Today is not a craft post, it is a ramble on e-books and the publishing industry. I don’t claim to have the answers. Like everyone else, I’m on the same the rollercoaster ride.
Between Janet Evanovich asking $50 million advance from St Martin’s Press and moving to Random House to get it (see Forbes article) and Dorchester closing down its print arm and going into e-books, we live in interesting times. (See the Publishers Weekly article). The Evanovich saga has to be influenced by the fact that Katherine Heigl is going to play Stephanie Plum in the movie version of ‘One for the Money’.
The rest of us aren’t selling 75 million copies of our books. So we aren’t in Evanovich’s position. We are sitting back watching the rise of e-books and wondering where it will all lead.
In Australia we don’t use e-book readers as much as they do in the US. I did a survey of several Australian e-lists on the topic of e-books, collated the replies and did a post back in May. You can see it here. While we sit on the fence and notice e-reader on the train as a novelty, over in the US agent Kirsten Nelson talks about how her grandmother wants an e-reader. On the Mad Genius Club shared blog (MGC) the majority of the writers are based in the US and the future of e-books is on their minds. (17 posts on e-books, 5 on e-publishing).
They talk about reaching a ‘tipping point’ where the sales of e-books outstrip the sales of paperbacks. According to Amazon, e-book sales have topped hardcover sales. For those who like figures Amazon say they’ve been selling 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcovers. (July 19, 2010).
And then you have literary agent Andrew Wylie, who started his own publishing venture to produce e-books available through Amazon exclusively. There is a dispute going on over who owns the rights to older books, contracted before the arrival of e-books. And if a publisher can keep just a few print books available, how can a writer retrieve the rights to their intellectual property. See Konrath’s post about this.
According to an academic study (results released in March this year) print books which also released e-book versions for free generated more print sales. See the Journal of Electronic Publishing for this article. Sean William’s ‘The crooked Letter’ was one of the titles covered.
And then there is the question of e-book DRM, bascially the content is locked so that it can only be read on certain readers. (For more on DRM see here). Cory Doctorow talks about DRM here. He is very suspicious of the whole thing. He says: ‘This led me to formulate something I grandiosely call Doctorow’s First Law: “Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you, and won’t give you a key, they’re not doing it for your benefit.”‘
I know the readers of e-books in the states who comment on the MCG blog are indignant about not being able to read a book they’ve purchased if they change their reader. Cory Doctorow makes this point:
‘If you think about it, this is a rather curious circumstance, because it means that once a technology company puts a lock on a copyrighted work, the proprietor of that copyright loses the right to authorize his audience to use it in new ways, including the right to authorize a reader to move a book from one platform to another. At that point, DRM and the laws that protect it stop protecting the wishes of creators and copyright owners, and instead protect the business interests of companies whose sole creative input may be limited to assembling a skinny piece of electronics in a Chinese sweatshop.’
And then there are mid-list authors who have a following, who get dropped by their publisher, who now have the option of releasing their back lists on Amazon as e-books or even releasing new titles. As long as they have an established name and their readers are keen to find their books they’ll sell and they will be getting a lot more than 10% of the net.
So here we are back at the beginning, where is the publishing industry heading? Is there going to be tipping point regarding e-book sales? Will paperback publishing end up catering to a niche market?
Who has an e-book reader? I’m tempted. I keep thinking it would be so much easier to carry on the train, with a selection of books.