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Indie Authors on Campus

30 January 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

Bob Hoyt, an instructor and director of the Health Informatics program at the University of West Florida, knew his students were struggling with the high cost of their textbooks. The nominal price of college textbooks has “risen more than fifteenfold” since 1970 — which is three times the rate of inflation — according to a recent article in the Economist, while the Wall Street Journal notes the cost of new print textbooks has risen, on average, about 6% a year for the last decade. Hoyt was also frustrated that new developments in his field meant information in the books was already obsolete by the time they were published. “There were no textbooks that were up to date or easy to read,” Hoyt says. To solve the problem, he decided to create his own, with associate editor and adjunct instructor at the University of West Florida Ann Yoshihashi, and self-publish it on Lulu.com — and sell it for about a third of the cost of a regular textbook.

Seven years later, Health Informatics: Practical Guide for Healthcare and Information Technology Professionals (about using IT to improve health care) is in its sixth edition and is taught at more than 200 universities in 30 countries. The book has sold about 12,000 copies and has been endorsed by the American Medical Informatics Association. While the sales figures don’t come close to the stratospheric success usually associated with self-publishing success stories, there are signs that self-published textbooks could be the start of a new trend with the potential to upend the $7 billion college-textbook industry.

. . . .

Lulu President and CEO Tom Bright says it’s precisely authors like Hoyt and Yoshihashi—authors he calls “content entrepreneurs”—that are leading the next successful wave in self-publishing. Bright notes that content entrepreneurs are primarily business owners or professionals—people for whom writing isn’t their primary career.

Bright says authors of this sort sell 20 times as many books on Lulu as fiction writers do. “We’ve found that top nonfiction and education books generate 24% more net sales per title than top books in other genres,” he adds.

. . . .

 But Yoshihashi had done her research and determined that self-publishing held a number of advantages for them over traditional publishing. These advantages included the fact that they were able to keep a larger share of the profits, the ability to control the price of the book, the quick turnaround time from submission to publication, and the ease with which they could update the book and republish it. “We also can say when we would like older editions to be no longer printed. You don’t have this type of control with traditional publishers,” he notes.

. . . .

Hoyt feels that the rising cost of college textbooks has helped their affordably priced volume become so successful. With the Kindle edition priced at $32.95 and the print edition at $69.95, the book is considerably less expensive in both formats than most textbooks available for purchase. Hoyt says his students appreciate that he took pricing into consideration when self-publishing: “They can buy a chapter at a time so they don’t have to buy the entire textbook if they don’t need it. This, he notes, “is very important given the financial burden to students and burgeoning textbook prices.” And while renting textbooks has become a popular option for students who can’t commit to purchasing the book, Hoyt notes that buying their textbook in e-book format is actually cheaper than renting it.

But, even with this competitive pricing, the profits add up quickly—Lulu authors keep 80% of the income from print sales and 90% of digital sales. With the proceeds generated from the sale of the volume, the authors have donated more than $100,000 to the University of West Florida and established grants of more than $25,000 to support health informatics educational programs. Self-publishing, Hoyt says, let them control the price of the book to get ahead of the competition while keeping costs low for their students.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Non-Fiction, Self-Publishing

9 Comments to “Indie Authors on Campus”

  1. I have firsthand evidence that this is the case.

    I’m mainly a fantasy writer and I’m not an academic, but I also write short starter guides for various technology items, and those have been used by instructors. A math professor has used my book on the Windows command line to get his students comfortable with using command-line math tools, and I’ve exchanged emails with a high school teacher who teaches advanced placement Linux and uses my book on the Linux command line interface in his class.

    Bottom line, textbooks are ridiculously expensive, and I know many college instructors who go to considerable lengths to get their students textbook material as cheaply as possible. The textbook market is massively ripe for disruption.

  2. “many college instructors who go to considerable lengths to get their students textbook material as cheaply as possible.”

    Jonathan,

    And there are some who don’t. I particularly recall one piano teacher-who required us, prior to the course starting, to purchase a particular set of instruction manuals, and on the day of the course starting for which he was 40 minutes late arriving in a roaring BMW, he immediately told everyone we’d have to update 3 of the manuals. Which he just so happened to have available on his person.

    I felt like putting his fingers in a vice..

    brendan

  3. Dear God, if there’s a publishing segment that NEEDS disruption, it’s the college textbook racket.

    $250 for ANY kind of book? 28’th edition…after only 5 YEARS? Ha-ha! Sorry, no used books allowed for this class. Have to buy the NEW one.

    F#@&. Right. Off.

  4. I remember quite clearly the time I had to drop a college class on the first day because I couldn’t afford the textbooks.

    I never told my parents, who were working so hard to help me with school money. I made up an excuse about why I didn’t want to take the class, saying this other class (with cheaper books) was so much better.

    I still wish I could have taken that class…

    So when I hear stories like this, I want to stand on my chair and cheer. You go, Professor Hoyt!

  5. There is great opportunity in this, I agree. Especially linked to Amazon’s new textbook creator, covered a week ago here at TPV:

    http://www.thepassivevoice.com/?s=amazon+textbook

    Interesting to see Amazon at 70% royalty rate (or 35%) on eBooks, while LULU is claimed to be at 80% (print)/90% (ebook) according to this article.

    Anyone reading TPV with recent textbook publishing experience (as indie)?

    • I wasn’t too impressed by the textbook creator. You have to start with a preformatted PDF, which means that it doesn’t really save you much work, if any. It’s a lot closer to kindlegen or Kindle Previewer than it is to iBooks Author. 🙂

    • Amazon’s royalty rates are gross. Lulu’s are net. For print, they deduct what they say it costs them to print the book, then pay you 80% of whatever’s left. I don’t know where the other 20% goes – straight into their pockets, I imagine. I’ve never bothered with them for ebooks, but I would expect that they pay you 90% of whatever Amazon or Apple or whoever pays them. (Can you buy ebooks direct from Lulu? I don’t know.)

  6. A class I TAed for did this in the early 2000s. We wrote our own text (13-15 TAs, two professors) and had it printed and comb-bound locally, then sold it for about $20 (basically just enough to make sure it wouldn’t lose money…any leftover funds were spent on a pizza and movie night for the students at the end of the semester).

    The students really appreciated it.

  7. Anything the gov’t subsidizes becomes more expensive over time, far outpacing inflation. The cost of textbooks will NEVER be allowed to come down. Same with tuition.

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