Mark Terry

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

E-Book Publishing Blah, Blah

February 15, 2011
Wired has a piece on how screwed up Amazon's sorting of nonfiction books for kids is, also pointing out, perhaps that publishers seem somewhat unconvinced there's a big e-book marketk for children yet. Maybe. Or not. Hell, it's an op-ed, so who knows?

My problem is with kids’ non-fiction. First, some stats: There are something like 500,000 ebooks available on Amazon for the Kindle. Almost 400,000 are categorized as non-fiction. Children’s non-fiction comes in at about 3,500 titles which sounds pretty respectable until you start to mine the list for anything useful. There are, for example, a paltry 39 books on Computers and 21 on Politics and Government.

The first real problem is that “children” covers a huge range in the real world and the Amazon organizers treat them as one undifferentiated mass. Titles aimed at pre-schoolers are bundled in with those aimed at high school students. So Bubblebut the Sea Turtle rubs shoulders with The Origin of the Species. I’m not kidding: they’re filed together. That’s just lazy and makes finding useful texts a completely hit-or-miss effort.

Then there’s the simply poor categorization. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped is apparently a non-fiction work on Transport—well, I suppose ships feature heavily. The Botany category features Girlwood, a novel about a runaway girl and an herbalist. Ah, an herbalist—see how it got into the Botany category?

Borders might, maybe, is supposed to, who knows?, declaring bankruptcy this week. So brilliant journalists with the Wall Street Journal went and talked to Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, Inc., a major e-publishing company, for a totally biased take on what that means. Not surprisingly, Coker says Borders should turn to e-books. Laurence Kirshbaum, a literary agent, throws out some numbers that have the wonderful word "probably" in it, which might have been better replaced by "my wild-assed guess" and Seth Godin, who seems to be everywhere these days discussing e-books, makes this comment, which actually puzzles me a bit:

"Small publishers and self publishers have as many tools to reach readers as big publishers do," said Mr. Godin, whose next book, "Poke the Box," will be published March 1 via an alliance with Amazon.

And isn't that layout interesting. Anyway, my response to that actually is: Um, yeah, no. Sorry, small publishers and self-publishers do not, as a matter of fact, have the same tools to reach readers as big publishers do. THey don't have money. They can't get their books distributed to Kmart, Sam's Club, Walmart, Meijer and a few thousand other non-bookstore retail outlets. They can't place a TV ad like they do for James Patterson or Janet Evanovich. THey can't send an author to France and Germany or to 30 cities across the U.S. to promote their book, nor can they usually get them on Oprah, Good Morning America, the Today Show or Larry King.

But aside from that, yeah, totally same tool kit. They can upload them as e-books to Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes & Nobles.


Blogger Erica Orloff said...

It's hilarious to me how much pontificating goes on. If I hear "level playing field" one more time. No, it's not.

Name any big-name author, Anne Rice, say, whom I follow on FB, or James Patterson, or Grisham. You KNOW, just by being part of some collective social awareness, when they have a new book coming out. You will filter that through media channels, even if you are not a fan. You will "hear" about it.

Pick ANY self-pubbed Kindle author, and I guarantee you I have never heard of them, won't search for their book, am completely oblivious they are pubbing, or when their next release is.

Yes, the tools are available, but before people start betting they're going to make their mortgage payment on something they slap up on Kindle . . . they need to understand there is more to it than the "level" playing field.

7:38 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

One of the things I find interesting in the ebook debate is that people tend to forget to differentiate between popularity of ebooks and popularity of self-published books in digital format.

Statistically, it is very clear that ebooks are quickly gaining their share of the book market.

On the other hand, self published books are a totally different beast. From the authors standpoint, I can easily image digital format seems like a godsend, since you no longer have to put in the capital to have the book printed. On the other hand, it also seems to me that the tsunami of self-published books into the market also means that these authors also have a bigger fight on their hands to get their book noticed by anyone.

It seems to me that the only effect ebook availability has had on the gap between publishing house books and self-published authors is that the discussion has made us more aware of self published authors. The exposure gap is still there and is still just as big, its just made the transition to the new format along with everything else.

A Story Before Bed

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Howard Douglas said...

You have made some distinguishable points which are praiseworthy.I would love to read more of your posts.

11:22 AM  

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