Well, Steve Jobs made a liar out of me–and I’m very happy about it. By Light Unseen Media’s titles are available in the iBookstore for download onto the iPad, after all. We were in the iBookstore when it launched on April 3, and here’s the proof:
On this blog back in February, I proclaimed my abandonment issues with Apple, Inc. I’m not the only old-timer to write at length in recent weeks about Apple’s corporate ideology ever since 1984 (an iconic year, to say the least, for Apple to switch from their former open box platform to a rigidly closed and controlled system). Cory Doctorow explained “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)”, agreeing with me on just about every point, even our fond nostalgia for the pre-Macintosh Apple II series. (If I’d known I had so much in common with Cory, I’d have been less shy about talking to him when I met him at 3Pi-Con!) Tim Wu published an essay on Slate, “The Apple Two,” detailing the history of Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and how the company they founded came to be what it is today. All of this has huge relevance to publishers, authors and readers everywhere given where the publishing industry is headed, but that will be an ongoing topic.
Having gotten the grumbling out of my system, after I made that post, I sent an email off to the only contact I could derive from Apple’s website, their Developer department. I received a reply giving me the contact information for the iBookstore. I emailed them. After that, I didn’t hear anything further, and in the meantime, the whole “agency pricing model” wrangle with Amazon and Macmillan was going on, and the other Big Publishers (all but Random House, still holding out at this writing) were signing up with Apple, and I saw a rumor somewhere that Apple had posted a job opening for an iBookstore liaison for small publishers. But the April 3 launch date was approaching fast, and it didn’t appear that Apple was going to have infrastructure in place to add thousands of books from hundreds of small publishers by then, even if they planned to eventually do so.
On March 30, I got an email from Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. He’d been playing things pretty close to the vest–and given the volatility around the whole launch of the iBookstore and the dust-up with Amazon, it’s no wonder–but he was announcing, initially just to his own clients, that Smashwords had just signed a deal with Apple to supply titles to the iBookstore. Apple had a package of firm guidelines, including pricing formulas, strict compliance with ePub standards and the requirement that every title have a unique ISBN. To meet those guidelines, Smashwords had become an ISBN reseller like Lulu and a few other companies, selling individual ISBN numbers to authors who needed and wanted them. We had about 48 hours to bring our titles up to Apple’s standards and make the first shipment to the iBookstore, which would happen in time for its launch.
Fortunately, BLUM’s titles were all ready to go, ISBNs and all–except for Apple’s rule that all prices must end in .99. I had decided to set “round” prices a while ago for several reasons and now I had to drop all the Smashwords editions by one cent. But when the 500-pound gorilla is being that friendly, I’m not going to balk at a little concession or two. On April 1, Smashwords announced that it had shipped BLUM’s titles in the first big batch to Apple.
But here I ran into a stumbling block: I had no way of verifying that our books were in the iBookstore, because I didn’t have an iPad. The iBookstore can’t be accessed online–you can’t even look up what’s in its catalog (as far as I’ve been able to figure out, anyway–and I have iTunes). You must have an iPad to see it. After I’d spent several days in suspense hoping to connect with an iPad early adopter, I finally realized that I could probably view the iBookstore on one of the demo iPads at the brand new Apple Store in Pheasant Lane mall in Nashua, New Hampshire. And so I went up there, on April 6, and found all of BLUM’s active catalog in the iBookstore. I’d like to publicly thank the very helpful Sales Assistant, Ashley, who not only helped me with the iPad but emailed me a screenshot of the bookstore, on the spot, right from that demo iPad. (Our newest title, Krymsin Nocturnes, shipped to the iBookstore on April 6.)
Since then, Apple has signed with a number of other ebook aggregators, including several that carry BLUM’s books. If you own an iPad and prefer to read the Kindle edition or the Kobo edition, you can get those on your iPad, too. Apple doesn’t seem to be choosy about big name publishers or mainstream books, either. Many of these aggregators carry thousands of self-published titles, with all the, shall we say, diversity of quality control standards those display. As long as they meet Apple’s specifications, Apple will offer them all.
So, Apple: I have to take back some of what I said. You are carrying independently published books and your customers can read them on their iPads. That’s great! Accept a virtual handshake from one of your new partners, By Light Unseen Media. The iPad is a nifty little device, and if I had hundreds of dollars of play money burning a hole in my pocket (alas, I don’t) I might buy one. (What is more likely is that I will pop for the “developer” license fee so I can get multi-media content onto Apple platforms. That’s a bit further down on the To Do List at the moment, though.) It will be interesting to see where things go from here.
March 7 through 13 is Read An Ebook Week, seven days devoted to the hottest and fastest-growing trend in publishing. If you’ve never tried out an ebook before, now you can do so risk-free! If you’re already an ebook reader, grab this opportunity to add a popular ebook edition to your digital library with our compliments.
By Light Unseen Media is offering full ebook editions of Mortal Touch by Inanna Arthen, the first in the Vampires of New England Series, absolutely free through March 13, in a variety of formats.
For editions in various formats compatible with ebook readers, go to the detail page for Mortal Touch on Smashwords. Select your preferred format and use the coupon code RFREE as directed in the box on the page.
This week only, read the first 100 pages of The Longer the Fall, Book 2 of The Vampires of New England Series, absolutely free! Visit the detail page on By Light Unseen Media’s website and right-click the link to download a free pdf. The Longer the Fall will be released in paperback, hardcover and ebook editions on June 1, 2010.
Apple “unveiled” the iPad on January 27. It has been greeted with highly variable reactions from the customer base. Many devoted fans of the Apple Macintosh family of computers have been waiting eagerly for a “netbook” solution of their very own. The iPad doesn’t seem to be that solution. I won’t summarize the criticisms, but you can read one techie review here. There are people who can’t wait to get their hands on the iPad, and hey–more power to them. But they seem to be less numerous than Apple hoped.
However, much is being said about the supposed impact of the iPad on publishing. The iPad is intended to be far more than “an e-reader,” but it can be used as one. Apple is creating an iBookstore, like the iTunes store, through which iPad users can buy and download books. In advance of the iPad announcement, Apple negotiated deals with five of the “Big Six” publishing conglomerates to make e-books available in the iBookstore. Only Random House has held out so far. iBookstore e-books will generally be higher-priced than e-books sold through other venues, including Amazon’s Kindle Store.
Apple’s so-called “agency model” for acquiring e-books has contributed to some recent high-profile inter-corporate wrangling among Amazon and Big Publishers. But that’s a topic for another post.
As a small publisher, I can’t get interested in the Apple iPad for a very simple reason: Apple won’t let me in. As far as I can see, Apple only wants Big Name Books from Big Name Publishers. We small press people can go blow. No information whatsoever has been made available to small publishers as to how we can become a part of Apple’s new program. (Scouring Apple’s website for clues gives a poignant new meaning to their corporate street address: “1 Infinite Loop.”) With Apple, the message is clearly, “don’t call us, we’ll call you–if you’re important enough for us to bother with.”
This corporate attitude doesn’t surprise me. I’ve had a beef with Apple since they first released the Macintosh in 1984. Until then, I rather liked them. I developed software for the Apple II series (IIe and IIc) in the early 80s. They were fun little machines–and they were open machines. You could pop off the cover and install cards in expansion slots–even cards from third party vendors, I seem to recall. You could get documentation from Apple and program away, without paying a big annual fee for “developer” privileges like you do now. Indeed, you kind of had to, because there wasn’t much commercially packaged software available for the Apple II series.
The Macintosh changed all that. It was released as a closed system (leading to a fruitless “open the Mac movement”) and the first model didn’t have enough memory for its own operating system (leading to the release of the “fat Mac” with the minimal memory the Mac should have had in the first place). You can read a detailed history of the Macintosh here.
But along with the Macintosh, Apple adopted its permanent new corporate policy. Apple became, and still is, one of the most proprietary, territorial, homogenous, dedicated-singular-platform corporations around. Apple’s attitude is: “we do it all for you, we do it better than anyone else, you don’t need anyone else, and if you want our products and services, you can’t use anyone else’s.” Apple, like Disney, has created its own xenophobic universe. Apple isn’t interested in cross-platform compatibility. Your iPod will play MP3s but you can’t play iTunes music on anything but an Apple product (either hardware or software.) Apple practically wrote the book on DRM. When it comes to technology, Apple doesn’t believe in polluting the genome. In addition to this, Apple’s pricing structure, across the board, is comparatively high, and you have no choice but to pay it, because there are no generic equivalents.
That’s Apple’s prerogative, of course. No one has to buy Apple products. And unlike other companies who took that approach in the 1980s–Digital Equipment Corporation, once the biggest employer in my area and now extinct, comes to mind–Apple made it work, spectacularly well. But what offends me about Apple is that they’re such flaming hypocrites about their business model. They maintain this exclusionary, proprietory, superior stance, but at the same time, they put up this faux-populist pretense of being the free-spirited hipsters, the cool guys who are all about creativity and art and music. In fact, they’re all about Big Corporate Interests, profit and the bottom line–even more than their much-maligned competitor, Microsoft. (Apple is also among the most litigation-happy corporations.)
That’s why as a small independent publisher, I’m just following the news about the iPad for reference. Apple won’t sell By Light Unseen Media’s books, and iPad users won’t be reading them–at least not on their iPads. In any event, Apple is not stressing the iBookstore in its iPad promo–it’s buried halfway down the iPad Features page on Apple’s website and Steve Jobs brushed over it when he gave his big presentation on January 27, even though that presentation was made at Digital Book World. I expect that the iPad has far more potential to radically change the periodicals industry–magazines and newspapers, things that people subscribe to, read, and discard–than book publishing.
I’m definitely not “boycotting” Apple. I have an iTunes account and Quicktime Pro, I buy iTunes and iPod products for my niece and nephew. My business model is to work with every vendor and distribution channel for By Light Unseen Media’s titles that exists, without prejudice–if they’ll let me. Apple isn’t the only e-book vendor to cold-shoulder small publishers. After multiple queries, Sony finally replied to me about the Sony Reader Store…by telling me to sign up with Smashwords and quit bothering them. By then, I already had set up with Smashwords, a couple of months earlier, but By Light Unseen Media’s titles still don’t show up in Sony’s store. Barnes & Noble’s e-book store also will only take small press books via Smashwords, but they, at least, list our titles.
Aaron Pressman makes a good case for his thesis that Big Publishers really want to kill e-books altogether. It’s a safe bet that bookstores, both indie and Big Box, would love to send every e-book to a shallow grave. What do readers really want? It doesn’t look like anyone connected with Apple, Sony, or the Big Six publishing conglomerates could care less.
Like everyone else who is seriously invested in the current publishing industry (as publisher, author or both), I’m following the latest skirmish in the e-book revolution. Although none of us rubes on the outside know anything more than we’re being told, apparently Macmillan has been demanding that Amazon raise its Kindle prices, and apparently Amazon has responded by removing the “Buy” buttons for every edition (not just Kindles) of every title of every imprint that Macmillan publishes. This includes a lot of genre fiction, since Macmillan owns Tor Books. This naturally hurts authors and readers more than Amazon and Macmillan, and the shock waves are just starting to reverberate.
The e-book price controversy has been boiling for a while now, and I have to admit something: I just don’t get it. I absolutely cannot follow the logic behind the arguments of the MegaConglomerate Publishers when they claim “low priced” e-books are hurting their profits. I am baffled when MegaConglomerate Publishers call $9.99 Kindles “loss leaders” for Amazon. The protests from these dinosaurs make no sense to me whatsoever.
By Light Unseen Media is a small press. We release every title simultaneously in hardcover (with dust jacket), trade paperback, and multiple e-book versions, preferably with no DRM if I can control that. We were among the first publishers to make all our titles available for the Kindle, back in 2008. Our books are available for the Sony Reader and the Nook via Smashwords and we published there as soon as Smashwords opened its publishers’ portal for managing multiple authors. If Apple contacted me tonight we’d be signed up for the iBookstore tomorrow (I am not, however, holding my breath on that one). When I see a new way of reaching potential readers, I go for it.
I love bound books–love them with fervent passion. But I also love computers and do a lot of reading online and onscreen. I want to meet, not fight against, the expectations of the new generations of readers. I have no reason to feel threatened. So far, e-book publishing has been the most cost-effective, efficient, and profitable way to distribute our books–and I just don’t believe that By Light Unseen Media’s production costs are that different from MegaConglomerate, Inc. In fact, By Light Unseen Media risks far less money on print books than the unsustainable “traditional” model.
But don’t take vague generalities for it. Let’s crunch some numbers. Here are the expenses that go into releasing a By Light Unseen Media title.
Advance to author–$100 ISBN number–averages to $10 per number Editing, book design, and cover design handled in-house, by me, cash outlay negligible. It’s all built-in costs of labor and computer equipment, chiefly. Print and order Advance Reading Copies–roughly $150 including proof copy and shipping Ship Advance Reading Copies to reviewers–$25-$50 postage Set up fees for hardcover and paperback editions–currently about $210 Proof copies of hardcover and paperback editions–currently $65, assuming I don’t need to order more than one proof Order short runs of hardcover and paperback editions for reviews, promo and direct sales–this is my biggest single expense, usually around $800 for the initial print run. As inventory gets low, I order more, but the whole idea is to minimize waste by printing small numbers at a time. Mail out review copies and comp copies to author, advance readers, copyright office, etc–variable, but averages around $150 in postage. Register copyright for author–$35 Expenses of promotion, marketing, advertising–variable because so much of it is free, aside from what my time and labor is worth. I’ll spend maybe $50-$100 on ads
Now, after the above has been taken care of for the print books, what is the additional cost of producing the e-book editions?
Well, a couple of them get an ISBN number of their own, so that’s $10. Kindle editions don’t, because Amazon assigns Kindle books a unique ASIN. Kindle editions are proprietary and can’t be sold anywhere else.
And that is all. It costs me nothing to produce an e-book edition. Oh, there’s some labor on my part. I need to edit the book block slightly differently for each e-book, and create copies with certain specifications to be converted to the different e-book formats. But I’m very computer-savvy, so there’s nothing to that, from my point of view. And it’s a very small amount of work compared to the number of hours that go into editing the manuscript, laying out the print book interior and designing the cover. There’s nothing new to produce: everything for an e-book is just being recycled.
Once the e-books are created and uploaded, what does it cost to reproduce and distribute them to readers?
Nothing. Nothing at all! If I sell an e-book through Amazon, or Smashwords, or By Light Unseen Media’s Lulu storefront, or if a reader sends me money and I e-mail him or her a PDF, it costs me absolutely nothing. Whatever I make, whether it’s the full price or some percentage, is pure profit.
I can’t say that for print books. In order for By Light Unseen Media’s titles to be available wholesale to bookstores and libraries–which they are–I have to give wholesalers industry-standard terms. That means a 55% discount on the cover price plus making the books fully returnable. The down side to digital printing (in another post, I’ll explain why I never use the term “POD” and you shouldn’t, either) is that it costs more per book. After I set a cover price that is within the average range, give Ingram its discount and pay the printing costs, my profit margin per bound book is less than $2.00, and I split that with the author.
The big difference between me and MegaConglomerate, Inc. lies in the expense of producing the print books. MegaConglomerate, Inc. is enslaved to the “traditional” publishing model, which is incredibly wasteful and rigged against the publisher at every point. MegaConglomerate, Inc. prints a large batch of books up front and sends them out to bookstores, which have carte blanche to return all unsold books for full credit at any time, regardless of their condition. MegaConglomerate, Inc. hedges against this by withholding author royalties against returns, sometimes for as long as two years.
MegaConglomerate, Inc. usually doesn’t give a wholesale discount of 55%; no, the Big Boys have to give distribution companies and big box stores discounts of 65% and 70% off the cover price. (That’s why those retailers can turn around and sell the books to you for such heavy discounts.) So, MegaConglomerate, Inc.’s profit margin per book is even smaller than By Light Unseen Media’s, with the added burden of hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands of copies “remaindered” and sold off at a loss when the book goes out of print, which it may do in as little as three months after the release date. Over 90% of MegaConglomerate, Inc.’s titles never make enough profit to offset the advance paid to the author, let alone the costs of producing and printing the book.
How can MegaConglomerate, Inc. make any money this way? It can’t! The entire “traditional” publishing industry depends on that tiny handful of blockbuster best sellers whose sheer volume of sales subsidizes the other 90% of the company’s catalog, all its expenses, all its overhead, all its author advances, everything.
And this may be the reason that big publishers like Macmillan are fighting so hard to set a high price on the e-book editions of their biggest potential sellers. They’re terrified of crippling those few golden geese on which their financial survival depends. If that tiny little upper echelon of blockbusters doesn’t rake in enough money, fast enough, the whole house of cards collapses.
Which, I think, is very obviously in the process of happening.
What Macmillan and the other Big Publishers can’t see is that e-books and print books have completely different markets. E-books don’t cut into hardcover book sales because e-book buyers wouldn’t buy a hardcover book to begin with. Unlike us small publishers, MegaConglomerate, Inc. is paralyzed by its own business model. It can’t afford to change its methods and creatively target new markets individually. It treats every new market as another liability, another dependant to be subsidized by those blockbuster best-sellers.
MegaConglomerate, Inc. has no “wiggle room” in its game plan. If it takes one bad risk, it’s out of business. By Light Unseen Media has no such problems because diversification is the foundation of our business plan. I’m in the business of delivering content by any means that people will pay for, and when I make money, so do my authors. That’s why I have to stay as nimble as possible. When a new delivery method becomes available, I have to be ready to adopt it immediately. The Big Publishers can’t do that, so their response is to do everything they can to block and monkeywrench innovations. “Class action lawsuits” are a favorite ploy in this war.
But aside from the fiscal insanity of the “traditional publishing” model as a whole, I absolutely refuse to believe that the Big Publishers lose money on $9.99 e-books (or $7.99 or $5.99 e-books) in an absolute sense. It’s not possible to lose money on a product that has no overhead costs whatsoever unless you’re doing something very wrong. The Big Publishers are trying to protect their status quo by ignoring their readers and screwing their authors. They forget that there are thousands of us small publishers who aren’t afraid of change and know what readers and authors mean to our bottom line (everything).
Come to think of it, maybe I should just let the Big Publishers continue on their current suicidal path–it can only benefit me, after all! I guess I just care too much about all the readers and writers who will be caught in the implosion.
Mortal Touch is now available for wireless download to your Amazon Kindle!
Click here to download the full text for only $9.99. All of By Light Unseen Media’s future catalog will be available as Kindle downloads as of their official release date. Check our website to stay informed about our forthcoming books.