Sunday, 27 May 2012

A short expose on the future of e-publishing.

Another beautiful day here today.

Once again, the weather here in England has been gorgeous. I'm afraid I'll be writing another short blog post today. It's not too often we get this much sunshine, and I'm fairly certain that these odd days count for my annual vitamin D needs.

Instead of writing today, we've been pretending to be middle class and going out to a lovely village in the middle of nowhere for high tea. It's a slightly pretentious English pastime involving generous helpings of tea and homemade cones, but we love it (no quips about being aged beyond our years please!).

We're also taking advantage of the weather to enjoy some fine food made from scratch. As I'm writing this blog post Dan is preparing a homemade basil pesto (which is simple but delicious - Oil, fresh basil by the bucket load, pine nuts and pecorino).

I'm also going to be doing the next bit of our free marketing guide that I'm hoping to have out on the first. This time we haven't gone with an arty cover. Most business books are very plain looking - a picture of cash, or a kindle or the author plus some bold text. We're keeping it simple and putting a squirrel on the cover. This is simply to stand out, and I took the photo so we don't have to licence it which means we're not spending money to give things away.

Turning back to a more 'indie' topic, I'm going to briefly look at how the ebook market is developing. I said on Friday that Amazon isn't a true long tail. I also said I think the market is still in a state of change which it is.

There are a number of strong forces at play in the ebook market the most important of which are:

·         Market growth as eReaders become more popular in more countries. India and China are going to huge growth areas in the future as the take up at present is relatively low. This will buoy demand - but it may simply mean a sharper drop off on the tail.

·         More eBooks are entering the market every day. Simple economics would suggest the greater the supply, the lesser the price. This is true if everything is equal in calibre, and is marketed to an equal extent. I think we'll see a lot of titles drop off into complete obscurity.

·         Legacy publishers are beginning to realise the value of eBooks. Many backlists are now being digitised and uploaded en masse. On one hand this is proven quality, and therefore challenging competition. It can also be priced very competitively as there are no further costs on incur. On the other, the digitisation isn't always great. Formatting errors, and OCR style reader errors (whereby print is scanned) can ruin a good book.

·         There's more money on the table then ever for subsidiary rights. Movie rights and translation rights can fetch as much as they did during the old legacy era, but this time the author gets a better cut. I think studios are quickly realising that there are seriously original titles about, and the conversion potential is huge. Proven books have a pre-existing market, and is these tough economic times producers are risk averse. Making book movie conversions takes some of this risk away, so I expect to see more indie movies in the future (If Hollywood is reading this, I'm open to seeing Dead on Demand on the big screen!)

·         Quality is going up. Indies are being forced to use professional services in order to compete with those who already have done so. This can only be a good thing for the market generally. Some older eBooks have truly amateurish covers, and a myriad of basic errors that wouldn't pass muster starting from scratch now.

·         Amazon will pick up more indies for their own brands. It's an easy profit for Amazon. Encore (to pick one of the Amazon presses at random) takes up and coming authors newly successful works, and throws the might of Amazon's marketing machine behind it. Of course this means Amazon take a bigger cut, but it lets writers get back to doing what they do best, write.

·         Books will continue to survive, but as a premium product rather than a mass market thing. Costs per copy will increase as volume drops, so a shift towards most titles being POD is possible. Very few authors will sustain huge print runs much longer, and those that do will probably begin to include download codes for electronic copies with the hardback to add value (which should be tied to the email of the purchaser to avoid onward sale).

·         More e-publishing companies will appear. They are already springing up left right and centre. I'd be very careful what terms you agree to here. Their side of things means fronting one off costs for ongoing royalties potentially forever. Sounds like a great investment to me. For authors however it isn't a great deal. If you truly believe in your work then a one off is a good investment for editing, proofing and art, without paying an extra party to be involved. Most good books recoup their costs very quickly.

For those that MUST use an e-publishing house be sure to negotiate hard. If their costs are $2000 (the top end in my opinion) then you could cap their cut at a value over that, or limit it to a term of years (or have it drop in %. i.e. they take 50% of the net until costs are recovered, and 5% thereafter - that seems fairer than ongoing high percentages, but still minimises their risk).

So, there's my (very) quick analysis of where I think the industry is heading. I'd love to hear what you all think.


  1. great post, as usual. We definitely think that the quality of ebooks will improve and hopefully, the stigma attached to indie books with disappear. It used to be that those who self-published were those who couldn't get a publishing deal, but now more authors are choosing this route as it's more attractive - the royalties, the control, the speed. All factors which tempted us to self-publish.

  2. Hi there,
    Lots of great thinking in this post. I also think that we'll see partnerships between indie authors and digital publishing houses (subsidiaries of major publishers) as a way to test the market for new authors. That is, the author will have somewhat proven themselves by getting their product onto the market, garnering good reviews etc, and with a good social marketing campaign, work to get the publisher's attention. Then, the two will combine forces to bring the work (possibly rebranded, extended versions and new stories) to a broader, global audience, with the author still able to build their author platform and interact with his audience fist-hand via social media. Will definitely help to attract and hold movie producers attention IF the story can stand up on it's own AND achieve cut-through!