Posts tagged publishing
Late last year, I predicted we would absolutely see ebook sales hit 25% of the book market in 2011, and possibly even break the 50% barrier this year as well, but absolutely do it in 2012 at the latest. That was a bit ahead of a lot of industry analysts, at the time.
But those predictions are looking pretty on target right now.
Last week, Fortune magazine ran an article talking to a Barnes & Nobles exec, who said that in the next twenty four months is when the industry will shift – meaning more than half of all book sales would be digital. That’s a big deal, because B&N has a lot invested in the print industry, so it’s advantageous to them to make conservative estimates.
Today, Nathan Bransford (agent, writer, and well known blogger) estimated that ebooks already represent about 20-30% of the market. Bob Mayer is predicting 50%+ ebook market share by the end of this year. Dominique Raccah said last month that she expects ebooks to reach or approach the 50% mark this year for “certain types of books”. We’ve also seem publishers announcing as much as 25% of their sales in certain areas have been ebooks in January and February.
Right now? I think we’re on line to see fiction ebooks break the 50% mark this year. I see non-fiction still lagging behind, and I think that will take longer to catch up. People still like having paper for their reference material, and not all non-fiction books work well on 7″ eInk readers. But we’ll continue to see growth there, as well.
I think the question is really not will fiction hit 50% this year – but what happens next? What happens when indies can hit the majority of their market with the click of a few buttons? What happens when bookstores cease to be the primary place people buy books?
That future is almost here.
In the wake of Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath’s discussion of Eisler’s move to self publishing (turning down a $500,000 contract in the process), Dean Wesley Smith has posted some thoughts that he disagreed with their views on how to get help in those bits of publishing a writer wasn’t able to do, or didn’t want to do: things like covers, formatting, and uploading the books.
Today Dean, Joe, and Barry all posted a chat they had where they discussed these different opinions. Dean insisted that these services were “day labor” and that authors should resist paying a percent. Joe was adamant that they were worth a 15% fee to agents-turned-book-packagers who would take your book, edit it, slap on a cover, format it, and put it up online, managing the book and sending you a check when sales came in. Barry sort of took a middle road.
I am firmly on Dean’s side in this issue. There’s so many holes in the percentage idea that it would quickly turn into a nightmare, I think. Let me hit some of the major points here. More >
Macmillan’s president was recently quoted as saying ““The fear is I get one library card and never have to buy a book again.”
Random House has announced they will be limiting library loans of their ebooks to 26 loans, after which libraries will have to pay to license the books again.
Boys, you’re just not seeing the trees for the forest here.
OK, they’ve got a legitimate fear. Libraries around the country are at risk of closing. Most of them charge “out of the area” people for a library card. It’s not beyond the realm of reason that some enterprising librarian might convince town officials to buy a bunch of ebooks, then advertise heavily to get readers from all over the world buying library cards. Then channel those funds into still more ebooks, etc. A library that did this very well could end up with tens of millions of “card holders” from all over, each able to download books. Now, libraries are limited already: if a library loans a book, it’s unavailable until returned or until the loan period runs out. But even so, the idea of a central clearing house where readers can pay an annual or monthly fee to borrow books at will is a powerful one.
Think Netflixs, for books.
So Harper-Collins is limiting downloads. Macmillan seems to be all sorts of worried. It would not surprise me if more big publishers try to follow suit. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to fear: circle the wagons!
The Thing Is, They’re Wrong.
Libraries are a net gain for publishers. They always have been, and probably always will be. No, publishers don’t get paid for every loan of a book (in the USA, at least – in some countries, libraries pay small fees for each loan). But that doesn’t mean those books equate to lost revenue. Quite the opposite.
As this blogger points out, she estimates she reads about $1200 a year in books at her local library. She buys about $320-600 in books per year, as well. But those $1200 are not lost sales for publishers. Magically making the library go away would not give her an extra $1200 a year in disposable income. What it would do is remove $1200 a year in books from her hobby, changing the hobby from something she does all the time, every day, to something she does much less frequently. And we’re much more willing to spend hundreds of dollars per year on hobbies which we do regularly.
Libraries encourage people to buy more books, because they make books available as a day to day hobby for folks who otherwise would not be able to read regularly. Because libraries serve this crucial role in building the importance of reading to people all over the country, they have an extremely positive impact on book sales, and therefore on publishers’ bottom lines.
And Libraries Will Buy eBooks Anyway
Yes, Harper-Collins. Libraries will buy ebooks anyway. They just aren’t going to buy yours. They’re going to buy the books by some other publisher. We have about 1200 publishers in the USA right now. Be a darn shame if Harper-Collins books were simply not carried in any ebook library in the country. A shame for them, and especially for the writers they publish. Libraries help spread the word about books, help encourage new readers, help build readerships. For a lot of people, if a book is not in the local library, it might as well not exist. In our increasingly ebook dominated world, the same thing will be true – for ebooks.
And if you’re limiting loans to 26 times, and your competitors are not, guess whose books libraries are going to buy? And on whose they are going to say “pass”?
Short term thinking at its finest. My advice? Work with libraries to develop good, reliable, fair methods of ebook loan distribution that will maximize readers. More readers is a good thing. People who learn to love books at libraries buy books from bookstores. The digital distribution of books has the potential to catapult reading from a second-string hobby into one done by nearly everyone. It’s a wonderful future, and it’s going to happen with, or without Macmillan and Harper Collins. Whether they are involved, or get left behind, will be up to them.
Jim Hines just wrote an interesting article the other day regarding Amanda Hocking’s success and what it means for other people. He’s speaking about her in a fairly cautious manner, though – reminding folks that she’s an outlier, and probably not indicative of what any one writer will be able to accomplish any more than say, Stephen King or J.K. Rowlings is predictive of average success in traditional publishing.
As I mentioned in my own post on the subject, “Expectations of Success”, I completely agree. Outliers are indicative of the maximum current potential of success in a given field, and are not really useful in terms of business planning for one’s own career. Jim and I differ a bit in terms of what we think one can expect for success levels, with work and effort, but we both completely agree that the work and effort are going to be the key factor.
Anyway, it’s a good article, with a nice comments thread. Check it out. ;)
For a book published *right now*, today, probably the answer is yes. Despite the fact that contracts are getting worse, and regaining rights on a contracted book today is very hard (often impossible), right now publishers still have exclusive access to big bookstores. Big Bookstores (and smaller ones) are still a very large percent of all book sales, so *right now* its still probably OK to take a loss in longterm income in exchange for the benefits of immediate visibility being in a bookstore gives your other, self published books.
The problem is, that’s quite possibly not true anymore for a book you *submit* today. It takes 12-24 months from contract to being in print. And maybe a year or more to get a contract. That’s 2-3 years (or more). A lot can happen in that time.
Borders is closing a bunch of their stores, and even odds might not exist anymore by the end of the year. B&N closed a net 7% of their stores last year, and is expected to close even more this year. The big bookstore chains are failing. Some folks are talking about ebooks hitting 50% of the market *this year* – which would simply kill the big bookstores dead, flat out. B&N would survive as an online store in bankruptcy, and Borders would flatline. It’s almost certain ebooks will hit 25% this year, which will cause a lot of bookstores to close AND cause a number of bankruptcies among publishers.
What happens to your book if your publisher goes bankrupt? They won’t all go under, but some publishing houses almost certainly will over the next two years. If you’re unlucky enough to have your book in production at a house when it goes into bankruptcy, then your book will be tied up in those proceedings for years more, before you’re able to shop it around all over again.
What do publishers offer, once the big bookstore chains are gone in two years or less? Editing, which writers can hire out. Covers, which writers can hire out. Formatting, which writers can hire out. Um…
Yeah, that’s about it.
A good book prep company costs you about $1000 to put a pro cover on a book and format it for you. On the cheap you can get that done for about $300, or less if you format yourself. Editing is expensive, with copy editing on a novel ranging from $250-$1000, and content editing being $2k+. But even if you go full out, you’re looking at maybe $3-4k for production costs per book – to produce something every bit as good as any large publisher can make today. So the math is easy, then.
And it does not favor the publisher.
All of this means that publishers are going to have to reinvent themselves in the coming years. Writers can get editing, formats, and covers anywhere, and bookstore distribution will no longer be a big factor soon. So – what can they offer? I think we’ll see publishers beginning to try to brand themselves. Something like what companies like Baen and Harlequin already have. Harlequin readers know what they are getting from a book. Many of them care less about the writer than about the label, knowing that a Harlequin book is probably going to be something they like. Baen readers are similar in SF. Baen publishes a specific flavor and style of science fiction, and readers know pretty much that if they like one Baen book, they will most likely like the next one too. Baen and Harlequin have build brands around their names, and if pushed a bit more this would add additional value.
I think publishers will be forced to move to 50% of net contracts for ebooks. Probably this year or next, we’ll see that become the norm. Already, most small presses are doing this, and as bookstores fade small presses are going to have a lot of other advantages over large presses (smaller staffs, less overhead, more nimble/faster movement of books, less hide-bound). I strongly suspect that some of the more pro small presses today will be large presses in five years.
Beyond that, I really don’t know. I know that publishers have some wonderful, creative people working for them. And I’m sure their brains are working harder on these issues than mine is. They’ll come up with ideas. Some will work, some won’t. The ones whose ideas work will still be in business three years from now.
Digital distribution of books *has* disintermediated consumer book publishers. It’s happened. It’s done. What we’re seeing now is the scramble as people a) realize that and b) figure out what they are going to do about it
There’s a huge argument raging right now about gatekeeping for literature. About who gets to do it, how literature will survive without it, about “what happens next?”
On one side, you’ve got independent publishing authors, many of whom are singing “ding, dong, the wicked Gatekeeper is dead!” Publishers used to be gatekeepers for books – they would pick from the submissions they got the books which they felt the public would pay to read. About a decade or so ago, publishers (largely) ditched that role, handing it instead to agents. Agents once had the job of just going over contracts to get the best deal for writers. Suddenly, agents had to guess what publishers were guessing that readers would pay to read. It’s really no wonder that a lot of perfectly good books were getting missed by this convoluted system. It’s not the agents’ fault, or the publishers’ fault. They were all doing the best they could to bring the books which would sell best to market.
But when you’ve got third parties guessing at what second parties guess the first party will like, it’s almost a game of telephone in reverse – and about as messy as telephone usually gets. So indie writer are thrilled by the ability to bypass the agents and publishers as gatekeepers and go direct to readers.
Other folks are not so thrilled. There are many who worry that the loss of the gatekeepers will cause a deluge of “bad” writing which will flood the market, making it impossible to find good books and turning readers off.
I think both of these groups are forgetting something very important, and that’s who the final arbiters of taste have always been:
Not agents, not publishers, but the people who buy and then read the books. These are the folks who have always decided what is good and what is not. And I think they’ll be able to continue to manage that role just fine, as things settle down. Even with a deluge of bottom-drawer novels pouring out into the market.
Gatekeeping by the Masses:
Crowd-sourced curation actually works pretty well. We see it in video, with YouTube. The videos that are not liked, sink. The videos which some cliques like rise in those groups. The videos which hit the mass public in some manner rise to the very top. It’s more or less the same in music today, too, with some indie groups able to compete pretty well for listeners with top labels. IF they are good enough to be liked by a bunch of folks. I think we’re just going to see the same thing happen in books.
Lets face it – for every hundred of us who hates having to guess if something is good or not, there is some fraction of the population who loves going out to find the next big thing. They love being one of the folks who “discovered” a new video, new blog, new writer, new musician. It’s all about the joy of discovery for the explorer mindset, and the internet provides an almost inexhaustible supply of new material to explore. It’s these folks who are out there right now looking for the next good bit of digital data so they can tell all their friends about it; who will then tell all their friends, who then tell all theirs…
New Boss: Same as the Old Boss:
What some folks have missed in their worry about change is that the real gatekeeper is not going away. Or even changing. The agents and publishers were always acting as gatekeepers for the reader – who has always been the final gatekeeper. With the importance of additional levels of gatekeeping ading (gone already, some might suggest), what we’ve really lost is the levels of folks guessing at what the real gatekeepers are looking for.
I think readers are a lot smarter and more savvy than many folks are giving them credit for. Readers know what they enjoy reading, and they’re not going to bother with books or writers they don’t like. So to the indie writers who glory in the death of the gatekeeper: never forget who the real boss is, the guy who pays your rent. The reader. For the folks who worry that the death of agent/publisher curation will cause a dark age for literature – recall that agents have only done gatekeeping for a decade or two, and publishers only for the last half century. Literature did just fine before that, and will continue doing just fine now that writers are again able to go direct to the primary gatekeeper.
The interwebs are abuzz these past weeks with news about Amanda Hocking. From unpublished author in April 2010, she now has nine (going on ten) books self published, sold 100k books in December, 450k books in January, and goodness only know how many in February – probably a lot more than January, because the mainstream news media got hold of her then, giving her a lot more exposure. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s an amazing success story, and I wish her the absolute best. I hope she keeps writing, too, because I’ve read two of her books now and enjoyed both of them (Hollowland more than Switched).
But a lot of people seem to be latching on to her as the sign of everything to come – “see, this is why you should publish independently!” Well, no, no more than you can use Stephen King as an example of why you should publish with mainstream/legacy publishing.
In any system, there will be outliers whose success greatly outstrips that of most other folks. It just happens – no one really understands the process. That’s not a good indication of the norm, though. Amanda actually blogged about this a little bit – she’s got a good head on her shoulders. I hope she remembers that the writing is the important part though, and keeps putting out good work book after book. This sort of early/fast fame is problematic for many artists.
So if Ms. Hocking’s success does NOT mean that the average indie will be able to sell 400k books a month soon, what does it mean?
A number of things have converged in my mind, of late.
There’s been a renewal in the short fiction world, for one. People are selling shorts – and doing decently with them! – for the first time in quite a while. Dean Wesley Smith points out how it’s possible to set up a solid residual income selling short stories as ebooks. Joe Konrath was blogging the other day about a novelist friend he convinced to write his first short story, publish to Kindle, and he’s already in the top 500 ebooks for a 6600 wd story selling at $2.99. That means he’s getting a ton of readers. Lot of other folks are hopping on, writing from true short length through novella/short novel length. More >
No, not really.
But if you listen to the news blurbs out there in various writing communities, it sure sounds like it. Two news bites have people riled up. Borders is entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Apple is threatening to bill Amazon 30% for all Kindle books bought via any app Amazon makes available on their app store. Both of these issues impact writers. Neither of them are cause for undue alarm.
Borders first. They’re dumping 200 stores as part of their reorganization, a little under a third of their stores. I read one report which stated all the stores closing are their superstores. Personally, I think this is likely a first wave of closures, and we’ll see more. But it’s too early to say. It’s a lot of stores gone, anyway, and they will likely only be paying some percent of the $270 million in reported back bills they owe, leaving a lot of publishers shorter on funds. Great article on this here, by the way.
So what’s the fallout?
Book sales are not going to decrease dramatically. The stores closing are mostly near a handy B&N, so customers will simply shift their purchases to a new venue. Some percent will shift to online purchases instead. I imagine the store closures will probably speed up the movement of more customers to ereaders, so ebook sales may gain ground a little faster than expected. Publishers might reduce new titles slightly in response to less sales venues, but I think they will not dip much – the recession is fading some, book sales are up, available spending money is up for the average American, and books are still going to be sold. Writers with books already out there may have some struggles over money issues with their publishers. And even a small dip in publisher purchases might increase the steady growth of indie/self publishing. But the opportunities for writers will not decrease so much as change.
Apple is working at playing hardball with Amazon. They denied Sony’s new app on the basis that it allowed in-app sales of books (rather than opening a browser that sent the user to the Sony website, like the old Sony app and current Kindle app do). There is concern that they will begin enforcing a provision that will allow them to collect 30% of all sales made via an app that is available in their app store. That’s the entire amount Amazon makes on an ebook sale, so it’s a deal-breaker. Publishers are not going to let that money come out of their share; and Amazon is not going to hand their income over either. If Apple insists on this, Amazon will likely pull their app from the Apple app store, so iOS users will be forced to download it from the Amazon website instead.
Apple should have done this ages ago, to be honest. Their own store has a fairly tiny market share compared to Amazon (5% compared to 70%, as of the last estimate I read). The last poll data I saw said that 3/4 of all iOS users who read books on their devices used Kindle software, and that 50% of iPad users either owned a Kindle as well, or planned to buy one within six months. Apple’s iBook store has been taking a beating from Kindle, and it’s not going to end any time soon. The store is just not as well designed or as user friendly. So it makes sense to slow the bleeding.
They can’t *stop* the bleeding, though. Tens of millions of their users are already invested in Kindle books, which are not compatible with their own reader. Amazon already has a rep as the best destination for ebook purchases. That’s not going to vanish. If Apple pulls the Kindle app from their store, it might force Amazon to spend some more money marketing to Apple device owners, but I don’t see it substantially changing the balance of power. It’s just too easy to pop over to Amazon, download the iOS app, and keep doing as you were doing.
For writers, there is some concern that this will mean a drop in ebook royalty from 70% to 40% for many Amazon books. I don’t think that will happen. As I mentioned before, publishers are not going to allow it; and self publishing represents such a tiny portion of overall sales that it doesn’t really matter right now. We’re along for the ride – whatever the publishers hammer out with Amazon is probably what indie writers are going to get too, at least for now. So for traditionally publisher authors, there will be no change – publishers won’t stand for it. And for indie writers, there might be a small boost in Apple sales at the expense of some Amazon sales, but it’ll be hard to pick out against the solid growth in sales on both platforms as the overall ebook market continues to swell.
Bottom line is that neither of these things is the end of the world. Panic hats can go away now. =)
I haven’t talked too much here about Author Solutions, although I’ve written extensively on the topic elsewhere. Here’s the skinny:
They take your book. For the low cost a a thousand, maybe two thousand dollars, they (their sub companies, anyway) slap a software-generated cover on the book, spend a couple of hours formatting it to print, and jet it out to Lightning Source. From there, it gets placed on Amazon, B&N.com, and most other online bookstores.
Leave aside for a moment that you can hire someone to do a real cover and formatting, including ebook, for a little more than half the cheapest “package” these folks offer for just print (ebook is generally about $300 extra – pretty good pay for an hour of work). The worst is that after they place your book, they are keeping somewhere between 50% and 90% of the profit from each sale. For doing absolutely nothing, they get at least half of the writer’s earnings for as long as the writer keeps the book with them.
If the book is badly written, they lose nothing, because they’re charging 2-10 times industry standards for their packages. If the book sells well, though, they stand to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the poor writer is left scratching his head about why SOME authors are making a good living from selling 2000 copies of ebooks per month, and he is making next to nothing.
Author Solutions and their sub companies have been panned by Writer Beware, have been revealed all over the internet as the scams they are. And now – now, Writer’s Digest, probably the best known writing magazine and writing book publisher, has partnered with this bunch of con artists to produce a new company: Abbott Press.
Abbott has one thing going for it, at least. They’re only taking 50% of the profit per book. That’s better than some. But it’s still 50% more than the author should have to pay.
The author is taking all risk: paying an up front fee for everything (and, as I mentioned earlier, paying far too much for those services as well). Abbott takes zero risk. And puts out zero effort after the few hours to get a cover and layout done, attach an ISBN (which costs them $1), and upload the book where it needs to go. But in return, they are getting half of everything your book will earn.
No. Absolutely not. These companies are predators which exist to target writers who are desperate to see their work in print, and will agree to just about anything just to have that happen. They exist to take advantage of people who don’t know any better.
And now Writer’s Digest has joined the club as the newest con artist in the house. I am appalled. They are taking a position of responsibility and abusing the trust of their readers to make money at their expense. A magazine whose supposed role is to educate and inform writers should be warning people about the threat these companies represent, not pairing up with them to rake in the cash.
Bad Writer’s Digest. Bad.