Archive for the ‘ebooks’ Category

Ebooks and the pricing surrender monkeys

November 9, 2011 11 comments

Google launched its ebookstore in Canada last week and, as a self-interested author, the first thing I did was head over to see how much my book, Sex, Bombs and Burgers, was selling for.

Surprise, surprise, it’s going for the princely sum of $21.99, which is not only more than the hardcover on Amazon or Chapters, it’s also quite possibly the most expensive ebook in history. This isn’t surprising because it’s exactly the same price that Chapters/Indigo has been charging through Kobo.

Who would pay that much for an ebook? Aren’t digital goods supposed to be cheaper because they have significantly lower manufacturing and distribution costs?

Exactly. Which is why I sold all of 16 of them in the second half of 2010, according to my sales reports.

Google has evidently joined Kobo in catering to publishers’ out-of-date pricing schemes. So, while Canadians seem to have growing choice between e-tailers, most of those sellers aren’t actually going to bat for consumers by trying to lower prices. It’s a little surprising in Google’s case, given that the company has in the past been willing to go to war on things such as wireless prices and net neutrality.

The exception in ebooks is Amazon, which has been notable in its battle against publishers on several fronts. The most recent is the skirmish over its new book lending program, which has prompted some libraries to stop buying from the likes of HarperCollins.

My favourite situation is the fight between Penguin, my publisher in Canada, and the online bookseller over pricing. A quick recap: Amazon last year wanted all ebooks to be priced at $9.99 (a price I agree with, by the way) but Penguin would have none of it. The publisher said it would no longer let Amazon sell its ebooks once their contract expired so, in retaliation, Amazon decided to sell all of Penguin’s physical books at $9.99. The company might take a loss on those books or not make as big a profit, but it was evidently set on making its point. Gotta love those kinds of balls.

The two companies ended up settling the dispute, but something is still going on since I can’t find my ebook on Kindle. I wish I could say why that is, but as is usually the case with us authors, nobody tells us nothing, even when we ask.

That’s why Google’s ebookstore launch is a ho-hum for me and it’s why, as a consumer, I buy all my books - physical or digital - from Amazon.

Categories: amazon, ebooks, Google, kobo

Harry Potter and the illogic of the book business

June 28, 2011 5 comments

I can’t help but read stories about authors and their self-publishing efforts with great relish. The bigger the better. That’s why, when I saw the news over the weekend about Harry Potter writer J.K Rowling going the self-publishing route, all I could think was, “You go girl!”

When a big-name writer such as Rowling - who, let’s face it, is the biggest there is - goes solo and decides to sell her own ebooks independent of any publisher, that contributes to two things. First, it continues to take the stigma off self-publishing and secondly, it sends further much-needed shockwaves through the already rollicking book business.

On the first point, it’s true that Rowling isn’t exactly taking a huge chance. Her Harry Potter books are already established commodities and she will doubtlessly do very well selling her own books. People know who she is and will seek her out. Nevertheless, her move is a huge step toward quashing whatever negative connotation might still be associated with self-publishing. If the biggest author in the world isn’t too vain to publish her own books, then no one else can be, right?

The second point is considerably more important, though. How Rowling is choosing to sell her ebooks is almost as important as the fact that she is doing so in the first place. Rather than going with an established middle man ebook retailer, such as Amazon or Apple, Rowling is choosing to sell her goods via her own website. That means she’ll be keeping 100% of the proceeds, rather than giving up 30% to the middle man.

That’s pretty amazing because if other big names follow suit, the whole book-selling dichotomy will change dramatically. Amazon, Apple, Kobo and the like will have to work at attracting and keeping such big names. In other words, they’ll have to actually do something to earn their 30%, other than just sitting there. Whether that’s some sort of promotional agreement or whether the 30% gets dramatically cut to say 5%, ebook retailers are going to have to add some kind of value to what they do.

That brings us to traditional publishers. Exactly what do they do to earn their 90% cut? They seem to be left holding the short end of the stick - and deservedly so.

Speaking from my limited experience, the book business is more illogical and messed up than the music industry ever was, and we all know what happened to them. My own Canadian publisher, Penguin, has been fighting with Amazon over ebook pricing and generally trying to resist the digital revolution completely. In the meantime, Penguin authors are suffering from a healthy dose of illogic, like grossly overpriced ebooks. There is no sane reason why an ebook should cost more than a hardcover, but lo and behold, that’s the case with my Sex, Bombs and Burgers.

What’s the result of this? It’s non-existent ebook sales. I wouldn’t pay $22 for the best ebook in the world - and obviously no one else will either, if my sales reports are anything to go by (and yes, although Sex, Bombs and Burgers is a veritable thrill ride, it probably isn’t the best ebook in the world in anyone’s mind besides my own).

The most poignant part of the Wired story is about how Rowling’s move may be a “kick up the arse” to the publishing industry:

Publishers need to radically rethink their remuneration structures in order to ensure that their cash cows don’t all follow Rowling’s suit. To this day, publishing remains a B2B business - publishers sell to retailers and not readers.

To that, I’d add that publishers have a new set of customers - their authors - and they need to start making them happy. Otherwise, writers might start doing similarly illogical things, like directing potential readers to sites like these.

Categories: amazon, apple, ebooks

Sex, Bombs & Burgers goes paperback

May 12, 2011 1 comment

Good news for book lovers in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom - the paperback version of Sex, Bombs and Burgers is almost here. The new, cheaper version hits stores down under on May 30 and in the U.K. on June 1. And if you missed it on the first go around, it’s going to be tough to miss this time, what with the provocative new cover:

Check out my book’s page on Allen & Unwin’s website for a full description of what you’re in for. Ebook information should also be found there closer to release.

North American readers have only a few short months to wait until the paperback. We’re just putting the finishing touches on it now. Stay tuned!

Categories: allen unwin, books, ebooks

Book business is indeed facing its digital reckoning

April 13, 2011 5 comments

The Globe and Mail ran a fascinating story on Heather Reisman’s “digital reckoning” over the weekend. Reisman is the CEO of Indigo, Canada’s book chain monolith, and the story is about what she is trying to do in the face of the shift to digital books. Like I pointed out last month in my predictions for the next decade, book stores are on the endangered species list because of the rapid growth of e-books.

Indigo’s strategy, which has been apparent for some time now to anyone who has ventured into one of its stores, is to shift away from books and toward knick-knacks like candles and picture frames. According to the story, Reisman is looking to ramp up those non-book sales over the next couple of years to 40 per cent of the business from the current 15 per cent.

That’s a pretty dumb strategy since it effectively means Indigo is going into competition with Walmart. There seems to be little one can’t get at its “book” stores that can’t be had at the superstore chain, where such goods likely sell for half the price. A better plan would be to fully concentrate on Kobo, the e-reader and e-book store combination Indigo launched last year. The venture has lost money so far, according to the story, but building it into a legitimate competitor for Amazon’s Kindle and shutting down huge and expensive stores seems like the logical way to go.

Indeed, the whole book business is changing. Indigo and other book store chains would also be wise to start building ties to writers directly by cutting out the middle men, which is what publishers are rapidly becoming. Check out the graphic that accompanies the Globe story, which attempts to detail one of the publishing industry’s closely-guarded secrets: the breakdown of who earns what on the sale of a book. A $25 hardcover earns an author only $2.50 while a $10 e-book gets them $1. Many, many authors - myself included - have harped before on why this is far from equitable distribution on a product that is entirely dependent on the writer’s intellectual property.

The graphic, along with this article about an author finding success through self-publishing, pretty much tells the story of how the business is changing. There have been numerous anecdotal stories about self-published writers hitting it big, but this particular article is notable in that the author supplied sales reports backing up her claims of making millions of dollars. Physical book store chains such as Indigo therefore need to adjust to this changing reality before pure-digital plays make them completely irrelevant, much like iTunes did to HMV.

What was most surprising about the Globe and Mail story, however, were the reader comments. It’s true that such forums are often a repository of negativity, but I’ve always found the Globe’s comments to be a little bit better than most, either because the readers are more intelligent or the sign-up process is more rigorous. Nevertheless, the sentiment toward Reisman and Indigo was one of universal condemnation. If the comments are anything to go by, Canadians are wringing their hands at the prospect of the book chain’s inevitably collapse. From its inexplicable U.S.-to-Canadian currency price discrepancies to its protectionist attempts to keep Amazon out of Canada, the book-buying public is clearly ready for Indigo’s inevitable demise and the larger changes to the business as a whole.

Categories: books, chapters, ebooks, kobo

2021: Bye-bye to bookstores

March 8, 2011 1 comment

Following on yesterday’s thoughts on copyright, this one is a bit of a no-brainer. As a consumer, I find it more and more frustrating every time I set foot in a bookstore. Mind you, I kind of like the ambiance of being surrounded by books, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve actually bought one there, not for lack of trying.

Over the past couple of weeks, I wandered into four different Chapters stores here in Toronto in search of Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines. One store didn’t have it, but three others listed a few copies in their science section. In each store, I looked around and couldn’t find it, asked staff for help and they couldn’t find it either. Eventually, I ordered the hard copy online. I only got the physical copy because I’m planning to cite it in my next book - long-time blog readers know I’ve mused before about one problem with e-books, that they don’t actually have page numbers, which makes citations hard if not impossible.

Lo and behold, Amazon just recently announced it is adding real page numbers to its e-books. Problem solved. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever buy a physical book again.

The death of the bookstore is already happening. U.S. chain Borders is facing bankruptcy, with others sure to follow. Other chains that sell physical stuff, like HMV or Tower Records, have diversified into other goods - they haven’t been about just music for some time now. Bookstore chains have been making similar moves, opening up cafes and selling things like candles and umbrellas, but it really won’t make sense to sell physical books for much longer. They take up a hell of a lot of space, which means real-estate costs are often quite high. Over the next 10 years, many of them will close or morph into something completely different.

What about libraries? Well, they’re giant repositories of physical books too and they will likely change dramatically as their inventories are digitized. Libraries are considerably different, though, in that they’re primarily research centres. I’m of the belief that with a surfeit of digitized content, libraries - and especially librarians - will become even more important. The buildings they’re in may shrink over the next decade, but their importance will grow.

Categories: books, ebooks

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