Thursday, December 29, 2011

We're not Divorced Yet, but We're Definitely Separating

It began like many relationships do.  At first there was the allure, the excitement, the promise of adventure and romance and suspense, of new experiences and unique horizons opening up.  As time went on, the relationship deepened and became one of the central focuses of my life.  There were many good years together.

But as often happens, one party began to take the other for granted, with give and take becoming less give and more take.  I was expected to take what was offered, with little or no input.  And what was offered weren't the things that drew me to the relationship in the first place.  The relationship became stale, predictable, dull.  Furthermore, my wants and needs meant less and less to the other party, with decisions about the things central to the relationship being made with the apparent expectation I should be thankful the other party was there at all.  Everything became the same, and I began to be unfulfilled.

I began to seek fulfillment elsewhere, with new partners.  And I found it.  All the adventure and excitement that first attracted me so many years ago were there, all the-

What's that?  My marriage?  It's just fine, thank you.  Why do you ask?

Anyway, we were talking about books and publishing, not my marriage.  Over this last year I've turned begun to read more and more indie published books, in a variety of formats.  I've reached the point where I'm really not interested in reading many books published by the big New York houses.  It's all the same stuff, and frankly, most of it doesn't appeal to me.  I mean how many sex-with-dead-things novels can you read without puking?  In my case, not many.

And yes, I'm speaking in the most general of terms here.  There are exceptions to the above statement; for example I will continue to read Jack McDevitt in hardcover as long as someone publishes him in that format.  And I'll continue to read other a few other authors and books published by the big houses (especially if Barnes and Noble sends me a coupon), but for the most part, I'm going to stick with small to mid-sized presses and independently published authors or authors who are publishing their own backlists.  And I'm going to read as many as possible in ebook format.

Ebooks I most definitely will not be buying from major publishing houses unless they're on sale.  Because in addition to publishing the same old same old, the major publishers are gouging on ebook prices.  Don't think so?  Then read this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in which she shows that publishers aren't hurting from ebooks sales as much as they would have us believe.  In fact they're making a profit, and they're doing it on the backs of their authors, as Kris ably demonstrates.  More on that in a minute.  My point is that ebook prices are overinflated, and they're only going to go up, which isn't sitting well with some people

I had a chat about ebook prices with Lou Anders at Fencon a few months ago.  It was a brief conversation, taking place in the hall at the end of the convention with both of us having to go do other things.  Now I like and respect Lou a lot, but he and I aren't on the same page with ebook pricing.  However, to be fair, the conversation was rushed, and I would like to discuss it further with him.  Also, he talked about doing ebooks right.  Something many of the major houses aren't doing.

Case in point:  A few weeks ago, I was browsing in B&N and came across The Spy Who Came for Christmas by David Morrell.  There was an ebook version reasonably priced ($3.99 IIRC) which I bought and downloaded, thinking it would be a nice seasonal read that wouldn't be too sappy,  something not related to either of my blogs that I would simply read for my own pleasure.  I've not read a great deal of Morrell's work, but I've liked everything I've read.  The book was 240 pages, according to my Nook.  As I got further into the book more formatting errors crept in, words without spaces between them, new paragraphs starting in midsentence, that sort of thing.  As I got into the 130s page range, the story seemed to be winding down.  I expected a plot twist, something to keep the tale going.  Nope, it ended at page 140.  I thought maybe there was a second story included.  Wrong again.  The last 100 pages of the ebook were the last 100 pages of the story, simply reprinted to fill space and make the book appear to be longer than it was.

Yes, you read that correctly.  The publisher included the last 100 pages of story twice, and since the story was only 140 pages, including an afterward by the author, that almost doubled the length of the ebook.   Either the publisher tried to make the book look longer than it was, or the person responsible converting the book to ebook format didn't have a clue what they were doing (or both).  Regardless of the reason, that's just completely unacceptable.  As I've pointed out previously, none of the indie published ebooks I've read this year were anywhere near that sloppy.

Traditional big publishers are scared (and they should be), which is why they're handing authors increasingly draconian contracts.  They're also behind in the game; they should have had ebooks ready to go a long time before now.  There's no excuse for pushing shoddy, poorly formatted product and charging the same amount as a paper copy.  Lou Anders talked about Pyr including some interactive formatting that would do things like resize maps when the font size was changed, something I haven't seen yet in other ebooks.  That would be worth paying more for, although not as much as a paper copy.  But then Pyr, while priced higher than I would prefer, doesn't charge as much for their ebooks as they do their print versions.

Understand, I'm not asking for ebooks to be free or only a dollar or two.  Much of the cost of the book is in the editing, proofing, copy editing, etc., which is the excuse the major publishers use to justify their ebooks prices.

Yeah.  I get that and don't have a problem with it.

I also get that you've got to pay rent on your Manhattan offices.  And keep happy your corporate overlords who expect growth every quarter.

Not my problem.  There are more quality books published than I could possibly read in two lifetimes, never mind however many years I have left in this one.  There's no reason I should pay those prices for that quality when there is a growing selection of ebooks with more variety (see Emily Casey's Venn diagram) that are just as good and better formatted being published by small presses and indie authors. 

So, not that you're likely to care, but I'm putting you on notice Tor, Ace, DAW, Del Rey, Harper Collins, Spectra, and all other publishers who think I should pay premium prices for shoddy ebooks, or who charge just as much for a paper copy.  I'm not buying from you anymore.  In print or electronic formats.  At least not unless there's a coupon or a second hand shop involved.

I can hear the outrage from some of you, saying that by doing this I'm hurting authors.  Oh, really?  Let's look at that statement a little more closely, shall we, because by that logic I hurt authors every time I walk into a bookstore.  What I'm doing is deciding where I'm going to spend my money based on perceived value of the product.  When I go to a bookstore to buy a book, I consider several things, such as author, genre, subgenre, and price.  And I buy what I consider to be the best value.  I leave all the other volumes on the shelves.  Am I hurting some authors because I decide their books aren't a good value for me and don't buy them?  No more than anyone else does who chooses one book over another.

And by saying I'm not buying anything from certain publishers (other than a few exceptions for favorite authors and bloody few of those), I'm not hurting those publishers' authors for the reasons explained in the previous paragraph.  Instead I'm helping other authors who are publishing their own stuff, who get more money from the sale (even at a lower price) than they would with a large publisher.  As I understand the math, if I spend the same amount of money I have been, only I buy more books at lower prices, more authors will make more money per sale than they would through a traditional publisher.  In my economy that's a good thing.

I'm still going to buy from traditional publishers, just not most of the big boys.  I'll have a list of publishers I'll be buying a lot from in 2012 in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, I've got indie/small press published books by the following authors to read (in no particular order; links are to author pages rather than books):  Ty Johnston, Charles Gramlich, David J. West, Barry Nugent, Stephen D. Sullivan, Ken St. Andre, Chris Northern, Katherine Eliska Kiimbriel, Todd Shryock, James Hutchings, Moses Siregar III and Charles R. Saunders.  Just to name a few.  If you're name is in this list, and I choose to review one of your books, I'll send you an email.  Please be patient; that's a lot to read, and those are only the indie/small press items in the TBR stack.

For those you who are gluttons for punishment interested, here are links to all the reviews of indie/small press books I've done in the last year in reverse chronological order:  The Paths of Righteousness by James Reasoner, Strange Worlds edited by Jeff Doten, Stones by Gerald So, Dark Heroes edited by Jessy Marie Roberts, Age of Giants Awakenings by Rob Reasor, Tisarian's Treasure by J. M. Martin, Dreams in the Fire edited by Mark Finn and Chris Gruber, Gods of Justice edited by Kevin Hosey and K. Stoddard Hayes, The Ladies of Trade Town edited by Lee Martindale.

I also published a review of The Roads to Baldairn Motte by Craig Comer, Ahimsa Kerp, and Garrett Calcaterra at Rogue Blades Entertainment.


  1. Much appreciated Keith. I've found myself reading more indie stuff these last couple years than I would have ever imagined just three years ago.

  2. You're welcome David, and thanks for the retweet. Indie seems to be the wave of the future; on the bestseller lists that consider them, indie books have a lot of the top spots at any given time.

  3. Unless it is an author I know or have been recommended (e.g.; Glen Cook,) I swear all TOR books look the same to me. I don't know if they read that way.

    Baen does a better job with variety, I think.

    I agree with your take on e-pricing. I don't mind paying something above bargain price but there's no way they can justify charging as much as a paper book. It's obvious there's a lack of overhead when you're dealing with e-books. Publishers trying to inflate other aspects of publishing to pretend e-books should cost the same as paper aren't doing themselves any P.R. favors.

    I think where they really drop the ball is on out-of-print titles. A couple of examples;

    When the movie of Casino Royale came out, all the original Ian Fleming James Bond books were re-issued in tpb. About $13~$15 each. OK. Cool if you never had them.

    But, I had them all.

    As a curiosity ( and e-backup potential) I checked on the e-book price.

    $10 each.

    OK - less than print, but .. these are old books. An entire e-set would cost me $100+. My entire set of paperbacks, bought used, added up to $15~$20 probably.

    Now, I enjoy Warhammer & Warhammer 40K novels. Black Library had a really good deal going where they bundled their out-of-print trilogies into omnibuses at a really fair price. $11 or so. Usually with a bonus story to entice those who already had the individual books. Still, not a bad price even if you just wanted the bonus material.

    Black Library finally went live on ebooks. But I am really disappointed. Instead of offering value e-omnibuses, they are going for the cold cash. The out-of-print e-books are being split into their original titles, and charging a full $7.99 per title - which is only a buck or two off the paper prices of their current pb books.

    Which is why when I see F. Paul Wilson's horror classic, The Keep going for $2.99 as an e-book as its standard, non-sale price, I wonder why that is the exception, not the rule?

  4. Another example of e-pricing done right--speaking of Baen--the Fafhrd & Grey Mouser books were reissued in tpb a few years ago. I forget the list price on print, but the e-books are around $8.99 which isn't too bad, but again - I have the set from old, cheap used pb.

    Baen has a deal for e-publishing with some other publishers (I forget who did the F&G reprints)

    Baen is still selling the bundled e-set for a sale price of $35. I think that's good if you don't have any of the books.

    And, while a little steep as a e-backup, I am still considering buying the set myself. Better than $70~$80.

  5. Thanks for the input, Paul.

    You're right about books all looking the same. I went to B&N yesterday to get out of the house, grab a coffee, and relax. When I wandered through the SFF section, I'd estimate that about 1/3 of the covers showed hot young woman either in an embrace with someone or some thing or standing in a provocative pose. Almost all of these books were about female supernatural investigators who were part supernatural themselves, with the story lines usually involving demons or the fae.

    I think what is going on with the publishers that are part of international conglomerates is they are under a great deal of pressure to show growth and a profit every quarter. A lot of this stems from the people at the top not knowing how the publishing industry works.

    Also, historically publishing has been slow to adapt new technology and don't understand how that technology disrupts their business models.

    And you're right, it's ridiculous for publishers to expect us to pay new prices for backlist books. I realize the in-house costs of producing a book will vary somewhat between publishers, but if some publishers can provide a superior product so much more cheaply than others, I don't see why they all can't.

    Thanks for the tip about the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser from Baen. I was aware of it, but everyone might not know about it. I've been considering getting the ebooks; my copies are book club editions that are starting to show their age.

  6. As the guy you call "some people" in this post, I urge you to face down the big pubbers. Go back into my post and scroll down in the comments until you get to a link that can warn you when the Amazon e-price gets within your range. It works. In business, we vote with our wallets. Here's your chance.

  7. Thanks, Tom. No disrespect was intended by the use of "some people." You're not the only one who feels that way, but I chose to link to your post as an example because everything I've read by you is well reasoned.

    I'd missed the comment you're referring to. I have a Nook rather than a Kindle but will be adding a Kindle app to my phone when I upgrade in a few weeks. Here's the link for those who are interested :

    If you've not read Tom's blog, you should if you have any interest in what's going on in publishing right now: