Posts Tagged ‘The economics of publishing’

Gary Bell QC – author of Animal QC – is speaking live in Nottingham next Thursday (November 12). If you live anywhere near it will be well-worth attending – Gary’s an exceptionally funny and interesting speaker. All profits from the event will go to ‘Help a Nottinghamshire Child’ which aims to keep Nottinghamshire youngsters away from crime – ironic, given his own brushes with the law in his youth.

After highly successful appearances at the Ilkley and Wigtown book festivals, Gary will also be appearing at various other festivals next year. He’s also talking in Clitheroe and Cheltenham in the New Year – more details as and when.

In other news, good point – what is so bad about trying to make money out of ‘middlebrow’ books (which is very much not easy anyway)?

I mean, come on – we all know that ninety per cent of the books which win the Booker Prize and probably half of those which get reviewed in The Guardian or the London Review of Books are read by virtually no-one in the actual world, and are much more about intellect-signalling by the editors, reviewers and purchasers who just want to put them on their shelves. This is certainly what I do – here’s a random shot of one of our bookcases:

intellect-signalling bookshelves

This counts as intellect-signalling by my standards

I know I’ve read the PJ O’Rourke and Belloc, but of the others… if I’ve read half of these I don’t remember it (which is possible, I suppose) (and many of them are pretty middlebrow anyway). If literary types are coming round, I just bone up on a few wiki synopses so that I can talk knowledgeably, or skilfully divert the subject to what was on telly yesterday or the weather if I haven’t had time.

(On that latter point, I’ve often thought it would be a good idea to produce jackets for Gogol or Proust which could be slipped over one’s Lee Child or Dean Koontz for train-reading purposes. It would only work with people opposite, of course.)

Where was I? Books bound with human skin (don’t be eating your lunch while reading this).

Amazon is opening its first actual book shop, in Seattle. (The story was originally broke by Shelf Awareness.) It will stock 6,000-ish titles (which isn’t very many for the size of the place), all face-out, and will order them in based on some sort of algorithm which uses local peoples’ preferences. Prices will be in line with online, apparently.

Some people seriously want to nationalise Twitter. It lost $132 million in the last quarter and is struggling, apparently.

Five books about Guy Fawkes.



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In terms of eBooks, we tend to concentrate on Kindle on the basis that that’s the best place to get a return, but we’ve had people asking us why some of our titles are not available via iTunes.

So the following Theodore Dalrymple eBooks have recently been added to the Apple platform:

Life at the Bottom

Our Culture, What’s Left of It

Not With a Bang but a Whimper

In other news:

Google Books is now a thing:

On Friday, a federal circuit court made clear that Google Books is legal. A three-judge panel on the Second Circuit ruled decisively for the software giant against the Authors Guild, a professional group of published writers which had alleged Google’s scanning of library books and displaying of free “snippets” online violated its members’s copyright.

Maybe we’re missing something, but as long as Google can’t just scan books and give them away (they can’t) then this is probably a good thing? It’s just another way for people to sample your stuff – a free ad, effectively.

I am currently reading David Nobbs‘ memoir, I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today. The older of our two readers will recognise that as the catchphrase of ‘C.J.’, Reggie Perrin’s boss in the 1970s TV series which starred Leonard Rossiter and was created by Nobbs. It’s not as funny as one might expect, but I’m only a third in. His early Army experiences are very Eddy Nugent.

Picking Up The Brass_PUTB full cover jpeg ARRSENot David Nobbs, but a lad quite like him

The other half of Monday Books is currently reading Kate Morton’s The Lake House, which is ‘very good so far’. The thing that struck us both is that it arrived as a hardback, RRP £18.99, a day or two after publication, for £5.99. Astonishingly good value; how can bookshops compete?

An interesting article about the origins of the horror genre.

The Atlantic on the landscape of Gansu.

David Thompson’s brilliant Friday Ephemera series is well worth checking out (and you might bung him a few quid while you’re at it).


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The eBook of ANIMAL QC is now available for pre-order on Kindle, and we’ve spent quite a long time working out what to charge for it.

The market price for the electronic version of a new hardback seems to be around 60% of the paper version – I say ‘seems to be’, because there’s no hard and fast rule (and, to be perfectly honest, we’re really just sort of following the herd, albeit being a bit cheaper than most other publishers).

After lengthy internal wrangling, we’ve priced the eBook at £7.99 – less than half the price of the hardback*, but still not an insignificant purchase for a lot of people.

We think £7.99 for the eBook is a fair price.

It’s true that we don’t have the same level of production cost as we do with a paper book (though it’s not free!), and that we don’t pay the retailer as much (though we do, in common with other publishers, pay the author more).

But then, collectively we have spent a great deal of time working on the book with Gary, and we’ll need to sell an awful lot of e-copies to show a profit on our time alone.

Never mind us, though: does it represent good value?

Well, perhaps naively, I assume that most† of the value of a book resides in the words (unless you’re talking about Kim Kardashian’s latest).

It terms of sheer quantity, you’re getting a good deal – it’s around 100,000 words long, so even reasonably quick readers will derive several hours of entertainment from it, and way more in £-per-minute than going to the flicks to watch a Hollywood film, say.

(We took the kids to see Jurassic World at the weekend; two adults, two children, one litre of Coke Zero and four smallish tubs of sweets came to £46; we enjoyed it, though we couldn’t help but question the number of velociraptors, and their astonishing ability to survive being crushed against trees by speeding trucks. I think we should have gone to see Minions, where no questions of reality should intrude.)

Gary as a fairy

Gary Bell QC (left). Can an eBook by this man really be worth £7.99? The jury is out (but then they usually come back in Gary’s favour).

In terms of quality, only readers can judge that. I will say that you will never have read – and perhaps never will read – a more astonishing memoir by a leading British barrister.

Re the pricing of eBooks, it’s a strange thing. My basic understanding of pricing is that it is a signal, of scarcity. An apple costs (say) 50p because that price contains the cost to produce and make available the apple, plus some profit.

The profit reflects the fact that the buyer knows that apples are not scarce and can be bought elsewhere (or substituted by plums).

This applies to paper books, too; – they are priced at a level which tries to take account of unknown demand and known supply.

With eBooks, there is no supply problem: we can supply a billion. Maybe this is what makes it hard to price them.

*At £16.99, the hardback is also very reasonable: once you tot up the costs of production, sales and distribution and the (at least) fifty per cent of the jacket price which goes to the retailers, and then the author’s royalty, you can see that the return on the fairly substantial amount of cash we’re outlaying and risking is not vast. Unless we sell 500,000 copies, in which case, yes it’s vast[ish].

†Whenever I travel by train I usually do so with my copy of whatever book I’m reading wrapped inside a loose jacket for something by Gogol or Proust. I’ve often wondered whether there’s a market for 50 Shades of Grey-type soft porn disguised as A Tale of Two Cities, or a Jack Reacheresque thriller with a Dostoevsky jacket. Chicks dig Dostoevsky, apparently.

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I’m never quite sure whether these promotions are worth entering, but that for AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN seems to have worked.

As I write, it’s currently the No1 book in the Afghan war category, and No1 in Royal Marines related books, too. (There are a number of Marines featured, but it’s mostly about the Army.)

The current price – £1.99 – jumps back up to nearly £7 later today, so now is a good time to buy if you’re umming and ahhing.

For an idea of the content, click on this link to the story of Aaron McCormick – there’s more on each of the nineteen other chapters at the links at the bottom of that page.

I doubt you’ll have a more emotional read this year.


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At The Going Down Of The Sun – which contains heart-breaking stories such as this, this, and this – will be in a one-week kindle promotion on Amazon from tomorrow.

The price will be dropped from £7.99 to £1.99 during that time.

Kindle pricing continues to be a bit of an issue (for us). To me, £7.99 feels like quite a lot for an eBook, in the same way that I don’t mind paying £10 for a CD (or a lot more for a piece of rare vinyl) but I don’t like shelling out a similar amount for the electronic version.

On the other hand, if you have an £18.99 hardback out there then you feel you need to support it, rather than undercut it, with the eBook.

We could have priced the hardback a little lower, but even at a RRP of £18.99 we won’t do much more than break even on it even if they all sell, given the expenses associated with a book of this type.

Meanwhile nice reviews and comments continue to accrue slowly (if you’ve read and enjoyed the book, please do review it at Amazon, or elsewhere).

Piers Morgan called it ‘a brilliant book’ the other day; he may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Piers, but I knew him years ago and his heart is very definitely in the right place. He made a mistake with the Mirror soldiers story, but he paid for that with his job. I can’t quite understand the hatred.

Here’s a nice Facebook mention:

Facebook comments1


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According to Nicola Solomon, the chief executive of the Society of Authors, traditional publishing is unfair and unsustainable because authors are earning less than they were, while publishers’ earning are up or, at worst, holding firm.

Apparently, authors’ median incomes have dropped to £11,000 pa – which doesn’t sound all that bad, until you remember that that includes the earnings of whoever has replaced JK Rowling and the Fifty Shades of Grey author in the last 12 months and the rest of the top couple of hundred writers. Clearly, for most people it is a (hopefully) paid hobby which may one day develop into a career.

Meanwhile, ‘publishers, retailers and agents are all now taking a larger slice of the profit when a book is sold’.

Authors need fair remuneration if they are to keep writing and producing quality work, she said.

Publisher profits are holding up and, broadly, so are total book sales if you include ebooks but authors are receiving less per book and less overall due mainly to the fact that they are only paid a small percentage of publishers’ net receipts on ebooks and because large advances have gone except for a handful of celebrity authors.

(P)ublishers are doing less for what they get. There are still important things they do – a traditional publisher can edit, copy edit, design, market, promote, make your book better, deal with foreign sales.

With ebooks, though, publishers’ costs are less, so authors should get a better share. They do not have to produce, distribute or warehouse physical copies. Even on traditional books, publishers’ production costs have gone down but authors have not benefited from these costs savings. And, increasingly authors are being asked to do a lot of marketing and promotion themselves.

I appreciate that she’s probably talking mostly about major publishers, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but our contracts haven’t really changed, and our profits are way down.

One thing that definitely hasn’t changed is that (like all publishers, outwith the vanity press) we pay all the upfront costs for every book we publish, and we take all of the risk.

Nicola is (I think) a solicitor. I have no idea what she earns in either private practice (if she’s in it) or as the head of the SoA (if she’s paid), but I do know that you can publish a really nice paperback book – say 5,000 copies, with a lovely jacket, with embossing and spot-UV, and a decent marketing campaign – for around £12,000.

I’m sure that Nicola has £12,000 to spare – and if not she could surely borrow it.

If publishing is so easy, and rapacious publishers are so shamelessly ripping off authors, it ought (one would think) to be a fairly simple matter for Nicola to start a publishing business that offers authors better contracts and takes less profit (when there is profit to take)!

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FROM JANUARY 1, eBooks* (sold through Amazon and other third party sellers) will be charged at the prevailing UK rate, twenty per cent, as opposed to the just about current three per cent.

(Books-proper remain VAT free for crazy historical reasons associated with the idea that reading is a good thing, and it’s quite hard to see why eBooks don’t enjoy the same status; but perhaps that’s not an argument to raise.)

The three per cent, in the case of Amazon, was a bit of an anomaly based on its use of Luxembourg as the hub from which its digital sales are processed.

As far as I can tell – and it is not at all easy to tell – there will only be one effect on us, which is to make our eBooks more expensive.

Obviously, this is not something we welcome, and it will certainly hit sales, but it is not at all on the scale of the bureaucratic nightmare of forms and multi-territory VAT arrangements which awaits those publishers who sell their eBooks direct to customers.

It’s no exaggeration to say that it will be a nightmare of epic proportions, roughly akin to drowning in a vat of hot toffee and razor blades.

Wired covered it here a while ago, so I’ll leave it at that – other than to question what Osborne thinks he will achieve, other than to drive out of business lots of small publishers who rely on direct sales, to reduce the profits of those publishers who remain in business (and therefore the amount of corporation tax he can get his hands on, which to bribe us all before the next election), and to concentrate more power and cash in the hands of the big corporations.

*This doesn’t just affect eBooks – it affects pretty much every digital service bought via any digital supplier, including films, music, and games.

Happy New Year!

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