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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The E-Book Revolution

So, the iPad! While I type in one window, I'm watching the keynote speech on the Apple web site.

Though I used the Kindle for over a year, I'm not the hugest fan of it. It allowed me to do things I couldn't do before, and I loved it for that. But it didn't allow me to do many of them very well. I could read a manuscript without carrying it around but not in cold weather and take notes on the same device but not easily and the relay to the author was cumbersome. I could read the Washington Post every day without schlepping into Manhattan to buy a hard copy, but the reading experience wasn't very good. I liked the Sony Reader less, because the note-taking interface was cumbersome and the glare on the screen distracting to me. And the Nook was surprisingly bad to me for how much learning curve should have been curved.

I've never been a big laptop fan. They're portable, but not fun. When I live-blogged the Oscars last year, I had to sit at a desk instead of perch in my recliner because it's just too cumbersome to sit with a laptop in a recliner.

I have no complaints about my iPod Touch. I read manuscripts quickly, in colder weather than the Kindle. The limiting factor is whether I have to wear gloves or not outside, which is a much lower temperature than when the Kindle started to degrade. I can take notes fairly easily and send them to my clients right from the device. And it plays music. And shows off photos. And does video. And has a calculator. And when I'm traveling and curled up with it in my hotel room with wireless, I can lose hours to surfing the web just like when I'm at home.

So Apple seems to get it. You have a kind of giant iPod Touch, and Steve Jobs demonstrates it sitting in a comfly leather chair which is exactly the place that I might envision perching with it. It has a dedicated iBook reader. I can pay a fairly reasonably priced $14.95/month to AT&T to have a limited amount of wireless access, or $30/month for as much as I please. All the time, or for thoee trips when I can't hook up my Touch into the hotel wireless?

So I like the idea of the device, but time will tell how the actuality of it works.

Now, what does this mean for publishing?

Fun Times!

In either a good or a not so good kind of way.

Publishers are not fond of Amazon's control over pricing and terms of sale for the Kindle. Apple is willing to give the publisher more pricing power. This led to a dispute over the weekend with Amazon not selling titles by Macmillan USA, which includes Tor, St. Martins, Farrar Strauss, Holt and other imprints, in a dispute over the sales arrangements. And then maybe backing down and agreeing Macmillan could price its own books. I say maybe, because the seeming concession may have come with conditions we don't know about. These kinds of things happen. Not that long ago Costco pulled Coke products from their stores in a pricing dispute. Amazon UK has had some big publisher disputes. Apple is Apple, but Amazon sells a lot of physical books that are still 90% of publisher revenue. But Amazon isn't the only internet store in town. If I were Borders, I'd have done an e-mail blast right away with promo code AMZN24 to say "hey, can't buy [bestselling Macmillan title here], we'll sell it to you and give an extra 10% off your entire order."

I do think Macmillan's position in the matter (CEO letter here) is the better one, which may be why Amazon ended up seeming to cede. The world is full of variable pricing for the same thing at different times and different places, from bargain matinees vs. Saturday night at the movies, the paperback vs. the hardcover, the last-minute fare deal vs. the prepaid reservation vs. the regular rate. Just because Amazon woke up one morning and decided a bestselling e-book should cost $9.99 doesn't mean an e-book should forever cost $9.99 or less.

Also making things interesting... the Amazon iPod Kindle application will work on the iPad. I do my manuscript reading using Stanza, which is now owned by Amazon, and that will work on the iPad. Will Amazon continue to want to add value to Apple's iPad even while Apple is trying to squirrel in on Amazon's e-book business? Then again, how will the Apple Pages application work on the iPad? When I use Pages on my iMac, I can do track change and comments right in a manuscript, export to Word, and send away to a client. Will I be able to do that on an iPad? And will anyone care what Amazon does or does not do to support the iPad when they can iBook?

As I said, Fun Times. I think there's a lot of potential in the iPad, but I think the arrival of Apple as a major player in e-book retail is going to lead to a lot more shoving matches like what we've seen between Amazon and Macmillan as all of the different e-tailers and the publishers all jockey for position.

Our client Tobias Buckell is among those who've done particularly good commenting on the Amazon/Macmillan dispute.

In the midst of this, JABberwocky is starting to explore how it can best enter the e-book world. We've spoken in recent weeks with people at Amazon, and Rosetta Books and are starting to think seriously about all of this. Lots of interesting questions. Do we go with a third party vendor like Rosetta or eReads? Do we become our own eReads? Depending on that, where do the costs of cover art and scanning/converting reside? How much upside do you trade to reduce the investment in those costs? Do you go one way for some books and another way for others?

Those are just the back-end decisions. At the front-end of what we actually show to the world... Since Simon Green has the most enticing out of print backlist do we start out with a single author-based promotable program and see what happens? Or do we look for original content, short story collections perhaps, from half a dozen top authors and make that the launch? Or go with that, and the top two dozen other backlist titles? Or make our entry with 100 books or 250 all at once? Feel free to vote!

And we'll start to explore these questions just as Apple, Amazon and the other publishers jockey for position. With as many as 40 different e-book reading devices scheduled for a big unveil over the course of 2010. With different permutations of format, exclusivity, cross-compatibility, etc. etc.


Jessica Strider said...

Excellent post. The more informed views of the Macmillan vs Amazon issue are out there, the better.

As for starting ebook sales, take a look at BAEN's program. They've had a loyal base of ereaders for quite some time by starting with backlist titles. It's something I notice at book expos, giving away the newest book means I need to find the previous ones myself (which is often too much work so I read other books first). Give me the first book and if I like it I'll find and read the rest immediately because I'm excited about the series.

I also know a lot of dedicated ereaders don't like the DRM idea. Yes, it adds to concerns about piracy, but from what I've heard, people who can get non DRM will often choose to pay the extra to get the 'authorized edition' provided it's theirs and they can read the book on any device they own.

Maria said...

Ah ebooks!!! My favorite topic. Re: How to start.

I'd say, it almost doesn't matter--there are a lot of readers clamoring for more content! And backlist??? They'd love it.

That said, I started small. I took three novellas, compiled them into a Kindle version and put it on Amazon with low expectations. Those expectations were met and exceeded--enough that I decided to do a novel. And then another one.

No, I'm not in danger of needing an armored car to get my money to the bank--but I'm having fun with it and doing better than expected.

I like your idea of starting with an anthology project--learn the ropes, see what you like and don't like about it. Some authors are going to be fine doing most of the work on their own. Others won't want to take the time, especially if they have a large backlist.

An anthology of previously published stories with maybe a few new stories thrown in is a fabulous way to start (But maybe I say that because that is what I did, so I'm partial to the idea.)

Artwork was the hardest for me and that probably shows. Getting reviews isn't easy either--the promotional options are a little different.

But there are readers out there. They are looking for ebooks. They like prices beween 4 and 6 dollars. They don't like DRM. They like to be able to find authors on sites where they already shop, but for a bargain or a well-recommended book, they are willing to register at a new one.

Give it a shot. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.


Unknown said...

As always your posts about the biz are informative and enlightening.

A literary agency getting into ebooks. Hmmm ... what an interesting concept. For an industry that hasn't evolved in eons, these days the changes are coming almost too fast.