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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

Soulskill posted about 2 months ago | from the but-amazon's-not-driving-writing-to-the-hospital dept.

Books 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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Yep, how the music industry was killed... (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490141)

My issue with subscriptions is that companies tend to not pay the content makers much.

In the past, you made an album as a musician, you got $10-$15. Even a few listeners would more than pay for one's work. First came the $0.99 tracks, then the subscription "revenue" which is little to none, and now album sales are worthless, and musicians have to gig... which is damn hard in areas like Austin where if you are not a hipster crooning about your cat, you won't find anywhere to sing, period.

Before this, we saw a lot of decent bands. Now, the ONLY thing pushed by mainstream labels is their own synthesized bands and nothing else. 20 year ago, people would laugh at a label making a band like The Monkees and refusing to sign Aerosmith or the Rolling Stones.

Now, this market killer is now attacking the book ecosystem.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490183)

Citation please: Less than 50 musicians in history have gotten $10-15 per album from mass sales. The ones who have are all truly indie artists, who are playing on the street and coffee shops.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (4, Insightful)

alexander_686 (957440) | about 2 months ago | (#47490571)

And even those are not earning much money.

In a interview a few years ago with Ani DiFranco, the report was gushing on how much higher her margins, as a independent artist, than The Dave Mathew Band. Which made DiFranco laugh because The Dave Mathew Band was making so much more money. DiFranco pointed out that going independent was about freedom of control not about the money.

It is not about margins it is about market structure. Piracy has trained consumers that music should be cheap.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 2 months ago | (#47490687)

I think freedom of control is hugely valuable to artists. However are they going to experiment and evolve their craft without it?

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47491041)

How are they to experiment and evolve without food?

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47491109)

Well clearly, their first priority should be evolving photosynthetic capability.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (1)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 2 months ago | (#47491641)

So Robert Plant was way ahead of his time!

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 2 months ago | (#47491719)

No. Naming yourself after something that does photosynthesis does not give you the ability to also do photosynthesis. That's just stupid.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about 2 months ago | (#47491781)

So Robert Plant was way ahead of his time!

Not to mention a head in his time, and, if he wanted it, getting head all the time.

Grow a victory garden and go to jail (2)

tepples (727027) | about 2 months ago | (#47491689)

They tried that. Several cities ended up outlawing it, threatening to put people like Julie Bass in jail [wealthdaily.com] for growing victory gardens in their front yards.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47491371)

Refusal to deal taught a generation of consumers to pirate. Consumers once they found piracy liked the price.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (2)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 2 months ago | (#47491665)

Piracy has trained consumers that music should be cheap.

In case you hadn't noticed, these days people expect EVERYTHING to be cheap. Well, except CEOs, anyway.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (2)

AcidPenguin9873 (911493) | about 2 months ago | (#47490995)

You're right. But most of the rest of them got big-enough advances from record labels though so that they could try making music for a living for a couple years. The money for those advances came from record sales of the few acts that did make it. Now, there's little money coming in from record sales from the acts that made it - only peasly subscription revenue and $0.99 tracks. Less money coming into the labels, less money going out as advances to artists.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490443)

My issue with subscriptions is that companies tend to not pay the content makers much.

In the past, you made an album as a musician, you got $10-$15.

You are correct that companies don't pay content producers enough. However, your knowledge of how things 'used to be' is badly flawed.

No one in the history of the music industry has ever gotten paid $10 per album sold. Even the biggest names rarely get as much as $2. Many 'big name' artists have sold millions of albums and were paid as little as 50 cents per album.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490657)

See, he is right if you read it as $10-$15 TOTAL, just not per album.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (4, Informative)

JMJimmy (2036122) | about 2 months ago | (#47490615)

Not even big musicians ever got $10-$15. Artists typically would get anywhere from 8 to 14 percent and major stars would get 20 percent of album sales. Even after inflation adjustments you're only talking about $5 per album at the high end. What happened was album prices went down - If albums stayed in line with inflation they'd be $100 per album now. http://theunderstatement.com/p... [theunderstatement.com]

Book prices are going the opposite direction! A mass market paperback in 1975 cost $1.35, adjusted for inflation that's about $5.97. The average mass market price now? Around $8. 25% higher. The issue with books is that publishers create these insane contracts to allow them to suck every last penny out before cutting a royalty cheque. So if you take the adjusted amount a 1975 author could typically expect $0.59 per copy sold, today's author should be able to expect $0.80 per copy sold right? In reality because of the contract loopholes they end up getting at most $0.32 per copy sold.

So authors are typically being payed 60-70% less than in 1975. In addition to this the number of titles published per year has skyrocketed - 135,000 titles are published every year now. That's a lot of competition just within the industry let alone competing for peoples most valuable thing: time. There's going to be a major contraction in the book market to correct for this regardless of what Amazon does.

Re:Yep, how the music industry was killed... (3, Insightful)

AudioEfex (637163) | about 2 months ago | (#47491353)

That actually isn't what Happend at all. You need to go further back than 1998.

Not to mention that your prices are way off - someone like Madonna gets $4-5 bucks an album, and that's the super-high end.

Cheap singles are nothing new. Singles drove the industry from the 60's through the 80's. Then labels slowly stopped releasing singles, forcing folks to buy an entire album for one song. This really hit the mainstream when Britney Spears first album, "...Baby One More Time". The title song was a huge radio and MTV hit, but it was unavailable as a single, and was only available when they finally dropped the album, forcing folks to buy the whole album to get the song (with the album filled largely with filler like "Email My Heart"). This resulted in an instant #1 album.

By holding back singles, they forced folks to spend much more on albums, which became standard practice - and it's no coincidence that this coincided with the rise of Napster because it was the only way folks could just get one single song without spending $15-20. It was a direct response to taking away choice from the market place.

There is a lot more to it before and after, but that's the basic gist - how the labels basically created the whole download environment by manipulating the market just as the technology became available to circumnavigate the entire thing. Since then they have played catch up and obviously largely lost in the long run.

This is also why your average AAA-list concert act sells tickets starting at $150-300 - because the record companies don't get a cut of that, and it's where they make the bulk of their money. Not that it hasn't always really been that way, of course.

"the market" = biz managers (5, Insightful)

globaljustin (574257) | about 2 months ago | (#47490161)

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

ITS NOT TRUE

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

Re:"the market" = biz managers (5, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 months ago | (#47490191)

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.

Re: "the market" = biz managers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490581)

Look at the most popular and longest running TV shows over the last 50 years and there not crap. Mostly, it's original or well excited ideas, not drivitive crap. Granted, shows often go downhill over time, but that has little to do with why they where popular in the first place.

Re: "the market" = biz managers (2)

pepty (1976012) | about 2 months ago | (#47491585)

Look at the most popular and longest running TV shows over the last 50 years and there not crap. Mostly, it's original or well excited ideas, not drivitive crap.

Less true now than earlier.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_watched_television_broadcasts_in_America#Most_watched_U.S._TV_series

The most popular TV show in the USA from 2003 to 2011 was American idol: definitely not original or exciting.

Wal-Mart proves you wrong (1)

globaljustin (574257) | about 2 months ago | (#47491259)

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

you are believing the marketing...you 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 sinker...you are part of the problem

YES...people often just want to be distracted...busy people working hard dont have time to curate their entertainment like some of us

THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE RIGHT

just because people will accept the best of what is available doesnt mean that ***if they had a choice*** they wouldn't choose the better option

your point is like saying "People go to Wal-Mart...it's hugely popular...that proves that people would rather have a cheap chinese made bicycle rather than a US made one"

Wal-Mart gets all the customers not because of quality, but because of *******ARTIFICIAL SCARCITY IN THE MARKET*********

it's an engineered lack of options...it's obvious and you are a dupe for not seeing it

Re:"the market" = biz managers (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490231)

people want relevant, accurate news more than ever
 
LOL!!!! People want news that makes them look like they've been right all along and are the most insightful of all their friends. How many leftists pissed and moaned that Bush was fucking us with the Patriot Act that are now silent since their "worst fears" have been confirmed.... as being abused by Obama? Not a peep, for the most part. The right will be doing the same thing if the power swings back their way in 2016.
 
It's not about facts, it's about what people want to see.

Re:"the market" = biz managers (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 months ago | (#47490649)

Why should we be amazed that something established by a religious right wing nut job is abused by another right wing nut job?

Re:"the market" = biz managers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490673)

You must not deal with the public much. Meh. I wonder what your real take on this was 6 years ago. Everyone around here tries to act like they knew everything all along. By the way you guys talk you should all be billionaires with your mighty insight into human nature you should be raking in the benefits like a fortune teller. You guys act like you know everything short of the winning lottery numbers well before anyone else.

Re:"the market" = biz managers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490981)

Info is worthless in the Free Market, which is good thing.

Re:"the market" = biz managers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47491039)

Everyone around here tries to act like they knew everything all along.

That's because it was obvious to anyone with a brain, assuming we're talking about the NSA's activities. We had things like ECHELON a long time ago, and everyone with a brain already knew that mass surveillance of the Internet and phone calls were possible. Furthermore, we had reports that scraped the surface of the NSA's activities in 2006, and again, everyone knew that they were willing to do these things. So... how could you *not* know?

Re:"the market" = biz managers (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 months ago | (#47491377)

You guys? Odd, I'm alone here.

I knew one thing: That it doesn't matter whether you pick candidate A or candidate B from The Party. Why the hell should it make any difference? I have to admit, as an European it may be the distance that makes tiny details disappear, but I just can't see the difference between what you claim to be two parties.

Seriously, I watched a "debate" between the candidates (even though I'd be kinda hard pressed to call it a debate when the participating people are not allowed to talk to each other). And I was sitting there wondering why the fuck the show master (I have no better word for the buffoon sitting there asking the questions) kept asking ridiculously uninteresting and unimportant questions. Until I noticed: He can't ask anything else. At least not without revealing that they'd essentially give the SAME answer. Wars, unemployment, financial crisis, liberties and terrorism, no matter what "interesting" topic he would ask about, they'd essentially give him the SAME answer. So all that's left is petty stuff.

So why the heck should it make a difference which turd you put into the white house?

Re:"the market" = biz managers (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 2 months ago | (#47491677)

Because one group is a bunch of insane goons who'd eat their own babies.

The other group claims to be their polar opposite. They're the insane goons who'd eat YOUR babies. It's got to be one or the other. No room for a middle. Exact opposites! You must choose whether to be one of the "good guys" or one of the "bad guys". You believe in babies, don't you?

See? SEE?

Re:"the market" = biz managers (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 2 months ago | (#47490537)

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 Extinction" is 75% there after two weeks. Reality disagrees with you.

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

No, most people mainstream because they want to since it involves the least effort. I could certainly find something I like better but a pizza from the popular pizza shop down on the corner will probably be fine. Those clothes I wear might not be a fashion statement but they work well enough. My car is certainly mainstream and it has its conveniences when it comes to service, repair, parts and resale market. Tried and true and not on the bleeding edge of anything. Maybe I could find one better or simpler or lower priced or lower on maintenance but at the risk of ending up with something I eventually won't like.

Like everyone I've got a few things I really care deeply about, like what parts my computer have and the other 95% I don't really care, I just want a product that's decent and will work for me unless I have some sort of special needs. Like what brand of tooth paste I use, I barely remember it well enough to pick up the same tube next time and I certainly don't care - it's not brand loyalty it's brand apathy. There's a few I don't like the taste of so there's "lemons" in the market and I can't really say I know what the improvements would be. It's not like I'm going to start reading toothpaste reviews to pick the best one.

false choice (0)

globaljustin (574257) | about 2 months ago | (#47491283)

I responded to another person like you, but since you mentioned TRANSFORMERS...

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 Extinction" is 75% there after two weeks. Reality disagrees with you.

that proves my point, actually

Transformers remakes are shit

they grossed alot of money

that ****does not prove you right****

because there is ***NO CHOICE***

moviegoers couldn't choose between different versions of the remake...you are taking a false choice and twisting it to prove a non-existent point

if they want to see Transformers with updated special effects, there is only one option...seeing the ones with horrible writing

also, we're several iterations into this now...people have been conditioned to accept lower quality by artificial scarcity

lastly, it doesn't matter that some people will watch anything...YES...I admit that is a true fact

just because people will watch whatever shit gets most marketing doesn't mean that they wouldn't ***choose a better option if they had one***

you logic is backwards...by your logic, a zoo animal *must* like their food because they eat all of it...forget the fact that *it's all the food they get*

false choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47491459)

If that's the case, then explain Twilight. It's not like there aren't choices of books out there...

Re:false choice (1)

diamondmagic (877411) | about 2 months ago | (#47491749)

Who the hell are you to tell other people which movies, or any products for that matter, they must and must not like?

Uh, that's not how it works (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 2 months ago | (#47491471)

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)

Re:"the market" = biz managers (1)

mattwarden (699984) | about 2 months ago | (#47491485)

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.

Again! (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 2 months ago | (#47490169)

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'.

Re:Again! (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490213)

Ah yes, that tragic story was detailed in the Spielberg classic, "Schindler's Lift".

Re:Again! (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 2 months ago | (#47490369)

Virtual +1 Funny to you, sir.

Re:Again! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490235)

Yes. Massive employment due to automation and outsourcing is also called "progress". The impoverishment of the 99% and the death of the middle class, and the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a small, all-powerful minority is the result of this "progress". Maybe we should gather the engineers and technoweenies responsible for this "progress" and skin them alive.

Re:Again! (2)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 months ago | (#47490591)

Or you could stop being a mouth-breather and become an engineer or technoweenie.

Re: Again! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47491065)

Yeah, like... Fuck books? Because someone else is getting rich...? Is this Stockholm syndrome?

Re:Again! (1)

Nemyst (1383049) | about 2 months ago | (#47491373)

If progress means the end of books (be they virtual or physical) and the decay of culture around the globe, I don't want your progress.

Controlling prices? (2)

Austrian Anarchy (3010653) | about 2 months ago | (#47490193)

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.

Re:Controlling prices? (2)

Albanach (527650) | about 2 months ago | (#47490329)

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 minimum quality filter, and their associated marketing departments for bringing books to the purchaser's attention.

Re:Controlling prices? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490371)

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 minimum quality filter, and their associated marketing departments for bringing books to the purchaser's attention.

They could pay others for their marketing, editing, and payola too and discover how much money it costs to pay those people.

Re:Controlling prices? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490539)

Self-published books are looked down on for a reason.
I've "bought" some self-published stuff for $0 on amazon.
It's pretty bad.
It's basically as if the author had an idea for a story, put it down on paper, and submitted the pdf.
The stories have potential sometimes, but the writing is just bad.
A mix of short 4 word sentences and half a page run on sentences.
Descriptions that are just repeated every several pages. Whole books written in the format of:
I walked through the door. I looked at the guy. I said this. He said that. I walked back to the other place. I shot the alien. I picked him up.
The alien was gross and ugly. I carried him back to the first place.

Just because you self-publish doesn't mean you don't need an editor.

Re:Controlling prices? (1)

Austrian Anarchy (3010653) | about 2 months ago | (#47490781)

Self-published books are looked down on for a reason. I've "bought" some self-published stuff for $0 on amazon. It's pretty bad. It's basically as if the author had an idea for a story, put it down on paper, and submitted the pdf. The stories have potential sometimes, but the writing is just bad. A mix of short 4 word sentences and half a page run on sentences. Descriptions that are just repeated every several pages. Whole books written in the format of: I walked through the door. I looked at the guy. I said this. He said that. I walked back to the other place. I shot the alien. I picked him up. The alien was gross and ugly. I carried him back to the first place.

Just because you self-publish doesn't mean you don't need an editor.

Be that as it may, those are not the people we are talking about here. The topic is published authors at particular publishing houses whining about the retail price placed on their books. Books which they could have easily published, using exactly the same words, without a "publisher."

Re:Controlling prices? (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 2 months ago | (#47491681)

They could have, but it would have been a lot more work. At the very minimum, you need to hire a second pair of eyes to proof read your novel before you toss it up on Amazon for anything more than $0. For someone who is going to take it seriously and do it properly, that alone can cost $400-500. At the 99 cent price point, you need to sell nearly a thousand copies just to break even. Unless you're a well known author, the odds of that happening are pretty low.

How much does an editor cost? (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 months ago | (#47491721)

I agree with you that an editor provides valuable service. This means an author needs to work this service into her budget. How much does it typically cost for a private author, as opposed to a major publisher, to hire an editor?

The end of reading as culturally relevant... (0)

west (39918) | about 2 months ago | (#47490205)

The end of reading as culturally relevant is likely inevitable. It won't disappear, but it will become like poetry - practiced by a few, and written by as many people as read it.

The sad part is that the book market as it stands today obviously makes it clear that there is a (somewhat) viable market. Unfortunately, the introduction of the electronic element means that customers would have to accept that they were paying for the content (whose price hasn't changed) rather than the physical book.

The whole $30 for a hardcover, $10 for a paperback was merely the cover story that people used to allow themselves to spend a lot more money to get the content faster. Stripped of that, most would-be customers can't accept the idea of paying $25 for the first year and then $9 for the electronic copies. They need that tangible crutch to give themselves permission to spend.

Of course, other industries have this problem as well. I will happily spend $30 on a program for the PC, but cannot bring myself to spend $10 for the app that does the identical thing because... my brain tells me $10 for the app is simply too much. So I go without and am less happy for it. Multiple this by millions, and you have the book industry.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (3, Informative)

murdocj (543661) | about 2 months ago | (#47490245)

I don't see anything in the rest of your post that supports the idea that the reading is about to become a lost art practiced by only a few.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (3, Interesting)

west (39918) | about 2 months ago | (#47490389)

Sorry, lost the thread.

With e-books becoming more dominant and less money coming into the industry, the bookstores die (they're already highly marginal now). With bookstores' death, so go the publishers (after all, any established author will make more money from self-publishing and now the *one* (incredibly important) thing the publishers offer - shelf space - is gone).

With publishers gone, we all essentially become slush pile readers. The books are nearly free, but the constraint is *time*, not money, and with the publishers gone, we're now looking at instead of 1 in 10 new books being decent, we're looking at 1 in 1,000. And quite frankly, there's movies and Angry Birds on our e-book readers that have a much higher payoff rate.

Established authors do okay, but the discovery rate of new authors drops like a stone. Sure a handful get discovered each year, but the current book industry discovers thousands each year. (Where discover means they are distinguished enough from the crowd to have a *chance* at success.) As there are fewer and fewer new authors making it (but more and more authors writing for at least a generation while writing is culturally relevant), the signal to noise ratio keeps dropping.

Even worse, businesses realize that while selling books doesn't make much money, selling services to desperate authors makes a killing. If you are browsing to find a new author you know nothing about, Amazon currently shows us the top 1,000 or so books from mainstream publishers, with a few self-published in the mix. At some point, it makes a *lot* more money by showing us the top 1,000 books from the authors willing to pay the most.

And unfortunately, unlike mainstream publishers, who invest in a book not because they love it, but because they believe it will be what you want to read, would-be self-published authors aren't buying advertising based on the books quality, but on their own personal resources.

Amazon, et al. will make a lot of money for decades even as the book market to readers collapse.

Of course, old favorites won't disappear. They'll be a handful of new discoveries each year from self-publishing. Enough that books won't be "dead". But the idea that book reading will become marginal enough that it's cultural significance will essentially be irrelevant.

i.e. like poetry.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1, Informative)

nospam007 (722110) | about 2 months ago | (#47490513)

"With publishers gone, we all essentially become slush pile readers."

Sure, I decide which font I use on my device, which font size, margin, line spacing and so on, if the author knows where to click for the spellchecker, I'm good with the slush.

All the 25 professions that got axed were just useful when printing on a specific size of dead tree.
I say: Good riddance.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (3, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | about 2 months ago | (#47490689)

Professional editing isn't just about the appearance of a text on the page, it can also be about making the text coherent and understandable. Kindle-only books on Amazon are often riddled with errors like one passage accidently moved to the wrong part of the book by a careless cut-and-paste operation, a footnote number linking to a different footnote that has nothing to do with the passage in question, or confusing, non-standard terminology for the field in quetion. Sometimes hyperlinks, whether because of improper formatting or negligence on the part of the publisher, don't go to the external sites they should. A spellchecker doesn't catch any of this.

Furthermore, even within ebook publishing, there is still a need for someone more computer savvy than the average author to have a look at the manuscript. For hyphenation to work correctly in next-generation e-readers (ditto for audiobook support), someone has to tag foreign-language words with the right ISO-639 tags. Image floating is still difficult to get right and requires some human intervention.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 2 months ago | (#47491317)

"Professional editing isn't just about the appearance of a text on the page, it can also be about making the text coherent and understandable."

I have a copy of "Finnegan's Wake" on my coffee table saying otherwise. :-)

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

CRCulver (715279) | about 2 months ago | (#47491369)

Finnegans Wake (note that there is no apostrophe) is entirely coherent and enjoyable as long as one has the linguistic background to understand the constant (and rather tiresome) punning in the book. In any event, this particular book is a case for the value of editors, as the Rose & Oâ(TM)Hanlon edition is vastly superior to the error-ridden text now in the public domain and widely sold.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

Nemyst (1383049) | about 2 months ago | (#47491409)

This. As is often the case with /., it's an all or nothing deal. There's no way in hell that anything the publishers or record labels provide the authors and artists could actually be worthwhile. What antiquated notion! Anybody can produce a bestseller in their bedroom or record the best label of the year in their garage.

Editors are very important. They're the sanity check of the author. They're a reliable and honest reader. They help form the books by taking the often jumbled and incoherent source material that was jotted down in hundreds of sittings, sometimes in the wrong order, and shaping that into the final product. While some authors can do without them, few books would be just as good (let alone better) without an editor's involvement. This is also why good publishers can be distinguished from bad publishers on multiple levels, not just on who they sign up.

The same thing can be said about record labels, but I'm not going to go into detail. The point is: YES the publishers, record labels and all that have been exploiting content creators and taking a much too large part of the pie. That does not however mean that they are of no use whatsoever.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

murdocj (543661) | about 2 months ago | (#47491267)

The tactile experience of actually holding a book in your hand, being able to flip the pages, is far better than anything offered by current electronic devices. Sure, the various e-readers are convenient, but convenience isn't everything. Book printing and book reading aren't disappearing anytime soon. In fact, I'm seeing more small bookstores pop up as people realize the limitations of the online experience and go back to browsing.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 2 months ago | (#47491333)

"The tactile experience of actually holding a book in your hand, being able to flip the pages, is far better than anything offered by current electronic devices."

Flip pages? Such modern things are just for young whippersnappers. I prefer scrolls, one long page you can scroll. Even computers use that method.

Although my father prefers stone tablets, he says the weight gives it a sense of importance that modern things like scrolls, papyrus and 'books' miss.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

bmo (77928) | about 2 months ago | (#47490609)

Bookstores aren't dying.

BIG bookstores are dying. The independent bookstores seem to be multiplying, after what seemed like iminent death at the hands of Borders, B&N and BAM.

Borders is gone. B&N is smaller, and BAM is simply disgusting and I won't go there ever again after going there once (it's a southern 'christian' company and it shows, especially in the whole two shelves of science books they had - I re-shelved Behe's "darwin's black box" in Fantasy). And when I was at BAM, I swear it was a whole lot of floor space for too few customers. Its days are numbered. Here in the Northeast, anyway.

But indie book shops where you get personal assistance and customer service? There's a renaissance.

Amazon isn't killing them. Amazon is killing the book-megastore.

--
BMO

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

CRCulver (715279) | about 2 months ago | (#47490661)

BIG bookstores are dying. The independent bookstores seem to be multiplying, after what seemed like iminent death at the hands of Borders, B&N and BAM.

Could you please cite evidence for this "renaissance"? While local smaller bookstores are hanging on, they aren't surviving as bookstores per se: they have massively cut the floor space dedicated to books and instead are selling hipster accoutrements: tea sets, Lomography cameras, vinyl records, and hip stationary. Reading is down considerably in recent years, and what books are read can be had cheapest online.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

bmo (77928) | about 2 months ago | (#47490691)

Online shopping was going to kill brick and mortar entirely....

At least that was the story 15 years ago.

Brick and mortar retail is still there and taking up more real-estate than ever.

>indie bookstores are only for hipsters

Yeah, well, prejudicial bigotry gets you nowhere.

--
BMO

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

CRCulver (715279) | about 2 months ago | (#47490731)

Way to misquote me. I never said that such shops were "only for hipsters". However, there's no denying that in certain markets, hipsters make up a powerful consumer force, and a shop can stay afloat by expanding its stock to meet their demand. However, I do wonder what will happen to these shops when fashion changes, as it inevitably will.

Brick and mortar retail is still there and taking up more real-estate than ever.

Yeah, I'm still waiting for a citation that the amount of floor space dedicated to books in retail stores (as opposed to other products) has actually increased in recent years.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

bmo (77928) | about 2 months ago | (#47491191)

Way to misquote me. I never said that such shops were "only for hipsters".

What a disingenuous complaint.

>mention a whole list of things such as lomography
>claim you're not talking about hipsters.

Yeah, whatever, man.

--
BMO

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

CRCulver (715279) | about 2 months ago | (#47491249)

Damn, son, do you have any reading comprehension skills? Of course I mentioned hipsters. The point of my post above was that offering non-book items of interest to this lucrative demographic is one major way that bookstores are staying afloat. But how you got from that to your misquote "Indie bookstores are only for hipsters" is beyond me: bookstores continue to offer items that interest non-hipsters, but they simply aren't as powerful a profit centre.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (2)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 2 months ago | (#47491479)

Poetry dug its own grave. It's hard to have sympathy with them.

"Poetry is nobody's business except the poet's," wrote Philip Larkin, "and everybody else can fuck off."

No more superstars (1)

aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) | about 2 months ago | (#47491735)

"Of course, old favorites won't disappear. They'll be a handful of new discoveries each year from self-publishing. Enough that books won't be "dead". But the idea that book reading will become marginal enough that it's cultural significance will essentially be irrelevant."

More books or at least book-length works are being published now than in the past. So a few percentage of good books out of a couple of million bad books is still a lot.

This development parallells the development of culture in other fields, such as music. Before the nineteenth century, you could probably count on your fingers and toes the number of composers who were as good as Beethoven and Mozart, since any would-be Beethoven would need not just be talented but had to live near a place where he could hear good live music that he could learn to imitate first then later surpass with masterpieces of his own.

With the development of recorded music and mass-produced musical instruments, any middle-class person of even mediocre musical talent could listen to good or nearly good music just just by switching on the turn table and later the cassette and CD players.

Today, people have greater access to writing and greater access to a possible audience. Many of today's "books" are actually written in "submarine" form, probably serialized in the writer's blog or written as fan faction. And so, the audience even gets access to the act of writing itself. Writers who blog their novels get feedback from readers whose collective comments effectively make them "crowd" editors, similar to the way Wikipedia works.

What you lament is the coming demise of writing and culture is no more than the death of the rock star, or the Shakespeares or Beethovens of the past because their numbers have multiplied through the spread of mass culture.

Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (1)

jeIIomizer (3670945) | about 2 months ago | (#47491097)

So I go without and am less happy for it.

Indeed, in order to be happy, you must Consume. Consume, Consumer! Consume! I command it! Waste all your money! Consume, Consume, Consume!

"A Patreon shareholder writes" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490207)

Also, Amazon is a market leader, so blaming "the market" is blaming them.

eBook publishers aren't even needed. Software to convert DOC/LaTeX to ePub &c. will do the trick, with proofreaders/editors employed separately, and hosting services a dime a dozen. All that remains is a searchable database, which is a high school project.

Re:"A Patreon shareholder writes" (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 2 months ago | (#47490543)

"eBook publishers aren't even needed. Software to convert DOC/LaTeX to ePub &c. will do the trick, with proofreaders/editors employed separately, and hosting services a dime a dozen. All that remains is a searchable database, which is a high school project."

That's Calibre, database included. With a few torrents you have the library of congress on your machine.

Re:"A Patreon shareholder writes" (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 2 months ago | (#47490671)

That is how I published my PhD. The "publisher" took a small cut to get it an ISBN and to have it added to some catalogs, but proposed a very reasonably priced printer that he has a deal with for it. (Physical copies were mandatory.) All rights for electronic publishing remain with me. The book itself is LaTeX, and for proofreading, I paid $1000 to a lady that offers this as a service and did a pretty good job of it. A fiction author could possibly get away with having some loyal fans do the proofreading for free in exchange for early access. And these days, a fiction author does not need to produce physical copies, those that want one could easily be served by book-on-demand systems.

The only people that will suffer under this system is those that produce trash (not the genre) and the publishers that have become superfluous. Of course, editors still have value, and some authors will want to retain the services of one. But there is absolutely no reason to not hire them directly, either for a cut or for a fixed or per-effort fee.

More the economics of publishing (4, Insightful)

Crashmarik (635988) | about 2 months ago | (#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.

Re:More the economics of publishing (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490327)

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

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

Re:More the economics of publishing (1)

mbone (558574) | about 2 months ago | (#47490541)

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.

Re:More the economics of publishing (1)

Ardyvee (2447206) | about 2 months ago | (#47490567)

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 produced by humanity.

More the economics of publishing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47491329)

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

There is literally as much content as the market will bear, no more, no less.

but..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490277)

every fiat currency bases its value on little more than reputation. The US Dollar is backed by the exact same thing that backs Bitcoins. Someone somewhere believes they have value. Heck most of the currencies in the developed world are fiat.... anything happens to the reputation behind them and they go from functional to not worth the value of the stock they are printed on just like that.

Re:but..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490287)

And replied to the wrong post :P

The issue is big publishing (4, Interesting)

BLKMGK (34057) | about 2 months ago | (#47490283)

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

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

Writing business is booming! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490297)

FFS that is why Amazon is trying to solidify it's monopoly over ebooks. Because now more than ever, the number of authors and works available online are increasing at an astonishing rate.
Amazon is trying to take over every corner of the market, but it's simply growing too fast.

Also, while Amazon isn't a complete monopoly, it still has enough control to bring prices this low so far. That's on purpose, but not sustainable. They're getting desperate, bluffing, and they're going to lose.

PS actual book prices doesn't matter as much as the author's royalties and rights actually do.

And Apple are the bad guys (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490339)

Oh, Apple are trying to do price-fixing, watch out!

Meanwhile, Amazon's race to the bottom is killing off the profits of authors because all they care about is selling Kindle hardware.

Not Amazon's fault (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 2 months ago | (#47490351)

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.

how much are authors paid under this model (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490399)

With all the comment about this model of publishing, there is no information I can find how much authors are actually paid

Amazon limits the amount of money it receives from individual customers who use this service, That's easy to understand.

But what happens when a book has vast mass appeal.

If millons of customers read this knd of book, is the author paid per view without an upper limit on payment.

Does an author agree to a fixed price buyout for the rights to a book.

Is an author paid per view up to a maximum royalty figure with everything over that going to Amazon.

Does Rowling get the same deal as an unknown author.

Can an author withdraw a book from this pay per view system once it is in it. For example, depending on the royalty rate, it might make sense for an author to place a book in the Amazon ecology to see if it has legs and then self publish outside of Amazon if the book is a big seller

In responding to this, please try to indicate whether you have acutal factual knowledge of the payment schedule and authors contract terms as opposed to whether you are just commenting or speculating.

Re:how much are authors paid under this model (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 months ago | (#47490557)

The author doesn't agree to anything, the publisher does *

* speculation

When they say "market", they mean large corps (1)

tristes_tigres (952446) | about 2 months ago | (#47490401)

"Techcrunch" and particularly their head honcho Masnick are unapologetic corporate shills.

Re:When they say "market", they mean large corps (1)

tristes_tigres (952446) | about 2 months ago | (#47490433)

Damn, confused them with techdirt

Times change (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490409)

It used to be that if you wanted to learn a new skill picking up a book and reading about it was the most commonly available option. For many skills a quick how-to video on YouTube is sufficient. Books will never go away completely but they aren't always the best and/or only commonly available option.
 
Anybody see where I left my buggy whip?

Perhaps... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490531)

The real problem is too many middle men. Publish a DRM-Free ebook on your own website and I will buy.

Jack Conte, Nataly Dawn, Kickstarter, Patreon (5, Informative)

bmo (77928) | about 2 months ago | (#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

or

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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
Part 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

--
BMO

The patreon model could really work (5, Interesting)

gweihir (88907) | about 2 months ago | (#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.

In other words... (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490651)

the collusion [that wasn't collusion] between Apple and publishers wasn't bad for authors or the publishing industry as a whole.

Price effects MY decisions! (2)

sirwired (27582) | about 2 months ago | (#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.

Re:Price effects MY decisions! (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 2 months ago | (#47490977)

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 the price comes down.

Then my library doesn't have it, and I exhaust all the things on my list that they currently have (or I sign up for a few things and am in a queue that is likely months long...) and stop reading. After a few weeks, I will continue to not read until it occurs to me to check on a book, and maybe that $14 book is down to $9 (still not great, but I haven't read anything in a while (i.e. my budget has recovered), so what the hey)

The middlemen taking a big chunk of the money for distribution made sense when distribution was the difficult and expensive part of the proposition. It hardly makes sense for this to continue when the cost to produce a copy of an ebook is vanishingly small and half of it is the customer's responsibility.

Automation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47490959)

Liberals jobs will be automated LOL. ;-]]

"hard(...) for authors to earn a living" (1)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about 2 months ago | (#47490969)

What with 99% of today's authors being business people first, marketing experts second, and authors last, this is a good development.

Return to patronage (1, Insightful)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | about 2 months ago | (#47491193)

The idea that anyone can make a living directly off of content generation is going to be a particularly quaint 20th century phenomenon as the years go by. Even without the corporate driven market disruption, content creators of the present and the future continue to face increasing competition from the heartless and cold past.

Eventually, and soon, content generation for pay is going to be something primarily sponsored by wealthy patrons, rather than the mass media buying public.

For consumers, the difficulty will be deciding which content to view, not which content they can afford.

Economies of Scale -- A$$hats! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47491281)

Assuredly I'm exaggerating, but would you want a billion readers paying a dollar each for your book or 100,000 readers paying 15 to 20 dollars each. (The asshats here being the publishers using the dead-trees business model.)

Call it what it is (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47491361)

Amazon doesn't want to kill writing. They want to kill publishing. BIG difference.

Direct action (1)

noshellswill (598066) | about 2 months ago | (#47491539)

History teaches direct action is most effective ...  if not most moral.   Would it help the working oeuvre if a starving writer put a bullet through Bezos head?

Another invisible hand failure (1)

manu0601 (2221348) | about 2 months ago | (#47491669)

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.

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