An American Editor

April 9, 2012

The Tablet and Me: The Nook Tablet

For the past few months, Barnes & Noble has been offering deals on their Nooks if you purchased a 1-year digital subscription to the New York Times. I have been a long-time subscriber to the print version of the Times, but have been unhappy at the regular price increases for the print subscription. Alas, as unhappy as I proclaim myself to be over the price increases, my unhappiness was not enough to get me to cancel the subscription.

The Nook deal looked good to me. The digital version of the Times costs $20 per month; the regular print subscription was costing me close to $50 per month. I went and looked at the Nook Touch, which was free with the subscription, but didn’t buy it. I just couldn’t figure out what I would do with another ereader, as I am very happy with my Sony devices, both of which still work perfectly after years of use. Besides, I could get the same digital subscription at the same price on my Sony.

The reason I bought my Sony 950 was to digitally subscribe to the Times. I gave it a trial run, and although I was happy and would have continued, my wife didn’t like it; consequently, we went back to the print version. That was 18 months ago.

The Nook offer expired on April 5. My wife decided to give me an early birthday present and ordered the Nook Tablet (16GB version) with the Times subscription before the offer expired. I was pleasantly surprised. I had not considered the Nook Tablet, but her choice of device works perfectly for us. I’ll get to the reasons a bit later, but I want to first describe the problems we had when the Nook arrived.

The device worked fine on arrival. I had a problem getting my network to recognize it so it would have WiFi access, and I couldn’t get through to Nook support; they kept transferring me and hanging up. Ultimately, because we have Verizon FiOS Internet service, I called Verizon and within minutes I was connected to the WiFi. Apparently, Verizon gets a lot of calls from Nook owners with the problem, so they knew what to do immediately.

But this raises a question: Why is the Nook the only device to have to jump through hoops to get that initial connection? My Sony 950 connected without hesitation. Part of the problem is that the Nook asks for a network password when what it really wants is the network WEP key. Had I known what it wanted, I could have been up and running in seconds without a call to Verizon. My Sony asked for the WEP key, not a password.

Anyway, once connected to WiFi, I was able to complete registration of the device and link it to my Nook library. (Yes, I had a Nook library of books “bought” from B&N even though I didn’t own a Nook device. I downloaded the books to my computer and then used Calibre to load them onto my Sonys.) But what I couldn’t get was the New York Times, which was part of the purchase.

A call to B&N customer support, to which I was connected quickly, solved this mystery. Because my wife bought the device and used her credit card, the subscription was linked to her B&N account. Easy enough, I thought — just move it to my account. Turns out, B&N has no method for dealing with gift purchases and couldn’t transfer the subscription to my existing account.

I asked what was to me the obvious question: Doesn’t B&N hope that people will buy Nooks and subscriptions as gifts for others? Why make it impossible to do so? It reminds me of the early fiasco when B&N wouldn’t accept gift cards to pay for Nook books. Seems to be something missing in the thinking, which does not bode well for B&N’s ultimate success.

Because of the impossibility of transferring the subscription, we had to cancel the purchase, return the Tablet to the local B&N store, and buy another Tablet under the deal but on my credit card. How illogical is this? Here I had to return a perfectly good Tablet that B&N will now have to sell as a refurbished unit simply because they couldn’t transfer a subscription.

Even that, however, didn’t go as smoothly as it should have. To set up the Times subscription, I needed the e-mail address and password for my B&N account. The e-mail address was not a problem, but I had no idea what the password was (I use RoboForm, a password manager, to manage my passwords and to log me in). So I had to return home, get the password, and return to the local store to conclude the transaction. Once again, B&N isn’t thinking “customer first” service.

Truthfully, if this hadn’t been a birthday gift, I probably would have simply canceled the original transaction and gone no further.

In the end, the Tablet is up and running and I have my Times subscription. I canceled the print version and am saving myself $30 a month. Plus I can carry the Times with me and read it on the go.

As it turns out, the Nook tablet has solved another problem for us. We rarely use our cell phones. In fact, our cell phones are about 6 years old and don’t have any of the smartphone features so common today — no Internet access, no e-mail, etc.

Because our cell phones really do only one thing — albeit they do it very well — which is to make and receive phone calls, and because we are planning a vacation for this summer out to Utah and the national parks of the Utah-Arizona-Wyoming-Montana areas, we were thinking of upgrading our phones to smartphones. We think we need to have at least e-mail contact for business reasons. Alas, that would have meant a new 2-year commitment (currently, we have no commitment), something I was reluctant to do.

The Nook Tablet solves that problem for us. It gives us e-mail access and Internet access, assuming, of course, we can get a WiFi connection, which we should be able to do most of the time.

So far I am very pleased with the Nook Tablet. The screen is very good (although it is only 7 inches) and its functionality suits my needs. Although it doesn’t have the functionality of an iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab, it provides the functionality we need at one-third to one-fourth the price of a more functional tablet. Even with my limited experience with the Nook Tablet, I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for basic tablet functionality.

March 21, 2012

The Business of Editing: Reducing Fees

One of the hardest subjects to address in the editing world is that of fees: How much should I charge? The variables that go into the answer make a pat answer difficult.

Perhaps equally vexing is the included-but-unasked question: Should I ever reduce my fee? It is this question that I attempt to tackle here. (The final answer has to lie in your individual circumstances; there is no always-true answer.)

If I were to survey colleagues and ask the question, I have no doubt that very few, if any, would respond that yes, there are times when fees should be reduced. I expect most would say that fees should be raised and if that is not possible, at least held steady. Of course, in an ideal world this would be 100% sound advice, but few of us edit in an ideal world.

When considering the answer to the question, you should consider what kind of work you do and for whom do you work. I think the answer may be different, for example, if you work only for publishers, than if you work directly with authors. It also may depend on whether you work alone or as part of a group; whether volume is important; and myriad other variables.

Regardless, however, every editor should be asking and considering the question, especially if they have unwanted downtime.

I recently had to address this question in my own business. I admit that I didn’t struggle too long with the pros and cons.

I was offered the opportunity to have enough volume to keep myself and several editors very busy for many months. In exchange, the client wanted a lower per-page editing rate. Although it is very rare for me to have any downtime, it is not that it never happens. During the height of the recession, we did well, but I was still unable to keep all of my editors busy all of the time.

So, faced with the prospect of a large volume of work that conceivably could keep all of us busy year-round, I had to decide whether to lower my per-page rate. In the end, I did, because the economics were such that the exchange would be well worth accepting. So far, this has been true.

But I work in a narrow area (medicine) and for publishers and packagers only. I do not work directly with authors. Because of what my editors and I do, we are able to use techniques to increase efficiency and speed, and we are always searching for new ways to increase both without decreasing accuracy.

A willingness to consider reducing fees requires an understanding of your marketplace. When it comes to editing a book that is being translated from Chinese to English, an editor who is fluent in Chinese can probably charge more than an editor who knows no Chinese. Consequently, simply knowing what the Chinese-fluent editor is able to charge is not an indication of what you can or should charge if you are the non-Chinese-language editor.

On the other hand, if you are a Chinese-fluent editor with time on your hands and you know that you are competing with other similarly fluent editors, it may be in your interests to negotiate a volume contract at reduced prices. There is no medal for stubbornness when it comes to fees.

Colleagues will often argue that low-price editing lowers the price for all editors and, thus, we need to stick together at the higher price level. I know that they want me to take this argument seriously, but that is not possible.

First, the entry to editing is easy and the bar so low that virtually anyone can hang out a shingle that says “professional editor.” Every day, hundreds more “professional” editors appear, and these new editors have prices all over the rainbow. Granted that, once hired, their lack of skill may become apparent, but they still get hired first because a key factor in the hiring process is price.

Second, colleagues who ask you to hold the price may not themselves be doing so. When faced with the prospect of no work and thus no money to pay bills, they often work for less. The reality is that our business is not a cooperative business; we compete all the time with each other and, in doing so, we tend to look out for our own best interests.

Finally, we face the problem of establishing what should be a base price for all editors. In my 28+ years as an editor, although numbers have been tossed about, no one has been able to come up with a universal minimum price — or universal method for calculating the same — that is good for all editors and all situations.

Which brings me back to the question of whether lowering fees should be considered. The answer is so dependent on so many variables that there is no correct, universal answer. In my case, the resolution of the question was easy. Because of how I charge (per-page), how I work (i.e., the use of macros and other efficiencies), what I want (to know that I will have no downtime and that I will not have to constantly market), and because the amount in question was nominal on a per-page basis (although it would add up to a significant sum over the long-term), coming to the answer that I should agree to lower my rate was easy.

For you, the answer may be much more difficult or may be no, but it is a question that should be addressed and analyzed, not simply shunted aside with no as the foregone conclusion. This question is one that every business has to face regularly, and our business is no different.

February 15, 2012

The Business of Editing: Pricing Yourself Out of the Market When Applying for Work

Part of my business involves having editors work for me on projects that I obtain from major publishers in the medical field. I constantly receive applications for work from editors. Every applicant receives my editing test, but I often never hear from them again, which is just as well, as their pay expectations are unrealistic.

One of the things that an editor who is looking to work for me has to state, when applying, is the minimum per-page fee the editor will accept. After all, why waste my time if I know that, no matter how good an editor the applicant may be, the minimum fee the applicant will accept is unrealistic and exponentially greater than the gross amount I will receive from my clients?

Of ten applicants, nine will state a minimum acceptable fee that is stroking the stratosphere. It isn’t that difficult to translate a per-page fee to an hourly fee to determine the “realness” of the asked-for amount. Most publishers expect editing of six to eight pages an hour and, when setting a budget for a project, base it on that rate of editing. So if you state your minimum acceptable fee is $25 per page, which I see often, you are asking for $150 to $200 an hour — a great fee if you can get it, but not based in the reality of the editing world.

There are four basic types of “employers” for editors: the publisher, the author, another editor, and a packager. (“Publisher” includes businesses and government agencies and anyone who ultimately will put their name on the document as the publisher.) In the case of the publisher and the author, the relationship between them and the editor is a direct one, so the editor can expect to receive the full amount of the fee the publisher or author is paying. And in the case of the author, the author may be expecting to pay a higher hourly rate than the publisher.

The latter two, however, are middlemen, and the job applicant should expect to receive less than what a middleman receives from the ultimate client. Middlemen are entitled to some return for their effort in finding the work (not to mention putting together and managing the team to produce it).

The finding of that ever-elusive work can be a costly endeavor.  Plus, it is the middleman’s reputation that is at stake when an editor is hired, not the editor’s reputation. I know the difficulties of finding enough work to keep editors busy year-round and I know that my clients never ask who the editor is/was: If the job was done well, I get the kudos (which I then pass on to the editor who actually earned the kudos), but when something goes amiss, I’m the one who has to smooth ruffled feathers and I’m the one who spends hours doing so; I’m the one who stands to lose the client and future work. In addition, I’m the one who spends money promoting the group’s services.

The middleman also acts as a buffer between a problematic client and the editor.

Perhaps more importantly from the editor’s perspective, at least in my case as middleman, I’m the one who gambles on getting paid. Of course, I am speaking only for my own business in this regard, but I make it a habit to pay an editor for the editor’s work within 24 hours, which is often before I bill the client and long before I actually receive payment. Should a client delay payment by weeks or months, or even never pay at all, the editor never knows as the editor was paid.

When applying for editorial work, the applicant needs to both keep in mind who the work is for and investigate what the going rate of pay is — and how it is calculated — for the type of work that the “employer” does. Of course, it would also help the applicant’s chances if the applicant had the requisite skill and knowledge to edit the types of publications the employer works on or produces.

But a realistic financial expectation is a key to getting past the initial stages of review by the employer. No matter how good an editor you may be, no prospective employer will give you a second glance if you price yourself out of the market. You cannot assume that if you pass a test but your fee request is above what the employer pays, you will have the opportunity to modify your request to bring it into line. That may occasionally happen, but it happens so rarely that an applicant should assume it never happens at all.

Again, it is the combination of realistic financial expectations and excellent editorial skills that wins work in today’s very competitive editorial market. Applicants for editorial work need to know and understand the market in which they are seeking editorial work. Does your experience indicate otherwise?

January 9, 2012

eBooks: Has Amazon Turned eBooks into Commodities?

For a long time, publishers and readers have argued that each book is unique and thus one cannot substitute, say, a book by Dean Koontz for one by Stephen King. For years I accepted that — until ebooks and agency pricing and Amazon exclusivity. Now, in the case of fiction at least, I think the tides have turned and ebooks demonstrate books and authors are substitutable, that is, (fiction) books are commodities.

Until inflated agency pricing of bestsellers and Amazon’s concerted effort to dominate the ebook market, I would not have considered substituting one author for another author — at least not consciously. Yet the more I think about book buying and reading habits, the more convinced I am that between the criteria genre and author, it is genre that dominates.

Before the advent of ebooks on a wide scale, most readers bought (or borrowed) physical books to read. Physical books, except in the secondary market, were (and are) highly priced. A popular hardcover today, averages $25 and climbing. As a consequence, a reader carefully chose the book to buy and placed the emphasis on author and genre. For $25, the reader wants Tom Clancy, not Jack Unknown.

Amazon began to whittle away at that reader preference with its heavy discounts. Selling bestsellers at $9.99 rather than $25 meant that a reader who had already read Clancy’s latest novel could look for something else within the genre and take a chance on Jack Unknown. The investment was not overwhelming.

Today, Amazon has gone further with ebooks. Tom Clancy’s newest release may cost $14.99 in ebook form (and less in hardcover), but readers are increasingly finding ebooks at $2.99 and less in the same genre by unknown authors worth a try as they wait for the Tom Clancy novel to come down in price — or simply move beyond Clancy altogether.

Amazon, by aggressively courting the indie author and by aggressively pricing indie titles, has expanded what readers will search to find a good book to read. And Amazon has gone the further step with its Prime Lending program and Kindle Direct Publishing programs. Amazon has given its stamp of approval to indie books and authors. Although I think Amazon is not a bookseller to patronize because of its desire to monopolize the integrated book market, it deserves a great deal of credit for changing books into commodities.

I know that many of you will clamor to say that I am wrong, but I ask you to consider this: Once you have bought and read the latest release from your favorite author, do you stop buying and reading books until that author’s next release in 2 or 3 years or do you continue to buy and read books within that genre? And if you do continue to buy and read books, do you continue to be entertained by them or are you only entertained by books written by your favorite author? Finally, do you rush out to buy your favorite author’s newest release or do you wait for a less expensive edition to appear?

If you answer yes to the latter parts of each question (at least the first two questions), then books are commodities and substitutable. And this is the revolution that Amazon has wrought aided by the Agency 6 — the change in how readers view books, especially ebooks. What the Agency 6 claimed they wanted to prevent by instituting agency pricing, they have instead brought about by encouraging, through their actions, Amazon to legitimize the indie marketplace.

Prior to this legitimization, indie books and vanity books were synonymous. That is no longer true. Amazon has made it possible for known and respected authors to go indie and not be negatively viewed by readers. What vanity presses sought for decades, the Agency 6 gave them in months.

The commoditization of books is both good and bad. It is good because a wider range of authors are discovered. The Shayne Parkinsons, Vicki Tyleys, L.J. Sellers, and Richard Tuttles of the indie world — authors who write very well and excellent stories but who were unable (or unwilling) to break into the traditional publishing world — now have a chance to be discovered and claim the large and broad readership their writings deserve. I admit that prior to the commoditization of books, I would not have tried any of these authors. But once indie books were legitimized and books commoditized, I began to explore the indie world and found numerous gems, with some authors and books being better than what I could find in the traditional book world.

Commoditization is, however, also bad — bad for publishing, for authors, and readers — because in coming years the writers who currently make grand incomes from writing — the Stephen Kings and Tom Clancys of publishing — may well find themselves unable to attract an audience for their higher priced efforts. Granted that this is just the marketplace at work, but the pendulum can swing too far in either direction. As the market settles on a low price ceiling, that ceiling will become crowded and with the ease of entry into ebook publishing, it will become increasingly difficult to find the King and Clancy of the 2020s.

A balance is needed, but I have no idea how to bring it about or what that balance should be. Amazon deserves praise and scorn for commoditizing books, but more praise than scorn. In this, Amazon has done well.

January 3, 2012

Worth Noting: A Poisoned Pen Press Deal

Did you get a new ereader device for the holidays? Are you looking for some mysteries to try? Perhaps a new series of mysteries or some new authors?

Poisoned Pen Press, a publisher of mysteries, is offering a great deal on 10 ebooks that are the first in their series (one is marked as the second in its series, but these are supposed to be the first) — buy 1 or buy all 10 at 99¢ each.

What you receive after buying is a zip file (separate for each book bought) that contains both an ePub and a Mobi file. The ePub is usable on all major devices except the Kindle; the Mobi is for the Kindle.

I haven’t read any of the books yet, but I did buy all 10 yesterday. It is hard to go wrong at 99¢ a book, and I like a good mystery, so I’m willing to give these books and authors a try. If only a couple of the ebooks turn out to be very good or better, I consider this a win.

But a word of warning, and something that I don’t like at Poisoned Pen Press: After you make your purchase, they give you a download link for each book you bought. The link is good for 24 hours; I think it should be good for longer — a lot longer. In addition, you have to download each zip file separately; why not provide a way to download all of them at once?

The other thing I do not like is how the files are named. The zip files are named with a combination of letters and numbers that are nonsensical to the purchaser. The files within the zip files are named similarly. Consequently, once you download the files to your computer, you have no way to identify the book without opening the file in your reader device or software. File naming may become my next crusade :). Why not name the files by author and title?

Yet for the $9.90 I spent on 10 ebooks, I was willing to suffer a little inconvenience. I downloaded the files immediately and then renamed the files.

I don’t know how long this deal will last, so you may want to check it out quickly.

Also, if you haven’t already tried Vicki Tyley’s (see , e.g., Worth Noting: A New Vicki Tyley Mystery) or L.J. Sellers’ (see, e.g., Worth Noting: The Arranger by L.J. Sellers) novels, two authors whose mysteries and suspense novels I highly recommend, you might want to check them out.

November 28, 2011

The Indie Bookstore in the Amazon Age

All the news that is fit to print about indie bookstores can generally be summarized this way: they are closing faster than a shark feeding frenzy. Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but the demise of the indie bookstore is on everyone’s lips.

The questions are why are they dying out and what can be done to halt their death march? As to why, I don’t think we need spend much time on the question. Fewer Americans want to either pay more for local availability or want to patronize a local bookstore. What they are becoming accustomed to is huge selection and lower pricing without leaving home — the online bookseller. Another problem for indies is the trend toward ebooks. Their online competitors have them and they do not, or if they do have them, they are not as cheaply priced as their online competitors. It is just a matter of economics.

I grant, however, that the loss of indie bookstores is another nail in the coffin of Americana. It is pretty difficult to call Amazon on the telephone and discuss the merits/demerits of a book selection with a knowledgeable bookseller. But Amazon is doing to the indie bookstores what Walmart did to mom-and-pop Main Street, and while many of us lament the demise of mom-and-pop Main Street, we are also the first to shop online and the last to buy on Main Street.

Yet indie bookstores can and should fight back. Although books are entertainment — few people would call a Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh book an educational bromide — they are also the source of knowledge and we continue to need help in picking through the detritus for the gem.

I have been thinking about what indie bookstores can do to fight back. I’m not sure they can ever compete on price unless book publishers, especially the Agency 6, are willing to give special help, but there are things that they can do.

First, if your local pizzeria can offer free delivery, why can’t your local indie store — or if there is more than one local indie store, why can’t they band together to offer free local delivery? Amazon’s delivery is quick but indie delivery could be quicker, and we all know how unwilling we are to wait. This seems a minor customer service that could quickly and inexpensively be implemented.

Second, consider making the local populace a partner in the store. If the store is not already a corporation, make it one. Then create a nonvoting class of stock, a preferred stock, that entitle the owner to share in dividends on a preferential basis. Give 1 share of stock for every $250 in purchases (the dollar amount could be higher or lower). Give the local book-buying public a direct stake in your success. Think about parents who would see this as a good way to introduce their children to capitalism and stock ownership.

Third, create a special members-only club. Amazon tries to do this with its Prime and Barnes & Noble with its membership, and even some indies have their clubs — but none of them are really special. What is so special about Amazon’s Prime? Nothing. Make this club special. Club members with young children can use the premises for birthday party with the bookstore staff doing the work; major holidays have special get-togethers; have a biweekly restaurant-of-the-month get-together for adult members where they come to the store and for a steep discount are cooked a special meal by a local restaurant and get to learn how to make the dishes as well as eat them; have audience participation mystery plays bimonthly. The ideas are almost endless. The point is, make the membership more than a discount membership; make it something to look forward to and you can even theme the parties around certain books.

Fourth, come to an arrangement with other local indies whereby if someone is looking for a particular book and you do not have it in stock but your competitor does, your competitor will give you the book so you can make the sale subject to a small fee and your ordering a replacement. This will expand your inventory.

Fifth, make it a point for you and your staff to comb places like Smashwords for indie authors who are self-publishing. When you find a good one, contact the author and see if you can’t cut a deal with the author to write a book that will only be available to indie bookstores, that you can use to draw people in. This is more difficult to do than the other ideas but if you can create a catalog of indie books that are available only through indie stores, you are at least fighting back against Amazon exclusivity.

Sixth, as part of finding indie authors, you need to figure out a way to offer ebooks and print-on-demand pbooks for those who only buy one or the other format. The Espresso machine is expensive, but why not join with several other indies to buy one that you can share? Or why not talk to a local print shop and see if you can work something out with them.

Seventh, create an Indie Book Mall where several indie bookstores can share the space. This type of arrangement is often done by antiques and collectibles dealers and I see no reason why it couldn’t be done by indie bookstores. It would create a shopping “destination,” which seems to be something consumers like. Some of the advantages to doing this include the ability to share fixed expenses (e.g., rent, heat, electric) and it would allow each indie to have an area of concentration rather than be required to have such a general focus that each is a full replica of any other. It would also facilitate some of the earler suggestions. Additionally, this is the kind of project that would fit right in with Main Street renewal projects and could enable a group purchase of the real estate or low rent from cities trying to draw busiensses and people back to the Main Street. Something like this could also be done in conjunction with a struggling local library system, something I proposed nearly 2 years ago in A Modest Proposal V: Libraries & Indies in the eBook Age.

I’m sure that others can add to this list, but it is clear to me that indie bookstores can fight back. Imagination and effort are the keys. The Internet Age has isolated more of us; we tend to do less socialization because we are working by ourselves. The indie bookstore could become our new socialization venue with some effort.

At least it is something to think about.

October 26, 2011

How Do You Do It? Amazon vs. Editors (II)

My previous post discussed the problem publishers are facing with Amazon’s stepping into the role of book publisher rather than just bookseller. On October 17, 2011, one New York Times front page headline read “Amazon Signing Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal.”

Read a bit further into the article and one discovers that Amazon isn’t talking about the number of editors it is employing (if any). One also discovers that Russell Grandinetti, a top Amazon executive, says, “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.” Note no mention of editors.

So where does the professional editor stand? To paraphrase an editorial colleague, Amazon pays editors as if the editor lived in a third-world country. The truth of the matter is that the ground is shifting yet again for professional editors.

The standard practice for many editors has been to try to work either in-house or freelance for publishers. We have seen many of those jobs disappear as publishers have found it cheaper to outsource editorial tasks, and the globalization of our profession has caused a lowering of wages. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is forecasting no growth in jobs for the editorial profession for the next decade but a significant increase in competition for what jobs exist.

I don’t have the magic bullet that will cure this problem, but I do have an observation. When I discuss book buying with editorial colleagues, the standard response is that they buy from Amazon. It is like feeding the mouth that bites you. Because we can save a dollar or two, we buy from Amazon. Perhaps that isn’t such a smart idea as it reinforces Amazon’s belief that it is right.

I recognize that many of the books professional editors need are not inexpensive. I also recognize that professional editors probably read more books for pleasure in the course of a year than does the average reader. And I recognize that each dollar saved counts. But perhaps when it comes to Amazon, this is wrong thinking. Amazon is not my friend.

It is important to note what the Amazon model is: a willingness to have very thin margins. Thin margins do not leave a lot of money to be spent on what is considered an intangible, such as editing. I do not expect to suddenly see a rash of jobs for freelance editors at decent pay spring forth from the bowels of Amazon.

We editors can follow the path of publishers; that is, we can shake our heads in worry, wring our hands, and do nothing for fear of what effect our doing something might have on our future. But our future is already insecure.

Everything we have traditionally seen and done as professional editors is changing. I expect that in a few years the only editors still able to get work from publishers will be those in groups, not solo editors. This will be a fundamental change in how editorial work has been done.

An even more fundamental shift that I expect to see is that increasingly less work will come from publishers and the burden of hiring an editor will fall on the author. Should that occur, it will be disastrous for the author, for the editor, and for the reader. Experience so far with authors is that few are willing to invest the necessary resources for professional editing in the absence of pressure from a third party, such as pressure from a peer-reviewed journal. The gamble is too great and the value of editorial services is too ephemeral, not readily seen.

As I wrote earlier, I have no panacea for the troubles the editorial world will shortly begin facing. We didn’t face the original offshoring of the early 2000s very well, so I expect we won’t face these changes well either.

Yet one thing is certain: Editors who continue to buy from Amazon are only helping to bury themselves. Perhaps supporting Amazon is not the smartest idea editors have ever had and one that should be rethought.

September 7, 2011

A Book Is a Book — Or Is It?

If we look back to the beginning of the agency model in ebooks, which began a little more than one year ago, we can find the publishers’ claimed rationale for changing models (which occurred with a mighty push from Apple): to protect ebooks from becoming mere commodities and to prevent consumers from establishing a mindset that $9.99 is the right price point. Okay, that was the rationale, coupled with a fear of Amazon becoming too powerful, that was bandied about. The question is: Were publishers successful in preventing the commoditization of books?

The reports from the Agency 6 indicate that ebooks are rapidly becoming a significant source of revenue for publishers, perhaps even their primary growth area. Latest reports show growth in ebook sales (Barnes & Noble reports 140% rise in digital sales; Hachette reports ebooks as 20% of U.S. sales and 5% of worldwide sales; Penguin and Simon & Schuster report digital as 14% and 15% of revenue, respectively; Bertelsmann/Random House reports digital sales in the first six months of 2011 as exceeding all digital sales in 2010);  and a significant decline in mass market paperbacks (down 14%). Profits are up slightly, even though volume appears to be down somewhat. All of which seems to favor the notion that the publishers did the right thing.

What we don’t know, of course, is how the sales are breaking down by price point. I can relate anecdotal evidence that the agency pricing scheme is a failure on several levels, but no data has been released that enables a careful analysis.

I’ve mentioned it before, yet it is still true: Whereas before agency pricing I bought a lot of hardcover books and ebooks from the Big 6 publishers, my purchases have declined since the institution of agency. Whereas I used to visit my local Barnes & Noble at least once a week and buy a few books each time, it has been nearly five months since I last visited the store and bought an Agency 6-published book.

If the Agency 6 intended by their action to make me accept spending more than $9.99 for an ebook, they have failed — and failed miserably — because I am pretty unwilling to accept even $9.99, let alone a higher price point, as the sweet price point. Instead, I’ve gotten used to the indie author price points of $5 and less, with less being the dominant word.

I still occasionally “buy” an Agency 6 book, when they offer it for less than $5 or offer a bundle, such as three ebooks for $9.99, but more often when they offer an ebook for free. Agency pricing has backfired not only with me but with nearly all of my acquaintances who buy ebooks. The principal hurdle for the Agency 6 to overcome is the lack of physicality of the ebook.

Even though I and my friends have transitioned to ebooks and much prefer reading on our electronic devices to reading the pbook version, we have not made the price transition, and it is that transition that the publishers need (want?) us to make. Yet it is the publishers who have made the problem worse.

Publishers do not accept the idea that a book is a book is a book, regardless of whether it is electronic or print. In contrast, consumers like me have always thought that a book is a book is a book, regardless of form. We understand the difference between a hardcover and a paperback because we can both see and feel those differences; consequently, over decades we have become accustomed to paying more for a hardcover than for a paperback, perceiving — rightly or wrongly — greater value in a hardcover than in a paperback. (In fact, it was this perceived disparity that brought about the rise of the trade paperback. The trade paperback is perceived by consumers as offering less physical quality than a hardcover but more than a mass market paperback, and thus worth a price between the two.) But we continue to have difficulty wrapping our heads around the idea that, even though it lacks physicality, the ebook is worth more than the paperback and the hardcover (ever note how many times the ebook price is higher than the hardcover price or so close to it that there is little price differential?) at worst, and worth more than the paperback and only slightly less than the hardcover at best, or that it is worth the same as the trade paperback.

Because we have difficulty wrapping our heads around the agency pricing continuum, we have spent more time and money buying indie books, which seem to be priced more logically. Thus, I suspect that our experience is the experience of many ebookers; that is, we buy more indie ebooks than agency ebooks (with some exception).

The Agency 6, however, can point to the rise in revenues, and sometimes even in net income, they are experiencing, which is occurring even in the face of declining volume numbers and is attributable to increased ebook sales at the higher agency price. It is mixing, I think, apples and oranges in the sense that I suspect the biggest growth in volume and dollars is occurring in the indie/non-Agency 6 ebook market, not in the Agency 6 market. So the question not being asked or answered is this: What would the Agency 6 ebook sales volume and profits be if they had let the market do the pricing? Would their growth be significantly higher than what is being reported and would their net income be more marginal?

Also not asked and answered is what effect the commoditization has on consumer buying habits. Ultimately, will this cause even hardcover sales to decline significantly? This takes us back to the questions raised earlier in Clashing Perspectives: Coming Home to Roost and leaves us in the same place.

I used to “revere” books that I purchased. After all, I paid a lot of money for a hardcover and I treated it reverently. Take one off my library shelf and it appears in virtually the same condition as when I bought it. I wouldn’t let my children borrow one of the books until they learned how to handle them gently and carefully. None of this matters with my ebooks. Even if an ebook is accidentally deleted and the bits and bytes written over, I can replace it for free from my backup and have it in the same condition as when I bought it. There is no need to be reverent. Thus, the ebook is viewed as a commodity — a book is a book is a book.

September 2, 2011

Worth Noting: EditTools v4 Patch Released

If you read my article regarding the release of EditTools version 4 with the new Wildcard Find & Replace macro (Macro Power: Wildcard Find & Replace) and either upgraded your EditTools, or purchased EditTools, or simply decided to give EditTools a trial run, it is important that you go to the wordsnSync downloads page and download and install the latest release, version 4.0.06.

You can tell what version of EditTools you are running by clicking About. It should read Build: 4.0.06.

Unfortunately, a couple of minor bugs and one major bug creeped into EditTools between the final beta and the release. (I’m always amazed at how bug creep works with software!) The 4.0.06 patch release fixes these bugs and adds a new feature to the Journal Manager. Now you can easily search your journal dataset.

If you are an editor and haven’t tried EditTools, you should give it a try. It is one of the tools in an editor’s armory that can increase efficiency and accuracy. I created the set of macros to help me in my editing, and I know from my own experience that these macros save a lot of valuable time.

EditTools is discussed in The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage. It is available at a discounted price as part of the Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate macro package, which includes PerfectIt from Intelligent Editing (see The 3 Stages of Copyediting: III — The Proofing Stage) and Editor’s Toolkit Plus from The Editorium (see The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage). More information about Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate is available at wordsnSync.

August 29, 2011

Clashing Perspectives: Coming Home to Roost

Ewan Morrison wrote about the future of publishing from the publisher’s and author’s perspectives. I somewhat share his bleak, perhaps apocalyptic, outlook for the future of the publishing industry (see “Are Books Dead, and Can Authors Survive?“; for “outsider’s” perspective, see Tony Cole’s discussion of Morrison’s article, “Can Authors Survive in the Age of eReaders and eBooks?“).

The mistake being made in publishing is, I think, one of clashing perspectives. People in the industry look at a book, regardless of its form, as simultaneously a commodity and something unique. The mistake is that it has to be one or the other; it cannot be both. It cannot be both because each perspective demands a different approach to the book and the two approaches are incompatible.

As a result of this clash, each step in the production of the book is degraded. The result is that, for too many authors, the only thing that matters is getting “published,” with the consequence of “free” being the optimal way to get noticed. With the growth of free, there has to be a decline in “not free.” Misbalance of free and not free is, in the end, the death knell of “traditional” publishing.

The interests are competing. Most authors and wannabe authors know that they will never be able to give up the full-time day job; they will never earn enough from book sales to consider writing as a full-time career. Consequently, pricing is not high on their priority list; free is acceptable. Yet a publishing company cannot accept free. Publishing companies have bottom lines, have expenses, have staff, have myriad things that require cash flow, which is not a synonym for free.

With free being unacceptable to publishers, they can preserve themselves only by getting as close to free as they can. Ultimately, the questions are (a) how close is close? and (b) is that close enough?

The degradation of the publishing industry has ripples. The Agency 6, with the connivance of Apple, “created” an agency pricing scheme supposedly to preserve the value of ebooks (Apple’s reasons were different: competing with Amazon, rather than preserving ebook value). The market response has not been preservation of value.

With free as the selling price, much of what traditional publishing provided has had to be put to the side. For example, editing and proofreading, services traditionally associated with book publishers as part of the package provided to authors, become nonexistent. With no income, it becomes unjustifiable to spend, and previously required and desired editorial services become options that the author can pay for or not, with not generally being the response. (See, e.g., the discussions in, Is There a Future in Editing?, Competing with Free: eBooks vs. eBooks, and The Changing Face of Editing.)

So the degradation cycle begins: author writes a book that a traditional publisher declines to publish; author now has decisions to make: (1) Should author self-publish? (2) If author self-publishes, what should be the price of the book? (3) Should author pay out of pocket for professional editing and proofreading services? Increasingly the answers to the three questions are (1) yes; (2) free or 99¢; and (3) no.

With the flood of self-published, free/99¢, unedited ebooks, consumer expectations are changing. Consumers increasingly are looking at ebooks as commodities; traditional publishers are fighting to keep consumers thinking that an ebook is something unique. As a commodity, consumers are not overly bothered by lesser quality; they view an ebook as a throwaway item and expect the price to reflect that throwaway “quality.” Publishers, on the other hand, want consumers to view ebooks as unique because uniqueness can command a higher price.

Alas, in this battle of perspectives, publishers are their own worst enemy. For years publishers have been chopping away at the quality concept by focusing on the bottom line at the expense of everything else. If a publisher cannot offer a quality differential, then all the publisher is offering is a commodity and consumers are following the publishers’ lead in rushing to the bottom line — consumers want ebooks priced at a point that is below what publishers need to survive and still offer author advances.

By focusing so fiercely on cost cutting, publishers produce ebooks that are virtually indistinguishable in quality from those offered by self-publishers. Publishers themselves are establishing ebooks as commodities — just what they did not want to happen. To consumers, a commodity is a commodity is a commodity, and consumers recognize the difference between commodity and unique. The high ground that publishers want and need is being eroded by their own machinations.

The worst part for publishers, authors, and editors is that lower expectations on the part of consumers means loss of income for publishers, authors, and editors. No one will spend to create quality when lack of quality isn’t noticed.

We have now come to the crux of the publisher-created problem: No one will create quality when lack of quality isn’t noticed. For too long, publishers have been focused solely on quarterly shareholder returns and what services to reduce to squeeze out more profit. It was this squeezing that led to declining emphasis on editorial quality. (Consider the effects of offshoring; see, e.g., Editors in the Offshore World.) Publishers have spent years conditioning consumers to consider lesser quality as the norm.

It was this conditioning by publishers that led to consumer acceptance of self-published ebooks, especially at very low (and free) price levels. It was this conditioning by publishers that led to the change in perspective by consumers, from seeing books as unique to seeing books as commodities. At the root level, the fall of the necessary supports for traditional publishers is directly related to actions taken by traditional publishers. Unfortunately, the ripple effect that such publisher actions have unleashed, affects the entire publishing chain and does not bode well for the financial future of publishing.

Ewan Morrison may have written apocalyptically, but he did so with foresight.

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