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Thursday Midday Links: The Year of the Digital Backlist

Sunita has deemed 2010 as the Year of the Digital Backlist with the news that superagent Andrew Wylie has a) created a digital publishing arm called Odyssey Editions and b) signed a two year exclusive distribution deal with Amazon. From the Amazon Press Release:

This is the first time any of the titles–which include Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead,” Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”–have been available electronically, and all of the books are exclusive to the Kindle Store for two years. Starting today, customers can download these books for $9.99 from the Kindle Store and read them everywhere–on their Kindle, Kindle DX, iPhone, iPod touch, BlackBerry, PC, Mac, iPad and Android devices.

Wylie is called by some one of the most feared agents in publishing. Harvard Magazine recently profiled him. Wylie, among others, wants to see the digital royalty rate at 50%. Those advocating for this royalty use the same rhetoric that readers use to demand lower prices on ebooks. Evan Schnittman fires back on behalf of publishers that ebook royalties are a replacement of print royalties and the costs of publishing a book are largely unchanged in a digital landscape.

As Andrew Richard Albanese writes for PWxyz, the problem inherent in pricing and royalties of ebooks is that digital editions are different. Right now, consumers are essentially paying for a license that can expire at nearly any given moment, should the licensor remove the book, go out of business, change its mind, etc.

PW reports that Random House, who believes it owns the digital rights to these books, is contemplating some sort of legal action. I seem to remember that RH was involved in a dispute resolved not in its favor. (A suit with Rosetta, perhaps?).

I’m still super uncomfortable with agents setting up digital print shops as I see this as classic self dealing. I am actually most concerned about agents because there is a presumption in the law against self dealing and the agent will have to prove that they had no conflict and everything was done for the benefit of the author and in this fluctuating digital landscape I doubt the agent’s ability to carry the day in a lawsuit.


AmazonEarlier this week, Amazon issued a press release which presages its full Q2 earning statements due out today after the market closes. From the release:

Kindle offers the largest selection of the most popular books people want to read. The U.S. Kindle Store now has more than 630,000 books, including New Releases and 106 of 110 New York Times Best Sellers. Over 510,000 of these books are $9.99 or less, including 75 New York Times Best Sellers. Over 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books are also available to read on Kindle.

Recent milestones for Kindle books include:

* Over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books has sold, it has sold 143 Kindle books. Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books. This is across’s entire U.S. book business and includes sales of hardcover books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.
* Amazon sold more than 3x as many Kindle books in the first half of 2010 as in the first half of 2009.
* The Association of American Publishers’ latest data reports that e-book sales grew 163 percent in the month of May and 207 percent year-to-date through May. Kindle book sales in May and year-to-date through May exceeded those growth rates.
* On July 6, Hachette announced that James Patterson had sold 1.14 million e-books to date. Of those, 867,881 were Kindle books.
* Five authors–Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts–have each sold more than 500,000 Kindle books.

Amazon isn’t giving out a full panopoly of numbers, instead releasing a few tantalizing data points which allows the pundits and bloggers (like me) to engage in wild speculation.

A number of points have been made. Mike Cane points out that the AAP numbers are in dollars and not units and therefore it is hard to assess whether the paper sales are as a result of increased prices rather than increased volume.

Amazon’s most startling figure, to me, was that it accounted for 76% of the digital book sales enjoyed by James Patterson. Over what period of time did these sales take place? Is Amazon’s market share at 70-80% or has it declined with the presence of nook and iBooks?

What percentage of replacement is ebooks of mass markets? (MMPB have been falling for the last several months according to the raw AAP numbers).

Is Mike Cane right in that Kindle has created a new price point – the Kindle price point – that is somewhere between a MMPB and a trade? (and unsaid, will this become the industry standard for all books?).

Digital Book World rounds up another set of opinions.

I think the safe takeaway is this: digital books are mainstreaming and are here to stay.


Speaking of startling ebook numbers, Steig Larsson’s digital book sales have hit the million book mark. Of course, worldwide, Larsson’s books have sold 30 million print copies.


In a new study, apparently more people want eReaders than iPads (price could be a factor here although I read far more on my Kindle and iPhone than I do on my iPad. In fact, since I received my Kindle, I haven’t read once on the iPad. I read during the day on my Kindle at home and during lunch and on my iPhone every where else, like at the play center at the mall or in line waiting for groceries and in bed).

Also in the study is the prediction that over 30 million people in the US alone will own an ereader by 2015.


Here comes the BookLiberator for under $400. Have a basement full of books and no one seems to want to digitize them and sell them? Or maybe you buy print but want to read “e”? The Book Liberator is coming. For the price of $320, you can get a plywood and plexiglas box and two digital cameras that will photograph the pages of your book and then create a PDF of the images so you can read on your computer or tablet later. There is free software that you can use to create a searchable PDF.

It should be noted that this PDF will not likely be easy to read on your standard 6″ eink screens. The text will be too small. It isn’t like a real digital book that allows reflow ability and font size changes. The BookLiberator merely takes a photo image of the pages of your book. While this might only take a few minutes, the real challenge is turning those PDF pages into a real ebook and if you have ever dealt with OCR’ed text, you would know what a challenge proofreading and formatting can be.


Scholastic has had a good quarter
but the important information to me was that in 2001, it intends to invest in “ecommerce and ebooks.” Now I suspect some of that may come in the form of more interactive digital books akin to the Toy Story apps for the iPad or the Disney books but hopefully it will also mean that the YA print books will be accompanied by a digital release as well. Many of the YA books from Scholastic are not digitized (at least legitimately digitized) or not available in digital form until far after the print release (I’m looking at you Hunger Games et al.).

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Ridley
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 11:29:16

    In a new study, apparently more people want eReaders than iPads…

    Not at all shocking. Only Apple’s fanboys/girls thought the iPad would be a Kindle killer. Everyone else realized the number one cited barrier to ebook adoption was device cost.

    A $500 iPad was not an improvement on the $250 Kindle. Now that we have $150 eink devices, you’ll see more ereading.

  2. Janine
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 16:18:11

    @Ridley: Off topic here but did you see my reply to you in the “Tuesday Midday Links” thread about an interracial romance where race isn’t an issue?

  3. DS
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 16:23:17

    Random House vs. Rosetta All of the action was around a request for preliminary injunction against Rosetta Books who had acquired the right to publish digital copies of several prominent authors. The trial court refused to grant. RH appealed. The USDC S.D.N.Y. sided with the lower court. The basis, as was stated in the decision, was contract law.

    My impression from other items I read was that RH did not want to push the issue because it feared creating precedent so RH just set about acquiring digital rights by renegotiation and putting digital rights language in future contracts. Also because digital books did not take off in 2001, RH may have felt safe just letting it lay.

    I don’t know if RH will go for broke if it looks like digital editions are going to cut substantially into their back list profits.

  4. Shelley
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 17:02:49

    Thanks: I had never heard of Andrew Wylie before. Although, of course, he is unreachable….

  5. Ridley
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 17:22:29


    Oh, no, I missed that. Thanks for the nudge. I added it to my ever growing Goodreads list. It sounds amazing.

  6. Janine
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 18:03:15

    @Ridley: Cool! I hope you like it!


    It sounds amazing.

    I thought it was a terrific book.

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  9. Chicklet
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 08:28:30

    The Book Liberator is coming. For the price of $320, you can get a plywood and plexiglas box and two digital cameras that will photograph the pages of your book and then create a PDF of the images so you can read on your computer or tablet later. There is free software that you can use to create a searchable PDF.

    A publisher is going to cry “Piracy kit!” in 3…2…1….

  10. Karl Fogel
    Jul 26, 2010 @ 11:18:55

    Correction: the BookLiberator will come with free and open source software to do OCR, so you will have real text (i.e., not be limited image-based PDFs).

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