Eisler Makes News…Again

There' s been a lot of talk lately about my friend Barry Eisler's decision this week, a month after rejecting a $500,00o offer from St. Martin's in favor of self-publishing his work, to bring out his new RAIN novel through Amazon's just-announced publishing imprint Thomas & Mercer.  

Some have said  that this means that he's returned to the "legacy publishing" world, simply opting for a different publisher than the one he had before.  Some have even said his talk about self-publishing his work was just a negotiating ploy and a bid for media attention. 

Of course, most of the people who've made those idiotic comments are so called "indie" authors who know little, if anything, about the nature of "legacy publishing" deals, and who see self-pubishing more as a cause,a religion, or a movement than a business. Take this comment from an "indie" for example:

"guys like Eisler already made their names the traditional route, then came into indie publishing not because they believed in the format, but to position themselves for future leverage.  They go on and on about how much better they have it self-publishing and get everyone drinking the Kool Aid, and then leverage their indie cred for a publishing contract.  […] They were trad authors who already had established followings and had the marketing savvy to use that to build credibility they didn't deserve as indies.  Because they were never indie in the true sense."

So Barry explained his thinking on their home turf:  a posting on the Kindleboards today. He said, in part:

I've said many times is that "publishing is a business for me, not an ideology" (Google it, you'll see) and that the right deal could certainly lure me back to the legacy world.  That remains true.  What's more important, though, is the nature of what could conceivably lure me back.  And what could lure me back is precisely what I've never been able to get from any legacy publisher — not the two who have published me; none that I've negotiated with, either.  Specifically:

1)  A *much* more equitable digital royalty split. 
2)  Full creative control (packaging, pricing, timing).
3)  Immediate digital release, followed by paper release when the paper is ready (no more slaving the digital release to the paper release).

As it happens, all these terms are available to a self-published author, so I decided to self-publish.  What some people might be missing in that simple statement, though, is that it's the *terms* that are important to me, not the means by which I achieve them.  If these terms are a destination, self-publishing is undeniably an excellent vehicle for getting there.  But it isn't the only vehicle.  And if another vehicle comes along that offers all these terms, plus a substantial advance, plus a retail wing that can reach millions of customers in my demographic… then, as a non-ideological businessman, I'm going to change rides.

[…]For a single title that doesn't incumber my ability to self-publish or otherwise publish anything I want, Amazon offered me all three of the items I list above (except for pricing, but regardless of what the contract says, we agree that digital books should be priced far lower than legacy prices), plus a massive, uniquely Amazon marketing push to its retail operation and otherwise, plus an advance comparable to what SMP had offered me (note, though, that the Amazon deal is for one book; the SMP advance was predicated on two books. When I say "comparable," I mean on a per-book basis, and sorry if I wasn't clear about that in my announcement at BEA). In exchange, I've given up certain digital retail channels because the Amazon deal is exclusive to Kindle platform devices. And Amazon will sell paper versions through its retail stores and through wholesale channels to other retailers. If any of this sounds like a legacy deal to anyone here, you've been talking to legacy publishers I've never heard of.

Although Amazon will be publishing his RAIN book, and more sooner and under much more favorable royalty terms for him than St. Martins Press offered, he still intends to self-publish his other work.

What his deal illustrates, as does the mulitple platform Joe Konrath publishes on ("legacy publishing," self-publishing, Amazon Encore, Thomas & Mercer), is that authors have more options now than we've ever had before…and that self-publishing is now, for the first time, actually a viable and realistic choice.

"And it's a great one," Barry says, adding "but as new possibilities emerge, I'll consider them, try them, and perhaps integrate them into my overall strategy. Why would anyone do anything else?"

That doesn't make him a hypocrite or a liar, as some inexplicably outraged "indie" authors have suggested, but rather a shrewd businessman trying to do what's best for his career.

24 thoughts on “Eisler Makes News…Again”

  1. Tod,
    I agree, it’s a lousy phrase. But I don’t like “traditional publisher” any better. You have an idea for a new one? If so, please share it, maybe it will catch on.

  2. Wow, it sounds like these “Indie” folks need to wake up and get over themselves. I’ve often wondered what all of those folks at publishing companies, do to get their generous piece of the pie when the real work is done by the writer. I’m not saying that there’s no room for an editor, graphic designer, or all of the talent behind a media campaign to promote a book; but I really think that the royalties of $.50/book for a $20.00 HC or $8.00 SC book were always way out of line. Clearly Mr. Eisler has his head on straight and has his eyes on the goal: to make money telling a decent story.
    This isn’t the first time innovation has revolutionized an industry, unless you would forget all of the artists that left Marvel Comics Group in the early 1990’s to form Image Comics and write/draw their own titles. It was probably even similar before that when sports stars were given free agency after their contracts were out and made multi-season/year contracts with teams for millions of dollars!
    I tip my hat to anyone who can command a decent salary in their profession and lead the pack rather than follow a bunch of sour grapes who are full of themselves. I hope to see more innovations and revolutions in the future to make American business take note and take care of their “Cash Cows.”

  3. This is Wikipedia’s definition of “Legacy System:”
    “A legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program that continues to be used, typically because it still functions for the users’ needs, even though newer technology or more efficient methods of performing a task are now available. A legacy system may include procedures or terminology which are no longer relevant in the current context, and may hinder or confuse understanding of the methods or technologies used.”
    I feel like this perfectly conveys the essence of what NY publishing has become. “Traditional publishing” is more a term of art — what traditions? Why are they traditions? Are they good traditions? At one point, slavery was traditional in the south, but using “tradition” to describe slavery would have been a linguistic dodge.
    Regardless, Todd, this is not worth your life…!

  4. Why don’t we just call them “publishers”?
    And while we’re at it, I don’t like the term “indie author” but since it is also used for filmmakers and musicians I suppose it has a place at the table.

  5. Great discussion on semantics. I have to say I love these stories of well known authors trying something new, that’s what life is all about.
    I’m an indie publisher and yes, I publish my work through the PaperBox Books imprint as well as other authors. To me it is a business and it fills a niche that the traditional system has left open.
    It’s not a religion, or a hobby. If the doors were open at the traditional houses and they could find a way to be faster to market, I’d be there.
    My take on the semantics – traditional publishing is the most descriptive so far because they seem mired in their current process rather than in jumping into the experimental pool deep end.
    Indie – I like because it makes me think of indie music – small dark clubs, edgy people, and taking risks.

  6. I think publishers is fine. I mean, just because something new comes along, it doesn’t mean you need to change the name of existing things. A record player is still a record player, not a legacy music device. Or, in a more salient argument, when I was born, Lee didn’t become “legacy Goldberg writing machine”

  7. Tod,
    It’s not that simple. What we are talking about are, to use your analogy, different kinds of record players. So how do yo differentiate the “old” record players from the “new” record players? Yes, they both play records, but they do so in substantially different ways. I don’t think calling existing publishers “Old” and Amazon “New” quite works, especially since all existing publishers are trying to evolve, in their own, slow-witted way, to the changes embraced and embodied by the new publishers.

  8. The more flexible publishers are seeing themselves as purveyors of intellectual property, which they will do by whatever means. That product might go into an electronic edition, a print edition, or an audio edition. To say they are traditional or legacy publishers is a half truth. They publish content, by whatever means.

  9. Lee – This is an interesting post…thanks for sharing.
    Barry – I read the Wikipedia entry for a legacy system and wanted to call your attention to another possibility…the stovepipe system! From Wikipedia: “In engineering and computing, a stovepipe system is a system that is an assemblage of inter-related elements that are so tightly bound together that the individual elements cannot be differentiated, upgraded or refactored. The stovepipe system must be maintained until it can be entirely replaced by a new system. Therefore, over time a stovepipe system typically also becomes a legacy system.”
    I’m a novice author, but from what I know, this seems like a pretty good description of the older process, which forced writers, agents, publishers, editors, cover artists, and retailers into one giant mess.
    Plus, stovepipe publishing just seems like a more fitting description than legacy publishing. So, that’s my vote…stovepipe publishing!

  10. The thing that cracked me up most about this was the guy who said Barry had gone out and picked up “indie cred” so he could leverage that into a publishing contract. Have things turned so upside down now that the cred is coming from NOT having been published by a “LP” before? I would have thought that the writers with the most credibility were the ones who had already run the gauntlet and had words hit paper and bookstores. Guess not.

  11. It’s an interesting discussion, and I can see there are merits from all sides of the spectrum. My own two cents goes like this:
    When Simon & Shuster publishes printed books, they are acting as print publishers. Since print publishing is the dominant form of publishing still, it should not be termed “legacy publishing.” A “legacy” technology is a technology that continues AFTER newer and better technologies have arrived.
    For instance: insurance companies invested millions in mainframe computers in the 1970’s and 1980’s that use now outdated programming languages, but to recoup their investment, they need to continue to run these “legacy” systems. What makes a technology “legacy” is that it continues to run after it has been superseded. Another example is rotary telephones: push button phones came in and were far better but if you had bought a rotary phone, why replace it if it’s still working? Again, if you are using Word 2003, and it suits you, why buy Word 2007? Legacy systems are very good systems, but they are not up to date. However, the state of modern publishing is in between.
    S&S prints books and so is a print publisher. Print publishing is not a legacy system yet, it is the mainstream system still. But S&S also makes about 20% of their income from digital publishing, or e-books. So we currently have a hybrid system: print publishing plus e-publishing. So it seems to me that “print publishing” is the right label when referring to publishing printed books, and “e-books” or “e-publishing” is the right label when referring to online publishing through, say, Amazon.
    It may very well be the case that print publishing BECOMES a legacy technology just as 8-tracks, and vinyl records and turn-tables, and video cassettes, and horse-drawn milk delivery wagons are today. But it’s still too soon to tell. So far, print publishers are print publishers, e-books are e-books. The notion of “legacy” probably doesn’t yet apply. A legacy system refers to the distant past but print publishing isn’t in the past quite yet.

  12. Books are books irrespective of their platform, just as records have come to be known as everything from a record to an mp3 and all points in between. A record label is still a record label in this regard too — there are indie labels and corporate labels and private labels that the artists put out on their own — and I think the comparison is apt here. Publishers are publishers, irrespective of how they distribute the content. In the larger sense, I think finding a new name is just kind of silly — I mean, to put a small, fine point on it, even indie presses are corporations, most successful self publishers (like you, obviously) are corporations, too, so while there might not be the corporate structure of a Random House, there’s still a corporation there, even if it’s a corporation of one. My point being: you don’t need to give these things a new name because they are what have always been. The next thing will get the new name.

  13. Thanks for bringing Eisler’s comments to light. His reasons make perfect business sense and why anyone would be upset with his decision is beyond me. Not all of us indie authors are as ignorant as the one who made the comments you highlighted in your post.
    As an indie author I find the new ebook technology and self-publishing liberating. I chose ebooks and self-publishing simply because I have a vision for my works and I want control over the message and vision. It’s a business decision, nothing more.
    So, some of us indies indeed can get a little full of ourselves, kind of like a person new to their faith. We get excited about the possibilities, and then want everyone to share our experience. Sometimes that creates a judgmental attitude to those who don’t see things our way and when actual results vary from our high expectations (common among us self-published authors)-resentment can set in. As a result, we can make ignorant comments very easily. No need to compel indies to “get over themselves,” as the real world will do that for you.
    As a regular reader of Joe Konrath’s blog, I appreciate his views on self-publishing, which to me are more based on business reasons than dogma. Traditional books aren’t going away anytime soon and I am looking forward to the day when my book(s) are available in all formats.
    Musicians have had to contend and adapt to changing formats for decades. From vinyl, to 8-track, cassette, CD, DVD and now MP3 – music artists have adopted the format(s) in which their audiences have chosen to enjoy their works. The same is true with stories, although only recently has electronic distribution been a serious channel for authors.
    Since selling stories is a business, probably the worst part of self-publishing is the need to self-promote. So, here I must shamelessly plug my novel LIE MERCHANTS at http://www.LieMerchants.com!
    Thanks for providing some insight into the business of selling stories.

  14. Here’s the question.
    Are Amazon and, say, Random House, which are clearly both publishers, the same in all relevant aspects?
    If not, what are their relevant differences?
    And how can we reflect those relevant differences in the nomenclature we use to categorize them?
    Trucks and sedans and sports cars are all just types of automobiles. Yet no one would say, “Why do we need all this new nomenclature? They’re all just automobiles, right?”
    At a sufficiently high level of generality, everything is the same. All matter is, in the end, made of molecules. Yet we don’t refer to people and chairs and trees as “molecule conglomerations” — and that’s because the similarities are less relevant in everyday conversation than the differences. So noting the presence of similarities isn’t really the proper way to approach the nomenclature question. The nomenclature question exists because of the presence of differences.
    If you believe that Amazon and, say, Random House are in all relevant respects identical, then you won’t find any use for a system of nomenclature that distinguishes them. If you believe that in various relevant respects they’re different, you’ll search for a nomenclature that conveys those essential differences. For the reasons I note in my comment above, I think “legacy publisher” perfectly conveys the essential differentiating qualities of what are also colloquially known as The Big Six. I haven’t come up with an equivalent for what Amazon’s doing. But I’m working on it… 🙂

  15. One more thought on this that I should have come up before. Before the Internet, there were just stores. Then, with the advent of online stores, we needed nomenclature by which we could distinguish from online stores what had previously adequately been known as just “stores.” Hence the birth of the term, “brick and mortar stores.” What became known as brick and mortar stores hadn’t changed in substance; they were still what they always had been. So it’s empirically (and also, I would argue, logically) incorrect to argue that, because it is what it’s always been before, the previous thing stays with the previous name. Instead, it’s precisely when a new version of the previous thing comes along that we require a new name for the previous thing.
    There are countless other examples. What was once just paint became oil paint when acrylic came along. What was once just a bike became a road bike when racing, mountain, any hybrid bikes came along. What was once just a telephone became a landline with the advent of cellular. Etc. So I think we do need a new nomenclature for old-fashioned publishing. Whether legacy publishing is the right nomenclature might be debatable (I think it’s perfect), but with the emergence of new models the need seems hard to argue.

  16. I think that the real problem with finding appropriate definitions is that the old linear value chain in publishing is changing beyond recogition.
    Before, you had authors, agents, publisher, distributors, retailers, and readers. It was clear.
    Now you have agents becoming publishers, publishers cutting out agents, retailers moving into publishing, publishers moving into retail, and lots and lots of authors publishing themselves, many of whom sell direct to the reader.
    I think it will take a while before it all settles down, and in the end, the terms that will win out will be the ones that are most commonly used (not necessarily the ones which are most accurate).

  17. Barry, well said as always. I am hoping for nomenclature that indicates available book production services, basic compensation guidelines/choices, and I will wait until that exists to decide whether or not to venture forth into whatever indie grows up to be. The movie studios, the music industry…it’s just our turn for a shake-up and I think the big six will find ways to adjust, make better deals, go forward and compete. I think many other venues to publishing will also thrive. Choices for artists are GOOD.

  18. Just as I expected: He got the terms he wanted. That’s it. Bottom line.
    This deal not only pays handsomly, but also demonstrates an evolving business model that “legacy publishers” or “traditional publishers” (or whatever clunky term fits best – I prefer big-pub, myself)really should be looking at very closely.

  19. The bottom line is Barry Eisler got the deal he was comfortable with. Period.
    And the thing about it is that his deal not only will pay handsomely, but it also demonstrates an evolving business model that “legacy publishers” or “traditional publishers” or need to be taking copious notes on. It just might save them.
    BTW, I prefer the term ‘big-pub’.

  20. Funny, in all the hyperbole going on in the publishing world, you never hear about the audience caring or not how they recieve their consumable product, or would it matter where it comes from as long as they get it?
    Ebooks are like the new cabbage patch doll right now & Epublishing the new accessory.
    Let’s throw this out there. Say there’s this huge virus, like Sony’s Playstation store thing, that spreads to only e-readers, corrupting and destroying not only accounts, but enabling hackers to steal identities & credit card info from said e-readers/and/or/accounts. Problem discovered, hackers stopped, but not in time, eg like SPS. Now here’s the twist. Someone decides to make this their platform for traditional books & publishing and a backlash against ebooks occurs (now if people are willing to believe that the rapture was last saturday, then this senario is highly as probable) & the marketability for said items bottoms out, like markets often do. Here’s my point, how much of a bridge do you burn when you dismiss brick & mortar publishing houses, when/if the market you’ve converted over to, isn’t viable any longer?
    Things come & go in cycles, but the reality of it all is that brick & mortar has existed far longer than the current version of the internet. How does one do business without burning that bridge?
    I’m on neither side. Years ago, when I was active part of the MWA, I used to have heated discussions about the coming of new publishing systems and the need to adapt, but was never really taken to heart…funny how these things come true.


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