Every so often, I run across an article predicting the demise of print books, or ebooks, or books altogether, critical thinking, libraries, and so on. Every time I see one of these articles, I read it to see which argument the writer has elected to trot out, whose numbers they’re paying attention to, and whether they have anything new to add to the conversation.
Spoiler alert: most of them fail at that last thing.
I have ebook and print versions of all my books. Here’s what I know.
Ebooks are cheap and easy to produce. Once the final proofing is done on a story, I can bang out a perfectly acceptable ebook in an hour. No fancy razzmatazz, but the story is there with all you need to enjoy it. I typically spend a few hours to make it a little prettier than that. For most of my ebooks, I make about 70% of what you pay, and the distributor takes the rest.
Print books are less cheap and less easy to produce, but still not a huge investment. My print books typically take about a day to format. I can do it in four hours or so with zero razzmatazz, but as with my ebooks, I prefer taking a little time to do it right. For most of my print books, how much I get of what you pay depends completely on where you buy it. Unless you get it directly from me at a show, a $15.99 book sale pays me anywhere from $1-6. The rest goes to pay for printing and those pesky distributors. (Before you get excited about how much I earn from a book sale at a show, remember that I have to pay to be at that show.)
Major publishers can charge less for the smaller-sized paperbacks because they can print 10,000 at a time, which makes them super-cheap. They make money because a $1 profit on 10,000 sales is still $10,000.
Like most indies, I get my print books from a Print-On-Demand service, which means my print books are not super-cheap. They are still relatively cheap, but I have to charge what I do because my volume is much lower and I like doing crazy things like eating food, using electricity, and sleeping in a bed.
Major publishers would like ebooks to die for a lot of complex reasons that boil down to the fact they don’t control the sales channels for ebooks, but they do control the sales channels for print books.
You see, indies price our ebooks cheaper than our print books because there’s no paper involved, and it’s easier to get ebooks distributed around the world than print books. If I want to get my print books into a Barnes & Noble, I have to convince a store manager that they want my books in their store, then go through some hoops and provide a method for them to return the books to me for a refund if they don’t sell in an allotted amount of time. And also not get very much money for them.
By the way, when publishers get those returned books back, they still counted as sales for the bestseller lists.
But I digress.
Even if I do all that for Barnes & Noble, that gets me into one (1) B&N store. Not all of them. One.
That thing you just thought upon learning this information is about how I feel about it, only tempered because I’ve known this for a while.
To get worldwide distribution for my ebooks, I upload the file to three different websites. That’s it. No haggling, no convincing, no crap.
An in case you happen to still think indie books are inferior, I challenge you to visit the bestseller lists on Amazon and pick out all the indie books in the Top 100 of any given category. Author services has become an industry. Artists of high quality have turned to cover art as a way to pay the bills. Editors have gone freelance. Indies are teaming up in collectives and co-ops like Clockwork Dragon to trade skills.
Ebooks aren’t going to die. Print books are also not going to die. Each has inherent strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to like one and not the other. It’s also okay to like both.
As they tell kids in school, what matters is that you read and support the people who make the things you love, in whichever format you prefer. When you stop supporting us, we stop producing it. Because we’re people who like to do silly things like eat, use electricity, and sleep in beds.
P.S. I left out audiobooks for a reason. Whole other topic.