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Tag: E-Books (41-50 of 57)

Self-publishing: Is it a viable alternative for authors?

Usually self-published authors are either graduate students or first cousins who somehow manage to convince you to purchase six copies of their 600-page novel Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Hungry.

But now a two-time PEN/Faulkner winner and National Book Award finalist is stepping into the mix. John Edgar Wideman will be releasing his latest collection of short stories via Lulu, a self-publishing company that releases submitted work either as an e-book or printed-on-demand. Briefs: Stories for the Palm of the Mind, available starting March 14, will be one of few works from an already established author to bypass the mainstream industry entirely. Another is JA Konrath, who, after having a collection of his stories rejected by publishing houses, turned to the Internet and self-published his own  Kindle ebook. Less than one year later, Konrath has sold nearly 30,000 copies and he expects to earn as much as $43,800 this year on that e-book alone. Proof positive that profit is possible with this model.

If self-publishing becomes a more acceptable practice for big-name writers, it could lead to an interesting shift in the landscape of the book industry. Authors would clearly exercise greater control over their work, its distribution, and, importantly, its price. There may always be a need some sort of intermediary like Lulu, which takes a 20 percent cut of the revenue, or Amazon, which will double its royalty rates for self-published authors beginning in July, but those mechanisms are negligible when compared to the established industry. It could even make the market more Darwinian: Without advances or heavy advertising, success or failure would  be wholly dependent on whether or not people are willing to pay to read your words. Clearly, established authors would have a leg up here, which is why it’s remarkable how few of them aside from Konrath and Wideman are willing to try to establish some vertical integration for their own output.

How about you? Do you support self-publishing? If this practice caught on, do you think it’d end up being a good or a bad thing for books?

Amazon capitulates to Macmillan's e-book pricing demands

As many of you know, the e-book pricing wars came to a head on Friday and Saturday, when Amazon stopped selling Macmillan titles (St. Martin’s, Holt, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux books), though customers could still purchase books on the site from other sellers. Macmillan CEO John Sargent issued an impassioned plea on Saturday night to explain his company’s position, and last night, Amazon gave in, posting a statement to customers on its Kindle page that said, in part, “We want you to know that ultimately, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative. Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!”

As someone who has been following this drama, and reading all the comments on this and many other books blogs, I’m alarmed that so many people seem to see Macmillan as the villain here. It’s not that simple. The book business has never had high profit margins (I believe 3 percent is considered fairly healthy, which ought to give you some idea.) It costs an enormous amount of money to produce a book. The author is paid an advance; the book is edited and copy-edited and often put through a legal check; a jacket is designed; the publisher pays for marketing (ads!) and publicity (sending authors on tour, or, if they’re lucky, paying to bring them to New York so that they can appear on a national TV show). The printing, binding, and shipping of a title are not the real expenses involved in publication. The issue that Macmillan had with Amazon is a very real one: Given the punishing terms that Amazon insists upon (most e-book profits are going to Amazon, not to the publisher or author), publishers literally are often losing money on their e-book ventures with the company. What Macmillan wants to do is what it calls “agency pricing,” that is, offer the e-book for more money when it first comes out, and then decrease the price as time passes — much in the way that a book is first available in hardcover and then in paperback.

This is a gross oversimplification, but what it comes down to is this: Unless all publishers negotiate better e-book pricing deals with Amazon, the number of books being published will decline. You won’t see a book like The Help. It will never see the light of day, because companies just won’t be able to take a chance on unknown authors. And small literary novels and short-story collections will suffer the most. They are often money-losers anyway, subsidized by companies’ bigger commercial successes. As the percentage of e-book sales rises, publishers simply will not be able to continue putting them out unless Amazon agrees to different terms.

As of 8 a.m. today, the “buy” buttons at Amazon have not been reinstated on any Macmillan titles I checked.

Amazon is no longer selling Macmillan books; Macmillan CEO John Sargent issues statement

Amazon has pulled books from publishing giant Macmillan, according to the New York Times. Authors — and book buyers — began to notice last night that Amazon was no longer selling any of Macmillan’s titles (although they can still be purchased on the site from third-party sellers). The skirmish is most likely the latest chapter in the bitter war that Amazon and publishers are waging over the cost of e-books. Along with other companies, Macmillan has been pressing Amazon to raise the price of e-books, while Amazon is keen to keep prices low to promote its reader, the Kindle. (The $9.99 e-book prices advertised during the holiday season were a special point of contention.) So it is any coincidence that Macmillan is emboldened to make such demands  just days after the unveiling of the iPad from Apple? Probably not. Apple, after all, made it clear it will allow publishers more freedom to set their own prices for e-books. And when Steve Jobs was asked at the iPad press conference why customers would buy an e-book for $15 from Apple if they could get it for $9.99 on Amazon, he replied, “That won’t happen…Publishers are actually going to pull their books from Amazon because they’re not happy.”

Macmillan is, of course, one of the biggest book companies in the world and its imprints include Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Henry Holt and St. Martin’s Press, which publishes Janet Evanovich and Augusten Burroughs, amongst many others.

UPDATE (6:00 p.m.): Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. Macmillan CEO John Sargent issued this statement moments ago, addressed to Macmillan authors, illustrators, and the literary agent community:  “This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e-books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on Amazon.com through third parties. I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very near future. They have been a great innovator in our industry, and I suspect they will continue to be for decades to come. It is those decades that concern me now, as I am sure they concern you. In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated. Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E-books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time. The agency model would allow Amazon to make more money selling our books, not less. We would make less money in our dealings with Amazon under the new model. Our disagreement is not about short-term profitability but rather about the long-term viability and stability of the digital book market. Amazon and Macmillan both want a healthy and vibrant future for books. We clearly do not agree on how to get there. Meanwhile, the action they chose to take last night clearly defines the importance they attribute to their view. We hold our view equally strongly. I hope you agree with us. You are a vast and wonderful crew. It is impossible to reach you all in the very limited timeframe we are working under, so I have sent this message in unorthodox form. I hope it reaches you all, and quickly. Monday morning I will fully brief all of our editors, and they will be able to answer your questions. I hope to speak to many of you over the coming days. Thanks for all the support you have shown in the last few hours; it is much appreciated. All best, John.”

More on e-books:
Apple’s iPad is officially here
Amazon says e-books outsold physical books on Christmas Day
Kindle’s popularity fires up

Amazon says e-books outsold physical books on Christmas Day

Amazon reports that on Christmas Day, for the first time in the site’s history, Kindle books outsold physical books. (No doubt all of those new Kindle recipients were loading up their just-unwrapped gadgets with some fresh titles to read.) The company also reported that its Kindle electronic reader became the most “gifted” item in Amazon history. Are bound books soon to be the eight-track tapes of the reading world?

In another alarming sign for traditional publishers, it seems that Amazon’s already cheaper-than-a-physical-book price point of roughly $9.99 is still too expensive for many consumers. An analysis by the lit bloggers at Galley Cat found that 64 of the 100 e-books topping the Kindle best-seller list yesterday were priced at $0.00. Yes, that’s right: free. The list of free Kindle best-sellers includes some classics that are in the public domain (e.g., Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen’s zombie-free Pride and Prejudice). But it also features recent titles from mostly smaller publishers, like the current No. 1, Noel Hynd’s Midnight in Madrid, about a U.S. Treasury agent investigating the theft a mysterious relic from a Madrid museum.

Simon and Schuster delaying release of eBooks

In an effort to boost sales of its hardcover titles, Simon & Schuster announced that it will delay the eBook editions of its early 2010 books until four months after the hardcover release. It’s likely a smart move for the publisher: With the popularity of e-readers like the Amazon Kindle surging, more readers are purchasing eBooks for the low price of $9.99, rather than the price of the books’ hardcover equivalent, which often exceeds $20. “We believe this publishing sequence will benefit the performance of all the different formats in which these titles are published,” Simon & Schuster said in a release, “and in the long term will contribute to a healthier retail environment for the greater book buying public.” Some books on the publisher’s January to April 2010 schedule include You: On a Diet Revised Edition, by Michael F. Roizen; The Skinnygirl Dish, by Bethenny Frankel; Point Omega, by Don Delillo; House Rules, by Jodi Picoult; and The Shadow of Your Smile, by Mary Higgins Clark.

Amazon Kindle's popularity fires up

Looks like readers are hoping to save some trees this season. According to Amazon, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the company has sold a whopping 48 Kindle books for every 100 physical books it has sold this season. That number has risen significantly since May. Just six months ago, Amazon was selling just 35 Kindles for every 100 physical books sold.

It’s an impressive number, especially when you consider the price of the product. Consumers are expected to pony up $489 for the latest Kindle model.

But it looks like the Kindle’s power might extend beyond the publishing industry. The subscription-only publishing biz site Publishers Marketplace reported last week that Karen McQuestion’s A Scattered Life has apparently become the first self-published Kindle book to be acquired by a production company. (Producer Eric Lake optioned the rights for the L.A.-based outfit Hiding In Bed.) Though Hiding In Bed has yet to return EW’s calls regarding specifics of its plans for a film adaptation, McQuestion’s Life follows a restless Wisconsin housewife who befriends a psychic and a harried mother of five.

Barnes and Noble's Nook sells out before release

If you were waiting until after Thanksgiving to start shopping for the holidays (silly you) and were hoping to pick up Barnes & Noble’s new e-reader, the Nook, for the technophilic book-lover in your family, you may be out of luck. According to the B&N website, “the hottest holiday gift is out of stock.”

The devices have been disappearing like $259 hotcakes, selling out well before Black Friday and the device’s predicted release date, Nov. 30. Those who order the color-screen reader after last Friday will not receive theirs until the New Year, with the site currently predicting a ship date of Jan. 4.

This initial sales success positions the Nook as a top alternative to Amazon’s Kindle, especially since Sony recently announced possible delays for its own e-reader, the Daily Edition. The Kindle experienced similar stock depletions during last year’s holiday season.

With all these units being sold, it’s clear that e-readership is up and the phenomenon is more than just a passing literary fad. Even with hardcovers selling at $9 a pop, consumers are still flocking to get their hands on these portable libraries, and, I’ll admit, even a Luddite like myself has entertained jumping on board the biblio-file bandwagon.

How about you guys? Will e-readers be the new iPhones, ascending rapidly from luxury techno-gadget to completely ubiquitous companion? Or will you give up your glue-and-paper copies only when the librarians pry them from your cold, dead hands?

Why do all the e-readers have such terrible names?

Want to stick a book in your Nook? Me neither. It just sounds uncomfortable.

After what I assume was thousands of man-hours of marketing research, the best Barnes & Noble could come up for their new e-reader was a word that already exists and has nothing to do with their product? I, for one, can’t wait for the Borders Cranny.

Plus, Nook, like Vook, just sounds unpleasant. Sure, they’re derived from “book,” but that word was needlessly ugly in the first place. Literature is one of the most beautiful aspects of human culture. The word that describes its most basic unit should be like an elegant dancer, not a homely Germanic dwarf. But even though we’re stuck with it, that doesn’t mean these companies have to follow suit.

The names of other major e-readers aren’t much better. Amazon’s Kindle seems intended to antagonize traditional book-lovers by subtly mocking the flammability of paper. The arbitrary capitalization of the iRex iLiad is Homer via an IM-ing 12-year-old. The Sony Reader is dull and obvious. The Bebook is a stutterer’s nightmare.

Not all technological developments spring out from their creators’ heads fully formed. The flashlight began as the “electric flowerpot” and the zipper was originally given the boring name of “slide fastener.” So maybe it’ll get better.

What’s your take? Am I just trying, by nook or by crook, to find a way to complain? Any suggestions for better names? The Panasonic Codex? The Sharp Wit? The Canon Canon? I guess it’s harder than it looks.

Stephen King on the delay of his e-book and the $9 price wars - can bookstores survive?

44574551In the latest skirmish in the e-book war, Scribner announced this week that it will delay the e-book release of EW columnist and perennial best-seller Stephen King’s new novel, Under the Dome, until Dec. 24. That’s almost six weeks after the hardcover edition goes on sale November 10. “We think that this publishing sequence gives us the opportunity to maximize hardcover sales and at the same time allows people who receive a reading device or gift certificates as a holiday gift to enjoy the digital edition,” says  Adam Rothberg, a spokesman for Scribner (an imprint of Viacom’s Simon & Schuster). In an exclusive comment to EW, the author himself was more blunt: “It’s time to give the smaller bookstores a little breathing room (although not much chance of that, with Walmart offering Dome for nine bucks.)” He’s referring to the fact that Walmart (as well as Amazon and Target) this week began offering his book, along with nine hot titles, for as little as $8.98. The retail price of King’s book is $35, which means these retailers are taking a loss on each book.

King is not alone in his concern about the impact the $9 price wars will have on traditional booksellers. The recent price-chopping has led the American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, to file an official complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, charging that the three retail behemoths are engaging in “illegal predatory pricing.” In a letter released yesterday, the ABA went on to say that the practice was “damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers.” A top publishing executive tells EW: “They had no choice. Bookstores are simply under siege. On one side, they’re facing the threat of e-books, and on the other they’re staring in the face of these three ugly superpowers.” David Young, the CEO of Hachette Book Group USA (publisher of James Patterson’s upcoming I, Alex Cross, another one of the $8.98 titles), told the New York Times: “I do think this massive devaluation of the industry’s crown jewels could very quickly be extremely harmful. And I would not be alone in thinking that.”

How can traditional bookstores compete against giant retailers who are willing to sell books at a loss (a luxury that books-only retailers can’t afford to do)? And is it fair for publishers to fight back by delaying the release of e-book versions of new titles like Under the Dome? What do you think?

Barnes & Noble's new reader lets you lend e-books

barnes-noble-nook_l“Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folk have lent me.” So said Nobel literature laureate Anatole France, and quite rightly. Looking through my own bookshelves, I can count more volumes than I’d like to admit that I’ve passively pilfered, even if I swear to myself that one day I really am going to track down that friend from third grade and give him back his copy of Goosebumps.

Now, the ancient tradition of shelf-sharing has been extended to the e-book. Barnes & Noble revealed their Nook yesterday afternoon, confirming, among other things, the presence of a “lend” function. Users will be able to loan out their e-books to a friend for a period of 14 days, but, as with p-books, they will be unable to access the title during that time. And since the lending period is capped, there’s no worry of your purchase becoming a permanent fixture on your buddy’s coffee table or lost somewhere behind his washing machine.

The feature, as well as a color screen, gives the Nook a bit of a leg up over the equally priced Kindle, and it’s good to see a viable competitor enter the market for what could quite possibly be the future of reading. Now that one more difference between traditional books and their electronic counterparts has been struck down, I think we might see some bibliophiles getting more comfortable with the idea of biblio-files. The New York Times is reporting that people with Kindles are purchasing, on average, over three times as many titles as they were before the switch, so the format clearly isn’t going away anytime soon.

It’s interesting to see e-books working backwards to approximate the experience of real books, trying to find a happy medium. Maybe soon readers will come equipped with must-emitters that periodically spray the combination essence of yellowing paper and attic mildew into your face as you read. One can only hope.

What do you think? Does the lending feature make you want to give in and buy an e-reader, or are you happy to stick with the comfort of the original, paper cuts and all?

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