Just a brief post, as I thought it was important to highlight the new Kobo eReader. For those of you looking to make the jump to e-books, this device looks like it will make an excellent starting point. There is a good review over on Electronista, but the summary is that the Kobo eReader does a fine job at reading books, has a nice e-Ink screen and great battery life, and is a good value at just $149. The fact that it uses a simple interface and doesn’t have wireless or other features can actually be a good thing — as it makes it easier to simply focus on one thing: reading books.
Another point to note: the eReader comes with 100 free e-books pre-loaded onto the device. While those titles are all public domain, and thus freely available elsewhere, I think it’s a great idea by Kobo: it makes the eReader seem like a better deal (that’s like paying $1.49 per book and getting the eReader for free), and also makes it blindingly simple for a buyer to start reading right away.
A few tech specs:
- 6″ e-Ink screen (easy on the eyes, great in sunlight, 2-week battery life)
- 1 GB internal storage (holds about 1,000 e-books)
- USB connection (connect it to your computer and drag & drop files onto it)
- Only currently reads ePub and PDF formats
- Bluetooth built in
While you can get a cheaper $99 Delstar OpenBook or a more expensive $259 Kindle 2 (both of which I discuss here), the Delstar uses an LCD screen, not the easy-on-the-eyes e-Ink screen that most e-readers use. The Kindle is a better e-reader, has wireless access, a built-in dictionary, and uses Amazon, but it does cost over $100 more.
It’s good to see more and more devices emerging at lower and lower price points. The Kobo will be sold at Borders stores and can be filled with e-books from Borders’ upcoming e-book store (see Update 2, below).
One other quick point: there are rumors that the Kindle 2 will soon be available at Target and Best Buy retail stores and the Nook will be available through Best Buy (in addition to Barnes & Noble). I think it’s a great idea, since these devices have a “wow” factor and most people who try them out will be impressed. While Amazon allows a 30-day trial period (with no-questions-asked returns) on the K2, it’s still much easier to play with one at Target than order one from Amazon and maybe return it.
UPDATE: Kindle at Target confirmed, on Apr 25.
UPDATE 2: The Kobo eReader is available for pre-order from Borders, shipping June 17. It should also be arriving in Borders stores in August. Borders is planning an online e-book store for June as well.
UPDATE 3: Kobo reduced the price of its e-reader to just $129, but compared to the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi, I don’t think the small price advantage justifies passing up the Kindle 3’s more impressive specs and features.
E-books have several advantages over paper books: they cost less to produce and distribute, they’re better for the environment, they can be downloaded instantly, thousands can be stored on a single device, they never get old or have pages fall out, you can search them and pop up word definitions, etc. People who try them generally like them. A lot. And we realized we read for the words, not the “feel” of paper or the smell of glue. But what if you don’t know where to start?
It’s easy to get started reading your first e-book. No, you don’t need a special e-book reader, you can read them on the computer or smartphone you already have. And they’re generally cheaper than printed books. Since anything published before 1923 is in the public domain in the U.S., you can even read thousands of great classics (Hamlet, Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, etc.) for free. You can download them in PDF, plain text, or as a webpage (HTML), any of which are easy to read on any computer.
For selection and ease of use, you can’t beat Amazon. The best way to read them is on a Kindle, of course, but Amazon makes free reading apps that let you read Kindle e-books on PCs, Macs, Blackberries, iPhones/iPods/iPads, and more. You can browse and purchase books (including free books) from Amazon, and you can read them with any of their reading apps. It will even “sync” your location, so if you get to Chapter 3 on your PC, you can pick up your iPhone or Kindle and start reading where you left off. Pretty cool.
Ready to get started? I may be biased, but I think there are worse ways to spend a few bucks than picking up my novels in e-book format. There are many ways to do it:
- If you’d like to read on a computer or laptop, just click the “Buy Now” buttons in the column to the right and pick up a copy in PDF format, which can be easily read on any computer. Grab just the first, or splurge and get the “Combination Package,” which gets you 3 novels for less than the cost of a movie.
- If you buy them through my site, I will also send them to you in any format you may need, now or in the future, so you can put them on that Kindle or iPad you get for your next birthday.
- Want to read through Amazon, on your Kindle, computer, Blackberry, iPhone, iPod, or iPad? One-click them from Amazon.
- Do you own a Nook? Pick them up at Barnes & Noble.
- How about another e-reader: Sony, iRex, BeBook, CyBook, etc.? Smashwords has you covered in any conceivable file format.
- Did you just get a shiny new iPad? Want to try out the iBook Store? Annoyed that most e-books there cost $15? My e-books are still under $3 in the iBook Store (or just search for my name from your iPhone or iPad).
Once you get hooked on e-books, you may want to consider picking up an e-book reader. There are several options. My favorite is the Kindle 2 for $259 (UPDATE: the newer Kindle 3 starts at just $139), but Barnes & Noble’s Nook or the Sony e-readers make fine choices as well. There are even some $99 LCD-based e-readers cropping up, although they’re harder on the eyes and not as easy to use. On the other end of the spectrum, you can buy yourself a fancy iPhone or iPad and use those to read (if you can tear yourself away from games and Facebook).
E-books are the future. Sure, there will always be printed books, just like we still have radio and horses, even though TV and cars are quite popular. Why not give e-books a try — for free or just a few bucks — and see what all the fuss is about?
As some of you no doubt know, I am an attorney. By this, I mean that I went to law school, graduated, passed the CA Bar exam, and worked as an attorney at a law firm for several years. That makes me an attorney. Pretty simple.
But I also write novels. I am an author. But, am I a “real” author? A “professional” author? What does that even mean?
It may surprise some people to know that only a tiny percentage of authors make a living solely by writing (obviously “make a living” is pretty vague). Most authors–yes, authors on the NY Times Bestseller List published by big publishers–teach on the side, have day jobs, freelance, or do other things to pay the bills. One estimate said that only 200 authors in the U.S. make a living solely from their writing. Let’s put that in perspective: there are 1,696 players in the NFL (32 teams x 53 players). And their minimum salary is $325,000 per year, much more than just “making a living.”
Hell, there must be more than 200 state lottery winners each year in the U.S., and they probably make at least $1 million. Better odds than writing.
So, what defines a “professional” writer? When can an author call himself a “professional”? Is it if he “makes a living” (is one of the 200)? Is published through a traditional publisher? Sells X number of books? Earns more than a certain dollar amount per year by writing? Has written more than a certain number of books?
Let’s say you get signed by a large publisher because it thinks your book will be profitable (not “good”–big difference). The standard first contract for an unknown author (i.e., not Sarah Palin, who doesn’t actually write–is she an author?) is a $5,000 advance and 8% of royalties after that. About 80% of books never make it to the “after that” stage–they don’t earn the author anything beyond the initial guaranteed $5,000. And publishers give most first-time authors very little or no publicity, no big display at Barnes & Noble, and if your books don’t sell well in the first month, they’re yanked from the shelves and they go out of print. You just made $5,000, on a book you probably spent at least a year on. Most authors spend that $5,000 trying to promote their own books.
Is that guy a professional author? What if I make $5,000 selling books on my own this year? Am I a professional?
The good news is that the game is changing. Readers are starting to get sick of much of the “traditionally-published” stuff, which is often formulaic and appealing to the lowest common denominator. Just as with indie music and movies, people are looking for new voices and books that the big publishing companies didn’t deem “marketable” enough to sell.
And now, with e-books, the self-publishing movement, and Amazon (the world’s largest bookseller), all those lines are being blurred. For very little money (and a whole lot of time), an author can format their own e-books and distribute them on Amazon’s virtual shelves right alongside Stephen King and Isaac Asimov. And, since print publishers are trying their best to kill e-books to protect their hardcover book sales, it gives little guys like me a chance.
- So far in 2010, I’ve sold over 3,000 books (mostly e-books, and mostly through Amazon). Does that make me a “professional” author?
- I’m completing my third novel, The Twiller, which should be out in a few months. Is that enough?
- Stephen King said you’re a “professional” if your royalty check doesn’t bounce, and it pays the electric bill. My royalties this week already paid the electric bill for the month. But what about rent?
- I made it to #1 on Amazon’s “Technothriller” best-seller list, and #479 overall in the Kindle Store (out of almost 500,000 e-books), which puts me above 99.9% of all e-book titles. Do I qualify?
- And what about, you know, actually being a good writer? Does that even matter at all? I can name plenty of best-sellers that are horribly written, but their authors rake in the cash.
I actually don’t know the answer, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below. But I do know that I’m giving it a shot. More on that in my next post.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of nice mentions of my novels around the web today:
• Mark Coker, founder of the wonderful author service Smashwords, posted about Right Ascension as one of the first Smashwords books available on the iPad.
• Over at True/Slant, Roger Theriault gave his thoughts about the new iPad, and reading on it compared to his Kindle. He also expressed chagrin at some of the high prices traditional publishers are demanding for e-books. He said:
Publishers want readers to pay more – but the alternative is the library or a used bookstore. Or independent authors…
David Derrico’s sci-fi novels Right Ascension and Declination are both $0.99 in e-book format from Amazon or Apple. I’ve read the first and I’m working on the second novel. Both are excellent alternatives to expensive e-books. There are many self-published authors in various genres, both fiction and non-fiction, with affordable and highly readable e-books. I think established publishers are sinking their own ships (and their authors as well) with their pricing strategies.
Thanks for the mention, Roger, I’m glad you’re enjoying them!
Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, and we somewhat spontaneously decided on her birthday present the night before: an iPad. We hadn’t pre-ordered, so we stayed up all night and went to stand in line at the Apple Store at 6:30 AM. All went well, and we came home with a new iPad (Wi-Fi model) yesterday.
Many have touted the iPad as a “Kindle-killer” and the next big thing in e-book reading. Others say it’s just a big, overpriced Apple iPhone / iPod Touch. Others consider it aimed at a totally different market than the Kindle. So, my early thoughts (after only using it for a day):
So far, I like it more than I thought I would. It’s a good size for web browsing, pics, and stuff. And gaming on it is really fun (we did not have an iPhone or iPod Touch before). Now, we didn’t leave the house yesterday, so the size and weight and lack of 3G connectivity has not been an issue. And it’s still new and “cool” … will we still use it as much in a few months?
One big reason I like it is because the battery is impressive. Reviews said it gets 11-12 hours of movie watching, and with heavy use yesterday it lasted all day, probably 12 hours or so before we recharged it. That’s very good — although not Kindle territory.
As for reading books, I poked around on the Apple iBook Store (and was pleased to see Right Ascension and Declination show up on there, for just 99 cents each, on the day of launch!). I haven’t tried reading on it for any length of time (I’ve mostly been setting it up, downloading apps, and playing games). The bigger screen is nice, and a good battery is a plus, and the navigation seems simple (like the Kindle). Things like page turns, going to your library and picking a book, dictionary lookups, and changing font sizes are all easy and intuitive. On the minus side, it’s heavier than a Kindle and 12 hour battery life is a far cry from 2-week battery life. Also, there is no text-to-speech, as there is on the Kindle. And I still think it will be much easier to read on the Kindle’s e-Ink display.
Also, to compare apples to Apples (as it were, capitalization intentional), you’d have to compare the Kindle 2 (at $259) with an iPad 3G with wireless built in ($629 + $720 for 2 years of service = $1,349). So it’s really not in the same ballpark as a reader. Yes, you may be able to find other uses to justify the price differential, but I don’t really see them as direct competitors, even though the media is obsessed with the comparison.
Now, will people read on the iPad? That remains to be seen. I don’t really think so, although even a small percentage if there are tons of iPads out there could add up to something. I still think real readers will get a K2. I will say one downside for independent authors: Amazon is great at helping people find stuff with their “people who bought this also bought,” their genre best-seller lists, etc. But on the iPad, unless you’re one of their 5 or 10 “featured” big-name books, you gotta search for what you want. So, I wouldn’t expect nearly as many sales through the iPad as Amazon, since no one can “stumble upon” me … they need to be looking specifically.
Anyway, those are my early thoughts. I’m gonna take it down to my family’s place for Easter dinner tonight and see how it works on-the-go. I’ll use it for a while longer and try reading a whole book on it and give you my further thoughts in a week or so.
What do you think? Is the iPad a “Kindle-killer”? An overpriced, but fun, diversion? A laptop replacement? The future of all things? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts….
So, we’ve already established that e-books are taking over the world (yes, I use the term “established” somewhat loosely). What does this mean for bookstores?
Well, first of all, the smart bookstores are hedging their bets. Barnes & Noble (the largest physical bookstore chain) produces the Nook e-book reader, and Borders (the #2 chain) partners with Sony and the Sony e-book reader. Barnes & Noble already sells books and e-books on their website. So, these companies are at least attempting to embrace the digital future and sell electronic content.
But e-books are still a relatively small percentage of print book sales, and bookstores are in dire financial straits as it is. People are reading less in general (with the notable exception of e-book readers, who are voraciously purchasing and devouring more content faster than ever) with the distractions of TV and iPhones and Twitter. What will happen to them?
While I have fully embraced the e-book revolution, I do enjoy visiting bookstores (and libraries) and browsing the stacks of books, checking out magazines, and generally spending some time there. (I much prefer spending time in a bookstore to a mall, for example.) It would be a shame to see them disappear.
I don’t think bookstores will go away, but I do think they will adapt — for the better. Gone will be huge shops with three floors full of shelves carrying thousands of titles, one or two copies of each, spine-out on the shelves. Instead, what I think we’ll find in your typical bookstore in 5 or 10 years is:
- A display table with stacks of the latest big blockbuster release (hopefully not Harry Potter and the Enlarged Prostate).
- More and more book-related accessories: mugs, notepads, gifts, journals, calendars, greeting cards, bookmarks, e-book cases, etc. (these constitute more and more of bookstores’ current profits).
- Coffee shops and cafes will continue to expand; perhaps we’ll see wine bars and such as well.
- The bookstore will be smaller, and will lack the upper floors of lesser-selling titles. Instead, there will be kiosks where shoppers can browse a virtually unlimited catalogue of books, order one, sit and sip a cappuccino, and their newly-printed book will be delivered to them in 15 minutes.
This last part is the real quantum shift (the other parts are just accelerations of current trends). Instead of devoting lots of space (which is expensive) to slow-selling titles, the bookstore will have a print-on-demand (POD) machine or two in back. Not only will it save space and help with inventory, shipping, and returns issues, but it will expand the bookstore’s available stock exponentially. No more worrying if a store carries a particular title or if it’s in stock. Just about any book ever written — from the latest release to Shakespeare — will be available.
(Note that, while I think e-books will become more and more popular, I don’t think physical books will ever completely disappear — some small percentage will still be useful as collector’s editions, children’s books, gifts, home decorations, etc.)
The bookstore will become more about browsing and hanging out and chatting and sipping coffee — a place where book lovers can still go and shop and mingle and sample books (and grab that special edition hardcover they want for their shelf). They’ll probably even browse the store catalogue and submit POD orders from their Nook 3 or Kindle 5 in addition to the kiosks. And the bookstore will save money with smaller stores, a wider selection of titles, and more focus on high-profit hardcovers, gifts, and food sales.
It’s a win-win, and it’s coming soon to a bookstore near you.
As I mentioned in my last post, e-books are surging in popularity, and for good reason. I mentioned that the surge in e-books has impacted me as a reader. But it has impacted me even more dramatically as a writer.
I wrote my first novel, Right Ascension, in 2000, and the sequel, Declination, was completed in 2002. While they enjoyed some early success and some sporadic pockets of sales, and received positive feedback from readers, they essentially sold about as well as most self-published books, which is to say: hardly at all. A few hundred copies over the course of several years.
Then, I learned about Amazon and their Digital Text Platform, and I published my novels to be sold through Amazon for the Kindle.
And people started buying it.
Not a ton, mind you, but some. And so I did some research. And I spent weeks learning how to perfect Kindle formatting. I spent time on Kindle boards, getting to know readers and what they wanted. I learned that the stigma against self-publishing is disappearing, just as it did for “indie” musicians and movies. In fact, people were sick of the same regurgitated tripe being spewed forth by the big publishers. Think about the three biggest hits of the past five years: Harry Potter, Dan Brown, and Twilight. Are any of those examples of great writing?
In December of 2009, I lowered my e-book prices to just 99 cents each. I debated back and forth for a while. But they’re worth more than that! I cried. But I did it, as a grand experiment, and it worked. While I had cut the price down from $5 to $1, my sales went up by a factor of 7. Cool.
Then, as I started becoming more active on various forums, and (I hope) started getting some positive buzz and word-of-mouth going, my sales more than doubled. Then doubled again. I sold more in a month than I had in the past decade. Then it happened again the next month. And, guess what? Readers didn’t care that my book wasn’t printed by a big publisher. Heck, they didn’t care if it was printed at all. They didn’t care that it wasn’t in bookstores. Because over 98% of all those sales were e-books. And my e-books look just as good — actually, better — than e-books from big publishers. In fact, mine are meticulously formatted and proofread and have a table of contents, while theirs are often error-filled scans of printed books. Mine enable text-to-speech, while theirs block the feature. Mine are not saddled with DRM (copy protection), and I offer them in multiple formats instead of tying you down to one device. And, while readers feel gouged by publishers raising prices from $9.99 to $14.99 and charging more for e-books than paperbacks, mine are just 99 cents.
Now, for the first time, I feel that there is a possibility — certainly not a certainty — but a chance of actually making a living at writing. For a long time I was told that I had a real talent for writing, and I worked hard at it, but the only option was to send query letters into the black hole of agents’ and publishers’ “slush piles,” sometimes getting a polite form rejection letter, sometimes a scrawled “NO” written in the margin of my own letter and sent back in my return envelope, usually no response at all, and never even once did anyone actually read the book they were rejecting.
So I’ve bypassed the gatekeepers, and am taking my work directly to the readers. Yes, it’s taken a ton of time, but it’s cost me very little money in the digital realm, and my books sit on Amazon’s virtual shelves next to (and even above!) Asimov and Heinlein and Vonnegut. And maybe, if I continue to work hard and hone my craft, write more novels, promote like crazy, get great editors to help ensure the books meet or exceed the quality of “traditionally-published” stuff, and get a bit of luck, I just might eke out a living at doing what I love. And that chance, remote though it still might be, did not exist two short years ago.
I’m excited. Are you?
Recently, I was shocked to receive a Kindle from a good friend for my birthday. This amazing device has impacted my life in multiple ways. First, I very quickly became an e-book reading convert: the reading experience on a Kindle is, IMO, superior to that of a printed book. Some of the advantages:
- e-books are generally less expensive than printed books (they should be, since they cost nothing to print, ship, or store)
- portability and convenience: I can download books instantly, wirelessly, and carry thousands around anywhere
- the built-in dictionary is invaluable; I would miss the ability to look up or double-check words with a flick of my finger
- I actually find it easier and more natural to hold the Kindle (which is lighter than a hardcover) and turn pages with one hand
- I enjoy being able to set the font size to something more comfortable for my eyes
There are other advantages, but those are the main ones for me. After using the Kindle for a while, I do not at all miss the “feel” or “smell” of paper books. And I can see how a wide variety of people, once they give e-books a chance, will come to depend on these features. Not to mention that, in the next few years, I expect e-book readers to offer:
- color screens that play video
- perhaps flexible or foldable screens that are unbreakable and allow for larger screens that can fit into a pocket
- even lighter weight and more memory
- greater selection of e-books (essentially every book in or out of print)
- improvements in text-to-speech
- much easier lending capabilities: email a title to your friend to borrow, and it automatically reappears on your device in 2-4 weeks
I expect more and more people will fall in love with e-book reading. I spend a lot of time on e-book reader forums, and lots of people already love their e-book readers. Love. Most of them say they will never go back to printed books, and that they are reading more than ever before. Not to mention that the last of the paper book converts will die off and the newer generations will consume everything electronically.
So, it comes as no surprise to me that the e-book market has tripled in 2009, after doubling in 2008. Or that it is on pace to double or triple again this year. Or that Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller, sold more e-books than printed books last Christmas. E-books made up 3.31% of all book sales in 2009, and that number will likely increase to 6-10% this year. By 2015 or 2020, what will that percentage look like? 25%? 50%? 75%?
What does this mean for printed books, and the future of publishing? I’ll get more into that in my next post. But I fully expect the acceleration of e-book sales to continue. The reading experience is just too good, and they just make too much sense not to.
If you’ve been following e-publishing lately, you may have heard that today, 5 out of the “Big 6″ publishers forced Amazon to agree to an “agency model” when selling e-books instead of the previous “retail model.” Under the retail model, publishers set a “list price” for e-books (usually the same $25 or so they set for the hardcover), and retailers like Amazon pay them a fixed percentage of that price, such as 50%. Amazon would then pay the publisher $12.50 for each e-book sale, and price the book however they wanted: $12.51, $19.99, $25, or even $9.99 (as a loss leader).
As of today, 5 large publishers told Amazon they must sell their e-books under the agency model (physical books remain on the retail model). Under the agency model, the publisher sets the final sale price, and Amazon gets a flat 30% cut of each sale. That means Amazon is not allowed to have “sales” on e-books, and that a particular e-book should be the same price everywhere. This shift was caused in large part by the entry of the iPad (which I am still not convinced will be a popular place for people who actually buy and read e-books) and Apple’s embracing of the agency model (just like in their iTunes Store and App Store).
Apparently, the large publishers weren’t happy about Amazon taking a loss and selling NYT bestsellers for $9.99 (even though they sent the publishers $12.50 per sale), because they are concerned Amazon is “devaluing e-books.” If you ask me, the large publishers are terrified of e-books, since they require a massive shift in their business model (involving costly layoffs, restructuring, reduction of rent and other overhead, changing contracts and relationships, etc.). They know that some publishers might adapt well and stay on top … but not all of them will. So they seem intent on stalling e-book adoption as long as possible (as evidenced by them trying to raise prices in the face of clear consumer outcry, attaching invasive DRM to their titles, disabling TTS access, delaying e-book releases, and generally releasing poorly-formatted scans of physical books).
So, today, most large publisher e-books will go up in price from $9.99 to $12.99 or $14.99.
It’s times like this that I’m glad to be an independent author … while the idea of a huge book deal with a traditional publishing house had always been my dream, I’m thinking more and more of the benefits of being nimble in a quickly-changing e-book industry. I wonder if the big publishing houses read forums and blogs and comments like I do; I wonder if they have any idea what their customers are feeling or how they think. Sometimes I wonder if they “get” e-books at all. It sure seems like they see them as a threat to be fought, instead of an amazing opportunity to be embraced. “Let’s delay releases! Jack up prices to double that of paperbacks! Infest books with DRM! Format them like crap!”
One thing I know for sure is that the vast majority of Kindlers are passionate readers (in a world where readers are an endangered species). In other words, the publishers’ very best customers. Or, as I see it, the reason I write.
I hate to say it, but the big publishers jacking up prices can only make the prices charged by most indie authors look that much better in comparison ($0.99 vs. $14.99 — wow). But, if they succeed in killing the fledgling e-book industry before it can really take off, then we all lose.
I am very excited to announce that Right Ascension has recently topped the charts as the #1 best-seller in Amazon’s Kindle Store “Technothriller” category.
The sequel, Declination, is also selling better and better, so I am gratified to see that people are enjoying my first novel enough to purchase and read the second one.
I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has read, bought, enjoyed, reviewed, or told a friend about my novels. None of this would be possible without you. Thank you!