AAR, DOJ and the Agency Model
The AAR recently sent a letter to the DOJ unanimously supporting the Agency model. I find it odd that the AAR has yet to send a collective letter to the Big 6 asking for higher, and fairer, royalty rates for their authors’ electronic rights. (This post is a version that was originally published at Digitla Book World on 10 May)
Perhaps the focus of the AAR is misplaced? As an author and a publisher, I wear two hats, so I see a couple of facets of this situation from different perspectives.
Perhaps the focus of publishers trying to defend their pricing model is misplaced? Their business model is shifting much faster than they can adapt to from distribution to discoverability.
Here’s the deal. For too long some agents and many publishers mistakenly believed they actually created the PRODUCT that readers consumed: i.e. the book. Even with print, that’s not true. The PRODUCT is the story, the words. The printed book was the medium by which those words reached the reader. Thus agents and publishers and bookstores were, and still are, facilitators. Not creators. As an author I create content. As a publisher I facilitate getting content to readers. I literally have two different offices in my house for the two different jobs.
The subtle arrogance built from years of having their own form of monopoly on publishing is now costing many in the industry and it makes the AAR letter to the DOJ regarding Amazon somewhat ironic. As I’ve pointed out: Amazon didn’t exist except in one man’s mind in 1994. How much have agents, publishers and bookstores changed and adapted in the past 18 years? In 2011 I had to radically change my approach to publishing. My old approach had served me very well for 20 years, but projecting forward and studying other parts of the entertainment business as they encountered the digital wave, it was apparent a radical overhaul was needed in my career.
When the music business crashed and burned because of digital in the early part of the last decade how many authors, agents, publishers and bookstores, invested time and money to prepare for an inevitable digital wave? I shook my head at all the hoopla raised when Tor decided to go DRM free a few weeks ago. To me it was another sign of how far behind the times the Big 6 are. At Digital Book World in January, my estimate was at least a year (an eternity in the digital world) and it hasn’t changed enough since then.
The medium is shifting from print to digital much faster than most still understand and 99% of the pundits (who are still punditting and being believed even though they have been wrong over and over) predicted. Thus agents, publishers, bookstores, and everyone else between the author and the reader have to adapt. We have to prove our value as a facilitator in that connection. Instead, what we’re seeing is an entrenchment to hold to being the “gatekeepers”; the “curators”; whatever you want to call it. Even some authors have jumped on the bandwagon, such as Scott Turow; but those on the bandwagon, are those who’ve been on the top 5% bandwagon. Of course they want to see the established system stay in place. It works quite well for them.
Back when the Amazon-MacMillan battle was fought over pricing and MacMillan “won” I was also shaking my head. In my opinion, based on having studied warfare and been a soldier both in the Infantry and Special Forces for many years, Amazon clearly won the war, while ceding the battle. Perhaps a brush up with Sun Tzu might help?
Amazon clearly flexed its muscles and showed its capability, let MacMillan raise prices, which consumers just love, and moved on (now moving into the fashion world, to the dismay of the facilitators in that medium). Since then, what exactly has MacMillan done to facilitate the writer to reader connection? Kept eBook prices artificially high, while not increasing royalties to their authors any significant amount.
To be honest, I want the Agency model to continue. It gives Cool Gus Publishing a great pricing advantage over legacy publishers. When readers have to choose between our eBooks at $2.99 to $4.99 and a legacy eBook at $12.99, more often than not, our book gets the nod. Please, NY, keep your eBook prices high.
At Cool Gus Publishing, we had to write a four page fact sheet to give to authors when they ask why they should give up an percentage of what they could make on their own self-publishing by signing with us. Our percentage is very small, especially when compared to the Big 6 or even most smaller e-publishers. We have to prove our worth as a facilitator. If we can’t, then we can’t stay in business as a publisher. We have to be honest and upfront about it.
The issue now for agents, publishers and bookstores is not fighting a futile battle against Amazon and the inevitable digital world, but rather this: how to adapt to become a worthwhile facilitator between author and reader? What value do I add to this process? The standard answers are quality control, editorial, print distribution (not dead yet! To quote Monty Python), etc. But readers are making the ultimate quality control decisions now with the buy button. Editorial can be outsourced to freelancers (many of them fleeing the sinking Titanic in NYC). We don’t care much about print distribution as we make a “very nice deal” each month on eBook sales alone and don’t have to assume the high overhead of printing, physical sales forces, distribution, returns, etc. etc. Digital also means we can shift quickly when needed, such as recently completely redoing the covers for my entire Atlantis series based on reader feedback, marketing research, metadata, and studying daily, weekly and monthly sales figures. We did that in a week. It’s taken the first NY imprint years to remove DRM. We used DRM on a few books when we started in January of 2010 but quickly removed DRM because it’s what our customers preferred. Our customers are readers, not agents, publishers, sales reps, book buyers, or bookstores. I believe we run a form of what some have now labeled “agile” publishing? We called it flex publishing about a year ago.
Perhaps the AAR, and others, might better spend their time writing letters about how they can change and help readers connect with good authors and authors connect with readers?
Posted on May 22, 2012, in Publishing, Write It forward and tagged Agency Model, Amazon Kindle, Bob Mayer, Cool Gus Publishing, Digital Book World, ePublishing, Future, The Future of Publishing, Write It Forward. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.