Ebooks: How LDS Publishers Are Doing it Wrong


Whether you're a dyed-in-the-wool printed book person or a cutting-edge digital connoisseur, there is one truth that must be faced.

Ebooks are here to stay.

No, they're not a fad.

Yes, they'll change and morph. Various e-readers will go in and out of style. But they're here.

Deal with it.


(I say that in the most respectful way possible, while yelling at my computer.)

In my opinion, here are a few mistakes that LDS publishers are making:
  • They don't have their books available in any ebook format.
    I did a spot check from the 2009 LDS Fiction list and only about 1/4th of the titles I checked are available on Amazon as Kindle files. (None of my spot check books were available for Sony, the second largest ebook reader.) (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.)

    This is just—erm—dumb. It isn't that hard to convert your press files to ebooks. Really. It's an extra income stream with very little investment—and that income stream is only going to grow. It's also a great way to keep your backlist titles available without reprinting.
  • They have (some) ebooks, but they're exclusive to ONE reader.
    Why? I just don't get that. The Nook is doing great sales, but it hasn't surpassed the other two main readers yet. By giving them exclusivity to your titles, you're limiting your readership. A lot. Maybe you were offered a sweeter deal for exclusivity, but IMHO, I just don't think it will be worth it in the long run.

  • They have ebooks but they're the same price as the print books.
    What?!? My jaw hit the floor when I saw this last week. No, no, no. You just can't do that. Well, I guess you can if you want to, but I won't be buying any of them.

    Ebooks should be $9.99 or less. (My vote is less because really, once you've created the file you have NO PRINT or STORAGE COSTS, NO RISK of having thousands of copies sitting in the warehouse that don't sell.) (I wish I could link to an example but when I went back to Amazon, I couldn't find it. If you know of an example, put the link in the comments section.)
Now that most of the readers make their software available FOR FREE for PCs, iPhones and other smart phones, even more readers will be purchasing ebooks.

Publishers need to join the 21st century and make their titles available to all readers.

Okay. Go ahead. Argue with me.


Wm Morris said...

No arguments here. The only thing I would add is to make sure that you create the best experience available in the format you are using. It isn't *hard* to convert your press files to ebook formats, but you do need to put some effort and time in to it. If your ebooks are of poor quality (and again -- the idea is to make them as nicely laid out and presented as the formats allow), that will turn consumers off.

Marny said...

It may not be hard to do, but it is obnoxious and time consuming. Even if you don't do what Wm. suggests (but you should). Granted I've only done one, but oy! I could have charged four times what I did based on time alone. I hope I get faster with practice.

Andy Lemmon said...

I disagree slightly with you on pricing. For a brand new book, (especially if it's only available in hardcover) I would be willing to pay a bit more than $9.99. Above $14.99 is pushing it though.

As for a book that is available in paperback, as long as the print copy is below $9.99, I would be willing to buy an e-book at the same price (though I'd definitely prefer it to be cheaper due to the difference in per/copy costs).

I would definitly like to see more LDS titles available in e-formats, and definitely not exclusive to the Nook.

Wm Morris said...

You want obnoxious? Try web development of a feature rich site that requires java, flash, CSS and html. It's not fun.

But, yes, it's obnoxious that there are at least 3 formats you need to learn to develop for at the moment (EPUB, eReader/PDB and Kindle/AZW).

Some decent introductions to ebooks that can be found in AMV's neck of the woods:

Electronic publishing part I
Electronic publishing part II (a two-part interview with Moriah Jovan aka MoJo)

Eugene Woodbury on Creating a Kindle ebook

Abel Kegoh said...

You nailed it. It's sad that they've taken this route. Making ebooks available could not only pad their bottom line, but would make them more accessible to LDS members in different parts of the world who want to read them but can't.

Melanie Goldmund said...

Speaking of ebooks, LDSP, have you heard about this *ahem* debate between amazon and MacMillan Publishers, and do you have an opinion on that? If you haven't heard about it, go to John Brown's site for an overview and some good links.

I agree with Abel Kegoh -- ebooks are accessable from all over the world, and the fame of LDS literature could be spread far and wide with relatively low costs if more LDS publishers would make them available. And customers should have the choice of which format they want to use.

Zach said...

Well, since you issued the invitation...

I agree with Andy, saying that pricing for new books, esp. those only available in hardcover, can and arguably should be a little higher - up to 14.99. Meanwhile, if it's available in paperback, that price should go down.

I've been reading a lot of articles talking about ebooks having flexible pricing over time, so a new book would start high, and over time the price would drop until it hit something around 4.99. That allows people who are die hard fans of an author to support the author/series/etc early, and recoup some of the costs of making the files in the first place. Over time, and perhaps mirroring the HardBack, Trade, Mass Market kind of distribution points, the price on the ebook can be adjusted downward to encourage sales. If you have a paperback available for 8.99, and an ebook for 4.99, at that point, the ebook is an impulse purchase, about the price of a combo meal at Wendy's, and I think you'd move units there - without having to recreate/reformat/re-edit the ebook at all.

I agree that the ebooks are here to stay - though we're still debating what devices we'll use to read them on. Personally, I like my iPhone for it - I can read ePub, Kindle, or eReader files on the same device, and I'm not tied to a particular store. I have the same always-on access to the different outlets, and I've always got the thing with me. The device is a matter of personal preference - the place to be is in the position of content provider - and to do that in as platform-agnostic a manner as possible.

Kate said...

Ebooks should be $9.99 or less. (My vote is less because really, once you've created the file you have NO COSTS, NO RISK.)

I think they should be less precisely because of the NO COST, NO RISK. Are publishers worried no one will buy print books anymore? Are they using ebook sales to try and recoup editing and printing costs? The pricing makes no sense to me. The first ebook a publisher formats will naturally be higher in cost to fabricate, but after that the price drops drastically.

I feel like the industry is trying too hard to convince me that ebooks are more expensive to produce than consumers think. This is unbelievable not only to me but also to the biggest population of potential ebook buyers: teenagers. It's not good practice to alienate your buyers. Remember the music industry?

Paul West said...

And speaking of "once you've created the file you have NO COSTS, NO RISK."

Who created the file in the first place? The author. He/she has all the risk. The editor only has to make editorial changes to the file. So what's their cost? Nil. What's their risk? Nil.

Moriah Jovan said...

Who created the file in the first place? The author. He/she has all the risk. The editor only has to make editorial changes to the file. So what's their cost? Nil. What's their risk? Nil.




You are an author, Mr. West. Do YOU want to make that ebook file? Do YOU want to convert your Word document into an XHTML file that you will then have to run through seven different programs to get five different formats?

Do you have ANY IDEA what goes into making an ebook?

CLEARLY, you do not.

No, the author doesn't do it unless he's self-publishing and is savvy that way.

No, the editor doesn't do it.

The book designers (who have NO IDEA what to do out of InDesign because they are DESIGNERS and not CODERS) do it and they do it BADLY.

Also? No risk?



The E in ebooks is for EDITING. All the sunk costs of a print book also belong to the ebook with the ADDITIONAL expense of formatting, which, I can assure you, is EXPENSIVE if you hire me (and a lot of people do) and TIME CONSUMING if you learn how to do it yourself.

You can amortize the cost of a book across formats: hardback, trade, mass market paperback, and ebook if you want. However, the actual cost is PER TITLE, not PER FORMAT.

The $9.99 price point is where it's going to cap because Amazon said so, whether anybody likes it or not.

You cannot trade ebooks. You cannot re-sell them. You cannot loan them. The big publishers bind theirs up in Digital Rights Management (DRM), making them nearly useless.

Their added value--other than the content--is in convenience and impulse purchasing. Period.

No cost? Again I call shenanigans.

It costs plenty, especially in time if you can't afford to pay for formatting.

Ask Marny. Ask Karlene. This is the School of Hard Knocks for those of us who cannot afford to hire it out.

And let me tell you something else. When *I* started, THERE WAS NO ONE TO HIRE.

I am TRYING, across the web, to make it VERY CLEAR that ebooks cost almost NOTHING less to produce.

However, perception is truth and people PERCEIVE their value as much less because the artist's words apparently aren't enough value. No. It has to be all prettily packaged up in a $1.35 paper-and-blue binding for it to have value.

So. Ebooks cost less because consumers perceive them to be of less value.

What they are NOT worth is hardback or trade price, and that is the debate, not whether they are worth mass market paperback value or not.


The big publishers are pricing ebooks to KILL THEM. They hate them. They believe they will cannibalize hardback sales, which is their only profit margin and it's slim at that.

They will tell you that the price of ebooks is because of all the DRM they have to pay for to lock down their books from piracy (which is ineffective).

First, they do not have to incur that cost. They CHOOSE to incur that cost.

Second, piracy has been shown to boost sales, but they CHOOSE not to see this.

However, the truth is that they are not pricing them to cover any costs. They are pricing them to keep you from buying them.

Moriah Jovan said...

I am TRYING, across the web, to make it VERY CLEAR that ebooks cost almost NOTHING less to produce.

That should say:

...nothing LESS to produce.

Paul West said...

Moriah, thanks for the explanation, but you don't need to shout at me. I'm not deaf (blind).

The reason I say the author has all the risk, or at lest the lion's share of the risk, and the editor only has to make editorial changes to the file, is because I'm not totally ignorant of what goes into an electronic book ("E" does not stand for editing).

I produce e-formats every day. I also have written one novel and am half way through a second. I know what it takes to write a novel and it's not easy. It takes a LOT of work, research, time, and patience to write, edit, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite again. I really think the author is the one who takes most of the risk and gets cheated by low royalties.

As for the editor, he/she only has to make editorial changes and send it off to the e-book formatter. The story is already in electronic format (i.e. MS Word, or RTF), so how difficult can it be to translate one of these formats into e-book format?

I do it every day. For a huge book it may take 10 to up to 30 minutes.

Elucidate me if I'm wrong.

Moriah Jovan said...

"E" does not stand for editing

The discussion was cost. Editing is the biggest portion of the cost of an ebook. It was pointed sarcasm, which I see was lost.

I produce e-formats every day.

Which ones?

I do XHTML, EPUB, IMP, LIT, MOBI/PRC, PDB on a regular basis. That doesn't include the PDF, which goes to the printer (for which I switch hats and become an interior book designer). IMO, PDF is not an ebook. It's a document file.

I also have written one novel and am half way through a second.

Okay, well, I've written nine, published two, and my third published is coming out April 24, 2011. So, I kind of understand the whole writering thing.

I really think the author is the one who takes most of the risk and gets cheated by low royalties.

There we do not disagree. That's why I started my own publishing company. I take the risk, I reap the profit and leave the concept of "royalties" behind.

As for the editor, he/she only has to make editorial changes and send it off to the e-book formatter.

Yes, I know. That's why I said the editor doesn't make changes to the ebook file. The editor makes changes to the DOC/RTF file and sends it off to the ebook formatter.

The story is already in electronic format (i.e. MS Word, or RTF), so how difficult can it be to translate one of these formats into e-book format?

I told you. In my previous post.

BTW, a DOC/RTF is not an ebook. It's a word processing document.

I do it every day. For a huge book it may take 10 to up to 30 minutes.

What, exactly, are you doing that takes 10 to 30 minutes? Elucidate ME. Because I'd love to have a workflow process that takes me max 30 minutes for 5 electronic formats, each requiring a different CSS--and a rogue GUI program that provides almost no flexibility whatsoever for format #6.

I would be ever so grateful if you could teach me how to do it in 30 minutes.

Marny said...

The comment below was posted to a publisher's email group I belong to by Marion Gropen (www.GropenAssoc.com), who used to work for a large publisher, and is copied here by permission. We were discussing the Amazon-Macmillian thing and what it costs a New York publisher to publish an ebook:

"Let's also suppose, as may well happen in the mid-term future, that the main type of sales are electronic for some trade books, and that the sales volume doesn't drop catastrophically. And let's also give costs in today's dollars.

"So, the author needs to make something like the $1.50 per copy that most non-fiction trade authors are making now. The marketing will still require something like $0.50 per copy. The editorial cost per title (acquisitions, copy and line-editing) will still average something like $4,500 per title. And the design cost for the marketing images (which once were covers) and all the ancillary images, titles, etc. will run another $2,000. Format conversion, and tagging to allow future conversions, and metadata, registrations, and so on, will probably run another $2,000 per title.

"Before overhead, then, we've got something like $6500 in fixed costs, and $2.00 per copy. If the book sells 10,000 copies (low, but not that low), then we're looking at $2.65 per copy for direct expenses, and another 50 cents in overhead and margins, for $3.15.

"That works, even if Amazon is still taking a mammoth chunk.

"It doesn't work if you sell 1,000 copies. Then the author is getting a pittance, and the cost per copy is more like $8.50 in direct expenses, and $13.50, if you include overhead and some profit.

"You can see why the larger publishers are fighting to keep their pricing options open. They're afraid that the sales volume for books will drop as precipitously as it has for music, and they'll have to keep body and soul together on nothing per year."

LDS_Publisher said...

"once you've created the file you have NO COSTS, NO RISK."

I updated to clarify. I meant, aside from the cost of creating the files themselves, there is no additional printing, storage, or shipping costs and there is no risk that you'll end up with a bunch of printed copies sitting in your warehouse gathering dust.

Of course, there's a cost to creating the files. And if you're only doing e-books, then yes, you have all the associated design, editing, marketing/promo costs mentioned by Marny.

BUT if you're already doing a print book, there's not that much extra cost to also do an e-book at the same time. This gives you an extra sales avenue with an ever-increasing customer base that you didn't have before, with very little extra time, effort and/or cost (in comparison to the cost and risk of printing).

LDS_Publisher said...

Oh, and since I got my Kindle, I've purchased MANY MORE books than ever before, precisely because they're cheaper and I can afford to buy more.

Also because they're easy to carry around.

And I can buy them in the middle of the night without leaving my bed.

Marion Gropen said...

Most of the discussions e-book pricing discussions I have seen start with the assumption that the ebook will be ancillary to the print book, and that the revenues and costs will be incremental.

That is generally true FOR NOW, but I very much doubt that it will hold for more than a few years.

The expectations we set now will establish the prices we can command even when print books are no longer the primary format.

Bearing that in mind, we cannot ignore the costs of producing an edition, and claim that the cost of converting the file, and compensating the author are all that the e-book needs to cover.

Much of my consulting practice involves helping small publishers figure out how to predict or improve their revenues, expenses, and cashflows. I'd like to think that this discussion will help everyone who reads it avoid needing that help.

John Brown said...

Yes, LDS publishers need to provide eversions. However $9.99 has no relationship to cost.

$9.99 is a psychological price point. That price was a marketing tactic used by Amazon to drive sales of Kindles. Other price points are $14.99, $19.99, $24.99, $4.99, 0.99 or even 0.97, etc.

I'm not going to repeat all the details here, but fixed costs, both the direct costs of a book and overhead costs, are higher than what's being related on this blog. Furthermore, you cannot look at the variable cost of an ebook and then determine the price. You cannot do this and keep your company profitable. You have to look at the MIX of products coming from that one property, the contribution margin each provides, and the volume you're moving.

Then you have to consider how that property plays with all the others. I link to a post by L.E. Modesitt who explains that 30-60% of books at a publishers in a given year do NOT earn enough to pay for their direct costs (fixed and variable). That means those costs have to be covered by the successful books.

Full explanation here: http://johndbrown.com/2010/02/amazon-vs-macmillan-the-heart-of-the-issue/

Joyce said...

It is now 2011 and still the quantity of books available for a reader other than the Kindle is very limited. Hopefully positive comments will encourage the publishers to create more ebooks for the wide variety of e-readers out on the market.

I am buying ebooks when I was not buying books (I don't like to have shelves of books - strange, I know!)

Brandon said...

Mr. Publisher. It's been interesting to read this post... but more interesting to read the comments. I think you are SPOT ON with what you said about ebooks. They are here to stay. It will be interesting to see the publishers that adapt and change with the times. We have already seen a publisher in the LDS industry go down because they couldn't adapt to change (and other reasons, I'm sure).

I just hope that some of the publishers that have good reputations and authors can jump on the ebook bandwagon before it's too late.

Not to plug my own website for potential publishers / authors that may read this, but our company just acquired LDSeBooks.com. If you're interested in selling your books on our website, contact me at brandon (at) ldsbookstore (dot) com. Something needs to be done before we all go down to Deseret Book.