Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Minority Report

Le sigh. Once again I seem to hold the non-popular view in an indie world. Here’s the setup: Joe Konrath puts out a call for guest posts while he goes on an indefinite hiatus. The topics can be anything to do with publishing. He receives 100+ contributions. What to do? Why collect 50 more and string them together into an ebook to sell. He won’t pay for the content, but the contributors will get exposure for their websites or their books. In fact, like my guest post for another site on Saturday, many contributions will undoubtedly exist solely as promotion.

In advertising, these types of pieces are called “advertorials.” I’ve written my fair share of them to be placed in trade papers and magazines. You’ve seen them. Half-page to page articles that talk about the benefits of a certain type of product that make you think you’re getting some honest, constructive advice, then wham, they hit you with the hard-sell paragraph to buy Brand X.

In the traditional world, these advertorials are placed just like regular ads. That means the company producing the ads buys the ad space. The consumer may purchase the magazine or paper the ad appears in, but the person peddling the product is still paying for the privilege of getting eyes on. The consumer doesn’t pay solely to be advertised to.

In the traditional world, advertisers pay the brunt of production costs. This is why a slick, glossy magazine mailed right to you could sell through subscription for as little as a dollar an issue. It’s why you get Facebook and tons of other online content for free.

Enter the new world where consumers are now going to be asked to pay to be advertised to.

Granted, advertorials skirt that fine line between constructive content and blatant advertising. I’m not saying there won’t be value in some of the content of the book itself. But the reader is not at the heart of why this book is being produced – the authors are.

The draw for authors is that Konrath will have his name as editor even though it sounds like he doesn’t really want to be hands on with the project at all. Can you call yourself the editor if you don’t even vet the content much less edit it? “Solicited by” perhaps?

Maybe I’m just overly cynical. Maybe I’m hypocritical. I intend to turn my Vet Tech Tales series into ebooks, which I’ll put up for sale.

Is there a difference?

Or is Yog’s Law changing: Promotion flows toward the author while the reader is stuck with the tab?

What do you think?


stacy said...

I had never heard of Konrath before Nathan Bransford posted about Konrath's blogging fatigue. He did stipulate that the posts could not be solely promotional. He didn't come right out and say it, but I gathered the posts had to in some way provide information about the publishing industry.

Still, I'm not sure I understand Konrath's logic for this project. He asked for content for his blog, not a book. He got more than 100 posts. That's a little more than three—maybe four—months of content if he posts once per day. I can't see how, if the content is already written, it would be too much trouble to do that. So if he's pushing the idea for an ebook on the basis of providing information (which he did in his post) ... well, he can do that. On his blog.

This is why the whole "I'm not asking for anything you weren't willing to give away for free" line doesn't ring true for me. The bloggers didn't agree to have their posts put in a book when they sent their pieces to him. Blog content is not book content. Bloggers who have their content turned into a book tend to get paid. If Konrath knows this endeavor would not be profitable for the writers, why ask them to participate? For exposure? Sorry, but that's the line professional writers should be rallying against. They should get something tangible out of this.

I don't think I'll be buying this book, and I don't think I'll be visiting Konrath's blog again to see what he's been "screaming" about.

vkw said...

Imagine for a moment that I buy books.

I do by the way.

Too many. I think I figured out recently if I read every book on my shelf that I bought within the last six months and read one book a week, I wouldn't need to buy another book until February.

Imagine that I am interested in E publishing, having given up on traditional publishing or maybe I've decided this is where the money is.

So what if I decided to buy the blog compilation, even though I realize from the onset that they are just blog posts of eauthors. Maybe I decide it is a better buy at $2.99 than Epublshing for Dummies for $3.50 used.

what is the chance that the compelling essay of Ann Smith's publication history convinces me that Ann Smith's epublished novel, "Lovepotion #9" is worth reading?


Worth reading her blog posts? 1-5%

What do I think of Konrath of believing, and writing, that his name in the editor column should be enough to sell this?

You don't want to know. Is he an eauthor, by the way?

I've never heard of Konrath and after reading one blog, I don't want to read anything else he's written.

The point is easy. I don't see how the authors will get anything out of this. I don't see how it could be useful at all, unless you are allowed to print your first 10 pages of all the enovels you've written along with your free post.

Red Tash said...

Very interesting posts, Phoenix. Thanks for sharing. I haven't kept up with Konrath's blog (you know how time-consuming that is!) or with KB very much since I started this promotion. Can't wait until Monday!

I think what we're experiencing is a glut of new entrepreneurs. On the one hand, it's fantastic to have so many creatives take charge of their own work, and be willing to work hard to sell it. On the other, I don't know if we've experienced anything like this in retail before. (And though it's online, it's definitely still retail, with Amazon being the biggest distribution center.) There's room for experimentation right now while everything is on the rise, but *wow*, the blowback from working in what feels like such a close-knit community is pretty rough, isn't it?

Not everyone who is creative is necessarily experimental, so those who don't have an experimental mindset are not going to "get" those who do, until the results come back "good."

Running one's own business is such a personal thing, and opening it up for public scrutiny...ugh. Just, such a raw, personal topic, anyway, and it's obvious tastes & styles are so subjective. Then there is whole philosophical angst of connecting the intrinsic value of one's work to sales. Double ugh.

I don't know if I've even skimmed the surface of all the thoughts your posts have evoked in me this morning! Whew! Thanks for giving me stuff to chew on. Have a great weekend.

Kay said...

You. Overly cynical or hypocritical? No way.

You're paying attention and explaining it to the rest of us.

Keep on keeping on.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Stacy: While Konrath stipulated the posts shouldn't be promo only, it's clear that most people are clamoring for a spot to market their work through his blog. He even admits that. I'm guessing a fair number play off the work of the author. I'm not dissing that - I did the same for another blog recently. But I'm not asking readers to pay for the content and the blog owner isn't getting paid either.

I think a lot of self-pubbed authors are so desperate for exposure they will trade good sense away for it. Which is ironic - Konrath preaches how easy it is to be successful, yet here are his followers snatching at crumbs to get their work noticed because it isn't selling in the volumes Konrath tends to promise.

I appreciate the coup Konrath has managed to pull off. Good for him! I agree with you that pushing the envelope and trying new things is the only way to get ahead in business. Maybe selling advertorials is the next big thing. Under my reader's hat, though, I'm not thrilled at the idea of funding someone's marketing plan.

There are the occasional voices of what I see as reason in the comments. It's generally why Konrath's blog has been in my RSS feed reader. ;o)

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@vkw: Konrath is a "name" in the epub world. He started out traditionally published and was a midlist author who was eventually dropped from one of the houses because sales weren't up to snuff. He snatched up the rights to his backlist and pubbed those titles himself as well as some new ones and they took off. He's been thumbing his nose at epublishing -- quite vocally and quite publicly -- ever since.

Most of his followers are of a like mind: traddies are the Big Bad. The book WILL sell with his name on it. Even if it sells just to followers, that's a couple of hundred copies above the 150 authors that'll buy it because they're in it. It'll earn about $500 in royalties immediately with residual buys over the next couple of years. And it'll put another book on the Konrath shelf at no cost to him. The more books on your shelf, the more exposure you get with Amazon. And the more money earned under your name, the more likely Amazon will notice you.

Between you and me, I'm thinking Konrath is lobbying to get picked up by Amazon's Thomas and Mercer imprint. That's the Holy Grail of publishing right now because of the marketing push Amazon will give their own books. I don't begrudge that. It's a very, very smart business move. BUT I don't agree that this particular piece of the business is necessary.

Now the profits are being given to the person doing the formatting who in turn is pledging some of the money to charity. That's nice. We used a charity drive to market the EXTINCT antho too (and ALL proceeds went to charity when we did). But everything about this book reeks of the consumer being taken advantage of. The formatter is getting promo -- he'll be paid for his time out of the royalties and gain new business. Konrath will get that added shelf space. And the bloggers will tweet and post on FB and their blogs that they're in a book edited by Konrath and get promo time. All of which is being paid for by the consumer. To me there's a fine line and this crosses it.

But I've been wrong before. I'm afraid we'll see MORE of this venture in the future. As a reader/consumer, I'm not looking forward to it.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Red: I think you're right about the glut. I think, too, Amazon is working diligently to self-regulate its storefront with the probable trickle-down through the rest of the e-tailers.

I genuinely appreciate that folk like Konrath and Bob Mayer and Robin Sullivan and KK Rusch are detailing their plans in public. Yes, it opens them up to criticism, but these guys are driving home the point that to be successful you have to operate like a business in this economy.

It may seem repugnant, but every artist puts a price to their work. And think of all the famous authors who hand-sold their books! Technology just gives us new ways to peddle -- as well as new ways to screw up ;o)

Looking forward to seeing who wins your loaded Kindle tomorrow! I'm tweeting the end of the contest today. Happy Monday when you can get back into blog and forum reading!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thank you, Kay! :o)

Rachel said...

Red sent me. www.RedTash.com

stacy said...

I totally agree with all of your points, Phoenix. I think I'm just focusing more on the writer's benefits (or lack of them in this case) than the reader's, because I don't plan to buy this book. They can't make me pay for the advertising if I don't want to buy it.

For me, what Konrath is asking is not a "business" move. It's the classic "This will be great exposure!" line I see all the time on Craigslist. It's a toxic line of BS and it bugs me that Konrath would employ it.