Hachette CEO opens mouth, inserts foot

posted in: Publishing, Traditional Publishing | 0

Why are so many in the indie community so often laughing and rolling our eyes at trads?  Things like this.  And another site covering the same event.  Let’s start with:

“When you lose control of the price point for your content, you are on your way to death.”

Does he not hear how that’s directly a reason authors shouldn’t sign their livelihoods over to trads?  Because, apart from the whole losing 90% of their book income by signing, that’s what trad authors get in exchange for going trad.  They get to see their work priced at a level that turns customers off and drives them away.

Or this here, which is comedy gold:

“There is consensus among publishers in the UK and US that there should be some price control.”

“…create what they call a united digital market…”

Publishers getting together to collectively set prices, creating a united market  . . . that’s a legal dictionary definition of collusion and price fixing, and is a quick ticket right back to another antitrust trial.  Yet he actually said that.

When I used to play World of Warcraft, I spent a lot of time gathering (collecting raw resources that were used in the game’s creation skills).  This led to a fair amount of time selling my excess items on the in-game market; turning it into cold cash, or turning it over for cash that then went right back for buying other things I still needed.  A lot of people, a lot of times — more or less constantly, in fact — were always trying really hard to organize all the ‘sources’ of this or that resource to collectively hold prices at a level ‘favorable’ to the sellers.  Metals or enchantment supplies or potion herbs; whatever it was, there were always people going to great lengths to convince the other steady suppliers that if only all of them would agree to price together, they’d all be happy.

More than a few of these agitators would step up to in-game harassment, sending tells and in-game mail, bad mouthing the sellers openly in chat and conversations.  The sellers who wouldn’t ‘cooperate’ were ‘ruining’ things for ‘everyone’.

I never had much respect for them.  Because it was foolish.  And, doubly, idiotic; the weakness of this ‘strategy’ was always obvious to everyone except the agitators.  Newcomers could always walk in and disrupt it simply by not cooperating.  Any of the sellers ‘playing ball’ could instantly gain an advantage and undercut everyone else at a moment’s notice, benefiting from seeing their entire stock sell because they were the lowest price available.  Some of the stupidest agitators would go so far as to whine and moan about how it ‘wasn’t fair’ that Blizzard didn’t disable the ability for buyers to sort by price.  This function was making it ‘impossible’ for them to ‘get fairly paid’ for their auctions.

I mention all of this about a game because the same behavior plays out all the time in real life.  In real markets.  It’s playing out, word for word, these days on the trad side.  The trads feel it’s ‘not fair’ that consumers won’t buy at an ‘appropriate’ price.  They want hardcovers to be the dominant market, which go for $30 MRSP.  And if ebooks won’t just obligingly disappear, they want the minimum buy-in to be $15, and preferably more.  The trads spend all their time insisting on pricing their wares accordingly, and complain to everyone in sight when their sales don’t match expectations.  They’ve got a lot of old-school publishers in their pockets who are happy to hand-puppet megaphone sympathetic articles where the ‘reality’ of $30 hardbacks are constantly explained to consumers.  They keep begging any Bigfoot authority they can think of to step in and crush the evil retailers who refuse to hold the line on these ridiculous fantasies.

Consumers make their own minds up about what they feel is fair.  They always have.  Marketing and advertising used to be able to impact some consumers, but the effectiveness of such interference has never been lower since its inception than it is these days.  Consumers reject advertising, it’s a big part of why streaming services like Netflix are rising, and why cable television packages are going unsold.  Magazine circulation continues to drop; and website clicks come more and more frequently with adblock covering them.  Reserved seats at movie theaters are becoming a thing because it lets you walk in thirty minutes after the ‘start time’ and sit down in a nice seat just in time for the movie to actually begin, after the thirty minutes of concessions ads and movie plugs are finally done; without reserved seats you have to pick over the scraps in the auditorium.

People want their content, they don’t want to be sold to.  They also don’t want to be price gouged.  Publishers insist books should be priced at $15, to start.  Consumers don’t buy them.  Rather than resorting to logic and honest analysis of the situation, and making adjustments accordingly; trads complain, whine, moan, and lie.

I stopped playing WOW for a reason.  Yet the same bad actors keep following me everywhere.

And here’s the thing, the one point that blows their pricing argument completely away.  Let’s say, for the sake of argument, their books do deserve $15 or $30.  Let’s say those are fair prices.  Let’s say the logical case can be made, and they can somehow convince consumers that’s the right price.

Indies can still undercut.  If the trads ‘win’ on this front and get all the buyers in the market to actually buy books at such inflated prices, that only helps indies.  It only makes me and my fellows more money.  If consumers’ price sensitivity doesn’t kick in at $15 ebooks, indies just jump our prices up to $9.99 and are still the better deal.  And we’re still making more money.  Whatever price the trad side wants to push, indies can always undercut it.  Always.  Exactly like in WOW.  No matter how many resource sellers are in the price-fixing alliance, anyone else can always start gathering and show up at the auction house with a better price and see their goods sell first.


Trads would be far better served in ceasing to expend futile energy on a pointless war, and redirect all that effort into finding a way to thrive in the new paradigm.  Because five years from now, ten at the outside, industry pundits are going to be looking back at the first-half of the 2010s and singling these plays out as those that led to the massive problems that’ll be abundantly evident by then.  Right now the Kool-aid drinkers in the media are still willing to toe the line and rebroadcast the trad-pub party line.  But the problem keeps growing.  There is no fix that returns us to a world where all authors just happily sign away their souls to the trads.

Without that, the trads inevitably lose.  Unless they change.   Unless they adapt.

Adapt or die.