The publishing industry has gone through a number of shake-ups over the past couple of decades. Another big one is coming, with the first shots already fired.
Joe Konrath (J.A. Konrath of the Jack Daniels thriller series) has a great blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, on which lately he’s been posting about his success selling Kindle versions of some of his books directly on Amazon. Cheap. Last month (March) he made over $4200 selling his ebooks at $1.99 each. No, it’s not J.K. Rowling territory, (what is?) but it’s decent money for (in some cases) books he couldn’t find a publisher for. But go read his blog, I’d just be repeating his points here, but one important thing to note: these are his sales, he is setting that $1.99 price. Books that his publisher is selling on Amazon go for a higher price, and therein is the point.
According to this report, publishers have just “won” a concession from Amazon, where Amazon will allow them to raise prices on ebooks. (Amazon formerly sold them at $9.99, sometimes below their cost from the publisher). So while Konrath et al. are discovering that lower prices sell more books and make them more money (not a surprise to economists), traditional publishers want to raise ebook prices and, one would guess, sell fewer copies and make less money. Okay, they probably don’t want that last part, but it will be an unintended consequence of trying to keep ebooks from cutting into traditional hardcover sales. That latter might even work for a year or two. But it brings me to one more announcement.
The Apple iPad is now shipping. While some reviewers have been a little disappointed with it (there are some things it doesn’t do), it is an ebook (or rather, iBook) platform, and publishers are already lining up to provide content for it. Some of it revolutionary, with interactive texts taking advantage of the iPads color, sound and motion sensitivity. As these make their way into education, we’re going to see a generation of kids raised on reading electronic, rather than paper, books.
We’re already seeing “indie” authors sidestepping traditional publishing houses to bring their work to the public. In the case of those who skip the necessary steps of editing, revision and even just filtration of the good from the bad, the product will be barely worth the electrons it’s stored on — although with the low production and distribution costs of the internet, even a tiny niche could be a moneymaker. For those who have the skill to produce conventionally-publishable stories, together with tech-savvy packaging and marketing, the game is already shifting in their favor.
For myself, I’m not giving up on traditional publishing yet. I like seeing my words printed and bound with nice cover art, all of which somebody else did (and without me paying for it). But that doesn’t prevent me from producing work in parallel that goes directly to Kindle or iBook or epub or whatever. So I’ll be doing both for a while as an experiment. That means I need to, in web terms, generate more content. And on that note I’d better get back to writing. I have a novel to finish.