16 June 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 36 comments

Much has been written of late maligning the big publishing companies.

The nasty rumor is that a while ago they colluded to illegally fix prices, and the spoilsports at the DOJ slapped their wrists, as well as Apple’s. At least that’s the spin some have put on it. I prefer to think of it as the publishers were trying to protect the perceived value of literature from being denigrated by ruthless discounters who would see us all living under an overpass, if they had their way. Of course, the storm troopers with guns and badges thought differently, but they’re ass hats – what is one person’s mega-conglomerates colluding to price fix is another’s courageous blow for freedom from Amazon’s tyranny. Remember to the Brits, the colonists were behaving illegally during the American revolution.

This is a lot like that, only different.

I’ve read countless blogs and articles on the latest Hachette/Amazon kerfuffle, with more hyperbole and tortured rhetoric in both directions than a Chicago election. Big name authors are calling for the government that just got done fining those same mega-billion dollar conglomerates for collusion, to do something to stop Amazon from picking on the poor, publicly-traded French multinational company, Hachette (perhaps those authors are confusing France’s socialist system of government intervention for privileged corporations – think Airbus, for starters – or perhaps Hachette’s French management team is unclear on how free markets work), and I’ve stayed silent about it. But I can remain silent no longer.

Now that the smoke has cleared, I want to go on record supporting Hachette, and in fact, all traditional publishers, in their thankless battle to maintain premium pricing in the face of precarious record profits.

Here’s my thinking in a nutshell: Let the big publishers collude to keep ebook prices high all they want. In fact, force Amazon to let their vendors dictate the prices they should sell books for, a la “the agency model.” Screw Amazon’s right to set their own prices. I want to see $15, $18, $20 ebooks from Patterson, Silva, King, whoever.

Why? Because it’s good for publishers, it’s good for readers, and it’s good for me.

Why publishers? I’m not going to go into all the technical details, but suffice it to say they really want it in the worst way, so use your head – it’s not because it’s bad for them.

Why good for readers? Because it will force those for whom price is an issue to look at less expensive alternatives, creating more opportunity for authors like me. And having found those authors, the readers will likely get more quality books for less money, which is a huge win for them.

Why good for me? Because my offerings at $5-$6 look like bargains next to the new Thor or Grisham at $15. So I’ll sell a lot more books, which is really good for my bar tab, my taste for the finer things in life, and the service sector where I live, as my generosity increases exponentially after a few pops if I’ve got a fat wad in my pocket.

Contrary to all the articles bemoaning the price fixing and the crap royalty rates the big publishers pay, I celebrate them. I frigging love the idea of 25% ebook royalties that work out to be more like an effective 12.5%, and I literally dance in the streets at the thought that all big publisher ebooks should cost $12-$20. Of course they should. There’s a lot of overhead to support, a venerated way of life, a whole galaxy of people who love books and earn their livings by publishing them – not writing them, God forbid, as that’s so pedestrian – but who appreciate them as only MFAs dealing with empty nest issues or investor banking husbands who don’t spend enough time at home, can. Let them gatekeep the shit out of the supplicants who are willing to take scraps in exchange for their work. Why is that good? Because it ensures that my competition stays relatively small, and that those who do make it through the gauntlet and get picked up quickly discover it pays crap, and either quit, or kill themselves.

That translates into me having a long, fat, happy career. Do I want smart, nimble competitors who’re paying top dollar to encourage the best talent to write thrilling, compelling tomes that men’s fiction fans will gobble up? Hell no. I want publishers who continue to spew forth hundreds of thousands of screeds nobody cares about or wants to buy. I want them to be unable or unwilling to sell these masterpieces for under nosebleed pricing, and I want them to continue to make the hurdles higher for those who choose to go the trad route, while simultaneously convincing the majority of authors there is no other “real” way to be an author than that approach.

I want that more than a toddler wants a pony from Santa.

Because as long as that continues, my nice little interstitial business can build, my readership can expand, and I can solidify my hold on my chunk of the market.

The worst thing on the planet for me would be where trad publishers start paying 50% or more to their authors, and lose their battle with Amazon, only to see their books priced in the weeds.

I’m known for holding heterodox opinions, some of which border on obliquity. But stay with me on this one – if we give the publishers what they really want, it’s a huge win for everyone, starting with me. The dedicated workers in Manhattan will continue being able to afford their expense account dinners at Nobu, readers will have a financial incentive to look to authors like yours truly, and my author competitors will be able to sneer in smug superiority as they serve my non-fat latte whilst eye-rolling my sad self-publishing desperation move.

Everyone wins in that scenario.

Here’s what I propose. Someone start a petition supporting the rights of the big publishers to price fix. I’ll be front and center to sign it. In fact, I’ll devote endless space on my vast social media platforms to advancing its agenda, and I’ll gladly rub shoulders with a bunch of venerated big name authors whose opinions are aligned with mine. Don’t allow Amazon to bully the poor French conglomerate, or any other publishing titans. It’s bad for America, it’s bad for puppies and grandma, and I’m pretty sure it will cause brain cancer and cannibalism. Stop Amazon from doing that, and get the DOJ off big publishing’s ass and instead protecting us from real threats, like Russia or global warming or Iraqi WMDs or something.

Don’t be a selfish douche. If not for me, then do it for the children. Because if Amazon’s allowed to continue dictating terms as a monopoly (and before you start in with that, “but they’ve got a ton of massive competitors” pedantry, I mean a monopoly in the sense that any successful company is sort of one, if they get really popular and want to determine how to operate their business) to the five remaining publishing conglomerates, the terrorists have already won.

And then we’ll never be safe. Or eat freedom fries without looking over our shoulders. You know what I mean. Hachette fries. Wink.

Now on to still more of my favorite topic: me. JET – Ops Files is now free for a limited period of time, so go download it before you it reverts to paid and you have to actually part with $4, God forbid. Oh, and JET got its first new cover from German wunderkind Michael Schubert, which I present below. The rest of the series will follow in that theme’s footsteps. I’m totally stoked about it, and am hoping it causes a stir. It was either that or an image of a kitty swatting at a yarn ball whilst playing in a basket filled with chocolate held by a shirtless tanned, tattooed hunk with abs of steel.

That’s next if this doesn’t fly.

Here’s the cover.





  1. Mon 16th Jun 2014 at 8:02 pm

    I love your logic. Yup, let’s force ‘proper’ publishers to fix their prices at $14.99 (no discount) for ebooks and $19.99 print books. As you say, win-win. And then us poor self-publishers will be able to increment our prices a tad, thereby helping to support our massive overheads. Lunch at McDonalds doesn’t come cheap, you know.

    • Doug  –  Mon 23rd Jun 2014 at 3:51 pm

      I’d never pay $15 for an Ebook. Hachette is crazy to think they’ll get that price.

      • Russell Blake  –  Mon 23rd Jun 2014 at 3:54 pm

        Right, but you’re not their target customer. There are millions who gladly pay that. That’s who they target. That’s their market.

  2. Mon 16th Jun 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Here, here! Finally someone I agree with on the Amazon-Hachette affair. Let the publishers set their own prices and be dicks to their authors, it’ll only push more readers and authors to self-publishing.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 16th Jun 2014 at 8:19 pm

      If more folks would simply learn that I’m always right about everything all the time, the world would be a better place.

  3. Mon 16th Jun 2014 at 10:12 pm

    There will always be some form of corporate publishing in the world. I haven’t been submitting books to traditional publishers for a year or so, and I don’t sell all that many books on Amazon. In that sense I prefer the sidelines.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 16th Jun 2014 at 10:23 pm

      No disagreement there about there always being some form of corporate publishing. Fact is the big houses could exist for decades on their backlists. They could close down all acquisitions tomorrow, fire everyone but a couple of cover artists, some marketing people, and a decent proofreader, and make their shareholders a fortune till long after I’m dead.

      I’m just greedy. And as such, I’m hopeful they prevail and can keep prices nice and high for the foreseeable future. This is one of those times I hope Amazon loses, although I wouldn’t put money on it.

  4. Jan
    Mon 16th Jun 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Well, I just read on GoodEReader that “Amazon currently represents 60% of all Hachette eBook sales in the US…” Just a case of Hachette biting the hand that feeds it?

    Proof: http://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/hachette-derives-60-of-ebook-revenue-from-amazon

    But I see your logic. If Big 5 eBook prices are crazy high, then readers would look to indies.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 16th Jun 2014 at 11:16 pm

      I have no idea what it’s about, and neither does anyone else. But my hunch is it’s higher prices, which, again, I totally celebrate. More profit for trad pubs, better odds of some readers finding mine a bargain. Win/win!

  5. Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 12:26 am

    I admit I’m a sinner, which is why I confess deep in my heart, I’ve had the same thoughts.
    Let trade publishers keep artificially high prices, and discourage would-be authors by shaming them into thinking self publishing is as low as eating out of a garbage can.

    It can only help the sales of my books.

    I ask for forgiveness for being so petty while knowing I have to live with myself.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 12:30 am

      The point is they’re not artificially high. They’re perfect as they are. Let them keep perfect pricing and not allow Amazon to screw it all up.

      Meanwhile, I’ll be happy to sell a few here and there. Least I can do…

  6. Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 1:37 am

    Yes, by all means save Amazon from turning puppies into anti-francophiles, or francophobes or cannibals or whatever.

    BTW, just read your first Jet book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I might read Brad Thor books that I check out from the library. I’ll buy your books from Amazon.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 11:57 am

      Glad you liked JET. I’ve been told they get better from there…

      • Bill Thompson  –  Wed 02nd Jul 2014 at 8:37 am

        In fact they DO get better from there. The spy thriller thing isn’t my favorite genre but man am I hooked on JET. I just ordered books four and five (for some reason I enjoy these much more in paperback than as eBooks, although I do the electronic books for almost everything else). Keep it up!

  7. Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 7:08 am

    One thing I learned about economics (and it took 6 years of college to get here) is that economic forces are like wind and water, they will follow the currents of public demand and there’s not a damn thing any government can do about it. Let These guys fight it out. We’ll sit happily on the sidelines, watching, occasionally stoking the fire when things get slow, and pick up the customers they’re losing. Thanks for the entertaining rant, Russell. Always a good way to start my morning.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 11:59 am

      I don’t view trad publishers as my enemy. They’re actually the best friend I could have, except for Amazon, Apple, and Smashwords, who pay me 70%. So my love for them is deeper, but I’ve never thought trad pubs were anything but large dominant players in a business where my goals ran toward setting up a nice cottage industry in the cracks they missed. So far, so good.

  8. Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 8:25 am

    Hello, Blake


    All that talk just to show off your new Jet cover…

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 11:56 am

      I’m an open book to you…

  9. Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 1:24 pm

    “Let them gatekeep the shit out of the supplicants who are willing to take scraps in exchange for their work. Why is that good? Because it ensures that my competition stays relatively small, and that those who do make it through the gauntlet and get picked up quickly discover it pays crap, and either quit, or kill themselves.”

    Love this. Hilarious.

  10. Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 1:37 pm

    I actually laughed outloud twice when I read this. Good job.

  11. Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 2:38 pm

    I don’t think we need to worry about the Big-5 paying authors 50% of net anytime soon. They can’t.


    * 30%+ of Big-5 revenue – and a higher % of their profit – comes from cost-free, risk-free e-books. And yet, their profit margin is only 10%.
    * Paying authors 50% of net instead of 25% would shift a third of that 30% — or 10% of their overall revenue — from their bottom line to their authors’ bottom lines.
    * today, Big-5 profit margins are barely 10%. So shifting that 10% to the authors would leave them in the red.

    Of course, they could always Harlequin around with the definition of e-book “net” but that misses the following point:

    * On its own, the Big-5 print-book/bookstore business has already become a money-losing proposition, which is now being subsidized by the fat profits from e-books.

    No wonder they don’t do print-only deals any more. They can’t.

    Like you, Russell, I hope they keep on doing what they’re doing. I love it when my indie titles are outselling 99% of the Big-5’s overpriced ones.

    Nowadays, the only competition that worries me is indie.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 4:04 pm

      Well, plenty of conglomerates survive on 4-5% margin. But agreed that there’s no reason for them to pay that to authors. There’s an endless line of them waiting for that deal, so no need to sweeten it for the rank and file. I wouldn’t.

      Here’s to hoping for high prices and low effectiveness! Woohoo!!!

  12. Tue 17th Jun 2014 at 6:34 pm

    Wow, Russell. That new cover is awesome. Looking forward to seeing the others.

  13. Wed 18th Jun 2014 at 11:23 am

    You owe me a new keyboard! Your blog should come with a warning to put down all beverages before reading. I suppose I should be thankful that I was drinking tea.

    Thanks for the laugh!

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 18th Jun 2014 at 7:26 pm

      My pleasure.

  14. Wed 18th Jun 2014 at 4:01 pm

    YES! But you haven’t gone far enough, Russel. The US government needs to open a publishing ebookstore that will compete on behalf of the disadvantaged multinational media megacorporations. After all, the government can make the market fair – by bringing in the same technological firepower that brought us the healthcare marketplace website. Then, trad publishers can do ALL of their online business through this website starting ASAP. Amazon would become a wasteland of $3-$7 books earning illegitimate 4-5 star ratings from ignorant hillbillies and sockpuppets. Once Amazon has been slain, the literary golden age of big box bookstores can return.

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 18th Jun 2014 at 4:32 pm

      Yes, we can have the same fairness in our ecommerce markets that the SEC has brought to the financial markets! That’s gone rather well…

  15. Peter Prasad
    Wed 18th Jun 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Alcalde? Mayor? Governor? Dictator? Cartel enforcer? Please run for something, Blake. I’m voting for you. Louder please.

  16. Agnes Webb
    Thu 19th Jun 2014 at 2:26 am

    Very Swiftian! Love it.

  17. Henry
    Thu 19th Jun 2014 at 10:17 am

    This probably is about higher prices, and as long as there are writers like you around, who write intelligent, as well as entertaining books then it doesn’t really bother me. I have just finished reading a book by a thriller author, who is published by Avon, Scott Mariani. He writes action-adventure thrillers with an historical twist. He writes well, and his books are cheap, despite being from a major publisher. His books are very good, and I would recommend them to you or anyone who likes a good thriller.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 19th Jun 2014 at 11:05 am

      I read him years ago. Can’t really recall the book, or the quality.

      I’m all for higher prices for my competition. Bring it!

  18. Lizz
    Sat 21st Jun 2014 at 10:17 pm

    I came across ‘Night of the Assassin’ (as a daily Free ebook) along with a quick note from you, hoping I would ‘enjoy the flavor’. I definitely enjoyed it along with almost every other book, blog and reply, in addition to the audio podcasts. I totally understand the self publishing route choice, but should you be wooed by any of the large corporations and move to live in a cramped city and give up paradise, I for one, would pay the ridiculous prices to buy a hardcover as often as you produce them. Thanks for the introduction to El Rey.

  19. Steve
    Sun 22nd Jun 2014 at 4:51 am

    Russell, I’ve noticed some “Odd” Pricing of some e-books as of late…$6.57…$3.98…$11.84…$8.01 at Amazon.
    What’s the thinking behind that?

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 23rd Jun 2014 at 12:10 pm

      Beats me. I was pricing at $5.97 and $4.97 for the longest time, mainly on a whim. Then I noticed a bunch of others following suit, which just confirmed what I’ve sort of always known: Nobody has the faintest idea of what they’re doing, and everyone is hoping to get an edge doing something relatively easy, like following someone else’s pricing cues…

  20. Fri 04th Jul 2014 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks for being one of the few reasonable voices in this.


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