An auction, orphan works and sales figures.

by Amanda S. Green

This past week has been an interesting one for me, sometimes in the old proverbial sense of the word.  Every possible moment — which hasn’t been nearly enough — I’ve been toiling away on a massive rewrite of the first third of Nocturnal Serenade.  I was almost done with the book when I realized what had been bothering me about it.  That meant going back and inserting three chapters and changing the personality of one of the supporting characters.  That change in personality meant reworking one of the plot threads as well.  And, since editing my own work is not something I enjoy, it’s made Amanda very cranky indeed.

I’ve also spent time getting ready for FenCon next weekend where I will be representing Naked Reader Press at the small press roundtable.   That’s meant preparing promotional materials, business cards, starting to think about my presentation, etc.  This will be the first time I’ve had to put on the corporate face for NRP in a large forum and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little nervous.  But it does look like things are coming together on that front — hopefully.

The following weekend is the writers workshop our own Sarah is conducting at my local library. This is the third year Sarah has come down for the workshop and it is always a great success.  Of course, for me it is a doubly good deal because it means I get Sarah as a captive audience.  I bribe her with access to the drooler — AKA Rocky the dog — for help with my writing.  So far, the bribes have worked.  This year I have a back-up plan in case the drooler fails in the cute factor.  There is the not-our-cat from next door that has adopted us.  Yes, adopted us as in we are now expected to feed him and put the drooler outside so he can come in and make himself at home.  Which is, of course, NOT something my own cat (appropriately named Athena) appreciates in the least.

But despite all that, the publishing world has continued and, depending on your point of view, the news is good or bad but rarely in-between.

First up, in the ongoing but soon to be done saga of Borders, there was an auction for its intellectual property.  I don’t think it surprises anyone to learn that Barnes & Noble was very aggressive in the auction that went 50 rounds.  According to Publishers Weekly, “it appears to have acquired most all of Borders’s domestic assets that includes its Internet domain names, the Borders.com Web site and such trademarks as Borders, Waldenbooks and Brentano’s.”  If this is true, it means we won’t be seeing a new competitor to B&N using the Borders names and brands.

In another ongoing saga, that of the digitization of out-of-copyright and orphaned literary works, more lawsuits have been filed.  This time to stop the so-called HathiTrust from leasing approximately 140 works, some of which it is alleged are still under copyright.  In response to the filing, HathiTrust has suspended plans to release these titles.  According to Publishers Weekly, HathiTrust will work to improve its process of determining copyright and orphan status of the works in question.

The big news of the week has to be the sales figures for the first half of this year.  Despite huge gains for e-books, publishing sales took a hit.  The sales of print books averaged a decline of almost 23%.  E-book sales increased more than 161%.  Here are the figures for the major areas:

Category 2010 2011 % Change
Adult Hardcover (13)* $617.8 $471.1 -23.7%
Adult Paperback (16) 710.1 521.4 -26.6
Mass Market (7) 325.3 232.5 -28.5
Children’s/YA Hardcover (11) 272.0 240.1 -11.7
Children’s/YA Paperback (10) 244.0 207.1 -15.1
Total Print $2,169.2 $1,672.2 -22.9%
E-book (15) 181.3 473.8 161.3
Combined $2,350.5 $2,146.0 -8.6%

What interests me as a writer and as someone who works for a digital publisher is the growing market share of e-books.  Looking at these figures, e-books snow hold 20% of the overall market (math isn’t my strong suit and I’m too lazy to get out the calculator this morning, so correct me if I’m wrong here).  When you consider that just a few years ago, e-books were less than 1% of the market, this is a huge growth. I think the time has come for publishers and authors alike to recognize that e-books are not only here to stay but are a major piece of the market and need to be taken seriously.

What do I mean, you ask? From a publishing standpoint, it means publishers need to start focusing more attention on not only getting e-books into the hands of readers but on e-book quality.  This is everything from formatting an e-book in such a way it is visually pleasing to read to not making dumb mistakes like listing the wrong author across the top of the html or pdf version of the e-book page.  It also means making sure the book itself is properly proofread.  For whatever reason, errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar seems to jump off the e-book page even more so than they do the printed page.  And, let me tell you, readers complain about the errors and not just to the publisher.  They do it loud and long on e-book related fora.  So, publishers, do yourself a favor and start looking at quality control again.

Authors, don’t think this lets you off the hook because it doesn’t.  Legacy publishers simply do not do the level of QA they used to when it comes to editing, copy editing and proofreading.  So that leaves it up to you to present them with the cleanest manuscript you can.  Sorry to tell you this, it also means formatting as well.  I know, I can already hear some of you out there saying that’s not your job.  In a way, it is.  Those manuscript formatting guidelines the publishers ask you to comply with are not only so it makes it easier for the publisher to read your submission but also so it is easier in the conversion process — whether the conversion is to print or digital or both.

There is something else to think about as an author when it comes to e-books and e-book readers.  They are a wonderful tool for us with regard to the editing process.  You may be different from me, but when I send my current work in progress to my kindle or to my tablet and start reading it, it is like I am reading a book, not just my manuscript.  I see things I hadn’t seen looking at the printed page or reading it on my laptop.  Frankly, I find myself reading the WIP as I would anyone else’s book and that has become very helpful as an editing tool.

It is clear from each of the links today that e-books are here to stay.  The issue of out of copyright and orphan works will wind up in court — again and again — until there is a definitive ruling.  E-books sales have, in my opinion, reached the tipping point where they are a major part of the market that has to be factored in by all involved in publishing. In fact, e-books are now such a large part of the market that there are more and more questions, and often demands, by the reading public to know why they can’t get free digital copies of an e-book if they already own the hard copy version of the book.  Those who aren’t making that demand often want to know why they can’t trade their hard copy version of the book back in for a digital copy.  And people wonder why some publishers seem to have a perpetual migraine.

Mirrored at The Naked Truth.

18 comments

  1. As a reader, I definitely agree on the need for proof-reading of ebooks. I purchased five ebooks of books written by the late Sterling Lanier. Three of them contained “garbage”. It’s impossible for me to believe that they had been proof-read.

    1. There’s two ways that can happen, Paul.

      One is OCR not recognizing old, faded text properly. The other is what can happen when a file written on one operating system is converted on a different operating system.

      Note to anyone involving themselves in ebook publishing: do NOT use smart quotes or any other form of auto-formatting. Mac to PC is particularly bad, although I’ve seen some interesting Linux to anything else issues as well.

      That or figure that most publishers are going to be using Word on some flavor of Windows. If you can’t use Word on some flavor of Windows, use the KISS principle, and ask a friend who does have it to do the conversion for you – and *don’t* open the converted file on your not-Word-on-Windows environment. Random switching between single and double spacing are the least of the problems.

  2. Paul, the problem I’ve seen most often with digital releases of book previously only out in print comes from OCR issues. Like you, I can’t believe the publisher hasn’t had someone putting eyes on the file before it is converted and put up for sale. But that seems to be the case. They just scan the old copy and assume it will be all right.

    1. Amanda – YES!

      My day job is software testing. I do the “Is it done right, is it the right “it” thing for a living. The things that can go wrong are mind-boggling, and most of them can be caught easily by the old Model 1 eyeball.

      Of course, a number of publishers seem to think that quality control isn’t necessary in their business. I beg to differ.

      1. Kate, I absolutely agree. Of course, I see it with authors as well. There are too many who don’t see the need to edit before sending their “masterpiece” off. After all, why should they when the publisher they are submitting to has editors? GAH!

  3. Free ebook with a hardcopy purchase? I do wonder how that is different from asking for, say a free Focus with purchase of an F350. Sure, the marginal cost to the manufacturer is higher with the focus than with the ebook, but the opportunity cost? Some people buying hardbacks will also buy ebooks (I’ve done it–although mostly I don’t buy paper copies anymore if a legal ecopy exists) and the revenue for that would be lost. Maybe more people would buy hardbacks if they came bundled with an ebook and that would compensate for the folk who buy both but which approach leads to larger total revenue (since businesses are supposed to be in business to make money) is not obvious to me.

    Likewise with the trade-in. You’re turning in a used book. There would be a cost associated with the publisher reselling that used book and it’s questionable whether it would be profitable at that level. Add in the costs of providing the ebook in return (small, perhaps, but there nonetheless) and whether such a trade-in program would be a good business model is again not obvious to me.

    1. David,

      There’s no reason why a publisher can’t do a promotion offering one or more free ebooks with a hardcopy purchase, or a bundle where you pay say half the price of the standalone ebook price extra to get the two. It depends on the business model and the sunk costs involved.

      But never forget that most of the time the person who won’t get their full due from this is the person who wrote the book (if you haven’t read The Business Rusch, do. It has a lot of information about the industry’s dirty laundry).

      Also, selling a bundle when it’s released is one thing. Wanting a free ebook copy of something you bought in hardcopy 20 years ago is a totally different argument.

      I look at it this way: if you wouldn’t expect to get the paperback as a freebie when you buy it in hardcover, why would you expect to get a different format as a freebie?

      Trade in models for books really aren’t viable. Second hand bookstores and book exchanges do that part. Rules on inventory and tax make it extremely non-viable for publishers of any flavor to maintain a large inventory, whether of never-sold books or of trade-ins.

      Just a few thoughts while I avoid the ugly task of finishing cleaning the house so that it will actually be halfway livable when my mother arrives…

      Work-avoidance hath no equal when it comes to Kate and cleaning.

      1. Absolutely no reason why they can’t. I cite Baen as an example. However, there is plenty of reason why _readers_ shouldn’t expect it as a “right.” The only time it’s really a good idea is if the marketing value of the promotion is worth enough more sales to make more money than is “lost” because people don’t buy the items separately.

        Looks like we pretty much agree.

    2. David, I’m a big proponent of a free e-book as promotion. Of course, I’m a ‘fly, so I’ve been tainted by exposure to all things Baen. 😉

      What these readers who feel they are owed a free e-book fail to realize is they are asking to take money out of the authors’ pockets. And that is where we, as authors, need to try harder to educate the reading public on the realities of publishing. The average reader doesn’t understand that the author gets the really small end of the stick when it comes to how much money the author and publisher gets from each sale.

  4. When reading slush for Baen, by the time a curly quote got to me the open quote was “A.” The close quote was at least something odd that I could search and replace. But that “A” was just stuck there and irritated me all the way through the book.

    Amanda, want any chap book style Fancy Farmers or Martian Lawyers for FenCon? Bookmarks? Or anything else?

    1. Pam, you just hit on one piece of “laziness” in the submission process that drives me up a wall. If there is something in the guidelines — or on a forum you should have reviewed before submitting to a publisher — about turning off smart quotes, etc., why should an editor have to go through and do replacements?

      As for Fencon, I am going by the amount of space for giveaways they had last year, so go with bookmarks only.

  5. (Cloned comment from the Naked Truth blog)

    Amanda, Math *is* “my strong suit” … and I’m not convinced that the statement “Despite huge gains for e-books, publishing sales took a hit.” is entirely accurate. Yes the total number of shekels exchanged for stuff-made-up-by-writers went down by eight and a half percent, but there are details swimming beneath the surface of those waters.

    Consider: If I opt to leave that $8.99 paperback on the shelf at B&N, and instead download a $4.99 e-novel from NRP, I haven’t changed the number of titles sold. But I have lowered that dollarized method of counting by a whopping 44%. I have no way of even taking a semi-reasonable swag at what the other-format sale-prices of all those e-books would have added up to, but my gut tells me the plus-$200M in e-books is just way too similar to the minus-$200M in aggregate sales.

    1. Oh Bravo, bravo! I LOVE it when someone looks at the figures and says… oh BS that’s NOT what it means. Well picked up. It’s a discrepancy in reporting (number of titles (we are often told books are in rude health because the number of titles available is larger year on year) vs value (as you just pointed value does not equal sale of titles) vs number of actual books sold.

      1. Thank you, Sir. I count that high praise. 🙂

        But I really do think the argument is at least semi-solid. Run the numbers from my example on the totals Amanda posted. Increase in e-sales was $292M. If that were all in $4.99 downloads, the equivalent would be $527M in $8.99 paperbacks.. The drop in the “All Print” category was $497M.

        The persecution rests. 🙂

      2. And, far from coincidentally … Swapping those $9 DTFs for $5 downloads, while keeping the number of sales equal, results in a MUCH better deal to the Authors involved. 🙂

      3. Dave, are you daring to say publishers twist and mold reports to their benefit? I’m shocked, absolutely shocked. I thought the legacy publishers were the paragons of virtue and protectors of authors’ rights and monies.

    2. Steve,

      I can do the math — but it takes time and gives me headaches. You saved me from having to do it and you pointed out what I figured. What I need to do is go through the month-by-month figures. I have a feeling it would be interesting reading, once done.

      1. Amanda, math is how I interface with the rest of reality. It isn’t something I “do”, it just happens. (Made me a terrible tutor for my classmates, though, because everything was inherently obvious to me …)

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