An auction, orphan works and sales figures.

This past week has been an interesting one for me, sometimes in the old proverbial sense of the word.  Every possible moment — which hasn’t been nearly enough — I’ve been toiling away on a massive rewrite of the first third of Nocturnal Serenade.  I was almost done with the book when I realized what had been bothering me about it.  That meant going back and inserting three chapters and changing the personality of one of the supporting characters.  That change in personality meant reworking one of the plot threads as well.  And, since editing my own work is not something I enjoy, it’s made Amanda very cranky indeed.

I’ve also spent time getting ready for FenCon next weekend where I will be representing Naked Reader Press at the small press roundtable.   That’s meant preparing promotional materials, business cards, starting to think about my presentation, etc.  This will be the first time I’ve had to put on the corporate face for NRP in a large forum and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little nervous.  But it does look like things are coming together on that front — hopefully.

The following weekend is the writers workshop our own Sarah is conducting at my local library. This is the third year Sarah has come down for the workshop and it is always a great success.  Of course, for me it is a doubly good deal because it means I get Sarah as a captive audience.  I bribe her with access to the drooler — AKA Rocky the dog — for help with my writing.  So far, the bribes have worked.  This year I have a back-up plan in case the drooler fails in the cute factor.  There is the not-our-cat from next door that has adopted us.  Yes, adopted us as in we are now expected to feed him and put the drooler outside so he can come in and make himself at home.  Which is, of course, NOT something my own cat (appropriately named Athena) appreciates in the least.

But despite all that, the publishing world has continued and, depending on your point of view, the news is good or bad but rarely in-between.

First up, in the ongoing but soon to be done saga of Borders, there was an auction for its intellectual property.  I don’t think it surprises anyone to learn that Barnes & Noble was very aggressive in the auction that went 50 rounds.  According to Publishers Weekly, “it appears to have acquired most all of Borders’s domestic assets that includes its Internet domain names, the Borders.com Web site and such trademarks as Borders, Waldenbooks and Brentano’s.”  If this is true, it means we won’t be seeing a new competitor to B&N using the Borders names and brands.

In another ongoing saga, that of the digitization of out-of-copyright and orphaned literary works, more lawsuits have been filed.  This time to stop the so-called HathiTrust from leasing approximately 140 works, some of which it is alleged are still under copyright.  In response to the filing, HathiTrust has suspended plans to release these titles.  According to Publishers Weekly, HathiTrust will work to improve its process of determining copyright and orphan status of the works in question.

The big news of the week has to be the sales figures for the first half of this year.  Despite huge gains for e-books, publishing sales took a hit.  The sales of print books averaged a decline of almost 23%.  E-book sales increased more than 161%.  Here are the figures for the major areas:

Category 2010 2011 % Change
Adult Hardcover (13)* $617.8 $471.1 -23.7%
Adult Paperback (16) 710.1 521.4 -26.6
Mass Market (7) 325.3 232.5 -28.5
Children’s/YA Hardcover (11) 272.0 240.1 -11.7
Children’s/YA Paperback (10) 244.0 207.1 -15.1
Total Print $2,169.2 $1,672.2 -22.9%
E-book (15) 181.3 473.8 161.3
Combined $2,350.5 $2,146.0 -8.6%

What interests me as a writer and as someone who works for a digital publisher is the growing market share of e-books.  Looking at these figures, e-books snow hold 20% of the overall market (math isn’t my strong suit and I’m too lazy to get out the calculator this morning, so correct me if I’m wrong here).  When you consider that just a few years ago, e-books were less than 1% of the market, this is a huge growth. I think the time has come for publishers and authors alike to recognize that e-books are not only here to stay but are a major piece of the market and need to be taken seriously.

What do I mean, you ask? From a publishing standpoint, it means publishers need to start focusing more attention on not only getting e-books into the hands of readers but on e-book quality.  This is everything from formatting an e-book in such a way it is visually pleasing to read to not making dumb mistakes like listing the wrong author across the top of the html or pdf version of the e-book page.  It also means making sure the book itself is properly proofread.  For whatever reason, errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar seems to jump off the e-book page even more so than they do the printed page.  And, let me tell you, readers complain about the errors and not just to the publisher.  They do it loud and long on e-book related fora.  So, publishers, do yourself a favor and start looking at quality control again.

Authors, don’t think this lets you off the hook because it doesn’t.  Legacy publishers simply do not do the level of QA they used to when it comes to editing, copy editing and proofreading.  So that leaves it up to you to present them with the cleanest manuscript you can.  Sorry to tell you this, it also means formatting as well.  I know, I can already hear some of you out there saying that’s not your job.  In a way, it is.  Those manuscript formatting guidelines the publishers ask you to comply with are not only so it makes it easier for the publisher to read your submission but also so it is easier in the conversion process — whether the conversion is to print or digital or both.

There is something else to think about as an author when it comes to e-books and e-book readers.  They are a wonderful tool for us with regard to the editing process.  You may be different from me, but when I send my current work in progress to my kindle or to my tablet and start reading it, it is like I am reading a book, not just my manuscript.  I see things I hadn’t seen looking at the printed page or reading it on my laptop.  Frankly, I find myself reading the WIP as I would anyone else’s book and that has become very helpful as an editing tool.

It is clear from each of the links today that e-books are here to stay.  The issue of out of copyright and orphan works will wind up in court — again and again — until there is a definitive ruling.  E-books sales have, in my opinion, reached the tipping point where they are a major part of the market that has to be factored in by all involved in publishing. In fact, e-books are now such a large part of the market that there are more and more questions, and often demands, by the reading public to know why they can’t get free digital copies of an e-book if they already own the hard copy version of the book.  Those who aren’t making that demand often want to know why they can’t trade their hard copy version of the book back in for a digital copy.  And people wonder why some publishers seem to have a perpetual migraine.

Mirrored at Mad Genius Club.

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1 Comment

Filed under Musings

One response to “An auction, orphan works and sales figures.

  1. Stephen J. Simmons

    Amanda, Math *is* “my strong suit” … and I’m not convinced that the statement “Despite huge gains for e-books, publishing sales took a hit.” is entirely accurate. Yes the total number of shekels exchanged for stuff-made-up-by-writers went down by eight and a half percent, but there are details swimming beneath the surface of those waters.

    Consider: If I opt to leave that $8.99 paperback on the shelf at B&N, and instead download a $4.99 e-novel from NRP, I haven’t changed the number of titles sold. But I have lowered that dollarized method of counting by a whopping 44%. I have no way of even taking a reasonable swag at what the other-format sale-prices of all those e-books would have added up to, but my gut tells me the plus-$200M in e-books is just way too similar to the minus-$200M in aggregate sales.

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