The eBook is not dead: self-published authors are making a killing!

You might have heard some murmurings recently about how eBook sales have slumped, and the electronic way of reading is now on its way out in favor of the traditional printed book. And while it is true that we have regained our love for a print book, and they are not going to be replaced anytime soon with eBooks, the digital versions of our favorite novels are not dead, they’re just making a killing for others.

A new report, published by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has shown that, in the US at least, the sales of eBooks are just as steady as those of print and audio books, and sales continue to grow at the same rate. The difference, however, between eBooks and print books, is that the digital books seeing high levels of sales are published by self-published authors, instead of the big traditional publishing companies.

PwC says that, in the data collected from traditional publishing houses, it does appear that the sales of eBooks have dropped. That data, though, doesn’t take into account those authors who publish by themselves or using a small publishing house to help them through the tricky woods of self-publishing. Another report, this time coming from a site called Author Earnings, was publishing recently based on tracked downloads on Amazon, the giant website which sees 75% of all eBook sales go through its website.

This report clearly shoes the popularity in eBook sales from self-published authors grow in the space of the last year, while those digital copies of books published by the Big Five publishing houses (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster) have slumped, effectively swapping places with self-published books. Less than 30% of the eBook market is held by the Big Five publishers, while almost 45% of it is seen and enjoyed by self-published, or indie, authors.

The figures from Author Earnings also show that, despite the fact that traditional publishers as a whole make more gross dollars from eBooks, the authors themselves are actually making a killing on the sales of their eBooks, because they take home 70% of the sales of each book, instead of the 10 to 15% that traditionally published authors take home. This means that self-published authors can afford to lower the price of their titles, driving up sales, and getting themselves on that coveted best seller list.

So the eBook is not dead, and neither is the self-published author. They’re just working together in harmony, making a killing.

The Library at Night: Letting you in to those places you might never go

Have you ever fancied having a look around the Megabibliotheca in Mexico City or the ancient Biblioteco Vasconcelos in the city of Alexandria, or just have a nosy in the Library of Canadian Parliament? Well actually, you can, and all you have to do is sit in a room full of trees and books to do it.

A partnership between Ex Machina, Robert LePage, Alberto Manguel and the Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec (BAnQ) in Montreal has brought 10 of the most fascinating, beautiful or historic libraries from past and present directly to your hands, or eyes, in a creative exhibition unlike anything you’ll ever have seen before. Due to finish at the end of August, the exhibition has been running since October last year, and I had the opportunity to take it in while I was in Montreal last November, and was blown away by the majesty of the ability that it gives you to take in the traditions of books and reading from the past, as well as in other cultures.

As you walk into BAnQ, you are taken to a small room which is set up to look like a very small, personal library, with old books and fireplaces and relics from days gone past. After a short speech about what’s to come, you proceed into the main exhibition room, a large space filed with trees with books as leaves, and sit at one of the many tables which are adorned with reading lamps.

Then you put on your video immersion headset, and you’re transported to a world of libraries, where nobody else knows you, nobody can interrupt you and all you can see are people enjoying the written word, immersing themselves in an alternate reality. From a Japanese library where traditions and reading intertwined, to a Buddhist library where only monks were allowed to enter, and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, the gems that you discover while you enter and depart from each of the incredible structures is just as fascinating.

The Library at Night, so called after Alberto Manguel’s book of the same name (in French), was designed to help visitors fall back in love with libraries as they take a virtual tour of some of the most beautiful ones in the world. The library has been open in Montreal for 10 years, and is trying to make its mark on the city as a bridge between the technological world and home life, and create a new meeting place, almost like a church, where people can get together, learn something new, and have their minds engaged.

The exhibition, which is available in both French and English, is well worth a visit, because even if you hadn’t thought of visiting a library before, you will afterwards. Because why miss out on a tour you can take while sitting on a comfortable chair, in a beautiful room, in an exquisite city?

Let Books Be Books: a parents’ campaign for children’s books

A parents’ campaign to remove genders from titles of children’s books has taken down another major publisher who has wowed that all of its titles from now on will be gender neutral and available for all kids, whether they are male or female.

The Let Books Be Books campaign, began by a group of parents in 2014 to persuade book publishers around the world that putting gender specific titles on their books send messages of limitation to children, and that colouring book covers pink or blue do the same thing to persuade young minds that they can only appreciate princesses and pink dresses, or action figures and space trucks. The campaign has already, in its first two years, persuaded nine publishing houses including Ladybird and Usborne that they should drop gendered books titles, and the latest publisher to agree to the campaign is Buster Books, part of the independent press Michael O’Mara.

Let Books Be Books has support from several well regarded authors such as Joanne Harris and Neil Gaiman, who agree that “blue covers, with themes of action and adventures, robots, space, trucks and pirates contrast with a riot of pink sparkles, fairies, princesses, flowers and butterflies.” Michael O’Mara previously refused to get on board with the campaign, telling the Guardian in 2014 that “when you have a colouring book which is specifically for a boy or a girl, it sells three times as many copies as one without the sexual categorisation.”

However it appears that now the publishing company has given in to the campaign as it posted on Twitter last week that going forward all of its titles will be gender neutral, scrapping books that are targeted specifically for boys or girls. “Buster has one of the highest number of gendered books,” said Tessa Trabue of the Let Books Be Books campaign, as she congratulated the big publishing firm on “putting the interests of children before profit.”

However, the campaign still has a fair way to go if it plans to eradicate gender specificity entirely from children’s books, and Igloo Books is one of the next publishers on its list. The publisher is one of the biggest publishers of gendered books, according to the campaign, and Ms Trabue said that Let Books Be Books have not received any response from the company to their “petition, emails or tweets,” since the beginning of their campaign two years ago.

The CEO for Igloo Books, John Styring, told the Guardian that he didn’t believe it was the company’s place to make decision on the behalf of their customers. However, children’s authors including writer John Dougherty, chair of the Society of Authors’ children’s writers and illustrators group, said “the idea of ‘books for boys’ or ‘books for girls’ has become a pernicious way of reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes from an early age.”

Have Amazon won the war of self-publishing?

This week we learned that Penguin Random House, the world’s largest traditional publisher, has officially withdrawn from the self-publishing business by selling off its self-publishing arm, Author Solutions. Some might say, and the Financial Times is one of them, that this move has effectively admitted defeat in the race to compete with Amazon’s self-publishing platform, especially while self-publishing is still in a great period of growth.

Financial analysts estimated that the sale price of Author Solutions, for which Penguin paid $116 million in 2012, is likely to be a fraction of that original sale price. So does this mean that Amazon has won? Or is the game simply shifting focus?

Well, one might wonder if it really is a game, or if there are any real players. Some might say that it’s simply business, and deals come and go, fail and succeed, whereas others might argue that there is no point in taking on Amazon, the giant company which is now one of the biggest in the world and has been helping authors, traditionally published and self-published alike, to get their books out into the public for decades.

However, the purchaser of Author Solutions doesn’t seem to think that this is the last we’ll hear from the indie publishing company which helped more than 200,000 authors to self-published more than 250,000 works up until now. A US private equity firm, Najafi Companies, which is based in Phoenix, is headed by Jahm Najafi who told the Wall Street Journal that he sees space for growth both domestically and internationally with the company.

“It’s consistent with our philosophy of trying to connect content owners with consumers,” said the head of the company which also tried to acquire the bookstore chain Borders when it went bankrupt in 2011. The chief executive of Author Solutions, Andrew Phillips, will stay in place and will remain in charge of other imprints including AuthorHouse, iUniverse and Trafford Publishing.

Meanwhile, the CEO of Penguin Random House told employees that the sale of the company “reaffirms our focus on consumer book publishing through our 250 imprints worldwide.”

So Penguin Random House, the group of two former traditional publishing houses which merged in 2013, is focussing on the traditional method of getting books onto the shelves and trying to reaffirm themselves as the publisher that you want to get their hands on your manuscript. Is it all a game? Have they simply given up?

Well, one might say that there are publishers, and there are self-publishers, and one business cannot be both. So perhaps this is for the best. Let us know what you think!

Self-published authors dominate end of the year book charts

As the year draws to a close, authors across the world have had their eyes peeled for the year’s bestseller’s list to see how far up the list their novel came. As we said in a blog recently, the bestseller’s list isn’t the be all and end all of novel writing, but one can’t lie and say that seeing one’s name on it doesn’t give a little thrill.

This week, Apple released their bestseller’s list of top iBooks sold online, revealing that self-published authors have dominated the free book chart, with critically acclaimed books such as Natasha Preston’s Silence reaching the number three slot, and The New Girl by Tracie Puckett achieving number four. Other self-published authors including Portia Moore (If I Break) and Terry Schott (The Game) also made the top ten.

And it’s not just the free book list which self-published authors, or at least those that started out that way, found their acclaim this year. One of the most famous self-published authors of recent years, now published by Arrow, E.L. James of course published another book in her Fifty Shades of Grey series, and although this time it wasn’t self-published, it certainly showed where self-published authors can find themselves as her latest instalment was number one on Apple iBooks’ UK bestseller list, and number two on Amazon’s 2015 bestseller list which includes both Kindle and physical book purchases.

We have spoken before about how the success of E.L. James has bred a succession of self-published authors hoping to achieve the same amount of fame that she accomplished, and it seems that her success is going to continue to spur on wannabe self-publishers. As she proved, anybody who has an idea can write a book, but it’s what you do with it that counts. Find a niche, write something that people want to read, and publish it, no matter what the critics think. It’s unlikely that a few years later you’ll be publishing under a traditional publishing house, and have four books in the top five of Amazon’s 2015 Bestseller List, but you never know.

And if you need some help in your writing, why don’t you take a break and read something to give you inspiration? Take a leaf out of the rest of the reading world’s book, and perhaps try one of the other top five books of the year, such as The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee or The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. As we’ve said before, it’s not reading that’s difficult, it’s finding the time to do so. So make sure you make some!

Indie bookstores launch worldwide community book club

Have you ever joined a book club that had trouble getting off the ground? It was a little more club than it was book, and sometimes it was only two of you sitting around a bottle of wine talking about the book that you’d both only read half of?

Good book clubs are sometimes a little few a far between, and with the existence of eBooks, it’s harder to sit in a room with others and talk about a book, when you don’t have a physical copy in front of you. So to give readers an alternative to the Amazon Bestseller’s List and to help them get out of the eBook habit, a new National Book Club has been set to.

Developed by merchandiser Litographs and four independent bookstores: Harvard Book Store of Cambridge in Massachusetts; Green Apple Books in San Francisco; The Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle which if course is most likely now competing with Amazon’s very first physical bookstore which opened close to the University of Washington just a few weeks ago; and Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri.

The National Book Club, (which may seem as if it is only for readers within the USA, but really, how are they going to stop you?) enables these independent book store to hand curate four books per season for members to read, and when you buy a book from one of these stores, Litographs will send you a free gift. Members of the book club will then be invited to write their very own shelf-talker for the titles that they enjoyed which will be featured on the Litographs website, and maybe even on a real life bookshelf in one of the indie bookstores themselves.

In an effort to encourage readers to stick to the bookstores and keep off the internet, this book club is a fantastic way to reassure community, reading, conversation and buying local. And, if you buy from the Harvard Book Store, then the four titles will be sold at 20% off.

The selection of books for the first season of the National Book Club are:

  • Speak by Louisa Hall, recommended by the Harvard Book Store
  • The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead, recommended by Green Apple Books
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, recommended by The Elliot Bay Book Company
  • Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon, recommended by Left Bank Books

So visit the Lithographs website, sign up, and get reading with your very own international community book club. Let us know how you get on!

Amazon Books on the high street: is it bringing the bookstore back to life?

Twenty years after it took book sales online, Amazon is taking them right back to the store with its brand new bookstore… made of bricks and mortar.

The online retail corporation, which now sells everything under the sun but began as a book seller, opened a new store, “Amazon Books” this week at University Village in Seattle in Washington State, USA. According to The Seattle Times, the new “physical extension of Amazon.com” will stock up to 6,000 titles all chosen based on customer ratings and sales from its website.

Vice president of Amazon Books, Jennifer Cast, said that the store is aiming to combine the benefits of both high street and online shopping in one place, and books in the Seattle store will cost the same price as their online counterparts, which might be a relief for those who have grown used to Amazon’s reasonable prices and free home delivery.

However, on the other side of the fence, other traditional booksellers including UK brands like Waterstones and Blackwell’s and US stores such as Barnes and Noble, have long been enemies of Amazon for cutting the cost of books and taking customers out of the comfort of their stores and into the ether of e-commerce. Many independent bookstores have gone out of business in the two decades since Amazon began, and so some critics might have something to say about the giant business bringing its cut prices to the high street.

For the staff working at struggling stores in Seattle, the good news is that the Amazon Books store has promised that it will hire directly from those stores who might be letting staff go, but the bad news is that those stores should be closing at all. The question here is, is Amazon finally gratifying itself for taking the business off the high street in the first place, or is it in actual fact just coming back to finish off the kill and make sure that those other businesses have no place whatsoever in the bookselling industry.

Issie Lapowsky, writing from Wired, modified an old expression by saying that Amazon’s latest move is “both beating them and joining them,” and pondered whether Seattle-based bookstores will be too thrilled about their employees being poached by a larger, trendier competitor. On the other hand, however, Leonid Bershisky writing from the Denver Post pointed out that Amazon’s new store points to the fact that software has not actually destroyed the bookstore, as many believe that it is, but instead forcing all competitors in the industry to play to their strengths.

Remember, says Bershisky, it is about personal preferences, not progress, and Amazon is simply trying to cater to all of those differences.

 

Mark Zuckerberg’s reading challenge: will it make a difference to the reading industry?

At the beginning of 2015 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced (on Facebook, how else?) that his new year’s resolution was to read one new book every other week, and in doing so he began an online book club aimed at getting more of his social network users to read for a hobby.

The public Facebook Page, “A Year of Books” has more than 450,000 members all of whom are informed of the books which are being read and invited to discuss it, as long as the conversation stays relevant. Readers are invited, also, to make suggestions about books that Zuckerberg should read and let him know of any further developments surrounding them.

The question is, just what will Zuckerberg’s challenge do for the industry of reading? Albeit Mr Zuckerberg is not exactly a celebrity that everybody dreams to follow in the footsteps of such as Brad Pitt or Taylor Swift, but he is successful and with it he is also persuasive. Those that are following his challenge and even joining him in it are likely to be fans of Facebook, of course, but they are also more likely to already be avid readers.

That being said, in the last year or so there have been many more book clubs pop up in my local community, and I’m sure in your community as well. The opportunity to read, share and discuss a book with like-minded people is an unmissable opportunity for anybody who enjoys reading, and anybody who just doesn’t have time to do it. The pressure (for lack of a better word) of having to read a book for a book club is surely enough persuasion for somebody who has little time on their hands to make some space, sit down, read and enjoy.

Zuckerberg also uses his book club to invite authors into the discussion, something that most of us would not be able to do with our community book clubs. Authors are invited to hold a question and answer session with other members of the book club to allow them to delve deeper into the meaning behind the book and the motivation behind the writing of it. How much Zuckerberg himself has to do with the actual book club remains to be seen, as all posts on the Facebook page are done under the alias of the book club itself, although as somebody who has publicly completed several New year’s challenges in the past, we have no reason not to believe that he is reading the books along with everybody else.

Here’s hoping that Zuckerberg’s profile and well publicised book club has invited many more readers into the folds of reading for pleasure.

You better make sure your book is good if you want Amazon to pay you!

In a new move by Amazon, self-published authors are now required to make their books a real page turner because they will only be paid for as many pages that the reader completes.

New rules that Amazon plans to put into action say that self-published authors will only be paid as little as $0.006 per page read instead of paid for every complete copy that is downloaded onto a kindle. Thanks to the Amazon’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library and the Kindle Unlimited service, those whose books are read in their entirety will be paid more than those whose books are only read halfway or just for a few pages.

This also means, of course, that not only should self-published authors make sure that their books are un-put-down-able, but books that are longer will also receive potential higher payments than shorter novels. Currently, most self-published authors make around $1.30 from each book that is downloaded by a customer, and under the new rules those same authors will have to write a 220 page book and have every single page turned by the reader in order to make the same amount of money.

This means that, according to Casey Lucas, a literary editor who spoke to the Guardian, some self-published writers have decided to stop publishing altogether because of a reduction in royalties that could be as high as 80%. Ms Lucas, who works exclusively with self-publishing authors, said that she has already lost six clients who have decided that a more regular job would more reliably pay the bills.

“People are shedding a lot of tears over this,” said Ms Lucas as she described how a lot of her self-published authors are disabled, stay-at-home mums or veterans, all of whom cannot hold down a regular job. Other self-published authors have also noted that they may soon be unable to make a living by writing as they have done previously, rendering them unable to do some of the other work that they were doing before, and for some people, unable to continue training, volunteering or caring for their families.

Of course, not all authors will find themselves making less money, and Amazon’s intention is for the payment for each book to be the same, however that seems to be leaning towards those who write longer novels, leaving those who write shorter works out in the cold. This emphasis on length rather than quality is a step in the wrong direction, according to Ms Lucas, and will have the biggest effect on writers of nonfiction books and short children’s books.

How do you feel about these proposed changes? Will it make much of a difference to you? Let us know in the comments.