Publishing's race to the bottom

Ted Savas commented on a story about the bestest selling digital author of all time, Michael Connelly.

I have a different take on this than the mainstream press.

Mr. Connelly's output is what we called in college "mindrot." Nothing wrong with that; I mention it because one can write formulaic genre fiction at a fast clip, thus making one quite a productive writer.

Connelly's sale of a million is an aggregate total spread across 10 e-books. He sells his books at 99 cents each, an aggressive pricing model that nets him a 35 cent royalty per.

This author, then, has garnered $35,000 from the sale of one million editions. If the minimum length for a book of genre fiction is 50,000 words, how long would it take you to write 10 books? Connelly has a day job, so consider that, too.

Bottom line: is $3,500 per book worth (say) 60 days per book?

Or is this a race to the bottom?

Consider what you did with your last 99 cent bargain book purchase. It's probably sitting on your shelf, unread.

I bet Kindlers are accumulating unread books and 99 cent books - priced like an MP3 download - may give misleading indications about an author's popularity.

There's another aspect to this that is unknown to people at large.

Amazon and other venues, through their "marketplace" functions, deal in a great many black and gray market books. If you troll through the discussion boards on self-publishing POD websites, you will find threads where the digital copy of an edition was used by a downloader to make a pirate POD hardcopy run which was then sold at a discount on Amazon (or wherever) to compete with the legal and authorized edition.

The nature of these threads is to complain to the POD about the piracy, not to boast about pirating. In my own limited experiments with e-books, I have been taken twice by pirates.

Moreover, the digital reader machines have steadily been moving from propritary text markup schemes, which inhibit POD pirating due to the display of garbage code when not on their native platforms, to open source mark-up, like Adobe Acrobat, which any POD shop can run books from.

This week, I am buying a certain Kindle book (for a class) which does not need to be read on Kindle. It will display on my computer, even without a Kindle emulator. This is a book any fool can pirate, print, and sell on ebay, B&N, Amazon, etc.

Connelly has this much wisdom in his busines model: pirates cannot compete with 99 cent pricing. However, piracy will drive this kind of pricing and the publisher will feel the pressure from pirates as much as antipirates.

If you are a publisher with a good-selling hardcopy title, it would behove you to occasionally buy a copy from online marketplaces to see what's happening out there. An unpleasant surprise may await.