Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Tagged Amazon

The Power Of A Kindle Daily Deal

If I was looking for evidence of how powerful Amazon has become in the book-selling market, then I don’t need to look much further than the news I received yesterday! Gail Carriger’s Finishing School Series hit the New York Times young adult series list. [ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE, CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES, and WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY]

So what you might ask. Agent Kristin always has titles hitting the NYT list (Ha! I wish that were true.) But it happens often enough that I’m guessing folks aren’t surprised to hear the news. So why is last night’s news a big deal?

It’s big because of the timing of the hit.

As a general rule, unless a title is a big perennial seller, titles don’t hit the list except during release week and the immediate weeks following. That’s when any given title is going to have the most number of sales (in a short period of time) to catapult it on to the NYT list.

But in Gail’s case, Waistcoats & Weaponry was the last title to be released and that happened in November 2014. It’s months after the release. So then the question becomes, what caused it?

I’ll tell you. It was the Kindle Daily Deal for Etiquette & Espionage that happened last week. Thousands and thousands of ebook copies sold during a short period of time. As we can now see from yesterday’s news, it was enough to propel the whole Finishing School series onto the NYT list. (FYI – once there are three books or more in a given series, then an individual title can no longer appear on the regular NYT list. It can only hit the NYT on the Series List.)

Hubby and I went out to dinner to celebrate my 35th New York Times bestselling title/appearance. I do tally the first appearance of a series on the NYT list, attributing “the hit” to the last release in terms of my title count. Otherwise I’m not sure quite how to do it.

Regardless, it’s news worth celebrating.


S&S finalizes agreement with Amazon

This went out on the wire late last night. Carolyn Reidy has finalized S&S’s agreement with Amazon. Yes, the same agreement Hachette has been at loggerheads with Amazon for months now. So what is S&S okay with that Hachette isn’t? That’s a very good question….

S&S - Amazon Agreement

 

 


Worth The Conference Registration Cost

Last month I gave a webinar on how Digital is rapidly transforming publishing.

I love giving this workshop at conferences every chance I get because most writers are completely confused by the stories that are making today’s headlines and how that impacts writers. It’s my chance to really explain all that is going on.

Attendees always walk away telling me that my workshop alone was worth their conference registration cost. (Of course they could just be humoring me…) LOL

Still, it makes me happy. I always want aspiring writers to be informed as much as possible.

We are doing something unique this month and making the recording available for streaming.


Amazon: Hypocrite. Customer is not Always King

One of the reasons why I wanted Hachette to be forthcoming when I started asking about the shipping issues (many moons before the news became public) was because I had already guessed that Amazon was flexing some muscle in a contract negotiation.

So confirming it wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t probably already know…

But also so I could tell Hachette and the editors that my authors and I were firmly on their side and hugely supportive of what they were having to face.

Amazon – I have been very appreciative of the many changes you’ve already created in publishing but now you are just being a big old fat hypocrite.

Because your motto is customer first, always.

Well, this kind of hardball in no way serves your customers. It hurts authors (whom you claim to support) and you deserve the public fall-out that this spat creates.


The Amazon – Hachette Spat

This just hit the newswire in the last week but I’ve informally known about this since late fall 2013 (as early as November). The problem? My Hachette authors and I noticed this “shipping issue” multiple times and brought it to our Hachette Editors’ attention. 

Multiple times. Repeated emails. We were assured that all was fine. (Which we, of course, did not believe since it kept happening….)

This is yet another moment where big publishing could have chosen to partner with authors and agents by explaining the truth behind Amazon’s muscle flexing.

Instead, Hachette choose to go with “we don’t discuss contract negotiations” tactic, which leaves their authors in the dark, agents like me fuming, and fosters a general atmosphere of distrust that the publisher is not being forthright.

Not the end goal here! What we need is more communication, not less.

Let agents and authors help you take a stand–which is actually what’s going on now and is detailed in this New York Times Article.

As happens time and time again, the truth does emerge and leaves those of us who have been asking about it for the last six months with exasperated hands in air, the desire to bang head against desk, and authors who now won’t believe the publisher when the response is “all is fine” in the future.



Why You Can’t Buy An eBook In English Outside The U.S.

STATUS: Oh, I’ve got a lot to accomplish today.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LIFE IN TECHNICOLOR by Coldplay

A couple of weeks ago we got an email from a rather upset reader in Denmark. He wanted to buy Gail Carriger’s SOULLESS as an eBook in English for his eReader. According to this fan, he is Danish but reads most of his novels in English. He could see that it was available in the US without a problem but why couldn’t he buy it?

I imagine this fan is not the only non-US resident with this question so I’m going to tell you why he can’t buy the US English eBook version in Denmark (or wherever outside of the US). And yes, we did send a letter to this person explaining why.

It’s a sticky situation folks. As eBooks have global capacity in the English language, the reason why it may or may not be available resides in the initial rights/territories granted to the publisher when the deal was made for the print edition.

I know, not exactly what you wanted to hear when you live in Timbuktu and you just want to buy the dang eBook. Doesn’t the author and the publisher get the money?

So let me see if I can explain more clearly because trust me, it’s causing headaches for agents, for authors, and for publishers, and there is no easy fix-it solution.

If I sell Title X for North American rights only, then that means the US publisher is only allowed to sell its English version in the US, Canada, US territories (aka Philippines etc), and non-exclusive in select countries in the rest of the world (clearly listed in the contract). Print or ebook. The reason for this is that we want the ability to sell English to UK or ANZ (Australia) separately and UK/ANZ insists on certain “exclusive territories” for its print and electronic edition.

Are you starting to see the problem? If UK/ANZ hasn’t been sold, then no eBook version in English is available in let’s say Denmark because Europe is considered exclusive to UK in terms of selling the English edition.

Now, if an agent and author has granted World English or World rights to the US publisher, then there is the possibility for the US publisher to sell its English version world-wide in print or eBook. I say “possibility” as the US publisher may still want to sublicense property to UK or do a deal internally with a sister-UK/ANZ company who will want its version exclusively in certain territories.

So, it’s not just a matter of the author or US publisher giving Amazon or Apple or BN or Whoever a thumbs-up to sell away the English language eBook from their distribution channels in other countries. It all depends on the contract.

And yes, we ALL understand that with the electronic book there is now a greater global market for the English language version that needs to be exploited but with all English-speaking territories wanting to protect their exclusive sales area for their version, it’s a bit of tangle with no easy solution.

And yes, I get that avid readers may simply pirate an eCopy when the legal/legitimate one is not readily available. We aren’t stupid but the industry is not shifting fast enough to implement a quick solution.


Redefining Net Receipts Where eBooks Are Concerned

STATUS: Lots to tackle today so getting the blog entry out early.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE BLACKEST LILY by Corinne Bailey Rae

And the fun of how electronic books are changing the publishing contract continues. Today, boys and girls, we are going to talk about net receipts in Ms. Kristin’s neighborhood.

In light of this new agency commission model where Amazon and Apple will no longer carry the product per se but have an agreement to sell titles via their site in exchange for a 30% commission on the sale (see earlier post to get up to speed), suddenly agents need to re-examine the whole definition of net receipts in publishing contracts.

The definition of net receipts (or amount received) for an electronic book is not the same as the definition of amount received for a physical book.

With the agency commission model, the biggest question is this. Will publishers deduct the 30% commission paid or will they absorb it when calculating net receipts and determining what is the total used to pay authors their 25% of net receipts? One major publisher has stated that their current thinking is that the royalty would be calculated BEFORE deducting commission. In current negotiations for contracts in play, I’m not seeing publishers as excited about redefining net receipts this way.

So what does redefining net receipts mean to the author? Let’s do a little math!

Let’s say a title will sell on Amazon or Apple’s iPad for $10.00 (might as well make it easy math).

Now let’s look at the difference between net receipts if the publisher absorbs the cost of the agency commission versus if they don’t in defining and calculating net receipts.

If Publisher absorbs commission:
eBook price: $10.00
25% of net royalty (all the rage with publishers as of late)
Royalty to author: $2.50 per title sold

If Publisher does not:
eBook price: $10.00
$7.00 received by publisher (after 30% sales commission to retailer)
25% of net royalty
Royalty to author: $1.75 per title sold

Yep, definitely worth the time to find out exactly how this term is going to be defined in the contract when it comes to electronic books.


The Latest On Macmillan-Amazon

STATUS: A bit frustrated with all this Amazon stuff.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NEVER THERE by Cake

Which is to say the latest is not much. The links are still not on. February 16 is fast approaching for my author Paula Reed and the debut of HESTER.

As authors, if you are impacted, I think it’s important to have your voice heard on the Amazon Kindle forum where there is a lot of chatter going on. The average everyday customer really doesn’t know much about the ins and outs of publishing and what the hoopla is about.

This in from John Sargent earlier today….

To: Macmillan Authors and Illustrators
cc: Literary Agents
From: John Sargent

I am sorry I have been silent since Saturday. We have been in constant discussions with Amazon since then. Things have moved far enough that hopefully this is the last time I will be writing to you on this subject.

Over the last few years we have been deeply concerned about the pricing of electronic books. That pricing, combined with the traditional business model we were using, was creating a market that we believe was fundamentally unbalanced. In the last three weeks, from a standing start we have moved to a new business model. We will make less money on the sale of e books, but we will have a stable and rational market. To repeat myself from last Sunday’s letter, we will now have a business model that will ensure our intellectual property will be available digitally through many channels, at a price that is both fair to the consumer and that allows those who create and publish it to be fairly compensated.

We have also started discussions with all our other partners in the digital book world. While there is still lots of work to be done, they have all agreed to move to the agency model.

And now on to royalties. Three or four weeks ago, we began discussions with the Author’s Guild on their concerns about our new royalty terms. We indicated then that we would be flexible and that we were prepared to move to a higher rate for digital books. In ongoing discussions with our major agents at the beginning of this week, we began informing them of our new terms. The change to an agency model will bring about yet another round of discussion on royalties, and we look forward to solving this next step in the puzzle with you.

A word about Amazon. This has been a very difficult time. Many of you are wondering what has taken so long for Amazon and Macmillan to reach a conclusion. I want to assure you that Amazon has been working very, very hard and always in good faith to find a way forward with us. Though we do not always agree, I remain full of admiration and respect for them. Both of us look forward to being back in business as usual.

And a salute to the bricks and mortar retailers who sell your books in their stores and on their related websites. Their support for you, and us, has been remarkable over the last week. From large chains to small independents, they committed to working harder than ever to help your books find your readers.

Lastly, my deepest thanks to you, our authors and illustrators. Macmillan and Amazon as corporations had our differences that needed to be resolved. You are the ones whose books lost their buy buttons. And yet you have continued to be terrifically supportive of us and of what we are trying to accomplish. It is a great joy to be your publisher.

I cannot tell you when we will resume business as usual with Amazon, and needless to say I can promise nothing on the buy buttons. You can tell by the tone of this letter though that I feel the time is getting near to hand.

All best,
John


Amazon Macmillan Kerfuffle

STATUS: Well, the above is all I’ve been dealing with this morning.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SMOOTH by Rob Thomas

Normally Saturdays and Sundays in Publishing are a little quiet. Not so for this weekend. My goodness. I had emails coming at me from left and right on Saturday. I was actually in the office working so I heard the news almost immediately as it was hitting the wires.

To make a long story short, John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, met with Amazon last Thursday to discuss moving to the agency model/commission split structure for Macmillan eBooks starting in March 2010. Amazon was in disagreement in terms of that being the only structure.

In response, Amazon pulled the buttons for all Macmillan titles on Amazon.com. Buyers could still purchase the books from third parties but not directly from Amazon. The buttons were pulled for ALL books—not just the eBooks. To make matters worse, all Macmillan Kindle books disappeared from customer wish lists. Oh shades of last summer when Amazon pulled the illegal eBook from customers’ kindles. As one Macmillan editor said to me, “what a sh*tstorm.”

Yes, Amazon is flexing a muscle but whether it’s going to impress the general populace remains to be seen. For my part, I’m trying to fathom their thinking in terms of the PR for this. Perhaps they think their customers are completely wed to the $9.99 price point and will salute their action. Rumor has it that Amazon has been inundated with chatter and emails complaining about the action and thus their step back late on Sunday.

Bottom line, it’s authors who get hurt the most here. I’m really feeling for authors who have on-sale dates for today and maybe tomorrow. I have an author releasing in two weeks in hardcover from St. Martin’s Press (HESTER by Paula Reed) so I’m particularly anxious to see a resolution.

Talking with Macmillan editors, I hear that John Sargent has a meeting this afternoon with Amazon and that the company is “optimistic” that links will be back up by tonight or tomorrow morning. I’ve been assured that the conversation is continuing.

Below is the string of communications from the weekend. Also, Nathan Bransford, Ashley Grayson, and Richard Curtis have excellent detailed entries about this showdown if you want more understanding.

I’ll update if I hear more news.

It begins with New York Times breaking the story late on Friday, Jan. 29 at 11:19 p.m.

Publishers Lunch did an email blast Saturday afternoon:

The Battle Over the Agency Model Begins, As Amazon Pulls Macmillan Buy Buttons
As originally reported last night and many readers know by now, sometime yesterday evening the buy buttons for apparently all of Macmillan’s books–including bestsellers and top releases, and Kindle editions–were removed from Amazon’s site. Macmillan books remain listed but can be bought only through third-party Marketplace sellers, while Macmillan Kindle titles all lead to pages that read, “We’re sorry. The Web address you entered is not a functioning page on our site.” It is the first shot across the purchasing bow in big publishers’ efforts to reset ebook pricing above the loss-leader $9.99 price point and retake control over that pricing by moving from the wholesale selling model to an agency selling model (first reported exclusively in Lunch Deluxe on January 19), at least for ebooks published simultaneously with new hardcover releases. Kindle customers further reported on Amazon forums that any Macmillan books that were on their “wish lists” disappeared from those lists with no explanation, as apparently did Macmillan sample chapters that had been downloaded previously.

More story here.

John Sargent issued this statement Saturday afternoon:

To: All Macmillan authors/illustrators and the literary agent community
From: John Sargent

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on Amazon.com through third parties.

I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very near future. They have been a great innovator in our industry, and I suspect they will continue to be for decades to come.

It is those decades that concern me now, as I am sure they concern you. In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated.

Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time.

The agency model would allow Amazon to make more money selling our books, not less. We would make less money in our dealings with Amazon under the new model. Our disagreement is not about short-term profitability but rather about the long-term viability and stability of the digital book market.

Amazon and Macmillan both want a healthy and vibrant future for books. We clearly do not agree on how to get there. Meanwhile, the action they chose to take last night clearly defines the importance they attribute to their view. We hold our view equally strongly. I hope you agree with us.

You are a vast and wonderful crew. It is impossible to reach you all in the very limited timeframe we are working under, so I have sent this message in unorthodox form. I hope it reaches you all, and quickly. Monday morning I will fully brief all of our editors, and they will be able to answer your questions. I hope to speak to many of you over the coming days.

Thanks for all the support you have shown in the last few hours; it is much appreciated.

All best,
John

Amazon retorted with this:

Dear Customers:

Macmillan, one of the “big six” publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!

Thank you for being a customer.

Late Sunday night, it looks like Amazon is going to step back from their stance via The Consumerist.

And the Association of Authors’ Representatives just issued this statement about 10 minutes ago.

A message from the AAR Board of Directors concerning the sale of e-books:

The AAR strongly believes that the future of the digital book market requires a business model that is sustainable over the long term, and is fair to retailers, publishers and our authors. To be in the best interests of our clients, such a model must respect the high value of book-length work, and adhere to the long-held practice in all media (and most retailing) that new and exciting work bears the highest prices. We have never believed that a model that incurs a per unit loss on every sale, and sets an unrealistically low price on the most popular bestselling books, can possibly be in the best long term interests of our clients or the publishing industry. Therefore we applaud Macmillan’s stance on e-book terms; and Amazon’s stated intention to work within Macmillan’s model. We hope and assume other publishers will soon follow suit.

It is unclear at the moment the extent to which the ‘agency model’ sales terms will work to the advantage of our clients. But it is clear that having access to our authors’ work used as a weapon in negotiation is an unacceptable turn of events that we roundly condemn. Regardless of the content of the negotiations between Amazon and Macmillan, about which we have no information beyond what has been reported publicly, we believe that Amazon’s punitive choice to stop selling print editions of work by all Macmillan authors was a blow to the industry and to authors. We certainly hope to see Amazon rectifying this situation with regard to our Macmillan authors immediately. We and our clients have been hugely supportive of Amazon’s innovative, indeed groundbreaking efforts since its inception, and we hope that going forward the spirit of partnership between Amazon and our authors can be once again something we can depend upon.

Gail Hochman, President
For the AAR Board of Directors


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