ebook only formats?

I've hesitated writing about this subject, primarily because I don't have hard numbers on how many people in my area own computers. However, I cringe when I hear some authors advocate ebooks to the exclusion of print (the fabled "death of print"), and a few publishers who are toying with the idea of moving toward an ebook only format for some of their titles.

Personally, I think this is a short-sighted approach that panders to a niche market. In the long run, an entire demographic of potential readers are shut away from books.

For the record: I work in a community college library. I also live in a very rural area. Our population is roughly 93,643 for the entire county (this number comes from the 2010 census). Compare this with neighboring Guilford County which has a population of roughly 488,406 people.

Out of this population, Rockingham County has approximately 14,396 people living below the poverty level. These 14,396 people, in all probability, are not going to own an ereader or a computer. So if you choose to publish exclusively in ebooks, you are going to miss approximately 14,396 potential readers.

Let's look at neighboring Guilford County with its much higher population of 488,406, and of that number, 73,375 people are living under the poverty level. Are we excluding these 73,375 people from the opportunity to read for pleasure?

Should we gravitate toward exclusively using the ebook format for certain titles, we can add 14,396 to 73,375 and get a total of 87,771 people who will have missed an opportunity to read those titles.

When publishers and authors talk about ebooks, I don't think about cool gadgets and the wonderous cabilities of ebooks. I think about people who live under the poverty level. Having been there myself, I can attest as to where my money went: food, rent, insurance, etc. I didn't have extra money to spend on ereaders and computers. I didn't subscribe to cable because of the cost, and though cell phones weren't prevalent at that time, I can tell you now that those, as well, would have been a superfluous cost that would have been eliminated. I used the library to borrow books and when the library had a booksale, I purchased books from them. Second-hand bookstores were my favorite places to shop.

I look at studies that show how reading-comprehension can lead people out of poverty and I wonder what are we doing to ourselves when we limit certain titles exclusively to ebooks? Are we saying that the only people who get the opportunity to read are those wealthy enough to own ereaders and computers? Has the online community become so disconnected from reality that we believe that everyone, everywhere has electricty and computers?

Really?

Ebooks are wonderful for those who can afford both the equipment and the means by which to keep that equipment up-to-date; however, I think we also need to remember the people who rely on print as their only connection with reading. Otherwise, we limit them to a cycle of poverty, not just of money, but of the mind.

But!--some wit will surely propose--the people living under the poverty level are buying used books.

Yes, but those readers often remain loyal to the genres and authors they discover through second-hand books. When their circumstances change--and sometimes they do--they don't forget what it was like to have the opportunity to read books that other people discarded.

I never have.

ebook pricing

I have wanted to write this post for a while but simply have not had the time. Either at cons or online, I've heard a lot of authors say the following: "Amazon is for authors."*

Amazon is a business. They are trying to do to publishing what they tried to do to independent bookstores and eliminate the competition. Period.

I am so sorry to be the one to break this to you, but Amazon (and in all fairness: Apple, Google, etc.) doesn't give a monkey's ass about authors.

Likewise, Amazon is not the Great Satan. They are a company operating on the business model to perform at a loss until they have amassed enough content to require a subscription service. For authors publishing through Amazon: it's all right to be used as long as you're using Amazon back and do not allow Amazon to take unfair advantage of authors or their works.

You must also realize that Amazon's business model is unsustainable on a long-term basis. Amazon can offer cheap ebooks because: 1) Amazon doesn't have to pay taxes like other companies; and 2) Amazon is intentionally undercutting everyone else the same way Wal-Mart undercut the competition to rise to the top.

Now if you want to see the Wal-Martization of books, keep going on the current track, because here is how a little company called Westlaw rose to the top in much the same way:

Back in the eighties and nineties, Westlaw digitalized case law and court opinions. They created a searchable database, and unlike Amazon, they charged a lot of money for it, probably nowhere near the amount that it took to run the system and have qualified attorneys online to answer questions, but they stayed with it even when others said it would never work. Then Thompson West started buying the competition (kind of like Amazon is doing now). The DOJ blocked a couple of purchases to prevent Westlaw from acquiring a monopoly and to maintain some market competition; however, Westlaw remains the leader and the most expensive of the lot.

Ring in Amazon (and just for the record, the Google Book Project worked the same way). Same business model, different content. Amazon isn't worried about offering $0.99 ebooks, because once they've demolished the competition, they can clean up their database and jack the prices as high as they want.

Authors will be forced to deal with Amazon and if authors don't like Amazon's terms, then Amazon will treat authors like they are currently treating the publishers--Amazon's way or the highway.

In terms of people who think ebooks should be cheaper because of lower overhead ... I want you to think about a few things:

  1. A well-written ebook is going to have all of the costs of print book in terms of editing, good cover art, which includes licenses to replicate images, and formatting.
  2. Ebooks aren't just floating around out there on the ether. Ebooks are on servers (factor in costs in terms of equipment, electricity, cooling expenses--those servers generate a lot of heat, and personnel to run that equipment, including benefits for any full-time personnel).
  3. Marketing costs
  4. Royalties to the author

Now you take that $0.99 and divide the pennies between the recipients as outlined above.

Finally, and this is really all I have to say on the subject, if you, like me, have a problem spending $13.00 or more for a LICENSE, which is what you are purchasing when you purchase an ebook, then buy the hard copy. That is what I do.

Now if you want to discuss, discuss, but I've said all I have to say.

_________________

*John Scalzi did an excellent write-up on this topic at his blog and you can read it here.

blog tour kick-off, contest, and more!

A blog tour, a blog tour! That's right, for the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting links for a blog tour with some of the most gracious and fabulous blogs in the Internetz. I'm going to be talking about writing, publication, and of course, Miserere. The tour starts tomorrow.

But that's not all! I've been working on a super sekrit project with the Winston-Salem Writers and when they've got the post up on their web site, I will tell you more about it. It's one of the coolest on-going projects a writers group can do, and I'll be keeping you posted as the story unfolds.

But that's not all! For my ebook friends: You can now pre-order Miserere for your Kindle at Amazon.

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL! To kick-off our blog tour, my rock-star agent, Weronika Janczuk, is joining me for an awesome giveaway.

Are you ready? Okay, here it is:

Please read the rules closely.

This giveaway is open internationally, and closes at 11:59 p.m. EST on July 15th, at which point, winners will be announced over the following weekend.

Participants may enter to win any of the gift packages, but can actually win only one. When you fill out the form linked below, rank all of the packages you’re interested in. Whoever wins first place in the story contest (explained below) will get his/her first choice of package, and so forth.

To enter, the only requirement is that you write a 250 to 300-word self-contained fantastical short story. It can be as funny or dark, experimental or straightforward, as you would like it to be. We’ll judge based on the quality of writing and entertainment, and reserve the right to alter or add gift packages if there are any ties, many or too few entries, etc.

Gift packages may be split. (For example, if you win the book and critique, but don’t need a critique, you’re free to pass it on to a friend, etc.)

If you have questions, please post in the comments below.

PACKAGE #1-- autographed copy of MISERERE: AN AUTUMN TALE + 25-page critique from my agent, Weronika Janczuk + autographed MISERERE postcard*

PACKAGE #2-- 50-page critique from my agent, Weronika Janczuk + autographed MISERERE postcard

PACKAGE #3-- 25-page critique from my agent, Weronika Janczuk + synopsis critique from my agent + autographed MISERERE postcard

PACKAGE #4-- 25-page critique from my agent, Weronika Janczuk + synopsis critique from my agent

PACKAGE #5-- synopsis critique from my agent, Weronika Janczuk + query critique

Stay tuned during the tour for news of further giveaways and chances to win more books, autographs, critiques, and more.

The contest is over, folks. Thanks for entering!

*All of the postcards are oversized 5 5/8" x 4"

Okay. Now that's all.

Have a great weekend.