DOJ, Authors Guild, BEA, and Hypocritical Authors Backing Up Words With Action

I recently read the email where the Authors Guild is asking members to send to the DOJ to stop the legal action regarding the Agency Model.  I found it quite strange.  It felt as if the Authors Guild was defending bookstores, publishers, agents and others in the mistaken belief that in doing so they were helping authors.  I can’t ever remember the Authors Guild taking such strong action defending authors against bookstores, publishers and agents.  Demanding higher eBook royalty rates.  And even in the letter, the Guild admits publishers made a “mistake” in allowing Amazon to dominate the eBook market.  I’m not sure it was a mistake as much as it was arrogance.  I keep going back to one fact:  Amazon didn’t exist except in Bezos mind in 1994.  How much has publishing changed since then?

And then there are the authors.  Scott Turow and Richard Russo and Malcolm Gladwell key among them.  I love Richard Russo’s books, but I find his business stance quite hypocritical.  Ditto with Turow and Gladwell.  If Amazon is the evil empire as they quite clearly say, then why are their books still for sale on Amazon?  Hey guys, if you hate it so much, immediately demand your publishers pull your books from Amazon.  NOW!  You don’t get to have your sales and sneer at them too.  I’m sick of the top 5% of authors who get coddled by publishers defend a business that treats its other 95% of authors as replaceable parts that they can easily toss on the garbage pile and replace.  You show me a traditional author defending legacy publishing whose contract doesn’t get renewed, and I’ll show you an author whose tune changes very fast.

Publishers, agents, editors, bookstores, here’s something you basically need to wrap your brain around:  the physical book you hold so dear is NOT the product you are selling.  The story that writers create is the product.  That story can be bought by the consumer in the physical form of a book, but it can also be bought digitally to be read or listened to.  And the latter is going to become dominant sooner, rather than later.

I spent a day this week at BEA.  I did my first BEA about 10 years ago.  This one wasn’t much different.  I was walking the aisles with my business partner at Cool Gus, Jen Talty, and I told her:  “Half these people are going to be looking for jobs in three years.”  I’m not being mean, I’m being realistic.  It’s pretty much business as usual, like the band playing on the Titanic and the passengers swapping deck chairs to listen to them.  The ship is still going down people.  I saw nary a computer screen at any of the booths displaying digital books.  I saw not a single publisher giving away digital arcs (and wouldn’t it be so much cheaper and environmentally friendly to do so?).

I’ve dealt with most of the Big 6 as an author.  Not once, in 20 years, did anyone from there say to me this key phrase that I have now heard from Amazon KDP, Amazon 47North, Kobo, Audible and PubIt:  “How can we help you sell more books?”

Here’s another thing I notice about Amazon, Audible, Kobo and PubIt:  Their reps seem to be having fun.  They’re smiling, younger, and very focused on the bottom line of selling books.  They want to try new things and they want to try them with author participation.  I see legacy publishing bringing in “gurus” in digital, etc. but not caring much for author participation except for their top 5% who actually don’t need help and have their hands folded over their lap saying:  “Hey, let’s keep the status quo.  Works really for ME.”

The reps from these companies are also honest.  Listening to the Audible presentation, it was very up front:  Will we help you in marketing your book?  The answer:  Not really.  Not unless you’re really selling well.  It’s your job as the author to get those numbers.

Brutal, but honest.

How many times did I get promises from my editor and publicist at a traditional house promising me marketing, only to have nothing done?  Every time.  This is where a lot of the rage from those who were disposed of by NY in the midlist comes from.  Being bullshitted in order to get you off the phone and leave them alone.

Jen and I had access to the top people at Amazon—Worldwide Director of KDP and Createspace; General Manager KDP; Acquisitions Editors at 47North; Managing Director at Createspace.  At legacy publishers, you’re lucky to get the assistant the second tier editor.  If they respond at all.

I met with PubIt and we discussed my latest title, I, Judas: The Fifth Gospel.  We’re putting it out on Nook First on Monday, then I’m using the reader feedback to rewrite it for release on Amazon next month.  The eBook, as we preach here at Cool Gus, is organic.  We recently changed all the covers on the Atlantis series and it boosted sales.

Yes, I might even be getting less cynical about publishing, because it’s a very new world out there.

About Bob Mayer

West Point Graduate, former Green Beret and NY Times bestselling author Bob Mayer has had over 50 books published. He has sold over five million books, and is in demand as a team-building, life-changing, and leadership speaker and consultant for his Who Dares Wins concept. He's been on bestseller lists in thriller, science fiction, suspense, action, war, historical fiction and is the only male author on the Romance Writers of America Honor Roll. Born in the Bronx, Bob attended West Point and earned a BA in psychology with honors and then served as an Infantry platoon leader, a battalion scout platoon leader, and a brigade recon platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division. He joined Special Forces and commanded a Green Beret A Team. He served as the operations officer for 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and with Special Operations Command (Special Projects) in Hawaii. Later he taught at the Special Forces Qualification Course at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, the course which trains new Green Berets. He lived in Korea where he earned a Black Belt in Martial Arts. He's earned a Masters Degree in Education.

Posted on June 7, 2012, in Write It forward and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Great post, Bob. I had dinner with a writing friend last night. She’s a new writer, and what’s interesting is she’s getting started at a time when publishing is wide open. When I ask who she was targeting her novel to, she named digital publishers first, then self-publishing, and as an afterthought two legacy publishers. The publishing world is definitely changing.

  2. Another terrific post! And I just have to tell you how much I appreciate your viewpoint and experience when it comes to issues like these. Seems I’m so often surrounded by the “party line”, it’s great to hear from the other side!

  3. Enjoyed the truth to “power” post, Bob. I found it interesting that there were no laptops – no one was touting the biggest publishing trend since the printing press. Very odd. That alone speaks volumes. I wonder how BEA will change over the coming years. Will there need to be a “physical” BEA? Could it all be done online? Probably not. As social beings we still like “face time” and as much as Skype has helped, I still like to breathe the same air as my favorite authors.

    And as usual I’m tweeting and facebooking this.
    Mitzi

  4. Well said, Bob! I am with you: I published my first book as an E book.
    Good luck with the new book.
    Johanna

  5. This was my first BEA and I really thought it was going to be overwhelming and intimidating. It was overwhelming. Bob and I walked around, getting a feel for the place when we first got there. I will talk more about my experience “working” the Kobo booth in my post later this week, but I really like Kobo’s approach. And yes, they are making it easier. The new dashboard for Kobo should be fully functional very soon as they are starting to send out passcodes. I’ll be working with them on how to improve the author experience inside the dashboard and also discussing some other ways in which they can help readers find new authors. I’m also going to be heading up to their offices in the next couple of weeks to get a tour and do an interview for the website.

    I spent 2 days at BEA (first day with Bob and second day I flew solo) and it was a very eye opening experience. I spoke to at length with the representatives with Createspace and am very impressed. We will be making some changes in our POD production. I also spent some time talking with the project manager who is going to put me in touch with someone at Author Central about some questions I had and some problems I was facing with my authors there. They want to resolve those issues for us and make the system work for authors and readers.

    While some walked away with a sense of doom and gloom in publishing–I left thinking there really is not better time to be an author.

  6. Great post, Bob, and best of luck with our new release through Nook First!

  7. Bob- you said it so very well “It’s pretty much business as usual, like the band playing on the Titanic and the passengers swapping deck chairs to listen to them. The ship is still going down people”. And I so agree with you that they will be looking for jobs in three years- Hmm I wonder if (when they are out of work) they will think of indie publishing their stories about their time as a big Six editor or agent?

  8. Your post is correct in that publishing is changing and legacy publishing will be forced to either respond to the changes or not survive. However, your post still doesn’t address the fact that the government is getting involved where it has no business being. The DOJ suit is a travesty and I am glad that so many people are standing up and saying so.

    • It’s neither a travesty nor the government getting involved where it has no business. There is evidence that 5 of the Big 6, with Apple’s help, broke the law, colluding in order to fix prices. If this suit is somehow “government intrusion,” than so is every example of criminal prosecution. By your argument, we should let some dude who stole your car get away with it, because to do otherwise is having the government stick its nose where it doesn’t belong.

    • The only travesty is that so many people seem to believe that the biggest publishers in the world colluding to fix and raise ebook prices shouldn’t be investigated. Rob brought up a great point; don’t you ever call the police if someone steals from you.

  9. God! I feel like the stupidest person on the planet. I’ am so “green” about publishing and all that. All the intials people use are “Greek” to me. It seems everyone is talking in a secret code. (BEA, POD ,DOJ ) I don’t know what all those mean. Is there a dictionary some where that has all that in it to help a new writer stumble through those corridors? Also, Bob. You really gave me a slap on the wrist.when you said the “book you hold so dear is not the product.” That really put me straight and brought me up short. I had forgotten that. Maybe that’s why I’m not quite published yet. My Bad!!!

  10. It’s great to read a post that describes something based upon what it actually is and does, rather than what it says. The sea’s still cluttered with cross waves, and nobody should assume we know what’s coming, but at least we do know what lies behind us as writers. We also know that there are finally some options out there that make sense if you take the time to understand what will be required of you. It’s also nice to have my personal decision not to attend BEA corroborated so succinctly. Thanks, Bob.

  11. Thanks bunches for the great BEA reporting, Bob!

    I wish your experience surprised me but it doesn’t. It will always be business as usual for the TradiPubs because they have Returns Centers to pay for. When they make more money shredding books than storing and selling ‘em, there’s no incentive to sell them.

  12. I’m inspired. Thanks for this post!

  13. This is interesting. I know what you mean about the marketing. My first children’s book was published by a small publisher, and did I see any of the marketing they did for me? No. It seemed to me that I was doing all the marketing, coming up with all the ideas. The end result – it was taken out of print end of last year. With ebooks, they are forever, unless the author wants to unpublish it. This is one of the reasons that I have started publishing ebooks.

  14. Marketing in legacy publishing, except for the top 5%, consists of throwing 100 titles against the wall hoping magic happens and one sticks.

  15. Following you and Holly and some others is like hiding behind the curtains at the Continental Congress. Without the flies. Another thought-provoking post. :)TX

  16. Dear Bob and Jen, I’m pleased you had a great time at BEA. I’ve attended a number of times, the first time over 30 years ago when it was still the ABA as a guest of my publisher. I wrote for Zebra Books back then.

    I read every one of Scott Turow’s blogs (and J.A. Konrath’s rebuttals) regarding the Department of Justice suit and I’m a little confused over why Apple was included. Didn’t the Big 6 force Apple to accept the agency model terms? Of am I just missing something?

    Mr. Turow’s rant against Amazon seemed totally silly to me. I agree with you, Bob, if Mr. Turow is that upset over Amazon being the big bad wolf, why are his books still being sold through Amazon? I thought Mr. Turow, as the duly elected president of the Author’s Guild, is supposed to represent the authors who elected him. From the sound of his blog, he appears to be representing himself. If I were a member, I would be more than upset by his rant. Besides, I believe Amazon is providing some healthy competition to the Big 6, as well as seriously considering the needs of the authors.

    I have found Amazon to be visionary. Especially during this time when publishing as a business is changing so rapidly. The industry has changed so dramatically in favor of the author that I’m always jazzed by new developments and ready to embrace them. I think most authors are because I feel we are more flexible and able to change directions quickly. And with our futures as writers no longer tied to legacy publishing, we now have the ability to strike out on our own without being dependent on legacy publishers, and possibly even make money.

  17. Bob,

    I slightly disagree about the definition of the product we sell. People do place value in the physical form of the book, so it’s part of the product. However, that’s similar to saying that the wrapping is part of the Christmas present. Does the wrapping add value? Sure. However, like editors, publishers, distributors, paper and ink manufacturers, and retailers, it’s not the end purpose. (And when you buy something for yourself, do you pay for gift wrapping?)

    • Hi Jim,

      I think people place a LOT of value in the physical form of books, and that the changes in the physical form of books are a very big factor in the public’s response to digital books,particularly around price.

      For years and years, most published have trained their customers to equate cost with physical form. Larger books cost more than smaller books, hard-cover books cost more than soft-cover, full-color books cost more than black & white, etc. I believe that this has conditioned most of us who purchase books to believe that much (if not most) of the value of books comes from their physical form.

      Digital publishing turns this on its head. Because eBooks have no physical form, it’s difficult for customers to get a feel for how much an eBook is worth. All they know is that they’re paying for an electronic file that can be duplicated and distributed at virtually no cost. One of the challenges for publishers adopting digital publishing will be to demonstrate to customers that the true value of books lies in their content, not just in their packaging.

      Take Care,

      Lou Prosperi

  18. Sounds like the buggy whip manufacturers railing against the Henry Ford and the horseless carriages.

  19. Good post Bob, you always come at this topic even handedly. It’s a pleasure to read your blog and learn something new

  20. Great post, Bob. I can’t wait to read I, Judas. Although I’m a Kindle girl so I’ll have to wait for the Amazon version.

  21. Great post, Bob! You say it loud and clear! Why don’t the big 6 six get it?

  22. Yeah, Bob. This is not brutal honesty, it’s reality. Duh!!! Problem for the big boys (boo hoo) is the gap…age-youth. traditional media vs. new media. SOPA/PIPPA problems really headlined this in a nutshell. The Digitals are laughing about it as well. Traditional media And as for Amazon being a monster to be frightened about? I daresay, it is in the company’s best interests to be more inclusive of many more authors…to churn out a very wide net to catch big fish and little fish. The traditional publishers in being elitist and monopolistic DESTROYED THEMSELVES AND DESTROY THEMSELVES DAILY. It couldn’t happen to a “nicer” bunch of folks who intended to monopolize the written word FOREVER.

    That is why you must be aware of every attempt of traditional media to overcome the digital media’s power and the online community’s power using traditional media’s lobbying power to swamp congress and create laws that will greatly hamper the versatility and flexibility of digital media companies. We don’t need a variation of SOPA/PIPPA or another act like it that is disguised as some benign nothing. We need to watch events as they unfold…and support new media whenever possible…PS All the writers’ unions are in bed with traditional media. They’re a joke.

  23. Whatever one may say about Amazon they’ve completely revolutionalized my life. I used to read, maybe, five to ten books a year, now it’s more like thirty, thanks to my Kindle. I use the text to speech function to distract myself when exercising and now do three times as much exercise. I never would have written my novel, The Death of Carthage, if I hadn’t been able to listen to Livy’s History of Rome on the Kindle, and wouldn’t be able to market it if it weren’t for Amazon. For better or for worse, and frankly, I think for better, the revolution has arrived.

  24. Will you be rereleasing it on the Nook after you rewrite the book for Amazon? I’d hate to buy the version you’re planning to change.

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