Samhain Publishing to close down operations, a great loss to the writing & reading community
It went through my writing community like a tsunami, the news that Samhain Publishing would close down operations. Being in Europe, I didn’t find out until after I’d woken up from my sleep on Saturday morning. First there was one post on Facebook, then two, then I realized it was all over my wall. This is big, very big. Yet I’ve never worked with Samhain, never submitted anything, although I was having some conversations with them two years ago, at GRL in Chicago, when they were still sponsoring the event. Their absence at last year’s event in San Diego was probably ominous, yet we didn’t realize it. Great company, great people, amazing books.
What are the consequences of one of the big ones in the romance space, and my beloved LGBT space, closing down? I can’s say. Will there be fewer books? Nah! I don’t think so. Will the void be filled by other publishers? Most likely. I’ve already seen other publishers step up to the plate, offering new homes to authors losing theirs. In today’s world, where most people are working as contractors and remotely, to switch allegiances is ‘easy’ (at least operationally), and I’m sure many of the editors, cover artists, proof readers and type setters will easily find other work, with other publishers. I’ve also seen many advertise their services as freelance to indie authors and self-publishers.
So is the loss of Samhain a big thing? I mean, it will, after all, not have many consequences for the industry’s day to day operations? Samhain is a big fish in Romance, and romance is one of those genres where you can still make money. That and the Top 40 business of the big five. Everything else is just a hobby these days. It is for me, it is for most of us authors these days. You can’t really live off being an author, very, very few of us can, the numbers are probably in the thousands, world-wide. Now, the easy answer is to point to Amazon and blame them. Seems everyone does it these days. My dear uncle in Switzerland, whose daughter works as a publishing assistant for a traditional Swiss publishing house was furious, and had nothing but hatred for Amazon, for killing the traditional publishing industry. Samhain, in their letter to their authors and customers, also blames Amazon. In many countries, Amazon is made to blame for everything bad that’s happening in publishing.
Yet here’s the deal: thanks to Amazon, and their one-click, buying books today is easier than it ever was before. Thanks to Amazon, e-books have seen a break-through, making the publishing of books easier, faster (and cheaper) than ever before. Statistics of book sales, author ranks etc. updated hourly and available to everyone to see. Yes, Amazon has invented a technology that is extremely disrupting to the industry, just like Apple and the iPod/iTunes once did to music. Then came Spotify, and now we have several big dragons fighting over customers with different products, solutions. Is anyone still pirating music?? That big threat that almost had the music industry cave in during the late nineties and early 2000s? Yes, but it’s not as big a problem any more. Spotify, Tidal and their counterparts offer better and easier solutions than downloading from virus-laden torrent sites. I’m hopeful that somewhere, out there, some young entrepreneur is working on a solution to disrupt the publishing industry again, a Tidal of publishing of sorts. Will it happen? Dunno. But competition is always good.
I am no adulator of Amazon. I respect their business and the fact that I can read literally tens of thousands of (gay) books if and when I choose to do so. They deserve respect for that, and I’m jealous that they don’t have a site in Sweden, because most of Amazon’s goods aren’t available for sale here. Amazon also make business easy for us authors and publishers. Let’s not forget that. No, I don’t like that they only give me 35% or 70% of the book sales. So last year, I decided to open up my own book store, right here on this web site. I printed buttons and argued for people to come to me instead. Two things happened: mostly nothing, and then I got an invoice from my accountant. As a result, I decided to close down my web shop again.
The thing is, selling a book, at $3.99 in Europe isn’t an easy thing. We have twenty-eight member states in the EU, that’s 28 (!) different VAT-levels, 28 countries to send money to (actually I don’t, my government does that, but I have to report it.) Now, for a $999 transaction, being charged a €1 from my accountant is fine. But for a $0.99 one? And what about those $3.99? That’s 30% right there, and I’m back to the Amazon 70%. But then, I also have to pay PayPal, for administering the actual financial transaction, my bank takes money whenever Amazon or PayPal deposit funds on my account, I have to pay for a fast and reliable website, I have to pay for the tools to be able to administer my book store (WordPress plugins are great, but good, reliable and stable ones aren’t cheap) etc. In the end, I realized that for the few books that I sold, it wasn’t really worth the effort.
Another thing, Amazon is really good at reaching out to customers, their brand is very well known. This very post is adding to Amazon’s brand recognition. So if you’re in the U.S., where most of my books are being sold, and you are looking for a new book to read, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Yeah, probably not hirschi.se, but Amazon.com. And that is true, not only for me, but also for most publishers, no matter how large they are. Because if you’re looking for the new novel from XYZ, you may not even know who the publisher is. But you’ll easily find it on Amazon.
Now, is Amazon perfect? No. Are they easy to deal with? Hell no! Are they humble? Are you shitting me? They’re arrogant, self-loving sons of bitches the lot of them. There are human exceptions, but to even get to deal with a human being at Amazon is almost like turning water to wine. And I hear they are a really lousy employer, so the humans at Amazon are scared little corporate minions. Why? Well, consider that the next time you buy a full novel for $0.99! Amazon is no different than say Walmart. We love it because it’s cheap, but that cheap comes at a price, and that price is extortion and abuse, people who cannot survive on what they make at their work, relying on food stamps, trampling of labor unions, tax breaks and what not. Yet still, Amazon is barely profitable.
As readers and consumers, we can’t expect to buy a product for $0.99 and go home with a good conscience. We can’t. Because it does not allow the author to make a living, it does not allow the publisher to make a living and thus nobody in the chain. Amazon barely makes a living! Disruptive technology is great, and I would personally never change back the wheels of time. But as consumers, we have to consider the consequences of our actions, our choices.
If we love the authors whose book we devour, and we want them to be able to provide us with more great literature to read, is it really fair of us to only pay them $0.99 for all the work they put in? Let me remind you, that of the $0.99, 50% stays with Amazon, even with big publishers, and we all know that authors can expect about 20-30% at best from a traditional publisher. This leaves the author with $0.14 per sold book. Even at $3.99, that’s still only $0.59 for the author. Not a lot of money for months and months of work. You’d have to sell 85K books at sixty cents to make 50K, which isn’t a great salary, is it? Or a whooping 357K at 14 cents. And how many of us do?
I’m not complaining. I’m merely stating facts, and while we can argue percentages and prices, the overall ball park remains the same. Do I have the solution to this conundrum? No. It’s been discussed for years (I recall this very topic being discussed two years ago in London), but I think in the long run, the publishing industry will morph into something similar to the music industry, where the successful authors are paid not primarily for their books, but for appearances, gigs, just like the big music acts are. Mark my words: the successful authors. Not all of us, not even a fraction of us, just a minuscule number of people. Not every garage band becomes the next big act, and as authors, most of us will need to live with the fact that we don’t make money to pay our bills, ever. We write, we publish (and Amazon’s certainly made that very easy and convenient), not because we’re in for it for the money, but because we don’t really have a choice. The words that pour out of us simply need to come out, and our readers love us for it. But we can’t expect readers to pay $10 bucks for an e-book, not as long as there are other authors out there willing to sell their books for 10% of that, and there are, lots of them. I’ve met too many readers who say “I never pay more than a buck for a book”, or “I’ll never buy a book under xx pages for more than a buck” or what not. This is what the industry looks like, and if you can’t operate under these premises, then you shouldn’t, and you won’t (for long.) For small publishers in niche industries, the need to be nimble, quick-footed and slim is more pressing than ever. Samhain may be the latest victim, but they’re not going to be the last one. Their place has already been taken by others. Some will succeed, others fail. The best way to succeed is to not blame Amazon, but to adapt, to beat them at their own game. It’s a case of survival of the fittest…
If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers. You’re more than welcome to interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube (have you seen my Vlog from the author cave?), and/or Instagram.
Have a wonderful week.