Tuesday, October 09, 2007

E-Books! Did I do this already?

So, two people emailed me with questions about e-Books. Generally I trim long emails, but I'm going into ultra-pruning mode for the sake of time.

You should sell an e-book. Figure a five percent sell-through and 98 percent profit. If you get 500 visits per day and you're making $4.80 per unit, it works out to about $3,600 a month, possibly enough to rent a dumpster behind the Port Authority.

No, I wouldn't. Even if I sold 500 books per day, which bestsellers don't even do, Amazon would take 55% of my profits - or more. I'm not sure what their commission rate is for e-Books. I imagine it's high because they (and B&N.com, to be fair) are the only real vendor.

[Deleted section: This guy likes reading e-Books] Every-now and again though, for the same reasons I went to used bookstores and bought the most random title i could find, I nab stuff that is e-book only. Like before, most of it is pretty horrible and a few of them are worthwhile reads. One in particular was the best read I've had this year(since then its being picked up for print, which makes me very happy). Anyway, my question is this, where in the world are the reviews for this part of the industry?

Don't get me wrong - I'm a technocrat. My teenage years were spent on ultra-slow Prodigy Online and then on slightly faster local network. I shamelessly download an entire TV series that's either too expensive or not available for retail in this country (I like Japanese feudal dramas). That said, I hate reading books online. I'm willing to read fanfic because it's free and I already know the characters, so I'm more likely to like it, but I can't remember the last time I read an e-Book, even for free, that had no relation to some fandom. Why? Because most people feel that reading a book on a computer screen sucks. And most people make up most of the consumer market (though it's all right to feel special).

When hand-held devices that you could actually read on came out, there was a whole lot of press about how it would change publishing industry and we would all be switching to reading off our tiny, poorly-lit Palm Pilot screen like the guys in Prelude to Foundation. Remember when Stephen King did that chapter-by-chapter/pay-as-you-go posting of a novel? Or I took that course on hypertext fiction? (No, you don't because you weren't there. Well, I did. I needed more time to spend with my Playstation so I opted out of another history course.)

Even some ten years later, industry professionals are scratching their heads, trying to make a way to make e-Books profitable. As the person in charge of the digital division at I think it was HarperCollins explained to me this summer, "e-Books and internet files are being published by the major companies, but it's still basically R&D." (research and development) And she was a person willing to read a novel on her little novel-reading device, but she admitted no one understood her, even her co-workers.

As with any new thing that comes along unexpectedly and alternately revolutionizes/threatens your entire industry, it takes time to figure out how it's going to work. With the internet it's especially hard because things are constantly changing, as are the devices we buy to keep us hooked to that digital IV while we're away from the computer. What publishers have discovered, for the most part, is that e-Books are unprofitable. You put it up for $5.95 (dumb companies charge more), Amazon takes half, and then the author gets a cut. Also, people don't buy it, especially if it's a new author and/or it's also available in print form. In the end the result is easily less than $50 a month - for the company.

Not that the industry has given up. They have figured out that it costs almost nothing to create an e-Book other than editorial, especially if you've signed the author for a print run and you're doing the editorial anyway, so they don't really lose money; they just don't make money. The advantage is in time: it takes a book a year, at absolute best, to go to press, between the contract signing and the day the books appear on shelves. e-Books can go up whenever the editorial is done and someone's put some cover art together. Some companies are using the e-Book as a promotional tool while they're waiting for the book to come out, and even then, that's promotion restricted to people who spend a lot of time on Amazon. I do, but a lot of people don't. The point is that it's free promotion, and promotion is rarely free, so that's why you're seeing e-Books.

(Also you're seeing them because some people like them, but those people remain in the minority until our computer screens don't make our eyes want to bleed after a 12-hour session)

27 comments:

Thomas said...

It's important to note that not all E-books are a bust. They simply have a very narrow market. Successful E-books tent to be fairly short, basically long pamphlets, and are devoted to obscure instructional topics. They also sell for substantially more than fiction paperbacks. I liken them to professional newsletters.

Don said...

I'd add to Thomas's category of non-bust E-books, texts which are meant primarily as references. In fact we all have at least one e-book that we use at least occasionally: The dictionary and thesaurus built into Microsoft Word (those of us on Macs have a different dictionary built into the O.S., I have mine accessible through dashboard so it's just an F12 away when I need to look something up). I have purchased as e-books, exactly two texts, both of which kind of straddle this line of what the rejecter described and what I'm talking about here: They're computer books which had a special pre-publication deal: Buy the e-book before publication and get the printed text at publication (the e-book is updated periodically as the author finishes work on it, which means that I get the text earlier than I would have and the author gets free feedback on the text as he's finishing it). But for continuous reading, I still prefer the printed page. For searching, though, the e-book wins hands down.

Steph said...

I am not a fan of reading on computer. But I saw the new and improved Sony Reader a couple days ago, and it looked (and felt) pretty good. With adaptable backlighting and printsize, it might be the beginning.
However, you can only use their proprietaty books at this point. I would like to be able to read Word files on one of these, but right now, that's not available. At least I don't think so, based on my quick look. They people in the store didn't have a clue.
I think publishers know that sooner or later something will click.

Laurie said...

Two points:
1. 500 hits a day is a lot when you're just starting out. It takes a long time to build up traffic to a website.
2. With 500 hits, you'd be lucky to get 1 sale.
Laurie

E-book Author said...

If e-books are a bust then why are there so many e-publishers. E-books aren't just about promotion. There's a whole other market for them. Actual books that can be read via a palm device, reader or PC.

There are several e-publishers which are top ranking and some of their authors actually make more money than their print counterparts. Now e-books isn't for everyone. But a lot more people like them then I think you or a lot of people realize.

If they were all so bad, then they would have died out by now not gotten bigger.

Check out -

http://www.ellorascave.com
http://www.samhainpublishing.com
http://www.phaze.com
http://www.loose-id.com/
http://ebooks.eharlequin.com/

I like e-books because they're more reasonably priced than print books. And I can carry more with me. I've discovered some really great authors via the e-books they produce. And some of the top selling authors right now in print started out in the e-publishing world.

It's a shame that e-books and e-publishing has such narrow minded views thrust upon it. It's really the red headed step child of the industry. And it's not going anywhere.

Now there are bad e-books out there. Just like not every print book is great. But I've read more good e-books than bad.

Dave Kuzminski said...

One of the biggest problems with ebooks is the fact that the ebook reader manufacturers haven't been willing yet to place their goods on sale for a price that will appeal to more readers.

Another big problem is the lack of a standard ebook format. And this will continue to be the case until one ebook reader manufacturer steps up and lowers the price enough to lure in enough readers.

Yet despite these problems, ebooks do sell. I have a small number of ebooks published with Boson Books, Double Dragon Publishing, Hard Shell Word Factory, and Silver Lake Publishing. So, even though some of my ebooks are absolutely awful and a few are good (or maybe only average), they do sell and the worst ones sell the best.

But the point remains. Sales would be much higher if the ebook readers were priced more competitively.

As well, I'd really like to see more ebook review sites emerge.

E-book Author said...

There are a few sites that review e-books but not e-books exclusively.

Mrs. Giggles does reveiw fiction e-books as well as Night Owl Romance, Fallen Angel Reviews, Coffee Time Romance, JERR and Joyfully Reviewed.

Dr. Dume said...

I don't submit my work for E-book publication for the simple reason I don't like to read books on screen. Therefore I don't expect anyone else to read mine that way.

I know, it's unreasonable prejudice, but what can I say?

The price of e-books does make them attractive, but staring at a laptop (and continually checking how much battery is left) just doesn't give me the same immersion in a story that I can get with paper and ink. Books don't run out of juice at crucial moments!

As those before me said - what's needed is a reasonably priced reader device, preferably one that feels like a book and which uses batteries at a low enough rate that you don't have to worry about being cut off mid-sentence. A monochrome screen, no bells or whistles, simple and cheap.

And big enough for old and overused eyes.

Anonymous said...

I know, all those same people who spend hours online do it cause they can't stand reading off a computer screen.

Would I rather have a book in my hands than a laptop cutting off the circulation to my lower legs? Sure.

But there are arguments in favor of ebooks. I happen to live in a town where the closest actual bookstore is a good three hour drive away. Say what you want, when you're confronted with the pathetic selection on the rack at the drugstore, you'll consider any viable alternative. Plus, I have a penchant for dirty books, and have as much desire to have the pizza-faced teenager at the till know what I like to read as what brand of tampons I use. Add to that the fact that I can buy one whenever the mood takes me--even 3:00 in the morning--without getting out of my jim-jams, and ebooks are the way to go. The last eight books I bought were ebooks. Were they the best thing I ever read? No. But they were of more consistent quality than the last eight print books I read. They were all worth the money. Make of that what you will.

I don't believe ebooks will ever be a major contender for the highbrow literary market. You will have probably noticed that the most successful epresses concentrate on erotica and SFF. But when you consider the fact that some Ellora's Cave authors make more than enough to quit their day jobs, you can't simply write off the entire enterprise.

BuffySquirrel said...

I spend hours reading on a computer screen. I read slush, I copyedit, I read ebooks and emagazines for review...when I intend to relax and read something for pleasure, more screen time is the last thing I want.

If I had a book out in print, I'd probably want it out as an ebook as well, just to maximise the possibilities. But I don't want to take my laptop to bed, nor do I want to spend money on a proprietary reader that won't give me access to all formats, and will probably not be suitable for "the next generation of ebooks", requiring me to go out and buy the damn thing all over again....

Michael said...

I really don't see how so many e-book manufactures have gotten the format for a reader wrong. Make it about the size of a paperback, open into two screens, with a re-enforced ribbon cable hinge so its a tad more pliable than a straight laptop hinge. Monochrome will work fine. Split the battery, one on each "page" to give it some heft. Two buttons and a slide wheel on the sides would work perfectly for interface. Wheel for changing pages and navigating a menu, one button for bringing up a menu, and another button to choose an item. It doesn't have to be the horrible things they are now, apple proved people want nice clean interfaces with very little clutter or buttons with the I-pod. Why does everyone continually get it wrong?

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone should commission Nintendo to design a reader.

writtenwyrdd said...

I have nothing against e-books, but I truly cannot abide reading books on the computer. It is hard on my eyes, needs power or batteries, and it isn't readily portable. Ebook readers also cost and have the same problems as reading on a laptop. Palm pilots are just as problemmatic, not to mention the teensy screen. (I took a Palm with me to Paris and worked on my novel with it in the evenings; and that cured me of ever wanting to use an ereader.)

Deb said...

Ms. Rejecter, as a (so-far) e-pubbed author, how do you recommend we handle the credential? I'm saying, when we query an agent. Do we call ourselves published, unpubbed, or inhabiting some vast crater in between?

I've heard so many people diss e-published authors as though there was some disgrace in it. I don't feel that way, but if agents do, maybe I'd better change my thinking (G).

What do you say?

Heather said...

I'll tell you why there's so many ebook publishers.

Because it's easy, and easy to take advantage of. They are generally less picky, because there aren't the same overhead costs to consider when you're publishing an ebook. Traditional publishers are picky as hell because they just plain can't afford to waste time and effort (and thus, money) on a product which doesn't sell.

If an ebook publisher gets a lemon? They've lost little, perhaps even nothing.

Authors who might otherwise have no chance at print publication can have a better shot at ebook publishing.

Think about it. Investment costs are low, overhead is low, actual publication costs are low... which means profit margins are (theoretically) high... so it's good business.

No one is denying that there is a market for them. It's just not a big one, nor will it likely ever be a major portion of the industry. If I get published, I WILL have books in my hand. If they offer ebooks as well, then great. But I want a real, physical book in my hand, and not one I had to pay to print on my own.

The Rejecter said...

Deb,

An e-Book is a legitimate publishing credit. That said, we care about the work you're submitting much more.

Heather said...

Oh, and ebook author? Every one of the sites you listed is a primarily romance publisher.

Don't you have any "big" ebook publishers that aren't romance?

High volume doesn't mean high quality. Not to knock romance, but I've seen some on the NYT bestseller list that should have never gotten out of editing - it colors my perceptions a bit about quality in the genre.

jcs said...

I guess I'm an exception. I enjoy having e-books, though they'd never completely replace solid paper books. In the right circumstance though, they are the best! I keep them on my Treo smart phone (on the Palm before I upgraded) so I always have reading material on hand.

Being an SF fan, I get a lot of short stories from fictionwise.com, where I find a lot of my favorite authors with short stories for less than a dollar each. I have some novels as well, for those really long waits in the doctor's office. And of course, you can get a lot of the classics for free from the Gutenberg project.

They came in very handy when I had my first baby and wanted to read one-handed in the dark!

e-book author said...

Heather,

As Samhain and Ellora's Cave are two of the biggest e-book publishers I don't know what the problem is that you seem to have. So what if it's romance?

Correct me if I'm wrong but Romance and SFF are two of the biggest sellers book wise.

Also, Heather, I think you need to do some investigation and research on e-book publishing yourself. It is not "easy" to get into. And they "won't take just anything". If you knew anything about e-book publishing you would know that.

There are some less than credible e-publishers out there. But there are also some very credible ones.

So what do you have to say to the likes of Kate Douglas, Angela Knight, Jaci Burton and the others who started as e-book authors? A lot of authors start in e-publishing for a variety of reasons. Some do it to build up a fanbase, some do it because e-pubs are more willing to take a chance on the less than traditional stories than print publishers, some use it as a stepping stone.

If e-books were so bad or horrendous then NY & print publishers wouldn't keep looking at them to find the hot new talent and offer deals to them.

And I believe I said that there are bad e-books just as there are good ones the same goes for print. That has nothing to do with whether the book is e-pubbed or print. It has to do with market and demand.

And if you want a site that offers more than just romance try one of the ebook sites like ereader.com or fictionwise.com

e-book author said...

Rejector,

Thanks for saying that e-books are a legit publishing credit. You had some of us worried by this post.

When agents and editors look at track record and sales - if you're among the top in e-pubbing, that has to count for something. Agents and editors want to know you can write, write often and sell.

Maya Reynolds said...

First of all, the romance genre has been a pillar of the publishing industry for a lot of years. It outsold every market segment with the exception of religious/inspirational in 2006. So, even if you don't read it, at least recognize it as a profit generator for the industry.

I'm amused by the smug comments on the quality of romance. Romance has also been a great proving ground for a number of best-selling authors. Janet Evanovich wrote a dozen Harlequin romances before writing her first Stephanie Plum novel. Nora Roberts wrote for Harlequin long before writing the J.D. Robb thrillers.

More than a quarter of ALL BOOKS SOLD in 2006 were romance. Maybe, instead of spending time writing to The Rejecter, you might consider trying to write a romance. I'm betting you'll find it's not as easy as you think.

Yes, e-books primarily began in the sci-fi and romance genres. Erotic romance essentially began as a sub-genre on sites like Ellora's Cave, Liquid Silver and Loose Id (pronounced "lucid").

As for the quality, New York didn't hesitate to come calling when it realized how popular erotic romance was becoming. Many erotic romance writers now write for both traditional publishers like Berkley, NAL, Kensington, Avon, Ballentine, Pocket and Signet AND for their former e-publishers. I know several writers who were FIRST published in print and who then sought out e-book contracts in addition to their print contracts.

My first book (a romance) was published by NAL, a division of Penguin. I didn't choose to go the e-book route. That doesn't mean I wouldn't in the future.

I was more than a little taken aback by the negative comments about e-publishing here as well as the lack of awareness of the way the industry is moving.

The survey taken at the Frankfurt Book Fair recently listed e-books as the #1 choice in the major areas of growth in the coming years.

Any day now, Amazon is due to release its Kindle Reader. It will be a wireless e-reader capable of downloading newspapers and magazines. It also will use Mobipocket technology, permitting multiple formats. Knowing Amazon and their predilection toward sacrificing price for market share, I expect they'll run some sales with deep discounts on those initial Kindle e-readers.

Harlequin, that bastion of romance (and not known for changing easily) has just announced their entire front list is now available on e-books. Looks like they recognize something the rest of you are ignoring.

Meanwhile, the six major publishing conglomerates are racing to digitize their stock. While POD technology certainly is a major factor, it will be interesting to see how many books come out in a "Kindle edition" on Amazon.

Thanks to all of you for giving me a subject for my blog tonight.

[shakes head sadly]

kirsten saell said...

Not to knock romance, but I've seen some on the NYT bestseller list that should have never gotten out of editing - it colors my perceptions a bit about quality in the genre.

Two words for ya: Dan Brown.

Yanno, the moment I read Heather's ill-advised comment on romance as a genre, I shook my head. I'd anticipated a huge, merciless pile-on of affronted romance writers/readers and insulted e-published authors. Good thing the comment moderation is on--not as much oportunity for the momentum to build.

KS Augustin said...

Cripes, who reads ebooks on laptops or computer screens? Are you guys nuts? I've bought, so my Fictionwise bookshelf tells me, 54 ebooks in the past 12 months and I've never read a single one on a "big" screen. Too cumbersome, too restrictive, too noisy. Hasn't anyone heard of PDAs? Holds hundreds of books, is light, portable, linked to a dictionary, adjustable orientation and font size. Still looking out for a dedicated e-Reader ('cos I'm a gadget freak) but, for the moment, my obsolete iPaq does me just fine...and I don't have to worry about my darling book getting creased corners in my handbag! :)

Stephen said...

I've bought thousands of paper books over the years. In the last four years, I've probably only bought 20 or so paper, but about 650 ebooks. A few of those are short stories, but not most of them. Why? No storage problems, easy to carry (I have 60 books in my pocket right now), instant online purchase & download, and better pricing (the average paperback in Australia is $20 (about US$18 at the moment). If you don't have an ebook edition of your book, I probably won't read it.

Ebooks have certain parallels with Videos/DVD's in the film industry. The first video players were low quality, expensive, and not many films came out for them. And the film industry hated them, many films were not available. They even tried to make show once only videos, using weird security tricks. Sound familiar?

Ebooks can be used to complement a paper release. Put samples on the web for people to try. If it is a book that fans are waiting for, make some money early by selling the ARC as an ebook (at HC+ prices).

Kat said...

The one place I've seen e-books really pan out for people (as an interested observer only, mind) is as a promotional tool. Both Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross published FREE e-versions of their books online at the same time the books were coming out, and though it's hard to be sure they both think it impacted their sales positively. Basically, people were doing what I did: reading part of the book, thinking, "Hey, that's cool," ... and then going out and buying it in a format they could stand to read. It's basically like sample chapters, only the fact that they had the entire book up was a mark of generosity that, I suspect, inclined readers to be equally generous back.

Peter Watts also used free e-books to his benefit.... Basically, he got stuck in one of those ugly publishing situations where by the time the third book of the series came out, the first was out of print. He got permission to publish the out-of-print book on his website and I don't doubt that helped his sales.

But as a substantial money-maker in their own right... no, I don't see e-books coming into their own for some time yet.

Madge Sinclair said...

I don't care for e-books, not because I'm 75 and forever stuck in my old ways, but because holding a book in my shaky hands is a spiritual experience that I don't want to give up. I cherish the smell of print, the feel of the paper and the images on the cover. But most importantly of all, I love the fact that I can tote the damn in my purse when I'm freezing my wrinkled tits off in the cold waiting on that damn bus to come.

puchu said...

..if there was a way to get all the books I currently own in paper e-book format for free - or close to it (cause buying the same thing twice is.. less than fun...), I would get myself an e-reader faster than you can snap your fingers, dive into the e-book marked and never resurface again.

If they could sort out the formatting problems, I can't see anything negative about it. I know I'd be willing to shell out quite a lot of money for a reader if I could get all my favourite books - and then some - on it.

...besides, my books are overflowing from my shelves, and onto chairs, tables, couches, beds and my floor. It's starting to get unbearable, yet I can't help adding 5-20 new books to my collection every month...