May 2010 E-Book Sales: $29.3M

 Posted by at 5:47 PM  Tagged with: ,
Jul 162010
 

May 2010 e-book sales: $29.3M

May 2010 e-book sales data is in from the Association of American Publishers, and they are up 162.8% over last May, totaling $29,300,000 for May 2010. Year-to-date, e-book sales are up 207.4% from Jan – May 2009.

The most interesting tidbit is that, at this time last year, e-books comprised 2.89% of all trade book sales. This year so far, they’ve almost tripled, up to 8.48%. That’s not only a huge jump, but we’re really starting to approach very significant percentages (to put that in perspective, New York & Massachusetts combined account for 8.42% of the U.S. population). Some popular books are seeing even higher numbers — e-books accounted for almost 30% of the first-week sales of the #1 NYT Bestseller The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider they’re measuring dollar figures, and e-books generally cost less than paper books, so e-books’ percentage of total copies sold would be even higher.

The monthly e-book sales numbers 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

I was surprised to see even the small dips in March and April, but May appears to be back on the upswing. Perhaps e-book sales are stronger over the winter when people would rather curl up with a good e-book than brave the snow to head to a bookstore. But, for comparison, the first 5 months of 2010 total $146M, whereas the total for all 12 months of 2008 was only $56.5M.

Please see this older post for earlier numbers and a more detailed breakdown on e-book sales vs. hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market paperbacks.

Amazon and 70% Royalties

 Posted by at 7:58 PM  Tagged with: , ,
Jul 082010
 

The big news this month for independent authors and publishers is that Amazon has unveiled a new 70% royalty option for e-books published directly through their DTP service. (The old rate was 35%.) Doubling the royalty percentage is a big step (and matches what Apple offers in its iBook and App stores), but there a few catches; to qualify, books must:

  • Be priced between $2.99 and $9.99
  • Be priced at least 20% less than the cheapest print version
  • Enable text-to-speech
  • Be made available in all worldwide territories where the publisher/author has rights

There are a few other important differences: first, your list price must be the same across all sales channels, so you can’t list a book for $2.99 on Amazon but $1.99 on Barnes & Noble or your own web site. Second, books sold at the higher royalty rate receive 70% of the SALE price, not the list price you set, and Amazon checks other retailers and will discount your titles to match the lowest prices it finds elsewhere. B&N and Kobo both customarily discount e-books by 20%, and if Amazon matches those prices, you will only get paid 70% based on the discounted price. Finally, Amazon now deducts 15 cents per MB, based on the file size of your book (most books are about 368K, so this is only about 5 cents).

Authors can choose either the 35% or 70% option, and can switch back and forth.

There have been a few hiccups: most indie authors’ books show up on B&N, Kobo, Apple, and Sony through a distributor called Smashwords, and updating the price at Smashwords can take weeks or months to trickle down to the retailers (The Twiller JUST went up on B&N three weeks after release, and isn’t up elsewhere yet; Right Ascension took eight months to hit Sony). So, you could change the Amazon price (which takes 1-3 days), and Amazon may de-list your book because there’s a lower list price elsewhere. Also, other retailers may decide to discount your book (we have no control over this), and that would affect your Amazon price and how much they paid you in royalties.

Due to these and other delays, Amazon hasn’t yet updated the price of Right Ascension to $2.99, but it should be done shortly.

Nonetheless, these details should be ironed out soon (the e-book revolution / indie author resurgence is new territory for everyone, after all), and earning $2.05 on a $2.99 e-book compares very favorably to earning $0.35 per sale (at 35% of $0.99), or even the $0.50 – $0.80 most traditional authors earn on an $8.00 paperback. This new system at least allows talented indie authors a chance to earn a living writing books, and possibly to improve them by paying for cover design, proofreading, or formatting help. I would like to live in a world where authors who are very good at writing novels are compensated enough to continue to hone their craft and write more books for me to enjoy. As a reader, I’d rather they earn a living writing than go write ad copy or do something else to pay the bills, and I consider $2.99 a very reasonable price to pay for a high-quality e-book. I think it’s a win-win for readers and authors, and I’m excited to see if the general public agrees.

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How-To: Buy An Amazon E-Book

 Posted by at 7:55 AM  Tagged with: ,
Jun 172010
 

Amazon is far and away the #1 e-book seller, and it’s easy to see why: they have the largest selection (over 600,000 titles, plus millions of public domain works), generally have the best prices, the #1 e-book reader (the Kindle), and software that allows you to read their e-books on multiple devices including PCs, Macs, Kindles, iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads, Blackberries, and Android cell phones (coming soon).

To buy your first e-book from Amazon, it only takes 3 simple steps:

Step 1: Create an Amazon account. (Already have one? Great, proceed to step 2!) To create your Amazon account, simply visit www.amazon.com and click the link at the very top where it says, “Hello. Sign in to get personalized recommendations. New customer? Start here.” It will ask you to enter an email address and ask if you have a password. You’ll select “No, I am a new customer.” Then, simply enter the requested information and create your Amazon account.

Step 2: Download and activate the Kindle App on the device you’d like to read on. Visit this page and download the app for the computer or smartphone you’d like to read your e-book on. Once downloaded, you will need to run the application and “register” it to your Amazon account. Just enter the email address and password for the account you created in Step 1.

Step 3: Shop and buy your e-books! Amazon sells countless e-books, most costing far less than printed books. Just use the search function near the top of the page (select “Kindle Store” from the drop-down menu) to find what you want. Or, go straight to a particular book (perhaps my new novel, The Twiller, coming out June 18?). Click on the big orange button in the upper right that says “Buy now with 1-Click.” It will ask you which device you want to deliver your purchase to. Choose the device you registered in Step 2. Then, complete the checkout process.

That’s it! Enjoy your e-book! Just email me or leave a comment if you have any questions.

Jun 102010
 

Get free e-books at B&N stores

In addition to Barnes & Noble’s recent promotion offering a free $50 gift card with the purchase of a Nook e-book reader, they’re now offering a pair of new promotions: a different free e-book every week, and a free “tall” (which is Starbucks lingo for “small”) hot or iced coffee — just for showing them that you’re reading an e-book on your Nook or Barnes & Noble app for the PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad.

For the past few weeks, B&N has been offering a different free e-book each week. To qualify, just bring in your Nook or laptop / phone running the free B&N e-reader app. Show it to any B&N employee and they’ll give you a voucher to download a free e-book (which you can do right there in the store with their free Wi-Fi connection). This week’s book is Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg, and next week’s book (starting June 14) is The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.

Free coffee too from B&N Cafe!

While you’re there, head over to the B&N Cafe (that looks like a Starbucks, but is technically not) and show them that same Nook or device running the B&N app, and they’ll hook you up with a free tall coffee. The fine print says you get a non-customized hot or iced coffee, and can only redeem it once. They also point out that this only works at B&N Cafes, not at Starbucks, or at any Starbucks Cafe inside a B&N store. Confusing? Yeah, I didn’t even know most cafes inside B&N stores were “B&N Cafes,” I just thought they were all Starbucks. So you may want to call and check your local B&N before you head over.

Anyway, that’s three pretty incredible deals from Barnes & Noble. A free $50 gift card is nothing to sneeze at, and the other two deals are even better since you don’t have to buy anything to qualify. You can just download the free B&N app to your laptop or phone, bring it in, and get a completely free e-book and free coffee. It’s a bold move by B&N to (a) get people into e-books and (b) drive foot traffic to their stores where they hope you browse and buy other stuff. It’s interesting that B&N is trying to increase business at its existing retail locations (that sell mostly paper books but increasingly sell gifts, cards, and accessories as well), but is also firmly committed to the future with the Nook and focus on e-books. I hope these moves pay off for them, because they seem well thought out, forward-thinking, and very customer-friendly.

So, download the free B&N e-reader app for your favorite portable device, maybe pick up an inexpensive e-book or two (this one is just $2.99, and get another free e-book and some free coffee on your next visit to a Barnes & Noble store.

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Jun 092010
 

Apple claims 5M e-books sold, 22% market share

A couple of days ago, Apple held its yearly conference and announced the new iPhone 4, to be released June 24. At the same time, modern iPhones will also be able to update to the new iPhone OS 4.0 (now called “iOS”). The new iOS offers multitasking and other new features, and also brings the iBooks e-book reading app and the iBooks Store to the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Apple also announced that they have sold 2 million iPads in the first 65 days, and had 5 million e-book downloads in that time. Now, Apple is famous for hype and the “Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field,” and they like throwing out impressive numbers that may or may not mean what they seem. For example, Apple neglected to mention how many of those 5 million e-books were paid vs. free downloads. If they’ve sold 3 or 4 or 5 million e-books in their first 2 months, that’s a big deal. But if they sold 500,000 and gave away 4.5 million free downloads … not so much. Also, the numbers work out to 2.5 books per iPad — or only about one book a month, which suggests that iPad owners are not generally voracious readers.

Apple also announced that the publishers they work with claim Apple already accounted for a staggering 22% of their e-book sales, but this number also wasn’t explained and must be taken with a grain of salt. First, many publishers don’t release sales numbers, nor do big e-book sellers like Amazon. Second, Apple only has 5 of the 6 largest publishers’ titles in the iBook Store, but lack the largest (Random House) and most smaller publishers; the “Apple 5” account for less than 50% of all e-book sales. The iBook Store currently has about 30,000 paid titles, whereas the Kindle Store has over 600,000 (20x more). Also, one of the “Big 6,” Penguin, had a disagreement with Amazon for much of the last 2 months and its new titles weren’t available in the Kindle Store. So maybe Penguin told Apple that they accounted for 22% of Penguin’s e-book sales (when its newest, most popular titles weren’t available on Amazon)? But I have a hard time believing that the iPad could do so well against Amazon (who had a 70%-90% e-book share), B&N, Sony, Kobo, and all the other established e-book retailers and jump out to a 22% share right out of the gate. Keep in mind that not only does Amazon have an estimated 3 million Kindles sold, but people can read Kindle titles on Kindle for PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPhone … and iPad. In any event, the numbers sound impressive, even if they are exaggerated a bit. I’m interested to see if people will really read much on the iPad. I’ve talked about reading on the iPad before, and concluded that I prefer the Kindle for pure reading, and that the iPad’s many distractions seem to appeal to a different demographic than serious readers.

Whether people will read or not on iDevices will soon become a huge question in the industry, because iOS 4.0 will bring the iBook reader app and iBook Store (where you can sample, purchase, and download e-books) to the iPhone and iPod Touch. I don’t know how many people read novels on their phones, although surveys always surprise me with how many people do it (personally, I prefer a larger, e-Ink screen to read on). But, even a relatively small percentage of iDevice owners could be huge, since there are nearly 100 million iPhones and iPod Touches out there, and Apple has 150 million credit cards in its 1-Click database.

In other news for the iBook app, a forthcoming update will add features that Kindle (and Kindle for iPhone/iPad app) users already have: bookmarking, highlighting, and syncing your position in your books across all your devices — so you can read to Chapter 4 on your iPad, then grab your iPhone and automatically pick up where you left off. Another cool feature is that the iBook app will also read PDFs and store them on a separate virtual bookshelf from your e-books.

In any event, it’s exciting news, since the reach of e-books has just expanded from a few million people (who owned Kindles, Nooks, and iPads) to 100 million iPhone users. With the ability to browse the iBook Store, make a 1-Click purchase (from a trusted source and without having to make a new account), and get instant wireless e-book downloads, will this be the tipping point for the wide-scale adoption of e-books? Time will tell….

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Publishers vs. E-Books

 Posted by at 10:27 PM  Tagged with: ,
Jun 012010
 

400 more years! 400 more years!

I’ve known for some time that the large print publishing companies are not fans of e-books. Many people wondered how publishers could be so silly, pricing e-books above (sometimes well above) the price of paperbacks, delaying e-book releases, providing simple OCR scans of paper books (instead of properly formatting or often even proofreading their e-book releases), blocking useful features like text-to-speech and lending, and infesting e-books with invasive copy protection (DRM) that annoys legitimate users. But I knew it wasn’t that publishers didn’t “get” e-books … OK, it wasn’t just that publishers didn’t get e-books: they are actively trying to forestall e-book adoption as long as they can. Why? Because there are 6 huge, multinational publishing conglomerates on top of the current food chain, divvying up the lion’s share of the $25 billion/year book industry, and a change as dramatic as the switch to e-books threatens to shake up their industry. Some publishers, by undergoing lots of painful downsizing, restructuring, giving up large New York offices, and doing some long-term thinking at the expense of this year’s profits, might remain relevant in the publishing landscape of the future. But not all will. So I’ve said before that they are forestalling that day of reckoning as long as they can. (They must understand how typewriter manufacturers and buggy-whip makers felt.)

But I’ve never before seen them admit it. See, they’ve always claimed to be in favor of e-books, since it’s clear that more and more authors and readers (their supposed allies and customers) like them. But now, David Shanks, CEO of Penguin Group (one of the “Big 6” publishers) came right out and admitted that We need to protect as long as we can the apparatus that sells physical books.

UPDATE: As another example, Nan Graham, the SVP and EIC at Scribner (Steven’s King’s publisher) created a nicely-crafted hardcover, and explained that “We hoped that a handsome object would slow the migration to e-book for King.”

In other words, it’s not about innovating, or even keeping up with changing times and technologies. They’ve stopped pretending they’re doing this for authors. They’re no longer claiming that they’re just trying to “preserve the value of e-books” or create “sustainable pricing” — for the authors, of course. They’ve finally admitted they not only don’t care about the readers, but they’ll do whatever they can to hold onto their position, at the expense of authors and readers and progress. As I said all along, it’s really just about protection. Not protecting literature or the future of books, just protecting themselves and their bottom lines.

When big publishers (like Jonathan Galassi) start talking about how they need to “maintain the value of time-honored roles,” I think it’s safe to say the writing is on the wall. (Although they probably get a sympathetic look from alchemists, blacksmiths, and cave-painters.) Companies that look to the past and seek to maintain the status quo don’t even notice the innovators (the Amazons and the Googles) as they rush past them and into the future.

As one last example of the “e-books are the enemy” attitude, consider this exchange between author Scott Turow and Galassi:

Turow: “Why did publishers agree to allow e-books to be available at the same time as paper books?”

Galassi: “It was a mistake to let Amazon put out e-books simultaneously and charge the price it did [$9.99]. It will have a negative effect on the paperback.”

So, there you have it. It was a mistake to let the largest bookseller in the world sell books to readers who wanted to buy those books (publishers should have delayed them and charged readers more instead). Why was it a mistake? Because it was bad for readers? For authors? No, bad for the paperback. Which really means: bad for the current crop of the Big 6 publishers, whose entire business model isn’t about selling literature, it’s about moving paper. The only thing that confuses me is, if they clearly care more about paper than they care about authors or readers, why are we supposed to care about what happens to them?

E-Book Sales Continue Rapid Growth

 Posted by at 2:09 AM  Tagged with: ,
May 252010
 

Quarterly E-Book Sales, Q1 2008 -- Q1 2010

The sales data is in for book sales in March, and the news for e-books continues to impress. Year-over-year sales of e-books are up a staggering 251.9%. This, after e-book sales nearly doubled from 2007 to 2008 and then more than tripled from 2008 to 2009.

According to estimates by the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales totaled $28,500,000 in March, for a total of $89,300,000 for the first quarter of 2010.

Keep in mind two things: first, that these numbers do not include sales of independent authors (like myself). True, I won’t move that bar much by myself, but with tens of thousands of authors like me, the effect could be significant. Second, these numbers do not include any sales from the Apple iBook store or through the Kindle for iPad app, since the iPad wasn’t released until April 3.

Even when comparing e-books to print books, the news is still promising. Two major publishers (Hachette and Simon & Schuster) reported that e-book sales for Q1 2010 constituted 8% of their total revenue. Keep in mind that (a) not all printed books currently make sense as e-books (children’s books, cookbooks, picture books, etc.), (b) not all books that do make sense have been released in e-book format yet, and (c) that e-books generally sell for less than printed books, so 8% of revenue would mean a higher percentage of unit sales. It is reasonable to conclude that, of books with both a printed and e-book counterpart, e-books could make up anywhere from 10 to 20% of unit sales. Amazon has already reported that their e-book sales account for about 40% of their total book sales (for titles with both versions available).

Just to keep the numbers in perspective, let’s look at overall print book sales compared to e-book sales. While it’s true that the percentage increases for e-books have been very impressive, they had started from such a small fraction of print book sales that they still paled in comparison. Well, what if I told you that, in March 2010 (the latest month data is available), total e-book sales were over 53% as much as total mass-market paperback sales. Then, what if we compare the year-over-year 251.9% increase in e-books with the 18.1% decrease in mass market sales from last year. Which would you bet on being higher next year? How about this Christmas?

Here’s the full chart (with year-over-year growth percentage over the columns):

Total March 2010 Book & E-Book Sales

True, e-books have a ways to go before they surpass combined print sales. But comparing the rate at which those numbers are changing (e-book sales exploding while print sales stagnate or decrease), considering the proliferation of new e-book readers like the iPad, and keeping in mind that more bookstores close every day, what do you think this chart will look like next year? How about 3 or 5 years from now?

Exciting times….

May 192010
 

B&N Announces "PubIt"

Barnes & Noble announced today that they will be opening their doors to independent publishers and self-published authors through their “PubIt” program, expected to launch in “Summer 2010.” While this move isn’t exactly groundbreaking (my novels are already available at Barnes & Noble), it’s still a welcome step forward. Currently, self-published e-books are made available on B&N.com through an intermediary: Smashwords, which is a fine company that offers a great service to independent authors. Soon, however, we will have the ability to upload our work directly to B&N, which will presumably offer us more control, a faster turnaround (it can take months to get your books or any changes to show up on B&N), and possibly higher royalties. B&N says royalties will be announced within a few weeks, and promises they will be “competitive.” It is hard to imagine how they could offer less than the 70% that Apple offers and that Amazon will offer starting July 1.

Amazon led the way for the self-publishing revolution with its Digital Text Platform, which allows any author to upload their work in e-book form to be sold on Amazon.com. So while one could argue that B&N has been following rather than innovating (releasing the Nook 2 years after the Kindle and arriving over a year late to the self-publishing scene), I’m glad to see B&N moving toward and embracing the future, unlike some businesses I could mention. I would expect a direct upload channel to B&N will enable me to create a higher-quality, better formatted source file (with Smashwords, it’s best to upload a simple, generically-formatted file that gets converted to multiple formats), quicker upload and revision times, better control over the description and category, and — hopefully — a higher royalty rate.

Another big benefit might be quicker sales reporting: currently, Amazon Kindle sales are reported instantly … which leads to incessant checking several times a day. 😉 B&N sales, on the other hand, get reported through Smashwords, and are currently on a 3-5 month delay. I started selling on B&N at the very end of January, and I haven’t even received my first sales report yet — all I can do is watch my sales ranking and guess. So I don’t know if B&N is turning into a worthy second sales channel, or if B&N sales are still just a tiny fraction of Amazon’s. It would behoove B&N to get this info to me more quickly, so I would know whether or not it’s worthwhile to devote more promotional efforts their way.

My only concern is whether the new file I upload will replace or sit alongside the Smashwords version that’s already active on B&N. I’d certainly like to keep my description, reviews, and sales ranking (Right Ascension has made it into the Top 7,500 there!).

Anyway, it’s an exciting development, and having both the #1 and #2 booksellers in the world throwing their weight behind self-publishing is certainly an encouraging sign. I still have more questions than answers (How many am I selling on B&N? What will the royalties be? When will it launch? What format do they want me to upload? Can I migrate over my existing product details?), but I remain hopeful.

P.S.: I seem to get most of my feedback from Kindle users, so I’d love to hear from a few B&N / Nook users: Have you purchased my books from B&N? Have you enjoyed them? How did the formatting look on the Nook? How many of you are out there??

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“Free” As In Beer

 Posted by at 4:52 PM  Tagged with: , , , , ,
May 062010
 

No such thing as a free lunch

The enticing title of this post refers to a phrase created to distinguish between two meanings of the word “free.” There is “free as in beer,” meaning free of charge, and sometimes referred to as “gratis” (from the Latin). This is contrasted with “free as in speech,” meaning free from restriction or censorship, and also referred to as “libre.” (As one who loves language, the conflation of two separate ideas into one word strikes me as an odd quirk and a fascinating bit of inefficiency in English, but I digress.)

Sadly, we’re not talking about beer today. What we’re talking about is the commonly-held idea that information on the Internet “should” be free — free as in beer. (Most of us reading this from outside the halls of the capitol at Pyongyang would agree that most information and news should be libre: free as in speech.) Visit any forum or online discussion about digital content (such as e-books, TV shows like Hulu, online newspapers, etc.), and dozens of people will tell you that information “wants” to be free, “needs” to be free, or “should” be free on the Internet. They will point out that hosting a website and transmitting data across the globe is a relatively trivial expense — and they’re right.

What many fail to realize is that producing quality content (whether it’s a well-written and well-edited novel or a well-researched news story) takes plenty of human labor, and that content is worth more than just the cost of the paper and ink to print it. Let’s look at newspapers for a moment. Newspapers everywhere are struggling. For about a decade now, most newspapers have spent a great deal of time, money, and effort developing slick websites to bring you all the news from their print versions — with additional perks like videos, more color pictures, and discussion forums — in order to enable their customers to stop paying for newspaper subscriptions. (Sure, you could argue this wasn’t the best business model, but hindsight is 20/20.) The idea was to make enough money on online advertising to recoup the lost subscription revenue plus pay for the additional web design and hosting costs they incur.

That idea has failed. Ad revenue is not enough to keep newspapers running right now. Internet advertising is just not very effective anymore, and advertisers are paying less and less per impression (how many of us totally ignore web banners and block pop-up windows?). Newspapers are taking big losses, laying off editors and reporters (which reduces the quality), and going out of business.

Of course, it’s a vicious cycle. Newspapers lose money, reduce the pay of journalists, lay off editors, stop sending reporters on fact-finding missions, and the quality of their writing goes down to the point that many are just regurgitating articles from the Associated Press — which we can get for free at dozens of places online, so why would I pay for access to The Miami Herald’s website? Now that newspapers have trained Internet users that information should be free (as in beer), it is proving very difficult to convince anyone to pay for online or digital content. Especially so long as other avenues keep giving it away for free. (Note that the continued chorus of Internet users in support of the “free” model is based on the fact that 95% of Internet users are content consumers and maybe 5% are content producers trying to pay rent. It’s kinda like having 9 wolves and a sheep vote on what’s for dinner.)

The problem is that quality, well-researched, neutral, accurate information is worth paying for. Good writing, good editing, investigative journalism, flying reporters to locations to uncover stories — that’s worth paying for. What some random blogger thinks about something he may or may not know anything about — that should be free. 🙂

On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal (to pick one example) seems to be making the same mistake LOTS of digital media (news, books, music, movies, etc.) producers are: overcharging. Customers know that it costs less to stream a TV show than create, package, and ship a DVD. It costs less to email an e-book than to print and ship a hardcover. And the WSJ’s costs go down if they can get rid of their printing presses and stop buying paper and ink by the ton.

Digital media producers are very slow in understanding that the marginal cost of selling 1 more digital download is close to zero. So it’s better to sell 5x as many (e-books, subscriptions, streaming movies) at 1/2 the cost. It’s a win-win. But, when I can get a DVD for $1 from Redbox, I’m not gonna pay $5 to stream it online. When the library is free and bargain books are a few bucks, I won’t pay over $10 for fiction e-books. When a print mag is $2 an issue, why am I paying $5 for a digital download? And why does a $3.99/week iPad WSJ subscription cost more than a $2.99/week print newspaper (that takes paper and ink and trucks and delivery people)? People aren’t stupid. I like my iPad, but I didn’t all of a sudden forget basic math.

There is a middle ground: free is an unsustainable model if you want quality content, and overcharging will kill the model just as quickly. Higher volume at lower prices is the great opportunity of digital content.

Now, if only things worked the same way for beer ….

Apr 182010
 

20/20 vision only beyond this point

I’d like to highlight an issue that has steadily become a bigger and bigger deal for me, and something that I think really exemplifies how several large print publishers are just taking the complete wrong tack when dealing with their readers. Instead of embracing readers (i.e., their customers) and thinking of ways to make their reading or purchasing experiences better, publishers have been raising e-book prices, delaying e-book releases, slapping on restrictive copy protection (DRM) that confuses and limits readers, blocking features like lending, and, perhaps most egregiously, blocking text-to-speech.

Text-to-speech (TTS) is a technology that allows printed words to be read aloud by a synthesized computer voice. While the quality of this artificial voice is acceptable to some but irritating to others, it as an option that Amazon spent time and money building into the Kindle 2. Amazon partnered with Nuance (makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking) to build TTS into the K2. That means that, in addition to all the other advantages of e-books–like adjustable font sizes that make it easier for those with poor vision to read–now your Kindle can read any e-book to you, which opens up the joy of books to the vision impaired, the elderly, or anyone else who can’t read printed words. While I’m fortunate enough to still have (relatively) good eyesight, I’m glad to see such technologies emerge to help those who aren’t as fortunate. And I’m in favor of anything that enables more people to read or enjoy the written word.

And what do I, as an author or publisher, have to do to enable this wonderful technology? Nothing. It’s already built into the K2 and turned on by default. Talk about a win-win-win. More people get to enjoy books, I can reach a whole new market, and Amazon can sell more e-books and Kindles.

Right up until the part where publishers demand that Amazon block text-to-speech on their titles.

This move just strikes me as so backwards-thinking, so antagonistic, and so wrong–considering which segment of the population will be harmed the most by the move: the disabled.

The publishers’ argument is essentially that TTS-enabled e-books will cut into their (expensive) audiobook sales. To me, it’s just another example of publishers alienating readers, and fighting instead of embracing technology. They’re so worried about e-books hurting their hardcover sales and audiobook sales, they’re forgetting that e-books are reaching new readers who are buying more e-books than they used to buy in print. They’re forgetting all the cost savings inherent in e-books, since they don’t have to print or ship or store books or accept returns or produce audio files. They’re forgetting that technology marches on, and they can march along or be trampled underfoot along with the typewriter manufacturers and buggy-whip makers. Most importantly, they’re forgetting the reason they exist: to provide literature to readers. Readers are not your enemies; please stop fighting them. How did it work out for the RIAA and the music industry?

In the meantime, all I can do (aside from posting about it here) is continue to try to embrace technology and provide value for my readers. To me, that means fair pricing, multiple formats, no restrictive DRM, and enabling text-to-speech on my novels.