Are Print Books Doomed? IPad, Amazon Push E-craze

Posted: January 8, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

Amazon Kindle

I attended the monthly meeting of Willamette Writers Tuesday night and listened to Agent April Eberhardt tell her audience what many of us suspected or already knew: The power in the book publishing business is shifting.

How it’s shifting depends on your point of view. Some say the authors will have more say in their works. Others see the Internet giants gaining power. Either way the ten largest book publishers will lose.

One thing is sure. The advent of the Ipad is changing the book industry. Not alone, because the Amazon’s Kindle had been pushing readers toward online reading for the past few years.

But get this: According to April Eberhardt, the Big 6 Publishing companies were responsible for 80 percent of all book sales 3-4 years ago. That number dropped to 60 percent this year. E-books accounted for 10 percent of all book sales last year and are expected to account for one-third of all book sales this year.

WOW!  Is this the beginning of the end for print books. I don’t think so. At least not right away. Most people still prefer to hold a real book in their hands. But e-book sales are definitely increasing at a much faster rate than expected by the industry.

The book industry that is; not the Internet Industry. Google, Amazon and Apple have been positioning themselves for the future of online book publishing for the last half a dozen years. Meanwhile, the book publishing industry has been dragged along reluctantly, to the point now where they’ve been caught with their collective pants down.

The trade magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, has chronicled negotiations between the largest book publishers and Amazon recently and Amazon is demanding a much higher commission rate than print retail distributors have received in the past. Many publishers have begrudgingly gone along with Amazon’s charges, but some have not.

Borders Books, which has seen book sales drop 13 percent last year (to e-books?) is fighting to stay solvent and most book publishers have been sending the store books on credit even though not receiving payment, not eager to see one of the largest bookstores falter. This week, however, it has been reported that the creditors are circling the Borders brand demanding a say in any restructuring or payouts that may be ahead in bankruptcy and reorganization.

So how does all this help the author? Things are changing on that horizon too.

There has been a proliferation of Print on Demand websites where anyone with a story can tell, can upload their book, edit it, purchase online editing and book cover design services, and order as little as one copy—making self publishing easier and cheap enough for anyone to publish their own book.

This used to be called vanity publishing. A would-be author could pay to have 100 copies and spend thousands of dollars and get a book published. The publisher would make money from gullible people and charge outrageous fees.

Today, anyone online has the opportunity to research and make informed decisions. They can edit and design their book covers themselves, buy jacket templates as part of a package (not recommended) or find a specialist on their own and pay for such services.

Why would a budding author choose to do this? Well, its awful hard to find an agent to represent your work these days, nearly impossible—even if you have a good book manuscript. You almost have to be somebody ( a celebrity of sorts) or know somebody.

April says she received about 10,000 query letters from hopeful novelists last year and was only able to represent 25 new people. Of those 25 only four have book deals to date.  Even if you get represented and get a book deal, the days of the publishing house promoting your book are gone—except for top 20 booksellers. Most of us will enter at the mid list level.

That means we have to set up our own book tours, spend our own money to promote ourselves and spend maybe 20 to 30 hours a week marketing our book. We have to set up websites, Facebook web pages, twitter, Flickr accounts and social network ourselves silly.  Where is there time to write?

So if we have to do all of this extra work and spend our own money, and we can’t get an agent or a book contract, why not go the self publishing route? Did I mention that the amount an author collects is paltry by the time everyone is paid: the publisher, your agent, Amazon, the IRS.

Why not cut out one of the middlemen?  Most Print on Demand publishers will list your book on Amazon and would-be authors are noticing. And although most of the successful e-books are by published print book authors, some of these authors are holding onto their e-book rights or going the direct publishing route themselves on new offerings.

It hasn’t translated to similar successes for-self publishing first-time authors, but who knows what these new e-book and Print on Demand trends will bring.  Self publishers still are not very credible, but if current authors are branching out on their own, it could legitimize self publishing in the near future.

However, credibility lies with the attention to detail in providing an excellent product with good storytelling, perfect editing, an eye-catching cover design and professional quality/mistake free product.

Although I’m not ready to jump into the self publishing pool yet, I’ll bet a lot of authors might be willing to take the plunge.

  1. Helen Wand says:

    Your comments about self-publishing and E books are right on. I’m grateful that the largest of the book sellers are finially getting some competition. Thank you for sharing this information and in such a well written, organized way.

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