Thursday, March 3, 2011
Ebooks are the Future, and the Future is Here
Today Jungle Red talks with Marcia Talley, Agatha and Anthony award-winning author of the Hannah Ives mystery series and more than a dozen short stories, and the 2010 President of Sisters-in-Crime, about SinC's look at the future of publishing.
Last summer, Marcia and a team from the Sisters in Crime Board hit the high-tech e-book world on the West Coast, where they talked with:
• Amazon’s Kindle and other e-program representatives
• Google’s Google Books team
• Apple’s iBookstore team
• Smashwords ePublishing founder and CEO
• Owners of Seattle Mystery Books and M is for Mystery (San Mateo)
about how changing technology will affect writers AND readers. Last week, JR visited with Paul Hochman, Director of Social Media for SMP,about the importance of social media in today's publishing. From the SinC team's report, it seems apparent that electronic publishing formats are inextricably intertwined with social media, and that
authors who want to succeed in this new world had better get savvy, quickly.
MARCIA: That’s right, Debs. As bookseller Jim Huang, a member of our team said, “It’s not that everything is going to change. Everything already has changed!”
DEB: Marcia, can you give us your impressions of the companies you visited? One of the things I found most reassuring was that all these people seem to really LOVE books.
MARCIA: Absolutely. They all talked about books they were reading, they collect books, they search out bookstores whenever they visit a new town. I had to laugh when I saw the ‘bumper sticker” on one of the employee laptops at Google. It said, “My other data device is a book.”
The thing that impressed me the most was that almost without exception, the individuals who are running the e-book operations at Amazon, Google and Apple came from the world of New York publishing. They understand the business inside and out. But unlike New York publishers – that are paralyzed by towering levels of bureaucracy and but-we’ve-always-done-it-this-way attitudes – these folks are not afraid to smash old paradigms and take risks. Each of these companies has more than 20,000 employees, yet they operate as “little villages” where individuals are allowed to make decisions, collaborate with colleagues in other areas and gather feedback. They’re also characterized by charismatic founding leaders who are still very much part of the day-to-day operations of the companies.
Secondly, Amazon, Google, Apple and Smashwords are all committed to selling books. OMG, what a concept!
“Every book ever printed, in any way, all available in less than 60 seconds anywhere in the world,” says Amazon. Apple wants to offer iBooks wherever in the world users have access to iTunes. Google’s vision is for people to have whatever they might want to read through what Google terms “books in the cloud,” aiming, like Smashwords, at the enormous global Internet market – 1.8 billion users and counting.
All these companies are customer-centric. “We start with the customer and work backwards,” Jon Fine of Amazon told us. “And we’ve enlarged our definition of customer to include authors.” The tools that they provide for authors, both at the beginnings of their careers (print and electronic publishing options) and for those who are already established (promotional tools) – and for free! – are truly impressive. Amazon Central, Search Inside the Book, Amazon Associates, Google blogs and calendars, Google Search Stories (you have to check out “Parisian Love,”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnsSUqgkDwU ) to name just a few. For complete details, I urge you to check out the Sisters in Crime 2010 Summit Report at
which we made available to our members in August but has just been released for wider distribution.
DEB: Will people continue to read "paper" books? I was intrigued by the "bundling" concept.
MARCIA: I think paper books are going to be around for a long time. I have an iPad and my husband has a Kindle, yet there’s nothing quite like the experience of lying in a hammock while reading a good, old-fashioned paperback book! No batteries, for one thing, and if you fall asleep and drop it – particularly in the bathtub -- the damage is minimal. But you asked me about bundling. Google is exploring bundling, an option that will allow readers to buy an e-book and a print book as a bundle. For
example, a customer may go to the website of Powell’s Books in Portland, OR and order the “bundle” for a new book. While Powell’s delivers the physical book, Google would be the delivery mechanism for the e-book portion of that order. This is in the works now.
DEB: What about royalties? At present, authors are taking a big loss on ebook royalties. Will that change?
MARCIA: I think it will have to change, as authors and their agents 'wise up' and start negotiating for higher royalty percentages when new contract time rolls around. The Authors Guild has been actively weighing in on this issue with a series of articles (Check out "Ebook Royalty Math: The House Always Wins)
This is a fascinating look at the numbers; it's easy to see that authors with major houses are presently getting screwed. [Sorry, technical term.]
"Resistance, in the long run," the Author's Guild notes, "will be futile. As the e-book market continues to grow, competitive pressures will almost certainly force publishers to share e-book proceeds fairly. Authors with clout simply won’t put up with junior partner status in an increasingly important market."
Indeed, I've heard some authors with major houses question why they even need a NY publisher. If an author can put a book up on Kindle and get 70% of the profits, or on Smashwords and get close to 85% ... it’s kind of a no-brainer. An author getting less than 25% under her current contract is going to start taking a hard look at exactly what her publisher is putting on the table.
DEB: Will bookstores survive the revolution?
MARCIA: Borders is certainly floundering big time – declaring bankruptcy and closing 200 stores -- and there was a recent bloodbath, excuse me, “realignment” at Barnes and Noble where up to fifty top people were fired, including Dan Mayer who was their head mystery buyer and a good friend. The last time I was in a Barnes and Noble, I thought I’d walked into an Apple Store: everything up front, with the exception of the cash registers, was dedicated to the sale of Nooks. Nuff said. Independent bookstores are closing right and left, and yet, some independents and specialty bookshops are thriving, especially those that offer frequent author signings and/or autographed first editions by mail. Google is presently in discussions with the American Booksellers Association to enable sales of Google Editions on the ABA’s
IndieBound (formerly BookSense) platform. This would allow independent bookstores to sell e-books to their customers.
DEB: Will electronic publishing give authors more control over their work?
MARCIA: I would like to think so! There’s that embarrassing sailing boo-boo in Sing It To Her Bones that I’d like to correct, for example. Certainly with Smashwords the author has total control; she can change the text multiple times, change covers, change the price, all at no cost. And with an e-book, the reader, too, can control his reading experience: font size, spacing, being able to click from the table of contents to a particular chapter, or even view a behind-the-scenes author interview. Sobering thought. I write in my pajamas.
DEB: Marcia, you have a new book coming out, A QUIET DEATH. Will it be available as an ebook?
MARCIA: This is the question that readers keep asking! The hardback comes out in May, the trade paper about six months after that. I'm told by my publisher that all of my books will soon be available as e-books and that they are working out "details" with Ingram. So I guess the answer to your question is “stay tuned.”
I’m glad you asked about A Quiet Death, though. It was inspired by an article I read in the London Times a couple of years ago where a bus got to the end of the line and the cleaning people discovered a shopping bag full of old love letters and photographs.
I moved the plot to Maryland. Hannah is returning from a charity luncheon in Washington, DC, when her train is involved in a horrific crash. Although injured, Hannah remains at the side of her seatmate, reassuring the critically injured man until emergency workers free him from the twisted wreckage.
Nursing a broken arm, Hannah is discharged from the hospital with her ‘belongings,’ including a distinctive shopping bag she last saw in the hands of the stranger on the train. Hannah’s attempt to reunite the bag with its owner unwittingly sets in motion a chain of events that could put her own life in danger. Unintimidated, her search gradually narrows to a remote cottage on Maryland’s eastern shore, where Hannah discovers how fine a line there is between love and hate, forgiveness and betrayal, and how easy it is to cross over that line to murder.
DEB: Marcia, thanks so much for sharing. The next few years are going to be very interesting for publishing, but I think people are going to keep reading, and that there will always be a place for good books.
Speaking of which, congratulations on A Quiet Death (I've read it--it's fabulous!) and I can't wait to have a real copy--and one on my e-reader.
What about you, readers? Will you embrace both?