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October 17, 2011 9:06 PM   Subscribe

Amazon.com has taught readers that they do not need bookstores. Now it is encouraging writers to cast aside their publishers. “Everyone’s afraid of Amazon. ... If you’re a bookstore, Amazon has been in competition with you for some time. If you’re a publisher, one day you wake up and Amazon is competing with you too. And if you’re an agent, Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the opportunity to publish directly and cut you out." (Some adventures in self-publishing.) posted by SpacemanStix (68 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've bought some of the self-published books on Amazon, just out of interest. They were all horrifically bad on a level that even the worst excesses of Marie Corelli or Bulwer-Lytton competition winners could never match. And that's just the semi-literate ones.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:15 PM on October 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


We're all authors...
posted by Artw at 9:22 PM on October 17, 2011


Yeah, there are some pretty bad self-published books. There are also some pretty bad books published by traditional publishers. And some of the ebook conversions by the big houses are just brutal -- they clearly weren't proofread during the process. (I had to ask my publisher to correct the spelling of my name in my ebook....)

And now many writers are self-pubbing their backlists while signing new books with traditional publishers, or self-pubbing some new books while selling publishing rights to other ones. We're all in bed with everyone, which isn't nearly as much fun as it sounds.
posted by showmethecalvino at 9:25 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


lesbiassparrow, I think the important point here is that Amazon is trying to woo established, popular authors away from publishers and agents. "Self-publishing" takes on new meaning when it's being done by critically acclaimed writers.

That said, the story in that NYT link about Penguin's reaction to Kiana Davenport dusting off some old stories and offering them herself on Amazon is fascinating; I think Penguin made a major mistake in reacting the way they did:

For a sense of how rattled publishers are by Amazon’s foray into their business, consider the case of Kiana Davenport, a Hawaiian writer whose career abruptly derailed last month. In 2010 Ms. Davenport signed with Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin, for “The Chinese Soldier’s Daughter,” a Civil War love story. She received a $20,000 advance for the book, which was supposed to come out next summer.

If writers have one message drilled into them these days, it is this: hustle yourself. So Ms. Davenport took off the shelf several award-winning short stories she had written 20 years ago and packaged them in an e-book, “Cannibal Nights,” available on Amazon.

When Penguin found out, it went “ballistic,” Ms. Davenport wrote on her blog, accusing her of breaking her contractual promise to avoid competing with it. It wanted “Cannibal Nights” removed from sale and all mentions of it deleted from the Internet. Ms. Davenport refused, so Penguin canceled her novel and has said it will pursue legal action if she does not return the advance.

posted by mediareport at 9:29 PM on October 17, 2011


What publishers are competing with is a royalty rate of 70% from Amazon, and that's a hard nut when the rate you offer is around 10%.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:33 PM on October 17, 2011 [16 favorites]


Last week it announced a memoir by the actress and director Penny Marshall, for which it paid $800,000, a person with direct knowledge of the deal said.

Just because Amazon wants to be a publisher doesn't mean they have to start overpaying for celebrity memoirs.
posted by Trurl at 9:34 PM on October 17, 2011


Interesting what's happening to home libraries. The obvious step is to just digitize your books and get rid of the physical object and store it on a hard drive. Similar to ripping CD collections to MP3. See 1dollarscan.com for example, each 100 pages is $1 (they cut the spine and pulp the book and email you a PDF). People are mailing in entire home libraries. I'm not sure this is a good thing, but it's seductive if you move a lot or don't have space.
posted by stbalbach at 9:37 PM on October 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


Speaking of Amazon and ebooks:

Apple’s iOS 5 Update Has Broken the Stanza Ereader App; Amazon Apparently Intends to Kill It
My favorite and most-used app, the Stanza Ereader, was broken by Apple’s latest update, the iOS 5 operating system. I can’t tell you how much this disappoints me. By reading online message boards, it’s clear that thousands of other people are just as upset as I am.

Amazon bought the Stanza application from its developer several years ago and stopped updating the app. I suppose Amazon might argue that they wanted the code or the technology or a patent or something, but it feels an awful lot like they just purchased a popular competitor (to their proprietary Kindle App) to put it out of business. To understand the significance of this, you need to understand that Amazon’s Kindle only allows you to read books that are in Amazon’s own, proprietary format. Most ebooks come in ePub format, but you can’t read an ePub book on Kindle.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:38 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Here's Kiana Davenport's August blog post about Penguin's bizarre freakout over her decision to self-e-publish a collection of old, previously published stories - a collection that Penguin had itself previously rejected. Her account claims she was not in fact in violation of her contract but that Penguin is refusing to publish her book anyway; it's worth reading:

So, here is what the publisher demanded. That I immediately and totally delete CANNIBAL NIGHTS from Amazon, iNook, iPad, and all other e-platforms. Plus, that I delete all Google hits mentioning me and CANNIBAL NIGHTS. Currently, that's about 600,000 hits. (How does one even do that?) Plus that I guarantee in writing I would not self-publish another ebook of any of my backlog of works until my novel with them was published in hardback and paperback. In other words they were demanding that I agree to be muzzled for the next two years, to sit silent and impotent as a writer, in a state of acquiescence and, consequently, utter self-loathing.

The vice president and publisher of that house called my agent, offering extra little sweetmeats if I would just capitulate and 'adopt the right spirit going forward.' This somewhat sinister and semi-benevolent attempt at mind-control fascinated me. It became crystal-clear to me that the issue wasn't a supposed 'breach of contract,' on my part, but the publisher's fear and loathing of the profoundly threatening Goliath, Amazon. Since CANNIBAL NIGHTS in no way 'resembles' or would 'injure' sales of the book I had sold them (an entirely different subject matter) I was not in breach of my contract. I stood firm, and refused to capitulate.

Last week, I received from their lawyers an official letter terminating my contract with them, "...for permitting Amazon to publish CANNIBAL NIGHTS, etc...." and demanding back the $20,000 they had paid me as part of their advance. Until then, this publishing giant is holding my novel as hostage, a work that took me five years to write. My agent assures me I am now an 'anathema' to them.

posted by mediareport at 9:39 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hmm. Flake sensor pinging a little.
posted by Artw at 9:43 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, in the future, Google has all the old books and Amazon has all the new ones?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:46 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yeah, there are some pretty bad self-published books. There are also some pretty bad books published by traditional publishers.

This is true but unhelpful. The fraction of books which are terrible is not the same in either category even if present in both. And the sheer level of awfulness you find in self-published books is astounding. The bad self-published books are much worse than those traditionally published.

90% of everything is crap but it is not evenly distributed.
posted by Justinian at 9:47 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am still wrapping my head around the meta-properties of STINKERS! America's Worst Self-Published Books, which is itself self-published (of course). I wonder what sort of recursive hell would ensure if this book were included in itself.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:58 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


you can’t read an ePub book on Kindle

The landscape of EPUB readers on iOS 5 is bleak. I'm praying that Goodreader adds it as a supported format.
posted by Trurl at 10:02 PM on October 17, 2011


Does iOS itself not feature an ePub reader? Is sideloading to that a hassle?
posted by Artw at 10:09 PM on October 17, 2011


Meh. In science fiction, horror and fantasy, dilletantes and fans have always self-published, or published in 'zines or APAs or journals for little or no compensation.

More to the point, the gatekeepers, if they're worth anything, will make money. They just won't keep 90% of the revenues anymore.

Since we're no longer chopping down trees, shipping them from the back end of the wilderness to a paper mill, mulching them into paper, shipping the paper to a press hundreds of miles away, running the paper through a printing press and book binder, and then packing and shipping the finished books to retailers and then shipping back unsold copies, this should not be a surprise. The publishers are demanding they keep all of the cost benefits of e-publishing, and not share a dime of it with the authors or editors. Not. Going. To. Happen.

If agents want to keep their clients, they had better have dollars and cents breakdowns of how much value the agent-publisher avenue brings to the table over self-publishing and DIY promotion. They're no longer selling books - they're selling a service to authors and readers. There's a LOT of gold in them thar hills (I am reading so, so, so many more books, and different types and genres of books, since I got my kindle, all paid), but they're going to fight it tooth and nail anyway.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:10 PM on October 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


Interesting what's happening to home libraries. The obvious step is to just digitize your books and get rid of the physical object and store it on a hard drive.

You've got to be kidding. I love my books. I've gotten rid of many of them, including all of my paperbacks, and really only purchase rare and hard to find books. About 80% of my books have also been published new, in Japan, and cover folklore and local history. I love these books.

Similar to ripping CD collections to MP3. See 1dollarscan.com for example, each 100 pages is $1 (they cut the spine and pulp the book and email you a PDF).

What kind of Philistine would do something like this? Or is this only for people who collect Sidney Sheldon books?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:17 PM on October 17, 2011


I keep saying publishing is going to be a service industry. I don't know if that is the best idea for the preservation of the status quo, but I'm not a status quo dude.

I'm going to crank out a few novels while I happen to have a little bit of free time and see what happens. For me, personally, it's interesting times.

Traditional publishing is filled with deadwood and damn fools (I was a damn fool for nine years and I loved every minute of it. Best, smartest, funniest people I ever met in my life.)
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:20 PM on October 17, 2011


80% of my books have also been published new, in Japan .. What kind of Philistine would do something like this?

The Japanese. 1dollarscan is a Japanese company. (BTW Metafilter is mentioned in the linked New Yorker article).
posted by stbalbach at 10:23 PM on October 17, 2011


Does iOS itself not feature an ePub reader?

You can send an EPUB from Dropbox to iBooks. But then you're in iBooks - which was not a trip worth making.
posted by Trurl at 10:25 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does iOS itself not feature an ePub reader? Is sideloading to that a hassle?

It's straightforward to open an epub in iBooks. I just loaded one in from email. iBooks is OK, but I wouldn't waste time trying to deal with its store.

Kobo is a decent reading app for epubs. It doesn't always have the best selection, but that's getting better. And it has nice sharing options -- you can post passages to Facebook, for instance.

That said, I've been leaning toward Kindle recently because of its web-based cloud reader. Makes work pass a little quicker.
posted by showmethecalvino at 10:30 PM on October 17, 2011


I bought a gay paperback novel once on amazon that I found browsing around. It had a self-published vibe but seemed interesting. There were a couple of glowing if inept reviews so I bought it.

It took around twelve weeks to receive. It was unbelievably awful. It needed proofreading, there had been none. Spelling errors were lurking, sentences were sometimes not technically sentences. The plot was unoriginal and situations just didn't make sense. For a book that seemed to want to be serious gay fiction it felt hastily written and was way more porny than I was expecting.

You know, I think I was the first person to order it. I've even seriously wondered if it took so long to get because the author hurried and wrote it after I ordered it, and then they printed one copy and sent it to me. All pure speculation on my part of course.
posted by longsleeves at 10:34 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


So what if there is a lot of crap in self-publishing? Suddenly there is a mechanism by which writers can publish without having to pay a vast majority of their profits to a middleman. It's going to demand a new business model, and it's going to mean that authors are going to have to do a lot of the work that they used to just leave to publishers (often foolishly), but the ebook reader, and the sudden democracy of publishing, is a net good.

And if we're inundated with crap, we just need to build better filters. We should have been ready for that anyway. It's what the web has been demanding since its inception, and anything that can be digitized, and the existing model be replaced by a model of digital distribution, will be digitized and distributed online. If the worst thing that happens is you read a bad book once in a while, well, I've read my share of terrible books, even with the gatekeepers in place.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:37 PM on October 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


And if we're inundated with crap, we just need to build better filters.

Hey, we could call them "publishers" and they could help edit and promote books and in return authors could grant them a portion of the profits.
posted by Justinian at 10:40 PM on October 17, 2011 [24 favorites]


Hmm, but that description, Justinian, doesn't really reflect the genesis of publishing - that was never the name of the game, really, for publishers. Editing is a relatively recent addition to publishing...
posted by smoke at 10:58 PM on October 17, 2011


I've bought some of the self-published books on Amazon, just out of interest. They were all horrifically bad on a level that even the worst excesses of Marie Corelli or Bulwer-Lytton competition winners could never match. And that's just the semi-literate ones.
The big secret of disintermediation is that people don't care. People don't care about quality. Never have.
Hey, we could call them "publishers" and they could help edit and promote books and in return authors could grant them a portion of the profits.
Why? I mean, why voluntarily give up a chunk of the profits when those profits could go to the authors? Amazon has a "if you liked X you'll also like..." feature that probably works better then a publisher at finding stuff that you, specifically will like.

The problem is you still have a middle man. Amazon. Ideally, we'd get rid of them too.
posted by delmoi at 11:02 PM on October 17, 2011


you need to understand that Amazon’s Kindle only allows you to read books that are in Amazon’s own, proprietary format. Most ebooks come in ePub format, but you can’t read an ePub book on Kindle.

The Kindle applications for various platforms may only allow you to read books in Amazon's proprietary format, but that's just not the case for the Kindle devices. All versions of the Kindle device have supported un-encrypted mobipocket format. If you don't want to use Calibre to convert other formats to mobi, Amazon provides a utility to do that. They don't, of course, provide a utility that can break the encryption on the proprietary DRM-locked epub format that "most ebooks come in", but that's pretty easy to find. And it looks like Bluefire Reader can still open those Adobe epub books natively. The Kobo app can too, although I don't know if that will only open books bought through Kobo or if you can sideload other DRM-protected epubs and read them. So, yes, it's a shame that Amazon killed a piece of software by buying it, but that's a risk you take with DRM and closed devices like the iP*d. Apple could change the terms of their app store and refuse to distribute any app which competes with their iBooks. (Speaking of which, I can read both Kindle and Adobe-locked epub books under iOS, Android, MacOS and Windows; I can't read Apple-locked epub books anywhere but on an iOS device. Amazon may have killed Stanza, but at least they offer alternatives to reading their books on their hardware.)

More on-topic, I'm not convinced that authors distributing their own wares is better than the traditional publishing system, at least for some authors. I paid Peter Beagle pretty much directly (by buying from Conlan Press, which was set up to distribute his works) for an audiobook six years ago, and am still getting occasional status updates saying they'll be shipping that any day now.
posted by hades at 11:30 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


"This is true but unhelpful. The fraction of books which are terrible is not the same in either category even if present in both. And the sheer level of awfulness you find in self-published books is astounding. The bad self-published books are much worse than those traditionally published."

This whole self-publishing discussion is entirely irrelevant. Amazon has long carried some self-published books. That's not what this article is about.

What this article is about is Amazon becoming a publisher. Self-published books are books that the author pays themselves to have published. Amazon is paying authors for their books. And how it's doing this is much different than the standard industry practice. They're not paying advances, for example.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:41 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Imho, you should never buy any reader that doesn't support DjVu files, like one frequently finds on gigapedia or other cites that share scanned books.

We usually share fiction books in the epub or mobi formats, but academic texts are very often digitally distributed only in DjVu format, perhaps only by gigapedia like sites.

There might be some readers for which DjVu to PDF converters produce reasonable results, but I opted for an Astak reader, aka Jenke's HanLin, which handles them right out of the box.

A prioir, I'd imagine that Android Tablets and iPads handle DjVu files quite well, once you track down some suitable application, presumably much better than eInk based readers, well the pinch-to-zoom sounds useful when text cannot be reflowed.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:49 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Amazon has a "if you liked X you'll also like..." feature that probably works better then a publisher at finding stuff that you, specifically will like. "

Absolutely not. Amazon's algorithm is really astonishingly bad, particularly given the amount of money there would be in making it good. It basically recommends 50 of whatever you just bought wig no reference to the 10 years of your buying history it could be buying. Amazon currently thinks I only read YA novels about princesses because I picked up one highly recommended one. Until I snag something about space travel and then it'll be all space travel. There's no sort for quality, either; it never occurs to amazon that I might like GOOD books on several topics instead of all the trash in the universe with the same keywords as whatever I just read.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:54 PM on October 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


wig = with, and 2nd buying = mining

DYAC
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:00 AM on October 18, 2011


We usually share fiction books in the epub or mobi formats, but academic texts are very often digitally distributed only in DjVu format, perhaps only by gigapedia like sites.

"distributed"
posted by delmoi at 12:24 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It will be interesting to see how easily the Kindle Fire can be rooted. It will actually be running Android 2.something, and there are DjVu viewers for Android that should work on the kindle. If the fire allows you to manually load .apk files it should be good to go (no e-ink, though)
posted by delmoi at 12:28 AM on October 18, 2011


I love all the not-even-remotely transparent people involved in the publishing industry attempting to frame the issue like that of an abusive husband, "YOU CAN'T LEAVE ME! Who will do your precious EDITING!?" Um… how about editors? Freelance, working outside the traditional guilds. There's absolutely, fundamentally, no reason for the publishing industry to exist save to placate the old world needs of those that simply must have a tree executed for their joy (it's the smell, you see… they need the sweet smell of freshly minced pulp to excite their sexual organs).

Much like the music industry, that long-insisted artists needed them to produce the music, to cut the records, to distribute and advertise, to get them on the radio. All raison d'etres have been extinguished. Musicians can produce their own music or hire someone to do it inexpensively. Reproduction is nothing more complicated than COPY & PASTE. Distribution is a simple matter of uploading. Publicity is handled via word-of-mouth and the viral effects of content aggregators. The publishing industry will soon follow. It is inevitable.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:08 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's absolutely, fundamentally, no reason for the publishing industry to exist save to placate the old world needs of those that simply must have a tree executed for their joy

That's an odd way to look at things. I mean, it's may be technically true, but it is also just as true that there is no fundamental need for the movie industry or the restaurant industry or the opera or the symphony or anything else.
posted by Justinian at 2:08 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Civil_Disobedient: What I'd do if I was running a publisher is say to my manuscript readers, "Okay, from now on every book that you liked, but we can't publish, offer an eBook only deal, with no advance, basic editing and proofreading, some promotion, and put them all up on our website for purchase". I would then immediately be ousted by the shareholders because the terms I would have to offer to make the downloads competitive and make the arrangement attractive would cannibalize our existing base of authors and sales.
posted by Grimgrin at 2:26 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do Amazon emply actual editors when they buy books? Editors as much as authors IMO make or break their books.
posted by Francis at 2:33 AM on October 18, 2011


but it is also just as true that there is no fundamental need for the movie industry or the restaurant industry or the opera or the symphony or anything else

The restaurant industry? They've already got a thriving independent scene.
The opera or symphony are all about the venue.
But the movie industry? Oh yes, most definitely.

I would then immediately be ousted by the shareholders because the terms I would have to offer to make the downloads competitive and make the arrangement attractive would cannibalize our existing base of authors and sales

I don't understand this part. Why would it cannibalize your existing base of authors? The authors that are good will still be good, right? Are the highest-rated programs on Apple's App Store being cannibalized by the glut of lowly, generic fart apps? Of course not. Stuff that is good remains good. The trick is sorting through it and separating the wheat from the chaff, but that's where you leverage technology instead of fighting it tooth and nail.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:49 AM on October 18, 2011


The beef over all of this is funny, considering that Amazon was fighting publishers to keep prices down. Now that they are actually trying to leverage their hardware position to do the same thing, it's a problem and Amazon are the bad guys. Technologists just can't win here.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:51 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


What kind of Philistine would do something like this? Or is this only for people who collect Sidney Sheldon books?

The kind of philistine that moves house a lot, or works (and therefore lives) in places where space is expensive. Lots of people have no choice but to learn to stop fetishising books as objects to be hoarded, and to treat them as containers of information instead. A means to keep that information so I can refer back to books that I've learned from and re-live stories that moved me, without having to carry hundreds of kilos of wood pulp every time I move, or find extra cubic meters of storage or shelving in all the tiny flats I'll live in, sounds fantastic. Keep just the few books that have particular emotional resonance or beauty as objects, and have the rest of my library portable, searchable, and backed up in case of fire or flood. All the benefits of eBooks, but without the evils of DRM.
posted by metaBugs at 3:24 AM on October 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


The most useful thing that an editor does - like a producer in the music industry - is challenge the author and draw them away from self-indulgence. Editors can make good books much better, in the same way that great producers can make good records great.

The future for publishers is in a kind of curatorship rather than simply as object-makers and in (ugh!) brand management, and I suspect the ones that will be successful are the ones with very clear and tightly enforced rules of quality control, like those record labels from which one could buy pretty much anything because one knew that it would be a reliably good example of the sort of thing one liked (for some people this would be Blue Note at their peak, for others Warp at theirs, for yet others 4AD). Given the propensity for the absolutely untalented to produce self-regarding nonsense and then market it with tireless enthusiasm and unquenchable mendacity, the Amazon market is set to be an ever-noisier place.

This new publisher will not just be a passive shit-filter, though - they will need to enter into their role with enthusiasm, actively seeking out jewels and presenting them so as to show them to their best effect. This is what the best have always done anyway.
posted by Grangousier at 3:31 AM on October 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


Civil_Disobedient: Suppose I offer, say a 50/50 revenue split and a $7.50 price point for these books. That'd be competitive with Amazon's self published or independent works, particularly if there was some sort of guarantee that these books aren't crap.

The problem is it would also be extremely competitive with the 90/10 revenue split and $26.00 price point I'm selling my hardcovers at, and 90/10 revenue split and $12.99 price point for my existing ebooks. So the moment I do this I can expect my sales to drop and my artists to start screaming and trying to get out of their contracts. All before the first sale of these new ebook only deals.

Of course I could offer the same terms for ebook only publications as the regular books, in which case it ends up like Blockbuster's online video rental service, or any of the pre-iTunes attempts for music labels to set up online stores.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:39 AM on October 18, 2011


This conversation shouldn't only be about eBooks via Amazon. I heard an interview with an author just in the past week or two where he talked about publishing through Amazon, and how the eBook version was going to be available within a few days of him uploading the final text, and the hard copy version would be available for delivery a few months later.

So, Amazon isn't only luring authors into eBook publishing, but will also send the proofed copy to their print shop so people can have volumes which sit on shelves.
posted by hippybear at 4:23 AM on October 18, 2011


Oh, right, it was Tim Ferriss. The article linked to in the main FPP article says that Amazon will be publishing it in hard copy, ebook, and audiobook formats.
posted by hippybear at 4:26 AM on October 18, 2011


Her contract has a clause that forbids her from discussing the details, which is not traditional in publishing.

Amazon's "you can't talk about our contract in public" clause, mentioned in the original NYT link, strike anyone here as having authors' best interests in mind? I sure hope not. Look, I'm a big fan of giving authors more power in their relationships with publishers, but trusting Amazon to deliver that power while simultaneously acting as a publisher itself seems naive.

Artw: Hmm. Flake sensor pinging a little.

Is that directed at Kiana Davenport? Love ya dude, but it would help if you explained instead of dropping a drive-by insult. On the chance I'm interpreting you correctly, here's one legal blogger's take on her August post:

Speaking generally, as publishers view this sort of thing, it does appear somebody from the publisher really screwed up. Kiana is careful not to mention her publisher’s name, but a little internet research reveals that it was Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin.

As PG has discussed, it has become common for publishers to truss authors like a turkey with contract provisions that prevent the author from writing anything — sometimes until the book is published and sometimes forever — without the consent of the publisher.

It seems clear somebody at Kiana’s publisher forgot about inserting that clause or it would have been the first thing Kiana heard about.

One of the recurring themes of traditional publishers, the agents who live in their ecosystem and authors who have a deep emotional investment in the way things have always been done is that by signing with a big publisher, an author is assured that his/her book will be handled by experienced professionals who will guarantee a quality product.

What is professional about an editor repeatedly shouting at an author over the phone?

What is professional about a paranoid rant accusing an author of “betraying them to Amazon”?

What is professional about screwing up a contract, then trying to make the author pay for the screw-up?

posted by mediareport at 5:38 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Editing, filtering, distribution and advertizing as part of a package called publishing is pretty reasonable, especially for authors who haven't hit it big yet. They're related tasks which require experience by people who likely don't have the tolerance for risk to take a share. Authors don't by and large have capital to sink into fees. You can take some of the rent seeking out, but only real efficency gains will lower total cost.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:55 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


A prioir, I'd imagine that Android Tablets and iPads handle DjVu files quite well, once you track down some suitable application, presumably much better than eInk based readers, well the pinch-to-zoom sounds useful when text cannot be reflowed.

There really isn't a suitable application... there is exactly one application for android that claims to support 'djvu' but if it's pdf-viewer cousin (by the same developer) is any indication it's a piece of crap.

You can have the equivalent of the science library of a small college or university on your computer/tablet/laptop.... these are truly times of wonder.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:32 AM on October 18, 2011


The most useful thing that an editor does - like a producer in the music industry - is challenge the author and draw them away from self-indulgence. Editors can make good books much better, in the same way that great producers can make good records great.

I'm not a big fan of the "this" formulation, but this is pretty much what I wanted to say. I'm glad we've opened the means of musical production so that anyone can make music in their bathroom (better acoustics), but it's not like I can't tell the difference between a solidly produced album with an engineer who knew their stuff and 95%+ of the guys in the bathroom. And as much as I like reading original fiction on the web (or even *gasp* fanfic), it's not like I can't tell the difference between unedited writing or lightly beta-ed writing and writing that's actually been edited. (Nonfiction is trickier because magazines are on an editing continuum.) I wouldn't want my unedited scribblings put into a book; I suspect, though, that I'm in the minority.

I love the idea of freelance editors and hope they catch on, but I'm not optimistic because editing is a cost center and most authors won't want that. For all that I don't care much for the traditional publishing and recording industries, and for all that I like most of the outcomes of bypassing them, I understand there are losses involved too.
posted by immlass at 6:46 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, wikipedia's entry on editing notes that since the 80's most copy editing of book manuscripts have been outsourced to freelance copy editors.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:50 AM on October 18, 2011


Do Amazon emply actual editors when they buy books? Editors as much as authors IMO make or break their books.

I saw that they offer copyediting for $160/10,000 words, which didn't sound like very good copyediting to me. I wonder if they're outsourcing to India. You get what you pay for.
posted by theredpen at 6:56 AM on October 18, 2011


There's 'copy editing' ("Uh, Mr. Martin? You spelled 'sword' 'sowrd' here. I fixed it.") and there's 'editing' ("George, buddy, do we really need another Point of View character? You have at least a dozen you've been ignoring. No, I don't care if he says the name of the book. Kill him off or write him out."). You can outsource the former, but the latter actually requires building a standing relationship and understanding between author and editor.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:12 AM on October 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


As far as copy-editing goes, Amazon are already asking authors self-publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing to fix errors - see here.
... yesterday I heard an author had been contacted by Amazon to clean up the grammatical errors in his ebook and republish it. Before you applaud, let's look at the request and the book it was requested of. The email the author received detailed just three errors. Two of the errors were comma-related and the third was a word choice.
The criteria they are using to demand corrections are pretty opaque, but obviously they seem to want to take a least a certain level of control over the quality of what they have on the site.
As someone who's recently seen a certain level of success from being published by a small press via KDP (see this AskMe) I have to say that we're at the point that Amazon are becoming the environment in which small authors operate.
My story downloaded a few dozen times at Smashwords and several hundred at Amazon.
On the one hand this gives Amazon a possibly worrying amount of power, but on the other they have essentially brought this market into being so I can't be too churlish about it.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:33 AM on October 18, 2011


You can outsource the former, but the latter actually requires building a standing relationship and understanding between author and editor.

And has represented an infinitesimally small percentage of the actual editing that's done. Let's not kid ourselves. Most books are put out to the public with the lightest of edits. That "editor working closely with author to craft book into masterpiece" model is mostly a fiction in the publishing industry, and a self-serving one, as it credits editors with a greater responsibility for the final product than, in 99 percent of the examples of books and articles that are published, just is not the case.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:39 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting, Android offerers only one DjVu viewer (via), crazy. Does iOS have good open source DjVu readers?
posted by jeffburdges at 8:12 AM on October 18, 2011


Fair enough. Once Amazon publishes it will have an interest it its imprint being recognized as a mark of some quality (however defined). But once we're used to buying all our books from Amazon and they're pushing their books does anyone honestly think that the splits of income will remain the same? Surely they'll start cutting back on the author share. And then I would expect extra charges for 'we recommend' section...and we're back to square one. Only even worse because the retailer and the publisher are one and the same.

As for Amazon recommendations, mine are pretty bizarre and rarely match my interests. They seem to privilege certain types of books over others - best sellers and genre fiction get more weight than non-fiction, in my experience. But I may only feel that because it is currently convinced I want to buy only books with half-naked werewolf Scotsmen on the cover.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:31 AM on October 18, 2011


You've got to be kidding. I love my books. I've gotten rid of many of them, including all of my paperbacks, and really only purchase rare and hard to find books. About 80% of my books have also been published new, in Japan, and cover folklore and local history. I love these books.
What kind of Philistine would do something like this? Or is this only for people who collect Sidney Sheldon books?


I love my books to, but I am keeping an eye out for the moment I can get rid of the rest of them.
We are at the wild acceleration of the ebook industry, and since I don't live in space-conscious Japan there is no way I would proceed to scan + shred my collection. I can be patient and see which books in my collection make their way to ebook format, or which ones get digitized by fans.
Those ones I will replace.

Right now I am pondering which items of my graphic novel collection is most satisfactorily substituted with the CBR/CBZ version...

In maybe 5 or 10 years I might consider having my rarest books scanned if they didn't appear online, but I'd assuredly end up pirating them amongst my friends... Just an instinct. I'd rather have my rare copy shredded and have the PDF if it meant my friends could enjoy it too.


And once artists/GoogleArt start releasing digital catalouge raissone's with immensely high-res zoomable images for my tablet, I will then proceed to give away my art books.
posted by Theta States at 8:46 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was one of those people who kept every book they ever bought, even though I move every few years. Then I got over myself, realised that I was being a wanker and it was more about 'look, I am one of those book loving people, look at me and all my books'. I still have over 1000 books in the house if you include those that belong to the kid, and I make artists books, but with the advent of ebooks I have seen no reason to fetishise the book purely because it is a book. If I just want information in the form of words (and trashy fiction is included in this) I use my kindle. If I want a beautiful object, or something for it's illustrations, I go for the hardcopy.

And if you just can't let go of showing off how many books you 'own', list them on Library Thing or some such for the world to see.

Finally, yes you can read ePub and other formats on Kindle. Download Calibre. It's free, and what's more it helps you organise stuff. Amazon is far from perfect in my opinion, but the whole knee-jerk 'It's Amazon, it must be bad' reaction is sometimes mystifying. Amazon has done a lot more for smaller authors than many of the big publishing houses, and as big houses increasingly narrow their lists to be genre writers who churn out the same supposedly-predictable bestsellers and celebrity memoirs, perhaps we should be cutting Amazon some slack.
posted by Megami at 9:01 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's an odd way to look at things. I mean, it's may be technically true, but it is also just as true that there is no fundamental need for the movie industry or the restaurant industry or the opera or the symphony or anything else.
Well, keep in mind the 'studio system' is long gone at this point. Most movies are made by independent teams that are put together specifically for that movie and then dissipate. Movies are a huge deal, they can cost more to make then the startup funding for most silicon valley startups, for example.

Restaurants are often the same way, one individual or group owning one restaurants, maybe a handful of restaurants and in some cases you have a huge chain (but most chain restaurants are franchises)

But the basic problem here is that you're comparing The "movie" and "restaurant" industry with the "publishing" industry, not the "book" industry. It would be more accurate to compare them with the music label industry (dead) or video rental stores (dead) because those are intermediaries, not the producers. With a restaurant or movie you need multiple people. With a book, you just need an author. Or you can have authors find their own editors -- with the job market for creative work now it wouldn't be hard. Give them an extra 20% or something, or pay them cash up front.
Amazon's "you can't talk about our contract in public" clause, mentioned in the original NYT link, strike anyone here as having authors' best interests in mind? I sure hope not. Look, I'm a big fan of giving authors more power in their relationships with publishers, but trusting Amazon to deliver that power while simultaneously acting as a publisher itself seems naive.
Yeah youtube does the same thing with their 'partners'. You can't talk about how much money you make. Some of it may be their paying different people different amounts, but I think a lot of it might simply be about competitive advantage. They're not worried about other authors and the general public finding out about their contract terms, they're worried about BN/Apple finding out. (Although I would imagine it wouldn't be hard for those companies to find out).

It's totally lame though. But it does highlight one problem. If you want to sell ebooks you have to work with Amazon and you have to agree to their terms.
Amazon is far from perfect in my opinion, but the whole knee-jerk 'It's Amazon, it must be bad' reaction is sometimes mystifying. Amazon has done a lot more for smaller authors than many of the big publishing houses, and as big houses increasingly narrow their lists to be genre writers who churn out the same supposedly-predictable bestsellers and celebrity memoirs, perhaps we should be cutting Amazon some slack.
Yeah, there is a lot of bitching from the publishing industry, but why wouldn't they complain about their competition? Just because someone is undercutting your business doesn't mean they're making the world a worse place.
posted by delmoi at 9:07 AM on October 18, 2011


Megami: and I make artists books

Do you publish typical "Art books"? I collect those, and was wondering what your thoughts were, industry-wise, about those moving digital.
posted by Theta States at 9:11 AM on October 18, 2011


And has represented an infinitesimally small percentage of the actual editing that's done. Let's not kid ourselves. Most books are put out to the public with the lightest of edits. That "editor working closely with author to craft book into masterpiece" model is mostly a fiction in the publishing industry, and a self-serving one, as it credits editors with a greater responsibility for the final product than, in 99 percent of the examples of books and articles that are published, just is not the case.

Ahhh ... yes and no. I've worked with editors who only came into the office sporadically, churned through a pile of manuscripts, saying "Buy this, this, and this," and went home, until the next purge. But I've worked with a greater number of editors who not only interact with authors at the level you're discussing (and I have the reams and reams of correspondence to prove it), but who take the time to bring a manuscript that they think has potential, but isn't otherwise salable, up to the standards where we'd buy it. That's not a glorified copy-editor or proofreader. So I can only say that my little corner of the publishing world looks nothing like your little corner of the publishing world.

As for freelancing, I know of one freelance top-level editor in particular, a multiple award nominee, who recently went back to a non-freelance job, because the piecework wasn't paying the bills. People are free to take from that what they will, but to me it seems pretty clear that if the future is freelancing, it's not here yet.

And before anyone plays the "vested interest" card, I should point out that editing is a valuable skill in all kinds of fields, and that's not even counting the project management aspect of the job. If traditional publishing were to collapse tomorrow, I'd probably be working elsewhere for double my current salary by the end of the year. So no, I don't think the status quo is of great personal advantage to me. But that still leaves plenty of room to be skeptical about who this kind of transition will really benefit in the end.
posted by Amanojaku at 10:53 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you publish typical "Art books"? I collect those, and was wondering what your thoughts were, industry-wise, about those moving digital.

Theta States, I do hand-bound and letterpress stuff like this (self link) so I can't see us going digital any time soon. I also collect things like Taschen Art Editions and part of that is the beauty of the book as an object, so I can't see that changing to digital soon. But as the technology improves (and I am going to put 'pictures on the wall' in this group as well as e-readers) and houses like Taschen and Phiadon get their act together, I think 'looking at books for the gorgeous images' (as opposed to 'looking at gorgeous books') is going to radically change.
posted by Megami at 11:06 AM on October 18, 2011


So I can only say that my little corner of the publishing world looks nothing like your little corner of the publishing world.

I have experienced both sorts of editing. But I am not speaking from a professional perspective, but instead from the reams of complaints I have read from throughout the professional publishing world saying that there is scant time or money for more than a cursory edit before a book or article is released.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:52 AM on October 18, 2011


Wow, that Taschen Art Editions page gets my collector-juices all flowing and buzzing!
Those are some amazing pieces there. The only one I have is the large Christo 75 book, and that might be one of the few I would ever get. (OK, I also have this one...... but it was cheap!)

And while I love love love collecting them, I think for those prices I'd be better off purchasing a local artist's painting. Those are designed as collector's editions in the traditoinal object d'art sense, which is totally cool, but I imagine much of the art-book market is the people that want the gorgeous images.

I am more thinking about accumulating art books, just having a great library of art to flip through and enjoy. I have a decent library of them and while some are rather obscure, most aren't collectible.
I think there are major copywrite barriers that will really hinder something like a tablet app that allows extensive zooming of high-res art collections of some of the most famous stuff.

My hope is that contemporary artists will proceed along this path and start releasing their catalogue-raissone-in-progress that constantly updates with top quality reproductions of their latest galleried works.
Maybe I should built that system...
posted by Theta States at 11:59 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


But I am not speaking from a professional perspective, but instead from the reams of complaints I have read from throughout the professional publishing world saying that there is scant time or money for more than a cursory edit before a book or article is released.

That's certainly often true. But that's a very different point than "Nobody really does that -- it's a self-serving fiction of the publishing industry to make editors look good." One says we don't need editors, because they don't really do that work anyway; the other makes clear that editors do that work as much as their limits allow, which is precisely why they're important.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:22 PM on October 18, 2011


Oh great, another thread where someone's going to say "then get a new business model..."
posted by ciderwoman at 1:09 PM on October 18, 2011


You know, I think I was the first person to order it. I've even seriously wondered if it took so long to get because the author hurried and wrote it after I ordered it, and then they printed one copy and sent it to me. All pure speculation on my part of course.

Write-on-demand (WOD) publishing -- the next business model. All it needs is one writer on cocaine and Modafinil, a warehouse of monkeys with computers, or a sufficiently intelligent computer. One can even imagine books composed to readers' requests.
posted by bad grammar at 7:45 PM on October 18, 2011


One can even imagine books composed to readers' requests.

Many fanfic authors will take commissions, you know.
posted by Theta States at 5:50 AM on October 19, 2011


Many fanfic authors will take commissions, you know.

I have a feeling that many of the self-published books on Amazon are bad fanfics with the names swapped out.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:53 PM on October 25, 2011


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