How the E-Book Is Reinventing the Book Business

What do Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Apple’s iPad have in common? What about authors like Stephen King, Barbara Freethy, C.J. Lyons, Amanda Hocking and Michael Prescott? If you said they represent the changing book publishing industry, you would be right. The book business is going through a major transformation. Who will the winners and losers be among publishers, stores and authors?

Just as the iPod changed the music industry a decade ago, e-books are changing the publishing world right now. The rule book is being rewritten, and lessons in success and failure are coming from new and unexpected places.

As an author myself, I am interested in following this changing industry. So I will be writing about this topic often, getting thoughts and ideas from authors, publishers, readers and investors as the publishing world changes.

A Transforming Industry

One thing is for certain: For better or worse, things are changing. There are plenty of benefits to this new e-reader model. Of course, there are also plenty of benefits to regular books as well. That’s why I believe both will continue for quite a while.

However this e-book revolution is so new and growing so quickly, it is important to dig in and understand it better as a reader, author, publisher and Web store.

I wrote a book in the 1990s. By the time I wrote my second, a year and a half ago, the industry had changed. Now it has changed again. And we are still just in the first inning of this new game.

Of course, popular authors and publishers who lead today may continue, but there will be many new faces and names in the leadership column going forward.

Look at all the brand new e-book publishing companies in the marketplace. Many of them are growing rapidly. This opens up opportunities for many other companies to support them as well. Many existing and brand new authors are finding their way to this new category.

Understanding this new world can be complicated. Some of these publishers work with both real books and e-books, while others just work with e-books. How you get paid from each is different as well. Understanding this changing industry can be a challenge to wrap your arms around, but this chaos is where new leaders are born.

Author Stephen King is a leader in this revolution. A decade ago, he was the first to publish a book online. That was before there were any e-books or any books online. He wrote one chapter at a time, published it as it was completed, and emailed it to those on his list.

King is an explorer. An adventurer. Breaking old models. Changing the terms of his contracts with publishers time and time again. He stretched the way the publishing industry thought about delivering its product.

We’ve seen this same transformation change the music and movie business. Over years, they evolved from many different tapes, to disks like CDs, and now files that can be downloaded from the Web. And it is not over.

This transformation was exciting — but devastating to the status quo and expensive for users. We could no longer play the media we already purchased on the new devices. Like you, in my basement I have boxes of old VCR and cassette tapes of movies and books that can never be used again. That is unfair to the customer.

However, books never changed. You can still read books the same way you did ages ago. That is the good part. Reading with e-books expands the book world.

That’s the beauty of the Web. Downloading files changes everything, because a file is just a file. Any device you have can still play that file. So we won’t have to re-buy our entire library time after time. No more waste.

E-Book Wave

The book business has just started to ride the new e-book wave over the last few years. Starting with the iPad and Kindle, then with the Nook, the Sony Reader and others.

This has started a chain reaction. Today, both Amazon and B&N are rushing as fast as they can to get their e-book readers into the hands of all their customers. Both are similar in some ways and different in others and excellent.

While the traditional book publishing industry still exists, suddenly new and existing publishers and authors are entering the space, changing the economics of the business, and doing things in entirely new ways.

The number of Americans owning e-readers has increased from 18 percent in Dec. 2011 to 29 percent in Jan. 2012. That’s a roughly 11 percent increase over two months. E-books have arrived.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and VP and Publisher Larry Kirshbaum are focused on changing the book industry. Not destroying the old, like Apple does, but simply adding the new and letting them both compete in the marketplace.

Today we are seeing existing print authors who saw limited success in the traditional book-publishing industry become very successful on their own in the new e-book revolution.

We see authors like Barbara Freethy, C.J. Lyons, Amanda Hocking and Michael Prescott breaking into this new world.

These authors and publishers are writing the new rule book as we speak. Things work much differently in the e-book world. The rules of success are very different from what they used to be.

Prices of e-books are often lower for readers. This is creating an entirely new model for this segment going forward. Books are often starting at the 99-cent range and go up to a few dollars.

Today, success comes from understanding how to market online. Understanding the Internet and all the online e-bookstores like Amazon, B&N, Apple and many others.

Of course, you also have to be a good writer. That goes without saying. However, if you can write, and if you can find your audience, you can do very well in the e-book world. It’s just a matter of finding your readers, and letting them find you.

In the traditional book publishing business, you would have to find an agent, then find a publisher, then find bookstores for distribution. All of that was in the hope of readers finding your book and coming back for more.

Smaller niche authors had a hard time breaking in, because the business was looking for big time successful authors like Nicholas Sparks, John Grisham, Stephen King and Janet Evanovich.

This e-book revolution is creating an entry point for so many brand new authors. It lets authors find their audience and become successful without involving all the others in the complicated mix.

That is the challenge, however. Finding your audience and letting them find you.

One question I have is, how do new authors do this exactly? How do they find their audience? If you have experience with this, drop me an email and let me know what works and what doesn’t.

New Rules

Think of the marketplace as a giant pie with all sorts of slices. Even a tiny slice has a few million people in the United States and millions more worldwide. Most authors don’t have to be as popular as Harry Potter’s J.K. Rowling to be successful.

Yesterday, publishers would have to preprint books in the thousands and try and convince bookstores to display them, front and center, in the hope they would be sold. This did not play to the author’s advantage. After a while, they would disappear, making room for the next wave of new books. Limited real estate in stores.

Today, things are much different. Today, there are publishers who will print one single book at a time. A customer finds the book online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or tons of other sites, orders the book, and a single copy is printed, shipped and delivered to the customer in about a week.

That is a complete remake of the old model. And that is for a hard copy of a book. What about e-books? They can be purchased online and downloaded immediately. You can be reading within moments.

The economic reality of book publishing is changing for both authors and publishers. Typically, the less well known the author, the lower the price. This makes it easier for first-time readers to try you without risk. Often, authors charge 99 cents for a few books to let readers see if they like the author. Then their next books are higher priced.

In the 1990s, I wrote a book called Winning Communications Strategies. It was published in the traditional way. I visited bookstores and did signings. Books were printed and shipped to stores all over the country.

Last year, I published another book, called Life After Stroke, and I realized the entire industry was reinventing itself.

I chose FastPencil as my publisher. This time, everything was easy and done online. I wrote and submitted the book. They had an editor work with me on finishing the product. They had an artist create the front cover. Then, when I approved everything, they put it online. This is the new world of publishing.

This time, the book is not sitting on bookstore shelves. Instead, if is found online at many sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and many others. A single copy is printed as it is ordered, one at a time. What an incredible concept.

Then the reader has a choice. It can be purchased as a regular, hard copy book and delivered in a week, or as an e-book, which can be downloaded instantly. As you can see, the book publishing industry has changed dramatically.

CreateSpace is another company that is in the same business. It is a separate company but owned by Amazon. Lulu is another. In fact, there are countless other new e-publishing companies that are transforming the industry.

And the business continues to change. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are stretching even further. Authors can upload books for sale through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) group, or through B&N PublT. Books published on these sites are e-books only, and available for sale only on the Amazon or B&N sites.

Because of the nonexclusive agreements authors have with these sites, they can publish and sell their work on a variety of different sites with a variety of different companies.

This does mean lots of control, but also lots of additional work for authors managing the process. It also means earnings are much higher than with traditional publishing. Depending on the agreement, an author’s earnings can range from around 35 percent to 70 percent.

In fact, this level of time-consuming work may open up the door to a new opportunity. A kind of book agent who helps an author do all of this time consuming work. Helps authors build their brand and success. Keeping up with this changing environment can be a full-time job, so this sounds like a natural next step.

This e-book revolution is changing the book publishing space quickly and completely. Whether you lead, follow, or are lost in the chaos of this new revolution is the only question. Readers love it. They have the choice of buying the old-fashioned way at a store, buying a book online, or buying an e-book instantly.

This is an incredible new opportunity for authors and publishers, but there are plenty of risks as well. Not everyone will be successful.

I’ll write more on this interesting topic. One thing I guarantee, this is a change we cannot stop. This new wave is sweeping across the landscape and transforming everything.

So learn the new rules, embrace the changes, and ride this new wave to success. This new e-book story is a bestseller, and it is just getting started.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a tech analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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