E-books deliver royalties matching print

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One of the more interesting agents who’s attending this month’s Writer’s League of Texas Agents Conference has pointed out an e-book deal that out-earns printed volumes. Laurie McLean’s blog re-published a report from Mike Shatzkin’s Idea Logical blog. Shatzkin, who McLean describes as a publishing industry consultant, said author J.A. Konrath will earn $2.10 on an Amazon Encore e-book sale of $2.99. Okay, Konrath is a print-published author; his Jack Daniels female cop series has been published by Hyperion, a great house that sold tens of thousands of my pal Karen Stolz’s House of Pies novel-in-stories.

But Konrath has been very vocal that he just sold a book to Amazon Encore that the major publishing houses turned down. When a series character novel isn’t picked up, it’s sometimes due to declining numbers in sales. The major houses probably couldn’t find a way to justify another Jack Daniels title, but Amazon can — because it runs the biggest e-book store in the world.

This is all happening in 2010. Just imagine how the scales will have tipped toward authors-as-publishers, engaging some kind of distributor like Amazon for e-books, in a couple more years. Agent Savant McLean quotes the Shatzkin blog for these details on how well it pays this author to skip the paper and ink:

Nonetheless, this is a significant jolt to conventional publishing economics. Sales of Konrath’s $2.99 ebook will deliver him about $2.10 a copy (Konrath says $2.04; not sure where the other six cents is going…), as much or more as he would make on a $14.95 paperback from a trade publisher, and significantly more than he’d make on a $9.99 ebook distributed under “Agency” terms and current major publisher royalty conventions. And, however one feels about the degree to which pricing is a barrier to ebook sales, one must assume that the $2.99 price will result in a lot more ebook sales than a $9.99 price would. Many times the sales! We’ve been imagining a split market for ebooks: “branded” ones from conventional publishers being sold in the $10-$15 range and “commodity” ones from lesser-known sources (authors and publishers) at $1.99 and $2.99. Over time, we figured that improved curation of the cheaper ones, plus promotional pricing by the branded ones, would drag the overall pricing down. That’s been behind our concern that maintaining anything close to the current pricing for print will be almost impossible to do over time.

Print pricing has been keeping the major publishing houses alive. A trip to Barnes & Noble or Borders costs you at least $12 for a trade paperback even with discounts, and nearly $20 for that hardback you’ve been craving. Imagine how little time it will take for the current print pricing to drop, once authors can swing deals for as much royalty per e-book as their printed volumes. Plenty of writers who have been through the Workshop want to talk about publishing options; it’s a motivator, after all, when the stack of revision pages looks daunting or the plot tangles seem endless. Those options are now tilting toward the author being the product and taking more than 65 percent of a book’s revenues, when it’s an e-book. Eliminate the paper, ink, boxes to ship and trucks to deliver, bricks and rental of store outlets, plus the uneven efforts of a sales force, and you come down to the essentials: a way to purchase from your home, and the stories you want to buy. Amazon Encore will be doing a $14.95 paperback version of that new Konrath novel, but minimal paper and maximum ebook runs are a rising tide the major houses can’t outrun. Get busy writing and revising. The market for stories gets bigger every day.

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