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The Ups and Downs of E-book Publishing

Posted by Brittany Lavin on Thu, Sep 09, 2010 @ 01:23 PM

IP Correspondent, LinDee Rochelle, September 9, 2010:

Last week I barely whispered about the popular controversy of perceived zero costs to produce e-books. Notice the word “perceived.” Instead, we discussed e-book pricing as it relates to the author and our valuable content. I still want you to keep that in mind, as we delve into some wild accusations about e-book publishing costs.

ebookAt the risk of irritating our buying-public readers, I’m beginning to believe that many well-meaning folks (at least, those I encountered while reviewing forums) have no idea what business costs are involved in writing and publishing a book, let alone, bringing any product to market. And yet they feel qualified to vilify a publisher or author for not giving away their e-books.

A forum ranter discussing the e-books pricing issue calls publishers greedy because they “want their cut for marketing the book as well as editing.” Gee, imagine that. And one common thread seems to be the inability to “sell, lend, or give away an e-book when I’m done with it.”

In response to the latter, in most cases, you’re paying less retail than for a print book and until digital rights management (DRM) is perfected, the publishing industry is not inclined to end up like the crippled music industry, with the works’ creators losing millions in royalties. So we’re battling the same mentality as the music pirate. Some people just think they’re entitled to a financially free world. Ah, if only!

But the comments that disturbed me most came from authors; one self-described as a “micro-publisher” who gives away Vol. I of her book as an e-book enticement to readers, so they’ll become familiar with her work. And another literally said, “It’s not about selling books.”

I guess if you like working for free, that’s OK; personally, I prefer to be paid for my hours of toiling at the computer. Praise (or not) only goes so far to pay the rent. Even avocations should bring in revenue for your time.

You might think their strategies represent good marketing—if you’re a retailer and your price is not your cost, a “2 for 1” sale is great! But you won’t see the manufacturer selling it that way to the retailer. Why would an author devalue their own work directly to their readers?

Hmmmm, before my friends, family and colleagues who’ve known me for twenty-plus years unkindly remind me—yes, I have given my writing away—magazine articles—in the beginning when I didn’t have the oh-so-necessary “clips” to send an editor, proving my writing worth. Fortunately, it took only a few issues in a newsrag before I made $25 per article. Whoohoo! But—controversy still rages in writing circles about whether even that type of give-away is necessary. It worked for me. But unless it was a charitable cause, I haven’t given it away since.

I’m wondering why it is that authors are expected to—and some believe they should—distribute freely their sweat-stained virtual pages? Never mind the work that went into creating the book—don’t they want even a tiny piece of the capitalism and profiteering that abounds in other product industries?

Let me ask you a question or two: Do you know how much the markup is on your clothing? How about your bread? Do you know there’s up to a 300% markup on that bling you’re flaunting? Ever wonder why you pay so much for a name-brand laptop, but a reasonable copy that provides the same functions is a fraction of its cost?

Capitalism. And hate or love it, this country was built on it. Today, however, a popular attitude is gaining credence that capitalism is a rude, crude, bad dude. Why is it that we’re encouraged to build our businesses, but don’t you dare make a profit with it?! Gee, I thought that was the purpose of all the toil and trouble.

Millionaires are maligned in the press for hoarding so much money—while I might envy them for the briefest of moments, I don’t begrudge those who made their dollars honestly, with ingenuity, integrity, and know-how. (But don’t get me started on their spoiled rich brats.)

Granted, some companies and their executives go to the extreme as we humans are known to do, and greed for the almighty dollar often corrupts them. But there is also a growing population of businesses that are learning to make a reasonable profit without gouging their customers, while consciously operating and sharing in an honest and earth-friendly way.

So again, how do e-books fit into the business world and why are their prices “so high”? Let’s get something straight. Even virtual products have costs. We can debate the issue ‘til we’re virtually exhausted. But that won’t change the facts.

For publishing companies, tangible expenses like paper, ink, binding glue, yada, yada, have now been replaced with conversion technology software, distribution contract negotiations, and virtually infinite file management costs. I don’t know about your company, but last I heard employees don’t work for free, software companies don’t give their products away (large business systems cost thousands, btw), and computer storage systems don’t build themselves.

Before you begin groaning that those are one-time costs and once paid for, e-books are virtually free, just like a paper book, every e-book has to be accounted for and royalties attributed. And while the publisher might want to swallow those additional administrative costs, the distribution outlets don’t. They charge the publisher. That’s in addition to normal overhead. And business “ain’t what it used to be.” Profit margins are down, as raw materials escalate in cost. Why do you think we’re in this global economic mess??

Other hidden e-book costs for publishers include several conversion programs, not just one. Each distribution channel has its own publishing requirements and quality publishers ensure their authors’ books display to its best advantage on every e-reader. And each e-book must be converted individually, and inspected manually.

I’m not going to avoid it—at some point for publishers, and a little earlier for independent, one-distribution point authors, the work is finished, except for minor ongoing maintenance. But don’t chastise us for wanting to get closer to our own million, and if we don’t go down to the bottom of the barrel, we have wiggle room to offer sales, discounts, and other enticing incentives. We can’t do that if the return on the dollar is zero.

And I still maintain there is no shame in making an honest buck for a lot of hard work. Virtual or not.

L’s tips for authors faced with the free e-book dilemma:

- NEVER give your book-length writing away (see how I skirted my early magazine freebie indiscretions?!)

- up to 20% of your work offered in no-cost excerpts is considered a fair enticement

- ensure your e-book is displaying properly, so your readers will value their purchase

- put your “freebies” into your marketing program; Infinity author, Devin O’Branagan uses awesome marketing and branding strategies for her vampire novel, Glory, “giving” her readers much more than a book

- remind them there are no free lunches … and no free e-books … just a free smile when they like your work

Rock on! … LinDee

-LinDee Rochelle

Tags: publication, ebook publishing, ebook costs, self publishing, self publishing companies, ebooks, publishing

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