Category Archives: Things You Missed Last Week

Sleepless Knights Finalist for Mythopoeic Award

Cover by Jimmy Broxton [click to enlarge/close]
Cover by Jimmy Broxton [click to enlarge/​close]
Lost in the shuffle of excitement of the last two weeks is the news that Sleepless Knights, by Mark H. Williams, has been named a finalist in the 2014 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature!

The Mythopoeic Society is a non-​​profit organization promoting the study, discussion, and enjoyment of fantastic and mythopoeic literature through books and periodicals, annual conferences, discussion groups, awards, and more. They are especially interested in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams, prominent members of the informal Oxford literary circle known as the “Inklings” (1930s – 1950s).

Thus, quite logically, the “Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature” is given to the fantasy novel, multi-​​volume novel, or single-​​author story collection for adults published during the previous year that best exemplifies the myth-​​making tradition of the ‘Inklings.’

CLICK to learn about the awards [new tab or window]The award may not be widely known, but the authors and works named are quite prestigious, whether declared winners or not.

Previous winners include Mary Stewart (twice), Orson Scott Card, Elizabeth Hand, Neil Gaiman (twice), Salman Rushdie, Michael Chabon, Terry Pratchett, Jonathan Stroud, and J.K. Rowling. Those who made the “short list” and never won are an equally interesting list; Michael Moorcock, Tanith Lee (twice), Charles de Lint (four times), Guy Gavriel Kay (five times), Connie Willis (twice), Elizabeth Hand, and Margaret Atwood.

More details about the award right here.

This year’s nominees for the award are as follows:

  • Yangsze Choo, The Ghost Bride (William Morrow)
  • Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (William Morrow)
  • Max Gladstone, Three Parts Dead (Tor)
  • Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni (Harper)
  • Mark H. Williams, Sleepless Knights (Atomic Fez Publishing)

The winners of this year’s awards will be announced during Mythcon 45, to be held August 8 – 11, 2014, at Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts.

WHEN? The Inevitable Reality of Multi-Binding Bundling

In order to exhume the lede, here’s the most important bit: Atomic Fez Publishing hereby publicly commits to bringing bundling of eBook editions of all of its titles when someone purchases printed copies of them.

Now that you know that, there’s a fair bit in this particular topic to be unpacked, so shove this page into your favourite “text only display” application, bookmark it to read when you have more time, or simply get comfy and learn why.

Four Bindings, One Book, Lots of Convenience
Four Bindings, One Book, Lots of Convenience

Something I’ve hemmed and hawed about since starting Atomic Fez back in the autumn of 2009 has been the idea of selling a printed copy of a book along with a copy of the electronic version of the same title; either as a free add-​​on or at a nominal, additional fee.  When this series of questions comes to mind, I’ve occasionally shoved something out into the ether via Twitter or Facebook, to little response. That being the typical result, I usually shrug and put it at the back of my mind for contemplation later.

Then there was an announcement last week about a new programme from Amazon wherein a purchaser of a printed copy automatically gets a Kindle copy as well. There’s some limitations with this to start: titles are only from a selected list of 10,000 titles, this offer is only within the USA (until they sort out the usual distribution agreements with publishers presumably), and so on.

Yet again, it got me thinking about the idea and was it something Atomic Fez should do: would anyone notice, would they care, would it actually be something that would make people decide to buy a book that they might not consider otherwise? Once more deciding to think about this whole idea later, I returned to whatever happened to be screaming at me the loudest from my in-​​box.

Later that same day, I saw this about that Amazon announcement:

This made me wonder perhaps this is the time that the market is ready; perhaps I am now ignoring the Will of the People, and – instead of being ahead – am behind their desires regarding books & technology? If that last bit was the case, it would be the break in a record of having been well-​​ahead of the curve with both the offering of eBooks and ensuring they were DRM–free. This was a bit of a blow, as I’ve prided myself on being both a pragmatist as well as an anticipator of readers’ needs.

So I tweeted the following:

To this, there was a surprising amount of response, and much of it practical as well as media-​​savvy! Granted, it was Twitter; well known as a repository of media-​​savvy people.

For the most part, I agree with all of the above.

For the most part, you’ll find it difficult to get a CEO of one of the Big Six Publishers¹ to agree with much of anything above.

Preconceived Notions

The trickiest bit, in the minds of the “Important People in Big Buildings,” is this tweet:

As far as The Deciders are concerned, that’s at least half-​​wrong and their mind-​​set is entirely based on something of which you may never have been aware:

You do not own the books on your shelves, and you never have. As David says, you’re buying the ‘rights’ to the content, but your access to those words is specifically limited to only that specific copy in that binding. You have have no right – expressed or implied – and thus should have no expectation to access any other copy of those words in that or any other binding. You don’t even own the copy, only the access to its contents. Period. 

You see, the book (in whatever form the binding takes) is simply a way to get words into your eyeballs. Thus, if you want access to the story, you have to buy a copy of the book – hardcover, paperback, ePUB file, Kindle file, PDF, whatever – and you’re expected to buy a new copy every time you want to change the way you access those words carefully arranged in a specific order by an author. A paperback is bought which permits you access to those words in that specific format, and with that specific copy only. If you want a copy of the story in a hardback, or a Mass Market Paperback, or a Large Print edition, or whatever, you better be ready to shell out more money. The same holds true when you want to get a copy of the book in an eBook format of your choosing: you’re entering into a new agreement with the publisher for access in a different fashion.

This is the same purchasing model we saw with the music labels selling us our LPs on 8-​​Track, Reel-​​to-​​Reel tape, Compact Cassette, Compact Disc, then on newly re-​​mastered CDs so that the audio is compressed (making it louder and less precise, but don’t get me started on that topic), and now as MP3 or AAC files. A bit of a scam, yeah… but, hey, we’ve been getting away with it for years, people! seemingly is the approach of the Big Six Publishers, using the example of different bindings in the previous paragraphs.

Part of the problem with this shocker of a statement – the problem, as seen by the Big Six, is that it happens to be a shock, not that the situation is as outlined; they’re fine with that – is that it’s only with the recent innovation of eBook technology as a practical format that they’re finally able to enforce in a meaningful way something they’ve tried to do for years: shutdown used book selling and trading. All of those represent “lost sales” in their eyes, just as Public Libraries do. People walk in, take a copy of a book, then walk out… without paying for it…? Who authorized this anarchy…? The fact that the biggest proponent and creator of public libraries was Multi-​​Ka-​​Billionaire Andrew Carnegie is something that seems to escape their notice, but let’s never mind about that.

The inherent flaw in the taking of the attitude the Big Six do is simple: people don’t use their products that way. People lend books to others, with the recommendation this author is awesome, you should read his stuff; try this one first. What that supposedly incorrect instance is doing is akin to “hand selling,” were it to take place in a bookshop: the salesperson recommends a particular book, puts a copy in the customer’s hand, the customer has a look at it, and nearly always buys the book. It’s one of the most labour intensive, and sure-​​fire, sales techniques in the industry. Even if a copy is passed to someone without any payment being involved, the end result is fantastic word-​​of-​​mouth advertising, and you can’t value it enough.

Unless you’re a CEO at one of the Big Six.

The fact that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy probably made more money for Pan Books through that grassroots level marketing style has been forgotten. Just like anyone, I found out about the five-​​part trilogy² because someone handed me a copy of the first book in Grade 9, told me to read it, and half-​​way through I knew that I had to buy the entire run of them. If no one had bothered to do that, would we have ever heard about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and so on? It was the same thing again, only for a younger audience who took to wizards in the same way the first crowd took to men wearing dressing gowns in space. It’s a kind of “the first taste is free, baby” approach to getting you trying something³.

There is an argument to be made against used book shops, and you’ll read that in a post next week, but that’s not the point here: it’s the fact that publishing has done a very poor job of explaining how it works, how it does business, and how the price is determined in the end when you buy something.

Cold, Hard Facts of the Publishing Business

Don’t worry, I’m not about to start being an apologist for the Big Publishers. What I’m doing is explaining where they’re coming from, the poor dears.

The RRP [or “Recommended Retail Price” you see printed somewhere on the cover] is what everything is based on: the royalties the author gets are based on a percentage of the RRP, the retailer is charged a price based on a discount subtracted from the RRP (typically 40 – 60%), and whatever is left is for the publisher to pay all of their costs getting that book to the retailer and customer.

  Speaking of distribution, here’s an article providing “3 Takes on Why Bookstores Are Dead (and Why That Might Not Be Such a Bad Thing)” partly explaining how bookstores might actually only support the old-​​fashioned – and arguably daft – model.

The publisher has to front the money for everything you haven’t seen in order to make that book the best that it is: costs for editorial staff, marketing, adverts, shipping, office space, printing of copies (both final copies and galley versions for proofing which are also sent to reviewers), shipping to the distribution firm, as well as shipping to retailers centres plus then back again as all books are “returnable” if unsold. That last bit becomes a bit like “consignment sales” in a way, but it’s the way it’s been done for at least 80 years (which seems like 80 years too long to me, but… whatever). The publisher provides a fair bit of value to the entire mix. Both author and publisher deserve remuneration for their efforts, as do the distributors and retailers who ensure copies get into the hands of actual human beings who read. No one begrudges that, probably.

But – and here’s where the Big Publishers’ argument departs from reality – people do not know about all of those costs. The only thing the average person considers to be a part of the cost of the book they purchase is the following:

  • “royalty” for the author (because they wrote it)
  • “profit” for the store (because they’re a business)
  • “printing and shipping” of a physical item which the publisher probably pays for (because that’s what I’m reading)
  • “other stuff…” (don’t know what it is, don’t care; probably someone’s smoking cigars with plentiful hookers and equally plentiful ‘blow’)
     

That’s it. Nothing more, and it’s the Publishers’ own damned fault for people not knowing.

When I tell people I’m a publisher, they haven’t a clue what that means. Typically the next question is “so what kind of books do you write,” which means I then explain I’m not an author. “Oh,” they then say, “so you print them… in your basement?” No, I doubt any publisher has had their own press production since the start of the 1970s, frankly. Some specific company is contracted to do the job of printing, binding, and boxing them for shipping. “So… what do you do, then?”

Between the draughty garrett-​​located Author and the book in their hands, there’s this massive gap in the reader’s awareness of what Publishers actually do; other than rip off authors and charge $34.95 for a hardcover, and often only slightly less than that for the eBook.

Yet, when the average person screams at paying more than $14.99 for an eBook, the publishers defend themselves with “but we have costs to cover!” and wonder why anyone would scream about the price in the first place.

Here’s a secret, civilians: the printing and binding and shipping of your hardback probably isn’t more than $3. If it’s from a smaller publisher – Faber & Faber, or Coach House Press, say – it’ll be north of $4, but not by much. The smallest cost in publishing is the physical object you think of as a ‘book.’ Getting those words in that precise order with the author’s consent, on those spots on the page, using that spelling, with that cover, which you heard about through that review /​ newspaper ad /​ bookmark /​ billboard /​ flyer /​ newsletter /​ contest on Goodreads /​ in that window or table display, that’s the expensive part. The publisher pays for all of that, and won’t see a nickel in recompence until probably a year after the ‘official publishing date’ when the retailers finally are able to calculate the amount of inventory that they’ve taken delivery of which won’t be returned to the publisher unsold.

Again: this is something publishers do, and have always done, so it’s not offered up as “woe is me,” only “here’s what’s behind the offered defences from those who feel entitled.” They’re not actually being greedy, they really do need to pay oodles of people other than one editor, one author, and some guy running a Gestetner™ machine cranking out books downstairs near the furnace room. 

However…

Listen to the Market, Don’t Dictate to It

Yes, the idea of bundling an eBook with a printed copy of a book makes a lot of sense, because people read that way now. This is something that the Big Six doesn’t quite get. They’re – understandably – stuck in the mind set of “publish hardcover, wait six months and strip un-​​sold hardcover copies for pasting new outer wrapper on for Trade Paperback sales; wait six or eight months and release smaller Mass Market Paperback edition and sell to airports, druggists, and grocers.

If you were to propose the notion of selling two different editions of the same book, at the same time, at or near to the same price as only one of them, it would be a good way to watch the top of a CEO’s head explode. Yet, this is exactly what the customer says is of use to them, so it behooves the CEO (or their minions) to figure out a way to provide that in a fashion where the market can continue to afford to produce books people will buy. If they do not, then the invisible hand of the economy will move on and offer its money to someone else, and the Big Six will go the way of milkman: out of work due to people getting their supply from someone else.

People now read on their Kindle, their iPad, their iPhone, their tablets, their Kobos, their laptops, their multiple Android and Windows devices… as well as the printed editions. The genie is out of the box, and they’re either still trying to stuff it back in there or simply hope it goes away so they can get back to the old way of doing things.

It’s no wonder that people such as Publishers Weekly’s Alex Crowley are now asking “Why Are We Still Not Bundling E-​​books?” As Lee Rosevere pointed out above, for years now the music people have bundled MP3 or AAC files with purchases involving vinyl and sometimes even CD copies of albums. Logically, you want the consumer to enjoy the art of the music or stories and thus rave about it to others, so that you can then… all together now, folks… sell more copies of the album or book.

Then there’s a rapid increase in the adoption of this, witness the the news that “Morgan James to Launch E-​​book Bundling Program.” Last August, the people at Angry Robot started doing this and tripled their sales on the bundled titles. People have asked why it’s not being done yet as early as February of last year, although I haven’t bothered to look for any earlier than that. Certainly I had started thinking about it by the spring of 2010, and I hadn’t come up with it on my own, so someone must have been suggesting it by that point.

There’s more than a few things to sort out in the way of practicalities, not the least of which is how do you ensure only people who actually bough a printed copy get a set of the files? Morgan James has solved it this way:

The publisher will be partnering with BitLit, a Vancouver-​​based smartphone app company that enables readers to claim free or discounted eBook editions of print books purchased through traditional channels. With Morgan James, the customer redeems his or her free eBook alongside the purchase of a print book by using a smartphone to take and send photos of authenticating materials, much like digital deposit apps used by major banks. The customer will sign a page at the front of the book, take a photo of the autographed page, and then send both that photo and a photo of the cover to BitLit, who will then provide an eBook file in the customer’s preferred format.
Publisher’s Weekly

This seems a bit convoluted, and when the process was presented to a randomly selected eBook consumer the other day (no, it wasn’t me) the response was along the lines of “look, if you’re going to offer me something like that, you have to make it as easy as possible otherwise I’m not going to bother.” The suggestion then was – quite logically – that the same process as the “Digital Version” for movies on DVD or BLU-​​RAY discs could be followed, with some sort of sticker with a random number placed inside the book’s cover that the purchaser then enters into a box on the publisher’s web-​​site. How someone of Atomic Fez’s size would accomplish this wasn’t discussed (it probably involves Secure Socket encryption for a download link, among other things, otherwise how do you authenticate both the number and the fact it hasn’t been used previously, and WOO-​​DOGGY that sounds spendy), but that’s clearly the publisher’s problem: this is what the customer wants, it’s up to us to figure out how to accomplish the thing to make it work for both us as a business and for them as an end-​​user; just like it always is.

So…

Where Do We Go From Here?

Frankly, I’m not entirely sure how we do any of the above, as there’s multiple issues involving secure downloads, prevention of abuse of the system, possible effect of DRM making a complete dog’s breakfast of the whole thing, and – if DRM was found to be a non-​​starter in making this work – massive trust issues for the publishers despite the DRM–free nature of audio files when purchased from companies such as eMusic.com or from the Apple’s iTunes Store.

One thing I am certain of, however, is that this is what the customers seem to be leaning towards, and it’s the publishers’ job to figure out how to provide it across all platforms, in all the variant stores on these interwebs, and in a way that protects the financial investment they have made in bringing the authors’ words to the eyeballs of readers, as well as protecting copyrights while not harming the ease of people reading the aforementioned words. It’s not easy, but it cannot be impossible. 

One thing it also cannot be is anything like the approach the music industry took initially, or the one the film industry continues to take. That way leads to complication for the end-​​user and ultimately to failure of the business model. No one benefits there.

Something we have to ignore right from the start is geographic markets. They don’t exist anymore, people. Someone in Australia doesn’t understand about “UK Publishing Rights (with the exclusion of all Commonwealth Countries and/​or Territories),” they just want to read a copy of Bryant & May and the Invisible Code and “take my money, what’s so bloody difficult about that?” 

Additionally, the notion of an eBook release being different than the initial publishing date is simply daft. All markets should get the eBook edition at the same time as the first printed edition is available somewhere. If you need to shift Heaven and Earth to print copies on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as in China and India, in order to match your hardcover’s initial arrival on shelves with the eBooks being released for the Kindle, Sony, Kobo, and Apple’s iBookstore, then do that. Scholastic, Bloomsbury, and Raincoast accomplished it for “Harry Potter,” so obviously it can be done.

If there’s a delay of a few weeks between the eBook coming out and the printed version, so what? It doesn’t seem to harm the music business, does it? People understand that it takes time to ship a box to their door, but they do not understand why it takes six months to get a file into their eReader; mostly because it’s not supposed to, and that’s how Amazon’s Kindle created the eBook market – pretty much from a blank piece of paper – in the first place.

Conclusion and Future-​​Gazing

Atomic Fez Publishing hereby publicly commits to bringing bundling of eBook editions of all of its titles when someone purchases printed copies of them.

Be assured that the entire Atomic Fez Publishing operation is slaving away all the hours of the day in headquarters [image below] to make this work for all people involved both in the creation and consumption of eclectic, genre-​​busting fiction!

As noted above, I haven’t a clue how this is going to happen – especially as there’s a brand-​​spanking-​​new distribution agreement with Midpoint Trade Books in NYC to factor into the practicality of the matter, never mind the distribution through the various high street and on-​​line stores – but it will.

For now, if you’ve bought a printed copy of a book published by Atomic Fez and want an electronic copy, head to THIS PAGE HERE and use the information provided to request one, along with some sort of basic information about where and how you purchased your copy. You’ll shortly get an eMail from me (really from me, yes, there’s no one else working in this one-​​man outfit) giving you a link to a page where you can download a *.ZIP file containing DRM–free ePUB, KMZ/​MOBI, and PDF files for your selected title, which can then be loaded onto your device of choice.

Moving forward, hopefully there’s going to be a simpler way to do this; as well as other people adopting it as well.

The basics of any business is “supply and demand” and you cannot tell the market that what we supply is what you demand, because you’ll hear about it right quick [c.f. “New Coke”].

One of the ways you can influence the demand is by showing the customer what they’re missing, using the aforementioned first taste is free method. “Try it and see how you like it” is always a good thing to boost potential sales, as often times people really don’t know if something works for them without actually giving it a go first. This is a new technology for many, and there’s still some confusion about what eBooks are and are not. Often times it’s easier to not bother explaining and simply shoving people in the direction of experimenting for themselves. Thus, bundling works for the uninitiated as well as for those who already are conversant with eBooks. It’s “all win” here, people!

NOW THEN: What do you think? Does this sort of “2-​​for-​​1″ bundling offer appeal to you based on the way you read now? Even if you don’t read eBooks now, might you see yourself doing so in the future, or even sooner if you were able to start using a “buy one get another really cheap” arrangement as a transitional thing? Do you think it’s a case of unnecessary consumption and people should choose one or the other formats, pay the going rate for that version, and support the publishers’ and authors’ efforts using the “one price, one binding” approach we’ve had throughout the previous 100 years? Or is some sort of middle ground what you think should be done?

Speak your mind in the comments. Gwaan!

Click to learn more about Poland’s Wieliczka Salt Mine [new tab or window]
Atomic Fez headquarters and nothing at all to do with Poland’s Wieliczka Salt Mine. No. No no!!!

Footnotes

  1. Term used to refer to the six largest publishers in the United States: Random House, Penguin (USA), HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan. When their sales are combined, they represent something approaching either 90% of the market or 90% of the New York Times “Best Seller List,” or something equally insane. [ ↑ back ↑ ]
  2. Hush now; surely you know Douglas Adams wasn’t good at math? [ ↑ back ↑ ]
  3. Those of you recognising the phrase would be wise not to admit that. Let’s just move on and never speak of this again, shall we? [ ↑ back ↑ ]

ROUND-UP: Too Much News for One Post!

…but somehow I’ll cram it all in.

[pause for inevitable ‘that’s what she said comment from somewhere in the back of the crowd

So… herewith: a whole bunch of news!

Change of Publishing Date for Sleepless Knights

Due to overwhelming demand, all printed copies destined for stores and libraries in the United States of America has been re-​​scheduled to September 24. Note that orders placed directly with the publisher through this site remain entirely unaffected. The only copies this covers are the 2nd official run of the paperback destined for retail outlets distributed through Midpoint Trade Books.

CLICK to read the interview [new tab or window]Interviews A-Plenty

Read an interview with Mark H. Williams!! He tells you all sorts of things like his preference for coffee v. tea (depends on the time of day), cats v. dogs, and many other exciting things!  Head here: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1477641-an-interview-with-mark-h-williams-author-of-sleepless-knights

Also: listen to Bell Book & Podcast Episode #2, wherein Ian Alexander Martin (the publisher in charge of this so-​​called house) babbles about how editing gets done, the publishing industry and its anarchic developments, what the Big Publishers think about the books you think you own but never actually have (the publishers do, actually),  http://pgbell.wordpress.com/2013/bbp2/ and how he actually resembles a Hollywood Movie Star.

If you’d prefer to hear something from Mark H. Williams about how he writes (which interests many people far more frequently than the publishing nonsence), head to http://pgbell.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/bell-book-podcast-1/ for a shorter, more fun podcast. 

For more Bell Book & Podcast yumminess, subscribe here:

and so on.

Sleepless Knights Launch Party!

Some more information about the event in Cardiff can be found on the author’s blog in the post titled “Launch! Party! Prizes!” Meanwhile, here’s some pretty pictures.

Images of the diorama competition entrants as well as wonderful images of the launch (above)!

As mentioned a few posts ago, Mark held a competition on Twitter using the hashtag #DioramaFriday.

DIORAMA FRIDAY WINNERS!

Draken was hopeful that he'd be in Mark's book but Sir Kay wasn't convinced ... by @Indigo_Blues_
Draken was hopeful that he’d be in Mark’s book but Sir Kay wasn’t convinced …by @Indigo_Blues_
The palisade's guard by Zoe, aka @SaidHanrahan
The palisade’s guard
by Zoe, aka @SaidHanrahan

These photos below are also quite nice.

LAUNCH PARTY FUN!!

Mark H Williams reads from Sleepless Knights at the launch. EXCITED!
Mark H Williams reads from Sleepless Knights at the launch. EXCITED!
PHOTO BY: Laura Cotton ‏@lalscotton
CAKE!!!
CAKE!!!

Other bits about the launch can be found here: http://pgbell.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/sleepless-knights-book-launch-and-podcast-update/

WORDS: Sleepless Knights Author Speaks!

So… you know… there’s this book coming out short-​​ish, eh, and… well, we’ve been talking about it, like…

…and then I wrote:

…but a few days before that, Mark wrote:

…and then someone else wrote:

Just click the thing.
Image of Mark’s original tweet, which was tweeted by Sarah Dollard and then re-​​tweeted by @Indigo_Blues_… click to read the Tumbler post associated with the image, original tweet, and so on.

…and then Mark decided to give some stuff away for #dioramafriday in addition to the Name the Knights contest and wrote:

So, basically, you can read all sorts of things in the top article, then read “Part 1″ of the book for free and enter a contest to win a huge amount of things including a signed, Advance Copy of the book, then you can set-​​up a little diorama and tweet the picture of it and possibly win another signed copy of the ARC.

…or, you could just order yourself a copy of Sleepless Knights here and skip all of that effort. 

It’s up to you, really.

RRP: An Open Letter to Retailers

The following notes were sent by myself to a book retailer who questioned the charging of a price on this site which is somewhat less than the “cover price” or “Recommended Retail Price” as stated on the back of the books and in all official listings of the books’ details.

CLICK to get details
THE HOUSE THAT DEATH BUILT, by John Llewellyn Probert [cover by Stephen Upham]

They are reproduced here in the interests of “transparency” for the benefit of both retailers and readers alike. It is hoped that this clarifies the matter, and that further understanding might be gained by it. The more all of us knows about how the world’s economy works, the better we can work within it for the benefit of us all.

My first reply was as follows, replying to the suggestion that I was charging the retailer the full RRP whilst selling here for less than RRP.

Actually, you’re being charged 40% less than the RRP (or 30% for Limited Editions), so you’re still making money. You’re entirely free to choose whatever price you wish; as is anyone, for that matter. It’s hoped that I’m not right when suggesting the above has a certain whiff of  “collusion” to it. Publishing is already altogether too rife with that just now, and the public deserves far better from everyone in the industry at the best of times, never mind these trying economic times of ours.

Be assured that your order is, in fact, far larger than the number of copies I’ve sold at this slightly discounted price, so it’s unlikely that you will feel a reduction of any sales figure due to my efforts. It’s probable that none of the people who purchase from you are even aware that Atomic Fez has a web site, never mind is offering prices lower than the RRP, and any print or internet advertisement I run does not include the fact, leaving it to the visitor to discover as “an added bonus” and thus not directly competing with your offering in any way more than someone comparing prices might do with Amazon and Waterstone’s .

I am aware of the difficulty of an independent book shop competing with others’ deep discounts, having worked quite some number of years in retail, including about five in a single-​​location book shop.

If the Internet is a shopping mall, yours is a full retail bookstore with the positive aspect of a massive selection as its approach. Atomic Fez’s selection has the vastly limited “only a few titles” approach of a wholesaler, thus making selection only a few things, thus the only advantage is one of a slight discount, presuming someone wants a copy of one of the handful of titles in the first place. Your customer base is vast and eclectic, mine is “folks what know me”. So, you see, I’m still in a position of struggling and limited appeal.

But, speaking of presumption, this publishing nonsense is in fact my only income, so the “other reasons” you allude to are of little relevance to me, yet aren’t entirely clear to me either. This is a business I’m running here (although my bank management might disagree).

Your order and continued customs is valued, as is your position. Please let me know if you have any concerns.

That then got me wondering about things, and thus I tweeted as follows:

Which didn’t elicit any response, but I did a bit of research in order to know that I was actually headed in the right direction and found both the one in the Oxford English Dictionary (Concise) and THIS DEFINITION of “collusion” to be applicable, both with the “overt” and “tacit collusion” uses of the word.

CLICK to embiggen

This notion of collusion – coupled with the widely distributed (widely on Facebook, anyway) image to the left encouraging people to buy local, support the arts, and coming at the same time as people are wanting to not support the National Hockey League’s Board of Directors after screwing the fans through the Players’ Association – got me tweeting this:

The retailer then got back to me in response to my original note, asking the following:

I am sorry but collusion between who and who?  I have spoken to no-​​one about this.  I have no idea if anything else is stocking it.  Or (again) am I missing something?

One might suggest that he’s missing the fact that he spoke to me about the price being charged here on Atomic Fez site, which is precisely the point which had attempted to be made.

So, after saying the news that further orders weren’t going to be placed by them was surprising and disappointing  I took another run at explaining the position which they were placing me in.

The suggestion of “collusion” is a considered one, in that you seemed (and that word is also carefully considered) to be suggesting we both need to charge the same rates, even though we serve entirely differing markets. Additionally, whenever any product is offered for sale in the marketplace for an identical price no matter who the offering business is, then the consumer is ill-​​served as competition is not engaged in. Your tacit suggestion that my rate should be identical to yours, thus equal to the RRP, despite the differing markets and situations, amounts arguably to a mild form of collusion. I cannot tell you what price to charge, nor would I expect to do so; the closest being the recommended retail price. This principle is why the old Penguins and Corgis have the statement about how the RRP isn’t valid in Australia because even suggesting a price to a retailer was frowned on there.I’ve no idea what the feeling in [your area] is about it, nor the local regulations, but in the USA there’s a massive broo-​​ha-​​ha about “price fixing” using the “agency model” in an alleged arrangement between Apple’s iBooks Store and the major publishers. Their purported discussions and operating principles behind that situation sounded to me like just about every single principle which has driven the publishing industry since day one. The one thing which did stick out was the aspect that the publishers and the retail outlet of the iBooks Store were coming to terms regarding the final selling price to the customer, and that’s not on. The retailer sets a price at which the product is offered for sale to the customer, who then has the right to either accept it or offer a new one for the retailer to accept. No one is going to walk into a drug store and start haggling over shampoo, but that’s the theory.

What it comes down to is this: I sell to you at the RRP, which is there for anyone to sell at: Amazon, Chapters, WH Smiths, yourself, or whoever. You are charged 40% (or 30% for Limited Editions) less than that RRP for your wholesale chargeable cost. What you actually charge your customers is entirely up to you, and I’ve no part in that beyond the original RRP. If Amazon or Chapters or [another independent book dealer] decides to deep-​​discount my titles, I can’t stop them, just as when the Amazon retail partners “thebookcommunity_​ca” or “Vanderbilt CA” decide to charge several times the RRP (it’s happened several times, and is likely a money laundering scheme which doesn’t involve a single copy of the book).

My slight discount at the “manufacturing source” is not meant to approach the added value that your carrying of a broad selection of titles and authors which rightly justifies whatsoever price you seem appropriate independent of any wishes I may have.

It’s simple free market economics.

CLICK to get details
THE DESIGNATED COCONUT by John Travis [cover by Sunila Sen-​​Gupta]

It’s entirely probable that the individual hasn’t read anything of my notes beyond the first paragraphs of each of them (which is suspected owing to none of the later points made are even mentioned in passing). This is not something I have any influence over.

Honestly; I don’t expect to become Midas doing this. I don’t even expect to become able to buy a new car each year after throwing away the one from the previous year. I’m simply trying to find ever possible way I can find an advantage both ethically and economically, in order to pay authors a decent royalty and cover the simple cost of production of the books. I also have a need to pay my own bills (heat, light, food) which aren’t a part of the actual price of publishing eclectic, genre-​​busting fiction. So far, the bills for printers and author’s royalties have been always paid, and most of those and further costs have been borne by means other than revenue.

When someone suggests that someone’s slight advantage is something that they themselves cannot condone, then one should be a bit concerned about what sort of influence they feel is right. As it’s certainly not helping me anyway, then it seems even the potential of competition isn’t welcomed, and one wonders if this is the sort of world one wishes to be a part of in the first place.

Atomic Fez continues to support the selling of its books by anyone and at any price they see fit. If books are sold, then they are read; or what’s a Heaven for?

This Week's Fish-Wrap №48: Back Again From the Dead

People initially pooh-​​poohed the electronic book format as being “a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist”. Admittedly, the eBook for the first decade or so basically sucked donkeys, but those days are over. Nearly. Any day now. Trust me.

© Tom Gauld
Cartoon by Tom Gauld for the “Guardian” (Saturday Review letters page)

Okay, they’re not really all that bad, but they could still do with a step-​​up in the break-​​through department. Doing everything exactly as well as a printed book isn’t really enough of a draw to convince the doubters that eBooks are even worth consideration. I’m not sure what ‘the tipping point’ might be – dancing video? free drugs? full sensual experience with 50 Shades of Grey? no idea – but we’re not there yet. There are times that even simply going to the next chapter of the book I’m reading seems a task (I’m looking at you Terry Pratchett YA titles!), but the affordability of hardware and lack of really good colour eInk video rendition seems a bit of a downer. It can’t be the price of the things anymore, as there’s a good number under $100 now, and there’s even one coming for less than €10!

Anyway… where was I…?

Oh yes! eBooks! They’re popular! Really! Look at this:

So the first interesting thing here is that the Kobo is seen as the ‘go-​​to device’ for their eBooks, rating “27% saying they plan to use a Kobo device to buy their next e-​​book followed by Kindle at 19% and the iPad at 14%.” Given the delay on Amazon getting clearance for a Canadian version of AT&T’s ‘WhisperNet’ connection in the USA, it’s not too surprising, but it’s still surprising to me. Possibly heart-​​warming, given how much I’ve been rooting for Kobo since Day One when they were ‘ShortCovers’.  

The second thing here is that the paperback is still holding its own with 57% of sales (hardcovers had 24% of unit sales), which I’ve always seen as the one format that eBooks will supplant for popularity; Mass-​​Market Paperbacks especially (you know, they’re the really crappy ones that last for one or two readings at most and are smaller that most others). 

But wait! There’s more from the mighty offices of K0bo! Big stuff! So big you’ve got four! (4!) links from which to choose! Behold!

The one thing that might get people shifting to eReading – if not for the Madefire application – is the ability to read graphic novels on their devices, especially if they can get hold of content that either does things otherwise impossible (such as the aforementioned Madefire material for iOS devices), and/​or material that hasn’t been available for awhile. I can imagine a complete run of the entire Marvel or DC catalogue would be something incredible (although some of the mid-​​WWII stuff might raise more than an eyebrow or two). 

The expansion of the Kobo catalogue to New Zealand means that the unsuspecting Antipodean readers shall find themselves exposed to the crazy world of Atomic Fez’s genre-​​bustin’ fiction! HUZZAH!!!

Beg pardon. [:: polite cough ::]

Kobo’s acquisition of a ‘digital service company’, as well as its continued geographic expansion, is quite large a development, announced now no doubt in order to be a part of the Frankfurt Book Show on right now. This is the perfect time for anyone to shout about their European Business Developments, what with them being in Europe, obviously. But it’s also a way for the gathered business leaders to take encouragement from each other with new industry ideas, business plans, and general re-​​assessments of goals and methodology.

This is encouraging, as it details the discussion of Big Publishers approaching the format from a business model which isn’t based on the one adopted about a century ago. given the non-​​physical delivery system of the product, as well as a non-​​geographic-​​based market, it’s surprising that it’s only now that the fresh approach is being taken. That said, it’s excellent that it’s being done, never mind the delay involved. Hooray! Perhaps we can start moving forward for the sake of everyone involved?

Please?

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

This Week's Fish-Wrap №47: Is Amazon Run by Coke-Heads?

Let’s try this once more, shall we? Earlier today this appeared, only the text was entirely made-​​up of quotes from roles played by Samuel L. Jackson in various movies, courtesy of the web-​​site SAMUEL L. IPSUM (Mother*cking Placeholder Text, Motherf*cker!), which generates far more interesting text than the classic “Lorem ipsum” material used by most layout people.

So… erm… Basically I created the post, put some text in to hold some space where the actual content would go, put a in image in, then some relevant links at the bottom, and then… walked away and forgot about it. More fool me. :: ahem ::

Amazon [he says, rapidly changing the subject from the previous one of “just how daft is Ian getting in his middle-​​age?” to a more news-​​worthy one] has recently been getting a fair bit of flack from all sides for their decision to become ‘a real publisher, just like Atomic Fez’, although the last part of the phrase isn’t one that’s commonly a point made by anyone. Not only are they to be the original publisher of works, they will be publishing these works in electronic and printed formats, as well as selling the books through a distributor so that the books will be on shelves of bookshops the world over. In theory, anyway.

WWI War Financing Poster (by Haskell Coffin, 1918)
WWI War Financing Poster (by Haskell Coffin, 1918)

The problem with the plan is quite simple: the same businesses that Amazon is in direct competition with are now to be their retail partners. One minute they’re crushing Barnes & Noble, Borders, or everyone’s favourite local independent book shop; the next minute they’re saying ‘look, just before you go completely bankrupt, could you do a big display in the window with our new titles?’, and wondering why they’re getting the stink-​​eye from everyone in the place including the university kids on holiday fill-​​in duty.

If you’re thinking “no no, Jeff Bezos and his crew surely wouldn’t be that insane, would they?” let me assure you they are either filled with so much chutzpah they don’t think they can lose, or they’re really oblivious to anything other than that which is the nano-​​second of existence of “now”.

Or, possibly, they’re on so much cocaine their irises are white as snow. After all, they do seem to be far more focused, energetic, and enthusiastic about everything than just about anyone else in the entire world, short of seven-​​year-​​old boys on a sugar high let loose in a LEGO Warehouse.

The enabler in this little affair is Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s “New Harvest” imprint, which will be exclusively dedicated to the release of Amazon.com’s titles, including upcoming titles by James Franco and Deepak Chopra. Clearly these are not merely Poems About My Cat (A Collection) we’re talking about here, but potential ‘hot titles’ by people the common reader will be interested in, or at least be aware of (which is far more than could be said of about 98% of any books released in a given period of time).

Amazon are the same people who released a smartphone ‘app’ prior to Christmas which permitted the user to scan the barcodes of up to three books in a store, thus providing the user with a guaranteed discount on the price of that book (up to a maximum of $5 per item, I think) as long as that same book was ordered through Amazon instead of buying the ‘over-​​priced’ book in the store they had in their hands at that very second. ALL HAIL duplication of effort! Not only do you choose a book by going to the bookshop and are reminded they still exist, you then guarantee you contribute nothing to its existence by literally going out of your way not to give it your custom! Hurrah! Let us all go to Cloud Cuckoo Land where books are cheap and plentiful, and no one needs to look further afield than Amazon for all ones worldly needs!

Now, given the above, you would think that Amazon would pooh-​​pooh the notion that getting copies of their own publishing house onto shelves in real bricks-​​and-​​mortar shops, wouldn’t you? “Stores?” you might be forgiven to presume they would respond, “do they still exist? Why would you want to go to one of those? Just sit in your chair, move the mouse around a bit, click a few times, and we’ll bring the world to you!” Oddly, this is not what they’re doing. No no.

Through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s distribution network, they are attempting to get their books into the very same shops they recently sent people into with their smartphone apps, possibly in an effort to get every single dime available in the book industry chain. The only thing they haven’t got – in addition to the eBook hardware, eBook software, print-​​on-​​demand via Lightning Source and Create-​​Space, plus now the actual publishing house, and a host of other ventures under their vast umbrella – is actual retail outlets. According to the New York Times, that’s possibly next. If true, perhaps this is a test of how much they can use books to lure people in as a loss-​​leader for their other products like shoes (Amazon now own on-​​line shoe-​​retailer Zappos.com, by the way), BLU-​​RAYs, and iPad accessories. Who knows?

Personally, the thing I find most surprising is the sheer unmitigated gall and blatant effrontery of them expecting to get a piece of the action they’re attempting to reduce to rapidly diminishing returns. It’s a bit like acting as a real estate agent in the area in which you’re also enacting a policy of lebensraum, and you’re actually re-​​selling the land to the people who are already living there. Plus, you still get a commission on the sale, any the tax on the transaction itself, plus future property taxes for maintaining your now possessed territories. Win!

Honestly, what part of this whole thing made someone think “yeah, that’s a great idea; let’s do that!”…? 

The cocaine suggestion doesn’t seem so ludicrous now, does it?

  • MediaBistro.com’s eBookNewser, “Author’s Guild Argues That Amazon’s Dominance Comes From Antitrust Laws”; Wednesday, February 1st ~ READ THIS POST
  • MobyLives, which is the blog of Melville House, “Amazon finds a beard to sell books from its publishing unit”; January 25thREAD THIS POST
  • Publishers Weekly, “Books-​​A-​​Million Won’t Carry Amazon Titles”; Friday, February 3rd ~ READ THIS POST
  • Globe & Mail, “Indigo joins growing boycott of books published by Amazon.com”; Friday, February 3rd (and correction on the following Monday) ~READ THIS POST
  • Publishers Weekly, “End of the Line for Dorchester?”; Friday, February 3rd ~ READ THIS POST
  • The New York Times, ‘Bits’, “Amazon Has Tried Everything to Make Shopping Easier. Except This.”; Friday, February 3rd ~ READ THIS ARTICLE
  • Publishers Weekly, ‘PW Tip Sheet’, “This Has All Happened Before”; Friday, February 3rd ~ READ THIS POST

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

This Week's Fish-Wrap №46: iThoughts About iTextbooks This iWeek

It seems fairly often that Steve Jobs Apple brings out something that changes the face of the world – or at least what its face is pointed at – inexorably. They’re infrequently the first to do whatever it is that now has a lower-​​case letter “i” slapped on the front of the name, but they are typically the first ones to get it done the right way. For example: the tablet is finally done right with the iPad, after Microsoft tried to get manufacturers to figure out how to do it for most of the ’90s and ‘the noughties’; personal music players worked fine as cassette machines like the Walkman™, but it took the iPod to get the digital file format taking off; and the smartphone was clunky, awkward, and difficult to use for the acquisition of basic information until the introduction of the iPhone.

Beckman RIIC advert (“New Scientist and Science Journal”, Apr 1st 1971)
Beckman RIIC advert (“New Scientist and Science Journal”, Apr 1st 1971)

Thus, the iBook 2 (not to be confused with the PowerBook, which is an old Apple laptop model) now presents textbooks in a far better, cheaper, and easier distribution model. HOORAY! say I. This is one of the best applications of the eBook format, as it drops the cost of the most expensive part of the production cycle for text-​​books: printing. Most text books have, at the very least, graphs and charts as illustrations. Anything used for science and artistic pursuits have colour illustrations or photographs required to properly explain matters of any complexity, be they medical matters of the body, or painted representations of the body. This need for acceptable colour reproduction – while both less expensive and less complicated than even two decades ago – still requires a hefty increase in costs than if there were nary a graphic included. The fact that a text book typically requires up-​​dating two years after its release only adds to the necessity of developing a way to reduce costs as much as is possible. Thankfully, the eBook is the answer.

No doubt the tales I could tell of the cost of my Geography text books in the mid-​​1980s would be enthusiastically laughed at by today’s students, and I don’t wish to consider what the cost of them are today.  But,  given the charges for typical education at any level are increasingly beggaring those who administer the provision of learning today, at any level, the method of providing texts at a fraction of the cost to the student is welcome indeed.

This is not without some valid considerations, however. Is the so-​​called “walled garden of Apple” too limiting for the freedom-​​loving world of academia? Will university and college lecturers and Deans of study find they are no longer able to regulate themselves or exercise their creativity within the technological constraints placed upon them by DRM and geographic distribution agreements? Will the publishers find increased revenue from their titles, rather than what trickles of cash they get from the photocopying licenses for ‘course packs’ used in a majority of higher learning institutions?

Do publishers even have the balls to make the sea-​​change of their entire business-​​model to this new platform? Are they just in time to make it, or are they merely trying to sort out how to rearrange the deck chairs on a rapidly sinking ship? Do we even care?

Lastly, what of the printed book – whether a textbook or simply a novel – being released with an electronic copy as a bonus? When buying a DVD or Blu-​​Ray disc, one often gets a “Free Digital Copy” for use on one’s smartphone or tablet, so why not extend this to books also?

Would Atomic Fez readers wish to receive an eBook copy of the book they just purchased in paper format? I’ve often seen it as an either/​or situation, mostly because I’ve seen eBooks as mostly a new reader market. Perhaps I’m wrong, though, and you want the option of having increased access to the book, as this means you can start reading on your iPhone the novel you left at home this morning. Let me know! Atomic Fez is here to help you enjoy reading more, as well as helping you enjoy more reading!

  • “Apple Launches K-​​12 iPad Textbooks, New ‘iTunes U’ & Self-​​Publishing Platform”, PaidContent.org | CLICK HERE
  • “Pearson Made $3 Billion From Digital Content Last Year”, PaidContent.org | CLICK HERE
  • “Apple Move Will Spark Flurry off New Companies, Content in Education Market”, PaidContent.org | CLICK HERE
  • “New Stats: 2011 Libraries’ Digital Check-​​Outs Up 133% Over 2010″, PaidContent.org | CLICK HERE
  • “Do we want textbooks to live in Apple’s walled garden?”, GigaOM | CLICK HERE
  • Confessions of a Publisher: “We’re in Amazon’s Sights and They’re Going to Kill Us”, PandoDaily.com | CLICK HERE
  • ECW Press Experiments with Free eBbooks for Print Customers”, Publishers Weekly | CLICK HERE

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

This Week's Fish-Wrap №45: This Daft Publishing Life (A Primer)

Early last week, the Canadian Distributor of Atomic Fez titles – Author’s Choice – received an order from Chapters /​ Indigo /​ Coles for a substantial number of copies of Terribilis and Dirk Danger Loves Life. Huzzah! Exposure in shops at last!

Metrotown location of Chapters/Indigo
Metrotown location of Chapters/​Indigo

Well, actually, possibly not; plus it might not be the best time to break out the champagne and caviar and dispense with the beer and hot dog budget either. You see, this isn’t anything quite like a “guaranteed river of money” situation. In years past I’ve sometimes been surprised at the seniority and years of experience which authors and readers alike might possess, yet they’ve not much idea of the business specifics of the retail selling of books. So as to further the understanding of all, here’s how things come top play in this daft publishing life thing. Besides, it’s something that I have to remind myself of in order to keep in mind how insane this whole notion is to begin with.

Also, please note that all Atomic Fez books have been in the Chapters/Indigo/Cole’s catalogue since the agreement with Author’s Choice about a year ago (click here to see the titles). Due to the same agreement, you can also locate Atomic Fez books in the Amazon.ca (click here to see the titles) and Amazon.com catalogues (click here to see the titles). So, this isn’t a change, except for the actual quantity of copies ordered.

Here’s how these things work: Chapters calls the distributor in Ontario with orders for books they’d like in the warehouse, and then either the distributor tells me to ship them a big shed-​​load of boxes like last week, or – more frequently – the distributor parcels-​​up the four copies of some title and those get sent to Chapters’ warehouse. Typically Author’s Choice has no more than one box of anyone’s book in stock, as they are only a small distributor, and not a warehousing or storage firm. Once the books head to the warehouse of Chapters/Indigo/Cole’s for their inventory, anything can happen and I’ll not know a thing about it. Yes, copies could be sent to some of the 247 Indigo, Chapters and Cole’s stores across Canada, or they could merely hang-​​on to them in the warehouse to supply their on-​​line orders through Chapters.Indigo.com (the same as I do through this site’s ordering), or they could do a little of both. Again, I have no idea what they’re doing, and I won’t ever know until either someone stumbles across copies on a shelf and tells someone, or I stumble across an inventory entry on their web-​​site (and that would take a concerted effort of experimentation with searching through the item’s status using major population centres). So, basically, if someone sees some copies, they really ought to take a picture of them, then send me a copy.

This is the first time – as far as I know – that a shop has ordered copies ‘on spec’ of an Atomic Fez title. I’ve sent occasional copies to wholesalers and shops both in the UK and in North America, but as they’ve been very small amounts, they’ve probably been ordered by customers. I’ve never, never seen any book I’ve published on a store shelf, either in person or even in a photo, with both outfits I’ve worked with. So this is an excellent thing.

WH Smith Train Station shop (c. 1933)
WH Smith Train Station shop (c. 1933)

But.

Here’s where things get stupid with this publishing industry thing.

All 268 books that were just sent to Ontario could very well be returned to me come April. Because all Atomic Fez books are “returnable” by retailers (as most publishers do), shops are more interested in carrying them, because their risk having them is eliminated. Likewise, their costs are further reduced by the fact that I pay for the shipping there and back, plus they get charged 40% or so less than the RRP so that they can sell at a profit (which is a business-​​like idea, obviously). Likewise, shops pay when they’ve actually sold the books; although not by design, but due to the delay in paying happening to fall outside the point at which they’ve returned the un-​​sold ones.

now keep in mind that I’ve not only paid for those books to be printed months ago, plus get them shipped from the printers to the house here, I’ve also just paid about $300 to ship a bunch of them to Ontario to the distributor. the distributor will now get those boxes to Chapters/Indigo’s Distribution Centre, at a cost which will be deducted from any sales earnings. Once the books are decided to be “too old” and the remaining amount is sent back, once again the cost of transport is borne by the Distributor and Publisher. Yes, I get to pay for shipping in both directions, and that’s an industry standard arrangement for a large chain. You should hear the sorts of things that Amazon.com fully expect to be done at a minimum for them by the bog houses like Random House, Simon & Shuster, and so on. It’s a wonder there’s not sacrificing of pets and virgins involved sometimes, given the lengths of demands.

It used to be that books could prove themselves on the shelvesas being “something that sells” through a three-​​month period or longer, which would permit reviews as well as ‘word-​​of-​​mouth’ to drive sales, plus the staff would get to know the book at least by reputation. Early this year Chapters/​Indigo changed their period to only 46 days, which doesn’t even give books a chance to actually gather dust. Honestly, the notion that this is enough time for someone to read a review, decide they want a copy for their birthday/​Christmas, tell a relative, the relative then gets time to go to the store, then remembers the name of the book… it can easily be out of stock in the store. This is another reason why the on-​​line reviews excellent people do works wonders, as the text on various web-​​sites – Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and many of the new Canadian public library sites – acts as further advertising and proof that ‘someone actually read this book’, thus encouraging others to try them out.

Bottomless pit of books
Bottomless pit of books

The reason Chapters/​Indigo changed the length of the shelf-​​life for titles, in my opinion anyway, was due to reduced floor space for books when they switched to being a Home Design Shop as well as a book store. Thus, inventory they haven’t invested money in building themselves (as all the rugs, clocks, pillows, candles, etc. are designed and created by Indigo) needs to work harder to keep their space, or ‘earn their space’, if you will.

And therein lies the under-​​pinning problem of the whole thing that really needs a re-​​think in not just publishing, but just about any manufacturing industry. Publishers pay authors, artists, printers, distributors, shippers, eBook formatting people, and everyone else in advance of even taking a single order, never mind making a sale. The best comparison here is the lottery: you buy some quantity of tickets and hope that one will return more than the amount you spent, but there is no guarantee of any return. I publish books with the hope they will sell, but I front the cost of printing as many copies as I can spend money to get, and then do what I can to ensure people will part with their cash so that I can then publish some new titles, with exactly the same principle guiding the manifestation. That’s fine, really, and it’s the same as if you were paying the ante for a poker game, and that is another good comparison to this. 

But, when the big retail stores get involved, it’s even more serious an ante, as the combination of shipping charges and wholesale discounts on large orders (which may not ever sell a single copy) mean that I not only pay for the production of the books that never sell, I get to pay for moving them all over the place because they didn’t sell, thus losing even more money than just the cost of manufacturing. Remember, once a massive order is placed by Bob’s Big Book Box, say 1,000 copies (which is insane compared to my situation), then those thousand are tied-​​up in the warehouse of the store, leaving me with whatever I got printed over and above the thousand I just sent to Bob’s. So, do I run another 250 or 500 copies of the books, and gamble the thousand at Bob’s won’t all return to me in a few months’ time so I then have 1,500 books filling the basement, or do I run the risk that a bunch of people will order copies from me direct and I’ll not have any more left because I didn’t order a new run of copies? Besides, those thousand copies  Bob’s won’t pay me for any sooner than about four months from the day they take delivery, and even if they did pay me for the whole lot immediately, if they all get returned un-​​sold, then I have to return those funds as they were for “books sold” which didn’t happen in the end. See?

Books heading for the trimmer at MPG Biddles
Books heading for the trimmer at MPG Biddles

The entire thing is a daft notion. Lord knows why anyone would want to even try this, never mind keep at it, which is obviously why I need to get a day-​​job. The ‘cost of doing business’ is always something that makes or breaks a business, but it really feels like the book trade has it staked against itself even more than others do.

This is another reason that the entire supply-​​chain of books needs a complete re-​​think, as well as who knows how many other manufacturing cycles for goods. As far as I’m concerned, the eBook is perfect to replace the obscenely wasteful production standards of the Mass-​​Market Paperback, for which many publishers pre-​​determine the amount of copies in a run which will be pulped at numbers typically around 33% and 45%. Yes, they actually budget throwing away nearly half the run, knowing that they’ll be damaged on shelves, and then not be bought, or they’ll get dinged in transport to and from various distribution centres and warehouses. the additional reason is that the price for running ten-​​thousand copies of a title can actually sometimes be less than printing 7,500 copies (or at least it’s often a good third or more per unit to run the larger figure), thus making the throwing away of part of the run actually cheaper than printing less of them in the first place.

There’s so much in this industry which works on the basis of the economics of supply and demand of the late-​​1800s, as well as the levels of available resources of that period, it’s a wonder that books are even still available in the same form as that time.

But, we continue. Onwards!

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

This Week's Fish Wrap (№44): Free Fiction for Folks!

Not so much of an ‘up-​​date’ as a “here’s something you’ll like” sort of post this week.

Lobby of Atomic Fez HQ (or JFK’s Terminal 6, it’s tough to tell the difference sometimes)
Lobby of Atomic Fez HQ (or JFK’s Terminal 6, it’s tough to tell the difference sometimes)

Carol Weekes, the author of Terribilis, has posted a couple of short stories on her blog. This gives you the chance to read some of her other work either after you’ve read her novel, or as an “enticer” for it.

The two tales are:

  • Neurosis”, which first appeared in 69 FLAVOURS OF PARANOIA, Issue #4; and
  • Snowfall”, which first appeared in THE EDGE, Issue #7, edited by Greg Gifune

Also worth noting is that her novel is available on Kobo at the sale price of $499 as part of their “Great Reads for $4.99 or Less” category. HEAD HERE to locate that on their site.

ONE FINAL NOTE ABOUT 'THAT HOLIDAY'

Deadlines for ordering of printed books from the North American Shipping Depot in time for the 25th of December are as follows:

  • INSIDE CANADA: December 10th
  • TO THE USA: December 6th
  • UK & OTHERS: November 29th (although much of this last category is covered from the UK Centre; those dates to come soon)

Thank you all for your continued support and interest.

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.