Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday's Musings: Digital Is Changing Everything...

There is an enormous amount of chatter, gnashing of the teeth, and good amount of jubilation, over the changes impacting publishing world today. Everything is changing.

On the surface, the changes seem rapid although they’re not really. We’re just seeing more concrete results of the impact digital technology has had on the market. These changes have been developing over the past fours years that I’ve been tracking them.  People don’t react well, for the most part, with change. It pulls them out of their comfort zones. So, what we’re really seeing is the knee-jerk reaction to that change.

Like everyone else, I’ve been watching the debate over traditional publishing versus self-publishing, paper books versus e-books on blogs, industry rags, and forum chatter. I’ve seen authors devote a blog post on why their dear readers must help them out by buying their latest books as paperbacks or hardcover as opposed to e-books so they can reach the bestsellers list. I’ve heard the wailing over e-books taking away revenue of authors not smart enough to have their agents negotiate better profits on digital.

I’ve read about publishers decrying Amazon, and like online bookstores, for allowing low prices for e-books. How readers are shying away from buying the book at full price (Winged brow. Well, Duh) Then I came across another argument by a literary publisher against e-books, which had my brows climbing into my hair, followed by an unladylike snort (sorry, Mom), and laughter.

“This has always been my problem with e-books: they emphasize immediate entertainment — and gratification — over real 'reading,' which takes more commitment, patience, attention and time.”

Say what?

C’mon, reading is reading, whether you choose to read on an e-reader, paperback, or hardcover. I have news for him; reading is entertainment as well as a pleasure. Reading is also a learning experience. What difference does it make if I get my entertainment, or research, immediately via my kindle, or I-pad? How does this devalue a book, author or publisher? How is this not real reading?

So, we who use e-readers are basically lowbrow plebeians? Apparently we can’t read something of import on an e-reader and take the time to soak in the ambiance and beauty of the words and meaning unless there is an actual paper book in our hands? How screwed up is that reasoning? Shall I send him a catalog of “classic” literature now available as digital files?

Are we seeing a comparison to a certain little Dutch boy putting his finger in a levee thinking it will save life, as we’ve known it?

Don’t get me wrong. I love books and always have. I love the smell of a library, of opening a book, of holding it in my hand because it’s special. Reality is, it’s not the book itself, but what it represents to me, a portal to learning, adventures, new worlds and people. I have colIected books all my life. I have favorites I have read many times over. I don’t go anywhere without a book. I’ve crippled moving company workers who have carried 15 large metal (think 5 ft long x 5 ft wide, and 3 ft deep with locks and padding) trunks of books from one house to the van and unloaded them in another duty station. My husband and I got into one of our first major fights over not only the money I spent on books but also the space my books took up. He’s since learned to grumble under his breath and has accepted the fact that whither I goest so goest my books.

I now have a kindle. I love it--E Ink display is easy on the eyes and simulates  reading a printed page w/out any glare or back light and I can adjust font size. It's light and easy to carry around. I must have a couple of hundred titles (thank god for alphabetical order and author's names). My husband has said a quiet hallelujah to the heavens that they are on the kindle and not physically taking up space. He’s been eyeing my collection and I've given my trademark evil eye, sweet smile, and a growl--don't even think about it, 'cause we're talking death, dismemberment and itty-bitty pieces scattered to the four winds.

While we’re at it, let’s add my opinion to the heated discussion over the pricing of e-books.

I’m eclectic in my reading choices and always have been. My choices on Kindle are no different than what I buy in a bookstore, except I’m more inclined to try out ‘new to me’ authors.  I like how many publishers offer specials—free to $4.99. Publishers and authors recognize this is a perfect way to build a readerbase. I’ve found some wonderful books and authors that way. I’ve also gone back and bought other titles from those authors that weren’t discounted.

The most I’ve paid for an e-book is $12.99 and I cringed. I collect hardback copies of several authors and will buy those on Amazon.  Frankly, shelling out $17-30 for an e-book is not something I will be doing anytime in the future, unless it’s a research book I need and even then, I’m analyzing whether I really need it. If I can’t get it any other way, I’ll buy it.

My thoughts on this: I can understand the price of paper books being high. I don’t like it, but I understand it. You have to factor in all involved between the time the authors submit a completed manuscript (electronically as a digital file), buying the paper, ink, and running thousands of copies on a printing press for mass paperbacks (or even hardcover), the high cost of transporting to the market and exorbitant cost of returns. There is a lot of money built into that book I hold in my hand.

E-book. Transmitted electronically from author to publisher. Design is done by computer and attached to the digital file, format setup by computers to a digital file, electronically submitted to the market place, via digital file,where it is bought electronically, delivered electronically, as a digital file, from online to your electronic reading device.


Digital doesn’t have the same built in costs to produce. So why should I pay the same price for an e-book as I do for a hardcover paper book?  Especially when it's first released as a hardcover and the price is the same for the e-book.  As Spock would say, it’s highly illogical.

So, the debate over digital publishing and e-books will rage on until an effective compromise is reached. Pricing will have to factor in the cost of staff to produce a finished product and if we want paper books to hold in our hands or put on our shelf we’ll have to pay the higher price for the privilege.

I can work with that.

Although this article is somewhat of a rant and a bit sarcastic, this whole issue is a serious one.

Your thoughts? 

Trust me, you're not going to hurt my feelings if you don't agree.



Tonya Kappes said...

People don't like change, especially when it comes to their jobs. Not only is the publishers nervous, but so is the agent. Their role is being dissolved as well. Some agencies have started electronic publishing their author's books they can't sell to publishers and the author is still getting the low 30% for their books....And the agency is still pricing them at 4.99-9.99.

As an Indie author, there are many reasons why my publisher and I split, but it was the BEST thing that ever happened to me. And putting my books at 2.99 and then at .99 is a marketing strategy that I'm willing to sacrifice to see what works best for me, the author. No one really knows what works. It's all trial and error.
My grog, The Writer's Guide To E Publishing, is always debating this price issue.
The above link is a great article about the industry and how publisher's see the price points.

I personally don't buy ebooks over 4.99. But if my dearest author friends have a print book, I do buy those. Other than that, I love my Kindle and love to find new authors that can offer just as much entertainment as a 9.99 author. I LOVE MY KINDLE!!

Jo Wake said...

I have been reading ebooks on my Palm Zire for many years, before Kindle ever came onto the market. These days I have to admit that most of the books I read come from the library anyway - do you think they will soon have an ebook source so one can borrow those too? However, I am staggered to find that an author/friend with 10 successful publications to her name is having trouble getting her current project published. I do prefer reading a book to reading electronically, and am sorry if the trend is going to more electronics and also to self publishing. I have never tried Kindle and in fact I have previously been unable to download books from because I don't live in the States. I have never checked if I can download from

Karen Walker said...

As a reader, I have been unwilling to make the change to e-readers. But that is about to change, as I am in the process of making my memoir into an e-book. I think all your points are so true. People don't like change, but the truth is, change is inevitable, so we might as well hold onto our hats and enjoy the ride.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Yep, Karen. I agree. All the wailing and gnashing of the teeth is not going to stop this change. I'm with you, fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride.

I'm glad you're going e-book with your memoir!

Olivia Cunning said...

I love the freedom of self-publishing. It's a lot of work to go on your own, but while you have a bit of a "safety net" with traditional publishing, you have no freedom at all. There is nothing I can do about the cost of my trad pubbed ebooks or when they are discounted or offered for free (much teeth gnashing ensues). Or how much they put into advertising (see $0) or when they publish my next book (see whenever they feel like it). I sell more copies of my trad-pubbed books (by a margin of 100 to 1) but actually make more money off my little self-pubbed book. It's very sobering to realize how much work I did on my trad-pubbed books, how much time and effort into marketing them, and how little I am compensated for that work. I could rant for days, but I'll stop now. It's considered "unprofessional" to complain. Most readers would be appalled to know that of the $7 dollars they paid for an eBook, their favorite author got a whopping 45 cents. And that's only if that author earned out on their advance and don't have any books sitting in the warehouse to count as reserves against returns. I said I was going to stop ranting, didn't I? Sorry... It's just FRUSTRATING. And this is why a lot of mid-list authors are starting to self-publish.

Sia, I'm laughing at your "tone" with that literary publisher and imagining you ripping his head off and punting it for a field goal.

Kat Sheridan said...

I adore e-books and have been reading them long before there were ever dedicated e-readers. I'm going to disagree with you, however, on a couple of fronts.

You said "authors not *smart* enough to have their agents negotiate better profits on digital". Smart has nothing to do with it. Authors ARE smart enough--it's the publishers who are intractable on this. Authors--especially new ones--have been longing--sometimes for YEARS--for that magic contract. If they really wnat it, and the publisher won't budge, that author has a choice to either accept or walk away. If YOU'VE been dreaming of seeing your book on the shelf, what would you do?

You also sauy "Design is done by computer and attached to the digital file, format setup by computers to a digital file..." No, there are PEOPLE involved in every step, even if it's just pushing a button or verifying that nothing went wrong. Even if the book is e-format, it must still be copy edited, proofread, a cover created, formatted, etc. Olivia did all that herself. How many hours did that take? And what is her hourly wage for that time? And has the cost of that time been deducted from the income to get a sense of a TRUE profit margin?

Most authors actually make well below minimum wage for their writing work. And now time is taken away from writing to also do the punblisher's job. Those costs MUST be counted. And expecting that author to put in HUNDREDS of hours so you can enjoy their work for 99 cents (or free) is asking too much, in my opinion.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat, I'm not saying e-books should be free or even priced at 99 cents. That's unrealistic. What I did say was that pricing was an effective promotional tool to draw new readers. It's only a short term tool.

What you say is true and I have thought of the people trail in putting out a book--in both formats. Paychecks must be paid and profits earned to stay in business. I just happen to think that e-books shouldn't cost $17 plus for a book. Most of the books I buy in paper are running $6.99 and $8.99 and yes, I've paid that much for e-books without qualm. Going over $10 is a choking point. Will I have to do that eventually? Probably.

I hear you on the price of a dream and the compromises an author makes to have that dream.

The pay platform to authors is going to have to change and that's true. Everyone wants a piece of the pie and you do make a valid point about what trickles down to the author's pocket today.

Let's hope one of the effective compromises coming, in creating a new publishing platform, takes in account the author and provides a better percentage in their pocket.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Olivia, no problems with the rant. My article was a bit of a rant, too. A bit facetious and sarcastic--for me. Yah, field hockey or basketball would work, for said literary publisher,lolol!

On a serious note, I'm seeing plenty of mid-list, and some a bit higher than that, talk about profit margins on trad vs self-publishing. Digital/e-book format with Traditional is still not highly profitable for authors. There's a lot of talk about having better control over one's work, and actually getting one's work to the market (how many proposals of good, readable books have been shot down because it doesn't fit the what is perceived to be the current reading market?) to be bought, and profits going self-publishing. It makes perfect sense.

I think a lot of aspiring and published authors would love to be making the kind of money Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, and JK Rowling have made. I include myself in that group.

Talli Roland said...

I'm SO with you, Sia, and you put it so well. For authors with small publishers who face distribution challenges, ebooks are a real blessing. I've sold almost 10,000 ebooks, compared to, well, nowhere close that amount of print. Why? Because my books aren't in physical shops, due to limited space and lots of competition from the big guns. With ebooks, you don't need to fight for shelf space!

As an author, I make a higher royalty rate from ebooks, so I'd prefer people to buy the ebook! :)

Anonymous said...

I agree that reading is reading. Sure, I love the smell and fell of a paper book, but I also download books to my PC and iMac. I can't take it with me, but enjoy reading 20 -30 pages while sitting at my desk.

Anonymous said...

Sia, change always creates lots of consternation. Readers love their books and have strong opinions about them, so it's not surprising that the movement toward ebooks is generating lots of conversational heat. The supply chain for publishing is changing right before our eyes and we're in its early stages. As a writer, I'd love it if a publisher took my books and did the heavy lifting of publicity and so on, but there are now alternatives. Writers now have a counterweight to the traditional publishing route and many are taking it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I won't buy an eBook over $7.99, which means I'm waiting for some books to drop. Although if I really want it, I buy the hardback. I've had an iPad for over a year now and really like using the eReader. When I'm tired, reading tiny print in a book is too much, but on my iPad, I can bump up the font.
It's like the Borg from Star Trek - resistance is futile. EBooks are the future.

Sheila Deeth said...

I love my kindle, the chance to read new-to-me authors on special deals (and sometimes get hooked), the chance to have lots of books ready to read without cluttering the walls and floor (easy to carry in a suitcase too), and the bookmarks never fall out!

Other Lisa said...

What Kat said.

Alyson Reuben said...

I agree, Sia, although (being completely honest) it does make me a little sad that traditional books are phasing out. As a reader, if I particularly love an author or book, I'll still purchase the paper version for my home collection. On the other hand, as an author, I'd rather sell ebooks because of the higher royalty rate.

Also, I've become pretty partial to reading in bed on my Nook. The soft light doesn't keep hubby awake!

About the costs of ebooks... like you, I've paid $12.99 for ebooks, but no higher. The majority of ones I buy are in the $4-$8 price range.