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The Publishing Industry Needs to Embrace Technology

During Book Expo America, ebooks were the hot topic. A report from the New York Times signaled that there is some within the industry who are fearful of the rise of ebooks in general and the increase of Amazon’s market power in particular. There seems to be a lot of resistance to ebooks in the publishing industry and I’ve never really understood why. It’s not clear to me whether the concept of change is the root of the problem or whether it is the repercussions of technology itself.

The current publishing industry as an economic model is quite inefficient. NPR recently did a story (thanks Jill F for the link) on the business of returns in publishing. Returns are not the returns from consumers to the retailers, but from retailers to publishers.

According to the NPR story, after the Great Depression, publishers wanted to encourage book retailers to order more books and to take chances on new authors. To do this, publishers offered booksellers the right to return unsold books for credit. National Book Company in Dunnsmore, PA, a major warehouse for the publishing industry, says that 1 in 4 books that is sent out is returned.

I’ve seen at least one report that indicated that almost 40% of books shipped are returned because they are unsold. This actually correlates with the report of authors who indicate that a 50% sell through on a print run is considered a success.

Under the current return policy, the publisher loses money on every other book it prints. It’s amazing that a publisher makes any money at all.

HarperCollins new imprint, HarperStudio, wants to eliminate returns, advances and try to revolutionize the book industry. Of course, my answer to this is ebooks. The current ebook model has no returns because there is no print run. There are no resales. There are little to no advances. Authors are paid a high percentage of the retail price (35-45% in many cases) and are paid on a quarterly basis with no amount of the royalty held as a reserve against a return (because there are no returns). The move away from reliance on print sales toward ebook sales is not something to fear but embrace. It is ebooks and ebook technology that could save the publishing industry in spite of piracy worries.

The benefit the book business has is to study the digital model of movies and music. Understandably, these aren’t exactly comparable mediums but both industries because of technology have faced changing revenue streams. 10 years ago, CDs comprised 74.8% of total music sales (full length cassettes had a market share of 18.2%). In the last five years, digital music sales have gone to not even registering as a percentage of overall sales to accounting for 30 percent of all music sales in the US.

Music has gone from Vinyl LPs to 8 Tracks to Cassettes to CDs and now bits and bytes. Despite technological innovations, music is still being produced and sold.   Individuals within the industry are looking for new ways to monetize their art.

Even though the book form has remained in use for 500 years, we are on the tipping point of a major cultural shift in reading. There’s a love affair with the printed book, but its inefficient and environmentally unfriendly.   But it’s a mistake to cling to this love of the printed book in an effort to stave off the move toward digitizing all areas of entertainment. In this, I believe, if you don’t innovate, you’ll lose out.

With every technological innovation there are those who get left behind. In the ebook scenario, though, I don’t think its the authors. In some sense I think ebook technologically can benefit authors in that it could decentralize the power of the publishing industry. Instead of the industry dominated by just a few publishers and just a few retailers, the internet will make and has already made publishing success available to those with little money and a great idea.

Technology will not stand still. It’s inexorable march into the future will not be stopped by paper and ink. The publishing industry is in the unique position to learn from the other markets and to adapt to the way future generations will consume books. It doesn’t make sense to fear the change, but to embrace it; to be at the forefront of the digital age rather than behind it.

Harlequin is one publisher who I see is really taking advantage of the digital opportunities with its epublished only fiction, it’s decision to digitize its entire front list of over 120 titles every month while digitizing its backlist at the same time, by offering all series books a month in advance, by pushing its content onto devices through partnerships with Daily Lit, providing its content for cellphone users.

I don’t agree with everything Harlequin does as it relates to ebooks. I think for a commodity that cannot be resold or returned, the prices are too high. I think that the tying of books to a certain format creates headaches and barriers to adoption. I also think that publishing has to rethink how it compensates its authors, perhaps asking authors to take more risk in the form of lowered advances for a greater cut on the backend with royalties paid on a monthly basis rather than a bi yearly basis.

Right now is the time for publishing industry folks from publishers to authors to retailers to readers to participate in discussions about the best way to monetize the publishing industry so that tomorrow’s generation has a vibrant and diverse selection of reading materials that are provided by artists who are fairly compensated.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

78 Comments

  1. J L Wilson
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 08:54:40

    Thanks for such a concise explanation of the issues involved with publishing/epublishing. I think one thing that would help a great deal is a common ebook format, or at least an easy way to convert formats if needed (i.e., if purchased one vendor, can it be downloaded to a variety of devices?)

    I have a Kindle, an Ebookwise, and recently sold my Rocket Ebook reader (which I dearly loved, I have to admit). I’m a bit more technologically savvy than some folks, so was able to get my ebook purchases ported to each device, but that’s because I never bought anything in a proprietary format (Mobi, etc.). If it would be easy to download a book directly to a device from any web site, I think that would go a long way to making ebook reading a reality.

    I’m an ebook author so I have a vested interest in this, but I’m also concerned about the environment. Surely there’s a better model that can be used for the industry?

  2. Terry
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 09:18:46

    I’m definitely with JL about needing better formatting options. I have an eBookwise which so far has enough content choices to keep me occupied, but it doesn’t come close to the Kindle’s offerings. Yes, the books I write can be put on the Kindle, but it requires extra steps, and most people aren’t as savvy as JL, or even if they are, prefer the convenience of one-stop shopping rather than the steps required to take a non-Kindle book and get it onto ther reader.

    Another thought: I think the term “e-book” still carries strong connotations of “e-publishers”, which then leads one to assumptions of erotica, which is probably the most popular sub-genre of the e-publishers. I know my sales as a mainstream author for two e-publishers don’t begin to approach those of the erotic lines.

    However, as more print publishers move into electronic format, I think readers will enjoy having a choice. Seeing traditional NY print authors and their books offered electronically should boost interest and recognition that there is an alternative (not substitute) to paper books.

    Last night, long after my local book store had closed, I bought four new books for my eBookwise. All were from traditional NY publishers. One romantic suspense, 1 romance and two mysteries. I figure I saved on gas, saved some money on the book prices, and saved a few trees.

    I know that my royalty cut of my e-books bought from my publishers is significant compared with royatlies on print books. I really don’t know how the authors of the books I bought last night fare with the electronic versions. I wonder how they feel about people who buy their books electronically instead of going to a traditional book store. I don’t think those figures are calculated when the best-seller lists come out, which might bother some of them. And are my e-purchases contributing to a higher return rate because I don’t buy the books in print?

  3. rae
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 09:23:54

    I like ebooks as much as the next person but until until the big boys adopt one single std format that you can use on any device, and is not limited to x number of machines I doubt ebooks will really take off. I foolishly would get my drm ebooks in adobe format because it displayed better than .lit. Then adobe forced an upgrade of the software and I lost some of my library – it was on my hard drive I’m just unable to open it. Their solution was to contact the retailer – not possible when the retailer is out of business and one I did contact has ignored my request. Never again.

  4. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 09:30:33

    The production of e-books takes some control away from the distributor, who has always controlled the interface between writer and reader. They decide which books to stock and so what the public will read. Marketing efforts by writers and publishers can help to change this, but only marginally, and if there is something “newsworthy” with which to tempt the news media.
    But the publisher can now offer e-books directly off their website. This links in with Harlequin’s mailing list, and helps to explain why they are the first big publisher to make a push for e-books. And online distributors, notably Amazon, have been trying to take this control back, by making their Kindle e-book reader conform to a proprietory format.
    But, as an author, what I am mostly concerned with is the royalties. Before this, agents and writers have taken paltry royalties for their e-books sales, brushing the issue aside as unimportant because sales were low, whereas, as I’ve been saying for years, they needed to get the principle established before e-books took over the market.
    E-book companies like Ellora’s Cave, Samhain, Cobblestone Press and the rest typically offer between 30 and 50% of cover price as royalty, the average coming in at about 35%. That’s not net, that’s cover price of the book as offered on the website. This is why e-book authors have been able to make a living off what is still lower sales in the e-book sector. They don’t have to sell so many books to make a decent income. If the book is sold from a third-party site, then the royalties decrease to take the additional fees into account.
    The big publishers, as far as I know (please correct me if I’m wrong), don’t do this. The writer gets the paltry 10% or less of cover price, regardless of the format the book is sold in.
    When the publisher saves the considerable fees of distribution charges and yet pockets the money, is it any wonder they are keen to develop this market? The e-sales will help to offset the considerable losses all the big publishers are suffering from decreased print sales and increases in distribution costs, fuelled by the increase in oil prices.
    Economics rules this world and it will continue to do so. I have no doubt that e-books will increase in popularity, but the author and her agent has to take care that in the grab for profits, they don’t get left behind.

  5. Sheryl Nantus
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 11:04:37

    until there’s an affordable ebook reader and a format that ALL the publishers agree on, ebooks are going to continue being the bastard child no one wants to deal with.

    me, I read off my laptop. I use the Adobe Digital Editions software because it allows me to “bookmark” my free ebooks that I’ve gotten through WOWIO and giveaways. I do NOT like the fact that if I download to my desktop with my net connection that I’m screwed if I want to port it over to my laptop. I do NOT like the fact that the average ebook reader is hundreds of dollars and doesn’t even let me see the glorious book cover in COLOR.

    until they put together a cheap, affordable ebook reader for the masses it’s going to be nothing more than a gimmick for the average person. They don’t want to slap down hundreds for a Kindle and then find out that they can’t port over their ebooks from their laptops. They don’t want to have to worry about PDF, Mobipocket and other formats. All they want it to be is SIMPLE. And right now, it isn’t.

  6. K. Z. Snow
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 11:05:49

    Excellent post, Jane, and very enlightening.

    I’m one of those dinosaurs who’s hooked on the printed word. But the older I get, the more I appreciate font resizing (i.e., enlarging) capability. A reader can’t resize the print in a bound volume. And it is necessary to conserve natural resources. As the world’s population explodes, more and more land will be needed simply to feed and house this species’ burgeoning numbers.

    Finally, yes, returns are a huge and understandable concern for publishers and authors alike. I’m rather surprised any e-pubs put their work into print, since I’ve heard some pretty discouraging stories about authors’ electronic royalties taking a big hit due to returns of their print titles. UGH. That’s truly a no-win situation.

    Bottom line: e-books, good; print books, wonderful but less and less practical.

  7. Laura Vivanco
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 12:14:52

    The variety of formats and methods of downloading them, as well as the need to work out which formats are compatible with which devices means that the whole process is not simple enough for me, yet, and I’m not confident enough that the formats won’t change. The ebook readers are also still rather expensive. I’d rather wait and see if one format and one or two ebook readers become the standard.

    I have downloaded a few ebooks onto my computer and I found it irritating when I couldn’t copy and paste the words I wanted to quote. I can see why the publishers would want to restrict this, but copying and pasting, and the ability to search for individual words, would make my work easier. When a file is read-only, if I want to quote from it I have to switch back and forwards between windows to ensure that I’m typing the words out accurately. It’s really awkward compared to how easy it is to type out quotes from a paper book. I suppose it might be easier if I had a separate ebook reader, but are those designed for being able to read while you’re also typing at a keyboard? With paper books I can prop them up against a small book stand and still be able to type and see my computer screen.

    Admittedly there are probably not very many people wanting to write analysis of Harlequin romances, but there are probably similar issues with regards to the usability of non-fiction ebooks too, including e-textbooks.

  8. Steph B.
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 12:50:06

    This is a very interesting discussion. I’m a huge fan of technology and generally advocate for utilizing computers EXCEPT for reading.

    I agree with some of the other opinions stated above that until the format question is resolved I don’t want to have a lot of money tied up in one format only to see it become obsolete! I have resisted buying an eReader because of the format issue. But I also still love to hold a real paper book in my hands… I can’t sit at the pool in the full sun and see most of the eReader choices I know of but I can take a “real” book and sit in the sun.

    I find the information from authors on how the eBooks may pay you better royalties informative and interesting. I am all for authors making good money on their books so they will continue to write.

    However, as a reader, economics also comes into play. I have a finite amount of money I am generally willing to spend on my books. I often buy used books or trade books I’m through with so I get more books for the amount of money I have to spend. I realize authors don’t get money for these resold books and I’m sorry about that but I also would never try some new to me authors if I didn’t find their book used or trade for them. I am NOT willing to spend full price on an author when I don’t know if I like their books. After I have discovered a new author and I like their work there is a good chance that I will buy their next book new. Because I am such a huge reader I am often left waiting for the next book in a series and will purchase those new to get them quicker.

    OK so now look at purchasing my books in eBook format. Most of the time the eBook will cost me the same amount (or close) as the printed book. If I buy the printed book new at full price, I have the option of trading it when I am through for another book… If I choose to buy the same book in an eBook format — that’s it… I have the book forever if I want it (well if the technology doesn’t change and leave me unable to read it anymore). Often I can’t even move the eBook from one machine to another and I upgrade computers every few years…

    So for me to spend much money on eBooks I would have to be getting some advantage (that I don’t see yet)… maybe getting a new book faster… or if the eBook version was discounted from the cost of the print book (to me it seems like it shouldn’t cost as much to produce an eBook as a print book so the eBook should cost less than the printed book).

    If I were not able to trade used print books I would not read as many books as I read. The more the cost of new books increases the less likely I am to buy it new as soon as it is released. I find myself willing to wait longer to get a book when the price increases…

    ROFL actually for me I have found another option…. I have started reviewing books. I get the book free for spending the time to read it and write my opinion about the book. Many of the books I review are eBooks and I do not mind reading them on my computer. I generally turn in 20-30 reviews a month so we are talking about a lot of books… and I still read other books that I buy or trade…

    When the publishers decide on one eBook format and make the purchase of eBooks more economical for me then I will consider moving to more eBooks.

  9. Christine Merrill
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 13:03:39

    I wonder how they feel about people who buy their books electronically instead of going to a traditional book store. I don't think those figures are calculated when the best-seller lists come out, which might bother some of them. And are my e-purchases contributing to a higher return rate because I don't buy the books in print?

    I’m published with Harlequin, so I don’t have a great stake in making the big, best seller lists. But I’ll answer anyway.

    One of my titles is available as an e-book, and as far as I can tell, it’s doing pretty well. On my latest royalty statement, it accounts for .96 % of my sales. Note the decimal. Less than 1%. And that is so far. I expect, as my print returns come in, that the e-sales will be an even smaller percent of the total.

    So, no. At this time, buying an e-book is probably not going to have a measurable effect on sales of a print title.

    Personally, I don’t care what format the book sells in. A sale is a sale. I get the same royalty for print and electronic, although it works out to a few cents less, because of the discount in price. And it makes no difference where you buy it, because Harlequin is huge, the royalty is tiny.

    I expect this will change, eventually, because production cost are cheaper. But this is a situation where we have to turn the Titanic. The Titanic is hard to turn. And for them, e-sales are still an ice cube, not an iceberg.

    Personally, I have a few e-books, but I prefer print. I’m not going to spend a bundle on a reader. And an e-book doesn’t DO anything. I watch DVDs and net surf because they are interactive experiences. I have an Ipod because someone gave me one, and I got hooked on the portability of large variety of music, while driving.

    My kids are against my reading while driving. So I can’t get the e-book analogy to work there.

    Where are the special features on my e-book? I want an Easter egg, dammit.

    Speaking as an ex-academic librarian? Watch the textbook industry. We were already using e-texts, 5 years back, in a small town tech school. Because the e-texts are interactive. There are video clips, quizzes for review, and the e-book comes free with the text.

    In an academic setting, everyone can afford a reader. They would be cheaper than buying books. Looking into the future? The problem of formatting changes and lost material could be solved if you set up a registration system, and treat the books as software. Lose the reader? Download new texts. Pay a small fee and get access to new additions of the text, since textbooks are obsolete and unusable in a few years.

    So it makes sense to go totally electronic for schools, ASAP.

    Not so much for popular fiction. Yes, the current system is wasteful. But aside from all the other problems of cost, eyestrain, and not being able to read in the bubble bath: until poor people in third world countries have easy access to e-readers, electronic books are not going to be a viable solution.

  10. Dalia
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 13:11:44

    My main problem with e-books is the attached price. Why, why, why is it almost the same price – or sometimes more expensive! – than print books?

    I simply don’t understand it. Living abroad, the main advantages for me are 1) no shipping costs and 2) no waiting for delivery.

    But for those living in the States/Canada/UK etc, unless you’re tech savvy and can’t do without carrying your massive library in the palm of your hand, what is the true benefit to paying basically the same price for a book that, (as far as I can see) costs the publisher less to make and places on you more restrictions?

    Dalia

  11. kirsten saell
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 13:39:47

    The big publishers, as far as I know (please correct me if I'm wrong), don't do this. The writer gets the paltry 10% or less of cover price, regardless of the format the book is sold in.
    When the publisher saves the considerable fees of distribution charges and yet pockets the money, is it any wonder they are keen to develop this market?

    Anyone who knows me will know how I feel about this, no matter what stupid excuses a publisher tries to shove down our throats to justify their greed.

    OK so now look at purchasing my books in eBook format. Most of the time the eBook will cost me the same amount (or close) as the printed book.

    Everyone prolly knows how I feel about this, too, lol.

    Big publishers will tell you that the cost of print/paper/binding, shipping, warehousing and returns are minimal (total BS) compared to editing, preproduction, cover art, etc, and that therefore there is no way to offer a higher royalty to the author, or a lower price to the customer. When you call them on it, they’ll tell you they need that extra profit to “subsidize the print run”.

    If print book cover prices were more reflective of their true production costs, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Print books would cost twice what they do now, their ebook counterparts would cost 2/3 what they do, and the readership would choose accordingly.

    Not so much for popular fiction. Yes, the current system is wasteful. But aside from all the other problems of cost, eyestrain, and not being able to read in the bubble bath:

    Eyestrain doesn’t have to be an issue with the e-ink technology that will be more and more prevalent in the future. It’s actually hard to tell the screen from a printed page–plus you can enlarge the text. What’s not to like? And you want to take it in the bathtub? Stick it in a ziploc bag.

  12. Kimber An
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 13:51:38

    Reporting as an unprofessional blogging book reviewer, more and more readers are learning that eBooks are not all Erotica. In fact, I was won over by the greater variety of stories available through ePublishers. It seems to me Erotica is only a slice of the pie now.

  13. Claudia
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 13:59:42

    Publishers need to stay current as well. I was all set to purchase an Atria ebook, but only Acrobat 7.12 can be used to download ‘n activate the pdf. I’m running v. 8. I also don’t use the Microsoft or Palm readers and ultimately decided not to buy the book because I’m installing extra or old software.

    I’ve settled on secure Mobi for the bulk of my purchases and my Palm TX has been great for reading in bed & on the go. I do hate having to hit buttons to scroll and scrolling–manual or auto–drains the batteries like crazy. So, I read the majority of ebooks at on my desktop pc.

    My current conundrum is that it’s often cheaper to buy even categories with a coupon at Borders than it is to buy ebook versions. The $1 or more saving per book adds up since I read alot, but then I have a pile I’ll never read again.

  14. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 14:00:25

    I like ebooks as much as the next person but until until the big boys adopt one single std format that you can use on any device, and is not limited to x number of machines I doubt ebooks will really take off.

    DRM’s are slowly disappearing, as they did in music, although Harlequin still uses them.
    And I think we’re more likely to see readers that can cope with a variety of formats, rather than one standard format. I don’t think that will happen. But the new readers like the Astak Mentor (I want one of those!) will be able to take whatever format you throw at it.
    I have an ebookwise, which I love. I can adjust the print size, and read in the dark because of its backlight (I have chronic insomnia, and the ebookwise is a savior!) I also have a couple of old monochrome pda’s, and my new tiny laptop, the Asus eee. I read on all of those, but rarely on my fullsize laptop. I work on that, so I like to get away to read.
    All those devices can cope with a variety of formats. For the ebookwise, I use the Ebookwise Librarian program, which converts everything except pdf and device-specific formats. With the Asus and the pda’s, I just install a reader program on them, be it Microsoft reader, Mobipocket, Adobe reader or anything else.
    I do know people who read on their phones (if you do’nt have a reader, put the book on in html format as a saved webpage). I’m currently purging my bookshelves, having re-bought a lot of books in e-format, a bit like when I went from casette tape to CD.
    But I still have some vinyl. And I’m keeping the books that mean something to me. I just love the choice.

  15. Shayne
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 14:03:17

    If more and more traditional publishers join the epublishing venture, it will be interesting to see the reactions to the steep difference in royalties.

    Epubbed authors know there is no excuse for a publisher to want 90% of their esales, the risk for loss is way less. The big names like Nora Roberts, Kim Harrison, etc could shop around. Their names would generate big sales regardless of their publisher, and would get 40% (if not more) of sales.

    Who knows how it will go?

  16. MoJo
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 14:17:29

    Ebookwise Librarian program, which converts everything except pdf and device-specific formats.

    Lynne, you convert the pdf to rtf first (reader 8 lets you do that), then run it through the Librarian.

    For DRM’d books, you buy the .lit, then use the ConvertLit program, then the Librarian. The only format I haven’t been able to crack yet is the Mobi.

    I’m an eBookWise whore. I wish they had an affiliate program and I’d slap it up on my site.

  17. cecilia
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 14:40:11

    People keep talking about how e-books are not a lot cheaper, but I don’t find that’s the case for me, generally. In the past few days, I’ve gotten hooked on a new-to-me author, and have bought 4 of her titles. If I bought her books from Chapters, it would cost me over $35. At Fictionwise, it’s cost me just over $18. With the Canadian dollar so close to American, that’s a big enough savings for me. I doubt I could get most of these books cheaper used, and definitely not with the same convenience.

  18. Tiffany James
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 15:43:48

    Jane,

    Thanks for such an informative post!

    While I agree that e-books need to be embraced, I still love to hold a book in my hand! I think there has to be a happy medium where the return policy is amended, e-readers and e-books find their place but I can still purchase and lovingly cradle a print book close to my heart!

    Tiffany

  19. Becca
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 17:31:28

    There are three things that are keeping me from joining the ebook wave.

    one is, of course, the lack of a standard format. Until there is one, count me out.

    two is the cost of an ebook reader – right now several hundred dollars is prohibitive for me.

    three is, we live out in the country and don’t have a terribly high-speed connection… and our satellite company penalizes you for large downloads by dropping you to dial-up speeds for 24 hours. Until high speed connections are much more common than they are, I think the issue of downloads will be a major stopper for a lot of people.

  20. Heather
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 22:43:31

    Just wanted to say thanks for a very interesting and educational post.

  21. LinM
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 02:01:25

    Interesting article and some interesting comments. I love ebooks – they suit my deteriorating eyesight and lack of shelf space. But, for me, DRM and format incompatibilities are frustrating and usually result in a lost sale.

    ChristineM wants easter eggs in ebooks; I don’t – please, just give me the book. Multimedia textbooks are one thing but even they have advantages and disadvantages. Illustrations, animations, simulations, self-test quizzes can be valuable. But sometimes working through the printed text leads to a deeper, more thoughtful comprehension. I’ve embraced ebooks to help me overcome visual and space limitations – not to change the way I interact with a book. I’m afraid that value-added digital editions may actually be an overall loss.

    I agree 100% with Becca’s first 2 objections to ebooks but was curious enough in the comment about file-size to look at my ebooks. Most are about 200-500K. Websiteoptimization.com reports that the DA home page is about 220K (html/images/css/scripts/…) although this will vary as the content varies. So, if you can load the DA homepage twice, you can download an ebook even on dialup. (Too bad this is small potatoes compared to the other points).

  22. Jenyfer Matthews
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 03:57:30

    Lynne, you convert the pdf to rtf first (reader 8 lets you do that), then run it through the Librarian.

    Now there is something I’d like to know how to do. Though since my ebookwise reader has suddenly stopped talking to my computer and no one in the tech support can help me, I guess it wouldn’t do me much good anyway.

    I love ebooks…but I guess I’m not the best example at the moment.

  23. Nora Roberts
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 05:31:33

    The e-book market is still evolving, as is its technology. Lots of changes to be made there, I think, before those of us published in print see e-sales as a solid part of our income.

    For me, e-books offer a choice–and I’m all for it, all for any form or method that gets a book (legally) into a reader’s hands.

    But I don’t feel they will or want them to replace the printed book. There are still many of us–and at this point I’d say the majority of us–who enjoy the experience of a bookstore. Walking in, browsing the stock, being around shelves and shelves of books. And those of us who want to hold a book.

    We’re as entitled to that choice as those who choose e-form or audio form.

    I’m not going to read on screen, but I’m delighted that others find that method convenient and/or exciting.

    Royalties generally run from 6 to 15% of the cover price of a printed book, depending on the publisher, the author, the form. I don’t consider it paltry when production costs and overhead are figured into the cost of the book.

  24. Terry
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 05:45:30

    For me, e-books offer a choice-and I'm all for it,

    Exactly — it’s definitely not “instead of” it’s just another way to read. I find it the perfect way to catch up on a newly discovered author’s back list.

  25. Amanda
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 08:26:27

    People keep talking about how e-books are not a lot cheaper, but I don't find that's the case for me, generally.

    I agree wholeheartedly. It really confuses me when I keep reading how expensive ebooks are, when I find them remarkably economical. Perhaps it’s just a case of which particular books you purchase, or where. I recently discovered La Nora’s ‘In Death’ series and purchased the whole lot over a madly insanely gluttonous one-week reading jag. There was just ONE book out of the entire series that I couldn’t find on line, so I bought it in PB locally and the comparative high cost of it made me actually hesitate and consider whether I really NEEDED that one book… but my point is that I definitely couldn’t have afforded to buy almost 30 books in one week at standard PB prices. Of course, the fact I am buying ebooks at $ rates and PB at UK book prices could actually explain the vast cost differences that I experience personally.

  26. Carolyn Jewel
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 10:15:56

    Well, I think it’s important to note this:

    ebook reader: $350 – can’t play all content
    mp3 player: <$100 – plays all content

    I realize I’m simplifying, but those numbers are accurate. My MP3 player cost me $60. The Kindle is $349 now. The comparison to music is only partially apt. There are key differences that make the analogy break down pretty quickly. As long as ebook readers lock you into THEIR content only and cost so much, the technology will remain a barrier to adoption.

    To listen to music, regardless of how it’s played, you only need to have hearing. To read a book, you need sight AND literacy. Arriving at the appropriate combination of technology, deliverability and price needs to take that into consideration.

    So far, access to digital content requires access to the internet. And this is NOT universally available even, and, some would argue, particularly,in the US. The wireless capability of the Kindle is location dependent. Montana, for example, is out of luck. Broadband is not universally available and there is not a computer in every house. So how, exactly, will replacing print books with ebooks do anything but leave a significant portion of the market, potential or actual, out in the cold? It’s really not either/or and we shouldn’t be framing the discussion as if it were.

    The question isn’t how to replace print with digital, but how to remove the current inefficiencies of print while also providing digital content for those who can afford and access that technology.

    The real revolution for publishers, in my opinion, lies in finding a way to use Just-In-Time printing to phase out the current returns system. And the whole time, they expand their market into digital presentations, too.

    Both. Not Either Or.

    Thanks for the interesting topic.

  27. BethanyA
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 10:56:35

    I am a former college textbook rep. and worked with online colleges such as the University of Phoenix Online and for profit business schools, like DeVry, Kaplan which offer many courses online. What I always found remarkable was that these schools–which have thousands upon thousands of students enrolled in online programs earning associate, bachelor and master degrees– would almost always order their books in print. We would always push the e-textbooks (thus reduce the used book market and returns), but the textbook coordinators all said the same thing: their online students enjoy the feel of a book in their hands, and it made their online experience feel more “legitimate”.

    While frustrating when I was a rep, I have to be honest and say that I am in complete accord with the students. There is such a possessiveness I have with my books. A little less so with library books, but I know that when reading material online I am definitely less engaged. I really think that is the source of the problem for students who choose to order e-books instead of textbooks for cost purposes. They are less engaged and thus do not perform as well as others who buy the actual book.

  28. Chicklet
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 11:22:04

    I agree that issues of access to technology and money are integral to the print-ebook debate. But why don’t publishers make it easier for those of us with the means (money, broadband internet access) to make a partial (or complete) conversion to ebooks? A relatively inexpensive reader, capable of reading multiple file formats, ebooks that are significantly cheaper than their print counterparts — with those elements in place, more people would use ebooks more often, and the publishers still would do print runs (smaller ones, probably) to accomodate that change (and save trees, as well as their own money).

    Look at the music market: a segment of the audience purchases all of their music electronically, another segment (mine) purchases some combination of electronic files and CDs, and another segment (my parents’) purchases only CDs. Everyone gets their music despite the different formats. Could the publishing industry work the same way? Why or why not?

    It also seems to me that one more possible advantage for authors is that they may be able to get their royalty checks more frequently than every quarter, since they won’t have to wait for returns to the publisher. Perhaps monthly?

  29. Nora Roberts
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 11:59:59

    The music industry didn’t evolve digitally overnight either. I do think a lot of people don’t take the technology, the work and time involved, the massive figuring out into consideration on this issue. It’s not just a matter of let’s do this, and it happens. It’s a huge change.

    ~It also seems to me that one more possible advantage for authors is that they may be able to get their royalty checks more frequently than every quarter, since they won't have to wait for returns to the publisher. Perhaps monthly?~

    Without returns no bookstores. There are those of us who want the bookstore to survive. And accounting still takes time–you’re not talking about a relatively small e-house, but enormous publishers with long, long lists of authors.

    I have to say royalties aren’t like a payroll. I don’t know how to explain the ins and outs, but it’s not like working for General Mills with their individual departments, for instance where you’re on salary or log time.

  30. Angelia Sparrow
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 12:24:39

    I bought my first Sony reader. I love it, except for the lack of cover art.

    I completely agree with standardized formatting. It didn’t take four years (the length of time I’ve been writing e-books) for VHS to beat out Betamax, or the .mp3 to triumph over the .midi and .wav.

    An ideal ebook reader:
    Inexpensive, under $200
    displays covers in color
    adjustable fonts
    reads all formats of files
    weighs less than a duck about 6-8 oz.
    wireless downloads as well as USB transfers
    easy to hold without pushing buttons
    buttons easy to find and push, even for people of limited hand-use
    power cord to wall-socket, not just USB power
    backlighting can be turned on or off for reading in low-light situations
    long battery life (week/10 days)
    cover to protect it
    shockproof

    Some e-houses pay monthly royalties, Chicklet.
    Ellora’s Cave and Phaze both do.

  31. Christine Merrill
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 12:30:49

    I have to say royalties aren't like a payroll. I don't know how to explain the ins and outs, but it's not like working for General Mills with their individual departments, for instance where you're on salary or log time.

    But it would be, in the sense that it costs money, every time you cut a check. This is why normal company payrolls work better when they deposit, electronically, or pay monthly instead of weekly. Payroll is really expensive.

    To pay royalties monthly means a big chunk of the saved money would go into cutting more checks. And all the authors who have contracts with the current royalty dates are screwed, since they are not going to renegotiate those.

    No returns means fewer new authors bought by bookstores (too risky) and fewer bookstores (can’t afford to order stock).

    Cheaper e-books would be good. But big publishers might flood the market with cheap e-books to try to force small presses out of business. This puts pressure on small presses to cut prices to compete. A good way to do that would be to lower their royalties, and keep more money for overhead.

    And they could raise the e-royalty % rate at big e-publishers, but drop the price of the book until the authors make the same amount, while the publisher still sees more profit because of reduced overhead.

    Financially, it starts out looking clear cut: lower overhead and higher profits trickle down.

    But always remember: writing is art, publishing is sales. Not saying the system won't change. Just saying the publishers will try to take the biggest cut of any profits, and the authors will have to fight for an increase.

    Sorry to be a cynic. But if you trust capitalists to act like capitalists, you might be disappointed by the results, but you won't be surprised.

  32. Karen Templeton
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 12:51:22

    Also have to say that the no-advance thing is a deal breaker for this author. Were I just starting out…maybe. (And that’s a big maybe, since I never targeted a no-advance or flat-fee publisher.)

    Thing is, when you get an advance, you know you’ll at least make that much money on the book. God willing, you’ll make more. And you know the publisher’s invested in you to at least that extent, which makes them more likely to, you know, do something to actually sell the book.

    I don’t care how good the royalty split looks on paper (or screen, since we’re talking digital, here ;-)), once a publisher says they want my book, *I* want some sort of guarantee that I’ll make at least X amount of dollars from that sale. At this point, I also want a few bucks to tide me over while I’m writing the thing. Not looking to get rich (not that I’d mind!), and we each have our own ideas about what a “reasonable” advance is for the work involved, but for me, going the “no advance” route would be a backwards step. And an unacceptable one.

    And frankly, I don’t get the assumption that e-books = no advance, anyway. From a small, just-getting-started e-publisher, sure — everyone involved knows the risks and takes them together. From a major player…nope. Our work doesn’t change simply because the format does, so why should the remuneration model?

    That’s not to say I’m anti-ebook, although — for all the reasons already mentioned — it’s still not taking off the way everyone thought it would a dozen years ago. I’m also published with Harlequin; my e-book sales are numbering in the low hundreds, as opposed to the solid, mid-to-high five digit sales of print, including retail and book club. Even the large print editions — which were introduced around the same time as the electronic editions — sell in the thousands. After two years, e-books remain an inconsequential blip on my royalty statement.

    There are certainly many advantages to e-books — the immediacy, the lack of shipping costs to other countries, the ability to “store” hundreds of books in the space of one. But more than the delivery system of the books themselves would have to be re-tooled to result in at least the *same* sales figures as we see now: how books actually get *to readers* — all readers, not just those who regularly troll cyberspace for reviews and recommendations — would have to change, as well.

    While I can certainly envision, perhaps, a new-age bookstore with screens and displays and such that would allow a reader to browse, read a few pages, then select books to either be printed while they waited or downloaded onto their (universal) reader, that’s not going to happen overnight. But browsing is crucial, especially to those authors who aren’t big names. And not everyone likes to browse online, so, as Nora said, we still need bookstores. Or reasonable facsimilies thereof.

    So this might take a while. After all, “they” all thought we’d have flying cars by now, too, but that didn’t happen, either. ;-)

  33. Nora Roberts
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 13:10:16

    For those I’ve heard say e-books are for the new generation of readers. I don’t disagree altogether, but neither do I see it as an either or. It’s still about choice. My brand new dil–my son got married Sat–is, like my son, a self-proclaimed nerd. And somewhat of a geek. They go nowhere without their laptops, do strange and amazing things (to me)with their cell phones, and often speak in compuease. They are both big readers–esp my new dil, who turns 26 this week.

    She doesn’t have a reader, doesn’t want one. She likes books. I have no doubt some of her friends in her age group have them and love them. Both make me very happy.

    Like Karen mentioned, I was told a good dozen years ago in a writer’s round table that e-books would replace print within four or five years–replace. And the entire publishing industry would be reborn in this new way. I disagreed then, and the person who claimed this shrugged. She was right, I was wrong–and I would see.

    I’m still waiting.

    If I have any annoyance with the pro-e-book type, it’s only with the type who claim this new way is the ONLY way, or will be.

  34. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 13:14:04

    And frankly, I don't get the assumption that e-books = no advance, anyway.

    I have to say that one of my e-publishers pays regular advances.

    That's not to say I'm anti-ebook, although -’ for all the reasons already mentioned -’ it's still not taking off the way everyone thought it would a dozen years ago.

    I never thought it would, in fact, I hoped it wouldn’t take off like a rocket. I used to specialise in new market/product development, and 9 times out of 10, the market that took off like a rocket, came down like one, too.
    What I was hoping for, and what is happening, is the development is steadier. A typical new market always follows the same pattern – in my years in management I never knew one to be any different to the way the e-book market is developing. It’s also following the typical economic model of new market development. For those of you who did Business Studies – think about it, and you’ll see it.
    We’re still in the development stage, and we’re about to see barriers to entry rising more (they’ve already risen quite a lot) and the big companies with synergies to make moving in. Amazon has started the rush, but I’m not sure they’ll be a major player at the end, unless they change their single format reader. Which they probably will.
    I don’t think a standardised format will ever happen, although some of the smaller ones will drop out. Instead, it’s looking like multiformat readers are the way.
    Anyway, if the author looks at now, instead of five years in the future, she will be happy with her e-royalties and rely on the advance for her income. But in five years time, when e-format will take a significant portion of the book market, it will be too late. The royalties will be set and the publishers and distributors will, once again, be in clover.
    The “they” you need to concern yourself with are the “they” who have the numbers and can do accurate market forecasts, not the pundits in the popular press. I’m sure Ford never foresaw a flying car, and haven’t planned for it, which is why we don’t have one now.

  35. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 13:21:31

    I maybe should add that one of the reasons I’m so keen on e-books is that my eyesight is poor. Paper books were always a strain for me, and I like to have a book on me. Ever try carting a large print book around?
    So for me personally, the adjustable print on the readers and the backlights are fantastic. I can read for hours again, and I can do it with my glasses on (small print) and off (large print).
    So writing e-books was natural for me. I really don’t understand writers who send manuscripts to e-publishers and then claim they’ve never read an e-book (I’ve seen that more than once).

  36. Chicklet
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 13:34:03

    That's not to say I'm anti-ebook, although -’ for all the reasons already mentioned -’ it's still not taking off the way everyone thought it would a dozen years ago.

    But how much of that is due to readers not wanting ebooks, and how much of it is publishers not offering easy ways to purchase, store, and read ebooks? It’s hard to judge demand when the supply is a relative trickle.

  37. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 15:01:48

    But how much of that is due to readers not wanting ebooks, and how much of it is publishers not offering easy ways to purchase, store, and read ebooks? It's hard to judge demand when the supply is a relative trickle.

    Hard to say, but I’ve yet to hear any of my NY print-published friends say that their ebooks sales are even making a real showing on their royalty statements (they sure aren’t on mine). For most of us, it's less-than-1% of total sales (waaaaay less). The machines are out there, and have been for at least a few years now (expensive as they are; iPods aren't cheap either, but everyone I know owns one), so if the demand was really there, I think our ebook sales would be MUCH higher (I know my books get sold on Fictionwise in multiple formats and on Amazon in Kindle format, so the choice IS there).

    I love the idea of the perfect book reader, but until it exists (and the Kindle isn't it, IMO, cause proprietary formatting stinks) I'm certainly not plunking down the price of nearly 50 physical books for one.

  38. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 15:23:19

    It might be that at the moment, the dedicated publishers like Ellora’s Cave have most of the sales. The big publishers haven’t yet gone out of their way to take the market, they have just established a foothold.
    I do know that a friend of mine had a book released in New York at the same time that I had one come out at Ellora’s Cave, and I sold more than she did, when returns were taken into consideration.
    Returns are wasteful, and with the decline of the newspaper and magazine market, and the rise in oil prices which affects transportation and paper production, it won’t be long until that system reaches crisis point. Whatever happens with e-books, this practice is probably coming to its end, or to a decline.
    And if you were getting 37% of the cover price of the ebooks you sold, it might be a more significant part of your statements.

  39. kirsten saell
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 15:25:08

    The question isn't how to replace print with digital, but how to remove the current inefficiencies of print while also providing digital content for those who can afford and access that technology.

    Exactly: either print books should cost more to reflect their actual production costs, or the methods involved in producing and distributing them need to be refined to eliminate waste.

    The real revolution for publishers, in my opinion, lies in finding a way to use Just-In-Time printing to phase out the current returns system.

    You mean POD? I’m pretty sure that for sure sellers like Nora, regular print runs are still the way to go–but for new authors and mid-listers, POD has some obvious advantages. However, how hard is your publisher going to push your book without that added incentive of potential catastrophic loss of $$ if your book tanks?

    And frankly, I don't get the assumption that e-books = no advance, anyway. From a small, just-getting-started e-publisher, sure -’ everyone involved knows the risks and takes them together. From a major player…nope. Our work doesn't change simply because the format does, so why should the remuneration model?

    So would you be content to be making 8% royalty on a format that essentially has no overhead costs? Would you be content to see the publisher earn 30% more than they would on a print book and still pay you the same 75 cents per copy?

    Print and eformat are not the same. Consumers give up any right to resell or share or give away their ebooks. Physical production and distribution costs are non-existent with ebooks. The author deserves a higher royalty. Readers deserve a lower price. These two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

    And having a reader that was as universal as an MP3 player would certainly make it easier for those of us who would love to choose ebooks, for whatever reason.

  40. Christine Merrill
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 16:46:27

    So would you be content to be making 8% royalty on a format that essentially has no overhead costs? Would you be content to see the publisher earn 30% more than they would on a print book and still pay you the same 75 cents per copy?

    I did the math on this, using my current royalty statement, Am I willing to give up approx $500 in additional royalties on my e-sales, for advance money up front, international distribution on the finished work, translations, and sales in mid 5 figures?

    Yes.

    This does not mean that I am anti e-book. Or that I wouldn’t sell to a small press or e-publisher, if I thought I had a project that belonged there. It means that, at this time, using current sales numbers, I think I am getting a fair shake.

    If the price of e-books drops, even if the royalty increases, the situation will still be at break even for me, for quite a while.

  41. Karen Templeton
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 16:58:25

    So would you be content to be making 8% royalty on a format that essentially has no overhead costs? Would you be content to see the publisher earn 30% more than they would on a print book and still pay you the same 75 cents per copy?

    First, I was talking strictly about the advance thing, although I should have thought of the royalty aspect as well. And no, I’m not happy with earning the same percent for e-book as paper, since the price is lower (although not significantly) with Harlequin. However, as I said, the Large Print far, far outsells the e-books at this point, and their price is higher, so at this point — strictly from a personal perspective — I’m coming out ahead.

    Second, there’s a lot more to overhead than the cost of producing the physical book, and even distributing it. Harlequin, for instance, spends big bucks on keeping the brand name out there, in advertising and such, a lot more than most smaller pubs. So while I don’t think getting the same percentage is fair for both paper and e-book (assuming a lower price for the e-edition, neither am I seeing them ever giving over 35 percent of the cover price to authors. And that’s not me standing up for my company out of some blind sense of loyalty, it’s understanding from a business perspective that even selling a product with no physical entity entails costs beyond what the consumer “sees.”

    Also, someone mentioned if the royalties were higher for our e-books, it might make more of a difference on our royalty statements. Well…not really. 35,000 copies (North American retail only) at 6 percent still comes out to a LOT more than 200 copies at 35 or 40 percent.

    As had been said, few authors care how people read their books, as long as they read and we’re not talking wholesale piracy. :) But I think what we have here is a wait-and-see attitude from publishers, e-reader manufacturers and the public that’s hamstringing the whole shebang. Why progress seems to be moving at warp speed on other technological fronts, and yet not in publishing, I have no idea. Because I do think we’d see more readers embrace ebooks if there was an inexpensive, universal reader and e-books were cheaper to compensate for not being able to share them (because the thought of being able to share files with a hundred people makes me very, very nervous).

    Whether that would lead to a large-scale shift from paper to digital, however…not so easy to guess.

  42. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 17:34:42

    It might be that at the moment, the dedicated publishers like Ellora's Cave have most of the sales. The big publishers haven't yet gone out of their way to take the market, they have just established a foothold.

    I'm not sure what else they're supposed to do? The eBook is out there. It's ready, willing and able. Almost no one buys them (judging by the royalty statements of all the authors I know). We all sell plenty of books though. If there was a ravenous market of people who have already shifted their reading paradigm I'd expect to see much greater sales of that format for those of us who have books out in both formats. I'm sure that people who are already early adopters may well buy their NY-published books in eFormat as well (esp. if they drank the Kindle Kool-Aid), but I don't think that your everyday reader (my bread and butter audience) is going to abandon paperbacks anytime soon.

    I do know that a friend of mine had a book released in New York at the same time that I had one come out at Ellora's Cave, and I sold more than she did, when returns were taken into consideration.

    Which means that A) your ebook did very well (congrats!) and B) something went seriously wrong with your friend's sales (which house are we talking about here?).

    Even if she had a smallish print run and only met the minimally acceptable sell-though of 50% we should still be talking 20K books sold (as a very conservative estimate). While there may well be rock stars of the eWorld who sell in those kinds of numbers, none of the ePubbed authors I know sell anywhere near that many copies of a single title. Maybe I just hangout with the slackers, but I doubt it. One of my friends is a partner in one of the big ePubs and she says its rare for a book to sell more than a few hundred copies (a few leak into the thousands, but those are written by people like Mary Jancie Davidson and are special “eBook” only offerings). Hitting 5-figures would be an extraordinary event for 90-99% of the ePublished books. Hitting 6-figures in sales might actually begin to convince the world at large that eBooks are the wave of the future (which they may well be, but it's not going to happen in the near future unless something truly dramatic happens on the handheld reader front).

    And if you were getting 37% of the cover price of the ebooks you sold, it might be a more significant part of your statements.

    Yes, but as far as I'm aware, none of the big houses pay their authors that much for an ebook sale. I get the same amount as for a paperback. And no, 37% of the negligible # of eBooks I sold wouldn't make a huge difference in my statement. In fact, after doing the math it wouldn't even buy me a nice dinner out. Lunch maybe, but not dinner.

  43. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 18:03:11

    I'm not sure what else they're supposed to do? The eBook is out there. It's ready, willing and able. Almost no one buys them (judging by the royalty statements of all the authors I know).

    The average first month sales at Ellora’s Cave per book is in the early four figures. That’s three release days a week, 8 books, short stories and novellas per release. And the books stay on the site for five years or more, with more sales each month.
    So somebody’s buying them.

  44. Nora Roberts
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 18:04:10

    ~Returns are wasteful~

    I know it may seem that way if you’re not in the bookstore business. But it’s really not true. Without returns, no bookstores. Surely no indie bookstores. I’ve said it before, and will repeat: My husband’s store would NOT take any new authors and very little mid-list with a no-return policy. He couldn’t afford it. Period.

    And he would have to order much, much less even of established.

    He has overhead, he has payroll.

    He can’t put books out without being pretty sure of sales if he can’t return. There is not the huge mark up on books as there is say on clothing. He can’t put his products on a 50% off rack. He’d lose a lot of money.

    So, no returns? New authors can kiss potential sales bye-bye. And a lot of independent bookstores close the door.

  45. Christine Merrill
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 18:23:13

    The average first month sales at Ellora's Cave per book is in the early four figures.

    But Ellora’s Cave is Erotica. And in ebooks, Erotica has higher sales numbers than non-erotica.

    Many of us don’t write erotica. If we aren’t planning to switch, these higher numbers aren’t likely to pertain to us. My ebook numbers seem to be more in line with a lot of non-erotica e-authors I’ve talked to. Hundreds of copies sold, not thousands.

    The current number of ebooks for me is exactly 369. Total. Since last June, or so. And I have a much beloved screen shot, sent from a friend, where I made a best seller list on ereader.com. I was three slots below Neil Gaiman. (This is probably as close as I’ll ever get to him).

    I love every sale. Really. Enjoy it how you will. I do not favor one format over another. The more the merrier. But this is the hard truth, straight from my royalty statement.

  46. Nora Roberts
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 18:25:45

    At this point, for me, e-form is a miniscule drop in my sales bucket. Will that increase. I’d like to think so. I’m for it. Any sale, any form, any reader is aces with me

    But this make more money does not compute.

    We did this before somewhere. I make a buck and twenty on an eight dollar paperback. People want cheaper for e–and the price I heard tossed around was half. So four bucks on an e-form on that eight dollar paper. I make 30%? That’s about what I hear is the general royalty rate there.

    A buck and twenty. The same.

    So if the readers get what they demand–the e-form that’s half the price of the print book, and the authors get the increased royalty to 30%, I’m going to make the same money on either form. And now and in the forseeable future from my point of view, I’m going to sell a lot more paperbacks than e-forms.

    I don’t see, simply don’t see, this oft-claimed more money in e than paper. Even with my shaky math skills it doesn’t come off that way. Unless you are with an e-focused company, one who does e first, then may move into print. If you sell three thousand copies of your e-book (A very solid sale, yes?) at the 8 dollar per copy mark, you’ve got royalties–at 30% of like 8k? Is that right?

    But if we cut that cover price in half, to meet the reader demand for cheaper books in e-form, the royalties would reflect that per copy cost. So your three thousand sales would not equal 4k in royalties.

    A paperback that only sells three thousand copies has pretty much tanked. But you would only get about $2,400. Less, certainly than the same in e. But, again, a mass market that only sells three thousand copies is a very, very weak sell. And most who signed with a paper publisher would have gotten a bigger advance than that $2,400. They get to keep it.

  47. Nora Roberts
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 18:32:01

    ~Hundreds of copies sold, not thousands.~

    This is exactly what I hear from most writers.

    Exceptions there are, certainly.

    But in mass market, the ‘average’ sales are going to be in the five figures, not four. It’s a big difference.

  48. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 19:38:04

    ~Hundreds of copies sold, not thousands.~

    This is exactly what I hear from most writers.

    Exceptions there are, certainly.

    But in mass market, the ‘average' sales are going to be in the five figures, not four. It's a big difference.

    And in ten years’ time, those numbers could well be reversed. Could, not will. They might be equal. But by then, authors will have accepted the 6-10% royalty as the norm and that’s what they’ll get. The publishers need to replenish their coffers, after the hits they’ll take with the rising cost of fuel and paper, and the declining print market will have declining margins, so they have to make it somewhere.
    If you don’t ask for it now, you won’t get it further down the road.

  49. Chicklet
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 21:19:51

    The eBook is out there. It's ready, willing and able. Almost no one buys them (judging by the royalty statements of all the authors I know).

    But what I’m trying to say is that the playing field is not level. The publishers of books and the sellers of readers have not made it so (yet?). Ebooks are easy to purchase/download, but buyers cannot loan them out or resell the ones they don’t like. The Kindle versions cost the same as the paper books, thereby not offsetting the inconvenience of not being able to loan or resell ebooks. The readers cost hundreds of dollars and there is no standard format, so the reader you do buy may or may not be able to handle the files you want to purchase.

    If readers were available with a standard industry format at a price range comparable to iPods, and the prices of ebooks and paper books accurately reflected their true production costs, would buying patterns be different?

  50. Karen Templeton
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 21:20:33

    And in ten years' time, those numbers could well be reversed. Could, not will. They might be equal. But by then, authors will have accepted the 6-10% royalty as the norm and that's what they'll get. The publishers need to replenish their coffers, after the hits they'll take with the rising cost of fuel and paper, and the declining print market will have declining margins, so they have to make it somewhere.
    If you don't ask for it now, you won't get it further down the road.

    And we (meaning the Harlequin authors) have been doing just that. We’re all aware of the “coulds” and “mights” in this business; but we’re also aware of the situation as it stands. Whereas authors with huge sales figures (or their agents) can negotiate nearly any aspect of their contracts, the average shmoe has no such clout with the big publishers — with or without an agent. “Ask and ye shall receive” does not apply to publishing, alas.

    We’ve been told that, as or if things change with regards to e-book sales, they’ll take another look at the royalty rate; but that thus far the e-book venture hasn’t turned a profit.

    What that means in actual facts and figures, obviously I have no idea. But I’m guessing at an average of 200 units sold per title (as opposed to tens of thousands in print), probably not. These sales aren’t gravy; it does cost something to convert to three or more formats, to maintain the webpages for hundreds of books, and whenever the books are sold through an outlet other than eHarlequin, those venues get part of the cut, too.

    In any case, while we’re free to ask for a larger slice of the pie, they’re also free to say no. Being a realist, taking my work — non-erotic, category romance — elsewhere isn’t a viable option. Given that nothing is perfect in this world, let alone in publishing, I’m not about to jeopardize what I’ve worked ten years to build over something that might — or might not — happen. I, and my fellow Har authors, most certainly do not have our heads in the sand; but sometimes all you can do is weigh your options and make the best choices you can, given what you’ve got to work with at the moment.

    Others may, and I’m sure do, feel differently, and that’s their prerogative. One of the few things authors have control over is which publishers they wish to target, and what offers to accept, or not, once they’re made. But most authors have absolutely no leverage to demand anything.

    Me, I’m just happy to be writing consistently for a publisher who gets my books out where people can find them, is trying to cover every base possible with alternative formats and foreign sales, and pays me on time. For now, that’s enough.

    But you know what they say about the squeaky wheel…;-)

  51. kirsten saell
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 21:57:55

    I did the math on this, using my current royalty statement, Am I willing to give up approx $500 in additional royalties on my e-sales, for advance money up front, international distribution on the finished work, translations, and sales in mid 5 figures?

    I’m certain you say that because e-sales account for a tiny percentage of your overall sales. However, that percentage is bound to grow–even though I’m positive ebooks will never replace print. If ebook sales accounted for 1/4 to 1/3 of your copies sold, I think you might find it harder to swallow that 75 cents per copy.

    I just think it’s foolish to set a precedent like this with larger publishers. In five years, when you realize they’re making a mint on your work and not giving you a comparable share of the profit, they’ll say what they always say: “We’ve always done it this way. Why change now?”

    No one is going to ask an author with a big publisher to trade a decent advance for a higher royalty on e-sales. But IIRC, the new paradigm being tested– at Harper Collins, was it?– is a higher percentage on all sales, eformat and print.

    Second, there's a lot more to overhead than the cost of producing the physical book, and even distributing it.

    No one’s arguing that it doesn’t cost money to produce quality ebooks. But it does cost less, and that reduced cost needs to be reflected in either the royalty to the author or the cover price–or both. To hear some industry people talk, you’d think printing, paper, binding, warehousing, shipping and returns cost nothing at all–unless you’re negotiating your royalty escalation, in which case, those very things are bankrupting the publisher, lol!

    Why progress seems to be moving at warp speed on other technological fronts, and yet not in publishing, I have no idea. Because I do think we'd see more readers embrace ebooks if there was an inexpensive, universal reader and e-books were cheaper to compensate for not being able to share them (because the thought of being able to share files with a hundred people makes me very, very nervous).

    Couldn’t agree more.

    I'm sure that people who are already early adopters may well buy their NY-published books in eFormat as well (esp. if they drank the Kindle Kool-Aid), but I don't think that your everyday reader (my bread and butter audience) is going to abandon paperbacks anytime soon.

    Not at $10 a copy, they aren’t.

    But in mass market, the ‘average' sales are going to be in the five figures, not four. It's a big difference.

    And from some of the things I’ve read, that five-figure sale–even with a sane and reasonable advance–could represent a net loss of revenue to the publisher.

    But by then, authors will have accepted the 6-10% royalty as the norm and that's what they'll get. The publishers need to replenish their coffers, after the hits they'll take with the rising cost of fuel and paper, and the declining print market will have declining margins, so they have to make it somewhere.
    If you don't ask for it now, you won't get it further down the road.

    I’ve heard it put forth that the higher profits publishers make on ebooks is necessary to “subsidize the print run”. Well, geez, I thought that’s what Nora Roberts and Dan Brown were for.

    We've been told that, as or if things change with regards to e-book sales, they'll take another look at the royalty rate; but that thus far the e-book venture hasn't turned a profit.

    Every time I hear that, it just makes me think of how income tax and the GST here in Canada were brought in as “temporary measures”, one of them to fund WWII, and the other to eliminate the national deficit. Well, last I checked, WWII was over, and Canada has been deficit-free for years. But we pay more income tax than ever, and we still pay GST on goods and services. How much more amenable will your publisher be to giving you that higher royalty when ebooks do take off and it represents hundreds or thousands of dollars per title, than they are now, when it represents a only a few bucks per title?

  52. Christine Merrill
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 22:39:53

    I just think it's foolish to set a precedent like this with larger publishers. In five years, when you realize they're making a mint on your work and not giving you a comparable share of the profit, they'll say what they always say: “We've always done it this way. Why change now?”

    And then, I’ll walk.
    It’s not like they have me chained in a basement.

    Right now, that part of the Harlquin contract is boilerplate, and not on the table. At all. Period. If I don’t like it, I am free to quit.

    But I also cope with the fact that I get a smaller royalty than Nora Roberts, because HQ M & B pays a smaller percentage than other publishers. (And I hear Nora sells more books than me, too.)

    Harlequin does not have the best contract in all of publishing. But they are honest, and the company is stable. They will still be around to take advantage of my naivte in 10 years. IMHO, that’s way ahead of a lot of places that would offer me a better royalty.

    Hopefully I am building an audience, which will give me sales numbers and a little clout. And on the day that I see something in the contract that I am not willng to sign, either the problem gets fixed, or I find a new publisher.

    Or my career is over. Which is always a possiblity that needs factoring in.

    But I do not see the point in standing on principal now, over a non-negotiable line in the contract, pertaining to a couple hundred books, because there is a chance that I might get screwed in five or ten years, if the numbers change.

  53. kirsten saell
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 23:14:06

    But I do not see the point in standing on principal now, over a non-negotiable line in the contract, pertaining to a couple hundred books, because there is a chance that I might get screwed in five or ten years, if the numbers change.

    Well, one person ain’t gonna change the way the big guys treat their authors — unless that person is Nora Roberts ;). But I do find it less likely that authors will be able to negotiate a higher royalty once the ebook’s share of the market is bigger.

    I can see where you’re coming from, really I can, and as a newb who is published by an epublisher (albeit a well-respected one with consistent growth) my opinion might not count for much. But I have done a fair bit of research on publishing in general, and it sucks that print publishers are treating ebooks exactly like print books and then saying, “See? What did we tell you, ebooks will never get off the ground.” It is in the power of large publishers to pay a higher royalty. It is in their power to offer the consumer a reduced cover price. The fact that they do neither of these things not only looks greedy whether they’re unfairly pocketing $50 or $50 000–but it’s also effectively stunting the development of a format that could help the industry at a time when costs of gas, paper and labor are at an all time high.

  54. Miki
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 00:08:19

    Lynne Connolly said:

    But the new readers like the Astak Mentor (I want one of those!) will be able to take whatever format you throw at it.

    Sigh, Lynne, I hear that’s [no longer] true. Per MobileReads, Amazon will not allow Mobipocket on a dedicated eBook reader if it contains any other DRM formats. So Astak is planning to offer a “mobipocket” version and an “ereader” format.

    I think Amazon has seen conversations like the one here and has decided to be the owners of THE LAST DRM FORMAT STANDING.

  55. Miki
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 00:19:40

    Because I do think we'd see more readers embrace ebooks if there was an inexpensive, universal reader and e-books were cheaper to compensate for not being able to share them (because the thought of being able to share files with a hundred people makes me very, very nervous).

    Couldn't agree more.

    I’m so tired of being considered a thief or pirate if I want to share my ebook with the same people I share my print books with. Not a hundred people, but the three or four who regularly swap paperbacks with me. And wouldn’t it be nice to be able to share those with the spine-breaker or the smoker and not worry about my copies coming back crumpled or stinky?!

    I know that by removing the DRM, you allow for the possibility that someone will upload the books to the various darknet sites out there.

    But as I’ve slowly switched over from buying print to buying new only in digital format (when I can get it that way), I’ve wanted to continue to share those great stories. But I can’t. So I say: “Read a great book last night! Oh, but it’s an ebook, so I can’t share it with you. You’ll have to check the library for it.”

  56. karma
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 00:37:01

    According to one of the owners of my publishing company (and I’m quoting here, mind you), this is how it typically works….

    One month, Ingrams places an order for 100 copies of every single book in the publisher’s catalogue. Next month, Ingrams returns an average of 90-95 copies of each book (covers ripped off, of course) as being unsellable. The very next month, they order 100 copies of those EXACT SAME BOOKS, then the next month—yep—they return an average of 90-95 copies of each book (covers ripped off) for being unsellable. And month after month after month the same pattern continues. Then, about a year later (or sometimes longer) the publisher finally receives payment from Ingrams for whatever was actually sold (horrible less than what was expected), and meanwhile, the publisher is left holding the bag (ie. stocking thousands of those unsellable books after having dished out all the money to print them) while the booksellers are laughing all the way to the bank and Ingrams is tickled silly since they are making money and the old-boy system is still playing havoc with the industry and putting the majority of small presses out of business within the first year.

    When is the last time you’ve heard of a grocery store returning product to the manufacturer and getting a full refund, only to order the same products the following month? Never! This system within the book industry is the most insane, and the publishers (and in turn, the authors, staffs, etc.) are facing an uphill battle in an antiquated system. Is it any wonder most publishers are now going the POD route, or the e-book route where “No Returns” are the norm? The old NY system is helping no one EXCEPT the NY publishers (and Ingrams), who have fought tooth and nail to keep this bizarre system in place all these years. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they are the ones battling to keep everything status quo.

    Ingrams certainly isn’t one to b*tch about Amazon’s recent “Booksurge debate” since they’ve been screwing the publishers and running a monopoly on the industry for decades, all based on the “old-boys” NY policy.

  57. kirsten saell
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 01:30:02

    I'm so tired of being considered a thief or pirate if I want to share my ebook with the same people I share my print books with. Not a hundred people, but the three or four who regularly swap paperbacks with me.

    Yeah, it sucks, and it’s one reason why ebooks should be cheaper. Because sharing an ebook, even with friends, is not the same as sharing a print book. You lend your print book to ten friends, it takes months or years to circulate among them all and eventually it falls apart. If one of them wants to reread it, or put it on a keeper shelf, they need to buy it again. Regardless of whether they do, that one book has fallen apart and is no longer in circulation.

    Share an ebook with ten friends, there are now a bunch of copies of that book where there once was one: on your computer/reader, and your friends’ computers/readers, in email sent-files and inboxes. Each of those copies will last until the owner chooses to delete it. They can each be copied again, an infinite number of times. In theory, the same ebook can be shared among every potential reader, without anyone having to wait their turn to read it, or give up their copy once they’re done.

    Will say it again: ebooks and print books cannot be treated the same.

  58. Rae
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 02:57:04

    Will say it again: ebooks and print books cannot be treated the same.

    Why not? I have paid for that file. If I wish to duplicate that file then it is my right. Perhaps publishing houses should increase the price of ebooks to allow for this fact. Or perhaps they should be more honest and say instead of buying a book you are buying a licence to view that book on one computer.

  59. Ann Somerville
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 03:08:37

    If I wish to duplicate that file then it is my right.

    Wrong. Even with a print book, you are explicitly forbidden from reproducing it in any form – owning a book doesn’t give you the right to make hundreds of photocopies of it and send it to your bestest friends. This is a very basic principle of the law of copyright.

    You loan a book, you no longer have it. There is a single item. You send an ebook to a friend, you have a copy, they have a copy. Not a loan, not a sale of a second hand copy – it’s reproduction. And in fact, it’s nothing less than theft.

  60. Nora Roberts
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 05:41:54

    Karma, I don’t know your publisher, but I can tell you in my experience it doesn’t work that way. And booksellers aren’t laughing all the way to the bank. Ingram doesn’t strip 90 out of 100 books ordered routinely.

    I’ve been to Ingram, to their warehouse. I’ve seen their operation, talked to many of the people who work there. Execs and those on the line.

    I’ll say it again: Without returns, new authors and most midlist authors won’t have a chance. None.

    Books aren’t groceries. But the books, magazines and greeting cards sold in a grocery store can and are returned as necessary.

  61. Nora Roberts
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 06:11:32

    If it becomes okay to copy and lend an e-book to a pal, the next step is copying and selling that e-book. Just last week there was a seller on E-bay with a jillion e-books for auction. A good chunk of the jillion were mine.

    She didn’t get away with it. But the fact is, if she hadn’t been caught, she would have. I have no doubt she could say, but they’re MY e-books.

    I get this from these discussions: Some if not most readers want e-books to be cheaper than paper books. Some want the means and the right to copy and lend them. Some even want the right to copy and sell them. In this way, that faction of readers want them to be considered the same as paper–but don’t want to pay the same for them because . . . they’re not the same as paper.

    On the author front I get a higher royalty rate for e. I believe it will matter some day. I also believe, for those authors who don’t get a higher rate at this point, my agent’s motto. Everything’s negotiable. When the time comes and it does matter, industry standards will evolve, because there will be enough authors/agents demanding to make it so.

    I don’t believe publishers or distributors or booksellers are out to screw the author. I don’t understand why some have to have a bad guy. The technology is evolving. This portion of the industry is evolving. From my view all this isn’t nearly as simple as some want it to be. And evolution takes time.

  62. Christine Merrill
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 07:59:21

    Karma,

    I used to work for a book distributor, Chas Levy, as a merchandiser, ripping the covers off books and sending back returns. I’d say it was closer to %50 returns. Still high, of course. But not 90%. Although there were some authors, like Stephen King, who got a permanent shelf for backlist, we rotated titles and didn’t restock things that weren’t selling. So, a lot of fresh titles every month, some of which had high returns, and some of which sold out.

    Not a great system. Needs change. But no one would be making any money at all if 90% of the books got thrown away, and bookstores re-ordered blindly, ignoring what didn't sell.

    And I am definitely against sharing e-books. But totally in favor of selling them as a license. If you buy a license for the product, you could register serial numbers on your e-readers, and be allowed to move the file from reader to reader, without having to make a copy. It would give you the freedom to update your tech, and it would give the author some security. The reader loses the right of possession of an intangible, and the right to copy it. But it wouldn't be so painful, if they dropped the price of the license to way less than cover price of a pb.

    When I was a librarian, we had a subscription to Netlibrary. It worked somewhat on this principal. The ebook you borrowed was tied pretty tightly to the imaginary library. You could read it online. Or you could register for free, and borrow it for a week or so, coming back to their site to read it. As I remember, they gave a password so you could access content. The password expired when your loan did.

    And it was magic. I used it every chance I could.

  63. Christine Merrill
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 08:21:00

    As far as contracts and e-royalties go:

    When we’re reading the contract, this is just one thing to consider. The line that always scares me, is the one where Harlequin wants the right to formats not yet invented, forever, in the whole universe.

    Literally. When I sign the current contract, I am giving them the Holodeck rights on the Enterprise. And someday, I might have to send an agent through a wormhole. Because the only wiggle room they are leaving in my rights, is in another universe.

    So. Any time you sign something, you are taking a gamble. I’m assuming that the nebulous ‘not yet invented rights’ are not going to be worth anything to me.
    But I could be wrong.

    Right now, e-sales are just starting to take off. But when this becomes a big percent of profits, I’m pretty confident that authors and agents will dig in their heals, as a group, and there will be mass defections from any publisher with an unreasonable contract. We control the supply, and we have free will to sign with the place that gives us the best deal.

    And so, the rates will change.

    Publishing companies want to make money and retain as much of the profits as they reasonably can. But they can’t retain writers by activly cheating them. In the end, that’s what keeps us safe.

  64. Rae
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 08:45:06

    Wrong. Even with a print book, you are explicitly forbidden from reproducing it in any form – owning a book doesn't give you the right to make hundreds of photocopies of it and send it to your bestest friends. This is a very basic principle of the law of copyright.

    You loan a book, you no longer have it. There is a single item. You send an ebook to a friend, you have a copy, they have a copy. Not a loan, not a sale of a second hand copy – it's reproduction. And in fact, it's nothing less than theft.

    First of all I did not mention sending anything to a friend, certainly not hundreds of friends. I mentioned making duplicate copies. Technology is a wonderful thing but if my computer crashes I’ll lose all my files. If adobe updates their damned software I can lose my files. To protect myself against losing my files I like to keep duplicate copies of important data and stuff I’ve paid for. Now you’re coming to tell me that it’s nothing less than theft. That I’m doing something illegal by having duplicate copies. If I want to read my book on my laptop instead of my desktop I should delete the file on my desktop instead of copying it. If I want to read it on my pda I’ve got to move it back to my desktop, then to the pda then delete the file on the desktop. And you people wonder why ebooks haven’t taken off into the stratosphere yet.

    As I’ve already stated publishing companies should be honest and sell you a licence to view the ebook on one computer or device. Taking the software industry as a model. They should also forward you the file on cd-rom so you can reinstall it if god forbid your computer crashes or you change computers etc. There is no point allowing you to download the file again with the online bookstore or publishing house because as well all know these places go out of business. Some of them only allow time limited downloads and if through no fault of your own you lose the file – adobe upgrading softare – they couldn’t care less.

    Bottom line you can tie things up as much as you like, put in as many restrictions as you like. At the end of the day you are only alienating law abiding customers who have no interest in uploading stuff to bittorrent or whatever the latest thing is. The people that are interested in that will always find a way to crack whatever system you use.

    For the moment I think I’ll go back to paperbacks, they’re far less hassle. Shame that they take up so much space though.

  65. kirsten saell
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 11:49:09

    Wrong. Even with a print book, you are explicitly forbidden from reproducing it in any form – owning a book doesn't give you the right to make hundreds of photocopies of it and send it to your bestest friends. This is a very basic principle of the law of copyright.

    Exactly. Honestly, do people make copies of their paperbacks to put in safe storage, just in case they drop them in the bathtub, or the dog chews them up, or their house burns down, or they leave them on the subway? And I don’t think anyone is honestly castigating readers for sticking one back-up copy on a flash-drive in case their computer crashes. We’re just saying “sharing” an ebook with a friend or two or three or ten is not the same as sharing a print book. It isn’t sharing at all, it’s copying for the purpose of distribution.

    Books aren't groceries. But the books, magazines and greeting cards sold in a grocery store can and are returned as necessary.

    If a grocery store gets a shipment of rotten tomatoes, they throw them away and demand their money back–and they get it. If they over-order cans of soup that are fit for sale, it’s conceivable they can get their money back once they return the item to the wholesaler.

    But book “returns” aren’t actually returns. The books involved are thrown in the trash, despite the fact that they are still fit for sale. I would have no problem with the returns system if those books were actually returned for refund, but the fact that they are destroyed, and the bookseller given credit at the publisher on books that no longer exist does strike me as wasteful. Someone really needs to crunch the numbers and post it somewhere so regular folks can see just how much it costs the industry. Until they do, it’s hard to believe the such a wasteful system isn’t actually wasteful.

    From my view all this isn't nearly as simple as some want it to be. And evolution takes time.

    Too right.

    So. Any time you sign something, you are taking a gamble. I'm assuming that the nebulous ‘not yet invented rights' are not going to be worth anything to me.
    But I could be wrong.

    Okay, but think of it this way–your print book has a shelf-life. It will eventually go out of print. But ebooks can be made available in perpetuity for next to nothing, one reason Harlequin is scrambling to digitize their whole backlist. So in five or ten or twenty years, when Book X whose contract you signed today at 8% royalty has gone out of print and is only available as an ebook in your backlist, and ebooks account for a larger share of the market, well, you could actually be selling a lot of them. And making a lot less than you deserve. Although, I guess that’s what the seven year clause is for, huh?

    I'm pretty confident that authors and agents will dig in their heals, as a group, and there will be mass defections from any publisher with an unreasonable contract. We control the supply, and we have free will to sign with the place that gives us the best deal.

    I hope so. I just want to make sure they know when they’re being taken advantage of.

  66. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 12:59:35

    The question is, are we really being taken advantage of? From the POV of most ePubbed writers: Yea, we are. But from where I’m sitting, the sales of eBooks are so small that there’s no way I’m going to pass up on a contract with a major NY publisher at this point over this issue (down the road, we'll see, but I imagine it will be the Big Authors and their agents that truly take on this fight for us all; their contracts will establish how the issue is to be dealt with for the midlist authors).

    The issue that I think most of us fought tooth and nail over was the definition of “out of print” in our contracts. The print authors I know are mightily concerned that the sale of the occasional eBook will keep our book “in print” by definition and we will never be able to get our rights back. I sold my publisher the right to print and distribute my work. I did not sell my work to them outright like it was a book for hire (which is what allowing eBook sales to define “in print” could end up meaning).

    Amidst our industry's growth pains, I think we're also seeing some key differences between what is important to various subgroups of authors (and it may well be that in some instances ePubbed authors and print pubbed authors have diverging needs/opinions, both of which are perfectly legitimate).

  67. kirsten saell
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 14:29:25

    The issue that I think most of us fought tooth and nail over was the definition of “out of print” in our contracts. The print authors I know are mightily concerned that the sale of the occasional eBook will keep our book “in print” by definition and we will never be able to get our rights back. I sold my publisher the right to print and distribute my work. I did not sell my work to them outright like it was a book for hire (which is what allowing eBook sales to define “in print” could end up meaning).

    That is a scary thought. Just another reason why ebooks and print books should not be treated as interchangeable.

  68. kirsten saell
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 14:36:51

    (and it may well be that in some instances ePubbed authors and print pubbed authors have diverging needs/opinions, both of which are perfectly legitimate).

    But readers will always have similar needs/opinions: a good read for a fair price. And considering the lower overhead on ebooks, and the rights a consumer gives up when choosing them over print, it is not fair to charge virtually the same for an ebook as for a ppb.

    When the cover prices come down and sales of ebooks go up, authors will hopefully start demanding a higher percentage. That doesn’t mean they should automatically demand 40% of the cover price–it may be something as simple as the same royalty they make after escalation on print, but without having to wait for a 20-100 000 copy sell-through.

  69. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 15:19:27

    But readers will always have similar needs/opinions: a good read for a fair price. And considering the lower overhead on ebooks, and the rights a consumer gives up when choosing them over print, it is not fair to charge virtually the same for an ebook as for a ppb.

    I totally agree with this. One of the big pluses to iTunes, IMO, is that I get an ablum for about $10 instead of the $16-$20 the CD would cost me. But iTunes is only really possible because there is such a huge demand. I certainly hope the Kindle and the Sony eReader are just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to devices that could well be the iBook I’ve been waiting for (my friend and fellow writer Monica McCarty has nearly sold me on buying a Kindle . . . ).

  70. Lissa
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 16:32:37

    I read e-books alot, mostly because I enjoy the convience of them. I live in a small, rural community with a limited supply of books, mostly from the grocery store. The nearest bookstore to me (discounting major discount stores – which is still 90 miles) is a good 3.5 hour car trip. Needless to say, I do not get to the bookstore often.

    E-books allow me to keep up with new releases of my favorite authors. They allow me the the same satisifaction as the bookstore – I see a book I like, I pay for it and I have it. I don’t have to pay shipping, I don’t have to wait a week to 10 days for it to arrive, I am not hampered in delivery by weather or waiting for the mailman. For me – ebooks are a good solution.

    I prefer to read a book, rather than a computer screen. I spend 8 hours a day at work on the computer, a book is a nice change from that, but for now – as long as the ebook is convenient, I will continue to purchase it.

    I have to date, elected not to buy an ebook reader. I like the Mobi format and the books I want are available there. A reader would be nice – but too many formats make it frustrating.

    As to the price of ebooks? I don’t mind paying the same for an ebook as for a paperbook – as long as it is comparable to a paperback rather than a hardback. When I factor in the savings in shipping or gas costs to the bookstore – $8 is fine. I figure I am paying for the words either way – not the paper or the efile. Even if it is not printed, there is still work involved in getting the book on-line and formatted.

    I would both agree and disagree about loaning an ebook to someone. On the one hand, it is my copy, I have paid for it and it belongs to me to do with what I want – same as a paperback. On the other hand, those who said that you are giving a copy and not the actual book to a friend, therefore the both of you now own it for the price of one, have a good point. I guess it is like everything else. You have to believe in the inherent honesty of your fellow man and believe that they will do the right thing where the ebook is concerned.

  71. Christine Merrill
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 17:29:04

    You have to believe in the inherent honesty of your fellow man and believe that they will do the right thing where the ebook is concerned.

    I feel bad that it looks like an honesty/dishonesty issue. Because in many cases, it’s not that writers think readers are all thieves, or grabbing all they can, for free. It’s just a misunderstanding about how little some e-books sell, and how much authors get paid.

    Let’s ignore my print editions for a minute, and think of my 369 e-sales as a normal sales number for a non-erotic ebook. You buy a copy. And you like it. So you make copies for your sister, your best friend, and your mom. This is just a little sharing. Not wholesale copying.

    Three books is headed towards 1% of my total sales. (.8%) Or would be, if the book was selling. And if a couple of people share their books, it’s going to add up to a substantial number, really quick.

    I’ve heard people respond with ‘But they were never going to buy it…’ which may be true. But if you have low numbers and are fighting for every sale, it’s a pretty big blow to the authorial ego.

    So, really. Not about honesty at all. It’s just that for an e-author, your actions as a loyal reader might be more significant than you think.

  72. kirsten saell
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 17:37:49

    I read e-books alot, mostly because I enjoy the convience of them. I live in a small, rural community with a limited supply of books, mostly from the grocery store.

    That’s me, too. Last November when I visited my sister in Ottawa was the first time I’d been inside an actual bookstore in more than three years.

    As to the price of ebooks? I don't mind paying the same for an ebook as for a paperbook – as long as it is comparable to a paperback rather than a hardback. When I factor in the savings in shipping or gas costs to the bookstore – $8 is fine.

    I don’t mind reading off my laptop, but I’m not most people. And few people are willing to pay $350 for a reader so they can pay paperback prices for books they can never resell or share.

    On the other hand, those who said that you are giving a copy and not the actual book to a friend, therefore the both of you now own it for the price of one, have a good point.

    I download a lot of my books directly to a memory stick, which I can then plug into my desktop or my laptop. Speaking for myself as an author of ebooks, I would have no issues with someone taking their memory stick (or CD or floppy, if that’s where your book is stored) and lending that to a friend–with the admonition that it is illegal to make copies. Or lending them your reader. But once you start making copies, there’s just too great a potential for abuse, even if your intentions were innocuous.

    I believe in the inherent honesty of my fellow man. I also believe in the inherent dishonesty of a sizable percentage of my fellow man, and the relative ignorance of many to the issues involved. I saw one instance recently where hundreds of ebooks were illegally offered for sale by an individual, and by the time the site was removed, each of those hundreds of books had racked up hundreds of views. I don’t know how many were actually downloaded, but I do know that in all likelihood, many of those who did download the books were unaware that they were stealing.

    Music and video piracy was an issue even back in the days of VHS and cassette tapes, when bootleggers had to put out an investment in time and money to manufacture physical copies, and then distribute those copies in person. Now, you can distribute an infinite number of copies of any book at virtually no expense, little or no effort, and without ever leaving your desk at home. It’s a wonder anyone’s making any money at this.

    Jeez, sometimes I scare myself.

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    Hello! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no backup. Do you have any methods to stop hackers? Cheers!

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