Which is the Best Publisher for my Ebook?

How can an author evaluate a publisher’s offer for ebook rights? Sometimes an author finds themselves in the lucky position of having three choices.

1 a mainstream publisher makes an offer to put on of their backlist titles into ebook. They offer a standard royalty, but no advance.

2 an ebook-only publisher, perhaps in America, offers a higher royalty, which is nice, but it only kicks in after a certain amount of money has been earned back, to cover their costs.

3 if the author is being asked to subsidise the cost of production themselves, perhaps they should go the whole hog and publish the ebook themselves too? Then they would get to keep all the money received from sales.

How should the author or her agent resolve this dilemma?

This is a question which takes us back to the fundamentals of what we can expect from a publisher, and which one will do the best job. My answer to this question is that the author should choose the route that will give the book the most publicity, because that is what will ultimately lead to the most sales in the long term.

Option number 1 – the mainstream publisher – will start making the author money straight away, in the next royalty statement, with no deductions. The book will be published alongside several others, which will hopefully give it enough ‘critical mass’ to be noticed.

Option number 2 will make more money in the long run, but only after the contribution has earned out – and how many sales will it take to cover that?? Is the level of contribution the author is expected to make realistic for the stature of the book? The ebook-only publisher is likely to have fewer titles, so this one might get more personal attention, but are they big enough to make a splash with it?

Option number 3 is a risky business – after all, publishing is all about risk. Obviously there are the upfront costs of production, which includes proofreading the conversion, a new cover design, and then there is the whole business of selling the ebook around the world. But if the author already has a ‘platform’ with a large number of followers or fans, it could be the best option.

Publishing is all about publicising the authors work and making it available so the best choice of publisher will be the one who can do that most effectively. That may be the mainstream publisher who has well-oiled channels to the market; it may be the ebook-only publisher who understands their niche and has the energy and focus to drive each book to success; or it may be the author herself who is in touch with enough readers to persuade them to part with their hard earned cash in return for a good read.

Publishing is not about producing an ebook, putting it on sale in a couple of places and forgetting about it. That is almost as bad as printing a load of paperbacks and leaving them all in the warehouse. The real work of publishing is telling people about it and enthusing them, and the publisher who will do that is the best one for an author’s book.

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Tools of Change, Chicago

I enjoyed reading the tweets from the one-day conference in Chicago the other day, so I thought I’d summarise just a few of them and share them here.  You can see the full range on Twitter at #tocchicago

Children’s Books

How to handle the friction between children’s ebooks and the desire to reduce screen time?
For many children, picture books are their first introduction to art.

Re childrens ebooks: what’s useful? What’s a gimmick? Engaging without distracting is the tricky part
What helps readers understand? What is engaging and motivating? What disrupts learning? Good questions generally, not just for children’s books.

Poetry

http://Pf.org Mobile poetry app: built to target folks standing in line. Works in single servings, which causes more poems to be accessed. Includes a fun “spin” browsing feature + mood categories.  Has increased exposure for poetry foundation. Reach up 300% while overall engagement has gone down.

Repackaging existing content helps expose it to new audiences.  Context may be just as important as content.

Uses of and representations of poetry online is the nexus of many online issues: Digital formatting can play havoc on poetry, where formatting is everything.

poetry will continue to have to compete agains Angry Birds & Pinterest but it will also thrive

Maybe the http://pf.org data suggests that print is the best home for poetry. Is that too radical? Hmm.
Maybe not:  Catherine Halley’s talk got me to give poetry a chance via Poetry Foundation’s app http://www.poetryfoundation.org/mobile/

The paradox of attention span: should lead toward shorter content, but poetry often requires more attention & time than prose

Crowd  Publishing

Distance.cc, a quarterly journal devoted to long essays about design. Funded by Kickstarter.

First Kickstarter effort by @nickd: cadence.cc, a book on design.  Sold out print run last year, still available as eBook. “my book wasn’t published by me, it was published by my audience.”

Readers are out there but you have to meet them on their terms on their devices.

“The more time you spend running around freaking out, the less time you spend building the future.”

“We need to stop thinking like publishers, and think more like software companies”

Distance Authors getting good visibility. An editor helps writers think through ideas and people take them more seriously.  A key feature is editing. “difference between an essay and a rant is that an essay offers an actual solution.”   prefers well-written and passionate writing to just passionate writing (Wants fewer rants, more essays)

Distance’s business plan included keeping it’s owner eating three burritos a week: “If either of those goals proves untenable – paying writers or eating burritos – the project is a no-go.” Ha!
Supply-chain issues still essential to authors. Self pub created closer connection to work, audience.

Information

“Seek information, not affirmation.”

We are creating a new form of ignorance that’s killing us. It does not distinguish between highly informed and well informed.  We’re not suffering from information overload, we’re suffering from information over-consumption.  What are healthy levels of information consumption? schedule your various channels/forms of information consumption; don’t consume right now just because you can

“Who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they’re right?”   we’re a more polarized nation now b/c no matter what crazy thought you have, there’s a media outlet to tell u ur right.  The desire to be right frames our mass media. “Opinion tastes better than news” and pizza tastes better than broccoli.  We’ve industrialized our media for poor consumption habits the same way we have with fast food

Content

Content trapped forever in your CMS is the new content trapped in your CD-Rom.
Big question 1: can I get my data out in an open, easily-readable format?
Question 2: Can I get my data out for the same price I paid to put it in?
Question 3: (most important & overlooked) How much time will it take for me to get my data out?

people put themselves in data jail all the time

Have we gone fr “information wants to be free” to the 2nd half of that quote “or it wants to be expensive”?

Content is not a commodity. Data is a commodity. There are no sensationalized 5-day weather reports.

The idea that you should wake up and be a producer instead of a consumer changes your relationship with information.
Still thinking about writing 500 words every morning before 8am. Thinking about other changes too.

Show your work when publishing; empower readers to make up their own minds.  Not to do that is disrespectful.
instead of saying “this is great content,” think about WHY it’s great for your audience.

Libraries are the first line of defense against piracy.  This is an interesting question.

Credits

Thanks to #tocChicago Tweeters: @nelltaylor, @petdance, @theanalogdivide, @digipub. @aburke8  et al

and the speakers they Tweeted: Junko Yokota, Doug Siebold, Nick Disabato, Clay Johnson, Brian O’Leary.
Here are some of their slides:

http://nickd.org/log/nickd-oreilly-toc.pdf
http://www.slideshare.net/mobile/bfoleary/using-content-to-acquire-new-members

 

Ebook sales? Not telling you.

The Problem

One problem with selling ebooks is that it’s very hard to know exactly how many copies other titles have sold.  This means there is no best-seller list and very little data on the relative success of different genres.  It’s almost impossible to do a comparative analysis of the market as a whole, of the kind that magazines like the Bookseller do for print books on a regular basis.   As an ebook distributor, I only know how many copies my titles have sold, and I can’t compare their performance with sales of similar titles from other publishers.  Unless we are a publisher with huge lists across multiple genres, we can’t get a balanced picture of the market.

The Reason for the Problem

The reason for this is that there is such a small number of retailers selling ebooks in large quantities.  All the sales data for printed books is collected from the retailers, who report to Nielsen how many copies they’ve sold of each title.  Because there are so many bookshops giving this information, you can’t tell how many copies any one shop or company has sold.  The problem with ebook sales is that they are concentrated in so few retailers who are reporting their sales to Nielsen, that if those figures were published, it would expose their individual sales figures to the public, because by looking at the different formats (Kindle or ePub) we could deduce who had sold what.  As this kind of  information is normally considered confidential, the figures have not been released.

Will the Problem Go Away?

I hope that this problem is just a symptom of an immature market, and that it won’t be long before so many bookshops are selling ebooks that none are identifiable from the aggregated data.  However, as long as Amazon remain almost the only  retailer selling Kindle versions, their anonymity is never going to be protected, unless the format information is left out of the data.  That would again limit the usefulness of the data to publishers, who need to be able to make informed decisions about formats as well as topics and overall figures.

Maybe One Day

The news (on Moco News) that some publishers are opening up their book sales data to authors,  saving them from having to wait for their six-monthly royalty statement may well (as Laura Hazard Owen hopes in her article) prompt calls for greater openness about sales generally, and pressure to find a way round the commercial confidentiality risks of reporting ebook sales in particular.

5 Reasons to Love ePub3

Everyone is talking about ePub 3 which is launched this autumn, so I went along to UCL’s Digital Publishing Forum to find out what the fuss is all about. This is what I discovered from a very good talk by Graham Bell of Editeur.

Where did it come from?

ePub 1 was the Open Ebook format (OEB) developed by the IDPF
ePub 2 is the one we use now. The first device we could read ePub books on was the Sony Reader, launched in 2008.
But many publishers and readers are painfully aware of it’s limitations, so the IDPF have been working on upgrading it.
Now they have ePub 3 about ready to use, and you can see the specs on their website at idpf.org/ePub/30/spec

What does it do?

  • Media: The thing that makes all the difference is that an ePub 3 file also contains other media, so things like audio, and animation can be added to the book, yet it still retains the all-important reflowing text of ebooks. These other media will appear in the correct place in the book, synchronised with the text – they don’t have to be grouped in an appendix at the back. Some ebooks do already include multi-media but they only work on a few types of reader, so if you have the wrong kind of phone, or your ereader is the wrong make, you miss out. ePub 3 aims to reduce these differences between machines as ePub 3 becomes a universally recognised industry standard.
  • Layout: Current ePub ebooks are fine for novels and straight text, but ePub3 goes much further – not just books but also magazines, newspapers, journals, corporate publications whose highly designed pages need a fixed layout to look great, are more likely to work well too.
  • Languages: whether the writing goes left to right or right to left, and starts at the front or the back of the book, whether it writes in letters or scripts or characters, ePub 3 will show it correctly.

How does it do it?

ePub 3 is based on HTML5. As this is the same code that many apps are created in, it will pave the way for ebooks to become more app-like. At the moment web browsers use HTML4 so we won’t be reading ebooks in Internet Explorer or Google Chrome.

HTML 5 is based on XML so ePub 3 tags keep meaning and structural descriptions separate from presentation instructions. This has the effect of making them less media-specific. An example is the <i> tag. Instead of meaning italics as it does in HTML 4, it means emphasised. A screen may be directed to show this in italics, but a read-aloud programme will know (directed by the CSS) to put a stress on that word when it reads it out. Similarly, the <b> tag no longer just means bold, it means strong, so the read-aloud will speak louder at that place.

What does this mean for publishers?

  1. Better slicing and dicing: selling parts of a book is something publishers would Ilke to do more of, and the new structural tags in ePub 3 make it much easier to do. Each chapter or section has its own self contained structure showing headings and subheadings in relation to the part, not just the whole. It’s like a row of terraced houses that you can move apart into small detached houses without the party walls falling down.
  2. Better page design: ePub 3 benefits from better styles in CSS. The designer can now put the page or parts of the page into columns and the reading device will fit them onto the screen, regardless of the size of the screen – they just reflow. This makes ebooks a possibility for a whole range of titles that really need that option in order to look good
  3. Better discoverability: no-one can buy a book unless they can find it, and online you find by searching. ePub 3 uses SVG graphics. This means that diagrams are ‘drawn’ on screen according to instructions instead of being a fixed image pasted in. Included in those instructions is the text for the diagram, right there in the text of the book. That has two benefits:
    • a diagram’s captions and labels are searchable like the rest of the text, from within the book as well as on the web in services like Google Books
    • because they are embedded in the text, diagrams and captions will always appear in the right place instead of re-flowing off somewhere else and getting separated.
  4. Better bells and whistles: all these things combine to make it easier to add things to help or entertain the reader. Instead of adding one photo, why not add a slide show? Maybe a diagram would be clearer if it was animated to show how it works. Want to know where Sherlock Holmes found the body? Here it is on Google maps. Ebooks will be able to be more like apps.
  5. Better metadata: the book’s details are included in the ePub 3 file showing title, author(s), publisher, date etc in a way that a computer can read (ie not just painted in the artwork of the cover). Based on this information, and its links to further information, the computer can classify the book appropriately in its database. Thus we will have the self-cataloguing book. That will make life easier for librarians

All we need now is lots of affordable ereaders to enjoy these lovely new ebooks on.

 

 

Authors: Digital Winners and Losers

“Who will the winners and losers be, as digital sales increase?”  asks the FutureBook Digital Census survey. http://www.futurebook.net/content/futurebook-needs-you  Will publishers, authors, agents, bookshops, mobile phone networks, software publishers win or lose?

The trouble with this kind of either/or question is:  most parties will win in some ways and lose in others.  The question asks whether unpublished authors will win or lose as digital sales increase, and I say both.  It seems to me that new authors trying to get published will find themselves losing out because publishers will be able to make more products from each title – not just a hardback and a paperback, but also an ebook and an app or several apps.  This means that a publishing company will focus its resources on getting more from each title, with the result that they have fewer resources to take on board brand new titles from unknown authors.

Having developed the skills and contacts necessary to publish all sorts of digital editions, publishers will then be looking for new books that can be published in all those new ways.  Books which lend themselves to only one format for some reason, and are unsuitable for the other formats are in danger of being turned down by publishers who need more from each title than just one edition.  This makes the hurdles even higher that an author has to jump, to get their book published.

But authors can be winners too.  It is clear that the opportunities for authors to publish their books themselves is increasing as digital sales increase.  The production costs are lower, and there are plenty of companies like Dandelion Digital offering author services to help them.  If the self-published author takes advantage of all the digital marketing tools the internet offers, there is no reason why the increase in digital sales can’t make those authors into winners.

What’s your view on this?

Have you done the FutureBook survey?  What did you think of the questions?

Publishing Contracts are Changing

Publishing contracts are changing.  Many clauses are having to be redefined to take account of the new realities of digital publishing.

Traditionally rights often revert to the author when the book goes out of print, because that’s the end of its life with that publisher.  But if the book never took the form of print on paper in the first place, that definition is very misleading.  The book is selling hundreds of copies a week in ebook format and print-on-demand, and yet there are no copies in the warehouse.  According to the contract, it is technically ‘out of print’, and has been since day one.

Clearly neither the publisher nor the author would want rights to revert with that level of sales, so we need a new way of determining the end of a book’s life.  The solution I favour is to agree on a level of sale, so rights will revert if sales fall below a certain number, and stay there for an agreed amount of time.  An example might be “fewer than 10 copies sold in three consecutive royalty periods”.

The ‘out of print’ clause is just one of the ones having to be redefined to reflect the way books are actually being published.  More thoughts on how digital publishing is changing contracts in my next post.