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IBPA Roundtable: With E-books, It’s Not Either/Or

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Are e-book sales eating into p-book sales?

Are they making people hungrier for books in physical form?

With e-books in the product mix, are overall revenues rising?

The reports from IBPA members that follow, and the ones that appeared last month in “E-books’ Effects on Print Book Sales,” indicate that the answer to all the above is “Sometimes.”

As these reports also show, independent publishers confronted by today’s complex, highly fluid situation are taking advantage of both old ways and new ways to encapsulate and deliver content.

Thanks to everyone who shared their e-book experiences for this round of reports.

—Judith Appelbaum


Serving Separate Customer Bases

Our sales nearly tripled last year. While most sales are of trade paperbacks, sales of e-books have experienced a dramatic rise—more than 10 times year over year.

I can’t say that in our case one is cannibalizing the other. Although it is clear that e-books are on a steeper curve, I believe we are serving two separate customer bases, the traditional book reader and the early adopter—and gifter—of the e-reader.

We have always sold more e-books for the Kindle than for the NOOK, but in recent weeks downloads for the NOOK have not been keeping pace.

So far, we spread all our overhead across all units sold, regardless of format, except that we always burden our printed inventory with shipping costs. However, as e-book revenues become a more significant line in our income statement, we will begin to segregate e-book–specific costs from print-specific costs.

Lawrence Knorr

Sunbury Press, Inc.


Issues of Affordability

Several years ago, we were a little apprehensive about e-books because of the extensive changes they required within the structure of our company. After all, we were from the world of traditional book publishing with all the dreaded tasks of printing, fulfillment, shipping, and warehousing. From a publisher’s point of view, we couldn’t imagine that the word e-book could one day become synonymous with freedom from all those tasks.

Still, if traditional books and brick-and-mortar stores become obsolete, many generations to come will be robbed of the beautiful side of book publishing. Before e-books came along, there was no gap, but now divisions are widening between those who can afford to buy an electronic e-reader and those who cannot. I can’t help but think about all those who may be left behind because they can’t keep up with the new literature.

Back in my day as a child, I could always go to the library to get new books and to gain knowledge of the classics, and yes, thank God, there are still libraries that lend books. Many libraries are beginning to lend electronic reading devices too, but not all libraries in all communities have the budgets to purchase them.

As publishers, we are fortunate to be able to embrace the change that is happening. Just as we used to license rights to physical books, we can now license e-book rights to corporations like K-tel, based in Canada (our publisher/CEO, Tony Rose, recently inked a seven-book licensing deal with K-tel). E-books work for us and seemingly will make it much easier to expand our business. But we must keep in mind that all classes of people must be able to afford to embrace the movement for people in our targeted audience to benefit from the literature that we publish on their behalf.

Yvonne Rose

Amber Communications Group, Inc.



A Second-Life System

Our company has been concentrating on finding authors with older, sometimes out of print, titles; we suggest converting such titles to e-books in order to give them new life as well as the worldwide exposure they didn’t enjoy the first time around. Converting print books to e-book formats also provides a cost-effective way to “reintroduce” a title, since the only cost is for formatting. 

I estimate that 80 percent of our new titles are issued both in print and as e-books, and the other 20 percent are issued only as e-books.

Robin Surface

Fideli Publishing, Inc.


For Better Sales in All Formats

I do feel that e-book sales reduce sales of printed books, but I don’t feel that’s a bad thing. What I’ve found is that people who read . . . read! Whether they prefer a bound book or an e-book is irrelevant; what they want is to read a book in the way they enjoy most.

As a publisher, my goal is to provide books to readers in as many formats as possible so the most possible readers can enjoy (purchase!) the book. They’re just people—they don’t have some sinister ulterior motive to ruin the printed book industry–they just like what they like.

On the other hand, I think that e-books can boost sales of bound books, and here’s how: Because there’s a greater profit margin for e-books, you can have temporary/promotional “sales”—e.g., buy the e-book during the month of May for half price. This is something you could not do with bound books because at half price you’d just about be in the red. But the more people who read and enjoy the book, the more word of mouth will spread, increasing sales in any and all formats and getting media attention that will keep the process going. 

Recently, I did a small survey about preferred reading formats and was surprised at the results. I expected to find that younger readers were the greater users of e-readers. But what I found was that retirees were far more loyal to e-reading. They like to be able to control the font size and tend to be more cost-sensitive in terms of the prices of the books themselves.

I have also found that users of any age who own e-readers are very loyal to them; if a book is not available for their preferred format, they’ll just skip it. There are too many good books in the world for them to leave their expensive device sitting in a drawer, or to have to carry around an extra thing.

As for costs, here is what I do: I assign expenses to the overall project, not specifically to e-books or printed books. When I assign budget to editorial, marketing, and so on, it’s for the overall health of sales of that book.

Prices for the book in its various formats tend to reflect what the market will bear. For example, we now price Momnesia at $15 as a trade paperback and at $4.99 for the various e-book formats. These prices reflect market trends, and, let’s face it, even with the lower price there is a greater profit per book for e-books than for printed books.

Lori Verni

Brickstone Publishing


Observing an Initial Bump

Our print book sales increased by 10 percent last year, and our e-book sales increased by 500 percent, so I do not think e-book sales are cannibalizing our print book sales. But I do think there’s an initial e-book bump. Most Americans are collectors, and some of them are buying the e-book version of a book they already bought.

We see e-books as the future, and we would be happy to buy e-book rights from existing publishers, because it won’t be long before the traditional model is completely gone and everything will be POD and e-books.

We do not factor the original cost of a title into the decision to create an e-book. We treat the e-book as a separate product and try to determine whether we will sell enough copies of it to enhance our brands. Since books provide only one of the ways most of our properties make money, we see them in the context of marketing our brands, whether those brands relate to speakers (thomsinger.com) or kids’ merchandise (myfriendparis.com).

Dave Morris

New Year Publishing


E-activity for Art Activity

Bright Ring Publishing publishes art activity books that rely heavily on illustrations and formatted pages; they’re not just straight text. So far, e-books don’t account for a huge part of my sales, although all my books are available in e-book formats for every kind of e-reader and as PDFs via my Web site.

More specifically, e-book sales constitute about 1 percent of my total sales. I have not seen a clear relationship between e-book sales and trade paperback sales from e-book sales, although some buyers who bought a paperback are buying the e-book version in addition so they’ll have a copy on their screens to take to work or on the go. Other buyers seem to be English-speaking people living in foreign countries who want to buy a book easily and save on shipping.

At this point, we are not assigning much in the way of cost factors to e-books. We initially set aside funds for e-book conversion, and after conversion, cost has been minimal.

MaryAnn F. Kohl

Bright Ring Publishing, Inc.


What Makes the Money

At present, all our e-book sales are Kindle sales. I haven’t taken the time to figure out how to crack the rest of the e-book market.

That said, our bestselling books sell at mostly the same level year after year, while our e-book sales have risen to a point that I find astounding for a small press. Since we sell books that people like to read and reread for years, I suspect that people buy physical copies of our books, and later buy the e-version they can easily carry around. 

As Kindle expands worldwide, I look forward to even more e-book sales.

I try to price e-books so they’re obviously cheaper than their physical counterparts, and I’ve encouraged Amazon to give a special discount to a customer who buys both a physical book and an e-book. 

At this time we assign all costs to the physical edition. I regard e-book sales as found money, but over time, I’ll probably have to readjust my view.

In my mind, it’s the title that makes the money, whether income comes from the physical book, the electronic version, or royalties.

That’s the important thing. A few of our books had a high cost of conversion to e-book format (MOBI), so we may never recoup those costs, but I think it’s important to have the Kindle edition anyway.

Bob Adjemian

Vedanta Press


From a Photographer’s Point of View

Here are my perspectives on the issues of e-book cannibalizing and price.

On cannibalizing, one main question is, where are you selling—just in the United States, or worldwide? You will never cannibalize sales of a printed book with an electronic product in places where you are not selling the printed book.

If you wish to sell a book worldwide, develop an electronic version or an app. Only such products will be viable in the worldwide market.

Here is an example. I have a book and an app on the same subject. The book is The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco (done with Countryman/Norton, $14.95). My last royalty report had no sales outside the United States. I have developed the same content as an app titled San Francisco Travel Photo Guide (Sutro Media, $1.99). That app became a bestseller in the Apple iTunes App Store because of some favorable publicity. It sold more than a thousand units in one month. To date, it has sold in 46 foreign countries.

My app has sold in 46 countries because it is an electronic product and requires no shipping costs. Countryman/Norton has just come out with the print book as an e-book at $9.95. We’ll see if they get some sales at that high price. At least, with an e-book, they have a chance to sell it beyond the United States.

On price and profitability of print books and e-books, here is a perspective. Print books return only a very small percentage of the purchase price to the content creator. Those who know the numbers in publishing realize this truth. Working with a traditional publisher, Countryman Press, I published my San Francisco Travel Photo Guide. The average sale price of the $14.95 book, with discounts, has been 54 percent off, or $6.97. My 15 percent royalty rate gets me $1.03 per book.

On my San Francisco Travel Photo Guide app, which sells at the very low price of $1.99, I receive 30 percent (60 cents) from Apple/Sutro. So I make more from the sale of two apps worldwide than from the sale of one physical copy of that title.

When I publish a print book myself, I have the burden of the manufacturing cost, about $2.21 for my Travels in an American Imagination. I am now selling that title as an e-book for $2.99 through BookBaby, and I will keep 100 percent of the net sale via that company, 70 percent, or $2.09, via Amazon and Apple.

The new e-book is selling a few copies. It ranks about 100,000 among e-books today at Amazon. Though my price may seem radically low, I believe that is where commerce will occur in e-books/apps in the future. There are virtually no production costs in setting up the e-book as a Word file.

Longer versions of my thoughts on these subjects are available at:



Lee Foster

Foster Travel Publishing


Math and Medical Dosage Calculations

Willow Valley Press is a traditional publisher, with contracts, advances, and royalties. We publish print books and (increasingly) e-books.

I have seen a relationship between sales of e-books and sales of print books. As e-book sales go up, print book sales go down. Why wouldn’t they? One version seems to be enough for most people.

More specifically, when my book Technical Math for Dummies sells 100 print books, it sells about 204 e-books. I’m pretty sure this trend will continue. When my book Medical Dosage Calculations for Dummies sells 1,326 print copies, it sells about 193 e-books, and the number of e-books is rising as a percentage during each reporting period. This is too bad, because the book is better in print.

One of my concerns about print books vs. e-books is that e-books have many flaws, mainly flaws in formatting compatibility issues with various e-readers.

Here are my conclusions:

• E-books are very much with us. No harm in publishing them. Buying e-books is trending up.

• Don’t stop publishing print books. They are “real” books. Ultimately, people value them more. 

Barry Schoenborn 

Willow Valley Press


Eye on the Buy Now Button

I published my first book in hardcover and softcover in 2009 through Xlibris, using its Premium Package. By 2010, that package included e-books, and I used it for two new titles, adding an e-book version of my first title for a small fee. Last year, I did a fourth book the same way.. 


When I promote my books at presentations or fairs, people tell me they have the Kindle or the NOOK, and they are pleased to know that my books are available as e-books. At one recent fair, a vendor walked over to show that he had looked up one of my books on his Kindle and was pushing the “Buy now” button to download it.


Each customer has certain reasons for purchasing printed or e-books. I believe both will always be around. However, we must not hide our heads in the sand, as new technology may bury us if we refuse to change.

Joe Smiga

Joe Smiga Author-Writer


Adapting in Niche Markets

When we sold standard operating procedures books to dentists, each large three-ring binder book with discs had a matching digital download mirror book for dentists who wanted to pay about 15 percent less, with no tax or shipping. Digital also made huge sense to our customers in Australia, since shipping printed books cost $40-plus, and the holes in Australian binders aren’t in the same places as the holes in binders here. That was about six years ago, and my guess is that we sold about 15 percent of the dental books in digital form.

Now our niche is K–12 school administrators, and we offer $24.95 books for $20 digitally. We may sell 15 percent digitally to souls ordering those books on their own, particularly students. But we now sell most of our books through conventions and speaking engagements, and those sales are always of bound books. Thus we sell more than 85 percent of those K–12 books in physical format.

For more general books, our sales are about 15 to 20 percent digital. Alas, sales of general titles are about 40 percent of what they were last year and the year before. 

I use a rough guide to evaluate a book’s cost/profit ratio. For general titles, we are on target if we make a 25 percent profit from bound books. We consider digital books spin-offs and expect about 65 percent profit on them.

Our niche books sell better and have greater potential for e-book sales because the buyers now have iPads and handhelds, and we can produce for distribution through iPad, Kindle, and NOOK. Since we have direct contact with niche buyers, we can control what they know about the availability of e-books vs. bound versions. In the future, we will include a question about preference for a book in digital format in our niche pretests so we can better gauge the demand. 

Gordon Burgett

Communication Unlimited


Impulse Purchase Patterns

I first viewed e-books as an unpleasant way to read and expected them to be unpopular. But now with improved e-readers, color e-ink, and a new audience emerging who never knew what life was without a computer, I’m changing my thoughts.

My second e-book, Snorkeling Adventures Bonaire, has been out for just a few days so no sales yet. But my first, Learn to Drive Like a Pro: Mini Guide, has been selling steadily and seems to have increased sales of the print book it is derived from. 


I did that first miniguide with the idea that it could work like chewing gum at the checkout counter. I know thousands more people visit my Web site than buy my books, but maybe if they saw a very inexpensive book by the same author, they’d buy that “on the way out,” just like someone picking up a pack of gum.

Now I’ve had comments from readers who say they first bought the e-book version of my bestselling driving book, Professional Driving Techniques, liked it a lot, and then ordered the print version, which retails for $22.95. 


I tried to make the e-book search engine–friendly, with keywords built right in, and that seems to be beneficial. Although sales are light, they’re steady, so I have a bit more revenue than before. A new Web site, now in development, will increase sales, I expect. 

Joyce Huber

Photographics Publishing


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