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Monday, August 22, 2011

Worldcon Notes: Publishing in the Age of Ebooks

The two most useful panels/seminars I attended at WorldCon were "How to give an effective reading", and "Publishing in the age of ebooks". Here's the notes from the latter. I apologize for not writing in sentence fragments, but I don't have time to do more editing, nor do I remember who said what. Note that below were notes taken from what the panel was saying, not my opinion. If you think this is good and want my notes from "How to give an effective reading", please drop me a note or leave a comment on this page.

Publishing in the Age of E-books

  • Kindle shock-wave eliminated the marketing/publicity problem
  • $3 in Kindle sales for every $1 from Barnes and Noble (paper books!)
  • 3X in ebook sales on Baen Website, which are tied to the paper edition of the book.
  • Ebooks will dominate paper books the way automatic transmission replaced manual transmission.
  • Publishing is currently dominated by a small number of big corporations. The rise of small presses over the last 10 years was driven by Print on Demand and will be further accelerated by ebooks.
  • Magazine subscriptions are going up for the first time: Ratio is 10:1 selling subscriptions versus individual issues. This compounds every month because of new subscribers.
  • Color is not optional.
  • Textbook industry is a monopoly.
  • 14% of book sales are now ebooks. This is the beginning of the end for paper: once kids are using them in schools, there'll be a generation of kids growing up who will view paper books the way we view vinyl records and cassette tapes
  • Transition to ebook will happen a lot faster than publishers believe.
  • People sample books a lot electronically. You can use ebook as a promotion for paperbooks.
  • Eric Flint: 20-25% of sales are electronic. Displaced paperback income, but not hardcover income.
  • Mike Resnick: huge back list generating $2300/month on Kindle store (self-publishing by an established writer)
  • International distribution of ebooks means greater opportunity to reach wider audience.
  • Too many new books/authors. This is a temporary problem as no one has figured out how to market ebooks yet. Over time, people have learned to effectively used print on demand, and will eventually learn to effectively use ebooks.
  • There will be gatekeepers for content serving the current roles that publishers do, but we don't know who it's going to be. The same goes for reviewers. Some will be the new gatekeepers/editors.
  • Publishers are not a service for authors. They're a service for readers in providing a selection filter. This was a historical accident because it cost lots of money to print books. The problem isn't the horrible stories that are obvious within a paragraph or two. It's the ones that are good enough for you to keep reading but go nowhere and burn a lot of time. "Like oatmeal."
  • Most major publishers are deciding to price the ebook at the same price or higher than the paperback price. A recent series by the Bertelsman Group was put up at $7.99 for the paperback and $8.99 on the Kindle. 2 back list titles were put up by the publisher at $5.99, and sold much better than the new books. You should definitely make ebooks cheaper than the hardcovers.
  • Del Rey put up ebooks for $16 each. Sales were pathetic. At $7.99, the sales became something approaching reasonable.
  • Piracy/Spillage: all through the history of books, 5-6 readings of a book were free for every paid copy. During the Korean War/Vietname War, the ratio was probably 10:1. 1 book would go through an entire infantry company during the war! In otherwords, don't worry about piracy, used book sales, etc.
  • Difference between music and books. Big dominant format in music is short songs. In fiction, dominant format is novel, not short fiction. Short fiction is less than 2% of the market. Hard to use music industry as a model because those people were so stupid and so greedy that I live for the day when they're wiped out and are standing on the street holding up signs saying, "Will gouge for food!"
  • More publishers are moving away from DRM. Amazon is easy to deal with compared to Apple. They provide you with the world’s biggest online bookstore. The catch is: you can’t sell on better terms anywhere else than you’re selling on Amazon.
  • The thing that kills small press is the returns. Book distribution is not a consignment system. If distributors and big bookstore chains can’t sell it, you’re absorbing the cost when they return the books to you. Traditional publishers take 52% discount. American laws on bankruptcy mean that the burden of bankruptcy falls disproportionately on publishers. Borders closing: Penguin lost $41M. Hachette $36.9M. Those executives who declared bankruptcy awarded themselves $8.1M in incentive bonuses. Ebooks are a haven compared to paper books in this situation.


Doug Orleans said...

That stat about number of readings per book seems to indicate that ebooks should be priced much lower. I really don't understand why people are willing to pay even more than a paperback price for something they can't sell or lend. I smell a bubble.

Piaw Na said...

Well, most publishers are moving away from DRM, so I think ebooks are easily lendable nowadays.