It wouldn’t be the end of the year in media without a twitterstream clogged with trends, predictions and ‘Top 7’ lists.
Probably the biggest one to impact the behaviours and aspirations of our magical internets is to do with publishing.
Basically it’s fucked.
But it’s fucked in kinda a good way. Especially if you’ve dabbled with the thought of penning something at some stage in your life.
It’s one of the rare sectors of our lives in the developed world that actually looks better in the medium term.
In the words of Sage of Omaha, “it would be a shame to waste this crisis.”
Cards on the table? I love the promise of digital publishing. It suits magical discourse like a glove. We have a five thousand year history (think clay tablet) of short form magical publishing. Wherever possible, I get behind it.
For instance I’m loving Hadean’s chapbook releases of late. Picked myself up (and loved) both this and this. They get an A+ for content but only a C+ for process. I don’t mind them putting the ‘pamphlet’ back in ‘pamphleteering’ -that’s what keeps the price so affordable- but it should also come with an instant ebook download option. (Also the actual shopping card method is extremely frustrating. Shopping cart abandonment must be pretty high. Drop me a note if you want to discuss this -it’s a big part of my day job.)
Anyway. Let’s start with a few trends on why you should why you should be/are looking at ebook publishing.
This is wholesale US trade ebook revenue in Q3 2010. (Latest available figures.)
This is year-on-year US trade ebook growth over the same period.
But starting from a tiny base always means super high growth rates. It’s still small beans, right?
Wrong. Check out this analysis:
[E]-book buying falls very low down on this list of how people acquire books. Just 7% of online adults who read books read e-books. But that 7% happens to be a very attractive bunch: they read the most books and spend the most money on books. And here’s the kicker – the average e-book reader already consumes 41% of books in digital form. Oh, and that includes the people who don’t have an e-reader yet, which is nearly half of them. For those that have a Kindle or other e-reader, they read 66% of their books digitally.
I’m sure you’re ahead of me on this one, but let’s just spell it out. We have plenty of room to grow beyond the 7% that read e-books today and, once they get the hang of it, e-book readers quickly shift a majority of their book reading to a digital form. More e-book readers reading a greater percentage of their books in digital form means our nearly $3 billion figure in 2015 will be easy to hit, even if nothing else changes in the industry.
Silence in the peanut gallery
But you just love books, right?
You don’t want to swap it for reading on a screen?
That’s largely due to a universal tendency to overvalue experiences you understand and underestimate those that you don’t.
Welcome to the last ten years of my career working in the digital departments of traditional media businesses.
I think the author of this post and I should go for a drink:
But one problem that arises from repeating these examples as a hex to ward off evil digital spirits is that people erroneously conclude from them that books are somehow a special artifact (Thompson’s word) that can never be supplanted. This is a mistake.
I wish I had a dime for every time someone in the newspaper industry said to me over the past 15 years that you would never replace the daily ritual of reading a paper, that a broadsheet was somehow uniquely capable of delivering news. I have had that conversation as recently as a year ago; I can appreciate how easy is it to slip into that fallacy.
But it is a simple matter to detail how we have forsaken media habits and artifacts time after time (vinyl, anyone?) in pursuit of cheaper, more convenient alternatives.
This is true with any physical artifact that humans think they value—including the shift from horses to automobiles or the change from being at Fenway to watching the Red Sox on TV. Both of my examples are illustrative because people still ride horses and pay a king’s ransom to watch the Sox play live. But only a minority of people in motion and a minority of Red Sox Nation do either.
Let’s move the carnage a bit further down the distribution chain. Look back up at the barriers to ebook adoption. Only 3% of people actually give a shit what a bookseller’s opinion is. So much for bookstores fostering “literary culture”:
That’s simply bogus. As much as I despise some of its recent tactics, no company in recent years has done more than Amazon to ignite a national passion for buying, reading, and even writing new books. With his creepy laugh and Dr. Evil smile, Bezos is an easy guy to hate, and I’ve previously worried that he’d ruin the book industry. But if you’re a novelist—not to mention a reader, a book publisher, or anyone else who cares about a vibrant book industry—you should thank him for crushing that precious indie on the corner.
Compared with online retailers, bookstores present a frustrating consumer experience. A physical store—whether it’s your favorite indie or the humongous Barnes & Noble at the mall—offers a relatively paltry selection, no customer reviews, no reliable way to find what you’re looking for, and a dubious recommendations engine. Amazon suggests books based on others you’ve read; your local store recommends what the employees like. If you don’t choose your movies based on what the guy at the box office recommends, why would you choose your books that way?
In the past, bookstores did have one clear advantage over online retailers—you could read any book before you purchased it. But in the e-book age that advantage has slipped away. Amazon and Barnes & Noble let you sample the first chapter of every digital title they carry, and you can do so without leaving your couch.
In fact, the above Slate article suggests you shouldn’t support local bookstores:
I get that some people like bookstores, and they’re willing to pay extra to shop there. They find browsing through physical books to be a meditative experience, and they enjoy some of the ancillary benefits of physicality (authors’ readings, unlimited magazine browsing, in-store coffee shops, the warm couches that you can curl into on a cold day). And that’s fine: In the same way that I sometimes wander into Whole Foods for the luxurious experience of buying fancy food, I don’t begrudge bookstore devotees spending extra to get an experience they fancy.
What rankles me, though, is the hectoring attitude of bookstore cultists like Russo, especially when they argue that readers who spurn indies are abandoning some kind of “local” literary culture. There is little that’s “local” about most local bookstores. Unlike a farmers’ market, which connects you with the people who are seasonally and sustainably tending crops within driving distance of your house, an independent bookstore’s shelves don’t have much to do with your community. Sure, every local bookstore promotes local authors, but its bread and butter is the same stuff that Amazon sells—mass-manufactured goods whose intellectual property was produced by one of the major publishing houses in Manhattan.
The glass is half full
In case you’re panicking because a large part of your retirement plan (which is still safer than being in the British public sector, it would seem) relies on publishing The Great [Insert Country] Novel, try looking at this massive change from a positive angle.
Here’s some words from one of my personal heroes and successful indy ebook author:
Let’s look at everyone in the middle:
Agent, editors, book publisher, distribution channels, bookstores.
All of those are the walking dead. Bookstores are already gone. Notice that unlike American Airlines which gets to go bankrupt and then happily continues to do business without paying it debts – Borders actually got liquidated. Their business was so bad that no banks would lend to them, no hedge funds would support them (anymore) and even book publishers refused to send them books. Barnes & Noble is next (their college stores keep them in business). I was surprised a few weeks ago when I was in San Francisco and realized there wasn’t a single Barnes & Noble in the city. I know people read there. They just read with their kindles.
So there’s two reasons to go for a book publisher: and both reasons are declining in value:
– The advance. But advances are declining. I don’t have proof of this. Only what agents and publishers tell me (or maybe they are just telling me that because they don’t want to pay ME an advance. Who knows. One quick story: I was at a dinner where perhaps the greatest literary agent in history was on one side and a well known magazine publisher who is setting up her own imprint of books was on the other side. Within a 30 second period the agent told me that advances are doing great: “more 7 figure advances in the past six months than ever before”. And the publisher on the other side told me: “the publishing business is dead. Don’t listen to her.”
Meanwhile, the high advances are only being given if you already are well known or have a huge “platform” as they call it. Meaning, a big email list, twitter following, etc. If you already have that list, then much better to self-publish anyway because you’ll get a 70% or higher royalty versus a 10% royalty. And 100% of foreign rights versus 30-50% of foreign rights.
Ebook publishing tips
There are lots of things I am wrong about -especially magical things. But I make a not-entirely-shit amount of money in global digital media. In fact I gave a keynote presentation to European media types in London just the other week on mobile/tablet trends for 2012.
If you disagree with some of the conclusions here that’s fine, of course (we learn more from dissenting opinions), just be sure you’re not disagreeing out of personal preference or personal anecdote.
Not because I’m banging my chest and saying “I’m right”. Far from it. I’m banging the drum and saying “don’t miss out on this opportunity if publishing is something you want to do.”
First off, read this article from Seth Godin’s Domino Project about ebook pricing. Because it also covers potential release options. (Note: The automatically-rising option would have to be manual at this stage. It’s great but don’t count on it unless you want to write some script that automatically changes prices in your Amazon Publisher account.)
As for chapbooks, I put it to you that most new magical publishing should be in chapbook form because everyone already fucking knows the eight fucking festivals and already has their own precious stone correspondences. Short form content will rule in the medium term. Hadean is setting the market rate as far as I’m concerned.
2. A Beginner’s Guide
Secondly, read through this extremely helpful slideshow that covers all your options.
Really, you’re going to want to go with Amazon if you’re publishing in the English language in any western market. I’ll let you know when this changes. Even on iPad, more people are using the Kindle app than are using Apple’s service.
Also consider languaging. You can find someone on elance.com to translate your book into a language that is popular with ereading. (Chinese and Korean.)
3. Start with Bits, End with Dead Trees
There is nothing stopping you from providing a print on demand option if people want physical copies of your book. (Although my suspicion is a little A/B testing will show that having printed versions available will reduce your ebook sales.)
Here’s another indy example that -like Hadean- provides absolutely top quality content but is let down on delivery. The new Dark Lore is out. (Read Cat’s amazing Slenderman article for free here.) It’s POD which means a four week wait. Christmas is days away. I even emailed to see if there was any way I could get at least one copy by Christmas. Nope. In the corner of the room, my Kindle shed a single, manly tear. (They’ll do that sometimes.)
4. Be Found
Okay, that’s obvious. But as this article points out, book content has proved to be something of a challenge for The Algorithm. At the bottom it provides some advice for being found in the Google Bookstore which you can basically consider best practice regardless of the route you’re going down.
Also… here are the sharing trends for the year. Be found where you need to be found.
All comments welcome!