Tag Archives: Ebooks

Trash Talking

No, I’m not here to trash paper. I’m here to discuss different usages of paper and the ones that are more likely to become quick trash.

The recent Digital Book Printing Conference hosted by Book Business was a very interesting event with plenty of great presentations, facts, and figures. In particular, Marco Boer of IT Strategies kicked off the event with interesting slides about the trends for printed paper. Among other things, he noted that there were 16 trillion printed sheets/pages in 2007 and that number as measured more recently is 11 trillion. These pages are the pages we encounter in our daily lives as newsprint, magazines, books, and direct mail (catalogs, etc.). Newsprint and magazines fell precipitously during the recession but have hit a plateau in recent times in what could well become a new level of manageable stability.

This was an event about digital printing, which means in many cases printing lower quantities economically to improve efficiencies and reduce waste across all business segments. And Marco’s research estimates an ongoing 3% annum decline in this overall page count (11 trillion pages is still huge). His research also estimates that by 2020, 16% of all books will be printed digitally versus the favored and familiar offset method. (Personally, I think a lot of that depends on what happens with major retail book distribution. If megastores fade away sooner than later, then smaller runs become more of the norm for what will also be smaller publishers.)

The current trending towards digital book printing seems to be driven in part by the widening gap between the occasional blockbuster, which clearly needs to be printed offset, and the rise (or decline) of many more titles selling in smaller numbers, which makes digital printing economical. Stated conversely, this is precisely what helps keep those titles alive and in print. Much of the conference talk was about how inkjet book printing is now the rapid growth segment for printers and equipment providers, which included Canon, Kodak, and HP at this meeting.

What I found myself pondering following this presentation was the distinction between paper that is used for a sustainable amount of time, versus paper that is quickly trashed. Let’s call it Quick Trash Paper (QTP for all you acronym lovers). I’m talking about the actual consumer time spent with the printed paper. This thinking is partly shaped by my time in the defunct 35mm film and photo era, where we could make money producing lots of mass consumer prints (50,000 a night in one of ten plants alone in the U.S. on a busy summer night), but where the consumer actually only liked a handful of the 72 photos printed (double prints, remember?). This is some serious global Trash Talking! Quick Photo Trash (QPT). And it’s gone.

So let’s try and rank the waste of the remaining 11 trillion sheets of printed paper by category of usage. This is speculation, I have no facts. Worst has to be direct mail and catalogs, right? This is the only item of the four categories (books, magazines, newspapers, and direct mail) that in many instances has not been requested by the consumer. It’s push marketing, old-school mass-market style. It’s still effective and used as a driver of substantial business to the online store. The main uncontrolled variable for the marketer is the cost of postage, which the postal service tends to raise frequently. But from an environmental impact point of view, it just feels lousy emptying my P.O. Box, as I lean over the blue recycling bin at yet another post office (full circle recycling), depositing 99% of it into the trash. But I understand, all it takes is a 2-3% response rate and that catalog is paying back and covering a lot of fixed overheads. My hunch is this is one of the more stable paper sheet categories out there now, but one that may fall precipitously with the next recession, whenever that is. It’s real out-of-pocket money that can shift in cash-starved times back to ecommerce and social media drivers.

Next up in terms of consumer lifespan for a printed sheet is newsprint. Daily newspapers have contributed the most to the five trillion pages of lost print, and sadly journalism may have gone into the fire with much of it. But, again, it typically enjoys a consumer lifespan of one day, maybe a few days, but then is tossed, recycled, or if you live up north as I do, burned. (I have discovered some great articles while rolling paper for my woodstove, only to spare that sheet for subsequent reading.) But it’s far better than direct mail, because the customer actually asked for it. Paid for it.

Magazines have been in steep decline yet they at least hang around longer. Glossy printed magazines can be found months later. Old issues of Life and National Geographic are highly treasured items. So one might think magazines would hold the current plateau, same as what is happening with the printed book. This has a lot to do with the content of the magazine, ever-present and fast changing news faring far worse than an excellent foodie or style magazine.

Which brings me to the best usage of paper of these four categories: the printed book. People don’t buy print books and burn them in woodstoves. If a book is being burned, well, that’s a whole other sad story. No, print books are cherished possessions that last for years, that are carefully shelved and moved time and time again, the better ones with emotional attachments eventually passed along to heirs.

Five years ago, when I started what was to be an ebook-only literary fiction publisher (Publerati), I quickly heard from readers that they wanted a book to hold. “Can’t you just hold your Kindle?” I begged. The Espresso Book Machine provided me an immediate early-adopter solution, one scaled to my “narrow-casting” needs, and one I feel has tremendous potential as book retail changes. The good news for me as an entrepreneur writing checks from my own account is it appears that digital book printing of lower quantities is now opening even more new doors. I expect I will walk through some of those doors in maintaining low inventories of our books.

So many thanks to Book Business for hosting this event, where I learned a great deal, including some things that will help me grow my small publishing business. Printed books do make good sense, and digital book printing promises to reduce waste and create a more sustainable business model across the entire supply chain.

Do you agree that consumer time spent with the printed page will eventually dictate its usage by business category? Will there be a coming uproar against prospect mailings of catalogs over the holidays or will economic conditions determine its fate? Will some newspapers make it as digital dailies with Sunday and Wednesday print editions? Same for magazines? Ten years from now. What do you think? Does the amount of time spent with the paper produced matter?

 — Caleb Mason

#ebookschangelives

The more I read and hear from near and far, the more I realize that ebooks are changing many lives in positive ways.

Many writers no longer have to endure years of agent rejections before publishing their work. Many readers are discovering new authors because they like ebooks and like paying less than what the popular authors ask.

At last, there is a great new place for the less popular people to hang out, a place so big, it feels like infinity.  It’s the world of digital.

Publishing consolidation continues to make publishers more cautious about trying something new. They are surviving on the Donald Trump books and blockbuster novels from well-known established writers. There’s that word again: established. As in establishment. Increasingly becoming the common enemy that might possibly be the only way to reunite our country. But that’s what they do best and whom they serve best. “You get the customers you deserve.”

Worldreader is demonstrating daily how ebooks are changing lives in remote regions of the world. Not just ebooks, but digital reading. On phones. On network-connected screens that overcome the heartless barriers of geography.

Civilizations no longer need that one great river or port to flourish.

The new Nile of our times is the Internet. And this is great news for a better future. Which is why we are launching our new hashtag:  #ebookschange lives. Please come visit us in this new world, on Twitter, Facebook, and unknown worlds to come.

#ebookschangelives

Announcing “Publishing Outsights”

Someone made the mistake of asking me for my opinions on book publishing. So I will be offering them through a new blog on BookBusiness called “Outsights on Publishing.”

Why the name? It’s my sincere hope that I can share something of value to others based on my many years working in the book industry, photo industry, mapping and GPS industry, and tourism industry, each different in their own unique ways but with similar challenges brought about by rapid rates of disruption from unexpected places.

My latest post concerns the possible negative impact on publishers’ profitability due to small gains in print book sales offset by much larger losses in ebooks. The big question in a world of disruption, is how many of those former ebook readers bought an ebook from Amazon or another source outside the AAP-measured traditional book industry?

Anyone have any reliable way to measure that?

Will Ebooks Eventually Replace Print Completely?

I was invited to debate the pro side of this argument at an Oxford Debate and would like to share my transcript here. The point of an Oxford Debate is to change more minds than your opponent, while arguing unambiguously for your side.  Here is my transcript for the Opening Argument and Closing Argument. Enjoy!

Eight-Minute Opening Argument

Good evening and welcome. I’ve been asked to convey a quick public service announcement. For those of you who arrived by horse and buggy, the city fathers, faced by the heightened threat of cholera, urge you to please help divest the city of that foul ailment on which pestilence delights to feed.

My name is Caleb Mason and I’m the founder of the literary fiction imprint Publerati. We publish titles that might not have the large audiences the remaining Big 5 publishers need to keep their lights on. Our books are available through all ebook channels, and many also as print-on-demand editions through the emerging Espresso Book Network.

Ebooks will eventually replace print books and let me tell you why. I break this argument down into three categories: Benefits to the Reader; Benefits to the Business Model; and Benefits to Civilization.

First benefits to readers. It’s now possible for anyone with a regular telephone, smartphone, tablet, or computer to purchase any title at the exact moment they want it to read immediately. Think about that. But even more, an infinite number of readers can enjoy that same title at the same time! Imagine the impact this is having on evolution.

Future generations will look back and wonder how life was possible where a person would get in a gas-polluting car, drive to a bookstore, and not find the book they wanted. Did those people buy something else instead? Was that book they wanted never read as a result of them forgetting? How many book sales were not made for those authors?

But more than just access, ebooks improve the reader experience in ways print cannot. We can now enlarge fonts, reading later into life. You no longer lose your place in the book. I often wonder how much of an author’s painstaking work goes unappreciated because the reader dozed off and lost their place. Ebooks open to your place automatically. My favorite feature is the built-in dictionary. There is no longer any reason for not looking up a word’s meaning. And you can store the book securely to access wherever there’s internet access. No more forgetting the print book when on vacation.

Secondly, are the benefits to the book business model. Right now, an author is paid only 10-15% of a print book’s net sale price. That net price, in the case of a $20 dollar book, is around $12 on average, after the bookstore keeps 40-50-% of the retail price, so the author gets around $2.00 per print book sold. But the real inefficiency happens in how physical books are distributed and what this means for authors. Let’s say the publisher ships 100,000 copies to Barnes and Noble for the holidays of that exciting new masterpiece Rupert Murdoch is so thrilled about, Romance and Vampires: The Legacy of the Kardashians. The publisher thinks this big opening order means demand will be high, so immediately roll the dice and reprint another 50,000 copies. In March, after the holiday blur, cash-strapped Barnes & Noble — who by the way is only surviving by adding non-book merchandise to their remaining stores and whose coming demise will further benefit indie bookstores in the near term already helped by Borders’ closing — Barnes and Noble tells the publisher they only sold 50,000 copies and plan to return the other 50,000 to avoid paying for them on the invoice now due. The publisher has two choices: take the returns and lay off more staff, who are kind of confused since they just got holiday bonuses based on rosy but bogus sales projections, or declare the work out of print, which means they are not responsible for those returns.

The big loser here is the author, whose print edition goes prematurely out of print. Ten years in the writing, only twelve months from print publication to death.

Thirdly, is the impact ebooks will have on civilization’s march of progress. I envision a future where the sprawling malls of our time will be turned into lovely parks after all the unnecessary and unhealthy mall shopping is gone. Already millennials are consuming far less fossil fuels than previous generations, in part because they shop online and not at brick and mortar. How much gas have you wasted over your lifetime going back and forth to malls, buying and returning?

We can either whine about these changes or position ourselves to be part of the better future. The problem is the gods gave us two great gifts to make life bearable: rationalization and denial. So we all cling to our comfortable pasts. And the hypocrisy among many writers, who post anti-Amazon messages on Facebook while 40-50% of their total royalty income is coming from them, is astounding to me. If you feel that strongly, have your publisher include a no-Amazon clause.

Yeah, right.

But most important, having every book available digitally will improve human knowledge. For those of you who arrived via horse and buggy, think how much civilization has improved because you can now board a flight and be in London tomorrow morning. Imagine what the Victorians would think! Of course, back then, the retail button industry did everything it could to keep the new zippers off their shelves. Nowadays, the AAP, the advocacy group for the publishing industry, will tell you ebook sales have dramatically slowed. Raising publisher ebook prices as a collusion tactic to protect their paper business probably had something to do with this. Yet the AAP doesn’t even measure all the self-published titles or any book without an ISBN.

But even within the AAP measured pool, in 2014, 510 million ebooks were sold, matching the number of hardcovers. $5.96 billion dollars of print and ebooks were bought online, versus $3.86 billion in physical stores. And 33% of all paid ebook sales made on Amazon were self-published, so not reported by the AAP at all.

The publishing industry is also not measuring the rapid rise of reading on smartphones. In a recent Nielsen survey of 2,000 people, about 54% of ebook buyers said they used smartphones to read their books at least some of the time. That’s up from 24% in 2012.

This reminds me of when I worked in the photo industry, as it transitioned from film to digital. Their industry association only measured themselves. Kodak. Poloroid. Those two former giants are gone, thanks to Apple, Samsung, and Facebook. The main lesson is change always comes from the outside.

There has been some bogus research publicized on how people keep track of the chronology of what they are reading better on paper than a screen. Not to get bogged down, but the oft-cited Norwegian study had only two participants who regularly used Kindles, so most of the participants were probably uncomfortable with the Kindle itself. It’s like asking a driver of a regular car to get into a Tesla and start driving! Another study done at UPenn found that students retained information better when reading on a Nook. So if you believe Monsanto when they tell you their research concludes that pesticides are safe, then by all means continue dining out on these ridiculous reading studies.

And what about those children and teachers in developing nations, such as the ones being served by Worldreader, to whom Publerati donates a portion of our sales? In 2014, over one million hours of reading took place in Africa on the regular non-smart phones the people already have. Prior to the advent of ebooks, the typical library contained only a handful of print books.

Worldreader also provides free ereaders, mostly donated by Amazon, to African schools, along with ebooks from many publishers, and the literacy rates have vastly improved as measured by control studies. This democratization of knowledge is good for all societies, not just our privileged one, where paying $30 for a hardcover novel seems reasonable to the chosen few, but not to me. My goodness! That’s three or four big-screen movies!

In summation, we might not be around to see this ebook-only future, which will eventually come, but I remind you the key word in debate here is eventually. The world will be a better place without us, without our horses and buggies, without our shopping malls, without our gas cars. Thank you.

Three-Minute Closing Argument

 I’ve laid out my argument for why ebooks will eventually replace print books, divided into the three categories of benefits to the reader, benefits to the business model, and benefits to civilization. But let’s take a look at what’s been going on during our brief time on this planet. During my lifetime, the biggest event has been the development of personal computing and connecting all these computers to the Internet of Everything. With the rapid proliferation of mobile computing, now we are all connected to the Internet of Everything wherever we go. The wrist watches of Dick Tracy have arrived!

The digital network is everywhere: inside our homes and expanding to our appliances. Wifi is being installed in cars. Our heart defibrillators are monitoring us over the Web. Everything outside the digital network could be in peril in the future. Only the most connected people will make it onto the next Noah’s Ark, with their Google-delivered God Alerts!

In the majority of cases, revolutionary change has not been something the established industries could either prevent or take advantage of. Rand McNally once printed two million U.S. road atlases just for the summer. Now they cling to near-obscurity, replaced first by Garmin GPS and then smartphone location-based services. Huge inventories of entertainment content have rushed online: music, movies, and books, and the number of physical retail locations selling these items, and the distributors once serving them, are disappearing. Television viewership is declining and future generations will puzzle at how quaint it must have been to wait an entire year to see one movie, The Wizard of Oz. Already we can choose what to watch, when we want, via Netflix and other services.

News reporters are being replaced by each of us as eyewitnesses on all the scenes of the world as they happen, armed with phone cameras, Twitter, and Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the future of journalism, where opinion leaders make unique arguments and investigative journalism tells a story no one else can tell as well. But straight reporting of real-time news is not something print can keep up with. Authors do matter and whether they are remarkable journalists, cartoonists, or novelists, they will continue to be hugely important in the digital-only future.

Large volume content catalogues such as music, movies, and books are best delivered digitally direct to you. No single store can stock all the titles we want. Which is why ebooks will eventually replace print books. The print book distribution infrastructure will collapse as seen in other categories including photo stores, record stores, and software stores, like Circuit City and CompUSA, both long gone. Pay attention to the latest Barnes and Noble news and stay abreast of this major gating event for books. We might cling to the old business model, but it has not been good for the planet, for other less fortunate people, or many shut-out authors who write very well, but do not (thankfully) have the mass appeal of the Kardashians.

Please remember to clean up after your horse on the way home.  And thank you.

Publerati Donating 100% of Publisher Proceeds to Worldreader for the Holidays

Publerati, publisher of literary fiction, is donating 100% of net proceeds to the Worldreader Organization for all titles sold between November 5, 2015 and December 11, 2015.

This goodwill promotion, aimed at helping Worldreader expand literacy in developing nations, applies to every Publerati title available in ebook format from all major outlets, as well as in trade paperback through the Espresso Print-on-Demand Book Network. Publerati ebooks can be purchased from Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Bookshout!, Book Baby, and others.

This is the third consecutive year Publerati has run this promotion, and the first year it applies to all titles.

Publerati is concerned with how publisher and megastore consolidation continues to limit access for literary fiction authors. One solution to this challenge is to utilize a different business model making titles available as $4.95 ebooks through a variety of resellers and $16.95 trade paperbacks through the Espresso Book Network.  Publerati authors receive 80% of ebook royalties and 50% of print-on-demand.

This different approach allows excellent literary fiction and midlist authors to make their works available to readers through new channels, while also supporting the growing number of independent bookstores with an Espresso Book Machine, who offer  mail-order or store pickup.

We encourage readers to  support our authors, as well as Worldreader, who is making a huge difference in the lives of teachers and children in developing nations.

See all Included Titles Here.

Another Way to Help Indie Bookstores in the Digital Age

Did you know you can help several leading indie bookstores add to their bottom lines by ordering select Publerati titles from their Espresso Book Machines?

The Espresso Book Machine is a networked print-on-demand service producing high-quality trade paperback titles in minutes. Let’s face it, with close to 60% of all print and ebook sales being made online these days, indie bookstores need all the competitive advantages they can find. Print-on-demand books can be picked up in store or mail ordered and are a great new way to help indie booksellers tap into the vast network of online titles, which simply cannot be stocked in preprinted inventory the way large online resellers do.

Here is a list of U.S. bookstores with an Espresso Book Machine. Help support them and Publerati by ordering one of our titles for store pickup or mail order.

The Tattered Cover in Denver, CO; the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA; Prose and Politics in Washington, DC; Powell Books in Portland, OR;  Schuler Books, Grand Rapids, MI;  Boxcar and Caboose, Saint Johnsbury, VT;  McNally Jackson, NYC; Third Place Books, Seattle, WA.  Machines can also be found in select Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million locations.

The current Publerati titles available through this growing international network are: Normal Family by Don Trowden, Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney,  An American Gospel by M.T. Daffenberg, and Dancing in the Kitchen by Susan Sterling.

Publerati only publishes literary fiction and believes that ebooks and print-on-demand are important ways to maintain the viability of this genre going forward. Check out our titles and unique goodwill business model here.

 

Bringing Instincts Back to Book Publishing Acquisitions

The following is an article written by Publerati Founder Caleb Mason that appeared in the December issue of Book Business Magazine:

There are agents and editors working in book publishing who may love a new project under consideration but realize they cannot justify it given the likely modest sales. This is especially true for first-time novelists, but also for other midlist authors who have been published before and are running out of options as the trade print marketplace continues to narrow around bestsellers.

Editors have lost much of the power they once wielded to marketing and sales. It used to be easier to operate on a hunch, to believe in the merits of a riskier work and “push it through.” Some of publishing’s biggest success stories have been the surprise, low-advance breakout titles. That is much of the fun of working in publishing — the Vegas aspect.

As publishers consolidated into larger media groups with other more profitable business units, the pressure to operate less on instincts and more on “science” was inevitable. This trend towards evaluating product ideas based on what sales and marketing thinks the market can support is common within most industries today. The conflict between a business unit product manager championing a new idea and the sales and marketing people challenged with selling it has been a tension created precisely to improve accountability.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs I have known all share one common belief: if the market can actually identify what it wants, then the product potential is already limited. A trend is gone as soon as you can spot it. Which leads me to why I feel ebooks offer large publishers a great way to rebalance how they operate back towards the hunch method.

Why not create ebook imprints focused on editorially-championed titles, hoping that some books will find larger audiences than marketing and sales predicted. This becomes a form of affordable test-marketing for publishers (their own R&D) and allows them to bring their editorial expertise to authors who may deserve to be published, but not under the riskier hardcover and paperback advance payment pathways. Forget about crowd-sourcing and contests; do what you already do well but confined to the ebook realm. More breakout books in the publisher system would be good for overall business health, especially as the print and digital readership mix continues unfolding in ways no one can predict.

— Caleb Mason

 

Publerati 100% Publisher Donation Program for the Holidays

I’m pleased to announce that once again this holiday season Publerati will donate 100% of our publisher proceeds to the Worldreader Organization for sales made of our two holiday-themed titles: Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney and Normal Family by Don Trowden.

Last year we offered an incentive to readers and were able to send $500 to the Worldreader Organization, which was doubled though a matching program then in effect.  As a small publisher, we realize our impact is unlikely to be huge, but remain committed to encouraging people at the grassroots level to read new fiction from excellent authors and to do so in part knowing they are helping spread literacy.

The novel Thanksgiving follows one family of progressive women across 350 years in the same home in New England.  In a series of beautifully written November vignettes, we come to see the common threads that bind the generations together as American history unfolds behind the scenes.  From the author of the Mountaintop School for Dogs.

Normal Family also involves one family, but is set over a single year of outlandish holidays within an eccentric family in decline. The first in a planned trilogy, this novel features a witty voice where humor masks pain as the family is forever transformed over four consecutive holidays.

Publerati will donate the entirety of our publisher’s share to the Worldreader Organization for these two titles sold between October 29 and December 25, 2014.  Worldreader is proving how increased access to ebooks in remote regions of the world is changing the lives of students and teachers.

Please consider the other terrific titles on our small list in supporting all our authors. We donate no less than 15% of our publisher proceeds to Worldreader on an ongoing basis and each title has been carefully selected and edited to provide a range of styles. Our ebooks are priced at $4.99 and are available through most popular resellers, and some are also available as print-on-demand paperbacks through the Espresso Book Network.

Please share this with family and friends to help us make the largest possible difference.  Let’s try and at least double the amount we donated to Worldreader from last year. Happy holidays and remember…Good Works.

Amazon, Hachette, Russia, Israel…(Sigh)…

Gaza and Israel. Russia and the Ukraine.  Isis, Iraq, the United States. Amazon and Hachette…

Phew, people!  Can we all just chill out and love one another? (Song: C’mon, people now, smile on your brother…)

Just about every author on the planet has joined the Amazon/Hachette war this morning by adding their name to a NY Times author-paid ad calling for a ceasefire between these two entrenched huge corporations accustomed to getting their way. Unfortunately, unlike with the sale of pots and pans, a large number of authors are stranded on their own isolated mountaintops as these two huge armies duke it out. The authors are the innocent civilians, and I would argue in many cases, not particularly well informed.

I have been observing with interest how the remaining Big 5 publishers address the threat and opportunity provided by the only new invention in decades within books: the ebook.  From what I can see, most have continued doing business as they have in the past, publishing the $27 hardcover novel first along with a $15 ebook, then one year later along comes the $17 trade paperback as the print book backlist hopeful.

But some publishers, most notably HarperCollins from what I can tell, have shaken up their old business models and tried new approaches, including lowering ebook prices on new releases in conjunction with offering the other higher-priced versions (depending on the author, depending on the title), and I have to believe they have learned something about incremental revenue increases and total profitability from altering their overall pricing mix.

Every business wants and needs to create new customers to maintain a healthy future. Some customers are always leaving, so new ones are desperately needed. In and out. Might it be that Amazon and ebooks are responsible for the lion’s share of new customer creation for publishers and authors? New readers? I’m talking about established authors here, not self-published.

Most established authors I speak with do not realize that 40-50% of their print book royalties have been coming from Amazon over the past decade, plus 80% of their ebook royalties. Surely Amazon knows how to sell books! That is their job as a reseller. Well done. Hats off. Good for you.

Many Hachette authors are now learning with recent royalty statements what this ongoing war is doing to their livelihood, and they blame Amazon. (A publisher’s royalty statement does not show where the sales are being made so authors would not have known in the past just how important Amazon is.) But I think this is truly unfair. A reseller is in business to resell the items they want to sell at the terms they mutually agree to.

Retailers have no commitment to product producers, let alone authors. Their mission statements all say to conduct business ethically, blah, blah, blah…but in the end they decide what to sell. The DVD of the movie Sandlot is not always available at Walmart, Target, Stop & Shop, and Blockbuster. Same for many other notable movies.  Do you hear those copyright holders crying in public against the retailers?

I am confident Amazon has the best data on the effect of different price points on sales and profits in this particular war. They believe digital content priced over $10 will not sell nearly as well as under $10. To me, as a consumer, this seems obvious.  (Mass market paperbacks sold much better at $4.95 than $5.95 and the profit return was better.)

I have found book prices in general over the past two decades indicate a lack of concern for consumer pricing by the publishers. $28 for a hardcover novel?  You couldn’t have made me feel a tiny bit better and priced it at $27.95? $18 for a 128-page novel in paperback? Not $17.95? Throw me a bone here, will ya?

The future of publishing lies within this overall pricing challenge. The audience for hardcover fiction is shrinking, not growing, so the publisher needs to get as much out of that shrinking group of purchasers as possible.  People who love hardcover novels might well pay $35 for all I know. I think there are some people who would pay $10 for the Sunday New York Times in print to keep it alive. If those options can be managed without too much churn by the publishers, good for them. They are taking care of more customers with acceptable choices.

But Amazon has a unique point of view about digital content, armed with mountains of price-testing data.  Ebooks are where the new readers can be found, in the sub-$10 price points, using interesting new “tech toys” such as Kindles and iPads, the exciting developments of our time. Impulse buying works. Ebooks can be downloaded anywhere anytime immediately so lower impulse prices make sense. (No one is measuring how many sales are not made due to the price being $1.00 too high.) There is a reason retailers put sub-$5 items at the checkout and not higher-priced ones. Retailers do know what they are doing sometimes, shocking, I know!

Hachette needs to be profitable, which is tough enough in books, hence all the T-shirts and bags one sees in what used to be “book stores.” The problem with big retailers when they set low prices, is those already low prices will come down further beyond the established point in retail wars of digital competition. (Yes, more wars, sigh.) I do not believe manufacturers should ever dictate what retail prices will be  as that leads to worse forms of monopoly. Hachette gets paid the same invoice price regardless of the retail price, a fact most authors I speak with do not understand, so the publisher gets their money, but then they have to manage the “chaos on the field” of other resellers complaining they cannot compete. And they have to worry about the erosion to their print book profits.

This has been the name of the retail game for decades now. In books, Barnes & Noble drove down retail prices first back in the 1980s.  Staples did it for office supplies;  Home Depot for hardware; Walmart for everything on earth, and so on and so forth.  And now Amazon. Consumers love these bargains.

As a consumer of books, I hope I can buy new ebooks within the first few years of their release for under $10. I will spend much more than I do now if that happens and try more first-time novelists.  I don’t need to read a new novel first in hardcover, and in fact most of the books I read have been available for five years or more by the time I get around to them. (Many are freebie pass-alongs, with the average popular book read around 77 times I believe is the stat? As in bought once, read 77 times.)

Clustering customers into their appropriate “buckets” is what is needed by the publishers: those who need to buy first (hardcovers, the avids); those who want a reasonably-priced paperback (the early mainstream), and then the mainstream and laggards with ebooks priced $9.95 or lower– the same price they pay to go enjoy a three-hour movie.

But they don’t have this data. Amazon does. Working together they could both learn a lot.

Anyway…(sigh)…peace be with you.

— Caleb Mason from Publerati

 

 

 

Summer Tidbits from Publerati…

Here are a few items of interest to avid book readers:

1)  Ellen Cooney, author of the Publerati novel Thanksgiving, has a wonderful new novel coming on August 5th titled The Mountaintop School for Dogs, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Ask for it when you are browsing your neighborhood bookstore.  And please read Thanksgiving if you haven’t already, available in all ebook formats and as an on-demand paperback  from the Espresso Book Machine (locations worldwide).

2) Jane Smiley has a new novel called Some Luck, which I plan to read soon, although I am deep into our slush pile and behind on my own reading and editing at the moment following a bout with Lyme Disease.

3)  The Publerati novel Normal Family by Don Trowden was brilliantly excerpted in a recent Ohio newspaper review. It is always great when a reviewer takes the time to share some of the better language found in a novel. One we especially like is when the drunk grandfather, who has just been pulled from the river after submerging the rest of the family on a perilous fishing outing going nowhere, refuses Coast Guard help and marches off in his soaked woolens. He is 6’8″ and a Falstaffian character who was once a famous author and explorer. The young protagonist sees this as: “Grandpa swerved up the lawn like Frankenstein in search of unsuspecting villagers.” This novel contains many similar examples of original and amusing language.

— Caleb