Why books (probably) won’t be subsumed into a “Spotify” model…

300px-Gustave_Doré_(1832-1883)_-_The_Bible_(1865)_-_Zechariah_6-5Yeah, that’s the End Of Days scenario for writers, the idea that ebook sales will just…stop. That Amazon will finally get the One Ring and its digital Nazgul will come screeching down on all other ebook retailers and put them out of business (well, that part’s true), and then they’ll move to a Spotify model where all ebooks are in this KU model and we only get paid for borrows, forever and ever amen.

I’m not buying it. Sure, this is happening to music on Spotify. But musicians haven’t (totally) revolted over the “subscription model” for a couple reasons.
1. They can still make money licensing their music for TV commercials (Black Keys!), background music on ESPN, etc.
2. They can still make money on concert tours – ticket revenue, t-shirt sales, misc. swag.
3. Every really BIG musical act is signed to a record label. There’s a devil’s bargain they make re streaming when they sign the contract, so the choice is not theirs, not when they’re starting out anyway. Only when you become, you know, Taylor Swift do you have the leverage to walk out.

But for authors, this…is…IT. The money we make on books. There’s no “Monsters of Prose” tour where we can make up revenue lost to the .00000005 a read on “Readify” or whatever (unless you’re David Sedaris, but…yeah, that’s the only example I can think of). Nobody’s quoting my deathless prose in a Jeep commercial.

So the level of resistance you’d have from authors to a 100% sub model, I Predict, will be higher than that from musicians. And, as more authors selfpub, we’re not chained to our seven year deal with one conglomerate and its seven year deal with another conglomerate. We don’t have to make a devil’s bargain re future revenues/licensing because we’re not signing contracts and taking advances, unless you’re obsessed with the status symbol (who it still impresses I have no idea) of having your book “published” by a “real” house, in which case you get what you pay for…

If Amazon were dumb enough to force all ebook authors, selfpub and tradpub, into a nearly mandatory subscription model, it would create a huge need for a new outlet for our books, and someone will fill that need. (Insert hand-wringing, O Amazon Rules the Galaxy Forever, etc…Ahem. Netscape. AOL. MySpace. Need I go on?) The cycle is pretty basic – digital product gets monopoly, becomes crappy/unresponsive, therefore vulnerable to better product, consumers/producers leave in droves for new product.

There’s a Bell Curve Of Crappiness, I think, at which change is forced – if only a handful of writers on the curve are making all the monies, a digital 1%, the other 99% will go somewhere else. People stay with Amazon as producers and consumers because it’s easy. It’s hard to get people to change from Facebook to Tsu or G+, because “everyone I know is on Facebook.” The aggravations of FB (the Picture Stasi who can secretly inform on you and get you blocked/banned because heaven forfend they see a naked butt, the occasional incineration of users for not using “legal names,” etc.) are still bearable – they haven’t hit the FTS (Fuck This Shit) Point that makes people leave for somewhere, anywhere. Right now we make “enough” on Amazon to keep going, but if our income suddenly goes to total shit on an all-Spotify model, well, then you’ll see authors migrate, and readers with them.

Also, when I talk to fans on Facebook, esp. when ranting about KU, so many of them say, “I want to buy a book. If I love it, I’m going to read it again and again, and I don’t want to keep ‘borrowing’ it to do that.” For a real reader, half the joy of reading is possession. I OWN THIS BOOK. Even if it’s not a physical possession, they’ll turn that Kindle carousel and see that cover.

Unlike book readership, the audience for music skews young. A lot of them have grown up thinking of digital content as “Free.” This has been mostly the fault of record companies who greedily priced digital downloads at the same price as physical CDs, despite the massively lower production costs.

When Napster etc. rose up to defy the market, it was a time when most albums were…total shit. There was maybe ONE SONG on each album that was good and the rest was filler, but you had to buy that $15 CD to get the ONE SONG. So piracy, and streaming, are also a response to crappiness, the knowledge that the quality/cost balance is out of whack on most content.

TV/movie piracy? Same thing. $20+ to buy a digital download of a movie – which, unlike a physical disc, you can’t resell. It’s not really “yours” to loan out, resell, etc. Hell, I tried to resell Game of Thrones #1 on Amazon and I was blocked; only major resellers could carry it. Sure okay because Chinese pirates flooding the market, but still…you’ve got a white elephant on your hands. I can loan out a CD, or, yeah, duplicate it. I can loan out a book (which let’s face it is usually the same as giving it away, but still).

Same thing with “regional releasing.” GofT is the most torrented show because, in the beginning, they weren’t making it globally available all at once. Your *only option* was to steal it.

When people know they’re being ripped off, they respond by ripping off in turn. Given the choice between overpaying, waiting forever, or getting it for free, guess what?

Regional releasing hurts every content producer. I’ve got a shelf full of UK editions of Jo Nesbo’s books. Why? Because, until recently, they were always published in the UK 6-9 months before their US editions. So what did that accomplish? US publishers lost a sale on every book, the one they would have made to me. The author still got paid, but the US publisher lost out.

Ebooks aren’t “regionally released,” you check all those boxes on Amazon or type WORLD on Google+ and there you go. Ebooks, at least self-pubbed ones, aren’t overpriced – they’re massively *underpriced* compared to print books.

Ebooks get pirated, sure, but my theory is that most pirates are not readers – they’re hoarders. They’re not downloading thousands of ebooks to actually read them; they’re downloading them to get more “upload points” on whatever site they’re on, and just because they can “get” something for “free.”

The exception is tradpub ebooks because…right. There we are again. Corporate dinosaurs who are afraid of “cannibalizing” their print business, so they put an artificially inflated price on an ebook and…hey! People steal it because they know they’re being ripped off! The production cost on a physical book bears no relation to that of an ebook – there’s no factory, no truck, no warehouse involved. Guess what? People know that.

People who really love books, pay for them. I see authors on FB all the time getting their tit in a wringer because O PIRACY I’M OUTRAGED. Listen: people who pirate books never intended to buy them anyway. You didn’t lose 4000 sales to that pirate site, you lost 0. And, you lost your creative time and energy sending useless takedown notices and getting all bent out of shape.

I don’t even bother with fighting that rear guard action against piracy sites. Hell, last time someone pointed me at one that had my books, I said, fine, let me see…POW! I get a popup from my security software. “Malwarebytes has blocked an intrusion from this site.” So, pirating bitches, you’re all getting spymalvirusware every time you go there, so that’ll do in the revenge category for me.

OK that got kind of random and off track. Let me see if I can summarize.

  1. Readers have a passionate connection to books. They want to own them, be they digital or print. They don’t want to return it to the KU Library or lose it when they can’t pay their subscription fee.
  2. Selfpub ebooks aren’t priced so absurdly that they force streaming/pirating as a rational alternative to overpricing.
  3. Authors (selfpub anyway) aren’t chained to a contract that hauls us along into any business model that some corporation wants to set up with another, so we’re free to move to the “next Amazon.”

Thus Spake Bradasthusra 🙂

2 Comments on Why books (probably) won’t be subsumed into a “Spotify” model…

  1. Nya Rawlyns // August 28, 2015 at 5:58 am // Reply

    Reblogged this on Love's Last Refuge and commented:
    I’m not totally on board with everything Brad says, and I’m not quite as optimistic about a Digital White Literary Knight rising out of Amazon’s ashes to save the world (aka *my* books) from extinction, but in general he makes some valid points.

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