Mike Shatzkin lays out the ebook royalty arithmetic again, this time for self-published titles. (See this post for his sums on trade publishers’ ebook royalties.) He uses Smashwords as an example.
Smashwords pays authors 85% of the sales price for ebooks sold on its own site, and about 85% of the receipts for sales made through iBooks (Apple), Sony, B&N, Kobo, and the Diesel eBook Store. In other words, an author would get more than three times the “old” standard 25% ebook royalty offered by the big publishers and double the “new” possible 40% royalty implied as the new ceiling by the Random-Wylie agreement announced last week.
I’m finding it progressively more challenging to see the advantage of using a trade publisher, especially for what a Big Six outfit might call a marginal title: a full-length collection of short stories or essays.* Such a collection is more likely to sell to an author’s already established and faithful readership than to new readers. And the author (me, say) will find it easier to reach those faithful readers through her painstakingly compiled mailing lists and blog followers and fellow Tweeters than through the usual mainstream bookselling marketing and distribution mechanisms.
Actually, I’m wondering if, five years from now, there will still be such a thing as a full-length single-author collection. Perhaps they will go the way of the concept album. Perhaps sales will be single titles: individual stories. I honestly don’t know.
What do you think?
* I’m not the only one. Publishing Perspectives has a round up of responses to Seth Godin’s announcement a week or so ago that he would no longer publish traditionally. (Via Dear Author.)
14 thoughts on “Why self-publishing looks more and more attractive”
The challenge to self-publishing such a collection is that you will lose the sales to public libraries, who generally don't buy self-published titles, and who often require a certain number of reviews to be published before a book can be considered (this latter requirement is a real problem for a LOT of books by various types of authors).
While your collection of short stories and essays is, officially, a collection of articles that have been previously published, the previous publications in genre magazines or literary journals are probably no longer available within the public library collections. So this content is lost to new readers. And even if it is in the collection somehow, it will be much less visible than a book would be.
What do I think? I think I have no intention of buying an ebook in the near future. I think I will mourn the loss of “marginal” titles on my bookshelf. I will mourn the loss of being able to OWN marginal titles. I will miss seeing them in libraries & bookstore shelves.
& I think that, as a strictly personal observation, that I would be very wary of any agent that sets himself up as a backdoor publisher. Building yourself up as competition seems a strange move, & making yourself the sole power over your authors is even odder. I think any business model that starts from exclusivity in distribution is bad for the industry in the long term. I think the Agency model of pricing, along with price windowing, is probably the future of e-book “sales.” I say “sale” since most ebooks seem to be more like “temporary licenses” unless you are buying one of Cory Doctorow's books.
well, i'm sure you've seen joe konrath's blog, http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/. he makes a compelling case. granted, he writes what you may consider to be hack fiction. as a reader/buyer of fiction, i'm not in love with the price structure under the agency model. (there might even be pressure re price fixing and collusion from various states attorneys general to change it. here's hoping.) i think konrath's experience would work for literary fiction, as well.
here's an example: last night i looked for your title “always” to purchase in my preferred format, digital. the price listed on amazon set by the publisher for the ebook was an outrageous $12.99! for paper copies, hardcover (new) discount price, $2.25(free shipping with other purchase). used, starting at $.01, but add $3.99 shipping. i love your work and would like to support you by buying your books, but i don't particularly care for your publisher. the book has been out three years and they don't have to pay for bookstore returns and yet they charge more than the paper editions?! please…btw, i came upon “ammonite” and started reading your books not due to any exposure from a library or bookstore, but rather from online searches of sf.
can't imagine the editing, cover art, and marketing can't be done just as well freelance. why not keep that long tail yourself?
David, Mordicai, What I'm thinking (today, anyway–tomorrow will no doubt be different), is ebook self-publication, and paper-only publication via a small press. For someone like me, getting reviews wouldn't be an insurmountable problem. (More difficult that it used to be, certainly, but not impossible.)
If I went through a respected genre press, that paper book would be on the shelves in libraries and independents, and the ebook would be everywhere online.
How does that sound?
For the record, I too would be wary of an agent who set him/herself up as a publisher–how would you separate interests? But I think Wylie was using Odyssey as a crowbar, not a permanent solution. (But perhaps I'm giving him more credit than he deserves. I just don't know enough to have a firm opinion.)
hugh, I'm currently unhappy with the Always situation. I am utterly helpless regarding the ebook pricing–which, of course, just makes me more cross. Riverhead have promised me a reprint of the trade paper, but I have no info on when.
Something that is disappearing rapidly that has always been helpful to authors is the independent bookstore (of which I worked for 10 years). By prominently featuring authors' novels in highly visible, well-trafficked areas of the store, I could and often did force books (i.e. Ammonite) onto a top spot of the bestseller list. If Nicola self-publishes Hild or a short story/essay collection it is not out of the realm of possibility to run it up the NYT bestseller list. All it takes is every third person who reads this blog to buy it.
Can you imagine?
Well, bless you Anonymous for your handselling!
I saw yesterday a post about Laura Lippman making it onto the NYT bestseller list (#16? I forget) in her first week: with sales of <9k copies, hardcover and ebook combined.
So many things are possible. I just wish we could bring back the independent book ecosystem that was in place before B&N and Borders hit the scene. They were my bread and butter. Now Amazon is my bread and butter.
so, can you really get a publisher to disaggregated the digital rights and allow you to retain them while they publish and market the paper book?
i'd be surprised.
Anon@1:40, a small, specialised press, yes, I think so.
In some ways I am sad to see the loss of the independent bookstore ecosystem, but it's clearly gone for good. I do not support it myself. There are just too many advantages to buying online; I tried for a long time, but it just wasn't working for me.
I still buy albums when I buy music. If it is from a source that I like a lot, I want the whole thing. Ditto on book collections.
For a collection like you are talking about Nicola, it does seem to make the most sense for you to do as you have said.
And while I understand that you and authors in general are forced to do some of your own marketing these days, I would much rather see you spending most of your time working on Vol II of HIld rather than spending a lot of time promoting the first book. Once it comes out of course. :) In a perfect world.
For regular books and most authors (not you), I agree with something I read, “You are not Seth Godin.”
Printed books are still a long way from being dead.
It clearly is a tough time for writers (as well as other creative industries). If one doesn't already have a following, it will take a lot of time and effort to develop that without a bankroll to fund marketing efforts. That's ok, as long as one has time.
But if one wants to go the traditional route and get an advance and rely on the publisher to set the tone for marketing, then maybe they will screw it up. And in any case, the author still has to do her own promotion.
It seems to me that the best case would be to self publish and outsource editing, creating a marketing plan, and cover design and typesetting, but that all has to be paid for.
What do you think of Book Oven? Seems like it might have potential as a model for the future, but it needs to go even further.
jennifer, certainly this incarnation of the independent b/shop has largely passed. There are a few well-run, speciality shops (e.g. Seattle Mystery Bookshop and University Books here in Seattle, Room of One's Own in Madison, WI, Skylight Books in LA, etc.) still around, and I think they'll do okay, but the ecosystem has definitely changed.
Print will be around forever, IMO. It will just get more specialised.
Book Oven–looks okay for beginners.
Nicola, Jennifer d, et al —
There's some speculation (wishful thinking?) that now that Barnes & Nobles has fallen on hard times — they're up for sale — the age of the independent bookstore may enjoy a renaissance. We'll see…
Dianne, if this had happened ten years ago, maybe. But the reason B&N are having a hard time is the rise of non-traditional outlets–supermarkets, discount warehouses–and online sales. Small, perfectly situated niche sellers will, I think, still have a market. But general, casual, unthoughtout shops–nope, not going to happen.
Not what you're looking for, but:
I've got three of your books e-version as well as bound & beautiful version (every summer, I like to get a new archaeology book and a new Griffith novel. So when does Hild hit the presses?)
Wish I hadn't wasted money on Adobe Reader version of Blue Place. It looks bad — sorry; looks matter to me. It's a book. Books are visual experiences.
Also, everytime I want to read it, I'm told I must update my software (why? worked fine last time).
Kindle version of Ammonite on iPod looks good.
ladyjanegray, when will Hild be available? Good question. I've got to finish her first.
I'm with you on looks–a good-looking book will seduce me despite mediocre writing. (Witness my thoughts on The Strain last year.) I think Ballantine/RH (Ammonite and SR) does a good job with its ebooks. I wish I could say the same for other publishers. Sigh.
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