Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Just a thought....

Something that bothers me in the endless debate about the pricing of ebooks: It is a fallacy to assume that just because something can be *sold* indefinitely that it will automatically be *bought* indefinitely. The vast majority of books published will never break 10,000 sales. And the majority of most books sales occur in the first six weeks of its release. So let's remove the phrase "you can sell it forever" from the discussion.


Mark Andrew Edwards said...

You’re right, of course. Most books published independently or via traditional publishers won’t break 10k. But it doesn’t cost anything to keep an ebook ‘in stock’. And if the author writes a second, a third, a tenth book, they’re going to pick up fans. Those fans will want to go back and buy everything else they can from that author. I just did that with Ian C. Esslemont after reading “Stoneweilder” and being impressed by it.

I’m concerned about a focus on the first six weeks and a desire to ‘get as much money as fast as you can’. I think that’s the same focus that gives us Hollywood blockbusters, crappy remakes and a focus on ‘name recognition’ over quality. In movies, we no longer have a ‘long view’, where a film will be in theaters for months, building an audience via word of mouth. Every cent has to be made in the first weekend.

I firmly believe that quality rises to the top (I sort of have to, being a writer :) Mindless optimism is a prerequisite) and if an author keeps writing and keeps honing their craft, they will find an audience. That’s where the being able to sell an ebook indefinitely comes in handy.

My $.02

-Mark Andrew Edwards

Fred Kiesche said...

From what I understood, before the tax code was changed and it was no longer an advantage to keep inventory, mid-list authors could make a living off of their backlist. At least that is what I heard reading comments by folks like Spider Robinson. He sold steadily things like Callahan's and Stardance, old fans picking up the new book, new fans picking up the older books--because they all were in print.

Maybe eBooks would not sell "forever", but by keeping something available longer than x weeks or x months gives you a chance to build up an audience by word of mouth, reputation, sequels and the like (look to your comments elsewhere about John Carter the movie, for example...if it had been allowed to build up steam by being in the theater longer, it might have "done better", heck even "Titanic" didn't do great it's first weekend!).

Not every author is going to have a bestseller and do well the first few weeks/months. I really think eBooks will help folks who are not Stephen King or the equivalent.

Lou Anders said...

You are both correct *theoretically* and Mark I wasn't saying that there was publisher pressure to sell in the first six weeks - god knows we'd like our books to sell forever - I was saying that the majority of sales will occur there. The next six weeks another set of books has come out and captured the public attention. Yes, a book can be sold indefinitely, but most of them will see a very negligible amount of sales. You have to always remember that publishing is a business, not a charity, and what doesn't make money, goes away. Also, Mark, there are hundreds of absolutely brilliant writers whose works never caught on despite being very, very deserving.

J. Park said...

I'm actually surprised by six weeks; it seems long to me. When you consider that auto manufacturers have generally one new batch of products a year, apparel manufacturers tend to have two... publishers have new products to sell All. The. Time.

I run eCommerce for my company (not publishing related). eBookstores are no different than physical bookstores in that they each have limited shelf space. As new products come in, you highlight them on the homepages, in the email campaigns, on the banner ads. By algorithms the "top selling" lists change and push the lesser-performing products to the bottom and the newer better-performing ones to the top.

This happens by necessity. There's nothing mercenary about it. You simply can't put every product in front of a customer's eyes or you'll overwhelm them and lose a sale.

I know for a fact that quality rises to the top because quality sells. Hype sells too, sometimes, but word of mouth often checks that. Either way, you have to put the product (book, movie, or otherwise) into the purview of paying customers to get them to consider or talk about it in the first place. And a customer's attention is a limited and valuable thing.

J. Park said...

As to the hundreds of brilliant writers who never caught on, it makes me wonder why not.

Was it marketing? If it's a phenomenal product from a brilliant writer, then was there just not enough push/dollars behind it to reach the right audience?

Was it marketable? Brilliant writers can create books that are so niche or over people's heads that they of course won't "catch on" in any sense of the phrase. Just as some brilliant indie films don't make 1% the revenue of the summer blockbuster, some brilliant literature won't get past 10,000 copies (or 1k). Why? Maybe some books just don't meet the demands of the masses. I.e., some aren't as marketable.

Lou Anders said...

J, sometimes all the marketing in the world won't make something catch and something that isn't marketed will. But I'd say there are a lot of deserving novels languishing out there.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm different from the average reader, but I almost never buy a book in the first 6 weeks it comes out. Sure, I put it on the list of things I want to buy, but I tend to play sales or avoid impulse buys in order to save my money, (I am really, really poor). I let a story wait, and if I still want it after months or years, I will get it.

Unfortunately, too often I wait too long. Now I have a list of about 10 books that are out of print, they haven't made it to e-books yet, and I can only buy them used. The author and publisher gets nothing from me for their work, though they could, if there were e-books out.

So my experience tends to run along the line of agreeing with the idea of "longer shelf-life of the e-book" rather than against it, since the majority of the books I buy now are ones I've been considering for years and I no longer have to worry about them disappearing before I can buy them.

The other half of my gratitude for the e-book comes for things like lack of shelf-space at my local bookstore. They don't even carry Tamora Pierce, for example, despite her winning slots in NPR's YA top 100 list, because she's been writing for 25+ years and the store prefers to host newer author's works. Just the other day I had a craving to read her books again and couldn't, because what I wanted wasn't available--at least in print form and locally.

I do agree that the vast majority of sales happen in the first 6 weeks. That makes perfect sense to me, but I know I'm not the only one who is appreciating the fact that I can buy what I want when I want to buy it. It actually means I'm buying more now, rather than less, and that I'm able to support the creators for doing their work.

Lou Anders said...

Oh, I've bought Fritz Leiber & Fred Saberhagen. I'm not saying it doesn't happen. Sales of our backlist really really appreciated by all concerned. Just explaining why the costs of producing a book aren't necessarily recovered just because it's theoretically able to sell forever.

Anonymous said...

Ooh okay. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. A book that doesn't earn out quickly probably won't earn out at all, unless lightening strikes or another series takes off that then points readers to old books.