Category Archives: e-books

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When publishers compete–or not?

No, I’m not blogging about the highly competitive (hah!) Publishers Softball League, though I do have many happy memories of cutting out early summer afternoons to play left field for the Penguin Penguins, only to get our butts kicked by the NY Times and Time Magazine. Who routinely stocked their teams with ringers, by the way–so much for journalistic integrity!

Instead, I wanted to point you to our friend Mike Shatzkin’s recent blogpost about subscription services, and how Penguin Random House has opted out of the game. Mike makes a convincing argument that PRH is making a mistake here, but what really struck me more than anything else was his opening statement:

“I sometimes feel like I’m the only guy in town… contemplating out loud how Penguin Random House might use its position as by far the biggest commercial trade publisher to make life a bit more difficult for its competitors.”

Indeed, with all the consternation over Amazon, the notion that publishers might actually try to compete against each other for market share seems beside the point. And according to Mike, it seems like PRH is avoiding opportunities for competition, whether by wrongheadedness or design. I’d add, too, that from my agent’s perspective, it feels like PRH is NOT flexing its muscles, whether by limiting submissions or demanding contract concessions. Rather, it feels like they’ve gone out of their way to stress that the merger hasn’t affected business as usual, nor will it in the future.

But how long can that last? Especially now that Amazon and Hachette have come to terms, I would certainly expect PRH to be under more scrutiny. Mike suspects that a competitive move in kid’s ebook subscriptions is coming is coming down the pike, though that seems fairly minor to me. But I’ll be very curious to see in the new year if at some point PRH takes over from Amazon as the publishing industry villain–or at least competes for the title.

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All you can read books

It’s been very interesting to watch the unveiling of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s new subscription-based e-book program. It’s not a new concept. In fact, entertainment and media industries have been heading this way for a long time. Netflix provides consumers with unlimited streaming of television and movies for a flat flee. Spotify provides the same for music. So why not books?

Kindle Unlimited isn’t even the first to offer the all-you-can-read buffet. Oyster and other similar companies have been around for some time; yet none have Amazon’s platform. Or its ability to stir up controversy.

Some of Kindle Unlimited’s critics have historically been Amazon’s staunchest supporters: self-published authors. They’ve claimed that they stand to be hurt the most from the program, in part because of the different royalty structure. Royalties will be allocated from a set fund divided across all borrowed units, which may mean lower royalty payments. Not only that, but self-published authors who choose to opt out of Kindle Unlimited so they can distribute to other vendors, such as Nook Press and Kobo, stand to drop in the Amazon bestseller rankings because Kindle Unlimited “sales” count towards those hourly standings. Pro Kindle Unlimited authors, on the other hand, argue that authors will benefit greatly from the discoverability that Kindle Unlimited and such rankings could provide. Unknown authors can potentially shoot up in rank, even if those “buying” their books never get around to reading them.

And what about on the consumer side? On the face of it, $9.99/month for an unlimited number of books seems like a great deal. But how many people subscribing to Kindle Unlimited actually read enough books every month to make it worth it? It’s one thing to binge-watch shows and movies on Netflix or binge-listen to music for hours on end on Spotify. But binge-reading is a whole different ballgame.

I’d like to hear what our readers think of Kindle Unlimited. Will you subscribe? If you’re an author, do you enroll?

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Whether a borrower or a lender to be…

I usually take a look at Twitter while I eat lunch and today this little gem, retweeted by publishing newsletter Shelf Awareness, caught my eye:

 

My first thought was, “Josh Malina is nicer than me.”

Now, in some ways I’m happy to lend books. If I loved a book, I want my friends to read it so that they can love it too – or so that we can argue about why we thought it was so good/not so good. Here in the DGLM office we often borrow books back and forth (DVDs too – in fact I currently have Lauren’s Sports Night DVDs, featuring the aforementioned Josh Malina – but I digress.) Books, staplers, post-its, everything is fair game in the office, right? Just don’t touch my peanut butter.

But sometimes I really, really love a book in a way that’s linked to a specific physical copy of a book. And then I’m verrrrrry reluctant to lend it out. Sometimes because I’ve scribbled notes all over it. Sometimes because I got it at an author event and it has a special inscription or signature. And sometimes, nonsensically, I loved the book so much that I want to hold on to the exact physical object that I held in my hands while I read it. The book is a physical symbol of that intangible and cherished reading experience.

I know this horcrux-like attitude doesn’t fit very nicely into the digital age. But the lending of books is a beloved part of the reading experience that hasn’t transitioned quite as easily to the e-books experience. It’s getting easier and easier to do it impersonally, whether you use the Kindle Lending Library, your city library, or subscription services like Oyster. It’s not so easy, however, for passionate readers to share e-books with each other like they could do with paperbacks – shared digital books often require both readers to use the same device or service, and usually come with time limits.

This is this kind of digital growing pain that has as much potential for excitement as for inconvenience. Think of the amazing new borrowing inventions that lie just around the corner! In the meantime, I’ll be separating my books into two categories: “Go Ahead, You’re Gonna Love It” and “Do Not Touch My Precious.”

Are you a free spirit when it comes to lending your books, or do you have precious no-touch copies like me?

 If you’re an e-book reader, what are your suggestions for improving options for e-book borrowing?  

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Royalty rate questions from the interns

I’ve looked over so many royalty statements that sometimes it’s easy to forget that not everyone understands them. And believe me, there are times when royalty statements are very, very hard to understand. But I realized the necessity of this post when going over royalty statements with a few interns, and they had the same basic questions I first had.

How do publishers determine royalty rates?

Fair question. The answer is that they don’t. Not alone, at least. Royalty rates are outlined in the author’s contract, and if the author has an agent, it’s his or her job to negotiate the terms of this contract on behalf of their client, including the royalty rates. This also partially answered their second question.

Are hardcover royalties handled differently than e-book royalties? And what about audio royalties?

Well, yes, they are, and kudos to the interns for inadvertently asking a contentious question concerning a longtime issue in the publishing industry ever since the ascent of e-books. Although all royalty rates are outlined in each individual author’s contract, the industry standard generally dictates a royalty rate around 10-15% of the list price (retail price) for hardcover editions of a book–7.5% for trade paperback and 8%-10% for mass market. E-book rates hover around 25% of the net, meaning 25% of the publisher’s profits. Although the latter might seem more beneficial for authors, e-books are priced lower than print editions and have significantly lower production costs, which if we were to do the math, results in less earnings per unit.

And if considering a wide range of royalty rates for multiple editions of a book isn’t enough, many contracts have royalty escalators and different rates for exports, foreign sales, and subsidiary rights.

Confused yet? Want to know more? Well then let me hear your thoughts: post your question in comments section!

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71% of people make an odd decision

I think I’m a bit of an anomaly in the book world, and I don’t even mean publishing, but the larger group of people known as “readers.” I was surprised to read that 71% of travelers at Heathrow said they’d prefer to bring a physical book on vacation. Which leads me to confess: I almost never buy print books. That isn’t to say my apartment isn’t overflowing with them. In fact, I have more than I know what to do with, but this may stem from my compulsive need to have each of my authors’ books in my home. And then there are my favorite books, which take up another bookshelf. And I do have a bit of an addiction to coffee table books; if I see a museum show and like it, I must have the accompanying book (which I do look at, despite what my partner thinks). But for novels and general nonfiction, I turn to my tablet, where I buy books from all the major retailers. I prefer the convenience of reduced weight and the fact that I can carry several titles with me at all times. I guess I’m more tied to reading than I am to books.

But, I don’t want this to turn into an argument about the merits of physical books over e-books or vice-versa. I think they both have their place, and people each have their preferences. If nothing else, it shows that both can co-exist somewhat peacefully. In fact, I must admit: I’m curious how many of the 71% actually read e-books in non-vacation settings. How many of you out there are hybrid readers? Are physical books saved for special occasions?

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Game, Set, MatchBook

Last week Amazon announced a new program, Kindle MatchBook. It’s  not, as some hoped  wondered, a dating site for book enthusiasts, nor is it something out of Fahrenheit 451, as the funny folks at Book Riot suggested. But it’s still something to get fired up about: MatchBook essentially bundles paper and digital together by offering you the e-book at a discount when you buy the print edition.

There’s a lot to love about this. Many avid readers still care about the look, feel, smell of a book as an object, but also love the ease and affordability of e-books, and have been eager for an affordable way to enjoy both formats at once. Do you like to buy books for gifts? Now you can delight your friends and family with brand new hardcovers, and snatch up the e-book for yourself for just a couple bucks more. Did you lend your favorite Neil Gaiman book to a friend who then moved to Australia? No worries, mate – replace it with the e-book for pocket change. That’s right! MatchBook applies to books you’ve purchased on Amazon.com going all the way back to 1995 when the bookstore launched. That’s quite a few lifetimes in internet years.

The titles available with MatchBook depend on publisher participation. So far HarperCollins has signed on, as well as all of Amazon Publishing’s imprint, and titles self-published through Amazon KDP. It remains to be seen which other publishers will jump on board as well. But it’s an exciting first step towards having your book and e-reading it too.

What do you think? Have you been wishing for bundling to become a thing?

Is reading changing?

I’m on vacation next week (Yay!) and for reasons I’ve never really understood (perhaps therapy would help), I’m in that clear-my-desk-of-everything-I’ve-been-meaning-to-take-care-of-since-January mode while being suddenly bombarded with contracts, manuscripts, and proposals that I’ve been waiting for roughly since, well, January and which have chosen this week to make an appearance with an “urgent” flag attached to them.  Of course, it’s my blog week as well so, in full pre-vacation madness, I shamelessly stole Jim McCarthy’s idea to ask his Twitter followers to suggest a topic for him when he returned from his travels. Several people helpfully responded to my plea and I very much appreciate their input.

The one idea that jumped out at me was submitted by our client Kevin Grange: “People are increasingly reading in shorter bursts on various e-devices. Should we construct stories differently? Thoughts?”

Partly, I sparked to this one because I’ve been fantasizing about which of my books I’m going to lug a physical copy of and which ones I’m going to add to my Kindle Fire.  (My grasp, as always, exceeds my reach here, folks.  I’m packing books like I’ve been sentenced to solitary confinement in Siberia instead of a week at the beach with my family.)

Despite my initial impulse to deny that my reading habits have changed at all and that, therefore, there’s any need to change the essential structure of storytelling,  Kevin’s question made me realize that I do, indeed, read in shorter bursts when using my Kindle (or any other electronic device).  In part, this is because, I don’t care what anyone says, my eyes get tired more quickly reading a screen.  Mostly, though, it has to do with the fact that Words With Friends, Ruzzle, Facebook, and the whole of the internet is also on my Kindle along with the 300 other titles and manuscripts residing therein.  So, if I hit a dull patch in my book, there’s always something else to take its place.

But does this mean that authors need to write shorter?  Shorter sentences?  Shorter paragraphs?  Shorter chapters?  Shorter books?  And is it already happening?

Thriller writers have known for years that trim chapters ending in cliffhangers build that all-important momentum, leading inexorably to the climactic scene involving a sinister villain, a put-upon hero(ine), and lots of weaponry.   But, does the fact that increasingly we’re ingesting our literature on e-readers mean that even literary fiction and nonfiction are conforming to the dictates of our ever shorter attention spans?

Instinctively, I want to say they are, but I’ve no solid data on the subject.  Basically,  I’m going to keep this in mind as I read and edit and consider new projects.  Meanwhile, I’ll just restate Kevin’s very good question here and ask what you all think.  For the writers out there, are you consciously shortening your stride when writing?  And for the readers, do you find, as I do, that you have less stickwithitness?

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Getting to Know You

As Jane told you last week, I’m the new kid on the block, and I’m excited to be working with DGLM’s clients on their digital projects.

If you read my bio, you know that I was born a bookworm, and probably not long after that started obnoxiously correcting other people’s grammar. So it’s no surprise that I got myself an English degree, had a bookstore gig for a few years, and then came to NYC to work in publishing in 2009. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about the challenges and the opportunities of the digital publishing revolution, and am eager to put that knowledge at the disposal of DGLM’s authors.

Since I’m new here, I bet you’re curious about what I read! In general, I am obsessed with literary fiction, especially if it’s witty; well-written thrillers with smart twists; and pretty much anything with an unreliable narrator. (That admission might lead you to question this blog post – don’t worry, it’s entirely legit…or is it.) After all, whether you love e-books, paper books, or a little bit of both, it’s all about the storytelling.

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Revising Literature

In T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, he writes:

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

I always associate these lines with any sort of creative process, none so more than writing. Although not a writer myself, aside from some university dissertations which I dare not revisit, I become intrigued when I read this article about a collection of first edition books that have been annotated by their author and will be sold off at a charity auction. Some of the authors are rather scathing of their own work such as Yann Martel, who concedes he never completely liked the opening line of The Life of Pi. Other annotations include small details like Lynne Truss fixing a hyphen that appears on the title page of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Despite the success that all these authors have continued to have, I did wonder if they slightly gnashed their teeth in frustration as they penned their annotations, being unable to permanently improve or alter their books.

The annotations made by these authors on their own works does speak to Eliot’s words, in that they must have pored over each page of their manuscript, made corrections, scrubbed out words only to later add them back in but at some point had to take their toast and tea and draw the line somewhere. In turn, as books now appear in digital as well as print, is there the possibility that an author could endlessly tinker with their work? This piece in the Christian Science Monitor a number of years ago pondered the very question with its author concluding that this could very well be a ‘doomsday scenario’. In journalism, it is not infrequent to have articles amended, so can the same opportunity be afforded to authors who may wish to use the malleability of an e-book to tinker with their own work as time goes by? Or once published, should they be left untouched? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Creatures of Habit

Over the weekend my roommate was showing me an app on his smartphone, one that analyses your sleeping pattern. You place your smartphone in bed and by charting your movements the app is able to determine whether you are in a deep sleep state or a light sleep state. The app then programs your alarm to wake you up in the light sleep phase closest to the time you wish to wake up, thus ensuring that you will start off your day bright eyed and bushy tailed.

What interested me about this device however is that its output consists of graphs, numbers and statistics, data which does not visually reflect the more subjective and emotional side of sleep, which is dreams. Does the empirical complement or explain the ethereal? Can raw data explain why I always miss the last minute winning goal for my boyhood soccer team? (It’s a recurring dream, so I’ll always get another chance).

With this swirling around my head, I was drawn to this article on the Guardian. The article posits that e-books are a different genre from print books because, “With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the e-book. The e-book gathers a great deal of information about our reading habits: when we start to read, when we stop, how quickly or slowly we read, when we skip pages, when we re-read, what we choose to highlight, what we choose to read next.”

To link my personal anecdote with the article – will the e-book and its possibility to trace and digest our preferences change the role of our relationship with books? Much like the alarm being set to suit the sleeper, will the e-book become malleable to the reader’s preferences?

I am still chewing this over and over. I see the journalist’s point, that by being able to extrapolate a reader’s reading habits through an e-book we would be able to see what kind of reader we are through a set of data, that can then be used to adapt the text, “If 50% of readers stopped reading you postmodernist thriller at page 98, the publisher might recommend that for Version 2.0, the plot twist on page 110 be brought forward.”

It is indeed an interesting perspective to the future , but is not yet the reality, which is why I am still mulling over the possibilities over private vs. public reading habits. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this article. Is this the way you view e-books? I’ll get back to you in a future blog post with more thoughts on this debate and I’ll let you know if I ever score that winning goal!