Monday, February 21, 2011


"You do not pay a royalty to anyone who is doing day-labor. All book production should be done for a flat fee."
-Michael Stackpole

As some of you already know, I've written a couple of novels. I have one in print from Publish America (Snowberry's Veil) and one edited and shopped to agents for over a year. So far out of over 100 agents, only one was slightly interested, but declined. However, as I've been studying and reading and as technology advances, I'm beginning to understand that the whole agent-publisher system is just not good for writers and never has been.

Even if you somehow get an agent, they don't always manage to sell your book, even if they fall in love with it and use all their contacts and experience. Even if you manage to sell the book, you're a new author and you won't get much shelf space. They have to make room for Snooki's book and the latest of 85 books by William Johnstone. To promote it they expect you to travel doing book signings, talk shows, interviews, and so on. Basically the only thing publishers do is some editing, they do the cover art, print it, and distribute it. If you're already known, you get some advertising.

For that, they want a pretty big slice of the pie. You get 25% of the net (so about 17% in real life), the sellers get about 30%, and the publisher gets 55%. Forever. They do the initial work and ship your book around, you're the talent. You get less than half of what they get. Without you, they have no product. Without them, you have a harder time getting your product out. That seems a bit... backward to me. Its like having someone build your house, then paying them rent until the house falls down.

Thankfully there are alternatives. As the electronic book market grows, there are more and more people who are looking for cheaper downloads of books than actual physical books. From a bibliophile's perspective this is tragic, but from an author's it is gold. There are publishers who'll work with you to put your stuff online and Borders even has a system where they'll help you get your book published as an e-book, but they still take that lion's share and give you a nibble off each book.

If you publish through Borders BookBrewer or a standard publishing house, you'll get 25% of your book's value, each sale.

If you self publish, you get more based on the price you charge, about 70% of each book. The dealer (Amazon, etc) gets the rest.

Further, publishers charge quite a bit for each book, 10-15 bucks on average. You can sell your book for significantly less, and thus tend to sell significantly more. Most people won't pop $15 bucks for an E-Book, let alone one from an unknown author. More would for 10 bucks, but if you sell for $5 or $3 (or, to introduce people to your book, 99 cents) you can get even more buyers. Because the less of a risk for the buyer, the more likely they are to try your work.

Its not that there isn't a place for books, I love them and will always collect them. Its that you don't have to go through a traditional publisher any longer. There are plenty of places out there such as which will print a real hard copy book for you on demand, for a price per copy. They get the lion's share, but you'll have a real honest book in your hands.

Which brings me to music.

At present, a new CD costs about 10-20 bucks and is mostly crap. When its not autotuned crap its 90's era rehashed crap. There's a catchy song once in a while and usually a pretty good beat, but that's it. If you want to buy the songs individually, you can download them for 99 cents or $1.29, at most. Since a typical disc is 8-12 songs, that's often cheaper than the purchase price, but still more than most are worth.

What I can't figure out is why the e-book reader thing is taking off (its 15% of the online book market right now), but the musical equivalent is not. I'm not talking about I Tunes, I mean the independent unknown musician market. Music has to be more expensive than books, it only took one of me with a laptop to produce a book. Music tends to be several people each with an expensive instrument, a producer, and rental for the studio (or the expense of building your own). That all adds up, but still, why aren't people shifting more and more to online downloads of music rather than gobbling up the crap being handed them by music videos and CD stores?

Every quarter that goes by, e-books are taking up more of the market share. Every year that goes by, Netflix gets a bigger share of the video market, crushing giants like Hollywood Video along the way. Isn't it time the record companies got the same treatment? They are outdated, give us inferior product, charge too much, and are almost insane in their need to make money off every single possible aspect of their work. Record a CD to listen to it on your MP3 player? They want a piece of that. Make a mix tape to send to your sweety? They want a piece of that.

The next step in copyright and artistry is here; its time to embrace it all, even though it means the death or decline of things we love so much in our past. Riding a horse is a heck of a lot more romantic than riding a car, but the car is clearly superior.

1 comment:

Philip said...

"What I can't figure out is why the e-book reader thing is taking off (its 15% of the online book market right now), but the musical equivalent is not. I'm not talking about I Tunes, I mean the independent unknown musician market"

The e-book industry is taking off because many notable writers recognize its potential and entered. The lesser-known and the unknown get the benefit as well; a rising tide lifting all boats, and so on.

But music differs from publishing in that the former is "show business". There are few authors that really want to 'perform' for a public audience (and having met or corresponded with more than a few SF authors, I find it's preferable to deal with them through their work instead). But for musicians, performing is a vital need - not to mention the influence they think they can wield. Can you imagine U2, and especially Bono) deciding they only want to interact via 99-cent downloads? They probably could now, but they'd never be able to do that if they were starting out. You need the ears.

There's some guerilla-marketing around(especially with a certain Madonna-rip-off) but musicians (especially indies) still need to get their music heard, and it's still a long hard slog to do so.

That's why there'll be a music industry and sub-industries for a long time.