Amazon announced yesterday that Kindle e-books are now outselling all formats of paper books (combined) in their UK store. They passed this mark a long time ago in the US, but people in the UK have been slower to buy Kindles and adopt electronic reading.
Tag archive: Old-style books
I’m a big fan of the SF Convention, Ad-Astra, which is described on its website as a “literary fan-run convention” with panels on writing, publishing, media, creative works, comics…you get the idea.
But today I decided to try a little experiment: I went to the panel schedule and did a search for the word ‘eBooks.’ My concern is that the emphasis of the conference seems to be totally on the old publishing model, and since ad-astra is a reference to a latin phrase that translates as “through hardship to the stars,” I think of this as a forward looking convention.
So guess what my search turned up? Nada. It’s as if the very word eBooks has yet to be invented. I am happy to see that there is a panel on marketing for indie-authors, so you could fairly claim I’m nit-picking. Yet the panel description could have been written to attract self-published authors long before eBooks even existed.
The Publishing FAQ Panel does pose the question “on-line versus print, independent publishing versus publishing house?” Since Susanne Church, a friend and great SF writer, is on the panel I’ll definitely go, but I’m bracing myself for more of the “don’t indie-pub an eBook or it’ll destroy your career” meme that I heard at SFContario.
I’ll be tweeting from the con, something I’ve never done before, so I’ll keep you posted. You can follow me (McPherson_Mike) if you want the inside scoop. Maybe Ad-Astra will surprise me and truly be reaching through hardship to the stars.
My first published shorts stories were in a small Canadian magazine called Storyteller–alas, now extinct. Since Storyteller promised stories that “could only happen in Canada” I know these stories won’t necessarily have world wide appeal, although if you like coming-of-age and you want to know what it’s like on the northern frontier, these might still be the stories for you.
My library card had expired. Gasp!
I’ve been reading eBooks for the last few years, either on my ancient Sony ( two year old technology) or on my spiffy new Kindle, but thanks to agency pricing, I have renewed my card and started borrowing dead-tree books again. That’s right, me the big eBook fan, has had to crack open some weighty volumes to get all the information I crave. But the publishers made me do it.
In an effort to fight the rising tide of eBooks, the Big Six publishers adopted the agency pricing model, where they set the price and no one is allowed to discount, and they’re setting the price of eBooks higher than paperbacks. So an electronic download, which doesn’t require logging companies, pulp mills, trucks, printing presses, more trucks and heated bookstores are now priced higher than dead-tree books. Let’s not even get into the incredibly environmentally unfriendly paperback returns policy, which sees the cover of an unsold book ripped off and returned to the publisher for credit, and the rest thrown into the recycling bin so that more trucks, pulp mills and trucks can get rev up their engines.
But what really gets me steamed is that great authors are being squeezed by the new “industry standard” on eBook royalties. This cartel of six has decided that they will not sign a single contract that pays an author more than 17% of the list price of a novel. Their stated claim that they must have this deal in order to make a profit on eBooks doesn’t ring true when you read Publishers Marketplace, which reports on each publisher’s financial statements as they’re released, and it turns out they’re all making a good profit on eBooks. It’s reduced hardcover and paperback sales that are hurting them. So they’re using eBook sales to subsidize the old industry at the expense of authors.
So I’m boycotting agency priced books, and it’s really easy to tell which books are subjected to this policy. If it costs more than $9.99, and more than the paperback, it’s an agency priced book. If Amazon can’t sell you a discounted copy, it’s an agency priced book.
For instance, a friend recommended The World Without Us as essential reading for all apocalyptic fiction authors. Amazon’s price for a Kindle version is $11.20, but the paperback is $10.20. I’ve seen far more glaring examples, where the Kindle edition is near $14 and the paperback is around $10 dollars.
This won’t last, of course. Someday one of the really big authors will say goodbye and indie-pub (or worse, sign with Amazon) so that they can collect the 70% royalty. When that happens others will follow suit, and the publishers claim that they have the best authors will melt away. Then they’ll want to lure someone like John Grisham back, and they’ll offer him a 35% eBook royalty, and every publisher after that will not be able to claim that 17% is the “industry standard.”
Meanwhile, out of the millions of indie-pubbed books, some cream will rise to the top. These authors will keep selling under $9.99 to get the 70% royalty, and as they build their careers and become in demand, they’ll eat into sales of books from traditional publishers. The only solution for the Big Six will be to lower the price of eBooks in order to compete.
But for now, I’m off to the library. I got an e-mail notice that the hold I placed (via the library’s website) on The World Without Us has been filled. Oh, and I’ve been loaning eBooks from the library too for my Sony eReader. Thank you public library. You’re a forward looking institution.
What most people don’t know about science fiction conventions is that a lot of them are not about actors or TV shows but about SF writers, and the discussions at the panels are educational, lively and provide a lot of insights into the publishing world. But yesterday I discovered that sf cons are not immune to the controversy over eBooks and indie publishing.
I attended a panel about “The Business of Writing” at SFContario in Toronto. The con was winding down, and I settled in expecting to hear the usual advice for want-to-be authors: get an agent, write short stories, and don’t pay reading fees to agents.
But instead author Robert J. Sawyer inadvertently dropped a bomb on me. When asked what the biggest business mistake a newbie writer could make he replied, “self-publishing or self-ePublishing.” He might as well have said, “Michael McPherson has made the biggest mistake of his career.” While Sawyer recognizes me at cons and remembers that he has mentored me in the past, he probably has no idea that I’ve indie-published. The comment was not just directed at me.
What he said (forgive the paraphrasing) is that only outliers have been successful in self-publishing either in print or electronically, and that you will have “vanishingly few sales” and never succeed as a proper science fiction author if you go the self-publishing route.
Yet, as I listened to this I was surprised to discover that I was encouraged and even more certain that indie-publishing is the road I want to travel. I know that sounds crazy, and I was reminded of a line from the movie Hoffa, so smartly delivered by Jack Nicholson. When several different people told him he should call off a strike, he replied, “If everyone says I’m wrong, I must be right.”
I know that this is the height of arrogance and conceit, but I also know what Mr. Sawyer had said earlier at his Kaffeekaltsch: it will be increasingly difficult and perhaps impossible for a science fiction author to make a living just from writing.
An indication of the direction the industry is going can be found in the subscription numbers of Analog Magazine: at its peak back in the seventies it had 160,000 subscribers, but now it has around 28,000. I’m also willing to bet a lot of those are older boomers, so as that generation goes on their ultimate adventure, Analog will probably also go down forever.
I’m sure Sawyer’s career will be fine because he’s so well known and has won every important science fiction writing award at least once, but a newbie like me–fighting to break into a dying industry–has nothing to lose by taking the road less traveled. The big six are struggling to adapt to eBooks, and their desperate throes are creating market opportunities.
If I landed a contract today with any publisher, my debut novel would have to compete head-to-head with Robert J. Sawyer’s umpteenth novel–one $10 paperback versus another. But I’ve checked the prices of Sawyer’s Kindle editions and discovered that they’re priced between $10-$13, with many of them more expensive than their paperback editions.
Wow! That means Vampire Road at 99 cents is less than one-tenth the price of most of Sawyer’s novels, and when I launch the prequel, The Book of Bertrand, at $2.99 it’ll still be less than a quarter of the price. This cut-rate is the only hope for a newbie author trying to seize a piece of the incredibly shrinking pie.
I considered putting my hand up and debating this with Mr. Sawyer–starting a lively old fight–but most of the authors were enjoying the last panel of the conference, and I knew there was little hope of swaying hearts and minds. The proof will come in the next couple of years, but even if I have “vanishingly few sales,” I suspect it will be more than if I was still desperately waiting to hear back from a publisher. And I’ll make this promise, if I haven’t had any luck by SFContario Four, I’ll volunteer for a panel: why ePublishing may not be for you. I love being on panels. Either way, it’ll be an interesting ride.
The crowd that clings to paper books has a standard set of excuses as to why they prefer dead, pulped trees over electrons as their delivery system for words.
Excuse # 1: I can’t lend an e-book to a friend like I can with a paperback.
That argument fell apart when Amazon introduced their share function, which allows readers to share e-books the same way you would with paper: you electronically lend it to a friend for three weeks, during which you can’t access the book (just like with paper books) and at the end it reverts to you, and your friend no longer has access to the book. Hey! That’s even better than a paper book because I don’t have to go chasing down my friends to get my books back.
Excuse # 2: I can’t borrow e-books from the library.
Actually libraries have been loaning e-pub format books (think Sony E-reader) for ages, although the lending systems have been plagued with the challenges you’d expect from a new technology. But this morning everything changed again: Amazon is going to partner with Overdrive to bring Kindle format e-books to 11,000 US libraries. This is going to dramatically improve the current delivery system, and it’s going to put more pressure on publisher’s like Macmillan and Simon and Schuster, who have yet to allow lending of e-versions of their books, and HarperCollins and the others who have placed many restrictions on e-book lending, much to the consternation of librarians.
Excuse #3: I can’t take an e-reader into the bathtub.
Put an e-reader into a large ziplock bag and it’s actually better in the bathtub than a paper book. Turning pages is a simple press of a button rather than fumbling with wet fingers on dry pages. Better yet, if you drop your ziplock-bagged e-reader in the tub it’ll stay dry and unharmed, unlike a paper book, which will require a long drying period that may still fail to prevent mold. This assumes, of course, that you don’t fall asleep, roll over onto your e-book, shove it to the bottom of the tub and sit on it for an hour. I can’t help you there.
Excuse # 4: But I like the smell and feel of paper books.
That smell is printing chemicals, binding glue, and if it’s an old book, mold and mildew. Most people like the look and feel of candlelight too, but how many people stuck with candles as their primary light source after electric light bulbs were invented? I’m sure there were hold outs who didn’t trust the new-fangled electricity, and I’ll bet they had a long list of excuses as to why they didn’t want anything to do with that new technology.
The reason e-books will become the standard is that rather than being as good as paper books, they’re actually better. The publishers who accept this first will be the most successful during the next ten years.
Guest Post by Melanie Fogel
Not everyone who reads books keeps them. Those of us who do line our walls with books do so because we love books. We like looking at them; we like holding them. Some of us even enjoy dusting them.
I’ll assume somewhere in the world there are people who like to “show off how smart they are by what’s on their bookshelf,” but that’s not me, nor the people I know. And on behalf of all book lovers, I take exception to your dismissing us like that.
Book lovers are a subclass of readers. I suppose there are book lovers who don’t read, but I’ve yet to meet one. They may not love books for the same reasons I and the people I know do.
There’s something wonderful about sitting in a room surrounded by books. It’s like sitting in a room surrounded by friends and family: no matter where you cast your eye, you see someone with whom you have an emotional bond. And unlike family, you can chuck the ones who made you angry or sad. So there’s only good memories in a room full of books.
Books aren’t just containers for ideas, they’re artifacts to appreciate in their own right: their colours, their textures, their smells. As packages, they beat heart-shaped chocolate boxes hands down. More than that, reading—at least in the age of paper books—is a tactile experience, and just touching a book can recall memories. Opening one is even better.
Unlike electronic books, paper books can hold more than ideas. Signatures, for example. Or bookplates, which are somehow more intriguing when you’ve acquired the book second hand, and you wonder why anyone who took the trouble to paste in a bookplate would later give the book up. Then there’s the miscellany of what else you use for a bookmark: postcards, photographs, shopping receipts, dollar bills. Or bookmarks themselves—be they embossed leather gifts from friends, souvenirs of a book launch, a giveaway from a bookstore no longer in business. All memories at least as rich as photographs, that spring at you unexpectedly when you open a book.
A room lined with books is a room filled with potential that you can “see.”
I have no doubt that today there are children who will become adult readers who’ve never read a paper book. They won’t know what they’re missing, which is probably a good thing for them. But I have to wonder what they’ll fill their rooms with, and if it’ll be anything near as satisfying as a room full of books.