Barry Eisler on NPR: ‘Publishing is a Business Not an Ideology’

eisler 200 Barry Eisler on NPR: Publishing is a Business Not an Ideology


NPR’s Morning edition had self-publishing advocate turned Amazon publishing advocate Barry Eisler on for an interview today. He talked about his decision to walk away from a six-figure book deal with St. Martin’s Press earlier this year and to publish his book with Amazon’s thriller imprint Thomas & Mercer instead.

Mr. Eisler said that publishing was like most bureaucracies: “they start out serving the wider good and end up serving their own interests” and that they care mostly about “preserving their own position, perks and profit.” (Apparently a realization Mr. Eisler arrived at somewhat belatedly, after putting everybody through the hassle of lining up a book deal for him. Also we should note here that the digital version of The Detachment is not available for the Nook or Kobo.)

“What I care about is readers,” said Mr. Eisler (to which we add, readers who buy e-books exclusively through Amazon.) “What I want is books that cost less and are delivered faster.” It is true that Mr. Eisler can release his book more quickly through Amazon, that it’s cheap ($5.99 instead of $7.99 for his digital backlist, although the paperback version of his Amazon book, at $9.47, is more expensive than the paperback version of his other books, which are also $7.99) and that he gets a significantly bigger cut of the revenues.

He goes on to say that the book in question, The Detachment, has sold more than any of the books Mr. Eisler has put out with traditional publishers. It’s difficult to know by how much because Amazon does not release sales figures but the book is currently #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Mystery & Thrillers > Thrillers > Spy Stories & Tales of Intrigue. Mr. Eisler adds, however, that he has received some criticism on self-publishing blogs and message boards alleging hypocrisy. No matter: “publishing for me is a business not an ideology,” he said.


  1. AlexanderG says:

    Geeze–pretty snippy aren’t you guys? Eisler’s right, like it or not.

  2. Barry Eisler says:

    Hi Emily, thanks for covering my interview with NPR this morning.
     Here are a few thoughts in response.

    You describe me as a “self-publishing advocate turned Amazon
    publishing advocate.”


    This kind of either/or logical fallacy reflex is common in
    publishing right now, but if you pause to think about it, why wouldn’t I be an
    advocate of both?  I have self-published works that were a joy to write
    and publish, that were selling well even before I decided to publish The
    Detachment with Amazon, and that, as a result of Amazon’s marketing efforts,
    are now doing even better.  So it’s not hard to understand why in fact I’m
    both a self-publishing advocate and an Amazon publishing advocate.  For
    more, have a look at my (free) self-published book, “Be The Monkey: A
    Conversation About The New World Of Publishing,” co-authored with novelist
    Joe Konrath.  It’s too late to use it for basic research or fact-checking,
    but I think you might still enjoy it.



    You say I arrived at my realization about how publishers put their
    own interests ahead of the wider good “somewhat belatedly, after
    putting everybody through the hassle of lining up a book deal for him.”


    That’s one way to look at it, and it certainly might have been kind
    of the people involved to put themselves through so much hassle just for me.
     Another way of looking at it, though, would be to note that St. Martin’s
    took almost four months following our discussion of high-level deal points to
    get me a draft contract.  As you know, during those months, the publishing
    industry continued to change with astonishing speed, with Amazon coming to sell
    more digital books than paper, and more and more brick and mortar stores
    closing.  When the draft contract finally arrived, it contained provisions
    that might have been acceptable four months earlier, but that four months later
    no longer were.


    In fairness, I should add that I think highly of St. Martin’s and I
    want to note that their delay was not at all atypical among legacy publishers,
    who, by slowing down the provision of contract and royalty paperwork, earn a
    great deal of interest on money they otherwise would have to pay authors
    immediately.  But these delays, from which publishers typically profit,
    are also undertaken at the publisher’s risk.  If legacy publishers want to
    sign more authors, I recommend they adopt as a sensible 21st-century business
    practice faster turnaround times for their paperwork.


    You say, “Also we should note here that the digital version
    of The Detachment is not available for the Nook or Kobo.”


    Not exactly.  The Detachment is not DRM-protected, and Nook and
    Kobo owners can buy it easily enough from the Kindle Store.  Among those
    things you felt you should note, that might have been a relevant one.  I
    wonder how many Nook or Kobo owners read your piece, took it at face value, and
    assumed they would have to buy the book in paper from wherever books are sold,
    buy a $79 Kindle, or download a free Kindle app, rather than reading the book
    on their Nook or Kobo as they might prefer.  I think you owe them a
    correction, along with an apology.



    You say, “‘What I care about is readers,’ said Mr. Eisler (to
    which we add, readers who buy e-books exclusively through Amazon.)”


    Well, again, this is one way you might look at it, and you
    might know my mind better than I do.  Another way, though, is to note that
    if I had gone with a legacy publisher, no reader would be able to read The
    Detachment until spring 2012, which is the earliest any legacy publisher would
    have made it available in any format, and all readers would have to choose
    between a $24.99 hardback and a $12.99 digital copy.  Availability six
    months earlier and at half the price seems like a pretty good deal for readers
    to me.  If you want to castigate authors for not adequately caring about
    readers, why have you not gone after all those self-serving authors who sign
    deals with legacy publishers and thereby ensure that their works will be
    available only at inflated prices and after considerable delay?  The
    selfishness!  The hypocrisy!  Where’s the outrage, Emily?


    In an attempt to debunk my claim that I want to offer lower-priced
    books to readers, you say, “the paperback version of his Amazon book, at
    $9.47, is more expensive than the paperback version of his other books, which
    are also $7.99).”  That’s true, but those backlist titles are mass
    market paperbacks, while the paper version of The Detachment is trade paper.
     Either you don’t know that trade paper typically costs a few bucks more
    than mass market, or you didn’t bother to check on whether you were comparing apples
    to oranges.  Either way, the outcome is misleading to your readers.


    It’s also true that with Amazon, I receive “a significantly
    bigger cut of the revenues.”  But what does this have to do with the
    fact that Amazon and I are offering The Detachment to readers at a
    significantly lower price in digital (less than half the price my previous
    publisher, Ballantine, charged for the digital title of my previous novel,
    Inside Out)?  The beauty of eliminating an unnecessary middleman is
    precisely that you can make more money while charging lower prices.  This
    is a win for authors *and* readers, and I don’t know why you would present it
    as something nefarious.


    Anyway, thanks again for the coverage and I hope you’ll enjoy the




  3. And that’s why I love Barry – he sees everything and beats everyone to commenting on it, lol. A larger question here is can’t a single person just write an article without spin? No one needs a journalistic aside or comment. [“(to which we add, readers who buy e-books exclusively through Amazon.)”] Is that necessary? If you’ve already made up your mind about self-publishing, the scourge of Amazon, and the hypocrite Eisler (note my sarcasm on the last two) than why bother writing up anything at all? You certainly didn’t bother to speak with him yourself. I guess every article these days needs to be filed in the “opinion” section. Eisler, Konrath, etc can be polarizing figures in this new self-pub/Amazon pub/legacy pub landscape and debate, but if you personally have a dog in the fight (your comments make it sound that way), maybe share that or just keep the opinion out. You can address the debate or the flare-up when these self-pub heroes sign back on with a big-time publisher (or directly with Amazon.) That’s legit. What isn’t is two slanted parenthetical statements in an article that’s four paragraphs long.

    Of course, this comment is just my opinion…

  4. Love your response. Every point nailed, imo.

  5. Marilyn Peake says:

    Barry, I love how informed you are about the publishing industry and how it really works. Kudos to you for your very informed comment! 

  6. Paolo Bailey says:

    Has it occurred to you that once Amazon become the dominant force in publishing they will be in a position to charge what they like for books and pay you, the author what they like? It is the imperative of every business to push for a monopolistic position in the market. Amazon is no different. They are more successful at it because they beguile people like Barry Eisler and the commentators here into thinking that their drive for price cutting is an altruistic offer. It is not.

    1. Amazon won’t be able to change the terms of contracts it has already signed, so that will only be an issue (if it ever is) for future negotiations. If Amazon does pull something like that, Barry and everyone else will be free to do what they did to arrive at Amazon in the first place: take their business elsewhere.

      Moreover, the Kindle isn’t the only ereader and Amazon isn’t the only digital bookstore. If Amazon false into the traps of legacy publishing, their competitors are going to look at what Amazon did to succeed and do *that* while Amazon falls on its face, just like legacy publishing is falling on its face right now because of its poor choices.

      But I don’t think Amazon will do that. It’s not in their best interests to alienate authors the way legacy publishing has because eventually, someone else will come along and give authors (and by extension, their readers) exactly what they want.

  7. Passive Guy says:

    Sorry, Emily, you lose.

    It wasn’t even much of a contest.

  8. M Zornado says:

    I wish everyone had the skill for debunking misunderstandings quite so eloquently.~ Namaste

  9. nickb says:

    Have to say, not being familiar with Mr. Eisler’s work, his response to this story comes across as better researched and — more importantly — more convincing than the original post. If his writing is as persuasive, I may just pick up a copy of his latest work.

  10.  I recently came across your article and have been reading along.