Yes, I too once loved the smell and feel of paper, although today I won’t read a book unless it’s an eBook. I’ll wait for the eBook to come out. Why?
I gave a talk recently in Newport Rhode Island and said that you can count me among the growing numbers who think reading an eBook is a superior experience to reading the same book in print. I listed about twenty reasons why eBooks make for a better experience. To mention just a few:
- You can change the type size and font and even the page color and intensity
- A Kindle can read your book to you. (Maybe it’s not like Mother, but it does read to you.)
- eBooks are way greener
- iPad eBooks can include music and video
- You get the instant dictionary
- Links find contents and footnotes faster and can even take you online for more information
- You can sample books before you buy
- You can order a new book from practically anywhere you are
- eBooks don’t go out of print…
…and I went on to list about a dozen more reasons why eBooks are becoming the preferred way to read.
In a feigned effort to look even-handed, my talk also covered some advantages of print books. Like, when was the last time a flight attendant told you to put away a print book for takeoff or landing?
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A thoughtful person in my audience pointed to another virtue of the print book that I hadn’t focused on: that the software and the hardware needed to decipher an eBook could perhaps, over time, become out of date. It won’t happen to the books on your bookshelf, said the woman in my audience. She brought up what I call “the floppy disk issue.” Here today, unusable tomorrow.
The woman’s point underscores the responsibility of eBook hardware manufacturers to make each new eBook software version compatible with older versions and older e-readers. Accomplishing this may be no small trick as new, multi-media platforms come to eBooks and reading software. I’m sorry to say it, but the lady has a point.
Recently a fellow writer glumly handed me his rejection letter received from a writer’s agent. I know the feeling. I too have had my share of thumbs down letters. They arrived in my own self-addressed, stamped envelope, often in the form of a smudged, fourth generation xeroxed form letter that advised that my unopened manuscript was not right for the agent’s or the publisher’s “list,” but wishing me a happy, happy future.
But the rejection letter that this writer showed me was over the top. The agent he had queried advised that he wouldn’t be accepting any manuscripts that didn’t feature vampires. You see, explained the insightful literary gatekeeper, vampires are what publishers are buying these days and by golly that’s the only manuscripts he’d consider. I could imagine him penning the following:
“Dear Mr. Twain. Thanks for your query and sample chapters, but that Huck Finn character of yours has normal teeth, so buddy you are out of luck. But have a good life.”
The explosion in self-publishing means that our books can get distributed and put up for sale through all the major retailers. And we don’t have to bet the kid’s college fund in hopes of success. That’s especially true of eBooks which cost so little to create, but it’s also true for a paperback since print-on-demand has similarly cut production costs. Both options are a writer’s essential alternatives to the wily literary gatekeeper who only wants long-in-the-tooth characters. And they need to be young and beautiful. And, oh yes, and it helps if the author has a TV show.
That said, with some 700.000 self-published books hitting the market last year, the competition for eyeballs is huge. Candidly, the likelihood that the average self-published author will hit the best seller list is up there with winning the lottery, especially if your work is fiction like my latest book. Your book’s chance is probably comparable to that of your kid’s basement band topping American Idol or your daughter’s garage start-up becoming the next Apple. That’s the hard reality. But the good news is that now authors are the masters of their book’s fate, not some publisher or agent who only wants manuscripts he can sink his teeth into; as in vampire teeth.
According to Adobe Corporation’s Terry White, eBook sales in 2010 reached just under $1 billion. For 2011, they are predicted to total $2.8 billion. Some explosive growth, and the newset growth niche within the eBook world is the e-book textbook. For example:
Research firm Simba Information reports that sales for e-textbooks in the U.S. higher education market grew 44.3% to $267.3 million in 2011.
According to Forrester Research, sales of electronic textbooks accounted for only 2.8 percent of the $8 billion domestic textbook market in 2010.
The e-textbook market will be driven by three factors:
First, today’s kids expect to find e-book textbooks when they get to college.
Two, the growth of large format e-book readers are ideally suited for text books
Three, what parent doesn’t need to save money today and text books are less costly.
It’s not exactly earth rattling news to learn that 60% of the eBooks sold in 2010 went through Amazon’s Whispernet for reading on Kindles or through Kindle apps to iPads, Android phones and tablets. But from our point of view as hungry authors seeking sales, that only suggests the collective importance of retailers in addition to Amazon who account for the other 40%.
Here’s how the majors stack up:
2010 eBook sales by major retailers
Watch Barnes & Noble who, with strong sales of the Nook Tablet, cannot be ignored by authors or publishers.
Barnes & Noble revenues for Nook devices will be $1.8 Billion this year (2011) according to Mr. Lynch their president.
Sony sells eBooks too – but almost as an afterthought. It’s heart is on great hardware. Having failed to focus adequately on content, look to Sony to be an ever decreasing influence among eBook retailers. Just as furnishings used to be important in a retail store environment, depth of content is key the new “furnishings” for e-tailer websites, and, sadly, Sony falls short here. Kobo and Google are also coming on strong as retailers.
Bottom line: authors need broad distribution to maximize sales. As a rule of your digital thumb, the small benefits one site or another may offer for exclusive rights to sell your eBook will generally be outweighed by sales generated from that fragmented but important other 40% of the on line sellers.
Oh yes and don’t forget about libraries. Add revenue from libraries who lend your eBooks is a fast growing revenue source for authors and publishers. More about that in a coming blog.