Monday, September 20, 2010

David Morrell on Ebooks

A few months ago I predicted a bestselling author would publish a new title exclusively on Kindle. Author David Morrell did just that with THE NAKED EDGE, a follow-up to his thriller hit THE PROTECTOR.

Besides THE NAKED EDGE, Morrell has also released nine of his backlist titles on Amazon, including the ground-breaking FIRST BLOOD, which many cite as the first modern action thriller.

David has always been a savvy guy when it comes to publishing. He was one of the first authors to use the term "platform", and has always been smart about the business end of things in this industry.

To see him understand and embrace the future with a move like this is a portend of things to come. He's doing what publishers have failed to do, and he won't be the first heavyweight to do so.

I caught up with David in Monaco, at the Monte Carlo Casino, and we discussed his new move while playing $500 minimum baccarat.

Okay, that's not true. I just emailed him.

David, why did you decide to publish these ten as ebooks?

David: Early this year, Amazon came to my agent, Jane Dystel, about making a large portion of my backlist available as Kindle e-books. These days, print publishers don’t seem as interested in backlist titles as they used to be. When they do commit to a backlist, it’s often so that they can have the e-book rights, which means that the way contracts are now written, the publishers have the e-book rights forever. The Amazon proposal allowed me to keep the e-rights while at the same time receiving the full might of Amazon to promote the titles on a global scale.

We selected nine titles from my backlist (after 38 years as an author, I have a lot of material in the vault). To draw attention to those nine titles, I decided to add an original, never-before-published novel, THE NAKED EDGE.

Joe: The Amazon marketing muscle is the main reason I signed with them for SHAKEN rather than simply release the ebook on its own. (For those keeping tabs on such things, I'm now selling 7500 self-pubbed ebooks per month on Kindle alone.)

THE NAKED EDGE is currently #206 on the Kindle Bestseller list, and I have no doubt it will continue to sell well, especially with Amazon getting behind it.

While publishers are mucking about with enhanced ebooks for the iPad by incorporating video into them, you've taken a simpler, yet still innovate, approach to adding extra value to ebooks.

THE NAKED EDGE has some pretty cool pics in the back matter (which look great in full color on various Kindle apps, and also reproduce very well in grayscale on the Kindle itself.) Do you foresee more authors adding extra content to their ebooks?

David: One reason that I wanted to offer THE NAKED EDGE directly as an e-book is to experiment with what an e-book can be. A main character in the book is a master knife maker, the old-fashioned kind with a hammer and an anvil. In the novel, he makes replicas of famous fine-art knives, such as the one in a 1950’s Warner Bros. movie, THE IRON MISTRESS, starring Alan Ladd as Jim Bowie. It’s an absolutely gorgeous knife that was used in a lot of other movies and inspired many contemporary knife makers, such as Gil Hibben who designed the knives for the last two Rambo films.

Another knife that’s described in the book is the most expensive knife in the world, Buster Warenski’s solid-gold replica of Kind Tut’s dagger. It’s valued at a million dollars. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could include photographs of these stunning objects?”

If the 18 examples I selected were put into a printed novel, in color, the price would be extreme. But it doesn’t cost anything to include photos with an e-book, so I decided to tailor THE NAKED EDGE for an e-book format.

Joe: It does, however, cost a lot of money to add video, and that's what I'm hearing that publishers are doing. However, Kindle can't do video yet. What sense does it make to create video books when they can't be sold on the #1 platform? (My latest numbers: over 100,000 Kindle ebooks sold vs. 390 iPad ebooks sold.)

Another dumb move publishers are making involves authors' backlists. Either they try to grab ebook rights when the rights weren't mentioned in the original contract, or they make lowball offers for backlists with terrible royalty rates.

THE PROTECTOR is one of my favorite books of yours, so it's great that this is available again. Especially since used paperbacks are selling for $60 on Amazon.

It's insane that this book went of out print in the first place. But it's great for you, because now you can earn more than the sixty cents per paperback you were being paid, while still keeping the price under the cost of a new paperback.

And now you've written a sequel...

David: I love the dialogue between the main characters. Cavanaugh and Jamie remind me of Nick and Nora in THE THIN MAN, lots of amusing male-female banter between them, but with the difference that in my case the banter is accompanied by serious action.

As much as THE NAKED EDGE emphasizes what I see as a healthy marriage, it’s also about the failed friendship between Cavanaugh and a boyhood friend who is now his enemy. The background is that five years ago I ended a 35-year friendship with a man I considered to be my brother. The reasons are nobody else’s business, but I came to realize that the end of a friendship between two men (or two women for that matter) can be as angry and destructive as a divorce.

Here, the consequences of those emotions are harrowing. Skilled at protecting others, Cavanaugh discovers that it’s quite another thing to protect himself, especially from a man who knows him so well. The emotions are frank and honest.

Joe: Cavanaugh is in a short story, “The Attitude Adjuster,” that I included in an anthology I edited, THESE GUNS FOR HIRE. He's my favorite of your characters.

Can you explain why there are two versions of THE TOTEM?

David: In the late 1970s, when I submitted a 550 page version of THE TOTEM, my editor wanted to know why there wasn’t a love interest and why there were so many characters and . . . Let’s just say the editor didn‘t “get” what I was doing.

THE TOTEM is my attempt to redefine the werewolf myth, using science as the explanation, instead of superstition. It’s set in a town in an isolated valley in Wyoming, and one reason for the novel’s length is that I wanted to characterize the valley, to create a substantial sense of place.

In those days, I had not yet been fortunate enough to have a New York Times bestseller, which meant that I could either agree to the cuts or hit the road. Reluctantly, I agreed to the cuts, reducing the scale, emphasizing the town rather than the valley. That version was substantially shorter, almost by half. It had a very different beginning and climax.

I also changed the style, giving the revised text a subtle rhythm, which was my attempt to try to control the reader’s heartbeat. Even in the short version, the book received great reviews and was cited as one of the 100 most frightening horror novels. In 1994, I finally had a chance to publish the original 550-page version. That became the US version while the short version was the UK version.

Now both versions are available in one package as a single Kindle e-book. It’s another way to explore the possibilities of the format. In a printed book, the cover price of combining both versions would have been huge. But here I can add as much material as I want without any extra cost to the reader.

Joe: I did the same thing with my horror novel TRAPPED a few months back--putting two different versions into the same ebook. I'm also doing the same thing with SHAKEN.

Publishers don't seem to understand that ebooks aren't just another format. They have many advantages over print, and are allowing writers to give readers more bang for the buck.

Some readers don't understand this, either. I've gotten many emails from fans who are upset that I'm releasing certain titles as ebooks.

David: I'm getting a little heat for the e-book only option. On the other hand, if the book were a print novel and I waited 3 months for the e-book to be available, as some publishers prefer, then I would get heat for that. It seems very wrong that someone would make an aesthetic judgment based on whether the book is an e-book or not.

Joe: People are resistant to change. But change inevitably comes, and the majority adopts it, usually amid much grumbling. Then they wonder how they ever lived without the technology. Cell phones come to mind. I know several folks who swore they'd never get a cell phone because there was no reason for it. They all eventually gave in.

But even if some readers hate the thought of Kindles, ebooks are allowing writers more freedom than ever before. We're no longer beholden or bound to the whims of editors, sales reps, distributors, coop, marketing dollars, chain-store buyers, and corporate folks who ultimately decide the fate our books. For the first time, we can directly reach readers without any gatekeepers or middlemen who impose their ideas on what works and what doesn't, and we can make 70% royalties, compared to the 8% royalties we've gotten for paperbacks.

I don't want to speak for you, but I find this brave new world liberating and exciting. I can write what I want, without worrying about length, or if it fits into a specific genre, or if the buyer for Barnes and Noble will pre-order enough copies. I control the title, the price, the cover, and the content, and no one else has any say over how I run my career. My success or failure isn't dependent on the whims of an industry that accepts returns, where a 50% sell-through is considered acceptable, where overhead has become outrageous, and where only 1 out of 5 publishing books actually makes a profit.

What is your take on this revolution? Is it even a revolution? You've been in this biz since Gutenberg printed his first bible. Are ebooks a gamechanger?

David: Yes, I think ebooks are a gamechanger.

I’m not abandoning printed books. I collect Dan Simmons books and would not be happy if I didn’t have a signed copy of everything he writes. Some books are so attractive that I love holding them and admiring their artwork. Some books are so compelling that I want to lend them to my friends or buy them as gifts.

But the current system is broken.

I am troubled when I think of how the chain stores charge publishers a fee to display their books and then sometimes don’t display the books anyhow because of a communications failure.

I am troubled by the inefficiency of book distribution. How many authors have gone on a tour only to find that their books are available only in the store where they’re signing and not anywhere else in the city, or in the state for that matter, because the warehouse screwed up?

It bothers me that a new printed book has a six-week shelf life.

It bothers me that books go out of print rapidly (to create warehouse space for new books, which themselves will soon go out of print).

It bothers me that, if an editor wants to buy the manuscript of a new novel, it’s first necessary to get the okay of the marketing department, which in turn sometimes goes to the buyers for the chain stores and asks them “If we publish this book, how many copies would you hypothetically buy?”

This is nuts. There’s something liberating when writers don’t need to base their self-worth on what a conglomerate’s marketing team decides is a good book. The e-book market allows writers to write what they want. There’s no guarantee that a non-trendy book will attract readers, but at least authors now have a chance to find out.

Joe: Amen. When we get to Monaco, first beer is on me...

56 comments:

Robin O'Neill said...

Thank you Joe and David. I love these discussions and they're so valuable no matter where you are in your career.

I finished a novel over the weekend and offered to let my agent read it, but made him understand that no matter what he decides to do it's going on Kindle this week. I also made him understand that the issue of editorial input is not on the table at this point. When I said I wanted a 6 figure advance and a movie deal to make substantial changes, he thought I was kidding. I'm not.

I know publishers are squeamish about gay pedophiles but too bad, that's the story. Amazon isn't squeamish--they don't give a darn what's in the book.

Thank you, Jeff Bezos!

Gary Ponzo said...

Great post you guys. I read First Blood a couple of decades ago and felt the Rambo character was an eye-opening experience. A psychotic with enough foreshadowing to allow the reader to understand the trail of death he leaves behind.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Well done. As time goes by, I mention "publishing industry" less and less because it's not THE industry anymore. This is the writing and reading industry, where inventiveness wins.

Scott Nicholson
http://www.hauntedcomputer.com

Lou said...

I recently rediscovered Morrell with "Scavengers" after first reading the Brotherhood in High School. It's nice to reconnect with a forgotten favorite, and I wish him great success with amazon and the Kindle. Things are really changing, aren't they?

Louis Porter Jr. said...

Very insightful. Thank you for placing this up.

a-r-williams said...

I think there could be a couple of reasons, besides the normal ones, why publishers would be very interested in enhanced e-books.

1. Price point.

They fear that the price point of ordinary e-books are going to go on a downward spiral. Once a greater percentage of readers get their books by means other than paper, they think this will lead to the fall of their cash cow, the hardback novel.

Enhanced e-books have video and audio and a host of other extras the traditional book and e-book does not. They come with more goodies than the hardback novel.

But all of those extras cost more to create. So it will give them every reason to price enhanced e-books above what hardbacks currently sell for.

2. Writers.

Most writers do not want the hassle of publishing their own book. However, more and more mid-list and upper tier writers will experiment with self-publishing their work. A lot of them will talk of their successes and/or failures with their friends who are also writers.

People follow what other people do. As more is learned about self-publishing, the writers who create the profits for publishers will try it themselves.

But with enhanced e-books, that production will become more difficult for the lay person.

Writers will have trouble competing with the high cost productions enhanced e-books require and will then need publishers in order to enter that market.

wannabuy said...

Thanks to Joe and David for further perspective. Nicely done (by both).

It bothers me that a new printed book has a six-week shelf life.

I didn't realize the turnover was *that* quick... yikes!

I see enhanced e-books working for kids. Otherwise, people will download the movie if video is what they want.

I started an e-book blog to discuss some of the numbers on e-books. I've done a few charts worth looking at:

http://ebookcomments.blogspot.com/


Neil

Joe Konrath said...

Writers will have trouble competing with the high cost productions enhanced e-books require and will then need publishers in order to enter that market.

Your points make sense, but if that's how publishers are thinking, they aren't thinking clearly.

A low priced ereader embraced by the public that can support video is a long way off. These expensive enhanced ebooks might indeed be the future, but in the present, it's akin to inventing the light bulb before inventing electricity.

I'm all for multimedia. But Amazon is the leader, and their technology doesn't allow for video yet.

But the Kindle isn't limited, by any means. There are a lot of ways ebooks can be enhanced without video.

With Trapped and Shaken, the ebooks will have two versions.

With Draculas, the ebook will have 60,000 words of extras to compliment the 70,000 word novel.

With Banana Hammock, I've used hyperlinks to create an easy-to-navigate choose your own adventure.

I've got an upcoming ebook called JUST IS, which takes advantage of the Kindle's 16 shades of gray to stunning effect, making it perfect for graphic novels.

There are plenty of ways to add value and content without having to hire a film crew.

Mark Terry said...

Nice interview, David. I'll be uploading The Naked Edge to my Kindle just as soon as I leave my office for the day.

CJ West said...

> There’s something liberating when writers don’t need to base their self-worth on what a conglomerate’s marketing team decides is a good book.

Well said David. Great interview.

One of the great things about ebooks is that (when published independently), most of the money coming from the customer is going directly to the author.

Liberating is a great word. Thanks for your insights.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

This interview might be the best one you've done all year, Joe. It got me thinking-- if these backlist titles are ONLY available as ebooks, it might create a situation where the "tail wags the dog"-- meaning that pbook readers, searching for their favorite authors, will discover that some of their books are only available as an ebook, and that will push the sales of ereaders even higher.


By the way, my husband bought me an iPad this week. I'm officially on the bandwagon.

Jim said...

While the ebook portion of this post is old-hat, what’s new is that we have an established author (besides JA) trashing the system and publishers that gave him support and a livelihood for so many years.

"I am troubled when I think of how the chain stores charge publishers a fee to display their books and then sometimes don’t display the books anyhow because of a communications failure".

First of all, I doubt this happens with much frequency. Second of all, the world isn’t perfect. When organizations have to communicate and coordinate with one another, mistakes will occasionally happen. Either way, the author still gets the advance set forth in the contract.

"I am troubled by the inefficiency of book distribution. How many authors have gone on a tour only to find that their books are available only in the store where they’re signing and not anywhere else in the city, or in the state for that matter, because the warehouse screwed up?"

See above. Also with a Kindle-only release, authors wont have to worry about problems happening during a tour because there won’t be one. They won’t have to worry about whether their books will be in stores, either, because they won’t. Libraries either.

"It bothers me that a new printed book has a six-week shelf life"

So what do you suggest, a six-month shelf life? How does that work, exactly? Are the stores (which you don’t own or run) supposed to double the size of their interiors and increase their shelf space because you’d like your book kept there longer? Are fewer books supposed to be printed by publishers (again which you don’t own or run) in the first place so that the ones that are printed get to stay on the shelves longer?

Also keep in mind that good books are in fact kept longer than six weeks. Many are placed on perpetual reorder and maintained year after year in the stacks.

"It bothers me that books go out of print rapidly (to create warehouse space for new books, which themselves will soon go out of print)."

Historically, books have gone out of print because after the first or second or nth printing because the market for that particular book has fallen below the cost of printing another run. To print it again would result in a loss of money. Publishers are not in the business to lose money. If they were, they wouldn’t be around the next time an author wanted a door to knock on.

Also, now of course with POD, the future is moving towards even paper books being kept “in print.” Amazon is already doing this with CreateSpace. Further, the publishers ebooks do not go out of print in 6 weeks.

"It bothers me that, if an editor wants to buy the manuscript of a new novel, it’s first necessary to get the okay of the marketing department, which in turn sometimes goes to the buyers for the chain stores and asks them “If we publish this book, how many copies would you hypothetically buy?”"

In that case it must “bother you” that the publisher is trying to accurately gauge the anticipated market for the book and how many copies to print. Publishers can basically sell only to two venues, (1) readers through stores and (2) readers through libraries. It’s logical that a publisher will gauge its buying decisions and print-run decisions on how big those markets are.

"This is nuts."

Actually, it isn’t. There might now be another player in town, Kindle, but that doesn’t mean that everything else is suddenly nuts or that publishers are suddenly stupid.

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Well put, guys, well put. I'm hoping to pick up a Kindle in a couple weeks, I can't wait! I'm hosting a chat on Twitter tonight called #ebooklitchat...Joe and Dave, and everybody else, feel free to stop by! Monday 8-9 PM CST. Viva la revolution!

Devon said...

I've heard David's latest books didn't sell. If that's the case, I can see why ebooks would be appealing to him.

I still don't see this as much of a shift. It just shows that ebooks are where people at the end of their careers go to squeeze the last drop of blood from their backlists. It's a good thing, but it's not exactly taking over the industry.

wannabuy said...

Christy said:
if these backlist titles are ONLY available as ebooks, it might create a situation where the "tail wags the dog"--
Exactly! But that is why it takes a significant number of e-readers out there (or, e-book market share) to drive awareness as well as drive authors to make money off their backlists.


Joe said:

For the first time, we can directly reach readers without any gatekeepers or middlemen who impose their ideas on what works and what doesn't,
Joe, that is one of the reasons I'm so excited about e-books! Direct feed to us readers. :)

Devon:
I find your comments ironic as it is likely David will make more money off his e-books than the rest of his book career (excluding movie deals). Backlists belong on Kindle/Nook/Smashworks/etc.

*If* David couldn't get a book deal, it shows how broken the system is; obviously an artifact of inflated overhead. Seriously, talk about an easy sell... I'd love to know how his e-books do (units, dollars are his business).

Neil

alastairmayer said...

@wannabuy: Interesting post on the e-book data. I look forward to following that.

Yesterday I hit the Amazon bestseller list (okay, in the science fiction anthology niche) with my collection Starfire & Snowball). That doesn't actually translate to huge sales numbers (SF anthologies are a much smaller niche than say thrillers) but it's only been available for a week, and I've given it almost no publicity. (I did it mostly just to learn the process. Several of the stories are previously published.) But the tracking of position on various Amazon lists vs sales is, uh, interesting.

@Joe: I think you mean Monaco? And...beer? Wouldn't a vodka martini--shaken, not stirred--be more appropriate? ;-)

no-bull-steve said...

I met David at a writers' conference and he is an INCREDIBLY NICE guy!!! So glad to see things going well for him and as I'm FINALLY getting my Kindle delivered today, may well make some of these the first purchases!!!!

Mark Asher said...

It would be interesting to hear how The Naked Edge is doing, saleswise. Care to disclose any numbers?

Joe Konrath said...

Hi, Jim. Never say never, huh? :)

First of all, I doubt this happens with much frequency.

It happens constantly. I don't know a single author this hasn't happened to.

A publisher buys coop, or has a lay down date, and the bookstore doesn't stock the book where it should, for as long as it should, or at all.

Are the stores (which you don’t own or run) supposed to double the size of their interiors and increase their shelf space because you’d like your book kept there longer?

Stores are supposed to sell books. When 7 out of 10 are being returned, there is a problem, and stores can shoulder a good portion of the blame.

Historically, books have gone out of print because after the first or second or nth printing because the market for that particular book has fallen below the cost of printing another run.

Really? Is that why paperback copies of The Protector are sixty bucks? Because there is no market for it?

And which market are you referring to? The readers? Or the booksellers? Because booksellers are the market for publishers, and both the bookseller and the publisher get a lot wrong.

It’s logical that a publisher will gauge its buying decisions and print-run decisions on how big those markets are.

Which is why used books are a 4 billion dollar a year industry. Because the publisher doesn't gauge very well.

Joe Konrath said...

I've heard David's latest books didn't sell. If that's the case, I can see why ebooks would be appealing to him.

And where exactly have you heard that? Please point me in that direction.

Oh, wait. You can't. Because you have no clue.

It just shows that ebooks are where people at the end of their careers go to squeeze the last drop of blood from their backlists.

First and only warning. In my house, you treat my guests with respect, or you leave. And I'm more than happy to show you the door.

Backlists are the reason publishers still exists, or else they would have gone belly up a long time ago. Perennial bestsellers allow publishers to buy new books, because recent bestsellers take years, or decades, to earn out.

The fact that David has out-of-print books is a perfect example of how the system has failed. His gain, and publishing's loss.

Your comment shows your ignorance.

Joe Konrath said...

It would be interesting to hear how The Naked Edge is doing, saleswise. Care to disclose any numbers?

Because David's working with Amazon, he doesn't have access to his daily numbers. I'm sure he'll know with his first royalty statement.

But you have to remember that I'm one of the only authors on the planet who openly discusses sales figures. Asking a writer that is like someone asking you how much you earn a year. It's rude.

Mark Asher said...

"But you have to remember that I'm one of the only authors on the planet who openly discusses sales figures. Asking a writer that is like someone asking you how much you earn a year. It's rude."

In the context of touting indie publishing it's not. If you're going to say hey, this is the way to go, give some evidence of how it's benefited you. And of course it's not as if David is compelled to answer.

Zoe Winters discloses her sales figures too, btw. And Amazon lists sales ranks of each book.

Anyway, if he's going to claim that the traditional model doesn't make sense, it would be interesting to know if self-publishing has proven to be more lucrative for him.

Mark Asher said...

"The fact that David has out-of-print books is a perfect example of how the system has failed. His gain, and publishing's loss."

Er, I think that's a bit harsh. The system is still set up to sell paper copies because that's still where most of the money is.

I assume that David could have approached his publisher and offered to sell the ebook rights of his out of print novels and they might have worked something out, but he thought he might make more money selling direct. And he's probably right. I imagine he has those rights because when he sold those books, ebooks weren't part of the contract because it was before publishers even thought about ebooks.

I could be wrong, but if indeed the rights to his out of print books no longer belong to the publisher, how exactly did his publisher fail him? They can't publish something they no longer have the rights to publish.

Joe Konrath said...

In the context of touting indie publishing it's not.

Yes, it is.

No publisher gives out sales figures. That's the reason Bookscan rose to prominence, because no one is talking.

Numbers, like salaries, aren't public knowledge. Which is one of the reasons Amazon still hasn't revealed how many Kindles they've sold.

The fact that I openly disclose numbers is one of the reasons so many people follow this blog. But
asking others to is like asking someone to drop their pants.

Joe Konrath said...

The system is still set up to sell paper copies because that's still where most of the money is.

The system is doing its best to prevent the inevitable.

Ebooks are outselling hardcovers. This is happening for NYT bestsellers. Publishers are admitting it.

But they continue to window, inflate prices, and give authors low royalties.

if indeed the rights to his out of print books no longer belong to the publisher, how exactly did his publisher fail him?

A publisher's job is to exploit the rights they've bought.

If they didn't have ebook rights to his early novels, they should have ponied up some money years ago and could have been selling them at the Kindle launch in 2007.

If they did have the rights, and instead allowed the books to go out of print, they missed out on a chance to make money.

In both cases, David was losing money. In both cases, the publisher failed.

I just sent a harsh letter to my publisher, bemoaning the mistakes they're making with my ebooks. I'd love to get my rights back, because I can do better.

The bottom line is anyone who would allow David Morrell's backlist to go out of print isn't very smart. And if they still have the print rights, but didn't make him an offer for the erights, they're downright stupid.

If publishers want to survive, they have to at least make an effort. The fact that David had to partner with Amazon to exploit rights that should have already been exploited is telling of how far behind the curve the publishing industry is.

Tuppshar Press said...

I read Jim's post with great interest, because he makes some good points, but I wonder if he's missing something important here.

Because ebooks work differently from paper books. I shan't repeat the many who have explained just how, but I shall repeat the following: Because ebooks work differently, the business behind them has to work differently too. And so while much (though not all) of Jim's post makes sense, it only makes sense if you are moving books in the physical form of a paper-based book, which requires physical distribution, bookstores, and so on. What I see with the whole Agency thing, and the other ways that the major publishers are trying to "market" ebooks, is mostly them trying to use the old business model instead of coming up with a new one.

And that won't work, if for no other reason than the old model allowed them a level of control over distribution that they simply can't achieve with ebooks, but which is at the core of their business strategy. Why else would they be so obsessed with claiming electronic rights?

And that, I think, is why authors are now so often willing to abandon them.

Rob in Denver said...

Quote of the Day:

"The bottom line is anyone who would allow David Morrell's backlist to go out of print isn't very smart."

I've used Paperback Swap to middling success in finding titles (got FIRST BLOOD and THE PROTECTOR this way! Yay, me!), have purchased box lots on eBay to get one or two titles I wanted amid 10s I didn't want, and scoured library sales and used book stores for still others.

This Kindle-only nine pack from Morrell is huge.

Mark Asher said...

Tuppshar Press: "And that won't work, if for no other reason than the old model allowed them a level of control over distribution that they simply can't achieve with ebooks, but which is at the core of their business strategy. Why else would they be so obsessed with claiming electronic rights?"

I think we can boil this down to something simple: Publishers want to make as much money as possible on every book. That about covers it, right?

At one time contracts didn't cover ebook rights because there was no real money in ebooks. Now there is mopney to be had, and contracts include the publisher retaining those rights. The dispute between authors and publishers over ebooks is over the royalty rates more than anything else, from what I've read. Clearly, there needs to be a different model for this, but I don't think that it means traditional publishers are doomed.

It's interesting to me when I look at the top 100 sellers in the Kindle list. Most are from traditional publishers. I know midlist authors have a lot of complaints about publishers, but it seems as though the publishers still drive bestsellers -- both in print and in ebook format.

Mark Asher said...

"The bottom line is anyone who would allow David Morrell's backlist to go out of print isn't very smart. And if they still have the print rights, but didn't make him an offer for the erights, they're downright stupid."

C'mon. You know there's a certain expense to keeping books in print. Unless David has shared his sales figures from the past with you, you and the rest of us have no idea if his older books were profitable enough to keep in print.

"If publishers want to survive, they have to at least make an effort. The fact that David had to partner with Amazon to exploit rights that should have already been exploited is telling of how far behind the curve the publishing industry is."

I agree that publishers should attempt to purchase ebook rights to author's backlists. Most of them, anyway, because there's not nearly as much expense to keeping ebooks in a catalog.

The real question is if authors who own those ebook rights should sell them direct or go through a publisher. I'd say your example implies they are better off selling direct.

Tuppshar Press said...

Mark--I agree, both that publishers are concerned primarily with making money, and that they can succeed. But they're going to have to adapt, and not all of them are. And central to their adapting is going to be coming to the realization that their control over distribution is fading, and that it's unlikely ever to come back.

I think there will always be paper books, because there are things you can do with them that I doubt you will ever be able to do (or that at best will be very difficult to do) with an e-reader. But the flipside is true too. There are things you can do with an e-reader that are difficult or even impossible to do with paper books. I'm guessing that the two formats will co-exist, much like live-action plays, movies and DVD players do, and that means that bookstores will continue to exist, even if not as many or as big as there are at the moment. Maybe this will in fact bring back the independent bookstore, complete with a POD kiosk and a nice quiet place to sit and browse. That would be nice, I think.

Helen Hanson said...

I’m glad to see your guests can expect decent treatment here. Such is not the case elsewhere. There’s a lot of bile flowing over ebooks and even David Morrell’s personal decision to re-launch a portion of his list on Kindle. I don’t get it.

@ Jim - You state that David Morrell is:

“. . . trashing the system and publishers that gave him support and a livelihood for so many years.”

As the man producing the work around which all the other activities take place, no one gave him anything. Initial opportunity, perhaps, but only because they expected to make money off his work. But, unlike today, he had few options back then.

If Joe chooses to share his sales numbers, well God bless him. If not, he’s still entitled to voice an opinion on the industry. His blog. His house. No one here is a hostage.

Thanks for a great interview. I was hoping you gentlemen would chat.

Joe Konrath said...

You know there's a certain expense to keeping books in print.

Of course there is. So why didn't his publishers pay this expense?

If the reason was, indeed, falling sales, what's the reason for those falling sales?

In order to sell books, they need to be on the shelf. Coop keeps books on the shelf. That's why Borders and B&N have shelves dedicated to Patterson and Cussler and countless others. That property is paid for.

If it isn't in the store, it isn't likely to sell.

the rest of us have no idea if his older books were profitable enough to keep in print.

There are other reasons why books go out of print, other than sales.

I encourage you to go to Thrillerfest, buy David a drink, and pick his brain on all the things he won't say in a public forum. You'd be enlightened.

Jim said...

THE STATEMENT:
"As the man producing the work around which all the other activities take place, no one gave him anything. Initial opportunity, perhaps, but only because they expected to make money off his work."

THE REALITY:
Publishers provide money (advances, royalties, etc.), editing, copy editing, cover design, book reviews, author blurbs, physical printing, distribution, store placement, library placement, copyright processing, legal review, etc. Select authors may get additional benefits such as book tours, co-op space, advertising, radio interviews and the like.

To my knowledge, no publisher large or small has ever held a gun to someone's head and made him sign a contract.

The author begins the process by writing the manuscript. It's a long long road however from that point to actually getting a physical book in a reader's hand.

I'm talking about print books obviously. If someone wants to shortcut it and go Kindle, more power to them. That choice, however, doesn't mean that publishers don't offer a value.

Everyone thinks publisher are doomed. What will happen, however, is that they will increase the percentages paid to to authors for ebook sales. An equilibrium will be reached where the value of the publishers services overall is worth a decrease in what an author can get from trying to go it indie. Publishers are also the gateways to print and wide distribution. That's worth something. in fact, a lot.

Mark Asher said...

Joe said: "Of course there is. So why didn't his publishers pay this expense?

"If the reason was, indeed, falling sales, what's the reason for those falling sales?

"In order to sell books, they need to be on the shelf. Coop keeps books on the shelf. That's why Borders and B&N have shelves dedicated to Patterson and Cussler and countless others. That property is paid for."

The publisher made a decision that it wasn't worth the investment to keep David's backlist in print. That's a select group of authors you are citing for which publishers pay for coop space. A lot of authors won't get that treatment, even if it might return a profit. The publisher might determine that investing their limited resources in a different author returns a bigger profit.

And remember -- we're discussing back in the day a bit before ebooks represented much of a market. Nowadays a publisher will happily offer an ebook version for years and years. And soon enough they may offer it as POD in print for years and years.

Publishers traditionally will let the majority of their backlist go out of print at some point, correct? Why are you arguing that it was stupid of David's publisher to have done so with his backlist? Believe me, no one is letting Stephen King's or J.K. Rowling's backlist go out of print anytime soon.

I would imagine it all had to do with expected revenue vs. cost in David's case.

Anyway, I don't mean to belabor the point, but I think it's a bit odd to label publishers who have been in business for decades and decades as stupid just because they let backlists go out of print. I still don't see the argument against that for an era where ebooks didn't even exist.

Helen Hanson said...

"To my knowledge, no publisher large or small has ever held a gun to someone's head and made him sign a contract."

Agreed. David Morrell fulfilled his contract. Now he is free to market his property as he sees fit.

Until an equilibrium is reached, between publishing services and royalties, authors will forge into e-publishing along with David Morrell.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

C'mon. You know there's a certain expense to keeping books in print.

This statement isn't false, but it is becoming so. As an author who uses POD (I once used offset) I know that digital printing is making most of these overhead costs disappear.

I don't really see any significant ongoing costs when a title is published on demand or as an e-book (or both). The real costs for the publishers these days are ridiculous-- golden parachutes, useless overhead, conventions and other money funneling costs that could be going into smarter investments; such as a bigger and better backlist.

A manuscript is an asset that produces revenue over time. I think that many publishers just fail to see the bigger picture when it comes to long-term revenues.

Joe Konrath said...

The publisher might determine that investing their limited resources in a different author returns a bigger profit.

I started giggling there.

Man, no offense here, seriously, but imbuing publishers with common sense is proof you haven't been exposed to a lot of publishers.

Publishing makes money in spite of its decisions, not because of them. They simply make too many mistakes. The reason they've survived this long is because they were the only game in town, and they've been help up by larger, parent companies.

This isn't to say people who work for publishers are stupid. They're not. But it's a broken machine that doesn't allow anyone to learn from either successes or failures because each book is an unreproduceable phenomenon.

So you have a bunch of bright people working for an industry where the majority of things they produce fail to make a profit, without anyone knowing why.

In David's case, I'm pretty sure nobody made any such decision to allow his books go out of print. It just happened, because no one was paying attention.

Get any three authors together who have been in this business for more than five years, and I'm pretty sure they'll all come to the same conclusion I have.

Publishing is good at some things. But foresight is not one of its skills.

I think it's a bit odd to label publishers who have been in business for decades and decades as stupid

They're in business because even a blind horse finds hay every once and a while.

The facts of no competition to the industry, plus being propped up by parent companies, has allowed this business to survive for so long.

If I can make more money on my own than I could with dozens of publishing folks supporting me and backing me up is a good indicator that something is wrong.

Joe Konrath said...

What will happen, however, is that they will increase the percentages paid to to authors for ebook sales.

If it happens, it will be too little, too late.

As ebooks gain market share, bookstores will close. Then publishers will be forced to make a go of it on ebooks, and they won't be able to support their infrastructure and pay for overhead on an ebook only model.

If a book was a pie, by the time publishers are done with it, all the individual pieces (profits) would be too small to make it worthwhile to anyone.

Publishers offer distribution. They controlled the traffic between authors and readers.

Everything else they offered can be acquired without them. And now so can distribution.

An equilibrium will be reached where the value of the publishers services overall is worth a decrease in what an author can get from trying to go it indie.

I'd pay ten percent to have someone manage all of that for me.

Do you really think that any publisher can survive if authors are only willing to give them ten percent of gross?

wannabuy said...

Joe said:
Ebooks are outselling hardcovers. This is happening for NYT bestsellers. Publishers are admitting it.
Most excellent. :) I do not mind the publishers doing well selling... anything. What I really care about is a greater variety of books being available.

E-books are the natural means to that end. :)

alastairmayer said...
Interesting post on the e-book data. I look forward to following that.

Thank you. I'm trying to cut through the 'hand waving' on e-books by compiling the data. The data is obviously 'intentionally scattered.'

Mark said:
Publishers traditionally will let the majority of their backlist go out of print at some point,
Why loose the audience now that e-books are here? Someone should have made an offer for the e-books back in 2007. They didn't...

I had a talk with my dad today how quick to market p-books used to be common. Christy is right, too much is being spent on overhead. Content creation, brand awareness, and value to the customer are what matters.


Seriously, David Morell out of print in the era of e-books? Big mistakes were made getting David to go Indie.

Neil

Mark Asher said...

"If I can make more money on my own than I could with dozens of publishing folks supporting me and backing me up is a good indicator that something is wrong."

You've always had the opportunity to self-publish. Why didn't you 15 years ago?

I think when you say something is wrong with publishers you are comparing now (apples) to the time before ebooks (oranges).

Instead of saying that something is wrong, what I'd say is you have have been smart and forward-thinking and taken advantage of new technology and profited.

And it's not surprising that traditional publishing is lagging behind because the vast majority of their profit is still made through print.

And I'm still curious to know how other self-published Kindle authors are doing? Are writers getting rich all of a sudden through self-publishing?

My guess is self-publishing will let a handful of authors make a lot of money, and quite a lot of authors make a little bit of money, perhaps a bit more than they would make through traditional publishing. This seems to be what has happened to the music industry transitioning through the digital revolution, and they went through it first.

Joe Konrath said...

You've always had the opportunity to self-publish. Why didn't you 15 years ago?

15 years ago, publishing was the only game in town if you wanted to make money writing fiction. I was VERY against self-pubbing.

I got into self-pubbing at the request of my fans, not believing I'd make any money at all.

My guess is self-publishing will let a handful of authors make a lot of money, and quite a lot of authors make a little bit of money, perhaps a bit more than they would make through traditional publishing.

That's my guess, but I think more authors will make more money simply because NY Publishing has remained elusive to most writers, and not very profitable to those it has let in.

I know hundreds of professional writers. Only a handful make their living writing. The rest have day jobs.

I believe self-pubbing will allow more writers to do this full time.

The downside is that the days of the mega-bestseller are over, methinks. I would have loved to have been on the receiving end of a multi-million dollar marketing campaign.

Joe Konrath said...

Are writers getting rich all of a sudden through self-publishing?

Very few writers get rich, no matter what path the walk.

One of the rewards of getting published was prestige. Getting your "I Wrote A Book" button.

That's nice, and certainly a goal many have worked for.

But I'd much rather have a new car.

Mark Asher said...

Joe said: "That's my guess, but I think more authors will make more money simply because NY Publishing has remained elusive to most writers, and not very profitable to those it has let in."

I agree with this. And I really like the idea that people will have an outlet for their creativity and perhaps get a chance to make a bit of money from that, even if it means they don't give up their day job.

"The downside is that the days of the mega-bestseller are over, methinks. I would have loved to have been on the receiving end of a multi-million dollar marketing campaign."

I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised to see that continue in some form. With all the $0.99 iTunes song sales and rampant piracy, there are still major recording artists who get huge marketing pushes and sell millions of CDs. I don't know why the book world will be any different. If anything, social media will let people know more quickly what is hot, and people tend to gravitate towards what others are enjoying. If everyone is reading it, I need to read it too! I want to be in on the conversation taking place on Facebook, Twitter, websites, and other places.

And don't forget "vooks!" I hate that term, but I wouldn't be surprised to see books from major writers eventually become multimedia packages.

Kaz Augustin said...

You have another problem you might like to sort out with Amazon...if it IS a problem. I can't buy either David's two-edition "The Totem" or any of your books, Joe, on Kindle. Amazon tells me that those books are not available in the Asia-Pacific region.

I'm still trying to sort this problem out through my own publisher, Carina Press, as there are NOT supposed to be geographic restrictions on the (digital) book. Three months so far and no result. Good luck.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

15 years ago, publishing was the only game in town if you wanted to make money writing fiction.

This is true, and it's still true, to some extent. Zoe Winters is doing very well and there are some other success stories like Paolini, but it was very difficult to self-publish fiction a decade ago and make money, mainly because there simply wasn't a market yet for e-books and offset printing took huge upfront investments that most authors could not afford.

However, there were many, many self-publishing success stories in the non-fiction realm; examples where authors made a real living from publishing non-fiction and developing a niche or a platform.

So authors have been doing this for a long time, but it's jut gotten a lot easier. The heavy up-front investment has disappeared, and you can now publish a book for almost nothing (or nothing if you publish an e-book).

Traditional publishers need to keep their costs down and be smart about where they are putting their money. Authors are still a very lazy bunch (no offense)-- they don't want to do their own accounting, reporting, formatting, etc. When they try to do these things, many of them suck at it, which is part of the reason why we have a buttload of shitty self-published books pouring into the marketplace from all corners.

But most of the "good authors" still prefer to publish traditionally, because they want to do what they do best-- they want to WRITE.

As soon as a company steps up to the plate and allows authors to write, make money, and avoid all the red tape and prep work that goes along with actually getting a finished book into the marketplace, then the big publishers are finished. Amazon may have already stepped into that position.

Jude Hardin said...

Great interview, guys. Hope you score big with the new release and the backlist titles, David!

Eric Christopherson said...

The downside is that the days of the mega-bestseller are over, methinks. I would have loved to have been on the receiving end of a multi-million dollar marketing campaign.

It's only Amazon and the Big Six who have mega capital, so that's a competitive advantage that could and should be exploited into the future. My guess is that the Big Six will be doing nothing but mega deals in five years. I'd like to imagine an America without the next celebrity memoir being crammed down our throats, but it sounds too good to be true.

Eric Christopherson said...

Oh, and great to hear from David Morrell. Here's a shout out for "Creepers." I lost my copy in a recent move, and have already replaced it. Need I say more?

Maria said...

Great article. That Monte Carlo comment was...I don't even know the word. Hysterical might be it.

evilphilip said...

Talk about missing the boat. There is no Kindle version of Creepers on Amazon.com.

After reading this interview I headed right to Amazon to purchase what I felt was David's most interesting book (to me) only to find that it isn't available in the format I wanted.

The point of Joe's previous author interview was talking about publishers missing PR opportunities and here it is -- David is getting tons of exposure from Joe's blog and the books aren't available digitally.

Lesson learned?

Joe Konrath said...

Lesson learned?

Of course the lesson wasn't learned.

Traditional Publishing has been the big fish in the small pond. It has never been forced to learn, to adapt, or to change. It does what it wants to, and win or lose it has survived for close to a hundred years.

But now, it is sharing the pond with thousands of small fish. Individually, these fish poise no threat. Together, they're going to eat up everything in the pond, so there isn't anything left for the big fish to live on.

wannabuy said...

But now, it is sharing the pond with thousands of small fish. Individually, these fish poise no threat. Together, they're going to eat up everything in the pond, so there isn't anything left for the big fish to live on.
Excellent analogy.

No one e-book author (or innovation) matters in the grand scheme of things... but a few hundred (thousand?) do. :)

I read four e-books this week (end of the staycation to welcome the new child into the house); none were from the traditional publishers. Why? What I was interested in reading was only from Indie publishers.

I realize the genres I love to read are declining in sales. Perhaps that is because readers wish more variety.

Neil

murraygunn said...

This is a violation of freedom!

While Amazon refuses to support open standards (ePub etc), any author that signs an exclusive contract with them is forcing readers to buy Kindle.

Until Amazon opens up to standards, I'm not going anywhere near Kindle so David's lost me as a reader.

Mark Asher said...

"Until Amazon opens up to standards, I'm not going anywhere near Kindle so David's lost me as a reader."

I may be wrong, but I think you can buy a Kindle version and then strip the DRM and use it on any e-reader. Google it.

evilphilip said...

"Until Amazon opens up to standards, I'm not going anywhere near Kindle so David's lost me as a reader."

I'm not a huge Kindle fan either, however there are Kindle apps for almost every electronic platform. I have the Kindle app for my iPad.

While I prefer the superior formatting options available to publishers on the iBook store (I could do a whole post about it) I'm not going to discount the Kindle when I was able to download the free App in 3 seconds and snag dozens of books.

I read Joe's Dracula's sample on the Kindle app for the iPad. Worked good, I enjoyed the story.

Open your mind, Quaid. Open your mind...

Anna Elliott said...

Thank you so much, David and Joe. David, my parents were in grad school in the Penn State English dept. during your time there; I grew up hearing stories from them about listening to your readings of early drafts of First Blood during department meetings.

My second book has just been released from Simon & Schuster, but I'm also offering two complementary short stories for 99 cents apiece on the Kindle store--thanks in large part to the great discussions on this blog!

Anyway, thanks for a great interview and hugely looking forward to checking out THE NAKED EDGE!