Mar 302011

The Kobo Wireless next to the Kindle 3

I recently purchased a Kobo Wireless E-Reader, as a backup to my Kindle 3. The Kobo has more limited functionality than the Kindle, but its light weight and low price somewhat make up for the lack of features. In fact, the Kobo’s strict focus on reading — without Internet access or the ability to play games or apps, for example — might appeal to some people, as might its simple interface (a power button, 4 side buttons, and a 5-way joystick).

The Kobo Wireless is Kobo’s second-generation e-reader, which boasts Wi-Fi connectivity (to shop the Kobo store directly from the device), a better screen, more speed, and a built-in dictionary over its predecessor. It retails for $139, the same price as the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi, but you can often find it discounted below that price.

First, a list of the Kobo Wireless’ features:

  • 6″ e-Ink Vizplex screen (16-shade grayscale)
  • 7.8-ounce weight
  • 1 GB internal memory, plus an SD memory card slot
  • 10-day (10,000 page turn) battery life
  • Reads ePub files (including ADE / Overdrive-compatible library e-books)
  • Also reads PDF files

The Kobo Wireless comes in 3 colors (white front/silver back, white/lilac, and black/black). The first thing you notice is the light weight: at 7.8 ounces, it’s even lighter than the already-light Kindle 3 (8.5 ounces) or Sony Touch (7.93 ounces). It also has a textured (“quilted”), rubberized back that feels good in your hand. On the other hand, the front and 5-way joystick button feel a bit cheap, and the joystick can be a bit loud.

While it has the same size 6″ e-Ink screen as the Kindle, it lacks the newer e-Ink Pearl screen (which provides darker blacks and 50% more contrast) of the Kindle 3 and newer Sony e-readers. However, it is still quite readable, and you can see the difference for yourself in the photo above. To be honest, the Kindle 3’s bolder font accounts for about half the difference. In fact, I found the Kobo to be a quite decent e-reader … but it repeatedly fell short when compared to my experiences with the superior Kindle 3. I think if I wasn’t already used to (spoiled by?) a Kindle 3, I would have a more favorable impression of the Kobo.

I found some things to really like about the Kobo: the light weight is really striking, and the back of the device feels good in your hand. I also liked how, when the Kobo went to sleep or turned off, the screen changed to show the cover of the e-book you’re reading, and told you what percentage of the book you had read. A simple, but very nice touch, and far preferable to the Kindle’s rotating dead author screensavers. I also liked the “I’m Reading” shelf, which lists only those books you’ve started to read (and shows the book cover of the current e-book); the rest of your books are found on the “Books” shelf. Once you’ve finished reading a book (by turning the last page), a book moves from “I’m Reading” back to “Books.” It’s a pretty good system, although I’d like to add an “Already Read” shelf to the “I’m Reading” and “Books” shelves. The latest software update (1.9) allows you to manually move books from “I’m Reading” back to “Books.”

Although I haven’t tried the process yet, I also like the option to access library e-books on the Kobo. Kobo (like Amazon and B&N) has software for PCs, Macs, iOS devices, Android, etc., which allows you to read your Kobo e-books on multiple devices. Another nice touch is that the Kobo comes pre-loaded with 100 classic, public domain (free) e-books. While you can find and download these yourself to read on any e-reader, the fact they come pre-loaded makes things simpler and lets people start reading right away.

A few things are different from the Kindle: the most obvious is that you can buy books from the Kobo e-book store instead of the Kindle store. While the Kindle store is #1, the Kobo store has good availability and comparable prices, so I don’t see it as a huge weakness. Of course, you can also “side-load” books (using the included USB cable) that you’ve downloaded to your computer from Project Gutenberg, Smashwords, or numerous other sites.

The Kobo lacks text-to-speech, Internet access, and the ability to run apps. While lacking these features is generally a negative, for some readers it won’t be an issue and might even be a selling point: the lack of distractions from reading could appeal to parents who want their kids to use an e-reader, but don’t want them playing games or surfing the Internet.

The Kobo also lacks a full keyboard and many of the buttons of the Kindle. This makes certain tasks (like entering a password to connect to a wireless network) cumbersome, as you have to navigate an on-screen keyboard with the 5-way joystick (think of entering your character’s name using an old video game controller). I also prefer the easy-press page turn buttons on either side of the Kindle to the louder, harder to press joystick used to turn pages on the Kobo; the low placement of the Kobo’s joystick makes it hard to read one-handed, even with the light weight. On the plus side, there is less clutter, and navigation is pretty straightforward with the more limited selection of buttons.

While the Kobo only comes with 1 GB of internal memory (compared to the 4 GB of the Kindle 3), it does have an SD card slot, which is a nice feature. You should have plenty of room to hold hundreds or even thousands of e-books on either device.

There were a few definite negatives about the Kobo (especially when compared to the Kindle): the Kobo is slower, and takes some time to turn on (about 29 seconds when I timed it). Not an outlandish amount of time, but it is annoying since the Kobo’s battery seems to drain relatively quickly when asleep (lasting about a week, even if not used), and performs much better when turned off completely. By comparison, Amazon recommends you leave the Kindle in sleep mode most of the time (the battery drain doesn’t seem to be as bad), and the Kindle wakes from sleep mode almost instantly.

The Kobo is also slower when opening books (you get a loading screen, which only takes a few seconds, but the Kindle is nearly instant), changing pages (again, not a HUGE delay, maybe about a second, but slower than the Kindle 3), and loading new books onto the device (the Kobo spends about 10–15 seconds per book “processing” them, which adds up if you load several books at once). Again, nothing deal-breaking, just noticeably slower when compared to the Kindle 3.

The Kobo also lacks the ability to play MP3 audio files (including audiobooks), does not have text-to-speech, and doesn’t let you bookmark, highlight, or take notes within e-books. Since I don’t use these features much, it’s not a deal-breaker for me, but they are limitations to be aware of. It’s also a little harder to get around e-books in the Kobo; while the 1.9 software update adds the ability to jump to a specific location, the lack of keyboard makes the process cumbersome.

One definite negative is that, while the Kobo Wireless adds a built-in dictionary (that the older Kobo Reader lacked), it only works with e-books purchased from Kobo, not books side-loaded from the computer. For me, the dictionary is a must-have e-reader feature, one that I end up using far more than I first expected because it’s so convenient. Since most of my books are side-loaded from various sources (I haven’t bought any directly from Kobo yet), it means there’s no dictionary a good chunk of the time. Even where it does exist (like on the pre-loaded books), the process is slower and more cumbersome than the Kindle: press menu, select “Dictionary,” press the joystick, choose the word, press the joystick, wait a few seconds, and a definition pops up (covering most of the screen). Like on the Barnes & Noble Nook, this multi-step dictionary implementation pales in comparison to the Kindle, where you simply select the word and a short definition pops up at the bottom of the screen (you can press “enter” to see a longer definition if you want).

Another odd quirk: on side-loaded e-books, you’ll see small page numbers in the right-hand margin, and these numbers can intrude into the text area (causing nearby text to dim). Not a huge deal, but a minor annoyance that nonetheless was noticeable and jarred me from becoming engrossed in a book a couple of times.

The battery life is listed as 10 days, very good compared to most electronic devices, but inferior to the Kindle 3’s claim of 1 month on a single charge.

Conclusion

All in all, the Kobo Wireless makes a decent enough e-reader. If you’re looking for light weight, limited features (if you don’t need Internet access or consider the lack of it and focus on just reading as a positive), and the ability to read library e-books, the Kobo makes a decent choice. It does have some nice features, like the light weight, pre-loaded books, and book covers as screen savers. It seems to generally work pretty well for just plain reading, which is the #1 priority. Unfortunately, it falls short when compared to the speed, features, and e-Ink Pearl screen of the Kindle 3, and Kindle owners may find it disappointing in comparison. The Kobo Wireless does compare pretty well to the Nook (the Kobo has similar speed and lighter weight) and Sony E-Readers (the Kobo has Wi-Fi and a much lower price), when looking at other e-readers capable of reading ePub library e-books.

My overall conclusion is that, for the same $139 price, the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi is a clearly superior e-reader for most people. However, the Kobo Wireless can make a compelling low-cost alternative (as when the original Kobo was first introduced and the Kindle 2 was still $259): since the Kobo Wireless can sometimes be found on sale (or on clearance at a closing Borders store), it can be a good buy as a second e-reader or low-cost alternative if you find a good deal (under $99).

Mar 222011

New York Times-bestselling author Barry Eisler recently turned down a $500,000 advance from “Big 6″ traditional (or “legacy”) publisher St. Martin’s Press for a two-book deal. Now, it’s one thing for indie authors to turn their noses up at large publishers, and it’s even another thing for best-selling indie authors to spurn mid-list book deals (J. A. Konrath comes to mind), but we’re talking about turning down half a million dollars. This is pretty big news.

If I were a legacy publisher, I imagine this would feel like hearing the lookout yell, “Iceberg, dead ahead!” Or possibly like one of the more degenerate Roman emperors realizing the Visigoths had breached the city gates for the first time in 800 years. Maybe they feel like the railroad companies when the Interstate Highway System was announced, or like buggy-whip makers watching the first car drive down the road. Or maybe the more apt analogy is Marie “Let Them Eat Cake” Antoinette wondering what all those peasants with pitchforks were doing outside. I could do this all day.

Anyway, it’s a pretty monumental event. And I don’t think Eisler is insane, or just wants to stick it to “the man.” In fact, by all accounts, “the man” has been generally good to him and he has lots of nice things to say about publishers (albeit with plenty of complaints as well). For him, it was mostly a financial decision: he thinks he will earn more than $500,000 self-publishing these two books. He might even be right; he’s already made $1,600 in a few weeks (and is on pace to make $30,000 this year) on a short story he self-published and released electronically. He clearly has fans, and he’s listened to Konrath’s advice to price his works attractively (under $5). He believes that, in the long term, he can’t see giving up e-book rights to a legacy print publisher forever (which, even if they earn out that hefty advance, would only net him 14.9% on additional e-book sales); he believes the print distribution advantages that publisher would give him will be short-lived and outweighed by the greater e-book royalties (70%) and control (especially over pricing) that he’ll have by going it on his own. Several times, he mentioned that he just didn’t feel right signing away e-book rights to a company that he believes is trying to delay the ascendence of e-books as long as possible, by fighting instead of embracing them.

And I can certainly understand many of those same feelings and concerns … but it is half a million dollars. Of course, I don’t know Mr. Eisler or his financial situation, and I don’t know exactly how well his books sell (obviously pretty well). And I’d imagine, whatever offer the publisher gave, the rights are worth more than that, especially when maximized effectively with proper pricing and customer-friendly policies. But, it’s another salvo in the “It’s easy to get rich e-publishing” meme gaining traction online, which I think is dangerously seductive to aspiring authors the same way the lottery is seductive to people who can’t afford buying tickets and the NBA is seductive to kids who should probably spend more time studying trigonometry instead of the triangle offense.

In any event, this move is a pretty big deal, and has to be a big blow to the legacy publishing industry. I’ve said for a while that best-selling authors will start migrating away from traditional publishers and going it alone (what can a big publisher offer Stephen King at this point that he can’t do on his own?), and Eisler appears to be the first big domino to fall. Sometimes these types of paradigm shifts happen “gradually, then suddenly,” so we’ll see if Eisler is merely an aberration or the start of a trend. Either way, legacy publishers can’t be happy with this news.

For the record, no, I’ve never been offered a $500,000 advance, and yes, I would take it in a hot second. Then I’d live off that money and write a whole bunch more books that I’d probably self-publish. ;-)

Mar 222011

I really do think I've heard every one of these.

Author John Scalzi posted this most excellent “Electronic Publishing Bingo” scorecard over on his blog, and, while it’s hilarious in its own right, I think it’s also worth a bit of closer discussion. (As with most humor, it has more than a grain of truth in it.)

While the scorecard includes some funny misconceptions and inconsistencies (“Stop Being Greedy and Also Where’s My Sequel?” is gold), it also includes several references to unbridled e-book success: “Everyone Will be as Successful as these Outliers;” “Amanda Hocking” and “J.A. Konrath” (the aforementioned outliers); “All You Need is 100,000 Readers;” “Anyone Will Read Anything if it’s 99 Cents;” and my favorite, “Publicity? Just Go Viral!” A number of squares also reference how easy it is to be a successful writer or publisher: “Crowd Source the Backend,” “Cover Art? You Can Just Photoshop That,” and “Spellcheck is Really Advanced These Days.”

I am certainly excited about the future (and the present!) of electronic publishing, and have written glowingly of it many times. I’ve even tried to help fellow authors on their path to self-publishing in both electronic and printed formats. And I do believe that authors today (whether first-time novelists or mega-bestsellers) should seriously consider self-publishing as an option — and that, in some cases, it may make more sense than publishing with a legacy publisher who is fighting instead of adopting electronic publishing.

But I’ve never promised easy riches or fame. I’ve never even promised very difficult riches or fame. At the end of the day, there are still way better ways to earn money, and even way better ways to take a gamble and strike it rich (practicing your jump shot or playing the lottery come to mind). Writing has never been a profession of easy riches (just of a very very tiny minority who make a lot of money, a fair number of authors who struggle to make a living, and countless authors who earn nothing or even lose money), and self-publishing is, in many ways, even tougher: part of self-publishing means that you have to do everything yourself (or pay to have it done). That means not only writing, but editing, proofreading, cover design, jacket blurb, author bio, print formatting, e-book formatting, marketing, social media, maintaining a website and blog, sales tracking, income taxes and expenses, etc.

As I’ve mentioned, there are more and more self-publishing authors who are doing well, some even very well, financially by self-publishing. But “more and more” is a relative term: there were exactly 0 people making good money in 2009 self-publishing, 1 or 2 in 2010, and maybe half a dozen so far in 2011. There are probably another few dozen making some kind of living at it. And this is out of about 1,000,000 books that were published last year, about 3/4 of them self-published. I’ve heard stats that claim the average self-pubbed title sells only 200 books. Considering it takes around a year to write and prepare a book, and might cost several hundred dollars or more for cover art, editing, and formatting, most books either lose money, break even, or earn their authors literally pennies per hour. I’m closing in on 10,000 sales, but I’m probably closing in on 10,000 hours spent (between writing 3 novels, all the other tasks I mentioned above, never-ending marketing, and all the research and blog posts I read and write on the publishing industry). So pennies an hour about covers it, and I’ve done better than most.

Even for the success stories, there’s no guarantee that their current sales trends will continue. I’ve seen my own books fluctuate from a few sales a day to 1,500 a month, and back down again. Same books, same covers, same hard work, same everything. I’m glad I wasn’t relying on the income to pay the rent. The electronic publishing future could change pretty drastically: publishers might get on board with low prices, Amazon might lower royalty rates or stop allowing self-publishing altogether, or there might be so many books out there that no one finds yours.

I say all this just to help temper expectations: as the Bingo board above illustrates, the Internet is alive with people touting self-publishing as a get-rich-quick scheme, an easy money-maker, and something you just have to get in on. Many of those shouting the loudest are companies looking to make money in publishing the same way it’s been made for decades: by preying on the dreams of aspiring authors and charging them for questionable editing, marketing, printing, or distribution services. Others are well-intentioned people or aspiring authors themselves who sincerely believe we’re in the midst of a “gold rush.” It is not my intention to throw cold water on anyone’s dreams, but I also don’t want to mislead anyone, and the reality isn’t necessarily as rosy as some would like to hope.

Even J.A. Konrath (arguably the first self-published author to start making good money) will tell you, over and over, that a whole lot of publishing (including self-publishing and electronic publishing) comes down to luck. Let’s face it, the big publishers, with 100 years’ experience and big marketing budgets, can’t predict what the next huge bestseller is — forget about home runs, they can’t even always hit singles, with about 80% of their releases losing money. Sometimes, things get hot, and go “viral” for no discernible reason; it’s just the right thing at the right time that was picked up by the right group of people.

That’s not to say that you can’t increase your odds by writing a good book, editing it until it shines, having a professional-looking cover, doing a good job with formatting, writing a compelling blurb, and pricing your work competitively (under $5, usually $0.99 or $2.99). But even doing all that, the odds of making a living at writing — let alone becoming rich or famous at it — are stacked firmly against you. Yes, electronic publishing offers some exciting new opportunities, and I’ve obviously taken on the challenge for myself. But the advice I’ve given authors all my life — and I still stand behind today — is to write a book only if you want to write it for yourself, and look at any future sales or income only as a secondary bonus, not a sure thing.

UPDATE: Some interesting specific numbers from Amazon here, showing just how few authors “strike it rich” self-publishing.

Notepad App For Kindle

Posted by Always Write at 5:54 PM Tagged with:
Mar 202011

The Notepad app for Kindle

While the Kindle is designed and best-suited as an e-reader, it does have a number of other functions. For example, it can surf the Internet, read books with text-to-speech, view photos, play music, and it even has some games and other applications (called “apps”) available for it. (You can find posts about other available Kindle games & apps here.)

While these apps are undeniably cool, I was a little disappointed that the early app releases were pretty much all games, with a lack of productivity tools. (True, many of the games are word-related games, but still.) So I was pleased to see the release of a Notepad app for the Kindle, a program that will allow you to use your Kindle to type, read, and store quick notes (think grocery lists, phone numbers, to-do lists, or a quick scene for your next book that just popped into your head).

The Notepad app is just $0.99, and has stellar reviews: a near-unanimous 5-star average on 34 Amazon reviews so far. It boasts quick, simple note-taking, auto-saving of notes, adjustable font sizes, notes are saved in .TXT format for export to your computer, and a search function across multiple notes. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’d like to add note-taking functionality to your Kindle for a buck.

Note: Kindle apps and games (also known as “active content”) work on the Kindle 2, 3, DX, and DX 2, but not on the Kindle 1.

Mar 192011

January 2011 e-book sales stats are in, and they are a whopping $69.9 million, easily shattering December’s then-record $49.5 M (exceeding it by 41.2%), and more than doubling the strong January 2010 post-holiday e-book sales (an increase of 115.8%).

Jan 2011 e-book sales: this is what "off the chart" looks like.

Here’s the monthly rundown:

  • 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
  • Sep 2010: $39.9 M
  • Oct 2010: $40.7 M
  • Nov 2010: $46.6 M
  • Dec 2010: $49.5 M
  • Jan 2011: $69.9 M

Even more impressive, e-book sales not only surpassed, but thoroughly trounced both adult mass-market paperback sales ($39.0 M) and hardcover sales ($49.1 M) for the first time ever. I would say this is a shocker, except I predicted it in my post on last month’s sales stats report, where I predicted that e-book sales would overtake mass-market paperback sales in January. Even adult trade paperback sales are looking vulnerable, at $83.6 M (although they’re probably safe until next January). Also interesting: while e-books more than doubled from last January’s sales numbers, mass market paperbacks (-30.9%), trade paperbacks (-19.7%), and hardcovers (-11.3%) all suffered double-digit percentage point drops from last year. Ouch.

One other point: these sales figures come only from large publishers; independent authors aren’t counted in these figures. For a while, we could safely be ignored as a rounding error, but considering that two separate indie authors have now hit not only #2 in the overall Kindle store, but one has now hit the #1 spot (and indies control a fair portion of the Top 100), including those sales would skew the numbers even more heavily in favor of e-books.

Just to keep things in perspective, the figures above only cover the adult book category, meaning that children’s books and educational books aren’t included. Looking at the overall numbers, total print book, e-book, and audiobook sales in January were $805.7 M (down 1.9% from last January’s $821.5 M). That makes e-books about 8.7% of all book sales by dollar amount (with lower average sale prices, they’re surely a higher percentage by number of books sold).

Another interesting note: total adult print sales declined by $44.3 M from last year, while e-books made up most of the difference, increasing $38.0 M.

I expected a large increase after what I believed would be a very successful 2010 holiday season for e-reader sales. I think a lot of people got Kindles and Nooks in December and started really buying e-books in January (perhaps with Amazon gift cards they also got for Christmas). But this much of an increase was a surprise even to me. However, I would not be shocked to see sales in February (and perhaps the next few months) dip a bit from the January peak, perhaps settling in around $60 M for the next couple of months. But I believe the overall trend will continue to see e-book sales continue their rapid growth.

New Blog Features

Posted by Always Write at 6:53 PM Tagged with:
Mar 172011

I just wanted to highlight a few new blog features that I thought my readers might enjoy:

“Share and Enjoy!” Links

You may notice the spiffy (OK, I think they’re spiffy) new icons that appear below each post. These are links to popular social networking and news aggregator services, like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, etc. If you find an article you especially enjoy, you can share it with your friends by clicking the appropriate icon. There are also links to email the article or subscribe to the RSS feed (also see the icons in the upper-right of the page). I work hard researching and writing my blog posts, and I hope my readers find them useful. It’s very rewarding to receive confirmation that people are enjoying the blog when I see that people have shared my posts with their friends.

Related Posts Links

When viewing an individual blog post, you’ll now see a list of 2–5 links to related posts at the bottom (below the “Share and Enjoy” icons, and above the comment form). These links (and the comment form) only show up when viewing an individual post page (the page for this post is here), not the overall blog home page. This should be a convenient way for you to find related posts that discuss the same or similar topics. Another great way to find similar posts is to click on the links in the “Browse by Category” or “Browse by Tag” boxes in the left-hand column.

Subscribe by Email

Just added today, you’ll now find a box at the bottom of the right-hand column that allows you to enter your email address to receive notifications when I post a new article on my blog. Once you subscribe, you’ll receive a confirmation email, and once you click the link, you’ll receive an email each time I make a new blog post (usually about 10–12 times a month). Don’t worry — I hate spam as much (probably more) than you do, your email address will never be given to anyone else, and you can unsubscribe at any time. I’m still testing this one out, so please let me know if you encounter any bugs and let me know what you think of it!

Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think of the new features, or if there are any other suggestions or other features you’d like to see. Thank you!

Read an E-Book Week Sale

Posted by Always Write at 12:32 AM Tagged with: ,
Mar 092011

Right Ascension

In celebration of “Read an E-Book Week” (March 6–12), I’m running a sale on my e-books at Smashwords this week. My e-books at Smashwords are DRM-free, and are available in multiple formats, including MOBI (for the Kindle), ePub (for the B&N Nook, Kobo, Sony, and Apple iPad), PDF, and more. You can also read a lengthy sample (25%) of any of my books there.

Until March 12, you can get Right Ascension or Declination for 25% off — just click the links below and use the coupon code “RAE25″ at checkout:

And, just because I’m feeling cheeky and wanted to get into the “Read an E-Book Week” spirit, I’ve knocked 50% off the price of The Twiller. Just use coupon code “RAE50″ through the link below:

I hope you enjoy them if you decide to give them a shot this week! Happy e-reading!

Cheaper Than Dirt

Posted by Always Write at 10:30 PM Tagged with: ,
Mar 042011

As gas rises well above $3 a gallon, and a latte at Starbucks can run you close to $4, it got me thinking more about the prices of e-books. There is lots of debate over bestsellers selling for over $9.99 — in many cases $12.99 or $14.99, which is beyond the price range I will generally pay for e-books. But, on the other end of the spectrum, one of the perennially most popular posts at the authors’ forums I hang out at is some variation of “Should I price my e-books at $0.99 or $2.99?”

This choice always manages to depress me. I understand the appeal of pricing our work as low as possible ($0.99 is the minimum sale price on Amazon’s Kindle store) and getting as many readers as possible. At one point, I even sold my novels for $0.99 each. But I also understand it’s an unsustainable price point, one that will not support authors producing quality work. Making the choice even less appealing is the fact that novels priced between $2.99 and $9.99 now earn 70% on Amazon, but only 35% for books below that price. (Barnes & Noble’s breakdown is similar: 65% / 40%). So, you’re only making half the royalty on one-third the price — meaning you make one-sixth the royalty on $0.99 books as on $2.99 books, leaving only 35 cents per sale. You’d have to sell 100,000 copies a year just to make any kind of living (yes, royalties are taxed, including self-employment tax), and there just aren’t many authors who will manage that. (UPDATE: there are 44 indies on the planet selling that many through Amazon.)

And, really, can readers not afford $2.99 for an e-book? Isn’t that a more than reasonable price? How many readers will say, “Sure, I’ll buy it for 99 cents, but $2.99 is just out of my price range”?

This debate also got me thinking about what a great deal a full-length novel for just $2.99 really is. For that price, you get several hours of entertainment (compared to a 90-minute movie for $10 or more), an instant download, a digital copy that lasts forever, text-to-speech, and all the other cool features of e-books, like adjustable text sizes and built-in dictionaries. At $2.99, that’s cheaper than dirt. I mean, what else can you buy these days for under $3? I set out to take a look.

Dirt: twice the price of e-books

Well, you can’t buy a gallon of gas or a latte for under $3 these days, but how does $2.99 compare to the prices of a few other inexpensive items? I mean, is an e-book literally cheaper than dirt?

I checked Amazon.com, and I couldn’t find a bag of dirt for less than $2.99. Their most popular brand of dirt is $6.99 — you can buy both books in my Edge of Apocalypse Series (Right Ascension and Declination) for less than that!

This is a depressing start.

OK, this is just insulting.

OK, let’s try something lower than dirt. How about … I don’t know … how about poop? Surely an e-book will be worth more than a bag of poop! Let’s check it out on Amazon … oh, crap. Does that bat guano really cost almost 10 bucks?? That’s more than all 3 of my novels combined!

All right, I know what you’re saying now: dirt and fertilizer can actually be useful, for gardening. Fine. A depressing line of thought, but fine. So how about if we look at something totally useless, and also gross and worthless. Something like … lemme see … fake poop! Yeah! Surely my e-books are worth more than fake poop, right? Right? Wrong.

So I set out to find the most useless item I could find, something with no redeeming value whatsoever. Some product that really just … stunk. And then I found this: a foul-smelling spray called (I swear I am not making this up) “liquid ass.” Surely my e-books are worth more than — wait, that junk is almost $5? And that’s on sale? I’m in the wrong line of work.

Water? For $3.39? That's still Hydrogen and Oxygen, right?

OK, maybe I’m going about this the wrong way. All of those things, while seemingly worthless, might have some value to someone (gardeners or pranksters, I suppose). But what about stuff that is even more plentiful than dirt or bat poop … stuff that’s all around us, like water or air??

So I checked trusty Amazon.com again and found this single bottle of water for … $3.39?? Wait, guys, water is still just Hydrogen and Oxygen, right? And you’re charging over $3 (plus shipping) for one lousy bottle? You know water falls from the sky, for free, right? It’s almost as plentiful as …

Then it hit me: air. Fine, e-books are just electronic ones and zeroes, etherial and without tangible form. But at the very least I should be able to rest assured that no one would pay more than $2.99 for air.

Unfortunately, the briefest of Amazon searches informed me that, yes, people are purchasing air in a can, and they’re paying $20 for the privilege. That’s … that’s more than I charge for a combination package of all 3 of my novels in paperback form.

Since this little experiment was depressing me more than I anticipated, I figured it was time to wrap it up. What is something that literally no one would ever pay more than $2.99 for? Something worth so much less than my e-books, that there’s no way it costs as much. Something that’s only worth a few cents?

The last straw.

That’s it! What would people pay to buy, literally, a few cents? A penny. A one cent piece. You know, the things you throw away or leave on the counter when you get them in change? And not an old, rare penny with numismatic value either, I mean a brand-spanking-new, not-worth-more-than-a-penny penny.

At this point, if I told you 4 new pennies sold for $4.95, would you even be surprised?

Sigh. And some people think e-books should cost less than $2.99?

Mar 042011

I appreciate being in such great company!

I received a pleasant surprise tonight when catching up on my blog reading: Mark Coker, founder of the e-book distribution service Smashwords (which I use to distribute my e-books to Kobo, Apple, and Sony) mentioned me as one of “50 indie authors to watch” on his latest blog post, which includes a presentation about the upheaval of the publishing industry. As more and more self-published authors like Amanda Hocking and J.A Konrath “break out” (Hocking is closing in on 1 million e-book sales!), and e-books garner a larger and larger share of the book market, we will reach a tipping point where big-name authors wonder why they’re giving publishers the lion’s share of their book proceeds. They’ll compare the 8%–17.5% royalties they get from legacy publishers to the 70% they can earn on their own. They’ll realize they can pay a fixed fee to skilled editors and cover designers and formatters, and retain artistic control, pricing flexibility, and the majority of the proceeds. And they’ll realize they can achieve worldwide distribution through Amazon and services like Smashwords, without their legacy publishers.

The authors on the list above have proven that legacy publishers are missing out on — actually, rejecting is the better word — some very talented authors. Do check out Mark’s blog post and presentation here, and check out Smashwords to find some very good, inexpensive, DRM-free e-books in multiple formats from some of these talented indie authors.

Mar 032011

One result of the agency model

A couple of days ago, Random House became the last of the “Big 6″ legacy publishers to switch over to the agency model. The agency model (described in full detail here) forces e-book retailers (like Amazon and B&N) to sell e-books at the prices that the publishers choose, with no discounting allowed. The retailers receive 30% of the purchase price.

Switching to the agency model usually results in higher e-book prices (for example, bestsellers rising from $9.99 to $12.99 or more once Amazon is no longer allowed to discount them), and should ensure that prices are the same at any e-book retailer. (On the plus side, that means there’s usually little point in shopping around for e-books; on the minus side, that means you’ll rarely find a sale or good deal, everything will be “full price.”)

Part of the reason (perhaps the main reason) Random House succumbed, 11 months later, is to get their e-books on Apple’s iBookstore, which requires an agency model contract (the timing of the announcement coming on the heels of the iPad 2 introduction can’t be a coincidence). And some Random House titles are starting to show up in the iBookstore. But, with the iBookstore struggling, was this a smart move for Random House? After all, before the switch, Random House was the only large publisher still using the retail model (the same model used for printed books), where Random House received 50% of the “list price,” which was often the same as the hardcover price, and Amazon could discount the e-book as much as they wanted without cutting into the royalty. So, instead of Amazon selling bestsellers for $9.99 and giving Random House $13 or so, now they’ll sell them for $12.99 and give Random House $9.09 (70%). (Click here for more on the cost breakdowns of e-books and printed books.)

Will iBookstore sales make up for selling fewer books and earning less on each sale through Amazon and B&N? Consider me skeptical. I thought it was more likely that the other large publishers would switch away from the agency model when their original 1-year terms end next month. Do they know what they’re doing, or is this just another example of large publishers hastening their own extinction? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below….

© 2010 David Derrico