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.

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

 

Evolving Ebook Clauses

Ebooks have always been difficult to define.

Publishers used to claim that the ebook was just another delivery method for the author’s work, so naturally belonged implicitly under volume rights.  That didn’t last.  In 2001 Random House Inc lost a court case against Rosetta Books for trying to define them as part of volume rights.

Once it was established that ebook rights needed to be explicitly defined in the contract, definitions emerged which confined the ebook to being an electronic replica of a printed book.  They used words like ‘verbatim’, ‘in whole’, ‘unaltered’ etc in a form ‘primarily designed for reading’.

But it is very difficult to make a water-tight definition that can’t be mistaken for anything else.  On the Ebook Strategy course I teach at Book House, we always try, but ebooks are very difficult to pin down.  But although we can’t define it, we feel we instinctively know what an ebook is when we see one.

Now it looks as if ebooks are becoming even harder to pin down.  The ebook clause is evolving again.  This time the definitions aim to allow for enhanced editions, giving the publisher scope to make full use of the the features of ePub3 described in my last post.   Recent examples include the use of words such as ‘additional materials’ of various kinds to ‘enrich’ and enhance’ the reading experience.  Does the intuitive “knowing it when we see it” still apply?  If it has the full text of the book at its heart, with extra material added at the beginning or end, yes, we are happy to say it’s still basically an ebook.  But if the text itself is broken up, re-interpreted with images and audio, and perhaps even accessed non-sequentially, is it still an ebook?  Or has it become something else?  If so, what?

This is very exciting for readers, but the worry is that if the ebook is defined too broadly, it will encroach onto other rights, such as film, or app rights.   The challenge now is to hammer out new definitions that accurately describe the ebook in all its glory, without being so loose that anything goes.

Or will the divide disappear altogether, and this become another front line of convergence of media.

Ebooks have been around for just over 10 years, and in the mass market only for about 3 years.  It’s very early days for this new technology.  We are still making ebooks that look like books.  The first cars looked just like carriages.  Just as the very first car manufacturers could not imagine our sleek, fast cars of today, so we cannot imagine the ebooks of 2111.  I wish we could fast-forward, and take a look.

 

Copyright gone wrong?

Is our copyright law doing its job?  The Hargreaves Review had a look and made some recommendations, and these were discussed today at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum: What’s Next for IP Law?  Intellectual property law was discussed from all angles, not just copyright, and I made some notes.  Here are what seemed to me to be the main/most interesting points:

1  Evidence based policy

Policy should be based on evidence, not on lobbying as it is now.
Evidence should be transparent in its methodology, open and peer-reviewed.
Evidence-based policy needs to replace ‘lobbynomics’
Not enough evidence exists, so £5m funding for research.

2 Proposed New “Copyright Exchange”

Intended to be a central and easy place to buy and sell rights.
It will be run by users and rights holders, with industry at the heart of it, led by private sector with incentives from government
Rights holders can choose to licence their rights through it, at the price they set.
A very ambitious plan.
Needs a lot of refining to avoid danger of making licences that rights holders don’t want eg granting licences to people the author hates.

3 Harmonisation

Not enough harmonisation between countries, even within EU, for seamless international protection and licensing, especially of patents.
Differences in copyright exceptions too, which may never be resolved eg due to difference of opinion on making hardware levies to remunerate rights holders for users making format-shifting copies.  UK wants exception for format shifting but not with levies.
UK plans are very radical and ambitious so we should help and advise EU in its review of IP law.

4 Penalties

Piracy needs to be tackled in a stronger more systematic way. Absence of online enforcement and visible consequences leads to lack of respect for IP law by public; but improved means of online enforcement with international cooperation and better punishments will change user behaviour.

5 Outdated?

As ever, establishment (Government and IPO) seems to think copyright is mostly OK and has proposals to strengthen and streamline it.  Campaigners seem to think that radical changes to the basis of copyright need to be made, and we are falling behind US and Europe in terms of user rights and justice.

What’s your view?

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.