Monday, February 27, 2012

Bots, Books and Pricing

Hilarious but disturbing post by Carlos Bueno on how competing computer programs set the price for Carlos' book without his knowledge or participation. And there is a follow-up post on how a fake online bookstore (Geefts) tricks consumers by offering his book below Amazon's price, but doesn't actually have any books to sell.

Totally bizarre. But clear wake up call for authors and self-publishers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pricing E-books

Thoughtful and informative piece on e-book pricing from Steve Bareham.

Coincidentally, just went to a presentation on ebook publishing in academia where the speaker noted that ebook textbooks were selling for about twice what the same book in hardcopy sold for. This, of course, makes no sense because the elimination of paper, printing, storage, and shipping costs should make ebooks much less expense. The presenter had no explanation for this, but said it was a clear and universal trend in textbook publishing. So, three possible explanations present themselves to me: (a) the academic text publishers are entering ebook market only reluctantly and fighting a rear guard action to prop up print market by reverse pricing, -- but that is a losing battle, so hard to credit that explanation; (b) the publishers assume a certain amount of piracy when making their texts available in ecopy, so build that into the pricing; (c) simple supply and demand: college and university students are moving to ebook format faster than other demographics so can be charged accordingly. Since one is often required to drag texts to class, and since texts weigh a ton, I wouldn't be surprised that students might actually be prepared to pay a premium to have all there texts on a Kindle.

But what the big textbook suppliers don't seem to recognize is that they are doomed. As a textbook author, what exactly is my incentive to go with a big publisher which is going to charge my students an arm and a leg for my book; demand that I change my book to meet the needs of some idiot instructor on another campus whose course has just enough overlap with my text that if I add five more chapters (which my students have to pay for) he might adopt it; and pass on almost none of the profits to me, the author?

I've sold my upcoming textbook to a small press (Five Rivers, of course) which will charge my students a quarter of what they are paying now and pay me five times the royalties. And my colleague was explaining to me how his self-published textbook is quickly spreading to other campuses and he's making 100% of the net. The big publishers were necessary when publishing was too complicated and time consuming for an academic to undertake him/herself. But today, the technology actually makes it simpler--and incredibly faster--for me to put a course reader together myself online then to have the university bookstore--let alone some distant publisher--do it. Producing and distributing a single author textbook is still bit complicated, especially if one is looking for decent cover art, book design, national distribution etc., but a small publisher can do as good a job as one of the big three, and they take a much smaller cut of the pie.

And, what is most important to me, the smaller publishers don't insist on controlling what and how I write. The big publishers have to sell thousands of copies at exorbitant prices in order to break even; so they have to insist on authors revising their texts to reach lowest common denominator in the marketplace. Which is why all textbooks are boring and cover the exact same content the exact same way. The last time I wrote a text, the publisher insisted on taking out all the funny bits because some of the instructors the publisher sent sample chapters to felt that funny has no place in a serious text. (Rubbish! Either they were afraid my funny bits would upstage their own lectures, or they simply too pompous to be allowed in a classroom. Funny not only makes reading a text more palatable, it helps students learn and remember.) I'm okay with an editor telling me my jokes aren't working, but I have a problem with the marketing department saying my text has to be rewritten so it can sell in Texas.

One of the more provocative (read: "outrageous") textbook chapters I wrote is still being reprinted and used in course readers on half a dozen campuses across Canada, even though the textbook it is from has been out of print for nearly 20 years. Precisely because it is funny and provocative and not the same as everything else. In those days, I had no choice but to try to get my text published by one of the big academic presses. Now, I can upload that chapter to a clearing house and get paid directly every time a prof reprints something I wrote. No intermediate editors, publishers, or distributors required.

So then the question becomes: how much should I charge for my article? Too high, and budget-minded instructors might cut it to bring their course reader down to something affordable for their students; too low, and revenues generated might not be worth the trouble. There is something to be said for giving it away free, since reputation counts for something in academia, but as Steve Barham points out, 'free' often implies 'worthless' to potential buyers. Tricky business, setting prices. Barham article is a good place to start though.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

THE GG Podcast

Speaking of Arthur Slade, caught tail end of an interview with him this afternoon. Sufficiently interesting that I hunted down the podcast. Turned out to be a nice little set of programs on authors who've won the Governor General's award and how it's impacted their writing and writing careers. Worth a listen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fascinating post on e-publishing by Arthur Slade

Gov General Award-winner Arthur Slade on ebook publishing tells exactly how many copies sold, and how much cash made:

So much of the blogosphere focuses on one or two (highly exceptional) stories to hype self-publishing model, or equally unhelpfully tell us that the average self-published title (i.e., by illiterate, unedited newbies) sells fewer than 20 copies, that it is very difficult to get a handle on actual potential for writers.

On the other hand, I have to say I'm a little shocked. If Arthur Slade can only bring in five grand a year from e-books, where the hell does that leave the writers who haven't won a GG and don't already have 15 titles in print? Yikes.

Of course, we all hope that our particular title will go viral, or can figure out that $5,000 a year might work out okay if that figure grows or remains steady for several more years to come. The typical advance for a new SF author from a major publisher is between $3500 to $6000, so $5000 from self-publishing still compares -- except that the big print publishers throw in editing and cover art and book design and perhaps some marketing for free, so at least half of that theoretical $5000 payout is likely going to cover self-publisher's costs. But bottom line is, are you in the same league as Arthur Slade?*

Mind you, at least one of the authors I've edited for has told me s/he is making more than a $1200 per month off ebooks. So it can be a good revenue stream.

My take on it is that self-publishing works best for (a) established writers continuing to bring out new print books with the majors, but who have reissued their out of print backlist as ebooks (which would otherwise not be earning anything, and which have already gone through extensive editing etc.); and (b) new or experienced authors writing for a niche market too small to attract the major publishers, but sufficiently large and untapped to provide steady modest income to those servicing that market through small specialty presses or self-publishing. In both cases, when a satisfied customer finishes with one title, they may go on to buy an ebook by the same author.

[Update 18/02/2012: *Arthur Slade commented:

    Robert, I honestly attribute very little of my sales to my own fanbase. Most of my sales are in the US and UK and they don't know me very well there. It's more whether you have the right book for the bigger audiences. My YA books (other than DUST) don't cross over that much into the adult market, which are the majority of kindle owners. I wish I had a serial killer mystery in my back pocket, or a romance. Or a brilliant fantasy. I think my numbers would be much higher if I did.

Of course, Slade has a point! Most Kindle users are adults, so children's books won't have the same market base. But that may be changing rapidly. I know I download books to read my 8-yr old on my Kobo, and my older daughter (13) has her own Kobo. As all her peers seem to be upgrading to smartphones and/or tablet computers, those that read will more likely read on Kindles et al. Already my students are asking for their texts in e-format...rather than lugging heavy texts around with them all the time. And the provincial government is talking about switching from texts to e-materials in next couple of years. So...give it a minute....]

Friday, February 10, 2012

Good week for ChiZine Publications

One of my favorite small presses, ChiZine Publications ( just signed a deal with Harper Collins Canada to take over its Canadian distribution, and its global digital distribution. (Diamond Book Distributors remains as the distributor for the U.S. and internationally.) Then ChiZine Publications was named "Best Horror Imprint" in Rue Morgue Magazine; then publisher Sandra Kasturi was profiled for "Women in Horror".... So they are having a pretty good week!

CZP is one of my favorite examples of the small presses evolving to fill the gap left by the decline of the previous publishing model. CZP has three things going for it:

(1) publishers (Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory) who know a great book when they see it -- in contrast to the majors that have abdicated editorial choice to their marketing department's. Readers know that no matter how far out a particular title appears, if Brett and Sandra have passed on it, its got something. I am no horror fan, in fact I generally despise the genre, but I have yet to read a CZP title that I didn't like. Okay, "like" might not be quite the right word, because some of this stuff is seriously wrong but you know, brilliant. So this is an excellent example of successful branding. There are a billion titles out there and its increasingly difficult to find the good stuff. One the one hand, the big traditional publishers try to play it safe in their quest for the big sellers, and so turn out process cheese; on the other, the majority of self-published material isn't even literate. So the most interesting stuff is being published by the small presses, but their output is often uneven. But once one has identified a particular press as a trusted brand -- and CZP is the current best example of a 'never a wrong note' press -- then the press becomes the guarantor of quality that readers require.

(2) publishers who understand the new publishing model -- and Sandra and Brett have practically invented the new model. As publishers of limited edition hardcovers, they play well to the collector market, readers who want books as objects of art almost as much as for their content. Even their paperback editions are things of beauty. And using that market as their base, have slowly, carefully, thoughtfully built themselves into a significant imprint distributed by one of the big players.

(3) publishers who understand community. I think this is one of the key factors that made for their outrageous success story, and one they may not even totally consciously get themselves. I happened to be in Toronto one week when they had an event planned, so dropped in. And was instantly blown away by the community these guys had grown. They have surrounded themselves with a pool of incredibly talented writers, editors, reviewers, and readers. The sociologist in me was fascinated to watch how they turned a reading series into the best author networking opportunity I've seen in years. I watched dozens of horror's best sitting around bouncing ideas off each other, validating each others work, living the writing life. All facilitated by CZP reading series. No wonder they keep finding great new talent-- they're creating it wholesale by creating a community. CZP isn't just a press, its a bloody movement! A school! I know beyond any doubt that future literary scholars will identify this group as a major turning point not only in horror (the horror community world wide has already clued in that CZP is completely revitalizing that otherwise moribund genre) but for mainstream Canadian literature. Kasturi and editor Helen Marshall, for example, are clearly two of Canada's best poets by anybody's standards, and are slowly being recognized as such by the mainstream literary establishment. When was the last time the canlit crowd took horror seriously? When was the last time you actually thought of buying a poetry book. But I tell you, these two...! And they're just the tip of the ice berg. I wish I lived in Toronto to be part of it, or at least to be there with my notebook to document it all, but even way out here in Alberta I can see that the CZP community is becoming THE up and coming literary circle in Canada.

Remember you heard it here first folks!

Free Resource for Self-Publishing

The Novelist Inc Guide to New Publishing appears to be an excellent resource. I can't speak to every detail, because some of the issues addressed are new to me too, but the chapters on what I do know (like the chapter on hiring a freelance editor) are right on. Couldn't have said it better myself. I am pretty impressed by how clearly written, how comprehensive, and how free this resource is. Better than almost anything else I've seen, include some very expensive guides. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Canadian Unity Fan Fund

Canvention is the annual Canadian national SF conference at which the Aurora Awards are presented. It rotates between Eastern and Western Canada. This year, Canvention is in Calgary as part of the When Words Collide convention.

Each year the Canadian Unity Fan Fund helps fund a Canadian fan from the East attend Canventions in the West, or a fan from the West attend a Canvention in the East. The idea is to allow prominent fans from one side of the country to meet their counterparts on the other. Nominations are now open. For details, see

I haven't been actively involved in years, having turned pro, but I think I will take an interest this year as I intend to be at Canvention/When Words Collide this year. I have a few ideas about who I'd like to active in promoting Canadian SF.