Tag Archives: publishing

Another Nail in the Coffin

I’m a little late posting this morning and I apologize.  I’d really planned on putting up an open thread today, but a couple of articles caught my eye during the wee hours of the morning as I was trying to convince the scaredy dog (yes, that is a word and the nicest I could call the drooler at the time) that we weren’t about to be tossed into the air only to land in Oz.  In other words, the big, bad dog is scared of rain and kept the household up during the night because we had storms.

Any way, a couple of articles caught my eye.  One has been in the news for a week or so.  There have been the typical knee-jerk reaction from the legacy publishers and those who still believe they are the only hope for the publishing industry.  Another has been sort of ignored because it doesn’t deal with Amazon even though it is yet another example of how some agents are potentially getting into a conflict of interest, or at least a very grey and murky area of fiduciary duty to their clients.

But the Amazon story first.  On the 16th of this month, the New York Times published an article about Amazon bypassing publishers and signing authors to contracts to publish through Amazon.  For some months now, Amazon has been introducing “imprints”.  Several well-known authors signed exclusive publishing contracts with Amazon.  There were a few ripples when that happened, but nothing like the response to the Times’ article last week.  The specifics are pretty simple.  This fall, Amazon will publish 122 titles.  These titles will be across a variety of genres and some will be digital and some hard copy.  Among the authors will be self-help guru Tim Ferrias and actor/director Penny Marshall.And the cries of foul were heard far and wide from legacy publishers.

According to the Times, “Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.”

So let’s look at that statement.  While I can’t speak to whether or not Amazon is “aggressively wooing” top authors, it would be a fool not to.  The same publishers who are crying foul are the ones who backed the agency pricing plan for e-books.  This is the plan that lets the publishers set the price for their e-books so there is no competition across the different e-book retailers.  Worse, the general reading public doesn’t understand that Amazon can’t control the prices for those books from the agency model publishers, and it is the one on the receiving end of the bad customer feelings.

But more telling is that these same publishers are crying because Amazon is “gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.”  Used to provide is the key phrase here.  Past tense.  As in, these are services that were once provided by publishers, critics and agents and are no longer.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  And, frankly, can you blame an author for signing with Amazon if it does offer the editing, copy editing and proofreading, promotion and placement legacy publishers used to and no longer do?  I can’t.

I also think it’s rather disingenuous to have an agent, who also happens to be a publisher, complaining about Amazon taking money out of the hands of agents.  What about putting money into the hands of writers, especially when so many agents these days are either turning into publishers themselves (which brings up the question of just how hard they are going to work to place their clients’ work with another publisher when the agency could be the publisher)?  I’ll be honest, those who are crying “foul” the loudest are those who have enjoyed telling the writer to bend over and cough, forgetting that, without the writer, they wouldn’t have a business.

Read the article and let me know what you think.

Then there’s the second article, which sort of falls in with my last set of comments.  The Perseus Books Group has announced a new venture to “help” authors who want to self-publish.  The catch:  these authors have to be represented by certain agents who have signed agreements with Perseus.  So, that’s how some agents are getting around the somewhat murky ethical issue of literary agents also being publishers.  They don’t.  They just sign agreements with companies like Perseus to “publish” and “distribute” the books.

The article notes that one of the “benefits” of doing it this way is the breakdown of authors getting 70% while Perseus will only get 30%.  Guess what, boys and girls, an author can get that from Amazon now by self-publishing through them.  More than that, any author is capable of putting their e-books into the outlets mentioned in the article.  Even if the author doesn’t have the required Mac computer for iBooks/iTunes, it can be easily done through Smashwords.  Again, quick and easy and without the middleman.

But there’s more.  At least I have more concerns.  Question one, if Author A is represented by one of the agencies that has an agreement with Perseus, does Author A owe a commission to Agent B if he goes through Perseus?  Question two, if so, how does the agency build the proverbial Chinese wall (no insult intended here.  It’s a phrase learned in law school.) to make sure there is no undue pressure put on the author/client to go this route instead of the traditional publishing route?  Conversely, what sort of pressure would the agent put on Author A if the author came to him and said he wanted to self-publish and Agent B really wants to take the book through the traditional route?

I know legacy publishers and agents are scared about where the industry is going.  Or they should be.  Heck, anyone in the business, including authors, should be at least a little scared.  But it really is those who have made their livelihoods on the backs of authors who are the most scared and who are doing their best to find new and imaginative ways to maintain the status quo.  My advice, whether you are shopping a book around right now or thinking about doing so in the near future, decide what route is best for you.  Most of all, if you are offered a contract by either an agent or a legacy publisher, hie thee to an intellectual property attorney forthwith.  Do NOT sign it without first having someone very familiar with the industry looking it over first.  And please, note I said legacy publisher AND agent.

(Cross-posted to Mad Genius Club and here)

Leave a comment

Filed under Musings

For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls…It tolls for Borders and, quite possible, a number of publishers as well if they are foolish enough to buy into Borders’ latest attempt to save itself.

Much of the news from the publishing world this week has centered around Borders Books and its attempts — very late attempts — to save itself from bankruptcy. There have been firings, the announcement that it is closing one of its distribution centers and talks with publishers all so it can get refinancing on its outstanding debt. Is it a case of too little too late? In my opinion, yes. Worse, if the publishers buy into Borders’ “solution”, I won’t be surprised at all to see not only Borders but some of those publishers shutter their doors in the next year or two.

Here’s a quick time line of what’s been happening with regard to Borders since the first of the year. It started with a new round of firings or resignations in the executive suite. Gone are Thomas Carney, longtime legal counsel, Scott Laverty, the chief information officer, Tony Grant, v-p of real estate, Bill Dandy, senior v-p, marketing, and Larry Norton, senior v-p for business development and publisher relations.

Then came the news that Borders wanted publishers to push back the date for payment of outstanding bills — ie, Borders wanted to keep books already shipped to them by the publishers but not pay for them. As talks between Borders and the publishers commenced, we learned Borders wanted the publishers to convert this debt into “interest bearing loans”. This brought Borders stock tumbling to a low of 84 cents a share. From the same article: “Several publishers said Borders owed them millions of dollars in payments, up to tens of millions each for the larger publishers. Publishers said they had been told by Borders executives that more than two dozen vendors were owed money.”

Compounding the bad news is this report of the announced closure of one of Borders distribution centers. This center, located in Tennessee, had already seen layoffs of 200 employees. Now, another 300+ will lose their jobs. This is a cost-cutting move aimed at streamlining their distribution chain. Again, too little too late, in my opinion. This is something they should have realized before opening the center a couple of years ago.

Indicative of the problems facing Borders the announcement that Diamond Book Distributors has suspended shipments to them. DBD is a major source for graphic novels. From ComicsBeat.com: “They have informed their clients that since Borders has suspended payments to them, DBD is suspending product shipments and has put the Borders account on hold.” Now, you might not think this is major news, but think about it. Titles included in the DBD stable are Streetfighter, Gantz, Shrek, Transformers, G.I. Joe. Darkhorse Comics uses them as a distributor. We’re talking comics and manga. This is an entire demographic Borders has lost, for a short time at least, because of their halting of payments.

The latest news is that Borders has given publishers until Feb. 1st to accept or reject their latest proposal. According to the article, Borders is asking publishers to take on somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of the company’s “reorganized” debt.

All I can say to this is, WTF? I’m sorry, publishers are in trouble. They are barely keeping their heads afloat as is. Now Borders wants them to take on more debt. Where is the money going to come from? Ask most writers and you’ll find that advances are down — and that’s when they are able to find a traditional publisher for their books. Some are reporting late and/or incomplete royalty payments. There is a growing discontent linked to the belief royalty accountings are anything but accurate. Book prices continue to go up and sales of hard copy books continue to stagnate or decrease. What Borders is asking these publishers to do is tantamount to suicide for some. “Take on my debt, continue to supply me with books but don’t charge me for them, and I get to stay open. Oh, wait, you’ll have to close your doors? Sorry, can’t help you there. But we’ll send flowers to your corporate funeral.”

As much as I hate to see any business close its doors — not so much for the business itself as for the employees — perhaps it is time to let Borders take its lumps and either close or downsize to a point where it can stay afloat. But it has to be done in a way that doesn’t put the rest of the industry in jeopardy as well. I don’t have all the answers…not even a few of them. But I do know I don’t want to see the major — or minor, for that matter — publishers chain themselves to a sinking ship.

For an excellent overview of what went wrong with Borders, check out this article by Peter Osnos.

(Cross-posted from Mad Genius Club)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized