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View Full Version : Books as magazines--would it help or hurt authors?



Cathy C
03-13-2014, 02:22 PM
I thought this article (http://www.wired.com/business/2014/03/books-become-magazines/) posted on Twitter this morning by Wired was really interesting. It's sort of the old Harlequin Book Club (and others like it, including the penny westerns) for the modern world. I'm trying to decide whether it's a good or bad thing. I mean, there have been subscription services forever, and serial novels are nothing new, so could combining them be the solution to reaching people that seldom pick up a book? Or is it yet another way to rip off authors, by diluting the royalties paid on an individual book, and making it so the author has no idea how to follow the subscriptions or which books are being distributed? Part of me is excited about the potential, and another part leery of abuse. What do you guys think?

bearilou
03-13-2014, 02:54 PM
Yeah. That's an interesting article. I've been watching this sort of discussion for a while and am intrigued by the possibilities. Serials, fiction sold a chapter at a time (I'm a big fan of Daily Lit) have possibilities but I'm still stuck on price points and what's that sweet spot.

At the end of the article, Ryan touches on the questions that have always interested me but no one seemed to address so it's interesting to see it now cropping up in the discussion.

I remember John Scalzi did something serial with Amazon and since pricepoints at this juncture seem to be all over the place for ebooks and serials and short fiction, it'll be interesting to see if it manages to stabilize out into something that can eventually attract and hold readers.

But I don't have an iPhone or an iPad or a smartphone or anything. I'm still tethered to my desk/lap tops and don't have the concerns about data plans and access online 24/7 that phones and tablets are starting to encourage. I would have thought that sort of of thing would have some bearing on the discussion, and it does in that article, at least at the end.

IOW, I got nothing to contribute to the conversation :/ but it's interesting to see it as it develops and to try to figure out which way it will start to head.

benluby
03-13-2014, 05:35 PM
It brings several interesting possibilities to the forefront, but truthfully, I wouldn't take part in it unless Kindle or some such service has a chapter service, where I could track my numbers, and not be stuck trying to find a needle in a Mount Everest size haystack.

Shadow_Ferret
03-13-2014, 06:13 PM
I can't imagine how that would work. Is it a specific magazine and each month you get excerpts of several different novels by random authors, like you'd get if you subcribed to any literary magazine? Or would you subscribe to a specific author and they'd serialize their novel for you?

The former, you'd be.exposed to a wider range of literature, the latter only authors you already know?

Either way, I'd prefer a print magazine. I'm still not a convert to ereading. And trying to read a chapter then waiting a month for the next installment seems like an awful way to consume a novel.

Stlight
03-14-2014, 04:31 AM
. And trying to read a chapter then waiting a month for the next installment seems like an awful way to consume a novel.


I thought Amazon was pushing the 'get the whole thing this instant' because of the decreasing attention spans of shoppers.

My attention span will usually get me through a novel, I do read fairly fast, but not this. I can't even follow a series on PBS or the mini-series on other channels. The last one I remembered to keep tuning into was Shogun. Others I've started and forgotten to tune in for the next episode.

Ah, but you say the chapter would be available for more than one night. Yes, that would help, except there is the assumption that I'd remember what I was reading a month after the last chapter. You'd have to be a super exceptional writer for me to keep your book in mind for that long.

It just doesn't seem suited to the instant download group.

Liosse de Velishaf
03-14-2014, 06:14 AM
If I'm reading a book, I want to read the whole damn book. It takes me about a day or so to read a standard 500 page novel, assuming it's the only thing I'm reading. (I sometimes read up to three such books in a day.) Spreading that out over a month would drive me nuts.

JustSarah
03-14-2014, 07:53 AM
I think my issue would be the same as manga magazines over in Japan. Say you submitted them your whole work, but the magazine goes out of business after about issue eight. Where there goes your first print, and the ability to see a real end to your work. Unless you go to a magazine that accepts reprints.

Laer Carroll
03-21-2014, 10:58 PM
Readers are of all types and situations, so this might work for some.

I'd absolutely hate it. But I'd be interested to see how the experiments worked out. And then avoid them as if they were radioactive.

Jamesaritchie
03-21-2014, 11:19 PM
I'd be willing to try the general concept, but I think toes bite sized pieces might be a bit too small. I love serialized novels, and I'm old enough to have read a lot of them in SF magazines, but fifteen minute chunks once a month would mean one heck of a long time to read a complete novel.

Filigree
03-21-2014, 11:35 PM
I follow a couple of online graphic novels, but I want to be able to go back to earlier panels/chapters for reference. If this new proposal for serial fiction only has chapters available for limited times, I'm not interested. Like Liosse, I can go through a 500-page book in a few hours with full reading comprehension. I'd rather not try to keep track of many partial stories over months or years, if I can read the whole thing.

alexaherself
03-21-2014, 11:51 PM
It was good enough for Charles Dickens.

LOTLOF
03-22-2014, 01:14 AM
It was good enough for Charles Dickens.

Did he have to compete with twitter?

It's not a fair comparison. Different societies with different demands and expectations. I am old enough to remember the 80's. People said that TV, VCRs, home game systems, and home computers were going to be the death of books and reading.

Fortunately things haven't been that bleak, but there is no denying that attention spans have gotten shorter and readers are less patient than they were.

Writing a novel in installments may work, but I am not sure how popular it will be. You may need to write the storyline so that it contains several arcs, so you can give the reader some climaxes before the end. You may also want to research successful web comics to get some sense of what kind of story pace on line readers want.

Kylabelle
03-22-2014, 01:35 AM
When I first read this thread I was coming down firmly on the side of book. Solid, all-at-once, book.

But I remember I have really enjoyed the one graphic novel I read that was serialized on the web. So I suppose that, if the story is good enough (and I do think it would need to be written with the change in presentation in mind in order to work best) a serialized presentation in magazine format wouldn't be off-putting. And I know it's been done a lot in previous times, with print magazines and newspapers. So, there is that in its favor as being workable, generally.

But that's me as a reader. Whether this would be good for authors or not? Honestly I think that's a complex question with too many variables to really answer, just from a speculative position. It would need some testing out.

And I agree (back to the reader's point of view) if the segments were removed from availability after some predetermined time, that would annoy the heck out of me. I would need to have it all available.

How would this change pay structure for authors? Would it make more publishing possibilities available? Would a given book be "slotted" for one type of presentation only?

There are lots of variables that I doubt we have much information about yet.

MookyMcD
03-22-2014, 01:36 AM
It's fascinating to me to watch such an old industry (that's a historical statement, not name calling) deal with the fact that it is also merely one content provider in the information age. I'm not sure I love the serialization (although that would depend on how it was handled), but I've spent some time thinking about what I'd do if I were running the electronic side of a major publisher. One of the first things that leaped to mind was scrapping the "reader pays for content" model, and replacing it with some form of advertising-based model. I have no idea whether that would work, but it's probably one of the first business models I'd think about exploring.

Torgo
03-22-2014, 01:50 AM
I've spent some time thinking about what I'd do if I were running the electronic side of a major publisher. One of the first things that leaped to mind was scrapping the "reader pays for content" model, and replacing it with some form of advertising-based model. I have no idea whether that would work, but it's probably one of the first business models I'd think about exploring.

It's hugely difficult for a big publisher - and I know this from personal experience, because I've proposed subscription and ad-supported models like this before in my work.

The first problem is, 99.9% of the books you have the rights to, as a Big 6 firm, are backlist. That is, they are books with contracts signed years ago. Contracts more than about a decade old are very sketchy about digital rights - they are silent, because at the time such things weren't contemplated, or skewed heavily towards one side or the other: the royalty rate and scope of rights is just guesswork, so you can see digital rates from 3.75% all the way up to 50% of higher.

So this stuff all has to be renegotiated by the contracts team just to get an ebook out. A lot of the work we've put in since Kindle caught on has been clearing and reclearing rights in order to operate according to the current business conditions. There's not a lot of appetite to now renegotiate again to cover some kind of subscription or ad-supported service, especially when the value of those rights is unclear to both sides.

Secondly, the bigger a publisher is, the more conservative it is, and the more inertia it accrues. A freemium or ad-supported model is way, way off course for the kind of oil tanker I am a crewman in. It's the small presses and independent houses that drive this kind of innovation.

Thirdly, you would not believe the kinds of arcane and restrictive contracts we enter in to with major retailers like Amazon. It's entirely possible that some of these business models would actually place us in breach.

MookyMcD
03-22-2014, 02:11 AM
Yea, you are absolutely describing why the disruptive business models always come from outside. Hell, Xerox, H.P., and IBM basically had every innovation that made Apple, Microsoft, and Intel into the names we know offered up on silver (read: silicon) platters and scoffed.

Torgo
03-22-2014, 02:31 AM
Yea, you are absolutely describing why the disruptive business models always come from outside. Hell, Xerox, H.P., and IBM basically had every innovation that made Apple, Microsoft, and Intel into the names we know offered up on silver (read: silicon) platters and scoffed.

I wouldn't want to analyse it just as scoffing though - it's not just an attitude of conservatism. It's to do with the fact that you have huge businesses that have geared themselves to do a certain kind of thing very efficiently, and there are practical reasons why switching to a different kind of thing is a huge challenge.

Don't get me wrong - I get frustrated with my own corporate overlords on a regular basis, and I wish we were more open to experimentation. There are cogent arguments the other way, though, largely about uncertainty and return on investment.

MookyMcD
03-22-2014, 02:34 AM
Sometimes. Sometimes it's shortsightedness and/or lack of imagination -- like scoffing at the idea of households having their own personalized computers. I mean, what would an average American need his own computer for, right?

(the snark is not directed at you, I totally see what you are saying)

Torgo
03-22-2014, 02:43 AM
Sometimes. Sometimes it's shortsightedness and/or lack of imagination -- like scoffing at the idea of households having their own personalized computers. I mean, what would an average American need his own computer for, right?

(the snark is not directed at you, I totally see what you are saying)

Sure - in recent memory I totally recall Steve Ballmer sneering at the iPhone, for example, and these days he looks like an idiot. See also book publishing's self-destructive stance on DRM, and the way we were completely outmaneuvered by Amazon around agency pricing.

There are interesting and innovative moves taking place in the digital side of Big Publishing, though, and the people I know driving that strategy here in the UK all seem clued-up and frighteningly smart. We'll see if we continue to make those kind of mistakes - I hope not, because every wrong turn we make seems to cede more territory to Amazon.

Jamesaritchie
03-22-2014, 03:26 AM
I wouldn't start with backlist books, but with new ones. Possibly ones that hadn't yet been published, just as the SF magazines did. Serialize first, publish as a complete novel second.

I don't think backlist would be a problem, though. It isn't like you need all those books. You;d only need a few of them, the ones with the most potential. Negotiate the contracts only when and if you need a book. Do it all over a number of years.

I see no reason why it isn't worth a try.

This will be tried. It just will. If it works, big publishers will jump on board. If it doesn't work, something else will be tried..

But the companies that fail to try the next big thing because of contract, or money, or conservatism, will lose out, and have to play catch up.

But whatever happens, there is no standing still. The question isn't whether this, or a dozen other things will be put to the test, the question is when, and who has the foresight to get on board early.

This does not look like something that would cost much money at all to try, and I'd gladly negotiate a contract in this direction. The only downside I see is that it won't work well, and will be abandoned. But I don't see failure costing anyone a mint of money.

Little Ming
03-22-2014, 03:41 AM
Every Day Novels (http://everydaynovels.com/) (associated with Every Day Fiction (http://www.everydayfiction.com/)) is doing something similar.

Torgo
03-22-2014, 04:30 AM
I wouldn't start with backlist books, but with new ones. Possibly ones that hadn't yet been published, just as the SF magazines did. Serialize first, publish as a complete novel second.

It's happening. I've done it, and it kind of works. What's been difficult in recent years is that Amazon simply hasn't offered a convenient way to do this. You haven't been able to subscribe to a serial, for example. The only way to do this has been to do a bunch of 99p chapters tied together in a somewhat unintuitive way.

Also, the lowest price we can practically charge on Amazon is 99p. It's technically possible to price things lower - 49p I think is the lowest point - but not at scale, for various logistical reasons I am hazy on. In any case we can't go down to, say, 10p a chapter, which is where I think this needs to work.

That said, we've had some limited success with splitting novels into, say, 8 chunks, doing the first chunk free, and the rest at 99p or so. We'd need Amazon to give us the tools to work with in order to fine-tune that model.

Jamesaritchie
03-22-2014, 05:07 AM
It's happening. I've done it, and it kind of works. What's been difficult in recent years is that Amazon simply hasn't offered a convenient way to do this. You haven't been able to subscribe to a serial, for example. The only way to do this has been to do a bunch of 99p chapters tied together in a somewhat unintuitive way.

Also, the lowest price we can practically charge on Amazon is 99p. It's technically possible to price things lower - 49p I think is the lowest point - but not at scale, for various logistical reasons I am hazy on. In any case we can't go down to, say, 10p a chapter, which is where I think this needs to work.

That said, we've had some limited success with splitting novels into, say, 8 chunks, doing the first chunk free, and the rest at 99p or so. We'd need Amazon to give us the tools to work with in order to fine-tune that model.

Amazon could do it, but I wonder if some variation of this isn't going to bypass Amazon and other bookstores altogether? You just sign up for a service, pick a genre or genres you like, maybe with options such as a check box for your favorite writers, and a "include similar" option. You get each new book by that writer automatically, and maybe a book or too by new, similar writers who come along that year. And a "short stories" box would be nice, as well.

But it's a bundle service. A subscription, but for a group of books and stories, and for a group of writers, rather than just one book.

No charge for individual segments, but an overall fee for everything you get that year.

Torgo
03-22-2014, 05:09 AM
Amazon could do it, but I wonder if some variation of this isn't going to bypass Amazon and other bookstores altogether?

For various reasons I can't really go in to, it may well be impossible for a given publisher to bypass Amazon.

(But yeah, it'll happen - it's starting with things like Oyster as we speak.)

Jamesaritchie
03-22-2014, 07:03 PM
For various reasons I can't really go in to, it may well be impossible for a given publisher to bypass Amazon.

(But yeah, it'll happen - it's starting with things like Oyster as we speak.)

I agree you probably can't bypass Amazon right now, but all things change.

I think I can also see a way to do this independently, and still keep Amazon in the loop, but in all honesty, my brain is starting to hurt.