Promotion Time and Publishing Wars

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Jacket art for The Horsemen's Gambit, by David B. CoeThis week I’m taking a short break from the “Writing Your Book” series to post about something else.  Originally, this was going to be a simple self-promotion post.  I have a book coming out this week — the mass market paperback release of The Horsemen’s Gambit, book II in my Blood of the Southlands trilogy.  The third and final volume in the series, The Dark-Eyes’ War, will be released in hardcover in a couple of weeks, and I’ll be publicizing that in a future post.

The hardcover/paperback progression is not uncommon in publishing, though it is becoming rarer in this economic climate (more and more books are coming out as paperback originals or as trade paperbacks — the larger format paperbacks often used for more mainstream literary releases).  Here’s how the hardcover/paperback progression works.  The hardcover edition of The Horsemen’s Gambit came out last year around this time (January ’09).  Tor didn’t print a whole lot of copies of the hardcover — the print run was somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 copies.  But for the first year the publisher pushed this edition of the book.  The hardcovers sell for around $25.00 to $28.00 a copy, of which the author gets about a 10% royalty.  Usually a book in this format will be purchased by hard-core fans, collectors, and libraries; more casual readers tend to wait for the less expensive paperback edition.  Obviously, big-name authors will see far larger print runs and will sell far more copies of their hardcovers (think J.K. Rowling) but for a midlist author like me, that 6,000 copy print run is not all that unusual.  And given the high price point and the relatively generous royalty rate, this first year is a good time for authors to earn out their advances.

At this point, in February 2010, The Horsemen’s Gambit has been out for a year, and hardcover sales have largely tailed off.  But the hardcover version of the next book in the series is about to come out, and so in order to a) renew interest in the series, and b) spur sales of the new hardcover, Tor is now reissuing the book in what we call mass market (also known as small format) paperback.  The price point now is $7.99 and I get an 8% royalty.  That’s far less royalty money per sale.  On the other hand, the print run is four or five times larger than it was for the hardcover; let’s say 20,000 to 25,000 copies.  Collectors are less likely to buy a paperback, but casual fans are far more likely to.  These are the people who might have read something of mine before but who don’t wait on pins and needles for every David B. Coe release.  Or maybe they’ve never even heard of me, but they see the book in a store and love the cover art.  Or maybe they simply make it a policy never to buy hardcovers because those initial releases are too expensive.

Promoting a re-release is not always as exciting as promoting a brand new hardcover, but it is at least as important, since the paperback edition will reach far more readers.  Plus, sales of the paperback can often feed sales of the subsequent hardcover by boosting interest in the series.  In other words, someone who reads The Horsemen’s Gambit might like it so much that they simply can’t wait another year for The Dark-Eyes’ War to come out in paperback.  So they buy the new hardcover.  For these reasons, I’m doing all I can to drum up interest in the books.  I’m blogging about the release in several places, and promoting both books on my website.  And, in fact, if you’re interested in trying to win a free, signed copy of the hardcover edition of The Dark-Eyes’ War, please visit the contests page on my website.

But because things in the publishing business are never as simple as they ought to be, my promotional efforts this time around have been complicated by something beyond my control.  Amazon.com and MacMillan Publishing, the parent company of Tor Books, are at war right now, and so Amazon is not selling any MacMillan books directly.  You can still access the book pages for MacMillan releases on Amazon.com, but there is no “buy” or “preorder” button.  You can only order the books through a third party.  Why have they done this?  What is the MacMillan-Amazon war about?  Good questions.  On one level, it all seems rather silly:  They are fighting over price points for e-books.  Amazon wants all e-books sold at $9.99 and they are insisting on a percentage structure that is not terribly generous to the publishers or authors.  MacMillan wants to be able to charge more per book (too much, probably) but they also want a more generous percentage of return, more in line with what they will be getting back on sales from Apple’s newly announced iBook Store.

At a deeper level, the conflict is entirely about control of the e-book market.  Amazon has had a stranglehold on that market thus far, but with the release of the (unfortunately named) iPad that’s going to change.  And so MacMillan is standing up to the 700 pound gorilla in the room, and Amazon’s response has been o pull the books off their cyber-shelves.  I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around in this fight, but the fact remains that my fellow MacMillan authors (like Misty) and I are suffering because of it.  So are consumers who want to buy MacMillan books from Amazon.

Perhaps the lesson here is that authors only have so much control over the sales performance of our books.  I could promote this book night and day for the next two weeks, but the fact of the matter is that if Amazon isn’t selling them directly, my numbers will be down, which will impact my next contract, not to mention my royalty statements.  The other lesson is that the market is changing.  Amazon is willing to deprive itself of short term sales of physical books because they understand that ebooks are the future of the industry.  THAT’S the market they want to control.  Which means that in a few years the hardcover/paperback model I outline above might well be obsolete.

David B. Coe
http://DavidBCoe.livejournal.com
http://www.DavidBCoe.com
http://magicalwords.net
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26 comments to Promotion Time and Publishing Wars

  • April

    Looks like Macmillan wins this round: from twitter @ft: Amazon bows to Macmillan over e-book pricing: Online retailer restores publisher’s books to its website and Kindle… http://bit.ly/bVHoEj

  • Best of luck with The Horseman’s Gambit, David (great title, by the way). Your post also explains why my Tor/Macmillan books haven’t been selling on Amazon lately. I had seen the numbers dip thanks to Metricjunkie (a great free service for monitoring Amazon sales) but hadn’t realized why. So thanks for that wholly depressing bit of info :)

  • One of the reasons Amazon backed down was…..the readers! Since everything is tied together, Kindle owners suddenly discovered MacMillan title disappearing and they were ticked off. Fighting a war on two fronts is never a good idea, so Amazon backed down. For now.

    Meanwhile, congrats on the book release and upcoming book launch. It’s always exciting to hold those in your hands — even the ones that are re-issues. Since authors often use the baby analogy for their books, I suppose a re-issue is kind of like a grandchild. :)

  • Amazon may say they’re backing down, but as of 30 seconds ago, they had not restored the Buy buttons for any Macmillan titles.

  • Thanks for the link, April. I hope the article proves to be true, but as Misty points out in her comment, as of 10:00 CST, Amazon had not yet restored any of the “buy” buttons to my books. I’m certainly hoping that they will soon.

    AJ, thanks for the good wishes. I don’t know how long ago Amazon pulled those links — I’m pretty sure that it only happened at the end of last week. But it’s not good news for any of us who write for Tor or other MacMillan imprints.

    Stuart, you raise good points. Readers really do have power to affect the marketplace in situations like these. And this war is far from over. Thanks for the congrats — as you say, the excitement of holding that new book never really goes away. I love the idea of reissue as grandchild.

    Misty, I’ll be checking all day long, as I’m sure you will be, too. This really does suck.

  • David, they pulled the “Buy” buttons late on Friday evening. Word on the street is they waited until New York was shut down for the day in the hope that the mainstream media wouldn’t catch the story until Monday, and they chose a weekend because sales are typically down then. We’ll see what happens.

  • Ah. So basically it was a chickens%@t move all around….

  • Judy B

    Hi David,

    Good luck with the new and old book!

    I’ve been reading ebooks for many years on my Palm and often buy both the paperback and ebook version. I love ebooks while traveling, as long as I remember to bring the charger. Duh, last time I was in England for 2 weeks, the charger stayed home.

    So, do authors make more or less money on the sale of an ebook? It seems to me that once the book is converted into an e-reader format, the cost to “sell” the book should be less, so the author should make more money on the sale. I’m probably wrong. Just curious, as I do see ebooks being a part of the future of publishing.

    ~Judy

  • Emily

    David…

    All of this sounds irritating and awful. I hate the business side of almost everything (esp. acadamia where people who teach the most get paid the least–history and english teachers–because we’re the cheapest to hire). Can fans buy straight from the publisher, rather than through amazon? I’d do that if I knew what amazon was doing to a favorite author. Maybe a link on your blog to the publisher?

  • Hm. That sucks. Well, one more reason for me not to buy the Kindle and put more money and power in Amazon’s hands. If I get a reader I’ll get something else. I’m seeing how ebook rights are gonna be a pretty big thing in contracts now. Seems like an author could get shafted monetarily quite easily.

    I think I’m going to end up being like those old curmudgeons, hollering at people from my front porch rocker about how things used to be as people walk by my house with their futuristic datapad books. Then slam the door and hide in my library of musty old friends.

    “Why, I remember when I even got books signed by real authors and movie stars like Faith Hunter and Bruce Campbell! Can’t do that on your new-fangled Star Trek contraptions, can you?” 😉

  • Judy, that’s a great question, but a complicated one. Early on, publishers tried to impose traditional royalty schedules on e-books, but agents and authors resisted. The numbers for authors are better now, though still not great. Frankly, though, this is all still settling out. The marketplace is still adjusting to new technological and economic realities and it remains to be seen what numbers wind up being standard for e-book royalty rates. Thanks for the good wishes. I’m hoping that things will settle down in the next day or two.

    Emily, it is irritating. To answer your question, here is the link for The Horsemen’s Gambit at the MacMillan site. http://us.macmillan.com/thehorsemensgambit There is no discount, and I don’t know what they charge for shipping and tax, but there it is nevertheless. Thanks for asking. And yes, I’ll put that link on my blogs tomorrow.

    Daniel, I would hold off on the Kindle, although not simply because I’m ticked off at Amazon right now. I’d hold off on all the e-readers for a while longer, even the Max-iPad, or whatever they’re calling it. I think the technology and price points are still sorting themselves out, and it remains to be seen what emerges as the dominant format. Until we know these things, I think any e-reader purchase is a little risky.

  • even the Max-iPad

    Ha! Yes, the jokes have been flying. My brother even said he hopes it comes with wings. 😉

  • David,
    McM/Tor deserves kudos for going up like David (lol) against Goliath. Too bad all the other pubs are chickens**t. Together they could have really accomplished something. Can you see Amazon trying to take them ALL on?

    I’ll head to the bookstore tomorrow to buy my copies. I am a book behind on your series! (hiding head in shame)

  • Thanks, Faith. And no need to hide in shame. I’m behind on lots of reading. But I do appreciate the thought.

    Actually I’m not entirely clear on why Amazon chose to go after MacMillan. McM was one of six to enter into an agreement with Apple, and was not the only house resisting the Amazon e-book policy. But for some reason Amazon chose them — maybe they thought MacMillan would cave and the rest would follow. They were wrong, and it does make me proud of my publisher.

  • Hey David!

    Publishing wars… *sigh* can’t anyone just be happy? Let everyone have a piece of the action and deal?

    Sorry! Good luck with your impending release!!

    I actually work at a bookstore, so I know the whole paperback/hardcover thing. But I honestly prefer the hardcover… when it comes down to it and if I have the money. They are more sturdy, easier to hold and all that jazz. However, with new technologies bigger isn’t always better.

    Didn’t know that about royalties, it’s still the same story whether it’s big or little. Hmm…

  • Hi Hinny. Thanks for the comment and the good wishes. I tend to prefer hardcovers, too, particularly with books I intend to keep for a long time. On the other hand, there is nothing to beat the convenience of a paperback. Not even an e-reader. I’ve never had to recharge a paperback….

    An update: First of all, I received my comp copies of the paperback just now. They look great.

    And as far as I can tell, Amazon.com STILL has not returned the “buy” or “preorder” buttons to their MacMillan books. It seems that a few of the bigger names might be getting their pages fixed, but for the rest of us, nothing yet.

  • And that’s why I buy 100% authetic dead trees in a bookstore. Really sorry about the crap Amazon is pulling on you and other MacMillan authors, David. And good luck with the new book.

  • Yeah, the bricks and mortars are looking really good to me right now. Thanks, Atsiko.

  • Looks like I’ll be tracking down your books at ye old Waldenbooks, then. Will have to get them signed at ConCarolinas. :)

  • Beatriz

    Conga rats, David!

    I learned about this Friday night and spent much of the weekend watching the Amazon Failboat. I bid adieu to my account with them on Sunday.

    I have lots of folks who would like my money; no need to spend it with a company that won’t let me spend when I want to.

  • Thanks, Christina. I’ll look forward to signing them.

    B, I’m tempted to do the same, but I have to admit that I usually do an incredible amount of shopping via Amazon. Now, I’m not sure if I want to continue doing so. They’re REALLY ticked me off with this.

  • Dino

    Hope to see you on the 26th to get my copy of Dark-eyes’ War signed.

  • Well, that would be very cool!

    Hey, everyone should come!! Free dum-dums to anyone driving more than 100 miles round trip!

  • […] in Tennessee, an author waits impatiently for the clash to end. Coe is a blogger I’ve followed ever since I tiptoed onto the Web, because […]

  • April

    Looks like the ‘negotiations’ are still dragging on. Sorry. Possible Amazon fails to understand that their big selling point over the long haul is offering every book ever made*. Hate it for them if that customer trust disappears because THEY remove a giant swath of publishers. Will this drag on and bubble into the NYT? You could be the featured writer with a book coming out during the ‘negotiations’ – call your agent now! And get on that myfacepagebook!!

    *hyperbole, but it is the main reason I use them. I can group my shopping.

  • April, it is still dragging. The pulling of the “buy” buttons was nearly instantaneous; their return is taking too long. I’ve been an avid Amazon shopper too. Convenience, price, shipping costs. Very attractive. But I think they’ve lost me for good.