Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Day at Digital Book World, Part 2 of 2 Parts

By Rosemary Harris

The Role of Publishers

Get books on shelves, paying up front (advances) royalties, publicize and market books, but they have to prove they're worth it. Some panelists said new and midlist authors will eventually question the necessity of traditional publishers as the intermediary between themselves and readers. (Bestselling authors will probably not, since they are the ones getting big advances which will most likely never earn out.)

Publishers doubt whether most authors will want to do all the work necessary to be self-pubbed. A Random House spokesperson (and others) believe publishers are the curators of content and will continue to be essential.

Print publishers are not going away for the foreseeable future.


The publishers who spoke pointed to marketing success stories, but the examples were either already bestselling authors (James Patterson, Lee Child), juvenile titles or non-fiction.

With the exception of Harlequin romance, there were no genre fiction examples. In that instance, the brand was bigger than any individual author and had been for so many years that it was virtually impossible to point to any specific activity on the part of the publisher that helped generate sales.

The Dover Publications spokesperson cited examples of frequent outbound marketing to young parents, but cautioned that it was a "privilege" to be allowed to communicate with consumers (I heard this word from a few different panelists), so outbound marketing should be handled carefully to avoid inundating the consumer.

A Harlequin executive and a consultant to National Geographic mentioned cover surveys, premiums and contests as ways to engage readers online. All recommended free content as a way to build and maintain relationships.

Everyone talked about how authors were now required to participate in the marketing of their books through the use of social marketing, Facebook, websites, Twitter and mailing lists -- although all agreed that not everything was right for everyone and it was preferable to do a few things well than to spread oneself too thin.

The S&S and Harlequin reps said their houses gave tutorials and webinars to their authors to guide them in learning how to do these.

All of the panelists referenced direct marketing practices from the 80s and 90s. Not that much has changed, except the way we find the consumer. A 2% response to a mail campaign is still the gold standard.


An Amazon VP came, rattled his Kindle and left without taking any questions. Basically, it's the company's goal to have every book in every language available to anyone within 60 seconds. He repeated anecdata on who wants e-readers -- specifically the Kindle, of course -- and why they are the way of the future.

He cited increased backlist sales when a new release was digitized and available on Kindle (this is also true in print.) He suggested out-of-print titles could have a new life on Kindle.

Most interesting, he talked about Kindle Singles, works from 5,000-30,000 words which Amazon is marketing/planning to market from $.99-$4.99. There is/will be a dedicated store for these on Amazon and Kindle.

He talked about Print-on-Demand, which he thought made sense for titles that were either out of print, temporarily out of stock or for those titles that were smaller (i.e., niche) and not likely to sell more than 2,000 copies.

He reiterated that price is key and again mentioned (it's been cited elsewhere by Amazon execs) the stat that a $2 increase in price can result in a 40% drop in sales.

The Future

Some speculated that by 2015 e-books would represent 50% of all books sales. The recent firings of buyers at B&N were used to illustrate this point. Others qualified that by saying yes, but only for certain subjects, genres, etc.

Rosemary Harris is the Anthony and Agatha Award-nominated author of the Dirty Business mystery series. The most recent title in the series, Slug Fest (available April 2011), is set at a Northeast flower show where more than just the plants are dying.


Polly said...

It boggles my mind that publishers put their money on known quantities--those writers who will sell huge quantities, no matter what--and don't invest in new and mid-list writers who could conceivably become bestsellers with a little help, meaning money. Many good writers and good books are left to wither and die because authors can't afford the cost of promoting their books. I think it's that shortsightedness that's contributing to a partial demise of the publishing business.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Anecdata???? Ahhhh.....

Thanks, Ro, incredibly interesting!

And yes, Polly, I so agree..

Grapeshot/Odette said...

I'm planning to bring out a "niche" unsold novel on the Kindle this year. It's a challenge with the editing, formatting, PR, etc., but an exciting challenge. I think the stigma of "self-published" is receding.


Rochelle Staab said...

Very interesting Rosemary. Anecdata! LOVE THAT!

I disagree with the Amazon exec - I believe digital sales will surpass 50% of total book sales well before 2015.

I'd like to know the % of colleges offering text books on e-readers. That would create a major shift. I'm certain someone must be doing that already. Anyone know?

Sandra Parshall said...

Rochelle, I've read about some colleges moving entirely to e-book form for textbooks. Much more affordable for the students.

Rochelle Staab said...

I imagine eTextbooks are the future and will change study habits dramatically. One thing about my Kindle - I miss flipping through pages to find something. A whole new learning curve!

Cheaper, definitely. Easier on the back and shoulders than lugging a stack of books. And it cultivates an eRead environment long after graduation.

Some universities give freshmen iPods. I wonder when a Kindle, Nook, or Sony reader in will appear in the packet too?

Rosemary Harris said...

As SJ said, there was definitely some hot air swirling around the show. Some publishers were hesitant to say what they were doing that was working for fear of letting the others in on what they'd learned! And there were more than a few vendors selling their services, so their info and stats were a little suspect.
I personally will be paying a lot more attention to Amazon than I have in the past and one thing that we can all do - get your fans, friends, family members, and SINC buddies to post reviews. With the absence of many newspapers with book review sections every review counts!

Con said...

Thanks again for the info and the analysis.


I am a print addict. I love the feel of a new book in my hands. I love turning the pages and touching printed words of an imaginative mind weaving a story that keeps me turning pages upon pages until the end. I can caress the book once I'm done and put it on my library shelf along with a hundred other books. I can return to it anytime I want, pulling it from my shelf and flipping open a page to re-read a passage that moved me. I am a dinasour of the printed word. Maybe in the year 2015 the world will flash and flurry quickly skimming an author's laborious work, but for me I'm in no hurry. Teresa Lynn - Sister in Crime Member and author of the Magnolia Mystery Series.

ellen hart said...

Rosemary -- This is wonderful. Quick question. Do you remember anyone saying anything about DRM? Is it working, necessary? And also, how does a writer go about copyrighting and ebook original? Thanks!