Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Breaking: The Sky Is Falling. Will Publishing Innovate or...

ohnoes.jpg
more animals

I’m worried, readers. I am worried about publishing as a business. My worries do not stem from used sales. My worries do not stem from piracy of digital books. My worry is that publishing will not take this opportunity to innovate. Anita Elberse’s article in the Wall Street Journal only increases my concerns. Elberse’s argument is essentially that the current publishing business model worked before and so publishers need to keep at it. I found her to be arguing that the existing publishing model is the only publishing model.

The current publishing business model:

The current publishing business model is built on the success just a few titles: The Secret, the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. According to Elberse,

Most large media firms make outsized investments to acquire and market a small number of titles with strong hit potential, and bank on their sales to make up for middling performance in the rest of their catalogs.

Publishing operates under the Pareto concept.   20% of the titles generate 80% of the publishing houses’ profits.   But one successful book or series does not a successful publishing model make.   Take The Secret by Rhonda Byrnes.   As of June 2007, there were 5.2 million copies of The Secret in print.   In December of 2008, S&S laid off 2% of its staff.   Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code has over 60 million copies in print worldwide.   At the end of 2008, Random House had eliminated the position of its discoverer, jettisoned a number of employees, and consolidated imprints into three more streamlined entities.   Scholastic enjoyed 7 years of unprecedented profitability under the Rowling franchise, but in 2003, Scholastic laid off 400 employees, in 2006 Scholastic laid off over 87 employees and in 2008, Scholastic instituted a hiring freeze and 110 employees took early retirement.  

Publishing thought it was recession proof.   It thought that it would weather any economic storm, any technological changes, and any consumer changes.   After all, you can’t improve on the book.   Harleqin came to prominence during the Great Depression as more and more people turned to entertainment as a relief from the depressive events of the day.   At the height of the Great Depression, there was a 25% unemployment rate yet Harlequin, and books, still thrived.

So what’s changed?   So   much.   

For one thing, as astutely noted by Tom Englehardt in the Nation, the entertainment landscape has changed dramatically.   

It was well known in the business that, during the Great Depression, books, like movies, had done splendidly. They were an inexpensive bit of entertainment and distraction, consumable at home, at a time when not much else pleasurable was going on in a rugged world. Ergo, books would be no less recession-proof in the next big downturn.

There was no reason to believe otherwise… unless you happened to focus on just how many dazzling entertainment options had, in the interim, entered the American home at prices more than competitive with the book. After all, most Americans can now read endlessly on the Internet, play video games, download music, watch movies and even write their own novels without stepping outside; and keep in mind that the $27.95 hardcover and the $15.95 paperback on the shelves of that mall store, once you drive there, aren’t exactly the inexpensive objects of yore.

In a July 2008 article, the NY Times noted that the teens addicted to the internet were part of the reading decline.   More and more people spend time on the internet and its not just teens.   For the million or so subscribers that receive the print version of the Times, there are twice as many that read the Times online.   Video games and video consoles are outpacing expectations and not seeming to suffer any hardship from the downturn in the economy.   Movie saw record box offices in 2009.   Englehardt’s point about the increasing cost of books is also important.   Mass markets are edging close to the $10.00 mark; and hardcovers are 3x that amount.   For the not so avid reader, would she rather buy a game for her WII that she can replay a hundred times than a book she might enjoy (or might not) for only a few hours.

In 2007, there was a fabulous article by the NY Times about the mysterious making of a bestseller.   It is not a science.   

Eric Simonoff, a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates, said that whenever he discusses the book industry with people in other industries, "they’re stunned because it’s so unpredictable, because the profit margins are so small, the cycles are so incredibly long, and because of the almost total lack of market research."

The first book by Curtis Sittenfeld, Prep, was wildly successful.   She was paid   $40,000 for her first advance.   Her success was awarded with a two book deal for a multiple of her first advance.   The book, The Man of My Dreams, at the time of the article was a disappointing seller.   One might even argue it was a flop despite all the money that the publisher threw into promoting it hot on the heels of the publication of Sittenfeld’s successful book.

Readers enjoy variety.   

The worst thing for an avid reader is hegemony.   Indeed, every YA book sale looks like a Stephenie Meyer knock off.   How many Grail books did we suffer through post Dan Brown (some would say they had to suffer through Dan Brown as well. I found it immensely readable)?   Publishers often seem to be looking for the next similar book to the previous blockbuster because they are so tied into the blockbuster business model.   

Simply because   it worked in the past doesn’t mean that it is going to work now.   And let’s face it, it didn’t really work that well in the past.   See above NY Times article and the guessing that goes on in the industry.     

The Music industry was built on album sales. When Apple got a hold on the digital music market, it introduced the concept of buying individual songs to consumers. Consumers took to that business model and rejected the old one. They liked the instantaneous aspect of downloading songs and they liked spending just the right amount of money on the music they wanted instead of buying an entire album to get just three songs.   In 2008, overall unit sales were up 10% due to digital downloads but physical album sales dropped 20 percent.   The music industry is watching its profitability decline as downloads increase because changing consumer behavior is reducing the profit margin.

So if the old business model for music based on album sales is no longer profitable, is the best thing to do to protect it with changing legislation? In other words, how long do we artificially support a failing entertainment business model? When do executives recognize that this is the time for innovation? To adapt to and predict consumer behavior in a way that is beneficial to the company and the artist?

Other Media Lessons.

There are only a few books that will ever have broad appeal and when that happens, it is a great thing.   But reliance on the 20% of books to provide a successful and growing book market will inevitably miss whole segments of the reading public.   In 2006, Netflix offered 60,000 DVDs.   

Out of the 60,000 titles in Netflix’s inventory, I ask, how many do you think are rented at least once on a typical day?
The most common answers have been around 1,000, which sounds reasonable enough. Americans tend to flock to the same small group of movies, just as they flock to the same candy bars and cars, right?

Well, the actual answer is 35,000 to 40,000. That’s right: every day, almost two of every three movies ever put onto DVD are rented by a Netflix customer. “Americans’ tastes are really broad,” says Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive. So, while the studios spend their energy promoting bland blockbusters aimed at everyone, Netflix has been catering to what people really want — and helping to keep Hollywood profitable in the process

Wow, Americans’ tastes are really broad. Imagine that. Add in the rest of the world and you find perhaps even more diversity.

The entirety of the publishing model   built on the blockbuster requires it to spend lavishly in advances to get the right 20%. The problem is that publishing has no idea when it pays out its million dollar advances whether a book will be a blockbuster, no matter the amount of money that it spends on marketing. Hachette hit it big with Stephenie Meyer. It was packaged beautifully and the story hit alot of right notes with female readers. Hachette can’t print these books fast enough. The series is like printing money, one publishing person told me.     Times are good now for Hachette but the Twilight series is concluded. How many more years of immense profitability will it be able to sustain on one series alone?

Publishing Needs to Innovate

Publishing needs to innovate. I have some ideas but none that can be implemented in the short term.   Publishing needs to invest more heavily in print on demand technologies.   By now, they should have developed a POD machine that could print and bind a mass market in under 5 minutes.   POD can eliminate or, drastically reduce,  warehousing costs.   Publishing needs to learn more about its consumers.   It needs business intelligence.   This is where microtargeting can come into play.   If publishing spent less in advances and had better POD technology, it could provide more targeted sales.   Wouldn’t it be less of a risk to try to make money off of 80% of the publishing list rather than just 20%.

Have you ever bought a book at a non traditional book outlet (such as a bookstore or big box store)?   I have. I’ve bought books at Pottery Barn Kids.   In fact, one of my daughter’s favorite series, Keeker and the Sneaky Pony, we discovered at PBK.   I think that there’s some idea that the kids books at PBK are the high end of what is out there for kid’s books because the selection is so minute.   I couldn’t help but wonder, the other day as I sat leafing through some of the books while my daughter played with the kitchen set, why more books weren’t in these non traditional retail spaces? I.e., why isn’t Beth Kery’s Wicked Burn  at Victoria’s Secret?   Harlequin once sold books at Nascar races.   Books featuring knitters at knitting stores.   Books that are hot and sexy at lingerie stores.   Why not set up a vending machine at the mall frequented by young shoppers full of Berkley/Jove paranormal books?

Why not set up their own stores and sell books at a discounted rate, undercutting Amazon.   After all, if you have to pay 40%-60% of the retail price to the retailer, then there is a clear margin for price reduction sold direct.   There’s dozens of more ideas that other people will probably come up with as well.

The Fallen Sky

I don’t see alot evidence that publishers are going to innovate.   Look at the publishers partnering with new iPhone application ScrollMotion.   Instead of offering the book at a reduced rate, it charges more for the iPhone special.    Even HarperStudios, the experiemental publishing arm of HarperCollins, is relying heavily on celebrity focused books.   I see publishers slowly getting into the ebook market, but I am often shocked at how many books are not digitized.   As I sat with my friends liveblogging the other night, talking about ebooks, they asked me if every book that they wanted was in eform and I had to tell them no.   They couldn’t comprehend it.   I tried to explain rights and piracy and so forth, but I don’t think it was getting through.   And why should they care?

The problem is that the longer that it takes publishing to innovate and the more that they try to push their own reading selections on us, the consumer, the more that readers will turn to other forms of entertainment.   If I couldn’t read, I’d sew more.    I love to read, don’t get me wrong, but I can go extended periods without reading a book.   I was obssessed by this Apple iPhone game called Fieldrunners and I played that for five days, nearly non stop.   Before my daughter, my husband and I would play video games, we played Soduko, did crossword puzzles.   There are simply so many things out there that I can do and do for low cost that if publishing doesn’t provide me with the product that I want, I can see myself drifting away or I would if I didn’t have the blog.   I’ve seen it among my own friends who’ve left the avid reading market to become casual readers.   For those casual readers, who buy maybe 1   book a month, it becomes even easier to let reading go by the wayside.   

Publishing needs to be ready and able to meet the customer where she is at instead of requiring the customer to adapt to the publishing model.   My sister in law wanted to read Twilight over the holidays but the Twilight was sold out.   POD could have met that demand and made a sale.   Instead, she’s busy knitting with a special knitting machine she got as a gift.   

Reading consumption will decline   and it’s not because readers are buying used or because they are pirating, but because they will inevitably turn to other forms of entertainment as publishing increasingly offers a sameness to its selections.  

Publishing must change its business model to provide greater variety, with better targeted marketing. Today’s technology tools make it easier than ever for companies to do this.   Right now is an exicting time for publishing. It has an opportunity, in these difficult economic times, to throw off the mantle of the old.   After all, what do they really have to lose by changing?    We know what they are going to lose if they don’t.

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

553 Comments

  1. ms bookjunkie
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 04:39:07

    Well said Jane!

    ReplyReply

  2. Rae Lori
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 05:25:57

    Reading consumption will decline and it's not because readers are buying used or because they are pirating, but because they will inevitably turn to other forms of entertainment as publishing increasingly offers a sameness to its selections.

    That’s a scary but true reality.

    For the past few months, especially during the holidays, Book TV has been running Sara Nelson’s update about the publishing industry (now viewable on Youtube in two parts here and here) and she also makes mention that publishing probably won’t be the same in the coming years. It may revert back to a small niche thing in itself or, like Ms. Nelson mentioned, it may go back to the smaller publishing houses running things. In a way they already are because the larger houses tend to follow them like they did with the erotica and paranormal boom and ebooks themselves.

    In modern times much of publishing has been focused on big corporate investments (most of the CEOs come from other corporations like Pepsi, from what I understand) and, like you mentioned Jane, they focus mostly on celebrity ‘surefire’ books which is part of what may have attributed to it’s downfall. I was kind of bummed about HarperStudio following this model because they seemed so innovative for what they wanted to do with returns and printing.

    There’s already a movement with small presses and authors themselves taking matters into their own hands with marketing and bringing their work into the new media and directly to their readers. Michael Stackpole, a science fiction author who was once with a NY house talks about this a lot in his podcast and he’s been finding much success in the online world. Ebooks have naturally taken off recently and podcasting is pretty huge especially for authors gaining (and sustaining) their own platforms. Podcast publishing keeps popping up for novels and short stories alike which may a new future for the way stories are shared. As much of this is going on, the mainstream media doesn’t even know (or perhaps care) about, but it’s definitely happening. Once it gets on its feet the Espresso Book Machine could be a force to reckon with based on the ease of ordering a printed book on the spot. I can’t remember the recent con it was displayed at, but from what I heard it was a hit with readers and authors.

    Interestingly enough, Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Random House, cited independent publishing as a possible threat specifically for their big authors who, if they wanted to, could go off on their own leaving their houses behind. I know of one author who lost her contracts at an NY house and went back to her first small, epublished house who was jazzed to take her back and her fans were even more excited to see her series continuing.

    I don’t think readers and writers will ever go away as it is ingrained in our human nature to share stories. :-) It’s just the way it’s all presented and distributed (and perhaps between who it’s distributed) that will change. It’s definitely a time of adapt or die in the industry but still an exciting time indeed.

    ReplyReply

  3. Ann Somerville
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 05:32:42

    There are simply so many things out there that I can do and do for low cost that if publishing doesn't provide me with the product that I want

    Yes. It’s not like movies. If you want to see Dark Knight, you can’t go and knit your own, can you? But books? Reading? We’re awash with options. You can knit your own story, go find someone who’s knitted one for free, read knitted fanfiction, go hang around on knitting blogs…you can read all day and never open a book. Read for a year without buying one. It takes something incredibly compelling for me to read a print book these days – and yet the publishing industry is bound up in the chance of me, a committed reader, getting off my oversized butt and flogging myself over to a bookstore stuffed with biographies of politicians, sports stars and microcelebrities, and cookbooks. And pretty picture books with no content.

    I know what I want, and I can’t buy it in a bookstore. The publishing industry will go broke if they’re counting on people like me because their products suck, their method of selling sucks, and their prices suck. And dear readers, I am a picky consumer. I will knit my own if I can’t find exactly what I want, when I want it. And it won’t cost me anything but time.

    Excellent article, Jane.

    ReplyReply

  4. S. W. Vaughn
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 06:33:35

    Excellent article, Jane. You’re so right – and I’m glad to see that bit from Tom Englehardt, which puts succinctly what I’ve been wanting to scream at a lot of writers who keep sticking their fingers in their ears and going, “la-la-la-la, publishing isn’t in trouble, people will still buy books just look at the Great Depression.”

    There is much more cheap entertainment out there competing for people’s time than there was back then. Publishing is definitely in trouble, and writers who refuse to see that are just as mired in fantasy-land as the industry itself.

    Here’s hoping that someone, somewhere makes the right moves to change things for the better. :-)

    ReplyReply

  5. DS
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 06:50:10

    I received one physical book for Christmas– it was a small book of cat macros from I Can Has Cheezburger. I gave one book– it was a POD history of a book about the history of the area where I grew up. The person I gave it to was delighted because this is a very htf book in any edition.

    Different from past years, but no one ended up having to return anything because they already had it so it was less stressful.

    ReplyReply

  6. katieM
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 06:57:27

    I visited the EBM website and I was very impressed. It made me wonder how books are assembled at present. Do companies have similar book printing machines for paperback books? I also wondered if hardback books will become obsolete or prohibitively expensive when EBMs are more widespread.

    ReplyReply

  7. (Jān)
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 07:10:03

    What a great post Jane.

    It’s happened with so many of us. I used to read several hundred books a year, all purchased (though many were used). But the books I read weren’t doing it and I turned to manga, online fiction, e-books, books from other countries. It takes something special for me to buy and read a mass market print book these days, even used. I like small press because I like unique, and quality. Big publishers aren’t providing that, not that often.

    I love your idea of selling books in non-book venues. It would be great to walk into a restaurant and find foodie fiction or cultural books by the cash register, or to see sports fiction at the ballpark. Non-fiction worms its way into hardware and hobby stores. It’s silly for fiction not to take the same advantage.

    I hope some people listen to you. But what’s great about the tech world is that even if the fuddie-duddies ignore the warning signs, someone else with a vision will step up and create publishing’s version of iTunes. It would be a shame if the large publishing houses fell flat in its wake. But dinosaurs do tend to go extinct.

    ReplyReply

  8. Anonymous
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 07:28:37

    Sounds like it is time for Dear Author open an online POD bookstore, or create an affiliated one based on this model. Include digital readers, POD, and links to online publishers and POD titles with sell through rights.

    ReplyReply

  9. Kimber An
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 07:42:48

    My concerns are essentially the same.

    As an unprofessional, unpaid blogging book reviewer, I predict readers will react by turning more to the libraries, used bookstores, and gadzillions of free books availible to read or download on-line. We have an on-going post at Enduring Romance for readers searching for ‘Great Stories for Free & Dirt Cheap.’ Click on my username ‘Kimber An’ to get there. I also predict readers will turn more to ePublishers, so long as their prices are reasonable. I predict this because ePublishers tend to be more willing to take chances with stories written ‘outside the box.’ Unfortunately, ePubs also tend to bank too much on novels with graphic sex, which will turn off many readers too. If ePubs can provide some variety of stories without graphic sex scenes, they can pull in more sensitive readers as well.

    ReplyReply

  10. Kimber An
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 07:45:10

    P.S. Love the otter! They’re soooo cute, funny, and playful. Great parents too. We have lots of them here in Alaska.

    ReplyReply

  11. drey
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 07:48:14

    Great post, Jane! I for one, hope that books never go away. Yet, I completely get what you’re saying about publishing as a business. Sometimes we sit here & wonder why they don’t just get it, and get with the times.

    I read a lot. But I refuse to pay almost $30 for a hardcover – for ANY hardcover. $30 is a lot of lattes, a not-so-recent new console/PC game, multiple items of clothing for my kid, a new pair of shoes, more supplies for my other hobbies, snacks & a movie at the theater, a full tank of gas… And the $15 for a paperback, isn’t chump change either. I’ve picked up books on the spur of the moment, just because I love to read, only to find out that I didn’t care for the story. Or the writing. Whatever. Makes me a little more picky about picking up books. & I so want an e-book reader, especially for traveling with. But right now, I can’t bring my favorite books with, on a reader. What’s with these publishers???

    ReplyReply

  12. Heather Massey
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 07:53:10

    Well said.

    ReplyReply

  13. MoJo
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 08:54:08

  14. Emmy
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 08:54:17

    I agree that the price of books is almost making them prohibitive. $30 for a hardcover is just too expensive in a time when people are losing jobs and houses, and taking huge hits on the stock markets. It’s turning reading into something only the rich can afford to do, which might have something to do with the rapidly growing pirating business. Why spend $400 on an ebook reader, then $10 on books, when you can download for free to your pc or laptop, which has multiple functions?

    I frequently get annoyed at all the sameness. When one thing sells big, publishers rush to put out books of the same genre. I can’t begin to tell you how tired I am of urban paranormals. When I want to read something else new, there isn’t anything to be found because that’s all the publishers were buying last year. I don’t want to be told what genre I have to read this year.

    NY’s refusal to adapt to the current climate is hurting them. I don’t think it will be fatal, because I can’t comprehend a world with no books, but they are going to be forced into making some radical changes quite soon.

    ReplyReply

  15. Robin Bayne
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 08:58:47

    Excellent post!

    ReplyReply

  16. Keri M
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 09:02:20

    Jane, fantastic post! I too hope that books don’t go by the wayside, because for me it is my cheap entertainment. I would so miss the discussions that my husband and I get into about our favorite authors. So I hope that someone at one of the mega publishing houses checks out this post. To tell you the truth I can’t remember the last time I bought a hard-backed book, they are just too darned expensive, one book equals 1/3 of my grocery bill for my family a week, just can’t do it. I will pick up a paperback if I really, really have to have it at the big box store. Otherwise I shop used like crazy. My TBR pile is awesome! :-)

    ReplyReply

  17. Angelia Sparrow
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 09:33:55

    The sameness kills me.
    I spent more time than usual in Barnes & Noble this holiday. The only book–out of tens of thousands–that I want is Wishful Drinking.

    The Romance section was all heaving man-titty and rapt adoration or bad-ass urban fantasy heroines, tramp-stamp optional.

    The nonfiction was all Idiots Guides and For Dummies. (not to say I don’t own a few of those)

    And the advances! I hear about Mary Cheney getting a million dollar advance. Then she gets publicity most of us only dream of. Yet her book is ranked 2,593,564, while my friend’s little no-advance, self-promoted vampire murder mystery is 863,845.

    I read all my stuff from the library. Who can afford to buy a paperback?

    I do not get it…

    ReplyReply

  18. Catherine
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 09:39:57

    Once it gets on its feet the Espresso Book Machine could be a force to reckon with based on the ease of ordering a printed book on the spot.

    Rae Lori: You and MoJo both mentioned these machines. They sound like they’d be awesome (if I actually could get any book I wanted), but how do you browse? I’m still an impulse buyer and will pick up random books based on cover/back blurb when I go to the bookstore to pick up a book I know came out. How am I supposed to discover new-to-me authors if I can’t look around and have my eye caught by a book on display?

    I have a question for people more in tune with booksellers/publishers. If the industry does go to POD books do you think it will eventually go to nothing but ebooks? That was probably unclear, let me try again… Most of my friends don’t read the way that I do. They never surf the internet looking for book reviews and excerpts and release dates. They go to the bookstore when they feel like reading, but they don’t have an actual book in mind. They browse until they find something that they think they might like. If bookstores die out and new POD stores/kiosks take their place won’t the market lose all of those casual readers? There wouldn’t be an ability to browse anymore (I think). If print sales/POD sales go down even further do you think that ebooks will rise above them as the new widely recognized standard?

    ReplyReply

  19. Jane
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 09:42:41

    @Catherine I’ve actually thought about the POD in the store thing. Why not produce cover flats in a catalog and ship those to people’s homes or provide several copies at each store. How many people browse the aisle at one time? Provide binders or bound volumes of cover flats that contain the cover and back blurb, maybe even a small excerpt. Then you can rip off a sheet of paper (i.e. like at a Sushi bar), take it to the POD desk and in a few minutes, get all your books ready to be purchased.

    ReplyReply

  20. MoJo
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 09:50:57

    Rae Lori: You and MoJo both mentioned these machines. They sound like they'd be awesome (if I actually could get any book I wanted), but how do you browse?

    Well, if I were the bookseller, I’d have shelves of singles. Maybe they were books people didn’t want after having ordered them. Maybe they were things people really couldn’t decide about so I ran one off. Maybe I’d just start cranking out one at a time to build a browsing library of sorts and figure that into the cost of my overhead. And maybe I’d crank out one at a time of the new releases every month and have a “new release” shelf.

    (Obviously this would depend on square footage. In my Perfect Bookstore post, the storefront I talk about wouldn’t support many of those shelves if it also kept its coffee shop.)

    Browsing books, obviously, is important. It’s important to me, even as an e-book lover. What’s always frustrated me is if I’m browsing and there are 16 copies of the book I DON’T want and no copies of the book I MIGHT want if it were there.

    Or, like Jane said above,

    Provide binders or bound volumes of cover flats that contain the cover and back blurb, maybe even a small excerpt.

    I’ve been in needlework stores that use this method. Instead of bulky racks holding their patterns, they have those metal catalog frames (the kind auto parts stores use). You flip through that, pick your pattern, and they go get one for you from the back.

    ReplyReply

  21. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 10:17:09

    I visited the EBM website and I was very impressed. It made me wonder how books are assembled at present. Do companies have similar book printing machines for paperback books? I also wondered if hardback books will become obsolete or prohibitively expensive when EBMs are more widespread.

    Rae Lori: You and MoJo both mentioned these machines. They sound like they'd be awesome (if I actually could get any book I wanted), but how do you browse? I'm still an impulse buyer and will pick up random books based on cover/back blurb when I go to the bookstore to pick up a book I know came out. How am I supposed to discover new-to-me authors if I can't look around and have my eye caught by a book on display?

    I thought the POD revolution was going to happen a decade ago . . . it just makes sense. You could order your book online and pick it up locally, have it shipped, or you could browse a shop (or at the library!) and have your book printed while you wait (or ran off for a latte). Aside from the EBM, there are also machines that make POD hardback books, so you could even get your novel in whatever form you chose (I’m a diehard fan of the HB for books I'm going to want to read over and over).

    Although I did just finish my very first ebook, and I think I'm a convert. It took awhile to get into the groove, but once I did, the CyBook ROCKED!!! I've spent way too much $ on fictionwise in the last two weeks, LOL! I still want my non-fiction research books in a physical form though (but that could change if ebooks and ereaders were to develop into a more research friendly format-’one that could handle colour images for example-’I might be sold on an entirely ebook world).

    ReplyReply

  22. MoJo
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 10:22:25

    I still want my non-fiction research books in a physical form though (but that could change if ebooks and ereaders were to develop into a more research friendly format-’one that could handle colour images for example-’I might be sold on an entirely ebook world).

    Much as I love e-books, I need my references in paper, too.

    ReplyReply

  23. rebyj
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 10:33:35

    I find myself reading more and more cheap and free books. My book budget is 25 dollars a month, I just can’t spend 30 bux on a new book. Some months it’s hard to spend 8 bux on a new paperback ! My money simply goes farther at the used bookstore. I’ve been finding 2008 category romances in our UBS free bin!

    I’ve also been reading more online, I found a good website thru a Jacqueline Carey website reccomendation last month .
    I highly recommend you all check it out.

    http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php Lots to read there.

    My list of books to buy grows longer and longer and longer . Hey, I MIGHT win the lottery someday……….if I ever let go of a dollar long enough to play it LOL

    I’ve started blogging about the free books I run across at http://luvfreebooks.blogspot.com/

    ReplyReply

  24. Cindy
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 10:54:24

    I agree, the prices are prohibitive. I believe I mentioned it when we were discussing the UBS situation. And at these prices, you even hear people in the UBS after getting their total “Even with my credit.”

    There are a lot of books out there that I won’t touch because I think “Oh, that looks good”, read the back, it’s a vampire. Not every reader likes vampires. Or even paranormal. Bring back the historical, if you please…western and medieval. My escape route.

    Read the upcoming release list each week at Ellora’s Cave, for example, at least five different genres represented, sometimes more. Only one release generally for their Cerridwen Press imprint, but I guess the sales aren’t there.

    And aside from them and Samhain, what’s with the hardcover or paperback price for an e-book. It uses no physical resources, it should be way less. There’s also no reason the other mainstream publishers need to take things OOP. Make them POD or E-book.

    ReplyReply

  25. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 11:15:53

    Great minds and all that -I have an upcoming article on epublishing on TBTGTU, and yes, I discuss the Pareto rule, too.
    Great article, and it’s good to read that people are thinking about it. But there are industry diehards who refuse to consider a different model. I think the distribution angle is also important – people are buying fewer magazines and newspapers, and book distribution is done the same way, so the companies involved plus the rise in oil prices will drive the costs of transport and paper up. Paper production is energy-intensive.
    The system of returns is, I believe, crippling the paper side of the book industry. It’s killing the publishers, and they work on narrow enough margins as it is.
    The epublishing industry is coming along, and the biggest epublishing companies are expanding, albeit with caution. With younger people as at home with electronic devices as they are with paper, that’s where any expansion will probably come and the market reflects that.

    ReplyReply

  26. Brian Kelly
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 11:40:19

    Nicely put.
    The blockbuster business model overlooks the long tail of diverse consumer tastes.
    The shift all seem to be grappling with is the shift away from demography to behavior as the fundamentals to target audience defining. As you say, too little research. Do you know that there is much more customer information in the publishing world versus the broadcast world? Just not enough insight.

    ReplyReply

  27. Brussel Sprout
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 11:48:25

    I read books – my husband and children read books. Fewer books than we used to because the internet and Guitar Hero and Playmobil also attract our attention and time, but we like the physical objects. They don’t need batteries. I have looked at ebook readers, but find the screen a strain and don’t enjoy reading on computer particularly either – my laptop battery won’t last me the length of a decent book. I know from downloads that I also don’t get swept away when reading on machines. It’s not like curling up in my favourite armchair with a good book. Also, I’m based in Europe where the ebook market hasn’t really taken off (yet?).

    Recently, I have bought POD books (I do academic research in literature, history and education) from regular bookshops – I order them over the internet and either go in person or get them sent to me, and it does mean that costs of production on otherwise excessively expensive esoteric books are reduced, which I think is cool.

    While I agree that the traditional publishing industry needs to wake up to the realities of a broad market (our UK publishers have been badly hurt in 2008 by the waning demand for celeb memoirs and having spent enormous advances on garbage books that end up remaindered, have little spare cash for decent fiction), I am not so convinced that we are facing bookmageddon.

    I suspect that there are enough of us out there, and emerging markets besides where reading books has mileage. But I also think a lot of this has to do with education. We guys who teach reading and literature need to remind people of the effectiveness of reading in transporting us to other places. There is increasing research which shows that children who read privately for their own entertainment are much more flexible, adaptable and able to pick up a wider range of skills than non-readers. It’s not as if books are like cigarettes, where there is a damn good reason not to smoke. Books are really really good for us, even bad books. And I think that will keep publishing going, even if it is not necessarily in the form that currently persists.

    The points about needing diversity are sooooo true – I am very bored by various knock-offs of types of book in the women’s/romance/YA categories. But there are more and more small independent presses emerging, certainly in Europe, working to niches and experimenting with formats (Nick Hern books, a company that focuses only on drama, frex) and I think they can be more innovative and also produce better long-term returns for the writer. Unfortunately, it is tough trying to be a small-scale independent publisher because the big conglomerates are more able to throw money around – but maybe not so much in a recession, so it is the little guys’ opportunity now.

    ReplyReply

  28. Jessa Slade
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 11:57:20

    Adapt or die is the reality, but change is scary. How often do individuals — much less corporations — change voluntarily? Innovators are the exception not the rule, sadly.

    I find my mantra these days, about pretty much everything, is “Well, it’ll be interesting at least.”

    ReplyReply

  29. K. Z. Snow
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 12:15:41

    Excellent article, Jane.

    Publishing houses need drastically to decrease advances, print runs (yes, maybe examine POD possibilities), and cover prices.

    Publishing houses need drastically to increase their standards for acceptance, the variey of their offerings, and their e-book lists.

    Although most of my life has been devoted, in one way or another, to books, I can’t help but think if these mastodons keep refusing to evolve, they deserve to become extinct.

    ReplyReply

  30. Robin
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 12:38:55

    I don’t know what they’re smoking at the Harvard Business School these days, where Elberse teaches, but apparently it’s something real old school.

    Publishing is IMO a rather unique business to begin with. It’s not like manufacturing a vacuum, where consumers will simply shift their loyalty from one company to another. Because the product is a book or author more than a publishing company, consumers won’t exercise their right to exit in the same way with publishers, meaning that the consumer impact on publishing occurs differently. Then there is the relationship between the publisher and authors, which relies on a different model than the publisher’s relationship with readers, one that seems dictated primarily by the needs and desires of the publisher.

    You have three (at least) different sets of priorities in play — the authors’, the publishers’ and the consumer/readers’ — and those priorities can come into conflict as easily as they can align. Financial success for a publisher based on one blockbuster books, for example, can limit success for authors and readers when the publisher tries to replicate that success with tons of ‘looks like’ books. Or financial success can benefit readers and authors if publishers decide that their fiscal robustness is a reason to expand.

    So much seems to depend on how publishers conceive the business of publishing, how they model their practices, how they evolve their vision, and how they regard readers/consumers and authors. So much is scary to me about this, lol, because of the way publishers have traditionally held so much influence over what we read. If the big publishers aren’t willing to innovate, I can only hope that new modes of publishing will rise, whether that be through a greater respect for self-publishing, more boutique-type houses, or expanded electronic options. But in any case, IMO more needs to change than just the way publishers make money; we need an overall change in the balance of power among readers, authors, and publishers, and I have no idea how that’s going to occur.

    ReplyReply

  31. Leah Hultenschmidt
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 12:52:36

    Jane, this is a really thoughtful examination of the industry–a lot of what I keep wanting to say and don’t have time to properly construct.

    A couple things from a publishing-side perspective:

    the current publishing business model worked before and so publishers need to keep at it.

    I think the recent articles in the NYT and WSJ are really focusing on the conglomerate, dare I say old-school publishers who pay huge advances and rely on a few big titles per season and an extensive backlist to make their money. But that’s not the only model. You can definitely get by making a bit of money on every title rather than waiting to cash in a big blockbuster.

    Publishers often seem to be looking for the next similar book to the previous blockbuster because they are so tied into the blockbuster business model.

    And it works because readers keep buying them. For all the glut, the ripoffs still sell. Even years later. Not saying that it’s right or that it’s the only thing publishers should look for, but it does explain why it happens.

    But reliance on the 20% of books to provide a successful and growing book market will inevitably miss whole segments of the reading public.

    That’s why the other 80% of the books not raking in the dough are still out there. Some houses have adopted a bestseller-only policy (Bantam, most famously), but there are plenty of others who still support midlist growth.

    The problem is that publishing has no idea when it pays out its million dollar advances whether a book will be a blockbuster, no matter the amount of money that it spends on marketing.

    A huge reason why there shouldn’t be million-dollar advances. I’m totally with you there because there really is no way to predict. What’s spent on the advance should not be the determining factor in marketing dollars.

    Publishing needs to invest more heavily in print on demand technologies. By now, they should have developed a POD machine that could print and bind a mass market in under 5 minutes.

    Our printers have the technology. The problem is cost. To run a typical mass-market on the offset presses, it costs about 50 cents per book, but you need to run at least 5000 copies. If there’s less of a demand, POD is an option, but it’s going to cost $4-5 per book for about 500, which can still be a lot to sell in some cases. For this to work, readers would have to be willing to pay more to read books that don’t have as broad of an appeal.

    I couldn't help but wonder, the other day as I sat leafing through some of the books while my daughter played with the kitchen set, why more books weren't in these non traditional retail spaces?

    I think this is a fantastic idea and fully support it. Book should be everywhere, as far as I’m concerned–hair salons, clothing stores, cosmetics stores, florists, etc. The problem is that if a retailer is looking at products, they have to determine what will be most profitable for their space. Sometimes that comes down to a $50 nightie or a $6.99 book. And then again you go back to the blockbuster theory – that consumers are more likely to buy something that’s already been validated, something they’ve heard of. So often the books that are distributed are already brand-name authors or titles. However, there certainly are the success stories. Urban Outfitters has agreed to take several of the pulp noir Hard Case Crime titles, so it will be interesting to see how they do.

    Why not set up a vending machine at the mall frequented by young shoppers full of Berkley/Jove paranormal books?

    Love this! Again, with a vending machine, you’re probably going to get mostly bestsellers, but I saw one at Florida hotel about ten years ago and thought it was the best thing ever. You could buy your beach read right on the beach.

    I see publishers slowly getting into the ebook market, but I am often shocked at how many books are not digitized.

    Mostly because of the upfront costs of converting to DRM. Eventually, the money would be earned back, but it’s tough when right now things in general are so close to the bone. Though I’m with you in that we should just lose DRM entirely.

    Why not set up their own stores and sell books at a discounted rate, undercutting Amazon.

    Because this makes bookstores and other distributors very, very unhappy–no matter how much you try to argue it. And the last thing publishers want to do is lose distribution.

    There are simply so many things out there that I can do and do for low cost that if publishing doesn't provide me with the product that I want, I can see myself drifting away

    Totally understand how you feel – especially after getting a Wii for Christmas, being able to put movies on my PDA, having DVR and so many other technological conveniences.

    Publishing must change its business model to provide greater variety, with better targeted marketing. Today's technology tools make it easier than ever for companies to do this. Right now is an exicting time for publishing. It has an opportunity, in these difficult economic times, to throw off the mantle of the old.

    Again, absolutely agree with you. I think Penguin 2.0 is making a great start, and it will be interesting to see some of the other things coming out of new technologies and distribution systems.

    Thanks again for this, Jane!

    ReplyReply

  32. Marsha
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 12:55:42

    I don’t think that publishing will be able to settle itself without a discussion of what makes a “real” author and or a “real” book. We’ve explored the latter here at DA quite a bit in the ebook discussions but what about the former? There are regular swipes at self-published authors and those who offer their writing for free (via blogs, perhaps?) as not being quite up-to-snuff, author-wise. Within the last few days there was a comment on the Amazon author store thread about “all those self-published authors who will scream for their own store”. Benign enough words but the implication was clear: self-published authors are lunatics whose antics set them apart from the real writers among us.

    True, there’s lots of self-published junk. And there’s also a lot of industrially-published junk to go nicely along with the other business model problems. What if we change the way we look at those willing to self-publish or slap a paypal button on their blog? What if we thought, hm, they might be on to something here in circumventing a moribund industry rather than assume that they couldn’t get a contract?

    If we stop assuming that bypassing or subverting a seriously broken model automatically equals poor quality or letting the side (of authors) down we might find a foothold for fixing the whole mess.

    ReplyReply

  33. MoJo
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 13:04:45

    Thank you, Marsha.

    ReplyReply

  34. KJ
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 13:11:54

    I think the biggest problem is that a handful of editors (mostly in New York) are deciding what the reading selections should be for the rest of the country (and the world, honestly). And then that gets passed down to agents who refuse to take on books that might not meet that narrow window of interest.

    I think epublishers are going to score big time in the next few years while the traditional publishing industry flounders. Their ebooks are still affordable (most full-length books are less than the price of a paperback…around $5 to $6) and some (like Samhain) are offering more than just erotic romance.

    Epublishers also operate on a much faster contract-to-publication schedule.

    My experience is slightly atypical, but my very first book has been contracted by Samhain. A paranormal suspense. A spot opened up on their schedule, and it will be published on April 7th…I received the contract just last week. Can you even think of NY publishers reacting that quickly? Smaller publishing houses have a huge advantage over the big boys. I’m really hoping to win over friends and family to electronic books. Not only is it environmentally conscious, it’s cheaper!

    ReplyReply

  35. Jane
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 13:15:59

    @Leah Hultenschmidt: Thank you for your insider’s look. Obviously, what I am using for my analysis is purely from an observer POV. One thing that seems to be clear is that publishers need to be less dependent on distributors. I would think that ebooks can help with this as well on online retailing, but again that is from an outsider’s POV.

    I do understand the cost of conversion, but the majority of the costs of conversions for publishers come from DRM and the multitude of formats an ebook must be in to meet market demand. Elimination of DRM and one ebook format can greatly reduce costs.

    @KJ and @Marsha – The multitude of self published work scares me and the reason that it scares me is that without filters for quality, even subjective ones, I fear that the numerosity of junk will reduce reading.

    ReplyReply

  36. Marsha
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 14:05:06

    Jane, I don’t understand why self-published junk would be more harmful to reading in general than industrially-published junk. Anyone plopped down randomly into a big box bookstore or subjected to searching on Amazon would be hard-pressed to find her way around quickly and easily find something interesting. But we readers are a clever lot and I’m sure with some shaking out there would be clearinghouses and blogs to show us the way and eventually we’re figure out the lay of the land and find good quality reading.

    Any big, industry-shaking change requires a shake-out period where we endure the unknown. If I never see another celebrity “written” tome and in exchange I have to figure out how to find good books in the absence of the big publishers, I’ll be happy. I’ll be thrilled to throw some paypal cash at an author whose blog-published work excited me. I’m thinking that $10 directly to an author might be more than she’d receive from me purchasing the same book from a store.

    ReplyReply

  37. Hortense Powdermaker
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 14:05:16

    I don't know what they're smoking at the Harvard Business School these days, where Elberse teaches, but apparently it's something real old school.

    Agreed. Elberse doesn’t cite any data to indicate that the blockbuster concept is profitable. As Jane points out, if this is a good business approach, then why aren’t publishers thriving? Are they being dragged down by their midlisters?

    And I don’t believe large advances are a necessary component in the blockbuster model of book success. For every $1 million-plus advance that’s earned out there are two that haven’t. Charles Frazier got $8 million for a book that bombed. Jame’s Frey’s second book ($1.5 million advance) has sold less than 70,000 copies. Sacred Games, 900+ pages long, $1 million advance, 51,000 copies sold. Mary Cheney, Curtis Sittenfeld – the list goes on and on.

    Meanwhile, the advance for the first Harry Potter book was $4,000. The Da Vinci Code was part of a 2-book deal for $400,000. Best-selling children’s author Kate DeCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie, Despereaux) wrote for 6 years and got 450 rejections and no advance for her award-winning book.

    Big Publishers should be able to tote up their giant advances + massive pr budgets and figure out if this blockbuster strategy is working. I would guess that it is not.

    But should we care if NY publishing is an epic fail? Epublishers and ebooks will take over. There will always be books – they just won’t be paper books.

    ReplyReply

  38. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 14:07:58

    I think the biggest problem is that a handful of editors (mostly in New York) are deciding what the reading selections should be for the rest of the country (and the world, honestly).

    The bigger problem IMO is that fricken Wal-Mart is now determining what will even be published, based purely on what they will stock. I know of multiple authors who have lost contracts, had books canceled, or not been picked up again based SOLELY on the buying practices of Wal-Mart (if Wal-Mart doesn't buy you, you're outta there).

    This scares the bejezus out of me.

    ReplyReply

  39. Jane
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 14:11:30

    @Marsha: It’s the sheer volume. Self publishing counts in the thousands of releases versus the hundreds of releases. Editors do serve an important part of publishing for readers and it’s not just a filter, but it is in making a book better.

    How many self published authors are hiring professional editors to prune their work, assist with plot, and so forth? Very few authors write clean works that need no editing.

    That’s the real problem I see with self publishing.

    ReplyReply

  40. Cindy
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 14:23:11

    I’m not sure how to quote here, but I’m sure Kalen brings up a good point. A lot of Walmart’s practices scare me (worked there for a year and a half), and they have way too much power. On a side note, Sam Walton must be rolling in his grave at how far it’s come from his values and ideals.

    I was just telling my father the other day, they are due to fall and in a big way. He wants to see it. The only reason they get any of money any more is that my bank is in the store and it’s convenient. But my book buying? 90% from Borders or the UBS which also handles new.

    This is truly frightening that Walmart is having the power to tell me what I can read? I’ll go strictly ebook first with Ellora’s Cave and Samhain.

    ReplyReply

  41. Marsha
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 14:28:05

    @Jane: First, I swear I’m not trying to be argumentative, Jane. All of my thoughts are utterly in earnest. I stand ready for whatever smackdown may be headed my way.

    Now then. With regards to editors, it’s my understanding that editors won’t work with authors who intend to self-publish. But doesn’t this bring us right back to my first point of rethinking how we look at such authors? If editors consented to consider working with the self-published the quality of the books would increase. They’ll have to be paid, of course, so authors whose work is quality and rewarded with money from the reading public would be in a position to partner with editors for this purpose. Authors whose work isn’t so great wouldn’t find their position significantly changed from how things look now. Quality could be its own reward in a way that the current publishing set-up simply doesn’t allow.

    As to volume, yes, I see your point. No editor would choose to be deluged with every unpublished manuscript out there and I get that. I still think that after a settling out period we’d find things more orderly than not and if the goal is *more* books in the hands of *more* people in *more* outlets than just bookstores and discount marts I don’t think that volume would ultimately be a problem.

    ReplyReply

  42. Jane
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 14:32:23

    @Marsha I never thought you were being argumentative. The number of POD books is a multiple of 10 or greater than what comes from traditional publishing. My idea for more variety isn’t simply more books but more variety in the books that are published. I don’t know that we actually need more than 400 books published new each month. I don’t think we need 4000. Most readers aren’t going to sift through a morass of titles and read reviews in order to find books to purchase. Make it too hard to find a good read, and the readers will turn to doing something easier.

    There are editors out there that work for a fee, not ones that are employed by NY, but there are. I don’t understand your “rethinking how we look at such authors” I.e., until they are being edited, I still view them as being, well, unedited.

    ReplyReply

  43. Robin
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 15:08:08

    To me, the Walmart issue is just one more reason that publishing needs a new model. FWIW, I don’t think it’s fair to blame the distribution outlet for what they will or won’t sell; I think this is still the publisher’s burden in placing its books. If the publisher is rolling over for Walmart, they’re doing it for their own perceived best interest above readers and authors, which to me, again, suggests the need for new vision, both inside and *outside* traditional print publishing. One that involves all of those interested in the outcome.

    ReplyReply

  44. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 15:29:27

    If the publisher is rolling over for Walmart, they're doing it for their own perceived best interest above readers and authors, which to me, again, suggests the need for new vision, both inside and *outside* traditional print publishing. One that involves all of those interested in the outcome.

    You couldn’t be more right . . . but it still scares me.

    ReplyReply

  45. LynneW
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 15:42:12

    Thank you, Jane, for a cogent and thoughtful exploration of a worrying situation. Let’s hope Those Who Can Make A Difference take note!

    ReplyReply

  46. Pat Brown
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 15:58:09

    Publishing needs to innovate? Hardly a new revelation. I and other writers have known this for some time. And the solution has been in front of them all the time but they have resisted it and stubbornly clung to a model that was bad when it was first introduced and will remain bad and untenable until it crumbles into the dust. Sort of like the dinosaurs they are, and like the small, nimble creatures who lived in their shadows, the new publishers will flourish online and in ebook and POD format. People will not stop reading. They just want a better way to do it.

    ReplyReply

  47. Anne Douglas
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 15:59:01

    I’ve been reading the comments all day, and I think many of you have raised valid points, suggestions and worries.

    One question I have, which possibly is a little aside to the main topic:

    I have yet to buy a celeb book, be that biographical/autobiographical, and I buy a lot of books. I read even more books than I buy (prob 3-4 to 1) and I can’t even begin to think when I even checked out one of these million/multi million dollar advance ‘celeb’ books. How does everyone else stand?

    Using myself as a guide, I can only see that the current model as being wholly ineffectual. I have wondered if in fact it is the midlist (under stocked, underpaid, under promoted that it is) at some publishers that are propping up the no hit wonders?

    ReplyReply

  48. karmelrio
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 16:01:56

    If the publisher is rolling over for Walmart, they're doing it for their own perceived best interest above readers and authors

    It seems to me that publishers, readers and authors ALL have some skin in the game. We all have insights which could help drive an evolution of the business model which meets people’s needs better than the current one does.

    Publishers have a profit margin to protect. Authors want to be fairly paid for their labor, see their books handled with integrity, and participate in profits should there be any. Readers want good stories at a fair price (and might I also put in a word for book covers and titles that don’t make me shrivel up in embarrassment).

    We can all make a difference.

    ReplyReply

  49. Emmy
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 16:09:11

    @Anne Douglas: I’ve never gotten a celeb book either, but I strictly read fiction for fun. The only non-fic I purchase is for educational purposes, so they’re all big, boring medical texts. If I want to read real life stuff, I’ll pick up a newspaper.

    ReplyReply

  50. Rae Lori
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 16:15:26

    @Catherine: I think Jane’s on the right track about the browsing. I was thinking, say with the EBM, it’ll be virtually in the machine like a vending machine where you can choose what you want then wait to have it brought up. It’d be really cool to have a built in: “If you like so and so, try so and so” to make it easier for readers to check out new authors. I also think Jane’s cover flats idea could work for those who like to be more hands on.

    I have a question for people more in tune with booksellers/publishers. If the industry does go to POD books do you think it will eventually go to nothing but ebooks?

    I don’t think print books will go completely away but will possibly become more of a niche things for collectors. Especially hardcovers. I don’t see that being as widespread as it is because many readers aren’t buying them except for their faves. And even then most wait until paperback. Print bookstores may also become like a niche in themselves for selling these. Although ebooks took a 77% rise this year, it’s still 1% of the overall marketplace so it’s hard to say how much they’ll take up in the industry but they are definitely on the rise.

    With the amount of free and cheap ebooks publishers and authors are sending out (it’s like an ebook party!) nowadays, it’s definitely catching on throughout the industry. Would be interesting to see the numbers later this year.

    @MoJo: Booksellers need to sit up and take notice of your perfect bookstore Mojo. It’s a dream come true!

    Also, well said, Marsha. :-)

    ReplyReply

  51. roslynholcomb
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 16:19:04

    I probably read more non-fic than I do fic, and I’ve never, to my knowledge bought a ‘celeb’ book. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not even sure what a celeb book is. Typically I read a lot of history, or I go on a glom and read everything I can find on a particular subject. In the past few years I’ve gone through books on coastal LA, the New Madrid Earthquake, and the Underground Railroad as well as my always pet topic epidemology.

    Ewww, just had a thought, are ‘celeb’ books like Paris Hilton stuff?

    ReplyReply

  52. MoJo
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 16:22:32

    Booksellers need to sit up and take notice of your perfect bookstore Mojo. It's a dream come true!

    You know, publishers could do that too.

    I worked at Hallmark corporate headquarters for a long time, in the division that supports the retail stores. Only about 1/3 of the stores are franchises; the rest are company-owned.

    There’s no reason a publisher couldn’t take its act on the road to a strip mall, have an Espresso (and espresso), and sell its titles in paper and electrons. I mean, there’s been a lot of talk about “branding” a publisher. What wouldn’t brand it faster than having a Bantam Store? Or a Penguin Store? Or, hell, a Samhain Store?

    ReplyReply

  53. Rae Lori
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 16:45:52

    Now that would be an awesome sight. Especially if Samhain had their own bookstore. The readers would have thought they died and went to cloud nine! ;-)

    Weird aside thought, there’s also the idea of publishing going virtual like in Second Life. They already have a Penguin simulator, a Bantam store, Harlequin Presents has a booth at Publisher’s island and I believe Ellora’s Cave also has a booth there. Loose ID has a store as well. I wonder if this is also part of the future of publishing (especially considering the world has its own printing press). Most link to Amazon and the publisher’s site anyway so you can still buy a “real world” version of the book after checking out the excerpt. They just need to keep it updated a little more.

    Imagine if the virtual store linked up to the Espresso machine in the brick-and-morter publisher store? Wow. Definitely a bookseller’s haven for all.

    ReplyReply

  54. kirsten saell
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 17:57:17

    When one thing sells big, publishers rush to put out books of the same genre. I can't begin to tell you how tired I am of urban paranormals.

    The Romance section was all heaving man-titty and rapt adoration or bad-ass urban fantasy heroines, tramp-stamp optional.

    Ugh, I hear you, and I wasn’t that interested in them to begin with. Even many epubs were atrocious for this the last year or two–you go into the fantasy section, click on something that has a promising cover and title, and BAM, it’s yet another werewolf romance with a patented Kick-Ass Heroine. Bluh.

    Provide binders or bound volumes of cover flats that contain the cover and back blurb, maybe even a small excerpt.

    Now THAT is a very cool idea. Epubs like Samhain are doing POD books and getting them into stores–and they’re returnable, just like with traditional publishers. But if the books were printed on site, whoa. The store could have one actual copy of the book on the shelf, so you could still leaf through it and get a feel for the writing, then you ask to have it printed. If the customer was in a hurry and couldn’t wait for a fresh, the store could conceivably sell the shelf copy and print a new one to replace it. The higher per-copy cost of producing the book would surely be at least partially offset by eliminating returns?

    The bigger problem IMO is that fricken Wal-Mart is now determining what will even be published, based purely on what they will stock.

    FWIW, I don't think it's fair to blame the distribution outlet for what they will or won't sell; I think this is still the publisher's burden in placing its books.

    Holy shit, yeah. Since when did we all decide Wal-Mart should be the arbiters of our reading tastes? If Wal-Mart has that kind of power, it’s because publishers have handed it to them.

    I have wondered if in fact it is the midlist (under stocked, underpaid, under promoted that it is) at some publishers that are propping up the no hit wonders?

    I’ve wondered the same thing myself.

    ReplyReply

  55. Kat
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 18:23:52

    There’s an Espresso Book Machine in Melbourne, and I’m planning to try it in Feb, when I go down for the Australia Romance Readers Convention (ahem, small plug).

    Jane, you might find this book interesting: The Book is Dead (Long Live the Book). I’ve been meaning to read it, but haven’t had time to track down a copy. You can read chapter 1 here. From what I understand, the author argues that corporatisation of the publishing industry has resulted in books becoming commodities rather than products of culture, and that the demise of the book as an object doesn’t necessarily mean people are reading (although I think he means “telling stories”) less–just that they’re doing so through different forms. I think he’s also arguing that publishers have abdicated their role as nurturers of ideas, and that books were never suited for mass media. (Not sure what he thinks about genre fiction.)

    ReplyReply

  56. Kaetrin
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 22:00:23

    Well said Jane!
    The price of books is becoming prohibitive and my “habit” is now costing me a fortune!!

    I think they do have one of those machines in Adelaide at one of the big bookstores – my husband was telling me about it. You order it and it prints and binds in about 15 minutes or so. That would be great. I’d be prepared to wait 15 minutes for a book that was out of stock – I hate waiting for weeks and weeks!!

    ReplyReply

  57. AJane
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 22:04:12

    @Marsha: Thank you.

    ReplyReply

  58. Txvoodoo
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 22:13:41

    It sounds to me like the publishing industry is laying off the wrong people. They need to have people to find MORE books, not fewer people to nurture a select few authors. We need that diversity.

    While I definitely favor a few genres, my entire library is very diverse. I like reading different things, to learn, to experience, to think.

    ReplyReply

  59. The Daily Square - Conga ga Pozar Edition | Booksquare
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 23:10:07

    [...] Breaking: The Sky Is Falling. Will Publishing Innovate or Deteriorate?Jane from Dear Author reviews the challenges facing the publishing business and wonders if it’s too late to save the industry from itself. [...]

  60. XandraG
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 23:11:14

    @Kat – have you read Lawrence Lessig’s “Free Culture” yet? He speaks at length about this very thing–and best of all, the ebook is released under the creative commons license.

    @Jane – clapclapclapclapclap!

    @Marsha re: the Self-publishing model lacking editorial input. Maybe we need to rethink how we view editors. They’re traditionally attached to publishing houses, but there’s no reason an industry pro editor can’t edit a self-pubbed story.

    ReplyReply

  61. Kat
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 23:32:58

    Thanks, Xandra. I’ll check it out.

    Regarding self-publishing. I’ve noticed that many bloggers are venturing into self-publishing, which to me seems like a kind of democratisation of the publishing industry. I’ve also read a few authors who were initially self-published and were picked up by publishing companies–e.g. Christopher Paolini, Stephen Clarke. So I don’t think self-publishing is necessarily an obstacle if you’re a good writer and/or you write a great story. It’s probably frowned upon because, just on the law of averages, the chances of finding sellable self-published books is low (historically, but I think the increase in blogger/authors will probably change the numbers significantly), and there are issues of rights that a publisher will take into account.

    ReplyReply

  62. MaryK
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 23:42:24

    “they will inevitably turn to other forms of entertainment as publishing increasingly offers a sameness to its selections. ”

    I’ve stopped buying Harlequin Presents because of the repetitive, gag-inducing titles. If I feel like reading one, I reread a keeper or pick up an older title used.

    ReplyReply

  63. Anthea Lawson
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 01:43:33

    re: Wal-mart and cookie-cutter books.

    My co-author and I write adventurous Victorian-set romance, and one of the things that sets our books apart is the use of exotic locations. Our first book featured a botanical expedition to Tunisia, the second opens on the island of Crete.

    We were recently informed by our editor that the blurb for the second novel, out this fall, will have NO MENTION of exotic locale because Wal-mart won’t carry it if it does. Ouch. So much for branding.

    So if you’re browsing the romance section and think there’s nothing but man-titty and kick-ass heroines, try and look a little deeper. There may well be a truffle or two in there, concealed as a sugar cookie.

    Publishers control the entire outside of the book, which in our case (especially as newer authors) means Wal-mart does, too. This includes the title, the image, the copy, the quote, if any. Nothing we can do except keep pushing the boundaries between the covers as much as we can, and trust readers to come along. Wherever the setting.

    ReplyReply

  64. anthealawson.com » Blog Archive » Epiphany
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 02:39:25

    [...] many epiphanies in the coming year, especially for the publishing world. Catch this blog by Jane at DearAuthor. And hold on–it could be quite a [...]

  65. Cindy
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 04:11:42

    Wal-mart has no business dictating what books should be published nor determining anything else about it. They have entirely too much power in this country and need to be stopped.

    What’s wrong with the mention of exotic locale? There’s nothing offensive about that to me, so what’s wrong with Wal-Mart. But oh yes, these are the people who will only sell *clean* versions of music but carry The Tudors on DVD. I couldn’t even watch it, it was like soft core porn.

    ReplyReply

  66. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 04:14:12

    Publishers are not idiots and they’re not blind. They know what’s going on, probably better than we do, but in order to change, they have to change the model. This is much more difficult than it sounds, involving legal and accountancy alterations, fundamental ones in some cases, and a new structure. The larger concerns just can’t do it overnight, but I’m betting the credit crunch will push them into speeding things up a bit, if it’s not doing that already.
    It’s probably why publishing houses are starting new ventures to cope with the new model, rather than trying to revolutionise their entire company. They will migrate to them, so the whole process will be more evolutionary.

    ReplyReply

  67. Evangeline
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 04:17:53

    @Jane: Since venturing into indie publishing, I disagree with using “self-published=unedited/no barriers against trash” as sole argument against self-publishing.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Marsha that we all need to change the way we think about self-publishing (not “vanity publishing”), particularly since opinions on the subject are oft repeated, yet rarely has any naysayer researched the industry nor contacted writers who have chosen to go indie for their perspective.

    I also distinctly recall that prior to e-books really taking off, most authors, published and unpublished, saw writers who entered the e-book market as “cheating the system,”or “finding a last resort after everyone rejected them,” or “not wanting to pay their dues.” It does everyone a disservice to use these same phrases on another segment of publishing after e-publishing has striven to change the way people look at them.

    It’s taken a few years, but thus far, the creme de la creme of e-publishers–as well as e-published authors–have risen to the top–and with much help from reviewers such as yourself and other respected romance industry bloggers. It would be a shame to blow the froth from the indie publishing latte before allowing authors dedicated to producing quality self-published works to get in the game.

    ReplyReply

  68. LizJ
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 05:33:51

    I don’t have an e-book reader and will likely not buy one till they get in the under $100 range. And I avoid reading on the computer because I, like many other people, read differently on a computer screen (after a while, I’m just skimming – the wrong way to read fiction IMO).

    I am buying less books, but a lot of that has to do with what the industry is publishing right now in romance – less straight historicals, too many paranormals (although I do like a good one), too much “chick lit” although that’s lessening, and too much straight contemporary or contemporary-suspense Go look at AAR’s list of books on sale for each month – the historicals are shrinking, the paranormal category isn’t as large as one might think. There is one big category, and it’s where contemporary romance and contemporary romantic suspense are lumped together. And this does not include Harlequins, they are under series books.

    Everyone in my family (DH and my two DD’s) are readers, so we kind of buck the trend. We don’t own a video game console. My girls (15 and 19) have a hard time finding books they like, even though there are some bestsellers that one or both of them has read (ie, Twilight).

    So, I really hope books on demand shows up, and soon. With publishing costs reduced, perhaps we’ll have more options.

    ReplyReply

  69. Susan
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 07:44:52

    I’m a publisher at a modest sized press (<$6M in annual sales). Want to say that many of us are innovating.

    IMHO, Prof. Elberse at HBS is wrong. I disagreed with her article last year regarding the long tail and books, and I disagree with her WSJ article. The blockbuster model works for certain books, but not the majority of what’s published. There are thriving publishers (even in this economy) across America who prove that she’s wrong.

    POD just became cost-effective for us (avg. $2.50-$4 unit cost) in the past 3 years. We looked into it 7 years ago and it still wasn’t cost-effective. We re-evaluated in 2007 and were able to implement in 2008. We now use it so that every book we’ve ever published, for which we still hold rights, is available. And we’re using digital printing for short runs on about 25-30% of our front list.

    As for ebooks: we’re getting there. It takes cash and we don’t have buckets of it. We’ve been able to digitize (e.g. scan) almost all of our books pub’d since 1925, but we’re now faced with the issue that many ebook retailers require different formats for their devices. Conversion costs money. We don’t sell pdf from our site because we don’t have the DRM in place and don’t have the cash on hand to invest in developing it. But we will, we will. We’re getting there.

    Our e prices are high. We know that and are re-evaluating. You could say that we were testing the market and have learned which segments will pay our current high prices and know that we need to rethink for trade, which we are presently doing. But I should point out that our e prices for stuff we’ve brought back in print are generally *lower* than many of our out-of-print books at UBS. You can buy it from us POD for $50 or pay $200+ at a UBS for some of our stuff.

    It all boils down to this: We are innovating. We’re just doing it slower than you want. The printing press was king for centuries. Give us a another decade to change, would you? We’ll get there.

    ReplyReply

  70. Kimber An
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 08:59:45

    I don’t understand why anyone takes the time to belittle self-publishing. If it’s such an inferior way to publish, why bother? It should be of no consequence. Irrelevent. Not worthy of your notice. A bug on a dog ten miles away.

    So, why? Why waste your time and breath?

    As far as editing, well, sometimes in regular publishing the creativity gets edited away to mold the story into something more trendy. If a reader is willing to overlook ‘i’ not getting dotted once in a while, he or she may find wonderous variety in the self-published ranks. There are more and more sites to help them search too.

    ReplyReply

  71. Jane
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 09:33:57

    @Susan I can appreciate that all of publishing is not stagnating and that you are innovating but I do wonder whether the mainstream publishers have a decade to change. I don’t think that they do.

    ReplyReply

  72. Jane
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 09:38:47

    @Evangeline I don’t know the difference between self publishing and vanity publishing and what you seem to refer to as indie publishing.

    Small print publishing with editors have some indicia, to me, of quality (although that can be eroded over time by frequent encounters with poorly edited works).

    As a reader, I don’t have time to research all the different modes of publishing and what time of quality examinations they endure, but if I spend money on a number of books that I find not to be of high quality, I’ll stop taking risks, my decision making process for buying will contract to include those old favorites that I know can be reliable to deliver a certain level of work. I don’t want that to happen but I do know that many readers are risk adverse and paying for self published books that have no editing process is a risk.

    I’ve read and purchased self published books and we receive a number of self published books for review. I do think that there is a difference between something edited and something that is not edited. I am just a huge believer in the need for critical review of a work before it is sold.

    ReplyReply

  73. XandraG
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 09:59:08

    @Kimber An – There should be no reason why wondrous variety and dotted i’s can’t coexist. Some of the attitude adjustment has to happen in the self-publishing circles, too. Too often, the first rationale I see for self-publishing is something that amounts to a conspiracy by Big Media(TM) to kill all true creative talent in its infancy. Now, not that there isn’t exactly that kind of conspiracy going on, but it doesn’t serve as an excuse for sloppy finished work, either in the copyediting area, or the storytelling area. And if the self-published author took more the approach of, “my story, let me tell you it” rather than, “my publisher, let me sell you on it.” Some of the most vocal self-published authors I’ve encountered will put out volumes on how great their publisher is and how well their book is selling, but hardly ever seem to say what their stories are about.

    @Susan – Glad to hear you’re innovating, but please for the love of your customers, lose the DRM. It is a broken model. It’s like having a pair of shoes that you try on and love in the store, but once you pay for them, the doors lock before you are out of the store, you can only wear them with one dress and at one event, and then only if the shoe salesman is there to hold them on your feet. Apple’s success came largely through accurate pricing and ease of use. Make it easy for your customers to buy at a reasonable price, and you will not miss DRM. Neither will your customers. In fact, you probably will get more customers without it. :)

    As a reader/consumer, I buy music and go out of my way to look for non-DRM music so I can be assured of being able to still listen to it a year from now. The one time I bought something DRM from Harlequin, I ended up not even being able to open it. As a result, I’ll never buy anything in that format, and it’ll be a long time before I give Harlequin another chance.

    ReplyReply

  74. Chicklet
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 10:38:37

    In 2008, I read about 80 professionally-published books, which is a pretty low number, especially for this community. But, if you assume a novel equals ~50,000 words, I read at least 100 novels’ worth of fanfiction last year. With the vast amount of professionally-published backlist titles, and the near-infinite amount of fanfic posted each year, I could never have to purchase a newly-published book again. I choose to buy newly-published books because I like the author or I read a rave review, but if new books get too expensive, inconvenient, or lackluster to justify my purchase, I can get by just fine using the UBS and the internet — without pirating — to satisfy my reading needs.

    Please keep in mind, I have a Masters in Library and Information Science, though I haven’t worked in the library profession yet. When a librarian says she’d possibly be fine never buying new product from NY publishers, something is wrong.

    ReplyReply

  75. Esri Rose
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 11:18:25

    It’s so scary and so true. I assume that Amazon’s Kindle is going to eventually whup publishers’ butts. It may take a while before publishers discount digital rights enough to make books as cheap as they should be when they don’t use paper or need warehousing, but that day will come, because they’ll be desperate. And then who will have benefited? Amazon, because publishers didn’t see the liquid ink on the wall.

    I’d happily buy a POD printer for $200-$300 if I could then buy/print books for three to four bucks a copy. And I’ve suggested this before on other sites: POD would let readers design their own covers. Publishers could make even more money by selling access to fab clip art for covers. I mean, come on. There’s money to be made all over the place, but they don’t seem to see it.

    ReplyReply

  76. kirsten saell
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 11:34:59

    We don't sell pdf from our site because we don't have the DRM in place and don't have the cash on hand to invest in developing it. But we will, we will. We're getting there.

    Gahhh! What XandraG said. You won’t “get there” until you forget DRM.

    There are epublishers out there making money and expanding while traditional publishers are laying people off willy nilly. And as far as I know, NONE of them use DRM. For Pete’s sake, you have a successful model sitting right in front of you. Why wouldn’t you take your cues from those who’ve made that model a success, dang it?

    ReplyReply

  77. Susan
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 12:14:30

    Kirsten, Apologies for being dense, but what’s the successful model that’s sitting right in front of me?

    ReplyReply

  78. KJ
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 12:27:15

    Susan,

    Please see Ellora’s Cave or Samhain Publishing to answer that question. Ebooks in multiple formats without DRM.

    http://www.ellorascave.com
    http://www.samhainpublishing.com

    ReplyReply

  79. kirsten saell
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 12:33:08

    I did sound snippy and it was rude of me. I apologize.

    But it’s just so very frustrating to see this issue revisited again and again. The “We can’t sell our ebooks for less because DRM is expensive,” or “We would convert more books, but DRM is expensive,” arguments do not fly when readers are screaming all over the place about how much they hate DRM, how they refuse to buy ebooks that are DRM-hampered, how DRM does nothing to discourage piracy and only makes ebooks difficult and ungainly for honest consumers.

    The most I have ever paid for a DRM-hampered book was $6. I only spent that because the store did not indicate it was DRM’d until after I bought it. The file said pdf, I purchased, then had to download software to be able to access my book, and now can’t copy it to a new device when my laptop craps out. I know better now. I refuse to spend more than $2.00 on an ebook with DRM. Yet most DRM-hampered books are much more expensive, partly because the DRM itself costs money. But publishers don’t seem to realize that DRM doesn’t just cost them money, it costs them readers.

    I have never–and will never–download a pirated ebook. But I also will never pay 12 dollars for a DRM-hampered book. Especially knowing the author is probably making less than 12% royalty on that book–instead of the 30-40% they could be making at an epublisher.

    Dragon Actually was released simultaneously in print by Zebra and in ebook by Samhain, because G.A. Aiken retained the digital rights and sold them to Samhain. Why would she do this? Maybe so the ebook would be released DRM-free, for a reasonable price, and her royalty percentage would reflect the lower tangible costs of production.

    You want to see a successful model? How about EC? Samhain?

    ReplyReply

  80. Susan
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 13:10:03

    Apology accepted, thank you. :)

    Don’t both EC and Samhain use pdf? Pdf has some DRM imbedded in it’s coding–and if you have to purchase before you can download the pdf, then that’s a type of DRM. They are managing a reader’s ability to get a copy of the book electronically.

    We aren’t withholding putting our books into e format because of DRM–we are holding off from selling directly from our own web site because of DRM.

    Our books are available via half a dozen vendors in digital format, and we’ve digitized and brought back into print everything we’ve ever published for which we hold the rights going back to our founding. And almost all of our titles are available for viewing on Google Book and in Amazon’s Search Inside.That equals roughly 2400 books in pdf.

    Our biggest hurdles are a) being able to sell ebooks direct from our site (we don’t have that capability), b) the fact that most reading devices require specific file types and conversion costs $$, and c) staff time to devote to the digital side of our business.

    ReplyReply

  81. Txvoodoo
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 13:23:18

    @Susan

    You’re confusing DRM with download authentication – they’re 2 different things. DRM is built into the book itself, download authentication is on the server, and restricts who can download a file.

    Neither one is expensive to implement. I could do both on my own, with tools available to any person with a computer and a small bit of tech saavy.

    Conversion is far less expensive than you’d think for NEW books – authors all submit their works in digital format, yes? You could possibly consider freelancers or outsourcing for conversion.

    I publish documents in various formats all the time, for convenience of clients/users – PDF, mobi format, etc. It’s really not rocket science, in either terms of tech or cost.

    If you’ve been told otherwise, you’ve been misinformed.

    That said, I agree very much with the above poster about DRM. DRM is a broken model, restricting and frustrating your end user. When I buy a dead-tree book, I can read it whereever I like – I’m not restricted to reading it in my living room. DRM essentially does that – restricts me to reading the book in one location. But we don’t *live* that way. I can’t lift up my desktop computer and take it to the bed with me. Instead, I have a Kindle. When I buy an ebook, I want to be able to read it on my computer AND my Kindle. Or, if I had another device (Iphone, sony reader, laptop), read it there.

    I am not saying this to be contrary or a rebel – this is how we grew up reading dead-tree books. This is the paradigm to which we have become accustomed. To shift that asks too much from your end user.

    BTW – PDF does not have DRM embedded in its coding unless the person creating the PDF puts it in there.

    Also you say “Our biggest hurdles are a) being able to sell ebooks direct from our site (we don't have that capability),” – I really just don’t understand that. Well, I do, in a way – I think you’ve gotten bad web advice. ANYONE could do this – this is why self-publishers can do it. I could set up a shop online TODAY, if I’d written a book.

    ReplyReply

  82. Emmy
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 13:25:04

    I have books in .pdf format from both EC and Samhain, and if there’s DRM involved, it doesn’t hamper me from transferring the content to my three reading devices (reader, laptop, pc). I’m thinking there’s no DRM with those files, because I would not be able to transfer books about if there were. DRM would block me from making a copy of the files and transferring those files to my other reading devices, as well as my two backup devices.

    DRM is incredibly easy to strip using multiple programs available for free online. It makes no sense whatsoever to spend “buckets” of money on something that is ineffective against its intended purpose- to wit: preventing piracy- but is effective in preventing honest buyers from utilizing their purchase to its fullest extent.

    ReplyReply

  83. kirsten saell
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 13:38:34

    Don't both EC and Samhain use pdf? Pdf has some DRM imbedded in it's coding-and if you have to purchase before you can download the pdf, then that's a type of DRM. They are managing a reader's ability to get a copy of the book electronically.

    Okay, here’s the thing. Adobe pdf is a form of file software. Adobe also makes something called “Digital Editions” which is the DRM that pisses me off so much. If I buy a pdf book from Samhain, I can back it up on as many devices as I like, move it to my ereader, stick it on a flash drive. It’s just a file, as portable as the MS word files I write in.

    Samhain also sells books from their own store in SONYpdf, MSlit, HTML, prc and a few other formats. And as far as I know, none of them are DRM hampered. What might happen to them when they go to retailers is another story. (SONY pdf files of Samhain titles from the Sony Ebookstore are DRM hampered, but not the ones sold by MBaM).

    AND, Samhain’s MBaM has an eternal bookshelf. So if I ditch my SONY in a year and get a new reader, I can go back to Samhain and download my entire collection of their books in a new format–hassle free and cost free. AND Samhain is adding new formats as they become relevant in the market, and (not intantaneously, but they’re doing it) converting their backlist to the new formats.

    And certainly if you already have a shopping cart for your print books, it wouldn’t take much to adapt your site to handle ebooks. I recently downloaded a free ebook from (I think) Kalen Hughes’ website. It’s not hugely difficult if you have someone who knows their way around website design.

    The appeal of ebooks for readers is their convenience over the print model. No shelf space, instant gratification of purchase, being able to carry hundreds of titles in your purse. DRM eliminates every single one of those benefits.

    ReplyReply

  84. Susan
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 13:42:06

    Txvoodoo, thanks for the clarification re drm and download authentication.

    What we want a reader to be able to take their book with them wherever they go, whether it’s in print or e; isn’t that the whole point–to make a reader able to read whereever they are?

    Here’s an example of cost prohibitive on file conversion: the best bid I’ve gotten is from a vendor who’d charge me $40 convert to Mobi from our typeset files. For one book, that’s not a lot. But for 2400? That’s $96,000, which for a smaller press like ourselves is a whole lot of additional cash (that’s 2-3 salaries, for instance). And I’m already paying to convert into the formats that my present digital vendors use. Yeah, it’s a one time investment, but I don’t have that one time money right now.

    I haven’t gotten bad web advice–our parent institution has rules and requirements for selling online that add levels of bureaucracy and administration that we haven’t yet chosen to engage. That’s not a univerisal publisher problem, it’s a specific to our press problem. (I probably should have clarified that in my last post.)

    ReplyReply

  85. Txvoodoo
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 13:57:02

    @Susan

    Wait – you’re already converting to digital formats? Then….what’s the issue?

    And while I haven’t priced out mass-conversions, $40/book sounds really expensive for a 3-5 minute process (once you’ve determined the process from your source to finished mobi). REALLY expensive. Like, “I’m in the wrong line of work” expensive ;)

    Now I’m considering setting up a conversion shop!

    ReplyReply

  86. kirsten saell
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 14:01:39

    Here's an example of cost prohibitive on file conversion: the best bid I've gotten is from a vendor who'd charge me $40 convert to Mobi from our typeset files.

    That is a huge concern, which is why I don’t understand why many NY publishers (and I assume small presses, too) don’t do all their edits in MSWord. It’s insane in this day and age to hear about the sole, marked up copy of a manuscript being shipped back and forth between a publisher and an author, when most authors originally write their mss in Word, and Track Changes makes editing a breeze. You go from red pen and “stet” and $$$ worth of shipping costs (and the risk of losing the only copy in transit) to accept or reject change and email back at the click of a mouse.

    AND, then you have the fully edited digital file on hand for conversion to various ebook formats, PLUS, once a book’s initial print run sold through, the digital file is still available for POD sales and the long tail. NY publishers have the tools to put UBSs out of business, but instead of using them, they whine about how UBSs hurt their bottom line. It drives me batty, it really does.

    ReplyReply

  87. kirsten saell
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 14:03:57

    And while I haven't priced out mass-conversions, $40/book sounds really expensive for a 3-5 minute process (once you've determined the process from your source to finished mobi). REALLY expensive. Like, “I'm in the wrong line of work” expensive ;)

    I think she’s talking about converting from physical copies or plates or what-have-you, to digital. Which, well, see my above comment.

    ReplyReply

  88. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 14:28:37

    FWIW, I don't think it's fair to blame the distribution outlet for what they will or won't sell; I think this is still the publisher's burden in placing its books.

    Holy shit, yeah. Since when did we all decide Wal-Mart should be the arbiters of our reading tastes? If Wal-Mart has that kind of power, it's because publishers have handed it to them.

    I'm sorry to disagree, but Wal-Mart has this kind of power in the current market because READERS have handed it to them (not the readers who hunt out potential books/authors on the web, but the ones who casually grab what looks good while they're buying diapers and milk). The majority of mass market books (and specifically romance books) are now sold by big box stores (with Wal-Mart being the 800lb gorilla). So the publishers are merely reacting to/following the market. If the book has little chance of success and profitability if Wal-Mart doesn't pick it up, and Wal-Mart passes, then there is little incentive for the publisher to put the book out (or to buy more books from that author). And since Wal-Mart (and other big box stores) simply aren't book stores, and have very limited offerings in their book departments, this means much stiffer competition for those slots, and in the end, fewer books for everyone (even those of us who don't shop for our books at big box stores).

    There's also the issue of romance having entirely different standards for “success” than other genre fiction. Print runs are higher in romance, and the kinds of sales that a mystery or science fiction author would be over the moon about are dubbed “flops” in romance.

    ReplyReply

  89. karmelrio
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 14:56:54

    If a reader is willing to overlook ‘i' not getting dotted once in a while

    I’m …not.

    Copyediting errors are a pet peeve of mine – even more so when I find them in a book that has supposedly been professionally edited.

    ReplyReply

  90. kirsten saell
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 15:00:40

    You don’t have to be sorry to disagree, lol! And yeah, readers do have a hand in this, too.

    But it isn’t entirely outside the power of publishers to relax their definition of “success”, either. I think it all ties into the blockbuster mentality, and the reluctance by publishers to consider a modestly profitable book a success. If things keep going the way they are, the midlist will disappear entirely, and all we’ll be left with are books with blockbuster potential, that will either be hugely successful, or total flops.

    ReplyReply

  91. Robin
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 15:13:25

    I'm sorry to disagree, but Wal-Mart has this kind of power in the current market because READERS have handed it to them (not the readers who hunt out potential books/authors on the web, but the ones who casually grab what looks good while they're buying diapers and milk). The majority of mass market books (and specifically romance books) are now sold by big box stores (with Wal-Mart being the 800lb gorilla). So the publishers are merely reacting to/following the market.

    Well, publishers will sure be happy to hear this argument, since they keep making it about readers in general.

    But I must disagree with you and with publishers on this.

    Publishers are no passive players in this game, although they sure would like to see themselves that way, especially when authors come to complain about sales, contracts, covers, etc. And authors, I suppose, would rather blame readers than the more powerful publishers (who hold the immediate power of the purse).

    But readers don’t just shop at Walmart. Readers shop at Target, Costco, the grocery store, and many other so-called big box stores and heavily frequented retail outlets that are not book-centered but that can and do and might be able to sell books just as well as Walmart. And most readers who shop at Walmart have no clue their reading choices are being manipulated, so how can their mere business be magically converted to empowering Walmart over publishers and authors?

    To blame readers for empowering Walmart is, IMO, not only inaccurate but reflective of the very problems facing publishers now, namely the refusal to innovate and to function as much more than printing facilities and warehouses — to find better ways of acquiring, publishing, and placing books.

    Authors and publishers can blame Walmart all you want, just as Walmart can erroneously blame its customers (the vast majority of whom have no idea their reading choices are being manipulated and thus no active role in determining them), but to do so is an absolute abdication of responsibility for publisher choices, IMO (as well as author choices like choosing to sign with a particular house, negotiating contract terms, and making writing choices ‘for the market’), and a profoundly alienating gesture toward the very cohort you want to win over.

    ReplyReply

  92. Susan
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 15:45:08

    Txvoodoo, I’ve been quoted from $40 to $200 per title for converting from pdf to Mobi. We don’t have that expertise in house. Is it really that easy? Really? I’m mean, any old person could really do it?

    We convert everything to a bookmarked pdf. But while every vendor can take in that file, many charge fees to convert to whatever format they require, or we can convert it ourselves at our own expense.

    Maybe it really is that easy or cheap. If you know where I can get conversions for a whole lot cheaper–tell me–we’d seriously consider it.

    ReplyReply

  93. DS
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 15:53:07

    My word, we store our files as PDF and when I want to carry them out of the office I switch to Mobi and put them on my Kindle. Sometimes they don’t look too pretty because I’m in a hurry, but the technology gets better and better all the time. The mobi creator program is free.

    ReplyReply

  94. kirsten saell
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 15:57:27

    Holy shit, Susan! They want $40 to convert from one digital format to another?

    Maybe you could look into hiring one person to do all your conversions in house. I think this is what Samhain does, though I’m not 100% sure.

    And you know, there’s really nothing stopping you from immediately making your books available in pdf, or whatever formats are cheapest to convert into–and then adding more formats as you can afford them.

    ReplyReply

  95. Txvoodoo
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 16:04:48

    @Susan

    If your source file is already digitized (i.e. Word Doc, text file, HTML, or even PDF), yes, it’s really that easy. There are so many tools out there to convert to the various ebook formats – and most of them are free!

    I do it all the time. Heck, I make Kindle-compatible documents from long web articles I want to read, or novel-length fanfic, so I’m not shackled to my computer for my reading.

    I don’t put in all the metadata when I’m doing that – only Title and Author name, usually, and occasionally the date field.

    Here’s some info about creating Mobi and PRC files. (Kindle accepts PRC files):

    About the format

    How do I create a Mobipocket Ebook?

    The software

    Dead easy – really.

    ReplyReply

  96. Txvoodoo
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 16:06:21

    @Kirsten

    “Holy shit, Susan! They want $40 to convert from one digital format to another? “

    And this is why I said earlier up that I might be in the wrong line of work. I’m seriously now contemplating setting up a website: “Ebook Converter for Hire! More value for your $!” ;)

    ReplyReply

  97. XandraG
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 16:07:35

    txvoodoo says
    @Susan

    Wait – you're already converting to digital formats? Then….what's the issue?

    And while I haven't priced out mass-conversions, $40/book sounds really expensive for a 3-5 minute process (once you've determined the process from your source to finished mobi). REALLY expensive. Like, “I'm in the wrong line of work” expensive ;)

    Now I'm considering setting up a conversion shop!

    Um, especially if the mobipocket converter is, uh, free. If the publisher is seeking conversion from TeX or LaTeX printing files, there’s always this resource here:
    http://www.tug.org/utilities/texconv/textopc.html

    It sounds like this may be more than a technology issue. If Susan’s employer is anything like Mr. Xandra’s (a large educational conglomerate) then it’s more a corporate culture/business practices thing, and the Titanic doesn’t turn on a pixel. I wish Susan and her employer luck in heading towards the future and hope they make the right decisions for them and especially their authors and readers.

    ReplyReply

  98. Susan
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 16:14:41

    Yeah, well . . . yeah.

    Vendors charge fees for each type of conversion. To Mobi is one fee. To epub is another fee. To bookmarked pdf is the one we already do. XML is it’s own little fiefdom which we need to get into very soon.

    Jane sent me the link to mobi pocket creator. (Thanks, Jane) We’ll have to take a peek at what happens to our books (their pages designs and any illustrations) when we convert one. But even so, I’m not sure we could do all 2400 titles ourselves. Unless we could make it a student research project and offer credit one semester… Hmm…

    And we’re also going to start selling chapter by chapter pieces of books through a vendor this year. We’re a NF publisher, so we have the type of books that will go really well into single chapter sales. Especially for students who don’t want to buy the whole thing.

    Just getting the all the books reviewed for digital rights, scanned, proofed, and all the metadata created took more than three years because we had to parse this into everyone’s already full-time jobs. And we had a vendor who scanned fast, and was very accurate, and bookmarked the pdf for us.

    There’s a lot of detail involved and it’s been the details that have caused the delays and wrinkles in the process.

    ReplyReply

  99. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 16:15:11

    @Robin: Just because these readers act out of ignorance doesn’t negate their effect on the market. The effect is real and indisputable. Could publishers have responded differently? Of course they could have, but publishers are dinosaurs plodding through a mammalian new world and are mostly reactive (rather than proactive) to market forces (and they're out to make money; they have no motivation in the current market to target niche readers, much as we might wish differently). Yes, the world of publishing is BROKEN. Yes, publishers are not responding in the way most of us would like (by being nimble and pushing forward into the 21st century). But none of this negates the simple fact that currently Wal-Mart IS making decisions that dictate what you and I and everyone else in the world gets to read.

    The question is what to do about it? If, indeed, anything can be done about it, when-’as you point out-’the very readers who are most influential are also the hardest to reach (essentially they're impossible to reach).

    I truly hope that when the publishing industry's growth pains are over they come up with something replaces the so-called Pareto principle with what Richard Spilman on The Huffington Post (Blockbusters and Publishing: The Pareto Principle vs. Netflix) called the Netflix principle: It suggests that consumers really like variety. Presented with choices, they will not necessarily make the same stale selection, over and over again. And therefore more is better and relying on blockbusters or bestsellers is a losing bet. This would empower the midlist and lead to romance being treated more like other genre fiction (which would be a good thing, IMO).

    ReplyReply

  100. Susan
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 16:30:00

    Speaking to Kalen Hughes point about readers wanting variety: on Google last week, 1,920 of our books were viewed, out of the 2,100 books we presently have live in Google book search. This statistic is consistent week-to-week.

    We know that if we put content out there, our readers will find it.

    BTW, Wal-Mart does not carry our books. We’re specialized and they aren’t going to carry our stuff. Though you will find our books at St. Mark’s, Vroman’s, McNally Jackson, City Lights, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Tattered Cover, Book Passages, Book Soup, MoMA’s gift, shop, etc., etc.

    ReplyReply

  101. Txvoodoo
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 16:31:36

    @Susan

    You said “We'll have to take a peek at what happens to our books (their pages designs and any illustrations) when we convert one. “

    Remember that ebook readers have, for lack of a better phrase, a lower expectation of design and illustration standards than dead-tree readers. (btw? I’m both – 2000 hardcopy books on my shelves, and over 500 ebooks :D)

    We’re reading on an ebook device for the content – the words. If they work, we’re happy! Heck, I really don’t mind lack of illustrations – it means smaller file size, so I can stuff more books on the device!

    ReplyReply

  102. Robin
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 18:13:43

    Just because these readers act out of ignorance doesn't negate their effect on the market. The effect is real and indisputable.

    I assume that what you mean by “their effect” is that they buy a lot of books at Walmart. Or perhaps that they don’t buy “the right” books, depending on the author’s POV? But in either case, how does the fact that readers buy books at a particular retail outlet make them responsible for the careers of authors whose books do not sell there, or for Walmart’s requirements for profitability in various goods? If there is a void in the market, someone is going to step in and fill it, which is something publishers should know well. Why isn’t it up to publishers to make the best effort to sell the books they acquire?

    Could publishers have responded differently? Of course they could have, but publishers are dinosaurs plodding through a mammalian new world and are mostly reactive (rather than proactive) to market forces (and they're out to make money; they have no motivation in the current market to target niche readers, much as we might wish differently).

    And still the fate of authors is the readers’ fault? I don’t know of any economic model in which consumers are supposed to carry the burden of an inefficient and ineffective manufacturer of commercial goods.

    But none of this negates the simple fact that currently Wal-Mart IS making decisions that dictate what you and I and everyone else in the world gets to read.

    Publishers and Walmart are *both* making those decisions, Walmart through dictating its terms and publishers by rolling over and refusing to change their business model, market differently, find new markets, create new markets, etc. And as long as it’s worked economically for publishers, they are just fine with it because, as we hear over and over, they are only concerned with the bottom line. I know that editors get caught in this crunch, as well, and that it’s not just authors. But as long as publishing is driven by a business model that operates the way the current mainstream print pubs do, they will make decisions based on their perceived own best interests as those interests are balanced with the demands of the other players, including authors, vendors, readers, etc.

    The question is what to do about it? If, indeed, anything can be done about it, when-’as you point out-’the very readers who are most influential are also the hardest to reach (essentially they're impossible to reach).

    Why? Consumers are reached all the time through various types of marketing. Otherwise no money would be spent on advertising. Again, IMO we’re back to who’s making the marketing decisions, who is receiving the gracious plenty of publisher marketing dollars, and how authors are conducting their own marketing.

    I truly hope that when the publishing industry's growth pains are over they come up with something replaces the so-called Pareto principle with what Richard Spilman on The Huffington Post (Blockbusters and Publishing: The Pareto Principle vs. Netflix) called the Netflix principle: It suggests that consumers really like variety. Presented with choices, they will not necessarily make the same stale selection, over and over again. And therefore more is better and relying on blockbusters or bestsellers is a losing bet. This would empower the midlist and lead to romance being treated more like other genre fiction (which would be a good thing, IMO).

    These are the same points that Jane made in her post, which urges publishers to explore different business models. Because the loss in profitability is finally — possibly — going to motivate publishers to innovate. But taking the point about readers enjoying variety, isn’t this even *more reason* to place the burden on publishers to find more markets than Walmart in which to place books? I mean, if readers can be characterized as wanting diversity (which simply reflects how off publishers are in claiming readers are driving the market, IMO, while they’re publishing more of the same), then publishers have every possible reason and opportunity to give them what they want.

    Plus, going back to your points about Walmart, if readers want diversity, and Walmart is narrowing the choice of what it wants in its store, then that strikes me as even more challenge to the argument that it’s reader desires and tastes that are driving the existing market. That is, whatever readers are buying have been selected for them by *someone* and that selection already represents a narrowed field, so readers are simply choosing from what’s available.

    And if that decision is supposedly based on what readers want, then I’d argue there’s a logical flaw in that reasoning, since readers aren’t getting a truly free choice to begin with. Because if readers want diversity, then logically speaking we should be buying *more* books that are *different*, which should favor a larger and more diverse stable of authors. Again, I would suggest that it’s publishers who are both responsible for and capable of meeting that market demand. And if they don’t, someone is going to step in an fill in the void, but that void only exists, IMO, because those who write and produce books have not exploited a broad enough array of markets.

    ReplyReply

  103. kirsten saell
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 18:33:43

    That is, whatever readers are buying have been selected for them by *someone* and that selection already represents a narrowed field, so readers are simply choosing from what's available.

    Yes, yes, yes. That’s not readers making choices. That’s readers being told what to like.

    ReplyReply

  104. Anthea Lawson
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 01:00:38

    @Robin

    You were speaking of abdicating choices, “as well as author choices like choosing to sign with a particular house, negotiating contract terms, and making writing choices ‘for the market'.”

    Maybe a few of the aforementioned ‘blockbuster’ authors have this power, but that’s it.

    Most authors don’t have nearly the power you think– not if they want to actually make a living (or even the beginnings of a living) selling their work. Writing is art, but, please, it’s also commerce. Sad to say, the creators of the content are often on the bottom rung of the decision-making ladder.

    The ‘choice’ to sign or not with a particular house? First off, who is willing to buy your book? If there’s a bidding war, you don’t have much of a choice. The winner wins. If there’s only one publisher interested, you don’t have a choice. Your agent also has a say in all this–they need to make a living too.

    The contract is negotiated, but again, authors don’t have a whole lot of power to change things. It happens, but invariably no sweeping changes. And if you really can’t live with something and the publisher won’t change it… no contract.

    Writing ‘for the market.’ Well, if you’re writing something perceived as unmarketable, it’s going to be a very tough sell. And if it’s a tough sell, you will have very little choice as to who is going to publish it and the terms of the contract. Catch-22.

    I, too, had a number of preconceived notions about how publishing worked and the author’s role in it, but since getting a two-book contract and having the first novel published, my eyes have been opened. Granted, every author’s experience is different, and every house has different ways of doing things. But the new author, and probably the mid-list author as well, can be rather small cogs in the wheel.

    ReplyReply

  105. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 01:12:58

    Marsha said:

    If we stop assuming that bypassing or subverting a seriously broken model automatically equals poor quality or letting the side (of authors) down we might find a foothold for fixing the whole mess.

    Thank you! I read posts like this, and I am genuinely perplexed by the fact that there are people who will STILL turn up their nose at me for going indie. Why on EARTH would I want to get on this publishing Titanic?

    There is nothing attractive to me about the NY system of things, and a small publisher can’t do anything for me I can’t do for myself. Hence, indie.

    Viva la resistance!

    ReplyReply

  106. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 01:34:50

    Also on editing and self publishing:

    Sure, there is a lot of crap out there. Sure there are a lot of people out there with no business sense or common sense who for some reason would research the flower business before opening a flower shop, but can’t be bothered to research publishing before starting what is essentially their own micropress.

    Sure there are people who won’t take the steps to have a good cover, professional interior layout, and editing.

    If my work is well-edited, and clean, and is packaged well, under my own imprint with my own ISBN numbers, and not something like Authorhouse or Lulu, then the average reader isn’t going to pass the book through some kind of mystical scanner that announces the financing for the project came from me rather than an outside source.

    I guess I just truly don’t get this argument. “Editing” has become the last stand argument against self-publishing, as if an indie author “can’t” get their work edited. It’s not rocket science to find an editor. It’s not even rocket science to find ways to get your work edited well without mortgaging your house.

    The fact that so many self-published books never see editing, doesn’t mean it’s actually a real barrier, it just means a lot of self-published authors aren’t doing the work they should be doing.

    Still, that has nothing to do with “me.” Nor is it really an argument against self-publishing. It’s just an argument against self-publishing without doing the proper legwork first.

    No one is asking readers to go through a special pile of “self-published books” to find the few gems in there. If you find a book that looks good, sounds good, and you read and like an excerpt, then you know up front. And it’s no larger a risk than half the crap NY is putting out now anyway.

    And most bad self-published books give themselves away with the cover way before anything else.

    ReplyReply

  107. kirsten saell
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 02:06:39

    who for some reason would research the flower business before opening a flower shop, but can't be bothered to research publishing before starting what is essentially their own micropress.

    Some of them don’t even learn to spell or use basic punctuation. And to be fair, the number of people whose entire culinary repertoire and business acumen consist of “Grandma’s meatball recipe” and “hey, how hard can it be to sell meatballs?”, who open restaurants would probably surprise you.

    Epublishing is only now beginning to stagger clear of the “poorly edited, lame cover art, crap stories that couldn’t sell in NY” stereotype. Self-publishing has at least as much BS to overcome in that regard, and authors who don’t take it seriously only serve to make it harder for all the others.

    I guess I just truly don't get this argument. “Editing” has become the last stand argument against self-publishing, as if an indie author “can't” get their work edited. It's not rocket science to find an editor.

    It’s not that they can’t–it’s that so many of them don’t.

    I’m not saying self-published authors can’t be super talented (sometimes more talented, IMO, than a LOT of traditionally published ones). But as self- and vanity publishing has gotten easier and cheaper, the ratio of “very talented but bad fit for NY” authors to “careless, take whatever shortcuts you can and wahoo! let’s get rich and famous” authors has gotten very broad.

    If I saw a professional-looking book on a store shelf, liked the cover, liked the blurb, and opened it up and liked the writing, not recognizing the name of the publisher wouldn’t stop me from buying. But it’s getting that book into the store in the first place that’s going to be tricky.

    Publishers, if nothing else, are like a familiar brand name. Booksellers know when they order a book from Random House or Penguin or Del Rey or Ellora’s Cave or Samhain that it will conform to certain editorial standards. Those publishers’ books are an educated risk. Ordering a self-published book is still largely a blind risk. It can pay off–big time, but the odds still are that the seller is going to get burned, and if the copies aren’t returnable, well, that’s an added incentive to reject it.

    I do wish you luck! The more individuals and small presses out there who show NY how it’s done, the more likely they’ll actually catch on and stop being stupid. The odds are against you, but they are surmountable. :)

    ReplyReply

  108. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 02:31:49

    Hey Kirsten,

    It’s a very good point about other people who open businesses without the proper research.

    I agree with everything you’re saying here. I think for most indie authors the best route might not be to try to get books onto brick and mortar shelves as a starting point. With the bookstore returns system, that just cannibalizes profits and makes it nearly impossible to get out of the red.

    For me the strategy is ebooks, and several online venues for print books using POD technology (but not a POD vanity press cause that’s a middle man. Most of those companies are using LSI for their printing anyway.)

    There is a sizable portion of readers now who buy from places like Amazon almost exclusively. I’d like to tap into that market. And bypass the returns system altogether. If my sales warranted wider distribution through brick and mortar I would cross that bridge when I came to it. But using Lightning Source print-on-demand printing, I would be able to get into both Ingram and Baker and Taylor’s catalog, so the distribution option would be there for bookstores to order even without print-runs.

    It’s a popular misnomer that POD books can’t be returned. The publisher sets their returns policy, not the printer the publisher uses.

    I’ll also want to focus attention on Library sales because they are non-returnable and expose me to more readers. Though they’re very difficult to get, almost impossible without reviews, since librarians really pay attention to reviews, yet it’s still worth some effort/attention to break into that market.

    AND I want to sell in some non-traditional markets. Stores that aren’t bookstores, but in some way vaguely tie in with what I’m writing. Because those are “true wholesale sales” No returns. No consignment. A sale is a sale and that is what I’m looking for.

    Part of the big trouble with the NY business model is the ridiculous returns policy. I want to work completely outside that system.

    I think a big problem for indies/self-published authors is thinking outside the bookstore. The brick and mortar bookstore isn’t the only place to sell books, and it’s not even the best place for an indie. It’s way too much energy for too little return, IMO.

    Further just getting “on” the shelves, doesn’t guarantee the books will move. If you have nationwide brick and mortar distribution but no marketing powerhouse to sustain it, you’re going to see a lot of bookstore returns.

    And the way I see it, the odds are against me anyway. I mean how many people want to be published? Finding success independently to me is no more difficult than finding success through NY from the point I am right now.

    And the way I’m going, I retain creative control and I’m building something that belongs truly to me. And there is no price tag I can put on that.

    ReplyReply

  109. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 04:51:55

    First, I’d like to say I’m not against change, when it’s smart or necessary or clever.

    One of the things I’ve noticed in this thread is referring to readers or most readers wanting/expecting/wishing. It seems to me that it’s most readers who frequent sites like this, who are very e-savvy, who look for diversity and read much and read often.

    That’s not really most readers.

    I’ve had to be in town about once a week the last couple months (our inn’s nearly ready to open!) so I’ve been in my husband’s bookstore a lot during the work week, and observed the casual reader, and the regular. They come in, browse, or come in knowing what they want. They buy books, and I’d venture to say few have e-readers. This will change for many, but it won’t change for all.

    I asked my son and his wife–self-proclaimed techno nerds–why they don’t have/want one. Turns out it’s the same reason I don’t. I want a book, and I work on a computer. Don’t want to read on screen. There will always be a goodly chunk of us in this camp.

    I love the concept of e-books. Anything that gives the reader a choice is aces with me.

    I think readers here take an interest in publishing far beyond what the majority of readers do. But I can say it makes me feel a little pissy when NY publishers–as I work with one–are regularly referred to as dinasaurs. Partly because I do work with one, and closely, and know first-hand how intensely and frequently and seriously they work to try to find another way to put a book in a reader’s hand.

    Change takes time, and nearly always involves some pain, mistakes, re-evaluation. I’ve seen considerable change in publishing since I started.

    For one, most writer/editors do not, as someone said here, pass a marked-up ms back and forth. I can’t remember the last time my editor and I did so. It’s been years. However, not all writers work on a computer. If a writer’s process is sweating away on a typewriter, that’s her process, and she’s entitled.

    One suggested advances need to be cut. Well, here’s one writer who’d object vigorously if my publisher cut mine. As long as my books are selling, I expect to be paid as I’ve been paid in the past. Sales go down, pay goes down. That’s business.

    Others say the price of paper books is too high. I disagree. To my mind. books are still a bargain. And there are innovations there, too. Bantam recently published my pal Mary Blayney’s Traitor’s Kill/Lover’s Kiss–two complete novels in one package for $6.99. That’s a bargain. Historical Romance–that some here were asking for more of. Beautiful cover. I just finished the first book yesterday and enjoyed it a lot. You guys should buy it.

    I agree completely with Jane on much of the article, esp that there’s so much competition for free time. I have a Wii. I am a slave to it.

    But I can’t take my Wii to the beach, or into the bathtub, or snuggle into bed with it. I need my books.

    We need change, innovation, fresh ideas as writers, in publishing, in marketing. Then we need time to try them out, and see what works.

    ReplyReply

  110. GrowlyCub
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 07:33:37

    Others say the price of paper books is too high. I disagree. To my mind. books are still a bargain.

    I live in the boonies. The closest bookstore is a Hastings which is mostly DVDs and CDs and in which the biggest book section is Christian fiction. No surprise, I don’t buy there.

    For the non-Christian books, their ‘new book’ shelves are almost exclusively $15 trade sized books. Those are not bargains in any way shape or form. [Tangent: I'm not usually an impulse buyer to start with, but on my last visit there were 3 or 4 books that sounded interesting that I may have considered picking up right then and there or at least written down for online purchase, if they'd been paperbacks instead of trade. I *despise* trade books. They hurt my wrists to try to hold them when reading and I think they are ridiculously overpriced, so I didn't even bother noting titles and authors because hell will freeze over before I shell out 15 bucks for an unknown author.]

    Most people living around me cannot afford even $4.99 for a paperback (Zebra new author program or categories). I honestly have no clue who buys the trade sized books because our unemployment rate is something like 7% and even the folks who have jobs make $7 an hour if they are lucky (most make less). I’m convinced the Hastings bookstore part is being carried by the DVD rentals and DVD and CD sales. There’s hardly anybody even browsing the book section.

    Fortunately, I’m not in that situation since my husband has a decent-paying job, but nevertheless, as a consumer I think books are WAY overpriced. Even if you take inflation into account, it’s a fact that I used to get 400+ pages in that romance paperback and now I get 300, if I’m lucky, all the while the price has gone up considerably over the last 3-5 years.

    I’ve moved almost all my book buying to used, because I read a lot and even though we aren’t starving like many of our neighbors, I cannot afford to feed my habit with new books at 8-9 bucks plus tax which comes to almost another buck at 9.25% in our neck of the woods.

    I’m sure the picture is different in more urban areas, but let’s not forget that lots and LOTS of people live in rural areas with no access to bookstores.

    To address the Walmart issue, I have to admit, to be told by an author that it’s my fault that Walmart doesn’t carry her books, is such an insult that I’m almost speechless with disbelief! Surefire way to no more sales EVER to me.

    It’s not my responsibility that your books be in the stores for sale, that’s your publishers’ job! What an incredibly dumb thing to say to your customers!

    I’ve mentioned time and again, that I cannot even get the local store to tell me when the stocker will be in. I have never seen the stocker, and the one time I saw one at a store when traveling they didn’t want to talk to me, nor were they interested in my opinion on what I would like to see.

    I cannot buy a book from Walmart that Walmart refuses to stock. That’s not me making the buying decision, that’s Walmart and your publisher is letting them get away with this, *not* me.

    ReplyReply

  111. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 08:21:36

    I don’t live in an urban area but a decidedly rural one. It’s one of the reasons my husband opened a bookstore.

    I’m not a big fan of trade–though my new quartet will come out in that format first. However, I’ve been on a little winter break, and paid attention to the people reading. Nearly all trades. Why? I don’t know. I prefer hardcover or paper–but trades are really popular with many, many readers.

    I have no problem, at all with used book stores or readers buying some of their books used. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone on record about that issue.

    However again, when a reader buys all or most of their books used it does start to take a toll, particularly on the new or midlist writer, and those who publish them. I’m not criticizing the choice to buy used–I think, as I said, my record’s clear on that. But there is a downside on this side of the page if a voracious reader buys mostly or exclusively used to ‘feed their habit’.

    Writers have to eat, too.

    As to books being overpriced, we’ll have to disagree.

    ReplyReply

  112. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 08:23:57

    GC–fyi, my husband’s bookstore, Turn The Page, ships worldwide.

    ReplyReply

  113. GrowlyCub
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 08:33:44

    However, I've been on a little winter break, and paid attention to the people reading. Nearly all trades. Why? I don't know.

    I really think it’s a supply thing. What I said about Hastings, was also true on my last foray into the big city 85miles away at B&N and Booksamillion.

    Almost all new book shelves had trade sized books on them. If the vast majority of folks are impulse buying casual readers then it would make sense to think they’d buy those trade sized books since they are prominently displayed and available for easy in, easy out shopping.

    I’m pretty sure publishers look at that and say, ‘look people LOVE those new trade sized books, that’s all they are buying and we are making lots of money on them, so why should we bother with paperbacks?’ when lots of people hate the things and don’t buy them or only very reluctantly. But what do we do if the choice is not having a book at all or in trade. Some of us cave in.

    Chicken and egg again. Do people buy trade because they love it, or do they buy it because that’s all that’s available? Just like buying at Walmart, can’t buy what’s not there.

    ReplyReply

  114. karmelrio
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 09:21:21

    I want a book, and I work on a computer. Don't want to read on screen. There will always be a goodly chunk of us in this camp.

    WORD.

    I love the way physical books look, feel, smell. I love the sound of pages turning. I work in high tech, and I’m already looking at a monitor 10 hours a day for work. Factor in an additional hour or two each day to catch personal email, websites, and blogs. So the LAST thing I want to do when reading for pleasure is subject my already-fatigued eyes to even more screentime.

    ReplyReply

  115. Kat
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 09:32:22

    Regarding trade paperbacks… I don’t know for sure, but part of the answer might be that consumers like us aren’t always the people that publishers are thinking of when they consider these issues. Libraries, for example, buy books in bulk. These two posts (here and here) at Editorial Ass sum up the hardcover vs trade paperback debate from a publisher’s perspective. I think the general argument–that the profit-cost ratio is calculated on sales NOT related to ordinary book buyers–probably applies in the trade vs mm debate, particularly for a novel’s first release or an authorial debut. Or maybe bookstores are buying taller bookshelves.

    ReplyReply

  116. Jane
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 09:52:03

    Re: Trades. I love the trade paperback. Don’t know why. I like it’s floppiness, the matte finish of its covers. Usually the paper is slightly heavier than the paperback. I don’t have to bend the spine to read the book (as I sometimes do with mass markets because of the heavy glued spine).

    I love giving trades as gifts.

    The only thing I like about mass markets are the price.

    ReplyReply

  117. Jorrie Spencer
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 09:57:14

    I love trades too! I don’t like buying them for myself though, because as you say the price, but I usually buy them for other people.

    ReplyReply

  118. GrowlyCub
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 09:58:03

    Jane, gasp! :)

    I hope you never develop RSI or arthritis. I haven’t been diagnosed with either, but I’m really serious when I say the floppiness and the weight you love physically hurt me when trying to read a trade sized book. It’s not a good experience at all. :( I’m trying to read a fascinating book (Salt: A World History) right now, but I have to put it down constantly because I have such trouble holding it open.

    ReplyReply

  119. XandraG
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 10:21:24

    It hurts me to pay 12 or 15 bucks for a trade as opposed to an MM in the middle price range (5.99-6.99). But some of that hurt goes away when I think that I’m “eating” less dead-tree. However, if I open the book and find inch-and-a-half margins on the thing, I’m going to put it back on the shelf.

    I know that so many people like the “feel” of a book, but I’d also like to remind them that they also still read a lot online, even if it isn’t “book reading.” The same way people who most of the time watch TV will rent movies, DVDs, and whole seasons of Heroes.

    There are usability issues to be worked out, as there are with all new forms of content delivery, whether it’s an e-reader or a flat-panel TV (like viewing at angles and the lack of true black) that differ from the usability issues of the established formats, which we all live with. And eventually, we’ll either solve or live with the usability issues of the new formats.

    I suspect what’ll happen is that people who can’t live without print books, will kieep buying print books. And ebooks will keep picking up bigger market shares from people who either don’t require the tactile experience, or just want to alt-tab between their boring spreadsheets and exciting action without. What’s relevant is that the time is coming when it’s no longer acceptable to *not* have an electronic version at least available from the publisher.

    ReplyReply

  120. kirsten saell
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 10:37:51

    I can't remember the last time my editor and I did so. It's been years. However, not all writers work on a computer. If a writer's process is sweating away on a typewriter, that's her process, and she's entitled.

    It’s getting more rare, but I have still very recently (6 months ago or so)participated in conversations where a British author published through two NY houses said she cringed every time she sent her marked up ms across the ocean, and wondered why her one publisher hadn’t caught up with the other and moved to digital editing.

    And on a forum I belong to, we still see newly signed authors who write on the computer asking what “stet” is, so yeah, there are still publishers out there using it, and it just makes me shake my head.

    I'm sure the picture is different in more urban areas, but let's not forget that lots and LOTS of people live in rural areas with no access to bookstores.

    Me, me, I’m one of them!

    So the LAST thing I want to do when reading for pleasure is subject my already-fatigued eyes to even more screentime.

    Gotta say, I just got a Sony, and it’s no more fatiguing on the eyes as print. In fact, it’s nearly indistinguishable from print–except that I can enlarge the text, and there’s no issue with the print being so close to the spine that you have to hold the book so wide open your hand gets numb. Oh, and I can carry dozens of books on it so I’ve always got something to read.

    ReplyReply

  121. Robin
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 11:59:36

    re. trade sized books: As a reader who is accustomed to everything from case books to academic encyclopedias to hardcovers to MMPBs, trade strikes a good balance between the substantive feel of a hardcover and the ease and transportability of the MMPB. It’s softness makes it so that it can sit in front of me, open, without my having to hold it all the time. The nicer paper and softer binding makes it feel like it will last longer (more like a hardcover). It looks nicer on my bookshelves than a MMPB, but it’s not as expensive as a hardcover. In other words, IMO it takes the best of its brethren and has few drawbacks (except more expensive than MMPB and not as easy to stack). Ultimately, trade books remind me more of the massive amounts of non-fiction paperbacks — from literary theory and criticism to historical biography and political analysis — I read for work and for general scholarship purposes. I hate to say that they feel more “respectable,” but that’s probably part of it, to be quite honest.

    ReplyReply

  122. DS
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 12:12:02

    Poor mmpbs. Always the less respectable siblings.

    ReplyReply

  123. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 12:37:00

    The Trade vs. MMPB issue is a purely economic issue for publishers. You can make a profit off a shorter print run of Trade. MMPB in order to get the pricing down low enough to turn a profit with all the middle men involved in the production and distribution process, you have to print a large quantity. And you have to know a large quantity will sell.

    NY publishers print about two books for everyone one that sales due to the returns system. Sure you’ve got authors who totally sell out their print runs with no returns, but that’s a fairly rare phenomenon.

    So they don’t stock trades to try to “control the buyers” but because until they have an author who they truly believe can sell in the larger numbers, they can’t afford to put them out in MMPB.

    As for paper margins, sometimes the margins are too big, but that’s not normally what I find, since paper costs money and most publishers want to squeeze as many words on the page as possible. But it’s nice for many readers when the margins in the gutter are bigger because it keeps people from having to crack the spine. Of course I’m a spine cracker personally and I crack every spine, no matter what the gutter size is. But many people don’t like their spines cracked. My husband would freak out if I read his Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles because he doesn’t crack spines. Needless to say if I want to read it, I have to buy my own copy, or get it from the library.

    And I like Trades because I like the texture of the paper and the nicer quality of the book. If I’m reading a “throwaway book” sure, I’ll read MMPB, but the trades look nicer on my shelf and I personally prefer them, but yes they are expensive, I agree on that. Unfortunately with so many middle men involved in the process they HAVE to be. Publishers make a very low profit margin as it is. Something like 2%, it’s insane.

    Lower the price of books and bye bye publishers. Unless publishers started opening their own publisher brand bookstores and cut out some middle men. But they would still have to pay people to staff the stores and for the upkeep, so it might end up breaking even with the old prices or be more expensive. Until someone experiments with that model, we won’t know. (Though someone has pointed out to me that Barnes and Noble was a publisher first.)

    ReplyReply

  124. Robin
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 13:03:30

    Poor mmpbs. Always the less respectable siblings.

    Just to be clear, it’s all about superficial aesthetics and appearance, not content.

    ReplyReply

  125. Robin
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 13:11:41

    @Anthea Lawson I always come away from comments like yours wondering why so many people strive to be published authors under those circumstances.

    But in any case, if you discount the fact that anyone new to an industry or a job or a career starts with little influence, I’d say that the plight of new authors as raw labor for publishers is one more reason authors should feel invested in innovating publishing. I understand that defending the status quo may feel safer, but if all but the best selling authors are imperiled or disadvantaged by the current system, I would think that more of you would be agitating for change. Especially if the reality of NY publishing is as attractive as you make it sound. ;)

    ReplyReply

  126. Evangeline
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 13:17:54

    @Jane: When I say “indie” I mean self-publishing–except the author sees their book as part of an imprint they’ve created, rather than sending their book to Lulu or CreateSpace. By “vanity” I mean the sort of books everyone characterizes all self-published works as: poorly edited, sloppily produced books put out on the market for reasons of pride.

    Regarding the rest of your concerns, I have to point once again to e-publishers. We’ve all seen many come and go, and when a new one pops up and anyone purchases a book from them, that’s a risk. Yet, because e-publishing is rather “trusted,” there doesn’t appear to be as much reticence in purchasing a e-book as there appears to be when the phrase “self-publishing” crops up. And honestly, when I take a quick jaunt over to the websites of established e-publishers, I don’t see editor bios detailing their schooling and experience like what I’ve seen in lit agent bios and bios of NY editors–so what gives? Who has vetted them?

    I don’t disagree that editors are a must-have for all writers, but I fail to understand why anyone that self-publishes is viewed with automatic suspicion. In view of this being a review site, I find this discussion rather ironic. I dare to say there should be no grade under a B at least, nor should any review have cause to come across plot and/or character inconsistencies, poor editing, and a host of any other details critical editing should have caught.

    ReplyReply

  127. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 13:33:06

    Robin,

    It’s almost like stockholm syndrome. I do not get it.

    I get it for folks like Nora who are up there selling like crazy. And I understand everybody has to start somewhere. If it was realistic to believe that most people could write good books and become bestsellers after a long and arduous process, that would be great. But the numbers of people who ever reach bestsellerdom, or even who keep their book contract, are very small.

    So I guess I just don’t get it. My odds of becoming a NY Times bestseller are so bad, it doesn’t really matter how I publish. IMO.

    I don’t feel that NY publishing is attractive until and unless you start getting really strong contracts and marketing push. So many authors don’t get that. Ever.

    And in regards to Evangeline’s post and “vanity.” For me personally NY would be vanity, because knowing the odds of the kind of success I would want, and the likelihood of me getting it anyway, the only thing a NY publisher would do for me is feed my own vanity so I could say: “fill in the blank with big name publisher, published me.”

    Since that was my only motivation for NY, I decided to opt out of that route. If building my own business is vanity, then every restaurant operator and flower shop owner is equally vain.

    ReplyReply

  128. GrowlyCub
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 14:07:34

    So they don't stock trades to try to “control the buyers” but because until they have an author who they truly believe can sell in the larger numbers, they can't afford to put them out in MMPB.

    I’m a bit baffled by this assertion. Trade size is a fairly recent development for ‘popular’ fiction, and especially for genre fiction. Ten years ago, I didn’t own a single one of them and cannot remember seeing them anywhere except on non-fiction and textbook shelves.

    Publishers were able to put out mid-list authors in smaller print runs in mmpb just fine for a very long time. The inability to do so seems to coincide with more and more independent houses becoming part of large (not necessarily publishing) conglomerates with people at the helm who were not interested in the publishing business and whose only goal was to fatten the(ir) bottom line.

    That’s when the mid-list was chopped and this insane celebrity/blockbuster mega-advance bs seemed to really take off as well.

    I’m really curious. I never thought about this when I lived in Germany and other European countries. Does anybody know whether they have a returns system as well or whether the bookstores there outright buy/own their stock?

    ReplyReply

  129. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 14:14:43

    Hey GrowlyCub,

    You make a good point about there not originally being trade paperback size. I’m not sure what to tell you. I just know that when I ran all the numbers for printing, back before I decided to use POD tech, back when I was considering print runs, the pricing was just insane. You had to have way way too many MMPB copies to be able to turn any kind of profit at all.

    And it’s because you have to give such a high discount to bookstores and distributors that the per book cost has to be REALLY low to be able to compete and price the book at MMPB prices.

    And even then the actual dollar amount you’re making per book after costs is so low you have to sell a huge amount for it to be worth the expense and effort. So in a crunched economy, I can see publishers putting out more trade paperbacks. You just make more per book.

    ReplyReply

  130. kirsten saell
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 15:11:35

    Ten years ago, I didn't own a single one of them and cannot remember seeing them anywhere except on non-fiction and textbook shelves.

    Another advantage to trade size is that when mmp’s are “returned”, they’re stripped and pulped and the covers returned for credit. So the publisher is not only stuck giving money back, they don’t have the books to sell anymore. This insane system leads to the occasional time when half the print run (or more) of a specific book is returned, only to have the title catch on with readers. Then the bookstore tries to order them back a month or two later with credit they received when it sent multiple copies of the very same book to the landfill.

    Like I said. Insane. And I know not every bookstore abuses this system, but the shitstorm that hit publishing in October had a LOT to do with the returns system.

    Trade sized books are not pulped when they get returned. They’re remaindered and sold–sometimes for enormous discounts or less than cost, but at least the publisher has a chance to sell them again to offset some of the loss.

    ReplyReply

  131. Txvoodoo
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 15:18:58

    @Zoe Winters

    “And most bad self-published books give themselves away with the cover way before anything else.”

    You are so right. Even some of the smaller houses still work under this handicap, and I find it inexplicable. Look, not every cover has to use stock photos of hunky guys and fainting femmes! Abstract works, too, if it’s nicely done. There’s a massive group of young talented artists out there – explore deviantart.com, where they’re all posting their work madly. Hire them! Use them!

    @Nora Roberts

    “I’ve been in my husband’s bookstore a lot during the work week, and observed the casual reader, and the regular. They come in, browse, or come in knowing what they want. They buy books, and I’d venture to say few have e-readers. This will change for many, but it won’t change for all.

    I asked my son and his wife–self-proclaimed techno nerds–why they don’t have/want one. Turns out it’s the same reason I don’t. I want a book, and I work on a computer. Don’t want to read on screen. There will always be a goodly chunk of us in this camp.”

    You don’t see ebook readers in a bookstore, so it’s really not an accurate way of measuring the penetration. And while your son and wife might not have jumped on, my husband and I, equally techno-nerds, and huge readers, have. And I’ve bought ONE paper book since March, when we got our dual Kindles. The convenience is awe-inspiring.

    “To my mind. books are still a bargain. “ and “As to books being overpriced, we'll have to disagree.”

    Maybe so – but that $6.99 price tag? Ten years ago, it was $3.95. How many other products have increased that much? And that’s paperbacks – hardcovers have gone up even more.

    Nora, I love your work. But I have to disagree with you on this. I say this as someone who’s been an avid reader, and hyperlexic, from toddlerhood. Books are too expensive if we want to achieve penetration further.

    Make books cheaper, and more people will read. Right now, it’s a luxury item. One person buys a book, one person reads it. If they buy a DVD, the whole family can watch together. What’s gonna get the thumb’s up in tough economic times?

    It’s a SMALL luxury, but one nonetheless. And it keeps getting more luxurious.

    Yes, authors have to eat – but readers won’t forgo dinner to keep food on authors’ tables.

    I appreciate your love of reading and share it – wholeheartedly. But writers and publishers and the entire industry are going to HAVE to adjust to the economic climate. Adapt or die. That’s life.

    “But I can’t take my Wii to the beach, or into the bathtub, or snuggle into bed with it. I need my books.”

    I can take my Kindle to the beach, bed, and even bathtub, with a good case on it. I take it to bed every night. It’s always in my tote. I have 200 books at my fingers on long trips. And I can adjust the print size upwards when my aging eyes need a little help – can’t do that with a paper book. Covers are lovely, but I don’t buy for covers – I buy for the CONTENT. I’m a reader. I love art, but I have paintings on my walls for that.

    As to why ppl buy trade? Many reasons! First, that’s the intermediate step after hardcover. Where hardcover is prohibitively expensive, trade is only moderately so. Also, they’re sturdier than small-format paperbacks, now. New paperbooks tend to start falling apart after ONE reading. The print is also larger and kinder.

    @karmelrio

    “So the LAST thing I want to do when reading for pleasure is subject my already-fatigued eyes to even more screentime.”

    You haven’t seen an ebook screen, I think. E-Ink isn’t like a computer screen at all. No eye fatigue. I say this as someone who also spends that much time at a computer, and who has aging eyes.

    @GrowlyCub

    “I hope you never develop RSI or arthritis. I haven’t been diagnosed with either, but I’m really serious when I say the floppiness and the weight you love physically hurt me when trying to read a trade sized book. It’s not a good experience at all.”

    YES. Yes yes. I like huge, sprawling historical novels and fantasy epics. In hardback, they’re virtually a weight-lifting workout now. In paperback, I keep dropping them. In ebook? Size/weight of a thin trade. Such a relief!

    ReplyReply

  132. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 15:20:15

    Oh, yeah Kirsten, I forgot all about that point! So true. And stripping covers is such a waste. If you HAVE to do the bookstore returns thing, at least get the full book back, then if it’s not resalable as new you can at least use them for marketing promo or give to libraries. Do something productive with them.

    All the books that are pulped and wasted just kills me.

    And that irritates me about them re-ordering a book they stripped and returned the cover on. And that’s credit. This is why it cannibalizes sales. I understand that it’s hard for bookstores to survive, but it’s completely unfair to put ALL the financial risk on the publishers and when bookstores can return, and there is no limits put on that at all, and when they can reorder books they just returned, it’s just not fair play.

    Bookstores take no financial risk here. All the risk is on the publisher.

    ReplyReply

  133. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 15:27:28

    Txvoodoo,

    That’s a really good point about covers. I’ve seen some I believe Sherilynn Kenyon books that have completely abstract covers, very attractive. No pictures of houses, or people, or poses of couples together doing whatever they’re doing. And it works.

    So you’re right. There really is no excuse. It doesn’t have to be “zomg pop! bam!” to be attractive and professional. And great idea about deviantart.

    It’s definitely something I’m considering. Since discovering I’ve got some male readers, I’d really like to capitalize on that by making some fairly gender neutral covers that both men and women can feel comfortable carrying around.

    And I’m with Nora on personal preference being physical books. But I’ll still make e-books available because it’s a growing market. And definitely full of opportunity.

    ReplyReply

  134. Txvoodoo
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 15:46:16

    @Zoe Winters

    And not only abstract, but just illustrated! I’m really amazed when I see the amount of young talent out there. I have a lot of young friends I’ve met through design forums, and they’d give their eyeteeth just to have the opportunity to do a book cover, and not for thousands of dollars, either. Heck, look at “comic” style artists – they can do illustration, and might even work with you to develop a cover style unique to your books. In terms of branding, that’s ideal! “Oh, that’s a Zoe Winters book!” right off the bat :D

    I’ll be really honest – a lot of smaller presses like Samhain, etc? While I don’t care about the coveronce a book is ON my Kindle, an attractive graphic in the online book description sells me – and a cheesie one turns me off. That’s the visual arts side of my brain kicking in.

    I look at a piece like this, or one like this and think “Yeah, that could be a cover.”

    I guess it’s about looking outside the box? ;)

    ReplyReply

  135. MoJo
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 15:48:45

    @Txvoodoo

    I LOVE those illustrations, especially the second one.

    I’ll admit I went with a stock photo on mine, but it was perfectly suited to the story in so many ways.

    ReplyReply

  136. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 15:56:04

    Hey Txvoodoo,

    Great ideas. There really is so much talent out there. Some people just want the experience and are trying to build a portfolio. I believe all artists deserve to be paid and shouldn’t just have to work for free or really really cheap cause of my personal budget, but we all serve an apprenticeship in some form or fashion and artists need portfolios to get better work and better pay.

    And design students who want to be cover artists? There ya go. Or even just artists in general assuming you either know how to layout the cover yourself when you have the art in hand, or you have someone else who does.

    And I know what you’re saying. A good cover gives you confidence that the publisher knows what they’re doing, and cared to put out a superior product. And when the cover is good, the interior may not be good, but there is a better chance that it is. If the publisher is savvy enough to know a good cover the statistical odds just went up that they are savvy enough to know a good book.

    ReplyReply

  137. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 16:22:47

    I’m not saying, and didn’t that lots of people don’t enjoy e-books, or will enjoy them down the road. I’m saying, and will ALWAYS say, that not all of us want to read that way. The example is often used that it’s generational, or that the consumer has to be comfortable with technology. I simply offered an example of otherwise.

    Why is that such a problem for those who read and enjoy or publish in e? Why is it there are those of us who read and/or publish in paper who can and do agree that e-books are a good thing for many, but there’s a section of e-readers/writers who continually denigrate paper publishing?

    I’m annoyed by the term dead tree books. It’s meant to be denigrating, or it sure comes across that way. Hits me very close to where bodice ripper hits me.

    I’m also amazed by some posters’ attitude toward NY publishing. Almost as if they’re the enemy. I don’t mean the majority of posters here, but certainly there are a couple who strike me that way.

    It’s not about status quo for me, btw–and I started my comments on this thread by saying I wasn’t opposed to change.

    Re trades. I don’t agree this is a publisher-driven deal, or certainly not entirely. I think it started when Oprah started doing her bookclub books in trade. People got used to them, or liked them, or for whatever reason thought them ‘classier’ than mm. I don’t, but there you are.

    Of course we don’t see e-only readers in our bookstore. My point was there are plenty of readers who want or prefer paper, or who do a mix. My personal opinion is there will always be those who prefer a book rather than a reader. So what? More choices for the consumer to my mind, which is always a good thing. You don’t have to kick one to appreciate or value the other.

    Years ago–maybe close to ten now–I was lectured by an e-pub who told me in no uncertain terms that paper was dead, that e-books were it, and all there would be within a few years. That we were all crazy to hook ourselves to NY, or paper publishing–and on and on. I felt like someone was demanding I drink the Kool-Aid or subscribe to their religion. It wasn’t enough to allow e-books were a good thing, and would continue to grow, give readers another way of accessing books. It was like ‘testify!’

    I didn’t like it.

    Obviously, she was wrong. NY and paper did not vanish in a matter of years.

    I can and do get perfectly why some readers prefer e, and why some have switched from paper to readers altogether. No problem at all with that. I wonder why some have a problem with those of us who simply want the paper book.

    As for pricing. Look at movies, theater tickets, concert tickets. I can’t remember when mm went to 6.99 or 7.99, but I do know they’ve remained at that price point for quite a while. But I also agree we’re coming from that issue from different directions.

    As for bookstores taking no financial risk? This is just not true. I can’t speak to the large chains or the box stores, but we’ve had an indie for nearly 14 years. There is indeed plenty of financial risk, as there is in any business. It’s completely absurd to say otherwise.

    ReplyReply

  138. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 16:27:20

    Hey Nora, I don’t like ebooks either. I make exceptions for personal friends who are only published in E, but I’ll never read an ebook just for fun.

    I don’t see NY as “the enemy.” I’m not sure if I come off that way or not. It’s just not for me. And I may be a tad defensive because very often it’s assumed because I’m doing my own thing that I must just not be “good enough.” So when I see NY doing lots of things that I perceive as weird/goofy and completely unattractive, it’s mildly irritating to me that it’s held up as the holy grail which all writers should seek, period.

    I think it’s right for some people, but I don’t think it’s right for everybody. And until the assumption ends that everybody just naturally should want to be NY published or there is something defective with their brain or they aren’t a real writer, there will probably be a trace of defensiveness in me over the issue, even if I would rather I not come off that way.

    As for bookstores and financial risk, I understand that all businesses are a financial risk, but I was speaking in reference to the fact that books are returnable and with most publishers, returnable with no limits on when the return happens.

    No other wholesale business operates this way. This is consignment, not wholesale and consignment isn’t a real risk. I understand your husband owns a bookstore and so it’s personal to you. But from the publisher perspective, the returns system is unfair and doesn’t match the wholesale practices of other industries.

    ReplyReply

  139. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 16:53:09

    Well, if publishers thought the return system was unfair, I think they’d have done away with it by now. And if they do away with it, most independents will have to close or find another way. Publishers/authors need independents as many indies are more likely to give new authors, midlist, or unusual books a chance and some exposure.

    It’s still not right to say no financial risk as the books can be returned. They have to pay someone to pick them, order them, stock them, try to handsell them. And if they don’t sell, they have to pay someone to return them. That costs money, and offers no profit. Returning books means the money and the time the bookstore has spent acquiring the books, the shelf space they’ve given the books, the time and money spent to return them is down the tubes. That is financial risk every time a bookstore orders a book that’s not an absolutely sure bet.

    I also own a gift shop which features local artists’ and craftspeople’s work. Much is on consignment–primarily because the particular artist wanted it that way. The risk I take there is by paying someone to find the pieces we’ll stock, to stock and display them, price them, to try to sell them, handle the paperwork, and be knowledgeable about what they’re selling. Consignment isn’t a free ride for the vendor.

    I don’t think NY is the only way, or the right way for all. Never said anything like it. From the posts here, no one else has either.

    ReplyReply

  140. Ann Somerville
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 16:55:36

    I'm annoyed by the term dead tree books. It's meant to be denigrating, or it sure comes across that way. Hits me very close to where bodice ripper hits me.

    I just call them ‘tree books’ when I’m being facetious. I never intend it to be denigrating, but I do think it’s worth reminding people that the paper publishing industry is an enormously wasteful one, with a serious environmental impact. Anything which can make the industry more efficient and less wasteful, is good for it, good for consumers, and good for the environment. Paper milling is a very damaging industry.

    Not that dedicated ereaders aren’t in their own way wasteful – which is why I would prefer to buy a multifunction device I actually need, and not buy an ereader until I can justify the expense and the waste over and above using my laptop.

    I don’t think we have the luxury any more of ignoring the environmental cost of any leisure activity – or human activity full stop.

    [Am I the only person who doesn't (a) own a bath and (b) didn't read in them when I did have one? Getting a book wet is just as disastrous to me as getting a piece of electronic equipment wet. I would never take a book to the beach either. I take books seriously!]

    ReplyReply

  141. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 17:00:44

    Nora,

    Fair enough on the risk issue.

    I’m fairly certain most publishers would like to do away with it though. I’d personally like to see bookstores installing the Espresso book machines. Then whatever readers want gets printed on demand, everybody makes their cut, and nothing gets returned. Also no shipping costs on any end.

    It’s a huge waste of resources on all sides to have returns. Especially where the policy is to strip MMPDs. Plus it creates bizarre math on author royalty statements. You never really know what you’ve sold if things can be returned at any time.

    I never said you personally said NY was the only way, or that anyone here said it. But there is a high level of snobbery toward anyone who chooses to finance, package, and put out their own work themselves. That high level of snobbery in all industry specific areas makes people like myself somewhat leery.

    It’s like racism in the south. If you’re in a highly racist area you don’t really “know” that the person you are about to come into contact with isn’t a racist. So all systems are on alert.

    ReplyReply

  142. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 17:21:46

    ~I'm fairly certain most publishers would like to do away with it though.~

    I’ve actually talked to my publisher about this. And no, they wouldn’t.

    And you speak about installing an Espresso machine as if it was a simple matter. It’s costly, and it would also put people out of work as a bookstore wouldn’t need as many clerks. It takes away some of the ambiance an independent might generate to make it a welcoming place to come in, browse, spend some time–and hopefully more money.

    Not everything has to be instant and immediate. I think the kiosk type deals are great, but they’re not for every venue.

    Zoe, your system may be on alert but at the same time, you’ve spoken in a way that strikes me as a kind of reverse snobbery. I may have missed something upthread, but it seems to me the posters here have been supportive of your choices, ergo, you’re not in what you could call a highly racist area.

    Ann, I’m a card-carrying member of Greenpeace, and several environmental groups. I use recycled paper, etc, etc. But I want to read a book, and simply won’t feel guilty about it. And I may be overly-sensitive, but it feels monumentally unfair to ‘remind people’ to feel guilty for choosing to publish in paper or read in paper.

    Most people know Romances–or most of them–contain sex. But most of us who write or read it still dislike the term bodice ripper. It doesn’t remind us there’s sex in the books, but indicates it’s less worthy than other genres.

    The term dead-tree books may be accurate, but it’s a slap nonetheless. This is purely a personal take. It may not bother anyone else.

    ReplyReply

  143. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 17:24:09

    Zoe, I’m going to apologize because it feels like I’m picking on you. I’m not, or don’t mean to–truly. I just don’t agree.

    ReplyReply

  144. kirsten saell
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 17:38:59

    Well, if publishers thought the return system was unfair, I think they'd have done away with it by now. And if they do away with it, most independents will have to close or find another way.

    Publishers won’t do away with it because it would take every single one of them acting together to make it work. If one of them acts because the system is inherently unfair, the other’s will happily buy out their authors’ contracts when they go under.

    And I started calling them dead tree books because of all the times I’ve told people I was published and had books available in ebook, and then I’d tell them “and my first is coming out in print in January” and they’d go, “Huh? But you just said you had books out…” To most people “in print” and “published” are still synonymous. Never really thought the term was derogatory–at least not the way I use it. I’m glad my books will be available in print as well as e.

    But–I will and have told people who say “I’d never switch to ebooks because of eye-fatigue when reading off a screen,” that the Sony and the Kindle do not have that problem.

    I will and have told people who say “I like to take my book in the tub with me,” “I got two words for ya–ziploc bag.”

    That doesn’t mean people aren’t allowed to prefer books. But I hate hearing people making decisions based on erroneous information–like Susan’s cost of ebook conversion and DRM misconceptions.

    And I absolutely will shout from the rooftops that a publisher asking $14 for the digital version of a novel–especially one that’s cheaper in print–is counting on reader ignorance to help them rip people off. And hearing constantly how “I guess I’ll pay that rpice because authors have to make money too,” when those authors are probably making pathetically tiny royalties on those overpriced ebooks, just annoys me even more. Nora, if you’re not making at least 25% on your ebooks, something seriously stinks in NY.

    ReplyReply

  145. Txvoodoo
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 17:46:03

    I think calling “dead tree” terminology a slap is somewhat overly sensitive. I didn’t disparage any person, just the medium.

    Once, we used parchment. Then rag-based paper. Now, we take down an awful lot of trees – 35% of felled trees are used for paper.

    I’ve said before – I’m a reader, and have been for over 43 years. I have a 2000-book library in my home. Obviously, I love reading, passionately, heck, it’s why I’m reading this blog and commenting!

    But we have to look at the footprint we leave on the planet, and how we can minimize it.

    Is a book a lovely thing to hold, to cherish, etc? Yes. But at a cost. It’s disingenuous to think that just using a different phrase will make the reality of it go away.

    Paper books. Dead tree books. Printed material. Call it what you will.

    As I said before, I’m also a technogeek. I like to think that it can help make the world better. We have to do a better job with recycling old tech material, too. And my husband and I do that. We use old PCs, rebuild them and donate. There are ways to do all of that.

    For you to say “simply won't feel guilty about it.” – well, we can all think that way about a variety of things, right? But isn’t that part of the problem? We can rationalize our own choices.

    Now, I’m FAR from a paragon of recycling virtue. But we can ALL try.

    Oh, gah. I’m being so preachy here, and I hate that when others do it. But Nora, you’re a voice people listen to, by virtue of your fame and position. Your words have import. So your disparaging ebooks? Yeah, it’s hitting *my* sore spot.

    ReplyReply

  146. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 17:55:26

    But there is a high level of snobbery toward anyone who chooses to finance, package, and put out their own work themselves.

    Yes, there is. Just as there is a high level of leeriness or distrust with/of anyone who proclaims their ability to do anything without proven training or credentials. My dad is a kick@ss plumber, but he's not a legal, licensed, insured plumber, so anyone who doesn't know him personally would do well to think twice before hiring him to do plumbing work (note: my dad only does stuff for free for family, he's not an under-the-table illegal plumber).

    Most of us who work in the arts also feel that credentials of some kind are helpful in weeding the seed from the chaff. Having an agent and editor think your work is viable and be willing to put their power and $ behind you is at least a base line assurance for the consumer that your work has value (or course mileage and opinions will vary as to how much trust to put into any particular agent, editor, or publishing house).

    This in NO WAY means that a writer who chooses to self publish is in any way an inferior writer, but it does mean that the reader/consumer has no outside, objective opinion to rely on.

    In short, buying a self-published book is a larger risk for the consumer. But the risk may well pay off, and if it does, said self-published author may find NY knocking (as several have over the past few years).

    ReplyReply

  147. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 17:56:51

    So your disparaging ebooks? Yeah, it's hitting *my* sore spot.

    I have yet to see NR do this.

    ReplyReply

  148. kirsten saell
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 17:57:36

    Wait a minute. Nora didn’t disparage ebooks–at least, not that I could tell.

    And I have no real problem with the use of paper issue with hardback and trade paperback. Where I have a problem with it is when I see boxes of stripped books in the landfill–and no, they don’t all go into the recycling bin. And even when they do get recycled, the act of pulping them and turning them back into paper also uses up natural resources and damages the environment.

    I don’t think every bookstore abuses the returns system–I would assume that indies are probably more likely to use it in the way it was originally intended. But I’ve heard of big box stores taking boxes of books right off the truck, then stripping and returning them in order to get credit to buy “fresher” books to sell on Black Friday. How on earth is this not an insane waste?

    ReplyReply

  149. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:05:42

    ~Publishers won't do away with it because it would take every single one of them acting together to make it work. If one of them acts because the system is inherently unfair, the other's will happily buy out their authors' contracts when they go under. ~

    See, how do you know this? You speak as if this is gospel, but have you spoken with publishers, asked them their take, compared that publisher’s take with another’s, or is this what you think?

    I know Harper is experimenting with non-returnable books. That’s not all publishers acting together, but one publisher experimenting with a single imprint to see how it goes.

    When you make a statement as fact, instead of opinion or belief, I’d need to know where you got the facts.

    You may be absolutely right. But you could also be wrong.

    ReplyReply

  150. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:10:48

    Excuse, me WHERE did I disparage e-books? I did nothing of the kind. Not ever. Please, show me where I did so. Your sore spot is your own problem here, as I’ve not poked at it.

    You are being preachy. You really don’t have the right to tell me how I should choose to read in order to save the planet. It just irritates those of us who are pretty responsible about a great deal of things and happen to enjoy reading a book in paper form.

    It is you disparaging the form of books I write and choose to read, not me disparaging your choice.

    My words have import? Fine. My words say it’s just great people have choices–paper, audio, e. And NOBODY should have the gall to insult any of those choices, or any of those who make them.

    ReplyReply

  151. Robin
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:12:54

    I don’t think print books are ever going to be gone, and while the bibliophile in my rejoices, the environmentalist in me hopes that we find some way to address the global damage of paper milling and publishing.

    I gotta say, too, that it would have been great if all of my school textbooks had been available in electronic form, saving me from carting around at least 60 pounds of books on any given school day. And to have trade and professional reference books readily available in eform so they are always available and portable — heaven! So I really would like it if mainstream acceptance and adoption of ebooks was a faster process.

    I also believe that some resistance to ebooks has to do with not knowing the technology available for reading them. Reading ebooks on a good device is nothing like reading a computer screen, for example. That said, there will always be people who prefer reading in paper, just as there are people who will no longer buy a paper book. That’s not a bad thing, IMO. What I’d like to see is affordable versions of each widely available so that people could make a free choice (and affordable means of reading ebooks, too), which might very well cut down on some of the environmental impacts of paper milling and printing costs.

    Will that change the way publishing works? Yes, I think so. And it may scare some folks for whom paper is the norm and should — they believe — always remain the norm. But it doesn’t have to be the end of paper. That would make me sad, especially because there are some books that are as much visual art as literature, but also because I still love the tactile sensation/experience of old and new books.

    Wouldn’t it be great, though, if new ways of publishing could solve some of the problems that now cost publishers, bookseller, authors, and readers money — and improve our environmental status to boot?

    ReplyReply

  152. MaryK
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:17:22

    Re: paper v. ebooks

    I dislike ebooks mostly because of the danger of somebody turning off a server and destroying my library, but lately I’ve been thinking about another scenario and wondering how likely it is or if it’s just my paranoia rearing its head.

    Suppose I discover Author X in 10 years, but Author X, an e-published author, stopped writing in 2008. How likely is it that I’ll be able to get a hold of Author X’s work? Now, if Author X was paper published it wouldn’t be a big deal – I’d just set up an ebay search and wait. But will ebook back titles be available 5, 10 years after an author has stopped writing? The potential for the disappearance of a lot of great fiction seems likely.

    P.S. – I used to be into recycling/reusing before “carbon footprint” was a popular catchphrase. But I’ve been turned off of it by all the people who try to dictate what my “footprint” should be.

    ReplyReply

  153. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:18:47

    It’s cool, Nora. You have a bookstore, I don’t. So I can only speak from how things look from my side of the fence looking at it.

    And I know every industry blog I’ve ever read that over and over again everybody bitches about the returns system. I’m honestly baffled by any publisher would be “pro-returns.” I’m very much against all the environmental waste it causes. Can you explain why they are pro-returns? (If you know why.)

    I also realize Espresso machines are expensive. And they may be difficult and expensive to repair when they break down. But I “do” feel they are the future. At some point.

    MoJo had suggested something like having one display copy of everything. Or, maybe there could be a catalog that people could sift through. And what would be really cool is if we had giant coffee shops with espresso book machines. But I get in a real world setting things cost money and there is trouble shooting to overcome.

    I just don’t feel that what we have going on right now is working for most people. If it was, there wouldn’t be so much bitching on so many blogs about it. From agents and editors and publishers and readers and writers. Maybe not everybody feels the way I do about things, and that’s fine. But many do.

    Anytime there is change or prospective change there are two sides to the story, or more.

    Also I’m not totally sure that I “have” been defensive, but sometimes I come off in ways I don’t intend to. Sometimes I sound angrier than I am, or more defensive, because I’m passionate about my views. I have some strong opinions about many issues in publishing, but I don’t have any issue with people who choose to go the NY route. I’ve always felt that how people choose to publish has to be what is right for them, so I don’t really see a “reverse snobbery” going on.

    If I have come off that way, then I apologize. I get on a streak and am passionate about my views on things, but I’m not sitting around rubbing my hands together like Snidely Whiplash going “Soon, NY, SOON muahahahahahaa.”

    I do agree thought that people shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about reading in paper. I’m pretty pervy about my paper. And I agree that “dead tree books” isn’t the nicest phrase. If people don’t want to read paper, don’t read paper. But we’re all not converting to E. I like to soak in the tub with my paper.

    ReplyReply

  154. kirsten saell
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:23:35

    You’re right, I could be wrong. But I don’t think so. :D

    But here, let me word it as an opinion: I imagine if one publisher decided to stop allowing returns (without making some pretty major concessions) most stores would just stop buying from that publisher. Pretty sure Wal-Mart would. There are plenty of other publishers who allow returns to step in a and fill the gap.

    IIRC, the Harper-Collins experimental imprint is experimenting with a single store: Borders. They’re giving Borders a deeper discount in exchange for no returns. I think that’s a step in the right direction. But the fact that the competition still allow returns is going to make it extremely difficult for it to be successful.

    I honestly think the industry is sick. It just doesn’t know it yet. And from the top of the heap, it’s not always easy to see the system’s flaws, or when you see them, to see them as flaws. The blockbuster business model is just peachy–if you consistently write blockbusters.

    P.S. I have to wonder why advances are so important to extremely successful authors. I may be wrong, but I would guess that most authors with multiple bestselling novels under their belt aren’t going to have to get a day job if they don’t have a generous advance. And the thing is, they’re advances against royalties. I would assume writers like Stephen King and Nora earn out their advance on just about every title. It’s money you’re going to get anyway, now or later. So I wonder why a accepting lower advance would necessarily make an author in that position feel like they’re giving up something.

    I’m not trying to criticize–I really am just curious. Because I personally would take a higher royalty over a big advance–unless someone was handing me millions on a risky project that probably wouldn’t pan out, which is not your typical Nora or Stephen King book…

    ReplyReply

  155. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:25:58

    And call it what you will, but dead tree books is a term I personally find insulting. As I said, it may just be me.

    I can’t and probably will never understand why some proponents of e-books insist on pushing at shoving at those of us who prefer paper because we haven’t jumped on the form. It’s baffling to me that instead of celebrating the fact that we have all the choices in how we read or enjoy a book, there are some who insist their choice is the only correct one, or responsible one, or sensible one.

    And you know what, I have done what I can to try to make the world a better place. Being an e-book reader doesn’t make someone more or less aware of the world or her place in it. It’s really strange, to me, to consider a reading choice as a yardstick for what one does in and for the world.

    That’s not disparaging e-books, but disparaging those who like to use their choice of them as a hammer on the rest of us.

    ReplyReply

  156. kirsten saell
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:30:46

    But will ebook back titles be available 5, 10 years after an author has stopped writing? The potential for the disappearance of a lot of great fiction seems likely.

    Um, dude. With ebooks and POD technology, there is now no reason for any book to EVER be “out of print” unless the publisher wants it to be.

    If Samhain didn’t want to sell my books after a certain number of years, I could get my rights back and offer them for free, or at a nominal cost, through my website. I think Holly Lisle has done this with some of her out of print titles. There is the potential for eBay and used book stores to become obsolete, and for authors to keep earning money on their books for decades instead of months or years. The long tail is what epublishing and POD are ideally suited for.

    ReplyReply

  157. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:33:33

    Your advance is your guarantee. And you have the money in your pocket (or place of your choice) earning interest or paying your expenses long before you would ever start to earn royalties much less earn out the advance.

    And many writers depend on the advance to pay the bills, just like much of the rest of the world depends on a weekly or monthly paycheck. Some need that advance in order to afford to sit down and write. In a business with few guarantees, the advance is one for the writer.

    Personally, I don’t want to be in a business venture–ie more money on the back end, no money up front–with my publisher. I don’t want to think about it. I want to write, period. Others feel differently, and some do negotiate other terms.

    ReplyReply

  158. Txvoodoo
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:34:38

    @Nora Roberts:

    Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    And yeah, I fully admitted I was being preachy, even as much as I hate it when others do it.

    As I said – it’s my sore spot. And, really, I guess I perceive a lot of snobbery about “I read my paper books, ebooks, pfft!” Note: perceived. Sometimes it feels like people are impugning that it’s not real if it’s not in actual, physical print.

    Some of my friends who started out being published in ebooks only have felt that way too.

    It’s a big world, with lots of options for all of us.

    @ kirsten saell – ziploc indeed! ;)

    @MoJo – there’s a lot of awesome talent out there! I love finding new folks who do stuff, especially if it’s different from what we usually see.

    @Robin – I’ve been reading that a lot of textbook publishers are going to start doing ebooks. I agree, it’d be a fabulous resource for students. It wouldn’t work for all subjects, such as those which are illustrated or contain massive amounts of charts and graphs, but for heavily text-based ones, it could be a blessing.

    @MaryK – that’s another aspect of it which I’ve been thinking about. Oftentimes, even ALibris or Amazon’s used books don’t even have a copy of an older book, especially if it wasn’t a major bestseller. I’d adore it if some of those out of print lists could go to ebooks, at least. I have at least 1 book that I’ve been working on tracking down for 5 years, and it was only published in the 90s! I read it then, lost the book, and seem doomed to never find it again.

    I don’t know which is more likely to survive – paper or ebooks of this kind. I’d speculate that the ebook would, but it is speculation. Time will tell?

    ReplyReply

  159. kirsten saell
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:38:50

    And many writers depend on the advance to pay the bills, just like much of the rest of the world depends on a weekly or monthly paycheck. Some need that advance in order to afford to sit down and write. In a business with few guarantees, the advance is one for the writer.

    I agree, and that’s what advances were originally intended to do. But if you could earn 50% higher royalties on your books with an advance half the size or 1/3 the size, would you ever consider that?

    An advance is a guarantee–but I think there are a few writers out there (yourself included) who don’t really need a guarantee. Their books are going to sell like hotcakes.

    ReplyReply

  160. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:44:48

    There seems to be a lot of perceiving going on. No e-books, pfff said or implied. Really, I’ll say again I think this is a definite problem with some e-book proponents. The perception that if you don’t read e, prefer paper, you’re saying e-sucks. It’s especially a problem when I think I said multiple times I was glad we had the choice of e-books. Really can’t be much clearer.

    Believe me when I say this attitude–and many, many appear to have it–is just as insulting and as negative and as false as those who put down the e-form because it isn’t in paper. And for one who just prefers paper, it doesn’t do a thing to make me at all more interested in the form as a reader. In fact, decidedly the opposite.

    ReplyReply

  161. Robin
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:48:55

    Suppose I discover Author X in 10 years, but Author X, an e-published author, stopped writing in 2008. How likely is it that I'll be able to get a hold of Author X's work? Now, if Author X was paper published it wouldn't be a big deal – I'd just set up an ebay search and wait. But will ebook back titles be available 5, 10 years after an author has stopped writing? The potential for the disappearance of a lot of great fiction seems likely.

    I don’t worry about the wiping out of electronic work, but I do think you’ve hit on another problem, which is that fewer paper books means less circulation of books through the system. And as we know, many readers acquire books in this fashion, books that are often more affordable and allow readers to sample new-to-them authors with little risk. Plus there is the DRM problem, which is a drawback I despise with ebooks and compromise my own objection to every time I purchase an ebook. And believe me, once ebooks become more popular, I’m going to have a laundry list of complaints about how they are created and sold too, lol.

    Several years ago, I swore I would never be an ebook reader. Now I am, and a happy one, to boot. I still read paper, too, and still love it. Mostly I think many of us are resistant to change because it presents a series of unknowns. But, as they say, change is constant, and it’s usually better to be on the upswing of evolution than on the down, lol.

    ReplyReply

  162. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 18:54:16

    How do I KNOW I’d earn 50% more, or any percent more? The book could tank. And yes, it could. Or the sales could just be soft on it.

    No, I wouldn’t consider it. I don’t want to have to worry about how the book’s selling when I could/should be writing the next one. I want my publisher to do the worrying. I want to write.

    Let me add this, my personal opinion. When a writer starts to think: Anything I put out there’s going to sell like hot cakes–that’s when that writer is going to write crap. Because the edge is gone the way of smugness, and smugness doesn’t respect or sweat over craft.

    The advance still does what it was originally intended to do. It gives the writer money on signing, on acceptance, on publication–a vaguely regular income for the working writer, he or she can depend on, plan on, budget for. Royalties aren’t guarantees, they’re the crap shoot. Sometimes we have a really good roll, but we can also throw snake eyes.

    ReplyReply

  163. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 19:02:25

    Okay i got caught in the mod bin, I THINK it’s because I used the “b word” more than once, but I wasn’t name calling, I was using it in the sense of complaining, lol.

    Anyway, if it ever posts it’s number 153. (or maybe it will post as another number, don’t know.)

    But it’s cool, Nora. I don’t think I’m being picked on. But I appreciate the apology. And if I’ve come off in ways I haven’t meant to, then I apologize for that. (more detail in the other post, if it ever gets out of the mod bin.)

    ReplyReply

  164. Victoria Dahl
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 19:03:18

    Funny about the “dead tree” books… I’ve been hearing an AWFUL lot of about e-waste lately. So maybe we could call that a draw and be friends? (And if someone could take my three old CRTs off my hands in a responsible manner, I’d appreciate it!)

    ReplyReply

  165. Karen Templeton
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 19:09:16

    Suppose I discover Author X in 10 years, but Author X, an
    e-published author, stopped writing in 2008. How likely is it that I'll be able
    to get a hold of Author X's work? Now, if Author X was paper published it
    wouldn't be a big deal – I'd just set up an ebay search and wait. But will ebook
    back titles be available 5, 10 years after an author has stopped writing? The
    potential for the disappearance of a lot of great fiction seems
    likely.

    I think this is a very good question. If a print publisher goes out of business, there are still print copies in circulation. To wit: I published one lone book with Scarlet Publishing in ’98, literally right before they folded. Even with a laughably small print run, I still see copies of that book used here and there. IOW, it’s not at all hard to find, at least online, yellow and brittle though those copies may be.

    But if an e-publisher goes out of business — as many have — and the author opts not to re-release the book on his/her own for whatever reason, where would one find “copies?”

    ReplyReply

  166. Txvoodoo
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 19:24:39

    @Victoria Dahl: I’m all for that :D Wounded feelings all around, and yet we’re all READERS!

    @Karen Templeton:

    “But if an e-publisher goes out of business -’ as many have -’ and the author opts not to re-release the book on his/her own for whatever reason, where would one find “copies?””

    Interesting question. If the e-pub was the only source of the books, I guess it’d be defunct. But I know that most ebooks are available from several retailers, including Amazon, B&N, Fictionwise, etc.

    I guess rights for REpublishing would depend on contracts. Don’t know what happens if the publisher goes belly-up. I guess, if I were a writer, I’d want a clause in my contract saying what happens in that event, right?

    ReplyReply

  167. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 19:27:32

    I want to respond–because I forgot before–to a comment upthread re DVDs can be bought and enjoyed by the whole family, but when someone buys a book it has one reader.

    Not in my household, or the households of many I know. We share books all the time. I’ll read it, then pass it to my husband, and visa versa. Or to one of my dils or my sons. It’s rare a book around here is only read by one person. I’ve often loaned a book to a friend, or had one lent to me. Or simply given it to a friend because I really liked it and know she would, too–as I know I have a ready source if I need to get another copy to re-read.

    And not all the DVDs I buy can or will be watched by my whole family.

    ReplyReply

  168. mary beth
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 19:51:59

    Great article!
    I’m an ebook convert. A year ago I loathed the idea of ebooks. Then I found Stanza for my iPod Touch, and suddenly, I can read all the time, anywhere. I don’t need a book light, I don’t lose my spot, no one wanders off with my book, I have multiple books with me all the time. THEN I ran into DRM issues. UGH!
    Fictionwise and secure ereader format to the rescue. Love it. Can’t imagine life without it.
    That said, I see real problems with the digital age and publishing. Look at newspapers today. They joined the online revolution, lost sales, decided to charge customers to see the paper online, lost more sales. Today papers are trying to change, but it’s not easy, and it’s not cheap, and they’ve been forced to give the content away for free while moving to new avenues for revenue, and they’re laying off reporters in record numbers.
    If I were a publisher or author, I’d be shaking in my shoes at the thought of a book being bought by one person and then shared with a thousand others by a simple click of the mouse.
    I figure publishers will eventually figure out a way to join the digital age while protecting the author and the bottom line.

    ReplyReply

  169. Ann Somerville
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 20:01:06

    The perception that if you don't read e, prefer paper, you're saying e-sucks.

    The problem, Nora, as a big successful author, you saying anything about epublishing resonates with actually insulting statements made in this very place by other big successful authors that epubbed authors aren’t even writers at all.

    I don’t want anyone to feel guilty about reading paper books. I just don’t want anyone to blindly follow an already failing business model which is enormously wasteful, without challenging if there are better/smarter ways to do stuff. Like more POD, as an example.

    I think there’s room for ebooks and tree books. Both have advantages and disadvantages for readers and publishers. But while paper publishers and paper pubbed authors keep pronouncing from the mount (which I am not saying *you* are) that epublishing is for losers and eauthors are just fakes, frauds and amateurs, you’re going to find a lot of us are just as defensive as you are about your method of publication. The attacks on epubbing are a lot more diverse, noisy and widespread than attacks on the paper pubs. Epubs are tiny, and ebooks are a tiny part of the market. They’re not threatening anyone, but paper publishers are definitely doing a lot to try and damage that end of the market with their idiotic pricing structures for ebooks and DRM. It’s David and Goliath.

    I still don’t understand why books have to be sold on consignment for bookstores to survive, when hardware stores don’t operate on that basis. Why not sell the books in paper format that are sure fire hits or low risk, and epub/POD the rest until their success is demonstrated?

    ReplyReply

  170. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 20:10:43

    I think Ann makes some good points. I’m not sure “why” bookstores can’t survive if we got off consignment. Why is the book business SO different from every other business?

    When I first heard that the returns system was instituted during the Great Depression I thought it was a joke. I didn’t know it was an actually true story for awhile.

    Before the depression bookstores did not buy on consignment. So are we to believe that the publishing industry never recovered from the depression? Why couldn’t they go back to how things were after the depression ended?

    ReplyReply

  171. Catherine
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 20:12:33

    The term dead-tree books may be accurate, but it's a slap nonetheless. This is purely a personal take. It may not bother anyone else.

    No Nora, you’re not alone. It bothers some of the lurkers too, we just don’t say anything.

    ReplyReply

  172. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 20:32:14

    Publishers make a very low profit margin as it is. Something like 2%, it's insane.

    Just to point it out, most large retail corporations–like the 800lb gorilla itself–operate at profit margins around 2%.

    ReplyReply

  173. Bonnie
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 20:51:57

    I love the way physical books look, feel, smell. I love the sound of pages turning. I work in high tech, and I'm already looking at a monitor 10 hours a day for work. Factor in an additional hour or two each day to catch personal email, websites, and blogs. So the LAST thing I want to do when reading for pleasure is subject my already-fatigued eyes to even more screentime.

    Honestly, karmelrio, you really are misinformed. If you’re reading an e-ink e-book, you’re going to get a LOT less eye strain than reading paper books. I know this because I have really lousy eyesight, have a kindle and read much faster and more books because of it. AND I work on a computer all day. Not the same at all.

    I really wish people would give e-book readers a try before giving an opinion.

    It’s the “I will read paper books forever and die before I try an e-book reader” that bug me.

    Why?

    I like paper books too. I have a ton of them. I will always buy Nora Roberts’ hardcovers, signed from her husband’s book store and keep them on my book shelf. But, the ebook reader is invaluable for my lifestyle. And that’s the way I read them. MUCH easier on my eyes.

    ReplyReply

  174. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 22:13:21

    Hey Jackie, I wasn’t aware of that. 2% seemed really low to me.

    Bonnie, for me it’s that I really love paper books. To me the reading experience is about getting away from technology. So it doesn’t matter how great the e-ink is or how cool the gadget is, it’s just not for me. But, as I get older I may “have” to read on an e-reader. And if I do I’ll deal with that then.

    ReplyReply

  175. Bonnie
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 22:26:14

    Zoe, it really has nothing to do with getting older. But whatever…. God, that’s not good.

    ReplyReply

  176. MaryK
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 22:33:25

    @kirsten saell: “Um, dude. With ebooks and POD technology, there is now no reason for any book to EVER be “out of print” unless the publisher wants it to be. ”

    But you’re assuming action on the part of the publisher. I’m not interested in the publisher’s intentions. What if the book doesn’t sell well and they get tired of it taking up space on the server/webpage? What if the publishing house closes and the author doesn’t offer the book through other venues?

    When a paper book goes out of print, there will still be copies floating around no matter what the publisher or author does. I bought at a UBS a copy of Laura Kinsale’s Seize the Fire published in 1989. If that had been an epub book, where would I have gotten a copy?

    There was a thread on SB recently where posters were talking about a long out of print ebook which is supposed to be very good. After much googling and the like, they pieced together the original book though it wasn’t clear if it was complete. I think it’s great that they were able to salvage the book, but I have to wonder if it’s actually legal. Heck, it’s not even legal for me to open locked ebooks I bought from now defunct publishers.

    I just think that the lack of a secondary market is going to have more repercussions than just not being able to recoup money spent on dud ebooks.

    ReplyReply

  177. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 22:34:59

    What difference does it make if I don’t personally want to try an e-reader? I’m not trying turnip greens either. I don’t want my fictional reading experience to be tied into technology. But that’s “just” me personally. It has no bearing on anyone else’s reading choices.

    In the larger market I don’t think it’s an issue of paper or e-books. There should be both available. Just like no one is sitting around debating if we should have audio books OR paper books. It’s just different formats. And however other people want to consume their stories is fine with me.

    I have an ebook out. It’s just a format. It’s not anything for everybody to go to terror level orange over. Some people like baked potatoes some people like french fries. It’s no big deal.

    ReplyReply

  178. kirsten saell
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 22:43:56

    Royalties aren't guarantees, they're the crap shoot. Sometimes we have a really good roll, but we can also throw snake eyes.

    But isn’t this part of the problem? Large advances that don’t earn out? I know lots of people who are under the impression that if an author doesn’t earn out her advance, she has to pay the money back. They always seem surprised when I tell them all the author has to do is produce a publishable book by the date specified on the contract, and even if they don’t sell a single copy, they still walk away with their advance.

    If the advance is 10 or 20 or 30 or 50 thousand dollars, that’s not such a huge loss. And if it’s Nora or Grisham or someone with a track record, I guess there’s still the profits already earned for the publisher to partially offset the loss–although those profits were for different books, for which the author was already paid advance and royalties.

    What I’m saying is “advance against royalties” has somehow evolved into “money I get at the start in case the book bombs”. Where’s the publisher’s guarantee? Why does the author deserve that kind of security while the pulisher takes all the financial risk?

    And again, I’m not saying authors like Nora shouldn’t have the kinds of advances they do, because they have the track record. And I wouldn’t turn down an advance of $100 grand or more, either. And I’m not saying modest advances for new or midlist authors are not entirely appropriate. But so often we see a huge advance paid to someone we’ve barely heard of, and then the book tanks.

    I think if I had the choice of a sorta standard $15 000 advance with a 7% royalty, or a $5000 advance and a 10% royalty, well, I might choose the latter. Or no advance and a 20% royalty. That would be okay, too. My potential pay would go way up, and I’m not quitting my day job over $15 000 anyway. The risk would be shared between me and my publisher, making our relationship more of a partnership. And I would be paid based on what I’d earned for the publisher, not on how much my agent could convince them to gamble on me.

    Not saying anyone is wrong for vigorously negotiating a contract. But the Harper Collins experiment is really interesting to me for this reason among others.

    I still don't understand why books have to be sold on consignment for bookstores to survive, when hardware stores don't operate on that basis. Why not sell the books in paper format that are sure fire hits or low risk, and epub/POD the rest until their success is demonstrated?

    Preaching to the choir on this one, Ann, LOL.

    It's rare a book around here is only read by one person. I've often loaned a book to a friend, or had one lent to me. Or simply given it to a friend because I really liked it and know she would, too-as I know I have a ready source if I need to get another copy to re-read.

    Which is why ebooks should be cheaper than print. And why paper books will never really go away, I think.

    Interesting question. If the e-pub was the only source of the books, I guess it'd be defunct. But I know that most ebooks are available from several retailers, including Amazon, B&N, Fictionwise, etc.

    And if the publisher was no longer in operation, wouldn’t it be illegal for those retailers to keep selling the books?

    If I were a publisher or author, I'd be shaking in my shoes at the thought of a book being bought by one person and then shared with a thousand others by a simple click of the mouse.

    Oh, we already do. And not just authors who are published in e-format. Print books are pretty easily chopped and scanned, and are sometimes up online before legal copies are available for sale.

    When I first heard that the returns system was instituted during the Great Depression I thought it was a joke. I didn't know it was an actually true story for awhile.

    Yeah, it was supposed to be a temporary thing to keep bookstores selling books. Come to think of it, income tax was introduced as a “temporary measure” to fund WWII. I’m sure they’re going to put an end to that any day now, but somehow I think holding my breath until they do is not going to be good for my health.

    ReplyReply

  179. kirsten saell
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 22:52:07

    Heck, it's not even legal for me to open locked ebooks I bought from now defunct publishers.

    And that is insane. I suppose if the publisher went under or didn’t want to sell the book anymore, the author could request her rights back. Even the now-ambiguous definition of “in print” would not apply if the books were not made available. Then the author could sell the rights to another publisher, or exploit them herself. I know one author at a troublesome epublisher whose contract did not spell out specifically what rights were exclusive to the publisher. This made her technically within her rights to sell downloads of those books through her own site–which she did, for 1/3 the price the publisher wanted. If she wanted to, she could send the digital file to LSI and have them print up a bunch, POD. If the rights have reverted to the author, there is nothing stopping her from exploiting those rights.

    ReplyReply

  180. kirsten saell
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 22:55:59

    What difference does it make if I don't personally want to try an e-reader? I'm not trying turnip greens either.

    I don’t think anyone is saying you have to try one. We’re just saying that if your reason is eye strain, that’s not an issue. I personally know of several people who swore they would not get an ereader because they hate reading off a screen. They had to see the e-ink screen to believe it, and even those who did not convert on the spot had to admit eye-strain would not be a hindrance for them anymore.

    We’re not saying you can’t make a decision. We’re not even saying you have to try it first. It’s just frustrating when people make decisions based on erroneous information. It annoys me with ereaders, and it annoys me with hybrid cars. But that’s a whole ‘nother controversy…

    ReplyReply

  181. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 23:16:51

    No, my reason isn’t eyestrain. My reason is that I want ONE thing in my life that doesn’t require batteries or an AC adaptor. Just one thing that is not an experience with technology.

    When I get older I may “have” to read on an e-reader because I know it’s easy on the eyes and you can adjust the font size. But that would be an issue of “have to” not “want to”

    So my choice isn’t based on eroneous information. Unless it’s untrue that e-readers are technology and require batteries or an AC Adaptor.

    ReplyReply

  182. Txvoodoo
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 23:19:09

    @Zoe Winters:

    Now you have me wanting one that’s based on solar power. ;)

    ReplyReply

  183. Zoe Winters
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 23:20:20

    bwahahahahaha! Perfect for reading on the beach or by the pool. And folks in Arizona? They can read ForEVAR!

    ReplyReply

  184. Nora Roberts
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 05:24:38

    ~The problem, Nora, as a big successful author, you saying anything about epublishing resonates with actually insulting statements made in this very place by other big successful authors that epubbed authors aren't even writers at all.~

    If this were true, I’d have to think people were idiots. If I said something insulting abuot e-books, e-publishing or e-authors, that’s one thing. I didn’t.

    I enjoy this blog, and a couple of others, where I can post my opinions–and where most posters understand I’m not part of some authorial mind meld.

    ReplyReply

  185. Anion
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 05:35:46

    1. Prefer print to ebook. Also dislike the term “dead tree publishing”.

    2. Hate trade size. I have small hands and like to read one-handed (while I smoke a cigarette, or stir soup, or eat ice cream, or snuggle my children; get your mind out of the gutter! ;-) )

    3. Do not think publishing is a dying, obsolete, blah blah industry. Sorry, but I don’t.

    4. Am a bit confused. So now we’re saying ebooks should be kept in print forever and it’s wrong for them to go out of print? From the same people who regard the length of term in EC contracts as foul and disgusting and something no person with a brain would ever in a million years sign? I don’t mean to start an argument here, I really honestly don’t. But that’s quite confusing to me.

    5. NY publishing is still incredibly attractive, no matter how big or small your name is. National distribution, marketing, and money. Just because the typical or average first advance for some genres at some publishers is only 5k per book certainly doesn’t mean that’s what everyone gets.

    Not to mention the pride and respect of knowing your book went through a long vetting process and passed the test; that people who eat, sleep, and breathe books thought yours was good enough to put their name on and behind it. There’s really no feeling like it in the world.

    Just my opinion, of course. And I honestly don’t want to argue; after carefully avoiding this thread I got sucked in by Mrs. Giggles mentioning the “dead tree books” thing and decided to check that out, and got sucked in a bit.

    ReplyReply

  186. Nora Roberts
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 06:20:00

    ~I really wish people would give e-book readers a try before giving an opinion.

    It's the “I will read paper books forever and die before I try an e-book reader” that bug me. ~

    Okay, a couple things. First, why does it matter so much that some of us just want to continue to read a paper book, or just aren’t interested in trying out a book reader?

    And where is this forever and die coming from?

    It’s that all or nothing, that push, push, push that baffles me on this topic.

    As I said before it’s like it’s not enough to think it’s great readers have choices in their format. We must all convert, or it’s taken as a slight against e-publishing. That’s just weird.

    You know, my dil recently bought a Blackberry. I took a look at it and thought: Oh no, I don’t want one. I just want my phone. I don’t want all that other stuff on there. She loves it. Does the fact I don’t want to use one insult or demean all Blackberry owners?

    ReplyReply

  187. Genrewonk: thoughts and opinions by author S. Andrew Swann » Blog Archive » A note on the publishing apocolypse
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 06:41:42

    [...] world of publishing is imploding and Jane over at Dear Author has written a fairly lengthy piece on the need for innovative publishing in order to save the industry.  I’m not as frightened, [...]

  188. Anion
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 06:50:25

    @Nora Roberts:

    And you better at least TRY those vegetables Mommy cooked, too!

    :rolleyes

    I agree. I’m an adult. Why do I “have” to try something? I’ve been told I “have” to see Titanic, too, but I never will because I’m not interested, and I don’t see why that would offend someone. Who exactly am I hurting by not forcing myself to sample an entertainment I have no interest in sampling?

    ReplyReply

  189. karmelrio
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 07:36:44

    Honestly, karmelrio, you really are misinformed. If you're reading an e-ink e-book, you're going to get a LOT less eye strain than reading paper books. I know this because I have really lousy eyesight, have a kindle and read much faster and more books because of it. AND I work on a computer all day. Not the same at all.

    I really wish people would give e-book readers a try before giving an opinion.

    Hey, thanks so much for your learned re-interpretation of my actual experience. Which you know absolutely nothing about.

    I’m not getting into this one any further, other than to say that a) I suspect a business model will have to emerge that accommodates both, and b) it’s too bad that the discussion about Jane’s fabulous post had to turn into a cat-scratching epic shitstorm. Why am I not surprised. Sorry, Jane.

    ReplyReply

  190. Nora Roberts
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 07:42:49

    On advances. A book doesn’t have to earn out its advance for the publisher to make money. The advance is up front money on royalties, which are a percentage of the sale of a book. Yes, of course, a publisher may lose money if they’ve paid a huge advance and the book tanks. But, in fact, earning out the entire advance isn’t at all necessary for publisher profit. They take the risk, yes, but they also get a bigger piece of the pie from each sale.

    If a writer gets ten percent on each book, and the bookstore gets a 40 percent discount, that’s 50 percent for the publisher. They have to pay overhead, promotion, etc, etc. There isn’t a wide window of profit, but the publisher has the lion’s share of it because they have a bigger financial stake.

    The advance is a million, the book is priced at ten bucks with a ten percent royalty base. Sales weren’t as good as projected, and only hit 500,000. That’s a half a mil not earned off. But the publisher got about 2.5 mil on the book–1.5 after the advance–out of which they have to cover their costs for producing it. They’re still going to see a profit. And may see more on their share of sub rights. They’ve earned it, imo. And down the road, the book will probably rate a bit here and there, picking up more sales.

    Writing is a job. You get paid for doing a job. Your employer takes a financial risk by hiring you to do the job–which you may not do as well as expected, or which simply may not produce the results everyone assumed or hoped they would.

    You still get paid. But you may be let go afterward.

    ReplyReply

  191. Katrina Strauss
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 07:51:07

    E-book authors have dealt with the attitude that we’re writing in a second-rate medium for some time. I joke that if I had a dollar for every person who said “Let me know when your book comes out in print and I’ll buy it” that I could stop writing for a living. Not saying it justifies e-book writers slamming print, but just asking that print authors bear in mind that we e-authors deal with unintended insult on a constant basis. (At least we did… I do see the tide and attitudes changing in very recent months.) I can’t help but feel a bit smug that I now refuse to buy a new release unless it’s in e-book. Not that I’m getting rid of the “dead tree books” I already own, particularly the rarities and first prints and such, (then again, I did finally part with the 12-inch vinyl collection somewhere along the way…) but outside of manga and comics, it’s “e for me” from here on out.

    ReplyReply

  192. Nora Roberts
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 07:58:29

    Books v hardware. First books aren’t nuts and bolts, nor sold in from the producer to the retailer at the same mark-up potential.

    One day maybe bookstores will be able to acquire books from publishers at that same sort of extreme discount, but they aren’t able to now. The indie, at least, pays 60 percent of the cover price, leaving them a smallish profit window.

    Books aren’t produced and sold the way hardware is, or clothes or food and beverage, and the retailer isn’t able to mark them up to offset some of the risk of stocking them. Most retailer double the price (or more than) of what they pay wholesale for a product. If bookstores did that with their wholesale price, books would cost the consumer a lot more than they do now.

    ReplyReply

  193. Nora Roberts
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 08:03:00

    ~but just asking that print authors bear in mind that we e-authors deal with unintended insult on a constant basis.~

    So because others have done it or do it, it’s only natural to sweep others who haven’t and don’t into the same pile simply because they don’t choose the form?

    Romance gets slammed regularly. I don’t think it’s okay to consider everyone who doesn’t choose to read Romance as insulting–unless they SAY something insulting about the genre.

    ReplyReply

  194. Susan
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 08:30:13

    A publisher on returns:

    Firstly, I’ve been known to joke that the only people making a lot of money on books are the shipping companies.

    Here’s my press’s present returns reality. Our gross sales for this fiscal year are up, despite the economy. Our returns are WAY up. Thus, our net sales are down. We used to experience two high returns cycles in a year. We have had consistently higher than typical returns for the past 13 months. We’re not sure where this trend is going but are watching carefully.

    Our returns have run about 17% for many years. They are at 23% now. That’s lower than many general fiction publishers, who’s returns rate (overall, for their entire business) can avg. about 35% and higher.

    Do I want to do away with returns? Yes and no.

    Returns allow for those big stacks on tables and shelves that catch your attention. A store is more willing to merchandise books (vs. buy 2 to be put spine out on the shelf) because the risk is reduced (NOT eliminated). Ditto for signings and events. But getting those books costs them

    A bricks & mortar store that buys titles targeted for its readership, typically has about a 12%-19% returns rate.

    Azn has a 3-5% returns rate.

    Chains have 25-40+% returns rate depending on title, backlist sweeps from the shelves, etc. Recently Borders cleaned their shelves of our books and actually made returns in excess of their current balance due with us. That means they have a CREDIT with us. (That’s messed up.)

    Wholesalers have returns, too, though it’s been awhile since I’ve looked at percentages, so I don’t have a statistic.

    Txvoodoo: a couple production people tried converting from pdf to epub using some free software online. The book came through pretty well, but still requires proofing, cleanup, and correction. It works, but it’s not perfect, we’re not going to put flawed ebooks out there. Even if you don’t require anything fancy!

    ReplyReply

  195. Katrina Strauss
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 08:32:34

    Nora,

    I agree we’re all in this together. My own attitudes toward both romance and electronic format have opened and evolved since I was first published three years ago. I’m merely pointing out that e-authors have previously spent as much time promoting the medium itself as we have our own works. People who personally do not like electronic format often discount any works presented as such, so it can prove frustrating to the author who, in the end, just wants to write and get their work out there rather than shake the pom-poms for advancing technology. While I’m proud to say I’m personally responsible for popping a few e-book cherries, I’m happy that my work is being read, period, and am more than pleased that as of the past year, I’ve attracted readers who are already on board with e-books. Instead of asking me “When’s it coming out in print”, now I’m asked “When’s your next book coming out”, allowing me to focus more on, well, writing.

    As the tide shifts more in favor of electronic over print, it’s natural that someone in the spectrum is going to deal with what I’ve termed as unintended insult. I personally hate to see either side get slammed, but it happens. When a proponent of e-books offhandedly disses print, I don’t think they mean to be any more rude than someone dissin’ e-books in favor of print. Hence the need for folks on both sides of the fence to educate one another as to where we’re coming from. :)

    ReplyReply

  196. Jody W.
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 08:43:45

    And to have trade and professional reference books readily available in eform so they are always available and portable -’ heaven!

    Oooh, and searchable, bookmarkable, cross-referenceable…. It’s possible a lot of them already are, of course, and I know there will also be people who feel there’s no substitute for flipping through the pages of a monstrous tome or series of tomes for hours and hours looking for a single obscure reference.

    Both forms of book — or all three if we count audio — have advantages and disadvantages. I prefer electronic in some instances, paper in others. Audio in others, too! I just don’t like anyone telling me one is inherently better than the other, or that the readers of one are inherently smarter than the other. What I like is having a choice. I wish I could have every one of my books in both formats. Okay, let me rephrase when I think of the fact my physical library would crash through my floor…

    I wish I had every one of my books in a standard ebook format with the option to POD it if I wanted, and I’d be willing to pay a paperback cost for my POD as well, as long as the original ebook cost was *reasonable*. Or when I happen to buy the paper book first, it would be nice if the ebook came with it or I could get it as a substantial discount if I could prove I had bought the paper form new.

    Jody W.

    ReplyReply

  197. Susan
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 08:54:56

    Jody, We’d like to offer that, too. P&E bundles, that is. Just have to figure out the mechanics of it.

    I’d love to have a live-linked bibliography and footnotes. If I’m reading an ebook, check out a footnote with a reference to another work and could then just click through to it, that would be the BEST! Especially if I could click through to the library’s edition and virtually check it out of their collection. Some libraries offer this functionality within their systems, but I don’t think these editions can “roam” on ereaders, yet.

    ReplyReply

  198. GrowlyCub
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 08:55:17

    Recently Borders cleaned their shelves of our books and actually made returns in excess of their current balance due with us. That means they have a CREDIT with us. (That's messed up.)

    Yes, it’s messed up, and whatever else one might think of the Ellora’s Cave lawsuit and the way they may or may not have mismanaged their print program, this behavior by Borders seems highly suspect!

    There definitely is something fishy going on with Borders (besides the obvious credit and management issues).

    I’d hate to lose yet another bookseller, but if they are really trying to make a buck off ‘churning’ or just make the balance sheets look better on the backs of small publishers, they need to be stopped. Right now, with the information that I’ve come across, I hope they get their ass chewed in court.

    ReplyReply

  199. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 09:15:44

    I can't and probably will never understand why some proponents of e-books insist on pushing at shoving at those of us who prefer paper because we haven't jumped on the form.

    Personally, I have no issues with people who prefer paper to ebooks, anymore than I have issues with people who prefer cash to debit cards (my husband=cash, I=debit card, yet we still maintain a happy marriage, lol).

    That doesn’t change the reality that paper as the PRIMARY method of book distribution is on its way out, just as (quite honestly), paper money’s probably on its way out. Not overnight, not five years from now, probably not even a dozen years from now. But in two generations…yeah, probably gone as the primary method. That doesn’t mean there won’t be ANY paper books, but I suspect they’ll be the exception rather than the rule by the middle of this century.

    You mentioned that your technophile children (whom I assume are adults or nearly adults) don’t want to read books on their computers because they spend all DAY on their computers when they work. A paper book is an escape from that.

    But I think you’re asking the wrong generation. My kids are all under 12. They have been exposed to paper books (picture books, novels, etc.) since they were born. But they have also been exposed to the computer screen. And oddly enough, they like reading on computers. My 11yo actually PREFERS it to reading a paper book.

    In 20-30 years, ebook reader technology will be much improved from what it is today. (Just look at a current iPhone or Blackberry compared to cell phones that came on the market just 10 years ago if you want a salient yardstick for how quickly such technology progresses.) The children of today, who have literally grown up with computers as objects of entertainment and education and everything in between, don’t have the negative association of computer=work. For them, portable electronic devices are the way of the world. They have cell phones with browsers. They text their friends instead of calling. They are reading on the screen most of the time already. The notion that they’ll find reading a book on a screen just as natural and obvious as reading a website or text message from their friends isn’t far-fetched.

    None of this is to say there’s something WRONG with paper books or with loving them. I do. But I also like ebooks, and I’d like them more if I could get a really good portable reading device with tons of storage for $100 (perhaps incorporated into my cell phone). In addition to the obvious benefit of being able to read any one of the books I stored on my reader anywhere I go, instead of just the one I happened to bring with me or pick up in the airport gift shop, I wouldn’t have to hear my husband grouse every time I bring home ANOTHER paper book for which there’s simply NO room on our shelves. I could have as many as my reader would hold and he’d never say a word!

    ReplyReply

  200. Anon so Border's lawyers don't call me
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 09:16:04

    There definitely is something fishy going on with Borders (besides the obvious credit and management issues).

    This past summer, I spoke with a Border’s employee on a personal level. She told me that moral was low at her location, as management was getting laid off so as to keep lower paid employees on board to run ship. She was in the process of seeking new employment partly due to stressful work conditions, but mainly because she was suffering a moral dilemma. She said employees were instructed to only shelve surefire sellers by better known authors and/or bigger presses. She said there were boxes of books by lesser-known authors and small presses that were stashed in the back and *never opened*. It wasn’t a case of only putting one or two of these titles on display — the titles weren’t being put out at all. She said it made her sick. If this is happening at at least this one location, where else is it happening, and at what stores besides Borders?

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply


+ 7 = 11

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: