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Monday, March 7, 2011

Ruminations of an Old Goat

Back in August, I wrote a column in which I mused on the idea of a world without physical books. Electronic books, I wrote, were going to have a major impact on reading and, more importantly, publishing. It didn't take long for evidence to begin to trickle in supporting my contention.

Take the online article "The Very Rich Indie Writer," about a 26 year-old woman who has published nine ebooks through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing arm. Selling her books for $2.99, she qualifies for royalties of 70% of her ebook sales, around $2.10 for one of her three dollar books. Even before this woman began receiving tons of publicity, she was selling about 100,000 books per month. With figures like those, the math is pretty easy. This young woman is pulling in over $200,000 each month from Amazon.com. On top of that, she doesn't have to worry about dealing with editors or publishers or book retail chains or book tours. She only has to worry about writing novels.

Now, there's a very good reason this woman is getting lots of publicity. Her sales are hardly typical. The article includes a list of the top selling Kindle authors from a recent month. Out of the 26 authors listed, the bottom eight each had sales of around 2500 in the month; 97,500 less than the sales leader. Still, if you're making $2.10 per sale, sales of 2500 result in a monthly income of over $5000. As those authors add books to their list, it's likely they'll see that income go up. The woman from the article already does so well that no existing publisher is likely to ever be able to offer her a deal good enough to draw her away from epublishing her own material.

Because these people are publishing ebooks, their out-of-pocket publishing expenses are zero, zip, zilch, nada. Sure, they have to spend time writing their books, but every writer has to do that. They won't get an advance from a publisher, but unpublished writers don't get advances, either, unless they are already so famous the publisher knows there will be a demand for the author's book (or, more likely, ghost-written book). Most writers have stuff already written that they've either never submitted to a publisher or can't find a publisher who is willing to publish the book. We've had plenty of stories here on the FC about editors who only buy books which are aimed at specific markets, passing up excellent novels simply because the novels don't fit into their narrow publishing interest. Epublishing gives authors an opportunity to get their work out on the market without going broke self-publishing.

Barnes & Nobel has a program for the Nook that is essentially identical to Amazon's Kindle self-publishing program. They appear to offer the same royalties and putting the book up for sale looks to be equally as easy as on Amazon. Neither of these programs require authors work with them exclusively. In fact, Barnes & Nobel's program includes a caveat that your book's price at B&N must be the same price (or less) it is through other epublishing programs.

With the author in control of the prices of their books, they are free to give their books such low prices that readers will probably be willing to buy your book just on the off chance it's good. People who might hem and haw over buying an eight dollar book will likely just pull the trigger and buy an ebook with a price of only 99 cents. I know I will. And if the book turns out to suck, well, I'm out less than the cost of buying a cup of coffee at the local bookstore.

So far, all of the stuff I've written concerning the ease of publishing and people "pulling the trigger" on cheap books has been full of speculation. Well, I'm not going to speculate any more. Over the new few weeks, I will be epublishing one of my children's stories through as many venues as possible. I'll start with Amazon and Barnes & Nobel, but if you know of other epublishing venues, please tell me where to find them. I'll also be interested in suggestions for ebook review sites, so I can take advantage of as much third party press as possible.

The story I'll be publishing runs about 2000 words, so I'll be pricing it at 99 cents. This will net me only a 35% royalty, but it's a place to start. Later, if I have several stories available, I can always gather them in an "omnibus" edition and price it at the 70% royal range ($2.99 to $9.99). While I'm going through this process, I will give progress reports, highlight difficulties, and generally fill all of you in on how easy or hard the process will be.

It's going to be an interesting experiment. I hope you come along for the ride.
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