A Roundabout Post on Business Models

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Have just emerged from the crucible where many loose threads have either been cut off or knotted; some much longer than others. Overall? I’m good. Very good. Planning on a tattoo (if I’m not a wus, find a great artist, and get past the pain part of it…), slowly but surely unpacking my art supplies, and getting back into a routine after weeks of upheaval and changes. I’ve realized that “c” word–change–is very scary to a lot of people, because it often means that you have to take someone from point A to the unknown. Sometimes, folk double down because it’s easier to dig your heels in than open up your ears and listen to someone else. That means you need to admit that you’re wrong or, as is the case with business models, you’re required to change more than you bargained for.

Hence the reason for my post today. Possibly more about my own musings than anything else, but it’s been bugging me so there you be. You see, there seems to be a new-old growing emphasis on worrying about how one gets published. It’s either self or agency with nothing in between. Some writers position themselves and incorporate their platforms as a self-publishing or traditional advocate–even though themselves may opt to do the opposite later on down the road. This, dear readers, is called “marketing.” It is marketing the dream that anyone can be a best-selling novelist at any time–all you have to do is take these easy steps…which should sound familiar because it is. “How to Get Published and Become a Best-Selling Novelist” is an old conversation. It is nothing new. This is just the latest iteration.

The problem, however, is that there are a lot of falsehoods that often circulate. On the internet, there is no middle ground. Nobody can take a fair and safe and balanced road with respect to a charged topic without falling into obscurity, because this is the way the medium works and reams of data proves this, too. Nobody can make a mistake, either, for that sticks around forever. This is how/why bad information gets shared and popularized–especially when it comes to the Great Mystery of Internet Retail. No one cares if something is true or not, what seems to matter is whether or not that statement is popular and somehow…if a bunch of jackalopes believe it…well then by golly you better, too. Selling anything online is known to those of us who have worked on the trade side, but seems to conjure up all sorts of cyber demons for everyone else.

This should come as no surprise to anyone, but most (if not all) internet retailers are in the business to sell their products for a profit, and often seek to increase their earnings every year. One way to do this is to cut out the publisher altogether because the margins are better all around and a retailer has more control over rates on that level. In short, in this model all writers become publishers under the new terms which may be subject to changes at any time. With no publisher to speak of, an internet retailer doesn’t have to negotiate. They just do. Here, timing is key. When the first obstacle is removed, then the writers have no choice but to deal with the new terms.

Is this philosophy evil? I don’t really think of this as evil or good since no animals are being sacrificed to Beezlebub in the process; this is a method of doing business by scrutinizing one’s bottom line and setting a certain expectation as to how much money is enough. Which? Yes, greed can/does happen. I do think this methodology can/will be problematic long-term, as I prefer to see healthy competition instead of monopolies, and this method undoubtedly means I’ll have to write more than I would have in the past in order to earn the same amount.

Only offering my book via “a” dominant retailer concerns me because I’m in this for the long haul. I cannot compete with everyone else on “a” site unless I put out more, and more output for the same money is maddening. One would think that I could retire eventu—HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH! More outlets for me to sell my books/games, etc. is better for me as a writer and a consumer, because more choices equates to better business decisions on my end, both buying and selling. I want options. Hence, part of the reason why I now prefer print and eBook distribution to digital only releases, because print distribution opens up more markets for me. (Comics not so much, given the changes there and the threshold I’ll have to achieve. It’s not impossible, but still…)

Each retailer’s shopping cart may vary, but in several cases everything that you see on a major retailer’s website can be manipulated either programmatically or by hand. (Smaller shopping carts typically have fewer options.) So any third party data that is gleaned off the website is pretty much useless, because some of these changes are so sophisticated they can be manipulated based on the time of day, region, etc. What’s more: scraping data, which is used by spammers, doesn’t always/can’t get everything. The margin of error is so big, it’s not normally adapted as a trusted method of obtaining data, and when it is? The conclusions based of this faulty data do a lot more harm than good.

To conduct tests for website analytics in particular, there is usually a control period set up for A/B testing where no conclusions are made to watch the patterns and regular traffic. (Keeping in mind that there is no standardization of terms for web analytics. Definitions vary widely.) Most often, one-offs in web analytics turn out to be anomalies. What the vast majority of web analysts care about is not the one-off stories, but trends and comparative analysis against other websites. Deeper analysis often includes how a site’s products are bought, like pay-per-click advertising, referrals, affiliates, etc. What’s more, it is highly unusual to provide such analyses anonymously, given that there is a lot of junk data that’s out there.

When any publisher also becomes a retailer, this can introduce a conflict-of-interest as the internet retailer is now in direct competition with the publisher on a product-by-product level. There is no possible way for any publisher to “compete” with an internet retailer on a sales level unless that publisher also opens up their own store or offers an affiliate store from a trusted partner. Which, honestly? I’d encourage all publishers to seriously consider this (if they haven’t already) and to hire employees with a strong background in internet retail–not just selling books, but specifically eCommerce. I feel that this level of competition is not only healthy, but it will drive innovation and benefit readers, too.

Mind you, there are many different business models that come into play when it comes to online or even offline sales. I dove into one, so let’s look at another. The OneBookShelf sites, for example, (e.g. DriveThruRPG.com, DriveThruComics.com, and DriveThruFiction.com) put the power of the online sale back into the publisher’s hands and all them to opt in/opt out for site-wide promotions. Here, publishers control the prices. OBS also shares data with publishers on a site-wide basis so you can clearly see what the trends are. The question is why? Well, publishers on the site have the power to do what they want with their products. They have on-site data access, earn points for on-site marketing promotions, and a number of other techniques they’ve been using for over ten years. So for OBS, it’s more beneficial to create partnerships with publishers, because as the publisher achieves greater success, then OBS benefits, too. The disclaimer here being: yes, many of my games and a few of my stories are sold through these sites and I have a working relationship with them. For a different view, you can always read Simon’s write-up about this topic, too.

Anyway, that’s just a very brief look at internet retail on a 10,000 foot level. My point? When it comes to these discussions…indie, trad, etc…. These aren’t and shouldn’t be black-and-white ideologies. What works for you may not work for someone else, and sometimes even I need to remind myself of that given the ferociousness of how one-true-wayisms are presented online. At no point do I ever want to hear a writer or publisher “should” make a specific decision when it comes to their career or modus operandi. I do think that it’s important to look at long-term goals, however, because short-term decisions for the sake of a temporary gain could be very harmful in the long run. People who work on the trade side of the publishing industry–they know their shit. Personally, my money’s on what they know from their experiences selling books for 100s if not 1000s of writers and not on what the internet is telling me. But that’s just me.

    Mood: Zen. I found it!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Two and a half.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: HAH HAH HAH
    In My Ears: “Playing” Along by Keane
    Game Last Played: Age of Reckoning: Kingdoms of Amalur–I’m out of lock picks. DAMODAR!!!
    Book Last Read: Re-reading His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman
    Movie Last Viewed: Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
    Latest Artistic Project: Been touching up things around the house. Does that count?
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Mortal Remains
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, short stories, and novels.

Flotsam and Jetsam. Not Eels.

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Been a while since I’ve blogged, and I’m very sorry about that. Have been neck-deep in a maelstrom of change, deadlines, and life upheavals. With the dust settling, let’s just say that I’m a touch behind… Our new place is great (everyone here treats us like gold) and we’ve managed to get the kitchen, master bath, and living room up-and-running. The rest of it, though? HAH, HAH, HAH! Still need to sort through my art supplies and get caught up with “Oh, I should have done that years ago.” For example, to decorate the broom I made I bought these gothic mini-book charms from Etsy. Gee, maybe I should have polished that camping axe in 2008? Yeah, that. Welcome to the Land of Mundania. All these things I conveniently forget–and now have to deal with. Otherwise? How can I be expected to make messes start anything new? Hee.

As you know, we’ve been working on the Firefly RPG launch. I have some news to share on that front. Here’s a picture of a pallet of corebooks being crated for safe shipping! Huzzah!

Firefly RPG Corebook

We’ll be making some announcements soon. I’m pretty sure you’re going to flip out and be supremely thrilled with what we’ve got going on–especially since the corebook will be available internationally! In the meantime, our friends at DriveThruRPG.com are having a big Christmas in July sale through Monday. The Firefly RPG line is 25% off in digital. Shiny! I was thrilled to find an actual play video courtesy of Matthew Tyler-Jones where a shiny Crew dives into my Episode, Friends in Low Places.

Speaking of DriveThruRPG.com, I have a new book out! Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters is climbing up the charts. Twenty-three writers and game designers, including yours truly, contributed to this book of essays. Check it out!

In other news, I’ve put down the beads and music and artwork (Yes, this is me hanging my head in shame for…sadly…I have not unpacked those yet… But I DID win a design-a-onesie contest! Don’t ask, it was an alternate universe.) and picked up my controller. My anti-stress relief has been Age of Reckoning: Kingdoms of Amalur. I am min/maxing this game like nobody’s business. Haven’t gone to jail yet–this is a good thing, mind you. But, I like the side quests and all the surprises that are in store for me. Does it have a mini-map. YES. Does it have a world map. YES. Does it have a local map. YES. Can you improve your relationship with merchants over time. YES. Can you give the villains a serious beat down? YES. I think it’s a good prep for my winter play-through of the game with no end: Skyrim. Here, the gameplay is like a cross between Dragon Age and Skyrim, which is really good for somebody like myself who hasn’t played World of Warcraft.

I should probably get back to writing since (you guessed it) I’m behind. The GOOD news is that I finally reached the point where I’m having so much fun I’m writing in my sleep again. THIS IS AN EXCELLENT THING. I may pretend to be a planner, but really? I’m a pantser. When I’m having a blast, that’s when all the crazy comes together to be unraveled… And there’s a lot more coming. Hee.

BEFORE I GO… (Are you sick of me yet?) I kinda sorta had a moment of: “I want to do something awesome for my cat, Rimmon.” Black cats are the least adopted out of all the felines simply because they have black fur. This superstition is rooted in 19th century advertising for Halloween and may stretch back even further, based on the fact that black cats in particular have a very distinctive cry and were thought to be witch’s familiars because of it. Their cry evolved so sympathetic humans would bow to our feline overlords put out food for them at night. Because of the superstition surrounding their black fur, most shelters won’t allow them to be adopted during the month of October due to a long and sordid history of abuse. **NOT** COOL.

Anyway, in response to all this, friend and cartoonist Ursula Murray Husted made this for me, for the Black Cat Society. The link’ll take you to her Tumblr page. We’ve also got a BCS: Black Cat Society FB Group set up, and if you’re a proud owner or appreciator of black cats? You can join us! I’ll be adding the links to the sidebar on my blog, too.

BCS Black Cat Society

That’s all for now! Back to the grindstone…

    Mood: Guilt of a 1,000 Freelancers
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: There can never be only one.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Well? Um…
    In My Ears: There’s a fan. And Lady Crescent Moondragon’s tank.
    Game Last Played: Age of Reckoning: Kingdoms of Amalur–with realistic corpse-twitching!
    Book Last Read: A stack of gaming books for work.
    Movie Last Viewed: Huh… *scratches head*
    Latest Artistic Project: Cue dead silence.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Mortal Remains
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, short stories, and novels.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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