Friday, July 30, 2010

Is Andrew Wylie Just Lazy?

If you follow publishing news, then you are no doubt aware that Andrew Wylie has turned the publishing world on its head and greatly annoyed Random House recently. How? By taking some of the world's most prestigious and widely read books and turning them into eBooks himself and selling them exclusively through Amazon. Random House is so incensed, it has said it will no longer acquire rights to publish books represented by him in the US. Note well, the "US" part. I guess they couldn't get the UK and other divisions to agree. The Authors Guild is also concerned and published its thoughts on the matter here: http://www.authorsguild.org/advocacy/articles/wylie-amazon-and-random-house-battle.html. Its big concern, which has been parroted by others, including Macmillan CEO John "the man who broke Amazon's hold on eBook pricing" Sargent, is that Amazon has these titles exclusively.

What no one seems to be considering is that perhaps this is just "for now." I haven't seen anything about how long Amazon will have these titles exclusively, but am confident it is not forever. Ultimately, there will be availability in other formats, I'm sure, since Andrew Wylie is not known to be unintelligent and Scott Moyers, who works for him, is one of the smartest guys in publishing. So there's gotta be a plan to expand to other formats than the Kindle and to not sell just via Amazon. Of this I am sure.

What I'm not sure about is why he started with just Amazon and the only conclusion I can reach is maybe he's a bit lazy. Certainly he is following the path that is easiest. All Amazon probably wanted out of this was, well, nothing. I mean no files, no books (one presumes they have copies of all of them), no deliverables other than signed contracts. Thus, it was likely very quick and very easy to set up this deal and get this done. Other formats? Sure. When we don't have to do anything to produce them or when we've got the time to find someone to produce them. After all, finding a vendor who can convert your books to eBooks and let you walk off with the file ready to use can't be easy. The companies that do this want to host your titles and be the "distributor" as well. Sure, you can buy software to convert them yourselves, but what if you don't want to be an eBook publisher?

Honestly, I have no idea why Andrew Wylie wants to be an eBook publisher. Seems like a huge headache. I'm sure Random House would gladly have come to quite favorable terms to publish the eBooks in question. Yet he did it himself. To get 10% or 15% of 70% of $9.99? Hmm. Let's see. (Doing math here; one moment, please.) At 15%, that's $1.05. But when I look over the Kindle best-seller list, I see a lot of books at $12.99. Assuming that price and a 30% commission to Amazon and a 25% of amount received royalty, he'd get about 35 cents per copy sold. His authors would also lose out, of course, since 100% of 70% is better than 25% of 70%. Hmm. Maybe I should try and become an eBook publisher!

My guess, though, is that this is more Moyers's plan than Wylie's. Consider that Scott used to work in-house at a very high level. He was Editor-in-Chief of The Penguin Press and I have no doubt that he'd liked to have been Publisher someday, but that couldn't really happen there. So when Andrew Wylie comes knocking and offering a job, why not take it? After all, if you look carefully, you can see a future where agents are the publishers, just as managers in Hollywood have become producers. As agents or managers of authors, we can all start to look for ways to circumvent the traditional publishing model, especially since publishers are becoming more and more belligerent and unwilling to negotiate reasonably. The Authors Guild says that publishers have brought this on themselves and they are entirely correct. While never said out loud, all of my recent contract negotiations have had the sub-text of "we are doing you a favor publishing this book and it will be on our terms or it won't be at all." This is a far cry from the gentlemanly (or gentlewomanly) world of publishing where editors were excited to find great books and eager to negotiate good terms with both the agent and the author, keeping in mind that someday the publisher might want to do business with one or both of them again, say on the next book! Today publishers seem more eager to huff and puff and blow the agent's house down, to be pigs gluttonously swallowing up rights and shitting out poor royalty rates and splits and worse marketing and promotion. Why, after all, has the "platform" become such a huge part of non-fiction publishing? Because publishers don't want to pay to "make" a book in the marketplace anymore.

Once upon a time, the book was the platform. You were a good writer, you wrote a good book, your publisher promoted it, and then you were forever trumpeted as the "author of the NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING book." But no more. Now you must have a "platform," that ensures that readers will come to your book and that the publisher need do little or nothing to promote it. You practically need to be on Oprah's speed dial for publishers to pay attention to your non-fiction proposal these days.

And I get why. The marketplace is tougher. The industry is tougher. Publishers feel they must get more for their money to make money. So be it. But don't be surprised if agents and authors turn around and decide they can do better dealing directly with bookstores. I remember sitting around with friends and discussing why Stephen King even needed a publisher anymore. One assumes he has a very non-standard deal with publishers and so if he weighed the cost of developing a relationship with a printer and bindery and a call center to take orders and a distributor to fulfill those orders, it quickly looks better to go with a publisher that has all those things, and just split the money fifty-fifty, which is what everyone presumes Stephen King does.

And, ultimately, that argument may make sense for every other author out there who wants to self-publish. Isn't it cheaper to do business with a publisher that already has the resources in place? But eBooks are different. The resources are few and the outlets, e.g., Amazon, are more than happy to do business with you. One former client of mine whose son happens to be a graphic designer (hence, new cover art) told me he is selling 1,000 copies of his books a month via Amazon. Can he live on this? I'm sure not. But it's a heck of a lot more than beer money.

So Andrew Wylie may not be lazy. He may just be following the quickest path toward the inevitable and in doing so, he may be changing the game the same way that John Sargent did when he told Amazon they'd have to accept the agency model. Sargent broke Amazon's grip, at least in part, on the book-publishing business. Now if he does the same thing with print books and does away with deep-discounts, he could be my hero. In the meantime, though, I think Wylie has done something that really will keep publishers awake at night for a while. The result, I'm sure, will be even harsher negotiations, but we could see seven- and eight-figure authors demanding that publishers be happy with the print rights and then go deal direct on the eBook rights. If so, it will really be the start of a new era in publishing and one in which publishers may find themselves no longer the biggest carnivore in the jungle.

My guess is that this will all get us back to the fifty percent of amount received royalty rate that was once in place. Perhaps it will even get us to a higher rate for authors, e.g., seventy-five or eighty percent, similar to the rates paid for rights sold in the UK or for translation. Conversion costs are coming down. Hosting costs are minimal. DRM is disappearing. And 50% or 20% or 25% is all better than 0% for publishers.

Z

More on #intuitpaymentsolutionsfail

So yesterday I was actually able to sign into Intuit Payment Solutions and apparently I can now send money for free to anyone with an email address and a bank in the US and they can receive it for fifty cents.  It's interesting that they charge the recipient.  After all, I'm the one saving the stamp, right?  Undoubtedly, they figured that people would send more money if it was free and people would pay the fifty cents to get their money.  In a way, it almost feels like greenmail, doesn't it?  Sign up here and agree to pay fifty cents or you won't get your money.

Ah well.  So I was playing around with it and reading the Help screens and found a note that said QuickBooks could automatically add a link to your outgoing invoices that allows recipients of electronic versions of those invoices to just click and pay using IPS (Intuit Payment Solutions).  But I couldn't figure it out.  So I called Customer Service.  Right now, thank G-d, it's in the US in California and not in India (yet!), so you are able to talk to a relatively intelligent and understandable person about your problems with QuickBooks.  (I tried to talk to him about my problem having to get up and pee three times a night, but he didn't seem to understand.)  Anyhow, the first guy seemed adamant that it could be done, but then hung up on me by accident.  The second guy informed me it could not be done because I had to be a customer of Intuit Billing Solutions and able to accept credit cards and the like and then it would be possible.  Except he was actually wrong, too.  Because down at the bottom, in very faint, gray type, it said this was a function that would be available in QuickBooks 2011.  2011!

So the direction seems to be clear.  Intuit is determined to continue its quest to make QuickBooks a vehicle for taking more money out of your pocket.  At this point, perhaps they should just create a subscription program for a reasonable monthly fee and keep adding features.  Stamps.com does this and it seems to work well.  Admittedly, I was grandfathered in there at a very reasonable rate, but they have added some real functionality over the years that I deeply appreciate.  QuickBooks, alas, has done less.

But the ability to pay my clients via ACH for less than the cost of printing a check and mailing it would be great.  It circumvents sending wires and that's awesome, especially since my bank has gotten more and more expensive when it comes to sending those.

But if Customer Service and Technical Support at IPS don't know what the system and QuickBooks can or cannot do, then, once again #intuitpaymentsolutionsfail.

Z

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

#intuitpaymentsolutionsfail

Yesterday I went looking for an alternative to PayPal.  It's not that I dislike PayPal exactly.  It's more like it's a pain in the ass.  Because I'm a QuickBooks user, I want everything I do to work seamlessly with QuickBooks, and if you've ever used the PayPal QuickBooks wizard, I'm sure the word "seamless" never entered your mind.

You see, QuickBooks could have embraced PayPal and made life easy for PayPal users.  Or PayPal could have embraced QuickBooks and made life easier for its users.  After all QuickBooks interfaces with literally hundreds (thousands?) of financial institutions.  You think it couldn't have interfaced easily with PayPal?  I certainly think it could have.  But it did not.  And why not?  Well, I always presumed it was because QuickBooks had its own merchant services division for processing credit cards and, now, e-checks.  Intuit has never made it easier for any other credit-card company to interface with QB.  After all, they have a captive marketplace.  If you want it to be easy, then you must go with Intuit (and I don't, so perhaps "easy" is an exaggeration; I don't have first-hand experience).  Hello FTC!  Surely there's an anti-trust case to be made here.  Surely Intuit should be forced to remove its built-in credit-card processing options and be force to have clunky and unstable external plug-ins.  Either that, or make it easier to use third-party credit-card processing within the program.

Okay, I'm digressing, because I said I was looking for an option outside of PayPal, and I found an interesting one at https://paymentnetwork.intuit.com/.  This appears to be a beta, since I could find no links from the Intuit home page to this site and literally got there by accident.  But I went through the sign-up process, which I found fairly detailed and certainly more so than PayPal's, but perhaps that's because I signed up with PayPal a while back and regulations have gotten more stringent.  This new Intuit product is pretty straight-forward.  Hook up your bank account and you can send money to anyone for free and they pay only 50 cents to receive it.  Don't want to pay wire fees?  This could be a great solution.

Alas, it doesn't quite seem to work.  Today, I can't log on.  Oh, and you can't process credit cards.  It's strictly about moving cash from person A to person B using email and the web.  Where it beats PayPal, theoretically, is that uses your own bank account(s).  Right now, when I get a credit card payment via PayPal, I have to transfer the money to my bank account.  With IPS, I don't have to do that and, according to their website, I can download all transactions to QB.  And according to one rep I spoke with, this product will be integrated into QB in the future.

But, wait, isn't QB integrating Direct Deposit for vendors into QB, charging the same soon-to-be $1.25 per transaction?  And IPS is only 50 cents per transaction and only for the recipient.  Sending is free!  Hmm, methinks the right hand knoweth not what the left hand be doing-ith.

Intuit has failed to add genuine breakthrough functionality to QB for years.  Sure, it has tweaked and streamlined, but there hasn't been a game-changer.  With IPS and Direct Deposit for Vendors in QB, there's real potential, but QB must make it cost-effective for QB users and they must be more cost effective than the competition, which they have not been.  Consumables (e.g., checks, deposit slips) cost more through Intuit than Costco or other check-supplies companies.  Merchant processing costs more through QB than through PayPal.  To be a game-changer, making payments via QB must be less expensive and less time-consuming than using a printed check and mailing it.  So add the costs of printing, the cost of the check, the cost of the envelope, and the cost of the stamp, and be cheaper.  Hmm.  Fifty cents seems about right.  But I couldn't log on today, so that's officially wasted quite a bit of my valuable time.  And that doesn't seem right.

So, right now, since I've taking up twittering...I mean tweeting, I'm going to introduce a new hash tag:  #intuitpaymentsolutionsfail.  Because if users can't log on and you cost more than the competition in either fees or time, you've failed, baby.  Spectacularly.

Z

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Now on the Twitter!

Ah, these new-fangled gadgets.  Here I've barely learned to email and now I have to twit.  I mean tweet.  See?  Oh well.  Dare to follow me on Twitter and you'll see just how thumbsy i can be.  Just follow @thezackcompany.

Z



Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dear Publishers Marketplace

Dear Michael:

First, I have to congratulate you on the fabulous success that you have had with Publishers Lunch and Publishers Marketplace.  I wonder regularly how much money you turned down from Reed, presuming that Reed was smart enough to offer to buy you out.  Because, let's face it, you have pretty much single-handedly gutted PUBLISHERS WEEKLY's subscription base.  Why subscribe to PW when you have PM?  And I say this not with any scorn or blame.  It's simply a fact.

But I do have a couple of requests.  I wish you would use some technology to make it easier for those us subscribing to use the information from your site more effectively.  For example, how about adding vCards so that we can easily download contact information to our own Outlook for use?  And, even better, how about a centralized database that we can search and download contact information from?  Because the biggest headache for me is that whenever I get a new Publishers Lunch or Weekly Deluxe, I have to read it and parse the editors' information, and update Outlook.  This is a huge and time-consuming task that therefore doesn't get done often.  Couldn't you do it for us?  After all, you already have all of the data in your database.  Couldn't you just make it easier for us to access and use?

I have had many interns over the years and it seems that quite a few schools use a web-based version of Outlook and I've wondered why you haven't created a central address book for all of publishing from all of the data you have.  Then let us subscribers access that and download the information as needed.  That would be a huge service to agents.  I imagine it would be a bit like Plaxo for Publishing.  Oh, lordy, would that be nice!

It's actually a bit shocking to me how bad editors are at communicating with agents what they want to publish and where they might be working now.  Back when I used Plaxo, I'd send out requests a few times a year and get a hundred responses with new titles, new phone numbers, and new email addresses.  It would be great if editors simply got that info out themselves but, since they do not, perhaps PM could use its power and technology to pull that information together and keep us all updated with a central database.  And add to it some description of the types of books they want to buy (check out the What We Want page for my agency at http://www.zackcompany.com/what-we-want.html for an example) and you'd be making our jobs a lot easier.

Please?

Muchos gracias,
Z

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The June Monthly Round-Up

While our friends in the publishing business in New York City may be sweltering, we are happy to report that the weather here at The Zack Company continues to be cool and comfortable.  This summer we are working hard to read and respond to as much material as we can, and this June was a highly productive month for that.  Here are the stats to prove it.

In June we:

  • Received 58 queries and declined 127
  • Received 8 sample chapters and declined 11
  • Received 0 proposals and declined 0
  • Received 1 full manuscript and declined 0
We have on hand to read:
  • 34 sample chapters
  • 5 proposals
  • 3 full manuscripts
We are waiting on material for:
  • 17 sample chapters
  • 3 proposals
  • 4 full manuscripts
  •  
    Lastly, I would like to send a happy belated 4th of July to all prospective and current clients of The Zack Company; I hope that you celebrated well with friends and family! 
     

    I’ll be back in August with the monthly round-up for July.

    Caitlin

    Tuesday, July 06, 2010

    The Continuing Suckage of QuickBooks 2010 and Intuit

    Remember when Ross Perot was running for president and kept talking about the "sucking sound" of jobs headed south? Well, if you are still hearing a sucking sound, it's probably the sound of Intuit trying to vacuum a few more dollars out of your bank account.

    In a down economy, Intuit has decided that now is the time to raise their Direct Deposit fees from $1.05 to $1.25. How stupid is this?

    When I signed up for Direct Deposit with QuickBooks, it cost 99 cents. This made sense, given the "cost" of driving down to the bank to deposit a check I was writing to myself. When the price went to $1.05, I thought it was a stupid move. The economy was crashing and Intuit was raising prices. Not smart. LOWER the prices and get more people who were struggling to make ends meet to sign up for DD. But they didn't do that.

    Now the economy is still a shambles and the price is going up 20% to $1.25 on August 23rd, according to the email I just got. This is even more stupid I feel, because QuickBooks is in the middle of a trial program to offer Direct Deposit (actually ACH) for payments to vendors. This would allow you to not pay the vendor by check, but just have the money transferred from your account to the vendor's. So you would save the money on the stamp and the money on paying for a physical check. The cost of "consumables" would be eliminated. But at $1.25 per payment, is it really worth it? I think not, especially given that Costco sells five hundred checks for about $38 with an Executive Membership. That's 7.6 cents per check. Five hundred "nice" envelopes are $20.23 at Costco.com. That's 4 cents per envelope. A stamp is still 44 cents. So for less than half of what Intuit wants to charge you for Direct Deposit, you could mail a physical check. Nuts, huh?

    Intuit must really believe in that old saying attributed to P.T. Barnum's "There's a sucker born every minute." And in doing so, they are really not just alienating customers, but destroying their market. Over and over, people come to my original post at http://zackcompany.blogspot.com/2008/11/why-quickbooks-2009-sucks-let-me-count.html to complain about their issues using QuickBooks, but I see few or no changes in the latest version.

    I received a review copy of QuickBooks 2010 early in the year. I put off installing it, because I didn't want the headaches I knew would be involved. And there were headaches. In fact, QuickBooks hates to install and it hates to update. From an operational point of view, the program has no noteworthy improvements. While I believe Direct Deposit/ACH payment for vendors WOULD be an improvement if the price weren't so high. And I do believe that the addition of making your payroll deposits via QuickBooks electronically is an improvement, as well as the filing of payroll forms. But the process of getting up and running on that was a headache. I had to "enroll" twice with the IRS via QuickBooks, even though I was already an EFTPS subscriber.

    On two separate occasions, the release of an "update" to QuickBooks broke my installation, requiring calls to Tech Support and the Office of the President to get the problems resolved.

    On one occasion, the changing of the download URL for one of my credit cards (Advanta) seemed to have broken the download feature for that card, which required a call to Tech Support and an elaborate process of exporting the list of accounts, editing it in Excel, and importing it. All this because QuickBooks would not "let go" once a download failed. There was no override that would let a user deactivate an account in QuickBooks if the download failed. Again, nuts, eh?

    Adding twenty cents to the cost of Direct Deposit is definitely the definition of adding insult to injury. I think what I will do is simply use my bank's functionality to withdraw money from my business account to my personal account and record a paycheck. Then I will have saved myself the trouble of printing and depositing a check, as well as paying for Direct Deposit. Take THAT, Intuit!

    Z