Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More Signs of the Times

By Joe Moore

In a recent article in The Economist, it was reported that in the first five months of this year, sales of consumer e-books in the U.S. surpassed those of adult hardback books. Only a year before, it was 3 to 1 in favor of hardbacks. Amazon now sells more e-books than paper copies. It’s predicted that as more bookstores close, that will just continue to increase.

Another sign of the times: furniture manufacturers like IKEA are introducing book cases that aren’t designed to hold real books.

The publishing industry is running behind newspapers and music in moving into the digital world. But while the music and newspaper industries are in decline, many publishers feel the transition to ones and zeros will have better results. One big reason is that digitization will breathe new life into old titles and out-of-print books. Some genres, such as serialized romance novels, has a very short shelf life. This will no longer be a big factor since e-books never go out of print. Fans can access these books any time after publication thus extending the income potential for the publisher and author.

Despite this glowing advantage, the article also points out a couple of darker concerns. Number one on the list is piracy. Unlike a digitized movie or music album, e-book files are very small. BitTorrent-powered peer-to-peer websites make sharing and downloading books easy. Accessing the latest bestseller for your e-reader takes only seconds. And it’s widespread and growing like weeds. I get a couple of Google Alerts a week notifying me of new websites where my e-books can be downloaded for free.

Pricing is another threat and directly contributes to piracy. The higher the price, the better the chance that someone will go looking for a free download.

Then there’s the demise of the brick and mortar bookstore. As more stores close, the ability of a publisher to market and promote their books disappears. In the case of Hollywood, fully produced movie trailers run on TV and the Internet, and with music, radio stations are the main path to promotion. But as the number of bookstores decreases, so does the ability of publishers to promote their latest books, virtually the only cost efficient marketing outlet they’ve had up until now.

So with the steady growth of e-books, which one of these issues has directly affected the writers out there? Is your backlist being given a rebirth in digital format? Are your books being pirated? Are the bookstores in your town hanging on or vanishing? Has your publisher found other avenues to promote your work?

9 comments:

  1. Excellent post, Joe.

    I've given up on chasing down pirate sites. I used to forward links to my publisher, but even if they got that one shut down, they'd pop up elsewhere under a different link & name..It was like playing "Whack a Mole" with a really heavy mallet. A few authors have gone on record as saying piracy is just more people reading your book, but I think most authors are angered by it.

    We all trust publishers & libraries to get digital books in the hands of readers with the proper security, but with the internet bring "free," there are those who justify their stealing of digital as "their entitlement."

    Since I'll be posting tomorrow, I'll expand what I was going to cover (the unique concept behind my TeenShiver blog) & share more on online promo in a digital age, the things I've worked on through my publisher. Thanks, Joe.

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  2. There's one school of thought on piracy that says most of it's not really a "lost" sale. It's a download that the pirate wouldn't have paid for anyway.

    It's also more a problem for the big publishers (like they need more problems) with A list authors and books. Indie authors who price relatively low may not be hurt much at all.

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  3. RE: Piracy--it's no easy fix but honestly, I think there are a few generations of people who don't even THINK about the fact that stealing intellectual property is stealing. We need to properly teach people that fact. I know when it comes up in various settings I make a point of it.

    BK Jackson
    http://www.bkjackson.blogspot.com

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  4. Jordan, although I find piracy annoying, I tend to lean in the direction you stated, that it's just more people reading my words. And the fact that there's nothing we can do about it, doesn't help either.

    Jim, I agree with the theory that a pirated download is one that would not have bought anyway. Fighting it is a lot like swatting flies. Or as Jordan said, Whack A Mole.

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  5. Great post, Joe.
    I'm in the camp of more folks reading the book--even though it does make me angry. We work hard to entertain the world, and put our books out their electronically in good faith.

    There's no honor in being an e-book pirate. My message to those thieves: How about acting like Robin Hood and pay us poor authors royalties for the books they've stolen! LOL!!!

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  6. BK, some folks won't understand that it's stealing until they write a book or record a song and it gets downloaded for free.

    Kathy, I always thought you would make a good Maid Marian. :-)

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  7. Oh man, this reminds that I missed international talk like a pirate day earlier this week! Argh!

    Being a self-published writer with audiobooks, ebooks and paperbacks I went into it knowing that there was a definite probability that my work would be pirated. So, I intentionally offered beta versions of my books as free serialized podcast audiobooks to go ahead and draw an audience to my work in general. I did this with the hope that if I gave something away free to begin with, there would be less incentive to steal it.

    This strategy seems to have worked because I have not had an issue with folks pirating my stuff.

    of course...that lack of theft might also be because I am an unknown, obscure author hidden away in the Alaskan wilderness who's books seem to be primarily enjoyed by a handful of folks who enjoy seeing things blown up while reading a book that is like, in one reader's words, "A movie in my head." That and the PTSD guy who said my books seemed too close to his experience in the military and insisted that I must be a CIA plant after his secret files.

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  8. If ebooks, like mp3s, can be downloaded safely and conveniently from a trusted website like Amazon or iTunes, then I think most people won't go through the trouble of downloading them illegally. Low prices will certainly help.

    Although some people just don't pay for things, no matter how cheap.

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  9. More and more promotion is being done online. I've given up the mailings I used to do. Postage costs too much and probably too many addresses have changed. So now I send out quarterly email newsletters, do guest blogs, offer book giveaways through contests, etc. With the digital revolution, we have to attract tech savvy fans but we also can't leave behind our print preferring readers who frequent the library.

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