Tuesday, April 19, 2011

eBooks Sales Surpass Print Books

It's official: eBooks are now the single biggest selling format in U.S. trade book sales. Bigger than Hardbacks. Bigger than Adult Mass Market titles. Bigger than any Children's & Young Adult categories. And now, for the first time, bigger than Trade Paperbacks (this includes both fiction and non-fiction titles, everything from graphic novels and travel guides to Bibles). Of course, we're comparing all eBooks here to just a single category of print, so the comparison is not exactly accurate; but if digital is considered a "format" on its own, then the distinction is correct, and well worth taking note of regardless.

According to the latest AAP report for February sales, ebooks brought in $90.3 million in revenue for the month, a 202.3% increase over the previous year, while Trade Paperbacks accrued just $81.2 million. And while digital editions continue to soar month after month, all formats of print continue to decline, fueling concern and speculation as to the extent of cannibalization that has occurred, and how far it will extend. And although one of the most significant factors behind this shift is the sudden prevalence of reasonably priced e-readers, another (possibly more important) reason is that the average price point for print editions is $15.50, compared to just $8.75 for the equivalent ebook. At any time price will be a factor, but more so when times are hard and funds run thin.

And this is the result: for the first two months of 2011 print sales were down 24.8% overall, with Adult Trade categories falling 34.4%. Religious, Educational, and Academic texts all declined by single digit figures, while Chidren's/Young Adult print editions were down 16.1%. Meanwhile, eBooks have climbed 169.4% overall, and downloaded Audiobooks rose 36.7%. I don't even need to mention the stunning numbers of ebook readers sold recently, but with those figures running in the tens of millions, it's not very difficult to figure what's coming next. After all, what good is an ebook readers with no ebooks on it?

All this goes to show that digital editions are here to stay, and should be given the same consideration that print has always had. This means that independent publishers and self-pubbed authors need to pay start paying more attention to formatting, and build their ebooks with the same care and attention to detail that print has always received. Simply dumping a text file into a conversion program or uploading the print edition pdf to an ebook retailer isn't good enough any more (not that it ever was). Given that for many readers these days a digital edition may very well be the only edition of a title they ever see, it behooves the creators of that book to make it the best edition they can.

With that in mind, I'll be starting a series of posts in the days to come dedicated to ebook formatting. It's something I've spent a great deal of time studying of late, and a subject which is both confusing and rapidly evolving. With iBooks now supporting fixed-layout ePub files and ePub3 pending, far more complex layouts are possible in digital than ever before, and will only continue to improve, making graphic novels and highly illustrated storybooks not only possible, but with embedded audio and video, more exciting than ever.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Intro To Smashwords

So I suppose I should take about Smashwords a bit. I haven't done much blogging on publishing lately (or anything else either, really), as I've been utterly swamped with book production issues that have just been sucking up my time. But I started this blog with the intention of discussing my experiences in independent publishing, and as many of you reading this are doing so because you're self-pubbed authors yourselves, Smashwords is a service you should know about, if you don't already.

As I mentioned in a prior post, Smashwords functions as an aggregator, producing and distributing ebooks to several online retailers, foremost among these being Barnes & Noble, Sony's Reader Store, the Kobo Store, Diesel eBooks, and Apple's iBookstore, as well as via their own online storefront. Founded just three years ago, Smashwords has published over 40,000 ebooks from 16,000 different authors, all of whom retain full rights to their own works, set their own prices, and decide in which formats and venues to release them.

I won't go into a load of detail here, as they describe their services best themselves. But I will point out a few of those that stood out for me. First off I should say that I hadn't initially given them much consideration, due to the fact that most ebooks distributed via Smashwords list them as the publisher. And since I went to all the hassle of establishing my own publishing company in order to work with Lightning Source, I didn't want someone else's name on my books in some formats, but mine on them in other versions. However, I later discovered that this isn't required, so long as you provide your own ISBNs. Consequently, all my editions are published under the Fantasy Castle Books brand. That said, one of the best features of Smashwords is that they will provide a free ISBN if you don't want to shell out a couple hundred bucks to buy your own block of ten or more from Bowker. This does, however, list them as the publisher of record. But for a mere ten bucks they'll give you the ISBN and list you as the publisher if that's an important consideration for you. I think it should be, but Mark Coker, Smashword's founder, disagrees (for obvious reasons). You'll have to decide for yourself. But then, that's the job of being self-published, isn't it?

And, of course, it could be argued that this is irrelevant in the end anyway, since what is important is actually getting your book out there, and readers don't generally pay attention to the publishing imprint or even care one way or the other. While there is still a stigma attached to self-published works, and books produced through CreateSpace, Lulu, BookBrewer and the like can suffer as a result, that is quickly changing as readers themselves become the ultimate and final arbiters of taste and quality, as it should be. As ebooks gain more and more ground, and indie authors like Amanda Hocking gain notoriety, books will be judged more on their own merit than by the channel through which they reach the reader. Indeed, the entire field of publishing is now wide open, with the path between source and destination shorter than ever.

This is where a company like Smashwords comes into its own. Functioning essentially as a new mediator between the author and retailer, aggregators like Smashwords and BookBaby step in to fulfill many of the functions once performed by traditional publishing houses and literary agents. That is, they take a manuscript, format it into a marketable product, and ship it to a variety of retail outlets. Marketing is still essentially left to the author, as are things like editing and cover art, but each of these receive a great deal of aid throughout the Smashwords process. For example, the ebook conversion process rejects poorly formatted manuscripts and automatically generates notes on needed changes; web pages are created for every author and title; and basic cover stock can be produced using standard templates.

For all this (and much more), Smashwords charges nothing, making its revenue through a 10-15% share of all ebooks sold, depending on the channel (who themselves, of course, take a share). So for example, Apple gets a 30% cut of the retail price, with Smashwords taking another 10%, leaving the author with a full 60% profit. No traditional publisher comes near that, with 25% being the norm for digital sales at present. In additional, there are a surprising number of promotional and marketing tools available, such as a coupon generator, to assist you in selling your work.

Now, seeing that I have an established account with Ingram, I could get onto the iBookstore that way. But there is an upfront fee, and Ingram still takes a cut as well. Smashwords, on the other hands, acts as a one-stop shop not only for iBooks, but half a dozen other ebook readers, all of which are available to the customer with a single purchase. There's no need to buy a title in Kindle format, then again for the Nook if you decide a NookColor is really cool, or again when you pick up an iPad and want to read in iBooks. And all titles sold through Smashwords are Digital Rights Management free, meaning you can transfer them from one of your readers to another, to your home computer and back again, without having to worry about not being able to open the file ten years from now when the Kindle has been replaced by who knows what. You bought the book, you should be able to read it when and where you want.

Which brings up another important point: Smashwords only publishes ebooks. And while there is a growing movement of digital-only authors, print books still make up the vast majority of sales, and likely will continue to do so for some time, so it's a good idea to pursue Print on Demand options as well, or continue to do so. Some books just don't translate well to the digital format, as I'm discovering with my current project (Argghhh!!), and the wide variety of screen sizes and reader formats is a hindrance at best, limiting what digital publishing is currently capable of producing. But Smashwords does the best job yet of standardizing those variables for the best presentation on them all, and for that alone they're well worth looking into.