e-book publishing

Print vs. Digital: Everybody Wins?

Our OFP E-book Gallery Last May, I spoke at the Ohioana Library Festival on a panel aptly called, “The Future of the Book.” As you might imagine, the discussion volleyed from “print-is-dead” pundits to book romantics (“I just love the smell of a print book” has become the most popular of clichéd phrases in today’s print vs. digital discussion). I found myself caught in the crossfire, a print-and-digital apologetic, a non-confrontational publisher who feels a desperate need to simultaneously put the elderly woman in the back row at ease (“Of course we will always have print books”) and excite the young people sitting front and center (“We are witnessing a new era for the book!”). The print vs. digital discussion has addled my identity, forcing me into difficult, and often emotional and abrasive, discussions.

But perhaps it won’t always be so abrasive. Last week’s PEW report on e-reading and print reading had the interwebs humming again, and for the first time in a long time, my dual identity found a supporting voice: print is not dead, and neither is digital.

According to the report, the percentage of American adults reading e-books is rising (from 23% in 2012 to 28% in 2013, an albeit modest 5% difference, considering the sharp increases we saw in e-reading’s early days). The report also notes, however, that 7 in 10 Americans reported reading a book in print, an increase of 4% from 2012. The report clearly indicates that Americans are reading both print and digital books, and that only 4% of readers are digital-only readers.

But what if this is generational? Most digital reading advocates will argue that the percentage of the population still insisting on print reading is aging, and that with the newest generation (38% of which have used a mobile device before the age of 2), we will see a steep and steady decline in print reading. If this were true, we should already see a trend: younger people reading fewer print materials than older adults.

This doesn’t hold up, though.

In a PEW report on library and print vs. digital reading released last year (reported on by Digital Book World, no less), it was shown that younger Americans (specifically in the 16-29 age bracket, which would straddle the millennial and digital native generations), prefer mixed digital and print services in libraries. They want apps, yes, but they also want real librarians and physical books. And most surprisingly, they are more likely to have read a print book in the last year than any other age bracket: specifically, 75% of 16-29 year-olds have read one or more print books in the last year, compared with 64% of older adults.

So, to the elderly lady in the back row, and the excited young folks sitting front and center, steady yourself, because it is the opinion of this writer that the numbers are stacking up in our favor, and you can expect an innovative mix of print and digital for years to come.

Self-Publishing: The Orange Frazer Way

With indie authors and self-publishing making the news quite frequently lately (see: Self-Published Titles Dominate Top of E-book Best-Sellers List), one might be surprised to see that the reception for self-publishing companies and author service companies is already souring. Not me. It was announced last Tuesday that several authors are suing Author Solutions (or iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, AuthorHouse, as it is also conjectured they are all different heads of the same beast, see: Self-Publishers Want Millions From Penguin), and this is just one of many publicized complaints. Of the many arguments against self-publishing services and author service companies, here are a few key ones:

1)   These services profit from authors’ wishful thinking, idealism, and industry ignorance, charging thousands for services that don’t deliver and creating products that don’t live up to their promise.

2)   These services employ aggressive sales techniques that corner authors, making it difficult for them to understand their options, making it more likely for authors to accept contract terms that they may not be comfortable with.

3)   They do not provide authors with due royalties, nor do they provide accurate sales statements, if any statements at all.

The Empty Promises and Fraudulent Price Tags of Self-Publishing Services and Author Service Companies

First, the “promises” of worldwide distribution, books with all major retailers, widespread success, and social media prowess should make an author wary. No publisher can promise success, not even a traditional publishing houses with a large(r) marketing budgets and hefty connections. Even incredible books are often not picked up by major retailers, not reviewed by major bloggers, and not given the social media applause that they rightly deserve. Nothing has changed with self-publishing. It is still difficult.

Book reading is a niche market. According to the Pew Research Center, In 2011, almost twenty percent of people over the age of sixteen read no books, and thirty-two percent read less than five (remember, this is number of books read, not number of books purchased—the latter is likely to be smaller). The number of books published, however, has oversaturated this market, far exceeding demand. For example, in 2009, there were about 300,000 books published, and in 2010, when self-published ebooks boomed, there were over three million books published. You do the math. Not every book will be a runaway success; it would be impossible for every book published to have a large readership. Do not believe a publisher who promises, or attaches a price tag to, success.

Aggressive Sales Techniques, the Relentless Cold Call, and Opaque Contract Deals

This is our promise to our authors, clients, would-be authors, and would-be clients: we will not hound you, call you, email you obsessively, sign you up to spam email lists, or seduce you with vague offers and obtuse deals. We will reach out to you if we feel that you have something unique to offer, a story to tell, a legacy to celebrate, but we will always do it professionally and courteously.

Royalties

When you self- or custom-publish a book, you should keep your rights. You might allow (or ask!) your self-publishing service to help you with distribution. In this case, the company will take a distributor’s cut, and may request terms similar to other distribution models to make it a simpler relationship for both you and the publisher/distributor. The publisher should not, however, require any ownership of the book. The self-publishing service is providing you with excellent (we hope) and professional (we hope) editing, copyediting, proofing, design, research, writing, photography, printing (if applicable), warehousing, and distribution services. Because you are paying for these services (and essentially bearing the “risk” of publishing), you own your book in the end, and therefore any money earned from its sale (aside from that which covers distribution costs).

With that established, you should be earning royalties. Royalties should be the money earned from a sale after retailers and distributors take their cuts. Make sure you can read your contract and understand your royalties before committing to a publisher. We’ve seen contracts given to our clients by other services, and frankly they are unconscionable. You should be able to understand your contract. An Orange Frazer contract is two and a half pages; it is concise, straightforward, and easily understandable. We send royalty reports to all of our authors and clients twice a year, so that we are always held accountable to our contract and to you. After all, self-publishing is a traditional business model. You pay for a service, and you receive a product that you can sell. Luckily for you, though, the product is a beautifully designed and long-lasting book, which makes this business model fun!

Our editor John Baskin talking over a book project with author Phil Nuxhall.

In Conclusion, What is Self-Publishing

There are many arenas of self- and custom-publishing, and those that show up on the e-book bestseller lists are only one portion of them. The grandfather who published an illustrated book of family stories for his friends and family is an indie author, despite the fact that there is no barcode on the book and no retail shelf in its future. The nonprofit community foundation that published a celebration of its home community is a self-published entity. There are many shapes and sizes and formats for self-published books, and we will only further misconstrue the industry (and its exciting potential) if we continue to muddle it with assumptions and generalizations. OFP helps individuals, nonprofits, educational institutions, families, community foundations, businesses, artists, chefs, and many, many others create meaningful and professional books, and we do it every day. This is the self-publishing world that we believe in.

The Rise of E-books and the Resilience of Print Books: Orange Frazer Press in the Digital Age

Our Orange Frazer Press titles available as e-books on Kindle

Our Orange Frazer Press titles available as e-books on Kindle

E-books and e-book publishing have certainly taken over the airwaves lately as publishers ramp up digital offerings and consumers invest in top-of-the-line e-readers and tablets. If you are in an author or publisher circle, you’ve certainly heard about disputes over preferred e-book formats (many publishers are now trying to move to EPUB3, a free and open digital publishing standard created by the International Digital Publishing Forum), the struggle between libraries and the Big Six publishers (soon to be the Big Five when the merger of Penguin and Random House is finalized) over e-book rights and distribution, and the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Amazon’s steep e-book discounts (labeling the agency model as publisher-collusion and price-fixing).

No matter your stake in the game, or your knowledge of the legal semantics, we can all agree that e-books have totally revolutionized the ways that publishers, libraries, booksellers, and consumers operate within a reading landscape. Dominique Raccah, founder and CEO of Sourcebooks says that we are now “at the transformation of the book,” and while it may or may not be a “tipping point,” we are “now at that moment in the history of the book.” Never before has the act of reading and the medium of the book been so altered, and never before has an evolving market thrown publishers into full-panic mode.

And yet, it is also true that e-books are encouraging more people to read. Research conducted last year by the Pew Internet Research and American Life Project reported that a typical e-book reader read twenty-four books in the past year, whereas a typical non e-book reader read fifteen. Pew also found, however, that the purchase of e-books does not necessarily replace or supersede the purchase of print books. In fact, it is just the opposite: 90 % percent of e-book readers continue to read physical books. Reporting on this newer phenomenon—the cresting of e-book sales and the resilience of hardcover print sales—the Wall Street Journal writes:

“E-books, in other words, may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback. That would fit with the discovery that once people start buying digital books, they don't necessarily stop buying printed ones…The two forms seem to serve different purposes.”

This, then, is the new reading landscape, one in which e-books have come to exist side-by-side with print books, where tablets have overtaken the exclusive e-reader market to affirm that no one can succeed by merely replacing the physical book, they can succeed only by supplementing it, expanding it, engaging it, and accelerating it. In fact, the only print sales that have dramatically suffered have been mass-market paperbacks.

So, in all of this digital craze, where does Orange Frazer find itself? With a foot in each stream, as always. One of the greatest benefits to being a small and entirely independent publisher is the ability to change quickly, adapt, and remain flexible. When we decided we wanted to offer some of our best-selling books on Amazon’s Kindle, it took a month of the nitty-gritty digital research and legwork, and then it was done. We didn’t have to set company-wide precedent, hold conferences with booksellers, distributors, and librarians across the country, argue over the semantics of this code or that code, this profit or that expense, we could simply act. We use EPUB3, the leading open format for e-books, and we continue to make, sell, and distribute our books via the available digital and traditional sales channels, unimpeded.

And while we’re on the subject, you might be interested in checking out our available e-book titles. This blog author had a significant hand in making Woody’s Boys, one of our all-time bestsellers, available digitally, and must say she is pretty proud of how it turned out—and her resulting Buckeye trivia knowledge.