The Shatzkin Files

Four years into the ebook revolution: things we know and things we don’t know

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One could say (and I would) that the ereading revolution is coming up to its 4th anniversary since it was late November 2007 when Amazon first released the Kindle. There had been dedicated ereading devices before then, including the Sony Reader — in the market when Kindle arrived and still here, if not wildly successful — and the already-defunct Rocket Book and Softbook devices that had debuted and disappeared some years before. And in the early 1990s we had the Sony Bookman, which showed only a few lines of text at one time and disappeared with barely a trace. The biggest-selling ebook format, before Kindle, put content on the Palm Pilot and the total ebook market was so far beneath a rounding error that any investment by a publisher in digitization was being made on faith, not on commercial evidence.

And many people in publishing believed that reading on a screen would take many years to take hold, if it ever would.

Now, less than four years later, we are living in a changed world, although not yet a transformed one. But transformed might be coming very soon.

As ebook sales in the US now appear to have reached the 20% of revenue threshhold at some publishers already (so it is there or will be for everybody very soon), there are some things we can say we know about the shape of the future, but some very important other things that we don’t know yet.

We know that most people will adjust pretty readily to reading straight text narrative books on a screen rather than paper.

We know that parents will hand their iPad, iPhone, or Nook Color device to a kid so that they can enjoy children’s books on the device.

We don’t know whether adult illustrated book content will be equally well accepted by book consumers on devices, even though there are more and more devices capable of displaying pretty much what publishers deliver on a printed page.

We don’t know what parents will pay for a brief illustrated children’s book delivered for a device, but it appears it might be much less than they’re willing to pay for paper.

We know that consumers will pay paperback prices and more for plain vanilla ebooks, or “verbatim” ebooks.

We don’t know whether consumers will accept paying higher prices for video, audio, or software enhancements to the verbatim ebooks.

In fact, we don’t know if consumers would pay paperback prices for ebooks if the paperback were not ubiquitously on sale as a benchmark for pricing.

We know that ebook uptake, as measured in sales or their percentage of publishers’ revenues, has doubled or more than doubled every year since 2007.

We know that rate of growth is mathematically prevented from continuing for even three more years (because it would put ebooks at 160% of publishers’ revenues if it did!)

We know from announcements about new devices and a recent Harris poll predicting increased device purchasing that there are no expectations for a slowdown in ebook adoption anytime soon.

We don’t know if we’re going to find a barrier of resistance, or perhaps we should call it the barrier of “paper-insistence”, at some sales level over the next two years (at the end of which ebooks would be 80% of publishers’ revenues at the growth rates we’ve seen over the past four years).

We know there’s a big and developing market for English language ebooks globally, as the ebook infrastructure builds out in markets around the world.

We don’t know how quickly those markets will develop or how big they can ultimately become.

We know that the number of bookstores suffered a sharp reduction in 2011 because of the Borders bankruptcy.

We don’t know if the remaining brick retail network, the bookstores led by B&N and including the independents as well as the shelf space devoted to books by the mass merchants, will get a second wind from the disappearance of the Borders competition, buying publishers some temporary stability in their store network, or if the erosion of shelf space will continue (or even accelerate).

We don’t know what the loss of brick store merchandising will mean to the ability of publishers and authors to introduce new talent to readers, or even just to introduce a new work by established talent.

We don’t know if improved book discovery and merchandising is amenable to the application of “scale” by publishers outside of vertical niches, be they topics or genres.

We know that agents and authors will accept an ebook royalty of 25% of net receipts in today’s environment, where 70% or more of the sales are still made in print.

We don’t know if the threat of the alternative publishing options will force that royalty rate up if sales fall below 50% print or 30% print.

We don’t know if sales falling below 50% print or 30% print is several years away or much less.

We know that the Epub 3 standard and HTML5 enable app-like features to be delivered as ebooks.

We don’t know if those features will make any commercial difference for the straight text content which is the only commercially-proven ebook type.

We know that content-creating brands that are not book publishers are using the relative ease of publication of ebooks to deliver their own content to the ebook marketplace.

We don’t know if book publishers will develop an ebook publishing expertise that will make them able to persuade those brands in time to go through them, the way they have in the print book world, rather than disintermediating them.

Since I have been expressing my concerns about the impact of the ebook revolution on general trade publishing, which I have been doing with dramatic intent since six months before the Kindle at the BEA in 2007, I have been saying the general trade houses have to get audience-centric (which means choosing content to fit vertical niches).

Today I will add another urgent suggestion to general trade publishers: reconsider your commitments to publish illustrated books in any time frame more extended than a year or two and think about sticking to straight text, unless you have paths to the customers for those books that do not go through bookstores. If we do end up in an 80% ebook world anytime soon, and we very well might, you’ll want to own the content you know works (for the consumer) in that format, not what you don’t know works any way other than in print.

For children’s books, the key is brand. There will be demand for Eloise and Madeline and Alice in Wonderland for years to come, but the product and pricing equations could be totally up for grabs.

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  • Mike, 

    A great post. I’m curious to hear your thoughts about what might prevent an “80% ebook world” in the near future. You refer to the possibility that we may discover a certain level of “paper-insistence”. I gather you imagine this will be something around 20%, but could be more.

    Are there any other factors that might hinder or delay the 80% picture in the near term?

    • I think an 80% ebook world for straight narrative text is a question of “exactly when”, not “whether”. The limitation is the distribution of devices, a subject I should know more about than I do. But people examining the potential for ebook sales in the poorest parts of the world think people will be able to read books on any cell phone, so that it is truly diminishing limitation. So, 3 years in the US? Can’t imagine longer than 5 years here, I wouldn’t imagine.

      What’s the harder question is “what happens to books that require illustrations”? There is a large number of potential answers, and the only thing I’m pretty sure of is that it will be a number of things, not one thing, providing the answer. Some of them will feel like books; some will feel like apps; some will feel like web sites; and some will feel like things we haven’t felt yet.


      • mike:
        always interested to hear your thoughts – but i think you, as professional as you are, may be allowing your own preferences to bleed into your 80% ebook world outlook…..demand for print may be eroding but it is a leap to an 80% ebook world that soon…..there remains a healthy demand for print and i suspect until devices that handle graphics, maps, etc enter the market that ebook adoption will grow – but not at the exponential rate that we have seen with early adopters…..truth is- we will see what the future holds….but i was surprised at the 80% figure – maybe 10 years, I suppose, but even that seems to be a stretch (but perhaps i lack the vision you have – i just feel that your vision is clouded by your enthusiasm for the promise and possibilities you have seen and foresee)….

      • It’s an article of professionalism with me precisely to avoid doing what you say I’m doing, which is to let my personal preferences influence a prediction.

        I narrowed my thinking to narrative books, which are the only ones you can project at all. They’re probably 25% ebooks now. The percentage has doubled every year for at least the last four. (That is, they were less than 3% — substantially less than 3% — four years ago.)

        So the question is, when will the migration slow down. If it continues at its present pace, it is 100% in two years. I said 80% in 2 to 5 years. That’s predicting a pretty dramatic slowdown in the rate of share growth, particularly at the outer end. With devices getting cheaper and more ubiquitous every day, I am not sure why one would see a slowdown anytime soon.


      • got it….i think YOU identify why we might see a slowdown….the barrier of resistance or paper insistence…..the plateau….at which things may settle as devices are produced that may help to overcome the barrier – or not…..

      • I agree. Now we can all speculate at what level that barrier kicks in! But * all* we can do is *speculate*.


      • Andrew Malkin

        Nice summation Mike.
        Two other things to possibly include under what we don’t know?Transparent eBook sales info provided by Bookscan weekly including the major channels. I thought that was slated for September…Appeal and sales success with short works like what Workman, Harvard Business, Lark Books and others have done via chunking their content. Obviously, folks like Byliner, Atavist and even TedTalks, Slate and Daily Beast are getting into the mix. Any anecdotal or “anecdata” info you wish to share? Here’s the link to two examples (these sold across multiple channel partners of course);jsessionid=41A228323E8675C5B9819AD5A3150849.prd-main-news10?productId=500616334&categoryId=cat2200008

      • I agree that how the whole “short content” thing is going to play out is a very good open question, although there’s not much question there will be more of it because of supply, regardless of demand.

        Michael Tamblyn of Kobo provided a very useful point of information at our eBooks for Everyone Else conference today. Michael said that short form provokes customer service issues for them, perhaps because they don’t have a branded “short subject” division like Amazon has and Apple announced. There are lots of whole *books *for 99 cents to $2.99. So when somebody buys a short things set at that price point, they are sometimes disappointed. We may really require some agreed metric for words to a page so that we can quote “approximately 25 pages” or whatever as part of the metadata as this kind of content becomes more common.


      • David Gaughran

        Agreed, but there should be some responsibility on the author/publisher side too. I have self-published two “single” shorts for 99c. It was imperative to include both the word count and the “book page” count (going by 250 words per page).

        Now, some customers skip the description altogether, but there isn’t much you can do about that. Even so, my return rate for the shorts is less than 1% and has only attracted one negative review/comment on Amazon (out of about 80 reviews for the pair).

        A tech solution would be neater though. Smashwords prints the word count. Many readers don’t know what that pertains to, so a simple formula of 250 words per page could do the trick (or whatever).

        Until then – label clearly. Those who don’t will feel the wrath of the one star reviewers.

      • No doubt in my mind that “page counts” are best understood by the consumer. Word counts are simple to provide. Translating at 250 words per page should become a metadata standard, frankly.


      • Dick Hartzell

        Without respect to timeframes, I’ve noticed a certain scary ineluctability to what one might call the e-everthinging of media.  Less than a decade ago the DVD was the innovative digital format putting the nail in the videocassette coffin.  Ditto digital photo printing via your inkjet printer versus drug-store printing on photo paper.  Now all my local DVD rental shops have disappeared (and even their online annihilator, Netflix, is getting out of the DVD business), printing digital snapshots is expensive and time-consuming (and I’ve taken to showing people snapshots on my Android phone), and physical books will likely disappear in much the same way … not because there aren’t still plenty of people who want to read them but because the stores that sell them will continue to vanish.  In the early ’90s I didn’t buy a CD player because I thought CDs were cool — I bought it because LPs had become impossible to find. It’s one of the dispiriting things about technology: not choosing turns out to be as much a choice as choosing.  Physical books, as marvelous as they may be, are destined for LP status. And it won’t matter how long or loudly physical book lovers proclaim their preference.

        BTW: this ineluctable trend applies to illustrated books as well as simple text.  I don’t need to know how we’ll read them; our lack of interest in printing photographs (and a whole generation that see pictures as something to be viewed on Facebook) satisfies me that pictures must continue to migrate digitally just as movies, music, and text have.

      • Joel Haas

        I have just returned from ground zero of the printed paper book–the 11 th annual Library of Congress Book Festival on the Washington DC Mall.  I agree with Mike’s assertions about the vital importance of face to face conferences–that was certainly evident in the long lines to have books signed after various authors spoke.  B&N created a huge bookstore tent with 15 checkout lanes and staffers herding people with purchases through.  Hundreds of people pressed into the dozen or so giant circus tents set up along the mall to hear their favorite authors speak through 8 hours for two days.  Nearly all the event ran on time.  The LOC and its corporate sponsors did a magnificent job with the festival.  The event was free.
        BUT I do NOT think this demonstrates the market for the paper book is really going to survive.  I would have bought far more books (had I been inclined) if I had not had to lug them around with me all day and then shlep them back to my hotel.  Many people, as I did, walked through the stacks of books for sale simply scribbling down in a note pad which ones to order later from Amazon or buy at their local bookstore (probably at a better price) or to download.
        HERE’S MY IRONY NOTE:  B&N had a huge display and plenty of staff showing off the color NOOK (I bought one last year and love it).  I had brought my NOOK along thinking that just as in all other B&N stores I could download the books to my NOOK for purchase while there.  No such luck.  They would demo the NOOK but a customer could not actually download and buy a book there. 

        I was very interested in purchasing a copy of Adam Goodheart’s new history “1861.”  The hardcover book right there in front of me was expensive–worse, it was bulky.  I’d have downloaded it onto my NOOK but could not.
        So I downloaded it onto my Kindle 3G (also bought last year and I love it also).

        “There’s free WiFi here on the mall,” B&N staff told me.  True enough.  But with a zillion people on the mall for the book fest not to mention another two zillion there as a matter of course to see the many museums, how useful do you think that was?  Since B&N wouldn’t even set up their own WiFi they lost sales to current NOOK owners and had no way to effectively sell new ones to people there.

        So, with no problem, I ate a cookie and sat on a bench outside the B&N tent and  simply downloaded “1861” to my Kindle through the 3G whispernet service.

        Here’s my point–I bought an ebook after hearing the author speak.  I did  not care about having a “signed copy.” 

        I do think it will be a very smart and profitable publisher who figures out how to have an eBook specially marked or “signed” by an author at a speaking event or at an online web broadcast. (Actually, being a geek in additon to being a sculptor, I have a few ideas on how this could be done)   People standing in line for 2 hours to have Susan Cooper sign their copies of her novels are not people spending time reading or going to the other events or shopping.  That last part should catch publishers’ attention.  “Or shopping.” 

        The “Digital Bookmobile” was there.  And the Library of Congress itself had a tent set up and I attended one of the  talks about how much of the collection is being digitized.
        There was much praise and fulmination for the paper book. The truth was, though, the electrons were everywhere.

        Joel Haas, sculptor
        Raleigh, NC


      • There is a capability for “autographing” ebooks being developed; at least one.

        This is a “problem” that will get solved.


  • Jacqueline Labelle

    You are right about what you mentioned in this artcile, but why does it takes so long for the French language ebook to come out and take his place into the ebook market?

    • Good questions. A lot of reasons. In no particular order.

      1. The French don’t have the same proclivity to purchase online that Americans do, for whatever reasons.

      2. Books are price-protected.

      3. 1 and 2, along with other things I’m sure, mean that Amazon hasn’t gotten a big foothold and there is no other equivalently powerful internet retailer.

      4. VAT on books is 4% and VAT on ebooks is much more (maybe 20%?) That means that the price-advantage which fuels ebooks in the US and UK is harder to apply.

      5. Until recently, there were not nearly enough titles digitized in French. That’s improving, but it is still a fraction of what has been digitized in English.

      This happened first in the US because the market has 300 million people sharing a common language, common currency, and common legal system. Even so, it took a long time (and ultimately, the power of a single big player: Amazon) to make a market happen that was worth publishers’ investing in digitization.

      Or, another way to look at it is Amazon made it happen and the US was the
      only place where they were powerful enough to do it.


      • Joseph Harris

        Small, but important, point. In the UK print books are not taxed – VAT is 0%; this results from the fight against the stamp tax in Britain in the 18th century resulting in ‘no taxation on knowledge’.  The rest of the EU does put a VAT charge on though.
        Second point, there is no statistical or market reason why ebooks should not be able to achieve 160% of the current market; the books market has shown long term expansion and fair resilience to economic downturn.

        Joseph Harris in the UK

      • VAT is a big issue for ebooks outside the US.

        What you say about 160% of current sales levels is true, but that’s not what my % was measuring. Ebooks can NOT be 160% of total book sales, which is what the number was about.


      • Alastair Mayer

         I’ll agree that ebook sales  cannot be 160% of total book sales … but they can be 160% of traditional publishers’ total book sales, with the difference made up by indie sales (content creating brands delivering their own content).

      • I guess they can, and maybe someday they will, but I’m not sure that has anything at all to do with what I was writing about.


      • Chris Fowler

        In fact, in the UK books on paper (and other publications, such as magazines and newspapers) are “zero-rated” for VAT, so none is paid. However, ebooks here are taxed at the current 20% rate for VAT. So there is no difference regarding the additional costs of tax here and in France. The main difference is that book pricing is not determined by the publishers (as it was under the Net Book Agreement) so books can be sold at a discount.

      • Actually, I’d say the main difference is English, not discounting. There are a vast number of titles available in English because of the market that developed in the US. But you’re right that permitting discounting is also a factor.

        Of course, that means the rules against it are doing what they were intending to do: protecting the print book industry and book shops!


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  • Would add: what we didn’t know eighteen months ago:
    That the tablet market would see explosive growth, or even that there would be a meaningful tablet market. And that the content experience expectations would be redefined by the new capabilities of these devices. 

    What we have known for generations of new platforms:
    Content *designed specifically* to take advantage of new capabilities, even in the face of a structural opacity in projected sales, eventually spawns new categories and generates new value and wealth, displacing incumbents who have taken the wait-and-see approach past the point of prudence. As is amply quantified in The Innovator’s Dilemma, required reading, of course, for anyone operating in a marketplace undergoing technical disruption.

    Accordingly, a decision to sell only what you know works, waiting until new categories have proven themselves may turn out to be problematic for many.

    • Ron, what you say is true. What is also true is that trying to invent whatever the new thing is *also* “problematic for many.” Remember CD-Roms in the mid-1990s?


      • I remember that, plus CD-I, Pippin, FM-Towns, 3DO, and countless failed formats.

        Have noticed the term “CD-ROM” is wielded like kryptonite for innovation. But a tablet market of 40 million units that’s displacing laptops is not the same as a million CD-ROM drives in 80286 desktops at the dawn of multimedia!

      • Agreed. Bigger market and cheaper development. But still guessing about what people want!


      • True enough, and also true for established formats and genres. But there are guideposts: see what works in apps, and build those things within eBooks. 

        For example, Read To Me children’s book apps with highlighted text established a category and a form of interaction and presentation. These app behaviors are migrating into the eBook, and as you know, this capability is now standard equipment for a couple of eReaders. It’s inevitable that parents making buying decisions will opt for Read To Me titles. 

        But your point is a good one. Worth looking into a burgeoning movement in tech product development called Lean Startup:

        Powerful advice, and an emerging best practice. Put your product in front of real customers as soon as it is minimally viable, see what works and does, pivot if you need to. And do all that before you scale up production and spending. Applies to the evolving eBook as much as it does to apps.

      • Ron,

        We’re on the same page, but I think the question remains open for *book publishers* as to whether this is really a part of their business, or what parts of it are part of their business.

        For example, in the world of inventing children’s product, there are components. Character brands and story development with words and pictures are skills publishers have always had. But animation and gaming, which are likely to be important part of what is sold digitally where a book would have been sold in the past, are skills that belong to other industries. If you need it all to make the products of the future, will it be book publishers hiring or acquiring animation and gaming skills or animators and gamers acquiring book publishing skills that will be in the drivers’ seat?
        I imagine that either of them could just as well be your client. Or mine.

    • Another thing we “don’t know:” Is there a tablet market, is there just an iPad market, or are they two different markets? Until a tablet comes along that actually has market success, I’m sticking with my assumption that there’s only an iPad market.

      The Nook Color (which, by my understanding is the 2nd-best-selling, > 5″ LCD device out there) is marketed primarily as a reader, not a tablet.

      Amazon’s about to test my theory, I think.

      • Totally agree. Roger McNamee — Silicon Valley genius whom I know because he has an older brother who was a great publishing consultant — definitely thinks it is all iPad. He has said he thinks Apple could get an “iPod sized market share” with it rather than a “iPhone sized market share”.

        This affects a lot more than the book business. It would give Apple enormous leverage over a lot of different kinds of media products. And really dent Amazon’s ability to be the biggest media provider.


  • best wrap-up artticle about the short history of ebooks – also the comments!

  • Dave Bricker


    Your conclusion: “…general trade houses have to get audience-centric (which means choosing content to fit vertical niches)” is generally on-target, but this strikes me as something trade houses are ill-equipped to do. Nonfiction self-publishers can leverage the same expertise they use to write their books to promote them. They know the problems. They know the solutions and they know where to find their audiences.

    While retail outlets shrivel and big publishers figure out how to reinvent themselves, other players like Amazon and LSI have already stepped in to solve printing and distribution problems for indie publishers. A big publisher with vision could have just as easily shown that kind of leadership.

    An implication of your sugestion is that big publishers should imitate their independent competitors. Good advice but probably a day late and a dollar short.

    Thanks for your always-excellent commentary. Your is THE publishing blog.

    Dave Bricker

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  • Jacqueline George

    Good article but….!
    “We know that agents and authors will accept an ebook royalty of 25% of net receipts in today’s environment” – you must be joking.

    You could try offering me 25% but if you want me to accept, it had better be accompanied by an advance in five figures – and I’m only a fringe author. Truth is, independent publishing  sells a smaller number of books than a ‘proper’ publisher might, but an independent can sell 1/5th of the number of books and still make more money for the author. 

    • I think it is reasonable to assume that most of the advances which are buying 25% ebook royalties are in five figures. And those authors are earning considerable revenue from print as well as ebooks.


      • Jacqueline George

        Mike, I’m afraid that is another planet for me…

      • Joel Haas

        I agree with Jacqueline George.  Indies or self published authors don’t have to sell much to make enough money to cover expenses and more. 

         I made several thousand dollars off selling a small number of copies of paper bound books of my novel Adlerhof.  I continue to make dribbles of money selling it through Amazon/Kindle now that all the printed copies are sold.

         Since I’m a sculptor with no previous writing experience other than working as a news paper reporter in my early 20s and writing paperback Westerns in the mid 1970s, I was not exactly writing to make big bucks, or win fame, but I did want to cover expenses and more. Being a self published indie certainly did that for me.  I didn’t bother with the middlemen resellers of digital publishing services like Lulu but went direct to digital printers and got a much better price.  I’ve got advanced design skills so did my own cover and layout.  Last December, I taught myself skills in code writing to convert my own work into epub and other formats.  Now, I’ll use that to convert and sell about 15 or 20 of the long out of print novels, my late father, Ben Haas, wrote.  Again, it won’t make big bucks, but will provide my mother with an bit of extra income stream with relatively low sales and relatively low effort.

        I won’t even bother with printing paper copies in the future and will probably move from using Open Office or MS Word for my manuscripts and just type directly into Sigil so the epub is created as I go.

        Joel Haas, sculptor
        Raleigh, NC

      • Stuart Buchanan

        As an author contemplating self e-publishing after recent discussions with my print publisher, I found your comments most illuminating. My publisher, who offered me a mere 20% royalty contract on work they originally published some years ago in print form, has rejected my request to add graphics, saying that they have no programming capabilities to add artwork to e-books other than covers, and that e-book sites are reluctant or refuse to accept artwork other than cover images. I find this surprising. Can it be that difficult to add images to an e-book?

      • The short answer is “yes, it *can* be.” Depends on the images and their placement in the book.


      • Joel Haas

        Mike’s right.  Placing images, audio and video in an epub format is difficult if not impossible. 

        However, the new 3.0 epub standards address that. 

        In particular, images and maps in an ebook do NOT enlarge as type does under epub 1.0 and 2.0 standards.  That is because the image in an epub 2.0 book is a static size in the XHTML code.   In laymen terms–it won’t zoom because there is not a large enough image size to zoom and there is no instruction code in 2.0 to tell it how to zoom anyway. 

        Sebastian Junger’s book WAR is a good example.  The map in the front is just too small to be legible in the ebook formats–I have it in Kindle and NOOk format and the “only for Kindle iPhone” enhanced version.  The enhanced version with audio and video works very well for this non fiction work which had a full time film maker with the author the whole time.  It’s still an open question whether it would work in fiction or other non fiction settings.  The Kindle enhanced version –which will not play on a Kindel or on a PC or Mac for Kindle, only on the iphone for Kindle–is probably not written in epub, but perhaps in HTML 5.

        Joel Haas sculptor

      • Stuart Buchanan

        Your reply answers my query about the use of illustrations withjin the body of an e-book most fulsomely. Thank you.
        With regard to royalties of 20% offered to me, I shall be watching the progress of the Canadian Writers Union demand for a 50% norm with interest. Meanwhile I shall proceed down the self-publishing and promotion road.

      • I think 20% is pretty easy to resist.


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  • Anonymous

    Good article.  I’m still not fully on the eBook/eReading band wagon because I love real books too much.  And there’s still a lot of “don’t knows” on this comprehensive list which I’m sure is terrifying all the publishers and probably a fair number of authors too.  On the flip side, this whole eBook thing is totally changing the dynamic for new up and coming and self-published authors.

    • I’d say “printed books” instead of “real books” but, then, I am an early adopter that, once I sampled the digital opportunity, never turned back.

  • Your statement: “We know that rate of growth is mathematically prevented from continuing” is misleading. If you consider actual sales, i.e. dollars, then the doubling every year could continue. The percentage of revenues, of course, could not.

    • I was referring to the percentage of total sales. I’m sorry if that isn’t clear and I can see what you mean about it being potentially misleading.

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  • The growth of eBooks can be attributed to the consumer/reader’s desire to save money. Especially for students who could buy/share textbooks on Amazon’s Kindle saving big money. The average reader also saves big when using an eBook reader. As a publisher for both printed and electronic books my income split is a stunning. 70/30 – and that is 70-percent electronic and 30-percent from printed books. 

    • Oddly enough, textbooks have been laggards compared to consumer books at ebook uptake. Apparently students really value the physicality of books, including their ability to mark them up.

      However, as they say, “your mileage may differ”.


      • Mike, 
        WHo said students will en mass do what is prudent and cost effective 🙂 – borrowing $100,000 for undergrad french literature is commonplace among these reader “class”. The eBook business for textbooks and in general is a growing/changing business – maybe the parents of these students are not broke enough. eBooks can also be marked but I agree with you – certain texts are best in physical hard cover (usually used)…

      • I think textbooks are more common for chemistry than they are for French literature.


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  • Jeff Dwyer


    Its my opinion that the agency price model will be found in violation of anti-trust laws, and the Big 6 publishers will be forced into relinquishing the model which presently is an attempt to protect them from competitive discounting. In a consumer driven economy, neither the government nor the customers will support this type of bloated protectionism.

    • I’ll let the legal argument take place among lawyers. It will be a very sad day for writers and their ability to make a living if you are proven correct by the courts. People will get cheaper books and they’ll be missing a lot of better ones that will never get written.


    • Just a second here – copyright IS a legally proper monopoly, by definition. So the rules are bent a bit. Collusion between independent firms might very well be illegal in negotiating with Amazon etc, but I doubt that ANY terms negotiated due to the power of those legally proper monopolies, assigned by the authors to the publishers, would be improper.

      • I am inclined to agree with you, Russ. I don’t know who this fellow Jeff Dwyer is, or whether he has any particular authority behind his opinion, but he seems to be shadowing my defense of agency with the expression of his opinion.


  • Diana

    After reading the post and most of the comments, as a consumer, I thought I’d chime in….

    I haven’t bought a new book in a bookstore in years and years, except when they were going out of business; I’ve bought the occasional new book at Costco (or the like) when it’s discounted below (what is apparently my price point) of $20 (for a hardback).  If I bought a book in the last 10 years or so, it was most likely at a secondhand shop or a yard sale.  This doesn’t count non-fiction works (like farming manuals or spinning/knitting books), but those I normally purchased at ‘hobby stores’ not bookstores.

    However, after getting a Kindle last spring, I have spent a few hundred dollars loading some works (that replace basically un-readable paperbacks in storage), most in the $5-$10 range.  I find the Kindle to be much more portable, I don’t loose my place, and the book does not take ‘damage’ from being read (I hate creased spines, etc.); also, it does not take up valuable ‘shelf space’ as I’ve moved to a smaller space (oh, what WILL I do with the boxes of books I did move…).  Also the garish Sci-Fi covers don’t cause me embarrassment in public…

    I have also downloaded more than a few free works by self-published authors (that would never have been professionally published by the publisher), most that have been quite good.

    As to that, there was a comment that mentioned that an author would not write a book that they didn’t get paid to write – my experience is that an author is less motivated by money and just ‘needs’ to get words on paper – and read.  Although the quality may be a bit rough, and improved by professional editing, if the author makes $1 or $2 for each download, it might just be more than they’d ever get from a publisher…

    I do think there is room for, and a need, for the publishing houses, but they are going to have to give the authors a bigger percentage of a lower price.  My price point on an ebook is about $10.

    Thanks for listening.

    • Thanks for your comments. Two thoughts on them.

      1. If you’re comfortable paying ten bucks for an ebook, you have little in conflict with the big publishers. There are ebooks that cost more than that, but many, if not most, are at $9.99 or below.

      2. You may be right about the fact that some writers have to write, but I’m thinking of books like Ron Chernow’s biography of George Washington, which must have taken him several years and a staff of researchers to put together. Without the ability to earn a million or more, a book like this would be impossible.


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