What Big Internet Retailers?

Oh good lord.

So I was glad to see that Direct Marketing (selling ebooks from publisher to reader) was planned for the now-abandoned Quartet Press’ businesses model, and, fine, they couldn’t quite make a go of it, for reasons that I’ve elected not to comment on, at least until Harlequin snaps her up.

Now, I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, with my October travel schedule.

And then I read this nonsense:

Cutting costs and cutting waste, which ebook-first publishing does, would certainly seem like a path to financial viability. But it takes revenue to pay the bills. If you don’t go out and reach customers where they are — at the big Internet retailers — you need to be selling ebooks to a very large community for sales to be substantial enough to run a business. And if you do use those retailers, they (quite reasonably) extract their share of revenue for delivering access to the customers.

And clearly there’s a new myth I gotta strike down.

What “Big Internet Retailer(s)” are you talking about?  There’s one big Internet retailer.  It’s freaking huge.  Its device has a wireless connection; its CEO has his own rocketship.  Barnes & Noble, the brick and mortar powerhouse, is trying to compete.  We’ll see, they certainly haven’t done it yet.  Apple does sell ebooks, but does not care, and just did a 20-minute video about how their Ipod Touch is a great gaming device.  That’s it for retailers.  Everyone else is a storefront, and no rational publisher should give a damn.

Part of the problem’s competition: anyone can be an ebook “retailer.”  You’d have to sign up with LSI, Overdrive if you could stomach it, Mobipocket if they’d let you. Then contract a bunch of workers, set up the back-end to work with a couple of payment options, do a bit of black-hat SEO, $10k out-of-pocket, $25k for something that might actually work, a little more with bonuses and what-not.  There are even turnkey systems available.

In this model, LSI/Overdrive/Adobe provides the back-end and DRM and content, you provide the customers, the authors and publishers give up huge chunks of each sale, it’s a quick and easy way to score a fast buck. However, there are other, quicker ways to make money if you’re up for online chicanery, and none of the above Ebook storefronts made anything like what sellers of public-domain content in the Kindle store did for a year there.

Here’s why publishers shouldn’t give a rat’s ass about the ebook storefronts: they’re complete failures by any rational measure, and this notion that they’re somehow required for success, like the notion of a demand for a universal consumer format that’ll keep these guys in business, is utter nonsense.

Mr. Shatzkin argues that one must “seek out” the extraordinary opportunities at the third-parties to make a go of it.  Let’s say you’re a tiny micropress.  Infinitesimal, posting to political sites or Mobileread or Dear Author or whatever with a link to your own books for sale in the sig.  You twitter.  You’re maybe doing 2-3 copies sold of each book in your catalog a month that way.  Congratulations, your per-title sales kick the holy crap out of any ebook storefront.

Let’s do a comparison with BooksonBoard–no, screw that, BooksonBoard is apparently blocking me.  Darn, how will I pay the mortgage now?  So, let’s go with Fictionwise.

Fictionwise, like Sony et al, has around 100k books in its catalog, via Ereader, direct unecrypted, LSI, etc.  By their own statements, prior to the acquisition, Fictionwise was selling around 90k ebooks a month.  They were not, in fact, turning over their inventory, even one time.  Nobody else comes close to Fictionwise, ergo nobody else is selling a single copy of each title in the system, probably not even half the books in the system (Twilight moves a couple above its quota).

You don’t think you can sell more than a single copy of your book on your own each month?   Without giving up 40-50-60%+ of each sale?  Just with paypal?

Hmm?  Just maybe?

Now, there’s an exception to the above criteria: Amazon, which is, after all, freaking Amazon.  W.A.G. estimates put Amazon’s ebook sales through the Kindle store at around 3 million a month.  So, they turn their inventory over 10 times.  Maybe more.  Maybe a lot more.  Ten copies of each book, average, is sort of a lot.  No publisher can go forward without Amazon.  Can’t happen.  Even my anarchist friends know this.

The best way to cope with the new Seattle behemoth is to sell direct.  In my experience, making it no-frills works better, and I’ve lasted long enough to start commissioning titles and pay advances too, but I sell to drunk people.

Second model, particularly for genre publishers, is to band together, ala superfriends, in a co-op-type venture.  All-Romance is a good example, done well, and a better deal for publishers than BoB/Cyberread/EbooksAboutEverything/DPP/BN/whatevs/.  Expect to see more of these, including one from my anarchist friends*.

The “retailers,” as completely unnecessary third-parties in a medium that flattens, know the writing’s on the wall.  It sucks to add no value.  It really sucks when someone else does.  That’s why they’ve been pushing so desperately for a “Universal Consumer Format” that makes it harder for upstarts to sell direct, and hopefully can throw enough BS out there to lock in academic markets via regulatory capture, leading to a world where no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, and the name of the beast shall be “Industry Standard,” and “it’s just Adobe DRM instead of Kindle DRM” shall be in the fine print.

Thankfully, customers (and publishers), are smarter than the hype, so let’s nip this “ebook retailers” crap in the bud, and instead try to seek rent off “A Need for Mobile.”  Good solutions to that particular problem won’t be around for six months to a year yet, so maybe somebody can con the suckers into attending a few trade shows on it…

*Disclaimer: As the owner of a key asset for a Hard-Boiled Co-op, I’ve talked about it, off and on, with various personages. Trouble is, pulp ebooks don’t sell, and the conventions aren’t exactly a party, and, it’s a small niche, but, something could always happen there… depending on how things shake out… if I’m bored.

/Author’s wrong about POD too, but never mind…

About dmoynihan

Me here.
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  • bowerbird

    david said:
    > It sucks to add no value.
    > It really sucks when
    > someone else does.

    sheer poetry, david…


  • bowerbird

    > until Harlequin snaps her up.

    ok, david, it’s done. now dish…


  • http://www.munseys.com dmoynihan


    I thought that would only take a day. It did, but three months to announce it.

    Take away Don Linn, the rest of “Quartet” was just people like Kirk Biglione and Krozier-whatever (Oxford-Something Consulting?). They were going to be open and what not, social-media relevant, but none of the garbage they spewed out had anything to do with the actual business of selling books. First challenge they hit (amazon not accepting them as “Publisher Partners”), they faded. Then they all waited a week, and suddenly everybody’s an “expert” again, and you can cough up $1,500 or whatever to hear them explain How Things Will Be at various events.

    The trio never even got to issues affecting “new” publishing, like out-of-control shipping costs, and credit card fees so whacked even my local 7-11s (plural) were asking folks to sign petitions.

    Don Linn’s second venture (OR Books) will at least face some of these problems. Direct sales models of ebooks are good… direct sales of printed books will kick you in the nads, and really the only thing you can do about shipping costs is bitch and buy the Bakken on dips… or else send people to Amazon. The whole Quartet group, “couldn’t tell for sure” whether they’d be able to sell any ebooks direct or not. I mean, if you’re not contractually required to use DRM, but don’t plan on selling ebooks direct and keeping most of the proceeds, why bother?

    /Admittedly, Amazon’s Kindle sales grew around 500% this year, Olympia’s didn’t, and much of the growth in net I did see was the result of (clandestine) discounting and general ass-busting, but the International Kindle, and things like Kindle-for-PC, mean that a significant portion of future Kindle sales will come from markets other than Amazon… even Amazon accepts this. And to not plan for direct sales… is ludicrous.

    //Ever get bored, read up on what Dear Author folks have to say about Ravenous Romance, another “groundbreaking” publishing venture that had all the right buzzwords but otherwise didn’t click with readers. Again, though most of my market’s male, I do follow these people on occasion. It’s just good to know.

  • bowerbird

    > they faded. Then they all waited a week,
    > and suddenly everybody’s an “expert” again,
    > and you can cough up $1,500 or whatever to hear
    > them explain How Things Will Be at various events.

    ain’t it the truth…

    and there seems to be no shortage of idiots who will
    pay through the nose to hear these so-called “experts”.

    and my goodness, the number of conferences out there?
    no wonder the publishers have such high overhead,
    sending people out to attend all these useless confabs.

    the good news is that, as twitter’s numbers level off,
    the echo-chamber that creates this “personal branding”
    will run out of new blood for its pyramid scheme and
    people will start using some common sense instead…