Category Archives: e-books

6

The Times it is a-changing

For the first time since 2004, the New York Times has made changes to their children’s bestseller lists. Up to this change, there were picture book, chapter book, paperback and series lists, with ten titles on each list (see here, though you’ll have to scroll down and click on the link for each list individually). There were complaints about the list (there are always complaints about the list), and publishers had been pushing for more space, especially as children’s sales increased dramatically. For comparison, the adult hardcover fiction list has fifteen slots, plus twenty on the extended list, for thirty-five slots total. In addition, many of us in the industry have complained about non-fiction titles dominating the chapter book list, particularly some licensed, toy-based books. The bestseller list is an important sales tool, not just an indicator of sales, and we know that the “New York Times Bestseller” designation for a book and author mean more attention from stores, libraries and consumers. Those of us bothered by the inclusion of those books felt that there were other titles that would benefit more from the attention that making the list brings, whereas these branded books would sell the same number of copies, with or without the designation. It’s not that they don’t deserve to be on a list; the chapter book list just seemed an odd fit.

So, when I heard from a source that the lists would be changing, I was hopeful. Sadly, this is definitely a case of “be careful what you wish for.” In their statement that proceeds the new list, the Times says they’ve made these changes in the list to reflect the changes in the book world, i.e. e-books. So now they have a picture book, middle grade, young adult, and series lists. The lists are format agnostic, so all hardcover, paperback and e-book sales on a title are included in the count. In addition, the MG and YA lists now include a short, five-slot extended list.

This all seems like it should be positive. I’ve been arguing that e-book sales should count towards the list, and there are ten new slots. But looking at the results for the first week, it’s disappointing. In splitting the books onto MG and YA (I can’t wait for when the Times puts a book on the “wrong” list), all of the children’s non-fiction, including those licensed books that drive me nuts, moved to the MG list. As such, eight of the top ten are nonfiction, and only two of those are narrative. The YA list is free of non-fiction, which is great. And it’s nice to see the quality, depth and breadth of the books on the list. But digging into the sales numbers a bit, it’s clear just how disadvantaged MG books are. Without the non-fiction to compete with, the YA list features titles on the main list that aren’t selling as well as some of the titles on the MG extended list. I’m basing this on one list, but from what I can see, it’s going to be much more difficult to have a MG bestseller than a YA one.

Though we know the times is now tracking hardcover, paperback and e-book sales for each title, it’s also unclear how the sales are weighted (and the Times guards their formula closely). The biggest question in this regard are about e-books. Are they tracking self-published books that are categorized as YA or MG? Does the price of the book effect the weighting? Could a publisher put an e-book on sale and watch their book jump onto the list? Making the list has always had an element of gamesmanship (colleagues and I like to joke about which book will magically land in the #10 spot, oftentimes despite dismal sales), but I think we’re in for an intense period of experimentation to see how e-book sales impact recognition.

And, I have one last complaint. With the start of the new MG and YA lists, the Times has reset each title’s “weeks on the list” count to 1. That means that Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF went from 272 weeks on the list back down to 1. It’s going to make it awfully tough for the next few months to easily see which books have been successful in the long run. Over time, this would cease to be an issue, but I hope the Times figures out a way to restore those “weeks on” counts.

End of rant. Any thoughts about the new lists and their impact?

Building Books

As December rolls around, the perpetual question of “What would you like from Santa” is to be found in e-mails from supremely organized family members.  Just as well, then, that a compendium of “Best of 2012” lists abounds, and over the last few days I have been taking a gander at these lists, most obviously the lists for best books.

One of the ubiquitous occupants of these lists is the “book” BUILDING STORIES by Chris Ware. Although, in one review I read, calling Ware’s work a book, would be doing the book a disservice. BUILDING STORIES comes in a box and is compiled of fourteen pamphlets that readers are free to read in whichever order they choose. Readers are then able to re-order the sequence in which they read the materials again and again. In a sense, where is the last page of this book?

Or does there necessarily have to be one? Ware’s book in a box certainly grabs your attention through its inventiveness, but should we be at all surprised? With the expanding array of reading devices, the way we read books is growing ever more diverse, and what we read is becoming ever more multifaceted in the digital world. Books such as HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER have grown to become an interactive nest of audio, pictures, archives and art.

With these new forms of storytelling, where do you stand as an author? Is Ware an author in the traditional sense, or more of a compiler of artifacts? What do you think of multimedia being a part of your reading material? Is the digital reader set to become a digital explorer?

1

Hello!

Thank you so much Jane for the kind introduction. It is fantastic to be here at DGLM, although I confess, these are familiar surroundings. As Jane mentioned, I began interning here in May 2011 while I was studying for my Master’s degree, so I am absolutely delighted to be a full time member of DGLM’s remarkable team. With e-books and e-readers continuing to offer us new ways to access books, it is an exciting time to be heading up DGLM’s digital publishing program. As a long-time lover of books, I feel incredibly privileged to have the chance to work closely with authors, the people who make us fall in love with books.

2

Welcome, Yassine Belkacemi!

Since its inception, our digital publishing program has been happily growing, both in the number of authors participating and in the number of titles published.  Currently we have 40 authors and 133 books in the program.

I am delighted to announce that we have now hired a full time project manager for this program who, in just a few short weeks, has already increased our percentage of growth.

Yassine Belkacemi was born in Scotland where he did his undergraduate studies at University of Edinburgh.  He then received a Master’s Degree at Columbia University here in New York.  He has been interning for us since May of 2011, and I have been eager to find a permanent place for him on our staff.

I hope you will all join me in welcoming Yassine as the newest member of the DGLM family.

8

Infographic to the rescue!

This week (month? year?) has been a whirlwind of much very good news and happy business, but with my brain in nonstop to-do-list-conquering mode, I’ve been struggling to come up with a good blog topic in between phone calls, emails, and contracts.  Happily the good people of Publishers Weekly sent me a blog topic in my email as if to say, “Don’t worry, Lauren!  It’s Friday, and people love infographics.”  (Thanks, PW!)

This visual distillation of some of the key e-book findings of Aptara’s 4th Annual eBook Survey of Publishers has some interesting information to tell us.  It also raises some questions:

Who are these 1 out of 5 publishers who do not produce e-books?

And of the 31% producing enhanced e-books, how many are producing enough that we’d notice?  I’m assuming just one counts as a yes.

Only 44% of publishers report that Amazon is their most lucrative sales channel?  This is surprising to me.  More surprising?  The publishers’ own websites being in second place.  Even distant second, I’d never have guessed that.

And why do publishers prefer the iPad as an e-reading device?

 

What questions does it raise for you?  And have you actually bought e-books directly from a publisher website?

Book Discovery

When I’m talking about eBooks with authors, something that always comes up is the idea of discoverability– how to get readers to actually find and purchase one of your titles. With so many titles out there, which is especially true on sites like Amazon, how do you get a reader to find your book?

So I was particularly interested in this survey posted by Digital Book World earlier in the week. What is fascinating about the findings is that people are using more and more ways to discover new works. According to Kelly Gallagher, who presented the results, readers use 44 different techniques to discover new titles. That’s a lot of ground to cover for an author.

The author of the DBW article puts it best when he says, “Imagine the complexity: a 27-year-old female romance reader from suburban Indianapolis who reads on a tablet computer but spends most of her time browsing the Web on her laptop versus a 43-year-old female romance reader living in Los Angeles who reads and buys exclusively on her e-reader. They’re both romance readers and female, but couldn’t be more different otherwise when it comes to how they discover and read books — and reaching them takes different marketing tactics.”

Something that also caught my eye: the #1 way people discover books, no matter what kind of reader they are? Either in person or through personal recommendations.

So where does an author begin? And do you find yourself discovering books in new ways?

 

7

Serial for dinner

One of the great things about the digital revolution is that it’s opening the market to different kinds of formats, some new, some old. One of the most successful and most interesting companies to take advantage of the opportunity is Byliner. They got off to a great start in 2011 with the publication of Jon Krakauer’s damning reporting on author Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and his book, Three Cups of Tea. Entitled Three Cups of Deceit, Krakauer’s more-than-article-length, less-than-book-length work proved that people were willing to pay for great investigative, long-form journalism, even if it wasn’t 80,000 words. They’ve continued with other similar successes, blazing a trail in this rather new format.

But they’re looking to revive old formats, as well, and I was thrilled to read that they’ve decided to delve into the publication of serial fiction. I was just discussing with an author of mine her desire to publish serialized fiction and lamenting the lack of outlets for it. (Or, rather, the lack of money-making outlets for it. As she said, the world of fan fiction is almost entirely serialized storytelling.) I predicted that serialized fiction would become a viable model, but not until a major name got the ball rolling and proved that there was a market. And Byliner made my prediction come true both quickly and rather spectacularly: they’re publishing two serialized stories, Positron by Margaret Atwood and 15 Gothic Street by Joe McGinniss. Atwood’s sounds very, well, Atwood, and McGinniss’s story was described as “Law & Order set in Lake Wobegon.” Both authors’ followings seemed primed for an experiment like this, and it’ll be interesting to see how they perform. I, for one, am a big fan of experiments in underused formats, and I’d love to see this become another venue for authors’ work. And, as someone whose reading time is limited, I’d love something that’s easily digestible and doesn’t require a huge investment of time in one sitting, while also providing a over-arching story.

What do you think?  Will we see a return to Victorian-era serialized novels? Or is this just another passing trend?

Lessons from History

I don’t know if you heard, but eBooks are changing the way people read and the way books are published. The digital revolution is turning the publishing industry on its head and forcing everyone—from readers to publishers to authors—to change and evolve.

But what is interesting to note is that a little more than 80 years ago, publishers and readers were experiencing the same thing. Mental Floss has this pithy history of the paperback book and how it transformed the publishing industry during the late 30’s and 40’s.

Basically, in 1939, a company called Pocket Books began releasing paperback books for $0.25 while the best-selling hardcover books were going for around $2.75. The low cost of paperback books was enabled by their cheaper production costs. (Sound familiar?) Publishers and authors originally scoffed at such cheap products, but when nine million paperback books sold in six months, authors and publishers jumped at the opportunity. (Notice any parallels?)

Needless to say, paperback books have become a mainstay of the publishing industry. And looking at their very similar history to eBooks, I wonder if a lot of the naysaying about the digital revolution is wrong. Do you think eBooks are just the next evolution of reading? Or are we really headed for the end of the publishing industry as we know it?

11

Judging an eBook by its Cover

 

With an increasingly digital marketplace for books, is cover art no longer a priority? According to Chip Kidd, Associate Art Director for Alfred A. Knopf, cover design is a dying art.

This recent piece from NPR explores the idea that as eBooks increase in popularity, the importance of a great cover is waning. (As a side note, Chip Kidd is responsible for some iconic book covers, including JURASSIC PARK and NAKED.) Kidd says that people often check out a specific eBook because of a great review or a recommendation—not because of the cover design. So in a rapidly digitizing world, a great cover is no longer a priority. (And there are some really, really bad ones out there.)

A bad cover leaves me with a bad impression about the book—if you can’t bother to put the effort into making sure your book looks good then why would I want to read it? And that is something I always emphasize to authors in our eBook program—a bad cover will never help your sales and even turn readers away. So I find Kidd’s words kind of surprising. Do you think eBook covers are still important? How do they influence your ultimate decision to buy (or not)?

 

Penguin’s Big Buy

You may have heard the news that Penguin Group has bought Author Solutions—one of the larger self-publishing platforms—for $116m. Not only is that a lot of money to invest in a company, it also speaks quite a bit about how traditional publishers have started to view self-publishing.

 

There’s no doubt that the current eBook market has seen a number of self-publishers find a great deal of success and notoriety. With this investment, it looks like Penguin is betting that self-published authors are a big part of publishing’s future. It is also a step in lending credibility to the self-publishing marketplace and its authors, who were once viewed as writers as who just couldn’t hack it as professional authors. Now, with the potential backing of a Big 6 publisher, that stigma may disappear.

 

It is still unclear how Author Solutions will be integrated into Penguin, though. Will Author Solutions replace Penguin’s Book Country platform? Or, more interestingly, will Penguin open up its own self-publishng arm (like Amazon’s KDP or Barnes and Nobles PubIt!)?

 

What do you think of Penguin’s big buy? Do you think we’re likely to see similar purchases in the future?