An American Editor

November 27, 2017

A Continuing Frustration — The “Going Rate”

Sadly for me, I still read editing-related blogs and posts on forums like LinkedIn. I say sadly because there is little more frustrating to me than to read the repetitive, advice-seeking posts and the repetitive, well-meaning, but usually incorrect and nearly always factually incomplete responses.

How many times does it have to be said that what I charge a client and what Betsy charges a client is wholly irrelevant to what you should charge a client? Apparently, it is something that cannot be said either frequently or emphatically enough because rarely does a day pass without someone (or multiple someones) asking something similar to “What is the going rate?”

If I say I charge $50 an hour and Betsy says she charges $20 an hour and Phil says he also charges $20 an hour, what is the answer to the going rate question? Add Susan ($10), Robert ($15), and Jeremy ($25) to the mix. Does the answer change? Have you really gotten an answer? Even if the universe of editors is small (say, 1,000 editors in total), which we know is not the case (there are more than 100,000 editors in the United States alone), how representative of the whole universe of editors are the responses from me, Betsy, Phil, Susan, Robert, and Jeremy?

After getting a bunch of responses, the asker usually decides she now has an answer, say $20/hour. But she has such incomplete information that the number she has decided is the “going rate” is useless — too much necessary information is missing, information that qualifies (explains) each response.

For example, I didn’t tell you that I have been in the editing business for more than 30 years, bill at least 1,800 hours each year and have done so for at least the past 25 years, only work with tier 1 publishers, and only do copyediting of manuscripts that exceed 1,500 manuscript pages. Betsy didn’t mention that she does editing part-time (after her day job as a senior executive at a Fortune 100 company) for relaxation, has been editing for 3 years, and bills no more than 200 hours in a good year. Phil didn’t mention that he is struggling to find enough work to edit full-time and is slowly building his business, which is focused on working with university students to improve their research papers and resumes. Fortunately for Phil, his spouse is the primary household income provider and they live in a low-cost area where a household income of $35,000 lets one live decently. Phil also didn’t mention that he started his business only 3 weeks ago and has edited only two 5-page papers.

Susan, the low-baller, didn’t mention that she is a retired software engineer (retired 8 years ago) who took up editing to stave off boredom. She was a database specialist and now edits only technical articles intended for publication in specific database journals. She doesn’t need the income but feels she has to charge something for her work. And because she is retired, she limits the number of hours she is willing to work as an editor each month to 15 or fewer.

And so it goes.

Is this information important? Surely it is if you want someone else to tell you what to charge your clients. Why? Because you are a new fiction editor working with your first indie author on the author’s first novel and when you ask what the going rate is, shouldn’t you compare apples with apples, not apples with oranges? Doesn’t (shouldn’t) the response of the fiction editor who has edited 200 novels over the past 5 years carry more weight than someone like me or Betsy or Phil or Susan?

The usual response is that having an idea of what others charge is important so that the asker doesn’t price herself out of the market. Really!?

Suppose every responder to your question said exactly the same number — $15/hour. Now you feel confident that you, too, can (should) charge $15/hour. But you are still ignoring significant missing information and its impact on what you should (need to) charge. If you can only get enough work to enable you to bill for 20 hours a week, your gross earnings will be $300 per week. What if you can’t get enough work to bill for 52 weeks? Your gross yearly income will be less than $15,600 (the 52-week amount). Will that be enough to pay rent, utilities, and food, let alone anything else? Is the 52-week total ($15,600) enough?

My point is that not only do you need more information from responders to be able to make any use of their responses, but you need to have already analyzed your own economic needs. If you have analyzed your economic needs, then why do you need to ask the question? You already know what you have to charge in order to survive, so what difference does it make what the rest of the world charges? Either you can earn what you need to earn or you need to find a job (or a combination of jobs) that enables you to meet your financial needs.

The answer usually given is that if the going rate is $20 an hour, then that is all I can expect to charge, so it doesn’t matter that I need $50 an hour. And this is where the businessperson in you needs to come front and center.

Few editors can charge more than the “going rate” and actually get work. The confusion is in the terminology: for the businessperson, “I need to charge $50/hour” = “my effective hourly rate (EHR) needs to equal $50.”

The businessperson calculates what she needs to charge to make a profit and then figures out how to charge so that she makes that profit. It may mean using a different charging method; for example, charging by the page rather than by the hour, or defining a page by character count rather than by words, or something else. It may mean changing niches; for example, going from working with packagers to working directly with authors or changing from fiction to academic treatises.

The businessperson also plans what steps she needs to take to meet that EHR. As I have stated many times on An American Editor and elsewhere, I realized that to meet my financial goals I needed to streamline editing processes without sacrificing quality. My answer was macroizing as many tasks as I could and figuring out how to make Microsoft Word work for me. That process was what led to my creating and expanding EditTools. The process also led to my buying other software, like Editor’s Toolkit Plus, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Editors need to rethink their approach to the business side of editing. I know a lot of editors who are excellent editors but not-so-good businesspersons and who prefer to downplay, if not outright ignore, the business side of being an independent editor, that is, all the things that were done by someone else when you were an employee instead of a business owner. The balance needs to be changed so that editing skills and business skills are more in balance. It is one thing to have the scales tip in favor of editing, and quite another to have the scales heavily weighted toward editing. Perfect balance is not needed, just closer to balance.

One step in that direction is to get sufficient information about a responder’s business when a responder tells you what the “going rate” is. In addition, you might inquire how the responder decided to charge what she charges. Is she charging $20/hour because her client offered that amount, or because she calculated what she needs to earn an hour, or because someone else told her that was the “going rate”? I would give the least amount of credence to an answer that was based on someone else having told the responder that was the going rate, and the most credence to the number she actually calculated.

Regardless, it is time for editors to wise up to the fact that there is no such thing as a “going rate” — there is only what rate someone else is earning/charging and usually that rate is an arbitrary one, essentially grabbed from air and not supported by a solid informational foundation. With a new year arriving soon, it is time to become more of a businessperson and focus more on the business aspects of being independent editors.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 4, 2019

On the Basics: The ongoing challenge of finding editorial work

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 9:35 am

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner, An American Editor

I’ve started seeing (along with the seemingly constant flow of phony job offers) announcements of new platforms promising to help editorial professionals connect more effectively and efficiently with prospective clients. Some are more open than others; some have confusing business models. One claimed to only work with the 300 “best” editors, with a model that involves somehow pitting them against each other through a process being called consensus editing. The creator of another was planning to charge an editor $50/month to participate, as far as I could tell, and asked for input on his business model — that is, he wanted editors to pay $50 each to test his business model when it wasn’t even up and running yet. (A request that was roundly scotched, by the way.)

These may not be outright scams, but they are among the many sites or companies supposedly trying to put editors and clients together. The savvy entrepreneurs who come up with such “services” are taking advantage of the many people who are desperate for income or portfolio-building projects because they don’t have the experience and networking contacts for better types of clients and projects, or who are more hobbyists than professionals and willing to work for peanuts for the fun of being published somewhere — anywhere. Some of these sites charge the editors to participate, some don’t. Most of them profit from fees paid by both authors and editors.

Some of the more-established ones are being called helpful in creating regular streams of work for editors and our colleagues in other skillsets. Others are considered scams of some sort.

The problem with most of these, both established and startup, is that they usually don’t pay very well. That may not be an issue for people who are just starting out; even low-paying jobs do help you build a portfolio and experience. The low fees also might be acceptable even to more-experienced colleagues who appreciate (or desperately need) a steady flow of income, or a few bucks to fill in the gaps between better-paying projects. Some of them have more-demanding, micro-management-style oversight systems than others, and their critiques aren’t always as helpful (or accurate) as we might like.

Because the legitimate versions of these businesses do find favor with colleagues, they will continue to proliferate. As long as you know the limits and accept the pay rates or overbearing oversight, working for them is no real problem. It might be more profitable, though, to spend some of that time and effort on looking for better clients, even though doing that can be daunting.

Better options

For many of us, the best source of new and well-paying work is word of mouth or referrals from existing and previous clients. Of course, if you’re new to the field, you may not have such resources. Those resources include:

  • Membership in professional associations for your editorial niche,
  • Environments like this blog where you can “meet” colleagues and display your knowledge in comments or guest posts (contact me if you have an idea for a guest column),
  • Participation in professional groups at LinkedIn and Facebook,
  • Your own website to showcase your skills and experience,
  • Current and past clients, and colleagues, for testimonials and recommendations or referrals,
  • Cold queries,
  • Conference attendance where you interact with colleagues in person (because they’re more likely to remember you if you’ve met in the real world) or encounter people looking for freelancers, etc.

Several colleagues over the years have said that telling current clients you have a vacation coming up is practically a guarantee that you’ll hear from people with urgent “Please do this before you leave!” projects who might not have contacted you otherwise.

Another good tactic is to contact past clients every so often to share something relevant to their business, or just to say hello, as a reminder that you exist. When I’ve done that, at least one client has said something like, “Oh, what great timing — you made me realize that we could use your help on such-and-such an upcoming or new project!”

If there are any people in your network of past colleagues whom you haven’t told about your freelance or independent editorial business and services, now is the time to do so. People who know and respect you from working together can be a great source of new business. If they don’t need you (or can’t afford you), they may well know people who do — but you might have to let them know (a) that you’re available and (b) what you offer. They might assume that you’re too busy for new clients or projects, or not be sure of what you want to do in your freelance role.

Platforms like LinkedIn can be quite useful; their ProFinder service has yielded a couple of worthwhile projects, and I’m told that their paid service can be a good investment as well. Signing on with temp agencies also can work in our favor, depending on the agency and its understanding of what we do.

A little light

Despite the proliferation of often-questionable outlets for freelance work, there is good news. In the same week as pitches from the two newest such “services” popped up, I got a call from someone local (St. Louis, MO) who wants to start a new publishing company and turned out to be legit. That, at least, promises to be useful by generating actual work for me as a consultant and for any editors, book designers, layout professionals, etc., who work with him. How did he find me? Through my website. That experience will fuel my website presentation at “Gateway to Success,” this year’s Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference (www.communication-central.com, www.naiwe.com) — in partnership with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) for the first time — keep it in mind!

In recent weeks, I landed two new projects through Facebook business groups, and I just got a message from a long-time editing client who wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing an ongoing column for his business. Would I ever! I’ve also seen posts from colleagues recently who got new projects or clients by being listed in an association membership directory.

There are ways to find freelance work that does pay a decent rate. Don’t let the cheapskates get you down!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and— as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com). She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

February 20, 2019

Sticking to Your “Rate Principles” … Essential, but Not Always Easy

By Elaine R. Firestone, ELS

“Rate principles” is a term I coined for that point when you say, “This is my limit for how low I’ll go in my rates for a given type of work,” and mean it and follow it.

I’ve been a freelancer for over six years now (and a professional editor for much longer), so I’ve heard my share of horror stories from colleagues who received e-mails that just didn’t “smell” right, and I’m always vigilant when I receive e-mails from previously unknown sources inquiring about my services. I recently got an inquiry from someone who was most obviously legit, even without researching the potential client’s name and affiliation. She sent a long and incredibly detailed description of the journals she oversees, including their respective subjects, the audience of each one, and even the voice each strives to maintain. She also stated what she wants a copy-/substantive editor to do, as well as from where she got my name (my Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) profile). That’s always good to know.

The next step was to respond if I was interested in the work, the areas in which I thought I could work most efficiently, and my rates for doing this type of work.

I didn’t respond right away. I wanted to think carefully about both whether I wanted to take on a new client at this time and — especially — the rate question. Because I have different clients who pay different rates (for various reasons not germane to this article), I was a bit torn about how to respond:

— Do I go with my lowest rate in hopes of getting the work?

— Do I go with my highest rate because I want to make as much as possible?

— Do I go with the middle-of-the-road rate to hedge my bets?

What should I do?

My thoughts went back and forth along a number of lines:
— If I go with the lowest rate, I’m definitely going to resent the work, both now and in the future.
— If I go with the highest rate, I doubt I will get the work at all.
— If I go with the middle-of-the-road rate … well … I still may resent the work over time, especially because learning their way of doing things won’t be easy, nor would learning the nuances of the new science area.

What did I do?

I started my response by thanking the client for the detail in her e-mail. I went on to reiterate, in a very short narrative, a few of my qualifications that made me an excellent fit for the work, citing things that she ideally already read in my EFA profile and website. (Doing this is an excellent strategy, by the way, because the client is reminded how great you and how impressive your qualifications are before reading the rate you’ll charge.) Finally, I said that yes, I was interested and thought the subject matter was fascinating (it never hurts to use a little flattery), and then gave my rate. Which rate, you ask? A rate that wasn’t quite my highest, but much higher than my middle-of-the-road one.

But why? Why did I do that? Why didn’t I quote a lower rate? Well, here are my reasons for not quoting a lower rate to help ensure — at some level — that I’d get the job:

  1. My time and expertise are worth money.
  2. There is no guarantee that — even at a low rate — I’d be chosen. Someone with an even lower rate could always undercut me.
  3. If I got the job, it would be fairly regular work, and I didn’t want to resent either the time I had to spend doing it or the work itself.
  4. My time and expertise are worth money.
  5. Once working for a low rate, I have found it’s often difficult to raise it any appreciable amount without losing the client. It sometimes takes years to do, and sometimes, it’s impossible. The rate I accepted from my lowest-paying client was to just get the work when I started out freelancing. That rate has never caught up to my higher rates, leading to, at times, resentment of the work. (See #1, above).
  6. I had more than enough other work at the moment, so the rate had to make it worth my while to juggle this with the work of another client.
  7. My time and expertise are worth money.

Notice that “My time and expertise are worth money” is repeated three times. It’s worth all of us repeating that phrase over and over again.

Some of you may be new editors, or maybe you’re seasoned professionals. Maybe you’re new to freelancing or maybe you’ve been freelancing for decades. Whatever stage of your career you are in, whether you’re just determining your rates, or if you’ve been “at it” awhile and you’re contemplating a rate hike, I highly recommend that you read Rich Adin’s column “A Continuing Frustration — The ‘Going Rate,’” where he talks about figuring out what your “effective hourly rate” is.

Whether I get this work or not, however, I feel like I’ve “won.” If I get the work at my stated rate, I gain a new client, at a good rate, in a potentially fascinating new-to-me science discipline, which in turn becomes résumé candy. If I don’t get the work, I still have my existing clients with more than enough work to keep me busy (but with my sanity intact), plus I can keep my self-respect because I didn’t compromise my rate principles.

Many of you don’t have the financial advantage of being able to turn down work just because it doesn’t pay well … you rationalize that any work is good work — which I understand, because I’ve been in that situation. Many of you don’t have rate principles to begin with (which we should all have, no matter what they might be), so you take anything offered even if you have some type of financial cushion as a fallback.

A number of colleagues have said over the years that if you lose a low-paying client, then you have time to market to higher-paying clients, but if you gain a low-paying client, you are probably doing the same amount of work as for a higher paying one, but without the benefits of a higher bank balance, along with less time to devote to seeking out the higher payers.

I urge everyone here to first determine your individual “effective rate,” then formulate your “rate principles,” and try to stick to them. Your self-respect, your happiness, and your bank balance will thank you for it.

Elaine R. Firestone, ELS, is an award-winning — and board-certified — scientific and technical editor and compositor specializing in the physical and agricultural sciences. After a 25+-year career editing for NASA, Elaine started ERF Editorial Consulting, where her motto is “‘ERF’ aren’t just my initials — it’s what you get: Edits. Results. Final product.”©

Editor’s note: Let us know how you approach setting and sticking to your rates.

June 3, 2015

Going, Going, Gone…

Recently, what many consider a very mediocre Picasso painting sold at art auction for $179 million, setting a new record for a single painting. In the art market, bidding raises the price and reflects perceived marketplace value, at least to a degree. Contrast this to the editorial market in which bidding lowers the price, reflecting perceived marketplace value.

In both markets there is a glut of “artists”/“editors” but a dearth of “collectible”/“quality” “artists”/“editors.” Yet each market responds differently. Therein lies the tale of perception: a Picasso is considered valuable regardless of its quality simply because it is a Picasso; the quality adds to the value, but the “painted by Picasso” establishes that the price it will command will be higher, not lower. In contrast, editing is viewed as the “anyone can do it” skill and thus not worth much.

What perplexes me about the editorial market is that there is one at all. In the case of collectible art, there are two markets: the auction market and the retail market. In the retail market, if a painting is deemed worth collecting, then the artist’s price (or something close to it) is paid; if the painting is not considered collectible, it is ignored — it is not purchased because someone says “Well, people need to have this painting.”

In the editorial market, the service is thought necessary to have but only at the lowest possible price. Better to have someone wholly unskilled in editing edit a manuscript than to have the manuscript professionally edited at a higher price. The logic eludes me.

I was always taught that if it is worth doing, then it is worth doing well; if it is not worth doing well, then it is not worth doing. That concept contravenes the philosophy of the editorial market, which can be summed up as: editing is worth doing only if it is done very inexpensively. Editors have failed to justify their value in the marketplace.

Books are the primary means of communicating complex ideas from person to person, generation to generation. Even politicians who rely on visual communication to spread their message among voters write books to explain their thoughts and background in detail. A “sound bite” is important but the foundation of civilization is the written word. More information is communicated in one day in writing than is communicated in one year in movie form. Yet editors are less valued than actors.

With our reliance on written communication, I would think that editors could command prices that better reflect their skills, but that is not how the market works. It is clear that the primary factor in deciding whether to hire an editor is price, not skill and not need.

Discussions with colleagues about pricing usually ends with the lament that the price we can charge a client today is the same price we were able to charge that client in 1995. Factor in inflation and you soon discover that editors are being paid less today than they were paid in 1995 but that the work we are expected to do for that pay has increased. At minimum, if our services were valued, we would have kept up with inflation.

Interestingly, this flatlining of fees seems to apply across the board; that is, it doesn’t appear to make a difference whether the client is an individual or corporation. I suspect that a good part of the reason for this is the ease of entry into the profession, which has led to a significant increase in the number of minimally qualified editors who are willing to work for ever lower amounts.

I began this essay by comparing editorial bidding to art bidding. There is a significant difference between the two that needs mentioning: When you bid on an artwork, you see the finished artwork in all its glory or lack of glory — the point is that the bidder gets precisely what she sees. In contrast, the user of editorial services contracts for those services in the hope (expectation) that what he will receive after completion of editing equals what he hoped (expected) in terms of skill level.

The rejoinder that editors make is “I can/will provide a sample edit.” Unfortunately, sample edits are not all that editors say they are and they do not consider the likelihood that the recipient of the sample may not really be capable of judging the quality of the editing. The problem is that editing is fluid. The art world often can agree on a painting’s quality, even if its value is the subject of a war of words. Even those of us whose knowledge of art is minimal can agree, for example, that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is an outstanding painting or that Michaelangelo’s David is a magnificent sculpture.

Editing is different. How do we judge whether it is good editing or bad editing or indifferent editing to use since when because is meant or use about when approximate is meant or when the serial comma is omitted? How do we determine in advance that editor A will catch all misspellings but not all cliches whereas editor B may catch fewer misspellings but has the ability to turn uninspired prose into memorable prose consistently?

The sample edit makes certain assumptions, five of which are: First, that the material chosen for the sample is the best material to demonstrate the editor’s editing skills. Second, that the person reviewing the editor’s work is knowledgeable enough to know whether the editor has improved or not improved the sample. Third, the editor is actually demonstrating the skill set that the reviewer seeks to test or that the reviewer is seeking to test a skill set that is actually appropriate for the type of editing being performed. Fourth, that both the reviewer and the editor define the editor’s role similarly. (How many times have you been hired to do a copyedit but what is really wanted is a developmental edit?) Fifth, that the sample is, in fact, representative of the problems the editor can expect to encounter and address should she get the editing job. Sample editing makes additional assumptions about the editor, about the reviewer, and about the project, but the foregoing five assumptions illustrate the problem and why sample editing is not always an indicator of the quality of the services an editor will provide.

This is the conundrum editors have faced for decades: How do we get clients to recognize in advance the true value of the services we will have rendered when editing is complete? What is your solution?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 20, 2015

On the Basics: Dealing with the Perennial Question of Setting Rates for Our Work

Dealing with the Perennial Question
of Setting Rates for Our Work

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Whether you’re a writer, an editor, or any other publishing professional, coming up with rates for your work is a constant challenge. We’ve talked about this before and we’ll be talking about it throughout this millennium and into the next one, but it’s always worth discussing, simply because it is a constant concern. Even established writers and editors have to struggle with this challenge, thanks to the continually evolving world of online communications, bidding websites or services, efforts by professional associations, self-publishing, newcomers to the trade, and more.

How to Charge

Publications usually pay for writing by the word and, equally usually, those rates are determined by the editor or publication. There rarely is much room to negotiate, but you might be able to push up a rate by demonstrating expertise on a given topic, general experience and a publishing history, and good old chutzpah. Some publications will increase the pay rate as you become more known and valuable to them, starting you out at the low end until they know you’ll produce the quality they need and meet the deadlines they set, and raising your rate as the relationship continues.

Some writers will accept a lower per-word rate than usual in return for a guarantee of ongoing assignments from a publication. Certainty can be a big factor in negotiating rates.

It also can be possible to justify a low per-word rate by how quickly you can wrap up an assignment. You might usually get $1 a word for magazine assignments, but really want to write up a certain topic or get into the pages of a certain magazine that doesn’t pay that rate. If you can dash off a 1,500-word article at 15 cents a word, research included, in an hour, you just made $225 for that hour. If it takes two hours, that’s still more than $100 an hour. That per-word amount is ridiculously low, but the assignment or project rate is quite respectable.

It gets more complicated for editing work. As you may recall from other discussions here about rates, editors (and proofreaders) might be paid by the word, page, hour, or project. Even by the character.

Keep in mind, by the way, that charging by the hour could work against you as you become faster and more proficient or efficient — the faster you do the work, the fewer hours you work, the less money you earn. By charging by the character, word, or page, you can increase income as you increase proficiency and speed because you get more done every hour. If you charge by the hour, you actually lose money by working faster and more efficiently, because you have fewer hours to charge for. More hours to spend on other projects, of course, but not more profit from any individual project.

As Rich Adin has discussed in a previous post (see Business of Editing: The Quest for Rate Charts), membership organizations like the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) provide some publicly available guidance on rates based on what some of their members report, but those resources can be as problematic as they are helpful. There’s nothing wrong with sharing them with clients who haven’t worked with writers or editors before, but they shouldn’t be treated as the only option or as mandatory. Quote them with clients who offer rates that are lower than you accept if they support your preferences, and feel free to point out that they’re only guidelines when you want to charge more than such a chart shows, even at its higher ends of ranges. See below for some suggestions on “defending” the rates you want to charge.

Some organizations — the Editors Association of Canada is one — provide member-only rates information. That’s helpful in setting fees while reducing the number of prospective clients who might say things like, “But the EFA/EAC/whatever chart says this kind of work should only pay $X/hour, so why do you want me to pay you $X-times-2?” but it doesn’t help educate clients who try to pay ridiculously low rates.

Defending What You Charge

Once you figure out what you think you should charge, be prepared to defend that decision with some clients.

There will always be clients who try to bargain us down to lower rates for our work. You may have to explain the value that you bring to the client’s project — your years of training and experience, your skill level, your subject knowledge if appropriate; in short, why you’re worth what you charge. Not defensively, but from a position of confidence in that worth.

I tell prospective clients that my rates are based on my skills, experience, speed, and wide-ranging knowledge base. I don’t mention my need to pay my bills and cover my expenses; it’s too easy to let such “defenses” look whiny and unbusiness-like. I focus on why I’m a great match for that project or client. If that doesn’t work, I let it go. Life is too short to spend time on haggling over pay rates.

Sometimes you have to brace yourself to stand tough and tall about your rates. You probably will encounter prospective clients who say they can find someone less expensive. Fine. Don’t let them bully you into cutting your rate. Clients who try to bargain you down to less than you think you should be paid are likely to be headaches on other aspects of working together, including getting paid at all. Wish them luck, tell them you may still be available if the less-expensive options don’t work out — and consider increasing your quoted rate if they do come back to you because the cheaper editor turned out to be less than stellar at doing the actual work. (For another perspective, see Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”)

Of course, it’s always easier to hold the line on rates if you aren’t desperate for work. That’s why it helps to maintain a savings cushion, if at all possible, because when we’re desperate, we cave.

To Post or Not to Post

A tangent to the vexing question of what, how much, and how to charge is whether to publicize your rates once you decide what they should be.

The advantage of posting your rates at your website or creating a rate card that you can send to prospective clients is that the information is up and visible, and “tire-kickers” won’t bother you if your rates are too high for them. The disadvantage is that some clients who might be worth working for won’t contact you for the same reason, and some who would pay more than you expect will only offer what you post. By posting your rates, you lose your flexibility and ability to negotiate.

Many of us prefer not to post our rates because we like the option of negotiating payment client by client, even if doing so might involve more work each time. That’s certainly my preference. By not posting my rates, I can charge what I think a project is worth — or my time and skills for that project. I can charge some clients more and some clients less, depending on the nature of project or the client. I can benefit from a client with deep pockets and negotiate with one on a more limited budget.

Pressure to reduce our fees won’t go away. Neither will competition from newcomers, or clients with lowball rates, or websites where you bid for projects and are hired based on how little money you’ll accept. Beyond figuring out what we need to comfortably cover our expenses and administrative costs, as Rich Adin has often proposed (see, e.g., Business of Editing: What to Charge), we have to decide on our value and stand up for it.

Here’s to success in getting paid what you need and think you’re worth!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

Related An American Editor  essays:

October 20, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part I)

Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part I)

by Louise Harnby

If you’re a proofreader working for agencies or publishers on typeset page proofs, you may believe that you’re worse off financially than you used to be. This may be because:

  • Your client has increased its rates but not in line with the cost of living, so in real terms you’re still not being rewarded as well as you were in the past. You’re worse off.
  • Your client’s rates have remained the same year on year, so in real terms, again, you’re not being rewarded as well as you were in the past. You’re worse off.
  • Your client has reduced the hourly rate — real terms or not, you’re worse off.
  • Your client offers a fixed fee for the job, based on the number of pages in a set of proofs, and the page rate has been reduced. You’re proofreading the same number of words per page, but for less money. You’re worse off.
  • Your client offers a fixed fee for the job, based on the number of pages in a set of proofs, and the page rate is the same or slightly higher than in previous years, but the font size has decreased and there are, on average, more words on a page. The increased number of words per page offsets the static or increased page rate such that, overall, you’re proofreading more words for less (or the same) money. You’re worse off.

These aren’t the only scenarios but they’re the ones I’ve heard discussed often.

Tracking the Data…

If you’re not tracking your data, you can’t begin to work out whether your business is sustainable let alone whether one particular client remains a valuable asset that you wish to retain. Your data-tracking system doesn’t need to be fancy — an Excel spreadsheet might be all you need — but it should enable you to evaluate the health of your business, perhaps on a client-by-client and year-by-year basis. The reason I like Excel is because it gives me complete control over which data I collect and how I organize the information.

There are other options that are designed specifically for the job of business-performance analysis, though you’ll have to pay for them. One example, favored by Rich Adin, is QuickBooks Pro. Take advantage of free trials before you invest in expensive software, though. There will be things that you can do easily in, for example, Excel that are fiddly in paid-for programs, and vice versa. You might prefer to use different tools depending on what you want to find out.

When you’ve recorded your data over a lengthier time frame, say a year, you’ll be in a position to start assessing what works and what doesn’t, depending on your circumstances. For the specialist proofreader this could provide insight into which areas of work are most profitable (e.g., academic compared with trade publishing) or which client types (e.g. businesses compared with students or publishers). In “The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping II”, Rich Adin discusses how his data analysis taught him which parts of his business were the most valuable, “based on my experience and my data. I am not suggesting that they are true lessons for anyone else. Rather, the point is that the collection of data can help direct your business into the areas that are most lucrative for you” (An American Editor, 2014).

What Should You Keep Note Of?

Says Allena Tapia, “The variables that you track will depend on the things that are most important to you. You’ll likely play with these variables over the years, adding some and letting go of others” (“Bookkeeping for Freelancers — Exactly What Should You Track?”).

Sometimes our clients will be transparent about the changes in the fees being offered for proofreading page proofs, but sometimes changes to, for example, design (and the impact these have on rates) are only discernible if the proofreader keeps track of the data for each project — for example, number of pages, size of page, words per page, hours spent on the job, fee earned for the job. Think about what’s important to you, or what might be important to you in a year’s time, when deciding what to record.

My project data spreadsheet is Excel-based and tracks every project I’ve worked on in a particular financial year. It includes information such as: month in which the job was carried out, author, publisher, invoice number, date of invoice, payment due date, date of actual payment, pages, word count, £/1000 words, £/page, words proofed per hour, pages proofed per hour, total hours spent proofreading the project, agreed total fee, and the (sometimes extrapolated) hourly rate. I can manipulate the cells using filters so that I can see monthly and yearly totals. Or I can sort by client and compare particular variables. Previous years’ spreadsheets are similarly designed so I can cross-compare to see if there have been changes over a longer time frame.

Collecting data for many different variables is essential because I’m not always comparing like with like when looking at various projects. Some clients offer me per-page rates, some offer flat rates, some offer hourly rates, and sometimes I set the fee; page sizes and font sizes differ; and the approximate number of words on a page varies a great deal. By recording different variables, I can, over time, extrapolate information that enables me to build a picture of where the financial value lies in my client base.

I’m always particularly interested in extrapolating what I earn per hour because that’s the time I could be doing something else (e.g., working for a different client or doing my laundry). I’m also interested in what I earn overall per month and per year because those are the figures that I hold up against my monthly and yearly outgoings — this tells me whether my business is sustainable overall.

Don’t forget that by tracking the data more broadly you’ll become a better estimator, too, as Adrienne Montgomerie reminds us in “Track Your Pace to Estimate with Confidence” (Copyediting.com, 2014). For a more thorough discussion of tracking, see Rich Adin’s “Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part III)” (An American Editor, 2013). In it, Adin takes readers through the process of how he tracks the data necessary to determine his “effective hourly rate.”

Adin has addressed issues of what to charge, how to track data, and how to extrapolate an effective hourly rate extensively on his blog, and I’d recommend reading every word. There’s a great deal to absorb but it’s a wise editorial professional who’ll take the time to do so. See also Melanie Thompson’s Pricing a Project (Society for Editors and Proofreaders, 2013).

“But the Rate’s Not Fair…”

Considerations of whether your client is being fair are of little help. Publishing is a fluid industry. It’s operating in a climate where there are ways for authors to publish that bypass mainstream publishers, and in a world where what it means “to publish” is constantly being redefined by both the presses themselves (e.g., online vs. print; journal vs. article; bundle vs. single product; open-access initiatives) and the authors. This recent article, “The State of the University Press,” is a case in point (BookBusiness, 2014<http://www.bookbusinessmag.com/article/the-state-university-press/1&gt;). Furthermore, publishers are businesses facing the same challenges that all businesses face — how to keep costs low and quality high in a way that means they can continue to do what they do both now and in the future.

The impact can be felt directly by the freelance proofreader because keeping editorial production costs as low as possible is one (and only one) way in which some publisher clients and agencies might seek to address the economic challenges of publishing.

More important than fairness is necessity. What I need to earn and what I want to earn are two different things. In my case, because of my particular household’s financial needs, my required effective hourly rate is £17/US$27 — that’s what my business needs to earn, given the working hours I have available, to meet my portion of what it costs my family to live the life we want to live. However, I do sometimes accept projects that fall south of this mark, because, when I evaluate my business earnings over the course of a year and from all my clients, the overall achieved effective hourly rate is well in excess of this — £27/US$44. That allows me to take a hit on the projects that I want to do.

Nevertheless, even if a client’s rates are meeting my requirements, I may still think that the fees are not in line with the value I bring to the table. In other words, the client isn’t offering me what I want to earn.

What can the proofreader do if her earnings are below that which she either needs to earn or wants to earn?

In Part II, I’ll discuss three options for dealing with problematic rates, including my preferred — that of introducing digital efficiencies.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

The Proofreader’s Corner: Rates, Data Tracking, and Digital Efficiencies (Part II)

January 27, 2014

On the Basics: Editors and Education — A Lifelong, Ongoing Process

Today inaugurates a monthly series of essays by Ruth Thaler-Carter, “On the Basics.” In her essays, Ruth will explore the world of freelancing, drawing on her varied background as writer, editor, and conference host. Please welcome Ruth as a new columnist for An American Editor.

____________

Editors and Education —
A Lifelong, Ongoing Process

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

To succeed as editors, we need to educate ourselves all the time, at all times. Because neither language nor editing is static, we can’t be static. Language evolves and changes (not always in ways some of us like, but such is life), and so must editors.

We have to start our careers by educating ourselves about the essentials of good editing and the types of editing (copy, substantive, developmental, project, and production editing, not to mention editing vs. proofreading) we might do. Then we have to continue to educate ourselves throughout our careers to stay professional and at the top of the editing game. We have to stay up to date and know more than our clients — at least about language, if not about the topics of the materials we edit.

I think of this every time I see a query about a term or usage that I’m not familiar with, or encounter one new to me. I think of myself as skilled and well-educated, but I would never say I couldn’t learn more about language in general and editing in particular. Constant learning creates an editor who is more skilled and more credible than people who think they’ve learned everything they need to know to do good work as an editor.

Our editing education started long before we entered the profession, at least ideally — we learned the ground rules of spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation in grade school. We might have had some refinement of that information through high school and college, but most of us received our actual editing educations on the job, refining that basic knowledge by learning about a specific topic, field, or profession and how publishing worked in that area, or as humble editorial assistants in a more general environment, where the editing function itself was the focus, rather than one particular topic. We learned from colleagues and from whatever style manuals were the order of the day at a given company, publishing house, or publication.

Some of us started editing long enough ago to have used blue pencils as the standard tool of the game. We educated ourselves then to use the appropriate markup “language” on paper copy. As the publishing world changed, we changed, too, and educated ourselves about new tools of the trade — word processors and then personal computers; WordPerfect, MacWrite, Microsoft Word, Acrobat, and other programs. Many of us have educated ourselves about more sophisticated resources as well, such as macros and macro programs like Editorium products, PerfectIt, and EditTools. We might not have called how we picked up these new skills “education” — it might have been labeled training, or professional development, or adaptation, or simple survival — but that adaptation was still an education process.

For freelance editors, education includes learning the ropes of being businesslike and separating editing as our craft from editing as a business. That is not an easy thing to do and something many of us are still struggling to do well, but it is essential to financial success.

There is more to educating ourselves, however, than just adapting to the need to use new tools or techniques as they evolve. To be the best editor you can be, as well as the most successful you can be, you have to continually educate yourself about the world around you — new uses of languages, new ways of using language, new words in the language. We have to pay attention to changes in style manuals, advances in various fields, political changes that affect country names and borders, and more. We can never assume that we’ve learned enough; there’s always more to know.

That means reading, constantly and widely — daily newspapers; a variety of general and news magazines; blogs about editing but also about other topics; professional publications; books in different genres; and more. Even watching TV news and some popular culture programs, as annoying as they may be and as superior as it may feel to eschew them, has educational importance. You can’t be a great editor if you cut yourself off from general information about the world around you. Books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and other information resources that cover the world outside editing all inform the world of editing, and the mindset, skillset, and overall ability of an editor.

What you read for pleasure is also a factor in self-education, whether it be fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. Reading expands the mind and the imagination, as well as increasing your knowledge base. You never know when something you just read, even in a mystery or a novel of historical fiction, will inform and enhance your ability to edit a new project. And the more genres you read, the more types of projects you become eligible to edit.

Ongoing editing education also means being active in social media — on organizational and independent e-mail lists, and in LinkedIn conversations, web forums, and other environments where discussions of language and world trends and news can be found. We learn from each other as well as from more formal sources. Even Facebook can be a platform for learning about trends and events that could help you be a better editor.

We may not like all the changes in language and in the world around us, but we still have to know of them and deal with them on behalf of our clients or projects. The bottom line is that the more educated an editor is about editing in particular and the world in general, the better an editor that person is.

What do you consider essential to your ongoing professional education? How do you educate yourself to stay sharp and up to date about the craft and business of editing and the world in which you operate as an editor?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and desktop publisher who also owns Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for freelancers every fall.

September 4, 2013

Going Wireless

When I first began my career as a freelance editor, I realized that I needed a business telephone line. In those days, email and the Internet were still barely taking their first steps in publishing. Most of my client contact was done via postal service mail and telephone.

In addition, I had two young children who wanted to remain in contact with their friends and who had little concept of “no, you can’t use the telephone during business hours.” Thus, the need for a dedicated business line.

So, I had a second line installed at my home, a line dedicated to business.

Not long after I had that business line installed, I recognized that clients wanted to fax material to me. Sometimes the faxes would run dozens of pages. So I decided to install a second business line. This line was for both voice and faxing. I also arranged for “rollover”; if someone called one of the two business numbers and I was on the telephone, the call would rollover to the other number. It was something like an early call waiting system.

Over the years, I found that rollover to be indispensable because by ringing the alternative number, my wife could answer the phone, giving the business greeting. I began to look like a real company — multiple telephone lines and a “receptionist” to answer with “Good morning. Freelance Editorial Services. How may I help you?”

Also in those days a key to a successful business was having toll-free telephone numbers. So I indulged and got a toll-free telephone number for each of the business lines. That actually was one of the least expensive investments I had made in my quest for “perfect” telephony services. The numbers cost me $5 a month plus 3¢ a minute. A typical bill, surprisingly, was less than $10.

This served me well for a long time. Ultimately, the kids moved out and there really wasn’t a need for a “personal” telephone line. So that line got converted to a third business line, but this time dedicated to my wife’s business. A third toll-free number was added.

The combination of multiple telephone numbers and the toll-free numbers emphasized to clients that I was truly a business, a company. The image I was projecting was reinforced with every business card I handed out that displayed four of the six numbers plus a business e-mail address and website.

Right up to the early 2000s, a client could reach me by telephone using any one of six available numbers. I didn’t make any changes because the monthly cost was relatively low and although the balance had tipped — work proposals came more frequently via e-mail than by telephone — the telephone was still producing a goodly amount of business.

A change I did notice, however, was that no one was using the toll-free numbers. If they called, they used a standard phone number. I think this came about because the telephone companies had moved away from charging separately for long distance calls. Plus, increasing numbers of people were using their cell phones to make calls. So I began the first pruning and eliminated the toll-free numbers. If they weren’t being used, I saw no sense in paying for them.

So life continued on with three landline business numbers. To that two cell phone numbers were added. We didn’t give out the cell phone numbers because we rarely had the cell phones on, except when we were traveling and wanted certain clients to be able to reach us.

The next change came with the arrival of FiOS (fiber optic digital service from Verizon). When it first became available in my neighborhood, I switched my Internet service from Time Warner Cable to Verizon FiOS, hoping that FiOS would be more reliable than cable had been (and that the customer service folk would be less surly and more caring). It turned out that FiOS was a major improvement in virtually every way. I’ve had FiOS Internet service for at least 5 years now and it has nearly always been on and available, unlike the experience I had with cable.

The Internet service plus the chance to lower my monthly costs convinced me to switch our landline telephones from the copper-line service we had to FiOS digital telephone service. We made the switch and the experience was mixed. On the one hand, the telephone service was fine; on the other hand, we lost our rollover capability because it couldn’t be done with the digital service, at least not without great expense. Our monthly telephone bill decreased significantly, which was a plus, but increasingly any business inquiries were coming via e-mail, not telephone.

Unfortunately, my wife’s cell phone was dying. We were still using the cell phones we had bought nearly 10 years ago, so we had gotten our money’s worth out of them. The impetus to do something about the cell phones came with my wife’s participation in a plein air paint show in Pennsylvania. She would be gone for a week and during that week would be required to paint outdoors in an area that we had only visited once before. The thought of her traveling with a dying cell phone made me think about our telephone system yet again.

The decision was made to cancel our landline service and port two of our landline telephone numbers to new cell phones. We would take the plunge and go wireless.

It has only been a month since we went wireless, but for the most part we like our current situation. The biggest negative is that we are always tethered to business and to the Internet. The phones travel everywhere with us, which means we are accessible to clients (and to family and friends) wherever we are. A positive is that unlike the landlines, we can turn off the phones and not be bothered. (I’ve noted that we are getting fewer unwanted solicitations, which is a bonus.)

My daughter was delighted when I went wireless because I got my first smartphone. She thought she could text me to keep in touch. I put a stop to that thought immediately. My wife is happy to communicate with our children via texting — better than no communication, she says — but not me. I’m still living in the 1960s when voice-to-voice and face-to-face were the preferred communication methods. I told my daughter to call, not to text. So far, she is listening, but I know that won’t last forever.

My business has changed over the past 30 years and just as it has had to move, through fits and starts, into the 21st century, so has my telephony needs. At least for now, I’m wireless. Tomorrow may make other demands on me.

Have you gone wireless? What has been your experience?

October 17, 2012

Going Green (Tea, That Is)

When I was young, many decades ago, growing up in America meant wanting to imbibe in the “adult pleasure” of drinking coffee — every adult I knew drank coffee and multiple cups of it.

Coffee’s caffeine never affected me. It amazed my wife and friends that I could drink a pot of espresso coffee at 11 p.m. and be sound asleep by 11:15 p.m. And because I was a commuter for many years, I rarely had my first cup of coffee until I had already been awake for three or four hours. Drinking coffee was very much a habit and habits are the hardest things to break. We get a sense of comfort from our habits.

One day, however, I looked at my coffee mug, which was still three-quarters full, and realized that although I “drank” coffee all day long, I rarely drank more than the equivalent of one cup in the entire day. Usually I would have a sip or two then set the mug aside. When I got around to wanting the next sip, the coffee was cold (and I never liked iced coffee), so I would dump the coffee in the mug and refill the mug with “fresh” hot coffee, and the cycle of sipping-dump-refill would repeat. I realized at that moment that I really didn’t like (or dislike) coffee — it was just habit and a hot liquid to have available, and that I drank it because everyone drank coffee while working.

I wondered if I would like tea any better. I knew that I didn’t like the off-the-shelf black, green, herbal, and flavored teas — the Liptons, Bigelows, and Saladas of the mass market — so I thought I’d go upscale and give a premium green tea a try. Green tea was supposed to be flavorful and provide numerous health benefits.

I admit that my drinking habits are somewhat peculiar in comparison to the habits of most Americans. When I drank coffee it was straight, no chaser — no sugar, no cream, no flavoring. I detested the taste of the flavored coffees. I also wasn’t fond of the off-the-shelf coffees like Maxwell House and Folger’s; I preferred premium coffees like Jamaica Blue Mountain and Kenya AA. So I wasn’t overly surprised to find that I didn’t like off-the-shelf mass market teas either.

After trying a few varieties of premium green tea, I was delighted to find that I enjoyed the straight, no chaser premium green teas. At last I had found a hot drink that was flavorful, which I drank by the cup rather than by the occasional sip, as long as I bought premium green tea in loose-leaf form and brewed it correctly.

Tea making is an art in the sense that you need to find that perfect balance of quantity, brew temperature, and brew time. With coffee, it was easy. Use a machine to which you simply add some coffee and water and click a button. Coffee requires near-boiled water. Green tea, on the other hand, requires water heated to about 175 degrees F (79.5 degrees C), because boiling (or near-boiling) water, which is what most people use, “burns” the tea and changes the flavor.

I read about the importance of using the correct-temperature water and so bought a kettle that lets me heat water to that correct temperature. There are several such kettles available; the one I bought was a Cuisinart. I then experimented and found that using water heated to the correct temperature and finding the right brew time for each variety made a significant difference in flavor.

As I wrote earlier, I also discovered that there is a major difference between off-the-shelf grocery-store teas and premium teas. Premium doesn’t necessarily mean high priced but it does mean higher quality. I did some exploring and tried several different purveyors of premium loose-leaf green teas. I currently buy from Harney & Sons, which is local to me, being about an hour away, and The Republic of Tea. Because each supplier seems to have its own sources, I still sample teas from other sellers, but these two, primarily Harney & Sons, are my main suppliers.

I discovered something else about loose-leaf green tea, aside from all the health benefits that keep popping up in newspaper and magazine articles (e.g., helps prevent cancer, helps lose/control weight): I discovered that because each variety has its own distinct flavor, I like to have several varieties on the counter and each day I brew and drink a different variety. Currently, I have seven varieties on the counter and so each day of the week has its own flavor.

I know that cost is a consideration, so when I initially buy a variety, I buy the sample size. The samples allow me to brew several pots (I brew pots of tea rather than cups) and discover whether I like the variety enough to want to buy it in a larger quantity. Yet the loose-leaf tea is also economical in the sense that from less I get more. Although your taste is likely different from mine, I have found that I can make two four-cup pots of tea using just two teaspoons of tea; that is, I get the equivalent of eight cups of tea from just two teaspoons of the loose-leaf tea.

My wife and I each have our own personal carafe, which we use as our brewing pots and which keep the tea hot for hours. Separate carafes enable us to enjoy tea while we work. For me, there is nothing better than a cup or two of green tea to soothe my frustration with another poorly written manuscript.

If you haven’t tried a quality green tea, you should. If you are a coffee drinker, you might find a new flavor sensation. As I discovered, it doesn’t take long to look forward to a flavorful pot of hot tea. As for coffee, it remains unmissed.

If you are a tea drinker, what tea(s) do you drink? Where do you buy your tea? I am always on the lookout for new sources and the Internet makes exploring the world of tea easy.

September 9, 2010

Surrendering to Amazon: The “Strategic” Decisions That May Give Amazon the eBook Market

In the world of eBookville, few decisions will stand out as more colossal blunders than two decisions, one made by Barnes & Noble, one by Sony, that may result in their giving the ebook market to Amazon on a silver platter.

Oh, I know — both B&N and Sony are still operating ebookstores. But at least one of them will not be standing in the not so distant future and when that happens, the reason(s) why will be traceable to “strategic” corporate decisions that even a sixth grade dropout would recognize as dumb strategy. It’s a good thing we don’t need to rely on either of these companies to lead our economic recovery!

“What are these decisions?” you ask: Barnes & Noble’s decision to adopt ePub and then add its own flavor of DRM and Sony’s decision to adopt ePub but not update its firmware to include the B&N flavor of DRM in its latest hardware release. Instead of recognizing that Amazon is a common enemy that is promoting its own proprietary file and DRM schemes that are incompatible with everyone else, Sony and B&N, with the acquiescence of Adobe who needs to share some of the blame for not insisting that B&N either not add its flavor of DRM or that Sony must upgrade to include the B&N flavor, have acted as if each alone can take on and conquer the Amazon juggernaut. Clearly no one at either company will win an award for brilliant strategist of the minute, let alone the year.

If anything, they should be uniting to knock Amazon down a notch or two. Instead they are dividing the field, making it easier for Amazon’s juggernaut to roll over them. You would think that B&N’s quarterly report would have caused a lightbulb to at least flicker in Leonard Riggio’s mind, but apparently not. And Sony has a perfect opportunity to both increase sales of what I think are superior ereading devices and tackle the problem by simply updating the firmware in the new models — even if it doesn’t offer the update to prior models, it needs to offer it in the new models.

I know that neither Sony nor B&N want their customers shopping elsewhere, but that is simply shortsighted. All they have to do is look at the pbook operations of both Amazon and B&N to recognize how foolish that position is. Both pbook operations have marketplaces where competitors can sell pbooks. Now why would that be if it wasn’t a good idea? How hard is it to transfer that thought process to the ebook market and recognize that Sony and B&N should be using the same flavor of ePub and DRM — especially as the bottom line now is that B&N customers can shop virtually everywhere other than Amazon and Apple, and Sony customers can shop virtually everywhere other than Amazon, Apple, and B&N. (Is it so hard to see something wrong with this scenario?) .

Neither customers nor businesses are loyal to anyone but themselves; this is the reality of today’s marketplace, especially in light of the easy access to competition provided by the Internet. Using incompatible DRM schemes doesn’t mean that the consumer will buy solely from your store. Sure some will, but not all, and those that will would do so regardless of whether they had easy access to other ebookstores. I’m not suggesting that Sony or B&N should give convenient wireless access to competitor stores, just that the books their devices will read should be more universal.

It is pretty clear that neither is on a sure path to overtake Amazon in the U.S. ebook market. B&N has lots of troubles and this is just one more trouble that it could have avoided with a bit of careful thinking. Sony is an electronics giant — not an ebook giant. Yes, there was a reason why it created its own ebookstore in the birthing days of ebooks, but now they should rethink the “strategy” of trying to tie Sony Reader customers to the Sony ebookstore. It will do Sony no good to have the best devices available but no buyers because people perceive that the Sony ebookstore isn’t as good as the B&N or Amazon ebookstore, regardless of how well it stacks up.

Sony’s real shot at stardom is to concentrate on the hardware and promote the universality of access its Readers provide. Encourage purchasing at the Sony ebookstore by making it easy through wireless access and applications for multiple devices, but boast of a customer’s ability to shop anywhere except at the two stores run by the Amazon and Apple, which want to limit consumer choice, not expand it. Sony and B&N need to become the white hat guys and make Amazon and Apple the black hats.

To my mind, having Sony and B&N work together to their strengths is a competitive combination that would stand a good chance against Amazon. Let Sony do the hardware and B&N run the bookstore. Forget the nook and forget the Sony ebookstore. OK, it ain’t gonna happen, so can we get the next best thing: B&N and Sony using the same flavors of ePub and DRM. At least then there would be some competitive pressure on Amazon and the possibility of more, especially as other device manufacturers — outside of Amazon and Apple — would follow suit. Sadly, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

So one day in the not too distant future we will see B&N raise a white flag, surrendering the market to Amazon, and the pundits will look back and sigh over how it could have been avoided if only two dumb decisions hadn’t been made and then stuck to as if the decisions were immutable gospel.

The ultimate loser, of course, will be the consumer, because when there is one company left standing, prices tend to go from competitive and low to uncompetitive and high. Shall we set a date to gather in New Orleans for B&N’s funeral procession?

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: