2021 Income Sources

In 2019 and 2020, I published posts on where folks buy my books. People seem interested, so I’m doing it again for 2021. I suspect that covid is skewing the data, but perhaps this is simply the new normal.

My income still comes from writing books. I don’t consult. I don’t generally accept speaking fees. (I did make a couple hundred bucks speaking to a lunchtime crowd at a big tech firm this year, but that was a rare event and I have no particular desire to do it again.) I desire to make my living as an author, creating and licensing intellectual property. For the writers out there, I’m a hybrid wide author. I want my books available in every channel that offers reasonable terms.

How did 2021 look?

  • Amazon – 33.94%
  • Royalties – 17.74%
  • Direct sales – 15.63%
  • Ingramspark – 8.15%
  • Kickstarter – 6.38%
  • Patreon – 4.68%
  • Sponsorships – 4.42%
  • Direct patronizers – 4.24%
  • Gumroad – 1.91%
  • Apple – 1.05%
  • Kobo – 0.61%
  • Aerio – 0.57%
  • Google – 0.32%
  • Draft2Digital – 0.27%
  • tips – 0.13%
  • Barnes & Noble – 0.07%
  • Redbubble – 0.05%

Everything that’s listed here is part of my deliberate publishing strategy. My minuscule affiliate income and other minor streams are excluded. I use them, and every so often someone drops fifty bucks in my bank account, but they are not part of my strategy.

Amazon is still my biggest single distributor. I do not prioritize them, or use their exclusive programs like Kindle Unlimited. Indeed, I want to reduce the amount I sell through Amazon and increase other channels. This percentage is basically unchanged since last year. It appears to be the natural floor. Next year might be different, though. OpenBSD Storage Mastery will be on Amazon in print, but not on Kindle. Kindle users will be able to buy Kindle versions in lots of places, just not on Amazon.

Royalties are traditional publishing income. This is slightly up from last year, thanks to me selling short stories to Fiction River as well as the Absolute books going into Humble Bundles. Can’t knock that.

Direct sales are up a few points over 2020, which was up a few points over 2019. Good. Disintermediation remains my primary goal. Increasing this share makes me happy. I will continue to improve my bookstore to make this easier.

On the other paw, my IngramSpark share is down. IS handles non-Amazon print sales. People are not visiting bookstores, so this is not a surprise.

Kickstarter is a new category for me. It worked. This category is a little weird, though. While the other channels are raw income, this bucket includes the money I must spend to print and ship books. I plan to experiment more with Kickstarter, and perhaps even offer Kickstarter-like functionality on my own store.

At first glance, it looks like income from my Patronizers has plunged since 2020. Look a little further down, though, and you’ll see the share of income from my direct patronage makes up for it. My experiment in offering direct patronage sales hasn’t quite broken even, but it’s been successful enough that I’m willing to give it another year and see if I can grow it. Even if I can’t boost that any further, diversifying patronage sources and disintermediating roughly half of my backers is inherently worthwhile.

My Patronizers get a horrid deal, by the way. I don’t recommend it. But I appreciate every single Patronizer.

Sponsorship income is down, but I only had one book on sponsorship in 2020. If I want more sponsors, I must write more. That’s a goal for 2022. I’ll be using pre-scheduled Internet blocking software to reduce distraction.

I’m not going to go through the other channels one at a time. I will quote Blaze Ward in saying, “them nickles spend.” My comments on all of these are basically unchanged from previous years. I do wish Barnes and Noble would rise from the dead, though. I fondly remember wandering through their shelves, and deciding I would rather read a favorite author’s new book than eat.

So, to sum up:

  • If I lost any one channel, I would endure (yay)!
  • Disintermediate. Sell as directly to your customers as possible.
  • Try new things. Like Kickstarter. Or dropping Amazon Kindle as a distributor for a new book.

What else is coming up in 2022? More books. Print price increases. Gelato. Staying home, making words, and avoiding unclean idiots who choose to not get vaccinated.

Screwing Up, and Recovering

I scheduled an all-Patronizer video hangout for last Saturday, and didn’t show up. This is obviously unacceptable. I’ve already apologized to my Patronizers on the various sites they back me on, but I wanted to blog about dealing with this kind of screwup.

The root cause was pretty simple: my house has been full of workmen for several days, busting concrete and ripping out walls to fix a tiny leak in 70-year-old plumbing. It was either that, or let the bathroom fall into the basement. I am not accustomed to jackhammers under my feet. My nerves were, to put it mildly, frayed. I completely forgot about the video hangout, and decided to go to the dojo to work off some stress. I remembered about the hangout right before parking.

How do I keep this from happening again, and minimize the impact in case I do?

First, I have installed Zoom on my phone. If I forget about a hangout, I can now join from anywhere.

Second, my most consistent attendee now has my phone number. If I’m 15 minutes late to a hangout, he will call me.

Third, I must ensure that when I create the meeting in Zoom, the waiting room is disabled. If I don’t show up for hangout, people can talk to each other while my Designated External Memory calls to poke me. I’m looking for a way to make this the default for all meetings I create, because any process that relies on my brain is doomed to fail.

I have already scheduled a make-up hangout for next Saturday, so that my Patronizers can chide me in person.

When I became a full-time writer, I thought I would leave root cause failure analysis and remediation behind. Silly me.

My Bookstore Now Using a CDN

When you buy ebooks direct from me via tiltedwindmillpress.com, your books will now be delivered via BookFunnel. After a purchase, they’ll send you an email containing your download links.

Why make this change after eight years? In short, customer service.

BookFunnel can help you sideload books onto your weird ereader. I cannot. Bookfunnel can cope with weird network issues more easily than I can. They have an actual support staff and multiple delivery channels, where TWP has me and I’d rather be writing. I should have made this change a few years ago, but the barely adequate is the enemy of the better.

The only personal information BookFunnel collects is your email address, so they can maintain a library of all the books you’ve bought and let you re-download them.

It also means I won’t be firing up tcpdump as you try to download your book, because your telco has a weird proxy server that chokes on zip files. Which is a clear win for everyone.

Kickstarter Campaign Results

My small, low-risk trial of Kickstarter, where I hoped to raise $500? It 1768% funded.

I guess there’s a demand for this book?

My back-of-an-envelope math says that my total expenses will be about half of that. I’ll keep detailed notes, of course, but for a work with no obvious audience in a field where I’m not known, Kickstarter made writing DYB not a financial loss. Plus I’ve learned how Kickstarter works and how to assemble videos.

DYB is due back from copyedit in mid-December. With anything resembling luck, I’ll have the ebook for backers and Patronizers before the end of the month. Print will take longer.

My copyeditor has requested that I not send her two of my books simultaneously. (Other people’s sure. But not mine.) Once DYB returns, I’ll punt the DNSSEC over.

Will I do another Kickstarter? I’ll probably Kickstart a short fiction collection next year. If that works, I might both Kickstart and sponsor the OpenBSD storage book.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m off to get BookFunnel integrated into my bookstore so I can send people some books…

640% Kickstarter, Sponsorships, and Shipping

In forty-eight hours, my experimental Kickstarter funded six hundred and forty percent.

Those of you who told me so, may now commence declaring that you told me so.

I am considering using Kickstarter for future books, in combination with my sponsorship program. (Sponsors pay me while I’m still writing the book.) The sponsor program will never go away, mind you. My end goal is reader disintermediation; I want folks coming directly to me for their books, instead of buying through Amazon or whoever. Sponsorship is the culmination of disintermediation. But sponsorship is for dedicated readers, while Kickstarter attracts casual ones. I’m thinking that I’ll use sponsorship to pay bills as I write, while Kickstarter will pay the bills of publishing. I’ll have to figure out how to make any sponsor books more precious than the Kickstarter ones, though. Maybe a special SPONSOR EDITION note on the cover.

One wrinkle with Kickstarter that’s raised a bunch of questions, though, is shipping. Overseas shipping costs are EXPENSIVE. They are set by my experience with sponsor gifts.

When it comes to shipping books internationally, the US post office provides three options.

  1. Media Mail. I can get it just about anywhere in the world for less than $10. No international tracking. No guarantee of delivery. Might take months or years. Those container ships moored outside every port in the world, waiting months for an opportunity to unload? There are Media Mail packages adrift in every one.
  2. First class mail. Costs $25 +/- $5-ish. Delivery guaranteed, eventually. Might take months. I can complain to the post office, and they’ll fill out a form. What they’ll do with that form is another issue.
  3. International Priority Mail. Costs about $40 ($30 to Canada). Ouch. Delivers within a week or two, sort of guaranteed. Insured. Complaints are taken mostly seriously.

I normally use First Class mail.

Ever since the pandemic started, sponsor gifts anywhere outside the USA keep going astray. Thanks to the tracking number I am able to watch packages bounce between, say, Chicago and London, England. I don’t know if the actual package keeps circling or if the computer is confused, but either way the sponsor does not get their gift. This is unacceptable. If some maniac generous soul puts food on my table as I write the book, my ethics declare that I must get their thank-you gift to them. Asking the post office staff for a better solution gets me the same answer every time: Use International Priority Mail.

Delivery failures are not my fault, but they are my responsibility. Here in the USA, a backer with a tracking number can contact the Post Office themselves. That’s not an option for a backer in Farawayistan. I must be able to investigate and resolve problems. That means tracking. I elected to go with Priority Mail all around this time, so that any complaints merit more than a tally in a database.

I would prefer to offer backers shipping options like “Would you like cheap ‘I promise to ship it, good luck getting it and I can’t help you’ or expensive ‘will arrive ASAP’?” Kickstarter does not offer that flexibility.

When I offer OpenBSD Storage Mastery for sponsorship, I will offer that choice. Sponsors already accept some risk–if I drop dead while writing the book, they’re out of luck. 1 Some of them will choose the cheap mail, probably the same people who tell me not to ship them a gift.

My Inevitable(?) Amazon Tech Ebook Exit

Warning: publishing business book neepery ahead, as I try to figure out a problem. It includes a bunch of tedious ground-laying. I also round many prices to the nearest dollar.

I am specifically talking about nonfiction here. The fiction business is different. (That’s the problem.)

Amazon’s Payment Model

Amazon’s direct publishing program, KDP, is one of several distribution channels that allows writers to reach audiences without going through a publisher. KDP is the largest such distributor. In any business, the largest distributor uses its power to impose extra rules that benefit it. One of those is the ebook royalty structure, which is dictated by the ebook’s price. Ebooks priced up to $2.98, the author gets paid 35% of cover price for each sale. From $2.99 to $9.99, the author makes 70%. At $10 and up, they make 35% again. (Traditional publishers have a different structure.) Authors also pay delivery fees, so the actual payment is a little less than that. Amazon clearly wants ebooks to be priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Other distributors might have limits at the bottom end, but generally pay 65% to 80% — and nobody else has this artificial $9.99 cap.

Amazon agreements have a Most Favored Nation clause where they can price match any other distributor. If an ebook is $9.99 at Amazon and $4.99 at Apple, Amazon can cut their price to match.

If I price an ebook at $9.99, I make about $7 at any distributor.

If I price that same ebook at $14.99, I make about $10 everywhere but Amazon, and $4.50 at Amazon.

In short, ebook prices of $10-$19.99 are a “dead zone” that benefits nobody but Amazon. I must price my book over $20 to make more per sale than I would by pricing at $9.99.

Novels versus Tech Books

Tech books are fundamentally different from novels. Writing tech books takes a different skill set than novels, and the potential audience is different. Amazon treats the two identically, to tech authors’ detriment.

I can write a mid-size novel in about a month, barring debacle. (Yes, other writers are different, I know.) I spent about a year researching and writing SNMP Mastery and another writing TLS Mastery.

The maximum potential audience for each type of book is very different. A novel’s maximum potential audience is effectively unlimited. It might sell ten copies or fifty thousand copies. A lucky few sell millions. The maximum potential audience for a tech book is far, far smaller. I will be thrilled to unreasoning giggles if SNMP Mastery sells five thousand copies.

Every author knows this going in. $ git commit murder might sell a million copies. It won’t, of course, but it might.

Compare a $5.99 novel ($4 payment) to one of my $9.99 ($7 payment) tech books. Fifty thousand readers for that novel nets about $200,000. My five thousand readers at $7 each is about $35,000. That is not much for a year’s highly skilled work.

Kindle Unlimited

Amazon really pushes authors towards their Kindle Unlimited program. This is a flat rate subscription program, where authors get paid on the number of pages read. Books must be exclusive to Amazon, however. If someone reads a novel, they read every page. If someone grabs a tech book, they might read only one chapter. I design my books to be read from front to back, letting the reader build a comprehensive body of knowledge on the topic, but I know dang well some of you read one chapter and fuddle through without context. The KU program as it is currently structured is hostile to authors and non-Amazon readers alike, and I will not participate. That post is several years old, but the basics haven’t changed.

Additionally, I can destroy the career of any author in KU by setting up my own instance of scam software and aiming it at them. It would cost a couple hundred bucks of cloud computing and a couple days of my time, sure, but any number of the folks I’ve pissed off by insisting that women exist in tech would gleefully pay that to take me out. (As an aside, that’s the same reason my print books are non-returnable despite several bookstores requesting otherwise. I don’t know that enough of my haters are adept enough in the publishing biz to run the Returnable Books Exploit, but I can’t take that risk.)

Finally, consider the word monopsony.

The smaller maximum audience size, combined with techie reading habits, makes Kindle Unlimited absolute death for my tech books.

Mastery Book Goals

Most tech books are huge. I wanted to write shorter tech books that dive deeply into narrow aspects of system administration. I saw a gap that $9.99 ebooks would fill nicely. The books would be about 30,000-45,000 words each, and cover what every sysadmin must know about the material. The argument over whether or not the books achieve that is best had over a drink, but that’s the goal.

Some of my topics were poorly chosen. SNMP Mastery wound up at over 60,000 words. I looked at the completed book and thought: a fair price on this would be $14.99. If I do that, though, I make less on each ebook sale at Amazon. I might figure out how to survive that. I would not survive thinking of Amazon making more off my work for purely arbitrary reasons.

The books must be fairly priced, both for you and for me. I won’t ever get wealthy writing tech books, but if I don’t pay the bills I’ll have to go to work for someone else. They must be a win-win purchase.

Long Term Pricing

Prices increase over time. This is not a surprise.

Consider the cost of tech books through the years. Ebooks should not be priced the same as print books, and booksellers discount print books, but print books have the MSRP on the cover so they’re a decent yardstick for measuring scale of change. My books Absolute BSD, Absolute FreeBSD, and Absolute OpenBSD are all about the same size and have similar audiences.

These books cost $39.95 in the 2000s, and $59.95 in the 2010s. I expect them to hit (ugh) $79.95 in the 2020s.

Amazon is fairly rare among dot-coms in that it started off thinking very long-term. Its long term goal is to make books inexpensive, just like they make everything inexpensive. They’re not looking at 2021, they’re looking at 2030 and 2050.

Why would they ever eliminate the dead zone? Keeping it fits their long term goals. I would like to be wrong, but I’m pretty confident the $9.99 hurdle is perpetual.

The Future
Writers might not need pants, but we do need health care and gelato and caffeine. The price of the Mastery ebooks must eventually increase, along with everything else. This change is not imminent, but I can see the day approaching and am considering strategies against it.

My main options for “price increases above $9.99” seem to be:

  1. Drop Amazon Kindle for all new books. Amazon’s print book description would have near the top: “Due to Amazon’s discriminatory treatment of technology authors, ebook versions are available everywhere except Amazon.” I don’t know how long that note would survive, but I would take great satisfaction in posting it. It might alienate Kindle fans, though.
  2. Increase prices into the $10-$19.99 dead zone, and hope that my proceeds on other distributors overcome my Amazon losses. Theoretically possible, but rewards Amazon for discriminating against tech book authors.
  3. Artificially increase the price above $20 on all platforms. If I need to make $10 on each ebook sold at Amazon, I could increase the ebook price to $30. Thanks to the Most Favored Nation clause, the price must be identical on all platforms. I think $30 is an unfairly high price for SSH Mastery or even the overly long SNMP Mastery. Not a win-win, I won’t do it.

Other options do exist, like release windows, but these are the primary strategies. Of them, numbers two and three are unacceptable.

Decision Factors

If you look at my 2020 income, Amazon is my single biggest source, at 36%. My Amazon sales are pretty evenly split between print and ebook. Let’s call it 18% each. Taking an 18% pay cut would suck. Some of those readers would buy elsewhere, sure, but businesses must be pessimistic. For my calculations, and my laziness, let’s say Kindle is 20%.

(Dear tech author friends: don’t use my numbers. What percent of your sales are on Kindle? Do you know? And yes, I’m a freaking unicorn, I get it.)

Let’s say I write another tech book that should be priced fairly at $15, and examine it in three scenarios based on a baseline 1000 ebook sales.

Scenario 1: I price this book at $9.99, and sell 1000 ebooks across all platforms. I make $7 per book, and make $7000.

Scenario 2: I drop Kindle. I make $10 on each sale through every platform except Amazon, but sell only 800 books. I make $8000.

Scenario 3: I keep Kindle, but price at $14.99. I make $8900, at the price of feeding Amazon’s anti-tech-author discrimination. Plus, they make about $2000.

Is my annoyance at Amazon’s bottleneck practices worth $900? Is reader convenience worth $900? How about the two of them combined, against an “I win, you win, Amazon WINS BIG” situation? Good questions.

So what’s my actionable plan?

  • Write shorter tech books that can be fairly priced at $9.99. (We all know how I will fail, but it’s a goal.)
  • Watch inflation.
  • Continue disintermediating readers.
  • Steer readers that cannot be disintermediated to distributors other than Amazon.

I wrote this post to try to figure out the Kindle exit conditions. I guess I’ve already hit them. Or, I sell out for a few hundred bucks. Those folks who know the technologies I write about will understand that ethics matter to me, though.

This might get interesting…

“DNSSEC Mastery, 2nd Edition” Open for Sponsorships

I’ve started making words on a new edition of DNSSEC Mastery.

After weeks of folks repeatedly asking when they can sponsor it, I have an answer other than “later.” Sponsorships are open now. Eddie Sharam will be doing the cover, as usual.

If you’ve just come across my sponsorships, here’s the deal. You give me money before I’ve produced anything suitable for human consumption. In return, I put your name in the book. $25 or more gets your name in the epub and mobi ebook versions, while $100 or more gets your name in the print and electronic versions. (The PDF version is straight from the print, so while it’s technically an ebook you need to have print-level sponsorship to appear in there.)

For the record: yes, I consider sponsorships something of an open scam. There’s no way you get enough benefit from a sponsorship to merit the cause. They’re a throwback to the medieval patronage system, where folks with money supported artists they considered worthwhile. Or, if you prefer: you give me money your excess cash, and write it off as a business expense.

On the other hand, I got bills. So here it is.

If you want to trickle money to me, rather than big lumps, I offer monthly patronage opportunities at both Patreon and my e-bookstore.

Or, just go to your favorite bookstore and buy my books. That’s all the support I need.

the Write Stuff bundle, featuring: me!

My book Cash Flow for Creators lays out exactly how I make a living in this deranged business. You can get your own copy for a paltry $6.99.

Right now, you can get it for $5 as part of the 2021 Write Stuff Bundle at Storybundle. Plus three other books and classes on building a career from your craft. That’s even cheaper than my usual cheap. Or you can spend $20, and get ten excellent business books from people who know what they’re doing, who make a living with their craft, and who are cheerfully sharing how to do the same.

I’m delighted to be in this bundle, and not just because bundle curator Kris Rusch called Cash Flow for Creators “one of the most important books you’ll read all year.” (Mind you, I’m gonna keep that quote in a safe place so that when the world catches on to what a complete doofus I am, I can take it out and cuddle it.) But there’s some top-notch writers and business people in this bundle.

Johanna Rothman is best known as a business and technology consultant. She also writes charming heart-warming stories that remind me of fairy tales for some reason, because they’re totally not fairy tales. Except when they are. I’ve met Johanna at several conferences, and for a quiet and unassuming itty-bitty lady she knows how to put herself out there. I’d absolutely listen to her on getting speaking slots at a conference. Or, in this case, read her Writing a Conference Proposal the Conference Wants and Accepts.

Joanna Penn writes top-notch fiction and hosts the Creative Penn podcast. I was lucky enough to have lunch with her at a conference on the Oregon coast a few years ago and frankly, I have no idea how she gets the energy to do half of her stuff. She’s a smart people, and has built one heck of a creative business doing this weird… what’s that word? Oh, yes. “Planning.” Something I constantly and consistently fail to do. I really ought to perform the exercises in Your Author Business Plan. I should also take her advice that I need to weasel my way onto more podcasts, because the whole “wait patiently for invitations” thing doesn’t work well.

Stefon Mears once worked in computing, but he got better. I’ve known him for years, and the interesting thing about Stefon? It’s not his obsessive Blue Öyster Cult fandom, though that is one of his better traits. It’s not even that I once made him laugh so hard that bystanders asked if he was having a seizure and if they should call an ambulance. It’s that he’s just this guy, and he keeps writing book after book after book in the grand pulp tradition. One after another, he churns them out like Rex Stout or Zane Grey or Lester Dent or any number of others. We’ve talked about how to write a novel every month, and I overwhelmingly agree with the advice he gives in The 30-Day Novel and Beyond!

All this for five bucks. But the bonus books, for those who pay $20 or more?

Award-winning writers and editors Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch have survived several economic crashes in this trade. They were the first professional authors I ever met who understood that writers don’t write books; they create and license intellectual property. I don’t always totally agree with them, but they back up their arguments and make me think about why I’m doing the things I do. You can’t buy that. Except you can. In several ways. In this bundle.

Mark Leslie LeFebvre was a bookseller. He’s worked for Kobo and Draft2Digital. He’s a fantastic writer and editor. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s worked at a printer. He knows this business like I know that weird growth on the back of my left hand. (Don’t worry about me, they always drop off before they hatch.) I respect this man’s mad skillz enough that when I finish the Current Giant Epic Fiction Thing I’m working on, I’m going to buy an hour of his time to talk through how to optimally release it. If you want your work in bookstores and libraries, he’s the man to tell you how. Oh, hey–An Author’s Guide to Working With Libraries and Bookstores. What a coincidence!

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Tonya D Price at more than one conference. Her excellent writing survived MBA school, a feat not many people manage. A Writer’s Introduction to Social Media Marketing is exclusive to this bundle, so I haven’t read it. Yet.

Writer, editor, and game publisher Loren L Coleman might be best known for his work in Battletech, but I mostly know him for his phenomenal Kickstarter chops and his devoted Prohibition Orcs fandom. Anyone who can raise multiple millions in a Kickstarter has my attention. He recently Kickstarted Crowdfunding Your Ficton: a Best Practices Guide. Kickstarter is on my Things To Play With list, so I backed it. You can get his book after those of us wise enough to back him, but before the great unwashed masses.

A cut of the purchase price goes to each author. Another cut can go to Able Gamers, if you check the box. You should totally check the box.

Also, the price is completely “pay what you want.” None of us would mind if those of you with real jobs realized that this bundle is dang near theft and chose to pay a bit more for it. If you read these and act on their advice, you’ll turn a profit easily.

My first “What is Wrong With You?” Patron Cert

On both Patreon and in my store, I have a What is Wrong With You? Patronizer tier. It is a paltry $250 per month, chump change for all you dot-com gazillionares out there.

So you like the idea of throwing money down a well, but don’t want to pollute the water table? Burning cash increases atmospheric CO2 levels? And using bills as toilet paper wrecks the plumbing?

Send your excess cash to Lucas, who will safely dispose of it in the gelato shop.

This is the daft level, for the true Lucas Loony. You get all the benefits of all lower tiers: your name in books! Defaced–er, *signed* books shipped to you! More books! Books books books! So many… blasted… books.

You also get a special “What Is Wrong With You?” certificate, suitable for framing, with your first shipment books. (Upon Patronizer request, an F-bomb may be added to the title.)

I might also send you something special. Something odd. It depends on what I can find around the house.
When the opportunity arises, I will introduce you Crypt-Keeper style.

There is no sensible reason to choose this level, unless you want to submit your support as evidence in your inevitable competency hearing.

In case it’s not clear, this level was intended as a joke.

In case it’s not obvious, some of you like to take jokes too far.

I figured if anyone actually bought this, it would be a one-off. I designed humorous certificate to mail people when they did. Everybody laughs, we get on with our lives. The thought that someone would pay to Patronize me this thoroughly, and pay for a year in advance, did not occur to me. If you ship me a giant lump of cash, though, I feel obliged to extend a minuscule amount of effort into rewarding you. By watching one of EuroBSDCon’s many fascinating presentations and by grilling a mutual friend (who I shall identify only as “MHK-A”), I was able to personalize said certificate.

With my Patronizer’s kind permission, I can share it with you. (Click for full size if you’re interested.)
WTFIWWY certificate
This could be you. For several thousand dollars, mind you, but still.

Oh, and hire Eirik’s company. He clearly needs the dough.

My books on Google Play, for now

Google has been actively hostile to authors for years. That has changed, somewhat. You can now find much of my fiction and nonfiction on Google Play, for now. I rather expect Google to reverse their less-hostile stance without warning, so these might come down as quickly as they appeared.

What do I mean when I say that Google has been hostile to authors? Forget the bit where they scan millions of in-copyright books and make the text available. That’s a separate problem.

Google Play offers separate terms for traditional publishers than individual authors. I own my own publishing company, but I don’t produce books quickly enough to get access to the publisher terms. Fine.

Since its inception, Google Play has let individual authors put a suggested retail price on their books. Until recently, they reserved the right to cut the price for their customers. If they cut the price, they would pay the author their cut based on the suggested retail price. Google used this to boost their platform. They could take, say, SSH Mastery, and make it free for the next thousand downloads. I would make my $6 or so on each download. I get paid, so what could I possibly object to?

I object to it destroying my business, that’s what.

Modern publishing is an ecosystem. Changes in one distributor affect how other distributors behave. Other major ebook distributor either respects the suggested retail price I set on their platform (e.g., Gumroad) or they have a Most Favored Nation clause in their terms where they can match competitor prices. Apple had this for years, but I’m not certain of its status after the antitrust lawsuits. Amazon still has this MFN clause, and it actively monitors competitors for prices to match.

Here’s how this goes horribly wrong.

  • Google makes one of my best-selling books free.
  • Amazon sees it and price matches.
  • A few thousand people download the book on Google Play. I get paid for those.
  • Tens of thousands of people download the book on KDP. I do not get paid for those.
  • Google restores the suggested retail price.
  • I spend days begging Amazon to restore the normal price.
  • Everybody I might sell that book to got it for free.

That book is dead. I made a few thousand dollars in a month but that book brings in nothing more, forever.

Writing is a passive income game. I count on each live book to bring in a few hundred bucks a month. Some, I’m delighted if they bring in fifty bucks a month. I count on last year’s books to pay this year’s bills. If you want to know more about how this works, check out Cash Flow for Creators.

Free books are a valid promotion strategy. (I’ll be announcing a free novel soon, to suck people into the Montague Portal omnibus.) I need to control their use, however.

I half-expect Google to reassert their previous model at any time. Google is spectacularly indifferent to their users. When Google blinks, I’ll be turning them off.

Mind you, I’ll keep the books set up in their publisher dashboard. When they twitch back, I’ll turn them back on.