K. Tempest Bradford

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Hey, Henry Blodget, Blogger at Silicon Alley Insider, Screw You!

Hey, Henry Blodget, Blogger at Silicon Alley Insider, Screw You!

I’m a little surprised that a respectable news outlet like Business Insider puts up with screeds the likes of which Henry Blodget spewed all over Silicon Alley the other day. It’s shocking to me that not only is the post chock full of whiny, entitled, angry foot stomping, but also wrong information. I know blog posts aren’t fact checked or anything, but hasn’t someone come along from higher up in the editorial chain to even question the bullshit he just dumped all over a supposed business site?

First, the cost to make an eBook — whether you’re just publishing an eBook or one alongside print books — is not “pretty much zero”. It’s just not. Second, if Macmillan, or any other major publisher collapses, someone else is not just going to pick up and publish the books they can’t and someone else isn’t going to just hire all the people that would put out of work. And that someone else is definitely not going to be Amazon. Because, despite the Digital Publishing Platform and Amazon Shorts, Amazon is not a publisher in the way Macmillan is a publisher.

Amazon as publishing entity is about on the same level as iUniverse, Lulu, and anyone with a blog and a decent shopping cart system. I could start selling eBooks tomorrow and those eBooks may even be written by someone who is not me. That doesn’t make me a publisher[1].

But then that is part of the problem with Henry’s post — he doesn’t understand, at all, what it is publishers do, what Amazon does, and how all of these issues affect writers and consumers. Yes, an consumers. Henry says “we” don’t want to pay $15 for an eBook. Fine. Then “we” won’t. Consumers will spend what they spend any way they choose to spend it. If Macmillan or anyone else wants to price their books high then find out down the line that it means fewer sales, how does that hurt Henry or the rest of us?

Oh right, because then Henry can’t get what he wants when he wants it at the price he wants it. And for some reason he can’t just not buy an eBook, he wants to insist that eBooks sell at the price he’s willing to pay for it. Fine, I insist that the Kindle cost only $9.99 so that I don’t have to spend so much on it. What’s that you say? Amazon has to cover the cost of manufacturing and designing and maintaining and updating the Kindle? I don’t fucking care, do you understand? I want what I want when I want it at the price I demand.

Also, I want a pony.

Look, the idea that books, even electronic versions of books, are easy and free and don’t cost anything and amount to just a bunch of bits is, #1: stupid and: #2 dangerous. The idea that you can toss aside the fact that someone worked very hard to write that book (in most cases) and some other people took the time to edit, proofread, copyedit, design, market and promote that book is in essence saying that none of those people matter. If you really think that, you probably: #1: don’t read very many books, #2: have never met a writer or anyone involved in book publishing, #3: place a poor value on art and entertainment, #4: should be shoved off the nearest cliff.

Just try reading only self-published books for a year or two and then come tell me how all those people aren’t necessary. You will likely find a well-written, awesome book, maybe even two. Only if you read more than 100, though. Have fun reading 100 really shitty books, I’ll be over here laughing at you.

Finally, Henry, don’t even try to pretend like what Amazon is doing is good for writers. Just don’t. Because you’re wrong. You act like by giving publishers less money Amazon is somehow giving authors more. How exactly do you think this whole money flow works, son? If Amazon sells a book for $5 and they take 50%, that means $2.50 goes to the publisher. The publisher THEN pays the writer out of that $2.50. The publisher is going to get a larger chunk of that money than they give the writer, but in the end everyone but Amazon gets less.

You can’t paint the publisher as an evil entity who should get less money without saying that the writer will get less money, too, because that is what will happen. So stop trying to pretend like you’re on our side.

The side you’re on is the entitled asshole side, and that’s not a side most people would want to publicly associate with. You’re not even on the consumer’s side, because consumers have a wide array of choices, and one of those choices is not to buy things. People who bought Kindles already narrowed their choices to just Amazon, which is fine, but don’t then whine and cry when you can’t get cheap books for your expensive eReader. If you somehow feel it’s not fair that you paid so much money for the thing and yet still have to pay money for the books, I have two words for you: Google Books. And I have two more: Project Gutenberg.

Those aren’t good enough for you? Tough. Can’t get that new Stephen King release for just $10? Neither can those who buy it in hardback. Ever think that maybe your major problem is not that someone wants to sell an eBook for the outrageous price of $15 but rather that you are completely unaware of how minor a thing the price of a luxury item is when compared to the damage entitled people like you do to those who actually worked hard to create that item? Never given that any thought, huh?

Why am I not surprised?

(P. S. Will someone please stop folks who are supposedly “insiders” in Silicon Valley from acting as if the eBook reading landscape is Kindle and iPad only? I mean, really, how ignorant can one be?)

Footnotes

  1. And can I also point out that writers who sell their books to major publishing houses do not hire freelance editors unless they hired said editor before they sold the book in order to make it good enough for the publishing house, which is really not the same thing at all as saying that writers can just go it alone on this whole publishing thing. What moron farm did you wander off of, Henry?[]

16 Comments

  1. Brian Brian on 03.02.2010 at 10:47 [link] (Reply)

    This entire argument collapses in the fact of one fact: under the deal that publishers want from Amazon and are being offered by Apple, they — and therefore their writers — would receive LESS from the sale of each ebook at those higher prices, not more. The publishers aren’t looking to increase pay to writers or even to themselves from ebook sales. They’re trying to decrease it. Or rather, what they’re actually trying to do is decrease ebook sales (that’s what jacking the price up does), and they’re willing to accept less money per sale in order to help persuade the retailer to go along with this.

    The publishers have no interest in ebook sales. No, that’s not right. What they have is a FEAR of ebooks. Their entire focus is in sale of print books, especially hardcovers, through traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores. That’s a dying business, but it’s one that lends itself to consolidation and control by a few powerful corporations. Ebook publishing, because the costs (despite what you say) are indeed vanishingly low by comparison, lends itself to a decentralized market, with large numbers of small publishers and a surge in self-publishing rather than domination by a few big shots. The transition we see now in publishing is a death sentence for the Big 6. Think of this maneuver to push up ebook prices coming from those publishers as similar to a Death Row inmate’s legal maneuvering to put off the inevitable as long as possible.

    1. tempest tempest on 03.02.2010 at 18:37 [link] (Reply)

      under the deal that publishers want from Amazon and are being offered by Apple, they — and therefore their writers — would receive LESS from the sale of each ebook at those higher prices, not more.

      Brian, how do you figure? Is Apple going to take a bigger percentage of the sale price than Amazon? How much bigger?

      Also, when you speak of “publishers”, which do you mean? All of them? The biggest ones?

      Also, before you continue with the “costs of ebooks are low” silliness, read this. Second, what you’re positing makes no sense. If they were so afraid of eBooks, the publishing companies just won’t make them. Simple.

      Plus, the whole idea that eBooks will suddenly allow a flood of writers to self-publish and therefore buck the evil corporate overlords is so silly and childish as to be amusing. It just doesn’t work that way, son. It hasn’t worked that way since POD became popular, it hasn’t worked that way since eBooks were invented.

  2. Fengi Fengi on 03.02.2010 at 10:48 [link] (Reply)

    Two other flaws I see:

    1. Giving such primacy to instant gratification. Even the most voracious reader takes a while to consume a full book. If one can’t afford a hardback release, one waits for the paperback or library copy. There’s other books to read in the interim. If one only wants certain titles immediatly upon release, it makes economic sense to buy them individually.

    2. If savings on book prices is one’s motive for buying an e-reader, it doesn’t quite make sense. As otehrs point out, price isn’t the main limitation on how many books most people read, but time. To produce a net savings with a Kindle, one must save over $250 in relation to one’s pre-Kindle buying habits. This can be quite a pile if one used to rely on libraries and used bookstores. If one only bought 5 new books a year and none were hardback first editions, the savings might be an illusion. If one is treating the e-reader as a worthy item unto itself, one should also look at the material one buys to it unto itself rather than in relation to the costs of an entirely different format.

    3. The more I read authors debunk the idea making ebooks is free, which I agree with, the more I realize treating music files as if they are “free” is really unfair to musicians.

  3. D. D. on 03.02.2010 at 13:09 [link] (Reply)

    I suspect libertarianism and ignorance of the book biz.

    I may be wrong, however.

  4. supergee supergee on 03.02.2010 at 15:51 [link] (Reply)

    Anyone who is tempted to trust Henry Blodget should read his Wikipedia entry.

  5. Alan Bostick Alan Bostick on 03.02.2010 at 18:20 [link] (Reply)

    You noticed the byline on that post, right? “Henry Blodget”? As a stock analyst during the dot.boom he was either cluelessly deluded or a lying scammer, so egregiously so that it is difficult to determine which of the two is the kinder, more generous interpretation.

    By the looks of things, he hasn’t changed.

  6. Len Sassaman Len Sassaman on 03.02.2010 at 20:01 [link] (Reply)

    Just try reading only self-published books for a year or two and then come tell me how all those people aren’t necessary. You will likely find a well-written, awesome book, maybe even two. Only if you read more than 100, though. Have fun reading 100 really shitty books, I’ll be over here laughing at you.

    I think that you might be missing something here — part of the assumption is that, as self-publishing becomes a more viable means of earning a living as an author, the percentage of good self-published books (and percentage of books published by currently-established “good” authors) will increase. We’ve seen more of this in the music industry, with established bands deciding to drop their labels, and release on the Internet exclusively — successfully, the fact that MySpace is 95% crap notwithstanding.

    Now, whether you agree with that logic or not, it’s only fair to address the “critical mass of defectors” theory according to its merits.

    1. tempest tempest on 03.02.2010 at 22:24 [link] (Reply)

      Thing is, print publishing is not the same as music, though there are parallels to what is going on in the book industry with what went on in the music industry, it’s not a 1 to 1 comparison.

      For instance, when a band is just starting out and don’t have a record deal there are many things they can do to raise their profile, get attention, attract fans, and eventually sell music. A lot of it involves playing live, and there are many opportunities for doing so, even if no one has ever heard of you.

      Where’s the parallel for authors? People are totally willing to go out to a bar or club or somewhere and hear a new band or singer, but how many people do you think would show up to a literary reading by an author they don’t know who hasn’t published anything they have read somewhere? For musicians, having a recording is a step you take once you’ve gotten some recognition by audiences and fans. For an author, putting the book out (or the short stories) is what gets you the recognition and fans.

      Even with self publishing — which has been widely available, both in print and electronically, for many, many years — it’s hard for an author to get recognition without marketing and promotion, and many authors are ill-suited to be their own marketers. It’s just different.

      Another thing is that even if the market is flooded with a ton of authors self-publishing their own works, who, exactly, is going to be inclined to read it? Everyone will have to read the 100 or 200 bad novels in order to find anything good. It will be much harder, then, to discover things you like because none of it will have been vetted at all by anyone.

      I can go to a club and hear 6 bands in one night and have a decent time even if the bands aren’t that great. But it’s not a huge investment of my time to discover the music I might like. I can’t read 6 novels in a night, I’d be hard pressed to read 6 short stories in a night. Major investment, little return.

      That’s why this whole self publishing fantasy is just that, a fantasy. It’s perpetrated by people who don’t get that the tools to create ones own eBooks and even put those eBooks in fairly prominent places hasn’t existed for quite some time and yet has not led to this watershed.

      1. Matthew Daly Matthew Daly on 04.02.2010 at 02:07 [link] (Reply)

        I’m reluctant to be too grateful to publishers for being the gatekeepers of literature. I’m sure that they filter out the unreadable, but too often fresh voices get caught in the same trap. But this is something you profess as well as anyone.

        I’m tempted by the model that fan fiction seems to use. You don’t need to read a hundred lousy stories because a hundred people already did that and they have already highlighted the four that are readable and the one that is transcendent. And if you appreciate that, you can pay it forward by taking your own turn at the “slush pile” and seeing if you can’t find a diamond worthy of calling attention to. And maybe I’m wrong, but don’t people spend evenings curled up on the couch with their laptop and Snuggie and reading six amateur short stories? Of course, fan fiction isn’t monetized, and maybe it would be less popular if you had to make a micropayment in exchange for getting the stories even if you knew that they were well vetted. But when I think about all the prejudice between the writer’s brain and the bookstore shelves, it starts to feel like it would be worth taking a shot at.

        None of this detracts from my admiration of your central point, though. If Blodgett wants to read, then he should think more about rewarding writers and not distributors. I’d like to hear more from him about how the Kindle should cost $99 than about how the system should be rigged to hurt the people who are actually providing the content that he wants to experience.

        1. Matthew Daly Matthew Daly on 04.02.2010 at 02:17 [link] (Reply)

          Just to clarify, I’m don’t mean to say that people be paid for writing fan fiction. I mean that the same model of crowdsourced reviews could be applied to some sort of Etsy or Hulu-like business model for aspiring writers if it was limited to a genre where you could collect a critical mass of dedicated readers.

        2. tempest tempest on 04.02.2010 at 11:44 [link] (Reply)

          Fan fiction as a model (in terms of finding good stuff) is not a bad one to look in to, but keep in mind that people devour fan fiction regardless of quality sometimes because it hits their particular kink. I can’t speak for everyone, but when I’m looking for good non-fan fiction I have a wider swath of interest than just “I need to see character X doing Z to character L RIGHT NOW.”

          However, I am not opposed to some new way of relating to and finding fiction arising in the near future that is more direct and personal like music. I don’t have any predictions on how that will come about, but I won’t complain when it does. I just wish people would stop overlooking that fact that it does not currently exist, as the commenter above you did.

  7. Darkrose Darkrose on 03.02.2010 at 22:35 [link] (Reply)

    I think Henry Bloget is an idiot, but I wanted to address this:

    Can’t get that new Stephen King release for just $10? Neither can those who buy it in hardback.

    This is where I fall into the camp of “I’m not paying $15 for an ebook,” because there are some major differences between the ebook version and getting a hardback that to me at least, make willing to pay more for a hardback.

    If I get a hardback, I know that I own that book. The bookseller can’t decide at some future point that they’re going to come to my house and take it from me for some reason. I can lend it to anyone I want, as many times as I want. If I get to the point where I don’t want the book any more, I can sell it, or donate it to the library, or do anything I want with it because it’s mine.

    With ebooks, though, the way it seems to work is that you’re buying the right to read the book, but not the book itself. Amazon’s the most egregious offender, with the whole, “Oops, there’s a permissions problem so we’re going to yank the book from your device” thing. But even the Nook, which I was excited about at first because you could loan books, has a lot of restrictions: you can loan a book to one user, one time, period.

    Buying ebooks from any major bookseller feels more like I’m renting a book, rather than owning it, and at the difference in price between $10 and $15, I’d just as soon buy the hardcover.

    Again, I’m not arguing that Amazon was right, just that for a scientific sample of one household, Macmillan’s pricing choices will have the effect of making us not buy ebooks. And maybe people not buying ebooks doesn’t bother them, but I have a feeling that long-term, that may not be a good strategy.

    1. tempest tempest on 04.02.2010 at 11:49 [link] (Reply)

      This is why I pointed out the other day that there are other places to buy books that aren’t Amazon or even B&N. The bit where you feel like you’re leasing a book? Definitely a big strike against Amazon. But the Nook doesn’t work that way (as far as we know). DRM usually means you can’t lend or give your electronic media away, be it books or music. This is what hacking is for. And eventually, like music, they’re going to have to take away those restrictions in order to keep customers.

    2. Glaurung_quena Glaurung_quena on 04.02.2010 at 17:39 [link] (Reply)

      “Again, I’m not arguing that Amazon was right, just that for a scientific sample of one household, Macmillan’s pricing choices will have the effect of making us not buy ebooks. ”

      Sigh. They aren’t going to charge $15 for all ebooks. That bit of misinformation is something Amazon has been touting for all they’re worth, but it’s simply not true.

      If you read the statement put out by Macmillian’s CEO, they don’t want to charge $15 for all ebooks, only new releases. They want to then lower the price over time, in stages, to around $5. In other words, they want to price their ebooks the same as they do paper books — high initial price (hardcover release for hardcore fans with ample money), then a slightly lower price (trade paperback release for fans with less money), and then a rock bottom price (mass market paperback release for everyone else).

  8. S.C. Butler S.C. Butler on 04.02.2010 at 00:19 [link] (Reply)

    I’ll get you that pony, just as soon as Amazon starts selling my books again.

    Blodgett speaks for that element of America, and there are a lot of them, who believe that the cheapest price is the greatest good, no matter who gets screwed over in the process.

  9. Dr. Phil Dr. Phil on 04.02.2010 at 17:07 [link] (Reply)

    Tempest, thank you for this wonderful essay. I’m just sorry that not enough people will read it to throw a sorely needed reality check at the idiocy which is circulating about authors and ebooks. I cannot believe that it’s the end of the business day of THURSDAY and Amazon has still not restored the links.

    Dr. Phil

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I'm a writer, most often committing acts of genre (fantasy, science fiction, and other stretches of the imagination). You can find my short stories in many and various magazines and anthologies and podcasts. In addition to being a writer I also engage in activism and fandom -- often both at once.

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