Thursday, November 10, 2011

E-Books Outselling Print? What's ahead for authors and publishers and readers?

Really Strategies recently polled a select group of publishers to understand projections on the shifting revenue metrics around digital and print products. The results are within our own expectations:
When does your organization project digital revenue exceeding print revenue?
publishers' digital revenue v print revenueHaving worked with hundreds of publishing professionals during the past 10 years, we've observed that those organizations who implement a strategic content management initiative are the ones who are seeing digital revenue exceed print. In some cases, we've seen digital revenue actually drive print revenue!
Where is your organization on this timeline? Do you anticipate digital revenue to exceed print revenue in 2012?

In my continuing series on e-books and self-publishing, here is a very fascinating survey of publishers who are tracking their e-book vs. print book sales. 

As everyone probably already knows, Amazon has announced that their digital books are now outselling their print (hard and softbound books). What does this mean for authors?

At a recent SCBWI (Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) national conference in Los Angeles this summer, a prestigious editor predicted that by 2014, e-books would be the main revenue stream for publishers and authors. With print editions reduced to sub-rights. This is a huge shift with far-ranging effects. First of all, it shows how important it is to invest in e-books, whether self-publishing or going with a traditional publisher.

Several of my author friends and students have signed away their e-book rights without much discussion or representation. I have several out of print books for which I'm trying to get e-book rights returned to me so I can bring them out again myself. But the publisher is hanging on to these e-rights, yet not bringing them out in e-books. Many of my author friends are in the same situation. Waiting for traditional publishers to realize that the e-book revolution is here, not in the future.

If you are an author and have kept your e-book rights, never give them up -- unless you and your agent believe this is the best option. Or, they are offering a lot of money. If you are an author who is either very established or just starting out, consider doing a digital-only edition of your next book. Track it via Kindle, iBooks, and Nook and see how it does.

There are many advantages to the e-book revolution. The first is that there are no returns. The traditional publishing industry's old-fashioned and debilitating practice of allowing bookstores to buy large quantities, only to return them, is an impractical and dispiriting way to do business. The author believes his or her book is selling well -- only to hear that huge returns have happened. The book piles up in publishers' warehouses, space they have to rent, the book is then remaindered at a fraction of its cost. I know of no other business -- except perhaps Nordstrom's -- where merchandise is sold with the expectation of a 40% return rate!

I commented on this article: 21.
Seattle, WA
October 25th, 2011 12:31 pm

Having published 16 books with traditional publishers -- from Norton to Penguin, I'm fascinated with what some editors are calling "The Wild West of e-books and self-publishing." Many of us authors have watched our backlists languish, even though backlists are the life support of most publishers. I just brought out my New York Times "Notable Book of the Year," DUCK AND COVER, as an e-book. The process was laborious, but fulfilling. Finding an expert e-book formatter, hiring a new cover design, and professional proofreading -- all the stages that traditional publishers usually perform. 

Authors now have many more options. This is one of the most exciting and innovative times to be a writer. We still need critical first readers, editors, and advisors all along the way. Many experienced editors and designers are now free-lancing because corporate publishing was shortsighted enough to only focus on the bottom-line and not developing a relationship with their long-term editors, authors, or their readers over time. 

Will the proliferation of e-books and self-publishing become more sustainable and egalitarian? Will authors at last make a living wage as they receive 70% royalties? Or will we just see a glut of unprocessed and unedited prose? There will definitely be new voices and unexpected gems. The next decade for books will be what one of my favorite editors calls, “a bloody good story.”

Recommend Recommended by 14 Readers

And here is another fascinating article from Publishing Perspectives, one of the best free daily newsletters on the business of publishing.

Also try joining the Linked In discussions on Digital Book World and E-Pub Technologies.  The more education you have as a writer, the more options you'll discover available to you.

And stay tuned for more in my series e-books and self-publishing. Also for those of you who want to learn more about the craft of writing memoir, see my You Tube videos at this link:

Thanks for reading!

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