Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Funny Story About Books

I posted a piece here recently about Paul Simon and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and during the writing thereof, I wanted to include some material I had read in a book about the music biz in 1970. This bit was in David Browne's book, Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970.

I reviewed Browne's book a few weeks ago here, under the title Fire and Rain.

So, I got up from the computer and toodled on into the living room where my bookcase with rock biographies is to look for it. 

Couldn't find it. 

I knew what the cover looked like, I knew I hadn't lent it to anybody, but it wasn't there. 

Hmm. Maybe I left it on the floor and it got kicked under the bed?


Where the dickens else could it be? I knew I had it somewhere–

Oh, Jeez! It came to me all of a sudden where I'd put it:

It was in my iPad.


This was the moment when I realized that my transition into reading ebooks versus paper ones was maybe not going to be that difficult. I didn't remember the form it was in.

More, the piece I wanted was easy to find. Plugged in the key phrase, and there it was, in the list that popped up in the search pane. 

I've been reading George R.R.'s latest fantasy, A Dance With Dragons, and it's hard to do in bed. The book literally weighs three pounds, and it leaves a red indentation on my chest where I have it propped. 

(Of the 298,000 copies of this sold on the first day, the most for any novel's laydown this year, 170,000 of them were hardback footbreakers, and good for George. 110,000 copies were ebooks. 18,000 were audiobooks. And if you like the Song of Fire and Ice series, you'll like this one–the Lannisters and Freys, the Imp and the Dragon Queen, Hodor, the direwolves and Jon Snow at the Wall, they are all there ...)

In this case, the iPad weighs considerably less than George's hardback, and if I'd had to pay for the book myself, I would have gone the e-route. Because apparently my memory of the book's contents will far outweigh the form in which I read it. 

Plus the cost is less. Can't go by retail, because a $35 hardback bestseller gets discounted all over the place,, Costco, WallyWorld, the mark-up being 40%, so you won't pay $35 for it.

George's book retail on is a deep-discount $18.81 for the hardback; it's $14.99 for the Kindle, just under a four buck difference, not all that much, and free shipping. B&N's break is $19.25/$14.99, a little farther apart. Still, if you save four bucks on every book you buy, that mounts up.

How this works out for George, hypothetically? Well, let's say he gets standard ebook royalties, currently 25%. His piece of that 110,000 ebook sale? $412,000.   

If on the hardback, he gets standard royalties, say, 12% of the sales, and you factor in the discounts so the books average, say, $20 a hit? Then he makes $408,000 on the 170,000 copies sold there. 

Here's the fun math: Sixty thousand more treeware units sold, but he makes eight grand less. Not that he's hurting for lunch money either way.

Poor George. Only $820,000 royalties on the first day of sales alone, and that's not counting the audiobooks. I dunno what the royalties there are, but they run $40-50 bucks a whack for the discounted unabridged, and if he'd getting the same royalties as on the hardback, another paltry hundred grand. So on Tuesday, George made just under a million bucks. 

On Tuesday. 

Which do you think the book company likes better? The one where they have to pay to print half a million copies, some of which are going to be returned, pay to warehouse them and ship them, then process returns, or the one where they upload one file to and then wait for their check, no other costs?

And the beat goes on. 


Anonymous said...

This is what I've been saying forever. But it seems that no one really believes that the format doesn't make more of a difference until they actually experience it.

Steve Perry said...

I do think it depends on the reader. I've read stuff on my iPod and my wife's iPhone, and that tiny screen isn't a joy. The size of the iPad gives you a full page in a hardback book. Kindles and Nooks and so forth are at least a paperback's page.

I can comfortably read a magazine on my iPad, though newspapers still aren't close to the same.

For book reading, something close to a real book in size makes it easier for me.

Mick said...

Well because you books are easier to get electronically now, I've finally broke down and got a Kindle. So expect a small bump in sales over the next few weeks. And bring out the Matador series, my paperbacks are getting hammered.