Mark Terry

Thursday, July 28, 2011

E-Book Publishing Blah, Blah, Huh?

July 28, 2011
I guess you could say this post is a sequel to a previous one, "E-Book Publishing, Blah, Blah" that I wrote a while back. The reason I'm writing today is I just got notice that I have received a direct deposit of $16.66 into my bank account via the Amazon Kindle UK.

In a day or two I will receive a direct deposit from the U.S. version of Amazon Kindle and from Barnes & Nobles Pub-It, and, refreshingly, from Smashwords, who makes deposits on a quarterly basis.

I'm not getting rich. The UK number is the smallest one and it actually accounts for sales over a couple months. And, somewhat interesting to me, my UK sales tend to be for THE BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS, rather than the two Derek Stillwater novels I have information about, THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT'S KISS. (The e-book sales of THE FALLEN and THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS are under the control of my print publisher, Oceanview Publishing, and like all publishers, one does not often hear the words "accounting transparency" in the same breath as their name unless it's tied into various words like "shitty" or "fucking." That isn't to say that Oceanview is in anyway a bad publisher or that they are even remotely unusual in this regard. Quite the reverse, actually. I think they're a terrific small publisher that treats its authors quite well. It's just that, the only royalty statement I've received about sales all occurred prior to January 1, 2011, so anything that's happened in the last seven months is unknown to me and will remain so until the next royalty check/statement, which isn't really on my radar).

Kindle is also offering my books to the Amazon Germany site and there is some notice that India will be on the horizon soon, which is quite intriguing, actually. I haven't had any sales in Germany, undoubtedly because my e-books are only available in English, although both THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT'S KISS are available in German language editions in paper (as DAS GIFT DES ENGELS and GIFTHAUCH, respectively, published by Bastei Lubbe).

I'll be having another book out as an e-book soon, aimed at the middle grade-tween-YA market, titled THE FORTRESS OF DIAMONDS.

I'm also considering various aspects of e-publishing for my nonfiction business as well (again, I might add).

Some people in the industry are inclined to make very rock solid pronouncements about where publishing is going (eg., Joe Konrath) and although I lack his confidence, I have to reluctantly admit that he's probably right. The other night at our Tuesday karate class, my wife accosted one of the parents who was reading on a Kindle and asked him if he's bought a paper book since he bought his Kindle. I didn't hear the answer and forgot to ask her what it was.

My guess? A big fat no.

I'm currently reading a hardcover book, THE DEVIL COLONY by Jim Rollins, but I must confess it was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. (So far so good).

I've made a mental note to myself that Felix Francis has a new book out and that Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child have a new book coming out in a few weeks. I'm tempted to buy them in hardcover. But I probably won't. I'll probably buy them as e-books. Moving around a thousand books when I moved my office upstairs to a slightly smaller space convinced me that there might be a better option. And at 47-1/2 years of age, I'm reluctantly starting to admit that my eye doctor (who shares my birthday but who is one year younger than me) has been waiting for my need for bifocals to announce itself and I'm beginning to think that the difficulty I'm having reading regular print paper books compared to enlarging the font on my Kindle (and computer screen) is making itself fairly clear.

But that sort of begs the question: Won't traditional publishers just shift over to primarily e-book publishing and continue on their merry way?

Well, there's some rationale for it. But the problem is simply going to be that traditional publishers (and maybe the term "legacy publisher" is becoming increasingly appropriate) are currently offering ridiculous (i.e., shitty) contract terms for e-rights. Harlequin was in the news for offering a 15% e-book royalty, a figure that to me seems criminal. Somewhere in the range of 35% to 50% seems appropriate by most math, although most other publishers are offering 25% (which still sucks, actually). Otherwise, for e-book self-publishing when the price is over $2.99, the royalty is 70%. In other words, I get the same amount of money for a self-publishing e-book I price at $2.99 as I get for a $25 hardcover book priced by my publisher.

Throw in Borders going out of business totally and taking (in the last year or so) over 500 brick-and-mortar bookstores with them, Barnes & Nobles stores cutting back on shelf space to devote more room to e-books and non-book-related merchandise (and, reportedly, cutting back on backlist titles and new book launches by non-bestselling authors) and I think you at least have to raise an eyebrow on legacy publishing's ability to remain afloat while a new biz plan gets developed.

And I'm seeing a great number of seemingly successful midlist authors (I hate the word "midlist" because it suggests you're actually in the middle of the list, instead of it meaning not-a-bestseller. I'd need a jetpack to reach the middle of the list) apparently saying, "Fuck it," and turning down crappy contracts to self-publish.

I also heard someone comment (no idea if it's true) that about 90% of the newly published "traditional" authors since 2009 are actually formerly published authors writing under a new name.

So today, at least, I'm starting to feel that legacy publishers are more strongly resembling Diplodoccus or Tyrannosaurus rex. Sure, reptiles and turtles still exist (or birds, if you keep up on your paleontology), but they're only shadows of their dinosaur greatness.

What do you think?

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8 Comments:

Blogger Sylvia Hubbard said...

Joe is very right. ebooks are here to stay.

as 4yr sales, I think you're going to make a great impact in your genre Terry if you keep promoting!

Look to discussion groups like Kindleboards and also blogs in your genre.

YA is in. Matter of fact, I'm so tempted to write my own YA just to get into the market.

Also read: Kindle in India http://su.pr/1ajJej by yr favorite guy, joe.

LOL

1:03 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Sylvia,
Oh, I'm sure they're here to stay. The question that remains fuzziest is what will happen to traditional publishers.

I almost said "especially the big New York publishers" but actually, I suspect that small presses with a lot of hardcover and trade paper sales are going to have even bigger problems now because of Borders going under, which accounted for probably 2/3 of their distribution market. And that's a huge problem if you're only selling 1000 or 2000 copies in hardcover to begin with per title.

Thanks. I've spent some time on the Kindleboards, but it's been a while. Got busy doing other things.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I can't even talk about Borders. I'm devastated. I'm completely devastated.

I'm not sure if I wrote you back for real or just in my head, but I had the Smashwords scheduled for yesterday so I started your book. You should hear from me this afternoon with Fortress.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Natasha,
I look forward to it.

As for Borders, I'm kind of heartbroken, in a way. I love Borders and B&N. It does bother me that a good giant bookstore is no longer going to be a way of life. It's an experience that ordering via e-book just can't compare to.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Linda Pendleton said...

I said more than a decade ago ebooks were coming big-time but it did take longer than I thought it would.

I've not had any Kindle Germany sales yet, either. The UK ones have slowed some the last 3 months or so.

I've decided it is difficult to guess what will sell and when. Saturday sales seem slow, which surprises me. I have published such a variety of fiction and nonfiction, that I can't really predict much.

The one thing I do know, I love self-publishing, both ebooks and POD! (Kindle and some Smashwords) I love the freedom and control of my work and my late husband's books.

You should try nonfiction, also, Mark.

8:09 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

I'm on the customer end of the publishing food chain (although I must confess that I am working on a novel -- yeah, I know, me and thirty million other people) but it certainly does seem to me that eventually dead tree books are going to be a niche market. I think there is a certain sadness in that -- despite having a Kindle, I do think that I still enjoy the physical act of holding and reading a real physical book more than I do holding and reading my Kindle (well, except, perhaps, something like George R.R. Martin's latest -- at 1040 pages in hard cover, that is a damned heavy book to hold!) but I much prefer 2.99 to 4.99 Kindle pricing (especially knowing that the author is getting as much or more per book than would come from a physical book).

Heinlein once said that writer's are competing for Joe's beer money -- and I've been thinking about that recently in connection with Kindle pricing.

A six pack of a decent regional beer (say, for example, Wachusetts Brewery or maybe Sam Adams) probably goes for $8.95 in most package stores. That's the price of a mass market paperback. But now with Kindle, Joe could get three $2.99 books for the same price. Even if he hates one of the books and stops reading it after 30 or 40 pages, he is still ahead of the game.

That's where I think the traditional publishers have it wrong. They are trying to sell e-books for the same price (or maybe fifty cents or a dollar cheaper) as the physical book. My own impulse in those cases -- $8.95 for a physical book vs. $8.45 for the same novel as an e-book -- would be to order the physical book because I would think that having the real book was worth fifty cents.

A few weeks ago I got together with some friends at the outdoor patio of a restaurant on the Newport RI waterfront. They were charging $5.75 for a bottle of Sam Adams Summer Ale. I didn't mind the price -- I figured the view of Narragansett Bay was worth the extra markup. We had a second round. Still worth it.

I thought that was a reasonable analogy. But I tend to order books freely (my penniless student days being far behind me) and usually have a significant backlog of books waiting to be read. And I began to realize how freely and easily I have been ordering e-books in the 99 cent to 3.99 range and I realized that since I got my Kindle in April, all but one of the physical books Amazon has delivered to my house have been ones I had pre-ordered. (That one book was a sequel to one I had read on my Kindle and it was a case where there was no significant savings in buying the e-book, so I had ordered a real one -- but the first book in the series, the one that hooked me, had been down in that three or four dollar price range for the e-book.)

I've come to realize that I will probably continue to pre-order physical copies of future books by the same authors I do now, but that is a small subset of what I read. I am beginning to have such a backlog of e-books waiting to be read, that when it comes to a choice between an e-book and a physical book where the price is almost the same, I may not even get to the point of making that choice because my backlog of books in the .99 to 4.99 price range will be so large that there would be no point in shopping for yet more books. I will be buying far more books than I do now, because in that price range, I will take far more chances on new (i.e., new to me) writers.

6:26 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Linda,
My agent is shopping a nonfiction book project now, but if it doesn't sell, I may consider writing it anyway. It's a lot harder to write a nonfiction book than a novel, but, it may be worth it. And I do have a nonfiction book out, FREELANCE WRITING FOR A LIVING, but there's a lot of competition for that type of book. It doesn't sell well on Amazon or B&N, but it does pretty well on Smashwords.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Jim,
I think there are still authors I will buy in paper - John Sandford, Jonathan Kellerman, Sue Grafton. If Robert B. Parker were still writing his own books (i.e., if he were alive), I'd be buying him in paper. I'm not even sure if I'll buy the Spenser novels written by someone else. Time will tell.

I just bought Felix Francis's latest for Kindle, but if it was Dick Francis I'd be buying it in paper, too. Robert Crais - I'll have to think about it.

I've never heard that comment about Joe's Beer Money and I like that a lot.

And I generally think Sam Adams is worth the money, great view or not. :)

6:35 AM  

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