Drunken and Disorderly Debauchery

Having gone to dinner yesterday at the home of two of those friends that, once you meet them, you realize you’ve known them all your life (or possibly since the birth of the universe, if not before.), I had a tad too much to drink — a problem, since I’ve been avoiding it as the sugar seems to complicate the eczema.  (Not as much as stress.)  As you can tell from these few lines it would be a serious mistake for me to attempt to write a blog today.  I think I’ll go downstairs and play with my art till the head clears.

Meanwhile, the exobrain — i.e. the brain that doesn’t happen to be in my head but who often thinks up the stuff I should think — Amanda Green has an excellent post on the state of the industry over at Mad Genius Club where she blogs on Sunday.  (She often does have those, it’s her job when my brain isn’t connected.)

This week has been a typical week in the industry.  There’s been good news, bad news and news no one is quite sure how to interpret.  All of it does, in my opinion, show the state of flux in publishing and just points out that no one knows — yet — where things will finally settle.

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So let’s look at that in solid figures.  E-book sales accounted for $82.6 in July.  For the same month, hard cover sales accounted for $91.2 million.  There are several things I believe are important in these figures.  First, e-book sales continue to grow in triple digits each month.  I don’t feel the fact these sales ONLY increased by a little more than 100% in July is indicative that e-book sales are cooling.  July is the middle of summer vacation and most folks are not spending their free time reading.  For another, one month a trend does not make.  But there’s something else to look at.  That mere doubling of sales has brought e-book sales to near parity with hard cover sales.  That’s something traditional publishers have been fearing.  So that knocking you hear right now are the knees of legacy publishers trying to figure out what they’re going to have to do to survive.  Finally, it is important to keep in mind the fact that e-book sales for the year (through July) are up 152.8% while hard cover sales are down 17.8% for the same time frame.  Like it or not, e-books are here to stay and, in my opinion, the tipping point is here.  That will be confirmed as we see the sales figures for the rest of the year.

What would be interesting would be to see the number of units sold, and from what publishers, and not just the total dollar figure.  The reason I’d like to see it is because I want to see how the legacy publishers using the agency model of pricing v. those who follow the philosophy that you don’t have to charge as much for e-books as you do for hard covers.  I’d also like to see the breakdown between how many e-books are sold at the higher agency pricing v. the number of those same books sold when the price is lowered after the paperback version of the book comes out.  Until we see those figures — and I’m not holding my breath — we really won’t know the full impact of e-book sales on traditional publishers.

Read the whole thing at Mad Genius Club

9 thoughts on “Drunken and Disorderly Debauchery

  1. SO glad to see the question immediately raised by that first para is addressed in the second: What are UNIT sales? That is the real measure of market penetration for E-bookage.

    Rate of increase matters, but for a rapidly developing format it matters less — we are still searching the product’s “natural” level. I can think of other metrics of greater interest than $ sales (which is actually a fairly insignificant concern.) What % of the market owns an E-reader? How many “books” a year does the average E-reader owner buy — after the initial splurge which probably accompanies the E-reader purchase? How does owning an E-reader affect its owner’s consumption of text: does the person read more minutes per day or about the same (indicates degree to which owning an E-reader grows market for reading vs cannibalizes existing market. How does an E-reader affect the type of reading matter — does the owner increase their consumption of short stories, for example, or stick mainly to novels?

    That’s just the questions generated during the time required to type them; the list could be infinitely “refined and extended” (as they’re wont to say in the House of Reprehensibles), and still have plenty of questions of greater significance than $ sales. Like how much of the content put on E-readers is free, open source, out of copyright etc.

    Most significant are the questions about how an E-reader changes the reading experience. I was astounded a few years back to be told by an author (and confirmed by a bookseller) that these days buyers care about the thickness of the books they buy????? Of all the criteria for choosing a book, the page count is one I never contemplated. What I am buying is a story, and if the author can tell it in 300 pages (the # RAH required for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) I don’t care if somebody else is giving me 500 pages without telling a story. I’m working my way through George R. R. Martin’s Ice & Fire series and am frustrated by the fact he spends 1,000 pages in a book and doesn’t give me a complete story. I am enjoying the trip but good grief, at least write each book as a unit, building the tale in quantum stages, not this endless saga crap! (An example of my question about how E-readers affect buyers: I can’t stand a MM PPB in excess of 500 or so pages — the binding can’t handle that; but all E-books are the same thickness regardless of page count. What will be the consequences of that?)

    I LIKE dead tree, but with floors in my house bowing under the weight of books, with halls narrowed by bookcases, with having had to go through the spackle & paint routine upon moving wall-mounted shelves I begin to think dead tree reading is a luxury I can do without. (OTOH, I understand dead trees are terrific insulation against atomic fallout, so well-stocked bookshelving is a critical part of all fallout shelters.)[ END RANT MODE ]

    1. I LIKE dead tree, but with floors in my house bowing under the weight of books, with halls narrowed by bookcases, with having had to go through the spackle & paint routine upon moving wall-mounted shelves I begin to think dead tree reading is a luxury I can do without. (OTOH, I understand dead trees are terrific insulation against atomic fallout, so well-stocked bookshelving is a critical part of all fallout shelters.)[ END RANT MODE ]

      Honestly, this is the biggest consideration for me. We simply can’t afford more weight on this structure, and good heavens, last time we moved we had over 400 boxes of books. I think we’ve doubled those… Mind you, some things I still want in paper — research books for ex. But the rest? Pah. The experience on the kindle mimics real books for me. And if anything, I read more. HOWEVER I confess, the price being right (say under $4) I’m more likely to buy an “old style” novel of around 60k words than I’d be on paper, when those books are overpriced re: time of reading.

  2. From the October 17 NY Times:

    Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal
    By DAVID STREITFELD

    SEATTLE — Amazon.com has taught readers that they do not need bookstores. Now it is encouraging writers to cast aside their publishers.

    Amazon will publish 122 books this fall in an array of genres, in both physical and e-book form. It is a striking acceleration of the retailer’s fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent suppliers.

    It has set up a flagship line run by a publishing veteran, Laurence Kirshbaum, to bring out brand-name fiction and nonfiction. It signed its first deal with the self-help author Tim Ferriss. Last week it announced a memoir by the actress and director Penny Marshall, for which it paid $800,000, a person with direct knowledge of the deal said.

    Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.

    Several large publishers declined to speak on the record about Amazon’s efforts. “Publishers are terrified and don’t know what to do,” said Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, who is known for speaking his mind.
    [MORE: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/17/technology/amazon-rewrites-the-rules-of-book-publishing.html?hp=&pagewanted=print ]

    1. I love the bit where publishers accuse Amazon of “gnawing away at services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide”. The problem is that these entities USED to provide those services. They haven’t in a very long time. If they did, authors wouldn’t be having to spend their own money, often lots of it, to promote their books. The author wouldn’t have to worry about hiring their own copy editor to check the page proofs before the book is published. The author wouldn’t have to wonder what publishers their agent is, or is not, sending their manuscripts to. Does it worry me that Amazon, already the 800 lb gorilla, is becoming the 1600 lb gorilla? You bet. But, for the moment at least, it is offering authors an alternative to bending over and hoping legacy publishers remember the lube.

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