24 Comments

Summary:

The evidence continues to accumulate that e-books are not just something established authors can use, but that they are becoming a real alternative to traditional publishing contracts for emerging authors as well — and that should serve as a big wake-up call for the book-publishing industry.

4826939037_3c18d7cc92_z

Updated: The writing has been on the wall for some time in the book publishing business: platforms like Amazon’s Kindle and the iPad have caused an explosion of e-book publishing that’s continuing to disrupt the industry on a whole series of levels and reshape the future of the book, as Om has written about in the past. And evidence continues to accumulate that e-books aren’t just something established authors with an existing brand can make use of, but are also becoming a real alternative to traditional book contracts for emerging authors as well — all of which should serve as a massive wake-up call for publishers.

The latest piece of evidence is the story of independent author Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old who lives in Minnesota and writes fantasy-themed fiction for younger readers. Unlike some established authors such as J.A. Konrath, who have done well with traditional publishing deals before moving into self-publishing their own e-books, Hocking has never had a traditional publishing deal — and yet, she has sold almost one million copies of the nine e-books she has written in less than a year, and her latest book appears to be selling at the rate of about 100,000 copies a month.

It’s true that the prices Hocking charges for these books are small — in some cases only 99 cents, depending on the book — but the key part of the deal is that she (and any other author who works with Amazon or Apple) gets to keep 70 percent of the revenue from those sales. That’s a dramatic contrast to traditional book-publishing deals, in which the publisher keeps the majority of the money and the author typically gets 20 percent or even less. If you sell a million copies of your books and you keep 70 percent of that revenue, that is still significant, even if each book sells for 99 cents. (Update: As a number of commenters have noted, only books that are priced at $2.99 or higher are eligible for Amazon’s 70-percent royalty rate; books priced cheaper than that are eligible for a 35-percent royalty rate).

The overwhelming appeal of that simple math has other authors moving away from traditional publishing deals as well. Terrill Lee Lankford wrote recently about how he turned down a deal with a major publisher in the middle of negotiations over a new book, because the publisher wanted him to agree to a deal for a future e-book that would have given the publishing house 75 percent of the revenue. The publisher tried to entice him with a hefty advance, but the author said no to both deals:

I see it as a permanent 75% tax on a piece of work that generates income with almost no expense after the initial development and setup charges.

Just as the music industry did, many book publishers seem to be clinging to their traditional business models, despite mounting evidence that the entire structure of the industry is being dismantled, and the playing field is being leveled between authors and publishers. And it’s not just individual authors who are taking advantage of this growing trend — author and marketing consultant Seth Godin has created something called The Domino Project in partnership with Amazon, which he sees as a new kind of publisher that can help authors take advantage of the e-book wave by connecting them with their readers and helping them promote their work through a variety of channels.

If traditional publishers can’t manage to adapt in a similar way to the new economics of their industry, they will find their lunch is being eaten by those who can.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):

Post and thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user Mike Licht

  1. I disagree. There are always outliers, and the few and far between who’ve done this are the exception, not the rule. Compare the number of best-selling self-pub authors right now to those who have a publisher behind them doing marketing, etc. Also, who can manage to crank out nine books in a year and have them be any sort of quality?

    There is value in the traditional system in terms of trying to separate wheat from chaff, but for every Amanda Hocking, there are HUNDREDS of writers self-publishing books I wouldn’t line a bird cage with. Amazon just made the first cut of 10,000 entrants to 2,000 in their breakthrough novel competition. 8,000 of them, and judging by the forums, a good portion are simply going to leave their uploaded entries on CreateSpace and self-pub. While some are probably quality works, do you really think all 8,000 cut are publishable? The glut of self-pub will make it impossible to find quality works above the sheer noise.

    Share
    1. There will be more Amanda Hockings, but the test will be to see how many new writers do get discovered over time through a disintermediated route such as Hocking’s path.

      What is probably more likely, at least in the next few years, are a lot of those authors who have either had publisher deals will go direct through Amazon and find significant success. Another likely option are those with platforms/megaphones (such as journalists) will go direct and see success w/o the benefit of a publisher deal.

      For every Hocking, there will likely be many more big-hits from established authors or those with platforms who decide to go direct.

      Share
      1. @Wolf: what about the authors of the past decade that won their print deals because they distinguished themselves via blogs? Mainstream media loves a sure thing, and what’s more certain than repurposing the Molly Wizenbergs and Julie Powells of the world as print authors?

        Now that ebooks are common, however, it’s hard not to see more authors self publishing. And in the case of those who start as bloggers, it’s easy to see them adding ebooks to their offerings as a way to monetize their work.

        Share
      2. @Casey – but that’s my point – these authors w/book deals had a platform (blog, newspaper job, popular Tumblr, etc). You don’t see book deals going to the blogger with 100 readers. You see it going to 100k readers. Sure anyone can self-pub and try to find success – I’m just saying the Amanda Hocking like success stories are more likely to come from a group of authors with, as they say, the 1,000 (or more likely 10,000) true fans.

        Share
    2. I agree that those who are doing this now are the outliers and the exceptions rather than the rule — but I think we are going to see more of them rather than less. Is everyone going to be able to make a living self-publishing? No. There is plenty of dreck out there, and always will be. But more will be able to make a living self-publishing than could have before, and I think that’s a good thing — and publishers will have to try a little harder to actually provide a service rather than just skimming off the cream for their 70 percent.

      Share
      1. I think it’s disingenuous to say they are skimming off the cream. Publishing houses are still paying advances and marketing, etc. Co-op is co-op, whether it’s the front window of Barnes & Noble or the front page of Amazon.com. Every time one of these outliers is shown as a “disruption” it leads a bunch more crazies to self-pub dreck thinking they’ll be the next one.

        Christopher Paolini started out in e-pub and went to trad pub… there has to be a reason behind it.

        Share
    3. Go into a big Barnes & Nobles (if you can find one that still exists — the huge B&N across from Lincoln Center Just shut down) and tell me how easy it is “to find quality works above the sheer noise”?

      And yes, most (all?) writers need a good editor, but how many traditionally published authors have one? Would Neal Stephenson who I (used to?) love be publishing 3 volume, 3000 page novels if he had an editor worthy of the profession?

      Any problem you ascribe to disintermediated publishing also exists in “traditional” publishing right now.

      Share
      1. Where have traditional book publishers not already “woken up and smelt the coffee” in many if not most traditional book contracts? They’re including language that stipulates additional royalty/revenue on future ebook version, that’s all. Big deal, do I care one way or another, no. Actually, I’d rather have a conventional book contract than NO book contract – which is the dirt honest reason why many if most most of many people who are e-published only even went that route in the first place. Ask them if they’d really, truly, turn up their nose at a huge cash advance on a conventional print publishing offer? Maybe you should consider that it all comes down to good intellectual property lawyering and that’s the piece of the puzzle that any business-minded writer needs to be alert to along the way. epublishers? – way too many of em again with no clue on their rights, much less as already pointed out to you the absence of any editorial filtering that was/IS present in going through a conventional print publisher.

        Share
      2. West coast reader Tuesday, April 5, 2011

        I think in 10 years self-published non-paper materials will be the norm, and it won’t mean the end of editors. It might mean the end of editors tied to publishing houses, but like the authors, the editors can go free-lance. I myself have paid more for an edited and annotated Kindle version of a Dickens novel. I felt what the editor added was well worth the price.

        Share
  2. [...] Girls’ novel, “Spoiled,” will appear on bookshelves June 1. Self-publishers are making headway — and money — with ebooks) (GalleyCat) (Fugg Girls) [...]

    Share
  3. I’d just like to add that for any e-books sold at less than $2.99 at Amazon, on the Kindle, Hockling will get about 35% rather than 70%, so the 99 cent books will net her approximately 35c per sold copy.

    With the 70% deal, the author agrees to global accessibility as well as other customer-friendly features.

    Share
    1. Thanks, Andrys.

      Share
  4. Sorry, Mobile Computing UK had “Hockling” and I used that, when it should be Hocking.

    Share
  5. Benoit Secher Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    The true disruption is the price: 99c. Selling a writing story at that price was just impossible two years ago.   
    And this is a huge opportunity for book publishers to change the marketing rules. If the book costs a text message then we can imagine campaigns like “American Idol” for books and much more.
    A good book still deserves a good editor.

    Share
    1. Agreed, Benoit — thanks for the comment.

      Share
  6. I’m writing this from my HTC desire HD which also serves as my mp3 player and book reader. I never want to read another paper book again – they are bulky and the ink gets on your hands and you can only carry one at a time…not to mention the way the spine bends and the quality deteriorates over time. Publishers need to digitize and soon. Smartphones are not the future, they are the present.

    Share
  7. I’d still rather spend $27.99 on a nice hard back or $7.85 for a paperback over $1.99 for an eBook. You can’t collect eBooks, they don’t smell like history and imagination, and unless you want to loan out your eBook reader, you can’t loan the book out to friends, either.

    I still have dreams of having my own library room, surrouned by towers of books, so high I need a sliding ladder to get to them all. A warm fireplace and just a candle my only company… doesn’t anyone ever want to disconnect for awhile?

    Share
    1. “and unless you want to loan out your eBook reader, you can’t loan the book out to friends, either. ”

      Sure you can. You just give them a copy. Except if you have a DRM-infected ebook.

      Copying is NOT theft.

      Share
  8. I realize it’s unfashionable to diss buccaneering as an impediment to making a buck in e-publishing, but really? Free beats cheap pretty much every time, and for every Amanda H. turning over mega-downloads, there are writers whose legit deals–self-published, small-press, or mainstream–are being trashed by the impossibility of keeping some jerk from making your work available for nothing, and maybe even telling you that he’s doing you a favor by “exposing” your work to a larger audience. E-publishing will put a whole lot more crap out there, but it’s not making it any easier for writers to make money.

    Share
  9. Hi Mathew. Yep, still think it’s a bit of a shame they’ve decided to do an ‘iTunes’ and sandbox them, not very democratic…

    There’s some really positive stories beginning to come out and great signs that the old fashioned stigma around what used to be called ‘self publishing’ is continuing to erode. Think I’m going to call it ‘Individual Writer Publishing’ from now on…

    Personally think that change is good, and technology can revolutionize the experience for the better whether you’re a new writer or a reader looking for something less mainstream.

    Thanks for the article, enjoyed reading it.

    Adam
    iwritereadrate.com

    Share
  10. Hi Mathew. Yep, still think it’s a bit of a shame they’ve decided to do an ‘iTunes’ and sandbox them, not very democratic…

    There’s some really positive stories beginning to come out and great signs that the old fashioned stigma around what used to be called ‘self publishing’ is continuing to erode. Think I’m going to call it ‘Individual Writer Publishing’ from now on…

    Personally think that change is good, and technology can revolutionize the experience for the better whether you’re a new writer or a reader looking for something less mainstream.

    Thanks for the article, enjoyed reading it.

    Adam

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post