Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Rise of the Machines: E-books, Digital Publishing & You

Consider this sampling of recent publishing news:
♥ The complex settlement between Google and the Authors’ Guild, 3 years in negotiations, is awaiting judicial approval after a postponement due to concerns over the burden the agreement places on authors and rights holders, as well as a flurry of filings and debates. The industry is holding it’s breath regarding the fate of the licensing of down-loadable electronic versions of “orphaned works”, but just recently the National Writers Union weighed in against the agreement, saying it was “grossly unfair to writers”.
♥ Barnes & Noble revamps and re-launches its e-book store with nearly 700,000 titles (many public domain works through a deal with Google). With titles available in numerous user-friendly apps, including iPhone and Blackberry, as well as the Sony Ebook Reader and others, it is clearly set to compete meaningfully against the market behemoth, Amazon.
♥ Nearly every single publishing house in the game takes a loss in almost every reported quarter. They cut staff, they cut acquisitions, they cut advances. Oh, except for Harlequin. The Grande Dame of Romance, HQ gains and gains and gains.
♥ Reports continue on the amazing surge in e-book sales. One example: in the period April – June 2009 it is reported that e-book sales tripled from that same period in 2008. Romance e-books outsell every other genre, remaining the backbone of e-publishing.
♥ HarperCollins, which recently debuted its new Harper Studio division – an experiment in drastically changing the traditional advance/royalty payment structure – adds another new division: The digital division handling titles to be released in a single format – e-book.
♥ After concerns of piracy, and debate as to whether a simultaneous release of Dan Brown’s much anticipated sequel to The DaVinci Code, The Lost Symbol, would hurt sales of the hardcover, we have go for launch: Knopf Doubleday is releasing the soon-to-be-blockbuster simultaneously in hardcover and e-book formats on [countdown, ten, nine eight, seven, six] – September 15, 2009.
♥ New apps and readers are in the works, or being released on a near-daily basis. Wired.com counts 12 different e-book readers available at this point. Numerous apps for other gadgets include those for the iPhone, iPod Touch, T-Mobile G1 and the Blackberry.
♥ Random House announces they will be doubling the number of digital books they offer to approximately 15,000 titles, citing “triple digit increases” in e-book sales. Simon & Schuster likewise announces plans to double its e-title collection, adding another 5,000 titles. 95% of the McGraw Hill company textbooks are available in e-book format.
♥ There have been over 2 million downloads of the Stanza app for iPhone and iPod Touch since summer 2008, in comparison to 900,000 Kindles sold. But studies show that the most favored e-book reader remains: the computer.
♥ Long-time NY agent, Lori Perkins, together with book packagers Holly Schmidt and Allan Penn, owners of Hollan Publishing, form a brand-new romance e-publisher, Ravenous Romance. It’s stated goal – to play with the other big boys, er, girls on the block, successful operations like Ellora’s Cave, Samhain, Loose ID and The Wild Rose Press.
♥ Dana Langvin, VP and Director of Electronic Markets at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt says he has “seen a triple digit percent increase in e-book sales and anticipates it could become as much as 10% of the market within five years.
♥ Morrow/Avon names Margot Schupf to a newly created position, Senior Vice President, Editorial Director, of its new Digital Publishing Division.
♥ The first color e-book reader goes on sale in Japan (¥ 99,75, or $1,000).
♥ As we “go to press”, Quartet Press is the latest new e-publisher, starting with their first imprint, Quench, for romance e-books, with other genres to come. And they hit the ground running, hiring digital publishing heavy-hitter, and e-pub advocate, Angela James away from Samhain Publishing.
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There is no doubt about it. Regardless of the myriad debates over pricing, formats, compatibility, cost, monopolies, gadgets, payment to authors, release strategies and the future of the print book, digital publishing is here to stay. And getting bigger, stronger and more prominent with every day that passes. Understanding the realities of this sea-change in publishing is paramount if you are to navigate the business, make the right decisions for your career and understand how it is all going to impact you in the years to come.
Keep your eyes on the news, for details about traditional publishers changing their payment structure to authors (vis a vis advances against royalties, royalty percentage of e-books versus print books, etc.) and other changes to contracts that will be made to accommodate the new formats. Watch e-publishers as they also evolve. Samhain already pays a token advance, and the publishers’ royalty percentages on an e-book are around 30-40%. Will that change, too? Prices for books released by the e-publishers are fairly low. Will they raise theirs to be closer to the traditional publishers selling e-book versions of bestsellers in order to garner a bigger piece of the pie? Or will trad publishers LOWER theirs to be competitive? Will the two distinct business models remain just that, or will they grow further apart? Or will we see a hybrid model evolve that embraces the best of both worlds, and addresses such fiendish problems as the dreaded RETURNS. How is the entire industry going to deal with copyright, piracy and fair use? What about reversion of rights and new definitions of what is, or is not, “in print”? So many questions, so little time!
The industry has seen the future and it is the e-book. Make sure you are making yourself competitive, too, by understanding the business evolution that is underway. RWA has an electronic chapter, ESPAN. There is also EPIC, the individual organization (and sponsor of the prestigious EPPIE awards). Discussions on every aspect of the digital revolution are held at BEA, the EPIC conference being held in New Orleans this March, the Writers Digest conference upcoming in September, the O’Reilly Tools for Change Conference, and the new Digital Book World Conference in January, 2010. There are countless blogs, websites, and such industry sources as BookSquare and Publishers Lunch/Publishers Marketplace, too. Publications like Wired, Publishers Weekly, and even Writers Digest, are invaluable. Likewise, the topic of e-books and the digital publishing industry are covered in every business publication from the Wall Street Journal to Newsweek.
The ideas that e-books will not be competitive, or are not being considered as equal opportunity sources of enjoyment compared to print books, are outdated. NY Times bestselling authors are writing for both e-pubs and print. And major publishers aren’t just using e-publishing as a way to release titles. They’re using it in various ways to boost sales, including “free” giveaways of older titles to rev up interest in new releases, including James Patterson. [The top 3 Kindle bestsellers in recent days (reports Publishers Lunch) are 3 free books, including Patterson’s The Angel Experiment.] Whether you are looking to be published in e-book format as a first step toward traditional publishing, if you intend to stick with e-books for the flexibility and cutting edge technological aspects, or if you are a multi-published author with a NY house who now has to cope with changes in your contract that accommodate the new format (and new practices such as freebies, and how that practice impacts your ability to earn royalties), you cannot afford to be in the dark about e-publishing.
You’ve been warned, Sarah Connor!