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What’s Happening with E-books?

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What’s Happening with E-books?

The short answer to this question is, Nobody really knows.

Things we do know include:


  • The available statistics tell only part of the story.


  • Pricing policies haven’t jelled.


  • Growth rates are impressive unless you consider that
    they’re derived from small absolute numbers.


  • Cannibalization of p-book sales is a distinct possibility but
    by no means a sure thing.


  • Predictions of e-book prominence in—or even dominance
    of—various market sectors have been popular for years,
    but the horizon keeps moving farther into the future.


To bring some real-world experience to bear, we asked IBPA members to report on what they’re doing with e-books and how that’s working out. Selected responses appear below, and more will appear next month.

For information that will help you put these reports in context, see “E-books: A Big, Broad Overview”; for advice about pricing, see “What Should an E-Book Cost?” both in this issue. And to share your own e-book experiences, please email information to me at judithappelbaum@aol.com.—Judith Appelbaum

Don’t Neglect Negotiation

Stenhouse publishes professional-development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Our title counts are 160 for print-on-paper and 52 and growing for e-books, although they accounted for just 1 percent of our sales last year.

To date, the e-books have been versions of our p-books, but we’re exploring the possibility of enhanced e-versions, and we publish them a season later because of the time it takes to get the rights. Now we are pursuing e-book rights for most of our backlist; and this year, we began negotiating for print and e-rights simultaneously.

Prices are 20 percent off the print prices, which translates to $14–$24.

As of now, we publish for any reader that can convert from a universal PDF, which means most but not the iPhone, and we distribute through e-retailers. We’re looking into selling e-books directly from our site.

One lesson we’ve learned: negotiate contracts more carefully to better protect price integrity, payment structure, and so on.

Rebecca Eaton

Stenhouse Publishers


A Taste for the Taboo

Tease Publishing LLC has 40 titles in print right now, and more than 100 e-books in the system, with print generating about 55 percent of revenue and e-books generating the rest.

We are primarily a romance publisher, and we have noticed in the two years that we have been publishing e-books that e-book readers want more taboo subjects like ménages and m/m [male/male gay romance], and they want erotic romance more then just straight romance.

Since e-books are simpler to get out, we release them first, but the print editions usually follow within three months.

When we issue a title only in electronic form, it may be a short story. Our prices for novels as e-books: 99 cents for 5–15K; $1.99 for 15–25K; $2.99 for 25–35K; and $4.99 for everything else.

Most people are happy to pay those prices.

Trends matter, as does publisher loyalty. We intend to continue to publish e-books, though our main focus for 2010 is print books because our readers are still into the tangible.

Stacee Sierra, Marketing

Tease Publishing


Analysis to Support an Aggressive Approach

At B&H we publish Christian inspirational books and Bibles, and we are putting a big push on our digital publishing initiatives. For the last 13 months we’ve published a handful of e-books almost exclusively for Amazon Kindle, but in fewer than eight weeks we will have 70 percent of our active backlist and all new releases into full distribution to e-book retail, library, and academic channels for Kindle and also MobiPocket, iPhone, B&N eReader, Sony, Adobe Digital Editions, plus many others to come in the very near future. And we are currently in negotiations with more retailers and distributors.

Given our aggressive posture, I’ve spent a fair amount of time analyzing Kindle sales data to build the business case for the work we are doing. At this writing, we have more than 700 active print-on-paper titles, and 166 e-book titles. We will have more than 500 e-books by the time you’re reading this. So far, e-books account for less than 1 percent of annual revenue, but we are conservatively projecting 1000 percent growth next year.

I have been tracking industry news stories about e-books and digital publishing since last October when Oprah declared the Kindle her new favorite gadget. When I started, I found one or two stories a week; now a day without some piece of digital-publishing news is unusual, and, typically, three or four stories run every day.

We are very encouraged by the growth patterns we’ve seen with Kindle sales, but market conditions are changing so rapidly it is almost impossible to attribute trends. Excluding the anomaly of our NYT bestseller (The Love Dare), in one year of Kindle sales from June ’08 to June ’09, copies per title sales increased 11 percent Q2 over Q1, 71 percent Q3 over Q2, and 86 percent Q4 over Q3; and revenue per title increased 27 percent Q2 over Q1, 65 percent Q3 over Q2, and 78 percent Q4 over Q3.

Market factors include selection and universe. The number of our titles for Kindle grew from 2 to 135 while Amazon released the Kindle 2, the Kindle iPhone app, and Kindle DX, significantly increasing the number of devices in the market in the same 12-month period.

To date, our e-books have been versions of our p-books, but we’ve also released some enhanced e-books (marrying book and Bible content) and derivatives (checklist, quotes) as iPhone apps.

We’ve issued the print version first or simultaneously, though we are looking at a couple of projects that may be digital first or digital only. One product we are considering would be most used in a digital format; the other is going to be very expensive to print, so we are considering digital to build the audience.

Prices for our e-books are $5.99 and up, matching print. We are about to use our Web site to test 99-cent essays and $4.99 sections from a $31.99 nonfiction title. The complete book is still the best value in print or digital, but some readers will be interested only in specific parts that are well worth $0.99.

In setting prices, we make sure we honor our commitments to our retail partners, authors, and readers (not necessarily in that order), and we watch the market like a hawk.

Price sensitivity is apparent to anyone with a pulse. What drives me bananas is the misconception that e-book publishing is free, or even cheap. It is true (today) that print still pays the bills and digital is incremental revenue, but there are a lot of costs for developing, distributing, and retailing e-books—and everybody takes a piece. It will be very interesting to see how the supply chain changes when there’s not enough to go around at $9.99.

We are counting on the device manufacturers to enhance the reading experience, and on the retailers to enhance the shopping and purchasing experience, but we know we’ve got to deliver the content.

Paul Mikos

B&H Publishing Group


Options for Art Books

With about 50 art books in print, we toyed with the idea of making an older title into an e-book. It had run its course, but it had a small, steady stream of interested buyers. In the end, we were able to financially justify a short one-color run printed digitally instead.

A magazine that we publish will be available soon as an e-publication. On the book front, most of our titles rely on well-produced color images, so they are not ideal candidates for e-publication.

Ann Gray

Balcony Media, Inc.


Working with a Partner

As a medium-sized publisher, we felt that we did not have the combination of resources required to begin our evolution into digital publishing on our own, and that a partner would be necessary. ReadHowYouWant met our criteria of technical know-how, marketing savvy, and cost effectiveness, and we have just moved into e-books with it, so my answers are based on limited experience.

We have 202 print-on-paper books, and we are converting all of them except those for which we don’t have rights. That means we will have approximately 190 e-books.

Right now, since we are in the process of digitizing our files, 100 percent of our revenue comes from p-books. We have no way at this point of even estimating what the ratio will be down the road.

Our spring/summer 2010 catalog will be the first to announce and promote e-books. On Amazon, our p-books appear first. Obviously, our backlist p-books were published first, but new releases will be published simultaneously as p-books and e-books.

ReadHowYouWant sets the prices, which are usually $9.99, although formats for the reading impaired are priced higher than our p-books, and it takes the lead on marketing, and on optimizing links to major search engines, as well as to our own Web site.

So far, what I’ve learned is patience. This is a long process, and results will not be apparent for some time. Also, I’ve learned that the real challenge is not the production process, but the marketing of e-books, and that we’re just at the beginning of the learning curve.

Norm Goldfind

Basic Media Group


Committed to Two Formats

Bold Strokes Books offers a diverse collection of lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer general and genre fiction. Our 240 active trade paperback titles bring in 90 percent of annual revenue, with our 260 e-book titles accounting for the other 10 percent.

We have been publishing e-books since January 1, 2008, and have seen a fourfold increase in their sales since then and a 58 percent increase in the first half of 2009.

All our books are published simultaneously in print and as e-books, but we also have some e-book titles that are not available in print, either because print rights were not available or because they are bundled with other titles in an electronic package (very popular, by the way).

We make e-book prices 20 to 25percent less than trade paperback prices, which means the range is $10.95–$12.95, excluding the bundled products, which are also priced lower than the total for the print titles included. And we have rarely seen price sensitivity.

Distribution is through our Web store, online retailing, and all reading devices, including Kindle, Sony, iPhone, BlackBerry, and PC.

We love e-books and so do our readers; we sell more e-books every month. Nevertheless, we expect print books to be around for a long time and will continue to publish them.

Right now, we are watching industry trends and anxiously awaiting a “universal” reader that will handle multiple formats, so we won’t keep being forced to duplicate work to accommodate various reading devices.

Len Barot

Bold Strokes Books


An Invitation Re: Two Open Issues

1. How do you choose what permissions to assign to an e-book?

As one IBPA member notes, there are decisions to be made about what a reader is allowed to do with the file. Save? Share? Print? Some of the above? More than that?

Please share your views on these decisions, plus information on how your choices have played out, by emailing judithappelbaum@aol.com.

2. How do you handle e-book rights?

One IBPA member published a heavily illustrated book back when “we didn’t think to get the rights to print in e-format—who knew?” Now the publisher wants those rights, and the question is: Are you paying one price for print and e-book photo print rights, or are you paying double, or somewhere in between?

To share what you’ve done and learned about e-book rights, please email judithappelbaum@aol.com.

For More E-book News and Views

• unlimitedpublishing.com/pbc

• idealog.com/blog

• blackplasticglasses.com



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