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peterw
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 02:22 pm:   

Lucius, this is a topic that interests me as a techno-geek and pda user. As you have stories published in an e-book format, thought this might be a good place to start a discussion (well, it may start as a bit of a rant).

First of all, I refuse to buy an "e-book" for $7, even if it is one of yours . Hell, I can buy a paperback book for $7! So, I guess I'm wondering how a publishing company can have the affront to distribute a digital file --no printing costs, no raw materials, using existing computer equipment and software, etc.-- at the same price as a book? If you gave to me, personally, the computer file of the story, the artwork, etc., I'm sure I could crank an ebook out for you in a couple hours.

Who are they kidding? I don't imagine you as the author get any more royalties from an electronic book sale than a paper book sale. Or do you? Minus the costs for whatever artwork is included, the minimal formatting time and royalties to the author, what else is there? I'm sure the publisher would say "marketing costs", but that's BS: the electronic marketing and distribution is already well established (via Amazon, etc.).

Despite the fact that I prefer the reading experience offered by a normal paper-based book, I applaud the move to the electronic format. But I think that by charging this kind of prices, they're fleecing people.

I also realize that the other side of the coin is "napsterism": once the digital copy is out, what's to prevent it from being passed around for free once someone's broken encryption or whatever. But that's another can of worms, and still doesn't justify the current price tag of an e-book.

Any thoughts on this?
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Luís Rodrigues
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 03:18 pm:   

Coincidentally, there's a news item that came out this weekend on the state of the e-book publishing:

http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=582&ncid=582&e=1&u=/nm/20030531/ wr_nm/column_pluggedin_dc

Until electronic paper becomes mainstream, I doubt e-books will be very successful. "Napsterising" books just doesn't work the same way as music and movies. Except if you're a purist, in which case you'll definitely prefer Audio CD and DVD over MP3 and DivX, since encoding can dramatically downgrade sound and video quality. If you ever tried to play a MP3 file through a stereo, you know what I'm talking about. E-books are good for reference, since you can do word searches, but otherwise stressful to the eye.

Best,
Luís
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Luís Rodrigues
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 03:31 pm:   

Peter:

I forgot to say, but I agree with you in full: it's a rip-off. I don't know what kind of royalties a writer gets for an e-book (I hope Mr Shepard or someone can enlighten us), but it's still a rip-off to the buyer.

A couple of hours? Assuming the text has already been proof-read and formatted for the ink on paper editions, you can get an e-book out in a matter of minutes. I think the latest versions of Acrobat Distiller can crank out a PDF e-book for you, and even encrypt it, all at the push of a button. All you have to do is feed it the files.

Cheers, Luís
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Deborah
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 04:06 pm:   

Peter: If e-books sell cheap, authors get paid less. Plain and simple. Publishers of any kind cannot pay advances larger than what they can expect to earn back in a reasonable amount of time. You want to pay 50 cents for an e-book, you'll have your choice of authors who can take a $50 advance. (That's hyperbole to make a point.)

As for marketing costs, a listing on Amazon is not enough marketing even when you're talking about a known quantity like Lucius, here. Advertising is expensive. Promotion is expensive. That's why you see so little of it.

Luis, are you saying that you honestly believe that a piece of software exists which will spit out ANYTHING in a matter of minutes? Puh-leeze.

Your statement does begin with "assuming the text has been proof-read and formatted..." how many works of 50K-100K+ words have you dealt with? It ain't that easy.

As it is, many of the writers we love on this board and other places work for minimum wage on a good week. I, for one, will not be clamoring for publishers, e or other, to lower their prices.

Deborah
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 04:25 pm:   

Peter, Luis,

Royalties are not happening with ebooks now, because the sales just aren't that good. Now maybe with King or writers of lesser popularity but more popular than me, maybe they get royalities...don't know. I know Tony Daniels has received some ebook royalties....I'm pretty ignorant about the whole thing, though.

But, you do get an advance, and a lot of stuff that ebook publishers buy is OP or original, so it's another market. SOme of it is found money. I don't get royalties from Asimovs or Sci Fi or FSF eiether, and I've sold novellas to ebook people for more money up front than magazines pay. That makes me happy.

That's all I know, but Deborah makes some good points. I've invited my ebook publisher to respond and am hoping he will.
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John Coulthart
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 05:14 pm:   

>Luis, are you saying that you honestly believe that a piece of software exists which will spit out ANYTHING in a matter of minutes? Puh-leeze.

I think he's saying that once the book is formatted you can output a PDF very quickly. I'm currently using Adobe InDesign to create Night Shade's Disease Guide anthology and we're using PDFs to check the progress. I can indeed output the whole book in a matter of minutes this way (takes longer than usual due to the amount of graphics in the book.)

At the moment electronic documents like this seem best suited to give people sample chapters as we do over at Savoy. That way people can see what they're paying for in paper form.

Another annoying trend in this direction: software companies giving out PDF manuals in place of books. It may save on trees (and lower their overheads) but they're a pain to search through for information.

John
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peterw
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 05:29 pm:   

Luis: thanks for the link. Yeah, my 2-hour estimate was based on me knowing little about the formatting process, and of course that the text had been proof-read. And I tend to agree with you that ebooks could be cranked out quickly given a good text, as well as some formatting standards.

I have to say that it will be a great day when any book can be downloaded, rather than having to track down a paper-printed copy --esp. an OOP one-- but that's probably some time off. The technology for reading them has to improve and become cheaper, before it becomes widely viable.

I'm all in favor of authors, musicians, etc., getting the lion's share of the profits from the sale of their work. It's you guys giving us The Kick, after all. (Though we do often try to judge books by their covers, so I'll give a nod to marketing!)

Perhaps I've bit off more than I can chew here, being a mere consumer of the printed word rather than someone more directly involved with the publishing industry. I did assume --wrongly-- that royalties were paid on a per-sale basis, rather than an advance. Does this generally work differently than paper books?

In any case, it seems to me that marketing costs should not be any higher than that for a paper edition, and if both a paper edition and an e-book are coming out together, the marketing costs should not increase at all, except for an additional listing on Amazon and some upload space. And, if a publisher were given the choice between a paper-only-book and an e-book, then the marketing/advertising costs would be relatively the same in each case. And with the paper book, you have the materials costs as well. Therefore, the paper book should cost substantially more.

I feel compelled to state that I'm not saying this because I need those extra $4 for a supersize Big Mac combo meal -- I've bought as many fancy first and limited editions as anyone else in these here parts -- it's a matter of principle. It's my impression that the authors are still getting the short end of the stick, and the publishers rake it in instead. But I could be mistaken.
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peterw
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 05:38 pm:   

> Another annoying trend in this direction: software companies giving out PDF manuals in place of books. It may save on trees (and lower their overheads) but they're a pain to search through for information.

John, I totally agree. Clearly the technology there --on-line readers-- needs to improve greatly. While I'm definitely biased toward pulp-based products, I believe we'll eventually get to something just as usable as those low-tech bundles of paper we're so fond of.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 05:46 pm:   

Peter, one thing I'm sure of and that is that a good many ebook publishers are not raking it in. I know for a fact that many of them have not even come close to repaying their investors, and that their officials are not taking salaries; so, basically, everybody's getting a short end of the stick. The advances for eboook rights are not as high, obviously, as for regular publishers, but the money comes in handy. An ebook advance of a few thousand dollars may not be much in the scheme, but it helps pay the bills.
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Luís Rodrigues
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 07:13 pm:   

John Coulthart: "I think he's saying that once the book is formatted you can output a PDF very quickly."

Yes, that's what I meant. If the book's already proofread and typeset, what else is there to do?

John Coulthart again: "Another annoying trend in this direction: software companies giving out PDF manuals in place of books. It may save on trees (and lower their overheads) but they're a pain to search through for information."

Depends. I usually prefer programming reference manuals in e-book. But no PDF, that's for certain, I hate the format.

Lucius Shepard: "Peter, one thing I'm sure of and that is that a good many ebook publishers are not raking it in."

True. And just in case, I didn't mean to generalise the way I did in my second post. There are good people out there too.

Anyway, I was looking at H.G. Well's THE TIME MACHINE e-book that is selling for $2.99 on Amazon.com. It has no cover art, nothing but standard design, and the text is public domain, so there are no copyrights to be bought. All this while you can get the file yourself, at no cost whatsoever, from Project Gutenberg, or buy a new paperback also from Amazon.com for $3.99, or practically nothing if you go second-hand bookshopping. Which is the better deal?

And compare GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, also public domain, in e-book (a mind-boggling $4.95) and mass market paperback ($2.50, $1.00 used) editions. If this isn't a rip-off, I don't know what is.

Best,
Luís
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Bob Kruger
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 07:32 pm:   

Dear Peter and Luis,

It's certainly a problem with eBooks that people think they're easy and cheap to publish. Having worked in both print and electronic media for a decade (Wizards of the Coast, Microsoft), I can tell you it's actually _more_ difficult to do an eBook well than a print book, at least right now, for several reasons but mainly because there are so many damn formats to support. I'll give away a trade secret and tell you the best way to produce eBooks: mark up your edited and proofed document in XML and use XSLT stylesheets to produce HTML for the various formats. Problem is, almost every book has idiosyncrasies, even novels. Two hours? You might spend two hours just trying to get a single graphic or diacritical to come out right among all the formats. Also, here I'm talking about reflowable formats, like MS Reader. You can automate the production of pdf eBooks, but they'll suck. You need to spend the same quality time with PageMaker or Quark that you would on a print book. Print publishers have it easy here, of course, because they just use their prepress files as pdf eBooks.

It _is_ possible to produce a single eBook format in a few minutes and slap it up on the Web, just as it's possible to take a word doc, convert it to pdf, and upload it to a pod publisher in a few minutes. What you produce will be crap, but it's possible.

Proofing, cover art, and layout cost the same for eBooks and print books. Guess what else costs the same? Almost everything. Lightning Source has gotten the same wholesale cut on eBooks that they get on print books -- fifty-five freakin' percent! So that seven bucks is suddenly $3.15. We split gross evenly with the authors, so the author at this point gets about a buck and a half, slightly less than for a trade paperback sale, but the publisher on the other hand is still not done paying. Lightning Source hits us up for "maintenance fees" every year that, alone, are fast approaching our gross. And BN.com even does _returns_, if you can figure that out. Then there's marketing. We used to lay down a couple grand every other month for magazine ads, but no more. There aren't enough customers to justify it.

Granted, if we sold a hundred thousand copies of an eBook -- or of our entire catalog combined, for that matter, and we're far from doing that -- we'd be doing pretty well, but how's this different from any print publisher? At respectable volumes, say over 20,000 copies, the per-unit cost of paper, printing, and shipping is just a few cents, a fraction of the outrageous per-unit cost of print-on-demand or short print-run (I had a print broker get some bids for me, just for kicks -- I think it was around two bits [25 cents] per unit when you got up into the 50,000-copy range for mass-market paper).

But given the balance of hits and misses, even the so-called big publishers like TOR are small potatoes to the major conglomerates that own them. They're basically loss leaders to develop and market IP. I imagine that while NY editors throw parties and congratulate themselves on returning 6% profit to their division for the year, the guys designing Frodo bobble-head dolls up near the penthouse are kicking their asses.

You know who's making money off eBooks? Anyone who knows anything about publishing should have been able to guess this one. Distributors.

So why am I not in distribution?

Hmmm. Just wait.

Best,

Bob


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Lucius
Posted on Monday, June 02, 2003 - 10:07 pm:   

That there was Bob the Ebook Publisher talkin'. Funny little guy. Looks kinda like a shrunkdown version of Barney , but not quite as purple. Boy knows his stuff, but...God, I hate that song!

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paulw
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 03:25 am:   

As the former editor of another eBook publisher, TimeWarner's iPublish, I can personally vouch for every word in Bob's post. At this point in time, and probably for the foreseeable future, it is more difficult, not less, to produce eBooks -- and this is true even when there is a print book already in existence; in fact, in that case, depending on what kind of electronic file exists, if any, it may well be even MORE expensive and time-consuming to produce. All of this is assuming, as Bob does, that the eBook publisher cares about producing a quality product, and not just a piece of crap.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 06:39 am:   

Hey, Paul, whatever happened with IPublish? Why did it fold...or did it? I think I recall hearing that it did. Maybe nothing happened to it and I just had a dream.

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Luís Rodrigues
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 07:34 am:   

Thanks Bob and Paul for the elucidative posts. They've certainly put a lot of doubts and misconceptions I had to rest.

Cheers,
Luís
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peterw
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 08:50 am:   

My thanks to you also, Bob and Paul.

That was very instructive Bob, and you obviously know what you're talking about, from the ground up (you also anticipated some questions/points I had about XML and formatting issues). I should say that I would like to see everyone in this field to get a good wage for their work, including the publishers who bring the books to market. I feel esp. protective of the authors, of course. For penance, I may just have to purchase some of those e-books of yours, Lucius.

Thanks again for giving us the big picture.

Felicitations,
Peter

P.S. Now I'm pissed off at the Frodo bobble-head designers .

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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 09:11 am:   

"For penance, I may just have to purchase some of those e-books of yours, Lucius. "

Since Bob's now paying me in bobble-heads, hey, I can always use a new Frodo. :-)

Seriously, Bob's a good publisher -- he worls with Jack Vance, Terry Bisson, Paul Park, a whole bunch of terrific writers, and is conscientious to a fault.
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Bob Kruger
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 10:11 am:   

You're all welcome for what it's worth, and Paul -- hey, how you doing? -- made an important point: working with OCR copy is tough. You'd think a spellchecker would be helpful in cleaning up all the noise, but not so. When "only" on the page gets consistently translated to "orgy," you know you're flirting with trouble.

"Since Bob's now paying me in bobble-heads, hey, I can always use a new Frodo."

If only the bobble-heads were a joke. I had this in mind because of a recent note from a former co-worker. He's ascending the ranks of the middle-class on the heads of bobbles -- as a "creative" director on Disney bobble-head IP. Apparently there's a whole separate corporation dedicated to it.

These are the End Times.

Best,
Bob

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Deborah
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 10:33 am:   

I'm waiting for the Bobble-head Last Supper Play Set.
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paulw
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 10:42 am:   

Oooh, I want the Golgotha bobble-head tryptych!

And Lucius, no, you didn't dream it. TimeWarner pulled the plug on iPub after about 9 months -- unless of course the whole thing was a dream of mine. Sometimes I think we are all in Larry Kirshbaum's dream . . .
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 10:56 am:   

For all those interested in sacreligious items, Deborah, Paul, I recommend:

www.jesuschristsuperstore.com

You'll thank me.
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peterw
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 11:10 am:   

A typo, Lucius. Should be:

www.jesuschristsuperstore.net

And a warning: do not --I repeat-- DO NOT! do a search for "bobble head": may shatter thin sanity veneers! Didn't truly realize the extent of this crap until I did just this...
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 11:42 am:   

Peter...

Thanks for correcting my mistake. And I'll heed your advice.
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Luís Rodrigues
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 03:22 pm:   

There *is* a Jesus bobble-head, now that you mention it . . .

http://shop.store.yahoo.com/bobbleheadworldstore/jesbobheadis.html
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 03:33 pm:   

Oh,great! What a friend we have in Bobblehead!

Now we need a Beelzebobblehead.

Or a Bob-bobblehead. What about it, Kruger? I can see you in plastic with a little shaky head.

:-)
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Luís Rodrigues
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 04:19 pm:   

But you *will* want the *lifesize* Jesus bobble-head once it comes out:

http://shop.store.yahoo.com/bobbleheadworldstore/gianlifjesbo.html
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peterw
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 04:26 pm:   

I'm afraid that Jesus is sold out, Luis. There was a "cuter" one on another site, but I'll leave the exercise of finding that one to the reader.

>Beelzebobblehead

Don't know whether we'll feel lightning bolts or infernal pitchforks first with all this deity-baiting. Probably safer to blaspheme on both fronts at once, I'd imagine: get them into a crossfire...
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 04:29 pm:   

Luis, yeah, but I don't want it for $2750. I like the photo of Giant Jesus (unpainted) with his sculptor),,,
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 04:33 pm:   

Peter, I don't think we'll have to worry here. Lightning bolts, pitchforks...They gotta go through Nightshade to get to us....
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Bob Kruger
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 05:44 pm:   

"Or a Bob-bobblehead. What about it, Kruger? I can see you in plastic with a little shaky head."

What'd I tell you, Deborah? What DID I tell you?

(We were conducting some three-way business with Howard Waldrop this morning [don't even, Lucius...], and I was saying, bet I can guess the next post.)

Bob
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 06:26 pm:   

Can I ask a question, Bob? How can you have a three-way with Howard when he doesn't have a phone? Or does Howard actually have a phone now?
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Bob Kruger
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 07:01 pm:   

He's actually got a phone. He's not living up in the woods in Oso anymore; he moved back to Austin, Texas, and got himself a place with modern conveniences. But the fishing isn't as good apparently.

Bob
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 07:23 pm:   

Wow. Howard with technology!

Hey, man, as to the other thing, y'know, the bobblehead deal...I'm dealing with Psychic Friends.

There are no secrets.
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Kirat Pandya
Posted on Tuesday, June 13, 2006 - 05:14 pm:   

I read a post about buying an H. G. Wells Book from amazon for $3. Haven't you guys heard of

www.gutenberg.org

and for those using eReader for their pdas/computers, check out makebook/dropbook - converts any text file to ebook

http://www.ereader.com/dropbook
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Bob K.
Posted on Tuesday, June 13, 2006 - 09:47 pm:   

I update an article periodically that I started years ago. I mention those and other eBook options there:

http://www.electricstory.com/intro-to-ebooks.aspx

The HTML is for absolute beginners. I thought of writing an article on how I actually create eBooks, but it's hard to find the time.

Bob

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