Saturday, August 13, 2011

Writing the eBook First

What's Going on in Publishing?

Mike Shatzkin gives a comprehensive update on eBook sales and marketing here. According to recent sales data from Simon & Shuster and from Penguin, publishers are making the transition to eBooks with lower sales and higher profits. Some highlights of Shatzkin's post:

  • eBook sales blip up in Q1 when people download content for new Christmas eReaders.
  • 14% of book revenues are due to eBooks, and unit sales for eBooks are much higher.
  • Simon & Shuster claims Jaycee Dugard’s “A Stolen Life” sold 100k eBook units on first day of sales versus 75k units of the print version.
  • Publishers have made only a small portion of their titles available in eBook format.
  • Marginal costs of printed books will increase because the fixed costs (design, printing presses, distribution infrastructure) are amortized over fewer and fewer units.
No real surprises in any of this. I contend that publishers will get squeezed as prices continue to drop. Price elasticity says that unit volumes skyrocket when prices fall below $2, a price point at which publishers have trouble extracting profit, but self-published authors do not.

Why Don't Publisher Convert More Titles to eBooks?

Publishers are busy developing eBooks rather than re-publishing books in eBook formats.

Shatzkin talks about future eBook products:
One great imponderable is what the market for ebooks will be beyond the verbatim replication of narrative text. That’s where the growth has been. For illustrated or enhanced or apped ebooks, the success stories are anecdotal, not indisputable trending. It’s true that the right devices aren’t as widely distributed yet, but it is also true that we have no clear evidence that those ebooks will be as compelling to the consumer as the narrative text ones. We do know they’ll cost more to create.
eBooks are a different medium than paper.

In the music world of iPods and tablets, Björn is pioneering apped music albums with her release of Biophilia. Users download the "mother app" for free along with a free song. Then the Biophilia app guides listeners to buy additional apps that each come with a song.

Following Björn's example, it's easy to imagine selling installment stories or subscription periodicals in the form of apped eBooks.

eBooks also provide ways to integrate multimedia (images, music, sound, video) with the text in ways that printed books cannot. Cookbooks can refer readers to video demonstrations of menu preparation or updated lists of suppliers for hard-to-find ingredients.

What if eBooks contained their own promotions? I've posted several video book promotions on this blog, usually produced by the author. Simon & Shuster now has its own Youtube channel for book promotion. Here's their promotion for a book on sharing in the digital age.

If a high quality promotion like this were contained in eBooks themselves, eBooks could market themselves with quick, high impact trailers.

Danger (and Opportunity) Ahead!

In the eBook medium, including multimedia is treacherous, though, for longevity. A book of words will always have a home in an eReader device because words are simple to store and display. If the layout of the words is important to the story, that may be lost. But the words themselves will survive generations of eReader evolution.

Multimedia, on the other hand, may not survive. How long will Flash last after the introduction of HTML5? How long will a popular music codec like MP3 last? Multimedia authors pushing the limits of new eReaders risk obsolescence in a way that traditional word-only authors do not.

The market is creating opportunities for new book products. Traditional authors cannot sit on their hands. Even if their words are moving, eloquent, and portable to future eReaders, word-only authors are competing for virtual shelf space with a new generation of eBook writers who will capitalize on eBook functionality to create a new generation of stories.

In the coming year expect to see a new market for books written to be eBooks first and, perhaps, only.


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