Ebook Opportunities

I’ve wanted for some time to report my experiences with pretty much every serious player in the ebook sales arena, but I’ve held off to see if B&N’s PubIt program ever went live. It has, I’ve uploaded 42 titles, and I’m ready to go.

KINDLE: This is the daddy of the ebook opportunities. I don’t think I need to say much, but I want to acknowledge that it remains the, by far, top earner for everyone I know who sells ebooks. Amazon reacts to market pressures and publisher input, and they have, so far, the largest installed customer base (which could be everyone with a computer device of some kind). The new higher royalty rates and growing customer base have doubled my already decent earnings in a two-month span. I have been contacted about reports formatting following some nasty comments; they listened, asked questions, and took advice. Amazon DTP screws up, but I don’t believe they cheat, and I give them high marks for making things right. They are making it easier and easier to get new titles up and running, and their support of authors is peerless.

SONY: The folks running the Sony Reader program are definitely not book people. They are definitely computer geeks. Despite the many good examples Amazon provides in the way of easy uploads and author/publisher services, Sony is as remote from its authors and publishers as it’s acceptable to be. There’s nothing intuitive going on at any level of the book registration and upload process. It virtually requires personal relationships with several people to successfully get a book from your hard drive to on-sale. Sales are reported quarterly. The results of Q2, the only one I have, shows income at 18 percent of Kindle sales for the same period (when 35% was the only royalty rate). My overall rating: meh

KOBO: A complete waste of time and effort. They want epubs in such a way as to use the first chapter as a sample. My epubs don’t give them the leeway and I won’t do the extra work. They charged me a total of $142 to put my epubs right. I’ve earned $25 in  four months. I’m glad I didn’t add more books for more money. I have no intention of getting in deeper. Nice folks, but that’s no incentive to get in deeper.

APPLE: You need an aggregator to get your books into Apple’s secret iPad cabal. I’m an early Lightning Source customer, and they carried my water. I filled out a complicated Excel spreadsheet over a weekend. All but three epub files passed the test and they eventually fixed the others without telling me what was wrong. They seem to be alert and interested in the business, but I get the impression that there are no book people on the Apple side, that all they’re doing is monetizing their technology via stinky book people they hold at beyond arm’s length. Net earnings are running at around 15 percent of Amazon sales on a month-by-month basis. My guess is that most of the almost 9 bizillion iPad users don’t read books.

B&N PubIt: I’m publisher 131! They’re learning to shave on my face without exhibiting the least desire to contact me. I uploaded all 42 titles since last Tuesday and it was pretty effortless on an intuitive interaction cribbed largely from Amazon DTP. You DO NOT need Smashwords if you can read, write, point, and click. My first sale was made on Wednesday, the same day my first (test) book went live. Sales are slow, but I’m guessing this is a function of a low installed base of readers–Nooks and others. One technical glitch marred the upload process. I didn’t get an answer to a query to an email address that took me two days to find; I didn’t even get an autoresponse. I suppose B&N online is overseen by book people–but I can only assume there are any actual people involved. On the other hand, several glitches during the account registration process generated emails with a phone number that was answered quickly by bright, eager-to-please folks who even called me back and, heaven help us, showed some initiative. It’s early days; I’m willing to chalk the minor disappointments up provisionally to growing pains. (B&N Online, I believe, is the only option B&N has to save itself.)

SCRIBD: I uploaded a bunch of articles to Scribd two years ago and sold one once before I took everything down in late 2009. I decided to upload my bestsellers to see what happened. I sold ZERO on Scribd, but I’ve had thousands of reads and an uptick in Amazon sales that coincide with a slow rollout of yet more titles (33 of 42 so far). The upload process is fine once you get used to it. If I never sell anything–I no longer expect to–I’ll chalk the effort up to promotion. On the other hand, Scribd claims it’s poised to get sales going in a big way once it converts its library to HTML5.

GOOGLE PARTNER: This is the program that started off as the biggest (attempted?) theft of the printed word in history. Now it seems safe. I had a very hard time coming around to anything Google, but I decided I’m either in the business or not in the business. All the Partner program does is show a portion (you decide) of your book or article and provide links if it’s on sale elsewhere. The idea is to get readers of the samples to buy product. Uploading is pretty easy (you need Adobe pdf contents and jpg covers), and they are extremely responsive (albeit in maddening corporatespeak) to queries and problem reports.

GOOGLE EDITIONS: This prospective, serially delayed program might someday be the jewel in the crown. If you’re enrolled in Google Partners, you can upload an epub for the Editions program. Intake is easy and intuitive once you’ve struggled with corporatespeak FAQs that can be misleading if you think that’s all there is to it. I expect Google Editions to take off, once it finally begins, because it’s a Google product that will be made viable for any electronic gadget humankind can possible imagine. I even expect my c.1975 electric knife to grow a screen once Google thrusts its way into yet another aspect of routine existence.

Last point: I did it all myself–formatting, file conversion, uploads, promo, the whole kaboodle. 42 titles! I share iPad earnings with Lightning Source because there’s no other way. You too can do it yourself; you got this far on your own.

  • Dear Eric,

    This was a great review of your experience. I uploaded to Smashwords 10 months ago, have had little sales, and as you found, most of my sales are on Kindle. What this post did is nudge me to look into uploading independent of Smashwords to B & N, and Google Partners. Thanks for the nudge and good luck on your 42 titles, I am soo impressed.

  • Holy cow! I just received an email that I sold a copy of one of my books on Scribd. I made $7.59 on a $9.99 list price–76%.

    Do I have to rethink my whole marketing strategy? Could it happen again? Dare I hope? Need I pray?

  • I posted just yesterday about BN support (or lack thereof) on my blog. Really odd to have to search and search just to find a support-type addie. They don’t seem to have “Author pages” either. Amazon has spoiled me.

    Thanks for this article. I had thought about some of the other eBook platforms; your info is instructive.

    Congrats on the Scribd sale. I hope more will come!

  • I won’t bring it up again after this, but I’m stunned to report that Scribd has sold another book. That’s two!

    I realized the other day that Scribed offers me the only decent DRMed opportunity to sell the first of ten pictorials to revert to me. I have a great Acrobat pdf file, which is what Scribd wants, and their DRM system seems as foolproof as any. The file is longer than they ask for, but if they can figure out a way for me to upload it, I’ll give it a try and promo it on my two websites. It’s been a reasonably popular title, a reliable earner, since I first brought it out in 1998. I have no intention of offsetting it again, and POD is not a solution for pictorials, so Scribd appears to be the only shot it has to get back up for sale as a pictorial. (I’m also doing the 70,000-word text as a words-only POD trade paperback and ebook.)

  • Trish Benesh asked (offline) why I did not address Smashwords in my original rundown. Here’s my answer:

    I don’t mention Smashwords because I have no experience with it. I have no experience with it because I disdain it. I disdain it because it offers a weak rationale for overlooking any–much less effective–DRM. I’m a pro; my books are my legacy, and my legacy is fully monetized for my retirement, which begins in a few months. Why would I risk $x,000/month over non-DRMed books because one-size-fits-all Smashwords offers a lazy, insecure way out of the job of converting a lifetime’s corpus of work to today’s big thing?

    • RE: DRM. My POV is that those who understand DRM will find a way to bypass it regardless. Those who don’t probably aren’t the hacker types and won’t be sending a copy of your ebook all over the place – it will be one-use only. I could be wrong about that, of course. And I’m the type who doesn’t want any kind of DRM, as I give away ebooks for free.

      • I have zero to no faith in humans. I already found someone selling xerox copies of one of my books, I’ve had foreign publishers steal, and now I’m tracking down a miscreant who’s selling a tape he made by reading one of my books out loud.

        The essence of copyright protection is due diligence. If I stumble on a copyright infringement, I must act to mitigate it; if I don’t I stand to lose any and all copyright protection in that work. It is a royal pain in the ass to do the due diligence, so I’d rather make it that much harder for someone to steal. I know I can’t withstand the efforts of a hardened thief, but I can at least make life a little hard on him and maybe scare away the casual thief.

  • UPDATE: In the past few days, SCRIBD has taken to unreasonably rejecting books I have uploaded. One is by me, with my name on the cover and copyright page. The other is a book for which I provided a copy of the author-signed letter of agreement to publish.

    So far, Scribd had not deigned to respond to my responses to their notices. I thus cannot ascertain if they think it’s even remotely possible that someone else is posting my work and my author’s work.

    Though Scribd has sold only two books, ever, I believe they provide a reasonable preview service that is probably leading to sales via Kindle, et al. Nevertheless, if they’re so afraid of copyright issues as to ignore obvious data, and if they persist in their obnoxious non-response pattern, I’ll pull everything down. Life is too short to become enmeshed with this kind of imperious chickenshit behavior.

  • While having sympathy for DRM concerns, I feel that the service Smashwords provides is invaluable in its efficiency, care, and responsiveness. I too have published directly with Amazon DTP and have found the experience very good.

    No matter what etailer is used the crux as always is marketing. Sometimes it is the smaller ventures that yield most reward (Diesel were particularly surprising for me).

    Great article!

  • As one of those millions of iPad owners, I read dozens of books – on the Kindle app. Apple iBooks – none except free classics or manuscripts to work on.

    Thanks for sharing your real-time experiences. Invaluable.

  • Daniel

    Has anyone tryed publishing using liibook.com? It’s a tax-free startup platform that allows authors and publishing companies to sell eBooks in ePub format, keeping Copyright ownership and 100% of sales. I believe it’s getting bigger.