Indie Publishing Looks More Appealing by the Day

Seriously, now.  Apple has instituted a 30% structure for booksellers that sucks big time (and they’ve been doing this in other services, too, leaving me disgusted enough that I chose to go with a PC when considering a new computer). It now turns out that iflowreader, a leading iTunes bookseller, is having to close down because of Apple’s greedy structure on top of the “agency” model that Apple instituted for any publishers who want to sell on iOS. What does that mean? I’ll let iFlow’s words speak for me:

Where did the agency model come from and what is it? The agency model was created by Apple who made it a requirement for any publisher who wished to sell books through Apple’s iBooks app. The agency model has three key points:

  • The publisher is now the retailer of record. The company selling the eBook to the end user is an “agent” of the retailer who receives a commission on the sale.
  • All sales agents are required to sell books at the same retail price, which is set by the publisher. No one can sell at a different price.
  • All sales agents get a 30% commission on the sale of a book. No one gets a different deal. Prior to the agency model, publishers typically offered retailers a 50% discount.
The key point here is that all sellers now get a 30% commission and Apple now wants a 30% fee, which is all of our gross margin and then some. The six largest publishers have now all adopted the agency model. These publishers account for nearly 90% of all ebooks sold. Random House was the last publisher to adopt the agency model, which they did on March 1 of this year. You may have noticed that all 17,000 Random House titles disappeared from our catalog on February 28. They appeared in Apple’s iBooks catalog the following day.  We, as well as all other small booksellers, have yet to complete an agency agreement with Random House. Up until February 28, these were our most profitable items because we were still getting a 50% discount on these ebooks. With an eight-hour notice, all of these titles disappeared from our store as well as the stores of all other small ebook sellers.

I’m shaking my head over here.  I suppose the Big Six are doing what they feel they have to do to survive on the platform with the biggest install base, but it feels like such a regressive move, the kind of stuff the RIAA pulled when it was trying to come to terms with the digital age (and failing miserably). I have high hopes for the publishing industry to come through this looking a lot better than the music industry, even now, but I am starting to seriously wonder if the old publishing house setup can be salvaged.

Let me clarify that I’m not that upset about the 30% margin the publishers are giving to the sellers (although the agent system sucks in not allowing sellers to offer discounts); 30% is pretty damn good on retail sales.  My concern with the publishers here is instead the way they went about this, bending to Apple’s demands without trying to negotiate a better deal and, in one particular case, pulling their entire library from iFlow with 8 hours notice.

I’m still trying to make it within the confines of the old system in the interest of a larger readership, but I’m beginning to wonder if maybe finding a nice little indie publisher or, hell, even self-publishing, might be the way to go. I know that self-publishing has a terrible reputation, and for pretty good reason, but that’s changing, and I sure as hell know that my own standards for quality are pretty high when it comes to writing and publishing.

Just to clarify, I’m not going on anti-publishing industry or anti-Apple rant here. It’s their businesses, they’re clearly free to do what they want within their market so long as it’s legal. I just find these methods pretty distasteful.

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