The world of books, including both print and digital formats, is still struggling to find the way forward. Translation: publishing companies everywhere are seeking ways to monetize the process in sustainable fashion. Oh, sure … many have made their fortune on what are basically get-rich-quick schemes (in most cases, get richer quick), selling overpriced services to authors while filling their heads with dreams of a world anxiously awaiting their best-seller.
A typical teaser: “Your book will be available to stores everywhere, and to millions (if not billions) of readers around the globe.” True, it will be available to stores and to readers, but without someone marketing, advertising, and promoting it to give those stores and people a reason to buy your book, they won’t. They won’t even know it exists.
Worse yet for the newbie author is the competition. Where tens of thousands of books were once published in a given year, that number now represents only about two weeks of new titles in the US. While they aren’t all necessarily great work, they represent a huge number of authors, making it harder than ever to get noticed.
All the hype in recent years about e-books drew the attention of many writers hoping to reach large audiences easily and earn great riches. But it was the companies promoting that “business plan” who earned the riches. Most unknown authors remained so, while the already famous added mightily to their own fortunes.
For individuals hoping to enter the market, important new statistics were revealed by recent studies, including some Pew research findings. During the past year, print books were read by 75 percent of Americans. Despite the impression that e-reading is dominant, just 4 percent read only e-books. The significance of that surprisingly low number is enhanced by another finding: half of all American adults now own some type of e-reader or tablet.
One problem affecting e-books is the e-readers themselves. With multiple capabilities come the distractions of checking email and Facebook, monitoring the news, tweeting, and so forth. A printed book maintains focus by offering only two options: read it or not.
The same distractions are believed at least partially responsible for the lagging e-textbook market. Students discovered that effective studying was hampered by the many options at hand. Instead of relying on will power to resist, like in dieting, we’re sometimes best served by removing temptation. In this case, the solution was no bells and whistles—just paper pages.
Folks who use e-readers are deemed more dedicated, reading an average of two dozen books per year, while print readers are at about half that total. But the two dozen can be misleading, considering that some folks count things like Kindle Singles as books. In print form, many of those “books” would barely constitute a chapter, sometimes consisting of only a few thousand words. (Some of my “victims” would say they barely constitute an email!)
Another curiosity is that 60 percent of downloaded e-books remain unread. Again, that appears related to the multiple capabilities of e-readers. Advertisers urge users to collect a personal library, which is great fun, but the practice often ends at collecting. There’s just too much else that a tablet can provide in the way of entertainment, mindless as much of it is.
Surprising to me was the list of reasons why people choose to stick with print books. Touch, feel, and sentimentality would, I thought, fall victim to amazing technology, but they are the primary reasons most people give for clinging to print books. Next on the list, almost equals, are learning and sharing, common components in the print world, but not so much the e-world.
Least surprising of all was the income earned by writers, this from the 2014 Digital Book World & Writer’s Digest Author Survey. Most writers claim a preference for traditional publishing, but the results aren’t great: 53.9 percent of those authors make less than $1000 per year from writing.
For those who choose self-publishing, the numbers are even worse: 77 percent earn less than $1000 annually. One important piece of advice to garner from those numbers: don’t be average. Estimate your book’s potential sales; develop a selling plan; follow it; stay alert for new opportunities; and do it all with one keyword in mind—persistence. That formula, behind a well-produced product, lends itself to success.
Perhaps surprising in general, but less so to me as a book publisher, is that only 22 percent of authors in the survey cited profit as “extremely important.” And yet 58 percent of the same group said it was “extremely important” to “publish a book that people will buy.”
Despite sounding contradictory, it reveals that the ultimate goal of writers is to be read by many people. Financial profit is only of secondary consideration for most authors.
But I repeat here what I’ve said in the past: profit is being earned on successful books, and the authors who create the work generating those profits deserve a bigger piece of the pie.
Photo by John Warren.