Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

News from the Publishing Hinterlands

I’m rounding up the news this week, which consists of a kickstarter for a new science fiction and fantasy magazine as well as some more fun publishing industry drama.  Grab the popcorn kids!

Uncanny Magazine: A Professional Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature.

The Kickstarter for it is here.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I’m ambivalent about most Kickstarter projects because they are not handled professionally. The idea of crowdfunding is nice, but the results can be ugly on both sides. To customers – supporting a kickstarter is not the same thing as preordering a product. To entreprenurists – if your kickstarter is wildly successful, you could land in a heap of dog poo trying to fill astronomically more orders of your widgets than you planned. Sometimes failure is the best option.)

Uncanny Logo

Now that I’ve gotten off my soapbox, this Kickstarter for a professional magazine looks appealing to me. The operations team looks solid, and I’m a total fangirl for Jim C. Hines and Mary Robinette Kowal.

Each issue will contain new and classic speculative fiction, fiction podcasts, poetry, essays, art, and interviews. The magazine will be published as eBooks (MOBI, PDF, EPUB) bimonthly on the first Tuesday of that month through all of the major online eBook stores. Each issue will contain 4-6 new short stories, 2 reprinted stories, 2 poems, 2 nonfiction essays, and 2 interviews, at minimum. They will also be producing a monthly fiction podcast.

Because I Can’t Get Enough Amazon-Hachette Drama!

I admit that I’ve already talked about this business drama twice, but I just can’t look away.  Amazon released an announcement about the ongoing business interruption between them and Big 5 publisher Hachette.  Here are the high points from the relatively short press release:

  • A key objective is lower e-book prices.
  • Amazon thinks that most books should be priced at $9.99 or less.
  • E-books are highly price-elastic. (when the price goes up, customers buy fewer items)
  • Authors should be getting larger royalty percentages than the current industry norms.
  • Books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more.
  • This is good for all the parties involved.

My two cents on this?  Yes, e-books should be lower, but Amazon shouldn’t be artificially capping them.  While e-books are price-elastic, books aren’t fungible.  I’m not going to read Mary Robinette Kowal if I really want the latest Jim C. Hines novel.  Authors should be getting larger royalty percentages on e-books because of lower distribution costs, so the publisher doesn’t need to take as large a cut to cover their costs.  (Distribution cost arguments should be discussed between the author and the publisher, not as much as a way to calculate e-book prices.)  Yes, people do stuff other than read books.  This is good for Amazon.  It might be good for authors right now, but Amazon can change the playing field at any time.  Authors don’t have any leverage with Amazon, and Amazon is doing what it can to make authors exclusive to them and kill off their competition.


And here’s a rodeo round up of other opinions.  It is not my intention to misrepresent anyone with these excerpts, so please follow the links for their complete argument on the subject:

Douglas Preston -The feeling we [Authors Guild] have is that books are different from toasters and wide-screen television sets. You can’t outsource Lee Child to China. They should not be treated as if they’re boxes of cereal occupying grocery store shelves. These are books and authors and writers whose livelihoods are affected by this… Most of the world doesn’t give a damn about books and reading, frankly. Ninety percent of the world not only doesn’t give a damn about books, they’re actually hostile to books. So traditional authors and indie authors have a lot in common and should be friends. Let’s not fight. We’re not against independent publishing at all.

Barry Eisler – Let me start by trying to find some common ground here: I generally agree with Michael (and with top literary agent Ted Weinstein) that Amazon should have enabled comments on its post. Though I think there’s a bit of a difference between what one might reasonably expect from a corporation, on  the one hand, and what one might expect from an organization calling itself the “Authors Guild,” which bills itself as “the nation’s leading advocate for writer’s interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts, and free expression.”

David Gaughran – This allows them to tap into the fear that many writers have about the paradigm shift that’s underway. Hachette can’t come right out and say that it wants higher book prices (which is the result if they prevail in negotiations and take back control of pricing and/or restrict Amazon’s ability to discount), so instead we get a narrative of a rapacious corporation versus a plucky guardian of our literary heritage. Authors should adopt a little more skepticism towards what is a concerted PR campaign from a series of vested interests.


Joe Konrath – Amazon has no obligation at all to sell any Hachette books whatsoever. They don’t even have a current contract in place with Hachette. The fact that Amazon is still selling any Hachette books at all is a supreme act of generosity, which they are probably doing because they don’t want to screw authors by completely removing all Hachette books from their store, which is entirely within Amazon’s right to do.

John Scalzi – This is where many people decide to opine that the cost of eBooks should reflect the cost of production in some way that allows them to say that whatever price point they prefer is the naturally correct one. This is where I say: You know what, if you’ve ever paid more than twenty cents for a soda at a fast food restaurant, or have ever bought bottled water at a store, then I feel perfectly justified in considering your cost of production position vis a vis publishing as entirely hypocritical. Please stop making the cost of production argument for books and apparently nothing else in your daily consumer life. I think less of you when you do.

Walter John Williams – Well yes, Hachette is mean to authors, if by mean you mean that Hachette, and other publishers, try to get authors to sign contracts that favor the publisher over the writer.  Horrors!  Well, duh.  It’s a business, and that’s what businesses do.   They try to do business on terms favorable to themselves. In traditional publishing, it’s the publisher who takes the risk, by giving advances to authors, paying for editing and publishing costs, paying for marketing, paying for cover art— and the publishers want to recoup their investment as much as possible, and that’s why they offer authors contract boilerplate that might as well have been dictated by Ebenezer Scrooge.  And that, in turn, is why there’s this whole class of being called “literary agents” whose job is to negotiate contract terms more favorable to the writers.

Hugh Howey  – Amazon is fighting for lower prices for their customers. It has also been posited over and over that lower ebook prices would generate more revenue for all involved, and now Amazon backs this up by revealing calculations pulled from their industry-best sales data. So who is Hachette fighting for, if they are resisting terms like these? The only people I can think of are those who sell millions of physical books at bookstores. You know, the Prestons, Pattersons, and Colberts. The top 1%.

I had meant to include this before, but I’ll just add it to this post.  Here is an interview with Hugh Howey about a month ago when this kerfuffle was just getting good.  I don’t think many of his points have changed, so if you are an audio-type person, this might be easier than the dozen links above.


2 comments on “News from the Publishing Hinterlands

  1. Green Embers
    July 31, 2014

    One thing on the Amazon thing, is Amazon is using fuzzy math. They are saying that if prices were lower that more ebooks would be sold. With lower prices that is no guarantee at all. On another article I was reading about Amazon’s other venture with the subscription service, the author mentioned that the average American buys 5 books per year. I don’t think cost is what is preventing people from buying more books. People just don’t have the time to devote to a book as they do other forms of entertainments. No the whole thing really seems to be about control, with Amazon wanting it all.

    • tracycembor
      August 6, 2014

      I agree that Amazon might not be providing all the numerological details. However, I find it very unlikely that Amazon would be doing something that didn’t forecast strong returns. There is obviously a power struggle here. Amazon is trying to justify it through “fuzzy math” as you said, which is obscuring the issue.

      Wow, the average American reads 5 books per year? I’m so happy to not be average!

Comments are closed.


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Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

Weekends are reserved for my Music Playlist.

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About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
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