WRITING ON THE ETHER: Which Has More Impact? The Chicken or Self-Publishing?


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25 July 2013 iStock_000001142272XSmall photog LaserLens texted story image

Table of Contents

  1. Trying To Count the eBooks We’ve Hatched
  2. “Without Gatekeepers Who Need To Publish Blockbusters”
  3. “The Analysis…Is Already Weighted Against eBooks”
  4. A Barnyard by Moonlight

Trying To Count the eBooks We’ve Hatched

As the effluvium gathers today, this is Writing on the Ether No. 100. Thank you for reading this hot air, hosted so faithfully by our great friend and colleague Jane Friedman.


ereaderUPDATE on Friday, July 26: The Bookseller in London—the work of which figures prominently in this post—has announced that it’s going to begin publishing a monthly ebook ranking with sales figures from all the major publishers in the UK. More publishers are to be added.

The distinction here is that these will be publisher-reported figures, not compilations and sortings of existing rankings. The weekly Digital Book World ranking, for example, is a helpful observational calculation drawn from online retailer ratings of book sales and from other best-seller lists. At times, it spots strong ranking contenders among self-published as well as traditionally published ebooks. The methodology for that one is discussed here.

The Bookseller ranking, instead, will produce a monthly Top 50 list of ebooks drawn from direct reportage by majors, comprising 51 percent of the total print market in the UK and 81 percent of the total fiction market there. “Majors” means, at the outset, Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Bloomsbury.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt BuchmesseDrawbacks? No self-publishing representation of ebook output, one of the two key elements of this Ether. (I’m not throwing a stone there, just stating a fact. At present, there’s’ simply no known mechanism to get reportage of sales from self-publishing entrepreneurial authors.)

And notice that, of course, Amazon, the biggest producer and seller of digital books, is not represented, per its policy of holding its numbers proprietary and not making them public (also mentioned later here).  

Philip Jones in communications with me knows these points well, of course—they’re the foundation of his own excellent post, “The Invisible eBook,” after all. It comes into play below. But he’s right that this development of a ranking of ebooks—directly reported by the majors, (and per the degree of accuracy we each assign to their statements, we must add)—is a big step toward getting some understanding of an as-yet largely “invisible ebook.”

This new ranking, then, is good news, we welcome it and congratulate The Bookseller team on creating it. UK publishers who want to add their data are invited to contact “the other Philip”: philip.stone@bookseller.co.uk

The first ranking is to come out in the Friday, August 2 issue and will cover June. 

The announcement story at The Bookseller is here. (No paywall, you can read it without subscription.)


And as the summer wears on, two forces are circling each other in the publishing hen house.

Our biggest problem? We don’t have a good enough picture of either. The chicken is crossing the road blindfolded.

The change is self-publishing, and my friends, it is huge.

Barbara O’Neal is not wrong.

E-book sales are headed in only one direction: that is up.

Philip Jones is not wrong, either. To consider the timeliness and specificity of their messages to us, we need to hear from each. Jones and O’Neal have something important to say this week. Back to Table of Contents

 

“Without Gatekeepers Who Need To Publish Blockbusters”

18 July 2013 iStock_000024022247Small photog Ixpert Texted Story ImageLast week here in Writing on the Ether: Is Publishing’s Star System Cuckoo?, we looked at the star system and the blockbuster dependency on which many traditional elements of the industry! the industry! seem to be running. This is part of what O’Neal is getting at in her new post when she writes about:

…the ability to price, package and reach your own audience without gatekeepers who need to publish blockbusters. It’s a tremendous amount of creative freedom that has already created some new sub-genres because there was no editor or marketing panel to say, “We don’t think stories about post-high school will sell.”

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones

Barbara O’Neal

And one of the things that makes this RITA Award-winning author’s The Sea Change of Self-Publishing at Writer Unboxed so significant is that her article comes from the deepest, pinkest heart of the romance world. Her post is a look-back at the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) national conference in Altanta last week. Surprised? Me, too. Surely, if anybody understands self-publishing, it’s the Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women crowd. But as we learn from our good colleague O’Neal, the “sea change” at RWA this year meant “the swell was washing over every aspect of the conference.” Romance Writers of America 2She writes of a serious power shift:

For the first time I can remember, ever, editors and agents were wooing authors. One notable workshop featured editors from major houses presenting the things publishers could do for authors. Meanwhile, speakers on the self-pub track, assembled single-handedly by self-publishing millionaire Barbara Freethy, packed the room. The ballroom. 

Barbara Freethy, left, and agent Kristin Nelson at BEA on May 30

Barbara Freethy, left, and agent Kristin Nelson at BEA on May 30

Barbara Freethy, of course, is the three-million-copy-selling author of 34 books who, as we reported at Publishing Perspectives has just signed with Hugh Howey’s agent Kristin Nelson. O’Neal tells us of comments about self-publishers’ earning capacity from author Bella Andre, a Freethy and Howey associate in the #Indie6 group of “Indie Bestsellers” who took a booth together at BookExpo America (BEA) this year. O’Neal adds:

Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble sent their teams to hold meetings, present workshops, and even offer a wine-tasting. Authors were wooed here, too—by merchandisers and editors for the indies.

Writers Digest West 2013 WDCWLast spring in New York City, we saw the same upswing in the self-publishing dynamic as Writer’s Digest Conference East staged a daylong conference-within-a-conference on self-publishing. The same will occur in Los Angeles on September 27, when I’ll be moderating a panel with Amazon’s Jon Fine and WriterCube’s Kristen McLean in Writer’s Digest Conference West’s self-publishing day program. O’Neal’s piece is enriched by her frank comments about how far apart many authors are on the issue. She writes that despite the high-profile stories of strong (monthly!) income and creative control:

Many [authors] are very frightened. Some haven’t made any money at all—and the reasons are as numerous as in any other field. Some have a bad product. Some have terrible packaging…or a non-existent understanding of web marketing. Other authors are just afraid. Afraid of change. Afraid of looking foolish if they try it and fail. Afraid they won’t be taken as seriously if they self-publish. Afraid to leap.

The Writer Unboxed community, as usual, has no fear of leaping into generous, lively discussion of the self-publishing phenomenon with O’Neal.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Donald Maass

Particularly interesting are comments from agent Donald Maass, who on two days this week at the site has written to authors, “The industry needs you more than you need it.” Of special interest to those who have followed our coverage of the ebook royalty debate (see A Major Publisher Jumps the Shark), Maass now writes in a comment: Surprised? Me, too. Surely, if anybody understands self-publishi

Publishers sooner or later will escalate e-book royalty rates. Believe it. It will happen. It’s already happening around the edges. It’s called competition. And as their royalty rates rise, their bad deal for authors–compared to the true margins of do-it-”yourself”–will start to look not so bad. Publishers have not yet grasped the sea change in the world of authors. Authors in this giddy time have not yet grasped the true cost of going it alone.

Writer UnboxedAnd as for the trickiest part of the self-publishing debate? We simply don’t know how many authors are trying to self-publish. And so we certainly don’t know how well they’re doing. Our information is frequently anecdotal, guesswork, extrapolation. Throughout the comments that follow O’Neal’s post, you read folks mentioning “the writers I know have told me…” And this is because the self-publishing dynamic is, by definition, non-aligned, neither easily counted nor categorized, impossible for standard survey and research operations to fully track, and as broadly decentralized as traditional publishing once was concentrated in New York. CONTEC Frankfurt 2013How many are “succeeding?”—success for one author may be something else to another. With this new, entrepreneurial energy comes a diffusion of goals and proving points; the traditional model’s standards for “success” may not all apply. This is one reason I’m looking forward to another moderating gig at the CONTEC Frankfurt 2013 conference on October 8, when we’ll be addressing the implications of self-publishing for traditional publishing, itself. In the meantime, O’Neal brings us candor and optimism amid the quandaries:

My prediction for the coming year is that we’re going to see more and more big name authors jumping into the [self-publishing] waters—and finding great success. I also predict a lot of new writers are going to go with their creativity and their guts and create new genres and subgenres all over the place.

And before that golden egg gets fully away from us, let’s look at the other major part of the puzzle we can’t yet figure out: those ebooks. Back to Table of Contents

 

“The Analysis…Is Already Weighted Against eBooks”

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, O'Reilly Media, Tools of Change

Philip Jones

The Bookseller’s editor Philip Jones in his new FutureBook gets the egg rolling this way:

There is talk of sales plateauing at around 30% [in the US], as in the UK they appear to have coalesced at around 25%. Except, I’m not really convinced by this. There is a sense that ebook sales are “booming” and yet there is no data to back this up.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Sam Missingham

Jones is aided, as he notes, by an earlier write at The FutureBook by his colleague Sam Missingham, In search of a happy ending, in which she wrote of some in publishing who want to say, “We’ve got digital licked. Nothing to see here, please move along.” While you need to read Missingham’s calculations of what can be known and deduced, part of her concern is captured in this sentence:

A market that has gone from zero to conservatively 706 million ebooks in 5 years in the US is not plateauing.

And she adds:

The number of self-published authors will continue to grow; in general their ebooks are cheaper; we will see more rapid growth in unit sales here.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, Tools of Change, Pearson, Penguin, Random House, O'Reilly MediaJones, in this week’s The invisible e-book, then takes up the point—not unfamiliar to Ether readers—that regular means of evaluating ebooks don’t include actual figures from the biggest players, from “the self-publishing market or of Amazon’s own digital publishing” because Seattle doesn’t report those numbers. The biggest force in the field holds its sales data private, as proprietary information. That’s a perfectly legitimate corporate tactic, but it keeps us from knowing what’s actually going on. What’s more, Jones adds, “The half-year data also does not take into account the significant boost the digital market may get this summer, or the impact of runaway bestsellers such as Fifty Shades—or, potentially, The Cuckoo’s Calling.” And this, emphasis his:

But most importantly, the analysis, based on print book bestsellers, is already weighted against ebooks. The top-selling print books may not also be the top-selling ebooks. 

 

This is the key. It almost certainly is not the case that the ebook market is a digital mirror to the print market. The point has been reflected in O’Neal’s write-up, as well, when she notes:

Romance novels are definitely at the forefront of the digital revolution. Erotica has long been read in ebook format, and now contemporary and new adult romances are rocking the digital lists. Other genres are doing quite well, however. Science fiction is growing, and mysteries are very strong. Sooner or later, there are bound to be cross-overs in literary and non-fiction.

 

And in his own, parallel thinking, Jones goes past the frequent custom of looking at ebook activity in the market as a print-to-ebook translation of the main sellers in the standard market:

Almost all of the data we have about the ebook market is rooted in how ebooks are doing when compared to print books. When we talk about ebook growth what we have really been talking about is digital migration. I have now seen some data for the biggest selling standalone ebooks, and a different picture emerges. While we report that the average P to P+E ration [ebook to print+ebook ratio] is around 25% for books featured in the Top 50, for books that are ebook bestsellers, that percentage leaps, almost to 50%. This means for that some types of publishing, and certain styles of books, talk of a deceleration may seem way off.

 

And now the probable breadth of that “invisible ebook” begins to emerge. Jones opens the door to the barn:

What we have so far failed to measure is ebooks that are ebooks first, be they self-published ebooks, or books that have simply outperformed in digital format. There are many, many, ebooks that are selling in the thousands that have little or no relation to the performance of their print book equivalent, if indeed they have one. They may be Amazon published, or released via an agent’s White Glove list; they may be part of a backlist digital list such as the Bloomsbury Reader, or put out by one of the growing range of front-list digital lists, such as [Little, Brown UK's] Blackfriars; or they may be self-published.

Jones is talking mostly about digital-first and/or digital-only material. Some of it lies unreported and untracked by standard means because many self-publishing authors don’t use ISBNs as identifiers for their ebooks. And it’s huge, of course. Like a parallel estate to the known terrain of major publishing and e-versions of traditional books, the native-digital ebook ranch is bustling along to different patterns of interest and engagement with its readers. Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBookIn a separate report Wednesday, Digital fiction to overtake paperbacks in 2014, says Nielsen (this one is behind The Bookseller’s news paywall), Jones looks at Nielsen’s optimistically titled “Understanding the eBook Consumer” report for July and sees the general lower price points of ebooks coupling with a decline in print revenues. He assesses the Nielsen report: “Sales of hardback and paperback novels are falling faster than sales of fiction ebooks are rising.” And that, needless to say, may be good for no one in publishing. But again, we don’t have a clear picture of what ebooks are doing. Such analysis is made without a complete view of the market. Back to Table of Contents

One of VQR's "instapoem" series, this one by Adam Chiles.

One of VQR’s “instapoem” series, this one by Adam Chiles.

 

A Barnyard by Moonlight

The service provided us by O’Neal and Jones this week is like good flashlight work on a darkened landscape. Chicken and egg, ebooks and self-publishing seem to be functioning as mutually enabling forces. Because we have that 2007 date on which Amazon’s Kindle began making ebooks the viable force they are today, we probably can beat the old rap and tell, at least, which came first in terms of current dynamics.

Once the first successful e-reader was in place, the efficiency of digital production and the marketplace generated by the Kindle made self-publishing a workable avenue for many writers. This led other players—among them Kobo, iBookstore, Barnes and Noble’s troubled Nook effort, Smashwords, etc.—to begin working in the e-self-publishing space. Today, however, neither self-publishing nor ebook publication is adequately tracked or understood.

 

We do know, thanks to O’Neal and others, that traditional publishing elements see reason to court the entrepreneurial author at one of the great US shrines of romance-category diversity, the RWA convention.

And we know, thanks to Jones, that we’re not crazy: when the print market contracts but we don’t seem to see ebook numbers taking up the slack, it very well may be because we dont’t have those ebook numbers. And we need them.

He says it well:

eBook sales are headed in only one direction: that is up. But this market is also broadening out, and taking on a life of its own. eBooks have a commercial reality that is different from the print market. What we interpret as a slowdown may actually be sales disappearing from sight.

What do you think? Do you feel hobbled by the uncertainties of markets and publishing paths about which we can only make educated guesses?

Back to Table of Contents

 

 


Main image: LaserLens

  • http://www.100memoirs.wordpress.com/ Shirley Hershey Showalter

    First, Porter, congrats on 100 posts. Your summaries are always insightful and fun to read. I am amazed at your productivity. Let’s see, you have about 10 e-books in those 100 pages. Right?

    I have chosen sometimes overlooked middle path: the small publisher, with Kindle e-book. I’m hoping to share insights here with future readers soon. It was definitely the right choice for me, and I’ve got two other case studies to share I hope will help authors consider this option.

  • James Scott Bell

    Not hobbled here, Porter. The only numbers that matter to me are:

    a. Monthly income. If it’s trending upward each quarter, I know i’m on the right track.

    b. Weekly word count, still the most important thing for the writer who wants to be a pro.

    These numbers, and their importance. are mine alone. I don’t need the approval of the green eye-shade boys to do what I do. But so many (so MANY!) authors of the past were hobbled and even chucked out the back door because of the tyranny of numbers. And there was nothing they could do about it. Now there is. That’s not hobbling, that’s freedom. It’s not confusion, it’s control.

  • http://www.loudpoet.com Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

    First, congrats on 100 posts! The Ether has become a reliable signal in the midst of more and more noise, so kudos for your valiant efforts, and keep up the good work.

    Second, the ebook “plateau” issue is effectively one of two stories being combined by journalists too lazy to dig deeper and too addicted to pageviews to stop “reporting” useless information. The AAP’s numbers, which are the closest anyone has to consistent reporting, are well-known to represent a slice (albeit a large one) of the market, and are valuable for gauging a specific trend, which is what’s driving the “plateau” narrative.

    The more problematic issue is the lack of transparency into the total ebook market (which is how Apple gets to make nuanced claims of 20% market share that few should believe), and that’s an issue James McQuivey raised back in 2010 that few have dug into as the real story: http://bit.ly/13dEAh0

    I look forward to you being one those few over the next 100 Ethers. ;-)

  • Malena Lott

    Porter, great insight and questions as always. I’m echoing what Shirley said about the middle path, the small publisher, and that touches on what O’Neal said about authors being afraid to go it alone. The small publisher can provide creative, production, and marketing assistance and work like a partner with the author so they can still keep the day job, time with kids, etc. and share the burden of the “book load”.

    When I started Buzz Books USA two years ago, the royalty rate was 40% for my authors, but new contracts are 50% because I do need entrepreneurial authors who understand it’s a partnership and they must engage with their readers and build a readership in addition to what I’m doing to get their book out there.

    On the flip side, that makes me a self-publisher of my own work, and I have a tremendous support network. We only publish paperbacks if the author will be actively selling them at events, but those who choose to have been slowly building an audience. And when you meet an author in person you are far more likely to remember them than seeing them on a blog somewhere. I’m in the midst of a 5-city tour right now and I’m also offering a free ebook along with the purchase of my new book so they can “give” the paperback to a friend if they themselves prefer to get it on Kindle or nook. Hosting events aids in getting publicity, too, so we are increasing awareness through traditional media. I’ll let you know how it goes when the tour is over in August.

  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Congrats on 100!

  • Victoria_Noe

    Campari for my friend, bartender, and keep them coming! Oh, hell, just give him the bottle. ;) Congrats!

  • http://www.porteranderson.com Porter Anderson

    Hi, Shirley,

    Thanks for the kind wishes, as well as for reading so faithfully and responding today!

    Congratulations on that middle path. My post today isn’t meant to suggest that that one and many others don’t exist (university presses, various independent presses, author collectives, you name it). In some of those cases, in fact, those ARE forms of self-publishing (as in the collective The Rogue Reader we heard from at Publishing Perspectives last week, for example).

    I think many are finding the various gradations and levels of self-publishing commitment refreshing and invigorating, and I hope that will be the case for you, too. Certainly you’re well in the digital camp that is that other element of our chicken and egg pas de deux in publishing.

    And our emphasis today simply reflects the groundswell effect that Barbara O’Neal and others are registering as various parts of the industry begin to understand better the breadth and scope of the entrepreneurial movement (of which you’re a member). While there are many forms and shades of self-publishing, if you will, the basic engine of non-traditional publishing that sees entrepreneurial authors calling the shots and taking responsibility for their own careers is, as Don Maass tells us, something publishers have yet to come to terms with in many ways. O’Neal’s “sea change” when you see a conference setting approached as she did last week by such energies at RWA.

    Thanks again for your input here and stay with us for the next 100. :)

    -p.
    On Twitter, @Porter_Anderson

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    @shirleyhs:disqus

    Hi, Shirley,

    Thanks for the kind wishes, as well as for reading so faithfully and responding today!

    Congratulations on that middle path. My post today isn’t meant to suggest that that one and many others don’t exist (university presses, various independent presses, author collectives, you name it). In some of those cases, in fact, those ARE forms of self-publishing (as in the collective The Rogue Reader we heard from at Publishing Perspectiveslast week, for example).

    I think many are finding the various gradations and levels of self-publishing commitment refreshing and invigorating, and I hope that will be the case for you, too. Certainly you’re well in the digital camp that is that other element of our chicken and egg pas de deux in publishing.

    And our emphasis today simply reflects the groundswell effect that Barbara O’Neal and others are registering as various parts of the industry begin to understand better the breadth and scope of the entrepreneurial movement (of which you’re a member). While there are many forms and shades of self-publishing, if you will, the basic engine of non-traditional publishing that sees entrepreneurial authors calling the shots and taking responsibility for their own careers is, as Don Maass tells us, something publishers have yet to come to terms with in many ways. O’Neal’s “sea change” when you see a conference setting approached as she did last week by such energies at RWA.

    Thanks again for your input here and stay with us for the next 100.

    -p.
    On Twitter, @Porter_Anderson:disqus

  • http://www.shirleyshowalter.com/ Shirley Hershey Showalter

    Thanks, Porter, I do see myself in the entrepreneurial camp but I’m so grateful for my small press partner, Herald Press, who is in the white water with me. I thought the Donald Maass quote about the blind spots on both ends of the spectrum was perfect. More later.

    And I will be with you for the next 100. :-)

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    @jamesscottbell:disqus

    Hey, Jim,

    Right you are (and thanks again for the good wishes).

    From the author’s point of view, yes. the numbers that matter are the monthly income and the weekly word count. Right.

    However, there are more needs here than the author’s. The industry as a whole needs to be able to understand itself better — not least so that authors, as well as publishers, agents, editors, designers, readers, booksellers, everybody near it — can have an accurate perspective on what’s shaking out on the macro level. We don’t all see it from the micro level of a single author’s viewpoint, nor can we afford to.

    Nor do I think that’s how you look at it, either, but we do need some comprehension of what we’re looking at — as self-publishing becomes a bigger, broader, more sophisticated force, and as ebook elements of the sales spectrum increase and gain in vitality.

    Some of us chickens want the blindfold off when we head across the road, in other words.

    So thanks for coming along, sir, as always, and for your input and kind 100th waves. :)

    -p.

    On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

  • M. Louisa Locke

    Dear Porter,

    Congrats on 100 posts, and congrats on the increasingly sophisticated take I see in your analysis of the industry!, the industry! It used to be that I often argued in my head with your points, feeling they were too mired in old paradigms, and too influenced by traditional players. Nowadays I just nod my head in agreement with most of what you say.

    My books are part of that missing data. As an indie author I don’t have ISBN’s for my ebooks, and my print books, which do have ISBN”s and therefore get counted, are less than 1% of my sales and have been slipping, while each year I sell more and more ebooks. I have already sold as many copies of my 2 books this year as I sold in all of 2012, and with just those 2 books and short stories I am making more than I was on a full time salary as a history professor.

    And each year I hear more and more stories like mine. Not everyone, of course, but even those indie authors who aren’t selling as well, are selling some. And in most cases they would have sold zero before ebooks and self-publishing, because they wouldn’t have been picked up by traditional publishers. And these are well-written, well-edited, and well-reviewed books that have lots of potential in the long-tail as they find their market.

    So again, thanks for your always interesting thoughts. I am looking forward to the next 100.

  • Don Linn

    Bear in mind that some of the players reporting ebook (and print) data have agendas beyond providing accurate numbers. When data are unreliable, conclusions drawn from that data are unreliable.

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    @glecharles:disqus
    Hey, Guy!

    Thanks not only for the terribly kind words, but also for your abiding support of the Ether — you were one of the very first to urge the deeper, more pointed look at things I’ve taken (and taken and taken, lol) AND you’ve been a sponsor and friend of the effort every step of the way. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.

    And your points are spot-on, as usual. In fact, I recall the post you’re showing us here. And in those last two lines, you do capture it.

    “Does ebook growth mask market share declines?” And if it does, how would you know?

    If anything, my frustration comes of the fact that we’re here, almost three years later, and we STILL are in this boat of — again, as you put it so well — ” lacking anything resembling reliable, comprehensive sales data for ebooks.”

    That line, in fact, is linking to your even earlier piece (June 2010) in which you’re calling for transparency in the ebook market. We still don’t have it. And there goes Sam Missingham, doing her best from the mathematical approach to try to extrapolate, as all of us do (me without anything like her capability on that score), each time we’re told something about sales and comparative growth or decline in rates as if it were gospel.

    And in terms of something much more timely, the second piece I mention from Philip Jones, on the Nielsen Bookscan info on the UK is, again, one of these “slices,” as you rightly call them, which, I fear, cannot possibly tell us anything like as definitive as it wants to, because, as we know, neither the print nor ebook sales of one of the biggest retailers, Amazon, can be factored in. (In fact, remember that our colleague Mike Shatzkin recently estimated that as much as 80% of online book sales (and ebooks) in the UK are being accomplished on Amazon. If, then, a Nielsen observation must be made without that major a player’s data factored in, then imagine how inadequately founded various extrapolations there might be. Mind you, do I KNOW that the Nielsen numbers are inadequate? No. I can only fear so, based, as you say, on the huge gaps in data that even the most basic journalistic rummaging around shows me.

    I do want to say hats off to Philip Jones at The Bookseller, by the way, in that I think the points he opens in his FutureBook piece are not only the correct ones — the right skepticism, if you will — but they also come to him only after a great deal of thought and research, as his piece indicates. The realization that the Top 50 reports are skewing what we know and don’t know about ebooks and their rate of growth is not at all far from the point you and McQuivey are making in 2010, nor from the BISG slides that Thad McIlroy ran the other day on a post at his site: http://ow.ly/njK4z

    We’re still in the dark, in other words, and I think we’re getting into deeper darkness, if you will, as the growth of both the entrepreneurial author’s community rises and the lack of the hard info we need from some major players increases.

    As you say, more work ahead. Let’s hope we all do it justice.

    Thanks again, Guy!

    -p.

    On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

  • Jan O’Hara|Tartitude

    Congrats on 100 posts, Porter!

    While I’m by no means a spokesperson for RWA, I feel obliged to correct one of your statements. “We do know, thanks to O’Neal and others, that traditional publishing elements see reason to court the entrepreneurial author at one of the great US shrines of self-publishing, the RWA convention.”

    When I attended RWA’s Nationals in 2011, the self-publishing track seemed to be the elephant in the room. Most authors knew self-publishing or hybrid successes–it was often what we spoke of in the intermissions–but the conference material was very much pitched to those seeking the traditional route, including the keynote speakers.

    By all accounts, this year was significantly different both in conference content and future direction. For instance, in 2014, for the first time, self-published fiction will have a chance to compete for and win the RWA’s version of the Oscars, the RITA. http://www.rwa.org/p/bl/et/blogid=20&blogaid=490

    Romance writers are not remotely a homogenous group. Some belong to the RWA; many do not. Some write literary historical romance and are Shakespearean college professors and lawyers by day; others write edgy BSDM-filled erotica. We are comprised of both hobbyists and shark-like entrepreneurs. In other words, within the romance community, there is a huge range of product and audience, craft and business acumen. (For this reason, while I tease you about it, I cringe at the “shirtless men” line, because I see it as a stereotype, not as nuanced as I’ve come to expect from your usually impeccable thinking.)

    Maybe you should attend RWA 2014 and see what it’s about for yourself. Barbara’s going. I hope to attend. You could introduce me to Campari…

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    @malenalott:disqus

    Hey, Malena, thanks for the input here from your experience of running Buzz Books and marketing your own work. Sounds as if you have a lot of things working well for you, and that’s great.

    You’re right that a small publisher — any publisher or publishing support — can be a big help to an author with the kind of fear that Barbara O’Neal describes so well for us. And even entrepreneurism falls on a scale, of course, some able to handle much more on their own that others.

    I’m looking forward to a point at which some of these things become more quantifiable (and thus easier to discuss and follow). As time goes by, we’re building better structures and understandings of the subtleties.

    Good travels on your tour!

    -p.

    On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    Thanks, Dan!

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    @Victoria_Noe:disqus
    Thanks, Viki, and — before I get into the Campari — I’m working my way back over to your good comment at Publishing Perspectives, too, Lots of irons in fires this week, but good to have you at both Ethers and thanks for the toast, I need it, lol.
    -p.

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    @shirleyhs:disqus
    Thanks again, Shirley, we’ll ride the raft together! (I thought Don said it very well, too.)

    -p.

    On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

  • AJ Sikes

    Cheers, yet again, Porter. These are issues I’m looking at as just off the shore at the moment. I’m in my little beach hut revising like mad and focusing on particulars of the submissions process, including “Do I self-pub?” But I’ve had an eye on ebook/print statistics.

    It’s overwhelming from a new author’s standpoint, one who only has 3 small press publications to his name (and in anthologies at that, not stand alone novels). The advantage of working with these smaller outfits though is that I’m seeing, if not directly than at least tangentially, just what are the real costs associated with self-publishing.

    It takes a lot to put out a book. And while I understand why that information might feel hobbling to some, I take it as carte blanche to be as innovative as I want to be. Nobody can say with certainty just what’s happening or going to happen (though as Jones, et al point out, we’re learning). In a climate like this it makes more sense than ever to just experiment. Heck, I might land on a winning formula without even knowing it until the money hits the bank.

    Or I may just plod along earning enough to cover my coffee bill. Either way, I’m still writing.

  • Lara Schiffbauer

    Congratulations on 100 posts! I always look forward to reading your posts, no matter where they’re at. :)

    This may be a bird-walk kind of comment, but the thing that I find most interesting is the change I’ve seen in respect to the general author’s excitement about self-publishing. I’m having trouble explaining myself (I’ve edited this comment twice already), but I’ll try.

    Three years ago, way before I’d even started my novel, I was hard-pressed to find any mainstream (well-known?) authors or bloggers who spoke openly about self-publishing. That was a last resort, and something kind of shameful to contemplate. I think I shared with you before that I had asked a self-publishing type question on a popular writer’s forum, and was roundly scolded. I kept my self-publishing thoughts (and reading of Dean Wesley Smith) a secret from the rest of the writing world I’d become a part of.

    After reading Ms. O’Neil’s article on Writer Unboxed yesterday, I was tickled (yes, actually tickled) at the tone. It was filled with a sense of hope and excitement. Self-publishing is being taken out of the closet, dusted off and prominently displayed as a viable (and acceptable) option. That makes me happy. :)

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    @don_linn:disqus

    Exactly, Don, and thanks for dropping in with that point.

    This is one reason I’ve spent a lot of time chasing self-publishing authors around the Internet, trying to get them to assign ISBN numbers to their ebooks, so there’s a quantifiable tag out there, trackable and standardized — to have their work count in the community and to make it cleanly visible.

    Otherwise, we’re left looking at figures supplied by completely invested, deeply interested parties — who may need those figures to say one thing or another.

    It’s amazing when you think about it just how much we don’t know about the industry’s output, really. A critical problem, to my mind.

    Thanks again, great to have the Maestro drop in, do that often.:)

    -p.

    On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

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  • AJ Sikes

    And how did I miss that this was il centesimo? Complimenti, bravo, e auguri per il prossimo!

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    @janoharatartitude:disqus

    Hey, Jan, thanks for the good wishes, and for dropping a note!

    It’s interesting that you feel the RWA’s work has been so grounded in traditional publishing since, of course, romance at large is thought of as having such a leading edge in self-publishing as well as in digital. (Ellora’s Cave just about pioneered digital-first, by many accounts.) I’ll just make it a “great shrine of romance-category diversity,” since, as you’re saying, the genre comprises many things. Some of the major success stories like Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre, of course, can create the idea that romance writers are eagerly self-publishing themselves all over the place. The Amanda Hocking Syndrome.

    Don’t cringe too much at “Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women.” It’s just my laughing way of handling All Those Covers that, like it or not, do represent the idea of romance as being dependable-as-a-soap-opera.

    You can get right back at me. Literary writing — to which I’m much closer, of course — has that same amazing range of diversity and character within its huge expanse, as you’re describing for romance, AND it has a similarly stereotyped connotation. Feel free to narrow it down to a phrase about, say, Obnoxious Overdressed Characters Doing Nothing About Anything, if you like, I won’t mind. :)

    My laugh is not at anyone’s expense except, perhaps, those cluch-’n’-kiss cover designers. We can ‘t be too sensitive about these things, we have bigger issues to worry about. It’s amazing how communicative the Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women line is. People get it. :)

    And sure, I’d love to be at an RWA conference, maybe they’d like the coverage I do for so many other conferences all year long in the States and in Europe. Do send the organizers my way if they’re interested, I’m certain it would be a fascinating event to live-cover. Many folks in Atlanta were in touch with me about it this year as it happened, as a matter of fact, and as one of our commenters has pointed out, our WU colleague Barbara O’Neal has really done a great job of indicating the shift she discerned there this time and the great reticence many writers have about the self-publishing direction.

    Always ready to introduce folks to Campari. A wildly romantic drink full of literary rigor, cara. :)

    Cheers,

    -p.

    On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

  • Tom Bentley

    Porter, I do so want the industry to understand itself better, so I will add my own spreadsheet tick to self-publishing’s tally. Using your One Hundred Posts of Porter-tude as a scale: once you hit your two-hundredth notch on the Tree of Ether, you will have exceeded the sales figures for my first (and only) self-published novel. (I am offering bulk sales to convenience stores, but little traction so far.)

    You will notice I didn’t mention Mark Twain. Oops.

    Regardless, here’s a crisp martini raised to your next one thousand hand-crafted and heady Ethers!

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    @cc74875386333640d471ee36d9d56c44:disqus

    Hi, Louisa, and many thanks for the very kind words.

    You realize, of course, that maybe YOU are becoming more influenced by traditional players and thus my work starts to seem more sophisticated. :)

    I’m teasing, seriously, thank you. I’m not really aware of a move in my own stance either toward or away from the more traditional lines in publishing, and, of course, that’s by design. I don’t want to define too clearly where any perceived alignments could fall for fear that a picture of my own purview would bias me. I hope that what’s happening is that the industry’s shifts around me are widening the panorama of potential thought in such a way that I select my points of reference, from one instance to the next, from that broadening spectrum — that, alone, should help me move past the kind of provincialism we all can fall into (and must forgive ourselves for in such idea-bombarded times). In short, I’m trying to keep dancing with as open a mind as possible … even to the cutesily-named startups on all sides. (Although Sebastian Posth in Berlin today was teasing me about the one called BookBub, knowing I’d be twitchy around that cute name! lol)

    And boy, I really appreciate you saying what your’e saying here! “My books are part of that missing data.” You’re so clear on exactly what I’m saying, particularly in your observation that such a small percentage of your output (the ISBN-ed print books) are being tracked while the far better selling ebooks aren’t being “seen” by Bowker or Nielsen or even AAP (Assoc of American Publishers), most likely.

    Congratulations on the fine earnings! This is so good to hear.

    Let me ask you this: Would you consider assigning ISBNs to your ebooks? Best practice is an ISBN per format (so one for a mobi, one for epub, etc.) — I think if you bought the 10-pack, which saves hugely, you’d have enough for the several formats of your two ebooks and then your good work WOULD be seen and factored into the national conversation and understanding of what’s out there.

    I hear very well what you’re saying about you and other authors whose sales wouldn’t really be possible in the previous era before self-publishing and ebooks could leverage your talent right over the heads of the naysayers many run into in traditional settings. I think you’re a textbook case and you have every reason to be incredibly proud of what your’e doing as an entrepreneurial author.

    If you have a chance, let me know what you’d think of ISBN-ing (I made up that verb, lol) your existing ebooks. (It’s never too late, as they say — I’ve confirmed in the past with Laura Dawson at Bowker that you can opt to assign ISBNs to your books any time you like, not just as they come out.)

    Either way, all the best and congrats again. We’ll do the next 100 Ethers together. :)

    -p.

    On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

  • Heather C Button

    Do sales figures for e-books typically include the free e-books and previews?

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    @heathercbutton:disqus

    Hi, Heather,

    Typically, no. For example, in writing about this a few days ago, CJ Lyons, who has sold more than a million ebooks (maybe more than 2 million by now), recalled when she and her agent watched the effect of free giveaways (tens of thousands of downloads — up to 20,000 in a single day), and then they would put a price back on a book so that the accelerated sales resulting from the free push would count toward best-seller status. You can see me discussing this in the Ether from Tuesday at Publishing Perspectives. here’s a direct link to that section — http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/07/ether-for-authors-are-publishers-on-a-tightrope-with-author-solutions/#5 — and in that segment you’ll find a link to Lyons’ original article (still very new and up to date) so you can read more about where using “free” as a marketing tactic stands today.

    Thanks,

    -p.

    On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

  • http://PorterAnderson.com/ Porter Anderson

    @disqus_z8blEym8w8:disqus
    Thanks for the toast, Tom, and congrats on the sales — may they become much bigger.

    We’ll probably bump into each other at the convenience store, no doubt the library of our digital future. :)

    -p.

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