Tuesday, February 2, 2010

From Ellen Hopkins

This is author Ellen Hopkins blog from today. It resonated so much with me I had to share it.

What Is a Book Worth?

Big hype for publishing this week: Macmillan versus Amazon. If you haven’t heard the story, first of all, where have you been? And second, here’s a short version. A couple of weeks ago, Amazon “offered” a deal to publishers: they’d give them 70% of the profits on their e-books, with the caveat that e-book pricing HAD to be $2.99 to $9.99. Period. Macmillan, a publishing powerhouse, responded that they, not Amazon, would set the pricing for their e-books. In other words, no deal. Amazon, in turn, responded by yanking the sell buttons on all Macmillan books, not just e-books, but print as well. Macmillan held fast, and Amazon caved. My feeling is that they caved because the other big publishers would take courage in Macmillan’s bold move and hold fast as well.

There is a lot at play here. I happened to be in NYC last week, and shared conversations with a great many industry professionals. Here are a few things that were mentioned:

· If all the major publishers refuse to cave, Amazon will essentially have only small press and self-published books to sell. No big names. No bestsellers. Unless those authors want to deal directly with Amazon, of course.

· Amazon has become so focused on selling things OTHER THAN BOOKS that books are a relatively small percentage of their income now. Maybe they’re tired of selling books?

· With the advent of the i-Pad and similar devices, the Kindle may very well become obsolete within the next few years. Maybe this is a last-ditch effort to capitalize on the Amazon e-book platform while they still can.

· The e-book market is growing, but for now it remains a small percentage of book sales. While some doom-and-gloomers have declared print going the way of the dinosaurs, not everyone believes that digital publishing will eclipse print.

My thoughts. First of all, bravo, Macmillan! Your authors may feel threatened by the lack of Amazon sales, but their books are still available through many outlets, at a price point that will allow them to write for a living. Because here’s the deal, all you people who think book downloads should be cheap, or even free: Seriously??? Do you have any idea why books cost what they do? The actual materials and printing per unit are usually under $2 each (pop-ups are pricier because of the engineering). The rest of the cover price goes to salaries for editors, copyeditors, designers, illustrators, marketing people, salespeople, truck drivers, receptionists, etc. Not to mention leases, utilities, legal costs, shipping, warehousing, promotional materials, trailers, website design and upkeep. The list goes on. And, yes, the publisher makes a profit. Aren’t businesses SUPPOSED to make a profit?

Oh, and just BTW, how about allowing the authors to actually make a living? Writing a book is a year of my life. Some writers write faster or slower, but we all need to pay our bills! Recently, there was an article by a book pirate—someone who scans books and distributes them for free downloads (he makes money by charging “membership fees”). His take was that he was only ripping off big corporations. Uh, no. Those corporations are paying employees. And one of them is paying me. I want to keep writing great books for you, but I have to earn a living. If you can’t afford to buy them, I understand. But please get them from a library, which does buy the books.

Beyond that, I want to advocate print. There is intrinsic value in pulling yourself away from your screens, big or small, and reading a real book. We are increasingly becoming a society cut off from one another by our screens. We text, rather than call, connecting us by our voices. We email, rather than visit, or even write real letters, giving the personal connection of our handwriting. At the recent electronics convention in Vegas, they introduced a reader that can duplicate picture book pages, with a disembodied voice that will read the pages for your toddlers. Where is Mom’s touch in that? Where is Dad’s voice? Where is that amazing connection that comes from sitting a child on your lap, turning the pages, pointing to things and giving them words for those things?

I’m all for technology. For gadgets that help us navigate our world. For interactive computer games, even. But not at the expense of human-to-human connection. The future holds such possibilities. But if we forget that, first, we are people, the future is dark, indeed. Text when you must, but call when you can. Pick up a real book and share it with a friend. Go to the library and see what’s there. Read to your babies. Take them to the park to play. Don’t let a computer babysit them for you. There is joy in human connection. Unplug for a while.

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