Thursday, September 02, 2010

He wrote the book on e-books

(At right, a page from the world's largest book. No word whether the book is available for download.)

Apropos of recent discussion about e-books and short crime fiction comes this interview with Jay Hartman of Untreed Reads, courtesy of an interested reader.

As you might guess from its name, the company publishes e-books. To this publishing outsider, it seemed that Hartman had much of interest to say. Particularly salutary is the reminder that "market forces" is a deceptively benign term. A market winds up the way it does because of specific actions that people take, or do not take when they could or should have.

Among the highlights:
"Untreed Reads didn't initially set out to have such a large focus on short form, but it just happened and the response has been HUGE.

"The overseas markets are especially hungry for shorts."
and
"Every retailer out there claiming to offer 70% royalties has some catch: the title has to be purchased in the US, the title has to be priced at $2.99 or more, there's a fee for transmitting the story, there's a fee for processing the credit cards ... SOMETHING. And in those cases the author SHOULD be getting the 70%, because the retailers aren't doing any publicity, promotion, marketing or anything else to help them get the word out. They're not designing covers, they're not formatting the title."
and
"Do you know that before Amazon created DTP the average price of an ebook over a ten year span was $5.99 and nobody had any problem paying for it? Then, places like Amazon and Lulu made it possible for anyone to publish their own work. What happened was a huge influx of material into the market filled with poor writing, bad grammar, typos, bad layouts and all sorts of other things that set the ebook industry back years.

"People weren't willing to trust they were going to get good content because they kept picking up titles that were poorly written and filled with flaws. Then, along came $9.99 pricing which only made things worse. Authors, fearing a backlash to both the $9.99 pricing and the badly written stuff that was hurting the industry, panicked and started setting their prices ridiculously low in an attempt to woo back a jaded audience. The result? The market that it is now. The market still has poorly written material that anyone can throw up there, but it also has some of the BEST material to come along in a long time. After all this, it's not the PUBLISHERS who caused anything over $2.99 to be considered expensive, it's the AUTHORS."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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9 Comments:

Anonymous adrian said...

Yeah those greedy authors taking all the cash while publishers live in penury and have to make do with low floor corner offices on Sixth Avenue.

September 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I think his point is that authors let themselves be bought too cheaply in the e-book market. He wants authors to get more.

September 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I should add that my overriding impression of the pubishing business, coming at it from an outsider's point of view, is one that seems widespread in America: a shift of the burden from capital to labor, authors expected to promote their own books and to pay for editing that pubishers once would have paid for.

September 02, 2010  
Anonymous Fred Zackel said...

Peter, I agree with you completely. I also agree with Jay Hartman. However I must add that the Juggernaut (i.e., market forces) rolls over everybody. The only way to win is to quit.

September 02, 2010  
Anonymous adrian said...

Peter

You make a good point. Its even worse in academic publishing. I hobnob with a few of my wife's friends and its now the norm in academia that authors have to pay for their own indexing, publicity and sometimes for the initial print run. Not much difference between that and a vanity press. Although I suppose if you come out with Standford UP you'll get reviews and be taken somewhat seriously.

September 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I suppose market forces are to our age like Jehovah and Leviathan rolled into one were for previous ages. Still, I like Hartman's implication that authors could have manipulated those forces differently. It's always encouraging to think that the current state of affairs is not inevitable.

Of course, I also recognize that, as a publisher of e-books, Hartman has something to gain by arguing that he can offer authors a better deal.

You don't now how hard I fought the temptation to title this post "Overseas markets are especially hungry for shorts."

September 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, as always, it's the people who do the work who suffer, the quality of the product that plunges, the bosses who make money, and their publicists, paid and otherwise, who talk about change.

I'd love to see some author of groundbreaking, attention-getting research go public with the news that some academic press would not publish his work unless he paid all those upfront expenses. Of course, that will never happen unless that academic goes on to enjoy massive popular success.

September 03, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Writing is a commodity, Peter, i.e. it gets paid for by the pound. That's why 200 page crime novels come in at 400 pages these days. The extra 200 pages of filler are there to convince the saps that they're getting good value for money.

Mark Twain knew that. His books were often sold door to door and he knew that decisions to buy were based on quantity rather than quality so, particularly in his travel books, he put in hundreds of pages of filler, much of it plagarised, to give his books a pleasing, saleable thickness.

There was a period in the fifties and sixties where this fact of life didn't seem to hold true but, unfortunately, it didn't last long.

The article by Jay Hartman that you link to just doesn't make sense. Writers are not much different from actors. It's a highly competitive business and to be successful you have to be noticed and to be noticed you often have to give your services away for little or nothing.

Clint Eastwood became a star because Sergio Leone cast him in the 'Man With No Name' trilogy. But Leone knew Eastwood only because Eastwoood had done some small-scale TV work as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide. If Eastwood had turned down that poor quality TV work, he'd likely still be waiting today for stardom.

In a world where there are a million writers, your ability to get noticed is more important than your ability to write.

September 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, my original post about e-books suggests that the medium could be a way of getting the saps to start thinking small. A friend of mine who is a lot more up on pop music than I am suggested that, just as the LP record encouraged albums as the main artistic unit in popular rather than the individual song, the recent electronic distribution of music put the focus on the song again. As I suggested in my first post about e-books, method of distribution could influence form in books as well by encouraging short stories and novellas. (And I believe that Dickens, too, was another writer-by-the-word.)

Some of what Hartman says does make sense, with the understanding that he is not a neutral observer. You suggest Eastwood’s small-scale TV work as Rowdy Yates got him noticed. True, perhaps, but I bet he didn’t have to pay the cost of promoting or editing the show.

September 03, 2010  

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