The collective insanity of the publishing industry

Unless you’re a writer, I imagine you haven’t been paying quite as close attention to the publishing industry and all its weirdness as I have, and that’s a shame, because it’s been really entertaining.


not carried by the Big 5

Actually, entertaining isn’t the right word.  It’s been insane, but the kind of insane that’s unreasonably fun to watch from a safe remove.  Like watching a man stop traffic to cross against a green light by shouting, “I’ll bite your car!”  As long as it isn’t your car he’s threatening, it’s sort of funny.

You might imagine that as an author with published works for sale, I am not at a safe remove when it comes to the publishing industry.  That’s sort of true, but only sort-of.

Here’s a superb example of the madness of which I speak, and why I’m not concerned that anyone will be biting my car.

In 2014, there was a drawn-out dispute between Amazon, and Hachette.  The latter is one of the largest publishers in the world, and Amazon is a company that sells things, such as books.  The essence of the dispute was that Hachette—and all the other publishers we affectionately refer to as ‘the Big 5’—wanted more control over the list price of their e-books on Amazon.

That sounds thoroughly reasonable, and it sort of is, but please let me explain because the crazy is in the details.  What was happening was that Amazon was discounting the price of the ebooks, and it may seem like this is something the Big 5 would want to stop, except the markdown was coming off of Amazon’s end.  In other words, if Hachette wanted to charge $15.99 for an ebook, and Amazon marked it down to $9.99, Hachette was still paid their cut of the full price of the book.

More people will buy a book at $9.99 than at $15.99, so essentially, the Big 5 was coming out ahead in this arrangement in every conceivable way.  They collected royalties at an unreasonably high price point while moving the number of units that corresponded to a lower price point.

So of course that had to be stopped right away.

Hachette fought for, and won from Amazon, the return to something called the Agency Model, whereby they set their price and Amazon wasn’t allowed to reduce that price.  So that $15.99 book stayed at $15.99 until Hachette decided to change it.

Soon after that contract was signed, the other Big 5 contracts came due, and they all asked for the same Agency Model arrangement.  Thus, the finest minds in publishing—or one might assume—negotiated themselves out of an arrangement whereby they sold more units at a lower cost without suffering the financial impact that comes with a lower unit cost.

On purpose.

This isn’t even the crazy part.

After securing the right to price their ebooks unreasonably high and having those prices stick, the first thing the collective brain-trust of the Big 5 did was raise their ebook prices even more.  Often, the prices were higher than the price of the print edition, which is just fundamentally insane.

Kindle-icon(We can go back and forth about how even an ebook has editorial and marketing costs to recoup, but not this week.  Besides, even if true that doesn’t justify a higher cost than print.  Print editions have per-copy costs that set the price floor: paper, binding, shipping, etc.  Ebooks have no such per-copy cost, aside from the tiny expense of electronic transmission.)

It should come as very little surprise to you that after jacking up the prices of their ebooks at the start of 2015, the Big 5 sold fewer ebooks.

Now here’s the fun part, the part that just makes me shake my head and giggle and wonder how I can live in such extraordinary times.  After six months of depressed ebook sales, the Big 5 announced that the ebook market was slowing down.

Not: “we priced ourselves out of the market and stopped selling as many books”. No no no.  The ebook market!  Is slowing down!

This was celebrated!

I mean it.  One article after another, from the New York Times on down came news pieces declaring that print was making a comeback at long last, and the long national nightmare was over.

All it took was the biggest publishing companies in the world deliberately murdering their own share of the market.  And it wasn’t even true.

Here is why I can laugh at this from a safe remove: I don’t have a contract with a traditional publisher.  If I did, I’d be hopping mad, because what I just described above is an entire industry trying to take away a viable (and lucrative) sales channel for their own authors’ work.  And I can laugh because the ebook market isn’t slowing down.  The sales that would go to that $15.99 book are going to lower-priced books from indie authors and self-published authors, like me.  (Note: I’m both an indie-published author and a self-published author—a hybrid— right now.)gutenbergpress

If the Big 5 are under the impression that they can strangle the ebook market, they’re mistaken.  All they really can do is strangle their corner of it.

If you’re wondering, driving readers toward print and away from ebooks is actually the idea behind this madness.  Given the overhead costs of one versus the other, it makes almost no business sense, except for one detail: the Big 5 can exert a lot more control over print and distribution of paper copies than they can over electronic copies.  So if you’re looking for logic in this scheme, that’s probably where you’ll find it.  A true resurgence in print could mean a revival of physical bookstores and a resumption of Big 5 control over the publishing industry as a whole.  And maybe a pony, a recipe for no-calorie fudge, and a cure for male-pattern baldness.

Here’s how short-sighted this idea is.  The Big 5 raised their ebook prices, created an artificial resurgence in print sales of their books, and thought they proved print-is-not-dead.  (They actually proved the consumer will buy the cheaper option, but okay.)  One might even think they stuck it to Amazon, somehow, by doing this.

The only problem is this: the largest seller of print books right now happens to be Amazon.  Guess who saw an uptick in print sales in 2015?

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  1. Jim Johnson on February 29, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    IIRC, to add to the entertainment Kris Rusch mentioned late last year that not only did tradpubbers raise the price of their ebooks, but Amazon discounted the print versions of the same books to LESS than the cost of the newly-raised tradpub ebook prices.

    • Gene Doucette on February 29, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      I heard this too, and it’s also incredibly amusing. I think Amazon must have been like “well, all right, we won’t touch the ebooks, but what if something… were to happpen… with your print prices… oops, look at that they fell over.”

  2. Jeremy B Williams on February 29, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    I haven’t been following the industry quite as closely as I used to the past couple years. I understand what they were going for, hoping people would read paper books more, but I don’t understand why they thought that plan would work. They’re just flailing against the progression of technology instead of taking advantage of it and that’s sad.

    • Simon on March 2, 2016 at 9:45 am

      I don’t think they _want_ people to read more paper books…. what they want is exactly what Gene has mentioned: “the Big 5 can exert a lot more control over print and distribution of paper copies than they can over electronic copies.”

      It’s about fear and control. They fear that ebooks can be copy-pasted all over the internet meaning they’ll actually lose sales – despite the fact that Amazon seem to have proved that a reasonable price point and usable delivery mechanisms actually encourage *more* sales – and so they are trying to control the supply.

      It’s exactly what all traditional media companies are trying to do – film & music – they’ve been caught with their pants down – their eyes fixed on the ceiling so long they haven’t innovated. Now the tech upstarts are taking the floor, the ceiling and everything in between.

      Expect the major publishing houses to be small companies with big holdings in a few years… the big boys will be doing bigger, better, and bolder things as we all embrace cheaper prices.

  3. Chris Meadows on March 1, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    The really entertaining part is that yesterday Mike Shatzkin declared that anonymous but highly-placed sources told him that Amazon was the one who insisted on agency pricing in those negotiations, and that the publishers are now sorry they ever had the idea in the first place.

    It just goes on and on…

    • Gene Doucette on March 1, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      I saw that featured on The Passive Voice and found it just as entertaining. And his highly-placed source was an agent, so I’m sure it was without spin or anything silly like that.

      What I am sure of is the Big 5’s authors are being told exactly what that agent repeated to Shatzkin, based on some of the feedback I’ve gotten (off-site) to this article. According to what “they” have been told, I have my facts wrong. That’s a lot more comforting, I’m sure, than the possibility that I don’t have my facts wrong at all.

  4. David Penny on March 1, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    I agree with absolutely everything the big 5 are doing.

    Now – where do I get this cure for male pattern baldness they’re selling?

    • Donald Campbell on March 4, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      I for the recipe for no-calorie fudge!

  5. Vivienne Tuffnell on March 1, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Totally bonkers, isn’t it??

  6. Kate Thomas on March 1, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    I, too, am endlessly amused by the industry, although I’m never quite sure who to support—neither Amazon nor the Big 5, I suspect. Both have attacked each other in ways that have ultimately hurt writers, readers, and the people working in the industry. It’s all just as tragic as it is entertaining, really.

    Those in the Big 5 who think they can stop or slow digitization have lost their minds—surely they don’t believe their own, recent narratives. That said, Amazon is today’s Walmart, and it will only put the industry/customer first, and offer “everyday low prices,” so long as it’s got (actual) competition pushing it to do so. Monopolies are never a good thing, especially in the long run. I can’t entirely be against the Big 5 for trying to fight that, even if only to hold on to their own oligopoly.

  7. Dan Meadows on March 1, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    One little thing, I believe Simon & Schuster inked this last round of agency deals first, after Hatchette stalled and played the sacrificial lamb for the better part of a year. Same result though. This recent suggestion that Amazon forced agency on them is just flat absurd. Straight up CYA. My only question is was that anonymous agent feeding Shatzkin a line or is that the excuse publishers are giving agents and whatnot for their declining results?

  8. Mark Hahn on March 1, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    I like to buy books; I would usually prefer to buy ebooks, to save money, shipping, space. But I’m disgusted every time I look at an appealing book, because the ebook price is not cheap, the way it should be. I figure an author should receive some modest amount from me – let’s say $5. And the people who spent a little time assisting with the publication – 20% sounds about right. I’m in the computer industry, so I know that Amazon’s cost is at most a few cents. I would happily pay even $7 for many books, rather than the usual formula of $30 or so for a hardback, $15 or so for a paperback or ebook (usually only a few percent different.) So I hardly ever buy books anymore. $15 is not an unreasonable price for a paperback, and occasionally I think the paper experience might be worth it. But mostly, the obscene pricing of ebooks keeps me from buying books. Lets agree not to even discuss textbook or journal prices…

    Books are dying, killed by the book industry. Just like records.

  9. J.M. Ney-Grimm on March 1, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    Even more amusing is Shatzkin’s new correction stating that the apparent “resurgence of print” was all due to the fad boom in adult coloring books. I think coloring books can be fun – got nothing against them – but I don’t include coloring books in the category held by fiction and non-fiction that I read. Crazy!

  10. Martin Cohen on March 2, 2016 at 12:23 am

    A similar weirdness applies to buying music on Amazon. On some albums I have gotten recently, the physical CD costs less than buying just the MP3s.

    Now here’s the insanity:

    When I buy the physical CD, the MP3 version is thrown in for free!!!!


  11. Flimm on March 2, 2016 at 3:13 am

    When I saw the title, I thought you were going to talk about DRM. Publishers AFAIK insist that Amazon implement DRM on their e-books, locking their customers into Amazon-approved e-readers. It seems crazy to me that publishers want Amazon lock-in!

    • Resoldier on March 3, 2016 at 5:34 am

      Not all publishers do this. My favorite publisher, Baen Publishing, actually insists that it’s books are DRM free.

      It makes sharing books between friends easier, and truly encourages people to look for that particular publisher.

      • Gene Doucette on March 3, 2016 at 6:44 am

        Yes, Baen is on top of things. They’re not one of the ‘big 5’ in this discussion.

  12. John Lee Covington on March 2, 2016 at 5:12 am

    Came across your article on YCombinator’s Hacker News. Enjoyed it — I had studied the US v. Apple, et. al. case with Hachette and I always thought it was a little nutty.

  13. lucas thorn on March 2, 2016 at 5:57 am

    i’m personally very happy they’re selling at a high price and even happier they hate ebooks so much. this has meant my career has just boomed. i’d like to thank them for helping me make more money than i would have otherwise…

    • Christian Aubry on March 2, 2016 at 10:49 pm

      Who are you? I am a Kobo reader and I’ve never heard of Lucas Thorn. Why are you “exclusive to Amazon”? Would not you like to reach more readers? 🙁

      • lucas thorn on March 6, 2016 at 5:19 am

        Essentially, I stayed exclusive to Amazon because of the benefits of pricing. I like being able to get 70% for my books. I have previously dipped into other avenues, but none of them were as beneficial enough to warrant the trade-off. Also, iTunes practically makes it impossible for an indie to go with them. I’d have to go through Smashwords or something, and that avenue didn’t work for me either.

        If Kobo or iTunes was as supportive of indie writers as Amazon (which tends to not see much of a difference between any source of writing as the company cares only for sales), I’d use them.

        At the moment, I’m making enough on Amazon to be able to stay at home and write, so I’d hate to sacrifice that and have to go back to working a day job. Maybe one day things will change, but for me as an indie, I honestly feel Kobo and iTunes and the like are too wrapped up in trying to please large publishers that they don’t want people like me on their platform.

  14. Jean Joachim on March 2, 2016 at 8:03 am

    It’s obvious to me that you don’t understand the fundamental business model of the Big Five publishers which rests entirely on the sale of print books. They own printing plants and have mega investments in making huge print sales. Therefore pricing ebooks low would be undercutting their basic business and, in effect, put them out of business. The Big Five sell megatons of print books through bookstores. That’s their primary focus. Ebooks are gravy.

    • Gene Doucette on March 2, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Yes, it’s tragic that their business model is chiseled in stone and cannot be altered in any way.

      Or something, I guess.

      Publishers publish books for people to read. If what they call publishing is exclusive to one medium, they aren’t a publisher, they are a maker of a thing. This argument only makes the buggy-whip analogy more self-evidently correct.

      • Christian Aubry on March 2, 2016 at 10:55 pm

        Every human system I know tend to loose its original purpose after a while. Companies, political parties, workers and trade unions — even human beings, they all wants their old songs to remain the same and to last as long as they can stretch them. Publishers are no exceptions, are they?

  15. A. Diamond on March 2, 2016 at 8:10 am

    A person at Amazon told me that publishers keep ebook prices high in part because they don’t want to jeopardize their relationships with traditional booksellers. Publishers have spent decades building and maintaining those sales channels, which are also on-the-ground promotional channels that no e-tailer has.

    Coffee table books and art books are kind of worthless on the Kindle, and they’re harder to sell online than in a physical store, where people can pick them up and thumb through them. More literary works may also fare better in bookstores, because of word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted sources and because some readers who really care about a good book want to own a physical copy of it.

    Even Apple recognizes the importance of physical stores for selling high quality products that need to be physically experienced. And like the books in physical bookstores, Apple products are priced higher than competitors, which obviously costs sales.

    If the publishing industry is acting irrationally, it may be because ebooks represent an existential threat to bookstores and to a part of the industry that cannot be duplicated or replaced online.

    I work in the software industry, which, with the opening of Apple’s app store and the Google Play store has seen a “race to the bottom,” in which it’s more worthwhile to put out a slew of sort-of-good $0.99 apps than to take your time and make a really good $9.99 app.

    You see the same sort of thing in the genre fiction categories on Amazon. Tons and tons of $0.99 mysteries, romances and thrillers selling in huge volume. Why should an author spend a year or two creating a top-notch novel when it’s cheaper to crank out hack work every six months?

    I think that plays into the industry’s irrational behavior. Many people in publishing really care about what they do, especially the editors, who see themselves as curators of good content and essential collaborators in the production process. (And good editors are just that.) They must realize on some level that if the whole market turns into a smooth distribution machine in which books are commodities–and in the mystery, thriller and romance genres, they already are–then the world loses something irretrievable.

    So yeah, the publishers’ behavior doesn’t make sense when you look at it purely in supply and demand market terms. But they have more than just the market numbers in mind. Whether they’ll succeed or not remains to be seen.

    • Gene Doucette on March 2, 2016 at 10:12 am

      I appreciate your point, but I think you’re over-emphasizing the ‘curators of art’ angle of big publishing. Yes, there absolutely are crummy $0.99 books out there, but you can’t compare the worst of self-publishing with the best of traditional publishing if you’re going to be honest about this. Big 5 certainly did produce some good books and self-publishing some bad books, but there is room in self-publishing for good books, and Big 5 also gave us a ton of crap.

      To the point, why take 1-2 years to write a good book at a higher price than spend less time on a $0.99 book, the industry can allow for both without a big publisher being involved. THE SPACESHIP NEXT DOOR is a self-published novel, I priced it at $5.99, and I wrote it and released it in six months. And sales are doing just fine.

      Don’t romanticize big publishing as the thing they think they are. They aren’t high class arbiters of taste. They’re gatekeepers who kept a lot of books off the market because they didn’t know how to sell those books. Like mine, for instance.

      • Andrew Diamond on March 2, 2016 at 12:30 pm

        I wasn’t trying to romanticize them. I self-publish for the same reasons you do. I was trying to explain some of the rationale behind their seemingly irrational behavior. There are a lot of conscientious, well-intentioned people in the industry, but the old guard has been outflanked by Amazon, and they’re flailing the way the record companies were when MP3s and streaming started to take away their cash cow.

        The big question now for aspiring authors is no longer whether they can get a publishing deal, but whether they can push their title above the sea of other hopefuls.

        • Gene Doucette on March 2, 2016 at 12:50 pm


          I agree, especially the last part. Getting above the sea of hopefuls is a perpetual challenge. On the bright side, I’m not seeing old books backlisted into obscurity.

    • Janice J. Richardson on March 3, 2016 at 11:41 am

      Not all inexpensive ebooks are hack work. There is a place for every reader, readers with money for who the cost of a print book is not prohibitive and price means nothing, the majority in the middle who can afford a print book once in a while and those who cannot get to a library or book store and can’t pay more than a few dollars a month for books. Independent authors have produced some good work and they are more often than not extremely affordable, which covers all of the above.

  16. Mark on March 2, 2016 at 9:18 am

    Gene — do you have any evidence that the big 5 raised their print prices to be greater than their ebooks? Any links? Any corroboration?

    I don’t live in America so it’s hard for me to track American pricing trends.

    My impression has always been that when a reader encounters an e-book that is more expensive than a print book… it is because the retailer is discounting the print book (but not the e-book) in order to manipulate the perception of the reader.

    Is this not what’s happening?

    It is a long (and brilliant) con by Bezos.

    Please post any evidence you have to the contrary.

    • Gene Doucette on March 2, 2016 at 10:20 am

      I’m not sure what you’re asking for. Do you want evidence to the contrary that Bezos is an evil genius?

      I think it’s a lot simpler to conclude that the Big 5 are responding poorly to a disruptive business model than that Bezos is a puppet-master making them punch themselves in the face repeatedly.

      • Mark on March 2, 2016 at 10:46 am

        Hi Gene — you say “the prices were higher than the price of the print edition, which is just fundamentally insane.”

        Do you have any examples?

        I am wondering… is that true anywhere but at Amazon… where Amazon is discounting the print edition to manipulate your value perception?

        In other words have you ever encountered a case where the price of an ebook is more expensive than a print book where that case is not due to Amazon’s discounting?

        In his book, Predictably Irrational Dan Ariely talks about ‘anchor pricing strategy’.

        My hunch is you can’t point to an example that isn’t Amazon executing such a strategy.

        Am I wrong?

        • Gene Doucette on March 2, 2016 at 11:01 am

          The point isn’t a terrible one. I can point to a lot of instances ON AMAZON where the print price is less than the ebook price. But I can also point to a million other products that Amazon discounts daily, and so could you. So the question is, is an ebook priced higher than a print book due to Big 5 setting their ebook prices substantively higher than what was set by the market (okay, fine, by Amazon, mostly) or is it due to Amazon’s standard discounting practices?

          One way or another, the Big 5’s gambit of setting ebook prices higher as a strategy to improve their market position failed spectacularly. I’m disinclined to see any ulterior motive on Amazon’s part.

          • Mark on March 2, 2016 at 11:45 am

            Fair enough. The thrust of your argument is publishing with a capital P is shooting itself in the foot. That appears to be true.

            In The Innovator’s Dilemma Clayton Christensen points out that most people working in industries like publishing appear to be rational and well meaning people — and their businesses fail in spite of their good intentions. That’s the paradox of the title.

            My bet is that — not collective insanity — is what is happening here.

            That means the truth, pending evidence to the contrary, is the big 5 NEVER price ebooks more than print books. Instead they are being out-maneuvered by one of their suppliers… a supplier that competes with them directly (see 4 Hour Chef) and indirectly (CreateSpace).

            The wording in your post implies the opposite. That might be rhetorically convenient for your argument, but it is misleading for your readers.

            I am outside the US where Amazon doesn’t dominate the narrative regarding the future of publishing as much as it does there so at glance — particularly at the comments over at Hacker News — it sure seems like you are all being played. Cui bono? There is one company that clearly benefits from the confusion and misinformation about book pricing… Bezos is running circles around the Big 5. They seem perpetually steps behind.

            Wishing you the best success with The Spaceship Next Door.

  17. Doris-Maria Heilmann on March 2, 2016 at 9:31 am

    You nailed it!
    Hope the naive journalists from NYT and other large newspapers start thinking about the unprofessional idea to just print press releases without fact checking and without THINKING … Do their readers have to do the work of fact-checking?

    Thanks, Doris

  18. Jeff Duntemann on March 2, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    I’m not sure I buy the “It was Amazon’s idea” leak. It supposedly came from an agent, and agents’ interests are completely aligned with those of traditional print publishing. Somebody’s trying to turn opinion back against Amazon, but I think if the leaked accusation were true we’d have heard more about it during the saturation coverage of the Amazon vs. Big 5 battle.

    The Big 5 have a problem that few people comment on: Big companies of whatever industry are controlled by people who are primarily business people and not product people. Spreadsheeters often forget that there are real (if sometimes quirky) people and often cultural issues behind product demand. Many assume that product categories are fungible, and that you can sell refrigerators the same way you can sell romance novels. This is not speculation on my part; fifteen years or so ago, when I ran editorial for Arizona’s largest book publisher, we hired a sales exec who said precisely that. It wasn’t an editorial decision so I didn’t put up a fuss, but the guy was a disaster.

    There is a business model in place within print publishing, and it hasn’t changed radically since the successful introduction of MMPBs after WWII. Cash flow issues completely dominate print publishing (the reasons are peculiar and too much to go into here) and the early money comes from hardcover sales. Publishers will do almost anything to protect their hardcover market, and ebooks are the first substantial threat to hardcovers since MMPBs. This led some publishers to price ebook editions above hardcovers, which was just nuts–and (obviously) didn’t work.

    Smaller independent presses like Baen (in SFF) and O’Reilly (in tech) embraced ebooks early on and as best I can tell are doing reasonably well. I’m pretty sure the Big 5 are suffering in part because their spreadsheet jockeys don’t understand the markets and (worse) don’t believe the numbers. Recreational reading is seeing a spectacular renaissance, especially in genre books. Nothing is keeping the Big 5 from partaking of that renaissance, beyond inertia and the sad truth that monster publishing companies are run (as a good friend of mine put it) by “people who don’t read books.”

  19. Ameer on March 3, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Typo: “from a save remove” should be “from a safe remove.”

  20. Ameer on March 3, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Another typo, sorry: “Note: I’m both and indie-published author and a self-published author” …

  21. Mitchell Davis on March 4, 2016 at 10:16 am

    this is a fantastic article. Thanks for putting this together with a voice that makes it work.

  22. Sharon Clark on March 4, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    This was a very interesting article and the responses were also eye-opening. As I am a new self-published author, this information is mind-boggling to me. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Winston Smith on March 5, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    Would you like a comment from someone who is strictly an avid reader (not an arthound or collector)….

    If you want to sell books of any kind (print.ebook, etc), you better make the price low enough that it isn’t worth someone’s time to get it from the torrent stream. And forget DRM, proprietary formats, etc- those are all easily beaten by anyone competent enough to use the net.

    The print media is undergoing seismic change right now, as are the music and film industries. Once digital is out there, its out there forever and your business model better take that into account. (and there are a suprising # of folks that are willing to scan print and put it into digital, so paper copies only are only a speedbump for you). Its gonna be interesting indeed to see how this all shakes out.

    • tweell on March 7, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      Agree here. The best DRM can be sidestepped by folks simply scanning print and running a text conversion utility. Same if there isn’t an ebook released. I remember popping into a channel right after a Harry Potter book was released, and folks there were organizing the scan effort – fifty or more scanned a chapter each, converted, proofed, compiled and the ebook was up for torrent in a few hours.

      Ebooks are incredibly handy, having a library in a phone is so nice. Make them available at a fair price and people will buy them – we want the authors to get paid, so they write more. Make them cost more or unavailable and they will get pirated.

  24. great unknown on March 6, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    This is analogous, in many ways, to how OPEC is flailing around trying to strangle fracking. Short of financing lobbying by “environmental” groups – and the scam there is already too well-recognized to be truly effective – all they can do is either price themselves out of the market, or lower prices to where their own economies collapse. The trick, of course, is that the overhead for frackers to stay dormant temporarily is relatively low – consider the low interest rates today – and restarting costs are practically nil.

    Similarly, overhead for e-publishing, either dormant or active, when you own the distribution channel, is practically nil.

    Time, and technology, marches on.

  25. Jim Brown on March 7, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve been posting these ongoing ‘reports’ of falling ebook sales on the JimandZetta blog ( with my own warnings as to the so-called accuracy of said reports, and I am featuring this post today, Gene. It is madness what the traditional publishers have done, and also madness that they are deliberately choosing to ignore the huge surge of authors taking to self-publishing via platforms like Amazon (who’s sales figures NEVER appear in the ‘falling sales’ reports) in favor of making it appear that ebooks are dying. The far more likely scenario – virtually a guarantee – is that the ebook industry insofar as growth is concerned is as healthy as it’s ever been, if not healthier! Not only that, such a strong foothold has been achieved by the ebook industry that it is not going to be in any remote danger of fading. Should the Big 5 continue this astonishingly blinkered-thinking, the only thing that will fade is their own business.

    • Gene Doucette on March 7, 2016 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks for the feature, Jim!

      • Jim Brown on March 7, 2016 at 12:42 pm

        No problem, Gene. Post is made!

  26. Cynthia Wines on March 7, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Reading this article makes me glad I self published my ebook on amazon.

  27. DMcCunney on March 10, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    @Mike Hahn: ” But I’m disgusted every time I look at an appealing book, because the ebook price is not cheap, the way it should be. ”

    I’m a computer guy too, for over 30 years, and a follower of publishing for rather longer. Tell me *why* an eBook should be that much cheaper than a paper volume?

    Before you respond, please consider:

    1) 80%-90% of the costs of publishing a book are incurred before it ever reaches the the state of publication, in paper *or* eBook form. Publishing prices *start* with covering the costs.

    2) Every book has a budget listing all of the costs of publishing it. The print/bind/warehouse/distribute portion for paper volumes is about *10%* of the cost of the average book from a major trade publisher. Drop the print volume, and you don’t drop the cost of publication anywhere near enough to provide the cost savings needed to price eBooks at your preferred level.

    The assumption an eBook *should* be that cheap is based on poor understanding of publishing industry economics.

    Tell me how you think the Big 5 can publish eBooks at the price you like and make money?

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