The Year of the EBook?

Paul Doiron here to kick off the holidays with Topic A in the book world today: Ebooks.

This weekend, thousands of people will be unwrapping presents to discover devices they’ve never used or thought they needed. Kindles and iPads and Nooks, oh boy! Some will be delighted, others will be baffled, a few will look for ways to discreetly return their newfangled contraptions in favor of actual printed texts. Personally, I’m expecting the broadband connection in my neighborhood to slow considerably on Christmas morning. A whole lot of downloading will be going on.

It’s likely that future generations will look back at 2011 as the year that the ebook finally took hold among the general reading populace. The Amazon Kindle has been around since 2007 and the iPad since 2010, and prognosticators had been predicting a steady increase in the number of electronic readers and digital editions sold over the next decade. Very few people foresaw the rapid acceleration in ebook sales that actually occurred, however. A recent report estimated that by 2016, ebooks would be a $10 billion a year business (up from $3.2 billion today). Don’t be surprised if that prediction proves woefully conservative.

Publishing being publishing, no one knows what to make of this trend: least of all authors. You hear fairy tale success stories that make you think there’s gold in them thar bytes. And then you talk to your colleague down the street whose royalty statement showed a grand total of 25 ebooks sold during the prior six months. Your friend might tell you their books aren’t even available electronically. And depending on their philosophy, that is either a grand thing (Huzzah, Gutenberg!) or a shocking failure by their publishers that is depriving them of Hockingesque riches.

My two novels are available on all the major platforms—Kindle, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, and Google Books — and I am glad that’s so. But I respect the sentiments of those who hear the death knell of libraries and bookstores in the chiming of the Nooks. I share many of those fears myself. And so I open the question up to my fellow Maine Crime Writers: What do you think? Are eBooks naughty or are they nice?

Lea:  The bottom line for me is simple:  the more people who read books, in any format, the better! (And, of course, the more people who read my books in particular — better still!) A Kindle was under my Christmas tree two years ago, and although my name was on it, my husband immediately claimed it as a great way to get The New York Times and The Economist delivered to his chair. I borrow it for out-of-town trips, and for occasional “must read immediately” emergencies, generally of a marketing sort. Both of us prefer reading books, and I really miss clipping physical articles out of the Sunday Times. Maybe I’m old-fashioned.  I know all the reasons why ebooks are great. But I still find books easier on my eyes and hands.

The books I’ve written? I’m weary of arguing with my publisher about them. I want them all available as ebooks, of course. But right now only three of the five mysteries in my Shadows Antique Print Mystery Series are available as e-books — the first, third and fifth, which makes no sense to me or my readers, and only two of my books for ages 8-14. Why not all my books? A question I keep asking Simon & Schuster. For three years they’ve been saying, “soon.” But I’m very glad that Shadows at the Fair, the first in the series, is available digitally, since it’s out of print, and many people want to start reading a series at the beginning. That’s one of the great things about e-books: it can keep books “in print” more or less forever. And I love that  I can meet someone on an airport bus, tell her about Shadows of a Down East Summer, my newest book, and she can download it and start reading before we get to her terminal.  (It happened!)

Barb: I’m not sure naughty or nice is relevant. Some form of digital reading is here to stay. What Amazon, (and to some extent B&N) offer is the two things human beings want more than anything else–sex and money, er, convenience and control, at least as far as technology is concerned. As a veteran of those wars, I can tell you, convenience and control trump quality of experience almost every time. (Though sex and money are also great drivers. Porn pretty much leads the way to every new medium, the rest of us just follow along.)

Personally, I read both my Kindle and printed books. I’m not sure how I make the decision. Some unconscious algorithm about how fast I need it, whether I can get it locally, whether I’m likely to value it enough to give it shelf space, whether I’ll want to pass it along, something, something. And Lea, I totally understand about your Kindle. Last year, my daughter gave us an iPad, called the OPad because Oprah (a very generous publisher) gave it to her. My husband has so thoroughly adopted the thing, I don’t think of it as jointly owned anymore.

My novel The Death of an Ambitious Woman is available for Kindle. The first Level Best anthology I co-edited, Thin Ice: Crime Stories by New England Writers is available for Kindle and Nook and for other formats on Smashwords. The newest anthology, Best New England Crime Stories 2012: Dead Calm is available for Kindle for Amazon Prime members for FREE because we’re participating in this lending experiment. I keep telling my partners that the great thing about being a little teeny publisher is that we don’t have warehouses full of books and can experiment with a lot of things.  And they keep rolling their eyes at me.

Kaitlyn: All the books I’ve written as Kaitlyn Dunnett and Kate Emerson are available as ebooks through their respective publishers. The publishers set the prices. But before I wrote as Kaitlyn Dunnett or Kate Emerson, I used my own name, Kathy Lynn Emerson and (for Silhouette) the pseudonym Kaitlyn Gorton (the name I wished my parents had given me combined with my maiden name). Although I was able to sell a fair number of books under those names between 1980 and 2007, I never progressed beyond the middle of the midlist and never made much money from my writing. But every cloud has a silver lining. That lack of sales made it easy for my various publishers to return all rights to my books to me when the books went out of print. The ebook revolution had not yet worked up a head of steam.

Although a couple of my Face Down mysteries were, briefly, Rocket ebooks, the publishers didn’t think the electronic format was ever going to go anywhere. I had no better idea what the future would bring, but when I had a chance to put those books back “in print” I jumped at it, and I’ve kept jumping. I made almost my entire backlist, in several genres, available at http://www.belgravehouse.com and from there, as the market boomed, into all the usual formats and outlets.

I say almost, because two years ago I had a chance to experiment a little with this brave new world. A group of multi-published writers got together to create a website where we could sell our own books, including new material that, for whatever reason, had not found a home with print publishers. The result was A Writer’s Work, an online bookstore owned and operated by the people who created the product. I have all my children’s books there (four of them for ages 8-12), plus one that was never published in the traditional formats.

The experiment is ongoing. We have no idea if we’re going to make much of a profit on our venture. We don’t offer Kindle format, because that’s proprietory, but so far the main problem has been spreading the word about the site. So, WARNING: BSP (blatant site promotion) ahead:
At http://AWritersWork.com, we’re having a the day-after-Christmas sale. Here’s how it works. On December 26, 2011, The first book from each of our authors (Kaitlyn/Kate/Kathy included) is free, with any additional book by that author at the regular low price. Selections include mysteries, romances, historicals, children’s books, and nonfiction. Here are the “rules”:
— No more than 1 book per author will be free to any individual/household.

— If you order more than 1 book by an author, the most expensive book will be free to you.

— the sale runs from 12:01 a.m.-11:59 p.m. EST Dec. 26, as time-stamped by PayPal.

— Initially, you will be charged for your book(s), then you will receive a refund via PayPal for the full purchase price, making it free. (But remember, if you order more than 1 book per author, only 1 will be free. The others will be charged at regular price.)

— We will issue that refund via PayPal by Dec. 29 (earlier if technical issues, weather in the US Midwest, PayPal, weather in the US Southwest and other potential gremlins cooperate.)

WEBSITE: http://AWritersWork.com
FACEBOOK: http://facebook.com/AWritersWork

I hope you folks reading this will pay us a visit, even if it’s just to look us over. I also hope you’ll take a moment to comment here on the question of where people buy ebooks. Yes, Amazon, B&N and Apple probably have the biggest selections, but there are lots of other ebook stores out there. Think of them as your independent booksellers, where you can often find treasures you’d never think to look for in a giant warehouse.

And where the author earns a much larger percentage of the selling price than the big boys are willing to share.

So, to answer Paul’s question, ebooks are nice. They help a writer keep out-of-print backlist available and you can enlarge the font if your eyesight is going. Replace hardcovers and paperbacks? I doubt it. There’s room for both.

Kate: I still feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland about all this. I don’t own a kindle, nook, iPad or any other kind of e-reader yet. But after years of readers expressing frustration because they couldn’t get all the books in my Thea Kozak series, I’m delighted that they’re all available as e-books. As an avid series reader myself, I do like the idea that a reader can finish one and order up the next instead of searching through libraries and the internet to find a copy. Actually, all my books are available. Thea. Joe Burgess. Finding Amy. And even the stand-alone suspense book I wrote as Katharine Clark. Four of the anthologies I have stories in are available as e-books, as well. And three of my books are also available as audio books. All are listed here on my author page, with links.

Nice? Well, one thing that makes e-books especially attractive to authors is that we make more money from them. Readers are often shocked to learn that the author may see about 35 cents on a paperback and a little over a dollar on a hardback book, while authors putting up their own e-books see almost 70% of the profit. Thus even with a book priced at $2.99, we make more money.

Naughty? One of my fears about e-books has been that it will deal yet another blow to indie bookstores, and I love bookstores. I was delighted to learn, from Dale at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that readers can purchase their e-books from many of their favorite indie bookstores. Amazon is convenient, but Amazon is a lot like the 500 pound canary, a ruthless marketing giant that wants to eat up Main Street. The world would be a poorer place without Gulf of Maine in Brunswick, or Longfellow’s in Portland. Without the Concord Bookshop in Concord, Massachusetts, or all the bookshops in the towns where we vacation that let us browse at leisure. I like to believe those analysts who believe these devices mean more reading, not just a switching of the formats people read in.

I don’t know what things will look like in a few years, but being a Luddite and a bit of a sentimentalist, I think that as I look forward to this exciting new universe of exploding technology, I also have to look backward with gratitude toward Tor/Forge Books, and Ballantine, Five Star, Berkley, and The University Press of New England for publishing my books in the first place. I wouldn’t have my backlist or my shelf of hardcover books without them.

One thing that still feels like a big a challenge to me is how to draw traffic to e-books once they’re available. I’ve joined a co-op, the Thalia Press Authors Co-Op, and a blog group, to help try and market e-books (http://thaliapressauthors.wordpress.com/.) Anyone here have any thoughts on that?

 

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2 Responses to The Year of the EBook?

  1. Gram says:

    I have downloaded free ebooks on to this computer (no Nook or Kindle) and never get to read them. I spend enough time on this electronic monster and love to have a real book in my hand.
    I would love to have a free ebook from the Maine writers on the 26th, but paypal is always acting up and so I don’t go there for so long that they tell me to update my info and then I start to have problems with it!
    I really love libraries and bookstores – I’m not far from the Concord Bookshop where they have authors speak frequently.
    I do hope publisher never give up on “real” books.
    Thank you all for writing…..Dee

  2. I’ve published 3 ebooks that are available for the nook, the kindle and a number of other platforms. In the past year I broke down and bought a nook and have already become addicted. It makes it very easy to carry a book to work for luchtime reading.
    As for libraries, my local library has signed on to an initiative that allows readers to borrow ebooks through their local library’s webpage. The list of available books is growing everyday and the majority are available in Adobe’s ePub format which is readable on most eReaders and PCs. Here’s the URL if you’re interested: http://download.maineinfonet.org/120A891E-8805-455B-90FC-F52591EB0C18/10/514/en/Default.htm
    Vaughn Hardacker
    MWA New England Chapter

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