We have customers asking us "Whatever happened to ..... (author's name)?" and "When will .....(author's name) have a new book?" Sometimes we know because we've seen their publisher's catalog months in advance. Most often, we know no more than you do.
One such case recently has been Barry Eisler. When will there be a new book, have you heard anything about what he's doing, what he's writing? The answer has been haven't heard - try his website. Until today, Friday, Oct 7th.
In an interview that ran on NPR's Morning Edition, Eisler explained that he's done with 'legacy' publishing and will be releasing his new John Rain thriller through Amazon - last month as an e-book and later this month as a paperback that they'll be printing and selling.
Last Spring, Eisler abandoned a $500,000 contract for two books with a print publisher. From what he said on NPR, that wasn't going to make him enough money. "But Eisler stands by his decision to sign on with the distribution giant. "My objectives were to make more money from the title to get the digital out first, and to retain more control over business decisions," he says. Self-publishing was a good way to achieve those goals, but Amazon's deal was a better way... At the end of the day, what matters to Eisler is how easily and how cheaply he can get his writing into the hands of his readers. "What I care about is readers," he says, "because without readers I can't make a living... And I think it's a bad thing for the world if people don't read anymore. I want people to read a lot. To that end, if I can find a way to get readers books that cost less and are delivered better and faster, I want that."
In the past, as anyone who has read this blog can tell you, we've tried to explain the economics of this and how we can't possibly stock Amazon-printed books on both financial and philosophical grounds.
On financial grounds, I was able to get answers from Mirza today about the possibility of ordering copies wholesaler which confirmed what appeared to be obvious: "I understand you'd like to place an order in bulk and would like to know the terms and conditions of bulk order.
Because we're a retailer, not a wholesaler, the prices listed on our website apply to all customers--individual, educational, institutional, and corporate alike. We don't offer additional discounts on large orders of a single title or on large orders of many individual titles.
I wanted to mention that the availability listings on our website are intended for single-copy orders. Orders for many copies of the same item may take longer to assemble than single-copy orders. You'll see the estimated delivery date while placing your order."
If we were not philosophically against stocking Amazon-produced books, we would have to buy them at the same price anyone else would and then either sell them at that 37% discount that everyone gets, or sell them at cover price, which would be $5.87 higher than the publisher. That makes no sense so why do it? And why are we philosophically against stocking Amazon-produced books? Because they're destroying the world of independent booksellers. Hell, independent businesses. What "the availability listings on our website are intended for single-copy orders" means is that are only interested in selling directly to customers and they are not interested in having anyone else sell their books. If they were, they'd have wholesaling terms, which Mirza says they don't.
From NPR's story on Eisler: "It works for Amazon, too. The company uses popular books to attract customers to buy not only its e-reader — the Kindle and now its tablet device, the Fire — but other products as well. That isn't an option for traditional publishers, whose interests lie deeply and exclusively in books. But Eisler says that like any company, publishers exist to make money.
"To say that publishers really care passionately about books as though they are concerned about what's better for the world ... I'm sure when they look in the mirror they feel that way. ... We all do," he says. "But in fact, what they care about is preserving their own position, perks and profit — that's just what establishment players come to do over time."
While we can agree with Eisler that 'established players' do whatever they can to "preserving their own position, perks and profit", he's simply aligned himself with a different established player who is doing everything it can to preserve it's own position and profits. It has shut out competition. Whether you think that is fine or not, it is still monopolistic. And Barry's book is only available through Amazon. If you have a Nook or an E-Reader, you're out of luck. It's Kindle or nothing.
Eisler professes to be concerned with two main considerations: making money and selling books.
"At the end of the day, what matters to Eisler is how easily and how cheaply he can get his writing into the hands of his readers. "What I care about is readers," he says, "because without readers I can't make a living. ... And I think it's a bad thing for the world if people don't read anymore. I want people to read a lot. To that end, if I can find a way to get readers books that cost less and are delivered better and faster, I want that."
And as far as he can tell from his experience with the e-release of The Detachment, it's working: "Sales of The Detachment have blown away sales of any of my previous titles," Eisler says. "
If $500,000 for two books wasn't enough, then he has to hope for a huge volume of readers, especially if he's interested in selling books as cheaply as possible. [The printed version of The Detachment has a list price of $14.95 but Amazon is selling it at a 37% discount to customers at $9.47. The e-books version is priced at $5.99. So the math would say that e-books will probably outsell the printed edition. If, as he says, the e-books are blowing out the door, the readership for the printed version will be lower. And I'm not privy to his contract so I don't know what his cut of sales are but it seems to me that you have to sell a hell of a lot of $5.99 e-books to get up to $250,000.]
But beyond the math and the hopes and intentions, there is something else that is not being addressed: Eisler is dismissing all of the booksellers who helped him grow and build his career. I've met Eisler on a number of occassions, had him in to sign two or three times and he's always been cordial, charming and engaged, and I find his easy dismissal of our efforts as 'legacy' insulting. What he 's saying to everyone in publishing - bookseller and publisher and publicist and sales rep and wholesaler - is that we didn't make him rich enough, didn't sell enough of his books, that we failed him. Our game wasn't good enough. You're going to play somewhere else - got it.
Nearly all of those people who have been asking when will there be a new Barry Eisler are our customers who read him because we recommended that they try him. Those people 'blowing out' the sales of The Detachment are people we - the booksellers and publishers and publicists and sales reps and wholesalers - led to him. His readership didn't just spontaneously erupt. It was built by the efforts of others.
Sorry, Barry, if we couldn't make you enough money. Those of us who have never been offered $500,000 for two books wish you, well... Never mind.
"But in fact, what they care about is preserving their own position, perks and profit — that's just what establishment players come to do over time." So says Barry Eisler, player.
Taking his ball to a new court.