The Latest on eBooks

By Marly Cornell, LightaLight Publications

Editor’s note: This blog post was inspired by Marly’s fruitful experience at the IBPA Pub-U conference, “Discoverability: How to Reach Your Reader and Sell More Books,” in April 2013.

Not surprisingly, the ebook was a topic addressed in some fashion by most of the speakers at Pub-U. Ebooks continue to be the largest growing market in the book industry. More and more authors use ebooks to expand their readership, reduce publishing costs, streamline the publishing process, and create new ways to engage readers even while books are in development. Ebooks produced independently by authors glean substantially higher royalty rates for the author—an attractive drawing card. Several independently published ebooks have become hit bestsellers.

Pub-U keynote speaker Guy Kawasaki (author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book) provided each attendee to his talk with a coupon for his free ebook (equivalent to $10, but costing him only about $1.50 each), a nifty and low-cost type of promotion. He described the ease with which he uploads his new books on Amazon as ebooks. His books are available to readers within two weeks instead of the “average 364 days” it takes him to have a book published the traditional way. Kawasaki uses the ebook version of his books to “get out the bugs” before creating the print versions. He endorsed putting ebooks on Amazon as a first choice because Amazon has the “most action” by far—more than Kobo, Nook, iTunes, iBook, Sony, and all other options combined.

Author David Houle (who already has a substantial platform as a top futurist, speaker, media giant, Emmy winner, Peabody winner, Academy Award nominee, etc.) said his publisher released his book Entering the Shift Age a chapter at a time on Amazon as ebooks for 99 cents. Before he even finished writing the book, he was making money, and his fans were clamoring for more.

An “Ebook Production and Distribution Panel” included Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, and Brian Felson, president of BookBaby/CDBaby/HostBaby. Smashwords has published 220,000 ebooks by 60,000 authors, distributing the books to all ebook platforms and libraries. CDBaby has worked with 300,000 artists in 170 countries and also provides short-run print books. Each panelist provided the respective details of their companies’ publishing processes and reaffirmed their commitment to help authors with affordable publishing solutions with fewer gatekeepers. These guys repeated the same advice made by speaker after speaker at Pub-U—a bottom-line truth: the success of any book relies on a high-quality professional cover design and the use of a professional editor (not the author). As a book manuscript editor, I appreciate hearing that no matter how often it is repeated.

A mention of ebook pricing strategies revealed that the “sweet spot” (62 percent more sales) with ebooks is between $2.99 and $5.99. Authors who revise their ebooks after the kinks in content are hammered out in the first ebook version, and/or covers are changed substantially, etc., may need to assign a new ISBN for each consecutive version of the ebook (as well as the print book, audio book, etc.). Efforts to standardize digital formats remain difficult, demonstrating that this market will continue to change over time as the players involved attempt to obtain larger parts of the ebook market.

IBPA’s newly appointed executive director, Angela Bole (a speaker on the first day of Pub-U along with Sharon Lubrano, vice president and general manager of R.R. Bowker), talked about “Ebook Trends: Who’s Reading, Who’s Buying, and What It Means to Publishers”). Bole serves as treasurer on the board of directors of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). IDPF has been working on the problem of “fragmentation” of digital formats for some time and leads the effort to standardize ebook formats. IDPF is the source of EPUB, the most commonly used ebook publishing format. Now in its third iteration, EPUB 3 is a robust standard, according to Bole, and is the format of choice by many—however, not by Amazon, which uses Mobi.

More trends described: The popularity of ebooks is expanding in almost every demographic. Children’s books may be an exception with a “snapback” to print. The average age of ebook readers is 40–42, 62% have college degrees, 60–65% are female, and most earn $55,000 a year. Avid “power” ebook buyers purchase a book a week, enjoy free sample chapters, and read and post online reviews. Ereader devices are mostly from Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Asus Nexus (sales up by 400%, likely due to multifunctional features), and Barnes and Noble (decreasing in sales). Kids like to read and explore the Internet at the same time. Multifunctional devices probably make a lot of sense to most readers.

Marly Cornell is the author of The Able Life of Cody Jane (LightaLight Publications)