Monthly Archives: July 2013

Adult Fiction Sales: How Much Was Print in 2012?

With permission of the American Association of Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group 2012 data, I recently took a look at how the ebook and print book revenue and unit splits came in for 2012, just for the trade adult fiction category.

It is important to note the following when looking at this data:

1) This study measures the traditional publishing industry, not self-publishing titles. If those titles were factored in, the balance between ebooks and print would skew further toward ebooks.

2)  In 2012, net book sales across all categories fell slightly over the previous year, the third straight year of declines, but with more stability. Much of that decline was within the education, scholarly, and nonfiction book categories.

3) The excellent news is that two categories grew: adult trade fiction and young adult trade fiction. Some or quite a lot of this could be due to blockbusters in each category that will be difficult to replicate in 2013: 50 Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games. Trade publishing now represents 55% of the total book market, up from less than 50% a few years ago, which speaks in part to the emergence of ebooks but also the decline of the total pie as the other sectors shrink. It’s probably a good news/bad news pie chart.

This is what I see in the 2012 Trade Adult Fiction category data:

2012 Trade Book Adult Fiction Total Dollars: $4.8b

Print books (all formats): $2.9b (62%)
Ebooks: $1.8b (38%)

When looking at the unit split, it was 40% ebooks and 60% print.

What this data cannot answer is how many people would have paid the higher paperback or hardcover price for a book if it was not available in ebook? (As in let’s pretend ebooks don’t exist.) Conversely, how many more people read the book and talked about it because they downloaded the ebook “before they forgot to buy the print book.” How many new readers were created by ebooks for that title? In the case of 50 Shades, the book might very well have never existed had it not been self-published first as an ebook and the entire 2012 industry results and Random House would have suffered as a result.

I think common sense says there is a tradeoff at play here. But is readership of adult fiction and young adult fiction going up because of ebooks? Are more people reading books they would not have otherwise read? That answer must be yes.

If someone knows what adding the self-publishing units and dollars into this mix looks like I would be very interested in knowing. For instance, of all the books sold in 2012, how many came from the publishers covered in the AAP/BISG report and how many came from self-publishing programs? (NPD retail data, for instance, typically says: this data represents 91% of all cash register rings made via our measured retailers.) I realize this data for fiction alone is probably not available.

— Caleb Mason

Why Digital-First Makes Sense for Books

Anyone who has worked in marketing knows how to use digital communications to test and improve the quality of the work before going into print. The best brands test first in digital format because they can improve internal knowledge at little expense before carving their marketing into stone and investing those subsequent expensive ad dollars. True for product packaging, advertising campaigns, and just about anything going out the door.

Does this same approach make sense for books? Books are long, contain a lot of words with plenty of opportunities for typos and other errors that the author and publisher would love to fix before it is locked into print.
 
Imagine how awful most software would be if user-response mechanisms were not built directly into the product so they can be quickly addressed and fixed wherever possible. All the participants in the content benefit from an ongoing continuous quality improvement process. Alpha. Beta. Release. Round and round and round.
 
I have a feeling this is what the future of books will look like. The vast majority will be released in digital first and then some will go to trade paperback editions and then a lesser amount into deluxe hardcover editions. The digital edition will have the most errors and needed fixes; the paperback should be near perfect if not perfect, and then the deluxe hardcover that someone pays $29.95 or more for will be flawless in all the best ways of the printed book. Design. Typography. Editing.
 
The digital edition costs the least so the reader will be slightly more forgiving of errors. The print editions will then fix those issues reported by readers. Right now,  if a reader encounters typos, there is no good feedback system in place. In fact, getting through to anyone in editorial at a major publisher without already having an email, which most readers will not, is like trying to penetrate a fortress surrounded by music-theory graduate student zombies playing spectral music from Germany. (Trust me here.)
 
The other advantage this new approach would have relates back to the marketing example at the beginning of this post. Publishers could test their digital editions before going to print to better identity new readers, to better understand the demographics of the markets with growth potential. Then the print distribution and associated marketing could be that much smarter when their time rolls around.
 
— Caleb Mason
 

Book Editing Meets Beethoven

Many music-lovers believe that Beethoven’s music and those composers who followed during the great Romantic Era  would not have existed without destiny’s timely intervention, in the form of the iron sounding board added to the wooden piano forte frame.

The famous piano-maker Broadwoods made their last harpischord in 1793 and in 1808 introduced bracing bars of metal to support the wooden frame. Other engineering improvements followed and the art of the piano and musical composition was forever changed.

This interplay of new technology and artistic development is a fascinating one and I believe we are living in a similar time for books. These watershed time periods present many challenges and opportunities for the authors and composers and I would like to share some of what I have learned so far while editing manuscripts for my company Publerati.

This challenge is especially difficult for publishers originating content headed for print and ebook formats simultaneously. The author and publisher maintain control over their work in print because the reader cannot adjust font sizes, for example. The print text is not flowable. I witnessed a similar challenge when working for a map publisher, who had many exciting new user-experiences heading out the door digitally, while still needing to update and publish static paper atlases. For those managing this giant layered map data soup, aspirin and vodka were always on hand.

Because I can enlarge the type on ebooks, I am much more aware of punctuation. Punctuation, like a good waiter, should work efficiently in the background. (Hey: how’s everything tasting Mister!)  Full colons shout and wave at you in 24-point size in a novel.  Em-dashes, given their larger size, work better if a connecting mechanism is truly needed but sometimes all this “punctuation intrusion” into the uninterrupted dream of reading is an indication further rewriting is needed.

Another example is the difficulty ebook conversion processes have with certain combinations of punctuation.  “Everything was going well until my bi-polar wife Audrey screamed at the neighbor’s son ‘Get out of here or I’ll gut you like a pig’!”  That ending ‘!” trifecta is likely to set off machine-driven havoc on e-readers. So I would rework the sentence, probably getting rid of the exclamation mark as the first easiest solution. And the author might want to bump off Audrey.

So what to do? I think any editor working on a manuscript heading for simultanous print and ebook production needs to be sure to pay attention to what happens on the ebook, which means looking long and hard at the use of punctuation. This in turn, could lead to better writing via rewrites, which is a desirable outcome for the work in all formats.

Related to the above is to be sure to proof the book on ereaders in EPUB and mobi formats before simply releasing to the public unchecked. Assume those reading on ebooks will enlarge the fonts. Acknowledge you are giving up some control so write and edit to that new user experience where possible while taking care of print readers as well. I have found that when I go from “final” manuscript to first ebook proof I notice further edits that I cannot believe we all missed. I attribute this to the challenge of “state-specific memory,” the reason you can recall your wife’s phone number on your work phone but not on the phone in the next office.

Being able to change the context of the editing experience after staring at the same pages for so long and over so much time, (oftentimes sitting at the same desk staring at the same screen or printout), simply by injecting an ereader proof as a pre-publication tool, is a great development for book editing.  Quite possibly similar to how a modern composer can play his work on a computer and revise before hearing for the first time at a live performance, which is what the 19th-century composers had to do, so they made their changes oftentimes in horror after that first embarrassing performance. Edward MacDowell once said he much preferred writing piano sonatas to symphonies because he could hear them right away fully under his control, literally at his fingertips.

I think the ebook proof is a better next proofing stage than the bound galley, which does bring the work closer to a print book but does not allow for the full editing power available on an ereader. For instance, once the proof is on the ereader, you can select any word to make sure it is spelled correctly or jump to the Internet by highlighting an historical character’s name spelling, and in the process discover other fact-checking errors you and the author missed by being able to dive deeper.

Back to Beethoven. Instrument evolution for books will surely cause the artform to evolve as well. Some will gladly continue playing their piano fortes and harpischords for a welcoming audience. Others will head out onto the bleeding edge and quite possibly replace many forms of books with something completely new. Maybe Facebook and Google have already done so. The information we once got from books is quickly being replaced by the Internet, which is making life so difficult for education and non-fiction publishing.

I happen to believe the novel will survive as a sustainable art form, similar to the sonata. Personally, I am interested in fiction and the challenges of writing and editing fiction, which is why I started a company that only publishes this genre. But I also figure I am being near-sighted and fiction will change in unforeseen ways in the future. Especially when read by our relatives, the Borgs. (Not Bjorn. His grandson Cy.)

— Caleb Mason