Enter the Ouroboros

Ouroboros-simple.svgMore brilliance from Joe Konrath on Wednesday.

He points out, as he did initially sixteen months ago, that the publishing giants have begun a predation process from which there is no return. In short, they’ve been robbing and cheating and keeping down authors, who provide them with the source of their income. Gatekeepers are there to keep the gates safe from the unwashed masses. If you’re an aspiring writer trying to get into that legacy system, that’s you. This is akin to a snake swallowing itself from the tail. This cannot sustain itself.

But now it’s even worse, and the system has just seen the first major crack run through the façade of the failing gatekeeper tower. A crack which runs all the way through the superstructure as is bound to be the fatal fissure upon which the system will finally, and deservedly, collapse.

One of the Big 6 – Simon and Schuster, to be precise – has signed John Locke, the first man to sell a million ebooks via Amazon’s Kindle platform, to a print book deal.

But the big news isn’t a Big 6 publisher trying to cherry pick a successful indie author. The big news is, they let Locke retain his electronic rights.

That’s right; he and his agent (who is also Joe Konrath’s agent) got a deal with a Big 6 brokered in which the author retained his e-rights.

coffinWhile that may not seem significant to you, at first glance, it’s an indication of how desperate the legacy publishers have become. (Not desperate enough to try and find you, oh mere struggling wannabe, in their slush pile, though.) They’re desperate enough to let a heavy hitter who is completely unproved in the print world retain his e-rights for the duration of the book. Which means, because the ebook already outsells the print book and shows no sign of slowing down, the print portion of this may bomb. And S&S are going to eat that bomb. It’s coming right down their throats and they’re not really going to be able to stomach it. They get the tiny portion of the sales, while the lion’s share of both sales and royalties – a whopping 70% — will stay with the author.

Where they belong.

This is a sign of things to come. Gatekeepers will continue to try and get the crème-de-la-crème from indie authors, like Amanda Hocking and John Locke, but more and more midlist authors are getting into self e-publishing and finding the level of success there superior. So is the royalty set up through publishers like Amazon and PubIt (Nook). And as those two situations diverge, and gatekeepers let those indie authors retain their e-rights, there will be a wider and wider gap between the indie success and the number of sales in the now-niche market of print. The print sales will be the tiny portion of that – and already is the minority portion – and the bigger block will come from the e-book side. When they don’t have access to that, and have to give that up, they’ll have no way to survive. One last big push this holiday season, Joe says, and you can look for many more bookstores to go the way of the Borders.

And I saw this coming. I’m not riding the wave as well as I’d like, but I’m on it for sure. I’ve never liked the gatekeeper system and never will, I don’t believe it’s another “valid” way to publication and won’t say it is, and I don’t think any writer worth their salt should continue pursuing that dead horse to suck up its rotting a$$, and I won’t say they should. There aren’t any “professionals” in that industry, and maybe never were, and we – the authors who made them what they are, give them the product they peddle and need, and carelessly gave over power to them which they now lord over us – don’t need them. I won’t say otherwise. Never.

I’m glad this system is failing. I’m so happy I could puke. I want every writer I know to go their own way and take their chances with indie publishing, but so many are still out there banging their faces against that brick wall. I see them all over Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else I go, and it’s just sad.

I hope they wake up soon. Or not. Either way, this is happening.


Copyright 2011 DarcKnyt, All rights reserved


2 thoughts on “Enter the Ouroboros

  1. I’ve told you before that I want to do both traditional and self publishing, mostly because if I never experience both I can never decide for myself which I would prefer. I admit I’ve always seen the pros to self publishing, but sometimes I have to ask how maintainable this reality of self publishing is. Will Amazon and Barnes & Noble eventually stop being so supportive of indie authors? Things like that worry me because it seems too unknown. But I guess traditional publishing is clearly fading out of its golden years, too.

    It’s already dead. The fact they let Locke keep his e-rights shows they’ve lost the power to bring authors in on their terms anymore. And now that they’ve done it, others will have to. But people like you keep the gatekeepers going. When will you see this? And even if you “preferred” traditional publishing, do you seriously think there’s a future for that? By the time they get around to publishing you — it takes two years, remember? — what book stores are going to be around to sell them? Think it over, kiddo. If Amazon/B&N get stupid, someone else will step up. Amazon shows no signs of changing their policies — they’re making too much money just giving away shelf space in virtual store. But then, that’s just my $.02.

    I don’t know where I was going with that. Ultimately, I think it’s interesting that they’d let Locke keep his ebook rights. I guess they assumed because print, at the moment, has a bigger overall piece of the pie that they’d ride his ebook popularity and get more print sales. Least that’s the only way I could see that.

    But that’s where you’re wrong — print DOESN’T have the larger piece of pie. And the piece they do have is fading faster than anyone in that industry realizes. They’re hoping people who are anti-eReader will cough up for their book. The industry arrogantly assumes they can make the biggest money on their print stuff, not their e-stuff, and they’re right — because of their pricing structure. But the amount of money Locke is going to make from his ebooks is going to DWARF what he makes in print. Pretty soon this won’t be an unusual deal, it will be the only deal, and the print industry will NOT survive this way. It can’t. It’s not. Like Joe said in his article, Wikipedia made the encyclopedia extinct. Maybe a few are still sold to schools and libraries, but overall, that’s a dead industry. The print industry is too.

    • I think publishers who went to ebook mostly and POD whenever (if ever) they did print could be very lucrative. The thing is, there will always be gatekeepers so long as there’s a publisher. You have to weed through and decide what you want to publish somehow. Writers should always be their own gatekeepers first — strive for only the best they know they can create. As far as I’m concerned, a lot of writers just throw their crap around thinking they’re all that. It’s annoying and grossly common. I can honestly say, being on the opposite end of the stick, why editors are so picky, grouchy, and shitty. Some people just throw a query together and their synopsis. If that were the only things I looked on alone, I wouldn’t feel very happy with myself, but the initial chapters are what break me. The writing is bad. You find yourself being thankful for anyone who knows above average grammar. The way I see it, a lot of writers, unfortunately, slack off and throw a manuscript together, think that’s enough, and hurl it out at as many publishers as possible.

      First, just to settle accounts here, I AM all that. Never forget it. 😉

      Here’s the problem — we don’t need gatekeepers. Amazon’s DTP is a publisher, and who are the gatekeepers there? No one. Readers don’t NEED gatekeepers, and THAT’S the point all the GATEKEEPERS miss, hon. No one needs to weed through all the bad books out there to screen them out; that’s what READERS will do. And they’re going to do it with their money, and their reviews. NOTHING tanks a book like bad reviews. Before long, the book sinks to the bottom of the cesspool of crappy writing and dies there. Why are gatekeepers go betweens? They stopped being relevant when the postal service, telephones and any form of electronic communication became freely and cheaply available. Full stop.

      I think, also, we’re talking about two different traditional publishers. I’m talking small press and small publishers. You, I think, are talking about the ones you need an agent to go through (which is where I agree with you — agents are pointless). I’ve never wanted to deal with the big boys. I saw their system, read up on it, and can see they’re bloated, fat, and falling. Bookstores are the same way, and any publisher who can switch to ebooks and the like are ahead of the curve, as most aren’t even acknowledging the shift in preference.

      No, I include small press publishers in my anti-gatekeeping rants too. And don’t even get me started on agents, who haven’t been useful or had a point for — what? fifty years?

      I think small press publishers are a waste of paper. No offense, hon, none of this is targeted at you. (Remember, I’m willing to MENTOR you as much as I can and give you my insight, so don’t think this is being mean to you, okay? It’s not.) I think soon the cost of producing those books and the availability (distribution) limitations are going to make them impractical and extinct. I’m surprised more of them haven’t folded already. Face it, when bookstores are collapsing, how are they going to sell their stuff? Through the Internet. And why do we need them to do that for us when we have Smashwords, Amazon and Nook? We don’t. So they’re goners. See? They need a place to peddle their wares and right now, we don’t need to provide them wares to peddle. It’s win-win for us, lose-lose for them.

      Funny thing about the print being the bigger piece of the pie. Divertir, the publisher I work for, recently came out with a YA novel. I’m not too hip on YA, but we saw the sales potential (stop gagging and just listen ;P) and let it fly. It’s sold 40 ebooks and 2 print books so far. Look at that ratio! That’s 20:1. So far, on our short story anthologies, print and ebook are even. My boss actually commented the other day on how surprising it was that ebooks were selling so much when they’re supposedly only 20-something percent of the market.

      Because that’s a lie. Those statistics aren’t accurate, and remember, it’s the legacy publishers putting those numbers out. Publisher’s Weekly posted the figures for last year and the only segment without a negative number were the electronic and audio segments. Ebooks outsell print, period. Across the board.

      I’m also seeing more and more of my anti-e-reader friends switching to the Kindle app when they get iPhones. I’m glued to the Kindle app on mine, that’s for sure, and there’s also iBooks, which is also awesome. Since iPhones are massively popular, it’s only a matter of time before people start giving in more and more.

      I think once you have a tablet, you’ll never go back. Much as I’d love a Kindle, I love being able to read myself to sleep without needing to leave the light on or having a book light. I, personally, love back lighting. And the tablet I have was cheap, runs the Nook AND Kindle apps, and fits in one hand. Awesome. Why you WOULDN’T want to do that is beyond me. Completely beyond me.

      Sorry I think I wrote an essay here, practically. I’m not or anything, either, just so you know. You always make me think, haha, and for once I have the energy to actually share my full thoughts.

      Write all you want. There’s no limit to shelf space in cyberspace. Which is why you should SELF-EPUBLISH.

      But I still see the need for publishers — if only in a different form. Then again, I always like options. Always have, always will. Flexibility isn’t a bad thing, you know. ;P

      But you’re not answering the question of HOW this is an option, and more importantly, WHY we “need” publishers. Let’s say you choose to go through a legacy publisher. They pay you a sh!t advance, which you have to repay if the book doesn’t sell out by the way, and then it starts going through publication. It’s going to take two years, maybe slightly less, but about that. Then the publisher tanks six months or a year after you get accepted (and yeah, this is going to happen to people). Now what? You’re screwed, because in the TWO YEARS it took for them to start the process, you got burned down. Meanwhile, you could have polished your manuscript, had a few dozen editor and writer friends or a critique (I hate that word) group read it, edited it, re-polished it and got an artist on dA CHEAP to do a KICK-A$$ cover. All in less than six months. Oh, and you got to choose your cover AND the title because it was your work. Which ain’t gonna happen with a publisher.

      Meanwhile, readers want to read, readers are gonna read, and they WON’T be reading your story because YOU won’t finish it, polish it, and publish it. And then do the sequel. And then the third book. Why? Why do we “need” publishers? It’s easy and if you don’t want to do it yourself, then I insist you’re too lazy to be a writer, and you won’t be successful in ANY capacity because you’re not willing to write as though it’s a business. You’re not willing to invest in learning to do something necessary for the new order of your world, or the world you claim you want to be part of. If you go to college and don’t study, you can’t really say you wanted a degree, can you? If you don’t learn your way around campus and what’s required for each class and what textbooks you need, how can you say you’re serious about school, about your education? What’s the difference between that, and learning how to format and e-publish your manuscript? If you spent time to learn the craft, why not spend time to learn the business? Aren’t they part and parcel of the same package? Even if you went through the legacy system, doing so without knowing anything about the business, without reading the contracts, without having questions you might have reviewed by an Intellectual Properties lawyer — you’d be irresponsible and again, you’re not a writer. You’re not diligent and detail oriented enough.

      Writing isn’t laying around dreaming up stories. It’s work, and it’s a business. I suggest writers get used to running their own businesses until they’re in a financial position to hire someone else to do it for them.

      Now, how do you like THAT essay? 😉

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