Friday, April 23, 2010

More on eBookery

So I took a break from real work this afternoon, and did some more research on eBooks versus paper books. Like the idea or not, the ebook train is 'a'comin', and for the biggest reason of all in American biz:


Not "green," but "long green ..."

No inventory. No shipping cost. No spoilage if the warehouse floods. Very little overhead, almost instant delivery.

I'll always be a treeware guy at heart, I like the feel of an old book in hand, and the batteries never run out, but I'm a dinosaur and I can hear the nasty little egg-sucking mammals skritching around down there in the underbrush ...

At the risk of repeating what I've offered up here before, some things:

An ebook version of a short novel that sells for $6.99 makes the writer about four bucks a copy each one that sells.

The major publisher's paperback version of that same book makes him seventy cents. A hardback? Maybe two or three dollars, per, depending on the cost and royalty, but that's with a $25 cover price.

There are between three and five million Kindles, more or less, floating around. Ten times that many iPhones and iPods, and probably this year alone, four or five million iPads reach consumers. Not to mention Sony readers and laptop computers.

At Smashwords, you can have your book translated into HTML, Java, RTF, Text, PDF, ePub, mobi, palm doc and LRF, and if you qualify, have an ISBN # your book can be sent to all the major ebook houses to be put into their catalogs.

Doesn't cost you anything. No advance, and you won't hit the bestseller lists until you are already on them, but even so, you can sell a handful and still make some money.

For the fun of it, I checked with to see what a POD paperback would run.

You are gonna love this: $21, plus shipping. That could come down a little, but you can't list anything that size for under almost twenty bucks -- they won't let it out of the house for general sales, and my cost if I want to buy them? Fifteen dollars apiece. On Lulu, I make nine bucks per copy. If it sells on, how much of that $21 do I get?

Seventy-eight cents.

Wonder how many of those I'd sell? Probably about as many as sold of the other title I put up there, which is to say hardly any.

People talk about how they love paper books, but they vote with their pocketbooks more often than not.


Ed said...

You can't not do it with the $'s breakdown you show - hope they stay that way - and with more and more of the readers going to sell....the term getting in on the ground floor comes to mind. It should make for more of the written and writers too - good or bad.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes - being an unrepentant "running dog" capitalist, I'm definitely for the author making as much as he or she can from their product. At present, unfortunately, as a voracious reader, I already find it difficult to find new authors (or subjects) in my "copious" spare time, to read for pleasure. (Was it “Sturgeon’s Law” that said 90% of SciFi that is written is/was crap?) I also suspect it will become more difficult for all concerned, to find competent and entertaining authors to read for pleasure once the field goes entirely (mostly?) digital.

I haven't seen any process beyond what is currently in effect that will address this concern. I'm sure some new marketing process, or variant of an "old" one will effectively address this subject in the future, (that's what a successful entrepreneur/capitalist does - right?) :-)

BTW – I’ve read most of your work except for the Conan and Star Wars stuff – I just don’t care for that type of fantasy, sorry. Boswell, quoting S.Johnson, said (badly paraphrased here) only an idiot writes for anything other than money – so I understand why you’ve written works other than the one’s I enjoy. I especially like the Matador series: more – please, and soon!!!

My wife even reads that series. She thinks that you are a hell of a storyteller, (as do I) and because she’s been practising a couple of martial arts (blade and other styles) for decades, and she likes the way you portray your women characters.

I wish I could find more of your older work in hardback, as my paperbound copies are becoming rather worn from being re-read every year or so. Enough Fan-boy gushing for now, thanks for the hours of pleasure you’ve given my wife and I over the years.



Brad said...

I've been fighting the eBook/eReader thing for a while now. Like you, I love the feel of a good paper book in my hands. I like the old musty dusty smell of books in a used book store or found in someone's attic.

I'm going to miss that.

eBooks don't rot or mildew or get borers. They don't get dogeared from some inconsiderate jerk bending the pages because they're too lazy to find a bookmark.

I see they day coming when I buy an eReader.

Any personal recommendations?

Steve Perry said...

I expect as soon as I get a little bit ahead of the bills, I'm going to get an iPad as my ereader. Does everything that the Kindle does, plus in color and with a much better interface. Turn a page on the Kindle, you push a button. On Mac products, like you would in a paper book -- you can even get the sound EFX if you want:

Of course, I'm a Mac guy anyway. Wintel boxes work fine, but Macs offer a bit more elegance, in my mind. You pay for it, but when it comes to that, I don't mind.

Wouldn't be surprise to see come up with an app for the IPad -- they already have one for the iPod and iPhone, so you can get anything they sell for the Kindle that way.

In six months, there will be a bunch of ereaders around, just like the Droid phones did in re iPhones, but I see the iPad as my next toy.

Evan Robinson said...

Already is a Kindle app for the iPad. Don't have an iPad yet, so I don't know how different (if any) it is from the iPhone app.

Steve Perry said...

Didn't take long for to climb onboard, did it?

Evan Robinson said...

I expect that it was a relatively straightforward port from the iPhone version, with additional functionality delayed until basic functionality was present.

I'll find out next week when the 3G version of the iPad ships. :-)

Jordan said...

They were, in fact, ready before the iPad launch date. Same development environment, most of the same codebase. Just make some images vector based or include multiple copies, and make sure you use the new design conventions. The kindle app is already on your iPhone or iPod Touch, as a matter of fact -- they include both in the same application in the same tradition that they included both intel and PowerPC apps in the same app bundle for their desktops. Eats up your storage space a bit, but you gain in convienance.

One other interesting note -- the ebook price you quote is eminently more reasonable to a consumer than the going rates in the iBook or Amazon stores now. As much as $15 for a book I can usually pick up in hardback for $20 off Amazon? Except I can't loan it and am dependent on their good graces to even keep reading it (see the 1984 debacle)? I'm all for it, but let's not pretend ebooks should cost to close to as much as the real books.

And don't even get me started on the fact that you never have to remainder an ebook. I pick up $6 hardbacks of my favorite books all the time simply by being patient. Ebooks don't have that benefit for the consumer (or the detriment for the publisher or retailer) so they can again afford to be much cheaper.

I know the industry isn't likely to adobt Baen style rates, but it seems to be working well for them. I know ive read a ton more of their stuff too because the pricing was so good. Spent more money in the end than if they'd have priced higher since I found authors i liked and exhausted their catalog.

Jordan said...

Oh, also. Thought I'd mention i typed that whole comment on an iPad. Good luck doing that on your kindle. ;-)

jks9199 said...

What I bet will happen is something I've seen described in a couple of places.

Bookstores will carry some existing copies of stuff that they know there'll be demand for, collector's editions, etc. You'll have two other options: ebook for your reader device, and they'll have a printer/binder device in the back. Look at the ebook "samples" on a reader in the store, or otherwise go in and want a hardcopy? Kind of like ordering a pizza -- make your order & pick it up in an hour or less. (Sort of like getting digital prints of your pictures today.)

Brad said...

Here's a question, how do I get you to sign a copy of a book for me, if I get it eStyle?

I have several books signed by folks I know or have met, they stay in my library and I reread them once a year or so. Special place in my heart for those books. How do you do it the electronic way?

Just ain't the same.

Dan Moran said...

You wave in the direction of the buyer, thinking warm thoughts.

Steve Perry said...

I can email a scanned signature, or snail mail a tip-in plate -- a sticker -- the latter of which I already do for folks I'm not apt to bump into who send an SASE and ask.

Might get some tip-in plates that say, something like, "ebook autograph for _______," or "Thanks for buying my eNovel!"

There are ways to add a personal touch. I have a rack of autographed books myself, but I don't read them just because they are autographed.

Some things are going by the wayside as we move along, like bringing apples for the motorman's horse when you take the trolley to work.

Something lost, something gained ...

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to picking up an ebook reader soon. My biggest concerns right now are waiting for a device with all of the features I want, and seeing reasonable prices for the books.

The latter is a really big issue for me right now. The only reason I can see for the hardcovers to be 3 times the price of mass market paperbacks is the size of the book, the binding, the heavier, larger paper, & the dust jacket. That's irrelevant in an ebook. I'm paying for the story & the quality control (editorial oversight, etc.). The electronic formatting process should be substantially less than making a physical mmpb, so that should be the target price (if not less). When I see an ebook being marketed for $15.00 or more, my immediate knee jerk reaction is "greedy yahoos."

I also want to see the author receiving a substantially higher percentage of the sales. I appreciate the efforts of the publishers to insure quality, but without the author, there is nothing to publish, while in the emerging market, a good author may not be quite so reliant on publishers as in the past.

I used to think that I would never want to give up my paper books. I'm changing my outlook. I don't care about signed copies, and while I like paper books, the advantages of the ereaders are overtaking paper. I suspect that either Christmas this year, or my anniversary next year, an ereader of some description is going to be on my wish list.

As far as quality for new writers, if the first chapter is made available online for free as a teaser, the reader can get a feel for a given writer's skill. Whether they end up liking the story is a different matter. I've bought books that went directions I didn't expect, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so much. But that's par for the course, and it wasn't so much a quality issue as a storytelling issue.

It's the quality arena that's going to be the challenge as more authors start self-publishing in online media. But there's so much opportunity for new entrepreneurs to develop the online market, and for authors to have more control, and readers to have more choice! I'm really looking forward to what the next decade will bring.

Shawn R.

Travis said...

As someone who has moved more then most digital has finally won me over. A crap ton of books is a great thing. I crap ton of books down the stairs, into the u-haul, into storage, into a u-haul and finally to the new place kind of sucks.

jks9199 said...

I think you discussed this elsewhere... but I was just thinking about the breakdown on costs.

Do you happen to know how much a book costs the publisher to make? For example, what are the costs of producing that $6.99 paperback or $25.95 hardback? How much profit is there, out of which to pull the author's cut?

That's just something that always bugs me when people talk about someone at one point in the production/distribution chain of a product not getting the money they deserve...

Steve Perry said...

Good luck on getting those book cost numbers. Nobody in the publishing biz wants to let those out.
Now and again you will hear some bandied about, but the truth of those is questionable.

Here's the general model:

1. Author – Creation. 8-15% Royalties.
2. Publisher – Being the Curator, Polishing, Manufacturing, Marketing. 45-55% (includes Author’s Royalties).

Note that Printing accounts for just 10% of the book price.
3. Distributor – 10%.
4. Retailers – 40%.

Hardbacks cost more than paperbacks to make, but you can get an idea of profit when you know that the big book chains and box stores buy them at 40% off cover price.

With ebooks, all that goes out the window. No more paperbacks vs hardbacks, no printing costs, no storage, shipping, and retail is online.

How that shakes out, I dunno, but if I offer a book for $5.99 as an e-title, I make more than five times as much royalty than if its a mass market paperback and the publisher doesn't have to do anything but list it for their piece -- I do the layout, copy editing, cover art.

Given my druthers, I'd prefer somebody else do those things, but given the amount of time it takes to write a novel, those bits are only a small part.

If I have clean copy, I can choose a font, justify the type, change the underlines to italics -- and if I'm writing for electronic publishing in the first place, I can skip that step. I can store it in a format I like, and that all might might take one day.

Took me about twenty minutes to design and assemble a cover, ten minutes more for the cover copy.

I won't sell as many that way as traditional paper, because of the marketing, but I can make as much money if I sell 20% as many copies. Still have to wait to be paid, and no advance, which is a big deal, but all things considered, it's better than poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

jks9199 said...

Be kind of interesting over the next few years as more and more people go the e-book route for self-publishing and small press stuff... I wonder if some of the paper publishers (assuming they stay in business in a pretty similar format -- and I think they probably will) don't start waiting to see how an e-book sells, and then pick it up for wider publishing. For example, say that you sell 1000 copies of Master of Paramor as an e-book. One of your publishers looks at this, and has a thought along the lines of "well, crap, if it's selling that well with NO advertising worth mentioning... I bet it'll sell like hotcakes with some actual effort at it!