1. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    Traditional Where next for publishing? Where next for us?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by FrankieWuh, Jun 26, 2014.

    The news yesterday on Bookseller that Amazon is about to tell UK publishers "that should a book be out of stock from the publisher, Amazon would be entitled to supply its own copies to customers via its print-on-demand facilities", is worrying, both from a writer’s point of view and, arguably, a reader too.

    In my 'other life', I was told by an editor that the proportion of traditionally published (printed) books sold by Amazon compared to other sources is relatively small, but where Amazon has publishers by the balls is over e-books which will become dominant. It's the market of the now, Amazon are king. But not content with being king of ebooks, they want to control all the other publishing kingdoms too, and aggressively.
    Effectively, this move to control P.O.D. of “out of stock" titles, says that publishers will no longer own publishing rights to that author, something that I am sure breaks author contracts, and might not actually be legal anyway because of that, but hey, Amazon are doing what they can to wrestle control of publishing away from traditional publishers completely.

    Why should I be worried about that? Why should you? I guess as a self-published author, this is a battle that feels like it’s in another country, rather than just over the hill: 'I can see the war on TV between the people I know about but it’s not gonna affect me, is it?'

    Wrong. You see, regardless how weak publishing houses are these days compared to yester-year, they are still big, and in some cases they are corporations being strong-armed/bullied/fcuked (delete as appropriate) by Amazon. They are big allies, more importantly, to the writing community and readers alike.

    Amazon argue they are acting like any other business for the benefit of their consumers (which is also not the case, but I won’t go into that here), but they are not acting in the benefit of writing as a whole. You see, if Amazon will do this to publishers, what will they eventually do to self-pubbed writers? There are so many self-published writers now making a decent living out of Amazon that Amazon will be able to, at some point in the future, enforce more unfavourable terms upon them. And have no doubts that they will do so once they get to be the dominant force in publishing, which is what they are engineering.

    This is not paranoia, this is business fact. Publishers are in this for the money, yes, but they are driven for the love of the written word. They have a passion for it. Christ, if they didn’t why would they even be involved in it? There are better ways to make money these days.
    Amazon, folks, are ONLY in this for the money, be very clear on that. They are in it so they can dominate publishing, as they want to dominate music, TV and movie streaming etc etc.

    So where does that leave me as a writer and a reader. As a reader, I have a kindle, and an Ipad, but I have not downloaded a Kindle book in over 12 months. I’ve been tempted, but every time I get tempted something niggles me. Something that says “this is wrong” a similar feeling if I’ve ever been tempted to illegally download something. No, it’s not the same thing morally, but it just feels that way because I know every time I use Amazon for books I’m telling them they are my first choice for obtaining books. I’m also aware that book discounts aren’t what they appear to be, as Amazon pay next to no tax so what discount I get, I wave because I am paying their taxes for them anyway. Grrrr.
    These days, if I can’t get a book, I’ll go to the library. That’s what I’ve resorted to, but as it happens that’s very good for my pocket so I can live with that.

    Now as a self-published author, where do I go as Amazon is, in effect, the only show in town? You see, if I swallow that hard stone that is my moral compass, and decide that I must consort with Amazon to make a living out of self-publishing then I stand a chance of making money out of them (and them out of me). But I am subsidising Amazon by doing so, and setting myself up for a fall later on. If I snub them, will Amazon care? There have so many other authors out there doing well for them, so no.

    Is there a middle ground?

    The only middle ground I can see is that if I go ahead and publish through Amazon, I do so but not before I publish elsewhere. When I get around to releasing the short SF novel of mine later in the year, I could use either Smashwords or equivalent, or I might well go down the DIY path of formatting for direct publication onto the Nook, Kobo, IBooks etc. As for Amazon, they might have my business yes, but a few months later and on my terms, i.e. increased price. It might be cheaper for someone to buy my book on other platforms other than Amazon, and I will try to keep that consistent with Amazon’s own royalty terms of 30% (for example if I’m getting about 70p per ebook elsewhere, then the Amazon price will be around £2.30 as oppose to the average £1.30 on other platforms).

    To some this might sound like professional suicide or cutting off my nose to spite my face.

    It is neither, because that war I spoke of, in that other country, is in fact just over the hill. And those explosions I hear aren’t coming out of the speakers of my TV anymore, because if I turn down the volume, I can hear them clear as day, echoing a few miles away.
    And I know, if I do nothing now, they’ll be at my door in no time, and by then those allies we have in publishing, will be long since defeated.
    And so will publishing as we know it, and in no way will it be for the better.
     
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  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm going to wait until after Amazon gets taken to court over this. IANAL, but I fail to see how this is in any way legal...
     
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  3. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    It would obviously be legal, because the publishers would have to sign a contract allowing it. So long as that contract defines 'out of stock' in a reasonable manner, it could well be beneficial to the publishers; if they print 5,000 copies of a book, then sell them all, and let it go out of print because sales aren't high, Amazon can still sell PoD copies to whoever wants them without the publisher having to do another print run.

    If there's a threat, it would seem to be to authors, since this might prevent triggering any kind of rights reversion clause that's based on the book being out of print.
     
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  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm speaking of Amazon declaring that that's what they're going to do - in the manner they seem to have developed of dictating to publishers. Naturally, if the publisher agrees to this arrangement, no problem. I would assume, of course, that Amazon would have to guarantee equal quality of printing, formatting, etc. But if they're just going to announce this is their new policy - yeah, courthouse here we come. I can't see publishers going for it, because then they have to start watching Amazon's reporting of financials, plus quality issues, cost splits, etc etc. Why anyone would want to add yet another cog to the wheel of expenses I don't know.

    And "out of print" is different from "out of stock". Out of print means the publisher is no longer actively selling a book. Out of stock typically means the publisher hasn't sent the next order to the retailer, and/or the retailer has run out of that particular item. Out of print brings in the rights reversion issue; out of stock doesn't.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2014
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  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @FrankieWuh - Wow, that's a disturbing 'article' you just wrote there. Very worrying development. This issue has all sorts of legs, doesn't it?

    I guess it's the same with any sort of technological 'takeover.' What looks good, initially, isn't necessarily good in the long run–or cheaper either. Amazon has already put many people out of work, pays very little in taxes, and now they want even more?

    I suppose some authors will welcome this development, because short-term it might benefit them, especially if this deal eventually includes 'out of print' books as well.

    An author's books may never again be technically out of print—although the quality of the second-tier printouts might be dodgy. The authors might also have very little say in how the books are presented, and may get little in the way of royalties for new sales. However, since the online market for second-hand books is so huge these days—and authors get no payment at all for second-hand sales—this might be a new way for them to continue to make money from older books.

    My 'oh shit' antennae are quivering over this development, though. For the reasons you stated, it's a worrying one. Amazon's entry into our lives had unforseen consequences—both good and bad. This move will also have implications we've not thought of yet.

    Perhaps you should send this 'article' to writing magazines as a letter to the editor. Magazines like Writers' Digest? It's probably good if word about this gets spread as fast as possible, so people can think about where they stand on the issue—while there is still time to influence the outcome?
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2014
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Good to bring up the issue of 'out of print' versus 'out of stock.' I wonder at what point 'out of stock' morphs into 'out of print?' Do publishers make a sudden decision not to reprint a book, or do they wait to see if booksellers start demanding more stock or what?

    Are Amazon just angling for the 'out of stock' books, or are they also intending to reprint the 'out of print' ones?
     
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  7. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    The article itself is talking about new contracts. Amazon can't just print a book without permission; nor can they easily do so without the files required to do it.

    It could be a reaction to the rumours that Hachette is deliberately delaying shipments to Amazon; Amazon presumably wants to be able to just print the books itself if a publisher does that in future.
     
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  8. Vandor76
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    Vandor76 Contributing Member

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    Which also brings up a question : what happens if the publisher makes another print run and sends a bunch of books to Amazon. Will Amazon stop selling PoD copies? Based on the article linked by the OP I would say yes.
     
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  9. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    I always felt the stance of the e-book realm was a very nummamorous one. Nothing else. Unfortunately, it seems to me that i'm correct. You can accuse the regular publishers of that but there's too many readers within the physical publishing industry to even begin constituting such a lavish label. I've said this awhile back when i was newer to the site, and i'll say it again. I'll NEVER publish under the consequences of a e-book agreement. Ever. You can say that i'm robbing myself out of a distinct amount of money, in which you're probably right, but to me writing was never about the money. I'd rather combat Amazon discreetly. I don't go out of my way to threaten them or anything, but i feel like a line should be drawn and i'm standing behind the one that i feel is right. If they're mentally feasible, they won't conflict with that ideology. Physical books have been a cultural symbol and icon for centuries, and i'm willing to make sure it continues to exist in that manner fifty years from now. Hopefully i won't be alone.
     
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  10. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    This move by Amazon threatens the publisher, but more importantly for us, the writer too. Traditional publishing contracts usually have a clause in them stating that should a book go out of print then the author can terminate the contract without agreement of the publisher. This was always going to be a problem with regards ebooks, but a good agent or a writer with some savvy can ensure that this agreement still stands with regard printed media. If the printed book goes out of print, the contract can then be terminated regardless of the ebooks available. Otherwise, a publisher can hang on to your book forever without actually selling a single one, trapping you even if they want nothing to do with you. Which is illegal, hence why the out of print clause is included in contracts.

    Amazon's move threatens the autonomy of publishers by dictating actually who owns the publishing rights to an author, but the author will also be locked into an infinite deal where their books are never out of print because Amazon has the freedom to print as many copies of them as possible. This could be catastrophic for a writer who has signed up with a publisher only to discover the publisher isn't behind them. For example, an author writing a fantasy series is initially taken on by a publisher who doesn't get behind them, so the author wants to move on to another publisher for Book Two. Usually this will only happen if there is a rights reversal because the books are out of print and there are no further print-runs. It will be hard enough to find a publisher to agree to continue publishing a series of books that has been started at another publishing house, but impossible if they don't get the rights for the first book as well. And this won't happen under Amazon's model.

    If I was an author threatened by this, I would be taking Amazon to court (and in fact, I would be surprised if the Society of Authors do not do this, and dismayed, as this is what the Society is there for). The contract between author and publisher is negotiated between author and publisher only. Amazon are in effect forcing themselves into every contract by bullying both publisher AND writers.
    Really, we shouldn't let this just go by without a fight. This benefits no one but Amazon.
     
  11. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    Amazon's new contract would in effect eliminate "out of print" because a book that is P.O.D. cannot be out of print, it can only be available to anyone who wants to buy it, even if a publisher is no longer doing print runs. Depending on the contract between Amazon and the publisher, a publisher might pull a book completely, but I wonder if Amazon would let them. Theoretically I suppose if a book was selling well then there would be continuous print-runs from the publisher (if they were a decent publisher). And would Amazon stop a publisher from withdrawing a book that was only selling a few copies a month? Maybe not, but ironically, as a writer you will still be at the mercy of Amazon if you want to leave that publisher house.
     
  12. Vandor76
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    Vandor76 Contributing Member

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    You have a contract with the publisher, not Amazon. If your contract with your publisher says that you get back publishing rights if the publisher is no longer making print runs, then Amazon printing your book has no effect to this. Amazon can not complain if you sell the rights to a different publisher, because they do not have a contract with you (in fact you can complain about Amazon selling your book without your permission).

    If Amazon forces this, then publishers will definitely change their contract terms with authors or refuse to sell the book on Amazon -> the author can make a choice and face the consequences.
     
  13. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    'Out of Print' clauses can vary greatly, from time between new offset print runs to, if POD, how many sales take place over a given period of time. With ebooks, this is even trickier, and often a contract will indicate how many years a publisher has the right to distribute an ebook (or the title in any format).

    My publisher uses a combination of Lightning Source and Create Space. I can tell you now, one of my titles provided by Lightning Source is listed as 'Temporarily' out of stock on Amazon. I just had a new title in the series released, and this is somewhat frustrating. Is it Lighting Source that is slow to provide copies (granted, it's only been a couple of days) or is it due to action (or lack of action) on Amazon's part?

    In my experience, the POD product from Lighting Source is a little better in quality, but Create Space's POD books are a little less expensive, thus greater profit to the publisher.

    Whatever the situation, as an author, whenever a book is 'out of stock' it is a concern, as it affects readers of my works, and also the potential of attracting new readers.

    Businesses are going to forever jostle and find strategies to not only remain competitive, but to do better than the competition. In the USA, folks saw Wal-Mart as a dominant force, never to be toppled. While they are dominant in many regions, and causing competitors to close (think K-Mart when in direct competition with Wal-Mart), various 'Dollar Store' chains have out competed Wal-Mart in a number of areas. And Wal-Mart is proving to be a competitor to Amazon in some areas.

    Publishers and Amazon will struggle to maintain profitability and viability.

    Some will point to the recent contract/royalty payout changes (across the board reduction) via ACX/Audible, which is owned by Amazon. As there is little competition in this arena (audiobooks), publishers and self-published authors in the audiobook market just have to suck it up, with any new released moving forward. Some indicate this is the direction Amazon may take with royalties via titles distributed on the Kindle, if they end up fully dominating the ebook market.
     
  14. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    I read somewhere about ebay retailers who would sometimes run up big operations that became their entire livelihoods and were waking up one day to find their logins no longer worked.

    They had offended eBay and that was the end of their business, with no warning or time to try and reposition to any new marketing channels.

    There is no come back or legislation in place if that happens to you. Ebay can list who they like and kick them off when they want. Amazon is much the same. I am afraid to say that Amazon really are the only show in town for most of us and if you are selling with them and they say jump the only answer will be - how high?
     
  15. cynthia_1968
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    cynthia_1968 Active Member

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    I'm sorry to point this out but print on demand is better for the environment, and although I've a lot books, I also like to read them on my kindle...

    I even use my kindle to check my own stories for errors, rather than printing them out like I used to do in the past.
     
  16. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Then good riddance.
    When the ebook was invented, it was an extension of the printed book. It was a way of reaching readers who wanted to read certain books but did not want to buy or handle physical copies.

    The current direction is that the printed book will become an extension of the ebook. It will be a way of reaching readers who want to read certain ebooks but would also like to have physical copies. It will be accomplished through print-on-demand.

    The new direction is better in every way, for authors and readers. It is freer (as in libre), more elegant, and more economical. It eliminates the market inefficiencies (and, in my mind, moral issues) inherent in the business model where companies are gatekeepers of the market of information just because they happen to own equipment that puts ink on paper and binds the pages together. Even it were not utterly futile to fight ebooks (sorry to break it to you), fighting them would merely perpetuate an uncomfortable state of limbo between the two business models.

    I am glad if Amazon prints out-of-stock books on demand because it is a market signal in favor of printed-books-as-extensions-of-ebooks.
     
  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Daemon, you might want to bear in mind that those companies who put ink to paper also produce ebooks. Ebooks are merely a format, not a business model. You may be confusing e-publishing with self-publishing.

    As to Amazon printing out-of-stock books - as an author, I don't like that idea at all. My contract will be with the publisher, and I do not want Amazon nosing in for some Amazon-determined cut just because they didn't order more in a timely manner (or my having to figure out just how many books of mine they sold this way - sure as hell not willing to trust their reporting).
     
  18. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I did not say that ebooks are a business model; I said that it is a business model to treat printed books as an extension of ebooks. (Which means that the standard way to distribute information is digitally, and if people want, they can optionally order printed copies, which would probably be printed on demand. This contrasts with the status quo, where "Tell the Publisher! I'd like to read this book on Kindle" is a frustratingly common sight.)
     
  19. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Except that readers don't have to tell publishers to make an ebook version - what does happen is that the hardcover comes out first, followed by (or simultaneously with) paperback/ebook/audio. And I really don't think that should change - not everyone has or wants an ereader, or likes ebooks, but everyone can buy print. It's not a matter of liking/disliking ebooks - it's a matter of which format reaches the most possible readers first.
     
  20. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Thinking of a dystopian story in which, at some point in the future, everyone relies on e-books, only a handful of old cranks cling to the ancient published works, and some evil empire/big brother/name-your-villain takes down the whole e-system, sending all learning back to the Middle Ages model.
     
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  21. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Seems like the way to reach the most possible readers first is to make a book available simultaneously for downloading, printing on demand, and buying in stores, no? Why delay the ebook at all?
    I can just as easily think of a utopia in which ebooks are sold on a peer to peer network that can only be shut down by shutting down the internet. (Or are we talking about a post-WWIII nuclear wasteland story?)
     
  22. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Because ebooks are cheaper - not for the publisher, but for the reader. And that means sales of hardcover and paperbacks could be affected. That could be bad for both publishers and authors, since there's no guarantee that enough readers would buy the cheaper ebook to make up for the loss of the higher priced hardcover. Some publishers do release both at the same time; others don't. Some authors don't even want ebook versions of their books.
     
  23. EdFromNY
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    Oh, a fairy tale. Well, I suppose that could work.
     
  24. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is the kind of market failure I referred to earlier. Any reason why it is profitable to limit readers' access to books is a reason to reform the system, even if Amazon printing their own copies of out-of-stock books is one of the steps toward that reform.
    Go back and read this post in 10 years.
     
  25. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    But Amazon wouldn't be printing their own copies. They'd be printing copies of my book and outside of the contract I have with my publisher. And let us remember that we are not talking about out-of-print books for which I would have a reversion clause and thus could deal direct with Amazon should I choose. They're talking out of stock - and no, I don't want them going POD with my stuff. I want the same quality control as my publisher does when the books go out their door.
     

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