Monday, March 17, 2014

Lawrence Gooley: Print and E-book News

Books Image JW01The 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.

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.


3 Responses

  1. Henry says:

    You will be happy to know that my kids, who grew up with every electronic device available, both can often be seen curled up on the couch reading printed books. They look at books as an escape from all the bells and whistles of their everyday lives.

  2. I think people focus too much on the differences between e-books and physical books, as though there is some sort of “moral” advantage to the latter, as though leafing through the pages of a physical book is a brave stand against soulless technology.

    I don’t buy it.

    I have an iPad. I still read both physical books and e-books.

    And contrary to all the ‘sky is falling’ stuff I heard, I actually read MORE since I got an e-reader. I usually read two books at once: one fiction, one non-fiction. If I’m in a noisy place or on a bus or train, I may not to read the book that requires deeper thinking. With an e-reader, I can choose switch to whatever book fits my mood or situation.

    For me, it’s not about sentimentality or somesuch. It’s practical. If I’m a little short of money, I’ll get a book from the library. Their e-book collection is sadly sparse, so library book = physical book. If I have a little more cash, I’ll buy an e-book. The demise of the bookstore in my town means I rarely actually buy physical books anymore.

    And frankly, it’s a little easier on the arms to read a huge book on an e-reader.

  3. But Mr. Gooley is right to point out the double-edged sword of the self-publishing boom. It makes it easier for you to publish your book. But it also makes it easier for everyone else to public their book. It’s far easier to get lost in the shuffle. It puts more onus on the author to do the marketing and such that was once expected of the publisher.