Accidentally Going Digital

28 July 2014

From BookRiot:

If there’s one thing I spend a lot of time championing around here, it’s that everyone should read whatever they want without shame, and they should read it in whatever format gives them the most pleasure and ease of use. You want to read Shakespeare in giant gold-edged hardcover form? Go for it. You want to read 50 Shades of Gray on your Kindle? Sure, have fun. I hope you get some enjoyment out of it. I am open and accepting.

But that said…come on, I’ve got preferences and prejudices just like everybody else. I just recognize that they apply only to me and I try to keep them to myself.

One of those prejudices has been toward ebooks. I don’t like them. I poke at them a lot, I try out books on kindles and iPads and iPhones, on light-up screen Kindles, and so on and so forth. I enjoy them the way I enjoy experimenting with any piece of gadgetry…but then, when I want to stop fiddling around and get down to the brass tacks of reading (which would be more comfortable without all these brass tacks), I inevitably go physical. I have shelves and shelves of physical books, and even if I have a book digitally, I am inclined to buy a hard copy of it.

. . . .

Externally, I’d made my peace with all of this. Everyone else can read how they want, I’ll read how I want, and we’re just fine. Internally, I kept picking away at it because I don’t enjoy disliking things other people enjoy. I like figuring it out and enjoying it too (or understanding precisely why I can’t enjoy it and going on my own way).

Then something really interesting happened, which is that the past two months passed and I looked up the other day and realized…I hadn’t read a physical book in two months.

And then I said what the hell?

That is so weird. It’s like being a fish with primitive lungs who suddenly realizes he’s been out of the ocean for ages and stands around going how did that happen? And how indeed did it happen? What caused the shift, what caused me to so abruptly become comfortable with it that I didn’t even notice the shift happening?

. . . .

It’s the path of least resistance to reading, which is why even now that I’ve realized it, I haven’t been inclined to do anything about it. There hasn’t been any great and conscious rush back to physical books over digital. It just seems to have stopped being one-over-the-other all of a sudden. I’m happy to take books either way, which is a completely new experience.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

For PG, ebooks were love at first sight.

Two nights ago, PG finished a book on his Kindle, but wanted to keep reading. He looked over at a stack of very good and unread printed books sitting beside his bed, felt guilty about not reading them, and bought another ebook.


Why I went independent as an author

10 July 2014

From The BookBaby Blog:

[Warren Adler has published more than 30 novels and short story collections, including The War of the Roses, which was turned into a major motion picture and is currently in development for a Broadway production.]

I went into the e-book and Print on Demand mode in the nineties convinced that the new technology would radically change the future of book publishing, and would allow an author a chance to control his own destiny.

By then I had published 27 novels with major traditional publishers; many had been translated and published in various languages.

I had also sold or optioned a dozen of my books for film adaptation; three were made. One was “The War of the Roses,” which starred Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner; another was “Random Hearts” with Harrison Ford and Kirstin Scott-Thomas; and a third was a three-hour trilogy on the PBS network titled “The Sunset Gang.”

. . . .

I made the decision to become an independent publisher of my own work before the Kindle and other devices had made their debut. At that time there was a growing movement for digitization and various brave entrepreneurs had jumped on board with a similar vision. The history of that period is littered with failures.

. . . .

The motivation for my own authorial decision to turn my back on traditional publishers was both psychological and entrepreneurial. The psychological was purely personal. I am a Depression baby. My father was hard hit during the Depression and it was difficult for him to get and hold a job. He was always at the mercy of others, and I vowed early on never to be beholden to others to make my living. Controlling my own destiny has always been one of my principal obsessions.

I forced myself to learn the ropes of being my own boss. I learned to be entrepreneurial by starting various businesses. I had another overriding obsession, the need to write, to be an author, to tell stories, to write novels, plays, short stories, essays, poems, the whole caboodle.

It took me 25 years to get my first novel published.

. . . .

Beyond moments of joy and fulfillment of which there have been many, the obsession of control lingers. Technology offered me the gift of independence and self–sovereignty, and I jumped at it. I quickly discovered that I had hurled myself from the frying pan into the fire.

I have been both very right and very wrong in the way the digital book publishing business is playing out. I was right to believe that technology was a disrupter to the traditional publishing business. Amazon has proven that conclusively.

. . . .

It has been only seven years since the Kindle was introduced. In another seven years traditional print publishing as practiced today will be a cottage industry worldwide.

. . . .

The traditional big-time publishers, merged and consolidated by corporate bean counters over the last few decades, are shell-shocked survivors of a by-gone age.

Link to the rest at The BookBaby Blog and thanks to Randal for the tip.

Amazon Finally Defends Itself Against Accusations That It’s A Bully Pushing Around Hachette

3 July 2014

From Business Insider:

Amazon has finally delivered a full defense of its actions against book publisher Hachette.

Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s SVP of Kindle content, told the Wall Street Journal that Amazon is acting “in the long-term interest of our customers.”

. . . .

Farhad Manjoo, who is typically reserved and level headed, wrote at the New York Times, “Amazon is confirming its critics’ worst fears and it is an ugly spectacle to behold.” Manjoo espoused the conventional viewpoint that Amazon was being a bully against Hachette.

The Journal says the dispute between the two companies comes down to revenue sharing and promotion. Amazon wants more revenue from e-books. Hachette doesn’t want to give up more money because it will cut in to its profits.

. . . .

“This discussion is all about e-book pricing,” Grandinetti tells the Journal. “The terms under which we trade will determine how good the prices are that we can offer consumers.”

Link to the rest at Business Insider

Breaking Free Part 2 – One Month Later

28 June 2014

From author Nick Stephenson:

I had a bunch of emails last time I posted on this subject, asking me to update how my adventures outside of KDP Select were going after a month – so, if you haven’t read the previous post, go check that out here.

For everyone else, here’s the skinny: From my very first book release in March 2013, there had always been a common trend. Book sales would spike massively around a promotion (usually Bookbub) and then fall right back down again within a few days. Not that I’m complaining, but my eventual goal was to try and keep sales consistently strong, rather than relying on a monthly spike in numbers and then thirty days of diddly-squat.

. . . .

So, I pulled my titles from KDP Select and uploaded them onto other vendors, then set my strongest-rated novel to permafree. I applied for a Bookbub free promotion, which went live on the 27th of June. The results have been better than I could have hoped. Sales have remained consistently higher for over a month, beating out my average daily revenue of $80 by a factor of four. This last month has easily been my strongest to date, and is set to overtake the $7,000 mark by the time July rolls round. And, best of all, sales on non-Amazon retailers make up a significant portion of that figure, and Amazon UK has opened up for the first time.

. . . .

I’ve also been extremely impressed with my first experiences with other retailers. iTunes has been easy to work with (despite it taking nearly a week to get a title approved), Nook was simple and fast (12 hours from submission to publication) and Kobo was a dream. Kobo were also kind enough to feature my permafree book as one of their “first free in series” titles, which gave my numbers there a little push. Kobo is now a nice little side earner – and the efforts these guys go to in order to accommodate indies is commendable – especially given the vacuum that opens up every time I try to email Apple or Barnes and Noble. Well done, Kobo!

Link to the rest, including sales charts at Nick Stephenson

Dispelling the Ebook Publishing Long Tail Myth

24 June 2014

From Digital Book World:

The myth of the Long Tail is possibly fading away as the digital book market grows, and it’s operated by few mega e-retailers.

. . . .

In a limitless world of digital goods, without inventory costs, huge search engines, near-zero marginal cost of digital production and distribution, niche products will get much more market relevance at expenses of the blockbusters. This is part of what the “Long Tail” theory (or myth if you like) has been preaching.

Does it apply to the creative industries? Will book publishers be able to reduce attention on blockbusters and increase focus on the Long Tail?

. . . .

The preliminary results, based on our actual sales in Italy, shows that the Tail is becoming less relevant (not more) as the digital market grows.

Interestingly this is also highly correlated with the growing concentration of the e-retail market. As the market share of the global players grows, the sales impact of small and independent retailers diminishes dramatically. A highly concentrated e-retail market appears to be less capable to foster and grow a long tail of digital books than it is a not concentrated e-retail market. In fact the overall ebook market has been growing very significantly, but the bestsellers have been taking a growing lion’s share.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG suggests the possibility that the impact of long tail ebook sales may look different to a publisher than it does to an indie author.

A publisher’s journey to tech and back

17 June 2014

From Arthur Atwell:

I used to be a textbook publisher for two multinational companies. And when you’re a book publisher you realise pretty quickly that you either make books for rich people, or you sell cookie-cutter textbooks to government. Most people in the world – perhaps six or seven billion – could never buy the books you make.

Most South Africans, we can be fairly sure, live their entire lives without owning a book.

A 2006 study showed that “80% of South African children were not yet reading with comprehension after five years of schooling.”

. . . .

Well, all traditional publishing works like this:

  1. The publisher develops a finished product, based on their best guess of market needs.
  2. Then manufactures it.
  3. Stores it.
  4. Ships it.
  5. Then a retailer displays it.
  6. Sells a few copies.
  7. And returns or destroys the copies not sold.

This is very expensive: not only are there multiple links in the supply chain adding costs and very little value, but the risk of getting the initial product design wrong is high. Many publishers will tell you that only one in ten books makes money. So, as a result, the industry’s customers must be wealthy to pay for all this, and its retailers must be located close to those wealthy consumers. This is as true online as it is in bricks.

. . . .

Only a disruptive innovation could solve this problem, an innovation that fundamentally changes the way that books are made and distributed.

. . . .

Importantly, none of these innovations really spurred more reading among those who hadn’t bought books before. Maybe 45 million South Africans, ninety per cent of us. We were just making more products for the wealthy, and leaving everyone else behind.

Meanwhile, the digital divide, between the Internet haves and have-nots, kept getting worse as the lure of technology drew in more and more institutions, leading them to provide digital products for the wealthy, and to stop providing paper products that the poor once shared in.

. . . .

It took several years for me to realise that the innovation we needed in South Africa would not come from a new, first-world technology. Adopting new technologies requires disposable income and the space and time to learn new things, and human beings are stingy and don’t change quickly.

. . . .

Given the ecosystem of devices, data, support and credit cards that they require, ebooks are just as exclusive as traditional books. Their overheads are just easier to take for granted when you’re rich.

. . . .

So I realised we wouldn’t solve the problem in South Africa by throwing ereaders at schoolchildren, or asking everyone to read their textbooks on tiny feature phone screens. I’m glad some of my closest friends are working on that stuff, it’s important for the future, but right now we need something really simple to bandage our reading crisis. Something that requires no new infrastructure or technology.

Link to the rest at Arthur Atwell and thanks to Alicia for the tip.

Ebook Pricing Hikes Amount to Price-Gouging

28 May 2014

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Since about 2010, the electronic book, or ebook, has rapidly increased its market share in the publishing business, and in 2013 it accounted for 27 percent of adult trade-book sales. Academic audiences have been somewhat slower to adopt this format, but as the general market for ebooks has begun to plateau, the academic market has been picking up. Now—and probably not coincidentally—academic libraries find themselves facing sharply increased pricing for commercially published electronic books.

. . . .

In the BLC program, publishers charge libraries for ebooks based on a model that combines payment for short-term use of a title by a student or researcher with the purchase of the title after a few short-term uses. In this way, libraries pay full price for an ebook that meets the needs of multiple readers, and pay a fractional price for ebooks that are of use to only one or two people. This month the BLC was surprised to learn that a number of the publishers in this program planned immediate, significant, and unexplained increases in price. Even worse, the new pricing goes into effect at a time when library budgets are already committed for the 2015 fiscal year.

These newly announced price increases, amounting to several hundred percent in some cases, are levied on short-term uses, and this regressive pricing model is being adopted by the publishers whose ebooks are already among the most expensive in the scholarly market.

. . . .

[T]his move looks like an experiment in predatory pricing, designed to make the most of rising demand, but without justification in terms of either production cost or use value. Academic libraries and the universities they serve have already seen the results of this kind of experiment, in the pricing of scientific journals, which sky-rocketed as publishers transitioned from print to electronic delivery. And although electronic publications have some new costs not attached to print, it is abundantly clear that a small number of commercial publishers, who control over 40 percent of the scientific journals, have reaped major profits in this transition. Price inflation in scientific journals (which has been four times the general rate of inflation since 1986) has taken a major toll on academic-library budgets for books, including ebooks. This shift in resource allocation is not discipline-neutral, either: science and technical disciplines publish primarily in the form of the journal article, but the book remains central to the humanities and the social sciences. These new ebook price increases (by some of the same publishers who have hiked the price of science journals) are unjustified and therefore ethically unacceptable, and they are economically insupportable.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education and thanks to Mary Lou for the tip.

The Effects of the Amazon-Hachette Negotiations

27 May 2014

From The Author Earnings Blog:

A lot of ink is being spilled over the ongoing negotiations between Amazon and Hachette.

. . . .

At AuthorEarnings.com, we find ourselves in the rather unique position of having taken two data sets of e-book sales from the time period of these negotiations, so we thought it might be interesting to look at what effect the standoff has had on Hachette e-book sales. It’s worth noting that this dispute between Amazon and Hachette goes back at least to November, so we may only be capturing a portion of the overall drop in sales.

. . . .

Our data set on the 85,000 best-selling Kindle e-books includes 1,363 titles from Hachette. A comparison of our February and April data bears out what these authors are reporting: Hachette-published e-books are on average slipping in Amazon sales rank and falling off the charts much faster than works published by the other Big-5 publishers.

Hachette’s total estimated unit sales dropped from 47,000 in the February dataset (5.9% of the total pie) to 38,000 in the April dataset (4.4% of the total pie), despite the latter dataset capturing more books overall (85,000 vs 54,000).

Between February and April, Hachette’s Kindle e-book unit sales have fallen 20% – 25%, depending on whether we are looking at relative market share or at absolute numbers.

. . . .

Between February 8th and April 24th, the average price of a Hachette e-book on Amazon went up 5.5% (versus an average of 2.8% for the rest of the Big-5). That’s twice the increase, which must be partly due to Amazon no longer discounting Hachette’s e-books as steeply as before.

. . . .

Our focus on Amazon Kindle sales prevents us from seeing any possible corresponding increase of Hachette sales at other digital retailers to offset these declines, but we can say that the increase in the average price of Hachette’s e-books is having an effect on sales. It could also be that various Amazon algorithms and recommendation tweaks are contributing to the decreased sales. The big lesson is this: Across the Big-5 publishers, lowering average e-book prices correlated with higher per-title revenue. Increasing e-book prices correlated with lower per-title revenue.

This bears repeating, and it’s a lesson publishers could take from self-published authors: Lower prices means earning more money. We understand that this is counter-intuitive, but our data bears this out. And it’s a truth that many authors have seen for themselves as they experiment with prices. Which raises the question of whether or not publishers would even benefit from control over e-book prices. It could be that the worst thing for Hachette’s bottom line would be to get what they’re asking for in these negotiations.

. . . .

Side Note: Why are newer Macmillan authors faring so poorly, relative to their Big-5 peers?

As we looked at these churn charts for “New” authors versus “Old” authors, we were primarily focused on Hachette. But one other peculiarity jumped out at us from the chart and begged for a deeper examination.

When we compare the churn of bestselling titles from all Macmillan authors to those from other Big-5 publishers, on average the Macmillan’s titles perform in the middle of the Big-5 pack — better than Hachette & HC, but slightly worse than PRH and S&S. However, looking at only “New” authors, with Kindle debuts after 2009, reveals a very different story.

. . . .

On average, titles by Macmillan’s more recent authors are churning down and off the Kindle bestseller charts significantly faster than those of their Big-5 peers.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

The Tenured vs. Debut Author Report

26 May 2014

From Author Earnings:

In our most recent earnings report, one chart jumped out at us and begged for deeper analysis: It was a look at daily author earnings according to publication date, and it revealed the heavy reliance Big 5 publishers have on the sale of their backlist titles. The same chart showed, less surprisingly, that self-published authors are making the vast majority of their earnings on recently published works. In a single chart we were witness to the economic effects of new participants entering an industry in which they were formerly uncompetitive. The same chart made it apparent that the effects self-publishing will have on the trade book industry have only just begun.

Because of this chart, we began looking more deeply at authors from two different camps: those who debuted prior to the explosion of self-publishing and those who debuted after. Authors getting their start today will of course be joining the latter camp. And we believe those authors will want to know the following:

• Big-5 publishers are massively reliant on their most established authors to the tune of 63% of their e-book revenue.

• Roughly 46% of traditional publishing’s fiction dollars are coming from e-books.

• Very few authors who debut with major publishers make enough money to earn a living—and modern advances don’t cover the difference.

• In absolute numbers, more self-published authors are earning a living wage today than Big-5 authors.

• When comparing debut authors who have equal time on the market, the difference between self-published and Big-5 authors is even greater.

In this report, we will also reveal how e-book earnings represent roughly 64% of a traditionally published fiction author’s income, and therefore why authors should focus less on statistics geared toward publisher earnings and trade bookstore sales and consider their own incomes instead. Finally, we will tackle the difficult question of just how many authors are earning a living wage today. The results are sobering. I’ll spoil it for you and say that there aren’t many.

. . . .

If the Big 5 hadn’t signed a new author since 2009, and simply released new works from their long-established authors, they would still be making 63% of the e-book revenue that they are making today. Ownership of backlist and long-tenured authors is quite clearly big publishing’s most powerful commodity. This goes a long way toward explaining ever more restrictive reversion and non-compete clauses in publishing contracts. It also lends credence to rumors that some top-name authors are already receiving ebook royalties higher than 25% of net. Publishers rely heavily on these established authors and may be willing to violate their own most favored nation clauses in an attempt to retain them.

. . . .

Roughly 46% of traditional publishing’s fiction dollars are coming from e-books, while the other 54% comes from print sales, audiobooks, and other formats. On the non-fiction side, e-books make up a far smaller fraction of gross dollar revenues: only 20%.

. . . .

For the average traditionally-published fiction author, this means 59% of unit sales are now e-books. But what percentage of their earningscome from e-books? Remember that industry numbers are usually focused on how the corporations are doing.

. . . .

While only 32% of the publishing industry’s gross revenue currently comes from e-books, nearly 64% of the average traditionally-published fiction author’s earnings is coming from their e-books. Earnings for the average genre-fiction author will skew even further toward their e-book sales.

. . . .

[T]here are far more indie debut authors from 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 who are now holding spots on the Amazon bestseller charts than Big-5 debut authors. Even more striking, the number of today’s bestsellers from these “New” indie debut authors increases steeply year-over-year, while the number of today’s bestsellers from “New” Big-5 debut authors stays flat. The number of today’s bestsellers from small to medium publisher debut authors is also growing year over year, although not at the same explosive rate with which indie debuts are grabbing and holding slots on the charts.

. . . .

Taking all of the above into account, let us now pose two frequently asked questions facing new authors today: What are my chances of being able to earn a living from my writing? And which publishing path gives me the best shot at eventually being able to do so?

For the first time, we can look at a large enough cross-section of author earnings data that, despite its acknowledged limitations (Amazon-only, e-books only), can help light the way to some answers.

. . . .

Of the 500 or so Big-5 debut authors in 2013, only 245 (fewer than half) are today earning $10,000 or more from their Kindle e-books.Surprisingly, despite having more books published and on the market, even fewer of the roughly 1,500 Big-5 authors who debuted in 2012, 2011, and 2010 are earning $10,000 or more. Referring to the earlier blue-and-orange pie chart showing what portion of the average traditionally-published author’s earnings is from e-books, we might convince ourselves that print and audio (as well as other e-book retail channels) could on average double this author-earnings number. But few folks would consider $20,000 per annum a living wage, and fewer than a third of the Big-5 debut authors from the last 4 years are earning that much today.

After years and years of querying and jumping through gatekeeper hoops, it appears that even the less-than-1% who are lucky enough to land an agent and a Big-5 publishing contract can’t manage to quit their day jobs. (This is an observation in the data that matches what we have seen anecdotally in the publishing and bookselling trenches).

By contrast, we see over 700 Indie-published authors who debuted in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 who are today earning more than $25,000/year from their Kindle e-books alone. For these authors, e-book sales on other platforms and POD print sales will add another 20%-30% on average to this total. It’s easy to see that, for the past 4 years, and even taking lost print sales into consideration, far more Indie authors than Big-5 authors are earning a living wage from their writing.

. . . .

The picture that is emerging from our data collection and our look at bestseller churn is that the number of Big-5 debuts at each earning level is relatively flat, year over year, while the number of living-wage-earning indie author debuts is growing exponentially year over year. Even ignoring the hurdles and roadblocks that are a built-in part of traditional publishing’s drawn-out querying process, it’s easy to see which method of publishing represents the greater and faster-growing opportunity to earn a living wage as a writer.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

PG would like to issue a warning: Be prepared for an explosion of innumeracy from traditional publishing enthusiasts attempting to rebut this report.

On an anecdotal basis, PG frequently hears some form of the following from indie authors: “I didn’t make much money from my first books, but I kept writing and publishing and learning how to market my books. Over time, my sales went up. First I replaced my salary and quit my day job. Then I replaced my spouse’s (usually husband’s) salary and we decided it would be better for both of us to focus on writing and promoting my books.”

“War and Peace” on the subway: How your iPhone is saving literature

16 May 2014

From Salon:

A couple of years ago, the critic Maud Newton was sitting in a New York City subway train peering at her iPhone. A fellow passenger standing nearby began ranting to his companion about how, instead of reading books, all anyone ever does anymore is waste time with their smartphones. “I was reading Bertrand Russell’s ‘The History of Western Philosophy’ on my phone at the time,” Newton told me. “It was soooo annoying but also so funny.”

Although you’d never know it from the media attention devoted to tablet computers like the iPad and dedicated e-reader devices like the Kindle, a third of all cellphone owners choose to read e-books on their phones — which is a lot of people, given that over 90 percent of American adults have cellphones. Those who enjoy wringing their hands in Spenglerian despair whenever they see heads bent over glossy black rectangles in public might want to check their pessimism. For all you know, those smartphone devotees are reveling in the fruits of Western Civilization — rather than playing Flappy Bird while it crumbles around them.

Smartphones, even more than tablets and e-readers, have fostered a new type of reading, sometimes called “interstitial” reading. It’s the chapters, pages and paragraphs snatched up during those scraps of time that might once have been squandered on People magazine or just staring off into space. Interstitial reading happens while people are sitting in waiting rooms and the backs of taxis or standing at bus stops and in line for movie tickets or at the DMV.

. . . .

Catelyn May of Atlanta, Georgia, works in sales and often finds herself unexpectedly stuck in waiting rooms and in need of something good to read, preferably a classic. Another Atlantean, Will Young, used to carry two books with him when taking the train to work, in case he finished one before he arrived at his destination. “That could be quite a lot of extra weight before I bought my smartphone.”

Emory King, a business analyst, belongs to four (!) book groups, a commitment that makes it essential to read whenever he can: “during breaks at work, over lunch, when riding in cars and so on. At first I tried to carry copies of the books around with me. That was quite cumbersome, and I’d occasionally forget to bring the books. Next, I tried purchasing several copies of the books and leaving a copy in every location where I may get an opportunity to read; so, one copy at home, one in my car, one at my desk at work. This got a little expensive.”

King, like most of the readers I communicated with, loves print books and isn’t about to give them up, yet he now estimates that at least three-quarters of the books he reads are on his phone.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Tom for the tip.

Next Page »