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Borders and BookBrewer to Launch eBook Publisher

Posted on : 18-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : ebooks, Literature, Publishing, Technology

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Last week, Amazon announced its Singles program, a service that will digitally publish works ranging from 10,000-30,000 words, catering to independent authors. Today, Borders announced it is teaming with BookBrewer to launch Borders – Get Published, a service that will publish works of indeterminate length. This service will be available to any author or blogger, as it features a method to publish content via feed, directly from a writer’s blog.

Borders promises to make the works available across several devices and readers, including “iPhone, iPad, Android-powered tablets, eReader, Aluratek Libre Pro, and Velocity, Micro Cruz Reader.”

The pricing for the service has also been announced:

BORDERS – GET PUBLISHED(TM) Powered by BookBrewer gives authors a choice of two publishing packages: the $89.99 basic package and the $199.99 advanced publishing package. Under the basic package, BookBrewer will assign the book an ISBN (a $125 value), and will make it available to all major eBook stores at a price set by the writer. Royalties will be based on sales and will vary with each retailer. Authors who choose the advanced package will receive a full version of their ePub file, which they will own and may share with friends, family or submit on their own to eBook stores.

You may have noted that the Kindle (and other devices) are conspicuously missing from the list preceding the press release. However the advanced package offers an ePub version of the text, meaning that work can be transfered between online retailers pretty much seamlessly.

While writers can feasibly put together similar packages for themselves and make them available to any of the online retailers, the pricing and the feature that allows writers the ability to essentially blog their way to a book and edit afterward has a certain appeal. There are already several ongoing blog and wiki based projects like Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear’s Mongoliad.

Certainly, Get Published offers another option for writers without agents or publishers.

The question is whether this is a good thing or a bad one. One of the grand failures of Web 2.0 is that user-generated content produces much more questionable or just plain bad content than it does good. We have to endure hours of the “bad” to find those few second of the “good stuff.” And a novel is a different animal than a two minute song or a video. There’s a real time commitment involved in every single published work. Will these services produce income for the companies like Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble, only to produce stagnant markets? They will certainly (at least initially) be filled with many of the novels that have been shopped at the big publishers and rejected several times.

If the service sounds too close to a vanity press to garner a second look, consider that they offer distribution, and unlike most vanity presses they can and will deliver. And with the initial fees paid, the author is free to take his or her work to whichever retailer he or she desires, at whatever price. Most important, authors claim the vast majority of the profits from those retailers. At amazon, that’s 70% of the profits, far more than any of the big print publishers offer. The pricing model offers legitimate incentive for established writers to publish electronically. It’s a good bet that we will see established authors publishing in these markets.

Another factor to consider, from both a consumer and production standpoint, is that these services have the potential to put the digital rights in the hands of the artists and writers. Decisions about DRM will no longer be made by publishers under this monetization platform. They will be made by the person who should make them: the writer.

E-book Sales

Posted on : 14-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : ebooks, Publishing

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From Publishers Weekly:

While sales in the print trade segments shrank in August, e-book sales had another strong month, jumping 172.4%, to $39 million, according to the 14 publishers that report sales to the AAP’s monthly sales estimates. For the year-to-date, e-book sales were up 192.9%, to $263 million. AAP said that of the approximately 19 publishers that report trade sales, revenue in the January to August period was $2.91 billion, making the $263 million e-book sales 9.0% of trade sales. At the end of 2009, e-book sales comprised 3.3% of trade sales. The mass market segment, where sales were down 14.3% in the first eight months of 2009, represented 15.1% of trade sales through August.

Amazon & Macmillan: Dumb & Dumber

Posted on : 03-02-2010 | By : Dean | In : Gadgets, Publishing, Rants, Tech and Teaching

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The other day, I decided to buy a copy of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, a novel that received praise  from Publishers Weekly and several other sources. I logged into my amazon account, hoping that I could pick up a digital copy, something I normally buy first, and then if I like the book, I buy the print version.

And like most readers trying to buy Macmillan books on Amazon that day, I found myself in an annoying click-loop that didn’t get me to the checkout. I had not yet read about the little war with Macmillan and Amazon.

The outcome of this war could be just plain bad, or it could potentially be a reader’s worst nightmare.

First, let me say that the kind of electronic editions of books that can be bought on Amazon aren’t really books that you own. The DRM on them basically means that you are paying for the right to read them, not own them. They can be removed from your device, and they cannot be moved from that device. It’s analogous to building a room in your house that can hold 3500 books, and after you have paid to build it, the people who built the room and sold you the books to put in it start putting conditions on reading the books you thought you owned. Pretty bizarre.

Really, the only thing that would entice a savvy consumer to buy into such a raw DRM deal would be other nifty things that Amazon could offer. And they did that. They gave us cheap pricing, a nice base of books transmitted on a free 3G network, built-in dictionaries, text-to-speech functionality (well, for a while it was nice), and customer reviews, all easily accessible. They had a good thing going with the market share that gave them.

But then Macmillan decided that an e-book should cost exactly what a discounted print hardcover book costs. You know the ones I am talking about. They’re in the windows and in neat piles on the tables at Barnes & Noble. The ones that cost money to print, use ink, paper, have fancy color images. And oh, yeah. You own them after you pay. You can give them to whomever you want. You can read them without the person who sold them to you coming to your house and taking them back (thanks, amazon for deleting my copy of 1984!).

See, there’s a difference. And the same people who argue about books going digital say the reading experience and our relationship with print books is fundamentally different, too. The publishing industry has argued that a book is a special artifact, something that is physical and touchable and that reading in print is something that we will always want to do. There is a certain mystique associated with the experience, they argue, that is ancient and quite human somehow. I tend to disagree with this notion. While I am a one of those readers that loves to read a real book, fewer and fewer younger people feel the same way I do. In fact, the success of e-readers (not just the Kindle) are the cause of Macmillan’s repricing and Amazon’s dispute with them as much as their fear that amazon is moving into their territory. The proof is in the balance sheets, and Macmillan’s decision to raise pricing can be read as an admission, of sorts, that the e-market is growing at an alarming rate, or at least one that will eat into their traditional print revenue stream.

This isn’t a unique phenomenon. The music industry has been fighting the same digital content fight for years, and they’re losing for the same reasons that Amazon’s approach will. Macmillan has actually done consumers a favor by spotlighting it.

I know a few musicians who pay the bills making music. They are quick to point out that their record sales are dwindling. Most of their money is made on concert ticket sales, promotional material, bags, shirts, ring tones, you name it. And the ironic thing is that the corporations who produce these records do very little to manage those alternative revenue streams. These are the same companies who have made the same arguments that the book industry is now making. They once claimed that there was “something about a record” that people liked. It was something that you could hold, something tangible–which is exactly why there are hundreds of millions of Americans maintaining their phonographs! Or not.

DRM has been and is currently destroying the music industry. We recorded albums on vinyl and gave them to our friends to listen to, then we recorded tapes and did the same thing. Miraculously, people still made music and record labels still made money. That’s because the average person likes to pay freely for things that they find valuable and (this is important and what the industry doesn’t get) that they own.

It’s obtuse for the publishing industry to try the same failed approach. And it’s worse with print books. Talk to any writer with any of the big publishers. Ask him or her about how book tours and promotions work these days. Writers are free to do them, pretty much at their own expense, except maybe the top one or two percent. Why don’t these companies get that their services in the future won’t be merely (or maybe even primarily) the production of books any more than, say the music industry produces records? or more aptly, in the case of companies more suited to adapt to the shift in content delivery, the movie industry is solely is in the business of producing DVD’s.

Rather than get creative, the publishing houses are taking the low road. They will start by trying to muscle e-books out of existence by not only speaking dreamily about how lovely it is to curl up with a book, but now by trying to make the problem go away by charging the same for the book and the limited license to read the book. The latter is equivalent to producing a booklet of color photos on nice paper, with a nice cover, and then producing a series of jpegs of those photos, and then trying to make the insane claim that they cost the same. Anyone who has made a photocopy and downloaded an image knows that one of those two has no real production cost.

And let me guess. Once the readers react to the pricing on books they don’t own by finding places where they can get the real rights to their texts, the industry will react by trying to legislate p2p e-book transfers out of existence. They might even give the company that they sue a face, maybe one with nice little cat-like Napster ears.

Today, the Author’s Guild and Literary agents lauded the move by Macmillan as one that will be good for the industry. Of course it will. It will nearly double revenue on something that costs zero to reproduce. I am guessing that amazon won’t fight too hard on that score. They have nothing to lose by charging more, really. The readers will pick up the bill.

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