Tag Archives: publishing

The Changing Face of Publishing

(This first appeared under a different title on the Book Business Website.) Let me preface this by saying I run a literary fiction micro-publisher operating much in the mold of how full-service traditional publishing has for years, although because my overheads are so low, I pay my authors 50% of print and 70% of ebook royalties, something I realize large publishers cannot do.

As self-publishing continues evolving, it strikes me that traditional publishers are losing one of our most important services for authors: bookstore distribution. The very distributors publishers have relied upon for years are hedging their bets (and expanding their revenues) by tapping into the self-publishing market. For example, both Ingram and BookBaby offer authors distribution to chain and independent bookstores. And the Espresso Book Network continues to expand a new retail solution for bookshops, libraries, and others. Not to mention the obvious: more and more consumers simply prefer buying print books and ebooks from Amazon.

More than just distribution, though, these new upstarts also offer the production tools needed to easily produce print books and ebooks. So there goes the production expertise competitive advantage of many publishers.

I realize many authors ardently support their publishers. I also know many are frustrated that their royalties are not higher, especially for ebooks. Traditional publishers and reviewers mostly dismiss self-published titles as “trash,” but what happens when established authors with large followings decide to go out on their own? Did you see this week that five of the top ten bestselling books sold by Apple come from self-publishing?

Any author can buy editing services. Any author can hire a book PR firm with social media expertise and mainstream media connections. And now any author can gain distribution to all the places their titles are currently sold.

There are many good authors frustrated at how fast they are forgotten in the Big Houses who pump out thousands of titles per year. I would think a lot of authors would rather hire the editorial and marketing services they choose on their own dime, using a portion of the extra royalties they receive from self-publishing at both book launch and as part of a sustained multi-year effort. To take complete control of their own book’s destiny, as opposed to assigning it to a company operating with high employee turnover and low morale. (Take a look at the recent Glassdoor ratings of the Big 5 as an indication of current employee morale.)

I believe this threat is greater for books than it would be for some other product type. Authors pour everything they have, over many years, into writing their beloved books. Giving their babies away to others is a big risk, especially for those who feel burned or overlooked in the past.

All it takes to demoralize an author working with a Big 5 publisher is to lose your editor in a layoff. Without that internal champion, you are sunk. The ensuing organizational chaos that follows just makes it more painful. This is a huge gamble on a co-dependent relationship where neither side typically feels great about it all the time.

The big strategic question for publishers is increasingly becoming how much does an author need to pay you to provide equal or better services available from somewhere else? Right now, the number they are paying is larger than the newer markets demand. The one big advantage of traditional publishing to authors is the royalty advance. But the few big names are getting more and more while the rest are getting less and are in essence being asked by the publishers to fund those large advances with their reduced 25% ebook royalty rates. How long will they put up with this?

So what should publishers be doing that they aren’t already? I realize many are working to establish their own direct-to-consumer businesses, which is a good start. But I am a skeptic when it comes to this, probably because my career working in five different industries trying this same thing has demonstrated that people like to shop where people shop frequently. The supermarket. Or Amazon. Or the local indie bookstore. Remembering to buy once or twice a year from a manufacturer with their own unique reseller site is inconvenient. And in my experience, the costs to the manufacturer (in this case publisher) become actually higher than the margins they provide to resellers offering a variety of products. Those resellers own the majority of the customer transactions. The tech and staffing requirements to run an in-house direct marketing and IT team will surprise most who are new to that business model.

How about providing a sliding scale royalty on ebooks based on performance, same as done in contracts for print? 25% for ebooks up to a certain number sold, 40% after that. But I doubt this will happen and also am not sure the margin is there. The poor author, giving 15% to an agent and then 15% to themselves. The publisher and resellers are getting most of the slim retail margin for themselves. Which is why I feel the current rules of the old business are not sustainable going into the future. So do you let others disrupt you or try and do it yourself?

Worst of all for publishers, they don’t own the content they deliver. They are completely at the mercy of their authors’ decisions on how they choose to publish going forward. Contrast this with a software publisher who owns the product they make and sell. So, in the spirit of looking for new ways to survive, why don’t publishers focus more on offering content outright and sell it under their own name. The Random House Book of Birding. Random House is the author, the staff produces the book, just as software engineers do for Apple and others.

I post this in part to make sure publishers are paying attention to the services their distributors and laid-off editors and marketers are providing through new channels. This is precisely what I saw in the photo industry as customers and staff moved from Kodak and Polaroid to Epson (first digital camera), Adobe (editing), and HP (ink and paper). And then, of course, Apple, Samsung, Facebook, Instagram . . .

 

#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

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.

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.