Readers Rule

Nearly five months have flown by since I’ve posted here. That is too long.

I have been preoccupied with work, including launching the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College, hiring and integrating some fabulous new staff at the College, developing new initiatives including 50th Anniversary apparel, developing blogs for others, and producing marketing, advertising, promotions, and publicity for a variety of initiatives. For my own work, I’ve been producing new photography and developing distribution and writing. I am rewriting a novel for publication later this year.

It is notable how comprehensively the publishing industry and its business model have been transformed over the last 2-3 years. Blind submissions over the transom, the slush pile, weeks and months of waiting for agent and publisher responses to proposals, draconian publishing contracts, inventive royalty reporting… these fixed assets of the previous model have been supplanted by new energy, opportunity and visions for ways to connect with readers. Readers rule.

Writers who have stories to share can develop pathways to readers and, if their work interests them, if it engages on some level, a relationship begins. And if the writer has the energy, determination and persistence to develop more stories, and is open to learning and perfecting his or her craft, then s/he can offer another story, and maybe get a second date, and a third, and perhaps become a couple. How great is that?

Please check out some of the new work — and older titles you didn’t get an opportunity to read previously — coming online at:  Barnes & Noble     iBooks     Amazon Kindle

And, if you’re open to our getting to know each other better, check out my novel SAINT at:

Let me know what you think. Would you like to see what adventure Dr. Andrew Shepard is on now?

 

 

Tablet and E-Reader Sales Soar

On a recent flight across the country, at least one in every 12 passengers were either reading or watching entertainment on tablets or smartphones. About 40% of these were reading books. About 1 in every 25 passengers were reading traditional books. This personal observation is anecdotal, of course, but it made an impression. That e-readers are becoming the new norm as personal digital devices become more intuitive, adaptive to personal needs, reliable and affordable is no longer news.

Then, a report from Pew Research and the American Life Project was released yesterday. The take-away from the NYTimes article: tablet and e-reader sales doubled over the last year.  Adult users increased from 10% of adults in Dec 2011 to 19% of adults in December 2012.  Increased ownership of tablets is especially pronounced among highly educated users with household incomes exceeding $75,000. In fact, nearly one third of people with college degrees own tablets.

As a writer, I’m pleased to see that many people are choosing to read when they have the opportunity. How they choose to read helps inform my thinking about how my stories should read on the page vs. screen, and how to focus my efforts to improve the reader experience.

Related Article

Table and E-Reader Sales Soar  |  NYTimes

 

Publishers Are Recovering

. . . While All About Them Are Losing Their Heads

Forget the myths: television did not doom the Hollywood blockbuster; video did not kill the radio star; the Internet is not ending the prime-time sitcom; and e-books will not shutter the publishing industry.

According to the recently released comprehensive survey, BookStats, the publishing industry expanded over the last three years while housing, autos, banking, the television networks, and our political institutions faltered.

Each industry adapted, some more successfully than others. Darwin’s theory of Evolution pertains. The weakest properties, channels, and business models have suffered, some to extinction — remember Microsoft BOB (1995)? Yet, good ideas took root. Smart, passionate innovators made them better with positive results. New media are multiplying audiences. Case in point: digital e-Readers.

Partly as a result of the sizzling pace of improvement of digital book devices and software, the e-book has rescued publishers, at least those able to perceive that consumer needs were changing and they could either adapt or find another line of work.  Unlike the recording industry’s resistance to home cassette recording and then Internet music sharing, the publishing industry saw the writing on the screen and a few publishers recalibrated their attitude and business model.

“We’re seeing a resurgence, and we’re seeing it across all markets — trade, academic, professional,” says Tina Jordan, vice president of the Association of American Publishers. “In each category we’re seeing growth.”

The Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group collaborated on the report, collecting data from 1,963 publishers the trade, K-12 school, higher education, professional and scholarly categories.

For the entire article in the New York Times, see  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/books/survey-shows-publishing-expanded-since-2008.html.



Authors Are Bound To Publish

Literary Entrepreneurs

Self-publishing is leveling what has been a uneven field of competition for authors, for readers, and for book sellers.  Writers still write books on spec, but now they can manage rights, take responsibility for when and how their work is published, participate more fully as equal partners in their work’s publication, connect more directly with readers, and be better literary citizens.

Book Publishing is Becoming Self-publishing

The Internet has made every individual a potential publisher. And technology is making every idea, story, and work of art marketable. Even the business side of the transaction is returning to a one-to-one exchange.

JA Konrath has six books in print and thirteen e-books available from Amazon. He has projected that he will earn up to $100,000 this year on sales of his e-books alone. Each sale is initiated by an interested reader who decides to download one of his novels to their Kindle, iPad, PC, Mac, iPhone, iTouch, Droid, or any other of an expanding universe of personal e-reading options. Amazon’s online Kindle Store (or Apple’s iBook and others) completes the transaction within seconds. No shipping. No waiting. From JA Konrath directly to Ima Reader wherever she is on the planet.

After iPad

There are thirty-nine e-readers on the market. Considering the quantum leap forward in quality of the user experience, it is tempting to rephrase that device snapshot to something more like: the Apple iPad and thirty-eight others.

The iPad provides an excellent, even transformational e-reading experience. It feels good cradled in your hands, on your lap or propped up against your thighs for those middle of the night reads. It has a high resolution color screen that is easy on eyes, especially aging eyes. It responds instantly, enthusiastically to any impulse. Turning the page is almost as satisfying as leafing pages in that 600-page Dickens anthology you’ve had since Lit 101. And you can look up words in the dictionary without getting up to go find it. Plug in some ear buds and you can even listen to the voice of your choice read your book to you.

The iPad will dash the ambitions of many early e-readers and the field will inevitably narrow to a select few devices. Sony and other quality device manufacturers will accept iPad’s challenge and up their game. All for the better. Whatever makes the author’s work available in a high integrity transaction, on an enjoyable-to-use device, and to more people is good.

Opportunity is Calling

When in your lifetime did obstacles to getting your work published actually diminish in number? If you have a good book, some appealing cover art, a compelling description and the ambition to grow your audience, now would be a good time to get out there and share your work.

Related:

The Rise of Self Publishing (NYT  26 April 2010)

Which e-readers will the iPad crush? (CNET, 1 April 2010)

 

Random House Raises the Stakes

The climate for writers is changing as it is changing for so many other professions.  At least three writers I know believe that we are approaching a tipping point where a sustainable writing career might slip beyond the grasp of many talented and deserving writers. Contracts written prior to 1994, when Random House modified its contracts to include electronic rights, are subject to interpretation as to whether e-rights are covered.   It is primarily these backlist titles that are the focus of much of the current dispute.  Large publishers' legal departments see sufficient ambiguity in older contracts to claim the rights advantage before the courts intervene and define these terms for them. While publishers, agents, lawyers and judges argue whether imprecise pre-ebook contract language amounts to legally defined rights, the practical result is denied opportunity for writers.  This is not meant to ignore that the economic downturn and the paradigm shift in technology have also forced publishers into an urgent sprint to develop a business model that works for them.  My focus here is on writers and their ability to continue to create the raw material required by the publishing industries. Uncertainty in publishing leads to risk aversion among all parties, delay, and ultimately a degraded environment for writers whose professional survival is already a marginal existence. Last night, I dreamed I was a polar bear on a small floating patch of rapidly melting ice.  Nothing symbolic there, right?

Are traditional publishing's aggressive responses to the evolving e-book market threatening the careers of writers who invent, research, and craft original literary fiction?  Probably not in the long-term, yet it seems that way sometimes.

If you haven't already read it, here is the Authors Guild Dec. 15th Advocacy article, "Random House's Retroactive Rights Grab," in response to Random House CEO Markus Dohle's letter.

Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
or
He who has the gold makes the rules

Publishers are lining up for a high stakes confrontation with writers and agents. Traditional publishers are positioning for expanded control of individual author's rights, including wrapping e-rights into their traditional print rights contracts. Authors want to share in the revenues produced by e-books at a level that reflects the lower cost of marketing e-books vs. print books. If publishers will not honor this proportionality, then it seems reasonable that authors would want to retain the opportunity to market the e-rights to their books. The Authors Guild sides with the writer. Where will the courts side? Which Golden Rule will guide them? Ultimately, enterprise and economics will decide. In the meantime, we writers have to keep writing, keep finding ways to support ourselves while writing, and keep faith that our work will make a difference.

DISCOVERY of the Day

Melville House Publishing and its informative MobyLives literary blog keep the literary flame burning.  For another perspective on the Random House story, take a look at MobyLives' Dec. 16 coverage.

How Much Does Amazon Want?

From The Authors Guild: Amazon Accuses Someone Else of Monopolizing Bookselling

Amazon made it official yesterday, filing a brief in the Google case claiming that someone else might gain a monopoly in bookselling. It seems we're compelled to state the obvious:

Amazon's hypocrisy is breathtaking. It dominates online bookselling and the fledgling e-book industry. At this moment it's trying to cement its control of the e-book industry by routinely selling e-books at a loss. It won't do that forever, of course. Eventually, when enough readers are locked in to its Kindle, everyone in the industry expects Amazon to squeeze publishers and authors. The results could be devastating for the economics of authorship.

Amazon apparently fears that Google could upend its plans. Amazon needn't worry, really: this agreement is about out-of-print books. Its lock on the online distribution of in-print books, unfortunately, seems secure.

The settlement would make millions of out-of-print books available to readers again, and Google would get no exclusive rights under the agreement. The agreement opens new markets, and that's a good thing for readers and authors. It offers to make millions upon millions of out-of-print books available for free online viewing at 16,500 public library buildings and more than 4,000 colleges and universities, and that's a great thing for readers, students and scholars. The public has an overwhelming interest in having this settlement approved.

(Reprinted with permission of the Authors Guild)

e-Publishing Opens Doors for Authors

Good Times

Just as when the IBM personal computer arrived (1981), Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh with GUI (1984), the venerable Selectric and Selectric II became obsolete, and a universe of entrepreneurial and artistic opportunities opened to writers, the Kindle, Sony Readers, iRex, Lexcycle's Stanza and other downloadable readers have opened doors to a new world of publishing possibilities. While the major players sort out the e-Publishing landscape, engineer the infrastructure, and build the new e-pub world, we writers are exploring, beta testing, and blazing new entrepreneurial paths ... all while continuing to write, write, write. This is a good time to be a writer, don't you think?

Kindle UPDATE - Kindle vs. B&N Free eReader:  See David Pogue's PERSONAL TECH column, "New Entry in E-Books a Paper Tiger," in the August 6th edition of the New York Times.  Barnes & Noble's new e-reader offers PC access to e-books.  The eReader tablet itself is promised for later.

Kindle Posting 1: Most Systems 'Go'

Tuesday 1:40 pm: Pilot-tested Kindle publishing with a short story.  Katey Hoagland runs 1,200 words/seven pages, and seems like the best candidate for a test in which I was prepared to load the file, fail, reload, refine HTML, unload and reload again many times according to almost every blog post I read.  Found Amazon's Digital Text Platform (DTP) to be intuitive and easy-to-use. KH lg 2

I completed the title, product description, tags, and uploaded the story manuscript (MsWord.doc file/Mac OS X (10.5)/Firefox).  DTP's conversion tool churned for about 40 seconds and notified me that Katey Hoagland was successfully converted. Reviewed the file, noticed that paragraph indents were uniformly eliminated, but that was the only revision to the manuscript.

DTP Dashboard displayed the message: 'Publishing Katey Hoagland. Your content is being published. Most titles take between 1 to 2 hours to become buyable.'

Tues. 3:20 pm: Katey Hoagland appears in the Kindle Store online, without product description, but otherwise as expected.

Wed. 9:00 am: DTP Dashboard still displays 'Publishing Katey Hoagland. Your content is being published...' message.   As a result, I'm unable to access the file for this upload so that I can learn more about what is happening (or not happening).  Not sure if I should wait longer for DTP to come around or if I should simply repost.   e-Mailed dtp-feedback@amazon.com request for assistance.

Wed. 9:00 pm: Dashboard remains unresponsive.  dtp-feedback@amazon.com just responded and confirmed that my upload is active, they will be adding my product description, and they will follow-up to confirm again in 1-2 business days.

Thurs. 10:30 am: Received e-mail from dtp-feedback@amazon.com confirming active account status, and intention to post product description.

Fri. 07:30 am: Product description displays on listing in Kindle Store.  Dashboard functioning properly.

2010-01-14  Thurs.  20:15: Katey Hoagland has turned the head of at least one acquiring editor.  So, Katey is coming back home for now.  I de-listed her story from Amazon's Kindle offerings.

Kindle & The Evolution of a Writer

1d8de03ae7a0967b140bf110Big Bangs

In the hyper-paced evolution of consumer technologies, there are few developments that equal the transformative effects of e-publishing.

Traditional publishing is now adapting to the reality of the Kindle, Sony e-reader, iPod Touch, and iPhone, which are being adopted by consumers at a rate not seen since the invention of the wheel. I wasn't present during that paradigm shift, but it is reasonable to assume that the Mesopotamians in the 5th millenium BC 'got it' and didn't look back wistfully to the old, pre-wheel, pre-personal empowerment days.  Now, once again in humankind's evolution, we have a better idea that has authors and readers leapfrogging industry.  Publishers have cultivated content and fed readers' appetites.  But they have become a little too comfortable with the perquisites of the traditional corporate model, like Detroit automakers, the Big Three television networks, and the music industry.  In each case, we the people have found our way to a better idea, a better way.

Now Amazon's Jeff Bezos is betting on the Kindle as a market maker, and if the rapidly increasing sales of the e-book tablet keep growing at the pace they have in the last year, he may be the man we credit with a Steve Jobs-like vision that changed the way we consume media content.

Heads Up: Prices Falling

Publishers see the change happening, know that their traditional print business model is struggling and have apparently decided to profit from the chaos in the book selling market by charging similar prices for hardcover and e-books. Today at Borders, I overheard a salesperson explaining e-books to a middle-aged couple at the Sony E-Reader display this way.

"E-books are coming down in price to roughly half the cost of a hardcover, from $15 to $17."

The couple were eager for the convenience offered by the E-Reader and when they heard about the cost-savings on titles, they decided to purchase the Sony.

Maybe I should have intervened and told them about $9.99 titles at Amazon.  You don't criticize someone's family when you're a guest in their living room; and I won't disrupt Borders' business when I am in theirs.  The couple are happily curled up on their couch now with Dan Brown's Lost Symbol on the E-Reader.  Everyone is happy.  As for the pricing, publishers will hang on to their profit margins and will change only when their business infrastructure collapses around them.

Meanwhile, over at Amazon, Jeff Bezos is offering e-books for download to the Kindle for $9.99.  Amazon may lose on the margin in the near term, but it is establishing the $9.99 price point for books much in the same way that Steve Jobs established .99 cents as the single unit price point on iTunes, which is now the worldwide standard. More rapid adoption by more consumers will more than make up the difference.

More significantly to me, e-publishing redefines the business model.  Suddenly, the artist and writer can, if they wish, become their own publishers.  No more expenses like printing, shipping, trucking, warehousing, distribution, freight, fuel.  It's irresistible and, as Adam Penenberg says in his article "The Evolution of Amazon" in the July/August edition of Fast Company, "it's irreversible."   Literary agent Richard Curtis, who is also founder of E-Reads, an independent book publisher, asks,

why would "anybody need a traditional book publisher when you can essentially make Amazon your buyer and your seller in one stroke?"

iPublish

After years of playing by Publishing's rules - willingly, loyally, and with respect for its professionalism - the time has come to try other approaches to connect with my readers.  I am going to try posting a story or two in Amazon's Kindle Store and see if I can reconnect with former readers and meet some new readers.  I'll let you know how it goes.