Saturday, October 10, 2009

Stupid Thermometer! Stop Being Sick!

An author speaks out at The Rejectionist: here

This post has some good points, so please take this as a very mild rebuttal:

point 1. The Kindle Will Not Save You
We know this. At least, those of us who actually use the interwebs to listen to music and watch TV and stuff like that-- we know it. Very soon people will be paying very little or nothing for the books they read.
Nothing is a problem, obviously. One of these days, America is going to have to get over its cultural idea that stuff should be dirt cheap as a norm (and ideally free). Because when it comes to basics that are not as wildly overpriced as Jimmy Choos-- for instance food, and books-- you get what you value. The more you go to Amazon rather than your local bookstore, the less likely you'll have a local bookstore. The more you buy cheap processed food, the less likely you'll have good food to choose from.
YOU VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET. You shape the world with what you are willing to spend money on.

point 2. Stop Giving James Frey Money
Yeah, I totally agree. But to everyone not in the publishing industry: stop buying James Frey's books! If hundreds of thousands of people weren't willing to pay for that shit, publishing would not publish it.
YOU VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET. You shape the world with what you are willing to spend money on.

point 3. You Need to Spend Money to Make Money
Speaking as one of the direly underpaid, I say: huzzah!
But (ahem), weren't you the person just a paragraph or two earlier who was reminding us that we will shortly have no money to pay anyone?
Did I lose the thread of your logic? Or did you?

I agree that publishing is in some ways stupid and screwed up. Some of those ways are publishing's own fault. But some of those ways are not publishing's fault. I would sincerely appreciate it if people of all kinds would stop feeling that publishing shouldn't care how screwed up the tastes and buying habits of the consumer are and just publish good stuff-- of course we care! Consumers write our paychecks!
The market has a sickness, it's true. But before we can do anything about it, you've got to stop blaming the thermometer for the fever.

23 comments:

Ink said...

Oh my God! Does this mean I have to stop buying those Paris Hilton books?

bingol said...

Thank you.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Although I bought my wife a Kindle DX and although she loves it and often buys books with it (real money - going to Amazon) and although I'm tempted to get one for myself, I have this fear about the world going paperless when it comes to books. The chasm between the haves and the have nots will split wide open and there will be nothing for the poor to read. Nothing.

I've donated books to the Camel Library in Kenya. Does this mean we need to change that and donate Kindles?

And there are limitations to the current wave of semi-affordable e-readers - they're in B&W - which leaves those wonderfully illustrated-in-color- books in the cold.

While I believe that publishing is due for an overhaul, I don't think the end is nigh. And I don't think paper books will be a thing of the past. But I also have albums in my closet that I hope to play again. At least I don't have any 8-tracks.

Anonymous said...

Y'ever had pneumonia? I remember sometime in the fourth week I really wanted to buy a new thermometer that stopped registering 102.7 F. 'Course I was too sick to leave the house and do so.

The Storylady said...

Yes, we vote with our wallets, but few average readers (those who know nothing about publishing, but just like to read) will go to the local bookstore and pay $28.95 for a book when they can buy TWO books for the same price at Costco, or get it for free at the library. It's just common budget sense. People aren't too altruistic with their everyday dollars. "Hmmm, borrow my friend's copy, or buy it myself to support the local bookstore and starving writers?....I think I'll borrow it. Maybe next time."

Ebony McKenna. said...

I think the general impression is there are so many books - hundreds of thousands published every year - that they aren't that rare and you don't need to pay much for them.

The internet has developed and grown largely on the back of free content. Blogs and newspapers and websites that give it all away. And if a website tries to charge for reading its content, people abandon it and move on to the next one.

People have become used to that. (I'm not saying it's right, but that's what people are used to now).

Rarity has value. When word gets out that a book is truly fabulous and enjoyable and makes your soul sing - a precious double-snowflake in an avalanche - people will pay real money for it.

That's what I'm hoping anyway.

moonrat said...

Re: your msg: thanks. I love you, too.

Anonymous said...

I am one of the bizarre people would would gladly pay hardcover price for electronic format. It's a convenience thing. E-readers let me take hundreds of books on flights, to work, to the perpetual traffic jams of my world, etc. Yes, I would pay for that and not bat an eyelash. It's the content I wish to own.

I don't have a library card. If I want a book and it has no electronic format, I'll buy it. I collect old books. Am I unusual? I don't think so.

There are people who will never buy books, who will wait on a library list for a copy of a book to become available. I am not one of them. The book borrowers have not killed the publishing industry. Electronic books will not kill paper publishing overnight.

"Books" as we know them replaced something else. I wonder if people fought the notion of getting rid of scrolls for bound pages.

The universe and everything in it changes. The only thing that doesn't change is that everything changes.

Anica Lewis said...

Excellent points.

I read recently that Amazon.com takes a loss on the e-book versions of many popular books, because they pay the same price bookstores do (half the cover price is what I saw) for each book, yet sell them for ten bucks a book. So if the hardcover book costs $27.99, then Amazon.com is paying about fourteen bucks for a book that it sells for $9.99. This works for them right now because they make it up on the expensive Kindles and by selling books with cheaper rights. (Read at http://www.slate.com/id/2230821/ courtesy of a link from Nathan Bransford.)

It seems to me, then, that buying cheapo e-books in great quantities could actually cause some problems for Amazon.com - if nothing else, they might be forced to raise the prices of some books.

emay said...

I know that when you're in an industry, it's tempting to believe that you're only giving the public what it wants, and there's certainly a grain of truth in that. But can you really blame consumers for buying the books that publishers and booksellers have predetermined will be bestsellers? The ones that get the advertising and publicity? The ones that they hear "buzz" about? The ones they see first when they walk into the bookstore?

That's like the food industry trying to blame consumers for buying highly processed food loaded with harmful chemicals and GMOs, when those are the foods wrapped up in flashy designs, splashed across your TV set to the tune of millions, and crammed into most of the shelf space in the supermarket. Yes, consumers can make better choices, if they do the research. But it takes a lot of effort to swim against the tide.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I take your point, Emay, but I think that if publishers and food producers spent their advertising money and flashy designs on dry environmental texts and flavorless granola people would have very, very little trouble swimming against the tide.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Which is to say, I agree that publishers and food producers could simply stop making things that they know are execrable.

But that said, there are a lot of different definitions of execrable when it comes to books and food, and most people in those industries probably feel they're *already* drawing the line somewhere.

What's really wrong with the country, if you ask me, is the quality of education in our public schools. Teachers are heros, but they're treated like day laborers and paid for shit. If we want smarter, more thoughtful people in our marketplaces, our jury boxes, our voting booths, it starts with education.

Michael Reynolds said...

Kindle is a gateway drug, its purpose is not profit, its purpose is to wean us off paper.

Amazon won't be paying publishers much longer, they'll be paying writers directly. Or more accurately collecting payments for writers and taking a cut.

Writers are not in trouble, publishers are in trouble. And most of them too dim to realize it. As for bookstores, I don't see how they survive in their present form.

It is not true that anything digital ends up being free. iTunes has sold billions with a "b" songs. That's billions of dollars. If you make it easy to buy a digital product -- stylish, efficient interface, reasonable prices, high quality -- you can sell digital. At current rates of growth iTunes will earn more revenue than Random House within a couple of years.

That said authors are going to have to learn to work with advertising, including product placement. They're going to have to look at writing as a performance.

The old business models are about done. But it has nothing (unfortunately) to do with the quality of the books. It's about the relative costs of digital vs. paper. Also about speed and immediacy and portability and choice. How many books can you keep in your house? A few hundred? A couple thousand? And how many will your computer/iPhone be able to access? The answer to that is: all of them.

Digital will give you every single book on earth and many of them for free. Anyone who thinks paper can fight that is delusional.

Publishing's problems are not about big advances to bad writers; they're about the fact that it's no longer the 20th century.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Good comment, Michael.

ae said...

I read all this as I listen to Chopin's Funeral March.

heh.

BTW. The teachers in my town are paid much higher than many of us in the private sector. We have many outstanding teachers (one of the reasons people live here and pay these Godawful taxes...)but there are a few real duds who somehow manage to lean in the classrooms year in and year out. We are always hoping that this will be their year out.

Sorry to sidetrack.

I agree with you about the food issue. And that same food issue is contributing to our poor health and the healthcare system in crisis...it is a self-perpetuating problem.

Sorry to sidetrack once again.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Great discussion! A lot of food for thought here.

Hm. Can you say no more autographed books?

Tina Lynn said...

I am with you here. As an aspiring author, I buy books. I rarely borrow. If I do borrow and find that I love the book, I will buy it, both in support of the author whose work I appreciate and in hopes of a signing someday. I have to wonder as well, who's going to sign my kindle.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Yes, no more book signings. No more first edition collections. No more fun quirks in early editions as they will automatically be replaced with corrected copies.

Authors will have to perform for book tours to draw in the crowds and they won't be held at book stores. So only the most entertaining authors will tour. Perhaps there will be an American Author Idol competition.

Only digital illustrations will be used so some of our favorites will be swept away by not upgrading their technique to digital form.

The only thing left to sell in book form will be pop-up books and novelty books. And those will be sold at novelty shops and 7-11s.

Maybe paper books will become rare collector's items. Anyone can buy the digital version, but to get a paper version with an authentic cover and signed by the author, you have to really shell out the dough.

So books will become a thing for the rich.

So hurry and stock up on real books. Rush off to book tours and other author events to get them signed. It's an investment.

I am so with you on the education issue. I've done some tutoring in the middle schools here and it's shocking how far behind these kids are. And how little help they get unless it's from volunteers working for a non-profit foundation.

BuffySquirrel said...

Actually, no, I don't have to get with advertising and product placement. I can choose not to play.

working illustrator said...

Sarah Laurenson said: "Only digital illustrations will be used so some of our favorites will be swept away by not upgrading their technique to digital form."

I'm as happy as the next person to indulge in a lot of arm-flinging despair, but this is just untrue.

Digital media can be used to share any kind of source image. My blog is filled with watercolor, pencil and pen drawings, and so is everyone else's. The Metropolitan Museum's website has high-resolution digital images of every medium known to history.

Just because they're transmitted digitally doesn't mean they have to be created digitally.

And how do you think print images get from the illustrator's desk to your hands? All print imagery in commercial publishing passes through a digital matrix: they're scanned, manipulated, color-corrected and in some cases completely rearranged on computers.

This has been the case for decades, at this point, and I don't see any 'favorites' disppearing as a result. We see Beatrix Potter's work better than her original readers did because our imaging technology is so much better.

Sarah Laurenson said...

My tongue must not have been firmly enough in my cheek. :-)

Anonymous said...

Pardon my rant...

EA, when you said this:

"YOU VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET. You shape the world with what you are willing to spend money on..."

THAT makes sense. But it seems to me that publishers are just as guilty as if not more guilty of voting with their wallet, and voting to give huge advances to books that are not necessarily "quality" but are the equivelant of the processed junk food you just spoke of.

When things get marketed they sell. I have to wade through loads of displayed Gossip Girl, A-list, Clique, Alpha and other crap books to even find a YA of substance half the time, and even then, I better buy it when I see it because in a month it'll be gone to a remainder bin, and the author left unpublished from lack of sales. A cyber friend of mine had a book that got two star reviews and it wasn't even stocked at any of the chain stores. Yet Gossip girls gets a display? Where is the marketing money for books that are filet mignon instead of McDonalds?

In a bookstore this very weekend there was an endcap display of books for "thoughtful" reads (or something to that effect). It held Looking for Alaska (four years old) Thirteen Reasons Why (two years old) and Speak (ten years old). Yeah, I've read those. THAT'S all you've got?? Jellicoe Road won a Printz award for pete's sake and I've found one measly copy in my entire city -- the copy that I bought. People cannot buy what they don't know exists.

(rant over :))

working illustrator said...

Apologies to Sarah Laurenson... yet another case of me needing that irony font everyone keeps talking about...