•    The New York Times reports that “In E-Books, Publishing Houses Have a Rival in News Sites”.
    Swiftly and at little cost, newspapers, magazines and sites like The Huffington Post are hunting for revenue by publishing their own version of e-books, either using brand-new content or repurposing material that they may have given away free in the past.
    The easier it becomes to publish ebooks, the more publishers we will see. # (3)
Thursday, 8 September, 2011
Monday, 5 September, 2011
  •    Alan Cooper on independent bookstores in the age of Amazon:
    Rather than seeing Amazon’s strength as competitive, brick-and-mortar stores should see it as liberating: they no longer have to maintain such a large, expensive inventory of books or maintain distributor relationships to order requested books.
    Instead, the local store can offer something unique and desirable: a physical place for readers to go where they are supported and welcome, and where the books on view are personally selected, intimately displayed, and available for perusal. No internet company can provide that.
    It’s a beautiful idea — though I suspect there would be some overlap with the library model (which isn’t doing so well). Worth a read for the analysis on historic trends that’s brought us here. # (0)
Sunday, 4 September, 2011

Be the Future?

Be the Monkey: Ebooks and Self-Publishing, a Conversation Between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath, by Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath. Reviewed by John Patrick Tormey.

No question: there’s a revolution going on here.—Barry Eisler

Best-selling spy novelist Barry Eisler and successful thriller novelist and self-publishing advocate Joe Konrath’s ebook Be the Monkey is a sprawling discussion as recorded on GoogleDocs; a loud cheer for what they call “indie-publishing”, and an autopsy of the publishing industry as it transitions from a paper-based model to one dominated by digital texts.

Indie-publishing is an umbrella title for everything from self-publishing to new publishing companies working outside the model established by the “Big 6/Legacy” institutions that have dominated the industry for decades, and how that may be coming to an end.

In the part one, the authors pivot off Eisler’s announcement that he passed on a half-a-million dollar advance from a big name publisher in favor of self publishing, claiming he made the decision for monetary as well as creative reasons, and was inspired in part by Konrath’s move away the world of legacy publishing and his proselytizing to other writers to make the same choice.

Konrath and Eisler argue that the paper book is now on the road to becoming a “niche market,” and writers and readers will be better off in the new world of the ebook. It is a convincing theory, one reinforced by Amazon’s announcement that in 2010 the company sold more books for the Kindle ereader than paper copies, along with the popularity of the Kindle, the Nook and the iPad, a point Eisler highlights early on. This means that writers will make more money while readers will pay less and enjoy access to a wider range of content. The numbers used to support the claim are pretty convincing:

Joe: …the 25% royalty on ebooks [legacy publishers] offer is actually 14.9% after everyone gets their cut. 14.9% on a price the publisher sets.

Barry: …a 25% royalty on the net revenue produced by an ebook equals 17.5% of the retail price after Amazon takes its 30% cut, and 14.9% after the agents takes 15% of the 17.5%.

Think of it this way: by publishing a novel or story collection as an ebook on Smashwords or B&N or Amazon, the author retains 70% of the profit from the sales of his or her work. That is a margin too wide to ignore, or as Konrath puts it, “…in the long run a 70% royalty wins.”

The benefits of circumventing the legacy publishers don’t stop there. From the shortened time between when a book is finished to when it reaches the market, to the unprecedented level of creative control, plus a healthy—and growing—list of the indie-published authors enjoying healthy sales, Be the Monkey does, at times, make a very convincing case for going it alone.

Or as alone as possible. In some of the most informative and forward-thinking sections of the discussion, Konrath and Eisler muse on what the digital revolution in book-making will mean for the industry at large, beyond the realm of writers and readers.  They refuse to glorify or gloss over the substantial workload an author is shouldering by avoiding legacy route. The self-published author assumes the role of writer, editor, and copyeditor. They become responsible for cover art, front and back cover copy, the writer’s biography, formatting text, marketing and promotion…the list goes on.  Konrath believes this space may be filled by what he calls “E-stributors…a combination of publisher and manager…” that will take over these tasks for a one-time fee or a percentage of the book’s profits, leaving the author to concentrate on what is his most important job: writing.

When I used the word “sprawling” to describe Be the Monkey, understand that what Eisler and Konrath have written isn’t an actual book; it is a series of conversations recorded over a long stretch of time that covered a wide swath of subjects.

  •    Lev Grossman argues that we are losing non-linearity in the shift to ebooks:
    We usually associate digital technology with nonlinearity, the forking paths that Web surfers beat through the Internet’s underbrush as they click from link to link. But e-books and nonlinearity don’t turn out to be very compatible. Trying to jump from place to place in a long document like a novel is painfully awkward on an e-reader, like trying to play the piano with numb fingers. You either creep through the book incrementally, page by page, or leap wildly from point to point and search term to search term. It’s no wonder that the rise of e-reading has revived two words for classical-era reading technologies: scroll and tablet. That’s the kind of reading you do in an e-book.
    The codex is built for nonlinear reading — not the way a Web surfer does it, aimlessly questing from document to document, but the way a deep reader does it, navigating the network of internal connections that exists within a single rich document like a novel.
    This is a very interesting, if odd, argument to make. I’ve always assumed that digital is as non-linear as they come. But Grossman may be wrong — he’s assuming that the methods for navigating an ebook will always be lousier than that of navigating a codex. That may yet change. # (1)
Monday, 15 August, 2011
  •    Impeccable Petunia is the most beautiful web fiction site I’ve seen this year. It’s got some clever design going for it, and has gorgeous illustrations for each chapter. (Some background on the project is also available over at the Huffington Post). # (1)
  •    “Game of Thrones” Author talks about Dwarves, Dragons and Delving into eBooks. At Authors@Google, no less:
    After the talk, I was able to chat with Martin a little about ebooks. The author says he carries his e-reader with him now whenever he travels, whereas in the past, he would incur overweight baggage charges because of the 10 or more physical books he would inevitably bring along. But he was also concerned that digital piracy might do to the book industry what it did to the music industry.
    Ah, the sweet irony about such things: on the one hand an ebook is small enough, and light enough, to carry in a thumbdrive; on the other it’s small enough, and light enough, to copy and spread. # (1)
  •    Kevin Kelly on ‘Post-Artifact Booking‘:
    The primary shift is one of thinking of the book as a process rather than artifact. We are moving from the culture of the book to the culture of booking. Our focus is no longer on the book, the noun, but on booking, the verb — on that continuous process of thinking, writing, editing, writing, sharing, editing, screening, writing, screening, sharing, thinking, writing — and so on that incidentally throws off books. Books, even ebooks, are by-products of the booking process.
    This is, of course, not without its problems — Kelly mentions in passing how this new relationship is already allowing spammers to pollute the Kindle marketplace. (via John Tormey) # (0)
Thursday, 4 August, 2011

The New Nook

This guest post is written by Jim Zoetewey, author of The Legion Of Nothing (my favourite long-running web fiction work). When I posted about the upcoming Nook, Jim contacted me and said that he’d probably get one. I asked him for a review, and here it is:

So first off, so you know where I’m coming from, I’m a web developer. I do some programming, and a minimal amount of graphic design. I’ve got a long term interest in user-interfaces, and did some coursework in designing and testing them in graduate school.

I’m no expert in usability, however, and so I’ll mostly be coming at this from a reader’s perspective.

The new nook is obviously an attempt at taking a bite out of the cheapest Kindle. While most nooks are $200 and above, the new nook is $139, just above the cost of the Kindle. Unlike other nooks, it’s black and white, Wi-Fi only, can’t be used as a web browser, and can’t use Android apps. In its favor, it’s got a touchscreen, a total of two buttons on the entire device, claims of a two month battery life, and e-ink screen technology.

The Kindle Vs The New Nook Touch

In short, the new nook is built to do only one thing well — read books.

I think it does that. This is mostly because of the touchscreen. All you have to do is click on the right side of the page to go forward, and the left side to go backward. Doing anything other than going forward or backward is done by either clicking on the bottom of the page, or by clicking the “n” below the screen.

Clicking the bottom of the page allows you to go to a book’s table of contents, find bookmarks, or get information about a book. Clicking the “n” allows you to go to your library, change the nook’s settings, or shop for books and magazines.

In short, it’s fairly simple and straightforward. The only complaint I have about readbility of the nook is that when you click the page, there’s a moment where you simultaneously see the last page you read and the next one simultaneously. That’s brief, however, and I only noticed it when I was poking around the device, learning where everything was. I barely noticed it at all when actually reading.

Outside of reading, there are a couple other things to consider about it–portability and ease of getting books to read.

It is portable. It’s small enough to fit in the front pocket of some of my pants. I assume it would fit in a purse though I don’t own one. Turning it on to read isn’t hard (click the “n” and then draw your finger across the bottom of the screen), but it does require enough deliberation that random objects in your pockets or purse probably won’t turn it on and lose your place.

  •    The Morning News has the story of Allan Seage: the forgotten writer behind the story of two men at a hospital, one with a window and one without. It’s a tragic, beautiful read. # (0)
  •    Lev Grossman: How Harry Potter Became the Boy Who Lived Forever:
    Fictional worlds, while they appear solid, are riddled with blank spots and unexposed surfaces. There’s a moment toward the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Dumbledore suggests offhandedly that Sirius Black should “lie low at Lupin’s” for a while, referring to Harry’s former teacher Remus Lupin. What exactly did Sirius and Remus get up to there, chez Lupin, while they were lying low? How low did they lie? (Cough, slash, cough.) Rowling never says, but that one little gap has given rise to so much fan fiction that “lie low at Lupin’s” has become a recognized trope of Harry Potter fan fiction, a sub-subgenre in its own right.
    Fantastic essay, and wonderful research from Lev Grossman of TIME. # (1)
Wednesday, 3 August, 2011

Genre as Indicator

Michael Stackpole recently posted this great blog post titled Price Isn’t The Point — an argument that pricing isn’t the most important variable for book sales.

Hidden in that post, however, is an idea that I think is worth examining:

Another monster variable is genre. Romance outsells mystery/thrillers, and mystery/thrillers outsell SF and Fantasy—with huge gaps between them. I know of no pricing experiment that has tried to control for this variable. Heck, if you look at print books, Romance readers are willing to pay full price for a 50,000 novel; whereas an SF/Fantasy reader would get 2-4 times that much wordage for the same price.

Let’s tie that in with this Washington Post article — about romance authors, ebooks, and the same, valuable observation:

E-readers have been around in early formats for nearly two decades, but they have been drastically dropping in price and improving in quality during the past 36 months.

One of the first groups to embrace them were readers of romance fiction. These books were part of larger genre-based markets, such as thrillers and horror, that were populated by avid readers who chain-read books. They were avid fans, communicating with one another in any number of ways, including blogs and book clubs. Romance was tailor-made for the webs of social media.

“Romance novels are leading the way in e-publishing because romance readers are incredibly prolific,” says Malle Vallik, Harlequin’s director of digital publishing. “They understood [e-readers] immediately: ‘Oh, my God, in my purse, I can have 50 books.’ You like one writer, you can get their complete backlist immediately.” [Emphasis mine]

New marketing patterns of lower online prices and impulse buying created a perfect dynamic for authors like Belleville: Genre authors who were prolific but who had not been too successful. This peculiar level of accomplishment meant they had written books for print publishers, seen sales vanish and had the rights revert back to them, and even had completed manuscripts that publishers had rejected.

This left with the writers with just the right recipe: a small but devout core audience; a readily available backlist for new readers to discover; a knack for writing fast; and an inherent appeal to a fan base that read voraciously. [Emphasis mine]

What this means is that genre determines the median (and I suppose the upper-bound) of sales that any one writer might have. This does not mean that you have to switch genres; I wouldn’t be so silly as to propose that. What it does mean, however, is that when you next look at the sales figures of a hotshot indie writer, you should pause to take note of what genre he or she’s writing in.

Amanda Hocking sells thousands of ebooks every month. She also happens to be writing romance.

J.A. Konrath sells a little less. He writes thrillers.

The two demographics are rather different. They exist at different parts of the early-adopter spectrum — and ironically enough, romance readers are ahead.

But there’s another way of looking at this: if you’re in the publishing startup space, like I am, this bit of information implies that it would do to have some part of your service focussed on romance. I’m not exactly sure how I would do it, or how any digital publishing house would do it (have a romance-only spinoff, perhaps?) But it does make sense: romance readers are ahead of the curve with regard to ebooks. They were early-adopters, a result of the embarrassing semi-naked-man-on-book-cover problem, plus their buying habits — buying an entire backlog with one click — are factors worth thinking about.

Sidenote: I realized I haven’t been blogging here for the past 3 months. I’ve been spending that time working on Pandamian. We’ve got free ebook conversions up and running, along with a whole bunch of other features, and I’m eager to talk about them once the new redesign is up. Till then, consider this post an apology, and a signal that I’m back. Sorry about the break, folks. More publishing-related news in a bit.