the Kickstarter.  I’ll be honest, we’re in the doldrums right now.  I don’t want to get pessimistic, but I’m certainly not as optimistic as I was when I suggested throwing some stretch goals into the mix.  I’m still excited about the project.  If you haven’t read the sample, give it a shot.  If you haven’t pre-ordered, please consider doing so.  We’ve got ten days left as of this writing, and still 30% of the project left to fund.  We’re exactly on pace, but that leaves us no margin for error.  I’ll put together a full postmortem, for better or worse, in two weeks when everything is done.

UPDATE: Since writing this earlier today, the Kickstarter is having a great day.  If you’re reading this and you’ve supported us, either today or in the past, I owe you a massive thanks.  We’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m a hell of a lot more optimistic at 3pm than I was at 9am.

State of the Writer’s Bees.  The first nuc arrives this weekend.  Expect a post about them next week.

Everyone have a productive month, and we’ll meet back here in 31 days to say what we’ve all done.

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News Wire: Some DRM Reading

DRM, DRM, DRM.  It’s the acronym of the day in the publishing world, after Tom Doherty Associates, the parent company of the Tor and Forge imprints, would drop DRM from all of their eBooks by July.  I’ve talked about DRM before in this blog, just last week in fact, but in all of the excitement there aren’t a lot of discussions about what DRM actually is.

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and refers to a broad band of access control technologies put in place, ostensibly to protect digital media from pirating.  DRM is, in part, why you can’t burn a DVD to your iTunes library the way you can a CD.  DRM is why iTunes music downloads were previously a proprietary format and account locked.  DRM is why every Kindle device/app you get requires account validation through Amazon.  DRM is why some of your video games require online authentication to make sure you haven’t installed them too many times.  Yeah, it’s that stuff.  Consumers tend to dislike it, but it has persisted for the last several years.  Why?  Because it provides a perception of safety against attempts to illegally copy and distribute this media.

This isn’t actually what DRM does.  Anyone who has used a piece of software to create a digital copy of the contents of a DVD for personal use knows that DRM is exploitable.  It’s non-trivial, but there are workarounds for every form of DRM.  What this means in the end is that people who are looking to circumvent DRM are readily able to do so, it tends to only hamper those individuals who are looking to consume media they’ve purchased in the way most comfortable for them.  DRM thus serves as a hurdle under the DMCA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which states that it is illegal to circumvent DRM for the purpose of violating copyright.  It gives the law a hard and fast definition as to when something actually becomes a violation.

One offshoot is that you never really own an eBook, you merely license it.  You can’t sell it.  You can’t give it away.  And if you decide to switch from Kindle to Nook, you have to buy it again.

That’s a one-sided view of DRM, and I’ll admit to that.  It’s a hard subject to stay nonpartisan about.  I also mentioned Amazon and Kindle.  They’re not the culprits.  DRM is contractually imposed by the publishers, Amazon (or B&N or Sony or any other ebook retailer) is only the middleman in this equation.

So.  Tom Doherty Associates is dropping DRM.  Why is this news?  In part, it’s news because of the timing, right in the heart of the DOJ action against Apple and a portion of the Big Six.  In part, it’s because of who is doing it.  In part, it’s because of who is affected.

On the timing element, it comes on the heels of Charlie Stross’s blog post last week suggesting that abandoning DRM might be the next logical move for the publishers if the DOJ disassembles the agency model.  Stross’s timing was excellent, as he explains in a new post yesterday:

I was only just ahead of the curve: people at executive level inside Macmillan were already asking whether dropping DRM would be a good move. Last week they asked me to explain, in detail, just why I thought abandoning DRM on ebooks was a sensible strategy for a publisher.

It should be made clear, as Stross does, that he is “not responsible for Macmillan’s change of policy,” however he’s become the de facto cheerleader for the death of DRM among the Big Six publishers thanks to his post last week and his meeting with Macmillan this week.

On the who’s doing it side, you’ll note in Stross’s quotes he doesn’t say “Tor,” he doesn’t say “Tom Doherty,” he says “Macmillan.”  That’s because Tor, on the other hand, was sold to St. Martin’s Press in 1986.  St. Martin’s became part of the Holtzbrinck Group, and the Holtzbrinck Group is better known as Macmillan.  One of the Big Six.  The same Macmillan who is willing to fight the DOJ rather than settle.  They’re becoming the rebel publisher, and that’s kinda awesome.

So while it’s true that Baen has long been DRM-free, this is the first experiment by a Big Six imprint to step away from DRM and see what happens.  This doesn’t mean that they’re giving in to the pirates.  John Scalzi, a Tor author among his other credits, contacted the company and says on his blog that there is no intention on behalf of Tor or Macmillan to step down enforcement of copyright.

Oh, and Scalzi?  He’s against DRM, too.  In fact, he sums it all up perfectly.  Because he’s Scalzi:

Does this mean it’s easier for someone to violate my copyright? It does. But most people don’t want to violate my copyright. Most people just want to own their damn books. Now they will. I support that.

Scalzi’s books that are going DRM free, and he’s damn proud of that fact, announcing his next book will be DRM free from the day of release.  This gives the Tor move a clear champion within SFWA, one who will hopefully have some influence calming writers who may be concerned that dropping DRM is akin to surrendering to pirates.

That isn’t the extent of what I meant by who is affected.  Tor publishes science fiction.  Science fiction readers tend to be more technologically savvy.  So by using Tor as the publishing arm to experiment with dropping DRM, Macmillan has chosen not only the SFWA president but also a readership base that is more likely to appreciate the move.  Alright, that’s horribly generalist of me, I’ve met savvy consumers of any genre, I’ve met technophobic SF nuts, but I do find it interesting that it is a speculative fiction imprint getting the green light to go DRM-free.

I’ve looked for some dissenting opinions about this move.  I started with two blogs that I’m nearly guaranteed to disagree with, but both have come out as staunchly anti-DRM in the past.  This is actually one of those moves that both sides of the publishers vs Amazon fight agree on, the only disagreement will likely come as to predicting the potential damage to Amazon.  Even in comments threads, the only negatives I can find are variations of “Baen did this first” and general complaints about the price of eBooks, which happen any time eBooks are mentioned.  I’m enthused by the widely positive response, and hope this starts a trend in publishing.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Baen as being fully independent of the Big Six.

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Shakeup, Shakedown

Today is Monday, April 16th.  The 11th, with its suit from the DOJ against Apple and five of the Big Six publishers is most of a week behind us, and lines are still being drawn in the sands.  In the end there’s one guarantee, this entire issue is bringing the future of publishing to much more public light than anything has in a good long time.  That’s probably for the best, it’s good that there is an informed public seeing, perhaps for the first time, just how their sausages are being made.  Even if it comes hand in hand with many of the predictable questions about why digital books should be so “expensive,” considering there’s no price to printing.

So a rundown of what I’ve been reading and what I’ve been thinking, starting with what’s turning into one of the bigger lightening rods, Charlie Stross’s weekend post “What Amazon’s ebook strategy means“.

And the peculiar evil genius of Amazon is that Amazon seems to be trying to simultaneously establish a wholesale monopsony and a retail monopoly in the ebook sector.

He makes an interesting point about DRM as a player in this game.  I’ve always had a rather funny feeling about DRM, embedded technology intended to prevent pirating of copyrighted digital material.  As a producer of intellectual property (even if it’s not all that intellectual), I’ve got a stake in the protection of copyright.  However, in the end, most DRM technology has proven only to make it difficult for legal owners of material to enjoy it, rather than stemming any actual piracy.  DRM on music, DRM on eBooks, DRM on movies, all are non-trivial to overcome, but all are also nothing more than annoyances for those who know their various workarounds.  So in the end, DRM misses its mark by hindering not the pirate but the casual user.

Stross says that DRM allowed Amazon’s near monopoly of the eBook market, they very one that the alleged collusion of Apple and the publishers was meant to combat.  It was the DRM/wholesale one-two punch that created the problem.

So, because Amazon had shoved a subsidized Kindle reader or a free Kindle iPhone app into their hands, and they’d bought a handful of books using it, the majority of customers found themselves locked in to the platform they’d started out on. Want to move to another platform? That’s hard; you lose all the books you’ve already bought, because you can’t take them with you.

By foolishly insisting on DRM, and then selling to Amazon on a wholesale basis, the publishers handed Amazon a monopoly on their customers—and thereby empowered a predatory monopsony.

Amazon could take a loss on its sales of eBooks purchased under a wholesale basis (this loss is not in question), then have books locked to the Kindle thanks to the DRM.  Publishers didn’t entirely understand how the DRMs would work, but they wanted them because they would prevent piracy.  This was the advent of the modern eBook market, where most selling sources lock you into one format readable on only one reader or a family of readers.  Which means that consumers aren’t buying books, they’re buying licenses.  Stross sees the next move being the death of DRM.  Even as a content creator, I’m for this, as I don’t believe there would be any significant uptick in piracy, but there would be a significant uptick in availability of intellectual properties.  This is a net positive.

Want a dose of pessimism?  Baldur Bjarnason in his post Today is Not Tomorrow (reblogged with some additional commentary by Charlie Jane Anders on io9) looks at what the effect of an Amazon ruled eBook market could have on eBooks as a whole.  He identifies five problems:

  1. No margins (mostly due to hardware)
  2. No moat
  3. Subsidised hardware
  4. Integrated silo
  5. Specialised user-base (expert readers)

Basically by creating a specialty market, like the rise of the comic book store, Amazon ends up bracketing off a portion of the market that is more than happy with the developments, but makes it harder for someone new to get into reading eBooks.  They’re not on the newsstand, so to speak.

But, having captured the expert reader populace, Amazon is in the position to squeeze the market dry as it slowly fades away over the next twenty years. They won’t have the margins to expand novel reading and the Kindle is in many ways as unfriendly to casual readers as a comic book store is.

The Kindle as a device is a shibboleth for expert readers and as such drives casual readers away. ‘Why should I buy a Kindle? I only read a couple of books a year.’ It’s a symbol for a clique they know they won’t ever be a member of.

A free app, on the other hand, is a no-brainer decision for most people. They’ll download it, just in case.

But none of that addresses the problem of renewal once novels are removed from the public sphere. Comics have taught us that you can’t rely on parents training their children to love a medium, it needs to be instilled through exposure. The industry needs strong, healthy, and vibrant libraries. Ask any adult expert reader and they’ll all rave about how much time they spent in libraries as kids.

And here we get into another core issue, one that I don’t talk about much.  Libraries.  Publishers serve libraries in a way Amazon as yet doesn’t.  This makes sense.  Publishers support libraries because they benefit from people stumbling across new and interesting stories.  Amazon doesn’t because libraries buy one copy once and there’s no profit margin in that.  Publishers envision better profit through support, Amazon through neglect.

So what do we do?  We the writers who are just pounding away on keyboards and seeing the publishing world outside our windows going to hell in a handbag?  We do what we should always do: listen to Chuck Wendig on Prepping For The Publishing Doomsday:

Calm down.

Breathe easy.

In. Out. In. Out.

Maybe have a drink. Take a walk. Sip some oolong tea.

Then, when you’ve relaxed: keep writing.

Stay the course.

Which is what I’m going to do.  Because it’s all I can do right now.  Anything else is a course to madness, or worse, distraction from writing.  So yesterday I finished the rough draft of Chapter 34.  The outline goes 38 chapters plus an epilogue.  So I’m just going to keep writing it.  Then editing it.  Then see what comes when it comes.

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April 11 2012 News Wire

Rare direct cross post from Unleaded. There are two big developments today in the battles between Amazon, Apple, the publishers, and the DOJ, both of which deserve attention of anyone who cares about the future of ebook and regular book pricing, with the potential of both affecting the future of author compensation.

First, from The Bookseller, Two US publishers turn backs on Amazon.com. Don’t let the headline underplay this, this isn’t another dispute between Amazon and a smaller group like IPG, this is at least two of the Big Six fighting back, though specifically which two is not yet known.

At least two of the big six publishers in the US are refusing to renew contracts with Amazon.com, with the giant internet retailer said to be downplaying the promotion of their titles as a result of the dispute.

The news was first reported by Salon reporter Alexander Zaitchik, who noted in a longer piece on Amazon, that “for the first time, the ‘Big Six’ publishers—HarperCollins, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Macmillan—have refused to sign Amazon’s latest annual contract”. Overnight PaidContent reported that “people familiar with the situation” confirmed to its reporter that at least two of these big-six houses have refused to sign new annual contracts, but it could not confirm whether the remaining four had taken a similar stance.

Interesting to see they’re not completely yanking the titles like they did with IPG, but then I always suspected they went after IPG because Amazon felt they were a weaker target, someone that would just roll over, and someone whose business they could afford to lose. Can’t yank two of the Big Six, that’s a significant portion of the market, and that’s going to hurt Amazon far more than it would likely hurt the publisher.

Second, from the Washington Post, among others, Justice Dept. sues Apple, publishers over e-book prices. This is what we’ve been expecting for a few weeks now, ever since the threats came down. This follows close on the heels of HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette settling with the government.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday it was suing Apple and five major publishers, alleging they colluded to keep the price of e-books artificially high.

“As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. “We allege that executives at the highest levels of these companies–concerned that e-book sellers had reduced prices–worked together to eliminate competition.”

The suit was filed against Apple as well as HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group, and MacMillan.

I’ve made my side in this fight known. I side with the publishers, which means I side with Apple, largely because I stand by a standardization of prices across digital formats. I’m not going to say that the Agency Model is the end all and be all, but as I say in that post:

If I comparison shop between Barnes, Amazon, and my local independent book seller, I may get three different prices for a book. I can pick the cheapest one, and I can read it without any worries. However with three major formats for eBooks, comparison shopping is limited by my ability to then read the book I picked up. Finding a book cheaper through the Nook store isn’t going to do me a damned bit of good when I have a Kindle. So if one company, say Amazon, consistently undercuts the other two, it’s going to push people exclusively to the Kindle. One company can control the market by being the most able to sustain a loss.

The DOJ isn’t intentionally acting to help Amazon create a monopoly, but stand by my concerns that that will be the outcome.

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Story Trailer

Fellow Memory Eater contributor Justin Swapp is working on a series of story trailers for the anthology.  Mine went live today, and includes Carly Sorge’s fantastic artwork for the story, which I’ve previously only shown to select people on my iPod screen.  So I figured I should show it off to everyone:

Before I talk more about book and story trailers, let’s go through all the standard ads.  We still need a lot of support to get The Memory Eater funded.  We’ve had an awesome first week and the 1/3 funding threshold is already in our rear view mirror, but it’s still a long road ahead.  $8 gets you an eBook, $15 gets you the print edition, cheap for either and both help support us.  There are also still four original pieces of story art available for purchase.  The sampler, including the start to my story Home Again, is still live.  There’s also an interview with the editor up.  Go check it all out.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around book trailers.  I’m not going to pretend I know the full history of these videos, I only know my personal history with them.  It’s a history of jealousy and distrust, just as all good stories should be.  Long before I was on the internet, the only book trailers I ever saw were those very few books that got television commercials.  They would be Tom Clancy books and James Patterson books.  Hell, Patterson still shows up regularly, even in commercials that aren’t actually for his books.  I’m not sure where the feelings first came from, but as I got older I rolled my eyes more and more at book commercials.  Something about the kind of books that were being advertised to the much lower common denominator of the television audience.

Yes, I was a snotty little brat at points in my life.  Perhaps still am.

Do I begrudge James Patterson of his success?  No.  Do I wish I had it for myself?  Absolutely.  Even if that meant feeling like I was selling my soul and engaging in the kinds of writerly activities that I’ve rolled my eyes at in the past?  You better fucking believe it.

But I don’t, and so I still roll my eyes whenever I see James Patterson threatening to kill of a character from a series of books I don’t read if I don’t read the new one.  Or using words like “unputdownable.”  Which appeared in two different commercials, so I suspect he’s trolling us.  Which I can begrudgingly respect him for.

I’m not sure when I first saw a book trailer on YouTube.  I do know it was recent, because I think the book trailer for last year’s Phoenix Rising was the first I actually sat down and watched in its entirety.  When I first came across these trailers, I lumped them in with the Patterson and Clancy commercials, and dismissed them as a whole.  However, there’s one very big element to the commercials that set them apart from the trailers.

How many authors can you name that get commercials?  Beyond the ones I already have in this post.  It’s not something that happens for a huge, vast, overwhelming majority of writers.  Seriously, the number of writers who get television commercials is a rounding error away from 0%.  It’s just an avenue of advertising not open for even the biggest name writers, and certainly not for those who are relative unknowns in the field.

I’m going to stop right there, because you all see where this is going.  This is me waxing on about how the internet democratizes communication, allowing individuals to reach out to individuals in a way never before possible.  Yes.  That’s exactly what I’m saying, and I know it’s not any kind of grand revelation.  Hell, this entire blog is one fledgling writer reaching out to people that he wouldn’t have any way of reaching out to before the internet.

So instead, as someone who has viewed a couple of book trailers now, some thoughts I’ve had.

  1. Use all the resources available to you.  If all you have is a program that lets you put up some simple animations with some clip art, do it.  If you have friends with any kind of film making experience who owe you favors, cash them in.  The better it looks, the more likely someone is going to stick with it long enough to see the publication date, or share it with friends.
  2. Remember it represents you.  Check the spelling, check the grammar, take some time to edit it and make it something you can be proud of, and something that will represent you positively.
  3. Get it out there.  Youtube isn’t going to send the link out for you.  Yes, the internet blah blah democratization blah blah.  It hasn’t gone THAT far.  Get the word out there.  Zero views does no one any good.
  4. Don’t spam.  I’m trying to be good about this myself during the Kickstarter campaign, and I certainly hope people will say something if I’m going too far (this is not only permission to do so, but an actual request).  I’m limiting myself to a tweet a day and a blog post a week, where the blog post has to use the Kickstarter to segue into another topic.  Diminishing returns are a real thing.  You’re talking to largely the same audience each time.  I have personally hit that unfollow button on the writer who keeps posting the same blog post or video four or five times a day every single day.

Get out there.  Self promote.  It’s the power of the internet.

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The Memory Eater, Kickstarter, and the New Patronage

First, the obligatory advertisement.  The Memory Eater anthology has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund its initial print run.  This anthology features the works of dozens of both writers and artists, myself included.  Each story revolves around how a the ability to delete memories from an individual affects society, influenced history, and ultimately goes horribly wrong.  Each story is coupled with a full-page illustration, several of which are displayed on the Kickstarter page.  If you would like to see a sample of four of the included stories, including my story “Home Again,” the publisher has posted a sampler on the anthology’s website.  I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering a copy through the Kickstarter, and perhaps consider one of the premium rewards being offered.

I promise I’m not going to turn this blog into all Memory Eater Kickstarter all the time (not counting the sidebar widget), but I do hope my readers understand we’re in the critical first few days of the campaign.  In its first 24 hours, the anthology raised $343 towards its publication, or 8% of its total goal.  If we can average even half that per day the rest of the way, the anthology will more than exceed its funding goals.  I’m excited to take part in this campaign not only because I have a direct investment in the final project, but because I’ve been fascinated with Kickstarter for the past several months.  I’m doing my best to pick and choose my projects, but have made contributions to projects as big as the record smashing Double Fine Adventure, or as small as the Dinosaurs in Space role-playing game.  The most recently successful campaign I’ve been part of is a push to digitize old science fiction books that are largely forgotten and have no eBook formats.  I’ve never had my own idea, my own project that needed Kickstarting, so it’s fascinating to experience this from the other side.  I’ll probably make a few more blog posts about the experience as we go.  So far, it involves a lot of F5-ing and deciding if I want to be one of Those People who begs appropriately chosen celebrities on Twitter for Kickstarter retweets.

I’ve written about Kickstarter once before, over on my blog-away-from-home at Unleaded.  At the time I called Kickstarter the “Modern Patronage,” and I stand by that assessment.  It’s odd how modern technology reinvigorates old ideas and makes them new again.  Classic patronage typically involved going to a few rich individuals for a large influx of money to fund a creator’s creativity.  A painter, a writer, an inventor, someone who is trying to feed himself with ideas rather than through traditional labor.  Kickstarter represents the social media version of patronage, reaching out not to a few people but to everyone.  The goal isn’t to find one person to fund a year of a creator’s life, but to find dozens, hundreds, or occasionally thousands of people to believe in an idea just enough to promise a few dollars if and only if enough other people will also contribute just a little.  This is the amazing power of crowd sourcing, the idea that enough people doing little things can fund massive projects.  Get enough people to pitch in at an average of just $38, and suddenly you’ve got a company with $3.3 million to create the best video game they can.

In that Unleaded post from last October I said,

This isn’t the future of the publication industry.  I feel rather confident in saying that.  But it is an interesting take on the old patronage system, and could provide some deserving artists, writers, creators, and designers with the funds they need to get over the hump and see some form of success.  It can also provide an absolute kick in the teeth for that artist who falls just short or, worse, gets no support at all.

I suppose the better phrasing is that I hope this isn’t the future of the publication industry.  I don’t relish a future where all literary projects have to go through microfunding in order to exist.  However, I would like to walk back some of my cynicism from that earlier post.  While I would hate to see the entire industry go this direction, I’ve seen several individuals do it with fantastic success.  Chuck Wendig, he of the foul mouth and weekly flash fiction challenges, has had success in not one, but two recent Kickstarters for his longer fiction.  SFWA pro market Bull Spec successfully used Kickstarter to fund their third year of publication.  Laura Anne Gilman has successfully used it to fund publication of one novella, and is well underway on another project.  It’s a new step in self publication, and one fraught with all the same perils.  It requires a presence and a willingness to push and pimp and advertise.  I’m not going to post failed projects, but they exist.  Click into Ending Soon, and you’ll see plenty of projects with full green bars, but plenty more that have miles to go and only a few short hours left.  The free market giveth, and it taketh away.

I’m hoping not to get experience with that part, but this is all experience, and it’s all fascinating.

So wish us luck as we push forward.  Check out the samples.  Consider pre-ordering.  You’ll have our eternal gratitude.  Remember, it’s never a handout, there’s always something for the money.  Keep an eye on this space as I provide occasional look-ins on a Kickstarter project from the inside.

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Get the Popcorn Ready

It’s time to watch the battle lines form and opposing sides to form.  The DOJ is threatening action against Apple and five of the six big publishers, suggesting collusion in the pricing of eBooks.  Even though the issue is complicated and the sides are the DOJ vs Apple and the publishers, I suspect within a few days the narrative will be presented as Amazon vs iBooks, as this looks to be a battle between the Wholesale and Agency pricing methods.  However, I’m sure it’s also going to morph into questions of why eBooks are “so expensive” and play into the standard debate of whether or not traditional publishers still have a place within publishing.

The agency pricing method is a product of the last round of scraps, which saw the combined force of Apple and the publishers on one side, and legitimately Amazon on the other.  The iPad was a new piece of technology, iBooks looked to be the first Kindle competitor Amazon would take seriously, and Apple offered the publishers a more lucrative pricing arrangement whereby the publishers set prices for books and got better revenue splitting than Amazon offered at the time.  It was a move that stabilized publisher profits and writer royalties, though in doing so created a model unlike how books were distributed to brick and mortar locations.  Not that Amazon’s old Wholesale pricing method was exactly the same, either.

The crux is just how the Agency model came into place.  Apple offered it to the publishers, knowing that it would result in higher eBook prices than Amazon was offering, but also knowing that the publishers would readily agree and use it as ammunition to strong-arm Amazon into the same changes.  The publishers at the time felt that Amazon was undercutting prices on eBooks, even to the point of taking a loss on best sellers.  This created arbitrary price points that were lower than could sustain profitability, but were also training consumers that these were the prices eBooks were “supposed” to be.  To that extent there probably was some collusion that happened, these companies worked together to set a price point that they were able to enforce on Amazon through the power of their collective bargaining might.  Amazon didn’t want to lose the publishers to Apple, they folded, and today we have the Agency model ruling the day.

What specifically launched all this was a quote by Steve Jobs in his recent biography:

We told the publishers, “We’ll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30%, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway.”  They went to Amazon and said, “You’re going to sign an agency contract or we’re not going to give you the books.”

That’s pretty damning when read on its own, but it’s also the kind of bravado that Jobs was well known for in life.  On the flip side you have the CEO of Barnes & Noble allegedly testifying to the DOJ that abandonment of the agency model would likely give Amazon the power to create a monopoly.

When you boil the fight down to Apple v Amazon, it’s hard to take sides.  As a reader, I don’t want to see book prices set arbitrarily high.  As a writer, I don’t want to see them set arbitrarily low.  In the end, what I care the most about is writers getting the royalties they deserve, whether purchases come from a printed copy or from a digital edition.  Right now the Agency model protects those better than the Wholesale model did, but neither protects them as well as the model actually used in bookstores.  The model whereby an author gets the same royalty for a hardback whether bought full priced on day one of sale or for $1 on the ultra discount rack eighteen months later.

The central issue of all of this is the question: how much should an eBook cost.  And it’s a question with lots of strongly held opinions.  Amazon’s original theory was $9.99.  Apple and the publishers put into place a plan similar to the way print books are priced, with a premium for books that are in hardback, on recent releases, and from well known authors, with lower prices on older or back catalog releases.  Compounding the issue are two variables: the recent move by the self proclaimed “indy” authors to undercut novels put out by publishers by putting their novels out there for 99 cents, or even free, and lack of consumer understanding on just what portion of a book’s cost is related to the physical production.

Go into any discussion about the pricing of eBooks, and there will be a lot of them over the next few days, and you’ll inevitably see the question as to why eBooks are “so expensive.”  After all, the argument goes, the publishers are saving money on printing and distribution, so why aren’t those savings passed on to the consumer.  In large part it’s because these savings aren’t that great.  The costs of publishing a book are largely tied up in those things that don’t go away with eBooks.  Things like acquisition, editing, and advertising.  Digital distribution even has its own unique costs that offset the savings from printing and distribution.  Questions about why eBooks aren’t cheaper also don’t get into the above mentioned premium that the publishing industry has always put on new publications, especially by established authors.  A premium that has largely been understood in the past, and that exists across all media.  A new movie, a new DVD, a new game, a new CD, they’re all going to be more expensive than the movie in the second run theaters, the bargain rack DVD or CD, or the game from last year.

The Agency method also standardizes prices across formats, which is something that you don’t need to worry about with books.  If I comparison shop between Barnes, Amazon, and my local independent book seller, I may get three different prices for a book.  I can pick the cheapest one, and I can read it without any worries.  However with three major formats for eBooks, comparison shopping is limited by my ability to then read the book I picked up.  Finding a book cheaper through the Nook store isn’t going to do me a damned bit of good when I have a Kindle.  So if one company, say Amazon, consistently undercuts the other two, it’s going to push people exclusively to the Kindle.  One company can control the market by being the most able to sustain a loss.

This discussion is understandable.  And it needs to happen.  This is a new economy, and people are now paying money for things they feel less of a physical connection to.  You have a digital song, not a CD.  You have a file, not a paperback.  It’s probably fair that people pay less for these items, as they have fewer options of what to do with them.  I can’t sell back an eBook to a second hand dealer to recoup some money, for example.  It’s likely going to take a few more years for a pricing model that is fair to the electronic distributors, the publishers, and the writers to get sorted out.  This DOJ warning (and it’s good to stress it is only a warning at this stage) may end up being a very positive move towards finding something that is more evenly equitable for everyone involved in the production and distribution of intellectual digital property.  But it’s not going to be pretty along the way.

Final note, since I’m a day late on posting this due to yesterday’s technical difficulties, Apple has now responded:

But this allegation just strings together antitrust buzzwords.. Nor does this “Kindle theory” make sense on its own terms. For example, if Amazon was a “threat” that needed to be squelched by means of an illegal conspiracy, why would Apple offer Amazon’s Kindle app on the iPad? Why would Apple conclude that conspiring to force Amazon to no longer lose money on eBooks would cripple Amazon’s competitive fortunes? And why would Apple perceive the need for an illegal solution to the “Kindle threat” when it had an obvious and lawful one which it implemented – namely, introducing a multipurpose device (the iPad) whose marketing and sales success was not centered on eBook sales?

All we as readers and entry level writers can do is watch this play out.  If I had to pick a side…damn, it’s tough.  I’d stand with the Apple/Publishers side, largely because I’m concerned that this is happening so close to Amazon’s push to change revenue distribution with those publishers and distributors it believes it can push around.  That’s going to be pretty standard for me.  I’m usually going to side with content producers, because I am one, but I suspect there will be content producers on both sides of this.  As you may have figured out, this post is largely me just trying to make sense of it all myself.  Ultimately this fight will affect us all, but so many of us are going to have so little say in the resolution.

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Trying to Understand the IPG/Amazon Fight

If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen the online hubbub about a fight between Amazon and IPG over the pricing of Kindle editions.  I’m writing this post free-style as I work my way through some research to try and understand just what the hell is going on, in a hopes that others might understand as well.

First question, who is IPG?  They are the Independent Publishers Group.  According to their website, they were “the first organization specifically created for the purpose of representing titles from independent presses to the book trade,” a mission that dates back to 1971.  In this capacity they act as the distribution point for several smaller publishers, giving them a larger collective voice than they could muster on their own.  Most importantly, for this discussion at least, they offer digital distribution options to the publishers they are contracted with.  Again from their website:

IPG’s e-book program is a turn-key system for its client publishers. They submit—through an automated feature in the private Publisher Resources section of the IPG website—the digital file used to generate the print edition. From that point on the IPG staff is responsible for checking, storing, and disseminating the files; selecting and monitoring trading partners; negotiating the terms of trade with them; and setting the rules as to how much leeway they are allowed to give their customers in regard to viewing content before purchase and duplication after purchase.

They boast a catalog of “about 10,000 e-book titles.”  According to the New York Times, they had 4,443 titles available for Kindle.  “Had” is the important word there.  As of the 21st, none of these titles are available from Amazon electronically.  Amazon pulled the entire IPG catalog from the Kindle store, reportedly over a pricing disagreement as the two sides came to the table to negotiate an extension of their sales agreement.

If this sounds familiar, you’re probably remembering two years ago.  On January 30, 2010 Amazon did the same thing.  To Macmillan.  Though Amazon went a little farther, pulling both electronic and print, where now it is only pulling the electronic titles.  The disagreement in 2010?  Macmillan was leveraging their new agreement with the Apple iBooks store in an effort to raise electronic book prices on Amazon, and in general to control what prices Amazon was charging.  This is the so called “agency model” of pricing, contrasting with the older “wholesale model”.  The dispute lasted nearly a week, with Macmillan emerging with an agency model agreement on February 5th.  Harper Collins and Hachette soon followed suit.

This conflict is a little different.  Not because it isn’t still Amazon and a distributor sparring over prices, but because Macmillan is a member of the fabled Big Six, along with Hachette, Harper Collins, Penguin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster.  You’ll note that IPG is decidedly not on that list.  Why the different tactic?  Dennis Johnson, co-founder of Melville House and former distribution client of IPG, wonders if “[p]erhaps this time it’s simply sacrificing a smaller fish first, trusting there will be little media coverage for a lesser-known indie than a big, household-name publisher.”  There may be a grain of truth to this.  The Washington Post, for one, has no articles mentioning the IPG situation, whereas they did cover the Macmillan incident two years ago.  The story is, obviously, making its rounds in the industry press, however, and has been well covered by Publishers Weekly.

Johnson goes on to wonder whether this is all “a message to the big houses.”  If nothing else it could be an attempt to create a precedent for a new pricing arrangement, one that can be strong armed against “the kind of companies that don’t have the resources to absorb something like this so easily.”

They will be more damaged, more deeply endangered, than a Big Sixer could have imagined. There’s every likelihood that some of those little publishers sell most of their books on Amazon. This could put them out of business. For others, we could be talking about 20 or 30 percent or more of their business. It’s hard to recover from losses like that.

IPG is not taking this lying down, which is fantastic.  According to the New York Times, they’re asking their “publishers to immediately begin stressing that their books were available in other electronic formats, including from the Amazon rivals Barnes & Noble and Apple.”  IPG’s Mark Suchomel has even told Publishers Weekly that most IPG clients, “will be fine if they never sell another e-book through Amazon.”  IPG is also circling the wagons, attempting to stave off Amazon poaching away a client or two in an attempt to weaken their bargaining power.

In the end, I think I share much of Dennis Johnson’s concerns.  This is an attack that Amazon has launched before, but now against much weaker targets.  I hope IPG keeps fighting.  I hope more people see what’s going on and ask questions.  Look, I love my Kindle.  I like Amazon, in spite the impression my blog may give.  But I don’t want to see them competing unfairly in the marketplace, and attempts to strong arm special deals is exactly that.  We’re already seeing Amazon forced into more equal competition, especially with states like Virginia working to close the so-called “Amazon loophole” with regards to sales tax.  We’ll see how this fight for competitive equality fares.

In the closing words of Dennis Johnson, “Good luck to IPG and its publishers.”

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