The business of shipping little white bricks.
Back around 2000 I discovered the Palm Pilot. By 2004 I had a Dell PDA. On both I had downloaded and read books from friends and books that were free from some author sites. I’d even read books from the very few authors that were selling their ebooks. I was hooked on reading on an electronic device far before it was something easy to do and as popular as it is today.
One of the people I read on those devices was Mike Stackpole. For a long time I read his series “The Secrets” where he discussed a lot of things. One of his many topics was fighting with his publisher to get his rights back to his books. He did this so he could publish them electronically himself. The publisher (at the time) didn’t want the hassle of a noisy author and reverted his rights.
Mike had the foresight and the tenacity to get the rights back to his books in a time when publishers didn’t see any profitability in the ebook market.
As Mike put it, big publishers weren’t in the business of selling stories. They were in the business of shipping little white bricks.
And that’s what they still do to this day. They don’t sell a good story. They sell mass-manufactured little white bricks, and make a good amount of profit from selling ebooks, but that’s not their main focus and they still don’t understand it.
Many times reading author blogs, I’d see an author complain about the fact that they’d written a 190,000 word book, and the publisher was making them cut it down to 100,000 words. They’d have to edit, and cut out subplots, and trim their story down. They’d eventually say “It’s a much better book for the cuts.” Well, why did the publisher want they to cut the book down in the first place?
They’ve already sold that story to distribution houses. They need X number of books to fit into a box. If they story is bigger than 100,000 words, they would need ship more boxes and that costs money. So they need a shorter book so they can fit more books into a box.
The edits have nothing to do with improving a story and everything to do with shipping the most books per box. It’s all about the bottom line and nothing to do with selling the best story they can. The publishing industry (specifically the big 5) know exactly how many words a book needs to be to fit a perfect number into a case so they can ship the most books.
Now I know what you’re going to say, look at all the books that are bigger by authors like G.R.R. Martin, Patterson, Sanderson, etc. You need to understand that those are established authors. Their books can be any size they like because they know those books will sell and make a good amount of money. Probably never enough to cover the advance the author got, but they’ll make a good amount of money.
So where do they save the money those big authors are getting? You guessed it, saving in the shipping costs of authors that don’t sell at those levels. Trimming those books down so they’re small enough to pack more little white bricks into boxes.
What does all this have to do with ebooks? More than you might think.
Again, Mike Stackpole had foresight and pointed out many of the things I’ll be repeating here. From talking to him at conventions, to reading The Secrets, to listening to him on podcasts, he saw all this happening years before anyone else. Many of the things he’d predicted have happened and now others are predicting.
He saw ebooks becoming a big thing. This is why he got the rights back to his books. Publishers still didn’t see this happening and even around 2007, didn’t care. Certain noisy authors got their rights back easily just be complaining and sending letters to their publishers. The publishers didn’t care about ebooks because they were busy shipping little shite bricks.
Then Amazon came out with the kindle. Suddenly buying ebooks was easy. It was quick. People wanted to read on their computers, their hand-held devices, they bought kindle ereaders (which the first generation of ereaders really sucked). The big publishers still didn’t care about ebooks. They made half-hearted attempts to get books out there and if you were an early adopter, you know how bad early ebooks from big publishers were. Why? They weren’t in the business of producing electronic editions. They were in the business of shipping little white bricks.
Readers have NEVER come first with big publishers. With smaller presses, yes. I love me some smaller presses. Big publishers? They’re all the same now. They all produce the same books with the same luke-warm plots. You want a good book? Pick up something by a small press or an Indie. They look at readers first and will take a chance on a daring story.
So big publishers had the opportunity to get onboard with ebooks early. Very early. They warning signs were there. A few authors demanded their rights back, Amazon came out with an ereader, but still they did nothing to stop the march of technology. They could have sold direct from their websites. They could have gotten together and made their own ereader. They could have done anything. Instead, they put their heads down, put their fingers in their ears, and sang “la la la this isn’t happening.” They allowed Amazon to become a monster with the largest, world-wide distribution of ebooks. Why? They didn’t want to deal with selling ebooks. They were focused on getting their little white bricks to bookstores. Amazon wants to deal with ebooks? Let them.
And that is why we have the issue we have today. Hachette had dug their heels in against what Amazon is doing. Yet if you go back six, seven, eight years ago, Hachette and the other big publishers missed the boat. They not only missed it, it’d sailed years before they realized they needed to be on it. They continued (and some would argue still continue) to focus on shipping little white bricks to book stores. They try to convince gullible authors (and some of them very smart people) that they’re not making any money off of ebooks and that it’s actually more expensive to produce an ebook than it is to produce a physical book.
Think about that for one second. It’s more expensive to take an author’s digitally produced book and upload it to Amazon than it is to typeset, print, package, warehouse, distribute, taken in returns than it is to upload a file? Big publishers think their authors are really stupid.
Authors that are buying into this myth deserve what they get. I’m sorry. I said in a post earlier this week, I feel bad for authors stuck in this, but being that you don’t own your books, I have a hard time thinking you’re not getting what you deserve. There are a LOT of authors and a lot of information out there. Go do some reading. Ask for help. I’m confident that if you’re a popular author with a big press and you ask for help getting your books out on your own, you’ll get that help. You’ll get pointed to resources for doing it on your own. You can still “just write” and pay for services to get a book published. You can read and learn how to get your books into bookstores on your own.
I know it’s scary. Here’s where I’m coming from. I know some hybrid authors. I know authors with books that come from multiple publishers. Guess what, I couldn’t tell you which books came from where and I honestly don’t care. I never have. I couldn’t tell you which publisher produced which Chuck Wendig book, I buy Chuck Wendig books. I don’t know who published Mike Stackpole’s books, I buy Mike Stackpole books. I have no idea who published Stephen King’s books through the years, I buy Stephen King books. It has nothing NOTHING to do with the publisher and everything to do with the author.
I know I’m not alone. There are a lot of people like me that, when looking for a book, look for an author. Let that sink in. If you’re an author with a big publisher, think about what I just said. I buy an author’s book because of the author. Not because of the publisher.
Now I need to go make some words happen.
Until next Time!