01 Apr

Well, this will have an impact on the used ebooks concept

One way to sniff the digital winds and see where ebook trends are going is to look at how digital music fares. In that case, the recent panic about the idea of used ebooks, and Amazon and others applying for patents to sell used ebooks, is challenged by this recent court ruling against the idea of selling used MP3s (hat tip to John Scalzi on twitter for the link):

“On Saturday, a federal court in New York ruled in summary judgment within the case of Capitol Records v. ReDigi. The court decided that no, users do not have the right to resell digital music files, as doing so violates existing copyright law.”

(Via “Can I resell my MP3s?” redux—federal judge says no | Ars Technica.)

16 Apr

DOJ vs epublishing link dump

A few people were surprised I hadn’t weighed in on the DOJ vs 5 publishers thing. Again, it’s sausage making. Readers should buy books where they like to buy books and not worry. It’s not their job.

The other reason is that I’m really focused on, you know, writing right now. I just crossed the 40,000 word mark on The Apocalypse Ocean today. Now that my issues with vertigo and having trouble reading off screens are improving, I’m buckling down. There is work that needs done! Believe me.

That being said I’ve been following some of it from the sidelines. The following links are ones that I found interesting reads:

What happened? SFWA has a good roundup:

Unquestionably, the big publishing news of the week was the US Department of Justice’s lawsuit filing against Apple and five major book publishers—Penguin, Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon and Schuster—for alleged ebook price fixing. At the root of the dispute: the agency pricing model for ebooks, which the publishers adopted in 2010. Under the wholesale pricing model that until then had been the norm for both ebooks and print books, publishers sell to intermediaries—such as bookstores or distributors—at a fixed discount off the list price, and the intermediaries are then free to re-sell to consumers at whatever price they choose.

What Amazon’s eBook Strategy means, by Charles Stross:

I submit that, as with all other large corporations, you cannot judge Amazon by the public statements of its executives ; they are at best uttered with an eye for strategic propaganda effects, and at worst they’re deeply self-serving and deceptive. Rather, you need to examine their underlying ideology and then the steps they take—and the actions they consider legitimate—in order to achieve their goals.

Mike Shatzkin, where do we stand:

I would summarize the situation this way. Amazon (which includes any other player largely dependent on Amazon) and the most price-conscious ebook consumers have won. Everybody else in the ecosystem: authors, publishers, and other vendors, have lost. The reaction from all quarters seems to confirm that analysis.

The biggest question going forward is how Amazon will react to this. Cader’s unique and invaluable analysis says that Amazon will have a “pool” of about $113 million for discounting and incentives in the coming year. B&N, with half their market share, would have about $57 million.

Baldur Bjarnason:

I believe Amazon’s current path leads them to either destroy their own standing in the market by alienating their suppliers or to cannibalise the entire ebook market once their shareholders have turned on them.

John Scalzi exhorts us to chill:

Amazon is not on your side. Neither is Apple, or Barnes & Noble, or Google, or Penguin or Macmillan. These are all corporations, not sports teams, and with the exception of Macmillan, they are publicly owned. They have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to maximize value. You are the means to that, not the end. The side these companies are on is their own side, and the side of their shareholders. This self-interest doesn’t make them evil. It makes them corporations.

What does this mean for readers:

As soon as the new contracts are in place (and Justice will be holding onto a copy of each of those contracts), let the discounting begin. Forrester analyst James McQuivey told Digital Book World last week that he expects Amazon to discount e-books slowly and strategically, starting with bestsellers. Publishing industry consultant Mike Shatzkin, on the other hand, believes Amazon “will do the splashiest discounting they possibly can, making the point as loudly as possible that they deliver the lowest prices to the consumer and daring their competiton to match them.”

Lots of people assume agency pricing means higher pricing. And no one has actually supplied any data about that, it’s just asserted. Mark Coker at Smashwords actually has studied trending data, and says agency has moved prices down:

Although Smashwords is not a party to this potential lawsuit, I felt it was important that the DoJ investigators hear the Smashwords side of the story, because any decisions they make could have significant ramifications for our 40,000 authors and publishers, and for our retailers and customers.

Yesterday I had an hour-long conference call with the DoJ. My goal was to express why I think it’s critically important that the DoJ not take any actions to weaken or dismantle agency pricing for ebooks.

Even before the DoJ investigation, I understood that detractors of the agency model believed that agency would lead to higher prices for consumers.

Ever since we adopted the agency model, however, I had faith that in a free market ecosystem where the supply of product (ebooks) exceeds the demand, that suppliers (authors and publishers) would use price as a competitive tool, and this would naturally lead to lower prices.

My preference is that agency remains, because so far Mark is the only person to actually, you know, bring data to this discussion. Everyone else has just asserted that it raised prices.

So, read all that and you’ll have a good glimpse of what’s rattling around my head about this development.

But the truth is, I really have a book that needs finished, and that’s where 90% of my brain power is being invested. I’ll have time to think harder about all this later on. Right now I have a vague ‘oh come the fuck on, I can’t follow this all right now’ sort of response and am glad to see that the quality of thought about this in those posts above has been very interesting.

Oh, and if you use the word gatekeeper I automatically start laughing and ignore anything you have to say on the subject.

Addendum: Actually, Chuck Wendig probably nails it right here:

Publishing pinballs drunkenly between the bumpers of optimism and the flippers of holy fucking shit-hell the meteors are coming fairly regularly. The Internet is good for this: we get to see every moment as it happens and we have zero time to process it. All our processing is done out-loud, together, and mass hysteria runs rampant. Every shadow that passes over our prairie dog heads seems like a hungry hawk when it might be nothing more than a harmless vulture or a passenger plane. Or, y’know, Underdog.

01 Apr

A year of selling Tides From The New Worlds

Cover

I’ve been selling my short story collection Tides From The New Worlds for a year now, and I’m going to share that data with you. I’m going to hang it all out there and show you my stuff.

I’m a lover of data and charts to help solidify somewhat complex discussions. I’m in favor of keeping data and experimenting in order to try and learn my landscape. I hate discussions that are basically ‘do this… profit’ where ‘…’ involves assertions. I’m a businessman, once I’m done with the part where I make my art.

Due to being involved in making eBooks and because I’ve talked to a number of people who are selling them, and because I lurk in self publisher forums and track data wherever I can find it, I have in my head a rough model of what kinds of sales people are seeing off eBooks. And its not just Amanda Hocking’s millions or JA Konrath’s hundreds of thousands. Those are outliers, I’m curious about what people in my genre are making, for example. I’m curious as to what people who don’t spent every spare moment flooding places online with a constant rattle of self promotion and ‘please Dear God buy my book’ tweets and begs for retweets make up the bulk of their public persona. I’m tired of people who talk about ‘revolutions’ (being a survivor of a real world one, with consequences and all) and act like priests, or inflexible new guides.

One reason why people focus on the big successes is people who make middling or small sales are embarrassed to talk about it. There are also a lot of people who tell me all about their plans to become rich on the Kindle edition of their first book evar, and then never, oddly enough, follow up with raw data three months later after spending so much time arguing with my assertion that you’re probably not going to make a lot of money off online sales. My bet is that if you can clear $50 a month as a genre writer (remember, we have a smaller potential niche market) on a Kindle edition with your first book, you’re doing really well.

A very common assertion is that if you just drop the price to 99 cents, people will flock to the deal and ‘volume will make up for the lost margin.’ It’s a mantra that’s very strongly believed. To be honest, I think that works somewhat, because it boosts discoverability (it’s cheap to try a new author), and I think having something as a 99 cent ‘lead in’ discovery book/title is a good idea, but I don’t think its a strategy to depend on.

So a year ago, I made the eBook version of Tides From The New Worlds, and I’ve been experimenting with covers and price to test how it effects sales.

First of all, I’m a strong midlist author, with a reasonably well known name but not exactly a super-famous dude. I have a well known blog, but due to my British upbringing and midwest location, I abhor continuous self promotion. I just like to have fun. I do lots of interviews because they’re fun. I certainly, however, really do try my best to not push push push. I wanted to see how Tides would sell in that sort of environment. So I made notices about prices changes, but other than that, I was really pretty quiet.

My expectation was that, at $2.99 and with the 70% royalties, that I would probably make about $40/month off a short story collection. A number of writers with the same number of books I had out talked about making $100-$200/month in royalties off of novels, and since novels sell better than collections, I figured $40 was a reasonable expectation. Collections are hard to sell in print, and I know from some discussions that many collections sell for $500 – $1,000 advances to medium or small presses, if you can sell them at all.

In April we launched Tides. I offered, via my website, copies to anyone who wished to review it. There was no big push other than that.

The price was $2.99: as low as I could price it and still get that 70% royalty.

Out of the gate, I was pretty happy with the results. Copies sold were 25 in the first month and 27 the second month:

Tideslaunch

Even better, the second month the copies sold jumped a bit. I was wondering if, like some intimated, it only got better from there on. It was the opposite of my experience with print books, where the sales always tapered after a while, but hey, who knew?

I waited for the results to come in for the third month, and then… there it was: the tapering off.

Threemonths

Sales halved in that third month, and I made less. Now, this is the point where people would have been out there shouting ‘buy my book,’ but I was really trying to see how the natural, no-effort, digitally-easier method would work.

The trend continued into the next month:

Fourmonth

Over the summer and following months, this pattern of 7-9 copies a month and the corresponding royalties settled in:

299

At this point, I had a few conversations with people I would classify as ‘digital advocates’ who had all manner of advice. But I decided to do something different. I wanted to see whether the 7-9 people who purchased Tides a month were buying it because it was something they wanted, or whether all they cared about was price.

I did the unthinkable, I raised the price to $4.99.

I was told I would alienate readers and lose sales.

Here is what happened: I made more money.

Priceincrease

I was making just shy of $30.

But here’s what didn’t happen, the number of copies sold didn’t change in any way:

Copieswithincrease

My guess that people were interested in the book, but not nearly as price skittish as the peanut gallery claimed, was borne out.

Here is how that continued to play out:

Copiestofeb

Copies seemed to actually remain slightly higher. And the royalty profit settled into a $40/month area.

Royaltytofeb

So how about volume and a 99 cent price? This was my next experiment, started on the first of last month. Tides dropped in price, and copies sold jumped accordingly:

99copy

Holy crap, from 11 copies to 117 copies! Woo, break out the champagne I’m… well, not rich… I made just slightly more than 11 copies sold:

99royalty

Furthermore, the bulk of those 99 cent copies sold in the first week, well, the first three days, of the sale. Since then, they’ve dropped. The last three weeks the rate has returned to… 2-3 copies a week.

Even at 99 cents.

So take from that what you will, but my take was that I have returned the price to $4.99. Someone asked me why I wouldn’t want to keep reaching more people with the 99 cents, but there’s no guarantee it will do that based on the latter week sales. I’m pretty comfortable betting that $4.99 is the ‘sweet’ spot that’ll keep trucking in $40-$50 a month reliably.

Here’s all the data again:

date copies sold profit price of book
May-10 25 52.325 2.99
Jun-10 27 56.511 2.99
Jul-10 13 27.209 2.99
Aug-10 8 16.744 2.99
Sep-10 7 14.651 2.99
Oct-10 8 16.744 2.99
Nov-10 8 27.944 2.99
Dec-10 11 38.423 4.99
Jan-11 9 31.437 4.99
Feb-11 11 39.92 4.99
Mar-11 117 47.228 0.99

And here is a cleaned up chart:

Tides

What do I take away from all of this?

Well, for one, I’m looking forward to a point where I would be able to take a backlist novel to try this with, as short story collections don’t sell as well. I’m betting I’d sell more like $100-$200 a month.

I’d also like to test selling novellas/novelettes directly, as I’m seeing some evidence they sell at these levels.

Eventually, I do think having a 99 cent item for sale, as an entry point into your backlist, a good idea. If I do another short story collection, I’ll price one at 99 cents and another at $4.99.

Obviously getting more titles into the pipeline will help, it would be steady money. And I’ve been encouraging authors to get their backlist up, with smart looking covers, for sale, so that they can benefit. 3-5 extra titles you own the rights to, making $50 each a month, is a car payment. Or more if any of the titles take off.

As to why some titles sell better than others, that’s as much a mystery as it is in print. Some authors explode. Saying that you should focus only on digital books because JA Konrath is doing it is like saying you should focus on writing books about kids with magic power so that you can be a billionaire. In SF/F, with our smaller market share of titles sold, it also means you can expect smaller sales.

But as for putting front list titles up there? Right now my agent is shopping my second short story collection ‘Mitigated Futures.’ If it doesn’t sell I’ll turn it into an eBook, sure, but Tides has made ~$380/year. So obviously a print sale for it looks more attractive to me than jumping straight to digital right now.

Will this always be true? I don’t know.

Will this be true for every author? I don’t know.

To understand whether to go digital only, or print, or some combination there of, means being a business minded person and evaluating the data as best we can.

I know some people will point to me and consider me a lagging failure. I’m not shouting that I’m on my way to making millions off the Kindle and joining the hype. I’m not down on it either, I think its an exciting time, and a great way to leverage your backlist. A short story collection normally wouldn’t be making me anything as a midlist writer in one of the smaller genres out here. There’s opportunity here, when thoughtfully applied and approached. And I fully intend to, and have been, leveraging it (my recent collection/how to write book Nascence came out as a digital only release to experiment with figures, and to target a larger audience, which so far has meant a very different launch and sales patterns that hint at more sales than Tides has seen). But print is still a bigger money maker for me. It puts me in front of more buyers, lets me stand on the shoulders of giants, and to leverage exposure to a larger audience.

I think I will continue playing all the fields I have access to. Audiobooks are exploding, and I love working with Audible. eBooks are growing, so I am involved in that. Print is still selling, so I’m involved in that.

Smart businesses diversify. And I intend to keep diversifying.

09 Aug

Kindles in Ghana

Worldchanging has an article about Kindles in Ghana:

“In countries where it can take six months for a donated book to travel from point A to point B, providing children with e-readers seems like the most efficient way to battle low literacy levels. That’s what Worldreader, a nonprofit co-founded by former Amazon.com vice president, David Risher, is determined to try.

“˜There’s a huge difference between being able to read from a selection of the 10 books that you happen to have — or that somebody donated — versus being able to get your hands on a book that you are really interested in,’ Risher told The Wall Street Journal. “˜When you combine that with very very low distribution costs for additional books and falling technology prices, these are ingredients for doing something really special.'”

I was just talking about this not to long ago in the comments of an eBooks post.

A text book costs $50-$150 US, plus shipping overseas. Text books in countries like Ghana are also not updated very often.

Slapping wikipedia in book form on one (vs some twenty year old out of date text book), or searching for cheaper books via Kindles (which with their battery-sipping features, can be recharged even on an irregular electricity supply) has some potential to be very useful for text books.

I’ll be keeping on eye on this program.

24 Jul

The Nook

So last Friday I went down to Columbus. Ostensibly I was having lunch with the estimable Charlie Finlay and Paul Melko, but a side goal was that I was also picking up a B&N Nook. I’ve been doing some freelance work in eBook conversion for people,  and it was time to get a Nook for troubleshooting.

nook.jpg

The physical side of the Nook is great. It’s a very comfortable size. Particularly if I had a purse. It’d slip right in. But I don’t. But it is also very easy to palm and read, something you can’t do with the iPad. In fact, an iPad of about this size would be *very* appealing to me. The Nook also looks nice: white plastic, easy grip. The two arrows on either side for paging are well placed. It’s thicker than the Kindle’s I’ve read on, which makes it easier to hold for me.

The combo of touchscreen and eInk is nice, but it’s not what I’m now trained to expect. I keep, constantly, pecking at the eInk display to try and make it launch things. And the touchscreen on the bottom, while nice, is faster on its refresh than the eInk display. There’s a disconnect there, by like a full second, which makes everything feel totally laggy and non-responsive. Like a program that’s hung up. eInk display is much like any other, slow to refresh, but crisp. My eyes aren’t bothered by backlighting, so I actually do prefer the iBook’s Retina display.

Sideloading your own content is easy. Jack the Nook in via a standard USB cable, it mounts as a removable drive on your desktop. Slap a book on there, disconnect just like a thumb drive. No fuss. Kudos for not forcing us to install some management program, B&N.

It’s not bad, but I still find the eInk technology experience uncompelling, and still gravitate toward my iPhone as my primary e-reading device. I certainly would have returned it had I not needed it for the eBook conversion testing. But the more devices/approaches the merrier, as each niche serves a different kind of consumer.

B&N does need to offer their employers a big discount on the Nook or pull an Apple and put one in every long term employee’s hands. They were very nice when I purchased it the device, but low on specifics or understanding about the details when I started asking questions about the Nook.