October 15th, 2010
The Future Is So Bright We’ll Have To Wear Shades…

This entry I’ll be combining the talk about predictions about ebooks, self-publishing, and digital rights. The first half will cover the future predictions. The panel consisted of Lou Aronica, Donna Hayes, Al Zuckerman, Carolyn Pittis, Heather Graham, Alan Kaufman, Loriana Sacilotto, and Angela James. As you might imagine there were varied opinions about the future of ebooks that ranged from ‘it’ll just be another format for books’ to ‘it will replace certain types of books’. This one was interesting. The talk started out with each person’s prediction. Like I said, most thought books would still be around, but many speculated that ebooks would replace mass market paperbacks. I hope not since those are the cheapest books out there. When they gave percentage breakdowns, it seemed like hardbacks had more to worry about initially than mass market. Ebooks are gaining a lot of ground in the hardback market. Some of the panelists still believed that the true wave for ebooks was still a couple of years off. (Wishful thinking on their parts.) The panel agreed that it was important for publishing houses to get in front of the change over. There was a lot of concern about bookstores closing before publishers managed to adapt. Apparently most publishers operate with a very thin profit margin, so if something tips it they can go out of business quickly. One panelist in particular, Carolyn Pittis said that we needed to look beyond e-readers to smartphones. She said the future was headed in that direction since most of the ereaders are being bought by older (ie 40 and up) people and that the younger generation weren’t interested in having a designated reader. They preferred using their phone for everything. This is especially true throughout the world. I can attest to what she’s saying about the use of the phone. Between Tokyo and Europe, everyone seems to be living on their phones. She said authors in particular need to come up with creative ways to get their work to the ‘phone’ readers, if we want to have a far reaching career. I cannot say enough good things about this woman. She was by far the smartest cookie on the panels IMO. What I thought was interesting was when someone asked a question about self-publishing. The panel gave the expected answers (ie I really don’t see it as a viable alternative, Authors can’t expect to make a living that way, Too much crap being put out, etc.). I was surprised how many authors in the audience and on the panel agreed. They didn’t want to have to ‘bother’ with all that ‘work’. The audience was even more split than the panel. Authors seem to fall into two camps–those who embrace the changes and those who want to pretend they aren’t happening. I understand both sides. Change is difficult. Unfortunately, difficult hasn’t ever stopped change.

Digital Rights set off a firestorm in the audience. The panel consisted of: Lucienne Diver, Angela James, Brian O’ Leary, Sue Lange, Barbara Keiler, Chris Kenneally, Lou Aronica, and J. A. Konrath. Publishers of course want to keep as many of the rights as possible. They downplayed how much an author could really do on their own. I waited to see if Joe Konrath’s head was going to explode. It was close. *g* The discussion meandered between what percentage is fair and the price of ebooks. Publishers said that ebooks were under-priced. I disagreed. The basic argument being that if they are priced low then there is no worth to the book/content. Again, I do not agree. Someone on the panel tossed out the figure of $500.00 as being the cost to the publishers for putting a book up on the various sites. Lou has stated in the past that publishers earn back the cost of ebooks within three years MAX. That’s right folks, after three years the ebook is pure profit for the publisher. Too bad it’s not the same for the author, since they’re only receiving 25% or less. There was a suggestion that the relationship between author and publisher was changing and becoming more of a partnership. Donna Hayes said if that was the case, then the author needed to put money in the pot to help produce their book. (I guess writing it doesn’t count for much. 😉 To give her, her due, I believe she was upset because someone in the audience mentioned that Harlequin had the lowest percentage rate of pay for ebooks (ie 6%). She pointed out that the rate was based on cover price and not net, so it was equal. My math sucks, but that doesn’t sound right. I’m sure it’s close, but I don’t think it’s equal.

Again, the thing I took away from the talk is that publishers are definitely operating from a position of fear. I don’t want to see them fail, but things have to change particularly when it comes to ebooks. Established authors are in the best position in this changing industry because they have a built in audience. If they choose to go the self-publishing route, then they’ll have readers who will buy their work. Other authors who are less well known (like me) will have a harder go of it. Unpublished authors are in the worst position, but we’ve already seen that a few have had success going it alone. Ultimately, I think it boils down to how good your book is and how hard you hustle to get the word out.

11 comments to “The Future Is So Bright We’ll Have To Wear Shades…”

  1. Great summary. I’m afraid the lady is right about the phone. Actually witnessing people spending more time texting than talking was a revelation I could never have imagined. That they would squint over a book on their phone screen is a very small leap. 🙂 Oh yeah… my math is pretty good and I believe Ms. Hayes is a little off but authors need Harlequin to survive. They’re at least coming up with new marketing gambits.

  2. From the tweets I saw I was actually glad I wasn’t there because my head might’ve exploded. You know how I feel about writers’ rights and deserving to get paid. The cell phone thing, Absolutely. Every kid has one and uses them for everything. I don’t know how to get my stories onto cell phones but you bet I’m thinking about it.

  3. Bernard, Yeah, I know she’s absolutely correct about the phones. My niece lives on hers. She even texts when she’s half asleep.

    In regards to business, Harlequin is actually the only publisher who has anticipated the change in technology and has been positioning itself accordingly. They may not be kind to authors in a lot of respects, but you can’t fault their business savvy.

  4. Charli, Yeah, there were a lot of authors in the audience gritting their teeth through a few of the talks. I have an idea of how to get my stories onto cellphones, but I have to look at my contracts to see if I can legally do so.

  5. Really interesting writeup! Thanks for giving the breakdown, Jordan. You must’ve taken a ton of notes!

  6. Husband says there is a Kindle app for iPhones and for Gphones w/ Android 2.0 and above. So getting ’em on Kindle is a huge step.

  7. Patrice, Thanks! I took a LOT of notes. *ggg

  8. Charli, Yep, I’ve seen the App. Just have to carve some time in dh’s schedule for him to do it. 😉

  9. […] workshops check out Jordan Summers Blog. So far she’s done on on Piracy, The “Future of Publishing” Panel, and the contract negotiations […]

  10. Brilliant! I love your observation on change, and the market direction of e and authors in general. Especially ‘writing’ apparently not counting for much! LOL! Obviously I’m in the authors for change camp. And the price fixing agency model makes me crazy. Hello: RICO! I know, extreme, as usual, but I read so much and the digital world offered me the choice that NY publishing wouldn’t when I wanted to read outside of what they published. And as an author, I want to see us all excel and break out, maybe even support ourselves while following our bliss. If there’s a market model developing that allows us to do this, great! Also: from corporate positioning, lean is where it’s at. How long can bad business practice sustain itself? Ask NY. Not long apparently with all the cut backs, shuffles, etc.

  11. Ursula,

    I agree about the Agency Model. I’m not too keen on it, especially since some of the authors I read cost me over $9 for an ebook. It’s crazy.

    I know there are people in N.Y. working on the problem, but as J.A. said it’s hard to turn a tanker/cruise ship around quickly.