Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Tor boycott really is having an impact

Readers will recall that a few months ago, I called for a boycott of Tor Books over the unconscionable attitudes and behavior of some of its senior personnel.  Opponents of the boycott have made fun of it ever since, insisting that it's having little or no impact, whereas others - whose figures and 'inside knowledge' I have reason to trust - claim that we are, indeed, making our presence (or lack thereof) felt in Tor's sales numbers.

Now comes evidence that even a moderately successful boycott can have - and probably is having - an impact out of all proportion to its numbers.  The latest Author Earnings quarterly report states:

  • In the 18 months between February 2014 and September 2015, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), whose 1200 members include the “Big Five”: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette — have seen their collective share of the US ebook market collapse:
  • from 45% of all Kindle books sold down to 32%
  • from 64% of Kindle publisher gross $ revenue down to 50%
  • from 48% of all Kindle author net $ earnings down to 32%
  • The AAP releases monthly StatShot reports on the total dollar sales of their 1200 participating publishers, of which the “Big Five” collectively account for roughly 80%.
  • So far in 2015, the AAP’s reports have charted a progressive decline in both ebook sales and overall revenue for the AAP’s member publishers.

. . .

We can see from the above that the market-share shift in unit sales, away from traditional publishers ... has been mirrored by a similar shift in publisher gross $ revenue ... The AAP’s 1200 publishers account for no more than 50% of publisher ebook dollar revenue.

Traditional publishing’s May 2015 to September 2015 fall in ebook dollar market share is the steepest quarter-over-quarter drop we’ve seen so far, since AE first began tracking ebook sales in the Amazon kindle store in early 2014. (This latest drop has also as of yet not been reported by the AAP, who have just recently released their May 2015 report.)

There's much more information at the link.

I'm not arguing that the Tor boycott is the primary, or even an important, reason for the decline in sales by traditional publishers;  but it's unquestionably a part of the whole.  With every single sale more than usually important in such a business climate, even a small boycott has its effect.  Our Tor boycott is not small.  Judging by the numbers who've publicly committed to its support, both in comments on my blog and other participating Web sites and in those who've approached me privately, either in person or by e-mail, I'd estimate we're certainly costing Tor several hundred sales of print books every month, and probably several times that number of e-book sales.  They can't afford to lose that turnover in today's market.  If we keep up our efforts, they will be felt . . . and if Tor (and/or its holding company) has any sense, they'll do something to resolve the situation before it's too late.

Vox Day has a more sanguine impression.

At least two of the Big Five are going to collapse in the relatively near future, although I have no idea which of them it will be because I haven't seen their financials. We know that Tor Books is in trouble simply by observing that it is bringing in foreign authors and trying to pass off midlist authors as its leading men; the so-called biggest publisher of SF/F has published precisely zero of the big SF/F hits of the last few years. Forget Rowling and Martin and whoever wrote the Hunger Games, they couldn't even get Howey or the guy who wrote The Martian.

This is the price of failing to develop new talent; once a new author hits on Amazon, he has no incentive to work with the traditional publishers. Throw in the Pink SF gatekeeping, the unprofessional and abusive behavior of their editors, and it should be quite obvious that they're doomed. How long it will take to play out, I don't know, but the end game is already clear.

Again, more at the link.

So, once more, thank you very much to everyone who's supported the Tor boycott.  Please keep up the good work, and stand shoulder to shoulder with us in fighting the good fight.



bmq215 said...

They're interesting figures but I'd urge you not to stretch your conclusions too far. It's easy to assume causation when you have a personal stake in it, even if there are plenty of other plausible explanations (which doesn't mean that your favorite reason isn't causing it, just that there's no way of knowing).

Actually, these data make me think that you make never know whether the boycott has/had an effect. Any impact might very well be swamped by the fact that the industry as a whole is in the middle of a huge transition. I.e. whatever signal there is will be hopelessly lost in the noise.

astrodominant said...

I am in and they have lost sales. I am going through the John C Wright back catalog buying used hardbacks at the bookstore or online. I sent him a donation for lost royalties. That most likely far exceed what he would have actually received from Tor.

Tough ones are volume 2 of this years Hugo novel winner and the next Peter Hamilton book. I will just tough it out and wait until used hardbacks are available.

Max Lybbert said...


They're interesting figures but I'd urge you not to stretch your conclusions too far. It's easy to assume causation when you have a personal stake in it, even if there are plenty of other plausible explanations ...

The argument isn't "we're responsible for all of that," but instead, "all publishers are having a hard time right now, so it seems that Tor would be extra-sensitive to a boycott right now."

Personally, it's becoming very obvious to me that Tor doesn't expect its editorial staff to act professionally in public.

doofus said...

Heh. I have been implicitly supporting the Tor boycott because they haven't published anything in the last few months that I am interested in. It looks like the only thing coming in the next year is one book by Lee Modessit. I think I will pirate it and send him some money.

Duke of URL VFM#391 said...

I quit buying anything from Tor; I have no difficulty finding their books in used bookstores for from $.01 to $.99 with none of that going to Tor/Macmillan.
I've informed everyone in authority at Macmillan that I'm doing this - I buy a lot of books. So far, no-one has had the courtesy to respond to my polite requests that they clear the rotten eggs, such as Hayden, out of their staff.

Uncle Lar said...

I expect that the boycott has had some effect, but I believe that a much greater reason for the decline in tradpub e-book sales is their ridiculous pricing structure. It would seem that the big five are still making every attempt to discourage the sale of e-books by pricing them at or above paper.

Bill S said...

When it arrives I'll check Weber's next Safehold from the library. I'll eventually buy it used.