Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Nefarious e-Book Situation

I just came from the Writing for the Soul Conference in Denver. It’s always an awesome conference although attendance was down a little this year probably because of the rising costs we all face these days. Thanks, Washington.

At the conference several agents and editors sat around and talked about changes in the industry which of course centered on the emergence of the e-book. A lot of things came out of this discussion but the overall consensus was not how to work with the situation as it now exists, but the fact that it is a fluid situation and will continue to change as technology evolves.

What does that mean? The Kindle is king right now, driven by price point and the position that Amazon is commanding in the e-book market. Will that continue? Those in the discussion felt it depends on the evolving technology. There was a feeling that the current e-books are a first generation and the situation is up for grabs as the next generation arrives. The next generation is thought to be more like the i-Pad with expanded capabilities and features. So why isn’t the i-Pad leading the pack now? A majority of e-readers are being given as gifts and the difference between the price point of e-readers and the i-Pad is making that decision. But electronics tend to come down as production increases so that may change, and/or existing e-readers may evolve to close that gap.

More and more writers are deciding to go straight to Kindle with their book. I noticed back when I first started getting submissions from some who had taken that course and (though I felt like I knew the answer) I surveyed over 200 editors to see what their position would be on receiving such a submission. It was as I expected and over 70% said they weren’t interested in a submission on a book that had already been published, including Kindle. Some did say they might look at it if the sales were significant enough, but the Kindle version had to be withdrawn first as they required the e-book rights to be in the contract. So at present those who go straight to Kindle are giving up print possibilities to do so. We may expect to see some changes there as well, but who knows when?

This may be a factor in smaller conference attendance right now as well. Newer writers that don’t see the need to go improve their craft, who don’t see the need to network with agents and editors if they are going to go straight to e-book and spending the money they would have spent going to the conference getting the e-book out. I believe those who may be making this choice will soon realize they are making a strategic mistake. Most will not make the money that way that they would make with both print AND e-book, and with publisher support behind them. However, some are making enough money on just the e-book sales. Ironically, if they are having that kind of sales, some publisher will be interested. In publishing the success of a few that defy the odds and make it big always drive the dreams of those who want to do the same.

Still, nothing is as constant as change and this emerging technology is fascinating to watch. For example those in the industry know that women buy a majority of the books and that has strongly influenced acquisitions. But with e-book readers it is proving to be gender-neutral. What? Yes, as many women buying e-books as men. This will of necessity change the mix in what will be published.

I just saw a study report that had several other interesting facts: that there was no disparity between regions of the country, that urban book buyers bought more than rural ones, and while retirees say they have more time to read, the fully employed buy more e-books. That’s interesting.

The bottom line with the discussion was that we are not seeing the crest of the e-book revolution and change will be the order of the day. Are print books on the way out? No, there are still far too many who like a print book in their hands for that to happen any time soon. But it is a really interesting time to be involved in the publishing industry.


E.J. Wesley said...

Very interesting stuff! I think it's easy to imagine a time in the not-so-distant future when the publishing industry will look very similar to how the music industry looks right now. Paper books will still be around (just like CDs), but in much smaller supply and variety.

As an aspiring scribe, the idea of having fewer barriers to market is exciting, yet I understand there will be tradeoffs as things evolve. Like most, I simply want to write and give folks the opportunity to read and enjoy it. If electronic publishing will enable myself (and many others) to that more easily, then I'm all for it.

Thanks for the informative post.


Terry Burns said...

Times they are a-changing. I've got all of my titles on Kindle as well.

Linda Glaz said...

Just when we think there's some stability on the horizon. Ahh, to be able to bend with the change...

BK said...

The most hopeful thing in this post to me is: "But with e-book readers it is proving to be gender-neutral. What? Yes, as many women buying e-books as men. This will of necessity change the mix in what will be published."

I'm speaking with my reader's hat on--I'd like to see more male protag driven fiction and would like more non-romance historicals to come alongside the very strong historical romance market. I'd already come to the conclusion that the best chance of that was through e-books as an equalizing force since print publishers seem unwilling to provide books for the minority or niche markets (which I understand in a business sense).

I will also be interested to see what happens with the e-readers and whether the I-Pad type versatility will win out. To me, e-readers are like phones. I've got the same old cheap cell phone I've had for five or so years--I just want a phone that takes calls, and makes calls. NOTHING else. I love my Kindle and just want to read books on the go. Nothing else. But who knows. A few years down the road I may be assimilated. 8-)