Ebook rambling

This post has two purposes. First, as I was cleaning my room the other day I realized that I have three binders full of the original hand-written draft of Wolf Heart (back when I first wrote it it was called Moon Madness). My original plan was to sell it (provided it was good) then use the hand-written pages to make promotional bookmarks (by laminating them).

There’s two big problems with that. First, it’s changed a lot, I mean a huge amount since that first draft. The second is–it’s being released as an ebook. So paper bookmarks for an ebook? Not the best promo. But I still can’t bring myself to toss them because it was my first book, you know?

Second, I’ve been reading this Guardian article about “The Self Publishing Ebook Bubble” a little at a time. It’ irritating me some, and I feel the need to delineate why here. (That’s what blogs are for.) So, shall we?

What the author says about making more money from appearances and “How to write ebooks” books is absolutely true, which is why “How to Write” books tend to really irritate me. The first step to writing is to stop reading about writing and sit down and figure out what works for you. Plus, there’s been a massive jump in people who toss up some drafts on ebook and made money making more by writing a book how to do it. “Not qualified” is a sticky term. No one would argue that Neil Gaiman or JA Konrath aren’t qualified to give writing advice. But am I? Yeah I’ve been doing it for a while, yeah I have been published. But I don’t consider myself qualified to give writing advice, um, especially to be paid for it. Talk writing, sure. But all I can say is what works for me (as a writer and a reader). So there is that to consider.

The author also mentions the new industry growing around self publishing books, mainly editing, formatting and cover art provided by a third party. This also is not new. It’s how small presses and self publishing has worked for a while. I have seen professionally (“traditional/legacy”–meaning mainstream in stores published, not implying that small presses or self publishing is my its nature unprofessional)

The author of the article warns that you should be suspicious whenever large amounts of money begin to come from speculation and hype centering around a new technology. That’s true, except ebooks aren’t new. Ellora’s Cave launched in ebooks in 2000 and was massively successful, enough to get into print later on and to inspire dozens of others to start their own careers as ebook authors or publishers. Ebooks launched careers before the Kindle even came out (and there were ereaders before the Kindle too.)

This market for ebooks isn’t coming from nowhere, it’s just hitting the mainstream. It’s as if stores started selling cds in 2000 but the first cd player not attached to a computer came out in 2007. Of course the easy and relatively cheap availability of ereaders has led to wider adoption of ebooks. Plus there’s been more books available. I’m sure the wider availability of cheap technology has led to more people being online which has helped all online sales.

Also, ebooks aren’t speculation. They’re a product, a digital product, but still a product. This isn’t the housing market where demand and easy credit has inflated prices because “It’s worth it in today’s market”. We’re not seeing similar articles about iTunes or digital copies of movies or heck, visits to the movie theater, or a play, or a ballet, or even a strip club. In all those situation you pay for an experience, for access to content or an event and walk out with little more than memories and some sort of emotional charge (happy/excited if it was good, angry/irritated if it was bad). It’s not a printed, hard copy (like a cd or a dvd) but it is still a product.

The author states that ebooks have reinvented bookselling. Hi, I’ve been in bookselling, both online and in stores, for about five years now. A lot has changed, but the basics of bookselling is still exactly the same. It goes like this: Person who customer respects the opinion of (friend, family member, talk show host, book store clerk) talks about a book they enjoyed–or somethign even a book they didn’t enjoy, but why. Customer decides they like the story line or genre or plot of the book. Customer buys book.

That is what bookselling is (which is why the hard sell, and forcing all customers to buy this one book, or routinely giving positive recommendations to crappy books just to get the sale ruins that trust the customer has in you.) Customer trusts your opinion. You recommend book. Customer buys book. And if you do the job right the customer either comes to you for more, or comes to you and didn’t like the book, but still trusts your opinion, tells you what they didn’t like and you can recommend a better book. All that the digital revolution is changing is WHERE people are getting their recommendations. Instead of it being from the backs of books or from booksellers in stores it’s from reviewers, book bloggers, online articles and online reviews (like Amazon reviews).

The changes haven’t been a lot of disturbance in a small time period. Things have been headed this way for TEN years. More really, but at least ten. The difference is now people are listening. I’ve been talking about ebooks since I started my blogger blog in 2003 or 2004, I think. Ebooks have always been a part of my career plan. But at some point instead of it being and OMG new thing, it was OMG we can make money selling this stuff now instead of just justifying their existence. And like a topic that gets major buzz instead of us being in a really big room with a few side conversations about ebooks now people are talking really loudly, and even yelling across the room at each other about them. And yes, there are more arguments, more drama (OMG Death of Publishing!) which feeds on itself and get more attention. Ten years ago it was ebooks, what’s that? And now it’s ebooks, I’m going to write one.

The author says the market for ereaders came from nowhere–again incorrect. Tech people have always been interested in ebooks. But few want to read them on a computer (remember it used to be that computers were at work and people didn’t want to sit around and spend leisure time on them either. People who did were geeks and nerds.) So once you didn’t have to read them on the computer then the companies finally managed to tap into the market that was already there. This isn’t coming from nowhere, this is coming from people finally finding what they’re looking for and happily jumping in.

And let’s not forget that when adapting to a new technology (like from tapes to cds) it’s natural to re-purchase media your already own in the new format. So some of these sales are due to that as well (plus the new availability of favorite older books that have gone out of print and been hard to find–especially considering how quickly books began to disappear from shelves with the way they were marketed in the 90s-early 00s.)

The whole point of self-epublishing is that the market “brings in people who would not normally be there”. Like the promise that we can all have an affordable home with a cheap mortgage, we are being told constantly by digital businesses and the media that we can all be writers and even be successful as writers.

Except this is a lie. Writers might not be willing to face is, but READERS are. They already know there’s a ton of crap coming out through ebooks, which is why the system of bookselling through trusted source recommendations is becoming stronger. Not to mention Amazon’s ebooks would not be the success they are today if readers couldn’t return ebooks they bought within 7 days, or if they price of taking a chance on an unknow writer wasn’t so low.

Look at the dollar store mentality. Sure you can get some useful stuff at the dollar store. I almost never buy toys there. And clothes? No way. Almost every trip I make I end up with some duds or something that breaks pretty easily. But it’s not a big deal because I’m only out a dollar. But if I bought something at Walmart, also known for low prices, that never worked or broke easily, or whatnot I would stop shopping there. Low risk makes the buying of ebooks, even self published ones, worth it.

You can’t say the same about the dotcom bubble or the housing bubble (or the ongoing higher education bubble). Bubbles cause a skyrocketing of price with a drop in actual value. That’s not happening with ebooks.

And if we’re talking self publishing it’s also not true because most self published authors on Amazon, etc are NOT making the huge kinds of money these articles talk about. Only a scant few self publishers make money like that, but they continue to be held up as promises to everyone else. Since it doesn’t have to cost the publishers much to try it out they can with little risk, but they do not gain nearly as much as these big names. Nowhere near as much.

The author mentions overtrading. I suggest instead that the huge numbers for free downloads are new style hoarding. We can download anything, save it for when we’re bored or the power’s out or we have nothing better to do because it costs us nothing to store it. We’re not talking a pile of books that we have to pass in the hall every day, or even a box in a storage space that we have to pay for each month. We are barely into our technology level and we simply don’t think of 16 GB of an SD card as taking up the same space as 16 ft of our house.

So it costs us very little to buy, and nothing to store, not even unsightly dust or floor space. And ebooks are really easy to ignore. So you buy something or download something on an impulse and many times it never gets read. So yeah, the author’s numbers look good, but downloads doesn’t equal reads. And they don’t equal later purchases either.

The model of ebook success that’s held up for everyone to copy is based on half-truths. Even those who are seen as ebook stars are actually transitional figures straddling the digital self-publishing and the mainstream camps.

I absolutely agree with this.

 For the hundreds of thousands of newcomers to self-epublishing to believe that they can become as successful as these role models is a dangerous delusion, and one capitalised on by companies who have an interest in maximizing internet traffic and selling e-readers and internet advertising.

Ditto. This is true.

The crisis that’s looming is that while the price of ebooks is pushed to almost zero by the rush of frantic amateur self-publishing activity, the established publishing businesses will be forced into life-saving cost-cutting.

Except that sales for ebooks of higher priced, traditionally published books are rising too. And there is already a strong backlash about of readers refusing to buy anything priced at $.99 because they assume it’s crap. There will be some cost cutting, but with The Jersey Shore crew all getting huge book deals and crappy sales one has to wonder if publishers should be changing their tunes anyway, ebooks or not.

They come to see self-epublishing as a kind of Ponzi scheme – one created by digital companies to prey on the desires of an expanding mass of consumers who also wanted to be believe they could be “creative”.

Forgive me if this sounds callous, but before you go into a market you should take the time to research it. If you did you could easily see that this is the case. A Ponzi scheme implies you are being lied to by the person taking your money. You aren’t. You’re being lied to by 1) yourself and 2) the people saying they make $100,000 in a month self publishing and you can too. It’s not a Ponzi scheme. it’s a basic old “Make money stuffing envelopes, send $2 for instructions” scheme. There is plenty of info out there to tell you to rein in your expectation. More than that, there are plenty of successful, well-respected writers out there telling you that most of the ebook revolution is smoke. You just have to listen with your brain instead of with your desire for wish fulfillment.

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