Friday, March 6, 2009

Guest Blogger J.A. Konrath on his Cyber Tour

As promised in last week's blog, I'm presenting one of my favorite authors, J.A. Konrath, this week. He's taking a cyber book tour to promote his new book, Afraid, debuting on March 31, and I'm one of his stops.

Horror is a new genre for him, so he's using the pen name, Jack Kilborn. He's posted a few chapters of Afraid, and it sucks you into the story within the first few paragraphs.

Like every good horror novelist, he plants the seeds in your mind of the terror that's about to happen. And you know it'll happen, but you can stop yourself from reading on. Yes, it'll be gory, and filled with tension and suspense. And I suspect it'll make you not want to read it after dark. Ooh, I can't wait!

So, when Joe asked what I'd like him to talk about on this blog tour, I asked if he'd blog about what's happening in the publishing world right now.

Here's what he had to say.

Even if we take our waning economy out of the picture, publishing has been in trouble for a long time.

As a business model, publishing is flawed. I've heard that only one out of five books makes a profit, and that a fifty percent sell through is considered acceptable.

Think about if General Motors or Coca-Cola used those figures to determine success. For every five bottles of Coke sold, only one makes a profit? For every two cars built, one is scrapped?

The problem goes back to the archaic practice of returns. At any point, a bookseller can return a book back to the publisher for a full refund. In the case of a paperback, the whole book doesn't even have to be returned—the cover is stripped off the book and mailed back, giving the bookseller credit towards their next purchase.

What's the incentive to move a particular title? None. It either sells on its own, or they ship it back and replace it with something else.

While a sweet deal for the bookseller, this causes all sorts of problems for the publisher and author. Publishers spend a great deal of money promoting blockbusters, and apply heavy discounts to entice chains to carry multiple copies. Smaller bookstores don't get these same discounts, and lose sales as a result. Midlist authors who don't get the  star treatment find their books have a shelf life of only a few weeks before being returned, which means they don't have the distribution or exposure to grow an audience that might someday make them bestsellers.

This high cost of promotion, the megabucks paid to to bestsellers, and the cost of returns is why a hardcover costs $25.95 when you can buy the third season of LOST for only $15.

Again, keeping the economy out of it, publishing now has to deal with new technology. Most of publishing still uses offset presses, which were invented hundreds of years ago, so the industry can't be considered an early adopter.

Technology fosters format change. VHS became DVD. Vinyl became CD which became mp3.

With digital ebooks and audiobooks, distribution is no longer an issue. Shipping to stores, stocking copies, printing, advanced orders—they're all soon to be things of the past. With ebook readers like Kindle 2, suddenly there is a cheap, fast, effective way to distribute books.

It isn't perfect yet. But it will be.

The ebook reader of the future will have the following features:

• Waterproof and scratchproof
• Under $100
• Long battery life
• Big storage capacity
• Backlit, with adjustable size font
• Internet accessible
• Large, no glare screen
• Interactivity

DVDs didn't replace VHS because they had better resolution. That's why BluRay is having trouble replacing DVD. It isn't about picture quality.

It's about extras. Alternate endings. Commentary. Deleted footage. Trailers.

Videophiles love extras, so they went to DVD. BluRay offer the same extras as DVD, but it is more expensive, so it isn't catching on in a big way.

Consumers switched to CDs only because CDs had extra songs, and could be copied. Prior to copy capability, CDs were just another overpriced format for technogeeks.

Mp3s replaced CDs because of ease of use and a free distribution method. Downloading the songs you want and putting them on your iPod is easier than lugging around 50 CDs. IPods can now store cover art, lyrics, liner notes, as well as play videogames, store addresses, and even play movies.

For ebooks to catch on, publishers and writers will have to offer more than just text.

Which brings us to the the next problem. File sharing.

Digital media wants to be free. People don't consider copying a bunch of ones and zeros to be stealing. Why are folks going to pay $15 for a Kindle download when they can get the hardcover on sale for $15?

Ebooks will replace print books. But along with a reader that has the features I've mentioned, ebooks have to also:

• Be 99 cents or less
• Offer extra content, such as author interviews, cut scenes, bonus short stories
• Be easily downloadable from a variety of sources
• Offer the audio version as well, (and not a monotone robot reading the text)
• Be DRM free, without copy restriction

When that happens, ebooks will take over. It may not happen right away, but it will happen…


JA Konrath said...

Thanks for having me here, Mary!

Rereading my post, I have some additional thoughts about ebooks...

There are two reasons new technologies take over.

The first is added content. CDs held more tracks than LPs, and often featured bonus tracks. Yes, they sounded better. But they offered more than that. They gave you extra.

An iPod holds many more songs than a CD. It's much easier to carry around than a trunk full of albums. It also offers games, movies, an address book, a reader, and other apps.

iPod wins.

DVDs had better video resolution than VHS. But BluRay has better resolution than DVD, yet it hasn't taken off in the same way. Why not?

BluRay offers the same extras as DVDs do. Commentary, deleted scenes, interviews, making of docs, alternate endings. That's why people flocked to DVD. But BluRay isn't giving more content, so it isn't becoming a required purchase like a DVD player is.

Polaroid recently stopped making instant cameras. No duh. With a 2gb SD card, you can fit 5000 pictures on your digital camera--or phone--then print them at home. You can also edit them, crop, adjust for red eye and contract.

Digital wins.

But there's a darker side that no one talks about, yet is also the reason these new formats catch on.

They can be copied.

CDs were audiophile fringe until the first CD burners hit the market. The same with DVDs.

Digital cameras were fringe until memory cards became huge and cheap and easily transferable to your computer.

A BluRay blank disc costs $20 each. That's why they aren't catching on yet.

Yet iPods caught on in a big way. iPods are made to steal music. It would cost over $55,000 to legally fill a 160gb iPod using iTunes. Yet everyone seems to have full iPods.

DVDs can be burned, and they can record TV, but VCRs didn't take a huge hit until TIVO, which not only recorded TV on the fly and with an easy preprogrammed interface, but it could also cut the commercials. Now every cable provider includes a DRV and on demand.

Extras are important. I'm going to love it when ebooks are introduced with alternate endings, early drafts with deleted scenes, optional author-notated commentary, extra short stories and interviews. It will happen.

But it won't truly take off until Amazon removes the DRM copy protection and allows the format to be copied.

People want to share their digital media. File sharing networks are 21 of the top 100 visited websites on the internet. Think about that. We all know huge sites like eBay and Google and Microsoft. But Pirate Bay and Rapidshare and Mininova are getting just as much traffic. And this doesn't even include Usenet, where there are billions (yeah, billions) of filesharing downloads every day.

Legal or not, moral or not, people are file sharing.

But shouldn't they be allowed to do it with things they've purchased?

I should be able to lend a book that I bought to my mother, whether I bought it at Borders, or downloaded it from Amazon. I paid for it. I should be able to do what I want with it.

Once the Kindle price comes down---or once Kindle gets a cheap competitor that allows for copies and includes book extras, the ebook revolution will really begin.

Catherine said...

As a former book merchandiser I can attest to the fact that the publishing business is flawed. It used to KILL ME to tear the covers off books and throw an entire crate of them into a dumpster. I can imagine it would be difficult to lug a huge load of books back to my office every week but to throw them out just tore at my guts. It used to be up to me which books got removed from the shelves and which ones stayed. That's a pretty sad way of selling books since anyone can have this job and use their own tastes as a guideline as to what author's hard work gets another week to try and sell. The company I worked for had a giant warehouse full of books that nobody wanted; they used to donate to hospitals and nursing homes, train staions and such places but these places would no longer accept books because they had too many. There was one supermarket manager who used to tell his employees to come in the back when I was done stripping books and he would let them chose books to take home. He knew this was totally against the law but it killed him too to see the books in the dumpster. A few years later I ran into this manager again...his wife was a classmate of mine in library school.

Karen from Mentor said...

"Off (er) the audio version as well, (and not a monotone robot reading the text)" always say "point out my typos"

Will you do the audio for your books? Your acting skills have improved quite a bit over the years judging from the videos you kindly posted at your website. Or, you could get Arnold...that would be fun, just make sure the book had the word California in it a lot. But only if it was a comedy.

I am impressed (again) with all the new things you taught your listening audience today. And the passion with which you presented the information. Thanks for the look into the future of publishing.

Captain Kirk has paper books in the future.(The tense for this sentence was a pain! (lol)

So, following his example,I'm sure that there will be a few of us dinosaurs that will also still have printed paper books along with our ebooks laying around in the year 2030. We'll just be considered eccentric.

Really enjoying the tour!


Jude Hardin said...

I should be able to lend a book that I bought to my mother, whether I bought it at Borders, or downloaded it from Amazon. I paid for it. I should be able to do what I want with it.

Hmm. To me, there's a huge difference between loaning a book to your mother and distributing that book to 100,000 "friends." If copyright laws can't somehow be inforced, then the career we know today as "author" will cease to exist.

Jude Hardin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aim said...

good thoughts. I agree I should be able to loan a book to a friend, but the whole digital thing, well, I jsut don't know.

Mary Duncan said...

That's the reason why I'm holding off putting the Eyes of Garnet series on ebooks or Kindle. It's already hard enough out there without being pirated.

But I do feel that publishing definitely needs to restructure, and in a big way. I also truly believe that the touchy-feely tangible item known as the book, will someday be obsolete.

Thanks for having me be a stop on your tour!


Ady Hall said...

Love the post! Digital bookage is inevitable (and will they lose the term 'book' in the process?)

So it'll be interesting to see how a publisher can monetise something that will be freely available. Cos I like the idea of free - but also believe that an author should be paid for his/her works.

Would people accept adverts in e-books? Perhaps a hyperlink to a product mentioned within the book. Or even a subscription service to access many books, the monies going to the pot of authors that contribute . . .

JA Konrath said...

File sharing is here to stay. I blogged a year ago about how ebooks will be pirated, and the way for writers to make money was to put ads in them.

But alas, no one listens to me. :)

Janet said...

No Joe. Not backlit screens. The whole point of e-readers (besides portability), as far as I'm concerned, is the fact that they don't have computer screens. Much easier on the eyes. If I want a back-lit screen, I'll read off my computer.

But most of your points are spot on.

Vickie said...

If digital book readers become less costly, I might consider getting one. However, there is something so sweet about going in my closet and choosing the next book for my purse or bedside read. I like how a book feels in my hand.
I still buy CDs even though I have an mp3 player. I like having the option of putting some tunes on the stereo and hitting shuffle and letting it go to fill the house with dancin' music.
So I think I would still buy books even if I had a Kindle or whatever other iteration comes out. For me it's about convenience and comfort.

Jude Hardin said...

File sharing is here to stay.

So is shoplifting. Does that mean we should make it easier for the thieves?

There will always be honest people willing to pay a fair price for a book, no matter the format it's in. Those are the people we should embrace, IMO. Not the criminals.

I don't think novels will ever be that much of a problem, anyway, but things like college textbooks might; and, anything that harms the industry as a whole will eventually trickle down to the authors--fiction and non.

It's going to be a challenge, Joe, but I think we need to do whatever it takes to fight copyright infringement. Otherwise, you'll be out of a career, and I won't even have a chance to get started with mine.

Beth Ciotta said...

Fascinating post, Joe. I'm one of those people who likes to hold an actual 'book' in my hand. There's comfort in an old-fashioned read. However, I confess, your version of the future e-book reader is certainly intriguing. I'll no doubt covert, but not soon.

Gayle Carline said...

I am longing to buy a Kindle, but as you pointed out, they still cost an arm and a leg, and I'm clumsy enough as it is.

Amazon (I think it's them) has an interesting feature on the MP3 downloads it sells - you can only transfer it to 3 devices. Then it just WON'T tranfer that song anywhere else. Perhaps e-books could have that kind of software attached to them.

I think I'll worry about it when someone downloads my book and ships it around to 100,000 of their close personal friends. Of course, I will be a viral superstah by then, won't I?

JA Konrath said...

By "backlit" I mean the ability to read in the dark without the need for any extra lights. "Light without glare" is a better way to put it.

Kelli Jo said...

Hi Joe! I agree with Beth Ciotta - I want an old fashion book in my hand. Yesterday, though, I got an e-mail from Amazon about the new Kindle II - I totally was on board about going to e-book, my boyfriend would love it - I already have 3 full shelves (double filed) and not all my books are shelved - until I went to it online and saw the price. Ouchie mama! And with what you have said about the future of ebooks, I could probably get into it.

Donte said...

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