MaxBarry.com
this space for rent

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Thu 04
Mar
2010

My Stupid Industry

Writing Lately the publishing industry has been trying to commit suicide over electronic rights. It’s funny because every time in history a revolutionary new way to do business comes along, the first instinct of all established players is to strangle themselves with it. Movie studios fought the VCR. Microsoft fought the Internet. The music industry fought MP3s. TV networks are fighting PVRs. Eventually, these turn into important markets, fully embraced by the companies that tried to kill them. But until then everyone spends a lot of time throwing lawyers at anything that doesn’t look like a traditional business model.

The first e-madness was DRM, of course. That’s the code they wrapped around electronic books to ensure they couldn’t be pirated. Well. “Ensure” is a big word. I’m not sure that any piece of DRM in history has survived an interested hacker. What it did ensure was a steady trickle of emails to my inbox from people who couldn’t find an electronic copy of Jennifer Government in the right format for their device, or could but after they paid their money it didn’t work.

Next came e-delays, where publishers held back electronic versions for four months following print publication. “The right place for the e-book is after the hardcover but before the paperback,” said Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy. This is a brave counterpoint to the more common wisdom that the right place for selling something is wherever customers want to buy it. So we were not just restricting e-books to particular formats within particular territories, but also to particular windows of time.

But that wasn’t enough. Publishers didn’t like the fact that Amazon.com started selling e-books for $9.99 each. (They thought that was too cheap, if you’re wondering.) It didn’t affect publishers’ margins, nor authors’ royalties, since Amazon.com was selling below cost to promote its Kindle platform. But still, publishers were uncomfortable with the idea of books being that cheap. So they went to war and forced Amazon.com to bump up prices to $13-$15, in exchange for taking a lower royalty on each sale.

Let’s review. Amazon.com was eating it in order to allow you to buy books for ten bucks, instead of twenty or thirty, while paying authors the same royalty. Publisher intervenes, and now books are more expensive for you, while the author gets less. Also, the publisher gets less. Oh, and I didn’t mention this, but during the war, Amazon.com took down all the “Buy” buttons for Macmillan books, so you definitely couldn’t buy them no matter how much you wanted to and nobody made any money at all.

I won’t say it’s impossible for an industry to push retail prices up while pushing their own margins down and be successful. I’ll just say that’s not the way it usually works. Also, as a general rule, when customers want to buy a product, it usually works out best if the company lets them. I don’t think there have been too many examples of companies making money while refusing to sell their products in the formats their customers want while also forcing retailers to charge more and pocketing less themselves. I’m not sure. But that’s my feeling.

Meanwhile, rocked by the Global Calamitous Money Disappearing Event, publishers began cutting back what they do. Ten years ago, a publisher gave hopeful authors editorial advice, a printing service, a promotional budget, and access to bricks and mortar bookstores. There was really no viable alternative, short of becoming a small publisher yourself. To become a successful author, you needed a publisher.

Today, the promotional budget is more likely to involve encouragement to do something on the internet rather than a book tour. Publishers are still fantastic at getting you into bookstores, and physical books still comprise the vast majority of the market: you need them for this. But in e-books, you can click “Export to EPUB” as easily as they can, and without giving up 75% of revenue.

Also, publishers are getting less willing to make risky bets. Instead of taking an unknown author and striving to find her an audience, they want authors to establish their own audience in advance, via a website or similar.

Now, publishing is full of terrific, smart people who love books and want to promote authors. I haven’t met a single person in publishing I didn’t like. I even love my old Viking editor, who dumped me via relayed e-mail message. I forgive you, Carolyn. I really do. But the people in charge there are trying to sue the VCR. If publishing gets tomorrow everything it wants today, it will be smaller and less relevant. Imagine the world in in ten years, when e-books are 50% of the market: What will publishers offer authors? Not the ability to find an audience, if they’re pushing that onto authors. Not the distribution network: anyone can get their book into an electronic store. Not promotion; or at least, not much of it. That leaves editorial and distribution of hard copy. Not to be sneezed at, for sure. Editorial in particular is often the difference between a great book and a mediocre one; I can attest to that. But if I’ve got a web site and a hundred thousand visitors, I’d think seriously about whether editorial and print is worth giving up 90% of my income. I would, at the least, drive a harder bargain with a publisher than if they were providing more services I really needed.

The publishing industry is trying to think long-term, like every industry that faced a revolutionary change before it. But please, this time, can we not batter ourselves to death? It’s not that complicated, Publishing. I write stories. I want people to read them. I want as many people to read them in whatever format they want, wherever they want, as cheaply as possible, while I earn a living. I don’t want lower royalties in exchange for higher retail prices. That’s the opposite of what I want. I don’t want to get emails from people saying they wanted to buy my e-book but they couldn’t because it wasn’t available or didn’t work. This is text. It’s not hard to put text on an electronic device. It’s only hard because you make it.

Comments

This is where site members post comments. If you're not a member, you can join here. There are all kinds of benefits, including moral superiority!

Hobbie (#1359)

Location: Cornwall, England
Quote: "There was a little man in his hair!"
Posted: 1693 days ago

Hmm... all good sense, but I can't see your own publisher taking too kindly to being called self-defeating and stupid along with all the others.

Wilson Afonso (#4768)

Location: Melbourne
Posted: 1693 days ago

You forgot to mention another pretty stupid move by the publishers: geographic restrictions. They do their best to make sure that people outside their selected area (usually the US) cannot buy ebooks, except for the ones they want.

Of course, Amazon will gladly ship any physical book anywhere in the world (ok, almost anywhere) - but if I don't want several kilograms of paper to be flown halfway around the world and prefer to receive the same content in the form of bits... well, too bad.

Kirko (#2187)

Location: Australia
Posted: 1693 days ago

You're right, and when you're right...well, you know. I'm sure clay tablet guy tried to stop papyrus guy too saying that stuff will just blow away. They won't get it in the next three revolutions either.

Machine Man subscriber gStein (#585)

Location: 127.0.0.1
Quote: "That's not change! That's more of the same!"
Posted: 1693 days ago

so Max, just wondering, how do you think the value of our editorial comments were on Machine Man? Comparable to what you would have received from a publisher? (without taking into account that many of us paid you $6.95 to give you comments :P ) (which, i should mention, was the best/most enjoyable $6.95 i've ever spent)

Machine Man subscriber Len (#4292)

Posted: 1693 days ago

I happen to agree with you, Max. All the way down the line, and then some.

Alas, tell it how it is. Starting a grass roots movement, sir?

I do adore books, but in the end, they were trees and I'm more a tree-hugger than a reader. Well, maybe not, but the e-book industry is self-defeating, and it sounds like those behind it are just as ignorant.... albeit probably much richer than I.

Machine Man subscriber Adam Willard (#4231)

Location: Madagascar
Quote: "What unseen pen etched eternal things in the hearts of humankind... but never let them in our minds?"
Posted: 1693 days ago

Definitely sounds right to me! I think the main problem (that I see, though I wasn't around for the previous "new formats" you mentioned) is that all types of publishing industries, for every form of media, are scared of the "electronic age". I think they're scared because it means much easier access to EVERYTHING (which they should appreciate as being essentially a big FREE storefront for them, but they don't like it because they can't control who their competitors are and if their competitors are offering something just as valuable for a lower price) and also because most of us who are loving the information age, expect to get *most* everything for FREE. It's true... nearly everything on the internet is free, especially basic services like search, e-mail, maps, social networking, picture and video websites, etc. I remember when all of those things (well, except for search) cost monthly or yearly premiums. Now they're free. Google even offers tons of books for free, so anyone interested in reading them electronically will never be much interested in purchasing them in print again... so that cuts out quite a bit of physical sales. And it's legal.

So it seems that publishing companies ARE thinking long-term... they probably figure that before long all their products' electronic counterparts will be more or less free (paid for by advertisements, presumably) and possibly legally distributable as free, so they figure if they jump in early to stall and stop the whole process, maybe they can get some laws changed and somehow exclusively maintain distribution locations and prices (the antithesis of the internet of course). So, I see it as their last-ditch efforts to keep their products' prices from hitting zero, or specifically extend the lifetime of their products in their catalog, which will certainly hit zero after a certain number of years. Of course, I don't think they can succeed, and I'm sure that's what you're blogging about. The internet's full of free stuff, of people doing free work to make available their favorite stuff. So whatever someone really enjoys will always be more accessible and cheaper (or more likely, free) on the internet than what the "owning" business wants to offer. Unless of course the "owning" business grew up with the internet and offers it for free to start with. A lot of those publishing companies may simply be too old to adapt. We'll see. But they can't keep anything on the internet from being free and freely available... I think time has proved that by now. In the age of internet marketing and electronic distribution, if they want people to pay, they have to endear their audiences towards them, the owner, and hope they pay out of appreciation and respect for quality. Didn't radiohead figure that out? Certainly everyone else seems to be figuring that out these days.

Machine Man subscriber Adam Willard (#4231)

Location: Madagascar
Quote: "What unseen pen etched eternal things in the hearts of humankind... but never let them in our minds?"
Posted: 1693 days ago

Yeah, actually gStein has a great question, comparing the quality of editorial input from readers of Machine Man (who pay you for it) to that received by a publisher (who you pay for it). I'd love to hear your thoughts on that, Max.

Machine Man subscriber Kyle (#3321)

Location: Burnie, Tasmania
Posted: 1693 days ago

I didn't think anyone read ebooks.

I'm a writer - how and where do I tap into this industry that I haven't noticed? xD Everyone I meet says to me 'So when are you getting published?' More importantly, they say: 'I want to wait for a hard copy.'

Mathew Ferguson (#4769)

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posted: 1693 days ago

For standard fiction (no illustrations, no odd typesetting) it's going to come down to the writer and the editor.

No distribution, no print, no sales team. No paper publisher.

Part of the future structure exists currently: book packagers. They put the concepts to the publishers and if it goes ahead they do all the hard work before delivering a disk or uploading files via ftp. Simply redirect that upload.

The editor job will expand to include basic text layout skills and writing sales copy for the website, ebook page, etc (which most editors already do now).

Then it comes down to the deal - what percentage the writer wants to pay for the editing. I've worked as an editor and I'd roll the dice on editing for royalty only (say 50 cents per download).

These freelance editors would end up being ranked on which books they've edited and brought into the world. The editor that finds the next Stephen King of J.K. Rowling will make a fortune in fifty cent increments.

If I were running a publishing company I'd hire an editor and designer whose only job was to find worthy manuscripts, edit them for royalties only and put them up for download. Publisher need to start thinking about getting that $1000 per year per title and expanding the range of titles.

Rene (#2458)

Location: Austria
Quote: "To live is to die - Cliff Burton"
Posted: 1692 days ago

First, I can only aggree wholeheartedly to just about everything you said to the extend that I see similar problems in my chosen field of music.

The sad part is, that many authors think just as whacky, to the extend that I have all Harry Potter books (besides several copys in print) as ebooks without paying for them, because they were not offered electronically... I would gladly have paid for a set of the books without all the mistakes that scanning books in just 2 days (dunno, who does that, I wouldn't) incorporates...

Robert Belton (#3176)

Location: The best city in australia.
Posted: 1692 days ago

Max.

Want you in book format. Sorry, online just doesn't quite do it for me.

I do totally understand the logic though

towr (#1914)

Location: Netherlands
Posted: 1692 days ago

I find it hard to believe Amazon was selling ebooks below cost. I mean, what are the costs of an ebook compared to a physical book, really? Aside from fixed costs, the printing a physical book costs time, paper, ink, machine use, transport, storage, etc, but reproducing an ebook has no additional cost at all. Best I can tell what makes up the cost of an e-book is royalties+profit. Why they cost almost as much, or even more, than an actual paper book is beyond me.
So I won't be buying ebooks any time soon.

Jenifer (#1868)

Location: Suwon, South Korea
Quote: ""I'll try everything once. If I like it, I'll try it again.""
Posted: 1692 days ago

I laughed out loud when I read this as a recalled all my advertising classes and my professors shouting about making things easy for people. Priceless blog. Made my day.

Machine Man subscriber coolpillows (#3749)

Location: new york general sort of vicinity
Quote: ""It's not working" -- Joseph Clark"
Posted: 1692 days ago

You summed it up restating the obvious: "the right place for selling something is wherever customers want to buy it" and "as a general rule, when customers want to buy a product, it usually works out best if the company lets them." It's like "price" is not determined by the market, but by the fear of the industry's leaders.

For many decades, I used to read The New York Times every day. (That's the "Paper of Record," "Grey Lady" and AKA "A Conservative's Toilet Paper") Off the newsstand or subscribing, almost every single day.

In the past year, as the economy sunk and my income dropped, purchasing the Times became less desirable. Not to mention the price kept going up because they were afraid of the future of journalism. I lost track, but it seemed like one month it was $1, then $1.25 then $1.50 and now $2. Meantime, circulation continues to drop and they lost a pretty dedicated customer.

The best I do is buy the Big Fat Sunday Paper for $5.00. And I read the Paper of Record on my Blackberry for free (that's $0.00). Something is wrong here when a business is losing money, raises the price of the product and it sells less. Call me crazy.

Machine Man subscriber Endingpop (#1478)

Location: Michigan, USA
Posted: 1692 days ago

I threw this article up on Digg, since I think the general internets would enjoy it.

http://digg.com/arts_culture/My_Stupid_Industry_Max_Barry

RayRay (#3747)

Location: Texas
Quote: "Sometimes late at night Wearing a cat on my head I get transmissions."
Posted: 1692 days ago

What about writer co-ops? Like with farming co-ops, but less manure.

Aaron the Evil HR Guy (#2252)

Location: Denver
Quote: "'The HR Department is a breeding ground for monsters' Michael Scott"
Posted: 1692 days ago

Seems to me Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc should get into the publishing business... why not cut out the middle man? cheaper for us, more royalties for you!

Rowdy Geirsson (#3814)

Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Quote: "www.scandinavianaggression.com"
Posted: 1692 days ago

This is a wonderful entry! I worked for a fledgling educational publishing company for a few years, so not exactly the same boat as fiction, but it was interesting to observe how the company's management's inability and general outright refusal to adapt to changing conditions only expedited the digging of its own grave. You'd think some of these managers would learn from their mistakes, especially when they're made over and over and over again...but then if that sort of behavior wasn't so common, books such as Company wouldn't hit home quite so hard.

It'll be interesting to see what happens with some of these sites like lulu and smashwords...and B&N and Borders are already publishing older titles whose copyrights have expired under their own imprints...

Jane (#321)

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "Which is worse: Ignorance or apathy? Who knows? Who cares?"
Posted: 1692 days ago

Great post Max! I hope that publishers will make the change sooner rather than later. But sadly it probably won't be the case. After all, humans have plenty of experience in resisting new technology right back to when the printing press was invented and even when writing itself was invented. At least these days teaching everyone to read and write is accepted as a right (in many parts of the world anyway).

Machine Man subscriber Alan W (#1427)

Location: Spokane, Washington
Quote: "Corgis are like potato chips"
Posted: 1692 days ago

It will be interesting to see what the iPad does for electronic book distribution.

Sure, at the moment, you have to be a publisher to get a book in their store, but any author (who owns the rights) can have an app put together that just displays his book.

No worries about having to implement DRM, no stress over having to implement a store to sell it on, no worries about it not working (of course, this is something of a mono-culture), and you get 70% royalty on every copy sold.

I just wish I could have all my current books magically stored electronically and free up the 10 or so sq feet of space they take up currently getting dusted every so often.

Chris (#4759)

Location: caloundra QLD
Posted: 1691 days ago

@Mathew Ferguson:

I'm not so sure the packagers will even be needed. Max is a case in point. He can market an ebook direct to the consumer. No need for a publisher except if he needs to go into print. As he said, that avenue still represents the largest retail environment currently. But that may not be the most profitable route for an author in 5 or 10 years time. Factor in returns, remainders and crap royalties and it soon looks like ebooks will be a great earner for the authors who know how to hustle their niche.

As for the editor's role. Indispensable. In fact this will probably always be the area that sets self-publishers apart from their mainstream counterparts. But editors can be hired freelance by authors, ditto designers and PR people.

Would I agree to an editorial royalty if I was an author? Not a hope... and especially not at 50cents a download. Personally, I'd prefer to pay the editor upfront.



@towr: Amazon is still a retailer, so they only receive a discount from the publisher. Thus they pay the publisher of the title what the publisher asks. They then drop the retail price point to whatever sticker price they deem acceptable to sell it to the public. So on a $25USD hardcover they may get a 40-55% discount.

With the ebook pricing drama ($9.99) they are taking a loss (loss leader) to get people to A) buy the book, and/or B) build a particular price point for ebooks in the customer's head.


@Aaron the Evil HR Guy: The online retailers are already getting in on the act. See AmazonEncore.


@Max: So, I'm thinking you are already checking out how to build a web app on this site (I'll be your first customer) to backdoor iPad's iBookstore so that you don't have to sacrifice every title you write to their 30/70 split. Same goes for Kindle. Bring on EPUB, I say. Bring on iPad.

A new dawn! :)

Diana (#3505)

Location: North Carolina, USA
Quote: "Why get high when there are other ways to achieve a smug sense of superiority? Sarcasm, my anti-drug."
Posted: 1690 days ago

@Kyle: I read ebooks, but only until I can get the hardcopy, it just seems wonderful to me to have the feel and smell of the paper under my fingers.

@Aaron the Evil HR Guy: That sounds like a wondeful idea to me....

@Max: I read ebooks bc for me they are easier to get, than if I like it enough, I will try to buy it in hardback, but I've noticed I do that less and less now. I think I'm slowly being drawn away from paperbound books...

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1690 days ago

Sorry, slow getting back to these comments!

@Wilson Afonso: Geographic restrictions are a pain in the butt, yes, but so complicated I can't see a short-term way around them. No publisher ever actually uses the global print rights to a book: they may acquire them, but then they dole out individual country rights to local publishers, who can do on-the-ground promotion and distribution. These local publishers would not like to buy (say) Australian print rights to a book and have to compete with an electronic version of the same book sold out of the US.

Of course customers are finding their way around geographic restrictions anyway (e.g. via Amazon.com, Steam). And it is very frustrating when someone in (say) Venezuela is prevented from buying my e-book just because no publisher there wanted the print rights. My publishers and I do so much work to try to convince people I'm worth reading; it drives me crazy when we succeed but then won't sell to them.

gStein: Publisher editorial is very, very good. There are only a handful of editorial positions around and the people who hold them are the best in the world. It's a subjective business, sure, but I honestly think the best critique I've ever received on every one of my books has come from my editor at the time.

Reader feedback on Machine Man is slightly different, because I explicitly asked how the story made you feel, as opposed to: "How should I change this book?" That is incredibly valuable but in a different way. I'm reluctant to ask readers, "How should I change this?" because that requires you to understand how novels hang together, and how changing one thing impacts everything else. To quote Neil Gaiman:

"Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong."

@Adam Willard: Yours was actually one of the finest pieces of feedback I received. I've been meaning to email you back to thank you for ages. 2,300 words! That was (and still is) enormously helpful.

On free, I'd maybe be happy to give away my previous novels for free just to promote the one that's coming out. E.g. COMPANY comes out, so JENNIFER GOVERNMENT becomes free. MACHINE MAN comes out, COMPANY is free. I think the promotional value might work out. But it's impossible to do because of the way the rights sales work. (Viking is not going to give away SYRUP to promote Doubleday's JENNIFER GOVERNMENT.)

@Kyle: Electronic is still a tiny part of the whole market--maybe three to five percent. But it's begun growing so strongly that everyone suddenly realizes the future is here. So they're trying to shape the emerging market.

@towr: Amazon.com was selling below cost in that the publisher charged Amazon.com $12 or so on each $9.99 e-sale. Whether the *publisher* is selling below cost is a whole other argument. Many people feel as you do: that it basically costs nothing to transmit an electronic file, so you should pay far less than a hard copy. Publishers argue that the printing cost of books is actually a very small component of their overall expense. See for example:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/01/business/media/01ebooks.html

I tend to think that this overlooks the retailer's role. A retailer takes about 50% of the cover price on a standard book (as opposed to a discounted bestseller), and almost all of this is to cover the expense of physically handling goods. A sane margin for an ebook retailer is closer to 5% than 50%, in my opinion. So combining this with the publisher's savings should mean that everybody is able to make out perfectly well on a ten dollar e-book.

And that's even buying the argument that e-book sales cannibalize print sales, which I'm not convinced of. I suspect (pure on a hunch) that e-book buyers do or will purchase significantly more books simply because they're cheaper and it's easier to do so.

Machine Man subscriber Adam Willard (#4231)

Location: Madagascar
Quote: "What unseen pen etched eternal things in the hearts of humankind... but never let them in our minds?"
Posted: 1689 days ago

@Max, I'm glad my feedback on Machine Man was helpful! I'm pretty much always long-winded though, and I generally take the approach of "exhaustive" over "concise".

About giving your books away for free... I dunno if I was specifically advocating that on the part of the author, though I can see it definitely sounded like that. I think I just meant that us internet users are *habituated* towards getting most things for free. We certainly don't expect rising costs. How that might play out better in the e-book industry may be somewhat like what a lot of musicians do: if you buy their physical CD, they give you some kind of code for also downloading the .mp3s for free. That's especially true when you order the musician's CD directly from the musician. So maybe that's what publishers should do: offer e-book codes somewhere with their hardcover/paperback books so that when you buy the physical thing, you can also get the electronic copy for free. That way you've paid one price for the same book, but you can enjoy the paper version at home or you can read the digital version when you're travelling. I think that's the most sense anyway... and I would certainly NEVER pay for an electronic version of the same thing for which I've already purchased the physical version. If/when I get an e-book reader, I'm just going to find pirated e-versions of all the physical books already on my shelves. And I think that's 100% fair.

But I guess I should underscore again that outright free does also have it's place. I can tell you for sure that if you gave away any of your former books (even just electronically) to promote your newer ones, it'd work for me. I understand how that doesn't exactly work with the different companies that own their rights, but some versions of it work. From what I remember, you used to had/have the 1st chapter of Jennifer Gov't up on the internet somewhere, right? I remember I read it, and though I waited a while (I was a broke college student when I first read it), it eventually caused me to buy the book, along with being able to play NationStates for free to serve as a constant reminder. And as for Machine Man, I NEVER thought I'd pay for that feed. But I was interested in whatever you were working on now so I figured I'd just get a sneak preview with the free 39-pages. And lo and behold, once I got to the end of the free feed, I was already too hooked and I bought the rest of the feed right away. And it was totally worth it, just $7 or whatever for months of anticipation and enjoyment. But I never before thought I'd be paying for an electronic-only version of something. But it does happen, and happens especially when you can experience some (or all) of it for free. There are tons of CDs that I've bought, and have even bought the full discography of several bands, just because I pirated one or two of their CDs digitally and after listening to it for a while, I loved it so much that it was worth buying them all. So that falls in line with offering your older books for free, but again, it's obviously not going to happen because of the rights sales.

But anyway, we obviously all agree that the way the publishing companies are going about it now is NOT working. And maybe part of it's just cuz I'm cheap, but I think free electronic copies of stuff can lead to life-time fans and lots of physical purchases.

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 1689 days ago

Recap. Line one of serial haiku is complete with all five syllables accounted for...

"Cat Plays with Dead Rat"

Line two begins. I will be writing a few syllables a day now in order that I might be finished by friday because I will be on vacation all next week.

Next three syllables: "I think, 'Do"

...okay maybe I've written this whole line. But you don't get to see it. Only one day at a time. Syllable by Syllable.

Serial Haiku thus far.

"Cat Plays with Dead Rat
I think, 'Do"

Cliffhanger. I know.

-adam

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 1688 days ago

Next two syllables.

"all cats"

"Cat Plays with Dead Rat
I think, 'Do all cats'"

-adam

Shoe (#4776)

Location: D.C. Suburb
Quote: "“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” —Muriel Rukeyser"
Posted: 1688 days ago

Max,

This post (article?) of yours is timely. An hour ago I was on the phone with a friend of mine who is worried about her daughter being able to make a living at her chosen profession: Author.

My friend's concern, is that writing is becoming free so much of the time, that she is afraid that the majority of writers simply won't be paid for their work, and her daughter will not be able to sustain herself as an author.

Then I was looking around, and accidentally landed on your website...promptly joined!

So, what is *your* opinion--as someone trying to make a living as an author--on the future of successfully supporting oneself by writing? (Given the assumption that the author in question shows obvious talent, skills, and follow-through.)

Machine Man subscriber Hyper (#4612)

Location: Texas, USA
Quote: ""A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read. " --Mark Twain"
Posted: 1688 days ago

@Adam Willard: I completely agree that if you have the physical book, you should have access to the e-version of it. I am only recently out of college, but I already have 5 completely full shelves of books at home (granted, 1 of them holds a majority of DVDs instead of books). I am now realizing that my love of books doesn't equate well with my love of traveling and moving. Hauling all of those books around is EXPENSIVE.

I recently bought a Kindle DX (used on Ebay, I couldn't get myself to pay the full price yet) and although I haven't had time to play with it much, I love it. Of course, it will never be a substitute for holding a real book in my hands and falling into the story, but there are so many added benefits. Instead of going on a holiday with a backpack full of books (per my usual), I can take a device the size of a folder that holds up to 3500 books. I have over a hundred books on it already without paying more than $10. Most classics are in the public domain anyways, and it gives me a very convenient way to read Plato in the few spare moments I have waiting on a meeting, etc.

Sorry for the tangent. However, it does bring me to a question for Max: I know many on this site have asked about a discount on the Machine Man book when it comes out. How about if all those with a subscription can get the e-book of it for a nominal fee? I understand you have put a lot more work into the full book than the version we read daily, and I am more than willing to pay a couple of extra bucks for it, but it would be nice to not have to pay a full book price after paying for the manuscript already. Just a thought.

-Chelsea

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1688 days ago

@Shoe:
> So, what is *your* opinion--as someone trying to make a living as an author--on the future of
> successfully supporting oneself by writing? (Given the assumption that the author in question
> shows obvious talent, skills, and follow-through.)

I think skills + hard work = published author. In fact, if you're prepared to work, you can acquire the skills, so you really just need time and perseverance. I also think there's never been a better time to be an author, because of the new opportunities for authors to make a living self-publishing even when mainstream publishing turns them down.

But it is still terrifically hard, and most people who try don't make a living at it. Even most published authors don't. If this daughter of your friend is doing okay now, though, I wouldn't be worried about the future, because it will only get easier.

By the way, there are many truly excellent articles on the subject by Joe Konrath, who is doing very well on the e-sales of books his publishers rejected:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1688 days ago

@Hyper:
> I know many on this site have asked about a discount on the Machine Man book when it comes
> out. How about if all those with a subscription can get the e-book of it for a nominal fee?

This unfortunately I cannot do, because of the logistics of co-ordinating something like that with booksellers. The only thing within my power would be something like I manually refund via PayPal the royalty I get on each physical copy to feed subscribers. Although this is only one or two dollars per book, and I'm not sure it really helps anyone if I lose 100% of my income to give you a 5 or 10% discount.

It's actually easier for me to go the other way: to give away feed subscriptions to people who email a picture of them holding a copy of the print book, or similar. Because I control the feeds. But of course this is not terribly useful to you.

Having spent the last few months rewriting MACHINE MAN, I do feel you'll get your money's worth out of the print novel even as a feed subscriber. I'm about a third of the way through and it's 80% new. So it may be more akin to watching the movie version of a novel than reading the same story twice. And I hope everyone feels they already got pretty good value out of the $6.95 feed experience.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1688 days ago

Sorry, should also have mentioned above: I am not allowed to distribute electronic versions of my published novels. I sold the right to do that to my publisher (who wouldn't have been willing to buy print but not electronic, I'm sure). So I'm not legally permitted to slip you a PDF of the novel.

The serial, however, I can do with what I like, because we specially negotiated that.

Machine Man subscriber Hyper (#4612)

Location: Texas, USA
Quote: ""A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read. " --Mark Twain"
Posted: 1687 days ago

That is more than understandable. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my question in such depth. Also, I have every intention of buying the book when it comes out. Is your publisher planning on selling the eBook version? I think it would be fitting to have Machine Man on my Kindle. I also hope you do another day-by-day novel in the near(ish) future. I missed out on having that experience with everyone and that makes me sad.

~Chelsea

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 1685 days ago

It's spring break..I will now finish the haiku in one final massive haiku marathon.

The final words are "do this, if so cats are dumb"

Final HAIKU:

Cat plays with dead rat.
I think, "Do all cats do this?"
If so, cats are dumb.


Keep in mind, when this thing is published it will look a lot different. I will be going through many revising and finishing stages. It's hard to keep the intensity and suspense I kept when writing it one syllable at a time. There is still work to be done!

-adam

Meg (#4825)

Location: Portland, OR
Quote: "A hammer has a head made of solid metal."
Posted: 1652 days ago

You would think they would have learned something from watching the music industry alienate people by trying to destroy the mp3. Or at least shutting their eyes, plugging their ears and screaming, "La la la I can't see you, you're not real!"

Protip: The internet isn't going away.

Julius (#4839)

Posted: 1638 days ago

Interestingly, Ben Bova actually wrote a short science fiction story in the 80s that predicted the rise of ebooks and the opposition from the publishing industry. I personally believe that part of the future of publishing are people like Cory Doctorow, who uses the Creative Commons license for most of his work, yet still sells printed books. It creates the stance that, at its most basic, the book is free, but those that want a fancy printed edition will pay for the printing costs.

---

http://yanteb.wordpress.com

Juliet (#4962)

Location: Australia
Posted: 1519 days ago

Hi Adam,

Pleased to meet you. Let me introduce myself my name is Juliet Sampson. I am an aspiring writer. My book Behind the Mask is due to be published in Jan/Feb 2011.

I am just writing to you, as I was hoping you could give me some advice on how to promote my book? It would be much appreciated.

Do you have a page on Facebook?

Best wishes

Juliet M Sampson

P.S. Please have a look at my website www.julietmsampson.com
any suggestions for the website?

Machine Man subscriber Barrie (#5111)

Location: Blackheath Australia
Quote: "So be it, mergatron!"
Posted: 1447 days ago

I like the cut of your jib young man.

Nice article, it articulates the whole publishing song and dance routine quite well. This drama has also been noted on Salon.com by Laura Miller and a number of other journos on that site.

I think an eBook co-op is a great idea for authors, I have a YA sci fi quartet that I'd like to publish as an eBook series. My bet is that such an org will surface real soon now.

I'm wondering what groups like the ASA (Australian Society of Authors) and Arts Law are making of this eBook publishing song and dance, what, if anything are they advising authors to do? What we need is an author's contract for such a beast (eBook) which is Author-Centric, not the other way round.

I suppose you've heard the story about Stephen King's eBook short story, he published a short story on the net for about a dollar, in three day it sold over a million copies, hit the publishing industry like an earthquake. He's an established author of course, which helps.

I like your website btw, nice and functional if a little vanilla. I'm putting together a site of my own, when its up I'll leave a note here. And yeah, I like slaughtering zombies too, such harmless and juicy fun.

Comments are now closed for this post.

Built on Blosxom