Monday, October 4, 2010

Do You Know Where Your Books Are Tonight?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Where are your books, and how are they being sold? You do find that out when considering a publisher or publishing contract, right? As in, what formats will they be available in, what webstores will offer them for sale, and in what parts of the world will they be available or not available?

After all, you want to sell as many copies as possible, which means being sure that readers can find and purchase your books with relative ease. So you need to understand things like territorial rights, distribution, online vendors, ebook formats, and DRM.

Here's an example of the WRONG way for a publisher to sell your books. Both these readers were trying to get the same ebook. It is a novella by a very popular author, available only in digital format, not print. (NOT an EC book.)

Reader #1 contacted EC in desperation. She knew we didn't publish the book, but she is a happy customer of EC and knew our service is excellent and helpful. She'd tried emailing the publisher and the ebook vendors selling the book, and gotten no assistance. Please, could we help her understand?

She is located outside the U.S., and when she tried to purchase the ebook from vendor sites, received messages that it was not available in her country. Huh? It's an ebook, she said, she just wants to download it, how can it be not available? So I explained "territorial rights" to her, that publishers contract for the right to sell the book either worldwide or in specific regions. In this case, apparently the publisher has only North American or U.S. or some other limited territorial rights. They cannot legally sell the book outside the specific region(s). The e-vendor systems check your location when you click to buy and cannot allow a sale outside the territory. [BTW, EC always contracts worldwide rights.] Oh, and because the ebook was DRMed, it was not possible for her to get a US friend to buy the ebook and email the file to her--the DRM makes that impossible.

Reader #2 was also desperate for the same ebook. She searched, and found it was only available on a few e-vendor sites, and in only three digital formats. None were the format she needed, and all were DRM-protected. Which meant she could not print it to read it, could not convert it to another format, could not move it from her PC to any other device. In other words, the digital formats available were useless to her.

I think you can guess what is unfortunately the readers' easiest or only solution for both these problems -- pirate sites. NOT what an author or publisher wants to happen, but the only way readers can get the book in these conditions.

Luckily, these were both honest and ethical people. Yes, they might be driven to downloading from a pirate site, but neither wanted to cheat the author out of her income from the book, did not want to "steal" it. Reader #1 swore she was mailing a check directly to the author. Reader #2 went back to a vendor site and purchased the ebook; she didn't bother downloading the to-her-unusable format, but her action assured that the publisher and author would receive payment for one purchased copy.

So if you as an author want to maximize your sales potential and decrease pirating, you need to pay attention to where and how your books are being sold. Make sure your readers can buy them!

(BTW, there is a slightly happier ending for anyone in Reader#2's position. This ebook is now offered at more e-vendors and in additional formats, including ePub, although it is still DRM-ed.)


Kimber Li said...

Thanks for bringing this up! It'd never occurred to me.

Anonymous said...

Another issue, though, is overpricing of ebooks. My novel length books that are published at EC are priced so high at the biggest venues like Amazon that readers take umbrage and also turn to pirate sites. You see a lot of comments on the pirate sites like "$9 for a digital book? It's not like they have to print it! I don't like being cheated! Greedy authors/publishers!" And one does wonder why they are priced so high when other publishers manage to price them at a more competitive rate. Of course, it would be wonderful if we could expect every reader to go to Amazon, see the high price, then visit Ellora's Cave to see if they can get it cheaper, but I suspect that rarely happens. I suspect they decide to simply purchase a cheaper book from another publisher.

So I have wondered why EC chooses to price themselves out of the market in those venues and turn off prospective customers? Seems like it hurts the authors as much as these other issues. I do not mean to step on toes but as an author I've noticed my 5.99ish priced ebooks from other publishers outsell my $9-10 EC ebooks at places like Amazon 5-to-1. I'm wondering if Ellora's Cave ever plans to bring their big-retailer pricing more in line with their competitors. I am actually thinking about taking my future manuscripts elsewhere rather than take the loss in sales.

Anonymous said...

Bitching about ebook prices is something some people will always do - no matter how cheap. And it isn't what makes them go to pirate sites. Stealing is stealing - if you can't pay the price for something, you just don't buy it, you don't go somewhere else and steal it and then sanctimoniously say it is all the fault of the manufacturer for pricing the goods more than you wanted to pay.

Many Amazon ebooks are priced WAY above 9.99 and still sell like crazy. Price does not stop sales to honest customers, it just provides an excuse to thieves.

The prices are what they are because the seller (Amazon and all the others) takes half or more. The author still wants their royalties, the publisher still has costs to cover and needs to make a profit. So ask yourself why Amazon gets such a huge cut when their actual expenses are miniscule compared to publisher's expenses.

Authors have a choice. If they don't like a publisher's pricing, they can try to publish elsewhere, but have to balance that their sales may be a lot lower at less popular e-publishers.

ECPI Editors said...

Hi, Kimber An,

Yep, it's another facet of the frantically changing and expanding publishing world. Years ago, the issue was would your book be hardcover or paperback. Then ebooks came along, but they were mostly only available at the e-publishers' sites. Then in the last year or two, the third-party vendor sites (Amazon, B&N, Sony, etc, etc) became the main source for most people to buy ebooks. And that's what's brought up all the issues of what sites are selling your books in what formats, and in what parts of the world. Just another complexity publishers and authors need to deal with now.


ECPI Editors said...

Posts that are off-topic and inappropriate will be removed from any discussions. "Anonymous" blog trolls who bend a topic to whine about their pet peeves are not acceptable. Lively discussion is encouraged, contrary opinions are fine, but they must be on topic--which in this case is the distribution and availability aspects of ebooks.

Thank you.