Agent in Place

Booksquare led me to this profile of agent Andrew Wylie. I think my favorite line is “I suspect that the trashier the book, the more likely it is to be converted to an e-book. You don’t have a desire to save James Patterson in your library. Those who want to keep a book for a long time will buy a physical book.” Of course, this brisk sentiment is somewhat hedged by the fact that Wylie’s new ebook company has just published editions of Nabokov, Updike, Erdrich, Rushdie . . . .

While agents were off my radar for much of my career, I’ve noticed that, increasingly, I have to deal with them in negotiating contracts for Magazine articles. I suspect they are not in this for the money (10% of three hundred dollars is obviously not a lot) but because of digital rights, as magazine publishing becomes more diversified in the way content is distributed. Leonard Marcus is interviewing agent-to-the-stars Sheldon Fogelman for an upcoming issue and I’m anxious to read what they talk about.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Comments

  1. >Digital rights, eh? Hm … better look at that contract again …. :D

  2. Andrew Karre says:

    >The Wylie deal aside, the ebook possibility that excites me most as a reader is the ebook and high-end hardcover set. I would happily replace all of my paperback Nabokov with nice hardcovers if they included an ebook file that was reasonably device agnostic.

  3. Dave Cullen says:

    >Andrew, I love that idea–best I've heard in ages. I'd love to sell one copy of my book, much less two, even at a steep discount.

    I like the pairing, and it helps re-instill the value of having the physical artifact.

    Roger, several of my friends have had their agents get involved and you're right, it's not about the commission. It's been about getting media attention that will help the book.

  4. Wonder Boy says:

    >Alas, I am guilty of reading books on my Kindle and then buying it hardcover if I like it. Poor James Patterson his books are selling at Borders for over fifty percent off. Maybe he should of just stuck with the e-book thing!

  5. Anonymous says:

    >There are book I buy, like those by Nabokov, Updike and Rushdie, that I tell myself I will read someday. Then they sit on my shelves untouched. Think how much less room they would take up as e-books.

  6. Anonymous says:

    >Hmm, but then again, I'd have to force casual acquaintances to check out my e-reader so they'd know how many cool books I have. That's *why* I have all those books I've never read on my shelves. It's all about showing off.

    Huh. Can I get an e-reader that projects the titles of the books sequentially on my living room wall?

  7. Michael Grant says:

    >Older readers mistrust the permanence of the digital. It's interesting because it's really quite wrong. Digital lasts longer than paper in part because digital can be stored in so many places.

    Younger readers won't have this prejudice. I'm not saying they'll necessarily reject physical books, but they'll view them as mementos and the digital book will be the "real" book. This will be especially true when the technology finally enables the enhanced e-book. (Soon.)

    Writers should be particularly enamored of e-books and I'm a little shocked to find writers who are Luddites in this regard. Under the current system, if you are lucky enough to be published, and if your book is one of the minority that actually make it onto the shelves at B&N, the clock starts ticking. Did you sell well enough? Then you live on the shelves for another day. Did you not sell well enough? Then it's down the memory hole for you and your book.

    E-books don't compete for limited shelf space at B&N. E-books can stay "in print" forever.

  8. Anonymous says:

    >Michael,

    And best of all, it only takes one person to post them to Mega Upload and then everyone can get them for free!

    . . . oh, wait.

    The original Luddites were Luddites exactly because they saw their livelihoods disappearing.

  9. Michael Grant says:

    >You think there aren't already digital versions of physical books? That's naive.

  10. Anonymous says:

    >digital??? that means reading with one's fingers?

  11. Michael Grant says:

    >By the way, I'm not indifferent at all to the fact that the move to digital will cost bookseller jobs, librarian jobs and publishing jobs. These are my people. I hate the idea of them suffering.

    But the move to digital will happen. And the thing is to try and survive it and profit from it.

    Smart publishers will jump on enhanced ebooks with both feet because it leverages their assets and holds onto jobs. Writers can self-pub ebooks in straight text. We can do that right now and I guarantee you more established authors will be doing it.

    But enhanced ebooks are labor-intensive — you need rights people, video people, photographers, artists, a new breed of editors. This is the salvation of legacy publishing. Instead of wasting time and effort in a doomed attempt to rig the market and put a $9.99 floor under ebooks, they should be preparing for the future.

    The original Luddites were wrong: the automated mills didn't cost net jobs, but they did shift the labor market into new specialties — higher paying jobs in many cases.

    People who care about publishing and publishing jobs should probably not be competing to see who can most enthusiastically embrace the past, but should be urging adaptation to the future.

  12. Moira Manion says:

    >I worked in a children's library for nine years, until all funding was cut in 1998, and most of our jobs were eliminated, and the collection was gutted by half. This was not because of ebooks. It was because newly elected Conservatives decided they didn't want money going to our very popular, very well-used library, and the middle-class who voted these people into power, and who didn't use the library, no longer wanted their tax dollars supporting it.

    The poor –of which I am one– don't use ebooks. We can't afford $189. If the price were $100 we still couldn't afford them. When some herald the New Dawn of the ebook age, and how paper books will inevitably (they say) become extinct, they don't take into consideration those of us who cannot afford such technology (at this moment, I am using my roommate's computer, because I can't afford one of my own). We poor need libraries not only for computers, but for books. Libraries can barely afford new books, let alone ebooks.

    And why this either/or thinking? Paper books will never disappear entirely, any more than newspapers will. Some large and regional newspapers have died, but local and neighborhood newspapers are on the increase, in part because we poor need them, as we can't afford cable television or the internet for our news, and our needs are increasingly local, because national news more often than not ignores our existence.

    And while the use of libraries increases, because the population of the poor is increasing, funding to libraries is constantly cut, because, say those who don't visit libraries, no one uses them, and we'll all be using personal technology.

    Ebooks are only "in print forever" for those who can afford them.

    I believe there will always be small libraries, small, independant bookstores, and small print publishers, and that large print publishers will never go completely ebook.

    Michael, you say "People who care about publishing and publishing jobs should probably not be competing to see who can most enthusiastically embrace the past, but should be urging adaptation to the future." Whose future? I don't own a computer. I don't own a cell phone, or a car. I'm not a Luddite, or embracing the past. I, like millions of people around the world, am poor. The shiny toys of technology are beyond my reach. I don't save what little extra money I have for a Kindle or Nook, because I'm saving to buy new lenses for my glasses (which are 25 years old) and to have my loose molar pulled (I don't have health or dental insurance) and for a new winter coat. If I am ever published, while I would be happy to sell rights for whatever spiffy technology is hot at the time, I want my book to be in paper, so that kids whose parents are also saving up for winter coats can come to the library and check out my book.

  13. Anonymous says:

    >Michael,

    I know very well that there are digital versions of my books. Far, far, FAR more copies of them have been illegally downloaded than have been sold in hardcover. It isn't the technology I have a problem with. Publishing seems to be merrily following in the footsteps of the Recording Industry of America with Digital Rights Management that offends their customers who then devote all their resources to defeating the DRM.

    It's true that books will not be any less labor intensive in the future. But I do not yet see a business model that delivers any money for that labor. Which kind of makes me hinky, because I agree that the progress toward e-books is unstoppable.

    And please don't tell me that I will become famous for my writing and then make all my money on speaking engagements. Believe me when I say to you, I am a writer, not a performance artist.

    Moira,

    Forgive me for being curious, but do you own a cell phone of any kind? I think cell phones will be like cars, which are so expensive, but so indispensable for anyone living outside an urban area, that they are purchased and maintained no matter the crippling costs. Most people can't keep a job without a car, so they have to have one. And so there is a market that makes some dysfunctional version of a car available on the cheap. My cell phone cost ten dollars on E-Bay. It doesn't do anything but make calls. In ten years, I believe that the ten dollar phone will connect to the internet for pennies and will deliver you all the books you want for free.

    Only the most isolated, and the very most impoverished people won't have access to ebooks. And I totally understand why this infuriates Sherman Alexie.

  14. Michael Grant says:

    >Moira:
    At least half of my life I was poor. Just before I met my wife I was living under a freeway overpass in Austin, Texas. In fact I used to catch up on my sleep by passing for an old student or youngish faculty and crashing in the carrels of the UT undergrad library. So I get it.

    But we both know the needs of the poor don't drive the economy. This shift to digital is about economics. Ebooks are simply too efficient relative to physical books.

    Yes, they will hurt libraries. Ebooks will get cheaper, more people will have access, libraries will lose their middle class constituencies and politicians will not keep libraries open for the poor alone.

    This won't happen overnight. But I think it's pretty certain to happen. Lots of people won't like it, lots of people will lose their jobs, but it will still happen, so the only rational move is to try to adapt.

  15. Roger Sutton says:

    >Along with all the economic considerations, I think we need to think about how ebooks themselves may become very different from books as we know them. The fact that you can scroll, resize and recolor type, have thousands of titles in one device that probably has other media on it and connects to the net means that reading will change. It won't be as simple as maintaining print and electronic versions of the same thing.

    I'm also not so sure that ebooks will stay "in print" forever. Formats change, computer languages change, and the whole premise is based on an assumption of readily and relatively cheaply available power. What happens when the lights go out?

  16. Anonymous says:

    >Roger,

    One thing that will happen, I think, is that only relatively well-to-do people will have paper books. As the market for them shrinks, they will get more and more expensive. You might prefer to have the new Steig Larson on paper, but for the extra thirty or forty bucks, you'll just get the digital version.

    Sorry I haven't been signing. I forget.

    Anon 11:43

  17. Michael Grant says:

    >Roger:

    Yes, it will change books.

    An example: in an enhanced ebook the writer can move backstory into a sidebar and out of the main text. This would be really rather helpful in the case of continuing series.

    Of course you'll also be able to play music that's referenced, see snippets of video, offer definitions and historical context, etc…

    Inevitably this technology will change the way we write. But so did the paperback, the printing press, and the chain bookstore. Not to mention TV and movies, both of which have changed books in ways subtle and not.

  18. Anonymous says:

    >It's going to be a sad day when the electronic version of a book is more common than the print version. An ebook is no more an acceptable substitute for a real book than a vitamin pill is an acceptable substitute for a steak.

    Lyle Blake Smythers

  19. Michael Grant says:

    >Yeah, it'll be terrible when every book becomes available to everyone, everywhere, forever, at a fraction of the current cost.

    In our system right now, probably 90% of published books are unavailable within 5 years of pub date. (It's probably worse than that.) My wife and I have a personal backlist of 150 books. Maybe 10 of them are in print. You know how many would be "in print" in an ebook universe? 150.

    I'm a writer, not a publisher or a printer. I'm not in the book business. I'm in the storytelling business.

  20. Anonymous says:

    >Roger, I've been thinking about what you said about how storytelling might change. It's an interesting point. Radio dramas pretty much died after the introduction of television. I suppose there is still some going on somewhere, but most people watch TV instead.

    You can't just subtract the visuals from a Television show and enjoy it as a radio show instead. So, when you have these enhanced ebooks, I wonder if you will have something that you can't enjoy offline. And I wonder if they will replace books the way television drama replaced radio drama. Maybe we will all just become ever more dependent on electricity.

    Very, very weird to think about.

  21. Anonymous says:

    >Roger, I've been thinking about what you said about how storytelling might change. It's an interesting point. Radio dramas pretty much died after the introduction of television. I suppose there is still some going on somewhere, but most people watch TV instead.

    You can't just subtract the visuals from a Television show and enjoy it as a radio show instead. So, when you have these enhanced ebooks, I wonder if you will have something that you can't enjoy offline. And I wonder if they will replace books the way television drama replaced radio drama. Maybe we will all just become ever more dependent on electricity.

    Very, very weird to think about.

  22. Andy Laties says:

    >Michael,

    I am tired of people who express their sorrow with the inevitable march of change and the good things that are being lost, but tell us that we'd better get used to it, and embrace technological progress. Because I believe that technological progress is entirely neutral–not good and not bad — and that the politics and sociology that underlie social change that accompanies technological change are subject to contest.

    I intend to contest what you say cannot be contested. I intend to object to what you say defies objection.

    I recognize that new technologies arise and spread. I am simply saying that people can fight to have the world integrate these new technologies in more or less humane ways.

    Some technologies that yield great benefits (antibiotics) also yield great harm (excessive antibiotics in livestock) and ultimately we get unintended consequences (antibiotic-resistant bacteria). That is: Society needs activists to fight the misapplication of new technologies. eBooks are a technology ripe for misapplication, as was so eloquently stated in several posts above.

    You seem to say that the future is something that emerges by itself, driven by pure capitalism. I think that is a reactionary standpoint. I disagree that greed and profit are drivers that should be left alone in a pure demand-driven marketplace. I will fight for print books, and for storefront bookstores, and for libraries of print books. It's my task.

  23. Michael Grant says:

    >Andy:

    So you'll fight for the profits of publishers, for restricted access and high prices, and a system where the vast majority of books are simply "disappeared" within months of publication?

  24. Anonymous says:

    >And Michael, you will of course be fighting for mountains and mountain of self-published trash, and writers who write for their online friends just for the love of it while holding down day jobs as accountants. Those who become famous will be paid to appear for fifteen minutes at ALA. Andy's an idealist, but you are not impressing me with any arguments. All you've done is mock people. Please tell me about your proposed business model.

  25. Anonymous says:

    >Darn, I am screwing up right and left. Double posting and forgetting to sign again. That was me just above.

    Anon 11:43

  26. Andy Laties says:

    >Hi Michael. Let me respond specifically to your words.

    "Writers should be particularly enamored of e-books"

    My response:
    I am a children's bookseller and also an author, and I have yet to meet an author or illustrator who desires to see his or her book issued as an eBook. We want to have our books out there in the world. An eBook is like a Word document, a PDF, something we use in the process of making the REAL thing, a physical book.

    Michael says:
    "Under the current system, if you are lucky enough to be published and if your book is one of the minority that actually make it onto the shelves at B&N…"

    My response:
    I abhor the way Barnes & Noble was handed the bookselling marketplace by major publishing corporations through under-the-counter deals in the 1990s, causing 1000s of independent bookstores to collapse. I am pleased that the new digital era potentially will clear the way for many new indie stores to step in as Barnes & Noble retreats from storefront bookselling the way they're suddenly doing.

    Michael said:
    "…the clock starts ticking. Did you sell well enough? Then you live on the shelves for another day. Did you not sell well enough? Then it's down the memory hole for you and your book."

    My response:
    Yes that’s how B&N operates. But in my independent bookstore I have books on the shelf that sell once every two years. I try to sell obscure but wonderful books with great determination. Your problem here is with Barnes & Noble. In 1991 there were 5,000 indie bookstores nationwide, and with the retreat of Barnes & Noble I hope that indie bookselling can stage a comeback.

    Michael said:
    "E-books don't compete for limited shelf space at B&N. E-books can stay "in print" forever."

    My response:
    Sure, and they compete online with a billion websites and five million other eBooks online. That is: Why should anyone ever notice your eBook? But as printed books in my indie bookstore, I can pitch them to customers on your behalf.

    Michael said, in reference to libraries (used by, among others, poor people):
    "We both know the needs of the poor don't drive the economy."

    My response:
    In a democracy, poor people and working class people can and should be in control. This majority only loses when they cannot get organized. Then the minority of rich rule. Are you saying that having the rich rule us all is inevitable? What a depressing posture.

    Michael said:
    "This shift to digital is about economics. Ebooks are simply too efficient relative to physical books."

    My response:
    No, it's about profits for major technology corporations trying to capture the market from major media corporations. These tech companies are trying to convince readers we should LIKE reading digital files on little machines, and that we should stop liking physical books. But I think that this moment of chaos and disorder is the chance for us little guys–authors, readers, booksellers, publishing workers–to reclaim the commons. Now is the time for us to step in and decentralize the book marketplace. By all means, convert every book to an eBook, but also let 10,000 indie bookstores and indie publishers bloom. We indie will sell both eBooks and print books.

    Finally, Michael said:
    "So you'll fight for the profits of publishers, for restricted access and high prices, and a system where the vast majority of books are simply "disappeared" within months of publication?"

    My response:
    I think I have responded.

  27. Michael Grant says:

    >Andy:

    I'm not an enemy of publishers or of bookstores. But really there is no point fantasizing about holding back the future. It's coming.

    It may seem romantic, and it may be emotionally satisfying to play the conservative role in all this, but it's not going to matter in the end.

    It's this simple:

    Business model "A:" Writer-Publisher-Printer-Shipper-Distributor-Retailer- Reader.

    Business model "B:" Writer-e-tailer-Reader.

    There is simply no way for business Model "A" to compte on price or selection with Business model "B."

    The e-book model means that every book can be available instantly to anyone anywhere on planet earth. It means that books will remain available forever. It means that prices will fall and quite likely consumption will increase as a consequence. It means creative liberation for writers. It means pressure on writers to innovate.

    These are not bad things for the human race. More books to more people is a good thing. Right?

    This does not mean the end of the physical book. But the central model will be the e-book, and physical books will become more of a niche.

    As it happens my wife and I had one of the very first e-books. Our publisher asked us if we were okay with it. We wrote back, "We're fine with it, but how exactly is this good for you?" This revolution has been inevitable since the year we first realized we didn't have to print out a manuscript but could simple e-mail it to our publisher. If anything I'm surprised it has taken this long.

  28. Michael Grant says:

    >Anonymous:

    You asked, "Please tell me about your proposed business model."

    Okay: iTunes.

    The music business rather stupidly resisted adapting. They tried to hold onto CD's when the business was obviously going to downloads. And they tried to hold onto the album model, when consumers wanted to pick and choose their songs.

    As a result, they were murdered by pirates.

    Along came Steve Jobs with iTunes. Despite the fact that the pirate market had been given years in which to prosper, iTunes just sold its 10 billionth — with a "B" — song. That's 10 billion dollars, which is not spare change.

    iTunes offered quality downloads, in a convenient and attractive way, at a realistic price. Now, of course piracy didn't go away. But iTunes essentially took market share away from people who were giving music away for free. Which is amazing. Their main competitor gave the music away for free.

    Has the music world been overrun by the musical version of vanity self-publishing? No. Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber and the Rolling Stones still sell a lot of songs. Are consumers unable to find the music they want? No. Has the music business survived? Yes.

  29. Andy Laties says:

    >Michael,

    I do not want to pay you to read anything that comes directly from you. I read things that come directly from you for free. That is because when something comes straight from your typewriter it's not ready for me to pay for. Nevertheless, millions and millions of people are in the process of posting their writings as eBooks. I will read none of it. I want an editor to nag at you. I want a book designer to format your work. I want a marketer to seek me out and let me know that your work is now ready for me, who would be interested, to consider reading it. And I want that marketer to provide me with a brief sales pitch.

    You need a supply chain to get me to pay you. Otherwise I will be paying to read someone else.

  30. Michael Grant says:

    >You need a supply chain to get me to pay you. Otherwise I will be paying to read someone else.

    Your privilege of course. It's a free market for you, and for the e-book consumer as well.

  31. Roger Sutton says:

    >A thing, too, about an all e- market. Maybe it will be available widely and cheaply (bearing in mind, like Moira says, that the consumer has to invest more than simply the price of a given title) but a book will never legally be free, will it? You can't lend and borrow them. You can't give it to someone.

    I'm still trying to figure out what libraries can do with ebooks. I know they already offer them and, as with digital audiobooks, their circulation is governed by harebrained and arbitrary rules about how many copies can be out to how many people at one time. But what I have trouble imagining is how a librarian can promote an ebook to a patron. I can only see a large printout or poster of titles, the librarians tapping her finger on one line and saying, "now, this one is really good." The patron can't look at the blurb, guess the length, judge from the cover art, browse. (But Michael says there won't be any libraries so I guess what they might do is a moot point.) I just don't know how people are going to discover new books. I buy ebooks of things I already know I want to read, but bookstores (both chain and independent) routinely (that is, every time I visit one) cause me to buy books I hadn't known existed.

  32. Anonymous says:

    >I am sorry I don't have time to answer more fully and I apologize for quoting numbers without sources, but the music industry, I believe, has lost 75 percent of their revenues since online music sharing began. There have been 50,000 illegal downloads of my recent book. You might say that's just a preference for the format over hardcover, but these are people who would not spend the measley five bucks for a legitimates e-book.

    You don't have a business model. What you have is called working for free.

    Roger, Andy, I think that will move more and more to boutique bookselling. Every independent bookstore will be a cross between a mini-Amazon and a salon. You will go the store for human connection and for the pre-selected content and buy your e-books as well as your paper from them.

  33. Andy Laties says:

    >What will public school libraries do about eBooks? Oh, I know: there will be tax over-ride votes in school districts across the nation so that school libraries can buy inventories of eBooks and eReaders!

  34. Michael Grant says:

    >The argument that e-books bear the cost of e-book readers doesn't hold up. My son read a 600 page manuscript on his iPhone. (One of the events that alerted me to this.) I've read books on my iPhone as well. But it would be wrong to suggest that the cost of the iPhone should be added to the book.

    The phone, like the TV, is a given. The iPad or similar device will be as well. You won't see it as part of the price of an ebook.

    If you followed that logic you'd have to assume that the hardcover book you buy at the bookstore carries some of the cost of the car that drove you to the store. Or you could apply the cost of shelves to the paper book.

    It's true the music business took a big hit. 75% Okay, let's say that's true. Subtract the cost of CD's, the cost of record stores, the cost of shipping and that number goes down a bit. And part of that drop is, as I suggested above, the cost of people in the music business trying to stop time. If you give people the opportunity to buy your book you'll do a lot better than if you try to freeze time and virtually guarantee a thriving black market.

    That's one of the reasons I'm suggesting that publishers should get their act together and not follow the same head-in-the-sand approach the music business took.

    By the way, there's already a pirated digital book business — You know where you can get an ANIMORPHS if you want? Online, as a download, despite the fact they were never digitized. People xerox or type in the books. In virtually every case you'll find an apology from the "perpetrator" pointing out that they have no intention of ripping us off, but we have given them no legitimate way to buy the books.

    And if people reading your books without buying them is an issue, why don't we object to libraries? They buy a copy and loan it to 100 people. In strictly economic terms how is that different from online piracy?

    One thing I've never been accused of is working for free. Ask any of my editors: you'd earn a sardonic laugh. I'm not anticipating a world where I work for free, believe me. On the contrary, I'm trying to keep my business healthy.

    Look, nothing good ever comes of denying reality. The clever little primate adapts. If the clever primate doesn't adapt he ends up a fossil.

  35. >But the *really* clever primate helps his companions adapt instead of running over them to get to the Next Great Thing.

    Don't forget that reality also includes a lot of bull-headed readers who would rather carry around a book than a digital device. Though everybody I know has an i-Phone or a similar device, they're still lugging around books.

    Big changes are taking place, but at the same time, I'm still waiting for my jet-pack that I told would be a reality by now. Dammit.

  36. Anonymous says:

    >MIchael, I'm sorry for not signing in and giving you a name to talk to. Mostly you've been talking to one Anonymous. If you read back, you'll see that I don't like the silly-ass DRM path the publishers are going down. However, I don't see any alternative that will be better. I think people who create intellectual property are about to undergo a little "punctuated equilibrium" and when it is over there will be a new paradigm for selling the products of our thinking. In the mean time, we're going to be crushed.

    This doesn't mean I think there is some way of stopping the e-book, or that I would want to. I think these people who say, "I love my old fashioned book!" are reading one hundred times as much online as they did ten years ago. They should plot their online reading from 1995 – 2005 and they should face some reality. And probably get a Day Job.

    It's your cheery optimism that It's All Going to Work Fine if We Just Embrace Our New Overlords, that I find unhelpful.

    People want all the advantages of owning a paper book to transfer to owning an e-book and they want all the new advantages of owning an e-book (I can give it to my 3500 closest friends!). Seriously. How can we encourage people to believe that intellectual property should make money for its creators? How can rewrite copyright laws to allow the free flow of information and still get money to the people who make that information available?

    When I asked for your business model, I wanted your thoughts on stuff like this.

    Just as the I-tunes model shows, the person who comes up with a new business model is going to be the one that pulls in the money. The Recording Industry isn't making money off I-tunes. We aren't going to make any money, I believe, off of the current E-book market. Piracy is morally acceptable to too high a population. The Swedish Pirate Party is not a bunch of teenagers, it's a political party running for election on the platform that Intellectual Property should be freely available to all. One the one hand, wouldn't it be a better world, if that were true? On the other, how do you encourage people to spend a year writing a book if they aren't going to get paid for it?

    It's a Brave New World. You've already got it made, so I think that no matter what happens you will probably be fine. Most of the people already established will have big industry on their side protecting their investment and making sure they weather the big waves. The rest of us may well be completed fucked for the next fifteen years, so please, allow me to be a little less cheerful about the prospect.

  37. Anonymous says:

    >MIchael, I'm sorry for not signing in and giving you a name to talk to. Mostly you've been talking to one Anonymous. If you read back, you'll see that I don't like the silly-ass DRM path the publishers are going down. However, I don't see any alternative that will be better. I think people who create intellectual property are about to undergo a little "punctuated equilibrium" and when it is over there will be a new paradigm for selling the products of our thinking. In the mean time, we're going to be crushed.

    This doesn't mean I think there is some way of stopping the e-book, or that I would want to. I think these people who say, "I love my old fashioned book!" are reading one hundred times as much online as they did ten years ago. They should plot their online reading from 1995 – 2005 and they should face some reality. And probably get a Day Job.

    It's your cheery optimism that It's All Going to Work Fine if We Just Embrace Our New Overlords, that I find unhelpful.

    People want all the advantages of owning a paper book to transfer to owning an e-book and they want all the new advantages of owning an e-book (I can give it to my 3500 closest friends!). Seriously. How can we encourage people to believe that intellectual property should make money for its creators? How can rewrite copyright laws to allow the free flow of information and still get money to the people who make that information available?

    When I asked for your business model, I wanted your thoughts on stuff like this.

    Just as the I-tunes model shows, the person who comes up with a new business model is going to be the one that pulls in the money. The Recording Industry isn't making money off I-tunes. We aren't going to make any money, I believe, off of the current E-book market. Piracy is morally acceptable to too high a population. The Swedish Pirate Party is not a bunch of teenagers, it's a political party running for election on the platform that Intellectual Property should be freely available to all. One the one hand, wouldn't it be a better world, if that were true? On the other, how do you encourage people to spend a year writing a book if they aren't going to get paid for it?

    It's a Brave New World. You've already got it made, so I think that no matter what happens you will probably be fine. Most of the people already established will have big industry on their side protecting their investment and making sure they weather the big waves. The rest of us may well be completed fucked for the next fifteen years, so please, allow me to be a little less cheerful about the prospect.

  38. Michael Grant says:

    >Anonymous:

    Actually, you know who protects my books from online piracy? Not my giant publisher. My 13 year old son scans for illegal downloads and sends out the take-down notices for me. So far we've knocked down a couple of illegal downloads.

    I'll give you the less facile answer to the business model. I'm working with 42 Entertainment, the geniuses of ARG (Alternative Reality Games) to create a product that will encompass everything from ARG to paper book to e-book to straight web sites, with sponsorship and merchandise and conventional rights sales.

    I don't know if it will work.

    I'm also talking about a series model that gets us back to what the readers want in series: greater frequency. I would do a MG paper book at, say, 160 pages, then follow up with shorter ebooks before releasing a second full-length paper book. We could ramp up quickly if it works and power down if not, with very little cost.

    I've thought seriously about using a subscription model for a "live write" where I'd do a daily live chapter — including audience feedback — so that readers would see the words as I type them.

    Of course I've been hammering the enhanced ebook for a couple of years now — possibly with embedded advertising and sponsorship.

    Finally, there is the e-book self-pubbing route with a conventional or enhanced e-book. Amazon offers a 70/30 split. With legacy publishers trying to hold a $9.99 line on e-books that means that publishers would want to pay me a dollar, maybe a buck fifty.

    But of course I can price an e-book original at, say, 4.99, and keep 70% or $3.50. Which beats hell out of $1.50. Then I can still sell dead-tree rights and potentially other rights as well.

    And don't forget that the e-book market isn't just the North American market but the entire English-speaking world. Depending on degree of fluency there are half a billion to a billion plus English-speakers worldwide. That's a big-ass market.

    Again, I don't know if any of this will work. And we will absolutely get ripped off. But we're already getting ripped off. And we've been systematically ripped off by a system that casually disappears the vast majority of published books within months of the pub date while paying us a tenth of the gross.

    I'm actually least worried about the writers in all this. I think publishing is in big trouble, so are libraries and book stores.

    But the writers who remind themselves that they are not in the book business but rather the storytelling business have a very good chance of surviving quite nicely.

  39. Michael Grant says:

    >By the way, if I were in the publishing business I'd be getting very, very ready for enhanced ebooks.

    Here's how a future deal could be structured: writer self-pubs a straight text version of the book. He tracks sales and if he gets any numbers he goes to publisher and sells them enhanced ebook rights. (Enhancing is labor intensive.) They release the book as an enhanced ebook.

    Simultaneous with the enhanced ebook release you release the dead-tree version both online and in stores.

    That's three bites at the apple for the writer. With possible TV/Movie rights still to come.

  40. Anonymous says:

    >Michael,

    Thank you, that was a lot more helpful. I don't see a solution to the fundamental issue– people don't want to pay for your product. But I do think there will be a solution to that eventually.

  41. Moira Manion says:

    >Anonymous asked me, Moira,

    Forgive me for being curious, but do you own a cell phone of any kind? I think cell phones will be like cars, which are so expensive, but so indispensable for anyone living outside an urban area, that they are purchased and maintained no matter the crippling costs. Most people can't keep a job without a car, so they have to have one. And so there is a market that makes some dysfunctional version of a car available on the cheap. My cell phone cost ten dollars on E-Bay. It doesn't do anything but make calls. In ten years, I believe that the ten dollar phone will connect to the internet for pennies and will deliver you all the books you want for free.

    Only the most isolated, and the very most impoverished people won't have access to ebooks. And I totally understand why this infuriates Sherman Alexie.

    Anonymous, no, I don't own a cell phone, and I've never owned a car. And I've been working since I was 16. I've never needed a car to find a job, because I've always worked where there was good public transportation. And I and other people I know survive just fine without a cell phone. There are still landlines and email for communication. Why pay for a cell when I don't need one, or want one?

    Owning a car requires not only the car payments, but money for gas, insurance, repairs and other maintence. That would take a huge chunk out of my low-wage pay. why spend that, when I've lived just fine for 30 years without a car? I need that money to pay for doctor appointments.

    I and the people I know who have no acess to ebooks are neither isolated (I live in Minneapolis-St. Paul) or very impoverished. We work one to three low-wage jobs, and prefer to spend our money on more important things than a $189 Kindle and its downloads. We go to the library, occasionally treat ourselves to a hardcover or paperback book. The people who serve lattes, clerks who ring up your purchases at the airport, the cashier at the grocery store, they aren't isolated or very impoverished. But they're paid, pardon my honesty, crap wages with little or no benefits. Kindles and Nooks and Blackberries are neat (yuppie) toys, but we'd rather pay the rent and buy groceries.

  42. Moira Manion says:

    >Michael wrote, concerning a business model for ebooks, Okay: iTunes.

    The music business rather stupidly resisted adapting. They tried to hold onto CD's when the business was obviously going to downloads. And they tried to hold onto the album model, when consumers wanted to pick and choose their songs.

    Yet here in the Twin Cities, there are still lots of wonderful independant record stores, which sell not only CDs, but LPs. In fact, new LPs come in every week. Friends of mine in their 20s are buying record players and styluses (sp!). They tell me that owning grammaphones is cool and hip. People are no more abandoning old technologies for music than they will abandon paper books for ebooks.

    It won't ever be either/or. It will all coexist.

  43. Roger Sutton says:

    >Moira, I don't know if anyone is still following this conversation but I would KILL for a record/cd store. Boston has a couple of indie-groovy stores for people hipper than me, and otherwise there are just the small music departments of the chain book and electronic stores. Calling the selection "limited" would be charitable: how many copies of The Three Tenors does an opera lover need?

  44. Moira Manion says:

    >Roger, probably no one (besides ourselves) still peeks at the comments to this thread, but I came back late.

    Goodness, I feel privileged! Seriously, I'm astonished that there aren't more indie CD/LP stores in Boston. I would have thought that your area would have more than the Twin Cities. Here, there's the Electric Fetus, Treehouse Records, Fifth Element and Extreme Noise (for punk, rock, & hip-hop), Roadrunner Records, Hymie's, Vital, Know Name Records, and the small used chains Half Price Books and Cheapo/Applause (you'd find a very good opera section in those last two stores, far beyond Three Tenors. When I worked at one of those stores, we bought a CD of a Japanese production of The Mikado. And played it in the store.).

    The next time I'm in any of these shops, I'll have to express my apperciation that I have better variety here than I would if I were in Boston!

  45. As a lover of books I’m so resistant to eBooks. But they are so amazing in terms of propelling the publishing world forward. I would love to get a project published through the traditional route, but then one project I have defies borders (it’s a young adult book but an allegory, so then would I pitch it to an adult or children’s agent?). Problem solved — self-publishing on the Kindle in eBook format. I can set the price low, can agree to be in the lending library, etc. If the book covers a timely topic (in my case, Occupy Wall Street), by the time it was pitched, edited, accepted and printed it would be passe. Can’t think of a better way for authors and illustrators who are out of the box to get their work out there than this. Yeah to ebooks!

    It’s also interesting that with more authors being discovered through online ebook sellers, they are taking greater control over any traditional contracts they may have. Some best-selling ebook authors are refusing to sign over their DSR and are simply signing contracts for print. This may give publishers a little more food for thought in terms of how much writers really should make off of their books.

    In addition, there’s no way for kids to avoid technology. To attract the next generation to reading, ebook format is amazing. My little one loves the books that have captions that highlight the words. She is 3.5 and already knows phonics and can recognize a few words without it being foisted on her. What a great tool to rope kids into the joys of reading!

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