AN IBPA ROUNDTABLE
Bulletins from the E-book Arena
Since current e-book statistics barely begin to capture what’s going on, it’s good to have real-world numbers and assessments. See last month’s “What’s Happening with E-books” for reports from half a dozen IBPA members, and read on for reports from half a dozen more.
To share your own e-book experiences, please email me at email@example.com.—Judith Appelbaum
Databases in the Equation
AMACOM has 610 print-on-paper titles and approximately 800 e-book titles. The e-books contribute only about 1 percent of annual revenue, but we also get revenue from content in electronic databases.
During the 10 years that we have been publishing e-books, sales to consumers were very low until the Kindle was introduced. Revenue from book content that is included in databases, particularly those being sold to the corporate market, has been stronger. Content directed to people working in IT has been stronger than our traditional business books. This market presumably includes a number of early adopters.
Our e-books are always versions of our p-books, because of workflow rather than formal strategy. E-books are now made available close to the print publication time, delayed just a bit for some conversion.
At this writing, the price is the same for both versions.
We use CodeMantra to distribute to Amazon, Sony, ebooks.com, Overdrive, and netLibrary and a number of other ebook distributors.
Rosemary Kane Carlough
Shifting the Sequence
We have 53 print-on-paper books and 27 e-books. With two years of e-book experience, we have found that the profit margin on p-books is higher and that e-book readers tend to favor novels over how-to books, although that may change if the kids who have honed their reading skills by texting also start using their portable devices to download books.
Our e-books used to appear after the p-books versions of the same titles. Gutenberg’s movable type became popular a few years before Bezos’s Kindle, so who am I to change the sequence? Now we release both versions at the same time, but we may be reversing that sequence soon. There’s no competition between the formats, because it looks like the two reading audiences don’t overlap; you’re either a p-book lover or a Kindle person.
Occasionally, a reader tells us about a typo. Of course, it’s much easier to correct the text in an e-book, so we’re starting to use e-book customers as volunteer proofreaders, inviting them to “contact the publisher” with correction suggestions. It’s sort of a Where’s Waldo kind of contest that leads to more properly proofed print versions.
After we publish e-books on Kindle, Scribd, Fictionwise (now B&N), and other sites like that, we link to them from our own Web sites, and price our e-books in accordance with online sellers’ guidelines, while trying to be competitive and keeping our legal mysteries a little less than Grisham’s. We’re also planning to add a “Read the First Chapter” function to our Web sites. Hopefully, this will be the equivalent for a potential customer of actually picking up the book in a bookstore and flipping through it, trying to make a purchase decision.
Given rapid advances in e-book business and technology, we will be taking the advice of an old pool-player we know: Wait until the balls stop moving before planning your next shot.
I think that when J.K. Rowling finally decides to allow Harry Potter to fly into a Kindle, there will be a major shift in reading habits.
Magic Lamp Press
Serving an Electronically Savvy Audience
Our tiny company (two people) has six e-book titles. We also had six print-on-paper books, but we had to go 100 percent digital on one, which we now we sell as a double DVD set with an incorporated PDF file so our customers can print the book if they want to.
It’s been about four years since we decided we had to go along with the trends and start offering PDF versions of our music-method titles on our Web site. We sell the e-format version at $10, which is 65 percent off the price of the print book/CD package. This has worked pretty well so far. Our customers are happy. We email them a link with the sound files that they can listen to, but not download or copy. In other words, they get what they pay for.
These versions account for 5 percent of our revenue, at most, maybe because books for our industry (music) do not work very well in the e-format unless you have the best software for incorporating sounds and text, and then the files become so huge you cannot distribute them via email.
We are still trying to evolve and follow the trends, and we have noticed that the choice e-book consumers make isn’t whether to buy a title as a hardcover for $27.95 or as an e-book for $9.99. The choice for e-book users—with an age range from the teens to the mid-30s—is a $9.99 e-book or no book at all. This electronically savvy audience loves instant gratification.
Of course there is price sensitivity. Consumers are starting to get cautious; they compare and shop. I strongly believe that after this economic crisis is over, only the strongest companies will survive, and I do not mean strong in size or capital, but strong in ethics, customer service, respect for customers, and flexibility in pricing.
The e-book has not established itself yet as a strong competitor to the p-book. There is a different feeling to holding a book in your hands. Some people won’t even look at a screen long enough to read a whole page, let alone an entire chapter or an entire book. But we plan to keep offering this format as long as the consumer asks for it. Our customer is the king!
S M G, Inc.
Pricing by the Page
Treble Heart publishes romance, Christian fiction/nonfiction, Westerns, mysteries, suspense, horror, sci-fi, and general nonfiction. Sixty percent of our annual revenue comes from our 400–450 print-on-paper titles; 40 percent comes from our 399–420 e-book titles. Over the 10-plus years that we’ve been publishing e-books, we’ve seen that they are gaining in popularity.
We publish for Fictionwise/Ebookwise, and in PDF and HTML, issue print and e-book versions at the same time, and base e-book prices on the number of manuscript pages—$5.50 for up to 490 pages, $6 for 500 or more.
A lot of e-books have been poorly edited and have given e-books a bad name.
Treble Heart Books Publishing
Needed: Top-notch Files
The p-book versions of our five business titles generate 95 percent of our revenue. Although our e-books don’t sell in great numbers, they are a very important part of the mix.
During the six years we’ve been publishing e-books, I’ve noticed that they appeal to younger people who are more comfortable doing everything on a computer. Many customers for my software are happy with the companion e-book instead of the physical book.
I frequently update the e-books between p-book editions, and price them generally at $20, which is around 15 percent off the p-book price, and distribute via IPG and my downloadable distributor, RegNow. All are PDF files for Acrobat Reader. I am contemplating publishing for the Kindle but haven’t made up my mind about that.
E-books can work well if you take the time to create top-notch files, with all the fonts embedded and the graphics very clean. I also like the idea that you can use color in e-books, a benefit that doesn’t increase costs as it does in printed books.
Personally, I have learned a lot making e-books. My first one was a terrible pain to deal with. Now I move right along and like the results.
I will continue to publish e-books and see what the future brings. I am one of those people who appreciates e-books but hopes that printed books will be dominant for many years to come.
Out of Your Mind and Into the Marketplace
Reworking Production for the Next Norm
Here at Unlimited Publishing LLC, which publishes mostly short nonfiction, we still love tree-books more than e-books, and there is compelling evidence suggesting that e-books will be slow to supplant them; see unlimitedpublishing.com/paper.htm.
But the time has certainly come to take e-books seriously. I believe that after a decade of false starts, 2009 and 2010 will be watershed years for them, and that open-platform file formats and small, multipurpose devices like the iPhone and Android phones will ultimately prevail in the marketplace over single-use devices and proprietary e-book formats.
The iPhone alone now has more than 17 million users, with estimates for 2010 ranging as high as 35 million. The Android, Palm Pre, and others will add millions more.
In 2007, five of Japan’s top 10 bestsellers were cell-phone novels. Even a lifelong tree-book lover like me can adjust to reading on a handheld device. And it’s wonderful to have dozens—even hundreds—of books in your shirt pocket at any moment. I have little doubt that this will be the norm within a decade or two.
For these reasons, we are reworking our production toward XML and EPUB formats, which we believe are the strongest candidates to become industry standards for digital distribution of books.
We price e-books about 35 percent below their paperback counterparts. This allows us to offer trade discounts and pay fair royalties, while earning slightly more than we do from print.
Some caveats for publishers who are just beginning to adopt e-books:
•File conversions are almost never perfect in the first pass. Usually several drafts are
needed to polish the material before public release.
•There are no bulletproof DRM (copy protection) solutions. At best, current DRM
solutions are only a deterrent to piracy. However, as we have seen from the success
of iTunes, keeping prices low gives consumers an incentive to do the right thing.
Affordable pricing is more effective than threatening pirates with prosecution.
I predict that old models of bulk printing, warehousing, big wholesale discounts, bookstore returns, and remaindering will fade as the publishing industry evolves, and the book world will emerge stronger, smarter, greener, and more egalitarian than before, to the benefit of everyone who loves the written word.
Danny O. Snow
Unlimited Publishing LLC