Monday, March 21, 2011

Ebooks and Self-Publishing - A Dialog Between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath

Editor's Note: Would you turn down $500K and a two-book deal with a major publisher and self-publish these books yourself? Well, one NYT bestselling author made such a choice. In an unusual move, I have linked today's post to an article that appeared on A NEWBIE'S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING last Saturday as NYT bestselling author Barry Eisler and self-publishing advocate Joe Konrath  discuss this decision and the reasons behind it. Part of the interview appears here, with a link back to the rest of the article. This article helps authors and readers learn about what is happening in the publishing industry today. (Warning: A little profanity slips through in their excitement).

This is a live Google docs discussion. It examines the history and mechanics of the publishing industry as it exists today, analyzes the way the digital revolution reflects recent events in Egypt and the Maghreb, and considers a completely inappropriate YouTube video featuring a randy monkey and an unlucky frog. It clocks in at 13,000 words, and reveals some pretty startling things.
We encourage everyone reading the conversation to comment, and to tweet and otherwise link to it. You also have our permission to copy all or any part of it, provided you link back.
If you'd prefer to read this on your ereader, you can download various versions for free here. This zip file (you need WinZip to open it; a free trial is here) contains doc, pdf, epub, and mobi formats, so it can be uploaded to Kindles, Nooks, Sony Readers, Kobos, and pretty much any other device.
You can also go to Smashwords and get various formats for free, or to Amazon or B&N to get those formats for 99 cents (they wouldn't allow us to post for free.) It's also posted in full on Barry's blog.
Our goal is to get this information out there, because it benefits authors and could theoretically make legacy publishers smarter. Please help us spread the word. Thanks.

And I almost forgot. This recent blog post of mine where I mentioned my anonymous friend? It was Barry.

Joe: To the casual observer, you appear to be heavily invested in the legacy publishing system. They’ve been good to you, they helped you get onto the NYT bestseller list, made you wealthy with several large deals, and seem to have treated you fairly.
Barry: Well, I don’t know about wealthy, but I’ve been making a living writing novels for almost a decade now, which is a pretty great way to live.
Joe: You had six-figure and seven-figure deals. Logic dictates anyone offered a deal like that should leap at it.
Barry: You wouldn’t.
Joe: But I never had the treatment you had from legacy publishers. I would walk away from a big deal now, most certainly, because I have two years of data proving I can do better on my own.
However, what if a NYT bestseller were offered, say, half a million dollars for two books?
Or, more specifically, let's say you were offered that.
You'd take it. Right?
Barry: Well, I guess not... ;)
Joe: So... no BS... you were just offered half a mil, and you turned it down?
Barry: Yes.
Joe: Holy shit!
Barry: I know it’ll seem crazy to a lot of people, but based on what’s happening in the industry, and based on the kind of experience writers like you are having in self-publishing, I think I can do better in the long term on my own.
Joe: Holy shit!
Sorry. That needed to be said twice.
Barry: It’s okay, I like when you talk dirty.
We are living in remarkable times, aren’t we?
Joe: Indeed. "Barry Eisler Walks Away From $500,000 Deal to Self-Pub" is going to be one for the Twitter Hall of Fame.
Barry: Here’s something that happened about a year ago. Anecdotal, but still telling, I think. My wife and daughter and I were sitting around the dinner table, talking about what kind of contract I would do next, and with what publisher. And my then eleven-year-old daughter said, “Daddy, why don’t you just self-publish?”
And I thought, wow, no one would have said something like that even a year ago. I mean, it used to be that self-publishing was what you did if you couldn’t get a traditional deal. And if you were really, really lucky, maybe the self-published route would lead to a real contract with a real publisher.
But I realized from that one innocent comment from my daughter that the new generation was looking at self-publishing differently. And that the question--“Should I self-publish?”--was going to be asked by more and more authors going forward. And that, over time, more and more of them were going to be answering the question, “Yes.”

This is exactly what’s happening now. I’m not the first example, though I might be a noteworthy one because of the numbers I’m walking away from. But there will be others, more and more of them.

Joe: Over a year ago, you wrote a Huffington Post blog called Paper Earthworks, Digital Tides. You basically predicted that digital would become the preferred reading format...
Barry: You’re being kind to me--you predicted that switch way before I caught on to it. In that blog post, I was more building on what I’ve learned from you. But my general point was that digital was going to become more and more attractive relative to paper. First, because the price of digital readers would continue to drop while the functionality would continue to increase; second, because more and more titles would become available for digital download at the same time more brick and mortar stores were closing. In other words, everything about paper represented a static defense, while everything about digital represented a dynamic offense. Not hard to predict how a battle like that is going to end.
Apple sold 15 million iPads in 2010, and the iPad2 just went on sale. And Amazon sold eight million Kindle books in 2010--more digital books, in fact, than paperbacks. Meanwhile, Borders is shuttering 224 stores. So I think it’s safe to say the trends I just mentioned are continuing. And the trends reinforce each other: the Borders in your neighborhood closes, so you try a low-priced digital reader, and you love the lower cost of digital books, the immediate delivery, the adjustable font, etc... and you never go back to paper. The reverse isn’t happening: people aren’t leaving digital for paper. There’s a ratchet effect in favor of digital.
Joe: In the history of technology, when people begin to embrace the new media tech, it winds up dominating the marketplace. CDs over vinyl and tapes, DVD over VHS. The Internet over newspapers. Even Priceline over travel agents--
Barry: Yes! Sorry to interrupt, but this is something that interests me so much. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard saying, “But paper isn’t going to disappear.” That isn’t the point! If you ask the wrong question, the right answer to that question isn’t going to help you. So the question isn’t, “Will paper disappear?” Of course it won’t, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that paper is being marginalized. Did firearms eliminate the bow and arrow? No--some enthusiasts still hunt with a bow. Did the automobile eliminate the horse and buggy? No--I can still get a buggy ride around Central Park if I want.
Now, some new technologies really have completely displaced their forebears. For example, there’s no such thing as eight-track tape anymore. And yet some people still do listen to their music on vinyl, despite the advent of mp3 technology. The question, then, is what advantages does the previous technology retain over the new technology? If the answer is “none,” then the previous technology will become extinct, like eight-track. If the answer is “some,” then the question is, how big a market will the old technology continue to command based on those advantages?
Joe: You’re talking about niche markets.
Barry: Exactly.
Joe: We’ve discussed this before. Paper won’t disappear, but that’s not the point. The point is, paper will become a niche while digital will become the norm.
Barry: Agreed. Lots of people, and I’m one of them, love the way a book feels. I used to like the way books smelled, too, before publishers started using cheap paper. And you can see books on your shelf, etc... those are real advantages, but they’re only niche advantages. Think candles vs electric lights. There are still people making a living today selling candles, and that’s because there’s nothing like candlelight--but what matters is that the advent of the electric light changed the candle business into a niche. Originally, candlemakers were in the lighting business; today, they’re in the candlelight business. The latter is tiny by comparison to the former. Similarly, today publishers are in the book business; tomorrow, they’ll be in the paper book business. The difference is the difference between a mass market and a niche.
Joe: I also love print books. I have 5000 of them. But print is just a delivery system. It gets a story from the writer to the reader. For centuries, publishers controlled this system, because they did the printing, and they were plugged into distribution. But with retailers like Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, the story can get to the reader in a faster, cheaper way.
And publishers aren't needed.
Do you think publishers are aware of that?
Barry: I think they’re extremely aware of it, but they don’t understand what it really means.
Joe: I believe they've gotten their business model mixed-up. They should be connecting readers with the written word. Instead, they're insisting on selling paper.
Barry: Yes. There’s a saying about the railroads: they thought they were in the railroad business, when in fact they were in the transportation business. So when the interstate highway system was built and trucking became an alternative, they were hit hard.
Likewise, publishers have naturally conflated the specifics of their business model with the generalities of the industry they’re in. As you say, they’re not in the business of delivering books by paper--they’re in the business of delivering books. And if someone can do the latter faster and cheaper than they can, they’re in trouble.

For the entire article click on this link to A NEWBIE"S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING

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