Amazon announced today that they will bring lending to Kindle e-books “later this year.” This is a feature that many users had been clamoring for: after all, they reason, you can lend printed books to whomever you want for as long as you want. With e-books, the process can theoretically be even simpler: instead of arranging to physically meet up with someone (or mail the book back and forth, which might cost more than the book!) or worry about getting your book back, you can just input a user’s email address and zip the e-book to them wherever they are. Even better, you could set a time for that e-book to “expire” and it would automatically come back to you — I’m sure we all have paper books we’ve lent out and never gotten back!
This is also an important move by Amazon, as it matches the Nook’s existing “Lend Me” feature, which enables e-book lending for some Nook titles (if approved by the publisher).
Of course, publishers aren’t generally too keen on the idea of unlimited lending, so there are understandably some limitations (which happen to be identical on both the Kindle and Nook): first, once you lend an e-book, you can’t read it while it’s lent out — so only one person can read the book at a time. Second, each e-book can only be lent one time, period. Third, the lending period is exactly 14 days, no more, no less.
Even with these limitations (which seem a bit too stringent for my tastes, but some limitations are perfectly understandable), it’s a cool and useful feature, and one that negates a previous Nook advantage. One of the reasons I am a fan of all e-book readers (not just my beloved Kindle 2) is that advances in one e-reader’s hardware or software capabilities generally trickle down to all e-readers soon enough. So far, the existence of the Nook has at least motivated Amazon to lower Kindle prices and add this lending feature, so that’s a win in my book.
One other note on lending: with Amazon’s Kindle, you have the option of registering multiple devices to a single account, including multiple Kindles or Kindle DXs, the Kindle for iPad/iPhone app, or Kindle for Mac/PC apps. Most Amazon e-books allow you to read them on up to 6 devices simultaneously (look for the part on the e-book product page where it says “Simultaneous Device Usage,” and there will either be a number or “Unlimited”). That means that you can register multiple devices to your Amazon account (including devices used by your family members or friends you trust to be on your account), and e-books you purchase can be read at the same time on your Kindle 3, your wife’s Kindle 2, your son’s Kindle for Mac program, and your daughter’s Kindle for iPhone app (as one example). Even better, the 6-device limit is only a simultaneous limit and is per e-book, so you can read an e-book on your Kindle, and then de-authorize it from that device and authorize it on your 7th device and read it there too. For certain families or close friends, this system is far better than any lending feature, and allows for multiple people to easily share the same e-book purchases, even if they live in different parts of the world. Try doing that with a single copy of a printed book!
More and more brands of e-book readers are showing up in more and more retail stores (such as Wal-Mart and Target) nationwide. This gives people who may be unfamiliar with e-book readers or the benefits of e-ink a chance to see one hands-on and understand what e-readers are all about. I’ve posted before about various e-readers becoming available in retail stores, but with the recent news that the Nook and Kobo E-Readers will soon be available at Wal-Mart, I’ve decided to make a summary post detailing when and where each of the popular e-readers are available. I’ll try to update this post with new info as it becomes available. I hope it’s useful.
(Links go to posts giving more info on that brand of e-reader. E-readers should be currently available at listed stores unless noted otherwise — but calling your particular store to double-check might be a good idea.)
- Kindle (latest versions are Kindle 3 for $189, Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for $139, and Kindle DX 2 for $379)
- Direct from Amazon.com
- Best Buy
- UPDATE: Wal-Mart, as of May 5, 2011
- Nook (latest versions are Nook for $199, Nook Wi-Fi for $149, and Nook Color for $249)
- B&N bookstores or direct from Barnes & Noble.com
- Best Buy
- iPad (latest versions range from $499 for 16 GB Wi-Fi to $829 for 64 GB 3G)
- Apple stores or direct from Apple.com
- Best Buy
- Sony Reader (latest versions are Pocket for $179, Touch for $229, and Daily for $299)
- Sony Style Stores or direct from Sony.com
- Best Buy
- Office Depot
- Kobo E-Reader (latest version is Kobo Wireless for $139)
- Direct from Kobo.com
- Borders bookstores
Of note, you can view and compare Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and Sony Readers at Best Buy, making it a good choice for a one-stop shop if you’re unsure which one you’d prefer. Most e-book readers are now available in most large retail stores: the notable exceptions being no Kindles at Wal-Mart and no Nooks at Target yet. [UPDATE: Kindles are now at Wal-Mart, which makes it an option for comparison shopping.] Please let me know in the comments if I’ve missed any large retail stores where these e-readers are available.
While it’s no secret that Apple’s iPad is generally better for games than the Kindle (due to its color LCD screen), Amazon has recently released a number of Kindle Games & Apps and leveled the playing field a bit. The games I’ve tried have been surprisingly good — even limited by the slow refresh rate and black-and-white nature of the Kindle’s e-Ink screen — and have proven fun and surprisingly addictive!
So far, most of the Kindle games are word games or “thinking” games of some sort: Scrabble, Sudoku, and strategy games, for example. These games usually work on the Kindle 2, Kindle 3, or Kindle DX models — sorry, Kindle 1 users, it seems you’re out of luck here. Please do check the requirements before buying one of these games.
Amazon earlier this year announced an upcoming “App Store,” which would allow programmers and developers to create their own Kindle applications and games (similar to Apple’s App Store). So far, however, we’ve only seen a trickle of games released by Amazon itself or a couple of big names, like Electronic Arts. Presumably, sometime soon the floodgates will open and anyone can write an app for the Kindle — and not just games, but also perhaps productivity apps (calendars, to-do lists, etc.), RSS readers, custom screensavers, weather apps, etc.
The good news so far is that several of the already-released apps are completely free — and I’d recommend you give them a try. I’ve played Shuffled Row and Every Word — both Scrabble-like word games — and both are excellent. After a couple of games, they quickly became pretty addicting, as I tried to beat my high score. Playing them felt more “Kindle-like” than your average game: while they were both fun, they also have a solid educational, vocabulary-building element. And the performance on my K2 is great — there’s obviously no color, but the graphics are well-done and there aren’t any issues with the animation speed. The Kindle’s full physical keyboard comes in very handy here.
There are a few paid apps too, including Solitaire (a compilation of 12 solitaire card games), Scrabble, and Sudoku by Electronic Arts. Each of the Kindle games is highly placed on the Kindle best-seller lists: Solitaire is #1 on the list of paid Kindle books (yes, the apps are mixed in with e-books), and Mine Sweeper is #1 on the free list.
There should be something on this list for everyone:
- EA Solitaire (12 card games): $3.99, rated 4.5 stars on 11 reviews
- Triple Town by Spry Fox (a board/strategy game): $2.99, rated 5 stars on 13 reviews
- Panda Poet by Spry Fox (a word game): $2.99, no reviews yet
- Scrabble by EA (the word game): $4.99, rated 3.5 stars on 57 reviews
- EA Sudoku (grid numbers game): $3.99, rated 4 stars on 5 reviews
- Mine Sweeper (popular computer tile game): FREE, rated 3.5 stars on 7 reviews
- Every Word (letter-rearranging word game): FREE, rated 4 stars on 114 reviews
- Shuffled Row (fast-paced word game): FREE, rated 4 stars on 75 reviews
Good luck, I hope you find something on the list you enjoy. Just remember not to let these games distract you too much from reading!
Amazon UK today made an announcement on its UK forums, apologizing to customers for higher prices by some publishers, who have insisted upon an “agency” pricing model. Under the agency model (described in further detail here), publishers set the final sale price of an e-book, and the retailer (like Amazon, B&N, or Apple) collects a cut, usually 30%. Under the retail model, which print books are all sold under and some e-books are still sold under, the publisher sets a “list price,” charges the retailer some percentage of that price (usually around 50%), and the retailer is then free to sell the book for the price they choose: at the list price, at some discount, even at a loss if they want.
When switching to the agency model, publishers almost universally raised prices on e-books across the board: Amazon had sold new releases at $9.99 (often taking a loss, paying publishers about $13 for e-books with a $26 “list price”), and backlist (older) titles around $6.39. Those prices have increased to about $12.99 and $7.99, respectively, increases of around 30%. (Note: 5 of the 6 largest publishers in the U.S., with the exception of Random House, embraced the agency model when Apple’s iBook Store opened in April as a way to break Amazon’s dominance of the e-book market).
Was this just a business decision to maximize revenue? A campaign to humble Amazon, as publishers were fearful it was gaining too much power in the book-selling (especially the e-book-selling) world? Or a way to slow down the adoption of e-books and keep people buying printed books, which is, after all, what large print publishers are best at? I’ll let you decide.
In any event, how did the agency model work out for publishers? According to Amazon, not so well:
Unsurprisingly, when prices went up on agency-priced books, sales immediately shifted away from agency publishers and towards the rest of our store. In fact, since agency prices went into effect on some e-books in the US, unit sales of books priced under the agency model have slowed to nearly half the rate of growth of the rest of Kindle book sales. This is a significant difference, as the growth of the total Kindle business has been substantial – up to the end of September, we’ve sold more than three times as many Kindle books in 2010 as we did up to the end of September in 2009. And in the US, Kindle editions now outsell hardcover editions, even while our hardcover business is growing.
So, the growth of agency model books are less than half the growth of non-agency-model books. (Since e-books are growing so rapidly, an outright decrease in sales would be a true disaster — imagine two boats on a fast-moving river, one going with the current, and the other fighting it and being dragged more slowly along.) While some have hypothesized that publishers are intentionally shifting those sales away from Amazon and to Apple, I have serious doubts that many Kindle users are willing to buy a $499 iPad and change their reading preferences if they consider a book overpriced on Amazon — just to read the book for the same price on the iPad’s eyestrain-inducing LCD screen. No, I think they just find another book to buy instead. And, as the most recent sales figures show, e-book sales took a dip when the agency model was announced, but continue to show strong growth since then. So Amazon Kindle readers are buying e-books, just not as many e-books from agency model publishers as they used to.
Will this mean the upcoming end of the agency model? Do large print publishers even care if their e-book sales decrease, or only what happens to their print sales, which are still 91% of their total sales? (Note: August 2010 hardcover print sales are down 24.4% from August 2009, trade paperback sales are down 18.3%, and mass-market paperback sales are down 21.9%; so much for “protecting print sales.”) I think what publishers miss is that, once a reader switches to an e-book reader, they prefer the e-reading experience strongly enough to pretty much stop buying printed books (I know I’ve stopped buying print books, and a quick perusal of the Amazon forums will assure you I’m not alone). Further, they’re pretty much only going to buy e-books from the e-book store associated with their device — it’s just too convenient to get Amazon e-books on a Kindle in 60 seconds, not have to break DRM or convert files, have your e-books backed up for you, Amazon syncs your place in your books across reading devices, and Amazon already has Kindle users’ credit card info. Once a user buys a Kindle, the vast majority would never even consider the iBook Store, or any other e-book retailer. Why, when Amazon has the largest selection, all the benefits I described above, and the agency model ironically guarantees that, while Amazon can’t beat other retailers on price, neither can anyone else offer e-books cheaper anywhere else?
The latest e-book sales figures are in (see previous posts and analysis here), and e-book sales have pretty much continued their strong performance from July. They cooled off just slightly, totaling $39.0 million in revenue in August 2010, compared to the record $40.8M in July. That performance still puts e-book sales well above their pace from the first half of the year, and considerably above last year’s figures. For comparison, e-book sales for the first 8 months of 2010 total $263M,* compared to $165.8M for all of 2009, or $89.8M for the first 8 months of 2009 only — an increase of 193% year-to-date. August 2010’s numbers are an increase of 172.4% from August 2009.
* The AAP’s numbers don’t quite add up, as I’ve been tracking them each month (see below), and their monthly totals only add up to $255.6M. Perhaps they’re now including some late-reported sales stats or something. (Sorry, I like for math to add up precisely!)
Another interesting stat: e-book sales now constitute just over 9.0% of all consumer book sales: $263M for 2010 year-to-date, compared to $2.91 billion in trade printed book sales. This is up slightly from May of this year, when the AAP reported that e-books comprised nearly 8.5% of total consumer book sales. And it’s up dramatically from 2009, when e-books were at about 3.3%.
One last tidbit: August’s $39.0M figure for e-book sales is over 71% as large as the $54.9M of mass-market paperbacks for the month. E-books are up 172.4% from last August, while mass-market paperbacks are down 21.9% from August of last year. Any guesses which figure will be larger in August of 2011? Or maybe even by December of this year?
For review, the monthly sales figures so far this year:
- Jan 2010: $31.9 M
- Feb 2010: $28.9 M
- Mar 2010: $28.5 M
- Apr 2010: $27.4 M
- May 2010: $29.3 M
- June 2010: $29.8 M
- July 2010: $40.8 M
- Aug 2010: $39.0 M
After a great start in January, but little growth for the first half of the year, Q3 2010 is on pace to jump a staggering 38.4% over Q2 2010’s numbers (38.4% quarterly growth over 4 quarters would equate to 267% yearly growth). I am tempted to attribute the strong August numbers to the debut of Amazon’s Kindle 3, but it wasn’t announced until July 28 and didn’t ship until August, so I didn’t see how it could account for July’s strong numbers. But something seems to have given e-books a huge shot in the arm this summer, and the strong sales numbers have continued for a second straight month…
A hot-button topic in the e-book world is the idea of enhanced e-books, books that combine text with pictures, hyperlinks, and videos. Certainly, this would be similar to the Internet, where people routinely read articles with a video embedded at the top, photos in the middle, and hyperlinks throughout to other articles or information. But is that what readers want in a book?
I think there are certain areas where enhanced e-books might make sense: educational reference books or textbooks, with diagrams or videos of the subject matter; cookbooks, with videos showing how to cook the dish and links to buy ingredients or cookware; or history books that include photos or videos of famous events. But what about for fiction?
Publishers seem interested in bringing “enhancements” to fiction books, by adding videos of author interviews, links to online content, photos, or other “bonus material.” I think publishers are seeking to create “special edition” e-books that they can sell for more money to replace their hardcover business model.
But is that what readers want in their fiction e-books? I, for one, am not really interested, especially if those bonus features (which will cost something to create) are used to justify hardcover-like e-book prices of $20 to $25. I read books for their words, and don’t want videos interrupting my reading. If I liked an author enough to want to see extra content and interviews, I’d just hop over to their website, where I’d expect to find photos and that sort of thing for free.
It reminds me of the “CD-ROM” craze of the 1990s, when publishers spent a lot of effort and money trying to bring enhanced versions of books and bring bonus video and features to games, music, and other products. It turned out that customers didn’t really want those enhancements, at least not enough to pay extra for them.
This discussion also highlights the current state of technology in e-book readers and highlights the differences between black and white e-Ink (that’s easy on the eyes) and color LCD screens (that can show video and such), and the difference between a Kindle and a tablet computer like the iPad. Kindles are really just focused on displaying text: they can’t show color photos or videos, and, while they can connect to the Internet, it’s not a great experience. The iPad, on the other hand, seems designed for interactive, enhanced e-books, as it can play video, show color photos, and easily link to the Internet. For enhanced e-books, something like the iPad would be the way to go. But is that what we need for the majority of fiction novels?
I suppose I can see some places where “enhancements” might arguably be useful. A nice photo of a map in a fantasy novel, for example (although Kindles handle black-and-white photos just fine). Links back to the author’s website or Amazon to buy the next book in a series (which the Kindle also handles OK). What about links peppered throughout the book? What if a character’s name were hyperlinked to a web page about them, with photos, a description, maybe even other short stories about them? What if that info wasn’t online, but was embedded directly in the book (maybe a new window pops up, and you go back to your book when you’re done)? Would that be useful, or just distracting?
Certainly, I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that just because books exist a certain way today, that’s the best possible way for them to exist. Those enhancements didn’t exist before because technology didn’t permit them, not necessarily because they were a bad idea or unwanted by readers. For example, we didn’t have e-books before, but I enjoy their added convenience, cost savings, and features. Would the same be true of videos and links and other e-book enhancements?
I tend to think not. The difference is that e-books still allow readers to immerse themselves in the author’s words, which, to me, is the essential part of the book-reading experience. I was never swayed by the argument that the physical object is what’s important, and I never “missed” the smell of glue or the “feel” of paper. My Kindle gives me the same words, but in any font size I want, with a built-in dictionary, and I can get new books in 60 seconds, save money, and carry an entire library with me. And there aren’t any extraneous distractions like movies, animations, or Facebook alerts. Enhanced e-books would interrupt the reading experience that I enjoy — the act of getting lost in a world of imagination based only on words — and that’s not something I’m interested in.
But what do you think? Are you interested in seeing videos and links in your fiction e-books? Do you want extra “bonus features,” even realizing that they’re not free and would increase the cost of e-books? Would you find an embedded video or link to extra content useful, or distracting? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments, below….
I recently finished the Kindle edition of His Majesty’s Dragon, by Naomi Novik. The book is the first in the Temeraire Series, named after the dragon introduced in the first book. While the series was originally supposed to be a trilogy, I believe it has grown to at least 7 books so far.
The novel takes place in an alternate history universe, in the 19th Century, and centers on the battle between England and Napoleon’s French army. As in our own history, the English navy reigns supreme, but the twist in Novik’s universe is the existence of dragons: intelligent, powerful, flying creatures that pair up with human riders and form a powerful air force that turns the tides of battles and the course of history.
The book starts out with a naval battle and an English ship captain, and after the battle is concluded, the English captain captures a rare dragon egg headed for France; before they can return to port (where the dragon hatchling could be paired with an appropriate “aviator”), the egg hatches and the dragon chooses Captain Laurence as its human companion. At first, Laurence is despondent (the sailors each had drawn lots for who would be forced to give up their entire lives to live in isolation as a dragon rider), but he quickly comes to realize what an intelligent and extraordinary companion the dragon, which he names Temeraire, is.
The story continues through the growth of Temeraire into a large, powerful, agile, and extraordinarily intelligent dragon. The bond between Laurence and Temeraire quickly becomes unbreakable, and Laurence joins the cadre of aviators and brings Temeraire into battle against Napoleon and the forces of France.
I enjoyed the book very much. Temeraire becomes a fascinating character, and the human-dragon interaction that permeates the book makes for a fascinating “what if?” scenario. The intricacies of dragon combat (including the dragon’s chosen captain and a crew of aviators who attach themselves to the dragon’s harness and help out in battle) are interesting and well-done. There are numerous types of dragons detailed, each of different size and speed, and some of which have powerful abilities like being able to spit acid or breathe fire. As you can imagine, the dragons are powerful military weapons, and shape the course of the war.
While I enjoyed the book and the main characters (Temeraire and Laurence), I didn’t find the story particularly groundbreaking or original. The dragons were as you would expect: intelligent, noble, awe-inspiring creatures, who bond with humans and are capable of human speech (from birth!). Captain Laurence is bold, honorable, and likable, almost to a fault. While he is originally conflicted over leaving his fiancee and naval career, experiencing life with Temeraire quickly (as you would expect) converts Laurence into Temeraire’s closest friend and soulmate. I found that aspect of the book a bit predictable — of course he’s going to fall in love with being a dragon rider! Who wouldn’t? In fact, that premise (that most of us secretly wish for the splendor and adventure of befriending and riding a dragon) is the whole reason the book is so likable. It’s an enjoyable escape and a scenario that’s quite a bit of fun to imagine.
The book was well-written, with few or no typos, grammatical issues, or formatting quirks on the Kindle version I read. There was a good combination of action, human drama, and a touch of historical military strategy. The pace of the book was good, as even the “slower” parts (without action or battles) kept my attention as Temeraire grew and matured and the bond between dragon and human grew. Ultimately, the book served as a good escape, a fun diversion, and a peek into the possibility of living among dragons in all their incredible majesty.
Overall, I’d rate the book 8 / 10, and look forward to reading more in the series. For anyone looking for a solid dragon adventure with a bit of an alternate history / military twist, you will probably enjoy this one quite a bit.
His Majesty’s Dragon is currently $6.39 on the Kindle Store, although I nabbed it when it was free a couple of months ago (presumably, Random House / Del Rey planned to get readers hooked on book 1 so they’d buy the remainder of the series). It currently averages 4.5 stars (out of 5) over 340 Amazon reviews, which is excellent. One note: the publisher blocks the text-to-speech feature, although they do not currently support the agency pricing model.
Last month, while visiting Hawaii, one of my wife’s friends asked me to come in to Kaimuki Middle School in Honolulu, Hawaii, to talk to the gifted & talented Language Arts class there. She wanted me to speak about writing and what it’s like to be an author. At first, I was nervous, and wasn’t quite sure what to say, or if I’d have enough to talk about, or if anyone would ask any questions. Well, I shouldn’t have been concerned: the class was very receptive, asked a number of very intelligent and perceptive questions, and I think the 45-minute presentation went very well.
Mrs. Hansen (in the photo above) welcomed me to her classroom, and the children gave me the nice lei you can see around my neck in the photo. She had read parts of my newest (and most young adult-friendly) novel, The Twiller, to the class, and they seemed to like the chapters that took place on the exotic planet of “Huh? Why E?”
While I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough to talk about, the time really flew by — which is odd, since I remember sitting as a student in many classrooms and feeling like the class period would never end! So, before I knew it, half of the period had gone by, and I asked the students if they had any questions.
Not only were the students very eager and inquisitive in asking a number of questions, but many of the questions were very intelligent and insightful. My favorite was probably: “If you enjoy writing so much, why did you go to law school and become a lawyer?” — which is a difficult question to answer! Students also asked me about the title of my first novel (Right Ascension), how I designed the covers of my novels (which led to discussion of the Hubble Space Telescope and the observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii), about the writing process, how I came up with my characters, and plenty of other excellent questions. I was very impressed by how intelligent, mature, curious, and eager the students were — I had to remind myself that they were only in middle school!
I definitely got a lot out of the presentation, and I hope the students did as well. Several students expressed interest in reading and writing, and I tried to help fuel their passions by explaining how much enjoyment I’ve derived from reading and writing in my life. I even got a couple of requests for my next book, including “something with vampires.”
At least one student went home and asked his father to order The Twiller from my website — so thank you for that, Chance, and I hope you enjoy the book! (Since he ordered express shipping and I was still nearby in Honolulu, I hand-delivered his signed book to him the next day.)
Once I returned home, I was pleasantly surprised to receive 25 hand-written thank-you notes from the students! I am very grateful to each of you for writing me, and it was my pleasure to come by and speak to your class. Several students asked questions in their letters, so I’ll try to answer them here:
- Aileen K.: Keep writing! And, yes, I do all my writing on the computer too.
- Aileen Z.: You’re right, the Twiller does help someone in the book!
- Quinn: Could you give me some tips on being a lawyer? Let’s see, I’d say that you should practice doing research and debating (both written and oral).
- Alyssa: You’re very welcome, and I encourage you to keep expressing yourself through writing.
- Colin: I’m glad you like “Huh? Why E?”
- Emily: I hope you enjoy The Twiller, and please thank your aunt for me for buying a copy of Right Ascension!
- Joseph: I will definitely remember my visit to your school!
- Madeline: I hope my tip about studying your characters before you start writing helps you in your own stories. And I’m glad you liked the covers!
- Caryssa: I’m overjoyed that anything I said helped inspire you to write and helped you learn how to grab the reader right from the start.
- Kaycee: I’m glad I was able to motivate you, and I’m sure you can become an author someday, if that’s what you put your mind to.
- Rei: I’m glad you found the event “interesting and fun” instead of boring! Good luck with your singing and dancing career.
- Nathan: I’m excited to hear that I helped set your brain “alight” and provided a “spark.” Great imagery!
- Leslie: It did take some balancing and time management to write my second novel while I attended law school…
- Moriah: I’m thrilled to hear that you’ve already read two of my novels! I’m glad you found them “cool and sci-fi-ish.”
- Joy: Is it harder to write a series or a single book? What is the glossy coating on your book covers? When writing a series, you can use some of the same characters and elements of the same “universe” that you’ve already created, so in that sense it’s easier. But, that challenges you to explore new aspects of the characters and have them grow and develop, and come up with enough new material to keep the story interesting, so that aspect is challenging. As for the book covers, the printer I use does the glossy coating on the covers, and I really like the way they look.
- Korynn: I’m very glad to help inspire you, and I liked your drawing of my book covers!
- Hiroyo: Thanks for the idea to write my next book about vampires! I wish I could speak Japanese like you can, but all I know is: nihongoga wakarimasen.
- Anya: It was my pleasure to meet all of you and answer your questions.
- Parker: I’m glad you learned about the importance of creating good characters, and I hope that helps your writing.
- Chance: Thanks again for having your dad buy my book, and I’m glad to hear that you want to write.
- Jocelyn: I’m happy to hear that some of what I said was useful for your Uncle Phil. I have more info about the electronic publishing process on my blog here.
- Justin: It can easily take a year to write a 75,000-word novel, but I started out by writing short stories and newspaper articles that took much less time!
- Raellis: I’m glad you enjoyed the places I used in The Twiller — they’re mostly the places where I’ve lived or spent a lot of time (like Fleur Ida, El Leigh, and Huh? Why E?).
- Kalena: I do enjoy visiting “Huh? Why E?” And I’m sure if you continue to “work hard and think hard,” you’ll make a great fashion designer.
- Celine: I’ve always been fascinated by NASA pictures and astronomy — you can find a lot of great NASA pictures at their website.
Thanks again to Mrs. Hansen and everyone in the class for the very kind letters and for making my experience in your classroom a great one!
Barnes & Noble’s PubIt self-publishing platform just went live over the weekend (I don’t know if October 1 still counts as “summer” — maybe here in South Florida it does?) and my e-books are now live on B&N.com. It’s a very exciting development, as B&N now matches Amazon and allows authors to bypass gatekeepers, publishers, and even intermediaries like Smashwords: authors can upload their own e-book files for sale on B&N.com. Since Amazon is the clear #1 e-book seller and B&N is solidly in the #2 position, this allows indie authors to reach the vast majority of the market directly.
How It Works: Authors or copyright holders can upload e-books in various formats, although it’s best to upload in the Nook’s native ePub format, so B&N doesn’t need to do the conversion for you. I believe you can also upload in HTML or text, but your results may vary. You upload your file and a cover image (in JPG format), enter your info (title, author name, book categories, etc.), and enter your book’s description, editorial reviews, and an “about the author” blurb. Once you submit, your title will go live on B&N.com (it took about 12 hours for my title to show up, but 2 days for the cover art to appear).
There are several advantages to uploading directly with B&N (over having your e-books distributed there by Smashwords):
- More control over the final format: I can improve the quality of the reader’s experience since I can upload the finished ePub file and know it looks perfect, with a working table of contents, etc.
- More control over the categories the books appear in, their descriptions, etc.
- Quicker speed of updating: Smashwords would take anywhere from a couple weeks to several months to update prices or an e-book file on B&N; now, if I need to fix a typo or change a price, I can upload it and the new version should be live in a day or two.
- Higher royalties! B&N pays a very respectable 65%.*
- Instant sales reporting: I can’t tell you how useful this is (to see the results of marketing efforts, etc.) compared to waiting for several months to find out sales data. It’s also great for us obsessive author-types who check sales 10 times a day!
- B&N’s “LendMe” feature is enabled, so users can loan the book to friends (once per book, for 14 days).
- No DRM! I was able to opt-out of DRM (copy protection), which can cause problems for consumers; now users can backup their e-book files on their computer or convert them to a new format if they get a Kindle or whatever.
* Note that Amazon pays 70%; however, Amazon takes off a small fee based on the e-book’s file size and only pays 35% on foreign sales, so the true average rate is closer to 60%.
I’m very excited by this development: it provides a better experience to readers (a better-formatted e-book file, quicker updates and fixes, LendMe, and no DRM), and is better for me as well (instant sales reporting, more control and quicker updates, and higher royalties). I love win-win scenarios like that.
Also in the plus column: my ratings and the great reviews that I was fortunate enough to receive on B&N transferred over to the new versions as well. A HUGE thank you to all my readers who have rated or reviewed the books on either B&N or Amazon: it really does help me out more than you’d probably expect, and I do appreciate it greatly.
The only negative so far is that my sales ranking hasn’t transferred over, and that I now have two versions of my e-books up on B&N. I’ve requested they be removed by Smashwords, but I don’t know how long it will take for them to actually come down from B&N.com (see what I mean about being frustrated by how long it takes to update things?). But the new versions are up and ready to go — you can find them at the B&N links below. Each are in ePub format, costs just $2.99, and can be instantly downloaded to your Nook or B&N Reader app for your computer or iPhone/iPad:
WOW! Before I even finished typing this post, I just checked my B&N sales and see a couple of sales showing up already! To my mystery shopper: THANK YOU, and I hope you enjoy the novels! Please come by and let me know what you think when you’re done!
I was inspired to write this post by a couple of recent articles lamenting how the e-book revolution is making things tougher on authors: a WSJ article about the plight of authors, and a Futurebook description of a panel discussion about the future of books. My first thought was that the e-book revolution has increased my sales and income almost a thousandfold (OK, so it wasn’t very high to begin with!), and that the lower costs of e-books, the worldwide digital distribution they afford me, and the ability to reach readers without going through layers of middlemen (publishers and agents) has allowed me to price my e-books competitively and sell more books in a month than I used to in a decade. How can this be bad?
My second thought was that the two articles I read, and the dire predictions and “woe-is-me” lamenting therein, were mostly coming from those same middlemen: publishers and agents.
Let’s start off with some facts about where your money goes when you purchase a print book or an e-book:
- Hardcover: These books retail for around $25, yet cost about 1/10th that amount — about $2.50 to print.
- Trade Paperback: Retail for about $14, cost about $1.
- Mass-Market Paperback: Retail about $8, cost about $0.75.
- E-Books: Retail anywhere from $0.99 to $14.99, but most new releases from large publishers are $12.99. No printing costs, although they share the editing, cover design, and other costs of print books, and do have some formatting costs as well.
One interesting thing is that, as customers have clamored for lower e-book prices — rightfully claiming that there are no printing, shipping, or returns costs for publishers to account for — publishers have claimed these costs are only a small fraction of the cost of a print book (about 10%). Now, I think they’ve underestimated the costs of shipping and warehousing books, and the tremendous cost of accepting returns (for full credit) of unsold books by bookstores — sometimes paying for return shipping, sometimes having the books simply destroyed, and other times selling them in bargain bins for a fraction of the cover price. But I’ve seen enough data to convince me that the printing costs of a book are roughly in the ranges I spelled out above, when printed in large offset print runs.
One thing that jumps out at me is that hardcovers only cost a buck or two more than paperbacks, but can sell for $10 or $20 more. When Macmillan’s CEO John Sargent laments that “the value proposition goes ever downward when on screen … the perceived value decreases without a physical object,” I think what he’s really saying is that publishers can’t rip readers off for paper any more. I don’t think most readers understand that the extra $17 they pay for a hardcover is only $2 for the extra cost of the physical object (the paper and cover) and $15 as a “you want it first, you pay way more” tax. In other words, publishers were successfully able to charge triple the cost of a paperback for the hardcover version by combining the “it’s new, so it costs more” and the “look at how much nicer and more durable the hardcover book is” costs — without people realizing that the vast majority of the extra cost was the former, and the nicer paper and stiff cover was only a small fraction. With e-books, such intermingling is impossible, since the format of the book doesn’t change — not only are you getting the same words, but there’s no longer a different physical format to throw you off. And I think customers have said, “OK, I don’t mind paying a few bucks extra when a book is new, but there’s no way I’m paying that much more.”
Since I believe most readers overestimate printing costs, a related effect is that, once readers understand that printing costs of an e-book are zero, publishers can no longer exploit that lack of knowledge. Instead of being able to combine “new book tax” with “nicer, more expensive to print hardcover” costs, readers now understand there are no print costs with e-books, and can see the new book tax for what it is. Unfortunately for publishers, their industry had evolved to the point that the huge profits of hardcovers were what had kept them afloat.
So, let’s break down where your money goes a little more closely, shall we?
Your typical hardcover book costs around $25. The retailer (Barnes & Noble or Borders) typically pays the publisher about half the list price, so the publisher gets $12.50 (assuming the book sells, otherwise the bookstore sends it back!). Of that $12.50, it costs $2.50 to actually print the book, and the author gets a 15% royalty, which is $3.75. That leaves $6.25 to the publisher, from which they have to pay for their editors, proofreaders, cover designers, print layout people, CEOs, lawyers, advertising, and rent for big offices in New York City. Whatever is left over, is profit.
The typical trade paperback sells for about $13 (maybe a bit more, but this price will line up nicely with e-book pricing), costs about $1 to make, and provides an 8% royalty to the author ($1.04). Subtract the 50% retailer cut ($6.50), and the publisher profit is $4.46.
The numbers for a mass-market paperback book that sells for $8 would include about 75 cents for printing, an 8% royalty to the author (64 cents), and the same 50% ($4) to the retailer. That means the publisher is left with $2.61 for all their costs and profit.
E-Books used to be sold under a similar model: publishers priced them the same as hardcovers (!!!), retailers paid 50% of that price to the publishers, and then sold them for whatever they wished (list price, or some discount from list price, like how Amazon sold e-books at a loss for $9.99). Publishers insisted on the agency model, where the publishers set the sales price (not the retail price), and get 70% of the proceeds. Under this model, a $13 e-book garners 30% to the retailer (like Amazon or B&N.com), 70% ($9.10) to the publisher, and an author royalty of 25% of the publisher’s net proceeds (instead of the cover price), which works out to 17.5% of the cover price, or $2.27 in our example. The publisher has no printing costs, but let’s be generous and include 10 cents or so to account for e-book file creation (which is a one-time cost divided by the number of e-books sold). Subtract the $2.27 due to the author from the remaining $9.00, and the publisher is left with $6.73.
To recap, a hardcover nets the publisher $6.25 (or 25% of the cover price), a trade paperback $4.46 (34.3%), a mass-market paperback $2.61 (32.6%), and an e-book $6.73 (51.8%).
Wait, and publishers are complaining about e-books? They just found a way to earn more money on each $13 e-book than they used to make on a $25 hardcover. The percentage of your money they’re ending up with has more than doubled in the e-book world — and that’s the really important number, because don’t you think they can sell a lot more e-books for $13 than hardcovers for double that price?
And what about the author? Well, I may be biased, but it seems to me the author isn’t getting all he deserves here on e-book sales. First of all, publishers justify giving authors only 8-15% royalties in the print world because publishing a novel includes a lot of financial risk: to get those low per-book printing costs requires large print runs, and that involves up-front capital and the risk of paying for a bunch of books that never sell or get returned. There are also costs of storing and shipping all those books (along with the costs of editing and preparing the book), almost all of which occur before the first sale is made — and the publisher doesn’t even get paid for print sales until a month or two later! On the other hand, with e-books, there will be some editing and preparation costs, but there are NO printing costs or other huge up-front outlay of money for shipping or warehousing. There’s no way to lose money by printing more books than you sell, and publishers get paid much quicker on e-books as well. It seems to me that if publishers deserve the lion’s share of the revenue from books because of all their up-front financial risk, then the corollary is also true, and they don’t deserve as much if their financial risk is lower, as it clearly is with e-books. Instead of doing editing and cover design work, printing tens or hundreds of thousands of copies, and using their vast distribution, storage, and shipping network to get their books into thousands of bookstores across the country (and thus earning their share), publishers are now just doing the same editing and cover design work and a relatively-painless e-book conversion and upload process, and are taking 75% of the proceeds.
Now, I’ve done a lot of proofreading and editing, and designed my covers, formatted my e-books, and uploaded them to Amazon and elsewhere. And it takes a good deal of time and effort — but it does NOT take 3x as long as writing the book in the first place! For a large publisher especially, the formatting effort should be minimal — I know my third book took a lot less time to format than my first once I got the hang of it. More importantly, these jobs don’t require huge publishers with lots of money: authors can hire editors and cover designers by the hour or for flat rates, without giving up the majority of their books’ revenue forever!
I find it interesting when literary agent Simon Lipskar chides readers that they “should feel guilty if they buy a Kindle edition versus a hardcover, but not versus a paperback, in terms of what the author gets.” Whoa. Who determines how much the author gets? Right, the publishers. And, besides, even at 17.5% of gross, an author’s e-book take is still better than their hardcover take, let alone the measly 8% they get from paperback sales. (Of course, for an independent author like myself, I get the full 70% of e-book revenue after Amazon takes its 30%, so I have no complaints — I can charge readers much less for an e-book and still make a higher royalty than on a paperback, which is a win-win in my book.)
The bottom line is, e-books not only cost a lot less to produce (no printing costs, shipping, warehousing, or returns), but also require far less up-front investment and risk. Since those are costs and risks borne by publishers in the print world (and they are compensated for it), it only makes sense that removing those costs and risks should reduce the cut publishers are fairly entitled to take. Instead, publishers want the best of both worlds: reduced costs and risks, and they want to keep more of the purchase price for themselves.
Now, I do understand the publishers’ current dilemma: they’re caught between the new economic realities of e-books and their old business models, and 92% of book sales are still print. So, they may need to do a lot of painful downsizing and re-organizing, but they can’t do it all just yet and abandon their print sales model. But what frustrates me is that publishers aren’t telling us this, they’re not saying, “This is a tough transition time and we need to do certain things for the next few years and then here’s how we see things shaking out.” They’re not offering authors 17.5% of e-book royalties for the first 5 years, to increase to double that once e-book sales overtake print, or whatever. They’re not moving forward with their transition plan, they’re just trying to protect the status quo by fighting e-book adoption. And, like lots of businesses, it seems they’re more interested in protecting their own short-term profits and salaries and bonuses than in working on a long-term, sustainable business plan that’s fair to readers, authors, and publishers in the new digital world.