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Thursday, February 4, 2010

SFWA Weighs In On Amazon-Macmillan Battle

FFO covered the Amazon-Macmillan distribution battle. At issue is the price that Amazon wants to charge for eBook versions of new publications. Amazon wanted to charge $9.99. Macmillan thought that was too low. This precipitated a battle in which a new sales model was invoked by Macmillan and "Buy" buttons for Macmillan volumes on Amazon were yanked.

Here are the issues:

  • Macmillan thought the eBook price was predatory and would hurt their print book business.
  • Amazon sees eBooks as a loss leader to drive traffic.
  • Authors want to sell their books and make a living.
  • Buyers want cheap books.

That's not a simple set of issues to solve to everyone's satisfaction. Now, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA.org) has considered the issues (with their members' best interests in mind, presumably) and weighed in on the Amazon-Macmillan battle, supporting Macmillan's case through appeal and through the replacement of Amazon.com links on SFWA's website for their members' books with links to other vendors.

The issues listed above are represented in the many public comments attending SWFA's article.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Muscular Macmillan Wrestles Amazon on eBook Pricing

I've let this story percolate for a while until it took a direction: the publishers' fight with Amazon over eBook pricing. Amazon has been selling eBooks of newly released books for $9.99, which some publishers consider predatory and which undermines their print book sales.

This story has been covered extensively, which is not surprising. SFWA now has a nice article summarizing this issue following Macmillan's muscular move to control its products' pricing on Amazon. Macmillan changed its terms of sale from the wholesale model, in which resellers buy at a discount and sale at any price they wish, to an agency model, in which the reseller takes a commission from the sales. Under the latter arrangement, Amazon would have to sell new Macmillan titles in eBook form at prices starting at just under $13 USD. Amazon responded by yanking the "Buy" button from Macmillan books, but later recanted. It did not go unnoticed that this decision was made in the shadow of Apple's acceptance of the agency model for its new Apple iPad.

Here is SFWA's article on Macmillan vs. Amazon by Victoria Strauss.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Apple iPad

iPad: finally, it's over. Apple has its new gadget. It's not a $120o Mac OSX tablet as many thought until recently (though one may still be in the works). It's basically a $500 tablet-sized iPod Touch, great for viewing books, photos and movies and web browsing. Some are touting it as a Kindle killer. Maybe. The Kindle will work well in bright light because it is an e-Ink device. On the other hand, e-Ink doesn't do well in the dark. Dan Costa at PC Magazine thinks Amazon won't mind being killed in the device market by Apple. Amazon has the Kindle so they can sell their eBooks. If people buy them for an iPad, that's just fine with Amazon.

One of the more amusing stumbles associated with the iPad was made when Harold McGraw of McGraw-Hill "prattled like teenage girl" when he upstaged Steve Jobs with an early announcement about the iPad. Before that faux pas, there were six publishers that were to be part of the later announcement and presentations. Now one missing.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Making an eBook--Part 2

We started a series on making an eBook, based on a writer's observance of his publisher's process. In Part 1 of the series, author and eBOOKNEWSER (GalleyCat) blogger Craig Morgan Teicher noted that traditional book publishers like his spend about the same effort on book design for eBooks as print books. They don't want their eBooks to have a lower aesthetic bar than print books. Part 2 and Part 2.5--he split the topic--will be combined here.

In Part 2 of Making an eBook, Mr. Teicher relates his correspondence with Smashwords, who had contacted him after his first post. Smashwords is an eBook publisher--used by many authors and publishers--that has a relatively simple process for producing an eBook in many formats from an MS Word doc file. Smashword's "meatgrinder" application gobbles the meat of your .doc file and grinds out the eBook. You can then publish the eBook on their web site (if you choose), for no cost. They take a royalty on sales. You'll want to read Mr. Teicher's comments about Smashwords. He was favorably impressed but noted that it would not work for him as he needed linked files in his eBook, which are not supported yet by Smashwords. That's a problem with monolithic applications like that; you get what you get. You can diddle your source file, but you can't affect how the application converts your file.

I had the same issue with an otherwise very nice application, Calibre, that's free and runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. The website is terse but has a decent style book. It has many input formats and output (eBook) formats. Smashwords is quite attractive considering its publishing option and support.

In Part 2.5 of Making an eBook, Mr. Teicher iterated his thoughts about his publishing company's eBook philosophy. They want a consistent look to all their eBooks and worry that they won't achieve that with applications like Smashwords' Meatgrinder. Unless they find an alternative, they'll hand code their Kindle eBooks. In that case, Mr. Teicher will report on that process as it happens.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Making an eBook

We can all save a file as a PDF and declare it an eBook, but for book publishers, it's a different matter. They still have book design issues, such as fonts, page design, illustrations, cover art...like a printed book. For an eBook that's being poised for sale at a cost in the neighborhood of a print book, the main differences from print publishing are the cost of production and distribution. The other headaches remain.

Here is the first post of a series on the making of an eBook. The subject matter of the book happens to be poetry because the author of the blog post on eBOOKNEWSER (GalleyCat), Craig Morgan Teicher, is also the author of the poetry volume. He'll watch each stage of his publisher's process and report them on his blog. I'll try to keep up with it and post notices when there's a new article in the series.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

eBook Market Analysis

Here is an interesting analysis of the fledgling eBook market and its relationship to the traditional book market. The analysis was done by TBI Research, a new market newsletter that will eventually be a subscription-only publication. I found this by way of agent Kristen Nelson's Pub Rants blog (highly recommended). Adding to the interest of the article are the comments that round out the coverage, including one by Tim O'Reilly, the publisher of the "O'Reilly zoo" software/Internet-related books found profusely in a bookstore near you.

One of the main points of the article is that Amazon is nearly alone, at present, flexing its muscles trying to bring down the cost of eBooks, while losing $2 per sale. It seems logical that eBooks should be cheaper to produce, and they are to a degree, but the degree is not as flexible as one might expect. There are many analogs between the newspaper print/online shakeouts that are happening now and the eBook/online/print book industry. It will be bloody.

One commenter mentioned that eBooks can be sold as iPhone apps. I think the iPhone app market is telling. Presently, many game and utility apps sell for $0.99. The reasoning is that people will pay 99-cents for anything on a lark, even apps that merely make rude noises...and sell 20,000 copies nearly instantly. I'm not suggesting that the book market can sell new books at that price level (and pay the authors a reasonable amount!), but part of the struggle is to find the what-the-heck level for eBooks. There is a point where print copy buyers eyes will arch at a bargain and past non-readers will say, what-the-heck.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

iPhone: Book Apps Surpass Game Apps

For the last year or so, game application releases were the top category of iPhone apps, according to Venture Beat. Now, iPhone book app releases are exceeding game apps. Keep in mind that this refers to the release of applications for sale rather than sales of applications, where, in this case, the release of a book in iPhone format is an application. This opens more questions than it answers. What sort of books are being released? Out-of-print? New releases? Best sellers or mid-list? It is a relatively simple matter to release a book for an iPhone compared to developing and releasing a new or existing game for the iPhone platform. There is a huge pent-up supply of books (which is a separate matter from pent-up desire for purchase), so one would expect this trend to continue for some time.

Related: Barnes & Noble releases the Nook eBook reader, their response to the Amazon Kindle. Their play is a second color screen for control and more eBook format support.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

333-Word Flash Fiction

The origin of 333-word short short fiction is unclear, but it may have come into existence because such a story would fit into three iPhone screens. Here is an iPhone app that will download up to 333-word stories from TripleQuick Fiction. The app includes a form for uploading submissions for publication. TripleQuick Fiction is associated with featherproof books, a Chicago-based indie print publisher. (This story by way of Publishers Weekly.)

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

e-Book Reader Review by Wired

On the occasion of a new Samsung e-book reader, Wired reviews the top eight e-book readers. There are no surprises (except perhaps a tablet-sized reader by Plastic Logic), but if you're thinking of buying one, the article gives a concise opinion of the choices.

Not mentioned is the Apple e-book reader play, which is now just "vaporware." Speculation is rampant, but many agree that Apple will have to do something special to differentiate it from and stand up to their iPhone, iPod and iTouch products. The Business Insider article speculates about how the 900-pound gorilla, iTunes, figures into the Apple e-book reader and Apple's relationship with traditional book and e-Book sellers, such as Amazon.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

eBooks: Publishers Wonder, Where's the Money?

Many writers frustrated with having no agent or publisher nowadays contemplate the many alternatives available, such as print-on-demand (POD) self-publishing through LuLu and similar services, quasi-self-publishing through more actively involved POD publishers like iUniverse, and vanity publishers.

eBooks provide a new form of publishing that has a low cost of entry and technology that is not challenging. The cost and technology is accessible to individuals, and there are many fledgling eBook publishers to provide a more traditional publishing experience.

The traditional publishers have been trying figure out eBook publishing because they know they can't ignore it. Some of the top British publishers convened a conference on this matter during the London Book Fair, with the top question: where's the money in eBook publishing?

They worried about eBook readers, piracy ("...Scribd.com...“the YouTube of text”), and pricing. The article writer at PW,Lynn Andriani, concluded:

In the end, of course, no one solved the $64,000 question—yet the panel certainly provided plenty of food for thought for international publishers who are just dipping into the e-book market.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Publishers with Street Addresses Consider e-Publishing

Even if you're a Manhattan dead-tree publisher with an actual street address and sell to brick-and-mortar bookstores with street addresses, you're no longer ignoring e-publishers with dot-com addresses, like Amazon.com. Although this PW article is not especially compelling, it does show that the producers of tangible publications with which you can bonk someone on the head are taking the e-plunge.

During this the American Book Producers Association's seminar, HarperCollins hosted a panel of experts on electronic publishing.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Graphic Novels on Mobile Devices

Got iPhone? Then, according to PW, you can read Will Eisner's A Contract With God via a new application for reading graphic novels on mobile devices such as the iPod Touch. The company, Genus Corp will announce new licensed works later.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Kindle, but is it Legal?

Some related stories: Amazon.com has a new Kendal with a lot of nice new features, including an improved display with 16 shades of gray and a reduced size. The WSJ article doesn't mention that the wireless cost has been reduced to zero; this information came from an e-mail from Amazon: "no monthly wireless bills, data plans, or commitments." Another new feature is text-to-speech, but this has turned controversial:

"They don't have the right to read a book out loud," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."
A new competitor to the Kindle is the Plastic Logic eReader to come out in 2010. This is a paper-sized device, which fits with Plastic Logic's emphasis on newspapers and magazines.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Wovels and One-Dollar eBooks

What's a wovel? It is a serialized web novel with "branch points" at the end of each installment whereby readers can influence the course of the next installment. Here is an article about Underland Press' exemplary web novel, called "FirstWorld," having Monday updates. The first installment has been posted with the next due on December 12.

Nearly free stuff: according to Publishers Weekly, Orbit is offering $1 eBooks on a rotating basis to promote their print and digital lists. The eBooks are offered through onedollarorbit.com and other partners.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kindle Economics

The Amazon Kindle is an e-book reader with downloading over a built-in wireless connection. It costs US$359. Is it economical? One personal gripe is the inability to get free stuff (like blogs) and read it for free. I think the quickly expanding netbook market may provide a platform for similar applications.

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