Super Monkey Group: The Blurting Beetles of Baloogo Loogo has a new cover! Illustrated by the excellent Jeff Bellio. Check out his illustration work, it’s beautiful.
From my extremely scientific sample size of one (me) I’ve drawn the very rigorous conclusion from a wealth of data: ebooks will win.
When I say win I mean win the way cars won over horses. Win in a way that is complete and pervasive. Win the way lasers won over catapults. Win the way Ninjas won over My Little Pony.
It is so incredibly easy to buy books on Kindle. Search, click, buy. Search, sample, buy. Buy a book, others also bought, browse, sample, buy.
I think the term used is “frictionless”. I don’t have to enter credit card details with each purchase (thus giving me the chance to think it over). The book turns up in under 30 seconds.
And it’s easy to use!
I love my Kindle so very very much and while I love my book collection I look at it now as a big heavy problem. A problem involving beautiful things but a problem.
The loss of the cheaper secondhand market isn’t good but I think piracy and ultra-low cost ebooks will take care of that. We also need to work out how to retool our libraries so citizens can have access to any book they want.
Hooray for ebooks!
I’ve had my Kindle 3 for about a month now and it was just last night in bed on day five of the flu that I accepted some facts about ebooks, the Kindle and other ebook readers (Kobo, etc).
Sure, I’ve said for about a year now (and thought) that ebooks were going to eviscerate traditional publishing but being that I was still a paper edition buyer, the actual truth of this fact hadn’t connected on an emotional level. To put it bluntly, I was talking the talk but not walking the walk.
Intellectually I’d thought through the mass distribution of cheap e-readers, the elimination of gatekeepers, the endless churning process which pushed good books to the top of the pile and the resulting effect on paper publishing but some part of me was still hanging on to the idea that paper publishers were pretty much going to exist in the same form they have today.
Oh boy, was I wrong and here’s why.
Last night I’m browsing the Kindle sci-fi range, searching for super heroes and time travel and just seeing what turns up when I stumble across Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. It was $6.99 and had close to five stars so I downloaded the sample. A few minutes later (maybe 10 to read the sample) I clicked buy and maybe thirty seconds later I’m reading the book.
Old Man’s War is excellent: slick and fast and full of future tech.
Buying Old Man’s War was also slick and fast and full of a present tech that feels futuristic.
There was zero friction between desire to buy and buying. There was no slow download, there was no need to get out of bed! And once I finished the book I immediately bought The Ghost Brigades.
The previous day (day four of the flu), I’d bought four or five titles. One was a superhero novella. Another was David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames. One was a strange police procedural/magic/sci-fi mixture that I can’t remember the name of right now.
Of the various titles I’ve bought, only a few are from “name” authors. John Scalzi is well-known but outside of Kindle world B.V. Larson not so much (although with his sales he’s gaining notoriety). The author of the superhero novella is pretty much unknown. The weird police procedural is a rising star in ebook world but unknown everywhere else.
So here’s the point: the good books rise to the top naturally and then people buy them and absolutely don’t care if they know the author’s name or not.
What does this mean?
Anyone with a good book can sell.
So what does this mean (and get to the point dumbass)?
Unknown authors without a publisher behind them (or in front of them, locking up rights for a billion years) are making money and not tiny dribbling bits of money but serious actual worthwhile money. They don’t need a marketing team, they don’t need salespeople, they don’t need a giant corner block office with high black windows and a huge sign out the front … all they need is their story (and maybe an editor).
This is why paper publishing is utterly and irretrievably fucked. Paper publishing has nothing to offer. Money? Nope. Prestige? Nope. Editorial skill (easy to obtain elsewhere). Sales staff (for what? The natural churn will pull good books up). Marketing (turns out it’s not that hard and again, good books rise anyway).
Right now, there are thousands of authors putting up work on Kindle and seeing what happens. Some are making sales and that’s enough for them to keep going. It takes very little to convince a writer to continue with Kindle publishing because the alternative (paper publishing) is zero dollars and zero sales.
The Death of Paper Publishing Goes Like This
Let’s meet three writers.
Susan, a 31-year-old English teacher who writes exciting Sci-fi on the side. She’s had limited success in publishing, managing to get two stories published, one in a print magazine and the other online. She was only ever paid in contributions.
Michael, a 28-year-old waiter who writes Fantasy and years ago made the choice to have a non-taxing low-paid day job that left him time to write. He’s had nothing published. He often thinks about attending law school and giving up on the idea of making a living from writing.
Joe, a 39-year-old freelance writer who writes Thrillers. He’s written a lot of corporate stuff over the years, slipped in and out of full-time employment and has three complete unpublished novels plus hundreds of thousands of words of short stories, partial novels, poetry and everything else sitting around.
Our three writers each decide to take a punt on Kindle publishing.
Susan puts up Teeming, a sci-fi adventure where humankind finally makes it to the stars only to discover that every possible human suitable planet in the entire universe is already settled and well-armed.
Michael puts up 100 Hours, a fantasy action adventure where the lead character is brought back from the dead for just 100 hours in order to have his revenge and set things right.
Joe puts up Blistered, Charred, and Scarred, his three thriller titles featuring a wealthy police officer trying to do good while a devious killer mastermind slips ever deeper into dark acts.
They each join the various Kindle communities and write blog posts about putting their work up. Only Joe, the freelance writer thinks about some sort of advertising but he decides to wait and see.
Within a week, Susan has made 10 sales for $2.99 each. She has earned herself $2.10 per titles – a whopping $21! Michael isn’t going so well and he’s only sold one copy. Joe is kicking ass and taking names and has sold twenty copies of each title – around 60 sales, each netting him $2.10 per sale. With $126 collected for his first week, Joe is ecstatic!
Skip forward a month and Joe and Susan are complete converts to e-publishing. Susan’s Teeming picked up a few good reviews and climbed high enough in the rankings that other people started trying it out. She got a big push in particular from the Amazon algorithm putting her title in the “Other People Also Bought” section of some of the best-selling Sci-fi.
Joe has gone from strength to strength with his weekly royalties rarely dropping below $100. He crossed the $500 mark and was delighted to get a check in the mail.
Michael hasn’t quite had the same success but his 100 Hours is chugging along, selling a few copies here and there. By the end of the month he’s sold 20 books and after reading a lot of forums online he has become convinced that if he writes more books, he’ll have more sales.
Skip forward six months.
Susan now has two titles up and is working on a third. She can’t retire from teaching to write full-time but the extra money she’s earning keeps her motivated and writing on the weekends.
Joe has transformed into the type of writing machine he becomes when he’s on deadline with a contract hanging over him. He’s put up another thriller title and compiled the best of his unpublished work into two more books: one of poetry, the other of short stories. He’s heading to $2000 in royalties for this month and as his earnings have risen, he’s dropped away freelance work to focus on ebook writing.
Michael has a second title up and has seen a definite bump in his sales. He’s now selling at least five books a day and even though that’s not much, the $300 a month is definitely coming in handy. Most importantly, he’s receiving positive feedback on his work – both in terms of good reviews and money in his pocket.
None of these writers have bothered submitting a manuscript to a paper publisher since they began Kindle publishing.
Things at The Trad Pub Co (TPC) are not going so well. Sales are down as bookshops report a drop in sales. An industry report conducted by an independent researcher cuts to the heart of the matter: the heavy book buyers were also the first to buy Kindles and other ebook readers and now buy most of their books online. Only the moderate and infrequent purchasers remain and they simply don’t plunge the amount of cash into reading that the heavy buyers did. The unspoken industry knowledge comes out: without the heavy book buyers, bookshops simply cannot exist.
Inside TPC there is a battle between traditional and ebook publishing. One of the editors (Lisa) who now owns a Kindle has been fighting to reduce the price of TPC’s ebooks to $2.99. She is losing the battle though as the upper management cannot bear the idea of selling an ebook for less than $12.99.
Lisa is thinking of quitting, especially after the meeting today where she presented Joe’s work and requested permission to make him an offer to e-publish his other work. She wants to offer Joe 70% of the royalties, with the remaining 30% to go to the company to cover editing and cover design and to make some profit. Unfortunately, the upper management cannot accept the idea that the writer earns 70% and the company 30% – given that it has been 88% to company and 12% to writer for a very long time.
They authorise Lisa to offer Joe 25% of the ebook royalties and a $2000 advance. With her stomach churning, she contacts Joe who is delighted to hear from her and even more delighted to turn her down. $2000? He just made that in a month. And why would he settle for 25%? He’s making $2.10 per title sold. The editor agrees with him. She cannot see any justification why he would take their offer.
Skip forward a year…
Oh boy, things at TPC are really going badly. As more and more people buy ebook readers, the online market swells. Actually it doesn’t swell – it explodes. There are thousands of good books available for low prices and almost all the heavy buyers now own an e-reader and don’t hit the bookshops anymore. Even the moderate purchasers are picking up e-readers and as the hardware cost drops, more people leave paper book buying behind.
TPC has dropped their ebook prices to $8.99 and still cannot accept the idea that a book should cost less than $5.00. The company is hemorrhaging money as marketing, sales and distribution all continue to draw salaries (and upper management) but increasingly have less and less to do. The managing editor is slowly starting to see that Lisa (who quit six months ago to start her own ebook editing business) may have been right. In the last year TPC has made multiple advances to independent self-publishing authors but has been turned down time and time again. In one particularly stinging email, Michael, a fantasy author, wrote: “I’m making $800 a month publishing on my own. When I submitted my work to your company I was rejected. Why should I publish with TPC? I don’t see that your company has anything to offer me.”
Out in ebook world, our three writers are moving along with various degrees of success. Joe has completely left freelance writing and for the first time in ten years is going to crack $50,000 in income for a single year. Susan’s sales are going strong – this year she’ll earn $20,000 in royalties and she and her husband have had some serious conversations about Susan quitting teaching to write full-time. Michael has just hit $1000 in royalties for a single month and it looks like within a year he’ll earn $12,000 in royalties. He’s still working his terrible waiter job but he’s got a plan: if he can earn more than $1500 a month in royalties, he’ll quit his job and focus on writing.
Lisa, the editor who saw what was coming, is running a successful ebook editing business. Her prices are low for new customers and rise to moderate for returning customers. Every writer she talks to she tells to focus on e-publishing and forget paper publishing entirely.
We skip forward …
TPC collapsed and after the mass firings and clearing of deadwood the entire company is down to three editors, a graphic designer and a huge back catalogue of e-book rights still controlled by the company. Most of the upper management is gone, victims of a cutthroat cost rationalization. The three editors collectively borrowed money and bought out the company from the original owners (a private hedge fund who just wanted out). TPC has ceased traditional publishing entirely and is currently selling ebooks from $0.99 – $4.99. The three editors think that they can offer editorial services and some marketing in return for 30% of the total ebook royalty.
Perhaps they’re right …
As the great ship of traditional publishing slowly flounders and the stories of ebook publishing success flow out into the world, the final striking blow cuts in: new writers think of ebook publishing first. The freelance writers who were close to publication in the past put their manuscripts up for sale and have some success. The journalists take their unpublished work and sell it. The new writers put up their first efforts and have a few sales … just enough to convince them to continue.
And nowhere in here do we see large traditional paper publishing being able to offer anything of value to these writers…
It’s the future and you’re a dinosaur made of cake.
In addition to being a dinosaur made of cake, the entire book market is worth $100 per year in total. All the publishers, writers, retailers, sales people … everyone is trying to get a piece of that $100.
In this world, paper books cost $12.95. The publishers sell them at 60% discount to the bookshops so they collect $5.18 per book. The authors get 12% of wholesale so they pick up $0.62 per book.
In this model, 7.72 books are sold per year for $100. Of that $100, the bookshops pick up $7.77 per title for a grand total of $60. The publishers pick up $35.20 and the writers take home a whopping $4.80 in royalties.
Now we go to ebook publishing world. The entire industry is worth $100 but books only cost $0.99. Authors take home $0.35 per book sold and the ebook seller (Amazon) takes $0.65 per title.
In this model, 101 books are sold per year for $100. Of that $100, the ebook seller takes $0.65 per title for a grand total of $65.00. The writers take home $35.00 in royalties.
You can see some clear differences between the models immediately. The first is that 101 books are sold in ebook world! This doesn’t mean 101 individual novels are sold. Let’s say the first 50 are only three bestselling novels. The next 30 are six bestsellers and the final 20 are ten novels. In this model there are 19 novels in the world.
In paper world even if each of the eight (rounding up) books was an individual novel, there are only eight novels in the world.
Nineteen novels vs. eight novels!
Next up is author royalties. Paper world pays out $4.80. eBook world pays out $35.00. These royalties keep authors fed and alive. In ebook world, 19 authors are making a living. In paper world only eight authors are.
Then to publishers. In paper world they’re kicking ass, taking names and bringing home $35.20 per year. In ebook world they don’t exist and bring home zero.
Finally to bookshops. In paper world they’re the biggest winners, taking home $60 per year. In ebook world they have been replaced by ebook sellers who take home $65 per year.
With these figures in mind, travel with me back to 2003, my first job and spending $2000+ on books.
I was working at ACER Press, an educational publisher in Camberwell. Around the corner was Burke road and two bookshops: Angus & Robinson and Dymocks. Also in the area was Salisbury Books, a second-hand bookshop, another second-hand place, a Salvation Army, Kmart and Target.
I bought books from them all. Lunchbreaks I’d head down and spend $14.95, $16.95, $19.95 at Dymocks. I’d go into Kmart and buy new books at $9.99. I’d go to Salisbury Books and pick up amazing art books for $45.00. In the Salvation Army store I’d spend $6.00 on three books.
By any measure, I was a heavy buyer. I’m the prime market for publisher: I read fast, buy a lot of books and spend quite a lot of money. Not only that but I recommend books to everyone I know, lend my books around and give books as gifts.
Somewhere near the start of 2003, Angus & Robinson bought in a customer loyalty card. For the first $100 you spent you got a $5.00 voucher. For the next $100 a $10 voucher. I think it topped out at a $20 voucher at the $500 level. After that, it reset to zero again.
By about October I’d gone around the loop three times. I’d spent $1500 at Angus & Robinson alone in about ten months.
When I realised this, I didn’t buy another book for the rest of the year and significantly cut down thereafter.
- My book buying was limited by money, not quantity of books. I was reading a lot of books but nowhere near my capacity. In addition to all this book buying I was borrowing books from libraries. Any moment of waiting had a book in it. Bus stops, train rides, lunch breaks, appointments.
- Even with my book buying I wasn’t buying every book I wanted to read. Because new books rarely cost less than $9.99, I had to make choices of one book over another. I didn’t buy some books because they were too expensive. Others lost out against others at the $16.95 price point. I wanted to buy those other books but couldn’t afford it.
- I did buy some bad books in there and at $16.95 a pop, even a few a year was a horrible waste of money. I didn’t buy some books because I didn’t want to take this risk at $16.95.
If we put this $2000 into the two models we see that in paper world we get:
Paper: 154 books are sold at $12.95, bookshops take $1200, publishers $704 and authors $96.
Ebook: 2020 books are sold, e-seller takes $1293 and authors take $707.
In ebook world there are thousands of more books to buy. Yes, this does mean masses of crap but at 99 cents people are willing to risk it (plus you can get refunds easily).
In ebook world there are more authors making money. In paper world there are English teachers who’ve got their pretty good book sitting in a drawer because it doesn’t meet the business case of paper publishing (e.g., can’t sell 15000 copies per year). But in e-book world it’s clocking 2000 sales per year, the author is making $700 a year and that’s enough to keep them writing and involved. They go on to write a second book, a third book, a fourth book and it is this fourth book that is an extraordinary piece of brilliance that will live for a hundred years.
In paper world, tonnes of trees are being cut down, printing machinery is running 24 hours a day, ships are moving these tonnes of books around the world then trucks are driving them to warehouses and then smaller distributors are delivering them to bookshops where they may only sit on a shelf for a few weeks before being dumped.
In ebook world, the electronic good business is booming, making Kindles, Nooks, iPhones and other e-readers. These are still shipped all over the world but once you own one, you can download whatever books you want.
In paper publishing world, writers like me are scraping along as freelancers, working in communications because publishers pay squat, going to meetings with publishers where they promise imaginary future things (paying work) for real things now (just do this book buddy! We’ll pay you in the future we promise!). Writers are dropping out because there is no money to be made. And for those who say that the writer who drops out wouldn’t have made it anyway … you’re full of it. Excellent writers drop out all the time and take up communication jobs instead. They’ll never write that great book because they can’t get paid. They may be creative people but they’re not stupid.
In ebook world, writers like me can take that reader written four years ago and sold to a publisher for next to nothing and put it up for sale online. And although it might not make the flat fee equivalent in the first year, life is long and over the long run it will eclipse the flat fee many times.
I love the ebook revolution
I’ve started buying ebooks which I’m reading on my laptop and I love it. Even with the artificially high prices publishers are charging, $5.95 beats $9.95. And there are a hell of a lot of good books out there for $0.99 – $3.99.
Over the last few weeks I’ve already bought/downloaded about 20 ebooks and when I next move house I’ll be glad to only move my laptop instead of a box of books.
A revolution, really?
Yes and I’ll tell you why. Forget what publishers are doing and focus on the writers. Writers get screwed and anyone who has published or worked as a writer has been burned numerous times. Underpaid jobs, no-pay jobs, screwed on royalties, promised things that never eventuate and even if they get published they have their royalties held back for six months or more.
Hey, write a children’s reader for us! 5000 words and we’ll pay you $200 advance on 5% wholesale price (so about 5 – 10 cents per book sold).
Hey, write a children’s reader for yourself! 5000 words, no advance but you collect $0.35 per book sold, don’t lose your rights and can earn this money for the rest of your life.
There are plenty of writers in the world who are good enough to publish great work and for this group, e-publishing represents a lot more money, esteem, attention and also control for the writer. A publisher offering $200 and $0.05 – $0.10 per book can’t beat $0.35 per book. They especially can’t beat it when these good writers are already making money online.
The lure of a paper book in your hands or some dream about being on a shelf does not beat a whopping chunk of money.
Anyways, to wrap this up: ebooks rule, paper publishers are screwed.