Tag Archives: publishing

Books and Guilt–Borders Declares Bankruptcy

Since I have an interest in the book industry (on account of liking books and writing my own), I’ve been following the news about Borders lately, and found the news that Borders filed Chapter 11 just a few minutes ago as I came back to the surface of the internet after a large push on MOROCCO.

Overall, I’m fairly sad about the whole thing.  I never like to see a business close, though I know it’s part of the law of the (consumer) jungle:  you eat or get eaten.  I mostly feel sorry for the employees who will have to go elsewhere for their work.  I’m sure the higher-ups will be fine.  Seems like they always are.

I’ve always liked going to their store–it felt the friendliest and calmest of places here on my side of town.  Yet as I think back, I haven’t bought anything from there in quite a while.  Part of the reason is due to finances. Part of it is catching up on a massive tbr pile that I already have, and yet a third part is no longer feeling like I need to own a copy of every single book I’ve ever read (thus borrowing or library-ing).

So I feel like I have a hand in their closing.  But I know it’s not my fault.  It’s a changing industry, is it not?

Yet that doesn’t really help the little flicker of guilt.  Plus, hey, I like books, so any excuse to buy some, right?

On the other hand, I’ve been meaning to go spend some time (and money) at my indie bookshop just a few blocks away, too, and haven’t.  So then it would become a choice: who to support?  While I’d love to have the cash on hand to do it, I can’t support both.

I need to stop by the store later today, buy something, and mention how much I appreciate the booksellers themselves.

Maybe today needs to be “Hug a Border’s Bookseller day.”

On The Fate of Paper Stories

Readers are passionate people who care about what they love. As such, the proliferation of ebook readers and ebooks has stirred up the readership side of the publishing industry as well.  People seem fairly divided along the spectrum: some have adopted ebooks whole-heartedly, others mix them in, and still others have drawn a line.  With the latter, the implication is that you can have their paperware books when you pry them from their cold, dead hands.

But what these people I think are missing–and like I’ve explained to people who have asked me about my Kindle and what I think of it–is that paper isn’t going anywhere. For some books, I read them and forget them, and they stay on my shelf, sometimes shoved into the back or with other, newer books stacked on top of them.  These are the books that I can’t remember when I read it last, only somewhat remember what the story was about, and can’t see myself reading again any time soon.  This is one of the sweet spots for ebooks: the joy of reading it, immediately and at hopefully lower cost (here’s looking at you, publishing industry), and then it doesn’t clog up your shelves.

Then there are the books that I remember very well:  those old friends who I’ve read time and time again.  These are the books that ebooks will never replace, the ones with dog-ears, underlined passages, scuffs and scrapes, and so on, memories of buying it in high school or as a gift from a college romance, books where I’ve taped up the spines just in hopes that they’ll last longer.

As the future grinds on, bookshelves will become a showcase.  Not like the ones like Michael Nye mentions (bookshelves for show, to project a cultivated image), but rather an honest showcase of the stories and authors we hold most dear.  Our homes are full of the things that matter to us and the space we give to our books no less so.  The same drive that motivates readers to drive hours to visit an author signing or to locate and buy an old first-edition copy is the same drive that will ensure the acquisition of a paper copy of our favorites.  I have books that I would never consider an ebook copy “enough” and will always keep a paper copy.  There will always be a market for these paper stories, and where there’s a market, there’s a profit to be made and a company to fill it.  Papers books might just be tomorrow’s collector’s edition.

After all, I don’t own every single movie I’ve ever watched.  But I do own a copy of my favorites.

It’s Not About Sides–Until You Make It So

The world of publishing is in turmoil.  In the upheaval, two different and fairly antagonistic factions have come about: the New York publishing houses (referred to as “traditional publishing”) and the independent/self-published authors.

Both have their benefits and their drawbacks.  Both also have their fierce proponents.

But it’s not about sides.  Nor should it be.

I’m an “indie” author only because I have a book that I published myself.   Yet I haven’t joined the Association of Independent Authors or planted my flag in the indie soil.  I’ve refused to come down on one side or the other for one simple reason: my writing is a business.

I’m trying to build a career.  To do that, I’ll do whatever I think is best for both my career in general and each specific work in particular.  I published Norton’s Ghost myself because it was an overly long first novel with a strange premise by an author with zero publishing credits to his name.  Odds of it being picked up?  Slim at best.  The nature of the story also suggested a more DIY approach, but I digress.

Is the independent route the best for my next work (which, shameless plug, will likely be MOROCCO)?  Who knows.  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  Maybe I’ll shop the next one around.  Who knows?

But it’s not about sides.  Independent authors need to remember this because they’re railing against a huge industry, one that has far more money, power, reach and experience.  It’s also comprised–at least on some level–of people who like and love books.  People just like you and me.  Maybe even people who will buy, read, edit or design your next book.  Burning your bridges over ideology or because you had one too many manuscript rejections does no one any favors.  It reinforces too many stereotypes.

Also, when we see headlines like “Author X moves away from Traditional publishing and goes indie!,” everyone points to them as proof of concept, as an example that they so desperately want, to show that this works.  This puppeteering is also a mistake.  It hurts the independent movement and it’s based on false grounds.   It’s often the traditional industry they eschew that got them their start in the first place.  Of course you’re going to do well when you already have an audience.

I also ask myself: “Who cares?”  Good for them.

You should go the indie route because you feel the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.  I don’t care if you’re a beginner with a *.mobi file or someone with a back catalog 20 pages long.  Just spare me the flag-planting and name-calling.

To the publishing industry, I ask:  What in the hell are you doing?  Self-published authors have long labored under a yoke of demonization by the traditional industry: the idea was that if someone self-published, it was slop that they paid someone to print because no one wanted to buy it.  The same thing happened when Print On Demand technology became widely available: the industry turned its nose up at those authors.  Self-published books are still often rejected by reviewers and booksellers.

Yet look who’s coming late to the party and desperately trying to find a date?  It used to be the traditional publishers were on one side and the scuzzy “vanity” and “author services” companies were on the other.  Sandwiched between them were the authors.  The goal was the former, but the temptation of the latter was undeniable. Now, though, the traditional industry continues to turn its nose up at independent authors while using more and more of their techniques and technologies and adapting many pages from the books* of author service companies.  Some examples**:

  • Harlequin implemented their POD sister company for their slush pile hopefuls
  • There was that (sci-fi?) press that recently announced they were going to a POD model instead of offset print***
  • Now Publisher’s Weekly wants to charge independent authors $150 for inclusion in a list  separate from the rest of their publication

And so on.

What’s it going to be, industry?  Either you admit that self- or independent-publishing is a viable option, no less equal than the traditional (a you do your thing and we’ll do ours situation), or else you continue to hold yourself above it.  But don’t you dare try to do both at the same time as some of these companies are doing.  Don’t you dare tell me my independent work isn’t good enough and then offer me a spot in a separate publication if I’ll write you a check.

Remember: it’s not about sides.  It’s about making books and getting them to the people who want to read them.

  • *: pun only slightly intended
  • **: I can’t link or double-check names because I’m on lunch at work
  • ***: POD is a good business model as it cuts cost and waste; first example of traditional industry embracing a piece from the realm of the self-pubbed “wanna-be”.  Yet many people said out loud, “well now getting a book out through them is worthless.”

How Will We Find the Good Stuff

I see a lot of talk lately on the subject of independent/POD ebook publishing and the vast deluge of new, unproven authors that people expect to see.  People ask, “but how will we find the good stuff in this flood of newbies?”

Wailing that we won’t be able to find anything “good” seems a bit over dramatic.  Some possible ways off the top of my head are: friends (the original social network), social media sites (another word-of-mouth style), search engines, rankings, and reviews.

There were already too many books before independents even entered the picture.  Enter any decent-sized bookstore (or type in amazon.com) and tell me how you’re going to find “the good ones.”

Same thing.

Online News Paywalls: Will a Subscription Model Work?

Just read an article about the Sunday Times (A UK newspaper) justifying its paywall.  The link to the article doing said justifying is of course behind the paywall, but you can find another link here (put up by the original author, I believe; remember this for later): http://www.dianestormont.com/jmscbackup/?p=229

The driving argument is this:  good journalism costs money.  Barring the celebrity crap, it costs time for research and digging and it costs money for airfare and other such expenses.

In truth, I hadn’t thought about that part much. I agree.  It makes sense.

But nothing is ever that easy or cut-and-dry.  If I start paying for news, what assurance do I have that more journalists will be hired?  Or that existing ones will get a raise?  or that Mr/Mrs. journalist ABC will finally get an expense check to cover the digging s/he’s doing?  How do I know that that money just isn’t going toward the CEO’s bonus check or to the board of directors or whatever sort of structure sits at the top?  Look at the owners of some of our newspapers and news organizations and you see money.

So it’s not just about quality journalism.  It’s about money, too.  It’s a business.

And that’s where the waters get muddy.  Furthermore, what about the incestuous nature of online news these days?  With stuff like the Associated Press, RSS syndication and suchlike, many news organizations don’t even write or originate the news they write about in the first place.  So you want me to pay you to read what other people worked on?  Why should I bother paying a local paper when I can pay for the Chronicle or the NYT or some bigger paper with more pull (local news is likely available elsewhere)?  Why should I pay the Chronicle or the NYT when maybe I can pay the Associated Press and get my news from the source?

How about the ads that many newspapers show?  One large criteria I’d have for whether I paid or not would be the assurance that they would no longer appear.

Another problem is of course the paywall itself.  When I went to read the original article, I wasn’t even allowed to read a snippet or a summary:  instead, to get my “free preview”, they requested I sign up and log in.  Just for the preview.  In addition, the paywall makes it difficult to handle any kind of discussion or openness about the information contained in the article itself.  If I want to link my friend to a really awesome piece, I can’t.  Not unless they subscribe.

So what do I do?  Likely I copy and paste the article for them.  Or print it out.

So I can’t help but draw paralells between DRM controls and paywalls-as-DRM.  I just don’t think it will work.  People will just circumvent the restriction.  Remeber the opening paragraph, where the article author himself reposted the content somewhere else so that people could read it?  News versus money.  Right there.

Plus, I see the emergence of aggregator services that take that behind-the-paywall stuff, aggregate it together, and then charge people for reading it.  It’s not much of a longshot, especially inside of niche areas like business or tech.  How do you slice up that journalistic pie?

These are the more concrete issues.  I haven’t even touched on the whole bit of how do you innovate and foster open exchange when everything is locked behind an account and a credit card? The stickier, bigger-picture images come down to news versus money and which has priority, and I don’t think the world in general is ready to answer that yet.

Like books, music, and other content, I’ll gladly pay for quality.  but I need to know where my money is going and that my money is directly related to the quality that I receive.  I need to know where it goes.  An example: there’s plenty of free fiction available online.  It spans the quality spectrum from terrible to publish-able quality.  But if I buy a book, I know where my money is going (author, publisher [who pays editors, artists, etc]) and I can expect a generic level of quality (such as basic editing, minimal formatting errors, etc).  But with fiction, the act of handing over money does NOT guarantee quality writing or storytelling, just as handing over money won’t automatically increase the quality of journalism that results.

Perhaps a microtransaction model would be better than a subscription model.  For instance: I find an interesting article to read, I sign in to my 3rd party account and authorize a transaction for 5 cents or 25 cents or whatever it would be, and then I get access to that article.  It would then behoove that news organization (and all the others) to make snippets available for free without registration in the hopes of enticing me to click-and-pay for another article.

These paywalls and the discussions that result from them are an important step, but we still have a long way to go.