Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Live-Blogging from NINC

My first NINC conference. What a brilliant bunch of authors. Thought I’d make some notes and drop some ideas as I have them (so this post will keep updating).

  • Porter Anderson asks a panel of experts if low prices are devaluing books. Can low prices really devalue literature? If so, what about the gift that are public libraries? And another thought: If price can devalue literature, does paying authors miserly royalty rates devalue writers and writing? Why is that never a focus?
  • A BookBub representative says “price is a marketing tool.” I absolutely agree. And I think the consternation about low prices comes from those who see these titles as an intrusion on their own profitability. I don’t see this threat. New authors need to level the playing field and win over their own readership. I think it’s the difference in seeing book-buying as a zero-sum game or an additive game. I subscribe to the latter view.
  • I’m not convinced readers are so homogenous. Some are bargain-shoppers. Some are more prone to experimenting with unknown authors. Some will pay a premium for a known author or a current bestseller. I look at the auto market as an example. Some shoppers are only looking for a used car; some are looking for a new car; some are looking to lease. Confusing these shoppers as the same people is a huge mistake publishers and authors often make.
  • Most animated exchange thus far: A publisher executive in the audience pitches the advantages of working with them, when Brenna Aubrey says “Just get rid of your non-compete clauses.” A representative of that publisher (who is on the panel) says, “We don’t use non-competes.” And then the executive from the same house had to respond: “Actually, we do.” And then: “And it’s for the author’s benefit.” Got a bit raucous.
  • Hypothetical question: If you could place your books in every library in the United States, at zero cost to you, knowing you wouldn’t be paid to be read and would lose some direct sales, would you do it?
  • Watching a room of hundreds of writers lob questions at the Amazon team is immensely informative and entertaining.
  • One writer asks how they can update their series information when part of the series is with a publisher and part is self-published, and the publisher refuses to link the books. Yikes.
  • The greatest benefit to these conferences is realizing you are so much like other authors, that you stress about the same things, go through the same things, and are not alone.

30 replies to “Live-Blogging from NINC”

“I’m not convinced readers are so homogenous.”

This! New price points and self-publishing niches that traditional publishers wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole just a few years ago will reveal new reader categories that none of us knew existed or could have predicted.

E..g., boxed sets thriving as separate products when the single titles are already available, even at a better price, indicates there are binge readers who are very different from incremental readers. And that’s just one small pricing category. Business analysts are going to have a field day with upcoming market analysis…

I saw the success of a box set firsthand: my sales of the title in the box set (99c for 10 books), even with that title at 2.99, went up 85%. Sales of two subsequent books in the series (also 2.99 each) are up 15x. My tiny investment in ads (together with the other 9 authors in the set) paid off with a 20x ROI. Free or nearly free (as box sets are) works well right now.

“Can low prices really devalue literature?”

I think that it can in the minds of some people, surely. I think that that is self-evident, because there are all sorts of people in the world, some of whom (many of whom?) equate price with value. On the other hand, whether or not literature adds value to a culture is a discussion that apparently has no value to some people, such as Joe Konrath, who said recently:

“The public conversation of culture interests me in the same way philosophy does. It’s mental masturbation.”

Besides being available in libraries some of the greatest literature written is now available for free or less than $1 on line. Now the masses have affordable alternatives. Also, now some of the highest rated colleges and universities are making their courses available on line for free. Are they no longer of value?

“If price can devalue literature, does paying authors miserly royalty rates devalue writers and writing? Why is that never a focus?”

If you’ve convinced yourself that the publisher adds the bulk of the value to a book rather than the writer, I suppose I could see how you could believe low prices devalue books and still believe that authors should get only 15 percent of the proceeds. It would be interesting to poll industry types to determine their perspectives on what percentage of a book’s value comes from the author as opposed to services supplied by the publisher. I’d bet you’d find many who believed 15 percent ascribed to the author was a fair estimate. Post-hoc rationalization can be a great tool for enabling folks to live with themselves :)

With Crystal here. My big-press house paid me 6%, until they started paying me 4%. What can I say. I had no choice.
Now we do.

Equating value with price alone is a mistake made repeatedly, and the reason why many companies have had to overhaul not just the services they offer but the way they offer the services.
A burger place may offer food quickly at a low price. If you want cheap greasy food and you’re hungry right now, that will offer you great value. If you want a juicy steak prepared perfectly with a nice crisp salad and a glass of fine wine, you’re not going to value that burger even if they gave it to you free. You’ll instead value the restaurant who gives you what you want, at a price you are willing to pay, and you’re willing to spending an hour or two waiting for and enjoying your meal.
Doesn’t matter if you are a restaurant, software company, bookseller, automobile manufacturer, the value you offer is a perception of your customer.
I don’t see literature as such being any different. Each piece is going to mean different things to different people, they need to stop trying to cram everyone into a single mould and making such histrionic claims about the future of literature, culture, and the Amazon-pricing apocalypse.

Yes, readers fall into different groups in regards to their buying patterns. Some are free-only readers, too, usually not by choice. Some are free-sample-then-buy readers who buy later works if they like the first. And so on. The advantage of online retail is that it’s super easy to adjust your approach.

“And it’s for the author’s benefit.”

And a plate of spaghetti was the logic that followed.

If I can’t compete in terms of big-name authors and professional covers and book designers, nor hire top-notch editors, then why not compete on price, niche genres and a smaller readership?

Why not learn how to do it myself? It sure sounds like some worthwhile skills.

It’s a competitive industry. Hopefully I’m learning to write better. But, I am also learning how to publish better.

A few years ago, at the time, I had no thoughts of cutting out the middleman. I just wanted to write some books.

Lower prices devalue literature? Is Shakespeare and Moby Dick worhtless now because they are free? Most of the best books throughout history are now free, does that mean they are worthless?
Good point with pointing out the big 5 paying cents on the dollar has been devaluing literature for years. How many good writers who would have gotten better have dissapeared because their first books made nothing, or were never published at all? Now that self published writers are paid bigger percentages than the big boys, we can at least earn a buck, maybe even enough to encourage us to keep writing.
Let’s be honest, if not for Amazon would I ever have heard of Hugh? And there are dozens of books and new writers i have read thanks to Hugh, none of this would have happened with the big 5.
The greatest point I read recently is that the big 5 are owned by giant companies that can easily afford to sell their own books and make their own ereaders, but they will not invest the money, they have sat back and let Amazon make their money for them at no cost to them, they ahve no right to complain Amazon is the size it is, the big 5 are the ones to thank for that.

As a non-fiction author, most of my income comes from non-book sources (retreats, private sessions, meetings, etc.)

Books are advertising for me as well as an income source.

So my answer is a big YES on the library question.

“If you could place your books in every library in the United States, at zero cost to you, knowing you wouldn’t be paid to be read and would lose some direct sales, would you do it?”

Yes. In a heartbeat. For a million and one reasons.

Oh, and libraries for free? Yes, the first book in any series i do will eventually become free forever. At least with a few copies of physical books, but to let libraries lend unlimited copies of my ebooks? No. This is not just a hobby, it’s a job, and writers should be paid a fair wage. Everyone who says they would want readers over income are full of it, you can put all your books on the kindle for free, but you don’t.

I do not understand your point, do you know a lot of people who buy a book after they have read it? I would rephrase your comment to be “there is no income with non-buyers”, which is obvious. My point was simple, if you only want readers, put your books on the kindle for free. But i suspect you want to use the library for advertising, not to give books away for free but to find fans and increase sales.

“Free” works best (maybe only) when there are other of your books for sale.

But more than anything, as Hugh keeps saying, one of our jobs now is to increase the market by enticing new readers to read. The long game, yes. But there are millions of young people who because readers because of a little guy in spectacles named Harry Potter. And I don’t know about other kids, but mine got the first book for free at his school library. (It was the cool thing to do. Imagine! Cool! Going to the library! How cool!)
Reads two books a week or so now. And pays for most of them.

Libraries and free books create a bigger market. We always knew that. Plus, you know, it’s not a car. There are a whole lot of books after the free one. Hmm. I sound like a heroin dealer. “I’ll give you the first one free… then you’ll be addicted!”

> do you know a lot of people who buy a book after they have read it?

Well, Baen has made some very good money in the last year printing letherbound, signed hardcovers of books that they have had available for free (with no DRM, in ever e-book format around) for decades.

Given that some of these books have sold out in the presales period, I’d say that the odds are very high that just about all of them went to people who had already read the book.

Well, I’m an example. Because I read roughly a book a day, I get most of my books at the library. About one in every hundred library books I read, I like enough that I end up buying my own copy. Then I usually go on to buy more of the author’s work. Am I alone? I think not. I hear I’m a piker compared to many romance readers.

I think there’s a remarkable lack of understanding on the part of big publishers of how the market has changed and how most readers now choose which books to read.

Given that there is now a lot more competition for reader eyeballs, price has become a much bigger factor than it used to be. Readers are a lot less likely to pay $10+ (or even $6+) for an author they’ve never heard of, especially since there are now so many high quality books being released in the $4-6 range.

I don’t need to pay $25 for something good to read any more….heck, I don’t even need to pay $10…..

I would happily give my books for free to libraries. Most people in the universe will never see my books, and so will never buy them. I’d love to see someone get Amazon or another company to make low-price ereaders (that held a charge for a long time) and load them up with a variety of easy-to-read books in English and other languages, and just give them away around the world. Imagine what a gift that would be!

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