With the book industry suffering from the recession despite the seemingly erroneous claims that books are recession proof, it’s with little dismay that I look to the one part of the industry that is actually experiencing growth. It is, of course, ebooks. According to the November AAP numbers, every category of retail book business suffered a decline other than ebook sales.
Sadly, many of those in charge in the epublishing part of the industry seems intent on killing ebooks. It’s as if publishers don’t want ebooks to succeed. I don’t actually believe that. I just think that many publishers are simply clueless about how to capture and monetize the ebook market.
When we had dinner with Harlequin back in San Francisco, one thing that Malle Vallik of Harlequin Digital shared with us was the speed at which Harlequin Digital could make things happen to be responsive to readers. (I think Harlequin is one company that really gets ebooks. It could be perfect ebook publishing company but for the DRM issue).
Publishing is not used to swift change but it needs to reorient its thinking. What might work today for pricing, availability, promotions might not work in the one year but the point is to harness the mutability of the internet for your benefit instead of bemoaning how facile a medium it is.
Here are some observations and things I think publishers should do differently.
Release eBooks at Same Time as Print Versions.
It is my understanding that some publishers do not release ebooks at the same time as print for two reasons: a) they don’t want the ebook sales to canabalize print sales and thereby reduce the chance of the author hitting a certain spot on the bestseller list and b) they want to reduce the effect of piracy on early sales.
Neither of those goals are met by not releasing the ebook at the same time as print. First, the ebook reader will most likely wait for the ebook version to come out rather than by the print version because they don’t want two versions of the same book. Instead, the ebook reader might go to the library or borrow the book rather than buy a book and then even the ebook sale might be lost. Second, the lack of an official ebook does not eliminate piracy.
In some cases, I think the lack of an ebook actually encourages piracy. The JK Rowling books are not allowed to be released in digital format, but piraters had the book scanned and turned into a digital copy within hours of their release. Somehow, as seen by the picture above, a couple of these unauthorized versions were for sale on the Amazon site last night.
Kresley Cole’s fabulous, Kiss of a Demon King, was released on the 20th of January but the ebook is not available until February 1st. Unless, of course, you want a pirated version. The pirated version (made from a scan I presume) was out on the internet on the 21st of January.
Simon & Schuster used to be such a forward thinking company. It once sold its ebooks for 40% off the list price at its webstore. I bought every romane release the came out. The $3.50 or so price mark required no thinking. I didn’t even care if it was by an author I hadn’t liked in the past. I figured I should buy it because maybe I would someday, eventually, who knows, like it.
S&S also had an early release program whereby it would sell an ebook of one title a month early. But now, it’s being out done by its cleverness. The print copy of Kiss of a Demon King was shipping at least two weeks before the release date. I’m sure that the early release of the print book did far more to imperil Cole’s placement on the bestseller lists than any timely release of an ebook could have done. But hey, S&S, if letting the pirates have control over the only ecopy out there for two weeks makes good business sense to you, more power to ya.
Provide Additional Content in the eBook.
So we know that ebooks are full of bytes and bits, right? And that it doesn’t matter how long an ebook is, that it doesn’t cost anymore to produce (ie. paper costs, postage costs, storage costs)? Why is it that the print books contain excerpts to other books or future books but the ebooks do not? Shouldn’t publishers take advantage of the digital medium to include as many excerpts as possible? Stuff that ebook file full of filler, publishers. Give the readers a taste of what they are missing. Include excerpts to all the backlist titles that are in ebook format. Give the readers the first chapter or the first three chapters of every new book released the same month as the title they are reading. Include a section at the back of the book to all the etailers that sell the books. Educate readers about the harm of piracy with a cute cartoon instead of some dopey legal statement at the beginning.
Think of the ebook as the ultimate advertising opportunity for your books and always, ALWAYS, include the front cover of the book and the back cover blurb. Don’t gyp the ebook reader. Take full advantage of her desire for instant gratification. Tantalize her with a taste of what she could be reading next.
Price It Right.
Ebooks are all about instant gratification. Seeing something you might want to read and being to buy it immediately. Pricing has something to do with this. Make the prices low enough and people won’t even stop to think before they hit the “add to cart” issue. Do not price any ebook above the lowest print price.
Be innovative. Try a number of different things. Because it’s digital and because this is a growing market, you can make changes quickly. Why not do bundles at a highly reduced price. I.e., why not offer the “Immortals After Dark” bundle for Kresley Cole’s series and include the original novella for $15.00 (that would be 6 books in all) with a coupon for the most recent release pricing that at $5.00. Or how about the first three “In Death” books by JD Robb at a “Introductory Price” of $5.00 for a three week period leading up to her next release (Promises in Death is fabulous by the way) with a 40% off coupon for the new release (it’s a hardcover). If sales are disappointing, then next time you experiment in different ways.
How about trying to partner with other publishers. I.e., do cross promotions. Jayne Ann Krentz is with Penguin now, but many of her backlist titles are with Random House. Can’t the two of you get together and do cross promotions to sell her backlist and move her frontlist titles?
How about a publisher run ebook store so that etailers aren’t taking such a big cut of the profits. You could sell at a cut rate price and drive traffice to your special consortium store with your low, low price.
Speaking of driving traffic to one’s site, Harlequin does this by offering its new category releases a month in advance of their print release date. As a result, many books are sold directly from the Harlequin site wherein Harlequin absorbs the entire profit. Baen has sold ARC ebook versions of its book. I would love to see Harlequin, and all other publishers, start to offer early releases of all its books in digital format.
Publishers could experiment with price premiums for the early release. I.e., instead of letting eBay sellers reap the benefits of an ARC sale, why not pass the early sales onto the author and reap a profit through an early ARC digital release program. You could price the early releases at a 50% premium mark up. (I would include a note as to why they are more expensive, i.e., they are being allowed into the wild early). Sell readers on the idea that this early ARC release is really a privilege, a luxury and hence why they have to pay more for it. There’s a market out there for it. Capture it.
Another idea would be to offer a free book, say the first book in the In Death series, to anyone who would pony up their cell phone number. Then on the release date of the next In Death book, you would send a text message to all those who had given their cell phone with a text message ad saying that the book was in stores right now or available in eform or at online retailers. (include direct links). To drive first week sales, you could include a coupon code for the book good for only one week. You could seed the sale of the book by texting / emailing the first chapter.
Use eBooks as Loss Leader
If you believe that your website can sell books then one way to get people onto your website is by offering the ebooks as loss leaders. HarperCollins is experimenting with this with the Browse Inside the Book feature whereby 20% of the book is viewable online, at its website. It’s not my preferred mode of reading an ebook, but I can see its efficacy if the Browse feature is merely to drive traffic to the site instead of increasing an audience for the book itself.
Get the Rights Thing Worked Out
Digital books are books without borders. Territorial rights have no place in the digital world. Get rid of them. Authors, work to negotiate your contracts so that your digital rights are divisible from your print rights. Publishers, work with the authors to provide them adequate compensation for their digital rights while you are working out the thorny territorial print issues. Because readers in other countries who want to read in English can either buy a legitimate copy or download a pirated one. Do you want to make a sale or not?
Get Rid of DRM.
DRM is not stopping piracy. Publishers may be worried that a teenager will mass email Twilight to a hundred girlfriends if there is no DRM but will refrain if there is DRM. But who are the ones writing the programs to strip the DRM from digital files? In an increasingly technological world no DRM is safe from hackers. Tthe average 12 year old who can program a VCR, hack open the iPhone, and bittorrent movies is not going to be deterred from sharing an ebook if she wants. Closed systems and complicated authentication systems and a dozen separate formats and lack of interopability is not going to grow the ebook industry. The only thing DRM does is to punish legitimate buying customers and deter interested observers. It does not reduce piracy and there is no report out there that says that it does.
There is evidence, however, that freely made content can actually increase sales. Two recent examples are the Monty Python move of placing its video content available for free on YouTube and leading to a 23,000% increase in sales and the Nine Inch Nails album that was given away for free was the most sold album mp3 album in 2008 at Amazon.com.
Stop Fucking Up in General. You are making us look bad.
Anytime that ebooks look more complicated, more dangerous, more of a hassle than print books, the more opportunities those who are on the fence fall off on the print side. I thought the Fictionwise/Overdrive divorce was horribly embarassing as an ebook evangelist. I hated putting it up on the blog. I knew by putting it up some people who are not ebook fans would look at this episode as just one more reason to not get into ebooks. While I have been a loyal Fictionwise purchaser for four years, the Overdrive divorce makes me nervous. I’m obssessively backing up my digital copies but still, don’t make it harder on me to sell the concept of ebooks to other readers. I had a hard time explaining to a couple new converts what was going on and why they shouldn’t just by the print version.
In the immortal words of Tim Gunn, publishers, make it work!
Next week: What I Wish Every Ebook File Contained. Anyone have suggestions, drop me an email at jane @ dearauthor.com