Defensive Posturing: E-Book Author Takes On The 'Old Guard' At Crime Writing Festival [UPDATED]

from the the-more-things-change,-the-more-they-wish-things-wouldn't dept

[UPDATE: Some comments (namely Steve Mosby's and David Hewson's) have pointed out that there is more to this story than simply the post by Stephen Leather I used as the basis for this one. While other accounts of this event differ slightly, the overview remains pretty much the same. However, there is a glaring omission from Leather's post that is mentioned in others. David Hewson's take on the event, as well as Mosby's, mention that Leather admitted to using sock puppets to comment in forums to drum up business for himself. This, in and of itself, would be unpleasant enough. But there appears to be evidence that Leather's sock puppetry goes beyond simple PR and into harassment of other writers, including writing one-star reviews on Amazon and setting up Twitter accounts in their names in order to, for lack of a better term, screw with them. This obviously goes far beyond shady PR tactics. 

While I believe that the points raised by Stephen Leather's post, as presented on his blog, are still valid, these other issues call Leather's character into question. I based this post solely on Leather's take which, in retrospect, was unwise. This gives the appearance that I (along with Techdirt) approve of these other actions or have simply chosen to disregard them. This is not the case. I was unaware of these aspects until they were raised in the comments, and that is no one's fault by my own.

I would encourage you to read the other postings to more fully round out this picture of Stephen Leather. Again, I feel the points he raised were valid but I do not want to give the impression of implicit approval of his other actions.]

There's something about disruption that stirs up a certain amount of animosity in those on the receiving end. It sometime seems to be almost a "fight-or-flight" response, brought on by those whose "sure thing" has become about as fiscally wise as "buying a home" or "selling the farm to buy Facebook shares."

E-book mystery writer Stephen Leather got to experience this phenomenon in person while visiting the three-day Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, with the dual purpose of rubbing elbows with other authors and adding some background for his upcoming e-book called Inspector Zhang Goes to Harrogate.

The "fun" began when Leather, at the behest of another author, appeared on a panel whose very name stacked the deck against him: "Wanted for Murder: the e-book." As pretty much the sole representative of e-publishing, Leather was outnumbered four-to-one, joining a publisher, another writer (with few e-book sales), an agent and a bookseller. Even with this huge advantage, the old guard couldn't keep itself from deploying mockery, ignorance and condescension when addressing Leather's comments.
What surprised me was how the audience seemed so set against cheap eBooks. Rather than taking my view that books are best sold at a price that readers find attractive, the general feeling of the audience seemed to be that books were already – as one man said – ‘cheap as chips’ while Norwegians had to pay £40 for one of Jo Nesbo’s books. When I explained that I had sold half a million eBooks last year, most of them for less than a quid, I was surprised to hear a few boos and hisses rather than the applause that I had expected.
Can you feel the hate? This doesn't sound like authors supporting other authors. This sounds like the tortured noises of a large animal backed into a corner by a previously unrecognized aggressor. I's now up against the wall, in an unfamiliar position, and unsure of what move to make next.

It gets simultaneously uglier and stupider from there:
The most surreal moment for me came when the President of the Publisher’s Association, Ursula Mackenzie, was trying to defend their policy of maintaining eBooks at a high price. Basically she was saying that books needed to maintain their value and that 20p and free eBooks needed to be stamped on.

I understand her view, but I’m a big fan of selling eBooks at lower prices providing you can get high volumes of sales. And I’m happy enough to give books away if it helps to bring in new readers.
The old argument about "devaluation" is now in play. No matter how many times it's stated, it's still nothing more than a willful misreading of the situation. Unknown (or unsigned) writers selling cheap e-books doesn't devalue your product. Innovations and the removal of barriers lower the costs associated with your product, especially in regards to the digital version. Publishers seem to think that consumers should pay physical prices for digital items. It's not a matter of "devaluing" anything. It's a matter of publishers overvaluing their goods in order to preserve the margins they're accustomed to.

When faced with this fact, publishers and certain authors start throwing out statements concerning the costs of editing and marketing books as the reason why their e-book prices are unable to square with reality. Publishers also use these same statements to explain why they're "entitled" to the largest cut of the proceeds. Leather had his own thoughts on this, but no one's interested:
Mark turned to the conversation around to the cost of books and how much went to the publisher, and asked Ursula to justify why the publisher’s took the lion’s share. She put forward the old arguments about editing and marketing and I tried to explain that with eBooks, an author with a large fan base can use fans to edit and proof-read. Everyone seemed to think that meant I thought writers could do away with editors, and of course that’s not the case. But not every writer needs a hard edit, some writers need little more than proof-reading and fact-checking and that can be done through fans. And my Jack Nightingale series is edited by a full-time editor on my agent's staff so those books need very little editing by my publisher. Yes, I know that some authors need a lot of editing. But I don't.
No one claims that Author A's strategy in the e-book game will work for Author B, but the publishers seem to think that their strategies and methods will work for all authors and that these associated costs will always exist (at increasing price points), hence the "need" for higher prices.

Leather also discussed piracy in a reasonable fashion, stating that he felt pirates "helped market his books." This was greeted by negativity ("...I thought I was about to be lynched...") and name-calling. Pointing out that DRM doesn't work and negatively affects paying customers was greeted with complete denial by the publisher's representative. When Leather questioned why a writer who sells most of their books through Amazon (not exactly known for leaving much on the negotiating table) would need an agent, agents in attendance began firing off "nasty tweets" about him.

But there's one moment in Leather's post that stands out from all the rest of the petty defensiveness of the panel, and gives an indication that some very fundamental misunderstandings of economics, consumer behavior and basic math might be what's holding back certain publishers and authors from seeing how Leather's strategy might work for them.
So I explain to Ursula – and the audience – that I can write a short story in five days and am happy to sell that at the Amazon minimum of 72p which generates me an income of 25p. At this point Ursula – who runs one of the biggest publishing houses in the UK – asked me “so you’re happy to work for 5p a day, are you?” The audience laughed and clapped, and I was frankly gob-smacked. I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t seen the fallacy in her comment. She was assuming that I spent five days writing a story and then sold one copy. She can’t possibly have believed that, could she? 
She might. Many publishers and authors might. So many of them seemed completely focused on making the largest profit they can from the fewest possible sales. It seems like a good idea, but, as has been shown here before, lowering your prices can increase both sales and your net income. Keeping your prices artificially high in hopes of earning more per sale can cost you more in the long run. Leather isn't selling one copy at 5p. He's selling thousands.
Of course I don’t work for 5p a day. My Inspector Zhang stories sell about five or six hundred copies a month. Each. So one story sells 6,000 copies a year. So over the next ten years it could sell 60,000 copies which means I’d get £15,000, which is £3,000 a day and that’s probably more than she gets paid.
It doesn't get much more condescending than that. Assuming that 72p purchases will never add up to "real" money is keeping a lot of publishers and authors from making as much as they could. There's a hint of snobbishness to that line of thought: that somehow self-publishers who sell at low prices are lesser artists and should be mocked, pitied or ignored.

So be it. When the walls come crashing down around you, I'm sure the gate you've spent so much time maintaining will make all the difference in the world. And while you're admiring the distance between you and these upstart outsiders, these upstart outsiders will be more than happy to be mocked and pitied all the way to the bank.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Ninja (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:10am

    That's the old generation dying slowly. It's a pity though, I'm sure they'd have a lot to contribute if they were more open minded. And they'd surely have a lot to cash in.

    It's not different from what we see from the shills around here. They are present stories of successful artists that make tons of money without caring about piracy, DRM and by monetizing their works in other ways along with selling their content for dirty cheap prices and their reaction is the same. Name calling, angry twitting (commenting), fallacies and false accusations.

    In the end I feel sad for them. Sure there will be blood before this war ends but they are the losing end. And they are the only ones that refuse to see it and engage in new, constructive ways of doing their business.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:18am

    Basically she was saying that books needed to maintain their value and that 20p and free eBooks needed to be stamped on.


    I wonder whether she realizes that price-fixing is highly illegal in a lot of countries.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:30am

      Re:

      I also wonder if she realises that cheap and free are exactly how people have consumed physical books for most of their history as well...

       

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        Keroberos (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 9:24am

        Re: Re:

        Yup, Almost all of the authors whose books I am willing to pay full price for, were discovered through cheap (used bookstores) or free (public library) books. And honestly, I don't think piracy losses can possibly amount to more than was lost to the authors and publishers through those two--seeing as you can't sell an e-book, and good luck finding many at your library (although it is getting better).

         

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    PaulT (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:21am

    Wow, it's not often you get to see first hand how closed-minded and insular the industry is, but there you have it. The fact that he's not only mocked, but mocked on "facts" that are clearly false to anyone who spends more than the time it takes to kneejerk to think about it (the 5p/day comment) not only makes it clear that the industry aren't interested in adapting, they're not interested in their own industry's success stories. I've seen this attitude many times while arguing about "value" vs. price here before, but you don't often see such a clear case when it's not AC trolls you're arguing with.

    On a brighter note, I've seen Leather's name come up on a few occasions while browsing Amazon and I believe now would be the time to throw some money his way, especially as I have a few flights coming up this month with time to spare for reading. Do we have any fans here who might suggest a good starting point? I'll be buying ebook format, of course...

     

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    ebilrawkscientist (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:29am

    pft..

    > self-publishers who sell at low prices are lesser artists and should be mocked, pitied or ignored.

    This is a clear and present fallacy. Self published authors will have a greater piece of the pie once they've become established and recognized names in the industry. To otherwise argue is to have ones head in the sand ostritch style.

    It is my belief that successful Self ePublished Authors will have assembled their own 'in house' marketing & editing departments. Gone are the days when dead tree publishers get to rob the author(s)using industry clout and lawyerly weasle words. Terry Goodkind, (Wizards First Rule,) is one such successful Author who's taken things to the next level.

     

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      fogbugzd (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:53am

      Re: pft..

      I have become a fan of self-published textbooks. They are usually physical books, although most offer ebook versions. The interesting phenomenon with self-published ebooks is that they often develop a community of educators who help with the writing of future editions. The community approach seems to be more effective than the traditional editor approach.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:30am

    Gotta love the old "you're out numbered here, therfore you must be wrong" fallacy at play. Only sane author in a den of blind fools.

     

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      Keroberos (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 9:33am

      Re:

      That was probably intentional--much easier to defend your point of view if the opposition looks like it's a minority fringe.

      In the end, it will be neither the old guard (the publishing houses, agents, and authors who support them), or the upstarts (self publishing authors) who will decide what shape the publishing industry will take--the consumers will vote with their money on what model of publishing will work (and it will be something completely different than what exists now).

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:45am

    I think that many don't object to e-books per se, rather they object to selling them so cheaply that there really isn't much in it.

    Yes,I know, you eliminate all the middle men. But it ends up in the same place after a while - too many authors, too little space, not enough sales per author.

    Selling for dirt cheap (or giving them away hoping they do something else profitable) gets us back to the same cycle that happened in music. End result? Recorded music sales are way down, and remarkably, tours aren't selling out, venues are closing, and business sucks. Moreover an entire generation has been trained not the pay for music.

    In books, it's worse - because there is no real upsell available. Authors are not out doing 20,000 seat arenas every night. Speaking tours for most have limited appeal.

    Dirty cheap / free is the easiest sale in the world, and that's why sellers with no imagination go there.

     

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      Ninja (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:59am

      Re:

      too many authors, too little space, not enough sales per author.

      Cell phone market. Too many manufacturers, little space. The ones that do it right get the money. Simple market rules. Just because you write something it doesn't automagically make you entitled to get money for it. Get over it.

      End result? Recorded music sales are way down [clipped]

      Care to offer a citation that includes indie labels and artists that don't rely on labels at all? I think you'll be surprised. Tours might not be selling out because they are damn expensive. Linkin Park here is selling for over $200 the cheapest ticket. A local well known group is offering tickets starting at $20 and guess what, the tickets are sold out. Maybe it's not a market issue but a greed issue?

      Moreover an entire generation has been trained not the pay for music.

      Yet they flock to live shows to get close to their stars. Which requires money.

      Dirty cheap / free is the easiest sale in the world, and that's why sellers with no imagination go there.

      There are things you wouldn't want even if it was for free. And there are things you'll pay a load of money to have. Price is not a measure of size of imagination. I'd love to see you discussing about Paulo Coelho selling for 99 cents.

       

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      Zakida Paul (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:01am

      Re:

      Except that there have been several stories on here about authors making a handsome amount of money by selling their e books for 99p.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:07am

        Re: Re:

        Yes, some will make a pile of money. However, if their book was good enough, how big would that pile of money been the other way?

        Moreover, for the moment the "good and cheap" option is fairly limited, not that many top line authors are there. When that market gets crowded, we get to where we are now, but instead of making dollars per book, they are netting pennies - and no lnoger able to afford promotion or marketing.

        It's a race the bottom, and it usually ends up with a crash.

         

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          Ninja (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:13am

          Re: Re: Re:

          BS. It's not about a price race. I'm sure that there are authors that will want to sell at 99 and others at 1,25 dollars. And both will monetize well.

           

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          Lowestofthekeys (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:18am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "When that market gets crowded, we get to where we are now, but instead of making dollars per book, they are netting pennies - and no lnoger able to afford promotion or marketing."

          When there's an oversaturation of authors, there's going to be more competition. It's no longer easy to sit back and let your book sell, you have to be proactive like every other business.

           

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          Zakida Paul (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:20am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The authors who write the best stories will still make the most money. That is how it should be.

           

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          John Fenderson (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 10:24am

          Re: Re: Re:

          However, if their book was good enough, how big would that pile of money been the other way?


          Since "the other way" is ending, that's not an important question. The important question is "can a good author make a decent living through writing in the new paradigm," and the answer is (obviously, in my opinion), yes.

          But the landscape is changing. We're seeing a democratization happening, where more good artists can make a decent living through their art than ever before, but fewer will be able to become multimillionaires doing it.

          As a consumer, I think this is an excellent and long overdue development as it leads to a greater variety and amount of wonderful works. People who are used to making millions, or who aspire to making millions, probably have a different opinion.

           

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          Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 11:25am

          Re: Re: Re:

          When that market gets crowded, we get to where we are now, but instead of making dollars per book, they are netting pennies - and no lnoger able to afford promotion or marketing.

          The costs of promotion and marketing is coming down just like manufacturing and distribution. Besides, authors don't need to make dollars per book if they can sell many more ebooks.

          Hypothetical math question:
          Author makes $2 for selling a $20 hardcover. Makes 70 cents for selling a 99 cent ebook. How many ebooks does the author need to sell to make more from ebooks than hardcovers?
          Answer: 3 ebooks per each hardcover. And it is probably a lot easier to sell 3 ebooks @ 99 cents each than a single hardcover for $20.

           

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          Dionaea (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:52pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Race to the bottom? Are you seriously defending hig e-book prices here. Well, then I've got a nice one for you.

          Here in the Netherlands I came across a brand new book in a rather well known webshop:

          Paperback: 19.90 euros
          e-book: 15.95(!) euros

          Yeah, that's almost 20 dollars for a goddamn e-book! Race for the bottom?! It's about friggin' time we put an end to the 'the sky is the limit' pricing policies of these demons called publishers!

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:29am

      Re:

      "But it ends up in the same place after a while - too many authors, too little space, not enough sales per author."

      Tough. Welcome to the free market. Try being better next time.

      "Selling for dirt cheap (or giving them away hoping they do something else profitable) gets us back to the same cycle that happened in music."

      Oh, you mean that business where profits have only been going up for decades? Gee, that's real sad. I think I'm going to cry...

      "Recorded music sales are way down, and remarkably, tours aren't selling out, venues are closing, and business sucks."

      If by recorded music you mean CD's, then I'm there with you. And that's a good thing. Die plastic pieces of crud. DIE!

      In regard to the rest, I don't believe you. Every time a big name star comes to my puny country (Portugal), the venue sells out. And I'm not talking about YOUR big name stars. Even our own "stars" sell the place out.

      The business if as fine as it has always been.

      "Dirty cheap / free is the easiest sale in the world, and that's why sellers with no imagination go there."

      HAH, that's a laugh. Who's smarter: the guy selling an article for X and failing or the guy selling one for X/10 (X divided by 10) and succeeding simply because he has a higher yield or is simply more efficient.

      Free market is like natural selection: only the strong survive. If you can't make it, then good riddance. Stop polluting the gene pool and die off already.

       

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      PaulT (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:37am

      Re:

      "But it ends up in the same place after a while - too many authors, too little space, not enough sales per author."

      As it is now, then, but without the gatekeepers and middlemen. This is a bad thing?

      "Selling for dirt cheap (or giving them away hoping they do something else profitable) gets us back to the same cycle that happened in music"

      Not really, as other factors that killed music sales such as unbundling don't apply, but go on...

      "Recorded music sales are way down, and remarkably, tours aren't selling out, venues are closing, and business sucks"

      Oh, I see. You've taken several issues with a wide-reaching and highly varied number of reasons and tried blaming them all on one thing. The real arguments are far more complex, and your beloved industry isn't really helping, as many of the problems are caused by its own kneejerk reactions to the marketplace.

      "Moreover an entire generation has been trained not the pay for music."

      Which is the music industry's fault for ignoring the realities of the market and not adapting. Of course people *do* still pay for music, they're just not going to be paying for mansions for corporate hacks who churn out crap. That might be the real "problem", and if so, good riddance.

      Again, the music industry has a huge number of problems, of which piracy isn't really the largest. The attempts to ignore the real problems and try to scapegoat piracy for everything is one of the major reasons they failed so badly.

      "In books, it's worse - because there is no real upsell available. Authors are not out doing 20,000 seat arenas every night. Speaking tours for most have limited appeal."

      Different industry, different expectations, different rules. It took morons over 10 years to understand that "leverage free" and "meet demand" didn't actually mean "sell t-shirts", so I can understand the slower-minded having problems here too. We won't wait for them to catch up, though, we'll just buy from the people who get it.

      "Dirty cheap / free is the easiest sale in the world, and that's why sellers with no imagination go there."

      ...and I'll be buying hundreds of those long before I buy a $20 ebook from a greedy asshole who won't charge what it's actually worth, and I rarely buy physical books at the moment. Guess which player ends up left in the game? It's not the one who refuses to sell me a cheap ebook...

       

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      E. Zachary Knight (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:37am

      Re:

      But it ends up in the same place after a while - too many authors, too little space, not enough sales per author.

      That is the nature of the beast isn't it? There was once a time when authors, through a gatekeeper, had a lock on all the eyeballs. They had a guaranteed audience during that "golden" era. They could release and the publisher could "guarantee" a certain number of sales with little effort on the part of the author.

      Now times have changed. The market has been opened. The gates have been torn down. Now there is real competition for authors. Now they have to fight for the eyeballs. No more free rides. It is now a survival of the fittest situation. Despite what you believe, this is actually good for authors. It forces them to not only be better writers, but also better people. More open, more accessible. More human.

      End result? Recorded music sales are way down, and remarkably, tours aren't selling out, venues are closing, and business sucks. Moreover an entire generation has been trained not the pay for music.

      Recorded music as in physical album sales are down. That is for sure. But over all the total music industry's revenue is growing. What has happened to legacy gatekeeper labels is that a whole lot of competition appeared over night when the internet could support the distribution of music and the income is being spread to more artists. Same thing that is happening in publishing.

      Face it, there are no more free rides.

      In books, it's worse - because there is no real upsell available. Authors are not out doing 20,000 seat arenas every night. Speaking tours for most have limited appeal.

      Obviously, you are not creative enough. Private readings, early access, special edition copies of books, etc.

      Dirty cheap / free is the easiest sale in the world, and that's why sellers with no imagination go there.

      Or people who understand economies of scale. One thing that people like you complain about is the idea of going from analog dollars to digital dimes. However, the problem with that line of thinking is that you are not thinking in scale. 10,000 digital dimes is worth a lot more that 100 analog dollars.

       

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      Chris Rhodes (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:37am

      Re:

      "But it ends up in the same place after a while - too many authors, too little space, not enough sales per author."

      "What we need is less consumer choice! Some writers will just have to stop writing for the good of the book industry as a whole! The government should hand out book licenses like they hand out taxi licenses, because I am absolutely clueless about basic economic principles!"

       

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        Rich, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 9:13am

        Re: Re:

        Where I live, there is actually a radio station that prides itself on less consumer choice. They constantly play their "plug" (like a lot of stations), where they list their good points (more music, less commercials, etc.). They actually said, right in their plug, "less competition." How is that a good thing?

         

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      The Groove Tiger (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 8:05am

      Re:

      Yeah, selling more requires no imagination. It takes a lot of imagination to sell as little as possible.

       

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      art guerrilla (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 8:51am

      Re:

      1. if there are 'too many authors', etc, then -economically speaking- that means it isn't a very scarce resource, thus is not 'worth' much, thus they ARE getting what they are 'worth'...
      if 'everyone' was an astronaut, then astronaut pay would be crappy...
      2. i'd like to be a legacy parasite, too! why oh why don't i get paid FOREVER (plus 70 years)for all the houses, buildings, mechanical systems, subdivisions, roadways, etc i've drafted/designed over the years ? ? ? those freetards are making a mint off of *my* creative output, why don't i get royalties ? ? ?
      3. i make incredible stuff out of wood (really), don't i 'deserve' to have money rain on me like katrina ? everytime one of you freeloaders uses the bowl i made, don't i 'deserve' a cut ? for, like, for-freaking-ever ?
      4. and, lastly, my pet hobbyhorse i am now riding as often as possible: IF so-called intellectual property is 'valuable', they why don't the holders of said IP pay taxes on it like i do my house ? ? ? FREETARDS ! ! !
      art guerrilla
      aka ann archy
      eof

       

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      Keroberos (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 9:46am

      Re:

      Dirty cheap / free is the easiest sale in the world, and that's why sellers with no imagination go there.
      Oh really? Amazon and Steam would disagree with that--In fact they do--they actually recommend "Dirty cheap" as the best price to maximize profitability. And I would say that those are two of the businesses in the digital area with some of the most imagination.

       

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      JEDIDIAH, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 10:00am

      The sky must be green on your world.

      Venues are closing? Really? What venues?

      If any venues are closing it's probably because collection societies are squeezing them out of the market.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:47am

    I think that many don't object to e-books per se, rather they object to selling them so cheaply that there really isn't much in it.

    Yes,I know, you eliminate all the middle men. But it ends up in the same place after a while - too many authors, too little space, not enough sales per author.

    Selling for dirt cheap (or giving them away hoping they do something else profitable) gets us back to the same cycle that happened in music. End result? Recorded music sales are way down, and remarkably, tours aren't selling out, venues are closing, and business sucks. Moreover an entire generation has been trained not the pay for music.

    In books, it's worse - because there is no real upsell available. Authors are not out doing 20,000 seat arenas every night. Speaking tours for most have limited appeal.

    Dirty cheap / free is the easiest sale in the world, and that's why sellers with no imagination go there.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:01am

      Re:

      You been to a bookstore recently? Same deal. A hell of a lot of books, and possibly a lot of them crap (I can't say - I haven't read every book in a bookstore).

      When picking up a book by an author you've never read, it's a real gamble on whether you're going to like it or not. So in a traditional setting you read the blurb, flick through a couple of pages to see if the font doesn't hurt your eyes, put everything on black and give the wheel a spin.

      Since becoming a successful author IS so difficult, maxiumum exposure is desired, and that's where ebooks can excel. Whether giving them away for free, or at a low price, there is no longer that gamble as a consumer as you 'pick up' the book.

      I see your point (where publishers/editors are meant to weed out the crappy books), and it's a good debating point (too many authors, too little space). I was against ebooks for a long time mainly because I enjoy the physical feel of a book in my hands, but I've come to appreciate the value of ebooks too.

       

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        PaulT (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 8:24am

        Re: Re:

        "You been to a bookstore recently? Same deal. A hell of a lot of books, and possibly a lot of them crap (I can't say - I haven't read every book in a bookstore)."

        Yep, that's one of the things that makes me laugh. I'm much, much, more likely to try out a new author if the price is cheaper and unless I sit in the bookstore reading the first chapter (for free!!!) before I buy, I'm never going to buy an untested author blind at full price.

        No, what has always happened is that I buy books by a couple of favourite authors at full price, then discover new authors second hand or borrowed. In other words, most of my methods for discovering new authors net the publisher and the author exactly $0, and always have.

        Now, I load up my Kindle before trips and I don't mind checking out new authors for a reasonable price - i.e. around what I'd pay for a second hand book (usually far less than $5 US). I don't feel ripped off even if I don't care for the book once I've read it, because I've spent little money on it, and will pay more (or even buy a physical copy) for a book by the same author later if I enjoy it.

        It's win/win. The publisher and author get more than they would have done otherwise (a cut of $1 will always be more than a cut of $0) and may stand to make future sales, while I get the convenience of getting books without having to drive to a store or wait for delivery.

        Yet again, the arguments against ebooks are not only misguided, but seem to completely misunderstand how customers actually consume their content to begin with.

         

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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:49am

    MIxed feelings here

    I gotta say, I'm both seriously impressed by this guy, and also rather disappointed.

    On one hand, being able to keep his cool in the face of such ridiculous mockery has got to take some superhuman effort, and for that I applaud him.

    However, on the other hand the fact that he basically sat there and allowed himself to be used as a verbal punching bag like that is seriously disappointing at best.

    Given the obviously hostile audience and others on the panel, he may not have gotten very far with any rebuttals, but just sitting back while the inane accusations were made just makes it look like they are actually true, and he's in no way helping himself and others by letting lies like that masquerade as truth when he could have at least tried to counter them.

     

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      Adam V, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:59am

      Re: MIxed feelings here

      Sounds like at certain points he was just gobsmacked with the amount of sheer stupidity he was facing. Can't really blame him for that.

       

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        That One Guy (profile), Aug 3rd, 2012 @ 2:03am

        Re: Re: MIxed feelings here

        I suppose I can understand that, some comments/arguments are just so idiotic it's all you can do to keep from just laughing.

         

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    Lowestofthekeys (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:52am

    It's arrogant for these people to assume that in an economic downturn they should not have to adapt, but that consumers should still pay the same for something that counts only as entertainment, and not a physical need.

     

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    Mesonoxian Eve (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:54am

    "She was assuming that I spent five days writing a story and then sold one copy."
    It's not an assumption as it's truly what she believes. I can't count the number of times I've run into this very thinking, and once they have it, I have to detract a bit to correct them.

    I do this by stating: "So, you like making $25,000 year when your company's making millions?"

    Once you tell this to people, shockingly, they shut the hell up as they realize why their only getting a cut.

    It would have been interesting to see this woman's face if she had been told this and realize where her salary truly comes from.

     

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    dennis deems, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:08am

    Using fans to edit and proof-read???

    It's hard to argue with Leather's success, but am I the only one who finds the notion of using fans to edit and proof-read a little revolting? These are both real skills that require education and experience, and should be paid for.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:16am

      Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

      Bullshit. The fans can do something nice for their favorite auther if they want to. It's not like they're being forced to do it.

       

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      Ninja (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:18am

      Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

      I wouldn't mind helping to point errs to my favorite author if he/she was awesome.

       

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      E. Zachary Knight (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:29am

      Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

      So you think having one paid editor looking at your work is better than having 1000 people looking at your work for free or even paying you to do it?

      I have read a number of books that were "professionally" edited that still contained typos, grammatical errors and even plot holes. All things that a "professional" editor is supposed to catch. Imagine if I was able to inform the authors prior to publishing. The books would have been better than they were.

       

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        Lowestofthekeys (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:37am

        Re: Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

        I read an article on the accuracy of Wikipedia a while back. The author speculated that the reason why the majority of the articles were accurate was due to a social peer pressure put upon the editors to make sure their grammar, spelling and facts were right.

        Maybe the same principle could be applied to editing books.

         

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        Anonymous Coward With A Unique Writing Style, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:50am

        Re: Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

        "I have read a number of books that were "professionally" edited that still contained typos, grammatical errors and even plot holes. All things that a "professional" editor is supposed to catch. Imagine if I was able to inform the authors prior to publishing. The books would have been better than they were."

        I've had the same experience multiple times. I actually wrote a publisher one time to point out many errors and they sent me a copy of the book error free. On them. Which I thought was great and a very classy move on their part.

        I need to check when I get home to see which publisher that was because they've done things like that with me before.

        One time I purchased a book that at the halfway point restarted the entire book from the first page. Which was a huge problem, so I informed the retailer I purchased it from and asked for a refund. They declined and said, "Tough." Want another copy? Buy it again. (Which I couldn't do without risking another bad copy since it was in a pack that was wrapped with a few other books. The other 2 of which were error free.) I wrote the publisher describing the situation and I received a response within hours asking for my address so they could send me two copies for free (one for myself and one to lend to a friend to get some more fans of the series). Which again, was beyond unexpected and a very great move on their part. Or at least the part of whoever was responding to my email.

         

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        CaitlinP (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:52am

        Re: Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

        I actually like the concept of having fans edit and proofread. If you host your book as you write it on the internet, and then have others read it and tell you how to make it better, it usually helps you improve your writing. There are a lot of sites for this actually, and most help you gauge how popular your book will be among a paying audience.

         

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          dennis deems, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:24pm

          Re: Re: Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

          I agree that it's a nice idea. Does it actually work? Are these best-sellers? (I'm not being contrary, I'm really asking.)

           

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        Rikuo (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 8:30am

        Re: Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

        Oh god, I have a horror story about an author I loved during my childhood. Fantasy author Raymond E Feist, one of the more famous fantasy authors out there. He co-wrote a trilogy with another author, Janny Wurts, in which a clan, called the Minwanabi, were the villains for the first two books. At the end, they were eliminated; there's a section where the clan leader explains how he ordered every clansman to kill their wives and children, and then kill themselves, and then the leader did it himself.
        Fast forward a few years and Feist writes a new book, set a few decades afterward, called "Wrath of the Mad God". It is chock full of plot holes, like the fact the Minwanabi are somehow back in existence, with absolutely no explanation how. Somehow, the AUTHOR wrote them back in and his editors missed that.

         

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        dennis deems, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:17pm

        Re: Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

        1. I haven't written a book, but yes, I imagine the focused involvement of a professional editor in the creation of my work would be rather more valuable than "1000 people looking at [my] work for free".

        2. Who said anything about fans offering to pay Stephen Leather for the privilege of editing his book? Did I miss something?

        3. You are saying that because you have encountered some "professionally" edited books that were edited poorly, the work of fan-editors would obviously be superior to the work of a "professional" editor. Am I correctly understanding you?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 3:51pm

          Re: Re: Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

          I know lots of science fiction authors have test readers that find things for them. There are things that the best editors wouldn't get because they don't know specialty knowledge of haven't read an entire series as closely as the most ardent fans have.

           

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          PaulT (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 4:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

          I have to ask a couple of things here:

          "1. I haven't written a book, but yes, I imagine the focused involvement of a professional editor in the creation of my work would be rather more valuable than "1000 people looking at [my] work for free"."

          Why? If the aim is to find mistakes and suggest improvements, what can one supposedly trained professional find that 1000 literate and interested people cannot?

          "2. Who said anything about fans offering to pay Stephen Leather for the privilege of editing his book? Did I miss something?"

          Yes, you did.The people who would volunteer would be fans who would happily get a free book for the privilege of paying for their time, and would gladly offer it if they could improve the final product for all readers. Payment need not be in pure dollar form.

          "3. You are saying that because you have encountered some "professionally" edited books that were edited poorly, the work of fan-editors would obviously be superior to the work of a "professional" editor. Am I correctly understanding you?"

          I believe you're not. The point is that professional editors make mistakes - they are human, after all. Fans may make the same mistakes, but the likelihood is greater that other fans would catch the mistakes before press and thus make the end product higher quality than a single person may have been able to. Think about open source software - the fact that it's open source doesn't instantly guarantee that it's better, but neither does it make it worse. More eyeballs, the more likely it is that mistakes are found and corrected.

           

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      The eejit (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 9:27am

      Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

      Sure, fi you were paying for the privilege. But if they were doing it off their own back, more power to them.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 10:55am

      Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

      But it works for Wikipedia, and don't forget the biggest benefit is the connection the author makes with fans. I'm sure everyone who helps edit a book would buy at least one copy and also urge all their friends to pick up copies too.

       

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        dennis deems, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:20pm

        Re: Re: Using fans to edit and proof-read???

        So if it works for Wikipedia then surely it should work for a best-selling thriller?

         

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    Mason Wheeler, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:19am

    Buying a home

    Sorry to get pedantic, but buying a home has *always* been fiscally wise, assuming it's a decent place to live. That hasn't changed anytime recently.

    Buying a house to use as an investment, and not as a home, is a completely different story, and IMO everyone who got burned by that got exactly what they deserved. Investing is gambling, pure and simple, and the first rule of gambling is to never bet anything you cannot afford to lose.

     

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    Zilberfrid (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:25am

    Economy

    I used to go to the library, buy about two new books each year, and four or five second hand ones, now I purchase about fifteen to twenty new e-books each year, while still buying two books, second hand or new, each year.

    I end up spending about the same (if I cancel my library subscription) but the profit generated will be better. A larger percentage of this will go to writwers, who in turn will have to spend more time writing.

    I don't really bother with the library often anymore, and especially my second hand purchases have suffered, which previously did not net the author anything.

    Another change is that I almost always have most of my books with me, I read a lot more.

     

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      AdamF (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 9:00am

      Re: Economy

      I can only talk only for myself, but I spend a lot more money on books since I switched over to ebooks. In past, I had a library subscription, borrowed about 100 books per year and paid about $30 in annual fees and late fines. The only time I purchased books was if somebody gave me a gift-card to a book store for Christmas or something. And then I only ever purchased books I have read and loved previously.

      A year ago I spent $100 on e-reader (gift-card again). Since, according to my VISA bills, I have spent $127 on books. All but one on books I have never read before - shows the power of impulse purchase only a click away.

      Did authors make more money because I switched to ebooks? Quite likely. Do I care if they did? Resounding NO. I pay to be entertained and honestly couldn't care less if they can make living solely out of writing books. I may be called short-sighted or primitive, but I will only start worrying when I can no loner find a good book for a price I am willing to pay.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 8:09am

    With all these points, hasnt anyone noticed that there is a recession going on. Eternal upwards profits is a myth.

    Is it just me?

     

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      PaulT (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 8:26am

      Re:

      I'm not entirely sure that anyone's argued that infinite upward profits exist. Anyway, that's part of the point. If you're struggling in this recession, what are you more likely to buy? A $30 hardcover? A $10 paperback? A $5 used paperback? Or a $2 ebook?

      The publishing industry seems to be concentrating its efforts entirely on the former, then blaming the latter if it fails.

       

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    anon, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 8:16am

    Lets get serious!!!

    Either they adapt to the new technology that is used by almost everyone or they destroy themselves by living in the past.

     

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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 8:30am

    Found a little neat comment in his blog:

    "my books are on e books. People tell me they love books for their tactile quality and their smell. I do not write to be sniffed. If I did want people sniffing my products I would be a florist"

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 8:50am

    what's the betting that Ursula Mackenzie had her comments proof read, checked by some entertainment industry lawyer and gotten right ready before Stephen Leather was set up to be the kicking boy in this discussion? like so many of the 'old guard', she will not accept any new concept or method of doing business, not because it's bad but because it means changing her ways and having to do something for her money instead of having it just handed to her on a plate. the best way of ignoring any new business model is to ridicule it, come out with lies and bullshit and state how the old ways will always be the best and around for the duration!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 8:53am

    Its like I say about movie theaters. Why don't they just lower the cost of concessions to be sane and sell to more people? I understand in that they believe you are a captive audience but its just silly the overpricing they do.

    I get the feeling book publishers must be thinking the same thing as the movie theaters. Oh no we can't possibly sell at a better price and actually make more money. On E-books its even more stupid because the cost of reproduction has to be extremely low.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 10:36am

      Re:

      Well, in fairness to movie theaters, the reason they overprice the concessions to such a degree is because that's how they make almost all of their money. Almost none of the money from selling the tickets goes to the theater itself. Certainly nowhere near enough to cover the theater's operating expenses.

       

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        Todd E, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:14pm

        Re: Re:

        Also, most movie theaters are being required to upgrade (3D, IMAX, Digital projections running at whatever FPS Cameron and co. require) and they aren't being subsidized for them, so the costs for those things have to come entirely out of the food products they sell, and if they don't have those features, the distributors will not let them show the films there.

        This on top of the overall power costs of running a theater are enormous. Likely, the overall theater model needs to change, drastically, but until somebody figures out how that works, we're stuck with overpriced popcorn, sodas, and candy.

         

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    gorehound (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 9:04am

    I can't wait till the Big Content Industries go extinct.The World will be a better place when they are long gone.
    Nothing they put out matters that much to me.I do not need their stuff nor do I want it.
    They are Censored from my Wallet just like they want to Censor me.
    Buy & Support INDIE & Local Art.

     

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    Claire Ryan (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:01pm

    What really boggles my mind here is that the fact that Stephen Leather is making a living from his books ain't up for debate. So Ursula Mackenzie wants to see Stephen put his prices up because...? What exactly? She wants him to take a hit on his livelihood just to please her and the Publisher's Association?

    What nonsense. She can moan all she likes, but she can't stop self-published authors from pricing their books however they want. Those authors are presumably reading and taking note of J.A. Konrath's blog posts on the matter, and pricing at $2.99 - that apparently being the price at which revenue is maximized.

    It's getting to a point where it looks like wilful ignorance. The market has spoken. Authors are routinely bypassing publishers and making a nice profit on their own. It's not going to change because she, or any other publisher, wants it to change or has a couple of arguments as to why it should change. Frankly, if that's all they've got, they deserve to go out of business.

     

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    stevemosby, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:23pm

    Hi Tim

    For what it's worth, I was the other author on the panel, and I just wanted to add a few comments. I fully expect to get torn to shreds, but anyway.

    First, maybe the odds were stacked against Leather a bit. But it was a panel about ebooks, so they had a publisher, an agent, a bookseller and two authors. I suppose I was meant to be the author 'against' ebooks or self-publishing, but I'm not really. I don't think anybody on the panel or in the audience was. The fact that Leather ended up alienating 99% of the room should tell you more about how he came across than people's attitudes to those things.

    The "working for 5p a day" thing - I presume, as with most of this article, that you've read Stephen Leather's blog and are basically reviewing that, rather than the event itself. Ursula MacKenzie never said that. Opinions on this vary, but my very clear memory is that the moderator, Mark Lawson, said that, and obviously as a jokey aside, following a heated discussion on value. Leather is being disingenuous by insinuating people don't get the maths. Obviously they do. It's not exactly difficult, is it?

    Last of all - because you're commenting on Leather's post, not the event itself - you've not mentioned sockpuppetry. In front of about 700 people, Leather admitted he manufactures fake online identities to create buzz around his books: interacting with him, themselves and readers, without those readers knowing those identities are not Leather himself. The audience didn't like that, for some reason. Evidence has emerged since of him bullying other self-published writers - and worse. You can read more at my blog if you want.

    To me, that seems like more of a story than reproducing his blogpost for him, but obviously - since you must have done your research - you're totally fine with that kind of behaviour.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:44pm

      Re:

      Thanks for the insight.

      That Leather engages in douchey behavior, however, doesn't affect the underlying argument (nor, I think, is there any kind of implication that it's OK).

      Since you've been so kind to give us some context, I'll offer some in return. Trade groups such as the Publisher's Association have been making all kinds of nutty, angry, sky-is-falling types of arguments such as reported in this article for a long while now. In fact, what is reported here is really pretty mild compared to a lot of it. This article is, in my view, really about that more than Leather specifically.

       

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      mischab1, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 5:57pm

      Re:

      Thank you for providing more context. Sometimes Techdirt is is better at researching than others. However, when they have reason to believe their original source is wrong, they generally post an update.

       

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    David Hewson, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:37pm

    Name that planet

    I have to say I'm a bit amazed you can 'cover' this story without once mentioning the man you admire invents fake IDs to promote his work and bullies self-publishers who are impudent enough to give him one-star reviews.

    You can read more on my blog too, though Steve Mosby and Jeremy Duns are really the ones you should be reading to find out the truth about what's been going on here. If you're actually interested in what's happening that is.

     

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    Beech, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:50pm

    Ideal Capitalism

    The problem is that the book market is quickly headed to an "Ideal Capitalist" state. At least, i believe thats the term. been awhile since i took econ.

    Anyway, back when the internet was not yet even a dream, people realized that capitalism didn't work exactly according to theory. The problem was that in real life there are a few variables not accounted for. One of which is barrier to market entry. If i were selling hotdogs outside a sporting event, and i was the only one there, i could hypothetically charge whatever price i wanted. Someone else could see that i was making great margins from my dogs, but to join the market he would need to invest in his own hot dog cart, inventory, probably some sort of licensing, etc. In the "ideal capitalist" market there would be no barrier to entry. Maybe everyone already has a hotdog cart in their garage and hotdogs rain from the sky? It didnt make any sense, but it described the way capitalism would ideally operate. But anyway, the idea is that the easier the market is to enter the lower prices are driven until margins are in danger of vanishing, at which point no one can make a profit so people exit the market and go do something else. Selling philly cheesesteaks maybe.

    anyway, just look at where the book industry is going! They may be the closest a market has ever been to being "ideal." Computers are cheap and lots of people have them anyway. You can write a book with just about only a time investment. If you distinguish yourself in the market and make a profit, bully for you! If you can't, you can keep working your day job and lose out on just about nothing.

    Clearly the market operating as it WAS ALWAYS MEANT TO (but never could due to technological limitations) should not be shunned, or fought against, or legislated against. The problem is that some people made a killing in the distorted market, and the playing field becoming leveled means they will only be able to make money based on their merit. Horror!

    Anyway, long story short, capitalism is at work in the book market and I say good. The only ones who will be able to survive are the extremely talented or extremely savvy, or those who are willing to write at cost to themselves with no real hope of making money solely for the love of creation. Fat cats will either join the idealized market or find another job.

     

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    Luca Veste, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:50pm

    What he said

    To echo both David and Steve, the reprinting of one man's view of that event (and of course he'll have that view of it...he was the one under supposed attack) with your own comments, based on your opinions of ebooks and publishing as a whole, without actually being at the event or checking to see if anyone else had a different version, is biased reporting.

    In the last two weeks, following Leather's admission on stage to 500 people, that he used sock-puppet accounts to promote himself, Jeremy Duns has uncovered a wealth of evidence which details numerous nefarious habits Stephen Leather possesses.

    A quick look at that evidence and a rebuttal is in order I feel. Or, an acceptance that all is not as it seems, and maybe speak to someone else and get their view.

    FWIW, I was in the audience at that panel. I'm a reader primarily, in my late twenties and male. I was appalled at what Leather said. He managed in the course of 20 minutes to insult readers, editors, publishers, agents, and the online community. It wasn't about ebooks, pricing or self-publishing. The people on the panel were in agreement in the main on most things. It was about Leather's personality and his choice of words.

    As has been pointed out, perhaps a read of Steve Mosby's blog, or Jeremy Duns' twitter timeline for the past 10 days would be in order, for a fuller picture.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    David Hewson, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:56pm

    Re: Name that planet

    So you're more exercised about the opinions of a largely irrelevant trade body than the personal integrity of someone you hold up as an exemplar?

    Find it easier to get irate about meaningless sky-is-falling predictions from a talking shop than real-life fraudulent behaviour and harassment by an individual you wish to admire (because he's touting an economic model you - foolishly - think will one day reward you too)?

    Fine. At least we know where you're coming from.

    I love the way that people who have no experience or knowledge of the publishing industry pontificate about where it's gone wrong. You amuse us no end, honestly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    JaseP, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 2:01pm

    " It's not a matter of 'devaluing' anything. It's a matter of publishers overvaluing their goods in order to preserve the margins they're accustomed to."

    Not even... It's a matter of publishers overvaluing goods in order to INCREASE the margins they're accustomed to...

    Once through the initial publishing phases, editing, typesetting, etc... Ebooks have a next to zero distribution cost,... No warehousing, no shipping (other than giggling electrons), and low advertising costs (what does storage space for a book's sale page run on an Amazon server, anyway?!). To tell us otherwise is pure lying.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    stevemosby, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 2:12pm

    @JaseP

    I was really just passing by to correct Tim's misrepresentation of what happened on the panel, but:

    "Once through the initial publishing phases, editing, typesetting, etc... Ebooks have a next to zero distribution cost,... No warehousing, no shipping (other than giggling electrons), and low advertising costs (what does storage space for a book's sale page run on an Amazon server, anyway?!)."

    If you're self-publishing a .99 ebook then that storage space costs you 70% of your income, doesn't it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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