Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Black Ink And Red Ink

Borders is finally going down the tubes – and I can finally call them by name on my blog. For almost 11 years they have been my day job, and in these final days I am standing behind a register and drawing black lines through the bar codes of books with permanent markers so customers can't return them. I have no sympathy whatsoever for the long line of executives who made dumb decision after dumb decision in the Borders hierarchy – but they don't actually need my sympathy. They made a lot of money screwing things up. And they had nice fat, cash parachutes to ease their transition to other executive jobs, where they continue to earn big money to screw things up some more. It kind of makes you wonder if there's more incentive for executives to drive companies into the ground than to make those companies successful. It's a question we should all be asking.

But, much as I'd like to heap all the blame on those Borders executives, not all of it belongs to them. Publishers may deserve more of it. They refused to believe that their distribution system was too expensive. No one could tell them that they didn't need to rent or buy buildings in New York City – they literally could have done their jobs from home. Michael Stackpole has written some excellent blogs about what those publishers could have done to address their expenses (not to mention their myopic view of e-books). Now those publishers are being sucked down the Borders Black Hole Of Doom as the whole house of cards collapses.

But I have to confess, I'm in an odd position. I'm sorry to lose that particular day job (though lately it's been more trouble than it's worth). But I'm a writer too, and I have e-books for sale. In the last few months, customers of all ages have been coming into Borders to buy e-readers, a lot of people who never would have considered doing such a thing in the past. They tell us they want to have instant access to way more books than they could get in a Brick & Mortar store (especially one with a crappy I.T. Dept., like Borders). And even more importantly, they're ready for the low prices.

I'm ready for those prices too. I earn about $2.20 per sale for my e-book titles that are priced $2.99. I used to earn 8% per sale of my print books priced at $5.99 to $7.99. True, I got an advance. But it was hard to earn back that advance. And when you don't earn it back, the publishers stop buying your books, and cut you from the list. Understand – this is not sour grapes here. They make a business decision. But it is based on a clunky old model that is deeply flawed. Now writers can sink or swim on our own, because we can publish e-books.

So now we're the competition. And what do we have going for us? Low prices and instant availability. Readers can sample up to 50% of our books, so they can decide if they want to commit their moolah. And we're available on major websites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. We're learning to market ourselves, and we're getting better at it every day.

And finally, we have one
big advantage over publishers and BigBox companies like Borders – we're not saddled with a bunch of overpaid executives whose main job seems to be pumping and dumping the company stock. And that is probably the real bottom line.


  1. But don't you know? The whole publishing business, particularly science fiction, will have a new revival. All we need is a new Harry Potter novel, and the millions of kids waiting for the new Harry Potter will buy the latest Tor and Baen entries. The Nielsen Haydens say so! (Again, there's nobody more delusional about permanent changes in a business than those who make their money by keeping the system exactly where it is.)

  2. Dont call us, we will call you - re prev post

  3. Brilliant! Indeed, those editors in NYC are always trying to get out of coming to the office when they can do their jobs at their home in Fire Island anyway. Go to the office, get stuck in a 3 hr. editorial meeting--that overhead has to go.
    Yes, it's expensive to pay a ghostwriter or developmental editor, or take the time out of your life to learn the craft of writing AND writing books, and write 70-100,000 words. To get the best books into the marketplace, someone's got to pay for all that and the entire burden can't fall on authors. But paying for executive salaries and benefits, big buildings on 5th Ave., and the like stopped being feasible long ago.