Category Archives: Somebody Has To Say It

#Women: Be Loud, Gross and Take Up Space

So I posted this meme on Facebook:


Now I seriously lament that portion of the female population that thinks that equality means behaving exactly like men. It shouldn’t mean the loss of individuality or femininity. It is entirely possible to be strong and feminine, and there is no need to lower ourselves to someone else’s poor standard in pursuit of equality.

But that wasn’t how I read this meme, principally because as a warcry “Freedom!” works a lot better than “Freedom*” “*subject to God, king and law.” As a lawyer, I well know the devil is in the detail, but sometimes the impact of what you want to say is lost if you qualify it with ten pages of exceptions.

But someone else read it as a lowering of standards too, and said that women being gross isn’t a good thing, it just adds to the amount of bad behaviour. So I thought about it more, and this is what I came up with:

“Gross” means something entirely different as applied to women (thank you, patriarchy). Because of that, this isn’t advice to be rude. It’s advice to claim for ourselves the exact same behaviour which is considered acceptable and standard (not gross) among men.

Here’s a list of things that currently are, or ever have been, considered gross behaviour in women, by either the entirety of society, or a subset of it, and which continues to be a persistent theme for a significant portion of the world’s female population (if not the whole of it):

So when the meme tells women to be “gross”, we haven’t even yet made it to the things considered gross in men. We’re talking about things thaty society considers its perfectly fine for men to do, but not women, because they are gross, unfeminine, or unladylike.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the exact definition of a double standard.

So, ladies, please—be gross. Do all those things that men are allowed to do, but we’re told we should be ashamed of. Stop apologising for being female, stop taking responsibility for keeping the peace at all costs, be loud, be opinionated, and claim your half of the train seat.

What If You Lost Your Copyright After 15 Years? (Protecting Copyright Term) #SaveAussieBooks


The Australian Productivity Commission has recommended that our government explore ways to reduce the copyright term from life plus 70 years (the current term in the United States) to somewhere between 15 and 25 years from the date of creation.

This affects Australian authors most immediately, but will also have a knock-on effect to creatives in other jurisdictions. In the first instance, it means that Australians can lawfully pirate your content after the expiration of copyright period in Australia. While you can still prosecute in your jurisdiction, this is practically difficult if the offender is located in Australia and never leaves. It also means Australians will be able to create derivative content from your content after the expiration of the copyright term—and their derivative will then itself be protected for the copyright term—without needing to pay you a cent.

Secondly, the Australian government can’t change the copyright period without negotiating with foreign governments. This is because we have free trade agreements with various governments which set the copyright term at life plus seventy years, not least the free trade agreement with the US. This means that if our government decides to try and change the copyright term, they’re going to start talking to your governments, and that might give your government the idea that it should also change its copyright terms.

The logic behind the recommendation is as follows:

Now the first point is indisputable. That is the public policy behind copyright term.

But the second point, I think, is very, very wrong. While many of us may never make much from our work, I believe the vast majority of us are motivated by at least the vague hope that one day we may make enough to live on, if not ‘make it big’.

A third point is that consumers have already benefited in terms of the availability of creative content as a result of the digital age. Ebook prices in Australia are often 25 – 50% the cost of print versions, and ebooks are often available indefinitely because there is no incentive to cease production. Given that consumers are already enjoying reduced costs and increased availability, what argument is there that creatives should suffer losses to further benefit consumers?

I propose to make a submission on the recommendations to address these and other points however it would be helpful for me if you could complete this survey to provide me with the information I need to back up my arguments.

Please also feel free to add your other thoughts in the comments.


What Is the Solution to Ebook Pricing?

Ebook Pricing Solution

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What is the solution to ebook pricing, given the downward pricing spiral writers have pushed themselves into?

This is not a new discussion. In fact, it’s so old it almost bores me, but finally, after shouting from rooftops and mostly hearing only my own echoes, it seems like the whole industry is talking about the pricing problem.

Then we saw the beginning of the permafree book, and all the while I and a few other writers with some foresight were shouting on mostly deaf ears that we were devaluing our own industry.

Some ears are still deaf. I have seen it compared to public libraries (only if you have your book in 30,000 public libraries simultaneously) and the music industry (just so you know, free music albums fuels live concert sales—oh wait, writers don’t have concerts—whoops) and then there are the people who just don’t understand the words coming out of our mouths.

But there is also now a conversation starting about readers returning books they read and enjoyed for a refund, readers who won’t buy a book and wait for it to be free, and readers who think $2.99 is too expensive for a book. As I said recently in a debate about piracy, who needs pirates to devalue our work when we’ve already done it to ourselves?

Now I’m lucky, I’ve never heard any of those things pass the lips of any of my readers that I’m aware of, and I am grateful to them for it—but part of the reason may be attributable to my own good work. I have never positioned myself as a cheap and easy read, instead pitching a quality product at an adult (and perhaps slightly intellectual) speculative fiction market. Albeit, that’s a smaller market that some, but I’ve never felt much pressure on my prices.

This is market positioning. This is about identifying what quality of product you are offering, and then pricing it accordingly. If you are offering a poorer quality product to cash-strapped consumers, then you might legitimately price at $0.99.

The problem is, most writers have not been doing any market positioning. They are only competing on price. And when you consistently offer steeper and steeper discounts, all you do is train the consumer’s psyche to expect more and bigger discounts.

Oh wait—did I say some readers think $2.99 is expensive for a book and they wait for it to be free?

Looks like we have already arrived at that point….


How do we fix it? There is no quick and easy fix. Sorry, there’s not. I’ve seen memes going around now about how much work goes into a book, comparing ebook prices to coffee, and starting petitions for Amazon to change its refund policy. These are all very, very true—but it’s the wrong way to approach the problem.

Consumers, as a whole, any consumers, don’t care much about what goes into a product (unless you have effective market positioning, which most writers don’t). They care about the end result. What does this product mean for me. I’m a consumer, and by and large I don’t want to hear how a product was made. Tell me what it does for me.

This is value. Not price. Value. Say it with me. VALUE.

Stop talking to readers about what it costs you, how you need to feed your kid etc., and start talking to them about what your product gives them.

How many hours does it take to read your book? What does that work out to as cost per hour? What else can a consumer get for that price?

If your book takes readers to exotic destinations, what would it cost them to go there themselves?

What does your book give a consumer that money can’t buy? Star Wars takes us to a galaxy far, far away….

Think creatively about what your book gives the reader and start talking about that.

The second thing you can do is think about market positioning. Who charges a premium on ebooks and can get away with it? Top tier writers, most of whom are published with big publishers. Why? Because they have built a reputable brand for quality (however that is perceived by their readers) and they have positioned themselves to charge top dollar for it. Maybe you can’t do that, and maybe you’ll never be able to do that, but you can start thinking about whether you’re really selling 99c quality books or not.

So there’s your homework:

Lessons for Writers From ‘Pricing for Law Firms’

Funnily enough, pricing is much the same across industries and professions–or should be. At a recent seminar I attended, lawyers were criticised on the basis that “if grocery stores priced like that, they’d soon go out of business”. And funnily enough, the first thing I thought was “Writers are making the same mistakes – only worse!”

So what are those mistakes?

  • Market positioning – this is about where you place yourself in the market. There is a cheap and nasty product, there is the Rolls Royce, and then everything in between. Cheap and nasty mass sells cheap products, while Rolls Royce sells very few, high-priced items. Every market looks like this to some degree. You need to know what you are selling and to who, because this affects what your product is worth and what the buyer is prepared to pay for it. So selling your books at 99c may make perfect sense – provided it is your intention to sell that quality product to that type of reader. If you are selling a higher quality product at 99c then you are doing yourself a disservice because….

  • Price is still a perceived indicator of quality. If there is a mismatch between your price and the product quality then you are trying to sell the wrong product to the wrong people and the people who would be interested in your product at the right price aren’t even looking at it because the price is sending them the wrong message about quality.

  • Heavy and repeated discounting does nothing but train the customer’s psyche to expect more and steeper discounts. We have witnessed this in action in the publishing industry over the last few years as books have dropped to 99c and then, finally, when there was nowhere else to go, to permanently free. Now a loss leader is all very well and good, but many writers are literally giving their books away for nothing.

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We shouldn’t be talking to customers about price. We should be talking to customers about value. You see the example of a cup of coffee for $2.99 used when readers won’t pay $2.99 for a book – primarily comparing the amount of effort and cost of inputs in the coffee to the staggering amount of time and effort that goes into a book. This is all very true – but it’s still the wrong comparison!

So what is the right comparison? How much value does the coffee have? How much pleasure does it give the buyer? It sure is pleasurable to drink, but ten minutes and it’s gone – and most of that you spent waiting for it to cool down enough to drink. And that’s assuming you are a coffee drinker – of course, if you are not, the coffee has zero value – exactly as a book has zero value to a non-reader.

What is the value of a book to a reader? It will vary from reader to reader, but generally speaking the amount of entertainment a reader gets from the book will be a key driver of value. I’m a fast reader but it will still take me 12 hours to read the big fat books I enjoy. That’s a great deal more bang for my buck than the coffee. Of course, it’s not as straight-forward as that, and other subjective factors will include:

  • Preference for short or long books – a book the wrong length will have less value to that reader;
  • Importance of quality – a low quality book will have less value to the discerning reader, while a high quality book may have no additional value over a low quality book to a less picky reader;
  • Brand value – a trusted and enjoyed brand will have higher value than an unknown writer.

There may be others I have not thought of. But ultimately, we have spent too much time having the pricing conversation with readers, offering steep discounts to secure more sales, and have trained readers to expect low prices. While we have been doing that, no one has been talking about the value of books and everyone has forgotten.

After all, if we were talking about value, the debate about steep discounts for ebooks versus paperbacks wouldn’t be raging so fiercely – because we’ d all know that their value is more or less the same because they offer the same experience…

New Kindle Unlimited Royalties Explained: Amazon Takes Away the Ability to Write Crap and Get Paid Top Dollar


The announcement of changes to the royalty payments to authors participating in the Kindle Unlimited program has caused widespread angst – but I’m going to explain why, objectively, these changes are a good thing. If after reading this post you still defend the old system, then:

In case you don’t know, here’s a quick breakdown of how the old and new systems work:

By way of background, short stories used to suffer in the print environment because the printing costs were prohibitively high and no return could be made on them at market prices. So historically short stories suffered and print favoured longer stories (but not too long, because then costs become too high again).

The ebook revolution changed this by removing the print cost of production. Once again, short stories were in vogue, and more or less had equal standing to longer stories. Authors tended to price their stories according to length, with full-length novels priced from $2.99 up to around $9.99, and shorter stories appearing under the $2.99 price point.

Kindle Unlimited’s old royalty system favoured short stories even more because all stories were paid the same, regardless of length, which meant short story authors would get the highest return for effort. So the pendulum swung from discriminating against short stories, to a level playing field, to discriminating against longer stories. Authors were now disincentivised to write long stories (or to include their long stories in Kindle Unlimited) because the return was too low for the invested effort.

However, this also meant the old system was subject to being ‘gamed’ because authors could churn out masses of (often sub-standard) short stories and make money on them because the reader only needed to read 10% for the author to get paid. So even if the reader abandoned the story relatively early, say because the story was garbage, the author would still be paid.

Now that things are changing, a lot of people are complaining, and yet the new system is fundamentally fair. You will get paid per page read. It doesn’t matter how many stories you have, or how many pages they are, you will get paid exactly the same as Joe Bloggs down the road and Jane Smith halfway around the world. Everyone gets paid equally for their effort. There is no discrimination between short and long stories. Authors are equally incentivised to write stories of any length. Well, so long as your pages actually get read, and so….

The system is also incentivising authors to write good quality books, because if they don’t, and the reader stops reading because the story is rubbish, then the author won’t get paid. So keeping readers reading is now imperative.

So why are people complaining? Let’s look at some of the most common complaints…

Well, yes. But not because this new system is unfair. Some of you will get paid less now because the first system was unfairly skewed in the favour of short story writers and to the disadvantage of longer story authors. This argument is purely self-interest – I don’t want things to change because it affects me badly, and I’ll just ignore the fact that assessed objectively the new system is fairer.

I recognise that some of you were making a living off your royalties, which is money you now won’t receive – but recognise that some people were trying to live off their royalties, and couldn’t, because their return on investment (their payment for the same or greater work) was too low.


Yes…. But no.

A short story can be a complete story and provide the same amount of enjoyment as a long story. But it doesn’t take you nearly as long to write it, and as a reader it won’t take me as long to read it. If we consider value as a dollar amount per hour, if a short story costs the same as a long story, it will be less valuable to me, because the entertainment cost to me per hour of pleasure is higher. This is, fundamentally, why short stories are usually priced lower than longer stories on Amazon.

Also, if you write a 10,000 word story, and I write a 100,000 word story, then assuming all else is equal, in the time it takes me to write my story, you can write ten. If one person reads my one story, and one person reads all ten of yours, then under Kindle Unlimited we will get paid the same. Looked at another way, we are being paid the same hourly rate for the same work…

If you still don’t get it, consider the situation where you were paid $400 a week to work 40 hours, but someone else gets paid $400 a week to work 4 hours a week doing the same work. You are the long story author. The other person is the short story author. Your hourly rate is $10/hour. Their hourly rate is $40/hour. How would you feel about that?

The new program gives equal reward for equal effort – assuming you can write something that people want to read.
And if you can’t write something that people want to read…. Well, you’re out of luck. Produce a better product.

Still not convinced? This idea of being paid for length is not new. If you submit a story to a magazine, you get paid per word. In that system, you get paid for the words written, so you get paid no matter if it ever gets read, but you also only get paid once. Under Kindle Unlimited, it’s the same concept – you get paid per page read. It’s read, not written, but the flip side of this is that you have the opportunity to be paid again and again.

Fundamentally true – this is why big brand name authors can charge more for their books, because they have a perceived higher value to readers, who are willing to sustain a steeper price to get their fix.

But if you choose to participate in Kindle Unlimited, you are sacrificing any brand power you have, because you no longer have the power over your price – Amazon does. Or its Kindle Unlimited payment algorithm, anyway. So if you choose to participate in Kindle Unlimited, under the old or new royalty system, don’t even bother dusting this argument off.

One person suggested that the Kindle Unlimited changes can be regarded as unfair on the basis that Amazon has unilaterally changed the consideration under the contract, and therefore the changes are unlawful. I am not familiar with the US law that applies to the Kindle Unlimited contract, but I believe this is actually unlikely to be the case.

The general principle of law is that parties are contractually free to agree to whatever they want, with only unconscionable (excessively unfair) contracts being void (subject to some other exceptions). Mere unfairness isn’t enough to void a contract.

In Australia, we do have unfair contracts legislation, but currently it only applies to consumers, so such a thing wouldn’t have any application to a contract between businesses like the Kindle Unlimited contract. It looks likely that legislation is also about to be rolled out to small businesses, and it certainly does include reference to unilateral changes to consideration potentially being unfair – but it’s not considered unfair for one party to change the amount to be paid if the other party has the right to terminate the contract when they do. In other words, it’s only unfair to change the payment amount if the other party is forced to accept it because they have no out. And authors have the right to exit Kindle Unlimited at anytime. So even under Australian law, it’s highly unlikely this contract would be illegal.

As I mentioned, US law applies, not Australian law, but given that Australian regulation is generally tighter than US, I’d be surprised if similar legislation exists – but if you’re curious, by all means check.

“She had not yet decided whether to use her power for good or evil.”

In this instance, Amazon has used its power for good – they made changes that are objectively fair.

But… It didn’t have to be this way. Amazon could have used its power to change that contract any way it liked. Amazon is a borderline monopoly, and the more authors that sign up for KDP Select (which is an exclusive arrangement that requires that book not be sold through any other outlet), the more it will become one. Arguably it’s close enough right now that it doesn’t matter. It has most of the readers and most of the authors. Amazon has enough market power it can do what it likes.

I can see the appeal in Kindle Unlimited, especially now the royalty structure has changed. I’ve never participated because I don’t like the exclusivity arrangement. But… maybe the solution, the balance between participating and maintaining competition, is to enrol a first book in a series, but not the subsequent books. It’s something to consider.