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Digital Book World’s ePublishing Predictions for 2012

eBooks and Publishing

The Digital Book World site recently posted “Ten Bold Predictions for Book Publishing in 2012,” and while I certainly can’t speak with authority on all of the subjects they address, none of their predictions struck me as unlikely.

Significantly, all¬†of their predictions had to do with electronic publishing, except that some of what they said about the publishing industry as a whole would apply to paper books as well as eBooks. They don’t really take a shot at many numbers, although they did predict a new, larger Kindle tablet and name both the size and the price they expected.

I’d be interested to see predictions of impacts on libraries and bookstores and market share predictions for eBooks and for independent authors. Since it’s the season for predictions, though, I probably just have to keep my eyes open and those predictions will appear.

What do you expect to see happening in publishing in 2012? Will things get crazier or settle down a bit?

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Short Collections of Very Short Stories

eBooks and Publishing

I’ve been having an interesting time with my book Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories selling on Amazon for the Kindle. A while after I released it, I released a 99 cent sampler of stories from it (plus one new one) called 17 Stories About the End of the World. To my surprise, the sampler has been outselling the book even while they were temporarily at the same price, telling me that readers are interested in what kinds of stories they’re getting and aren’t likely to read otherwise.

So I’ve now broken out the remainder of the 172 stories into 8 new, short, 99 cent flash fiction collections. (I’ve also put a free first chapter of my novel Family Skulls–which itself is available for 99 cents as of this writing–at the end of each book.)

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Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing (“Indie Publishing”) Breakdown

eBooks and Publishing

I’ve been discussing the relative merits of traditional publishing compared to self-publishing with writer friends for some time now. Self-publishing would not have been something I gave any real thought to a couple of years ago, but the game has clearly changed now that eBooks have kicked into high gear. While eBook quantities sold are still a fraction of physical book quantities, they represent such a different approach to publishing and so much more profit per volume–even when sold at lower prices–that they have become rule-changers both in terms of the economics of publishing and in terms of writing itself. eBooks can easily accommodate varied forms, lengths, and sub-genres; slow sales; and small niche audiences in a way that physical books generally are not able to do to.

But there are many advantages to traditional publishing as well, by which I mean the process of writing a book that can be marketed in bookstores, getting an agent (usually), and selling the book to a publisher, who then produces the book and gets it out to distributors, who in turn get them to bookstores.

“Tradpub” and “Selfpub”
We haven’t needed a special term in the past for traditional publishing, but since the need to distinguish has arisen, I’ve found “traditional publishing” the most comfortable and easiest to communicate. An alternative I like for its brevity is “tradpub.”

A writer friend pointed out that apparently, PublishAmerica has used the term “traditional publishing” in a pejorative way and suggested that “commercial publishing” might be a better term. However, PublishAmerica has some serious credibility issues, and using the term “commercial publishing” for large publishing houses kind of implies that selfpubbing isn’t a business, which in many cases it very much is. Perhaps this argues further for the relatively baggage-less “selfpub” and “tradpub.”

“Self-publishing” is a term that has a bad taste for many professional and aspiring writers, as self-publishing in the past has been a refuge for many, many books that were simply not good enough for traditional publishing, along with a small minority of good books, often ones written for small, niche markets. Again there’s a short version I like, in part because it doesn’t carry all of the baggage of the longer term: “selfpub.” Some people use the term “indie publishing,” and while I find this perfectly acceptable, I don’t often use it myself because it feels like a euphemism, in part because “indie” movies and music tend to involve a group of people, whereas “indie publishing” is generally just a single person publishing his or her own work. As much as I like the idea of an indie author being like an indie filmmaker, I don’t think the comparison is quite apt.

Choosing tradpub or selfpub
These days, the difference between tradpub and selfpub could easily be mistaken for the difference between physical books and eBooks, but thinking this way is misleading, since of course many traditional publishers are beginning to embrace eBook editions (or at least to permit them), while selfpubbers have access to POD (print on demand) services that make their books competitive with other physical books.

Here are some of the advantages of each approach to publication, all from the writer’s point of view. Note that the tradpub section refers to large publishing houses; small press publishers are a bit different.

TRADPUB

  1. Often some promotion is provided by the publisher, including access to review venues, bestseller lists, awards, etc. that won’t include selfpubbed books
  2. Professional design services at publisher’s expense
  3. Sales and fulfillment done by publisher
  4. Book is more reputable with review venues, booksellers, the small percentage of readers who care, etc.
  5. Better pricing and availability of physical books
  6. Sometimes, editing at publisher’s expense
  7. Gatekeeping–the traditional publishing process at its best can prevent books of yours that aren’t ready from being published prematurely, while validating books that are ready.
  8. Sometimes, other rights sell (foreign, film, etc.)
  9. Assured of making a minimum amount of money
  10. Library distribution
  11. Sense of accomplishment and validation
  12. Externally-imposed deadlines helpful to productivity for some writers

SELFPUB

  1. Much quicker time to market
  2. No long period of waiting to see whether or not the book will sell
  3. No agency 15% taken off writer’s income
  4. Much higher royalty rate paid to writer
  5. Accommodates unusual and niche books well
  6. No need to connect with some specific agent’s and editor’s tastes (as well as the marketing department, management, etc.)
  7. Control over process: no covers you hate, no misreporting or non-reporting of royalties from publisher, no unnecessary publisher delays, etc.
  8. Stay in print longer
  9. Rights not tied up or snatched by publisher, as can sometimes happen in non-writer-friendly publishing contracts
  10. Ability to update book after release
  11. Much quicker payment and possibility of steady, comparably reliable income
  12. Much better reporting on sales and money earned
  13. Books can be commercially viable with a significantly smaller readership and/or much slower sales
  14. Satisfaction and confidence arising from self-reliance
  15. No risk of series being canceled before they’re completed
  16. Don’t have to sell the idea of the work; can focus on selling the actual work
  17. Selfpub (especially self-ePublishing) seems to be on the rise, whereas tradpub’s future is uncertain and not rosy: in theory, some publishers might even go out of business between the time they buy your book and the time they intended to publish it
  18. No danger of agent having rights to something they didn’t sell (as happens with certain kinds of unfavorable-to-author agency contracts)
  19. Not constrained or rushed by publisher timelines

I’d offer the caution that the fact that there are more items in the selfpub list doesn’t necessarily mean that selfpub is better; I believe strongly that this depends on the individual writer’s circumstances.

Another caution I’d offer, one that will bear repeating, is that simply because a book is ePublished doesn’t mean anyone will buy it. Based on numerical analysis writers I know have been doing on Amazon, for instance, the great majority of ePublished books are selling very few to no copies. There appear to be a huge number that have never sold at all. In this arena, the confidence of a publisher and the strength of the traditional marketing route offers almost a guarantee of at least a small audience, while selfpub offers nothing at all like a guarantee.

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eBooks: What Will Happen Over the Next Decade?

eBooks and Publishing

In a discussion of eBooks on Codex, an online writer’s group I started seven years ago, the subject came up of market saturation: with more and more eBooks hitting the market as the readership expands, will there come a time when there are too many books out there for many of them to make more than a little money? In response to that question, here are some predictions about the eBook market over the next decade, based on thinking about social and technological trends.

One reason I’m as interested as I am in this topic that I have friends on Codex who are beginning to see real success (measured in hundreds or thousands of dollars) through eBook publishing, primarily for the Kindle, especially Judson Roberts with his compelling and exceptionally well-researched series of Viking novels and James Maxey with his inventive and emotionally complex novels about dragons, dragon hunters, and superheroes. (See also Jud’s Web site at judsonroberts.com and James’ at jamesmaxey.blogspot.com.) Also fascinating is the POD success of Maya Lassiter with her free audiobook, Conjuring Raine, which to date has been downloaded more than 2,000 times.

Many more eBooks coming
I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet in terms of number of eBooks available: people who are putting out eBooks now are still early adopters, but before long publishers will be putting out every last book they have rights to, many more writers will take books out of the submission cycle of traditional publishing and try to get some juice out of the eBook market instead, and the majority of authors (and authors’ estates) who have rights to their backlists will make those books available as eBooks too. Why leave money on the table, after all? Most things that have gone out of print ever will reappear, along with many things that were written over the past few decades but never made it into print, making the field much more crowded.

By the way, I’m suspecting there will be at least a few amazing finds among books that have been lost in slush–along with lots and lots and lots of garbage.

Many more readers coming, and not just the ones we already write for
At the same time, over the coming decade the market for English language eBooks will continue to expand, not only as eReaders are adopted by an ever-increasing percentage of the public in English-speaking countries, but as eReaders and smartphones reach more and more of the world’s population. In the past almost all English-language writers have been writing mainly for native English speakers. As China and India and the Middle East and the rest of the world adopt eReaders, barriers to books from here reaching English speakers in other countries will fall. How many of your books are available in India, for instance, a country that has very nearly as many English-speakers as the United States? Or Nigeria, where English-speakers number almost 80 million? Or even in Australia, for that matter?

Further, as English language materials become more widely available, and as communication across national boundaries continues to expand, especially over the Web, many more people will learn English than have in the past. If you live in Mongolia, for instance, ten years ago English would have been of little use to you. Today if you know English and have any kind of Internet access, you have access to the largest  single-language collection of information and entertainment ever in the history of humankind.

So even though there’s going to be more competition, I think it’s still going to be boom time for English language writers for the next decade or so, and with the continued spread of English, some growth for another decade or two after that, and possibly even longer.

This growth in number of readers will not be matched by writers from those same areas. If you speak English well, you can be a reader of English-language books–but to write a good book in English, you have to speak the language like a native, which most readers from non-English-speaking countries don’t. Writers who write in English are likely to benefit from all of this at the expense of writers who work in other languages.

More readers means yet more eBooks
This in turn will lure more people to writing as more and more writers begin making a living through self-published eBook sales. Writing has always been alluring to a lot of people, but most would-be writers are scared off or beaten down by the process of repeated rejections, or else stuck in a decades-long pattern of submit-and-be-rejected. Lifting the barriers means not only removes practical obstacles to getting published, but also emotional obstacles. No longer will you have to be the kind of person who persists in the face of depressingly horrible odds to get your work out. (It could be argued that self-publishing has been an option for a long time, but I’d argue back that getting someone to print your books isn’t the same as having the opportunity to actually get them in front of readers.)

With an influx of less experienced writers who don’t have to get past editorial obstacles, there will be a lot more bad writing available. This, together with the increased use of eReaders and the overall rise in number of eBooks, will create a powerful push for better eBook finding and selection tools for the Web, eReaders, and smart phones. Exactly how these systems will work is a crucial question for writers, because it will determine whether or not our works can be found, the context in which they’ll be considered or compared, and ultimately how well they’ll sell.

In a near-future post I’ll make some predictions about how people will be finding and choosing eBooks, and about what that will mean for writers.

Photo taken in London by DG Jones

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