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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is 192

An anonymous reader writes: Amazon has been struggling for price control of the book and ebook markets for years, battling publicly and privately with publishers while making a lot of authors nervous. With yesterday's announcement of "Kindle Unlimited," a Netflix-like ebook subscription service, Amazon is reaching their endgame in disrupting the book-selling business. But there are other companies doing the same thing, and an article at TechCrunch makes the case that it's the general market, rather than any company in particular, that's making it harder for authors to earn a living. "Driving the prices lower isn't likely to expand the market of readers, since book prices don't seem to be the deciding factor on whether someone reads a book (time is). But those lower prices directly shrink the incomes of authors, who lack any other means of translating their sales into additional revenue. That's why I don't think the big revolution for writers and other content producers will come from Amazon, but rather from startups like Patreon, which allow producers to build audiences directly and develop their own direct subscription model with their most fervent fans."
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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

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  • by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Saturday July 19, 2014 @03:44PM (#47490161) Journal

    the whole "print is dead" meme is a myth

    people want relevant, accurate news more than ever

    people want entertainment that is not formulaic & trite more than ever

    the ***ONY*** reasons authors, musicians, journalists and other "content creators" are suffering is because of:

    ***bad business management of the companies they work for***

    these unscrupulous business managers are trained to understand "business" and "profit" as ONLY SHORT TERM METRICS that are abstracted into more "numbers" that they have to "hit"

    it's based on the **incorrect** concept that people don't care if their journalism, art, music is quality or not...they cynically assume that people will watch whatever is on TV, read whatver books are put in front of them, and listen to trite, predictable music indefinitely


    people want variety, they notice repetition...

    the only reason is that we, as consumers, have been conditioned by bullshit marketing to have ***REDUCED EXPECTATIONS OF VALUE***

    this is a hoodwink, plain and simple

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday July 19, 2014 @03:50PM (#47490191) Homepage

      You are over generalizing. There has been, and likely will be, a market for high quality entertainment - both written word, movies, music. A problem is that this market isn't especially large nor lucrative.

      The big money is in mediocre crap. Always has been.

      What the Internet has done is to throw everything together into a large fungible pool of confusion. And the big actors are well financed corps, not individual artists. Just like always.

      It always has been a struggle for an artist of whatever stripe to make a living (at least while they're alive). There are the high profile exceptions, but the majority of artists don't make big bucks.

      • A problem is that this market isn't especially large nor lucrative.

        you are believing the are accepting *their* framing of the situation

        it is a false choice...many excellent films are also hugely popular **when they get the marketing push**

        producing shitty movies still costs alot of money, ex: ***TRANSFORMERS SERIES***

        end of discussion

        The big money is in mediocre crap. Always has been.

        absolutely hook line and are part of the problem

        YES...people often just want to be distracted...

      • The big money is in mediocre crap. Always has been.

        You might try telling that to HBO or Disney Animation.

      • You are over generalizing. There has been, and likely will be, a market for high quality entertainment - both written word, movies, music. A problem is that this market isn't especially large nor lucrative.

        The big money is in mediocre crap. Always has been.

        You're kind of putting the cart before the horse here. Marketing costs enormous amounts of money but it is effective, that's why publishers keep paying for it. People buy because of the marketing as much as the content.

        So if you were a publisher would you prefer to put all that money behind a) a formulaic, uninspired but proven work or b) a new, exciting, but unproven creation? There's a good reason they keep making remakes of remakes.

        If new and original content were to benefit from the kind of marketing mu

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      people want relevant, accurate news more than ever

      No they don't, they gobble down the latest "rushed to the frontpage two minutes before the competition" and after being fed clickbait by clickbait that's wildly misleding they keep coming back for more. You're confusing it with that they want it two seconds after it happened, which is another thing entirely.

      people want entertainment that is not formulaic & trite more than ever

      The first Transformers movie made $700 million. "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" made $830 million, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" grossed over a billion dollars and "Transformers: Age of Extincti

    • not at all. You need to ask yourself who has disposable income. It's mostly teenagers, They're young, and stuff that's repetitious to you is brand new to them. . There's a smattering of young married women (who, as it turns out, make most of the buying decisions in a family after the teenage years, and yes I know not all of them are married any more). But a more discerning is usually made up of middle aged men who don't have much in the form of disposable income (nerds aside)
    • People pay for value relative to alternatives. When mediocre content is easily available for free, people pay less for good and great and excellent content.

    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

      This topic recently came up on a writers' forum, and someone coughed up some astonishing hard numbers:

      Only about 1/2 of 1 percent of American adults read for entertainment. This is probably a fair representation of the literate world at large.

      Point being -- print fiction has been a niche market for a long time, with relatively few people interested in it in the first place. That half a percent of a lot of people is still profitable -- well, goes to show the value of niche markets. But expecting it to do mor

  • My grandfather had the same problem as a liftboy. The combined forces of Otis and Schindler forced him out of a job.

    It's called 'progress'.

  • by Austrian Anarchy ( 3010653 ) on Saturday July 19, 2014 @03:51PM (#47490193) Homepage Journal
    Any author can publish nearly anything he wants through Kindle electronically, or CreateSpace in paper and he has control of the price at either one. Both have competitors too, like LightningSource, that have better access to dirt-world bookstores and provide electronic publishing services. If these authors want to be paid more per book, there is not a blessed thing stopping them from doing it right now.
    • Then the problem is finding good work. Self publishing appears to come with a stigma, and many authors seem to be dismissed from receiving praise because their work is self-published, perhaps with an exception for authors who already had a publisher and have left simply to make money.

      Now I know some authors who make some money self-publishing, mostly in niche market areas where it might be easier to get noticed. But, for other markets I think people have become reliant on publishers acting as some sort of m

  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Saturday July 19, 2014 @04:03PM (#47490251)

    There is literally too much content and most of it looks awful.

    I took a look Amazon's kindle unlimited this afternoon and what I saw were an incredible number of science fiction authors that I never heard of, pushing out what the blurbs and titles made look like bad romance novels in space.

    The functions of the editor and publisher are just missing from this mish mash. If you look at paper publishing it's a large financial commitment to publish and market any given book and most would never pay back the investment. Hence publishers to market the works and editors to select quality material were immensely valuable and helped make certain that if an authors work was published it had a better than random submission chance of earning back it's costs.

    Now the cost to "Publsish" as an e-book is minimal and much of what would never have been published in the past is flooding all over the place. So you have lots of "Authors" self publishing and not making money. This really shouldn't come as a shocker. The problem is there are so many of them they overwhelm everything else. If I read correctly Kindle Unlimited has 600,000 titles. It's just numbers but there really just aren't enough people in the world to see that most of those authors make a living from being published there.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 19, 2014 @04:21PM (#47490327)

      There is literally too much content and most of it looks awful.

      My problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity... --Cory Doctorow

    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      There is literally too much content and most of it looks awful.

      There always ways - Sturgeon's law* and all of that. There just used to be these people called "editors" and "publishers" who kept much (but certainly not all) of the crap from the market.

      * BTW, Sturgeon was an optimist.

    • I'm inclined to agree with you. As somebody who hopes to one day write a novel (or anything worthwhile, really), I would like to be published by the traditional route as it would be a validation that my book is "good". Of course, I am not dismissing self-publishing. It is a valid strategy if you believe you are good enough. I just know that a publishing house isn't going to pick my book just because. It is going to pick it because it is has chances to sell, which means it is probably better than the average

  • by BLKMGK ( 34057 ) <> on Saturday July 19, 2014 @04:12PM (#47490283) Homepage Journal

    Amazon has done a TON for indy authors and they've shared their profits. When the big publishers tried to force higher prices on Amazon I stopped buying. You would think these asshats would've learned from the music industry - especially since their wares are so much smaller when downloaded and lose no fidelity at all. Now they've all had to settle for big fines but do you think that this will bring readers back into the fold? I doubt it.

    This guy has some interesting information about what's going on with out the big publisher bias - other than the fact that his bias is he hates big publishing lol []

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      I don't think it's as simple as Amazon is good or Amazon is evil. Amazon is powerful, and that needs watching.

      Now I have a number writer friends, one of whom is published both with traditional imprints like TOR and with Amazon's new in-house publishing imprints. She has good things to say about Amazon's imprints, but one thing you have to take into account is that nobody will stock your book *but* Amazon if you publish with them. That's giving up a lot, so they treat authors reasonably well. But that doe

      • Read the blog I linked above. He self publishes on multiple platforms, Amazon doesn't stop him from doing that and in fact he has offered free downloads on his own site for some of the same content he sells on Amazon. If you told him that big publishing did all of those things he would laugh at you. Most of that can be outsourced and if you think the big publishing houses really do much promotion I've got a bridge you might be interested in. Certainly some authors get promoted but only a very select few. Co

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          I can only go with the experience of my friends, who've gone both routes successfully.

          It's true that traditional publishers expect mid-list authors to shoulder most of the promotion efforts these days. I never said they didn't. Fiction authors are now expected to maintain a platform, which used to be a non-fiction thing. Certainly traditional publishers have become more predatory and less supportive than they were twenty years ago. I don't have an inside track on why that is, but I suspect there are seve

          • by BLKMGK ( 34057 )

            I would bet that putting indy author's wares on display would lead to some backlash by big publishers if they found out, not seeing indy publishers who've made a name for themselves on bookshelves doesn't surprise me. As someone who reads books exclusively electronically I've likely lost some touch but the sense I have is that paper is slowly going away and that e-books are now selling well enough that having paper copies produced isn't a "must" in order to make a living. An author's goals play into their c

  • As an example, I used to read a lot of magazines but once the Internet was invented it was much easier visiting websites than buying Playboy.

  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Saturday July 19, 2014 @05:17PM (#47490577)

    Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn's experience with Youtube, and music publishers basically summed it up like this:

    You can either go to a studio, sign a contract and /maybe/ make back your advance and /possibly/ hit the lottery and fill arenas


    Cut out the middle-man and get more direct support and actually make a living. Nataly set up a Kickstarter for her first album and got 5x more than she expected.

    Thus the motivation for Patreon.

    Watch this interview:
    Part 1 []
    Part 2 []
    Part 3 []

    And skip (if you want, the cover is pretty darn good) to the end of this video: []


    • by kesuki ( 321456 )

      this sounds great on paper, but in the real world youtube content creators are subject to trolls, prudes, angry bigots, spam, false DMCA notices, people with a lack of humor, and market saturation. youtube starts as profitable but over time the benefits stop rolling in and some people completely go to a less public venue when ironically trying to reach out to new fans, simply because a less public venue will have fewer of these problems at first. online life is not that different from real life, but was of

      • by bmo ( 77928 )

        this sounds great on paper,

        No, it's not "on paper" and you seem to not know that Jack Conte (half of the duo Pomplamoose) is the CEO of Patreon. Patreon is the child of the experiences that Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte had with Youtube, and my posting of the interview on the BIRN and Nataly's closing of the other video was meant to be informative.

        If you bothered to watch them. Which you didn't.


  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Saturday July 19, 2014 @05:38PM (#47490639)

    It only takes something like 1000-2000 regular donors to keep a writer in reasonable comfort. In the age of the Internet, that is really not a lot. As good writers want to write and are typically not motivated by money unlike the publishers that just try to get rich on their backs, this is all it takes. Of course, publishers will fight this tooth and nail, as it threatens their existence. An existence that benefits absolutely nobody but themselves though, so their demise will be something eminently welcome. I predict this will not kill all publishers though. There are those that actually respect their authors and customers, are not primarily motivated by money, and have a positive effect on the overall process. These will remain. I doubt however that any of the large publishers will be among the survivors.

    • It only takes something like 1000-2000 regular donors to keep a writer in reasonable comfort

      Put another way, if the median income is $45,000, then 1500 regular donors giving 1/1500th of their annual income or $30/yr each will give an author a median income. (In reality, it's less than 1/1500th because the mean income is higher than the median, so the more affluent donors will allow the author to hit the median income with less than 1/1500th of each donor's income.)

      I think it's also important to keep in

    • I just checked out Patreon, maybe I'm doing it wrong but when I clicked "writing" I got a mish mash of podcasts, comics, programming projects and art, with little writing to be found. Unless I'm missing a trick here they really need to get their categorisation sorted.

  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Saturday July 19, 2014 @06:12PM (#47490775)

    I can't speak for everybody, of course, but I DO let price dictate if I buy a book or not, even if it's an author I love. And if it's a debut author, or one I haven't read before, I'm unlikely to be thrilled with paying $8+ for a book.

    The vast majority of the books I read are on the Kindle. The vast majority of those books are either carefully-chosen self-published authors or books either Amazon and/or the publisher is selling for no more than $6. Publishers that want to continue to insist on "charging" more than $10 for a book are collecting precisely $0 of my reading dollars. (Meaning that they'll collect the same amount of money from me pricing e-books at a $1B/copy.)

    Self-publishing is really the way to go these days for new authors. The average traditionally-published manuscript makes $0, as the average manuscript isn't picked up by a publisher at all. And the ones that do get published receive far less support from publishers than they used to, as they have so many imprints now that the effort that can be expended on a random debut author is just about zilch; they get a few review copies sent out, minimal editing services, and maybe a short blurb in a trade rag. With that limp level of support, it's not surprising few debut authors clear their initial advance, when they are only clearing 15% royalties.

    Contrast that with the 70% (of a lower price) Amazon is offering on anybody that chooses to post a book. The only additional effort authors must expend is doing their own cover and editing. They were already largely responsible for their own promotion anyway, so that doesn't really change.

    In the "good 'ol days" publishers served a real function. They provided substantial editing support, decent promotional effort, and were, in any case, the only game in town. Now the number of books published per year by the traditional publishers has gone up, and the services they provide authors have gone down. They have reduced themselves to nothing more than middlemen between authors and retailers. Nowhere but books and music do we tolerate the middlemen taking such a large chunk of the available money for little more than distribution.

    • Price is definitely a big factor in my own reading decisions as well. As a result of price, I typically go on reading "binges" where I will read something, remember how much I like to read things and go through another few things on my list until I notice I'm thinking about buying something for $14 and I just bought three or four other books in the past couple weeks, and do I really need to read this thing right now? Maybe I can wait until it's been out for a little bit and see if my library gets it or th

    • Publishers that want to continue to insist on "charging" more than $10 for a book are collecting precisely $0 of my reading dollars.

      Where did you get $10 as your price ceiling? For example, if you attend school and discover that a class you're taking requires a textbook that costs more than $10, do you drop that class? I say this in the context of having bought a DRM-free copy of Edenics, an etymological science fiction book by Isaac Mozeson, for $15.

    • Authors and publishers should ignore skinflints like yourself. Society can't advance when tight fisted selfish people listened to.
  • What with 99% of today's authors being business people first, marketing experts second, and authors last, this is a good development.

  • Market invisible hand fails here, it seems better suited at destroying value than creating it.

    And we even know why: market invisible hand theory relies on a few assumptions, one of them being that products are identical and that buyers' choices are only driven by price. Once we say that "book prices don't seem to be the deciding factor on whether someone reads a book", we know it will not work. If producing books is considered important, then the market should be regulated.

  • AFAIK, eBook sales went up to around 15% and stayed there. Does anyone have any more up to date info? Of course Amazon reports that its sales overtook physical books but that's the business they're in and it isn't representative of sales overall.

    I love gadgets and totally get the potential for eReaders and eBooks, however, my experiences with them have been so poor (buying, reading, trying to find passages to cite, dealing with DRM, etc.) that I only buy physical books now. Even with academic papers, I'd ra

  • How is renting a book for a month any different than borrowing that same book from the library for a month (as far as the publisher is concerned)?

    As long as Amazon has bought enough "copies" of the book to cover everyone who is reading that book at any given time, then the publisher has already made their money.

    It's possible that amazon IS screwing over the publishers, by either paying too low of a price per copy or by not paying for all the copies in circulation, but that has nothing to do with the legitim

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