Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Buzz (and buzz kill)

Need a jump start some mornings? I know I do.

As Prof. Farnsworth oft said on Futurama: "Good news, everyone." There's no longer any reason to wait till after showering for a caffeine fix. Not when you can (or so the manufacturer claims) get caffeine from your soap. (Really. I'm not making this up, whether or not the Shower Shock people are.)

And you'll want to be awake before you leave home, because there's a new threat to our networked world: GPS jamming. The notion of inexpensive jammers messing with my GPS ... that's very upsetting. As is the possibility (see the same article) that 4G LTE mobile broadband services will interfere with GPS on a wide scale.

But the bigger buzz kill is a recent blog post by SF colleague Kristine Kathryn Rusch. In "Writing like it's 1999," she paints a picture of authors needing to become  their own agent, publisher, and promoter combined. (And when, you might ask, are we supposed to write?) I like to think there's some hyperbole involved, and that prospect for traditional publishing isn't quite as harsh and bleak as Kris portrays it.

But I can't dismiss her viewpoint out of hand. Like two-headed calves and the sky raining stones, there are portents of a (publishing) apocalypse: The Wall Street Journal reports that 99-Cent Titles From Unknown Authors Put New Pressure on Big Publishers. Like ebooks outselling mass-market paperbacks -- and the Association of American Publishers ought to know -- authors bypassing publishers is surely a sign of ... something.

Now if you'll excuse me while I get some coffee and a bar of soap ...


Erik said...

I know that cell phone jammers have been cheap to build for a long time, and dangerous when used by people who don't know their range. You can order them online for $20, and many churches or restaurant use them.

I find the bit about 99c books and small publishers interesting. It could be beneficial for the market to move this way. Piracy of ebooks is damned easy and 99c books would be very competitive with pirated ones.

It's difficult to justify spending $30 on a book when it is available for free on the internet, unless of course it is a favorite series or author. There are also a lot of people who like to hold the physical book.

How much of a cut do publishing companies take from physical books, and how much from e-books. I'm willing to guess that an author like yourself could benefit from using traditional publishers to print/sell dead tree books, and independent/untraditional publishing methods for e-books. If there is some way to give the publishers less dollar when you sell digital, maybe you can make your prices low enough to compete with piracy, while still making about the same amount yourself.

I've noticed that your ebook prices are already pretty low, so maybe there's not much room to reduce them further. It all depends on what cut the publisher is getting.

Edward M. Lerner said...

Erik --

Will, or should, authors become their own publishers? That is the core question, and -- trust me -- authors all talk about it.

As for me, I'm not there yet. Ebooks make self-publishing mechanically easier than it once was -- but having an ebook does not confer visibility (over the other bazillion ebooks) or credibility. Few authors are Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, with hordes of fans scouring the web for any sign of a new book that they'll buy with no further recommendation than the author's name.

A major publisher's participation does more than get dead-tree books into brick-and-mortar stores and the hands of reviewers. The publisher's backing is, minimally, proof that a professional editor selected the manuscript (and, hopefully, improved it) -- that someone other than the author's mother liked the book. That endorsement has value for ebooks, too.

As for pricing and royalty rates, every publisher and author in the world is presently struggling to find the right levels. One way or another, someone must incent authors to produce books, and editors to improve them, and artists to produce cover art for them ... all at a unit price that keeps readers buying.

There's an old joke wherein a business owner is asked about his low, low prices. He explains, "I lose money on every sale, so I have to make it up in volume." 99-cent ebooks could turn out like that for many authors.

- Ed

Unknown said...

One of the benefits for me of my Nook -- is the samples. Which are distributed by the publishers.(And hey I found you because I read Analog on my Nook!) I go to B& and can download samples of almost any e-book that vaguely interests me. And read them at my leisure.

Unlike the bookstore or even the library, I don't have to decide right now, I don't have to choose between this book and that book right this second. I can read the book that drew me in first, then when that's finished pick up another sample. If I like it, I download it and keep reading.

But I do have that faith in the publisher that you mentioned - someone has waded through what Marion Zimmer Bradley always called "The Slushpile" and found the writers who have a story and likeable characters and gotten rid of the ...well, slush. That I, the paying reader, don't have time or energy for.

I would say I've actually spent more on books since I got my ereader (XMas 2010) than I did on books for myself all of the previous year. Before I wouldn't get hooked from a sample, and I wouldn't spend the money on something I wasn't sure of - I'd place a hold at the library and wait. (I know, I'm so old school - the library!) Once I've read the sample, I have less patience for that time-lapse.

And yes I have some public domain freebies on there -ALL THE OZ BOOKS!! and I have figured out how to use my library's e-branch.

99c books are a fine idea and I buy some books that are in the public domain at 99c for the editing and formatting neatness. In almost every case I've experienced thus far - an e-book from a publisher is vastly superior in readability to a freebie download. And I can't bring myself to spend time on slush. I read plenty of it on bad blogs to get my fill. ;)

Edward M. Lerner said...

Hi Elf,

I'm not anti-ereader, just attentive (and sometimes edgy) about their still TBD impacts on publishing. Think of me as a small-business owner facing a revolution in the means of distribution between me and my customers.

As for free samples as a way to draw readers -- absolutely, that's a Good Thing.

- Ed