AN IBPA ROUNDTABLE
E-book Reality Show (and Tell), Part 2
As publishers create more and more e-books, they learn more and more about ways to experiment with digital products, and about profiting by using e-books—broadly defined—either along with or instead of the various print-on-paper formats that still account for most book business revenues.
Characteristically, IBPA members are happy to share what their experiences have shown. The reports that follow, along with those that appeared last month, offer a window on e-book opportunities. Thanks to everyone who contributed.—Judith Appelbaum
Textbooks Taking Off
Fitness Information Technology is primarily a publisher of textbooks in sport sciences, although we also do reference and trade books.
During the past 18 months we have slowly converted some of our textbooks into e-books, and we now have 10 titles available via our Web site. We use a third party, Deep Blue Creative, to convert our PDF files to a Flash-based file that is accessible on the Internet and doesn’t require a special reader or device.
We’ve had to reach our market—the college student population—primarily through their instructors by making the instructors aware of an e-book option for a book they’ve adopted, and asking them to pass the information on to their students, who could save 40 to 50 percent off the list price of a hard copy. Then word of mouth about the e-book option spreads to other students. We also note that the e-book option is available on each book’s product page. Our e-book sales during the past six months equaled the e-book sales we had in the first full year of this venture.
To date, most of our e-books have been “flat,” but we are beginning to make new releases more dynamic and interactive. Our Media Relations in Sport, third edition, e-book has Web, audio, or video icons in the margins of the pages that readers can click to open an audio or video file related to the content on that specific page, or to open another browser window to get to a relevant Web page.
We have agreements with online universities to provide e-book versions of our textbooks. Many of them require the books in their own format or host them on their server, so arrangements and pricing structures vary.
One next step is exploring the best method of getting college campus bookstores to sell the e-books, which will enable us to reach a much larger percentage of the target market. And while we publish only a limited number of trade books, we are planning to work through our U.S. trade distributor, NBN, to convert these into e-books for various platforms.
Fitness Information Technology
Mystery Readers Respond
My small company has been functioning for only a few years, having published three of my novels and two by other authors. I cater to the niche audience of cozy-mystery readers—a group typically thought to consist mostly of older women.
Maybe partly because of this assumption, I expected paperback sales to far outweigh e-book sales. Even so, I went ahead and uploaded all five Cozy Cat titles as e-books on both Kindle and Smashwords in an attempt to reach all possible customers.
I’m happy to report that, on average, the e-books dramatically outsell the paperbacks. I don’t know if this is because I can (and do) offer the e-books at much lower prices than the paperbacks, or because cozy-mystery readers are more technically savvy than I had originally thought. Either way, I’m surprised and pleased.
Cozy Cat Press
Two Titles to Start
We have ported two of our five books to e-book format.
Early in 2009, I paid a small firm in Austin (a one-person company at that point) to port Why Can’t You Just Give Me the Number by Patrick Leach to the Kindle. This title had done very well in print (over 3,000 copies at that point, which is good for us), but the Kindle sales were disappointing—just one copy every few weeks. In December 2010, I dropped the price from $19.95 to $9.99 after Amazon implemented a 70 percent royalty program for books priced at $9.99 or less, and sales started to pick up significantly. (The printed book’s price is $29.95.)
That same month, we published our fourth title, Game Theory for Business by Paul Papayoanou, and in January 2011, I contacted the same guy in Austin, and he told me that he had six employees and an eight- to twelve-week backlog of conversion projects. Therefore I decided to do the conversion myself. I used Apple’s Pages and ported both Number and Game Theory to the iBook format. It took several months, but I was finally approved by Apple to sell at the iBookstore (they seem to really want you to go through a third party they have an alliance with, and to make it difficult to sign up). Then I used a conversion program to convert from iBook to Kindle for Game Theory. I priced both titles at $9.99 in the iBookstore.
E-book sales for Number are much higher in 2011 than they were in 2009 or 2010 and are approaching sales numbers for the print copies. Sales are about the same for the iBookstore as for the Kindle, which surprised me, since I thought there were more Kindles than iPads, and the Kindle has an app for the iPad, but there is no iBook app for the Kindle.
E-book sales for Game Theory have significantly outpaced sales of it in print, and of e-book sales of Number. Again, list price for the printed book is $29.95, and I set Kindle and iBook prices at $9.99. Although I usually do a couple of short-run digital printings followed by a large-volume offset printing, with this title, I’ll probably never go offset and just stay with short-run digital.
I’ve considered porting two more of our titles to e-book format, but they are long, complex graduate school textbooks and I can’t afford to do this work and then sell them for $9.99. Raising the price to something reasonable (from my standpoint) would put the e-book price close to the printed book price, so there’s little incentive to port them. However, I plan to do all new projects in both e-book and printed format from the start, which will lower the cost and effort required for converting after the fact.
Leo the Lightning Bug Goes App
I just licensed three of my books to Oceanhouse Media to be made into apps. The first one, Leo the Lightning Bug, just launched for Apple iOS devices as well as for Android.
I looked at a lot of developers, and I chose to work with this one because they have an elegant solution to a lot of the issues involved in creating an e-book app for a small device. For example: What do you do about large pages on small screens? Or two-page spreads, which are even bigger? How do you display the text so that it is on the screen when it needs to be, and so that it is large enough on a small screen? How do you deal with the audio (my books each come with an audio dramatization, so that’s important to me)?
I don’t do a lot of social media marketing, and I don’t have a lot of traffic on my Web site, so how will customers find my app in the store? That is another reason I went with Oceanhouse Media. The company has the e-book app rights for all the Dr. Seuss books, so I’m in a good position to benefit from its cross-marketing efforts. I feel lucky that Oceanhouse was interested in my books.
As for profit, I don’t anticipate earning a lot of money in e-book apps, so I didn’t want to pay a developer a lot to create them; licensing seemed better. In some ways, I see apps more for marketing than for sales, unless you can sell a huge quantity.
You can see my first title’s app on iTunes:
And here’s the URL for the Android version:
Or check out its page on Oceanhouse Media’s site:
Using Smashwords and Scribd
I published American Borders: Breakdowns in Small Towns All Around the USA in 2007, printing it with Transcontinental on 100 percent recycled paper, and delivered several thousand copies to my distributor (IPG, now IPG SPU) for distribution to bookstores. At the time, IPG did not distribute to Amazon, so I uploaded the PDF to Lightning Source for e-book distribution to Amazon.
Since then, IPG SPU has sent me contracts for exclusive e-book distribution, but I haven’t signed them. Instead, I put the book through Smashwords’ conversion process; and, via its Premium Program, the title is offered in all the formats at most of the major e-tailers for all the major e-readers, with a much better profit margin. Though Smashwords does deliver in a format Kindle customers can read, it doesn’t do business with Amazon. So to offer it at the Kindle store, I had to format the KDP conversion myself (easy) and upload it myself.
I also offer American Borders in PDF format from my own Web site, where I offer autographed copies of the print book. An adventure/travel title about motorcycling, the book is marketed mostly at motorcycle shows and through back-of-room sales, but it also gets a lot of traction when I speak about motorcycling topics on the radio. My blog attracts attention to it too, and I participate in a lot of forums, especially on adventure travel.
Another title—a small giveaway color e-book, Motorcycling for Women: Beginner Bikes (2010)—is available in PDF as a digital download from my store and also via Scribd. I like the Scribd widget that I can embed in my site and blogs so visitors can page through the book without downloading it. But when they download it from Scribd, I don’t get to collect customer data, as I do when people download it free from my site.
The Beginner Bikes book came about because people were always asking me what first bike they should buy, and it has turned out to be a great marketing tool for American Borders. I am seeking to customize it, and booklets like it, for use by companies as giveaways at shows and conventions.
Results with Reconfigured Content
I discovered e-book publishing by accident. My paperback, Following Marco Polo’s Silk Road, published in the United States by Amazon’s CreateSpace, had sold 2,000 copies in 18 months. After a friend suggested e-books as an additional revenue source, I redrafted a chapter as a 9,000 word e-book entitled The I Love Lukla Club and designed a simple high-impact cover for this story of trekking in Nepal. Then I loaded my Word document to Amazon’s Kindle Digital Publishing site and set the price at $2.99, for worldwide distribution.
Within 48 hours I had my first sale. After I added 10 more titles derived from the book in June 2010, I got my first royalty check, for $114.03. Naturally, I had to put a new front end on each chapter to make it stand alone, but 80 percent of the content stayed the same.
I now have 28 titles, all but one of them “shorts” that can be read in less than an hour. Sales are worldwide, but my major market is the United States, and most of my readers are commuters.
What have I learned from this experience? First, I’ve learned that e-books let authors write, publish, and promote their own books. I promoted initially with articles and later with social media. I joined travel forums and posted comments related to the topics associated with each title, always leaving a link to my Web site or to the Amazon book ID. Also, I list all my titles in the back of each e-book.
Month after month, as the royalty checks increased, I realized that publishing books with 5,000 to 10,000 words instead of a book with 90,000 to 110,000 words was paying off. You do the math. I sell the e-book version of my paperback for $6.99 and 10 books derived from it for $2.99 each. The Amazon royalty is 70 percent for the United States, Canada, the U.K., and Germany and 35 percent for elsewhere (I’m in Australia). At this writing, my best month for Amazon downloads had 31,647, paid and free, and my best month in terms of dollars brought in $5,788.
As I write, I have growing sales with five other distributors, including Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and iBookstore. Last month, iBookstore brought in more than $180 and Smashwords (which included B&N and iBookstores, etc.) brought in $986 after the 5 percent withholding tax.
Along the way, I realized another benefit of e-books—I can update content, upload revised versions, and incorporate reader feedback, using the Kindle’s synchronization feature.
What I’m really saying is: Hey, there is money to be made here if you do it right. So now I’ve turned my writing into a publishing business.
Marco Polo Press