Thursday, July 12, 2012

Guest Blog: "E-Books and The Future--FOLLOW UP" by Dave Zeltserman

For quite some time now I have asked Dave to do a follow-up piece to his original post “E-books and The Future” that first appeared here on September 1, 2010. If you have not read it, go to before continuing on. We will be here when you get back.

Finally with the original post becoming very hot on the blog the last couple of days, Dave has contributed the below follow up post. Please join me in welcoming Dave back to Kevin's Corner with his latest piece on the issue…

It's been over 2 years since I've posted this and thought I'd follow up with mostly observations.

First, while still very early in all this, surprisingly I find my predictions pretty much on track, and maybe in another few years I'll be able to add Nostradamus to my name!

Observation 1:

Apple sold 15.4 million iPads during the last quarter of 2011. During a 4 day period in March of this year, Apple sold 3 million iPads. Amazon and B&N have recognized iPad's dominance and have moved quickly to sell their own iPad-like devices, Kindle Fire for $199 and the Nook Tablet also for $199. While the older Kindle and Nook models have dropped in price, they're clearly moving toward obsolescence, so the overall price of the Kindle and Nook have gone up, while iPad prices have dropped. So it's looking like my prediction that dedicated ereading devices will become obsolete in favor of multi-use iPad-like devices is well on the way of happening.

Whether Amazon and B&N can compete here with lower-priced iPad-type clones is to be determined.

Observation 2:

While I’m okay with reading short stories on my kindle, I don’t like reading novels on it and I’ve talked with other readers during my book events who feel the same.  My reason for this is two-part. While the liquid ink technology used is supposed to be good for the eyes (or at least not cause eye strain), my vision is not the best, and if I spend an hour reading on my kindle, it screws up my vision for the day. Conversely, I can spend hours reading a print book while using reading glasses without any issue. Besides that, I find that I never get as deeply into a book when reading on a kindle as I do print books, and after 150 pages or so,  a fatigue factor kicks in and I mostly lose interest in the book. This doesn’t happen with print books. And again, I’ve talked with other readers who experience the same, and like me, stick only to print books when reading for enjoyment. A year or so ago I read an article talking about how a high percentage of readers find they don’t like reading on an ebook device and end up sticking with print books, but since I can’t find that article, I won’t give the percentage that’s stuck in my head. Of course, that still leaves a high percentage of readers who are quite happy reading on these devices.

Observation 3:

The bookstore landscape has changed dramatically. Borders is gone and B&N has become equally a Nook showcase as it is a bookstore. I don’t have the numbers for how many independent bookstores have closed,  but I’ve certainly seen announcements of closings of several highly respected stores. My wife and I were recently spending hours walking around Manhattan and it struck me during all that time that I only saw one bookstore.

What I have noticed with several bookstores that I frequent is that they’ve changed/evolved quite a bit over the last two years, morphing from what they were to something very different—in one case part bookstore/part gift shop,  in another case, significantly their extending café at the expense of the number of book titles sold, and in two other cases, selling more used books and mostly (bu not completely) dropping new titles. I’m not sure how prevalent this is countrywide, but that’s what I’ve been seeing locally.

Observation 4:

Readers of ebooks are diverging into 2 camps--those who are buying/reading ebooks from only the most recognizable bestselling authors, and those who are reading/downloading mostly free and cheap ebooks.

I expected this to happen, and I believe with the first camps readers are reacting to the confusion caused by 100s of thousands of self-published ebooks flooding Amazon's kindle store.

Observation 5:

Ebook prices are quickly moving to $0.

Amazon started their KDP Select program in January where in exchange for giving Amazon exclusivity of an ebook title for 3-months they'd allow the publisher/author to offer the ebook free for up to 5 days during this exclusive period (which can be started up again when the period ends), as well as taking part in their Prime borrow program. What they didn't tell authors (at least not many) is that they would give ebooks preferential treatment based on how many were given away free. In other words--early on if you gave away 30,000 ebooks, Amazon would position the title so that it might later sell somewhere between 5,000-10,000 copies. Authors I know who took advantage of this early did very well, and at least one author I know made $50,000 in January alone. Of course, this couldn't last, and from what I understand Amazon changed their algorithms in March and again in May so that both times there would be far less benefit to authors giving away their ebooks, to the point where now it's at best marginal. But that's not stopping desperate authors from trying these giveaways. The result of all this is 10s of millions of free ebooks have been given away, and this trend isn't stopping, even though the benefit to authors has mostly become negligible. The only thing slowing this down is that readers grabbing free ebooks have saturated their kindles with decades worth of reading and have become much more selective on what they download. When you factor in all of these free downloads with all other ebooks sold, it has significantly moved the average price of a downloaded ebook closer to $0, and this is only going to get worse.

Observation 6:

Ebooks for the most part do not sell because of word of mouth. It happens occasionally--look at 50 Shades of Gray, for example, but most of the self-published ebooks that have sold well on Amazon do so because Amazon made them sell well. Early on, Amazon was a bit like a casino that could be gamed--self-published authors who were savvy enough figured out how to trigger Amazons algorithm to cause a shitload of sales (which kept Amazon's algorithms generating even a larger shitload of sales). While I can only state this anecdotally because I don't want to embarrass the authors who took advantage of this, this is something I know as a fact. While Amazon closed a lot of these loopholes (and temporarily opened others with their KDP Select), Amazon still drives most of the sales for their bestselling ebooks with their direct marketing machine and favorable webpage placements.

Observation 7:

The rise of ebooks and the response of big publishing (namely, taking more of a blockbuster mentality) is driving many professional midlist authors to self-publishing ebooks, as they have little other choice.

Dave Zeltserman ©2012

Dave Zeltserman won the 2010 Shamus Award for 'Julius Katz' and is the acclaimed author of the 'man out of prison' crime trilogy: Small Crimes, Pariah and Killer, where Small Crimes was named by NPR as one of the best five crime and mystery novels of 2008, and both Small Crimes and Pariah (2009) were picked by the Washington Post as best books of the year. His recent The Caretaker of Lorne Field received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly, calling it a 'superb mix of humor and horror' and has been shortlisted by ALA for best horror novel of 2010. His book Outsourced (2011) was called 'a small gem of crime fiction' by Booklist and has been optioned by Impact Pictures and Constantin Film and is currently under development.


Earl Staggs said...

Great observations, Dave. It'd interesting to watch publishing evolve. Too bad we don't know for certain where it will wind up.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Really depressing.

Jan Christensen said...

Pretty hard to know which way to jump in all this confusion. I guess we just have to keep writing and keep hoping to be read. Thanks to Kevin and Dave for posting this. Food for thought, for sure.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Hard and depressing. Pretty much makes me wonder if things are this bad now, how bad will they get.

Dave Zeltserman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Zeltserman said...

not trying to depress anyone, only trying to give honest observations. We're still very early in the ebook game, I'm sure things will change in ways we've never expected (although I am changing my business cards to Dave "Nostradamus" Zeltserman thanks to my past from 2 years ago!)